Category Archives: Teaching

RIP XIII: The Eyes of the Amaryllis

The Eyes of the Amaryllis, by Natalie Babbitt, is one of my favorite books. When I was teaching, I read it aloud to my sixth grade students, year after year, and never tired of Babbitt’s lyrical, descriptive, lovely writing. My Grandson started school last week, a 5/6 grader now, and it triggered memories for me of those special books I loved and read each year. It was definitely time to reread this one.

It is an unusual story. Eleven year old Geneva (Jenny) Reade, went to help her grandmother, also named Geneva, who lived beside the ocean. Gran had broken her foot and needed some extra help. Jenny was excited to see the ocean for the first time, but not very excited about having to cook or help her grandmother with those kinds of things. However, that’s not the kind of help Gran needed. With her broken foot, Gran could not walk the shoreline each day, searching. Jenny would have to search for her.

Jenny’s grandfather had been a sea captain on the ship, The Amaryllis, and while arriving home during a fierce storm, the ship sank and everyone aboard was lost. Sadly, it sank within sight of the shore, and both Geneva’s father and her grandmother watched helplessly from the bluff. The trauma of watching his father’s ship go down was too much for young George, and he soon left the oceanside and went to live with an aunt who lived inland. Gran stayed at their home at the ocean, waiting for anything to wash up from the wreck…waiting for “a sign from her darling.” Nothing ever washed up, but Gran kept vigil checking the shoreline after each turn of the tide…for over 30 years, but nothing ever washed ashore.

Geneva soon learned that her grandmother’s life centered around the sea, the tides, her undying love for the sea captain, and for her hope that he would somehow send her a sign.

Your grandfather and I—what we felt for each other doesn’t just stop. Remember what we talked about the first night you were here? There’s another world around us, Geneva, around us all the time, and here I can be closer to it.

There is another important character in this book, called Seward, who calls himself the “guardian of the sea.”  His job is to walk the shoreline and make sure that nothing the sea values is taken, and if something of value is found, it must be returned to the sea.

Gran explained to Jenny that Seward was once a sensitive artist/sculptor who threw himself into the sea after being rejected by a woman he loved. His body was never found, but he returned mysteriously and walks the shoreline each day. No one but Gran has seen him. His story is fantastical, and Geneva can hardly believe it…except that she, too, has seen him.

“He really saw the ship on the bottom,” she said. “Yes,” said Gran. “Sailing. Keeping watch. The sea bottom was covered with treasure, he told me, and there were lots of wrecked ships, too, great ruined hulls, lying down there forsaken, full of holes and rotting away. But the Amaryllis, and all the ships with figureheads, are kept whole and clean, he said, to sail on the bottom and guard the treasure.”

It is the figurehead from The Amaryllis that finally washes ashore. And then the story gets really interesting.

I won’t tell you more. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens. But I will say that it was wonderful to share this story with my students! You wouldn’t think that sixth graders would necessarily want to sit through a story about undying love, but they listened with rapt attention to this one. It captured all our imaginations and our hearts!

This was my third book read for the Readers Imbibing Peril XIII.

A Sad Loss

The world has lost a wonderful author today. I was saddened to hear the news of Ursula le Guin’s passing. I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, and I was so happy, when I was teaching second grade, to introduce my young students to her wonderful imagination by reading them the Catwings series. They loved those books, class after class, for many years! I’m sure a number of those former students are Ursula le Guin fans today and are also saddened by our loss.

Donny’s Desk

During my teaching years, I kept a folder for special cards and notes that were given to me. I also wrote down some of the stories that I felt needed to be saved and tucked them into that folder, too. Since reading the little book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, I’ve started going through drawers, files, boxes. This afternoon, for the first time in years, I looked through my special teaching folder. I found this little story, a real treasure, that I wrote from my first year of teaching 6th grade. As I read it, I can still see these two boys in my memory. I am reminded once again that the truth of teaching is not about testing, and only somewhat about curriculum. It’s about LIFE.

I loved my days and years spent with young people! I learned so much from them about love and friendship, strength and resilience, courage and growth…and about how to appreciate each day for the many gifts of love one receives from others, young or old.

DONNY’S DESK

Donny and Nick were inseparable. They’d been friends since kindergarten, and they moved alike, talked alike, and thought alike. Like two young playful puppies, they were constantly jostling and wrestling each other. They couldn’t stand in a line together without a little shoving or shoulder bumping or tousling of the other’s hair.

Once, when Nick went on a family trip for a week, Donny walked around the classroom with a totally lost look on his face. “What are you going to do without your best buddy this week?” I asked him. “I dunno,” he replied with a shrug and a look on his face that showed the loneliness inside.

