Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week

Newbery Challenge
M.C. Higgins the Great was an unusual book. Hamilton brought us right into to the hills of Ohio and showed them to us brilliantly. The characters were unique too, but somehow, I couldn't connect with them. I enjoyed the way she painted a picture of the place, but the events and the beliefs about the "witchy" others were just too "out there" for me to feel entirely comfortable. It wasn't magical realism exactly, but it managed to feel that way. I tend to shy away from books like that. So, this was not one of my favorites and I am not exactly sure who I would recommend it to.

Novels in Verse
Because I am Furniture was a close look at domestic violence and other forms of abuse so it was not light reading. I enjoyed the writing though it is never comfortable to read such a topic. It was interesting to note that before the story the author hints that some of this may have been part of her life and in this story she had the opportunity to redo her choices. The main character, Anke, has a father who is abusing every member of the family except her. This is a gift and a problem for her because she feels that in his eyes she is not even worth his time. I appreciated that Anke does some soul searching and is growing as a person in spite of the stresses at home.

Orchard is another "issue" kind of book. In this one, a classmate has committed suicide and Kana is sent to her mother's family in Japan for the summer to have something to take her mind off of the tragedy. Kana learns more about her family and works through her feelings of guilt over this long and difficult summer. I felt that she actually wasnt' as bothered by the suicide as I would have expected, but otherwise, the novel dealt with the emotional ups and downs that could be experienced following a suicide. 

Picture Book

The only picture book I managed was hello! hello! by Matthew Cordell. He is having a fantastic art giveaway right now. If you purchase his book and show him the receipt, he is sending out art to go with it. Read about it here on his blog.

My favorite book of the week was Starry River of the Sky. I might even choose it as the best for the title alone. Then there is the brilliant artwork and the magical storytelling. Grace Lin does it again with a wonderful tale of a boy who is learning about himself and how to deal with his anger. As with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon the main story is liberally sprinkled with brief, yet engaging folktales. I loved it.

For Next Week
I have started a re-read of The Grey King for the Newbery Challenge and I am already falling into the story. Wales is such a fabulous place for a fantasy. I remember loving this one as a child. Other than that, I may not read much as I still have about 15,000 words to write before Friday if I am going to complete NaNoWriMo. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Reading and Writing

Thanksgiving is a time for family and food, but we also retreat to our own corners multiple times a day so we can remain friendly with one another. That's when I am doing some reading, working on my NaNoWriMo and fitting in some snacking too.

These are the pumpkin cupcakes that my NaNoWriMo characters make

I am struggling through M.C. Higgins the Great for the Newbery Challenge. The beginning didn't catch my attention. I am finally a little more interested as a key character has been introduced who brings some conflict to the story. I have promised myself that I get to start Starry River of the Sky if I manage to finish M.C. Higgins this weekend. That will be my reward. In the meantime, I have also finished a couple of novels in verse. I read Because I am Furniture and Orchards both of which had pretty heavy topics - suicide and domestic violence.

I have also been taking pictures that help me with the writing of my NaNoWriMo project. I love taking pictures normally, but they are helping my get ideas for my characters since one also enjoys photography. I have been way behind on NaNo and have been clawing my way out of a hole. I was more than 10,000 words behind, but have knocked that down to just under 7,000 and I have more time to write tonight. There is starting to be a light at the end of the tunnel. See you on the other side.

We had a super foggy day this week

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week

Historical Fiction

Two of these are part of my effort to read many, many novels-in-verse this month as I am working on my NaNoWriMo project which involves poetry. Witness was powerful and I appreciated the many perspectives of the community as the KKK moved into this small Vermont town. This isn't the typical southern view. It was a bit confusing sometimes because there were so many characters to follow, but I am not sure another format could have handled that any better. Crossing Stones was also about rights, but this time women's rights. It is truly amazing to see in both of these books, how many people determine that entire groups of people are beneath them simply because of race, religion or gender.

