“One word. Surprise!”

“Teachers, please have ALL 7th graders to the auditorium seated at 11:00am. The admin will be leading a ‘restart,” I heard during the morning announcements by the principal in a sternerr-than-usual voice.

Yikes, I thought. Which school rule needs addressing and really…this close to winter break?

Ms. Donnelly, you’re needed in the auditorium. Now. ” the school secretary commanded.

Really, I thought. Did someone forget to tell me I was helping with the 7th grade restart assembly?

“Don’t ask why. Just follow me to the auditorium. And can I use your phone for a minute?” my colleague requested.

My phone, I thought. I guess. But why? What’s really going on here. As I entered the filled auditoium, the 7th grade AP was settling the students as she spoke through the mic.

“When I say ‘Phoenix’, you say….” and the audience shouted “RISE!
Phoenix – RISE – Phoenix – RISE.
” and then she share, “A text I want to use today to help us with our restart
is a book I know Mrs. Donnelly likes,
a book by author Kwame Alexander called The Door of No Return…..”

At that moment it hit me…….

You see, months ago, I created a lesson for my students to learn about Kwame, a favorite author of mine.
I made this padlet and added these directions.

Meet Kwame Alexander!!
Directions: Follow from Step 1 to Step 2 to Step 3 to Step 4.
After each step, add a one sentence response by clicking the bubble.

After learning about him, I asked for volunteers to help make a video to send to Kwame to persuade him to visit our school for free (his contest announced in Step 3). Together we drafted a script and 5 students agreed to deliver our message.
HERE is our video which I shared on instagram for Kwame.

Then I kinda forgot about it. Every so often a student would ask, “Is Kwame coming? Did he pick us?”
And I would say, “Not sure.” But inside, I really, really, really wanted him to pick us!!

You see, personally, I’ve attended many, many Kwame events. I consider myself a Kwame-groupie!
I’ve blogged about two of them here and here .
But these events I attended on my own and never included my own students.
If he picks us, he’d visit the school!!! Our students would meet him!!! They’d be like the students in Step 2, I thought.

And suddenly it all clicked. Kwame had picked us!
The auditorium erupted as he entered from the back. I about lost my mind! A student told me afterwards, I looked like I had drank a very large energy drink because she saw me jumping up and down. “OMG….we won!! He’s really here!!” I shouted junping up and down.

He took the mic and said. “I have one word to share. SURPRISE!!”

Then for 40 minutes, he shared poems, all from memory. He shared about his new book. Just when we had us all on the edge of our seats, he stopped….you’ll have to read the rest on your own!! He answered loads of MS questions. Favorite color – black. Favorite number – 1. Favorite to win the World Cup – England. Where does he get his inspiration – from visits like this where kids wearing cool hats and who have cool hair! How often does he write – every day for 4 hours from 7-11am. Did he ever want to be something besides a writer – a tennis player and a pediatrician but in college, he tried biology and quickly changed his major to poetry. (The world is so lucky he did!)

Then he circled the auditoium, taking selfies with the audience. And kindly posed for a photo with me and the box of books he gifted us!!

WOW!!!! Today was my favorite day at DHMS!!
Here’s the link to see Kwame’s entrance at my school.
He does have the best job!!
And today he made me realize I have a pretty great job, too!!

Which author would you love to have a surprise visit from??!!!


HERE is our Instragram THANK YOU to Kwame.

HERE is the video of his 25 minute surprise presentation!!

2022 National Book Festival

In-person on Saturday! I filled my red bag with snacks, wallet, iPhone, notebook, pens, my mask and a fleece jacket. My husband agreed to drop me off and in less than 30-minutes after leaving home, I departed our electric car ready to enjoy a day among my heros – authors!

I entered the mamouth DC convention center – 4 blocks long and 4 double height floors high. As I joinined a short entrance line today, my mind recalled the last time I was here for this annual event. It was November, 2019 and that day the author with the biggest draw was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the line to enter the fesitval was wrapped around the center. Eventually, I got in and spent the day on the lowest floor, enjoying moments with children’s authors. Due to crowds and high security, I arrived too late to listen to RBG or explore other floors that day. On this day, without such a crowd, I explored all four floors, meeting authors for children, young adults, and adults, attending a total of 7 presentations from 9:30am-6pm. And I did take a moment to fondly remember RBG who passed away 10 months after the last in-person 2019 National Book Festival. (Thanks to the Library of Congress, I took time to watch the session I missed that day in 2019 as it is recorded HERE.).

