Monthly Archives: February 2014

February is the End of the World

end-of-the-world

Every February my heart sings the blues. I prepare for this, I anticipate this, I expect this. But no amount of sitting in front of my sun lamp seems to alleviate the doldrums of February. Graph my attitude, productivity, effort, and attendance, and you will see a rapid and steady decline from February 1st through February 28th (or 29th, on the particularly spiteful years).

It is my firm belief that no major life decision should be made in February. For example, chopping off eight inches of hair. That was not a good life decision for me.

And not only that, but relationships are HARD in February. Maybe I’m the only one, but plotting a vacation to get away from it all has crossed my mind only like one hundred times per hour.

Dar William pretty much sums it up in her song, “February”:
First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year
And then we forgot that we’d planted it all
Then we forgot what plants are altogether
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting
And the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?

It’s not my dear husband’s fault that it’s February. He didn’t tell the sun to sleep for days on end. Or at least, I don’t think he did. But sometimes it’s so hard to keep from being resentful of whoever is nearest, and in the hibernation of February this is often family.

What is a person to do?

It’s about this time every year that we plan an End of the World Party.

Starting the first year out of college, a dear friend and I decided that if you can’t beat it, you may as well join it. Or maybe there was a televangelist convinced that the end was drawing near. Or maybe we just wanted an excuse to view and mock “The Day After Tomorrow”. Whatever the seed idea, it has grown into a much needed day of celebrating the fact that, sure we may feel that the world is ending, but at least we have one another.

Mostly we eat really yummy food (a “last meal” of sort) and drink wine and tell stories, and laugh and cry, and provide some rays of sunshine in what otherwise can be a really lousy month. Sometimes we play games. And there were several years in a row in which we watched the most recent apocalyptic movie, though “2012” may have done us in on that, since it was so bad, we actually kind of thought it might be the end of the world.

The point, of course, is to remind ourselves that there are other people that are also slogging through, hanging onto the hope that spring will indeed come again, the thaw will bring flowers, and the sun will start to grace us for longer and longer stretches each day.

It’s the end of February, so I am hopeful for spring. But it isn’t too late to grab some champagne with a buddy. After all, a friend reminded me recently that March is the month in which the snow just gets browner. At least we can laugh (or cry) about that with our friends.

After all, what else is there to do?
If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?
-Bruce Cockburn

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. If you need more ideas of how to get through the wintery months, check out Managing the February Blues.

De-Stress THE TEST!

calvinpanic

So, the time for standardized testing has nearly arrived.  Kids across the country will soon spend hours carefully filling in bubbles with #2 pencils, or writing essays in response to a specific prompt, or writing out a specific explanation of the steps and calculations used to solve a math problem. Despite all the teaching and learning that took place in the days before, together with the constant and sometimes frantic test prep, this is a stressful time for families of students and teachers, for teachers and, primarily, for students.

This week’s teaching tip focuses on ways to de-stress the classroom and keep students motivated.  It also includes some ideas to help families and kids handle the stress of testing days.

calvindonttestwell

Helping the Classroom Community “Chill”

The kids know the test is important – to them, to their teachers, and to their school.  They’ve been working steadily and often by the first day of testing, they are apprehensive and anxious.  And for good reason:  everyone has been telling them (for months!) that they MUST “do their best on the test.”  A good dose of adrenalin might help kids focus, but true worry and fear can block the ability to think clearly and rationally.

There’s nothing like having a kid enter the classroom and vomit all over her desk because of nervous agitation.  Not an auspicious start to bubbling in the circles for anyone in that classroom.

overtest

Here is a list of ideas to help your students keep it together so that they can deal with the unavoidable stress of high-stakes testing:

The Power of Positive Thinking:  Students, no matter where they fall in terms of quartiles, should believe in their ability to perform on the test. Teachers, you’ve prepared your students.  Parents, you’ve helped your kids with homework all year.  The week before the test, it is time to talk about the worry and then throw it out the window.  Let them know you believe in them and their ability.  Remind them that you’ve been working to reach this point all year – there is nothing to worry about. And remind them, it’s about the learning.  Period.  Tests tell us what we know, what we don’t know and what we still need to learn.  That’s it.

last 5

Empowering Pre-Test Activities:  Our students are so resourceful and so darn clever.  To empower them, which in turn will help them manage their stress levels, two days before testing give them a fun task to create in collaborative groups.  There is so much “shhhh” on test days – let them use this pre-test time to engage and talk together while working.  Some ideas of collaborative projects which can be adapted easily to your classroom or school needs:

