Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Two weeks ago. Saturday night. I am almost asleep when the text comes. It is from my oldest son. The one in Phoenix. Nine hundred miles away.

 "Hurt my knee. On crutches on the sidelines."

"Bad?" I text back.

"Naw. Hyperextended it. Just need to rest. It'll be awright."

Later he texts me that a trainer has driven him to his apartment. He has ice on it. The next day he tells me it is a little bit better. I feel relieved.

Until Monday. When he tells me he will be having an MRI on Thursday.

And Thursday. When he tells me he will be having ACL surgery the following week.

He wants to give up. "I only came to school to play football," he says. "And now I can't do that." I might as well just come home." I talk him off the ledge. Call a semi-sympathetic coach. Get him to talk to my son.

I want to go. To be there. To take care of him.

But in the meantime, Son #2 has made a stupid stupid stupid 5 second teenager decision that has potential for huge, life changing legal ramifications. And I cannot leave the state. Because I have to take care of Son #2 and his issues.

I have to settle for phone calls with coaches and the athletic trainer.

The surgery is Friday.  We talk every day. I try to explain that he needs to go to the grocery store ahead of time. Stock up. Prepare. He spends $20 at 7-11.

Thursday night. "You scared?"

"Naw. It'll be awright."

I talk to him in the waiting room on Friday. He is still calm. Or at least he sounds calm on the phone.

The surgery is supposed to be at 7. He is supposed to be done by ten. Home by noon.

The coach texts and tells me he has dropped Son off. He will call when the surgery is over.

12:00 passes. 12:30. 1:00. 1:30. 

I cannot stand it anymore.  I call the coach. He tells me that the surgery did not start until after ten. I imagine my baby sitting in a waiting room by himself for three hours. I am sure he did not take a book.

He is waiting for my son to come out of surgery.

Two hours later, I get a call. My son is home. He is groggy but ok. The coach has picked up his prescriptions. His roommate, 18, talks to me. Reads the directions off the pill bottles.

"I'll take care of him," he assures me. And again, I so want to be there.

Saturday, my son, who never misses a practice, never complains after a game, never stays home sick, tells me his knee hurts. A lot.

I have never heard him say anything hurts. Even when he dislocated his thumb. Or ruptured his eardrum.  Never. And I know it hurts. A lot.

And I so want to be there. To take care of him. To remind him to do the knee machine. To give him pills at the right time. To make ice bags. To feed him.

And now we are ten days out. The boys lived, for a week, I think, on pizza, Seven-Eleven nachos and  Chinese delivery. But he is a little better. Or at least he tells me he is. And I so want to be there.

He will start physical therapy soon.  Insurance only pays for part of it. I will need to find another $400 a month. I wonder what else I can cut out of our budget.

And  he has missed a week of school. And he was never a strong student. I wonder what his grades will look like. Whether he will be able to go back next semester.

Whether he will want to go back.

What he will do if he doesn't.

What he will do if he can't play football again.

And I so want to be there. 

Monday, October 29, 2012


We had two days of fall break last week, which meant I got a little more reading time than usual. I read three intermediate grade novels, all with girl protagonists.

My favorite, and one that I cannot wait to share, was DOUBLE DOG DARE, by Lisa Graff, which I think would be a perfect fourth or fifth grade beginning-of-the-year  (or later in the year) read aloud too. Francine Halata has dreamed of becoming the media anchor at Auden Elementary for years.  Her plans are changed, however, when Kansas, a brand new kid, king of dares at his previous school, somehow ends up being nominated for the anchor job. Francine and Kansas challenge each other to a month of dares, with the winner guaranteed the coveted media anchor. At the same time, on a much deeper level, Francine and Kansas have more in common than anyone knows. Lots of really funny scenes, but also some very real life issues.

The second book I read was  SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS by Sara Pennypacker. I love Pennypacker's CLEMENTINE series, so I was excited to see this book.  Stella, the main character, lives with her Great Aunt Louise, the manager of a group of guest cottages on Cape Cod, and Angel, a foster child that Louise has taken in to keep Stella company. The two girls are not friends, at all, until a tragedy strikes and then the two girls have to learn to depend on each other. 

