Walk a Mile in my Shoes Empathy Book Club

Sanctuary cities. Executive orders. Airport detentions. A border wall. The news is full of negatives, stereotypes, anger, and fear. What’s missing? Empathy. Here’s a book list to encourage empathy for those who come to America from other cultures, whether voluntarily or as refugees. With the exception of the first title, all are suitable for young people.

  • A Step from Heaven by An Na
  • A Korean family moves to America, and the daughter has to find her inner strength to keep herself and her family whole. Despite her intelligence and ability to learn the language quickly, the girl encounters racism and sexism as she adjusts to her new home.
  • The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • The Hmong people were recruited to help American troops during the Vietnam war. After the war, when the new government began to persecute them, the United States provided a safe haven for Hmong refugees. Kao Kalia tells the stories of several generations as they flee Laos through camps in Thailand and eventually settle in the Midwest. The first person accounts make for a powerful read.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Esperanza is forced to leave Mexico after a tragedy takes her safety and her family’s wealth. She is unprepared for the challenges of living in a new country with no money and no home. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and 13 year old Esperanza finds her inner strength as she follows a path that leads to hope and a better life. This book won the Newbery Award in 1999.
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhja Lai
  • A new home in Alabama means safety from the Vietnam war, but this family misses their old home in Saigon as they adjust to the new culture, new landscape, and strange foods and customs. Discrimination is rampant for their Asian appearance and poor English skills. A Newbery honor book in 2012 – well worth the time for the amazing writing and heart felt story.
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
  • The story takes place in Brooklyn, NY, during 1947. The backdrop of Major League Baseball’s integration helps Shirley Temple Wong and her family adjust to being recent immigrants from China. Winner of many awards, this is a valuable read.
  • Grab Hands and Run  by Francis Temple
  • Felipe is twelve when his father is killed and he must grab hands with his sister and mother and flee El Salvador for safety in Canada. This book follows their long and difficult journey, and includes the dangers they face and their doubts about leaving their home.

Readers, what are some other books you recommend – for young adults or those who are grown-ups?

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Synthesis: a high level key to comprehension

I’ve shared this with my coworkers by email, with most of my social networks, and with friends and family. Just in case I missed anyone who works with children or just wants to know more about teaching read, here’s the latest.

It’s synthesis. It’s all about putting thoughts together. Check it out. 

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Call the little girl with pigtails.

I am a geek-type person. I work in a geek-type office full of people just like me. We’re not all alike, though, and sometimes there is a lack of understanding or odd communication.

Take our phones – please. The phones switched to a new provider with new highly-visual dial-pads. (That is a word. Dial-pads is a word. Hyphenated, even.) Here’s what it looks like.

Hello? Hello?

Hello? Hello?

I am a verbal-linguistic type. I would rather see an abbreviation on the phone or even a passcode to use the many features. As an example, it took me over a year to figure out how to transfer a call. On the old phones, I would put the caller on hold, dial the extension of the next person, and when that person answered, release the hold and let the two of them talk while I hung up and got back to work.

Deep sigh. I lost a few calls and I had to admit to more than a few parents that I didn’t know how to forward a call. I finally asked another teacher how to handle the task. She, another verbal-linguistic type, said:

  • Push the button with the little girl with pigtails on it.
  • Then push the button on the screen for the teacher you want.
  • Then push the little girl with pigtails again.

Got it! I responded. I had been messing up the process by using the hold button, the way we used to do it. Ahem. I can do this.

Which icon? Can you see the little girl?

Which icon? Can you see the little girl?

And then my verbal-linguistic friend and I found out we were interpreting the graphic all wrong. It’s actually three people. One person in front, with the outlines of two others behind him or her. Or it.

Readers, your opinions? What do you see — a group of people or a little girl with pigtails? I’m sure there’s deep meaning here. Let’s have an analysis party in the comments. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to work.

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Hillary – it’s complicated.

Facebook offers choices for indicating relationship status. Married, single, in a relationship, or “It’s complicated.”

Complicated – that’s how I feel about Hillary Clinton running for president.

I’ve admired Hillary since she spoke up on 60 Minutes and refused to stay home, bake cookies, host teas, and be the little woman standing by her man.

I read her first memoir – I didn’t bother to read Bill’s.

I mourned her loss in the primaries of 2008. I had to grieve the fact that her party was over before I could support Barack Obama. And support him I did, with my vote and my blog and my volunteer time.

Now I’m feeling very conflicted. Hillary has all the traits I value in a leader. She’s intelligent, strong, experienced, knowledgeable, and the list could go on and on. Hillary Clinton would be an excellent president of the United States.

The trouble is this: Hillary may not be the best candidate.

She has baggage. Lots of baggage. Benghazi. Email-gate. Her age and gender (damn, I wish those didn’t matter). Her outspokenness.

