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Monday, September 4, 2017

MATYLDA BRIGHT AND TENDER- HOLLY McGHEE

Not sure why, but I've had a really hard time blogging this year. It just isn't happening. I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging three or four times a week, and have decided to try to do chapter books on Monday, Tuesday Slice of Life, Wednesday or Thursday picture books, and Poetry on  Friday, so here goes (nothing?)....

This weekend, I read (or maybe I should say cried through) an intermediate grade novel, MATYLDA BRIGHT AND TENDER by Holly McGhee. Susquehanna, better known as Sussy, and Gus have been best friends since kindergarten. Now in fourth grade, they decide they need a pet to take care of. Sussy's dad agrees and the two end up with a leopard spotted gecko, Matylda, spelled with a y. Although the lizard lives at Sussy's house, she's clearly partial to Gus.

After a terrible accident, Sussy finds herself in charge of Matylda. Despite the fact that she's walking through a place of deep sadness and grief, she's determined to do a good job taking care of Matylda. But then her caretaking takes an unexpected twist…

A beautiful novel about friendship, loss, and grief. Put this one on the shelf next to two other oldies but goodies, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and TASTE OF BLACKBERRIES

Friday, September 1, 2017

POETRY FRIDAY


Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Yep, that's what I was about a month ago! OK, maybe I should back up a little. For the past few months, I think since November's election, Donalyn Miller has been giving away a book every day on her Facebook page. She posts the book early in the day, people comment, and then at the end of the day, she chooses a winner from the commenters. She posts some terrific books (yesterday was Jason Reynold's new book, PATINA) and pretty much every day, I comment. Three or four weeks ago, I won Nikki Grimes fabulous new poetry book, ONE LAST WORD.

ONE LAST WORD is first a celebration of Harlem Renaissance poets- Jean Toomer, Clara Ann Thompson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, and Georgia Douglas Thompson.

The book goes way beyond that, however. Grimes has taken these poets' work and written new poems, in a poetry format called "the Golden Shovel." Grimes describes "the Golden Shovel" like this:
The idea of the Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line) and create a new poem, using the words from the original, Say you decide to use a single line, you would arrange that line, word by word, in the right margin:
in
the
right
margin

Then you would write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words…
I wake and shake off the morning as Mom tiptoes in
"Rise and shine," she whispers, always the
same old song, "Get up. Right
now!" I grown on cue, but she gives me no margin. 


Here's one of the poems from the book.

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers
I've known rivers
ancient as the world and older than the
       flow of human blood in human veins
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
       went down to New Orleans, and I've seen it's muddy
       bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


"David's Old Soul"
by Nikki Grimes

As far back as I can remember, my
mother has called me "an old soul."
I never understood. But now that our family has 
dwindled to just Mom and us kids, I've grown
into a man. You do what you have to do.  "David, dig deep," 
is the whisper in my ear. So I stand strong like
a tree my baby brothers can lean on. I try to be the
 raft that helps carry them over this life's rough rivers. 

An added bonus, the poems are illustrated by some of my all time favorites- Jan Spivey Gilcrest, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney and James Ransome, to name a few. Spectacular!

This is a book you don't want to miss! 

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Kathryn Apel. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

PICTURE BOOK TEN FOR TEN

Earlier this summer, I read "The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul," by Phillip Yancey. I found the article really troubling and and have been thinking about it ever since. I decided to put together a list of books that captures some of the reasons that I read. 

Books bring me joy. 



Plastic dinosaurs wreak havoc throughout a classroom. 




How-to text, each page features a different scene throughout the school year. 
Considering using this one as a mentor text with third or fourth graders for our first writing/creating project the first day of school. 


Kate and Jim McMullan

Kate and Jim McMullan, the authors of I STINK, I'M DIRTY, I'M BRAVE 
(and lots more) are back with a story about a school bus.


Books help me understand myself. 


For anyone who has ever tried out the diving board or faced a fear.


Books teach me how to treat others.




A beautiful wordless picture book about two strangers that build a tree house and become friends. 


Emily Pearson

A girl's small kindness creates a chain reaction in the world around her. 
I thought this was brand new, evidently it's a re-release of a book originally published about 15 years ago. Pair this with EACH KINDNESS


Books help me understand other perspectives. 



Perfect to think about perspective or introduce a unit on persuasive writing. 


Lane Smith


Short and funny, but also a terrific message about the impact our actions have on those around us. 

Books are a window into other times and places.



An Italian child is forced to leave a much loved sculpture and immigrate to New York when his family's safety is threatened by World War II. Be sure to read the author's note. 


Francesca Sanna

I'll be using this book with our middle schoolers, who begin the year with a unit on immigration.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

SLICE OF LIFE

Scraaape!

A horrible screeching sound against the driver's side door.

What could I have hit?

I quickly stop the car in the narrow downtown parking lot. I have to push against the driver's side door to open it. Once open, I see the pole. Short. Bright yellow. Designed to keep people like me, I guess, from turning the narrow corner too tightly.

And boy, did it ever work. The evidence is clear on my car door.

This happened in May. Three months ago. I was racing downtown to attend a meeting for my boss. The meeting was at 9:30, a hard time to find a spot to park in downtown Denver, so I was trying to pull into a small lot about four blocks of my meeting. There was a short post, right when I turned the corner into the lot, not quite tall enough to be visible over the car window, and somehow I didn't see it. And I scraped against it, and dented up the whole drivers door.

