Friday, October 25, 2013

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye

It was Naomi Shihab Nye week with my 8th graders; every day we read one of her poems.  Here's part of one I didn't read with them.  It's from her book, Fuel, and it's written in the voice of students.

Morning Glory


We're fat with binders and forgetting
We're shaping the name of a new love
on the underside of our thumb.
We're diagnosing rumor and trouble
and fear.  We hear the teachers
as if they were far off, speaking
down a tube.  Sometimes a whole sentence gets through.

But the teachers don't give up.
They rise, dress, appear before us
crisp and hopeful.  They have a plan.


This is so appropriate for this week.  It reminds me, too, of this quote I wrote down while I was reading Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School, by Randy Bomer:

"Over and over again, I make the teacher's mistake of assuming that time begins the moment my students cross the threshold of my room.  But if my class is to tell the truth about literacy, I have to guard against that mistake and keep in mind that each student's whole life outside this room is what he or she will use to make meaning."

Oh well, we teachers don't give up.  I'll be at it again next week. 

And here's today's roundup, hosted by the amazing Irene Latham.  It's her thousandth blog post!  Head on over to congratulate her and read what everyone else is posting.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Sick Edition

In this short life that only lasts an hour
How much - how little - is within our power

Emily Dickinson

I'm sick in bed today with most unpoetic symptoms, so glad for the distraction of Poetry Friday.  Check out Janet's Mortimer Minute.  She said some nice things about me that cheered me up no end.  And the roundup is here, at Merely Day by Day

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Update

Book #32 of this year was a teacher book, How's it Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers, by Carl Anderson.  I don't have the book in front of me the way I like to when I post these reviews, because as soon as I was done with it I immediately passed it on, first to my co-teacher and then to the elementary administrator at our school, so that the elementary teachers could read it.  It was that good, that full of wonderfully helpful ideas for any age of students.  I picked up this book because I was very dissatisfied with the writing conferences I was doing with my students, and this book did not disappoint.  I recommend it for anyone who is teaching writing to kids.  Lucy Calkins did the foreword, and her quote underlies the whole text: "Teach the writer, not the writing."  Anderson tells you exactly how to do that.  As soon as I can get the book back, I want to read it again.

Book #33 was Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Flight Behavior.  I hadn't heard great things about this book, so I hadn't been in a hurry to read it, but this summer I heard someone whose judgement I respect talking about how good it was.  What was I thinking?  I would read Barbara Kingsolver's grocery lists.  (In fact, I guess I almost have, since I did read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was about what she and her family ate for a year.)  This book is fabulously written, and although the topic, climate change and the way it is destroying the planet, is hardly uplifting, Dellarobia and her friends and family are so well portrayed, and the story so beautifully drawn, that I couldn't stop reading until I was done.  The flight of the title refers mostly to butterflies, and specifically the Monarch butterflies, which this year have migrated to Tennessee instead of Mexico.  When Dellarobia first sees them, she isn't wearing her glasses, and thinks the mountainside is on fire.  Soon enough, the presence of the butterflies changes everything for Dellarobia, her family, and her depressed community, where going to college is practically unheard of, and climate change is dismissed as a ridiculous liberal story. The book explores Dellarobia's relationships, globalization, and scientific research and how the news media simplify and misrepresent it, but the narrative never flags. 

Book #34 was recommended by one of my seventh graders.  I loved Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, the story of ten-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a cranio-facial deformity and who is just about to start school for the first time after being homeschooled.

One of my eighth graders was doing a book recommendation a couple of weeks ago, and she warned us that the book was sad and "You can cry." That's my warning for Wonder, too. You can cry; I did, a lot.  But this is a beautiful story, and ultimately a happy one.

Book #35 was recommended by my daughter; it was the sequel to a book she suggested over the summer, The Year of Secret Assignments.  This one, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was similar.  It consisted mostly of Bindy's notes, musings, and correspondence, but Bindy really came alive (haha, see what I did there?), and in spite of the somewhat improbable ending, I enjoyed reading this.

Book #36 was Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words.  I wanted to read this because I was listening to a series of podcasts from a church that is basing a year's worth of sermons on this book.  This was my first book by McLaren, and I found it well-written, thought-provoking, readable.  I appreciated the way he made abstract spiritual concepts approachable and put words to ideas that are difficult to express.  However, there were several points at which I felt that the book wasn't intended to be exclusively about Christianity.  It almost felt as if McLaren was out to annoy his evangelical readers by a paean to Buddhism, an exhortation to gather for worship, "whether it's in a glorious cathedral or temple, a spacious megachurch facility, or a small local chapel, synagogue or mosque," and a friendly aside: "Now here I am being transparently trinitarian, and some may not be able to go here with me."  That said, McLaren uses scripture (yes, the Bible) extensively all the way through, and his writing is clearly informed by his own experience with God.  I enjoyed this book and found it gave me helpful ways to think about faith.  You can find more about the book, and the twelve words, here.