I’m really stuck, people. Bernie Sanders may be the stronger candidate. He supports the issues that matter to me. He is intelligent, strong, knowledgeable, and more. He doesn’t have the experience that Hillary does, but neither does he have the baggage. And yet –

To leave Hillary’s side after following her through thick and thin and Monica Lewinsky feels disloyal. I feel like leaving her now is like kicking her when she’s down – at least when her polls are down. It’s a paradox, that’s what it is.

I didn’t aim to write a review for Joanne Cronrath Bamberger’s book Love Her, Lover Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. Indeed, I haven’t ordered my copy – yet. But I am definitely feeling that paradox. I admire Hillary Clinton to the moon and back, but I can’t quite put my vote in her corner – yet. She would be a great president. I have no doubt of that. But first, she has to be electable. And no matter how high her pedestal in my opinion, I’m not sure she can will the general election.

And that, my friends, is my dilemma.

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A Garden with a White Picket Fence

It started with a rummage sale or two. I hit the jackpot in a sale around the corner from my own house.

Chairs, "baby" gate, and plastic pieces of fence

Chairs, “baby” gate, and plastic pieces of fence

I bargained with the sellers, and they offered to include all the white fence pieces if I bought the chairs and the big circular collapsible “baby” gate. The gate is all one piece: there is no end to it. It collapses nicely, though, into very little space. I have it stored like that right now in the New Garage.

I’d turned up my nose a little when Chuck found a stack of this white plastic stuff at another sale. “It’s plastic! Ew!” I had to take back my words after buying a whole pile of the same junky plastic.

From a distance, it doesn’t look that bad.

Rather cute, almost.

Rather cute, almost.

You can admire the garage and its People Door (simple pleasures) or the rain barrels set up behind it.

Up close, it’s not so cute. However, If this white plastic discourages the wild furry ones from entering my green space, I’ll be happy.

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Container Gardening – a Pricey Trend?

We were picking up blueberry and raspberry canes to supplement what we’ve already planted. In the process, we saw some – oh how shall I say it? – creative mark-ups on planters and containers.

The simple box

The simple box

The simple box with decoration

The simple box with decoration

Pretty, right? And rather simple. Someone took the time to paint the boxes a nice neutral gray, and then they added a few decorative details to one box. Are you ready for the reveal? The price tag? Are you sitting down?

You read that right, people. $50 for the painted box.

You read that right, people. $50 for the painted box.

I found Chuck as he checked out and showed him the outrageous mark-up on the simple, no doubt inexpensive boxes. He was shocked, too. And on our way to the car…

The popular raised bed, unpainted

The popular raised bed, unpainted

These were on sale.

Ouch.

Ouch.

$250? Sale price?!? Give me a break, folks. This must be the new and trendy Container Gardening for Rich People. No one in my social circles would spend $50 on a wood box, much less $250 on a small wooden raised bed. Maybe I’m in the wrong field; I should be painting and repurposing my garage sale finds instead of planting in them. The profit margin would be amazing.

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Justice League – Not in Lego Just Yet

Oh, Lego. This would be awesome. I’d buy a set to sit on my desk at school. After all, it’s art and it’s history, both of which are on my course load.

Justices in Lego Brick

Justices in Lego Brick

Unfortunately, this set of fancy Lego sculptures can’t be purchased anywhere yet. The Lego design team refuses to manufacture the female Supreme Court justices, claiming the set would be too political. 

I guess I’ll have to settle for the Lego White House model.

If you’d like to sign a petition to pressure Lego into making this awesome historical piece, look no further than here. 

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Barbie Goes to University – or does she?

She turned up on Facebook. Where else would a Barbie bounce into view? And bounce she did, because “University Barbie” isn’t a studious type. Here she is.

Rah! Rah!

Rah! Rah!

I admit it; sports and cheerleaders are an important part of many universities. This Barbie wears the colors and shakes the pom pons and even wears cheerleader shoes instead of heels. Nope, it’s not all bad.

But why, I ask, why? Couldn’t Mattel call her what she is: Cheerleader Barbie? She could be one in a set of Universities Barbs. There could be sorority Barbie: Greek letters on her sweater, a pledge pin on her, er, chest. Senior Barbie could wear a cap and gown and have as a prop a diploma = and student loan papers. But maybe that’s a different Barbie: Long Term Debt Barbie. She could wear…well, let’s not go that route. Yet.

Science Major Barbie could wear glasses and have pale skin from too much time spent indoors between studying in the library and hovering over microscopes in lengthy lab sessions. English Major would have an old fashioned notebook around all the time in case she gets inspired with ideas for her Great American Novel. Conservatory of Music Barbie would have several changes of clothing, all of it in concert black, of course.

