Coffee chat with award-winning author Kathi Appelt!

Kathi Appelt, award-winning author of more than 30 books for children and young adults, chats with me about the impact of extended isolation during the current quarantine, the importance of giving students the freedom to choose what they want to read, and the power of fiction stories to grow a more empathetic world.

Angel Thieves Giveaway

Kathi has generously offered to send signed copies of her newest book, Angel Thieves, to three lucky viewers! Please comment below and include an email addess (contact information will not be shared publicly) and then share this post on Facebook or Twitter. I will select three viewers at random and notify you via email or Facebook Messenger.

Coming soon: Author chat with award-winning poet, author, and teacher, Kathi Appelt!

Kathi Appelt, award-winning author of such notable children’s books as The Underneath and Maybe a Fox, joins me this week to chat about reading and writing instruction, distance learning, the creative process, and much more! Look for our coffee chat this Friday morning!

Coffee chat with Cyndi Marko, author/illustrator of the Scholastic series, Kung Pow Chicken

Cyndi Marko, author/illustrator of the Scholastic series Kung Pow Chicken, chats with me about her creative process, the power of graphic novels, and creativity in a time of extreme isolation.

Teachers, parents, and students: Cyndi has generously offered to share a few tips for anyone who may want to try their hand at creating graphic novels in the form of a spectacularly groovy comic called The Graphic Adventures of Stick Boy! Download it here for free!

Kung Pow Chicken Giveaway!

Scroll down to the share button and share this post on Facebook, then leave a comment below and include your email address for a chance to win the entire Kung Pow Chicken series (email addresses will not be posted publicly). The winner will be notified via email or Facebook Messenger this Sunday!

Bawk, bawk, POW! Coming soon: Author chat with Cyndi Marko, author/illustrator of Scholastic's Kung Pow Chicken series!

The Art of Comprehension… and Craft: An accessible canvas for all readers and writers

Standards-based education has destroyed reading and writing instruction. What was once an artistic endeavor has now been relegated to a checklist of isolated skills — complete steps 1, 2, and 3, and you have completed the act of reading/writing.

But no need to fret. Newcomer Trevor Bryan returns literacy instruction to its rightful place as a cross between art and science, providing teachers and their students with a wholly inclusive framework for using mood to strengthen both comprehension and craft. This book is a must-have!

Enough with the daily writing prompts: Teach craft in context via free choice

Forget about daily writing prompts and canned writing instruction systems. All you need is a high interest mentor text, paper and pencil, and students. Offer choice and conference with students. The rest will take care of itself.

Sirena and Allison show us how every single state standard can be addressed during free choice writing. And the best part? Our focus is on the joy of writing and NOT on the drill and kill mastery of isolated skills.

On Writing and Wizardry: Background knowledge more powerful than magic wand

Unless you happen to be a wizard, Jesus, or maybe a close relative of Harry Potter, new writing probably won’t magically appear on a blank page in your writing notebook.

…new things are not created out of nothing but usually grow out of what is already known or understood.

Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar

Clark is on to something. In fact, he is on to what should be the foundation of writing instruction. New things do not grow from nothing. Hmm… If you want a plant, you need seeds and water and sun; if you want a painting, you need paint and canvas and brushes; and if you want a new writing piece, you need thoughts and words and phrases.

How might this look in the classroom?

Have you ever taught the “million dollar word” mini-lesson. Oh, you know the one: “Here are some 5 cent words. Let’s replace them with million dollar words.” The teacher then might send students off to dig through word lists and thesauri in a search for new and exciting words. And off they go!

Your heart nearly skips a beat! This is working! Look how excited they are to find new words! But wait…

During the twenty-four-hour period when my canine expired, my household was vastly melancholy.

Katie, age 9

Our response? What the (insert original expletive; do not replace with one you found in thesaurus)?

When we ask students to replace 5 cent words with words they have never heard, we are asking them to create something from nothing. New vocabulary is learned and understood in layers, but we are asking students to skip the beginning of vocabulary acquisition and go straight to application, which creates confusion and does nothing to push the student forward as a writer.

Rather than ask students to use a thesaurus to learn new words, model and direct them to use this powerful tool as a reminder of words they already know (Clark, 2010).

“Depressed! I could use the word depressed instead of sad! My mom is depressed a lot at night… that’s why she drinks so much wine.” — Katie

On the day my dog died, my family was so depressed.

Katie’s revision

New things grow from things that are already known and understood. Our friend Katie has now applied a word she already knew — the next layer in vocabulary acquisition. Her revision is now clear and meaningful.

This simple tweak will not only help students maintain a sense of voice in their writing, but will also lead to deeper thinking and revision as applied to the rest of the piece. Not to mention, the writing will now make sense, which is always a good thing.

New things do not grow from nothing. This should be the foundation of all writing instruction.

It’s the reason students so desperately need opportunities for thinking, listening, and speaking during every phase of the writing process. It’s the reason teachers should never abandon the read-aloud. It’s the reason random writing prompts are often confusing and frustrating for students. And it’s the reason reading and writing instruction should never be separated.

She’s a Keeper

Author and Educator Gretchen Bernabei on Literacy, Life, and Fairy Tales

The literacy gods smiled on me the day I met Gretchen Bernabei. If you’ve met her, you understand: her energy is contagious. Gretchen is not only a master of writing instruction, but also a dynamic performer and responsive communicator — at a Bernabei workshop, no one is bored. 

Continue reading “She’s a Keeper”

Collective Vetting

Video book recommendations

My first writing gig was reviewing books for a North Texas newspaper –back before the Internet decimated newspapers and print media was actually a thing. It’s time to get back to my roots. 

The number of professional development books flooding the market is simply overwhelming for educators (especially reading and writing teachers). Many titles are incredibly valuable, but I believe others are actually detrimental and cause more harm than good.

Sorting through all of this mess can be a nightmare (particularly for teachers who are new to reading and writing instruction). Further complicating matters is our pesky little friend, Time — there’s just not enough of him to go around. We have a responsibility as educators to help one another “collectively vet” recently published books and articles by participating in ongoing dialogue centered on identifying titles we as a community find valuable for our professional growth and for our students.

Note: I’m not implying we should come together and march in the streets and ban books. I’m saying we have a responsibility to continuously collaborate and share information about books and articles in order to help each other make the most of our limited time and resources. 

Accordingly, it’s time for me to get serious about book recommendations. 

My first published piece was a book review of Father and Son by Larry Brown.
And no, I’m not revealing the publication date. Ugh, I’m getting old.

At the top of this page under the Menu you will see a link for Book Recommendations. I plan to post at least one or two per month, but it may be less than consistent during the chaos of the school year (I’m sure you teachers understand). 

I also welcome submissions from any author who would like for me to consider posting a recommendation. I spend a ton of money on books, so I would be grateful to any author who offers a review copy either pre-publication or immediately after release. 

Here’s a short video explaining my book recommendation plan: 

My plan for book recommendations. 

My Joyful Return (or whatever…)

I’m back. Well… sort of. My departure from the writer’s life and why I’ve decided to make a comeback.


The only word my writing-atrophied brain can muster as I stare at the blank page and remember with clarity one of the main reasons I walked away from my former career as a writer and editor. Here’s the thing: Writing and I have a love/hate relationship. Truth be told, she stresses me the hell out.

Continue reading “My Joyful Return (or whatever…)”

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