Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book-A-Day # 8

LaikaLaika by Nick Abadzis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic novels are typically a quick read for me, although the more I read the more I recognize their literary value and challenge. Graphic novels are not comic books and they do require specific literary skills. This novel was no exception. This is a wonderful story of Laika, the dog sent into space by the USSR. The characters are well developed, the story is clearly told, and the art work is wonderful.

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Book-A-Day # 7: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good book, and I'm still thinking about some of the messages in it. I think that I liked the first two in the series better. President/Mayor Prentiss reminded me of Aaron, from the first book. The guy needed to die and just wouldn't. The book was fast paced, but going from one disaster to the next started to get a little old. The first two books had the action, but also the psychological factor of Todd fighting to be himself amidst the expectations of Prentiss and the people. I didn't feel that part of the story was as strong in Monsters of Men until the very end.

The first hundred pages where difficult with rather graphic descriptions of war, but that seemed to temper some as the story moved on. The unique narrative style- switching point of view between Todd and Viola- continued to develop as a new point of view is introduced in this book. The alternating narratives create a strongly woven story.

Sometimes when a series ends you are disappointed that it is over because it feels like there is still so much more story to be told. Sometimes you are relieved because perhaps it dragged on just a little too long. Sometimes when a series ends you are just plain satisfied because it was a good run. Monsters of Men leaves you with sadness at what was lost and hope that the characters still alive have a future. Things aren't necessarily tied up in a neat bow but it ended well.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an amazing story. Fact and fiction, present day and the 18th century are masterfully woven together. I couldn't put it down. The story made me want to go do my own research about the French Revolution and create a playlist on my ipod that ranges from Bach to Red Hot Chili Peppers. This is a masterfully written story.

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A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale Dark and GrimmA Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A clever retelling of some Grimm Fairy Tales. It made me wish my copies of Grimm where home instead of school! I can think of several students who will enjoy this story. There is a nice balance of gore and humor that will catch the interest of middle school students who have been corrupted by the disneyfied versions of fairy tales. When I do a fairy tale unit this book will definitely be a part of it. This is one that I want to include in my classroom library.

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There are many who are trying the book-a-day challenge this vacation. Does it count if I'm doing it informally? I didn't set aside a stack of 12 books, but I'm trying to do as much reading as I can: I had a stack from the library that I wanted to get through and so far I've succeeded. I haven't quite done a book-a-day, but pretty close. Of course I also have papers to correct for school and lessons to plan.

What I've read so far:
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons by Ann Rinaldi (read in companion with The Complete Writtings of Phillis Wheatley)

What I've reading now:
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

What I'm Will Probably read next:
Of Monsters and Men by Patrick Ness ( started this one a while ago and need to get back to it)
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (another that I started a while ago and need to get back to)

Also on my To-Read Pile:
The Secrets of Serised by Renee Hurteau
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Another Pan by Daniel and Dana Nayeri
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadful by Steve Hockensmith
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben Winters
It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville
As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth by Lynn Rae Perkins
You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
City of Ashes by Cassandra Claire
Dibs: In search of Self by Virginia Axline
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Out of My Mind by Susan M. Draper
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week by Ana Homayoun
and of course a re-read: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Kelly Fineman is going to do a chapter by chapter blog of Pride and Prejudice starting January 1. I've been wanting to read Pride and Prejudice, so I think I might try to join her.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tis the Season

You always wonder what students notice and what they think of you. Sometimes they seem so oblivious to anything outside of themselves-especially when they are in middle school. Perhaps the gifts we receive from our students at Christmas or end of the year are a good indication of what they notice. I think that is true of my students, and it delights me. Today we had a wonderfully fun time exchanging Christmas gifts. The kids were really thoughtful in what they got for their classmates and for their teachers.

I received two B&N gift cards, and three students gave me books. Two of the students chose books for my classroom library and a third gave me a beautiful book of photographs of nature accompanied by scripture and quotes. One of my coworkers (who happens to be the mother of one of my students) gave me a copy of the Penguin classic The Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley, which I have been wanting since our recent field trip to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston (The Old South Meeting House has a wonderful Phillis Wheatley exhibit and program). I also received some chocolates and some coffees and candles. But the books. That touched me so much. I love books and I love to read and the kids get that and it's important to them.

I'm looking forward to some time to read during Christmas vacation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ooh! Shiny! Books!

I don't know how they do it, but Scholastic Books has got a good thing going. I placed an on-line order for my kids Tuesday morning and according to UPS the books will be delivered Friday. I didn't even pay for the fast shipping. It usually takes at least a week. I think they're doing some special promo for Christmas.

The Warehouse Sale is also going on right now and we have a warehouse nearby, managed by a wonderful woman named Beth. Last year when the 3rd grade teacher and I were there for the winter sale we asked if we could have a Read Around the World cardboard display thingy because that was the theme for our read-a-thon. Beth said, "Sure! They're old, I can't use them. Take as many as you want!" When our read-a-thon ended they let us bring the winners from the middle school classes over to buy books. They met us with Clifford, balloons, backpacks and water bottles and free books. They were so good to us.

Tonight Sandi and I went to the warehouse sale and I got a boxful, but best of all, I needed a classroom set of Avi's Nothing But the Truth. I found 2. So I asked if there were more. I was directed to Beth. Yes there were more, but way up high on a shelf that couldn't be reached right then. But, I could buy them- at the discount price- and she would ship them to me. She asked for the name of my school and when I told her she broke into a grin. "Oh yes! I could drop them off for you tomorrow morning! I come right by there. Oh wait, the bridge is closed on 140 and I have to take the highway so I'm not coming by. I'll have UPS pick it up tomorrow."

I love Scholastic!

New Books I got tonight for my classroom:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Books are Like Old Friends

I love going to the library. Even if I can't read all that I come home with before they are due, I love browsing the titles and seeing what is on the shelves. I love discovering a story that I've not read before. Our tiny town has a wonderful library and the librarians do a fabulous job. I'm always excited to see what new titles they have or what they are featuring.

Today when I went into the children's room (an entire, well stocked floor!) I was delight to see two new favorites on display. Both of which are books that I suggested to the head children's librarian.

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord and The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner prominently displayed on the top shelves- right at eye level. Aren't they pretty books? I love my library!

Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson

From the back of the book:
What is the soundtrack of your life? After living in twelve places in eight years, Calle Smith finds herself in Andreas Bay, California, at the start of ninth grade. Another new home, another new school...Calle knows better than to put down roots. Her song journal keeps her moving to her own soundtrack, bouncing through a world best kept at a distance. Yet before she knows it, friends creep in--as does an unlikely boy with a secret. Calle is torn over what may be her first chance at love. With all that she's hiding and all that she wants, can she find something lasting beyond music? And will she ever discover why she and her mother have been running in the first place?

I loved this book. Calle is a strong, yet typical teen. Her voice is so clear and true in telling her story. Kim Culbertson deftly walks the line of portraying teen life. This is a must have for my classroom library. After finishing the book on a weekend morning, I continued processing the book all afternoon as I was (supposedly) working on lesson plans. I kept thumbing back through the book and looking up the songs and artists I was not as familiar with. I was thrilled to read the names of so many of my favorite singers/songwriters in the book. I love the idea of the book and I'm still trying to find words to express how powerful Calle is as a character. Kim does such an amazing job of portraying both the teens and adults in the story. It is not angst ridden, yet the weight of what the kids are dealing with is not lessened, nor is the reality of adult choices and their impact on kids. And the language is beautiful! Wonderful figurative language in creating tone and setting.

This is a book that I could easily incorporate into my teaching. It will make a great anchor text. It has great literary strength for studying the elements of fiction, as well as being a fabulous mentor text for a writing unit on having the kids create their own soundtrack for their lives.

