Connecting with Authors – Bringing Literacy to Life

elaine skypeEllie Rumney is a library media specialist extraordinaire from Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  Her heartfelt post gave me goosebumps. Yes, small moments can provide endless inspiration. Thank you, Ellie!

Connecting with Authors – Bringing Literacy to Life

by Ellie Rumney

The joyful faces of student connecting an author to a book is a priceless sight.

On one regular day in April, ninety 1st graders sat enthralled as published author, Jean Reidy shared her inspirations and ideas with students in Rhinelander, Wisconsin from her home in Colorado.  Student faces were alight as the author, who had written the books they had been reading in class, shared her inspiration for one of her books, Time Out for Monsters.  They gasped with excitement when she let them in on the secret to her upcoming books scheduled for release in the near future.

Students asked questions that helped them understand the writing and publishing process.  They connected to Ms. Reidy as she brought the books she had written to life. They learned that even a professional writer has to go through many edits and revisions to get a completed piece of work.  This Library Media Specialist had goosebumps watching the children’s engagement through the entire experience!

Ellie skype 2Reading and literacy are vital elements of our children’s education, and students are immersed in materials that allow them to embrace the world of words around them.  Much of the time, authors are an abstract name connected to books the students are enjoying.  Allowing students to meet and connect a face to a name through an author visit both in person or via internet teleconference is a vital connection between the abstract and the concrete.  When students can connect the name to a face, they can understand that it is a real person behind a published piece of work.  This in turn inspires students to be readers and writers, as they can understand that the people behind the work aren’t magicians and writing isn’t an impossible task.  As students meet authors, they can hear the author’s voice in the piece of literature they are reading and connect the story to a part of that author’s life.  They are inspired to write after hearing an author talk about the process of writing and how it begins small for even the most accomplished authors.

Ellie skype 3After meeting Jean Reidy, teachers talked to their students about making connections and writing about their own small moments.  One teacher said, “As writers, we want to emphasize the students writing about small details in their stories.  Jean Reidy’s Time Out For Monsters is about her childhood experience of being in a time out.”  Hearing a published author share her inspiration for writing a story about a small moment in her life has allowed the students to see that writing is not as scary or intimidating as they may feel or think it is. Connecting to the small moments that authors use for inspiration makes reading and writing more accessible to students.

That regular April day became a memorable and inspirational experience for one lucky group of 1st grade students.  They left with the understanding that real people are behind their beloved books.  They left with inspiration that they too can be authors of small moments.  Author visits such as these are an exciting way to open the eyes of a child and make the world of literacy more accessible and connected to their lives.

Ellie skypeEllie Rumney taught for 12 years before becoming a Library Media Specialist for the School District of Rhinelander. As a teacher, she was passionate about integrating technology and 21st Century Skills into her classroom. Her journey to become an LMS gave her access to an amazing learning network of professionals that she relies on in the current educational climate. As a Library Media Specialist, she continues to share her enthusiasm for 21st Century learning and information literacy with teachers and students in the classrooms and libraries.


My 1-3-1 Poetry Exercise

When I was a child, I loved reading poetry. But later in life when I learned to analyze and deconstruct poems, my passion faded. Poetry can be hard to decipher. And when you try too hard, the deciphering can bog you down.

I developed this quick poetry exercise to help me read and think about poems with less effort and more enjoyment … like I had as a child.

I call it my 1-3-1 Exercise!

1  – Think of 1 word to describe how you feel after reading the poem.

3 – Pick out 3 words from the poem that contribute to that feeling.

1 – In one sentence tell what the poet might be saying in the poem.

Try it! And if it works for you, add it to your poetry toolkit.

Then share a poem with a friend.

Happy poetry month!

Young Writer’s Workshop – The Persuasive Piece!

First Day Pictures 716

Molly Baldwin, 2nd Grade Teacher at Carl T. Mitnick School in Cape May, NJ, knows how to make writing come alive for her students. How do you make a persuasive writing assignment extra fun? Tie it to some wacky and wild picture books!


by Molly Baldwin

For the last month, my second grade students have been diligently working on opinion pieces during Writer’s Workshop. They have delved into literary work that has inspired them to want to persuade a fellow classmate, a teacher…..whomever, to read a book of their choice. I wanted my students to have the opportunity to meet an author, and with the advancement of technology in my school, what better way than to Skype.

After doing some research, I came across Jean Reidy, an author who kindly agreed to speak with my class. My students were eager to share all that they had learned regarding persuasive writing, so I decided to tie in our writing curriculum with several of Jean’s stories, All Through My Town, Too Pickley! Too Purpley! and Too Princessy!

