Tuesdays – Review Day – YIKES!

Today is Review Tuesday. According to my poll TV and movie reviews were much more popular with my voters than books.  Since today is the first day of my Tuesday schedule I thought I ‘d start out by showing you my page on Book Reviews because many people don’t click on pages, but some of you have commented on my organization.  I’m an organized mess – not a Hot Mess, Ralph!  Though not a professional reviewer, I was an elementary teacher then an instructional consultant so I’ve read lots and lots of books, and I continue to read when I’m not writing.  I taught reading and writing to both students and adults for over 25 years.  Currently I post reviews on Amazon as well as on my blog.  If you hate reviews, just stop here and press like, or comment on something else!  hahaha  (I haven’t lost my sense of humor!)

I apologize ahead of time – I approach most books, TV and movies from the standpoint of how they would work either for students or teachers, especially in this era of Common Core Standards.  Fun books I usually read for fun, not review.  Regarding books by blogging friends, I do make an exceptions sometimes often. So if you are a writer/blogger and want me to review your book, feel free to email me at tchistorygal@gmail.com.

It’s my hope that you’ll enjoy my reviews, and they will encourage you or your friends to read the book or see the movie or show.  I am also working on a Resource Page since there are many fine bloggers, whom I love, who also review books, movies – etc.  My slant will be mostly educational, so if you know teachers, please refer them here.



Most books I read I don’t review.  I don’t know many people who do.  I never used to even keep track of all the books I’d read.  Then I went on an interview once and one of the questions was, “What books have you read this year?”  I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head even though I had read tons.  As a result I started asking people with whom I associated and admired what books they read.   Sometimes it started a great conversation.  Sometimes, they admitted that they didn’t like to read.  If you are a blogger, then you MUST like to read a little.  So this page is for you.

Book Reviews

Book on Kindle

Jillian Hoffman suggested revealing our shelves to other bloggers.  I haven’t taken pictures of my shelves filled up before, and it is difficult to do because my room is small. Here are a few of my shelves.  I do love them.  I have them organized loosely into groups like local history, Civil War, how to teach, dictionaries, general history, and quilting and other stuff.

Civil War Shelf

We have two other book cases in other rooms, one of which belonged to my great-grandmother.


I joined Good Reads finally.  It can keep track of what I’m reading, as well as what everyone else who belongs is reading.  I have to admit that I haven’t kept it up.  I also removed it from my site because my blog loaded slower because of it.  I also joined Amazon affiliates so that if you see a book you’d like to order, you can do it directly here without leaving and opening another window, and I receive a small commission on each sale.

Book Review: Entertaining an Elephant

Thank you and congratulations to Larry Otter, the 30th “LIKE” on my new Facebook page, GOLD STAR!  Thanks to the many others that also pressed “LIKE”

Many of you are teachers, and many more of you have children, grandchildren, or at some point in time are expecting to have them.  A few months ago I went to a Common Core Conference, at which Dr. Bill McBride presented strategies to help teachers implement Common Core Standards.  His presentation style was just as interactive and fun as any I have attended.  I also purchased the book , If They Can Argue Well, They Can Write Well, a step-by step instruction manual on teaching students how to develop an argument. 

Entertaining an Elephant, on the other hand is a fictitious book about education, and I warn the reader to have a Kleenex or two nearby.  (That was clever, I wasn’t sure about how to pluralize Kleenex.  Putting es on the end, just didn’t look right, and ‘s did, but ‘s indicates belonging, so just a simple rewording solved my problem.  YEAH!)

by William McBride
by William McBride

Written by William McBride, Entertaining an Elephant documents the metamorphosis of a seasoned, but jaded teacher who encounters a new janitor that changes his life.

“Reaf wasn’t allowed to leave for a half hour, and he decided not to let the janitor run him out.” p. 7

His tired attitude helps you dislike this teacher right from the start.  He thought he knew what the kids needed, and I can just hear his gruff voice speaking to the peon janitor.

“You see, I’ve been in the business for a long time, and even though these kids have had a lot of schooling, they still don’t have the basics.  I don’t know what those teachers are doing at the lower levels, but these kids can’t tell a participle from a noun.  So I take it upon myself to make sure they understand grammar.  None of the other English teachers spend that much time with it, so it’s up to me to hammer it in.”

If that wouldn’t make a student want to take his class, I don’t know what would!  I’m sure the other teachers loved him just about as much as the kids did.  Every teacher loves to think their teaching taught the kids all they were expected to learn that year plus a little more.  They NEVER like to hear that the kids FORGOT any some of it – or worse, they never had time to teach it, or worse still, they taught it, but NOBODY got it.

The janitor was a wise, wily fellow, though, with some tricks up his sleeve.

“Unfortunately, most of them don’t use the grammar.  That’s why they’re going to be failures, which proves my point.  But that’s between you and I.”

“Me,” the janitor said.

“Yes, you.”

