Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Importance of Authors

My homeroom with Jaleigh Johnson
While we don't have the benefit of too many author visits in our tiny town, we are blessed to have a few authors in the area. Marianne Malone who wrote Sixty-Eight Rooms has been to my classroom to visit my students several times over the years. Last year, Jaleigh Johnson moved into my neighborhood. I learned that she was the author of a soon to be published book (at that time) called Mark of the Dragonfly and asked her to speak to my class then, and again this year. Every time either of these amazing authors have visited my classroom, I have marveled at the impact of their words on my students. I am profoundly grateful that they take the time to come in.
These ladies write brilliant books, I tell you! 
Katy introducing Jaleigh
On Tuesday, Jaleigh Johnson came to see my ELA classes. I asked her to come in and share a bit about her writing life with them. Monday we brainstormed questions we might want to ask her on a Padlet. I shared the link with her and she tailored her talk to answering those questions. Watching their faces light up when she was answering "their" question was priceless. Listening to her tell them that revision is critical and how long she spends with a draft was wonderful. Now they know I am not crazy when I reinforce this message during writing workshop.

Towards the end of her time with us, Jaleigh shared some information about her next novel set in the world of Solace. While not a sequel to Mark of the Dragonfly, I'm guessing it might be considered a companion book. The students were excited to know something the rest of the world doesn't and couldn't wait to share their thoughts with me about this new book when we were done. Look for this one in early 2016. 

Preston thanking Jaleigh for coming.
After Jaleigh's talk was over, she kindly signed books, bookmarks, and writing notebooks for each child. I know that many will treasure this signature and it feels me with gratitude that she spoke to each one and made them feel heard. 
Starting the day with a quick author visit was absolute perfection. I highly recommend it and wish it could be a regular event. :) Huge thanks to Jaleigh - and Marianne - for taking the time to come to my room when I've asked. And also, thanks to the multitude of authors and illustrators who "talk" to my students on Twitter. You all have no idea the impact your words have on my kids. We appreciate it more than you can ever know. 
A new spot for a Mark of a Dragonfly tattoo. :) 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." – Fred Rodgers

Sometimes I think I can be too empathetic. I watch the news and my heart hurts. Looking at the people of Kathmandu, I cannot help despair for those poor people. Remembering that it was climbing season, I worry for those on the mountain or at the base camp. Last night I got online and learned of rioting in Baltimore. I think of the citizens, the officers, the people of the city. I worry.

At times it seems there is so much going wrong in this world, how can we ever get to a place that is good? Looking at Facebook, I can’t wade through the status updates to find a similar one to my own mind. What if police officers are mostly good, but there are some that aren’t? What if citizens who have been oppressed have a right to be angry, but this is too far? What if we cannot help all of these people in Nepal that are hurting and we instead ignore it. What if, what if, what if…

I think of Rodgers quote and I’m calmed, some. There are helpers. There are people out there giving. There are people out there fighting to make sure that others are given a fair shot. I just wonder if it is enough.

Ironically, I am teaching a Civil Rights unit in my class right now. Yesterday the students broke into groups and studied a specific topic from the Civil Rights movement. They researched in books I had gathered and online. Walking by one group I overheard a member reading off some facts from the iPad to her friends. They were discussing injustice and how people looked the other way in the 50s and 60s. I worry that we are doing the same now.

As I tucked in my own children last night, watched them drift off to sleep, I felt guilty. I am safe, I am blessed. Am I grateful enough? Do I do enough? How can I help?

Opening up Facebook this morning I see a lot of blame. Blame for the officers. Blame for the citizens. What if we stopped blaming and started finding common ground? What if we acknowledged that there is racism alive and well here? What if we began by realizing that poverty is a huge issue that we are continuing to ignore. What if we talked about the fact that there are folks in poverty who work really hard, do not use drugs, and need welfare, yet continue to live in poverty? What if we talked about how hard it is to get out of it?
On the flip side, what if we acknowledged there are a plethora of police officers who do their job every single day, go above and beyond, put their life on the line, and go to bed like it was no big deal, just a day at the “office”. What if we talked about the fact that cases across the country such as these are giving their job a bad reputation, but that they themselves did not earn that. What if we respected them for the brave work they do?

I don’t think this is an either or situation. One side is not right at the expense of the other. What I know is that my heart hurts. I worry. I am so sad for the people of Baltimore. I despair for the people of Nepal. And there is more. So much more. To the point I cannot even bear it. And so, I will look for the helpers. They are always there.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm thrilled to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each Monday and share our reading lives. Check out their sites for more information. 

It has been a busy reading week, one of those that you look back and know how crazy busy life has been and are surprised that you actually read anything during the week. I think it helps that most of my reading has been focused - I am starting a Civil Rights unit this week in conjunction with the Social Studies teacher on my team and I felt like I needed some background. Here's what I've read:

Every book I read was fabulous, but I wanted to give two specific mentions: Yard Sale by Bunting, illustrated by Castillo, is completely enchanting. It follows the story of a family that needs to move, likely a parent has lost their job, but the little girl is confused. I cannot wait to use it to teach inferences with my fifth graders. It is perfect. 

