Non-fiction Monday: Live Writing by Ralph Fletcher

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words by Ralph Fletcher

So if you have a student or a child who is serious about writing, I cannot think of a better gift than to give the gift of these books by Ralph Fletcher.  My posts this month have focused on these little gems. Today is the final installment. 

Live Writing is broken up into practical chapters. As always, Fletcher begins with a personal vignette making a great analogy to writing.  In chapter one the reader discovers that Fletcher is not so great with putting items together.  His father-in-law gives him a tool box and tools, telling him that he’ll show him how to use them and “it’s not rocket science.”  And according to the author, it works.

This leads him to thinking about how writers have tools and a toolbox to create ‘live writing” that writing that has a “current running through it.”

The second chapter focuses on reading like a writer.  (This reminded me that I have a terrific book, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.)  I broke it out to reread this weekend.  Reading like a writer reminds us that we read and then re-read as detectives, asking ourselves “how did the author do that?”

Wondering about the chapters in this book?  I thought of it as a breathing exercise:

Breath in: Characters
Breath out:  “They are the most important thing in your story.”

Breath in: Voice
Breath out: “Author’s personality comes through with words.”

Breath in: Conflict
Breath out:  “Trouble is necessary in every story. ..Create the heat of the story.”

Breath in: Setting
Breath out:  It’s the missing ingredient to a story sometimes.

Breath in: Leads
Breath out:  “Set the tone of the story, establish the rhythm  and the energy for what will follow.”

Breath in: Some important things
Breath out:  “Write low on the food chain. Writers take great delight in the particulars.”

Watch for a follow-up post about our day with Ralph Fletcher this week.

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted at 100 Scope Notes who has deemed it a non-traditional nonfiction review day. And guess what, you will get to vote on your favorite post on Tuesday, May 25.

Happy Reading. Happy Monday.



Poetry Friday: Ralph Fletcher Poem and Interview

Today in honor of having Ralph Fletcher, here is one of his poems and an interview with him.  It’s going to be a great day.


by Ralph Fletcher

Weeds in the sunlight,

swaying in the breeze.

Weeds pollinated by

hordes of hungry bees.

Weeds softly whispering,

spilling secret seeds.

Weeds multiplying:

weeds, weeds, weeds.

Dandelion, ragweed,

Queen Anne’s lace.

Weeds in my dreams,

weeds in outer space.

Weeds on vacation

but more staying home.

Sneaky little weedlings

sprouting in this poem!

© 2010 Ralph Fletcher. All rights reserved.

What have you recently published and what are you currently working on?

I am working on four different books (yikes!) including a novel for kids, and a poetic picture book about the wind.

What books are on your nightstand?

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. (I just finished Hunger Games–this is the sequel.) Very intense–I wouldn’t recommend it to elementary school readers.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere: my own kids, things I see, memories, other books, newspaper articles, my own imagination.

What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?

I read a lot of sports books. I didn’t have one book that was a favorite but read a lot of Jack London.

Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

Both are important. Revision can be painful (tedious) but it’s crucial.

Favorite time of the day to work?

I write every morning at 9 am.

Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?

Dark chocolate

Coffee or tea or —?

Coffee. A latte, if possible.

Dance Funky chicken or the tango?

Alas, to my wife’s great regret (and this is one my failings as a human being), I’m not much of a dancer. Instead, I try to make my words dance on the page.

All the other delights of Poetry Friday are being rounded up at Laura Salas’ Writing the World for Kids.

Have a great Friday.  I know we will.

Happy Reading.