SOLSC (a day late)

Overheard in the media center during my 6th grade Social Studies class as they were playing "Mission 1: For Crown or Colony?", an awesome computer game about Boston and the start of the Revolutionary war:

"Ooo! Look! Join or Die! Remember from History class?"

I love when they see the connections between their classes. See Mr. H? They really were paying attention!
(Yes, we have History AND Social Studies... long story)

Of course the other fun part was the excitement they had as they researched their 10 facts about their assigned Freedom Trail stops. It was so cool the hear them excitedly read off who was buried in the Granary Burying Ground and things that they remembered hearing about in History class.

I took over this class mid quarter and it has been rough. We only meet once a week and it is for 90 minutes. They are a small group and are very similar in personality style. Plus, we meet after recess. There is frequent fighting, and group work just doesn't work. In a class of 9 the ability range goes from 2nd grade through 7th grade (in a 6th grade class). This week's class was the best one we've had yet.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

SOLSC: November 9, 2010

Last week during staff meeting I was making notes and reflecting on my classes when suddenly this phrase hit me: I will not give into your chaos. Yes! I had found my motto for this year. My 6th grade Social Studies class and my 7th grade LA and Social Studies class quickly suck me into their chaos. They are tense and anxious (or fighting and fooling around as is the case with 6th grade) and I get sucked into that negative energy and it's just not a fun, happy scene. So I am not going to let myself give into their chaos. I'm going to stay calm and patient even when they are annoying the snot out of me and we can't get anything done.

During dismissal today I was talking with my co-worker who supervises car pool with me and told her about my motto.

"That's good. What was the one you had last year? 'I'm older than them' or something like that."

"Oh yeah, 'I'm older than them and smarter than them'. I completely forgot about that."

So apparently I'm in the habit of giving myself little mottoes to keep my sanity. But hey, it works!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Literary Moments: Slice of Life November 2, 2010

This morning I stepped into the 5th grade room during arrival to make sure everything was going smoothly. The fifth grade teacher was in a meeting, the 6th grade teacher was greeting, the 7th grade teacher was returning a phone call to a parent, and I was trying to make sure things stayed calm in all four middle school classrooms (thank God for small classes)!

"Mrs. Stotz! I just killed C!" J happily told me as he sat calmly in his seat.

"What??" I looked at C who was sprawled across his binder at his seat.

"I told him I love writing!" J said cheerfully. M, sitting next to him, looked up from her own writing with a big grin.

"J! That makes me so happy to hear- it's like Tinkerbell and the clapping. I get stronger and stronger each time a student says they love writing."

My 7th graders came into class and saw that we were doing another writing lesson on voice today. "Mrs. Stotz? Are we ever going to stop learning about voice?"

"Nope. You'll be learning about voice the rest of your lives."

"Even on our death bed?"

"Yes. Even on your death bed, because you'll be thinking about what tone you want to use as you say your last words."

We then went on to do a very fun R.A.F.T.S. writing assignment where they wrote letters to themselves from their school bags complaining about the cruel treatment they were currently undergoing. It was so good to laugh with them and to celebrate good writing.
One of my 7th graders was excited to tell me all about the Nook that her mother just bought her. As soon as she got into class, she told me some of the features and how excited she was that her mom got it for her. As the kids were leaving at the end of workshop, 90 minutes later, she excitedly told me how she was going to be able to borrow e-books from the library and many other features of her new e-reader. It was so much fun to see her excited about books-in any form! And when I told her she could bring it in to school to use, her eyes grew huge. "Really? Cool!"

Of course there was a "No fair!" from her classmate who is a gadget kid and wants an e-reader.

My 8th graders are doing NaNoWriMo. This is our second year. I did it with them last year as 7th graders. It is so much fun to see them hunkered down with their notebooks scribbling away and getting excited over word counts. There are some great books being produced in my room. Each time I see R. she tells me how many more pages she has completed: she's writing a graphic novel- the story and the drawings. Another student is writing a novel that combines prose and songs. She's new this year and was nervous about doing NaNo. I was nervous for her, not sure how she would take the whole challenge. She's been doing great! She's got a great idea and is writing a lot.

As we were hanging out in my room waiting for the dismissal bell, my new student and I were talking. I commented that I was already running out of room on the bookshelves as I tried to squeeze The Red Pyramid (copy 1, I have 2 copies because it was so popular- this is actually the first time since getting the books that it has been on the shelf) on to the shelf.

"You have a lot of good books. Not like my teachers at my old school. They were all boring and they didn't have many. That's why I didn't really like reading."

"Thank you. I try really hard to find books that everybody will like. You're reading a lot more, how many books have you finished in the two months since school started? Five?"

Her face lit up. "Yeah!"
I love moments like these.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Making Memories

Thursday after school my seven 8th graders and I traveled to the Brookline Public Library to meet author Laurie Halse Anderson. The girls had read Chains as one of their summer reading books. Forge, the second book in the trilogy, came out last week and I had started reading it to them. We were so excited that Laurie's book tour brought her to the Boston area!

We began our adventure by acquainting ourselves with the Brookline Public Library and the local historical markers.

Then we went to a local pizza place for dinner before returning to the library to stake out our seats for the event. My students had no problem killing half an hour in a library. They were enthralled by the extensive collection of graphic novels. One of my students selected a novel from the shelf and had the entire thing read by the time we got in line to have our books signed. When Laurie came out to speak she greeted the crowed, then noticed the group of girls reading and encouraged them to keep reading- yup, those were my girls!

Laurie gave a fun and inspiring talk about her journey as a reader and as a writer, as well as her love for history. I wasn't the only one inspired by her passion and her knowledge; one of my girls took notes about the things Laurie said about Ben Franklin!

We got to talk with Laurie and even have our picture taken with her. I was so touched by the easy way Laurie had with people. As she inscribed each person's books she talked with them, truly listened to what they had to say, interacted, made eye contact. We each felt really important to her.

After everyone got to have their books signed we piled back into the cars to head home. We stopped at the highway rest area for ice cream, even if it was McDonald's, and phone calls to parents to let them know what time we'd arrive back to school. The evening's entertainment wasn't over, as in our van the girls began rewriting some of the music to Into the Woods (the musical they are doing at school right now) to fit school.

I am so thankful for a small, enthusiastic class, and helpful parents. We had such a blast!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Words that are speaking to me

The Linkin Park song, Waiting for the End has been haunting me since yesterday. One of my students shared it with me as the soundtrack for an event in his life as part of a recent writing assignment. I keep thinking about that student and the song and the heart ache that he is dealing with.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Slice of Life October 12, 2010

Because of the Monday holiday, we had chapel this morning. This year I have a small homeroom class: 7 girls. They are all very talented and all but 2 of them where playing in the worship band this morning. Because chapel is at 8:30, the kids who are playing in the band head over to the sanctuary as soon as they arrive at school, some of them I don't even see until chapel. So this morning we had out quiet little group of 2 kids. After the 8:15 bell rang I was chatting with the two girls when I remembered that it was our turn to lead morning pledge and prayer over the loudspeaker. It's always two kids, so S & R had to go. I sent them down to the office and was all alone in my room.

Standing alone in the empty room, saying the pledges was an interesting experience! I never before realized what a community thing this morning ritual is.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day

We had great plans this year to be better about getting up to Maine to see my folks. We planned to spend Columbus Weekend with them, visiting and helping with some projects around the house. But when Saturday rolled around John was still feeling horrible from the cold he'd been fighting all week. He wasn't up to traveling and there was no way we could expose my parents to the cold. After lots of tears and discussion, I called my folks to tell them we weren't coming. Fortunately my dad answered. I think if my mom had answered I would have been crying again. We had a good talk and he affirmed our decision; not just out of concern for their health, but also concern for John's health.

