Monday, December 14, 2009

Giving Back, part 2

Last week, Franki wrote about Giving Back at this time of year:
It is the time of year where lots of people give back to families and organizations. We all have causes that are important to us and we support those causes in many ways.
She wrote about two of the organizations she'll be supporting this year and asked blog readers (and me) to share some of the organizations we'll be supporting.

One organization I'll support this year is Kiva. Last year, Franki gave me a gift certificate to Kiva and I used this gift to help a farmer in Cambodia buy two oxen for use in his rice field so that he would not have to hire laborers with oxen to plow his field. All year I have received email notifications of the repayment of this small loan and I've thought about the big ways I was helping someone across the world with what was, to me, such a small amount of money. This year I'll reinvest the money Franki gave me last year, I'll add some more of my own, and I'll be giving at least one gift certificate so that another person has the chance to change a life across the world.

Another organization I'll support is the Kit Carson County (Colorado) Cattlewomen's Pink Chaps fund. When I was back home in November helping my mom after her surgery, we were sitting at the kitchen table one afternoon as she was opening get well cards that had come in the mail that day. She opened one envelope and gasped. Inside was a check for an incredibly generous amount of money; an amount that will be a significant help with medical bills and other costs in the coming months. It was from the KCCW Pink Chaps. A little research into the group and how they disperse these funds revealed that they do fundraising all year and then divide the money they raise by the number of people who have been nominated to receive help. I'll contribute to their fund so that another cancer survivor in a rural area where the network of support seems as sparse as the trees will be able to gasp with surprise when they open an envelope and sigh with relief when they realize that there are lots of people who directly and indirectly care about them.

In the comments of Franki's post, Jenny told us about Students Helping Honduras, and Andi reminded us about Greg Mortenson's (Three Cups of Tea) Central Asia Institute that helps build schools for girls in remote Pakistan and Afghanistan.

How about you? How are you planning to give back (locally or globally) this holiday season or in the New Year?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Happiness

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

(the rest of the poem is at Poetry Foundation)

I was looking for a poem about staying late at work until my desk was completely. cleaned. off. Or one about what it feels like to (finally) look up and see different stuff on the big bulletin board in the classroom, or one about that feeling when I remembered that my students have a guidance lesson, (which means I have the gift of time). I needed a poem about turning a corner and feeling like maybe, just maybe, the worst was behind us for a little while.

You can see what I found. It's a poem about happiness. That scoundrel happiness who decided to mosey on back, and who we (as always) welcome with open arms.

The round up this week is at Random Noodling.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Didn't realize we'd been nominated for an Edublog Award in the Best Group Blog category...THANKS for the nomination!!

If you feel so moved, THANKS for the vote, too!

And, once again, Wow! THANKS!

(All the categories are here.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Giving Back

It is the time of year where lots of people give back to families and organizations. We all have causes that are important to us and we support those causes in many ways. I wanted to share two of my favorite organizations.

The Reading Village is an organization that brings books to children in Guatemala. There are many organizations that bring books to kids but this one is a little different. If you visit the website, make sure to watch the video about the founder. Instead of just bringing books to kids, Reading Village is committed to creating a culture of reading in Guatemala. They do this by training teen volunteers and making them leaders in their communities. The things that are happening are amazing as lives are being changed by books.

An organization I just recently learned about is Hannah's Socks. Again, I am in awe of an amazing child making a difference in the world. Hannah began collecting socks for people when she realized that many people in the homeless shelter where she was serving food, had no socks. She is now 9 years old and hopes to donate 60,000 pairs of socks this year.

Hannah's Story - In Images, Words, and Music | Hannah's Socks

These are two of the organizations I will be supporting this season. I would love to hear about the organizations you are supporting this year. I have learned of so many great organizations from blog posts I've read.

live, laugh, celebrate

live, laugh, celebrate
by Ferdinand Protzman
National Geographic, 2009
304 pages, 3.51 lbs.
review copy provided by the publisher

This is a book about life, and joy, and celebration around the world.
"Humankind just cannot resist a celebration -- whoever we are and wherever on Earth we may be, someone has a reason to cheer..."
Picture after picture, page after page, we see that people around the world are not so very different from us in the urge to celebrate births, weddings, new homes, new leaders, religious events, graduations, parades. Picture after picture, page after page, we see that even though the urge or event is similar, the way it is celebrated is as diverse as the people who celebrate.