And so all summer, people have been asking me what I did to my car. And it's kind of embarrassing to have to keep telling them how stupid I am.

Around July 1st, I went and got an estimate. $2500. $2500 for a moment's stupidity. I made an appointment on the first available week, which was August 14th.

And now I'm trying to decide whether I should keep the appointment.

This has been an expensive summer. $2000 to get a big tree trimmed back. Another $2000 into one son's car. $476 into the other son's car. I really don't have $2500 more.

The car still works fine. After the first day, when the door was a little hard to open, I don't notice any difference in the way the car drives. I could probably live without the repairs.

At the same time, it's so ugly. And people keep asking me what I did to the car. And it's embarrassing to have to tell them what really happened. And every time I look at the car, I remember how stupid I was.

But even so, $2500 is a lot of money.

A whole lot of money for one moment of stupidity.

Friday, July 28, 2017

POETRY FRIDAY

I had the incredible opportunity of working with Donald Graves during my graduate level courses. Don probably taught me more about teaching and living than anyone before or since, he's definitely one of my most important teachers and mentors. Don loved poetry, and wrote and shared it pretty much every time we were together. One of the first poems he ever shared is still one of my favorite poems of all times. At this time of year, when I am thinking about going back to school, and wanting to provide teachers and kids with authentic, joyful, life-changing literacy experiences, it seems especially relevant. 

Greek Amphora, Photo by Sharon Mollerus, found on Wikimedia Commons



To be of use
BY MARGE PIERCY
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy, "To be of use" from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved

Linda Mitchell is hosting Poetry Friday today. She has a terrific first line swap writing activity, I'm dying to try it, but it will have to be after work today

Friday, July 21, 2017

POETRY FRIDAY

Sunset in Denver, Wednesday Night

We start a new school year on Monday. My school is undergoing lots of changes- interim principal, new leadership structures, several new teachers, or teachers in new grade levels- and I'm feeling more than a little anxious about what my role will be. And the neighborhood around my school, which is not far from downtown, is gentrifying rapidly, which means the population I have always served is being pushed out, and people who can afford $800,000 homes (and don't have school-aged children) are moving in. I worry about our enrollment and whether I will even have a job. I'm trying hard to breathe and be still and trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to work out…
Quietness
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Escape.
Walk out like somebody suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side.
Die,
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Kari, a middle school language arts teacher from Wisconsin, is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup  at The Logonauts this week. I went over to get the link and found a new poetry book I HAVE to own! BRAVO: POEMS ABOUT AMAZING HISPANICS by Margarita Engle sounds like it would be a perfect addition to my dual language school's library.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SLICE OF LIFE

Sometimes a book just hits a little too close to home. That's what's happened to me this week. I've been reading THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. If you follow adolescent literature at all, you probably know that the book has gotten all kinds of accolades. Some people even think it will win the Newbery. I think it could. It's really well-written. And I had a really hard time reading it.

THE HATE U GIVE is the story of Starr, a 16-year-old African American girl, who lives with her family in her rough neighborhood. Her father owns a grocery store, her mother is a nurse, and somehow they have arranged for Starr to attend an exclusive, mostly white school in a much more affluent part of town. Starr is basically two different people living in one body. By day, she takes on the persona of her upper class Anglo friends, and at night she returns to her family and neighborhood.

The wall has built between her two worlds comes crashing down one night when Starr is at a party in her neighborhood. She runs into Khalil, who is one of her closest friends, but but who she hasn't seen in a long time. When shots are fired, Khalil and Starr escape to his car. The car is pulled over, and somehow, even though he has done absolutely nothing wrong, Khalil is shot and killed by the police. Starr is the only witness, and throughout the rest of the book, the reader follows her as she gives a statement to police detectives, appears on television and testifies before the grand jury.

The book is riveting, and I had a really hard time getting through it.

To some degree, that book is about my life, as the mother of two African American sons. No, I don't live in that rough a neighborhood. And no, I didn't send my boys to an affluent white prep school. But Starr's friend, Khalil, could easily be my boys, laying dead in the middle of the street. And because of that, I am terrified every single time those six-foot chocolate-skinned bodies walk out of the house.

I hate it most at night. Often the boys are doing something totally innocent, just running to the grocery store or to see a cousin that lives nearby.  Even so, I imagine the scenario- the police pulling them over, my sons being nervous and making a misstep, the police unnerved by my sons' size and physique, a gun fired, a bleeding body, the dreaded phone call.

Yep. I would really rather they just stayed at home. All the time. Where I know they are safe.

And yet I know I can't be like that. They are almost grown men. They need to be free. And so I try to act casual. Look up from my computer. Ask where they are going. When they will be home. Remind them to be careful. Drive safely. No pot or alcohol in the car. Tell them I love them.

Then I spend the next hour or two or five worrying about where they might be and whether they are safe. If it they are gone too long, or it gets too late, and they aren't home, we have a deal. I text, "Are you safe?" and they have to respond, even just by texting back "Yes," within five minutes. They don't have to tell me where they are, but they have to respond, so I know they are ok.

And I talk to them, over and over again, about how to behave if they are pulled over by the police. Hands on the wheel. No sudden moves. Tell the policeman what you are doing, "I need to get my registration, sir. It's in my glove compartment." Don't get out of the car unless the police tell you to do that. If they do, move slowly. Follow their directions. Don't give anyone any lip.  I hope my boys are prepared in the event that they do get themselves into a tough situation.

And still I am terrified every time they go out of the house. Sometimes a book just hits a little too close to home.