Friday, February 27, 2015

Poetry Friday

     I just finished a 2015 Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor Book Award winner, How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson.  It is a memoir in verse, which is becoming one of my favorite genres/formats.  Several weeks ago, I featured Woodson's memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming.  These two books make perfect companions. It's wonderful that these stories in poetry are getting so much recognition! 
My Goodreads Review:
I enjoyed reading about Nelson's experiences with being the daughter of a military man and moving around frequently, civil rights, the "Red Scare" and atomic bomb drills, growing up, friendships and crushes, and discovering her love of words and poetry. I loved the photos and would have enjoyed seeing more.

For more on memoirs in verse, check out this terrific blog post by Sylvia M. Vardell.  Some day I'd like to try to put some of my memories in poetry form and see how it goes!

Now hop on over to Heidi's blog for the Poetry Roundup!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - STRETCH

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
For the next month and a half, we are writing about the Spiritual Journey Thursday community's One Little Words.  We'd love for you to join us!  If you have a OLW and would like us all to write about it, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@muellerholly), and I will add you to our calendar.
This week we are writing about Ramona Behnke's word, STRETCH. 

"I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land." Psalm 143:6

     I'm taking a Wednesday night class with our pastor on the Gospel of Mark.  We're using N.T. Wright's Bible Study Guide on Mark.  Tonight we read Mark 6: 34-44, the story of the loaves and fishes.  This is a well-known story, and I've heard and read it many times, but like most of the stories in the Bible, it keeps teaching me.  I loved how our pastor broke the story down into three major lessons that we can apply to our own lives:

1. Start with what you have.
2. Thank God.
3. Expect and anticipate.

     God will STRETCH our inadequacies to make them more than enough.  There was even leftover bread, for goodness sake!  We don't have to hesitate, thinking we don't have what it takes, or that we are not enough.  We only need to start where we are, with what we have, and STRETCH our hands up first, and then out to those who need us and Him.  Isn't that wonderful?! 

N.T. Wright "Why Read Mark for Lent?"

Just when I thought we at the end of our One Little Word journey, God STRETCHED it out for several more weeks!   

MARCH 5th: Libby Mueller's OLW, ADVENTURE
MARCH 19th: Teresa Winterstein's OLW, BRAVE

Monday, February 23, 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.
I haven't posted a #IMWAYR in over a month, so here are some highlights of my reading over these past few weeks:
Fish In A Tree
So sweet! Thank God for teachers like Mr. Daniels! I also loved Ally's big brother, Travis, and her friends, Keisha and Albert. This reminded me a lot of Lisa Graff's Absolutely Almost, which I loved in 2014. It was interesting that Patricia Polacco was mentioned (for being a gifted writer with dyslexia) because I was thinking beforehand that Thank You, Mr. Falker was present in this story. Hunt reminds us that everyone learns differently and has something to offer, teachers are incredible influences in children's lives, and reading is the key to the world. Great minds DON'T think alike!
All the Bright Places
This book is so, so heartbreaking. I was half sick while reading it, dreading the inevitable, helplessly rooting for Finch, the tragic hero. I also felt angry (at parents, counselors, and yes, even Finch at times), sad (at the pain and stigma of mental illness), and hopeful (that Violet would forgive herself and learn to live again). I don't teach high school, but if I did, I would give this to my whole staff to read. Besides being a riveting story, this book is important - for understanding the seriousness of the teenage condition, the dangers of mental illness, and the need for involved, present, and fearless adults in the lives of young people. This book was boldly written, and it deserves to be read and talked about in an honest way.  Caution: it is not to be carelessly passed around.  Read it first before you put it in a library or a teen's hands.
I listened to this compelling story on audio, and I have to say, I always looked forward to getting into the car to follow Darcy Patel (her own story) and Lizzie (the protagonist in the  YA book Darcy wrote). In alternating chapters, we hear about Darcy's quick success within the YA writing world, prompting her to put off college and move to NYC, and the paranormal romance/thriller she wrote, complete with terrorists, serial killers, and ghosts. It's definitely not the most realistic author story, I'm sure - Darcy enjoys some pretty lucky breaks as a teen writer and seems to live without too much trouble as an 18-year-old in NYC - but the two novels in one make this a captivating read.
Yes Please
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I'm glad I listened to Poehler's memoir instead of reading the print version; her voice and performance kept me interested. I laughed aloud and appreciated some of her insights on self esteem, winning, and aging. I also enjoyed the references to an era I, too, lived through, even though she is a little younger than me. I'm not sure she is as "nice" as she claims, however.  I do admire her success and creativity, though, in a man's world of comedy. She IS funny, and I'm glad I listened to her story. I'd like to listen to Bossypants by Tina Fey, also. 
  Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
I enjoyed this memoir of Eben Alexander's journey to Heaven while he was in a coma. This miraculous story is made even more interesting because Alexander believed in science, not God, before his trip to the afterlife. His main message is that God is love, and He loves us unconditionally.
My family loves to read, too!
Libby (21)
Libby is taking a children's literature course, so she is enjoying lots of kidlit!  She is also taking a women's studies class.  Here are some titles she's been enjoying:
How I Discovered Poetry
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Sunday, February 22, 2015

