Thursday, October 31, 2013


by Sonia Goldie
illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Enchanted Lion Books, November 26, 2013
review copy provided by the publisher

This book holds explanations for all of those unexplained happenings in life -- GHOSTS! The ghosts of the chimney, TV, behind-the-curtains, and garden, along with the more ordinary ghosts of the attic, basement, night...and MORE!

Here are a few excerpts to give you the feel of this book:

The Ghost of the Kitchen

SQUAFUMPF...The door of the 
refrigerator is pulled open.
PLOP! A package falls
to the floor. Who's that

moving around in the kitchen?

It's a gluttonous ghost that devours

anything and everything

that's white. Sugar: YUM!
Milk: SLURP!


Don't you love the sound of the refrigerator door? So perfect!

The Ghost of Gray Days

It's cold and damp and rainy. It's gray.
Dull gray. Neither black, nor white, but
gray: gray skies, gray clouds, gray air,
even gray wind. Weak, tired, down in the
dumps, and grumpy -- this is what the ghost
of gray days is like.

This is a fun book with lots to look at and and small caption-y text. It will be released too late for Halloween this year, but (at least according to the book) ghosts are everywhere all year long...if only we pay close enough attention!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all of the ghosts and goblins and trick-or-treaters in your world!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Emma in Buttonland

Emma in Buttonland
by Ulrike Rylance
translated by Connie Stradling Morby
illustrated by Silke Leffler
Sky Pony Press, October 1, 2013review copy provided by the author

I have already proclaimed my love for fantasies "with small worlds, or toys that come to life, or characters that shrink."

Emma in Buttonland is my newest favorite in this sub-genre of fantasy. I wrote in my Goodreads review that this book is "part Borrowers, part Wizard of Oz." When I checked out the only other review (so far) for the book, that person said the same thing!

Emma is stuck at her aunt and uncle's house while her mom is on a trip to Africa. Her aunt and uncle are preoccupied with their jigsaw puzzles, leaving Emma free to wander through their rambling, many-roomed house. She discovers a locked room, and the lure of adventure is too much. She swipes the keys from the sleeping cook, opens the door, and discovers a room full of buttons. Boxes and boxes full of buttons. When one of the buttons speaks to her, and then when her fingers touch it as she reaches under a cabinet to grab it after it runs away, the magic begins -- Emma shrinks to button-size and enters Buttonland!

The first character she meets, Louise, a small silver button with a large red hat, introduces one of the main themes throughout the book: What does it mean to be VALUABLE? Louise is on a quest to discover her value.

Next, she meets Gustav, a button from a pair of lederhosen. His quest is to find his true love, his matching button, Constance.

Both accompany Emma on her quest to find the gold button that made her shrink so that she can touch it again and perhaps be restored to girl-size.

The book is illustrated with full-color illustrations, mostly along the bottom edges of the pages. The illustrator, Silke Leffler (according to the back flap) was "trained as a tailor and then studied textile design." There couldn't have been a more perfect pick for an illustrator! Her collages bring all of the fabrics, sewing notions, and different buttons (and other small lost items) to life.

I can't wait to book-talk this in my 5th grade classroom. I've got several readers who I think will love it as much as I do!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2 New Favorite Nonfiction Authors

This summer, I did a Choice Literacy workshop for teachers around Nonfiction. I spoke in the morning and Andrea Smith spoke in the afternoon.  It was a great day of learning as I always learn so much from Andrea. But the big surprise was the books.  I have been on the lookout for better nonfiction for years and I love my collection lately.  I brought crates and crates of books for my part of the presentation.  Andrea also brought crates and crates for her part of the presentation.  The room was filled with amazing nonfiction for children.  And here's the thing, there was almost NO overlap in the books I brought and the books Andrea brought.  We each had a great collection of DIFFERENT books!  Needless to say, it was an expensive afternoon of amazon ordering but I discovered some great new books.

Now, well into the school year, I've realized I have 2 new nonfiction authors thanks to this workshop.

