Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Muslim Girl

It was a few days before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks. An awesome teacher at my school was reading aloud "Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story" by Nora Raleigh Baskin to her class. 

The week after Labor Day, this fourth grade class and I were able to Skype with Nora Raleigh Baskin herself. 

And wow.

We learned that Ms. Baskin had done SO MUCH research before writing her book. We learned that she was inspired to write this book after seeing a movie about Robert F. Kennedy. She wanted to help kids of today understand what 9/11/2001 was like for kids living during that time in history. (Remember, for kids today, 9/11 is historical fiction.)

It was an inspirational Skype session and the fourth graders were enthralled.

One girl in particular was especially impacted. 
I will call her Sruti.

You see, Sruti is Muslim. As are many students at my school.

In the book "Nine, Ten," readers meet characters with many perspectives. We meet Naheed, a Muslim girl who experiences the events of 9/11 very differently than other characters.

During our Skype session, Sruti felt strongly that she share that her mother was on her way to Mecca for a pilgrimage. Sruti thanked Nora for including a Muslim girl character. She also wanted Nora to know that she is indeed, Muslim. The other students in her class listened attentively.

A week or so later, we wrote Thank You notes to Nora for her Skype time with us.

Sruti wrote:

"Dear Nora,
Thank you for Skyping with us! Thank you for dedicating your time for us! We really appreciate it. I hope you had as much fun as we did. Also, I Facetimed my mom to tell her how nice and amazing you are and she said that she really wants to meet you!
Love, The Muslim Girl"

There is a quiet part of me that is so freaking thrilled that this girl owns and is proud of her identity as a Muslim girl, in the midst of all of the turmoil and issues surrounding the anniversary of 9/11. 

This is why books about difficult topics are important for kids. Sruti sees the events of 9/11 in such a different way than I do. She saw herself in a mirror while reading about Naheed's experiences in the book. I don't have that same perspective. I just watch through my window.

I wish we had more books from authors who are from the Middle East. I wish we had more book characters who reflect the Middle Eastern population at my school. I want my students to see themselves in the books they read.

If you haven't read "Nine, Ten" yet, I would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Weird and Perfect Tribe

I recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to NerdCampMi in Michigan. 

Yes, it's a real thing. And it's an awesome thing. This is the one time of year that I can hang out and learn with people who are a lot like me. It's great to meet authors and illustrators. It's also great to meet new people and learn from experts. 
But the best part? It's seeing these folks.

We missed you, SD, KP, MK, and MS.

What makes them so great?

Well, one of them is my sister, and my sister is my heart. Having her with me this year was the best part of NerdCamp. She is truly the nerdiest of nerds in the best way.

Dorky sisters.

I only get to see the rest of these weirdos once per year. We look forward to it and we talk about it and we plan what we will wear and what we will eat and which books we will bring for each other. They have become my family, even though they live all over the US - from Maine to Chicago and many places in between. 

(And we talk every day through a snazzy little app we love. More about that in another post.)

It was especially sweet this year, though.
Not because I learned so much. (I did.)

Not just because I met Kate DiCamillo. 
(I did and I think I had a stroke.)

Having a stroke with one of my favorite authors.
Not just because I got to hang with these kickbutt writer friends Jess Keating and Josh Funk. (Wicked awesome.)

So Wicked Nerdy.
And not just because I took a creepy picture with Victoria Coe. 
(I had way too much fun with her.)

Left: Weirdo, Right: Victoria Coe, author

It was sweet because I'm still learning an important life lesson about friends. 

I'm still learning, at age 39 1/2, that these friends are people who may be out of sight, but they're not out of mind. They are people who put up with the ebbs and flows of distance and job changes and moves. They look out for me and include me in their daily lives.

They know that when I put books and ideas on social media, that I'm truly not bragging or showing off. They know that I'm simply sharing my love for what I do. Because I really do love it THAT MUCH. They know that I want others to share books and ideas with me, too.

