Category Archives: Children

Winding down

The school year is almost done, and I only have four more lessons with one of my students (her family goes away for the summer), and one more lesson with my other student (she’ll be attending summer school).  Both girls have made great progress this year, and I’m very pleased with how much they each have learned.  In an ideal world, I’d love to continue tutoring the first girl over the summer, to get her in the best possible position for fourth grade next fall, but it’s not an option since her family won’t be in town.

And then there’s the idea of having my evenings to myself again.  I’ve gotten accustomed to getting home late each evening, devouring a late dinner cooked by Jim, and having only an hour or so before bedtime.  It’s going to be truly lovely to get home at dinner time, relax out on the deck, read a book, enjoy Jim’s guitar playing…as much as I’ve enjoyed tutoring both of these students, it will be a real treat to have some free time this summer.  It will feel like a vacation, though I’ll still be working full-time at my day job.  Pretty good trick.


The after school regulars at the library have been a bit rambunctious lately. Suffice it to say that a paper airplane zoomed across the children’s room on Thursday (this is where my experience teaching comes in handy: I boomed out in my best teacher’s voice, “Zachary! Here! NOW!!” and confiscated the airplane from the culprit), and that I’ve practically worn myself out getting up from my desk and asking the kids to quiet down. Not a role that I relish or desire. Time to explore alternate techniques.

So on Friday I channeled my inner Mom. My mom, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, was an extraordinary teacher who instilled her philosophy of teaching and learning in all three of her children. On Friday, wearing the silver ring that she made for me years ago (I save the ring for special occasions, since the edges are getting softer by the year, wearing down, I fear, to nothing at all), I approached the situation as I imagined that she would. When the boys came into the children’s room from school, I greeted them and asked them how their day was, what their plans were for the weekend. Zachary (not his real name) came over to chat with me, and got intrigued by the toy catalog I was looking at. I explained that I was looking through it to pick out summer reading prizes, and he shyly asked if he could help. Next thing I knew, Zach was behind my desk, looking through the catalog, saying, “Hey! That’s cool! Buy that!”. So I talked to him about my budget, and that I can’t afford any prizes that cost more than thirty-five cents each. “Wow,” he said, and then he focused on finding prizes for me that were in my budget.

And he did a great job. For the next twenty minutes or so, Zach and two others from the after school gang clustered around my desk giving me prize advice. They found prizes that I hadn’t noticed, and they were quiet and respectful the whole time. Eventually I gave them a gentle five minute warning, because I needed to get some other work done, and they happily wrapped up their prize advice session and moved on to quietly work on their homework at the chairs by my desk. When the others had left for the day, Zachary asked me to help with the bits of his homework that he didn’t understand, and I guided him towards how to find the answers (that teaching experience again).

At the end of the day, as Zach and I were saying goodbye, I told him that he had been an example of exemplary behavior (did he know what that meant? it meant that he had been really good and a pleasure to be around) and that I really appreciated it. We’re buddies now, and I spent less time talking to him on Friday than I had on the other days of the week when I’d been reprimanding him. Way to go, Mom. You were totally right that kids need and want structure, and that it’s important to remember that attention is attention, whether it be rewarding good behavior or disciplining bad behavior. Far better to reward that good behavior, you used to tell me, and create a cycle of happy interactions. Wise advice.

One of those great moments

Thursday night, while tutoring A________ on one of the more difficult phonological concepts, I had one of those great moments that make teaching worthwhile.  A________, a third grader who had been totally confused and frustrated by schwa when taught it in school, excitedly declared mid-lesson: “I get it!  I understand schwa!”  And then, a bit later in the lesson, she looked up from her dictation page and said, “Thank you for teaching me about schwa,” then ducked her head and shyly added, “thank you for teaching me.”


Two of the fifth graders who are in the book group attended game hour yesterday, and as we were cleaning up the room at the end of game time, both boys started talking to me about this month’s book.  The book is Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, the first authorized sequel to the original Peter Pan.  And the boys are truly puzzled by it.  John told me that he’s totally confused by what’s happening: “First they’re old – then they’re kids – and there’s something weird going on with Wendy…”  Frank told me that he’s read about a hundred pages, but nothing is making sense to him.  John suggested that maybe it’s really a book for older kids, not fifth graders, and Frank agreed.

I haven’t read the book yet (I’m still working on that assignment that’s due on the 19th), so I couldn’t help them with specifics, but I did suggest that they jot down questions that they have as they read the rest of the book, to use as a starting point for our discussion.  And I also mentioned that some books are confusing, but intentionally so, and that such books often work towards resolution and solution by their conclusion.  It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I seem to remember that McCaughrean’s Pack of Lies is one such book.
It’s too bad that the kids are struggling with Peter Pan in Scarlet, but they are all very bright, very literate kids, and hopefully they’ll be able to tease some sense out of this confusing text.  If not, at least we’ll have LOTS to discuss at the next meeting, on the 27th.

attack of the boogers

Seen today at the library:

cute little boy sitting at the smallest table…finger up his nose…pile of brand-new picturebooks on the table next to him…finger comes out of nose, opens the books and starts reading…ew.

