The Pencil Sharpener


Recently in desperate need of a new classroom pencil sharpener, I searched the Internet and discovered the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener — a hand-crank pencil sharpener that can be used anywhere in the classroom and sharpens pencils perfectly, “every single time.”

I went to their website and was about to order one in a pretty shade of blue,commercial imagewhen I saw that I could get a free one if I were to write a review on my blog about it. Four days later, a small but exciting box arrived on my front porch. I had already informed my class of our windfall, so took it to school unopened for my students to share in the big reveal. There are several videos on YouTube showing how to use it, and we had already watched a couple of them in anticipation of the Big Day.

Upon opening the box, we were taken aback to discover that the little black pincher pieces had come off during shipping, but after a minute of figuring out which went where, the pieces snapped back on perfectly.

Normally, there is no assembly required unless you choose to use the clampClamp image from their blog (included) to affix it to a desk or table top. We tried it that way at first, but it did not seem terribly stable (at least where I was trying to put it), and after using it a few times, it became detached and fell to the floor. We decided to skip the clamp and just hold the sharpener down with the non-cranking hand during use, which worked much better.

Here’s how: Pinch the two black pieces together with one hand while you insert the pencilIMG_8318, then pull the metal carriage out as far as it can go. Release the pinchers. Place your non-dominant hand on top of the sharpener IMG_8311to hold it in place, and use your other hand to crank in a clockwise fashion until there is no resistance (the pencil is held in place by the pinchers). When the resistance stops, pinch the black pieces together again, remove the pencil, and admire the point.

IMG_8321Because you will, every single time!

Check out the Pencil Sharpeners from Classroom Friendly Supplies! You won’t be disappointed.

Update: After about two weeks of use, the gripper that pulls the pencils into the mechanisim to be sharpened stopped working correctly. We can still use it, but the metal carriage does not retract by itself without manual assistance. IMG_8326Now when sharpening, after about every quarter inch, the resistance stops prematurely and we need to repeat the pinch/pull-out-the-metal-part-as-far-as-it-can-go step about 8 times before the pencil is sufficiently sharpened. Still a perfect point though. 🙂

Fellow teachers have stepped forward to say that they also have one and love it, and have not had that issue, so I think we just got a lemon. I will definitely order another when this one totally croaks. Still love it!


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Summer Reading 2014

I’ve seen several new Summer Reading lists for children in the last few days. Some have various prizes for accomplishing them, for others the prize is just getting introduced to some great books.

Thought I’d share:

Reward based mega-list: 

American Library Association picks:

Scholastic Challenge:


From a reliable teacher-website:

Annual Reading Rockets List:

and of course, my favorite:

Classic Children’s Books (20 years or older, but still readily available):'s_classic_books

Happy Summer Reading! 🙂

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Summer Reading 2013

I am very pleased to announce that one of my favorite Oldies But Goodies has been selected by my local school system for their 9th grade gifted summer reading program: A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins

(along with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers – not an Oldie But Goodie, but a fine read nonetheless). Great choice, Local School System!

Students (and adults) of both sexes will enjoy this book, a first-hand account of Peter Jenkins’ 1970’s true life adventure, in which he finds his dog, his bride and ultimately himself.

Additionally, a sister Oldies But Goodies novel is making news this season with its re-release from Ballantine Books. Formerly very difficult to find (believe me, I’ve tried and there’s NOTHING out there for under $75.00…) The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

by Peter Benchley is available for pre-order with a shipping date of August 20, 2013. Although Benchley is best known for Jaws, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is (in my opinion) his masterwork. A beautifully visual read, it is the story of Paloma, a girl who lives near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (a.k.a. The Gulf of California, located between the Baja Peninsula and the mainland. For more on this area of the world, see ).

Her love of the sea and the creatures in it is threatened by greedy outsiders without a care for the destruction they will leave behind. Not only is it a great book, it makes my environmentalist heart go pitter-pat.

Both Walk Across America and The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (and Outliers and Jaws, too, for that matter) are great books for a summer read at the beach, the pool, or curled up in bed with the air-conditioner blasting on you. Even if you don’t have plans to travel this summer, after you’ve read them, you will feel well-rested and dream of faraway places.

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Reader’s Block

My job as a sixth grade language arts and math teacher keeps me jumping, and during the school year, I have found it best to shelve all thoughts of leisure-reading. This year, looking forward to winter break, I was all set to hibernate for a few days with Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily Product Detailsand Susan Vreeland’s Product DetailsClara and Mr. Tiffany. They were both a little on the thick side, but I was confident that I’d be able to finish them in two weeks.

Around that same time, one of my favorite friends from AgentQueryConnect, Sophie Perinot (a.k.a. Litgal, a.a.k.a. @Lit_Gal), announced that there was a contest on Goodreads to win an advance copy of her debut novel, The Sister Queens. I’d already pre-ordered it, but getting the chance to read it before the rest of the world did was intriguing, so I entered. And then I won a copy. Product Details

When it arrived, I was in the throes of getting ready for Christmas, so I added it to the pile on my nightstand.

Now I had three books to read. I mentally arranged them: Clara and Mr. T looked good, but it could wait because my book group wasn’t meeting until the end of January. A fan of Willig’s whimsical romances, I was tempted to pick up Blood Lily, but Sister Queens had a deadline because I’d told Litgal that I would write an advance review on my blog. The Sister Queens it was.

