Monday, March 31, 2008

Brian’s Return

It's been a long time since I read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, but I can still remember the eloquent detail Paulsen used to show Brian's survival in the wilderness. Since he first published that book in 1987, Paulsen continued the series with The River and Brian's Winter. I was not disappointed with the sharp account of Brian's return to the bush—authentic detail abound. The conflicts that Brian faces in trying to return to civilization are acutely captured in this short 2-CD audio book from Listening Library, but I kept thinking—how can this book end so quickly? I admit, I was hoping for a different ending. But after listening to the author's note at the end in which Paulsen talks about his own life and his difficulties coming back into "real life" as you and I know it, I realized that Paulsen wrote the only ending that would truly fit who Brian was (and who Paulsen himself is.) This series of books are unabashedly autobiographical and I would recommend them as stellar examples of an author mining his own life to create realistic fiction—an element which I talk about in Teaching the Story and in my workshop, Mining Your Students' Lives: Writing Rich Short Stories. Brian's Return
was released as Hatchet: The Call by Macmillan Children's Books in the UK on January 8, 1999.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Secret Agent

I don't know if Robyn Freedman Spizman, or Mark Johnston, or the two of them together realized it would be fun to play with the words "secret agent," but as a team they have penned a fun, clever middle grade novel. I don't want to give away the story of Secret Agent
(Simon & Schuster, 2005), but suffice to say there is mystery, a touch of romance, and a bunch of very smart kids who work hard to help the main character, Kyle Parker, find a way to get his dad's much-rejected manuscript published. I enjoyed the clues which the authors dropped along the way, the red herrings, and the unique ways they described what was going on inside the characters. Check out this description of how Kyle's father feels when he meets a big time editor who wants his book: "Well, you can imagine the craziness going on inside Kyle's dad's body. It was like all of his organs decided to switch jobs. His belly was beating. His heart was hungry. His lungs felt like they might die of thirst. Something was up. Something big." p. 219

I'd recommend that teachers use this book to teach voice since the narrator has a very distinctive way of telling the story. It may be a quick read for some students, but both boys and girls will enjoy the plot twists and humor. Writers of all ages will enjoy the inside references to the publishing world. I look forward to reading Spizman and Johnston's next collaboration, Secret Agents Strike Back (Atheneum, January, 2008).

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Never say “No”

Once I refused to write about a particular glass artist for a prestigious children's magazine because I wanted to write about a different glass artist. I was consequently totally bummed when I held the published article (written by someone else!) in my hands, and thought, "I could have written this!" Ever since that day, I've tried to live by my "Never say 'No'" rule.

So, when my publisher, Julie Graddy of Maupin House, called a month ago and asked me to write 60 mini-lessons for their Craft Plus® Writing Program, I listened. It wasn't what I had thought that I would be writing next, but I remembered my rule and agreed. Maupin House had recently decided to add fictional narrative to the new sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade middle school Daily Writing Lessons portion of the program. And, although I have been working on a tight deadline, I have enjoyed the challenge of adapting the approach in Teaching the Story and for the Craft Plus® writing program.

If your school is looking for a comprehensive set of writing lessons, check out this series which is successfully used by teachers across the country. The innovative K-8 writing curriculum has been around for a few years, with improvements and additions made every year. This year, the teacher packs will be sold separately from the staff development/reference videos. Schools can buy a $199 teacher pack (which includes the grade-level Daily Writing Lessons, Curriculum Guide, and an integrated professional resource), for just one teacher, several teachers, or school-or district-wide. All assessed genres are covered with a spiraling, differentiated writing curriculum that emphasizes explicit instruction and authentic practice, includes assessments, and which incorporates writing process and conventions skills, too.