  • Create a video: Students can rewrite the lyrics of a popular, upbeat song and then record themselves performing it. Some schools have gone so far as making a school-wide video: Test Taker Face  and Hunger Games: Testing Version.  Post on your school’s website.
  • Share test-taking strategies with a partner classroom:  Partner with a teacher of a different grade and have the older students mentor the younger students on test taking strategies and advice.  Empowers all ages and builds school community.
  • Poetry and Posters:  Students could partner or work in small groups to create poetry about testing and then publishing the work in a poster to be displayed on a school bulletin board.
  • School-wide Pep Rally: Watch your video(s) at the school-wide rally where kids have a poetry jam using the poetry they’ve written or give motivational speeches on rocking the test and the principal tells all students that he/she knows they all will do well.  Not too preachy – just fun.
  • Mindfulness Practice:  Work  together as a classroom community on breathing exercises and even some guided meditation a couple of days beforehand and then on the day of the test to help students be centered and focused.  Here’s a link to a blog called “Kid’s Relaxation” with short guided meditation scripts free of charge.

Standardized Tests

The Powerful Parent Connection Enlist your parents – they want to help.  A couple of months before testing, after being besieged by moms and dads who wanted to know how to get their children ready for the test, we sent home this letter: Parent Test Prep Letter.  It gave them some ideas for supporting kids during the months  prior to the test.  A couple of days before the test, send your parents a letter reminding them of the testing window, encouraging them to get their kids to bed early (importance of a good night’s rest), stating the need for a good breakfast (but not too heavy), and stressing the importance of arriving at school on time.

testing

Test Day Decompressors:  Here is a list of some potential supports for the days you actually test:

  • Distribute sport-sized water bottles and mints to each student to have on hand during the test (peppermint may stimulate brain activity).  
  • Some classrooms may respond to tapes of ocean waves or other natural sounds (I would avoid running water as that might increase trips to the bathroom).  
  • Use Guided Meditation, Breathing and Stretching Exercises (see above and our prior post on yoga in the classroom)worry stones
  • Present Worry Stones: I used worry stones in my classroom and would distribute them to my students prior to the start of the test as part of a mindfulness routine and to help ease the tension in the room.  I would use smooth stones or jewels from the dollar store or target and wrap them with a card that had a worry stone saying on one side and an encouraging personal note to each student on the other.  You can also make your own stones using clay as shown here.  Here’s a template of the poem I used: Worry Stone Poem.  I explained that if you hold a worry stone between  the index finger and thumb, rubbing them is believed to lessen one’s worries.  This action is a stim which usually creates feelings of calmness, reduces stress levels and encourages focus during testing.  My students loved the ritual around the worry stones (I solemnly passed them out to each student the first day of testing) and some of the younger kids who came into my class the following year asked for them prior to testing. Here’s a great read-aloud to use prior to testing:worry stone
  • Have on hand Relaxing stuff to do after the test but before everyone else is finished:  Coloring sheets (Mandalas), crossword puzzles, word searches, and glyphs are great options.  Materials should be organized and handy so that there is minimal movement in the classroom while other kids are finishing up testing.  I found that these activities were soothing and calming, especially coloring!
  • Don’t forget the SNACKS/TREATS as a pre-test AND post-test incentive!  Take a look at these really cute ideas for testing treats and explore Pinterest for others.  Here are photos of a couple of other ideas: 
      test day incentive2Test day incentive

A Final Note to Familes and Friends of Teachers:  Testing days are stressful for students and for teachers.  It might be a good time to nurture the teacher in your life:  Bring over a casserole, a $5 Starbucks card, walk the dog or write an inspiring note.  I had a dear friend who made me an inspirational quote a day countdown where I flipped through a stack of cheerful notecards with thoughtful sayings each day.  You can bring over a great book to read (a page turner, nothing to do with teaching) or offer to walk with him or her after school as they decompress and listen as they process their day.  Grab a movie from Redbox and drop it off with some microwave popcorn.   Or better yet, treat your favorite teacher to a yoga class!

teacher test

De-stress and Namaste.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2Karen

Worry & Fret: Parenting

Quotation-Democritus-life-worry-children-success-Meetville-Quotes-27998

I read Rachel’s recent post (see My House is a Deathtrap for Children) and remembered those days of constant worry and questioning.  Besides listening to his heartbeat whenever possible with a special stethoscope (kindly provided by my sister) during his days in the womb, I read everything (surprise) I could get my hands on about parenting and subscribed to every parenting magazine out there.  I was going to get this right. Vigilant Mama. I think now, thank God, I didn’t have the internet to turn to or I might have been committed.

