The Witch of Woodland

My students passed Orphan Island around when I first purchased it for my library in 2018, so when I saw that Laurel Snyder was publishing another middle grade novel, I pre-ordered it for my classroom. 

I didn’t even look at the description of the book, The Witch of Woodland. All summer it sat on my pile of To Be Read books. I finally read it at the beginning of this school year. I was surprised to find out that it is a mirror for me (Rudine Sims Bishop). No, I am not a witch. I was raised in a Jewish family and had a Bat Mitzvah, like Zipporah (Zippy) Chava McConnell, at age 12. Our names are even similar because in Hebrew, I am Devorah Chava. When I was a 12 years old the only books with Jewish characters were the Diary of Anne Frank or The Chosen by Chaim Potok. They were hardly relatable characters. They were about World War II. Though I was interested in learning about the Holocaust as a middle school student, I didn’t know there were books about modern Jewish kids living in America and neither did other kids my age because there weren’t. What I would have done to have a book like this. 

Zippy is a girl I would have been friends with when I was in middle school. In Snyder’s book, I was able to see how my students could relate to Zippy as a character who was unsure of what religion she was. She is preparing to have her Bat Mitzvah but she is stuck between two worlds.  A Jewish one and a non-Jewish one.

She says, ” ‘Why do I need a bat mitzvah? We aren’t religious and I thought you only got to have a bat mitzvah if you went to Hebrew school all the way through and knew the prayers and everything. I thought it was like a graduation. And I thought we were only like . . . part-time Jews'” (15). 

In the small town I live in, this is a very common occurrence for a child to have one parent who was raised in a  Jewish family and the other who is Christian, much like Zippy’s dad in the novel. Kids often celebrate a variety of holidays from Christmas and Easter to Passover and Hanukkah. Our town does not have a synagogue or a place for kids to have a Jewish community other than what families create in their homes and their connections with other families in similar situations, so they only know a little and some have never even met a Rabbi

Seeing Zippy’s experience, these feelings are like a mirror for many of my students . I have been excited to share this story with my students. These are the experiences I so wish I had as a child. I think our students and children are so lucky to have such a variety of books that they can see themselves in and also learn about others. I see the reflection of myself preparing for my Bat Mitzvah at age 12 and the memories I have around this Jewish tradition. Snyder brings up the ideas of how at times this tradition feels like it is more for the parents than the kids. Zippy’s mom even says, ” ‘So religious or not, we are Jewish, you are having a bat mitzvah, and that’s the end of it. We’re part of a tradition’ ” (16).

Though the adults in the story might create the space for Zippy to get in touch with her Jewish side, the story focuses on her interest in being a witch. I love how her Rabbi Dan and parents are so patient with her interest in witchery and let her be herself instead of trying to make her someone she isn’t. Their openness is what keeps her working toward her Bat Mitzvah. And that Rabbi Dan allows her to question parts of Judaism, which has always her to trust him. 

Zippy’s curiosity about witchery allows her to learn about Jewish mythology and dybbuks as she works to displace a spirit, Miriam, she has met. This relationship is important to Zippy as she is experiencing distance from her best friend Bea, which so often happens in 7th grade as kids test boundaries with their friends.

Nerdy Book Club Post: Stories Tell of Personal History

In my mid-twenties, I visited Manzanar while I was working in the Sierras. This was one of my first experiences, I can remember, learning about Japanese American concentration camps. It reminded me of everything I had learned in Hebrew School about the Holocaust and couldn’t believe that we had ostracized people in our own country. I was naive then (and probably still am now). 

But my naivety did not end there. In my early 30s (over 10 years ago), I read Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I can remember learning that the Puyallup Fairgrounds was a temporary detention center for Japanese Americans, and I felt deceived. I grew up watching concerts and milking goats at the Puyallup Fair  and had no clue that this location was once used to imprison people. 

I continued to read more historical fiction and memoir books about Executive Order 9066 where Japanese Americans had forced removals from their homes like Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. 

Recently, I have gravitated to two books on this topic that I feel are even more honest and share more candidly about how the American Government wronged Japanese Americans by asking for their loyalty while not trusting them. One book is They Called Us Enemy, a graphic memoir, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker. The other book is Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free which was a 2020 National Book Award Finalist. Though neither of these books have been published in the last year, I find them great resources for hearing a more truthful story of this shameful time in American history. I continue to learn more about this tragic history.