Suzi Eszterhas is an author I discovered while I was getting ready for the workshop months earlier. I don't know where I read about or saw her newish series EYE ON THE WILD (Eye on the Wild: Lion)  but I fell in love immediately.  This series currently has about 6 books--each about a different animal in the wild. Each book begins when the animal is a baby and takes it through adulthood.  The text is narrative and very well written. There is enough on the page for my 3rd graders, but not so much to make it overwhelming. And Eszterhas's photos are amazing. I checked out her website as I am a new fan and loved learning about her other work. The part of her website that was most fascinating was the section on tours and workshops. I would NEVER want to go on any adventure that observes animals in the wild, but I love that she does and that we get to learn from her brilliance!  Two more books in this series are due out in 2014 and I am very happy about that!  And I definitely want to go back and check out her past work in Ranger Rick and Time Magazine! Love finding a new favorite author.

The other author was one I discovered from Andrea at the workshop.  I knew Markle from The Case of Sandra Markle was an author I didn't know as an author--I had a few of her books but had never really looked at them together to see what Sandra Markle was about. Well, what a happy discovery!  Sandra writes great nonfiction books for kids around a variety of science topics. The thing is, all of her books have different illustrators/photographers, so it is hard to notice that they are all by this wonderful author. Go through your classroom or school library and I bet you have lots by this author.  I love her work because she really makes things more interesting and very accessible to children. Her take and focus on big topics narrows things down so kids can really understand.  Her language is beautiful and can be used in any minilesson on craft.  I currently love her Animal Predators series.  Owls in this series is one a few of my students have loved.
the Vanishing Tree Frog but hadn't paid attention to how many other books she wrote that I loved! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts

WOW!  That was my first reaction to Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts--and Life as I started reading it this weekend. My husband and I went to Boston for the weekend, just for fun.  This was my airplane reading and within the first few minutes, I turned to my husband and said, "WOW! This book is amazing already!"  This is a book that so many of us have been waiting for and I was so happy to get mine just in time for a plane trip--what better way to dig into a great book than to be able to read uninterrupted for 2 hours straight?  I was able to read the first half of the book on the way to Boston and the rest of the book on the way home.  WOW! I so love this book!

I have been loving all of Chris Lehman's and Kate Roberts' work for a while and I  became even more interested when I heard them speak at NCTE last year.  I have read their books and followed both of their blogs ( and
I loved Kate's blogpost on The Nerdy Book Club Blog this summer. And I loved this Choice Literacy article by Chris Lehaman on research. I even did podcast on Close Reading with Chris and Kate for Choice Literacy  this summer.  I am an official fan, no doubt.  Needless to say, I have been anticipating this book for a while and ordered it the day it came out directly from Heienmann (as I didn't want to have to wait an extra day to get it from anywhere else.)

But even with all of that anticipation and all that I already knew of Chris's and Kate's work, I was still amazed at the brilliance.  Within the first few pages, I was totally hooked on the thinking that Chris and Kate share and I knew that this was a book that would have a huge impact on me and on my teaching.

First of all, the foreword by Donalyn Miller is incredible.  A great set up for the book and the context. In the foreword she states, "Students deserve instruction that moves them forward as readers and thinkers and values their unique experiences and needs."  For so long I've worried about the ways in which "close reading" in the Common Core is being interpreted and implemented but Donalyn's foreword reminds us that we can teach our students to read closely AND to fall in love with reading--that the two actually go hand-in-hand. She introduces the premise of the book and why this work is so important. I savored the foreword a little before I moved onto the book.

On the first page of this book, Chris and Kate state, "We know, in our bones, that loving something or someone involves knowing that thing or person very well.  Returning to it repeatedly, gazing at it for hours, considering each angle, each word, and thinking about its meaning.  Our connection to the written word can be as deep as a love affair."  So, the authors argue, teaching readers to look at texts closely, "is an opportunity to extend a love affair with reading."  Page 2 and I was hooked.

There are so many things I love about this book. First of all, the authors dig into the whole idea of Close Reading--its roots and what it has come to mean with the CCSS.  Then they move to sharing their vision of students developing habits of close reading--doing it without us in their own reading lives.

The rest of the book takes us into classrooms and the thinking behind Chris's and Kate's work with students around close reading. These chapters include actual language to use, texts that work, and insights into the purpose. For me, these chapters really changed my stance about how to work with kids around this complex idea. They teach us how to help students read with a lens and to find patterns in their discoveries--and then to develop new ideas because of the patterns they see.  They carry this ritual throughout the book as we hear their language as they work with kids around text evidence, structure, word choice and point of view. They also share their insights about helping students read closely across texts.

