Thursday, December 31, 2009


Almost exactly two years ago, I started CAROL W's CORNER. OK, technically, I started it in October 2007, but I only posted once, then didn't post again until January 1, 2008. In that post, I said I was starting a blog because I thought teachers should always be learners. The blog was my learning for 2008 and thanks to people like Franki and Mary Lee, I learned a ton. Now, two years later, I'm writing my 305th post (nothing compared to how faithfully some people post) and I feel like I've got the hang of blogging, or at least most of the time.

My project for 2010: figuring out the i-phone I bought two days ago. Let me backtrack a little. I've been with the same phone company since 2002. That's a pretty long time, I think, in terms of customer loyalty. Recently, however, I have begun to think about changing. First, the company accidentally turned off my son's unlimited text messaging. My December phone bill was over $500 ($335 more than usual). After I recovered from my heart attack, I called the phone company to sort it out. An hour later, they realized it was their mistake, and that my son had had unlimited texts for more than three years, but they would not give me my money back, they would only credit my account. Then my sons got some money for Christmas and wanted to use it to buy new phones. No deal at our company- the boys had gotten new phones for Christmas last year. One son is eligible now, the other, for no reason anyone can figure out, cannot have a new phone until October 24. The boys had been begging for iphones anyway, so we walked across the street to our local BIG BOX, and somehow we all ended up with iphones. The old phone company can use my $335 credit to cancel my account.

So now I have an iphone. Of course my sons were using theirs by the time we had driven the mile from the store to the house. Me? Not so quick. Mine sat in the bag on the kitchen table until later that afternoon, when my younger son got impatient with his slow mother, and set it up for me. That night, he showed me how to make a phone call. Yesterday morning, waiting for K at basketball practice, I figured out how to use the calendar (and then I read an editorial in the paper this morning from a columnist who is going back to a paper and pencil calendar! Hmm).

I have always had a very basic cell phone- the kind where I could call or text my sons, and that's it. The i-phone is a whole new ball game. I don't know how to do anything fancy- can't quite access the internet, or take pictures or videos, or play Scrabble with my niece at college in California. But I'm working on those things. I guess the iphone will be my new learning for 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


About once every five years, I totally, totally, totally fall in love with an adult novel. Interestingly, it's usually a book about women and the power of their friendships. I loved THE DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YAYA SISTERHOOD, then SECRET LIFE OF BEES. I just finished THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett, and it's definitely going on my list of new favorites.

Skeeter Phelan has just graduated from Ole Miss. She really wants to get a job in the world of publishing in New York City, but returns instead, to her family's plantation in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter is surprised to discover that Constantine, the family's maid and one of Skeeter's closest confidantes, is no longer employed by the family. No one will tell Skeeter where Constantine has gone.

Skeeter seeks out a job in journalism and ends up writing a housekeeping advice column for the local newspaper. The problem is, she has never done housework, and has no idea how to answer the questions given to her each week. She seeks advice from Aibileen, a friend's maid, and also becomes connected with Aibileen's best friend, Minny. The three women come together around a very important writing project…

I loved THE HELP. It made me laugh and it made me cry. I fell in love with Skeeter and Aibeleen and Minny, and wished I could sit at Aibileen's kitchen table drinking coffee with them. I admired the strength, and courage, and wisdom of these three women. As with most works of historical fiction, I had new insights into that particular period of time (I think this would be a great read aloud for a high school American History class).

A terrific read-- I can't recommend it highly enough!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am an avid reader. A gotta-read- every-day kinda gal. I read just about anything with print- magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, kids' books, professional books, poetry, signs on mailboxes, blogs etc., etc. What I don't read, at least not much during the school year, is adult fiction. It's not that I don't like adult fiction, it's just that between a full time educator, and a full time mom, I don't have a whole a lot of time. I'm starting to believe, though, that I need to rethink that decision.

