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Saturday, November 21, 2015

On Teaching

On twitter, I have been obsessed with the hashtag ncte15, which refers to the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference.

Truth #1--I have never attended this conference.  I long to, but November is a difficult time of the year to be gone from my classroom, especially this year. Our staff is taking an International Baccalaureate class and already having to miss 8 teaching days this year. That is kind of a lot. It is hard to justify missing even more days.

But anyway, I follow along on "the" twitter (as my kids call it), looking for those gems about teaching reading and writing to young children, hoping someone out there will say something I truly believe in so I can give a virtual fistbump of solidarity through my computer screen. Hoping someone will say the things that sometimes I am afraid to say.

Because sometimes I am afraid to say things that I really think. Like this:

Truth #2--Even though I write a lot, even though I have published books, I am not an expert on the teaching of writing. I have no magic gadgetries, no perfect 5 step lesson plan, no cute template that makes children produce amazing, thoughtful responses on a writing prompt every time they attempt it. The more I am in the classroom every day with my students, the more simple everything becomes. If you want children to write, you must allow them to do it. You must encourage it. You absolutely MUST give them time. Time to succeed. Time to fail. Time to reflect. Time to actually LEARN.

Truth #3--And you must try not to do things in your teaching that have the exact opposite effect you are going for. When you make a child feel like less of a writer, guess what?  She becomes less of a writer.

It is so affirming to read snippets of presentations on the twitter that mirror these thoughts. My teaching heart is bursting.

So anyway, a big shout out to all of the NCTE folks who are both living the dream and keeping it real. Perhaps someday, I'll manage to attend a conference and hear Donalyn Miller and Lucy Calkins in person. But for now, know that if you are sharing your special moments via twitter, via #ncte15, your reach is very far. You are having an impact on my teaching.

By sharing your thoughts and reflections, you are making a difference in the life of this teacher.



Sunday, November 15, 2015

November Thoughts

This school year is no harder than any other school year. Really. My class is delightful--on Friday we had a writing session together that just blew me away. So many little pencils furiously scratching the page. I was inspired and humbled by their writing pursuits. And their talent.

No, the climate in the classroom is not the reason for the tremendous fatigue I feel. Nor is there anything I can point to easily. I think it's simply the usual.


Or lack thereof.

I feel like a mouse on a see-saw, running up to the writing end of my life, then back to the teaching end. Back and forth. Up and down. High and low. (Except that this see-saw has more than two ends. There's home/family life in there somewhere, too.)

I recently gave a talk to interested folks about writing for children and the question invariably came up: "How do you do it all? How do you write and teach?  Where do you find the time?" I joked that I steal time, because that's what you have to do. Steal it. (Nobody is going to give it to you willingly.) Then I talked for a bit about how I manage to balance it all.

I kind of exaggerated about the balancing, because the truth of it is that I'm not doing it as well as I'd like.

*cues mouse to begin running back and forth again*

And now, somehow, I find myself on the cusp of Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING.

How did that happen? Where did the time go?  (This is my constant whine.) Have I been so busy being the mouse running around like crazy that I missed the entire Fall ???

I don't know.  Really I don't even know.

 My gut says that I need to just embrace the mouse--that the mouse's struggle for balance is really just part of the human condition. Is my purpose really simply to balance the see-saw?  Or is it to make my peace with the ups-and-down-of-it-all?

The reflection continues.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Oh October!

I really don't know how it became October.

It was August---and now October. September was a lovely blur.

I always forget how all-consuming the beginning of the year is. I should know by now. I have taught for many years. And yet, the tidal wave of September always, every single time, crashes down upon me until I find myself eventually in October, treading water, finally able to breathe again (thank goodness).

The thing about teaching is that you really have to know your students, and making that kind of a connection takes time. So you have to give it time.

And then there is the fact that I am in a new classroom this year, so I have to re-learn everything spatially. The room is a different shape and it is messing with my ability to decide where I want to put everything. (Or to remember what I decided...)
But I am getting the hang of that, too.

