Friday, December 31, 2010

Ludie's Life... From My Stacks

Ludie's Life.  I forgot how much I love this book.  In it, Cynthia Rylant takes us back to West Virginia through powerful poetry about a woman named Ludie... walking us through Ludie's life at each stage.  From childhood to old age, we get to know this character well... her heartaches, her loves, her losses, her joys, her laughter.  The images that Rylant evokes through this bit of narrative poetry plants us in the hardscrabble life of a woman living in a coal-mining town.  It's poetry that reads like a novel.  Beautifully written.  Beautiful story.
     In Ludie's Life, Rylant reflects on the lives of the Appalachian people that she so often writes about.  As you read it, you can't help but wonder how much she drew from her own schema.  The stories she's heard.  The stories she's lived.  The stories she imagined.
     Each time I read it, I think about the woman I know who lived similar lives, though in different places and different times.  I can't help but be reminded of the stories I've heard that float through my heart and mind.  Each time I read this book, I place it back on the bookshelf with a heavy sigh.  There's something appealing about it.  
     Perhaps its the simplicity.  Perhaps its the honesty.  But I like to think it's because it's classic Rylant... sincere, simple, sweet.. with just a hint of her secluded life, a life that true Rylant fans want to be a part of so desperately.  She's on my top ten list of people I'd like to meet.  Someday, I just want to chat with her, sit and talk for a bit, bring my own children for a visit, and enjoy a cup of tea.  Don't we all?
     BUT, for now we have her writing.  And for some of us we just can't get enough of writing like that found in Ludie's Life

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shh... Let's Have Some Quiet

The Quiet Book is exactly what I needed to read after the holidays.  I've been longing for a bit of quiet and this book was the perfect find.  Simple.  Quaint.  Just plain delightful!
      "Sleeping sister quiet," or "First look at your new haircut quiet," or "Pretending you're invisible quiet..."  Quiet comes in many forms.  Deborah Underwood describes quiet found in ordinary things on ordinary days.  And, Renata Lewski, the illustrator, is amazing (she has a lovely little blog called "Pandas and Such").  Together, they've created a little read that deserves a look... no matter what grade level you teach.
     There's something peaceful about this book.  As I was reading it, I thought about using it as a mentor text with young writers.  I can imagine my fourth graders spending some time in their notebooks describing "loud" times, or "peaceful" times, or "filled with laughter" times.  I wonder will happen when I read this book to my students at the start of writer's workshop and then ask them to have a go in their notebooks.   At maybe beyond?  I may have to have a go in my own notebook to see where my thinking takes me.  A good old-fashioned memory write or quick write... a chance to explore language as a writer, trying to use simple text, exploring those times in my own life that give me the "quiet" that we all crave. 
     After the hustle and bustle and running and dashing we've done during the holidays, don't we all deserve a little quiet?  Shhh... what does your quiet sound like?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sea of Sleep - Another NCTE Find...

I couldn't resist this book, The Sea of Sleep, when I picked it up at NCTE.  There is something mesmerizing about Jim Lamarche's illustrations coupled with Warren Hanson's words.  The cover is as inviting as the rest of the book. 
     Baby Otter is sleepy and cuddles his mother as he gets gently rocked to sleep in the sea.  The stars, the schools of fish, the dolphins... Otter sees them all as they drift through the book.  It's a poetic lullaby.  A breathtaking book. 
     How would I use it?  I think it could be used in a study of writing with a repeating line.  The images it creates would certainly nudge students to evoke sensory images... you can almost close your eyes and be there... Drifting, Floating, Lightly gliding, On the Sea of Sleep.   
     During an illustration study... well, otters are adorable!  I love Jim LaMarche's work.  And, like all the books he's illustrated, he gives readers an open invitation to jump in and explore the author's words (in this case not his own).  
     Can't wait to hear what my students think about this one...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Freda

