Saturday, August 25, 2012

Happy School Year! May it be the Best

The students are back and I made it to school each day this week without wearing my slippers, so I’m off to a good start.

My speech groups haven’t begun yet, but I had a chance to read a story to some kindergarteners. It was fun meeting new students and introducing them to Happy School Year!, by Susan Milord, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma.

This book describes children from all over town, getting ready for their first day of school. Some “yawn and stretch and squint through half-opened eyes” and one “burrows under the covers, hiding until the last possible minute.” Some are nervous, holding back tears, others rush to join friends, and one child thinks about running away. I know our students can relate; I saw a few children clinging to parents and shedding tears before the first bell rang.

The kids were captivated by the bright illustrations in this book and wanted to hop off their carpet squares to touch the pictures. Five-year-olds can be squirmy when they are new to the school environment but they grew attentive when I came to the line, “Today is the first day of school.” Their fidgeting stopped and they leaned in, wanting to catch every word. And the words were ones they could understand, like when the principal in the story spoke,

“A new school year is a great adventure,” she says, “and like all great adventures, it can sometimes be a little scary.”

Then she lit a candle on a cupcake and had the kids make a wish for the year. It was a lovely celebration and sounded like a terrific idea, so we had our own mini celebration. Our cake wasn’t as tasty as the one in the story but the wishes were delicious. One child wished to learn to read, another to learn his numbers, and one child wished to become a mermaid! Each child placed his or her “wishing sticker” on our cake. Take a look:

I have one last quote from the story that is too good to leave out (and it reflects my own sentiments),

“May this be the best ever,
Happy school year for us!”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Slippers, Slip-ups and Toco Toucans

Last Saturday one kind reader wished me luck with my first day back to work and I replied, “I’m ready!” And I thought I was. I even laid out my clothes on Sunday evening so my brain wouldn’t have to work too hard when the alarm went off for the first time in eight weeks. Things went well Monday morning and I got out the door early enough to make it to my first workshop, but not early enough time to turn around and go back home when I realized I was still wearing my slippers. I wore them all day. I even received compliments on my comfortable looking shoes. (I work with nice people.) Actually it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds because my slippers do look a lot like shoes and they have thick, cushy soles so I made it through the day without too much embarrassment. And I was able to focus on the first presentation, which was all about the Common Core Standards.

By now, most educators, kid-lit writers, publishers and bloggers are familiar with one of the shifts in the standards, that being a 50-50 balance between fiction and nonfiction in the classroom. I even heard our superintendent comment that our school librarians will need to start ordering more nonfiction books. Fortunately there are many good ones to choose from, like “Toco Toucans: Bright Enough to Disappear” by Anastasia Suen.

This picture book is full of beautiful photos and captivating information. Did you know toco toucans’, over-sized, over-bright beaks and their coloring actually help them hide from predators? They match the color scheme of their tropical rain forest home so their coloring is their greatest defense. This book is a wonderful introduction to camouflage. Young scientists will have fun searching through the pages for animals hidden in their natural environment. The glossary is illustrated so not only can they read or listen to the definitions of words such as “nestling,” they will see the words defined. My students are going to love this one, right from the first page,

“In the lush tropical rain forest, brightly colored fruit can be seen growing in trees. Look closely, however. One of the pieces of fruit isn’t really fruit. It’s bird called a toco toucan!”

My first week is over and I made it through without too many issues. There was another morning slip-up. My brain is still getting used to the early wake-up time. Yesterday, I hopped in the shower and grabbed my body wash, the one that promises “deep moisturizing” with its “rich body butter to soften the skin”. It does that when used on the skin. But moisturized, buttery hair is not so nice and that is where I applied the body wash, lavishly. I shampooed and rinsed three times to get it out but I wasn’t entirely successful. My hair had a greasy unwashed look all day and it’s still stringy. But the look isn’t entirely out of style in some circles. And it will wash out eventually. I hope.

