Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I Write: Students Need Writing Mentors

My mother recently found and sent me a photo of myself at 18 months, sitting in a highchair at the kitchen counter in our first apartment. Blank pages before me, one heck of a grip on a pencil, and a beam of pride on my face. My mother's familiar handwriting on the bottom of the polaroid reads, "Writing Letters!"

I've always been a writer.

Who I am as a writer and what I know and understand about writing has changed, though. And so has writing instruction in my classroom.

I'd be fibbing if I attributed the change in my perspective to one single factor over the last few years. Truthfully, I can name three very specific events. But the one of these three that is most easily replicable is this:

I write.

What I write ranges from short bits of fiction to poetry to book reviews to professional pieces. Most of what I write lives inside of notebooks and my hard drive, has never (and probably will never) be seen or consumed by readers. What I write doesn't matter so much. It matters more that I do.

Writing regularly (or, close...ish) changed my perspective. When I looked at writing instruction in my classroom through my teacher-writer eyes, I could hardly look away from the incongruence of my writing workshop and my own writing life. So, while I write for a lengthy list of purely personal reasons, too, these reasons #WhyIWrite are some of my most important:

I write because every day I face forty-five apprenticing writers, and it makes all the difference when I can say to them over their notebooks and my own, "Yeah, me too."

I write because my students need writing mentors. Students should learn by engaging with a writer who has plentiful and practical experience in this thing they are learning to do.

I write because my own tendency to shield and protect my writer-heart from criticism and judgement reminds me of the need to be kind with my students' writer-hearts, too.

I write because experiencing that the process of writing changes for me with everything I try to write nags at me to be flexible and open to students' writing needs and paths to "publication" that don't look like mine.

I write because relationships are born of risk-taking and bearing ourselves, and if my students are going to trust me, I must take chances first.

I write because my students encourage me and inspire me.

I write because they want to know what happens next.

And so do I.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.22.16)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read Recently:

Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, by Judith St. George
(Viking Books for Young Readers, 2009)
     In each chapter of this book--each stage of the subjects' lives--Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr bared striking similarities. From their days as children in the face of adversity through their education and into their adult lives, the two men were more alike than they were different.
     Judith St. George presents these parallels in an straightforward and accessible way for middle grade readers. 

The Friendship Experiment, by Erin Teagan
(HMH Books for Young Readers, November 1, 2016)
     Maddie's start to middle school is complicated. Her dear scientist grandfather (whom she adored) died recently, she and her sister suffer from a rare blood disorder, and her best friend is going to a private school, leaving her alone to make a new beginning. All around her, Maddie seems to collect evidence that she is a terrible friend. Can she change the results of her derailment?
      Maddie is a natural, relatable character. Readers will want to talk about her feelings and choices, and will--in the process--help them to think about their own. 

The Fog of Forgetting, by G. A. Morgan
(Islandport Press, 2014)
     Chase, his brothers, and two new friends get more adventure than they bargain for when they hop into a boat to entertain themselves while their parents are away. Their boat is transported through the fog of forgetting to an island world called Ayda. As the kids try to make sense of the new world they've become part of, they learn of the Keepers and their stones and the conflicts that plague this land--one of which is that those who come to Ayda through the fog are unable to make the return trip home.
     Pages turn one after the other while reading for a clearer understanding of the island and it's inhabitants. The Fog of Forgetting is a good blend of adventure, quest, and fantasy. And, it's the first book in a trilogy that wraps up later this fall.

Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer, by Fiona Robinson
(Harry N. Abrams, August 2, 2016)      
    This picture book biography is the story of Ada Lovelace (who was, incidentally, the daughter of Lord Byron). Ada was discouraged by her mother-a mathematician-from all things arts and literature. But Ada found the place where math and poetry overlapped: computer programming.
     Not only did learning about Ada Lovelace leave me wow'ed, but the art in this book created from cut paper--layered and positioned and photographed--is stunning.
My Friend Maggie, by Hannah E. Harrison
(Dial Books, August 9, 2016)
     Maggie has always been Paula's friend, but when the other kids start to point out the things that make Maggie different, Paula feels pressured to go along with the crowd. But what happens when the crowd starts to point out all the ways Paula is different, too?
     This picture book will invite kids to talk about what's important about a friend and will remind us all that kindness triumphs over judgement.
What to Do with a Box, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Chris Sheban
(Creative Editions, March 8, 2016)
      There are endless ways to use an empty cardboard box for play. 
      This picture book celebrates the spirit of imagination and creative play. The art is interesting and lovely; Chris Sheban has incorporated actual cardboard box remnants into his artwork.
Seven and a half Tons of Steel, by Janet Nolan, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
(Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016)     

     One of the beams was pulled from the wreckage of the Twin Towers after the events of September 11th and given to the U.S. Navy. The beam, transported to New Orleans, was weathered by Hurricane Katrina, but eventually repurposed as the bow of the U.S.S. New York.

