#IMWAYR It’s Monday. What Are You Reading this long weekend?

Reading during the school year comes in fits and spurts. Some of you may be starting your summer vacation, but I’ll be with students right through the end of June. So while you may be starting your summer #bookaday challenge, I snuck in a couple short books from last week’s BOGO Book Fair.

I enjoyed the first two…

from you to meFrom You to Me by K. A. Holt was a slim novel about finding oneself in the face of grief. Amelia realizes as she prepares for 8th grade to begin that she’ll be doing things that her big sister never did, since Clara died before she started 8th grade. Old friends and new, family by blood and by bond play an important role, but our choices and our hearts are ours to make and heal.

hello universeHello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly also tells the story of kids who feel resigned to being alone. Whether or not you believe in fate like Kaori Tanaka, you’ll smile as the universe seems to push four unsuspecting middle schoolers together. Painfully shy, but loyal Virgil finds himself in deep trouble. Kaori, his maybe psychic advisor, her little sister Gen, and Valencia another client venture out to find him. With a little push from the neighborhood bully (and the universe) strangers might find more than a missing boy and his guinea pig…could it be friendship?

And I’ve also started…

serpents secretThe Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta. So far it feels like an Indian spin on Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief. Kiran is completely blindsided by her parents’ disappearance on her twelfth birthday. Their puzzling note hardly seems to clear up the mystery before a snotty demon barges through her house and chases her into the company of two very different Indian princes and their flying horses. The adventure is just beginning, but already Kiran has saved one of the princes from the demon instead of waiting to be rescued. Although she’s a little swoony for the handsome prince, Kiran looks like she’s going to be a girl-power kind of princess. Which is just fine by me.

being the change coverBeing the Change by Sara K. Ahmed   To be fair I started this book last week and it isn’t from the book fair. This is a professional read that’s been on my radar for a little while. This one is going to change how I look at my teaching. It will change how I look at students. It’s one I’m going to need to talk about with colleagues. I’m plotting how to get copies for half the teachers at my school. For the other half, I’m plotting how to get copies of Kids First from Day One  by Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz. If you have 10 or 12 copies of each title stashed away somewhere, let me know!

kids first from day one

Meanwhile…I’ll be reading.

They’re All Adventures–Some You Expect…

Rarely do I hear from my principal on the weekend, unless I’ve shot off a series of “I was just thinking…” or “We could try this…!” messages to her. She’s always a good sport about those. On Mothers Day she emailed me.

It went a little something like this:

There’s a situation. Second grade is scheduled for a field trip on Monday and two of the three teachers will be out sick…plus a dozen other staff members! I’m in PPTs and the other person I would ask is covering SBACs for another teacher who’s out. Can you, please, go on the field trip?

My response? Of course.

I hit send and realized I actually had no idea what I was getting myself into. Where was the field trip? What time were we leaving? Getting back? My answer wouldn’t have changed…but I might have packed a different lunch.

This, I told myself, was going to be an adventure.

Turns out we were going to a play about Pete the Cat.

Fast forward through the hurried morning routines as students unpacked the lunches they wouldn’t eat until 1:00 and used the bathroom for the last time before lunch. (Hmmm…)

Nearly sixty second graders were lined up in the front hallway of the school. Chaperones dotted along the lines. I gave the kind of rallying speech that I imagined championship coaches gave in the huddle or the locker room. You know the one. It went something like: please, oh please use good manners at the show! You’re representing our school. A gaggle of seven year-olds gave a thumbs up with their assent. Though one was convinced we were going to a movie theater and couldn’t understand why there wouldn’t be popcorn.

Two minutes passed quietly. A third minute foreshadowed restlessness. At five minutes the lines turned fuzzy with motion. I went to investigate the delay.

A breakdown they said (or possibly not). They were sending another bus. It would only be another ten minutes (or so).

Think fast.

“Second graders,” I stage whispered. “Make a circle right here. Pretend we’re sitting around a campfire.” I settled myself onto the floor and leaned in conspiratorially.

At this point, not only were the chaperones standing witness, so were several aides who collect notes and lunch counts in the front lobby, the school nurse, and my principal.

I looked each of my borrowed students in the eye as I gazed around the circle. “I’m going to teach you a game I used to play with my dad. And then I played it with my own boys.” I peeked back over my shoulder as if looking out for trouble. I looked back at the class and motioned for them to lean in close. Just above a whisper I continued over the rising ambient noise of the other second grade classes. “Here’s how it goes. First, you invent a character.

One of the boys called out, “Mr. Elephant” as if challenging me to address his manners or what he clearly intended to be an absurd choice of character.

Taking it in stride I mused, “Hmmm…he’s probably going to need a friend, someone else for our story….How about Lady Giraffe?” (Josh Funk’s characters were tripping through my head in that moment.)

A buzz rippled around our circle.

“Next we’ll need to decide where Mr. Elephant is.”

The same voice of sabotage called out, “A volcano!”

Ha! You can’t stop me with lava.

“So second graders, the name of the game is Can You? One person starts telling the story. It’s their job to get the character into some trouble. Then look around at the other storytellers and challenge them to get the character out of trouble by saying, ‘Can you?’ Ready? I’ll start.”

I began to weave a tale of a carefree Mr. Elephant and his friend, Lady Giraffe, hiking up a mountain for a picnic on a beautiful clear day. Then…(or as some kindergarten friends would say musically–duh, duh, duuuuh!) Elephant looked up to see a cloud pass over the sun.

