Heartbreaking News from the Monarch Bioreserves

In February 2008, I was privileged enough to travel to Michoacan, Mexico where I visited the monarch butterfly bioreserves with the Monarch Teacher Network.  (Check out my posts from the trip here.)  Right now, a group of friends and teachers is in Mexico where they should be visiting the reserves.  Instead, they are sitting in a hotel in Mexico City, trying to plan their next move.

On Friday, after extreme rainfall across central Mexico, a devastating flood struck the small mountain town of Angangueo in Michoacan. The rain lasted  for over two days and was the heaviest rainfall in over 25 years, according to authorities.
Angangueo is located directly in between two of the monarch reserves and the people there are amazing.  Due to the floods, many homes and lives have been lost.  To make matters worse, much of the mountain forests have been illegally logged, so there have been a great many mudslides in the area of El Rosario.

I can’t imagine what it is like there right now.  The government has declared Angangueo a disaster area and most of the people in the area have been evacuated to other towns. The roads into and out of the area, and up the mountain to the sanctuaries, have been damaged extensively by landslides. According to some eyewitnesses there, the road to El Rosario is impassable.  There has been very little news about the monarchs in the reserves (which pales in comparison to the human lives, of course).  But this year’s monarch population is one of the lowest in years according to scientists, at only 1.92 hectares.

This news video contains footage of Angangueo during the evacuation:
http://www.hechos.tv/estados/confirman-6-muertos-por-lluvias-en-michoacan/v/17714 (thanks to Journey North for the link)

Visiting Michoacan was a life-changing experience.  A few pictures from my trip can hardly capture the magic of the region, but it is the least I can do.  This is getting little to no media coverage in the US.  My heart is breaking for the amazing people who care for the monarch butterflies over the winter months and the losses they have suffered.  They are a resilient people, but I am keeping them in my prayers.

A hotel in Angangueo

Some children on their way to school in Angangueo

The view from the parking lot at El Rosario.  Supposedly the road is completely destroyed.

The path up the mountain at El Rosario.  A river of monarchs.

One of the restaurants run by the local people at El Rosario

A local Purepechuan women at El Rosario

The road, laid by hand by the local people, that is supposedly impassable now due to mudslides

I worry that homes like these are flooded or wiped out by mudslides

Oyamel forests like this one, at Sierra Chincua, have been illegally clearcut, resulting in the mudslides.

More information on the floods can be found here.


Character Wants vs. Obstacles Minilesson

My classes are currently in the midst of a unit in reading workshop focusing on character’s journeys, both internal and external. Earlier this week we looked at what characters really wants and on Wednesday I did a really great lesson on the obstacles that stand in their way. I thought I would share the lesson here.

I began by reviewing our lesson on character wants and desires. We then talked about what Jason, the main character in Anything But Typical (our current read aloud). My kids did a great job finding Jason’s immediate desires and his larger, overall wants. They also looked at Jason’s mom’s desires for him.

At that point we stopped and I explained that no character gets what they want without a fight. We talked about TV shows that my students enjoy watching and they shared that they would not enjoy them as much if there wasn’t a lot of drama. Degrassi was the show they really focused on and a few students shared obstacles that stood in the way of what a few main characters wanted.

At that point we read a few more pages of Anything But Typical and stopped to do some think-alouds, looking for obstacles that stood between Jason and his mother getting what they wanted. After a few class think-alouds, they students worked independently on our final think-aloud.

At that point, I told them I would be sharing with them one of my favorite picture books, and that we would be looking at what the three characters wanted and what stood in their way.  The picture book I chose to use was Fox by Margaret Wild. I love this picture book because the illustrations are gorgeous and the text is deep. It is the perfect picture book for older readers.

Each student copied a small table into their reading binder that looked like this:

Character: Wants…..: Obstacles in the way:

We listed the three characters- Dog, Magpie, and Wolf. I told the class that as I read they should stop & jot whenever they thought they knew what the character wanted “more than anything else in the world”. They should also stop & jot the obstacle(s) standing in the way.

Fox is a great choice for this activity because while there are only three characters, they are fairly complex. The students had a lot of fun trying to figure out what Fox, especially, wanted and what stood in his way. After I read the book they wrote a quick paragraph about their thoughts and shared them with a neighbor. Then we came up with a class copy of the chart that we displayed on the smartBoard. They did a fantastic job deciding what each character wanted and noticing the obstacle(s) in their way. It was a great lesson!

