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.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Letter - Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

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.

Dear Lisa,

Mysterious Benedict Society is going on my "to read" list, but I want to read it with Hadley and Harper because I want to have the same experience you had reading it with Katie.  To be "together in our own world" because of a story sounds lovely.  It reminds me of a few years back when you, me, and Sarah read Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.  Do you still have your jeans?  I suppose that story is for another time.

The other reason Mysterious Benedict Society  is going on my "to read" list is because I loved that the book explores the idea that there is more then one kind of intelligence, that it "comes in many different packages" as you wrote.  And the idea that all the kids had to work together to move forward is so important.  It seems like an ideal place to learn - where you figure out what you are good at and then help others to complete a task. 

The book I want to talk about today is called Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  This is a book that I read for a book club that I'm in.  We meet in Arlington, Virginia once a month and discuss children's literature.  On this last meeting, the organizer of the group actually called Grace Lin and we got to talk to her about the book.  It was so exciting!

The first thing that struck me before I even began reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is that the pages felt different then other books I've read.  They were thicker.  Also, there are 10 beautiful illustrations throughout the story, plus illustrations at the top of each chapter, and they're in color.  For some reason, the layout of the book made me feel like I was about to read something very important and special.

The hardest part of talking about a book for me is writing a quick summary.  I don't know if I'll write what's really important about the plot, or if I'll write what I remember and get it wrong, or leave a vital part out, etc.  But basically Minli, the main character in the story, lives in a fruitless land and works very hard in the fields all day.  She loves listening to stories her father tells her, but Minli's mother thinks the stories are useless.  What good is a story if it doesn't put food on the table?  For me, this was a huge theme in the book.  Why are stories so important even when they don't bring us wealth?  Anyway, Minli wants to do something to help her family's situation, and believes that if she can find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him why her family is poor, then she can help her mother be happy.  Minli learned about the Old Man of the Moon through one of her father's stories, and this is where she got the idea. So Minli sets off on a wild adventure, and I followed along wide eyed. 

There is so much I liked about this book, I'm not sure where to start.  I liked that along Minli's travels, she would meet people that would explain something to her through a fairy tale.  So while we are reading about Minlli, the story would break and we'd read about "The Story of the Paper of Happiness" or "The Story of the Dragon Gate."  I liked this because I guess it felt like reading two books, but it also reinforced the idea that we tell (and create) stories to make sense of the way life is.

Along the way, Minli meets a dragon who becomes my favorite character.  This is the sweetest dragon I've ever met, and he and Minli become best friends.  The dragon can't fly, and wants to know why so Minli tells him to come along with her to ask the Old Man of the Moon.  Probably the most beautiful part of the story is the part where Minli has to cross a long bridge and the dragon can't come with her because he's too big to cross it.  So Minli goes by herself to see the Old Man of the Moon, and when she meets him she learns that she can only ask him one question.  She must decide whether to ask why her family is poor, or why the dragon can't fly.  I won't tell you what happens but I could read this part of the book over and over again.

While I'm writing this letter, I'm thinking about the story behind the book.  Grace Lin's first husband died of cancer while she was writing Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  I think I remember hearing at some point in my book club that he told her to write this story and talk about all the places he wouldn't be able to go.  I'm wondering now whether the dragon in the book represents Grace Lin's husband in some way.  The dragon helped Minli get to a certain point in her journey, but couldn't go as far as Minli so he stays behind.  In another scene, when the dragon brings Minli home to her parents, he stops at one point because of something he sees.  The dragon acts differently after this point, and Minli wonders what is going on with him.  After awhile he asks Minli if she can get to her village by herself because "for some reason, I feel as if I do not want to leave here....Strangely, I feel like I am home."

 As hard as this is to wrap my head around, I'm wondering if this is Grace Lin's way of somehow "letting go" of her first husband.  Minli loves the dragon, and the dragon loves Minli.  But both of them have other places they need to be.  I was so sad when Minli and the dragon parted, but it made sense that they couldn't travel together any more.  And we see that both of them are very happy in the end of the story.  It's not as though they've moved on and forgotten one another, rather, they are where they are and who they are because of one another. 