So instead of a weekend in Maine with family, we've had a quiet weekend at home. John has rested and is starting to feel better. I finally got to just sit and read, something I've been dying to do for several weeks. I finished Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wings by Aprilynne Pike, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Fabulous books all. Sunday I cooked my first whole chicken and it came out really well. Today we used the chicken stock and left over meat to make an amazing chicken soup. I've been to Barnes and Noble to pick up some books for my classroom that I've been wanting to get; Guys Read: Funny Business edited by Jon Scieszka, Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell, Havoc by Chris Wooding, and The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness. Of course I intended to use one of my gift cards but totally forgot, again! But I'm looking forward to showing the books to my kids tomorrow; one in particular has been anxiously awaiting Havoc.

I ache to be in Maine, but it was so good to have a quiet weekend and to relax. I've been very stressed between work and my parents' health. It was good to be able to take a step back from my school work. I know that things will come crashing down on my head tomorrow morning. Tuesday is my day from hell: I teach every single period, 2 LA classes (2 different grades doing 2 different things), 3 Social Studies classes, and 1 Bible class., and one of the Social Studies classes is a double period. I have a tendency to allow the demands of school to consume my life. It was nice to actually have a weekend.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's been a while- Slice of Life

It's been a while since I've posted a slice of life. My schedule this year is crazy busy and I've been swamped and exhausted. One of my 8th graders today summed up nicely what I would love to be able to do.

Our first Scholastic Book Club order of the year came in yesterday after school. Only three kids had ordered, but I had ordered some for the classroom and got several free books to boot. I excitedly shared with them the new treasures and then stepped back and said, take what you want. They descended like ravenous wolves. Usually I say "who want's this," and hand them out- got to remember to do that next time. Luckily no lives were lost!

We then got talking about Rick Riordin's new books and before we knew it, it was time to head to chapel. H sighed and said, "Can we just talk about books all day?"

Oh, H. If only. I, too, would be happy.

At the end of the day H snagged the three Margaret Peterson-Haddox Missing Books off the shelf and stuffed them into her backpack with three other books from my library. "Six books!" I said, "Are you going to get any homework done tonight?"

"I got all my homework done. I can't wait to read!"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Book Week

Head on over to the ALA website to learn more about Banned Book Week.

There have been lots of discussions on various blogs about recent challenges to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, as well as other books. It's so cool to see people speaking up for the freedom to read and think for ourselves.

I went to the library today and picked up Twenty Boy Summer, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984. I've been reading Finnikin of the Rock and really enjoying it, but plan to take a break and read Fahrenheit 451 and Twenty Boy Summer. I'm not sure if I'll get to 1984 this time.

In Honor of Banned Books Week

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Heart Mapping

This year one of the first activities I did with my 7th and 8th graders was Heart Mapping. It's a great activity and it is so much fun to see how the kids interpret the assignment! I guided them in the brainstorming and framed the assignment, but asked them to make it "them". Here are some of the results:

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day is Sunday. My students were not excited about talking like a pirate at church, so they decided that the day needed to be extended to Monday. I think several of them are planning to dress like pirates. Maybe I should go to the dollar store this weekend and see what kind of pirate gear I can find. In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day they turned me into a pirate- well, not me, but my alter ego that I draw on the board:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Life is like a box of chocolates

I haven't spent much time blogging lately. School started last week and I've been very busy with that. I'm trying very hard to keep a healthy balance between time spent on work after hours and time spent on personal things, especially time with my hubby. It's a struggle as I've been letting a lot of things go that I know I need to get caught up on. Last weekend was a long weekend and we went away to visit friends that we haven't seen in a while. We had a wonderful visit, but were gone from Friday after work to Monday afternoon. (I also have to admit to trying to finish reading Mockingjay; that will be another post when I get the chance.)

We've been having all sorts of "road blocks" it seems: financial issues at school, short staffed so we all have killer schedules, construction on the street the school is on with the detour going around the school, computer issues... Everything still feels very unsettled, as if things are barely held together.

My classes are going well for the most part. I enjoy the kids and we're trying to establish and settle into routine. The 7th graders are really slow and we are far behind. We're not able to get through everything that we need to in a class period. It takes them twice as long to get to class and settle and do things. I know that eventually they will get it together and we'll get into the flow of things, but right now it is agonizing to see how far behind we are getting.

Last night we had a LONG staff meeting because we were receiving Peacebuilders training. It's this cool new thing we are implementing. I didn't have time to grade the projects that came in or meet with my team. I had been given a message by my team mate that there had been an incident the day before between two kids who have a history and I realized that I had these particular students too close in the seating chart- I needed to put them on opposite sides of the room. Which meant really what I needed was a completely different desk arrangement because the one I had just wasn't working. I planned to do that this morning.

You know how when you plan to do something and things just don't work out that way? Today started out with us running late. As we were driving down the driveway John noticed the "check gauges" light was on. So he backed up the driveway to check his oil level. I could not be later than we were already running so I got into my car and headed out. Leaving my poor husband looking sad because we weren't commuting together. I felt bad all morning. I was going to writing him a little love note to leave on his desk as soon as I had a chance but was busy in classes all morning. Toward the end of my 7th grade LA class my principal came to the door and asked to speak with me. I instructed my students to keep working on the grammar exercise we had been working on and stepped out into the hallway.

When ever people start with, "John's alright, but..." I know an ER trip is in my future. That has happened before. Turns out John had gotten stung by some bees and had to use his epi pen. Which meant a trip to the hospital. I went down to see him before the ambulance arrived and he was doing okay. I felt guilty not going with him, but that was the decision we made- it's not like there was anyone who could cover my classes anyway. I called during my lunch break and he was doing fine. He called me back when he was being released, which happened to be just as school was letting out, so as soon as all the kids were gone I hopped into the car and headed to Worcester to pick him up.

It certainly wasn't how either of us had hoped or planned to spend our day and this left a lot of things undone for both of us. But I am so grateful that he is okay. He's snuggled in to bed now and dropping off to sleep with the help of a dose of Benedryll. Tomorrow is Friday and we have a weekend at home. I'm looking forward to getting caught up on things and just being home.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Summer Reading Wrap Up

I think I did fairly well in my Book -A-Day attempt. As school starts next week my reading will be shifting to essays and papers written by 12-14 year olds!

I am always on the look out for good books to recommend to my students and to just plain enjoy myself and I am participating in The Contemps challenge (click on the badge to the right to learn more) and I'm hoping to do more blogging about books, particularly YA and Middle Grade books. Therefore, I will still be doing much reading!

So here are the books that I've read in the past two weeks:

Picture Books
Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates
Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk
Library Mouse: A Friend's Tale by Daniel Kirk
Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World by Margret and H.A. Rey

YA Novels
Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill (novel in verse)
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (novel in verse)
Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge (novel in verse)
Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge (novel in verse)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore

YA NonFiction
The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Reys by Louise Borden

Since school let out in June I have read 70 books. Not bad.

I'm in the middle of Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Slice of Life August 17, 2010

We had a wonderful week at the Cape last week, but have been having some re-entry problems. We both are missing the Cape terribly. Our first full day back it seemed we couldn't get out of our own way. We were both whiny and tired and restless. John started back to work yesterday and things where crazier than normal. People are moving offices and everything is in chaos. He's worked late both yesterday and today.

I'm having trouble getting motivated to do much of anything, and I sigh with despair every time I look at the calendar. I had a meeting at school yesterday, I have another one tomorrow morning, and Friday I'm spending the day at a conference out of state. Then next week I have to go in mid-week to get my classroom set up and we start teacher meeting next Friday. The following week the kids come. Where did the summer go???

