Tuesday, September 29, 2009


There is a legend surrounding the bumblebee. Quite simply, its wing size in proportion to its body size makes flight impossible. But like the bumblebee, there are people who find ways to make the impossible possible each and every day; whether they soar above their surroundings, or simply refuse to believe that their future is somehow anchored to its foundation, however shaky it may be. Like the bumblebee, some find a way to soar all on their own. Even more often some will find their wings with the help of others.

Two very different books tell the stories of characters that refuse to settle for anything less than that which their heart desires. In “Adios Oscar: A Butterfly Fable”, by Peter Elwell, a curious caterpillar eagerly anticipates his metamorphosis after a brief encounter with a Monarch butterfly. With the help of a bookworm, Oscar’s excitement is fueled by research into the Monarchs’ annual migration to Mexico. Oscar’s eventual flight, however, is around the porch light, rather than over the continent, as his destiny makes him a moth, not a butterfly. Refusing to accept that which seems inevitable, Oscar dares to dream “What if…” and like the Monarchs, Oscar makes the journey of a lifetime.

Kate DiCamillo’s latest work, “The Magician’s Elephant” weaves a tale of unwavering hope and steady resolve. Peter Augustus Duchene, a 10 year old orphan, has never stopped thinking of the sister lost to him many years before. Despite evidence to the contrary, Peter has held out hope that this sister, long thought dead, is somewhere, waiting. With little to go on but the word of a street market fortune teller, Peter embarks on a quest that will shake his foundation, as he asks “What if..?” DiCamillo is a master storyteller. Her magical manipulation of language, combined with Yoko Tanaka’s effective drawings will not disappoint readers.

Like the bumblebee, both Oscar and Peter refused to be defined by their station in life. As a teacher, this is a message I hope to impart to my students. What appear to be obstacles, once recognized, can be overcome. Whether it is a math problem, a science concept, an essay, or a fork in the road, questions should be asked; the “what ifs…” should be explored. And like Oscar, with a little help, flight is most definitely possible.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I am doing what I love

The annual 10-day shuffle took place yesterday. Principals across our district count heads and make phone calls in an effort to sync enrollment projections with actual enrollment. A lot is riding on these numbers, including teaching positions. Classrooms with low numbers take on students from other classrooms where numbers are higher. Combination classes are created. Teachers’ grade level assignments are switched. Fragile new bonds with colleagues and students are stretched; sometimes even severed. So, after spending countless summer days preparing for a year of teaching sixth grade writing, as of Tuesday I will be teaching fifth grade Social Studies and Science. But I am doing what I love.

Ramon is reminded that doing what he loves is important in “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds. Reynolds’ simple, yet evocative line drawings tell Ramon’s story. Harsh words uttered without much forethought by an older brother lead to discouragement and dejection, while an encouraging act of kindness and appreciation by a younger sister strikes a chord. Realizing that his work has value because he is following his heart, Ramon once again embraces that which he loves.

Shortly before they packed up their textbooks and walked out of our classroom for the last time, I shared Ramon’s story with my sixth grade charges. It was my final chance to instill in them a love of creativity and to let them know that I believe in them. And like Ramon, I want them to remember that they have a voice worth hearing, if they remember to follow their hearts.