Despite my sons’ constant arguing over their yuletide haul of small electronics, I managed to get some reading in during the week before New Year’s. I was enjoying the book, and by page 185 was confident that I would finish by the time school resumed on the fifth, with maybe even enough time left over for Clara. And then the Kindle that I’d ordered with my Christmas gift-cards arrived.

Suddenly my interest was fixated on my own small electronic. At first I restrained myself to just figuring out how to use it, but when the purple leather case arrived two days later, I succumbed to downloading many of the titles I’d previously selected with my “Kindle for Mac” app. I couldn’t wait to try it out, but The Sister Queens e-book will not be available until March 6th, so I was out of luck in that department. I tried to satisfy myself by downloading the electronic version of Clara and Mr. Tiffany from the library for later, but I was itching to push those buttons, and really wanted to experience reading in bed using only one hand.

“You are not allowed to use your Kindle until you’re done with The Sister Queens,” I told myself sternly. Five or six times.

“It couldn’t hurt to read just a few chapters of something,” Myself said back. Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, it was.

Product Details

Unfortunately, Agnes’s woes of being a governess to a family of singularly unruly children ran in remarkable parallel to a recent classroom management situation of my own, and I couldn’t put it down. And then school started up again.

I still haven’t finished The Sister Queens, although I’m loving it whenever I get the chance. I was only able to get the first chapter of Clara read in time for book group, and Blood Lily has gotten knocked off the table and is under the bed somewhere, waiting for Presidents’ Day.

Will. Finish. Sister. Queens.

Stay tuned for my review…

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Reading is Felonious

This August, in the throes of readying for the new school year, a recently hired colleague expressed concerns about where to keep her purse during the day. Her worries were understandable, as the school is in an urban area with a somewhat higher level of crime than the suburb from which she comes. I assured her that last year I had an enormous purse that would only fit under my desk, but no one had ever bothered it. I even kept a dish filled with nickels on top of my desk from students who purchased pencils, and no one ever stole any.

No, the students don’t take money. They steal books.

By June, it had cost me more than forty dollars to replace titles “borrowed” from my classroom library last year. Shiny new copies of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and My Side of the Mountain had all disappeared from the bookshelf.

“Does anyone have these books?” I would ask my class, only to be met by total silence. But I already knew who had them. I’d recommended them to those students, myself. All bright children who I was pretty sure didn’t have any books of their own at home.

As far as I’m concerned, they are welcome to keep them, and if it costs me another forty dollars this year, I’ll pay it without flinching. I only hope that all of those books stay in print.


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Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

I was first acquainted with The Thirteenth Tale when I won a contest on author Mindy McGinnis’s blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. The prize was a book of my choice, and Mindy (a school librarian by day) helpfully suggested several titles, including this one. Billed as “a classic gothic,” I was a little nervous that it might be Victoria Holt-like, but after checking it out on and Goodreads, I decided to risk it.

Margaret Lea works in her father’s antique book shop, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her dead identical twin. Vida Winter is a reclusive famous writer, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her own dead identical twin. In her dotage and facing a terminal illness, Vida has finally decided to share her mysterious life story, and she wants Margaret to be the one to write it down. Off on the moors (okay, that much was stereotypical), Margaret is fascinated by Vida’s twisted tale, but echoes of her own life story inevitably start to resonate. Shadows and foreshadows of Jane Eyre, a mystery of birth, and twins who just won’t stay dead grip the reader until the last few pages, where the author takes great (and satisfying) pains to wrap up every little detail. I couldn’t put it down.

Maybe I was just tired (it was four-thirty in the morning when I finished the book), but even with the care that the author took to tie up loose ends, there was one detail that remained unexplained for me. Whose initials were IAR? Not whose I thought they would be, which begs the question: Was it a typo, or was Emmeline a serial diary thief? If you read it, I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Thank you, Mindy, good pick.

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶


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Vintage Book Review: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith is probably best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I didn’t even know her for that, until seeing an author’s online bio that listed I Capture the Castle as a favorite. Out of curiosity,  I looked it up on Amazon and saw that the book was recommended by JK Rowling, so to the library I went.

First published in 1949, the novel was written as the journal entries of a seventeen-year-old girl living in post-WWII England. It is a fascinating reflection of the times, as well as a good coming-of-age story.

Eeking out a life of poverty in a once grand castle with a one-book-wonder of a father, an eccentric young stepmother, a younger brother, the orphaned teenage son of their former housekeeper and assorted dogs and cats, two sisters wonder if things will ever be different. Then the wealthy Cotton boys move in just down the road, and things are never the same again.

Aside from enjoying the writing style, I was intrigued by the subplot of the main character’s spiritual journey. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was a subplot until practically the middle of the book, but I found myself watching for it, and was not displeased. The big question that kept me hooked though, was, “What the heck is the deal with Father?”

Some parts of the story made me laugh out loud, others seemed a little melodramatic, but all was from a very “seventeen” way of seeing the world. I came away from the novel wondering if it would be more enjoyed by a teen reader or by an older one who can look back at that age and smile. I think probably both. A very enjoyable book!


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