New Review on Goodreads

I was excited to see this pop up from fellow author Eric Andreas. He wrote (which I am avidly reading) Origins Rising, a post apocalyptic, futuristic thriller with humans that evolve with different skills sets–flying, running, and swimming and a whole bunch of new and scary animals that evolved with them. He posted this review of The Order of the Trees on Goodreads:

My review below includes a couple of plot points that could be considered spoilers. But if you’re a parent of a middle schooler looking for a helpful review of this wonderful book, read on.

When a couple finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods at the foot of a tall cedar tree, they don’t know what to make of it. Who would leave a babe in the woods? The trees know . . . but they can’t say. The couple adopt the girl and name her Cedar, after the tree where she was found. They know she’s special, just not how special. The kids in school make fun of Cedar because she’s different, but she’s able to spark up a friendship with another outcast named Phillip. Cedar opens up to her new friend and asks him to join her club—The Order of the Trees. Phillip quickly realizes that he and Cedar are the only human members; the other members are the trees and the animals in the woods where Cedar was found. But Phillip doesn’t mind, he thinks it’s cool. And it is! Cedar teaches him about the trees and animals and how special they are; it’s like she’s connected to the trees, feels what they feel, knows what they know. Does she? One day, Cedar and Phillip notice orange tape tied to all the trees in Cedar’s woods, and they learn that the land is going to be cleared for development. At once Cedar falls deathly ill. Nobody knows what’s wrong with her—but Phillip does. The problem is, he’s sure no one will believe him. What follows is some great derring-do by two kids determined to do the right thing.

Farber’s The Order Of The Trees is a enjoyable eco-adventure for middle schoolers. The author puts a loving touch on this book, and her writing is clear and crisp. Any middle schooler should be able to read this with no trouble, but at the same time won’t feel like it’s a “kiddy” book. The characters are also genuine, not stiff, and easily relatable. It was a joy to read and is a must have for any young nature lover in your family.

-Eric Andreas (author of Origins Rising)

I am so thankful for this review! Please join me on Goodreads so we can share great books.  You can find The Order of the Trees on Amazon to pre-order before the May 1, 2015 publication date.

Fiction Writing Magic: K-3 Students at Kellogg Hubbard Library

fiction writing kidsThe young writers started showing up in little bursts. Shyly, then entered the room. They brought tiny handmade books, notebooks, and special pens. We met in the center of the room with markers and a big piece of paper. While more writers showed up, we drew settings– purple waves, lollip pop trees, thoughtful owls.

Then I asked them what a setting was– and what makes them special. I read Dogteam by Gary Paulsen and we drank in the glowing moon and reflecting snow, the dogs dancing through the trees. I read a scene from my upcoming book The Order of the Trees where Cedar and her friend are in a secret woodland spot and listening to the nighttime orchestra of insects and animals. I asked them what their special place is– imaginary or real. To close their eyes and picture the details.

Now make it! We painted, drew, brainstormed. Ideas swirled over little heads. The art bloomed from their fingers.

Then we pushed away the art and I said what if only you could see the art? What if you had to describe it for anyone else to see it? So we started writing and scribing and the creativity positively vibrated the room. We needed more time!

All the kids ended up sharing their creative works. We had stories about a lost and brave fish, stories about a rainbow as a character, a magical rock, and fairies in a forest.

Later I received an email that said one little girl continued writing in the grocery store cart while her mom piled food around her. This is why I write with and for kids!

The Order of the Trees (pre-orders open now)

TreesCover2 (2)

I am thrilled (and a bit nervous!) to announce that Green Writer’s Press, a homegrown, Vermont publisher with a focus on “authors who want to make the world a better place” will be publishing my first middle level/young adult novel in May. I couldn’t ask for a publisher that is more in line with the my values and this story. It makes me proud that the book will be printed on FSC certified recycled paper with soy based inks in the U.S.

The book is called The Order of the Trees– and is about Cedar, who was found as a baby under an old growth tree in the Vermont woods. This is the story of her sixth grade year, her first true friend, and how their fate is connected to the magical woods in which she was found.