The year has begun and all of the players are in their place. I'll blink and it will be parent-teacher conference week, then Thanksgiving.  Time is moving quickly.

And still, I am striving to write during all of this. Worse yet, I am revising.

I am a goal setter by nature, so here are the Autumn 2015 goals:

1. Finish WIP (It involves a rabbit, destiny, a sinking island...and lots of weird stuff.) I am so close to the end, yet so far. Maybe this weekend I will be successful.

2. Revise space-animal picture book. It needs more of an ending...but I really like it. Actually, you can put just about anything in an astronaut uniform and I'll think it is adorable.

3. Revise Chapterbook featuring robots. I am really struggling with the kind of story this will be. A chapter book/novel from 5,000 to 20,000 words. Yes, that's quite a gap. It's either Princess in Black length, or Sarah Plain and Tall length. BIG discrepancy.  And I need to figure this out, because I love this book so much.

4. Revise middle grade sci-fi novel (AGAIN). I am currently awaiting some notes of a project that I love. I am looking forward to this revision, however, I am fearful as well. I really want to hit the mark with this book. It is not autobiographical or anything, but it carries within its pages the insides of my heart.

AND, I'd like to do something completely unexpected in writing....eager for a new idea to thwack me upside the head.

So that's where I'm at.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Finally---The Launch Party for Secrets of Selkie Bay!!

I know, I know. It took long enough.

But you see, having a launch party in the summer just doesn't make sense for me--I need to celebrate with my "people".  (And most of my people are still in elementary/middle school, so it just makes sense to do it when school is back in session.)

Here are the details:

Wednesday, September 23rd, 6:00 p.m.
Barnes and Noble, 
Oceanside, CA

I'll have some of my puppet friends, of course, including Opie, the seal. (He has generously agreed to play the part of a selkie for the evening, so anyone who wants a "Selfie with a Selkie"* have only to ask him.)

I am going to raffle off chances to adopt these lovely little seal plushies:

They are named after the baby seals in the book!!

My dear friend Mr. Schu premiered the trailer for Secrets of Selkie Bay on his blog here.

Yes, it is a busy week here.

I'd love to see you at Barnes and Noble on Wednesday if you can make it:)



*Brainchild of the amazing Nikki Loftin who blurbed the book:)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

There is No Try

I have a long standing philosophical debate with Yoda and his famous line, "Do or do not, there is no try."

Most of the time, I think, Yoda, dude, you are so wrong. There IS a try. Try exists.

But then I think sometimes that maybe he is right. Perhaps, if we work hard enough, we can will things into being, or into becoming the way we want them. We either succeed, or we do not.

I found a great quote by Margaret Mead this week, "I learned the value of hard work by working hard."

As teachers, we always work so hard at the beginning of the year to get things off to the right start, to make sure everything is in place for the year to come--and this is even before we meet our students. There is just so much behind the scenes stuff.

 Then we meet the students.

And this is where the magic happens. This is where there is no try. You, as teachers and students, either come together to create an awesome year...or you do not. Except the "do not" is not really acceptable for me. For anyone.

So, here are some of the things that WILL happen this year in room 303:

1. My students will feel valued and cared about by their teacher.

2.Together, we will appreciate literature and literacy.

3. We will ask good questions and seek answers.

4. We will learn to love writing and help each other grow as writers.

5. We will OWN math and make it part of our lives.

6.  We will strive to learn even when we leave the classroom.

7.  We will make the school a better place because of our very presence.

For me, these are non-negotiables. There is no try--these things must happen or my very purpose is in question.

This week, I asked my students what they were curious about. One student replied, "The point of life."


Eight years old and he already is asking one of the big ones.

This year I decided to give myself a one word teaching goal--Mindfulness. I must always keep in my mind what I am doing and why I am doing it. If what I am doing is not addressing one of my non-negotiables, then I have to ask myself some pretty tough questions. I am not a puppet of curriculum creators. My job is not to open a box (or a binder) and simply spew out lessons, fling them against the wall and hope some of the stick (like spaghetti). My job it not to scour internet sites searching for the cutest math worksheet.