Who else would I be talking to, thought Reaf.  …then suddenly (he) realized the janitor had corrected him.  It is between you and me. … the teacher threw the grammar book he had been holding …

I have to admit that, as a teacher, I want to make sure my kids learn grammar, but I’ve also made MY share of grammar errors as an adult with lots of education.   In fact I’ve made the very SAME mistake that Reaf made.  It was embarrassing the first time I made it, sitting at a dinner table with a movie star, no less – and corrected by HIM.  It was worse the third time I said it.  And I was the EDUCATOR, but the star seemed like a Reaf to me, and he didn’t earn a fan that night.

So where did Reaf throw the grammar book?  What did the janitor do to cause the teacher to change?  What made the teacher so irritatingly uninteresting in the first place?  Why would you want to find out?

I’ll answer the last question for you.  Reaf learns and practices some new teaching and relationship strategies as the book progresses which change his life, but most of all HE changes, and the story is heartwarming.  Common sense strategies are easily employed by anyone, teachers or non-teachers, who want to see improved relationships and motivate others to learn.

The real question is, will YOU cry at the end?

Featured Blog

You must read and enjoy Sierra Foothill Garden if you want to learn more about the plant life in my neck of the woods.  This blog is more focused than my streaming thoughts site.  We really do get snow in the mountains and higher in the foothills than I am.  Sue has a handy list of California bloggers in her sidebar, which I am going to find helpful.  If you want to get more familiar with California, this is one place to start.

If you have already read the book Entertaining an Elephant, how did your react?

  • I threw the book across the room.
  • I cried.
  • I planted the book to see if I could get it to grow.
  • I gave it away at a White Elephant Christmas party.
  • Other responses

Widow of the South and the Common Core

Attention English teachers!!!  Revel in teaching literature for informational text  and argument writing assignments  using the genre of historical fiction.  History teachers – join forces and use the same literature as background materials to introduce topics.

Widow of the South addresses California history-social studies standards in 8th grade about the Civil War.  It also addresses several Common Core standards noted in the body of the text.   It has many primary source documents, like diary entries, woven into the text.

A sample student performance task from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, Appendix B p. 89 modified for this book:  Students explain how Robert Hicks, in his novel,  Widow of the South,  uses choice of words  to develop point of view of the three main characters in this historical fiction, a Confederate soldier, a Union Lieutenant, and a slave-owning middle-aged mother, Mrs. McGavock, living on her plantation, Carnton.

Robert Hicks includes  pictures and notes of Franklin, TN and Carrie McGavock, the widow, in the back of Widow of the South.

A Look at Perspectives:  Consider this quote.

“But hell, the Yankees had thrown away more than we’d laid our eyes on in months, maybe years. …The thing I kept thinking about (as we were marching up the pike) was the nightshirts and the pots of jam, lying there on the roadside (left by the Yankees).  They made me wonder whether we’d been fighting the same war”   Sergeant Zachariah Cashwell, 24th Arkansas. p. 25.

In Cashwell’s quote, ia student of the Civil War learns one of the major reasons that General Lee soon surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.   Using this quote students practice “Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text Common Core English Language Arts Standard RL1.”   Teachers guide students to “detect the different historical points of view on historical events and find the context in which the historical statements were made (the questions asked, sources used, author’s perspectives) California History Social Science Analysis Skills Research Evidence and Point of View #5”

As the reader gets to know these characters, they vicariously experience the nuances of life and come to realize how normal situations are even more complicated by war.  Read the quote below.

“Dear Mrs. M,

I cannot raise this boy.  I am tore up… I got to get away, to start something new.  I want to change…  I will send for the boy when I’m right.”

“He didn’t bother to sign it, and I never heard from him again.  I never asked John if we could take the boy in as our own son.”  Carrie McGavock p. 299.

The author’s choice of words, “I never heard from him again.” lets the students realize how desperate times were when a parent would write a note, and leave it with a child on someone’s doorstep.  “I never asked John…” allows students to glimpse a time when asking was ordinary, but these times were extraordinary.

There are plots and subplots, elements of complexity, that will draw even the most reluctant teen-aged girl into this story.  Teen, Becky Griffin, for example, “had wanted to grow large quickly so that she would have to spend the spring and the summer answering the questions.  I loved a boy and a boy loved me, she planned to say…”  Teen aged pregnancy is not uncommon today, and would be a rich field for developing a homework assignment to develop an argument.  Students could research the difficulties that Becky Griffin faced with the difficulties faced by young teen-aged mothers today.

Using the next quote teachers could build an homework informational writing assignment.

“She sat down heavily on the stool I had assumed had been meant for me.  …  She had been silent for days.  …  Were we strangers?  Impossible, and yet what did I know of her, really? … she had been mine…”

‘Do you want to leave?  Leave here?  Carnton!’

Me is what I meant. (Carrie’s self talk)


‘You can if you’d like.’ …

‘Don’t have anywhere else to go. …  Ain’t nothing to be done about it.  I’m too old to be running from crackers with ropes. …’” p. 394

How did slaves feel about being freed?  Students might compare the way different slaves felt about their new freedom, and the ramifications of that freedom.  There is primary source evidence in the form of oral histories recorded before the last of the slave generation passed away on websites online in the National Archives.  How does this slave compare to other oral histories?  How might her responses be compared to Steven Oates, Fires of Jubilee, the story of the South Hampton slave revolt?

