Comfort in Books #sol20

Last week, Elisabeth wrote about the books she returns to for comfort   As we end our month long writing,  this It’s Monday What are You Reading,  I write about what I am reading and also what I recommend to you.  I write in the community of writers brought together by Two Writing Teachers in our March 31 Day Writing Challenge.  This is slice 30/31. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 6.28.56 AMComfort in Books #sol20

March 30, 2020

In the first days after school closed, before we developed our first phase of our distance plan, I came home and escaped into a book.  Books have always been a comfort to me in sadness, in change, in fatigue.  No matter what else might happen, books can be depended upon.  Since childhood,  I have gathered books around me and turned to them in transitions.

As many literacy coaches,  I have a very large to-be-read pile.  The first book on the pile was one I won in a Goodreads give-away,  Susan Wiggs’ The Oysterville Sewing Circle.  This is the kind of book my friend calls a ‘vacation book‘.  These books can be read in an afternoon, you’re relatively sure that every thing will turn out in the end, and you can fully escape into the setting, the characters, and the story arc.  This same friend reads a mystery at the beginning of the summer, Louise Penny, her author of choice,  to give her mind a rest.  That first book in the chaos of the first days was just a rest for my mind.  I have a stack of those book club books at home.  My former book club mate, now retired in Wisconsin, sends me her read book club books.  I have an unopened box in my library waiting that she sent last week. She keeps me up-to-date with current best sellers.

Coincidentally, I had been reading Reader Come Home about reading in the digital age when we were plunged into our virtual learning.  This book brings home the idea of how now more than ever, we must encourage lap reading for all of students and families, the opportunity to have family read alouds comes to mind.  Now is a wonderful time to get lost in a series together. Our local librarians is rereading all of the Harry Potter books.  One of my favorite teachers has started Sisters Grimm with her student, reading aloud a chapter on video each day for students to listen to after lunch.  So much comfort there.

Switch, Quiet Leadership, Dare to Lead, Atomic Habits, Leading Well and Mary Oliver  live in a basket in my bedroom to be picked up whenever needed.  These books, while diverse reads, are mentors for times of struggle, each in their own ways.  Treasured books,  in turn I reread from the beginning and other times, drop in to read a chapter or a dog-eared passage.  What books are ones that you return to as trusted mentors?

What books do I recommend over and over?  For respite, I often recommend a historical fiction or a fully quirky book that defies definition.  In historic fiction, recently (last summer) I  liked The Gown and The Editor.  In the quirky category, a book I’ve been sharing is Sourdough. (read Robin Sloan’s other book too, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore) I also have favorite long time authors.  From my own young mother book club days,  I still read every book Elizabeth Berg ever writes.  Not challenging, these books tell a tale of persevering and are as familiar as a favorite sweater. Likewise,  I am loyal to Erica Bauermeister (before Reese Witherspoon) whose recent book Home Lessons is in my queue at Amazon and Libby.  Who are those authors whose work you always read?

The act of reading itself is comforting.  I love to read books recommended by adult friends and child friends.  Currently, I am reading Breakout recommended by humbleswede.   This middle grade novels tells a story in letters, text messages, and drawings of students developing a time capsule in a small town when a disruption changes their every day lives. Slipping seamlessly into the reality of a book gives us a respite from our current reality whatever that might be.  Since childhood, books have always been my constant companion and comfort.  They aren’t disappointing me now.

 

What I’ve Learned This Month #sol20

This month I have been writing in the Slice of Life Community 31 Day Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers.  While I always learn from my writing companions in this group, this month has been particularly poignant.  This is Day 29/31

img_1405What I’ve Learned this Month #sol20

March 29, 2020

Writing thirty one days and commenting on others writing always teaches me so much.  I learn different writing styles, different approaches to the same subject, other writer’s processes.  I also learn about their lives, their hopes, their frustrations, their fears and… they learn about mine.

I haven’t counted the total number of writers in our writing group, but I admire and cherish them all.   During the year, I write on Tuesday each week and follow many writers all the time and other writers much of the time.  I usually read and comment on over a dozen blogs each week. Each of them is inspiring to both my own writing and my coaching.  They are some of my greatest teachers.

