Poetry Friday: Shel Silvertein’s “Sick”


Beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein would have celebrated his 83rd birthday earlier this week. Born on Sept. 25, 1930, Silverstein is best known for his poetry collections Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. But did you know he began his career as a cartoonist for Playboy?

My favorite Silverstein poem is “Sick”


“I cannot go to school today,”

Said little Peggy Ann McKay.

“I have the measles and the mumps,

A gash, a rash, and purple bumps.

My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,

I’m going blind in my right eye.

My tonsils are as big as rocks,

I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox…”

Read the rest of the poem here.

Be sure to visit Amy at The Poetry Farm for the weekly round up. Happy Friday, everyone!

Slice of Life Tuesday:


“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” ~ Blaise Pascal

Last spring, at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion, Lucy Calkins urged the thousands of teachers gathered at Riverside Church to be supportive of our colleagues and to treat one another with kindness through this tumultuous time in education.

The importance of maintaining this kind of positive attitude is being felt in schools across the country this fall. In Connecticut, where I teach, the state’s new teacher evaluation system is being rolled out this year. Teacher’s are now required to have five goals: two Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s), one Professional Growth Goal (linked to the Connecticut Common Core of Teaching Rubric), a whole-school goal linked to last year’s state assessment results, and a goal related to feedback from a parent survey. These have to be submitted by October 15. Needless to say, this is causing some stress.

And yet, as I meet with my colleagues each day to work on these goals, we feel a sense of accomplishment. As we read through writing samples, we learn more about our students and our writing goals become clear. We read and reread the standards, and our understanding deepens. Our unit plans begin to take shape, and we realize that we can do this. We are doing it. Together.

Thank you to Stacey at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


My colleagues and I have been thinking about how we are going to adapt our instruction to meet CCSS Reading Literature standard Nine (Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches authors take.) I have always tried to link texts thematically whenever possible, but in Connecticut, our state test has had an inordinate emphasis on text-to-self connections for years. So this standard is causing us to rethink some of our curriculum.

I think this is a very good thing, as there is plenty of evidence that reading multiple texts on the same topic and pairing fiction and nonfiction texts helps students build a stronger knowledge base. So we’ve been creating text sets to support our reading units of study. For example, we’ve  selected a variety of titles around the main theme of each unit so students have an independent reading book of their choice that has a similar theme to the short story or novel being read in class. For the past week or so, I’ve been reading and rereading several books we’re thinking about adding to our collection.


In the spring, the 8th grade will study the Holocaust in social studies and English/language arts. In the past, students have read the play, The Diary of Anne Frank. We haven’t made all of our choices yet, but so far have added The Book Thief to this unit. We want to include nonfiction as well, so last weekend I read Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. (Scholastic Nonfiction, 2005) This is a powerful book. Parts of it were difficult to read, but Bartoletti does an excellent job of creating a clear picture of how Hitler manipulated the young people of Germany to his purposes. Using extensive primary sources and photographs, readers experience life in Germany from the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s to the end of the war and beyond. Bartoletti also includes the story of several teens who realized the Nazi leaders were lying to the German people. They tried to warn others, but were arrested and executed.  An epilogue tells readers what happened to the young people whose stories are told throughout the book after the war, and there is an extensive bibliography. In 2006, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow was named a Newbery Honor Book, a Siebert Honor Book, and an Orbis Pictus Honor book for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.


Bands of partisans fought against Hitler throughout Europe, and many of these brave men and women were teenagers. Allan Zullo has collected their stories in We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust. (Scholastic, 2012) This book has many gripping accounts of the harsh conditions the partisans endured, especially during the winter, and the dangerous missions they undertook in their attempts to break the Nazi war machine. There are notes about the lives of these resisters after the war, as well as recommendations for reading more about each individual.


Although it isn’t about the Nazis, we will probably include Ruth Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray in this unit, as there are so many similarities between Lina’s story of persecution and deportation in Soviet Russia under Stalin during World War II and what was happening in Germany and much of Europe at the time. If you haven’t read this amazing book, add it to your list today. In the meantime, you can learn more about it here.

It’s not easy to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, for what what you know is right. We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust and Between Shades of Gray offer readers inspiring portraits of young people who fought against governments who denied their basic humanity. Reading these books in conjunction with Hitler Youth  will give readers plenty of opportunities to build their knowledge and discuss this terrifying time in world history.

