It’s Monday! Here’s what I’m reading: Silent Star & Etched in Clay

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It’s Monday! What are You Reading? 


For this Monday’s #IMWAYR post I have two books centered around characters who persisted in spite of facing almost insurmountable odds.

In Silent Star: The Story of Deaf major Leaguer William Hoy, Bill Wise tells the remarkable story of William Hoy, who would not let his hearing impairment (caused by a childhood bout of meningitis) stand in the way of his dream to play professional baseball.  Once his talent for the game had opened the door to this seemingly unachievable dream, Hoy made the most of the opportunity by strategizing carefully and working twice as hard as his teammates.  He set many records, some of which still hold today.  This would be a wonderful book for classroom libraries – an inspiring story, well told and illustrated.

I’ve read news articles and pictures books about Dave Drake, a gifted potter  who was born into slavery in  antebellum South Carolina, and whose craftsmanship earned him a reputation far beyond his small town of Edgefield.  Drake was all the more remarkable because he had learned to read as well as write, both of which were against South Carolina law.  Determined to leave a written record of his thoughts, as well as sign his name to mark each of his creations, Dave etched both on the pottery he created – opening himself up to grave danger each time.

Andrea Cheng’s Book, Etched in Clay, re-tells this familiar story in an unusual way, through the imagined voices of many of the characters involved in the story, including Dave himself.   In an interview, the author explains how this technique of creative non-fiction allowed her to tell a more complete story: “I am glad that the lines between fiction and non-fiction seem to be softening. I think if we stick only to the facts, many stories will never be told, especially the stories of those who have less power. With Dave, there is very little concrete evidence beyond bills of sale and the pots themselves. I could not have written the book without imagining how Dave felt the day he was purchased, how Harvey Drake felt when he realized the talent that Dave possessed, how Lydia felt when she was forced to leave the man she loved.”

Hearing from each character allowed for a richer reading experience, and I imagine for meaningful and interesting classroom discussions as well.  I could see middle school students performing this as reader’s theater, as well, with pauses to write about and discuss the experiences of all the characters in this complicated and tragic period of American history.  Cheng’s brilliant and evocative woodcut illustrations add another wonderful dimension to the story as a whole.









Poetry Friday: Taking My Son to His First Day of Kindergarten by William Trowbridge

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Carol at Carol’s Corner .

Packing up the house in which we’ve raised our children, I find tokens of their long past childhood everywhere: tucked in chests of drawers filled with old T-shirts from holiday trips and sports teams, at the bottom of closets along with still-muddy soccer cleats, and in boxes of old photographs labeled “to be organized into albums”.  The other day, I came across old school pictures, and was stopped in my tracks by this one in particular:


Mrs. Kaiser is my first-ever teaching mentor, and being a “mom-volunteer” in her classroom is the experience that set me forth on my own teaching life journey.  The little fellow directly below her (the one with his shirt half hanging out and his khakis already showing signs of playground frolic) is our Ben.
Unlike his sisters, who raced into every pre-school day with huge smiles of anticipation, Ben had started almost every pre-school day with tears and tantrums.  Of course, each teacher reported that he had settled in the moment I left, and he was always full of happy news when I picked him up…but, by the time he was ready for kindergarten, I was dreading that inevitably difficult send off on the first day, I was conditioned for it.
That morning, we had walked to school and watched from the sidewalk as Mrs. Kaiser stood by her classroom door to greet her A.M. class.  That afternoon, we returned again and took our place in the line outside her door.  The bell rang, Mrs. Kaiser stepped out, and I remember looking at Ben and seeing his face light up.  He could not wait for school to begin.
There were many school and college send offs in the years to come, but that one is my favorite.

Taking My Son to His First Day of Kindergarten by William Trowbridge 

As the eight o’clock bell spills
its racket into this mild September,
it is I, not he, who hesitates
in the clamor toward the open doors,
who spots the little ruffian throwing rocks
at the Trash-Master by the swings, 
who shyly searches for Room 106, 
where Miss Wynn waits with the name tags.
The halls still gust and flow 
with the rush of new dresses, the scent
of denim and sharpened pencils.
Eighth-graders arrange themselves
in groups to tower in their nonchalance,
eyeing each other like sprinters at the blocks.
Near 106, a bulletin board
declares “The Season of Changes”
above a paper grove of sugar maples.
He pulls me on, then runs ahead,
fearless, blameless, gone.

Slice of Life Tuesday: The finale

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

My last day as a sixth grade teacher is an experience I am still processing.  In some ways, it followed the same rituals as every last day of school for the members of the Room 202 community: desks to each side of the classroom, the treats table set up, dancing, music, and the door open to alumni streaming in.  Oh, and also hugs…many hugs.

This year, as in year’s past, the board was covered with messages of gratitude:


and identity as a learning community all of our own,.:


Then, there were notes that spoke to the essence of my teaching life, my teaching mission:


And there were the children, best of all.  The love and sense of nostalgia in the room were often too much to bear.  It is hard to let go of what you love…and we had a hard time of it.

But, every Smithling year has ended with a heart to heart, a “here’s what I hope you take away from our time together” speech. This year was different because it was the last gathering in the room we call home, so I leant on the towering shoulders of Fred Rogers, and this particular message:

Look for the helpers…be the helpers.  These were my final words for my kiddos.


It’s Monday & Here’s What I’m Reading: Every Month is a New Year, Bear’s Scare

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I have been too long away from picture books, so it feels rather special to share two new picture books I’ve discovered this first day of summer break:

Every Month Is  New Year is a glorious celebration of all the ways and days in which the  cultures of the world celebrates their vision of a new year.  Marilyn Singer reaches into all of that diverse, celebratory richness for her poems, each of which describes the customs and history of ringing in the new year around the world.  Here are two I particularly loved:


Singer’s lively and joyful verses are perfectly accompanied by Susan L. Roth’s exquisite mixed media collage illustrations, which are so vivid and full of texture. Every Month Is  New Year is a pleasure to read and share with children of all ages.

