Category: Teaching

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.

Standing up to Fearmongers and Hate

My message to those stirring fears and hatred toward LGBTQ+ teachers was published this week in The Advocate Magazine: “Stop Calling Us Groomers and Quit Making Us Your Prey.”

This op-ed, reflecting on my 30+ years as an out queer teacher, was cathartic to write. It was equally rewarding to see it shared and reflected upon by friends, colleagues, and family. I’m grateful!

This comment from a former student warmed my heart and made me proud of being an out teacher for all these years, even when it was not easy:

“Please read this vital article by my kindergarten teacher, Mary E. Cronin. I was one of the unbelievably lucky kids whose tears she mopped, who she taught to read, and who she guided into “readiness — readiness for learning, for life in our vibrant and complex society.”

I’m heartened by all of the friends and allies who know the harm these false and harmful stereotypes can create. Thank you for standing with LGBTQ+ educators and parents!

THE 10-10 ANTHOLOGY: NEW POETRY BOOK WITH MIDDLE-GRADE GEMS

“maples

trade green

for gold,

 

treasure

drops, 

        floats…”

So begins “Tenth Month,” a poem about October by Irene Latham in the just-published 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY. I found so many poems that would be perfect for a middle-grade English Language Arts classroom. In Irene’s poem, for instance, there is both playfulness and reverence for nature; plus it’s packed with great verbs!

Science teachers will find wonderful content in Janice Scully’s brief yet descriptive poem “The Floating Water Strider,” about how an insect manages to skate across the surface of water.

Poet Moe Phillip’s description of a tug-of-war competition will have children laughing in recognition– “Heels dig in, teeth are bared, toes to temples taut.” It’s brimming with juicy language that will inspire young writers!

Bridget Magee created THE 10-10 POETRY ANTHOLOGY around ten themes or prompts, including the words tentative, tenderness, and tenacity.

My poem, “Necessary In-Tent,” is included in this collection. It’s inspired by a memory of going camping for the very first time as a 12-year old (tentative!). I was used to city living and city sounds, and the nighttime woods were a bit scary for me! Many of the poets who I follow on Poetry Fridays and elsewhere are included in this collection, including Jay Brazeau, Linda Baie, Janet Fagal, Marilyn Garcia, Mary Lee Hahn, Michelle Kogan, Carmela Martino, Linda Mitchell, Aixa Perez-Prado, Laura Purdie Salas, Buffy Silverman, Eileen Spinelli, Linda Kulp Trout, Janet Wong, Tabatha Yeatts, and more!

There are many riches to explore in this anthology– and it would make a great gift for the teacher in your life.

On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Bridget Magee (editor of the 10-10 Anthology!) hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup today at her blog Wee Words for Wee Ones. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!

 

 

