The Mystery of the Poetry Book I Can’t Find

Post a Poem

This is so odd. I have written a few posts this month about this neat little book of poems that I bought from Scholastic Books from their catalog a month or two ago. It’s called Post This Poem. Essentially, it is a collection of 100 famous poems (or excerpts) on colorful sticky notes that you can hand out. It’s a great way to share out poetry and I used it last week with my students, who loved it.

Well, a number of teachers asked me where to find the book. You’d think it would be easy enough.

I went to Google and typed in the book title. Nothing. I went to the Scholastic book site and used its own search engine. Nothing. Amazon? Nothing. I grabbed the ISBN number, thinking: this will surely do the trick. No such luck. I got more of my nothing in Google and then an extra dose of nothing in a ISBN search engine. (This is the ISBN number: 978-0-545-46976-0 if you think you can help me out)

What is going on here?

I’m starting to think that the book is a poetic mirage of some sort, and I feel bad that I wrote about it with such glowing praise and now can’t send readers to find it. I suppose my next step is to call Scholastic directly and ask about it. But it is as if the book had vanished completely out of every system, or never existed.

Given that this is April and poetry month, this whole things deserves a poem of its own.

This book never existed –
the poems, never written –
you’re nothing but an imaginary reader
engulfed in an imaginary page
of poems you’ve stuck to your mind
as if that would help you remember
the space between the lines ….

Peace (in the mystery of the undiscovered book),

PS — seriously, though, if you have some ideas on how to find the book, can you let me know? I need to hire the Poetry Book Detective Agency.

Book Review: Chase Against Time


I’m a sucker for a teacher who writes a novel for middle school age students and if that novel revolves around the theme of music, well … you had me at music. Steve Reifman, a classroom teacher and now education consultant, wrote Chase Against Time, which follows the nearly minute-by-minute account of a fifth grader named Chase Manning as he seeks to uncover who stole the prized cello that is to be auctioned off in order to save the school’s vaunted music program. The mystery unfolds over the course of a single school day, just before vacation break.

Here, Reifman has created an environment in the school where music is seen as important as sports and other academic areas (… if only that were the case in every school). Chase, and his friends, are readying themselves for stressful auditions to make next year’s award-winning sixth grade orchestra, which is highly coveted. But the arts program is in budget trouble (reality check!), the orchestra is about to be shut down, and the auction of a valuable cello at the night’s auction event is the only thing that can save the program. So, when the cello gets stolen from the display case in the school hallway, the principal turns to Chase to follow clues as to its whereabouts before the day ends. Chase is seeking to find the cello, save the orchestra, and get through a middle school day. He’s up for the task, though.

There’s a lot to like here. The pacing is quick. Chase is an intriguing character. A missing cello, and all of the various red herrings, make for an interesting mystery story. I didn’t quite buy into all of the teacher and adult characters, though. I thought a few of them were too flat, and the resolution of the mystery itself was a little predictable.  And the grand reward that awaits Chase at the end was not quite believable, even in a fiction story. (Sorry, Steve.)

But those quibbles of my adult reader eyes doesn’t mean this book won’t be enjoyed by a few of my sixth graders, particularly those in our music program. I’m definitely passing this one on to some select students.

Reifman has done a nice job crafting a mystery story in Chase Against Time, and the use of the chapters based on class periods and minutes of the day, was effective in keeping the narrative moving along at a steady clip. It does feel a bit like the television show “24,” but without the terrorists, and it replaces danger with more of the humor and pointed politics of a school. The subtitle for the book is Chase Manning Mystery #1, so I am assuming Reifman has some other stories up his sleeve. I hope he is sharing his writing and publishing process with the teachers he works with, so he can inspire more of them to become writers, too.

Peace (in the chase),



Book Review: The Wrecking Crew


One of the secrets of the music recording industry is that for many years (and probably even into today), hired studio musicians often played the instruments on the tracks and we never knew. Nowadays, it is the producers providing samples and other layers of sound for singers to come in and lay down some vocals. But back when instruments were still played (dinosaur alert!), plenty of bands went into the studio, only to find that they could have left their guitars, bass and drums home.

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman is an eye-opener narrative about the core of studio musicians in Los Angeles during the 1960s and the start of the 1970s who provided the soundtrack to most of the rock and pop songs that became the soundtrack for the era, including bands like The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkle, the Beach Boys and more. Anchored by legendary drummer Hal Blaine and guitarist/bassist Carol Kaye and others, The Wrecking Crew completely transformed the way music was recorded and then sold the public.

This inside look into the characters who made up that scene, and the entire music industry that formed around it, is intriguing, and it reminds me a bit of the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, about the musicians in that studio known as The Funk Brothers who also played on just about every single hit coming out of Motown. It turns out that professional studio musicians were at just about every recording facility during that time period, cranking out hits while the artists were merely providing vocals.

The Wrecking Crew is a fun read and peels back the layer of how music used to get produced, and how we maybe should not quite trust our ears when we hear something on the radio.

