Tuesday, June 30, 2015


A good part of anything, my dad always told me, is just showing up.
Even when you are tired.
Even when you are not the best on the team.
Or even when you don't feel like it.
You just show up.
Again and again and again.

And that's pretty much how I have approached parenting.
I'm not that good at it.
I'm not a domestic goddess.
I'm not that organized.
I haven't read that many parenting books.
But I showed up.
Again and again and again.

I showed up at the every day stuff.
Dinner and homework and stories every night.
Laundry and doctors' appointments.
Buying underwear and socks.
Birthday parties.
I showed up.
Again and again and again.

I showed up at school stuff.
Open houses.
Music programs.
Parent teacher conferences.
And IEP meetings.
Discipline meetings.
Projects and summer reading assignments.
I showed up.
Again and again and again.

I showed up at sports stuff.
I sat through a million practices.
Seven-on-seven tournaments
All day track meets.
Games we won and games we lost.
I made a million pans of spaghetti.
And scrubbed dishes at team dinners.
I showed up.
Again and again and again.

And now my son is in the hospital.
This weekend he was saying some really scary stuff.
And I was terrified.
I called the police
and they transported them for a mental health hold.
I sat with him in the Emergency Room.
And for 14 hours on Monday.
I went this morning and he wanted me to leave.
He is mad, mad, mad.
"Why did you call the police?
There's nothing wrong.
I'm going home."
He jumped out of bed
Yanked the tubes out of his arms.
The nurses called security
and sedated him.
Told me they thought
he might sleep
if we left him alone.
So I did.

But my son has been abandoned by one mom.
And he's not going to be abandoned by me.
So tonight I went back.
I stopped and got a cookies and creme milkshake
and took it up there.
He was sitting up in bed when I got there.
"Why did you come?" he asked.

"Because you are my son.
And I love you."

"I want you to go,"
he said after about five minutes.
"I don't want you here."
And so I left.

But I will go again in the morning.
because if nothing else.
I am a person
who shows up.

Monday, June 29, 2015

NICKEL BAY NICK by Dean Pitchford

This summer, I'm trying to catch up on the books, especially middle grade and YA novels, that I missed during the school year. One of the books on my list was NICKEL BAY NICK, winner of this year's CYBILS middle grade novels. After finishing it this weekend, I can't believe this book has not gotten more attention from my blogging and book loving friends. It's terrific.

Sam Brattle, the eleven-year-old narrator, lives with his father, a bakery owner, in Nickel Bay, a town that's dying. Sam's father was the town football star, but Sam, who had a heart transplant when he was three, is an under-sized, pasty skinned kid, who can't do sports at all. He has been befriended by Jaxon and Ivy, two eighth graders who eat lunch in an area for kids with health issues. The two entertain themselves by committing acts of shoplifting and vandalism, and Sam has joined them in their antics.

When the book opens, it's Christmas, but Sam is not having a good one. The bakery is struggling and Sam's father only has money for the essentials- things like socks and underwear. Sam has been looking forward to a trip to see his mother, who left to seek her fortune as a singer, but he's just learned that trip is not happening, because his mother, recently married, does not think it's a good time for him to visit. In his anger, Sam vandalizes an abandoned train station, then attempts to hide from police by climbing a tree in a wealthy neighbor's yard. Sam's fall from the tree causes major property damage, and he's pressed into working in the old man's house.

Mr. Wells, it seems, has secrets of his own. For the past several years, the town has been visited by a unknown benefactor known as Nickel Bay (Saint) Nick. Nick distributes hundred dollar bills in the weeks before Christmas. This year, though, Nick hadn't show up, and on his first day of work, Sam learns that it's because Mr. Wells, a retired government CIA type guy and also the secret benefactor, has a broken leg and was unable to pass out money He wants Nick to help him with his red, green and white missions in the twelve days after Christmas.

A likeable main character, some intrigue, lots of feel good. I'm thinking this would be a good end of November, beginning of December read aloud in fourth or fifth grade, maybe followed by some pay it forward kind of deeds to start the new year in January. It's set at Christmas, but the major emphasis is really the choices people make and the good all of us can put into the world.

I loved it!

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Think I have just found a perfect read aloud to recommend to fifth and sixth grade teachers. Trent is a sixth grader, just starting middle school.  In many ways, he's a typical sixth grader, the middle child in a family of three boys. His mother and father are divorced, and Trent lives with his mother, but sees his father three night a week and every other weekend. His father has a new wife and a new baby. Trent likes sports, but school, not so much.