As a class, we spent a week dissecting the stories, discussing story elements, characters, problem/solution, and much more. Students were assigned to write a letter to Jean, explaining why one of her books was their favorite, with at least two supporting reasons. StudeFirst Day Pictures 715nts made comparisons between her stories, tied in stories that were similar to Jean’s, shared real-life connections, and made Jean feel like a “Super Star” with their letters of adoration.

The result of their week long efforts was nothing short of spectacular. My students were able to share their letters with Jean, ask questions, and receive many accolades from both myself and the author. The Skype visit far exceeded my expectations, and I know that my students will remember this experience for years to come. Jean is definitely a mentor and new friend, and has inspired my young writers to continue to grow and glow.

Molly Baldwin is a second grade teacher at Carl T. Mitnick School in Cape May, New Jersey. She has a BA in Communications from The College of New Jersey, and a BA in Elementary Education from Stockton University. She will also soon have her MA in Administration from Rowan University.

Building a Charmingly Twisted World

Author, Jenny Goebel, will tell you she’s led a charmed life. But when you get to know her, you quickly understand her life has little to do with luck and everything to do with Jenny. She’s sweet, kind, caring and – most of all – talented. Today she’s talking about world building and her latest novel FORTUNE FALLS. No doubt, her readers are the lucky ones – I’m sure you’ll agree! Take it away, Jenny!

Building a Charmingly Twisted World

A very lucky thing happened to me shortly after my debut middle grade novel, Grave Images, was published in the fall of 2013. My editor at Scholastic, Mallory Kass, came to me with an idea she had for another book—one about a magical town where superstitions are real.

Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll break your mother’s back.

Hold your breath when you pass a graveyard.

Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.

It sounded like an incredibly fun and original premise and I didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.  At the time, however, I had no idea how resounding the effects of warping this one seemingly frivolous aspect of life would be. Building a world much like ours, only twisted, proved to be a tremendous challenge.

I think my biggest mistake, one that resulted in a number of false starts for Fortune Falls, was being overly anxious —story of my (creative) life. I launched into the construction part a little too quickly. Eventually (with a great deal of guidance from Mallory and from my critique partners), I realized that the key to making the unbelievable seem believable was to slow down and ask the right questions before barreling ahead with the world building.  The following questions are the ones I found to be most helpful.

What’s the main problem?

Whether the setting is real or imaginary, every story needs a problem that can be compounded upon.  Therefore, this was a logical first question to ask. And, in a town where superstitions are real, bad luck is going to present more problems than good luck.  So an unlucky main character doing something to further aggravate her fate—say something like break a mirror—seemed to be the most compelling place to start.

But the questions couldn’t stop there.  If bad luck and good luck reigned supreme, why would anyone take unnecessary chances?  Why would a hapless girl pick up a mirror in the first place?

Once I had a satisfying reason for my main character, Sadie, to break a mirror and get caught up in such a dire predicament (I’m not going to tell you how she breaks it—you have to read the book!), I was fairly confident I could make the plot work.

What is society like?

The next step was to take a hard look at how life in this alternate world would be affected by the skewed parameters I was imposing.

First, how would society respond to the disparities between the lucky and the less fortunate? In a town where so much hinges on this one fantastical element, what precautions would be taken to prevent the horrendous luck of some from complicating the charmed lives of others?  Whatever the society’s response would be, I knew it should have a significant impact on my main character.

Solution: The Luck Test, a sorting process for the inhabitants of Fortune Falls. Because this is a middle grade novel, it only made sense for Sadie’s entire destiny to be determined by this test at the ripe old age of twelve.  And, of course, she would have to face this test after breaking the mirror (gotta compound the problem, right?)


If lucky items were easy to come by, the solution to all of Sadie’s problems would be too easy.  Therefore, I had to build an economy for Fortune Falls where supply and demand drove up prices for four-leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet, and lucky horseshoes.  To illustrate this idea, I added a scene at Lucky CharmZ, which is basically a black-market shop for all things luck-related, and contrasted it with the boutiques where the more fortunate citizens do their shopping.

What rules are there governing the magic/lucky charms?

Another part of building the economy was making the rare charms consumable, and assigning a value (based on the length of effectiveness) to each one.

Setting these imitations and creating rules around how the charms would work allowed me to create an atmosphere where it wasn’t entirely impossible for Sadie to reverse her luck but was unlikely enough to present a sufficient challenge.

How does living in this world affect my main character’s daily Life?

After I tackled some of the larger scale questions, it was time to look at how Sadie’s daily life would be affected. I wanted to impress upon the audience from the very beginning what a burden it would be for a hapless person to live in a world where bad luck was far more than an inconvenience.  So in the very first chapter, I put Sadie in a situation familiar to most school-aged children—walking down a sidewalk and avoiding cracks.  Then I twisted the lens by showing a mother with a halo cast, an “all too common sight in Fortune Falls.” Providing this bridge of the familiar and then skewing the expected outcome, or gravity of the situation, was crucial for building a strange, but believable world.

