Saturday, March 24, 2018

Amal Unbound

Colby Sharp was right.

I just wish I had a print copy to squeeze in my fingers and hug to my heart and yet, I truly appreciate the opportunity from NetGalley to read an advanced copy.

Brave, strong, fearless, intelligent, strong willed, speak-her-mind Amal is a character I won't forget for a very long time.  I already know I will be fighting hard to be the leader of this Newbery '19 book group.

Immediately, I was drawn in by the absolutely gorgeous language.  This is from page 4:

"This is what I now remember most about my last afternoon at school--the smell of the dusty chalkboard, the sound of the students lingering outside the door, and mostly, how easily I took my ordinary life for granted."
And from the beginning you will hold your heart for Amal.  From caring for her mother after she gives birth to the fourth girl to her time as a servant for the corrupt Jawad Sahib, Amal hardly loses hope. "I thought hope had vanished. But hope was a tricky thing.  It found its way back to me."

I marked many, many inspiring quotes in this book.  And yet, there are even more but they got lost as I was too absorbed in the beautiful writing to even stop to flag a bookmark.

When Amal is taken from her family, I held my breath wishing that hope would continue to find her.  Even when "everything as solid as the earth [her] grandfather fought for crumble[s] so easily beneath [her] feet" Amal does not give up. I plead, "Please free this brave girl. Please don't harm her. Please give her strength.  Please let her be with her family." Yet, it is hard to believe that she could ever be free again. How could just one instance at the market change her life forever?

Why did I let my temper get the better of me that day outside the market?  Regret, I was learning was the sharpest knife there was.

If you can get the book on Netgalley, do it.  If you are patient, you can wait until May. Then, take my advice and clear your calendar, for you will not want to put it down. And then when it is over, go through your sticky notes and highlights and soak in those thoughtful quotes at least one more time.

I knew learning to read wouldn't change the fact that Fatima was trapped here like I was, cleaning the floors, dusting baseboards, and peeling potatoes. But at least by teaching her to read, I gave her a window to see worlds beyond ours and a chance to imagine leaving the walls of this estate and to feel free, even if it was only for a little while.
Thank you, Aisha Saeed, for writing a story that showed me a world beyond and at the same time, one for my students so they can travel far away without ever leaving Castleton.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is it Friday yet?

Things I learned this week (and it's only Thursday):

  • Being a perfectionist is not good for my health, at least it seems that way.  Our third annual Mrs. Yager's class, "World Feast" was Tuesday night.  My job, after video taping the kids in front of my makeshift green and blue screens during the week, was to put them all together into one video.  Did it not go as smoothly as I liked last weekend?  Yes.  Did I put in more hours than I'd like to admit?  Yes.  But, in the end was it worth it? Absolutely.  The whole FEAST was amazing.  The food, the costumes, the trifolds displaying their research, the energy in the library. Fourth grade "alumni" returning. What a culmination of a month's worth of work.  BRAVO! Lesson learned (one that I will never learn, really): Do not leave things to the last minute.  This time it really did not take just a minute to do.

  • Jason Chin likes to exercise his IMAGINATION.  We had a great Skype today with Caldecott and Sibert honor winning illustrator/author of Grand Canyon.  It was optional for 4th graders to join us during their lunch (more than a third of the grade showed up) along with Mrs. Roe's second graders and a few fifth graders.  Boy is he talented and so sweet and calm.  "Nonfiction captures my imagination," he said.  He also shared that when he sketches while he is doing research (i.e., at the Grand Canyon), it is an attention strategy that helps him hold on to his memories.  When you sketch you are spending so much time looking that it will stick in your memory.  Wow.