Picture Books for Older Readers

I have been using more and more picture books with a few of my classes this year. I’ve been looking for more resources/lists that share picture books for older readers. What are some of your favorite picture books for older readers?

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Last night I stayed up an hour past my bedtime because I absolutely could not put down Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. As a result, I went to bed only after crying through the last twenty minutes of reading.  Gayle Forman’s writing is powerful and heart-wrenching, making you feel like you are right there with Mia.

Seventeen-year old Mia is a high school cellist who has the perfect family.  Her parents are former rockers/punks who fell into parenting and her little brother is pretty cute.  (I wanted to be adopted by her family through the whole book!)  A senior in high school, she is torn between attending Juilliard on the East Coast or staying in Oregon with her family and Adam, her soon-to-be-a-rockstar boyfriend.  But on a rare Oregon snow day the whole family is home and decides to spend the day out visiting friends and family, just enjoying on another’s company.  The one moment on the slippery road changes Mia’s life forever.

One moment, Mia is in the car listening to classical music with her parents.  The next, she is outside her body staring at the mangled wreck that was her parent’s car.  Her parents are dead, her brother is missing, and she has no idea if she is alive or dead.

The rest of the book follows Mia as she is whisked away to the hospital, where she learns she is in a coma.  Unsure of where exactly she is (is she alive?  dead?) Mia watches as her extended family, friends, and boyfriend arrive at the hospital.  Over the course of a few hours, she is forced to decide if she will stay or go.  Life or death?  Is it worth living if the rest of her family has died?

This is a phenomenal book that will leave you in tears.  However, Forman also ensures that you laugh a lot, as Mia looks back on her life and family.  Everything about If I Stay is perfect and I highly recommend it.  It will leave you laughing and crying while reminding that life is precious and needs to be lived.  I don’t think I have ever read a novel about death that left me so fulfilled and happy in the end.  Forman has managed to craft a life-affirming story that will tear at your heartstrings and leave you wanting to call your family and say, “I love you” upon closing the book.

*book purchased using Scholastic Book Clubs bonus points

100 Books for 100 Days

Inspired by the Reading Countess’s post here, I decided to change my lesson plans at the last minute this morning. It’s been one of those weeks and the 100 Books for 100 Days seemed like exactly what my class and I needed. And you know what? It worked!

I began each class by having the students open their binder to their mini-lesson section and labeling a sheet of paper “My Most Important Books”. Each student was charged with listing 20 books that impacted their life- it could be a favorite book, a book that they read to their younger siblings, or a book they shared with Mom and Dad. Books could be picture books or chapter books. The only requirement was that the books be meaningful to them. I share my own list, and then set them free. Let me tell you, they set to work like little worker bees! It was quieter than normal and it was amazing to look out at the students scratching away at the paper in front of them. A few students in each class would approach me with, “I remember this book where……..But I can’t remember the name of it!” If I did not know the title off the top of my head I would google it for them.

After each student listed their 20 books, I placed the students into random groups and handed each group a blank sheet of paper. I then informed them that they would have ten minutes to combine all their lists into a single list of 20 titles their group could agree on. I listened in as students debated books, became excited over shared favorites, and laughed as students cried out, “Whoa! I totally forgot about that book! I loved that one in third grade!” It was a fantastic class.

At the end of the twenty minute period, I collected each list. I read the books to the entire class and then asked them to put their heads down on their desk. At that point, I read each title and the students raised their hand if they felt it should go on our class list of Top 25 books. (4 periods x 25 books each= 100 books). The first half of the list was always easy, but the second half of the list always resulted in students debating books and championing their favorites.

At the end of the day, I tallied all the lists, deleted duplicates, and added the books that just missed the list in each class, to reach 100. Without further ado, here are the Top 100 Books for our team (in no particular order)!

