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“Obstacle or Opportunity or Both”

“No pressure, no diamonds” – Thomas Carlyle

It’s simple: every single person you will meet today is facing at least one major obstacle. Especially the ridiculously beautiful person staring back at you in the mirror. Take a look — so many big old obstacles smack in front of us. Daring us. Mocking us. Blocking us from achieving great stuff. Stupid obstacles!

Though we know they’re there, most of us pretend they’re not.

We do our best to avoid facing them. We procrastinate. We rationalize. We think maybe if we don’t look at our obstacles, they might just go away on their own.

Guess what? They don’t go away. Never. And, deep inside, we already know they won’t go away.

The far more likely scenario is they’ll get bigger, noisier, fiercer, and freakier.

Here’s the good news in all this. Every obstacle or problem we face holds a secret. Hidden deep within the dread is an opportunity for greatness.

The big idea is to never let a good obstacle go to waste. Use it or lose it. Now if you believe amateur internet linguists (hint: do NOT believe them) the Chinese symbol for obstacle can also mean opportunity (100% refuted by actual professional linguists, but you get the idea — sounds really Zen, doesn’t it?).

Once again, my friends, it’s really simple. The obstacles that stand in our way can either hold us down or elevate us to greater heights. You get to choose which one to go for. You probably don’t think you get to choose, but you do.

No joke. You really-really do get to choose.

Bertie Blount, the twelve-year-old protagonist of BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS, with help from a terrifying ghost and a pair of hexed sunglasses that allow her to see a better version of herself, eventually chooses greatness. Bertie rose above her tragic circumstances, and her own terrible choices. And, in doing so, she becomes the better version of herself. How cool is that?

It’s funny, but when kids and adults read BERTIE’S BOOK OF SPOOKY WONDERS, they compare themselves to Bertie. Could I do what Bertie did in that situation? Could I persevere how she did? Could I achieve what Bertie did despite all the crazy dangers, and endless ridicule from everyone around me?

The answer is yes. And no. The applicable answer for you depends upon your willingness to face whatever obstacles stand in your way. Whether it’s a problem with your family, or your school, or your sports team. Or a problem with a friend or enemy. Or perhaps it’s an adult struggling with an addiction, or divorce, or health. Or wanting to be a better parent, wife, or husband.

Or perhaps it’s someone who feels like they have a hole in their soul because they know there’s got to be a better way to get through the day. So many people are wearing these cruel shoes, and those shoes hurt worse with every step. We’re talking life blisters, folks. They are living in conflict with their better natures.

Through Bertie’s commitment to thinking differently, her sense of compassion, and her hunger to make things right no matter what, she shows us there is a better way to get through even the absolute most horrific days.

Bertie Blount is fantastically flawed. She’s a girl who is beyond lost. Nothing in her life makes sense to her anymore. But being lost is universal. We all lose our way. And not just with the big picture stuff either. Most of us get lost on a daily or even an hourly basis. That’s what makes Bertie’s story so captivating, and so enriching to the soul, even if it’s partly on a subconscious level. We understand Bertie’s struggles, because on many levels they’re our struggles as well.

As much as Bertie gets lost, she carries on and somehow finds her way out of the dark and scary woods, again and again. Her obstacles didn’t hold her down, they elevated her. And that helps us readers know that we can do the same.

The pragmatic side of the novel is that we don’t find our way by avoiding our obstacles. We have face them, the same way Bertie faces them (usually kicking and screaming). The same way anyone who ever achieved anything great faced their problems. And, as history shows us in countless examples, the obstacles we overcome make us better people than we were before. It’s simple, but not easy. It’s a choice. And it will be the best choice you could ever make.

That’s the hidden diamond in all this. If you choose to make better choices, you go through the day in a happier and more engaged way. If you repeatedly make the best possible choices you don’t need a pair of supernatural sunglasses to become the better version of yourself.

But, hey, if you happen to come across a pair — why not put them on, right?

Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders
Author: Ocelot Emerson
Publication Date: October 15th, 2019 by Tantrum Books

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Bertie Blount is great at causing trouble. When she’s forced to leave behind her dad and friends in North Carolina so her mom can marry the most boring optometrist in the world, Bertie has a chance at a fresh start.

But when Bertie arrives in Pennsylvania, she doesn’t just bring trouble; she brings disaster. In a moment of anger, Bertie unwittingly triggers an accident that puts her future stepbrother in a coma.