  • I'm not as opposed to reading an ebook as I used to think I was.  Lately I've been falling asleep with my iPad on my lap. Not the best thing since when it falls off the bed at 2:43 am, I am suddenly woken up with the crash.  But, I am a night owl and always go to bed after my husband.  That said, reading an ebook (Thank you Netgalley) allows me to sneak into bed without turning on a light and disturbing him. So far, I've only been the one stirred when the iPad slips down the covers. 
  • Sleeping at school is so much fun!  The PTO sponsored a ReadOver/SleepOver Friday night.  Nearly 90 second and third graders came for a Jigsaw Jones event with special guest, James Preller.  Yes, the energy was high for an author visit but the kids still loved it.  Shhh...a couple of them even said it was better than the gym part.  Really?!  Jimmy was a good sport.  Look at him leaping at 9pm!

  • Make sure others proofread your work (and I'm not talking about just grammar).  I sent home an invitation to a REBOUND party I'm throwing next month.  I wrote, "Bring a basketball or 1988 treat."  What would you think that meant?  At least one boy has already said, "I'm bringing my basketball!"  Oops! I meant basketball TREAT.  Maybe I need to move the party into the gym.

  • I'm super stoked about TXLA18. The workshops. The book creators. The books. The Texas sun. Old friends. New friends. However, what conclusion did I come to this week?  I'm going to need to take off AFTER the conference.  While everyone else will be refreshed and tan, I am going to be 200% professionally refreshed but it will come with a huge serving of exhaustion.  Don't get me wrong--this North North Texan cannot wait to step into Bluebonnet country.
  • Melissa Stewart rocks.  There I was at our first grade morning program today that was all about robots and one of the kids shared her book. The second grade teacher turns to me and says, "Oooh, Melissa Stewart!"  That's because last year she taught 4th grade and we did our Sibert Smackdown together.  Then, I share Melissa's newest book about seeds with a third grade teacher and she loves it. "This is a great book to use in our science unit.  Wow! Seeds travel!" she exclaimed. Even her hydroponic Herbie liked the book!
  • Your "look" is everything, right? Well, goodbye blue glasses; hello cat eyed clear ones. Now I'm ready to rock and roll!  Speaking of rocking and rolling...We're getting ready to plan for Matthew Cordell's visit and HIS new book ROCK-N-ROLL SOUL by Susan Verde.  That's next week...

Now...maybe I can get a few pages in before my bedroom floor does....

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Are you lucky?

Today is the day of the "luck of the Irish." Green is everywhere and I'm feeling lucky.

If you have the good fortune, like I do, to have a friend who recommends books that are so perfect for you that they are unputdownable, make you cry, smile, laugh, scream and leap,  then, you too, are lucky.

Oh, Alicia.  Sometimes I just wish I didn't listen to her. Why does she know me so well?  Her book recommendations get in my way! They make everything I do come to a complete halt. And they make me do what I thought was the impossible.  Like today. (And skip ahead if this is too much TMI) I brought my wireless speaker into the bathroom so I could continue listening to my book while I was in the shower?! What?! My 11 year old does that with the audio from TV shows but me?! And for a book?!

The book that I am currently obsessed with is Dumplin' by Julie Murphy.  It's TEXAS people! How could I not love this book.  Everything is big in Texas and this book has taken over my heart in a BIG way.  Honestly, I can't believe I stopped listening to write this? Huh?! To be fair, I'm supposed to be working on something else, so this is a distraction.

My daughter is on her way to the city right now.  Tomorrow she will come back via Metro North, which means my husband or I have to drive an hour and a half to pick her up.  I'm eagerly going to volunteer because there's not enough water in our system to get me through to the final chapter.

So yeah.  Alicia knows me so well and I am lucky.  Move over green beer and shamrocks.  I've got my own personal "Reader's Advisor" and that's all the luck I need. ☘☘☘☘☘

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lockdown Drill

I can't go to sleep without a reflection.

We had our first lockdown drill after the shooting in Parkland.  Happened first thing in the morning.