Leon's Story grabbed my attention and was a very quick read. I was pulling biographies for fifth graders when it caught my eye. I couldn't put it down. It is essentially an oral history written down. Leon was a black man growing up in the twenties and thirties. He details many injustices and indignities that he and his family faced including the death of his father caused by young drunk white men. His story is one of perseverance and strength.

Picture Books

My favorite of these had to be hello! hello! Matthew Cordell speaks to us of unplugging and getting out to say hello to the many wonderful things in the world there are besides devices. I can't wait to share this one. I ordered it immediately after reading it. I think you will too.

Thanksgiving Books

Both of these excellent books contain a list of things that the narrator is thankful for and both are great books to use during Thanksgiving. The focus is on the act of giving thanks. They are great examples that many cultures participate in some form of giving thanks and that the Pilgrims were not the first or only people to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to using them this week in some of my classes along with Grace Lin's Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Our Journey by Lyz Jaakola. Pat Mora has a video here about writing the book Gracias.

Here is a video of Chief Jake Swamp explaining about sacredness of the eagle feather, but also about the importance of being thankful.


I loved the poems in this collection. Since I lived in San Antonio, I especially appreciated seeing many references to places and things familiar to me. One of my favorites was the short prose piece titled Museum as it referenced the McNay which my aunt took me to when I was young. Many of the poems were hard hitting as they dealt with conflict and wars in the middle east and the people who have been affected the most. Here she reads two of her poems from this book.

This next video I am just including because I love the poem and it is fun and makes me laugh. This poem was not in the book, but happily, I stumbled across it online.

The Coming Week:
I am guessing this will be a slow reading week with the holidays, being almost 9,000 words behind on my NaNoWriMo project and having my son come home from college for Thanksgiving. I just started Because I am Furniture and I may read M.C. Higgins the Great for Nerdbery, but other than that, I may not get much accomplished and that will be just fine. Have a fantastic week of reading!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Read for the Record - Finally a Post

Butterfly Girl joined me for a photo op.

We had great activities all around the school.

Middle school students came to read to us too.
Our fabulous wall after we added ladybugs made by all of the students

Third grade students made the pages of the book.

Once again, our school participated in Jumpstart's Read for the Record in October. We had guest readers, people in costume, art and language activities, ladybug beanbag toss, fun songs, ladybug research, and so much more going on. 

We look forward to activities like this that bring the whole school together around literacy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week

Newbery Challenge - No progress. Ack!

Caldecott Challenge
Duffy and the Devil is a Rumplestiltskin story and it made me giggle. The pictures didn't wow me though. I thought they were unique, but not out of this world.

Picture Book
I finally got my hands on Laurel Snyder's Good night, laila tov. I had meant to read that awhile ago after we had a wonderful Skype visit with her in the spring, but my list of books just gets out of hand and I forget at least half of what I mean to read. I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it for bedtime - or anytime really.

Just Being Audrey was wonderful. I have read a few adult biographies of Audrey Hepburn and so finding this book made me smile. Reading it made my smile grow even bigger. I love the illustrations! The text informed and shared her light, but my only complaint is that I wanted more information. That is the difficulty of picture biographies though.

Novel/ Printz Honor
For NaNoWriMo, I am writing a story with two narrators. One is telling her story in verse. So, I have a stack of books in my house that are of the Novel-in-Verse variety. Keesha's House was a re-read for me and I loved it again. Helen Frost does such a fabulous job of making poetry speak volumes. In few words, her characters manage to express so much. On top of it, she also uses a wide variety of poetry forms in her books. This one had sonnets and sestinas. She includes the rules for those forms at the end.

I didn't read any lengthy books this week, but otherwise, it was an excellent week of reading. Many books brought a smile to my face and several made me really think. 

For the Coming Week: I am having a hard time getting many pages read while I am working on NaNoWriMo so novels-in-verse are just the thing. I will continue to read through Thanksgiving books critically each day and will try to start M.C. Higgins the Great for the Newbery Challenge. I am not sure that I will get to much else though I want to start Malcolm at Midnight soon. We will see what I can fit into my very busy life.

