Category: Cape Cod

Winning a grant is a pretty great feeling… and then watching the impact of that grant on young children is just joyful.

When author Ana Crespo made an author visit via Zoom to the school where I work as a Literacy Coach on Cape Cod, the joy in classrooms was palpable. Most children in our K-3 school had never met an author before, and they were excited to meet Ana.

Crespo, a native of Brazil who lives in Colorado, is the author of several picture books, including The Sock Thief, Hello, Tree, and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? She made four presentations over the course of two days, presenting individually to each grade level at the M.E. Small School. 

Crespo’s author visit was provided by SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant, which funds author visits to deserving schools. In my application for the grant, I wrote of the M.E. Small School, “The students at M.E. Small are an enthusiastic bunch. Give them a rich and layered read-aloud experience, and they hang on every page turn. Give them a place to dance, and they dance their hearts out. Provide them with art materials and their creations burst with color. They are ‘all in,’ ready to embrace any new experience given to them.”

More than half of the students at M.E. Small School are English Language Learners, and a significant portion of those students are from Portuguese-speaking Brazilian families. That’s what made Ana’s visit so special. An author of more than seven books for young readers, she began to learn English at the age of 12. She was an embodiment of Rudine Sims Bishop’s windows and mirrors for our students at M.E. Small. Crespo personalized her presentation to each grade, greeting students in Portuguese and calling out special details about children in each grade level. 

“I loved your book,” one student named Laura wrote to Crespo after the presentation. “I’m Brasilian too. I read Lia and Luis. Me and my brother are just like them. Obrigado.”

Another student named Cyrus wrote, “Thank you for teaching us a little bit about you and Brazil! I love your books!”

Funding from the Amber Brown Grant allowed each classroom in the school to receive a copy of two of Crespo’s books, The Sock Thief and Lia and Luis: Who Has More? I want to give a special shout-out to SCBWI’s Kim Turrisi, who coordinated all aspects of the grant and made the process so smooth!  The impact of the grant goes much deeper than one day’s joy, however. When I think about our young students, I believe the ripples of Ana’s visit will be felt for years to come.

Finding Poetry in Robotics? Yes!

WHAT IS A FRIEND? I am delighted to be a part of a new poetry book for middle graders that answers this question. It’s a collection of poems about all aspects of friendship– getting along, competing, trying out new ventures together. My poem, “Team,” is about a robotics team tinkering and figuring out together how to make things work. It’s dedicated to my friend Brian, who teaches Robotics in a high school on Cape Cod serving a very diverse and high-needs population. Here’s to all the robotics teachers, helping their students to “try, fail, adjust.”

WHAT IS A FRIEND? is edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell of Pomelo Books; it was chosen as a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” Selection for October! It would be a great gift for a teacher you know, or a young reader in your life. You can order it from Amazon or Bookshop.org. Thank you, Sylvia and Janet, for the dynamic and thoughtful poetry books for young readers that you put out into the world. 

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Sarah Grace Tuttle hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today on her blog. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

Teaching teachers: Poetry in the early childhood classroom

When you get to combine teaching with a topic you’re passionate about– that’s the sweet spot! I just finished teaching one of my favorite courses at the community college, “Poetry in the Early Childhood Classroom.”

In this class, we dove deep into poetry: how to infuse it throughout the curriculum, how it can foster social-emotional growth, how a poem can be a window, mirror, or sliding glass door for a child.

One of the assignments of the course is “Author Study of a Poet.” This summer, my students (who all teach in early childhood) focused on Nikki Giovanni, Janet Wong, and Douglas Florian, among others. They also completed Poetry Portfolios to use in their classrooms, and made big beautiful poetry charts for shared, choral reading.

It was a creative, fun class, and their final reflections show that! Here are some of their postings:

**My view on poetry in the preschool classroom has changed dramatically.  Prior to this class I would have considered myself not a fan at all.  I had no idea how helpful the addition of poetry could be to introducing and elevating the curriculum in the classroom.  I love the idea of adding connections to the subject at hand by utilizing poetry to enhance the topics.  I am also intrigued by the humor that can be added by selecting the right poem. I love to make the kids laugh.

**I never really took the time to read poetry, but now after taking this class, it has really opened my eyes to all the different ways poetry is useful. Especially tonight’s class and listening to Mary explain how poetry can be used, like as a dipstick to see what children know, or to preview a topic. I like how poetry can also be used as an emotional rehearsal. Things can always be related to poems or vice versa.