In one way, Trent is not a typical middle schooler. He's killed a classmate. During his fifth grade year, in a pickup hockey game, Trent hit Jared Richards in the chest with a puck. Jared had an undetected heart defect and the hit killed him. Trent is overcome with guilt and sadness, which often comes out as rage.

Because of the incident, Trent has basically been ostracized by other students in his small town. Just before middle school starts, he is befriended by Fallon Little, a girl with a mysterious scar on her face. At first, Trent resists Fallon's attempts, but soon he discovers that she really is a terrific friend, interesting and lots of fun to boot.

There is so much to love about this book. I love Graff's characters- Trent, Fallon, his mom, his older brother, Aaron, who tries to be the man and take care of his mom and younger brothers, his younger brother, Doug- full of pranks that never quite come off and of course, Fallon. I love the possibilities for conversations- friends, divorce, step parents, grief. And of course, I love the story.

I can't wait to share this book with teachers and kids.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Taken by my friend and fellow teacher/blogger Patrick Allen in his backyard on Wednesday
The poems truly have been multiplying like rabbits all day. I think the deluge has finally stopped, so I'm ready to post the round up. There may be a few more additions later. And if I forgot anyone, let me know. I assure you, it was totally accidental…

First, thanks for all your kind words. We are fine-- totally safe, didn't have to evacuate, and didn't have a flooded basement, although many people did. It amazes me how the storms come and pound and rant for an hour, and then they over. A couple of hours after the storm on Wednesday, I walked the dog. There were lots of puddles, and mud, and broken trees and debris, but aside from that, the neighborhood was pretty much status quo.

And now onto the roundup…

Seems lots of us cannot stop thinking about the constant and ongoing racism in our country…

At Random Noodling, Diane Mayer breaks my mama heart with "Pastoral Politic," an original poem about racism. And on a maybe lighter note (although I also think this poem carries some pretty big truth), check out her review of SERIOUSLY FUNNY: Poems about love, death, religion, art, politics, sex and everything else at Kurious Kitty. Ouch.

Robyn Hood Black reviews BROWN GIRL DREAMING, a National Book Award winner from this year. If you haven't read Jacqueline Woodson's novel in verse, a memoir about growing up in the South and about becoming a writer, you need to pick it up immediately. Robyn lives an hour south of Charleston, the scene of last week's horrific shootings. Our hearts break with you…

Linda Baie returns from several weeks of travel to post Maya Angelou's "Human Family." I love the ending lines, "We are more alike my friends, than we are unalike," that Angelou repeats three times, maybe because she knows they need to take root in our hearts.

In my opening comments yesterday, I said that a lot of the adult poetry I read comes from hunting down poets I meet in Poetry Friday's posts. That was definitely true this week, when I read Pat Schneider's gorgeous, "How the Stars Came Down," on Karen Edmisten's blog. I want to share this poem with our middle schoolers, who I suspect have probably had similar experiences.

Kelly Fineman shares an original poem, 44, that she wrote in 2009, to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. I agree with Kelly, her poem is perfect for the events, both horrible and wonderful, that have occurred in our country this week.

And could there be a better time for a professional development session on diversity? Sylvia Vardell is at ALA in San Francisco, where she and several others will be presenting, DIVERSITY DYNAMISM. She and her co-hosts have posted a bibliography of over fifty books on her blog today.

Another moment of peace at Gathering Books, where Fats Goula shares a beautiful multilingual (English, Hebrew, and Arabic) children's book, SHALOM, SALAAM, PEACE, by Howard I. Bogot.

Many of us are seeking solace in nature…
Amy Ludwig Vanderwater also celebrates nature in her latest original poem, "Delight." Listen to the first few lines and you will be rushing over to THE POEM FARM to read the rest! Nature does not have/a lost and found table/for summer feathers. 

Another one of our multi-talented friends and another Carol, she of the Varsalona variety, is currently compiling her "Spring Symphony," collected from a number of poets. Today she brings us four original art/poetry combinations inspired by a day trip to the beach.

At Year of Reading, the endlessly talented Mary Lee dusted off her sketchbook and found two poems waiting for her. She also has a recommendation for a book about drawing nature, NATURE ANATOMY, shared with her by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, that sounds really terrific.

Brenda Davis Harsham draws on her garden to write "Daisies Dear." Her poem makes me want to run to the garden center to replace a few of the flowers that have taken a horrible beating this summer.

