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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A student of mine could not stop talking about how much she loved this book, so I decided I needed to read it to see if it was as good as she thought. I am so glad I did. This book won the Newberry Award in 2017 and it is well-deserved. It is a lovely fairy tale with compelling characters. The use of language is just delicious; my student and I used words from the book for a series of word investigations. For older children and young adults–and adults– who love a well-told tale of magic and adventure, this is a wonderful choice. I loved it!



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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland, #2)

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I liked this book a lot. I read the first one (The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) last year. I loved it, but by the time I was finished, I was not chomping to move on to the next book in the series, as I often am when I find a series that I like.

Last week I needed a sure-thing, a happy read, and picked up the second book in the series. The whimsy and imaginative use of language and characters did not disappoint. I love the escaped shadows who are enjoying their freedom from their corporeal people and creatures. I loved that September is growing up, learning to stand up for herself and understand the gray scales in life. The text is packed with delightful details. I love how clothing is sentient and adjusts to the wearer’s needs. Every sentence is beautiful and skimming is not an option.

If you love Lewis Carroll, you will love these modern twists on the fantastic fairytale.

That said, I have to admit that the next book will be sitting on my shelf waiting for a while until I need a sure-thing read. These books, for me, need to be savored and I seem to have a limit for how much I can enjoy, kind of like eating a pile of candy. At the moment, I am ready to brush my teeth and dig into something different.

It is good to know there are a few more books on my shelf ready for when I need a deep-dive into imagination.



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Harvest Time

This year, my garden has produced a good number of herbs and vegetables for my family, but even more for the squirrels!  The word Harvest comes from an Old English word, hærvest, meaning “autumn.” The Proto-Indo-European root the word derives from is *kerp– “to gather, to pluck.”

Here is a collection of my fruit and vegetable etymology memes. Enjoy!

Resources Used:

Etymonline.com

Word Origins, by John Ayto

The Diner’s Dictionary, by John Ayto

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The stories of these intelligent and brave women who were instrumental in making history fascinated me. I am so glad that Ms. Shetterly brought these stories to our attention. I enjoyed not only their stories but the background of how NASA and the space race inspired a generation.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the space program, women’s and civil rights, science or mathematics. And if you are not interested in any of the above, pick it up and see how interesting these subjects can be when framed through the lives of women who changed the course of history.

Listening on audiobook made it a bit hard to keep characters straight, but also helped me get through the more technical explanations. I think audiobook, plus a paper copy for reference would have been ideal for my reading of this book.




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Magicking Words

My 8th grade student “Luna”* is obsessed with all things fantasy and so when I asked her what words she would like to investigate, the word magic was on the list.

We discussed what magic was and looked it up in the dictionary. We discovered that the word can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. Luna worked to make a sentence of each type.

We brainstormed similar words and decided the base was probably <mage>. We began mapping out our thinking on the table top whiteboard in my office.

We used Word Searcher to find words that contained the same base, and ruled out words that, although seemed possibly promising, turned out to not be etymologically related. These words were image, imagination, and magistrate– along with their derivatives.

As you can see, the final, single, silent, non-syllabic <e> is replaced by a vowel suffix. This is shown with the red slash on the final <e>. In order to keep the /k/ sound when a vowel suffix is added, a <k> is added sometimes. We learned that at one time, long ago, the -<ic> ending was spelled <ick> and sometimes when someone wants the word magic to look more–well, magickal–it might be spelled with the old spelling.

Next we used the Mini-matrix Maker to make a matrix.

We explored the etymology of the word magic.

We also considered the pronunciation of the words and how unexpected changes happen in different related words.

mage /māj/

  • Long <a> because of single, silent, non-syllabic <e>
  • Soft g because it is followed by an <e>

magic /măj’-ĭk/

  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • Hard c because it has no vowel after and <-ic> at the end of a word is poronounced /ĭk/

magician /mə-jĭ’-shən/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>

magicians /mə’-jĭ-shənz/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>
  • Final <s> represents a /z/ sound.

Luna made the observation that in the Harry Potter universe “nomag” is American slang for non-magical people, the equivalent to “muggle” in the U.K. A fitting observation for this exploration.

Further discussion and investigation into the grammar of the words gave us this information. Luna made sentences to help her remember.

