Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice of Life - 31 of 31 posts!

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

As I was thinking about how to wrap up the March Slice of Life Challenge, I was going through all of the posts that I have written this month.  Wow! I still surprise myself that I actually did it. There were days when I almost gave up and a couple of days were I posted later in the day, but I did it. I posted 31 Slice of Life posts.

Out of curiosity, I wondered which Slice posts resonated the most with other readers. One way of telling was to see how many people stopped by to read each post.  Here were the top five posts:

# 5 - March 8, 2014 - A Splash of Red

#4 - March 23, 2014 - The One Where I Attempt a Poem

Tied for 2nd:
#2 - March 16, 2014 - New Obsession: Caramel Macchiato

#2 - March 25, 2014 - Finding My Writing Voice

#1 - March 21, 2014 - The One Where I Get Personal

From this writing challenge, I developed a better sense of what it must feel like to be a student who struggles to write. I have new insights and hopefully it will make me a better teacher or at least one who is more understanding.

Though I look forward to gaining some time back to devote to reading, I plan to continue with the weekly Slice of Life posts and the Saturday Celebrate This Week Posts. And I do look forward to continuing with this amazing community of writers who have taught me so much and encouraged me on this journey.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slice of Life - Encouraging Writers

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

On Friday, Stacey Shubitz gave a shout out to the Support Team for the Slice of Life March Challenge. You can read it here

As a first time participant in the challenge, I want to say how much I have appreciated the Support Team as well as the other Slicers. I am pretty certain that if it wasn't for the support in the form of well-timed comments I might not have made it through to this far.  Initially, the encouragement to keep writing because it would get easier or keep a notebook for ideas was what I needed. I did keep writing even when it was difficult.  I also picked up a small notebook to jot down ideas. I will see something or encounter something and now think that I could write a slice of life post on that idea or experience.  I wasn't sure I would get to this point but those in the Support Team and the other Slice of Lifers did. 

Not only did I start keeping a notebook of ideas, I took some chances with my writing.  Writing things that are more personal is uncomfortable, but I tried and was supported by this amazing tribe of writers. I, also, tried some things that were hard.   Not only did I try one poem but two. It's still hard but I am glad I tried.

This month's journey has made me understand the need to write more regularly, like on a daily basis.  If I struggled to write, and I am a teacher and someone who must regularly communicate using written words, then what about my students who are far less comfortable with words? However, if daily writing and encouragement can change me, it can certainly change their writing.  Through this experience, I have come to think more about how we write with students and how we support and mentor them through the process of learning how to write.  It has taught me more about celebrating writing.

Everyone, no matter how young or old, has something to say and everyone must find their writing voice.  As writers, we learn that words can make a difference. Our words can inspire someone, or make someone laugh.  Our words help others experience emotions when we write in a way that they can feel the same sense of joy, or pain that we felt while writing our slice. Our words hold power.  Power that can build up or tear down.  We need to learn responsibility with our writing as well.

Writing can transform us and those that read what we wrote.  Maybe the transformation over the month has been subtle, but the ripple effect of those changes will be felt for a much longer time.

Though, I am not sure if I know everyone who is on the welcome committee that stopped by regularly (or even sporadically), but I do want to thank Tara Smith, and Melanie Meehan, and Linda Baie who commented daily or nearly daily.  Your presence and encouragement was felt. And for the other Slicers who stopped by and commented regularly your support was felt as well.  Thank you all for being so faithful and committed to this element of learning. I have learned so much from you and your writing as well.

Thank you dearest Slicers for welcoming me into your tribe and for giving so much of your self this month during the challenge.  I have been honored to be a part of a truly special group of people.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Slice of Life - Celebrate This Week - 3/29/14

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week... 

1. Back to work - I miss the lazy schedule of last week.  The first week back to work after a break always seems crazier than normal.  It was a good week and I am celebrating that I made it through the week.

2.  Comprehension Lessons - For the next 6 to 8 weeks, I will be piloting a series of comprehension lessons in a couple of 1st and 2nd grade classes.  I started by working with a fabulous first grade teacher at one site.  Her class is a lot of fun and we made an immediate connection.  I start with the other classes in the next week or two.

3.  Earthquakes - Well I am not really celebrating an earthquake, more like celebrating that everyone and everything is alright. This was the second or third one that we had recently.  Not really a fan of earthquakes and like when I just sleep through them.  However, the one last night was a little longer than we have had in awhile.

4.  Math Field Day - I am going to celebrate this one a bit early.  It is happening this morning (Saturday) and I will be helping with registration and some other logistics this year.  

So, what are you celebrating this week?

Update on 3/30/14 - Some of you have asked about Math Field Day.  Here is a post that I added to Facebook that I thought I would share here as well...
This has been my 8th year at Math Field Day for our District. My heart always broke as I watched teams of student receive no medals and other teams sweep their category. The results were always teams of kids who would burst into tears and think they sucked at math and never wanted to try again. Though I think there is a place for competition and winners and losers, I was pretty sure that wasn't the message we wanted to send to students about math or learning, but I could never figure out how to make it more equitable.

Thanks to some changes in logistics, process and scoring there will be more winners and more recognition of hard work. Nothing is ever perfect and someone will inevitably not like the new system, but if it will result in less tears and more opportunities to build a love of math and a confidence in learning then for this I celebrate.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Slice of Life - It's Day 28! - Writing by Hand or Computer

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

It's Day 28! I can't believe that this is my 28th Slice of Life post for the month.