It's always a treat to hear a poet perform her work. Today Violet Nesdoly, a friend from the north, reads her poem, "Canadian Rivers." Be sure to stop by for a listen!

Ramona Behnke is vacationing in Idaho, but managed to steal away to create a peaceful snapshot of an evening outing.

Another peaceful moment at  Miss Rumphius Effect. Tricia has been reading Carl Sandburg recently. I'm going to read "Monotone" again the next time we have a pounding, blowing, thrashing storm like we have been experiencing the past few weeks in Colorado.

Ruth's offering, Adelstrop, by Edward Thomas presents another peaceful moment.

Lorie Ann Grover taught me a new form, senryu, with her original poem, "Riddance." In case you have never heard this word, a senryu is similar to haiku but focused on family members, relationships or feelings.

Some people are revisiting old favorites…

Make a cup of tea and find a comfortable corner to see Billy Collins interviewing Paul McCartney at Jama's place. And be sure to check out her pictoral essay-- it's beau-tea-ful!

Because of her thoughtful sharing and reflections, Kimberly, at I Write in Maine, helps me to reread T.S. Eliot, "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock," which I think I last read in high school, through a whole new lens.

I found a similar theme in Emily Dickinson's "Much Madness is Divinest Sense," posted today at Bildungsroman. Do you ever wonder if the universe/God might be using poetry to speak to you directly?

Julieanne Harmatz heard Naomi Shihab Nye this week at Teachers' College Reading and Writing Project and was inspired to write an original poem, "Naming It." I have to agree with her- naming things through our writing is powerful. And I'm intrigued by using those tiny bits of time to build up big bits of writing. I had the privilege of wandering into a Naomi Shihab Nye reading at a tiny bookstore in San Antonio almost 20 years ago and have been a huge fan ever since.

At A Teaching Life, Tara also gifts us with several snippets of Naomi Shihab Nye's poetry, including, "How Do I Know When a Poem is Finished?"

There are lots of fun poetry activities/clubs/groups/swaps going on this summer…

You'll find many of your Poetry Friday friends over at Today's Little Ditty, where Michelle Heidenrich Barnes regularly hosts the Ditty of the Month Challenge. This month's challenge, based on Corey Rosen Schwartz's new book, WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?, was to write a poem about treehouses, with multi-syllable rhyming words. As an added bonus, this post includes a book giveaway!

Catherine was one of those treehouse poets. You can read her poem, "A Treehouse all Your Own," at Reading to the Core.

Some talented (and also very persistent) folks here at Poetry Friday. Keri is participating in a summer poetry swap and received a very special (and puzzling) poem gift in the mail last week from Donna.

After you read Donna's poem to Keri, you'll need to head over to Mainely Write, where your mind and heart will soar with the seagull poem that Keri wrote for Donna. You'll need to take a minute to check out Donna's collection of seagulls.

And then waltz over to Tabatha's blog (The Opposite of Indifference) and read "Dancing Margaret," written as a poetry swap gift to Margaret Simon.

Margaret, the recipient of Tabatha's gift poem, is "making" poetry with CLmooc. She started with a kind of acrostic with the letters in her name, and then "built" a poem from that. Another process that looks like it would be fun to try!

Cathy Mere has spent the last few weeks at the Columbus Area Writing Project at The Ohio State University. She's in today with a poem about revisiting her old stomping grounds.

And some not so fun stuff…
Poor Heidi Mordhorst is packing up her classroom and moving to a new grade, and still found time to write a poem. Those of us who are teachers (and keepers-- a term I much prefer to hoarders) can definitely sympathize. Who lives close enough to go help carry a few boxes?

There are some poems and poets for/by the younger set…
As someone who loves a few facts with my poetry, I was totally enthralled (ok and a little grossed out, "Lunchtime," by Leslie Bulion. And I cannot wait to get hold of Bulion's new book, RANDOM BODY PARTS, shared this week by Laura Purdie Salas, who is herself a master at combining facts and poetry.If you don't know Laura's books, A ROCK CAN BE, A LEAF CAN BE, WATER CAN BE, you definitely need to look for those books!

At Author Amok, Laura Shovan's third grade friends finished off the year with a poetry celebration, as well as some odes written in her honor. Terrific examples of what young poets can do (although I do wonder about returning poems covered with ink and slobber!)

Katie, at Logonauts, is also featuring a third grade poet, a very talented guy, who has written a memoir poem about fear. Wow! Katie invites readers to join a Google Group who will be reading Matt Renwick's book, DIGITAL STUDENT PORTFOLIOS. Definitely sounds interesting!

