IMWAYR: In Sight of Stars

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It’s Monday, and I’m reading this masterpiece again. In Sight of Stars, by Gae Polisner, touched me and I needed to reread tonight.

In Sight of Stars is the story of Klee (pronounced Clay: long-a sound, after the Swiss painter, Paul Klee), an artist and high school senior who suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. He lived in New York City, which was perfect for this budding artist — his father took him to all the great museums and led Klee to study the great artists — until his father’s death.

Klee’s mother moves him to the suburbs. He is lost, until he finds Sarah, the perfect girl in his art class. Well, not perfect. Klee discovers his life is out of control, and he spins right into the “Ape Can” — a psychiatric hospital for teens. As Klee struggles to find out what in his life is real and what is imaginary, he holds tight to the artwork on the wall in the therapist’s office, and remembers his home in the city with his dad. Will he ever be able to overcome the dark nights? Maybe if he can set his sights on the stars…

This book moved me. Many times I related to Klee as a mother, as a teacher, as a possible friend. I felt his experiences as he did, and I struggled with him until the end of the book. The art discussions between the characters led me to research artists on my own — Klee, Van Gogh, and more. The twists and turns of the plot events swirled in my head and my heart. One intriguing move Polisner made in this story is using alternating timelines. The flashbacks and present time frames made the twists even more realistic — my own head was spinning out of control with Klee’s memories vs. current actions throughout the story. The ending then dramatically, and yet gently, allowed me to breathe again with the main character. Since I read the book the first time, I find myself outside at night quite a bit, looking at the stars. The cover of the book notes, “To find the stars, you have to face the dark.” Perfect.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Way Behind on Writing!/Reflections on this School Year

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I looked back on my first year as a school librarian (21st year of teaching middle school), and I have to say—no matter what happens to me next year or beyond—I was successful THIS year. NOTHING to do with TEST SCORES, but I built up readers and spread the book love.

On April 7th, Kwame Alexander surprised a child reader (and his teachers) from my soon-to-be-closed school. He and Hafeez and Randy drove the REBOUND bus to this 5th grader’s house and allowed this child to see firsthand what meeting an author and being a reader means. Reading saves lives. Reading is fun. Reading can and will lead you to a successful future.

Even though I couldn’t be there, these awesome teachers and a Newbery-winning author made this child’s day! THANK YOU, Kwame and Hafeez, for all the coordinating and all the bugging you had to put up with (from me) to make that day happen. THANK YOU for coming to South Bend, IN! THANK YOU for supporting students and reading.

LOVE LOVE LOVE from this school librarian.

Reading Goals: Then and Now

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On October 18, 2017, I wrote a blog post about my reading goals/solutions for schools and for myself. Today, I revisit that post and update my goals; I look forward the future.

Make reading in school FUN again.

THEN: The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.

NOW: The best part of being a school librarian is sharing a brand new book, just out of the box, with students in the room. “Look what I just received!” I yell across the room, so people in the hallways hear me. “Come and see!” As students gather around my counter, I show them the fresh titles to add to the collection, and bright eyes open wide. Students clamor to be the first to check out the best titles – the ones they’ve been waiting for – and the few minutes of time I spend book talking is FUN. The line forms at the checkout sign; I place books in readers’ hands. THAT’S what it’s all about. I still dream of a school where reading is the most important activity during reading class, and where students want to come to school, because it’s fun.

Make real reading a priority. Real reading.

THEN: That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)

NOW: Real reading is still my goal, and it’s a tough sell. Administration members (outside the school building) send emails, speak at meetings, and send reports, making sure all teachers know that we MUST follow the mandates “with fidelity.” We MUST account for the ISTEP scores of students. We MUST raise student achievement. Recently, there’s been a push with a big-name researcher to hold teachers accountable by following a certain plan, a certain program, or a certain method of teaching reading. If one does not comply, then shame on you! Some loud-speaking “experts” say that books are not necessary to learn to read, or computer programs teach just as well as teachers (or better), or independent reading time is just a frivolous dream and not worthy of adding to the school day. All of these issues are frustrating (and wrong!), and teachers continue to fight back, citing their own evidence, following researchers who care about kids, teaching children to read in spite of those mandates. Real reading is really needed — inside schools. Students count on us to help them learn, and we are letting them down with each failing grade/standardized assessment.

