Books for Social Justice: Leaving Home

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read, and respond.

Islandborn, a new immigration story by Junot Diaz, is the story of a little girl who learns about her birthplace from family and friends. Although the story does not reveal the name of the island, readers can conclude that the story is about the history of the Dominican Republic.  The wonderful illustrations by Leo Espinosa reveal the diversity of the people who live there.  Through the stories she is told, Lola discovers why her family had to leave the beautiful island when she was just a baby. The stories spark Lola’s imagination, and in her mind, she travels back to the island home that she never got to experience and know.

This picture book explains why some families are forced to leave their homes and try to rebuild in a strange, new land. It describes the dictatorship of Trujillo as a “monster that fell upon the land,” depicting Trujillo as a green-colored bat.  This age-appropriate book will open classroom conversations about immigration – why people leave a home and country they love, often leaving everything behind, to search for a new home. As Lola becomes immersed in the stories – sometimes joyous, sometimes painful and heartbreaking, she realizes what her abuela’s words really mean: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” Islandborn

For secondary students, read In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girl Lost Their Accents and Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez.

Other Children’s Books to Explore Immigration Theme:

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

I’m New Here by Ann Sibley O’Brien

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat

Snow, snow….go away. Don’t come back another day!

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteacher blog team for providing the space to write and grow!

It is pretty. It is a winter wonderland. Fairy-like. Magical. Tranquil. But it is also exhausting. Chilling. Annoying. I should have been leading a professional development day with fourth and fifth grade teachers on Wednesday. Not at home, preparing to help my husband shovel and set up for another possible power outage due to wet, heavy snow.

My friend Nancy wrote a piece on facebook about a robin who greeted her on her doorstep yesterday morning before the snow fell fast and furious. She said the bird looked up at her, almost imploring Nancy to invite her inside.

Here, our robins look confused. I was glad to see them this morning, and I hope the snow melts quickly in the next two to three days to reveal some grass and garden soil. My husband is outside right now, feeding the birds while I do the breakfast dishes. The Welsh Corgis followed him outside, leaping like bunny rabbits through the deep snow.

This is the fourth time we are filling feeders since early yesterday morning. Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, grackles, mourning doves, and pigeons busily feasted throughout the stormy afternoon and into the early evening. They’re all back this morning.  Isn’t anyone else in my Dresher neighborhood feeding the birds?

Bird feeder March snow storm


Things to do if you are a Daffodil

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for providing this space to write, read, and respond to others.

Today, I used Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro, a gift from Rose Cappelli, as my mentor text to write this list poem.  Rose and I have often used How to Be by Lisa Brown and the list poems from Falling Down the Page edited by Georgia Heard to create poems of advice.  Poems like the one below can be used as part of an informational project and are great to introduce or conclude a more formal report or essay. The list poem format for “Things to Do” and “How to Be” poems will help students write across the curriculum. Try it out to write about world leaders, animals, plants, biomes (such as Mojave Desert or rain forest), weather events (such as a Nor’easter or hurricane), and just about anything you are studying – magnets, windmills, fairytales, political systems, planets, etc..Things to Do poems

Things to do if you are a daffodil…

Sleep in a bulb below the earth’s surface.

Be an early bloomer! Love to be first!

Push your tip above the ground in the early days of March.

Grow and grow until you are almost twenty inches high.

Show off a beautiful bloom on your leafless stem.

Smile at the warm, yellow sun.

Greet the garden crocuses – they may be your only company for awhile.

Be resistant of the cold weather of a Pennsylvania spring.

Flower for six weeks or more.

During the fall and winter, rebuild your bulb.

Bloom again and again each new spring.

Show off your trumpet-shaped corona surrounded by six floral leaves.

Symbolize rebirth and new beginnings.

Rejoice! Your beauty is unmatched by any other bloom!



Fun Facts:

If you are in England, people call daffodils Lent Lilies.

Though their botanical name is narcissus, they are sometimes called jonquils.

The first record of cultivated daffodils goes back to around 200 to 300 B.C.

In Wales, daffodils are the national flower!

A Welsh Legend tells us if you’re the first to spot a daffodil, you will come into wealth the next year.

There are at least 25 different daffodil species.

Daffodils are extremely cold resistant and make a good choice for novice gardeners almost anywhere in the United States.

Other early bloomers…


Getting Children to Talk About Books

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this safe space to write, read, and respond to other writers!