At Teaching Authors, April Halprin Wayland leaves readers breathless with Kalli Dakos' "Call the Periods, Call the Commas, a punctuation poem that I have loved for many years. She also has links to four other punctuation essays. I read "For the Love of the Comma" (love the idea of a comma as a speed bump to slow your reader down) and one about exclamation marks, which I tend to use way too often (but will not use here).

Penny Parker Klosterman, who blogs at A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt, has decided to invite a few friends to join in to her poetry fun. Today she has Rebecca Colby, author of THERE WAS A WEE LASSIE WHO SWALLOWED A MIDGIE and the upcoming IT'S RAINING BATS AND FROGS, writing along with her daughters, Sasha and Alanna. You do not want to read Sasha's poem if you do not have access to some Cadbury eggs (which are only sold in Colorado around Easter!).

Our cat-loving readers are sure to enjoy ITTY BITTY KITTY, a poetic picture book featured today at  readertotz.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup!
Welcome to Denver!
It's been a crazy summer here.
After several years of drought, this summer
we have had lots and lots and lots of rain.
I haven't set up the hose to water even once!
OK, maybe to water the flowers on the porch, but that's all. 

This is what my neighborhood looked like last night, as captured by drivers
tweeting photos into CBS News.

This is at 14th and Kearney, about ten blocks south of my house
almost exactly 24 hours ago. 

City Park, where I often walk my dog.
There is a lake at the park, but this isn't it.

After the storm…

And now for a little poetry. This week, I checked out Billy Collins' book, AIMLESS LOVE, from the Denver Public Library. I read lots of adult poetry, usually what people post on Poetry Friday, and then others that I hunt down after I read what people post. I don't very often check out book of adult poetry, and I'm thinking I need to do it a little more often. One of my favorite poems from AIMLESS LOVE is "The Trouble with Poetry."

"The Trouble With Poetry"  
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night--
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky-- 
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass. 
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks. 
You can read the rest of the poem here.

And here is Billy Collins reading "The Trouble with Poetry."

I look forward to your poems multiplying like guppies and rabbits in the grass. Leave your link in the comments below and I will roundup the poems throughout the day. 

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat by Deborah Underwood

Tooth fairy cat.jpg

One of my most vivid memories of teaching has to do with the Tooth Fairy.  I was a young teacher, probably only three or four years into my career. I had organized my library into labeled baskets, and spent several mini-lessons going through the baskets with my first and second graders. We had two librarians, who were in charge of keeping the baskets in order. Once a week or so, I would do a quick check and reorganize a few books. No big deal, right?

There was one book, however, that consistently ended up in the wrong place. THE TOOTH FAIRY BOOK (not sure that was the exact title) was a large white paperback, one of those that you get for free when you order a bunch of books from a book club. It didn't have a great cover. It didn't have great illustrations. The text, one sentence per page, was really flat and boring, something along the lines of, "The Tooth Fairy comes at night. The Tooth Fairy leaves surprises in a special place. The Tooth Fairy likes to get notes."

It was one of my kids' favorite books! It got read and reread and argued over as much as any other book in our classroom.

And it always ended up in the wrong basket. It was clearly a fiction picture book. I didn't have a lot of books about the Tooth Fairy, not enough for a whole basket, so it was supposed to be in a miscellaneous, basket, alphabetically with the other S and T titles. 

The Tooth Fairy book, however, always, always, always ended up in nonfiction.

One day, sick of moving it, I asked my six and seven-year-olds to tell me why they put it there.  They seemed surprised I had asked.

"Miss Carol," they said, "This is where it goes. The Tooth Fairy is a real person. It's nonfiction. And it teaches us all about her."

My jaw dropped. The Tooth Fairy? A fantasy creature? Nonfiction? Ok, then. Definitely one of those times when I understood that I did not inhabit the same world as my little guys. And the Tooth Fairy book stayed in the nonfiction section the rest of the year. 

I thought about that book this week when I was at Tattered Cover and came across Debra Underwood's newest book, HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT. TOOTH FAIRY CAT is the third book in a series that also includes SANTA CAT and the EASTER CAT. In this book, Cat decides he wants to see the Tooth Fairy.  He is given a tutu, a set of wings, and a sidekick, a mouse, who has its own ideas about how to help. They must work together to deliver surprises to three different recipients- a squirrel, a gopher, and a bear. Working as a team, they accomplish the tasks (OK, with only a few mishaps), but Cat doesn't see the Tooth Fairy. Or does he???

