Friday, February 25, 2011

Astro The Steller Sea Lion by Jeanne Walker Harvey

Over the past few weeks the book du jour around here has been Astro the Steller Sea Lion by Jeanne Walker Harvey. In the beginning of the story, we meet Astro off the California coast.  We travel along with him to The Marine Mammal Center because he was orphaned, and this is where marine mammals go when they are stranded or hurt. 

When I write "we travel along with him," I almost mean it because the pictures in this book tell the story as much as the words.  On the first page, the girls and I see Astro in the back of a pick-up truck riding down the road, the California coast a backdrop to the story that's beginning.  Both Hadley and Harper touched the pick-up truck when they saw it at first, and I wondered if it's because it looks as though you can hop on and ride along with Astro as well. 

The next page the girls become hooked, and you might think it's because they fall in love with Astro and want to find out more.  While this is true, it happens later in the story.  On this page, the girls hoot and holler because there is a girl wearing blue rainboots with orange fish on them.
Well of course this book was made for us!  The illustrator used our favorite colors!  Let's read on!

And we do.  We read about Astro drinking salmon smoothies, and we learn a new word: surf.  However, the reason I keep turning the pages is because I want to know if the scientists at The Marine Mammal Center will successfully get Astro to return to the wild.  They make several attempts to put Astro back into the ocean, or on the beach, but he will have none of it.  My favorite part in the story is the part where Astro, after a lot of encouragement, jumps into the ocean with his other sea lion buddies.  Everybody on the boat thinks this is fantastic and that Astro is on his way into the wild.

"But...." Ms Harvey writes, "...10 days later, Astro swam under the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay.  He climbed onto a sandy beach in someone's backyard - not far from The Marine Mammal Center." I love that he found his way back, and seemed happy about it despite the concern of the scientists that he'd never thrive in the wild.

Hadley loves looking at the picture and hearing the part of the story where Astro is put into the wild again, and not only finds his way back, but sees a group of children and their parents on a field, and goes over to join them.  She thinks this is so funny, and I think hopes this sort of thing will happen to her one day when she's out at recess.

There are a few ways I can tell whether a book resonates with the H's.  Do they ask to have it read to them frequently?  Do they re-read it again to their stuffed animals and baby dolls?  And last, do they want to take it along with them when we go to Starbucks?
Astro passed all three.

The girls love books about animals, and thanks to Diego, they love to hear stories about animals being rescued or going on an adventure.  The importance of taking care of Astro and putting him in an environment that is appropriate for him might've gone over their heads as we read the story over and over.  However, the great thing about this story is that it will resonante with children on several different levels.  Harper, who's 2, loved looking at the pictures of Astro when he was playing with the rubber duck and the balls.  Hadley, who's 4, loved listening to the story as she colored and would put her hand on my hand when she wanted to stop and study a picture or ask a question.  As they get older, they'll understand the work and care that went into keeping Astro safe. 

As for me, I really liked Astro, and I rarely connect with animals.  I'm more of a "don't bother me I won't bother you" kind of gal when it comes to animals.  But I loved Astro.  His swimming under the Golden Gate Bridge, and running onto a field of kids to say hello made me smile.  I loved that he showed what he wanted and where he felt most safe. 

I hope we can visit Astro sometime in his new home in Connecticut.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Middle School Confidential by Annie Fox, M.Ed

When I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, my husband and I took a labor and delivery class along with several other first time parents-to-be.  We watched birthing videos, learned how to time contractions, and to simulate the dreaded contractions, I practiced holding ice cubes in my hand for as long as I could stand it.

I think at one point the nurse that was teaching the class sensed that the mothers-to-be were overwhelmed (it might've been the gasping and the sobbing of several of us during the birthing videos that tipped her off).  It was at this moment that I believe she gave some very interesting advice.  She told us that no matter what, our bodies know what they're doing.  We can take a class, read birthing stories, practice our breathing, but in the end we have to have faith that our bodies were made for this.

She then compared it to going through adolescence.  She said, "When you were going through your teenage years, you didn't read a book to tell you how to become a teenager.  Your body just did it."

