Monthly Archives: February 2016

Hearts & Muscles – A book… pre-review

Shhh… I’m fairly sure you aren’t supposed to write about a book you are ABOUT to read but haven’t read yet

I’m not exactly a rule follower.

In my head, I’ve been writing a post about nonfiction. I’ve been calling it “Falling in Love with Non Fiction.” (Just a little homage to one of my favorite books, Falling in Love with Close Reading  by Kate Roberts and Christopher Lehman.) Everyone seems to be talking about how important nonfiction is. “We need to teach our students how to enjoy,  how to read, how to understand nonfiction.” I get it! I’m on it. I hear you, nonfiction pushers!  Reading Nonfiction:  Notice and Note  is next in my professional book pile, I promise.  Just testerday  I told a teacher that I can feel my brain beginning to switch over from thinking people just need to chill out – to really seeing past the common core and PSSA reasons.  I understand the heart of why kids need to be reading more nonfiction: We need to teach kids to be life-long learners via nonfiction reading.  They need to know how to get and understand information. See? It was going to be my next post. I have a lot to say about it. But not right now.

Last night I fell extra in love with fiction, even though I haven’t read this book yet.

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My college friend’s new book is getting a lot of publicity (one of my favorite interviews is on NPR here). So, when I heard Sunil would be at the local bookstore, I jumped at the chance to say hello, hear him speak, and of course get my book signed. Mr. Thought couldn’t come, so it was just me and the kids. Three tired kids. Three tired kids who learned a ton. (And one tired mama who took notes on her phone!)

We walked in just as he was reading some inappropriate language. Oops.

(I don’t think my kids heard it all… and what they hear,  we talked about: “He’s a grown up. He used those words for a reason. He’s a writer. . .” and as H put it, “He was just using it as a describing word, mom.”)

It was almost bed time, and E  asked a couple of times, “When will he be done talking? I’m thirsty for water.”  But, they listened. I love that my kids heard a published author talk about writing, and hard work, and empathy.

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I heard these things too. I heard Sunil tell the story of how his finished manuscript was stolen. How he had to start again. My teacher brain yelled, “Perseverance! Stamina! Grit!” I heard him talk about how you have to write every day – you have to “sit at the desk every morning and hope the muse meets [you] there.” My teacher brain yelled it again, “Stamina! Structure to guide creativity!” Sunil said he loves the sound of words, but that meaning is more important than sound. My writer brain is thinking on that.  Then he said that his book is about people, and empathy. My whole brain just nodded in agreement: Empathy!  In his NPR interview,  Sunil says, “We live in an age where revolution — you don’t need to pick up a rifle. Sometimes empathy is enough. Sometimes empathy is a revolutionary thing.” Empathy. I think we need empathy at least just as much as we need facts.

Sunil talked about why this book, about the real life Seattle WTO protests of 1999 was a fiction book. He could have written nonfiction; the protests were a real event. I’m sure there was enough drama during the protests to write a hefty piece of informational writing. Pardon my paraphrasing here… He said he chose to write this as fiction because that way he could make connections and expand on characters. His fiction book happens during the protests in 1999, but the book teaches us more than that. It teaches us about people–their good and evil side, and about current events that parallel those in 1999. It connects to past riots, and those sure to come. It gives characters– people– a voice for what is in their hearts. This was a good reminder to me about one of the reasons I love fiction: Fiction teaches. It isn’t false or just pretend. Fiction books have stories that teach us, sometimes even more than nonfiction.

I’m looking forward to reading this book. So here’s my book pre-review… I think it’s going to be awesome, and I give the book reading, discussion and signing 5 stars.

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Slices of Valentine’s Season

Slice of LIfe

This is part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life. Find out more, and join in here.

Valentine’s Day has never been my favorite holiday. I can take it or leave it. I don’t need overpriced roses, a giant teddy bear or a big heart of chocolate.

For as long as I’ve been a teacher, I’ve turned Valentine’s Day into a celebration of affirmations and appreciations. It’s a tradition that my kids’ school does in every classroom, and I’ve mostly stolen it from them. Every student writes to every other student: A true compliment, affirmation, or message of appreciation. Every year my students are nervous. They don’t believe they will be able to say something nice about everyone in the class. They don’t believe people will have nice things to say about them. Every year they are wrong. Every year it is a wonderful day of school: We pass out affirmations, read them and celebrate how amazing we all are.

I love watching my own kids create their Valentine’s every year too. In kindergarten all of the work is done in school, but by the time kids are in second or third grade, some must be done at home. Especially if you are working slowly at school, like certain 9 year olds I know… H was concerned because he wanted each affirmation to be special. It was a flashback to last year, which was the first year he agonized over each shape.