1. Dr. Seuss books (we grouped these together)
2. The Cay series
3. Shadow Children series
4. Magic Tree House series
5. Tuck Everlasting
6. Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me
7.Where the Sidewalk Ends
8. Skeleton Creek
9. The Little Engine That Could
10. Chrysanthemum
11. Number the Stars
12. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
13. The Twilight Saga
14. The Dollhouse Murders
15. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
16. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
17. A Bad Case Of Stripes
18. All The Broken Pieces
19. The Phantom Tollbooth
20. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
21. Thomas the Tank Engine
22. Dear John
23. Daniel’s Story
24. Heat
25. Wayside School series
26. When You Reach Me
27. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
28. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
29. The Giving Tree
30. The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh
31. The Hunger Games
32. Fablehaven series
33. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
34. Guinness World Records
35. Love You Forever
36. Frindle
37. Arthur series
38. Where the Wild Things Are
39. The Berenstein Bears books
40. A Series of Unfortunate Events series
41. Tuesday
42. The Bible/The Torah
43. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
44. Swindle
45. Junie B. Jones’s series
46. Goodnight Moon
47. Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
48. Biscuit Storybook Collection
49. Clifford the Big Red Dog
50. Where’s Waldo?
51. Goosebumps series
52. The Kissing Hand
53. Franklin’s Classic Treasury
54. Holes
55. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
56. Stuart Little
57. Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story
58. A Million Dots
59. There Was an Old Lady
60. Guess How Much I Love You
62. Hatchet
63. Charlotte’s Web
64. Lunch Lady graphic novels
65. Rolie Polie Olie
66. On My Honor
67. The Magic School Bus series
68. Amelia Bedelia books
69. Fantastic Mr. Fox
70. Matilda
71. Anything But Typical
72. Flat Stanley
73. Because of Winn-Dixie
74. Harry Potter series
75. The Alex Rider series
76. Grayson
77. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
78. Life As We Knew It series
79. James and the Giant Peach
80. The 39 Clues series
81. Inheritance series
82. Maximum Ride series
83. Cirque Du Freak series
84. Found (The Missing, Book 1)
85. Coraline
86. Stolen Children
87. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life
88. Chains
89. Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery
90. The Name of this Book Is Secret
91. Speak
92. My Life in Pink & Green
93. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
94. Make Lemonade
95. The Chocolate Touch
96. Stone Fox
97. Marley: A Dog Like No Other
98. Babe & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure
99. The Cricket in Times Square
100. Love Story (Amiri And Odette)

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

This is a hard-hitting, heart-grabbing story of a young man stationed in Iraq.  Private Matt Duffy wakes up in a military field hospital with little memory of how he ended up there.  The doctors tell him he has a TBI- traumatic brain injury- and that he might have issues with memory and retention.

The next time he wakes up, he is being awarded a Purple Heart for his service.  Yet something tugs at the back of his mind, something not quite right.  He doesn’t feel like a hero.  And the image of his young friend, Ali, an Iraqi boy, haunts him night and day.  Matt repeatedly sees an image of Ali’s body flying into the air as a bullet hits his chest.  And he knows he had something to do with it.

I could not put this down. Purple Heart will leave your heart aching for both sides of the war. I haven’t read a lot of books that focus on the young soldiers fighting for our freedom but McCormick captures it as accurately as I imagine it could be captured. Matt’s voice rings true, like any 18 or 19 year old. (This means he and his comrades curse, a lot. Just a warning). But he sounds like you imagine a kid, thousands of miles from home, in the midst of a war, would sound like.

You will cry for Matt. You will cry for the Iraqis. Through Matt’s eyes you can will see the big things and the small things that affect a soldier.What really stands out to me about this novel are the little things that McCormick includes: the Iraqi children playing soccer, soldiers playing the video game Halo, the tokens from home that. These small mentions capture the war more accurately then any battle scene ever could.

Purple Heart is a powerful read and one I would recommend to YA’s who are looking to learn what it is like to be a soldier. McCormick doesn’t romanticize the occupation and she doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of war. While there are only a few scenes involving actually skirmishes, I feel it is a more accurate picture of what war is really like than many other novels. Highly recommended. It is also a short novel and a fast read, perfect for reluctant readers.

*Copy purchased by me.

English Companion Ning

If you aren’t already on the English Companion Ning, I can not recommend it enough.  I check the Ning everyday and love the conversations, groups, and blog postings that are shared by teachers all over the world.  The conversations in the forum are deep and thought-provoking.  At least a few times each week there is a posting that forces me to sit back and reflect on my own teaching and teaching practices.

In this age of PLC’s and PLN’s, the English Companion Ning is the ultimate personal learning network.  You can bounce ideas off of colleagues from different grade levels, different countries, and different specialties.

Not sure where to start?  Check out a few of these conversations: