Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (4.28.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Crankenstein, by Samanthan Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013)
     We have all encountered a Crankenstein or two in our own lives. This book sweetly pokes fun at the crankiness of young ones and the unusual way in which that crankiness can be broken. I read this book with my 5 year-old nephew this week, as his 2 year-old brother listened in. It held both boys' interest, and garnered some knowing chuckles. Their mom enjoyed the reread, too. Certainly this is one of those books that is best enjoyed with your favorite little one.

Who Says Women Can't be Doctors?, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
(Henry Holt & Co., 2013)

     This picture book biography informs students of the persistence and tenacity of Elizabeth Blackwell in her pursuit to be a doctor. Truthful and relate-able, Stone follows Blackwell's life from the conception of her dream to actualization, and she highlights the obstacles and challenges that had to be overcome.
      I'm glad to add this vibrant picture book to my biography collection. It compares well with other favorites that highlight perseverance and commitment from women, like Tillie the Terrible Swede and Thank You, Sarah.

Annie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raul Colon

(Schwartz & Wade, 2012)
     I acquired this picture book at NCTE '13 and finally indulged in it this week. It is beautiful with soft illustrations and, most memorable, the inclusion of letters written by Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan. This picture book allows the reader to feel engaged with the young Helen, trying to live with enormous frustration due to her disabilities. Similarly, readers can react to the feelings of Annie as she tried to be strong and consistent, holding out her belief that she could teach Helen. The incorporation of Annie's own words helps to communicate these feelings well.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffith Burns
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010)
     I am long overdue at investigating the Scientists in the Field series. This informational text about ocean currents and patterns of movements is full of information that will interest readers. The richness of the book is that the text also informs readers of possible careers in science and alerts readers to the significance of environmental advocacy by exploring the effects of trash in the ocean waters and what happens when ocean currents spread trash. The photographs and page layouts are attractive, modern, and well-designed to help attract readers' attention. This is a great find for updating the informational section of my classroom library.

The Summer Experiment, by Cathie Pelletier
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 1, 2014)
     Roberta McKinnon is a middle-grade girl character who, along with her best friend, is on a mission to earn top prize in the science fair competition. Roberta--who lives in the small, remote town of Allagash, Maine--finds herself in the heart of the excitement when the town is the site of UFO sightings. While Roberta and her friend, Marilee, pursue their scientific dreams, they encounter some typical growing pains, including loss, changing families, and an interest in boys.
      I had a unique interest in this book, familiar with Cathie Pelletier as a fellow citizen of Aroostook County, Maine. Her establishment of setting and the youth who live there is true to life, and I could appreciate the specificity of details that reminded me of my own upbringing in the St. John Valley. The characters in this book are likable, and the narrator is written with a realistic voice that will help her become a fast-friend to student readers'. The suspicion over whether or not they will have a close encounter with the UFO is convicting enough to hold student readers' attention. I'm curious to see other opinions of this book turn up as it becomes more discovered.

Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, by Meenoo Rami

(Heinemann, March 4, 2014)
     Meenoo Rami's professional text is well-timed. In a day where many teachers are feeling isolated and disconnected from their passion for teaching, Rami offers straightforward suggestions for taking responsibility for increasing engagement and breaking through the walls that create that illusion of isolation. Rami addresses the ideas of mentorship, networking, building relationships with students, and pursing personal interests and goals.
      This book strikes me as important for teachers early in their careers in hopes that it will help them to sustain their passion and love for teaching. It also is a great publication for the more experienced teachers who are feeling the need to be replenished and freshen up in their practice. Any teacher who is open to growth and self-improvement will walk away with something from this text that they can immediately begin with as steps for reclaiming their teaching passion.

What I am Currently Reading:

What Readers Really Do, by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton
(Heinemann, 2012)

The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech
(HarperCollins, 2013)

What I am Reading Next:
The Joy of Planning, by Franki Sibberson
Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
The Ghost of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Gift of Light - #celebratelu

[The Celebrate Link-up is hosted by Ruth Ayres on her blog. Join in each Saturday with your own post about celebrations.]

"Sometimes our light goes out, but its blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being." 
Albert Schweitzer

March was pretty unkind. And I'm not referring to the weather. 

