Welcome to High School!!!

18 08 2014

I love the start of the school year.  There’s so many cool things about it.  Here’s a top 10 list of my favorite things.

10. My desk is clean.  I’m a pretty organized person… except my desk.  My desk is usually a mess.  I know where every single thing is in that mess, but the pile of junk might fall over and injure someone at any moment.  I like the beginning of the year, because I have a chance to make brand new piles of desk mess.

9.  All the markers work.  At the end of the year it seems that all the white-board markers are just about dried out.  I might have 40 markers on the tray, but none of them write dark enough. However, every fall the markers are bright and bold and write perfectly.  I love that.

8.  The clean smell.  By January the whole place smells like old snow boots, there’s the whole thing about the funky gym clothes stank, and there’s always some kid that leaves a tuna sandwich in his locker for waaaaaaay longer than a tuna sandwich should be in a locker (just so you know, the rule on how long a tuna sandwich should be in a locker is a maximum of four hours).   Today, this week, for the next few weeks, the school smells great.

7.  Brand new notebooks.  I love that all the spirals a brand spankin’ new.  No one has the weird crinkly edge parts pouring out of the book, no one has the wire all bent up so there’s one long sticky-outy part hanging out 5 inches from the paper and stabbing everyone you walk by, and no one has to search through a gazillion pages full of doodles and drawings to find a piece of fresh paper – it’s all fresh paper.

6.  It’s the start of the football season.  I know this has nothing to do with school, but football and the start of the school year go hand in hand in my mind.

5.  The teachers are so excited.  Teaching is like no other job.  No one else, except maybe professional athletes, gets a three month break from their job, then come back and it all starts over.  It’s the same, but different.  Teaching never gets boring, especially at the beginning of the year.

4.  I get to meet with my TAP kids soon.  What the heck is a TAP kid?  I run a student travel club called TAP, which stands for the Travel Adventure Program.  Each year we take a group of high school students on a trip to a foreign country.  The last five years we’ve traveled to Germany, Greece, Turkey, Italy, England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Japan, and Poland!  This year we took 32 people from the Oswego area to South Africa, and in June 2016 we have 66 kids heading with us to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris!!!  It takes a lot of work to get ready for a student trip to another country, so we meet every month during the school year to get prepared.  We take the summer off from meetings, so I can’t wait to get back to getting the kids ready for our trip.  Our trip to Paris at the end of this school year is full, but the good news is that you can join the club, participate in tons of cool activities, and get ready for a trip after your sophomore year!  We’ll announce where that trip is going in October.

3.  My friends.   I worked at my last school for ten years, so I had lots of friends there, and at the beginning of the year I miss them.  This is my second year at OEHS, though, so I’ve made some great friends here and the first few weeks are a really exciting chance to hear all about their summer vacations, weddings, trips around the world, and even new babies!

2. Making new friends.  Okay, I’m going to be your teacher, so maybe we’re not going to be exactly friends, but I am excited to meet you.  We’re going to spend a whole year together, do some fun projects, and learn a ton, so I’m always excited to see new faces in my classroom.  Not only that, but I like meeting new parents.  I like forming a team with them to help their student be successful – a new year means new challenges and new people.  Both of those are great things.

1.  It’s a clean slate.  I’m going to be honest.  I made a few mistakes last year.  There are somethings I want to do differently, there are a few things I want to make sure I don’t do again, and there’s a handful of new things I’d love to try out.  With a new school year I get a clean slate, a second chance, a fresh start.   So do you!  If you slacked off last year, if you caused trouble, if you were disorganized, or didn’t study hard enough, or talked out of turn, or were always late…  I have great news.  None of your 6th grade teachers know that, so you have a clean slate – a new year is a fresh start to make a new and better you.  I’m going to try to make a new and better me, so maybe you should too.

I can’t wait to see everyone on the first day.  It’s going to be a great year.  Well, it’s going to be great as long as we all remember the tuna sandwich rules.

Welcome to Expectations Night!

29 08 2013

Glad you could all make it to expectations night, and welcome to Mr. Curtis’ Literature/Language Arts classroom.  Please take some time to look around the different areas of the room to see our new text books, some student writing samples from the past, and some of the books we read here in 6th grade.

There’s also information sheets about Remind101, a new text messaging system that helps parents keep in communication with their kids’ teachers about upcoming assignments.

Also, in case you were wondering… this is Mr. Curtis’ website.  It has a bunch of good stuff on it.  You can find it at http://www.mcliterature.wordpress.com

Novel Planning Worksheets

20 11 2012

This one’s for third period only.

As we take the Thanksgiving break to plan out our novels, you guys can feel free to use the worksheets that we began in class.

