Friday, December 17, 2010

Just In Time For Christmas

I'm not sure if I've fully expressed my desire to be crafty.  I might have alluded to it in certain posts, but oh! how I would love to make things that are pretty with my own hands instead of buying them at Target.  When I attempt to create something, it usually turns out into a mildly dangerous disaster.  However, today I can safely say that I have made something that I am proud of, and that combines all of the things I am interested in save for coffee.

Last week, for my 35th birthday (holy cow, THIRTY FIVE?!?!?!), my sisters-in-law (in-laws? in-law? is there a plural?) gave me a printing kit. It came with an instructional handbook, a set of stencils, two sponges, and two tools that I'm still not sure what do with after careful study.  I was so excited to use this!  However, when my husband came home from work, and I showed him with glee what I got from his sisters, he kind of winced out, " you think you can do that?" 

If that wasn't a challenge, I don't know what is. 

So here's what I came up with.  I wanted to get my cousin, who is almost 13, a little something for Christmas when we see her family next week.  Since I used to be a middle school teacher, I tend to want to give books to people in my family who are in the tween years.  I picked Sharon Creech's Absolutely Normal Chaos.  I love just about anything by Sharon Creech, but I think this one is one of my favorites.  It could be that I read it outloud to two different classes and they found it so enthralling it was hard for me to do anything else other then read it to them.  Or it could be that one of my former students told me once that she'd never read anything that she connected with until she read this book.  Or it could just be because it's a darn good story.  At any rate, I picked it out for my cousin because I think it's a fine book, and I don't think you can go wrong with a Sharon Creech story.

I realize that's not the crafty part.  I'm getting to it. 

Recently on the Mother Reader blog, she wrote a delightful post on ways to wrap a book.  (Anyone still thinking about what to give as gifts, there are great ideas on this entry.)  I said to myself, "Callie?  Why don't you go ahead and make a purse to put Absolutely Normal Chaos in?  It'll be grand." 

So I did.  I took myself to Micheal's and used my 40% off coupon to get three prewashed canvas purses (I bought three because I knew I would make a mistake), and two colors of fabric paint. (The old Callie would've just looked for any old paint to use, but the new Callie read the instructions in the pamphlet.  They specifically said "fabric paint for fabric projects."  Who knew?)

I spread all my materials on our table and as I did, Hadley came up and sat down cautiously.  Even she was nervous for me.  She said, "Momma, I'm gonna just sit here and watch you and make sure you do it right."  Thanks for the vote of confidence, kid.  I should've reminded her that I was the one who birthed her 9lb 10oz butt without any help from her, thank you very much.

But you know what?  I made myself a little bag.  It turned out so good, I made two more.
But that wasn't enough.  I was on a roll!  I thought to myself, "Callie?  Why stop there?  Since Absolutely Normal Chaos is a journal of sorts, let's say we make Inga a journal to go with the book?"

So that's what I did.
I cut up several pieces of paper, drew some little designs, and then put a subject on each page.  One page asks Inga what her favorite songs are.  Another one prompts her to write about her favorite Christmas memories.  The best part was that Hadley and Harper saw what I was doing and wanted to make a page for Inga, too.  You can see their work in the above picture, and here they are working hard on their journal pages:

Since I gave Inga different topics to write about, I thought I'd have the girls answer some of the same questions.  I wrote down their answers on the journal sheets they made.  Hadley's favorite book?  Pete the Cat. "He's a riot!" she adds.  What does Hadley want to be when she grows up? "The leader on the sled." Harper's favorite book? "The blue book."  Don't ask me which book that is, because I don't know.  I do know that the child will not have anything to do with anything unless it's blue.  What does Harper want to be when she grows up? "Toys." And really, who doesn't?

Here's my little creation in its finished form:

I think it's time I try to learn to knit again.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday Snapshot - Tubing

Have you ever heard anyone describe what it's like to go tubing?  Or have you ever described a tubing experience yourself?  Have you noticed how scary and violent it sounds?   It's so much fun, but I'm surprised that I think being yanked behind a boat going really fast while I bump around uncontrollably and hold on for dear life is fun.  That's what I was thinking when I read Philip's piece on tubing.  After I finished reading it, I wanted to know whether he had a good time or not.  I'm pretty sure he would say he had a great time.  But it sounds awful.

My lungs are burning as I gasp for air.  I can't see quite how high I am, the spray of water blinds me, but I can feel gravity tugging at me.  I feel helpless as I see the white water rushing up towards me and I brace myself for impact.
I land on the water, clutching onto the tube.  My muscles are straining as I struggle to cling on.  My body slides to the right and I try to gain balance as I hit a huge wave.  Panic floods my mind and I  hope that I will be OK.
The fall is unexpected.  I see the wave.  I see the driver's smile as he floors the boat. My hands are tearing free from the handles and I'm airborn.
The icy cold water swallows me up.  I feel my life jacket tugging me up, I'm glad that it's over and I can finally relax.

Philip is a student in Lisa Herschberger's class at Goshen Middle School.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The First Night by B.G. Hennessy

This fall I read The Hunger Games series and I think that I would say the experience was brutal.  I'm still processing the books, and I don't know if I'll be able to re-read them again in order to form a well thought out opinion, but I believe they will stick with me for some time. 

One part that sticks with me the most, is the trick (or skill perhaps) that Katniss, the main character, uses when she becomes overwhelmed with what has happened in her life.  When she isn't sure what or who to believe, she starts running simple facts through  her mind: what her name is, who her parents are, how old she is, etc.  This seems to calm her down, and it helps her to analyze more complicated thoughts where the facts might be more murky. 

I have considered this idea as the girls and I have been reading several Christmastime stories over the last week and a half.  One book that I think we ought to own, does a startlingly beautiful job of telling the facts of Jesus' birth  while giving the story mystery and peace at the same time.  The First Night by B.G. Hennessy and painted by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, might seem easy to get through during a first read.  Each page has a simple sentence relaying a concept about the night Jesus was born.  "At the edge of an old and crowded town there was a field."  Or, "There was a mother, a father, and a baby. The baby lay on a bed made of hay."  The pictures on the other side of page illuminate and help us process what is being read.  Paired together, the story brings wonder and a sense of expectation to the reader. 

