Tag Archives: Colby Sharp

A Different Gift This Year

Most of us are well into the holiday season already. Thanksgiving was early this year, which stretched the festivities by an extra week for most. Hannukah starts today for my my Jewish friends and Black Friday is already in the rearview mirror. Talk at the staff room table often centers around plans and shopping for the holidays.

It’s festive, it’s fun…it’s frenetic!

This year we’ve already had several snow days before December even arrived  and during our last one I realized it was the first time I didn’t have some project or plan waiting for me to work on . My book is off being printed, my National Boards are completed, my workshops and conferences for the year are behind me. I had a day to myself without a TO-DO list nudging me along.  It was incredible!

It got me thinking about how infrequently I experience that situation. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my ‘busyness’-I love living life to the fullest and packing in as many experiences as I can into this short journey I’ll have on this earth. I rarely regret any of the choices I make to do, go, or create – but I also realize there is a cost that I sometimes ignore. In order for the value of these experiences to be more meaningful, I need to appreciate that.

I decided that for this December I am going to give myself a guilt-free gift that I can unwrap each day and appreciate…the gift of NO. (or No, Thank You!) I work at four schools and each has it’s own Secret Santas, Goodie Days, Gift Exchanges, and Christmas Parties. In the past I have tried to participate in something at each school to feel connected to my colleagues with the spirit of the season. And I enjoyed each experience very much, but what I neglected to recognize was the cost of participating. Sure there is a monetary cost, but it was the mental cost of planning, scheduling, shopping, remembering that I didn’t fully appreciate. I almost always found myself scrambling to fit it all in and over-scheduling myself with the preparation parts.

I have no worries that anyone will feel slighted, in fact, I think that’s a bit of hubris to think that my absence would negatively impact anyone. I love leaving my own notes and gifts to teachers and friends that fill me with gratitude and offer them some holiday cheer-and that doesn’t need to be on anyone’s schedule but my own.

Saying “NO.” is not saying “Bah-Humbug”!

“No” offers me the gift of space.  Space to say “Yes” to something I may not have had time for. Space to be open to in-the-moment simple joys-to sit and listen to music, watch my tree twinkle, snuggle with my pets, gaze at the flames in the fireplace, savor a Christmas cookie nibble by nibble.  “No” invites more mindfulness because it reminds me that I have choice in all I do-that I can make choices with more intention. It encourages me to BREATHE IN the spirit of the season. May you find a little of this guilt-free gift in your stocking this December as well.  You deserve it.

One More Off My TBR Stack!

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.07.06 AM

THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu is a brilliant storyteller. She knows how to dangle just enough foreshadowing and mystery in front of her readers to pull us in and keep us captivated. She knows how to create characters we cheer for and cringe at. She knows how to weave the threads of plotlines together to create a gorgeous tapestry of story. The Lost Girl (releasing Feb 12,2019) is her latest gem.
Identical twins Iris and Lark have been inseparable until 5th grade when their parents think it best for them to be in separate classrooms. They have no idea the impact this will have on their girls, especially at a time when strange things are happening in their community. A mysterious shop sets up in town that Iris can’t seem to resist. Lark keeps having possessions go missing and becomes more reclusive. Neither has any idea of the dan
ger that awaits them, but our surreptitious narrator tries to warn the readers-are they paying attention? Not all is as it seems!

Here’s a book talk by Colby Sharp!

Love it? Say it! Share it!

This week’s post is a recycled theme. I’ve previously written about the importance of sharing our “Book Love”, but the more authors I get to know, the more passionate I feel about this. The books we love don’t just appear. There is a hardworking author who chose every single one of those words that we are savoring! I frequently see posts on social media where they comment on how a review, tweet, or fan letter has touched them or inspired them.  When you work for months or years, all alone, pouring your heart into a piece of writing, you hope that it is meaningful to some reader out there. Well, dear readers, let’s show them if it is!

I know many who do.  There is a whole nerdy nation of readers who are passionate about books and authors.  One of the biggest tribes is the Nerdy Book Club . Here they are always sharing their love of books and love for their writers. But what are some other avenues readers can take to spread their appreciation for the writers who gift us their words?

Here are a few ways I have tried.

Last year one of my favorite authors, Gae Polisner, (The Pull of Gravity, The Summer of Letting Go, and on Sept. 6 The Memory of Things) reminded me, as I read her blog, about the importance of book reviews to authors. Click below.

