It’s Monday! What are you reading? fantasy

imgresI tend to fall for certain authors and Jonathan Auxier is one of them. I read Peter Nimble and the Fantastic Eyes a year ago or so and didn’t love it at first but for some reason the character of Peter grew on me. I wanted to know about this orphan who had lost his eyes. I wanted to follow his wild tales across the seas. So when Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard came out I was on it.

I finally had time to read Sophie last week and fell in love all 51-qWHHpDiL._OU01__BG0,0,0,0_FMpng_AC_UL320_SR214,320_over again. My childhood love of magic and heroes came tumbling out. I spent many a happy evening reading.

Sophie is growing up in a book store and is a young bookmender. She has lost her mother and lives in a town that is preparing to burn all books of nonsense. This means all children’s books, and fiction. How could you not be hooked with that as a beginning?  Plus dear Peter Nimble arrives in the middle of the night. He brings a book that needs repairing but hold a magic power and possibly the answer to what really happened to Sophie’s mother. This is where we begin – a tale of strange animals, witches, magic, evil and books.

There is so much to share but it is much better to just find a cup of tea, a comfy chair and slide into the world of fantasy. It would make a great read aloud to start the year. You could but don’t really need to read Peter Nimble first. I would read one out loud and leave the other for the students to read and have fun with on their own.

The Night GardenerAuxier also published The Night Gardener in 2014.  I have heard good things about it so it is now on my TBR list. All of these would be a great October read with scary tales and spooky characters.

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Where do my plants come from?

I am one happy gardener and love picking up plants from friends and neighbors yards. I buy a few here and there and grow a few from seed as well. This is literally where they come from but my question has more to do with the history of plants. What is their origin? And what is there story?
Hot Fish Pepper

I never really thought about the origin of the plants in my garden until this week when I was looking up information on a hot pepper I am growing in my garden. This beautiful plant had a great story to tell if I was willing to do a bit of searching. I wrote about it over on my gardening blog – click here to get the story of Hot Fish Peppers.

I then began to wonder about other plants like the Black Pearl Pepper (Capsicum annuum). I found this beauty late last year in a city park. I started this ga_d2d10cfc5858bf98_spcmsplant from seed in the spring. My plant is not doing so well but will try again next year.

This plants history came right from the horticultural lab. It did not have a magical trip from somewhere in the world. It was developed by cross breeding of two cultivars and test growing for a few years.


The Lisianthus has just started blooming in my small stone garden in the back yard. It has its roots as a prairie flower that comes from Mexico or the Texas area of the United States. The Lisianthus is often called the ‘poor man’s rose’, due to its striking similarity. This plant came to me by way of my neighbors extra seedlings that I stuck in the stone garden.


As I walk the garden and look at the flowers I realize that there are plants whose origins are from China, Turkey and the prairie of the United States.

sagepurple basilIf we start talking about the herbs like my basil, lavender, sage and oregano we are off on another journey to Asia or the Mediterranean.

Then there are the plants like the Black Eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia) that are native to the plains here in the United States and yet have a great tale in Old English Poetry and there is also the Swedish connection in the name Rudbeckia coming from the scientist Olof Rudbeck the Elder and his son. You can read more about these tales at the American Meadows web eyed susans

Who knew there was a whole world right in my garden with so many stories to tell!  What stories do you plants have to tell you?

Posted in gardens, Reflection | Tagged | 8 Comments

It’s Monday! What are you reading? books about prison

Prison is not the topic one thinks about when referring to fiction books for children but there are quiet a few that have popped up on the scene these days. There is the series that we all know Tales from Alcatraz by 89716Gennifer Choldenko. (Al Capone Does my Shirts, etc).  These are great fun and full of adventure.

There are a few new ones (at least to me) that take a different angle. They deal with children whose parents are in prison for one one reason or another. Often children have a parent, many times a mother, who is serving time due to drug use. This new group of books helps bring a new voice to the classroom. The two books I have read recently deal with the emotions and struggles through adventure, humor and understanding of what a child might feel during this time they are away from their parent.

imgresThe first one I read was Ruby on the outside. I reviewed that book last year. It struck a cord with me due to the students I often had in my classroom who were living with Grandparents, parents gone or in prison.

This week I read the wild story of Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher. This story takes on the adventure of Harry Sue who is trying hard to learn the lingo and the ins and outs of prison. She has high hopes of being bad enough to enter prison herself. This way she is sure she will be able to find her mother.

Harry Sue is living with her Grandmother, a not very nice one at that, who Harry-Sue-203x300runs a home daycare. Harry Sue calls these poor kids, who have found themselves in her grandmothers care, Crumb Snatchers. Although Harry Sue wants and tries to be mean and bad her heart is made of gold and her days are filled with how to be sure each and every kid is safe while she is at school.

There is humor and fun throughout the story as well as an on going link to the Wizard of Oz (the book not the movie).

At the heart of this story is the deep emotions of kids and families who get lost in the system that really mean to protect but sometimes fails. The resourcefulness of Harry Sue is amazing and seems at bit far fetched. She keeps one Crumb Snatcher safe by placing him in the bathtub during the day while she is at school, a bit of a makeshift play pen.