The month of March--and if we're going to be honest, the end of February, too--carted me through a number of roller coaster-esque dips and drops and spirals that put me in an undue place of begging for the ride to stop. Stressful school politics, shared hardship of friends, relationship anxieties, or personal family tragedy seemed to await on the other side of every exhilarating climb or curve of the track. I couldn't get to reading, and I was struggling to make time for writing. When I sat down to write, all the words and ideas felt forced. I didn't feel good about anything I wrote. I was drowning in pressure and urgency. 

My light was going out, and I was frustrated. It felt like all I could do was watch the dimming unfold, a witness encroached by darkness, unable to change course.

Last Saturday, something happened that shifted my mindset, and it came from an unexpected place.

This fall, a colleague & I took young fans to
a library event to meet Cynthia Lord.
Cynthia Lord has always been an author whose books inspired me for the way they capture genuine emotions in challenging situations of young readers. She brings characters to the lives of her readers who can easily become friends and examples for handling adversity. She's done this with Rules, Touch Blue, and--now--Half a Chance. The respect and awe I feel for Cynthia as an honored Maine author accounts for how touched I was to read her Facebook post last Saturday. After reading another post of a friend, Cynthia spoke with her husband about the Heinemann Boothbay Literacy Retreat opportunity that happens in Maine each year, and about how it is an intangible experience for so many of Maine's educators. Then, she posted on Facebook that they wanted to make this experience a possibility for one Maine educator this summer by sponsoring their registration and housing, asking in return that the teacher create an opportunity afterwards to share his/her learning with the other teachers who did not attend. 

This couple's immense outpouring of generosity for a Maine teacher whom they may or may not know started to relight my flame. In the face of all the instances and images of hurt, fear, anger, suffering, grief, loss (you get the idea) that were popping out at me along my roller coaster ride, here was a bold and unexpected gesture of kindness, generosity, and selflessness. 

I submitted my name to Cynthia because the retreat experience certainly called to me with it's promise of presentations from gurus who have been important in reshaping my practice and plentiful time for self-reflection and writing. I watched the reactions and responses of my Maine colleagues as they put forth their names, too, and with each one, I knew someone deserving was going to benefit from this great act of kindness. Any of the colleagues who entered the drawing would have used the experience to its fullest and would have been happy to share with others.

Many of these colleagues knew the results of the drawing before me. I learned of my good fortune through an email from a friend and went to Facebook for verification. And even then, as I watched Cynthia's fingers stir the slips, pick out one, and unfold it on her posted video, I almost still couldn't believe it said my name.

When I saw the original post with Cynthia's offering of this gift, I knew someone would be very, very lucky. I didn't imagine it would be me. 

Of course, there is a part of me that carries others' disappointment, too, since my name was in the company of many other deserving names, and only one could be chosen. Maybe this is why I've been quiet about my excitement; I'm hopeful that they feel I am worthy and deserving, too.

My name being drawn may have been more than a coincidence in my tested mind. I'm touched that Cynthia and John are investing in me, taking a chance that I can use the knowledge and profit from the experience in a way that will ripple and benefit others in turn. Their support and trust has blown on my light, coaxing more from inside of me, driving me to make their investment worthwhile and meaningful. Even though the retreat at Boothbay is still months away, their act has already had an effect. I have found this week that I have slowed down (a little). I have been more patient. I have been more attentive to others, colleagues and students, more aware of how I can give to them and their needs better by being more selfless and less caught up in the tangle of my mind. I cannot replicate Cynthia and John's actions by giving someone this once in a lifetime opportunity, but as they have given in a way they are able, I am inspired to assume an attitude of giving, however I am able.

Life IS a roller coaster--that's to be expected. But there are always going to be things to celebrate along the way. Today I celebrate this:

  • I celebrate the spirit of kindness and generosity of Cynthia Lord and her husband, John. 
  • I celebrate the incredible opportunity for learning and growth that they bestowed upon me.
  • I celebrate the rekindling of my inner flame, a renewed awareness of my own potential and possibility.

"This little light of mine/I'm gonna let it shine/
"Let it shine, shine, shine... Let it shine."