The Thanksgiving Spirit in Books

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Chucho enjoying the warm fire.

As we celebrate with our families this Thanksgiving holiday I am keenly aware of the abundant life that I am living.  I am sitting in my warm and heated living room, writing on my computer, in front of a crackling fireplace sitting next to my love. The TV is on and my dogs are at my feet. My colleagues and I shared a hearty Thanksgiving potluck lunch and Mrs. Olivas made the most amazing mashed potatoes. She says the secret ingredient was goat cheese.  Yes, goat cheese!  A former parent read my post on Rambunctious Boys and gave me her son’s old books, a wonderful assortment of superhero books.  

After work I stopped by my sister’s house and they were eating dinner. My mom served me a plate even though I said I wasn’t hungry.  Ignoring my request to not be fed, she proceeded to serve me un platito, a small plate.  I looked at my mom and her need to always feed people and I thought of three year old Pari and big brother Abdullah living in an Afghan village.   Pari and Abdullah are my latest “friends” in the beautifully written book, And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I thought of Abdullah, a child himself and the immense responsibility of caring for his little sister since the death of their mother.  Remembering how Abdullah misses his mother I look at my mom and smile inwardly. I begin to eat even though I’m not hungry and feel the warmth of the home my sister has created.  On my way out I steal a kiss from my niece and nephew as I stand under their handmade mistletoe taped to the ceiling.

On my traffic filled drive home I talk to my younger brother and crack jokes. When I finally get home I am pleasantly surprised to find cheesecake and vino.  I cook dinner, shower, put on my pj’s and watch TV. My feet get cold and I put on a pair of warm booties.  I look at my booties and again think of Pari and Abdullah and how they walked barefoot in the hot desert sun.  I am then reminded of two picture books that I must read to my first graders to expand their understanding of how others live in this world: My Shoes and I and Four Feet, Two SandalsWill they relate to Mario, a boy who crosses three borders as he makes his way north to the United States or to Lina and Feroza, two girls who live in a refugee camp in Pakistan and share a pair of sandals?  I know I have had an immense sense of gratitude this week for the modern luxuries I take for granted since I started reading And The Mountains Echoed.  

I am grateful for many things. But at this very moment I am extremely grateful for my ability to read and write and the freedom to be able to share my thoughts.

I wish you and yours a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving.

 

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Interview Via Friday Night Books: The inspiration behind PINK FIRE TRUCKS

ImageIllustration of Mr. Juan Vázquez by Lina Safar

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I was recently interviewed by Jeff Botch, creator of FRIDAY NIGHT BOOKS. Here I share personal stories that crossed my path and inspired me to write PINK FIRE TRUCKS.  The writing of PINK FIRE TRUCKS and the random coincidences that have touched my life have been a true blessing. I also pay tribute to my dad, Ramon Barbieri who has always believed in me and in my dreams as well as the other father figures that have helped shape my perspective.  Thank you fathers for the wonderful lessons.

I hope you enjoy the interview and thank you Jeff Botch for the opportunity to share.

Rambunctious Boys and Little Playtime

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Last week during a math lesson in my first grade class I was very aware that the content I was covering was over their heads. The lesson objective was solving for the missing addend. Let me just say that I don’t remember learning this in Sister Agnes Marie’s first grade class. Secondly, my rambunctious little guy was obviously over this lesson and over me.  During the forty five minute lesson I had asked him to simmer down, pay attention, stop rocking on his seat, stop playing with the math manipulatives, and to change his color on the behavior chart. My rambunctious little guy sits within arm distance from me and I often reach over in the hopes that my magic tap will calm him down. Everyday my team teacher and I remind him of the importance of paying attention and doing one’s best work. This particular day I asked him what he needed from me. He looked solemnly at me with his big brown eyes and said this, “Can I have lunch recess?”  I was speechless.

Coincidently, that very day my sister sent me an article by Christina Hoff Sommers, What Schools Can Do To Help Boys Succeed.  Sommers proposes three simple changes to help boys have more success in school.

1.  Bring Back Recess

Ironically, recess is usually the first thing that is taken away from kids when they break a rule. And for a little guy who is in constant motion, running around on the playground would be more beneficial than sitting in my class with his head down. The article also points outs that 39% of first-graders get about 20 minutes of recess each day in comparison to Japanese children who get 10 minutes of play each hour. Nixing Recess: The Silly, Alarmingly Popular Way to Punish Kids advises that “research has shown that taking away recess does not make classroom behavior any better, and, in fact, it might make things worse in the case of students who are misbehaving because of an excess of energy or boredom.” How many times has my rambunctious little guy been denied the opportunity to blow off some steam? Unfortunately, too many times.

2. Turn Boys Into Readers

I love picture books and I read three different books a day to my first graders. However, the picture books that I tend to choose for read alouds are ones that I, a female teacher, find appealing. I need to get comic books because truth be told, I don’t have any in my classroom library. I also need more non fiction books and a variety of books that little boys will find appealing.  Alex Carrera, a fellow colleague has already started to think outside the box by bringing her little dogs to class to encourage her fourth grade boys to read. 

3. Work With the Young Male Imagination

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I’m not too fond of vampires, pirates and other ghoulish things. But as I’m realizing, some little boys are and I need to foster their creativity.  This past Halloween another rambunctious little guy couldn’t stop talking about monsters and scary skeletons. If it were up to him, he’d draw all day and he’s pretty talented as you can see by this picture.  Last year, I had a another little boy in my class who would rather doodle cartoon like images instead of listening intently to class lessons. Lucky for him, his mom enrolled him in an art class. He came alive when he talked about his Wednesday art classes. I was invited to attend his art class’ puppet show and it was spectacular. This little boy was a very different student than the one that showed up to my class. He was excited and engaged!

Lastly, while these articles have been eye openers, I’m not quite sure how I will move forward and implement changes in my classroom. But I do understand that my rambunctious little guy needs his playtime. Imagine when I tell him, “Go out and play. We’ll figure something out together.” Priceless.