Poem in Your Pocket Day

How did you celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day?

In class today, I gave my kids a handout explaining what Poem in Your Pocket Day is and how is is celebrated in places like New York City.  On the bottom of the page I included six pocket-sized poems.  They had the option of cutting out one of those poems or using a poem of their choice to carry in their pocket for the rest of the day.  But that wasn’t the best part!

Their second task was to choose a poem they have read this month- or a poem they wrote.  Choosing their own poem took a little more bravery.  They copied that poem onto loose-leaf, decorated it, folded the page in half, and wrote the first line on the front.  Tonight, they had to drop that poem off somewhere in town where another person will find it.  Then they would write a 1-paragraph reflection about where they dropped the poem and why they chose that spot.  I can’t wait to hear where the poems ended up!  Before the end of the idea I heard the following ideas- the lobby at dance school, my sister’s soccer practice, my baseball game (in the dugout), my dad’s suit pocket, my mom’s work bag.  

Hopefully, today spread a little more poetry throughout our town. :)

So, how did you celebrate?

Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell is going to immediately draw comparisons to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Both are in the illustrated novel category and both focus on characters in middle school struggling to be cool and part of the “in” crowd.  A universal theme, and one that my own almost-middle schoolers struggle with daily, boys and girls alike love the Wimpy Kid series.  Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life is similar in theme, but this is a girl book through and through.  Not that this is a detriment- I already have a waiting list for my ARC because some of my girls saw the pink cover with the manga-like illustration and demanded I read it quickly and pass it on.  And they certainly won’t be disappointed.

Nikki can not believe that she has to go to snotty Westchester Country Day all because her exterminator dad just got a gig there.  And to make matters even worse, she’s on a scholarship.  And her parents are completely clueless!  Don’t they realize that she will never fit in at WTC?  If they expect her to fit in with these rich kids, she totally needs a new iPhone.  A new wardrobe would help, too.  When her mom says that she should save up for the phone, she lists three very important and totally serious reasons that will never work:

  • Buying Nikki a phone will help her mother practice with money management.
  • Her allowance is so small that saving up would take years and by then iPhones won’t be cool anymore so everyone will laugh at her antiquated phone.
  • Nikki is an artist and she needs to save up for art camp instead.

I admit I was laughing at loud at Nikki and her reasoning.  It reminded me so  much of my students and their “drama”.  There’s always drama in middle school!  Nikki, of course, is no exception.

As you read Nikki’s diary of her eighth grade year, you can’t help but laugh.  Her fascination with the queen bee/head mean girl at school is reminiscent of so many middle schoolers.  She wants to hate Mackenzie and her designer outfits, but she also wants to be her.  And when Mackenzie enters her fashion portfolio in the school-wide art contest, she almost intimidates Nikki into skipping the contest.   Even when Nikki does enter, she’s convinced that she won’t win. She changes and grows during eighth grade, but in a realistic way.  Nikki isn’t perfect at the end of the book and her life isn’t picture-perfect.  She’s a regular kid, an everygirl.  And I think that’s why middle schoolers are going to connect with her.  And because she is in 8th grade, this will also be a great book for struggling/reluctant readers in early high school.

Nikki’s parents were one of my favorite parts of the book.  Convinced they are completely clueless, Nikki can’t understand why they want to make her life miserable.  Like when they decide the perfect solution to her friendless life to put positive affirmations all over the house.  Including in the toaster.  Which Nikki promptly sets on fire by accident.  Sounds like something that would happen to me!  But her parents are trying to do right by her and give her the best education they can while also making sure she is happy.  Nikki just can’t see that at thirteen.  And what thirteen-year old can?!

Rachel Renee Russell has a hit on her hands here.  This book is going to appeal to a lot of middle school girls.  And I couldn’t be happier that they will be reading a book where being a dork is cool.  Nikki realizes that sometimes being a dork is fun!  As a loud and proud dork/nerd, this makes my heart leap.  Too many of our girls spend their time trying to be someone they’re not.  They can learn a lot from Nikki and laugh along the way.  

