Friday, July 22, 2016


Waiting for my friends to show up!

Yesterday I held my second book group of the summer at Starbucks.  There were only four of us but boy did we have some great conversation about Sara Pennypacker's much loved and talked about book of 2016, Pax.  There was definitely consensus that this book will make our Newbery 2017 list for fifth grade.

"The book was filled with metaphors with a strong theme of loyalty," one girl expressed. "I learned that it is not a perfect world."

I gave the kids some sentences to complete and here's what they said:

My favorite character is...

...Runt because he is playful and liked Pax from the start, even though Bristle tried to keep him away.

...Pax because I like his personality.  It comes across as inviting through the author's writing.

...Bristle.  I liked Bristle because she cared deeply for Runt.  It was sweet when she finally warmed up to Pax.

I could relate to Peter when...

...he took Vola as a friend because I'm always willing to be a friend.

....he felt sad about not having his pet by his side.

I felt angry when...

...Peter found out that his dad knew about the war coming to where he wanted to leave his fox, but didn't tell him.

...his dad was pressuring Peter into doing some things he didn't want to.

...Peter sent Pax away.  Also when hearing how angry Peter's dad got and how sometimes he would take it out on his own son.

And about whether they liked it or not and what made it "distinguished":

This book has good detail and description about the setting.  Also the author uses characters (foxes) that others might not use often.

I think it has some things you could relate to and parts that made you think and feel.

Amazing descriptions of characters, feelings, setting.  Good plot.

I am looking forward to sharing this book with more students in the fall!  It will definitely be a Newbery book group book for sure!

This young lady is going into fourth grade and had so many good things to share!

This rising 6th grader came to every book group last year and looks like she will be at every one this year, too!

I knew that this rising 6th grader read Pax in the spring but I invited her to join us at the last minute.
She came straight from camp! Hooray!

The obligatory, hot and humid Summer Leap for Books!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Counting Thyme

Seriously, as soon as this book gets in your hands (or ears) you will need to make TIME and clear your calendar.  Nothing else is going to get done until you finish, or unless you are a good multitasker.  For example, today I ran over 6 miles in the heat and humidity and was almost late for an appointment.  Then I cleaned a junk cabinet with the book playing.  I even took my phone in the bathroom with me so I could listen while I showered.  It's that good and that riveting.

Coming of age and being in sixth grade is hard enough but imagine if you now have to deal with all that while your brother battles cancer, your family moves across country, you have a new school, have to make new friends, miss your old best friend back home and you're starting to get some tingling feelings around one certain boy.  This is Thyme, with a "TH" she says when she introduces herself.

Right around Thanksgiving, Thyme's family moves to NYC for her little brother Val, who is fighting a rare cancer.  Leaving her best friend, Shawny and her life in San Diego behind is not as easy for Thyme as it seems to be for her older sister, Cori, who appears to be embracing the freedom and excitement of NYC a bit more than Thyme.  Even with the thought that this is just temporary, Thyme can't help but make friends, join the drama club and perhaps even succumb to her feelings for Jake?

So now the rest of my day seems shot, too, since I want to go out and watch "The Wizard of Oz", ride the 4, 5 or 6 train (I have plans to go to the city on Wednesday so I will try and make it to the East side just for Val), listen to Simon and Garfunkel and Stevie Ray Vaughan, eat some kugel and play some classic board games.

With strong characters you'll love, an unputdownable plot, my favorite city as the backdrop, this book is a winner. You heard it from me--do not be left in the wings on this one.  I promise you, you will not be disappointed as long as you book yourself several hours of TIME for this one!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Seventh Wish

All I wanted today was a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup sundae. It was hot. It was humid. But alas, I fell hard into Kate Messner's The Seventh Wish outside in the shade and my ice cream awaits me still at Lickety Split.  And if I'm bold, I may even ask for a sprinkling of chocolate covered insects on top.

I have been waiting to read this book for a while as I had read many tweets about the book and then heard about the school that disinvited Kate at the last minute over the controversy with the subject area. Here's Kate's blog post about that incident.

This is a great book. It is perfectly written at the fifth grade and up reading level and with guidance and discussion this would be an excellent book group book or read aloud. Kids will totally relate to Charlie--her desire to move up to the next level in Irish dance, her crush and the "wished" crush that crushes on her, the attention given to her older sister and the need for attention herself. 

There are clues early on about older sister, Abby's addiction that I as an adult figured out but I'm not sure a young person would. And that's ok. The story is from the point of view of a middle schooler, not an adult. Let the readers follow Charlie's journey as Charlie, not as a parent.

The magical fish who grant's Charlie her wishes feels so real that I don't even know if I can call the book "magical realism". It is so sweet of Charlie to make selfless wishes for friends and family however sometimes they don't always turn out exactly the way Charlie wished, leading to funny, sad and unpredictable consequences. 

I love the game Charlie's family plays--"guess what word I am thinking of." One family member thinks of a word and whoever guesses the closest to the word, wins. Guess what word I am thinking of now? Did you say "sundae"? No? "Winner"? No? Well, you should have because either way this book is a winner and now my sundae calls... 

Saying goodbye and moving forward...

It has been a long 8 days...

