Monday, July 30, 2012

Slice of Life - The Color Run

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

This past weekend I experienced an event like no other, The Color Run. Some friends and I trekked to Indianapolis to participate in the happiest 5K on the planet.  Since returning home I’ve been thinking a lot about the race, expectations and what I can take away from this experience.

See, another friend had ran the same race the week before in a different city. After she ran we texted back and forth. While she enjoyed it she had been a little disappointed. She went into it thinking she was running a race – she had been training for some time and was eager to improve over her last 5K. Her city’s Color Run was so packed she didn’t run more than 30 seconds at a time until the last mile where she really tried to run the entire thing. (But came to a halt several times as people stopped to take photos on the route.) After talking to my friend I immediately messaged all of my friends running with me. I explained that maybe we should think of this as a giant party and not so much as a race. We shifted our thinking (and some of us were relieved, injuries abounded in our group). We decided to celebrate the weekend as a girls’ weekend and see what happened.

We drove the two-hour drive to Indianapolis on Friday, picking up packets and squeezing in some shopping. One of our friends met us there with her family. They were returning from a family vacation in South Carolina and drove back via Indy so she could join us. We had dinner, caught up, and talked about the race.

Saturday dawned super early. We dressed in our outfits, sparkly skirts were out in force, and made our way to the start line. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people. The race began, and ended, in a beautiful park along a river. We took photos, met other friends of mine from grad school, and made our way to the start line. 

The start of the race took forever! They let off groups at a time and while the race began at 8 am, we didn’t actually start until 8:55. Once we began I was surprised, we were running! Every “K” you went through a color station where people squirted different colors at you. They are a powder that comes out almost like a dust. (No issues with my eyes or breathing, just an FYI.) At the color stations you did slow to a walk but otherwise there was plenty of room to run.

Throughout the race route we were able to run at a normal pace until the last “K” where we went from a road to a sidewalk. There we squeezed in and really had to walk. Wanting to finish, and impressed with my time so far, we moved over to the grass and were able to run the rest of it until the finish line where we kind-of moved like a herd of cattle through the gates.

After the finish the party really began. Our group met up by the stage where the music was playing. Every 20 minutes or so would be a color “toss” and the air would be alive with more color. We took photos, danced, sang, and had a great time. Finally we were blasted by the leaf blowers to get some of the color off and walked back to our hotel for a shower. It was an amazing experience.

So what was different with my friend’s run and ours? How can I use this knowledge in my classroom? Our expectations were different for the run for sure, and mine were lower because of her experience. The group I was with was all on the same page – wanting this to be almost like a huge party. I’m not sure about her group because I didn’t get to talk about that. I think I had a lot more information going in than she did because she had been there first and shared her knowledge. How this can help my students? I need to be upfront with new experiences, make sure we are all on the same page, so that we can be successful. And maybe I’ll toss a little color at them to make learning fun. (I kid, I kid.) Overall, I highly recommend The Color Run. If you’ve ever participated in one, let me know what you thought! 

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

My weeks seem to go back and forth on how much reading I get done. This week, not so much. I did reread a novel – Beauty Queens – but I didn’t know how to indicate a reread on Goodreads. Otherwise, three other books, two of which were picture books. Oh well.

86 days of summer. Today is my 66th day. I’ve finished 90 books. (Counting the reread).

·      29 picture books
·      22 graphic novels
·      37 novels
·      2 professional books

Loved the two picture books I read yesterday. I handed Good News, Bad News to my husband last night and just told him to read it and see if he could figure out why. He went on the porch to read it and I made dinner. I saw this on Twitter:

Love that he figured that out. I am ever the optimist, he is a pessimist. It works. J

For this week I need to finish up Opening Minds and then want to polish off some other PD books. We’ll see.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skype Visit with Kate Messner

My boys Liam (left), Luke (right), and my niece Meredith.

