Review: THE WRITE THING by Kwame Alexander

Leave a comment

Have you ever wanted to start a writing workshop in your classroom? Do you run a writing workshop that needs some…tweaking? THIS is your answer! Kwame Alexander’s The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students in Writing Workshop and You Can Too is THE how-to guide to get started (or to change your boring routine). Kwame leads you personally through the steps to write, publish, and present student writing in a new way – with poetry. Why poetry? Kwame explains that question in chapter one of this fabulous new professional development book.

In The Write Thing, Kwame is right there with you all the way. As I read, I could hear his voice talking to me. Kwame’s Book-in-a-Day approach (2006) inspires new and veteran teachers alike to start and continue a student-led writing workshop and publishing “house” in the classroom. The book is organized into three essential parts, with features called “Kwame QuickTips”, “Solo Acts” (voices from other writers and teachers), “Lessons in Action” (plans), “KwameTime” videos, “You Can Too!” (reflection questions), and “Questions for Kwame.” You are never left alone in this writing PD. It’s like your own teacher preparation class, with Kwame as your teacher.

When I watched the “KwameTime” videos, he was in the room, guiding and encouraging me to use poetry to teach writing. In each chapter of The Write Thing, we read poetry, looked at possible mentor texts lists (organized by grade level), and used the writing workshop approach to help students learn to tell their own stories through writing, publishing, and presenting their work.

Kylene Beers wrote the foreword for The Write Thing, where she nudges the reader consider poetry as “the neglected genre” and to adopt a new vision for teaching – she asks teachers to use poetry at all times of the school year, not just during the designated month in the spring. I found myself reading this book straight through, but I will also take Kylene’s advice to slow down and “linger, muse, reread, mark…” I look forward to seeing students succeed as writers because of this book.

As a bonus, The Write Thing includes Appendices (A-D) that will make your teaching life easier. (What teacher doesn’t want that?) It’s ALL “write” there. Kwame Alexander is the “life force” (say Greg David and Priya Sitaraman) – “a captivating authentic leader who connected easily and deeply with (our) students during our writing workshops…”

If you’re a writing teacher, buy The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander. Start your school year with a fresh, new, exciting approach to writing class. Encourage your students to write and present their stories. And don’t forget, have fun!

 

IMWAYR: Breakout by Kate Messner

Leave a comment

I’m so lucky to have met many awesome authors in the last few years, and Kate Messner is one author I’ve followed closely. Her newest book, Breakout, released on June 5th, and I finally got my pre-ordered book in the mail today. I haven’t finished yet, but I wanted to share this post immediately so you can add this book to your “To Be Read” list.

Breakout is written as a collection of newspaper clippings, letters from the characters (mainly Nora Tucker, a middle school student journalist and Elidee, a new student at the school), poems, text messages, and other documents. This design choice is the main reason I think middle school students through adults are going to love this unusual story. The setting is summer vacation in the mountain town of Wolf Creek, and Nora wants to enjoy her break. But two inmates from the town’s prison break out (hence, the title) and the town and its residents are forever changed.

One of the main reasons I love this book so far is that I can see myself using it in my middle school — the story starts with a writing assignment for the students at Wolf Creek Middle School — and beyond. “How I See My Community” is the premise that is already changing as the story unfolds in the letters, texts, and transcripts of “recorded conversations.” I believe (as Kate Messner does) that all humans have stories to tell, and the author certainly weaves these characters’ stories together in an interesting way.

I have to get back to reading now (I won’t put this book down, I’m sure, until the last page). By the way, the end of the book provides book lists for further “thinking” texts, separated into age-appropriate categories for readers. Thank you, Kate! That’s a nice idea! If you want to read more about how Kate Messner created this book and her writing process, please visit her website. The Breakout section of her blog is interesting, informative, and inspiring for teachers, students, writers, and everyone else. Check it out here.

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?

 

IMWAYR: In Sight of Stars

1 Comment

It’s Monday, and I’m reading this masterpiece again. In Sight of Stars, by Gae Polisner, touched me and I needed to reread tonight.