Tuesday Feedback: A Little Conversation about Book Reviews Starring YOU

Her message was that authors need us to keep them in the public eye.  Sharing our favorite books on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr will inform our friends and followers.  But how can we expand our Book Love beyond our relatively small circle?  How can we support those authors we love so they can continue their writing careers and bring us even more Book Love??

Our reviews on sites like Goodreads will certainly expand our influence and love, but sites like Amazon have a much stronger impact for sales of books.  THAT is the ultimate way we support our favorite authors.  Love a book?  Let others know!! Don’t know how to post an Amazon review?  Go here.  Don’t worry about sounding like an editorial reviewer from Kirkus, New York Times, Booklist, or School Library Journal. The length and quality aren’t as important as the willingness to do it! Here are a few quick tips for posting reviews for the books you love!

  • (This book) is about brief synopsis (but I think it’s really about)what it means to you. (Your review  doesn’t require a complete retelling-editorial reviewers have already done that! What is this book about for YOU?)
  • If you like_____________this book is for you! Who would like this book?  Who would be a target audience? Why would they enjoy it?
  • I really liked ______________ . Were the characters compelling?  Was the writing engaging?  Was it humorous? Suspenseful? Realistic? Heartwarming? Mention one or two things about the book that made it memorable for you.
  • Mention the author’s name (and illustrator).  Remind readers of the person behind those words who pounded out that plot, those characters, that dialogue, those facts and worked their bums off. Books don’t just happen, someone dreams them and brings them to life-we need to honor that!

THAT’S IT!  Sure you could do more or less.  You could write a review any way you want. Check out how kids do it at The Spaghetti Book Club! The big idea isn’t HOW?…it’s WHEN?!!  When will you take a few minutes and go to the independent or big box bookstore or  the website where you purchased your copy and leave a quick, but important review?  We want to keep this authors “employed” and creating the books we love!

What if I can’t afford to buy the book?  No worries.  I try to be a book patron as often as possible, but my local library knows me by my first name.  I check out dozens and dozens of books a month.  I always make sure to tell the librarian about the books I love the most and that ensures they’ll be recommended to other patrons.  As I said, I’ve also been known to leave a post-it note or note card sticking out to grab readers’ attention, “Hey!  You should check _______ out!  You’ll love it!”

So now that you’ve read my soapbox spiel – click on over to Amazon and post a review for one of your favorite authors!  They deserve it!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 9.00.11 AMSince the day I read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, I knew I would pre-order any other book she would publish. Some writers help you visualize, Natalie makes you feel!  She creates characters that you want to befriend (or adopt!) Her writing is almost lyrical. I find myself rereading lines to taste them tripping across my tongue! Some may call it folksy, I find it charming.

The Key to Extraordinary  did not disappoint!! It is a joy to read. It is filled with imagery like this:

If God had a stethoscope, and if He held it up to this part of the dreary world to check for a heartbeat, I hope these are the sounds He’d hear: The sound of boots stomping rhythms out of the dust. The sounds of happy squeals and laughter when people spin out, nearly dizzy from joy. The sound of a scratchy voice, a thumping guitar, a plucky violin.  That’s what pure joy sounds like.”

When I came home from school last night and saw this book sitting on the kitchen counter, I ripped it open and dove right in.  Part of me wanted to slow down and savor it, but I just couldn’t. As I got into it, I was compelled to see what Emma’s Destiny Dream was, and how it was going to be realized. I wanted to see if the mysterious boy would ever speak again.  I had to know if they could save their family bakery, the Boneyard Cafe.  I was curious if the ghosts in their backyard cemetery were real. I needed to know what the key in her dream unlocked!

If you love stories with multi-generational families, compassionate characters, traditions, and eccentricity,  I think you will love it, too!  The Key to Extraordinary is extraordinary. It will satiate a hunger you didn’t even know you had!

Beyond Thankful

Since it is the eve of Thanksgiving and there are so many other tasks demanding my attention, my blog this week will be a simple gratitude journal.  I cannot possibly list all that I am thankful for, so I will focus on my time at NCTE in Minneapolis this past week.

I am thankful…


…That I could bring a colleague.  Andrea made this experience so rich and meaningful.  I am lucky that I have such great teachers to collaborate with. I love my job, and the teachers who make it so rewarding.