Last year, I wrote a little birthday blog tribute to my mom, Freda, on December 11th.  I always get a bit nostalgic when her birthday rolls around.  Still miss her.  
     For years, she ran a little cafe` in my hometown called Freda's Cafe.  The story goes... when my dad went for the business license and was asked what the name was, he said, "Hell, I don't know... she's the one who wants the darn thing, call it Freda's Cafe."  So they did.  Of course, it was also dad (while driving back to Kansas) who stopped to eat in another local restaurant called Mother's Kitchen... Ma Haynes (the owner) had a sign in the window that said "cook wanted" and my dad talked her into hiring my mom, sight unseen (I can only imagine her surprise when he got home and said, "I got you a job, we're moving to a little town in southern Colorado!").
     Freda's Cafe.  It was a typical small town cafe'... but it was extraordinarily good.  Comfort food.  Two homemade specials a day - Ham and Beans, Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak - always fresh and piping hot.  Homemade pies with clouds of meringue and lightly browned tips shining in the display cases (she must have made 20 or more pies a day).  Small tables lining the outer walls with seating for a family of four or a pair of couples out for the evening.  Small, glass jukeboxes dotted the counter with flip cards and push buttons.  Naugahyde stools.  Hot rolls, fresh donuts, hand-cut fries (I liked curlicue) were staples.
     Freda's Cafe.  The waitresses - Velma, Kay, Phyllis, and Norma Jean - all wore starched uniforms (dad was known to ask them to go home and iron if necessary), frilly aprons, and hairnets.  Mom did the same.  Her gray hair was neatly pulled into the mesh net, held in place with thin elastic and the rims of her black glasses.  Since she was the cook, her apron was always white (unless it was a special day and she dressed a bit fancier - then it was embroidered calico or flowered cotton), always a touch of Pink Carnation lipstick from Avon.  The waitresses had their own table in the back corner.  They'd sit down for a break, grab a Pall Mall from their cigarette cases waiting silently on the table (the kind with the fancy silver snaps).  They'd have a quick smoke.  And laugh!  Count their tips.
     Freda's Cafe.  One of the first things I remember learning to read was the menu.  Even when I was little, mom would sometimes let me load the typewriter with two sheets of paper  (purple carbon paper sandwiched between) to type out the daily specials.  Ham and Beans with fresh cornbread ........................................ $2.00 (typing the dots was fun).  Patiently, she taught me to capitalize the letters, put in spaces, etc.  I remember sitting at the counter, flipping through the songs, reading the charts, and begging for a dime to play Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.  In 1967, I learned sight words like don't, sleep, in, the, subway, darling, it's, such, a, pretty, world, today... simply by reading the hits that were waiting to be played.  I'd make fake tickets on green and white pads of paper.
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the decorative plates (one from every state) and college banners that lined the high ceilings.  I remember my 9th birthday when mom decorated a table in the restaurant and served my friends hamburger deluxes and all the "Big Red" we could drink.  I remember flicking a piece of bubblegum off my knife and it hitting a customer in the back of her neck (um, mom was NOT happy, I was bored).  I remember playing in the empty apartment upstairs four hours.  I remember going to the basement to fetch vegetables or canned goods for mom (it was scary).  I remember when she'd hear a certain whistle, she knew the "train crew" was stopping the train to run up the street for a quick "whistle stop" meal.  I remember watching her stand at the workstation my dad built and shout out orders as they were ready to serve.  
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the phone call.  "Your restaurant is on fire!"  And, the fear in mom and dad's eyes as they dashed out the door to go see the devastation.  I think that's when I developed my fear of fire.  But, like the resourceful folks they were, it wasn't long until they had the whole thing remodeled and up and running again.  A fresh start.  The grand "reopening" was a hit!  I think Mom got more flowers that day than she did at her funeral!
     Freda's Cafe.  If I close my eyes right now, I can still picture her there, a small bead of perspiration on her forehead.  Hard working.  Amazing cook.  Steam-covered glasses.  So, Happy Birthday, Freda!  Until next year...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Two, Two... Two GIfts in One (Well, Three Actually)

Another great find at NCTE (thank you again, Candlewick Press) was Switching on the Moon by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters.  It's a wonderful collection of "bedtime poems," but really is so much more.  60 poems, old and new, in one place... poems rich in warmth, peace, and hope that only "bedtime" poems can bring.  And an added bonus, it's illustrated by G. Brian Karas, who is on my top ten list of illustrators (oh... that could be a future blog... watch for it)!
     When I picked this book up at NCTE, I just knew I had to have it... and my friends at Candlewick Press made it happen!  The cover art is absolutely delightful and inviting.  I could spend a week with my students just writing from the cover.  But open it up and the delight continues.  Some of my favorites are "Naughty Soap Song" by Dorthy Aldis, "Mama Bird's Lullaby" by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and "Snuggles" by Penny Kent.  Of course, there are many others by some of our favorite poets.  I love "Who Sings in the Night?" and "Night Noises in the City" by Jane Yolen.  I love Andrew Fusek Peters's poems "Rain Song" and "Wonder."  Such simple and delightful poetry. 
     I wish I was Jane Yolen or Andrew Fusek Peters and could just ring up a few close "poet" friends and say, "I'm collecting bedtime poems... and I'd love your suggestions," or "Hi Lee, I need a bedtime poem, search your notebooks!"  Or perhaps this is the perfect book to nudge the writers in my care to "collect" poems on a favorite topic and to write a few of their own.  For now, I'm going to savor it with my students... let the words float through our minds and fill the air for a bit... like incense... and let the beauty of their simple words linger in our hearts and minds for a bit."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Does a Month Go?