Here are some questions to guide book discussions, literature circles, and reading conferences. If students are leading small book discussions, they can choose the three to five questions they would like to use to stimulate discussion, or they can create their own questions.  Of course, not all the questions need to be asked. The important thing is to have a conversation in which students layer each other’s responses by adding details, disagreeing and explaining their thinking, making predictions, inferring, evaluating or rating, talking about author’s craft, or asking their own questions.

Did the story end the way you expected it to end? What clues did the author give to you?

What did you notice in this book?

Did you like the illustrations? Explain.

This story reminds me of . . . (Think about your own life)

Name one problem in the story and how it was solved.

Who was the most important character in this book? Why do you think so?

One thing I would add to the story would be . . . because . . .

The funniest part of this story was . . . because . . .

My favorite part of the story was…because….

Did your feelings about what you had read change as you were reading?  Explain.

Something that made me angry, sad, or uncomfortable was . . . It made me feel this way because . . .

If a friend asked you about this book, what would you say?

What is the author trying to tell us by writing this story?





A Walk in Longwood Gardens

slice-of-life2I am participating in the March #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read, and respond to other writers.

Yesterday, Ralph and I met our friend Tom, his daughter Emily and her husband Rick, and their daughter Daisy for a stroll at Longwood Gardens. It was a beautiful Sunday, and we wanted to take advantage of the decent weather with another Nor’easter expected to arrive this Tuesday into Wednesday. (They’ve got to be kidding, right?)20180318_135052

When we arrived, we had a hard time finding a place to park – Longwood was very busy! It was already 1:45 p.m. and everyone was hungry. We walked to the Terrace and – oh no! They were renovating the eatery; so a long line, not a lot of choice, and few tables available. But we all found something, even though as we stood in line, Terrace workers every now and then came with black strips of paper to cover some items such as grilled chicken Caesar salad – what I was hoping to purchase. So I settled for a yogurt and granola cup and a very small garden salad. Daisy munched on a chocolate chip cookie and Ralph had a salad and an Italian sandwich with several kinds of meats and cheese. Everyone found something to eat. We even found one empty picnic table that would fit six people. DSC_9644

Daisy was ready to leave. She wanted to go home until I mentioned that some cats live at Longwood and I had seen them in the conservatory more than once. I told her one cat looked like a lion with a full mane around his neck. He seemed to enjoy an occasional pet or scratch behind the ears from visitors. I was sure he was a Maine Coon cat. So we walked through the conservatory with Daisy whispering, “Maine Coon CatMeow, meow, meow” to entice the cats to appear. They never did.

Although we never saw any cats, we did see some gorgeous flowers – the winter “blues” were simply stunning!  Roses blooming, the silver room with cacti, rock benches, epiphytes hanging from the ceiling (purple orchids), a lovely olive tree (my favorite room), and a room and walkway with perfect orchids of every color.

We will come back in April – probably late April if the weather does not warm up soon – to see the fields of tulips. Longwood Gardens is a place to return to throughout the year to experience the beauty of each season with its colors and fragrances and smells. This summer I intend to create a Southwest garden like the one pictured below in the top left photo. At the rate the warmer weather is creeping into our part of Pennsylvania, I think it will be end June or beginning July before I can create one for our backyard!

A Reception at Highlights Foundation

I am pslice-of-life2articipating in #SOL18. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful space to write, read, and respond!

Earlier this week I went back to read an e-mail from Highlights Foundation – an invitation to a reception for illustrator Shadra Strickland for her book illustrations in A Child’s Book of Prayers and Blessings: From Faiths and Cultures Around the World, a 2017 publication.  If you don’t know this book, it offers a collection of kid-friendly prayers that are stunningly arranged on pages filled with extraordinary images and colors.

I was busy and there were a thousand reasons not to make the trip, but I decided the diversion would do me some good. I contacted George Brown, who graciously told me to come and bring my husband. The almost three-hour trip was serene and easy to drive – little traffic, open roads, and beautiful countryside laced with snow. When we arrived, we walked into the great room filled with tables covered in coffee-colored tablecloths. Food and drink was everywhere. And stunning prints that had been framed and hung on the walls – all Shadra’s work.

The eating extravaganza included stuffed yellow and orange peppers, knockwurst wrapped in bacon, hot spinach and artichoke dip, shrimp and grits in tiny glass bowls, pulled pork sliders, cheeses, fruit, and a bowl of warm chocolate sauce for dipping marshmallows, strawberries, and pineapple slices. Servers circulated the room with hot hor d’ oeuvres.  My husband was happy!