…That I had a “dream team” for my panel presentation on Close Writing.

They each brought incredible insights to their close writing process and showed us that there is no “ONE RIGHT WAY” to be a writer.  Thank you to Sarah Albee, Linda Urban, Lester Laminack, Kate Messner, and Selene Castrovilla.  Andrea and I learned so much from you all.

…That I got to meet the authors who have touched my life so profoundly.

Katherine Applegate brought me to tears with the story of The One and Only Ivan and her latest incredible book Crenshaw. Kate DiCamillo has brought a bit of magic to every story she’s written. I have been a fan since Because of Winn Dixie and haven’t stopped loving her work.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt is the most compassionate author I know and can call friend. Her books One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree are must-reads for every teacher.  They allow us to see our students in profound ways -and now that I know how much they reflect the heart of this author, they are even more special. And Cynthia Lord is a true gift to kid lit lovers.  Her books Rules, Touch Blue, Half a Chance and  A Handful of Stars bring the stories of ordinary children with very real problems to life for our students in ways that help them know they are not alone-that someone understands.


…That I got a chance to connect with those Nerdy Book Club peeps

that feed my soul (and my Amazon cart!) with their passion for kid lit.  Colby Sharp, John Schumacher (Mr. Schu), and Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer) have so much energy and knowledge.  It was truly infectious!

…That I learned from some amazing authors and educators at panels and

roundtables.  I tried to take photos, and notes, and sketches as fast and furious as I could at times, and at other times I just ‘absorbed’ the experience and savored the moment.

…and finally I am incredibly thankful for the people at Stenhouse who helped me put my ideas into a book that will be out next month.

To say it was a surreal experience would be the understatement of my life. When I saw the lineup of authors to meet and chat at the Stenhouse booth I was blown away.   I am mindful of the quote,

“To those whom much is given, much is expected.”

I will strive to give back to the degree that I am given, to be humbled and grateful by the experiences I am fortunate to have, and to remember to thank those who have been a light in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

What’s On My Book Radar?



I was able to get the most recent “True Story” fairy tale adventure from Liesl Shurtliff.  RED: The True Story of Red Riding Hood.  This fantastical tale was my companion for the plane ride home.  I love the twists and turns of re-imagined fairy tales-Liesl has a wonderful way of bringing fresh insights to old and familiar tales.  Look for this book April of 2016!


Virtual Summer Camp 2015

When you live in an amazing state like Maine, “Staycations” are a favorite, especially in the summer.  Winters are long here, and we often don’t want to give up a single day of our Maine summers.  Though there were several conferences and camps I would have truly enjoyed going to, I elected to attend them virtually.  Thanks to social media it’s not only possible, it’s easy!

1538725First up is nErDcampMI.  I am determined to roadtrip my way across the coun1621704_667566729951571_1638043617_ntry for this one someday, but the next best thing is following the tweets of my favorite nErDy campers (Katherine Sokolowski, Donalyn Miller, John Schumacher, Cindy Minnich, Teri Lesesne, and Lesley Burnap -among others. Another way to learn along with these campers is by visiting the IDEA BOARD where participants brainstormed topics to explore and archived their notes/resources. Colby Sharp is the amazing educator who organizes this camp and one of the founders of The Nerdy Book Club.  If you love books you can follow the blogs of these nerds and get your nerdy on!

You can see a complete listing of EDcamps at: EDcamp Calendar 2015

summit-logo_0Next up were the Scholastic Reading Summits scattered across the country from Boston, to Austin, to Birmingham and more. Featured speakers included:

Again, I could follow along on twitter with the hashtag #readingsummit or check out these RESOURCES on the website.



Last week was the first summer conference for the newly renamed International Literacy Association  (formerly International Reading Association).  Previously they have held this conference the first week of May, but this year it was summer in St. Louis.  Having grown up in the Midwest, I knew that could be H-O-T!  Twitter was again my go-to entrance ticket to this event!  Following the hashtag #ILA15 I was able to see photos, read quotes, and link to videos. Still looking for notes and resources from this one!

As you can see, you don’t have to go far for professional development. Sure, it’s great to go in person, to experience the camps and conferences with other passionate educators.  But when you can’t, there’s no reason to be left out!  We can be as connected as we choose to be.  I’ll be at NCTE 15, but this summer I chose virtual PD-fun and free!