I wish I was back on the beach in Truro, reading, swimming, and soaking up the sun.

Summer Reading Update 8/17

YA Books for School
NightJohn by Gary Paulsen

YA Books for Fun
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Gunnerkrigg Court vol 2: Reserach by Thomas Siddell (GN/Webcomic)
Keesha's House by Helen Frost
Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Burk
The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper
Take by Edward Bloor
Gone From These Woods by Donny Bailey Seagraves
Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier
Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech
Whirligig by Paul Fleischman
The Misfits by James Howe
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

Grown-up Books for Fun
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

I enjoyed all of these books immensely. I think if I had to point out some favorites they would be:
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane- it reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit, which was always a favorite.

Gunnerkrigg Court- such an amazing story and the art work is beautiful.

Peace, Locomotion- I love Jacqueline Woodson's writing and I fell in love with Lonnie Collins Motion in Locomotion. I have grown to love novels in verse as well.

Fried Green Tomatoes- I LOVED the movie and decided after rewatching recently that I needed to read the book. I was not at all disappointed. I still love the movie, and I loved the book.

The Hungry Ocean- Linda Greenlaw is one of my new favorite authors. She is from Maine, is a woman swordfish captain, and an amazing writer. I'm looking forward to reading more of her books (I'm delighted that she has more, including a couple of mystery novels- I love mystery!) I learned a lot about the finishing industry. Linda has an amazing ability to explain the technicalities of off shoring fishing and captaining a boat without loosing the reader.

Red Kayak- Intense, believable characters with a strong message.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Slice of Life August 3, 2010

The air is cool, matching the feeling I have of summer winding to a close. Of course I know it's not over yet, it just feels like it. Next week is our annual vacation to Cape Cod. Once we return I only have about a week and a half before starting back to school. I find myself torn between wanting the warm weather and freedom of summer to continue and missing my students and the routine and challenges of the school year.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Words that are speaking to Me

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."
~Joseph Chilton Pearce

Okay, I suppose it's somewhat ironic that I'm posting this right after my Wordless Wednesday. But I don't want to wait until tomorrow to post this because these words are speaking to me NOW.
I have always lived with a tremendous fear of being wrong and not measuring up to other people's standards, or my perception of their standards.

I really want to create. I want to write, to paint, to carve. My fear of failing or being wrong always holds me back, often from even trying. I'm determined to try. And to take pleasure in the act of creating.

Wordless Wednesday

photo by my husband, John. Cape Ann, MA

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slice of Life July 27, 2010

The anticipated sound of tires crunching on the driveway gravel.
The slam of the truck door.
The squeek of the kitchen door.
The smile of delight.
The warm embrace.
The end of the work day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Reading Update 7/25

MG/YA Books for School
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
The Last Safe House by Barbara Greenwood

MG/YA Books for fun
Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Queen Bee by Chynna Clugston (graphic novel)
Heart Beat by Sharon Creech
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
Word Nerd by Susin Sielsen
Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 1: Orientation by Thomas Siddell (Graphic/webcomic)
The Braid by Helen Frost
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements

Grown-Up Books for fun
The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

I didn't get as much reading in this week because I was working at school writing curriculum. But we have two more weeks before our Cape Cod vacation. I've nearly finished all the YA books I need to read for this school year and then I can focus on books that I want to read for fun. When we're on the Cape I'll probably only take one or two YA books and do mostly grown-up reading.

My To Read List for Cape Cod
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Cape Cod Magic by Richard Russo
Liar by Justine Larbalestier

As all of those books will be coming from the library and I don't want to check them out until the week before we leave, I obviously have no guarantee that I'll be able to get them. If any of them are unavailable, I have some back up titles (that I might bring regardless): Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Huston, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx.

Come to think of it, we have so many wonderful titles on our bookshelf that I have yet to read and want very much to, finding reading material certainly won't be a problem. The problem will be deciding what to bring!

I often feel overwhelmed by how many great books there are. So many books and so little time. I want to read them all! I've been enjoying the novels in verse and I picked up Gunnerkrigg Court purely by chance and have fallen in love.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Reading Update 7/14

MG/YA Books for School
A Break with Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials by Ann Rinaldi
Nothing But the Truth by Avi
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (re-read)
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Stephanie Willis Holt

MG/YA Books for Fun
The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
Willlow by Julia Hoban
Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
Borrowed Names: Poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis

Grown- Up Non Fiction for School
Images of America: Sorcery in Salem by John Hardy Wright

I think I'm keeping up pretty well with my average of a book a day, but in looking at this list I realize I've been very heavy on the MG/YA books. There are so many good ones out there! It doesn't feel as though my To-Read stack is dwindling that much and I keep coming across books I want to get from the library. Yesterday I compiled a list of MG/YA books that deal with prejudice that I want to check out for the possibility of using in literature circles next year. I also made a list of novels in verse. I love the idea of novels in verse and I've already read several in the past year or so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Last week my husband began complaining about the truck making funny noises. It appeared to be random and the noises kept changing. Saturday we drove to Maine and back and never really noticed anything. Sunday afternoon when he returned from visiting a friend the noises had started again and gotten worse.

"It's the rear axle. Or the wheels. I just don't know, but something isn't right."

We bought this truck used this spring. It's a '99 Ford Ranger and for it's age it has very low mileage and is actually in pretty good shape. It had sat for about 2 years before we bought it, though. So we got four new tires and had the front brakes fixed.

Monday morning John took the truck to the repair shop that we've been visiting all too much this spring (the truck, my car). I don't know what mechanics spend their money on (doctors have boats, you know, those old stereotypes), but what ever it is, we have been very helpful to our mechanic the last two and a half months!

Apparently when they put the truck up on the lift and removed the rear tires, the brakes fell to the floor in pieces (springs, nuts, bolts, little metal pieces). On both wheels.

I'm just glad the front and the back didn't go at the same time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Slice of Life July 6, 2010

It's about 100 degrees today and after lunch I packed up my school work and headed for the library to enjoy their air conditioning. I worked for several hours, making some progress on my planning and doing some research on American authors that led my planning in a totally different direction.

I returned home around 4:30 to find my husband home from work and we excitedly shared our days: he the antique tools he is hoping to buy this weekend and his experience at the blood drive, me the research I did and the job in Maine that I applied for. I noticed a individual pack of Oreo cookies on the counter. He gave me a sweet grin and said, "I got those for you."

It's the simple things.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blueberries for Nat- Slice of Life 6/29/10

"Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail...kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped on in the pail-kuplunk! And the rest she ate. Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!" --from Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

The berries dropping into my plastic yogurt container made a muted kuplunk but still brought my mind back to one of my favorite children's books. Brave self-control kept me from copying Sal's picking method. The sun beat down, causing sweat to run down my face and warming the plump blue berries on the blush before me. Once again I was grateful to my ingenious husband. The rope tied to the plastic container and hung around my neck freed both hands for the picking of berries. I gently lifted the laden branches and picked the ripe fruit. It seemed the berries were ripening before my very eyes. No sooner did I think I had an section of the bush picked of all the ready fruit, then I would look back and see some I some how missed. Two containers full later I happily left the bush, knowing the birds and squirrels would be enjoying the fresh, ripe berries that I couldn't reach and there would still be more for us later.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sea Fever by John Masefield


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1878-1967).

