"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Student Reflection: May B.

Two students recently came to me telling me how much they had liked May B. by Caroline Starr Rose. I am still trying to find ways to capture this enthusiasm for books. These two students used Google Docs and wrote the following piece. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Slice of Life: Sometimes all it takes is time

Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes to lift my mood, sometimes it takes a few hours to shift my perspective. This is just a matter of timing, my mood, and the activity. Sometimes, there are hours within minutes and both mood and perspective are shifted, and that is magical. This past Saturday, that's just what it was like.

After working around the house for a few hours, my husband and I set out for a walk around Jamaica pond. It was a beautiful spring-like afternoon. No hats! No gloves! AND, it was also 3:00 and the sun was still high in the sky (*raises hands in silent cheer*). 

There were all sorts of people out and about enjoying this slice of warm weather. As with any outing I am on these days, we stopped often to take pictures. I stepped close to photograph the ducks, when they got spooked and took flight. I only had my cell phone, so did not expect to catch the event, but I did. (Magical mood shifter!)

This guy stayed put, brave soul.

The next stop was the Top of the Pru 
(Prudential Center) to watch the sunset!

We stayed around to watch the city lights come to life.

Five hours, a walk around the pond, capturing some birds taking flight, watching the sunset from the 52nd floor of the Pru, and seeing the city below come alive. It felt like I had been away for a week. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes to lift my mood, sometimes it takes a few hours to reset my perspective, and sometimes there are minutes within hours and hours within minutes where both mood and perspective are shifted.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Reederama Review: The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill is full of gems, the greatest of which is Hazel Kaplansky. Hazel is part Harriett the Spy and part Emma (a la Jane Austen). 

There are elements of this story that I want to share, but they will be better understood if I describe the story, yet I won't do this story justice with my description, so here's the one from Megan's website:

"Hazel Kaplansky is a firm believer in the pursuit of of knowledge and truth — and she also happens to love a good mystery. When suspicions begin to swirl that a Russian spy has infiltrated her small town of Maple Hill, Vermont, amidst the fervor of Cold War era McCarthyism, Hazel knows it’s up to her to find a suspect . . . starting with Mr. Jones, the quietly suspicious gravedigger. Plus she’s found the perfect sleuthing partner in Samuel Butler, the new boy in school with a few secrets of his own. As Hazel and Samuel piece together clues from the past and present, the truth suddenly is not what they expected, and what they find reveals more about themselves and the people of their cozy little town than they could ever have imagined."

Hazel is well-intentioned, but misguided, and she possesses just enough information to get her into trouble. Hazel's intelligence is like a super hero's cape, it protects her, but it sometimes gets her into trouble. The invincibility of her super power is threatened when someone just as smart, if not smarter enters the picture. Thank goodness for Samuel, his wisdom is often needed once he and Hazel team up to investigate the gravedigger.

"And just look at the way he dresses. The perfectly creased dungarees? Nobody here irons jeans, but I bet in Russia they get inspected twice a day just to make sure their creases are straight."

After listening to this explanation along with some other ideas of Hazels, Samuel wisely cautions her, "I think you may be rushing to judgement.Yes, Samuel. I think so too.

Readers of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill will gain a better understanding of the dangers of rushing to judgement and the consequences of acting on misinformation and misunderstandings. These insights are delivered with compassion by Blakemore. We readers root for Hazel, all the while seeing misguided steps that she takes.

A few things about this book:

I love the story of Hazel's mother. 

I  love when Hazel comes to understand her mother's story.

I love Samuel, wise beyond his years, and yet so vulnerable.

I love that this historical time period is available to middle grade readers.

I love that reading things like this, "Did you know that in early American society, cemeteries were right in the center of town, and often weren't well-maintained? It wasn't until 1832 with the development of the Mount Auburn cemetery that we started to get large, landscaped graveyards," makes me want to go to the library or my laptop to read more on cemeteries.

I think one could write a paper on the friendship between Hazel and Jack. Life can be a bumpy road, but it is so much better when traveled with someone, as shown in this passage:

"My mom has this jar of rocks, "Samuel said. "It's one of the only things she's sure to carry with us from place to place. She gets a rock in every town. We've got beach rocks and river rocks and gravel from driveways."
"Why does she do that?"
"She said it's a way to keep her grounded."
"Ha, grounded!" Hazel laughed, but Samuel didn't. "I just meant because they were rocks. From the ground."
"I know," he said.
"I wonder what kind of rock she took from here," Hazel said. "I would take a nice shiny hunk of mica."

I think students will appreciate and relate to Hazel's imagination, and how it can run amok, like when hasn't heard from her friend, Becky.

"Maybe some terrible fate had befallen her. Maybe she had been kidnapped or had gone for a walk in the desert and been ripped apart by coyotes."

I enjoyed all the characters in this book, Megan Frazer Blakemore imbues each of them with traits that make them understandable, relate-able, and real, even the bullies. Most of all, I love Hazel. For all her misguided attempts and misunderstandings, Hazel is a gem. She has a heart of gold and in the end, that heart leads her in the right direction.