Invite teachers to attend professional development:

THEN: Conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.

NOW: I still promote author signings and events, conferences, and workshops. I am a life-long learner, and I love sharing my learning with others. My author friends and conference teammates are essential to my learning and my sharing – we promote authentic reading, writing, thinking, and learning. I invited teachers to travel with me to events and share in the joy of learning something new. I will continue traveling and connecting with others not only because I love it, but because I challenge myself to take those conversations and lessons back to the classroom, where kids are waiting.

Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation.

THEN: (Not just for the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

NOW: I am officially a professional development presenter and speaker. This is my most important dream come true. I love it! I look forward to many adventures in the future, spreading book love and helping others to be as passionate as I am about reading, and teaching reading and writing. Another dream I’m following now is my friend’s dream to open an indie bookstore for our community – encouraging children and teens to “read locally, connect globally.” This is a wonderful way to spread the book love AND help our youth. I’m also researching and reading on my own, and I renewed my memberships to worthwhile organizations such as NCTE, ILA, and ALA. I continue to join Twitter chats, such as #kidlitwomen, #wndb, #tcrwp, and #g2great. We need intelligent citizens in our country who know how to read, write, and think. I will continue to find ways to lift up our youth and promote literacy. THIS is the time. THIS is the place. And as our school motto reads, “I am the one!

Review of REBOUND by Kwame Alexander (due April 2, 2018)

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Rebound, the prequel to the Newbery-Winning title, The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, tells of childhood days of Charlie “Chuck” Bell (Josh and Jordan’s father). At the age of 12, Charlie had already experienced love and loss, carrying much baggage to his grandparent’s house in the summer of 1988. “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel, and The Fantastic Four a buck. When I met Harriet Tubman and the Harlem Globetrotters…”

Charlie retells his story for his sons (and the reader) of those not-so-and-absolutely glorious days — playing basketball with Roxie, his cousin, and Skinny, his best friend, in the summer heat, dealing with the heat from Grandpa and the weather, and wishing that he could be a Fantastic Four super hero star. Charlie gains knowledge about his family tree, about basketball moves (such as the crossover — get it?), and about consequences of getting into trouble. Charlie even changes his name — to Chuck (thanks, Grandpa) — that summer, and in a series of poetic episodes, finds out what it means to be a true star. He has to learn to REBOUND, on and off the court.

Kwame Alexander’s vocabulary lessons continue in Rebound, as well as his lessons about family, life, and love. I couldn’t tell how the stories would weave together at first, but Kwame expertly spins, twists, and turns the plot, and in the end, I yelled, “Swish!” out loud! Fans of Kwame Alexander’s rhythmic style will love the references to other works, including The Crossover, Solo, and the now-famous sing-along song, “Be A Star.”

Rebound IS the star of this spring’s book season. A MUST to add to your reading “Playbook.”

February 10th: Time for #nf10for10 “Winter”

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It’s February 10, 2018, and all the local news revolves around the deep snow and Winter Olympics, so I’m going to use the news for my theme. My nonfiction picture book “10 For 10” has me thinking about winter (#nf10for10).

The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty (Kenneth Libbrecht): Pair this nonfiction book with Snowflake Bentley (Jacqueline Briggs Martin) for a winter research project. Wilson Bentley discovered the beauty and wonder of intricate snowflakes. I enjoyed a look at individual flakes and wondered how they all pack together to create the chaos that is today’s weather. (I like reading about snowflakes better than looking at the snow outside.)

Secrets of Winter (A Shine-A-Light Book) (Carron Brown/Georgina Tee): My granddaughter and I carefully pulled up the papers on these pages to reveal fun secrets. What is winter like outside?

When Winter Comes (Nancy Van Laan): What happens to flowers, and fish, and deer when winter comes? This book allows us to snuggle under the warm covers and find out.

