Slice of Life: Baseball Memories

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One of my earliest memories is of being at a local ball field, watching my father play baseball in the town league.  After the game, we drove to Carvel’s for ice cream. Although I couldn’t have been more than four, I remember sitting on a picnic bench trying to eat the soft vanilla ice cream before it melted.

My father loved baseball, and he passed that love on to me. When the play offs roll around in October, they always brings memories of him.

By Boston Public Library (Flickr: Ebbets Field, Brooklyn. N. Y.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Boston Public Library (Flickr: Ebbets Field, Brooklyn. N. Y.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
He grew up listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio. Stung by the Dodgers’ 1958 move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, he rooted for the Mets for most of the 1960s. On the day the Mets won the World Series in 1969, we had a double celebration because it was also my birthday. (I double checked this memory and discovered they beat the Baltimore Orioles–the team my husband-to-be was surely rooting for from his home in Bel Air, Maryland that day.)

By 1975, his allegiance had switched to the Boston Red Sox, where it stayed for the rest of his life. The World Series that year was a big deal at my house. We watched almost every minute of that series together. Except for this:

To this day, I hate to go to bed before a game is over.

Baseball isn’t as big a deal in my house today as it was when I was growing up. While my husband loved the game as a kid, he doesn’t pay too much attention anymore, and neither of my boys are really fans. I only watch an occasional game during the regular season. But come October, I’ll be in front of the television, marveling at the grace of a well-turned double play or holding my breath as a ball soars into the outfield. And you can be sure I’ll be watching tomorrow night, cheering for Boston, thinking of my father.

Thank you to Stacey and all her new co-bloggers at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing

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When I was a kid, I always sought out the picture books with the shiny gold and silver stickers on the cover. I had no idea what these stood for, but like a magpie searching for glittering baubles, I was drawn to them for the magical illustrations they contained.

I learned soon enough what these stickers represented, but still only had a vague sense of who Randolph Caldecott was. Thanks to Leonard S. Marcus’s wonderful new book, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013) I know much more about this pioneer of picture books for children.

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Oversized and printed on heavy, creamy paper, Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing follows Caldecott from his birth in 1846 to his early death at the age of 39 in 1886. Caldecott found joy in nature and humor in everything. He went to work as a bank clerk at the age of 15, but spent most of his free time sketching. He was soon selling illustrations to newspapers and on his way to becoming the inventor of the modern picture book.

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This book is lavishly illustrated. Scenes from Caldecott’s sketch books are interspersed with both black and white and color illustrations published throughout his lifetime. Caldecott’s drawings are filled with humor and energy.  He wrote of his art, “Please say that my line is to make to smile the lunatic who has shown no sign of mirth for many months.” (p. 36) And an 1883 illustration from The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate shows hounds racing through a graveyard with headstones for Peter Piper, Mary, and Thomas Blowhorn.

As I read this book, I thought of Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art. Published in 2007, Artist to Artist is a collection of essays by picture book artists, many of them Caldecott Medal and Honor winners, telling the story of their careers with young readers. It’s so important for students to learn about the often long and arduous path so many artists take on their way to success. Learning about their creative process can take the mystery out of becoming an artist and make it seem within reach. Sharing these stories with our students can inspire them to pursue their own passions and create their own art, because, as Caldecott himself reminded a young fan, “there are so many beautiful things waiting to be drawn.”

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting! And thank you, Colette, for giving me this lovely book.

Poetry Friday: Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”

— Emilie Buchwald

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Parents often ask me how they can help their children become readers. I tell them to read to them early and often. There is an extensive research base supporting this advice. (Reach Out & Read and Reading Rockets have thorough summaries.) The National Center for Family Literacy and The Yale Reading Center are just two of the many websites with resources for parents and teachers. And the variety and quality of children’s books being published today is astounding.

Poetry is especially well suited for little ones. They love the rhythm, rhyme and word play found in nursery rhymes and poems. When my boys were little, we all looked forward to our ritual bedtime reading. We had many Mother Goose collections and rhyming books, and this was one of our favorites.

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“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod”

by Eugene Field

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night

Sailed off in a wooden shoe–

Sailed on a river of crystal light,

Into a sea of dew.

“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”

The old moon asked of the three.

“We have come to fish for the herring fish

That live in this beautiful sea;

Nets of silver and gold have we!”

Said Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,

As they rocked in the wooden shoe,

And the wind that sped them all night long

Ruffled the waves of dew.