The Order of the Trees is now available for pre-order through Amazon. If you order during the pre-order period and let me know (in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter) I would be happy to send you a previously unpublished short story about redemption on a junior high bus that was filled with spit balls, harassment and exclusion. This story created a forum for those who experienced similar traumatic events on junior high buses. Many found the story validating and I am so grateful for this as it has helped me to process this challenging time as well.

I couldn’t be more excited about my new publisher. Dede Cummings, literary agent and publisher, is a fireball of positivity and is bringing beautiful books to life this spring about sustainability, climate change, teaching and mindfulness. I am so excited to be included in this spring catalog. 

I’m so lucky that two of my favorite Vermont authors for young adults wrote blurbs for the book after reading advance copies: Rita Murphy, author of Night Flying, and Doug Wilhelm, author of The Revealer and many other books. I will share those soon.

I would be so grateful if you could ask for this book at your local library, bookstore, and school. It releases on May 1st and I will fill you in on other details as the date draws near!

Common Core: Opportunity and Potential

(First published at the Vermont Agency of Education blog.)

Imagine there is a wide field of grasses, and each blade is one of the possible math concepts to teach. Then, imagine someone running around, cultivating the wild grasses that never took seed, the ones that are growing heartily and need to flower fully, and expanding the grassland in all directions. That person is constantly exhausted. The field is huge, and the grasses have limited depth. But the person keeps running, trying to cultivate all of them, but never quite managing to do so. Weeds grow. Areas are unmaintained, because the field is endless.

Mathematics is an abundant field with many, many concepts. The teacher is the person running around this field endlessly.

The Common Core has limited the field, and required that certain grasses take root, deeply. The math concepts in the Common Core per grade level allow teachers to focus on certain skills and make sure all students master them. This then allows each grade level to build upon the one before it, especially after this has been in place for several years, we will see less gaps, more evidence, and more cohesion in our math scope and sequence, and in our math learners themselves.

In the meantime, teachers are in that difficult transition time where they are creating materials, filling gaps from other years, and trying to figure out a way to gather, report, and share data. This is no small task, and we must work together to find ways to support teachers in this meaningful work, and also to promote the sharing of good practices to use with Common Core, such as successful reporting systems, unit plans, plans for classroom structure and curricular mapping, and so forth.

For new teachers, the Common Core can be daunting or liberating, and all shades in between. With no program to follow, new (and experienced) teachers run the risk of teaching concepts from the Common Core in a scattered, disorganized fashion. It can be overwhelming to plan a cohesive math curriculum at a particular grade level for a year. That is why it is so important that schools and districts support teachers in this work—utilizing math experts and quality resources—and give teachers the time to do the work. We face an exciting opportunity with the Common Core, but we must all work in the field together, supporting the growth of our young math learners and our teachers.


New Posts on MomsRising, Moms Clean Air Force, and Non-Toxic Kids

2014 ecotiptue


Last week was very busy in the area of environmental health and in my posting.  I wrote articles on Non-Toxic Kids, and for MomsRising and Moms Clean Air Force.


On Non-Toxic Kids, I reviewed the top 3 stories of the week. GMO free Cheerios, new flame retardant rules, and Triclosan under review by the FDA top the list.  The issues to report on and decisions to make as a parent are endless! I also wrote a post sharing 8 ways to help children avoid toxic chemicals at public schools. This is an issue near and dear to my heart as a teacher, parent and writer.


At Moms Clean Air Force, I shared my take on the top 10 children’s health stories of 2013. These clearly indicate how regular parents are impacting the decisions companies are making for the better. We have the power– and in 2014 we need to continue to use it to move markets and legislation in favor of protecting public health versus profits.


On MomsRising, I shared  10 tips for a green, toxin-free and healthy 2014. These were from the MomsRising weekly Twitter chat I host called #EcoTipTue. We had three great guests and lots of participants who shared their ideas and goals for 2014.  The ideas are inspiring and give me hope that we will continue to make great progress is raising healthy families and protecting kids everywhere.