  • mage: noun “someone who performs magic”
  • magic: noun, verb, or adjective
  • magics: plural noun or third person inflectional ending (“She magics the moonbeans.”)
  • magical: adjective
  • magician: “Someone who performs magic”
  • magicked: past tense verb or adjective (“The magicked beans grew a bean-stock.”)
  • magically: adverb
  • magicians: plural of magician
  • magicking: present verb (“He is magicking the stones to turn them into bread.”) or noun (“She is an expert at magicking.”)
  • magic wand: a stick used to perform magic

While looking at the dictionary, we also noticed the link to the thesaurus and explored synonyms and antonyms.

Luna and I both agreed that being bewitching and charming was much more fun than being normal and unremarkable. Next up, Luna wants to investigate sorceress.

*Student names and details have been changed.

Reader, Come Home

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have been reading other reviews and people seem to either love or hate this book. It isn’t an easy read and it took me over eight months to finish it, which is highly unusual for me and my reading style.

I gave it a mid-range rating. I liked it. I picked it up here and there and read a chapter at a time. I enjoyed Proust and the Squid more and felt this book was overly pedantic and repetitive, but I did appreciate much of what Maryanne said.

I too worry about what the digital world is doing to ours and our kid’s brains with regard to reading and critical thinking. I also agree with her that the digital world is here to stay and our kids need to become bi-literate in a healthier way than they are currently. I do worry about how much of our textbook reading has moved to digital formats–especially for struggling readers. On the other hand, the ability to have audio readily available has been an advantage for many of my students.

I read this book with a real-live paper book, which is my preferred medium for informational books that I am learning from and that I will reference as a literacy specialist. I’ve been known to print out whole e-textbooks. However, in the time since I have read this book, I’ve read 48 other books, both fiction and nonfiction, the majority of which I read either on Kindle or by listening to audiobooks on my commute.

I don’t think there are easy answers to how to take advantage of and lessen the negative impacts of the digital world, but I appreciated Maryanne’s views and ideas on how to best introduce digital media to kids. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy books in many forms and encourage my students to do the same.




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If you have a Garden and a Library, you have Everything you Need.

Two of my favorite things are teaching literacy and gardening and I get super excited when I can combine the two. I began making flower etymology memes just for fun when I ran onto a fun meaning in the course of researching for one of my tutoring sessions in response to a student question. The memes were a hit with my friends and colleagues, and I was having so much fun making them, that I took requests and continued creating them.

I love that pansy means “thought, remembrance” and that lilaceous is a real word. Here is part two of the results of my research. Enjoy!

The Plastic Magician

The Plastic Magician (The Paper Magician #4)

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am enjoying the world the author has created with these books–a world where magic is like a science to be learned and discovered. Those who are “magically inclined” are apprenticed to magicians who train them to take the exam that makes them a magician in their own right. Magic can be done on only man-made materials and this book focusses on Alvie, a young American woman who likes to wear pants and take apart cars, in the early 1900s. Alvie travels by mirror to Europe and London where she learns the art of polymaking–or magic with plastics.

The book chronicles Alvie’s apprenticeship and growing romance with a fellow apprentice in the art of paper magic.

There is not a lot of action during the first part, but then it picks up when Alvie is kidnapped and has to use her wits and magic to escape. The book has a sweetness and innocence that is rare nowadays. The Kiss didn’t happen until the 75% mark.

I can’t say this book was un-put-down-able, but it was a lot of fun to read.




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The Sun is also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this YA novel. It is a romance with two smart and likable characters. The book is timely for its discussion on immigration, deportation, and racism. I enjoyed and learned from the sidebar chapters explaining the scientifically and culturally relevant information.

The story takes place in New York City over the course of one day. Natasha is a science-minded girl who spends the day trying to keep her family from being deported and worries about losing her friends, her dreams and her future. Daniel is a romantic poet who spends his day trying to get Natasha to fall in love with him by exploiting her love of science.



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Sharp as a Knife

During a math lesson on angles with my verbally-gifted fifth-grade student, Brandan*, I drew a picture of an acute angle and an obtuse angle and labeled them. He immediately said, in a high voice, “Ooooh it is such a cute angle.” I told him that was exactly how I always remembered it, but that wasn’t really what it meant. Of course, he wanted to know what it really meant, and I already had my fingers on the keyboard to look it up on etymonline.com.