This book is packed and I have underlined, starred and noted so many things that I can't begin to share all of my thinking. I know it is a book that has already changed the way I will work with children and I know it is a book that I will dig into again and again as I play with some of the concepts they understand so well.

Really, this is a must-read professional book--one to put on the top of your pile immediately!

If you finish the book and need more of Chris's and Kate's thinking OR while you are waiting for your copy of the book to arrive, you can spend hours and hours and hours reading the amazing thinking that was part of the Close Reading Blog-A-Thon.

Don't forget to add their session to your NCTE13 Convention Planner!  Their session looks great!

And, of course, you'll want to follow Kate (@teachkate) and Chris (@iChrisLehman) on Twitter!
(Rumor has it that there is a Twitter Chat coming up soon about this book --check out #FILWCloseReading.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Celebration

1. An "all's clear" mammogram. The James has a billboard ad campaign right now with the catch-phrase, "There is no such thing as a routine mammogram." So true, whether or not you were diagnosed with breast cancer with your very first mammogram. I'll breathe easier (and remain vigilant -- do your monthly self-exams, friends!) for another year.

2. An absolute show-stopper of a rainbow on the way home from my mammo/onco visit. The colors were so bright and it was so solid-seeming that you just wanted to reach out and break a piece off to taste. I wanted to stop and take a picture of it, but by the time I got off the freeway and found a place to pull over where I could see it clearly, it had faded. For a moment I was sad, but then I reminded myself that some memories need to be kept in my heart, not my iPhoto files.

3. No school on Friday. Time to rest, reboot, and reflect on how I can adjust my teaching so that I can better meet the needs of my students while doing all of the things I'm "supposed to be" doing.

4. Thursday, I asked my students to help me with this reflecting and rethinking. I projected a blank document with MORE OF THIS typed at the top and LESS OF THIS typed in the middle. 

LESS OF THIS stayed blank. MORE OF THIS included: independent reading time, book clubs, writing time, choice time, ways to use their devices, science. 

Could I have been hit over the head any harder with what I know to be right and true? Thank you, Universe, for the loud and clear message. Time to stop SAYING I trust the process and time to LIVE it. I'll put into place what I know needs to be there, and work backwards to get to the "supposed to be-s."

Happy Saturday! Happy Fall!

Visit the Celebration Roundup at Ruth Ayres Writes. Thank you, Ruth, for keeping us focused on the CELEBRATIONS in life. It makes all the difference in the world!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Poetry Friday -- Halloween Night

Halloween Night
by Marjorie Dennis Murray
illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Greenwillow Books, 2013
review copy provided by the publisher

I have a big collection of Night Before Christmas variants. What great fun it is to have one that is set on Halloween night!

It begins,

"Twas Halloween night, and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, including the mouse.

The walls were aflutter with little brown bats,
While hordes of black spiders crept out of the cracks.

By the fire in the kitchen, the witch stirred her brew;
To make it more smelly, she threw in a shoe."

There are zombies, mummies, green creepies, ghosts, and ogres all making preparations for the trick-or-treaters. When the costumed children show up, there's a moment when the whole book stands still, and the reader knows it could tip either way -- the kids come in...or the kids run away.

You'll have to read it to find out how it ends, but you'll want to read this one aloud in a darkened room with a flashlight at your chin.

Happy Halloween!

Irene Latham has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Live Your Poem... where she's celebrating her 1,000th post! Congratulations, Irene!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventure

Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventure
by Samantha Seiple
Scholastic, 2013
review ARC provided by the publisher
review by Aloysius J. Wald

It is not our policy to accept unsolicited guest reviews, but when you live in the same house as a reader whose knowledge of the history of Arctic exploration would rival that of the historians who run the Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University, and a book about Byrd shows up in a box of ARCs...well...let's just say that such a book moved to someone else's reading pile in a flash.

