"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, June 17, 2018

ReedALOUD: Harbor Me

I read Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson and I can't stop thinking about it. Jacqueline Woodson has created a poignant and timely story whose characters both break and break open our hearts.

I received an advanced copy of the book, so you will have a wait a bit for this one. it comes out in August. Put it on your book order. The wait is worth it. 

Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago know they are different. 

"Learning felt like a race we were losing while the other kids sped ahead."

They are placed into their own classroom with their own teacher. Oh, but what a wonderful teacher Jacqueline Woodson has provided for them. Ms. Laverne is affirming and empowering.

"The words you miss just tell me what you don't yet know, Ms. Laverne always said. It says nothing about who you are." 

What Woodson does so importantly is allow the reader to experience the students' sense of themselves as learners, reminding readers that learning style has nothing to do with intelligence, which these students demonstrate time and time again throughout the story. 

Another thing that makes Ms. Laverne a fabulous teacher is that she sees what her students need and nudges Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton and Tiago from their comfort zone and into the unfamiliar. The six are given time within the school day, without any adult supervision, to find a way to help each other by talking about the things they would not talk about in front of a teacher. 

"Ms. Laverne said every day we should ask ourselves, "If the worst thing in the world happened, would I help protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it? The she said, "I want each of you to say to the other: I will harbor you."

At first they are afraid and unsure of this unsupported and unstructured time, but slowly, as they open up, they find solace and strength in each other's stories. 

Their weekly time in the ARTT (A Room to Talk) becomes a time of healing and growth as well as a time of hope.

"Like that thing Ms. Laverne said about how we have to harbor each other, you remember?" I nodded.
"I feel like your story does that. You're my same age and you have to be strong for your dad. It makes me feel like I can be strong too."
"And everyone else said, Yeah."

This incredible story is Jacqueline Woodson's, so not only is it written beautifully, it includes some thought-provoking poetry in Esteban's story, written by his father who has been taken away. The poetry is Esteban's, but in sharing it, he cements his bond with the other five students. The students also realize how much they do know and understand as they explore the poems. 
"Maybe this mountain sings of promises and families broken. Maybe 
it holds inside it a beautifully remembered dream. 
Tell him to hold inside himself 
all good memories - hugs. Friends. Laughter. 
Tomorrow holds no promises but now is not the time for tears.

As Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago learn to trust each other, they delve into tough conversations about illegal immigration and deportations, bullying, racial profiling, and family members serving time in prison. The six push each other to think more deeply and more broadly. 

Where Jacqueline's characters find safe harbor in each others words and stories, so too will readers, all readers, but especially those who feel marginalized, disenfranchised, bullied, and scared. 

Haley, Holly, Esteban, Amari, Ashton, and Tiago. Remember these names because they will will harbor you.

Note: I was sent an advanced reading copy with uncorrected text, so it may not be the same in the final copy. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Fifth graders reflect on Kate Messner's Visit

The incredible Kate Messner visit my school last week. I thought the visit was fabulous and very much enjoyed preparing the students for the visit, but what did the students think? No surprise here, they loved it as well. 

One student's reaction lead her family to email me about how much she loved it!  "____ LOVED Kate Messner's visit today! She told us all about it over dinner., from how Kate researched the breakout story to how she had some inspiration from the musical Hamilton. I loved hearing how Kate spent a day in the Bronx to develop a character better. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that the visit was a success in _____'s book. 

I thought it would be interesting to give the students an option to share their reactions to Kate's visit by using any of the formats she used to write BREAKOUT. You will see examples of lists, letters, text messages, comics, recipes, and I added Six Word Memoirs. Check it out!









Sunday, June 3, 2018

ReedALOUD: BREAKOUT and Kate Messner's Blog Tour

Happy Book Birthday 
to Breakout 

Breakout is about a small-town prison break, and subsequent manhunt, that reveals residents' true beliefs and requires three middle schoolers to look at their town and its inhabitants in a new light.  

This engaging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking story brings readers into Wolf Creek and invites them to see that world through the middle schoolers' lens. Told through their letters, poems, text messages, and transcribed conversations along with photographs, news stories, and comics, we hear these middle schoolers' voices and we know what they are thinking. We are with them as they grapple with their emotions and those of the people around them. We are with them as they find that words have power -  power to hurt and to heal, power to grow hearts and expand minds, power to make change. These documents become part of the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project, a project which initially seemed frivolous and fun but grew into an opportunity for reflection and learning. 

I love how Kate drops readers into the story and allows us to begin to piece together what life in Wolf Creek is like and begin to know Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, the middle schoolers whose uncensored and authentic voices guide us through the story. I stopped after each of the first three letters and asked students to share what they had learned about each of the characters, their families, and the town. it was so cool to see them realize what close readers/listeners they had been.

Kate has really captured middle schoolers thinking (likely because of her teaching experience. She gets the them. These characters feel familiar, like students we all know.

Along with reading excerpts, we began to visit Kate's blog tour, reading and thinking about her assignments, and sometimes putting pen to paper to answer them. Some of the students favorites were:

We just had a discussion here, but after looking at all the posts related to editing and revising, it was great to stop on this post and have students reflect on the books they have read and how this behind-the-scenes organization keeps characters and plots both relevant and realistic.

This was one of my favorite posts to share with students. I love Kate's honesty here and have told students what a valuable voice she is within the children's literature community. She recognizes where her own upbringing sets limitations on her ability to write for a character with a totally different experience. I read this blog post first and then read Elidee's letter to her brother Troy. The students could hear and see the impact of the work Kate had done to make Elidee's character have more depth and be more realistic. This letter is, once again, full of small details which shift the readers thinking. I especially love how Kate breaks down stereotypes about people in prison, showing Troy to be a good student, an interested learner, and a good writer.

Here are some things my students miss or would miss:

This is such a valuable one to share with students. It's enlightening and empowering for them. We ended up in an interesting discussion about the difference between the terminology or sensitivity readers and expert readers. The first feeling like the author is being sensitive to another viewpoint and the second feeling like the author is looking to expand and inform her or his thinking. 

Who doesn't love thinking about favorite or local foods? Kate's description of a Michigan makes them sound both unique and delicious. This is a fun post to share with students. Here are foods that my students tried to describe:

I had an advanced reader copy of the book, which has been circulating with students. 

Below are some of the comments, connections and questions they have noted while reading the book. Note, this is an uncorrected proof and not the final copy of the book.

Just a final note. I love the poetry in this book. Here's an example of how effectively Kate uses poetry to reveal Elidee's thoughts:

There are two hundred students who love what they have read from and learned about BREAKOUT. They have been preparing for a school visit from Kate Messner and are eager to meet her and hear more about the book and her writing process.

We started this whole process by exploring the Q and A with Kate  and books sections of her webpage. Below is the reflection form the students used:

Kate visits our school tomorrow and we are incredibly excited!