Saturday, September 28, 2013

Happiness Journey #1

Last weekend as I was catching up on my favorite blogs, two especially stood out to me, and they happened to be by bloggers in the same family:  Colby Sharp and Alaina Sharp.  Colby has blogged a couple Sundays in a row about "5 Things I Loved About Last Week" and Alaina  has kept a blog for 1000 days straight (she reached 1000 this past Sunday) on things she's thankful for every day.  Each blog post ends with a prayer thanking God for the simple and profound things that make this life a joy.  Both husband and wife were very honest about how those blog posts bloomed from feelings of frustration, negativity, and self-doubt.  I was blessed to meet both of them this past summer at NErDcamp BC, and they are the most positive, upbeat, passionate people you will ever meet.  When reading their blogs, you know why.  They are CHOOSING the positive over the negative.  They are human like you and me, but what makes them extraordinary is that they know they have the power to overcome human, ordinary feelings that can drag us down into the quagmire of negative thought.


They've both inspired me to keep a weekly blog post about things that made me happy that week.  Sometimes they're going to be about school, sometimes about family and friends,  sometimes about life in general.  I'm not going to try for 1000 days straight - that's an unbelievable feat, Alaina - but I can try for once a week!  I'm going to try for a list of 5-10 things.  The cool thing about knowing this post will come up every weekend is that I'll have to write happy things down as they happen.  I have to FOCUS on those!  As you teachers out there know, September can hit you like a brick wall!  It can quickly drown and overwhelm you.  I'm not going to let that happen.  I had a couple freak-out Fridays in which I was tired, upset, and doubting myself.  NO MORE.  While I know those feelings will periodically bubble up, I'm going to vow not to focus on them. And since my word of the year is JOURNEY, this is the perfect quote:

Here is my happiness journey this week:

1.  I always remind kids that even if they don't have specific ELA homework one night, they always need to read.  Spencer said brightly, "Reading isn't homework - it's a hobby!"

2.  One of my favorite things is reading aloud to my class.  I have kids sit over by me in a "reading corner," and I sit in a big comfy chair, and read aloud just about every day.  On days I don't, I'm not as happy and neither are the kids. I always have kids who try to sit as close as possible to me on the floor in front of my feet.  One student called that space, "the best seat in the house."  Ha.  I'm reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin to my 5th graders. Poor things - I always stop at cliffhangers, and they give me a hard time about that - saying I love to torture them.  Of course, it's not me, it's just that I choose great books written by brilliant authors who know how to keep you wanting to read.  I'm reading A Long Walk to Water to my 6th graders.  This book is powerful, and although it took a while to get the kids hooked into it, now they're riveted.  I can't wait to tell them what we're going to do after I finish the book.  Already kids are inspired to take action. 

3.  While standing in the hall while one class got ready to leave and another class waiting to come in, I overheard a 5th grader say, "I wish we could stay in this class all day."

4.  Reading this article, posted on Facebook by one of my college daughter's friends, Katie.  It was another inspiration to start this weekly post: This picture in the article also makes me happy:

5.  Watching this YouTube video.  My husband sent it to my daughters and me.  I hadn't seen it before, even though now I realize it's gone viral.  Just this week my students have started talking about it.  It makes me happy that my husband is on the cutting edge of pop culture. ;-)
6.  My college daughter getting a 2nd interview with a company she's interested in interning with this summer!  My younger daughter watching the premiere of "New Girl."  She loves it, and she's hilarious when she watches it.
7.  The first day of fall.  It's my favorite season.  I love Bath & Bodyworks fall candles!  I love when the leaves start changing.  I love the chill in the air.  I love pumpkins.  I love premiere week on t.v. Our town has their Country Applefest today, and it's a beautiful day.
8.  Writing for Choice Literacy with Megan Ginther.  Our October article was on The Big Fresh this morning.  I also loved receiving beautiful folders and our checks in the mail from Brenda Power this week!