Also, George by Alex Gino is a book I cannot get off my mind. This is a book written for middle grades about a child, George, who was born a boy, but knows she is a girl. George wants to try out for the role of Charlotte in the play Charlotte's Web, but her teacher says that role is only for girls. I think Gino did a brilliant job of portraying the struggle George is going through in her mind as she grapples with some big questions. This one is not out until this fall. 

This week is a crazy one again. Not sure what reading I will get done, but first I will be finishing Linda Urban's upcoming novel, Milo Speck. I'm loving it so far. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lenny & Lucy by Philip and Erin Stead and a Giveaway!

I first encountered the work of Philip and Erin Stead in A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Not sure how I missed them before that, but I quickly became a huge fan. Reading some of their brilliant books – whether as a collaboration or solo – I was amazed at their work. Some of my favorites of their books written and illustrated with others include And Then It’s Spring written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead and Special Delivery written by Philip Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. When they work together, such as in Amos or A Bear Has a Story to Tell, it is magical. That is why I was super excited to see their new book, Lenny & Lucy, that is due out this fall.

Lenny & Lucy tells the tale of a little boy named Peter who has moved. His new house is over the bridge from a scary forest and he simply cannot get any sleep, even with his loyal dog, Harold, by his side. He gets the idea to create a guard for the bridge named Lenny. Lenny is a huge guard, created out of pillows and blankets that Peter stitches together. When Peter fears that Lenny is lonely, he creates another guard, named Lucy. It is with his creations and his beloved dog that Peter is able to begin to feel safe at his new home.

In Lenny & Lucy the Steads show their talent for storytelling and illustrations. There are several that I would love to remove from the book and place on my wall. The words and pictures are simply beautiful. This is a picture book you cannot miss.

My students are even bigger fans of the Steads as of this week. Kohl’s began a campaign for children’s health and education nationwide. It is called Kohl’s Cares. For only $5 you can get a copy of one of the Steads’ books and another $5 will get you a stuffed animal that goes with it. (More info on Erin’s blog HERE.) We now have the elephant from Amos McGee along with the turtle from And Then It’s Spring in our classroom. You would be surprised by the amount of fifth graders that want to cuddle with a stuffed animal during independent reading.

And today is your lucky day. MacMillian is allowing me to give away a plush from the Kohl’s Cares line along with the corresponding book to a lucky reader of Read Write Reflect. Please enter below by Sunday evening at 10pm central and I will draw one winner. They will then contact you about shipping you your prize! Good luck!

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm thrilled to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each Monday and share our reading lives. Check out their sites for more information. 

Two visits to the bookstore this week equates to a lot of picture book reading: 

The new book in the Babymouse series is wonderful. I should have purchased three copies because each class that does not have it currently circulating is a bit ticked off. :) 

All of the picture books were wonderful, but I did purchase Growing Up Pedro, The Death of a Hat, Mama Seeton's Whistle, and Earmuffs for Everyone! 

Book wise, I read Cody and the Fountain of Happiness and Writing Pathways. Both wonderful for completely opposite reasons. 

Next up is Jack by Liesl Shurtliff. I already began it this weekend and it is amazing. 

Have a great reading week! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Liam!

Liam turns ten today.


Double Digits.

8:29am, just ten years ago, I became a mom to two.

My heart leaps and breaks at the same time. To say I had no idea how powerful being a mom would be is the biggest understatement of all time. There are no words adequate to express my love for my sons. So, I will continue my semi-annual tradition of listing ten things I love about Liam.

To Liam on his tenth birthday:

I love….

The freckles that march across your nose,
Reminding me of my own.

Nose in a book,
Any book.
The desire to hold “read-a-thons”
In my room.
Reading the day away.

Your laid back,
No cares,
Worry free attitude.
Socks on the floor.
You cannot be bothered to stress about things.

Heart of a warrior.
Where is the boy who wouldn’t speak?
Wouldn’t look others in the eye?
Wouldn’t leave my side?

Kindness exudes,
Pours through your skin,
Your eyes.
It is something you can see.
Care of your friends,
Your family,
Your dog.
Your heart is so big,
It cannot be contained.

The crooked smile.
Baby teeth long gone,
Adult teeth lined up,
Haphazardly placed,
Giving a smile that is just for me.

The way your tongue pokes out,
Just breaking through the corner of your mouth,
As you think,
Written all over your face.

Your sense of style,
The more neon,
The better.
Neon yellows matching with neon yellows,
We can see you coming.

Your comics,
Details that I wouldn’t think to include.

Wisdom is something they say comes with age,
But I think you have it now.
You know what is important.
You value time with your family.
A good sunset or sunrise.

And last,
But certainly not least,
That has not disappeared.
Each time I feel it,
I fear that it is the last.

I’d ask you to stop time, stop growing, stop aging, but that isn’t natural. You are growing up just as you should and it is a blessing to watch you become who you are meant to be. We are so proud of you, Liam. Thanks for taking us along for the ride.