What’s On My Book Radar

My #bookaday challenge is going great! You can follow my daily reads on Facebook: Book-a-Day Summer 2015. One book I have been recommending to many is The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.  Harry Potter fans will find many similarities, as we follow three young mages (gifted with magic) who enter the Magisterium when they turn twelve.  I worried at first it would be too much of a copycat series, but those worries vanished as I was pulled into this adventure.  First of five, I highly recommend this Maine Student Book Award nominee!


My new favorite picture book is Little Red Henry by Linda Urban!  I love this twist on a familiar story.  Rather than looking for help, Henry is looking for independence…something his family doesn’t seem ready to offer! This will be a fun read aloud for classrooms and livingrooms!




Keep Calm. It’s only a test.

keep-calm-its-only-a-testEvery educator has to deal with them, but very few find joy or affection for them…your state’s high stakes test.  Yesterday our state’s test scores (The NECAP) were released to schools.  While some schools may celebrate the growth their students made, many others will bemoan the losses their scores reflect.  Numbers will be crunched.  Data will be manipulated.  Backs will be patted.  Fingers will be pointed.  And for awhile numbers grab our attention while the children they represent are hidden behind a score.

Now I am not an anti-assessment person by any means.  We need a way to senecap-logoe if what we are teaching is being learned.  We need to see what children already know to build upon that knowledge.  We need to monitor progress to make adjustments to instruction.  We need to be accountable for offering up our very best.  Assessments provide us valuable information to inform what we do as educators.  Assessments can provide students feedback on their progress.

Sadly, assessments also-far too often- are used as a way to address complex issues in very simplistic terms.  Educating a child is a very intricate journey, that starts at birth.  Every aspect of a child’s life affects his or her education, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.  Early brain development is influenced by environmental and genetic factors.  Experiences with books, numbers, nature, culture, art, community, relationships, etc. are as varied as the number of children who walk through our doors.  Adequate ‘doses’ of food, language, love and nurturing are often lacking.  Everything…EVERY THING that a child experiences influences how they learn, what they learn and how much they learn.

We welcome these children into our schools each day.  We know the playing field didn’t start out level before they came to us.  We know some are eager, some are anxious, some are hungry, some are hurting.  We take them where they are and we nurture them, we love them, we teach them.  We invest our lives in their lives. Every teacher I have known offers the best that they have.  Their best is varied, it’s true.  Most teachers are lifelong learners themselves, willing to grow and learn and adjust.

So it with sadness that a measure of a child’s learning gets reduced to a number on a high stakes test, with the only accountable factor being the school, the teacher.  That number doesn’t reflect the ‘ah-ha’ of the child who discovered a book they fell in love with, the speech the shy child gave with pride, the artist that emerged from the withdrawn child, the truant child who finally mastered his multiplication tables, the child who wrote a passionate story about his father getting arrested, the child who wrote a song about what it is like to be hungry.  If we measure learning as an increased number, we are missing the humanity in teaching, we are disregarding the celebrations of what is important to that child, at the moment in his/her life.

Politicians point to scores to decry public education and push for charter schools.  Governors create ‘Report Cards‘ to embarrass schools with struggling students. Governor Wannabees think the report cards don’t go far enough!! The push for teacher evaluations to be tied to these assessments will hinder teachers willingness to take on the challenges of our most needy students.  The unintended consequences of high stakes test  (that have nothing to do with student learning) are often absent from policy making discussions.  It is convenient to blame schools and not address more complicated issues such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc. as integral cogs in the learning wheel.  It’s easy to say “we can’t just throw money at the problem” as an excuse not to fund schools adequately.

Let us use assessments to guide our instruction, to align our curricula, to adjust our approaches to students, but stop beating up schools and teachers over the circles a child filled in (or didn’t fill in) on one test, on one day over a limited area of study.  Advocate for policies that nurture our ‘children’ from the cradle to the grave.  Fund education at a level that meets the needs of every child!  Start treating education as an investment and not welfare-schools should never need to beg their communities for the money to educate their own children.

So, yes teachers, the scores came out today. Keep calm! They don’t define you!

What’s on my book radar?

So besides NECAP scores being announced yesterday the ALA Youth Media Awards were also announced.  (Much better announcement by far!)

I was excited to have read so many of the honor and winning books.  I was also reminded by Colby Sharp (Nerdy Book Club) to use these awards as a way to celebrate children’s books and authors and focus less on the winners and losers.  (Hmmm…a theme in  my post this week!)