In Sight of Stars is the story of Klee (pronounced Clay: long-a sound, after the Swiss painter, Paul Klee), an artist and high school senior who suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. He lived in New York City, which was perfect for this budding artist — his father took him to all the great museums and led Klee to study the great artists — until his father’s death.

Klee’s mother moves him to the suburbs. He is lost, until he finds Sarah, the perfect girl in his art class. Well, not perfect. Klee discovers his life is out of control, and he spins right into the “Ape Can” — a psychiatric hospital for teens. As Klee struggles to find out what in his life is real and what is imaginary, he holds tight to the artwork on the wall in the therapist’s office, and remembers his home in the city with his dad. Will he ever be able to overcome the dark nights? Maybe if he can set his sights on the stars…

This book moved me. Many times I related to Klee as a mother, as a teacher, as a possible friend. I felt his experiences as he did, and I struggled with him until the end of the book. The art discussions between the characters led me to research artists on my own — Klee, Van Gogh, and more. The twists and turns of the plot events swirled in my head and my heart. One intriguing move Polisner made in this story is using alternating timelines. The flashbacks and present time frames made the twists even more realistic — my own head was spinning out of control with Klee’s memories vs. current actions throughout the story. The ending then dramatically, and yet gently, allowed me to breathe again with the main character. Since I read the book the first time, I find myself outside at night quite a bit, looking at the stars. The cover of the book notes, “To find the stars, you have to face the dark.” Perfect.

 

Review of REBOUND by Kwame Alexander (due April 2, 2018)

Leave a comment

Rebound, the prequel to the Newbery-Winning title, The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, tells of childhood days of Charlie “Chuck” Bell (Josh and Jordan’s father). At the age of 12, Charlie had already experienced love and loss, carrying much baggage to his grandparent’s house in the summer of 1988. “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel, and The Fantastic Four a buck. When I met Harriet Tubman and the Harlem Globetrotters…”

Charlie retells his story for his sons (and the reader) of those not-so-and-absolutely glorious days — playing basketball with Roxie, his cousin, and Skinny, his best friend, in the summer heat, dealing with the heat from Grandpa and the weather, and wishing that he could be a Fantastic Four super hero star. Charlie gains knowledge about his family tree, about basketball moves (such as the crossover — get it?), and about consequences of getting into trouble. Charlie even changes his name — to Chuck (thanks, Grandpa) — that summer, and in a series of poetic episodes, finds out what it means to be a true star. He has to learn to REBOUND, on and off the court.

Kwame Alexander’s vocabulary lessons continue in Rebound, as well as his lessons about family, life, and love. I couldn’t tell how the stories would weave together at first, but Kwame expertly spins, twists, and turns the plot, and in the end, I yelled, “Swish!” out loud! Fans of Kwame Alexander’s rhythmic style will love the references to other works, including The Crossover, Solo, and the now-famous sing-along song, “Be A Star.”

Rebound IS the star of this spring’s book season. A MUST to add to your reading “Playbook.”

February 10th: Time for #nf10for10 “Winter”

Leave a comment

It’s February 10, 2018, and all the local news revolves around the deep snow and Winter Olympics, so I’m going to use the news for my theme. My nonfiction picture book “10 For 10” has me thinking about winter (#nf10for10).

The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty (Kenneth Libbrecht): Pair this nonfiction book with Snowflake Bentley (Jacqueline Briggs Martin) for a winter research project. Wilson Bentley discovered the beauty and wonder of intricate snowflakes. I enjoyed a look at individual flakes and wondered how they all pack together to create the chaos that is today’s weather. (I like reading about snowflakes better than looking at the snow outside.)

Secrets of Winter (A Shine-A-Light Book) (Carron Brown/Georgina Tee): My granddaughter and I carefully pulled up the papers on these pages to reveal fun secrets. What is winter like outside?

When Winter Comes (Nancy Van Laan): What happens to flowers, and fish, and deer when winter comes? This book allows us to snuggle under the warm covers and find out.

The Polar Bear (Jenni Desmond): Nonfiction facts AND a beautiful picture book. Just look at the cover — it pulls you in!