Both stories focus, for a portion of the books on the No-No Boys “the colloquial term for detained Japanese Americans who answered “no” to questions 27 and 28 on the so-called “loyalty questionnaire” during World War II. Those who answered no, or who were deemed disloyal, were segregated from other detainees and moved to the Tule Lake Relocation Camp in California” (Smithsonian American Art Museum).

Most recently as I was reading We Are Not Free, I couldn’t stop thinking about how innocent people were accused of a crime. This quote from the text stuck out to me: “You are guilty, you have not committed a crime.” (Chee). How does one learn to trust again after he or she has not done anything wrong, yet is not trusted? The story parts that take place at Tule Lake, especially touch on this. This was a high security camp that I was not aware had existed and was more harsh than camps like Manzanar. 

This book was so abundant with historical content and human connections to its multiple characters; I wish I had kept track of the characters as I read. The characters took turns narrating and sharing their rich commentary as relatable teenagers. They tried not to miss out on their teenage years as you followed them through their interwoven story. 

They Called Us Enemy followed one family more closely and allowed us to enter the political intricacies of detention centers through the graphics and the family’s experience as Takei’s parents take political stances. The book offers a more extensive look into what happened after the detention centers were closed. 

These are just two more recently written stories that young adults can use as resources to learn about this historical era in US history. They are written to tell an important story, but also to engage young adults, so they actually hear the stories. We no longer only need a history textbook to learn about history. We can also tell stories as we have more access points through story, both real and researched fiction, to learn. Human stories are hard to ignore as they are filled with emotions and create a space for empathy and understanding. Until we know someone’s story, we don’t know a person. 

Nerdy Book Club Post: The Moon Within

“I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” How is it that this is the only line I remember from Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? by Judy Blume.

Recently, I reread this book and didn’t recognize much. In fact, this is at least my third reading of it. I read it as a child then again as an adult about 15 years ago for a book club. I like to read books before I watch movies and since it was being released as a movie, I thought I should read it again. Too be honest, I didn’t remember it from my earlier readings. Perhaps, this is a good reason to reread books as we enter different parts of our lives and view them with different background knowledge. Not until I began the book during this most recent reading did I start to think about it from the angle of book banning. 

I was curious if people don’t want this book in school libraries or classrooms. I started down a rabbit hole on the Internet. There were several articles about Judy Blume’s writing being scrutinized even when she first published them in the 70s and 80s. Terry Gross interviewed Blume on Fresh Air

This led me to thinking of solutions to parents’ fear of what their children are reading that excludes banning of books. One idea that I don’t believe to be earth shattering is parents having conversations with their children about the books they are reading and, even, reading alongside them. Maybe had I talked with my mom about this book, it wouldn’t have been as unfamiliar to me. 

Much like Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? Aida Salazar’s novel in verse The Moon Within focuses around a young girl who is coming of age and anticipating her menses. It’s a more modern version of Margaret’s story bringing in cultural aspects of some Latinx rituals and a friend who is questioning their gender identity. These topics shouldn’t scare us away from recommending them to kids. I see books as an opportunity to have fruitful conversations and to learn or to feel less alone. Why not start a book club with other parents and their children. 

I can’t remember what my reaction was to Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? when I was reading it as a kid, but I am making assumptions that it shed light on ideas that no one was talking about in the 80s. I didn’t have any discussions with my mom about this book. I believe because I didn’t have discussions with my parents about what I was reading that I didn’t get as much out of it. 

What if instead of looking to ban books, we look to engage them. We look to have them as a point of discussion. We look to use them as a source of connection. 

I understand that people, especially busy parents, don’t have time to read everything their children are reading, especially if their children read a lot. However, we can still work to ask questions, be curious, and have conversations around what our kids are reading. 

Fear of the unknown or not having control is what ignites passion around book banning. Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? is an innocent book about real questions our adolescents have just as The Moon Within is. Salazar’s book would be a great book to start with as part of its power is to ignite discussion and open doors to discussions.