The worries? When Nick first rolled over, he was in the family room.  I wasn’t there.  Apparently my golden retriever was watching him (so much for constant vigilance), and he rolled right across the room onto the single layer of red brick that formed the hearth of our fireplace. I found him there with a slight mark on his sweet head and hoped that no one would call DCFS but wondered if I would should turn myself in.  I knew I needed to be careful when he was on a bed, but who mentioned they could cover such a large area when rolling over?  The guilt I felt as a mom who worked outside the house played into this and I concluded that I was not cut out for this motherhood gig. I vowed to remain ever vigilant so that he would never be injured again.

Those who are reading this, and know my son, are chuckling. Or perhaps laughing out loud.  I know we didn’t break every record for trips to the ER but it seemed to me we did.  What kid has 2 concussions before starting high school?  Or who has to have his face sewn up (I will never get over this one) when he is only 4 years old, and making his stage debut as Joseph (Mary’s guy, earthly father of Jesus) the next evening?  Or breaks his arm playing shortstop while all of us are watching him make, what my husband called at the moment, “an all- star play, he could break his arm doing that!”  I have only begun to list these moments and I will stop now because I am having heart palpitations.  I never did make the world completely safe for him – despite my desire to remove all possible sources of harm.

Thank God he didn’t play football in high school (I won this battle) but he still managed to injure his knee playing basketball, which ended up leading to his vocation but that’s another story.  He will be twenty three in a matter of months and I still lay awake at night worrying about everything: is he pushing himself too hard?  Not enough?  Who is this girl he’s dating?  Dear God, please keep him safe on the subway…!  You get the idea.  It is never a good thing to wake up at 3 a.m. because generally I get through this list and then some before dawn.

The battles?  Oh my God.  So many. Over so little. Or so much.  “You may not stay out that late.”  “No you cannot eat that junk, drink that sugar…!” “No video games!”  “You said what to the Principal?!?”  “You call this a completed project???” And so on.  My days as enforcer, “Hurricane Mama,” Big Meanie are over.  Now, I answer the phone and try to remain calm, reasonable, helpful, the sage advisor.  We won’t discuss the dialogue with my inner self which I have at the same time I am dispensing pearls of wisdom!

And despite the fact that he seems so grounded and solid and is taking on the world 1000 miles from home, I am waiting for some deep-seated neuroses to appear – created at some dark parenting moment in the past, when I really, really screwed up.

No, Rachel.  The doctor did not need to tell you to be paranoid.  It is hard-wired deep within us.

And although I am no longer vacuuming like a madwoman or scrubbing floors with massive amounts of disinfectant (I know, there are harmful chemicals in these things so I was careful to rinse, but I still worry that these chemicals did some latent harm), I often scour the internet looking for tips on how to be a great long-distance parent to a kid in his twenties.

Maybe I need to run over and help Rachel scrub her floors with vinegar.

-Karen261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2

Talking, Language, Memory, Anthropomorphism, Mirrors & Love

  missing fern

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, By Karen Joy Fowler

“The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff.” Rosemary

The written word also reveals secrets so I will start this review by saying that I will do my best not to go over the cliff in order to allow anyone who reaches for this book – as the result of reading this post – the opportunity to experience it as the author intended.  Whatever you do, don’t read the book flaps or the back cover.  I read this unique novel on my kindle and for once, I feel I am the better for it.  I downloaded it after reading a 2013 Great Book Picks (or something like that) and didn’t recall what it was about when I decided to begin reading it the other day.

This is a superb read – loaded with suspense, cleverly written, fascinating characters and compelling subject matter.  It is full of beginnings.  Read it through to the end (it won’t be hard to) and I can almost guarantee that you will be enthralled by the narrative and the narrator.

fowler book

I immediately fell in love with the voice of Rosemary, Karen Joy Fowler’s narrator of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves in the prologue of this story of families, academic scientific research, college towns, science,  ethics and the animal rights movement.  Rosemary immediately reveals that she was a “great talker” as a child and that her parents valued her “extravagant abundance” and “inexhaustible flow” of words; nonetheless, her mother’s tip to polite social behavior was to pick one thing to say (your favorite) when you think of two or three things to say. Her father advises her early on to begin in the middle of any story, especially given her propensity to use her words to prolong her encounters with anyone who will pay attention to her.

