It’s Monday! What are you Reading? middle grade fiction

I have returned to reading middle great fiction. I love reading books at this level. I think because it is where I did most of my teaching and know this age of children so well. I also love the leap of writing that authors can take.

download.jpgThe language is still mid range, the plot not to overly complicated but the concepts and ideas take a step into deeper thinking. It is a time when kids really are beginning to understand the world around them and are looking for more information. They are seeking to understand and explore the issue and problems they see around them in the news. This is where you can find books that take on more conflict. The story line can become more complex and not everything needs to be answered in black and white with happy endings.

The story of Saving Wonder by Mary Knight fits this perfectly. She gives us the emotional life of a young boy living in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. A boy who has lost all but his Grandfather because of the coal mining business. Curly and Grandpa are making their way together but Grandpa’s health is not good and changes in the mining company may take away all that is important to Curly.

Knight is able to walk the thin line between the coal industry and the environmentalists who are hoping to save the mountain from being mined, mountain top removal. She builds strong characters that you care about and real issues that are important to us today. She sets up a great read for students but a wonderful book to teach from.

This book not only provides you with topics for kids to research, issues to debate – coal vs environment, but also the personal issue of a friendship turning into a girlfriend and what happens when a new kid steps into that relationship. Grandpa and Curley also have a vocabulary game going throughout the story that provides a great teaching tool as well.

As a teacher, I can see all the teachable moments but they don’t side track the story line. It is still a book to be read with interest and wonder.  It would be a perfect read aloud as you begin a unit on social issues or researching. This is a book that brings facts into a fictional story to help us understand that the struggle between coal and the environment has many points of view. She brings forth the lives of those who are are involved on each side making it a story to be thought about deeply.

This is Mary Knights debut novel. I look forward to see what comes next.


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Weeding the Garden: Returning to writing

columbine.JPGThe garden is in – well the veggies are. There are a few flowering plants that still need to find a home and there is plenty of weeding to do. As a gardener we know there is always plenty of weeding. There are two kinds of weeding. The first is a deep dig and throw out lots. This is the weeding when we have left the garden sit over the winter or to long into the spring. This work takes days or weeks to pull things back together.

The second kind of weeding is the light day to day work where we clip around the raised beds, pull stray weeds and dig the “cute” little yellow flowers that like to pop up in the middle of the yard no matter what you do. This is maintenance for the garden.

This work is just like my writing. There are days when I just read over things, change a few sentences or correct all my spelling errors (at least try to correct them all). The light weeding.

Then there is the time when I must sit down for the deep clean of a piece. The deep weeding work of writing. This is where sentences get thrown out or paragraphs get moved from place to place or the chapter order gets moved.

This part of writing I find really hard to do. I get stuck in my first draft and can’t see my way out to a new point of view. It is hard to let go of sentences you like, just like a plants your like but now have to many of them.

Sharing with a writing group can help move me off point and get me seeing new things. Also putting the work away for awhile and them returning to it much later gives it a new look and makes it easy to see what is making sense and what just needs to go. This is true with both writing and gardening.

The main idea of my writing piece has been planted and I have let it sit for a few months, again a bit like my garden. Now is the time to go back in for the deep weeding. The changing of sentences, chapters and looking at the whole story to see if it hangs together.

So as I move into lighter garden work I will dig deeper into my writing and see if I can make sense of my little novel I have been working on.

All this rambling about gardens and writing has me wondering about our students and if we help them think about giving their writing time to grow. Do we show them how writers leave their work sit for awhile and return to it later to re work it? Do we ask them to return in the fall with last years writing journals so they can bring their old writing forward? ( or do you save their journals to pass on to the next teacher?)

What do you do at the end of the year as your students leave for summer?

  • Do the writing journals get passed on?
  • Do the journals go home with the hope of summer writing and drawing?
  • Do we ask our students to return in the fall with their writing?
  • Are we modeling this part of writing for our students?

I don’t think I did this well for my students and now wish I had! How about you?




