Friday, May 12, 2017

York: The Shadow Cipher Blog Tour


Sometimes you get an invitation that feels like a privilege.
That's how I feel about being the last stop on the Blog Tour for York: The Shadow Cipher, the upcoming alternate-history middle grade novel by Laura Ruby that publishes May 16.

I'm thrilled to add my voice to those who are already recommending the book widely and share with you the Educator's Guide for Classroom Use I created for York: The Shadow Cipher.

Here's the publisher's synopsis:
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher — a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction. 
Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house — until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

From the first lines, The Shadow Cipher had a hold on me, and I was thoroughly captivated through all 448 pages of the novel. (In fact, I'm ready to keep reading and will eagerly await Books 2 and 3.) I marvel at the way Laura Ruby has taken a city so well-loved and familiar and twisted the past just enough to force readers to suspend what they think they know and consider just what they maybe don't know with certainty. With twin characters, Tess and Theo (who compliment each other in all the right ways) and their neighbor Jaime (who carries an emotional story of his own) readers will be transported and absorbed in their resolve to solve the Old York Cipher.
My copy of York: The Shadow Cipher, tabbed with potential
discussion points after rereading to create the Educator's Guide.
The layers of York: The Shadow Cipher are deep, and Laura Ruby incorporates many themes and big ideas that can be explored through the lens of Humanities and/or STEM. With moral and ethical questions that are as modern as they are historic and brilliant bits of wisdom woven throughout the adventure, the possibilities for discussion and extension to present-day are plentiful.
For sure, Laura Ruby's York: The Shadow Cipher is a 2017 release not to be missed.


You can win a signed copy of York: The Shadow Cipher 
by filling out this form.
Giveaway will be open until midnight (EST) on Friday, May 19.

About Laura Ruby:
Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens, and children, including Bone Gap, a National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz Award winner, among dozens of other accolades. Her other books include the Edgar-nominated mystery Lily’s Ghosts, the Book Sense Pick Good Girls, and the acclaimed novels Play Me and Bad Apple. She is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program and lives in the Chicago area. You can visit her online at www.lauraruby.com.

Also, don't miss the Educator's Guide to Classroom Use and Activity Guide provided by Walden Pond Press. Be sure to visit the previous stops on the Blog Tour for more thoughts about York: The Shadow Cipher and more chances to win.
May 1
May 3
May 4
May 5
May 7
May 8
May 10
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
May 11
May 12

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Posted Blog Tour



I remember middle school well. Or, parts of it anyway. It strikes me as a time when I was especially impressionable and believed about myself what others told me about myself--they defined me more than I worked to define myself. Middle school wasn't without it's share of positive affirmations or compliments, and I had a group of friends to whom I was loyal. But it also was a time when insults and ugliness seemed to stick extra long, with super strength, and I remember the impact of things people said, on me and on other kids, too.

Words will do that.
Stick.
How often do we use words with only casual thought or care given to the way our words might be received, the impact they will have on others? What do we say with the words we give? At other times, are we too cautious and protective of our words, keeping our words caged when something might really need to be said?

Words are powerful.
Words can bruise, break, scar.
Words can comfort, console, support.
Words can help, inspire, encourage...lift.

Posted, the newest middle grade novel from John David Anderson (Miss Bixby's Last Day), is set against that middle school backdrop and has characters--and readers--considering the weight of words.

Anderson has cast a colorful and believable crew--two pairs of boys who have been a steadfast group of four, even though each boy has his own particular interest. Frost is aptly named for his poetry writing, Wolf is a piano prodigy, Bench gives his time to sports, and Deedee plays Dungeons and Dragons. The tribe has always supported one another. When a new student to Branton Middle School, Rose, moves in on the group with her larger-than-most personality, the dynamics quake, and even the most solid of friendships are forced to bend.

Having lost the privilege to keep devices at school, the tribe has taken "messaging" old school: with sticky notes. It is not long before the sticky notes become a vehicle for anonymous insults slandering peer targets. With Rose and Wolf at the brunt of a sticky note war, the kids need one another--their tribe--more than ever. But has too much changed?

Schools have been engaged discourse related to bullying for years, but Anderson's Posted serves as a fresh gateway book equipping classrooms to become open, safe discussion grounds for confronting bullying and empowering students to take a position about what they will stand for and what they won't accept from peers. I'm a big proponent of books that invite us--together with our students--to examine the world we live in with enough distance to simultaneously talk about "them" (the characters in a book) and also talk about us.

