Love for Michigan Children’s Book Authors

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When most people think of Michigan they think of: unemployment, broken down Detroit, dying economy, foreclosure, and closed manufacturing plants.  I am from Michigan and have lived here everyday of my life.  Reading got me thinking a little bit about my state…

Recently I finished the 2000 Newberry winning book “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis.  The book is about an orphaned boy, during the depression, looking for a home.  Bud takes his quest into his own hands when yet another trip to a foster family fails.

Bud has no idea where his father is, but he does have these clues from his late mother that he feels will lead his to his father.  Bud’s journey involves hopping trains, attempting to hike accross Michigan, a library, a soup kitchen, and a famous Big Band.

Being from Michigan this book was extra special to me.  Mr. Curtis started his adult life working on the assembly line in Flint, Michigan hanging doors on cars for 13 years.

After reading “Bud, Not Buddy” I started to think about the success authors from Michigan have found in children’s literature.  Here is the list quick-incomplete that I came up with while reflecting:

Jon Scieszka

Jon is the author of many books for children including: the Time Warp Trio series, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and Math Curse.  Jon is also and advocate of boys reading.  He created the website guysread.com to help encourage boys to read,and to help adults get young men excited about reading.

Like Mr. Curtis, Jon grew up in Flint.  He attended college at the small liberal-arts college Albion (I currently live in Albion!).

Patricia Polacco

Ms. Polacco is on of my favorite authors of pictures books that are centered around a true life moment.  Ms. Polacco writes many of her stories from important moments from her childhood.

Patricia’s childhood included stints in both Lansing, and Union City.  She does an amazing job capturing these settings in her picture books.  Currently she lives in Union City where she opens up her old farm house multiple times a year for fans to come in and explore her world.

Last year I met Patricia at a book singing for the book “January Sparrow”.  At book signings I always watch how the author interacts with children, and I was blown away by Ms. Polacco.  She was so gentle and kind with this little 8-year old girl.  Patricia took the time to tell her a little story as she was signing her book.  It was awesome!

Gary D. Schmidt

Mr. Schmidt career is as hot as blacktop in the summer.  His most recent book “Okay for now” is being dubbed a favorite for the Newberry.  Mr. Schmidt curently teaches writing at a small Christian College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he lives on a farm near by in Alto.  Gary did not grow up in Michigan, but he is a Michigander so I decided to include him on my short list.

I haven’t read “Okay for now”, yet, but earlier this summer I fell in love with his writing in the book “The Wednesday Wars”.

Living in a state that has had so much bad press the last few years, knowing that we excel in something that I hold dear to my heart makes me so happy.  When I look across my classroom in the fall I will be wondering if I’m looking at next great Michigan author trying to develop their craft.

Fig Pudding-Steaming Bowl of Sadness

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“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Charles Jones

The end of the school year is never easy.  After spending 180 days with a group of kids you get so close to them, and then the bell rings and they are gone.  In my school 4th grade is the end of the hall.  Once they leave my class they are officially middle-schoolers.  Most of them: come back and visit and  borrow more books, but a few of them walk out the door and never come back.  It breaks my heart to think that I will never see some of them again.

It is amazing how books help us deal with life situations both good and bad.  More than ever in my life, I felt like this class really understands that reading is so much more than words, pictures, and stories.

They learned how through reading you can truly become a better person.  From “Gianna Z” we learned how to deal with the Bianca’s of the world.

Through reading you can learn how to try something new.  By reading “Scaredy Squirrel” we learned that the unknown (middle school) isn’t such a bad place for a squirrel (fourth grader).

Through reading you can learn to stand up for what doesn’t feel right.  After reading “The Other Side” we learned to take a look at who we hang out with.

Through reading we learned how to say goodbye.  Reading “Fig Pudding” helped us see that everyone deals with sadness and loss differently.  When feeling extremely sad we all are given a bowl of “Steaming Sadness”  and we all eat it differently.  Cliff in “Fig Pudding” chose to put off eating his much like Gianna’s mom… putting off eating it as long as possible.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and I sat alone on the back porch and ate my bowl of sadness missing my fourth graders.

I feel that I am a better person today then I was 180 school days ago because of the fourth graders I got to know and because of the books we shared together.  Hopefully the same is true for them.

Gianna Z. Part 2

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I just finished writing a thank you note to Kate Messner.  She is wonderful.  After writing the thank you note I felt like it wasn’t enough.  I mean, some people are so amazing that you just want everyone else to know how awesome they are.  Showing her how thankful I am to her for her work and for Skyping with my class is impossible, so I’ll just post my thank you to her so others may see how super cool she is.

Hello Kate,
Thank you so much for Skyping with us today.  You were the fourth author that we have Skyped with this year, and this was the first time I was nervous.  I mean I was really nervous.  I guess it was because of how much I respect what you do and how you do it.  Without your work I’m not sure I would have ever Skyped with an author, and now I feel like it is one of the most valuable parts of my practice.  Thank you so much for putting the students first.  I was also a big fan of your messy desk.  My students all looked at me and smiled when you showed us your desktop. 