Last week was my son’s family birthday party. My niece, Meredith, came in from out of town to see Luke. I picked her up at my mom’s house to bring her over to mine and we began catching up along the way. Meredith is going into third grade this year. I have purchased many books for her as gifts. Not seeing her regularly I miss out on hearing how she enjoyed them. But this day as we were driving, she asked about the cupcakes I had purchased for my sister-in-law’s baby shower. I pointed out a house on our route and said the woman who lived there made them. I also mentioned that this woman was known for her love of animals and she helps rescue animals in our town.

Meredith immediately piped up from the back seat, “Like Marty McGuire and her mom!”

I smiled and asked how she enjoyed Marty. She began talking a mile a minute about reading Marty, what she loved about her, did I know she brought a real frog to the play, etc. Then she asked if I knew that there was a second book? I said yes and then told her I had an extra copy of that book at my house if she’d like it. I think that made her day.

Kate Messner, the author of the aforementioned Marty McGuire books, is amazing. I first “met” her on Twitter when I joined three years ago. When I first started following her it was because she was a teacher. Then I realized she was a writer as well. I remember seeing The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. in the bookstore and being so excited for her. I’ve purchase all of her books – and they are all wonderful. She has Skyped with my school for family reading night, with my class for World Read Aloud Day. And when I have met her, at IRA and NCTE, she has been so unbelievably wonderful. So when I asked her if she’d Skype with my reading camp, she – of course – said yes.

I’ve read the first Marty McGuire book to my camp kids over the month of June. As I told other friends I was impressed at how all of my students fell in love with Marty. I have kids as young as 7 and as old as twelve. I have nine boys and three girls. They LOVED this book. They laughed out loud as I read. They asked me what happened if they missed a week of camp. When I told them Kate was going to Skype with us, they were beyond thrilled.

The day of the Skype we had questions ready for Kate. Each child got the chance to go up and ask her their question. I was amused by how nervous some of them were. How they gasped when she told them she was writing a third Marty book. She told them the title, where the holes were in the story so far, and how she was going to fill those holes.

Kate shared her writing notebook. She told the kids why she had pages torn out of it, what her writing process was. She also talked about the research she does for her books. I know she couldn’t see the whole group as well as I could, but they were enthralled.

As I wrote when my campers Skyped with Ame Dyckman back in June HERE, authors are my rock stars. I’m so grateful to Kate for Skyping with my students, and for writing the books she does. This insures that more and more of my students will begin to revere authors just as I do. Thanks Kate!!

Today to celebrate Kate and authors everywhere, I am giving away one copy of each of the Marty McGuire books. Please enter below. One winner will get both Marty McGuire and Marty McGuire Digs Worms!

Giveaway Rules

1. This giveaway will run from July 27th until 11:59 pm July 30th. (Central time zone)

2. This contest is open to people living in the continental United States.

3. You must be at least 13 years to enter.

4. If you can, please pay it forward. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Interview with Shana Burg, author of Laugh With the Moon

I'm so excited to welcome author Shana Burg to Read Write Reflect today. Shana was kind enough to answer questions about her writing process and her new book, Laugh With the Moon. I'm bookmarking this page for the fall to share with my students in writing workshop. And please see the bottom of the post for a giveaway of Shana's new book! 
To see more from Shana, check her out at these blogs! 
7/17: Sharp Read

What books have influenced you as a writer?
When I taught sixth grade language arts and social studies, I really paid attention to the stories that transported my students and me to other places and times. For example, we were fascinated to learn about the Dust Bowl, while reading the compelling tale of Billy Jo in Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. We learned about Japanese Americans who were put into internment camps after World War II by reading Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Despite all of our advances in technology, books like these are still the closest things we’ve got to time travel machines.

What was your favorite children’s book when you were a child?
I loved the Nancy Drew books, as well as anything by Judy Blume or Paul Zindel. In high school, I liked books that were heavy on the facts, like Cry the Beloved Country, about life under Apartheid in South Africa, and Johnny Got His Gun, about a man who returned from fighting in Vietnam without arms or legs, but with his mind perfectly intact.