In looking at my last several posts, I realized that they were a little heavier in mood.  So to celebrate four weeks of slicing, I am going with something more fun.

My question to everyone - Do you prefer to write with a pen? pencil? dictation? computer? The reason I bring it up is that I find that normally I do a lot of writing by computer keyboarding.  I like the ease.  You can delete, cut and paste, insert something and it still all looks neat.  However, I do have to say that there are times that I prefer to switch to longhand with pen and paper.

There is something to be said for engaging a different set of muscles.  With paper, I have a bit more freedom.  I can use a pencil or a pen or even switch to markers in different colors. I can use really bold lines or super-micro fine lines.  I can write from left to right, in circles, or I can continue a sentence that I started left to right and have it look like it went right over a cliff.  I can also include doodles or sketches or the real form of cut and paste (cutting something out of a magazine and pasting it into a journal). 

Just as I have freedom with the type of writing utensil, I also can have more freedom with the type of paper I use.  It can be different colors, or different sizes. I can adhere sticky notes on top of other pages.  I can use a spiral bound notebook, or a bound journal or loose-leaf notebook paper, or my favorite - large chart paper.

If you are feeling a bit stifled in your creativity, or just need to change up your routine, maybe it is time to engage more senses while you write and take a walk on the wild side.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Author Interview: Mike Mullins, The Ashfall Trilogy

Welcome to Kid Lit Frenzy Mike! Thank you for being willing to answer a few questions. 

My pleasure.

I have to admit that I tend to have an anxiety/panic attack when I think about or read apocalyptic type books, especially the natural disaster types.  So, I can't imagine writing about them.

Well, I guess I owe you an apology. Sorry about that.

So for my first questions - After writing three books centered around a disaster, do you find yourself checking your basement food stock or replenishing a survival bag in your trunk? Or maybe I should ask what have you done to prepare for a disaster? 

Nope. I’m well prepared for a short term disaster—three weeks or less. But if something like what I describe in my books happens, I have a simple plan: I’ll die.

If you’re a woman between 14 and 35, prepping for the end of the world as we know it makes a lot of sense. But men are far less likely to survive apocalyptic situations than women (we have more muscle mass and less body fat on average than women, so we need more fuel and have less). And people over 35 generally don’t survive in famine situations, which makes me doubly doomed. There’s an interesting study of the Donner party that makes shows who survived and why here: 

In your first book, ASHFALL, you had to create the parameters in which you would work with for subsequent books. Was there anything that you wish you hadn't written because it made something more difficult in later books? 

No, I outlined the whole trilogy before I finished ASHFALL. So I’ve been working from the same outline for five years. I did allow myself to diverge from the outline quite a bit, so what I wrote isn’t exactly what I envisioned five years ago. But it’s pretty close.

When you think back to your own teen self, do you think you would have managed as well as Alex and Darla did/have? 

No, I would have died. I had all of Alex’s impulsivity and none of his taekwondo skills. I started taking taekwondo about five years ago specifically so that I could do a better job of writing ASHFALL.

On a lighter note (or hopefully it will be lighter), if you could spend the day with any character from another author's book, who would it be and what would you spend the day doing?

I’d love to take a day of survival and combat training from Katsa, the heroine of Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

What books have you read as a teen or an adult that you consider mentor text for your later development as a writer? 

I got some feedback about ASHFALL from a literary agent who thought I wasn’t deep enough into Alex’s head—that the story wasn’t involving enough at an emotional level. So I reread The Hunger Games three or four times—it does a fabulous job getting the reader emotionally invested in Katniss. The only problem? My copy of The Hunger Games is a signed first printing. I couldn’t bear to make notes in it. Instead, I put a zillion color-coded post-it notes in the book with my observations on how Collins added emotional content to her work.

What writing routines do you have? And where do you like to write?

I’m a nomadic writer—I work anywhere my laptop happens to be. I like to intersperse my writing with walks—I’ll write a few pages, walk for a while, then plop down somewhere and write some more.

Do you have any new projects that you are working on that you can share with us? 

Sure. I’m about 30,000 words into the first draft of SURFACE TENSION, a young adult thriller. It’s about a teen who sees a group of terrorists crashing an airplane from the ground. He’s the only one who knows how they did it, and they want him dead. I haven’t sold it yet, so I don’t know when or even if it will be published. Wish me luck!

What is in your current TBR (to-be-read) pile?

I couldn’t possibly list all the books in my pile. But here’s a pic:

Thank you again Mike for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy. 

Thanks for having me!

About Mike Mullins: Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. SUNRISE is his third novel. ASHFALL, the first novel of the trilogy, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.

You can find Mike: website | blog | twitter | facebook | google+ | pinterest | tumblr | booklikes

About SUNRISE: The Yellowstone supervolcano nearly wiped out the human race. Now, almost a year after the eruption, the survivors seem determined to finish the job. Communities wage war on each other, gangs of cannibals roam the countryside, and what little government survived the eruption has collapsed completely. The ham radio has gone silent. Sickness, cold, and starvation are the survivors’ constant companions.

When it becomes apparent that their home is no longer safe and adults are not facing the stark realities, Alex and Darla must create a community that can survive the ongoing disaster, an almost impossible task requiring even more guts and more smarts than ever—and unthinkable sacrifice. If they fail . . . they, their loved ones, and the few remaining survivors will perish.

This epic finale has the heart of ASHFALL, the action of ASHEN WINTER, and a depth all its own, examining questions of responsibility and bravery, civilization and society, illuminated by the story of an unshakable love that transcends a post-apocalyptic world and even life itself.

