Review: THE WRITE THING by Kwame Alexander

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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: 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.

 

Book Review: TBH, This is SO Awkward

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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

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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.

Picture Books are for Everyone! January 12, 2018 Reviews

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If you ever hear someone say picture books are just for kids, don’t listen! Read these picture books. You’ll be glad you opened your heart.

Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell. (Feiwel and Friends, 2017)

Matthew Cordell doesn’t need words to convey the message of empathy, love, and kindness in this Caldecott nominee for 2018. I felt so much — for the humans and the wolves — in this story about being lost in the snow. A small child waves goodbye to her school friends, and begins her walk home. A pack of wolves also sets out around the same time, with a little one struggling to keep up in the blowing snow. Both the small girl and the small wolf become lost as the pages turn white. What happened next pulled at my “mom” heartstrings.This is a MUST READ book for all ages.

 

Love, by Matt de la Peña. Illustrated by Loren Long. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)

I LOVE this book! Love is NOT just red roses and pink hearts, and Matt de la Peña and Loren Long focus on the daily definitions of love in this beautiful new book. There is love when you play in the sprinklers, when you hide from parents who fight, when you fish with grandpa. There is love in flowers, laughter, and rain puddles. There is love, even when you cannot find love and you try, try, try. Enjoy the sounds, smells, and colors of LOVE and share the book, and your love, with everyone.

 

 

IMWAYR: Math and Reading Come Together

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I just love using picture books for my middle school classroom! This book will help both math and reading teachers spread the book love. This is 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story, by Tara Lazar, and illustrated by Ross MacDonald, and it is comic genius in picture book form. 

Private I tells the story of his newest case: 6 banged on the detective’s door, scared that 7 is coming to get him. Private I took the odd case and started looking for the root of the problem. But 7 cannot be found for questioning. There are a number of suspects, and quite a few witnesses to interview, too. Private I’s work seems to multiply as the case moves forward. Can he solve the case in time, or will the numbers be subtracted, one by one?

If you’re looking for a twisted mystery, Tara Lazar provides the narrative. If you’re looking for some math vocabulary to add to your lesson plans, this book is a positive addition to your library. If you want to read a beautifully-illustrated picture book during your child’s bedtime routine, Ross MacDonald serves up the cake — I mean, pi.

Have fun reading 7 Ate 9 soon!

 

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