Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to School

Sunrise was at 6:36 and sunset will be at 7:38.

It's cold and wet again. I'm wearing socks, a sweater, an undershirt and a jacket. I would be comfortable if I were wearing tights under my jeans. But then, those pesky hot flashes would have me spinning through the room yanking at all these superfluous things called clothes just as soon as I got warm. I wouldn't mind the hot flashes if my hands and feet would get warm, too.

I just finished reading the new Patricia MacLachlan book, Word After Word After Word, a wonderful, short, novel about writing and telling your story.

This is another really great addition to those books teachers should read before the first day of school because it is such a simple recipe for engaging your students in their education and their relationship to the world.

In Word After Word After Word, five fourth grade friends get together every day under the lilac tree at Henry's house where they talk about their lives and fears and hopes.  One marvelous day, Ms. Mirabel comes to their school to teach their class about writing  She tells them that writing can help them see more clearly what their lives are like, she tells them that they can change the way their lives can go, but most importantly she tells them that everyone has a story inside. Or a poem, a landscape, and "When you find it, you will write it.  Word after word after word."

Word After Word After Word is essentially a writing lesson filled with Ms. MacLachlan's amazing characters.  The friends in this book all have complicated worlds, like everyone, and Ms. MacLachlan has brought them all to life in such simple ways.  Lucy is sad, her mother has cancer, Evie's mom moved away and she thinks her dad is lonesome, Henry's family is perfect and his purpose in life is to keep it that way.  May's the youngest in her family and her parents want to adopt a baby, and Russell's beloved dog died.  Writing about the difficult and the simple things in their lives helps them to clarify what they feel and think.

Like Ms. MacLachlan's Baby and Sarah, Plain and TallWord After Word After Word is a big, big book in a small, small format.  I love the characters, I cried for Russell and May, and I can't wait to tell more people about it.  Ages 8 and up.  Katherine Tegen Books.  $14.99.  Available now.

The other books I think should be read before the first day of school are:  Magical Ms. Plum, by Bonny Becker; Sahara Special, by Esme Codell; and The Friskative Dog, by Susan Straight.  These are short books, perfect for reading aloud in the first week of school, quick little reads to remind us why we do what we do with and for kids.

The Magical Ms. Plum, by Bonny Becker, is a sweet little book about a third grade teacher and her class, the best class ever, and the supply closet in the back of the room.  Fun and funny, sometimes a little magic is the perfect addition to your day.  Ages 8 and up.  Random House.  $12.99.  Available now.
The Friskative Dog is written by Susan Straight, she wrote one of my favorite grown up books, too, Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out all the Pots.  Poignant look at growing up and finding out who you are.  A young girl, 4th grade, maybe, is being bullied because she talks and plays with her stuffed dog, the only thing she has to remember her dad.  Her friends and family know that FD is one of her only friends so leave her to it.  Big changes coming in her life, though, and she's going to need FD more than ever, when he goes missing.  Great adults in this book.  Some of the best writing for kids in here, ever.  Ages 9 and up.  Random House. $5.99.  Available now.

Sahara Special is written by reading specialist and teacher, Esme Codell.  It is the story of a girl who has decided to not be in special class this year, not to be taken out into the hallway and given extra, different lessons from the rest of her class.  This is a big deal for Sahara and she is worried about the teacher who seems to assume she's going to fail.  And then the teacher gets sick and there is a substitute for the year, one who doesn't look at records, one who will let the children decide anew who they will be this year, who finds different ways to teach those who learn differently.  Hankies will be needed. Ages 9 and up.  Hyperion.  5.99.  Available now.

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