To read an except of SUNRISE:
The first two chapters are available on Mike's website at: You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them. Warning: the sample does contain ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER spoilers.

Slice of Life - The One Where I Get on my Soapbox

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

Seldom have I felt completely comfortable in my skin or who I am. There are always insecurities that eat away at my self-confidence or my mood.  However, there are moments or situations that I find myself in and everything clicks. I question a lot of my abilities but one thing I never question is my ability to teach. I am a really good teacher.  True there may be some who are better or who can teach certain subjects better than I can, but I know I am a good teacher.  What makes me a good teacher may in part be natural abilities, but my desire to be a reflective teacher and to always improve is what really counts. And even when I might question other abilities, what I never question is that I am a teacher.

Recently on twitter there was a question posed by Sarah Mulhern Gross (@thereadingzone):
Is it unrealistic or unfair to expect teaching to be your passion? Can/should it be "just a job" or fallback? 
I was almost going to say I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, but this is my blog and my slice of life and I am not apologizing for my thoughts on this.

Teaching should never be seen as just a job. It better darn well be your passion or calling or the thing that you love more than anything. Teaching is hard. Teaching is often unappreciated. Everyone thinks they know how to do it better than you and freely offers their opinions of how it should be done even when they have never stepped in front of a roomful of children in their life.  There are very few careers where you are expected to have a high level of education and training and still not receive the respect that you deserve. And yet, it is the best career, if you are truly a teacher.

In high school, I read several books by teachers working with children with special needs.  This was after the time that P.L. 94-142 had just been passed.  These teachers were pioneers in the field of Special Education.  They portrayed stories that were not for the faint of heart. Despite how difficult it was, I was inspired by their stories. Maybe because I expected it to be challenging and at times hard that what I encountered instead seemed more exhilarating than tough?!

In my senior year of high school, I managed to locate the Special Day Class on my campus.  It was located in some hallway that I did not even know existed.  I asked the teacher in that class if I could give up my study hall to volunteer in her classroom as a peer tutor. She was thrilled.  Other than whatever pass she gave me to miss my study hall, I was given no extra credit, no community service hours, no special recognition. Sure, volunteering got me a letter of recommendation that I could use in my college application, but other than that I did it because I wanted to learn what it meant to be a teacher.

In my first year in college, I signed up for volunteer hours with one of the local elementary schools.  By the way, I went to college in New Hampshire. I had no car. I walked a mile to the school and a mile back to my dorm three days a week so that I could volunteer in two different classrooms. Unless there was a conflict with a class or an exam, I did not miss my days at the school.  Even though I had to walk there in all kinds of weather and we had a really snowy winter that year, I went every time I was scheduled to be there. By the time, I reached my junior and senior years, I had volunteer hours in a variety of classrooms working with children with all types of disabilities and also in all kinds of settings.  

Fast forward a few years past college, I was trying to figure out where my career was going. I knew I was a teacher but where should I be. I heard a speaker in Amherst, Massachusetts talk about the needs of urban school districts. I literally do not remember who it was or whether it was at Amherst College or UMass.  What I remember was his challenge. He clearly stated that children in urban schools needed the best possible teachers.  At that moment, I made a commitment to urban education and to students who might not have access to the educational opportunities that students in more affluent communities would have.  Education and teaching had never been just a job to me but it was always more than a career. It was truly a calling.  One that took me 3000 miles from my family and to a community that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced. As a fully credentialed special education teacher, I was asked multiple times by people why I chose to work in an urban school district when I could work in another district with less challenges and for more pay. After awhile, I stopped trying to explain that I was exactly where I should be.  It made no sense to most people. I just knew that every student who walked through my door would receive the same quality of education as I could provide any child in one of those more affluent districts.

When I become frustrated with all of the crazy initiatives and idiotic decisions of those who think they know what they are doing I always ask myself what else would I do if I was not in education?! I literally become sick at the thought of not being in education and not working on the behalf of children. There is not a single other career that I can envision that would have the same meaning for me.  It isn't that I do not think myself capable of doing other jobs. I just cannot see myself receiving the same level of joy and fulfillment from those other jobs.

There may be teachers, administrators or parents who over the years did not always like me or the decisions I made, but one of the greatest insult anyone could make was that I was not an advocate for a child or concerned about children.    

So Sarah, my answer to your question is that anyone who chooses to step through the doors of a classroom and presume to be a teacher better darn well be passionate and willing to go the distance. The lives of every child who crosses the threshold of those doors depends on the teacher being someone who is passionate and capable. Just as I would not want an incompetent surgeon who was just showing up for a paycheck to perform surgery on me, I do not want an incompetent teacher who just wanted a paycheck showing up to teach children.  If someone just wants a paycheck, then they should find another job, teaching isn't for them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Women's History Month Part II

Thank you everyone for signing up for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2014.  It is going to be an amazing year of sharing nonfiction books with one another.

Last week I mentioned that I was having difficulty finding 2014 nonfiction picture books that celebrated women.  This messed up my plans for my March posts. Oh well! Last week, I featured 5 of my favorite picture book biographies of women.  This week I am sharing nonfiction books that still have quite a few illustrations or photographs but are geared for a slightly older audience, and still celebrate women and their contributions and honor the intent of Women's History Month.

For Part II, I  feature 5 of my favorite longer length biographies of women:

Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter (Boyd Mills Press, 2010) - If you have not read this book, find it and read immediately. Written in a way that will pull in even the most reluctant nonfiction reader, the book is filled with great facts and just the right amount of humor.