How about Class President Barbie? She could wear classy clothing, all suitable for making speeches and doing interviews on the campus television station. She might compete with Debate Barbie, a pre-law major who is always itching for a cause she can argue. Drama Barbie’s wardrobe would include almost anything, since she’s always playing a role.

Artist Barbie could sport paintbrushes sticking out of her back pocket and paint smudges on her clothes, with her big hair pulled back in a scarf or bandanna. And then there’s…never mind.

I could go on and on, but my point is this: Call a spade a spade. Call Cheerleader Barbie by her true specialty. Make sure she doesn’t say, “Math class is hard.” Then make a University Barbie that looks like a student. Wait…maybe a professor? Yes, Prof Barbara (no “ie” for this one) it is! I’ll start working on the design right away. In the meantime, jump around with Barbie Badger..

When you say Wisconsin, you've said it all!

When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all!

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Teachers Pay Teachers

My educator friends – do any of you use Teachers Pay Teachers to buy and to sell material?

I’m a relative newcomer to this corner of the Internet where teachers can post lesson plans and more in the hopes that someone will pay a few bucks for the privilege of using those materials themselves.

Here's the cover image.

Here’s the cover image.

I’ve posted a few things. I’ve only sold a couple, so the money thus far is just a drop in the bucket. If I’m optimistic (and I try to be optimistic), I might remind myself that if there are enough drops, the bucket might fill.

My “store” name is Ideas from the OK Chorale. If you’re an elementary teacher and you’re looking for a few good plans, please take a look!

Meanwhile, I’ll push myself to post a few more goodies to appeal to other creative teachers who might benefit from my experience and ideas. In my spare time, that is. Yea, yea, I hear you snickering at your monitor.

So, readers, what are your experiences with online buying or selling? Etsy? Teachers Pay Teachers? EBay? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Making the list – the book list

Two years ago – February of 2012, in fact – I posted this picture.

A new table has turned up in our hallway. I happened to be in the building for a different reason (I’m on sick leave recovering from surgery, remember?) so my chauffeur (Petunia) and I stopped by the table to pick up lists. I do have time for reading as I heal, so I might look into getting a few of the titles I haven’t yet read.

But wow. There are a lot of books that I haven’t read on the list . On the list for grades 7-8, I’ve read five out of the ten titles. In those for grade 9 and 10, I’ve read one, exactly one, out of the suggested sixteen. In fact, I read it and reviewed it and found it fascinating. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer — here’s the review.

None of the previously listed books are here, so I’m guessing those already approved might remain part of the curriculum. I’ll start with those I know, and then see what I can find on Paperback Swap and at the downtown library.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on my Kindle. Now I have motivation to read it.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is a classic piece of literature in many categories. I remember a gifted sixth grade reader asking to borrow it from my shelf, and then asking a friend to reminisce. “Remember when we were in third grade and Mrs. Sippi couldn’t finish reading this aloud because she cried?” Red Fern belongs on the “Read it with a box of tissues” shelf with Stone Fox and Walk Two Moons. The story is wonderful, and the setting is just foreign enough to my local kiddos that it will keep their attention.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a popular favorite. Personally, I might leave this out of books to read in class because so many young people are picking up the trilogy and seeing the movies.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen and Holes by Louis Sachar have been “listed” for years. Both are excellent, and fairly easy reads for grades 7 and 8. Hoot shows a typical Hiaasen environmental bias and is a lot of fun to follow. I’ve read this aloud to fourth graders (who hadn’t seen the movie) and it was a hit. Holes? Brilliant. Louis Sachar braids present with historical and a hint of supernatural and somehow it all comes together seamlessly in the end. Fans of Holes might also enjoy Small Steps, also by Sachar, which follows two of the inmates from Holes into their life after Camp Green Lake. I read Small Steps to my 6th graders, most of whom knew Holes, and they took to it like shovels to snow. Um, poor analogy there, sorry.

Lemony Snicket’s opening salvo in his Series of Unfortunate Events also appears here, and my reaction is similar to The Hunger Games in that so many students have already read this and its many sequels. Lemony Snicket has a lot of fun with language, and that leads to a humorous telling of otherwise disastrous tales. The Bad Beginning is short and the plot is simple, leading to a quick and relatively easy read. Since this is the first in a lengthy series, it offers a chance to get readers interested in the characters and the story structure and read more of the same. That would be the strongest reason for me to assign The Bad Beginning for students to read.

Now I’ll dive into the rest of the list and see what I can swap, download, or check out for the remainder of my sick leave. Readers, let me know. Leave a comment. Have you read any of those I discussed or any of the rest of the list here?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story by Lila & Lazan Pearl and Marion Blumenthal

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke and Christian Birmingham

That’s the list for grades 7 & 8. I’ll share the rest with you later.

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