You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

When Leo was a puppy, he needed to be taught how to do everything from coming when called, to relieving himself outside, to learning that if food was left on a table or counter that it was not an invitation for him to help himself!  At some point, he learned, or used his instincts to help him retrieve objects when thrown – tennis balls, sticks, you name it, he would chase the soaring item and sure enough, bring it right back to whoever initiated the “game.”

At nine years old, Leo, a beautiful Golden Retriever who prances when walking (perhaps due to his father’s famous show dog lineage) has shifted his approach to retrieving.  Yes, he will still occasionally be enthused by the stick throwing routine, but these days, Leo has his sights set on a much more creative approach to play.

Instead of waiting for an object to be thrown and then capturing it, Leo initiates a whole new approach to fun.  Most mornings, he can be found racing through the Swift River trails en route to a quieter open space where there is a sandy spot that has easy access to a slower moving part of the river.  Upon closer view, one will notice that Leo is actually surveying the shallow waters and then hand, or paw-selecting a river rock.

Sometimes the transaction is seamless, and he is able to secure the rock in his mouth before bringing it up to higher ground, proudly dropping it near our feet and going back for more.  Other times, Leo may choose a rock that is too big for his mouth span and he will relentlessly try to capture it, nudging it with his nose – usually heading in the wrong direction away from the shore – whining at it and if really frustrated, barking profusely.  I am in awe of the whole fascinating process!  The fruits of his labor have been collecting over these summer weeks and he now has garnered quite a river rock garden!

As I wonder at how amazing Leo’s new development has been to observe, I am reminded that an old dog can learn new tricks!  Taking a page out of Leo’s book, and with the guidance of many writing legends – past and present – I am creating this blog to have a place to share my life moments – immense or miniscule – of any size.  It is here that I am committing to living a writerly life so that I can be a more authentic teacher of writing for my fourth grade students.  Cheers to all teachers as we get closer to the new school year ahead on the horizon.

 

 

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Breakout

With just a couple of weeks left until school is out for the summer, Nora Tucker looks forward to all of the things she enjoys most about Wolf Creek in the summer like daily swimming and incessant popsicle eating.  Hopes of a normal summer are thwarted when two inmates escape from the maximum security prison in Wolf Creek, which is at the center of this small Adirondack town’s livelihood.

The story moves forward through a series of letters, poems, voice recordings, text messages, press clips, and comics, which are all part of the Wolf Creek Time Capsule Project.  Through these modes of communication, the reader is able to feel the uneasiness of the community with the two men on the run from the perspectives of three seventh grade girls – Nora, her best friend Lizzie, and a newcomer, Elidee.  Gym classes are moved indoors, helicopters are running and shining lights at all hours of the days, previously unlocked doors are being locked tight, and spontaneous outings are all but eliminated from the daily schedule.

As the days pass and the case remains open, the people of Wolf Creek are on edge and become full of fear.  Nora and her friends notice that fear does not always bring out the best in people, even those whom they have known their entire lives.  Will the inmates ever be found, and if so, will life in Wolf Creek return to normal or will it be forever changed?

This fast-paced thrill ride of a story will definitely encourage a thoughtful reflection on how we greet new people and whether we really make them feel welcome in our communities, especially in the midst of crisis and adversity.  Look for Kate Messner’s Breakout on June 5, 2018.

 

Power Forward

I put this book into the hands of one of my fourth grade boys to read before me over a long weekend.  When we returned to school, he had finished the book and offered a book talk during the share portion of Morning Meeting.  I will paraphrase his review below.

I can’t really say his name, I think it’s Zayd (tries a bunch of different pronunciations before settling on the one he likes best.)  He really likes basketball, but he’s kind of small (like me) and he wants to be on the best team.  His parents make him play the violin which he doesn’t really want to do, but he plays it anyways.