Hadley asked me the other day, "Momma, when does Jesus not be a baby anymore?"  We had been taking a look at several versions of the Christmas story earlier that morning, and I think Hadley was processing who Jesus is.  Why is this baby important?  Why are we reading about this baby's birth?  What will this baby do?  I don't know if it was so much that Hadley was being critical of Jesus' infant state, but that she is expectant now of what Jesus' role in her life is. 

I think that's why Hadley talks more about Santa. Hadley knows what Santa's role in her life is.  That's easy.  And in the stories we have about Santa, she sees him doing stuff.  I suppose it's easier for me to talk about Santa with her because there isn't a lot of confusion.  Santa brings presents.  Done.  Jesus, though?  He came to save us from our sins?  That's a little more complicated.  But with The First Night, the girls and I can read the story and begin to process the importance of what we believe about Jesus' birth. 

Which brings me back to The Hunger Games.  The stuff in those books is terrifying.  I don't know if I have ever been so scared reading a book in my life.  But some of the stuff in the Bible is quite scary, too. For me, at least, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the fear and confusion of what is going on. The same is true of the Christmas story.  That's why I like Katniss' tactic of starting with something simple, working her way through that, and then moving on to the next thing.  I think that is what we're doing when the girls and I are reading The First Night.

My favorite line in the book is, "And in that warm, dark stable his life began."  It's the last line in the book.  Mary is holding Jesus as he sleeps; his hand is curled up by his cheek, his mouth in an "o."  I like that this is where the story ends. I like that this seemingly simple sentence - a baby's life beginning in a stable - leaves me wondering and expectant.  It's not that I don't want to think about what's to come, or what brought all this to occur in the first place, but like Katniss in The Hunger Games, I think it's good to be at peace with the "simple" facts before moving on to the ones that get confusing and scary. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Snapshot

On Wednesdays I have the pleasure of showcasing what a group of 8th grade students are working on in Lisa Herschberger's English class in Goshen, Indiana.  We started by writing back and forth to each other about the books we are reading, but now the students are working on something called a "snapshot."  It's a short piece that attemtps to give the reader a picture of a moment in that writer's life.  I'm inspired after reading what the kids write, so I try and write a snapshot along with them in my post.

Today, we're talking about sports. Brady writes a suspenseful piece about a basketball shot that never was. It's a fun read. You'll be rooting for him as you read it, and laughing with him at the end.

"Here we go," I think to myself as Peter inbounds the ball. We are playing Northside, and there's seven seconds to go in the half. I sprint up court; I'm counting the seconds. The defender smells of sweat. His hand shoots out to try and take the ball. I cross over and keep on going, not much time left. The sweat is running down my face and into my mouth. My eyes are stinging from sweat and weariness. Three seconds. I have just passed half court. Another defender comes to take my ball, but he is too late. I jump and shoot it. The ball flies through the air, it is an orange blur.
Then everybody on our team, including the parents, busts out laughing, even some people from the other team. The ball landed in the bars that hold up the basketball hoop; about ten feet above the hoop. I say, "Sorry, next time I won't jump."

I look up at my dad to see that he is shaking his head and laughing, too.

Brady, my friend, my heart goes out to you.  I've been there many times.  Here's my snapshot:

I knocked my front tooth out playing softball when I was in fourth grade.  My team, The Hornets, were tied with the other team whose name I can't remember.  When it was my turn at bat, my teammates started cheering, "Callie! Callie! Callie!"  What do they call the players that clean up in innings?  Garbage men?  Sweepers?  Grocery clerks?  Yea, well, that was me.  I was a slugger.  You could count on me to bring in runs.  So it was no surprise when I hit one way out past center field. 

The crowd went nuts and I took off running, winking at my parents as I rounded first base.  It was going to be an easy home run, or so I thought.  As I rounded third base and headed for home, the center fielder threw the ball to the second baseman, who threw it to the catcher.  The ball was midway to the catcher as I ran to the plate. I knew I was going to have to slide if I stood a chance, so I took my last steps and flew into the air, headfirst into home.  At the same time, the catcher jumped to make the catch, and we collided.  My face hit her plastic knee pad and my tooth cracked right off.  Lucky for me, though, our collision knocked the catcher off balance and she lost sight of the ball and fell over.  I, on the other hand, landed safely at home, winning the game for the team.

None of that is true.  I did get my tooth knocked out, and it was during a softball game, but I wasn't playing.  I was sitting in the dugout writing my name in the dirt with my shoe.  I did have my batting helmet on, however.  When I realized what was happening, I jumped and cheered with the rest of my teammates even though I was kind of annoyed I didn't get a chance to finish writing my name in the dirt.  Katie, the superstar of the day, ran into the dugout after jumping on home plate, and was bombarded with congratulations.  I went to say "Great job" or whatever it is you say in these circumstances. For all I know it's, "Batter up!"  Somehow I tripped and fell head first into Katie's batting helmet, thus cracking my front tooth.  I should've just finished writing my name in the dirt.

If you'd like to try your hand at a snapshot, leave a comment on this post with your blog link so I can refer to it on next Wednesday's post.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas and Wintertime Stories

We've started decorating for Christmas around here.  Hadley and Harper are more than willing to help me decorate which can be fun but also makes for what I am realizing will be a permanent amount of glitter over everything. 

One of the things that I am doing this year is reading several Christmas stories to the girls.  I thought it'd be fun to read one each day in December.  I set up a little countdown to Christmas banner:

and hung it on one of our counters.

Then I pulled all our Christmas books and put them in a festive bucket.

I found some at the library, too.

