Monday, September 24, 2012

National Book Festival

Join me on my writing journey each week as I post to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacy and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers

Two years ago when we took my son to Washington DC to begin law school, I first learned about the National Book Festival, an incredible free event on the mall for book lovers.  I planned to go last year and even convinced a colleague (whose daughter was also studying in DC) to join me.  Unfortunately, I backed out on the trip.  September is not an easy time of the year to be out of the classroom.  I let my anxiety about getting everything done get in the way of pursuing this personal dream.

I decided that this year (my son's last year of law school), I definitely should go.  I checked on our curriculum night schedule last spring and was delighted to see that the 6th grade night was the week prior to the festival.  I booked my flight, looked frequently at the Library of Congress web site, and started planning my strategy to see my favorite authors.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that the curriculum nights had been switched and that 6th grade curriculum night was now on the same night that my red eye was booked for DC!  I forged ahead, found a good substitute, wrote sub plans, worked on my curriculum night presentation, and arranged for my son-in-law to pick me up at school and drive me to the airport.  The best part of the evening was when I told the parents that I would talk through the five minute break for the block class so that I could leave a few minutes early for the airport.  When I told them I was leaving to attend the National Book Festival, they applauded!  The Fantastics (my name for this year's students) have fantastic parents.
I started the day with John Green (only because I wanted to be in this tent for the next three speakers).  I haven't read any of his books, so I was astounded to arrive 30 minutes early and discover that every seat was already taken.

I can't describe the energy in that tent filled with young adult readers.  I learned about the acronym DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome!), was thrilled by the presentation, and awed by the excitement of these young adult readers.  His words of advice to teens, "Listen to adults you trust in your life.  They know something."  I think it's time for me to read a John Green book.

Mike Lupica shared a quote from his wife, "Getting kids to read is going to be the thing you'll be remembered for best."  (I aspire to being remembered by my students for the very same reason.)  He warmed everyone's heart when he agreed to sign a young reader's book, invited him up to the stage, and then sat down beside the young man to sign the book (even though book signings were supposed to be at a different time and place during the event)!
The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and author of more than 105 books, Walter Dean Meyers, spoke of his journey as a writer that began in Harlem with a foster mother with only a 3rd grade education who read to him.  He went on to share stories of teachers who mattered in his life.  He told us that he loved stories and had experiences that other kids in his neighborhood didn't have because of books.  Those experiences with books shaped his life.  A young aspiring author in search of a mentor was astounded when Walter Dean Meyers encouraged him with the words, "Email me!"
Lois Lowry, one of my favorite authors, read from her new book Son which turns the trilogy that began with The Giver into a quartet.  Her advice to budding writers:  "Write, write, write.  Read, read, read!"  I have so many notes from her presentation that I may have to dedicate a future slice to it.  Son was available at the festival, but sold out by the time I stopped in at the book tent.
Those four speakers took us from 10 in the morning until 1:30 that afternoon.  It was hot in the tent. but even hotter outside.  My friend and I were hesitant to walk around much in the heat, but I snapped this picture looking down the mall to the Washington Monument.  Note the free pink book bags given to each participant along with a free poster featuring the art of Rafael Lopez.  This poster formed the backdrop for each speaker's stage.  I love the whimsical animals peering at the children reading and wish they had made t-shirts with this colorful logo.
I stopped by the Pavilion of the States where youngsters were busy visiting tables for each state, the District of Columbia, and the U. S. territories.  Children received a free map of the US that they presented at the table for an appropriate sticker or stamp.  Each state had a table with information about writers, libraries, and book events in their states.  On the back of the map was a reading list, "52 Great Reads about Great Places" with a recommendation from each state. 

Our last two author presentations on Saturday were in the Fiction and Mystery tent with Geraldine Brooks and Sandra Cisneros.  My book club read Year of Wonder and Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks, and I love her novel March, the story of the father in the novel Little Women.  Her newest novel is Caleb's Crossing.  Sandra Cisneros is well known for The House on Mango Street and my 6th graders read her short story, "Eleven," as a mentor text for writer's workshop.  She urged students to read for fun so that when you're called to dinner, you are compelled to reply, "I can't come right now.  I'm reading a great book."   So much of what she said resonated with me, but this was my favorite, "Stories are meant to seep into our hearts and do their work." 

