My Week in a Nutshell

Is it just me, or was this one of the looooonnnnngggggeeeeessssssst weeks ever? My week started out in the usual way, on Sunday in complete denial that I would have to return to my classroom full of squirrelly seventh graders who, like their teachers, have summer on the brain.

I was, however, unusually excited for this particular Monday because it happened to be World Book Night, and I was a designated book giver. The purpose of World Book Night is for avid readers to share their love of books with reluctant readers, non-readers, or those who may not have easy access to books. In a period of 24 hours, one million books (or more) would be given away in an effort to focus on literacy and the hope that our love of books is contagious enough to ignite a spark in potential readers. Sometimes all that’s needed is to get the right book into the right hands, and voila! you have a reader where there wasn’t one before.

I was lucky enough to get twenty copies of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which I gave away to students at my school. I love the story of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a young Spokane Indian who has to figure out to navigate life on and off the “rez,” and I couldn’t wait to share this book with twenty reluctant readers that I come in contact with on a near daily basis. It was an amazing experience to share my love for this book and to see the delight in their faces as they realized the book I gave them was theirs to keep. The truly beautiful thing about it is the fact that most of them are actually READING the book!

Speaking of reluctant readers, my beautiful, blond-headed former reluctant reader turned 18 on Tuesday of this week. It’s not enough that he’ll be graduating from high school in a few weeks, but he had to go and get all grown up to boot. I don’t think he received the memo that outlaws that type of double-whamy thing. No matter. I’ll probably always see him like this

  instead of this     no matter how much he protests.

On Tuesday, my seventh graders and I finished reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, and they were quite shocked and angry about the ending of the book. This led to an incredible discussion that was continued on Friday when we finished watching the movie. I’ve never seen my kiddos at such a loss for words. It was a very powerful experience for all of us, and I am glad to have shared it with them.

On Wednesday, I introduced my students to Spine Poetry and they loved it! Here is one I showed them to give them the idea

  and then they took it from there and created these:  

      

 

Well, that’s about it. We had a busy and productive week, and it’s hard to believe we only have three and a half weeks of school left. The count-down has begun…

 

 

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A Color Poem

Teaching poetry can be a bit of a challenge, especially when students are highly resistant. I think one of the biggest challenges is getting students to realize how accessible poetry is and not all poetry is cryptic and needs to be analyzed to establish meaning.

With my seventh graders, not only do I have to convince them that poetry isn’t scary; I also have to convince them they are capable of writing poetry. As in more than one poem. As in more than one kind of poem.

I’ve found that easing them in with poetry patterns can give them the confidence they need to tackle poetry forms that take a little more finessing.

One of my favorite poetry patterns to help loosen them up and warm up to writing poetry is the color poem. Students choose the colors they wish to represent (I tell them they must choose at least four colors and each color must have at least two lines) and they must describe their colors in an interesting way. Plus, having students write poetry is a great way to have them practice using literary devices, particularly figurative language.

Here is an example of a color poem I wrote:

The Nature of Color

Green is the color of spring and
the promise of a new beginning.
It blankets the ground and climbs the trees.

Purple kisses the tulips and violets;
it flutters in the wind on the wings of butterflies.
It streaks across the sky and peeks
around the clouds at sunset.

Yellow is the warmth of the sun that gently
embraces the flowers in the spring and
warms the ground and inspires the plants to grow.
It makes us shimmer as we bask in its glow.

Blue is the sky; it hugs the universe
as it stretches beyond the mountains.
It is the perfect canvas that hangs above the horizon.

You should try it, too!

 

Where I’m From

I wrote this “Where I’m From” poem a couple of years ago, but it seems fitting to share it now. It is National Poetry Month, after all! Oh, and feel free to write your own “Where I’m From” poem, if you feel so inclined…

Where I’m From        

I am from bright yellow sunflowers, from Peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke.

I am from the white house in the middle of the block on the only stretch of dirt road, black and gold Railer country, loud and proud.