Hadley was very excited to begin reading last night.  She even put on her special Christmas pajamas.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Snapshots

On Wednesdays, I have the opportunity to share work from a group of 8th graders at Goshen Middle School, in Goshen, Indiana.  Lisa Herschberger, a great friend and someone I used to teach with, is their teacher and she and I have the pleasure of talking about reading and writing with this group of kids.  This week, I want to share a project that they were working on called "snapshots."  Reading through them, it looks as though the kids took a magnifying glass to an important moment, or special memory in their lives: meeting a best friend, spending time in a favorite place, even getting in a car accident.  The pieces are outstanding.  Today, I'd like to share Teryn's.  When she wrote to me introducing herself, she told me she likes to read and write.  After you read her snapshot, you will see why.

The Barn
The sweet fragrance of hay reached my nostrils as I inhaled deeply.  Chickens clucked softly as they pecked at the soft earth no doubt in search of bugs. A soft gust of wind blew around me, whipping my dark hair wildly about my face, blowing the slight scent of horse to me.  I turned to survey the interior and my heart skipped a beat. There, standing in the light of the doorway was a sleek black mare, her milk chocolate brown eyes soft.  I made eye contact as I approached her slowly.  She stamped her large strong hooves and snorted softly.  She could crush my skull in an instant but I wasn't fearful, just aware.
"Shh-it's OK pretty girl, I won't hurt you,"I whispered in a soft voice.  I slowly stretched out my hand to stroke her soft, warm, velvety nose and I grinned.

"That's a good girl." I said and jumped about a mile as a small calico cat twined itself between my ankles, purring rather loudly.  I smiled.  I loved it there in the barn.

I was inspired by Teryn's writing, and thought I'd try my hand at a snapshot of my own.

A Windy Day
 We could hear the wind rattling the walls of our condo all day today.  I didn't think much of it until we were getting ready to take Hadley to ballet lessons.  She and I were having a clipped conversation regarding the kind of clothing she should wear outside.

"No, Mom.  I am NOT wearing sweatpants over my pink tights." 

Hadley is very proud of her pink tights as she is the rest of her ballet attire: a pink leotard with a glittery heart in the center, a pink tulle skirt, and pink ballet slippers.  She owns this outfit when she wears it.  She wasn't going to wear sweatpants.

The three of us walked down the stairs of our building - Hadley in front leaping down the stairs in true ballerina style, Harper bringing up the rear holding her toy sheep and cow - we looked liked a page out of a Fancy Nancy book.

When we got to the bottom of the stairs, and I opened the door to the outside, the three of us gasped at the wind's signature: gold, red, and orange leaves were all over the ground.  We couldn't even see the sidewalk or the grass.  Hadley crunched her way into the leaves, picking up one or two, and then stopped and looked up at the trees.

"Mama!  The wind blew the leaves off the trees!"

"I know," I said, noticing that her tone suggested the wind did the leaves a favor.

"They're ready for winter!" she exclaimed.  Her eyes were huge and she was smiling.

And then she began to run.

"That tree's ready for winter!  And so is that one!  Ooo!  All those trees over there are ready for winter!"  She was running and pointing and yelling, and she was so happy. 

Harper and I watched her run down the sidewalk in her ballet clothes pointing and screaming - a pink firecracker against the deep colors of autumn.  Harper started to run, too.  The sheep and the cow she violently insisted she take along thunked on the leaves, forgotten.  I picked them up and stuffed  them in my bag and began to run after my girls.  And then I was running with them; pointing out trees that are ready for winter and kicking up crunchy leaves with my shoes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Themed Book Club

On Friday the group came over and we read Feast for Ten by Cathryn Falwell.  I love this book.  It's a counting book, but it tells the story of a family preparing a meal for "ten hungry folks."  My kids love to count, and they love number books, but I have to be honest, looking at numbers over and over again can get boooooring!  So I appreciate when an author tells a story around the concept of counting.

Another mom was kind enough to take pictures while I read to the girls.

One of these kids is not paying attention......
I love this one.  I didn't know I still had my "teacher face" but leave it to Harper to make me bust it out.
It was effective, too.  You can tell Harper's terrified.

After we read the story, I had the girls take a look at the last picture where the family is sitting around the table sharing a meal.  I asked the girls what kinds of foods they noticed that were in the picture. 

 After we studied the picture for a bit, I told the girls they were going to create their own groceries lists for feast they'd like to make.  They each got a piece of paper, and glued pictures of food on it.

Here are Hadley and Harper's finished lists:
Harper thought Pledge or some kind of "dust be gone" product would be a key ingredient in her feast. 

Next, we made turkeys.

I realize they look more like teepees here, but what you're looking at is the turkey tail.  The girls made faces and glued them on the opposite side, and then glued legs on the bottom.

Look at Hadley giving me a courtesy smile.

We ended by doing a little "I am thankful for" project.  I told the group that one thing people do around Thanksgiving is talk about what they're thankful for. We started by making lists of things in our lives that make us happy. 

After they came up with a list of things, they glued them to a plate, and decorated it. 
Looking at this next picture, I realize it looks as though this child is falling.  One might conclude that I was too concerned with taking a picture, and so chose to take the picture then help this child.  The real story is that I'm not what you'd call a camera whiz.  I pretty much point and click and hope for the best.  It turned out that she was in the middle of laying down while I took the picture, however, I liked her project so I wanted to show it off.

Here's another one:
Here's Hadley's:

She didn't want to decorate her plate, but she came up with some good things (Goofy, chocolate milk).
I got this idea from Becky Higgins' Blog.    We didn't do the exact same thing, but I loved the idea and wanted to try it with my book club gals.

Book Club isn't book club without a snack, and for this one we had delicious pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  The mom who brought them over couldn't get them out of the container fast enough.  They were a huge hit.

While we're on the subject of being thankful, I'd like to say that I'm thankful I get a chance to do this.  It can be crazy and loud, and book club doesn't always go how I planned it. I wonder sometimes if it's more of an annoyance then something fun for my girls and company.  But after everyone left, and I cleaned up, Harper was taking a nap and Hadley and I were coloring together.  She said, "Mom?  Book Club is awesome."  I am thankful for that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review - Sesame Street ebooks

During one of our lunchbreaks when I was a teacher, one of my friends asked a group of us whether we thought listening to a book on tape could be considered reading. Someone made the observation that listening to a book on tape is listening, so it isn't necessarily reading.  This seems to be a fair statement, but after we nodded our heads in agreeement, we started to discuss all the books we listened to, and how much we enjoyed them.  I listened to books on tape during my trip to and from school, a 45 minute ride that gave me plenty of time to step into Garrison Keiller's Lake Wobegon, or  listen to another chapter of Judy Blume's Summer Sisters . There were times when I didn't want to get out of the car because I was wrapped up in what was going on in the story.

