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.
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

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.