Sunday, September 25, 2016


That dog.  That cat. 
That cow.  
Sharon Creech has done it again.

Reena and her family just moved from the land of subways, small apartments and noise to a coastal town in Maine.  You know, the state whose motto is "The way life should be."  I should know.  My family moved from Queens to coastal Waldoboro, Maine while I was in college after summering there for 10+ years.  So dear Ms. Creech--I want to sit down with you and talk Maine.  Were you imagining Wiscasset?  Boothbay Harbor?  Pemaquid? Damariscotta? Rockland? Camden? Further north?  Was Reena showing Zora at the Union Fair?  Inquiring minds are dying to know...

Do you smell the lobster ("lobsta") rolls?  Taste the sweet mini Maine blueberries on your tongue? Feel the cool, breeze in what we used to call "the air conditioned" state?  It's going to be cold up there. This book will touch all your senses just like that.

"Sometimes I had to close my eyes to rest them from all the new everythings pouring in." What a different world Maine is from the city. I can relate.  But unlike me, Reena adjusts and embraces it like a challenge.  She befriends Zora, an oreo cow (black with a stripe of white going down the middle) and begins to train her with hopes of showing her in the fair, one of the new "everythings" for Reena. And while Mrs. Falala, Zora's owner, doesn't seem too kind and open at first, she surprises us all to the end.

Since I listened to this book, I missed reading the sections in verse on paper but you could easily tell where they were.  I enjoyed the bouncing back from poetry to prose and observing Reena, along with her little brother Luke, and her parents, adjust so positively to their new life in Maine.  The written/spoken language is succinctly sweet.  I like the friends Reena makes and how she is quickly transformed into a country farmer girl, yet forgetting so innocently why cows are raised to begin with.

You may not crave a hamburger or bacon tonight, but rather a sweet blueberry pie with a sprinkle of new everythings.  This is a fast read where, I promise, an hour of reading will go by like a "a blink, a flash, a wink, a flicker, a dashing gallop" and not move slowly like an "endless eternity of drips."

Friday, September 23, 2016

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern

A while ago someone asked me if I had read, Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern.  I hadn't and requested it immediately from the library. She said, "Drop everything and read it."  I did just that as soon as it came in.

It's a feel good kind of book that sometimes just gets your heart pumping or the tears rolling.  You know those kinds.  You know, the kind of book that just makes you want to hug the protagonist?

Lots of good questions to ponder, too.  Why is it so important to feel "cool"? Why do we feel better when we get a "footprint" (proof that you performed an act of kindness) just to show that we did something nice? If you're a fourth grader, like Benny, you have a lot on your mind--your father's accident (that you blames yourself for), an autistic brother and some struggles academically.  But with strong family support (I love Benny's family), even with the hardships, this feel good book, does just that, makes you feel good.

All I wanted to do was jump through the pages and give Benny a big footprint.  You will, too, on top of take out your legos, sing in perfect pitch and maybe even go for a bike ride.

Confession time:  I read and wrote this a while ago and it got lost in my drafts.  Tomorrow I am off to the Princeton Book Festival (yay!) and Cammie McGovern is going to be there.  I found this and thought to myself, "Hey! You'd better publish that thing!" so here it is. Better late than never.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"I got a lot of scream inside," explains Castle "Ghost".  And boy does he.  He's still trying to let the scream out from three years ago when his father nearly killed Ghost and his mother.  Now Dad is in jail and Ghost and his mom are managing on their own.  Still, altercation after altercation at school, life is a challenge.  But suddenly things start to matter once Ghost joins a track team and gets a new mentor and role model in his life, Coach.

Now there is no going back.  Nothing like being part of a team, especially when you get to eat duck with the newbies. Of course, Ghost still has a lot of learning and it doesn't come easy.  How badly does he want the silver bullet sneakers?  I really hope not badly enough.  What about that feeling when putting on a brand new team jersey for the first time?  Ahhh...if that doesn't help get the scream out, I don't know what will.

"Don't ever let someone call your life, your dreams, little." says Mr. Charles, the corner store owner where Ghost is a regular. Such sage advice. I have big dreams for this book and although there is some mature content I know my students are not going to want to put it down.  I have dreams of finding my former students who loved The Crossover and Booked and immediately putting Ghost in their hands.