The little stars were the herring fish

That lived in that beautiful sea–

“Now cast your nets wherever you wish–

Never afeard are we!”

So cried the stars to the fishermen three:

Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod.

All night long their nets they threw

To the stars in the twinkling foam–

Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,

Bringing the fishermen home;

‘Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed

As if it could not be,

And some folks thought ‘twas a dream they’d dreamed

Of sailing that beautiful sea—

But I shall name you the fisherman three:

Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,

And Nod is a little head,

And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies

Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.

So shut your eyes while mother sings

Of wonderful sights that be,

And you shall see the beautiful things

As you rock in the misty sea,

Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:

Wynken,

Blynken,

And Nod.

 illustration by David McPhail, from ''Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,'
Illustration by David McPhail, from ”Wynken, Blynken, and Nod”

Be sure to visit Irene Latham at Live Your Poem… for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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I love going to conferences and workshops. They’re so invigorating. Sometimes an idea I have is confirmed, or I’m reminded of a strategy or activity I haven’t used in a while. But the best sessions are those where I learn something new that I can immediately use in my teaching and moves my thinking about a topic forward.

This happened on Saturday at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion. Carl Anderson’s session on analyzing informational texts for teaching points to support student writing caused a noticeable shift in my thinking about these books.

Anderson, author of the classic book on conferring, How’s It Going? (Heinemann, 2000), opened his talk by reminding us that using mentor texts is essential if we want our students to write well in any genre. They have to “imagine the shape of their drafts.” In order to do this, they’ll need lots of exposure to models of the genre before they write.

Teachers should look at possible mentor texts through several lenses, including meaning, structure, details, voice, and conventions. Anderson’s words came back to me a few hours later while I was browsing the shelves at Bank St. Book Store. Astronomy has always fascinated me, so Jessie Hartland’s new book, How the Meteorite Got to the Museum (Blue Apple Books, 2013), caught my eye. As I flipped through the pages, I realized I was reading the book differently that I would have just the day before. Many elements of the book’s structure and style popped out and grabbed my attention.

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Told as a cumulative story in the tradition of “The House that Jack Built,” How the Meteorite Got to the Museum combines scientific facts with the daily lives of the people whose path the meteor crossed, making the story more interesting and engaging to readers. Hartland infuses the story with humor with lines like “Your car was in an interstellar collision!”

The Peekskill Meteorite’s descent to Earth is described with vivid details that include all the senses. Witnesses’ reactions are chronicled with a variety of verbs each time they’re mentioned, as is the meteorite’s journey itself. Hartland’s colorful, engaging illustrations, which remind me of Maira Kalman’s work, include diagrams, maps and other typical of non-fiction features.

All of these touches give this book a depth that will draw kids back to it again and again, a depth I might have missed if not for Carl Anderson’s ideas about analyzing mentor texts. How the Meteorite Got to the Museum is an ideal mentor text for 3rd or 4th grade students who’ve been writing informational text for a few years and are ready to stretch their writing wings and try a new text structure. And they’ll learn a few facts about meteorites along the way.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Poetry Friday: Love after Love

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Kate Roberts and Chris Lehman have just written a new book, Falling in Love With Close Reading. For the past seven weeks, they have been hosting a blog-a-thon to celebrate their book’s publication. Last week, Kate’s contribution on her blog, Indent, was about closely reading her life. She shared a few the insights and revelations she gained by spending one day being truly observant of her actions and reactions. One of her statements resonated with me:

“Chris and I believe that the skill of reading our world closely allows us to live richer, more beautiful lives.”

This line made me think of an episode of Krista Tippett’s On Being which featured an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn about the science of mindfulness. At the end of the interview, Zinn shared this poem.

“Love after Love”

by Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s

welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was

your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life…

Read the rest of the poem and learn more about Jon Kabat-Zinn here.

Only through knowing ourselves can we be open to the love of others and fully love them in return. Thank you, Kate and Chris, for reminding me of this. Thank you for helping me find my way back to this poem. For poetry is all about reading our world closely. Poetry allows us to live richer, more beautiful lives.

Be sure to visit Cathy Mere at Merely Day by Day for more enriching poetry.