Character development?

Exploring what impact all of this would have on Sadie’s character was the final, fundamental aspect of making this outlandish tale seem possible. Knowing that fate wasn’t on her side, it seemed unlikely that Sadie would be bold and reckless.  But I couldn’t have her be too disparaged either, or it wouldn’t be believable that she was resilient enough to overcome the obstacles before her. It was clear she needed places in her life where she could find redemption.  This redemption comes for Sadie in the form of friendship and learning to rely on her own cleverness and aptitude to see her way through some very bleak times.

Once I restructured my approach to writing Fortune Falls, things went much smoother. Writing is forever a learning process.  At least I know now that if I’m going to set my stories in twisted worlds, I must ask myself some very probing questions before I ever start building.

Jenny Goebel is the author of Fortune Falls, Grave Images, and The 39 Clues: Doublecross Book 3: Mission Hurricane. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three sons who avoid stepping on cracks and walking under ladders, but have been known to consort with black cats.






When Being “Too Pickley” Was “Just Right”

McCannBoysLast month I had the great honor of a virtual visit in the classroom of one of New Jersey’s finest teachers, Kevin McCann. Kevin brings out the best in kids. It shows in his amazing students, and – as you’ll see below – in his adorable sons. I know you’ll enjoy this peek into our visit as well as a glimpse into the family life of one great dad! 


by Kevin McCann

SmashBurgerIt is funny how ideas can come to you when you are a teacher.  I am not only a third grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, New Jersey, I am also a proud parent of three awesome boys.  They challenge and push my wife and me everyday.  Each in their own way!  My oldest son, Daniel, has a strong personality.  The youngest, Tyler, is going through the stage of not sharing.  My middle son, Matthew, is the one who fusses about food.He would eat mozzarella sticks or chicken nuggets everyday of the week if allowed.  It’s ironic because he won’t try a breaded chicken cutlet because he says, “I don’t like that kind of chicken.”

Too-Pickley-coverMy wonderful wife, Michelle, who is also a fabulous teacher, was aware of a book to read to the boys, which might encourage Matthew to try other foods.  The book was Too Pickley by Jean Reidy.  Coincidentally, during writing workshop that day, my class was talking about being more descriptive with their word choices.  When I heard Jean Reidy’s choice of words, I knew it would be perfect for my class. I always love when a picture book can be used in the classroom to model or enhance a concept or skill.  For instance, I have used If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff to help with cause and effect.  The books I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff have been used to help teach persuasive writing.  Was this another picture book I could use to help the class?  Time would tell!

Jean Reidy Class VisitThe next day I read Too Pickley to my class.  The students loved the book.  It wasn’t only the rhyming and descriptive use of words, but the magnificent illustrations that made the class ask to read it again.  I decided to go to the library and get Too Purpley and Too Princessy.  Our class was also working on generating ideas for writing while enhancing their word choice.  The books in this series were perfect picture books to use in the class to help the students understand these skills,   Jean Reidy does an outstanding job with her word choices.  As a class, we then looked at the background information on each book as we explored her website.  We were trying to see if we could find out where Jean Reidy generated the ideas for her books.  We discovered the books were about people she knew…the people in her life!  This is a conversation that is continuously woven throughout our writing workshops as students are working to find inspiration for their own writing ideas.  Her books made everything real for my students.  They understood that they could look to the people in their lives for story ideas.

ReidySkypeTo cap it off, Jean Reidy made a virtual visit to our class through Skype.  She discussed where she got her ideas for writing, read a book to the class, and even took time for questions.  Matthew is still “too pickley,” but thanks to him, my class was able to use Jean Reidy’s books in class, meet Ms. Reidy, and enhance our knowledge of writing through real life experiences!

Kevin McCann is a third grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, New Jersey.  He received his B.S. from Rutgers University.  He also has his M.S. in Educational Leadership from Scranton University.  Besides teaching he is also involved in coaching on various levels.  Kevin coaches middle school cross-country and high school wrestling.  In 2008, he was the Governor’s Teacher Recognition/Educational Services Professionals Program Recipient.  Kevin was also named the State Coach of the Year for wrestling in 2005 and 2010. During his free time, Kevin enjoys music, running, lifting, and hanging on the beach with a good book.  He currently resides in Bridgewater, New Jersey with his wife Michelle and their three boys Daniel, Matthew, and Tyler. 











All materials © 2017 Jean Reidy. Author website by Websy Daisy. Shelly the Turtle designed by Genevieve Leloup.