Last night I finished THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE. Edgar is a middle-grade boy growing up on a farm close to Lake Superior. He can hear, but has never been able to speak. Edgar's family survives by breeding and training a line of dogs they call Sawtelles (because of my own background knowledge, I kept picturing the dog as labs, but they really sounded more Shepherd-ish). Edgar's father, Gar, is responsible for tracking the dog's lineage and making decisions about breeding. His mom, Trudy, trains the dogs. Edgar, under the watchful eye of his four legged best friend, Almondine, helps with chores and training. Life on the dog farm is hard, but it's happy until Gar's brother Claude arrives…

EDGAR SAWTELLE brought me back to the roots of what I believe about teaching kids to read. First, it reminded me of the importance of background knowledge. As a dog lover, I totally connected with Edgar and his family. Almondine was my Ramsey, and now, to a degree, the dog that Jack Black is becoming. Smart, impudent, strong-willed Essay, another dog important to the story, was my Maggie, and now Stargirl. I loved reading about how the family cared for their dogs. The book made me want to dig out DOG TRAINING FOR DUMMIES and spend some time working with my badly behaved teenager puppies. I don't think my non dog-loving friends would connect with this book or enjoy it quite as much as I did.

Second, the book reminded me of all of the strategies readers use. I read the prologue a couple of times, still didn't totally understand it, and finally just decided to push forward and see if I could figure it out as I went along. I had to reread and reread and reread from page 1 to page 525-- this morning, even though I should be wrapping Christmas presents, I really want to go back and do the least twenty pages again. David Wrobleski is a very talented writer, but sometimes, when I just wanted to know what was going to happen next, I kind of raced through his beautiful descriptions in search of more plot. I "talked" to Wrobleski, fought with him, and asked lots and lots of questions, especially about character's motivation. Last night, after I finished reading, I laid awake for another hour or so, thinking about the ending…

Finally, EDGAR SAWTELLE reminded me how much readers need to talk. I loved EDGAR SAWTELLE, but there is a lot I didn't quite understand. Today, even though it's Christmas Eve and even though I have plenty to do, and even though I'm sure most of my friends are spending time with family and friends, I want to talk to my dog-loving, book-loving friends-- Laura, or Stevi, or Kyle to see if they have read the book, and to see what they thought. I want to talk about Almondine. I want to talk about the ending. I need other readers to help me make sense of what I read.

I've always known that teachers need to be readers. Sometimes, though, I need to be reminded of what that really means…

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Friday. The last day before Christmas vacation. Ten year old D. stops by the library to return A DOG'S LIFE by Ann Martin. He hands the book to our librarian then stands for a minute. Gretchen is not sure what he wants.

"Do you need a new book for vacation?" she asks.

"No," D. says.

Gretchen notices a ribbon bookmark sticking out of the book. She opens the book to hand it to him. "No," says D., "I want it to stay with the book." The ribbon, one that D probably got in class, says EXCELLENT. "It goes with this book," D. declares. He asks Gretchen if they can tape it into the book so it will be sure to stay there. Gretchen obliges then D shows her a review he has written.

Today I read A DOG'S LIFE. This book is the most amazing book I have read so far in my life. This book is mostly about a dog and her life. This now old dog that has been named many names is now Addie, and has been through many hard things. Addie has lost her brother, mother, and friend, Moon, but Addie has not lost hope, and has not lost her soul. Today I've finished this amazing book and hope I can find this book again and keep it instead of borrowing it.
And that is why I became a teacher.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I'm love teaching in an urban district. Probably the thing I love most is the amazing educators who work in my district. Steve Replogle is definitely one of those educators. He is a teacher in DPS, but aside from his regular job, he has another little project. For the past two years, Steve has invited students from DPS to submit poems they have written. He and a group of his former students (who are now in high school) compile an anthology of 250 poems written by DPS students. It's a huge project, an amazing labor of love for our kids. Here are a few poems from this year's book (MY BLANKIE is from a kindergartner at my school!)'

Windows to Your Soul

There's a tiny place
That lets thoughts
soar through your body
It's small
but important
it's the place
the beauty of
poetry begins
The window
of curiosity
spreads through
the mind of
Audrey- McKinley Thatcher- 4th grade

My Blankie

My blankie's name is Stripe
I snuggle with her every night
She is my best
I use her
When I am sad
When I am angry
When my feelings are hurt too.
She is my best!

Maya- Kindergarten- Stedman

You can buy the book at THE TATTERED COVER.
The website for THE PLACE WHERE POETRY BEGINS is here.
You can watch a few of the kids reading their poems here.