9.  Eating dinner with one of my best friends twice this week and watching the premiere of "Grey's Anatomy" together!

10.  Being asked to present at our district in-service day.  I'll be talking about teaching gifted kids in the regular classroom.

Wow!  What a great week!  Tell me some great things that made YOU happy this week!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Slice of Life - The Watsons Go To Birmingham

I've been participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers. I love the challenge of composing a piece of writing at least once a week about life or teaching.

     This past weekend I had the pleasure of watching The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis movie made for The Hallmark Channel.  Everyone involved in the project deserves high praise!  The cast was perfect, and it kept true to the book while enhancing the civil rights aspects of the story.  I loved using the book in my gifted reading class last year with fourth graders.  My students loved it, so it was great to see it brought to life like this.  Many of my students watched it and enjoyed it!  The book, and now the movie, has so much to it.  There is a strong but vulnerable multi-generational family, full of love and imperfections, laugh-out-loud humor, a combination of real-life trouble and strife blended with hope and strength, a nation on the verge of major change, and a journey that transforms its travelers.  
Be sure to watch the cast, crew, and Curtis in the video on the Hallmark website:

Go here to download the educator's guide:
     I'd love hear your thoughts on it if you watched it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week. I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.


Here are the books I read this week:

I've been reading lots about this book on multiple blogs and Goodreads reviews, so I was excited when I finally got it at the library. It's laugh-out-loud funny in the same vein as Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. Reynolds's narrative works perfectly with Santat's expressive illustrations. I read this book aloud to my fifth graders today, mostly so they could enjoy it, but it also lent itself to a good discussion on point of view and how it can make us sympathetic to characters. My favorite illustration is when the shark, lion, and timber wolf are sitting together listening to the wise owl. The body language is so human-like and funny. I'm not sure you'd want to share this one with really young kids, but intermediate graders will love it and appreciate the slightly twisted humor!
Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great
2013-book, empathy, friendship, humor, individuality, picture-book, point-of-view, theme

Goat thought he was special until Unicorn came along. Now he just can't seem to compete. Just when Goat gets pretty bitter about it and starts to really bash Unicorn, Unicorn notices the heavenly smell of goat cheese on Goat's pizza. Everything turns around and we realize Unicorn thinks Goat is pretty great! This would be a good picture book to encourage conversations about jealousy and appreciating others' talents and unique gifts. Good lessons on point of view and theme.
Brief Thief
Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Oh my goodness, this book is hilarious! My students are going to love it. The illustrations are awesome, and I love the thick pages. Leon is stuck with no toilet paper, so he has to use something else.  He thinks he's found the perfect solution!  Nothing beats a surprise ending. You will laugh out loud!
123 versus ABC
                  2013-book, alphabet-or-counting-book, animals, humor, picture-book

I read this for the September Sharp-Schu book club coming up this week. This funny book is an argument between the number 1 and the letter A about whether this is an alphabet or counting book. Of course, it's obvious to the reader that when ONE alligator appears, it's going to be both! It takes 1 and A a little longer to come to that conclusion. There's a cute ending, too. I saw that Beth Shaum on Goodreads said exactly what I was going to say - that it's the perfect book for fans of Z is for Moose and Counting Monkeys!
Hank Finds an Egg

I loved this sweet story! It's amazing how expressive Hank and the hummingbird are! It's so unique - telling a whole wordless story through photographs of handmade creatures and forest. This book would be perfect for an empathy/Choose Kind unit. I can't wait to find out more about Rebecca Dudley.