Yesterday, Donny didn’t come to school. Today I got a message over the intercom from the office saying simply, “Donny moved this weekend. He’ll be in to pick up his things today.”  I looked at Nick in surprise and asked him if he knew anything about this. He didn’t.

Donny came in and cleared out his desk just before lunch. His mother told us quietly where he was moving. “We’ve moved in with friends,” she said with tears in her eyes. Donny said his quiet goodbyes to Nick, and the class. Then he was gone.

The class worked somberly, silently, asking no questions. A little while later Nick quietly came up to my desk and said, “Mrs. Rice, can I move into Donny’s desk?”

My Orca Family

Granny and son, Ruffles

Granny and son, Ruffles

My friend, Kristen, @ We Be Reading, posted a couple of tweets recently that were heart wrenching to me. She and I share a common interest:  we both deeply care about the Puget Sound’s resident pods of Orcas.  In her tweets, she announced the deaths of two of those orcas within the last few months. This is very sad and concerning news for all of us, but for me the news was extra sad because I had a very personal connection to these whales.

Early in my teaching career, a science unit from a textbook included a little information about whales. For both me and my students, that unit of study sparked a fascination with whales and with Orcas in particular. We left the textbook and started reading everything we could find about whales.

Somewhere in our reading, we discovered the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, which has wonderful educational and adoption programs that help support the research and care of the Puget Sound’s three resident pods of orcas. Even though we lived far from the ocean, my 5th graders that year became passionate whale advocates and decided that they wanted to raise some money and “adopt” a whale. They collected aluminum cans for months, and finally raised enough money to adopt one of the orcas.

After reading the biography of each orca in all three pods, they chose “Oreo,” a very young whale in J-Pod. (Click here to “meet the whales,” ) We sent in our money and didn’t have to wait very long for our adoption papers to come through. Each student received their own adoption certificate and extensive information about Oreo and the other orcas. It was an exciting time in our classroom!

Whale of A Purpose

Oreo (J-22)

Over the years of my teaching career, I taught my “whale unit” many times and to many different age groups. Three other classes wanted to go through the adoption process. One group of 6th graders adopted DoubleStuf , and a few years later a class of 2nd graders adopted Cookie. Both DoubleStuf and Cookie were male offspring of Oreo, my first adopted whale. I announced to my students that those two adoptions made me a whale grandma!

j34-and-j38-brothers

DoubleStuf (J34) and his brother Cookie (J38)

Needless to say, learning and teaching about the orcas was a favorite part of my teaching career. The excitement and enthusiasm of my students as they went through this learning process was wonderful to experience. I loved their surprise when they first learned that these magnificent beings live in a matriarchal society lead by an amazing matriarch called Granny; that they are incredibly social animals and their culture is highly organized; that they support each other in heartwarming ways,  even “babysitting” for each other, nursing the ill, and raising the offspring of family members that die.

I was an incredibly lucky teacher in that twice over my teaching years, the parents of my students were very happy to provide the funds, organization, and volunteers to enable our class (and the other classes at our grade level) to go on a whale watching tour so we could see our whales in the wild. Those were the most thrilling field trips of my career!

I was so saddened by the recent announcements of the sudden death of Doublestuf and the death of Granny at approximately 105 years of age. I know my former students, wherever they are, would be saddened by these losses, too, because these whales touched our lives and our hearts in a very profound way.

Links you might be interested in visiting:

Some books about Orcas:

granny-orca-network

Granny. photo courtesy of Orca Network

From the Archives: Fall Shared Reading

Three-and-a-half years ago, I retired from teaching. I am enjoying my retirement very much. My husband and I love getting up each morning and “setting our own agenda,” as I have said numerous times on this blog. But there are days when I miss (very much!) my students and colleagues and the world of my classroom. Reading together was the most  joyous part of my teaching experience, so I’d like to share with you this post I wrote in November 2012 about the reading we were sharing and loving in my 2nd Grade classroom.

FALL SHARED READING

Our Reading Rug…where we sit to share all these wonderful books.

When I say that I haven’t been reading very much recently, it’s not exactly true. My own reading has slowed down for many reasons, but I am still reading every day and going through books like crazy! Here’s why…

This is my 27th year of teaching, and this year I have the world’s sweetest class of Second Graders. They love to read and love listening to stories, so we are compiling quite a list of books shared (our Read Aloud books). We have a Read Aloud time every morning after recess, and it’s amazing how many books you can read in just 20-30 minutes a day! Here’s our list of the books we have shared during our Read Aloud time on our Reading Rug so far this year:

