Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Oh, How I Miss You Blogfest. And Revolution.

So every day that Matthew Macnish posts in The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiement, I get an email.
I am so grateful for this email.
It is a reminder that, although I have been dormant and attending to the Revolution I am still in the circle of a writing community that I value and love.
Matt, I would really, really miss your blog if you ever stopped it. You advise, you support, you are funny. You are a dear and valued friend.
Another human whose blog has added to my life is Amy del Rosso of Lady Reader's Bookstuff.  Amy reads, reviews, hosts giveaways. She cares passionately about books and literacy. She recently hosted an ENTIRE MONTH of posts dedicated to anti-bullying. She has sent books for the Angel Potatoes and the Revolution, and has given me solace and encouragement. Amy makes the world a better place. Please keep doing what you are doing for as long as you can.
I hope someday that I get to meet and frolic with Matthew and Amy.
A blog I miss is Hyperbole and a Half. I would read these posts and see the illustrations and just laugh and laugh. I re-read them and laugh. The combo of truth and humor and randomness tickles me endlessly. Allie, I hope that you come back to us when you are ready. You are awesome.

Now, how 'bout that Revolution?
You guys, seriously, the Revolution is taking on a life of its own. I was able to order some more books in spite of California's budget woes and because of the support of my principal. Students are now getting to the point where they have finished a book (or three, or twelve) and are ready to email the authors. This email is meant to be a "thank you" for writing the book in the first place. I ask the kids to be specific about what they liked about the book, what they will remember about the book, but that's about it. I want the authors to hear the voices of the kids, and if there are some grammar errors or awkward phrases it doesn't make any difference. I just want them to be real.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Revolution Launched.

October 8, 2012, is a day I will remember forever.
But let me back up a little bit.
So I started the Underground Library  as part of the Revolution last year. I wrote grants for books and did cool stuff with books and technology with my students,like book posters and book trailers. I wrote a grant so that I could attend the American Library Association conference and get books for the Underground Library signed by authors.
Several students from last year became Generals in the Revolution this year.
When I last posted, I was working on the Underground Library and the AP Generals and I were discussing launch day. I knew several things were going to happen with our entire Freshman class.
1.  A Pep Rally for books
2. A read-around
3. Book trailer watching
4. Author visit with Andrew Smith and A.S. King.
5. Kids would check out books from the Underground Library
Yes, I know. #4 is so far beyond awesome that it is hard to wrap your head around it. I don't have enough words to thank them properly, but I think of them each day and my heart smiles and is glad.
My fellow Education in the Digital Age teacher, Conni Carr,
whose abilities to organize and plan are formidable, jumped in this year to help plan the launch day and add her voice to the Revolution.
We planned.
The Generals came up with the idea for a carnival, with all the games being Angel Potato-themed. Conni organized this with the kids and parent volunteers and made the best cupcakes ever. She made schedules so that the kids knew exactly where they were supposed to be at all times. She recruited her mother to help run the carnival.
And she had a kid make a stencil out of one of our Revolution logos so that we could make t-shirts. She is really good with craft-y stuff.
I will write more about the day later. Andrew Smith and A.S.King both blogged about it here and here.
Our local paper, The Ventura County Star, did an article.
You are going to want to know what my kids did at the Pep Rally, and how the Underground Library was pillaged, and how the kids reacted to the whole thing.

But for now let me just say that this Revolution is such a dream come true for me, that it is here, and happening, and we are growing it, and that it could not have happened or be happening without the energy and efforts of so many amazing people.

We all know that Angel Potatoes deserve it. Best of the heavens and the earth, their mission is to save the world(no pressure).
Better humans, a better world, one book at a time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A New Crop of Angel Potatoes.

Well, school is back in session and so am I.
Let me just say that working with the Angel Potatoes is one of the purest joys I have in my life.
Twice this summer my Angel Potatoes came to school and helped me catalogue the haul from the American Library Association Convention. I am still recovering from this event, which happened in June. Want to know something? Librarians are Chaos Muppets. So are writers and agents and editors.
It's a beautiful thing.
Anyway, so the kids came and unloaded books from my car and they checked out books and negotiated who got which ARCs first. They ate cookies from Trader Joe's and read and hung out.
It was awesome.
Tomorrow I have a meeting at lunch with the Angel Potatoes of last year, who are now Generals in the Revolution. Archangel Potatoes? And we are discussing our Revolution Launch Day (October 8) and what they are going to do with the Tater Tots, our middle school kids.
You need a shot of hope, you need to see these kids in action.
I will post pictures tomorrow.
Revolution. Creating better human beings one book at a time.
Want to be a better human as an adult?
Watch what these kids do.
They fly.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Men: An Appreciation Revisited