    This nonfiction picture book tells a lesser known story of something strong and sturdy emerging from a historic day when confidence of all kind was shaken.

This is Our Baby, Born Today, by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Nancy Paulsen Books, August 2, 2016)     

    New babies are special and celebrated, and this picture book shines light on how many parts of a baby's community are proud and happy to join in celebrating.
     The elephants that grace these pages are adorable, the illustrations gentle and so perfectly fitting for the emotions of celebrating new life. This book is on its way to being a great gift book for expectant or new families.
Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller & Justin Lowe, illustrated by Binny Talib
(Balzer + Bray, May 17, 2016)
     Octicorn is different from other creatures in a pretty obvious way. But as his story reveals his likes and dislikes, his interests and wishes, readers can't help but consider that maybe--even with his very different outer appearance--inside we're much more the same.

What I am Currently Reading: 
Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh
(Crown Books for Young Readers, January 3, 2017)
A Mindset for Learning, by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz
(Heinemann, 2015)

What I am Looking Forward to Reading Soon (in no particular order):
Chantarelle, by G.A. Morgan
Lucky Broken Girl , by Ruth Behar
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by JK Rowling

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

10 for 10: Books that Inspire Conversation About Creating

The August 10 for 10 Picture Book event has happened annually for several years now, and you can find more information at the hosts' sites: Cathy Mere at Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

Ten Picture Books to Inspire Conversation About Creating 
(in no particular order)

1. What Do You Do with an Idea?, by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
Often the initial question of the creator: what do you do? This story encourages readers to consider how to act upon ideas that nudge them, acknowledging their ideas, following them, allowing them to grow. 

2. The Dot, by Peter Reynolds
No list of picture books about creating would be complete without The Dot, though it may arguably be the most well-known and oft used title on the list. Vashti is the student-artist and the creators in our classroom, too: apprehensive, uncertain, without confidence. But with encouragement to begin and celebrations of progress, our students can see that the definition of art encompasses all attempts to create. (Bonus book: Ish is a companion book that is equally wonderful for broadening readers' interpretation of what "counts," too.)

3. Louise Loves Art, by Kelly Light
Louise's passion for art and creating resonate off the pages of this book, both in words and illustration. Louise is a character who gives readers permission to be entirely absorbed in creating, and her brother, Art, helps to open conversations about sharing our art (and collaborating, too!) and what happens when we do.

4. My Pen, by Christopher Myers
The black and white ink illustrations give proof to the power of a pen to be a limitless tool for creating. Anything you can imagine can come to be when you view your pen (or tool of choice) for bringing what is in your mind to life.

5. Daniel Finds a Poem, by Micha Archer
Daniel hopes to find out what poetry is. Each creature he asks gives him a different poetic response that fits their own perspective. In the end, Daniel's poem is a culmination of ordinary--yet magical--things. Daniel reminds us creating with words can be similarly ordinary...and magical.

6. Swatch, by Julia Denos
Julia Denos' character, Swatch, is a role model for playing inside your passion and encourages a wild play with your "art." This book breathes with permission to treat creating like an open adventure.

7. The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires
Revising our plans and our thinking can be a most difficult challenge, especially when in pursuit of a perfect creation. This picture book illustrates how making adjustments and responding to repeated trials can move a creator closer to a masterpiece.

8. Ideas Are All Around, by Philip Stead
The art alone is inspiring in this book, a mix of photography and painted pages. The author invites readers to walk alongside him and we take note of the potential for inspiration that resides within ordinary, every day parts of the world we live in.

9. Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
With bright and vivid illustrations, this team brings to life the true story of the Urban Art Trail of San Diego and how a neighborhood created art together that changed the face of their community.

10. Ada's Violin, by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wren Comport
This true story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay showcases the beauty and influence of creating music, both for a musician and the audience, but it also represents how recycled items can become art themselves.

I continue to read, and I expect to continue discovering books that will open the doors to conversation that supports and inspires CREATING with my students. 

What titles do you like to use to inspire your students to create?