I don't want to give away the book, so I'm not going to say a lot. I will say, however, that I loved, loved, loved Stella. She is everything I would want in a girl character-  plucky, independent, resourceful, and level-headed. Angel reminds me of a lot of foster kids I have known- afraid to trust, but a really good-hearted kid. While I liked these two characters, there were parts of the plot that I had trouble swallowing. Even so, I think kids who enjoyed the CLEMENTINE series would be excited to know that there was another Pennypacker book available. 

The last book I read was ABOUT AVERAGE, by Andrew Clements. The main character, Jordan, was another character that was really easy to like, she was just an all around great kid. Jordan, however, doesn't view herself that way- she knows that she is not the prettiest girl in her class, or the smartest, or the most athletic, or the best musician, and her goal insixth grade is to be recognized for being good at something. Again, I have to confess that this is not my favorite by the author, but again, I think it's a book that kids who like this author will be glad to find. 

And on the TBR pile? Umm, not sure. I have Sharon Creech's THE GREAT UNEXPECTED checked out from the library and am waiting for a pile of CYBILS poetry books that I have reserved to arrived. And I have stacks and stacks of TBR books, but am not sure what else I will get to this week. Happy reading!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Check it Out

So much of the reading/learning I do these days is online. I decided, then, that every once in a while, maybe once a week, maybe once every six weeks, I am going to put up a post highlighting a few pieces I especially enjoyed, or learned from, or think other people might learn from.

First, an event all my fantasy-loving friends might enjoy:

In Conversation with Rachel Hartman,
Stefan Bachmann, and Christopher Paolini
10/28/12 2PM - 3PM 2012
Rachel Hartman, author of the critically acclaimed, instant New York Times bestseller SERAPHINA; Stefan Bachmann, author of THE PECULIAR (Harper Collins), and Christopher Paolini, author of the international bestselling series the Inheritance cycle and, most recently, the INHERITANCE  Deluxe Edition. These three authors will discuss their inspiration and their characters, and also take viewer questions.

Next, a couple of posts from Michael Rosen that ll  my poetry-loving/teaching friends will enjoy.
First there is a great piece, "What Poetry Does."
"A good deal of poetry is a kind of 'portable philosophy'. That's to say it expresses quite difficult or challenging ideas in ways that can be carried around in your head." 
"Perhaps (poetry is) a way of concentrating thought in the midst of action."
"Poets make the things we know unfamiliar (often but not always through metaphor, simile, personification etc). Poets also find unfamiliar things and tell us about them in ways that we come to know them, feel them or understand them. You could argue that if education just did this, it would have done a good job. "

And another great poetry-related post by Michael Rosen, "Twenty Things to do in Your Classroom."


This year, everyone has been talking about the book WONDER, for good reason, I think. It's an amazing book, with a really powerful message. Last week I stumbled across the website, "Including Samuel" that has a similar focus. "Including Samuel" is the website of photojournalist Dan Habib. Habib has a son named Samuel, who is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. As I understand it, Habib made a film about Samuel, which has morphed into a much larger project. This website has clips, and other ideas for ways people could make their schools and communities kinder and more supportive places.


And then probably my favorite time-wasting websitess- puppies!

This summer, I started following a website. They had a 24 hour webcam set up in at the Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that breeds golden retrievers (my favorite) and labrador retrievers for soldiers coming with PTSD. Those puppies have moved on to training homes, but you can still watch the highlight reel and read the comments, (look for the ones from Warrior Canine Connection because those are from Molly, the director of WCC and contain lots of great information about service dogs).

Another camera on the EXPLORE website shows a farm that breeds great danes for mobility dogs. There are lots of other great cams on this site- this summer, for instance, I watched brown bears catching salmon in Alaska. Fascinating!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, October 26, 2012


FREEDOM'S A CALLIN' ME is a series of poems, narrated by a runaway slave, chronicling his attempts to escape his life on a plantation in the south and travel north to freedom. Here area few samples:

the overseer’s got his hands busy
but I hear that whip bouncing off somebody’s back
bouncing like thousands of toddlers yelping
but it aint but one or two slaves aint picking quick enough
but he aint looking over here           
this here is my chance to get
right out of here…

he got us hanging like hogs or fresh beef
with us wiggling under
under a rawhide whip
like that going to scare us…
But they are also hopeful.

