Posts Tagged ‘IMWAYR’

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.


Raising three daughters is a challenge. Now that they are adults, I try to forget the tough times. I like to forget that Maggie hated the dresses that I smocked. And that Katherine wanted to wear Sunday shoes to school. Martha wore the smocked dresses, but did not like matching her sisters. Each girl had her own personality, and in truth, I had a hard time keeping up. “Mom, don’t you know I Hate baked fruit?”

This weekend at the first SCBWI LA/MS regional conference, I met picture book author and illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy. Who knew when she sat at my table that we would connect in so many ways? She now lives in Oxford, MS, but she grew up in Jackson, like me. Later in the evening we sat next to each other at dinner and found out more things we have in common; we both have three daughters.

Sarah hilariously depicts the individual likes and dislikes of girls in her latest picture book, Puzzled by Pink.

Izzy’s sister Rose loves pink, but Izzy wears black, has a black cat, and carries a monster doll. It’s Rose’s birthday and Izzy refuses to wear a pink tutu. Izzy makes a party of her own in the attic complete with an invisible friend. This book speaks not only about being unique and accepting every one as they are, it also speaks to creativity and imagination. I am especially attracted to the details in Sarah’s artwork. All the way to the creepy spiders.

Sample page from Puzzled by Pink. Can you find the spiders?

On Sarah’s blog site, there is a post about making a birthday party celebration based on the book. There are links to fun crafts, too. Consider having a Puzzled by Pink party in your classroom. What costumes would each student wear? Let’s celebrate differences!

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I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Jackson, Mississippi. I didn’t really know about prejudice, but I remember well when our schools were integrated. I was in the fourth grade. We went home for two weeks and came back (I still attended a neighborhood school) to new students and new teachers. Mrs. Love was my new 4th grade teacher, the first African American teacher I had ever met. She beamed with joy and kindness. Her name completely expressed who she was. Her classroom was fun and engaging. The color of her skin made no difference to me. I was just so happy to be back in school.

In Ruby Lee and Me, the schools of Shady Creek, North Carolina, were being integrated. Sarah would attend school with her best friend Ruby Lee, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Sarah is dealing with a huge load of guilt. Her sister was hit by a car and hurt badly, and Sarah thinks it was her fault. While her sister is in the hospital, Sarah stays with her grandparents. She messes things up with her good friend Ruby Lee and calls her the “N” word. Apologizing in the midst of small town racial issues is difficult. Can Sarah save her friendship?

Sarah and Ruby Lee meet their new seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Smyre who reminded me of Mrs. Love, the new African American teacher in a previously all white school. I was curious about author Shannon Hitchcock’s process to publishing this book. She shares some of her story in the end pages. Like me, she was raised during this time period of school integration. Her favorite teacher, like Mrs. Love and Mrs. Smyre, was Mrs. Pauline Porter.

I contacted Shannon and interviewed her by email.

When writing about the past for children of today, I focus on the universal. RUBY LEE & ME is about the love Sarah has for her sister and her best friend. Those are feelings kids still experience today, and along with the universal, I sprinkle in a generous dose of history. Kids may be surprised that Ruby Lee couldn’t swim in the town pool, or eat in Bubba’s Grill, but hopefully, they’ll be outraged on Ruby’s behalf. Historical fiction touches our hearts because we experience the past through characters we care about.

Interracial friendship is at the heart of RUBY LEE & ME. I hope the book sheds light on how hard it was for blacks and whites to be friends in the 1950s and 60s. That may even lead to a discussion of how things have changed and remained the same. For instance, have today’s students faced friendship challenges with kids who are disabled, or of a different religion, or maybe speak a different language? We all struggle to understand people who aren’t like us.

My advice for writers is to read, read, read, especially books that have been published in the last five years or so. I’m also a big proponent of SCBWI. I met my editor at the Orlando SCBWI conference, and sold RUBY LEE & ME to her after revising on spec. I also love taking writing workshops because authors never stop learning.

From her post on Nerdy Book Club, April 4, 2016: The 1960’s were a turbulent time in my family and in my town. Though Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land in 1954, our public schools remained segregated until 1967. I started first grade that year, and my school’s first African-American teacher taught in the classroom beside mine.

Mrs. Porter had a special gift for working with reluctant readers. So every afternoon, she changed classrooms with my teacher and worked with those of us struggling to read… I shudder to think what might have happened if I’d never caught up.

