Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

I heard of Teacher's Write! (the oh-so-fabulous summer writing camp I'm participating in) through an email on a librarian's listserve I belong to, so I went to author Kate Messner's site for more details.  I knew I had recently put her books in my library, but I hadn't actually read them yet. 

I know, I know...it's hard to believe, but there you have it.

I resolved that issue last night.  I made a late-evening trip to my library and picked up The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.   It was a lovely short break from my all-day-at-home-with-both-kids-whining life yesterday---I was the only one in the school, the only one in my library=utter serenity!

So I brought this little jewel home and thought I'd just start it so I could count it in my #summerthrowdown #teamlibrarian reading (check out twitter for more info)---not really intending to finish it.  After all, it was rather late when I got started (about 9ish) and it had been a really long day.
But, my!  I really, really (can I add another really?-yep, I think I will) REALLY loved this book.

Gianna is a 7th grader--an awesome runner and an artist.  Gianna and her family (including her beloved Nonna, and her joke-loving little brother) live above the funeral home where her dad works.  Her best friend Zig has been around pretty much forever--he's a brainiac and an all-around good guy. 

Gianna has an assignment---to collect, identify, label, etc. 25 different types of leaves--for her science class.  She's procrastinated a bit (okay, maybe a lot) getting it down---but in all fairness, she's had a lot going on.  I mean, to stay ahead of that Bianca in track takes practice (not to mention she loves running), and an artist must create art, right?  Plus, she's beginning to worry about her Nonna.  She doesn't seem quite herself these days--forgetting and misplacing things.  Who could concentrate on a stupid leaf project with all that going on, I ask you? 

Time is running out, though, and she must finish this project or lose her spot at the upcoming meet (to that Bianca--ugh!) and that just CANNOT happen.  Zig--great friend that he is-- offers to help her finish the project. 

The utter realness of the characters is striking.  Messner really gets this right!  The newly developing bits of tension between Gianna and Zig--- that we're-friends,-we've-always-been-friends-but-hmmm...I'm-starting-to-see-you-in-a-whole-new-light-and-I-don't-quite-know-what-to-do-with-these-feelings deal is greatness.  Sweet, not saccharine.   And I so feel the pain in the family over Nonna's failing health. 

With all that being said, my favorite part is the ending which, if you've ever read one of my book reviews you know I'll never give that spoiler!  But I really, really love that Gianna is true to herself. 

I highly recommend this read!  It was comforting and lovely and brilliant and real. Just like Gianna herself.

Read on, Gentle Readers; Read on!

Mrs. S

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yippee for positive feedback!

Gae Polisner, YA author and Teachers Write camp advisor, gave me positive feedback on my writing today!  Giddy!

Teachers Write!

Looking back over week one of my summer online writing community (thanks a million to Kate Messner and friends!) it has been incredibly productive.

Not that I'm finished with the next great novel.  Not that I've even started the next great novel, for that matter, or really even worked on my WIP (work in progress).  But...what I have done is started to get back in the daily habit of writing.

Even when I don't have time.  I find a way to make time.
Even when I'm not feeling the call of the muse.  I try to call the muse to me.
Even when den is in chaos and the bed is calling my name.


Because in order to be a writer, one must write.
And in case you didn't know this about me, I really, really want to be a writer.

Thanks for listening.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My year in review: reflections on a school year

Having always been on a school schedule my entire life (my mom is a teacher; I went from being in school to being in college, to teaching by the time I was 21.  One of my children was born in August, the other *you guessed it* was born in May!), I think in terms of school years all the time.  January is always the middle of my year, signaling the beginning of spring semester in my mind. And so, that is how I've come to write my year-end reflections at the beginning of June. 

I happened upon another blog site this morning while going through the Teacher's Write blog posts.  The Life of a Conflicted Teacher posted about his year, and while I usually do reflect, I've never really blogged about it.  

Seems silly, doesn't it?  So here I am...thanks to Conflicted, ready to write my reflections.  

What went well:
  1. I feel great about the events I planned over the past year.  Teen Read Week was awesome---included the Ellen Trout Zoo educational folks, an author/story-teller/singer, murder mysteries, and several contests.  Our author visit with Neal Shusterman was fantastic, and taking teens to the TT4L day at the TLA library conference was amazing.  
  2. Circulation was up.  Loads of kids checking out books----what could be better than that? 
  3. I have, in particular, a few lessons that I thought really clicked with my kids this year.  Teaching all our 8th graders about Norse mythology and a bit about Viking culture was a real highlight for me.  When you have this age kiddo coming up to you and thanking you for your lesson because they really enjoyed it and learned a lot -- that's high praise!  I had so much FUN with this, too.  And...for YEARS I've wanted to work with kids on a genealogy project---finally got to do this, too, thanks to an awesome history teacher (and friend) who gave me the opportunity this year.  The kids had a great time and we all learned a lot.  There's even interest in me creating a genealogy club next year!
  4. I got brave, and took the plunge into genre-fying the Fiction side of the library.  It's a bit overwhelming to think about the amount of work in finishing this project (deep breaths, here) but I believe the payoff will be enormous.  Every kid I polled said this would be a fantastic change because it would help them find what they want in the library.  Ultimately, that's what sold me on it.  
Needing improvement:
  1. With no longer having an aide, I've had a real learning curve this year on getting everything done in the library that needs to be done.  We made it through, but some tweaks definitely must be made for next year.  I need to take more training time for the students that will assist me, for one thing.  
  2. Finding a way to get everyone in the library.  I would love to have every subject area feel that it is "their" place rather than "just Language Arts" and I really want to offer book clubs, etc. again.  It is a time-management not spreading-myself-too-thin issue, but there MUST be a way to work around the obstacles to have this happen.  Totally unwilling to give up on this----just need to figure it out.  
  3. Time for me to do my "shop" work.  I need to be better at scheduling in all those millions of behind-the scenes bits librarians do.  More often than I would have liked, that time got sacrificed for face-to-face time with the students.  What I need to keep in mind is that BOTH are important facets of my incredible job.  
  4. Our One Book, One School program was not the stellar success story it should have been.  I won't elaborate on this, but note that I do have plans for next year that should fix this issue.
Plans for next year:
  1. Keep the kids excited about reading.  and literature. and learning in every way.  Keep them curious about everything and teach them how to find out/figure out/the answers.  
  2. Make better sanity-preserving boundaries for myself (no working lunches) while still providing top-notch service for my school family. 
  3. Genre-fy like the wind!
  4. Remember to breathe.  And that ultimately it is all okay, because even if the carts to be shelved are overflowing, and the books aren't in the perfect order, and my circulation desk is piled high with to-dos, I play a big role of getting books into the hands and hearts of my children and I am truly successful at that. 
Read on, Gentle Readers; Read on!
Mrs. S

