Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Flora and Ulysses

Title: Flora and Ulysses
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Genre/Format: Mild Fantasy/Middle Grade Novel
GoodReads Summary: Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him.

What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format: a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell  

What I Think: I adore this book. I loved it as I was listening to it but now that I'm looking through it again and returning to the characters and Kate's great writing, I'm in love all over again. I'm going to reread it and see if Peanut wants to read it with me because it's great. I remember loving the description of Flora's mom as a writer. I wonder if Kate sees any of herself in Flora's mother and know that there are some times when I get consumed in my own writing and might act like her...for good or bad.
     If you've read any of Kate's books, you know how wonderful she is with words. Her writing is the kind of writing that begs to be soaked up. It naturally seeps into your skin and resonates through you. I love her description and how she looks at sometimes ordinary - and other times not-so-ordinary - people and places and situations and grasps them with her words. There have been a few writing prompts this summer with Teachers Write that encourage us to think about small moments and expanding them, to describe one moment, to zoom in on a person. Kate DiCamillo's writing in Flora and Ulysses is a great mentor text for these activities. I especially think it's great to imagine what you might see happening in the book if it wasn't for Kate's description. You might see a girl and a mom and a boy next door, but Kate brings them to life when she tells their stories.
     I love working with students on show don't tell. I remember show don't tell well from my days as a student in writing workshop in junior high and high school. After understanding the writing is a process and that thanks to the process we can write and work on our writing, I believe show don't tell is the next message students need to hear. In discussing show don't tell, it's obvious how influential mentor texts are and how reading has to be part of writing. The job of a writer is to help a reader be able to visualize his or her words. As a reader, if we can visualize what an author has described, then the author has done his or her job. And the author has lots of tools he uses to help the reader visualize. Enter literary elements or figurative language.
     Starting with the five senses always made sense to me. Pick a person, place, thing. Free write all the words that come to mind. Then try to describe it using the five senses: smell, touch, sight, sound, taste. If you look at the snatches of text below, there are examples of what the characters see, hear, smell and taste. There are, in fact, excellent examples of each of these. These are just a few but readers might look for their own examples of great description in Flora and Ulysses, in other books she has written, or other books they are reading. By reading and letting her words resonate, students can think about and practice their own descriptions. (I don't eat cheese puffs...but I know many students are fans of those things. For a sensory experience, bring in cheese puffs or ask students to describe their favorite snack like Kate describes Ulysses' cheese puff!)
Read Together: Grades 2 - 5
Read Alone: Grades 3 - 6
Read With: Tale of Desperaux and others by Kate DiCamillo, Hound Dog True and others by Linda Urban
Snatch of Text: 
"Flora Belle Buckman was in her room at her desk. She was very busy. She was doing two things at once. She was ignoring her mother, and she was reading a comic book entitled The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!" (p. 5)

"It was astonishing. Everything was astonishing. The setting sun was illuminating each blade of grass. It was reflecting off the girl's glasses, making a halo of light around the girl's round head, setting the whole world on fire.
The squirrel thought, When did things become so beautiful? And if it has been this way all along, how is it that I never noticed before?" (p. 24)

"Flora's mother was in the kitchen. She was typing. She wrote on an old typewriter, and when she pounded the keys, the kitchen table shook and the plates on the shelves rattled and the silverware in the drawers cried out in a metallic kind of alarm." (p. 27)

"He put his nose up. He sniffed. He smelled something cheesy, wonderful. He ran through the living room and the dining room and into the kitchen. He climbed up on the counter. And there it was! A lone cheese puff, perched on the edge of the red Formica countertop. He ate it. It was delicious." (p. 40)
Writing Prompts: Write about one little thing or one small moment but look at Kate DiCamillo's writing and see if you can describe using your five senses and $100 words like she does to make it feel larger than life.
Topics Covered: Family, Friendship, Courage, Trust, Loyalty, Love, Adventure
 I *heart* It:
 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The One Where I Was Feeling Relaxed #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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On Sunday, my husband went to pick up Peanut and Little Bean who had spent the night at my parents. We slept in since the kids weren't home and I was slow to get dressed, to have breakfast, to savor the last few pages of Ruth Culham's The Writing Thief. It was a sunny day, the house was quiet, I was feeling relaxed. 

A little before one in the afternoon, I pulled into the library. Our library has never been open on Sundays in the summer until this year. I love the library on a Sunday afternoon. 

