Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World


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.


A Bridge for Passing


How quickly, in one instant, years of happy life become only memories!

A Bridge for Passing, by Pearl S. Buck, was an interesting  end for my 2014 reading year. Buck is a favorite author of mine, and I read her books slowly, absorbing her words and wisdom, enjoying the beauty of her prose.

TheBigWaveI hadn’t heard of this book before, but when I saw the description of it, I knew it was my next read by her. One of my all time favorites of her books is The Big Wave, a story about life and death and what it means to be Japanese. I loved sharing it with my 6th grade students when I was teaching and we were studying the Pacific Rim countries. The discussions were so powerful. A Bridge for Passing is a memoir of the time when Buck was in Japan for the filming of The Big Wave. She had written the screenplay. During that time, she received word of the death of her husband, Richard Walsh. Her experiences in Japan at such a sad and difficult time provided solace and perspective, and became a “bridge” into her new life alone without her beloved husband. What an interesting experience to read this poignant book about grief and renewal, with its fascinating connection to another book I love!


Leo Lionni

We’ve had a month of dark foggy days, and this week our gray rainy days will return. It’s early-January winter! I am reminded of a favorite book, read aloud many times in my classroom[s] over the years, and it brightened this gray winter morning to pull it off my shelf and re-read it.


Frederick, by Leo Lionni, is about a group of mice gathering food for the winter. All are busy except for Frederick, who seems to be sitting on a rock in the sunshine doing nothing. But he IS doing something…he is collecting sun rays and colors and words. Later, in the middle of the dark, cold winter, when the food is scarce and the spirits are low, Frederick begins to tell the mice his stories. He weaves his memories of sunshine and colors into beautiful words which warm the hearts and lifts the spirits of his fellow mice. He is a storyteller and a poet!


A Thanksgiving Audiobook: The Wizard of Oz


I am having so much fun listening to the audiobook version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, narrated by the incredibly talented Anne Hathaway! It was already on my listening wishlist, when Audible offered it to me free as a Thanksgiving gift. (If you’d like to listen to a 28-minute excerpt from the book, click here.)

This book was one of my favorite yearly read-alouds when I was teaching. I’m missing those favorites now that I’m retired, so thought that I could give myself a gift of listening to someone else read it to me. Little did I know that Anne Hathaway, with her passionate love for character and acting, would be my reader. I love Audible for gifting me this audiobook, and I’m loving Anne’s fun-filled, energy-packed interpretation of L.Frank Baum’s wonderful words!

Overwhelmed, but still reading…


Life in fast motion…

My life right now is an interesting combination of a rushing blur of activity interspersed with stop-motion moments of beautiful, crystal clarity. My husband and I are preparing to retire at the end of this month and move to our beautiful new old home in Oregon. Making that happen is an enormous undertaking while finishing up our careers, selling our condo, and saying “goodbye” to dear friends and colleagues. OVERWHELMED is an understatement. But it’s all good, [our mantra throughout this time of stress] and we are excited and looking forward to beginning this new stage of life.

So, although life is crazy-busy right now, I am still reading (little bits at a time), and listening, and reading aloud to my Second Graders. Here are the reading delights of the last month:


Today’s topic for The Estella Society’s bookish photo-a-day challenge is “Readalong.” My sweet Second Grade students have recently finished their first ‘readalong.’ Our project was a whole-class sharing of the Newbery Honor Award book, The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgleish. They did a wonderful job taking turns reading aloud, participating in class discussions [I was impressed by their insights], and working with a partner on assignments and activities. I could tell they enjoyed the book because they keep talking about it and I’ll occasionally hear them say, “That was just like in Sarah Noble”…


#EstellaGram – 19 “Readalong”

Virtual Advent Tour: December Celebrations, again!


Mandala colored by my 2nd grader…

Spending the month of December in a classroom is magical. Energy level is heightened. Children are excited. They work with an intensity that is wonderful to see. They can also be extra wiggly, off-task, and somewhere in dreamland! But this is my 27th year of spending such Decembers with a large group of young ones, and I love it. It really feels like the HOLIDAY season!

Our classroom December is spent with lots of poetry, art, and music. Everything is centered around our study of Families of the World and their cultural traditions. We read, we research, we share information learned. We watch films of families from every continent (except Antarctica!), we memorize poems about the holidays, we decorate our room with lots of color and light. And then, just before school gets out for Winter Break, we invite our parents to come to the classroom and celebrate it all with a “Heritage Feast” with delicious tastes of family favorites and foods from many different cultures.

So for this year’s Virtual Advent Tour (thanks to Kelly and Marg), I’d like to share with you two heartfelt holiday treasures — The poem my students memorize and recite every December, AND a video of one of the most inspiring groups of children (and their incredibly gifted music teacher) performing “Let Their Be Peace on Earth.”

To each of you, from whichever tradition you celebrate, I wish you a joyous, light-filled December, and a very Happy Holiday Season!

December Celebrations!

Every year at just this time,
In cold and dark December,
Families around the world,
All gather to remember.
With presents and with parties,
With feasting and with fun.
Customs and traditions,
For people old and young.
So every year around the world,
In all lands and all nations,
People of all ages love,
December Celebrations!

(by Helen H. Moore)

From the chorus of PS22 in Staten Island, New York:  Their version of the beautiful song, “Let Their Be Peace on Earth.”