Brown Girl Dreaming…


..catching up on some blog entries….

Brown Girl Dreaming, the award-winning novel by Jacqueline Woodson, is so many things to me. As a teacher, I see the countless possibilities for deep discussion, thoughtspots for writing, endless possibilities for visual and emotional expression. As a writer, I am invited into the genre of memoir in powerful ways.

I had recently purchased BGD when I was coincidentally asked to visit an Encountering Cultures class at the college, to share my thoughts on keeping writer’s notebooks. I’ve been writing snippets for several years about my two grandmothers; BGD quenched my thirst to continue my memoir piece on my grandmothers. I shared snippets of my memoir with the Encountering Cultures class and invited them to choose a powerful place in BGD and write. They did; their sharings were amazing. BGD is memoir at its best.

I assigned BGD to my preservice literacy students last semester. They met in book club groups to share the novel. They brought responses to their groups—an open-ended assignment for which I encouraged their imaginations to soar.

While you cannot enjoy their descriptions (so compelling) of their responses, you can view them below. Without question, they were as captivated by this wonderful novel as I.


Brown Girl Dreaming Animoto

No Words? No Problem!


Wordless picture books, believe me, are for ALL ages! In class, the preservice teachers shared wordless picture pictures in small groups. While it would seem a picture book without words would target early childhood or elementary, my students saw (and suggested!) the possibilities for middle grades and high school students. Here’s a short list of their thoughts:

Reading comprehension:

-Even without words, students sequence a story line…Great way to develop what is often referred to as a Story Mountain, where the plot is developed from problem through climax to solution…Inferencing possibilities-no limit!…the strategy of Synthesis!…Summary!…Monitoring Comprehension!  We worked all semester with Ellin Oliver Keene’s Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ED Unknown where seven reading comprehension strategies are presented. I like to save the Wordless Picture Books day for the end of the semester, after students have worked separately with each of the seven strategies (monitoring comprehension, activating schema, inference, questioning, visualizing, determining importance, synthesizing), so they see how each strategy is at work in comprehending the story line of a book with no words.


-Students could work together to sketch out a story sequence…to sketch a character map…to add words to each page…the possibilities are endless–

What I enjoy best about this day in class is the conversations in the small groups. The swapping of thoughts, the AHA moments, the laughter, the questioning…IF you teach middle or high school, wordless picture books are a wonderful resource!

138070 images images-1 images-2 images-3 images-4 images-4 images-6 images-7images-2images-1


Amazing fun with Animoto

Each semester I have my preservice teachers create book trailers using Animoto software. (Animoto is tagged on this site) While Animoto offers FREE accounts to all, if you are an educator you get a FREE account for up to 50 students and you can renew it every six months. No trouble to you at all–they send you a renewal notification. I’ve used other slideshow software but none compare with the ease of use as Animoto. The educator FREE account allows your students up to six shows, each up to 10 mins in length. My book trailer assignment resembles a “book talk,” where the speaker invites a reader into the book without giving away the ending. Following our class presentations we talk about the educational possibilities of digital software such as Animoto. Here are some ideas this class suggested:

Teachers–you can create an Animoto to introduce a new content topic or theme–be original–hook them!!

Students–you can summarize content, reflect on content, create original responses to content.

Teachers–NO subject content area is left out–Animoto is not just for reading teachers–imagine the following:

Students write poetry and attach images and music…students react to historical events, summarize historical events, or current events….students create Animotos to introduce or summarize Science content…etc!!

As promised to my students, the following book titles were Animoto-ed by the class:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Becoming a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The Short Bus by Jonathon Mooney

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Trouble by Gary D Schmidt

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Bird Child by Nan Forler

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

…The Book Trailers follow…

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Hatchet (1)

Hatchet (2)

Trouble by Gary D Schmidt

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Bird Child by Nan Forler

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Becoming a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Becasue of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

The Short Bus by Jonathon Mooney


…poetry newsletter grab

My newsletter yesterday from the Academy of American Poets celebrates that March is Women’s History Month. The poems from ten American women poets are featured in the newsletter–well worth taking a look. (Newsletter sign-up is available on the website–FREE–it’s a wonderful resource, and while you are at check out all of the other free resources available–particularly for educators. The newsletters are archived. The one I feature in this post will be dated March 3rd).

One of the celebrated poets is Naomi Shibab Nye, poet, songwriter and novelist, whose works I have devoured with relish for years, and have also shared so many with students. The poem featured in the newsletter, The Words Under the Words, is dedicated to her Sitti–her grandmother. While the poem stands beautiful alone, I look forward to sharing it with a paired text by Naomi Shibab Nye–a picture book (my personal copy so well used) also of her Sitti–Sitti’s Secrets. The story is beautiful, universal, and reaches across nationality, ethnicity, religion, and ages. A favorite part of this small book is the Author Page comment, where Nye says if grandmothers were in charge of the world there would be no wars. I gotta agree….


