It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (2)

You know, guilt accountability is a crazy thing.  Now that I’ve made the commitment to actually write about my IMWAYR, I feel pressure to do more reading and want to have new, exciting things to share each week.  That being said, I have to admit: I haven’t read a thing since last Monday. Not. A. Thing.

Ok, now I did take a fabulous trip to the library with good intentions, and I did gather a really great pile of things that I could read….but somehow I was busier this week.  I know, I know–lame excuses.  😦

So I guess instead of It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, this is my “It’s Monday! Here’s What I Really Want to Read” list:

IMG_0831Ok, so both Hidden and Will at the Battle of Gettysburg 1863 are both Mark Twain Nominees that I still want to read so I can share with my new readers.  Hold Fast and Three Times Lucky are both titles I’ve read about from my friends on Twitter, and Letters From Hillside Farm looked like another great historical fiction title that could possibly be incorporated into Social Studies or used in small groups or read aloud.

IMG_0832So what I’m really excited about from my library trip this week are the titles I picked up that are NOT middle grade novels that I might use at school.  After reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller recently, I was challenged to do more reading that was just for me, or just because.  Maybe even an adult fiction title or two.  It feels a little weird, because it’s a kind of reading that is new to me, but I know it’s important as I build my identity as a reader–which will spill over into my connections with and recommendations for readers in my room.   These are suggestions from other readers I respect: my friend, Lisa, who reads EVERYTHING and my high school English teacher, Carol Jessen (who I reconnected with on Facebook last week!).  Ms. Jessen suggested the two titles by Ruth Reichl because of the food themes (which I mentioned in my writing about the Mark Twain nominees I’ve read), and they seemed really great.  I hope to be able to share them with Grant (my husband) when I’m done, because he’s definitely both a foodie and a reader and would love that combination.  Bringing up Bebe was on Lisa’s GoodReads list, and is all about how French mothers raise their children.  This is intriguing to me, and I know Lisa loved it (because I’ve heard her talk about it before!), so I figure I will, too.  The last one is about another recent interest of mine–local, organic, healthy eating.

Now, all I need is time just to sit this week.  Maybe I can squeeze out a few last days of summer break to get it all done??

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?  Have you read The Book Whisperer?  How has it changed you as a reader or a teacher?  I’d love to hear from you.  Please leave your comments!

 

Things Teachers Do in the Summer: READ!

So as I was writing that quick “I’m sorry” post yesterday, I ended with a statement that seemed like a great idea for a series of posts: things teachers do in the summer.  And no, it’s not just a sit-around-on-the-beach-and-drink-Mai-Tais kind of thing, either.  I’ve been busy!  Let me tell you about it. 🙂

I love to read.  My husband might disagree with that statement, as he is one of those people who goes to bed with a book (or his iPad) every night, and always has a new book, magazine, graphic novel or whatnot ready to be devoured.  I, on the other hand, am more of a sporadic reader, choosing more carefully what I take time to read.  Unfortunately, during the school year, that time is mainly spent on professional reading; I only have so much time and want it to be useful.  Unfortunately,  my “free” reading is usually saved for the summer.  I like to get started on reading the new Mark Twain nominees that I might try for read alouds, as well as any other MG novels I’ve heard about and the other professional titles I didn’t have time for during the school year.

Here’s what I’ve been reading so far:

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Pie by Sarah Weeks

This one was the first on my Mark Twain list, mainly because Sarah Weeks was the only author on the list that I recognized.  I am excited to share it with my students, and I’m hoping it will be enjoyed by everyone.  One of my favorite parts of the book is the recipes that are included at the end of every chapter.  PIE is the name of the pie shop started by Alice’s Aunt Polly, and the story revolves around the fate of the shop–and Aunt Polly’s prize-winning pie crust recipe–after she passes away.  Besides loving the story, I’m excited to try the pie, too!  This book combines two of my loves–reading and baking. 🙂

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Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach

