a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morning Announcements

It started when a 6th grade teacher with a flair for drama (the acting kind, not the mean girl kind) decided to read her story on the morning announcements.  It was a story of being bullied and being a bully.  It was a true story.  It was brave and amazing.  I don’t think a soul in the entire school took a breath until she was done.  That piece kicked off No Name-Calling Week in our school.

This morning a student had volunteered to read his piece.  One of my students.  He had written a letter to John Boyne about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for the Letters About Literature contest.  It was a letter about being bullied.  It was a letter about learning to stand up for himself and others.  It was true and honest.  It was brave and amazing.  I don’t think a soul in the entire school took a breath until he was done.

Dear Mr. Boyne,

Imagine being treated deficiently because you’re different. Imagine being separated because of the color of your hair or because your skin is a different color than his or hers. Imagine there being a fence separating you from the world you once thought was good. That is what happened to Bruno in your book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. That’s what happened to me in my gym class.

In your book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Bruno had no idea what was going on in this world. He had no idea what racism was or what a concentration camp was. Sometimes I wish I didn’t either. One day Bruno met a friend who was on the other side of the fence. Not because he did something erroneous, or because his mom sent him to a timeout. No, he was there because of something that was totally out of his control. He was there because of the color of his hair and his eyes. Just like me. 

As a kid I had always been told about racism. About how it still subsist in this world, but being a teenager who thinks they know everything I thought different. That is until my first year in junior high. As a sixth grader I was picked on because of my height and the way I dressed, but the one that stuck with me most was the comments about the color of my skin. The thought of someone making fun of me because of my skin was racing back and forth in my mind for three years, until I read your book. Your book changed me.          

As a seventh and eight grader I could see bullying taking place, but not want to interfere because of what happened to me. I would be afraid that because I’m being a friend to the friendless I would get bullied along with them. There is still racism, bullying, name calling and a lot of other stuff at my school. Most kids would probably look at it taking place and walk away or maybe even laugh just to fit in, but not me. Not after reading you book. Your book has stimulated me to be the person who sits with the kid who’s eating lunch by himself. Your book has inspired me to talk to the kid who is sitting alone with everyone else laughing at him or her, and I thank you for that. I hope that you can inspire others just like you have to me. The mere ink that you put on paper will always be forged in my heart.

Immediately after he finished, I walked the student to his locker to put away his coat and collect his belongings for first period.  As we walked up the stairs, I asked, “Do you still have that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach?”

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.

We passed a few staff members.  Each of them congratulated and encouraged him as they went by.

“Each time you hear something like that, I bet it feels a little bit better,” I said.

He nodded and smiled.

“You have P.E. first, right?  You know those students probably didn’t hear the announcements.  So, you may not have a sense of what the reaction is going to be until second period,” I was starting to get nervous for him.

“Actually, today is a health day.  So, we are in a classroom,” he explained.

Now I was truly nervous for him.  His letter included details about being bullied in gym class.  True the bullying he referenced had happened two years ago, when he was in 6th grade, but still.  Would this class be understanding?  Would this class treat him with kindness and maturity?

We passed through one hallway and reached the health classroom.  I opened the door.  He stepped inside. 

The room erupted into applause.  My eyes welled up with tears.  And my heart sang.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Yesterday was a teacher torture day institute day in my district.  Needless to say I have been clouded by a fog of moodiness a barrage of professional thoughts ever since.  Assessment has been on my mind.  It is an area in which I suck do not feel confident, but mostly because I just can’t find a model to follow that fits the current mandates of my district and feels right (i.e. is good for kids). 

I am down about not being Nancie Atwell able to figure it out myself.  I am surrounded by buffoons leaders who say things like, “If we knew how to roll out the common core standards, we would be earning our enormous paychecks traveling the country, making an even larger sum of money consulting with other school districts.”

In an effort to save myself from a glorious celebration of the problem downward spiral of toxicity, I decided to find something that makes me feel like I don’t suck to celebrate. 