There are many other excellent books that would fit in a unit on the Holocaust. What titles do you include in similar units? How are you addressing standard nine?

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Poetry Friday: A Red, Red Rose


I’ve been thinking about my grandmother lately. Born in 1904, she passed away thirteen years ago this week. She grew up on a farm, had a garden until she was in her 70s and a tomato plant by her back door after that. Having lived through the Depression, she saved EVERYTHING. I loved spending time at her house because I never knew what treasure would turn up. Her father’s family emigrated from Scotland in the 1870s, and she was fiercely proud of her Scottish heritage. Robert Burns was one her favorite poets, so I thought it would be fitting today to share one of the “national poet of Scotland’s” most famous poems.

Alexander Nasmyth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Alexander Nasmyth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Red, Red Rose

by Robert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again my luve,

Though it were ten thousand mile.

Please be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Poetry Friday: For the Fallen


Two stanzas from For The Fallen, by Laurence Binyon

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

Read the entire poem here.

In Memory Of
Staff Sgt. T.J. Lobraico
November 23, 1990-September 5, 2013

Slice of Life: The 4th Grade Readers’ Choice Awards


Last week, on the sixth day of school, my fourth grade colleagues kicked off the year in style with their annual “Readers’ Choice Awards.” Wanting to make summer reading assignments more purposeful, Bernadette and Kim came up with a plan that also energized their students about reading.

Each student was encouraged to nominate one of their summer reading selections (all chosen from a list of suggested titles, but students could chose a book not on the list) for the best book in one of the following categories: Best Character, Best Setting, and Best Plot. Students wrote their nominations, hoping to persuade their classmates to vote for their book. Once all the nominations were shared, the children voted for a book in each category.

ImageMost fourth-graders arrived at school on Friday dressed to the nines for the awards ceremony, which included a red carpet, golden statues, and lots of applause. After a quick thank-you to the parents from Kim and Bernadette, the Masters of Ceremonies were introduced, and the nominees for the first category were announced. Students were called up to the podium to share the book they nominated, and the runner-up was announced. Then the emcee opened the envelope containing the name of the winner. To heighten the excitement, students in the audience provided a drum-roll on their laps. A statue was presented to the student who nominated the winning book before he or she read a short thank-you speech.

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Once all the awards had been handed out, students mingled with their parents and other guests and posed for photos. All the nominations were displayed for visitors to read, and there were even Hollywood-like stars on the floor leading into the cafeteria.

ImageAlthough this ceremony lasted only half-an-hour, it’s impact will be felt for the rest of the year. By being sensitive to including as many students as possible in the ceremony, Kim and Bernadette created a supportive tone in their classrooms and sense of community that often takes much longer to establish. Even students whose books weren’t chosen had the opportunity to share the title of their book. Parents loved seeing their children celebrate their summer reading in a meaningful way, and the students started the year off with style, excited about reading and sharing books with their friends.

Thank you to Stacey at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays!

Poetry Friday: Puzzling Through the Possibilities


Puzzling Through the Possibilities

The clue seemed so simple:

“Rossini’s William Tell and others”

Overtures even fit.

But the crosses didn’t work.

What word meaning “unprepared” begins with “nu?”

As I puzzled through the possibilities,

it occurred to me that

a writer feels this same frustration

as she reaches for the right word,

the clearest meaning,

so often just beyond her grasp.

Aren’t we all really just searching for that missing piece?

The one that clicks into place?

When we find it, it’s often a surprise.

And better than we ever dreamt.

© Catherine Flynn, 2013


The idea for this poem came from a journal entry I wrote in response to one of Corbett Harrison’s “Sacred Writing Time” prompts. When my colleagues and I were working on our writing curriculum, we began each day by writing for ten minutes. On this particular day, the slide stated that “dreamt” is the only word in the English language that ends with “mt.” As a Scrabble player and crossword puzzle lover, this intrigued me. So I wrote about filing this tidbit away, thinking it would come in handy as I was “puzzling through the possibilities” when solving a puzzle. Right away, I noticed this phrase. I loved the alliteration and the potential it contained. So I began playing with ideas. I’m still puzzling over this draft; I’m not sure the middle flows as well as it could, but I’ve had fun working on it.

By the way, the Rossini clue is from the New York Times Sunday puzzle from August 25, 2013, constructed by Victor Barocas.

