June 28 2012

Day Four…final day of reflection

Tomorrow the conference is over. Sitting in the middle of it, I am overwhelmed, out of money, and still so excited! The opportunity to meet these authors and speak with them makes me realize how lucky I am! (I know, it sounds trite, but I feel very lucky.) I’m sure you’ve guessed that the lack of money is because of the books. I’ve had the authors autograph them to my class. They’ve been so generous to add personalizations to the autograph. Today I was thinking of how I’m going to display these books or share these books. A fellow sixth grade teacher and I were talking about starting the year with the picture book Big Plans. I’d like to share what I’ve learned with my students. I’d like to read them all of these wonderful books.

This assignment asks me to reflect on the day and how will I convert the things I’m learning into something I can use in my sixth grade classroom. I’m grateful for the “forced” reflection (as I would wait to do it and then probably forget). Although tonight I feel my head spinning. I’ve had no time to read the books or check out the websites. That’s my plan. Next week, I’ll wake up and grab my coffee and begin to read and plan and read and sit and read and think and read.

Before I go I’d like to say that I have met many authors that are new to me. Today’s authors (I’m sure) will become two of my favorites. Marc Tyler Nobleman inspired me with his dedication and passion. His attention to detail and his desire to right the wrongs of the world (at least the world of Superman and Batman) are honorable and inspiring. I didn’t know there were people out there like him. Boys of Steel, a story about the creators of Superman will grab my boys! He gives me a great entry into interesting non-fiction. The story about Oregon, Thirty Minutes over Oregon in World War II has to be published. I am amazed that the story exists and we don’t know about it. That’s what I mean, his passion is contagious.

And as if that’s not enough passion, then Phil Bildner came into our lives. The only thing I could think when he began speaking is the saying, “he makes coffee nervous” with his non-stop movement and lightning speed speech patterns. What he said brought me much laughter and even some tears. Again, his books require research. I purchased two non-fiction picture books: The Hallelujah Flight and The Unforgettable Season: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of 1941. I can’t wait to share these books with my students. It’s the how…I’m still figuring it out, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

June 28 2012

Day three reflection


Have I mentioned that the bathroom walls (and in each stall) are plastered with reading quotes? Here’s a picture of one. The quotes change each day! I know, such a small thing, but it makes me smile every time I go to the bathroom!

These are long days. Thank goodness they are filled with invigorating presentations and inspiring books. The line up for today included three picture book authors. Daniel Kirk, Bob Shea, and Melinda Long. I continue to be amazed at the authors; each one presents a completely different point of view. Some of the elements are the same, they all share the same profession, but their paths are as different and varied as their books.

Daniel Kirk and Melinda Long both began writing at an early age. The path seemed clear to them. Melinda was a teacher for 23 years and wrote during all of them. That surprised me. It must be challenging to write and teach at the same time. I love how Melinda took her books and gave us potential lesson ideas. I appreciated that very much. (Side note, I emailed her asking for something and she already emailed me back. I LOVE THAT! My experience is many people who promise that do not follow through. I’m impressed.)

Bob Shea was admittedly someone I’d never heard of before, but now he is someone I’ll never forget. He has a sharp sense of humor and an amazing presenting ability. I enjoyed every last second with him. His books are simple and funny! I swore yesterday morning that today would be the day I would NOT buy any more books. Well he ruined that for me! I bought two of his books. I love Big Plans and I can see using that with my sixth graders. Choral reading is something I do and I’d like to do more of in the future. His book and the humor will help that. My plan is to try and do just what he did with the book, understanding I can’t be him, but bringing all my enthusiasm to it. There’s more, much more, to be done with that book. I’m looking forward to getting it into my hands to make some of my own, “BIG PLANS!”

Class this afternoon gave me great writing ideas! I am so grateful that Linda tells us about Flash Fiction, but then allows us to try it. It reminds me of the Northern Virginia Writing Project presentations. Actually practicing it makes it much more likely I’ll do this with my students. The urban legend idea grabbed me right away! At the end of this last school year I read aloud Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. It’s the book with the online videos (I highly recommend it, if you haven’t read it.) and it’s scary. I’d never read aloud scary before and my sixth graders LOVED it! They begged for more everyday. I will definitely get the urban legend books and write some urban legends of our own. I can’t wait! A million thanks for these ideas!

June 26 2012

Day two reflection

Let me start by admitting that I’m TIRED. My day began with books. I purchased more books today (there are books for sale by the authors that are speaking on that particular day) and I picked up my books from yesterday (when you buy books, you can leave them in a bin with your name on them to be autographed).

Today we heard three more authors: Dan Yaccarino, Brian Floca, and Avi. Each of these men are so different in experience and writing style and presentation style. Dan Yaccarino started the day with an amazing visual presentation about his books, illustrations, and tv shows. He is accomplished and his message to us was his success came from saying one word:


Some of his golden lines included, “You need a safe place for ideas.” That’s my writer’s notebook. He’s kept sketch books since he was 8 or 9 and I’ve kept writer’s notebooks for just as long. Something else he said and Brian Floca (the next author) repeated is this, “I’m creating books about things I’m already interested in.” That’s different than writing what you know. Hmmm, that gives me something to think about. It makes a lot of sense. Brian Floca followed Yaccarino. He too is an illustrator first and then an author. I loved the quotes he wove into his presentation. Jack London’s quote, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” That’s something that I’ve certainly felt! Out of all of the quotes, his resonated the most. He started by explaining that the dinosaur book, “took him seriously as a reader”. I’ve never heard it explained like that, but I get it! He continued what Dan Yaccarino was saying about ideas when he said, “Write what you want to know.” In the beginning of the school year the students and I do lots of idea gathering. One of my typical assignments  is having all of us make a list of things we know. That list is one we rarely returned to…me included. Next year I’ll have the students list What do you wonder?  I love that idea. That will stick with me. The other thing Brian said that will stick with me and that I will share with my students is this: “I begin with note, idea, questions, feelings, moments. The real work is in the rewriting.” Oh, and I can’t forget that Brian Floca taught me that porcupines have orange teeth.