We found that acute is an adjective and came from the Proto-Indo European (PIE) root *ak, which means to “be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce.” The meaning was originally used for illness and fevers in the late 1400s. The meaning “ending in a sharp point” and “sharp or penetrating intellect” both came about around the late 1500s. As a descriptive term for intense or sharp pain it was used beginning in the early 1700s.

We talked about how the word could be used literally– like it is used in geometry or more figuratively such as when we talk of disease or pain.

And as it turned out—the adjective cute is related!

In 1731 it is attested as cute, meaning “clever, sharp, smart,” shortening of acute; informal sense of “pretty” is by 1834, It is American English colloquial and student slang.

Later, I followed up with a more indepth study of the word. In John Ayto’s Word I learned that it is related to the English word ague, which is an older word for flu. The Latin verb, acuere, was probably formed from Latin word for needle, acus. Other words that stem from the PIE root *ak are acid, acrid, acetic, oxygen and edge.

 With the information I had previously gathered, I used Wordsearcher.com to compile a list of possible related words.

I looked up, and ruled out, the unrelated words, persecute, prosecute, execute and their derivitives because they have a different base. I noticed that cutey and cuteys was an unconventional spelling, so I looked up both cutie and cutey and found that they are alternate spellings with the same meaning.

Next,  I created a matrix in Mini Matrix Maker.

These are the word sums possible with this matrix:

cute (free base)

a + cute à acute

cute/ + er à cuter

cute/ +ey à cutey

cute + ly à cutely

cute/ + est à cutest

cute + sy à cutesy

cute/ + ey + s à cuteys

a + cute + ly à acutely

cute + ness à cuteness

a + cute + ness à acuteness

cute/ + ie à cutie

cute/ + ie + s à cuties

(The slash mark indicates that the letter is replaced by the vowel suffix which follows.)

As Brandan and I were talking, I looked up obtuse in Etymonline.com. I found that obtuse is from the early fifteenth century and means “dull, blunted, not sharp” It comes from the Latin obtusus, which had the same meaning as well as a more figurative meaning “to beat against, make dull” The morphemes are ob- (“in front of, against”) + tundere “to beat” from PIE root*(s)tud-e- “to beat strike, thrust from PIE root *(s)teu- “to push, stick, knock, beat. The sense of “stupid, not senstetive or perceptive is from the 1500s. In geometry, it became the name of an angle greater than a right angle in the 1560s.

I tried to elicit its meaning from Brandan, I asked “What is the opposite of sharp?” He had a puzzled look on his face and answered with “fluffy?” I laughed at the image already in my head and tried again, “I can have a sharp knife or a…” I waited for him to come up with a response. And I waited a second longer. Then he cocked his head and slowly said “fluffy knife?”

I laughed and drew a cloud-like blade and handle on the whiteboard table in front of him. We both burst out laughing.

I explained the meaning “dull, blunted, not sharp” to him and his eyes got big with understanding and discovery. I then explained that the word could be used to describe someone who is being stupid, or just clueless. He rubbed his hands together in glee, planning already to use the insult on his little sister.

We went back to our math problems with a game we call “splatball” (an impromptu game we made up, basically throwing Crayola Globbles at a target drawn on the whiteboard.) Every few minutes, Brandan said, “fluffy knife” and we burst out laughing again.

Tutoring bright funny kids makes my job the best!

I continued the research the word obtuse later and found related words and made a matrix. From John Ayto’s Word Origins, I found that the word is related to contusion and toil. I searched words in Wordsearcher.com using the search <tuse>


Again, I ruled out any words that were not related, and then I did an additional search for <tus> which yielded the related words: contused, contuses, contusing, contusion, and contusive.

ob + tuse à obtuse

ob + tuse + ly à obtusely

ob + tuse + ness à obtuseness

con + tuse/ + ion à contusion

con + tuse/ + ive à contusive

con + tuse/ + ed à contused

con + tuse/ + es à contused

con + tuse/ + ing à contusing

obtund (does not fit in matrix but is related.)

Brandan’s drawing of a “fluffy knife”

*names and details changed but be sure to look up the meaning of the name “Brandan.”

