Monday, April 23, 2012


I decided last week that I was going to start participating in "It's Monday- What Are You Reading?" on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this week the answer would have to be "Not a heck of a lot." This week I:
1) Spent twenty hours this weekend helping my son revise and edit thirty pages of writing for his online course (you try explaining to an 18-year-old why he can't write a three page prompted store about a life epiphany, and have the conclusion be 'I don't really have an epiphany'). I really am wondering what it would be like to be one of those parents who just had to worry about what they were going to wear to the senior awards ceremony on May 1st.
2) Got ready for a presentation  I'm giving to one of our local reading associations tomorrow. It's on the latest and greatest in picture books. It's never hard for me to talk about books, but it is hard for me to figure out how to present them in a way that is interesting and engaging.
3) Dealt with my third flat tire in three months (I am starting to wonder whether Toyota just puts really bad tires on their new cars. I don't think I have had one flat tire in the last five years, but have had three, on three different tires, since I got my new car the end of January).
4) Tried, unsuccessfully again, to load the logo for "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" Now I have it on my desktop, but I can't get it to load onto my blog. I really will figure it out one of these days when I have a few minutes free.

Actually, I did do a good bit of reading, it was just kind of different than what I usually do. My son's online course is an English course called, "The Journey." The readings were a really interesting collection, everything from poetry by Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Mary Oliver, to articles by Steven Covey, to a section of Helen Keller's Autobiography, and a section of KAFFIR BOY. There were also about ten short stories- "The Necklace" by Guy Mauipassaunt,  “The Silver Mine” by Selma Lagerlof, How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Tolstoy, and "The Bet" by Chekhov.

As far as novels, etc. I did read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, which I loved. I also reread HATE THAT CAT, in preparation for read aloud to my fourth graders. I wanted to read a novel in verse and had read them LOVE THAT DOG the week before. They liked that and I thought they might hearing the companion volume. Ummm. Not so much. I don't fail very often with read aloud, but last week was an exception. They just weren't that into it, although they did like the William Carlos Williams poems. They loved FORGIVE ME, I MEANT TO DO IT, and are now on the lookout for his stuff. I love ho.w they are growing as readers.

Not sure what's next-- guess I will figure it out after I give my presentation tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I have been reading, for the last month or two, about THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Everyone has said it's terrific and I have been wanting to get my hands on it. Tonight I went to Tattered Cover because I NEEDED a book for my CLASSROOM (notice I said NEEDED and FOR MY CLASSROOM- that is very different than spending money on books for yourself). Anyway, TC didn't have the book I was looking for, but I happened to wander over to the mid-grade novels and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN just happened to leap off the shelf and into my hands, and then of course, I had to buy it.

I brought it home and read it in one sitting. I loved it. In case anyone hasn't read it, Ivan is a silverback gorilla, who has spent most of his life in a small cage in a shopping mall. His best friends are an elephant named Stella and Bob, a dog who sleeps on Ivan's belly every night. Eventually, they are joined by a very young elephant named Ruby. Although Ivan has managed to convince himself that he is content, more or less, with living in a cage in the mall, he is not willing to let Ruby suffer that same fate…

My other animal find is one that I have not seen anywhere in kidlitosphere. HAVE YOU SEEN MARY? by Jeff Kurrus, illustrated by photographer Michael Forsberg is the story of two sandhill cranes, John and Mary, who become separated during migration. John searches high and low, until he finally finds his mate. Not quite sure why I was so taken by this book, but I had a big lump in my throat as I sat on the floor at Tattered Cover reading. I love a good love story, and I could see giving this story as a Valentine's or anniversary present.

Perhaps one of the reasons I was so taken had to do with the absolutely gorgeous nature photography of Michael Forsberg . His photographs are breathtaking and complement the text perfectly. A totally delightful read.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I wrote every single day the month of March, but then missed a couple of weeks  because my computer was in the shop for 9 days. Since it's Tuesday…

 My district is piloting some new integrated units. The fourth grade unit is called "Energized." Last night, after school I went to a two hour workshop on solar energy. The first 15 minutes, the presenter, a math science facilitator at a neighboring elementary school shared a powerpoint about solar energy, but then the real fun began.

"I want to get to the hands-on stuff," said Susan. "First, you are going to make a solar-powered house. Here is the model. While you are doing that, I will be assembling the kits for your solar cars."