Broken and desperate to make things right, Bertie prays for a miracle. Instead, the universe gives her a pair of supernatural sunglasses, a wise-cracking doppleganger, and a terrifying ghost that sends Bertie on a dangerous mission to find the one thing that just might save her stepbrother’s life.

About the Author:Ocelot Emerson is the freakish result of a mad scientist’s experiment gone horribly wrong. Born half magnificent cat, half malicious human, Ocie escaped from the secret International Prison For Wayward Creatures, and into a deep dark woods, only to be captured by a pack of ravenous ghost wolves. In a stroke of good fortune, the Great Spirit Wolves set aside their natural disdain for all things feline and accepted the cat person into their pack, where they taught Ocie how to hunt and tell bizarre yet heartwarming tales. Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders is Ocelot’s first novel aimed at feral and phenomenally gifted children.

Thank you so much for this guest post about the beauty in time and patience and focus!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Wednesday: Creative Writing Prompts for Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Bonding a Classroom Over Books: Read Aloud as a Community Builder” by Kristin Thorsness, Author of The Wicked Tree

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

  • As you probably know, Trent is a Dav Pilkey fan, so when we saw Dogzilla at his book fair, we grabbed it!
  • The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! is hilarious! I just love the pigeon.
  • Trent and I are loving the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant! Who would think that a book about an old man and cat would be so much fun to read!

As for me, Lots of reading this week, but I didn’t finish anything. But I am reading 4 books! 🙂

Ricki

This week, I reread The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein. A friend once said that this is a must-read for all in the profession (and everyone). I agreed with her after I read it. It gives a great history of the profession! Even the most informed teacher folks will find new information in it.

I also finished Making All Black Lives Matter by Barbara Ransby. This book is excellent. The author is very clearly an expert, and I appreciated her thoughts.

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Kellee

  • Listening but paused: Let’s Go Swimming on Doomsday by Natalie C. Anderson
  • Now Listening to (my library hold is in while the other I own): Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • Reading: Compass South by Hope Larson
  • Reading: Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee
  • Jim Reading with Trent: The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Ricki

I am feeling indecisive about which book I’ll tackle next week. 🙂

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Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Obstacle or Opportunity or Both” by Ocelot Emerson, Author of Bertie’s Book of Spooky Wonders

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Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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“Bonding a Classroom Over Books: Read Aloud as a Community Builder”

My third year of teaching, I welcomed my fifth-grade class back from mid-winter break by revealing Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons as our next read aloud. Immediately, an excited titter spread amongst the table groups of my classroom. A student raised his hand with a grin and asked, “Are you going to cry? I heard when you read that book last year, you cried … in front of everyone!” The students exchanged excited looks, shocked by the boldness of the question-asking kid and eagerly waiting for the answer. I smiled and nodded.

It was true—I would cry. Walk Two Moons always makes me cry. Always. It did when I first read it as a fifth grader, curled up on the couch in the formal living room of my childhood home (the only place to escape my three younger siblings for quiet reading time), it did every time I read it aloud to one of my classes as a teacher in my twenties, and if I read it today … you guessed it, blubbery mess. That’s what evocative writing does to me, and Sharon Creech is a master.

Over the course of weeks, I read the book aloud to my class and we dissected it together. We made predictions about where Phoebe’s mother had gone, about what would happen if Sal did/didn’t reach her own mother by her birthday, about who the “lunatic” might be, and what, if anything, would happen between Sal and Ben. We discussed our favorite and least favorite characters—writing scenes from their perspectives, really getting into their heads—and when we got to THE SCENE (Walk Two Moons is an older book, but just in case I’ll avoid any spoilers!), my eyes weren’t the only wet ones in the room.

Did all my students cry? Of course not. But no one mocked those who did, which, in the world of tweens, showed a level of respect and empathy I always worked hard to build into my classroom. Whether they were moved to tears or not, they had shared an emotional experience, and they understood that that meant something. They were more than just classmates; they’d gone on a journey together.

This is the power of books.

Not all my read aloud choices were “crying” books. I made sure to read a wide variety of authors and genres to my classes, and I also let them propose read aloud books for the group to vote on. Listening to students explain why they loved a book and why they thought the whole class should read it always gave us insight into them as a person. And the more insight students have into each other, the more tightly knit a classroom becomes. We read scary books, mysteries, historical fiction, funny books, on a student’s recommendation I even read Brian Seiznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a heavily illustrated novel) under the document camera so we could all experience the magic that happens when a well written story and beautiful illustrations combine.