So, my slice today is a collection of lines from my 8th graders’ letters to authors for the Letters About Literature contest.  If you have never participated, check it out and start planning for next year.  It is worth it!

It is my belief that these lines speak volumes more than any numbers in a gradebook. 

Enjoy my collection. I know there are lot of lines.  Don't feel like you need to read them all!  There is something so delicious about the sheer volume of readerly goodness that I just couldn't leave any out.
“From the first sentence to the last, I was ripped out of my own reality and brought into Jessica’s.”
-from a letter to Wendelin Van Draanen regarding The Running Dream

“It surprised me how much bad can be contained in a great piece of literature.”
-from a letter to Markus Zusak regarding The Book Thief

“This book seemed to rekindle my love for reading.”
-from a letter to John Steinbeck regarding Of Mice and Men

“You, John Green, caused me for the first time in my life to devour words on the page rather than munch.”
-from a letter to John Green regarding Paper Towns

“When I read your book, it wasn’t like I was reading it; it was like I was living it.”
-from a letter to Laurie Halse Anderson regarding Speak

“The first time I read this book it was just another story about another person, but now, in eighth grade, I have gotten a deeper meaning out of it.
-from a letter to Kathleen Krull regarding Wilma, Unlimited

“My Hagrid was your book telling me to stay strong.”
-from a letter to J.K. Rowling regarding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“After reading your series, I had the world stop for me and I thought deeply about what would happen to Seth, Kady, and Justin.”
-from a letter to Chris Wooding regarding Malice

“Your book opened my mind to a world I never knew about.”
-from a letter to H.R. Demalie regarding Behind Enemy Lines

“This book taught me a lot and I will keep it with me for my whole life.”
-from a letter to ‘Anonymous’ regarding Go Ask Alice

“Now I know what it’s like to be inside a bullied child’s mind.”
-from a letter to Jay Asher regarding 13 Reasons Why

“Now that I’ve read your book, when I walk down the street I will look at people differently.  I won’t just look at their outside.  To know what is within is the key.”
-from a letter to Scott Westerfield regarding Uglies

“This book is a whole different experience of reading; it made me like reading more than I ever had before.  It even made me rather read instead of playing video games.”
-from a letter to Lois Lowry regarding The Giver

“Your book has stimulated me to be the person who sits with the kid who’s eating lunch by himself.  Your book has inspired me to talk to the kid who is sitting alone with everyone else just laughing at him or her, and I thank you for that.”
-from a letter to John Boyne regarding The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“I know I’ve hurt people before, but I never really thought about it until your book.”
-from a letter to Jay Asher regarding 13 Reasons Why

“Every day I waited for someone to just ask me, ‘What’s wrong?’  The person who made me stop waiting for that question was you.” 
-from a letter to Jay Asher regarding 13 Reasons Why

“You saved me from myself and you made a spark appear in the darkness.”
-from a letter to Jay Asher regarding 13 Reasons Why

“Before I read your book, I never really paid attention to disabled people.”
-from a letter to Sharon M. Draper regarding Out of My Mind

“It was a difficult time for me and reading your book made me see that even though Phoebe was a fictional character, I could relate to her.”
-from a letter to Paula Danziger regarding Divorce Express

“Your book has helped me transfer to a new school and be able to topple new challenges that were thrown in my way.”
-from a letter to Orson Scott Card regarding Ender’s Game

“I have read a lot of ‘scary’ books, but most never give me the thrill that yours gives me.”
-from a letter to Alexander Gordon Smith regarding Lockdown

“Your book made me think about people in the world differently, how everything happens for a reason, and if certain things need to happen in our lives, to follow the journey, see where it takes you, and enjoy it.”
-from a letter to Wendy Mass regarding Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

“Your book brought out the little child in me, before it’s too late, which feels really good.”
-from a letter to J.K. Rowling regarding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“I was trapped in my own internal prison, alone to wonder how I could discover a spark to ignite my life.  Then I found your book, The Maze Runner and for the first time in a very long time, I felt alive.”
-from a letter to James Dashner regarding The Maze Runner