Here is a sample:

This would be a great book to give as a gift, and a great book to put on your coffee table.

I'm thinking it will also be a great book to have out for my 4th grade classroom right now.

My students are beginning work on multimedia multi-genre projects that are based on a literary theme each of them has chosen from a big list we've created from reading fables and other theme-rich stories (friendship, family, perseverance, use of power, etc.) and this book provides a way for me to show them how this author gathered images on the theme of celebration.
  • We can study the way he organized his images, and study the essays he includes at the beginning of each section of the book (Cycles of Life, Around the World, Life of the Party).
  • We can look at the way each photograph is attributed to the photographer with information about the city, country, photographer and year, along with a short descriptive caption.
  • And we can study the photographs themselves, identifying the ones that speak most strongly to us and figuring out what the photographer did with light and composition (and sometimes luck) to capture the moment in a way that makes us want to look, and look again.
This will be a great mentor text for our theme project, and a fabulous look at celebrations around the world!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TOFU QUILT and a couple more cool teachers

Tofu Quilt
by Ching Yeung Russell
Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2009
Review copy provided by the publisher

This is the story of a girl growing up in a culture that values boys. Luckily, her mother scrapes together the money to send her daughter to school, where Yeung Ying falls in loves with books and stories and writing.

This is the story of a writer being born -- it is about her false starts and first steps and her perseverance and her dream.

This is the story of the impact a few good writing teachers can make on a writer's early life. The poem, "mr. hon," (did I mention, this is an autobiographical novel in verse?) tells about Yeung Ying's 4th grade teacher:

He reads us
a Chinese translation of a story
about three American boys from
a long time ago,
who rode a raft on the Mississippi River.
And Mr. Hon is the first teacher
who displays my stories
marked, "Great work!"
on the classroom bulletin board
even though

Not until her seventh grade teacher does Yeung Ying get encouragement again, when she hears, "Your story really comes to life" and "You write very well./ Keep trying./ You can be a writer someday."

I nominate Mr. Hon and Mr. Lee for inclusion on our list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature. (We are up to 128 Cool Teachers. Has there been a Cool Teacher in a book you read recently?)

For a fabulous review of Tofu Quilt, complete with mouth-watering photos, head on over to Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000
by Eric Wight
Simon and Schuster, February 2010
ARC received at NCTE

The dedication of this newest Frankie Pickle adventure reads, "To my dad, who is always there to help -- even when I don't know how to ask." I'm thinking there is perhaps a fair amount of autobiography woven into this story, and as a child whose earliest mantra was, "Do it SELF," this book rings true for me as well.

Frankie gets too tied up in his own imagination to receive his Possum Scout merit badge for knot-tying. This means he won't move up in rank from Pygmy to Shrew with the other boys in his troop unless he wins the Pine Run 3000. Which is this weekend.

I won't reveal the rest of the plot, which involves messes, mistakes, revelations, disqualifications, and unlikely displays of good sportsmanship.

This book is another winner by Eric Wight, and luckily, we will only have to wait until June for book three!

My review of the first book, Franki Pickle and the Closet of Doom.
Eric Wight's website at Simon and Schuster.
Eric Wight on Twitter: @Eric_Wight
News of the next book:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Another Winter Book!

SLEEP, BIG BEAR, SLEEP! by Maureen Wright and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand will make a fun winter read aloud. As everyone knows, bears sleep through the winter and it's time for Big Bear to do just that. Old Man Winter keeps telling him to "Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep", but Big Bear doesn't hear very well and he thinks he is hearing different directions--such as, "Drive a jeep." and "Dive Deep." Bear does as he thinks he is being told, but he is very, very tired!