Whenever it was time to choose a new book, inevitably there would be questions about which books I had found sad, scary, or funny when I was a tween. The kids were always delighted if I named a book they’d read and enjoyed—books were sometimes my best “in” with struggling students. If you’re curious, some of my top answers were  Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows (sad), Mary Downing Hahn’s Wait Til Helen Comes (scary books are my personal favorite—I still have the battered copy of this book that I received in third grade!), and Louis Sachar’s There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom (funny, though that book really runs the gamut).

I made sure to have copies of all these books in my classroom library, and almost without fail, any book I endorsed quickly became a hot commodity. Students would discuss with me and with each other what their own takes on my recommended books were. Then, they’d suggest books they thought I might like, which is how I discovered Mary Downing Hahn is still the queen of ghost stories. (I can only hope to still be publishing books when I’m in my eighties!)

The five years I spent in the classroom showed me that not only is reading a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon (or the last ten minutes of lunch), books have the power to forge connections. I loved spending my days with the delightful, witty (and yes, sometimes sassy!), tween students in my class. When I left teaching to raise my young children and write, I thought of my former students often and my desire to write was refined into a desire to write books for them—for middle grade readers.

My debut middle grade novel, The Wicked Tree, is first and foremost a creepy tale, but there is humor, grief, mystery, and a lot of friendship woven in. I can’t wait for Tav’s story to be in the hands of middle grade readers and their teachers, and it would be my greatest joy to hear that it sparked a classroom discussion that helped bring the students and teacher closer together.

The Wicked Tree
Author: Kristin Thorsness
Publication Date: October 8th, 2019 by Month 9 Books

About the Book: Deep in the woods, a gnarled tree grows. Its thick, black trunk twists angrily up into the night sky. Held in place by the magic of a long-ago patriarch, it has waited centuries to lure a descendant into its trap.

Eleven-year-old Tavorian Kreet hates it when money troubles force his mom to move them in with his great-grandmother – though the historic house and grounds are pretty awesome. Tav is told to stay out of the estate’s woods, but he can’t resist the chance to explore.

After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.

Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.

While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.

About the Author: Kristin Thorsness is a former 5th and 6th grade teacher who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, their son and daughter, and two spoiled dogs. She likes dark chocolate, strong coffee, and creepy stories that keep her up reading late into the night. For more info or to get in touch, visit her online at www.kristinthorsness.com.

Thank you so much for this guest post about the power of books!

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Tomorrow Most Likely
Author: Dave Eggers
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary:Rather than focusing on going to bed—and what kid wants to think about going to bed?—this book explores all of the dreamy, wonderful, strange things the next day might bring.

Prompts: 

Please view and enjoy the prompts I created for Tomorrow Most Likely: 

You can also access the writing prompts here.

You can learn more about Tomorrow Most Likely on Chronicle Book’s page.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Tuesday: Weird But True: Class Collaborative Research Activity

Friday: Teachers’ Guide for Charlie & Mouse updated with Charlie & Mouse Even Better by Laurel Snyder

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “The Picture Book That Started As An Assignment” by Stephanie Ward, Author of Arabella and the Magic Pencil

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

  • Superbuns!: Kindness is her SuperPower by Diane Krednesor: What a wonderful book! It would fit wonderfully with my kindness yearly beginning of the year activity where students and I talk about what kindness is and how it can change lives–Superbuns and her sister, Blossom, emulate the message!
  • The Adventures of SuperHero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks: I really love Friends with Boys and Nameless City, so when I saw that my library had this title as an ebook, I grabbed it, and I loved this story of
  • Salem Hyde: Frozen Fiasco by Frank Cammuso: This series is so much fun and so cute–I can’t wait to read it with Trent!
  • Star Scouts: The Invasion of Scuttlebots by Mike Lawrence: Seems like the final Star Scouts book, and it has a great story and message.
  • Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Guide to Hogwarts: BEAUTIFUL! Find this and enjoy, Potter fans!
  • Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell: As I’d assumed after Cece Bell talked about this book at ALA Annual, Trent thought it was hilarious!!!
  • Disney Read Alongs!: Love that we can fill our car time with listening and reading along to books.
  • Narwhal by Katie Marsico: Trent LOVES Narwhals, so at the Natural History Museum where there was a Narwhal exhibit, Trent and I got this nonfiction book. Very informative!
  • Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima: Wow–what an ending!
  • I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black: This one became a Trent favorite as soon as we read it!