DigLlit Sunday - Using Padlet on Snow Days and SOLSC

      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
     I wrote about using Padlet for reading responses on a previous DigiLit Sunday post, but seeing Katherine Hale's Facebook post (I was excited to meet Katherine in person for the first time yesterday at the Dublin Literacy Conference) about using it on a snow day gave me inspiration!  It was really fun to connect with the kids after days being away from them.  One parent even joined in on the fun.  I was happy to see there were lots of kids reading and writing during that time.  I was also happy to see they were having fun, too. :-)  As soon as I sent the e-mail to the kids and parents asking them to write on the Padlet wall, posts started appearing!
      Like Margaret, I'm excited for the Slice of Life Story Challenge that starts a week from today!  I will be participating for the second year, and my class will participate in the Classroom Challenge for the first time.  Last year, I wrote all my slices about childhood memories.  I liked having a theme topic to focus on, so I'm trying to come up with a focus this year.  I have a couple ideas, but haven't narrowed it down completely.  I hope to have an epiphany before next Sunday!
      I hope to see you there!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrating Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Finalists and Winner

     Today, I'd like to celebrate the 2014 Middle Grade Fiction Cybils Finalists that I read, along with other Round 2 judges (@randomlyreading, @thereadingtub, @5M4B, @GeoLibrarian).  I held off putting reviews on my blog and Goodreads during that time since we didn't want anyone to see what we might have been leaning toward. 
     This was the first time I've served as a judge for a book award.  The selection process was interesting.  We had a few Google Group threads going as we read, but the real nitty-gritty discussion was held the Sunday evening over Google Hangout before the awards were announced the following Saturday.  At first, I didn't think we were going to come to an easy agreement.  A couple of my favorites weren't shared by other members of the committee, and some of theirs weren't shared by me.  Just as I thought it was going to get frustrating, our winner rose to the top, and we all enthusiastically agreed.  Amazing!  We enjoyed them all, though, so kudos to the Round 1 Judges.  Here they are in no particular order (except I'm saving the winner for last, of course).

The author, Varsha Bajaj, said one of her family members asked her to write a “happy story about India.”  She definitely accomplished that in this light-hearted, entertaining story about Abby discovering who her father really is after not knowing her whole life.  Meeting her father had always been her one desire.  She knows he lives in India, but that is all.  When she suffers from a severe allergic reaction to coconut, her mother decides it’s time to contact him.  She finds out he is actually a Bollywood star! Soon she endures an unpleasant flight to India to meet him; the country is described in all its color, noise, poverty, and wealth.   She learns to love the country and people of her father and her heritage while she’s there, but doubts her father’s love for her, causing her angst until the very end of the story.  Kids will like the layers of everyday problems of Abby’s hometown thrown in with the bigger problems of an estranged father and discovering your roots.  There’s even a romance thrown in.  The ending will warm your heart.
Wow – this book is so much more than suggested by its cover and title.  Those two things will ensure that it flies off the shelf, but readers will get more than they bargained for once they realize that it’s not all silly humor; although, there’s plenty of laugh-out-loud appeal..  Benjamin’s beloved father has recently died of cancer, and he and his mom are struggling with paying the rent.  He feels the need to take care of his mother because of a last conversation between with his dad.  Therefore, he enters contest after contest, writing ditties for toilet paper companies (they’ve had to cut back on the good toilet paper to save money).  Throw in Zeyde, Benjamin’s grandfather, who comes to live with them and is suffering from Alzheimer’s, a best friend whose passion is makeup artistry for horror films, toilet paper trivia, a goldfish, and an awesome neighbor lady, and you’ve got quite a story.  Another interesting aspect of the characters is that Benjamin and his mother, grandfather, and the neighbor lady are Jewish.  There are only subtle references to this, indicated by the use of Yiddish words (a helpful glossary is in the back).  I really loved this book - theme topics of kindness, empathy, grief, financial struggles, illness, family, bullying, creativity, and perseverance are prevalent.  I’d love to use this one as a fifth grade read aloud for our Family and Friendship unit.

