Greek mythology is intricately woven into our daily lives. We name days of the week, months and celestial bodies after the gods and goddesses. We speak a language where many words are derived from the names of characters in those familiar myths. So it isn’t crazy to think we know those old stories pretty well, right?

I’m going to have to admit ignition so much of the mythology that I thought I knew. What I know are the most popular and famous stories that end up repeated in movies and alluded to in books. A lot of the things I thought I knew were partial truths, and for a book nerd like me, that’s hard to admit.

The good news is there is a cure for ignorance….reading! So I’m reading George O’Connor’s Olympians series.

  • Zeus – King of the Gods
  • Athena – Grey-Eyed Goddess
  • Hera – The Goddess and Her Glory
  • Hades – Lord of the Dead
  • Poseidon – Earth Shaker
  • Aphrodite – Goddess of Love
  • Ares – Bringer of War
  • Apollo – The Brilliant One
  • Artemis – Wild Goddess of the Hunt
  • Hermes – Tales of the Trickster

The school owns the whole set except for Hermes, it’s too new, so I’ve decided to educate myself on the great but imperfect Olympians.

I have read up to Ares, though I plan to finish the books today. Each book not only explains the origins of the highlighted god, it also shows their personality through interactions with the other Olympians. The stories also include side stories, like Athena helping Perseus defeat Medusa or Hera’s vendetta against Heracles. 

I like that O’Connor thoroughly explained how it all started, with Gaea and Oranos, then Kronos taking over and Zeus’s eventual coup with the help of his brothers Hades and Poseidon. O’Connor repeats parts of the story in each story as necessary.

The pages of the books are numbered because O’Connor gives us Geek Notes (with an ‘R’ added to make them Greek Notes) that explain his graphic panels. He uses a lot of historical, literary and artistic references and most of us would just miss them. His author’s notes also are worth reading, as he takes the time to explain why he designed the characters and pursued their stories as he did. He also makes sure to tell us when there are contradictions in the myriads of stories.

I really appreciated the family trees in the front on each book – I referred to them a lot! The other thing I love are his character pages that give specs on each leading character, not just the gods, goddesses and heroes.

I can see why my students love this series. It’s a nice companion to the Rick Riordan books and all the other Olympian-based fiction on the shelves.


Shocking Science

I love history but I also love science. The good news is that with today’s book, I don’t have to choose, I can have both!

Shocking Science by Steve Parker and illustrated by John Kelly wasa Thrift Store Score the other day. It’s subtitle is 5,000 years of mishaps and misunderstandings. It’s not lying. Parker  manages to cover a huge amount of scientific history in a concise and humorous manner. 

Topics in the book span creation theories, world exploration, space travel, fossils, invasive species, alchemy, engineering failures, medicine and accidents that led to great discoveries. These aren’t all the topics, only about half. Each topic gets a two-page layout with 5 to 6 paragraphs that discuss the topic from different times and parts of the world.

I’m glad I found this book. I’m wondering if it was part if a set. A lot of nonfiction books are published with half a dozen books linked by a similar theme. I’ll have to look this one up.

Cracked Corn and Snow Ice Cream

Every year I teach Reference books to 4th grade. Most may not have seen a dictionary – I’m not joking, or a thesaurus, and they think of encyclopedias as “Google, but in a book.” Some have never looked at a road map so an atlas is a new concept too. But I can show them physical copies of each of these items and they get the idea. He last type of reference book is an almanac. I can explain until I’m blue in the face about needing to know when it’s best to plant, and when to expect rain, but for the most part, it’s just not something we typically use in our technological age.

I don’t buy the yearly Farmers Almanac because they aren’t cheap, they aren’t super durable and there just aren’t that many kids concerned about when the tides will change.

But yesterday, I made a Thrift Store Score with this book:

I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not for a specific year so it can’t really become outdated. Second, it’s hardbound, so it will last awhile on my shelves. Third, it gives me a physical copy to show students during lessons, and fourth, it’s just old-timey country goodness.

Besides the monthly advice there are little tidbits scattered throughout the book like HowTo Find Your True Love:

  • Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. If you don’t swallow it, you’ll be married within the year.
  • Set a silent supper late at night, taking care to do everything backward. Keep perfectly silent. Take your seat backward and at the stroke of midnight you will see the face of your true love.
  • Count Fifty white horses as you see them, and a white mile. Your groom will be the first unmarried man you shake hands with afterward.

This book is so fun, I can’t wait to show it to one history-loving teacher in particular. Of course, that’s after I read the whole thing!

Separate but Unequal 

This year for Teacher Appreciation, one of the greatest Mother/Daughter duos that I’ve had the privilege to work with gave me the book Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper. Draper’s name should be familiar to my followers, as she is the author of Out of My Mind, one of my all-time top 3 middle grade books. I’ve shared about it in previous entries, probably more than once.

Stella By Starlight is nothing like Out of My Mind, but it was a very touching story in its own way.

The story is set in 1932 in the town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. Bumblebee is a segregated town. There are two schools, one white-one black, two doctors, one white-one black, and two neighborhoods, one white-one black. There are townspeople who do not follow the segregation laws, but for the most part the town is split in two based on the colors of the citizens’ skin.

Stella is like any average girl, she has to deal with school work – she hates writing, a younger brother who sometimes bugs her, and is sometimes her best friend, family life and friends (maybe even liking boys.)

But Stella has other things that factor into her everyday life. She has to, in a limited way, interact with people who only see her skin color. She knows not to speak out of turn, or look many white people in the eye. The two sides of town have an uneasy peace, but one night Stella and her brother see a burning cross on the other side of the pond. The Ku Klux Klan has reemerged in their tiny town.