**The same way I sometimes underestimate the power of a walk through nature is the way I can “overlook” the power of poetry in the classroom.

**I will definitely take away from this class the idea of servicing through teaching in a new light.  The idea of helping a child with transitions by utilizing poetry and books as windows hit me in a whole new way.  I also will take away the positive impact that poetry can have on speech development and shyness.

I had that hit of “mission accomplished” as I read these comments, and I hope they inspire any teachers who read this to add more poetry to their teaching.

Happy summer, everyone!

Radio Round Table on Diversity and Children’s Books

It was a delight to be part of a (remote) round-table discussion this week on WCAI-FM (the Cape and Islands NPR station) about children’s literature and diversity. On “The Point” program hosted by Mindy Todd, I was joined by an educator from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,  Jennifer Weston of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. We were also be joined by two librarians and the co-owner of Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, Sara Hines. 

What a dynamic conversation touching on race, LGBTQ+ people, native stories, and windows and mirrors.  I was able to share rich conversations I’ve had with my students at Cape Cod Community College. We received great comments and suggestions from listeners, too. Thank you, WCAI, for hosting this important conversation!

You can listen to the recording on the link here.

 

A Note Meant to Silence

I don’t think it’s an accident that I received a strange note in the mail recently. It was postmarked on the day after my article appeared in the Cape Cod Times.  The headline in the print edition was “Black Lives Matter: does your child’s bookshelf reflect the world?”

I like to think that my appeal to teachers and parents to think critically about what books we offer our children might have rattled someone’s defenses a bit. Might have perforated their comfort zone or upended their sense of order or privilege. Apparently my essay advocating that we place stories with Black characters front and center was a bit too much for someone, prompting them to take pen to paper (nice stationery, though!).

The letter, mailed to my workplace,  isn’t threatening, exactly– just unsettling in an off-kilter way. It made me think of the quote by activist Maggie Kuhn:

 

“Leave safety behind…Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” –Maggie Kuhn

 

I know there are authors and artists, political leaders and journalists who receive hate mail and threats every day. This isn’t that. To me, it’s simply a reminder of how important this work is– educating the rising generation to be actively engaged in a multi-racial and just society. That’s what I do, as a community college educator who teaches about children’s literature, about early education, about writing.

 

It might unsettle me, but it won’t keep me from the joyful intersection of social justice and children’s literature. 

 

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

~~Rep. John Lewis

 

Does Your Child’s Bookshelf Reflect the World?

One of the best things about my recent article in the Cape Cod Times about Black Lives Matter and children’s books is that I’ve heard from parents and educators who are inspired about making mindful book choices for the children in their lives. 

One delightful spark is that I heard from a guy who was here on Cape Cod– the father of Marley Dias! He shared a diverse book list that Marley developed for Parade Magazine.

The article also led the owner of a new bookstore (about to open) to contact me, and ask if I would consult with her about making rich and diverse choices for their children’s section. I’m excited to collaborate in the birth of a new bookstore on Cape Cod. More on that soon!

As always, We Need Diverse Books is a great source for book titles!

For Middle Grade Writers: 5 Gems from a School Counselor

If you write middle grade fiction, it can be difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of a middle schooler’s daily life if you are not the parent or teacher of kids this age.

I interviewed a middle school guidance counselor (I’ll call her Ms. Counselor) for insights—some granular details ranging from school day schedules to substance use to gender, sexual orientation, and the beginnings of romance.

…Read more here in my blog post on the Project Mayhem Middle Grade blog, a treasure trove of information about writing for this complex and often-misunderstood age group!

And remember: be kind to porcupines.

Fighting the Good Fight with Children’s Books

Can children’s books fight prejudice, oppression, and injustice? Absolutely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I presented a teacher training about structuring the read-aloud experience for maximum benefit to young children. This gave me the chance to weave together two strands I am passionate about: early literacy and social justice.

It’s hard to keep my focus as an educator and writer when so much of what I love about this country is under assault: freedom, diversity, a value on the arts and sciences. I could go on. There was a bright spot this week, something that helped me to gather my strength: Mirah Curzer’s recent article on Medium, “How to Stay #Outraged Without Losing Your Mind.”