Whenn

Current Events

I spend a little bit of time each day discussing current events with my students. If I don’t bring it up, they do. We try to clear up misinformation while staying informed about what’s going on in the world around us- plus connecting what’s going on in the world today to our curriculum. So I was intrigued by this post over at the Stenhouse blog.  Are you looking for some strategies for how to make current events an important part of your reading or writing workshop? Check the pot above to learn more about some new books from Kelly Gallagher and Sarah Cooper .  They’ve hosted a VoiceThread event about some of the work they’ve done.

 

(For a quick tutorial on how to use VoiceThread, click here. No special equipment needed – just a phone and a computer!  It seems like some really cool technology.)

Making Text-to-Text Connections

Today my students impressed me so much!  We were reading Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and discussing the part of the story where Hannah/Chaya experiences the tattooing of Jews in the camps. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Ms. M., that reminds me a lot of Chains“.

Intrigued, I encouraged him to continue.

“Well, the tattooing reminded me of Isabel being branded with an ‘I’ by Mrs. Lockton. In Chains, the ‘I’ is a punishment, a way for Mrs. Lockton to take even more away from Isabel. But instead, Isabel took back the branding and made it hers. She said the ‘I’ stood for Isabel, for her, and not for insolent. And now Hannah/Chaya is taking back the tattoo, making it meaningful to her instead of just giving in and taking it.”

WOW! I had never even thought of that connection, but how great is that? It’s so true, and such a solid connection between the two novels we read this year. I am so proud of my students!

If the Witness Lied by Caroline B. Cooney

I have been a Caroline B. Cooney fan since I read The Face on the Milk Carton back in elementary school. Cooney’s books are almost always edge-of-your-seat thrillers that are impossible to put down.  When I saw that she had a new novel coming out on May 12th, I immediately put it on my wishlist.  Her books are always big hits in my classroom and I knew If the Witness Lied would be just as popular.

If the Witness Lied is a thriller through and through! I started the book on Friday afternoon and didn’t put it down until I finished it on Friday night. What a thrilling read!  At times, I felt like I was reading a newspaper article because it felt so realistic.  Certain touches, like the introduction of a sleazy reality show producer, make this book stand out.

Jack Fountain is the strong one. The one who stayed. After it happened, his sisters both fled their home- one to boarding school in Massachusetts and one to her godparent’s house up the turnpike. Jack stayed with their baby brother, Tris, and “aunt” Cheryl. Jack doesn’t blame his sisters- the media attention was hard enough, but having to live with Tris and act like nothing happened sometimes feel impossible.  Tris,their baby brother, killed both his mother and father. He killed his mother by being born, and his father by hitting the parking brake in the car a year later. Of course, the media jumped all over the story and the Fountains were forced to forge new identities for themselves.  Jack changed from the popular jock in school to the steady big brother, the babysitter and brother who can be counted on.  Smithy and Madison ran from the pain.

Now “aunt” Cheryl, who’s living with Jack and Tris now that their parents are gone, has decided that the family will heal only if they work through their pain- as the stars of a reality show. In less than 24 hours all four Fountain children are brought together again and forced to face the reality of what happened to them. And when they discover that maybe Tris isn’t to blame for their father’s death, they do everything they can to clear their baby brother’s name.

If you enjoyed Cooney’s other true-crime books, like the Milk Carton series, you will love If the Witness Lied.  A fantastic read, this is a quick-paced thrilled that mystery and thrill-seekers alike won’t be able to put down!

Summer is Here!

It’s just a little early…

I had an awesome day at Ag Field Day, a part of Rutgers Day here in NJ.  Spent the day with my fiance, my best friend, and her 3 month old daughter.  Other than the extreme heat (it hit 90 degrees!), it was a wonderful day!

I didn’t get much reading done, but I did have a wonderful day!

Poem a Day Challenge #2

Be sure to check out all of the poems at Two Writing Teachers!

Dune grass dancing in the summer breeze,

Salt in the air, on your skin, 

inhaled. exhaled.

Sun beating down on smooth sand

on smooth skin

heat. light.

Waves crashing on the shoreline

Summer.