It is not news that guys write and guys read. Except that it is. I write about this a lot. Posts include Men: An AppreciationMen: An Appreciation Part 2 Making Boys Visible. Revolution, and The Boys Got Left Behind.
At the American Library Association Convention on Friday, I attended a panel comprised of some very  fine men.
The panel was called "Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers."
I talked a little bit about this event last weekend. I want to talk about it a lot today.
See, you don't see a bunch of guys often enough at book events. I don't have any statistics about the ALA Convention, except that the ALA website says about 14,000 people attended and I'm pretty sure that there were a lot more women than men.At The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conferences women are exceptionally well-represented, which is cool.
There aren't as many guys. This is not cool, because guys do write and guys do read.
So here who was on this panel:
Michael Grant
Daniel Handler
Moderator: Daniel Kraus
Jon Scieszka
Andrew Smith
All these Guy Writers in one place: Daniel Handler, Andrew Smith, Daniel Kraus, Jon Scieszka,  Michael Grant

Each one of these men spoke and the coolness factor was so high that I can't even assign numbers to it. I'm not big on assigning numbers to stuff anyway.
Jon Scieszka spoke about growing up as one of six brothers. Six. And he knows that guys read and he's doing something about it. He has a Guys Read  series of books and a whole website on the subject. I love hearing this man speak because he gets kids, especially guys, and he makes me laugh really hard. I like laughing really hard.
Here is a picture of me with Jon Scieszka. I have decided that whenever I get my picture taken with Jon Scieszka I will make a face because something about Jon brings out my inner third grader. I think this is a good thing.
Jon says that he does not assign blame for the fact that guys tend to taper off their reading habits once they hit adolescence. I am not as kind. I do assign blame. More on this later.
Michael Grant spoke about how books were "home" for him. I completely  relate to this statement, and I know it is true for many of my students. Here I am with Michael Grant.

Here is Andrew Smith's post about his "Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers" presentation.
Andrew also talked about how amazing the Angel Potatoes are. This is always a happiness to me.
Daniel Handler began his presentation by reading something that guys would like to read. I can say with complete honesty that it was a really beautiful selection and that many people needed to fan themselves during and after he read what he did. It was so completely wonderful to hear truth all that night, topped off with a pedal-to-the-metal reading like that.
Here is a series of pictures of me with Daniel Handler.

I am not being specific with details because writers and other people who present work really hard on their presentations and these presentations are their intellectual property.
Suffice to say that every one of these guys is amazing and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to attend this event. And you can check them out and read their books, because then you can see for yourself that these are some of the finest human beings a person can hope to meet in this dimension.
So, guys, I know that you will keep writing. And please believe me when I say that I will do everything in my power to make sure that all human beings in my care, male and female, will have access to your stories.
And, guys?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Revolution: Book Signings and Why They Matter

Here is my schedule for today:

I get to meet cool people at this Coffee Klatsch. Andrew Smith said I needed to be there so be there I shall.
It's in the Royal Ballroom at the Hyatt or something.
I fear I may be woefully underdressed.
That, however, is not the point.
I am meeting people whose books or other work make or will make a difference to the lives of the Angel Potatoes and the Tater Tots(my middle school kids). This is a happiness.
And then I need to get books signed.
No one carries piles of books INTO the convention center, because you can buy them or get ARCs IN the convention center.
But I got grant money so I could buy books in advance so I could get them signed by the authors.
So I have piles that look like this everywhere:
And my mission is to get them ALL signed.
Thing is, the kids see autographed books--G.Neri's Yummy comes to mind--and they say stuff like, "Hey, this is autographed. Isn't this valuable?"
And other kids gather around and look.
And I tell them to take the books, and they do, and they may carry the book a little more carefully or not and that is okay.
Thing is, I think to myself, this writer took the time to sign it to you and you are valuable and priceless and books are to be read. So take the book, dear one. And know that you are seen and loved and celebrated.
I promised I would get all the books signed.
It matters.

Friday, June 22, 2012

ALA Convention. Guys at Work. Paying it Forward.