Here’s another one from the Mark Twain list, and another one that I am excited to share with my class.  This one is an adventure, and I love that there are both strong boy and girl characters.  There were moments when the dialogue was a little unnatural, and it was a little long for my tastes, but I’m glad I made it to the end.  This one will be great, too, because there are several others that kiddos could choose to read if they like this one.   Reminded me a little bit of Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs, which was a Mark Twain nominee several years ago.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.26.04 PM  Barn Boot Blues by Catherine Friend

This is a city-girl-moves-to-the-country story (also a MT nominee) about Taylor McNamara.  She moves to a     farm  just before school starts and fights to fit into the new world she’s in.  I love the way Friend shares Taylor’s thoughts, as well as how the character interacts with her family and friends.  She’s sarcastic–and so am I–which is probably why she’s such a likeable character for me.  The story is a big predictable, but in some ways, that’s what makes it a good read.  Read this one in a few hours because I couldn’t put it down!

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Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

This book was similar to PIE, in that it was a girl trying to find her way in the world with food as her guide.  This time though, it was cupcakes!  This was the first book I’ve read by Joan Bauer (but I’ve since found several that I’ve put on my TBR list!), and it was a good one.  The only thing that was a bit annoying to me (just my opinion, obviously) was the Food TV personality that is in the book–the scenes where she pretended to have her own cooking show and idolized celebrity chef Sonny Kroll were a little silly.  Overall, I enjoyed it, though, and I could see how many readers might like it, too!  Now I can officially vote for my favorite Mark Twain book because I’ve read the required 4 titles.  Oh wait…it’s not for teachers??  Bummer.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.41.38 PMNotice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

I figured here would be a good place to add in some professional reading (partly because some of the novels I read were recommended here!).  I found this book during the spring, on Twitter, namely because my tweep Shannon Clark (@shannonclark7) started a Twitter chat (using the hashtag #nnnchat) and a Facebook group for teachers to discuss it.  I have heard its ideas mentioned at more than one workshop this summer, too, so needless to say I was excited when it finally showed up on my doorstep!  The main premise of the book is how to teach kids to read closely, by introducing them to “signposts” that are included in many novel texts; once kids know the signposts they start to find evidence of them in books they read independently and these noticings and notes help them better understand what they are reading.  I’m definitely going to incorporate these lessons (and this mindset about reading in general) into our Reader’s Workshop work this year.  This book made me really excited for school to start!

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.50.16 PMHope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Recognize the author’s name?  Funny how I’d never heard of her, but then once I did, I find her work everywhere!  This text is used as a mentor text in some lessons in Notice & Note, so I figured I should probably read it. 🙂  It’s food-related too, but this time is set in a diner.  Again there’s a girl who is fatherless and is trying to figure out who she is and where she fits into the world.  Included this time is a secondary plot that involves a mayoral race in the small town in Wisconsin, as well as a budding romance between the main character and the cook in the diner where she works.  Hope Was Here was definitely a page-turner, and I enjoyed every word.

The Book WhispScreen Shot 2013-07-21 at 10.56.45 PMerer by Donalyn Miller

Here’s another one I found on Twitter (thanks to @donalynbooks), and one that I cannot believe I waited this long to read!  I’ve always been a proponent of student choice in their reading, and this book helped me be more clear on why it’s a good idea.  The stories she shares and the alternatives to help give students more say in their reading were inspirational.  I really loved the “ultimate book list” at the end of the book where she shared some key titles to have in your classroom library.  It’s become my new shopping list!

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 11.08.58 PMRiding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

I hate to admit how many books I have in my class library that I know are great titles, but that I have never read.  Also, it’s really sad to admit how little historical fiction I share with my students.  So, when I saw that this book was on Donalyn Miller’s Ultimate Book List, I knew I had to read it.  It was a great story based on the life of Charlotte Parkhurst, who (I learned) was a famous stablehand, stagecoach driver, and probably the first woman to ever vote!  Add this to my read aloud list for sure. 🙂