Counting by 7s
This is a very special book, unique in so many ways. The main character, Willow Chance, is so real she practically jumps off the page. She's profoundly gifted, left alone by the tragic death of her adoptive parents, and changes everyone with whom she comes in contact for the good(reminds me of the song "For Good" from "Wicked"). You can see all the categories above where this book could be shelved. In just a pure literary study, the point of view and time structure could be analyzed because it's so complex. Metaphor and symbolism are strong throughout, and character development is a major component. On a personal level, this book will touch your heart, reminding me of One for the Murphys. Willow and the people she affects are all so incredibly human - imperfect, well-intentioned, and redeemable. I loved it and can't wait to pass it on to students to see what they think. This one should definitely be in the running for a Newbery sticker of some sort!
For Willow:
The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)
I listened to this on audio, and the narrator (actor Will Patton) was perfectly creepy. I loved the overall mood/tone of this book, the smart writing, and sharp, complicated characters. The prep school boys and Blue with her psychic mother had me mesmerized. I'm glad I finished it when The Dream Thieves had already come out - now I don't have to wait for the sequel!
The Truth of Me 
The Hunt (The Hunt, #1) 
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1) The Real Boy
I also feature what my family is reading each week.
My mom:
My dad:
Warpath of the Mountain Man
My husband:
Homeland (Little Brother, #2)
My 17-year-old (for AP Lit):
The Sun Also Rises
If you enjoy my blog, I'd love for you to join it or follow by e-mail!  Just scroll down to the bottom right sidebar and you'll find where to do just that!  It always makes me excited to see someone new!
What are YOU reading this week?



Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's THIRSTday! A Long Walk To Water Giveaway Winners Announced!

 Thank you to David Etkin for starting this meme on his blog, {Eat the Book}. Today is Thursday THIRSTday: A beverage and a book.  But it's not just an ordinary #THIRSTday post - it's a post on A Long Walk to Water goings-on.  Thank you, @DavidAEtkin, for being a great collaborator on a project that promises to be super exciting!
With no further ado, the WINNERS of the A Long Walk to Water books are:
( I found out today that Kim's building's entire 5th grade will be reading the book and doing the walk in November!  They're going to donate the gallons of water to the local food pantry after the walk.  Isn't that a GREAT idea?!)
You will be getting books from me ASAP!  BUT, that's not all!  I was inspired by a few other entrants who were excited about the book and project and who are planning things in their buildings.  SOOOO...I'm going to send you books, too!
Look for these books in the mail soon, and I hope you will share your projects when you do them!
     Just a couple days ago, after reading chapter seven, I shared a couple images from David Etkin's book guide, and we watched the video of "Water Changes Everything."  I didn't say much to the kids, but a conversation started after the concern I saw on their faces.  The next day, a group of girls came to my room and wanted to talk to me.  After watching the video and hearing the book so far, they were inspired to do something and already had ideas of how to raise money to build wells in Africa!  I had goose bumps listening to them.  I loved that they took ownership and were motivated before I even told them that there was a plan on the horizon.  Today I actually had to deal with a little tension because there were so many kids getting on board, that the original girls were feeling a little overwhelmed and needed help!  I told them to all step back a bit, that we do have a plan in place, and we can't wait to use their ideas, but adult supervision will be needed.  So a cautionary tale:  kid WILL be moved by this issue, so be prepared to guide them!!  One of the girls gave me permission to share her journal entries that she wrote the evening I showed the video.

I loved that this sixth grader found the African Proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together."  Isn't that beautiful?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nonfiction Wednesday and Giveaway Reminder

   Thanks to Kid Lit Frenzy, I made a goal to read more children's nonfiction this year which I will be featuring on my blog every Wednesday.
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau
Manfish by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret
I love the thick, colorful pages of this biography of Jacques Cousteau. I didn't realize he invented the Aqua-Lung and improved the diving suit. He was also a movie-maker, Navy man, photographer, and environmentalist. I love the creativity of this biography from the wavy lines in the beginning to the pull-out pages in the middle to show the depths of the oceans. Great introduction to a fascinating man!
Also, before you forget, today is the last day to enter the GIVEAWAY for A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Slice of Life - Lexile Levels

I've been participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers. I love the challenge of composing a piece of writing at least once a week about life or teaching.