It might not be reading, but I think that we can still take away lessons from stories we listen to, as well as enjoy and relate to them.  So when I was asked to review Sesame Street ebooks, I immediately thought of my lunchtime conversation with my other teacher friends.  I would have my oldest daughter, Hadley, take a look at these books on our computer, but it wouldn't be the same as when she and I are reading a book together.  But that is OK.  These books provide valuable lessons for Hadley, and by letting her use them, I believe I'm giving her another kind of reading experience.

Here are some of my observations about the books Hadley looked at:

Hadley started with the book Get Your Grouchies Out: Feeling Happy.  As the words are read, they light up on the screen.  I noticed Hadley following along, whereas, when we read to her, she is looking at the pictures.  After all the words were spoken, Hadley took a minute to look at the picture, and then she'd click an arrow to turn to the next page.  When we read to her, unless she asks a question or makes a comment, we turn to the next page.  The Sesame Street ebooks give her the independence to look at the words and the pictures, then turn the page at her own pace. 

Get Your Grouchies Out: Feeling Happy is a vocabulary book read by Bob, a Sesame Street character on the show.  Hadley learned about words like "overjoyed," "elated," and "ecstatic."  Bob read a sentence that helped Hadley understand what the meaning was.  I think Hadley's favorite was the page with Cookie Monster on it.  He's saying he's ecstatic when he has a full plate of cookies.  She also liked learning "feliz" because it is a Spanish word.  Hadley loves learning Spanish words.

Hadley also took a look at My First Instrument and Big Block Party.  These are both longer stories, but Hadley paid attention the entire time.  I like that these ebooks focus on telling the story by focusing how to read a book.  The words are highlighted, Hadley can turn the pages, the story is read outloud.  None of the characters jump around on the page, or disappear with the click of a mouse.  There are no pop up bubbles or blinking lights.  I like this.  I like that nothing takes away from the reading of the story.

The other thing I found impressive about these ebooks is that there are different kinds of them.  There are vocabulary books, stories (like My First Instrument), and there are interactive books too.  Hadley liked Eat Your Colors which helped her pick out meals for Grover, Cookie Monster, and Elmo.  This book helps Hadley learn about eating a variety of foods.  It also helps her understand what a "sometimes" food is: like cookies or donuts.  I'm not sure she appreciated this lesson so much.

In Eat Your Colors, several Sesame Street characters are on a page with plates that need to be filled, and Hadley needed to figure out what was missing on their plate, and bring it to that character.

She would click on the correct fruit or vegetable etc., and drag it to the empty circles.  Hadley liked figuring out what each character should be eating throughout the book.

Watching Hadley read these ebooks reminded me of when I was a little girl, and my parents gave me a Cinderella read along for a birthday or Christmas present.  While listening to a record, I would follow Cinderella through her scary, fabulous adventure listenting for the "ding" to tell me to turn the pages.  Was it the same as reading with my parents?  No.  Nobody can replace my dad reading Uncle Remus stories to me and my brother.  However, sitting in my room and listening to a story gave me the opportunity to enter into it by myself; something that I believe is an important part of understanding and enjoying a story.  I'm glad these ebooks give Hadley a chance to do the same.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Birthday Game and Birthday Books

Because I have this need to be crafty, I wanted to make something for Hadley's 4th birthday.  I thought it would be fun to make some kind of game with a few books that Hadley enjoyed over this past year.  So I created the "Fancy Nancy, Frances, and Franklin Game."
Basically, you try and answer a question about Frances, Fancy Nancy, or Franklin, and if you answer correctly you get to move a couple of spaces.  Nothing too complicated.

Here's Hadley trying to decide which piece she wants to be.  You can choose from a picture of chocolate syrup, an apple, salt a pepper shakers, or a carton of milk.  Do I have to say what Hadley chooses every time?

Here are a few questions (that Hadley is pretty good at answering): Why can't Fancy Nancy go to Bree's birthday party? Why doesn't Franklin want an x-ray? What does Frances buy Gloria for her birthday?

Hadley seems to enjoy playing, and it's a fun way to remember some of her favorite books from the previous year.

Today my other daughter, Harper, turns 2, but I didn't make her a birthday game.  We did, however read Happy Birthday, Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein, and Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton.  Both fine party books, if you ask me.  Last night, Jesse read A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban to Hadley after she said, "I think I need to open Harper's presents for her because she won't know how to do it."  We told her she should let Harper give it a try first to which she replied, "OK, she can pull off one side, but I'll do the rest."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Round as a Mooncake letters arrive

Recently, I wrote a post about a little project Hadley and I did with the story Round as a Mooncake.  We sent out letters to friends in different areas, and in the last couple of weeks they have graciously replied.  Hadley was delighted.

We got out our United States puzzle, and I printed out outlines of the states that the letters came from. 

We got letters from Minnesota:
My friend's daugther, who is in Kindergarten, cut all these shapes out!  Impressive!
Another one from Minnesota:
My friend who made a "Book of Shapes" for Hadley is a former preschool teacher, and gives me lots of ideas for my Book Club.  Personally, I think she should start her own blog, but she just had a baby so I won't badger her.  I will say that I've known her since we were 5, and not only did we go to the same preschool together, but she was one of the only people I wasn't afraid to talk to at school.  And we sat next to each other when we graduated from high school, so it's neat for me to see my daughter looking at pictures of her daughter after all those years of growing up together.  My friends are dope, right Lisa?

We got a letter from Chicago:

Hadley was so excited to recieve this one because she just loves this little girl.  Here she is looking at a picture of she and Hadley at the National Zoo last year. 