During our March challenge, my blog is followed and read by many other writers. They offer me advice, suggestions, encouragement, and humor through their comments.  I personally follow 20 blogs every day, read and comment on between 15-20 each day.  I’ve had the opportunity to read a great deal of writing and learn so much about writing and so much more.

From one far flung slicer,  I gained so much advice about managing this new world of distance teaching.  She explained how to set it up, where the difficulties lie,  how to maintain self-care and how easy it is to overextend.  She even showed me how cleaning out my refrigerator could be an act of meditation.  Her practical advice,  her pragmatic nature, and her calm spirit displayed in her writing will stay with me for a long time. I hope we will stay in touch.

From other slicers,   I admire community,  all the things they are doing together and separately to maintain their school’s writing heart and community purpose.  They lovingly refer to each other in their blogs and graciously build each other up in their comments.  They comment on many, many other blogs as well as give practical advice for navigating the world of literacy in elementary school.  They are beacons to me in their practice, in their generosity, and in their connectivity.

Elisabeth always pushes me to think more, to consider other mentors, to consider my own practice, and to try new things.  Last year, she convinced me through her blog to write poetry for the month of April after our slice challenge was complete.  This year, she made me consider what books comfort me, how I decide what to read next, where I am creating my space at home, and what is keeping me moving forward.

I have the pleasure of being a welcomer to some new to the slice challenge.  From one of them, I learned to look to our past relationships and situations for lessons for the present.  Her powerful observation skills will be ones I continue to search for in my own writing.  From another new slicer,  I learned about her practice of confronting her advantages and working toward social justice in her learning, in her writing, and in her practice.  I strive to be brave like she is. One of my followed slicers was all about connections,  since this is my OLW for this year, her writing and her thinking drew me to consider the connections I am making and maintaining in this new frontier.  One of my new slicing buddies shared her day to day successes and struggles with heart and a fresh writing perspective.  Her comments were kind and supportive and I hope to read a lot more about her practice and thoughts in the future.  This year more than others, these blogs feel like new friendships.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sustaining friendships this group affords me.  My friend, Clare, who first encouraged me to write about my work. Brian, my welcome wagon slicer those years ago continues to inspire me with his concise writing and quick witted comments.  My good friends in the group now who speak to me like old friends in their comments are so often encouragers-in-chief,  commiserators, teachers, mentors, and so much more.

Lanny, Stacey, Melanie, Kelsey, Beth,   I don’t think I have the words to express what your hard work in maintaining this community has meant to me and so many others.  As Clare said the other day,  in times of difficulty we turned to the folks who have sustained us all along.  You and Two Writing Teachers has certainly been that place now more than ever.

As we approach the twilight of this March Challenge,  I am grateful for this time, these writers, and this challenge.  This month, I believed it is what sustained me.

Comfortable Part 1 #sol20

I write this month of March in community with Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicer, who have become especially in this time, my friends.  This week,  Elisabeth Ellington wrote about comfort in books.  That post is coming… but today,  I took the day to get comfortable and this is what I realized.  

Lily getting comforted by her latest toy… even the part she bit off

Comfortable Part 1 #sol20

March 28, 2020

What Makes Me Comfortable Right Now (a short list)

  • Early shopping…                                        the first and perhaps only perk of being sixty
  • Our local wine store                                 seeing the owner; buying wine; wishing him                                                                         well; signing up for a virtual wine tasting                                                                               this week
  • our writing group                                      daily writing about daily lives of people I                                                                                I know and who understand my life right                                                                              now
  • my home library                                        creating a remote literacy center
  • all the books I brought home                   touching them; having them here to work                                                                              with; reading them
  • friends & colleagues meet up                   those chats (heart emoji) so good to see                                                                                  your face
  • touches of spring                                        those daffodils & crocus, the forsythia, the                                                                              perennials, a peek of chives
  • my snoring dog                                           always underfoot as if she knows I need her
  • daily calls from family                             checking in; telling silly stories, teasing,                                                                                   playing games
  • walks in the woods                                    me & Lily smelling spring, noticing green
  • bird songs                                                   through the window the birds sing
  • neighborhood wildlife                             of the fauna kind, foxes, turkeys passing by
  • netflix… cooking                                        binge watching The Chef Show, Ugly                                                                                         Delicious, Restaurant on the Edge
  • home                                                             laundry; bedmaking; the view

Spending the weekend away from the screen. Hope you are finding comfort too. 