I took comfort in the fact that my body knew what to do despite my being scared, nervous, and in a tremendous amount of pain. But it didn't make me stop reading about other women's birthing stories, or looking through pregnancy books.  I was looking for a connection to other women who've been through what I was going to go through. Perhaps I was trying to "steal" some of their confidence.

And while I think the nurse was correct in telling us that our bodies know what they're doing when we go through adolescence, that doesn't always stop our fear or our pain.  Sometimes what we're afraid of doesn't have anything to do with our bodies at all. I remember being ashamed that I still wanted to play with Cabbage Patch and Barbie dolls when the girls I hung out with were no longer interested in them. I also couldn't figure out why everyone wanted to wear jeans when sweatpants were clearly way more comfortable. But the worst was this question: why don't the girls that I've been friends with since kindergarten want to be friends with me anymore?

Enter the Middle School Confidential series by Annie Fox, M.Ed.  If I were to create a "Middle School Toolbox" for my girls when they reach this stage, these books would be one of the first things to go in there.  They are packed with easy to read informatioin on how to not only get through Middle School, but how to thrive during these years.

One of the aspects that I like about these books is that they read like magazines.  Kids can look at a few pages and easily take something away that is applicable to their lives.  A lot of times, when I sit down with a magazine, I turn to the articles that I want to get information from first.  In Ms. Fox's books, the Table of Contents are clean and easy to read, and the titles of each chapter, such as "Friendship Dilemmas," or "Struggling with Siblings," make it clear what the student will read about. And like a magazine, the reading isn't all article reading.  Sometimes there are cartoons, sometimes there are questions to get readers thinking, and sometimes there are quotes from students.  All in a colorful format, these books will be great resources to return to again and again.

I really liked the quotes from other kids that Fox incorporates.  I think readers who are going through adolescence will find comfort and confidence in knowing others are going through the same things they are. I also think that these books are great resources for parents and teachers.  For example, if I were still teaching, I would incorporate the section, "Ads Mess with your Mind" from Be Confident In Who You Are.  The questions Fox asks students help them analyze commercials they see on TV and in magazines. This would be an excellent activity to get kids talking about how they see themselves and how they should see themselves.

Like giving birth, adolescence is not an easy thing to go through.  It can be scary, and painful, and confusing.  But I don't think that's all it can be.  There can be laughter and good memories, too.  Yes, I can remember with stinging clarity the day I walked up to say hello to someone that had been my friend since third grade, only to realize that she was no longer a friend. (And this all happened without words.  How do girls do that?)  But I also remember just as vividly the day I met the girl who would be my best friend and eventually stand up for me at my wedding.  There are stories like this one by a lovely blogger named Yuliya that capture the pain and confusion of growing up, but there are also stories like "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto that can make us laugh. I want my girls to surround themselves with these stories because I believe it will give their experience a voice.  However, I also want them to read the Middle School Confidential series because it will give them tools to add to their experience as they grow up. 

I admire what Ms. Fox did with this series.  I think that it is a good resource for librarians, teachers, and students in middle schools.  Like the nurse in my labor and delivery class, she is giving kids information on what they need to know, and at the same time, giving them the confidence that their bodies know what to do.  Even when it feels exactly the opposite.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Poems from GMS students

This week's story poems come from Natalie, Kaylah, and Aidan.  The first poem, "reading" doesn't discuss a specific book, rather, Natalie describes the experience of reading. 


sitting down in the blue bean bag
the world around me starts to melt away

to have the sea water spraying my face
or to feel the flames on my toes

the emotions are overpowering
and I have no sense of memory
of the world I am leaving behind

you get to know the characters one by one
until you know them all by heart

there is devastation, love, and happiness
the book grabs you
by the hand never wanting to let go

but at one point in time
you have to break the grasp
it may leave behind a bruise

you will cherish the memories
always and forever

My favorite part of this poem is the idea that the book "may leave behind a bruise."  I understand the idea that it can hurt to have a book end, or that a story could leave scar.   Powerful things, these books.