I just noticed that it's been exactly one month since I've added a blog post... unbelievable!  I think that I may have to do a little blogging about TIME. 

Snook Alone

When I attend NCTE (or any other convention) and I walk into the exhibit hall, I always tend to avoid the "glitzy," "come-and-try our program," or "free (but really not worth carrying home) teaching ideas" booths.  I tend to hit my favorite exhibitors, one of which is Candlewick Press.  I tend to spend a lot of time in the booths that sell real literature without the hype.  And, I always leave Candlewick with new titles I can't wait to share with my students and family. 
     One of the books I chose this year was Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson.  The reason?  It is illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering and he is one of my favorite artists and illustrators.  I find something magical and inviting about his illustrations.  They are so captivating!  He's not only an amazing illustrator, but a fine artist (check out his website and look at his oil of Moby Dick... wow!).  There is something that draws me to his illustrations and when I saw the dog on the cover of Snook Alone, I knew I had to add it to my collection (and the salespeople at Candlewick Press are always gracious in their commitment to putting fine books into the hands of teachers and children).
     Written by poet Marilyn Nelson, Snook Alone was the book I used to begin a study of Asking Questions last week.  It was the perfect book to use as a think aloud to get children's minds thinking about asking questions as we read.  In the book, a monk named Abba Jacob lives on an island with his loyal terrier, Snook.  All day and into the night, Snook and Abba work together, until they are separated by a devastating storm.  When they are separated, Snook longs to hear the voice of his friend Abba again.  It's a wonderful and thought-provoking tale of friendship, loss, and endurance.  It makes for a great think aloud!  It's provocative and beautifully written.  It's lyrical and challenging.  It's emotional and poetic.  The line, "In the morning there were only faint sips of his friend's scent left for Snook to drink in  here and there," blew me away!  It's a wonderful story of friendship. 
     Snook Alone was such a lovely NCTE surprise for me to find! 

By the way... 
     I used Timothy Basil Ering's book (you just have to type out his full name) Necks Out for Adventure to begin our school year.  Not only is he a wonderful illustrator, but a superb writer as well.  We read this book the first week of school and several times since... it focused our year on risk-taking, endurance, problem solving, and wise decision making.  Now my students and I talk a lot about "Are you sticking your neck out?"  It's almost become a moniker for our work together this year... a wonderful tale as well!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day by Day... A pre-NCTE interview with Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz

I have been waiting for Day by Day - Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz for the longest time.  I have been a reader of their blog Two Writing Teachers for some time and when I heard they were writing, I couldn't wait!  And Day by Day is well worth the anticipation!  As soon as I heard it was out, I couldn't wait to interview them for my blog.  
     Ruth's and Stacey's motto on their blog is "Write:  It's good for you!"  And, now they can add, "Read this book:  It's good for you too!"  In the forward to the book, Carl Anderson says, "This is a book that asks readers to take an active stance toward their learning, a stance that will reward them with new knowledge, new teaching points, and new techniques that become part of their teaching repertoire."  
     It is a time in our profession where pundits and programs are slowly slipping into our writing workshops with promises of higher test scores, ridiculously complicated rubrics, formulaic writing, traps and targets, and misconceptions of what it means to be a writer.  Ruth and Stacey take an active stance in their writing and invite us to create writer's workshops where students are writing for authenticity.  Mem Fox said years ago, "I wish we could change the world by creating powerful writers for forever instead of just indifferent writers for school!"  It is colleagues like Ruth and Stacey that help keep that dream alive!
     I asked them to respond to a few "brief" questions.  Here are their thoughts... enjoy!
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Patrick:  Your book is organized in such a thoughtful, purposeful manner.  The book is both practical and reflective… and offers such choice for the reader and his/her teaching.  As you were writing, how did you decide on the organizational structure?

Ruth:  Thank you! The structure of the book was important to us. We knew teachers were drawn to our blog, so we wanted a book that tapped into the short nature of our blog posts. As we looked back at the topics we blogged about, we soon found almost any post could be categorized in one of seven topics: routines, minilessons, choice, mentors, conferring, assessment, and celebration. As we thought more around the idea of pillars of writing workshop, we realized celebration is woven into the other six areas. Voila, the structure of the book was born.