Samantha Seiple’s adventure history/biography, BYRD & IGLOO, A POLAR ADVENTURE, tells the story of Richard E. Byrd and his Polar explorations while accompanied by Igloo, his fox terrier. Not much has been written of late about Richard Byrd. His explorations were, largely, events that occurred late in the golden years of Arctic and Polar exploration. You could even make the case that Commander Byrd was the transitional figure between the time of absolute, blank map, first boots on the territory exploration, and the modern, mechanized scientific explorations that continue today.

The element of adding the companion dog, Igloo, to the mix and giving him a voice in the proceedings is something a bit new in this type of a history. While Igloo’s thoughts are highly anthropomorphic, it seems perfectly appropriate to the 8 to 12 age group for whom the book is written. This approach is important in light of the lack of newer material and general unfamiliarity of present readers regarding Commander Byrd and his accomplishments. Igloo helps to draw readers in who might otherwise reject a book on Polar explorations that occurred eighty years ago.

Ms. Seiple’s previous book, Ghosts in the Fog, provided history regarding the little examined Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands during World War II. In both of her historical works, she illuminates less known incidents in history. This is most welcome. The occurrences in both books are parts of larger historical events, in the case of Polar exploration, extending over centuries. Delving into more obscure aspects of history are not only entertaining in and of themselves, but provide both an entry point for the study of the larger histories of the subject and give a sense of the entire subject in microcosm.

Utilizing her background as a librarian and researcher, Samantha Seiple has accessed a great deal of resource material from the period of Byrd’s Polar work, which gives the book a contemporary feel, putting the reader in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Those readers who are drawn to additional readings in the subject of Polar exploration will discover a vast and complex topic. Readers who read Byrd & Igloo for an enjoyable story about mischievous dog will be rewarded with a good story.

For most readers in the 8 – 12 age group, BRYD & IGLOO, A POLAR ADVENTURE, should prove to be a good read.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Tree Lady

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever
by H. Joseph Hopkins
illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Beach Lane Books, 2013
review copy provided by the publisher

Even if you don't live in San Diego, you need to meet Kate Sessions.

You need to know her because she was the kind of person whose childhood passions became her lifelong spite of all kinds of barriers that made it difficult to be a woman scientist in the 1800's.

Kate's love of trees and science followed her to the Southern California desert town of San Diego, where she was first a teacher, then a gardener and tree hunter, searching for the kinds of trees that would grow and thrive in San Diego's climate.

Her vision for the city transformed Balboa Park when the Panama-California Exposition came in 1915.

Kate Sessions was a person who lived her dreams and changed her world.

The writing in this picture book biography is exceptional. The repeating phrase, "But Kate did" (and variations thereof), found at the end of every page, adds a solid certainty to the importance of Kate's dream, her passion, and her life's work.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Slice of Life

I went shopping on Saturday for winter shoes.  I'm not sure if you've noticed, but boots seem to have taken over the shoe departments in every store in the country this year.  I wanted to take a picture of the shoe department at Macy's on Saturday because, of the 500 pairs of "shoes" on display, 495 of them were boots.  Shoes were almost nowhere to be found.

I texted a few friends from the boot department sharing photos and asking what I could wear certain boots with.  I looked around at the shoppers in the store to see how they were wearing boots. Honestly, either anything goes OR a lot of people seem confused about how to wear boots this season.  I texted Ruth since she had on cute boots last time I saw her and I asked, "What kind of shoes does one wear this winter? Standing in the shoe department and all I see is boots." Ruth's reply: "Why would you wear shoes when you could wear BOOTS?"

Flickr Photo Boots on the Street by Darren Hall 
I am a seasoned shopper so I guess I should have picked up the clues from the display more quickly:  The trend is no shoes this season. Boots. Only boots.   There are ankle boots, high boots, REALLY high boots, mid-calf boots, rustic boots, dressy boots, flat boots, warm boots, camouflage boots, boots with zippers, tie-up boots, cowboy boots and more. I didn't know where to begin. If I had a $5000 winter shoe budget, I would have had no trouble getting started as there were LOTS of cute boots. But I don't have $5000 for boots so I have to really think about what kinds of boots I need.