We got letters from Michigan:

I love these because they're hand drawn. 

Our last letter is from Texas:

This is one of Hadley's very first friends.  We met him and his mom at our local library for storytime, and he recently moved away.  Hadley was over the moon when she got a letter and pictures from him.

What I liked so much about Round as a Mooncake is that while it is a book of shapes, Roseanne Thong weaved this concept into a story of a child noticing her surroundings and feeling good about them.  As Hadley got each letter, she had a chance to see her friends, and take interest in their surroundings.   And she had all sorts of questions for the children who sent her letters who she hadn't met.  She wanted to know how I know their moms, and it gave me a chance to tell her some stories about my friends, too.  So while the concept of learning about shapes might've been simple, the idea of noticing one's surroundings, being interested in them, and feeling happy about one's environment is a little more difficult.  I appreciate that I could introduce this idea to Hadley through a story.  I also appreciate the friends who helped me out with it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Wings

On Wednesdays, my posts will focus on my correspondence with a group of eighth graders and their teacher, Lisa Herschberger, who teaches English at Goshen Middle School in Goshen, Indiana. We will be writing about the books we are reading, and Lisa and I hope to model how to talk about a story in more ways then just summarizing what happened. We hope to post our letters to and from each other, as well as letters from the students.

This week's letter comes from Erica, a fellow Starbucks enthusiast.  She told me she likes to read more than she likes to write which surprised me because her letter to me about Wings was THREE PAGES LONG!  To me, it seems clear she likes to not only read, but write about reading.

I can tell Erica likes getting into a story's plot, and the characters, but she tells me she also likes to read to build her vocabulary.  She says she likes to have a "vocabulary cabinet."  I thought that was clever.  She also likes to read a series or a book over again because, "you notice different details, so it's like a new adventure every time."

Erica writes about the book Wings by Aprilynne Pike.  This is a book about a girl named Laurel, who thinks of herself as normal until she "wakes up to find that she is growing a flower out of her back. She is terrified because she can actually feel it, feel the petals and everything."

Erica goes onto explain that Laurel shares her flower dilemma with "her friend David, and he wants to help her learn why she has this on her back, and what he can to do help."  Meanwhile, there is another boy, "Tamani, a mysterious handsome boy who claims he can explain everything to her."  Sounds to me like the perfect recipe for a love triangle.  You got one guy saying he'll help you in whatever way he can, and another one saying he already knows everything about you. 

Erica writes, "I liked this book because it was interesting and action-packed."  She goes on to quote a scene where Tamani kills a troll named Scarface.  Interesting and action-packed, indeed!  She also liked the book because "it came with a little bit of romance."  She shared a scene with me that would make Edward and Bella fans very proud.

What Erica didn't like, was that she wanted the book to "go back and forth between the main characters' point of view."  She was hoping for more than one perspective on a situation, "like in Flipped."  I was very impressed that Erica used another book as an example of what she was talking about.  Having read Flipped I understand how fun it is to read a book with two strong voices to tell the storyI found that this was a great way to read the story and I think it gave me a better understanding of how two people can see one situation completely differently.  Erica was hoping to read the story from not just Laurel's voice, but from David and Tamani's as well.

I think Erica did a good job of not only giving a summary, but describing what she did and didn't like about the book.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Tunnels

On Wednesdays, my posts will focus on my correspondence with a group of eighth graders and their teacher, Lisa Herschberger, who teaches English at Goshen Middle School in Goshen, Indiana. We will be writing about the books we are reading, and Lisa and I hope to model how to talk about a story in more ways then just summarizing what happened. We hope to post our letters to and from each other, as well as letters from the students.

This week's letter is written by Kyle, an 8th grader who keeps himself busy doing things like playing basketball, riding his bike, and being on the computer.  Kyle has always liked to read, and told me about one of his early childhood memories of sitting on the floor and looking through stacks of books.  This reminds me of what my daughters do, and I hope they will love to read as much as Kyle does when they're older.

The first thing that impressed me about Kyle's letter was his response to my letter regarding Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  He says, "What interests me most about this book is how you said it felt like you were reading two books at once.  I'm really curious about which question Minli will ask the Old Man of the Moon.  I also want to find out what happens during Minli's adventure." 

Kyle discussed the book Tunnels by Roderick Gordon in his letter.   He writes, "This book is about a boy named Will, who loves to go on archaeological digs with his father. Then one day his father goes missing and the police try hard to find him, but they can’t. Will eventually goes out with his friend, Chester, to try and find him. In the process they discover an underground city, where Will finds out that he has another family living down there. He has no choice, but to live with them and Chester gets left behind in jail. Will tries to get him out, but everything goes terribly wrong. Will was able to escape and once again tries to save Chester, but this time he faces even more challenges.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it started out slow. The beginning of the book was kind of boring, and I thought about abandoning it. But I’m glad I didn’t because once it got interesting, it stayed that way. The remainder of the book was suspenseful and was hard to put down.

My favorite character in this book was Will because I liked that he was so determined to save Chester. Even after he is safe above ground he convinces himself to go back underground. He tells himself, “I got Chester into this mess, and now I have to get him out of it.” I admire that Will is brave enough to go back, even though he knows that he might get into trouble.

Parts of this book were a little confusing, and there were quite a few difficult words. I’d say that this book is best for middle and maybe high school students. If it weren’t for the confusing moments and the difficult words, I think that this book would be great for everyone."

I think Kyle did a fine job of expressing his opinions about Tunnels as well as giving an interesting summary of what the book is about.  It will definetely go on my "to read" list.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why I Write

Last week I learned that it was National Day on Writing.  Carmela Martino, who writes on the blog Teaching Authors encouraged her readers to think about why we write.  I thought this would be a good exercise for me, and here's what I came up with:

We have a rocking chair in our daughters' room.  It sits in the corner next to a window.  I've sat there at all hours holding one of my girls, nursing them, burping them, reading them stories, looking out the window and noticing the trees, watching cars drive down the alley.