To avoid mystery and negative stigma, discussion questions can be ones such as: 

  1. What questions do you have about getting your period?
  2. Is there anything my that makes you nervous about getting your period?
  3. Tell your story about when you first menstruated.
  4. What would you like to do to celebrate when you get your menses?
  5. Tell your story about your first crush.
  6. Have your child fill in the blank: I feel uncomfortable talking about ____ with you. 

I do remember as a kid when my mom would ask me direct questions I was more likely to talk with her. Rarely did I start the conversation. I would add: 

Read AND Discuss More. Ban Less.

What books would you recommend for a parent/kid book club?

Books Lists I Never Posted

I am trying to get back in the swing and use my blog. Here are a few book lists from students I didn’t post for 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23.

The Crest Academy Top Books for 2022-3

  • Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Divergent Series by Veronica Roth   
  • Maze Runner Series James Dashner
  • Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
  • Ellie’s Story by Bruce Cameron
  • My grandmother asked me to tell you she is sorry by Frederick Backman
  • Front Desk Series by Kelly Yang
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyers
  • Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
  • Plum  Crazy! by Hoshino Natsumi
  • Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka
  • Sand Dog by Sarah Lean
  • A Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Wild Robot by Peter Brown
  • A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
  • You Are Here Edited by Ellen Oh
  • The First Rule of Climate Club by Carrie Firestone
  • Dessert Can Save the World by Christina Tosi
  • Explorer’s Academy Series by Trudi Trueit
  • Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling  
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz  
  • A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
  • K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee 
  • The Heroes of Olympus Series by Rick Riodan 
  • Planet Earth is Blue  by Nicole Panteleakos
  • A Rovers Story by Jasmine  Warga 
  • A Tale of Sorcery by Chris Colfer 
  • Amulet Series by Kazu Kabushi
  • Knight Owl by Christopher Denise
  • Sorry the Game of Sweet Revenge  by William Henry Storey
  • Quidditch by JK Rowling
  • Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs
  • Space Case by Stuart Gibbs
  • Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  •  Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
  • Seige and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
  • Arlo Finch Series by John August
  • Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger
  • Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
  • Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Black out & White out various authors 
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Namey and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Bones Series by Jeff Smith
  • A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Vison.
  • The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
  • Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
  • It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
  • That Book is Gay Juno Dawson 
  • May the Best Man Win
  • The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann 
  • The Tyrants Tomb by Rick Riordan
  • History smashers by Kate Messner
  • The Jailhouse Lawyer by James Patterson
  • Willow Fall Series by Wendy Mass
  • Wings of Fire Series by Tui T. Sutherland
  • The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett 
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
  • Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
  • The Babysitters Club Graphic Novels various authors
  • Frizzy by Claribel Ortega
  • Camp by Kayla Miller
  • Guinea Dog Series by Patrick Jennings
  • I Survived Graphic Novels by Lauren Tarshis
  • The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
  • Skulduggery Pleasant Series by Derek Landy
  •  The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart
  •  A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin
  • Alone by Megan Freeman
  • To All the Boys You’ve Loved Before Series by Jenny Han
  • The sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur
  •  Verse and Vengeance by Amanda Flower
  • Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango
  • Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander
  • Hands by Torrey Maldonado 
  • Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
  • The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Far From The Tree by Robin Benway
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Field Notes On Love by Jennifer E. Smith.
  • Spy School Series by Stuart Gibbs,
  • Punching the Air by Zoboi and Salaam, and African Town by Charles Waters and Irene Latham
  • Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • The Wingfeather Saga Series
  • Masterminds by Gordon Korman
  • The Paper Girl of Paris by Jordyn Taylor
  • A Cuban Girls Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Namey Taylor
  •  I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.
  • All the Things We Never Knew by Liara Tamani
  • Game of Shadows by Mark Farina-Wada and Lance Williams 
  • Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (7) by J.K. Rowling.
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  • How to Date a Superhero by Christina Frenandaz