Poem a Day Challenge #1

Over at Two Writing Teachers, Ruth and Stacey are hosting a Poem a Day Challenge.  My students are writing poetry in writing workshop and I want to follow their awesome example.  That means being brave and sharing my own poems!

While watching Oprah the other day, I was dumbfounded by her segment on the great landfill in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  I was inspired to write a poem using the Concerns about the World Door (Georgia Heard).  

 

Just because we don’t see it,

does that mean it isn’t there?  

Stretching

across the Pacific,

twice

the size of Texas…

A sea of garbage.  

An ocean of waste.

The briny deep now a slimy heap.

Fish entangled in plastic bags

plankton strangled by lack of space,

sea turtles choked by bottle caps.   

How do we live with ourselves?

How do we ignore it?

Chemicals spilled on the pavement fall into the sewers

run into our rivers

race to the ocean

and make their way into the skin, the gills, the lungs, the prey

of whales, fish, birds.

Cancer.

Our waste is cancerous.

What sickens the food chain 

cycles

cycles

cycles

back to us.

Eventually.

Who will step up and take responsibility for the clean-up,

before it’s too late?

 

 

Read-aloud Tips from President Obama

I was thrilled when I opened my email today and saw this: Reader-in-Chief: Read-aloud tips from President Obama.  Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that my passion is reading and sharing books with kids and teens.  Seeing the President of the United States reading, enthusiastically, to children is an amazing sight.  Hopefully, he will inspire parents and teachers to carve some time out of their day to share a book with their children.

Holocaust Remembrance Post

My classes are studying the Holocaust right now in Language Arts, via a read-aloud of The Devil’s Arithmetic and literature circles. My students chose to read a variety of books about WWII and the Holocaust-  T4 a novel, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, Boy Who Dared, Under the Blood-Red Sun, Weedflower, Behind the Bedroom Wall, Someone Named Eva, Milkweed, Flygirl, The Green Glass Sea, and I’M 15 AND DON’T WANT TO DIE (out of print) in their literature circles.  

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  To honor those lost in the horrors of the Holocaust and those who survived, we focused on the mantra “never again” in class today.  Using a lesson I modified from The Anti-Defamation League, we explored the meaning of “never again” and the power of individuals to prevent future atrocities from occurring.  My favorite part of the lesson (and one of my favorite parts of my Holocaust unit) is sharing Remedy’s outstanding song, “Never Again”.  It is an extremely powerful song celebrating Remedy’s Jewish heritage and an extremely powerful restrospective of the Holocaust.  Remedy repeats the mantra “never again” over and over.   My students discussed how he uses the repeated phrase to inform people and educate them about the Holocaust, and to show the listener that never again will the Jewish people be victims of such evil and hatred. We also read a short biography of Remedy, learning that writing “Never Again” served as a grieving process for him- Remedy grieves for his great-uncle, who was shot in the back, and the rest of his family killed in the gas chambers.

“Never Again” is an extremely powerful song.  When I begin the song, the silence in my room is deafening.  It starts out with a rabbi reciting the Kiddush and a chorus  of “HaTikvah”, Israel’s national anthem.  The looks on my students faces are priceless when Remedy begins rapping.  (I’m pretty sure they are all shocked that their ancient, 25 year old teacher even knows what rap is)!  They follow along with the lyrics as we listen and the ending chokes me up everywhere.   The song ends with a rabbi reciting the Shema prayer, abruptly stopping with a single gunshot.  Talk about emotionally gripping and powerful.

After listening to the song and discussing it, then talking about what Remedy is doing to ensure that something like the Holocaust “never again” happens, we talked about what we could do, as individuals.  This conversation with my students is always eye-opening for them.  They so often think that there is nothing they can do about important issues.  They’re just kids, they’ll tell me.  But when they see a young rapper, like Remedy, using an outlet like music (and cool music at that!) to educate people, they realize the power of the individual.  And they realize that there are so many ways to prevent hate and prejudice.

 

Below is a video that shares the song.  Be warned, it does include graphic photos from the Holocaust.

“Never Again” by Remedy is available on Itunes.

 

never again remedy

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