Vermont Teacher of the Year (Alternate) Speech

TOY speech


I was honored to be part of the Vermont Teacher of the Year process this year. After interviews with the State Board of Education, essays, and observations I was one of three Vermont finalist teachers.  Luke Foley of Northfield Middle and High School was named the Vermont Teachers of the Year for 2014, and I was the alternate. I had the opportunity to speak at the ceremony, and here are my comments:

Thank you so much, Secretary Vilaseca. It is truly an honor to be here with this group of innovative teachers, and supporters of public education.


I thank the Vermont Agency of Education, The Board of Education, the Teacher of the Year committee, and the Northfield community for providing this opportunity to celebrate Vermont’s teachers and to bring teacher voice and leadership to a wider platform. If we are to truly make schools better, it must be from the inside out, using teachers to shape, lead and innovate school policy and decision making.  There are thousands of teachers across this great state who are making a difference in the lives of our children. We must ask for their input. Give them the tools to lead and create better schools. Help them get the resources they need to teach and to be heard. And support them once they are in the classroom with mentoring programs, collaborative and supportive learning environments, and professional compensation.


Our society is changing rapidly and our schools should be as well. Teachers need the tools to create innovative, personal, and individualized learning grounded in local communities. We need to provide authentic learning opportunities through leadership and service learning to engage our students.  Our students (and schools) should not be judged on the scores of one test, one day, in one hour, but in multiple and varied ways, over time. Then we can consider the whole child, and reintroduce humanity into education—wide swaths of integrated, in-depth learning, unhurried, supported, guided and motivating.


Information is free and accessible.  Instead of being the sole instruments of information, teachers are facilitators in growing flexible, creative, critical thinkers who can solve the complex problems our world is facing.  Our students need experience with this.  Service learning and school wide leadership experiences can transform school climates, promote learning between grade levels and ages, increase engagement, motivation, feelings of community, and engage students in higher level learning through authentic experiences in their schools and communities.  The way our communities see our schools and kids are also transformed—communities are deeply involved in their schools and see children and teenagers as allies, partners and instruments of hope that can solve complex problems.


Isn’t that what we need right now, especially in today’s political climate? Thank you, and congratulations, Luke.

A Finely Crafted Education

handcrafted by o.lila

Teaching is personal.  It is the constant, minute-to-minute decisions teachers make about how to best help students, within the context of personal connections, individual personalities, temperaments, and humor. It is a delicate dance of nurturing, challenging, questioning, exploring, and supporting while maintaining the fragile student sense of self.


Learning is individual. It doesn’t conform to grade levels, testing schedules, higher and higher standards or even our best intentions.  A child’s mind and educational growth is full of quick bursts, set backs, giant leaps and incremental, steady growth based on innumerable factors.


As any teacher will tell you, the profession has gotten exponentially more complicated and challenging, and educators have fewer and fewer resources. The answer, many think, is to run schools like businesses.


It’s no wonder we are not seeing much success with this model.  We have huge institutions overcrowded with students; crumbling, dismal classrooms; teachers forced to teach to a test, on specific timelines; removal of essentially all personal, creative instruction and the flexibility to pursue the interests and passions of both the children and the teachers.


It should be no surprise then that one in three teachers are quitting in the first three years, and fifty percent in the first five years. Teachers are in increasingly hostile, stressful, and demoralizing situations.  They struggle with the daily increasing expectations, rushing around and feeling like they are treading water while society tosses them more and more bricks to hold.  This has a profound impact on the climate of the school, and ultimately, the students.


What if we finally admitted that teaching and learning is not a business—and started treating it with the care and attention that we would treat our own homes? Personal, individual, creative, flexible, and unique.


What could this look like?


A place where each child is treated as an individual, and not just in name or window dressing.  Children come to schools with a unique set of experiences, passions, backgrounds, ideas, skills, and deficits. What if our job as teachers was to uncover this specific set for each child, and map a personal, unique education for them based on this?


It’s an idea so simple. Figure out the intricacies of the child and plan for growth with individual, small group, digital, and whole group instruction.