The Polar Bear (Jenni Desmond): Nonfiction facts AND a beautiful picture book. Just look at the cover — it pulls you in!

A Is For Axel: An Ice Skating Alphabet (Kurt Browning with Melanie Rose): Take a look at Olympic ice skating from a real expert — Kurt Browning skated for Canada and was a 4-Time Figure Skating Champion before writing this ABC book. Part of the alphabet series and appeals to any-age vocabulary buffs. (2nd edition, 2015)

A Kid’s Guide to the 2018 Winter Games (Jack L. Roberts): This book came out in July 2017, and prepared readers for events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, going on NOW. This title is COOL — it has colorful and interesting photographs, facts and figures, and even a medal tracker readers can use to record winners.

Best in Snow (April Pulley Sayre): Speaking of photographs, I could just sit and stare at April Pulley Sayre’s beautiful pictures all day. Her picture books’ photography shots are “best in show” for sure! This title shows the wonders of the snow and winter in the wild. I consider her books science class must-haves, and it doesn’t hurt to tell you she’s a friend, does it? (By the way, I’ll just recommend her new title, Warbler Wave — coming out this week– while I’m at it!)

Over and Under the Snow (Kate Messner): Speaking of friends, let me also recommend the Over and Under books by Kate Messner. Her nonfiction books are beautiful and informative, and the research presented in them is packaged in an engaging picture-book style (my favorite format!). In this title, the reader discovers the wonder and activity that lies beneath the snow-covered ground.

Blizzard (John Rocco): Now that I’m an adult, I sure hope we don’t have to relive the Blizzard-of-’78-kind of snow again. I remember donning my one-piece snowsuit as a 10-year-old and heading out to the swing set in the back yard — my sister and I sat on TOP of it! We had so much fun while my dad and the neighbor walked all day to get groceries at the corner gas station. What a crazy week that was. John Rocco placed his memories in this picture book, which is just as fun to read as that old swing set was to sit on.

Now it’s time for YOU to read and share your #nf10for10. Picture books are the best!

Stealing from Nerdy Book Club: Top 10 Post by Julie DeMicco

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via My Top Ten Books I Booktalk Every Year by Julie DeMicco

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Good Things

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I pondered these paragraphs from Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Walking,” today:

      “I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the woodside. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the abodes of man afar. The farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of them all—I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape. Politics is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveler thither. If you would go to the political world, follow the great road—follow that market-man, keep his dust in your eyes, and it will lead you straight to it; for it, too, has its place merely, and does not occupy all space. I pass from it as from a bean field into the forest, and it is forgotten. In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the earth’s surface where a man does not stand from one year’s end to another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the cigar-smoke of a man..
      In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but another name for tameness. It is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in Hamlet and the Iliad, in all the scriptures and mythologies, not learned in the schools, that delights us. As the wild duck is more swift and beautiful than the tame, so is the wild—the mallard—thought, which ‘mid falling dews wings its way above the fens. A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild-flower discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East. Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself—and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day…
      In short, all good things are wild and free. There is something in a strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the human voice—take the sound of a bugle in a summer night, for instance—which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds me of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native forests. It is so much of their wildness as I can understand. Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones… 

      While almost all men feel an attraction drawing them to society, few are attracted strongly to Nature. In their reaction to Nature men appear to me for the most part, notwithstanding their arts, lower than the animals. It is not often a beautiful relation, as in the case of the animals. How little appreciation of the beauty of the land-scape there is among us! We have to be told that the Greeks called the world Beauty, or Order, but we do not see clearly why they did so, and we esteem it at best only a curious philological fact…”

 

I’ve been seeking nature lately; I’m not sure why, but it may be because the world seems overwhelming right now. However, the sun shined today right as I left school, after a grey, snowy 24 hours. And the moon is most mysterious and beautiful this winter, making me mindful of nature again and again. I walked around the driveway tonight in the freezing cold, looking…allowing Thoreau’s words to sink in. Getting back to nature — ah! Life! Love! Bliss!

 

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