I decided on a basic black pair of Nine West boots. I know Nine West isn't top fashion but they are usually cute enough and they fit me well.  Well, lucky for me, I have two daughters who keep me humble. They both told me that the boots were ugly, but neither could actually tell me why. They showed me boots they liked that looked EXACTLY the same as the ones I bought, but there was some subtle difference that I couldn't see.  So I need to begin again. The problem is that the boots I love do not necessarily work with the clothes I have.  It seems boots require a different type of wardrobe.

And, yes, it does because on Sole Society, I read this blurb: "Start your look from the -SHOES UP- and create a style all your own."  Really? I buy the shoes first? Then look for an outfit to match?

So I started to look at fashion blogs to see how this boot thing was going to work this season--especially for women in their 40s. And I became even more alarmed when I read this post--If I have to think this hard in order to go for an autumn walk, it is going to be a long long season!  But lucky for me, I found this helpful post about how nice boots are for "older women" because "you may not have the balance you once had in your disco days."  Well, another pleasant addition to my boot shopping experience.

I'll be taking a break from boot shopping for a few days, but I know I am on a timeline to figure this out so that I have the right shoes boots for the season.  On a positive note, thinking about new boots is a pretty fun way to spend my energy, I guess.

No point to this story at all, just a true slice of my life this week:-)

P.S. Last time I had a shoe dilemma, Patrick Allen was a big help (NOT). Wonder if he'll send me some shoe advice again this time!

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finally feel like I am back to my reading life!  I've loved the reading I've done in the last couple of weeks. Not only that, but looking at my recent reading, it looks pretty balanced!  Here are some highlights.

I am so happy to have read two amazing fiction books this week. I started Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco as an audio book this summer on a driving trip.  I am not so good at audio if I am not on long driving trips so I never finished it (even though it is quite an incredible audio).  So I checked the book out of the library and finished it on the plane last week. WOW! What a great read.  So loved it. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

And I read an adult novel as I haven't given myself time to do that for a LONG time.  The Light Between Oceans: A Novel by M.L. Stedman is an incredible novel but very heartbreaking. I think my heart hurt every minute that I was reading it. I wasn't warned that it was as sad as it was but once I realized the kind of story I was dealing with, I couldn't put it down. Definitely characters and a story that will stay with me for a very long time.  light between two oceans

I was thrilled to hear about a new book by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss. I learn every time Debbie Miller utters a sentence so of course, I bought No More Independent Reading Without Support (Not This But That) right away.  And it did not disappoint! So much packed into such a little book and such necessary and important conversation for all of us.  These two authors not only remind us of the importance of independent reading but also share insights into how to make it most effective. They've also gathered lots of new research to support their case.  A fabulous must-read professional book.

So happy that Mo Willems created yet another wonderful Elephant and Piggie book!  I have not seen I'm a Frog! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (Elephant and Piggie Book, An) since I brought it into the classroom. Kids are amazing like that in that they figure out ways to pass the book in a speedy and fair way.

I've been reading lots of nonfiction. Our 2nd trimester writing unit is nonfiction and I am trying to really think about how to rethink how to better approach it with this age level.  Two recent reads that I am excited to share with my students are Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell (Christy Ottaviano Books) by Tanya Lee Stone and
Eye on the Wild: Sea Otter by Suzy Eszterhas.  I am so glad to have discovered Suzy Eszterhas's Eye on the Wild books. A great newish nonfiction series that is perfect for elementary students.

I also read Draw Out the Story: Ten Secrets to Creating Your Own Comics. I didn't think I would love it but I was pleasantly surprised. It is one I am happy to add to my collection of books about writing.  This reminds me a little of the writing series that Ralph Fletcher has out and of Spilling Ink, in that it is written for kids with tips and information on creating comics.  It seems a bit higher level than 3rd grade to read independently but still a great book for me as a teacher.  Really great lessons for any writer. And we are working on visual notetaking so I am sure there are great things from this book that will help us.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Celebrate This Week!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this new celebration that Ruth Ayres began last week!

Discover. Play. Build.

My post this week will be a list of things that I remember loving this week.  It was a busy week and I don't remember being this tired in a long time. I think these weeks in October are like this for teachers--data entry deadlines, parent conferences, etc.  Sometimes when weeks are busy, you forget how many joyful moments there are as they seem to pass quickly between getting things done! So much joy--just need to take a second to recognize it in the midst of business. There were many moments of joy this week. And Ruth Ayres is amazing for inviting us all to take a moment and realize these small celebrations. 