Zora!: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Dennis Brindell Fradin; Judith Bloom Fradin (Clarion Books 2012) - I was so sad that I discovered this after I did my Literacy Café on the Harlem Renaissance. A very accessible biography on Zora Neale Hurston for ages 10 and up.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick Press, 2009) - I am a huge fan of Tanya Lee Stone and this was the book that began my journey to learn about what was new in children's nonfiction and eventually led me to begin my nonfiction picture book challenge.

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy (National Geographic Children's Books, 2011) - Sue Macy is another author that I enjoy reading. However, I would have picked this one up just based on the title alone. I learned so much in reading this one. I had never thought about how a bicycle would provide women with a certain amount of mobility which would then lead to freedom.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'Keefe by Susan Goldman Rubin (Chronicle Books, 2011) - Whether you are a fan of the artist, Georgia O'Keefe, or just interested in women's biographies, this is an interesting read about the early influences over O'Keefe's art and development into the artist she would become.

And my bonus pick...I sat on the fence with this one...however, it was such an amazing book that I needed to include it.

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer (National Geographic Children's Books, 2011) - When I read this book, I remember thinking that I knew about the Salem Witch Trials.  However, there was a lot that I did not know and I could not put this down. 

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews...

Slice of Life - Writer's Block Poem

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

Thanks to all of the feedback and requests for another attempt at writer's block has resulted in this...

As I try to write,

Words Swirl
Words Blur
Words Slip Away
Images Appear
Images Shimmer
Images Slip Away

Oh no!

No Words
No Images
Time Slips Away

Try Again Another Day!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slice of Life - Finding My Writing Voice

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

At the beginning of the month, someone or maybe multiple someones suggested keeping a notebook with ideas for slice posts. I purchased a small notebook that I can put in the side pocket of the bag I carry around. I have jotted down a few ideas.  However, I think I actually have more "draft" slice posts in blogger than anywhere else.  They are the beginnings to slice posts, but I realized that I haven't figured out how to write them.  Several are opinion pieces, and not that I cannot own up to my personal opinions, but if I am going to do it then I want it to be well written.

I just saved to "draft" one of those posts.

Someday I will be bold enough to write about the things that drive me crazy or move me to tears.  Sometimes this has to do with decisions that non-educators make about educational programs and initiatives.  Other times it has to do with things that happen around me.

Though I work to stay pretty positive and tactful, I know I have a tendency to be very straightforward. Though I want to be authentic and honest, I also do not want to be harsh or cruel. Some posts are best to be deleted before they are ever finished, they are as some of my friends say "a hot mess".  Others are best to write and put away until they can be restated in a productive manner.

I suspect that before the month is over I will manage to find the words to write a slice about letters of recommendation. I am pretty certain that what I want to write about poverty and it's impact on children and learning will take much longer than this month to find the right words.  As for problem-solvers, Common Core State Standards, critical thinking, and crazy drivers, well those may happen now or in the future.

What may be most difficult for me is being a judge of my own writing in those situations.  I do not always feel that I am as clear as I want to be. I also want to be succinct and not just drone on about a topic.

To borrow a couple of lines from author, Barry Lyga,
This is going to be long. Because apparently,..., in my desire to be brief, I left room for misinterpretation, which was certainly not my intention.
Those lines completely sum up my feelings about writing about difficult topics.  I can envision the scenario where I wrote something, offended someone, and then tried to clarify and then just dug a deeper and deeper hole.

I do understand that not everyone will agree with what I have to say or what I write. However, I know that unintentional words can still cut deeply and I prefer to chose my words with more care when it comes to difficult topics. I wish I was one of those people who could just spout off their thoughts and not give a darn what others said. Sadly, that is not me. Frankly, my skin isn't thick enough, and my concern for others runs too deep.

Someday those posts will find a voice and legs, but it isn't today.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Slice of Life - Clifford and Blue Hair

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

It is the first day back from Spring Break.  Amazing how quickly that really relaxed feeling can disappear.  I caught myself at one point in the day when I realized that I needed to start thinking about all of the things I could celebrate rather than let lots of little things distract me.  As I did this, I remembered seeing Clifford this morning. Yes, Clifford the Big Red Dog. 

This morning I had a meeting with the principal and some of the resource staff at one of our elementary schools.  For the past several years, the school has barely had a Library Coordinator (Library Tech or Library Aide as referred to in other districts).  This year, they has someone 4 days a week.  Not only do they have someone 4 days a week, but they have someone that is truly interested in seeing the school develop into a true reading community.  I have worked closely with this Library Coordinator for the past four years and we have discussed books, and reading and doing great things. 

Today, they were celebrating the success of their Scholastic Book Fair, which was held just before spring break.  If my memory serves me, they have not had consistent book fairs in the past couple of years.  To generate more enthusiasm about the fair and buying books, the librarian made a deal with the students that if they each bought a book then she would color her hair blue.  They did and she did.  And to top it off, Clifford also came to school today with blue hair.

Though I did not have a chance to see the librarian and Clifford visit classrooms, I imagine that it was an exciting moment in all of the classrooms.  And more exciting than just Clifford or blue hair is the evidence that I am seeing in other ways as this school slowly develops into a reading community.  Books are becoming meaningful to students. Reading is cool and it is also fun. For students who may not have experienced this enthusiasm over a book, it is happening now.