I know that seems a bit out there but I had a student who did indeed keep her little sister safe by spending the evenings locked in a bathroom eating a make shift dinner in the bathtub. Mom worked at night and Dad drank. He was not very pleasant when he drank so a locked bathroom was a great place to be until mom got home or dad fell asleep. Kids do what they need to do to be safe. Harry Sue helps us see this side of the story. 

This would be a great book to read aloud although I think reading it first would be good. There is so much to talk about, and learn about. There are parts to sort out between what might really happen to a child and what might have been the author stretching the story to make this a fun read. Harry Sue came out in 2009 but I just stumbled on it this summer.

Next on the list of prison books is:

  • bk_allrise_140All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (2016)
  • Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woods (2015)213938_Sch.Visiting_Day_CVR_0.tif
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More important than water??

“Sometime it seems like it is more important than water”                                                                            – a direct quote from the internet guy

Once again we have been without internet connections for the last week. In some ways it feels like a blessing. We have been in our own little world. No real news from the outside since we read all our newspapers on line. We watch little to no commercial TV so have only picked up bits and pieces of news when out to eat or the occasional scan of the news when I turned my phone into a hot spot. We have not missed the political noise and hate speech that has been part of our lives for months.

On the other hand we have been struggling with the change in routines. My morning read of the news while sitting in bed has left me wondering what to do at 6:30 in the morning. There is the issue of my daily writing not backing up to the cloud. My Monday and Tuesday Blog could not be posted unless I went some place. My e-mail not being answered.

My husband, as a technical writer, has left each morning when the neighborhood library opens. This is good I guess –he is walking more and it is always great to use the library. Unless you are under deadline and are writing detailed materials then the crowds and loud children’s corner becomes a bit of a distraction.

Both of us have headed to the local watering hole each evening to get on line to check e-mail. I also check Facebook, and Instagram while he is checking his Twitter feed. (Ok chatting and checking phones at the bar is not all bad.)

Is all this really more important than water? No – it is all doable but I was surprised at how often I turn to the internet for information. Also how often during the day an e-mail or note shows up that I would have answered more quickly (even though I am retired). The computer and the internet have woven its way into lives. It is part of the way we work, play and connect to friends and family.

imagesWould I go back to my childhood time of newspapers delivered to our door, to the party line phone that sat in the hallway between the bathroom and the bedrooms, to writing and mailing letters to ask questions and share information with friends, to the waiting to get photos developed only to find I spent money on blurry images and people heads cut off?imgres

I think I will stick to waiting for the internet guy to fix our line and happily return to my daily newspaper reading on my I-Pad each morning at 6:30.


Just as I finished writing my post in a word doc our internet came back on with blinding speed making us all happy – computer guy who found the issue in the line a few blocks away, my husband who is now sitting in the quiet living room finishing his work and I in my upstairs office ready to post my writing, check in on my e-mail and catch up on the news!



Posted in computers, Reflection | 8 Comments

Journals and Diaries – Building a writing habit


As a kid I remember wanting a diary. The little book with a lock and key. I was told this was a place I could write all my secrets and tell all my stories. My older sister had one and I wanted one too.

It seemed like years before I had my very own diary. I am guessing I got one so I would quit trying to open my sisters. I have to be honest here my interest in this small book was more about the lock and key then the book itself.

Once I had this book in hand and I had spent lots of time locking and unlocking it I sat down to write. Well, I tried. I could think of no secrets to share with my diary. I had stories to tell but writing them was so hard. I was a student who struggled with words, spelling and grammar. (The word dyslexia might have been a good description of me then.)

I carried my diary everywhere but put little in it. I told stories to my Mother and she always said go write them down. I never did. It was a task to large to hard to do. As I grew older I left my little book in the drawer with a few odd sentences in it.

As an adult I start a Journal – now just a notebook where I could write my thoughts. I bought lots of them – different colors, lines and no lines, different sizes using different colored pens. I have tons of them on my book shelf. Some have lots of writing in them – others not so much. There was no habit of writing.

Now I am in my 60’s. I wish I could have focused and filled all those journals. I have stories and bits of stories in so many of them. I have lost track of events, people and thoughts because I didn’t write them down. I am famous for the line “oh this was so important or fun I will remember it!”   You know how that goes.

images-2So now I am on to a new adventure in diaries. I am using One Note on my computer to write just that – one note a day. My new goal is to write each day just one or two things that went on. No big stories, no secrets just happenings of the day – they do not need to be events that need to be remembered. This is about building a habit of writing daily. Just one sentence!

Somewhere long ago I needed support to build that habit of daily writing. My jumping from activity to activity, book to book, and story to story did not serve me well. So now I am taking it one step at a time – one or two sentences at a time.

This is something I wish my teachers had helped me with and I share it now as we think about our writing workshop in the classrooms this fall. What can we do as teachers to help support that daily observation and writing? Maybe students could write just a sentence or two at the end of the day or the beginning of the day?

I write my blog posts (now on Monday and Tuesday), and I am working on a novel but I can’t seem to write the little daily observations. I wonder how much farther I would be in my novel writing if I had found the support to hold me to writing what I saw or did each day. The building of a writing habit is so important.