…this is a time to follow the north star
‘cause that’ll lead them to freedom somewhere ‘way from here
they sang about it/how the north star was goin to save them
they dreamed about it huddled in caves and under huge trees
& every night they were on their way north
closer to freedom
always followin the north star
This is not a poetry book for young children.The poems are vivid and graphic and strong, perfect for a middle or high school history class. I could also see myself using them in a writing lesson on voice or as an example for multigenre research reports. Or just simply reading the book aloud, because words this strong deserve to be/must be read aloud.

Ntozake Shanghe's words are accompanied by Rod Brown's gorgeous oil paintings.  You can see a few of those illustrations and poems, here,  at the publisher's website. (I believe I read somewhere that Shange wrote the poems after Brown did the paintings, but I could not find that to verify it this morning).  Shange and Brown have evidently paired up at least once before, in WE TROUBLED THE WATERS. I don't know that book, but I will definitely  be looking for it when I head to the library today.

This is a book I need to own. This is a book people need to know.


POETRY FRIDAY is at TEACHER DANCE. Head over to Linda's blog and enjoy some great poetry.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


You know that old adage, "You can't judge a book by it's cover?" I think that's true. To some degree anyway. At the same time, I have to admit that I passed by MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN for months. Because of its cover. The cover creeps me out. So much so that when my book club decided to read this book, I considered looking for a brown paper bag to make a book cover, like I used to have to do with textbooks when I was in junior high. The cover of this book just flat out gave me the creeps. I didn't want to read it.  I also really don't like paranormal fiction. That creeps me out too. But my book club chose it. So I read it. And actually liked it quite a bit.

Jacob is a doesn't-fit-in-with-the-crowd teenager, working at a family owned drugstore chain, when he gets a phone call from his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor suffering from dementia. Jacob's grandfather wants the key to a gun cabinet, which Jacob's parents have taken, because he believes someone is trying to hurt him. Jacob goes to check on his grandfather, and walks right into a frightening family mystery.

Without giving away the story, the mystery involves some photographs from the grandfather's childhood. The photographs are supposedly of children that Jacob's grandfather met when he was sent from Poland to Miss Peregrine's home on an island in Wales (I think?)  during World War II. Each of the children is doing something peculiar-- the little girl on the cover, for example, levitates. Another child lifts boulders, and still another has a mouth in the back of her head. Jacob has always believed the photographs were tricks done by a clever photographer. A letter and old book, left by his grandfather, convince him otherwise, and Jacob decides he must visit Miss Peregrine's home and solve his grandfather's mystery.

This book is sure to be a winner with the middle and high school set. It starts with a really vivid crime scene. They'll love that. It's creepy. They'll love that. It has an element of time travel. They'll love that. And it's illustrated with weird photographs of peculiar people, which the author collected, and then incorporated into the story. I wondered, throughout the book, how the author found so many weird pictures. If I wasn't so dang busy at work right now, and didn't have a grant that had to be finished before I go to work this morning, t would go looking for an interview to learn more about his process.

This is supposed to be the first book in a series. I'm pretty sure it's a series that teen readers are going to love.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


As a little girl, long loved Russell Hoban's FRANCES series. As the oldest of three girls, I certainly understood Frances' irritation with Gloria in A BABY SISTER FOR FRANCES. And my best friend/worst enemy, Susie Smith (the names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent) was a lot like Frances' conniving friend, Thelma, who tricked Frances out of several of her much loved possessions in A BARGAIN FOR FRANCES. And then there was BEDTIME FOR FRANCES, where Frances' end-of-his-patience dad says, after Frances has gotten out of bed 87 times,
How can the wind have a job?' asked Frances.
'Everybody has a job,' said Father.
'I have to go to my office every morning at nine o'clock. That is my job. You have to go to sleep so you can be wide awake for school tomorrow. That is your job.'
Frances said, 'I know, but...'
Father said, 'I have not finished. If the wind does not blow the curtains, he will be out of a job. If I do not go to the office, I will be out of a job. And if you do not go to sleep now, do you know what will happen to you?'
'I will be out of a job?' said Frances.
'No,' said Father.
'I will get a spanking?' said Frances.
'Right!' said Father.
'Good night!' said Frances, and she went back to her room.” 
I apologize if people find this offensive, but remember, this book was written 50 years ago, when people actually did spank, or at least threaten to spank, their children for behavioral infraction. As a little girl, on windy nights, I would lay in bed chanting, "It is the wind's job to blow."