Really funny and perfect for the tooth-losing set. I could also see using this book to start a discussion about collaboration and cooperation. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 10.25.17 PM.png

This is one of those picture books that you read and think, "Holy cow, how in the world did someone come up with something this clever? And how can I use it effectively with kids?" The central object in the book is a dessert- blackberry fool. The book is broken into four different chunks-- one taking place in 1710 in Lyme, England; the next in Charleston, South Carolina in 1810, the third in Boston in 1910, and the final one in San Francisco in 2010. 

In each section, a child and his/her parent (a mother in the first three and a father in the last one) make blackberry fool. The process changes from century to century- in 1710 the little girl and her mother pick the blackberries and milk a cow for whipping cream, in 1810 a slave child and her mother pick the berries in the plantation garden, while the milk is delivered from a nearby dairy farm, in 1910 they get the berries at an open air market and use pasteurized cream in glass bottles, and in 2010,  a little boy and his father get two cardboard boxes of blackberries and a quart of organic cream at the supermarket. 

Jenkins and Blackall include lots of other historical details- everything from where the cook gets the recipe, to the kind of whisk or beater that is used, to how long it takes to beat the cream,  to how the dessert is refrigerated to the clothes people wear. Author and illustrator notes in the back reveal some of the things these two craftspeople considered. And yes, there is a recipe for blackberry fool!

I think this would be a terrific read for a social studies class at the beginning of the year. It would be fun to read once just to enjoy, then another time with different kids assigned to pay attention to different details. You could also use it to introduce the language of compare and contrast. 

A very fine picture book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


This parenting thing.
It's really, really, really, really hard right now.

I'm listening to an audiobook,  HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED.
The author studied kids who were successful versus those who were not.
And he found out that what really made kids successful was not their intelligence,
not their ACT or IQ scores,
but rather their willingness to work hard,
and persevere,
and not quit.
That grit thing that people have been talking about so much lately.
And he talks about executive function and self-regulation.
And about how kids need to fail,
because failure is where we actually learn the most.
And about how those failures translate to later successes.
And it all makes perfect sense when I listen to the tape.

But I have this twenty-one-year-old.
And he called me from Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon. 
He and his friend had parted ways.
He wanted to know if I would buy him a bus ticket home.
And so I did. 
And he rode 20 hours from Las Vegas to Denver.
And then walked five miles home in ninety degree weather because he was mad at me.
And his car is totaled. 
And he really needs to get a job. 
But his identification and social security card are in California. 
And you really need those items to get a job. 
So today I took him to my bank 
because he doesn't have a bank account any more 
because it's closed until he pays $63 in overdraft fees
and he needed a notary because the police department in California
won't release his wallet without a notarized letter.
And he can't get a job without those things. 
And he has spent most of the last three days 
in his bedroom with the door shut.
Although he did come out and help me bring in groceries,
then put them away by himself this afternoon,
just like he used to do.  

He doesn't have a clue what he wants to do.
Football has been the organizing structure for his life
for the past ten years and now he doesn't have that.
And he's totally lost.

And I'm trying to be tough.
And not enable him to keep making stupid mistakes.
I'm not buying a new car. 
Or a new i-phone.
Or paying the overdraft on his checking account.
Or a speeding ticket that's due on July 6. 
Or allowing him to live here indefinitely
without a job.
And at the same time I want him to know
that I really do still love him.
And want good things for him. 
And am willing to support him and study with him
and do whatever it takes to help him get back on track.

You see, there is this other book
I've also read and reread this week.
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.
Do you know that book?
The whole premise is pretty much the wishes
we have for the people we love.
It makes me cry every time I read it.

"I wish you more ups than downs.
I wish you more tippy-toe than deep…
I wish you more will than hill…
I wish you more pause than fast forward…
I wish you more treasures than pockets…"

Tom Lichtenheld's illustrations are absolutely perfect.
And I am going to be giving it as a baby gift
and graduation present
and just because present
for about the next hundred years.
Because it is just so, so, so perfect.

And it really is how I feel about my guys.
And it's so, so, so hard
to watch them make stupid mistakes
and fail so miserably
again and again and again.

It's really, really, really, really hard right now.
This parenting thing.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Last night I thought I wouldn't post at all today. But sometimes prayers are poems…

Maya Angelou

Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.
And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.
For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.
Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the

world that which we need most—


Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday at Year of Reading
And next week Poetry Friday will be here. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Umm, this has been quite a week in the motherhood world.

