Let’s Talk Writing Process with Cassie & Kate Beasley

Our fourth grade is immersed in the writing process using Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. They are looking at mentor texts. They are studying author’s craft and developing their own style of taking a story from an idea to a published piece of writing. During this exploration, the fourth grade team reached out to ask if there was any possibility of connecting with an author to talk about the narrative writing process.  I immediately thought of the dynamic sister duo from south Georgia, Kate and Cassie Beasley. Both of these talented authors have visited our school in the past for their books, so I reached out to them to consider the possibility of connecting for an informal chat about writing.

Our @fourthgradebarrow learned so many tips about writing from Cassie and Kate Beasley. #author #skype #writing

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They enthusiastically said yes, and the whole fourth grade came to the library with writing journals and index card questions in hand.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Circus Mirandus and the recently released Tumble and Blue.  Kate Beasley is the author of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the upcoming Lions & Liars.  During our connection, they started out with an informal conversation about writing. They each took turns asking questions about writing process from the beginning to the end.  I loved how it was like a mini-interview conversation between the two of them and how we discovered that they both have different ways that they accomplish the same task of writing a story.

We learned many writing tips from the Beasley sisters including outlining. #author #skype

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Cassie shared that she often starts with an idea for a story and Kate often starts with a character and tries to put that character into a setting and a problem.  Both sisters shared that they do a good bit of outlining when they are getting ready to write.  One of the most surprising things to all of us was the amount of writing that they do that never makes it into a novel.  Circus Mirandus, Tumble and Blue, and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness all went through multiple rewrites. Kate even shared that she thinks that about 75% of what she writes doesn’t get used.  After our connection, we spent a bit more time talking about this and came to the conclusion that even though that writing doesn’t make it into the novel it wasn’t wasted work. The 75% was what was needed in order to discover the best story that was hiding underneath everything else.

 

I’ve heard several authors talk about how much they rewrite, and it’s important for students to hear that too because it’s really hard to start over.  I casually asked Kate and Cassie how they feel when they have to start again. I asked if they scream or throw things.  I mostly asked because that’s a bit how I feel when I have to start over.  I think it’s important that students know that it’s not always the best feeling to start over even when you know it’s the right thing to do.  Kate and Cassie both talked about the frustration. They shared how it’s a moment of panic. Cassie relies on Kate to talk her through the frustration so she can start again. Some deep breaths are involved and maybe some chocolate too.

Students had a chance to line up and ask their own questions to support their writing. One of the questions was about “where”.  Where do you write?  Kate has a very specific place where she writes.  It’s a house that doesn’t have phone or internet so that she can stay away from distractions.  Cassie also writes in that place but she does writing just about everywhere: a coffee shop, the pool, outside.  It was an important reminder to us all that sometimes it’s tricky in the crowded classroom to find writing spaces that feel supportive. I hope we can think more about how to give students a space where they feel productive in their writing process.

Another student asked about how many books they hope to write, and it was so great to hear that they have many more ideas for stories that are waiting to be told or are in the process of being drafted. Even though writing takes time and has frustrating moments, it still comes down to that magic of escaping into someone else’s life or some other magical place on the page.  It was so refreshing at the end of our skype to hear students who were excited to go back to class and write after hearing from published authors.

Thank you Cassie & Kate Beasley for taking time out of your writing lives to share your wisdom with us.  We can’t wait to celebrate all your future stories.

To purchase their books, visit here:  Circus Mirandus, Tumble & Blue, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.

To learn more about Kate’s upcoming novel, click here.

Library Orientation for Third through Fifth Grade

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Just as I did for the early grades, I pondered what message I wanted our upper grades to take away from library orientation.  I wanted to of course give them some reminders about routines and procedures, but I wanted them to leave with a sense that the library was a place for all readers to connect with books.  I wanted them to know that if they had never found a book that they connected with that I wanted to help them find that book.  If we didn’t have the book or topic in our library, then I wanted us to make sure that we did.

Over the summer, I saw John Schu post on his blog about a new site from Scholastic with the motto “Open a World of Possible”. On the site, there are several videos and resources about how reading opens possibilities for us all.  One of the best videos is the one asking kids of all ages to talk about why they read.

I asked students to first think about what their answer to the question “Why do you read?” would be.  I didn’t take any answers from them since I felt like it was a personal question at that moment in time and that some students may have never thought of the answer.  Then, we watched the video to see if we connected to anything the students said or if their ideas sparked some of our own.  At that point, instead of asking students to share aloud, I gave them an opportunity.  I created a Flipgrid with that same question and told them it would be available for the next two weeks.  I hoped they would think about their answer and share their voice with others in our school.  I loved that some of them did this before they even left the library.

I shared with students that one of the reasons that I read is to walk in other people’s shoes, especially people who are different from me. I also love to experience things in a book that I know I would never do in real life.  Books are my safe place to go into the spooky unknown, the thrill of the Hunger Games, or the magic of a schools for wizards.