When did writing become part of your life? How has it evolved?
One of Shana's first poems from fourth grade.
I first discovered that I loved to write when my fourth-grade teacher assigned us to make our own books of poetry. I was instantly hooked. The next year, I proposed a class newspaper, and I became editor of The Razzling Dazzling Room Review. In high school, I wrote for two newspapers and then began keeping journals and writing stories. It was only as an adult that I took creative writing classes and tried to publish my fiction.
People always say, “Write what you know.” Because of that, I used to think that in order to write a good story, you had to have survived a shark attack or at least parachuted out of an airplane into enemy territory. Then one of my elementary school teachers pointed out that everyone has an interesting life—it’s all about observing the emotions and the details. After that, I began to see stories everywhere.

What is your writing routine? Do you write in the same place? Do you need quiet or do you listen to music as you write? 
I work a full-time job right now, so most of my writing happens at night or on the weekends. Because my writing time is at a premium, I’m always daydreaming about when I will get to write again and what scene or chapter I’ll tackle next.
Sometimes I write at home, but if possible, I like to write at a cafĂ© with a big cup of hot chocolate beside me. I bring earplugs, though, in case the music is too loud, or in case the barrista is yelling at the top of her lungs, “Double mocha frappuccino two pump extra foam!!”

What do you hope your readers get from your books?
My first book, A Thousand Never Evers, tells the story of a 12-year-old African American girl who bravely leads her town in fighting discrimination in 1963, Mississippi. I hope readers of this book will understand that it was young people—sometimes even kids in elementary school—who stood up for justice in the civil rights movement and changed the course of history.
Laugh with the Moon is about a 12-year-old white girl from Massachusetts who travels to Malawi, Africa after the death of her mother. Her doctor father thinks she will heal there, but she is furious to be dragged away from her school and her friends, to live in what she considers “the middle of nowhere.” I hope readers of this book will realize that sometimes it is only through meeting people different from ourselves that we can receive the gifts we need to feel whole.

You mentioned you traveled to Malawi, were you immediately inspired to write upon returning or did Clare and her story come to you later?
While I was in Malawi, I kept a journal for myself. A few years after I had returned, I was teaching, and I showed my sixth-grade students photographs from my trip and told them about the Malawian people I had met. My students were riveted by how different life was there, and they really wanted to know more about the kids their age in that part of the world.
I didn’t think about using my journal and photos as a basis for a book, though, until I had finished writing my first book, and my editor said, “What are you going to write about now?” I told her I wasn’t really sure. Then she said, “Well, what are you passionate about?” As soon as she asked me that question, I knew the answer: I was passionate about the people I’d met in Malawi—people who are smart and joyful despite having so little. I was passionate about telling the stories I’d shared with my sixth graders with a much larger audience.

What lessons did you take away from your travel to Malawi?
The biggest lesson is this: People in Africa who are living in extreme poverty might need aid from richer countries, but they don’t need pity. My friends from Malawi are vibrant, resourceful, and wise. They love their families and they like to have fun. And they have much more experience with surviving hardship than I do. That means they can teach me a lot about being resilient through life. 

What future do you see for Memory? For Clare? For Saidi?
These are excellent questions. Because I haven’t ruled out the possibility of writing a sequel to Laugh with the Moon, I am going to keep the future paths of these characters to myself. But I’d love to know what you imagine for them!

