Thursday, November 28, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

On this Thanksgiving Day:
 I love my family.

I love my friends.

I love my dogs.

I love my health.

I love writing.

I love reading.

I love teachers.

I love librarians.

I love kids.

I love gardening.

I love tap dancing.

I love Cafe Francais.

I love Pinwheel cookies.

I love champagne.

I love oysters.

I love the Smoky Mountains.

I love boiled peanuts.

I love circus peanuts.

I love trains.

I love Cynthia Rylant.

I love sushi.

I love malted milk balls.

I love walking.

I love Randy Travis.

I love Judge Judy.

I love crossword puzzles.

I love Wild Turkey Manhattans - stirred, not shaken.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

I love this.

Good Morning, Wonderful Writers! Today we will not have Morning Meeting. Instead we will go to a presentation by Barbara O'Connor. This will be from 8:40-9:40. She will also come to our classroom from 11:10-12:10. From, Your Teachers. Are you excited to meet a real published author? Yes, Kind of, Not sure (I'm glad they didn't get the choice of "No". haha

Thing Two

Alas, the weather is getting cooler and I'm having to abandon my outdoor office.

So I'm moving indoors.

I read a great interview with Roald Dahl's daughter. She described  his lap desk. 

So I decided I should use a lap desk, too. Maybe I'll write books as great as his. (Or maybe not)

Monday, November 25, 2013

NCTE Recap

Only one word to say about the NCTE conference in Boston: wow!

I met so many teachers, Twitter friends, Facebook friends, authors, etc. 

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

 Kirby Larson, Karen Cushman and I presented a program on Creating Story Worlds. We were so psyched to see such a great group of teachers who came to listen.

It was so nice to see some of our favorite Nerdy Book Club friends right there in the front row. Thanks, pals.)

Afterwards, we celebrated.

(l to r) Karen Cushman, Kirby Larson, Miriam Martinez (panel moderator), Nancy Roser (panel moderator)

 Throughout the conference, I ran into so many teacher friends and had lunch with my pal, Patrick Allen.

(clockwise from top left) Donalyn Miller, Patrick Allen, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, Paul Hankins)

(top row l to r) Cindy Minnich, Cynthia Alaniz (bottom l to r) Megan Ginther, Holly Mueller

Karen Terlecky, Kirby Larson and I got to recreate our selfie from NCTE in Orlando in 2010. We haven't changed a bit!

Here we are again:


 There was lots of fan girl time with some of my favorite authors.

Karen Cushman

Kirby Larson

Tanya Lee Stone

Deborah Wiles

Linda Urban (and Loree Griffin Burns was there, too. Where'd she go?)

Laurie Halse Anderson

 AND, I scored an Advanced Reader Copy of Laurie's new book. Look what she wrote! Sweet? SWEET! (I'm not sure everyone would agree with that, but I'll take it.)

Special thanks to Colby Sharp and Jenni Holm for hosting the super fun Nerdy Book Club party!

P.S. The only negative: My Cafe Francais (aka according to Kirby: "That evil concoction") spilled into my suitcase. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

Great advice to writers from Anne Lamott:

Don't bog down on transitions. They're hard. Mark with "TR" and move to next passage. Do parts you can do without strain first, like Pick Up Sticks

Thing Two 

I already have New Jersey.

But I just couldn't resist this one.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love great school visits!

Caution: The advice contained herein is intended for a perfect world. This is not a perfect world. I know that schools have schedule issues, space issues, budget issues, curriculum issues, etc. etc. etc. We all just do the best we can in our imperfect world, right?

Dear School That is Planning an Author Visit:

So, you've decided to invite an author to your school. Good for you!

Now, I know you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, right? I mean, money is tight. The PTO had a great fundraiser and you want to use it to best advantage.

I've done a lot of school visits.

Some were great. Some were not so great.

What makes an author visit great?

Based on my experience, here are some of the things that will help make your author visit great:

1. If using a local author, try to assemble a team of volunteers ready and willing to research and, if possible, preview visiting authors in your area.