This Sunday, as I pulled in, I saw quite a few cars, and people of all ages lingering in front of the doors. How awesome that people were waiting for the doors to open, eager to get into the library on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer. I had to tweet about it (of course) and then I sat there in the parking lot with the windows down and the sunroof open, enjoying the sunny day and feeling relaxed.

Inside, I found a quiet spot near the windows, overlooking the sweet pond outside. Last week, I only posted my IMWAYR post, my Celebrate post and my Teachers Write Sunday Check-In post. I've struggled with being very consistent at posting here lately. Some days I get lots of posts up and others I just don't. Summer has been busy, full of so many memories I will always cherish and that I would never trade, but today I made myself not work on my novels, I made myself not send e-mails, I made myself not work on work. Instead, I took the time to get posts ready for the week and to get a little organized with my blog posts. 

It's been a while since I've felt ahead of the game with things instead of trying to get things done right before they happen and I wanted to capture this little slice of relaxation that I enjoyed on Sunday. Sometimes these moments pass us by and we don't capture them in writing but I'm trying to be more conscious of them.

When was the last time you felt relaxed?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/28/14

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 read The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham and loved it. It's a wonderful ode to using mentor texts in writing instruction and a definite must read! I also read some picture books that I'll be reviewing and am making headway with The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw

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

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: I've decided to reread Flora and Ulysses after looking through it for snatches of text and remembering just how much I loved it. I'm going to continue reading The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw and I also have El Deafo by CeCe Bell to read. I haven't been listening to audiobooks lately but I do have Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd to listen to this week. I'm back at work today so I'm hoping to get into more of a routine again as far as reading, listening, writing and blogging. Hooray!

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!

Teachers Write - Weekly Reflection #4

Welcome back everyone! I hope you enjoyed week three of Teachers Write! I love seeing people blogging, tweeting and sharing on Facebook. Gae shook her pom poms over on Facebook earlier this week. We're halfway through Teachers Write but there is still lots of time to write and reflect on writing habits and how living the life of a writer might help you work with student writers. I don't have any pom poms with me today...but I do have a big ol' thumbs for all of you!
Today, I'm continuing with my weekly reflection questions and this time I want to know WHEN you write. Some of us talked about this last week when we shared where we write but I still think it's important to think about when we write. 
Last week, I shared how I squish my writing time into my life where I can and that applies also to when I'm writing during the day. It might be the morning, the middle of the day, or ten or eleven at night. Can you guess when I do my best? I bet you might BUT I'll let you look at the evidence and then see what you think. Here are some daily notes from the last two weeks that relate to when I write.

TUESDAY: I woke up early, took a shower and snuck into my kids' room to write before they woke up (they are sleeping downstairs on the couches...because it's summer? idk.). I hear them talking to each other now but I probably wrote for an hour-ish and I got in 1,500 words. I really just let myself write something and not worry about it being great. It felt awesome!

WEDNESDAY: Midday writing today. 1,000 words, took about an hour but it's getting easier, words are flowing more now. Hooray!

THURSDAY: I left the house before the kids were up to write at Starbucks. I was there about two hours and got in 1,000 words. Cruising along!

FRIDAY: It doesn't feel like a yes because it's late and I'm tired and starting to see blurry BUT I did get in an hour of writing and 500 words so it's a yes. I meant to get up early and write but it didn't work out this morning and I'm definitely tired now.

SUNDAY: I got home super late and had to get my IMWAYR post up and then spent a crappy 25 minutes staring at a free write I did and reworking it for where I am in my MS. It wasn't pretty but it happened.

WEDNESDAY: Ugh...okay, I added 100 words but I'm so exhausted. I was back at work today from 6:00-4:00 for summer hours and I'm wiped. I tried...maybe I'll dream about my characters and then it'll just flow tomorrow night!

THURSDAY: My 4yo is still up and he's snuggling with me because my husband isn't home yet. I have my computer open but I'm so tired and have decided it's just not going to happen.

What do you think? It's pretty clear - just from the lack of exclamation points - that writing at night is a struggle for me. I do best when I write first thing in the morning when my brain is fresh. I am still able to get something done most nights and that counts, but I feel way better about my writing in the morning. 

