IMWAYR: Breakout by Kate Messner

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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?

 

A giveaway opportunity to start the summer…

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I’m writing again! Can you believe it? It’s been a long time, but here we go!

My fellow middle-grade-crazy friend, Dr. Jagger, told me about this FABULOUS giveaway from Mixed-Up Files (MUF) of Middle Grade Writers, and I thought I share.

Happy Summer Reading and Writing!

Heres the link to the giveaway…

https://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2018/06/muf-i-versary-giveaways-continue/

Summer PD Planning — Exciting Year Ahead for Reading Teacher Writes

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It’s been an interesting year here at Reading Teacher Writes. I got to live my dream of serving students and spreading book love as a school librarian in my fabulous middle school. The highlights of the year included

  • Kwame Alexander, poet and writer extraordinaire, visited our city and surprised one of our students (and his teachers) during the Rebound Bus Tour. Amazing! I cannot thank him enough — reading DOES change lives, and Kwame made it happen here!
  • Josh Funk gave his time for another wonderful, fun-filled Google Hangout. I always appreciate Josh’s friendship and willingness to entertain and inform our students.
  • Jess Keating sent us “The Curious Creative” magazine (online) each month, with articles, interviews, and activities for the curious science students (and teachers!).
  • I bought the books kids wanted, and I extended my knowledge and support of #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books).
  • I presented my PD series, “Picture Books are Perfect…” (my current passion) and led a PD/Book study at school using Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca’s book, Patterns of Power.
  • I wrote, and stopped writing, and started writing, many times over this year. It’s a daily struggle, but I’m planning to write much more in the near future.
  • My personal professional development is awesome– I am reading, reflecting, learning each day with my online/social PLN (Professional Learning Network)! My friends at #G2Great and #NCTE continue to inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
  • Ralph Fletcher asked for our students’ contributions to his current writing project (our 6th graders have some great stories!). I thank him for the opportunity.

With just 4 days left of school, I planned my summer. Wow! I have a LOT to do. Number 1: Relax and enjoy my time. Number 2: Attend the most awesome PD ever! Number 3: Present PD more often and extend my offerings to a wider audience. Here are some of this summer’s plans (Who will join me?):

  • The Lead Learners (formerly All Write), Warsaw, IN
  • NErDCampMI, Parma, MI
  • Teachers Write – writing with the Facebook group, led by Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, and Jennifer Vincent
  • Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club – led by Penny Kittle and others

When I looked at my fall calendar, I found that filling up, too! The best year ever is coming! I look forward to many new opportunities:

  • NCTE Annual Convention, Houston, TX in November — I’m a Presenter! I’ll be at the round tables with many other amazing colleagues during the #whymiddlematters session,  “Writing From the Middle Level Classroom: Overcoming the Fear and the Seemingly Impossible.”
  • RSAC (Raising Student Achievement Conference), St. Charles, IL in December — I will spread the book love with a “Picture Books are Perfect” session.

YES, it’s been an interesting year here at Reading Teacher Writes. Thank you for joining me. If you haven’t joined me yet, please consider your upcoming year and include http://www.readingteacherwrites.com. Have a Fantastic Summer!

IMWAYR: Albie Newton, by Josh Funk

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This picture book in verse is from Josh Funk, one of our family’s favorite authors. Albie Newton is a boy genius-inventor-classmate who is always thinking and creating, much to the dismay of his peers. When Albie moves to a new school in the middle of the year, he wants to make new friends, so he spends his time inventing something amazing (instead of playing with the others).

Well, after Albie dumps the garbage can and steals the wheel from the hamster cage, the class notices that he’s tearing up the room. “But Albie didn’t notice all the problems he was causing. Focused on important things, he never thought of pausing.” When the kids form an “angry mob” to confront the pest, Shirley (a girl who sees Albie differently) comes to Albie’s defense.

Maybe it takes effort to make friends, and what IS acceptable effort? Albie’s actions may get him into trouble, but at the end of the day, do his actions lead to friendships? Read Albie Newton and find out. Make sure you look carefully at all the illustrations by Ester Garay, too. There are secrets, clues, and references to popular culture hidden throughout the book.