       Important staging to this story:  All students in our building recently took the Lexile assessment, and students know their scores.  A new fifth grader to our district came up to me this morning with a pencil poised above a notepad and said earnestly, "My mom and I would like to ask if you have any recommendations of series that are at my Lexile level."  Ahhh, teachable moment! 
      I want to make clear first, that I know she and her mom were trying to do the right thing, and I responded with a smile. "I'm so glad you asked me about books! I would LOVE to recommend some to you.  First, let me tell you a little of my philosophy on Lexile levels.  I love that we have a tool that helps us measure a part of your comprehension level and growth, and I  use that information for some important things.  However, my classroom library is full of books that you'll love.  I'd rather recommend books that you think you'd be interested in.  Lexile levels don't tell us everything about a book.  How does that sound? " A lot of my students from last year started listening and got ready to join in.
      Big smile.  "Great!"
     "Okay!  Let's get started!  You say you'd like to start a series?  Do you have a genre in mind?"
      "Oh boy, you're in luck.  I've got LOTS of fantasy series in my library.  Let's start."  I proceeded over to the buckets filled with series such as the Guardians of Ga'Hoole (730L), The Warriors (790L), the Chronicles of Narnia (940L), Pendragon (660L), etc.  Other students were getting up and heading over to the shelves with me and started offering more suggestions - some fantasy, some science fiction, all their favorites:
     "Gregor the Overlander!" (630L)
     "A Series of Unfortunate Events!" (1010L)
     "The Maze Runner!" (770L)
     "Maximum Ride!" (700L)
     "Amulet!" (310L)
     "Charlie Bone!" (630L)
     "Savvy and Scumble!"  (1070L and 900L)
     "A Tale of Emily Windsnap!" (600L)
     ...and on and on.  Her Lexile level is 1084.  Does that number tell me some important things?  Yes.  Should she only read books at that level?  No.  Look at what she would miss!  She was looking excited and overwhelmed at the same time.  I calmed everyone down and chose a few books with her for her to preview, and she went back to her desk, ready to dig in. Most of what we recommended to her she hadn't read.  I can't wait to see what she chooses!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week. I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.


Here are the books I read this week:
The Boy On The Porch 
This is the book I chose to read for the September Sharon Creech-a-Thon, and I'm so glad I did!  Oh my goodness, what a story. This sparse little novel packs a punch. It reminded me of Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Baby by Patricia MacLachlan, True (Sort Of...) by Katherine Hannigan, and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Creech's language is so carefully chosen and so beautiful, and I saw connections to things we're talking about right now in my 5th grade classes: identity and journeys (our read aloud is RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN by Liesl Shurtliff). "Then he thought about names. Your name is important. Your name makes a statement about you. It describes not only who you are but who you might be." I also love the images of shoes in this story, reminding me of the pile of shoes I saw at The Holocaust Museum in Washington, which brought me to tears. There's also a concept of story and how important that our story comes before us and after us.  I loved the parallel of the silent beagle and his devotion to the boy.  I have to say, I was slightly frustrated at the end because I wanted MORE, but I can't wait to give it to some students to see what they think!
The Moon and More
I can see why teenage girls love Sarah Dessen so much. This is one of her lighter ones; a perfect beach read. It's the summer after Emaline's senior year, and she's had a perfect high school boyfriend in the small beach town of Colby, but trouble in paradise begins. Theo, a big city outsider, comes in helping out on a documentary about one of Colby's mysterious residents, an artist who apparently has an interesting background. When Emaline finds out things aren't so perfect with Luke, she falls for Theo. She also struggles with her absentee father, but she learns to love her endearing half-brother. Teens will love Emaline's imperfections as well as her strengths, and I'm sure this one will be as popular as her others.

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." A student insisted I read this, so I finally did, after a long time of hearing about it. I'm so glad I did, and I look forward to talking it over with her. There were several things that especially struck me: the miscarried child, the younger version of the grandfather, pets in heaven, a spiritual war, and the painted image of Jesus captured by a young girl who had a similar experience as Colton.