Posted will do this.

Readers will see themselves and feel just far enough away to talk about friendship and bullying and changes and growing pains. Or maybe they will read Posted on their own and maybe they won't talk about it at all, but will find reassurance that they are not alone...that maybe their tribe is in these pages. Students need this book.

Posted publishes from Walden Pond Press on May 2, 2017, 
but you can win a copy by leaving a comment below! 
In your comment, please share how your "tribe" helped you to survive middle school,
OR share an example of powerful words that helped you heal from hurt.
(A winner will be randomly selected from comments posted by midnight on May 2.)
Congratulations, Lisa Maucione! You won a copy of Posted!


John David Anderson right after
he survived middle school.

John David Anderson is the author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day, Sidekicked, Minion, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wife, two kids, and perpetually whiny cat in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.










For more stops on the Posted Blog Tour and more chances to win, visit these other blogs:
                Walden Media Tumblr
April 18 Nerdy Book Club
April 22 Next Best Book
April 24 Litcoach Lou
                Book Monsters
April 25 Kirsti Call
April 27 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia        
                Ms Yingling Reads
April 28 Maria's Mélange                                    
                Novel Novice
April 29 The Hiding Spot

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Seventh Wish: An Impact Letter

In January, my STEM partner and I posted a Donors Choose project for a class set of The Seventh Wish. We had adopted the book as part of our Healthy Choices unit in fifth grade last year and knew that learning could be more easily facilitated with multiple copies of the book to provide more equity and access for the students throughout the unit. The project was funded in under two days thanks to the generosity of many donors.

If you've ever posted a Donors Choose project before, you might remember that one of the requirements of completing the project is to write a project impact letter. I did. And I'm choosing to post that impact letter here, too. Besides, this forum allows me to include a couple additional notes (below).

Here's the letter:


Dear donors,

Thank you for the generous spirit in which you donated toward our project to fund a class set of the book The Seventh Wish.

In this note, Donors Choose wants me to describe for you what reading looks like in my classroom and what kinds of skills or lessons were introduced with these books. And I can do that. 

We read the The Seventh Wish as a class read aloud, and the class set allowed students to hold their own copy and follow along while I read. For the most part, we shared this book apart from our regular reading workshop routine with explicit lessons and lots of choice reading. In my Humanities classroom, we read a lot, write a lot, and talk about reading and writing a lot. The Seventh Wish invited many conversations about character development as we looked closely and shared the actions, emotions, and conflicts of Charlie and her family. We shared many conversations rooted in students' inferences and interpretations. While reading The Seventh Wish there were ample opportunities to model what deeper comprehension looks like with the Notice and Note signposts (Beers and Probst, 2012) and share responsibility for noticing places that made us think. Having a class set of the book available for students to read along, mark passages that prompted thinking, and return to the book for evidence to support their claims made instruction easier and more equitable.

What Donors Choose doesn't know to ask me is what the impact of your gift was beyond the predictable and generalizable methods and strategies for teaching reading. Beyond teaching reading skills and comprehension, I aim to teach students about themselves and others and this complex world we share. The impact of having a class set of The Seventh Wish to use in the classroom is eyes opened, minds challenged, and hearts touched. Inside the pages of The Seventh Wish, our fifth graders met a character a lot like themselves, and through this book-friendship, the students witnessed the struggle and strain of life impacted by drug use/abuse and addiction. 

Some of my students' lives have been personally impacted by addiction already. "Sometimes it's hard for me to like read aloud right now because three people in my family have died from addiction," one student confided quietly as we closed our books for the day. Another student shared vulnerably, "I know that addiction can mess up families, that's what my biological parents did." Other students have perhaps been shielded and are more naive in their realizations, showing their developing understanding with assertions that they will "never try beer." Sharing Charlie's story in The Seventh Wish anchored all of us on common ground, with one story to share and talk about that - whether familiar or new - was distant enough for students to be both curious and anonymous.

The DARE program has been part of the fifth grade students' experience for a long time, and while DARE educates students about the health effects of drug use and supports students with skills to resist and make positive decisions, DARE alone is not enough. Including The Seventh Wish in our Healthy Choices unit has brought the rippling impact and effects of risky choices to life as students imagined themselves in the place of Kate Messner's characters, the Brennan family. The story of addiction in The Seventh Wish is an important compliment to the sterile facts students receive from DARE.