And so she begins to tell “the middle” of her story, ten years after her older brother disappeared and 17 years since her sister vanished.  And we begin to learn about Rosemary, a college student in her fifth year at UC Davis with no degree on the horizon.  She is arrested after throwing a glass of milk in the cafeteria for no discernible reason. And it is through the aftermath of her arrest, and the days that follow, that the reader learns about her unusual family, her struggles in Kindergarten (“kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not”), her journey away from talking to silence (“I’d come to silence hard”), and how a family will always struggle to be together even when staying together seems impossible.  

And as the narrative unfolds, past sins and secrets are revealed and mysteries are deciphered.  And Rosemary slowly begins to find herself in her search for her missing siblings.  She ponders: “I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one spending my life making the same mistake over and over again or if that’s simply human.  Do we all tend toward a single besetting sin?”  And we begin to understand why Rosemary must look more carefully in “the mirror,” despite her rejection of her own reflection, made ironic as she lectures a self-important college guy on the “mirror” test and how “we’ve been using it to determine self-awareness” since Darwin.

I loved this story and its thoughtful presentation of animal research ethics. Pieces of ourselves can “go missing” for years, much like Rosemary’s siblings, and sometimes the only way to find them is to look hard in the mirror and truly see what is there. Because who in this life has never been completely beside themselves?

beside ourselves Fern

Ages: 14 and up.  Some profanity.

My House is a Deathtrap for Children

screw

My son rolled across the room today. It was amazing, it was beautiful, and it was terrifying.

I have never been a particularly neat or clean person. There. I said it. If there’s a choice between cleaning or doing basically any activity that isn’t cleaning, painting my toes, or my chihuahua’s toes, will win out.

So when my son rolled across the room of his nursery I clapped and cheered him on while he fist pumped and cooed, clearly incredibly pleased with himself and the attention. Then I looked around. Our carpet is covered in dog fur. And dust. And who knows that else. The carpet came with the house, and just because I’m dwelling on the thought right now I will likely be up late tonight imagining the layers of other peoples’ living that cover the carpet.

I did something drastic. I picked up the entire floor of both of our carpeted rooms. And then I vacuumed. Well, first I put my chihuahua in her crate, since she was biting the vacuum and nearly became a casualty of my sudden cleaning frenzy. While vacuuming (which was shockingly satisfying) I found not one, but two screws on the carpeted floor.

TWO SCREWS! One was an inch long. Within reaching distance from where my son had fist pumped seconds before. Where did those screws come from? How many of their brothers and sisters are lying in wait, hoping to be picked up and swallowed by my sweet, slobbering, teething, rolling six month old?

You need a license to fish, but not to have a baby. Because seriously, if you needed to pass a bunch of tests and prove you can provide a clean home, my application would have been denied.

At his six month appointment yesterday the pediatrician told us that now is the time to get really paranoid about baby proofing the house. My first thought was, “Hmm… probably time to potty train the dog.” My second thought was, “Does this mean I need to do the dishes?” (Please read this with the most amount of whininess you can muster.)

Also, was it really necessary to tell me to become paranoid about anything? I think this pediatrician is getting kick backs from my shrink.

In any case, it was an incredible day, full of milestones for my son.

And if you need me I’ll be scrubbing the floor. Or maybe just painting my chihuahua’s toes.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel

There’s An App For That (FREE GIVEAWAY!)

ipad

You have an iPad. One. What good could that possibly be for your classroom? I bought my iPad, so excited for the doors it would open in my classroom, only to find it primarily being used to play Plants Vs. Zombies. (By me, obviously. I wasn’t going to let my students play that garbage.) Who has time to scour all of the education apps to separate the wheat from the chaff?

There’s good news! Today’s teaching tip will highlight a few excellent apps for different subjects and different grades. They can be used with one iPad, or with a center of many iPads. Some can also be used on the computer. I tried to talk about only those apps I have actually used successfully, and I also tried to stay away from test-preppy drill type apps and games, and stick to apps that I felt had quality graphics, content, and useability.

