June issue of Edge of the Forest

The latest issue of Edge of the Forest is out!  It’s an awesome issue!  Here are some highlights:

The Edge of the Forest will return the first week of August with the July-August issue and a technical redesign.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Anyone who knows me can vouch for my extreme (okay, maybe overboard) love for everything butterfly related. Naturally, Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies immediately caught my eye.  Now, what most people don’t know is that I am fascinated by religious fanaticism, cults, and communes.  When Galante’s book surfaced near the top of my large to-be-read pile, it immediately caught my eye.  Once I began reading it, I couldn’t stop.

Agnes and Honey have been best friends their entire lives. Lately though, they seem to be growing apart.  The girls have been raised on a religious commune known as Mount Blessing.  The people of Mount Blessing are very religious and allow Emmanuel, their leader, to control all aspects of their life.  Agnes loves being a Believer. She firmly believes that the traditions and strict rules at the Mount Blessing  are there to make her a better person- a perfect person. But Honey hates Mount Blessing and  Emmanuel.  She sees the commune in a more realistic light and she knows that much of what goes on there is wrong.  She is miserable, and this is causing a rift between her and Agnes. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she’s helping to build, and the journal of butterflies that she keeps.

When Agnes’s grandmother makes an unexpected visit to the commune, she uncovers the child abuse that is going on and that the Believers are covering up.  Honey, who has no parents in the commune,  has always viewed Agnes’ family as her own.  She opens up to Nana Pete and admits that Emmanuel has beaten her.  Nana Pete is horrified and plans to help Honey.  Then, Agnes’s little brother is seriously injured and Emmanuel refuses to send him to a hospital.  Agnes’ grandmother and Honey plot to take all three children and escape the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.

I couldn’t put this book down.  It is very timely, as I could see some similarities between Honey and Agnes’ exposure to the outside world and the fate suffered by the FLDS children in El Dorado, Texas recently.  Galante tells the book in two voices, with the chapters alternating between Honey and Agnes.  This allows the reader to see two sides of the story while still realizing that both girls have their own prejudices about their background and their home.

Cecilia Galante has an author’s note at the back of the book, in which she shares her own experience growing up in a religious commune in New York state.  While her experiences influenced her writing, she makes it clear this is not a biographical story.  However, her own experiences clearly shape the book and the story is the better for it.  I loved this book and recommend it for anyone interested in faith, religions, growing up, and the current events taking place with the polygamists in Texas.  A great book for book clubs!  I can also see this being used in the classroom because it would spark some great discussions!

Poetry Friday

Yesterday was our last day of school.  I was very sad to see this class go, as they have been wonderful this year!  Most of my students are big fans of Guitar Hero (the video game), so there was a lot of singing at dismissal.  Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” was the biggest hit!  It may not be the best choice for Poetry Friday, but it makes me smile to think of my kids singing at the top of their lungs!

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

A Quick “Hello” to My Students

Today I introduced my blog to the students in my classes.  I wanted to make sure that they had a way to keep up with my reviews/booktalks once school ends.  Because they are going on to middle school, I won’t be able to grab them in the hall and say, “I just read a book that is totally perfect for you!”.  Hopefully, this blog will take my place (at least partly)!  When I explained this to them, I got a few responses like, “Why can’t you just transfer to middle school with us?!”  That certainly made me smile.

Hello to anyone who is visiting from my Language Arts classes!  Feel free to comment guys, or email me at thereadingzone@gmail.com.   Just be sure that you only use your first name on here- no last names!  Last initials are ok, though.  Remember, you want to be safe. :)

I can’t wait to hear about your summer adventure packets, and I am looking forward to mailing out lots of 7th grade survival kits in August!

Summer Adventure Packets

Tonight, I finally finished the summer adventure packets for my kids! It was definitely a labor of love, but I feel like they are finally perfect. Jen Barney shared the packet she uses in her class, and I used Stacey‘s as a mentor/template and then added in my own activities. I can’t wait to see if any of my students take advantage of this….

You see, my students move on to the middle school next year, so they will be responsible for emailing or snail mailing their completed packets to me. That’s a hefty amount of responsibility in the summer! But I have some truly awesome 7th grade survival packs planned, so hopefully someone completes it!

I will also be handing out my list of amazing books, places to get books, and blogs to check out. This is the first year I will be doing this, too. This way,my kids will have a list of books I love and think they will love, even if I can’t booktalk them!

Summer Literacy Packet (6th grade)

Must-reads 2008

So Proud

Today, my students began presenting their Multi-genre Projects. I have never been so proud of them! Their projects and presentations were passionate, creative, and thoughtful. The pride they had in their projects was evident from the moment they stepped in the room. They were confident in their presentations, excited to share their passion, and willing to share bits of themselves with me and their classmates.

Many of the students went above and beyond the requirements, which is amazing for a project that was completed at the end of their last year in our school. Instead of the usual boredom and no-effort work I see at this time of year, my students worked diligently on these projects. It is absolutely amazing the effect that academic choice has on student effort. Because they chose their topics and cared about them, they were willing to spend the time to make their project “just right”.

We reflected on the project together, and they came up with a few reasons for their enthusiasm.  All of them agreed that choice was very important in this project.  It was the first time most of them were allowed to choose anything they wanted, with no restrictions.  Then, they were able to choose their genres (although everyone was required to write an encyclopedia article).  Even though it was overwhelming in the beginning, choosing anything they wanted let them pick something they were passionate about.  Thus, we had topics ranging from piano, to Hello Kitty, to Tyra Banks, to Greek mythology, to F-16s, to 9/11, to Pearl Harbor, to Lupe Fiasco, and even more.

The freedom to choose their genres allowed them to create multiple ways to communicate their research.  The girl who researched Tyra Banks created a modeling portfolio with photos, an autobiography, a birth announcement, an advertisement for America’s Next Top Model, and a diary entry.  The boy who studied F-16s included the specs, an advertisement, encyclopedia, and more.  Every project was just perfect.  And everyone chose amazing ways to present their information!  We had models of the Twin Towers that opened to reveal papers.  There was a traveling mythology museum, a model F-16, and a homemade suitcase.

I had tears in my eyes during the presentations today.  My students have grown so much this year, and no where was it more evident than in this project.  I am so proud of them!

Failure

This past weekend, JK Rowling was the commencement speaker at Harvard University.  While some students were upset at having “only a children’s author” as their speaker, I have found her speech to be inspiring.  Two of my favorite quotes follow:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

-J.K. Rowling, 2008 Commencement Address

“We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have power to imagine better.”
-J.K. Rowling, 2008 Commencement Address

Those who doubt JK Rowling’s talent with the written word need only read the above quotes and the rest of the transcript from her speech.  This “mere children’s author” is an inspiration to anyone who has ever faced failure and doubt, and to those who believe in the power of their dreams.  Magic is possible, and it allows us to change the world around us; for the better.

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