Currently viewing the category: "Writing"
Share

“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!

Tagged with:
 
Share

Barkus: Dog Dreams
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Barkus is back! With new tricks. New friends. And lots more fun.

The lovable Barkus and his lucky young owner romp through the pages of this delightful series from Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The simple text told in short chapters is just right for children ready to take their first steps toward reading on their own.

View my post about Barkus to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Barkus series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Barkus on Chronicle Book’s Barkus Book 2 page.

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall

Kellee Signature

Tagged with:
 
Share

The best way to learn what kids are thinking & feeling is by listening to them, so I am happy to share my students’ voices!

We Shouldn’t Be… by Monika & Jordan, 7th Grade

We shouldn’t be scared, 
scared of the guy with the bullets
who can end our lives with a push
of a trigger. 
Shouldn’t be scared of the people
who have jobs to protect us, yet murder
us without thinking what we’re up to. 

We shouldn’t be scared
scared of the big bad men
who look at us like we’re a meal
and lick their lips hungrily.
Shouldn’t be scared of being beautiful
even though we were all made gorgeously. 

We should be scared
Scared of loving the wrong person, 
scared of THEM who will judge us
because of who and what we love. 

We shouldn’t be scared 
Scared of being judged by what we wear
or how we do our hair instead
of being judged by how we act
and hand situations. 

But guess what? We are. 

We are scared of the bullets that are
out there in the wrong hands. 

We are scared of being beautiful
because those men would kill for us. 

We are scared of loving because 
THEY end up hating us. 

We are scared of wearing the 
wrong thing or saying the wrong thing
because of THEM.

They, them
It’s the world. 
We are scared of the world. But we shouldn’t 
be anymore. Let’s stop being scared. 
We are strong. We can overcome the 
fear, only if we come together. We 
don’t have to constantly be in fear. 

We need to listen.

Signature

 

Tagged with:
 
Share

The best way to learn what kids are thinking & feeling is by listening to them, so I am happy to share my students’ voices!

Why Teachers Should Let Students Read Manga by Luis, 8th Grade

Mrs. Moye let me read manga for most of the year. I read a huge variety of awesome mangas, but some teachers don’t like manga for different reasons. But I feel like I have the right to read whatever I want. Manga isn’t just fighting cartoons, some of them have a better plot than books. For example, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has a better vampire plot than other vampire books out there. Some have great love stories or more realistic action. Manga is truly something that teachers should let their students read and enjoy. And who knows–they may even learn Japanese!

Why 6th Graders Should Be Allowed to Read More Mature Books If They Want by Star, 6th Grade

I believe 6th graders should be allowed to read more mature books. It allows the kids to venture into a world they still have a while to actually enter. They allow kids to feel more emotions, such as sadness in love. For example, in the book The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Hazel and Augustus express such love for each other despite their differences. And when something sad happens at the end of the book, it causes the reader to be sad. Another reason 6th graders should be allowed to read more mature books is because they get kids into more real world situations before they have to experience it themselves. For example, in the book Orbiting Jupiter the author throws the reader into a real life situation. 

Why We Shouldn’t Ban Books by Paola & Amy, 7th Grade

Book banning: The horrible act of taking a book deemed “inappropriate” for students and then restricting access to that book. This has been done for years and many people actually think that this helps keep children from certain material. While it actually causes problems. 

It Keeps Important Topics Away From Kids

The biggest problem with banning books is that most of the banned books talk about very important social topics. While many people think that exposing kids to these topics will hurt them, the opposite can actually be said. The more kids learn about these topics, the better educated they are. They could then form their own opinions and even come up with ideas to help other people. Additionally, by keeping these materials away from teens and kids, they might make bad decisions because they’ve never thought about it. And by banning the books, people are making the topics more intriguing.

Why I Like Books About Social Justice by Alex, 8th Grade

I think that social justice books are the best to read for multiple reaasons. One big reason is that social justice is a very relevant topic that goes on daily, whether between a cop and an unarmed man or people of different races experiencing racial tension. I think that no matter what the situation is, it’s always interesting to see it unfold. After reading a book that deals with heavy teantion, I like to put myself in that persn’s shoes and think about how I would have handled the situation. Another reason why I believe that social justice books are interesting is because I have never had to deal with much oppression in my life which is why I think it is good to learn about other people that have dealt with oppression beacuse it makes me feel like I am not ignorant about the situations in our society. Just because I don’t deal with  them, doesn’t mean I should know about them. 

My top social justice books:

  • Ghost by Jason Renolds
  • I Am Alfonso Jones
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Yummy by G. Neri
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Why I Like K.A. Holt Books by Maya, 6th Grade

My first ever K.A. Holt book that I read was House Arrest, and ever since then, I have fallen in love with her writing. After I read House Arrest, I read Knockout, Redwood & Ponytail, and Rhyme Schemer. I love how her books are written like a verse of a poem because not many authors write the way she does and it captures emotions. I also love how in House Arrest she wrote the book over weeks to follow along. Also, I love that House Arrest, Knockout, and Redwood & Ponytail are in a series but you don’t have to read them in a certain order. Redwood & Ponytail was an amazing book to me; it has an important message which is never be afraid to show who you are no matter what others think. Thank you, K.A. Holt, for writing amazing books!

Reasons Why I Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Axel, 6th Grade

I like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series because it is fun to know how Greg lives his life and learn about him. It also includes comedy which makes me laugh time to time while reading it. Greg’s family is really funny and weird and sometimes do embarrassing things which is fun to read about. Greg and Rowley do funny things too–usually activities for their own purposes that always end up as a disaster because Greg tries to imagine how to make everything perfect for him and when he tries to make it perfect, something goes wrong. All of these are why I like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series. Oh! And every year a new book comes out, and so far each one I’ve read is great!