So far the American Library Association Convention in Anaheim has been illuminating. I am amazed at just how much information about the digital world and books I have taken in. I need a zip file for my brain.
And I tweeted this earlier, but I think it bears repeating.
Librarians are total models of the Chaos Muppet theory in action.
None of them has a cool wolf hat though, but many have commented on mine.
The highlight of the day was  the "Men at Work: Guy Writers Talk About Guy Readers."
Daniel Kraus was the panel facilitator. He facilitated Jon Scieszka, Michael Grant, Andrew Smith, and Daniel Handler's comments/presentations.
Everyone, go out RIGHT NOW and buy all of the books these men have ever written.
Trust me.
Andrew Smith, again, spoke so beautifully about the Angel Potatoes, and I am so  touched and grateful.
More on this tomorrow.
On another note, I am participating in the Pay it Forward Blog Giveaway.
I bought a Catherine Ryan Hyde book called Jumpstart the World. Catherine Ryan Hyde is awesome. You should buy all of her books, too. She wrote Pay It Forward.
So in the spirit of paying it forward, I am giving away a copy of Denise Jaden's newly released Never Enough. Denise is really supportive of the Angel Potatoes, and she sent me autographed bookmarks, very cool, and the winner will, of course, receive one of these as well.
I think Denise's work is worth reading because she has good stories that are well-written and my students like them. This is why she is part of the Revolution.
Plus, she's really cool.
So all you need to do to enter is:
1. Follow this blog through Google Friend Connect
2. Leave a comment. You could suggest a writer we all should be reading, or you could just make suggestions for the music for my next interpretive dance, or you could just say "Hi. I like you wolf hat."
That's it.
Entries will be open until midnight on June 30th. Winner will be randomly picked by Randomizer.

So right now I am grateful for just about everything going on in my life right now, and I want to thank you all for taking the time to read this and support the Revolution.

It's about two hours past my bedtime.
Good night, awesomsauce peeps.
You are all a Great Happiness to me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


This year I had a truly amazing crop of Angel Potatoes.
On the first day of school, I had all of my classes create posters.
I asked them to answer two questions for me.
The first question was: What makes a person an Awesome Human Being?
The second question was: In a really crowded computer lab, what are some good ideas for working and playing well with others and the equipment?

As soon as I saw their work I knew I had me something special.

I showed them a picture of a Grumble Bunny before we did this activity. Here it is, the first day of school, and these kids were actually listening.

Leadership, Not Judgmental, Responsibility, Loyal, Smart, Funny, Common Sense, Patient, Initiative, Observant, Boldness, Kindness Courageous

Wouldn't it be something if all the adults in the world understood what these kids understand.

I took these pictures on the last day of school, because the posters were up around my room all year. 
I couldn't bear to take them down. I'm leaving them up for the summer.

A student gave me a shirt. She is an artist. Here is a detail of the front corner:
Add caption

I talk to and about the Mothership a lot.

This is me. She said she put a purple shirt on because she knows its my favorite color, and that she will always think of me laughing. This made me cry.

One of my girls grew this potato and decorated it.
Cards and pictures
Two of my boys helped me pack the books that I am bringing to the American Library Association Shindig this week. I want to get them autographed for the Angel Potatoes.

In so many ways this year was difficult.
But never, ever were days better or brighter than the days I spent in my classroom with these amazing human beings, who each day gave me hope, made me laugh, and taught me something.
One hundred and eighty-seven Angel Potatoes for one hundred and seventy-six days.
That's what I call gifted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gifts. Andrew Smith. The Angel Potatoes. Granted.