So his friend Adam plays basketball, too, but he’s on the better team, the Gold team, and Zayd really wants to play with Adam and make the Gold team.  He works really hard and tries to show the coach what he can do in practices.  Tryouts are coming up and that makes Zayd a little nervous.  He ends up skipping violin lessons to play basketball with his friends at the same time, but his mom catches him and he gets in big trouble.  His parents kind of ground him from playing basketball, watching it, talking about it, pretty much don’t allow him to do anything related to basketball.

His uncle tells him he will get him the pair of sneakers he really wants if he makes the team.  But now, he may not even get the chance to try out.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens at the end!

This first book in a wonderful new chapter book series by Hena Khan is available in May, 2018.

The Rhino in Right Field

Twelve-year-old Nick Spirakis is a boy who dreams of making a name for himself.  He has the hardworking part down pat, as he’s being raised in his family’s hat and shoe business.  In fact, every Saturday, he works alongside his Greek immigrant father in the shop as a young apprentice.  Secretly, he wishes he were playing baseball with his friends instead.

Any chance Nick gets, he is at the local zoo, which doubles as a ball field for Nick and his friends to play their own smash up of baseball.  This may seem odd, and indeed it is, especially due to the fact that Tank, a 2,580 pound African Hook Lipped Rhinoceros, lives on the other side of the right-field fence!  When Nick’s nemesis, Pete, hits the ball toward Tank’s pen and Nick misses the catch, he quickly climbs the fence in a fight or flight response, retrieves the ball, and resumes play.  No wonder catching fly balls has Nick petrified!

Life as Nick knows it in his late 1940’s home is about to change as Mr. Daggett, the new owner of the city’s minor league baseball team, rolls in with lots of new ideas to increase attendance at the ballpark.  Maybe his dreams can come true!  Nick and his friends enter a batboy contest to be a Mudpuppy for the day, though this entry means that Nick has to forge an adult signature and lie to his family about his whereabouts for the involved Saturdays.

With the help of his good-natured best friend, Ace, and a new talented ball-throwing friend, Penny, Nick tries to summon the courage he needs to meet the challenge.  Will the friends make the final cut and will Nick be able to keep his plan under his parents’ radar?  Through a line-up of well-developed characters, Stacy DeKeyser delivers a witty, slice of historical fiction filled with references to radio announcers, frozen custard, and hard-working family values that will keep you laughing long after the final page.

This Is Just to Say

This Is Just to Say

 

I have found

a baby bunny

sleeping in

the backyard

 

and which

you were probably

hoping

to see hop through the gardens

 

Forgive me

I thought it was a toy

so soft

and so lightweight

 

Maybe there are others?
by: Mrs. Palmer (Leo’s perspective)

Fourth of July

When I was young in Bristol, I would count the days until the Fourth of July.  You see, this day was the mother of family gatherings.

“I see Aunt Cathy and Uncle Joe…and Keri, Michael, and Steven, too!” I would shout with excitement. 

We were ready to celebrate the oldest parade in the country!

Stepping inside the back door, I could smell the oil cooking the doughboys on my grandmother’s stove before even entering the kitchen.

“Doughboys are ready!” my grandmother would announce to my five younger siblings and me.

In minutes, my fingers would be covered in the powdered sugar I generously sprinkled atop a cooled treat.  No Fourth of July was complete without Gram’s doughboys.

With full bellies, clad in patriotic clothing, and the promise of seeing some stellar floats, we made our way to the family blanket to watch the parade curbside.

250 degrees

The Next Generation Science Standards have served as a foundation for an interpretation and adaptation of Science, Technology, and Engineering standards in the state of Massachusetts.

What does this mean for a fourth grade teacher in Stoughton?  A new curriculum and some brand new science explorations through experimentation.  Luckily, we’ve been slowly rolling out the new standards over the last couple of years, so we aren’t totally in the dark.

However, when preparing a new experiment for heat energy, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a student would actually think that a cup of hot water actually registered 250 degrees Fahrenheit!

Note to self:  students should practice reading thermometers prior to conducting this experiment.  We have already made this note for next year and have hope that the experiment will be smoother with more accurate temperature readings.