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 11.21.08 PM The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Last summer, I finally (I know–I shouldn’t admit this) read (well listened to) the classics by Christoper Paul Curtis–Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963.  Like with so many other titles in my library, I have no idea why I’d never read them, but I had not.  My husband (who I mentioned before is a very prolific reader, and a teacher, also) had shared these with his classes many times over and couldn’t let another minute go by without enlightening me as to why they were so fabulous.  We listened to them in the car on the way to Florida during our vacation, and they were instant hits with our son (who was 5YO at the time) as well.  So fast forward to this year’s vacation, and another CPC hit was made with our family.  This one is set in Gary, Indiana, but has connections to Flint, Michigan where Bud is from, and if you pay attention (or if you know the story of Bud, Not Buddy) you realize that Deza Malone and Bud cross paths in a camp in Detroit along the way.  I love the realism with which Curtis writes, and I love the conversations I was able to have with my son about the themes in the book.  I’m excited to share this story with my 5th graders, and begin the conversation with them, too!

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Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

I told you we liked this author, right?  Here’s another one that Grant had shared with his students that surprisingly I didn’t know.  Ok, not true.  I have it in my classroom but I’ve never read it.  Again, lame, I know.  I have to admit that I liked the overall premise of this book, but then once we started listening I couldn’t get into it.  Everyone else was entertained, but I just had a hard time following.  And then I heard the end and it made the whole thing worth it.  Now I want to go back and reread the whole thing over again, both so I can see the text (remember we listened to it), but also so I can catch all that I missed the first time around.  Definitely worth my time, I think.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 1.07.44 AMSparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

Just when I thought I was finished with my list of Mark Twains, I uncovered another one that I read that I’d forgotten about!  I wonder if the reason it didn’t come to mind right away was that it was another one that took me a while to get into.  It’s weird, and I don’t know if it was on purpose, but there seem to be similar themes running through many of the nominees this year–families that are displaced for some reason or another (who all seem to be running away from something), girls who don’t know their fathers (and are therefore searching for him), and food or food service.  All of those are present in this one, too, with a little bit of art thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed the style of writing of this book, and though it took me a while to get into the story, I eventually got on a roll and was satisfied with the ending.

So…there are still a few weeks of summer left (although they seem to be fleeting fast!), and so I still have some reading to do.  I’m in the middle of two different professional reads (also about reading), have a book on Essential Questions by Wiggins and McTighe on my TBR pile, as well as some new writing resources from Calkins, new math resources from Fosnot and at least 3 or 4 MG novels that I want to finish.  Will there be time??  Cross your fingers with me.  And maybe try out something  from my list that were new to you! Please let me know what you think! I love to talk books with other readers. 🙂

Yes–I’m Still Alive…

In case you were wondering, no, I have not dropped off the face of the earth.  Summer happened.  And while I was well-intentioned to finish up last year’s blogging strong, summer vacation got the best of me and instead I haven’t typed a thing in weeks. Months maybe.

But for those of you who are loyal blog readers, I thought I’d at least let you know I’m alive and kickin’, doing what teachers do in the summer.  Hey–now there’s an idea for a new blog post….:)

100 Things About Me as a Writer

I am a writer.  I wouldn’t say that I am an author, because I haven’t been published, but I definitely write.  And I write a lot.

So here are 100 things about me as a writer:

1. I started my writing journey way back in kindergarten and have loved it ever since.

2.  When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be an author when I grew up.

3. Writing has always been one of my favorite subjects in school.

4. I still have writing pieces from when I was a kid.  I think they’re saved in my mom’s dresser.

5. In junior high, I wrote mostly short stories about girls who were babysitters or who had crushes on boys in their classes.

6. As an adult, I usually write expository text or to tell my opinion/thoughts on a topic.

7. I officially started my Writer’s Notebook in June of 2005.

8. I am now filling up my 10th notebook.  Each one is different and tells something about my life at the time I was writing in it.

9. My favorite authors as a reader are my favorite as a writer.  I like the way their words sound.

10.  Sharon Creech, Ralph Fletcher and Jerry Spinelli as mentors of mine even though I don’t know them.

11.  I write mostly for myself.

12. Sometimes I write so I can share it with my students.  My Writer’s Notebooks and my students’ needs are the main resources I use in my teaching.