Ricki

I haven’t finished any books this week, but I’ve read a few dozen journal articles. 🙂

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Kellee

  • Listening but paused: Let’s Go Swimming on Doomsday by Natalie C. Anderson
  • Now Listening to (my library hold is in while the other I own): Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • Reading: Compass South by Hope Larson

Ricki

This week, I am reading The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein. It is very good!

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Wednesday: Creative Writing Prompts for Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Bonding a Classroom Over Books: Read Aloud as a Community Builder” by Kristin Thorsness, Author of The Wicked Tree

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Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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“The Picture Book That Started As An Assignment”

I still remember sitting at my school desk wondering what to write about. It was eighth grade and my teacher, Ms. Ribar, had asked her English class at All Saints Middle School to write a creative story. My classmates were scribbling away, but I was stuck. What should I write?

Every writer at every stage deals with the problem of coming up with ideas. Where do ideas come from? It’s very likely the most common question an author gets. Looking back, I can see that the idea for my story came from a combination of luck, life, and imagination.

As luck would have it, there was a pencil lying on my desk. When I glanced around the room for inspiration, the pencil caught my eye. It could have been a binder or a paperclip, but it wasn’t. No surprise then that a pencil features prominently in my story.

At the time, I was 13 and my life had been turned upside down by the arrival of a new brother. He was two then and I’m sure that he was disrupting my ever-so-important teenage world. So, it’s not surprising that a little brother was a key character (or should I say antagonist?).

Most importantly, the freedom to imagine and create in that classroom let me consider a range of possibilities. What if the pencil was magic? What if everything it drew became real? What if everything it erased was gone forever?

That idea and the inspiration of my eighth grade teacher stayed with me for a long time. When I was finally ready to commit to writing creatively, the story resurfaced. After weeks of rebuilding the story from memory and revising it to work as a picture book, it finally found a home. Fast forward to today, that story I wrote in English class all those years ago has become my debut picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde and published worldwide by EK Books in September 2019.

Now, as a new author, I get to bring my story full circle – back to the classroom. I like to think that Arabella and the Magic Pencil belongs there. Hopefully, it offers young readers a sense of endless possibility. Students can imagine their own stories about a magic pencil and the class can problem solve together figuring out how to get your brother back if you’ve erased him. (Yes, Arabella really does erase her brother.)

I reconnected with Ms. Ribar to acknowledge that this book began in her classroom. As always, she was encouraging and supportive. I hope that young learners appreciate the teachers who are there every day helping them discover their talents before they even know what they are.

Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Author: Stephanie Ward
Illustrator: Shaney Hyde
Published September 10th, 2019 by EK Books

About the Book: Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything a little girl could want. That is, until her brother, Avery, the master of mayhem, comes along. While she certainly loves him, she finds that it’s sometimes very hard to like him. So she spends her days creating marvelous, magnificent things with her magic pencil, and trying to ignore him. But when he spoils her perfectly proper tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! But things aren’t the same without him — can she get him back?

Arabella and the Magic Pencil is a charming story, which will appeal to any child coming to terms with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics, as well as those who love fantasy and engaging, alliterative language.

“A magical story with luscious language, whimsical illustrations and strong emotional core that will surprise and delight young readers.”
– Debra Tidball, award-winning author of The Scared Book and When I See Grandma

About the Author: Stephanie Ward is an award‐winning children’s author and reviewer who splits her time between London, Seattle and Sydney. She spent 15 years in public relations before deciding to dedicate herself to what she loves – writing stories for children. Stephanie has five award‐winning picture book manuscripts.

About the Illustrator: Shaney Hyde is an Early Childhood Teacher from Melbourne who runs art workshops for children and draws inspiration from her own playful childhood. Arabella and the Magic Pencil is the first book Shaney has illustrated, fulfilling a long‐held dream.

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at how one assignment can change everything!

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Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: It is Mom’s birthday, and Charlie and Mouse and their Dad want everything to be perfect–so when the cake gets burnt the boys have to come up with a new plan, pronto.

View my post about Charlie & Mouse and Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy to learn about the first two books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Charlie & Mouse series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Charlie and Mouse on Chronicle Book’s Charlie & Mouse Even Better page.

Recommended For: 

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