One presentation I was drawn to related to this book:

I am a big fan of John Lewis (another amazing great American who passed during the pandemic) and I wanted to know more about the friendship he shared with a young black boy named Tybra Faw and then written about in this book by Andrea Pinkney. Tabre Faw, now age 14, was on the stage with the author and a LOC moderator. In their 30 minute exchanged, I became so inspired by this child who wanted to meet his hero, John Lewis. I learned he was asked to recite a favorite poem by John Lewis at his funeral. The moderator found the first published book of the poem Invictus in the LOC and gave each a photo of that book’s page. I quickly found this link from the funeral and am planning a lesson with my student readers to include this book, the March triology by John Lewis and a discussion on how today, in 2022, we can be inspired to get ourselves into Good Trouble!

Ruby Bridges – Her book, I Am Ruby, comes out this week. After hearing her speak, I will buy it! She shared how she intentionality wrote it in first person as the 6-year old in Louisana on November 14, 196o, the day she atttended an all-white elementary school. She shared how knowing her story is still important as we are still dealing with issues of race.

Clint Smith – if you haven’t read his book, How the Word is Passed, order it now and read it! I so enjoyed being in his presence, listeing to him share why he visited actually sites as fieldtrips and then wrote about each place with regards to slavery. I also learned he hosts a course called Crash Course – Black American History. It is 50-episodes, all a combo of animation and primary source photo. I’ll be viewing these this fall to learn more.

Kwame Alexander – so amazing! His newest book comes out at the end of the month. His TV show based on The Crossover is coming out on Disney+ and he is launching a reality TV to find new authors! I was able to record a few things he said while being interviewed by Nic Stone. (See slideshow at end…I think the videos will open for you? If not, let me know and I’ll figure it out!)

2022 Award Winners and All Women of Diverse Background – three women writers, all 2022 award winners, were interviewed by Dhonielle Clayton, the COO of We Need Diverse Books. So inpiring!! All are using their voice and their writing to not allow their backgrounds to be erased. Donna Barba Higuera is Mexican American, Darci Little Badger is Apache American, and Malinda Lo is Chinese American. Darci Little Badger‘s comment is still with me. She stated that she had read in a history book that Apache’s were extinct. She explained that this was a olonial message trying to erase native voices and is wrong. “As a writer, I will keep at it.”

Authors of Blackout – WOW! I did not know that these 6 authors had all collaborating to write Blackout. It was the brainchild of Dhonielle Clayton who invited/told Nic Stone, Tiffany Jackson, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon, and Angie Thomas (Thomas not at the festival) to work together to write one novel. I bought it and read it on Sunday! I can’t wait for their next collaborative work to come out called Whiteout. They also happily shared how Obama is producing their book as a TV and movie. They were motivated during Covid to write a novel with Black teenage characters in love. These women know how to write for Young Adults!!

Jason Reynolds – he was the perfect ending session for the festival, saving the best for last!! HIs newest book, Ain’t Burned All the Bright is a collaboration with his white, redhead friend also named Jason, Jason Griffin, an artist. During Covid, they both had trouble being creating, writing, making art. They talked often and something Jaosn G. said about needing an oxygen mask helped Jason R. to write 3 rather long sentences. He copied them down without any punctuation and handed them off to Jason G and asked him to add art as an artist response. This is now the book!. He felt the world was suffocating due to Covid, George Floyd, the tightening economy. When one is hyperventalating, taking 3 breathes can bring you back to equilibrium. This books is structured into three breathes with the purpose to bring us back to having hope. Get it and read its brilliant words and artwork.

I also create this slideshow to share with my students.


Kwame helps me remember Ashley

Back in the 1990s, I drove from Northern VA to Southwest VA to attend a conference because author Lois Lowry was speaking. I loved ALL of Lois Lowry’s books, the Anastasia series and the The Giver. I couldn’t wait to be in the same room with Lois Lowry and hear her speak. I ever remember winning a copy of her book, The Giver because I was the conference attendee who had driven the furthest!

That same day, I met Ashley Bryan. This very tall man with kind eyes took to the stage and spoke. Actually, he mostly sang with a little speaking thrown in! From him, I learned the power of repetition. From him, I learned the power of a shared song. From him, I learned about his books, his poems, and his unique and colorful illustrative style. Attending that conference, I learned I had a new favorite author. It was so worth the five hour drive! Meeting Ashley Bryan was really my prize.

Kwame Alexander ended his Black History Month Bedtime story read-alouds on Instagram Live with a tribute to Ashley Bryan. He simply played Louis Armstrong’s song What a Wonderful World and shared the pages from the book Ashley created by the same name. A colorful image for each line of the song is on each page. Then he shared these inspiring words about WHY we celebrate Black History month.