Slice of Life: Surviving a Cataclysm

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My husband and I recently attended a live performance of the NPR show, Radiolab. Titled “Apocolypto,” the thread tying the stories together was endings. The first story the hosts, Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, told was about recent research on the extinction of the dinosaurs. Previous theories proposed that the dinosaurs died off slowly from starvation because the debris-filled atmosphere prevented sunlight from sustaining plant life, thus disrupting the entire food chain. Based on new evidence, some scientists now hypothesize that the dinosaurs were wiped out in a cataclysm of fire that lasted only a few hours. The sights and sounds that accompanied this tale of death and destruction made it seem even more horrific.

By Don Davis/NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Don Davis/NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This got me thinking about cataclysmic change. We don’t handle it well. Indeed, it is often deadly. Recent events bear this out: whole neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey are gone because of Superstorm Sandy, the recent floods in Colorado, wildfires throughout the West, earthquakes in Japan and other parts of the world. The list is long. People do recover from these events, but it takes time. These disasters leave both internal and external scars. The people and the landscapes are changed forever.

I feel like the world of education is in the midst of a cataclysm. CCSS, SBAC, and SEED (Connecticut’s acronym for our new teacher evaluation system) are causing huge upheavals across the country. Teachers are doing their best, just as they always have, to keep a steady focus on their students and what they need to learn and succeed. But it’s not easy. Every day it seems like there is some new demand that drains more time and energy away from our students.

But times of cataclysmic change and natural disasters also bring out the best in people. Communities come together to help and support one another as they get back on their feet. We have to remain supportive of each other as we navigate these changes. Instead of feeling like those dinosaurs on that really bad day eons ago, we should feel like we are part of the creation of a better education system for all children.

The physical world is in constant flux, and it’s an illusion to think that the day-to-day world of our lives is any different. Our survival depends on the attitude we bring to those daily challenges. Radiolab’s final story that evening was about two actors, both diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at about the same time. Rather than let their disease get the best of them, they teamed up to perform Samuel Beckett’s play, Endgame. Their determination not to be crushed by their disease allowed them to overcome its devastating effects.

We can’t let ourselves be crushed by the changes we face. We have to go to school each day and support each other as we combine what is good about these new initiatives with what we know is best for students. That is how we can evolve and flourish in the aftermath of this cataclysm.

Thank you to Stacey and all her new co-bloggers at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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You know how Garrison Keillor begins his monologues with “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone?” I want to steal his line but change it: “It’s been a hectic week in my hometown.” Better yet, it’s been a hectic MONTH! I’ve missed several weeks of IMWAYR because I haven’t had much time to read and I haven’t had that much time to blog about what I have read.

Thanks to Columbus sailing the ocean blue all those years ago, however, this weekend I was able to sit down with a few picture books and just read.

ImageFirst up was The First Drawing, by Mordicai Gerstein (Little, Brown; 2013). This book is a great example of a writer reading something in the news and asking “What if…?” Gerstein imagines an 8 year old boy living 30,000 years ago who encounters a wooly mammoth while out with his father. When he sees the mammoth in the shadows on the wall of the cave where he lives, he tries to describe it to his family. Frustrated by their inability to see his vision, he grabs a stick from the fire and begins to draw, and the mammoth comes to life for all to see.

I love that this book begins with the word “Imagine” and ends with “magic.” Capturing the often elusive images and thoughts that float through our minds through drawing is magic indeed!

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By pure coincidence, two Peter Brown titles were in my pile. YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND!  (Little, Brown) was published in 2011 and got lots of good press, but somehow I never got around to reading it. Desperate for a friend, Lucy sets out one morning determined to find one. Despite her good intentions, her day doesn’t go as planned and she’s feels “hopeless.” Just then, a flamingo wearing a bow-tie spots Lucy in her despair and asks Lucy to be his friend. On the last two pages, Lucy and her new friend take great delight in doing everything Lucy imagined she and her friend would: swimming, climbing trees, doing cartwheels, having a picnic, then a dance party.

Kids will enjoy Brown’s humorous illustrations of Lucy’s missteps along the way to finding her friend. This book would be a great mentor text for a book about making friends. On a side note, I couldn’t help noticing a resemblance between Lucy and her friend and another pair of friends 🙂

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The cover of Brown’s latest offering, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Little, Brown; 2013) is reminiscent of the jungle landscapes of  Henri Rousseau. After a lifetime of “always being so proper,” Mr. Tiger decides he’s had enough and follows his instincts to the wilderness where he goes “completely wild!” Kids will love this about Mr. Tiger. Parents and teachers will appreciate that Mr. Tiger comes back to civilization with his individuality in tact and his wildness in check.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!