I hear a lot that people like to read to leave what's going on in their world behind.  I understand the appeal to this, but I like to enter a world through a book and take something back with me.  As I wrote in the beginning of the letter, I think that stories are great ways to learn about your own life, and make meaning of the world around you. I know that idea was reinforced for me in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

When I was reading your students' letters to me, I learned that several of them liked to draw and also like to write and read fantasy.  I think they would really enjoy this book, especially the artists in your class.  The pictures are amazing.  Of course, so is the story.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Star of the Day Brings In Potty Humor

Hadley came home last week from preschool and told me that she gets to be "Star of the Day" on Tuesday.  Sure enough, in her school bag was a cute tote with the words "Star of the Day" in glittery bubble paint.  Attached to the tote was a note that said the Star of the Day gets to bring a book to school that s/he would like to share.

If I had to guess which book Hadley would want to share, I would've said a Frances book, or Fancy Nancy, or maybe Franklin.  She also loves the alphabet, so maybe she would've thought Chicka Chicka Boom! Boom! or The Sleepy Little Alphabet would've been good to share with her classmates.  Hadley didn't choose these, though.  The book Hadley wanted to share with her classmates was Potty Animals

Hadley told me on Thursday this was the book she wanted to share, but over the weekend, and most of Monday I tried to talk with her about the other great books she owns that maybe she'd like to bring instead.  Nope.  Potty Animals was the book she was going to take. 

I'm a huge fan of Potty Animals.  I bought the book specifically after Hadley was potty trained because I realized that while she had the "going to the bathroom" thing down, the other rules of etiquette were lacking.  Instead of me throwing a fit because she doesn't see why playing "fishing pole" with toilet paper half in/half out of the toilet is totally disgusting, I figured having her read about animals who have the same habits might be more effective.  And it worked!  These animals did the same things Hadley did, and they (and Hadley) learned that their habits were not appropriate, in a way that doesn't make me half gag - half scream, "You did WHAT in there?!?!"

So it's a great book, but I was just nervous that the teacher might think it's not appropriate.  But it didn't matter because Hadley was bringing this book to school.

On Monday morning Hadley woke up before her sister and she and I sat on the playroom floor and read books for awhile.  After a few books, Hadley decided that we should put them in piles of "funny" and "not funny."

So that's what we did.
Olivia is funny.  Painting on the walls?  Funny!  Trying on every piece of clothing before deciding on an outfit?  Funny!  Green Eggs and Ham is funny too. Who wouldn't chuckle when being presented with eggs and ham that are green?  Great stuff.  Potty Animals is at the bottom of the funny pile.  On the other side you will see Franklin Goes to the Hospital.  Definetely not funnyFancy Nancy Bonjour Butterfly was also in the not funny pile because Nancy couldn't go to Bree's birthday party and instead had to go to her grandparents 50th anniversary party.

We had a dilemma with The Sleep Little Alphabet.  Hadley didn't think the book was that funny except for this part:

What's not hilarious about taking off one's underpants and throwing it in the air?  I tried to tell Hadley that because of this page alone, the book should be in the funny pile.  But it didn't make the cut.  It was sent to the "not funny" pile.

As we read the books, and sorted them, I realized that Hadley wanted to bring in a story that is funny.  It wasn't that she didn't like the "not funny" stories.  In fact, when we got to Frances, a decidedly "not funny" (although I beg to differ) book, Hadley said, "Ooooooo, Frances!  I better stand up for this one!"  Apparently Frances deserves the utmost respect while reading her stories.  But Hadley wanted to bring in a story that would make other people laugh.  When I pick her up from school, the first thing Hadley does is tell me who she made laugh that day.  So Potty Animals was brought with the intention of making people laugh.

I wrote a note to the teacher and taped it to the book with a mild apology.  I said I hoped it wouldn't cause too many problems, but that Hadley was quite excited to share this book with her classmates.  When I picked her up from school Hadley's teacher looked at me and said, "Great book!"  I said, "Really?"  She said, "Yea!  We need to be reminded of washing hands and things like that."  Washing hands, fine.  It was the "things like that" I was nervous about.

Driving away, Hadley said that a little friend of hers, didn't laugh at Potty Animals.  I said, "Well, you didn't laugh the first time we read it together either.  Sometimes you have to read things a few times to understand why they're funny.  Not everyone can appreciate the humor in someone tinkling on his or her shoes."

Friday, October 1, 2010

The World Needs People Like Ida and Melinda

The night before Hadley started preschool, we read Dotty by Erica S. Perl together.  I ordered it special for Hadley because after reading about it on Erica's blog, I thought it would be the perfect fit for my girl with the huge imagination.

