Thursday, December 31, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - The Gift of Time

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! 
This month has taken on its own theme - unintentionally on my part.  The theme topic of GIFTS developed.  Today's post is about The Gift of Time.
     Time flies.  It seems to fly faster and faster as I get older.  I'm writing this post on Christmas day since I know I won't have time (how ironic) to write this next week, and I wanted to make sure I could reflect on the passing of 2015.  What a year it was!  So full of gifts.  So full of joy.  So full of so much.  New Year's Eve always seems a little nostalgic.  It's such a concrete marking of time.  We look back at the year, its ups and downs, its happiness and sorrow, its fun and stress, and look forward to the future and all its unknowns.  Time, so fleeting here on Earth, is so precious. 
     The house is quiet right now.  The girls are gone for the moment, and my husband is napping.  Even the dog is quietly resting.  This Christmas was wonderful.  Last night, my family surrounded the dining room table in flickering candlelight - Libby and Jamie, Katie and her boyfriend, John, Ed and me.  We feasted on a delicious dinner and laughed and talked.  Afterward, we enjoyed a beautiful Christmas Eve service at our church, Lebanon Presbyterian.  Katie's boyfriend sang with other returning college kids, our pastor gave a message about peace, and we lifted our candles in the dimmed sanctuary while we sang the final verse to "Silent Night".  We came back to the house to open our traditional Christmas Eve presents - Christmas picture books (read about this year's books here) and pjs.  Waking up this morning, my 19-year-old pouncing on our bed in the morning just like she did when she was a toddler, and having Libby and Jamie here on their first Christmas morning as a married couple, filled me with joy.  Christmas never loses its magic for me.  Tomorrow we will journey to Florida to visit both sets of parents and Ed's sister's family.  So thankful for this holiday time!
     When you're reading this, though, a week will have passed.  It will be the last day of 2015.  I'm not sure what will have transpired in the week between this writing and that reading; what I do know, though, is that God has it all under control.  He has the master clock in His hands, and I trust Him wholeheartedly.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know the time He gives us here is a gift.  All the good and all the bad.  It's the time for us to learn to love each other and Him.  Time here is short, but time with Him is long.  While we're in the in between, I thank Him for the gifts of family, friends, neighbors, and vocations - time to enjoy this flawed and crazy life - this wonderland of unknowns - the passing years...
     Happy New Year's to all of you!  May God bless you and your loved ones and keep you close.  We welcome 2016 and everything it brings!!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - The Greatest Gift of All

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! 
This month has taken on its own theme - unintentionally on my part.  The theme topic of GIFTS developed.  Today's post is about The Greatest Gift of All.
     I can't believe it's Christmas Eve!  How does Christmas season go by so fast?!  It's so filled with preparation and anticipation, and then the big day seems to be upon us in no time at all.  I have another day of getting things ready, but I hope to settle in and enjoy the evening when the family will be together for dinner and Christmas Eve services.  Christmas Eve at my church is my favorite service of the year.   After singing carols,  reciting prayers, and listening to beautiful music and the message, we light our candles, the chandeliers are dimmed, and we sing "Silent Night".  It's magical.
     Every year I marvel at the gift God sent to us in the form of a tiny baby.  As I set up my nativity scene this year, I reflected on how simple a scene it was, but also how beautiful.  I realize December 25th was most likely not Jesus's actual birthday, but I'm grateful we celebrate it all the same.  It gives us a chance to remember what our faith really represents - a belief in a God who would send His only Son down to this flawed and sinful place to save us in love.
     The adult education committee I'm on at church puts together an Advent Devotional every year.  This year's theme was "Songs of Christmas".  My week was about faith. Here was my contribution:

