Book Review: Fish in a Tree

posted by Beret.

Reading level:  4-6 grade. The protagonist is in sixth grade, however, and she wouldn’t have been able to read it. In fact, that’s the point. This book is for anyone who has ever struggled in school or felt like they didn’t fit in.

One rainy day last July, I wandered into a bookshop and accidentally left with a stack of five new hardcovers. Just what I needed for my suitcase.

The clerk was lovely. She agreed enthusiastically with all of my opinions–which is terribly charming–and I bought Fish in a Tree based on her recommendation and its adorable cover. So much for judging books by their contents…although, I finished it last night, and that’s what I’m set to do now.

I loved it. Here’s why… Continue reading

Glowing Bubbles and the Great Black Light Smartphone Hack


posted by Beret

A few weeks ago, I was on a plane watching an endless parade of Buzzfeed clips. My  hour of debauchery was made possible by Virgin Airlines, who gave my kids an entertainment IV, and gave me an adult beverage and my own remote. That doesn’t happen often at home.

In between raw eggs dancing on a speaker and men trying to walk in high heels, I learned about glow in the dark bubbles.

As some of you may have noticed, I like things that glow. Last fall’s obsession was glow-in-the-dark pumpkin bowling. Very festive.

But this time I was dubious. Glow in the dark bubbles sounded great, but the Buzzfeed hipsters made them using highlighters–which don’t glow in the dark. This wasn’t going to work without a black light. LobeStir to the rescue!

What you need for the bubbles:


Bubble solution, pliers, paper towels, gloves, and a highlighter. I had a stir stick there, too, but I didn’t need it.


  1. Pour some of the bubble solution into a glass. Or don’t. I just did this so you could see what was going on._MG_3646
  2. Pull the end cap out of the highlighter and extract the ink cartridge. Use gloves! This is messy._MG_3650
  3. Squeeze the cartridge into the bubble solution. Very, very messy. Don’t do this while wearing white pants and standing over your new white carpet. No._MG_3655
  4. Find a place to blow bubbles that you can hose down. And wear old clothes. If you’re outside, be mindful of the wind unless you hate your neighbors._MG_3676bubble 1

For the black light, you will need:


A smartphone with a flash, clear tape, a blue Sharpie and a purple Sharpie.


  1. Put a piece of tape over the flash/flashlight.


    It’s hard to see the tape because it’s *magically invisible.* I swear it’s there.

  2. Color the tape with a blue Sharpie.


    Purple Sharpie depicted here is not meant to deliberately mislead you. Purple Sharpie is just lying there, waiting for step 4. This photo shows what my phone looked like after using the blue Sharpie.

  3. Add a second layer of tape, and color it blue. Not showing this step because you are a genius. You will figure it out.
  4. Put a third piece of tape over the light and color it purple.

    Flashlight on after all three layers were added and colored.

    Flashlight on after all three layers were added and colored.

  5. ENJOY!! Oh, yeah! Go blow bubbles! Or cover up the windows and have a highlighter art party because…why not

    In some ways, the container of glowing goo is the best part…though watching the fluorescein swirl like a mini tornado in the bottom of a big bubble is amazing.

    In some ways, the container of glowing goo is the best part…though watching the fluorescein swirl like a mini tornado in the bottom of a big bubble is amazing.

What’s going on here?

A black light is one that emits UV-A light and not much visible light. Many are created by making a violet filter (often called a Wood’s filter) that blocks most of the visible light and allows UV to pass through it.

Most yellow highlighter ink contains fluorescein, which fluoresces (glows) when exposed to black light (aka, UV-A light). Fluorescein is used to search for broken blood vessels, examine tear ducts, check for leaks in the car, and to help locate people in air-sea rescue.

If bubbles aren’t your thing, a lot of other things fluoresce with a black light–though our smart phone light does not emit a wide enough spectrum of wave lengths to do this well. You might have to buy a black light bulb to get the following substances to fluoresce, but it’s still cool: tonic water, antifreeze, and some cleaning products (I’ve heard Mr. Clean glows nicely). Many bodily fluids fluoresce a little, too, which is why police investigators occasionally use a black light when examining a crime scene.

Added Bonus!

You can squeeze the highlighter cartridge into a glass of water and put flowers in it. After a day or two, the flowers will glow with the black light!

Misfit Lit: Counting by 7s

posted by Beret.

Age Range: Grades 5-8.