Non-Fiction Monday: Three Great Writing Books by Ralph Fletcher

On Friday, Ralph Fletcher will be at our school for the day.  He will meet with children and then meet with staff.  There are three Fletcher books two for kids  and one for adults you should know about:

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out

In this book, Fletcher has divided it into two sections:  “Lighting the Spark ” and “Nurturing the Flame”.  Each section is written is such an easy conversational way that students will connect with his ideas.  He always starts out with a great story about growing up. In this book, Fletcher writes about being given money for Christmas presents which he then gives the money to  an old man going through the garbage.  Left without any money, he writes poems for each family member based on what their interests.  I love this because my students know what it means to not have a lot of money.  It is so perfect for showing kids a way to give a meaningful gift from the heart.  A sparkler of an idea. Here’s a few more ideas:  think of a poem as an x-ray, try poem-speak, and convey feelings through images. 
In the second part of the book, Fletcher discusses the shaping of the poem.  He also brings in guest columnists for their perspective on the topic.  In this book he includes Janet S. Wong J. Patrick Lewis, and Kristen O’Connell George.

A  Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You

It’s been really fun reading portions of this book to my students in preparation for Fletcher’s visit.  He just has a way to hook the readers in.  In the first chapter his writes about his observations with a ditch by his house.  When he discovers that it has lots of little creatures trapped overnight, he digs his own ditch for further investigations.  And then, so brilliantly,  he links it to writing in a writer’s notebook.  Other chapters include keeping lists and wonder questions.  His guest columnists  include Naomi Shihab Nye and Sid Fleischman.

Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing

This is Fletcher’s newest book and one he will be using on Friday with the staff. Language play, the root of it, using the writer’s notebook as a playground for word play with kids, and mentor texts.  Again Fletcher uses anecdotes from his life and makes it very practical.  It must be extremely popular because in getting the orders for this, the local bookstore was limited in the copies they could order.

Non-Fiction Monday is being rounded up by non other than my CYBILS judge, Carol R. from Rasco from RIF

Happy Reading.


Tuesday New Flash: 48 Hour Reading Challenge

What are you doing the Weekend of June 4-6, 2010. Do you need an excuse for some D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) Time?  Then consider Mother Reader’s Fifth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge. This is from her blog:

Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the fourth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday the sixth. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday… or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row.

You may still have gaps of time in which you can’t read, and that’s fine.

  1. The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. Graphic novels can be included in the reading. One audiobook can also be included in your time and book total.
  2. The top three winners will be based only on time commitment, not number of books. So if you are heading into the 30+ hours club or 40+ hours club, track your time carefully. International winners may be given gift cards instead books due to mailing costs, unless a U.S. address is provided.
  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this — and some people do — go for it. If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge. Twelve hours is the benchmark for winning prizes.
  4. The length of the reviews or notes written in your blog are not an issue. You can write a sentence, a paragraph, or a full-length review. Up to you. The time spent reviewing counts in your total time.
  5. New last year: You can include some amount of time reading other participant’s blogs, commenting on participating blogs and Facebook pages, and Twittering about your progress (remember the #48hbc tag!). For every five hours, you can add one hour of networking. This time counts in your total time.
  6. On your blog, state when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day and leave the link to that post at the Starting Line post at MotherReader on June 4th (via the trusty Mr. Linky).
  7. When you finish, write a final summary that clearly indicates hours — including partial hours — you spent reading/reviewing/networking, the number of books read, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon EST on Monday, June 7th. Also, check in at the Finish Line post on MotherReader that will be posted Sunday and please link to that post from your final summary post.

I participated the first year and had a blast. Other years I have dedicated myself to reading but not officially participated as it seems that I have been gone traveling.  For me, I use the time to get all the reader’s choice nominations for the upcoming year read.

So won’t you join me?  You’ll have to visit Mother Reader on June 4 to sign in.

Happy reading.


Nonfiction Monday: Thoughts about the Ellin Oliver Keene Workshop

Last week I attended a Heinemann Workshop, “Tapping the Power of Thinking to Teach Reading Comprehension”, featuring Ellin Oliver Keene.

 If you have not heard her speak, find a workshop to attend!  If you have not read either Mosaic of Thought or To Understand, get a hold of those books and read them.

 By posing these three questions she raised the bar of the workshop and my own thinking:

 ~How can we raise expectations by rethinking our definition of comprehension?

~ Buying time: What matters most in literacy learning?