“Reading your book made me realize that I shouldn’t stereotype people.”
-from a letter to Sarah Dessen regarding Someone Like You
“Thank you for opening up my mind and making me realize that everyone has a reason for acting certain ways towards me and others.”
-from a letter to Wendy Mass regarding Leap Day

“If I got paid for reading this book, I would become rich.”
-from a letter to Brian Selznick regarding The Invention of Hugo Cabret

“When I finished this book, I bragged about it to my class and friends.  People don’t usually see me reading, so people were surprised.”
-from a letter to Lisa Schroeder regarding I Heart You, You Haunt Me

“Now that I’ve read your book I really try not to take things for granted.”
-from a letter to Sharon M. Draper regarding Out of My Mind

“If I hadn’t read your book, I would have never had the guts to enter a piano competition and win second place.”
-from a letter to Justin Bieber regarding Steps to Forever

“When I read your book it made me realize that books are not only for geeks, they’re also for people like me.”
-from a letter to Wendelin Van Draanen regarding Flipped

“Your book Knucklehead was the first book I ever liked and enjoyed.”
-from a letter to Jon Scieszka regarding Knucklehead

“Your book was interesting and made me think how those who surround me might be hiding inside themselves.”
-from a letter to Matt De La Pena regarding Ball Don’t Lie

“Your book inspired me to never quit fighting for what I believe in.”
-from a letter to Uri Orlev regarding Run Boy, Run

“Once I read one of your books, I really wanted to read really slowly so I could keep reading the same book you wrote.”
-from a letter to Mike Lupica regarding Heat

“You made me appreciate the life I have and you changed the way I think about my uncle.”
-from a letter to Terry Trueman regarding Stuck in Neutral

“If I hadn’t read your book, I would’ve lost my best friend.”
-from a letter to Patricia Reilly Giff regarding Pictures of Hollis Woods

“Until I read your book, I never realized just listening to someone can change so much.”
-from a letter to S.E. Hinton regarding The Outsiders
“Reading your book made me think growing up is not that bad at times.”
-from a letter to Jenny Han regarding Shug

Drive By taught me a lot of things about gangs, family, and life.  It was a book I couldn’t put down.  It was that good.”
-from a letter to Lynne Ewing regarding Drive By

“I felt just like Max when one of my friends turned against me.  I felt hunted and trapped.”
-from a letter to James Patterson regarding Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

“Your book helped me realize that being perfect is only a state of mind.”
-from a letter to Alex Flinn regarding Beastly

“I enjoyed your book because it felt so real.  It seemed like it could happen.  It felt like it was a real story.”
-from a letter to Lynne Ewing regarding Drive By

“When I read your book, something clicked.  I was reading a book and I understood it.”
-from a letter to Neal Shusterman regarding Unwind

“Before I read your book series, I didn’t like reading at all.  Now I know that I like reading your books and some others too.”
-from a letter to Jeff Kinney regarding Diary of a Wimpy Kid

“This book did more than just make me understand books; it truly made me want to read.  After reading your book I started going to libraries and trying to find books to read.  I started reading for to enjoy myself, not just for schoolwork.”
-from a letter to Brian Selznick regarding The Invention of Hugo Cabret

“If I didn’t read this book, I would still not know that there are some books that you can be inside of instead of just watching it in your brain.”
-from a letter to Kekla Magoon regarding Camo Girl

Sunday, January 22, 2012

NO NAME-CALLING WEEK: Jan. 23rd -27th

In honor of No Name-Calling Week, the idea for which originated with this book, I thought I would post a review of The Misfits by James Howe on my other blog.

This book has one of my favorite leads:
"So here I am, not a half-hour old as a tie salesman and trying to look like I know what I am doing, which have got to be two of the biggest jokes of all time, when who should walk into Awkworth & Ames Department Store but Skeezie Tookis. "
I think I like it because it is such an inviting introduction to Bobby and Skeezie, two of the four friends referred to in the book’s title. 

Bobby, Skeezie, Addie, and Joe are seventh graders who decide to create their own political party to run in the student council election.  Their goal is simple: to put an end to name-calling.