Book Stereotypes That Are NOT TRUE! by Cooper & Jacob, 6th Grade and Mrs. Moye

  • There are girl and boy books.
    • This stereotype has lasted for many years and is still believed vy people. There is no such thing as a girl or a boy book. 
  • Long books are boring
    • Long books are not boring because a long book just has more action and fun in it. 
  • Graphic novels are for children.
    • Graphic novels are for everyone. They have life lessons and the images bring it all together. 
  • Books are the same as movies. 
    • Movies have to cut things out because of time. To get the full story, you have to read the book. 
  • Cool kids don’t read/Only nerds read.
    • Smart people read.
  • Judge books by their cover. 
    • The cover isn’t even chosen by the author and sometimes covers are so misleading!
  • Non-fiction books are boring.
    • Then you aren’t reading the right nonfiction books for you! Try a different kind. 
  • “I don’t have time to read.”
    • Yes you do. You aren’t making time to read. Just 20 minutes a day can impact your life in such a positive way!
  • Children’s books aren’t good. 
    • Any children’s book will prove this wrong because they have a huge impact on the reader. 
  • Independent reading doesn’t help you learn anything./Books are a waste of money.
    • Books can help the reader learn! Instead of playing and buying video games, buy books!

Thank you everyone for your great essays!

Signature

 

Tagged with:
 
Share

Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall

Kellee Signature

Tagged with:
 
Share

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution
Author: Nioucha Homayoonfar
Foreward by Firoozeh Dumas
Published January 1st, 2019 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: In the mid 1970’s Nioucha Homayoonfar’s French mother and Iranian father made a decision that would change her life forever. At the age of five, Nioucha and her parents moved from Pittsburgh to her father’s homeland of Iran, at the time a modern, bustling country where people from different religions co-existed peacefully and women and men alike pursued the highest level of education and professional opportunities. A new school, new language, and new friends took some time to get used to.  But none of that compared to the changes that Nioucha experienced during and after the Iranian revolution of 1979. Once the Ayatollah took control, full robes and head scarves were required, religion classes became mandatory and boys were no longer allowed to interact with girls.  Her life continued to be filled with family, friends, pop music and even her first boyfriend (although both the music and the boyfriend were strictly prohibited), but Tehran had become barely recognizable as bombs were dropped on her neighborhood, loved ones and even Nioucha herself were kidnapped, acquaintances were executed and day by day, their freedom was chipped away.

Publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution, Taking Cover reveals the extraordinary story of Nioucha’s struggle to adjust, to understand and to figure out her place in the world while unrest and oppression swirled around her.  Additionally, this title is a unique blend of coming-of-age storytelling and history. Coupled with a thought-provoking forward by New York Times best-selling author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in FarsiTaking Cover encourages readers to take a deeper look at the importance of protecting religious, political, and social freedoms while Nioucha’s vivid descriptions of Iranian life — the food, the smells, and its customs — exposes readers to a country and culture rarely written about.

Review: Generally, our system of history education and media focus do not set up Americans with great global information which is evident in the many nonfiction and historical fiction books I’ve encountered in my recent lifetime that have taught me so much about the world. This is one of those books.

This memoir does a special thing in being a beautiful narrative that at its heart is about a young girl growing up but is also addresses the true prejudice against women in Iran as well as teach some basics about the Islam faith and the Iranian Revolution. It is hard to balance these objectives but Taking Cover does it really well which makes it perfect for middle school readers because the story will engage them while they are exposed to a time period and place that they may know little about, as I did.

Side note: Is anyone else really impressed by the vivid memories that some have of their childhood? That is another thing I took away from this book–I remember a lot less than others! Excerpts from the memoir would be wonderful as a mentor text about writing about memories using imagery.

Side note: I would love to do a memoir book club with diverse voices including Taking Cover! I was thinking Born a Crime (the new young reader edition), Hey KiddoOpen Mic, and March Book One-Three. What other titles do you know of that would fit this idea?

Educators’ Guide provided by the publisher:

Flagged Passages: “CHAPTER 1: Fury 1986 (Part 1)

Javabe ablahan khomooshist. -Persian Proverb
Silence is the best answer to fools.

I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.

My mother was pushing my brother in a stroller. She had already crossed the street, but I’d lagged behind. So when the ‘Moral Police’ pulled in front of me, I was all alone. Their job was to ensure that all women and girls dressed in a manner dictated by Islam. To set an example, these four were covered head to toe in black chadors, and some even wore gloves.

The Black Crow sitting in the back seat jumped out and grabbed my arm without saying a word. I caught my mother’s eye just as I was being pushed inside the jeep. Maman stood helplessly, screaming across the traffic for the Crows to let me go.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Love: Memoirs, Learning about unreported history, Expanding your knowledge of the world

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall

Signature

**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing the book for review!**

Tagged with:
 
Share

The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC

Praise:

  • National Book Award
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book

★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)

★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)

“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation

“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost

“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street

Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.

With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change,  Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words. 

Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one. 

As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
  • How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
  • How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
  • Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?

Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
  • How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
  • What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?

Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:

  • List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
  • Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.

Flagged Passages: 

  • I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
  • My brother was born a soft whistle:
    quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
    But I was born all the hurricane he needed
    to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
  • Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
  • While I watch her hands, and face,
    feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
    She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.

    We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
    in background. But I don’t feel so different
    when I listen to her. I feel heard.

“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo: 

Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/

Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall   

Signatureand