Having daily notes to help me reflect is useful and I believe asking student writers to reflect upon their writing and reading lives is important, too. It's easy to forget how much we struggled one day or how great we felt the next but by keeping notes when conferring with students or asking students to write a quick note of what they worked on and how it felt, we have evidence to return to and use for reflection. I'm such a fan of using evidence to guide a conversation because it's hard to argue with evidence. It gives a student the opportunity to look at information and come to his or her own conclusions about what's working and what might need to change. Obviously, during a school day, students might not have flexibility in when they get to write but they might think about when ideas come to them or reflect on other aspects of their writing lives.

This is getting long...but at ISTE, I had the pleasure of hearing Jaime Casap speak. He works for Google and explained, "'Failure' is an old word. We live in a world of iteration. We are constantly betting better." By reflecting, we are able to see what we might change for the next iteration. Every time we sit down to write, we can learn how to be more effective as a writer.

My Teachers Write Weekly Recap:
My goal was still to write for 25 minutes every day. Last week my word count was at 7,759 and I hoped to get to 13,000. I only made it to 10,192, mostly because I wasn't able to get writing time in until late at night when it just didn't work. Boo! BUT I can totally see what I need to adjust.

I did work on my query letter and I think I have a pretty strong pitch. I also reread the current draft of the novel I have been revising. I made notes throughout for changes I need to make now and also looked for places where I can split the story into chapters. As I found chapter breaks, i wrote out a summary of what happens in each chapter so once I type that, I should have a nice start on a synopsis.

Honestly, I think I need to take a break from drafting. My goal for this week is to focus in on and finish another round of revisions so I can get it off to one more beta reader before one last round of revision and I get super serious about querying. Thanks for hanging in this long, for checking in, and for keeping up the great work!!! Go you!

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.

Today, in the comments section:
When do you write?
How does reflecting help you assess what's working and what to adjust?
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the non-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let's Celebrate A Cracker Jack of a Game!

It's time to CELEBRATE This Week with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.  Every week Ruth invites us to share our celebrations from the week and link up at her blog. What a fun way to reflect on everything there is to be thankful for. 

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This week I'm celebrating a Cracker Jack of a game!

*throws confetti*

Last Saturday we went to the White Sox game. I've actually been to more White Sox games in my time than Cubs game but I consider myself a Cubs fan...I mean, kind of. Sports people are probably guffawing at me because I'm hardly a fan but I do consider the Cubs to be my baseball choice.

But last Saturday we went to the White Sox game. My husband got amazing tickets from a friend and we were able to invite friends to come with us. The kids had a blast and any MLB game is magical so it was a fun night.
They have great things for kids to do before and during the game. Little Bean and I ended up here during the game because he just couldn't sit still. He knew that he wanted to go back and get some extra batting practice. How adorable is he in this giant helmet? 
Okay, here you can see how great our seats were. This is Peanut in the very front row, we were right behind 1st base. It was pretty incredible. And he got to drink pop so he was completely over the moon and on cloud nine at the same time. 
It just so happened to be NIU night and they sponsored fireworks after the game. It's pretty amazing to see all the lights turned out in a giant stadium like that and amazing fireworks. They were set to music and it was fun to sing along. Here we are at the end of the night...most of us were tired but we were still smiling.  
Okay, so I'm not really a White Sox fan and barely a baseball fan but I am a fan of family fun and today I'm celebrating the fun we had spending time together. 

What are you celebrating this week?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/21/14

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: Last week I read and loved The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. It's an amazing look at writing that I definitely recommend. We also finished Comic Squad: Recess! which was so great. I started reading The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw...just barely, but I love the twist on this book already.

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

Upcoming Book Adventures: 
Jen Says: So...I'm going to try to actually get reviews up this week! I'm going to continue to read The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw and I'll be back at work so I'm going to grab an audiobook to listen to. 

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!

Teachers Write - Weekly Reflection #3

Welcome back, writing friends! Today marks the end of Teachers Write week 2! I hope you are enjoying Teachers Write and all the great support we receive from Kate, Gae, Jo and others. Thanks for stopping in here to share your progress!

This week I got into more of a rhythm with my writing and was able to write everyday, adding amazing, first-draft-imperfectly-perfect words to the novel I'm drafting. I've noticed that my rhythm this summer means I'm writing and celebrating my writing, but the nature of my life this summer - home with two young kiddos, traveling, being home, squishing in writing time  - means where I'm writing isn't very consistent. For a while now, I've longed for a wonderful writing nook, a little space carved out somewhere in the world just for me. With bright, warm colored walls, inspirational quotes hung tenderly, and a simple wooden tabletop where my laptop can sit, this writing space lives only in my imagination but I'm okay with that. 

