This is a re-post from my 2018 Poetry Month project. Today is the last (half) day of school. I will fledge another group of youngsters and hope against hope that I am sending them into the world equipped with the skills and mindsets they will need for their (our) future.
I added two books to our classroom library recently that I love. Both of these books have powerful quotes from leaders in our world. Each quote in these books can start important conversations in the classroom. But they are so much more than quotes. Each one of these books gives us, as readers, so much to think and talk about. They also give us invitations to dig deeper if we find something or someone that especially inspires us.
We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders by Harry Belafonte is a must-have new book with quotes from 16 civil rights leaders including John Lewis, Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama, and Maya Angelou. Each quote is paired with art from one of 16 children's book illustrators and some reflection to go along with that art. This book does not have a lot of words but it is a book that you can read and reread, spending hours with because there is so much to think about in the words and pictures. I like books like this for the classroom for several reasons--there are several entry points for children. There are also so many ways to share this book with children--in parts or as a whole piece. It is a gorgeous book that you'll want for your bookshelf.
Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts by Leah Tinari is another book that I picked up at a local, independent bookstore. This is a bit of an oversized picture book which makes the visual portraits of each woman so powerful. 24 women are illustrated with words about their role and impact. Alongside each portrait is a quote by that woman. The end of the book has a bit more information about each woman. The way that the black and white drawings are combined with a bit of bright color make the book unique and engaging. What I think I love most about this book is the variety of ways the women portrayed have made an impact--I love the message that there are so many ways to make the world a better place.
To the Daisy That Has Survived Even Though the Grounds Crew Mowed Down the School Land Lab Two Years Ago Bloom! No matter how low they mow you, Bloom! Show the world you won't be stopped: Bloom! Keep the memory of your former glory alive-- Bloom! Send roots deep and runners long-- Bloom! Bring joy to those who see your smiling face: Bloom!
I wrote this poem for the Ditty of the Month challenge that Liz Steinglass offered up at Today's Little Ditty. I couldn't believe my eyes this week when I saw that one of the daisies that had followed the daffodils and previewed the cone flowers in my school's (only barely tamed) wild space known as the Land Lab had survived...and BLOOMED! Like dandelions, it has adapted to the mower and was right down at ground level instead of waving around in the breezes, but there it was. Its spirit spoke right to my heart. This poem is for all the "daisies" who have to stay low, either below the mower or under the radar, but who refuse to stop blooming.
"This poem attempts to catch some of the heartbreak and some of the vibrancy from the first third of my teaching life. The architecture of the poem was suggested by Adam Gellings's poem 'Prompt,' and by Elaina Ellis's Poem 'Write About an Empty Birdcage.' "
"Dante Di Stefano has taught tenth and twelfth grade English for eleven years in upstate New York and is the winner of the 2019 On Teaching Poem Prize, judged by Richard Blanco. He is the author of two poetry collections: Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, 2019) and Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). A poetry editor for DIALOGIST, he holds a PhD in English from Binghamton University and lives in Endwell, New York."
Here's a Teacher Appreciation Week montage from a few years ago. Study the contrasting images carefully. This could actually be a stanza in my poem.
Prompts (for Fifth Grade Teachers Who Write Poetry)
Write about the final third of your teaching life. Write about school shootings and lockdown drills and about the talent show. Write about the student grappling with ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and about the district dodgeball tournament. Write about poverty and bullying and about the the sound of two dozen eleven-year-olds giggling. Write about the relentless and dehumanizing assessments you are required to give and about the joyful mess of oobleck.
In three weeks, the roundup will be here. Tabatha suggested a Naomi Shihab Nye themed week, and she INSISTS that she had no insider knowledge of the fact that this week Naomi Shihab Nye would be named Young People's Poet Laureate for 2019-2021 by the Poetry Foundation! Now we REALLY cause to celebrate Naomi Shihab Nye on May 31!!
On Saturday, NCTE and Dublin Schools partnered for a #BuildYourStack™ event for area teachers. It was a great morning --such good energy and so many good books! The day kicked off with Lynsey Burkins, chair of NCTE's Build Your Stack™ Committee talking a bit about Build Your Stack™, independent reading, and classroom libraries. Gretchen Taylor spoke about the impact NCTE has had on her and then 6 teachers shared their go-to professional books in the quick, high energy BYS format. There was time for visiting with friends, coffee and book shopping before the level-specific sessions began.