I too read a lot, and I can say with all honesty Gianna Z has been my favorite book in awhile.  Wednesday Wars was pretty awesome too, but I put Gianna Z up their with that one.  My favorite book to read to my students has always been Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher.  Their is a chapter called “Steaming Bowl of Sadness”.  It is a chapter where the main character is dealing with the accidental death of his young brother.  His uncle tells him all about how everyone deals with grief differently.  Some people dig right in and eat their sadness, some take their time, and others put it off as long as they can, but everyone has to eat it eventually.  We were able to relate the “Steaming bowl of sadness” metaphor throughout our reading of Gianna Z.  It was so rich for them relate what they learned from Fig Pudding to Gianna Z.  I always ask my students when they finish a book, how they will live their life differently because of what they just read.  Sometimes this is very difficult for my young readers, but they were each able to take so much away from Gianna Z, so because of your words 24 young people in Battle Creek can live their lives differently.  Thank you.

Can’t wait to meet you at NCTE, and I can’t wait to read Revision Matters.  I tried to read in on the computer, but it gave me a headache.

Colby Sharp

P.S. I really hope that I get the opportunity someday to find out if Zig kisses Gianna.

Hatchet-By Gary Paulsen

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The book that I remember reading on my own the most as a young reader was Hatchet.  I read the book in the fall of fifth grade and I wanted to be Brian.  I wanted to: hunt, build a shelter, and survive a moose attack.  For Christmas I even got my very own Hatchet.  The hatchet went into the neighborhood woods with me, and I tried to create a shelter following Gary Paulsen’s description.

I still have my hatchet from fifth grade

This winter our local library spent most of their children’s budget to bring Gary Paulsen to town.  Gary Paulsen is even more popular 18 years later than he was when I read “Hatchet”.  The buzz of Gary’s visit started soon after the start of the year.  I kept hyping it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Instead of just meeting my students at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium I decided that we needed to go all out and make this a total reading celebration.  Many students in my class bought me a bunch of gift cards for a local book store.  I decided that I was going to allow the class the opportunity to decide how we would spend the money for books in the classroom.  After many recesses where most of the class stayed inside we had a plan.  After school I went straight to the bookstore taking one of my students with me.  On the way he told me that this would be his first ever trip to the mall.  I was shocked.

At the book store I was greeted by 15 of my 24 students.  They each had a job that they assigned themselves, and within 30 minutes we had a stack of about $400 worth of books.  The students then divided the books into three piles: books we must buy, books we really want, and books that we could probably live without.  It was so impressive to see them take so much ownership in this process.  We left with $200+ of student selected books.

Our next stop was McDonald’s where most of the students from the book store joined me, and a few others that hadn’t been at the book store showed up.  We laughed, ate, and talked books for a little over an hour.  It was amazing watching the class get more and more excited as we got closer to hearing Mr. Paulsen speak.

At the auditorium we gained a few more students.  In the end 21 out of 24 students came to at least part of our reading night.  Our class sat in the first and second rows.  It felt like our class had a real presence in the auditorium.  It was magical.

The class was amazed by the life story Mr. Paulsen told.  He left out no details, and at times I was a little worried about some of the things he talked about.  It was amazing to listen to the man that had such a huge impact on myself and so many of my young readers.  It truly was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

We ended the night by waiting in line for over an hour to get his autograph.  I dared my biggest Gary Paulsen fan to shake his hand.  I was so proud of him when he look Mr. Paulsen in the eye and said, “Mr. Paulsen would it be okay if I shook your hand.”  As they shook hands and looked into each others eyes, my eyes filled with tears.

After getting a class picture taken with Mr. Paulsen I took home a student.  When I left his home it was 10:30.  I had spent 14 straight hours with my fourth graders, and it was perfect. Perfect.

Goodwill = 16 books for $4.24

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This past weekend my wife did an amazing job getting herself and our three little children reading for summer.  We always stock up on clothes throughout the summer at garage sales, so each time we change seasons, we have to do a lot of sifting through boxes of clothes.  With three children under the age of 5 we are constantly cycling through clothes.  After the weekend work we had 5 large garbage bags of clothes to take to  Goodwill.

For the second straight day school was canceled because of the storms.  After working in my classroom for a few hours I ran to Good will to drop off the clothes.  While I was there I did what I do every time, I checked out the books.  WOW!  I hit the jackpot.  I was able to find 16 quality books (15 for the class and 1 for myself).

Here is what I got:

2 Junie B. Jones books-Barbara Park

Shiloh-Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Windcatcher-Avi

The Cricket in Times Square-George Selden

Matilda-Roald Dahl

James and The Giant Peach (2)-Roald Dahl

Dear Mr. Henshaw (2)-Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby, Age 8-Beverly Cleary

Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer

All of these amazing titles for $4.24!