2018-03-17 15.00.08

I knew I would buy several copies of the book along with beautiful note cards with Shadra’s paintings on them. I eyed the prints – I was in love with at least three of them, but they were numbered prints, and I couldn’t justify spending $500, even for a smaller one. Maybe in the near future I would consider it…

Alison Green Myers, a National Writing Project fellow and a faculty member at Highlights, introduced Shandra to the audience (approximately forty to fifty artists, writers, Highlights faculty, community members). She talked about a group of students who had viewed the artwork and were asked to offer one word to describe the illustrations – how the artwork made them feel. Some of their responses: love, faith, prayer, family, hope, wonder, beauty.

Shadra talked about her process – she worked in reduction linoleum cuts, a new process for her. Follow the link to read more.  A Child’s Book of Prayers and Blessings was the first time she had used a printmaking medium (difficult and time consuming), and she shared with us it would probably be her last!

She read some of the prayer/poems. Then we were able to purchase books and prints. Shadra, of course, signed. If you attend a Highlights workshop this spring, summer, and fall, you will most likely be welcomed by Shadra’s paintings that hang on the wall. It was worth the trip, a delightful way to spend the afternoon!




Learning Process & Craft

slice-of-life2Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating #SOL18. A wonderful place to meet new writers and old friends!

What do we call the writing “stuff” we teach? When we talk about strategies, what do we mean?  A strategy is a series of actionable steps that helps us to break down the work of a writer. It is generalizable, so we can use it across many pieces of writing, often, regardless of genre and format. A strategy is something we outgrow, and then it becomes a skill that we use automatically, without thinking about it at a conscious level.

Think of a strong emotion. Make a list of a couple of memories that connect to the emotion and pick one. Write the scene.

The big screened-in porch at my grandparents’ home in Coopersburg had emptied. My mom, my dad, my sisters, my aunt and uncle and all my cousins had made their way to their cars. Their arms were filled with food for sandwiches the next day and carefully wrapped slices of Grandma’s open-face apple pie.  Except Pixie and me. I was staying for the summer. The entire summer!  I stretched out on the hammock and pulled the light blanket up to my chin. The fireflies blinked on and off like tiny Christmas lights among the dark trees. It was very beautiful – the woods that stretched, dark and deep and quiet, all the way to the tiny creek an acre or so away.

      “Come in Lynnie,” my grandma called from the kitchen.

      “I want to sleep out here tonight,” I called back.

       “Come inside,” Grandma said. “Now.”

      “Oh, Dottie,” my grandfather chimed in. “She’ll be okay. Let her stay outside with Pixie. He placed a small rug on the floor next to the hammock and motioned for Pixie to lie down by the hammock. Pixie willingly obeyed. Her long tail thumped softly as she curled up, closed her eyes, and sighed.

       My grandma shook her head. Grandpa winked at me and closed the screen door. I grinned and breathed in the woodsy air. My grandfather understood me. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, a smile fixed on my face.

My process: I thought of several scenes and connected them to a strong emotion. I decided I wanted to write about a time I felt really happy….content. Then I decided where I would begin my story. I started my story purposefully in a spot where I could see the ending in my mind. So, knowing where to begin and end a story is important. I can revise to add more detail about the story problem – I had often asked to sleep outside with my dog for company, but the answer was always a firm no. This time was different – I finally got to sleep on the hammock with my grandfather’s help. My strategy: to vary sentence lengths by consciously breaking up some longer sentences into shorter ones and even using a few fragments. As a writer, I know that I tend to write very long sentences!

When you write a piece, think about how you stay focused the entire time. Imagine the sequence of steps you do. When you are developing strategies, you almost spy on yourself as a writer. Notice what other writers do in your favorite mentor texts. Always keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas. Ask yourself some questions.

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you see?
  • What are the authors thinking?
  • What did they do to make you pause and think?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What do the people in the pictures feel?   OR  What do you think the readers will be able to visualize in their mind?

As you write, spy on yourself and ask these same questions. As you draft and revise, think about a strategy you want to use and how it will help your writing.

Parking Ticket Saga Finale

slice-of-life2Thanks to the two writing teachers blog team for creating this wonderful space for educators and other writers to hang out, read, write, respond, and learn. Always, there are so many new formats and ideas to explore!  #SOL18 provides us with a unique opportunity to grow as writers and establish friendships that last beyond the month of March!

