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?  


across the Pacific,


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.


Our waste is cancerous.

What sickens the food chain 




back to us.


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

Libba Bray, Live, on There.com



Great news for Libba Bray fans!  On April 28th Libba Bray will be hosting a virtual event on There.com, in promotion for the paperback release of The Sweet Far Thing (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy).  Libba will be doing a reading of TThe Sweet Far Thing  and chatting with other There.com avatars from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 28th.

I love, love, love the Gemma Doyle trilogy.  A few of my students are now reading A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels. They are eating them up and loving Gemma.  Gemma is a fantastic heroine and I’m thrilled my students are getting to know her. 

Leap Day by Wendy Mass

February 29th, Leap Day, has been a big part of my life for a while.  My youngest brother was born on Leap Day when I was 9 year old, so we’ve been teasing him…pretty much ever since.  When I saw Wendy Mass’s Leap Day pop up on Amazon’s bargain books, I grabbed it. It sounded like a fun title and my students can’t get enough of Mass’s books. I didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy it, too!

Josie Taylor is a “leaper”, one of the few people in the world fortunate to be born on Leap Day. As she tells the reader, there is a 1 in 365 chance of being born any other day of the year, but only a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on Leap Day. It’s the day of her 16th birthday, and her fourth “real” birthday. She has a day of celebrations to look forward to, like her free pizza from Dominos (do they really give away free pizza for life to leapers?). What I love about the book is that you don’t just experience the day from Josie’s point of view. You experience it from the point-of-view of all different characters in her life. From her parents, to her best friends, her brother, to random kids in class at school- you get to be in all of their heads!

I’m a natural eavesdropper. I’m nosy, what can I say? So this book was perfect for me! In so many stories I am always wondering what the other characters are thinking and feeling. Wendy Mass has created my dream book. 😉

This is more of a YA novel (though I wouldn’t hesitate to include it in my 8th grade classroom). There is some mention of hooking up and other teenagerly activities. I do think my girls are going to love this, and I know it will garner more fans for Mass!

Back to School….Over the Hump!

Tomorrow it is back to school, after a wonderful spring break. Only 2.5 months of school left- summer break here we come!

I am looking forward to jumping back into our poetry unit, telling my students about my coffee date with Kathi Appelt, and continuing our Holocaust read-aloud and book clubs. That alarm is going to sound awfully loud, awfully early tomorrow! It’s always a jolt when you spend a week and a half relaxing. But back to the grind we must go. 🙂

That Book Woman by Heather Henson

I love David Small’s illustrations, so That Book Woman by Heather Henson immediately caught my eye. And the illustrations are gorgeous. But it’s also a great story and one I plan to read with my class next year when we begin the new school year.

This is the story of a boy named Cal who lives way up in the Appalachian mountains during the 1930’s. Cal is a good boy who enjoys helping his Pa with the chores, like plowing and chasing after wayward sheep. What he doesn’t understand is why his sister, Lark, just sits around reading most of the time. Cal can’t read and has a hard time understanding the value of those “chicken scratches.” He sees no use for reading- they live an isolated life in the mountains!

When a woman shows up one day with a sack full of books, Cal worries that his Ma and Pa are going to trade his berries (for pies!) to get books. But then that book woman says the books are free! And she will show up on horesback about every two weeks with new books! Cal doesn’t believe her, but she isn’t lying. Through rain and snow she comes, with new books every time.

This is a gorgeous story for readers and non-readers alike. Cal is the kid all teachers and librarians know- the one with no use for reading. But even the most reluctant readers can be changed. 😉