Resources used:

etymonline.com

Word Origins, second ed. John ayto

Minimatrix Maker http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/matrix/temp/index.html

Wordsearcher http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/searcher/

Flour Power

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my garden this year. I’ve also been spending a lot of time researching the etymology of flower names. This question is the one that started my explorations.

I often ask students to think about words that they find confusing or hard to spell to base our lessons on.  A few weeks ago, Flora* asked me why flower and flour sounded the same but had different spellings. Our investigation led to many exciting discoveries.

Homophones often have different spellings because it helps us to differentiate the meaning of the word when we are reading. I teach this as a feature of the English language and not as a flaw. A bit of searching on etymonline.com showed us that the words flower and flour are related and in fact come from the exact same word.

Both words appear to come from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root, *bhel meaning “to thrive, bloom, which is possibly a variant of PIE root *bhel meaning “to blow, swell.”

The word came into English around 1200 CE by way of the Latin word florem (nominative flos) which became the Old French word flor. The English word came into use circa 1200. Alternately spelled as flur, flor, floer, floyer, and flowre.

The word meaning “finer portion of ground grain” was also spelled as flower, until circa 1830, when flour became the accepted spelling in order to end confusion. Perhaps it referred to the “finest of fairest part of the plant”

The words flower and flour can both be used as a noun or as a verb.

The flowers (n.) in the field will flower (v.) all summer long.

She will flour (v.) the surface of the table with the flour (n.).

The word flower can also carry the meaning of “time of blossoming” and “innocence”or “virginity.”

The word flourish with the sense of “thrive” is from mid-14th century English and the verb meaning to brandish a weapon is from the late 14th century.

The related base <flor> which has the sense of “having to do with flowers” gives us words such as floral, florist, and florid.

I noted with amusement that cornflower and cornflour are both compound words.

The related words:

gave me difficulty; is the base <fol> or <foli>? I looked for evidence to support my hypothesis that the base is <fol> as in <fol + i + age>. I still felt unsure, so went to my word study group for opinions. My friend Mary Beth Stevens wrote this reply to my query:

“In the OED, I found an obsolete spelling of this base as <foil>. That made me think that the <i> was part of the base. But then I also found a number if words using this base, such as foliose, foliature, foliar, and folic. It is <folic> that made me pause! Like all the others it came from Latin “folium” with a denotation of “leaf.” We can question whether or not the <i> is a connecting vowel in <foliage> and the first three I mentioned, but in <folic> it becomes pretty clear that we have an <ic> suffix. That means that the base is <fol> by itself. According to Etymonline, the word <folic> (as in folic acid) was coined in 1941 because of its abundance in green leaves. It’s a very modern coining, so if anyone has evidence that this was borrowed incorrectly, I would be interested in hearing it. Until then, the evidence points to <fole + I + age>”

Another poster wondered about whether there was a single, silent, non-syllabic <e> on the base since otherwise, the l would double.

Then Erin Pizzo weighed in with this post:

“Taken from etymonline:

Foliage (n.)

mi-15c., “representation of leaves or branches” (as an ornamental design), from Middle French feullage from French feuille “leaf, foliage” from PIE root *bhel- (3) “to thrive, to bloom”) The form has altered 17 c. by the influence of Latin folium or its derivatives in English.

This is the evolution I was talking about. Not every word in English is a clear derivative of Latin and there are times when there are “alterations.” Also not looking at having a double <ii> in this sort as well? Folio + ic is perhaps an incorrect word sum because folio and folio are different declensions of the same stem. Looking at Etymonline, I would follow the ablative form, which is folium. Which may be why D. Harper of Etymonline gives the hyperlink for folio in the folic entry.”

I really enjoyed this exchange, and after sitting on this post, feeling like I didn’t have enough understanding to continue, I decided to leave this investigation for another day. I tend toward perfectionism and knew that if I waited to be sure of my thinking, this post would never be made.  I clearly need to recidivize Michel Rameau Spellinar Latin I for Orthographers, which is always a pleasure to do. As Michel often quotes:

“You can never step in the same river twice.” (Heraclitus)

In my own poking around for understanding, I came upon this in the pronunciation guide in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

“Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille (“leaf”), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in “aluminum foil”). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant “leaf.” “

This gives me another list of related words:

Student (and teacher) questions lead to more and more questions. I hope you have enjoyed my dive down the rabbit hole of word investigation!