The Crest Academy Top Books for 2021-22

  • The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer
  • Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
  • Trapped in a Video Game by Dustin Brady
  • Out My Heart by Sharon Draper
  • Pawcasso by Remy Lai
  • Stay by Bobbie Pryon
  • No Small Things by Natale Ghent
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  • Lord of the Rings by JR Tolkien
  • Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz
  • Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Explorer’s Academy the Nebulas Secret by Trudi Trueit
  • My Hero Academy by Kohei Korikoshi
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Old School by Jeff Kinney
  • The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
  • Warriors Series by Erin Hunter
  • The Wild Robot and the Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
  • All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
  • Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
  • A Cuban Girls Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namely
  • Legend of Drizzt by R.A. Salvatore
  • Bravelands 2 by Erin Hunter
  • Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
  • The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
  • Maximum Ride: The Manga Vol. 1 by James Patterson
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • Restart by Gordon Korman
  • Chicken Soup for the Preeteen Soul
  • The Explorer by Katerine Rundell
  • Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
  • Wonderland by Barbra O’ Connor 
  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
  • The Berry Brook Middle School series by Svetlana Chmakova.
  • Positively Izzy, Becoming Brianna, Invisible Emmie, Just Jaime by Terri Libenson
  • The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler 
  • Camp by Kayla Miller 
  • All the Thing We Never Knew by Liara Tamani
  • White Bird by RJ Palacio
  • Far From the Tree by Harper Benway
  • Willa of the Wood and Willa of the Dark Hollow by Robert Beatty
  • Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
  • What If by Randal Munroe
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  • Wings of Fire by Tui Sutherland
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Spy Camp and Spy School By Stuart Gibbs
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang


The Crest Academy Top Book Recommendations for 2020-2021

  • Artemis Fowl Series by Eion Colfer 
  • Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypunch
  • The Words I Wish I Said by Caitlin Kelly
  • Peak by Roland Smith
  • Orphan X series by Greg Hurwitz
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • Stick Boy by Shane Koyczan
  • Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • WOF Poison Jungle by Tui Sutherland
  • Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
  • Sali by James Patterson
  • Wrath of Poseidon by CLive Cussler
  • Children of the Lamp by P.B. Kerr
  • Enola Holmes by Nancy Springer
  • 12 before 13 by Lisa Greenwald
  • Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy
  • The Rule of Three by Eric Walters
  • The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Rordan
  • Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
  • Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
  • Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit
  • Dragon Watch Series by Brandon Mull
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by harper Lee
  • The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
  • Salt 2 the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Annapolis Book of Seamanship by John Rosemaneire
  • Secret Water by Aurhur Ransome
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS A SECURITE by Bosh Pseudonymous
  • Inside Out And Back Again by Lai Thanhha
  • 2 a.m. Thoughts by Mackenzie Campbell
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  •  P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
  • Wish by Barbra O’ Connor
  • The Quest for the Diamond Sword by Winter Morgan
  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling.
  • George by Alex Gino
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
  • Elemental Origins Series by A.L. Knorr
  • Magnus Chase Series by Richard Riordan 
  • Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama
  • Wool by Hugh Howey
  • The Code Book by Simon Singh
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Spy School Series by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Last Present by Wendy Mass
  • A Dog’s Way Home by Bruce Camron
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  • Spirit Animals by Tui Sutherland
  • Seekers by Erin Hunter 
  • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  • Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend
  • The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

3 More School Days in March

Slice of Life: 3 More School Days in March

March 8:

I had a rewarding day having the privilege to take our whole school skiing today.

After the students were all outfitted and our newest skiers and snowboarders sent off to their lessons, I waited for a group of skiers who were taking a run and joined up with them.

We arrived at the top of the chair. The students made a plan of what they would like to ski and where we were going to meet. They decided the terrain park near the bottom of the hill. The students carefully and as a group turned down the hill safely.

We continued this pattern of students working together and agreeing on runs, waiting for each other, and singing together on the chairlift. It was a day filled with firsts and community.

I enjoyed the time to talk with students on the chairlifts and to wait for them or follow them down the mountain. It was a success even with all the other personalities on the mountain who almost took me out, did take out a student, or made me feel protective of my students. I want to keep them safe and happy. This is what I was able to do.

March 9:

After a less textbook version of an academic day, we turned to a topic of non-fiction reading and social studies.

This afternoon we sat in the Commons — students next to their mentor/mentee matches, and we talked about war. How do wars start? We listed ideas in our field notebook: economic gain, territorial gain, religion, revenge, nationalism, revolution, civil war, defense.

