Monday, October 31, 2016

Thinking of November

       I'm slicing with the Two Writing Teachers community today. It's always a pleasure to read what everyone writes about their lives.

Happy November!

        Here are a few of my favorite November things:

NOVEMBER NIGHT  - Adelaide Crapsey, inventor of the cinquainListen…
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.

          She may have titled it November, and I am thankful, but it describes our recent nights.

In November - picture book by Cynthia Ry.ant and Jill Kastner
             It's time to re-visit this beautiful book, today on November 1st. Rylant reminds us of the beauty of November. Don't miss finding and reading or re-reading.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Monday Reading


          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.  I didn't post last week, was out of town with family, but did read quite a bit before and after the long weekend. I am also in the midst of reading for the Cybils poetry, round one. I won't review them all, but want to tell you that there are so many wonderful poetry books that have come out since last October. This task of choosing finalists is going to be tough! You can see ALL the nominated books here! Nominations are now closed, but each category is there.


          Twelve-year-old Molly Nathans seems to have a lot of good things in her life: friends and a nice family, and she's one of the slam poets that others believe might win the school championship. She's talented! Yet as we begin reading her story, there are a few hints that "hidden" Molly is not telling. She lines up a glass animal collection in her room with a ruler, ensures it "feels" right before she can leave. She almost purchases another animal, but realizes that would make 45 of them, a "terrible" odd number. She washes her hands four times and lines up her colored pencils per the Roy.G.Biv rainbow line-up. Her best friend Hannah and little brother Ian notice a few things, but Molly tries hard to keep all these needs to herself. 
          Molly's mother has recently left for a new job in Toronto, says it's only for a year. Things do not seem right, however, and Molly is certain if she manages to do the poetry slam perfectly, she can entice her mother back to the celebration banquet. Then all will be all right, really perfect. The progression of this illness through Molly's thoughts is shown to be frightening. To be perfect, certain criteria had to be met, then Molly could move on to the next task. But things, even best friends, get in the way, her mother doesn't always call, and her father is working hard to meet his own deadlines. I love that Elly Swartz showed how out of control OCD can become, and that there are professionals that help along with support groups for all ages. I also loved that it was shown that all the characters indeed were not perfect, had their own quirks, which made us readers sympathize. The challenges Molly had were that her illness worsened, and she was terrified that if she did not do some of the things, her little brother Ian would die of some illness. I hope that the story helps and supports some who are trying to understand what's happening to them, or to someone they love. Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Celebrating Always

  Celebrating with Ruth Ayres at Discover Play Build.  and linking with others who share their celebrations, too. I am grateful to Ruth for helping us celebrate together!  

        This time last week I was in Texas visiting my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, watching Carter in his marching band in a regular game and in a competition. They did beautifully and earned a one. Now I'm back, but they're on their way to the "next" level of competition. If they do well this time, it's on to the state contest. Busy, busy are the parents. I remember. And I celebrate being able to spend a weekend seeing Carter and his band, seeing his parents be those volunteer parents who do a lot! 
 Here is what I celebrate from the past week: 

It's very flat in Lubbock, Texas where my son and family live.
But I found a beautiful sunset there, too!

Celebrating this part of my family. Being with them is a joy.

Haven't been to a Friday night lights game in many years.
It was a lot of fun!

Carter plays the trombone just as I did so long
ago. This is a special thing, although I really
had nothing to do with the decision-promise!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Poetry Friday - October Goodbye

          Welcome, welcome to this final Poetry Friday in October. Are you ready for a spooky weekend or an autumn break? This is the time to celebrate the season, whatever you may be doing. Leave your poetry links at the end of this post! Happy Halloween!

          I've written numerous versions of this poem, thinking from the standpoint of one special day when all the world seemed to BE autumn. I've added what I've noticed in much of this month, and chosen one photo of a tree I loved seeing. It felt like that tree was saying goodbye with its leaves. I also researched crickets, have been listening to what I believe is one lonely cricket for many evenings. 
           You may know this about the cricket's song, but I did not. "Only male crickets chirp. It's actually called 'stirdulation'. This happens when it rubs the bottom part of one of its wings on the top part of the other wing. There are 3 reasons why crickets chirp...

