20 September 2013

Barbarians at the Gate

Fangbone by Michael Rex

A review by Isaac (typed by Mom)

The book was about a boy from a different planet who was a barbarian named Fangbone. And he traveled from that planet to this planet and he ended up in a junkyard.  There was a school nearby so he went to that school and tried to blend in.  He had to fight all these crazy monsters along the way.  And he has a friend named Billy.

There was a war between these crazy monsters because they wanted the Toe of Drool and the leader of the barbarians gave the Toe to Fangbone so he could come this planet.  He becomes Billy's friend.  He goes to Billy's house and tries to find a snack.  He finds hot wings and Fangbone eats the hot wings and his face starts turning red.  He swallows the hot wings and he says to Billy "why did you think I would like this?"  Billy says, "because you are a barbarian.  I thought you would like something hot and spicy."  Then, Fangbone takes Billy to the garage and finds good sports gear to dress up to fight the crazy monsters.  The Toe begins wiggling which means that there are monsters nearby.  A monster starts coming out of the ground and it was a Hound Snake.  It had the head of a hound, the body of a snake, a helmet, and two sharp snake teeth.  They fight the Hound Snake and couldn't defeat it.  Then Billy remembers the hot wings and Billy runs to grab the of wings out of the refrigerator.  When the Hound Snake comes toward him, Billy throws the hot wings in its mouth and it jumps over the fence.  Then they drop the Toe of Drool and a bird picks it up. They chase the bird and Fangbone throws a worm at the bird.  The bird drops the Toe but a squirrel picks it up and they chase the squirrel. Then Fangbone throws an acorn at the squirrel.  The squirrel drops the Toe of Drool and they get it back.

I thought this book was cool and crazy and it was kind of weird that a barbarian traveled to this planet and started going to school.  I think it was a crazy, weird idea that the author wrote this book.  I want to read more about Fangbone and I think other people should, too.

11 September 2013

12 Years

The stories have been shared around the internet all day -- 12 years ago I was . . .

Beginning my teaching career, still in graduate school, working in an elementary school library.  I don't remember how I first heard about the attack, probably through a co-worker who had heard it from someone from outside the school.  Because they didn't want the TV's on in the classrooms, teachers came into the library to watch the news when they had a few minutes away from their students.  I caught snippets of the reports throughout the day, then went home to sit in front of the television and try to make sense of what was going on.

12 years later it still does not make sense.  And teachers have the unenviable task of taking an event like 9/11 and putting it into a context that our students will understand, whether they are 5 or 15.  I remember having conversations with classes one year after the attack and trying to prepare the students for what they might see on TV that night as the nation reflected back on how America had dealt with and been changed by what happened that morning.  I remember hoping and praying that their parents would be present to help them process what they heard and saw.

Now I teach children for whom 9/11 is an unreal event -- they were not born when it occurred so for them it is distant history.  But as a teacher I still have a responsibility to help them process what they hear and see and to help them make sense of this part of our history.  I do that through books.

I have used a handful of stories in the past twelve years to teach about 9/11.  These are some of my favorites.

Fireboat by Maira Kalman I mentioned already when I reflected on our trip to NYC this summer and our visit to the 9/11 Memorial.  This book was the topic of much discussion among my colleagues when it was first published in 2002.  The image of the planes flying into the towers, even as a painting, was thought to possibly be too traumatic for children to see so soon after the attack.  At that time the actual video and images were still shown on TV with regularity.  It was felt by some that children did not need to see it depicted in a picture book.  I used it anyway with my older students.  I believed that if they might see it on TV, possibly without an adult with whom to talk about the image, then seeing it painted in a book I shared with them would certainly not be any more traumatic.  And the story of the crew who took this little boat to fight the fires caused by the falling towers is a lesson in bravery that the students needed to hear.

New York's Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne is also one that I have used many times around the anniversary of the attacks.  It is the retelling of a legendary firefighter who worked in New York in the 1840's.  His feats of heroism had the people singing his praises until he disappeared in a hotel fire.  Until 9/11, this was just another entertaining American tall-tale.  The story gained new meaning, however, in the aftermath.  Osborne included an historical note about the legend and dedicated the book to the 343 New York City firefighters lost that day.

A newer book that is a lovely and touching tribute is 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.  In 2001 a young man from Kenya was studying in America.  After the attacks, he returned home and told the story of what he had seen and experienced.  His people, the Maasai, dedicated a gift of 14 cows to the people of America to show their support and honor their sacrifices.  This book was published a decade after the attacks and reminds readers that 9/11 did not just happen to America.  It affected the whole world and we have many brothers and sisters who felt our pain.

Just so you know, I cannot read any of these books without crying.  Crying in front of my students is not my preferred presentation style, but every now and then I like to let them know that I am human.  These books touch my heart and I think my emotional connection with the stories helps the students understand the impact of an event that they may not internalize the significance of, but that has had a profound effect on their lives.

09 September 2013

No Matter What

Raising an 8-year-old boy can be hard sometimes.  Friday morning in our house was a prime example.  Isaac and I both ended up in tears on the way to school, Matt was up early and grumpy from having to intervene, and the "I hate (insert parental moniker here)" was thrown out for the first time ever.  All around it was a pretty horrible morning.

We made it through the school and work day and met up back at home in better moods than we had left, but then had to go our separate ways again for football practice and other commitments.  I was drained and all I really wanted to do was spend some time repairing my bond with Isaac and relaxing with Matt so we could reassure each other that we weren't the worst parents in history.

Before we left school Friday afternoon, I put Oh No, Little Dragon by Jim Averbeck in my bag.  It seemed like something Isaac and I needed to read together.  It is a picture book and not on Isaac's reading level, but reading it with him wasn't about moving him up to the next level.  It was about reminding both of us that I love him no matter what -- even if the "what" is a kicking the seat, hitting the headrest, screaming at the top of his lungs tantrum on the way to school.

Little Dragon loses his spark and fears his mother won't love him anymore.  I am not sure if Isaac worried that I didn't love him.  I wondered how he felt about me, though, in the middle of the catastrophe that was our Friday morning.  But Little Dragon's mother reassures him that her love is always with him, which warms him up inside and reignites his spark.

Before Isaac went to class on Friday, I hugged him and told him I loved him.  He hugged me back and we both held on a little longer than usual.  After football practice that evening, the boys made me pumpkin cupcakes for my birthday and we sat down and watched a movie together.  It didn't erase what had happened that morning, but it was an affirmation that we are a family -- we will fight, we will forgive, we will cry and laugh, and we will love each other no matter what.