Now the FRANCES books have been released in a new easy reader format and the publisher sent me a copy of the I CAN READ version of A BIRTHDAY FOR FRANCES. Do you remember that one? Frances' little sister, Gloria, is having a birthday. And Frances is not particularly happy about it-- instead she is a teeny bit jealous and wishes it were her birthday, which is still two months away. First,  Frances says she is not celebrating her sister's birthday, but then she is upset because she is the only one in the family who doesn't have a present for Gloria. Her father walks her to the candy store, where Frances spends two weeks allowance buying four gumballs and a candy bar for her sister, but then she accidentally eats the gumballs on the way home. And she isn't sure she wants to give Gloria the candy bar…

I'm looking forward to introducing this old friend to some new readers…

(I am having issues with blogspot this morning. Spent fifteen minutes trying to adjust the font and spacing and finally gave up. Sorry!)

Monday, October 15, 2012



Singer, Marilyn.  The Superheroes Employment Agency

Luján, Jorge. Con el sol en los ojos/ With the Sun in My Eyes.
Lewis, J. Patrick and Yolen, Take Two! A Celebration of Twins.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Ed.. Nasty Bugs.                                                                    
Hoyte, Carol-Ann and Roemer, Heidi Bee. Eds.. And the Crowd Goes Wild!: A Global Gathering of Sports Poems
Harrison, David. Cowboys.
Florian, Douglas.. Unbeelievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings.
Brownlee, Liz. Animal Magic..
Andrews, Julie and Hamilton, Emma Walton. Eds. Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Last week, I was standing at the side of a first grade classroom, waiting to give something to the teacher. I felt a tug on my jacket and looked down. A tiny, six year old, with dark, tangled hair that reached halfway down her back, was pulling on me.

"Look," she said in a whisper. "I can read."

"You can?" I said, getting that goose bumpish feeling that I always get when first graders are learning to read (which is, for the record, on my top 25 list of things that are my most favorite things in the whole world). "Do you want to read to me?"

She nodded shyly.

The book sitting on her desk was Kevin Henkes' CHRYSANTHEMUM. That's a perfect first grade book, but for the kids at my school, who are mostly English Language Learners and speak Spanish in their homes, it's usually a read aloud. I wondered if she really could read it herself. She flipped through the book quickly, looking for the page she wanted.

And there it was. One of those fun Kevin Henkes' illustrations that has a little extra dialogue melded into the picture. This particular illustration was Chrysanthemum, with words coming out of her mouth.  And it was those words that my new friend want to read. "I love my name," she said proudly, carefully touching each word. And then she looked up, grinning one of those toothless first grade grins. And I remember, for the millionth time, why I became a teacher.

Coincidentally, when I got home from work that day, I had a surprise- a brand new Kevin Henkes' book. PENNY AND HER DOLL is Kevin Henkes' newest book, the second in a series of Penny books. For those of you who are used to books like CHRYSANTHEMUM, WEMBERLY WORRIED, and LILY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, this one is a little different. PENNY is a book aimed at an audience who is just learning to read. Maybe even an audience like my little friend, who loves Kevin Henkes, but can't quite read most of his books, not yet anyway.

Penny lives with her mother and father, and two younger siblings. In the first book, Penny has a song she wants to sing, but no one wants to hear it. In this book, Penny's grandma has just sent her a new doll, and Penny is trying to think of the perfect name. There are not too many words on a page, and there's lots of repetition, so it will really support those little ones that are just getting the hang of this reading stuff. The illustrations are classic Henkes, Penny looks like she could Lily's sister or cousin.

This is a book I know primary grade readers are going to love.

I know one who already does!


Sunday, October 7, 2012


Hmm. A pretty good, or at least decent, reading week, I think. I'm gearing up for being a first round Poetry Judge for the CYBILS starting next week, so I've been reading lots of poetry this week. Started with two new books by Douglas Florian, POEM RUNS and SHIVER ME TIMBERS.

Also read a couple of great new books of African American poetry. FREEDOM'S A CALLING ME, by Ntozake Shange, is the story of slaves, escaping north to Canada on the Underground Railroad. A little two graphic for the elementary set, but perfect for middle or high school.

I, TOO, AM AMERICA by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a gorgeous new one poem picture book. Look at the book, then read Collier's illustrator notes, then read it again.