The idea of a daily guide for writing teachers led us to create cycles for each of the six pillars. We met in person for these brainstorming sessions and developed the main topic for each of the three cycles and then the ten discussion topics within each cycle.

Stacey:  We mapped out the chapters and the cycles for the book in advance of writing it.  The only cycles that changed from our original plans were the ones contained in the mini-lessons section.  Originally we had the mini-lessons chapter broken out very differently (e.g., cycle one was going to be about connections, demonstrations and active involvements; cycle two was going to deal with narrative, non-narrative, and poetry mini-lessons; cycle three was going to deal with process, craft and conventions), but we realized our original plan was very messy.  We took a step back and asked ourselves what would be most meaningful to readers of the book.    “Teaching Conventions in Mini-Lessons” is a course of study designed to help teachers embed instruction about conventions into mini-lessons.  Finally, “Making Our Teaching Stick” is designed to make our teaching last in our students’ minds for years to come.

Patrick:  Throughout the book, the cycles you include are rich in skill and strategy.  Is there one cycle that you find more challenging than the rest?  Which cycle is your favorite?

Stacey:  I think the “Peer Conferring” cycle is very challenging because it is about relinquishing control, which is very hard for many educators to do.  With a little faith in the process and trust in your students, this cycle should yield some glorious results.  

My favorite cycle is “Teachers as Mentors.”  I think this cycle is one of the most important cycles in the book since being a teacher-writer allows one to relate better to the young writers they teach daily.

Ruth:  Stacey and I were talking about the book a few weeks ago and one thing I noticed in our discussion is how each of the six pillars is woven around one another – each depends on another for growth.

So when I think about a cycle that is most challenging, it is hands-down assessment. Really, will we ever master assessment? But so much of assessment is woven around conferring, which is one of my favorite parts of writing workshop. I can use my understanding and strength in conferring to improve in assessment.

This year my focus as a writing teacher is to understand the writing process more deeply, which is an element of choice. As I offer more choices to students, my conferring becomes richer, and my understanding of assessment is influenced.

They all wrap around one another. I think this is a comfort to us as writing teachers because whatever area is most challenging it is only a step away from an area we claim as a favorite. Just like we encourage our students to do, we can use our strengths as a stepping stone to growth.

Patrick:  As you were writing Day by Day, what was your greatest new learning?  Tell us about the part of the book that you’re most proud of as a writer yourself.

Ruth:  The part I’m most proud of? Well, it’s done. . . we wrote an entire book cover to cover. I’ve learned writing is about tenacity. I must sit down with my laptop and put words on the page – even when I don’t want to, especially when I don’t want to. It’s about making a choice to write for at least fifteen minutes a day instead of doing something else.

Within the book, my favorite parts are the Closing Thoughts and Dedications.
What surprised me the most in writing Day by Day was the way my ideas developed as I wrote. Now this is something I’ve taught in writing workshop for years; however, writing Day by Day solidified my belief. I love the way new learning can happen simply by putting words on the page.

The other crucial realization for me is how very different Stacey’s and my processes are. In fact, we are almost opposites. However, we are both successful writers. It makes me more determined to help students find an individualized process for themselves.

Stacey:  I had a lot of trepidation about the assessment chapter of the book.  I wasn’t sure how much I had to say on the topic.  While I assessed my students constantly when I taught full-time and understood what meaningful assessments should look like, I was still nervous about writing this chapter since I knew that it would probably be the one most people turned to first (even though it was going to appear last in the text).
As the weeks went on when we were writing assessment, I think my confidence about this topic got stronger.  I realized I knew more than I gave myself credit for when it came to assessment and therefore, I’m quite proud of the work we did in this chapter.

Patrick:  The “challenges” and “reflective practice” you suggest throughout offer both depth and inquiry for those of us who work with writers on a daily basis.  How important is it for teachers take a reflective stance in their teaching?  How might you nudge a teacher to be more reflective?

Stacey:  When I was in graduate school obtaining my first master’s degree I heard many professors tell us that we should keep a reflective journal.  I scoffed at the idea because I thought it was a waste of time.  When I started working on my second masters, it was required that we do reflective writing about our teaching.  It was only then, when it was mandated, that I began to recognize the power of reflecting daily on my teaching.  I found it made me more aware of my impact as an educator.  Additionally, it allowed me to take a step back and look at my teaching practice in a more critical way, which enabled me to make better decisions that affected my students’ learning.

I think the best way to nudge someone towards becoming a reflective practitioner is to set them up with a blog.  Blogging allows you to reflect on your own teaching in writing, but it also gives you the power to share your reflections with a larger group of people who can push your thinking (i.e., when they leave comments on a blog post) even further than you could do on your own.