I put our two heroes into a metaphorical pickle and challenged my little friends to get them out of it. One by one the class carried on the tale. Elephant fell toward boiling lava, was rescue/captured and taken to a zoo, escaped, found himself mysteriously at or on top of a castle facing guards with swords (At this point we invoked the no blood rule, or as one girl suggested, no violence. We also pressed pause and discussed how writers could try out one way a story could go, then rewind and try a different path– for example not stabbing but tripping, not tripping but convincing the guards.), in the moat where he couldn’t swim, in the ocean (where he really couldn’t swim!), swallowed alive by a giant octopus who then mysteriously fell back into the cauldron of boiling lava! (Good thing he’d been wearing a lava-proof suit all day.) All this time the circle was contracting as one child after another scooted in closer to the story. Alas! Before we could rescue Elephant once and for all by turning the octopus into a hot air balloon, our bus had arrived.

“Don’t worry,” I consoled them. “You can keep telling Mr. Elephant’s story on the bus. Or you could start a new story. My family used to play Can You? on long car rides.”

Several adventures later (Leaving late meant we arrived at the theater after the play had started.) we’d returned safely to school (There and Back Again, A Second Grade Tale). My principal asked how it had gone and commented on our class huddled together in the lobby. Without any of us noticing, she’d captured the moment.



In case you were wondering if a busload of seven year-olds who waited twenty minutes for a bus to arrive, rode 45 minutes to see 40 minutes of a play that had already started actually did use their non-movie theater manners–They did! And it didn’t hurt that we were in the very last row of the theater so when one friend decided to stand or kneel on her chair everyone else could still see. They earned a little late recess after their very late lunch!


First Day– A Story in Three Acts

It doesn’t often happen that at this time of year we get new students. Today, in first grade, we had three.

You can be in our class!

I almost always get to meet new students before they begin. Meeting them and reading with them helps me to match them to a classroom and teacher. Sometimes it’s what their parents share that informs the decision most. It’s really a decision I weigh carefully. But every once in a while it feels like the universe has decided for me.

About a month ago, I met a boy. Let’s call him Ben.

We read together. We chatted. I didn’t observe anything that would cause me to place him in one class over another. Then, as I often do, I took him and his mother on a tour of the school. As we visited our school landmarks I shared more about our routines and traditions. First and second graders share a recess and lunch. You can return your library book for a new one any day at all! We have a bonus morning recess everyday when students arrive from the bus. Here’s the art room. Let’s peek in the music room.

Once in a while, magic.

As we quietly stepped into the music room a first grade class was playing a game, the rules of which I never discovered. Ben looked shyly around his mother. The game stopped mid turn. I asked them to excuse the interruption and shared that this was a new first grade friend. Kiddos swarmed nearer to us and chimed in: Hello. Which class will he be in? One boy came closer than the others and his voice rose above the rest.

“You can be in our class. We’ll be your friends,” Ryan said warmly as he looked Ben directly in the eyes.

Once we returned to the office, Ben’s mother pulled me aside. She explained some difficult experiences he’d had in his previous school. Situations where other children had been unkind, hurtful. What she wanted most was for him to feel safe. I don’t always ask this question, sometimes circumstances or numbers limit the choices in placement, but I did ask her: what kind of teacher do you think would be the best match for Ben if it were possible? She described what she felt would help him to thrive and one teacher immediately came to mind.

And do you know what? It was Ryan’s teacher.

Today, Ryan, who greets everyone with a smile and a wave, was there to welcome Ben to his new class. I hope he feels safe and welcome.

How do you like your school?

Starting in a new school can be hard. Children are resilient and, especially in elementary school, everyone wants to be friends with the new kid. But any move, especially mid-year moves, come with other challenges behind the scenes. New home. New town. New constellation of people who live with you. New teacher. New teams. New.

It’s enough to make the grown ups emotional.

I was touring the building with a mom and her two children. When I met them, they weren’t sure whether or not they’d be starting in our school this year. Maybe, they thought, it would be better to end the year in a familiar place amid all the other newness.

Throughout our walk, the girl bopped happily from place to place while her brother hung back, shy, unsure of all the newness we encountered.

Here’s the second grade hall if you join us next year. Here’s the playground, the gym. Here’s the first grade hall. Are those lockers?! Yup. Everyone has a place for their backpack and jacket. And here’s one first grade classroom. Would this be my classroom? I’m not sure yet.

Then something happened that hasn’t happened in all the years I’ve been doing this. Their mother looked directly at the first graders in the room and asked them, “Do you like your school?”

Time slowed down.

Front and center I saw little Billy. You never could be sure what was going to come out of his mouth when his eyes twinkled with mischief.

Around the edges of my vision swam sweet girls, quiet, helpful.

Billy loomed larger in my view as he turned fully to face us and boldly declared…

“Yes! Our school is great!”

It was as if time began again, children and senses unfrozen as other classmates chimed in their agreement.

I thanked them and excused us back into the hall. It was only a hop skip and a jump from the classroom to the office where our tour began.

This time when their mother asked them what they thought about whether they would rather start school now or wouldn’t they like to finish the year at their old school and come here for second grade, her son lit up.

“This year,” he beamed.

Today, he and Billy sat side by side on his first day.

Not what we expected.

From what I’d seen of his reserved nature (confirmed by Mom) and his sisters joie de vivre, I placed him in Billy’s class thinking that he’d gravitate toward some of the quieter boys there, or even the mother-hen girls. She, I surmised, would benefit from the slightly smaller class size across the hall.

I popped into first grade this morning to greet each of our newcomers.

Then again after the buses had rolled away I stopped to check with the teachers. How was today with our three new friends?

Not what we expected.

Ben seemingly settled right in. Thanks perhaps to a welcoming buddy.

The lively girl had been prim and proper.

And her brother seems to have found a kindred, mischievous soul in Billy from atop the stools at lunch!