Too Many Toys

Every night whoever has Boy Duty (as opposed to Girl Duty) reads to the Boy, and my selection tonight was Too Many Toys by David Shannon of No, David! fame (one of the best children’s books of all time). The story was a little predictable: “Spencer had too many toys,” it begins, and the astute child or the typical adult will guess where this is going.

Tonight, we reached the page that showed all of Spencer’s toys spilling down the stairs. “Spencer liked to make his toys into a parade that stretched from one corner of the house to the other and back again!” E pointed to the huge line of toys and said, “He poured them all out.”

“Yes,” I laughed. “I know someone else who likes to pour his toys out.”

E looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, then concluded, “Babcia doesn’t.”

Indeed. Every time we visit Babcia, she complains, only partially in jest I’m convinced, that she’ll be glad when we’re all gone and she can get back to normal. “No more toys here, there, and everywhere!”

No, Babcia would not be a fan of Spencer’s train of toys.

After a thoughtful second, E continued: “I do too.” Up went his eyebrows as they always do when he’s about to raise an index finger to emphasize a point. “But I clean up.” Another small pause. “Sometimes.”

Begin and End in the Kitchen

The day obviously starts in the kitchen. But it’s more than food and preparation for the day. The Boy has a favorite book lately — Hot Rod Hamster — and on a whim, the Girl decides to read it to him. I read it to him last night; K read it to him the night before. But that’s not enough: he could listen to that book every single day, most likely because of the basic interactivity of it. Hot Rod Hamster, you see, has to choose the parts of his car, and the author often asks the reader, “Which would you choose?” By now everyone in the family knows which one he would choose, but that’s not the point.


The day also ends in the kitchen, with play. The office chair in which I now sit is a favorite toy, for it swivels in endless circles.


To the delight of both kids.


Story Time!

The Girl had an idea: record herself reading a story. Unfortunately, her little Leap Frog system wasn’t the highest quality, and she had no way to support the camera while she filmed.

Tata, of course, saved the day.

Lord of the Flies

It starts slowly. In fact, Lord of the Flies is a downright boring book for the first little bit, especially for eighth graders. There’s just a lot of, well, buildup. Sure, the Beast is a little interesting, but nothing thrilling.

And then we hit chapter eight: “Gift for the Darkness.”

We do a close reading of Simon’s encounter with the Lord of the Flies, and by the time it’s over, almost all the students are eager to read chapter nine. I find out from their science teacher — most of the kids have science their final period — that all sat in rapt silence the last few minutes of class, reading Lord of the Flies. After school, one by one, the kids come to tell me how horrified and thrilled they are.

Another good time to be a teacher.

Spring Tuesday Afternoon

Everything is finally waking up. Almost all of the raspberry canes now have leaves on them, and buds are poking out of our single blackberry cane. The irises are resurrecting themselves, and the grass has turned a dark green.


“It’s about time!” is just about what all of us would say. I’m not sure I recall being so glad to see winter go in years. The winter months in South Carolina are usually so very mild that I feel we really haven’t had a winter at all, but this year, there’s no doubting it: we had winter. And it hung on for a while. And kept coming back even after we thought it was gone.


With the arrival of spring, though, come new chores, chief among them watering our new blueberry bushes, six here, six there.


In typical fashion, the Boy watches and then quickly imitates. It’s as if he’s constantly thinking, “Oh, so that’s how you do it. I’ll have to give that a try.” He remembers details from previous days, little touches that I’m surprised an almost-two-year-old sees.


Some of it has been simply funny. A few times I gave him his bottle when he was younger, I held it as if I were a sommelier at some fine restaurant; he soon began doing his best imitation just before lifting the bottle to his mouth.


Yesterday, he watched me try to jump-start K’s car. “Try” only because the battery was too dead and my small, thin cables didn’t have the capacity to deliver that amount of power — too much lost in route due to the inefficiencies inherent in current.


And so when he finds the jumper cables sitting out, he does the logical thing: he tries to attach them to his toy fire truck.


The Girl has her own concerns, though, like a budding reading obsession, that leads her to stumble and fall as she walks and reads. Or was that just the dramatic, theatrical part of her personality, pretending?

“She did that on purpose,” K laughs as I snap pictures. Still, the end result is amusing, even if faked.


Later, in the hammock, she reads aloud to me. She stumbles over a few words, proper names mainly, like Ester, but by and large, I just sit and listen.


Words like “gracefully” gracefully fall from her mouth as if she’s merely telling the story herself, from memory, with the inflections and drama of a professional storyteller. Well, almost.



We’re in class, reading the play The Diary of Anne Frank, acting out some sections, comparing others to the original diary. Today, we’re working to analyze the text to determine places where one character implied something and/or another character inferred something. In the story, Anne and Peter’s romance is just beginning, and Anne is getting reading for an evening visit with Peter as she talks with her mother and sister in her room:

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In groups, after we act it out, students analyze the text together to find specific lines (“You have to be able to point to it in the text,” I explained) that clearly show either an implication or inference.

As we’re debriefing as a class, a student points out one of the key lines I was hoping students would see: “Then may I ask you this much, Anne. Please don’t shut the door when you go in.” Mrs. Frank is of course not implying that she thinks that Peter and Anne will do anything untoward; she’s merely worried about giving Mrs. van Daan (in reality, her name was van Pels) something else to complain about.

The student didn’t see it that way, though.

“What is she implying?” I ask.

“That Anne will expose herself to Peter!” he said proudly, with utmost sincerity and seriousness.

We all laughed, but my own belly laugh got them laughing even harder.

Mark Up

One class I teach — though I’m fortunate to teach two sections of this course — has begun one of my favorite pieces of literature, the Odyssey. Highly figurative language with a tendency toward oddly inverted sentences, it’s a struggle for them at first, though. We take the time during the first reading to pick apart the opening lines to see how Homer works.

The first famous lines include it all (in this particular translation). There’s inverted sentences like this: “But not by will nor valor could he save them.” We work through the sentence, determining the subject, the verb, and the object, writing it out in normal order: “He could not save them by will or valor.” Numbering the words, students realize just how inverted the sentence is.

Notes from the board

“Lord Helios […] took from their eyes the dawn of their return” the stanza ends, and while many of us might find that easily enough understood, the average eighth grader doesn’t have a lot of experience with figurative language.

As we work, there’s a bit moaning, a bit of boredom, especially among the boys. Who wants to put this much effort into reading, and a poem at that? That’s alright. I know that when the blood starts flowing — Cyclops starts crunching bones and Scylla begins picking off men — they’ll all come around.

Greater Expectations

It’s the end of the year, which means the English I students are tackling Great Expectations, having just finished a brief overview/review of clauses and sentence types. “To understand Dickens,” I explained a couple of weeks ago, “you have to break apart some of his incredibly complex sentences into manageable chunks.” So we practice: every day, students entering class are greeted by a few sentences of from the previous evening’s readings. The bell-ringer, starter, whatever you want to call it:

At the appointed time I returned to Miss Havisham’s, and my hesitating ring at the gate brought out Estella. She locked it after admitting me, as she had done before, and again preceded me into the dark passage where her candle stood. She took no notice of me until she had the candle in her hand, when she looked over her shoulder, superciliously saying, “You are to come this way today,” and took me to quite another part of the house.

Students cross out unnecessary phrases — prepositional, gerund, participial — and try to find the gold: a single subordinate clause. “If you find a subordinate clause,” I explain, “you know it’s either a complex or compound-complex sentence; if you don’t, you know it’s a simple or compound sentence.”

The results are improving daily.