First of all, what a gorgeous cover!  This story is a gripping winter adventure in Alaska in which the protagonist, 14-year-old Victoria, puts her life and her beloved sled dogs’ lives at risk in order to buy some winning leader dogs from a retiring musher.  Victoria is angry at her mother who is talking of moving to Seattle after Victoria’s father's death.  Victoria never felt like her mother understood racing, dogs, and Alaska like she and her dad did.  Even though she’s already a champion musher, Victoria feels the need to win even more so, driving her to be careless.  My 5th and 6th graders will LOVE the breathless pace of this book and survival story.  There’s even a boy that Victoria has to rescue, taking the temperature up a notch or two, but it stays within middle school boundaries.  This story will have great appeal to both boys and girls and covers theme topics of resilience, family, home, and grief.  It will also spur conversations about the costs of putting winning above all else.

This is a delicious middle grade story that will keep you reading until you find out what 11-year-old Gladys Gatsby is cooking up and how she will solve the pickles she’s gotten herself into.  The very first chapter will hook kids right away – who wouldn’t want to read a book that leads with “No, today would forever be the day Gladys Gatsby set the house on fire…and, if her family survived, the day she got into a great, big, fat amount of trouble.”  Gladys’s passion is cooking in a family whose idea of gourmet is soggy Chinese takeout and greasy burgers.  The only kitchen appliance regularly used is the microwave.  However, she won’t let that stop her.  She’ll figure out how to become the new food critic of the New York Standard newspaper with the help of her teacher, Ms. Quincy, and her new best friend, Sandy, and the beauty queen and bully of her school, Charissa.   I love the food similies Tara Dairman sprinkles throughout the story: “But before she even finished the first column, her new shell of confidence cracked like an egg” and “Now Gladys’s brain felt like a rotisserie chicken spinning on a spit.”  I think intermediate grade kids will eat this up and will be glad it’s the start to a series.

Read Mr. Schu's post with Kwame Alexander.
Look at those shiny new stickers on The Crossover's cover!  I could not be happier for this book's success.  I had "read" it previously by listening to the amazing audio version and reread the print version for Cybils purposes. Both times it moved me to tears.  It has been a blast to follow Kwame Alexander's response to the ALA Youth Media Award.  He's one of the most enthusiastic recipients I've ever seen.  Follow him on Facebook, and you will enjoy his status updates and media coverage.  "Filthy McNasty" will steal your heart with his obsession with basketball, relationship with his twin brother, father, and mother, and the emotions he wears on his sleeve.  The novel in verse format with its powerful word choices and text shapes, styles, and sizes will keep you captivated.  It will appeal to boys and girls alike, and you don't have to be a basketball fan.  You just have to like an amazing, emotional story about family, fear, growing up, education, words, relationships, what it means to be successful, and love.  This book will forever be a favorite of mine.

