Sunday, November 29, 2015

Monday Reading - Great Books

          Visit Jen at Teach MentorTexts and Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders to see what they've been reading, along with everyone else who link up.  Others join Sheila to share adult books at Book Journeysnow hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date..

This Side of Wild - Gary Paulsen
I've taught middle school for a long time, and often used Gary Paulsen's introductions to his books as mentor texts. Just find "The Winter Room" and its introduction ("Tuning") so beautifully sharing that books cannot have smells, or sound, or light, since these must be supplied by the reader in response to the author's words. They are wonderful examples of drawing the reader in immediately; with passion for whatever the topic is he's going to tell us about. This book, the intro and the final words, is no different. I always feel as if I'm sitting down with Paulsen, having an intimate conversation, him telling stories, me adding my own thoughts. Where else could one hear about a dog named Gretchen with whom he had many conversations, who guided him into wonders of the world he would never have seen? It is an easy book to read, and one that might make you wonder a little more about that squirrel that keeps looking in your window. It might make a good read aloud for a class who'd made observing the outdoors an important part of their days.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and The Churchill Gang - Phillip M. Hoose
         More and more I am enjoying these non-fiction books that have shared so much detailed history that I didn’t hear in my own education, and this is one that is inspirational and alarming. Because I taught middle-school-aged students, just the age of these boys when Denmark surrendered without a fight to Germany, I read it from the viewpoint of our own lives, wondering how our children at age thirteen and up would react in such a situation? These boys, Knud Pedersen, his brother Jans, and other friends were enraged when their country allowed the Germans to take over without a fight. The king of Denmark and the government thought it would save lives if they simply surrendered, unlike the neighboring country of Norway who fought on despite the casualties.  Sadly they lost more than lives: their freedom and the right to speak their ideas. When the enemy takes over the streets, the shopping, the transportation and restricts movement, etc., lives change. This time, some Danes collaborated and were happy to have the increased business from the Nazis. Others did not, but suffered shortages and strict rules when they didn’t cooperate. The boys, getting together at the Pedersen’s home, secretly, formed the club and began doing what they could without being able to drive, with only bicycles for transportation. And they began, in broad daylight, on their bicycles (Who is alarmed about young boys on bicycles?). There is much to tell of this long journey, and you’ll need to read the book to enjoy it all. Luckily, Hoose was able to take advantage of a failed attempt to tell the story earlier, and found Knud Pedersen still ready to be interviewed, with amazing primary sources ready too.  I liked every bit of the war events, but also loved hearing what happened later in life to all these courageous boys.

The Nest - Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen
               This might be one of the most alarming fables I’ve read that is meant for the middle grades. Oppel takes a lot of pages, scary pages, to show that being perfect is not a life’s goal, although many strive toward it for themselves and their children. There are a few different parts that keeps one guessing who to fear. Is it the strange ‘wasp/fairy’ or the man who drives the streets as a knife sharpener?  Steve, the oldest child, tells this story of his family in crisis because their new baby is not thriving, and doctors don’t know why. Taking on the worries, but not telling he is, Steve begins the dreams, which at first aren’t bad, but soothing. Oppel’s way of writing kept me interested early because I imagined that the boy’s dreams that included talking to a wasp, and the consequent turn of who the wasp was indicated the boy needed help. Scenes of a little sister who receives real phone calls on her toy phone, and the parents becoming increasingly worried about the baby, leaving Steve to solve his own problems added tension to this already tense story. When the story emerged as more and more realistic, I wondered about the long ago fables when fairies stole babies, sometimes for fun, but often to teach a lesson. I know this doesn’t appear realistic, but the theme of a dark message in literature to be careful what one wishes for is clearly shown by Oppel. For a mature reader, billed for middle grades, and enhanced by Jon Klassen’s eerie illustrations.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Celebrating - Each Little Thing

              Many celebrate each Saturday or Sunday with Ruth Ayres at Discover Play Build and the rest of the wonderful community that celebrates together.  

So, the little things that keep me living happy:

Wednesday, before the snowstorm and cold moved in, tree trimmers came and worked fast to trim my huge old cottonwood. They did a wonderful job. I'm always grateful for those who are expert in things I cannot do, who help me "fix" things.

        Also Wednesday was Grandpeople's Day. For the first time I got to be a "Grand-person" and visit Ingrid in her classroom. Here she is getting ready to show me her learning portfolio, and a picture of one of her unit projects.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Poetry Friday - Gratitude

Carol Wilcox hosts Poetry Friday at her blog, Carol's Corner. I'm grateful for all those who share their love of poetry on this day.