  1. Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola
  2. Strega Nona: Her Story, by Tomie dePaola
  3. Big Anthony: His Story, by Tomie dePaola
  4. Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons, by Tomie dePaola
  5. Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, by Tomie dePaola
  6. Strega Nona Meets Her Match, by Tomie dePaola
  7. Strega Nona Takes a Vacation, by Tomie dePaola
  8. Strega Nona’s Harvest, by Tomie dePaola
  9. The Sunflower House, by Eve Bunting
  10. Tomie dePaola, by Eric Braun
  11. Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo
  12. Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, by Kate DiCamillo
  13. Akimbo and the Elephants, by Alexander McCall Smith
  14. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen
  15. Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
  16. Blueberries For Sal, by Robert McCloskey
  17. Squanto and the Pilgrims, by A.M. Anderson
  18. Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson (Thanks, Mrs. Lux, for reading this to us at our Halloween party!)
  19. Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry
  20. Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  21. Catwings Return, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  22. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  23. Jane on her Own: A Catwings Tale, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  24. Currently reading: Helen Keller, by Margaret Davidson

Natalie Babbitt

natalie-babbitt

I am so sad to hear that Natalie Babbitt has passed away. She is one of my favorite authors and I loved reading her books aloud to my 6th grade students when I was teaching. Most people remember her as the author of Tuck Everlasting, which is a book I loved and loved to use as a unit of study in the classroom.  But my personal favorite of all her books is the hauntingly beautiful love story, The Eyes of the Amaryllis, a story about how love transcends death.

Her writing is so beautiful and her stories so honest and full of wisdom. Her books stole my heart many years ago and I loved sharing them with young people year after year. Her intelligent, beautiful, lyrical voice will be deeply missed!

Click here to read her obituary in the NY Times.

the-eyes-of-the-amaryllis

 

A School Year in Fairacre

Village School

There are a number of fictional towns I would love to move to!  During May, I spent a great deal of time enjoying the village of Fairacre while reading Village School, by Miss Read. I slowly savored the pleasure of reading about this quiet community as described through the eyes of the local school teacher. I loved the stories of the children and their families, and the teachers and their lives, and I loved becoming part of their community, if only for a while.

As a retired school teacher myself, I loved the honest portrayal of school life and a school year, and I appreciated the wry and compassionate humor of the Miss Read. Her descriptions were so true to my own experiences in the classroom. Here is one passage that perfectly describes a warm sunny afternoon in my own classroom a few years ago:

The lesson on the time-table was ‘Silent Reading’ and in various attitudes, some graceful and some not, the children sat or lay in the grass with their books propped before them. Some read avidly, flickering over the pages, their eyes scampering along the lines. But other lay on their stomachs, legs undulating, with their eyes fixed dreamily on the view before them, a grass between their lips, and eternity before them.

garden_reading

Spending time in Fairacre was a lovely experience! Fortunately, I don’t have to leave the village for quite awhile because Village School was just the first of the series and there are many more Fairacre books to read. Sounds like a lovely place to spend my summer!

Vacation Reading

 

IMG_1764

We are enjoying a beautiful, early June vacation, and early June is such a beautiful time to travel! While teaching, early June would be filled with end-of-the-school year fun and stress, busy as could possibly be. Field trips, testing, finishing units and projects, report cards, and tenderheared goodbyes. In my old school district, there are still 8.5 days of school left! But now retired, we are able to enjoy traveling at a time when temperatures are mild, hillsides are lush green, and roads not yet jammed with traveling families. Ah…the joys of retirement.

So I brought my Kindle along on the trip, and my earphones for listening to my audiobooks. I’m enjoying my traveling reading and listening, relaxing over beautiful scenery and distances with these books:

Snow_in_April

Beyond_the_Black_Stump

Wild_Mountain_Thyme

The_Forgotten_Garden

 

 

 

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World

Endurance

Photo by Frank Hurley

January 1915. One hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton‘s beautiful ship, Endurance, became completely locked in the ice of Antarctica. The story of this extraordinary expedition and the survival of the entire crew, despite being stranded for two years in one of the harshest environments in the world, is a fascinating story. All the men survived that experience because of the phenomenal leadership skills of Ernest Shackleton.

When I taught 6th grade many years ago, my teammates and I put together a January unit of study on the Shackleton story. We used Jennifer Armstrong’s book, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, as the basis of the unit, and the 6th graders became as fascinated by the story as we (the teachers) were!, It was a unit in which we focused on some very important life lessons–lessons and discussions about leadership, compassion, hope, and endurance.

So in the middle of January, I stopped everything I was doing and revisited that story in honor of my hero. I loved sharing that book and story with my students, and, if you haven’t read anything about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated ship, Endurance, I urge you to pick up one of the many books about this expedition and discover why this man is one of my heroes. There are quite a few books to choose from, but I’m very fond of the little, nicely written book I used to introduce him to young people. It is also available as an audio download through Audible.

Shackleton