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

I had read this one, also, before it became a Cybils finalist.  I really, really loved Maggie Mayfield and her family! Her funny, poignant, and smart voice captivated me from the very beginning. I caught myself laughing aloud, tearing up, and cheering her on. Her sisters, running feats, botched romance, and sarcasm cracked me up, but her struggles with the serious things happening in her life made me ache for her. I don't think this book is for anyone under 6th grade (maybe some mature 5th graders) - there is some young adult material (drug, alcohol, and sex references), but it would make a great mentor text for voice and structure for older students. I loved the footnotes. I also appreciated that it tackled a parent's illness (multiple sclerosis). Some of our students are faced with that great challenge and would see themselves in Maggie's journey. The story is inspired by the author's real family experiences with a father with MS. By the way, speaking of the author, when you see her on her website page, don't you want to be friends with her?! I highly recommend this book!
And our winner (announced Feb. 14th - how appropriate that Valentine's Day was announcement day - BOOK LOVE)!  Drumroll please...
Check here to listen to an audio excerpt and download a Teacher's Guide. 
Eleven-year-old Sam is mad at the world.  His mother left him when he was three and a half, and he just found out she got remarried, his father’s bakery is going bankrupt and has a girlfriend Sam doesn’t like, and on top of all that, he has someone else’s heart and has to take pills twice a day, every day!  He got a heart transplant when he was almost four.  We find out all this background as Sam is smashing the windows at the condemned Nickel Bay railroad station.  Even Sam’s town of Nickel Bay is suffering.  Usually a mysterious, anonymous “Nickel Bay Nick” character passes out hundred-dollar bills all over town starting twelve days before Christmas.  The town’s citizens would just find the bills miraculously hidden in purses or pockets, cars or store packages.  But this year…nothing.  When Sam hears police sirens coming his way (this is not an unusual sound for Sam – we learn he is pretty much a juvenile delinquent), he takes off and ends up hiding on the Christmas-light-strewn roof of Mr. Wells’s house, a guy who lives only a block away from Sam.  This is where it all begins – the revelation of who Nicklebay Nick really is, Sam’s recruitment as the new Nickle Bay Nick, and a transformation that only a guardian angel could orchestrate.
There you have it!!  I hope you read ALL these books and add them to your classroom or school library!  Thank you to the Cybils Awards creators.  I was honored and excited to be a small part of this year's process!  For more about the winners of each category, click here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - DIVE

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
For the next month and a half, we are writing about the Spiritual Journey Thursday community's One Little Words.  We'd love for you to join us!  If you have a OLW and would like us all to write about it, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@muellerholly), and I will add you to our calendar.
This week we are writing about Greg Armamentos's word, DIVE. 
Greg's word is actually an acronym for  Dwell  Ignite  Venture  Embody. 
     Wednesday was the first day of Lent.  Christians' eyes are turned toward the death of Jesus on the cross and His miraculous resurrection three days later.  We are reminded at how great our faith must be to believe this amazing, unbelievable story.  We must DIVE into what can only be called irrationality and suspension of earthly beliefs - that death isn't the end.  That the dead can rise.  That to believe in Jesus means that life can't be extinguished.  That our lives here on Earth are only the beginning.  That we will live forever in the place that God made for us.  The resurrection also means that life can be lived fully and hopefully right now. Do we really believe what we believe?! 
     "Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It's the Master!' When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea." -  John 21: 7 
     I love this reaction to Peter realizing the man on the shore was the risen Jesus.  He left the boat, the miraculous amount of fish they just caught, and the other disciples to reach Jesus quickly.  Do we do this?  Do we dive with enthusiasm, devotion, and urgency into a life and relationship with God?  I would love to envision myself diving out of bed each morning, eager to get on with God's purpose, guidance, and discipline in my life.  DIVING into each day with that kind of passion. To dwell in his presence and Word, ignite the flame of evangelism and faith, venture outside my safety zone, and embody the joy only He can give. DIVE into LIFE!

We've almost reached the end of our OLW explorations.  That makes me sad!
FEBRUARY 26th: Ramona Behnke's OLW, STRETCH
And just added (yay!)...
MARCH 5th: Libby Mueller's OLW, ADVENTURE
MARCH 19th: Teresa Winterstein's OLW, BRAVE

Let me know if you'd like for us to write about YOUR OLW in 2015, and I'll add you to the schedule. 