Be sure to visit Laura at Author Amok for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

Slice of Life: For Good


Last week, Sarah Horn’s life was changed “For Good” when Kristen Chenoweth invited her to share the stage to sing a duet of the song from the Broadway show Wicked.

I was deeply moved as I watched the video that has now been viewed by over 2 1/2 million people. I was struck by these lines in particular:

“…I know I’m who I am today

Because I knew you…”

How many people are fortunate enough to be able to say this to one or more individuals who have made a difference in their lives? How often is that individual a special teacher?

Teachers often never know the impact they have on their students. Because this is true, we owe it to every child to help them to be their very best, to help them discover, as Ann Patchett’s characters in Bel Canto only begin to discover, “all the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.”

As I walked down the hall today, I watched a fourth-grade boy the size of a first-grader, a boy born with multiple disabilities try to jump up and touch the moulding at the top of the door jam as he headed for the bathroom. We usually discourage kids from doing this, but as I watched him I thought, “Go for it. Jump as high as you can. I hope someday you reach the top.”

Thank you, as always, to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge and providing a space for us to become better writers by telling our stories.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


Nowadays, it seems that Labor Day is more about the last official summer holiday and sales, not about the workers it honors. So today it seems appropriate to share books about the everyday heroes who took tremendous risks and made many sacrifices to help shape the labor laws we have today.


Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel (Blazer + Bray, 2013; illustrated by Melissa Sweet) tells the true story of Clara Lemlich, who immigrated with her family from the Ukraine when she was 17 years old. Her father was unable to find work, so Clara went to work in one of the many shirtwaist factories on the lower east side of Manhattan in the early 20th century. Clara soon discovers the harsh realities of the garment industry, and helps organize the famous 1909 strike.

Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are always appealing, and here they provide a glimpse into the conditions of the tenements and factories of the time. Using her signature collage, Sweet incorporates fabric, stitching, and patterns to recreate Clara’s world. In an interview with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Sweet explains that this “felt like a fitting way to honor these brave seamstresses.”

The picture book format of Brave Girl shouldn’t discourage teachers of upper elementary grades from sharing this book with their students. In fact, Markel’s text is an ideal introduction to this important chapter of our history. Once students’ curiosity has been piqued, there are many other excellent books available to extend their learning.


In Factory Girl, by Barbara Greenwood (Kids Can Press, 2007), combines fiction and non-fiction to bring the world of the garment and textile mills of New York and New England at the turn of the 20th century to life. Archival photos, many by Lewis Hine, reveal the terrible working conditions these children endured. This book also includes a timeline of the labor movement in the United States.

Katherine Patterson has written two novels that vividly depict the experience of young workers in New England textile mills. Lyddie (Dutton, 1991) takes place much earlier than the events in Factory Girl, but the situation is very similar. Lyddie arrives at a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1840s, just as several of the women are organizing to demand 10-hour working days. Patterson expertly weaves other aspects of life for these “factory girls” into the story. Facts like the “company” requirement of regular church attendance and the numerous restrictions on the girls’ after-work activities will be sure to provoke many heated discussions and are natural springboards for opinion and argument writing.

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Bread and Roses, Too (Clarion Books, 2006) takes place in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Bread and Roses strike of 1912. Sadly, the mill workers in this novel are still confronted with many of the issues Lyddie struggles against over half a century before.


As is often the case, it took a tragedy before these conditions changed in any meaningful way. The 1911 fire at the Triangle Waist Company led to the deaths of 146 workers who were locked into the factory so they couldn’t leave early. Albert Marin has written a riveting account of the tragedy in Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Marin sets the stage by telling the story of why so many Europeans were desperate to come to America in the first place. Incorporating archival photos and eyewitness accounts, this book is an important resource for students and teachers alike.

While children in the United States today are protected by child labor laws thanks to the efforts of Clara Lemlich and countless others, the same cannot be said for children around the world. These books open the door for students to conduct research and gain new insights into child labor around the world. The New York Times Learning Network has a lesson plan and resources related to the factory collapse in Pakistan earlier this year, and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has an extensive collection of links to articles and videos available on-line, as well as books that address both the history of child labor and examples of child labor as it exists today.

There are many other fine books about other leaders of the Labor Movement, as well as fictional accounts of its many unsung heroes. I’d love to know which books are your favorites.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!