The public library and I disagree on what constitutes exemplary borrowing behavior.  A couple of weeks before school was out, I rounded up all of the government-related books I had taken out this semester and hauled them in to my neighborhood library.  One by one, I emptied the contents of my overflowing bag into the return slot and felt immensely pleased with myself for finally having completed this to-do list item that I had at least partially intended to do every day for the better part of a month.  Anybody observing the great quantity of books I was returning would surely categorize me as a fantastic library patron.  The librarian, however, disagreed.
             I filled my bag again with a load of titles grabbed somewhat indiscriminately from the shelves on the assumption that of all of the Patricia Polacco books in my pile, certainly one of them would be perfect for the next week’s reading comprehension lesson.  Walking up to the counter to check out, I was still quite smug about having cleared my record of all obligations to this institution, and was optimistic that the new pile would not take nearly as long to return.
            “You can’t take out any books”  the librarian informed me. 
“Oh.  But how could that possibly be?” I inquired.  “Didn’t you see how many books I just returned?  I’m clearly very good at this.”
            “You have three missing books”  she said.
            “You must have me mistaken for someone else” I told her.  “I just brought back a sizeable quantity.  Whatever books you claim are missing are right there.  See?”  I proceeded to rifle through the spines on the “to shelve” cart next to the counter.
            “Nope.  You are still missing three books.  They are not here.  And one costs eighty dollars.  And you can take out no more books.”

            Defeated, I put the collected works of Patrica Polacco back on the shelf and walked out, vowing to never return.  Or to look harder for the missing books.  Or to never return.  One of those two.  How did a forty-page children’s book possibly cost eighty bucks?  And why was she so obstinately failing to recognize that ending up with only three books missing was an achievement

            Monday at school, I put out a call for the missing books, hoping for some assistance from twenty-four sets of alert eyes.  Even the most discrete parent/teacher/closet handoff of birthday cupcakes never escapes their notice and I was hoping to capitalize on some of that careful surveillance to find the keys to my borrowing future at the library.  Should I, in fact, decide to ever return. 
            The all-call was immediately fruitful.  It turned out that the book Trevor had borrowed to read at home was the eighty-dollar one.  Jackpot.  Another of the liabilities turned up in my ever-growing desk pile of papers, transparencies, books, and more papers.  The third….well….it did not turn up.  It is perhaps under one of the kids’ beds at home, in another teacher’s classroom, in my ever-growing home office pile (though I managed to perform a careful inventory of this pile without reducing its size by so much as one piece of junk mail), or has evaporated into thin air. 
Despite the one still-outstanding book, though, I strode into the library today, once again quite pleased with myself for another feat of book-returning prowess.  I knew that having found these two missing items meant I was a fantastic library patron.
“Look at how awesome I am!” I declared to the librarian this afternoon as I produced the two missing books.  This was a different librarian today and I was pleasantly surprised to find him much more able to understand just how excellent are my returning abilities. 
“You are clearly very good at this”  he said. 
“There’s still one book missing….” I admitted, waiting for a scolding, or to hear that this one cost something on the scale of a college textbook rather than the scale of something written for small people with sticky hands.
“Do you want to keep looking for it?” he asked.  “If by that you mean ‘Pretend it never existed and have a great summer,’ then yes!  I do!” I replied.
And so it is with a sense of great accomplishment that I report that during the course of this entire school year, throughout our studies of plants, rocks, and government, through read-alouds and comprehension strategies, I only lost ONE BOOK from the public library.  You teachers out there understand.  I would like a ribbon.

Charge It


Somewhere in this whirlwind end of the school year, I saw my first class of third graders at this school head off to high school, and marveled with my current class about how they've changed over the last two years.  From their first day pictures in second grade to their end of third grade pictures, front teeth sprouted, faces changed, and glasses appeared.

Third grade was the first time they had been part of the school dance competition.  You know you're growing up when you put on your best suit and stand in dance position, waiting for the music to start so you can Merengue your little behind off to win first prize.  Being able to finally join in the competition with the big kids is a much anticipated milestone, often included in end of year letters of advice to incoming third graders.

Third grade was also the first year of standardized testing.  All that bubbling means you're really mature now.  They also know how to multiply and write at least somewhat in cursive.    

They TEXT each other.  And by this age, they even have credit cards!  Well.  Sort of.

Last week, we were starting to clean out their group boxes and send work home when I found a card lying on the ground.  "Whose is this?" I asked.  Brittany spoke up.  "Oh!  That's my credit card."

Not ready to let her friend claim that much maturity, Keanna interrupted to set the record straight.  "No--it ain't a credit card.  It's a library card.  You just go get books from there."

So maybe they're not yet old enough to charge it, but my kids are off to fourth grade!  But first....summer!