          Being grateful for people, for their deeds, for the life I have is something to contemplate especially in this week of our Thanksgiving. A list would be long if I named specific things. It would be even longer if I thought of the goodness in all my life. At  Today's Little Ditty, Michelle H. Barnes invites guest poets to share insights into their writerly lives, and then offer challenges, sometimes in theme, sometimes in form, or both. This month, Rebecca M. Davis, a senior editor for Boyds Mills Press and for WordSong, asked everyone to write about kindness, a specific act or moment. If you go to Michelle's post, you can read the varying ways different poets chose to respond. I chose to write of a part of my life that was very tough, yet made easier by people new to me at that time, although we became close through a common goal, caregiving. Thanks to Michelle for offering the inspiration, becoming words that felt good to say in gratitude.


         Here was a prescription of hugs.
         My husband, in a closed place,
         with dementia,
         among others the same.
         They all missed loved ones,
         yet didn’t know what they missed.
         They wandered, always searching.
         The staff touched,
         along with the meds, spilled trays, angry words.
         I was there every day.
         They gave me hugs, too.
          It’s not a desk job -
          changing beds,
          giving baths.
          singing songs, talking,
          walking to the garden,
          walking down the hall, walking up the hall -
          no step-count, but I bet it was more than ten thousand.
          Those smiles, the soft words,
          meant I could go home to sleep
          till the next day.

           Linda Baie © All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Terrific Non-Fiction Picture Books

New Non-Fiction Plus Sibert Contenders

         Thanks to Alyson Beecher's Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge at her blog, Kidlit Frenzy.   
         Come read to discover everyone's recent non-fiction picture books.
       Tweet - #NFPB15

        I have a giveaway of a Christmas book here. Come check it out!

             Reviewing some books new to me, yet some have been well reviewed by others. And I'm again listing some previous books read that are contenders for the Sibert award. Here is Alyson's post that explains the criteria. 

Brick by Brick - Charles R. Smith Jr. and Floyd Cooper
           The story of the construction of the first White House unfolds with Floyd Cooper's beautiful paintings of the working men, mostly slaves, who built it. At first, free men worked, but it was soon found that more were needed, so slave owners were asked to send their slaves. Sadly, even in the backbreaking work, the slaves earned nothing because the wages were paid to the owners. One good thing happened, however. As the slaves built alongside craftsmen, they learned the skills, which eventually, as 'skilled hands' earned them money. That money was saved to buy their freedom. Charles Smith's poetic text mirrors the day by day activity, relentless, on and on. "Nameless, faceless/daughters and sons/build brick by brick/until each day is done."  Finally the house was built, far out into the country although we now know it as central to the city Sadly, the beautiful building was burned during the War of 1812, but now rebuilt, as the author says, stands as a reminder of the contribution made by slaves who worked toward freedom "brick by brick".

Monday, November 23, 2015

Learning About Teaching - Always

I'm slicing with the Two Writing Teachers community today, and it's always good to read what everyone shares.  Thank you Stacey, Tara, Anna, Betsy, Dana, Kathleen, Beth, and Deb.

          When I watch television, it's not often, but I am rather crazy about The Voice. I know that so much is scripted, and so much surrounds the contestants that much could be staged. But if it is, it still seems to be a great model for supporting students' writing in the classroom. Here's how I "see" it:

A Voice
  • Students actually do audition to see if they are 'good enough', don't they? and when the teacher smiles, says  'yes' and 'okay' or 'nice work' (in response to their writing), it's like admission into some circle, being included.
  • Practice helps, but I notice that there is support and praise for what the singers (writers) do well at the very beginning.
  • When some show talent in one area (fiction or non-fiction reporting), the advice I hear given is to stretch into other areas, perhaps a country singer moves into bluegrass (moving into poetry or memoir, or complex sentencing). And, they receive support, a few pointers for how-to or change, then allow the singer to take off alone (respecting that the writer knows something of his or her own style). It's time to stand back and let the singer (writer) do their thing!
  • After performing (finishing a written piece), even in the early stages, gentle critiques are offered (conferring), and the expectation, a boost to a feeling of growth, is that change will occur.
  • Also after performing, high praise is given, but specific to that performance (I like that, here is where the image works, etc.). I love seeing the performers beam and smile and beam some more (Writers will do that, too).
  • I also suspect that these performers have used many, many mentor songs that help them learn, and the professionals sometimes talk about someone else's way of singing a song. (Just as we hope that writers read, then read some more, and notice what's good, we also point out examples and/or explain how 'what's good' works).
       That's a quick application of what I'm learning from The Voice. I really really love seeing the faces of those performing (or writing) when they're getting their feedback. 
                               Enjoy a week of thanksgiving, wherever you are. photo credit: IMG_9567 via photopin (license)