Jacob Grant’s charming book Bear’s Scare is just the book to read if you are (like me) averse to spiders.  Bear shares his spotlessly clean and tidy house with Ursa, his small stuffed friend.  All is well in Bear’s world, until he finds spider webs here and there.  He turns his house over in order to find the culprit, to no avail.  In all the tumult, Ursa loses an arm and Bear is distraught…until Spider finds a way to save the day.

This is a sweet and lovely story, one that can be read on many levels, and loved at each.  Here’s the book trailer, which I found utterly charming, as well:

Poetry Friday: The Last Class by William Stafford

  Michelle Kogan hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today.


Today, I will turn in my classroom key and my building pass, and leave the middle school which has been the heart and soul of my teaching life.  What lies ahead is somewhat clear: caring for my aging parents, bringing a farm back to life, writing the books that I have been wanting to write.

Today is the end of one path, and the beginning of another.  Even as I grieve for the turning, hearing (always) the call of the children I have loved and taught and learned alongside these many years, I know that the other path is the way now.  I have arrived at Frost’s diverging roads…I know where I must go.


Poetry Friday: Little Lesson on How to Be by Kathryn Nuernberger

The Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Karen Edmisten.

Yesterday, someone Tweeted out this excerpt from Langston Hughes:

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The daily news is too much to bear: too much evidence of how not to treat one another, to think, to live what is (in the grand scheme of things) a rather short time on this good, green Earth.

This evening, in search of poetry that reflected the world I’d like to live in, I found this:

Little Lesson on How to Be by Kathryn Nuernberger


The woman at the Salvation Army who sorts and prices is in her eighties
and she underestimates the value of everything, for which I am grateful.
Lightly used snow suits, size 2T, are $6 and snow boots are $3.
There is a little girl, maybe seven, fiddling with a tea set. Her mother
inspects drapes for stains.
Sometimes the very old and lonely are looking for an opening.
She glances up from her pricing and says something about the tea set
and a baby doll long ago.
I am careful not to make eye contact, but the mother with drapes has
such softness in her shoulders and her face and she knows how to say
the perfect kind thing—“What a wonderful mother you had.”
“Yes, she was.”
Why do children sometimes notice us and sometimes not?
From the bin of dolls: “What happened to your mother?”
“She died.”
The woman at the Salvation Army who sorts and prices is crying a little.
She seems surprised to be crying. “It’s been eighty years and I still miss
When my daughter was born I couldn’t stop thinking about how we
were going to die. If we were drowning, would it be better to hold her
to me even as she fought away or should I let her float off to wonder why
her mother didn’t help her? What if it’s fire and I have one bullet left? I
made sure my husband knew if there were death squads and he had to
choose, I’d never love him again if he didn’t choose her. If I’m lucky,
her crying face is the last thing I’ll see.
The mother with drapes is squeezing her daughter’s shoulder, trying to
send a silent message, but children are children. “Why did she die?”
“She was going to have a baby and—And she died.”
“But she was a wonderful mother.”
I’m holding a stack of four wooden jigsaw puzzles of farm animals,
dinosaurs, jungle animals, and pets. Each for a quarter.
“It’s silly how much I still miss her.” She takes out a tissue and wipes
her eyes and then her nose.
When my grandmother threw her sister, Susie, a 90th birthday party,
one hundred people came, including 5 of the 6 brothers and sisters. At
dusk only a few of us were left, nursing beers with our feet kicked up
on the bottom rungs of various walkers.
Susie said then to my grandmother, “Can you think of all the people
watching us in heaven now? And our mother must be in the front row.”
Grandma took her sister’s hand. “Our mother—Estelle.”
“Yes—her name was Estelle. I forgot that.”
They looked so happy then, saying her name back and forth to each
other. Estelle. Estelle.

Slice of Life Tuesday: When you know your work is done

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

We are closing in on the last days of school (eight more days), and the last days of my teaching life (a bittersweet thought, which I am mostly avoiding).  Each day is a reminder to walk into our classroom with eyes and heart wide open for those moments I know I will want to hold onto and remember when I no longer have a classroom full of sixth graders bursting to the seams with energy, angst, imagination, and feeling.  I am holding on so fast that I cannot even bring myself to write about our daily life and learning, as I so religiously did, right here on this blog, for so many years.

In a way, nothing has changed from the years past.  These last days of life in Room 202 look no different from the last days of school for as long as I can remember: my kids are working on their multi-genre writing projects, on their slave life historical investigation projects, and then we come together to share a last read aloud.

Our room is mostly quiet as we work (students and teacher) to write/revise/clarify/elaborate/rethink our writing pieces.  From time to time, we forgo the Google docs conferences via comments for the old side-by-side, knee-to-knee variety from the beginning of the school year.  We work for two periods, some times three, without a break.  There is an air of purposeful intensity in the air: we have meaningful work to do, and a limited time to accomplish it all.  We have been preparing for this time since the first day of school: a time of independence, of self-direction, of knowing how to go about the business of managing one’s time and shaping one’s work.

Today, I took some time to just watch my kids, my almost-seventh-graders, and marvel at the progress they’ve made in the space of just a year.  I watch as they toggle back and forth from one task to the next: writing one piece, putting the final touches on another, moving on to their social studies research project as they wait for my comments, and then circling back to check on their writing.  Every once in a while, they check in with me to make sure they are on track (four writing pieces are due next Monday, their history project is due Friday).  At one point, I had to leave the classroom to get a drink of water for a coughing fit,  no one noticed…

…now, I know, my work is done.