At Home Learning/Exploring: Graphic Novels #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 11.09.46 AMAt Home Learning/Exploring:  Graphic Novels #sol20

March 18, 2020

I have been resisting graphic novels and creating a stockpile at the same time.  Graphic novels aren’t going away and the students can’t get enough of them.  My friend, Gwen, is always extolling their virtues but honestly,  I am always just starting and abandoning them.

I know what I would tell a student about that,  you just have to learn to read them, so yesterday I set out to do just that using a graphic novel loved by a fellow literacy specialist’s young girls, the series Phoebe and Her Unicorn.  Using Fountas and Pinnell and Jennifer Serravallo’s Understanding Text and Readers,  I first examined what I know, book levels.  I rewatched the videos surrounding J. Serravallo’s book, then made a list of the qualities of books at Level Q.  At Q for plot and setting, students should be able to retell most important event from a complex plot identifying more than two of the stories problems including internal and external aspects.  Students should identify the theme of the story based on most of the book’s events including using accumulative details to explain the complexity of a social issue.  Vocabulary and figurative language should be solved using contextual clues.  In character, students should identify less obvious character traits comparing past traits to evolving traits.   I wondered about doing this complex work in this ‘simple’ novel, but I decided to give it a try.

In terms of graphic novel elements, there are four basic elements of graphic novels unique to the genre, panels and gutters, description and word balloons, sound effects and motion lines, and art including the creator’s style and how that contributes to the story line.

Off I go to read Phoebe and her Unicorn.  I had anticipated that I could just zip through this novel,  it’s only 215 pages, but I found myself stopping to ‘reread’ and contemplate all of the elements of both a novel at this level and this novel.

IMG_6003What I noticed first is that Phoebe and her Unicorn is not told chronologically.  The basic storyline weaves chronologically across the text, but on page twenty, a random cut-away story happened.  There is probably an official name for these.  As I went on, every 5-7 pages, a quick one page exchange would happen between Phoebe and Marigold that was unexpected and disconnected to the narrative.  Building characters?  A chapter change?

For graphic novel characteristics, the panels and gutters are fairly straight-forward in this novel, they seem to read mostly left to right, top to bottom.  There are a few images with no borders at all. Time passage is usually marked with words. There are a few split panels that I would like to point out and talk about with students.

Dialogue and word balloons are also mostly straight forward with no narration only dialogue.  I think most students would be able to tell who is speaking even in the panels where you cannot see the other speaker. There are thicker, larger, bold, color and fancy script mostly to indicate how the unicorn speaks differently from Phoebe and when Phoebe is surprised.

Sound effects and motion lines would be good to search for, point out, and discuss.  I am wondering if most students could recognize these. Considering how many words are written in different size, shape, and font to indicate how they are said, this is probably the larger obstacle to comprehension.

The art includes mostly very simple backgrounds if any.  There are subtle color changes for night and when the unicorn is being particularly magical.  It’s a nice touch.  Does the simplicity help or hinder the understanding?

So here I am, day 2, trying to finish this graphic novel and happy-ish that I brought home a couple more to decipher.  Maybe I’ll have a good lesson down in a few days.  All recommendations welcome.

A Crystal Clear Surprise #sol20

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 5.30.05 AM

no photo available, just an crystal clear memory

A Crystal Clear Surprise #20

March 6, 2020

There is was, a typical Thursday morning, chock-full of meetings, concerns, to-do lists, when I turn the corner into a very crowded office.  Pulled out of my own thoughts, I noticed a family in my path.  Two parents, but there in the heart of it, a small friend somewhere in the preschool range.