Remember, Monday we start writing our stories, and by winter break, you will be able to tell the world that you wrote a novel!!!

Horton Halfpott

30 10 2012

Dickensian [dɪˈkɛnzɪən] adj

1. either from or related to Charles Dickens (1812-70), the English novelist, or his works

2. resembling or suggesting conditions described in Dickens’ novels, especially squalid and poverty-stricken working conditions were truly Dickensian

3.  grotesquely comic, as some of the characters of Dickens

In every sense of that definition Horton Halfpott: or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or  The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset by Tom Angleberger is Dickensian.

Alright, a few years from now, as Tom Angleberger’s books gain more and more popularity – hilarious comedies with memorable characters in ridiculous situations may come to be known as Anglebergian, but for now, Angleberger is going to have to settle for his book being Dickensian.

It certainly resembles the works of Charles Dickens.  Set in Smugwick Manor, the labyrinth like mansion of the Luggertuck family, Horton Halfpott is filled with characters that had to be inspired by Boz himself.  The story takes place in Victorian England, just like Dickens stories, and, just as Dickens did, Angleberger creates a cast of characters made up of weak servants that are mistreated, rich snobs that you love to hate (and Dickens loved to mock), a bumbling detective, and a helpless waif of a hero that just needs someone to give him a leg up.  The book is worth reading for the names themselves – The evil Luther Luggertuck, Horton Halfpott (a pint sized hero who washes pots and pans), Celia Sylvan-Smythe (who Luther and Horton want to sit in a tree with… yeah, we all know what they want to do in that tree), Loafburton (the baker), the Shipless Pirates, the bumbling detective Portney St. Pomfrey, and the other servants – Bump, Blight, and Blemish.

The servants at Smugwick Manor work in hilarious, but hideous, conditions that give you the “grotesquely comic” that worked so well for Dickens, but makes you root for them that much more, all while laughing at the ridiculous roles each of them is given in the household.  Of course, the best of all is Horton Halfpott himself, the small boy who doesn’t seem to have anything going right in his life reminds readers of Oliver Twist or David Copperfield in so many ways.   Horton’s life is so awful that you just have to laugh at each crazy thing that happens to him.

The main conflict in the story is the zany disappearance of the Luggertuck’s priceless gem – The Lump.  Of course, our hapless hero, Horton Halfpott is the lead suspect in the crime, because this story is Dickensian, so Horton’s life has to get continuously more and more awful.  However, it’s these problems, as well as all the twists and turns that make Oliver Twist such a fun read, that make this book so great.  Horton finds himself in so scary, exciting, and interesting predicaments as the mystery unfolds that you just can’t put the book down.  I highly recommend this on, as well as any other Anglebergian adventures you might find in the library.

Heart of a Samurai

23 09 2012

In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy helped open the borders of Japan to the rest of the world.  Before then Japan was a “closed country,” refusing to trade or communicate with any foreign lands.  They were especially concerned with the Western nations of Europe and North America, fearing that the people of those countries were devils out to corrupt them and destroy their society and traditions.

The Newbery Honor book, Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus takes place about fifteen years before Perry’s treaties with Japan that opened the country to the rest of the world.

In the book, Manjiro is a fourteen-year-old boy on a Japanese fishing boat.  Manjiro has always dreamed of growing up to be a samurai, but since he’s from a poor, lower class family, he never will be.   When the boat is destroyed in a storm, Manjiro and the other four fishermen are forced to swim to an unknown island where they attempt to live on sea birds and their eggs.  Eventually they are rescued by an American whaling ship.  Not only will Manjiro never be a samurai, but it doesn’t look like he’ll ever see his homeland again.

The Japanese fishermen are reluctant to speak with the American sailors, because if they ever return home, their countrymen will imprison them, maybe even kill them – fearing that they were corrupted by too much contact with foreigners.  Manjiro realizes this and decides that he will probably never be allowed to return home, so, going against the warnings of the other fishermen, Manjiro begins learning English and how to work on the whaling ship.

The story tells the true story of Manjiro’s life over the next decade or so – his adventures on the whaler, his experiences living in New England, his attempts to find riches in San Francisco during the gold rush, and eventually his return to Japan – where he’s imprisoned as an outsider.  Manjiro may not be a true warrior, but throughout all of his adventures, he proves that he does have the heart of a samurai.

Manjiro’s story isn’t a well-known one, but without his efforts and experiences, Commodore Perry never would have been successful in his efforts to open trade lines with Japan.

