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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.




Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

bookshelves: 2018-bookkindnesscommunitygenerositymock-caldecott-2019picture-book 

A wonderful lesson that generosity comes back to you, and a celebration of community. "Omu" means "queen" in the Nigerian language, Igbo, of Oge Mora's parents, but for her, it meant "Grandma". Loved the cut-paper illustrations.

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Writing invitation: Who would you like to celebrate, and how would you thank them?

     Wow!  It's March 31st, and the Slice of Life Story Challenge has come to an end.  What a journey it has been.  I've wanted to revive my blogging life, and this has been the motivation to do so.  I've loved reconnecting with some old friends and discovering new ones.  I've loved getting back to a writing life - the awareness of inspiration all around me, the discipline in sitting down to write even when you don't think you have anything to say, and the satisfaction of participating in something that builds community and camaraderie.  Writing is hard work.  It doesn't always come easy, it exposes a vulnerability not often felt, and it can be frustrating.  But the hard work pays off - it can also reveal some revelations, help you connect to others, and help  you figure out this thing called life.  There are some thank yous I would like to extend:

- Thank you, Angela and Megan, for a late night text thread in February that convinced me that I could do this, and that you would both take on the challenge with me. For your steady personal and professional inspiration and friendships.
- Thank you, Val and Jill, for also being part of our somewhat sporadic, but fiercely enthusiastic writing club.  That dinner recently was a blast. We need to keep it going!
- Thank you, Margaret, for your frequent comments on my posts, for being an inspirational writer and teacher, and for talking me off the ledge at one point during this challenge. ;-)
- Thank you, Leigh Anne, for greeting me warmly and welcoming me back into the fold.
- Thank you, Carol, for your familiar and warm voice and encouraging comments.
- Thank you, Angelina, from Angelina's Gardens, for your chicken posts and being a new blog to follow.
- Thank you, Kim, for your photos and reflections on your blog, Thinking Through My Lens.
- Thank you to the picture book authors and illustrators of the picture books that gave me ideas to write about this month.  I am in constant awe of the art and stories you create.
- Thank you to everyone who wrote, read, and commented this month. 
- Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for this challenge, your blog, and all the ways you inspire our writing lives and the writing lives of educators and students everywhere.
- Thank you to teacher writers everywhere who write because you love the craft, but also because you want to teach writing to your students, and being writers is the best way you can do that.
- Thank you all!  "Everyone who had knocked on Omu's door that day squeezed inside her tiny apartment, and together they ate, danced, and celebrated.  While Omu' big fat pot of thick red stew was empty, her heart was full of happiness and love."  While my "pen" is empty, my heart is full.  Signing off!
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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.



Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits by Cynthia Lord, photography by John Bald

bookshelves: 2019-bookanimalsbunniesnarrative-nonfiction,nonfictionhomekindness 

 This sweet picture book chronicles Cynthia Lord's journey of fostering bunnies. I love that her husband is the photographer! The outcome of the story made me teary. You can't help but want your own pet bunny after reading this! I enjoyed reading about the whole story after following much of it on Facebook.

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Writing invitation: Write about fostering, adopting, or taking care of a pet or animal and what it meant to you.