2. That team of volunteers should communicate with school faculty to learn what is most important about the author visit: appeal to the children; curriculum tie-ins; writing workshops; a body of work; an author who can present to the whole school or to just one or two grades, etc.

In addition, are you looking for an author to simply entertain and be interesting (and there's nothing wrong with that!) - or do you also want an author who can give the students something they can take back to their classrooms (i.e., writing tips; curriculum tie-ins, etc.)?

3. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Bring enough volunteers on board (if possible) so that one person can handle book sales, one person can liaison with teachers and handle scheduling, one person can take care of technical equipment, one person can be in charge of greeting and escorting the author, one person can bring in a small sack lunch and a bottle of water, etc.

4. Plan ahead! Some authors book a year or more in advance. It also takes time to carry out all the other stages of the author visit, like book-ordering (discussed below).

5. Prepare the students.

Let me repeat that:

5. Prepare the students. This is the single most important ingredient for a successful author visit. Hands down.

What is involved in preparing the students, you ask?

Make sure they are familiar with the author's work.

Let me repeat that.

Make sure they are familiar with the author's work.

They should have the author's books in the classrooms.
They should have read the books - or...
They should have had the books read to them.
They should see the books displayed in the library or classroom.

Nothing generates excitement and enthusiasm for an author's visit more than this. 


And when the students are excited and enthusiastic, they get 400% more out of the author visit.

6. Give the author's schedule of presentations careful consideration.
Have you checked with the author about the timing of her presentation? Don't plan on an hour-long program if the author has a 45-minute program. It doesn't sound like much, but it makes a difference when there are 3 or 4 presentations in a day with breaks in between.

Speaking of which, have you allowed for small breaks between sessions?

Have you taken into consideration the amount of time it will take the students to arrive and get settled? (For instance, large groups coming into an auditorium require more time than smaller groups sitting on the floor in the library.)

7. Give the students the opportunity to buy the author's books in advance of the visit. Assign a volunteer to be in charge of this. Most authors have information about ordering on their web site or can give it to you in advance. You should allow six weeks for this! Many publishers can get you books right away, but some need lead time.

Better yet, use your local independent bookseller to help with book sales.

8. Sometimes students aren't motivated to buy a book until after he has seen the author. If possible, order extra books to meet demands of late orders. Most publishers allow unsold books to be returned, so you won't be out the money if you order too many.

9. Choose the location of the presentation carefully. (I totally understand that sometimes your choices are limited.) Libraries are ideal - they have that "book atmosphere" and usually have nice acoustics and lighting. Cafeterias can be deadly - lousy sound, uncomfortable floors for students to sit on, pots and pans clanging, terrible lighting for projector presentations, disruptions and scheduling issues.

10. Be very clear what the equipment needs of the author are. Make sure all the necessary equipment is ready - that means set up and ready to go when the author arrives.

11. Have someone on hand to help the author with technical equipment set-up. It's unfair to expect the author to know how to use unfamiliar projectors or to hustle around looking for extensions cords, outlets, etc.

12. Arrange for someone to greet the author. (Even better, choose a small group of students to greet the author.) This is just common courtesy and will be appreciated. Show the author where the restrooms are, where the teachers' lounge is, etc.

13. Make sure the folks working in the front office know the author is coming and who is expected to escort her to her presentation spot.

14. Have the students prepare signs, banners, or other displays for the author. This adds an air of excitement to the school and makes the author feel welcome. This also helps involve the students in the author visit.

Be sure to show the author the students' handiwork. She will love it!

15. Assign someone to introduce the author to the students. While the author is certainly capable of doing this, having an "official introducer" sends a signal to the students that this is a special presentation and someone worth listening to.

16. Ask that the teachers stay with the students throughout the entire presentation. The author should not have to deal with discipline issues.

17. Don't change the pre-arranged schedule without letting the author know prior to the day of the visit. The author has planned accordingly and shouldn't have to make adjustments after arrival.