Margi Preus tells this exciting adventure with quick chapters filled with illustrations (many drawn by Manjiro himself).  Even though this book was published in 2011, it feels like you’re reading a classic adventure story from 100 years ago – and that’s a good thing.  This one is destined to be a classic.

This school year I’ve challenged my students to read 40 books.  I took that challenge myself.   Heart of a Samurai is book #6 for me.  

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

20 09 2012

The sixth book of the Narnia series is very different from the first five.  In every other book there’s at least one character who is transported to Narnia (or the surrounding fantasy kingdoms) from our Earthly world.  They each became a character for readers to relate to, suddenly transported to a foreign land, unaware of the ways things work and what’s good and what’s evil.  In this book, the main character is a young boy named Shasta, originally from Narnia, but living in another land called Calormen as a slave.

Because of this slight difference, The Horse and His Boy is actually one of the best of the Narnia books.  The story behind the book is even more interesting though.  

Books three, four, and five of the series are known as the Caspian trilogy, because all three books focus on the Prince (later King) of Narnia – Caspian.  While writing those three books, C.S. Lewis took a break and wrote The Horse and His Boy.  So, if you number the books in the order they were written, this one is fourth.  However, since Lewis didn’t want this story to come out in the middle of the Caspian books, he kept it on his desk and didn’t publish it until fifth.  But, since he’d already written it, he gave a little sneaky shout-out to Shasta and the horse Bree in Book Four – The Silver Chair.  

The Silver Chair takes place thousands of years after The Horse and His Boy, but some of the characters in The Silver Chair make mention of a famous legend in Narnia of Shasta and Bree.  Lewis was able to make this reference to a piece of fake Narnian history, because he’d already written the story.

Much like J.R.R. Tolkien did with his Lord of the Rings world – MiddleEarth – Lewis gave Narnia it’s own history, mythology, and cultures to make it more real to readers.

I thought this little story was the best part of the book.  As a whole, it’s a fun adventure story, but not great by any means.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they were trying to read the whole Narnia series.  I did like that after three books that took place several thousand years after the original story (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), this one went back to the time period of the first book.  Also, after a few books without them, it was fun to catch the little references to Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy – the heroes of book one and book two.  

So far, I’m giving this series 3 out of 5 stars.  This book gets 3 1/2 stars.  

Each year I challenge my students to read 40 books over the course of the school year.  I believe I can’t ask the kids to do something I’m not willing to do myself, I take the challenge to.  In fact, this year I’ve challenged myself to read 60 books.  The Horse and His Boy was the 5th book I’ve read this school year.  


17 09 2012

I seem to be on a real big graphic novel kick lately.  I really enjoyed Smile by Raina Telgemeier, the Babymouse series has quickly become one of my favorites, My Friend Dahmer was one of the most memorable books I’ve read this yearand Bone has shot to the top of my all-time favorites list.




Not to be forgotten is the Amulet series.  These books, by Japanese-American author Kazu Kibuishi, are among the best fantasy adventures I’ve ever read.  The story starts out in an amazing fashion with one of the best hooks in the history of books (I reviewed book one about a month ago), but it’s gone so far that it’s hard to remember how simple things were for the book’s brother and sister heroes – Navin and Emily – back then.

The story begins with the kids moving, along with their mom, to a creepy old house that has been in the family for generations, but was last inhabited by their great-grandfather, the eccentric old Silas.  The mom’s scraping to make ends meet and at her wit’s end, so she moves her family into the house, because the free price tag is all she can afford.

Before they’ve even spent an entire night there, a spooky ghosty octopus-demon thing snatches mom away, taking her to another world/dimension.

Emily and Navin follow, Emily wearing an amulet the kids found while snooping around, and they soon learn that Emily is what is known as a stonekeeper, a person that can connect with the stone in the old amulet to perform some incredible feats of magic.  They go after their mother, while the evil prince of the elves tries to stop them, and before long they meet that eccentric, long-lost great-grandfather and an odd assortment of good guys, like the robot bunny, the tin-man engineer, the ninja fox warrior, and the old man/cat person that pilots a blimp/plane.  

By book four, which is how far I’ve gotten so far, you’re in a totally unique world with its own set of rules, wondering if the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good, because the author throws some incredible twists and turns at you in every chapter.

I don’t know how long this series will go on, but it’s got me hooked, because it’s one of the best fantasy stories I’ve ever read.  To top it off, the art work is unbelievable.  In each book there are three or four sections where Kibuishi changes things around – instead of five or six little panels on a page, he makes a few giant pictures that go across two whole pages – these ones make you stop and stare for a while.  The imagination, the artistic talent, the incredible storytelling…. Amulet has it all.

I’ve got book five on hold at the public library, and I can’t wait ’til it comes in.