This is a fun book and the repeated phrase, "But Bear didn't hear very well; he couldn't sleep in his den in the dell..." is one that will invite kids to join in on the reading. As always, Hillenbrand's illustrations are wonderful and the feeling of winter is clear. I will add these to my other great new winter books! Kids seem to love to hear stories about the seasons. These will be great to read when we get our first snow. (I do remember that last year, in early March, when we were all sick of snow and cold, one little first grader came in demanding a book about SUMMER! So, I'll read these winter books in the early part of winter when we enjoy winter and snow!)

*This book is a review copy provided by the publisher, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Poetry Friday -- I Praise My Destroyer

Some of those close to me are dealing with the tragic loss of young lives, and others with the painful loss of parents or friends to cancer or Alzheimer's. It's easy to be angry and disbelieving and sad to the point of drowning.

from "Elegy" by Diane Ackerman

The world is breaking someone else's heart
today, the roses are busily mumbling scent,
all the greens of summer have blown apart...

...My own sorrow starts
small as China, then bulges to an Orient.
The world is breaking someone else's heart.
All the greens of summer have blown apart.

Eventually, acceptance is necessary in order to go on another day.

from "We Die" by Diane Ackerman

...Lost friend, you taught me lessons
I longed to learn, and this final one I've learned
against my will: the one spoken in silence,
warning us to love hard and deep,
clutch dear ones tighter, ransom each day,
the horror lesson I saw out of the corner of my eye
but refused to believe until now: we die.

And if we are to live joyfully in the midst of tragedy, loss, and the breaking of hearts, then we must learn to praise our destroyer.

from "I Praise My Destroyer" by Diane Ackerman

...Our cavernous brains
won't save us in the end,
though, heaven knows, they enhance the drama.
Despite passion's rule, deep play
and wonder, worry hangs
like a curtain of trembling beads
across every doorway.

But there was never a dull torment,
and it was grace to live
among the fruits of summer, to love by design,
and walk the startling Earth
for what seemed
an endless resurrection of days.

I praise life's bright catastrophes,
and all the ceremonies of grief.
I praise our real estate -- a shadow and a grave.
I praise my destroyer,
and will continue praising
until hours run like mercury
through my fingers, hope flares a final time
in the last throes of innocence,
and all the coins of sense are spent.

by Diane Ackerman
Random House, 1998
(my own copy, autographed by the author!)

(If you follow the link to Amazon and "Click to look inside," you can read the three poems I've excerpted in their entirety.)

The round up this week is at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

November Mosaic

What a month.

I stepped off the treadmill of school life on November 2 and went back home for two weeks to help my mom while she recovered from surgery.

Back Home.

I've lived in Ohio longer than all my growing up years in Eastern Colorado, and yet I still go Home. Home to the streets I rode my bike on, the house where my kindergarten teacher lived, and the place where the glow of a lamp and the view from the back windows is as familiar as the scar on my knee from the incident with my cousin's Shetland pony and the barbed wire fence.

Home is where my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bryner, still lives. I visited her in the nursing home and we talked about the importance of finding a way to love every child so that you can reach them and teach them. ("And," she said with a twinkle in her eye, "some children are harder to love than others!") True then, true now.

I had one day to unpack and repack my suitcase, and then we were off to Philadelphia for NCTE for five days.

For one day on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and then again on Monday, November 30, almost exactly a month from the day I stepped off the treadmill, I stepped back on the treadmill of school life...or at least I attempted to. In the weeks I was gone, someone ramped up the speed...or I lost some of the stamina I'd built up to deal with the unrelenting onslaught of meetings, meetings, meetings, planning, teaching, report cards, committees, behavior issues, homework issues, meetings, meetings, meetings, report cards, PD, data, grouping, grading, meetings, meetings, meetings...

I drove to another building for a committee meeting after school yesterday. On the streets leading up to the school are "traffic calming" humps. I've learned it's not worth it to zoom up to one and then screech down to 25 mph to go over and zoom up to the next one and screech down. It's better just to go a steady 25. It's calming.

It's calming. And I'm not just talking about traffic here. By the time I got to the committee meeting, my brain had slowed down and my blood pressure had fallen and the clutter of my brain had settled down somewhat.

I need some speed humps in my life to keep things calm and steady. I need to try to quit zooming and screeching. I need to find a steady speed I can maintain.