I am working on the one sentence a day idea – on my computer when I check my e-mail each morning. I am hooking my new habit of writing to an old habit of checking my e-mail. I am putting down one sentence about what happened yesterday. It is one sentence – not a story – just one observation from the day. Building a habit takes time and so linking it with an activity that I already do can support me as I build this new one.

Have you thought about how you built your writing habit? Do you have a writing habit? How do you help students build their own daily writing habit?



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It’s Monday! What are you reading? Kate Messner

Kate Messner is an author who is producing books quickly and supporting writers, especially teachers who write. She is one busy lady.

You might know her from the summer blog group Teachers Write. Here she and a wonderful group of writers share prompts to write from, tips on writing and publishing and quick edits on teachers writing on Fridays. It is a great summer experience if you are a want a be writer or just want to practice writing to be a better writing teacher.

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9781619633766Besides this great blog Kate is sending out lots books into the world. She teaches from a place of knowing. She is good at teaching writing because she writes!

Last night I finished her most recent book The Seventh Wish. It is a book geared for middle school kids (5-8) although the message would be great for older readers as well.

Kate starts by settling us deep in the life of Charlie, the younger sister, who feels a bit forgotten. The needs of an older sister heading off to college, a sister who has struggled with a few health issues and a sister who is popular can sometimes take over a family. So Charlie is not happy as her family continues to need to support her sister leaving her to work things out on her own. She is not happy about the fact that she must miss important events in her own life because of her sister.

Charlie is looking for a bit of magic that might bring more balance back into the family. When she thinks she has found it while ice fishing she learns that magic is not always what you think it is.

Kate does a great job of holding that thin line between magic and reality.  Is there really magic going on here (is Charlie really talking to a fish and getting wishes granted) or are the events just positive things happening for the people around her?

Layered within Charlie’s day to day life with school projects, dancing and ice fishing is a deeper issue of peer pressure and drugs. It is not Charlie but her sister who turns to “friends” to help her through the hard transition of college. These friends open a path to drugs and it quickly turns to heroin.

This topic is a hot one and an important one. There are more and more families who are struggling with this problem. Kate helps students come to understand what addiction really means. We see the issues and problems through Charlie’s eyes so the darker side of heroin addition is not over whelming but clearly stated. Addiction is not just found with “those people”  as shown in the school health movie class about use drugs. A person who becomes addicted to drugs could be someone’s mother, the counselor helping people, the college student at the pizza shop or your own sister.

The book for me started slow and I was not sure if I would finish it but decided to hang in there since I had heard good things. It was worth staying with it. She pulls it all together very nicely in the end. It is a well crafted story.

It is a story that I think would be great to read along with a personal health unit or the drug unit. It is a good one to be discussed and to have a social worker or health worker share in the class discussion on the book. This could give a more person touch to a unit of drugs and the hazards of addiction.

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Watching the Tomatoes

tomatoes8It’s early morning and I am in my office, computer on my lab and ready to work. I have great notes from my writers group about next steps for my writing. I have started a new chapter idea that I am excited about for my writing. I have my tea at hand and the fan is slowly turning on the ceiling. I am ready to go …

But there are those tomatoes I can see out my window. There are so many plants in one raised bed. (really to many)  There are lots and lots of green tomatoes waiting to turn red. They have turned a light shade of green slowly moving towards red. I am sure if I just sit here and watch them in the sun they will be red soon. They will be ready for eating, for consumption.

The mistake in my thinking and doing is that the tomatoes are not just sitting waiting to turn red. In fact within this plant there is hard work going on. Water is pushing up the stem to the leaves and fruit so the plant can continue to grow. The cells in the leaves are taking in the sunlight to make chlorophyll to feed the plant. My tomatoes are beginning produce lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato turn red. These plants are hard at work. They know they must work daily if they are going to produce fruit. They need this fruit for the seeds – I need this fruit for my dinner. Neither will happen without hard work.

So with that in mind I realize that the fruits of my writing will not happen without hard work as well. I can’t just sit and think I will be a writer. Like my tomatoes I need to work daily and produce the needed lycopene and carotene (in other words – I need to produce words – lots and lots of words)  in order to see the fruits of my writing.

So enough looking out the window. It is back to my novel writing!

Brandywine tomatoes


Interesting Facts about Tomatoes Ripening:

A factor in how long it takes for a tomato to turn red is the outside temperature. Tomatoes will only produce lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato turn red, between the temperatures of 50 and 85 F. (10-29 C.). If it is any cooler that 50 F./10 C., those tomatoes will stay a stubborn green. Any warmer than 85 F./29 C., and the process that produces lycopene and carotene comes to a screeching halt.

Tomatoes are triggered to turn red by a chemical called ethylene. Ethylene is odorless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye. When the tomato reaches the proper green mature stage, it starts to produce ethylene. The ethylene then interacts with the tomato fruit to start the ripening process. Consistent winds can carry the ethylene gas away from the fruit and slow the ripening process.

Read more at Gardening Know How: What Makes Tomatoes Turn Red

Posted in gardens, Reflection, writing | 6 Comments