My job is to be mindful. My job is to know my students. My job is to create a place where they can learn and thrive. My job is to be mindful, to use my knowledge and expertise to create the best possible learning situation. School is not only about meeting standards. It is about enriching the lives of humans, and in doing so, creating a better world.

There is no try.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

Summer is winding down here.

Usually I don't like August. There is just something about it. (And I'm not a fan of February, either.) But this year, I didn't seem to mind August so much.

August is a time of endings and beginnings. Transitions. And the creature of habit that I am does not like transitions. The creature prefers schedules.

But transitions are important. They are how we move from one thing to the next. Always during transitions I have to make time to reflect or I will lose my mind. I need to see what I'm leaving. I need to envision where I am going. As a teacher, August is the perfect time for this.

So, in my writing life, this past year has been busy.

NO, NO, KITTEN came out in March. Such a fun and silly book, and the first one I ever dedicated to someone other than my family. (This one went to the kids of Jefferson Elementary, my school). Working with the folks at Boyds Mills was awesome. And you should see what is coming from them (and me) in 2016!  It's about dragons, except that there are none in the book. None at all. That's why the book is called THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS. I've seen a little art for it and guys, it is so funny.

I wrote another picture book (or two) but I will have to tell you about those later.  Spring was a very picturebook write-y time for me.

SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY came out in July. I haven't ever had two books come out in a single year before. It makes things a little crazy. It's kind of like having twins or two very young toddlers while you are carrying a third child, (or in this case, book). They both needed lots of my attention. (But I kind of pretended that SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY didn't come out yet, at least to myself. I am planning a launch in September (more info soon) and will be releasing the trailer soon, so.....I know. Weird.)

But during all of this, I was busy writing. I finished a very difficult revision on a sci-fi book I've been working on for a bit. I really love it, but it needed a lot of patching together. As a matter of fact, I saved it in a file I called FRANKENSTEIN because I felt like I was always stitching it back together, trying to jolt it into life. I've got a little more I still want to do to it, but it is coming along.

I revised a chapter book that I love. Chapter books are a hard sell, but that didn't stop me from writing it and loving it, so that's all I can say about that. We shall see about the rest.

And because I am a crazy writer, and it was summer, I started a new project. I had been toying with an idea that had a little of this:

and maybe something like this:

And, I dunno, lots of other things. And I told myself I could make anything happen in the story that I wanted to. Anything at all. I could put in everything I've always wanted to in a story (which I have---sort of) and I could also put in things that I absolutely hate (which I have--definitely). And I told myself the only rule was that I had to write 1k words a day.

Which I have.

I have no idea what the final shape of this story will be. It is...strange. It is already 32k, which is not too bad. I would like to finish it before August 31, but it might need a few more words after that.

When I finish, I will set it aside for a bit and tweak the sci-fi a little more.

Hmmm. This is a weird reflection. I thought I'd be focusing more on endings and beginnings, but everything seems to be running together in a much more fluid manner. I finish one thing, only to go back to another. Very circular. Much like the hare coin above.

But I do have a few Fall goals:

Finish sci-fi re-revision.

Revise fun proposal involving picture book(s)

Write 3 picture books

And of course finish (and revise) weirdo novel that does not even have a name (or genre!!) yet. Well, actually it does have a genre, but if I say too much, it will disappear into the mist.

It might seem like a lot, but I am looking forward to it!!



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Selkie Talk

Here are what some bloggers are saying about SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY--That awesome new book I just wrote--

It looks like this when it is relaxing on the beach, in case you were wondering:

This picture was taken for the trailer, which I am getting some feedback on but should be out soon!

If your blog reviewed Secrets of Selkie Bay and I didn't include it, let me know and I'll link it!  (I know there are a few more out there...I just couldn't find the links...?) And if you wanted to review Secrets of Selkie Bay but didn't get a review copy, email me at and I'll see what I can do.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the people that read books and take the time to write reviews of them. It is truly a labor of love--as much as it is to write a book in the first place. (Except that authors usually get paid and book bloggers do not. So yes, writing about a book is truly a work of the heart.)