Monday, August 8, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.8.16)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read Recently:

Anything but Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010)

     Like many characters with autism, Jason finds himself apart from others, struggling to communicate and often waiting for his day to derail. But through his interest in letters and writing, Jason befriends another fan fiction writer on the internet, hidden behind the veil of their virtual relationship. However, Jason worries that if their relationship were not based in the shared online platform, his autism would interfere with their friendship.
     Nora Raleigh Baskin writes with an empathy that is astounding. She lets us climb inside her characters' skin and experience life through their eyes. This is a beautiful story in which readers can experience the struggles of a preteen with autism striving for normal when he is anything but.

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel, by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Ashley Spires
(HMH Books for Young Readers, February 7, 2017)

     June receives the Wonder Wheel--which offers daily challenges and activities--as a gift from her grandmother. She wants badly to share her Wonder Wheel with the new girl who has moved to the neighborhood, Mae. But becoming Mae's friend is a matter of patience, and June has to watch as her classmate April tries to kindle friendship with Mae also. 

Agatha Parrot and the Heart of Mud, by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Wes Hargis
(Clarion Books, December 27, 2016)
     This series stars Agatha Parrot and her cast of neighborhood friends. In the second book in the series, Agatha gets involved in an email exchange between her older brother and a girl. While her brother wants nothing to do with emailing a girl, Agatha finds that writing under her brother's name actually has a way of serving her and her friend Martha. What will happen when the consequences of Agatha's choices play out?
Maybe Something Beautiful, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
(HMH Books for Young Readers, April 12, 2016)      
    This picture book is based on the true efforts of the community in San Diego who made it a project to infuse their neighborhoods with bright and brilliant art.
     This IS something beautiful, with messages about art appreciation and transformation a community of caring citizens can make together. The illustrator of this story, Rafael Lopez,was the artist behind the Urban Art Trail in San Diego.
Bring Me a Rock!, by Daniel Miyares
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, June 7, 2016)
     The grasshopper-leader orders the other insects to bring him rocks to stack making his throne higher and higher. But when his throne threatens to topple, who can help?
     Surely this book will open the doors to interesting conversations with students about power, influence, and contributions of all sizes.
Good Night Owl, by Greg Pizzoli
(Disney-Hyperion, April 19, 2016)
      When Owl settles in for the night, he's distracted by a sound--a sound made by a mouse. Before he can sleep, Owl must track down the unwanted guest.
      I love Greg Pizzoli's art and the color palette of this book. I gave this book as a gift to my friends' toddler recently. They report that it has been read and reread often already.

Return, by Aaron Becker
(Chronicle Books, August 2, 2016)     
     In the final book of the Journey Trilogy, the girl ventures beyond her door into the kingdom again. Her dad follows her in this installment, and he becomes part of the story.

     Aaron Becker's art and storytelling are as beautiful and inviting as they were in the previous two books, Journey and Quest, and he has woven all three books together in the illustrations and clever conclusion to the set. 

What a Beautiful Morning!, by Arthur Levine, illustrated by Katie Kath
(Running Kids Press, August 9, 2016)     
     It's apparent Noah loves his time spent with his grandparents, and their traditions are important to him. But when Grandpa suddenly isn't keeping the routines Noah knows, readers will recognize Grandpa's dementia is shaking Noah's comfort and security. Noah finds a way to remind Grandpa of the time they love to spend together.
     Everything about this book is a gentle approach to a hard reality many young readers face with aging family members. Katie Kath's illustrations add to the overall feel of What a Beautiful Morning! and the use of (or absence of) color enhances the mood of Noah's conflict. This book is a soft spot for families to land when looking for a situation that mirrors their own or as a way of opening conversations about memory loss with youngsters.

We Were Here, by Matt de la Pena
(Delacorte Press, 2009)
     Miguel, living under the guilt and self-hatred for his past, has been moved to a group home for teens with a criminal record. He joins forces with two other characters, Mong and Rondell, to plot an escape from the group home. The three go on the run with intent to cross the border to Mexico and imagined futures that will allow them to leave the past behind and start again. But even though Miguel spends his days uncertain about what's happening next (food, sleeping space, places to hide), his his journey and his trials force him to consider what he must do to seek peace and redemption--with himself and others.
     Matt de la Pena's writing is alive, and the characters of We Were Here (though not characters I can relate to easily) became characters I cared for. This YA had me turning pages and wanting to return from breaks in my reading quickly.