Summer Reading Update 6/27

I've been doing a lot of reading already this summer. Since I am teaching all new curriculum AGAIN next year, I have reading to do for school, plus reading I want to do for fun, and reading for professional development. I decided to alternate. After I finish a curriculum book I get to read a book for fun. I have been adjusting that some what; if I read a fun book really quickly, I let myself read a second fun book. Some times I'm reading two curriculum books or a curriculum book and a professional development book before a fun book. So here is my list from the past two weeks:

"Grown-Up" Fiction
The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

"Grown-Up" Non-Fiction
This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians will Save Us by Marilyn Johnson

YA/MG Fiction
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
How To Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (graphic novel)
Eli The Good by Silas House
The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O'Roarke Dowell

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speares
Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Numbering All the Bones by Ann Rinaldi

Professional Development
Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard

Going Coastal

Monday morning we packed the truck and headed north. Destination: China, Maine. John really wanted to see the coast, so as we crossed over the Piscatiqua River from New Hampshire to Maine he said, "Should we get off the highway now?"

Being the born and bred Mainer with an ingrained dislike of all things touristy and natural avoidance of Route 1, I replied, "Not yet!"

When the "Toll Road, Cars, $2.00" signs popped up a few miles later I thought, Wait, we just paid $2.00 at Hampton! and suggested, "Let's get off here!" From York to South Portland, we traipsed up Route 1. Surprisingly, traffic wasn't that bad. It was Monday and still early in the season. But we both agreed taking I295 around Portland was the thing to do. By the time we reached Wiscasset it was late afternoon and I was ready to be off the road. We found a place that would sell us some iced coffee (seriously, if you've got "cafe" in your name, it shouldn't be that big a deal to sell a couple of cups of coffee to go!) and headed inland toward my parents'. We did make one stop to check out these really cool sculptures in a field. My favorite was Don Quixote, but we didn't get a good picture.

John had just a few goals for this vacation and we accomplished most of them: 1. Visit my parents, 2. Go to Liberty Tool, 3. Visit Lie-Nielson tool makers, and 4. Visit Thomas Moser furniture. Tuesday we went coastal (again) and struck out for Liberty Tool. It's this incredibly overwhelming, very cool place. It was fun to explore and see all the old stuff. It reminded me of being a kid and exploring my grandparents' and great-aunts' houses.

From Liberty we drove through all these cool little towns and ended up on Route 1 in Warren and at Lie-Nielson Tool Works. After glomming at the woodworking hand tools (are you sensing a theme here?) I voted for some lunch and we headed north on Route 1. Let me tell you, if you are ever in Rockland, Maine, go to Big Fish Cafe. Awesome food.

We did more exploring of Rockland, Owl's Head, and Belfast before heading back to my parents'. Oh, and if you are ever in Belfast, Maine and you love books and neat little cafes that actually sell coffee and baked goods, not to mention fabulous sandwiches, go to Bell the Cat in the Reny's Plaza. They share a space with Mr. Paperback- a match made in heaven, if you ask me!

Wednesday we had a very nice visit with my brother and his family- my niece and nephews are getting so big! Thursday John did a few odd jobs for my folks, I rescued 5 boxes of my books from my parents' garage, and we headed home. You guessed it, we went the coastal route, at least as far as Brunswick.

We had a wonderful visit with my family, and truly fell deeper in love with the Maine coast, yet it was good to be home again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A kid in a candy store

I'm feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store this morning. You know that overwhelmed feeling you get when you are told to just choose one treat or maybe you've been told "not right now" but you see so many things you like and want to have?

There are so many things that I want to learn, to do, to pursue.
  • I love teaching, especially English and would love to have a job teaching just English and to go back to school to study English; to get a masters degree in English/teaching English.
  • I love books; reading them and recommending them to others. I would love to get an MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) and work in a library or bookstore.
  • I love researching and writing curriculum and would love to get a masters of curriculum and instruction design and then write curriculum and help a school or schools develop and refine curriculum.
But I have very little time, money and energy. So I remain with my nose pushed up against the glass.

Slice of Life a day late

I didn't blog much last week. It was a busy week. Graduation Monday night, class trip to Six Flags New England Tuesday, last day of school Wednesday, then curriculum days for teachers, graduation party for my husband's niece, more curriculum days. Things have been a whirl wind, leaving me tired and feeling rather brain dead.

One of the tasks required at the end of the year is cleaning and packing up our classrooms. I always hate that aspect of the end of the year. The classrooms and hallways look so barren and sad. I've really been dragging my feet this year. Here I am on the first official day of my summer vacation and my classroom isn't done. I'm pretty much the last one. My hallway bulletin board came down yesterday. I still need to take down my boards in my room, remove posters from the walls, put away binders, sort files and papers, dust, and clean my desk. Usually I'm so much better about completing the tasks required of me. I like deadlines and doing what is right and required. Yet this year I've been very good at avoiding and putting off this one, final thing.

Maybe it is the prospect of not returning next year. Maybe it is not wanting to let go of such a good year. Whatever the reason, it must still be done. So this afternoon I'm taking lunch to my husband then putting on some good music and tackling my classroom.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

End of the year prank

Last week my 8th graders were talking about senior pranks as well as what sorts of things they could get away with at the end of the year. I didn't really think much about it.

"What if we started a fight at dismissal on the last day of school. You couldn't suspend us then."
"Come on guys," I replied. "Do you really want your mother to get a phone call from Mrs. Principal on the last day of school saying you'd started a fight?"
"Uh, no, I guess not." The wrath of mom still holds sway over these 14 year old boys.

So today I was supervising the worship team because the music teacher was away. The principal came in as they were setting up and asked to speak with two of the boys- they're both good kids and one is even our valedictorian. The boys never came back. The worship team warmed up, the classes streamed in for chapel, still no X or P. I was beginning to wonder what was going on.

Then my teammate, the math/science teacher came in with our homerooms, and several of my boys were looking quite glum. Seems she had quite the surprise when she walked into her classroom to start the day. Every single science book (probably about 200 books) was stacked on her desk. They had been removed from the top of the literature cabinets where they are stored and relocated to her desk.

She was not amused. Poor Mrs. Math/Science had had a rough weekend and did not enjoy starting the week this way. Several of the other 8th graders gave up the culprits. She got the principal. Mrs. Principal talked to the boys and made them put them all back, reorganized.

"We have to put them back?" The boys replied in horror. "But they're heavy!"

While Mrs. Math/Science and Staff-Mother of Culprit A had trouble seeing the humor in the situation, Mrs. Principal and I had a pretty hard time keeping a straight face about the whole thing.

Now, I'd like to say that if they had done that to me that I would have had the same reaction, and I'm pretty sure that I would; I'd laugh, I'd say, "Nice." and then order them to put the books back the way I want them organized. But I don't know that I'd be so forgiving if I had had a bad weekend as my colleague had. It did underscore for me that these are silly 14 year-olds who don't think, and that I need to make sure that I don't ever take it out on them when I am having a bad day. I don't want to be that kind of teacher. I don't think I am, but I work with middle schoolers who are very self-absorbed and easily perceive things the wrong way.

It'll be interesting to see if any of them try anything else before the end of the year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Smile File

At the end of the year I assign my students an end of the year letter to me. I ask them to write me a friendly letter sharing their accomplishments, hopes, dreams, opinions on middle school, and most daring of all, advice to me as a teacher. I gave the 7th graders two weeks to do it (they tend to freak out over even the smallest assignment- next year should be fun with them). I also told them if they finished it early they could pass it in early. I got my first one today.