...1) to attract females; 2) to impress the female he has already attracted; 3) to warn other males to stay away. Also, you can tell the temperature outside by listening to how fast they chirp; the hotter it is, the faster they chirp and the colder it is, the slower. Just count the number of chirps you hear in 13 seconds and add 40 and that's the temperature."  -

enlarge to read more easily

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thinking About George

              Thanks to Alyson Beecher's Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge at Kidlit Frenzy, those who link up share fabulous non-fiction picture books. I am grateful for all that I've learned through reading non-fiction picture books. 

        I looked for this at my library because I saw reviews a long while ago, but I never read it. And it seems to be a good time to see what a picture book can tell us about being President of the United States. George Washington set the bar high!
Big George: How A Shy Boy Became President Washington - Anne Rockwell and Matt Phelan

Here's what I learned about President Washington's traits that feel right for being President:

He was a learner: When George was eleven his father died, and he went to live at his half-brother Lawrence's place, Mount Vernon. There he spent time reading in Mt. Vernon's large library and was especially drawn to a Roman farmer who put down his plow because he was needed as a leader. George thought it was admirable that this man, Cinncinnatus, gave up what he loved in order to serve his country. George would remember this later.

         He also was a learner in sports, was an avid horseman, swordsman and fencer. He was taught all the things a Virginia gentleman was supposed to know by Lawrence. He learned a bit from traveling with Lawrence, too.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Busy, Busy - Fun, Fun

       I'm slicing with the Two Writing Teachers community today. It's always a pleasure to read what everyone writes about their lives.

         I've been away, no blogging since last Wednesday, and it's been a marvelous five days. I visited my son, daughter-in-law and grandson Carter in Lubbock, Texas to see them all of course, but especially to see Carter and his marching band. Marching band is a very big deal in this town of Lubbock, I think all of Texas. One nice thing is that it's as big a deal as football, and they are not cutting music programs!

      I haven't been to a Friday Night Lights game in a long time, and this time they showed me more than I've remembered from years ago! The parents of Carter's marching band have a rolling grill and a trailer because they feed the kids before every game, and most times they feed the opposing team's band, too. That's 600 plus people! I couldn't take pics of the kids without permission, but there are pics of my son and daughter-in-law, on the "Grill Team". I was the person giving helpings of tortilla chips, and loved having small chats with all those wonderful high school kids, showing such gratitude for being fed, having such a great time with their friends before they marched across the road to the stadium, and then at half-time at the game. These kids do all that they do, plus practice every day (either morning or after school) and have been doing this since the beginning of August. I admire their dedication and grit, working to make as perfect a "show" as they can.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Loving Photographs

              Thanks to Alyson Beecher's Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge at Kidlit Frenzy, those who link up share fabulous non-fiction picture books. I am grateful for all that I've learned through reading non-fiction picture books. 

I finally received this from my library. It had many holds, hopefully giving hope to children who are "antsy" in school as Ansel Adams was. Fortunately his father went against convention and understood that his "wiggly" son, often in trouble in school, needed to be active and outside in a lively place so he could be "antsy". Ansel's father pulled him out of school and hired a tutor and a piano teacher. Ansel was finally free to spend a lot of time on the dunes where they lived near the Golden Gate bridge. He loved nature, a hint of how much of its beauty he captured later with a camera.
     There were other inspirations as he grew up, but seemingly the biggest was a first visit to Yosemite, and the surprise gift of a camera. One could say he was "captured" by it, as he later "captured" his photo subjects.
           Ansel returned to Yosemite often, eventually meeting and marrying a young woman whose family lived there, and making it their home, too.
      I loved the illustrations which are a mix of collage paintings that include some of the sites Ansel photographed. There is a detailed piece about Ansel Adams and a list of resources in the back matter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Authenticity Means Something!

       I'm slicing with the Two Writing Teachers community today. It's always a pleasure to read what everyone writes about their lives.

         When I taught, the search continued to find ways to use the students' individually chosen topics in authentic ways. The topics varied, and often research had to happen first so that the student could find a direction that would be something of interest, something that will help the community, or one group. For example, one student who studied child psychology gave a series of lectures about the stages of emotional development to her classmates and to other older classes, to help them understand their own growth. Imagine the kind of learning she had to do in order to deliver something of interest and something helpful to her classmates! Another student began studying cartooning, and developed a number of key characters in a four-cell strip. He copied and distributed these to every student in the school, and began a dialogue with the classes of students as his audience. He asked what they thought of the drawings, the content, the characters. And he asked for ideas they would like to see. I guess you see where I'm heading, that learning through a topic of passion and finding ways that one can learn by offering something of value is meaningful both to the learner and the recipients of that learning. One final example involved those in the class who wanted to learn how to start a business. A group who volunteered helped set up a used bookstore in the school, found a place to house the books, advertised for 'gently used' books, set prices and store hours, and managed the inventory. It was a wonderful opportunity for those who loved the idea of being business entrepreneurs.