Thanks, Shannon, for your bravery in writing this book, for sharing a piece of your own life story, and helping students to see how things have changed, and how some things, like friendship, love, and understanding, are universal.


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Join the IMWAYR meme at Teach Mentor Texts.

Join the IMWAYR meme at Teach Mentor Texts.

When I think of mentor texts, a wonderful addition to my library is I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joosse with beautiful watercolor illustrations by Mary Whyte. This book tells the story of two brothers going fishing with their mom. Each wants to be loved more than the other. But this is one poetic mother. She loves one the bluest and one the reddest. The metaphorical language is understandable to even my youngest students.

love you purplest

Why, Julian, I love you the bluest!
I love you the color of a dragonfly
at the tip of its wing.
I love you the color of a cave
in its deepest, hidden part
where grizzly bears and bats curl up until night.
The mist of a mountain.
The splash of a waterfall.
The hush of a whisper.

After reading the story, I ask my students to choose a color. Brainstorm words that would go with that color. We share our lists. Then they choose someone they love. (Most choose mothers. You could make it a Mother’s Day activity.) Using their lists, they write a poem about the one they love using the title, “__________, I Love you the _______-est.”

Matthew won second place in a state writing contest in second grade with his poem.

Mom, I Love you the Bluest

Mom, I love you like the color of the sky.
The shimmer of the ocean.
The color of our cat’s eyes.
My old blue jeans.
I love you with the strongest emotion.


I guess when you have a tried and true lesson, and you’ve been blogging for 4 years, something’s bound to come back around. I did a Google search for images and came across my own Poetry Friday post from 2013. You can read more student poems here.

Emily purplest

Use this button created by Leigh Anne Eck to post your Digital Poetry this month.

Use this button created by Leigh Anne Eck to post your Digital Poetry this month.

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SOL #23

SOL #23

Join the IMWAYR meme.

Join the IMWAYR meme.

Saving Gee's Bend

Irene Latham

Irene Latham

I first met the beautiful and talented Irene Latham through Poetry Friday. Her poetry blog is Live your Poem. Then I met her face to face briefly at NCTE, but that brief moment was enough for her to offer encouraging words that made me love her.

When I went to our school’s book fair a few weeks ago, I saw the book Leaving Gee’s Bend. I didn’t know about this book. I bought it immediately and tweeted to Irene. She didn’t know that it was in Scholastic Book Fairs. How cool is that! This past week was testing, so I had some quiet time to read. I wanted to say, “Where have you been hiding?” How had I not read this book before? I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I love historical fiction, and I am a product of the South, so I related to Ludelphia. Don’t you just love her name? Ludelphia loves to quilt, and while the story arc is centered around this love of stitching and quilt making, the compelling part for me was her wild adventure to travel on foot and through water to get medicine for her mother. I pulled for her all along the way and was happy to find some other white characters who did the same. In the process of trying to save her mama, she triumphantly saves the whole town.

Irene is traveling, so she could not respond to my invitation for an interview for this post. I will use a quote from the Author’s Note. This is what fascinates me as a writer, how an idea forms and changes and becomes the book.

There are many fascinating events in the history of Gee’s bend, but it was the photographs Arthur Rothstein took for the Resettlement Administration in 1937 that most captivated me. Then when I read firsthand accounts of the 1932 raid on Gee’s Bend and later learned of the Red Cross rescue, I knew this was the experience I most wanted to write about. The people who lived through this terrible time possess a strength and faith I admire and want only to honor.

Not only has Irene Latham honored the people of Gee’s Bend, she has made them come alive and live on in us, her readers. I hope this book falls into your hands at a book fair near you.

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SOL #16

SOL #16

Join the IMWAYR meme.

Join the IMWAYR meme.

fish in a tree - final cover

If you do not have this book in your library for middle grade students, then get it now. I read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first book One for the Murphys and now again with Fish in a Tree, she has drawn me in to love her characters.

I read for strong characters, characters I can believe in, characters who speak to me. Ally Nickerson and her quirky friends are a group I want to hang out with. I was sorry to reach the end and have to tell them goodbye. In my mind, they continue on and do great things.

Ally is in 6th grade and struggles with dyslexia; although, she doesn’t know that her problems stem from a real disability. She believes she is just plain stupid. She plays movies in her head and draws in her sketchbook of impossible things. Until Mr. Daniels comes along and notices her. He reaches out to her and helps her to understand dyslexia. She believes in herself. Every teacher should read this book to meet Ally’s empathetic, caring teacher and see the power you have to change a life.

