MCBA Book List 2020

Five years ago, in the middle of a math lesson on a snowy day in January, our school librarian sprinted into my classroom and interrupted (read saved) the kids from having to finish simplifying a mixed numbers problem. She handed out a list of books and said “If you’ve read at least 5 then vote for your favorite book at lunch tomorrow!”

Replay this scene every year. And every year, I am mad at myself because I didn’t read five. So this summer I jumped straight in. This vote won’t sneak up on me this January.

Here are the books I’ve read so far:

  1. Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. I absolutely loved the hamster humor in this book and admired Harriet’s strong, fearless adventure. The illustrations in this graphic novel are beautiful.
  2. The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan. As a writer and pet lover, this book tugged all my heart strings. The flashbacks and the distinctive voice of the narrator, Teddy, made this a book that I will love reading again and again. It’s a great example of how a ‘short’ book can still carry the biggest of life’s themes.
  3. Ancient Egypt by Ken Jennings.  Jennings talks directly to the reader right from the first page. His clever description of time travel and ability to frame the setting in a way that kids can relate to is going to make this a read that everyone can learn a lot from! I’ll report back with my favorite fact when I am finished.

I hope you will join me in this year’s MCBA adventure! Here is the website for more information:

Happy reading, happy writing!

Rehearsal in a Digital Age

Time for…Rehearsal! No, no, I am not in theater. No, no I am not playing an instrument. No! I am not singing. I am writing!

Thanks to Andover Public Schools funding, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend Teacher’s College’s writing institute at Columbia University for the second time. Whenever there is talk about teaching writing, there is talk about the process…which of course starts with rehearsal.

You know what I noticed this week, though? Whenever authors talk about rehearsal, it is usually paired with something. Jack Gantos talks about rehearsing as he is climbing the stairs in the library. Leslie Connor talks about her morning walk with her dogs in the woods. Educator Meghan Hargrave spoke yesterday about rehearsing as she runs. And I know you’ve heard people say, “I do my best thinking in the shower.”

Why? My hypothesis is that these tasks are automatic. We don’t have to think about them so our minds are freed up to wander, plan, and consider new ideas. In these situations, our minds are not distracted by advertisements, TV, facebook, news, or twitter. They are just free to dream, explore, rehearse.

Now picture where you are in your writing process. Where do teachers ask kids to do brainstorm? I ask my fourth graders to talk out loud to their partner, sitting down, in a timed, pressured situation. But what if I told my class about a writing skill before P. E., recess, or if during morning work I gave them five minutes to do a few laps outside and think about their writing and goals.

I must have this discussion with the kids I teach. We should talk about rehearsal and discuss where they feel most comfortable rehearsing for their own writing.

Let me know your rehearsal routines. I’d love to dig deeper into this pattern.

A Book Review: I don’t like Koala

The book I wish I wrote:

“I don’t like Koala,” written by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso is a picture book worth reading. It is creepy. Not what you’d expect from a picture book right? But as I read through the book, I couldn’t help not liking Koala either…there’s something not quite right about that Koala!

Now, don’t get me wrong, this picture book isn’t all creep. The unexpectedness of the creep factor is witty and will have you laughing out loud. It is crafted magically and is fun to read aloud. It is all the things I hope my book will b.

How I’m using this book as a mentor text:

I received a thoughtful critique of a manuscript I am working on that recommended I bring the story back around to the way it started. Have you ever been attached to an ending? Too attached? That’s how I felt about this ending. I was convinced I would rather change the beginning of the story to match the end rather than revise the ending.

Enter: “I don’t like Koala.” From a wording perspective, the ending comes full circle. On the other hand, from a concept perspective, it is literally a cliff hanger.  (I told you, creepy!) I have never thought to try out a cliff hanger at the end of a picture book. In fact, a cliff hanger doesn’t really fit the manuscript I’m working on now. Still, Ferrell’s ending made me rethink the predictability of coming full circle and inspired me to begin revising that ending I thought I loved. Some day soon, maybe my current work in progress have an ending worth reading too.

A Sunday at a NESCBWI Conference

Last Sunday I attended the final day of the 2017 NESCBWI conference. It was my first year attending, and after a single day I can confidently say I will never miss another again. I met dozens of writers and illustrators from all over New England. Writing can be an isolating activity. Just you, your story, your words. Not a the conference; at the conference I connected. Here were over 700 other people who choose to spend their time crafting, creating, revising. I felt like I belonged.

I learned from experts in the field. I left with ideas, I left with inspiration. Mostly though, I left with homework.

  1. Create an author’s website. Check!
  2. Map out my most current polished work. Check!
  3. Follow new connections on twitter. Check!
  4. Find teaching with text sets and Betsy’s blog. In Progress.
  5. Submit work to Editors and Agents from the conference. In Progress.
  6. Record yourself reading your work and play it back to hear how it sounds.
  7. Show up. Just write. An every day goal.

I am so thankful to NESCBWI for all of the connections I made and all of the learning I will do because of the conference. Keep connecting writers! It’s worth it.