About a week ago, I was fussing at my younger son about cleaning up after himself. And he responded, "I don't know why you are making such a big deal of this. Son #1 goes on a road trip to Las Vegas without even telling you and you are mad at me about dishes?"

Las Vegas? What??

Yep. It's true. Son #1 went on a road trip to Las Vegas with one of his buddies. Son #1 supplied the car. His friend supplied the money.

But this story gets better.  Last Tuesday or Wednesday, he lost his six-month-old iPhone. So not is my son on a road trip, but the only way I can reach him is to call his buddy.

But wait. This story gets better. On Saturday, I get a letter from the Santa Monica Police Dept. They have my son's lost item. But it's not his phone. It's his wallet.

And when I call his friend's phone to tell him about the wallet, Son #1 says, "Will AAA help me with the car?"

"What kind of help do you need?" I say trying to remain calm.

"I got into a fender bender. I rear ended someone. But it wasn't my fault. And now the car is overheating."

"Did you get a ticket?" I ask.

"No because the lady didn't speak English. And she just drove away."


"She spoke some other language. I think it was Chinese. And she drove away. Her car wasn't hurt."

We agree that he will call AAA and ask for a garage recommendation. On Sunday, he tells me he has found one, but they can't take the car until Monday. But he wants to be sure to have my phone ready.
Which I do. But he doesn't call until after noon. And then he calls to say the car won't start. He needs a tow truck. He will call me when the car gets to the garage.

I call him at 4. The car didn't get towed. The tow truck came.  But Son #1 doesn't have his AAA card. Because it is in his wallet. In Santa Monica. Thirty miles away.

This morning I call AAA. Beg. Get them to take his friend's ID and Son #1's insurance card. The car gets towed to a shop. And then I talk to the shop owner. Who was very nice. But he can't fix the car.
It needs a comprehensive body shop.

So it gets towed to a comprehensive body shop. And that shop calls me this afternoon to say that the radiator is cracked and he thinks the insurance company is going to total the car.

I talk to Son #1's friend. He assures me that he has money to get them back by plane or bus. Or maybe he will buy a beater car.

And so the boys are in a Motel 6 in California. And I am in Denver. Trying to let my son be an adult and solve his own problems. With no phone. And no wallet. And no car.

And did I mention that the toilet in the upstairs bathroom leaked down into my bedroom last night?

Monday, June 15, 2015


Sandro Zapote is a kid I know well. He's a Mexican immigrant, bilingual, a fourth grader who lives with his dad, mom, and younger sister, Girasol. Sandro's father was an engineer in Mexico and was hired for a similar job in the United States. The job fell through at the last minute, so now he works two jobs, picking up roadkill, and also scrap metal. His mom is a cleaning lady. Sandro loves drawing and soccer, but school, not so much.

Sandro is in trouble. A lot. For starters, he is in an ongoing war with a Pakistani classmate-- Abiola Kahn. He really is pretty mean to her, and actually spends several days in the office in in school suspension for bullying. He also is a little impulsive; when the book opens, for example, he's just been to the principal's office for spitting off a third floor balcony. Unfortunately, when he tried this, the principal was directly below him.

Sandro, however, also has a really good side. His best friend, Miguel, has only been in the United States for about a year, and Sandro serves as his unofficial English tutor. Early in the book, the Zapote family learns that Sandro's little sister needs heart surgery.  Girasol and her mother travel back to Mexico for the surgery, and Sandro is left with his father.  Determined to help his parents raise money for the surgery, Sandro launches a one-man recycling operation at his school. At the same time, he's trying to keep up with school work, play soccer, and take care of the cooking and cleaning at the family's apartment.

This is a book my students are going to love. Short, funny, and lots of real life issues.

Friday, June 12, 2015


This week, Juan Felipe Herrera was named Poet Laureate.  Herrera, a native Californian, and the son of migrant farm workers, is the nation's first Hispanic Poet Laureate. I was excited about this appointment, because Herrera's background, the son of laborers, is similar to the background of my students.  

Describing his poetry for the Wall Street Journal, Herrera says, "I would say my poetry is at times a sculpted investigation…and at times it's a clown's tap dance. Other times I leave those two behind and I just want to tell a story that my mother would love, a poem that my mother would love, and that is good enough." Herrera said he wants people to use poetry to capture experiences from their daily lives. “I invite people to not be afraid and to say who they are and what their experience is and what’s going on in their lives through poetry,” he said. He wants poetry to stretch across worlds and unite people. I didn't know much about Juan Felipe Herrera. When I went looking for his poems, I discovered I actually did know him as a children's author, or at least I recognized a few children's books he has written. 