Everything I Know About You

Middle school is an awkward time for teenagers no matter which way you slice it.  Imagine a group of seventh graders heading to Washington, DC on a school field trip.  On the surface, this sounds like an ordinary occurrence; however, on a quest for class unity, the teachers decide to mix things up a bit with a twist on roommate assignments.  Students are paired with unlikely classmates creating initial apprehension.

Tally, a free spirit, big-boned individual is paired with perfect, petite “clonegirl” Ava, and Tally’s friend Caleb, a.k.a “Spider” is matched up with Marco who bullied him the previous year, leaving her other friend Sonnet assigned to Haley, also a member of the “clonegirls.”

The DC trip is supposed to be fun; however, at every turn, Tally seems to mess things up socially with her old friends and her new roommate, among others.  When Tally notices that Ava never eats anything and keeps a record of a series of numbers that don’t make sense, she confronts Ava in a concerned way.  Ava threatens to post an embarrassing photo of Tally if she shares her suspicions with anyone.

Barbara Dee’s Everything I Know About You shares Tally’s dilemma and Ava’s story in an accessible way for readers to glean that friendships can be formed in the most unexpected places, and that some secrets are not meant to be kept.  Most importantly, readers can learn that help is available and full recoveries are entirely possible.

Pre-order Everything I Know About You today or look for it on June 19, 2018.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast

A boy finds himself alone on a sandy beach, not sure of his identity, where he is or how he got there.

Told from a unique all-knowing point of view, new author, Samantha Clark’s The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast combines the incredible imagination of Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are with the survival skills of Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

From the very start of Clark’s story, the reader is pulled in, paying scrupulous attention to the clues that the boy shares as he tries to remember life before the beach.  He hears strange noises and sees thick rows of trees forming a “wall” which make him uneasy.  As he searches for signs of familiarity, he begins to remember parts of his old life.  Unfortunately, his memories are frustratingly fleeting, playing seemingly cruel tricks with his mind.  A second voice – one of a “bully” – who belittles and mocks the boy’s thoughts and actions at every turn, gets louder when the boy tries to face his fears.

The reader and the boy are constantly questioning events and memories, often simultaneously, on a quest to solve the mystery of the boy’s identity and wanting him to find his “home.”  Through a series of harrowing adventures and missed opportunities, the boy starts to put pieces of the puzzle together and realizes that the voices that matter are those of his family who love him very much.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast is a heart-warming, page-turning tale of overcoming fears, and believing in the power of family.  Pre-order it now, or look for it on June 26, 2018.

 

Slices

A slice of life is now woven into the fabric of my life.

Joining countless slices that I enjoy with equal parts excitement and anticipation.

A slice of homemade pizza sprinkled with shaved parmesan.

A slice of artisan country loaf Italian bread dipped into extra virgin olive oil.

A slice of juicy cantaloupe that pairs beautifully with fresh, scrambled eggs.

A slice of decadent dark chocolate torte with a scoop of black raspberry ice cream.

Slices of a tart granny smith apple topping a salad blend of mixed greens and nuts.

Little bits and pieces that are savored and cherished, leaving me brimming with satisfaction.

A slice of thanks for reading, commenting, and encouraging me this month.

Until the next slice!

 

 

Spring Tiptoes In

Signs of spring are slowly showing up for duty.

A single violet crocus boldly stands alone on the front lawn, just waiting for friends to join her.

Tulip bulbs in the center of town have joined the party in a hurry as they push themselves almost three inches out of the ground.

The air is mischievous, making our nostrils grab whiffs of smoke as neighbors excitedly burn leaves and debris from the chaos of the winter months.

Heaping piles of snow remind us of where we’ve been, while their dignity gets stripped away as they lose shape by melting at rapid speeds.

Is it safe to put the snow shovel away and replace it with a broom?

The optimist in me wins and I wait with hope for more of spring to be revealed.