Saying Goodbye

A shock came to our community on July 4 when we suddenly lost, Bob Horan, the most dedicated and passionate superintendent you may ever meet. We are a small school district (less than 1000 students) and on any given day at our elementary school, you could find Bob reading to first graders, observing an author Skype, playing with bots or just walking through the hallways.  He was a big fan of STEAM so I will do my best to devote some time to STEAM in the coming years in his memory.

Here's Bob with Chris Grabenstein at our school in January.

National Tragedy

While we were mourning Bob, the events that unraveled in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas hit me hard.  I feel hopeless and wish there was something I can do to make things better.  I'm worried for my children, my family and my students.  The best I can do is advocate, read and share books and poetry that can make a difference.  I appreciate this post with a #BlackLivesMatter booklist for teens:

I also want to share Kwame Alexander's interview on NPR on Sunday.  He always gives me hope:

While running late last week, I listened to an old podcast on This American Life.  It was so relevant to today, I feel like I want you all to listen to it, too. W. Kamau Bell's part is Act II and about 18 minutes into the podcast.

The link is here:

Then I actually went to W. Kamau Bell's website to view his blog and the post mentioned in his story was right there.  Here it is:

Blog post from January 2015

You may or may not know, that I am a big fan of Sean Qualls and Selina Alko and the book referenced in the stories.  I just hate that it all has to come down to this. Way over a year has passed since this story was aired, I hope things have changed, although with the events of the past week, I am just not so sure...

Looking Ahead

Only days after Bob's passing, we were scheduled to share our Towers Falling project ideas with our Board of Education.  Needless to say, it has been put on hold for a little bit.  However, we still moved forward in our planning and are hopeful that we will be able to commit to an end date soon.

So on Monday, with support from our principal and Director of Curriculum, we continued to plan this project that takes a tragedy and turns it into an amazing inquiry, project based cross curricular year long study on heroes, patriotism, history, memories and resilience based on Jewell Parker Rhodes, Towers Falling. Two months to the day before the 15th anniversary of September 11, my fifth grade collaborating teacher, Mr. Reischer, and my fabulous volunteer couple, Mr. and Mrs. Warland and I drove down to NYC to visit the 9/11 Memorial and get some face time with Little Brown.  We didn't know what to expect and it turned out to be a way more incredible trip than we ever imagined.

The steps that lead many folks to freedom.

We learned that our students may be captivated by just seeing a firetruck.  We were in awe by how it was destroyed.

The saved column.

The beautiful education room.  

Mrs. Warland, Mr. Reischer and Jennifer, the amazing educator who we are thankful spent so much time with us.
On a side note, we even met up with my friend and inspiring librarian, MaryAnn Scheuer, who was visiting New York from California.  She was able to sit in and participate while we met with Jennifer and we hope to collaborate with her students, too, as part of some cross-country component. Everything just keeps getting better and better...

The footprint of the South Tower.

The Warlands in front of the Survivor Tree.  An incredible story:

Since it was the day before the release of Towers Falling, we only had the arc.
The book's cover now matches the color of the sky.

If all goes as planned, students will be able to experience this state of the art conference room at Little Brown...
...with views of Radio City!

I posted this collage on Instagram.
It was just so wonderful to meet and spend time with the team from Little Brown.

This project fills me with excitement and hope.  We will push ahead with the enthusiasm and passion of our late superintendent and the nearly 3000 people who were killed on September 11, 2001.  We will move forward in this life changing and unforgettable project.  Thank you Jewell Parker Rhodes and the folks at Little Brown and the educators from the 9/11 Memorial for challenging and pushing us forward to help bring this project to fruition for the students and families of Schodack. We are excited to share all the details soon with administrators and the Board.

Want to read or listen to more?  Here are a few more links:

  • Jewell was on NPR last week discussing Towers Falling.  Here's the link for the interview:

  • Here's another article about Towers Falling--even Mr. Reischer is interviewed.  Although, it says we will be visiting in September which is not the case.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Boy in the Black Suit now you must realize that I have a teeny tiny obsession with Jason Reynolds.  I just think his voice is so real and important.  I have one more book to read and then I will patiently wait for the next one.

In the meantime, I just baked a batch of pretty darn good homemade chocolate chip cookies (everyone likes chocolate chip cookies, right?) and can't stop thinking about this book.  After Matt's mother passes away, he begins working for Mr. Ray in the funeral home.  This turns out to be more therapeutic for Matt than anything else.  At each funeral he attends, he looks on in the back to seek out the most hurting person in attendance.  Watching them helps him deal with his own hurt of losing his mother. Almost like relief, like he isn't the only one out there hurting.  

Through no fault of his own, Matt is living alone for awhile.  Well, Mr. Ray is looking out for him and then there's Lovey. She was the one most hurting at her grandmother's funeral.  And leave it to Lovey to help Matt grieve, give him some hope about life and maybe even get him to smile.  

Lace up your dress shoes, put on your suit jacket, grab some Cluck Bucket chicken, throw Bob Marley on the stereo and get ready for another can't-put-it-down ride by Jason Reynolds.

I had to take this picture--This Ray's Funeral Home is right up my street.
Every time I pass it now I will think of the Mr. Ray from this book.