1 Corinthians 1:9

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

     My family and I got an invitation from my daughter’s sorority earlier this fall to attend a Make-a-Wish fundraising event at The Shoe at Ohio State.  We were excited and of course RSVP’d “yes”!  We got to have a tailgate dinner inside the stadium, get a tour of the press box, and take pictures on the field.  We talked about how cool it was and enjoyed having an inside look at such an impressive place. We sent Snapchats, Instagrams, and Facebook pictures to our friends.
     When I think about this verse, I wonder, do we get as excited about this invitation to enjoy an “inside look” at God’s Kingdom?  Do we realize who is asking us to join Him in fellowship?  Jesus Christ our Lord is opening His house for the grandest tour of all to ANYONE who will RSVP “yes”.  He has called us; He will keep His promises, and if we accept, we will be in fellowship with Him for eternity.  Now THAT is something to get excited about!
Dear Lord, help us keep Earthly people and places in perspective.  Open our hearts, eyes, and minds to the amazing realization that you have invited us into fellowship with you.  Thank you for that invitation.  We accept. Amen.

     Tomorrow, as we give and get earthly gifts under the tree, let us remember the greatest gift of all...Jesus and His love for us, coming down to us in human form to sacrifice everything for our chance to spend eternity with Him.


Monday, December 21, 2015

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.

This story reminds me a lot of Wait!  Like the boy in that story with his mother, the girl in this one with her distracted father stops to notice things along a hurried walk. She notices little flowers growing among the cement of the city, so she picks them, and then notices who needs them. Touching and important. We all need to slow down and pay attention. I love the bursts of color in the black and white illustrations.

I couldn't help but think of Jennifer Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish and the connections the two books have with jellyfish. Suzy (Zu) broke my heart. Her sadness and desperation seemed too much to bear. Zu has such a hard time accepting her friend, Franny's, death, that she stops talking and starts to investigate her theory that a rare and highly poisonous jellyfish was to blame. The narrative goes from present tense to flashbacks in second person (great for classroom discussion on choices in point of view), Zu agonizing over how their friendship deteriorated before Franny's death. Zu is a gifted character, for sure, and the story explores many themes: fitting in, accepting death, moving on, spirituality, the intellectualism of girls, friendship, family, scientific theories, and more. I was so grateful for Justin and Sarah at the end, and new beginnings for Zu.  I love the way Ali Benjamin describes her book: "But at its heart, it's about the moment when these two things, despair and wonder, come together."
All American Boys
2015-book, audio-book, civil-rights, fears, mock-printz-2016, multicultural, multiple-first-person-points-of-view, racism, social-injustice, violence, weneeddiversebooks, young-adult-book

Wow. I've heard so much about this book, and now I know why. For all of you who have read the print version, don't miss the audio. The narrators are powerful. I appreciate a lot about this book, but what I appreciate most is that so many facets of this issue (an unarmed black teen being the victim of police brutality) were discussed in this novel. Most of the arguments I've heard, the feelings I've had, the confusion, outrage, and fear of both races were addressed. The only criticism I have is that I wish Rashad would have had more empathy for his father's story. It explained so much about him and the way he treated Rashad, but I never felt like Rashad fully got that. Maybe that's the point, I don't know. I loved Rashad and Quinn by the end, though, and I loved how real they both were. Beautiful ending and so well crafted.

The most important thing about this novel is that the voices were loud. Silence was broken.


I'm a huge fan of Gary Schmidt, and books like this are the reason why.  Throughout this captivating story,  I kept thinking of William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow":

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

This may not make sense to you completely, and I honestly don't know for sure why this poem kept popping up in my mind, but it was the cows that made me think of it. And the farm - the simplicity of work, family, grace, and love and the transformations that can take place when those things are present. Attempting to follow Williams's example, I wrote my own to capture Orbiting Jupiter:

The Dairy Cow

so much depends

a dairy cow
who leans in and loves you

a little brother
who always has your back

a few teachers
who believe in you

a gentle family
who lets you talk

a frozen river
with deep, black ice

and a planet
that shines brightly

hung in
the night sky

waiting for you
to find it.