I have been quiet for awhile.
Not because it's been quiet, but because of an embarrassment of riches that I have been glad to cherish, light upon light upon light.
I've told you I have the best job in the world, right?
This is true.
Andrew Smith came to visit the Angel Potatoes last week.
He talks about it here and here.
This was absolutely one of the best days of my life.
I smiled almost all day.
I realized this because my face hurt when I got home.
Here's how it is.
If you get a chance to see Andrew interact with kids, take it.
Andrew gets them.
I loved listening to Andrew talk, and read from his books, and most of all I loved watching my kids watching and listening to Andrew.
It is a Forever Happiness, this memory.
You can't have too many Forever Happinesses.
One of my boys listened to Andrew and then asked Andrew to sign his yearbook.
This is a kid who trusts exactly one adult.
I know because he told me.
So for him to ask Andrew to sign his yearbook?
I saw my boy read what Andrew wrote. He nodded to himself and left the room quiet and coyote-like, because that is how he has learned to be.
Later, he came back and asked me to sign it, too, right next to what Andrew wrote.
This made me cry a little, in a good way.
You know what? Today this young man graduated and I cried again, partly because of relief(he has a gift for pissing off people in Authority and was this close to having his grad participation pulled) and partly because I am going to miss him, and so many others, so very much. Even as it is a gladsome thing to see them fly.
And I realized that the reason Andrew's visit was such a shine and glory was exactly this:
He told the truth. He made them laugh. He gave hope.
That's a trifecta you sure don't experience often enough.
Thanks, Andrew.
And, in news of the Revolution, I found out that another grant came through and I have another one thousand dollars to buy Good Books for the Underground Library.
Did I mention that I have an embarrassment of riches?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Every time an author writes back to an Angel Potato we cheer and clap and are happy.
I wish I could show you all the moment a kid opens an email and it's from a real writer.
Smiles and shiny eyes and other kids scooting around craning their necks to see.
Sometimes kids like to share; other times they just like the cheering and happy part, and they hold the words of these authors close, like lights they want to protect from getting blown out, and I want to tell them these are words; they are forever, and they are to you.
Last week I learned that several authors had written about the Angel Potatoes.
I sat with my jaw dropped and my heart full and I couldn't wait to show the kids.
Andrew Smith wrote a post titled 

on being angelic, and simultaneously, edible and tuber-like

This is, hands-down, one of the best titles for a blog post in the history of the world.
I read it and read it and read it.
And A.S. King wrote a One Hour Blog, and she talks about all this cool stuff that she is doing--and there is a picture that defines the word joy--you'll know it when you see it-- and towards the end she discusses the Revolution and the Angel Potatoes in her own inimitable way.
I read it and read it and read it.
And Denise Jaden posted an email and a student's poster in a post called "From My Mailbox." It is so cool that she did this.
I read it and read it and read it.
So the next day we took some time and we looked at all the cool buzz about the Angel Potatoes and for several minutes at several moments my classroom was completely silent.
This would have been unnerving, except I totally understood, because I had to read it all many times for the enormity of how awesome all of this is to sink in.
And their happiness and amazement and comments have fueled me for days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Revolution Status May 2012. The Angel Potatoes and Book Posters.

You know, I pretty much have the best job in the world.
I get Hoped Up every day I teach.
And not because kids are perfect. Young people are people. They are frustrating and they give me gray hair and they make me laugh and they give me a little sorrow and double-handfuls of joy.
And they haven't given up on Possibilities.
They are Possibilities.
They inspire me.
Books and technology and creativity and communication.
I am sharing some of the posters the kids have made about the books they have read. Part of the assignment was to work in a picture of the author, the cover of the book, the name of the author, and even the publisher if it could be managed, since creating a book is a team thing. They got images and made collages with pictures from The Google.
And I wanted a quote from the book that was important to them, or to the story, or had the music of the spheres, or all of the above.
That's pretty much the only direction I gave.
Giving only part of the genetic code of an assignment means that kids come up with their own code and I don't get clones. I get real stuff.
I get truth.
Ashes by Ilsa Bick

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Dao Mu Ji Bi. Yes, I have a student who reads Chinese. And she loves this series. LOVES it. She wrote the author, too. I can't read it but she translated it for me and I bet the author will cry.

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Letters to the Living and the Dead. The Angel Potatoes Write Writers.