What Ashley Bryan books do you own?
Today’s a great day to honor this amazing, creative American by buying another one of his books!

HERE is a curated list of 4 of the 5 Black History Month Read-alouds by Kwame Alexander shared on Instagram LIVE during the week of Feb. 7, 2022. All are worth a listen. All teach so well about why we celebrate Black History Month.

Ashley Bryan. Kwame Alexander

OLW – How am I doing?

I’m home today on Election Day. Students have the day off so teachers like me can complete the first quarter report cards.
I voted.
I posted my grades.
It was pouring rain.
So with some time on my hand, I thought I’d write.
But I’m not sure what to write.

Then I started looking back at earlier posts.
And I reread what I wrote on June 4th – Midway Relfection.

My One Little Word for 2018 is ACTIVE.

However, I think I already know my 2019 Word! I had the pleasure of attending a Book Signing at my public library by Kwame Alexander. He was promoting his newest book, Swing.


During his Q&A, a kid asked him about rejection and what keeps him going when he is rejected. I loved his answer. He admitted that not all love his books and he has received LOTS of rejection letters or unfavorable book reviews. Then he shared his secret. He says he knows he is great! “I am arrogant in my appreciation of myself.” He suggested that if we always believe in ourselves, what others think won’t matter. We just need to be arrogant and say, “I’m great!”

That word, arrogant,  stuck with me for hours after the book event. And now, weeks later, I still think about “being arrogant”. Before Kwame, I think I saw only negative conotations with being arrogant. But now I understand how my belief in myself can be the goal. Though it is only Nov. 6 – Election Day, I do think my 2019 word, inspired by author Kwame Alexander, will be arrogant. Hmm…can it be an adjective and not a verb?? Well, be January 1st, I can decide…now how about 2018? How am I doing?

As for ACTIVE – this word is serving me well.
I need to be more active physically.
I’ve been very active in my professional development. This summer I wrote curriculum, have a summer virtual book club and now am getting MS teachers and 6th graders to visibly show in their Reading Notebook the invisible thinking they are doing while reading and viewing.
I also am guiding  a group of teachers to do Action Teacher Research and I got my county to give us recertification points for our work!
I’m staying active in my writing life and actually writing LOTS about my teacher research question which is: What is Personalized Learning and how will it look in a 6th grade Reading classroom? I’ve been asked to record video reflections as the year goes on so I try methods related to Personalized Learning and record what I think. So I’m both writing and orally sharing my story. Can’t wait to see what I figure out!
And I’ve been active in my reading life. Reading books like Swing and meeting authors and reading their books. I love that my homework is to read!!

And I still have the rest of November and December to be ACTIVE!

I’m feeling pretty arrogant in my appreciation of how great I am at being reflective and focused on staying ACTIVE!!!!!

How about you?!

PS – Did you VOTE?!! Here’s what my daughter’s outfit was today:




Google Maps indicated the Ashburn Barnes and Noble was 23 miles away from my house in Arlington and it would take me 41 minutes to drive there. Despite being exhausted all day on Monday, April 30th because over the weekend I helped with our Middle School play (helped meaning being at school on Friday until 5pm, Saturday from 10am -9:30pm and Sunday from 11am – 7:30pm while my students performed three shows of The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. ), I still wanted to go. So once school ended, I headed west.

After following the voice on my app, I found the Barnes and Noble. I sat in the second row of the chairs and saved a seat for my friend who was on her way. A little after 5pm, the BUS arrived!


Then Kwame worked his magic!! As he talked to the crowd, I learned this was his last bus tour stop. For the last 30 days, he has been on this amazing bus that looked like the Rebound Book cover to promote his newest book. He lives just down the road in Reston so it made sense that he’d end here. So glad I made the trek!

Kwame read his poetry. Randy played background guitar music. Kids were called up to play a game – as Kwame read a poem, he’d leave out a word and the kids would fill in the blank. ALL won t-shirts! We learned he is working on a book about a character who plays tennis titled, Love.  He ended having us ALL repeat after him in song…

Be a star.
In your mind.
Day and night.
And let it shine!

Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot….SWISH!!

As I was outside the store about to head home, I noticed the boys who were sitting in front of me. They were being guided onto the bus. I was so jealous! I watched as his brother and mom stepped onto the bus and took a look. As they returned to the sidewalk, I went up to them and asked, “How did you get to go on the bus?”

The boy replied, “My mom made me bring my report on Kwame and when he saw it, he said we could get a look. I didn’t want to bring it but my mom made me,” he answered.


I love meeting children’s authors!
They are rock stars in my book!!