I look forward to more book adventures and celebrations with this school as we move through the next 10 weeks and into the next school year.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slice of Life - The One Where I Attempt a Poem

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

It is the last day of my spring break.  Where did the week go? All good things are flying by too fast.  And my stay-cation was a very good thing.  I promised to do one poem during March as part of this challenge. This will likely be the one and only time I post a poem that I wrote on this blog. Though I have learned to appreciate poetry and to understand it more than I did, I am still not comfortable with this medium.

Here is my Cinquain to the week:

Spring Break
 Unbridled Time
Play Sleep Putz
Refilling the Energy Reserves

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Slice of Life - Celebrate This Week - 3/22/14

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week...

1.  Spring Break - Though it is almost over, it has really been a pretty perfect week.  I enjoyed hanging out and putzing around.  I could sleep in or stay up late and no need to dress up all week.

Homemade Poptart from Nickle Diner in Los Angeles
2. Hanging out with Friends - Last Sunday morning, I had a chance to visit with Teresa Bunner (@rdngteach) while she was in Los Angeles for the ASCD conference. We had breakfast at a little place in Los Angeles and even had homemade poptarts. Yum!  Additionally, I got to have lunch later in the week with some of my local teacher buddies that I do not see often enough.

3. Movies and Friends - I seldom see movies in the theater and I even more seldom see them on release day or during the release weekend.  Last week, I kicked it off by going to see the Veronica Mars movie with some friends.  It was a blast to watch it with other folks who knew the characters and were just as eager to see it.  I finished the week with going to see Divergent with a different set of friends.  I love my book community and how we not only share favorite books but movies and more.

4. Skyping with Cathy Potter's students - Cathy Potter is a school librarian in Maine.  This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet via Skype with some of her 5th graders to answer questions about the Schneider Family Book Award. What a great group of students and some really good questions. 

5. Cleaning and Sorting - Though I took my time with closet cleaning and other sorting projects, things are slowing shaping up.  I was excited to be able to pull together about 200 books that will be welcome additions to classrooms and libraries in my District. Additionally, I found a gift card that I had misplaced (yes, now I can get those new running shoes I wanted), and a sweater that I was looking for.  Sadly, I still seem to be missing a couple of pillowcases and a bunch of socks.  What is it about the dryer that seems to cause things to disappear?

What are you celebrating this week?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Slice of Life - The One Where I Get Personal

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

In reading the various slice posts, I am always struck by the diversity of this writing community. I am also struck by how I feel like I have gotten to really know certain individuals by what they have shared. My blog is typically the place where I share about books, and authors, and book related news and activities.  I limit how much personal stuff that I comfortably share. However, I am going to stretch myself with a slice that is a bit more personal.  Let's see if I actually hit "publish".

Several months ago, I hit a milestone birthday. Turning 50 was hard. It brought up a lot of issues for me. It has made me re-evaluate where I am in my personal and professional life. When I was in my twenties, I thought by the time I reached 50, I would be married, have a house, children, and be where I wanted to be in my career. Yes, the great American Dream.  Alas, I am single, no kids, I rent (my choice), and I am in an evaluation place with my career.  

Ruth Ayres shared one of her 40 Stories for Lent.  This one was called "Tiny Faith is Enough".  I have appreciated many of her very personal stories. Several have spoken more deeply to me than others.  But after reading her post, I still wonder.  It is much easier to have faith and hope, even a tiny bit, when things go the way you think they should.  Trust me when I say that God and I have gone the distance. Some days, weeks, months, God and I don't talk. It's too painful. It just ends in my tears and God's silence. 

Friends say God has a different plan. Frankly, I didn't and still don't want Plan B, C or D. Unfortunately, my Plan A will never be realized.  Consequently, my stubbornness and refusal to see or accept an alternate plan has resulted in Plan Holding Pattern. Not a pleasant place to be. And I am pretty confident that Plan Holding Pattern is not God's plan for me.

While I re-evaluate where my life is going, and to find even a tiny amount of faith to accept God's plan as an even better plan, I am thankful for much that I do have. I am thankful for friends who have acted as family and community for me over the years. They are precious. I am also thankful for how they have loaned me their children.  Though it may not have filled the void of not having my own, it has eased it at times. And I am thankful for much of my career and the way that I have been able to touch the lives of so many children and families and teachers.

Now, off to discover what Operation Tiny Faith will bring.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Slice of Life - Random Writing

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

I tried to write this post last night. No luck. Thought I would try first thing in the morning. Still no luck. Even tried brainstorming with a friend. Yeah, that wasn't happening either.  Decided to change locations.  Figuring that a new space with different energy might produce some creative ideas. Not sure this is working either.  My brain is functioning more like a dog's mind must work. "Squirrel. Squirrel." And off I go...but my squirrels look more like this...

There is an elderly woman and her daughter having brunch in the booth across from me.  The daughter's voice keeps drifting over to me. I have a feeling she is speaking louder so that her mother can hear her.  Unfortunately, my hearing is fine and I am eavesdropping without intention.

My mind keeps wondering what happened to some of my clothes.  I know all about happily matched socks going into the drier and coming out swinging singles, but I have a running list of missing clothes, a pair of sweats, a black v-neck t-shirt, a maroon sweater.  The list keeps growing as I think about an article of clothing that I want to wear and then cannot find. Since they are all dark, I am assuming that they must be together.  But after sorting drawers and closets yesterday, where can they be hiding out? Note to self: Stop by Target to pick up a new black v-neck t-shirt. 

I look down at my jeans.  These are a new pair of jeans that I decided to wear today.  I chuckle to myself because I am just in the in-between height for pant length.  I am not really the petite height for pant length, but neither do I fit average length.  So as I look down at this ankle length pants in average, I realize that they are closer to the correct length for me if I was looking for full length.