Wisconsin Book Festival

My day began early at the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) book sale at UW-Madison. What a fun time! They had many recent books for sale at an inexpensive price and a bunch of older quality literature for $1 a bag. It was a bit of heaven. I also bumped into fellow Nerdybookclub member Sarah @pageintraining while rummaging through the piles. 

Next on my agenda was an author and illustrator visit at a local public library. I got to meet W.H. Beck and Brian Lies as they talked about their new book Malcolm at Midnight. I already had it on my TBR list, but I'm eager to begin reading it now that I know more about it. Seeing the author and illustrator together was a special treat as we learned about how their individual efforts dovetailed and became one work. I have long been a fan of Brian's illustrations so really enjoyed hearing from him. It was also cool to find out that Beck is a school librarian too. I love making new connections!

Now that I am in my second year of NaNoWriMo, I have even more appreciation for what goes into the creation of a book and hearing about all of the steps in the process is fascinating to me. I am thankful that writers and illustrators take the time to answer our sometimes silly, sometimes wise, and sometimes nosy questions.

W.H. Beck and Brian Lies signing books.

I was lucky enough to get to stop for lunch with my son, but soon caught up with another author and met up with Sarah again at another library. Stacy DeKeyser was sharing her book The Brixen Witch.

Strangely enough, this book also features a rat. In fact, it features many rats in this retelling of The Pied Piper. I have long been a fan of fairy-tale retellings, I am looking forward to reading this one. Again, hearing about her writing process was fun for me. The more I write, the more I want to know about the  writing experiences of others.

She shared a bit about her upcoming book and even showed the rough draft of the first chapter. 

Though she has not yet done any Skype visits, Sarah and I found out that she is open to the idea and we may try to connect with her later in the school year. :)

It was a fantastic day even if it did wear me out so much that I slept until noon today. I am thankful that the Wisconsin Book Festival is open to anyone and the events are free. It was a fabulous day. Oh, and on my way to and from the festival, I listened to Brain Burps about Books podcasts from the one and only Katie Davis and that was the perfect beginning and conclusion for a book filled day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rethinking Thanksgiving

I spent a wonderful evening at Widening the Circle: Native American and Hmong Indigenous Education Symposium. It is fantastic that they offer community dinners as part of the event. Tonight's meal was called Rethinking Thanksgiving. We ate wonderful food and much of it is native to this area. Much of it had been grown and harvested specifically for this event. We had wild rice, amaranth, venison, bison, turkey, sweet potatoes, corn soup, and much more. I was very thankful to be part of this special tradition. It is a great feeling to share a meal and fellowship with so many people and have that sense of thankfulness for all the work that has gone into the meal from the planting of the seeds to the actual cooking and serving.

I also loved that we were greeted with the Ojibwe word Boozhoo. I was happy to hear this as I just purchased a book with that title. I had not been certain of the pronunciation. Now I know! :)

This was a great evening of sharing and learning. We heard from Dr. Gregory Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at UNM, about the purpose of indigenous education. He explained that the goal of indigenous education is the well-being of the individual and ultimately the well-being of the community. He spoke to our need of being in relationship with the place we are in and also our responsibility to the place and our community. I know I will be mulling these things around in my head for some time.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week
Newbery Challenge

Slave Dancer is a work of historical fiction (like MANY Newbery books) about the slave trade. It is raw and filled with horrifying atrocities. If it sounds like slavery that hasn't been sugarcoated much, then I have explained it appropriately. This is definitely a challenging read. I would think it may be a struggle for elementary students just with the vocabulary, but also, it is one heavy book. Reading it is like when you are witnessing something and you want to look away because it is so horrifying. I appreciated it, but it is hard to read without having your emotions pretty much thrashed.