13. I’d love to publish a book someday.

14. I write better when I have choices about what it is (i.e. format, length, etc.)

15.  If I have an assignment, I will always write longer than is asked.   It’s probably really annoying to my teachers!

16. I learn a lot from my students when I read their writing.

17. I like feedback, but only if it’s positive.  Hey, we’re being honest here, right? 🙂

18. I read almost everything like a writer, looking for things I can use in my own writing.

19. I love words.  I collect quotes and often write down the things other people say.

20. The outside of my Writer’s Notebooks are covered with things that inspire me.

21. I am a “pen” person.  I could shop for hours for just the right one.  What it looks like when I write is really important.  Well at least to me. I’m kind of obsessed. 🙂

Wow–that was harder than I thought it would be.  Didn’t get as far as I thought I would.  Hopefully I’ll come back to add some more soon.  Check back again, will ya?

What would you say about yourself as a writer?  Could you add anything else to my list?

 

 

Confessions

Hopefully you’ve already read about me as a reader.  If not, I’d say it’s worth a few minutes of your time.  Please?  🙂

And so as I sat down to write about myself as a writer, I decided I needed to start with a confession instead.  Remember when I first posted about that really cool summer online writing camp I was doing?  Well, at that point I was really excited about the prospects of learning and writing with amazing teachers/writers/librarians (and I still am) and was anxious to see where the process would take me.  I really had no expectations.

I dug in, and was finally comfortable enough to post the first two things I wrote.  And that’s when it all went downhill.  Somehow the wind came out of my sails, and I have not done a single. assignment. since.

In many ways that bothers me.  I don’t like to not succeed.  I am naturally a perfectionist, and I usually take that to the nth degree when it comes to school/writing/reading/anything professional.  I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and so if I can’t do it all and do it right, I don’t want to do it.  But with this, I only did two assignments and then I hit a brick wall.

But after I got over the initial disappointment in myself (annoyance, really), I sat down to reflect on what had happened.  I think part of my problem was that I write mostly for myself.  I write when I need to write–which is usually to process feelings or to collect moments I don’t want to forget.  So when presented with a “job” to do, I had a hard time figuring out how to do that.   Since I write for myself, I had a hard time when the assignments/exercises were related to developing characters or settings, or outlining plans for a story.  I did not go into the camp with the plan of writing or finishing a novel.

Ok, so what matters here?  Does it really matter that I set out to do something and didn’t finish it? Or does it really matter more that I walk away with something that I learned?  I say the latter is more important.

I learned to be okay with not being perfect.  I learned that sharing your writing with strangers is hard.  Especially when you don’t really have a choice or you’re not quite sure what it’s “supposed” to look like.  These are both really important seeing as how I ask that of my student writers every day.  I know I’ll think of those times really differently in the future.  Yes, I’ll still ask them to share, but I’ll obviously have more understanding of how difficult it is.  I learned that sometimes you just need to put yourself out there and not care so much about what people say about your writing.  What’s the worst that could happen? 🙂

Oh, and just for the record, I do have plans of jumping back into Teachers Write! at some point.  The great part is that it’s all archived on the blog and I can do it at my own pace.  So yes, I’d like to say that somehow I will finish what I started, even if it looks a little different than I first thought.

Did you do Teachers Write! this summer?  How is it going for you? 

 

The Bed Boat

Teachers Write: Day 2: Tuesday Quick Write

Directions for today (ok, well yesterday 🙂 ):

Write for two minutes to describe a very specific place.  If you’re just free-writing, it can be a place that you love, or have visited, or a place that frightens you.

Then…When your two minutes are up, stop writing.

Now…if your place is real and you can go there, go there now.  I’ll wait….

If it’s far away, find a picture of it. If it’s not a real place, put yourself there in your mind. Now write for one minute about each of the following:

  • Everything you SEE – Pay attention to big things and tiny things. Search for concrete details.
  • Everything you HEAR – Be specific. Don’t just say “a scraping sound.” Say a “high-pitched, raspity-raspity-screeeeeaking noise.”  You can make up words if you want.If you aren’t in the place, try to find a video. Or guess what you might hear.
  • Everything you SMELL – Especially pay attention to the smells that surprise you. If you’re not in the place, pictures can help you smell. Look carefully…what would that dumpster smell like?
  • Everything you FEEL – Weather, wind, things that land on you or brush against you. Again – pictures help you imagine if you’re not there, and if it’s not a real place, try imagining images and then assigning sensations from a similar place that might be real (desert, tundra, etc.)

