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My Elephant Is Blue–sadness
My Elephant Is Blue
written by Melinda Szymanik
illustrated by Vasanti Unka
Children sometimes have trouble verbalizing their feelings and managing them. My Elephant Is Blue was written to help children deal with sadness. “Big, heavy feelings” are represented by the crushing weight of the elephant Blue. The child’s family members try to help in various ways, and gradually the child does feel the weight of sadness lifting. This is Mental Health Awareness month, and My Elephant Is Blue is one of many picture books published by Flyaway Books to help young children and their families deal with emotions.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Health
Notes: 1. Ages 3-7
2. Supporting resources linked to this book are found at http://www.flyawaybooks.com/resources. There is a Discussion and Activity Guide that helps the reader understand the symbolism in the book. This guide includes Discussion Starters, Activities, a list with links of organizations that offer support, and a coloring sheet. There is also a book trailer if you would like a preview of the book.
Publication: April 11, 2023—Flyaway Books
They said, “Perhaps if you cheered up a bit…or smiled at it.” But it’s hard to cheer up or smile with an elephant sitting on your chest.
“It’s an elephant,” Mom and Dad said. “Surely it can’t stay forever. It’s bound to move on sometime.” I hoped sometime was soon.
Diane Ravitch’s Feet of Clay
Why I No Longer Follow Diane Ravitch’s Blog
When I retired from teaching and began reading blogs, I was excited to find Diane Ravitch’s very active blog. She posted things I had been thinking and saying for years about CCSS, overtesting, and VAM. Diane Ravitch is an education policy analyst, an author, a research professor at NYU and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. I admired that she had originally supported No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but later publicly reversed her position. She was David against Goliath, fighting big business and politicians in their grab for education dollars.
My idol, unfortunately, has clay feet. Too many of her posts are now only about politics. She says that none of the candidates support her position on education, but she has chosen a candidate to support anyway in post after post after post. She supports one candidate with vehement enthusiasm and works against the other with vehement invectives. What happened to education? She says her blog is “A site to discuss better education for all.” What happened to that discussion?
I do not want to invite one-sided trash into my heart and mind. I want to work towards the best educational system possible for our children. I’m leaving Diane Ravitch behind.
Three Day Quote Challenge–Day 1
My new blogger friend, Wendy from Ramblings and Musings, invited me to participate in this three day quote challenge.
The rules for the challenge are:
- Thank the person nominating you for the challenge.
- Post a quote on your blog for 3 consecutive days.
- Invite 3 of your favorite bloggers to join the challenge.
My nominees for the challenge are:
- David from David Snape and Friends, whom I originally started following because of an interesting post he wrote on autism. It is also through his blog that I discovered the fantastic Kindness Blog.
- Shellie from Shellie Woods who writes about marketing and life, from a Christian perspective.
- Kim from Learn to Love Food. Through her blog Kim has taught me about the need some children have for food therapy and her fun approach to helping those with food issues.
No obligation–just fun, inspiration and exposure to bloggers you may not have encountered before.
My first quote has been my favorite for years. It was my signature quote on my work email. I wanted it always there as a reminder to the “Standardistas” that accumulating facts is not what education is all about. Many education policy makers and enforcers (in my former school district and around the country) have forgotten that education is inspiring children to be lifelong learners.
I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 5)–Reading is a Passion, Not a Learning Objective
Dear Former Students,
What do I hope you remember about me?
Reading, of course! Together we fell in love with the books we read. If you were in my recent classes, you will remember the magical repetitions of Pete the Cat books. For a more sophisticated enchantment, we devoured several books in the Magic Tree House series, sneaking social studies and science into our day. Who could forget the adventures of Jamie and Tom at Dinosaur Cove or Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz? Some students may be reminiscing about the aliens in The Sand Witch and the mystery and history found in Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library. Bunnicula, a great children’s mystery, was a favorite with some classes.
As a young teacher, I had experts tell me that first graders are not ready to sit and listen to chapter books. Not true! Storytellers have been recounting their tales without benefit of visuals since before the written word. Perhaps you were in the class that listened at story time to several picture books, at least one chapter in a longer book, and then BEGGED for more. I usually introduced classes to chapter books with Judy Blume’s short chapter book Freckle Juice followed by Chocolate Touch and Chocolate Fever.
We had many special literacy activities related to stories we read. For example, we discussed the meaning of Bill Martin Jr.’s Knots on a Counting Rope and made our own counting rope. In the 1st/2nd grade multiage class, we read the original version of 101 Dalmatians learning the meaning and use of many British words and enjoying playing with the unfamiliar words. We made a huge mural containing 101 Dalmatians just in time for the 100th day of school. Drama, dancing, art, music, and writing were all pulled into the process of learning to read and learning through reading. Activities did not begin and end because of the clock on the wall or the threat of an administrator’s possible walk-through. We had reading buddies once a week from the upper grades, working on social skills as well as reading skills and giving you the opportunity to read your favorite books as many times as you liked and have a positive emotional connection to reading. Our buddies benefited in similar ways with the addition of an opportunity to practice leadership and demonstrate maturity.
You amazed your parents with your beautiful poetry recitations—poems that move the soul like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and poems that giggle the spirit like “The Purple Cow.” You recited the poems by yourself before the whole class exploring the sounds of language and gaining self-confidence. You learned to appreciate language by playing with rhymes, patterns, meter, and figures of speech. Often whole families memorized the poems, and some can still recite their favorites. Reader’s Theatre and musical Reader’s Theatre provided fun opportunities to practice reading with fluency and expression.