So goofy, with author Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

The crazy part is these friends don't even live within 100 miles of me.

I've had a ton of changes in my life the past few years. Job change, location change, family changes. But these lovelies have been the most wonderfully supportive nerds. Even from afar.

I'm amazed at how my understanding of friendship keeps changing, even as I approach the 40th birthday. I always assumed that adults had it all together, which I of course know now is laughably wrong.

So thank you, LB, KB, MS, MK, KP, SD, RH, KS, CD, JL, NB, and MG and so many others.
Thanks for putting up with me and learning with me and geeking out about the same stuff with me. 
(Even those of you who don't love Winn-Dixie.)

(But I mean, really about the Winn-Dixie thing? Who doesn't love that book?)

Love you guys. 

Until next time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We Know Them By Name

Every time my students come in for Library, they know I will do at least four things consistently.

1. Introduce them to new books.
2. Introduce them to authors and illustrators, including photographs.
3. Read to them.
4. Teach them something.

I adore my entire time in the library with the students in our school. Connecting kids with books is one of my favorite things to do.

One thing I do differently now than I did 15 years ago, though, is I insist that kids use the names of the writers we are studying. I show students pictures of the writers and say their names as often as I can when discussing a text.

For example, today I showed my students the book trailer for Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett. I projected a picture of Mac Barnett when talking about his new book. I told students about him, how he lives in California and how I was lucky enough to meet him last year. I also showed the students a few other books by Mr. Barnett.
Geeking out with Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett
I do this for every author I highlight: show books, show pictures of the author, tell a short biography of the author.


Because I want students to know these talented people by name. I want kids to realize that there are faces that go with the books on these shelves in our library. That these books were made by people who are just as human and fallible as we are. These stories were written by people from California and Ohio and Canada, and they live in houses and feel happy and sad and scared just like we do. 

Writers usually don't ride these.
No matter what the writers may try to tell you, they are not Magical Beings Sitting on Clouds, Raining Down Gumdrops from their Rainbow Unicorns. But kids (and sometimes I) think of writers like that. Kids have no faces to go with the names of the thousands of books on our shelves.

It's about establishing reading and writing identities. The more I teach, the more I realize how important it is that students see themselves as readers and writers. Students need to understand that THEY TOO can make books and write stories, just like the authors we study. Peter Brown wrote a story about a teacher being a monster. We can also write stories from things in our lives, just like Peter Brown!

Geeking out with Peter Brown.

So, let's encourage kids to call writers by their names, not just by their books.

Instead of "Pigeon" books, let's call them "Mo Willems' Pigeon Books."
Instead of "Percy Jackson" books, let's call them "Rick Riordan's series."

We must learn about the writers' lives. This requires some work on the teacher's part, but we are living in an age of social media that makes it easy to find information. Tweet authors questions about their books. If we have a chance to meet them at a book signing, go! Take pictures with the writers. Share these with students. 

Geeking out with Debbi Ridpath Ohi and Lauren Castillo. 

It's such a small addition to literacy instruction, but one that reaps so many wonderful rewards.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Creepiest #nErDcampMI Picture Ever

I had two incredible days at #nErDcampMI 2015. I met up with amazing friends, met wonderful new friends, and learned from some of the most inspiring educators in the country.

I met (and became reacquainted with) fabulous authors and illustrators like Josh Funk, Jess Keating, Debbie Ohi, Liesl Shurtliff, and Lisa Graff.

Then, Caldecott Honor-winner Lauren Castillo walked into the room. (It was a room in a high school normally used for the school's theater department.) 


I adore her books, especially Nana in the City, and I couldn't wait to meet her.

After introducing myself, we took a picture together and I was embarrassingly excited. She's as cute as can be!

I'm an Amazon Woman next to her.

Later, as I zoomed into my glorious new picture, I noticed something above our heads.


What. Is. That? !!!!!

High school theater departments must be into horror shows or something? Of course it would happen to me that I get to take a picture with LAUREN CASTILLO and a creepy-nasty face is radiating a death glare at me.