A Is For Axel: An Ice Skating Alphabet (Kurt Browning with Melanie Rose): Take a look at Olympic ice skating from a real expert — Kurt Browning skated for Canada and was a 4-Time Figure Skating Champion before writing this ABC book. Part of the alphabet series and appeals to any-age vocabulary buffs. (2nd edition, 2015)

A Kid’s Guide to the 2018 Winter Games (Jack L. Roberts): This book came out in July 2017, and prepared readers for events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, going on NOW. This title is COOL — it has colorful and interesting photographs, facts and figures, and even a medal tracker readers can use to record winners.

Best in Snow (April Pulley Sayre): Speaking of photographs, I could just sit and stare at April Pulley Sayre’s beautiful pictures all day. Her picture books’ photography shots are “best in show” for sure! This title shows the wonders of the snow and winter in the wild. I consider her books science class must-haves, and it doesn’t hurt to tell you she’s a friend, does it? (By the way, I’ll just recommend her new title, Warbler Wave — coming out this week– while I’m at it!)

Over and Under the Snow (Kate Messner): Speaking of friends, let me also recommend the Over and Under books by Kate Messner. Her nonfiction books are beautiful and informative, and the research presented in them is packaged in an engaging picture-book style (my favorite format!). In this title, the reader discovers the wonder and activity that lies beneath the snow-covered ground.

Blizzard (John Rocco): Now that I’m an adult, I sure hope we don’t have to relive the Blizzard-of-’78-kind of snow again. I remember donning my one-piece snowsuit as a 10-year-old and heading out to the swing set in the back yard — my sister and I sat on TOP of it! We had so much fun while my dad and the neighbor walked all day to get groceries at the corner gas station. What a crazy week that was. John Rocco placed his memories in this picture book, which is just as fun to read as that old swing set was to sit on.

Now it’s time for YOU to read and share your #nf10for10. Picture books are the best!

Book Review: TBH, This is SO Awkward

Leave a comment

I read TBH, This is SO Awkward: A Novel in Text, by Lisa Greenwald, so I could keep in touch with the teenage trends. I never fit in while I was in middle school, so I don’t know why I thought I could go back in time now and relive the awkwardness. But I did. And I’m glad I read the book — it’s really going to become a recommended read for those pre-and-teen girls who like to text and want to talk about boys. Really. It just wasn’t “me.”

Lisa Greenwald creatively uses text-style writing and emojis to write this entire story, which is an accomplishment. The cover makes you want to pick it up off the shelf, for sure. It’s easy to read for middle and high schoolers, and there’s a glossary at the end of the book to help the rest of us. The story is about 3 BFFAE (Best Friends Forever and Ever), Cecily, Gabrielle, and Prianka, who live in the middle of the middle school drama and are thick as thieves — making mistakes concerning a new girl, mothers, boys, and the Valentine’s Day dance — all the while staying friends. Of course, they get mad at each other, but at the end of the day, these girls are nice, smart girls who are just trying to live through their middle school days (just like the rest of us did.)

If you like middle school, teen drama, mean girls, cute boys, and school dances, this book is a must-read. I think if I would have lived a different middle school life, I would have liked this book better. But that’s not Lisa Greenwald’s fault; her words-in-text send a needed message for today’s students: Be kind. Do good things. Stay BFFAE.

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

This is NOT a book review of THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE

Leave a comment

LOL! Dear Carter, You started my February book-reading time off right. Thank you! Love, Jennifer

This is NOT a Valentine. It’s just a little note that tells readers they will enjoy this lovely picture book, This is NOT a Valentine by Carter Higgins. Carter has taken all the Valentine stereotypes and threw them out the school bus window, and she shows us what Valentine messages really mean.

Valentines sparkle; they’re pink and glittery.
“But you might like the brown in the mud puddle…”
Valentines have cooties that tumble out when you open them.
“But if we both get cooties…then we can have cherry juice…together.”

This is NOT a Valentine. It’s a good book to share with someone in February…or any other month you like.

Older Entries