Ruth:  Reflection is the key to evolving as a teacher. It is the difference between being mediocre and great. I believe this is true for any profession, not just education. Those who become great are those who engage in reflective practice.

Reflection comes in a variety of forms. For some it is talking to a friend after school, others it is thinking on the drive home, and for many it is writing in a journal or on a blog. The secret is to slow down and notice the details. Then ask Why and consider many different answers, beginning with Maybe . . . or What if . . .  For extra inspiration, I recommend spending some time with a preschooler in order to develop the panache of noticing details and asking Why.

Patrick:  I love the idea of charting my learning as I read the book and I can't wait to get started.  Reflection is an important part of learning.  I'm always trying to refine my own instruction.  When it comes to your learning process (about young writers, your own inquiry, etc.), what do you "chart" your new discoveries and wonderings?  How do you fit reflection into an already jam-packed schedule? 

Ruth:  I believe reflection is a state of mind and it fills in the gaps of my life. I engage in reflection when I walk through the hall or am driving to or from school. I jot myself notes after a lesson and send an email to a colleague in order to refine my instruction.  

However, I am also intentional about carving out a time for reflection. When I was a classroom teacher, I used the first 15 minutes of my prep to write in a journal I kept solely for reflective practice. Now I blog. Stacey and I are committed to posting daily on Two Writing Teachers, so even when I don’t feel like taking the time to reflect, I have to in order to write a blog post.

Patrick:  Of course, I love chapter three, the conferring chapter.  Knowing children on an individual basis is so important.  What similarities do you see between reading and writing conferences?  Differences?

Stacey:  There are so many similarities between reading and writing conferences. 
The largest difference is that reading conferences usually about trying to make the invisible work of the reader visible to the teacher.  With a writing conference, you usually have a better sense of what’s happening with the writer from the second you sit down beside them since they have some writing in-hand.  However, since writing conferences must always be about “teaching the writer, not the writing,” I believe it’s imperative to ask every writer lots of open-ended questions to learn about their process and intentions so we don’t rely on the writing to tell us what to teach the child. 

Ruth:  It is important in both reading and writing conferences to be an active listener and see the intent behind the student’s work. I love looking for what students’ are attempting as readers and writers and then helping them to do it better. Another similarity I see is in focusing on the student – teaching the student as opposed to the text.

For me, reading conferences seem so much harder. One reason for this is because I’ve had a lot more experience in writing conferences. I’m fortunate to be in a district that has both a writing coach (me) and a reading coach. It just proves the more we confer the easier it becomes. 

Patrick:  Who are your writing mentors?  If you could suggest one professional text about writer’s workshop that’s impacted your thinking, which would you choose?  Why? 

Stacey:  There are many teacher-authors whose writing I looked to while we were engaged in writing this book.  A few, whose books I referred to again and again, were: Dan Feigelson, Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard, and Katie Wood Ray.
Aimee Buckner’s book, Notebook Know-How, changed the way I used writer’s notebooks when I was a classroom teacher.  She gave me the courage to make the notebook a tool that writers could use to improve their skills while still finding a way to make it a place to collect meaningful writing.  I hope to meet her sometime in the future since her work really had a huge impact on my teaching.

Ruth: For Day by Day, my writing mentors were Penny Kittle and Katie Wood Ray – I love the lyrical nature of their writing style.  Often I read a portion of one of their texts before I wrote so I could have the sound of their voices in my head.

One text about writing workshop, are you serious? You realize that on any given day I may suggest a different title, right?  So today I choose Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time by Penny Kittle because it is an example of reflective practice in its most elegant form – through noticing ordinary stories that happen every day in classrooms and realizing how they impact us as teachers.

Patrick:  I asked both Ralph Fletcher and Katie Wood Ray this question recently, “What are some of the practices you see being implemented in classrooms in the name of ‘writer’s workshop’ that send shivers down your spine?” 

Ruth:  There are so many resources touting the guise of writing workshop, which teachers can follow the “curriculum” laid out without ever taking the time to reflect on the needs of the students in their classrooms. What sends shivers down my spine (and back up again) is the ease of lock stepping through a pre-determined order of minilessons without ever considering student need.

I’m also concerned with the pressure teachers put on students to write to a specific prompt or assignment for writing workshop. This places the focus on the product and conferring becomes about the product produced, instead of the writer. With the emphasis to perform, some writing workshops have unfortunately become places to produce things perfectly for the teacher’s grade book.
Reflective practice and knowledge of best practices in writing is how we will keep our writing workshops pure. It is important we continue to build our understanding of how students learn to write by reading professionally and then reflecting on our understandings and practices.

