Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

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January 21, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
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What’s in a name–your turn

In the second day of No Name Calling Week, what power does a name have?  Think about all the names you are called.  What do they say about you?  You might answer one of the questions below:

  • How did your parents choose your name?  What do you like–or not–about your names?
  • Do you have a nickname?  How did you get it?  Who calls you by that name?  What do you like–or not–about it?
  • You may have heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  I don’t think that statement’s true.  Words–especially insulting names–do hurt.  How can you stop the hurt caused by name-calling?  What can we as a school do?  Have you ever been hurt by name calling?

Remember, your need to write about 150 words.  Elaborate on your idea by giving examples, explaining your thinking, adding sensory detail, making comparisons with figurative language.

You don’t have to write on this topic.  You can write about anything you want (at least 150 words) and leave a link to share your writing.

Here are the three easy steps to follow:

  1. Write a blog post:  You can write about the suggested writing for the week, or write about any topic of your choice.
  2. Share your blog post by leaving a link in the comments for this post.  To find the URL or address for your post, click on the post title you want to share.  If you are in the right spot, you should see only your post (and a place to leave comments) on the page.  Then COPY the URL from the address bar at the top of the screen.  Come back to this post and PASTE the URL in the comments.  You may want to briefly tell what your post is about as an invitation.  If you’ve copied the URL correctly, you should see your blog post title at the end.  Click the POST COMMENT button when you are done.  Your comment then goes to the top.
  3. Read the blog posts of at least three others who leave a link in the comments.  Leave a thoughtful comment that asks a question, shares more information, or points out something specific the writer did well.

January 20, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Spread a Little Sunshine

January 20 – 24 is No Name Calling Week.  I’ll have a series of posts this week reflecting on the effects of name calling (probably the most common form of bullying I see) and suggesting ways you can stand up to make a difference.

It is much easier to make fun of someone you don’t know, someone who seems different from you.  How well do you know your classmates?  Do you know which things you have in common?  Do you know what unique interests and knowledge and experiences set you apart?  I know I’ve learned a lot about you from reading your blogs.  Now it’s your turn.

Across the blogosphere, bloggers have been nominating other bloggers for a Sunshine Award.  Since I commented on Elsie’s blog Elsie Tries Writing, I’m nominated, too.  I’m taking that idea (and changing it to fit us) and nominating some excellent student bloggers.  If you’re nominated, you get to introduce yourself and nominate more of your classmates.  Here’s what you need to do if nominated.

  1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer 7 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.
  4. Write 7 questions to be answered by the bloggers you nominate.
  5. Nominate 7 student bloggers (look for those who haven’t been nominated yet if you can.). You’ll have to tell the person you nominated them.  Check the categories on each blog for a list of students in a each class.
  6. Copy these directions in your post.

I’ll start off with 7 random facts about me.

  1. I was born and grew up in eastern North Carolina.
  2. My first real job was barning tobacco for two summers.  After that I will never put that stuff in my mouth.  It’s disgusting!
  3. I met my husband at the East Kentucky Regional Airport in Hazard, KY.
  4. My second job in high school was shelving books in the local library and helping with the summer reading program.  It was the perfect job for me.
  5. I have my private pilot’s license.  Even though I don’t fly anymore, I am glad I have “slipped the bonds of earth” at least a few times.
  6. I started doing sprint triathlons several years ago.  I’m old and slow, but I take pride in the fact I can finish a .2 mile swim, 9.5 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run.
  7. I grew up being told, “You’re just like your grandma.”  Sometimes that was a good thing, and sometimes it was said in frustration as I burned dinner because I was reading.

I’m answering the questions posed by Elsie, who nominated anyone who commented on her post a few weeks ago.

  1.  Where were you born?  I was born in Fayetteville, NC.
  2. What’s one thing at the top of your bucket list?  Taking a vacation where I can travel across the prairie (for a short journey) in a covered wagon.
  3. What makes you smile?  Lots of things–my dog, blue skies and sunshine, my family, seeing my students light up when they get it.
  4. What is your favorite time of day?  I love morning, especially when I am the first one up and the house is quiet.
  5. If you won the lottery, what would be your first big purchase?  First, I would pay off the mortgages on our house and farm.  Then I would purchase a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.
  6. Do you know anyone famous?  Who?  I still get a thrill when real, live authors interact with me on Twitter!  When I was in high school, I got to interview Herve Villachez from Fantasy Island.
  7. What is something you’d like to do this year that you’ve not done before?  I want to do a Color Run!

Now here are 7 questions for you to answer.