And with that, we were off. Carlos, my teammate, had accompanied me to the workshop (I actually think it was his idea in the first place). He picked up his cardboard box and immediately started cutting away. I, on the other hand, went up and looked at the model several times, then looked around for a pattern, and finally decided I was going to have to figure it out. Which I actually did, with only a minimal amount of cursing at the hot glue gun (I have a long and unhappy history with hot glue guns, emphasis on hot), and a little extra packaging tape, to make sure the glue from the aforementioned hot glue gun seams actually held.

Then the real fun began. The solar car came in a bag with about twenty five things- a long flat piece of wood, four little screwy things, a plastic mold of about 27 gears, a straw, and a ten page direction book (so much for my decade long policy of never buying anything where the box was not the same shape as the finished product).

The first step was measuring the wood. I could do that. The second step was to shape the wood, if you so desired. "Just skip that step," said Carlos, who was, by that point, on about Step 8 (did I mention that Carlos' hobby is  restoring classic cars ?).

Step 3 was to insert four little tiny cup hookish things into the wood I had just measured. This step proved a little more difficult. The cuphookish things were teeny-tiny and not that easy to hold onto. You were supposed to try to screw them in straight, and in alignment with the others, so that you could then insert an axle through the cup hook part.

Somewhere between cup hooks one and two, I decided that I would not be attempting this project at home, or in my classroom either. It took me about twenty minutes to screw the four hooks in (23 kids X 20 minutes= 460 minutes, approximately 8 hours of screwing, by my calculations), and yeah, I know kids can do far more than we think, but I just couldn't shake those visions of twenty kids asking for help.

After I got the screws, it was time for the wheel. That only took ten minutes.

Then the gear. "Be sure you choose the right one, or it won't work," advised Carlos, who was now on approximately Step 17. I carefully consulted the gear design sheet, and found what I thought was the right gear. After another ten minutes of trying to shove that gear onto the axle, I consulted Carlos again. "Let me try," he said, taking it out of my hands. It turned out that even though I thought I had been really careful in consulting the gear diagram,  I had looking at the gears upside down, and chosen one with a much smaller hole through the middle than the one I actually needed. Carlos selected the correct gear and handed it back to me. "This should slide on much more easily," he said.

I guess everything is relative, because after ten minutes of shoving and pushing, it was still only a third of  the way down the axle. The direction book advised using a little pressure from a hard surface, but every time I tried that, the axle poked out the other side of the tire, and slid out of the cup hook thingies.

Ry, the cute young man on the other side of me (ok, he was cute except for when he told me that I reminded him of his mom and her expertise with the glue gun), was done with his solar car by this point. "Want me to help you with that?" he said, and took the car gently out of my hands. "Is it ok if I take off this wheel?" he asked. "It will be much easier to put the gear on if we just have to slide it a little way."

I pointed out that the directions had said to do it the other way. "Yeah, well, sometimes you just have to kind of break the rules," he said. It seemed a little ironic that to me that my long standing reputation as a known "rule breaker" was seemingly being thrown back in my face. He put the gear on, slid the axle back through the cup hook thingies, and then put the wheel on the other side too, in approximately two minutes.

By then people were starting to pack up their completed solar houses and solar cars. Susan, concerned, I think that she might have to spend the night at the school with me, came over and helped me put the front wheel and axle together (ok, actually she put the whole front wheel structure together while I watched). While Susan pulled apart the doublestick tape, Carlos assembled the gears and he and Susan mounted my engine. The gears didn't quite mesh, and Susan attempted a fix-up shim with a piece of cardboard. Closer, but it still wasn't quite working.

"I'll fix it for you tomorrow at school," said Carlos, looking at his watch.

As Carlos and I walked out of the workshop, I thought about a few of the kids I know. The ones who struggle with reading. The one who is still trying to figure out long division, almost two months after her peers have mastered it. My son, who hates, hates, hates, high school, but still goes every day.

And I wondered, what would I do, if I had to assemble a solar car every day?

Monday, April 16, 2012


To this point, I haven't done "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted by Jen and Kellye at Teach Mentor Texts.  I have, however, really enjoyed seeing what other people are reading, so this week I decided to jump on the bandwagon. Haven't quite figured out how to get the logo yet…

I started reading the Hunger Games trilogy over spring break. I'm not, at all, a fantasy/science fiction/dystopian fiction fan, but my book club had decided to read The Hunger Games, then see the movie for our March meeting. I read the book in two days, and I was hooked. I had to read the rest. Last week I read Catching Fire, and this week I read Mockingjay. I loved the first book, but I felt like each book was progressively darker, and Mockingjay felt pretty bleak. I also wasn't totally satisfied with the ending. How did Gale just completely drop out of the picture at the very end? Why did he seem to be a totally different character than the person he had been all the way through the series? I'm hoping folks in my book club will be ready to talk about some of these issues when we meet on April 28th…

I read a couple of easy chapter books.
Zapato Power #4: Freddie Ramos Makes a Splash- This is the fourth book in this series. I've been following a discussion about kids starting chapter books, and I think this series is just about as good as it gets for helping kids start chapter books.