I recently read a touching post by Lynda Mullaly Hunt on The Nerdy Book Club about her own relationship with her brother which informed her creation of Ally’s brother Travis. Not only was this an awesome post, but Lynda responded to each comment. I spoke to her of my own struggle to create real characters with a deep relationship.

Nerdy book club comment

Here is a quote from Chapter 48 that shows how Lynda’s books are about more than the characters and their individual problems. They teach life lessons.

And looking around the room, I remember thinking that my reading differences were like dragging a concrete block around all day, and I felt sorry for myself. Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy. (p. 245)

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

My week back from the break was a full week. School every day (no snow days in South Louisiana) and parent conference day on Thursday. Report cards, progress reports, IEP meetings, etc. I need another break!

This week was also full of discoveries. My husband bought my students a gift, a mini-microscope. I passed it around in the package which was covered in foreign characters, no English. Then we took out the little blue plastic thing. They tried the switches, put their eyes to the view hole, and guessed flashlight, magnifying glass–microscope! Jacob’s reaction to the discovery, “Ew! My hand is covered in fish scales.” Fun discoveries.

What is this?

What is this?

My students are loving the white boards that a grandpa made for them. Here, Erin’s lemur friend tells how to make the best Monday, What are you Reading? post. Look at the creative spelling of genre.

Erin's guide to reader

My online writing group is driving me in so many ways. I posted a section of my WIP with “draping oak.” The question, “Do oaks drape?” On a Sunday afternoon walk after a huge rain, we came to this draping oak covered in resurrection fern. I posted it on Facebook asking for help in describing this in writing. Diane Mayr responded with an image poem. She didn’t know what resurrection fern was, so she researched it. More discoveries.

Live oak tree covered in resurrection fern.

Live oak tree covered in resurrection fern.

Image by Diane Mayr

Image by Diane Mayr

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Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Join It’s Monday: What are you Reading? at Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey.

touch bluerules

After reading Cynthia Lord’s latest book Half a Chance, I decided it was time to catch up on Cynthia Lord books. I’ve found a new favorite author. Each one draws me in with a teen girl struggling to understand life and to fit into it in her own unique way. I heard much buzz about Rules. Rules was a Newbery Honor Book and a winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, which I learned this week goes to books that treat the theme of disability with respect and empathy. Within the framework of rules that Catherine has for her autistic brother, Cynthia Lord creates a touching story about a normal girl who builds a friendship with a disabled boy while waiting for her brother at speech therapy. I found myself gaining strength of confidence along with Catherine. So how does she face her normal friends and admit that her “date” to the dance cannot talk or walk? This story is empowering and real. I will add it to my book bin along with Wonder and Out of my Mind.

I’m not quite finished with Touch Blue, but I am again drawn in by Cynthia Lord’s ability to build a realistic teen character who is learning about the world. Touch Blue is framed with superstitions such as “Touch blue and your wish will come true.” Tess and her family live on an island off the coast of Maine. An older foster boy, Aaron, comes to live with them. I haven’t come to like Aaron too much; although, I understand that he has a tough exterior due to his rough life experiences. But Tess is trying so hard to build him up. She even finagles a way for him to play his trumpet at the Fourth of July picnic. In both of Cynthia Lord’s books, there is a bully. This is realistic to the times. There are bullies everywhere and our students have to deal with them. Maybe she’ll write one soon from the bully’s point of view.

In addition to reading middle grade novels this summer, I am reading poetry (always). My friend Diane Moore has come out with another collection. Departures is a departure from her usual poetry. This book is deeply personal. The kind that becomes universal. We all have those quirky relatives like Aunt Sarah Nell who always wore her stocking seams straight. We have all experienced the loss of a loved one. Diane has experienced many losses in her lifetime. Her poems express a deep longing to keep her heritage alive through her writing. I asked Diane permission to post one of her poems here. I have selected her poem Inspiration because it is a tribute to a teacher. Diane blogs at A Word’s Worth.

Being brought up to fear authority
I was not surprised
when my fingers
trembled on the keys,
fell between them,
ten thumbs wide
in one finger space
when M. L. Shaw stood
behind my desk
watching me,
the mistress of un-coordination.

Each smudged carbon copy
was the belt on my back,
my left hand never knew
what the right hand was doing,
I was be-handed by an ancient Royal.
How could I ever become a writer
with such uncertain script?