You can find a few of his poems on the Poetry Foundation website.  I loved this one because I think it captures my students' experiences. I'm always amazed as they move fluidly between two languages. They talk to their friends and family and some teachers in Spanish. Then they turn their heads and talk to me in English. As someone who wants to be fluent in both languages, and works at it every single day, I can tell you it's not that easy. And yet they make it seem effortless, seamless.  

[Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way]

Let us gather in a flourishing way
with sunluz grains abriendo los cantos
que cargamos cada día   
en el young pasto nuestro cuerpo
para regalar y dar feliz perlas pearls
of corn flowing árboles de vida en las cuatro esquinas
let us gather in a flourishing way
contentos llenos de fuerza to vida
giving nacimientos to fragrant ríos   
dulces frescos verdes turquoise strong
carne de nuestros hijos rainbows
let us gather in a flourishing way

Read the rest of the poem here.

Head over to Julie Larios' Drift Record to read another post, with lots of fabulous links, about our new Poet Laureate!

Visit a delicious Poetry Friday Roundup at Jama Rattigan's blog. Warning: Eat before you go there! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

RAIN REIGN- Ann M. Martin

RAIN REIGN has been out almost a year and has received lots of awards (Schneider Family, Charlotte Huck, ALA Notable), and I know lots of people have already read it, but I hadn't, at least until last night. I devoured it in one sitting! I loved it!

Rose is a fifth grade girl being raised by a single, sometimes sober father, in a small town in New York. Rose has Asperger's Syndrome and is obsessed with homonyms and also with prime numbers. She attends school in a mainstream fifth grade classroom, but has her own paraprofessional, Mrs. Leibler, who sits right beside her and takes her to the hall when she is having a hard time. Rose's two other favorite companions are her Uncle Weldon and her beloved dog, Rain Reign (note the homonyms).

The problem in this story begins when a hurricane of "epic proportions" strikes Hatford. As the storm diminishes, Rose's father lets Rain out, and she somehow disappears. Rose is heartbroken, and undertakes a careful and methodical search for her dog, with the help of her Uncle Weldon.

A beautiful middle grade novel about differences and bravery and integrity and love. If you haven't already read it, find it, and then block out a couple of hours to read it, because you won't be able to put it down.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


As of yesterday, I'm officially out of school. I know lots of people really look forward to summer. I really don't. I love my job. I love teaching. Talking about teaching. Thinking about teaching. I work with some of my favorite people. I love being surrounded by kids.

I'm reading everyone's plans for summer. And I really don't have very many. OK, unless you count having a lump removed from the dog's leg ($1400) and a tree that's moving the foundation of the garage cut down ($1000). And applying for student loans because one of my sons thinks he is going back to school this fall (a million dollars).

I decided, then, that I would make a bucket list of things I'd like to do this summer.

1) Buy a camera. Or a phone with a camera. Nothing fancy, just something simple and cheap. Take some pictures.

2) Use the camera to try some of the new apps that I keep reading about.

3) Learn a few new apps.

4) Buy a bike. Again, nothing fancy. Just something I can use to get some exercise.

5) Work on my Spanish.  Every day. Thirty minutes. Maybe even get brave enough to try a Spanish conversation table.

6) Write an article about Mo Willems. And the "rigorous" thinking the first graders did around this author.

7) Go to Mount Rushmore. Some place I've always wanted to see. Six hours away. I could do it in one day, I think.

8) Go to water. I'm really longing for a beach, but that's probably not happening. Maybe Grand Lake, couple of hours away from Denver.  On a weekday, so the crowds and traffic won't be so crazy.

9) Visit the Denver Zoo. It was remodeled several years ago and I have been wanting to see it.

10) Go to a Rockies game. I used to share season tickets with a couple of neighbors. After I adopted the boys, I stopped going, because they hate baseball.

11) Use my Botanic Gardens membership.

12) Write some poetry. Post it on Poetry Fridays.

13) Read. Concentrate on middle grade and YA novels.

14) See Wicked.  Hopefully on a discount, same-day ticket.

15) Take an art class. Maybe through the Botanic Gardens.

16) Work on my garden (or the area that I keep pretending is a garden).

17) Connect with a few friends I haven't seen in a while.