Nonfiction Wednesday

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the fourth year in a row.
I chose this week's books in honor of President's Day and Black History Month:
The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin', Fiddle-Playin', Book-Readin', Gun-Totin' Gentlemen Who Started America
I never tire of learning about these complicated and fascinating men.  Kids will love the informal, humorous tone in which Jonah Winter writes about the Founding Fathers. They will also love learning about the early leaders of our country because of the entertaining illustrations, facts and figures, quotes, and the good, bad, and ugly character traits of each one. They may also learn about people and things they might not have known before; I know I did!
Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z
Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by John O'Brien
I wish I could meet Abe Lincoln! This alphabet book is full of well and little known facts about the president - several for each letter. I enjoyed the illustrations throughout the book - many of them whimsical and humorous. The book is also packed with Lincoln's wise and wonderful, and sometimes funny, proverbs.
My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth turned her heartbreaking experiences into a life of inspiration and social action. She defied slavery and prejudice against women. More about her life is told in the Author's Note. I enjoyed the colorful, expressive illustrations and the varying text styles and shapes.
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama
I like how the author juxtaposed the amazing accomplishments and good things that were happening in the early 1960s with the ugliness of prejudice that was going on simultaneously. The 60s were such a time of conflict and change. The metaphor of the seeds of freedom is carried throughout the book - growing, struggling, wilting, recuperating, blooming, and finally producing fruit - as the author explains events such as lunch counter sit-ins, arrests, Blue Jean Sunday, letting go message balloons, integration struggles, defeats, and victories. I recognized the illustrations as the work of the illustrator of Each Kindness and Talkin' About Bessie.  I love E.B. Lewis's watercolors. He expresses the pain and joy of tumultuous, triumphant, and sad times.
Chasing Freedom
This is one of those blurry genre books - it's technically historical fiction, but I included it today because of the nonfiction text features in the back.
This is a wonderful book of an imagined conversation between Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony. There are lots of facts throughout, putting it in a possible literary nonfiction genre instead of historical fiction. Biographies, additional notes on historical events, and a bibliography are in the back. Grimes's Author's Notes explains how she came up with the idea of the story. Michele Wood's illustrations are gorgeous. I love the rich colors, geometric quilt-like shapes and tapestries, expressive portraits, and emotion each one exudes. This would make a great mentor text to explore imaginary conversations between characters or historical figures.
What nonfiction books have you read this week?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Slice of Life - Ron Clark

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
"Who makes the most mistakes?  The people who do the most."  - Ron Clark
     On Thursday, I traveled up to Sandusky, Ohio to attend the Ohio Middle Level Association conference in order to give a presentation with my colleague, Tracy Kleis, on our social action project, #ReadWalkWater.  Tracy and I began our annual Walk for Water with our Columbia Intermediate School 6th graders in 2013 as a result of reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  David Etkin (the first person I contacted when I finished the book) and I coined the term "ReadWalkWater for a Nerdy Book Club post in September of 2013 to outline our plans, which I later presented to Tracy and our building principal; they were on board immediately - Tracy had already planned on doing something since she had read the book previously.  This year we raised almost $15,000, and we're not done yet!  Our presentation went well, and we had a lot of interested attendees. 
     Later in the afternoon, I was surprised by the organization and my principal with a Regional Award, Best Middle Level Practice.  It was so exciting!  What a nice reception OMLA puts on for the awards presentation - complete with appetizers and drinks!  We educators don't get to enjoy those kinds of things very often, so it was very much appreciated!!  I was so proud to be a part of Kings Local Schools - our junior high was recognized as an Ohio School to Watch! Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for Friday's keynote speaker, Jack Berckemeyer, speaking on Deliberate Optimism.  He's been at our school several times, and I always enjoy listening to him.
     Those events were great, and I also enjoyed other sessions as well, especially one on Genius Hour.  In addition, the day started with a bang with Ron Clark's keynote speech.  Wow!  I've followed Ron Clark for a long time, ever since I saw him on The Oprah Show and read his book, The Essential 55.  I was thrilled when I realized I would get to see him live. 

     Seeing him in person is an exhilarating and inspiring experience.  No wonder he won Disney American Teacher of the Year!  He dances, sings, raps, jumps on tables, gestures wildly, tells stories, laughs, and ultimately, calls all of us educators to action.  He says there is a sense of urgency needed in education.  We don't need longer school days; we need to do more in the school days we have!  The above quote was my favorite.   If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing enough!!  He also calls for more money and effort spent on gifted kids, holding kids to higher standards, and putting forth more energy in teaching.  Bravo!  This is not a video from OMLA, but it is essentially the same speech he blessed us with - some of what he says might be controversial, but I think he says some things we need to think and talk about.  I'd love to know your thoughts!

And for more enjoyment and inspiration....

     I bought a copy of The Essential 55 to give to Jordan Griebner, one of Libby's friends at Miami University.  She came to our school both years to talk about the water crisis during our #ReadWalkWater units.  She is a future educator who is what Ron Clark calls "A Runner."  She's already changed the world by starting The Wells Project at Miami University, an organization of Living Water devoted to building wells and educating the world about clean water.  I also bought a newer book of his, The End of Molasses Classes.  The world needs more Ron Clarks - educators who are ON FIRE about teaching, kids, and influencing the future of our country!  Educators who have that extra "something" - that go above, beyond, and over the top!