One final word, scroll to the end to see the app that changed my life! And see the details for our FEBRUARY GIVEAWAY!!!!

Reading

For our primary readers, the ones who are struggling to recognize letters and sounds, there are some excellent resources. Here are two that have been kid-tested and mother (me) approved.

Endless Alphabet ($6.99USD; intended age 3 and up)

endlessalphabet

Yes, this app costs money. But it is also incredibly fun. There are fun and interesting words for each letter. Kids pick a word. Once they have picked the word the letters scatter around the screen. Kids drag and drop the letters onto the corresponding letter in the word. As they drag the letter wiggles and jiggles and says its sound. Once the word has been formed correctly, an animated movie defining the word comes across the screen. The cartoons are fun, and the app helps teach letter recognition, letter sounds, and vocabulary.

ABC Mouse (FREE for teachers; intended age 3 and up)

abcmouseOnce you have spent some time in the home page of this app, you will wonder, “What doesn’t this app do?” Aimed at Pre-K through K, this app focuses on letter recognition, letter sound, word families, sight words, and early online readers.

As a teacher, you can see a dashboard of your students and their progress. It’s also possible to assign work that your students can do at home with their own log-ins. This can be done on a tablet, or on the computer. It has most everything you need for early reading skill practice–and it’s free for teachers!

And now a reading app for the older kids:

youchoosepirates
You Choose: Pirates! by Honeybee Labs ($1.99; intended age 9 and up)

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? There wasn’t a boy in my class in third grade who didn’t have one of those books in his desk. This is the online version. In this app, after creating an avatar, children get to read a short introduction to a story. Then, they are faced with several choices of what to do next. Depending on the choice they may end their journey in victory or in death.

The app allows for a collection of trophies as you play. It also has games interspersed throughout to make the play even more engaging. I imagine this app is a fun reading adventure, especially for reluctant readers. I enjoy scrolling back and forth to all options (something the app allows) until I get a favorable ending.

poetryapp

Poetry App by Poetry Foundation (FREE!; intended ages 12 and up)

While not the most visually stunning app, this app does have a wide variety of poems to pull from. Created by Poetry magazine, the poems are categorized by subject. There are two search functions, so that you can spin to match two categories of poems, such as “Optimism & Aging” or, for your more cynical self, “Boredom & Love”.

Writing

bookcreator

Book Creator ($4.99; ages 5 and up)

Book creator allows you to write and illustrate your own books on the iPad. This is perfect for early readers and writers, but can also be used for more advance writers (having a separate keyboard might be a good investment if the students will be doing extensive typing.)

The great part of the book creator is that once the book has been created it will go into the iBook app, and then can be shared with other students, possibly during independent reading time. It’s also a great way to “publish” student work. The books can be sent to family and friends for viewing. Books can use photos from iPhoto, or from the internet.

It does take some time to do the book creation, so this one is not a simple drill and kill app, but I think it is worth the end results.

Mathematics

bugsandnumbers

Bugs and Numbers ($2.99; ages 3 and up)

This app features incredible graphics to teach children mathematics concepts starting with basic counting and going all the way through early fractions. It is ideal from Pre-K through Kindergarten.

The app has three levels with a total of eighteen games that students can play. I especially appreciate the activity featured above, in which an egg carton is used as a ten frame to teach counting, doubles, and pairs used to make ten.

This is a large app, so it will take up a decent amount of space, and you will likely need to be connected to WiFi to download it.

mathmateer

Mathmateer ($0.99USD; ages 7 and up)

In Mathmateer, the object is to build a rocket that will propel you into space. Once in space, you can earn points by answering math questions. Along the way, you can solve math problems to earn money to improve the quality of your rocket ship.

This app allows kids to practice a lot of math facts, while also using their engineering skills to create a rocket that won’t fall on the ground immediately after launch (as mine did the first two tries). While it is a little “drilly”, I thought it was a fun way to practice the skills while also creating and building.

icrosss

iCrosss ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

iCross is a geometry app. It has a comprehensive list of geometric solids. Once you’ve clicked on a solid, you can manipulate it, seeing it from multiple angles and views. To further manipulate, you can designate cross sections, or cut the solid into parts, and then rotate it to look at it from multiple perspectives.

I really wish this app had existed when I was in geometry. Even my most artistic teachers weren’t able to create this level of manipulation on a chalk board, and seeing the solids from different angles allows for a visual take on simple and complex geometric concepts.