        This weekend my daughter and son-in-law gave a pumpkin carving party for mostly neighborhood friends and their children.They found old worn out trophies and spray-painted them orange. They found a few neighbors without children to serve as judges, offered lots of treats, and the party happened! Here are a few pics of the results, and one picture of Ingrid with the judges. She opted to be one of the judges instead of entering the contest, created a jack o'lantern for a "model" and set the categories ahead of time. They were categories like "most creative", "funniest", "scariest" and a few others. As the pumpkins were completed, she gave them a number and took notes in her journal. When the other judges arrived, she was ready to share what she knew already, and to take notes for them as they all decided on prizes. She loved being part of this group, contributed as she could, and I believe felt very empowered as part of the group. FYI- she read to the adult judges the winners' names so they could hand out the trophies! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It's Monday -More Books To Love

 Every Monday, it's a pleasure to link up with a group that reviews books they want to share with others. My TBR list grows longer each week!

          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.   

       I just bought this book, and I am so pleased that I did. I don’t know how much to share because it is a beautiful surprise of a story. The poem in rhyme by Joyce Sidman trails through the story, about a night when a mother arrives home, sits with the children for a while, and then you see her getting ready to go again, off to the airport. She appears to be a pilot.  You’ll need to read the book to discover what happens next. The scratchboard and watercolor illustrations by Beth Kromme are exquisite, carrying the story along as time moves from late afternoon through the evening, till morning.

        This is a clever book that shows a grasshopper ordering other insects to bring it a rock. It wants to pile them high so it can sit on top, and be the king. There is some making fun, there are delightful expressions on each of the insects, and there is a wonderful ending that shows everyone has something to contribute.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Celebrating - Good Things

  Celebrating with Ruth Ayres at Discover Play Build.  and linking with others who share their celebrations, too. I am grateful to Ruth for helping us celebrate together!  

I missed last week because I stayed the weekend with Ingrid and Imogene while their parents went away for a couple of days to celebrate their anniversary. I wrote about this "play fest" last Tuesday. 

On Monday, Imi had a day off from school, so she spent a day at my house, and we ended up going to our wonderful Museum of Nature and Science. It is so much fun, and I'm fortunate to live close.

Tuesday was "my day" (I celebrated some down time!), and Wednesday was my birthday, most of the day spent visiting on the phone, then going out to dinner with Sarah, Dave, Ingrid and Imogene. Birthdays come and go rather uneventfully, but I celebrate the joy of the granddaughters when they watch me open my gifts. It helps me remember again how exciting these special days are, and makes me excited too.

It was a great week, and was topped with my son calling last night saying he was sending me a plane ticket to come visit next weekend! I am excited again, to be able to see Carter and his marching band, to help with all the parent volunteer things, simply to "be" together will be cause for celebration all that weekend, too. So I won't be blogging next weekend, but will be celebrating!

A note: Imi loved the rocks, especially the sparkly ones. There was an amazing "floor" movie with sounds of streams running and birds chirping, fish swimming through, Imi with a sweet sea lion sculpture, and always the end: feeding the lion to make it roar. Birthday dinner: the girls were being silly, sliding down, down onto the floor. Isn't that what silly kids do? And that last, with Ingrid on Thursday, running back from getting the mail.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Poetry Friday - Election Changes

         Irene Latham at Live Your Poem hosts this mid-October Poetry Friday, sharing some fabulous, creative scarecrows and a poem about them, too. Thanks, Irene, for a perfect autumn post!

         Of all the craziness in this election time, my mind continues to return to those who are not answering questions put to them. I listen with focus, and it happens time and time again. I've been writing this poem for a while, mostly done "before" these recent events more alarming than simply not answering a question. It is not meant as a joke, but serious because I want the answers, and not the lies. 
         I have rarely heard or used the word “pivot” since my high school basketball days. However, in this election frenzy, this word has appeared often in the mouths of newscasters. It varies with the breaking news shared, but most of the time it means that a question is asked, a dilemma is faced, and the central person turns away to talk or effect a different, and meaningless, response, in order to change the direction of the topic. Argh, so frustrating!