Hadley and I meet Ida, who goes to school with her new lunch box and her pal Dotty.  I can't do Dotty justice by trying to describe what she looks like.  I will just say that the illustrator, Julia Denos, made Hadley gasp with glee when she first saw Dotty on the page. 

Dotty is Ida's imaginary friend, and follows Ida around on a leash.  When Ida goes to school, she learns that her other classmates have imaginary friends too, however, as the school year continues, and "the green finally returns," Ida finds that Dotty is the only one around. 

In one part, Ida is sitting on a swing, Dotty's leash in hand, when Katya, one of her classmates, comes to sit next to her.  She begins to tease Ida about Dotty in that subtle way that girls do, and in a scene that took our breath away, Dotty shoves Katya to the ground.

When I read a book that I love, it's hard to know what to emphasize.There is so much I love about Dotty. I love the pictures.  I love the part where Katya and Ida write apology notes to each other, and in their own handwriting, they creatively find a way to say they're sorry without really being sorry.  I love Ms Raymond's role in the story.  She asks Ida who Dotty is, and in a terribly emotional scene, Ida can't tell her.  Ms Raymond is the teacher I hoped I always was.  She doesn't push Ida for information, but instead, asks Ida if she would mind explaining to Dotty that shoving is inappropriate behavior for the classroom.  And then Ms Raymond pulls a leash out of her desk and hands it to Ida.  "Oh, I'm sorry. That one's mine."  She then gives Ida Dotty's leash.  In the last scene, Ms Raymond walks out with Gert, a kind of giraffe/antelope hybrid, and says to her pal, " snacking on the way home.  You know it spoils your dinner."

Around the same time Hadley and I were reading Dotty, another book, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, came under attack.  A loud mouth who I'm sure hasn't read the book, decided that the story isn't appropriate and I believe went so far as to call it "soft porn."   I was upset about this judgement, as ridiculous as it is, because I love Speak.  And while I haven't been through what Melinda has been through, the story left a mark on me.  Like Dotty, I could palpably remember what it feels like to grow up.

The reason I write both about Dotty and Speak in the same post is because when I read that Speak was under attack, I thought, "So if they take that one off the shelves, who draws the line at other books?"  Even though Dotty is a different situation, for me, my throat gets tight when I read it because like Halse, Perl is writing about something that is real. I never want my girls to go through what Melinda did, but to miss out on seeing Melinda find her voice again would be a tragedy.  And what a lovely thing to have a story like Dotty so Hadley and eventually Harper learn that if you want to have an imaginary friend, by all means, have one!  Don't let the Katya's of the world tell you any differently. Do I want my girls to know pain?  No.  Will they?  Yes.  And I believe that by reading stories like Dotty and Speak they can hold the hands of Ida and Melinda while they themselves grow up.

In the book Shouts and Whispers, edited by Jennifer L. Holberg, Katherine Paterson quotes Flannery O'Connor in an essay called "Image and Imagination."  O'Connor says, "Fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty than you shouldn't write fiction."  Katherine Paterson goes on to ask, " fiction possible where there is no fall?  I don't think that it is.  Isn't it the broken image, the damaged image of God in humankind, that is the stuff of fiction, whether we're speaking of Peter Rabbit or Anna Karenina?"  Barbara Brown Taylor writes in an essay called "Way Beyond Belief" that words create a "....memory of having felt deeply alive for a moment - or profoundly sad - or so close to the pulsing truth of things that all the hair on your arms stood up."  Why is all this important?  Because I believe that reading stories teaches us how to live.  I want my girls to know how to live, even when bad things happen.

I'm finishing up this post while Hadley is pulling a stuffed animal around on a leash.  The leash is actually a couple of hair ribbons I tied together and clipped to the animal's ear.  I can hear her talking to him, or her (the gender changes on a daily basis).  She's telling him that it's time to go for a walk.  "Maybe we'll find a park later, but I'm not sure you can swing by yourself.  You can watch me swing or take a nap while I play."  Hadley's been pulling different animals around on homemade leashes since she's read Dotty, and when I watch her do this, I see that Erica S. Perl opened Hadley's world up a little more, and gave her another way to use her imagination.  And for that, I am very thankful.