Triangle people unite!
(This statement will make sense once you have read the book.)

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not!)

We're all misunderstood, but thankfully those perceptions can change.

Bobby has teacher problems. He is having a hard time making the right choices at school.  Not surprisingly, Bobby's behavior sometimes frustrates his teacher, Ms. Kirby, and turns her into a monster, or at least that's the way Bobby sees her. When Bobby meets up with Ms. Kirby in his territory, they both make some surprising discoveries. 
There's something about Peter Brown's illustrations that makes me want to be part of the characters' world, (even one where teachers are perceived as monsters). I am drawn to the hues and shapes and natural world. 

In My Teacher is a Monster!I would almost describe certain aspects of the page spreads as delicate, but find it hard to do so when a very large and very green monster/teacher is in the spread. Greens and browns are celebrated and fabulously rich, Peter Brown's color palate captures the depth and variety of nature's more subtle colors. If I was Bobby's friend, I would definitely be hanging out with him in his favorite spot.
Can I talk a bit about Bobby's hair? It is just so perfect. I have a few students that are a spitting image of Bobby, and who will quickly identify with more than his hair style...coincidence?

There's an "aha!" moment in this book, when perceptions change and therefore so does what Bobby sees. I read the book with second graders and the "aha!" moment was perfect (no spoiler alert, here, you'll have to discover this for yourself).  I patiently waited as three classes of students made their discovery. We would have to go picture walk the book from the beginning, just to see what had not been seen right away.

What did the students think?

The students loved this book. They were completely caught up in the illustrations and wanted to stop and talk often. They commented on small things that I hadn't noticed.  I love that they are really reading books, including the art. The story itself was a bit confusing to a few of the second graders, was the teachers really a monster? In the end, they all understood the message. Here's a comment from one student that says it all:

Story elements and art that caught my attention:

I love that on her "down time," Ms. Kirby is reading while sitting on a park bench.

Bobby's expressive eyes say it all. I love how wide they are, as if they are expecting something to happen at any moment.

I appreciate Ms. Kirby's deadpan expression and eyes that indicate she has seen quite a bit in her time as a teacher.

I love the awkward silence between Bobby and Ms. Kirby. The reader can feel what it is like on that park bench.

I love the way Bobby's and Ms. Kirby's arms hang straight down their bodies at times during the story - there is something endearing about this gesture.

I appreciate how the peach in the teacher's bag compliments Bobby's features and balances the art.

I like how the color of the end papers compliments the blurb on the inside jacket. 

I like the weight of the pages while resting on the fingers during the page turn.

I love the message I hear: It's all in the perceptions we carry - how we think people feel about us and we feel about them.

I love inhabiting one of Peter Brown's worlds, if just for a while and even if, in that world, teachers are perceived as monsters!
I am looking forward to reading this with more students and seeing and hearing their reactions. 
Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Celebrate: Understanding the importance of Valentine's Day

Discover. Play. Build.
This year was particularly poignant because of being an empty-nester. When my children were younger, the Valentine's Box appeared on the counter top the week before Valentine's Day. For the next seven days, Valentine's would be made and slipped into the mail slot cut into the box. On Valentine's Day, we would cut open the box and share our valentines.  About three year's ago, the box stayed in the closet and without realizing it our tradition had changed. We now handed each other valentines on the actual day. This year, my daughter was aghast and honestly somewhat heartbroken that I hadn't even made or bought one valentine for her or her brother. I made the mistake of thinking they were somehow older and that this Hallmark holiday had lost it's importance.  What better way to remedy the situation, then make valentines together? She and I spent the next hour with construction paper, sharpies, scissors and glue.  By the time the rest of the family arrived home, there were valentines for all.  
Now, in my defense, Valentine's Day happens to be my husband's birthday, and his birthday has trumped the Hallmark holiday all their lives.  BUT, I had not realized how important that hearing the valentine's message mattered to my children. Expressing one's affection for another and handing the piece of paper that carries that message to the person is a powerful experience. They know they are loved, but this very small, very simple act of giving a valentine sends a different message, one I won't forget in the future.  As for the Valentine Box?  It will be appearing on the counter next year.
How could I have misunderstood the importance of Valentine's Day for my children? Working in an elementary school on Valentine's Day is fabulous. I love receiving valentines from my students. The expectant faces of students speaks volumes about the importance of the paper they are handing me.  Receiving valentines, opening them, and reading the messages is a gift, the gift my daughter was expecting. In the midst of the experience above, I arrived home from work on Valentine's Day with a grocery bag full of valentines. I am overwhelmed and grateful. Today, I celebrate my students and their valentine gifts.

Not sure if this is a picture of me or Rowan.

'I will always love reading."

This student wanted me to put the tattoo 
that came with the Valentine on right away.

Thank goodness for this advice!