What's interesting about this chair is that no matter what shape my daughters or I are in, we are comfortable here.  I spent hours - probably days - nursing Hadley in this chair.  In the middle of the night, when she awoke hungry, I'd stumble into her room in a blur, pick her up and sit down while she nursed.  I rocked and watched her, asleep and eating, her hand reaching for my nose.  I was tired and overwhelmed, but sitting there rocking, I was content.

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, Harper, Hadley and I read stories together in this chair before she went to sleep.  Despite my growing belly, somehow we were cozy together reading about hippos going berserk or the dog named Harry that was sickingly dirty.

We read stories to Harper in this chair before nap and bedtime too.  Someimes, if she sees I'm getting her bottle ready, she will grab her bear and walk into her room, lay her head down on the seat of the rocker, and begin humming as she moves the chair back and forth.

I know how she feels.  No matter what is going on in the day - how stressed out or frazzled I am - I sit in that chair with one of my children on my lap and begin to rock, and I am calm.  I might still be overwhelmed, I might be exhausted, but I am content.

I say to my husband through sobs or fury sometimes, "There's no place in this house that is mine! I lay down in bed and there's a glue stick in it, or I sit down on the couch and have to jump back up because I've sat on a toy truck!"  I think what I mean is I can't find a place to collect myself, to remember who I am; to figure out who I am.  Except that now, when I think about this rocking chair, and the peace it's brought despite the sometimes storm of motherhood, I realize that this is where I collect myself.  This corner, feeling the weight of my daughters on my lap and against my chest as I rock, is where I remember who I am. 

This is why I write.  I've thought about this chair for awhile now, but wasn't sure of it's significance in my life until I sat down to write about it.  Writing helps me to understand; to figure things out.  I write to tell a story.  I write to make people laugh.  I write to try and communicate how in love with Hadley and Harper I am.  I write because a lot of times I can't say outloud what I'm feeling or thinking adequately.  I think I'm much more clever and witty when I write.

Sara Lewis Holmes wrote a post on writing mantras - phrases that motivate authors to keep writing.  She used a quote from Auden as one: "Clear thinking about mixed feelings."  I think that sums it up best for me.  When I'm confused, or sad, or happy, I write.  And I think the product is even better when all those feelings come out in what I'm trying to express.  Like rocking in the chair in my daughters' room, pushing my pen across the page brings me contentment, clarity, and peace. That is why I write.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Club Does Halloween

For book club last week, the group and I read a book called Spooky Spooky Spooky! by Cathy MacLennan.  We read through the story once, commenting on things like, "horrible howling cats" and "slithery slugs," and then we made owls to accompany our second reading.

I asked the girls to put their owls in front of their faces and say, "Spooky, spooky, spooky!" when we read it in the story.  Here they are practicing:

It's scary, right?

After our owl craft, we went on a "Halloween Trick or Treat Hunt."  Each of the girls got a plastic bag and looked around the house for stickers, bundles of colored pencils, and "fancy" rings that (were supposed to) light up!

After our treasure hunt, we made jack-o-laterns.  Well, we colored a pumpkin and then glued eyes, a nose and mouth onto it.  I was a little nervous leading a group of toddlers in a "carve your own pumpkin activity."

At least, some of us glued two eyes, a mouth and a nose on our pumpkins.  Others decided to put Dora stickers on it.  It's all good.

To finish our time together, we ate pumpkin spice muffins and drank apple juice. 

I love this time of year, and I love the variety of stories that go with it.  Another fun blog that's got several good looking Halloween books is Katie's Literature Lounge.  Defintely worth a stop.

Monday, October 18, 2010

No English by Jacqueline Jules

Hadley takes ballet lessons once a week with about seven or eight other preschool girls.  They mostly prance around the gym flapping their arms wildly, but they get to wear leotards, and ballet shoes, something Hadley thinks is fantastic.  Hadley's leotard even has a small rhinestone heart in the center.  And sometimes, if the girls are good, the teacher hands them each a fancy wand and they run around the gym holding them high in complete glee.

There is one little girl in Hadley's class that doesn't speak much English.  Before the class started one week, Hadley struck up a conversation with her.  Her mother leaned toward me and explained in the best English she could, that her daughter was still learning English.  I smiled and said "OK," and turned towards Hadley hoping she wouldn't lose interest in the girl because she wasn't talking back to Hadley.

The little girl was holding a purse with Dora on it, and Hadley said, "I really like your purse.  My sister Harper loves backpacks but I think I like purses better."  The girl opened the purse up and showed Hadley what was in it.  She had a little doll that was similar to one we had - a prize from a kid's meal.  Hadley said, "We have that same girl.  Harper calls her a 'little buddy.'"  Hadley giggled.  The little girl looked at her and smiled. 

Before long, the teacher began class, and Hadley and her new friend were jumping and leaping as only three year olds with pink leotards and ballet shoes can do.  At that moment, that was all the conversation they needed.

No English by Jacqueline Jules explores the topic of children interacting with one another when they speak different languages.  Blanca, a new girl from Argentina, enters Mrs. Bertams's second grade class, and her classmate Diane wonders how to talk to her since Blanca doesn't speak English yet. 

At first Diane doesn't think it's fair that Blanca gets to draw pictures while she has to practice her spelling words.  And after Diane understands that Blanca can't speak much English, she tries to help her, but through a failed conversation, Blanca thinks Diane is trying to steal her jump rope.

However, the two find a way to communicate, and become friendly.  In fact, they become so friendly that they end up giggling uncontrollably in class, and are sent to the princpal's office. I found that, while I was nervous for Blanca and Diane as they sat and talked with Mr. Cowell, I was more happy for the girls because they found a friend in one another.

It reminded me of an incident I had in high school with my best friend.  We were speaking the same language, but because high school girls play mind games the way they do, you almost need an English/High School Girl Speak Manual to survive.  Anyway, through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, we found ourselves in a fight in the hallway, and we were sent to the office.