I am from towering elm trees in graceful green glory, pink and white chrysanthemums, crisp fresh air, the vegetable garden of my grandfather, tulips, and rosebushes along the fence.

I am from crazy good family reunions in late September and determination (and stubbornness), from Howard and Doris and Aunt Nancy, my second mother.

I am from the always loving and sometimes drive-me-nuts Tedder and Fryhover clans.

From bouncing to the moon because of all the gum I swallowed as a kid and the bird that never actually perched on my stuck-out lower lip when I didn’t get my way, like my grandma said it would.

I am from Irish Catholic, Nazarene, Pentecostal, B’hai, and Mennonite.  This is my family and it extends beyond bloodlines and last names to the people that matter most to me.

I’m from small town America and Ireland and England and France and Germany and a Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma, pizza and chocolate brownie trifle.

From the great, great, great, great Grandfather Northrop who came to this country on the Mayflower, the Englishman looking for a new life, and the little Cherokee girl adopted by a white family who lost all her tribal ties to her Cherokee Nation (and so did we).

I am from boxes in the attic and basements and photo albums spanning generations and hundreds of years that we sorted through after my grandma died.  I am from the wild west that has been tamed and captured on film.  I am George and Phylis and Angela and James.  I am Alex and Abby and Keri and Sarah, who will, in turn, be me.

A Double Dose of Pam

I have read two books recently that were written by Pam Bachorz: Drought and Candor. Both books received a four star rating from me on Goodreads (goodreads.com), and I am reviewing Drought for you here.

     Ruby Prosser dreams of escaping the Congregation and the early-nineteenth century lifestyle that’s been practiced since the community was first enslaved.
She plots to escape the vicious Darwin West, his cruel Overseers, and the daily struggle to gather the life-prolonging Water that keeps the Congregants alive and gives Darwin his wealth and power. But if Ruby leaves, the Congregation will die without the secret ingredient that makes the Water special: her blood.
So she stays.
But when Ruby meets Ford, the new Overseer who seems barely older than herself, her desire for freedom is too strong. He’s sympathetic, irresistible, forbidden—and her only access to the modern world. Escape with Ford would be so simple, but can Ruby risk the terrible price, dooming the only world she’s ever known?

I finished Drought yesterday and decided to take a day to process my thoughts about the book before rating it and writing a review. I’ve read a lot of less than favorable reviews for Drought, and although I get what most of these reviewers are saying, I don’t completely agree with them. Are there parts of the plot that require you to suspend belief? Yes. Are there some holes in the plot that could have been knitted together better? Absolutely. However, for me at least, I think the strengths of Pam Bachorz’s novel outweigh its weaknesses.

Bachorz has written a strong heroine, Ruby, who is easy to identify with and who seems quite real. While Ruby’s plight is far from typical and is infuriating, she experiences many things a teenager would: young love, mother/daughter conflicts, loss of loved ones, unwanted affections from a boy, and the persistent need to think for herself and to be free. Ruby longs for a better life, which is something most of us can relate to.

I also like what Bachorz does with the character of Ford—how she effectively shows the internal conflict he has between what he feels he must do for his family and what he must do to Ruby’s family because it’s his “job.” In doing so, Bachorz also explores the dichotomy of doing what’s necessary for survival vs. what’s right as she explores this age-old argument.

The relationship between Ruby and Ford is not only forbidden, it is what holds this story together and makes it easier to overlook the flaws of the plot. Although I think the meat of the story is in the relationship between Ruby and Ford, I do wish more backstory regarding Otto and the history of the Congregation had been woven into the story. There are a lot of unanswered questions that may not be necessary to the Ruby/Ford plotline, but would have definitely tightened up the other veins of the story and filled in some of the holes.

While I’m not reviewing Candor, I did want to give you a little tidbit about this novel that will leave you with chills at the end:

 In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the town’s founder, Oscar earns straight A’s, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause. But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant–perfect–through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar’ s built a business sabotaging his father’s scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before they’re turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks? Then he meets Nia, the girl he can’t stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more.

Happy reading!

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