I’ve always had a soft spot for what I call “misfit lit.” Into this category I throw a few of the best books for young people I’ve read in the recent past: Loser, by Jerry Spinneli; Wonder, by R.J. Palacio; and A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass. A major appeal of these books is that everyone feels like an alien at some point in their lives–often and particularly in middle school. Delving into the brain of an outsider and seeing how they experience and cope with difference can be both comforting and empowering. It could also encourage young people to look for what they might have in common with others, no matter how different they appear to be.

Counting by 7s is no exception. What is unique is that we spend a good deal of the book inside the head of Willow Chance–a girl with incredible intellectual gifts and a penchant for botany, medical texts, and the number seven. The author, Holly Goldberg Sloan, does not water down Willow’s vocabulary or personality in any way to make her character easier to swallow. In fact, it isn’t important for the reader to understand everything the main protagonist says or does throughout the novel in order to grasp her emotional turmoil and her desperate need to cope and connect. Continue reading

5th of July Fudgsicles

posted by Beret

On July 4th, it was ridiculously cold and foggy where I live. Too cold and foggy to see fireworks, or even to muster enthusiasm to watch the fog change colors. Instead, we went home and made hot chocolate.

July 5th dawned sunny and warm, and I found myself pouring the extra hot cocoa into a popsicle mold that had been sitting in the dish rack. Honestly, I just didn’t want to deal with the leftovers, because who wants hot cocoa on a warm day? A few hours in the freezer and voilà: I had accidentally made fudgsicles! Simple and tasty. In fact, waaaaay better than store-bought ones.

Here’s what you need: ten minutes and… Continue reading

Talking to Your Kids About Hate

posted by Gina

While today brought us a bright, shining, rainbow beacon of hope, we’ve been having a tough go of it. The world is proving a brutal place. How do we talk to our children about hatred? About violence? About racism? How do we answer their questions and how do we raise them to be a part of the solution?

I don’t know the answer. I wonder daily how to talk to my students. I’ve spent some time recently looking for advice and for resources, and thought I’d take this opportunity to share them with you.

Continue reading

Ridiculously Simple Single-Sheet-of-Paper Books


posted by Beret

Here’s a little book I loved to make with my students. We used them for quick book reports and biographies, for poems, and as tiny sketchbooks or journals. They were perfect for outdoor writing, for science class, and field trips. They’re small, portable, easy, and cheap.   Continue reading

Early Onset Activism

posted by Gina

Let’s make this month a trifecta of book posts, shall we?

We’re approaching May 1st, and I was remembering the day of protests back in 2006, when I was teaching in San Francisco. My high school students, many first generation, took the protests incredibly seriously, and I remember being impressed at how many of them took the day to do thoughtful work, and how few looked upon the boycott as an excuse to just miss school.

I was lucky enough to be at a school that encouraged discussion with and support of our students, so we spent a lot of time talking that week – in advisory, in class, in the hall. We don’t often give our young people enough credit for their thoughts and ideas, particularly as they think upon the state of the world and the way in which they can make their voices heard.

I stumbled across this post recently. You know how I love lists of book recommendations – well, this one seems timely.


Continue reading

Bookmaking: Theater Books


posted by Beret.

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out a closet and discovered the instructions for making theater books. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked unsuccessfully for that sheet of paper over the years, but many. 

I promptly re-lost the paper.

Today–miraculously!–I’m holding it again in my grubby fist, so I will post these instructions posthaste in hopes that, in the future, I might relocate them at will. Hopefully, you will also be inspired to try this at school or at home with a child/glass of wine/tolerant spouse.

 What you need:


  • A piece of 8 1/2 x 11″ paper.
  • A pair of scissors.

Think you can handle that? Continue reading

A Motley Valentine’s Greeting for You

From National, where they have lots of great photos of hearts.

From National, where they have lots of incredible photographs of hearts.

posted by Beret

With age (and wisdom?) I have discovered why so many classroom activities from days of yore revolved around holidays and seasons. For teachers, parents, after-school program directors–anyone who has to look regularly into the eyes of expectant children, anyone who has to fill the time with something, anything to avoid mutiny–the creative well runs only so deep. Sooner or later, we look at the calendar and gasp. “February already! February? What can we do in February? Let’s see: winter, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, African American History Month. Boom.”

These were desperate times. After a prolonged absence on LobeStir, I wanted to come back with a giant, fabulous valentine full of amazing projects and ideas for you, dear reader. Only I didn’t have any. Or time. And in my harried search for anything interesting and loosely tied to Valentine’s Day, I discovered that my spouse may be right–this is a distinctly lesser holiday developed primarily to sell greeting cards and candy.

I did find out how to float the letters off of m&ms and Skittles, however.

It’s not rocket science, but it is kind of cool, in a five-second minor distraction sort of way. Continue reading