In the words of one of the library’s pages, Miles:  “If this were Sesame Street, the books would have eyeballs on stalks and mouths, and they’d be screaming ‘No! No! No!’”

More preparation for the move

I’m continuing to work on replacing books that are ready to be retired, especially before we make the move to the new building.  It’s a financial juggle, and tests my frugal New Englander skills, but I’m able to still order some great new books, replace the yucky old books, and stay within my monthly budget.  Sometimes I amaze myself!!!  (good thing, since it’s not likely that anyone else will be so thrilled by my frugality…)

I’ve found many, many Newbery award-winning books that are in desperate need of replacement, replete with boogers and mysterious stains and who-knows-what-else stuck within their ancient pages, and I’ve been able to track down attractive replacement copies for all of them.  The old books have no monetary value, for those of you who are wondering, since they’re filthy and have been rebound, and those old books have extremely low circulation.  My goal is to get those replacement copies on the shelf so that today’s kids will have a clean, pretty copy to entice them to read some classic, quality literature.  Because, after all, it’s about getting that content, those words, into the hands of children, and for those children to have an opportunity to read those words for themselves.

The verdict is in…

Yesterday was the first Bagels n’ Books book group.  A great, enthusiastic bunch of fourth and fifth graders, a dozen bagels that rapidly and magically disappeared into eight mouths, and a lot of talk about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Guess what?  The kids didn’t like the book much.

These kids are well-versed in how to discuss literature, and though there were a few groans when I said it’s not enough to just say you don’t like a book, that you have to give specific reasons, they all provided clear and definitive reasons for why they didn’t like the book.  One girl said it was too easy and it didn’t take her very long to finish the book.  A boy chimed in that he read the book in, like, an hour.  Another girl said that there is no point to the book.  “Ah-ha!”  I thought to myself, “Maybe they haven’t delved deep enough into the book and that’s why they didn’t like it!”  But no, this girl went on to say, “I mean, I understand that it’s about Edward learning to love and getting back to Abilene, but what’s the point of that?”

A different boy, and the girl beside him, complained that the book didn’t have enough action.  They mentioned that Kate DiCamillo’s other books have action and excitement, and that The Tiger is Rising and The Tale of Despereaux are books that they enjoyed reading.  Other kids agreed vigorously to this comment.  One girl was brave and spoke up to say that she LOVES the book because of the language and style of DiCamillo’s writing; she also commented on the cyclical nature of the storyline and had as many bookmarks marking places in the text as I did.  Future English major, guaranteed.

I used Aidan Chamber’s technique of writing likes, dislikes, puzzles, and patterns on a big sheet of paper, trying to keep my mouth shut about my own opinions in order to let the kids fully express their thoughts.  Had we had more time together (our actual book discussion only lasted for a half hour), I could have gone on to guide the group to a deeper discussion of the book.  But I’m still not sure that I would have been able to change the minds of those kids who strongly dislike the book; and that was never my goal.

What fascinates me most is that a lot of the negative adult commentary I’ve read about the book has focused on it being too sad for children, too emotionally wrenching.  The kids yesterday really weren’t bothered by the sadness in the book, they were annoyed by the lack of action.  They had wanted a book that was going to take them on journey; I mentioned that well, Edward Tulane does go on a journey, and most of the kids just rolled their eyes at me.  “It’s not a REAL journey!”

Two things come to mind: this book is a very different type of fantasy than the fantasy that prevails in the publishing world today (I hesitate to say it: the Harry Potter type of fantasy).  Most of the kids in the book group yesterday are probably used to action-based fantasy with magic and heroes and sparks and blood.  Edward Tulane can’t speak or act, and thus passively endures all that happens to him, except for the growth within him of a heart and the ability to love.  His physical strength doesn’t change, and he doesn’t accomplish great physical feats in the process of learning to love; he simply learns to love.

The other thought that comes to mind is that any reader, young or old, has the ability to skip those parts of a text that he or she either isn’t ready for or just doesn’t want to deal with.  I do this all the time: when reading the sixth Harry Potter, I knew that someone was going to die, so I purposefully read the end first to find out who so that I wouldn’t be held captive by the suspense of the book.  Perhaps the kids in yesterday’s book group don’t want to read about loss and sadness, or perhaps they’re not ready for stories that deal with those issues in depth, and so the book seemed, to them, to be boring.  It didn’t address their concerns, and it didn’t appeal to them.

Notably, though, it was loved by one group member, the girl who was adept at locating subtleties in the text and who possessed the most sophisticated literary vocabulary.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that she was ready for the text, and thus loved it.  Ready for the text, and also interested in what the text had to say.  “The right book for the right child at the right time.”  No one book can appeal to everyone.

At the end of the hour, I presented the book group members with seven books to choose from for our next meeting in October.  The choices were: The Tale of Despereaux, The Diamond in the Window, Love That Dog, Half Magic, Room One: A Mystery or Two, The Penderwicks, and The Search for Delicious.  The winner was:  Half Magic by Edward Eager, coming to the library on October 24th.