Posted in journals, Reflection, writing | 8 Comments

It’s Monday! What are you reading? books in a series

A while ago some one asked me it I liked books that were in a series and my response was not really. I told them I like reading new and different books, exploring new writing and ways of thinking. After I thought about it I realized I had lied. I had not really paid attention to my own reading habits.

download.jpgI had forgotten the thrill we had as a family long ago when our daughter was waiting anxiously for the next Boxcar Children book to come out or the Babysitter’s Little sister books. I thought that was her reading – she love the predicable writing, the familiar characters the sense of home as you settle into a story where you know the personalities.

There was the Magic Tree House books and then as our son grew older we found Harry Potter like the rest of the world. We were left hanging on trip to Chicago when one of the series came out and you would have thought the world had ended because we did not have the book in hand the day of it’s release.  Yes, I had the book on hold back in Minnesota but it was not now. So walking the street of downtown Chicago I was able to score a copy in an old record store.  Who knew that there would be an unclaimed copy in a record/music store. We began reading it out loud in a late night wait for the train out of town. Our kids and everyone else in the station was listening.

Then came the Dark Materials series from Pullman. We were all waiting for each download-1.jpgone to be released. It was great excitement one Christmas when the newest release was under the tree.

So yes, we likes books in a series  or should I say I like books in a series. I even realize I have continued to carried this craziness of waiting for a book to be released in my own life even though my children are grown and moved away from home.

I have been reading the Corner’s Lunch – series (adult read), I have been reading the The Shakespeare Mysteries by Hicks (middle grade fiction). I have been reading the Flavia de Luce series (young adult to adult).

The realization that I indeed read books in a series happened this week when I realized I have three books pre brought because they are next in the series – I just needed to be sure I would not miss them. I also want to I go back to reread the first books in each series just to reconnect with these of friends.

Books in a series often get re read, they bring old friends (and enemies) back into your life and give you a chance to relax into a predictable writing pattern, especially when the world around you in real life can be very unpredictable.

So here they are! The books I am waiting for:

Childrens – The Shakespeare Mysteries by by Deron R. Hicks

  • Books one and two:
    • Secret of Shakespeare’s Gravedownload-2.jpg
    • Tower of the Five orders
  • Next book to be released in  August 2017 (a mystery but not part of the Shakespeare series but it appears to follow a similar formate
    • The Van Gogh Deception

Young Adult/ Adult – Flavia de Luce series

  • There are at least are at least 8 of these – no I am not going to re read all of them or list them here but …
  • 51wlWHdhRfL.jpgThe new release will be January 31, 2018 –
    • The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place: A Flavia de Luce Novel





Young Adult/ Adult

  • The Dark Materials series (3 books) by Philip Pullman – yes I will re read these this summer
  • The new release of what Pullman is calling an “equel” to the first trilogy, distinguishing it from a prequel or a sequel, and noting that the book “doesn’t stand before or after ‘His Dark Materials,’ but beside it.”  (see article from the New York times –
    • The Book of Dust (volume 1)-  to be released October 19, 2017


Do you or your students like reading books in a series?  What series are you reading?


Posted in Book Review, Reflection | 4 Comments

It’s Monday! What are you reading? a new author

It may just be that I am an Iowa girl who is living in Minnesota. Maybe it has to do with the love a fields of flowers and long forgotten gardens and homes. Or it is just the idea of a simple mystery and a family looking to reconnect. There are so many touch stones for me in this middle grade fiction book that it was a great read on a Sunday afternoon.

download.jpgThe Secret of Goldenrod by Jane Reilly is fun read. The story is set in rural Iowa in a very small town. Trina and her father have moved into an old house to repair it for sale. You quickly learn that Trina and her dad move from place to place repairing houses. This leaves Trina with lots of great skills but also a lonely kid missing her mother and the powerful relationships of friends.

Trina is sure the old house they are now living in is haunted and so do all the people who live in the town. No one will come near the house and most are sure Trina and her dad will be gone in a day or so.