     We built our first house on the back 3 acres of my mom and dad's property, the same property where I grew up.  It had a little creek that ran through the woods in the front.  The girls and I would play out in the front yard, wander up and down the gravel drive, and explore the creek and woods.  The girls would have been really little, Libby around 4 or 5, Katie just able to walk, around 1 or 2, when a little black cat started to appear.  She was so friendly and sweet.  She would hang out with us and follow us around.  Ed was working out of town at the time, and after several days of her showing up and befriending us, I bought some food for her.  I called Ed about her, and carefully wondered if it would be okay with him if we wanted to keep her. 
     He asked, "Have you bought food and fed her?"
     "Yes," I replied.
     "Does she have a name?"
     "Yes," I answered again.
     He chuckled.  "Then why are you even asking me?  I'd say we already have a cat."
     "Well, yes, right. We have a cat now, and her name is Annie." (We named her after Little Orphan Annie.)
     We immediately loved her.  We wondered, of course, if she belonged to someone, but even after asking a few neighbors (since we lived in the country, there weren't a lot of them), no one seemed to know anything about her.  I took her to the vet to get her checked out, vaccinated, and spayed.  After she came home and recovered from her surgery, I let her out , and she didn't come back the whole weekend.  Ed joked that he now had a $300 cat (or whatever the total vet bill added up to be) that he'd never seen.
     Eventually, she did come back and became a permanent part of our family.  She would follow us all the way down the long driveway for Libby to catch her bus to kindergarten, and would follow us all the way back.  She was happy both indoors and outdoors, asking to go out every evening like clockwork. 
     She came with us to Pittsburgh and had to stay in a small crate in the hotel for a few days while we waited to move into our house.  She was NOT happy about that!  She also moved back with us and stayed in an apartment for several months while we waited for our house to be built in 2004.  I remember being worried about letting her out at the apartment, because I didn't know if she'd be able to find it again.  I kept her inside for days, but she went crazy!  So I finally let her out and hoped for the best.  Sure enough, she was back the next morning, no problem. 
     She was such a friendly, sweet little cat, but one day as she walked up our driveway, she was yowling loudly and miserably.  I took her to the vet, and sadly, she had a terrible kidney infection and had to be put to sleep.  It was terrible.  We loved having her as part of our family for about 8 years. It's amazing when an animal weaves its way into your heart.  We remember Little Orphan Annie fondly.
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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.



Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
bookshelves: 2018-bookfaithfamilydiversitymothers,imaginationpicture-bookreligionwomenweneeddiversebooks,muslimmulticultural 

A celebration of the khimar/hijab, mothers, and a child's imagination. I love that Mom-Mom (their grandmother) comes over from church, and the child's line is "She doesn't go to the mosque like Mommy and Daddy do. We are a family and we love each other just the same." I wish there had been an Author's Note in the back to teach us a little more about the khimar. Lots of diversity represented in the this book!  I loved how the daughter admired her mother's headscarves and dressed up in them.  As much as this book celebrates diversity, and we learn about a religious custom, it also celebrates the simple admiration a daughter has of a mother.

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Writing invitation: Write about something you love(d) about a parent, an older sibling, cousin, aunt/uncle, etc. or a special bond you have with someone.

     I remember sitting on my mom and dad's bed, watching my mom get ready for a party.  I thought she seemed so glamorous.  She was so methodical about the routine of getting ready, but chatty at the same time.  Base powder or liquid makeup - not sure which, blush, eye shadow, mascara, eye liner, curling iron. Tall, blond, and whisper thin, she wore all her clothes and makeup expertly.  Would I EVER look like that?!  Would I ever be able to put makeup on like that?  Smooth my hair golden and flipped back like that?



     She was also gentle, kind, and accessible.  I could talk to her, chit chat about this and that while she got ready, and laugh.  But I also remember feeling wistful.  She was going out.  Without me.  She and Dad had their own lives, they weren't always with me, and I was going to be with the babysitter.


     I wondered if my own daughters ever felt like that?  I had to ask them after I read this book and thought about what I would write.  I told them a little about the book and what it was about, and how I felt about my mom.
They texted me back:


     Libby: Your scarf box!  We used those for dress-up all the time!
     Katie: Ooooh I remember that.  I remember admiring that Holly Ball red dress (that's a whole story in and of itself) - so so much even as a little girl.
     Libby: Also your cow earrings (it's like I had two different lives - ha - the cow earring coincided with the 90s and teacher jumpers - ha)  Your whole earring drawer! OMG the Holly Ball dress.  Yes.
     Do you still have the cow earrings....? 
     Me: Noooooo!!!


     Anyway, apparently the mother/daughter thing is a similar experience.  I wonder about fathers and sons?  What goes on there?  I don't know.  But I do know that there the mom/daughter thing, like the relationship in this picture book, is a special thing.  I'm blessed to have the mom and daughters I have, and it's not the scarves, the dress, or the makeup that makes it special.  It's that we have each other, and through those relationships we're taught that we matter, what we believe means something, and that beauty is more than what we apply or wear.
    
    
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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is one of those books in my classroom library that I hadn't read, but kids raved about and recommended. I finally got around to listening to it on audio. I can see now why they loved it so much. Jessica, a track star at her school, loses her leg in a bus accident and thinks she will never run again. When she returns to school, her teacher seats her next to Rosa, a girl in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy whom everyone seemed to ignore. Jessica realizes she's wicked smart in math and fun to be around. They pass notes back and forth, and Rosa tutors Jessica to help save her math grade. Eventually they become friends. The two of them make an unlikely running team, but they end up surprising and inspiring everyone. This is a great follow up to our 5th grade common read, OUT OF MY MIND.

