Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The One With The Other Side of Things #slice2014


Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here

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There are (at least) two sides to every story. 

As I work on my novel, I've had to tell my main character's story but at the same time write about the other characters in the story. My novel is set in first person so I'm telling it through the eyes of my main character. The tricky part is that as a writer, I have to know everyone else's story and know how they respond to my main character based on who they are and what they bring to the relationship. How does she make them feel? How do her actions impact them? How does their story intertwine with hers? All the characters have to have their own story, their own hopes and dreams, strengths and flaws. This is logical and makes sense to me but I'm still learning how to know this and bring it to life in my writing. It's a challenge to think through someone else's lens while looking at the same picture. 

This year, I'm working with an administrative intern through a program in my district that gives teachers an opportunity to gain experience as an administrator by working with a mentor administrator. I always enjoyed having practicum and student teachers when I was teaching and now I get to be a mentor in my current role. It's nice to have someone to work closely with and to learn with her. In the past few weeks, there have been moments when I know I seem scatter-brained or overwhelmed. If I was on my own, I would take a deep breath and focus but with another colleague to witness my day in and day out emotions, I'm so much more aware of how she must perceive me. Isn't that an interesting thought? How does another person see you? How do you seem to someone else? What does that person bring to the situation that impacts how they see you?

I'm lucky that I knew the person I'm working with before she came to work with me. I'm also lucky that I'm able to explain my thought process and articulate why I do what I do, why I make certain decisions. I'm even more lucky that she isn't just with me for one day, she'll be with me all year and I hope that over time, she'll see that those scatter-brained, overwhelmed moments don't compare to the focus and intention I put into my work most of the time. 

I'm so fascinated by how writing has helped me understand life. Writing this blog post helps me think through what I've been experiencing but writing my novel (which is fiction) also helps me think through what I've been experiencing in real life. There are (at least) two sides to every story and whether I'm writing fiction or non-fiction, writing gives me the opportunity to examine those two sides. 

So many books come to mind when I think about seeing things from a different perspective. Isn't that kind of the point of a book? To see the world through the author's eyes or the main character's eyes? But Wonder by RJ Palacio stands out the most strongly. We get to hear Auggie's story but we also get to see the perspectives of other characters as well. What experiences or books have given you the opportunity to think more closely about the other side of your story (that you are living or writing)?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/29/14

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now...you just might discover your next “must-read” book!
Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children's literature - picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit - join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them. 

Last Week's Book Adventures:
Jen Says: I had so much fun last week listening to The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jenni Holm! It was a sweet book with impressive writing and a great message. I started listening to Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine as well. I finished Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chelsey and learned so much about teaching science but I'm still reading Manhunt by Kate Messner.

Reviewed Last Week:
Click on any picture above to go read my review/post.

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: I'm determined to finish Manhunt this week and to get more posts up...I'm still plugging away at revisions of my novel. I'm not sure I shared here or not but I was chosen to participate in Pitch Wars so I'm working with two mentors who have given me amazing feedback on my novel but it means I'm spending a lot of time with that instead of reading and getting posts up. But I plan to do my best this week to get posts up...especially the ones I've said I would do for a loooooong time now. I'm also going to continue listening to Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine.

This Week's Reviews:
Check back throughout the week to read these reviews/posts. 

So, what are you reading this week? 
Link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!
To help build our community and support other bloggers, 
we ask that you comment on at least three other blogs before you. 
Also, if you tweet about your Monday post, don't forget to use #IMWAYR!

The Writing Thief

This week it will be October already! It feels like just yesterday I was connecting with other passionate readers and writers at Nerdcamp in July. I wrote a Celebrate post after Nerdcamp this year and a great discussion about teachers as writers. I called the session I led on the first day of Nerdcamp Nerd Up and the description explained that Nerdy teachers need to extend our love of reading into our love of writing. Just like we read voraciously and share our reading lives with students, teachers should write actively and invite students to share what it means to live the life of a writer. 

I was so excited to read The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham because the idea of a teacher as a writer is infused into this entire book. I found myself underlining so many of Ruth's words and chiming in along the margins to cheer for her message. After reading Kate Messner's Foreword, I knew I was going to love this book. Kate writes, "Being a reader made me want to be a writer." This is what I believe. It's natural for a love of reading to expand into a love of writing. After reading so many books, readers know what it takes to be writers. The amazing trick of mentor texts is that by reading like a writer, we notice even more what the author has done. Since starting this blog, I often read like a writer, always on the lookout for mentor texts. BUT, since writing my novel and working through the writing process, I find that I also read like a writer, paying close attention to how other authors do what I hope to do in a scene or chapter or with a character. By writing, the connections between reading and writing are so much more personal and meaningful.  

As readers, we know and love great writing. It speaks to us. Great writing can be found in the books that we desperately want to share with others, the stories that make us laugh or cry, words written so well we want to post them on the wall or reread them over and over again. As writers, we take those words and use them as inspiration. We look closely at what our favorite author has done, marveling and wondering how we might try to write ourselves.