Book #37 only came out two days ago, and my daughter and I have both already read it.  It's Addie Zierman's book When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.  I have been reading Addie's blog for a while.  I started back when it was called "How to Speak Evangelical," and loved reading her beautifully written meditations on the cliches of the evangelical Christian world.  The book was no disappointment, but I didn't feel that we had parallel lives as much as I thought I might.  Many of the "growing up evangelical" details are similar, though I'm older than she is and grew up in another country, but the story, like all of our stories, was very much her own.  I wanted to hear more about her time in China with her husband; it seemed to me that coming back from that very difficult and life-changing experience must have had something to do with the development of her depression, and I would love it if she would explore that idea as deeply as she has mined some of her other experiences.   Although Addie's adult life is very different from mine, her writing started me thinking about many of the particulars of my own faith journey.  Here's a quote that will give you an idea of how fun her prose is to read: 
"These days, faith is a lot like Wisconsin: a series of repetitive ups and downs, the natural rise and fall of the road that stretches before you.  Boring.  Beautiful.  Ridiculous sometimes, as when the road eases into the Wisconsin Dells and there are suddenly giant plastic animals and water slides and a huge haunted mansion tilted along the road."

Addie's writing has encouraged many others to reflect on their journey, too, and you can read some of those reflections at the synchroblog she is hosting here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Next Time, on the Mortimer Minute

In spite of my last minute request, my tag-ee for the Mortimer Minute has graciously agreed to post next week.  Janet, who blogs at Across the Page, and who also has a gorgeous nature blog called Discovering Nature, is a friend from college.  After spending several quite intense years of our lives seeing each other all the time, we moved to different corners of the planet, and haven't seen each other in - wow, it's a long time, when you stop to count.

In spite of not seeing Janet in the flesh since we were both much younger, I have enjoyed keeping up with her on her blogs.  She is as thoughtful and deep-thinking as ever, and now her own homeschooled children are reaping the benefits, instead of the college literature classes she use to take and teach. 

In addition to being a wonderful writer, thinker, and poet, Janet is also a rabbit-owner, and who knows?  Maybe Mortimer will make a friend at Janet's house.

Stay tuned for Janet's Mortimer Minute on Friday!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry Friday: Mortimer Minute

I was tagged last Friday by Liz Steinglass.  Here are the guidelines for the Mortimer Minute:

1) Pose and answer three questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry. (Ideally, use one question posted by the person who invited you to the Hop.)
2) Invite one, two, or three other bloggers to go after you.
3) In your post list the names of the bloggers you invited and give the dates when they’ll be posting.

I don't know that I've always wanted to be asked anything at all in an interview about children's poetry, but using one of Liz's questions and two of my own, here goes...

How did you come to love poetry?

We always had poems in our home.  I remember my mother quoting, "How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the sky so blue?  Oh, I do think it's the loveliest thing ever a child can do," from A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I remember my dad reading "The Bells," by Edgar Allan Poe, to me, and I was thrilled by the repetition and the wild way the sound of the bells builds through that poem.  (Incidentally, my students are less thrilled by this poem - I have tried it a few times, with no success whatsoever.)  In school we had to choose poems to memorize, and there was a big competition every year.  I remember learning "Disobedience," by A. A. Milne, and I can still recite it these many years later.  We had a teacher in high school who used to spend one period a week on poetry, and I always loved those purple dittos (I saved them for years - I wonder where they are now?).  Favorites were "The Great Lover," by Rupert Brooke and  "The Rolling English Road," by G.K. Chesterton.

In college, my love of poetry directly led to finding other love.  In an American Literature class, the professor asked me to read an Emily Dickinson poem aloud.   My husband says that when he heard my voice (which in those days had a trace of an English accent from my years in British boarding schools, apparently rendering me quite irresistible), he knew he wanted to get to know me.  He cleverly orchestrated a meeting by pretending he needed to borrow my notes, and now we've been married 24 years, and have regular poetry nights with our children.

How about writing poetry?  When did you start that?

I have always written poetry of various kinds.  I liked playing with rhymes, and as an adolescent I wrote many angst-ridden, emotion-filled poems.   For years I was inhibited by my studies of literature, and downplayed my own work, using words like "doggerel" and "little ditties."  It's only in the last few years that I've admitted aloud, "Yes, I write poetry."  After the Haiti earthquake, I seemed to get a little bolder, and I started sharing some of my own writing here on this blog.  For the last two years, I've participated in readings at the school where I work.  In my job teaching middle school English, I encourage kids to get involved in poetry, both reading it and writing it.  Many of them do!

If you could have any "superpower," what would it be?

After the week I've had, I'd have to say that I wish I had some extra teaching superpowers, like Seventh Grade Wrangling or Super-Speed Grading.  Both of those tasks (for which I am not equipped with superpowers) have occupied my week, which is why I waited until the last minute to ask my tag-ee if she would accept the Mortimer Minute next.  I'll write a post later in the week revealing my tag.

Meanwhile, check out the roundup, which is hosted here today.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Poetry Friday: Kofi Awoonor

One of the people who died in Nairobi in the attack on the Westgate mall was Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor.  The New Yorker published this tribute

One of Awoonor's best-known poems is, appropriately, called "Songs of Sorrow."  Here is part of it:

"Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces
Into which I have stepped..."

Going forward is a great difficulty in a world where such things can happen, and chameleon faeces seems a pretty accurate comparison, some days.

You can read the rest of the poem here