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     Today I'm straying from picture books.  This excerpt from The Running Dream from Linda Rief's wonderful new book, The Quickwrite Handbook, provides a powerful mentor text.  I've used it a couple times at professional learning experiences with teaching, and it always inspires heartfelt writing (and even a few tears)!  This is my attempt:

I AM A READER.
     That's what I do.
     That's who I am.
     Reading made my soul expand,
gave me glimpses in the mirror
and gazes out the window.
     It was that tree in my backyard and the one out by the creek
where I fell in love with reading.  Both tree and book gave me shelter
from the rain and shade from the sun.
     Anticipating the first page.
     Breathing in the air of characters.
     Turning pages sticky with stories.
   I loved devouring series after series under those trees...
     Nancy Drew, The Black Stallion, Little House on the Prairie, The Dark is Rising.
     Reading gave me a break from my own mind.
     It made me feel alive.
     And now?
     It still does.  I'm still a reader.
     Thankful.
      
     
     





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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.
Vincent Comes Home by Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vincent the cat lives an adventurous life on a cargo ship, traveling the world. He thinks he's seen just about every place, except he's curious about this place called "Home". The first and second mates keep talking about it, and he doesn't think they've ever stopped there. Finally, he decides to venture off the ship and follow the sailors to find out what this amazing place must be like. Of course, what he discovers is that it's not so much a place as it is where the people who love you are. He gets sad when he realizes he doesn't have a Home. But alas, he does! The captain is his Home! Sweet story. I loved Jessixa's book, Boats for Papa, so now I know I'm a fan! This one was illustrated by her husband, Aaron Bagley. Loved the illustrations as well.

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Writing invitation: What does Home mean to you? 

        My youngest daughter, Katie, returned home this weekend after living in Milwaukee and working at Kohl's Corporate for a little while.  Her return was a joyful occasion for all of us!  You see, we are Ohio folks.

        I was born in Cincinnati in 1966. When I was 2, we moved about 30 minutes north of Cincinnati to Mason, Ohio (then a quiet suburb with lots of rural farmland left, but has now grown into a bustling metropolis city) to a 7 1/2 country house, only straying from this area for college (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio - not very far away, and for the five years we lived in Pittsburgh from 1999-2004.  We loved Pittsburgh, but always felt a pull toward home.  It's where my best friends live (except for one), my husband grew up just north of here, and despite Ohio being somewhat boring, I guess, compared to some other exotic places to grow up, it's the heartland.  It truly is.

       We're thrilled to have both our oldest daughter and her husband, also a Cincinnatian, and now our youngest, in the same city!  Katie got a job here and will be looking for an apartment.  We also have one of Ed's sisters, one of her daughters (our niece, of course) and her husband, and another niece who will be doing her medical residency here!  Another niece is at college, so we'll have to see where she settles.  Home means family, neighbors, friends, and a sense of belonging.  The heartland.

       There's no place like home....


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My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.



Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

bookshelves: 2017-bookempathyfathersfearshopefriendship,leaving-a-legacypicture-booksocial-injusticesocial-responsibility,share-with-teachers 

We're living in a time when the social-emotional well-being of children is in crisis.  I don't think there could be a more perfect book to share with children right now than this one. Beautiful and perfect.

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book encourages children to share their voices in all kinds of ways - it doesn't have to be through words. Maybe it's planting a garden, painting a picture, being kind to someone, expressing yourself through your style, or simply giving someone a smile. Children can change the world -whether it be simple or extraordinary. The important this is to make a difference in your own unique way.

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Writing invitation: What ways can you express yourself and make a positive difference in the world?  What good things in others do you notice that make an impact?

These books make me think of the people around me who  make the world a better place in their own ways...