18. Let the author know ahead of time if lunch will be provided. 

Most authors come prepared with something for lunch. But if something is being prepared by the school, let her know in advance so she doesn't pack her own. Authors will appreciate choosing something from a take-out menu or a simple lunch prepared by a volunteer. Or let the author know what is available to her in the school cafeteria or from a nearby deli (if time allows).

20. Show the author some appropriate places for her to eat. Some authors will appreciate some quiet time during lunch. You might ask if she would prefer to eat alone in a quiet corner of the library or some other quiet spot. 

21. Some schools arrange for the author to have lunch with a group of students. This is a fun opportunity for both author and students. However, if the students are coming armed with questions, consider allowing time for the author to eat on her own beforehand. It's sometimes difficult to eat and chat at the same time.

22. For booksigning times, have the students write their names on a post-it note so that the author won't have to ask about spelling. An additional bonus is to place the post-it note on the title page. Sounds like a little thing, but it does make things go more smoothly and quickly.

23. Don't allow students to rush up in hoards, thrusting small scraps of paper at the author for her to sign. It's hard for authors to say no to these requests, but signing one usually turns into signing 50. There's just no time for this. (And the author will feel terrible having to say "no.")

24. Have the author's check ready on the day of the visit.

25. Have one of the volunteers write down each process involved in arranging the visit. Then next year, when those volunteers are gone, you won't be reinventing the wheel. You'll have an "owner's manual" for your future school visits.

26. Have the students write thank-you notes or make drawings to send to the author after the visit. That is just one more extension of the program; gives the students a chance to reflect on the visit and what they got out of it, what they liked best, what they learned, etc. This reinforces common manners and will be enjoyed and appreciated by the author.

27. Pat yourself on the back. You've enriched the curriculum, nudged the students a step farther toward better reading and writing, and made an author feel great about her day. Win win!!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Advice from the Trenches: Part 4

Part 1 is HERE.

Part 2 is HERE.

Part 3 is HERE.

In addition to doing one-day-get-in-and-get-out presentations, I also do writing workshops of two or more days.

Here, then, is some advice on conducting writing workshops (learned from my time in the trenches):

  • Send a written information sheet to the contact person prior to the workshop. On the sheet, clearly outline what you will be doing and if there will be any homework assignments. This gives teachers a chance to prepare for the day, especially the homework load.

  • Let the kids know very clearly what they can expect from the workshop. (Today we will be talking about blah blah. ...You will have some homework tonight....Tomorrow when I come, you should have finished blah blah, etc.)

  • I always announce from the get-go: "I don't expect that everyone in this class loves to write. Maybe you do, but I bet there's someone in here who doesn't love to write. But that's okay. For this workshop, I'll be with you every step of the way. I won't leave anyone in the dust...and hopefully, you will enjoy it. But no matter what, you can say goodbye to your worries about writing." You'd be surprised how many kids have a look of utter relief on their faces at this permission to not like writing. (And I'm proud to say I've had kids tell me that they thought they didn't like to write - but they really had fun in the workshop. The ultimate!)
  • Most teachers will beat you to this, but if not, have the kids clear everything off their desks except what they will need for the workshop. This alleviates distractions, flying rubber bands and smashed pretzels.

  • Before asking a student to help hand out any worksheets, paper, etc., check with the teacher. Often the class has designated helpers for the day and there may already be an official paper-giver-outer. Kids take those things seriously, you know.

  • Before you say the word "highlighter" - tell the kids to sit on their hands. Trust me, the mere mention of the word sends 25 kids diving into their desks immediately. It's amazing.

  • When orally brainstorming examples of writing exercises, be prepared to hear about dirty underwear and dog poop. In fact, be prepared to hear anything.

  • When it's time to orally share student writing, ask the teacher to help you call on students to share. The teacher knows the students and knows which ones may need to be drawn out.

  • As an alternative to asking the teacher to help call on students to read, ask if the teacher has a method of randomly selecting students (such as popsicle sticks). Many teachers do and it's a good way to fairly choose readers. 

  • Make sure the students know you probably won't have time for everyone to share, but you will do your best.

  • Announce, "This is the last one" when you are calling on the last student. This saves 25 kids from continuing to wave their hands wildly.