We sat in the waiting room next to each other crying.  We sat for a long time and eventually our sniffles became mumbles, which eventually became sentences, and at some point we found ourselves giggling like Blanca and Diane.  My best friend looked at me and said, "We don't need to be here."  She stood and walked out of the princpal's office, and I quickly (and a little nervously) followed her.  By the time we got to our lockers we were laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

I look at the picture of Diane and Blanca holding hands in Mr. Cowell's office, and I think of Hadley and the little girl in ballet class.  I also think of my best friend and I, and our silly fight.  What's great about Diane and Blanca, Hadley and her new friend, and me and my best friend, is that our friendships are stronger then the words we can't always express. What I like about No English is that Diane and Blanca found a way to be friends despite the language barrier.  Even though there were times when it was difficult or uncomfortable, Diane and Blanca stuck it out and as Diane says at the end of the book, they have a better understanding of each other:   Blanca doesn't say, "'No English,' anymore.  But she does still count in Spanish, 'uno,dos, tres....' We count along with her."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"In a Way We Understand Best" Miriam in the Desert by Jacqueline Jules

Hadley has been in Sunday School for two years now at our church, and since she's started, we've been talking more about God.  Where is God?  Who is God?  What is Heaven?  How do we get there?  Does God have a mustache?

I enjoy these conversations Hadley and I have about God, but I worry I don't answer her questions in a satisfying way.  Where is God?  Would she understand if I said I see Him in her little fingers and blue eyes?  Or would that freak her out?  Where is Heaven? If I told her I am not exactly sure where Heaven is but I thought maybe I was at its doorstep the first time I held her in my arms, can she appreciate that?  Or would she prefer a description of a place where you play at a park all day and eat M and Ms and drink chocolate milk?

The best way I know to discuss issues such as faith with Hadley is through stories.  Hadley likes a good story, and I have learned that our conversations become much richer when we delve into the pictures, characters, and plot.  One book that has given Hadley and I an opportunity to think and talk about God is Miriam in the Desert by Jacqueline Jules.  This is the story of Miriam and Bezalel as they walk through the desert after leaving Egypt. We've been reading it for the better part of a week now.

The first thing Hadley notices about stories is the pictures.  While we were reading Miriam in the Desert,  she would comment frequently on the people in each picture.  I think the illustrator, Natascia Ugliano, did a great job of creating emotion in the people's faces, and one thing that I loved the most about this book, and that Hadley picked up on, was that people's faces were different when they were experiencing a gift from God, or hearing His voice.

For example, when the group wakes to find something that looks like "shining pearls" on the ground, and they eat it, Hadley notices that some people look worried, and some look happy.  She didn't understand why everyone wasn't feeling the same way.  Through reading the story out loud, Hadley and I learned that the people had different reactions to what they were eating.  Some thought it tasted like honey, some like bread.  "The flavor is special in each person's mouth," Miriam tells Bezalel.
"So not everyone liked it?" Hadley asked me.
"Well, I think they all liked it, it's just that they all had different reactions to having food suddenly when before there was none," I tell her.

My favorite part in this story is the part where God speaks to everyone from the mountain. I wonder if Hadley could tell this is an important part in the story by the change in the pictures.  Instead of the color orange that dominates the background, for three or four pages, the colors are blues and purples.  The people are much smaller, too, giving a sense of awe at what is about to happen. 

When God speaks to the group, everyone had a different reaction as well.  Hadley and I stop for awhile at this page with several people looking at one another, discussing what just happened.  Hadley comments that they look afraid.  When I read the words on the page, we learn that some thought the voice was a strong voice.  Others heard the voice in a whisper.  Miriam tells the group that "God speaks to each one of us in the way we understand best." 

I love this sentence, and for me, it is an important concept that I want to teach both Hadley and Harper.  Sometimes the girls and I will read Miriam in the Desert and we'll talk about Moses.  Sometimes we'll read it and we'll  talk about the cloud that leads them during the day, or the fire that leads them at night. Through this story I can help the girls learn about the Ten Commandments, and  Bezalel, who Miriam told him, "God has made you an artist." And each time we read the story, we have a chance to listen to God speaking to us, in a "way we understand best."  I'm thankful Miriam in the Desert helped Hadley and I begin to do just that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Letter- The Hunger Games

This week, I have letters from two students who wrote about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I chose to post these letters this week because I am currently reading the trilogy by Collins.  I can't put the books down, but they are probably the most horrifying stories I think I've ever read.

I don't want to write too much because I want to let the students speak. I didn't edit anything that they wrote, so what you are reading is what they wrote.

  One is written by Philip, who likes to write (although not so much in his free time), and specifically, likes to edit and make his writing "more colorful."  "I really feel proud of myself when I write about a personal experience and a bored friend can really imagine him/herself being there and they start laughing.  That's when I really know that my piece is good."  Me too, Philip.  Me too.

Dear Callie,
I am looking forward to reading Letters from Rapunzel, because it sounds like a really good book.  It kind of reminds me of one of those diary books from the 17 and 18 hundreds.  I've read a couple of them but I don't recall the names.

I am currently reading a realistic fiction book called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  At first I didn't really want to read it because it sounded all too fake, but when lots of my friends continued recommending it to me, I just had to give in.  My sister and I decided to start it on the same day and unfortunately she's way ahead of me.

The Hunger Games is about a girl named Katniss, whose sister is chosen to participate in the hunger games, but Katniss just has to volunteer to take her place because her sister is way younger than her and she has absolutely no fighting skills.  While on the other hand Katniss is really good with the bow because of all her hunting experiences.  She and her new partner Peeta have to compete with 22 other tributes, or warriors, to stay alive. Katniss swears to her sister that she will win the hunger games and on the inside she wants to let the Capitol know that she is not there for their entertainment.

I really believe that Katniss stands a good chance in winning the hunger games because she is very quick and accurate with the bow and Peeta is good with knives, fire, and camouflage.  Together they make the perfect team, deadly....yet invisible.  Peeta is so skillful at camoulflage that Katniss, at one point in the story, thinks that, "his face and arms are so artfully disguised as to be invisible."

