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If I Built a School
written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Jack uses his imagination to create the perfect school in If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Written in rhyme, the first verses immediately bring Dr. Seuss to mind:
Jack, on the playground, said to Miss Jane,
This school is OK, but it’s pitifully plain.
The builder who built this I think should be banned.
It’s nothing at all like the school I have planned.
Unlike Dr. Suess, Van Dusen sticks to real words and the book is ripe with opportunities for vocabulary study—after a long period of enjoying the story and illustrations.
As Jack takes his teacher on a tour, we see his ideas play out in colorful and fun illustrations. His concept includes puppies and a zoo in the lobby, hover desks, and hologram guests. This is such a fun book; I think it would be a particularly good read in the classroom lending itself to much discussion and creative followup as children illustrate and write about their own notions for a perfect school.
Warning to school administrators: there is no mention of testing in this book because as Jack concludes:
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun too.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Dial Press (Penguin) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages: 5-8
Publication: August 13, 2019— Dial Press (Penguin)
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder
by Sara Rosett
Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder is a thematic shoe-in for me, and it surpassed my expectations. The setting is Georgia, but the author grew up in and currently lives in Texas. The action occurs at an elementary school which is the unlikely scene of a murder. Except for the murder and mayhem, this could have been the elementary school I taught at for a few years in Leander, Texas. The details are perfect for a middle class school where parent participation is high, students wear an assigned color T-shirt for field day, and the Teacher Appreciation Week is five days of food, small gifts, and recognition for hard-working, appreciated teachers.
The main character is Ellie Avery, an Air Force wife, mother of two children, part-time organizing consultant, and very active volunteer at her children’s neighborhood school. The amiable Ellie finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She tries not to actively involve herself, but others look to her for help because of previous associations with a murder. Later, someone takes the threat to her doorstep, potentially endangering Ellie and her children.
This mystery is a fun, “don’t put me down” kind of read. The plot has twists and turns that keep the reader engaged and wanting more. The characters are interesting and there is a subplot concerning a competing organizer in town which enhances the appeal. If you like cozy mysteries, you will love Mother’s Day, Muffins, and Murder.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #10 in the Ellie Avery Mystery Series, also called the Mom Zone Series. I enjoyed it as a standalone.
2. The book also includes “Organizing Tips for PTA Moms” placed at the end of some chapters so as not to be intrusive into the storyline. They are practical and are approved by this former teacher who also volunteered with my school’s Parent/Teacher Organization.
Publication: March 28, 2017–Kensington Books
“Yes, that is my favorite way to relax, supervising twenty-two eight-year-olds hyped up on sugar at eight in the morning.”
I wished the rest of the school year could be more like the end of the year. The end of the year–when the standardized tests were over–was when the kids got to do all the fun stuff, instead of studying for the standardized tests. Why couldn’t the kids do more hands-on activities like this throughout the year?
We rush through our days so quickly and have so many little rituals that we do, day in and day out, but then a moment like that last day of school comes along. It’s a milestone that makes a definite break in the continuum and emphasizes that one phase is ending and another beginning.
Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
by Raphaële Frier
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize earned this award and world-wide acclaim through her activism in support of girls’ rights to education. Starting at age eleven, she began a courageous public battle against the Taliban and their destruction of girls’ schools in Pakistan. Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, depicts Malala’s background and family support, her bravery in the face of Taliban violence, and her continuing efforts to bring light on rights’ issues for girls and women in particular, but including all downtrodden people.
The artwork is an essential part of this book, providing colorful symbolic images. At the end of the book there is a helpful timeline of events in Malala’s life as well as photographs of her. There is an added useful feature for parents and teachers who want to extend the study with information on Pakistan, education in Pakistan and the world, and Malala’s religion and inspiration. There are also brief discussions of other peacemakers: Gandhi, Mandela, and King. This section includes quotes from Malala as well as a listing of other sources of information about Malala including links to various important speeches she has made.
Teachers will find Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education a valuable teaching resource. It empowers both children and women to stand up for what is right and summarizes the religious and historical context in a way that is understandable and appropriate for children. This book could be used as an integral tool in many curricular units as well as to provoke thoughtful discussion by itself.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Charlesbridge Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Younger Readers, Biography
Notes: recommended for ages 6-9
10 inches X 10 inches
originally published in French
Publication: Charlesbridge Publishing–February 7, 2017
One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.
“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”–Malala
“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. With guns you can kill terrorists; with education you can kill terrorism.”–Malala
The Red Queen Rules
by Bourne Morris
Bourne Morris’ first mystery surprised her by becoming a trilogy. The Red Queen Rules is the third in the set of books called the Red Solaris Mystery Series. The saga of Dean of Journalism Red Solaris could acceptably end at the conclusion of The Red Queen Rules, but with some persuasion the author could also reasonably extend the series.
Sexual slavery is one of the themes of this book as Red, so nicknamed for her red hair, tries to help a university student locate a cousin and persuade her to leave her pimp and enter rehab. Red’s hunky boyfriend goes undercover to help and all of the characters are in danger as they interact with the murky underworld of drugs and pimps.