I have already requested books from my local library that I had somehow missed last year that the American Library Association certainly hadn’t.  Can’t wait!

For Picture Books: Randolph Caldecott Medal Honor Book

For Middle Level Readers: John Newbery Medal  Honor Book

For Young Adult: Winner of Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in literature written for young adults)

 Alex Award  (2 of 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences)



IMG_5117This past weekend I attended the most amazing professional development!  Created BY teachers, FOR teachers, WITH teachers this “Unconference” in Biddeford, Maine was tailor made for everyone! Dubbed nErDcamp Northern New England (nErDcampNNE) was inspired by nErDcamp Battle Creek which was created by Colby Sharp

So what was nErDcamp?  From their blog  I found, “nErDcamp is an “unconference” modeled after edcamp but the focus is on literacy. An “unconference” means that participants decide which topics will be explored. During the first half hour we will fill a session board with different topics generated from participants. Participants decide which sessions they wish to attend. You are encouraged to move to another session if you are attending one that isn’t working for you. Some sessions may be led by participants who want to share a strategy, tool or idea that has worked for them (ex: Using Evernote in the classroom). Other sessions may be more like round table discussions in which participants discuss and share ideas on a topic (ex: How to engage reluctant readers).”

I HAD to try this!

The evening before the conference the organizers held a Nerdy Evening with the Authors and Illustrators at a local library.  Children’s book and YA authors from Maine and beyond came to greet children, families, teachers and fans.  Talk about an opportunity to network!  Some authors discussed skyping with our classrooms and connecting via Twitter as ways to reach their young audiences.  They all took time to talk and sign books.

I had the good fortune to meet:

Ed Briant, Kate Egan, Cynthia Lord, Lynn Plourde, Megan Frazer Blakemore, Cathryn Falwell, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, J.E. Thompson, Gail Donovan, Kevin Hawkes, Sashi Kaufman and Lisa Jahn-Clough all in one place!

IMG_5115Having a blast with Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Lynn Plourde and Cynthia Lord.

The next day, I joined educators from around the state (and beyond) to create our own conference.  Susan Dee (incredible Biddeford educator) facilitated the auditorium audience as we chose topics and created a Google Doc for sessions.  People volunteered to facilitate sessions and others to take notes to capture the essence and resources in the discussions.   We all headed off to our assigned rooms and immersed ourselves in rich discussions, abundant resources and tons of tips!  I found myself checking out notes being created in other sessions I wanted to attend, wishing I could clone myself to be in more than one at a time!

IMG_5128Susan Dee, kicking off the event and facilitating the session development

We learned how to motivate ‘striving’ readers and writers, incorporate technology more easily into our classrooms, build our booklist of ‘must haves’, connect with authors, organize better book clubs…and more!

IMG_5145Authors Julie Falatko, Megan Frazer Blakemore and Lynn Plourde facilitated a session on ‘Making Writing Visible’

We took charge of our own learning!  Creating our own professional development with a “tribe” of open minded and supportive educators was so empowering!  We made connections with others that will go far beyond the one day event and it was FREE!!!!

IMG_5164Teachers browsing the incredible amount of freebies the committee organized for attendees.

So if your district, region or state is interested in creating their own edcamp they could post questions or comments on twitter #nErDcampNNE, follow their nErDcampNNE Blog, check out Colby Sharp’s nErDcamp in Michigan or follow Susan and the other nErDcamp team on twitter.

IMG_5168The amazing nErDcampNNE committee:  (front) Cathy Potter, Susan Dee, Mary Lou Shuster, (back)Jennifer Felt, Kate Sullivan, Chris Pirkl, Gigi McAllister, Justin Stygles

What’s on my Book Radar?

9780325050843Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts have put together a superb book that provides us lessons beyond literacy learning in the classroom that will give readers a greater appreciation for the literate the world around us.  Close reading is a real buzz word these days, I would recommend this book for teachers trying to encourage deeper thinking within the “4 corners of the page” and beyond. I think you’ll definitely fall in love with it!

I’ve also got to dive into all the books I had signed at the Nerdy Evening With the Authors!IMG_5252

Autographed books by Kevin Hawkes, Cynthia Lord, Lynn Plourde, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Gail Donovan and Lisa Jahn-Clough

Happy Reading, all you nerds!