The Captain of Karate

Sitting down to craft an end-of-the-year compliment about every other student in the class is no easy task.  What if you can't think of anything specific?  What if there's some bad blood between you and one of your classmates?  What do you write when you get to your own name?  And perhaps most importantly, how can you heavily influence what others write about you

If you ever find yourself in a similar position or have to write a short note on a card for a co-worker you don't particularly like, take some tips from the third graders and their compliments this year.  You will surely leave the recipients feeling as warm and fuzzy as I did when Alonzo said this about me!

What if you can't think of anything specific?
   No problem.  "You're awesome" can work in any and all situations.  Kid you don't really work with too often?  "You're awesome!"  Want to get done quickly so you can play a math game?  Just "You're awesome!" your way down the page and you'll be done in no time.  Also consider applying "super duper" and multiple exclamation points to any adjective to fancy it up and make it seem more personalized.  "You're super duper smart!!!
  I did encourage everyone to try to think of something specific to really make a great compliment.  Some turned out to be extremely specific.  "You are good at drawing ducks."  Yes, well that pinpoints exactly where that person's talents lie, now doesn't it?

What if you have to write something nice about someone you don't like all that much?  
   It's OK to tell it like it is.  Pull out the one nicest think you can think of and then make use of those conjunctions.  "Maya plays with me but sometimes we fight." "Bryan is very nice but we argue a lot.  Like all the time."
  Another option in this situation is to affix, "in a good way" after whatever else you want to say.  "Sebastian is crazy in a good way" sounds completely positive.

What categories might help me generate compliments?
   Sure, the teacher might suggest school-related categories such as academic strengths, stand-out performance in drama class or in P.E., kindness, or classroom jobs.  Don't limit yourself to those.  Consider hair styles as well as height in your brainstorming.  "You have good hairdos."  "You are the tallest in the class."
Who's Awesome?  You're Awesome!
   Or think of those times when there's a loud clang and everyone turns to see that something with 400 pieces has just toppled over.  "Owen helps people when stuff falls down."  Done and done.

  What do you do when you get to your own name?
   Simple--you can write whatever you want and it will sound like everyone in the class thinks this about you.  "Jaden is very handsome and smart at division."  You know, I hear Jaden is quite smart at division.  "Makayla is me and sometimes I help people with their work."  "(I wrote it myself.)  You draw beautifully."

How do you ensure that everyone mentions how good you are at karate?
  Play it cool.  Wait until the teacher asks for strengths that classmates might have to help with the brainstorming process.  Keep waiting while other kids suggest thinking of who really stands out at art, vocabulary, sweeping the classroom, or math.  Casually mention some category you just happened to think of that is actually the thing you like most in the world: karate.  Third graders are extremely susceptible to suggestions. 
  Selected compliments from Jackson's list:

Jackson is good at karate.
You're a great friend and good at karate.
You are like a karate master.
Jackson is a good karate person.  He might be the captain of karate.
You're good at karate.
Jackson has the best karate skills.
Jackson knows a lot of karate.
Jackson is awesome at karate!
Jackson is very cool at karate.  He's like a ninja.

To read more compliments, both the genuine and the backhanded, check out the haul from previous years here.  Or here.  Or here.

Meet Fart--er, uh, Frank

In a recent story I was editing, Charles had chosen some names for his characters that he seemed to think were Pretty Dang Hilarious.  His editor, however, did not think they were Pretty Dang Hilarious, but rather Borderline Inappropriate.

I wasn't quite sure, though, where bathroom-related character names ranked on the Elementary School Scale of Hilarity, so I decided to break out the official scale to consult and to perhaps augment.

Fart Noises: Ultra Hilarious

Let's see....Charles' character names would certainly rank less amusing than fart noises.  I mean, nothing tops that.

Continuing to Make Fart Noises After the Other Kids at your Table have Stopped and You Don't Realize the Teacher is Staring at You and then Realizing: NOT Hilarious

Actually Farting: NOT Hilarious, except when it is Ultra Hilarious

Picking One's Nose: NOT Hilarious

But they'd definitely be more hilarious than nose picking.

FAKE-Picking One's Nose: Ultra Hilarious

Songs with the Lyrics, "BUTT-butt-butt-butt, BUTT-butt-butt-butt": Hilarious

Burping: Moderately Hilarious

Ah, yes.  Perhaps this fits more along the lines of a good, audible burp.  So now a little insertion for the 2011 revised edition of the Scale.

Story Characters Named Fart, Stink, and Poo:  Pretty Dang Hilarious

After a little chat about changing the names, Charles came up with some that he figured would pass muster.
photo by Quadrajet at Worth1000.com

"Let's see..." I assume he thought.  "Fart will become Frank, Frank being the most serious and appropriate name I can think of.  Oh--and Stink will turn into Sasha.  Can't argue with that one."

The character of Poo was eliminated completely.

I am sure, though, that whenever Charles reads the story to himself, he'll be inserting the original character names.  I mean, Fart, Stink, and Poo are Pretty Dang Hilarious, after all.

We are NOT Joking Around, Here

This summer I have been getting lots of advice on the impending baby situation that will be happening this fall.   Highlights of this advi...