The best thing about days like this is how people come together to make it happen. So many people pulling together to create a great day of learning for teachers. Literacy coaches, teachers, administrators and students all played a part in making the day what it was. So many people planning, sharing books, setting up, etc. We are lucky to have supportive administrators who helped with the planning and participated in the event. The day was high energy and positive because so much happened behind the scenes with so many people committed o making this a what it was for participants.
The bulk of the morning was spent in level-specific sessions (elementary, middle, secondary) hearing about books that we might want to add to our classroom libraries. In a little over an hour, teachers heard about many books from teachers and students who loved them. We were introduced to new books and new authors as we built our stack of to-be-read books. And of course, there was books shopping! Beth from Selections was there with the best and newest books for our classroom libraries.
It was a great day of good learning, good friends and good books! I am hoping (hint hint) that this group plans to do this annually. It was such a great way to spend a Saturday morning in May! Thanks to NCTE and Dublin City Schools and all the people who contributed their time to make this happen. To learn more about Build Your Stack™ and to read more blog posts by NCTE members that will help you build your summer reading stack, visit NCTE's Build Your Stack™ page and Build Your Stack™blog posts. You can also follow the #BuildYourStack hashtag on social media,
And don't forget to look for the Build Your Stack™stage in the Exhibit Hall at NCTE19 (November in Baltimore)! If you were there last year, you know that it was the place to be to learn about new books throughout convention! Planning is underway for another year of great sessions to help you Build Your Stack™!
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year in Islamic culture. It is a lunar-based month-long time of fasting and celebration. Ramadan 2019 begins on Sunday or Monday (the new moon is May 4, and the actual date of the beginning of Ramadan is contingent on the first sighting of the moon), and many of our Muslim students (and all of our Muslim staff) will be fasting from dawn to sunset through the month of Ramadan. This month of fasting, prayer, community, and charity culminates with the festival of Eid ul Fitr.
Only about 20% of Muslims live in (or are from) Arab countries. South Asia contains the largest population of Muslims in the world. My students who will observe Ramadan are from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Pakistan.
I realized over winter break and then again at spring break that I was not really enjoying my reading life anymore, I had become so committed to reading all of the new middle grade novels that my students might enjoy that I had lost my own identity as a reader. I was no longer reading books that I wanted to read but I was frantically trying to keep up with books I thought I should read. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE middle grade novels--they are my favorites and I love the books I've read recently. But when reading started to feel like an assignment I had to step back. So this year, I committed to not focusing on what I thought I should read, and not planning to far in advance but to really read books that I wanted to read. To build reading as a person (not only as a teacher) back into my life. I gave myself permission to read more adult fiction, to not stress about missing some books that might be the best read aloud for next year and to just read. So in 2019, I've read some great --not for school--books. Adult fiction and nonfiction, YA, etc. Here are some of my favorites!
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson is a must read. This memoir in verse is powerful and the writing is gorgeous. It is one I will read again.
Internment by Samira Ahmed is another must read. An important very near-future story. It is eye opening and terrifying. Samira Ahmed is brilliant and I really don't have the words to say how important this book is.
Becoming by Michelle Obama is one I am listening to. Michelle Obama narrates the book which is amazing. Hearing her voice makes me happy. I listen to this one on my drive to and from work and it is long (19+ hours) so it is taking me a while to read. But I love that I am listening to a bit a day and savoring Michelle's story. Every day, I seem to love this book more.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is one that my cousin recommended HIGHLY a few months ago. I have to admit that I had a lot of trouble getting into this one. I only stuck with it because it had come so highly recommended. SOOOO glad I stuck with it--about halfway through I was hooked. I loved this book and the characters are some of my favorite characters of all time. I think they are characters who will live with me forever.
The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey was a quick read. I love self-help books and Oprah is my favorite in helping me reflect and move forward in life. In this book, she compiles voices of many of my favorite people and the book is helpful in inviting reflection about our journey in life.
I am so glad I discovered Austin Channing Brown, author of I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. This book is mostly memoir that gives us a lot to think about. This is one I'll read again soon I think. And so glad I discovered her Instagram feed. I highly recommend following her if you are on Instagram (@austinchanning).