Josh Funk is a genius-rhymer-children’s-book author who knows what it’s like to focus on a task. Albie Newton is the sixth book (out of 9) for the author since 2015!

 

 

IMWAYR: In Sight of Stars

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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.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Way Behind on Writing!/Reflections on this School Year

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I looked back on my first year as a school librarian (21st year of teaching middle school), and I have to say—no matter what happens to me next year or beyond—I was successful THIS year. NOTHING to do with TEST SCORES, but I built up readers and spread the book love.

On April 7th, Kwame Alexander surprised a child reader (and his teachers) from my soon-to-be-closed school. He and Hafeez and Randy drove the REBOUND bus to this 5th grader’s house and allowed this child to see firsthand what meeting an author and being a reader means. Reading saves lives. Reading is fun. Reading can and will lead you to a successful future.

Even though I couldn’t be there, these awesome teachers and a Newbery-winning author made this child’s day! THANK YOU, Kwame and Hafeez, for all the coordinating and all the bugging you had to put up with (from me) to make that day happen. THANK YOU for coming to South Bend, IN! THANK YOU for supporting students and reading.

LOVE LOVE LOVE from this school librarian.

Reading Goals: Then and Now

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On October 18, 2017, I wrote a blog post about my reading goals/solutions for schools and for myself. Today, I revisit that post and update my goals; I look forward the future.

Make reading in school FUN again.

THEN: The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.

NOW: The best part of being a school librarian is sharing a brand new book, just out of the box, with students in the room. “Look what I just received!” I yell across the room, so people in the hallways hear me. “Come and see!” As students gather around my counter, I show them the fresh titles to add to the collection, and bright eyes open wide. Students clamor to be the first to check out the best titles – the ones they’ve been waiting for – and the few minutes of time I spend book talking is FUN. The line forms at the checkout sign; I place books in readers’ hands. THAT’S what it’s all about. I still dream of a school where reading is the most important activity during reading class, and where students want to come to school, because it’s fun.

Make real reading a priority. Real reading.

THEN: That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)

NOW: Real reading is still my goal, and it’s a tough sell. Administration members (outside the school building) send emails, speak at meetings, and send reports, making sure all teachers know that we MUST follow the mandates “with fidelity.” We MUST account for the ISTEP scores of students. We MUST raise student achievement. Recently, there’s been a push with a big-name researcher to hold teachers accountable by following a certain plan, a certain program, or a certain method of teaching reading. If one does not comply, then shame on you! Some loud-speaking “experts” say that books are not necessary to learn to read, or computer programs teach just as well as teachers (or better), or independent reading time is just a frivolous dream and not worthy of adding to the school day. All of these issues are frustrating (and wrong!), and teachers continue to fight back, citing their own evidence, following researchers who care about kids, teaching children to read in spite of those mandates. Real reading is really needed — inside schools. Students count on us to help them learn, and we are letting them down with each failing grade/standardized assessment.

Invite teachers to attend professional development:

THEN: Conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.

NOW: I still promote author signings and events, conferences, and workshops. I am a life-long learner, and I love sharing my learning with others. My author friends and conference teammates are essential to my learning and my sharing – we promote authentic reading, writing, thinking, and learning. I invited teachers to travel with me to events and share in the joy of learning something new. I will continue traveling and connecting with others not only because I love it, but because I challenge myself to take those conversations and lessons back to the classroom, where kids are waiting.

Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation.

THEN: (Not just for the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

NOW: I am officially a professional development presenter and speaker. This is my most important dream come true. I love it! I look forward to many adventures in the future, spreading book love and helping others to be as passionate as I am about reading, and teaching reading and writing. Another dream I’m following now is my friend’s dream to open an indie bookstore for our community – encouraging children and teens to “read locally, connect globally.” This is a wonderful way to spread the book love AND help our youth. I’m also researching and reading on my own, and I renewed my memberships to worthwhile organizations such as NCTE, ILA, and ALA. I continue to join Twitter chats, such as #kidlitwomen, #wndb, #tcrwp, and #g2great. We need intelligent citizens in our country who know how to read, write, and think. I will continue to find ways to lift up our youth and promote literacy. THIS is the time. THIS is the place. And as our school motto reads, “I am the one!

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