While I had planned to spend Sunday with my son and his wife, I couldn't resist stopping by the festival for the presentation by Patricia Polacco.  Before Patricia's presentation, we heard from actor, director,  and producer, Bob Balaban.  He can now add author of a new middle grade book, The Creature from the Seventh Grade Boy or Beast, to his list of extensive accomplishments.  Many of the attendees had heard Patricia Polacco present before, and it was fun to hear their stories of her warmth and genuine care extended to all who attend her presentations.  I enjoyed visiting with new friends and fellow teachers from Tuscaloosa, Alabama while we waited for Ms. Polacco.  She moved the speaker's stand and shared her stories up close and personal.  Listening to her rich store of family stories makes me want to revive the lost art of storytelling in our world.  When asked which of her many books was her favorite. she responded by saying - "The books that resonate the most with me now are the ones where I've brought back to life people who are no longer with us."  She does that in my favorite Patricia Polacco book, Chicken Sunday.  
I took this parting shot of the tent where I had spent most of the time at my first National Book Festival.    One of the best parts of the festival was visiting with other people before sessions began.  I now have a new list of books to read!  I look forward to returning again to this magnificent free event that celebrates books, the people who write them, and the people who read them.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Kiss Summer Goodbye

Join me on my writing journey each week as I post to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacy and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers
Personally, I "kiss summer goodbye" when school starts each year.   Traditionally, I have my students write a letter to summer to mark the passing of the season.  This year, we've had an exceptionally prolonged summer in Seattle.  It's the first time in the fifteen years that we've lived here that "back to school" has not been accompanied by the beginning of our rainy season.  I must admit our prolonged Indian summer has made it a little hard to buckle down!  Sunshine in Seattle means "get out there and grab some rays" (for tomorrow it may rain).
Here's my letter to summer that I'll share with my students on Thursday.  Next week, we'll have a writing prompt that urges us to "embrace festive fall!"  I've struggled to come up with a title that is as catchy as "kiss summer goodbye."  Let me know if you have ideas for a catchy title for our fall writing prompt.

Dear Summer,
Saying goodbye to you is a sad time for me each year.  Your arrival marks the beginning of freedom from school.  Suddenly, I have time to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the deck while reading a book.  No longer do I face piles of papers that cry out to be graded and countless meetings to attend.  Instead, my "to do list" becomes the books I want to read, the fruits of summer I want to enjoy, and the walks I want to share with good friends.
Nothing compares to the joy of discovering your first dark purple, juicy blackberry on a sunny walk to Ellis Pond.  I take a moment to sit on the rough, gray, weathered bench to watch a mother duck and her three downy ducklings gracefully glide through the glassy, still water.  Their movement ripples the water slightly, and I feel peaceful.  Visits to the pond during other seasons have their own beauty, but none are as peaceful as the moments when I pause there with you.
Goodbye, summer!  I'll meet you at the bench in nine months!
Your adoring fan,
The moon rises over Lake Washington on a summer walk!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Join me on my writing journey each week as I post to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacy and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers

These golden lines from One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt fit in well with today's prompt to reflect on the events of 9/11.  Listen to this brief interchange between Carley and her foster brother, Daniel.
"'Do you know what courage is?' ...
'Not being afraid of something.'
'No!  It's being afraid and doing it anyway.'"
I can never think about 9/11 without reflecting on the courage exhibited by so many people on this day.
My first read aloud of the year, The Liberation of Gabriel King, is a great segue into discussing the theme of courage with my sixth grade students.  I love the main character Gabriel who spends much of the book trying to overcome his fears only to discover that courage is as Carley succintly stated "being afraid and doing it anyway."
I also like to use Bernard Waber's picture book, Courage, as a companion book for exploring the theme of courage.
Today I'll read 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy with my sixth grade students to share the compassion and connectedness exhibited by the Maasai tribesmen in Kenya to America's suffering.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Powerful Words

Join me on my writing journey each week as I post to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacy and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers

I just finished One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt.  It's full of golden lines, but the ones I'm sharing today are particularly applicable for the start of the school year.  I liked the book so well that I may have to talk more about it in a future post.   
". . . But when Mrs. Murphy tells me I'm smart, I am.  When she tells me I'm funny, I am.  When she tells me how thoughtful I am, I become that way.  I swear, if she told me I was a duck, I'd be checking in my high tops for webbed feet."  
Never forget that our words powerfully impact our students every day.  So as I'm off to a four day week of school, I want to remind myself that my words help to build community and build individuals.  Every year I name my group of students.  
This year's group - The Fantastics!