March 8, 2020

I know where I was and who I was with a year and three days ago. My friend and I attended the book signing of Stamped! She drove over to my house and I drove us both downtown (AKA Washington, D.C.). I knew of a Chinese restaurant blocks from the event so we arrived early to grab dinner beforehand. The Parking Gods smiled on us and we scored a parallel parking space right in front of the church hosting this event. After our yummy meal, we walked back to the church and took our seat. Arleady the first half-dozen seats were filled and we sat on the rightside, closest tot he aisle. Soon the whole church was filled and the authors were introduced: Dr. Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds!!!

After about an hour of inspiring discussion, event attendees in an orderly fashion stood. Starting with the first pew, a tight single-file line was formed and we played follow-the-leader into a side vestibule. There, at a table sat the two authors and they took turned adding their signature to the book they co-authored. Finally, it was my turn. First Dr. Kendi and then Jason. My friend and I walked out into the dark evening, each with a new book in hand and drove home safely.

Five days later, school buildings were shuttered in our district due to Covid.

Where were you before?

Reading and Playing

I arrived at 4:30pm. He had already spent the whole day learning from a distance. I sat on one side of his dining room table with my mask on. He sat across from me with his copy of A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds in front of his mask face. He hands me the book and starts to fidgit with a pen. Presses down, ball point appears. Presses down again. ball point disappears.

Then he shares, “I’m to read to Floor 4 chapter.”

“OK, where are you now?” I ask.

“I’ve read floor 7 and 6.”

“Great. Tell me those parts.” As I listen, I can tell he totally understands who Buck is but is a little fuzzy about Dani so I open to the Floor 6 chapter and begin to read aloud. At times, I pause and make a comment. At times, he stops me to make a comment. He decides to underline these lines: Buck saying: You don’t have it in you. And Dani’s line asking: What if you miss?
His 8th grade English teacher expects annotations and words underlined and he complies.

I glance at the time showing on my iPhone and notice there is enough time to read another part. But I also see that we have read floor 6 and 5 and his fidgiting seems to be getting stronger. So I ask, “Should I read the 4th floor?”

“How about we play one of your games?” He is referring to games we’ve played before which I learned from reading Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk: Teaching Kids to Talk with Clarity and Purpose by Shana Frazin and Katy Wischow. I draw a table on the notebook paper I brought with me and add the 4 labels to it. I give him a few torn off small square sheets and I take a few. He presses his pen again and writes Middle Drawer, Uncle Mark’s Video Camera and Pennydrop. I write Cream for Mom and Monkey Bars on my 2 squares. We place them together and mix them up.

He draws first. “This is kinda a big deal. Shawn was in that neighborhood buying the cream for his mom. It’s what started it all. I’d put it at Kinda or Really Big.” “I agee, ” I say and then drew my card. We conversed back and forth for 15 more minutes, playing this game. My 8th grade friend was tired on Wednesday afternoon, after already learning all day long from a distance on his computer. Having a game up my sleeve gave him the chance to solidify his thinking and live with this amazing book a little bit longer.

Once I got home, I thought about how I could use jamboard, a new tool I just started exploring, to play this game, too. So many possiblities to keep readers engaged and reading!

A (pretend) Letter to Me from a hero of mine

Note: I am writing this pretend letter as a response to Jason Reynolds’ WriteRightRite Tue., April 21, 2020 writing prompt video: Write the letter your hero would write back to you after you wrote to them.

Backstory: My 2020 NCTE Workshop Proposal was accepted. Yes – I am super excited. (However, I also wonder if the conference will even happen. What will things be like come Nov. 2020?? But that’s another story for another day). At the conference, three colleagues and I are planning to share tips on ways to guide readers in making a reading notebook page to show their thinking. We invited amazing author, Avi, to read-aloud a short story during our presentation so the audience can practice our tips. With this prompt, I’m going to pretend that it is sometime after thee 2020 NCTE conference which went on as planned and it is sometime after Avi received my thank you email for his participation in our workshop.

Dear Sally,
I so enjoyed reading aloud my short story, Tightie Whities or Briefs during your 2020 NCTE workshop. It gave me such energy to be in the presence of teachers who are so passionate about growing their practice, as evident by their enthusiastic attendance.

I found it most fascinating to see all the different ways the audience, all hearing the same story, created unique notebook pages. Some a web, some with just words, some only sketches, some used a chart. All recorded what you called, “invisible thinking” , their thoughts which occurs as they heard me read my story. I left the Denver Convention Center energized to keep writing. I do feel I have a few more stories in me, even though the word “octogenarian” is used to describe me.

I encourage you to keep writing, too. You mentioned how you like to blog. It sounded like over the years, you have drafted many stories. Maybe one day soon you can pick a topic and connect multiple stories into a short story collection. That is exactly what I did to make the short story collection, The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. Maybe you have stories to create a collection called: The Important Thing: Stories About Daughters, Mothers, and Grandmothers. Or pick any topic. See where your collection takes you!

However, having a topic to gather drafted stories together is just one step. Here’s one more tip. It is advise I gave in my April 21, 2020 blog post entitled Re-Writing. I stated, “If, when you first write something and you think it is good, you’re in trouble. But when you write something and you think it is not very good, that’s great. Because now you can write it better. Nobody, nobody, nobody writes anything very good the first time.”

Sally, our session presentation gave me the needed kick in the pants to revise. Like I stated at the end of that blog post, “The whole point is not to think of revision as a separate part of writing. Revision IS writing.” I hope you remember this important writing tip!

Sally, thank you for choosing me to present with you. Stay in touch. Let me know if you choose to take the next writing step by focusing several stories about one topic and then revising them. If you create a short story collection, do share.

Your Denver Writing Friend,