Part of the Revolution is the kids choose a book by an author who is still alive and who made it to the American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults List.
I reserved the right to add to the BFYA for Revolutionary purposes, because some amazing books did not get on the ALA radar.
Because we are piloting the Revolution this year, some kids did not get a chance to choose and read a book.
I will not go into the politics behind this at the moment; suffice to say that I said that for this year kids could use a book they read for a class.
Part of the Revolution is writing to the author, because when someone writes a book that moves you or stays with you it is, I think, a kind and wondrous thing to send those thoughts back to the writer. I tell the kids that writers are busy writing, and they may not get a response, and the most important thing is honoring the story and the wordsmith and the experience.
I do not grade these letters.
I do just check them off as complete.
I do ask the kids to let me see the letters, because I delight in their voices. A kid always has the right to say, "No, it's personal" and choose not to share their letter or their response.
But it's funny--they like to share.
Holy tomato, when a kid gets a response, and shares it, we celebrate. I stop whatever we are doing, and we make a lot of noise, and kids crowd around the lucky recipient's monitor.
Sometimes we dance.
At least, I do.
So here are some excerpts from letters the kids have written.
One student wrote to Michael Grant, author of BZRK.
"I selected BZRK for the project and loved it. It was the first book I had really been interested in ever since I got into high school. I've had not time to read because of all the homework so I was thrilled when I heard we go to pick a book of our choice for the assignment. BZRK was an amazingly great masterpiece."
Another student wrote to Ilsa Bick, author of Ashes.
"A few years ago I read every awesome book that I could find and then after that I lost my interest in books. But when I heard your book had zombies and EMPs, I was intrigued. But when I finally read it I was just so in love with the book that I am looking for more of your amazing books. You sparked my interest in reading again. Thank you."
And I wish I could show you all the look on my student's face when he saw a note from Ilsa Bick in his inbox. Child shines shines shines.
One of my boys read Tom Sawyer and wrote to Mark Twain.
"The only reason I ever picked up your book is because my Grandpa told me that every boy should read your book. So I decided to read it and I'm very glad I did. You demonstrated the adventures of growing up as a boy and how tough and how much pressure there is growing up."
The student did not realize that Mark Twain was dead. I told him that I will find his descendants and get it to them. Because if you knew that one of your relatives made a difference to someone, wouldn't you want to hear about it?
And the world is a strange place. Maybe Mr. Twain will write back. You never know.
The kids also made posters for the book they read, and these are very cool. I will post some when I get their permission.
We start on book trailers this week.
Before I go, though, I want to thank every author who has ever taken the time to read something from a kid and taken even more time to write back.
You have rocked worlds.
Thank you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kids teaching Kids. The Angel Potatoes and the Tater Tots.

You know how I dislike labels.
Adults find labels useful.
I am fortunate that my school is near a program for kids who have difficulties. It's kind of a "last chance" sort of thing.
The kids with difficulties are very young.
They have lots of labels.
I know the teacher of these kids and her supervisor, and I thought it would be cool for her kids(I call them tater tots) to come to my class after they finished a reading book, and the Angel Potatoes would tutor them in Fireworks and help them write to authors.
So several Tater Tots finished their books and came over to my class, where they were immediately taken on Knowledge Field Trips by delighted and delightful Angel Potatoes.
One Tater Tot finished his book poster today and is gathering photos for his book trailer.
He needs a new book.
So I gave him Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith, since it just got turned in.
I told him to read five pages and let me know if he wanted it.
He read for the rest of the period.
He wanted it.
He read as he followed his supervisor out of the room.
It was another great day.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Taking What You Need.

So last week at school these posters started popping up on campus.

They were everywhere.
This one was in the staff room where the mailboxes and the copy machine live.
Take what YOU need.
I was poleaxed.
A Friend (complete with stick figure)
A Kind Word (smile)
I never saw a whole poster--and I kind of like wondering what the torn Need was and coming up with needs to put there. There was not an untouched poster anywhere.

Humans need large doses of all of these things, and it's pretty clear that we aren't getting enough if you look around and see what's happening in the world.
So my heart lurched around a little because a kid took the time to make these posters and offer Needs to other kids and the staff. I picture kids tearing off Needs,  little pink pieces of hope, and carrying them around and feeling a little better about stuff.
Take what YOU need.
I did.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts on The A-Z Challenge. And More Fun With Labels.

I completed the A-Z Challenge, and I want to thank all those who made it possible. There are many to thank, so I need an Academy Award Moment:

Arlee Bird at Tossing it Out, 
Stephen Tremp at Breakthrough Blogs, 
Jenny Pearson at Pearson Report, 
Matthew McNish at The QQQE, 
Tina Downey at Life is Good, 
Jeremy Hawkins at Retro-Zombie, 
DL Hammons at Cruising Altitude, 
Shannon Lawrence at The Warrior Muse, 
Damyanti Biswas at Amlokiblogs, 
Karen Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain, 
Konstanz Silverbow at No Thought 2 Small. 

I don't think I am the only person who noticed that many of these names are very cool.

I thought that this challenge was a great idea and I will do it again next year. I especially enjoyed Joe Lunievicz's posts and the dialogue between Joe and Matthew MacNish.
I visited over two hundred blogs, and learned about knitting and traveling with kids and that there are way bigger sci-fi/fantasy geeks than me, which is impressive.
May we all shine on.

Now, as a follow-up to last week's post on my students (Angel Potatoes) and how we had a Label Epiphany:

One student has taken it upon himself to start a wall of labels. I find this touching and entertaining:

Wall of labels

I'm Nerdy and I like it.