Now, go back and rewrite that descriptive paragraph. Include your best tiny, surprising details, and work on senses other than sight. Better?  More vivid?  This is a fun activity to do with kids, too. Have them write about the playground or gym or cafeteria; then go there and hunt for sensory details!

Wow.  If I thought yesterday was hard, then today was worse.  I tried the exercise.  And then I tried it again because the first go-round was so lousy.  I think the problem was that I picked a place that was too big, too broad, so I had a hard time specifically describing those details.  I do have to admit, though, that there was some really important teacher-learning that happened in that first try: I totally get it now how my kids feel when I tell them to share their words with their partner or with the class.  I thought I understood it, but I don’t really think I got it until it happened to me.  Priceless experience really.

So I tried again, and this time tried to focus in on a smaller–and closer–place that was important to me.  It is an actual place, and it is in my house, so that made it easier.  Well a little bit.

So here it is:

We own a boat.  But it’s not made of wood and nails or fiberglass, either.  It’s big, squishy and white–just the perfect combination of soft and strong, and there is always a breeze blowing overhead.  It’s a bed boat, and while it goes nowhere, it takes my family on magical journeys together.

Sometimes I sail there alone,  just me with my thoughts or a good book to keep me company.  Solitude is welcome.  But more often than not, the boat is filled with other passengers on the journey with me: one who is the captain and two who are smaller (and much louder) versions of myself.  As we sail on together, we might share a laugh, a story, a snuggle or even a snack.  We sense the safety of the boat brings; just being on it is enough.

The big, squishy bed-boat is where we begin and end most days, our safe harbor through the storms of life.  Problems are solved, plans are made and great days are joyously relived.  Tears are shed, questions are answered and the sailors are made stronger just by being there.  Together.  Nothing seems too big to tackle.  The bed-boat is safe, it’s strong and it’s special.

What is your favorite place?  Where do you go that’s special to you?  🙂

Other People’s Kitchens

Teachers Write Day 1:  Monday Morning Warm-Up:

Ok, Day 1.  Like I said, I can do this.  So the directions today were to describe the kitchen of our childhood using as many sense as you can.

So I sat down willing–and hopefully able–to do this.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that some of my most vivid memories from childhood are actually not from my own house.  Not that the ones I have form home are bad ones, they’re just not really there.  So I thought of other people’s kitchens that I spent time in as a child, and my assignment came together:

Bowls.  Small bowls made of wood-looking plastic filled with salad.  And that salad is covered in French dressing.  Yep, one of my clearest memories is related to Catalina-drenched lettuce eaten in Christy B.’s kitchen.  Dark kitchen.  Why?  Because we’d eat that soggy plastic-wooden-bowl-salad as a midnight snack after everyone else was asleep.  No Oreos or ice cream for us.  Health food all the way.  Well, covered in salad dressing.  Take the bowl memory several years forward and about 100 miles up I270 and you’ll be in Sheila’s kitchen.  This time it wasn’t salad, but tomato soup.  Why does tomato soup bring such a warm, vivid memory for me? Because it’s tied to a brand new experience (don’t think I knew tomato soup existed before I ate it in Sheila’s kitchen in her big, yellow house on Mignon Dr.) and a close, loving family.  I ate so many meals in that bright, sunny kitchen over the 5 or 6 years we were friends, every one of them lovely.  I can still picture every square inch of that room today–some 20 years after.  Memories of the smiles, laughs and late-night snacks shared in that space warm my heart. So what about my own kitchen as a child? It was hard to pinpoint just which kitchen to tell about, because we moved around alot.  And even when we were at home, my parents didn’t really cook.  Everything came out of a box.  So maybe that means my childhood kitchen smelled like cardboard? 🙂

What are your childhood “kitchen” memories? Tell me about them. 🙂