My philosophy was “I teach reading all day long.” It worked. I had parents tell me that their child loved reading because of me. I hope you were one of them.
I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 2)
Dear Former Students,
What do I hope you remember about me?
Our Special Learning Space
I hope you remember our room. Bright, colorful, creative, inspirational. Most years, our room and our studies focused on a theme which varied from year to year. It might have been dinosaurs or space or animals. Maybe you were with me when we explored the rainforest. Whatever the topic, it was real; it didn’t just provide decorations. It was the springboard for learning—reading, math, language, science, social studies, art and music. We did it all centered around our theme. Sometimes we jumped outside the theme and that was OK. Creativity, learning, and children—none of them belong in a box.
I spent the summer vacation dreaming, planning, and creating for our learning base for the coming year. Until the Testing Monster emerged to swallow up the joy and adventure of learning. After that I spent summers investigating Common Core State Standards. I learned that first graders should be ready to do what had always been expected of second graders. I learned that a Kindergartener was a failure if he or she was not reading by the end of the year. I had nightmares of angry administrators and nonsense posters and charts. I tried to make sense of a disjointed melange, a mishmash of portions of reading programs, books, and plans stuck together by an “expert” to create a hideous and unworkable mess. BUT even then, I tried to create a warm and welcoming place to learn with a fun reading corner and an area for some messy art and forbidden science.
I know you must have felt my efforts. You would come into the room before school (and again at lunch) when you should have been on the playground.
You wanted to put your things away.
You wanted to say hello, to find out what we were going to be doing that day, not from the required posted chart, but from your teacher who had big plans for you.
You wanted to be reassured that despite your problems at home, you were safe at school and could have a good day.
Then after a hug or a smile or a moment to chat, I shooed you outside and we were both happy and ready to begin the adventure.
The Cows and the Ranchers
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a small rural area which had some barren land and some lush pastures. The local people had a lot of cows to raise. They hired some experienced business managers to oversee the cow production. The managers developed a business plan and set about implementing it. First they hired some motivated ranchers who loved cows and tasked them with the care and growth of the cows. The cows were fenced in so they could not leave the dusty patch they inhabited. With little to eat, the cows did not gain weight. In fact the cows were becoming agitated for on the other side of the fence the grass was green. The well-meaning business managers did everything they could think of to improve the situation. They went across the country to learn new ways of making the cows gain weight. They came back and told the ranchers to weigh the cows every week, every day if necessary, to look for weight gain. Surely that would help! Unfortunately no weight gain followed, but the ranchers had less time to bring in hay for the cows who, in fact, lost more weight! The business managers declared that there would be twice weekly meetings (Producing Cow Lessons) in which supervisors would berate the overworked ranchers and make them say hurtful things about themselves and the other ranchers. Soon the exhausted ranchers were also depressed. The business managers next brought in experts to teach the ranchers new tricks for making cows gain weight—steroids and lots of water. The cows temporarily gained a little weight but it dropped off when they returned to their regular meager rations.
Then, one day a very frustrated, very overworked, and formerly very successful rancher went berserk. He knew the answer. He had been telling the business managers the answer, but they wouldn’t listen because he was just a rancher. So, the rancher cut the fence allowing the cows to enter the grassy area they longed for so much. The cows became fat and happy. The ranchers were elated to be productive ranchers again. And the business managers? They all received promotions and bonuses for the great work they had (not) done.
Fiction Becomes Reality in the Classroom: “If you are having fun, you are not learning.”
Matilda, a book by Roald Dahl, then a movie. Somehow I missed both in my earlier, busy life as a teacher. Now as a retired educator, I can indulge in so many things I missed. By day, when the Mexican light is good, I pursue my pleasant goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s eighty-eight plus works. By night, I explore Mexican Netflix which is limited compared to availability in the U.S. Last night I watched Matilda, and I was caught up at once in the fictional tale of the precocious preschooler who taught herself to read and then went daily by herself to the public library to devour its contents.
Innocent Matilda has her dream come true as she is finally enrolled in school. The principal is terrifying, but her teacher is the sweetest you can imagine, seeing potential in children and valuing their dreams. At this point the movie becomes a horror story for me. I gasp as I see the motto in large letters at the top of the chalkboard: “If you are having fun, you are not learning.” Then as the principal arrives for a visit, the teacher and children spring into action as a team. Shades are quickly pulled down and charts flipped over to cover the meaningful and colorful projects that are the result of engaged learning. I could feel the stress of my last years as a teacher return. I could hear the sucking sound of laughter being withdrawn from the classroom.
The evening over and the lights out, I lay awake with memories of real charts that had to be in place on the walls in my classroom. Curriculum and Instruction let them drift down at intervals all year from the ivory tower with specifications as to their importance. The principal directed that they needed to be displayed; to do otherwise would mean a label of “ineffective” on the teacher’s evaluation. Every new workshop that administrators attended resulted in new mandates with accompanying visuals. We were to implement post haste this hodgepodge of procedures received third hand from experts who didn’t have a clue who our students were or what they needed.
For me, the nightmare is over, but I can not and will not forget those brave teachers still fighting the good fight and struggling to do what is right and best for their students. As a teacher I took unpopular stances and now I continue the battle against the forces of educational destruction which are directed by politicians, funded by big business, and implemented by misguided administrators.