A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING by Marilyn Singer is a primary grade poetry collection celebrating the joy of playing outside.  Lots of great examples of rhyme, rhythm, and repetition for teaching, and a whole bunch of poems that would just be plain out fun to perform.

I'm in the middle of two novels. ABOut AVERAGE is Andrew Clement's newest (I think) about a fifth grader who just wants to be recognized as good at something.  Only about 25 pages in, so I can't really say much yet.

I'm also reading MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN for my book club. I had been looking at this book for months, but never checked it out simply because the cover just kind of gives me the creeps. It's a genre new to me- an "illustrated novel." At the beginning of the book, the main character, Jacob, gets a phone call from his grandfather, who is in the early stages of dementia. The grandfather insists that someone is trying to get into his house. I'm not going to say anymore because I might spoil the book, but so far I'm thinking it would be a great read aloud for a high school classroom. I have to finish that one before the 20th, so it's on the top of my pile.

Next week, I'll be finishing the two novels, reading some more poetry, and then who knows????May DOUBLE DOG DARE or THE GREAT UNEXPECTED-- I checked those out of the library last week.

Friday, October 5, 2012

SHIVER ME TIMBERS- Douglas Florian

Strap on your eye patch and head to your nearest bookstore! 
Douglas Florian has a new book!
And it's one you are definitely going to want to own!

SHIVER ME TIMBERS is pure treasure! Even the scurviest mate in your class/life is going to love this book of 19 poems about pirates!

It's got a little, ok actually a lot, of humor! Take the poem "Pirates Meet," for example:
On Monday we had haddock
On Tuesday tuna fish.
We dined on weakfish Wednesday.
Shark, our Thursday dish.
On Friday we had flounder.
Saturday ate fluke
If we had fish for one more day
Me thinks that I will puke.
It's got lots of interesting and unusual words, put together in ways that make them fun to roll around in your mouth and your brain.
"Names for Pirates"
"Pirates, picaroons, buccaneers
Freebooters, filibusters, privateers,
Raiders, rovers, salt sea-robbers
Avast ye lily-livered landlubbers!"
And then, as you might expect in a book by Doug Florian; there's lots of language play. In the poem, "Pyrates" for example, Florian plays with "rrr."
…We call our ship a man o' warrr!
We sail to ports both near and farrr!
Perfect for reading and enjoying, but also for teaching concepts like alliteration and repetition.

If you are a Florian follower, you know that he usually does his own collage illustrations. SHIVER ME TIMBERS! is illustrated by Robert Neubecker, who is best known, at least in the world of children's books, for books like WOW! SCHOOL! and WOW! CITY! I always love Florian's collages, but the Neubecker's art works really well with the pirate theme.

I'd walk the plank, eat hardtack for a week, or battle the fiercest buccaneer for this one!

Laura Salas is hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A STRANGE PLACE TO CALL HOME- Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young

What's better than a new poetry book?
A new poetry book 
with Marilyn Singer's name on the front!

And what's better than a new poetry book
with Marilyn Singer's name on the front?
A new poetry/science book 
with Marilyn Singer's name on the front!

And what's better than a new poetry/science book
with Marilyn Singer's name on the front?
A new poetry/science book 
with Marilyn Singer's name on the front 
that's illustrated by Ed Young!

In case you haven't figured it out by now, Marilyn Singer's new book A STRANGE PLACE TO CALL HOME is definitely a must have. In this book, Singer views the world of animal adaptation through a whole different lens. Some animals, like flamingos, mountain goats, and camels, and Humboldt penguins, are old friends; but there are also a lot of relatively unfamiliar animals,  including snow monkeys, spadefoot toads, ice worms, blind cave fish, limpets, mangroves, dippers ( a kind of bird), petroleum flies- that range from the strange to the really strange. And is as typical Singer (if there is such a thing as typical, because many of her books, e.g. mirror mirror are pretty unusual), she  addresses them through many different poetry lenses, e.g. haiku, sonnet, triolet, sinquain, villanelle, and even a terza rima (new to me!). In each poem, Singer manages to embed tidbits of information that leave me as a reader hungry for a little more information. Take spadefoot toads, for instance.

"Dry as Dust"
spadefooot toads
They can deal solo
with dryness, but give them rain
and then: toads explode.

The end notes include a paragraph about each animal, as well as a glossary of list of poetry forms. Ed Young's collage illustrations are perfect, as always!