*student names and details have been changed.

Resources used:

Wordsearcher http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/searcher/

Etymonline Dictionary https://www.etymonline.com

Merriam-Webster Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foliage

Matrices made with  http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/matrix/temp/index.html

A Rose by any other Name

I moved last year and this is the first year for a really good garden, so I have had flowers on my brain. I started playing around in canva.com and started creating flower etymology memes and sharing them. They are a bit addicting and others tell me they look forward to them each day. So here is my collection so far. Lily has two versions, because I just couldn’t choose my favorite! Enjoy them and the beauty of summer.

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Refractionary–An Investigation into a Character Name

One of my reluctant reader teen students, Rory*, needs to read three books over the summer. The first book he chose was Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Rory listened to the audiobook quickly—and immediately started the next—high praise indeed! He dubbed it a “page turner” which we thought funny since he is listening to it. I read my copy on my Kindle and I liked the option of highlighting and returning to ideas for exploration with Rory. I like reading along with my students so we can discuss the books and I often use words or themes for further study.

One of the things I like about using this book as a launching pad to our tutoring sessions is how the names of many of the Epics (superhumans who take over and rule the earth) have names that were morphological treasure troves. The first name we explored was Refractionary, an Epic who is a “Class A Illusionist with invisibility capabilities.” She is a lesser Epic and has difficulty maintaining her illusions. There is always a tell-tale shimmer as if light is reflecting on her.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

We began this investigation by finding the base of the word. Rory is an experienced word investigator with  gifted level verbal abilities and was able to analyze the word into a word sum <re + fract + ion + ary>  or maybe <re + fract + ion +ar(e) + y>. In any case he teased out the <fract> as the probable base and we went to Etymonline to search out the meaning of the base. We did not find <fract> but our search showed us <fracture>. Was there a possible relationship?  I suggested he try adding back on the prefix <re-> and we found our trail.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We found that refract is a verb meaning “to bend” and is a back formation from refraction, from Late Latin (1560s.) Refraction is a noun of action, <re> “back” + fract “to break up, possibly with a sense of undoing” + ion (a noun making suffix).  The Latin word it is derived from is the combining form franger “to break” which in turn appears to come from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *bhreg-  “to break”

Following the PIE Root led us to find connections that did not fit in our matrix to other familiar words such as brake, fragile, frail, and fragment.

We agreed that <fract> must be a bound base because it shared the same meaning in the word fracture. We agreed that this was a fitting name for our Epic, because she shimmers as she refracts the light.

Next, we went to Wordsearcher and found words that we thought would be related and began to construct a matrix. We decided to leave any exploration of <ary> versus <ar(e) + y> for another day and use <ary> in our matrix.

As we put each word into the matrix, Rory defined words, used them in sentences, and explained how they had a sense of “breaking.” Words we were unsure of, we looked up in a dictionary to get a better understanding.

To finish off our session, we played one Jenga block after writing out a word sum This is Rory’s favorite part of the lesson and we get very competitive. We keep playing until we run out of words to build or our tower falls down.

*Names and details changed

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this book and thought the author had a good argument for his ideas regarding how Celtic languages have influenced English grammar. It made sense to me. However, I do not know enough about the arguments on the other side. McWhorter is arguing against what he seems to think is the prevailing view that the Celtic languages had little impact on English. I would love any references to that point of view if anyone knows of a good resource.



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Turtles all the way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


John Green has been one of my favorite YA authors since before he was cool. This book takes you inside the head of a girl with anxiety and OCD. I enjoyed the book and the glimpse of understanding of what it might feel like to deal with those types of challenges. In the Q&A with the author, I found that Green also has anxiety and OCD, though he states that his challenges manifest differently. It is nice to see Green’s honesty and I hope his words help promote normalization of getting the help needed for mental health issues.



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All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this book, though, as a mom and teacher, watching Finch spin out of control with no adult stepping in, made me sad and anxious. I also worried about Violet, dealing with Finch’s emotional roller coaster alone. It was not an easy read. Mental illness and suicide ideation is not something that can be taken lightly and this book did a good job of addressing this issue.

As a side-note, I really want to do my own “wandering” project now. It is an amazing concept to discover all the bright places in your own area.



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