This is one of those books with a perfect ending, so be ready. You will have a hard time moving on to another book. It's a beauty.
The Hummingbird

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Gift of Emotions

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! 
This month has taken on its own theme - unintentionally on my part.  The theme topic of GIFTS developed.  Today's post is about The Gift of Emotions.

I have a new favorite movie.  I know I'm a little late in the game, but I missed it in the theater, so I had to wait.  I finally got to see it and fell in love with it!!  I have to say, I identified with Joy.  I'm not as overjoyed as she is all the time, but I identified with her need to make everything happy and okay.  She's so good at it, and of course, we want to be joyful as much as we can! One side of my family (I won't say which ;-)) prides themselves on coping by denial, and I have to say, that works just fine for me.  Ha.  I know that's not always the best policy, though, which Sadness in "Inside Out" expertly demonstrates on a couple of occasions, helping to develop the theme of the movie.
It seems that the message we always get as Christians is that we are to be joyful all the time.  I understand this.  When we fully comprehend what Jesus did for us, how can we be anything BUT joyful?!  However, we are human, and even Jesus wept.   I know we are supposed to have self-control and be slow to anger, and jealousy and pride are negative.  We should be free from anxiety and fear because God is in control.  We know all this, but what if we considered our emotions as gifts?  Maybe sadness helps us feel empathy for others, anger motivates us to fight against injustice, gratitude helps us give thanks, joy inspires us to celebrate God's goodness, fear keeps us from complacency, and so on. 
While we want to spend a lot of time with Joy, it seems okay to let Sadness (and even Anger and Fear occasionally - you should probably tell Disgust to cool it, though) sit beside us once in a while.  It can help us  and others heal.  And hopefully, before you get too comfortable there, you'll wipe away your tears,  stand up, and head in the right direction, with Joy trailing right behind you.
"A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away..." - Ecclesiastes 3:4-6

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nonfiction Wednesday

  Join Alyson and others at Kid Lit Frenzy for a nonfiction picture book bonanza each week!

I'm trying to catch up on the titles I've missed in 2015!

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

I enjoyed this biography of Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada and how his famous calavera drawings came to be.  I always think it's fascinating how well known pieces of art emerge from creative minds.  It's also interesting that Posada, after learning the art of printing, began drawing political cartoons in a country not known for its freedom of speech.  The possible interpretations of his calavera drawings were thought-provoking.  Kids will enjoy the end two-page spread of modern calaveras!  I could see a few of my students wanting to draw their own.  Great nonfiction text features at the back of the book.  When I read Separate Is Never Equal, my first Tonatiuh book, I wasn't sure I loved his stylized illustrations.  I really liked them in this book, though.  The style is growing on me!

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris

I've read other George Ferris books, and each time I learn something new.  I enjoyed this one a lot.  It's fascinating that human ingenuity continues to push the limits on what can be built, enjoyed, and used.  One of the things I loved was that, during the July 9th storm and tornado, George and his wife got in one of the wheel's cars to stay safe.  Now that's confidence in one's own creation!  It's sad that the Ferris wheel was destroyed after the St. Louis World's Fair.  However, it inspired many new ones since!  Great illustrations and a pull-out two-page vertical spread of The London Eye.  "As long as there are dreamers like George Ferris ready to make big plans, the world can look forward to wondrous new inventions like his."