Problem Solving

There’s a whole category of app games called “Puzzles” in which the object is to use the items in a room or a level to figure out how to get to the next level. There is minimal instruction, depending on the app, and it involves patience, trial and error, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Here are two of my favorites. (These are good for ALL AGES, and teach excellent problem solving and critical thinking skills!)

machinarium

Machinarium ($4.99USD; ages 7 and up)

This is my favorite iPad game of all time. The animations are breathtaking. The game starts outside a town of machine trash, and works until you get your robot back to his space ship. While there are some clues on each level about how to progress to the next, the hints are minimal, and it requires perseverance to make it to the end. But it is SO FUN!

I highly recommend this app if you want something to occupy your kids for hours. And I think it would be especially rewarding for some of our visual/tactile learners who might not always be successful in paper and pencil activities. It involves a completely different way of thinking.

roomThe Room ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

Enter “The Room” and start the most fascinating investigation into where and why you are there. A series of puzzles, you manipulate the chest in the middle of the room to unlock more clues. Visually stunning, this is a great problem solving app, and certainly teaches perseverance.  There is some reading involved, so this one is geared for a slightly older crowd.

Coding

hopscotch
Hopscotch (FREE!; ages 5 and up)

Maybe you remember the days of “Turtle” on Apple2E computers. Maybe I’m dating myself. In any case, this free app teaches kids basic coding skills through the use of fun images and games. By manipulating an object, kids learn the basics of code.

As kids get more comfortable, they can start to create a project, so that the object can do a series of actions. Eventually they can start to create whole scripts to manipulate their object.

I cannot wait for my son to be old enough to use this app.

THE APP THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

levelitLevel It ($3.99; all ages)

With this app, you can scan books and find their lexile and reading level. Pretty cool. But that’s not it! You can also use this app to catalog your entire classroom (or personal) library. Wow!

But that’s not it, either. Once you’ve cataloged your books, you can use this app as a CHECK OUT SYSTEM! I know my friends will think I am dorky when I start scanning the bar codes when they borrow a book. But who’s laughing when three years from now I still have documentation that they have my copy of Pride and Prejudice. And I want it back.

Not to mention that this solves the ongoing dilemma of how to get students to quickly check out books to take home without losing your entire library.

The app also allows you to create a wish list. If you’re like me, this means you can scan every book at your local independent bookstore to remind yourself of the one million book you have yet to purchase, all of which you can then add to your birthday list.

It’s OK if you aren’t as excited as I am, but hopefully you’ll at least look at what the app can do.

FEBRUARY FREE GIVEAWAY!

We are invested in making sure that you can try out at least a few of these apps. While there are LITE versions of many of them that allow you to try a limited version for free, the full app is always better. We’re giving away a $10 (USD, sorry) iTunes gift card so you can see for yourself how great some of these apps can be for your classroom or home. To receive the gift card, do one of the following:

1.) Comment below with your favorite way to use your iPad at home or in your classroom.
2.) Leave us a note on our contact us page, telling us what additional topics you’d like to see covered on our blog.
3.) Tag “Teacher Reader Mom” on your facebook page. Or comment on the post for this entry, and tag your friends in your comment for extra entries!

That’s it! Contest ends next Tuesday. Make sure to include your email so that we can contact you if you win. iTunes gift card will be emailed. Good luck!

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel

Take Me Out to the Ballgame… A Triple Play Review!

Spring Training is underway and pitchers and catchers in both the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues reported last week, with position players reporting this week.  And for many, this winter’s fiercely frigid weather has made us anxious for the baseball season to officially begin as that first pitch is a definite sign that spring is in the air!  So in honor of all things baseball, together with recognition of Black History month, this review looks at a few titles that explore baseball before and during the Civil Rights movement and the efforts to break the color barrier on the baseball diamond.

I love books about baseball, well, because I love baseball.  It is a quintessentially American sport and its history reflects the challenges we have faced as a culture (and those we continue to face in this age of desperate measures to be the very best).  My classroom library has always contained a bursting bin with books about every aspect of baseball, including one on the physics of baseball.

My favorite books in the baseball bin are the picture books — which capture the beauty and movement of a sport that is demanding, exacting, front-loaded with failure, torturous (extra-inning games), but always (almost) unpredictable, with great potential for dramatic action.   Three of my favorites are laden with pictures, paintings, and photographs which can be enjoyed by baseball fans of all ages and can be meaningfully incorporated into a K-12 ELA and Social Science curriculum.  They can be used alone or together.