Trina has a skill of listening to the house and is sure this house is as lonely as she is. As the story of the house is revealed Trina also begins to understand her own story of loss and confusion – will her Mother ever come home? why does she just send postcards from all over the world? how can she travel so much?

Reilly draws a fine line between a bit of magic (a small talking doll from the doll house) and what could be explained with logic (the sounds from a steam furnace, a toilet that flushes its self). Trina constantly repeats there is no such thing as a haunted house.

I loved this story but I would love to see what students would like about it. Students living in rural setting might enjoy  this but I wonder about our street wise city kids.  The school bullying feels real, the development of relationships feels real. I just wonder if it is so far removed from our cell phone and computer savvy students.

This will hit the shelfs of our school library next fall so I will have to wait to hear what our students think about it.

All that said Reilly has a new book coming out in October from Carolrhoda press –The Notations of Cooper Cameron – and yes I 5110LK78H+L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgam excited to read it.

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Beginners Mind

tumblr_lvfyqeRBpe1r653yzo1_1280.pngThe phrase Beginners Mind for me comes out of the Buddhist teaching. It is that place where you allow yourself to be open to being a learner. It is the time when you ask questions and allow for the fact that there will be many mistakes. Mistakes are, as we know, where we learn the most. It is light and full of possibilities.

It is also hard at times to hold this way of thinking in our thoughts. Today after days of rain and more rain, days of chilly damp weather, days of feeling stuck in the mud (both literally and figuratively) I am struggling to hold that fresh thinking. The thinking of possibilities seems hidden from me.

At times I am a frustrated old frog crocking away about the same old issues. The politics are still crazy, the weather not to be mentioned, the school year and testing seems to have gone on too long, my little seedling are not growing – crock, crock, crock!

The lack of walking, sun and physical labor in my garden has taken a toll. I have lost hold of that beginners mind. I know that a few weeks ago I was plotting changes in the garden. I was thinking through where to add bushes, garden beds and how to rid myself of so much green grass. How does this small space become more of a natural garden and less of a city yard with grass? How does gardening move into an art form with design? How do I learn those steps? I was thinking about how to be creative. How does one learn creativity?

I have for the moment lost that light. I am frustrated and feel I don’t have a clue what I am doing. (Do you hear the old frog crocking?) It is times like this that I realize the importance of a teacher/mentor. When we lose our way it is the teacher who nudges us back into possibilities. It is the teacher who can guide us to the right article to read or where to research for that new idea. The need for a mentor who can nod and agree that it takes time to learn anything or everything. Change comes with time, learning comes with time – we will stumble along the path but we will learn the teacher reminds us.

One can learn on their own. Some of us are better at this than others. There are those who will strike out and research, read, try and try again and then become their own expert. For most of us that discipline and the ability to hold that positive thinking can be hard. This is why we have teachers or mentors. This is why we seek out experts to remind us that we are all in beginners mind.

I do read lots of blogs, books and chat with neighbors to learn but a mentor takes on a different role than just helpful hints over the back yard fence can not provide. A teacher does more than just hand out information to her/his students. They help you reach into the details of learning – the information of dirt, plants, sun and bugs but they also help you find that creative touch. They help you develop who you are as well as your skills and your understanding of the world around you. This mentorship is an art in and of its self. It is about helping a individual grow.

So today while it is raining once again I will return to my garden books as my mentors. I have yet to find my way to a live, breathing mentor for the garden but I will try to remain open to the possibility. I will also try to leave the crocking outside with the real frogs who may find a new home in my back yard which right now is more pond than garden.

  • Cloudy
  • 51 degrees feeling like 46 – (warmer than yesterday by about 10 degrees)
  • raining again
  • with the possibility of sun tomorrow – beginners mind!


Posted in behavior change, gardens, Reflection | Tagged | 6 Comments

It’s Monday! What are you reading? a mystery and Shakespeare

download-1.jpgA few weekends ago I was chatting with my niece who is homeschooling her two kids. The older one is an avid reader of  non fiction and at times you feel you are talking to a small adult. These two will be starting a unit on Shakespeare in the fall. She was concerned about the depth of reading and has decided to take it slow. Sharing bits and pieces with him. Reading aloud to him as well. A great idea I thought.