Stacey:  Practices that diminish choice send shivers down my spine.  For example, I walked into a school earlier this year that had a beautiful display of fourth graders’ writing.  It was colorful and visually appealing.  However, when I got close enough to read the writing I noticed all of the kids had written about rain.  Apparently, their teacher tasked them to write about rain and took them through the entire writing process (i.e., over the course of a few weeks) writing about rain.  If any of the kids were like me, and weren’t fond of the rain, then I could imagine them being frustrated by this since the writing probably lacked meaning or value for them since it was written for the teacher, not for them. 

Patrick:  What’s your greatest hope for the readers of Day by Day?

Stacey:  I hope educators who read this book will find other like-minded colleagues who will use this book alongside them as a springboard to ongoing reflective practice in their professional lives for years to come.

Ruth: That they teach writing workshop with joy and purpose.

Patrick:  What project is next for you? 

Stacey:  I’m working on a fiction picture book that deals with present-day immigration issues.

Ruth: Two Writing Teachers continues to be a primary writing project and I look forward to seeing how it evolves as more teachers join our community. However, the writing habit I developed while working on Day by Day took hold and won’t let go. I’m playing with all sorts of projects.

Last April, when the manuscript was finished for Day by Day I found myself wondering what to do with the extra time (although sleeping should have been the first choice!). Instead, I set a goal to read and study 100 YA books so I could have a better understanding of the genre. Then at the end of July, around book number 57, a good friend of mine died unexpectedly. He was 20 and made me stare the fragility of life straight in the eyes. My husband and I spoke at his funeral and when we came home, I found myself needing to put words on the page.  

There were so many new emotions and questions inside of me, and I realized the only way I could discover the answers was through writing. On the day of the funeral I began writing and what is emerging (every day, usually at 4:40 am) is a YA novel. I don’t have any plans for it, except to write the entire story and discover the truths I need to learn.

Then I’d like to write another book for teachers of writing. I’ve been collecting ideas on note cards for this project.

And, as always, I collect bits and pieces of my wonderful ordinary life through pictures and words in scrapbooks. Christmas is my favorite season, so throughout December I’m planning to document the holiday each day. This will be my priority, so my other writing projects will slip to the back burner.

Isn’t this the nature of being a writer? The energy for different projects ebbs and flows and it is our job to ride the waves as they come.

Patrick:  Thank you both for taking the time to "chat"... Energy, indeed!  I can't wait to hear more about Day by Day on your Official Blog TourDay by Day should be on every writing teacher's must-have list.  

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who doesn't love Douglas Wood?  I picked up Where the Sunrise Begins last week and, like many of his books, it's sure to find a spot on my shelf of favorites.  Wendy Popp's illustrations are calm, serene and match her motto of, "Find work with good purpose and create with passion."  It's a lovely book.
     Like A Quiet Place, this book is written in a lyrical, rhythmical, and predictable voice... answering the question, "Where does the sunrise begin?"  Douglas Wood captures everyday questions and events in the most surprising way.  Added to Nothing to Do and Old Turtle and others, this makes a grand addition to any classroom collection. 
     I think Douglas Wood's books are filled with possibilities to encourage children to fill up their own writer's notebooks with language that's rich, purposeful, and extraordinary.  There's a flow to his writing that might just nudge the most reticent writers in the classroom.  His writing is filled with images, inferences, and insights.
     Check out his website.  Paddle Whispers is on my list for my friends that trek to Boundary Waters with their family almost yearly.  And, many of his songs might just make it into the background of your reader's or writer's workshop.  What a talented man.
     Some say pictures books are a dying entity... But they haven't read Douglas Wood, I would surmise.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Books that naturally create a sense of song...

My dear friend, Randi Allison (click on her name to see her poetry website) just bought a house in the desert.  Palm Desert.  When I read this book by Tony Johnston, I thought of her.  Day is Done.  Twilight Comes.  The perfect first words for a lyrical, poetic piece.
     It's a beautifully illustrated book by Ed Young in beautiful colors, simple lines.  And his illustrations match Tony Johnston's words perfectly.  There's a stillness and quietness that created for me the perfect sensory image for desert life.  I'm sure as Randi looks out at the surroundings near her new home (away from home), she gets the same feeling I get, sitting here on my front porch reading.
     I love a book like Desert Songs that creates a crescendo then a lull, a crescendo then a lull... it's reminiscent of The Whales by Cynthia Rylant.  Hmm... perhaps they could be tied together within a study of picture books that create that sense of peace for the reader.  I may have to consider a unit of study using books like these as the anchor...
     If it brings such an incredible sense of peace to the reader, perhaps as a writer it will create that same gift.  I may have to do some experimenting in my own notebook!  See where it leads...
     What other books create this same sense?  Ideas?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Doris!