Ruth writes, "I am always on the hunt for mentor texts, and because I'm a reader and a writer, I find great stuff. I look at the world of print and nonprint through the eyes of a writing thief because I search for models of good writing that can inspire students to look at writing from a fresh perspective." (p. 2) This heightened level of awareness is something teachers can encourage students to engage in as well and Ruth spends time in The Writing Thief giving ideas for how to do just this. 

One of my favorite quotes is, "This is close reading - where reading and writing intersect." (p. 6) I wholeheartedly agree. When what we read becomes a mentor text, we are much more attuned to what the writer has done. The great thing about mentor texts is that they are everywhere! On page 31, Ruth defines the term mentor text as, "any text, print or digital, that you can read with a writer's eye." This is great news because it's a reminder that we don't need worksheets or grammar exercises to teach writing. We merely need the amazing classroom libraries and access to text all around us. All writing counts and all writing can be a mentor text - sometimes for writing we want to imitate and learn from but sometimes for writing we might want to notice what is different or lacking.

In the first part of the book, Ruth shares why and how we can be writing thieves but she spends the rest of the book sharing examples of mentor texts. She also invites authors to share their insights about mentor texts throughout. I've long felt that writing is as important as reading and that they truly go hand in hand. I'm so glad to be able to spread this message more by celebrating The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/22/14

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now...you just might discover your next “must-read” book!
Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and I decided to give It's Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children's literature - picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit - join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them. 

Last Week's Book Adventures:
Jen Says: Boo for me. I had a few late nights last week at work and spent a lot of time fixing up my novel so I didn't read as much as I had hoped. I'm still loving Manhunt by Kate Messner and enjoying Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley. 

Reviewed Last Week:
Click on any picture above to go read my review/post.

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: Yup, another week of reading Manhunt by Kate Messner and also Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley.

This Week's Reviews:
Check back throughout the week to read these reviews/posts. 

So, what are you reading this week? 
Link up below and don't forget to check out other blogs to see what they are reading!
To help build our community and support other bloggers, 
we ask that you comment on at least three other blogs before you. 
Also, if you tweet about your Monday post, don't forget to use #IMWAYR!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

If I Built a House

Title: If I Built a House
Author: Chris Van Dusen
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Dial
Publication Date: October 25, 2012
Genre/Format: Fiction/Picture Book
GoodReads Summary: The much-anticipated follow-up to the E. B. White Award-winning picture book If I Built a Car.

In If I Built a Car, imaginative Jack dreamed up a whimsical fantasy ride that could do just about anything. Now he's back and ready to build the house of his dreams, complete with a racetrack, flying room, and gigantic slide. Jack's limitless creativity and infectious enthusiasm will inspire budding young inventors to imagine their own fantastical designs.

Chris Van Dusen's vibrant illustrations marry retro appeal with futuristic style as he, once again, gives readers a delightfully rhyming text that absolutely begs to be read aloud.
What I Think: Some books are excellent mentor texts for helping students to start to imagine their own stories. A teacher recently e-mailed me to ask for ideas that might help students identify topics to write about. I love brainstorming writing territories because there are often many topics students are experts in but when the time comes to sit down and write those topics are elusive. If I Built a House is a book that students can easily listen to with their writer's notebooks open, ready to jot down ideas. They might hear something fun from the book that they can elaborate upon later in their writing or they might come up with something amazing they would create if they were to build a house. This is a great opportunity to practice descriptive writing, helping the reader imagine what their room or house might look like. I would also encourage students to draw their room or their house to help them brainstorm what to write about or to illustrate what they have written.
     My kids loved this book and asked for it over and over after we first read it. The illustrations are fun and the story definitely encourages creativity and helps students to think, "What if?" This book is a great opportunity to open up kids brains to possibilities and to encourage them to be open to ideas.
Read Together: Grades K - 3
Read Alone: Grades K - 4
Read With: If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen, Journey by Aaron Becker, If I Had a Dragon by Tom and Amanda Ellery, For Just One Day by Laura Leuck
Snatch of Text:
"Jack, in the backyard, said to his mother,
This house is OK, but it's like any other.
It's boxy and boring and basically bland.
It's nothing at all like the house I have planned."
Writing Prompts: Describe a room or a house you would love to have so that your reader can imagine it.
Topics Covered: Creativity, Enthusiasm
I *heart* It:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design














Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Aly at Kid Lit Frenzy. 
Every Wednesday, bloggers link up their non-fiction picture book reviews. Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what great non-fiction books are shared this week!


Title: Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design
Author: Chip Kidd
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publication Date: October 8th 2013
Genre/Format: Non-Fiction/Picture Book
GoodReads Summary: “An excellent introduction to graphic design through [the author’s] own excellent work. Anyone interested in the subject, including most practitioners, will find it delightful.”—Milton Glaser

Kids love to express themselves, and are designers by nature whether making posters for school, deciding what to hang in their rooms, or creating personalized notebook covers. Go, by the award-winning graphic designer Chip Kidd, is a stunning introduction to the ways in which a designer communicates his or her ideas to the world. It s written and designed just for those curious kids, not to mention their savvy parents, who want to learn the secret of how to make things dynamic and interesting.