Thank you Steve for this amazing gift of the heart!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Wonders Inside the Human Body- Silver Dolphin Books

Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books
Copyright: 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

I'm dating myself, but when I was a little girl, one of the books I absolutely loved was the WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA, and specifically the H volume of the WORLD BOOK. I loved H because H contained the Human Body. And the Human Body had all of these great color transparency diagrams. First, you saw the outside of the body. Carefully, carefully turn that page, and you saw the nerves and blood vessels. Turn again, and you were inside the body, looking at the organs. I spent hours poring over the pages in that book (and fighting with my sisters over who got to look at the H book, but that's a story for another day).

Recently I received a review copy of THE WONDERS INSIDE THE HUMAN BODY. As I read through it, I felt like I was carried back in time to my WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA DAYS, except this book is way, way better than that. WONDERS INSIDE THE HUMAN BODY has over 90 pages of color transparencies, way, way, way cool photographs, sophisticated diagrams, and cut aways. The text in the book is minimal, instead, most of the information is contained in the extensively labeled photographs and diagrams. There are two page spreads on any number of aspects of the human body- different organs, systems, senses, etc.

This book would make a terrific Christmas present. It would be a terrific invitation for those "developing readers" in your life- they could pore over the images in this book for hours, and the need to know about those pictures would get them through the brief amount of text. It would be a great mentor text for a nonfiction unit- you could teach kids about simple and complex diagrams, cutaways, writing interesting captions. There is also a really interesting color coded table of contents.

A plethora of images and information sure to delight any reader…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

"Reading MOONSHOT gave me the feeling I was back up in space," said Michael Collins, the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11. I've never been to space, but reading MOONSHOT, I felt like I was right there with Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong, as they locked their hands into heavy gloves and their heads into large, round helmets, squeezed into the Columbia's sideways seats, and took off into the summer sky. And I was there as the astronauts went "rushing into the darkness, flying toward the Moon, far away, cold and quiet, no air, no life, but glowing in the sky." And I was there as Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, "dust and stone beneath their feet, where no seed has ever grown, no root has ever reached…"

This is a really different information picture book. It's chockful of terrific information that starts on the front endpages and doesn't stop until you close the back cover. The information is really specific, really scientific, and really accurate (e.g. that the spaceship doesn't smell very good after a week of astronauts using the restroom in space) and yet the text sounds almost poetic. Listen to this description of the rocket…
Their (the astronauts) two small spaceships are
Columbia and Eagle.
They sit atop the rocket
that will rise them into space,
a monster of a machine:
it stands thirty stories,
it weighs six million pounds,
a tower full of fuel and fire
and valves and pipes and engines,
too big to believe, but built to fly--
the mighty, massive Saturn V.
The illustrations are a contrast too. Some pages are done in very light pastel colors. Others, when the astronauts are in space, have an all black background. Some two pages spreads are black on one side, showing the astronauts on the moon, and then pastel showing people on earth. There's a tremendous sense of perspective and movement. A really nice addition to any classroom library (or for the space lover on your Christmas list)!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Author- George Ella Lyon
Illustrator- Stephanie Anderson

The kids at my school don't have much, or at least they don't have much in terms of material goods. I want my kids to know, especially at this time of year, that they are not alone. That things will get better someday. And that no matter how little you have, you can still give something. This weekend, I found a new favorite Christmas book, YOU AND ME AND HOME SWEET HOME by George Ella Lyon, based on the author's experiences building a home for HABITAT FOR HUMANITY.

Eight-year-old Sharonda and her mother have worn out their welcome sleeping on the couch at her auntie's house. They are feeling hopeless until one day, their church offers to build a home for them. Sharonda and her mom work at the house from Day One. Sharonda is eager to help and even rides the bus to the house every day after school. One day a volunteer helps her build a window box. Another day, she passes out water to all of the workers. Finally, the house is ready and Sharonda and her mother move into their new home.

Stephanie Anderson's illustrations are perfect. Early in the book, they are dark. As the house goes up, and the family's situation becomes more hopeful, the illustrations become lighter, and more colorful. And there are lots of good construction type pictures for the "Bob (or Bobette) the Builder" types.

The gift of helping. The gift of yourself. Something everyone can give. Is there a more perfect Christmas present?