The toughest boy in class will have to work hard not to be touched by the grim glories of war. as he reads the point of view of the Union soldier.

“I was proud that such an army, a vibrating mass of butternut gray and sharp metal, screeching that strange wail of theirs, was arrayed against me and my men.  I was proud that we were worthy of that.  …  Why did they keep coming?  By the second hour of fighting… when a rebel appeared on top of our entrenchment waving a flag or a rifle around, we’d yank him down and make him a prisoner rather than shoot him. …  The dead and dying were packed so tightly that the men were charging right over them, shattering legs, arms and ribs.  It was the sound of bones snapping.”  Lieutenant Nathan Stiles, 104th Ohio p. 85.

What did the Union soldier mean when he said, “I was proud that we were worthy of that”?  Why did he “yank him down and make him a prisoner?”

On Wednesday, November 30, 1864, the townspeople of Franklin, TN, a population of 2,500, had to contend with 2,500 Union and 6,700 Confederate casualties from that 5 hour battle.  “The body of Co.F.S.S. Stafford, of the 31st Tennessee, was found dead standing upright, wedged up to his waist in corpses.”  p. 407Research becomes a natural by-product of reading this novel for the student and teacher who has never been to Franklin, TN, or seen the trenches of a Civil War battlefield.  Even unfamiliarity with Civil War artillery or the structure of the military might spark curiosity easily satisfied at the click of a mouse in order to “Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration Common Core ELA Standard W7.”The Civil War changed the United States forever.   Textbooks make blanket statements that students take for gospel without examining them for their veracity.  Historical fiction puts heart into sterile statements, and engraves those opinions into the hearts of the students.

To read the entire novel, The Widow of the South, would take a long time for eighth graders who are just starting to read complex, full-length texts.  BUT that being said, it is so compelling that many of them might want to read it.  I would recommend this as background reading for both history and language arts teachers to build your own perspective on the Civil War.

Common Core FAQs Relative to History-Social Studies

Today our San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social Studies had their big planning meeting.  One thing that came out of that was the need for a one page FAQ sheet for the Common Core Standards for Social Studies teachers in particular – to quell their fears of the unknown.  This is all I got done this afternoon.  See what you think of it, and tell me what else you thing should be on it.KNOWN ASSESSMENT FAQs

• Common Core Assessments for ELA and Mathematics begin field testing in spring 2014.
• Common Core Assessments for ELA and Mathematics begin testing in spring 2015.
• There will be History-Social Studies reading and writing tasks included in the test for language arts.
• These assessment tasks will NOT be aligned to the California History Standards, but the reading complexity, or lexile levels, will be appropriate for the grade level of the student.
• The CST for ELA, mathematics, history-social science, and science will be given until 2014 when it will sunset.
• There are sample test items on both the Smarter Balanced and the PARC websites.

• We don’t know what will replace the CST tests for History-Social Science and Science

• We know a consortium has been working on Common State Standards for History-Social Studies.
• We know the standards will be presented at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference, November 16-18 in Seattle, WA
• We know that the one of the primary developers will present these standards at the California Council for the Social Studies, March 6-8, 2013 in Burlingame, CACome and join us if your on the left coast this year.  We are going to have a major Common Core Conference within our regular California Council for the Social Studies Conference – 8 hours of intensive training in the Common Core Standards and how they pertain to teams of History-Social Studies/English Language Arts teachers.

Here is a FAQ sheet from Sacramento County Office of Education  http://www.scoe.net/castandards/multimedia/common_core_faq.pdf

The Source, Journal of the California History Project which published an article of mine. http://www.ccss.org/Resources/Documents/CommonCore_Source.pdf

“Preparing Students for College, Career and CITIZENSHIP:
A California Guide to Align Civic Education and the Common Core State
Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies,
Science and Technical Subjects”, a white paper by Dr. Michelle Herczog, Los Angeles County Office of Education —http://www.ccss.org/Resources/Documents/Herczog-CCSSNCSS%20Journal%20Article%20for%20Matrix.pdf

How Committees Work Well

Social describes the social studies community of California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS).  The first CCSS.History-Social Studies people can be controversial and argumentative, or they can cooperate, and accomplish a lot.  Usually it’s a little of both.There’s a lot of persuading and synergy going on in California Council for the Social Studies these days.Committees do the work of the organization.  They set goals, review the organization’s position statements, gain new information, and network.  Their needs, and the needs of the social studies teachers they serve and represent drive changes, and keep the 51-year-old organization growing and thriving.Committee members concentrate, using the time to research on the internet.Others are planning, working out the details.Some committees are more social than others.  The Membership Committee wants to attract new members while retaining current ones to keep the organization viable and healthy.Other committees are more pensive and academic as they determine what should go into future issues of the organizations scholarly journal, “Social Studies Review”.At the end of the day all six committees had written motions describing what they wanted to accomplish by the conference, “Social Studies on the March” in March, 2013.  They knew who was responsible to carry out the tasks, and how much it would cost.  Each gave a short report as they finished up the paperwork to document the decisions that had been made.And best of all, nobody killed anybody!