Kids will be pouring onto our campus early on Monday. I look forward to seeing the returning students and meeting new ones. I’ve got more books to share, new activities planned and fresh decorations on my wall. I’m ready! At least until the alarm rings on Monday morning.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Perfect Book to Begin the School Year

Last spring I was walking a group of kindergarten students to the speech room when one of them, Andrea, said, “I know a knock, knock joke.”
            “I’d love to hear it,” I answered.
            “Knock, knock.”
            “Who’s there?”
            “Nobody who?”
            “No!” Andrea said. “You can’t ask ‘who’, because nobody’s there.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” I searched her face, looking for clues. Maybe this was the part of the joke where I was supposed to laugh. I was a little out of practice with knock, knock jokes but she helped me out by repeating, “Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
This time I knew better than to ask. Andrea smiled, delighted I was finally catching on. She knocked again. I asked the question again. She giggled and said, “You got it. There was nobody there.”
Another student, Michael said, “My turn. Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
His mouth tightened into a thin slit and his eyes widened, glistening with a mischievous joy. He couldn’t hold that expression long before he broke into laughter. “Did you get it? Nobody was there!”
Pretty clever for a couple five-year olds.
I suppose these knock, knock jokes came to mind because nobody has been knocking at my speech room door for the last eight weeks. But that is about to change. I return to work on Monday and the kids start school the following week.
Over the summer, I’ve been on the lookout for a few good books to introduce to my students. I found the perfect one to start the school year: “A Dress for Me!” by Sue Fleiss, illustrated by Mike Laughead. My students loved the adorable young hippo from her earlier book, “Shoes for Me!” Now the hippo is back and as charming as ever. The book begins,

School is starting.
I’ve grown tall.
Time to buy new
clothes for fall!

“Should we shop now?”
I say, “Yes!”
Mom says I can
choose a dress!

With the wide variety of dresses to select from, it’s not surprising this young hippo has a hard time finding the perfect one. She sees clothes with stripes, spots, plaids, ruffles, polka-dots, pointy collars, shiny sequins, and even a dress that looks like her grandma’s rug. Adjectives bounce across the pages and illustrations provide even more opportunities for kids to use describing words. It will be easy to start the year off with a nod to a couple of the “Common Core Standards” like one for teaching adjectives (L.K.5 if you’re interested), or teaching rhyming words (RF.K.2. if you want to know.)

This book will open a flood of stories from my younger students. They always love to tell of their preparations for the school year. I know they won’t all be able to shop for “new” clothes, but that doesn’t lessen their excitement over their trips to second-hand stores or their cousin’s closet, full of beautiful, outgrown garments.

In nine days I’ll be meeting a new crop of kindergarten students and the “older” kids will soon be knocking at my door with new clothes and fresh school supplies. As in years past, I’m sure they will be brimming full of summer stories and new jokes like this one:

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?

Well, I don’t know yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Variations of Voice Part II

Last spring at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, I attended the workshop, “What is Voice? Definitions and Tools to Understand and Craft Voice in Your Writing.” The presenter, Brett Duquette, did an excellent job of defining “voice” and detailing ways to develop it in writing. He also gave a list of “required reading” for voice and one of the books I especially loved was, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. The main character, Arnold Spirit Jr. is a fourteen-year-old Indian living on a reservation, who was born with “water on the brain”, grew ten extra teeth, stutters and has a lisp. He also has the most engaging voice I have read in a long time. Early in the book, after telling how skinny he used to be, he goes on to say,

“But my hands and feet were huge. My feet were a size eleven in third grade! With my big feet and pencil body, I looked like a capital L walking down the road.” 

Life on the reservation was hard for Arnold and his speech difficulties made it even harder, as you’ll see in the following passage:

“You wouldn’t think there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp.
            A five-year-old is cute when he lisps and stutters. Heck, most of the big-time kid actors stuttered and lisped their way to stardom.
            And jeez, you’re still fairly cute when you’re a stuttering and lisping six-, seven-, and eight-year-old, but it’s all over when you turn nine and ten.
            After that, your stutter and lisp turn you into a retard.
. . .
            Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?
            We get beat up.
            At least once a month.
            Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-Of-the-Month Club.”

This book, based on the author’s own experiences, is beautifully written. Alexie’s humor makes his insights all the more striking. And the illustrations by Ellen Forney are inspired. She depicts the cartoons Arnold creates throughout the story. At the end of the first chapter, Arnold speaks of these drawings,

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

I think he is right about the world where many of my students live. I also think we all – speech therapists, teachers, parents and writers – can build a variety of lifeboats through compassion, encouragement, instruction and by each using our own voice.