I will avert my eyes,
avoid all you surmise
about anything.

I will bend the query;
when you lunge, I parry
away your sting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Picture Book Bios

              Thanks to Alyson Beecher's Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge at Kidlit Frenzy, those who link up share fabulous non-fiction picture books. I am grateful for all that I've learned through reading non-fiction picture books. 

       Now that we're seeing the importance of women in this current election, and they are stepping forward to share their opinions, it's great to read a book about two women long ago determined to make a splash to persuade the country to give women the vote. Hadley Hooper fills the pages with lots of yellow, the color that stood for Votes for Women everywhere
     In addition to the stars of this incredible trip, a yellow Saxon car is the third one. Nell Richardson and Alice Burke bought the car, packed what they thought were essentials into it, and took off on a 10,000 mile trip across the country and back. It was amusing that they they took a tiny typewriter in order to show how smart they were. When someone questioned it, they would take it out and whip up a poem! As for the sewing machine, the plan was to show that they could also continue to do traditional women's work. Nothing could stop them, not muddy roads, not a stubborn farmer driving a wagon, not a snowstorm! There is information at the back about automobiles during that time and about the struggle for women's equality, an author's note and a source list. It is a rousing story to share with children who need to know how hard some work toward accomplishing goals, for themselves and for many others!

         I loved reading this story, love all of Gershman's music. What a gift he had, and this particular one tells about his beginnings, roller skating by jazz clubs and staying to listen for hours. When the family finally purchased a piano they were astounded to see him play a sophisticated tune immediately. It's simply a story about Rhapsody In Blue, where George got his idea, and the marvelous parts added by chance. Stacy Innerst, illustrator, shares that her depictions are based on archival photographs, and they reflect that "Rhapsody", too, all in blue tones. The pages are nearly like the music, innovative page by page. The story offers just enough to spark an interest in knowing more. There are author's and illustrator's notes, a timeline, a bibliography and acknowledgments.

        Reading non-fiction books is quite a pleasure. The history is brought to life with creative story-telling and illustration. I'm so glad that children get to learn parts of history from these wonderful picture books!

Monday, October 10, 2016

My Play Weekend

       I'm slicing with the Two Writing Teachers community today. It's always a pleasure to read what everyone writes about their lives.

         “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

      You probably already know, for sure, that a large slice of my life includes my two grand-girls. A part of my heart will always be occupied by them and by my grandson, now in another state and growing up so fast. He's fifteen and about to get his driver's permit! Wow!

      Saturday and Sunday I stayed at my daughter, Sarah & son-in-law, Dave's home with the grand-girls so that the parents could go away for these short two days to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary. They have a new dog, a rescued two year old cattle dog, so we all thought it would be better to stay at their home. He was great, and now I know him better, a nice thing. We did not go anywhere, but spent the days together. We played, they played, I read, they played, I cooked, they played, I did laundry, we played, we read, they entertained. We watched some funny mini-movies that held magic and fairies in a bit of mystery, And then we read more books, and the girls played some more. We didn't have to go anywhere, and usually we do, but it was one of those weekends when there was no expectation except fun.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Monday Reading - Great Books

           Every Monday, it's a pleasure to link up with a group that reviews books they want to share with others. Come discover new 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.   

There's still time to nominate a favorite book for the Cybil's Awards. Do it by Oct. 15th Here!

      I reviewed Skila Brown's verse novel To Stay Alive for Poetry Friday. Read it here!