We talked about how wars have multiple causes. The students took notes to help prepare them for our next conversation as it will shift to Ukraine and Russia’s invasion. From there, we plan to read novels such as The Stars are Scattered and A Long Walk to Water, which have different wars it focuses on. This basis and background knowledge led to curiosity and engagement. I look forward to the rich discussions it will bring.

March 10:

Students set up their decorated boxes with a special object to them inside. The box was to be decorated to represent the sealed boxes contents. Next to the box stood a plastic picture frame with a piece of writing describing the object.

Students told the story of how they obtained their object, what their object feels like and looks like, and why it is significant to them. In their boxes, they had items such as pennies, tiny handmade comic books, miniature pots, little figurines, rocks, shells, and gems, Lego bricks.

Once their museum displays were set up, their peers walked around silently and read the stories of the special objects. I took pictures to archive this piece of history.

I can always read the minutes

March 7:

I have been on our school district’s District Accountability Committee (DAC) for many years. I am not even sure how I started but I have seen many people come and go from the committee.

We routinely meet the first Monday of the month and recently we have been meeting on Zoom though we tried a few in-person meetings at the beginning of the school year.

I was planning to attend today’s meeting until I received a call from my brother. “Can I come visit today instead of tomorrow?” How can I say, “no” to my brother whom I only see once or twice a year since he lives in Israel. So, I told him, of course. He left my parents’ house at 3:00, so I was expecting him around 4:30, so I rushed home to get a few things ready that I thought I would do tonight for his visit tomorrow like make a bed for him and get a few things prepped for dinner. It was nearing 5:00, and he still hadn’t arrived. I figured, why not jump on the DAC meeting, so I did for about thirty minutes, but I couldn’t really justify staying on when he got here. It’s when I can really see myself prioritizing values which I tend to struggle with. I don’t always feel like I put my family first. I take them for granted. I need to remember that I can always read the minutes.

Spring Conditions

*March 4:

Spring Conditions exist. And, yes, Spring is also in the air. It’s not necessarily the kind of spring right now where everything is sunshiny; Trees and flowers don’t seem to be blooming. It’s more like a Colorado Spring where everything is melting and refreezing and icing over. It’s more of a “caution, obstacles may exist”.

I was reminded of this today as I went both downhill and cross country skiing. I hadn’t skied at a large ski area in several years since I have enjoyed skiing at our local area, Monarch. Today, I was nervous that I would not have the stamina for this type of skiing. I quickly found out that stamina was the least of my problems. My bigger obstacle was the icy conditions. I suddenly felt unconfident in my ability to ski after about 40 years of skiing.

I stood at the top of the run. My body tensed up, and I let my skis slide down the hill afraid to unweight my skis to make a turn. I thought this must be how my students feel during this spring time when their changing and the things they have always known how to do suddenly because new as they grow: their bodies and their brains. I wanted to give up skiing but knew that I could safely do it as I have had much practice and needed to remember this.

When I returned from the mountain, I decided I would go for a short cross country ski and listen to an episode of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us. As I stepped out the back of my parents’ house, I was immediately met with a crust of ice over sandy snow. I found myself navigating the small hill with caution just like earlier in the day, but this ended in a face plant at the bottom. I made it to the Sallie Barber trail, which I am quite familiar with and carefully skied across the icy trail. Brene spoke of trust in the podcast episode I was listening to and it reminded me of self trust and knowing my boundaries and being courageous.

I ask my students to trust themselves and me as they are navigating a hard time in their lives, middle school. These small moments of skiing today gave me a chance to put myself in their boots and remember that things can be scary even if we have done them a hundred times.

As I skied through the forest, a light snow fell with the sun peeking behind the clouds. It felt hopeful that the conditions will get better. A layer of powder will cover the icy trails.


March 5:

I retrace my ski trail from yesterday. With the little cushion of new snow, I find myself a lot more successful. I am ready to listen to Brene Brown again as I navigate through the forest, but I have forgotten my air buds, so I turn it all the way up and put it in my pocket closest to my ears. She interviews, author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds. I glide one ski in front of the other moving my arms opposite my legs. I am in a rhythm as Jason shares his story. Brene always asks people to start with their stories.