Avi spoke after lunch.  The two previous authors had extensive technological presentations. Avi had a notebook. He told us to listen and to put our notebooks away. (I confess that I couldn’t. Sorry, Avi.) He would speak for a bit about himself and then would read a passage from one of his books. He said that, “If your works speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.” The passages were carefully selected and seamlessly added to his personal stories. I could have listened all day long. He even read us an excerpt of a book that isn’t published yet. What a treat! It’s a book about the revolutionary war. I can’t wait for it to be published. He showed me the power of excerpts. I’ll work on finding just the right passage for the moment in class.

Speaking of class, our time with Linda FLEW by! I adored the character splash. It never occurred to me to focus on characters when recommending books to boys. I’d always focused on genres or author or series. I’m forever grateful for another pathway to put the perfect book in every student’s hand. My ABC list of characteristics will appear in my class in the fall. I like the idea of doing it together with the class too. The day ended with a presentation on poetry. The presenter was very sweet, but the presentation was very much geared towards primary students. I feel like I enjoyed my time listening to the poems and sharing some ideas, but I don’t feel like I took anything new away from this small group.

All in all, a successful and great day two!

June 26 2012

Reflection of Day One

Starting a new conference or class always intimidates me. I have to remember this for the beginning of the school year. Today I felt vulnerable and awkward as I arrived for the first day at Shenandoah’s Children’s Literature Conference. I registered, got my folder and found a seat, up front, by myself. Why is it that no matter how old I get, sitting alone can be icky. Surreptitiously I glance around and it seems like everyone else came with a group and I find myself a bit lonely. (Again, something to remember for the beginning of sixth grade.) I soon perked up when I read over the agenda. Having been in the classroom for seventeen years, I’ve attended many conferences and few have been this organized and well put together. Today (JUST TODAY and there are four days left) I heard three outstanding authors speak. It’s like my version of meeting a movie star when I see them and hear them. (I am a self admitted nerd.) The day began with Danny Brassell‘s high energy talk about reading and teaching and chanting and poetry and fun. Loving the chants, I try and figure out how I could incorporate those into my sixth grade classroom. I don’t think so, but the poetry. YES! He tells us he reads his students four poems a day and then he models it. Poetry is my favorite thing to teach and I know I will find a way to incorporate it into my day. The chanting of the poems….YES! This I can do. . Book Talks every Monday and ghost stories with flashlights. These will also find their way into Room C10 next year. His enthusiasm excites me and makes me want to be back in the classroom. Finding hidden gems like Danny Brassell make conferences like this even more fun.

The next author has written two of my all time favorite books. His name on the brochure is one of the foremost reasons I wanted to be a part of this week. Gary Schmidt. Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now have amazing characters that are multi-dimensional and they live in complicated times. These are books that I regularly recommend to my students. What struck me most about Gary was his quiet confidence and skill with being able to tell a story. The golden lines from his talk included, “We carry our childhood with us.” and “You have to love the stuff of your art.” That resonates with me as a person, a writer, AND a teacher. My sister teases me because so much of the art in my home has words on it, for example:



I continue to search for ways to share the love of words with my students. We have conversations about our favorite words and the sound of words. I’d like to extend that this year. I felt challenged by Schmidt. He talked about questions and how writers have to ask the hard questions. This is something that will stay with me. I know this reflection is supposed to tell how we’ll incorporate what we learned into our classrooms and instruction. I can’t answer that here. All I can say is I’ve been challenged to ask hard questions, and I will. For my afternoon small group session, I joined the round table discussion for Gary Schmidt. Quietly, I sat in the second row just itching to ask a question, but sure that it would be a stupid question. Towards the end of our time together, I mustered up the courage and asked where he got the name for his main character in Wednesday Wars. I’m elated that I asked! He lit up as he explained the genesis of the name. I discovered that he (like myself) struggles with names as they are so important. He talked about how the last name came from his son’s friend and the first name from an author. I can’t wait to share that nugget of information with my students.

Finally, Jarrett Krosoczka was the final author of the day. I’d heard of his Lunch Ladies books, but I’ve never read anything by him. He was charming. Listening to him tell his story and tell about his journey I was mesmerized. Personally there were some connections for me. He lives in Western Massachusetts, where I was born and raised. That’s cool! What will stay with me from his time with us is his interaction with Jack Gantos. Two words from him, “nice cat” potentially changed Jarrett’s life. We, as teachers, have that potential to influence every minute of every day. I will continue to be aware of this and focus on spreading that influence to as many students as I can in a meaningful way.

Day one is finished. I stopped at Rust Library and checked out books for my bibliography. Thanks for these days and thanks for this assignment. I know it will help me process what I’m learning. Day two, here I come…