What I am Currently Reading: 
A Mindset for Learning, by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz
(Heinemann, 2015)
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr, by Judith St. George
(Speak, 2009)

What I am Looking Forward to Reading Soon (in no particular order):
The Fog of Forgetting, by G.A. Morgan
The Friendship Experiment, by Erin Teagan
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by JK Rowling

Monday, August 1, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.1.16)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read Recently:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
(Algonquin Young Readers, August 9, 2016)
     The people of the village are convinced that their tradition of sacrificing the last born baby of the year to the witch who lives in the woods somehow protects them and keeps them safe from her wrath. Only the witch in the woods doesn't understand this sacrifice and has taken it upon herself, year after year, to rescue these abandoned babies, nurturing them with starlight and delivering them to a neighboring town where new families welcome these "star-children" and love them. But the course of tradition, and the witch's life, changes when one sacrificed child drinks from the moon.
     Kelly Barnhill weaves together multiple storylines to tell stories of wallowing in sorrow, accepting that family is what we make it, and rising up for what is right, among other themes. The language and story are engulfing, and the book asks to be read in as few interrupted sittings as possible. Kelly Barnhill has also written a two-part prequel featured on

Return Fire, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
(Scholastic Press, September 27, 2016)

     With the spear in her possession, Cassie's decisions are more important than ever-she could completely alter the world and bring armageddon to fruition. With her Guardian, Asher, Cassie continues to reason her way through tough choices, make split-second decisions and solve riddles and puzzles in order to accomplish her quest and, ultimately, try to keep everyone alive.
     This sequel picks up with the same intensity and high-interest action as it's precursor ended. Book two is as satisfying an adventure as the first.

Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole, by Kate Messner
(Scholastic Press, June 28, 2016)
     Ranger is summoned for another rescue adventure, this time to a boy who has invited himself along on an expedition team journeying from New Zealand in hopes of being the first team to reach the South Pole. Many dangers await Ranger, the boy, and their adult traveling companions. 
     The depth of Kate Messner's research in writing this historical adventure series is remarkable. The author's notes of this fourth book are as dependable and interesting as the previous books in the series. Entirely age-appropriate, Race to the South Pole is informative about a facet of exploration that is less known.

Blast Back! The American Revolution, by Nancy Ohlin, illustrated by Adam Larkum
(little bee books, May 31, 2016)
     Straightforward text and simple drawings present the basics about the American Revolution. Easy to digest, this book could serve as an early entry to the time period.
     Other books in this series are available for the Civil War, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Greece.

Saved by the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11, by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Steve Moors
(Capstone Press, August 1, 2016)     
     Written by a first-hand witness to the rescue of people from Manhattan on September 11, 2001, this picture book is the story of how boats of all shapes and sizes responded to the call to help evacuate the area after the historic attacks on the World Trade Center.
     Deliberate choices about illustration style and color will stretch students conversations about the story told by this book as a whole package. The back-matter also offers other resources.

A Tiger Tail (or What Happened to Anya on Her First Day of School, by Mike Boldt
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, July 5, 2016)
     Waking up on the first day of school and discovering you've grown a tail just might be a little thing that throws everything off! Yet, Anya's new tail turns out to be an important first lesson in how each person has their own flair that makes them uniquely individual.
Ooko, by Esme Shapiro
(Tundra Books, July 5, 2016)
     A sweet story in which Ooko, looking for friendship in what seems to be a promising place, learns that sometimes a just-right friend is one you find a little outside the box.

Lion Lessons, by Jon Agee
(Dial Books, July 5, 2016)
      A little boy with the ambition to be a lion tries to learn each important lesson from the best. But can a little boy really be a lion? A really cut story I can't wait to share with my little animal-lover.

Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities Through Publication, by Ruth Ayres, with Christi Overman
(Stenhouse, July 1, 2013)
     In this professional text, Ruth Ayres and Christi Overman challenge teachers to consider all the possible places in a writer's journey for celebration and to be deliberate in making time for purposeful celebration. The book prompts teachers to recognize the process of writing as important and worthy of celebration as the finished written product.

More About the Authors, by Lisa B. Cleaveland
(Heinemann, March 21, 2016)
     In this follow-up to Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleaveland's About the Authors, Lisa Cleaveland features the work of her primary classroom in studying authors and illustrators as mentors to her young students. By shifting the dialogue in classroom conversations about books and the people who make them, students relate the work they are doing as authors and illustrators more closely to the work of professionals.
     The book includes an entire chapter that features a question/answer format between Lisa Cleaveland's primary students and author/illustrator Marla Frazee.

What I am Currently Reading:
We Were Here, by Matt de la Pena
(Delacorte Press, 2009)
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr, by Judith St. George
(Speak, 2009)

What I am Looking Forward to Reading Soon (in no particular order):
A Mindset for Learning, by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz
The Friendship Experiment, by Erin Teagan
Midnight Without a Moon, by Linda Jackson