Melody and the Sea Dragon- Another beginning chapter book. I love that Melody is an African American mermaid.

I'm pulling together a bibliography for a friend, so I've also read a plethora of picture books this week.
  1. The Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton- I'm thinking that I will be giving this as a graduation present to several seniors
  2. Desk Secrets by Kevin O'Malley
  3. Señorita Gordita by Helen Ketteman- Gingerbread Boy with a Hispanic twist
  4. How Many Donkeys  retold by Margaret Reed MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah
  5. Samuel's Choice by Richard Berleth
  6. The Wooden Sword by Ann Reddish Stampler, illustrated by Carol Liddiment
  7. These Bees Count- Alice Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow- Lots of bee-related information for young readers
  8. First Peas to the Table by Sarah Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell- Some really nice examples of science journals in this one. 
  9. Have You Seen Mary? by Jeff Kurrus, photographs by Michael Forsberg- Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous nature photography in a story about a sandhill crane and his missing mate.
  10. The Duckling Wants a Cookie, by Mo Willems- Mo does it again! Does he ever have a book that is NOT a winner! 
  11. Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett
  12. Happy, by Miles Van Hout- A book about feelings. Very simple, but beautifully done. The background of each page is black, the fish and the words are colored. Many of the words are done in fonts that make them match the feeling. 
  13. My Dad is Big and Strong But…- A reverse "time for bed' story. A little boy is putting his dad to bed. Really fun!
  14. Zoo Achoo by Peter Mandel- An elephant, and then all of his buddies at the zoo, have the sneezes.
  15. Crow Call by Lois Lowry- This one has been out a while, not sure how I missed it. Think it would be perfect paired with Owl Moon.
  16. There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares- I loved Hank Aaron's Dream by Tavares, and this picture book biography is just as good.
  17. Green by Laura Vacarro Seger- I had to go looking for this one after Mary Lee's review. She was right- it's pretty darn near perfect
  18. Outside Your Window, A first book of nature (poetry)- Poems divided into the four seasons. Gorgeous three dimensional collage illustrations.
  19. The Art of Miss Chewby Patricia Polacco-  the story of an art teacher who made a difference in Polacco's life.  
  20. Ben's Dream by Chris Van Allsburg- The fourth grade author study in my district is Chris Van Allsburg. I've always loved his art, but don't always enjoy his books that much, probably because I am not a fantasy lover. I've been reading through all of his work in preparation for our author study.
  21. Queen of the Falls, by Chris Van Allsburg- This is one of Van Allsburg's newest books. Not his typical fantasy, instead it's the story of the first woman to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel. I liked it at least as much as his fantasy books. 
This week, I'm hoping to read The One and Only Ivan. A few of my favorite adult authors- Anne Lamott, Jodi Piccoult and Anna Quindlen-  have new books out, so I might also grab an adult book. And I'm pulling together a presentation I have to do on April 24th, so I will be revisiting some  books I have enjoyed in the last few months.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I had big plans to post something poetry-related every day during the month of April. Unfortunately, on April 1st my computer got very sick, and spent nine days at the Apple Store.  Finally got it back on Thursday night. These are up and down poems (you have to decide whether to read from top to bottom or bottom to top)  I actually wrote two weeks ago- I played around with them after I read Dana Jensen's A MEAL OF THE STARS.





Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Meal of the Stars

If it's April, it must be time for poetry!
Went to the Tattered Cover yesterday to work on a project I've got going 
and of course I had to stop and look at poetry books, 
and of course there were some new ones that I just HAD to buy! 
At the top of the stack was 

a meal of the stars: poems up and down

This book, by debut author Dana Jensen, is one that I know kids are absolutely going to love. 
Each two-page spread has one poem, with an illustration on the facing page.
here's the catch.

The poems have one word on each line.

Kids have to decide whether they need to read the page 
from top to bottom
or bottom to top.
(There's an invitation on the back that explains that,
but I didn't read that until I had read through the book
and figured it out for myself).

Check out this poem about spring!


I hope Mr. Jensen has lots more books coming, because this one is definitely going to be a hit!