Collaboratively, teachers, parents and students could develop educational goals to be met for each child, or age level cohort. Available resources include (but are not limited to) Common Core, researched-based math and literacy programs, and other curricular timelines.  Teachers, parents, and the students acknowledge that these resources may not work for all students and tailor goals specifically for each child, realizing that each student has their own internal timeline and set of needs.


Growth is monitored through an individual portfolio, using specific goals, and multiple ways of engaging students to meet them.  Students working closely with educators pursue goals utilizing digital media, and individual and small group instruction. When possible, student goals will be linked to leadership and community service opportunities. Students will begin to see connections between their daily goals, their educational journey and the health of the local community. Each day, students would participate in reflection about these goals and determine ways to improve their journey.


Through this we will see more motivation, engagement, and purpose than we see in our public schools right now.


How do I know this? I’ve seen it in action with service learning. When students identify a problem, set goals and a timeline, work toward them, and reflect on this growth, nationally we’ve seen high school dropout rates go down, civic engagement, responsibility, attendance and motivation go up.


The days of a sage on the stage delivering knowledge are over. What we need now are small, focused, driven groups of learners under the coaching of trained educators, pursuing specific goals in a nurturing, collaborative environment.


What about the environment? This kind of school begs for smaller, more home-like learning environments. Spaces that have ample and comfortable space for small groups, individuals, and larger groups to meet and work. Reading nooks, creative workspaces, safe spaces, ample books and full access to technology tools are essential.


We have to let go of traditional learning environments to embrace this new model of individualized and community connected learning. Our schools would need to either be retrofitted or recreated into fluid, comfortable learning environments, or communities could take advantage of lower home prices and convert several homes into clusters of age specific learning communities.


The teacher’s role in this would evolve into a mentor, facilitator, collaborator and community liaison. Teachers would be responsible for developing plans with 10-15 students. They would create schedules, coordinating with community and school resources, and teach lessons to help meet each child’s unique goals.


Teachers in an age group learning community would meet daily to collaborate with each other and develop the best educational plans for their students. Invited to these meetings at different times would be parents, specialists, and community leaders. Together, we would constantly grow, monitor and enrich each educational plan.


A morning for a typical fifth grade child would include a morning meeting with age level peers, small group math instruction and practice with a teacher or online, then reading and writing about a topic of interest with an online or in person group of kids. After lunch featuring local, organic and homemade food, the child participates in exercise determined by the educational team: running, yoga, hiking, or team sports. The afternoon is focused on hands on, service learning projects in the areas of science and social studies, but interconnected with all subject areas. As the students grow older, connections and opportunities within the local (or digital) community grow stronger, more individualized, and complex.


This kind of education could also be respectful, inclusive, and appropriate for students who need specialized instruction. Currently, it takes too long for many students with special needs to access their education in meaningful ways. In this new model, specific goals could be written into plans and be less obtrusive, since everyone has a unique plan (unlike our current model, where special education students are the only ones with individualized plans). So, taking the typical fifth grader, if they have experienced trauma, or have a learning disability for example, they could get community based counseling, or skill work as part of their plan as soon as they needed it.


Personalized education will be expensive, no doubt. But our current industrialized educational bureaucracy is extremely expensive as well. Shifting our resources to develop these types of learning communities would take time, careful planning, and vision, but each community could do so by utilizing community and educational leaders, policy makers and school boards. By working together, these entities could develop trust, community and collective vision, and find themselves less at odds with each other. Aren’t we all focused on the same goals of improving education, providing opportunities, and bettering our communities?


If we can put a man on the moon, create cars and the Internet, we can personalize and individualize education and ground it firmly in local communities. This kind of targeted, individualized student growth, closely monitored, will outpace any we have ever seen. Dropout rates will plummet and more students will get what they need.  With this significant investment in our youth and local communities, we will see student outcomes that rival those all over the world. What will we gain? Focused, driven, connected and civic minded individuals who know how to work toward goals, solve complex problems, and reflect on their progress. I think at this point in our history, we need them more than ever.


image: by o.lila on Flickr under CC

Mourning the Losses: Boston and Big City Races of the Future

me runningHow could you?