  1.  What would be your dream job?
  2. Where would you like to visit?
  3. What do you like to do on the weekends?
  4. What did you do on our last snow day?
  5. What is your favorite picture book from your childhood?
  6. What are you good at doing?
  7. Who would you like to meet?

Drumroll, please!  Here are the 7 student bloggers I nominate to get us started!

  1.  Mrs. Baxter 
  2. Alexia M (1st period)
  3. Anthony W (2nd period)
  4. Abbigail T (3rd period)
  5. Alexxis S (4th period)
  6. Aaron C (6th period)
  7. Abrianna J (7th period)

If you are nominated, leave a comment with a link to your post and tell us who you nominated.

June 28, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Rules by Cynthia Lord

imageI am thankful for the variety of books that have explored characters on the autism spectrum.  Books like Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Marcello in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork have shown me how the world might be viewed by a person with autism.  Rules (Scholastic 2006) by Cynthia Lord takes a different approach by showing the joys and difficulties of living with someone who has autism.

Catherine loves her younger brother David, but she also longs for a normal life.  It’s impossible to be normal when David doesn’t know–much less follow–the rules of life that everyone else understands.  Catherine has tried to teach David the rules to survive, like “No toys in the fish tank” or “Chew with your mouth closed.”  Still David is bound to embarrass her in front of her friends by opening and shutting all the doors in their homes or by having a tantrum in the middle of the street.

Catherine meets two new friends who force her to confront her fears and question what it means to be normal.  Kristi is the new girl next door.  Will she be the next-door-friend Catherine has always dreamed of, or will she be turned off by David’s strange behavior influenced by the bully Ryan’s teasing?  Catherine meets Jason in the waiting room for her brother’s therapy sessions.  He’s in a wheelchair and can only communicate by pointing to cards in a notebook.  As Catherine adds words with her original art to his notebook, she learrns to look past his disability, but can she learn to look past her own fear?

I loved that Catherine is not always the perfect older sister.  She loves David, but she also loses it.  She is afraid of what other people will think of her and David and Jason.  She is desperate for a little of her parents’ attention because their time and energy is wrapped up in meeting David’s needs.  She is lonely and afraid.  She is also creative and generous and a risk-taker.  And when words fail, sometimes you can borrow words from someone else.  Arnold Lobel (of Frog and Toad fame) has some good ones.

June 8, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
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Bluford Series

As I was going through my box of books trying to figure out what to read next, I realized I had three books from the Bluford series by Paul Langan, Anne Schraff, and other writers.  Now that I’ve read them, I can’t wait to share them with my students in the fall.

These books will provide my students with both windows that open to different worlds and mirrors that reflect their own issues.  I live and teach in a rural area in the Midwest with little racial diversity.  The setting of Bluford High School gives a glimpse of urban city life on the West Coast.  The halls of Bluford High are filled with students and teachers from a variety of backgrounds, but my students will be able to relate to the issues they face:  sick grandparents, family drama, school bullies, new schools.

Lost and Found (Scholastic/Townshend Press 2002) by Anne Schraff

Darcy Wills is a good student, but shy.  Her shyness comes across as stuck-up to her classmates.  Then when her biology teacher makes seemingly diabolical partner assignments for their next project, Darcy must confront her own negative attitudes and decide if she can open up to people she once thought beneath her.  Is it possible these new friends can help her with keeping her family together?

The Bully (Scholastic/Townshend Press 2002) by Paul Langan

Darrell Mercer dreads starting at Bluford High as a new freshman student.  After leaving behind his friends in Philadelphia, Darrell has no one to protect him from the newest bully that is tormenting him.  Darrell must decide if he will keep living in fear or find a way to fight back.  I love that Darrell’s English teacher gives him a copy of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet to help him figure things out.  Inspired by Brian’s changes through the story, Darrell starts making decisions to change his story:  befriending another lonely student, joining the wrestling team, and finally standing up to the bully.

Blood Is Thicker (Scholastic/Townshend Press 2004) by Paul Langan & DM Blackwell

Hakeem Randall (who I first met in Lost and Found) feels his life is falling apart.  He just learned his father has cancer.  His family can’t afford to stay in their house, so they are moving in with his dad’s brother–in Detroit.  Now Hakeem has to share a room with his angry cousin Savon.  Just what is Savon up to?  Hakeem is determined to get to the bottom of it even if doing so might tear their families apart.  Oh yeah, he is distracted by the beautiful next door neighbor even has he misses Darcy.