The next poem, by Kaylah, describes a book that she doesn't like but cannot put down. 

Ten Little Indians....what?

I hate it....
I hate how she
names a billion people
with names like
Constance Culmington
I mean...
Does she expect me to remember all those names,
how they got to Indian Island,
What their letter said

I hate...
how you already know
who's killing...
everyone who's dead
And how you already know
how they'll die.
The nursery rhyme
tells it all
I could....
call it dull
for that word surely fits
But yet, here I am
still reading this so called
'dull' book,
and hating every part.

Ironically, I want to read the book Kaylah writes about.  This is kind of how I felt while reading The Hunger Games series.  Did I enjoy reading these books?  No.  Are they important books?  I think so.  But they were very difficult to read. 
I also love the way this poem reads.  I think Kaylah was able to create a voice that sounds quite frustrated and passionate.

The last poem comes from Aidan.  He writes about a character named George.

Comparison: Bark George

Like in Bark George the mom says,
"Bark George" and he says, "Meow.'"
For me my mom says, "Go do the dishes."
I go play the Wii.

Then his mom says, "No, dogs go 'woof.'
Now bark George."
He says, "Oink."
My mom says, "No, go do the dishes."
I go play on the computer.

Then George's mom says,
"No, bark George." He says, "Moo."
Then my mom says, "No go do the dishes."
I go build my awesome lego set.

Then George's mom says, "No bark George."
He says, "Woof!" and his mom is happy.
Then my mom says, "Go do the dishes."
I go do them and she is happy.

I love how Aidan related this story to his life.  I think perhaps his mother does, too.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oh, The Places You'll Go

When we moved to Washington DC in 2004, one of the first things I did was find where our local library was.  It happened to be a short walk from our condo on Connecticut, and between unpacking and figuring out where to apply for a teaching job, I spent my time walking to the Tenleytown-Friendship Library, or Politics and Prose.

The first book I checked out from this library was Heartbeat by Sharon Creech.  I sat in the Starbucks across the street and wrote down notes as I read.  I wrote down quotes I liked as well as a few sketches for ideas of writing one of those "weblogs" I'd heard about at the Festival of Faith and Writing.

I wasn't able to visit the library for too much longer because it closed, but it re-opened this Saturday and it seemed important to take the H's to one of the first places I went to when we moved. 

Plus, Erica Perl was there.
Here she is reading from Ninety - Three in My Family.  She puts on a different hat for each story of hers that she reads (the most impressive is the hat from Chicken Butt).  We read this book a lot last year as Hadley loves to count and loves animals.  However, what I didn't know about this story is that it's best when it's sung. 
The story is hysterical by itself, but to hear it sung adds so much, and it was a reminder of the importance of reading stories in different voices, or singing, or even using puppets and props.  The children get into the story which is a benefit, but I think they understand the story more as well.

Hadley knew that we might hear the story Dotty, but here's her expression when I told her we might get to hear Chicken Butt:
I know I'm supposed to try and teach Hadley that the word "butt," or anything having to do with said word is not humorous.  But I come from a long line of butt joke loving folk, and it's simply against my nature.  To tell Hadley and Harper there is no humor in the word "butt" would be turning my back against my kinfolk.  So I took them to the lady who also seems to find humor in this word, as well as the fact that wearing a knitted chicken butt on her head is truly hysterical.

Jesse was taking pictures on Saturday, and didn't get a shot of the chicken butt hat, however, he did get this one:

Before we got to hear the read-alouds, we had a chance to explore the library a bit.  The girls loved the fun chairs and the tables to read books, do puzzles, and color.

Going to the Tenleytown Library was a special treat for all of us, but probably mostly for me.  I don't think I have many profound words to say about the importance of libraries except that when I'm in one, I'm happy.  It reminds me of being in Kindergarten again with all those possibilities.  Last week, after having a surprise root canal, the first thing I did after being dismissed from the dentist was go to the library.  It wasn't on my list of things to do, but walking through the aisles and breathing in the pages of books is a great anecdote to having the taste of novacaine in my mouth.  I checked out several "how to make your own jewelry" books. They've all since been returned, because, who am I kidding?  I'll end up in the ER if I try and make my own jewelry. 

