Category Archives: Teaching


On Monday night, my student “John” and I used Gail Carson Levine’s new book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly as the basis of his lesson.  John is a really really bright fifth grader with a strong vocabulary, excellent spelling skills, and the ability to clearly and concisely verbalize his thoughts.  John just doesn’t like to put those great thoughts down on paper, and this is the reason that I brought Levine’s book along for this week’s lesson.  According to the bio on the book flap, she has presented writing workshops for kids many times over the years, and this book was born out of her experience teaching.  The first chapter of the book is titled “A Running Start,” and after nine lines of introductory text, Levine throws out some great story starters and instructs her readers to write for at least twenty minutes.

Turned out this was a fabulous way to get John writing.  He and I each picked a story starter, and then silently wrote for twenty minutes.  I turned out two pages of an unfinished story, and he wrote a full page of a great, finished short story.  This lesson was all about flow, getting words on paper, and keeping in the writing groove, so after reading our stories aloud, we moved on to read a bit that Levine has written about shushing our inner critics, and then we used another of her story starters to write for another twenty minutes.  Once again, though his hand was tired, John turned out some great writing; those thoughts of his got down on paper, a real victory for him.

We’ll continue to use this book for our next couple of lessons, and I highly recommend it to anyone of any age who wants help getting started writing.  It’s fun and wise and witty; a pleasure to read and to use.


I’m really not complaining, more just explaining.

Yes, I’m tired again.  And once again, my blog entries are suffering.  Days like these, I wonder how people manage to work as many hours as I do AND have children.  I really really wonder.  Because I certainly couldn’t pull it off!

Though it has been a particularly jam-packed couple of weeks, with one more overscheduled week coming up.  Here are some highlights of the week starting tomorrow:

I’m going to try out Gail Carson Levine’s new book on creative writing for kids with my student “John” tomorrow night.  He and I have been working exclusively on non-fiction writing, and he’s gotten pretty good at that, so now seems like a perfect time to try some fiction; and how fabulous that Levine’s book just came out and just arrived at the library.

Another highlight of the coming week is the second meeting of the Bagels n’ Books group for 4th and 5th graders on Tuesday afternoon.  Group membership has reached the nice round number of twelve (that will be the maximum, I’m afraid – perhaps I’ll have to start additional groups) and we’ll be discussing Edward Eager’s book Half Magic.  Should be fun!

Also on Tuesday, another infant and toddler storytime.  Since I worked this Saturday at the library, I was able to spend an hour or so cooking up a plan for this week’s storytime that (hopefully) will be engaging and fun for all.  I’m slowly building up my repetoire and gaining a sense of how many songs and fingerplays realistically can fit into a twenty-minute program.

And on Wednesday morning, the last morning session with “Josie,” one of my favorite students.  Josie has now finished Step 6 of the Wilson Reading System, and her parents think this might be a good time to phase me out so that she can sleep a little later on Wednesday mornings.  Josie and I have bravely and happily been meeting at 7:15 – before her school bus arrives, and before I need to go to work – and we’re both a wee bit exhausted!  I’ll miss working with Josie, though, since she’s a bright, engaged, hardworking, and happy kid.

So that’s my week in brief.  Next weekend I’ll get some sleep.  Then I’ll start looking for a new student…  : )

The verdict is in…

Yesterday was the first Bagels n’ Books book group.  A great, enthusiastic bunch of fourth and fifth graders, a dozen bagels that rapidly and magically disappeared into eight mouths, and a lot of talk about The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Guess what?  The kids didn’t like the book much.

These kids are well-versed in how to discuss literature, and though there were a few groans when I said it’s not enough to just say you don’t like a book, that you have to give specific reasons, they all provided clear and definitive reasons for why they didn’t like the book.  One girl said it was too easy and it didn’t take her very long to finish the book.  A boy chimed in that he read the book in, like, an hour.  Another girl said that there is no point to the book.  “Ah-ha!”  I thought to myself, “Maybe they haven’t delved deep enough into the book and that’s why they didn’t like it!”  But no, this girl went on to say, “I mean, I understand that it’s about Edward learning to love and getting back to Abilene, but what’s the point of that?”

A different boy, and the girl beside him, complained that the book didn’t have enough action.  They mentioned that Kate DiCamillo’s other books have action and excitement, and that The Tiger is Rising and The Tale of Despereaux are books that they enjoyed reading.  Other kids agreed vigorously to this comment.  One girl was brave and spoke up to say that she LOVES the book because of the language and style of DiCamillo’s writing; she also commented on the cyclical nature of the storyline and had as many bookmarks marking places in the text as I did.  Future English major, guaranteed.

I used Aidan Chamber’s technique of writing likes, dislikes, puzzles, and patterns on a big sheet of paper, trying to keep my mouth shut about my own opinions in order to let the kids fully express their thoughts.  Had we had more time together (our actual book discussion only lasted for a half hour), I could have gone on to guide the group to a deeper discussion of the book.  But I’m still not sure that I would have been able to change the minds of those kids who strongly dislike the book; and that was never my goal.

What fascinates me most is that a lot of the negative adult commentary I’ve read about the book has focused on it being too sad for children, too emotionally wrenching.  The kids yesterday really weren’t bothered by the sadness in the book, they were annoyed by the lack of action.  They had wanted a book that was going to take them on journey; I mentioned that well, Edward Tulane does go on a journey, and most of the kids just rolled their eyes at me.  “It’s not a REAL journey!”

Two things come to mind: this book is a very different type of fantasy than the fantasy that prevails in the publishing world today (I hesitate to say it: the Harry Potter type of fantasy).  Most of the kids in the book group yesterday are probably used to action-based fantasy with magic and heroes and sparks and blood.  Edward Tulane can’t speak or act, and thus passively endures all that happens to him, except for the growth within him of a heart and the ability to love.  His physical strength doesn’t change, and he doesn’t accomplish great physical feats in the process of learning to love; he simply learns to love.

The other thought that comes to mind is that any reader, young or old, has the ability to skip those parts of a text that he or she either isn’t ready for or just doesn’t want to deal with.  I do this all the time: when reading the sixth Harry Potter, I knew that someone was going to die, so I purposefully read the end first to find out who so that I wouldn’t be held captive by the suspense of the book.  Perhaps the kids in yesterday’s book group don’t want to read about loss and sadness, or perhaps they’re not ready for stories that deal with those issues in depth, and so the book seemed, to them, to be boring.  It didn’t address their concerns, and it didn’t appeal to them.

Notably, though, it was loved by one group member, the girl who was adept at locating subtleties in the text and who possessed the most sophisticated literary vocabulary.  I’ll go out on a limb here and say that she was ready for the text, and thus loved it.  Ready for the text, and also interested in what the text had to say.  “The right book for the right child at the right time.”  No one book can appeal to everyone.

At the end of the hour, I presented the book group members with seven books to choose from for our next meeting in October.  The choices were: The Tale of Despereaux, The Diamond in the Window, Love That Dog, Half Magic, Room One: A Mystery or Two, The Penderwicks, and The Search for Delicious.  The winner was:  Half Magic by Edward Eager, coming to the library on October 24th.