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!

 

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.

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

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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.”

Happy Book Birthday, SOLO!

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For this book birthday, I wrote a review of SOLO, by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess. It comes to us from Blink YA Books and is in stores today! This is one of my rare, 5-Star reads.

Solo is Kwame Alexander’s latest release (from Blink YA Books) and features Mary Rand Hess. These amazing authors expertly weave the story of Blade, a teen who would rather not be associated with his famous father, Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star. Blade’s girlfriend, Chapel, is the light in his life of darkness, but her parents forbid her to see Blade amid continued family drama. Blade finds that his life is not as it seems – is it worse? The one connection that the family shares is music – much music. “But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities…”

The music that connects Blade, his father, and the other intriguing characters in the book are the web that Alexander and Hess create to lead the reader (and Blade) from Hollywood to West Africa in search of life’s answers. Tracks from Lenny Kravitz, Metallica, U2 ,Van Halen, Aretha Franklin, and more all bring memories to carry the reader (and Blade) into the future. The story is a true hero’s journey through music and time. (Suggestion: Get the audio version!)

What I loved most about Solo is that it is written in Kwame’s famous novel-in-verse style, and adding Mary’s poetic contributions made my heart sing. The book features nostalgic hits and original music by Randy Preston, Alexander’s talented musical friend. The twists, turns, and surprises throughout the book made this a quick read, yet I revisited pages again and again. I downloaded the music to listen to as I traveled with Blade through my third read! I highly recommend Solo for any teen trying to find him/herself in the world, anyone who loves music, or anyone who loves a fantastic story line. (That means “Go Get This Title Now!”) “When the heart gets lost, let the music find you.”

Slice of Life Tuesday: The 4th Quarter

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Kwame Alexander’s book, The Playbook, is divided into 4 parts — 4 quarters of lessons people should know to be successful in life. It is a fabulous guide for living, rich with quotes and good advice. Today we started the 4th quarter of our school year, and I’m thinking about the lessons I will teach until June.

Our 4th quarter is actually split up into even more parts: spring break, more state testing, and the end-of-year celebrations and field trips. It’s a long quarter — from March 21st until June 8th. It seems like the 4th quarter will take as long to complete as the rest of the year all together!

We have a lot to do in this 4th quarter of school! Time periods in history, such as the Renaissance, in social studies, reading projects with podcasts (hopefully), and writing about literature. We will review character development, plot lines, setting, and theme. We will talk, write, and create.

In the 4th quarter, we will succeed…just like Kwame said!

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Getting “Booked”

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Slice of Life Small LogoI read Kwame Alexander’s new book, Booked. When I told him via Facebook that I had a question about my reading and if I missed something and needed to read the book again, he replied, “Ha Ha!”

The class watched his poetry workshop from March 2015 on Meet the Author. I thought it was informative and entertaining. (Boring words! We broke out the dictionary and thesaurus.)

Compelling? Instructive? Revealing? (Yes, revealing. I learned about Kwame’s thoughts on writing poetry, his process for finding words to use in his writing, and his rubric for grading students on their “poetry’s behavior.”) The whole program was in spots/scenes from the studio, Kwame’s office (at home? Cool!), and the stage where the students read their poems.

Delightful? Gratifying? Welcoming? Amusing? (Yes, yes, yes, and yes.)

I am always ecstatic to share my video finds with my students. What a great way to Meet the Author! I’ll need to find more of this program. For this, I searched You Tube for “Kwame Alexander” videos. I found this program on the Fairfax Network/Fairfax County Public Schools channel, dated July 2, 2015.

https://youtu.be/V39o0u6Wjbg