I never cut class.
She never rebuked me.

She held no ruler to my knuckles
but her raven-colored hair
with the precise side part,
matching sweater and skirt outfits,
the way she applied lipstick
with the little finger of her left hand
to make that prim cromson mouth,
placed limits on my ambition.

She breathed exactness.

And then came exaltation
the day I read that
the titans of modern lit
typed with one finger,
committed strikeovers,
and never made carbon copies
of their work.

She sent me into the world
keyed into an uncertain vocation,
but before she died,
inscribed a fat collection
of Shakespeare’s plays
in her flowing, exacting hand:
“I hope you’ll always think kindly of me.”
And my skills gained a pace,
my hands reached a standard,
the classroom was eclipsed.

I clocked out
at 80 words per minute.
–Diane Moore, all rights reserved

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Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

I am sporadically participating in this online book review meme for kidlit from Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey.

This summer I committed myself to reading middle grade novels. One, because I love reading them, and two, because I want to be better prepared to be a book whisperer for my students. (#bookaday)

absolutely almost

Donalyn Miller recommended Absolutely Almost saying that it was an important book like Wonder. I am a huge fan of Wonder and think everybody should read it, so I thought I should read Absolutely Almost. At first I was not too sure how I was going to like Albie. The voice of the character in my opinion is too young. After reading The Year of Billy Miller, I thought Albie sounded more like a second grader than a fifth grader. Eventually I fell in love with Albie. He has the coolest babysitter Calista who does anything to make Albie more accepting of himself. Calista makes up for the shortcomings of Albie’s parents. I was a bit frustrated by their shortcomings. His father does not even remember buying the A-10 Thunderbolt model and promising to help Albie build it. In fact, Dad buys him another one for his birthday. I know some real life parents are career minded, but would a dad really be this stupid and heartless? And Albie’s mother is not too much better. She does tell him again and again that he is caring and thoughtful and good. Which he is, but I can’t help but think that Mom doesn’t see her son for who he really is. And to top off his difficulty at home, he is bullied at school. I found myself becoming more and more empathetic with Albie. He is a hero, and students should read this book. They will learn to understand that not everyone is gifted, but everyone is valuable.

Lisa Graff crafts a lovely novel with word play beginning with the title of Absolutely Almost and continuing with crafted chapters using anaphora (a repeated phrase). My favorite is “rain in New York”:

When it rains in New York, no one knows where to walk…When it rains in New York, The playgrounds are empty and the buses are full. When it rains in New York, the garbage cans at every corner are stuffed with the twisted bits of broken umbrellas. I like it when it rains in New York.

An interview with Lisa Graff about Absolutely Almost.

Albie is slower than most kids in a lot of ways, and I wanted to explore what that would be like for him in a world that constantly expects him to be smarter, faster, better than he is. In a world like that, where does a kid like Albie fit? How does he find his own worth?


I am loving Cynthia Lord’s books. I finished half a chance, and I’m almost finished with Rules. In half a chance, Lucy’s family moves to a house on a lake in New Hampshire. There she meets Nate’s family and helps them track the habits of loons living in the lake. I love nature and the descriptions of the lake and the loons is beautifully done. Lucy is trying to prove to her photographer father that she has a talent for photography, too. She enters a contest that her father will be judging. For students, I like the ideas for the photo contest as metaphor. The contest calls for photos that reflect abstract words, such as secret and lost. I’d like to use these words with students as writing prompts. We could discuss how Lucy interpreted the words with her photographs and then make our own interpretations.

Song for Papa Crow

Schiffer Publishing sent me a copy of a new picture book, Song for Papa Crow by Marit Menzin. The story follows the common children’s book theme that you are special just as you are. Little Crow loves to sing until he is taunted by all the other birds who do not appreciate his “Caw! Caw!” So, a magic seed transforms Little Crows voice; that is, until he is in danger. In the end, Little Crow comes to appreciate his out of tune voice. The illustrations are made with collage. I love the art work. Marit Menzin personifies her birds. For students, they could make their own book using the common theme and use collage for illustrating. Song for Papa Crow is available at Schiffer Publishing.

Used by permission from Schiffer Publishing.  All rights reserved.

Used by permission from Schiffer Publishing. All rights reserved.

Marit Menzin, all rights reserved.

Marit Menzin, all rights reserved.