I'm a scholar and a gamer.

And today a student gave me this label:
Ready 4 The Zombie Invasion

Tomorrow we go into Testing Mode again.
(:Alarum: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more)
But we already have a handle on our labels, so I think hearts are a little lighter. 
I know mine is.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Choose Your Own Label. Create Your Own Label. A Post-Testing Epiphany.

Here was a label for me as we started Standardized Testing yesterday.
But just inside, because the Angel Potatoes do not need to see me brooding over the fact that they will spend much of the next two weeks bubbling in answers on answer documents that will be scored by machines that will then spit out labels like "Below Basic", "Basic", "Proficient", "Advanced" and then the kids will get these labels in the mail in July or something.
So today after testing was over I got out the post-it notes and made labels.
I was going to give each kid a personalized label, but then, because I am broody, I figured that made me not a whole lot better than a machine. So I made labels and the kids got to choose which one they wanted, if they wanted one at all.
I took pictures.

Some labels were just one word, like this one: artistic.
And then I thought, well, why just have one word? Let's go crazy and have some DECLARATIVE SENTENCES.
I have a great smile.
I know how to be a friend.

 TWO sentences.

I read for fun. Yeah, I am that cool.
I am nice to the elderly, especially my teachers.

Some students think I am old. I honor this.

And I thought, "What do I wish was true for me?" And I came up with this one:
Every day is a great hair day for me.
There are no words for how awesome I am.
Be bold. Be brave.

I color outside of the lines.
Strut your stuff.
I am not ashamed to admit that I can sing along with The Sound of Music.
So one Angel Potato made a label. It was a word I never heard of. And he told me. And it is the best thing ever:
PARKOUR, according to Wikipedia," is a physical discipline which focuses on efficient movement around obstacles. Developed in France by David Belle, the main purpose of the discipline is to teach participants how to move through their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing, and jumping. Parkour practitioners are known as "traceurs"
According to my student: "It's like being a ninja."
Efficient movement around obstacles.

Tomorrow everybody can make a label if they want to.
I am in awe of what I learn every. single. day.
Broody? Hell no. I figure I am about the luckiest person on the planet right now.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A-Z Challenge is Over. But not the Party. Check out Andrew Smith Saturdays, Courtesy of Four Fab Bloggers

I looked at my blog yesterday and I thought, wow, I finished the A-Z.
I mostly did this because of Matthew MacNish and Amy del Rosso, who are amazing human beings who have made my life and my writing better on any number of levels.
I am putting a new post together for tomorrow. I missed posting yesterday.
So, hey, have you heard?
Some amazing bloggers are getting down with their bad selves and doing something that is One of the Best Things Ever.
Andrew Smith Saturdays!
This is an all-out, pedal-to-the-medal celebration of Andrew Smith's books, and if you haven't read any of them, now is the PERFECT time to get on the train.
I am ready.
Andrew Smith Saturdays.
Life is good.
Join the party.

Monday, April 30, 2012


I realize that it will not make me popular to say that I find all things Disney to be highly suspect.
It’s okay.
I’m not running for homecoming queen.
I received a grant to go to the American Library Association convention this summer.
I am well and truly happy and excited about this.
So one of the grant committee people said, “Maybe you’ll stay an extra day and go to Disneyland.”
I don’t think so.
I’ve been to Disneyland four times.
Once was when I was three.
I don’t like dolls.
“It’s a Small World”nearly sent me out of the boat.
I did not grow up watching Disney movies, because the only one that my Dad thought was acceptable was Pinocchio. This was back in the day  when if you wanted to see a movie you had to see it in a theater or when it came on television.
In a way it was okay that I did not have a lot of Disney exposure. I have no Bambi trauma, because I have never seen Bambi in its entirety.
I did watch The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. On occasion.
Now that I am a grown up--at least it says so on my Driver’s License--I have even bigger reservations about All Things Disney.
Disney Princesses!
Bah, I say. Bah.
No matter how spirited those Princesses get, they are still guilty of major league gender stereotyping.
It was the twenty-first century before there was an African-American princess.
My nieces love Disney Princesses. They get a lot of Disney Princess stuff.
I'm just Auntie or Tia Sissy, so I don't get a vote on this.
I buy them books that don't have Disney Princesses and movies like National Velvet.
Disneyland is very clean, which is nice. And there are steps in place to discourage gangwear and so on.
But what goes on underneath all that squeaky-cleanness?
What happens when the lights go out?
What lurks in moats?
Do the rigid smiles on all of those dolls turn to something else when the crowds disperse?
Do all of those Plush Costumes and Rubber Faces gambol and gibber in the moonlight?
THAT is the side of Disneyland I would buy a ticket for.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