Here's a debate Ghost and Coach had: Lebron or Jordan?  Know who you would pick?  I'm a Jordan and Magic gal myself (Ghost is Lebron and Coach, you can imagine, is Jordan) but when it comes to an author to recommend to boys and girls alike in upper elementary/middle school, hands down, I pick Jason Reynolds. So break out the sunflower seeds, your running shoes, "get on the line" and make like Usain Bolt and Ghost to the library for a copy today!  Then come to me and tell me what you thought about the ending...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Break out the tamales, the Fanta (that's orange soda, right?), concha (yum--"sorta like a donut"), a bag of your favorite Halloween candy, a bouquet of marigolds, a couple of tissues and take an escape to the Northern California coast for awhile.  The most talented, incredibly imaginative, I-just-want-to-meet-and-leap-with-you Raina Telgemeier has unsurprisingly done it once again.

6th grader Cat and her family just moved to Bahia de la luna from Southern California.  And although Cat isn't impressed with the scenery, I certainly am from Raina's illustrations.  Cat's sister, Maya, has had cystic fibrosis since birth.  The family's move North is with hopes that she will feel and breathe better. Interestingly, this is at least the second book this year which includes a significant move for a younger sibling's health (see Counting Thyme).

The thing about Baha de la luna is that it is home to many ghosts.  Cat and Maya's introduction is neighbor, Carlos's ghost tour.  Want to see more?  Be sure and be around on the Day of the Dead. But after the ghosts they meet with Carlos inhale some of fragile Maya's breath, Cat is on her own to explore their new surroundings, and make friends (both alive and dead).  This is not a fearless gig for her, especially on the eve of Halloween and the midnight Day of the Dead party, and is not something Cat jumps into enthusiastically.

I cried tears of joy when I met Jenni Holm at ALA in 2015 and then riled up the courage to ask her to leap with me.  I imagine the same will happen with Raina, if I ever get face time with Raina.  How people can be so talented literally "blows" me away, something like Cat did with Carlos and Jose.  Raina's heart warming and thought provoking text paired with her unique style and detailed images of a diverse family and new friends make this one I couldn't put down and can't wait to talk about with students.

Right now my Smile, Sisters, and Drama are all pretty tattered, always checked out, quite loved and well read.  As soon as I get a copy of Ghosts, I'm sure it won't take long to join that club.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Please don't judge me for my need to weed

This whole week our Internet and wifi was glitchy. That can be a real problem when your plans include every fourth and fifth grader using a computer to do research. So, we went old school. We pulled out dictionaries. We looked in the encyclopedia. We even explored print books. However much the students learned today, I learned more. Check out my students looking up something in a state book that I was surprised to find out wasn't older than me:

The World Book encyclopedias that I have were published before the current juniors in high school were born. This is a huge problem and I am going to solve it immediately. I'm going to put on my weeding hat and get these books off the shelf. How embarrassing! 

I'm collaborating with a teacher and she asks if I have any books on Arizona and I give her a book from this shelf that is older than her.  OY VEY! If this isn't a wake up call to weed, I don't know what is!

Seriously. The extra shelf space will be welcoming and new books (purchased with what funds I don't know) will look amazing living there!

I did get rid of some World Books a bunch of years ago and the amazing Mr. Warland made them into a bench for me.  Looks like I might be putting him to work again!

Sayanora World Book circa 2000!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness

Move over Ramona!  There is going to be a new girl in the stacks who is on a mission to be the best fifth grader ever.  Her name is Gertie Reece Foy and I guarantee that you will not be FICKLE and love her 100%! Mark your calendar for October 4 now so you can be like me and "hop with impressive leaps" to the bookstore when it comes out.

My first day of school last week went well.  I love reuniting with my students, now all a grade older with teeth missing or new front teeth, braces on, shorter hair, longer hair, new glasses, big smiles, new clothes...We all hope for great first days of school but when an evil seat stealer, Mary Sue, who knows film star, "Jessica Walsh", out-interests a Zombie frog in the annual first day summer speech "contest", things just go downhill from there for our friend, Gertie.

Gertie lives with her great Aunt Rae.  Her dad works on an oil rig off the coast of Alabama and gets to come home for two weeks at a time.  He enjoys his job and it provides for his family.  Embedded nicely as a second theme in the story, you would never guess this occupation could cause such distress for innocent Gertie.