The importance of Memoir–capturing memories through writing

“A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995).

I like to use this Vidal quote as I try to explain the critical concept of “voice” in memoir to my students. I, of course, use examples, from picture books (that “show”in 30 pages or less, fine examples of memoir writing), to excerpts from other sources.

I also like to clarify the differences between memoir and autobiography through providing some take of the following scenario: You and your sister are having coffee in a cafe and in walks a lady who has a striking resemblance to your late Aunt Sara. You then begin to recall childhood memories of Aunt Sara, and you land upon one specific memory that involved a childhood prank. You and your sister disagree on how it went down. You say this way…she says Oh No–it happened like this…in the end, the argued-over-details remain less significant than your shared recollections of the fun you had in pulling it off, and the good-natured, laugh-at-herself-spirit of Aunt Sara. Memoir is like that. You flavor your life experiences with voice—how you remember, how you felt at the time, as Vidal says, is independent  perhaps from actual dates and facts—but that your narration rings an honest truth is paramount.

Here are just some memoir resources that I use with my students:

When I was little: A four-year old’s memoir of her youth-Jamie Lee Curtis

Memoirs of a goldfish–David Scillian, Tim Bowers;

Through my eyes–Ruby Bridges

The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain–Peter Sis

When I was young in the mountains–Cynthia Rylant; The relatives came–Cynthia Rylant

The year of the perfect Christmas Tree–Gloria Houston; My Great-Aunt Arizona–Gloria Houston

These  (and more) by Paricia Polacco: My rotten redheaded older brother; The keeping quilt; Thank you Mr. Falker; The lightning jar; Thunder cake

Tar beach–Faith Ringgold

Marshfield dreams–Ralph Fletcher

The moon and I–Betsy Byars

Too many tamales–Gary Soto

My life in dog years–Gary paulsen

Dakota dugout–Ann Turner

Little by little–Jean Little

Owl moon–Jane Yolen

The raft–Jim LaMarche

The house on mango street–Sandra Cisneros

Sitti’s secrets–Naomi Shihab Nye

Looking back: A book of memories–Lois Lowry

Farewell to Manzanar–Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Woodsong–Gary Paulsen

…and wonderful teaching texts

—Crafting a life: Teaching memoir–Catherine Bomer

—-Old friend from far Away–Natalie Goldberg, a book my son gifted me with that has been a great personal resource for my own writing. Goldberg is a “goldmine” for memoir writing–she has many books, all inspirational

So many wonderful mentor texts within which to immerse students so they capture the many possibilities for memoir writing.

An Egret’s Day—-Inspiring us to look closely….

As the title of An Egret’s Day suggests, the subject of this children’s poetry book is the daily life of the large and beautiful bird known as the Great Egret. Using a variety of poetic forms, Jane Yolen has written more than a dozen poems about egrets. Each of the poems examines a different aspect of the egret. These include: the egret’s name, eating habits, size, nest, flight, feet, walk, preening, beak and more.  What a great model for writing, teachers!!

Each double-page spread contains one or more striking color photographs of an egret and a poem that relates to what’s in the photo. A paragraph of factual information that sheds further light on the subject of the photo and poem is also provided.

Wonderful integration of poetry, art and science—and an inspirational invitation for students to show what they can learn through close observation in multiple ways.

Children’s literature is just a misnomer—what adult would not be enchanted with this book!

egrets day

Liking this site….

….because the blog entries are submitted by teachers, middle grade students, and librarians, so there is great variety in the posts, and I’m especially liking the entries by students. If you seek middle grade novels–check out this site!!

Love The Horn Book!

The Horn Book has been around at least as long as me!! And, the good news is you need not subscribe (though it’s a fabulous publication!)–now you can receive newsletters to your email.

My newsletter today included Notes on Nonfiction.


Copied below is a link where you will be directed to the page where you can sign up for emails.

The Horn Book newsletter

Listen to what two encouraging words can do…


Jarrett J Krosocza

Jarrett J Krosocza is an author of many children’s books (10 and under), as well as a moderator for author chats and talks on SiriusXM radio. I had the pleasure of having Jarrett visit my class of graduate students at Shenandoah University a few years back. He shared his story of how he “came to be” and the story itself is one of motivation and inspiration to all–especially good for teachers to hear, as he is living proof that just a couple of encouraging words can help a kid along a path to discovery of talents and passions.

So, even if you don’t teach 10 and unders, I enourage you to listen to Jarrett as he tells his story on TedTalks.

You can also visit Jarrett’s website–exciting!!

Jacket Flap

What a treasure, and a time-saver! Joining is free–check out Jacket Flap, a site where you can explore children’s and young adult literature, read reviews, and find links to hundreds of blogs. And, a great bonus is that this site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children’s / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.