Another theme deals with freedom of speech as a group called The Purists invite a radical leader to speak at their university. Administrators, such as Red, have to deal with free speech issues versus hate speech. They have to decide if students should be protected from differing ideas or taught to listen and respond constructively.
Danger lurks in every corner in this fast moving story. Its characters are well-developed and its themes relevant. This is the second book I have reviewed this month that involves sexual slavery, an issue which until recently was ignored, distorted, or denied in many circles. The story takes place in Nevada in a small university town as well as in Reno.
My only criticism is tongue in cheek. Just as the “Gilmore Girls” are always eating junk food, the characters in The Red Queen Rules are always drinking–coffee at a café, sodas and water at meetings, hot tea with friends, and the occasional glass of wine. They never lack for a good beverage!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery & Thrillers
Publication: Henery Press–December 6, 2016
Three notions really bugged me. The first was that college students were so fragile that they needed to be spared from hearing ideas and opinions that might offend their personal sensitivities. Second was the use of someone else’s race, religion, sexual orientation or physical appearance as a weapon in a dispute. And third was the difficulty too many people have distinguishing between one and two.
“College is supposed to be a place where you encounter upsetting ideas and theories. And learn to deal with them.”
I have tried to stay away from anything that smacks of politics on social media during this election cycle. There is just so much negativity I can let into my life. I followed the issues. I voted. Now we are presented with an appointment that might unite the left and the right because parents, teachers, students, and many others are concerned about the state of education–the overtesting, Common Core State Standards, evaluations based on testing, and ridiculous administrative mandates.
I have done some research on Betsy DeVos and there is much I could say. Today I just want to focus on two things. First, her words. In a video I watched she made two very telling statements about initiatives she supports:
“[they] will empower educational entrepreneurs.”
“entrepreneurial spirit will prevail even in the industry of education.”
I find it troubling that she wants to empower an entrepreneurial spirit to prevail in education. Big business is trying to take over education for their own profit and to dumb down the 99% so we are not educated enough to stand up for our constitutional rights. We need to get big business out of education. The accumulating of wealth and warming a seat in the classroom do not qualify one to make educational decisions.
Even more troubling is the use of “industry” and “education” in the same sentence. Our schools should not be industries; we should not make a profit off of them or produce worker bees for the powerful in our society. We are nurturing growing minds and bodies, and we should be creating opportunities for independent thinking–not that of the right or the left, independent. The goal of our efforts should be citizens with a moral and ethical compass who can find satisfying ways of supporting themselves and their families.
Second, her actions. These “education advocates” like DeVos are big money, big business people, and you can be sure that they have their own bottom line in sight with every decision. DeVos says she does not support Common Core. Just take a look at Jeb Bush’s pet project that she has been involved in for so many years as a board member and “education advocate”: ExcelinEd common core “toolkit.”
I retired after 34 years of teaching in the midst of this kind of nonsense, and I saw and experienced first hand the devastating effects it has on learning, creativity, and morale of students and teachers. Why would we continue down this same path, sacrificing our children, to line the pockets of the 1%?
Why should the arts still be important in education?
I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.
Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:
If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and…
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Why I No Longer Follow Diane Ravitch’s Blog
When I retired from teaching and began reading blogs, I was excited to find Diane Ravitch’s very active blog. She posted things I had been thinking and saying for years about CCSS, overtesting, and VAM. Diane Ravitch is an education policy analyst, an author, a research professor at NYU and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. I admired that she had originally supported No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but later publicly reversed her position. She was David against Goliath, fighting big business and politicians in their grab for education dollars.
My idol, unfortunately, has clay feet. Too many of her posts are now only about politics. She says that none of the candidates support her position on education, but she has chosen a candidate to support anyway in post after post after post. She supports one candidate with vehement enthusiasm and works against the other with vehement invectives. What happened to education? She says her blog is “A site to discuss better education for all.” What happened to that discussion?
I do not want to invite one-sided trash into my heart and mind. I want to work towards the best educational system possible for our children. I’m leaving Diane Ravitch behind.
“I saw education before No Child Left Behind. I also experienced education during No Child Left Behind up until I got elected to Congress. Basically, test and punish did not work. Because of No Child Left Behind, I suddenly had to follow a syllabus and a pacing guide dictated by the district office. There was less trust of the teacher, and that’s a mild way of putting it. We began being treated like we were a transmitter of someone else’s idea of what is good education. Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students. You can’t do the canned lesson or scripted content.”
–Rep. Mark Takano of California, U.S. Congressman, 24 years of classroom experience
The message today from school administrators to teachers is “we are always looking over your shoulder and you need to hit the mark every single minute of the day.” The message should be “we are here to support you as you experiment in your classroom. Keep it vital, new, creative and full of growth. Every class you teach will be different. Classes and students will even have different needs from the day before. Keep trying until you find what works for this class. Education is not a one size fits all endeavor.” This message of school being a “no mistakes” zone is passed along to the students. Real learning is messy. Let teachers and students engage in the process!