Thursday morning after rush hour was over, my husband and I made the trek into Philadelphia to find the place where I could resolve the issue of my father’s parking tickets. The City of Philadelphia was granting amnesty until April 30th for tickets issued before 2013, or something like that.  Three tickets had been issued to my father in the late eighties – probably because my father had given his car (a used car – I don’t remember which one) to a “friend” to use.

We made our way down Ogontz Avenue, passing the corner of the 6900 block where my dad once had an insurance and real estate office, left on Stenton Avenue and right on Broad Street before getting to Park Avenue, the street where Mom and Dad had their first home. I waved as we passed my alma mater, Philadelphia High School for Girls, and a nod to Einstein Hospital, where I was born. A real trip down “Memory Lane”.

We turned left onto Vine and right on 10th Street. Chinatown!  Oh, when was the last time we ate at a really good Chinese restaurant?   Then I remembered….CinCin.  Sophisticated Chinese cuisine in Chestnut Hill, about twenty minutes from our house.  Maybe by the end of March it will warm up and we will walk “the Hill” and eat at CinCin.  Definitely something to look forward to, and I shared my thoughts with Ralph. “Let’s do it!” he replied.cin-cin-philly

Filbert – a left turn here onto a narrow street under construction. Looking on the left with scaffolding for safety due to construction on the right – where is this place? And then I spied it – the sign about parking tickets and amnesty. “Stop the car, Ralph!” I ordered while unbuckling my seat belt and swinging the shoulder strap of my pocketbook over my head and under my arm. I jumped out of the Rav, clutching a blue folder filled with papers.  “I will call or text,” I waved him on.

There was a line as soon as I entered the building. Each time, I heard a city employee say to a person ahead of me in the line, “Take this form and fill it out in there,* (pointing to an already-crowded room with rows of metal chairs. “It will be a two-hour wait.” My heart sank.  I looked at my watch…. eleven o’ clock. No way was I waiting for two hours about twenty-year-old parking tickets belonging to my dad!

My turn. “I am here with a death certificate. This form was sent to me, Martin’s daughter. Dad passed away 21 years ago.” The man nodded and told the woman next to him to handle it. She looked at the certificate and the form, then motioned to a woman who had just walked out of an inner office. “Take this one,” she said. I followed the lady into her office.

“The form says Martin M. Dorfman,” she said. “What is your father’s middle name?”

“Norman. His middle name was Norman. Someone typing the form did so incorrectly.”

“(Looking it up on the computer) But the records say M. for a middle initial.”

“(Trying to be patient) The forms are incorrect. My father’s middle name was Norman. Look at the death certificate.”

She motions to a man passing in the hallway. “Can you come in here a minute?” The whole story is repeated. And then…”When did he pass away?” the gentleman queries.

“November, 1997,” I  promptly answer.

“I didn’t ask you.” He asks the woman again who is scrutinizing my father’s death certificate. Five minutes pass. She confirms that my response is correct. “She’ll need to take the death certificate and make a copy for us.”  I know the law forbids you to make a copy of a death certificate, so I say to both of them, “Please keep this one. It’s an original.”  He asks me if I am sure. I nod. He says they will mail it back to me. I nod. As I’m walking out the door into the Philadelphia sunshine I mutter to myself, “I won’t hold my breath!”ParkAmnestyCoverPhoto

Would you like to buy a chance….?

Usually, I like to talk. All my friends know this and probably would tell you that losing my voice is my greatest fear –  after all, I depend on my voice to make a living, and quite frankly, I engage in oral rehearsal before I write, and reread  aloud while I draft, revise, and edit. I always listen to the sounds of words – the music the words are creating. But last night, I could not hear the music.

I was at Texas Roadhouse with my husband Ralph and Bobbie, an ADK sister (that’s what we call our members of Eta chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa) for a fundraising event. We were raffling tickets for a basket of cheer containing some interesting kitchen gadgets like an Aervana standard aerator for showcasing your wine at its best, beautiful snowflake corks, pottery and ceramic wine bottle stoppers, and of course, bottles of Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, Syrah. Our shift was 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., and this was the second time we were back to sell tickets.