My favorite part of the week was last night's What Not to Wear Marathon and Season Finale.  I so love this show! I have been a fan the whole decade, I think.   I don't have a bucket list, but if I did, having Stacy and Clinton to spend a few days learning from them would be top on my list it if I did.  I don't watch much TV but I love this show and I'm very sad that it is over. It's the first TV show I've been sad to see end in a long time.  This marathon/finale was such a great way to spend the WHOLE evening on Friday after a busy and exhausting week!  

I forget how much I LOVE the first set of Parent Conferences each year. Sitting down for 20 minutes with parents and really sharing what we know about a child and how they are already growing is always such an important part of the year. Getting ready for these and the exhaustion afterwards is so worth the conversations with the people who love my students the most.  There is nothing like hearing about a child from the parents and beginning a yearlong relationship at these conferences.

Last week, I went to Maine for an amazing weekend with Choice Literacy.  It was a great weekend of learning and friends. And the plane ride gave me time to finally get back to my reading life that has been a bit absent lately.  I loved all that I read and it feels good to have my reading life back:-)

I found quite the bargain on Amazon.  My 40s have not been great in terms of my eyes. I need reading glasses more often than not. I can no longer just move the book farther away to be able to read it.  But, I keep forgetting the glasses places --like meetings--and  I am driving my colleagues nuts! So I found 6 pairs of reading glasses for $29 on Amazon and I have a few pairs at school (a friend is responsible for one!)  So happy to have reading glasses everywhere now!

I am lucky to work in a district with amazing people. Our literacy director sent us this article this week and it was just what I needed.  Teachers Don't Forget Joy is a must read for teachers.

We have been working on learning to be part of Writer Response Groups this week.  The management took up a bit of mine time the first few days but Thursday I was able to walk around and really listen in.  The conversations were amazing. And they were joyful.  Kids were talking to each other about their writing in honest ways and there was so much joy, humor, respect, celebration. I sat back in awe and listened to these amazing kids I get to spend my days with.

I moved from 4th grade to 3rd grade and wasn't so sure I'd love 3rd. I have taught 3rd before but find myself most comfortable with 10 and 11 year olds. But I am finding myself LOVING 3rd grader and I find myself laughing often at the things they say each day. My favorite comment of the week came this morning. As kids were coming into the classroom, one of my students approached me with a letter she had written to Mary Pope Osborne, recommending that the author send Annie and Jack into some fairy tales.  We chatted about the letter and I told her that in the meantime, (while Mary Pope Osborne was considering her advice) that there were some authors who had done some fun things with fairy tales.  I told her that we had lots and we could meet next week during Reading Workshop time and I could share some of my favorites with her. I said, "I love when authors play with fairy  tales too and I am a huge fairy tale reader."  She looked at me wide-eyed, paused and said, "Wow, I did NOT see that coming!"  Crack me up.

For more celebrations, visit Ruth Ayres Writes today! I would HIGHLY recommend participating in this weekly event as it is a wonderful habit to get into--remembering the celebrations of each week!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday -- Figs and Thistles


MY candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

How I do love the wanderings I have taken this morning (at the other end of my candle, or, as one friend's daughter terms it, "the butt-crack of dawn.")

First, I learned that this little poem that describes my life right now so well is not by Emily Dickinson. Apparently, I'm not the first to make this mistake.

Next, I learned its title, and got to wondering, "What do figs have to do with anything?"

Then, I learned that this poem is from a book entitled A Few Figs From Thistles, and there is a


SAFE upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

...and the second fig seems just as applicable to my life right now as the first.

But still, there was the problem of the figs. Not being a Biblical scholar, I didn't realize there was this root to the "figs from thistles" saying:

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men 
gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
--Matthew 7:16

And now, I'm left arguing in my mind with the meaning of this verse. I can see that it is a warning about false prophets -- I don't trust the grapes and figs that come from a person who is all thorns and thistles. But what if you are a good enough person (maybe not perfect, maybe with just a few thorns and thistles that persist no matter how attentive you are to weeding your life)...and all you are given to work with are thorns and thistles...and somehow you manage to produce grapes and figs? 