I really like how Katniss and Peeta both risk their lives for one another, and how they pretend to be in love to be the favorite tributes of the gamblers in the Capitol.  I am amazed at how well the author describes the futuristic inventions such as the medicinces, weird animals, and even simple things like awesome showers and electric currents that straighten your hair.

The main thing that I am learning from reading this book is to never give up, even if you're in the worst situation imaginable, because if you try hard enough, something good will come out of it.  Katniss was about to die when the girl that was about to kill her was killed and so she got to run away.  This really encourages me to never give up and even sometimes go the extra mile to reach my goal.

The next letter is written by Adrienne.  Adrienne is a busy student who loves basketball, cross country, and track.  She is also in choir and a part of the National Junior Honor Society. Reading is one of her favorite parts about English, and she particularly likes "Reading Wednesday" which to me sounds fabulous. 

Dear Callie,
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon sounds like a very interesting and wonderful book.  I can't wait to get started on it, and put it on my "reading wish list."  I loved how you described the book in the summary.  It made me get this great picture in my head, and a feeling for what the book is about, without even reading it.  For example, when you said, "The most beautiful part of the story is when Minli has to cross the bridge alone because the dragon is too big."  That sentene showed me what the book is about in terms of emotion, because I know I was sad when I read that part of your letter.

The book I want to talk to you about is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  The genre is science fiction.  I had heard about this book many, many times and I thought I would give it a try. So I asked my friend Natalie Hetler (in my English class) for her copy because it was all checked out. After I read the book I understood why.

It starts out about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, and she lives in the poor town of district 12. There are eleven other districts including hers that are also a part of the traditional, hunger games. Katniss lives with her sister prim, and her mother, and as the hunger games started coming around they got nervous. The hunger games go like this, the capitol draws two names from each district every year. The only names that are put in the drawing are boys and girls from ages 12- 18. Then each year everyone comes to town for the reaping, which is the drawing of the names. Know you can imagine, just waiting there, praying your name won’t be called, because if it is you are sentenced to go out in the middle of nowhere, and fight to the death with 21 other people. Yes, that’s what the hunger games are. They put you out in some horrible place and expect you to stay alive without any food or supplies, and at the same time try to kill 21 other opponents. Odds are when you’re a young teenage girl like Katniss, trying to fight in who knows where, your going to be a little uneasy. I know I was sometimes.

This brings me to another part of the book. As you can tell, or are probably guessing, Katniss has to be in the hunger games. Remember when I said two names have to be drawn from the reaping? Well Katniss’s “right hand man” or partner, is Peeta Mellark. (He’s a boy, if you couldn’t tell.) All throughout the book Peeta and Katniss have a “pretend love” for each other. In the story Peeta says “Well, there is this one girl. I’ve had a crush on her ever since I can remember. But I’m pretty sure she didn’t know I was alive until the reaping”. Then Peeta leads the audience on and makes them believe he loves Katniss. The only reason he does that is because before the games you are interviewed for sponsors. Sponsors are people who send you food and supplies during the games because they believe you can win, and they want you to stay alive. So Peeta decided to make the interview interesting, and say that he loves Katniss on live television in front of everyone. But that’s not half of the drama, and the story unravels into a scheming plot that leads to romance, suspense, sadness, action, and many more.

I loved this book because I felt like I was going on the journey with Katniss. Suzanne Collins made it seem like I was playing in the hunger games too. I remember one time before school, I was reading the book on the bus, and I recollect getting into the book so much that I forgot where I was, and where I was going. Then when I got to school it felt surreal because I was in another world, another time, with Katniss Everdeen. For example when Katniss said,

“Once I’m on my feet, I realize escape might not be simple.

Panic begins to set in. I can’t stay here. Flight is essential. But I can’t let my fear show. “

The short sentences in this paragraph build the suspense, and that’s what makes this story so great. The way she explains her thoughts makes it seem like she’s talking to you, and interacting with you through the book.

I think that Philip, Adrienne, and I would all agree that The Hunger Games is a book that leaves a lot to think and talk about.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Round as a Mooncake

Since my last post dealt with a book by Grace Lin, I thought I'd do another post with a book that she illustrated that Hadley likes.  This one is called Round as a Mooncake by Roseanne Thong, and was given to Hadley from my sister-in-law, Shani. 

In the story, a little girl walks through her home and neighborhood and notices things that are shaped like circles, squares, and rectangles.  The thing that I like about this book of shapes is that it not only reinforces the concept of shapes, but it introduces another culture to Hadley as well.  For example, when we are reading about squares, we learn about a name chop, a wood or stone stamp carved with a person's Chinese name, something that Hadley found fascinating.  At the same time, the little girl notices that her mobile phone is shaped like a rectangle. 

I thought a fun project to do with this book would be to notice things in our home that are shaped like circles, squares, and rectangles.  Actually, there are three points during the story where the little girl asks her readers where they might see these shapes in their homes.  So we stopped at each point and when the girls looked around for shapes, I took pictures of what they noticed.

Squares (sort of).
And rectangles.
After we took several pictures, I printed them out and had Hadley tape them to a piece of butcher paper.  I had a box for circles, squares, and rectangles, and she put them in the correct box.

We hung the picture on a wall in our playroom, but I wanted to do more with the book then this.  I really wanted to find a way to intergrate shapes into our own heritage.  But all I could think to do was make baklava or grape leaves, and cut slices of Gouda into rectangles.  I must be running low on the creativity scale because I know there's more I could do to teach Hadley about her Dutch and Greek heritage, but I was tired that day. 

So we did this instead:

I typed a letter to several of my friends' children. In the letter, we explain a little bit about Round as a Mooncake, and then ask the recipient to send her a picture of something in his or her house that is shaped like a circle, square, or rectangle.  I thought that Hadley would think it's neat to add to her poster of shapes she started.  Plus, I think she'll get a kick out of seeing where each of the pictures came from.  She loves looking at maps, and she'll think it's cool that she got a letter from Colorado (you know who you are) or Texas (you know who you are).

I had Hadley write the child's name at the top of the letter, and sign her name at the bottom, and then we sent them off in the mail.

I'm excited to see what we get back.