       I am a grandmother and I was recently a teacher, and sometimes a student would share with me that she or he didn't know the grandparents. They lived far away, the family was somehow estranged, and sometimes they had already passed on. It made me very sad because I had wonderful memories of my own grandparents. 
         In this wonderful book set in the 1950's by Augusta Scattergood, eleven year old Azalea is about to get to know her Grandmother Clark, no matter how much she does not wish to! Azalea tells her story and begins with her grandmother writing Azalea's daughter to ask for help. The grandmother has fallen, and needs someone to do some gardening and housekeeping while she heals. Although we soon learn that there has been an estrangement between Azalea's grandmother and mother, they have stayed somewhat in touch. The story begins with Azalea's resentment at being sent, her counting the days till she can return to her own home and best friend, Barbara Jean. Now, Grandmother Clark even wants her to get to know a young boy who's a little older, Billy Wong, who will also be a garden helper. Azalea doesn't like to talk to new people. She's shy and wonders why in the world she's landed in this awful little town where everyone knows everyone! 
          Soon the story widens to include Billy Wong's problems, a bully already in the town who isn't nice at all, but has his own problems. There is a terrific thread about the Chinese grocery in town owned by Billy's Great-Uncle and Aunt, and some added information in an afterword about the Chinese groceries prominent in the south during this time. After nearly every chapter, Augusta has added a short written poetic piece by Billy himself, sometimes funny, often poignant, the words of a smart 13 year old young Chinese boy who just wants to learn and go to a good school. Through conflicts and "have-tos", Azalea begins to learn that she can talk to strangers, stick up for friends against harsh words, and finally, finally get to know her grandmother enough to tell some truths that need to be told. For a middle grade book that seems just right for middle graders, the plot is complicated just enough to make the reader want to turn the page, and discover what will happen next. I enjoyed Azalea's voice, and the discovery about her relationship with her grandmother especially.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Poetry Friday - A New Verse Novel

         Thanks to Violet Nesdoly, our host for Poetry Friday today! She's celebrating Poetry Camp where so many PF people camped out with poetry last weekend, thanks to Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Visit here to see all the links!

       FYI -  I am serving on the Cybil's Poetry group again this year, this time Round One. I want to remind you that anyone can nominate a favorite book that was published from Oct. 16th, 2015 to Oct. 15th, 2016, when nominations close. Go HERE if you're interested!

          As serendipity goes, I had an arc of this verse novel from Candlewick Press, just out this October. I read it last week, and it has been nominated in the Cybil's poetry category. Verse novels are as diverse as stand alone poems are, always interesting to read an author's approach. With more being written in these recent years, I am sorry not to be in the classroom in order to see how they might affect the writing of my students, many of whom loved poetry and all types of writing. Would they try a short story in verse? Or a non-fiction research essay? It feels as if these verse novels will affect students in both their knowledge and opinions of how poetry can work for them as writers. 

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party - Skila Brown

          I've lived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for a long time, and in the winter there are always stories of people lost. It's frightening to imagine. They are often alone, have driven off an embankment far enough down so that no one spots the car, or decided to go snowshoeing and are lost in a sudden storm. But they do have a good chance of being rescued because of technology and rescue groups.This was not true of the plight of the Donner party in 1846.

          Skila Brown has written a lovely, but heartbreaking verse novel about the Donner Party. We know of this story in Colorado, but she has made it a new telling through the use of poetry and by having the story told with one voice, Mary Ann. She is the second to oldest daughter of the Graves family at nineteen years. There are twelve in this family, one "in-law" married to the oldest daughter, a mother and father and the ten other children from seventeen years to an infant. They are a real family from this history, and the story is taken from accounts written by members of all the Donner group and others who met them along the way.    
           Through Mary Ann's voice, Skila Brown uses the poems to introduce characters--the strong and scared, the kind and mean. Taken together we begin to see how the adventure will go, with Mary Ann's excitement and support of her father as they begin, and walk and walk, then walk some more. The poems lengthen when a particular quiet scene is shown, adding the details of setting and people’s interactions. Then they shorten as the challenges continue to appear--quick, brief lines, like when one breathes fast with stress. There is beauty shown in brief words, comparisons with Mary Ann's past, and her first impressions.

            Attention to word placement adds to the movement, this never-stopping journey: “The days seem/agonizingly long” (large space) “frightening short”. It's hard to imagine walking hundreds of miles, and the poems show the repetition of scenery. It becomes endless prairie, no-relief of horizon desert, mountain up-and-down canyons. Finally arrives the snow, the endless snow. In a story where although one already knows the sad end, the poems stand alone as this small group walks: they dance to a fiddle, watch the food dwindle: “Father unwraps the beef, carefully slices/each of us a piece, as big as a finger.”  The uncomfortable predictions are there all along this journey made of hope, grit, and finally resignation. One favorite line comes as they choose to move up into the mountains, seeing storm clouds, but hoping that the snow will only last a day. It did not.

"Everything's being slowly painted white./as if we're climbing up into winter." It’s a poignant story told again in verse.