How could you take something that shows the goodness of humanity, the spirit of cooperation, and the sublime energy and goodwill of thousands of people, and forever alter it. One of the only places left where everyone runs together—the elite and the regular people. Working people. The 4 am runners. Late night runners.  Those who push their babies in strollers. Runners of all shapes and sizes, colors and backgrounds. They run the same path. Or so they say in Boston—they run in the footsteps of giants.


How could you take this great equalizer, this mass of positive energy and effort, this collective moving forward to a goal, a goal that meant countless hours of commitment, energy, and time—and turn it into something horrific.


Running and marathoning is forever changed.  We are fundamentally changed.


You see I remember that exact spot. I remember walking through the streets, right after finishing that great race years ago, so tired I wanted to lie down on the pavement and it was nothing but the beauty and kindness of volunteers that shuttled me to water, food, a medal, my family. Walking so vulnerable, so weak, so open, so trusting.


How could this be exploited?


So many people use running to work through grief. To remember a loved one. To work through hardship, challenge, addictions, and find their way back to health. Running has saved me on many occasions, and I do not say that lightly. When my father died suddenly, it was one of the only things that tethered me to the earth. Where I could think freely—even yell, cry, and sprint—in anger. I needed that space. That time. That freedom.


For big city races, that freedom is gone.


You may say I am overreacting. But our kids will never know the freedom we had, and took for granted, in these events.  These often life affirming, moving events.


They will never know how running down Boylston street, lined 20 people deep, roaring with cheers for you, as a normal, regular, slow runner, feels.  Running among all these people without a trace of fear. Not one inkling. Because that’s how I felt.


When in front of my eyes, finishing the 2001 Boston marathon, a man fell, staggering in the last ¼ mile, fellow runners rushed in, and held him up and they crossed the line together. The tunnel roared, quaked with support, love, encouragement. I was moved. I was carried by this energy in the last ¼ mile, guided by their kindness.


Now that has all changed. We cannot assume goodwill, kindness, and encouragement will prevail. We cannot make any assumptions about our safety. Our big city finishes are forever changed.


I mourn the loss of this. Of the loss in our sport, the loss of our freedom, and the terrible injuries suffered by volunteers, supporters, friends and family members of marathon runners. Most of all, I mourn the lives of the 8 year old child, and the two young adults lost in such a senseless crime.


Other countries already know about this. We have finally, irrevocably, joined them.


There is no turning back.

Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents available now on Kindle!



Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents based on all that I have learned while blogging, researching, cooking, and parenting. It’s a guide for busy parents looking to limit their family’s exposure to chemicals and toxins in food and feeding gear. The manual is packed with practical and quick tips for parents, recipes, where to go for more information, and Cliff Notes for the most sleep deprived among us.


After BPA was banned in baby bottles and cups for children 2012 by the FDA (finally!), I wanted to update the information to include this and the latest research about the use of plastics in baby bottles, cups, and waterbottles. I also wanted to make sure all the links, research, and resources were up to date.


And then all of a sudden, I had a newly updated edition of the ebook! I uploaded it to Kindle and now it is on sale at Amazon. Already its gotten some wonderful reviews (thank you readers!).


If you have a Kindle, or an ipad (with the Kindle app) you can have the book delivered to you in less than a minute for 3.99. It is easy and fast!

Letter for Newtown (and all) Teachers

Last month I wrote a letter to the fallen teachers of Sandy Hook in Connecticut. I was deeply moved after learning about their last acts of selflessness. I viewed my teaching colleagues with new eyes, and my perception of bravery is forever changed.

You can find the letter here at the Fox News opinion page.

Later that morning, I was contacted by a producer at the Megyn Kelly show to do an interview. I ran to the special education office, plugged in my computer, and was interviewed live via Skype. Both Megyn and I were close to tears as we recounted the heroism of the brave teachers who lost their lives protecting their students.

You can see that interview here. 

I’ve been touched by the many teachers who found this letter inspiring and comforting. In small and big ways, we need to lift each other up, to change the perceptions of teaching as a career, and work together to protect children from harm.