Chip Kidd is the closest thing to a rock star in the design world (USA Today), and in Go he explains not just the elements of design, including form, line, color, scale, typography, and more, but most important, how to use those elements in creative ways. Like putting the word go on a stop sign, Go is all about shaking things up and kids will love its playful spirit and belief that the world looks better when you look at it differently. He writes about scale: When a picture looks good small, don t stop there see how it looks when it s really small. Or really big. He explains the difference between vertical lines and horizontal lines. The effect of cropping a picture to make it beautiful or, cropping it even more to make it mysterious and compelling. How different colors signify different moods. The art of typography, including serifs and sans serifs, kerning and leading.

The book ends with ten projects, including an invitation to share your designs at GoTheBook.com

What I Think: I absolutely love this book. I found it fascinating from beginning to end. Design thinking has been on my mind since I participated in Understanding by Design training in July. As I've been talking to more and more people this year about blogging, I find myself telling them that they can set up a simple blog and that I've been working on mine, tweaking the design, moving things around, changing the layout and the theme for a long time now. My blog has evolved over time and I've had fun tinkering with it. I've been working on a website for a couple months now and I haven't made it live yet because I'm not happy with what it looks like and how it represents me just yet. 
     This book helped me see and name some of the thoughts that go through my head as I've worked on my blog and website but I also notice this extends into my writing as well. I saw a great example of varying sentences the other day on Twitter. It showed a version of a paragraph with the sentences basically saying the same thing with sentences of similar structure and then a paragraph with sentences of similar content but with varying sentence structure to show how much more lyrical it is. As writers we design with words and I think that's what makes it an art.
     I honestly could go on and on about this book, what I learned and how it made me think. There were definitely some new design ideas that I'm looking forward to trying. I love that there are ideas here that gave me a concrete way to be creative. So often creativity seems abstract and innate but this book made it feel like it's possible to learn to be creative and I think that might be a relief to some students.
     As a mentor text, I grabbed a snatch of text from the very beginning when the author is talking to the reader. Looking closely at attention grabbers or hooks in non-fiction writing is so much fun. Kidd doesn't disappoint. I really enjoy how he uses 2nd person. It's not very often that 2nd person is used but I think it's a great example of how to hook a reader. I listed a few other books that use 2nd person and/or have great hooks as books that would match well with this.
     One more thing...at the end of this book, there is a great extension for students. After reading about all of the design ideas outlined in the book, Kidd offers some projects that students can try. Bonus!
Read Together: Grades 3 - 12
Read Alone: Grades 4 - 12
Read With: Extreme Earth by Seymour Simon, Locomotive by Brian Floca, Choose Your Own Adventure books
Snatch of Text:
"CONGRAT-
ULATIONS,
you have decided to open 
this book, even though you 
have no idea what it's about 
because the cover doesn't 
tell you much. In fact, the 
cover is weird and seem-
ingly at cross-purposes 
with the message and pos-
sibly even a bit pretentious. 
But you opened it anyway."
Writing Prompts: Complete one of the projects at the end of the book and then write about what you thought about as you completed the project and how you felt about being a designer.
Topics Covered: Integration - Art, Creativity, Intentionality, Purposefulness, Motivation, Belief
I *heart* It:
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The One With a Slice of Gratitude #slice2014



Every Tuesday, I participate in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers. If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here

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You won't read this until Tuesday but I'm writing this at 10:03 p.m. on Monday night. I'm home...finally. At 7:30 this morning, I was at a preschool to help students get off the busses and into their classrooms. One of the staff members passed away last week - unexpectedly and tragically - and today was the funeral. It was sad to be there but I was glad to support and do what I could to make sure the students were well taken care of when so many staff were out of the building to attend the funeral. 

I talked with one of the students while her class ate breakfast. She had cereal, a banana and veggie straws in front of her but wouldn't eat. The students were all deaf or heard of hearing so I was signing with them. This one student was amazed that I knew sign language. She was completely adorable, smiling at me and signing back to me. It was heart-breaking to think that the woman who normally worked with her will never help her off the bus again, will never sit at breakfast and talk with her again, will never walk down the hall and into class with her again.

Just as I was leaving home to go to this school, Peanut and Little Bean woke up. I gave them each a hug and then I had to be off. I didn't get home until after nine with after-school meetings and the Board of Education meeting. My babies are already in bed. The house is quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator and music playing up in the kids' bedroom. I'm ready to shut my laptop, turn off the light, stop the song that is on repeat, and climb under the covers myself. 

I'm so thankful that my babies are safe and sound and snuggled in bed. I barely got to see them today but I'm so grateful to know that I have family I can count on to take care of them when I have to be at work early and/or late. Most of all, I'm grateful for every second I get to spend with them and watch them grow up. My post this week is a little slice of gratitude. There's so much to be thankful for but this little slice seems like enough right now.