Counting by 7s
The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)
I'm also reading multiple nonfiction books a little bit at a time!
I also feature what my family is reading.  This week I only have a report from my mom and dad.
My mom is reading:
Sweet Tooth
My dad is reading:
Stand Proud
What are YOU reading this week?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Aaron Becker's JOURNEY and International Dot Day

Celebri-dots is an awesome blog full of dots created by authors, artists, and celebrities.
     What a great day to combine two awesome picture books and artists into a blog post about creativity, journeys (my word of the year and this month's theme topic for my 5th graders), imagination, and passions! 
     Today is International Dot Day, inspired by the book, The Dot, by Peter H. Reynolds!  If you don't know what that is, you need to watch these:

We'll be celebrating International Dot Day in my room this week, and I love how it will connect PERFECTLY with our study of journeys and our love for Aaron Becker's book, Journey, which also inspires creativity and imagination.  When I read the book for the first time, I tweeted about it, and Aaron Becker graciously tweeted back, volunteering to Skype with my class.  We would have LOVED that, but I have multiple classes throughout the day with no common time, so it was going to be tough to figure out how to Skype without leaving some kids out.  Aaron had a BRILLIANT idea to have us send him questions, and he would make a video of himself answering them.  When he sent it to me, I was so moved by how he answered the questions, and his bit of advice at the end for the kids - he only solidified my love of the book.  I asked if I could post the video on my blog, and I'm thrilled that he said yes so I could share it with you.  Enjoy!

Aaron Becker answers a fifth grade teachers' classes questions about "Journey" from Aaron Becker on Vimeo.

The kids absolutely loved watching it, and then we wrote about what our passions are/what we're sensitive to.  I really enjoyed what the kids had to say.  Here are some snippets:

- "I am sensitive to the needs of people and animals who are sick."

- "Aaron Becker inspired me to make my own quote.  'Be who you want to be, and follow that your whole life.  Don't let anybody change it.'  I'm starting to get more mature little by little, day by day, year by year.  I'm starting to say please and thank you more.  I want to thank Aaron Becker."

- "My passion is art.  I like art in a bunch of different ways.  I like to make digital collages on my Ipad and I like to sketch and doodle on blank paper.  I sketch to clear my mind of the day."

- "My passion is playing sports, mostly baseball.  I seem to have a special connection to the game.  I'm always focused and encouraging to my teammates, and they treat me with the same respect."

-"My passion is animals.  I feel like every animal I'm around I have an instant connection with.  When I grow up I would love to be a veterinarian and help animals.  I hate that there are thousands of animals out there that are struggling. They need my help. Animals are my escape."

-"I love to help, so I think being a teacher is a job that would suit me well.  I think teachers are kind of like authors.  Authors teach people to read better and to use your imagination while teachers teach all of the subjects.  I love learning."

-"My passion is definitely interior designing.  I love it because it expresses my colors, and makes me feel calm and happy."

- "My passions are my family, my friends, games, and my dog.  I like my dog just about as much as August from Wonder loves Daisy." 

-"I like Aaron Becker's video; he answered a lot of my questions, but what he really made me think about was my own passions.  I really love music, especially classical pieces that are played on the piano.  I play the piano and when I really have a song down with dynamics and everything, it's beautiful and it me a bit emotional, and I think it makes other people feel good, too."

- "This year I am very passionate about photography.  It is one of my favorite time passers.  Photography puts me in a zone where I can relax because I know what I'm doing and I'm having fun. For me, it's a way to be creative."

- "My passion is writing.  I love writing stories.  It is just a great way to express yourself."

- "Aaron Becker's passion reminds me of my passion for reading and baseball.  Everybody has a passion."

- "I think my passion is singing; I love to sing.  I've been singing ever since I was about six."