18) Do the online book club. And read at least four more professional books.

19) Go to an author talk at Tattered Cover.

20) Go to City Park Jazz.

21) Learn to use Netflix and see some movies I really wanted to see. Selma  is the first one on my list.

There's lots of other stuff I need to do.  Finish my taxes (I took an extension). Work on projects for school, including the book room, which I am planning on doing one day a week. Clean my closet. Deep clean my house. Declutter. Get estimates on some projects around my house.

But this is the stuff I want to do. Maybe, by making it public, I will accomplish at least a few of these items.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


My first #bookaday (ok, actually #booka2days) for summer- THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT by Jason Reynolds. I'm wondering how I could have not known about this author, who won the CORETTA SCOTT KING/JOHN STEPTOE award for his first novel, WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST, which I am definitely going to read this summer.

A quick snippet about this YA novel, more appropriate for older middle school and high school kids. Matt is a senior in high school. His mom has just died, and he and his dad are both trying to come to grips with their loss. Matt gets a job at a funeral home, and discovers that somehow, attending other people's funerals helps him to come to grips with his own loss.

I loved this book. I wish it had been around when my boys were in high school. It will definitely be one of the first books I talk about with the eighth graders this August.

The kids I teach look like this author. 
Jason Reynolds is an African American man. With long dreds. He looks a little like my youngest son. Before he cut his dreds.

The kids I teach will know this neighborhood.
We started up that block, our cement world of trash cans blown into the street, stray cats begging, stoop sitters dressed in fresh sneakers smoking blunts in broad daylight, old ladies sweeping the sidewalk, tired nine-to-fivers walking slowly on the final stretch before home. The buses, and cabs, and bicycles, and skateboards. The shop owners hollering out their two for one deals. The little girls singing, the older boys laughing, the babies crying, and all of us moving through it all.  (p 75).

The kids I teach know grief. Whether it's the grief of someone dying, or just someone, like a father, not being part of their lives, they know grief. 
I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow, it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn't only mine. That my life isn't the only one that's missing something it will never have back.  79

The kids I teach know loneliness.
I still felt like I went from a not so fancy version of the Cosbys  to a one-man family. LIke that movie with Tom Hanks stuck on an island- I felt like him, far away from everything, calling out in the dark, the waves splashing up on me, the dark, deep water waiting to swallow me up.

The kids I teach need to know other people have walked through, and then out the other side of the issues they are dealing with. 
Even though I know that I couldn't help them and they couldn't help me, just knowing that we were all struggling with this thing…that helped

The kids I know (and me too!) need the big life lessons in this book.
And sometimes, I can lose and lose and lose and I don't know why. But there's nothing I can do but just keep flipping the cards. Eventually, I'll win again. As long as you got cards to keep turning, you're fine. 109

For people who use the strategies in NOTICE AND NOTE, Mr. Ray, the funeral home owner, is perfect for the "Words of Wisdom" strategy.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


This morning, I'll be doing my last read aloud (for this year) in first grade.
I'm reading Mo Willems' newest book, I WILL TAKE A NAP, which came out on Tuesday.
It features a tired and cranky Gerald.
Who wants to take a nap.
And Piggie, who decides she will nap with him.
It's very clever. Like always.
And I know the first grade groupies will love it.

Here is a funny groupie story.
The first graders have been waiting for this book for about ten days.
Every day they asked if has come.
And every day I tell them, "No, not until June 2nd."
I've showed them the confirmation email.
They loved the "track packages" feature where they could see that the book had actually been mailed. They loved watching the green bar extend across the page as the book made its way across the country.

On Tuesday, I went into their class to pick something up.
And of course I had to remind them that it was June 2nd.
And Mo would be waiting on my front porch when I got home.
"What time is it coming?" one of them asked.
I reminded them that the email said it would be there by 8:00.
"Oh no," said one sweet little thing, looking absolutely crestfallen.
"I won't be able to hear it!
Eight o'clock is when I have to go to bed!"

Gotta love those six year old groupies!

Monday, June 1, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I was at the library. And came across the book VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR. And knew it was one I needed to own. To share with kindergarten. Because the kindergarteners and I share our own brand of humor.  Yeah, I know learning to read is serious business, but you gotta love people who giggle at words like toes, belly button and underwear.

I know my kindergarten friends are going to love VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR.
Vegetables in big underwear and little underwear.
Days of the week underwear?
Dirty underwear and clean underwear?

I can't wait to share this one!