Oh, but the possibilities in a library!

And to hear Erica Perl read from her stories, and share that with my girls is a big deal to me, too.  Hers was one of the first classes I took at The Writer's Center in Bethesda.  I was in my first trimester with Harper, and for awhile we were pretty sure I was miscarrying.  I was scared, and sick, and exhausted, but I wrote a little story about a girl who loved maps and I got to share it with the class.  That was scary and exhilirating, but having a chance to write and share, and talk about words took my mind off of being pregnant for awhile. C.S. Lewis wrote, "....and whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago."  I am thankful that I had a chance to learn from a real author who creates characters like Dotty, and Bernice the Hippo, and a stockboy with the nickname "The Nail"

Plus, we've added to our growing list of butt jokes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going Owling

One afternoon this week, the girls and I hung out with the book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  This seems like a good book to read in the winter, but I also picked it because last week Hadley spotted a hawk outside our condo and was quite intrigued.  She was very disappointed when the bird flew away and kept calling for it to come back.

This book was a little difficult for Harper to concentrate on.  At one point she did this and said, "It's time to color Diego, Mama."
But we got through the book, and afterwords we did some painting.  I wanted the girls to try and create a winter scene by using dark crayons on white paper, and then painting over it with dark water colors.  I showed them this picture:

Here's what they came up with:

They weren't super interested, but that's OK.  Maybe next time.  What they did like was the next activity.  We went owling.

We went in the house because it was raining and cold outside.  I don't think the girls would've minded, so it was me that was the party pooper.  But we did load up our backpacks with flashlights, binoculars, and calculators, because, you know, it's good to have a calculator.

We turned off the lights in our place and did our best owl calling.

I think Jane Yolen should re-write the story and add, "When you go owling you need to make sure you look through your binoculars the right way, otherwise you won't see a darn thing."

That doesn't sound so poetic, thought.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Poems

In the fall of last year, I tried to devote one post a week to writing that a group of 8th graders at Goshen Middle School send to me.  Lisa, the teacher I am working on this project with, has sent me three packages of different kinds of their writing and each package is better then the first. The students started with letters about books they were reading, and then moved on to a project called "snapshots."  They are striking paragraphs jammed packed with detail that bring the reader into the story immediately.  I loved those. 

The most recent batch of work that Lisa sent me is something called "book poems."  These are poems that the students wrote describing their experience reading a specific book.  These are so good I'm having trouble picking one to spotlight.  So today I'm going to spotlight three.  These poems highlight the books Olivia, No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and The Cat in the Hat.  The poems grabbed my attention because I think they're well written, but also, because these are books that my girls and I read together all the time.  If anyone has any doubt whether stories stick to young children, these poems are proof that even after years of not reading them, we are attached to the characters we meet in these books.

The first one is by Olivia.

Olivia's books
My name swims
around and around
in my head
when I read
those books.

She can't decide
what to wear.
I can never decide
what to wear.

Her room is a mess
my room is a mess.

She has annoying siblings
I have an annoying sibling.

Long ago
I used to think,
"Am I reading about myself?"

The second poem is by Teryn.
Thing 1 and Thing 2
Always romping around,
makers of mischief
these two.

Knocking over
shouting outloud

I am Thing 1 and you are
Thing 2.

The third poem put tears in my eyes.  It is written by Mikaela.
Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed
You are the caring mother who says,
"No more monkeys jumpin' on the bed!"
We are the monkeys who just won't listen.
One by one
we make mistakes and fall off the bed.

You tell us to stop, but we just say,
"No, No, No!"

When the last one of us falls,
we finally stop.
You got your wish.
There are no more monkeys jumpin' on the bed.

We might not of known it then,
but we know it now.
When you said, "No more monkeys jumpin' on the bed"
you said it because you didn't want your
little monkeys fallin' off
the bed and hittin' their head.