Parent-Teacher Conferences

We had Parent-Teacher Conferences this week and they went well.  But the most amazing part?  99% of my parents told me that their children have never enjoyed reading as much as they are this year!  How awesome is that?  One parent even asked me to talk to her daughter, because she is refusing to do her homework.  Instead, she is reading Twilight.  Her mom didn’t know what to do, because she wants her to read but she also has to do her homework. Haha!  I did speak to her daughter today, and I think we straightened her out.  But how awesome is that?!

My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel

Leah isn’t your average kid.  Well, sorta.  See, she has a mom, a step-dad, and a little (half) brother.  Pretty normal, right?  What Leah doesn’t have is a Dad, of the biological variety.  You see, her mom used a donor to have her.  Donor 730, to be exact.  While Leah has always been ok with this, it has made her the victim of ridicule in school when her classmates don’t understand her family dynamic.  And sometimes she does feel like she isn’t really a part of her family at home.  Due to a number of things going on in her (like moving to a new state, getting her period, making new friends, and struggling with her identity), she decides to seek out her donor siblings.

The problem is, Leah’s mom thinks that she already has all the family she needs.  

My So-Called Family is an interesting look at a family that many kids may not consider in their daily lives.  While sperm donors are fairly common, I don’t think many kids are aware that there are kids out there who have come from those donors.  Leah’s journey in this books allows her and the reader to address many ideas of “family” that they might never consider otherwise.  

Sheinmel captures the voice of an unsure 13-year old very well.  Leah doesn’t know who she is yet, and convinces herself that finding her donor siblings will solve all her problems.  But just as that is rarely the case in real life, she learns that there is a lot more to happiness than knowing your biological siblings.



*The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent the opinion of the Cybils panel as a whole. 

Six Innings by James Preller

Baseball.  America’s Pastime.  My pastime?  Not so much.  Granted, I have been watching the World Series this week (go Phillies!) and I grew up with a grandmother who is the world’s biggest Mets fan, so baseball has always been a part of my life.  It’s just that it usually served as background noise.  Honestly, I find baseball to be boring.  (I know, I know!).  Give me soccer or basketball any day of the week.  Even football!  I like my sports to be fast, exciting, and team-oriented.  So when I saw that James Preller’s Six Innings was nominated for a Cybil Award, I was afraid I would have a hard time getting through it.  Luckily, nothing could be farther from the truth!

It’s the championship game between Earl Grubb’s Pool Supplies and Northeast Gas & Electric.  The game means something different to each player, but it’s equally important to them all.  Two teams, six innings, one championship.  The boys are between the ages of 11 and 13 and this is the biggest game of their lives.  For some, it’s only the beginning of a career that they hope will end in the majors.  For others, it’s the final game they will play.  Next year, many will move to the Babe Ruth league.  Each year, fewer and fewer boys will play.  This game is the biggest game of their lives.  

Six Innings is told inning by inning, from the viewpoint of different players.  Pitchers, catchers, center fielders- we view the game through their eyes.  Benchwarmers and stars alike, each player is a vital part of the game and story.  Even the announcer, a boy who played on one of the championship game teams until only a few months before, tells the story from his vantage point.  

This is a quick read, and the fact that it all takes place within a single baseball game makes it even more exciting.  While I am not a baseball fan, and sometimes was confused by the overwhelming amount of baseball terminology, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story.  This is a story that baseball fans, especially boys, will flock to.  The game is described in detail, which may turn off some non-sports fans, but you can tell that James Preller poured his own passion for baseball into the story.  I am looking forward to introducing it into my classroom library because many of my boys play Little League and I know they will connect with this story.  However, this is also a story about friendship, family, and the pressures that kids deal with.  I can see some of my girls connecting to these aspects of the book and also enjoying the story.  


*The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent the opinion of the Cybils panel as a whole. 

TC Saturday Reunion- Morning Keynote Speaker James Howe

On Saturday, October 25th, I attended the 75th Saturday Reunion at Teachers College- Columbia University.  The morning keynote was given by James Howe, the author of more than 70 novels, including The Misfits, Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery, 13: Thirteen Stories That Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen, Pinky & Rex, and much more.  

Howe’s keynote was titled, “Write From the Heart” and was inspirational.  Howe was funny, touching, and relevant.  One of my favorite quotes was,

…to write from the heart is to open the doors of possibility in you and the reader…

Wow!  What a fantastic way to introduce writing to our students!  We write for our reader and we write for ourselves.  What we write opens new doors for us and for them.  When Howe shared these words I was immediately struck by them.  I plan to share this with my students tomorrow, along with bringing them up again when we work on the heart door (a la Georgia Heard) in our poetry unit.  

My notes from the keynote jump around, so please excuse the stream-of-consciousness aspect of this entry.  I want to try and share everything!

Points Made by James Howe:

  • children need teachers, teachers need teachers, writers need teachers
  • the publishing industry has become filled with concept books, tie-ins, celebrity books, rewritten best sellers.  Original, good literature for kids is becoming harder to get published.
  • if Howe could design the language arts curriculum for fourth grade, he would spend the year on poetry–> reading and writing it!
  • Jim Howe shared a poem that I plan to hang in my classroom tomorrow morning.  Short and powerful, Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life will become a mantra in my class.
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
  • Howe also shared one of his favorite poems, by Marie Howe.  His reading brought tears to my eyes. (To read the entire poem, click here)
  • Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
    And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
    waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
    It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
    the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
    For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
    I've been thinking: This is what the living do.
    • Fantastic lead paragraph to show kids, one that really opens doors for the reader is from Barbara Park’s Mick Harte Was Here (by the way, love the new cover!)
    • first sentences/paragraphs are doors to the world
    James Howe said many other wonderful things, but I started to listen more and write less at this point.  However, if you ever have the opportunity to see him, I highly recommend it!
    Stay tuned for notes from the sessions I attended later this week!

    Back from Teachers College

    I have been up since 5:20am, on two trains, in two taxis, and in 3 separate buildings at Columbia’s Teachers College.  The three sessions I attended today were awesome and I am brimming with new ideas!  However, I am also completely exhausted and barely even able to think straight.  Expect updates tomorrow!

    TC Reunion Saturday

    Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year.  I will be heading to NYC, very bright and very early, to attend Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion at Columbia.  From 9am-3pm I will be surrounded by like-minded teachers who are passionate about reading and writing workshop.  Anyone else heading into the city tomorrow for the workshops?

    Personal Essay Unit of Study

    Right now, we are working on personal essays in writing.  I am using the UOS Personal Essay (Calkins) book as my basic skeleton, tweaking where needed.  Today, my kids began drafting their thesis statements.  I am so impressed with the work they were doing!  Some of their ideas were just phenomenal!

    Some of the ideas so far:

    • Many families today are complicated, but half-siblings, step-parents, and significant others are all real family to many kids.
    • The state should not be allowed to mandate the snacks permitted in school, especially for celebrations and birthdays.
    • Kids should be allowed to vote in the presidential election
    • School lunches should be healthier.
    • Older siblings are a pain in the butt.
    • Our school should offer movies at lunch time.
    It was amazing to watch my students really push their thinking this week.  At first, they struggled with their daily entries, complaining that they were really hard.  But once we did a lesson on pushing our thinking with conversation prompts, it was like the floodgates opened!  The thinking has gotten deeper and the ideas have just been astonishing.  
    Tomorrow we will take a break from our essays to work on some election ideas (thanks for the inspiration, Stacey!)  But I can’t want to get back into our essays next week and see where these first-draft theses lead!