~Teaching Tactics:  What do effective comprehension teachers do?

 Keene often refers to a student, Jamika, whose question: “What does make sense mean?” challenged Keene’s thinking about comprehension.  Is it retelling or answer questions?  Is it something else?  What does it mean to understand deeply?

 This year my school has been involved with teaching the 7 thinking strategies.  I agree with Keene that they are tools to get to a deeper level of comprehension.  It’s a challenge in the 30 minutes I see most students to go deep, to go to synthesis. 

 Here are some “Notes to Self”

 Note to Self:  Reading aloud helps at least 50% of students to comprehend better. Others need to re-read.

 Note to Self:  Fluency is not the reading rate but rather the reader knowing to vary the speed of reading based on the demands of the text and purpose for reading.

 Note to Self: When I read aloud, it’s okay to think out loud. In fact pausing and thinking out loud gives students a process to use as well.

 Note to Self:  Modeling and demonstrating are part of the successful strategies for comprehension.

 Note to Self:  Time for independent reading and writing is critical.

 Note to Self:  Time to interact with each other.  Over the years I have done less projects after a story and more time talking about the story with students.

Note to Self:  Probably one of my favorites: Students do well to have 50% of their reading choices at a leveled text BUT the other 50% should and can be with stimulating text that are challenging and students have to grapple with it.  I have always believed that when a student is interested in the text, they will find a way to make sense of it.

Note to Self:  Make sure that you ask students how their thinking has changed by reading a book.  This really gets to the synthesis part.  If a student doesn’t synthesize, they have usually made up their mind and won’t change it.

 Perhaps my biggest surprise was how accessible Keene was in her presentation.  Her books are great reads but they are a bit daunting.  They are not your bedtime reading books.  They are meant to be read with someone so that you can dialog about the book.

 Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day

Happy Monday.  Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: More Kindergarten Fibonacci Poems

During National Poetry Month I taught the fibonacci poem form to kindergarteners.  I posted some last week and here are the rest for Poetry  Friday.  Mrs.Magistrale and I adapted the form, using words instead of syllables to make it sucessful for them.

Play station

Bradley, Me

Kung Fu Panda

I like football and racing

We play video games in the family room.

 ~Braxton B.



Flowers grow

Grow into trees

They grow taller and taller

They need soil and water and sunlight.

 ~Reece N.



Different sizes

Sun, water, grow

Red, orange, blue, yellow, purple

Favorite flower is a little red rose.

 ~Kailey C.



Rain drops

Snap, splash, splat

Polka dots green and brown

Rainy days are yucky and muddy and gross.

 ~Piper H.



My family

We ride motorcycles

I love my family a lot

My mom is going out to her parents

 ~Bryce H.



With friends

We play outside

I can swing myself high

My best friend plays soccer and see saw.

 ~Dylan S.


Random Noodling is hosting Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading.


Non-Fiction Monday: Shining Star, The Anna May Wong Story

It’s Asian American Heritage Week.  Last fall, I received a copy of Shining Star, the Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo.

Quick. What are some terrific books about discrimination?  Did you think immediately about one with Asian Americans?  If not, be sure to add Yoo’s book to the consideration list.

As child, Anna May Wong, re-acted movie scenes as well as created ones from her imaginiation.  This helped her get through the day as she worked in her family’s laundry in Los Angeles’s Chinatown.  Much to the consternation of her parents, she pursued her acting career in the 1930’s.  There she discovered that most roles depicted Asian Americans in demeaning and steroeotypical ways.  The books tells about Lon Chaney’s face getting “yellowface” make-up and the using of tape to make his eyes even more slanted. 

Wong became a champion of better roles for herself and others.  She is know as the first Chinese American movie star.  This book does a terrific job sharing her story of determination and dedication to makes life better.  Lin Wang’s acrylic and watercolor illustratrations complement the text.  Yoo has included an author’s note.

Nonfiction Monday is at Bookends.  Head over there to see what else awaits you.

Happy Monday. 

Happy Reading.