There's no doubt for me that each students' takeaway was personal and individual. Yet, if I were to try to summarize the most significant shifts in their thinking, I would choose two repeated messages. First, students came away with a strong understanding that addiction is not undone and that recovering addicts work hard every day to make better choices. Through Abby's story, kids could see that there is no going back to "before drugs." And second, it resonated with students that one person's risky choices impact entire families and circles of friends. Whether it was their resentment of the change of plans that caused Charlie to miss the Montreal feis or their heartbreak in hearing Charlie's mom meltdown or the worry they shared with Mrs. McNeill, the students' empathetic muscles - their heads and hearts - responded.

I had the opportunity to see and hear the impact of reading The Seventh Wish with students every day. I saw the impact as students' conceptual understanding of addiction changed. I heard students revise their thinking about who uses drugs and why. I heard them grapple with the same sense-making as many of us about how addiction can be so strong that it causes people to lose control of their choices. It's difficult to say with certainty what the impact of this project will be in five years, or eight, or fifteen...but I believe that as these students grow, their memories of Charlie and Abby and broken promises and tried relationships might inspire them to act with compassion, remind them they are not alone, and influence care about their own choices.

Your gift made it possible to educate students in a most meaningful way. Thank you.

With gratitude,
Ms. Guerrette


Here's a smattering of the responses students shared on Padlet:


You can hear some of the students sharing thoughts in their own words about The Seventh Wish on our classroom FlipGrid. (Warning: There are *lots* of spoilers in their videos!)

The impact of The Seventh Wish has trickled outward from our classrooms, too. My Donors Choose project impact letter wasn't the place to mention the impact of The Seventh Wish on others in our greater school community. The morning after the project was posted, one of our new teachers let me know she had seen our project and did I have a copy she could please borrow, she has a family member who is dealing with addiction. I listened while she shared what was on her heart. And soon another colleague was saying the same. One morning soon after, a parent of a former student who works at a near by quick-stop store mentioned seeing the project and voiced her support for talking about big topics with kids. And still later in the project, another new colleague stopped by with a question and spotted the twenty-six donated copies on students' tabletops, waiting for their return. "What's this book?" she asked with casual and innocent curiosity. I started to book talk. "Seriously?" she interrupted. "Can I take one? Is there one I could borrow? This sounds like it is so my story." Yes. Yes, she left with my partner teacher's own copy.

When we made the decision to give The Seventh Wish to our students as a shared experience, we did not foresee the way incorporating the book into the fifth grade experience would also help provide so many others a place to see themselves, too, and make it ok to acknowledge a part of their lives they otherwise kept to themselves. Reading The Seventh Wish with our students has sent the message to students - and staff, alike - that it's ok to talk about this topic here.

I knew from past experience that The Seventh Wish is a catalyst to important conversations and learning. I'm grateful that we'll continue to share this book with our fifth graders, and these multiple copies definitely help.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Author Visit: Elly Swartz

I had the great fortune of hosting author Elly Swartz at my school last week.
Finding Perfect was our class read aloud through the winter months, and my fifth graders responded strongly to Elly's characters and their stories. They were curious and interested in Molly's anxiety and exhibited a genuine desire to understand her internal conflict, even if different from their own struggles. The students were tickled to hear that Elly would be visiting to talk with them about a book they had grown to love.

Over the last year or so, I have also been lucky to have several conversations with Elly related to writing process and identity. Familiar with Elly's transparency and candor while being relentlessly inspiring and encouraging in her conversations about writing, I knew the students' writing lives would be enriched by the opportunity to talk with her personally.
The result was a completely full and especially joyful day for all readers and writers involved.

While visiting Oxford Elementary, Elly addressed my two fifth grade classes separately and presented a large group session with the three sixth grade classes combined. With each group, she invited any and all student questions, addressing everything from what happened to characters beyond the last page to writing quirks that are part of her process. Students' faces radiated with engagement. The dynamic was instantly comfortable, and my students could easily read that Elly was genuine in her interest and respect for what they had to say.
A look over one student's shoulder during
the Unfolding Identity Project.