It was a very sweet letter. Her favorite things about the year were all the reading that we did together and all the books I recommended and had in my classroom library. She told me that combined with my encouragement about her poems helped her to reach her goals of reading and writing more. The very best part, the part that really made me tear up, was her closing. She ended it, "Your sister in Christ and book buddy," and then signed her full name.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Slice of Life May 25, 2010

There is no such thing as a quick trip into a book store or a library for me. We've lived in our little town for three years and love, love, love our library. It is a beautiful library- a combination of old and new construction. They have a wonderful collection- a huge children's room, a great YA section... The town that we work in also has a fabulous library and an even bigger collection, although I think their YA section needs to be bigger. We frequently visit both libraries. Everyday on our way to and from work we drive through the beautiful, scenic town of Princeton and past their beautiful, stone library (with turrets, it's got turrets!) but have never stopped.

Today we stopped. I didn't know where to spend my time focusing- on their wonderful collection (small, but good), on the stain glass windows, or the beautiful wood work. They even have a spiral stair case! We only spent about an hour there, and that was because I still needed to go to our own town library to return some books that were due.

As I headed out the door to return the books to our library, I told my husband, "I'll only be a little while, I've just got to return these..." yeah right! I've been trying to be good about not getting a big stack out of the library because I've got several already and I know I won't have too much extra time to read as we are getting to the end of the year and I'll be busy with wrapping up school. Plus, I have STACKS of books that I have bought for my classroom library that I still want to read. Then there are the books that I'll be teaching next year that I've never taught before (pretty much all of them because it's a new year of curriculum that I haven't taught before).

Sometimes I think I would love to get paid to read. Of course I want to get paid to read what I want to read!

(The picture is of the books I got (for free!) at the Scholastic Book Fair at our school a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Five

1. This felt like a long and a short week all in one. We only had three days of academics because Tuesday was Fine Arts Day and Thursday was a field trip to the Roger Williams Zoo. It was hard to get stuff done and I'm tired!!

2. The trip to the zoo was AWESOME! I had so much fun! I really had a great time with the girls. I only have 5 girls in my class, and as my other chaperones where dads, I got the girls. At first I wasn't looking forward to it because this has been a tough year with several of them. Only one of them ever talks to me of her own accord. And one of them has said some pretty brutal things about me. But we had a great time together and today was a very different day with them. Getting to hang out together out side of the classroom made a real difference in our relationship, I believe.

3. Today was a really fun day. Matt Huffman, a guy that has come to the school for 5 years now to lead Spiritual Emphasis Week, made a surprise visit at lunch time with pizza for the 8th grade. I knew he was coming, so told the kids we had a special surprise today. I had so much fun with them this morning as they tried to figure out what and when the surprise was! I wouldn't give them very many clues. It was killing them to not know! But they were really excited to see Matt and to get free pizza!

4. We got our new truck this week! Okay, so it's used, but it is new to us. It's a cute little Ford Ranger. I really like it and can't wait to drive it. John has been joking that it's my new truck, not his! It's forest green, so just a little darker than the F250. Tonight John got home before I did and parked in my spot next to the truck. So the two trucks are parked side-by-side: FrankenTruck and Son of FrankenTruck. We're still not sure what we're going to do with FrankenTruck. We were talking about donating it, but now John is talking about trying to fix it.

5. Tomorrow we go up to New Hampshire for the afternoon. Jenn Streeter is graduating from PSU tomorrow. She was a fourth grader in my very class. Boy do I feel old! It's weird to think about the fact that she is now the age that I was when I first had her in class!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Fine Day- Slice of Life

Today was our annual Fine Arts Day. I admit, it's a day I dread every year. The theater and visual arts teacher plan the day. The kids are spread through out the school with a few from each grade in each room. We have various activities to lead that are often way out of my comfort zone and area of expertise. And we find out the morning of who is in our group and what the activities are. It often looks like orderly chaos. You have a group of kids who don't know each other or you very well and are separated from their friends. The last two years some of the activities involved building things out of cake and candy or decorating cookies with frosting and candy (of course the kids LOVE this).

All in all the day went well. I think this was the best one yet. The theme was gardening. We created mosaic tiles that will go into the new school garden; we made wind chimes, and best of all, didn't make anything out of sugary foods! I think my favorite parts of the day, even through I always groan and just try to get through the day, were watching my 8th graders really step up:

JP and K helped lead my group because I didn't have a parent volunteer. PJ had his arm around a really young kindergartner who get's overly stimulated to help him stay quiet while the principal was talking. X, D, JR, JM, JP, and PJ played soccer with the kindergartners and first and second graders- giving them the ball, cheering them on, racing across the field with them.

One of my favorite quotes from the day was JP, a former non-reader who has in the last couple of months read The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Knife of Never Letting Go. These are not short books. He's currently working on The Ask and The Answer, and there where several points in the day today that he stole chances to read- even carrying his book outside with him during some free time. As the day was beginning to wind down he said to me, "I never thought I'd be saying this, but, I'd rather be reading!"

After school today one of my colleagues and I went to the Scholastic Warehouse sale. I love books, and I love getting books for my students. It's is one of my greatest joys.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sunshine on a cloudy day

I've been struggling with discouragement in several areas lately. We're in that waiting period with applications are in, deadlines are past, and there is silence. The silence could mean they are processing and I'll be hearing something or it could mean I will be hearing nothing because I'm on the "not who we are looking for" pile. I've also been discouraged by some of the things going on at school, and some particular things with certain students. And then there is always the personal front. Why is it that those old insecurities I had growing up never really went away?

This morning I was feeling particularly rocky and not looking forward to facing middle schoolers or even my colleagues. I thought about texting my friend Cathy, asking for her to pray and maybe send me a verse of encouragement as she so often used to do. But she doesn't have texting on her phone, money is tight, and we texted a couple of times last week. I didn't have time to call her, so I just prayed, "Lord, I need shoring up this morning!" and trusted that he would let the appropriate person know who needed to pray for me or encourage me.

I went through my day, some moments were lighter, and I did enjoy my 7th graders. After all, when I'm reading to them (our current read aloud is Cynthia Lord's TouchBlue- due out from Scholastic in August- AWESOME book! I highly recommend it!) and the end of the chapter is greeted with cries of, "NOOO! Please don't stop! Keep going!!!!" how can I not be happy? I'm all too happy to comply!

After staff meeting I went over to the Chapel side of the building to see John. On my way back I stopped by the receptionist's office to say hi to Sue and find out if their house had sold yet. They've been trying since November to sell their house so they can move to their new retirement home in Florida. We got to talking about our similar experiences with being in that waiting period. And boy, did Sue encourage me! She spoke directly to some of those very self-doubts that I had been wrestling with all day and gave me the shoring up I had so desperately felt the need for this morning.

When we got home, I logged onto my email and there was a message from the school that I'd applied to for a job teaching summer school- asking to set up a phone call to discuss the job!

I still don't know about the job's in Maine that I've applied for and I have another application that I need to fill out and get in, but I'm feeling much more encouraged about things right now. My confidence in my teaching ability, my hope for extra income that will allow us to take our annual Cape Cod vacation, the foundation is a little less shaky tonight.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Miracles do happen- Slice of Life

The Scholastic Book Fair is this week. It's always an exciting event for me! All the classes were scheduled for a 30 minutes preview today. When I signed up for my time slot with my 8th graders, I thought, we probably won't use the whole 30 minutes. It'll probably take 10 or 15 at the most before they loose interest and start fooling around.

Boy was I surprised and delighted when they spent the entire 30 minutes looking at books! No one fooled around for even a moment. Several made lists of books they want to buy, and they would have kept looking at books had our time not been up. They weren't just pulling books off the shelves and then putting them back with barely a glance, they were pulling books, opening them, showing their friends, and standing there reading them. Two groups of boys stood in huddles with copies of the same book, looking through them. The girls were reading the backs of books to each other. A couple of boys found a book they really liked and said, "Mrs. Stotz! You have to get this one for the classroom!" So of course that went right into my stack!