You Need to Read This Article: "Your Brain on Fiction" by Annie Murphy Paul

So I already mentioned this article once during the A-Z Blog Challenge, but I think it is just so remarkable that I am devoting some serious real estate to it today.
Here is "Your Brain on Fiction" by Annie Murphy Paul. I am going to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer while you read it.
There. (beams at reader)
I'm a big fan of neuroscience. Brains are such a mystery.
I have a student who is an avid reader of non-fiction. This is a good thing. But when I told him I wanted him to read a Good Book (what I call the best of YA) he balked a little.
"I don't really like those stories," he said. "Can't I read..." and then he gave me a list of non-fiction titles, all of which were compelling.
I asked him if he was going to read those books anyway.
He said he would.
"Okay," I said. "Here is why I want you to read a novel."
And I printed out a copy of "Your Brain on Fiction" and gave it to him.
And the next day we had this terrific conversation about the article and brains and books and it was awesome.
He checked out The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
Annie Murphy Paul joins my pantheon of Admirable People.
Here's how she concludes her article:
"Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Xanadu. The Ancient Mariner. Good Times.

I fell in love with Samuel Taylor Coleridge when I was in fourth grade and I read this book called The Boyhood of Grace Jones, by Jane Langton.
Grace was a total tomboy and she learned "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by heart, and I fell in love with its rhythm and story, and then promptly devoured everything that Samuel T. ever did.
Yes. I memorized "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in big chunks and I also memorized "Kubla Khan".
And I always wondered what would have happened if the guy who woke Samuel T. up from his, uh, vision realized that he totally screwed up an Important Moment in Literature.
Or maybe the fact that it's a fragment and the rest never happened is part of its mystique.
When I taught English I loved teaching these poems.
I draped myself in black cloth and hung a stuffed bird around my neck and we turned off the lights and I chanted out "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in a way that I thought was dramatic and cool and effective.
My favorite line:
"'Shrive me, shrive me, holy man!'"
You are supposed to shriek this, not say it.
The kids were really, really good sports about this.
"'Shrive me, shrive me'" became a sort of rallying cry one year, and I laughed every single time I heard it.
Kid walks past my room and shrieks, "Shrive me!"
Kid yells across the quad, "Shrive me!"
Kids answer back, "Shrive me, holy man!"
Another line  randomly called out:
"'I shot the albatross.'"
"'No, I shot the albatross.'"
And then there would be a Who Shot the Albatross Smackdown. Who shot it and with what and why.
Good times.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Wombats Attack.

Teaching and learning basic software applications can be extremely dull.
When I learned how to do Excel spreadsheets, we had to use a database full of cute Disney and cartoon character names and facts.
 It was supposed to be fun.
I hated it.
 Snow White is not pulling down 8.25 an hour in payroll, people.
 I had to do a PowerPoint once on how to order a hamburger. This was an actual, real, for-true assignment from an accredited institution. I wanted to stab my eyes out with a spork. And I promised myself that I would never, ever inflict this sort of thing on my students.
If you teach Excel, you need to be able to do Jazz Hands. *does Jazz Hands*
 When I demo how to do a PowerPoint, I take the opportunity to teach the kids about The Dangers of Wombats.
 "You may go to Australia someday," I tell them. "You need to stay safe."
 Kids are dubious. "They look so cute," they say.
"That's what they want you to think. It's part of how Nature works with predators."
I  sound dark and grim.
 I demonstrate how to insert pictures by inserting a picture of a smiling woman who is holding a wombat.
"This was taken about five seconds before that cute little thing went for her jugular vein." <br>
Horror in the classroom.
 "It happens all the time." I change the text to fly in, red, warning, forbidding. "You want your text to be professional, yet illustrate your message."
I have their complete attention.
We animate and create transitions.I have them stand up and practice how to shoo a wombat away. "You have to make your hand like a claw, and do kind of a Cat-Daddy thing."
Seeing my students earnestly shooing imaginary wombats away is one of the best things in the world.
I love graphic editing.
I made many official wombat warning signs for parks and put them in the PowerPoint.
I show them the wonders of AutoShapes by making warning banners and inserting text like
"'Ware the Wombats! 'Ware!" because that is how you talk if you are in Australia.<br>
The last slide is, of course, a demo on inserting video.
I have a video of wombats gamboling--insofar as they can summon up the energy to gambol--across a field while people coo and appear completely calm about being in the presence of such fierce and dangerous creatures.
I can scarcely contain my glee at their reactions.
They laugh. Some are laughing and outraged.
"You taught us WRONG," some say.
"But it was FUN," I say.
Besides, all the PowerPoint stuff is correct.
And then I read Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French out loud, because it is a great book and tells them true things about wombats.
My students are awesome, and their PowerPoints will not put you into PowerPoint comas.
Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vexed to Nightmare. Writing Standard 9WS1.0.