That's it, folks!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

I'll be at NCTE in Boston next week.

I'll be presenting with Kirby Larson and Karen Cushman about

Creating and Inhabiting Story Worlds

Thursday, November 21
Hynes Convention Center Room 309

You can add it to your planner HERE.

I'll be signing on Friday, November 22
Macmillan Booth #819 

Come by and say hi!

Thing Two

It's cranberry harvesting time here in New England.

I walk my dogs on a bog.

Here's my view.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love this curio cabinet.

My husband and I are great collectors of useless junk.

Um, wait! I mean, valuable antiques.

We often remind my only son that: "This will all be yours someday."

His response is always: "Two words: YARD SALE!"

So there you go.

But, anyway, I love this old curio cabinet of my husband's.

It contains STUFF that is meaningful to him.

This is the original "Pool Girl Algae Award." Long story...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Advice from the Trenches Part 3

 If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE.

Part 2 is HERE.

  • School visits are hard work. Make it easier on yourself by staying in your comfort zone when you need to. For instance, at lunch, I need some quiet time. My solution is to go outside for some fresh air and a walk, when I can. The walk really helps my energy level and the quiet time recharges me. If weather doesn't permit a walk, I ask for a quiet spot to check emails or do some work while I eat lunch. But then, that's just me. You extroverts can chitter chatter all day. Either way, teachers and volunteers will understand.

  • If you go outside the building at lunch time, you will find yourself locked out. Nowadays, almost all schools lock their doors after the morning arrivals and require that you be buzzed back in. Don't panic. Ring the buzzer, which is usually located within plain site of the door. Someone from the office will do a quick fingerprint scan, run an FBI check, call your mother and then buzz you back in (unless your morning presentation was particularly crappy, you failed the FBI check, or your mother dissed you).

  • Most schools are stretched for money, so they want to get as much out of an author visit as possible. "How I Became a Writer" or "Where I Get My Ideas" isn't always enough. Try to add something to your presentation that teachers can use in the classroom - preferably some concrete writing tips for the kids. Particularly because of those dang standardized tests, it's nice if an author visit can help the students prepare for the writing portion.

  • I now take some professionally designed and printed bookmarks. But if you don't want to take on that expense, you can make a template of a bookmark (3 per page), personalized for each school and with your autograph. Teachers or volunteers can then make copies for the students. Many schools copy them on colored cardstock and even laminate them. The kids love them. I did that for many years and it worked just fine.

  • Trust me, if you say yes even once to a request from a student to sign a scrap of paper, you'll find yourself with a mad mass of kids shoving teeny weeny scraps of paper under your nose when you only have five minutes before your next presentation. You will feel like a schmuck saying no, but if you sign a few but say no to the others, you will feel like an even bigger schmuck. Just accept your schmuckiness and say no. (And hopefully, an observant teacher will jump in and save you from your schmuckiness. Teachers are great at taking the schmuck hit for you.)

  • I take templates of worksheets that reinforce one of the writing techniques I brainstorm with the kids. I know, I know...some folks shudder at the word "worksheet." But I personally like them (I'm anal like that). They give teachers something useful for their classrooms and add another layer to a program that might otherwise be your usual "how-I-became-a-writer-and-how-I-get-my-ideas" kind of presentation.

 Part 4 coming soon

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

I love this so much.

Translation: I am good at readin'

Thing Two

A long, long time ago, I had an idea for a book that involved little boats sent sailing down a creek.

I wanted the boats to be cool. But I'm not too cool. 

So I was thrilled to get help from a cool dude from Maine who made a boat from a Yoohoo drink box.

Here is the original Yoohoo boat made by Ben from Maine:


I love that there is a race car stashed inside.

I asked Ben how to make one and here is what he said:
First I put the straw in and drank it.  Then I unfolded the top to be the front of the boat.  Then I cut out the top right side.  I didn't use any glue or tape.

Since then, I have had the great pleasure of seeing Yoohoo boat art made by student from all over the country. 

This was a painting done by a teacher in Wilton, CT!!