As I realize that today is Thursday, I need to take a look at my vacation "to-do" list and see what is still left and what I will or won't get to finish. I always list more than I can really accomplish in a week.  I also need to think about what I am going to need to do to prep for going back to work. Out comes my notepad so that I can jot down stray thoughts.

While writing things down, I realize I need to play more with my new camera.  I have been wanting a digital SLR camera for a couple of years now but they can be expensive. Finally, I gave in and used a little of my tax refund to treat myself to one.  I am looking forward to learning more about the features and trying it out.

Hey, have you heard about this place called Wine & Canvas?  A friend mentioned it to me this morning.  Some other friends took her there for her birthday.  I guess you drink wine, chat with friends and get a painting lesson.  Now, I have little to no artistic ability, but I love the idea of Wine and Writing? Can I set up some place where a group of friends can go, share some wine, and maybe tapas, and write with friends? That would be super cool. I could easily make that a monthly habit.

Okay, my random writing is coming to an end. I really do have to get to Target for that t-shirt and then meet up with friends for lunch.

Guest Book Reviewer: The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut

by Laurie Keller
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), June 2013

My 7 year old niece, KK, was home with a fever for the past couple of days. She has been laying around a bit lifeless watching the Disney Channel.  At one point, when she seemed a bit more alert, I gave her a copy of Bowling Alley Bandit by Laurie Keller. Her immediate comment was "this is funny".  When she finished I interviewed her about the book.  Here were her answers....

What was your favorite part of the book?

When the Arnie the Doughnut went behind the lanes to find Betsy, his purple bowling ball with pink sprinkles, who was missing.

Did you have any favorite lines in the book?

Arnie: "Help! I am a chocolate covered sprinkle pancake!"

Arnie says " But instead of singing 'take me out to the ball game' we'll sing 'take me out for some bowling.'" 

Why did you think the book was funny?

In one part, Arnie is talking to this lady and she is ignoring him and finally he say "I'm a doughnut dog" and she says "How adorable."

Who was your favorite character and why?

Arnie because he is really mischievous. He finds mysteries and solves them.

Why do you think other children should read this?

I think other children should read this because it is funny. 

KK is planning on reading the next Arnie the Doughnut adventure called Invasion of the Ufonuts. Pick up a copy of Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut) at your local bookstore or public library.

About the guest reviewer: KK is 7 years old and in the 2nd grade.  She likes gymnastics, cheeseburgers, and reading. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Maze Runner - Movie Trailer

James Dashner's book The Maze Runner will be out in September. What do you think?

Action-Adventure – Thriller
Release: September 19, 2014
Director: Wes Ball Producers: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Lee Stollman Screenplay: TBD, based upon the novel by James Dashner
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Aml Ameen

When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape. Based upon the best-selling novel by James Dashner.

Slice of Life - Piles, Oh how I love you.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

Raise your hand if you are a "piler"? Okay, I am going to pretend some of you raised your hands so that I feel like I am in great company.

Organizing papers and belongings is a funny thing. Everyone has their preferences and what works for them.  I love those who say you should touch a paper only once and then do something with it immediately.  I say those people were never teachers and principals.  They must also have a team of clerical staff to delegate tasks.  As a principal, dozens of papers would cross my desk daily. While I was reading them, I would be interrupted with a someone stopping by my office or a child in need or some other daily school occurrence.  I would put it down and have to pick it up again later. When I finally got to read it, I would inevitably need to find the information or hold a meeting or do about ten more steps before I could get rid of the paper.  Delegate? And exactly who do you delegate to when everyone is just as busy as you are?   

I became a "piler" years ago. I fully admit that this is my organizational system. What is piling you ask? I make piles. Organized piles. On my desk or the floor around my desk or on top of the bookcase.  I know what is in these piles. I know exactly where that paper is when you come into my space and want it. Yes, it may look messy but I know exactly where it is. And as soon as I move the paper from the pile into a file cabinet, it is gone. Out of sight or better out of pile and it is definitely out of mind.  In a pile means that I still need to do something with it.  In a file cabinet means I am done and won't be touching it again.

It is also easier to throw things away that are in piles.  If you leave a pile long enough, you have either done something with what is there and can now file it or decided it wasn't worth your time and effort and can now throw it away guilt free.

Now, pilers need to not be bullied by those who think they have better ways of organizing things or feel that your office would look better if you took all those papers and put them in a file cabinet or notebook or some other system.  Don't cave.  It only ruins the system.  Sure my office would look great if I didn't have piles.  However, I am also lost without my piles and likely will forget to do something. This especially happens when you throw piles into a box to stash under your desk or in some corner when there are visitors. Remember what I said about out of sight meaning out of mind? A pile in a box is just as bad as organized files.  Maybe even worse.

Sadly, piles do need attention or they grow to heights that are scary. You need to schedule regular time every few months to tame them and let them know who is boss, or well, at least make you think that you are in control of them.  It's that time.  The time to tame the piles that have been growing for the past couple of months. Armed with trash bags, recycling bins, and a shredder off I go to remind them who is boss. 


Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Women's History Month Part I

Thank you everyone for signing up for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2014.  It is going to be an amazing year of sharing nonfiction books with one another.

To celebrate Women's History Month, I wanted to share a variety of new nonfiction picture books about the amazing women who made significant contributions to history.  As I scrolled through my 2014 nonfiction picture book releases, I realized that there was a minimal number of books featuring women. How could that be when I had counted quite a few that were released in 2013.  So I needed to change my post plans.  Instead, I am going to honor several that have come out in the past couple of years.

