Safe Return

Day 350


I got home about 3:30 this afternoon.


Someone has been a little clingy and attention-seeking.

Book review:

This is a fairly unknown book, but one of my favorites.  Ursula, an eleven-year-old girl on the Swedish island of Gotland in the 1800s, lives with her aunt and uncle after her parents’ deaths.  Although everyone on the island knits items to sell (men and children included) Ursula finds the craft frustrating and beyond her abilities.  When her aunt’s ship goes missing on a trip to Stockholm, Ursula teaches herself to knit as a sort of promise to keep believing in her aunt’s return, even though others on the island give up hope.  Ursula’s struggle to knit as a metaphor for keeping hope alive and the lore of the traditional knitting pattern she uses are appealing.  This novel is based on a true incident in the island’s past.


Tracks Across Alaska

Day 230

I’ve been reading the book Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod to the students this week, while the Iditarod has been going on.  It’s been really neat to show them the map of the trail online, with the current standings from the race.

Looks like it’s going to be a close finish!  Sounds like it may end in the middle of the night, though — guess I’ll have to check in the morning.

The book Akiak:

This is a wonderful picture book.  The author traveled to Alaska and has worked a lot of true information about the Iditarod into a really heartwarming story.  Akiak is a dog about to be retired, but has one last chance to lead her team to Nome.  When she is left behind at one of the checkpoints, she sets out to run the trail alone and catch up to her team, winning the hearts of many followers in the process.


Day 154

We had a wee bit of a Boxing Day blizzard here.  7 1/2 inches of snow today, with pretty strong winds blowing it around.  While it cannot compare to the Blizzard of ’78 and may not seem very impressive to my Canadian friends, it pretty much brought things to a screeching halt around here.  Our county’s emergency management agency has issued travel status of “essential travel only.”  So I’ve been quite happily tucked away inside for the day.


The book:

Jim Murphy does a great job with upper middle age non-fiction here, just as he did in The Great Fire.  While most people have heard of the Great Chicago Fire, however, the New England blizzard of 1888 is unfamiliar territory for most readers.  Murphy’s vivid descriptions, primary source material, and use of contemporary illustrations bring this frightening monster storm to life.

Winter Solstice

Day 149


I’m so glad the days now will be getting longer!  Winter, you don’t know it, but your days are numbered!

Book review:

This is one of my favorite books (love of all things UK showing here).  I own a copy and reread it every few years at Christmas time.  It has the understated drama of Pilcher’s writing, life-like characters, and the beauty of Scotland at Christmas.  Rosamunde Pilcher retired from writing in 2000; this was the last of her novels, which is disappointing.  I consider it her best and like it much better than her perennially popular The Shell Seekers.  September is another of my favorites.

My Teacher’s Secret Life

Day 129

Recently our assistant principal organized a quiz to match “unusual facts and experiences” with each teacher and classroom assistant in our school.  The experiences were provided by the teachers themselves.  Some of the most memorable included:

  • was a square-dancing realtor
  • writing an album of songs based on the parables of Jesus
  • fosters puppies and has five dogs
  • has triplets
  • likes to dance salsa
  • gives flute lessons
  • grew up in South America
  • asked wife out for the first time on stage
  • hitch-hiked through Europe
  • related to James Dean
  • sang back-up with Barry Manilow
  • worked as a lumberjack in Wyoming
  • travels the country showing cattle
  • hospital lost power when born
  • used to be a professional ballerina
  • helped deliver a baby in an elevator
  • has a heart-shaped Union Jack tattoo
  • represented Iran at Model UN in Chicago
  • was a firefighter/EMT
  • grew up in the Philippines
  • has traveled to 10 countries
  • flew stunt plane
  • is writing a book

I think it shows what a varied and richly experienced group we all are!

The book:

You may have to be a teacher to identify with and adore  this book as much as I do, but it is a great read for any parent and child.  With its bright and zany pictures and child’s view of the authority figures in school it is just plain fun to read.  Just about every child has run into a teacher in the community at some time or another and Krensky captures this experience delightfully.

So You Want to Be President?

Day 125


One of our first graders does.
However, I don’t think he’s grasped the difficulty of a) carrying on a parallel career as a superhero while in the media spotlight and b) doing it all from a foreign country.
Then there was his classmate, the little girl who wanted to be president because “they” always have “pretty puppies.”

The book:

This is a fun book to share aloud with a class.  Although it’s a picture book, I wouldn’t go any younger than second grade; third grade is ideal.  Be prepared to stop for questions and lots of discussion.  Also, be aware that no matter how many times you read this, the lasting image most students take away is that of President Taft getting stuck in the bathtub.

Running Out of Time

Day 121

I need some elves to help with the Christmas knitting.  No way was I going shopping.  I can buy online, but free time to knit is more precious than those insane crowded sales.

The book:

This is a great thrill ride for those preteens for whom The Hunger Games is a little too mature and violent.  Jessie lives in an experimental site that she believes to be a mid-nineteenth century American village.  When disease strikes and she learns the truth she must escape and bring help to the rest of the village while negotiating the modern world she has never encountered.  A nonstop pace, high suspense, and a complex ending make this one  a winner.

If You Were at . . . The First Thanksgiving

Day 117

I’m introducing Squanto and the First Thanksgiving (Rabbit Ears: A Classic Tale) to second grade.
Me: Does anyone know the name of the Indian who helped the pilgrims?
2nd grader (waving hand wildly): Paul!

Apparently if you were at the first Thanksgiving you’d know Squanto’s alias.

The books:

The books in the “If You” series (. . . If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, If You Lived With The Iroquois) generally present a lot of good historical information in question and answer format, giving the reader insight through the era’s differences from the present time.  It’s approachable history, you might say.  I really enjoy the Squanto book both for the illustrations (bold, colorful, and stylistic) and for the pathos of the story of the real person who often is seen simply as a stock character in the Pilgrims’ drama.

Jenny of the Tetons

Day 115

Dear Jenny,

Although you get to spend your birthday in  Prague, here’s a picture of you at Jenny Lake in the Tetons, your other home-away-from-home.

Happy birthday, little sister.  You rock!

The book:

This is a nice little historical novel for middle graders, which includes the story of Jenny Leigh, the real namesake of Jenny Lake.  It is one of the “Great Episodes” historical fiction series.  Like any series, some books are better than others.  Many are written by one of my favorite historical fiction writers, Ann Rinaldi.  Unfortunately for the higher quality books in the series (and many are really high quality), historical fiction remains a niche genre for most kids, the realm of usually serious-minded female readers.  I hate this, because I devoured them growing up, which probably led to my reading of “real” history and my undergraduate history degree.

Fog Magic

Day 106

We had fog this morning.

It was no pea souper, but a bit, enough to notice.

I was talking to a kindergartener at recess after the fog was long gone and trying to explain that fog is really a cloud lying on the ground.  She kept looking at the ground, asking “where is it?”



The Nova Scotia setting and time travel element of this story appeal to me, but it would probably be a bit too leisurely of a read for most children these days.  Greta travels back to Colonial times through the fog, and while I would hesitate to call her forays into the past adventuresome, her experiences do force her to grow up.  The ending is bit disappointing to most readers, but it was a 1943 Newbery honor book.  Personally, I kind of miss the Nova Scotia fog (gratuitous picture follows), so I wouldn’t mind reading it again.