After seeing Chris Barton at NCTE, I decided I needed to read all his nonfiction books!  I didn't know anything about John Roy Lynch, so he was interesting to learn about, but Barton also wants us to know more about the Reconstruction era, the period following the Emancipation Proclamation, a time of great promise and excitement.  Three of the amendments to the Constitution, 13th, 14th, and 15th, all of which gave African Americans rights and full citizenship, were written during that time, and 2,000 African American men served as local, state, or national officials.  One of those officials was John Roy Lynch, once a slave.  Lynch spent his adult years fighting for civil rights.  Unfortunately, Reconstruction was short-lived, lasting approximately a dozen years.   The civil rights African Americans fought for began to get reversed through legislation and violence by many white Southerners.  America would have to fight all over again in the 50s and 60s to right the wrongs that happened at the end of Reconstruction.  Thank you, Chris Barton and Don Tate, for bringing this period of history to our attention.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Simple Gifts

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us! 
This month has started to take on its own theme - unintentionally on my part.  The theme topic of GIFTS has started to develop.
This week's idea started with reading Libby's blog post.  You can read it here.  I loved Libby's appreciation of the small moments - the routines - the ordinary.  That got me thinking about Christmas and all its worldly glamour, trappings, and hyperbole.  The explosion of stuff.  Why have we done that to this season?  It started out as simple as it gets. The ordinary Mary and Joseph, no fancy room at the inn, simple cloths to wrap Him in, a wooden manger, shepherd visitors.  No fanfare, no trumpets, no glitter, no orchestra.  Just a baby born to humble, flawed humans.  Since I was inspired to write this by Libby, I must share one of her favorite things...Charlie Brown.  The philosophy of simplicity in a cartoon...

I started to think about the small, simple things that I love....
- the first cup of coffee of the day
- when Ben, my dog, curls up in the crook of my folded legs while I read on the couch
- a scented candle
- holding my husband's hand
- sitting outside for a meal
- the sun on my face
- sleeping in
- a hot shower
- oatmeal with berries and walnuts
- conversation with friends
- texts from my daughters
- encouragement from my parents
- a walk
- the first glimpse of perennials in the spring
- birds at the feeder
- the first snow (and snow day!)
- a letter or card in the mail
- a bite of delicious chocolate
- listening to an audio book on my way to school
- reading aloud to my students
- a fire in the fireplace
- laughing until it hurts
- the last page of an amazing book
- singing "Silent Night" at church on Christmas Eve
After a tragedy, I often hear people longing for the ordinary day.  The routine.  The simple and small things. I wondered what Jesus would answer if asked what His favorite moments with us are.  Would they be the ones when we won an award?  Graduated from college?  Landed a job?  Perhaps.  Or would they be the times when we spent a quiet prayer time with Him?  Asked Him what we could do for a stranger or friend in His name?  Bent down on one knee to talk to a lonely child?   Served a meal?  Quietly shared the gospel with someone who needed it?  Took care of someone sick or needy?  Invited someone to church?  Simply communed with Him without any distractions?  Probably.
I could keep going, but I'll leave you with Kristin Chenoweth's "Happiness" from the Charlie Brown Christmas 50th Anniversary Special, and may you appreciate the small and simple gifts this December!


Monday, December 7, 2015

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.
Little Elliot, Big Family

Just so darn sweet! This new Little Elliot story makes you fall in love with Little Elliot and Mouse all over again. Poor Little Elliot feels lonely and dejected when Mouse leaves for a family reunion. The illustrations that accompany this part of the book are just heartbreaking, especially the one where he is gazing out to sea. Mouse comes to the rescue, though, when he invites Little Elliot to his family's house to have cheese chowder. Family doesn't have to be flesh and blood; it can be whomever loves you, takes you in, and makes you feel at home.
Two White Rabbits
Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado
A girl and her father journey from Mexico to the American border. The girl isn't fully aware of where or why they are traveling. Along the way, she counts the chickens, cows, birds, clouds, etc. The journey requires all kinds of transportation, and the two encounter guards/soldiers/policemen along the way. The little girl makes a friend at one of the stops, and he gives her two white rabbits. The two-page spread at the end is chilling and ambiguous. It leaves you with many questions. This is a timely book to share with children and would require a lot of inference skills. The note at the end helps us understand the symbolism of the coyote in the story.
The Little Snowplow
The Little Snowplow by Lora Koehler, illustrated by Jake Parker
Much like The Little Engine That Could, this gem of a book will steal your heart. It also reminded me of Loren Long's Otis books.  The Little Snowplow is adorable. Loved the illustrations!

Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1)

I listened to this captivating, creepy story set in the Biltmore Estate (very cool setting for a creepy story). Serafina, an excellent rat-catcher and able to squeeze into tight hiding places, lives in secret with her pa in the basement of the estate, and after seeing a girl disappear upon encountering the man in a black cloak, she begins a journey full of self-discovery, dangerous villains, and deep, dark secrets. This story is definitely not for the faint of heart - kids under fourth grade might find it too disturbing. Reminiscent of Harry Potter, The Night Gardener, and Neil Gaiman stories.  I will be getting it for my classroom!
Circling the Sun

What an amazing woman Beryl Markham was! I was captivated by the rich setting descriptions and Beryl's adventurous, resilient, and ground-breaking spirit. It kept me turning the pages. However, in the same vein as The Paris Wife (also by McLain), Melanie Benjamin's Aviator's Wife, and Nancy Horan's Loving Frank, she endured a tortured love life. I enjoyed, though, the accounts of her years of horse training and racing, and how her relationship with Denys Finch Hatton led to her love of flying. Even though Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) left Beryl out of her story, I'd like to watch Out of Africa again. I look forward to talking about this novel in book club! One of our members read everything she could about Beryl upon finishing this book.  That's what I love about historical fiction!
  The Thing About Jellyfish
All American Boys

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Celebration Saturday - NCTE 2015!

I love linking up to a wonderful celebratory community, inspired by Ruth Ayres, every Saturday!

     I'm probably the last to write about the NCTE 2015 experience, but I'm finally getting around to it after a whirlwind couple of weeks!  This is only my second NCTE Convention - my first was two years ago at Boston.  This one was unique in that my conference and presenting buddy, Megan, couldn't go with me at the last minute.  Because I had already booked a flight and the hotel, I asked my husband to go instead.  Now, this is tricky business.  I would venture to say most non-English teacher-type spouses would want to stay far away from a convention center full of nerdy book fanatics.  However, he said yes.  He's a lot of fun to travel with, so I was really happy, but I did feel badly about what he might do while I was at the conference all day (turned out to be no problem - he worked remotely).  Plus, there were a couple evening things I wanted to attend (the Penguin Nerdy Book Club party and the Scholastic dinner) that I didn't know if he'd enjoy.  Ed's a great sport, though, and I did want to introduce him to some of my literacy friends and mentors, so off we went to Minneapolis on a Thursday night after school!

     Even though we didn't arrive until after 1 in the morning, I was up bright and early on Friday.  One of the things I was most excited about, besides presenting for the first time at NCTE, was meeting Margaret Simon and Carol Varsalona in real life.  These two women have been part of my blogging/writing/reading/collaborating/Tweeting life for a long time, and Carol had been the instrumental leader in gathering our roundtable team together.  So off I went to my first chosen session (there are always major opportunity costs when choosing a session - SOOOO many other good ones you're bound to miss and hear about how wonderful they were), The Power of the Newbery led by Colby Sharp and John Schumacher and featuring Newbery authors, Kate DiCamillo, Laura Amy Schlitz, Rebecca Stead, Thanhha Lai, and Katherine Applegate (I know, right?).  The first three people I saw and hugged (after having negotiated the amazing but confusing Skywalk system that connects the city by looking lost and capturing the pity of two English teacher attendees who let me follow them the mile and a half to the convention center) were Colby Sharp, Mr. Schu, and Gigi McAllister.  How awesome!  I got to talk to Colby about The Yarn gift (a two-page spread from Sunny Side Up) that would be coming my way soon.  He Tweeted about it a couple days ago that it was in the mail.  Can't wait to see it!!  The session was just as I had imagined - first of all, it was the first time I had seen Colby and Mr. Schu present together, and they are hilarious!  The authors were amazing, of course.  Laura Amy Schlitz has a wicked sense of humor, by the way!  Listening to them talk about their reading and writing lives was inspiring and fascinating.