Happy Birthday, Dear Doris!  
     Dear Sister, Dare I acknowledge #65 in public?  What can I say to you other than, "Thank you!"  I wish all the world could share the gifts you have shared with me... smiles, laughter, stories, songs, memories.   Thank you, Dor Dor.
     You have been a beacon of light.  A pillar of strength.  A creator of joy.  A singer of songs.  A poet.  A story teller.  A prayer warrior.  A giver of hugs and smiles.  A disciplinarian.  A counselor.  A voice of reason.  A purveyor of truth.  A comic.  A caregiver.  A role model.  A baker.  A friend.     
     Today and every day, I count you among life's blessings!  So, celebrate today, Dear Doris, knowing there are hundreds of people celebrating you... especially your little brother!  All brothers should be so lucky!

Birthday Blessings
Instead of counting candles,
Or tallying the years,
Contemplate your blessings now,
As your birthday nears.
Consider special people
Who love you, and who care,
And others who’ve enriched your life
Just by being there.
Think about the memories
Passing years can never mar,
Experiences great and small
That have made you who you are.
Another year is a happy gift,
So cut your cake, and say,
"Instead of counting birthdays,
I count blessings every day!"
By Joanna Fuchs (c)

The Junkyard Wonders.

I found Patricia Polacco's latest book The Junkyard Wonders last Sunday while perusing the bookstore.  I'm such a creature of habit when it comes to shopping at the bookstore... a cup of coffee is a must, I search the "new releases" display,  I check my favorite authors to see if there are any new titles I have missed, then I look at which titles are facing out (and wonder why so many celebrities think they can write), and finally I thumb through the remaining titles until I find a book or two that intrigue me.  I take my five or ten titles and I plop in the most comfy spot I can to make my choices.  The Junkyard Wonders made it in to my bag this week.
     This book is classic Polacco... rich story telling, beautiful illustrations, wonderful words, schema-rich story line.  I love when I read through one of Polacco's books and say, "Can this be true?"  And, then at the end of the read she includes a small snippet of how the idea developed from her experiences.  Patricia Polacco is a master at taking a slice of life and growing it into a complex, rich, and engaging story.
     In The Junkyard Wonders, the main character Trish discovers that her new classroom is known as "The Junkyard," the classroom for students with special needs.  In fact, she moves to live with her grandparents so she won't have to be singled out because of her learning difficulties and is crushed when she discovers that despite the move she's placed in a "special" classroom.  What she discovers is that all the students in Mrs. Peterson's room have unique gifts and special talents.  I love Mrs. Peterson, she's innovative, quirky, and wise... and not once do we hear about her intervention checklist.  She teaches with "tears" and laughter and insight... not with "tiers" and checklists and data points and plot graphs and paperwork and progress monitoring... her response to intervention is to know her children and to challenge their intellect (oops, a little sermonizing).  Trish and her classmates realize that Mrs. Peterson recognizes their unique abilities and strengths as they grow together as a community of learners.
     The Junkyard Wonders celebrates children and their distinctive gifts.  Mrs. Peterson helps each child find wonder in learning and discovery in their own questions.  She divides the students into tribes and melts the entire group together.  They make a visit to a local junkyard searching for ideas for science fair projects.  Each student collects things that interests him or her.  They refurbish old model airplane and hope to fly it from the school's roof.  Of course, their plan is challenged, but in the end... well, let's just say the ending is symbolic.  The message is so apropos for today's educational climate!
     I am so appreciative of Patricia Polacco's sincerity, voice, candor, and insight.  I can't wait to hear her speak at our annual Colorado reading convention in February.  In this book, she's once again used her own experiences as a learner to nudge us to think deeply about our own teaching.  Perhaps it's time to bring out our inner "Mrs. Peterson" and take a closer look at some of the things we're being asked to do as educators that just don't quite mesh with the needs of our students, eh?  I wonder if we're encouraging the "Trishes" in our classrooms...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

She Did Do it!