So, I decided to make the most of it and recently I posted that creepy face to use as my profile picture on Voxer. 

Creepy Voxer Profile

I know my friends there are enjoying it daily!

Honestly, though, it was such a pleasure to meet Lauren. She's been a great sport about the 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#mustreadin2015: July Reading Update


I've read some really great books since April thanks to the #mustreadin2015 challenge.

I've also tried out some audiobooks in the past month. I've driven over 2,500 miles with two children in the past week, so I was able to "read" a few books along the way. (I've learned that I much prefer when the author reads their own writing.)

I am either stuck between these two goofballs, or they are stuck with me. Or both.

I also met my "June Reread Challenge" put forth by my Voxer friends. I read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman a few years back. But, I loved it even more as I listened to Mr. Gaiman reading it himself.

Anyway, here are some of the titles that have, for different reasons, rocked my world in the past few months:

MG (Middle Grade)
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg
The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner
Jack by Liesl Shurtliff
Nnewts by Doug TenNapel
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
The Iron Trial (#1) by Holly Black 

YA (Young Adult)
**Winger by Andrew Smith
**The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Elite by Kiera Cass 

Adult (Not YA or MG)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I'm also currently reading Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

And thanks to some super generous friends, I'm also currently reading the ARC of Crenshaw (pub. September 2015) by Katherine Applegate. Thank you so much for sending this amazing book my way, KS and CD!

New from the author of The One and Only Ivan

Join us for the #mustreadin2015 challenge and see what others are reading here. You can also see my original list from January right here.

** Andrew Smith is one of my favorite authors. I will read anything he writes. He is so raw and funny and I can't seem to predict where his plots will take me. I like that. In one of his books, a Mennonite "stuck his middle finger up" and screamed some choice words at one of the characters. I'm Mennonite. And that is freaking FUNNY.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cheese, Earplugs, and Family Life Videos: Reflections on 16 Years of Teaching

I am leaving a district full of people who have watched me grow up.

I mean, really grow up.

16 years of growing up.

I was 22 when I began teaching in this school district.  I was directly out of college with no teaching experience. This district supported me, helped me, listened to me, and invested in me.  I am so very much indebted to the brilliant and wonderful people I've worked with here, many who became very close friends.

Next year I will be teaching in another city, closer to where I am moving. I am extremely excited about my new opportunity to work primarily with literacy instruction.  All day! (Dream come true!)

And so, this list is a tribute to my past.

Some Non-Academic Reflections on Teaching After 16 Years:

10. I lived in the neighborhood where I taught. It was weird at first. Kids from school were knocking at my door wanting to play with my own children...or just stalking me, either one. I've become aware of not walking around in my pajamas if there's a chance that a student could be over at our house. (Almost made that mistake once.) I'm also really good at running into students' parents in the liquor aisle and usually just laughing it off. One time, a parent said to me, "I will pretend I didn't see you here if you pretend you didn't see me here." Deal.

9. I was giving ISTEP, our state standardized test, during 9/11. We used to give our state tests in the fall, and I had no idea what was going on because I was closed up in a room giving the test. It wasn't until later that a teacher popped her head in and asked if I knew what was going on.  I didn't.  This was the year that I had a student from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in my class. Her family ended up going back to Riyadh because of the harrassment they were receiving outside of school. I always wondered what happened to her. 

8. After my first year of teaching, I learned that one must never assume that an 8 year old can get on the correct bus in the afternoon. This new learning happened the hard way after the second grader took off walking to his house at dismissal...even though his house was over a mile away. An unhappy parent then threatened to call the school board. Lesson learned. See, first year teachers? We all have these embarrassing stories. The child was fine, by the way. 

This could be the child who decided to walk home. His name is burned into my brain with a scorching hot cattle prod.

7. I became a mom to two children while teaching in this district. I was petrified of going into labor while teaching, and I kept a towel near me at all times, just to be safe. On a side note, it is not enjoyable to be pregnant and be asked to sit in on the "Family Life Videos" that older elementary children watch. One student said to me, "I will never look at you the same way again." Yikes. 