My 7th graders previewed the sale with their homeroom teacher right before the 8th graders. When I walked into the gym with my homeroom, they were still there. "Mrs. Stotz! Look at my list!" They all wanted to show me what they where hoping for. When I told them, "Oh yeah, I have that one on my wish list, too." They replied, "We know, we looked through your stack to see what you were getting!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oops! Where does the time go?

I did so well during the month of March, each day thinking about my slice of life and looking for things to write about and then getting it written and posted. But now each week, I barely catch it. I haven't missed a week yet, but each Tuesday I have a, "yikes! It's Tuesday! I almost forgot to blog my slice of life!" I wonder what is making the difference? Why was it so much on my mind during the challenge- was it because it was everyday and I had a challenge, a promise of a prize? The proverbial carrot at the end of the stick?

I'm not sure, but I do know that this is indicative of how time seems to be flying by. Suddenly it is Tuesday again. Vacation is over, we have only 30 days of school left with the kids. Tomorrow is the second and next to the last day of standardized testing. Mid term reports go out next week. Were does the time go?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Where is that box of tissues?

The weather has been sunny, but cool this week and I didn't do a whole lot outside during vacation. I did get much reading done and nearly all caught up on my correcting.

Last night we went to see Godspell. It was amazing. I knew about half the people it it; students, former students, parents of students, and co-workers. It was so well done and so much fun to watch them sing, dance and act. I was amazed by how much the kids have grown up- even ones who I usually see 5 days a week. They are growing into such fine young men and women. And talented!

Today was sunny and warm. I woke up with a head ache, so I knew it was going to be a fun allergy day. John and I had challenging and deep discussions over breakfast (once the coffee kicked in!). He is truly my best friend. I love him so much and I am so grateful for him! He challenges me intellectually and spiritually. He's so good for me and I am good for him.

John puttered around the yard and cleaned out the truck while I made a noon trip to the library. I was simply going to return a dvd and book and look for the Godspell soundtrack and dvd of Narnia and then return home; after all, I have a stack of books I'm working through. I swear. And I did return those two things and look for the other two. But our library has such a great YA section...and a great cd collection... So I came home with The Shins cd, Godspell soundtrack, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment and Maximum Ride: Schools Out-Forever by James Patterson, Maximum Ride the Manga version, Manga Romeo and Juliet, and Pop by Gordon Korman. Maybe I should look for a local chapter of Biblioholics Anonymous!

After lunch we went for a walk in the woods. Parking at Redemption Rock (cool place- wicked big rock where the settlers arranged the ransom of Mary Rowlandson during King Phillip's War), we followed the Mid-State Trail north up over some ledges that we've been able to see from the road and wanted to check out. Beautiful view of Mt. Wachusett from there. Then we headed south back to Redemption Rock and past it toward Mt. Wachusett. We'd forgotten to bring water with us, so we didn't go all the way to Wachusett. It was pretty in the woods, though. A lot of cool trees.

Today has been a beautiful spring day and a nice close to vacation. Off to make pizza!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Yesterday morning I was looking at the map ( LOVE my DeLorme Maine Gazettah and Atlas! And yes, I know it's spelled gazetteer, but I've been trying to reclaim my Maine accent that got lost somewhere between college in PA and teaching in NH and MA- After all, when you're dictating spelling words, the kids will 90% of the time spell it the way you say it!). I wanted to see what communities were near the schools I've applied to because we may not be able to afford to live in the towns where the schools are located. Near one of the schools is a little town named "Hope". Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hope- Slice of Life 4/20

I've been thinking about hope lately. Emily Dickinson wrote beautifully of hope:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

A little while back John and I decided that we want to move to Maine. It would be back for me, as I grew up in Maine, and it would be a first time for him. He's very willing. We've set our sights on the coast. In the past week I've sent applications to three public schools. And we're in the middle of waiting.

We know that changes are coming regardless of the outcome of these applications. Things are tight financially for us. There are going to be some major changes at John's work in the coming months, and it's hard telling what is going to happen with enrollment at my school.

Our hope is to move to Maine and be nearer my family, to enjoy the beauty of the coast, and to step into the slower pace of life. I'm trying to be patient and wait, but it is hard. At the same time, I am scared of the change; packing finding a place to live, moving, meeting new people, learning a new school.

Hebrews 11:1 says "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

I guess I'm trying to work it all out- being sure of what I hope for, fighting off the doubts, trusting God to provide. Preparing to say good-bye, or not.

It's spring vacation right now. I have all these grand plans to get caught up on correcting and lesson plans. So far that hasn't gotten done. The pull of searching for housing is too strong, yet I don't even know if I'll be considered for one of these jobs!

Spring, hope, faith. The promise of new life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Slice of Life April 13, 2010

I feel like my mind is scattered in little pieces all over the floor right now. I'm trying to apply to schools in Maine in hopes of a new job and relocation. I'm trying to be 100% in my current job. We just started a new term. Parent Conferences are tomorrow afternoon ( I teach all morning and conference all afternoon. Yikes!) Today is my husband's b-day and I cooked him one of his favorite dinners. I tried to spend some time with him; but had last minute grading things to do to prepare for the conferences, so I've been in my office all evening. Several of my co-workers are in the middle of health issues with their children and are having to miss a lot of school. This includes my teammate. I still don't have grades for two of my students from her, but she's been out/busy with a sick child. Next week is spring vacation.

Deep Breath.

In. Out.

Small moments from today:

I had fun with my 7th graders this morning. We're working on compare and contrast essays and are doing poems at the same time to take the stress out of the essay writing. Today we wrote poems for two and three voices. Some VERY cleaver poems were produced!

I have 8th grade boys asking me for books to read! It makes me grin every time and it also makes me wish I had unlimited funds, unlimited shelf space, and immediate access to a book store!

Several of my 8th graders who are usually hard pressed to keep up with assigned reading read ahead in our current class novel: Lord of the Flies and are coming in talking about the story and asking each other where they are in the reading.

While watching our backyard bird feeder at home this afternoon, John and I saw the male cardinal again. We haven't seen the cardinals for a while. We also saw a new bird: a rufous-sided towhee. Very cool!

Now that I've finished writing this, I feel much less scattered. I love how writing helps to focus my mind and help me feel much more centered!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

TOUCHBLUE by Cynthia Lord

Cynthia Lord's RULES quickly became one of my favorite books the first time I read it. Now, as I'm reading it aloud to my 7th graders I am repeatedly struck by how meaningful it is. I was delighted when I found out Cindy had a new middle grade novel coming out.

Eleven-year-old Tess lives on an island off the coast of Maine. She loves her island life, including fishing with her father on his lobster boat. When the state plans to close the school house where Tess's mother is the teacher, the island community steps into action. Several families agree to take in foster children in hopes that they will help kids who need good families and save their school. Tess hopes her luck will hold as her family takes a chance on 13-year-old trumpet playing Aaron, but as things look like they aren't going to work out as she'd hope, Tess learns about luck and belonging.

I was not at all disappointed! Cynthia Lord has once again beautifully captured the voice and essence of "tweeners". Tess and Aaron are vibrant and real. The island is populated with interesting characters from a nosy neighbor to the class bully. I love it when an author has some sort of a frame that they weave their story around and Cindy cleverly weaves in various superstitions as Tess is a girl who very much one who believes in luck. I was delight to find that becoming an essential part of Tess' growth as a character. The setting is also beautiful created. I could hear the gulls cry and almost taste the salty air. Having spent time on the coast of Maine, I was transported back there as I read the story. There was so much that I could relate to, from the frustrations of missing your best friend to the strategies of playing Monopoly with a sibling.

I can't wait to share this with my class once we finish RULES! I'm also pretty excited to have received my very first ARC, thanks, Cindy!