I am proud to be a part of a series initially developed by Marcia S. Freeman, and that now includes lessons by Sarah Stafford, Jeannie Keaton, Suzanne Wilkinson, Candice Allen Ray, Carol Winger, Susan Koehler, Susan Davis, Sheila Veatch, Allie Tyler, Tim Clifford, and pretty soon…me!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Old Schoolhouse Magazine Review

Homeschool parents check this out! My book, Teaching the Story, recently received a great review from Susan Marlow of Old Schoolhouse Magazine. According to her, Teaching the Story is perfect for those of you who are working together in co-ops. If your group is looking for a fun way to teach writing and engage students from 4-9th grade (and practice all of those necessary writing conventions at the same time) then check out this review and click on Maupin House's website for ordering information.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Red Pencil is Avi’s Best Friend Too

As many of you who have taken my "Red Pencil" workshop know, I believe that teachers must communicate to their students that real writers revise. This was confirmed when I heard Avi, one of my favorite authors, say at the South Carolina Reading Association that he revises each of his books 60-70 times! That's a fact to dangle in front of all your students. Here are other gems I gleaned that day; I hope you will share them with your colleagues and in your classroom:

  • "Your primary means to teach writing is to teach reading."
  • "Kids are impatient. They don't want to do the hard work of revision. It may look OK on the computer, but in fact it's not."
  • "Unless the writing is clear, engaging & interesting, the reader won't turn the page."
  • "At some point a person begins to think like a writer…when they have the capacity to see what's missing and add to it."
  • "No surprises for the writer? No surprises for the reader."
  • "Teaching reading and writing is like teaching a second language. When kids begin to write, they write like they speak; the grammar of talking is different than the grammar of writing."

And my favorite:

  • "Want to get higher grades? Read a book every week. Guaranteed."

This picture is proof that I can't go to a reading conference without buying a book—especially when signed by the author!

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Aren’t teacher appreciation days when you receive a stack of homemade thank-you cards from your students the best? On Saturday night when I came home tired and bleary-eyed from my drive back from Myrtle Beach and SCMSA, I found a large white envelope in the mail. My exhaustion turned to excitement when I read the stack of colorful thank-you notes from the Holy Family University students who I had taught two weeks ago. I knew I had enjoyed my first opportunity to teach graduate education students about writing fiction in the classroom and thought that my audience did too, but these cards took away any remaining doubt. Ann Fedum wrote inside this card: “Dear Carol, I took a lot away from your workshop. I hope I can get students excited about fictional writing like you do. Thank you for sharing your insights of writing.”

I know April Fox was pleased because she wrote, “Your presentation was very helpful. The real-life examples were wonderful and will be engaging to the students. It was engaging to me and I went home and told my husband all about it!”

Mary Beth Dillon gushed, “It was great working with groups and brainstorming…illustrates the fun and the difficulty that students must feel too!”

Not to be out done, Jameson Atkinson wrote, “Thank you for taking the time to come and speak to us. It was very informative and I really enjoyed working in groups to do the writing. The book is proving to be very helpful and useful.”

I hope I’ll see Karen Grant again since she wrote, “Thank you for coming to Holy Family University to share your insight and expertise in writing instruction. I especially enjoyed the piece you did on character development! I hope to attend another one of your workshops in the future- maybe in my district!”

But, I have to admit that my favorite came from Ben Workman who drew this on his card and wrote: “Thank you for bringing Pompeii out of me.” He is an 8th grade social studies & science teacher’s aide for learning disabled students and that day had watched a film on Pompeii. In our class he had written the following description of a setting:

“The stench of the fuller filled the air as the hustle and bustle of Pompeii carried on its usual activities. The earth tremored quietly all morning. Items tumbled from rudimentary shelves and the people grew uneasy. The people felt the gods were angry. A great pressure was building under the mountain as the volcano roared to life. Suddenly, a giant explosion shattered the quietness of the day. The day turned to night instantly.”

That kind of writing makes a teacher VERY happy.

Here I am with Katherine Ruppell, Learning Resource Center Coordinator; Lori Schwabenbauer, Library Director, Holy Family University; and Dr. Lynn Orlando, Professor of Education.

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Author Visits by State

If you are an author who is available for school visits, check out Author Visits by State written by Kim Norman. On the other hand, if you are a school administrator and want a "real, live" author to inspire your students, this is a handy tool to find those of us who love teaching young readers just as much as writing books. Technorati Tags:


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