My friend, Karan: makes beautiful pottery and is fiercely dedicated to family and friends
My friend, Jill: is a champion of the marginalized and underdog, can get along with anyone
My friend, Lisa: remains even-keeled and funny in all situations and accepts everyone as they are
My friend, Annie: has an unmatched enthusiasm and energy for life and people
My friend, Megan: is smart, funny, easy to be around and talk to, and fun
My friend, Julie: is kind-hearted and quick to make friends
My mom: loves people, always thinks positively, and is full of energy
My dad: is kind, honest, loyal, strong, and full of integrity
My husband, Ed: seems to know and be interested in everything, takes care of everyone, and solves problems creatively, is an amazing cook, and makes people laugh
My daughter, Libby: loves to learn and talk, enjoys all kinds of people, has a great laugh, and is a brilliant writer
My son-in-law, Jamie: always gentle and easy-going, has a kind smile, and is always positive and fun
My daughter, Katie: is loyal and generous, gives perfect gifts, and is a good leader

This list could go on and on!  There are so many people in my life that make the world a better place!  This slice may develop into something more in the future...
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by  
 (Illustrations)
 


What a delightful new anthology of poems, all organized around How-T0s of various kinds: Mix a Pancake, How to Be a Snowflake, A Lesson from the Deaf, and of course, The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog. I LOVE the illustrations by Richard Jones, and all the writing inspiration that could come from this book!

Writing Invitation: Write a How-To Poem or a connection to one of the How-To Poems in this anthology.

     Because there were several poems that reminded me of things I loved as a child or that my children loved (toasting marshmallows, making pancakes, basketball, riding bikes, swinging, playing jacks, watching and drawing birds, making snow angels, catching snowflakes, enjoying fireworks, making grass whistle through my thumbs, and nighttime prayers), I'm going to incorporate both a How-To poem and childhood memories.  I lift a few lines throughout the anthology to help me!

How To Be a Child

Let the sun wake you up
and feel your feet on the cool
oak floors.
It's Saturday! No school!
Stretch and yawn,
hear your tummy rumble for breakfast.
Skip out to the kitchen,
already smelling of something yummy
and laugh at the heart-shaped
pancakes that flip into the air,
and cover them with warm syrup.

Then run out to the yard in bare feet, 
feel the grass tickle your toes
and hear the red-winged blackbird's
conk-la-ree trill,
welcoming a warm spring day.

Pick a blade of crabgrass
flat and wide,
and grass-whistle for your friend
to come over and play H-O-R-S-E
in the driveway.
Aim shoot,
aim miss...that's an H!

When you're tired of that,
run over to the swing,
up in the air till you can see so wide,
so high that the leg of the swing set
pumps up out of the ground.
Making my belly flip-flop,
and drop back down.

After swinging and saying goodbye to that friend, 
grab your bike 
from the garage,
pedal fast over the crunch of the gravel drive.
Head down the road to another friend's house
and skid to a stop. 
You're just in time for tomato soup
and grilled cheese!  
You can smell it through
the screen door.

When you're done with lunch,
it's time for a game of jacks.
Throw them down
on the ground
toss that ball
not too high
now pick, quick.
Man!  She wins again!

Play Barbies all afternoon 
until you have to go home for dinner.
You want to call and beg for more time,
but you know they'll say no.
You still have to do a few
things on the chore list 
before bed.

After hamburgers,
sit out by the fire, stir it with a stick
and toast marshmallows
to a perfect crisp brown
before it bursts into flame.
It tastes like summer,
soon to arrive,
when every day can be like today.

Yawn, stretch.
It's time for bed.
Heavy eyelids start to close.
But first, a prayer,
breathing in and out ---
whisper,
Thank you, God,
for everything.







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 My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.

Imagine! by Raúl Colón

bookshelves: 2018-book, art, creativity, imagination, picture-book, wordless, invitation-for-writing, inspiration  

When a boy skateboards through the city, he decides to stop at the Museum of Modern Art to explore. Lo and behold, as he admires certain paintings, they step out their frames and join him! They leave the museum, dancing, playing music, and have fun around the city, eventually inspired him to create his own art. Like one of my other favorites by Colón, Draw!, he invites us to imagine the impossible, to let our imaginations and creative spirits soar! Loved reading the Author's Note!

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Writing invitation: write about an experience with art, or how art (of any kind) inspired you to create your own.