Favorite Thanksgiving Books

The biggest reason I like Thanksgiving at Our House is because it is simply about how one family celebrates. It doesn't even go into the whole "First Thanksgiving" myth. The Ugly Pumpkin is just a hilarious story that is kind of incidentally a Thanksgiving story. It looks like it might be about Halloween, but it only briefly mentions that holiday. I can't say much more or it will give things away. Both made me smile. This was good as I waded through quite a few Thanksgiving books that were less than pleasing first. See this post about National Native American Heritage Month for more about those.

Favorite Picture Book

Boot and Shoe is absolutely adorable. I love this tale of friendship. It made me smile.

I read more books that you may check out through Goodreads including some icky Thanksgiving books and some good novels in verse, but in an effort to meet my NaNoWriMo goal for this weekend, this is where I need to stop. 

For next week: 
I will do some professional reading, I will begin M.C. Higgins the Great for the Newbery Challenge, and will continue reading novels in verse as mentortexts for my own writing. I am in the middle of a re-read of Helen Frost's Keesha's House right now. I will also be reading several books I got from Oyate with my second grade classes to support their unit about communities and neighborhoods. Have a great week!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November Fun

NaNoWriMo is in full swing. This morning I got to hang out in a coffee shop and then the library working on my <cough cough> novel. Yes, it will technically be called a novel, but I have no dreams of publication. This is more a practicing of the process than anything else and it's also a chance to participate in something great with many people at the same time. The biggest thing I notice is that it really helps me appreciate the craft and effort of authors. This is not easy work.

In addition to NaNoWriMo, I am also challenging myself to write more on this blog. Crazy right? But overall, I am going for getting comfortable writing and expressing myself in whatever way works. 

I'm planning to knock out some of those book reviews that have been waiting on the sidelines. I review things often in Goodreads, but full and thorough book reviews - well not so much. Maybe a book review once a week, my It's Monday posts, and at least one post each about teaching and learning. That would make at least four a week which is more than my average 11 a month.

One of the ways I think things through is by talking about them, so that is sort of the purpose of this blog.. It's another way to "talk" through, process, or reflect on books, my teaching, and my learning. So here's to a great month of learning and reflecting!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

National Native American Heritage Month

I am feeling a little, no, a lot of conflict inside as I read through some of the books about Thanksgiving that we read to our children. There are so many that romanticize the original Thanksgiving story and make it a "feel good" experience. The only problem is that most of the materials we use to teach about and celebrate this holiday do not include the perspective of some major players. Books like those above that I read this afternoon, gloss over the experience of the indigenous people.

Today, a Presidential proclamation was released from The White House regarding National Native American Heritage Month. I learned of this through Debbie Reese's site American Indians in Children's Literature. One line stood out to me in relation to how we teach, As we work together to forge a brighter future, we cannot shy away from the difficult aspects of our past." As a teacher, I am compelled not only to educate students about our past, but teach them to read critically and question the stories that have been passed down for so many years that we accept them as the only truth and the only perspective.

Fortunately, there are also books like Thanksgiving a Native Perspective and 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, that don't simply share the myth of the First Thanksgiving, but provide a whole other perspective. The facts have always been available, but since they didn't fit within the context of our myth, they haven't always been taught.

If you are interested in learning more about Thanksgiving beyond the feast of the Pilgrims, please read 1621, or stop by Debbie Reese's blog. She has addressed this topic several times over the years: Good Books About Thanksgiving and Native Americans and Thanksgiving. Oyate also has a fantastic online resource Deconstructing the Myths of The First Thanksgiving. It is hard to change lessons and the materials that we use, but we owe it to our students to go beyond the same old history we have been teaching. The Common Core requires students to read critically. We can be models in our classes and ask such questions as: Whose perspective is represented in this resource? Does the work accurately reflect the culture of those included? Are those voiced heard? Who benefits from this telling of the story? 

As we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, I hope to evaluate materials carefully and as the proclamation encourages, "celebrate and honor the many ways American Indians and Alaska Natives have enriched our Nation."