The 1930s were not any easy time for most Americans, race issues aside. The Great Depression had left many people out of work and struggling to take care of their families. It was not hard for groups like the KKK to capitalize on people’s fears and insecurities. 

In such a time of turmoil, men like Stella’s father chose to stand up for their right to vote, wanting a say in who would hopefully bring the country out of the Depression. Draper wrote a tense scene where three African American men stood up for themselves and registered to vote. Draper is not shy about telling young readers about the inconsistencies in the “rules”. Stella’s father and his friends must take a test proving they can recite the preamble to the Constitution, answer questions on American history and so forth. The white man who conducted the test could barely read, a detail that Stella was quick to see. The men must use peaceful resistance to accomplish their goal but they finally do.

It would be nice to say that the men only had to face the farcical test to register to vote and then after proving themselves to be upstanding citizens, they were seen as equals in Bumblebee. Unfortunately, they brought the wrath of the KKK down on the “colored” side of the community. These white men were cowardly enough to burn down a man’s home while he, his wife and their 13 children were inside. The Klan wasn’t satisfied with endangering innocent lives in the fire though. Stella’s friend is beaten mercilessly in broad daylight when he attempts to stand up for Stella when she is accused of being a thief.

Stella’s eyes are opened up to the craziness of the world around her, and in discovering the realities of life for a African American in segregated America, she discovers an inner strength she never knew she had. That inner strength is fostered by her community of friends and family and she becomes so much more than she thought possible. 

This story would be a great read-aloud for middle grade students. It not only teaches readers that separate is never equal, but it shows quite clearly that the prejudices of many were not held by all. Sadly, segregation continued legally into the 1960s in America, and I’m sure in some ways it still exists. The only was to stop such history from being repeated is to teach our children the truth.

 We promise to teach you, and to guide you. Each of you is a David, and you will face many Goliaths in life. The job of adults is to prepare you. And we will.

Fish Girl

Caldecott Award winning illustrator David Wiesner has teamed up with Donna Jo Napoli to tell the story of the Fish Girl.

Fish Girl lives in an aquarium by the sea. She lives with her friends the fish, a special octopus and Neptune, King of the Sea. Neptune runs the aquarium, putting on shows, and he protects Fish Girl. He has told her that she is the last of her kind, that they must hide for her safety. She must play peek-a-boo with the visitors to make them wonder, did they really see her?

But living the way is lonely, even Neptune goes home at night. One night a chance to make a real friend is too hard for Fish Girl to resist.

Fish Girl and Livie form a kind of friendship, though Fish Girl can’t leave the water or even talk. Becoming Livie’s friend helps Fish Girl find an inner strength; one night she climbs out of her tank! Livie also plants seeds of doubt about Neptune. Fish Girl leaves her tank again only to discover that there are legs hidden within her tail!

Fish Girl’s world is quickly swirling out of control. Not only can she walk, she learns the truth about Neptune: is is just a man, and so she vows to escape but not until she frees her friends. 

The story comes to a climax when “Neptune” discovers Livie and Fish Girl together. He sends Livie away with veiled threats to Fish Girl if Livie tells anyone about her. Fish Girl can take no more! She shows him her legs and her dear old friend Octopus saves her, in fact there is more to Octopus than meets the eye.

Mira, as Livie named Fish Girl, is free. Her future is uncertain though. Weisner gives us a hint that she may find happiness on the dry land with Livie, but as a true storyteller, he lets us write our own ending in our imagination.

Hazy Bloom

I am reading every day in preparation for the class about what’s new in children’s literature that I’m teaching (?) in July. Today I read the first book in a new series about a third grade girl named Hazy Bloom. 

Girls in 2nd and 3rd grade are going to love Hazy. For real live. (Hazy says that. A lot.) one night Hazy sees something odd: a vision of flying peas….?

Yeah, I’d be confused too. But the next day there’s a food fight at lunch and it all starts with some flying peas. Hazy’ best friend realizes this is a superpower, and therefore must be kept secret. Except that the visions are starting to get Hazy in trouble and she can’t explain because it’s a secret.

Her week goes from bad to worse with the visions keeping her from helping her friend win a cupcake competition and having to bunk with her brother while her quirky aunt visits.

Hazy finally gets a handle on things and the visions help her save the day. She even starts to feel closer to her Aunt Jenna, who always seems to have just the right thing for Hazy when she needs it….like maybe Hazy isn’t the only one in the family with tomorrow power.

This story was a fun read with cute pictures and language that sound authentic to third grade girls. Like I said, this will be a popular series with them. I don’t know if book two is out yet, but I’m definitely going to watch for it!

🎶School’s out for summer!🎶

Finally! Summer break is here! It’s time to close up classrooms and mournfully think of our former students all summer long….yeah, right! Teachers love summer break as much as kids, so you’d better believe we celebrate when the last day comes.

This story is actually about the hijinks teachers get up to on regular school nights but I thought it was fitting for today. The book has dancing, food fights and a science experiment gone wrong, but we usually save that stuff for winter break.

Yes, we do finish up cleaning and organizing our classrooms, and we do think fondly of our former students, but we’re also planning ahead to how we’ll spend the time until next fall.

Our school always has a final get together. Today we honored staff who were moving away, retiring or leaving us to continue their education. We laugh and we cry, and we relax.

I have a temporary summer job at the public library, and I need to prepare to be the speaker at a what’s new in children’s literature class later this summer. 

I also have project ideas!!! I am going to make giant truffula trees (The Lorax) for my Seuss area, a 3D Taj Mahal puzzle to construct for my English as a Second Language shelf and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as summer goes on.

I’m pretty excited for the free time but guess what I’m most excited about?!? Sleeping in for a week before my summer job starts. Hope your summer is awesome!