Elly shared the Unfolding Identity Project with readers as part of her presentations. In keeping with the themes of Finding Perfect, Elly encouraged the students to look at the many layers of their identity and to consider what lies below the surface of those around them, too. As a teacher, I enjoyed listening to the students support one another in generating descriptors for themselves. There were so many opportunities for affirmation embedded in this activity.

Finding space for celebration as a more frequent part of the writing journey has become a specific focus for me and my writing workshop and was a direct outcome of my conversations with Elly. All year long, I have embedded more opportunities to scaffold students in recognizing smaller successes in our writing processes. During her time with my students, Elly followed up on this big idea of celebration, asking students to share one celebration about themselves as a writer so far this year, and every student shared a celebration.

Elly Swartz gave my students an up-close and personal experience in her visit to Oxford Elementary. The students loved everything about Elly's visit: the stories she shared about her personal writing journey, the picture book she brought that she had loved reading with her own children, the "secrets" about revising Finding Perfect and allusions to her forthcoming book, Smart Cookie (Scholastic, 2018). But also, they loved Elly--a writer among writers, a reader among readers. Through her authentic conversation about reading and writing and the care she showed for my students on this one day, Elly became part of our literacy community.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

OES Reads: The Last Chapter


After our 2017 OES Reads season kicked-off with a wild surprise (read this post to catch-up on the kick-off), we certainly didn't expect to wrap up our five weeks with still more surprises.

Our OES Reads season was scheduled to be five weeks long, with reading chunks of Fenway and Hattie, our whole-school-community book split over that time frame. We expected to conclude the OES Reads program with a Closing Assembly on the last day of the fifth week, and we had made plans to Skype with author Victoria Coe the following Monday. It was a pretty well-planned schedule.

Only, when you live in Maine, even the best laid plans are subject to disruptive weather.

Weather postponed our Closing Assembly to the following Friday, the day before vacation week.
Weather postponed our Skype calls with Victoria Coe to Friday, the day before vacation week.
And we went to school on Valentine's Day and didn't return until...you guessed it: Friday, the day before vacation week.

You might imagine how frustrating the last two weeks have been, out of the classroom more than we have been in.

Thankfully, after days of stormy weather and dark skies, Friday morning came without a 5:00 a.m. phone call to cancel school, and plans to celebrate the end of OES Reads would be underway. I emailed Victoria to confirm that we *would* be at school and able to Skype today. As I climbed into the car, my phone buzzed in my pocket.

It was Victoria.
She got my email.
She had "big secret news."
Could I sneak her into the building at 10:30?

Victoria Coe, who had already generously scheduled (and rescheduled) two Skypes with our students, had decided to hop in the car and make the three-hour trip to surprise our students in person on this final day of OES Reads.

I do love a good book-ish surprise.

When the K-2 students and teachers reported to the gym for their "Skype," they were surprised to find Victoria Coe there waiting for them. (It was fun to watch the realization spread among the teachers, too!) Kids who had prepared questions for Victoria took their turns asking, and some teachers asked questions, too. And when Victoria read a bit of Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang aloud, even the youngest readers were still and attentive.

In the afternoon it was the grade 3-6 students who were in for a surprise when Victoria greeted them at the door for their "Skype." Victoria answered more student questions, ranging from wonders about author decisions while writing Fenway and Hattie to curiosities about the writing life of an author. Then, some sixth grade students who had drafted short writing pieces from a dog's point of view bravely stood before their peers and our guest and read their writing, leaving Victoria and the audience to guess where or what they were exploring. There were successful guesses all around.

Immediately following the older students' "Skype," the K-2 classes returned to the gym so that the whole school was gathered together once again. It was time for our Closing Assembly.

Our Closing Assembly has become a much-loved celebration because it has traditionally been a sharing of student work. The Kick-off Assembly is comprised of staff presentations, skits, performances. By contrast, at the Closing Assembly we feature students who have something to share related to our OES Reads book. Personally, I was happy that Victoria's surprise visit would allow her to see how her work, Fenway and Hattie, had inspired some of our kids.

The Closing Assembly featured a first grader who wrote her own book called Fenway and the Wicked Floor. Poised as could be, she introduced her book and read her story aloud to the audience. Another first grader had made a video of himself reading Fenway and Hattie to his family pet, and fourth grade students who had done perspective writing. There may also have been a silly flashmob by many good-sport staff members, too. We thanked Victoria again, publicly, and sent her home with a small gift of appreciation. Victoria shared with our OES Read-ers that her very favorite part of being an author is getting to spend time with the readers who have read Fenway and Hattie.