Next, I shared a bit of a book that I connected with this summer called Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  These grades will all have an author visit with Cassie in September, so this lesson was also a way for us to start diving into her text.  I chose to read aloud starting on p. 65, which is the part where Ephraim first visits the circus as a young boy.  He is a believer, so he is able to find the circus.  However, he still needs a ticket to get in.  It is on these pages that Ephraim discovers that every person’s ticket into Circus Mirandus is different.  You can’t pay to get in but instead must offer something to the ticket taker that has a connection with who you are or simply what you have to offer.  For one boy, it’s a spool of thread and for Ephraim it’s a fish.

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I loved seeing so many students connect to this part of the story and want to read on.  I knew they wouldn’t all connect because it’s so hard for us all to connect with the exact same book.  However, this part of the story helped us talk about how we are each different.  We each have interests that we bring into the library when we search for a book, and those interests are our tickets into the books on the shelves.

Beyond “why I read” and connecting through interests, students have an opportunity to explore the library and refresh their memory on checking out books, using Destiny, and finding the various sections.  As in the past, I made some videos connected to QR codes.  Students used iPads to watch these videos and then start checking out books when they were ready.  I was able to talk to students about their interests rather than focusing on how to check out books.

I hope that students continue to think about why they read and that I can think of more ways to find out their interests and showcase their voices in the library.

 

Expecting the Miraculous with Cassie Beasley & Circus Mirandus

I’m drawn to powerful words and stories, and over the summer, my eye was caught by the cover of Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  I had seen the book getting considerable buzz, but even without the buzz, the cover, with its cutout top hat and hidden world beneath the tent, caught my eye.

The back cover slogan, “You have to BELIEVE IT to see it”, spoke to me.  In fact, it spoke directly to our motto in the Barrow Media Center to expect the miraculous every day.  In our library, we believe in everything that we attempt.  We don’t always know what is going to happen, but we know that if we believe that we can do something, then miraculous things will happen even if they aren’t exactly what we thought would happen in the first place.

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This summer I visited our local independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop, and picked up my copy.

I only had to read a few words to know that I was holding magic in my hands.  Circus Mirandus is about a magical circus that only is visible to the people who believe in it.  In fact,  you can’t even get into the circus with a regular ticket.  Entry is different for each person who comes because each person has a different purpose for being there.  Micah Tuttle’s grandfather tells him fantastical tales of the Circus Mirandus and Micah first thinks these are only stories.  Granpa Ephraim becomes very sick and says that the magical Lightbender from the circus has promised him a miracle and he is doing his best to make sure the miracle is granted.  Micah realizes the circus is more than stories and makes it his mission to find the circus and bring the Lightbender to his grandfather to grant his miracle.  This book has the magic of Peter Pan, Wizard of Oz, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and more.

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When I read, quotes stand out to me.  Sometimes there is a single quote from an entire book that resonates with me.  I often tweet it out.  It happened this time, too.  One quote stayed with me:

I won’t give away how this quote fits into the plot of the story, but for me, it reminded me of how every day in our library we expect the miraculous.  It reminded me that often times there are very small magical things that happen even though I may pulling my hair out, dwelling on all the things I haven’t accomplished, and thinking about all of the things that went wrong.  However, it’s those small, magical moments that stand out.  It’s those small magical moments that are the most important and remind me why I press on.  It’s those moments that remind me the importance of empowering the voices of our students.

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Even Cassie’s dedication in the book reminds me of the importance of empower our students to believe that they can do anything they set their minds to.  She writes in her dedication:

“For Daddy and Mama.  When I was little, you told me I could do anything.  I’m not so little now, but you keep saying it.  I’m starting to think you really believe it.  I love you for that.”

I didn’t even have to finish Circus Mirandus to know that I wanted my students to experience the book and that I wanted Cassie Beasley to visit our school, but when I did finish, I knew that she had to.  When I read that she lives in “rural Georgia”, I immediately emailed Rachel Watkins at Avid Bookshop to learn more.  Between me, Rachel, and Janet Geddis, we began a conversation about what an author visit would look like and started talks with the publisher and author.  It took some time, but in my heart, I really believed that Cassie Beasley would come to our school at some point this year.

Just a few days ago, we got the confirmation that Cassie will visit our 3rd-5th grade on September 3 at 1:00.  She will also do an in-store visit at Avid Bookshop.  As part of my proposal, I said that I would introduce the book to all 3rd-5th graders and would also get a copy for every 3rd-5th grade classroom to use as a read aloud.  I love Avid Bookshop, because they got us our 10 copies for the classrooms just in time for school to begin.

Students will have an opportunity to pre-order her book for signing.  We are also purchasing additional copies of the book to give to classrooms thanks to our wonderful PTA.  You are probably wishing that you could also get your signed copy.

If you are in the Athens area, visit Avid Bookshop on September 3 from 4:30-5:30PM.  If you can’t make it to Athens, you can still get your autographed copy.  Just visit Avid’s website to order a copy.  Make a note that you would like to get your book signed, and they will ship your book to wherever you are!

We look forward to meeting Cassie Beasley in our school on September 3.  Expect to see lots of tweets and pictures during the event and a full post afterward.  I highly encourage you to read Circus Mirandus.  Your life will be rewarded!

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