We are the Ship (The Story of Negro League Baseball), by Kadir Nelson

front of we are the ship

Kadir Nelson’s breathtaking narrative about the history of the Negro Baseball Leagues is packed with punch.  Hank Aaron penned the foreword and the story is told from the point of view of an unnamed “Everyman” who provides a “first-hand” chronicle of life as a black player beginning not too long after Abner Doubleday was said to have invented the game.  The book is divided into nine chapters or “innings.”  The “first inning” details the story of Rube Foster, the founder of the first Negro League and the “ninth inning” accounts the journey of Jackie Robinson as he crossed the color line into the previously all white major leagues.  The paintings of the players, the stadiums, the baseball cards, the ticket stubs all add to this detailed and compelling story of baseball and many important players, who may not all be as famous as Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, but who forged a path that led to Jackie Robinson’s dramatic debut.  The pain of bigotry and segregation is detailed in the words and the eyes of the players Nelson so beautifully depicts.  And yet the joy of playing baseball leaps from every page.

back of We are the Ship

Satchel Paige, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, with paintings by James E. Ransome

 satchel paige

“Some say Leroy Paige was born six feet three and a half inches tall, 180 pounds, wearing a size fourteen shoe. Not a bit of truth to it. And some argue that when Mrs. Lula Paige first held her precious Leroy in her arms, she noticed his right fist was tightly curved around a baseball. Pure fiction. It would take him eighteen years to grow to that size and about half that amount of time to realize that his hand and a baseball were a perfect match.”

Lesa Cline-Ransome and her husband James Ransome have collaborated together to create a number of extraordinary books and “Satchel Paige” was their first joint work, and is a lovely tribute to the first black player named to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.   James Ransome’s paintings bring the amazing Leroy Robert Paige to life as we learn how he came to be called Satchel (from carrying bags at the train station in Mobile, Alabama where he grew up).  Lesa Cline-Ransome’s narrative is enthralling as the reader learns that Satchel was caught shop-lifting and spent five years in reform school where he perfected the art of pitching.  “And no one pitched  like Satchel Paige.”  The writing, the paintings, and a chart of Paige’s vital statistics at the book’s end make this book an informative, entertaining and visually compelling read.

  Teammates, by Peter Golenbock, Illustrated by Paul Bacon

Teammates-Golenbock-Peter-9780152006037

“The general manage of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team was a man by the name of Branch Rickey.  He was not afraid of change.  He wanted to treat the Dodger fans to the best players he could find, regardless of the color of their skin.  He thought segregation was unfair and wanted to give everyone, regardless of race or creed, an opportunity to compete equally on ballfields across America.  To do this, the Dodgers needed one special man.”

And so begins the story, as told artfully by Peter Golenbock, of Jackie Robinson’s early days in what has been called “the great experiment.”  This short but powerful narrative of the many challenges faced by Robinson in making the Dodgers and traveling with the team is told simply and directly.  And the stark truth of the death threats and the constant cruelty and humiliations by fellow players and opposing team players is seen in the short, muscular, declarative sentences describing Robinson’s life in the major leagues.  Golenbock’s dramatic description in the closing pages of  Pee Wee Reese’s bold move (for the time) in support of Robinson is direct and powerful.  Paul Bacon’s watercolor illustrations are combined with black & white photographs and headlines from this important time period in the history of baseball – and civil rights.

This book can be read by all ages and, despite its complexity (of subject matter) and simplicity (in words and pictures) be understood by all who read it.  We all want to be as brave and talented as Jackie Robinson and as brave and fair-minded (not to set aside the talented) as Pee Wee Reese.  These two baseball greats made history in more than one way – they helped change our world for the better.

Useful Resources:  Here are some additional resources to learn more about the Negro Leagues, the integration of major league baseball and James & Lisa Cline Ransome.

  1. Lisa Cline-Ransome’s website
  2. Negro League’s Baseball Museum
  3. Negro League’s Legacy
  4. Negro League’s Baseball Player’s Association
  5. “A Long Toss Back” (Smithsonian Magazine)
  6. Scholastic Lesson on Negro League’s (with a link to a “Breaking Barriers” essay contest for grades 4-9)  Essay deadline is March 14, 2014
  7. Negro League Baseball website
  8. National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2-Karen