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!

~~~~~

Writing Buzz: Autumn may be the best season for writing!

There is nothing like that clean-page feeling of fall! I have been energetically contributing to blogs, writing articles, and revising my middle grade novel ever since I turned that page to September.

september

A few links:

My article “Coming Out to My College Students–Again” sparked some great conversation on Twitter and other venues. Read it here.

Indulging my passion for New York City history, I published “Happy Land: Death of an Arsonist” on Medium.

I had the chance to merge my newest TV favorite, Stranger Things, through the lens of middle grade fiction on the Project Mayhem Middle Grade blog.

There’s more to come! I’ll soon be writing about my participation in the amazing Write to Change the World seminar by the OpEd Project.

Stay tuned.

Talking about summer reading on NPR!

Getting an invitation to talk about children’s books and summer? No way I’d turn that down!

WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA
WCAI-FM in Woods Hole, MA

I had the chance to join host Mindy Todd and Falmouth librarian Jill Erickson at WCAI-FM (Cape and Islands NPR station) recently, and we talked about so. many. books!

guests 1

The topic was kids and summer reading.

Some highlights:

**the importance of letting kids make their own choices in the summer, to read exactly what they want to read

**the library is a parent and child’s best friend… a no-cost, community-oriented way to grow a reader

**taking on the Reading Without Walls Challenge is a great way to add some spice and excitement to your summer reading, either for a kid or an adult! The Reading Without Walls Challenge is brought to us by Gene Luen Yang, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

Reading without walls

You can listen to the show by clicking here (it’s about an hour).

Here is a list of books I mentioned on the program:

Summer Reading Recommendations for WCAI- The Point

PIcture Books

  • SURF’S UP by Kwame Alexander
  • FRED STAYS WITH ME by Nancy Coffelt… divorce/separation story
  • LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Peña
  • WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES (Poems for All Seasons) by Julie Fogliano
  • Deborah Ruddell’s TODAY AT THE BLUEBIRD CAFÉ (bird poem, including the cardinal poem I read)
  • THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle Pitman (Gay Pride)
  • POEM RUNS by Douglas Florian (baseball poems, including the first base poem I read)

Middle Grade book (for ages 8 to about 12)

  • DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier… (graphic novel, theater kids)
  • Donna Gephardt’s LILY AND DUNKIN…transgender character, “outsiders”
  • Varian Johnson’s THE GREAT GREENE HEIST… main character is Jackson Greene (a smooth operator), a middle school caper reminiscent of Oceans 11. Sequel is TO CATCH A CHEAT. Varian visited Falmouth library and schools this past fall.
  • PAX by Sara Pennypacker… an animal story… a boy main character…. local author.
  • DISTANCE TO HOME by Jenn Barnes… baseball, girl athlete main character, will appeal to fans of Cape Cod Baseball League
  • Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL…. a story about popularity, loyalty, friendship, middle school
  • Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE… a girl battles with reading difficulties, adopting a trouble-making personality as a smoke screen, until a teacher makes a difference
  • ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia…Three African American sisters go to visit the mother who left them, in 1968 Oakland, California….the first book in a trilogy.

 

Young Adult– teen books

  • Ellen Wittlinger’s LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY… a juicy Provincetown story… a story of four friends, one of whom gets swept away in stormy weather…. a mystery unravels.
  • K. A. Barson’s CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT… two girls who are juniors in a cosmetology arts program enter a competition, and Charlotte makes a bet with her mother that she’ll win…her mom wants her to give up cosmetology for college.
  • SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli… Simon struggles to come out to himself and his wonderfully quirky family, approaches a new romance and unravels the mystery behind some secret messages.

There are some other books that I was prepared to talk about on The Point, but we ran out of time!

They are:

A few more picture books:

  • SLICKETY QUICK: POEMS ABOUT SHARKS by Skila Brown
  • DRUM GIRL DREAMS by Margarita Engle…the main character is told that girls cannot be drummers…but she dreams and practices and becomes a star drummer in this colorful picture book set in Cuba.

More middle grade titles:

  • RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Kate DiCamillo…a friendship story set in the South… three girls,  baton twirling and pageants, and more
  • GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead… perfect for parent and kid to read together; captures the complexity of middle school so well
  • Mike Jung’s UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT…Chloe Cho, a Korean-American 7th grader, wants to get in touch with her family history…they are the only Asian family in town… funny, touching, great twist!
  • Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY… 18 kids try to rescue their school from the wrecking ball… a novel in verse.
  • Kate Messner’s THE SEVENTH WISH… 12-year-old Charlie  catches a magical wishing fish and tries to use her wishes to solve some challenges, but her wishes go awry. Charlie is an Irish step dancer and wishes for a new dress for competition. On a more serious note, she longs for a solution when it’s discovered that her older sister has become addicted to heroin; Charlie grapples with the limits of magical thinking. This subplot is handled sensitively and may resonate with a lot of middle grade readers.

One more YA novel…

Sona Charaipotra’s SHINY PRETTY THINGS…Juicy ballet story, with three characters, it has been likened to  “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars”…. it has a sequel, SHINY BROKEN PIECES. Diverse cast of characters and lots of drama for those who love ballet!

Mindy Todd, host of The Point
Mindy Todd, host of The Point

Thank you, Mindy Todd and WCAI-FM, for hosting this fun conversation about reading!

Radio interview: Instilling a love of reading in children

“Never the leave the house without a book.” That’s one of the tips we discussed yesterday on The Point, a morning program on WCAI-FM, the NPR station for Cape Cod and the Islands.

WCAI radio, overlooking the water in beautiful Woods Hole, MA
WCAI radio, overlooking the water in beautiful Woods Hole, MA

Host Mindy Todd and I discussed how to instill a love of reading in the home, creating an environment where reading with children happens naturally. We talked about creating a diverse book collection in the home, the power of board books, reading poetry to children, and more.

We had a fantastic conversation, and were later joined by a reading specialist who is knowledgeable about kids who have reading difficulties.  Listen here if you want to hear the program!

I couldn't leave Woods Hole without having a delicious scone at Pie in the Sky!
I couldn’t leave Woods Hole without having a delicious scone at Pie in the Sky!

Raising a Reader: my class for parents/early educators!

Raising a Reader! I’m offering this community education class in May 2016 at the Cape Cod Campus of Bridgewater State University.

Stack of bks

Raising a Reader is a non-credit course aimed at parents and caregivers who want to infuse a love of reading and books into their children’s lives. Preschool teachers and home daycare providers may also enjoy this course.