Patricia MacLachlan's and Emily MacLachlan Charest's second book of poetry I Didn't Do It dedicated to our canine friends is a real treat.  It's the perfect sibling text to Once I Ate a Pie.  They've teamed up with Katy Schneider to create an adorable collection of poetry paired with irresistible illustrations.
     "Every Night" almost made me dash out an get that puppy my family so desperately wants!  Every night you sing the song about the stars and moon.  Every night you pat my head... who can resist these words?
     "Rules" is hilarious.  First the human rules, No tick! No Bite!... then the dog's rules... Eat all you want.  Sleep when you want... Drooling is good.  I laughed out loud when I read this one!  I read it the same day my friend told me his new basset hound puppy ate a muffin off the coffee table... on the run!  
     This is the kind of book that can get young writers writing... about their pets, their lives, their experiences.  Quickwrites, memory writes... the notebook possibilities are endless.  So rich in schema and inferring.  I think this book will find its way into a few crafting lessons when I go back to school next week.
     I adore Patricia MacLachlan.  From my first read of Sarah Plain and Tall to Arthur for the Very First Time to Baby.  From All the Places to Love to What You Know First to Painting the Wind.  There hasn't been a Patricia MacLachlan book that I haven't found compelling, beautifully written, and heart-warming.  Perhaps there's a kindred spirit we meet within the context of words... I think Patrician MacLachlan could be mine.  Maybe it's being from the west!
    I Didn't Do It is no exception.  In fact, she has done it... written another book that should be in every classroom!  When you see the cover sitting on the bookstore shelf... those puppy dog eyes say, "Buy me, buy me!"  And you should...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Elsie's Bird. A Must Have...

Breathtaking.  That's all I can say.  I love this book.  I'm sure that the shoppers in the Tattered Cover heard an audible sigh when I finished it and they looked over at the winged back chair in the corner to see who was sitting there reading... Jane Yolen has done it again.  I loved Elsie's Bird.  Jane's words coupled with David Small's illustrations have created, for me, a wonderful addition to my collection.  Who says picture books are dying?  Obviously they haven't read this one... 
     Elsie, the main character loves her life in Boston, full of noises and the bustle of the city.  She loves city live with all its sounds.  Then her mother dies and her father moves them to the prairies of Nebraska looking for a new life.  The change is almost more than Elsie can handle.
     She is frightened by her new life.  She finds hope and comfort in her canary, Timmy Tune.  But one day her bird flies out the window while she is alone and she has to look for him in the tall grass of the prairie.  There she discovers that all her fear was in vain as she listens to the sounds of wild birds singing.  When her father returns from his trip to town, he brings new animals to turn their home into "a true prairie home."
      This is a beautiful book both in both words and illustrations.  It's simplicity.  It's complexity.  It's beauty.  You won't be disappointed!  
      Trust me, as long as we have Jane Yolen and David Small... picture books are well and breathing into our souls!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, THAT Henry Cole

I was looking over a blog about A Nest for Celeste and in my mind, I was repeating, "Henry Cole... Henry Cole... Henry Cole..." and then I realized why his name sounded so familiar.  I went on a search in my home and classroom libraries and realized how many books I had that were illustrated by Cole.  Although he didn't write the text, some of the  books are sweet, some hilarious, some full of wonderful words, some poignant, some happy, some sad, some delightful... The best part, all are illustrated by Henry Cole, beautifully!
  • On Meadowview Street is about a girl who goes about changing the fact that there is no view on her street (nor a meadow),  
  • Some Smug Slug is a great read aloud and full of rich vocabulary,
  • Little Bo is a bedtime favorite by Julie Edwards, 
  • Trudy is a delightful story of a girl whose grandfather buys her a goat at the county fair and she ends up with a special surprise, 
  • Chicken Butt is just plain hilarious and fun to read out loud, 
  • The Rubber-Legged Ducky is about being unique and your own person (duck?), 
  • BIG Chickens is a raucous read and fun to read with a friend.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/10/10 Blogger Challenge

if you are so inclined...
It's 10/10/10... we have to have some sort of challenge, eh?  Here's a list of ten possibilities:
  • Read ten picture books off your shelf that you haven't read for a while.  Think about how you might use them in your classroom!
  • Email ten friends and tell them about a book that you've read recently that reminded you of them.
  • Write ten lines of poetry using ten words in each line.
  • Read ten blog entries from ten blogs you don't have listed on your blog list (click on some of your followers to see what they read that you do not have on your list).
  • Buy a $10 dollar gift certificate and mail it to a friend anonymously or hand it to a child in the bookstore.
  • Go to the bookstore, read ten books you've never read.  Create a list of your ten favorites and send it to someone you think might appreciate some new titles.
  • Write your next ten blog entries in one sitting.
  • Choose ten books from your collection that you can give to ten friends with a personal note inside!
  • Write ten letters to ten friends or former teachers and mail them... with a stamp! 
  • Write a comment on ten blogs, using ten sentences each with ten words.
Any takers?  Try at least one of these this week (or within the next ten days) and see what happens.  Let me know what you try...