Having Victoria join us for our last chapter of OES Reads 2017 was an enormous gift to our students and our school community. Her generosity and interest in our students and whole-school reading community will not be forgotten!

Monday, January 9, 2017

OES Reads 2017: The Big Reveal

OES Reads is what we call our whole-school family and community reading initiative. Our program is modeled after the One School, One Book movement. Planning and executing our own program has allowed for dreaming and creativity to be part of the journey towards making bookish memories for our students and their families, and today was no exception.

Today was the day we revealed our book for 2017.

Students started to buzz with interest as soon as they saw the hallway bulletin board change before winter break. When they returned to school in the new year, students listened intently for the daily clues revealed to them about this year's OES Reads author. They started digging in their repertoire of familiar authors and trying to find a match for the clues. Random objects also started to appear on the walls and doors of the school: hydrants, baseballs, squirrels, paws, and dog treats.

Some students made guesses about the author.
                                                Could it be Elly Swartz? She lives in Massachusetts!
                                                                                           It's a dog book. I think it's Maxi's Secrets.

Other students applied heavy pressure to the teachers and other school staff. They really thought they might get someone to slip them a secret.

 It was a good thing we didn't have to wait any longer to let the word out. Today we gathered all 450ish students together in the gym with their teachers and some family members and special guests and participated in our kick-off assembly. We finally got to tell the students that this year, we are reading

Fenway and Hattie, by Victoria Coe!

The assembly included some OES Reads traditions the students have come to expect, like our OES Reads cheer, a skit (that's always good for some giggles) by teacher-actors, and the revealing of the larger-than-life book cover.

This year, we also had some special surprises in store.

One of the teachers four-legged friends strapped on a GoPro camera and toured the school and playground to help us make an introduction video for the book that helped introduce Fenway's point of view, his family, and hinted at a conflict he has in Fenway and Hattie. Nala was a great sport! The students were quick to recognize the Buddy Bench and the fire truck bouncer from the playground. It was entirely worth the work to hear first graders nudge each other and say, "Hey, that's our classroom!" with magic in their voices.


Victoria Coe, the author of Fenway and Hattie, was especially excited and wished she could be there for the assembly. To help introduce herself to OES Read-ers, she sent a video to say hello and book-talk her book. Kids cheered, and Kipper got his own adoring "awwws."

The biggest surprise of all came at the very end of the assembly. Since the paperback copies of Fenway and Hattie just published last week (January 3, 2017), we knew we had to have everything fall into place to have 450 copies ready for today's kick-off. On Friday, we had only received 140 and learned the other books would not arrive on time. To say this snafu was a damper on our energy is an understatement, however we knew that with so many students and families and guests planning for the kick-off this afternoon, the show would have to go on. The script had been written to accommodate for this possibility, even making light of it by having a constructed UPS truck deliver the books to the assembly at the last minute.
The assembly agenda flowed smoothly. We approached the conclusion of the assembly, the assistant principal "drove" the van into the gymnasium heralding "Special Delivery!" in her megaphone, and we all laughed and cheered. But then, I caught a shine in the eye of the secretary who was walking toward me. We stalled on the distribution of books a little, trying to buy a bit of time, because in the hallway, she was helping someone to get a utility cart. And there, through the doorway came another person dressed in brown: the *real* UPS delivery man was carting in the rest of our OES Reads books, right off his truck!


It wasn't our most organized book distribution, but it will easily go down in OES Reads history as the most memorable distribution.

Things settled and quieted in the gym as teachers handed brand-new copies of Fenway and Hattie to the students. Students flipped through pages, pointed out the sketches of Fenway, read the blurb on the back of the book to each other. When we were confident no child had been skipped, our principal began to read Chapter 1 to everyone aloud. Older kids scooted close to younger students, parents pulled kids onto their laps on the floor, and little voices from the first grade class asked, "Did you already turn the page??"

It would have been easy to get swept up in all of it and miss out on noticing the beauty. There were many, many smiling faces, and that perfect sigh of disappointment when the first chapter was over. A good sign that they are happy with their new books.


Over the next five weeks, Fenway and Hattie will have a presence in our school community. With plans for daily trivia, family involvement events, a family literacy night, and Skypes with Victoria Coe, there's a lot more to come. Stay tuned!