Sunday, November 25, 2007

Miss Spitfire, by Sarah Miller

I read this entire book on the plane on my way to the NCTE conference. I really enjoyed the conference and I especially enjoyed spending time with my brother and his partner. But reading this book was far and away the best part of the whole vacation. I'm a big time book lover and for a book to completely rock my soul, it has to speak directly to me and my personal experiences in a very intimate kinda way. I was so stunned and blown away by this book that I don't have any solid sense of how kids might respond to it. Can my students possibly relate to something that I loved as much as I loved this? I'm worried they can't, but I liked it way too much make reasonable predictions.

This is the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, told strictly from Annie's point of view. Episode after episode full of wonderful "teacher" moments were what captivated and enthralled me. I remember reading the play "The Miracle Worker" in seventh grade. I didn't like it much, although I can still remember reading the "water" scene--when Helen suddenly connects the hand-spelled word W-A-T-E-R to the liquid pouring out of a water pump. Miss Spitfire ends just after that epiphany--and everything that comes before made this same scene much more astonishing and powerful.

What makes a book really fantastic, for me, as a reader? When it takes the notes, melodies, and rhythms of my spirit and creates a magnificent symphony. I'm no Miracle Worker, but this book reminded me what I know about teaching; that it is hard, joyful, frustrating, passion-filled, mistake-ridden, impossibly tender, frequently painful, very discouraging, and incredibly nourishing work. That it demands almost everything and gives back even more. Thank you, Sarah Miller, for such an excellent book.

For a much calmer, but still quite positive review, visit Fuse 8, here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

NYC Muse

At a district training last week a teacher had a very specific, heart-felt question about implementing the first book in Lucy Calkins' Units of Writing series. There was a little bit of discussion following her question, but as I was flying to NYC I thought of a few more helpful responses. I realized how interesting and useful and exciting it would be to have a blog devoted to supporting the growth of SLC teachers. At that same meeting our district literacy coach compiled an anonymous list, from a previous meeting, of all the teachers' written responses to an end-of-meeting reflection sheet. These responses indicated a well of desire to learn and reach students through a workshop model of writing instruction. But this list also contained a lot of trepidation, reluctance, and fear.

I don't really know if this particular blog space will grow into a location where SLC teachers can share book recommendations, writing triumphs, etc. etc. But give me a few months, it might, it really might. Like I wrote down in my notes from one of the great conference sessions this weekend, you can only create what you can imagine. Here's what I imagine: SLC teachers and coaches as a community of writers and professionals similar to the beautiful and powerful flock in NYC at Teachers College. It could happen! Instead of yearning to be part of such a community, maybe I can help create one in the city (and for the children) I love most.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How To Steal A Dog, by Barbara O'Connor

This book is the most recent addition to my classroom library. The issue of homelessness, which effects the lives of about 15 percent of my students, is taken up in this story in very careful and thoughtful ways. Georgina, her brother, and her mom are living out of their car. Georgina finds herself plotting to steal a dog in order to secure the 500 dollar reward that would help her family get into an apartment.

There's nothing that perks my interest in particular titles like the fact that real life kids are choosing them. After I get back from the NCTE convention in NYC I'm planning to submit a "kid picks" article to The Edge of the Forest, a monthly children's literature e-zine. I hope that feedback from my class of readers will provide other folks with some valuable information.

I hope Broadway isn't closed down next weekend. I'm supposed to go see Wicked with my brother on Saturday night.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Thanks to Utah Voters

Dear Utah Voters,

In your sound rejection of an ill-conceived voucher program last night, you have given this Utah public school teacher a strong sense of community support. I've always felt a sense of stewardship when trusted with the education of our community's children, but your vote last night has reminded me that this stewardship in not just about the trust of my students' parents. There are also thousands and thousands of everyday citizens who are trusting me with these children, citizens who are also deeply committed to academic growth and future opportunities for my twenty-seven students. Your vote, in support of public schools, has energized and bolstered my passion for teaching in the public system. Thank you!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Me and the Pumpkin Queen, by Marlane Kennedy

I am the sort of person who doesn't drive to county fairs, art festivals, or other such community events with any excitement or hope that I'll really enjoy the excursion. But I am often surprised when I'm actually at such events---surprised to find myself fascinated with some exhibit or performance. That's kinda what happened to me, reading this book. After the first two pages I was not really getting into it and was ready to give up, but after just a few more pages I was engaged with the main character, Mildred, with the rural setting, and with the plot of growing humongous pumpkins. The other main plot line: Mildred learning to grow up without her dead mom, was one of the things that I didn't feel excited about in the first couple pages, but this plot line plays out so subtly and realistically that I was able to jump into and enjoy the whole story.

Now that I'm teaching older elementary aged children (5th and 6th graders) I've reoriented my "transitional" book radar. It's no longer books that ease readers into the world of chapter books that I'm constantly searching out (a big priority as a teacher of "struggling" fourth graders). Rather, it's chapter books that are smack in the middle of the middle. Books that are harder than "easy" or "beginning" chapter books, but easier than those chapter books that fifth and sixth graders who are reading "on grade level" often enjoy. For lack of any better identifier, and I think it's pretty fitting, I'm gonna call these "fourth grade" books. This is one of those books, and I am very glad to have found it.