Today's weekly reflection question is, "Where do you write?" but I'm challenging you to think outside of the proverbial box and to stretch some of the ideas you might have about the perfect writing space. While I dream of a sweet writing nook, I've done a lot of writing without one and I seem to be doing just fine.
During the first summer of Teachers Write, I read Stephen King's book On Writing and blogged about all the great writing insight he shares in that book. I shared many of my favorite quotes, and three of them are specific to a writing space. Here they are again:

“For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction.” p. 156
“When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.” p. 156
“I wrote my first two published novels, Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, in the laundry room of a doublewide trailer, pounding away on my wife’s portable Olivetti typewriter and balancing a child’s desk on my thighs; John Cheever reputedly wrote in the basement of his Park Avenue apartment building, near the furnace. The space can be humble (probably should be, as I think I have already suggested), and it really needs only one things: a door which you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business; you have made a serious commitment to write and intend to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.” p. 155

I wrote most of my first draft that summer in my laundry room. It was the best way to shut out distractions. I sometimes still write in my laundry room but have also found a lot of success writing in my closet. For me, cutting out distractions really is what I need. Everything else doesn't matter as long as I can shut out the world around me and zone in on the paper/computer screen in front of me.

Here's another quote, this time from Ralph Fletcher, who has written a lot about writers notebooks (which, incidentally, are amazing and a fantastic place to start with student writers - you can read about his resources in this blog post): 

“When you come right down to it,
you are the place where your words will grow.
But most writers find it invaluable to have
a regular writing place, a physical space,
where they can water and weed a garden of words.”

This week, I read The Right to Write by Julia Cameron where she explains, "Wherever I am, whenever I can, I write." Which got me thinking about how Ralph is right that it's great to have a place that feels energizing, Stephen is right that cutting out distractions helps but that maybe Julia is onto something in the fact that we can take our writing space with us.

On Tuesday, I went to an amazing yoga class led by my friend Lauren (of paddleboard yoga fame) and by the end I was so overcome with emotions that it became a writing emergency. Luckily, I had my writer's notebook with me and I sat down to write while all the feelings were fresh. By always having a place to record my thoughts - whether it's with a notebook and a pen or with a device - I have my writing space with me

On Thursday, I found myself at Starbucks with time to write. I adore Starbucks as a place to be productive. Just walking in and smelling the smells puts me in a mental place to write. The only thing I don't like about Starbucks is the noise distractions. While they play lovely music, it usually varies in style and tempo and doesn't always match my mood or the mood of what I'm writing. Likewise, there are lovely people in Starbucks but sometimes they are chatting away - whether it be to each other or to me - and that doesn't always help me either. I have found that plugging in my headphones at Starbucks or anywhere else allows me to get back to my writing. I have a wonderful white noise with waves soundtrack that works especially well when I'm revising or working on anything non-fiction but I create playlists for when I'm working on first draft novel-writing. By having a way to play music that eliminates distractions and fuels me - I have my writing space with me.

Here is a playlist I created in iTunes when working on my first novel:

And this is the playlist I created on Spotify for the novel I'm drafting right now:
I love thinking about an ideal writing space and at least finding a place where we can be comfortable to write but I also think it's worthwhile to be open-minded to the idea that we are the writers and that, ultimately, we bring the writing to the space.

My Teachers Write Weekly Recap:
My goal for this week was to write for 25 minutes every day. I also wanted to add 1,000 words to my draft everyday so that I would be at 9,000 words today...and I half made it. I did write for at least 25 minutes everyday but I didn't get to 1,000 words everyday. My word count is at 7,759 which is still progress so I'm happy with that.

This week, I did my best, most productive writing when I woke up early and was able to write or when I went to Starbucks in the morning or middle of the day and was able to work. I can definitely write at night but it's harder to move fast and feel fully engaged, my head just feels tired. My goal for this upcoming week is to keep on drafting but to look for space to write early on in the day as much as possible and to take into account that I might need to write more on the days when I can really only squeeze in the 25 minutes. I also need to stop thinking so much and just spew out all the first-draft words...and hopefully I can get to 13,000 words by next Sunday.

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.

Today, in the comments section:
Where do you write?
What about the atmosphere or the background noise or music helps you write?
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the non-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?