Curzer wrote about the various ways we can counter the intolerance and injustice we are seeing in the new administration:

“Don’t forget to play to your strengths… If you’re a writer, write articles shedding light on important issues, convincing the other side or rallying your allies to action. If you’re an artist, make art with a conscience. Teachers can bring social justice into your curriculum. Lawyers can volunteer at free legal clinics, write amicus briefs, do pro bono work. Like to argue? …Love to bake? Bring cookies to activist meetings and homeless shelters. No matter what your passion is, there’s a way to use it for good and have a great time doing it.”

So that’s what I did yesterday, which also happened to be Multicultural Children’s Book Day. I presented about the read-aloud experience to a group of passionate Head Start teachers, educators who spend their careers working with children from low-income circumstances. Many of the children in their classrooms have experienced trauma and major challenges. We talked about windows and mirrors and how vocabulary equals power.

We examined beautiful books and how to use them in the Head Start classrooms. I left feeling a little less bleak, a little more energized. We can each wage this fight in our own way, with the tools we have at hand.

My tools are books.

From Brandon Stanton’s Little Humans

Let’s keep fighting.

Protecting our Young LGBTQ Athletes

“Thank God I’m gay.”

Cyd Zeigler
Cyd Zeigler

Those are words LGBT advocate Cyd Zeigler and his husband exchange each day. Part affirmation and part words of gratitude, Zeigler’s words electrified the audience of student-athletes, coaches, advocates, and educators. We had gathered in Hyannis, MA for a summit to discuss the intersection of student athletes, LGBTQ diversity, and anti-bullying.

mccz
I was thrilled to meet Cyd Zeigler!

 

Zeigler had returned to his native Cape Cod to share his own story: teased for being gay years before he came to the realization himself, Zeigler didn’t come out until well after his high school years. A lifelong athlete, Zeigler recognized after he came out that there wasn’t much overlap between the realm of sports fans/athletes and the gay community. He set out to do something about it by co-founding OutSports.com. You can read more about OutSports here.

lacrosse-pic
Braeden Lange on the cover of the program

Student-athlete Braeden Lange also presented. Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy holding a conference room in thrall with his positive message and poised responses to questions. A lacrosse player, Braeden spoke about coming out as a sixth grader, how ostracized he felt, and how connecting to Andrew Goldstein, a well-known gay lacrosse athlete who is out, saved his life and gave him hope. Braeden shared that those connections are what keep young LGBTQ students from feelings of despair and isolation. This is one of the goals of the short documentary about him and Andrew, The Courage Game, that was shown at the conference. You can view the ESPN feature here. (13 min.) It’s amazing!

My wife, school counselor Bonnie Jackman, and Braeden Lange
My wife, school counselor Bonnie Jackman, and Braeden Lange

Zeigler also emphasized the power of connection and coming out: he often hears from athletes who are deeply fearful of being ridiculed and ostracized by their teams. Often it is the opposite that happens, Zeigler recounted: athletes feel the support of teammates and coaches, and the liberation of no longer harboring a secret.

A school counselor, school safety office, and health teacher in attendance
From the Nauset district: school counselor, school safety officer, and health teacher in attendance!

As Braeden said, “living your truth…you don’t have to have that weight on your shoulders.”

State Representative Sarah Peake spoke about her own coming out process, her memories of being a student-athlete, and her appreciation for the positive messages of Zeigler and young Braeden.

Jonathan Peters, a senior at Sturgis Charter School who spearheaded the event, closed with words of gratitude and inspiration. He thanked Cyd Zeigler and Braeden for traveling to the Cape for the event that attracted participants from as far as Rhode Island. He spoke about his own process, saying that rather than using the term “coming out,” he prefers, “invite the world in.”

keynote-speakers

That’s exactly what happened in that conference room. The world was invited in. Student athletes, advocates, principals, coaches, educators, and allies came together. The power of connection was affirmed. And everyone left that room feeling a little braver, more connected, and optimistic about the intersection of LGBTQ diversity and sports.

Braeden Lange, Cyd Zeigler, and Jonathan Peters: rocking the pastels! (Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.)
Braeden Lange, Cyd Zeigler, and Jonathan Peters: rocking the pastels! (Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.)

Final note: book recommendations!

Here is one book for teens that was recommended by a friend, featuring a gay athlete main character. It’s TRUE LETTERS FROM A FICTIONAL LIFE by Kenneth Logan.

I’d love to hear more recommendations for middle grade and young adult books featuring  LGBTQ-athlete characters!

~~~~~