Through the blear of exhaustion today, 
I will keep my heart and mind focused 
on the figs and grapes, 
the grapes and figs. 
I will brush aside the thorns and thistles. 
I will focus on the fruits.

Cathy has the roundup today at Merely Day by Day.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Slice of Life: Why (Land Lab Edition)

Thanks to Stacy and the team at Two Writing Teachers for hosting
Slice of Life every week!

Why I stopped pulling weeds.

Can you see her there, hanging upside down?

Why I stopped cutting back dead stuff.

On the yucca stalk.

Why I turned off my music.

The grandfather was singing to his granddaughter.
We just happened to leave the playground/landlab at the same time.
 I complimented his singing and asked him what language it was.

Why I stopped cutting back the grasses.

Whose pathways? Whose home?

What I did when I slowed down.

Our strawberry plant just might make it!

What else I saw when I slowed down.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Classroom: Responding to Writing

Last week, in writing workshop, we started a short cycle on response groups in writing.  This is the beginning of our work with responding in peer groups so a few lessons are helping us get started.

I began the lessons by sharing my own experiences as a writer.  I shared this photo with my students. It was taken at the Choice Literacy Writing Retreat this summer. It is a photo of the group of us who got together to write and share and respond. I talked to them about the experience and about how twice a day we would share our writing and get feedback on it to help us make our writing better. I explained that sometimes I was the writer and sometimes I was the responder and I shared a few specific examples of pieces I worked on while I was there and the ways in which the other helped me to make my writing better.

Then we revisited a video we watched earlier in the year as part of a minilesson cycle on community.  The video shows the power of peer response and we talked about how the responses from Austin's classmates were what helped him create a better drawing. The same was true for writing.  Response matters.

We started a chart early in the week that we will build together over the course of the minilessons.  Then we'll clean it up a bit to synthesize our learning about response groups.

The first experience with response was whole group and it was a piece of writing that I shared with the students. I wrote a piece that I was hoping to put on Kidblogs about my younger brother. Sibling stories are popular in the classroom right now, and I wanted my kids to see that I got ideas from their writing.  I also wanted to practice together. So I told my students that as a writer, I had to prepare for the response group.  I had chosen a piece of writing that I wanted help with, made copies for everyone, and thought of a few specific things I wanted help with.  I read the piece aloud.  Their job was to read the piece and write thoughts that came to them as they read--things that might help make my writing better. They each marked a piece up.

The next day I fishbowled with 3 students about my writing.  I asked them specifics ( a few questions about word choice and some advice on the lead.).  They shared confidently and kindly and I got some great advice. We processed the things that made the response group positive.

Then kids went off and chose a piece of writing from their writers' notebooks that they wanted feedback on.  They were very excited about doing this once we got to this point in the cycle. Getting feedback on their writing was something they were excited about!  They marked the piece, jotted down specific feedback they were looking for and we copied those pieces so that everyone in the response group would have his/her own copy.

Then we started to get ready. Students were put in groups of 4 with one writer and 3 responders each day.  The WRITER of the day met with me about things they were hoping to learn from the responders while responders read and marked up the writers' texts.

Then response groups met, focusing on one writer each day.

Writers took notes on the things they needed to remember when they went back to revise.

By the end of the cycle, we will have a chart that reminds us how we get ready for a response group (writers and responders) and the kinds of things we might say/hear in a response group (as a writer or responder).

As we continue to build, our feedback will get more detailed and specific but my goal with this first cycle was for kids to see the power of response groups--for both the writer and the responder. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry Friday -- Unharvested

by Robert Frost

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady's fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

Sometimes it seems like The Writer's Almanac can read my mind. The day after my frustrated PF post last week, when I was feeling like no matter how much I do, I am never doing enough and/or my best, Garrison Keillor sent this Frost poem, reminding me to breathe, to celebrate in leaving a little bit undone.

We accidentally let the one broccoli plant in the community garden that the rabbits didn't eat go unharvested. I think it's a rather beautiful late bloomer. And that cold early morning bee certainly isn't complaining about our mistake!

Laura has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Writing the World for Kids.