- "My passion is snowboarding.  I love the way you can get the thrill of speed with the smooth action of turning."

- "I am passionate about Japanese Budo Ninjitsu.  It is a Japanese form of self-defense."

- "I'm passionate about making crafts.  Crafts can be silly and fun."

- "After watching Aaron Becker's video, I want to become an illustrator even more than I wanted to before.  Of course, I have to step up to the plate, pedal to the medal, and take responsibility and try my best to accomplish my dream."

I could add more, but I thought I'd stop on that note! :-)  Don't you love how diverse they all are?!  Thank you SO much, Aaron, for making that video for us and inspiring us to hold on to our passions and what we love to do.  I get to do that every day as a language arts teacher, and I sure hope my students get to do what they love someday!  I'm thankful that we have artists/writers like Aaron Becker and Peter H. Reynolds to remind us that creativity and imagination can take us on incredible journeys!

Journey The Dot

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's #THIRSTday and #ReadWalkWater Day with a Giveaway!

Thank you to David Etkin for starting this meme on his blog, {Eat the Book}. Today is Thursday THIRSTday: A beverage and a book.  But it's not just an ordinary #THIRSTday post - it's also #ReadWalkWater Day!  Thank you, @DavidAEtkin, for being a great collaborator on a project that promises to be super exciting!
David and I are embarking on a journey (There's my word of the year!) that connects a book we both love, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park with social action.  Read all about it at Nerdy Book Club today!  Please tweet us at @MuellerHolly and @DavidAEtkin and use the hashtag #ReadWalkWater to let us know your thoughts about this book! 

 We'd love for you to get involved!  Need a book?  I'm giving away 2 copies!!  Enter below to win!
Must be 13 to enter.
Must be a U.S. resident.
No P.O. Boxes.
Giveaway ends on September 18th.
Winners will be announced next #THIRSTday on my blog!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nonfiction Wednesday - Remembering September 11th

   Thanks to Kid Lit Frenzy, I made a goal to read more children's nonfiction this year which I will be featuring on my blog every Wednesday.

  A year ago today,  I did a blog post about The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein.  I'm going to recycle some of that post since I'm using the same book again this year to commemorate the Twin Towers.  I'm updating it, though,  since we're focusing on the theme topics of journeys with my 5th graders and crusaders with my 6th graders this month.  We talked about the tightrope walk being quite a journey and that Philippe Petit had all the traits of a crusader (someone who sets out to change something or break down barriers).

     Today marks the 12th anniversary of 9/11 and this year I'm teaching 5th and 6th graders.  I think it's more important than ever to keep remembering that day so that children who weren't even a sparkle in their parents' eyes in 2001 realize what that event was like for all of us who lived through it. It's also cathartic for us who remember it clearly to tell our stories. Stories are what bond us in good times and bad. That day we saw what humanity was in its rawest form - as horrified as we were by the evil, heroism shone its brightest alongside it. Isn't that what the best stories are made of ? The reluctant hero defeats the most evil of villains.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

     The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein is the true story of a French man named Philippe Petit who, in 1974, threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. It's a great way to share the whimsy, dreams, and determination of people while remembering one way the World Trade Center became a part of our lives. Kids love the story, and it's age appropriate for middle graders.  Many made connections right away to recent stories: Nick Wallenda and Diana Nyad.  We watched clips of all three on YouTube and talked about the human spirit and what makes people want to break down boundaries to accomplish the impossible.  All three embarked on journeys that prove that dreams can come true and barriers are meant to be broken.

     So today, I hope you shared your story and listened to the stories of others, and remember to live each moment to its fullest. The human spirit is strong and inspiring; we saw it that day on September 11, 2001 in the heroes who saved lives and helped others, and we see it today in ordinary acts of kindness and extraordinary feats of daring. 
Other Picture Books About 9/11
14 Cows for America

The Little Chapel That Stood
America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell
     Let us know what you do with your students to remember the day.