My fourth grade Dewey Duty helpers were just figuring out their job assignments.  Who was picking up books?  Who was checking in the books? Who was going to pick up all our reading minutes that we are doing for the Ronald McDonald House?  I know it's March, but don't forget that Mrs. Ciampoli's books need to be checked in right away because her class will be up by 8:20. Oh yeah, and Kiley? Are you finishing up that welcome poster for James Preller?  The paint was a mess yesterday. Please use markers today. Thanks.

And then we heard the lockdown announcement.

I'll be right there.  Lock door #1. Where's Andrew?  There he is being swept into another classroom.  I hope my other book collectors on the first floor are ok.  Lock door #2.  Sprint to door #3 and lock it.  Then join the others.

Is this what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month? Sniffle. Sniffle.

I started to weep.  Not so much that I think the girls noticed but I began to sniffle and my eyes were watering. I just wanted to protect them.  I wanted to keep these giggly, innocent 9 year olds safe and innocent forever. I wondered what was going through their heads.  How much did they know?  How much did it affect them.  Sniffle. Sniffle.

Ten, maybe fifteen, minutes later the drill was over.  We all stood up, about to get back to what we were doing.  Sniffle. Sniffle.

Wait. Stop.

I need a hug. We embraced.  A perfect group hug that would make anyone feel better.  We stood together long enough for their innocence, their youth, their love to break through my skin and wipe away my sadness. Thank you girls for giving me the strength to get through the day and move forward.

Now get back to work.

Sniffle. Sniffle.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

All in a day's work...

From sunrise to sunset and beyond, this was a full day if I ever had one.

World Feast

Mrs. Yager's third graders have been working for weeks in preparation for our World Feast on Tuesday night.  They have researched and taken notes on a country using Culturegrams, Britannica, World Book and print books.  This week I am interviewing them as an 8 year old from that country in the library and in the classroom they are designing displays with information and pictures.  At home they are working with their parents in finding a food to share from their country.  I love this project!

Gala Kickoff

In less than two months, Caldecott medalist Matthew Cordell, will be walking through our Castleton Elementary hallways. What?!  I still can't believe it's happening!  It is very unlike me to do the same project two years in a row but we are.  It's our #PictureAPoem Gala collaboration between fifth grade ELA, art and library.  Today we kicked it off by talking about how illustrators and authors don't usually get together to discuss the book and how our students will be illustrating someone else's poem for our gala in May.  I collected poems without names on them. Tomorrow they will "shop" for a poem that speaks to them written by a student from a different class.  It will be glued into their sketchbook and the rest of the work will be completed in art. Mark your calendars--May 9 will be here before you know it! I can only hope we don't have to worry about the threat of snow then.

Pi Day

I love this day, 3.14...probably because it's an excuse to throw a party in the library, a place of many numbers.  And boy did we party.  Between PI cookies, pie, cookies and more, it was quite the dessert feast.  We did watch the Brainpop video on "Pi" and started a 3.14 scavenger hunt.  One thing I learned today:  I want to visit Garden City, Georgia.  They are home to the PI zip code.

Book Exchanges

Sadly, I don't have a library assistant and haven't for many years.  But I more than manage with my three grandmother volunteers.  Until one of them goes on vacation or calls in sick.  That's what happened today.  Fortunately, teachers are flexible and classes came in when I was able to help them. I do love book exchange.  I love when kids find books by people we love.

Note: Both of these books are illustrated by Matt Cordell!

The Wild Robot Escapes

My third grade book WILD ROBOT group is chomping at the bit to begin a part II book group with the sequel.  Arletta and I preordered the book so we are READY!  Of course, I already have three books going on right now and adding a fourth might send me a little over the edge...

ReadOver/SleepOver Prep

Second and third graders were invited to sleep over at school Friday night.  FUN!  I got involved in this PTO event a few years ago and now invite an author or illustrator to be a part of it. No, they don't (and neither do I) have to sleep over.  This year we are doing a Jigsaw Jones mystery themed evening starring our own local author, James Preller.  Dewey Duty and Reading Ambassadors began working on welcome signs for Jimmy this morning.  