Peace (in the studio),


Sending off “Teaching the New Writing”

I happily sealed up and mailed off a copy of our Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom yesterday to one of the many writers in the Slice of Life Challenge that took place in March over at Two Writing Teachers. The book was a gift as a prize that Stacey and Ruth were giving out to participants. It seemed the least I could do for them, giving their work in nurturing writers for the past five years of the Slice of Life Challenge.

I sent the book, and a short note, off to Barbara, who runs a blog called First Grade Delight. I hope she enjoys it and finds some useful ideas in there. As I noted in my letter to her, sometimes we are planting seeds of ideas and hoping things will take bloom, even if it happens slowly and over time. Our aim with our book was always to showcase some teachers, and provide some ideas to think about the possibilities of writing as technology becomes part of the lives of our students.

Peace (in the book),


Book Review: The Moment

As you might expect, The Moment by Smith Magazine packs a lot of emotional punch, as writers of all backgrounds relate “the moment” when everything shifted for them. What I found fascinating in this small book collection of 125 stories is how any of the moments seemed to take place during the middle school years. A comment from a teacher, a new friendship (or an old one, crumbling), a choice made (or not), a bit of advice from a parent …. in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, these events can take on monumental significance.

It reminded me again of the role I have as a teacher, particularly if those “moments” are taking place right now, in my classroom, in my presence. The students may not realize the importance of it now, but later, if they have any of the reflective abilities of the writers in this fantastic collection, they will see it clearly for what it is: a life-altering moment in which everything can change.

The online Smith Magazine has been putting out some great books lately — I still love the various Six Word Memoir collections such as Not Quite What I Was Expecting — and The Moment (billed as “the instant your life changed”) ranks right up there. I was touched at many points, and even teared up a few times. There is a raw honesty in so many of these stories, and yet, so many were of an affirming nature, too. Lots of the moments in our lives are about hardship, but also, about the ways we dealt or at least accepted these situations and moved on to better things. And people keep sharing their stories. There is a whole section of the Smith website for folks to share their own moments on the website, and they do.

From a writing standpoint, particularly for older writers, The Moment would make an excellent mentor text. The stories are short and powerful, and very accessible (although a few have more adult themes, so teachers should cull from the book, not use the entire text, in my opinion).

Peace (in the many moments),


Book Review: House of Stone

If a nonfiction book is a vessel of memory and an heirloom of stories from the author to the world, then journalist Anthony Shadid has created something magical with House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East. Shadid, who won Pulitzer Prizes awards for his reporting with newspapers including The New York Times, took a leave of absence from his work in order to return to his ancestral home in Lebanon, and then, he decides his mission during this year off from reporting is to return the run-down home into its former glory. House of Stone recants Shadid’s efforts to reconnect with his family’s roots, in part for his daughter and in part for himself.

But House of Stone is after something larger, too. It’s also the story of the Middle East, and how war and uncertainty (and even the echoes of the Ottoman Empire) make for difficult living for anyone in Lebanon, and Shadid’s eye for detail and for character are put to good use as he works with locals and distant family members. The house connects them all to the past, when honor and trust and community were the fabric of the small town where Shadid’s family hailed from (before mostly immigrating to Oklahoma). His writing shifts between the modern-day efforts to get his house built, and a historical narrative of his family tree. Toggling back and forth, Shadid creates a masterful mosaic that invites you in to the story and even the planting of an olive tree doesn’t seem forced (he plants it for his daughter).

And yet, reading this book is sad, too, because you remember that Shadid died recently from an asthma attack even as he was in his role as a journalist, covering the Middle East in the middle of the violence, as he was apt to do. Still, his book is a gift, if not of full understanding of the Middle East for westerners like me, then at least House of Stone provides a glimpse into the world beyond the headlines, beyond the bombs, and into the lives of regular folks who yearn for peace and for the way things used to be. Shadid’s book reminds of us some Universal Truths about people — we all want stability and we all want a better future for our children — and so Shadid’s writingis indeed a welcome journey to be on. (See this multimedia remembrance of Shadid.)

Peace (among the homes),

Book Review: Surviving the Applewhites

Contrived is the word that kept lingering in my mind as I read Surviving the Applewhites. I didn’t want that to be the word in my head but I couldn’t shake it off. Everything about this novel just seemed forced to me — from the main character juvenile delinquent who “finds his true self” when he is sent to a non-traditional “school” run by the nutty Applewhite family, to the plot device of the production of a musical that brings the whole family and assorted hangers-on together.

Normally, I would have given up on the book early and moved on to something better. But this book was presented to every sixth grader in our school district at a recent Literacy Event (in which the author came to talk) and at a school meeting the other day, some of the folks who planned the event at our high school (which was running the whole thing as part of a regional Community Read) were touting what a great book it was and how their own students could not stop reading it. OK, so maybe this is one of those books where my own interests as a reader diverge from the interests of my students.

But I don’t think so.

