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.