Yeah, I quoted W.B. Yeats there, and I didn't put quotation marks around the phrase I quoted, and if I wrote an essay I'd lose points. But I could express ideas.
If I  could figure out on a standardized test that the title needed quotation marks, I'd be golden.
I have a one in four chance of getting that question right.
I could write an essay in which  I could quote the poem, and  if someone could read my essay  and I talked about what is now slouching towards Bethlehem (another quote) metaphorically and why it matters that there is a bird of prey and why the words "slouch" and "rough beast" are some of the most ominous, creep-inducing words in the English language,  I could show my words and my thinking
My words and my thinking do not matter.
I can only choose one of four answers to show my writing skills and ideas.
I went on a field trip to the California Department of Education website. No, I am not providing the link here, because part of the fun of taking a field trip is getting there.
At least that should be part of the fun.
Here is a quote for you:
"The following seven California English-Language Arts content standards are included in the Writing Strategies strand/cluster and are represented in this booklet by 25 test questions for grade 9. These questions represent only some ways in which these standards may be assessed on the Grade 9 California English-Language Arts Standards Test."
I know this is exhilarating. But wait, there's more.
Here is Standard 9WS1.0:
"WRITING STRATEGIES: Students write coherent and focused essays that convey a well-defined perspective and tightly reasoned argument. The writing demonstrates students' awareness of the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process as needed."
Wait. What?
You gotta answer twenty-five questions that SHOW you know how to write a coherent and focused essay?
There are questions about the writing process?
But you don't actually WRITE?
Well slap me twice and hand me to my mother.
All those English teachers out there, slaving over essay after essay, why don't you just make up a multiple choice test?
I spent years grading papers at night and on weekends.No wonder no one asks me to help make these tests!
Standardized tests.
Make it up to your kids by taking them to a bookstore and letting them choose a Good Book that they will never be tested on.
Make it happen.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unsolicited Advice. It's Graduation Season!

I asked a couple of seniors today what kind of unsolicited advice they have been getting.
I know it's only April, but it's funny how people kind of shake of their winter hibernation minds and start pouring out General Pithy Maxims to people who will graduate soon. I wonder if a switch goes off in their heads, like "It is now time to impart wisdom" and then they load up at Quotes4U or whatever and set sail on the Good Ship Inspire, relishing every opportunity to accost a high school senior and unload a favorite gem.
My boys exchanged glances first, a sure sign that they had been recently cornered.
"I know everyone is trying to be nice," I said. "But I really want to know what you think."
"'Do what you love'" said Xerxes. (Names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.)
"Yeah,"said Agamemnon."And that makes sense, and, sure, I want to do something I love, but what if what I love is, like, yodeling?"
And then we had to stop because we were laughing and we had to look up Careers for Yodelers.
Xerxes: "People keep telling me to 'do computers.'"
Me: "What do you they mean by that?"
Agamemnon: "Yeah, this guy told me his nephew does computers and he makes a lot of money so I should do computers, too."
Me:"Okay, but what about computers are you supposed to do?"
They didn't know.
We sat in silence for a few seconds.
Xerxes:"Last week a lady told me I should be a city manager. Or an ambassador."
Me:"Just like, walked up and did this pronouncement?"
Agamemnon is laughing too hard to comment.
Xerxes:(punches Agamemnon)"Yeah."
Me:"Was that helpful?"
Agamemnon:"No. It was weird. I was there."
Xerxes:"My neighbor told me to sell shoes, because shoes are a hot commodity."
This made me go into PowerSnort Laugh mode.
And we talked about shoes, and what a hot commodity they are.
And they promised me that they would keep me apprised of the treasures yet to come their way.
They have seven more weeks before graduation.
That's a lot of treasure.