When thinking about how I will approach No-Name Calling Week in my classroom, the part of The Misfits that resonated with me was page 139, the list of all the names each character can remember having been called:

What struck me is that each person in my classroom (including me) carries a list like these inside of him/her.  That just plain breaks my heart. 

I still remember Jill T. and her blonde ponytail from the first day of 1st grade.  I was second in line for the school tour.  When Mrs. Fulton headed to the back of the line to talk to a student, Jill T. seized the opportunity to whip around, her ponytail snapping around her head from the sharpness of her movement, to look me up and down and announce authoritatively, “You’re puny!”  I honestly hadn’t known it was a bad thing until that moment.  I hadn’t realized my size was a reason to feel ashamed. 

I am 33.  That 30 seconds of my life occurred when I was 7. 

Needless to say, I believe No Name-Calling Week is a cause worth supporting.  I plan to utilize some of the resources I have found online:

 A List-In-Progress of Books to Share for No Name-Calling Week:

1.     The Misfits by James Howe
2.     Playground by 50 Cent
3.     A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)
4.     Blubber by Judy Blume
5.     Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
6.     Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
7.     Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
8.     Loser by Jerry Spinelli
9.     Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
10. Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn
11. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
12. Hate List by Jennifer Brown
13. Godless by Pete Hautman
14. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
15. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


“Twice each day
a crack opens
between night and day.
Twice twilight
slips through that crack.

It stays only a short time
while night and day
stand whispering secrets
before they go their
separate ways.”

-from Twilight Comes Twice by Ralph Fletcher

I am in love with this poetic dictionary:
The 1995 edition of the Merriam Webster Desk Dictionary defines twilight as "a state of imperfect clarity."
Twilight has always been one of my favorite words, favorite ideas.  Not the book, not the movie, but the word itself, the meaning of it.

Recently, in a comment on my other blog, I was asked when I find time for so much reading.  My students often pose the same question.  In fact, just the other day some former students dropped by for a visit, lamenting that they no longer have time to read. 

This always puzzles me.  Does that mean that these people think I just live my life and read in the “leftover” time?  As if I find myself saying at 3pm each afternoon, “Gee, I have NOTHING to do.  I guess I might as well read to fill these few hours before dinner.” Really? 

The thing is, I don’t have a surplus of “extra” time or “free” time to spend reading.  I find the time, I make the time, I take the time.  Reading means that much to me.  

Mostly, I make good use of the twilight of my life—those moments in between waking and sleeping. 

I long for a book so good it is worth keeping the light on over on my side of the bed long after my husband has fallen asleep.  I treasure the mornings when enough sunlight finds its way through the filter of shades and curtains to allow me to sneak in a few chapters, maybe even the entire second half of a book, before my husband opens his eyes. 

Sure, there are nights when my eyelids are so heavy my book hangs over the edge of the nightstand, untouched.  Sure, there are mornings when my eyes are burning with the urge to shut tightly at the slightest hint of sunlight. 

But more often, are the moments of imperfect clarity when I find myself lost in the pages of book, so engrossed in story that I don’t even notice my elbow room has been severely encroached upon by the dogs flanking my sides.   These are the moments when the night and day of my life share the whispered secrets of story with me before going their separate ways—in the twilight of my life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I do not have a writer’s notebook. 

I have notebooks, sure.  I mean, I LOVE notebooks.  But I have never filled a single notebook with a hodgepodge of writerly goods. 

Instead, I collect things with plans to notebook them when I get something I have always heard about, but never seen in person: FREE TIME.

As a result, I seem to have begun a lot of notebooks.  I guess I am more interested in the launching, less astute at maintaining momentum, interest, inspiration. 

In fact, you know that notebook challenge Ruth posted about last summer?  I collected her posts in a notebook.  Yup.  I planned to take the challenge.  I thought about her posts.  I marinated in them.  Yet, I never followed through on a single one. 

Recently, Deb posted about sharing her notebook with her students.  I have always shared “entries” with my students.  You see, that kind of mini-lesson doesn’t require having an entire notebook filled.  I am pathetic. 