October 30, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Nerd Girls: A Catastrophe of Nerdish Proportions

The battle between the Nerd Girls and the ThreePees has finally gone too far.  Principal Mazer is determined to end the feud before any more damage is done.  (You should have seen the art room once the ThreePees attacked the Nerd Girls locked inside.). Now all six girls must work together to represent the Aardvarks at the Academic Septathlon.  If they don’t pull together, there will be consequences.

What I love about this story is the quirky characters.  Meet the Nerd Girls and their nemeses.

  • Maureen hides her insecurities behind a sarcastic humor. In addition try planning revenge on the ThreePees, Maureen has problems at home.  Her missing-for-years dad has suddenly reappeared and wants to fill up some holes.”  Somehow, she manages to inspire others without knowing it.  She just might be a leader
  • Beanpole is the enthusiastic cheerleader and peacemaker and total clutz. Even though her clothes are organized by temperature, she can’t help but see the good in everyone.  Too bad it’s not always there.  Besides on want her “Department Store Mom” to come take care off me.
  • Q is brilliant and stubborn.  She may be their secret weapon if she can survive her allergies and her attempt to cure herself.  She has a fascination with the rules and the word Aardvark.
  • Kiki, leader of the ThreePees, is the ultimate mean girl.  The only thing worse than having to work with the Nerd Girls is having to be beaten yet again by Wynston from Saint Dianne’s.
  • Brittany follows wherever Kiki leads with the constant refrain of “My dad’s a lawyer.”
  • Sofes may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but she knows hair.  She also has a big decision to make That makes her my favorite character.

Now go get your nerd on and pick up a copy to read today.  Did I tell you my copy is even autographed?  Check it out!

August 3, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
14 Comments

Slob by Ellen Potter

I thoroughly enjoyed Slob by Ellen Potter even though it was not at all what I was expecting.  I didn’t expect to be amazed by Owen’s intelligence and courage in facing up to the bullies in his present and to the secrets in his past.  I wanted to be able to invent gadgets like the booby trap to catch the Oreo thief stealing from his lunch every day.  Owen’s most important invention just might shine truth on the terrible secret from his past.

I didn’t expect to be impressed with Jeremy’s stubbornness and loyalty.  She may be loud and sometimes obnoxious, but she will do anything to stand by her brother.  It took me a minute to figure out why Jeremy was a she, but I soon figured out why she would lead the GWAB (girls who want to be boys).

I didn’t expect to be horrified by Mr. Wooley, the gym teacher who terrorizes Owen in PE class.  He is truly diabolical in the torments he creates.  I cheered when Mason outsmarted him and when Owen finally stood up to him.

I didn’t expect to enjoy the secondary characters so much either:  Mom, who has the voice you want in your ear during a crisis; Nima, the Tibetan neighbor who makes delicious momos and gives wise advice; Mason, the misunderstood juvenile delinquent; and Izzy, the extra-tall best friend.

I think this book trailer is a good way to end.  Enjoy!

July 10, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

I’ve not yet read half of the Young Hoosier nominees for the coming school year, but I have found my winner.  I want everyone to read Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2010) by Sharon Draper.  I’ve been a fangirl of Sharon Draper ever since my most reluctant readers convinced me that Forged by Fire was the best book ever, but Draper has outdone herself with this book.  Out of My Mind goes to the top of my list for “Required Reading for Life.”

Melody begins her story with a love song to words–all words–until the first chapter ends with these devastating sentences:  ”I have never spoken one single word.  I am almost eleven years old.”  Even though I knew from reading the back cover that cerebral palsy trapped Melody’s brilliant mind within the limitations of a body that just didn’t work like the rest of the world, the power of those words punched me in the gut.  I often felt like I had been punched while reading, but in the best possible way.  I also laughed and cried and shouted as I read.

I cannot begin to imagine the frustration Melody must feel with all those words and thoughts piled up inside her head with no way to share them.  I can understand how she feels like going out of her mind with having to sit through the same low-level alphabet lessons year after year because most of her teachers and her doctors don’t believe she is capable of learning at all.  Even though her body is severely limited, she is an astute observer of human nature.  She is quite aware of how “normal” students view her and her classmates.  But in fifth grade something happens that will rock Melody’s world.  She is given a device (similar to that used by Stephen Hawking) that finally allows her to speak to the world. She finally has a chance to share all the facts she has soaked up when she makes the school’s Quiz Bowl team.  The only question that remains is whether or not her fifth grade world is ready to change their preconceptions of her.

Melody is not perfect.  She can be sassy and stubborn.  She longs to be part of the group and even to have a friend, but doubts if she can really trust her classmates.  Two of the girls in particular are downright cruel.  She loves her younger sister Penny, but is still jealous of how easily Penny learns to walk and dance and speak.   Sometimes the frustration of it all becomes too much, and she erupts into a frenzy.  Neither could Melody do it alone. Her parents and next door neighbor Mrs. V and assistant Catherine are there to encourage and cheer her on when the going gets tough.  Through the tough times, Melody remains an inspiration.