6. Food does come up missing in the teacher's lounge sometimes. At one point, I had a big bag of cheese in the fridge while pregnant with my daughter. And darnit, someone took that cheese. I mean, really, how low can you get, taking food from a pregnant lady? Thankfully, my teaching partner's husband was able to rush to the store for me. How's that for a good friend? Thanks, JK. 


5. Speaking of friends, I didn't expect to make super close relationships with people at school. But I have. And that in itself is one of the reasons it's tough to leave. They become like family. Their families become like my families. In fact, one of those people even performed the ceremony that married my husband and me. You can read about that here.


4. Going overnight to camp with 150 kids is interesting. Fun too. That's another thing I learned. Oh, and if you do go to camp with a grade level of kids, just know that it will either be:
a. Pouring rain
b. Thunderstorming
c. Snowing
d. Blazingly hotter than Hades
And kids snore. A lot. Just sayin'.

Bring earplugs to overnight camp.

3. Having your own kids in the same school where you teach can be awesome but also ridiculous. Here are some quotes I've said in the past 6 years:

  • "Stop calling me Mrs. Mom at school. It's weird."
  • "Who wrote 'Take off your pants and take over the world' on my agenda board??!"
  • "I'll give you a dollar if you go down to the copier and print this out for me."
  • "Get out of the candy basket. That's for my students."
  • "Yeah, sorry, I brought your book to school. I didn't have my own copy so I borrowed yours off your bookshelf. Don't be mad."
  • "Here, you can have your book back. I don't understand why you don't want it, it's not like kids sneezed on it and wiped their rear ends on your book. Ok, maybe they did. I understand why you don't want it back."
  • "Take your scooters with you so you can ride through the halls today. It's Saturday so not many teachers will be there but don't run over anybody."
  • "I'm going to text your teacher right now and tell her what you are doing. I might even take a picture of this tantrum you are throwing and text it to her. How would you like that?"

The daughter, reading in my classroom library after school. This won't happen anymore when she heads to middle school in August.

2. Little kids grow up. And they become big kids. And they become taller than you and smarter than you. And then they come back to visit you and they can't believe how different you look and how small things are. But really, the only thing that changed was those amazing kids who are now in high school and college and beyond. And I cherish them with my entire heart and soul. Because that's why I love my job, not just for what happens in the classroom, but for who and what I am sometimes lucky enough to see 15 years down the road. Love you, Cole, Tony, Chelsea, Abby, Mariah, Christian, Miranda, Bryan, Alex, Alijah, Taylor, Jessica, Maddie and so many others!

Some of my first students looking adorable in costume. Did I think I was neat-looking? Smh.
I love when they come back to visit. "Have you always been this short?" they ask.

1. They took a risk with me, this district. So many years ago. I had no idea what I was doing. Thank goodness my first year didn't determine what kind of teacher I was to become. I was given the chance to take risks. I can never express the gratitude I feel for the chance they took on me.

And we are off to exciting new adventures.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Update: #mustreadin2015

Update: Spring

Happy April, nerdy friends!

Since January, I've read 16/37 titles on my growing TBR list for this year. You can find my original list here.

Listed below are a few titles I've read so far:

MG Novels

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
*The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
Bird & Squirrel On the Run by James Burks
Bird & Squirrel On Ice by James Burks
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1) by John Flanagan (Thanks, Glenn!)
Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John

YA/Adult Novels

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey (I'm obsessed with this series.)
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (I don't know what it is about his writing style, but I'm a big fan of anything Andrew Smith.)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Paper Towns by John Green

Thanks to Carrie Gelson for hosting this update. You can find her list and other blogs here.
And thanks especially to my nerdy Voxer friends for introducing me to new titles every day.

Happy reading!

*The Meaning of Maggie has probably been my favorite title so far. Its hilarious blend of sad and funny and sweet completely stole my heart.