Even more recently, Ruth posted about her notebook project.  Did you see that basket filled with notebooks?  I am sure those were NOT just beginnings of writer’s notebooks.  Those notebooks were oozing with the stuff of a WRITER.  It was obvious. 

Deb and Ruth got me to thinking.  What stops me from filling a notebook?  Am I really NOT living like a writer?  Have I been fooling myself all this time?  Maybe it is just my desperation to avoid having to admit I am not a REAL writer, but I really don’t think this is the case.  I thought about what kinds of things I would/should include in a filled to the brim writer’s notebook: writer’s ephemera, project plans, brainstorms, responses to prompts, reactions to books, reactions to life, word play, word collections, lists, quotes, mentor sentences, character sketches. 

I have that stuff!  It may not be in a notebook, but I have it.  Some of it is scattered on my desk.  Some of it is somewhere in that stack of papers I tucked in the basket in my office.  Some of it is stored in a file on my computer.  Some of it is in that notebook I have been using just to keep track of my daily life and lists of things to do.  Some of it is in my nightstand.  But I have it. 

Now, I am realizing the value of having all of those tools, muses, and beginnings all in one place.  If I want to be able to reflect and utilize what I’ve bothered to collect, I need to make it accessible.  So, I am on a quest to collect and compile.  And maybe, just maybe, one day soon I will be able to say that I FILLED a writer’s notebook.  Because I think there are few things to say that are more gratifying than that.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Blog Challenge

I keep reading about blog challenges for readers.  Since I started a book blog, I think participating would be a good nudge for me.  So, I kept searching until I found just the right one. 

I wondered if I should pick something that would push me to read books I wouldn’t usually pick up.

Then I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to start with a challenge that is more tailored to my tastes.

Then I wondered if I should start with a challenge that had levels to it, so I could pick my difficulty level (but I knew I would choose the hardest level anyway).

Then I toyed with the idea of just creating my own challenge, like a reading goal.

For a while I considered this challenge to read classic books paired with YA lit.  That one still sounds like fun.

Then I found the perfect challenge—a challenge that will help me make connections.  I have enjoyed reading MotherReader’s blog posts with an edge for a long time (sort of the same way I started by quietly reading the inspiring blog posts at Two Writing Teachers before jumping in).  This challenge seemed like just the nudge I need to participate in another community of bloggers: The Comment Challenge hosted by MotherReader and Lee Wind

Created by Lee Wind @ leewind.org by adapting this 1950 Hoover ad in Life Magazine
Not only is this a nudge to seek out, discover, and comment on new blogs, but it is a nudge to post regularly for 21 days on my own bookblog.  

It is only day one.  I have exceeded my comment quote for the day (logging 7 comments instead of only the required 5) and already I am making connections with friends new and old (like Linda and Tara).

I already love The Comment Challenge!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Reminder of My One Little Word

Last week, after being prompted by Stacey, I wrote about my one little word for 2012: nudge.   

Since then, I have been carrying my OLW a bit closer to the front of my conscious mind.  I have been visualizing what it might look like to live with this word for a year. 

I picture myself questioning less and encouraging more.
I picture myself teaching less and empowering more.
I picture myself stressing over the small things less and focusing on my professional growth more.
I picture myself talking less and listening more.
I picture myself floundering less and making decisions more.
I picture myself letting life pass me by less and engaging more.
I picture myself wandering less and walking with purpose more.
I picture myself sitting on the couch less and DOing more.

I picture these things and I hope I have the stamina to follow through.  Luckily, I was reminded today that I am surrounded by people who want the same for me.  People who are willing to give me a nudge when I need it and people who will give me support when I need it. 

Today I unwrapped a new iPod shuffle, a gift from my husband to make my workout music more portable when I go to the gym to run, and was surprised by an unexpected addition.  Mark had decided to get the shuffle engraved for me, to remind me of his belief in me and his unwavering support. 

I am considering myself nudged.  And I love the feeling.