He looked up at me expectantly, two small figures pinched between his small fingers.

Hey, dude!  What do you have there? 

I said as I leaned down to give him a face-to-face and the items a closer look.

Can I take a look? 

Small hands reached out and deposited those tightly held friends into my outstretched hand.

.        Wow,  this is a gorilla, right?  

I stretched my fingers out to him with the gorilla loosely displayed between them.

Yes! 

He said, his smile widening, anticipating what would come next…

But what’s this?  It looks like a cheshire cat with a…  I hold up the mini-fig with clearly a purple smiling cheshire cat upper half. However its lower half is a wild genie-snake-ish tale.

      Nijango

He said, assuming shared knowledge between us.

            Amazing.  What a good idea!

We shared a smile.

He began to turn toward his mother and then I noticed the clear pint-size backpack on his back.  He was fully-loaded.  Figuring prominently in the front of the bag was a realistic looking hard plastic well-loved cow.  Behind the cow was a dazzling collection of mini-lego figures, cars, crayons, paper, a small coloring book, and a lot of other supplies.

.            You came prepared, dude!

A small nod returned from that open place.  He knew he was all set.  Three small fingers stretched out.

Wish you were coming soon.  Can’t wait to see you again. 

I thought as I walked away.  Mood lifted by that  crystal clear surprise.

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol20) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.  This is day 6.

What You Do Matters #sol20

What You Do Matters #sol20

After a couple of weeks of meetings and professional development days, I had spent many, many days in a conference room.  I was out of sorts.   It occurred to me that I need balance.  Late last week I sought to fill my tank up with time with students.

On Wednesday morning, I joined a fourth grade for their weekly Creativity Project time.  Writing away in the presence of their energy and the sound of their pencils flying across the page, I thought this is the way to start the day.  

The rest of that half-day morning,  I read Hungry Jim aloud to a second grade studying folktales.  Great for prediction, this story got this class talking, gasping, and laughing.  Can’t wait to go back and read Where the Wild Things Are, so we can compare. I rounded out that day with Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, and character analysis in two third grade rooms.  How do we know someone is confident? 

Then this morning,  excited by Hair Love‘s amazing OSCAR win,  I shared out the video to the classroom teachers.  In third grade, we had planned to start our Baby Literary Essay boot camp.  However we put off  Those Shoes for one day to celebrate a picture book’s life in the world.  After watching the video with our ‘love lens’, we watched to consider what we could write about this wonderful story.  Used to discussing books with this teacher and myself, most students chatted during the second showing and were ready with thoughts as soon as we finished.  Some however were hesitant.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what I noticed, quiet voices around the room asserted.

Letting those voices echo, their teacher jumped in.  Mrs. Kennedy, will you write down our thinking. 

Their original thinking is in blue ink.  So many traces of evidence backing up their theory that Zuri’s dad is the kind of person who doesn’t give up.

Even those soft I-don’t know voices filled the room with thinking as we continued.

We went back to do some gentle editing together, adding names to replace pronouns, thinking about how we might shift sentences, and then crafting a simple conclusion together. It was the end of this exercise that stopped me in my tracks.  The teacher turned to the students and said, look what you did,  we wrote a literary essay together just that quick.  The room buzzed with student talk. That went so fast.  Our whole writing time is finished? That’s a lot!  

But then, their teacher said something.  She said she put me on the spot by asking me to do the writing.  She said,  that Mrs. Kennedy,  she’s the kind of person who say, Wait, what?  and then says,  Sure, ok!  

Wait… I am?  I guess so.  Just like that, every tank in the room filled in one hour… including mine.

 

Congratulations to Matthew Cherry for his Oscar will for the animated short film based on his book, Hair Love.  I showed the class the video available on YouTube from the television show, Sunday Morning.  Thanks to my writing group, #100daysofnotebooking for filling my tank with writing for the last forty-some days.  As always, I am indebted to the amazing leaders of Two Writing teachers and all my encouragers in that group who have given me the air beneath my wings so many times.