Here's Mrs. Charsky checking out a Jigsaw Jones book to read aloud to her class.

NYLA Conference Call

Wait? What?  This was a fun sight to see.  I promise I was listening, just multitasking.  I carried my phone around with me in the library as I picked up to get ready to go and listened in on our Continuing Education Committee meeting call.  Don't worry! It was on mute when the custodian asked me if there was any pie left.

Music in Our Schools

This is a national month celebration, right?  Anyway, our whole community comes out for an evening of performances by students from the elementary school, middle school and high school.  We had second graders singing, middle schoolers rockin' out and high schoolers jammin'.  It really was awesome.  Yes, I had two performers in it but I did say more than once, you'll see me there in 2025 when I don't anymore.  But that's getting just a little ahead of myself...

When the day was happening, I didn't think I would ever get horizontal tonight.  But finally I see the light (or the dark if you want to be literal).  All in all, a great day with so much going on. This isn't even all of it!  Looking forward to see what tomorrow brings...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Girl Power

Love These Girls

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Evie and Ivy.  Ivy and Evie. In a perfect literary world I would have them meet, hang out and fall for each other.  But for now, Evie has June and Ivy has...June! Seriously! They both have crushes on girls named, "June" and I have a crush on all of them!

Each 12 year old protagonist experiences a tragic event in their lives:  Ivy's family's home is destroyed by a tornado; Evie, growing up in a strict Catholic family, is dealing with her teenage sister sent away due to pregnancy.  On top of that, each realizes they are crushing on the new girl.  

Letters also play a role in each novel.  When Ivy leaves her sketch book at the shelter, it is discovered by someone who returns her drawings, a snapshot into her feelings, with notes inside Ivy's locker.  Thus begins a back and forth communication and Ivy's quest to find the mysterious letter writer.  In P.S. I Miss You, Evie writes letters to her sister while she is away in search of someone to listen and understand her.

Being in seventh grade is hard enough and feeling that you might not fit in with the norm makes it even tougher.  Then mix in challenges with family, losing a home, missing your sister and life gets exponentially harder.  Even Evie says, "I wish I could go back to when worrying about what [the other girls] thought was my biggest problem. Even to when worrying about what Mom and Dad thought was my biggest problem." Yet each of these characters comes out stronger in the end.

I passed on my advanced copy of Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World to one of my fifth graders and she loved it.  Here's what she wrote on her review form:

In which I would reply, "Where can I find that book?"

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hope in the Holler


Plea, pen, plan, rope, pine, peer, help, hint, rot, PO (post office--does that count?)...I've never been good at word games. I hate to admit this but my fifteen year old daughter has beaten me the past three nights in Scrabble. That said, I'm sure you can find many more words in the title.  But...are yours all relatable to the story?  At least I can say mine are. And there's one more four letter word that I will keep to myself, but know that it describes exactly what life is like with Samantha Rose as your unofficial guardian.

When 12 year old Wavie's mom dies of cancer, she ends up with her mom's only living relative, Samantha Rose. It is strange, though, because her mom never mentioned she had a sister.  With a court date looming that will assign Samantha Rose guardianship, Wavie and her friends try to stall all plans to keep this from happening because life in Conley "Convict" Hollow is just plain awful.  Imagine Cinderella in Appalachia, but worse.  No ball in Wavie's future as long as Samantha Rose is in charge. 

Or is there?  With her gifted and talented neighbors and friends, Gilbert and Camille by her side, a dash of perseverance, hope, courage and a positive attitude, maybe there is light at the end of Convict Hollow.

A combination of the play on words and the southern setting, had me thinking of Natalie Lloyd immediately.  Then I couldn't get Wish by Barbara O'Connor out of my head either.  The characters are lovable, diverse (ethnically and socioeconomically) and relatable. The story is so full of heart and hope and as sweet as the tea in Kentucky.  Get your copy today!