I picked up My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite while bookstore shopping with a friend. I am not a huge reader of mysteries/thrillers/crime books. But I did enjoy this one. I can't say I loved the characters but I couldn't put this book down once I got started. Such a unique story and some clever wit and writing. I am sure I will read this author's next book.
It's true. I have never read Harry Potter. I admitted this here on our blog over a decade ago and have still not read the series. I started the first book 10 times and never got past page 63. It wasn't that I didn't like the book. It just wasn't a priority for me when it first came out. And then all of a sudden there were 7 books--each one longer than the last, and reading the whole series seemed like an overwhelming endeavor. And there are so many new books I am dying to read, taking the time to read Harry Potter has not been a priority. until now.
Last year, I attended two of the Scholastic Reading Summits. (The Summit is always one of my favorite days of summer, BTW.). Scholastic was celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter and the new paperback editions of the book were available. And after the summits, Scholastic sent me this fabulous boxed set! Thank you Scholastic! I took this gift as a bit of a sign that maybe it was time to read the books!I don't keep it a secret that I haven't read the Harry Potter books but sitting in that room at the Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago, I realized how many of the references I just don't get. I was sad that I wasn't part of this conversation around books that so many people in my world have experienced.
Also, this summer, we are taking a trip to Disney and may spend a day at Universal's Harry Potter World. My family is obsessed with Harry Potter. All of them read the books more than once and one of the movies seems to be on quite often at our house. I walk into the family room and my husband and daughter are often on the couch rewatching one of their favorites. They are all abuzz about the things we'll do and they keep making references to the story and characters that I just don't understand.
So I decided it was time to read the books. For many reasons. I teach 5th grade and the first few books are perfect for 5th graders. I have huge Harry Potter fans in my classroom each year and it seems crazy that I haven't read them. And how can I miss out on experiencing Harry Potter world as someone who read and loved the books?
In my post from 2007, I said, " If I read it later, which I very well may do, I will know so much from the talk, the media, just by being part of the world. I won't come at it as everyone else did. " I get the jokes in the world enough to know they are Harry Potter references but I don't really understand them. I told my family last week, before starting the first book, "I kind of know all the characters and what happens from just living in the world." They both looked at each other and rolled their eyes. And really, I know better than that. Hearing about a book and a set of characters does not compare to experiencing the story. Of all the things I know in the world to be true, I do know this.
Last week, I read book one of Harry Potter. I enjoyed it. Totally enjoyed it. And I have started on Book 2. I am not sure I will read all 7 in a row but I think you can say I am hooked and I am confident I will finish the series in the near future. I am so happy to be reading them. And I am hoping to watch the movies after I read each book, when I can.
I share this babbling story of my Harry Potter reading for several reasons:
1. We all have these "book gaps"--books that is seems everyone has read but books that we've missed somehow. It seems to be a point of shame for readers who pride ourselves on keeping up and that's silly so I wanted to make this book gap public. It is never too late to enjoy a good book.
2. Sometimes we forget about the great books that aren't brand new. I have spent the last several years reading books as they are published, keeping up on the best and newest books that I sometimes forget about the fabulous books I've missed in my reading life. For my students, I am worried that I have focused too much on the new books and have forgotten to highlight all the great books from past years. Lesson to self.
3. Hearing about a book, walking through a room where the movie is playing does not compare to reading the actual book. Just a reminder.
4. The thought of reading the Harry Potter series has been overwhelming to me. Most of my family and friends read the books one per year as they were published. That seemed doable. But now that there are seven (and some are very long), it seems to overwhelming. I wonder if our kids feel that way about some of our series and classics?
5. I imagine there are other teachers out there who have not read Harry Potter. If anyone wants to read it for the first time with me this summer, would love to have a little support group as I think I might be the only reading teacher who has never read it. I'll keep you posted!
Hem is sad to see Poetry Month drawing to a close. He'll miss stealing haikubes from the pile and batting them underneath the couch. And they are so fun to lay on while Mom is trying to choose just the right ones. But how come she can bat them around with her paws, but I get in trouble for the same thing, Hem wonders.
I am also sad to see Poetry Month coming to an end. Sad, and yet needing all my time and energy to focus on "the glorious next" of May in 5th grade. My balance will just have to keep calling until the end of the month. That's the way this gig works. Wouldn't have it any other way.