In Part I, I will feature 5 of my favorite picture book biographies of women:

Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport; Illustrated by Gary Kelley (Disney-Hyperion 2009) - A wonderful picture book biography on the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt. 

The Tree Lady: The Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins; Illustrated by Jim McElmurry (Beach Lane Books, September 2013) - A strong biography on Katherine Sessions and how she wanted to plant trees in the San Diego Area in it's early years.

Here Comes the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story Juliette 'Daisy' Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure by Shana Corey; Illustrated by Hadley Hooper (Scholastic, January 2012) - This was a great story about Juliette 'Daisy' Gordon Low and what she had to do to create the Girl Scouts.

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2011) - A very young picture book biography on Jane Goodell.

Women Explorers by Julie Cummins; Illustrated by Cheryl Harness (Dial, February 2012) - The story of ten women who went out and lived life not worrying about what others were thinking.

Stop by next week to find out 5 more favorites.

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Slice of Life - Writing with Humor

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

I want to be funny. Nah, not the class clown funny.  Rather funny with a pen or in my case, the keyboard.  You know this kind of person or writer. You both experience the same exact situation and when they retell it, either in person or on paper, it sounds like a completely different story.  Somehow they have managed to spin it in a way that has everyone laughing at all the right parts.   I shake my head wondering were we at the same party/meeting/get-together?

So, yes, I want to take an average daily event and retell it with humor. And do it with ease too. And maybe a little snark for good measure.  Is that really too much to ask? Of course, I am not asking to be the next Joss Whedon (Buffy) or Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) or Libba Bray (Beauty Queens).

Alas, I am not funny.  When I try to write humor, it falls flat. You might even say the humor gets lost in translation. Rather than snarky, it's mean.  I don't want to be mean. I want to be funny.

Just like there are days when I would like to be an extrovert, there are days I have to come to terms with solidly being an introvert.  There are other days when I just have to delete the attempts at humor and stick with the serious. Introspective, deep, reflective that I can do. But there is a little voice inside me that says "that's boring". 

It isn't that I don't see humor in life. I really do.  But writing it down in a funny way, yeah, that's just not me. So, if you are wondering why so many of my posts are introspective, serious pieces, well now you know.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Slice of Life - Showing Up

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

Showing up! Sometimes life calls us to take a risk. Other times, we find ourselves in a rut. Surprisingly both times require the same thing. It requires us to show up. It requires us to be open.  It requires us to have a little faith. 

Lately, I have been lacking in the faith department and hesitant to even show up. A kick in the pants or a push out the door can help in taking that step.  Other times just making a promise to a friend that you will do something is enough of a push.

Last week, I finally "showed up" with something that I have been putting off.  It was a small step. It was only the beginning. There will need to be more steps and definitely more faith. However, I showed up and was open and now I will see. 

Showing up! Sometimes just the act of showing up makes it easier to take the next step.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Slice of Life - New Obsession: Caramel Macchiato

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

 On my way to work, I tend to stop by the same Starbucks a couple of days a week. After awhile the baristas try to guess what you are having, especially if the last several times it was a grande nonfat white chocolate mocha with no whip. Sadly, I tend to mix it up and change my mix-ups based on season.  There are a couple of baristas who know this and when they see me they will actually say "you change your order all the time".  Yes, yes, I do.

Well, the weather is getting warmer in the morning which means I have moved on to my warm weather rotation.  Though I tend to lean towards a iced green tea most of the time, I came upon a new choice.  One of my favorites that I discovered last summer is an iced nonfat caramel macchiato.  I tried it out of the blue, when I was trying to get away from iced mochas and landed on this drink.

One of the closer spellings of my name.

Recently, I had an a-ha moment. It occurred to me that I really love that first sip.  The coffee hasn't fully mixed with the milk.  The caramel on top & bottom hasn't completely absorbed into the liquid.  Through the straw, I get a perfect mix of milky caramel with just a hint of coffee and no bitterness.  Maybe if I loved coffee, which I still do not really care for, I would appreciate the rest of the drink. For now, I will just savor that first wonderful sip.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slice of Life Meets Celebrate This Week - #sol14 - 3/15/14

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week...

1.  First graders - This past week, I was able to spend the week doing one on one reading assessments with first graders. I loved chatting with them, listening to them read and discussing what they read. They are all so different and all are at such a fun age. 

2.  Reading Communities - I love watching as a school begins to grow as a reading community.  Yesterday, I received a great email from one of our Library Coordinators.  She has been working to build more of a love of reading and challenged the students to each buy one book at the fair and if they did then she would color her hair blue.  The students rose to the challenge and the book fair was their best ever.  Now when they return from Spring Break, she will be showing off some blue hair.

3.  Girl Scout Gold Award - Last summer, a close friend's daughter asked if I would be the Project Advisor for her Gold Award for Girl Scouts.  It has been fun watching her grow through the months.  She is an amazing young woman and I suspect she will go far in life.  This past Monday, I was watching her as she met with a group of first and second graders for their sixth or seventh session.  She is using songs to reinforce reading skills.  At the beginning, the students were shy and barely sang along.  Now, they are excited to see her and are very engaged and sing loudly.  They will certainly miss her when she is finished with the project, but it has been a neat experience for all of them.

4.  Veronica Mars Movie - Yes, it is finally out.  I loved the first two seasons of Veronica Mars (and try to pretend the third season did not exist) and though I have not been following all of the details of the movie, I am excited to finally have more Veronica Mars.