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It’s Monday, what are you reading? I am joining in a meme at Jen Vincent’s site Teach Mentor Texts. Follow me to her site to see more Monday book reviews.


Some of my colleagues and I have started a book club for reading middle grade books. We’ve had a hard time selecting books to read, so we decided that the hostess for the next meeting would pick the book. Coty picked Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. I have never read it, and it was published in 2001. I also missed the movie but will soon remedy that. I flipped over Flipped. The story is told from two points of view, Bryce and Julianna. I enjoyed reading their different perspectives on the same events. Once I read Bryce’s story, I had to read Juli’s. This is a romantic novel in the best, most innocent sense. The back and forth of feelings is so real. And the lessons are valuable. I think sixth grade girls would love Flipped. Not sure if the boys would have the same reaction. Girls tend to enjoy relationship drama more than boys. I recommend Flipped for your summer reading. It’s quick and delightful. Makes you want to go climb a tree.

The Year of Lettering by Kelly Cummings

The Year of Lettering by Kelly Cummings

Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place

A huge fan of The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, I had not read The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Another great read! I am a fan of realistic fiction. This book is written in the snarky voice of Margaret Rose Kane. (Can’t help but love her name.) At first I didn’t like that she was having such a rough time at camp, but then along came the Uncles and their eccentricities. For 45 years, Margaret’s uncles had been building three towers in their backyard using glass jars, watch and clock parts, and scrap metal. When neighbors decide the towers must go, Margaret works to save them. I think middle graders will enjoy this book because of its colorful characters and sense of purpose. We all want to know what happens to the towers.

What are you reading?

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Head over to Teach Mentor Texts with Jen Vincent to read more reviews from the Kidlitosphere.

I made a commitment to myself and ultimately to my students to read middle grade novels this summer. I want to channel Donalyn Miller and become a Wild reader. I am reading her second book Reading in the Wild. This is what she says about her own reading life.

I cannot imagine a day without reading in it. I am a better teacher because I read. I pass books into my students’ hands and talk with them about what they read. I model what a reading life looks like and show my students how reading enriches my life and can enrich theirs, too. –Donalyn Miller, Reading in the Wild

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle: I first met Margarita when she was featured on Caroline Starr Rose’s blog and had a bookmark giveaway. Shortly after, I received a sweet email from her asking the names of my students and sent us all a personally signed bookmark. I felt guilty, thought, because I had not read any of her books. Now I am remedying that. The Lightning Dreamer is a verse novel in the voice of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. Interspersed are verses from her dedicated brother and cook, her disappointed and misguided mother, and the nuns who value her independent spirit. I am intrigued that a novel written in so few words can carry along a plot and work deeply on theme. The Lightning Dreamer was full of heart and soul. It is this heart and soul that makes you feel how Gertrudis felt and come to truly understand the oppression of women and the world of slavery in Cuba in the early 1800s.

Here is a recent interview with Margarita Engle on Author Turf.

Click image for Margarita Engle's website

Click image for Margarita Engle’s website

Renee LaTulippe of No Water River featured selections from the novel. No Water River continues to be a wealth of poetry goodness.

Link to Irene Latham's blog site: Live Your Poem

Link to Irene Latham’s blog site: Live Your Poem

The Sky Between Us by Irene Latham: Irene generously contacted me to trade poetry books. I was so honored that she would want to do this. She is another wonderful cyberfriend. The connections I have made through joining this kidlit blogging world are amazingly generous and supportive.

The Sky Between Us is a collection of poems that began as a manuscript for young readers inspired by the National Park Systems Historic Places collection. From there it grew into an adult collection of Irene’s perspective on her One Little Word for 2013, “sky.” This is a collection I will share with my middle grade students. The poems are written in short free verse stanzas often using enjambment to lead the reader through the words like a canoe on a winding river.

Irene has a gift for language that makes her words roll over your tongue and into your mind where you breathe out, “Ah!” Her observance of nature resonates with me and leads me to a deeper understanding of the world and creation. I will visit her poems again and again.


The sky between us
is stippled, layered,

anything but blue.
It storms memory

and sweeps clean–

it cannot rain

It swells, tatters,
its routing broken

by days or decades.
We steeple through,

eyes on whatever
happens next: awed

by every flash
and rumble,

monarch’s migration
to their gloryland

and by the swallows
that winter over.

We share the same moon,
we light each other’s

dream of morning.

–Irene Latham, all rights reserved.

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