I can’t wait to share this book with my students this coming year.  If you haven’t read it yet, get to a library and bookstore.  What are you waiting for?

April 20, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Bruiser (Scholastic 2010) by Neal Shusterman is one of those books that stays with you long after you close the last page.  I read  it just after spring break, and  I’m still thinking about it.  What does it mean to share the pain of the people you love?  What cost are you willing to pay to care?  What secrets are you willing to keep to make your own pain go away?

Brewster–nicknamed Bruiser by the kids at school–is a social outcast.  His hulking body lurks around the edges of school life, keeping everyone at a distance until Bronte reaches out to him.  Bronte’s twin brother Tennyson (I love the names!) is determined to break up the new couple.  Bronte and Tennyson discover that there is much more going on with Brewster than meets the eye.  As their lives become more entwined, Brewster’ secret is revealed until a devastating conclusion.

Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster, and even little brother Cody take turns telling the story.  Tennyson is cocky and a bit of a bully.  When he doesn’t get his way, he will make someone pay the price.  Bronte is stubborn and will not give up until she finds out the answers to her questions, even when the answers may cause more harm.  Cody just wants his big brother to be there for him, to take away his pain.  Finally, Brewster expresses all his pain and rage through poetry.  What will happen to him if he lets more people in?

There is much more to this book, but I don’t want to give anything away.  Just read it and come back to tell me what you think.

January 30, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
6 Comments

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

Lisa Yee takes us back to Rancho Rosetta Middle School in Warp Speed (Scholastic 2011).  Marley Sandelski may be my favorite student at Rancho Rosetta.  (And I loved Millicent Min, Girl Genius and So Totally Emily Ebers.  I’ve missed Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, but it’s on my TBR).   Why is Marley my favorite?

  • Well, to start with he lives over the old Rialto Theater that his parents run.  He has a secret hideout in the basement that is filled with props and costumes from the days of vaudeville.
  • Whenever the beautiful and friendly Emily speaks to him, he answers first in Klingon.  He will do anything for Emily, even model a gown made of trash bags for the fashion show.
  • He keeps a Captain’s Log, just like Captain Kirk on Star Trek.  If you haven’t guessed by now, Marley loves Star Trek.
  • Marley can run–fast.  He gets lots of practice running from the bullies, who seem to be the only ones paying any attention to him this year.  When his running gets him attention from the track coach and the jocks at school, Marley realizes that he may not be invisible after all.
  • Marley makes mistakes–like not realizing Max is a girl–but he tries to make things right.  He remains loyal to his friends.
  • Marley learns the power he has to take a stand.  We can all learn from that.

December 23, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

The Force May It Be with You!

I have been hearing good things about these two books by Tom Angleberger, and I am glad I finally moved them to the top of my TBR pile for Christmas reading.  I laughed all they way through both titles and can’t wait to release these into the classroom.  I already had students begging to take them home over Christmas.  I’m glad I kept them for myselft because I have a feeling they won’t spend much time on my bookshelf.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Amulet Books 2010)

Tommy has a problem.  Should he or should he not ask Sara to dance at the school Fun Night?  Even more important–should he trust the advice of Origami Yoda?  Does Origami Yoda really tap into the Force, or is it just a paper finger puppet made by Dwight, arguable the wierdest kid in school?

In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, Tommy creates a case file.  Every student who asked Origami Yoda a question writes their story.  Both Tommy (the confused) and Harvey (the skeptic) leave comments at the end of each case.  My favorite, though, are the drawings by Kellen.

At the end, Tommy may not have an answer as to whether or not Origami Yoda is real, but he and his friends can celebrate Fun Night by doing the Twist!

Darth Paper Strikes Back (Amulet Books 2011)

Just when I thought the story couldn’t get any better, Angleberger comes up with a sequel that surpasses all my expectations.  It must have pleased a lot of other readers, too, because it is one of the midde grade winners for the first ever Nerdies Awards!

Darkness threatens to take over McQuarrie Middle School.  Dwight (creator of Origami Yoda) has been kicked out of school and Harvey has taken over with Darth Paper (an origami finger puppet of…you guessed it).  It is up to Tommy to save Dwight by creating another case file, this time to take to the school board.

Not only do we learn more of Origami Yoda’s amazing powers (count me in as a believer), we learn the power of friendship.  I can’t say more without spoilers, so you’ll just have to see for yourself how it all works out.