Last year, H’s friend who liked cheese got his Valentine affirmation written on a 3-D wedge of cheese crafted from construction paper. This year he made a miniature version of one friend, a detailed picture of Spongebob farting for a classmate that loves Spongebob and humor. There was a mustache, balloons, a finger trap and more. Each classmate was thoroughly thought about before H decided what shape, picture and decoration should go on his creation. He had already written the actual affirmations at school. (Thank Goodness.)  Each time I tried to convince him that it would  go more quickly if we just cut out some hearts, he would respond with frustrated concern, “I don’t want some kids to get boring ones. That would just hurt their feelings.” I so appreciated the creativity and kindness behind his mission. But the amount of hours spent, construction paper dropped on the floor, and tears over making things perfect was maybe a bit much for my personal stress-level!

My big kids celebrated Valentine’s Day on Thursday, and that night I listened as they read their affirmations from their classmates.

“You are so helpful.”

“I always picture you as a scientist when you grow up.”

“You are humorous and kind”

“You are great pal to hang around with”

My daughter even wrote heartfelt affirmations for her brothers, who drive her crazy most days.

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“Maybe Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite days.” I thought for a moment, as my heart gave a little tug, “Maybe I have time to write affirmations for my students.” I reminded myself that not only did I not have time… I’m also not their teacher any more!

Checking in on Facebook, I was met with a Facebook memory from last year’s Valentine’s Affirmation Party Eve. FullSizeRender.jpg

That was a little heart-tugging too, but I got over it. “It’s nice to not have to write 50 love poems this year,” I told myself.

My first meeting at school on Friday was with a teacher who used to teach at my kids’ school and was my daughter’s teacher. I noticed her morning message was about their Valentine’s Day party and affirmations. I was wistful, but okay.

I headed over to the middle school, where I found a book with my name on it on the lost and found table. When I walked into my old classroom to put the book away, I found  my students passing out compliments, with construction paper hearts at their tables.  I still may have been okay, if the kids didn’t shout hello… if one of the boys hadn’t jumped up and given me a hug… if another hadn’t said, “Wait! I have something for you!” as he ran out to his locker to get me a box of chocolates.


If not for the hug and the box of chocolates, I might not have gone back to my office to cry.

Maybe Valentine’s Day is more important to me than I thought. It is one of the touchstones of each school year. Years ago, I tried to explain this idea to an intern. I wanted her to understand that a school year has an ebb and flow, and know that there are certain benchmarks, like seasons to the energy of both teaching and learning.  This year, leaving the classroom in January, I am reflecting on that ebb and flow. Certain seasons, like Valentine’s, I miss. However there are some I won’t be shedding tears over this year. (Can you say PSSAs?)

What season of teaching do you love?


A slice of The Fools

Slice of LIfe

This is part of Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life. Find out more, and join in here.

If you were here with me, in my little corner office,940871_10208387380263132_2566196639830332104_n.jpg

you might expect it to be a quiet little writing spot. Oh, but you’d be mistaken.


Since sitting down to write my slice (which was going to be about choice in reading), an entire band has assembled. We have banjo, djembe, voice (complete with microphone) and crazy 6 year old either bothering everyone or using the makeshift drum.


I think this started after dinner when the kids were inventorying our musical instruments. Fast forward to my writing session, and  suddenly I was overhearing this:

“Who wants to be banjo?”

“I’m the leader.”

“No you’re not. I start it! “

“That is not a weapon. We will not treat musical instruments like that.” (That’s Mr. Thought chiming in.)

“Shhhhh… We’re going to have a concert.”

“Everyone be quiet! Our performance area is in here. Oh mommy’s in here. “

“That’s the office.” (Mr. Thought again.) 


“Stop shushing.” 

“Guys! Everyone on stage!” 

“What should I play? The Drum?”

“No, I’m the drum.” 

“What am I?”

“You’re the trumpet.” 

“What? I don’t even know how to play the trumpet.” 

“Well, then just try your best.” 

“Only one instrument per person!” 

“Daddy – you get the drum.” 

“Shouldn’t Daddy get the banjo?”

You may wonder why we have all of these musical instruments. Since the only one any one of us knows how plays is the piano.

Way back in college I bought Mr. Thought a Djembe, which he used to play some.

A few years ago, I bought Mr. Thought a banjo. Banjo lessons are on his to do list.

There’s also a trumpet and a flute, part of an odd assortment of things my parents keep bringing over to our house now that we’ve moved.

The lights are dimming… I think the show is about to begin.

L starts us off, on her microphone — a birthday gift a few years ago… nice and loud, as birthday gifts often are. “….Let me just remind you that we haven’t practiced at all. In fact, we haven’t ever picked up these instruments…”

Mr. Thought interrupts. “Can you mention that your guitarist hasn’t ever learned to play guitar?”

“You mean banjo?” I chime in.

Mr Thought doesn’t miss a beat (pun intended). “Can you mention that your banjo player has never played the ukulele?…


L continues, “Introducing, “The Fools!”

The music begins. And my banjo playing husband sternly reminds, “H! The drums should not be the dominant sound. They should be more of a background sound.”

Happy Tuesday from my Fools to you. 🙂