As teachers/parents we sometime jump into literature that our students can read but don’t have the life experiences to fully understand the material in front of them. She clearly was thinking about this but her course of study she was following was headed in this direction.

I knew that there are quiet a few fiction books for middle schoolers that pull Shakespeare in the story or touch on that time period. They share a bit of the history of the time and make some pretty dense reading a bit more fun. This search for books led me to Hicks mystery series. The first one is Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave.

It is a quick read and perfect for 4th through 6th graders. The chapters are short, there is lots of quick action and brother/ sister fights that are all to familiar in families. It would make a good read aloud as well.

Colophon is twelve and loves her families publishing business. (A perfect name for one in love with publishing – colophon means a publisher’s emblem or imprint, especially one on the title page or spine of a book.) She is a reader and a lover of history. Her brother who most likely will inherit the business, as it gets passed to the oldest son, can’t stand it and wants nothing to do with it. When the story begins we learn that this business is in the middle of a family take over and it is not going to be pleasant.

How does this connect to Shakespeare? That is the mystery that unravels through clues left long ago by their Great, great, great, great grandfather, Miles Letterford.

This mystery came out in 2012 and there is a follow up titled Tower of the Five Orders. (which I am excited to read today) and a new release later this year called The Van Gogh Deception.

Here are a few other books that take us back to our friend William:

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper
(not a fiction book)   Shakespeare: His work and his words by Michael Rosen 


Do you know if any other books we should add to this list?

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What season is it? oh yeah spring in Minnesota

My laundry basket is full to over flowing and I seem to be doing laundry every other day. What does that have to do with the seasons? Well in Minnesota we don’t just spring into Spring we flip back and forth for weeks on end with the world around us trying to decided what to do.

It is mid May and we are past our final frost date and I have not seen snow for a few weeks so that is great but that does not mean things are settled completely.  It just means you need to keep a wide variety of clothes handy at all times.

rain.JPGWe started this morning dark, cool and rainy. The lights needed to be on in the house, we had closed down the windows last night and as I dressed I pulled out a light weight fleece to start the day. My plant seedlings tucked carefully under a blanket (think plastic tarp) to keep from flooding and also getting a bit too cold.

As I worked in my office I soon found I needed to open the window even though it was pouring rain. A short time later I was pulling off the fleece and off to find a short sleeve shirt. The sun had arrived and with it a muggy warm.

After lunch the wind picked up although sunny and I went to find a light weight shirt with long sleeves to put over my short sleeves. It was cool in the house as I continue to type away. The sun was bright and I also went out to open up my little cold frame I had set up on the deck for my spring seedling.  They would love this outside warmth and sun.

I once again changed clothes pulling off the long sleeves, finding shorts and enjoying the temperature rise to 81 degrees and sunny.  Also knowing my plants would be happy.

As I began to think about this post and what I might say today – the skies quickly darken, the temperature dropped once again and the rains hit hard and fast. Large drops falling and sounding as if there was hail coming. I ran for the deck to once again cover my plants for fear of hail destroying 10 trays of tiny seedlings I had worked so hard to grow. seedlings .JPG

Now wet and chilled I returned to my jeans and light sweatshirt as I watched the rain. As of earlier to day we had received 3/4 of an inch but have no desire to venture out in this to see what it is now. I am guessing we are on our way to a full inch of rain for the day.

Oh wait – the rain had stopped, the sun is out again and this cool breeze is warming as I type. As you can see – in Minnesota we change clothes a lot – some times it is the fault of the weather.

Other times the laundry explosion is my fault – it is my coming in from the garden with muddy knees, shoes, hands and face. At which point my husband just points to the shower and I find yet another set of clothes to put on.

Wet, muggy, damp, cool, and muddy – cloudy, sunny, windy – everything but snow!

This is the wonderful glorious days of spring!

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