5.  Spring Break - It has been a crazy busy few weeks and I am finally excited that spring break is here.  Believe it or not, I am excited for spring cleaning.  I am also looking forward to staying home and hanging out in sweats.

Now, off to enjoy my spring break...


Friday, March 14, 2014

The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Invasion of the Ufonuts: Special guest Laurie Keller

by Laurie Keller
Henry Holt and Co. (February 25, 2014)

Description from Goodreads: Arnie finds himself in trouble when his neighbor, Loretta Schmoretta, begins telling news reporters that she was the victim of an alien abduction. And not just any aliens—alien doughnuts from outer spastry, who will continue the abductions until people stop eating doughnuts! Although Arnie thinks this is a ridiculous story, he notices that everyone is treating him differently, as if he is an alien doughnut rather than just a doughnut-dog. And then Arnie gets abducted! Arnie must think fast in order to rescue his fellow doughnuts and the townspeople from the alien invaders.  The slapstick shenanigans continue in this hilarious second book in Laurie Keller's Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut series.

Kid Lit Frenzy welcomes author and illustrator, Laurie Keller to the blog.  After reading Arnie the Doughnut, and The Bowling Alley Bandit (Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut), I was curious about the transition from picture book to chapter book.  Thank you Laurie for answering my question, throwing in some of your great humor, and sharing some artwork with us.

Arnie Rolls Into Chapter Books 
By Laurie Keller 

When you write a picture book about a doughnut and you turn him into a doughnut-dog at the end and he’s happy, what do you do with him when you decide to write an early chapter book about him? In what point-of-view should you write it? How much back-story do you need to include? And the conundrum that keeps many writers awake at night: do you keep him as a doughnut-dog? Those were just a few of the DOZENS of questions I had to answer when I started writing Bowling Alley Bandit, first book in the series The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut.

After writing several drafts, the point-of-view became clear: first person (actually, first DOUGHNUT, in this case) to separate it from the picture book and to really let the reader into Arnie’s doughy head. Back-story: sum it up in the first chapter and get out — he has new stories to tell now. But the really perplexing one: is he still a doughnut-dog? I thought it could work but to carry that through book after book seemed too limiting. SO, Arnie explains in chapter book one that there are places that don’t allow dogs or even like them, so sometimes he’s a doughnut-dog and sometimes he just a regular doughnut.


Now we’re getting somewhere — on to the jokes. In my picture books I pepper them with all sorts of asides that aren’t necessarily a main part of the story and occasionally, depending on the age of the reader, might “go over a child’s head.” But with this new format designed for a more independent reader the jokes needed to be as much a “sure thing” as I could make them. It’s hard to gauge which jokes a child will understand or appreciate but when I asked my friend’s 5th grader if she knew who Marilyn Monroe was and she DIDN’T, I knew one of my favorite bits that referred to her famous NYC subway scene had to be cut (whaaaa!).

Arnie as Marilyn Monroe - image by Laurie Keller

Another editing issue and the last major hurdle was that my editor thought it was too long (160 pages the first go-round) and that I was going off on too many tangents with sideline stories and bits of information like the one where Arnie goes — NO — never mind. I’ll save it for another Arnie book. It was hard at first to make the big cuts she was asking me to make but it read much more smoothly after doing so (why is she ALWAYS right?).

As challenging as it was, it has been a lot of fun navigating my way through this new style of writing and I look forward to trying my hand at writing for other age groups. I don’t know how many books will be in The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut series but I have a goal of making a dozen of them. I’d love to see them sold together like a box of doughnuts. Hopefully Arnie won’t get STALE before then.

Okay, okay, doughnut puns OVER.

No more.

DO-NUT worry.

AHHHH, I did it again! Please, make it stop — I can’t stand it either!

Thank you Laurie for stopping by and sharing with us some of the behind the scenes insight on Arnie. Second and third graders love this kind of humor.

Where to find Laurie Keller: websitetwitter | facebook


Don't forget that you can can check out a copy of INVASION of the UFONUTS or BOWLING ALLEY BANDIT at your local library or pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore.  If you have a US mailing address and are over 13 years old, you can enter to win a copy of UFONUTS by completing the rafflecopter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Slice of Life - First Graders - #sol14

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, we are posting a slice daily.

To celebrate the end of reaching two weeks of Slice posts, I am going to share another story about first grade readers.

This past week, I have spent the majority of my time at one of our elementary schools.  It has been a lot of fun experiencing the energy of a school community again.  Being at the District Office can have it's benefits but I miss seeing the students on a regular basis. 

As part of the project I am working on, I have been spending a lot of time listening to first graders read and talking with them about what they just read.  Since most of these students do not know me, I have taken advantage of the walk from the classroom to where I am working with them.  One of my questions has been to ask them about their favorite book(s) that they read recently. I learn so much from their answers - about them, their language skills, and also who they are as readers.

Yesterday, I received this book talk and recommendation from a child for the book below.  She was very persuasive about why she liked it.

I told her I would check it out and then I wrote on a sticky note the following recommendations for her (click on any book cover for more information):

Franny K. Stein by Jim Benton

Araminta Spookie by Angie Sage

The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin

I heard later from her teacher that she had very proudly and excitedly shared the sticky note with her.  Yes, I smiled.   

Next week is spring break, but I am excited to return to the school site after break to one of the classes to partner with the classroom teacher on a reading comprehension pilot that we are testing out. At the same time, I am  excited about how I might be able to continue my book discussions with some of these students.

Now it's time to put some bins together with books to share during my visits.