Why do you think Agnes is the way she is? (Side note – I really enjoyed Agnes’s journey)
I’m glad you enjoyed Agnes. Just like here in the United States, there are always some kids who are more competitive and bitter than others. Sometimes they have good reason to be that way and other times they don’t.
As for Agnes, she is always trying to prove herself at home and at school. She has lots of brothers but is the only girl in her family, so in addition to going to school, she is the only sibling who cooks, cleans, fetches water, and helps with her younger brother. (This piece of her back story didn’t make it into the book, but it still informed how I wrote her character.)
Also, Agnes wants to be first in the class but is frustrated to no end that she can’t seem to surpass Memory. These are the reasons for her frustrations. Then she sees Clare come along, who is enormously wealthy next to her, and she’s enraged and jealous.

As a teacher I have a feeling that children will read this story and want to help children like Memory, Innocent, and Saidi. Would you have any advice for them?
Many Malawian teachers really would love pen pals for their students. The letters kids write in English are so exciting that they inspire Malawian children to go to school just to receive the letters, and they also help Malawian children learn to read and write English. This is huge! If you are a teacher looking for pen-pals for your students, or if you are a student, you might contact Erin Mwalwanda at: or Sarah Greenberg:
World Altering Medicine (WAM) is one of my favorite organizations that works to help children in Malawi. In fact, Dr. Kevin Bergman, one of the founders of WAM helped me with the research for Laugh with the Moon. Dr. Bergman says that just $2 can buy a dose of life-saving medicine for a child and thousands can transform an entire community. To find out more about WAM and how kids are joining forces with WAM to help their peers halfway across the world, click here:

Giveaway Rules
1. The giveaway will run from July 25, 2012 to midnight on July 27, 2012.
2. This contest is open to people living in the continental United States.
3. You must be at least 13 to enter.
4. If you can, please pay it forward. Thanks!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Slice of Life - Reflecting on the love of a favorite book

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

I spent the day today grieving. No, I had not lost someone I loved, more like something. That makes it sound more dramatic than need be, but I have a feeling some of you might understand.

In the summer of 1999 I was twenty-five. I was teaching in a tiny town, not in my current school district, yet. I was on summer vacation and remember that I was watching The Rosie O’Donnell Show. She talked about an upcoming book release, the third in a series called “Harry Potter”. She mentioned that she loved them as much, if not more, than her son. Somehow I had not heard of these books before. I went out and purchased the first one. Plowing through that volume, I purchased the next two immediately.

It is hard to explain how much I fell in love with this series. The character of Harry, obviously. But I loved more than him. I loved the relationships – Harry and Hagrid; Harry and the Weasley family; Harry and Dumbledore; Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I loved the setting. I loved Rowling’s message of the importance of love.

When the seventh book came out I was excited, but so sad. I finished that book with tears running down my face. I hated that it was over. So when the final movie came out last summer, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 2, I didn’t see it in the theater. I just couldn’t. My husband and oldest son went and loved it. Then it came out on DVD and my oldest son purchased it. It has sat in our cabinet for half of a year and I still didn’t watch it. Luke finally asked me why and I told him, I just could stand for the whole experience to be over. Once I watched that movie there would be no more to look forward to, at least where the world of Harry Potter was concerned.

Finally over vacation Luke convinced me to watch it. He, Chris, and I sat down and saw the entire movie. Just like all of the others, it was brilliant. At first, I was fine. It didn’t hit me until today. I started “Googling” interviews with the cast members. Interviews with J.K. Rowling. I ended with an interview with the major cast members and Rowling before the premiere. Rowling looked at the camera and said,

The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.

And that’s just it. I can always go back to Hogwarts, through my books and the movies. I was still a blubbering mess watching her interview, but knew she was right. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be thrilled if she wrote some follow up books, but for now I will survive.

As I dried my tears I thought about how much I had connected with these characters, so real that they seemed like friends. And while I loved the movies, the books were where I really disappeared into that world. This is what I want for my students. To care so deeply about a book they are moved to tears. To wait impatiently for release dates, wondering why their favorite authors can’t write faster. To grieve the loss of those characters once the series is done. I think this is something I will be sharing with my reading camp students tomorrow and my own classes this fall. What it means to fall in love with a book, an author, a character, I’m glad I know.