I think about how I don’t know a lot of my students stories and that many of them probably don’t think they have a story to tell, but everything that has happened up to this point has made them who they are. I would like to know this part of them. I would like to tell them my story. I try to think about what I was like when I was their age and I struggle to remember much. I hope that it is more memorable for my students.

I continue my ski winding up through the trees before I return to my parents’ house, which is full of memories from the photos they have hanging on their walls as this is not the house I grew up in.


March 6:

Today, I did go for another cross country ski, but I was with friends, so Brene did not join me. This is not a story about that though.

I love words.

Eight years ago, my husband, who was not my husband at the time, handcrafted me a giant Scrabble board three feet by three feet. We used it semi-regularly after he made it, but it hangs on the wall as a piece of art.

Today, we took it down to play. I haven’t played in some time, so I needed a refresher of the rules. Whether you can get a double letter score twice if you have a word going both vertically and horizontally.

We picked 2″ squared wooden tiles out of a giant cloth bag, placed tiles to receive the most points, and learned new two letter words to end the game.

I love thinking about words and rearranging letters. I find it calming.


*Here are my three slice of life posts as I worked to stay off the computer this weekend.

The Library

For our Lit Fest Week, I have been trying to do one activity every day during ELA that helps students connect even more to books. Maybe I will change the name to book week. Our schedule has been packed with activities: making wish lists and to read next lists, visiting the library, silent reading, virtual author visit and watching prerecorded author interviews, and creating poetry from book titles (an inspiration from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher).

Today, we visited the library. This is a special visit because we do not have a school library and it was our first time going this year. I never know what to expect about how students will engage in our visit. Often, I assume that the kids go all the time, and therefore, it will be repetitive and boring for them.

Quickly, I am proven wrong as the students, file on the bus. A few students have brought with them their filled out forms to get their first library card. I wonder, Why did I wait so long into the school year to make this happen? 

We pass the main circulation desk and head to the children’s section in the back of the library to meet Joel, who I know well from all the time I spend at the library. The students flock to her with questions about books they want to read: Where can I find . . . ?; Do you have any books on . . .?

I walk through the book stacks with students recommending books and finding a few for myself. Students look through books together and set aside piles of books. Some are navigating the computer catalogue to locate their gems.

When we are ready for check out, students carry stacks of books five to seven high, held up by their chins.  I ask each class to stand by the sign to take a class photo to imprint this memory.

I want to I am reminded that going to the library is special to many of my students and not routine. I would love to make it a routine for all of them.

Visiting the High School and Memories

It finally feels like spring for a minute although I know we might still get some more snow. We take advantage of the weather and walk the students a handful of blocks up Illinois to the high school. When we arrive, we have a few minutes to wait outside until they are ready for us to head in and watch the high school drama team performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Former students walk by to say, “hi”, including some Seniors who were 5th graders when I first came to Crest. It is a reminder of the community and connects we make with our students. When I see them, memories flood of all the experiences we had together from floating down Ruby Horse Thief when I was pregnant to building catapults to sharing our writing.

Once seated in the auditorium, Scarlett steps out on stage in her red skirt suit and strappy high heels.  What a perfect role for her to be singing and acting about words and language! Another alumni from a different time in Crest’s history when memories were made of a Lost Wonder Hut trip and watching a performance in Denver.

Now I sit between a current 5th grader and a 6th grader making new memories of the time we went to the high school to see the drama performance.

It’s March

Each month it seems like there is a new challenge. For March, it is a Slice of Life challenge to blog daily about the small moments in my life.

March 1: Today was a victory for the Castaways! The winner was announced during morning meeting as we all sat in a toe-to-toe circle. Students slapped their thighs as they made it sound like a drum roll. It continued for close to 20 seconds and then on the screen in big letters was “Deb’s Castaways”! Kian jumped up from the carpet in join and I looked around to congratulated my advisory students for their teamwork and  camaraderie doing the Funruary school wide competition.

I am not sure why it said “Deb’s” in front of the team name as I am just one part of the team. The students are the ones who won the Dodgeball competition and the Floor is Lava, dressed up, and cheered each other on. I merely reminded them of what the next day’s activities and competitions would be. I am a proud teacher, today for them lifting each other up and being crew mates to each other.

“Castaways, we are castaways
Ahoy there, ahoy, we are castaways.” (Thanks, Backyardigans for our theme song.)