     On my search for session #2, I finally got to meet Carol and Margaret - what a fun meeting!!  They were just as I knew they would be - passionate, kind, and interesting.  We could pretty much skip a lot of small talk since I felt like I knew them so well.  We were able to start talking about our families, teaching, faith (they are part of my Spiritual Journey Thursday community) and thinking right away.  We were able to eat lunch together and then meet up again later for our roundtable.

     Trudy Ludwig, Me, Terry Thompson, Carol Varsalona, Margaret Simon, Debbie Diller, Paul Hankins
After several other wonderful sessions, it was time for ours!  I had been nervous earlier in the day, but when the time finally came, I was pretty calm.  The other roundtable presenters were wonderful and welcoming.  I loved talking with Trudy about her picture book, The Invisible Boy, and teaching empathy in the classroom.   After some technology glitches, we were up and running with Carol's introductions.  I presented my Prezi twice to the groups who came to my table.  Interestingly, most of the teachers who wanted to hear my presentation were junior high and high school teachers.  Here is my Prezi, if you're interested:
     In it, I credit Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts's book, Falling in Love with Close Reading for inspiring the ideas.  My presentation seemed well-received, and I was honored and thrilled to be able to present at a national level!
     After the presentation, I was able to relax and head toward the Penguin Nerdy Book Club party.  Ed had agreed to come, and while he was waiting for me outside of the venue, he texted, "Teachers everywhere.  People are holding books in there.  I feel like I am in the principal's office."  Ha.  Of course, as in the case with every Nerdy Book Club gathering, you feel like you're walking into a group of old friends, and you can instantly talk books.  Heaven.  I got to introduce Ed to a handful of people that he's heard me talk about for years:  Colby, Mr. Schu, Donalyn Miller, Gigi McAllister, Suzanne Gibbs, JoEllen McCarthy, Katherine Sokolowski, Brian Wyzlic, and more.  Fan moments included a wonderful conversation with Lauren Castillo and a picture with Ingrid Law.
(BTW, sorry about the strange white background - tried to fix it, but can't seem to.)
 Lauren Castillo
 Donalyn Miller
Ingrid Law


    After the party, Ed and I headed to an amazingly delicious restaurant, Zelo's, and he listened to me debrief.  Wonderful day!
   Day Two brought equally wonderful sessions.  One of my favorites was Lester Laminack's panel on Mentor Texts.  He brought along a teacher, Jason Augustowski, who brought three of his students.   They did their own presentations and were fantastic!  I was so impressed.  It was so nice to see kids at the convention, and so well spoken and passionate.  We called them "The Bow Tie Boys" because of their snazzy homage to Lester's signature tie!

     Another favorite was hearing Kwame Alexander, Pam Allyn, and Ernest Morrell speak.  I scored a picture with Kwame, and got to tell him how much my students and I admire his Newbery winning book, Crossover (it was one of my 5th grade read aloud last year, and they loved it).  He has a way of speaking poetically all the time - I could've listened to him talk all day (I feel the same way about Kate DiCamillo). 

     I also enjoyed a nonfiction panel led by Alyson Beecher (I wrote a little more about that in my Nonfiction Wednesday post) and a panel featuring the NCTE Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing recipients, which included Margaret Simon.  And of course, the NCTE experience is not complete without meeting and talking with authors and illustrators and getting books signed!
     My last event was the Scholastic Dinner, where we were treated to a Thanksgiving dinner, a bag of Scholastic books, and good company.  NCTE is exhausting, but it is a time of excitement, fan moments, exhilarating sessions, inspiration, and the coming together of educators, advocates of education, authors, students (I'd love to see more of them included), and illustrators who are passionate about what they do.  Until 2016!!