It's hard to imagine any mother leaving their child, especially Gertie.  So when Gertie notices the "For Sale" sign out on Rachel Collins's (it pains me to call her Gertie's mother, but she is) lawn of her house on the "impressively housey Jones Street" Gertie embarks on her mission to show her that she is the best fifth grader ever.  As adults we can only imagine how badly this could end up and how Gertie must be feeling. It certainly doesn't help that Audrey, the kindergartener Aunt Rae watches after school, absolutely loves "The Waltons."  I can completely relate.  My parents divorced when I was really young and I spent my entire childhood wishing we'd somehow become "The Brady Bunch."

Phase after phase, Gertie perseveres to become the best fifth grader ever.  But things just keep getting in the way.  Career day.  A lobbyist.  Mary Sue's party.  Evangelina and an unforgettable visit to the office.

Debut novelist, Kate Beasley has done it!  How much more poetic can her descriptions within this prose get?  There is the "crackling category 5 speech" and the "twinkies that tasted like despair" and saying something "quickly like she was ripping off a Band-Aid" and "Fifth grade was a dragon, and she had beaten it like a pinata."  Those are just the ones I caught because I actually stopped reading for a moment to get a sticky note or jot them down.  The book is filled with them.

The character descriptions are incredibly vivid and spot-on genius, too.  And although, Caldecott honor winning illustrator, Jillian Tamaki, has some lovely illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, they really aren't necessary.  I can picture Aunt Rae, Audrey, best friend Junior, teacher Ms. Simms, seat stealer Mary Sue, and especially Gertie, with her "brown hair which she wore in a ponytail that stuck straight out the top of her head, which encouraged blood flow to her brain, which made her have lots of ideas."

There are times tears will well up in your eyes and other times you will laugh out loud.  Your stomach may get in knots sometimes and you may hold your breath there at the end.  You will want to brush up on your capitals and buy some twinkies and gold wrapped chocolates to have nearby when you get the craving.  A little Kevin Henkes's, The Year of Billy Miller feel with the southern twang of Mo and Dale from Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky, this book is a winner.

My name is Rattner.  Stacey Rattner.  And I say LEAP don't walk to get your hands on a copy of this book as soon as you can.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day

By Thursday, I imagine most schools in this country will have the halls filled with happy children and "six kinds of teachers in the world."  My guess is that you, like sixth grade teacher Ms. Bixby, are one of the Good Ones.

Filled with Bixbyisms (think Wonder precepts), white chocolate raspberry supreme cheesecake, carnations and Hobbit references, this is another back-to-school, in-the-middle-of-school, towards-the-end-of-school good one. A perfect read aloud for any time of year.  Even if you already have your first day read aloud, take it out in November or February, have kleenex available and you and your students will not be disappointed.  "You never forget the good ones" says Topher and like Miss Honey, Mr. Terupt and many others that came before and more that will follow, you won't forget Ms. Bixby either.

Three boys: the artist, Topher; new to the district after his Dad's accident, Brand; and genius, Steve. Three unique personal connections to Ms. Bixby.  And three different first person narrations of their take on excursion to visit their very ill teacher in the hospital.

Amidst this touching book are moments that you make you laugh out loud.  From cooties to a bakery named "Michelle's" run by a guy named Eduardo to McDonalds turned "Chez Mac's" this book has it all.  It is filled with life lesson quotes as the boys take their full on journey to the hospital, skipping school just to see the teacher that has made a difference in each one of their lives.  Here are just a few of the quotes:

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." - Ms. Bixby (p.14)

"...when you are content to be simply yourself, everyone will respect you." - Steve saying what Ms. Bixby would say (p. 80)

"...stories are everywhere, just waiting to be found." - Steve sharing Ms. Bixby's wisdom (p. 94)

"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it." - Ms. Bixby (p.168)

"...sometimes you're beat before you even get started, but it doesn't matter.  You keep going.  No matter what." - Brand saying what Ms. Bixby would say.

As I reread my notes, my eyes are starting to well up.  This is a good one.  Pick up some carnations and give them to a friend who needs them.  Then read this book and find out why carnations and no other flower.  Do something spectacular.  "Live every day as if it were your last."  But remember, "'s not the last day that matters most.  It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on.  They're the carnation days.  They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest."

Ms. Bixby's Last Day will stay with you for a long time and to keep it with you even longer, share it with some kids.  They'll thank you for it later.

A link to the great New York Times review is here.