     After reading Colón's Author's Note about how it wasn't until he was an adult when he visited an art museum, leading him to wonder what it would have meant for him if he had seen all those original works of art as a child, I thought about my own art museum experiences, also as an adult.  I have been fortunate to visit some beautiful museums throughout the United States and Europe, but one experience stands out...when I got to see the Mona Lisa in person in 2010! 

     One of the first things I remember about the experience was how small the it was.  I had expected a giant painting, but she is, in fact, much smaller than I realized.  It was also extremely crowded.  I actually snapped this photo while standing very far back and on tip-toe so I could zoom in and get her without people blocking the view.  I marveled at how many people had gazed at her mysterious expression throughout her years. I also wondered, what IS it that makes her so famous?!    When I read Imagine!, I immediately thought of that moment when I got to be in the same room as that painting.

     What if she could step out of the frame and wander through the city with us?  What would she say?  Would she FINALLY tell us the secret behind that expression?  What are her stories?  I'd love to know! 



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 My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.
 
 
 
 
 
 
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde

bookshelves: 2018-book, empathy, emotions, choices, confidence, grit, growth-mindset, hope, identity, individuality, picture-book, journey, curiosity, creativity
I love Susan Verde's and Peter H. Reynolds's "I am..." books! This one is perfect for an empathy unit. In this one, the author/illustrator team celebrates being human - embracing the wonderfulness of being human, but also recognizing the hard parts. The ending empowers children to choose happiness and kindness, to move forward, and understand that they are not alone. "We are all humans together." It would be a great book to begin AND end a school year.

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My first class with Columbia Intermediate School Colleagues, August 2016
 
I Am Cyclebar
 
When I feel stressed and tired,
when I wonder if things will calm down,
when things feel out of control...
I tell my weary body:
get on the bike.
I tell my spinning mind:
focus.
I tell my shallow breath:
fill your lungs with oxygen.
 
I am Cyclebar.
 
 
Frank says,
"Breathe positivity in,
breathe negativity out."
 
Amanda says,
"Look in the mirror.
You are a strong warrior.
You can do anything."
 


Kayleigh says,
"Set your intentions.
Settle in.  You are here."
 




 
I can conquer my doubts.
I am capable.
I can sprint
and steady my breath.
I can sweat
and turn the gears up.
 
I can climb to the top three.
I can increase my power points,
and focus my mind.
I can stand up and push,
drop down to do push ups,
and pick up that bar.
I can dance to the pounding beat,
tricep dip,
and isolate.
I can reach my goals,
surge, sprint, and pedal faster.
 
I can high five afterward,
give sweaty hugs,
and celebrate
doubts conquered, a healthy body and mind,
causes championed,
positive power,
goals met,
and each other.
 
I am Cyclebar.
 

 


  

 
 
 
 










 

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 My focus this month is to explore writing invitations, mostly through newly published picture books, but possibly some other mentor texts as well.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

bookshelves: 2018-bookbebravebeginning-of-schoolcharacter-developmentconflict-and-resolutionconnectionscouragediversity,fearandcouragefriendshipimmigrationimmigrantsidentity,invitation-for-writingpicture-bookrepetitioninclusiveness 

Beautiful celebration of belonging, inclusiveness, and courage. "There will be times...." repeats through the book as various kids try to find a way to connect. Of course, we've all had those times when we felt different, isolated, and fearful. Sometimes all it takes is one person to reach out and connect. Great story for writing inspiration, building community, and making sure we appreciate each other's differences through reaching out.

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Who hasn't felt all alone sometimes?  On the outside looking in? 

The Day You Begin

There will be times when the city you grew up in
is in your rear view mirror,
a family sized bag of M&Ms
in your drink holder to console you.

There will be times when you start a new job
and you are once again unsure of yourself,
wondering if you did the right thing.

Does she know what she's doing?
I wonder if she belongs here.
Maybe you'll be one of us someday.

There will be times when you enter a room
and no one seems to look your way,
or invites you to join them
and you feel completely alone.

But if you take a good look
inside yourself,
you'll know you've been here before,
and most likely will be again.

And you'll know you're strong enough,
and that you will make it through.
You'll grow in this experience
and will once again feel the connections
you felt before.

This is the day you begin

to make friends in your new neighborhood,
and make a home in a new place,
to find your confidence
and realize you're right where you belong,

where the room embraces you
and your path appears before you
again,
and you'll say,
well, hello...
there you are!
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