I mean, I wanted to like Surviving the Applewhites (a Newbery Honor Book, apparently) by Stephanie Tolan. I really did. I wanted to know that the book that I was putting into their hands (the kids who did not go to the literacy event got their books on Friday so I was in the role of “book deliverer”) would keep them engaged for the coming week of vacation. I have my doubts.

The thing is, the premise of the story has great merit. When Jake Semple is introduced — following yet another expulsion and a deep history of bad behavior — you think, now here is an interesting character. But Tolan goes all wishy-washy on us, and forces the “change” in Jake that allows him to soften. If you know any tough kids in your life, you know it takes more than a dog wagging its tale and a little kid tagging along with them to change. I just couldn’t buy it.

And the Applewhite family, along with having too many characters to first keep track of, is full of stereotypes, so much so that when we learn that spiritual Swami is arriving soon at the house, I just shook my head and knew he would be a gentle soul who would probably offer a sense of calm in the midst of chaos, and maybe introduce them to Indian food. Bingo. That all happened.

The biggest disappointment, for me, was E.D. — the smart Applewhite daughter whose narrative voice forms the other arc of the story (in counter to Jake’s). Here is this girl who thrives on order living in a family of nuts, and there is so much Tolan could have done to flesh out this wonderful thinker …. instead, she is handed the reins as play manager. Oh, E.D. — you deserved so much more!

In the back of my mind, what I was really thinking was: why didn’t our school district choose Wonder by RJ Palacio as the book to hand out? Now, there is a book that would change lives and alter perceptions and get kids talking.

Peace (in the reading),


Book Review: Chomp

There’s been a lot of interest in the book that has been sitting on my desk the past week or two. Carl Hiaasen is a hit with my sixth graders (and we read Flush as a class novel). When Chomp came in, they kids huddled around the desk, and each day, I have this one girl asking me, “Are you done yet?” (One other student could not wait and downloaded it to her Kindle). Others periodically came up and looked it over with eager eyes.

Yep. I am done, and just in time to pass it off for her to read on school vacation next week.

Chomp is very familiar terrain for Hiaasen fans, and that’s not a bad thing.

Set in the Everglades, with an environmental theme and plenty of humor, Chomp tells the story of a boy named Wahoo Cray (and his friend, Tuna) whose family of “animal wranglers” is hired to help film an episode of an adventure television show that goes completely whacky and out of control. The star of the television show (think of all of those wilderness programs) models himself as a Crocodile Dundee sort of character (complete with fake Australian accent), but only for the camera. His lack of street smarts with animals is the cause of much hijinks, and Hiaasen uses the opportunity to poke fun at so-called Reality Television.

The book begins with Wahoo’s father (his mother is in China, trying to earn money as a language teacher to pay their mortgage) getting a concussion after a lizard falls out of the tree and bonks him on the head. Tuna (a girl) joins up with Wahoo and his father because she is on the run from her father, who is violent and a drunk with a gun, and out to find her.

Mix all of those pieces and characters together with the wildness and unpredictability of the Everglades, and you get a novel that is fun to read. I still think that Flush is the better book. The pacing of Chomp felt uneven to me, and I didn’t connect with Wahoo as much as I did with Noah in Flush. But Hiaasen has his formula: a boy and a girl rising to the occasion to save animals or some environmental issue, while at the same time, mending some fissure of their families, with ample does of humor.

A nice little bonus in the book I got is a fake “magazine” in which Hiaason interviews the adventure show host in the aftermath of the adventure.  It’s a (excuse me here as I reference Hiassen one more time) hoot to read.

Peace (in the ‘glades),


Graphic Book Review: Smile

I loved Smile. This graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier is so nicely done that it’s hard to know where to begin. The non-fictional story of Raina herself as a sixth grader, whose teeth are are severely damaged in a running accident, unfolds at a perfect pace and through her artwork and storytelling, we come to care for Raina as she dives into adolescence marked by dental surgery.

Of course, Smile is more than that.

It’s also the story of a girl trying to fit in, trying to make sense of shifting friendships, dealing with the pain of periodic surgery, surviving an earthquake, and worrying all the time of how her looks (with braces, and with fake teeth, and more) might make her so different that she will never be accepted as a regular kid. Oh, and throw in a mad crush on an older boy who barely notices her, and you have a “coming of age” graphic novel that is very touching and compassionate.

What works so well is Telgemeier’s writing and art, as they come together with wisdom and lead us in the end not to some dramatic moment or plot twist, but instead, to the understanding that our path through life takes us in many directions, and leads us towards many friendships (some that last, some that don’t), and we need to keep our head up, stay positive, and smile.

I can’t wait to put Smile into the hands of some of my girl readers. They are going to love it.

Peace (with a big fat grin),

PS — Smile began as a serial webcomic by Telgemeier and it is still available online. I prefer the book format.

PSS — On a personal note, my youngest son fell on some rocks in Maine two years ago and we are still dealing with the dental aftermath of that accident. The story here connected with our experience, even though he is still quite young. It was interesting, though, how Raina’s story resonated with ours. And she came out smiling. He has, too. (but it has cost us a pretty penny and will continue, too.)