Topics covered in Raising a Reader include: reaching a wide range of learning styles; early literacy skills; book selection; overview of genres and types of children’s books; anatomy of a picture book; putting together a diverse and rich home library; boosting literacy skills during read-aloud; and engaging reluctant readers of all ages.

PBs

Participants will also come away with literacy resources, book lists, and on-line resources. Raising a Reader is open to the community (participants do not need to be registered college students or college graduates).

Poetry

The class will meet on four Wednesday evenings: May 4,11,18 and 25, 2016 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Bridgewater State University/Cape Cod Campus in Yarmouth, MA. Cost: $149.00

Mother Goose

It’s going to be fun!  Register here. GOOD NEWS: Bridgewater-Cape Cod has just announced a “bring a friend” special. Register for the class ($149) and you can bring a friend. You can split the cost!

 

MARY LIB PHOTO

Author and educator Mary E. Cronin teaches Early Childhood Education, Children’s Literature, and Creative Writing at a wide array of institutions including Cape Cod Community College, Bridgewater State University, Barnstable County Correctional Facility, Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, and more. Mary is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and the joy of reading. Read more about her at www.maryecronin.com, or on Twitter at @maryecronin.

 

 

 

 

 

A Prison Writing Class using Children’s Books

Get people talking about the books they remember as children, and all sorts of things happen. The voice softens. There is laughter. The eyes look beyond, beyond the room to another place, another time.

That’s what happened in the first session of my creative writing class last month at Barnstable County Correctional Facility on Cape Cod. For five years now, I have been teaching a ten-week creative writing class in the women’s unit once a year; this time around, I decided to use children’s books as the writing prompts.

 wild things

I knew that more than half the women in the prison were mothers, and I figured that using children’s books would serve a dual purpose: provide a spark of inspiration for writing, and familiarize the women with children’s books that they may want to read to their children when they are released and reunited with family.

“When you hear the words children’s books, what do you think of?” That was the prompt on the first day of class, to allow me to get to know the women and hear a bit about their experiences.

Cat in Hat

They wrote and wrote, about Dr. Seuss, Goodnight Moon, Rainbow Fish, Where the Wild Things Are, nursery rhymes. Jess wrote three pages about a book she remembered from her eye doctor’s office, about a girl who needed a coat, and the sheep that were sheared to get the yarn that would be dyed red, and all the steps of the making the coat. Her face lit up as she read this reminiscence from her composition book. The word “pain” was tattooed along her knuckles. She couldn’t remember the title, but the feeling the book gave to her was still there after so many years, shining through in her smile.

Market Street

I read Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street to them to kick off our second class. They marveled at the “real people” who populated the illustrations (especially the guy with tattoos), and wrote about a time that they became aware of haves and have-nots, of want or lack, or having something that someone else longed for. The women roared with laughter as Laura read aloud about her mother snipping alligators off of polo shirts and sewing them on less-expensive shirts so her kids felt they were wearing the “right” brand. The book was passed around; they hungrily inspected the vivid illustrations by Christian Robinson. They discussed a line from de la Peña’s story that stood out as a favorite, especially poignant when read inside the walls of a prison: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt…you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

market street interior

For our third week, I dug around my local library and found A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert, published in the 80s. It was all there as Jess had described: the girl, the sheep, the red yarn. When I brought it in for session 3, Jess’s eyes lit up. As we passed the book around, she wrote down the title and author; she’s getting out soon and will not be in class when I return. They wrote about treasured articles of clothing: the extra-cool jeans everyone wanted in their teen years, the favorite boots, the halter top that Mom disapproved of. Everyone wrote, laughing softly, nodding, their pencils scratching in their composition notebooks.

New Coat for Anna

Some of the women read their words aloud each week, others shake their heads no, saying they will never read. Sometimes one participant will offer to read aloud the words of another. There are moments heavy with sadness, but more often, laughter.

In between the exchanges about books and writing there is talk about their children, getting out of prison, longing for coffee, wondering about the weather. As I bring a children’s book past the gates and checkpoints and metal doors, I feel like I’m carrying in a bright and vivid world, folded up as tightly as an origami box. We get to unfold it together, letting the colors and word play unfurl, warming the small airless room with cinderblock walls.

composition book

Seven weeks to go… more words, more color, more writing to come.

(Names have been changed to protect confidentiality)

Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project

Like a plane coming in for a landing, I am settling back in to work and writing after the excitement of the holidays and a January trip to Ireland. Thanks to local arts funding, I will be teaching a new version of my creative writing class in the women’s unit of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility here on Cape Cod, and I’m very excited!

Here’s the description:

Mary E. Cronin will lead a ten-week writing workshop, “Connecting Through Kids’ Books,” in the women’s unit of Barnstable County Correctional Facility, where 80% of the female inmates are mothers. In each 90-minute session, Mary will bring a children’s book, which will be read aloud and used as a creative writing prompt. As participants appreciate and write about children’s books, they will improve their own literacy, become newly aware of the power of reading aloud, and add to their parenting skills in anticipation of their release and reunion with their children.

**

It’s been well-documented that when parents are incarcerated, it places enormous stress on their children, impacting child development and the parent-child relationship. Connecting Through Kids’ Books: A Prison Writing Project aims to address those needs on several levels.

First, it will boost the literacy skills of the adult participants by sparking appreciation of high-quality children’s books, building vocabulary, and strengthening writing skills through creative writing.

Second, the program will bolster parenting skills by giving  participants a window into the joy and stimulation that children’s books can provide, especially if they themselves were not read to as children. Connecting through Kids’ Books also will give the women an awareness of titles they can read to their children once they are released from prison, and appreciation for the access that the public library can provide.

One of the books we'll be reading and writing about
One of the books we’ll be reading and writing about

I’m thrilled that two Local Cultural Councils from Cape Cod have supported this project, and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. It starts next week!