My husband counted and tore tickets, numbered the sheets where we recorded names, addresses, and phone numbers, and left the selling to Bobbie and me. He said he couldn’t really be the person selling for a women’s sorority – that should be a woman!  Since Bobbie was late, I had to do all the selling for the first twenty minutes. Ugh! Yes, it’s all for a good cause – actually, all the monies go to many charities such as Laurel House, College Settlement Camp, WePAC, Harambee Foundation in Tanzania, Pearl S. Buck International, and Elmwood Park Zoo. We raise money all year long, and all the money is divided among our charities in various amounts. Every penny raised goes to the charities. I like that.

I don’t like selling raffle tickets. I should be good at it right?  After all, I’m a natural-born talker. But I can hardly get the words out, and my husband gave me the eye as I let this group and that group of people by without saying one word. “Don’t look at me that way. They weren’t going to buy any tickets.”  In the end, there were many generous people who bought a group of tickets for $5, $10, and even $20.  One woman had no cash but dug in her pocketbook and coat pockets until she produced a dollar’s worth of change to buy one ticket. She didn’t want the basket of cheer; she just wanted to donate to charity.  Wow!

One woman and her (second) husband gave us $20. She shared her story of abuse and how places like Laurel House give women a second chance.  She brought tears to my eyes. She had lived a life I knew nothing about except for what I’d read. Each year, Laurel House serves over 3000 families who arrive scared and in crisis. Those who come to the shelter, often do so with nothing but the clothes that they are wearing.  This strong West Virginian told us that she had once bought a truckload of items to donate to Laurel House and because of the generosity of donors, Laurel House is able to provide women and their children with most of their basic needs, along with a safe, warm place to stay.

So, in the end, it was a good evening. We met a lot of generous people who gave even when they probably didn’t have the cash to spare. And yes, some folks just walked by us without stopping. Others politely said, “No thank you.”  My husband reminded me that it is a choice everyone has the right to make and that some might have other favorite charities, and even if they didn’t – it was still their choice. My husband is wise. What would I ever do without him!

More Fun with Leads

Slice of Life2A big thank you to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this space to write, read and respond to others. The #SOL18 community is a great place to hang out and meet new friends, find new ideas for writing, learn about other places and other bloggers, and grow.

In a previous slice, I worked with leads around a circus setting, imagining a story about a young girl named Rosemary who visits the circus with her uncle where her father is the ringmaster. Rosemary has dreamed of walking the tightrope without a net below and amazing the crowd, but her parents have tried their best to discourage her.

The lead can be a sentence, a paragraph, or even a page long.  A good beginning “leads” a reader into the story. It makes a reader want to find out more. It provides the hook, reeling in readers like a skilled fisherman reels in fish.  Skilled writers start their stories with good leads. A good lead adds to the “voice” a piece of writing has. It helps your reader connect with you. You can communicate a sense of excitement, sadness, mystery, anger, fear, joy or any other emotion with a good lead. A lead paragraph can be the deciding factor for a reader – to read on or to abandon for something else. Here are a few additional leads I have imagined for the circus piece:

Onomatopoeia: Ca..rack! Ca..rack! the lion tamer’s whip whistled through the muggy air of the August night.

Appeal to the Senses (other than sight and sound): The air smelled sweet like cotton candy and salty like roasted peanuts. But it was mixed with an earthy smell of horse manure and elephant droppings and the faint smell of fear. Yes, Rosemary was sure she could smell that, too.

Setting Snapshot: The big tent rose before us. A big crowd of people pushed forward. Inside, the huge tent was decorated with flood-lights and strings of burning bulbs. Film music and songs were being played on loudspeakers. Three areas occupied the arena where the feats were performed. Metal bleachers rose high above the ground level. The notes of the band and the floodlights gave an out-of-this-world look to the atmosphere. A thin wire stretched from pole to pole, about thirty feet above the ground. No net in view.


        She spied me as soon as I entered the dressing room. “And what are you doing here, little Rose?” Mary asked with a crooked smile.

“I…I’m not sure….I wanted to try on an outfit,” Rosemary admitted. “I want to try out the high wire,” she added in a whisper. “It’s what I dream about. Every night.”

“Maybe I can help you,” Mary said in a hushed tone. That’s when the door to the dressing room suddenly opened. Rosemary’s father, tall and splendid in his ringmaster’s cape and top hat, filled the doorway.

Weather: The warm June night was thick with fireflies. The moon, big and round, smiled down at us. In great profusion, stars freckled the velvet black sky, and the air was filled with a prickly sensation – excitement, anticipation, wonder. The Royal Circus had come to town.