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I am not a laptop gal

I really, really want to be a laptop gal, one of those super-cool writers on their super-cool macs in the coffee shop.

But I have discovered I'm not.


A couple of issues:
1) I don't have a mac.  I have a school-issued hp.  I'm grateful, and it is great for checking email, etc. but is incredibly cumbersome for writing.
2)having the laptop out is like advertising free candy for my little ones.  The minute mama is on the laptop everybody has some sort of deep need for me right now!

So, I'm back on the desktop this morning.  Even with the sticky "n" key it is better than the laptop.  Or maybe it's just because the kiddos are still sleeping.  Either way, I'm excited to be writing again.

Today's prompt from Kate Messner's Teachers Write summer writing group:

Tuesday Quick-Write:
Write for two minutes to describe a very specific place.  If you’re just free-writing, it can be a place that you love, or have visited, or a place that frightens you.
This is one of my favorite places (which also happens to frighten me sometimes), the Florida Everglades.
Anyplace is fine. If you want to relate this to your work-in-progress, choose a very specific setting within the piece and imagine yourself there.
When your two minutes are up, stop writing.
Now…if your place is real and you can go there, go there now.  I’ll wait….
If it’s far away, find a picture of it. If it’s not a real place, put yourself there in your mind. Now write for one minute about each of the following:
  • Everything you SEE – Pay attention to big things and tiny things. Search for concrete details.
  • Everything you HEAR – Be specific. Don’t just say “a scraping sound.” Say a “high-pitched, raspity-raspity-screeeeeaking noise.”  You can make up words if you want.If you aren’t in the place, try to find a video. Or guess what you might hear.
  • Everything you SMELL – Especially pay attention to the smells that surprise you. If you’re not in the place, pictures can help you smell. Look carefully…what would that dumpster smell like?
  • Everything you FEEL – Weather, wind, things that land on you or brush against you. Again – pictures help you imagine if you’re not there, and if it’s not a real place, try imagining images and then assigning sensations from a similar place that might be real (desert, tundra, etc.)
Now, go back and rewrite that descriptive paragraph. Include your best tiny, surprising details, and work on senses other than sight. Better?  More vivid?  This is a fun activity to do with kids, too. Have them write about the playground or gym or cafeteria; then go there and hunt for sensory details!
I really love this prompt.  I've done my initial 2 minute write---about my library office, of all places! but I'm saving my rewrite till a bit later in the day since I am planning to go to work today. I really do want to experience my office with all my senses and then write.  Good idea, huh?  ;)
I've decided to throw caution to the wind and post my writing on my blog this summer---it is really hard for me to put myself totally out there to be judged, but I'm ready for some growth in my writing, so what the heck. Here goes...

My library office is one of my favorite spaces in the world.

Yes, it is cluttered with stuff; supplies for not only my library work, but on the table to the left, a tall stack of purple Gifted and Talented folders ready to be sent to admin for the summer; to the right an extra cart of new laptops that need to be cataloged, and a pile of papers that need to be filed for my Girl Scout troop that meets after school in the library. Oh yes, and books. Books line the shelves, of course; some of my favorites, some signed by authors, some from my childhood. Along the back of the office I have a cart of newly-arrived books just waiting for my finishing touches to make them shelf-ready. A special shelf of books that just might be a bit too much for my middle school readers is there, anxiously awaiting my reading and final judgment: do they stay or do they go? Photos of my family, the Cheez-It box signed by all the kids on the NYC spring break trip from the year we got stuck in a freak snow storm for 4 extra days in Secaucus, New Jersey (a whole other story), my Godzilla action figure, my Shakespeare puppet. I am surrounded in this space by the beautiful, the meaningful, and the whimsical mementoes of my life.

Each morning as I enter this sanctuary, I have what might very well end up as the only few moments of utter peace in my day. As a wife and working mother of two very darling and high-maintenance girls, not to mention working with tweens and teens and teachers all day, this brief time all by myself in my office feels utterly luxurious. My own secret garden, filled with the heavenly scent of coffee brewing and that lovely new book smell. The soft mechanical hum of my computer and the air conditioning unit that backs up against my office wall soothes many a harried morning. As I sip my coffee and check my email, I breathe deeply in my safe space. I exhale. I am girded and strong and ready for the day.

Let me know what you think...
Mrs. S.

Monday, June 4, 2012


It's Summer!


really pumped up about several things going on this summer....one of them starts tomorrow.

This is a virtual writing community for teachers and librarians (but anyone can join in the fun!).  I'm incredibly excited to participate this summer---and I'll try to be brave and post some writing on this blog just for fun. 

more to come!

Mrs. S