Friday, June 25, 2010

If Only I Could Fit Into Their Jeans

I am just like a fourth grade boy. I have spent my days at our local lake this week, swimming, jumping off the dock, eating ice pops and reading The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. Two fourth grade boys there told me they are reading the same book. The mother of a third fourth grade boy told me her son is reading it as well. I am reading it (actually I finished it yesterday) at my daughter's urging. She has read the entire series and pushed me to read at least the first so we can discuss it. I'm glad I did. It is a fun read and has helped me get in touch with my inner ten year old.

The Name of This Book is Secret is the story of eleven year olds Cass and Max Ernest, misfits in their elementary school, who discover a dead magician's notebook and something called The Symphony of Smells. They end up trying to solve a mystery and save a classmate. The book is filled with riddles, word play, suspense, and much silly humor. It's the perfect beach reading for kids like me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day Question

Who is your favorite literary father? Atticus Finch? King Lear? Papa Bear? I am partial to Mr. Weasley from the Harry Potter books and the main character in Gilead.

Friday, June 18, 2010


We are moving right along in our reading of The Adventures of Ulysses ( akaThe Odyssey). Not surprisingly, the chapter with the blinding of the cyclops was a great big gruesome hit over here. I thought I would post about that today, maybe something about my boys and their bloodlust (at least in fiction), but then I found this image and it made me chuckle so much, I think I'll just leave you with it:


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pen Pals

I have said no to all offers to substitute teach these last few weeks and have immersed myself in conspicuous parenthood. I have accompanied the fourth grade on its hiking field trip to a state park. I have attended band concerts, barbecues, and class parties. I handed out ice pops at the first grade field day, ran the scooter race station at the fourth grade field day, and ran something called "Water Works" at fifth grade field day. If it's possible, I think I have clocked more hours in elementary school than my kids have. There was one event that I missed however. In fact, parents were not invited, but what I wouldn't have paid to be a fly on the wall. It was yesterday when my daughter's fourth grade class met with their pen pals. My daughter had the great good fortune to have a creative, clever, and hard working teacher this year who brilliantly paired her students up with residents of a local retirement community as pen pals. It was a huge success for my daughter who I've always said is an old woman trapped in a little girl's body. She and her pen pal Marcia sent each other long detailed letters about their mutual love of cats and poetry. They learned that they each have a best friend named Susie. They shared details of their hobbies. Marcia sent Hayden a cd of big band music and Hayden sent Marcia a key from her key collection. That exchange went over a little better than the one in which a boy in Hayden's class received coupons clipped by his pen pal. But all in all, I think the whole program was a success. I just would have loved to watch their meeting. Luckily, the teacher took a photo of Hayden and her pen pal. The two plan to keep up their "correspondence." The whole thing makes me happy. I know receiving the letters has thrilled my daughter and I hope Marcia has enjoyed it too. I suspect she has.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bedtime Reading Selections

So I've got them listening to The Adventures of Ulysses which I will be teaching in the fall, what are the odds my kids will also want to hear Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Beowulf, and Introduction to Journalism? I'm thinking the odds are pretty slim. However, one of my boys would probably love "The Most Dangerous Game." Do you remember that story? It's almost like a Twilight Zone episode. I will be teaching that in the fall too. Hmmm...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Quit A Book

For the first time ever, we have quit a bedtime reading book. I have quit many a book on my own, but as a family it has never happened. Sure, we've plowed through some clunkers but we've always seen them through. A few months ago, we decided to read Katherine Paterson's Newberry Medal winning Bridge to Terabithia. It should have been a hit. As I said, it won a Newberry. It is read in elementary schools across America. It references Free to Be You and Me ( the soundtrack of my elementary school years). It was popular enough to be made into a movie a few years back. Despite all of that, the BookBenchers threw in the towel on page 32. I think I knew for sure it was not for us when my youngest son left my room while I was reading, saying "Keep reading. I'll be back soon" and went to his room and fell asleep.

That was a few weeks ago. The kids and I have been doing our own things for bedtime reading for awhile now, but they asked me to pick out a new bedtime read. Ever happy to kill two birds with one stone, I chose Bernard Evslin's The Adventures of Ulysses. I have to read it with freshmen in the fall so I figured I would dry run it at home. Bingo! We have a winner!

It has soldiers and sailors and lots of action. My boys are content. It has Greek gods and goddesses and cleverness. My daughter is on board. It is only 172 pages of short chapters and written on what I would guess is like a sixth grade reading level. That makes it easy on my voice. We are back in the family read aloud game! In case you care, tomorrow's installment will bring us to the Land of the Lotus Eaters.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Questions from the Backseat

Even though my son still has a little over a week left of fifth grade, the summer reading list and assignment has come out for incoming sixth graders. My wonderful neighbor and friend, armed with the list and library cards, brought my son and her daughter to our public library over the weekend to get a jump on checking out the books. As they have to read two each, she saved me a good thirty bucks by getting the books before they are all checked out of the library.

From the short stack he brought home, my son asked me to pick out the one I thought he would like best. I was shocked but leaped into action and selected Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts. Apparently I chose well because he is moving through it at a pretty fast clip. On the drive to his allergist's office the other day, my son read in the backseat and peppered me with questions such as

"What is a phonograph?"
"What is a radio cabinet?"
"What is an asylum?"
"Tell me everything you know about Alcatraz."

I was shocked by how much I know about Alcatraz Island, which is where the book is set in 1935. The main character is the son of a prison electrician.

I hope we have as much luck with the summer math packet he has to complete!

Monday, June 7, 2010

We're Back!

The Book Benchers have returned from Europe, our bellies full of Mars bars, fish and chips, lager, wine, cheese, croissants, chocolate croissants, almond croissants, and baguettes, our pockets full of Underground and Metro ticket stubs, Mars bar wrappers, foreign coins, croissant crumbs, and dirt, and our laundry room filled with a lot of filthy clothing. Actually, we've been home for about two weeks now and I've been too busy processing the laundry, helping the kids catch up on missed schoolwork, and getting a job for September (alleluia) to post.

It was a fantastic trip, the "best week of my life," according to my seven year old son. He is the one sporting a beret in the picture above. At seven, ten, and eleven, my children are the perfect ages for a trip like this one, which is a good thing too as it was probably a once in a lifetime event for us. It was magic, and fun, and immensely educational. The London highlights include Westminster Abbey, riding the London Eye, and Stonehenge. As an English teacher, I have to include Shakespeare's Globe Theater on this list as well. Having my family sing "Happy Birthday" to me on top of the Eiffel Tower was of course a highlight, but all three kids cite Notre Dame as one of their favorite things we toured in Paris. I am so glad we read The Hunchback of Notre Dame as preparation. Three hours in the Louvre was just about right for all of us. From the photo above, you can tell that we enjoyed biking around Paris. If you are ever there, I cannot sing the praises of Fat Tire Bike Tours loudly enough.

We brought some great guidebooks with us. Here is my shout out to Fodor's. If you are planning a similar trip with kids, Fodor's has Around London with Kids and Around Paris with Kids which were invaluable when planning ahead. While on the trip, Fodor's London's 25 Best and Paris' 25 Best which come with pull out maps were very helpful.

For the plane ride and downtime (there was none, by the way), my ten year old daughter packed only books set in Europe. I was inspired by that and brought Chris Cleave's Little Bee which is largely set in contemporary London. It was a real page turner. More on it soon.