*ARC provided by author

TOUCHBLUE is due to be released in August 2010 by Scholastic.

Poetry 4/9

My mind still
with things said
patient explanations offered


Thursday, April 8, 2010


April is Poetry month, so I'm trying to write some poetry. It's something that I'm not very good at and need to work on. I've been trying to get my students to write some poetry, too. Here are my attempts from this week:

Tuesday's poem:

Every cloud has its
silver lining.
I'm still looking for

Yesterdays attempt:

Trees are amazingly resilient.
They are battered by wind;
Attacked by disease and bug;
limbs cut;
trunks banged.
Yet they fight to live; they push out new shoots.
They reach for the sun
Leaves soak up the life giving light.
Bark heals around scars
Yet they are never the same.

Today's poems:

(inspired by my longing to move to the Maine coast and snipits from RULES):
The salt air calls to me
the slower pace of life
The freedom of gulls wheeling over heard.
The unpredictability of the waves
countered by the predictability of the tides.

(inspired by a great literature lesson with my 8th graders)
The joy of a smoothly run class
prepared students
"Oh! I get it!"
surprised delight in their eyes.
Energy flowing
conversations spilling into their break
a good day

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Slice of Life

A few months ago I read a biography of young adult writer Robert Cormier. He shared that a pivotal moment for him was when a teacher told him "you are a writer". Since reading that, I've tried to remember to be very intentional about the comments I write on my students' papers- not just comments to help them improve their writing, but to help them feel confident about their writing.

As we studied The Giver one of the assignments I gave was an essay explaining what job my students would love to have when they grown up. One of my 7th graders who I've really been able to connect with this year, wrote that she would like to write poems and songs. On the top of her paper I wrote, "You are a poet my dear! I love reading your poems."

At the end of the day today she came into my room, pointed to the top of her paper, said, "Thank you for the note," and gave me a hug.

Yup, this is why I teach!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Slice of Life 31/31

I had wanted to do something special for my students for Easter. I picked up some hollow plastic eggs and some inexpensive, but yummy candy. Yesterday I filled the eggs with the candy and this morning I folded up homework passes and tucked one into each egg. While my kiddos were in another class, I hid the eggs around the room.

Because tomorrow is "Africa Day" my 7th graders were working in their homeroom to decorate it during my Cultures class. After hiding the eggs, I called them in and explained that we were going to have a little Easter egg hunt. There was one egg for each of them. Two of the girls ran to their cubbies and grabbed the little Easter bunny baskets they had made with the pre-schoolers that morning. They excitedly found their egg and gave me huge hugs and thank yous.

The 8th graders were in Bible class with Mr. H. At the very end of class, I went in and asked Mr. H. if I could talk to them for a moment before he dismissed them.

"Are we in trouble again?" One of the boys asked.

"No, actually I've hidden Easter candy in the room for you."

There were cries and cheers of delight and "thank you!!" I explained there was one egg person, and Mr. H dismissed them. They ran across the hall- I barely got back to the room before them! They excitedly searched until every egg was found. They made sure everyone had one. They excitedly ate their candy, and again said thank you.

It was one of those few times when I'm thankful that my 8th graders can still be little kids.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Slice of Life 30/31

I have this one kid who I really like. He's sweet and cute and goofy. He's not the sharpest pencil in the pencil box and everyone knows it, but he's the poster child for that teacher motto that everyone is smart in their own way. The poor kid couldn't spell his way out of a paper bag if his life depended on it, he's got some real language learning issues and his parents won't get him tested (a whole other topic). But, the kid has some serious bass guitar skills and has perfect comic timing. He's pretty easy going and usually lets it roll off him with his classmates laugh at him for his misunderstandings and short comings. But there are those days where it does bug him and he starts to get down. This morning was one of those days. As they were laughing at him, I saw him pulling inside himself. I could tell it was bugging him. It was during our independent reading and writing time at the start of class, so as the kids settled down into their writing, X just sat there scribbling on his paper.

I wrote him a little encouraging note, and walked over and placed it on his desk. He read it, tucked it into his writer's notebook, turned the page, and started writing. Later I got to see what he'd written. It was a note thanking me for my note and telling me that it had made him feel better. Neither of us ever said another word about it, which is fine. What more needs to be said?

If I helped one 8th grader remember, even for just a little while, that he is valuable it was a good day.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Slice of Life 29/31

My husband has a great book bag that he got a long time ago from WaldonBooks. It has a Thomas Jefferson quote on it: "I cannot live without books!" It's such a great quote and a sentiment that I share. I frequently lament, "So many books, so little time!" I love books. I dare say that I am addicted to books and to reading, and I've blogged many times about this.

Today I heard my familiar lament in an unexpected place and from an unexpected source- my 8th grade classroom on the lips of one of my 8th grade boys. C is one of the boys that got hooked on reading this past winter when I introduced the class to The Hunger Games. He has asked me on several occasions for books to read, and I have worked hard to match him up with books that will keep him reading. Right now he is working on Chaos Walking Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. On an almost daily basis C tells me that the book is really good and makes a comment about what is happening where he is in the book. Today when he told me, "This book is really good! I still haven't found out why he had to run away, and he's meet the girl, but SHE WON'T TALK TO HIM!", C went on to say, "There are so many good books out there, it's hard to find them and then have time to read them!"

My book loving English teacher heart swelled with pride and joy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Slice of Life 28/31

We went for a walk after lunch today. It felt so good to be outside, walking through the woods. The MidState Trail runs through our neighborhood and we explored a part of it that we haven't walked yet. Our original destination was the stream that flows out of the lake. Long ago there were mills all along this stream. Seems hard to believe. We tried to imagine where the mills and factories were, but just can't picture it. The stream is so pretty, especially since we've had quite a bit of rain lately as well as the usual snow melt. We walked down the road along the stream trying to pick out where mill buildings might have once stood, then crossed a little bridge and picked up the MidState Trail and hiked up the stream on the other side. We followed the trail a few feet into the woods when it veered away from the stream, then headed back, leaving the woods for another day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Slice of Life 27/31

Today I had lunch with a former student. Jenn was a fourth grader in my very first class, my very first year of teaching. She is now a senior English major at Plymouth State. I can't believe she's graduating! We had such a great time talking about everything from books to job interviews to where some of her former classmates are now, to "do you remember when". Before we knew it a couple of hours had passed and she had to get going. It was so much fun to connect with her as a friend, not teacher and student. To hear her opinions on things and the life lessons she's been learning in this transition period of being 21.

And it was nice to hear that the two years she was in my classroom (4th grade and 6th grade) were some of the best years she remembers of ,elementary school and that she thought I was a great teacher. That is always good for a teacher's soul!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Slice of Life 26/31

Driving home I was thinking about my day and what I would write about for today's Slice of Life. I'd just had two great days with my classes. Handling situations well, great activities and discussions about Lord of the Flies with my 8th graders, and a fun evening watching my students perform in Willy Wonka, Jr.

I had decided I was going to write something about how proud I was of my 8th grade boys: the ones who sang and acted so well in Willy Wonka and the ones who impressed me with their grown-up and helpful behavior selling tickets, snacks, and handing out programs, when I walked into the house and saw the large white envelope on the counter.

There it was, my very first ARC, advanced reader copy. This year I struck up a friendship with author Cynthia Lord. Her new book, Touch Blue is out from Scholastic in August and she had told me she would send me a copy when her galleys arrived. I am so excited to have it and can't wait to read it. I also can't wait to share it with my 7th graders. We just started Cindy's first book, Rules and the girls are loving it. I know that we will love Touch Blue.

I've been wanting to start writing book reviews, maybe this should be my first.