Wednesday, August 1, 2012


It's August 1st!  That means my brain is kicking into full-time school gear.  I haven't had teacher dreams yet, but I know they're coming!  Today I'm thinking about books to share with students in the first months of school to help them with connections.  I'm going to introduce sentence collecting and talk about reading strategies with the focus on text to self, text to world, and text to text connections.  I'll begin sharing books and beging the sentence collection strategy, but we'll only concentrate on choosing sentences with which we connect.  (See previous blog on Sentence Collecting.)  Quick Writes (Penny Kittle and Donald Graves) will be a way to write down the connections we have.  The best books I can think of for a connections unit are in the memoir genre.  We will probably define what a memoir is and discuss why that genre would be the best for making connections.  My favorite professional book on this top is Writing a Life by Katherine Bomer.  She has a full bibliography in her book of recommended literature in the memoir genre.  A lot of these books came from that.

Writing a Life: Teaching Memoir to Sharpen Insight, Shape Meaning--And Triumph Over Tests

Here are the books I'm going to pull to share with them:

The Teacher from the Black Lagoon (Black Lagoon, #1)

This isn't a memoir, but The Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler is a classic and most of the kids have heard it before, but it breaks the ice on the first day of school when read theatrically.  We can talk about school and teacher fears, hopes for the school year, etc.  Lots of connections to be made.  Quick Write title:  Fears, Hopes, and Dreams for 4th Grade


This isn't a memoir, either - I promise I will get to them in a minute!  Crysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is fun to share on the first or second day of school to talk about what we know of our names.  I start a Quick Write in school (title is each student's full name) and they finish up at home after talking with their parents about their name.

 All the Places to Love

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan is one of my favorites.  It puts a lump in my throat every time I read it.  We talk about our favorite places, what family members did for us at birth, siblings, grandparents, it goes on and on.  Quick Write title:  The Places I Love

When I Was Young in the Mountains

What we do without Cynthia Rylant?  She's the quintessential mentor text author.  When I Was Young in the Mountains is a great way to talk about growing up.  Quick Write Title:  When I Was Young in .....(fill in hometown)

Saturdays and Teacakes

LOVE this book!  Lester Laminack, in Saturdays and Teacakes, brilliantly re-creates his childhood.  Kids make connections to their grandparents right away and enthusiastically.  I tear up at the end of this every time.  I don't really need to talk about this book because who wouldn't rather listen to Lester instead?  I could listen to him all day!  Take a look at these two videos:

Quick Write Title:  Every Saturday (or Every Summer or Every Thanksgiving, etc.)

What You Know First (Trophy Picture Books)
What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan (you can tell I love her) is a beautiful book about a girl moving and wantimg to make sure she'll never forget her beloved birth place.  Quick Write Title:  What I Knew First

When I Was Nine

I love in particular because my fourth graders will be nine when they start the school year.  Quick Write:  My Summer Car Trip

Waiting to Waltz

Yes, Cynthia Rylant again.  Waiting to Waltz: A Childhood is book of poems about growing up.  Stephen Gammell is one of my favorite children's illustrators.  Quick Write Title:  Growing Up Poem

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Winifred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a wonderful book about memories.  What makes a memory?  Sometimes, I make this into an extended activity, and we bring in items for each kind of memory and write about them.  Quick Write Title:  What is a Memory?

Looking Back by Lois Lowry is a unique way to tell a story.  She writes  brief recollections about her photographs by year.  I love it and have wanted to try to write one like it!  Quick Write idea:  Bring in a photograph, glue it into notebook, title it by the year it was taken, and write about it.

Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir

Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir by Eloise Greenfield and Lessie Jones Little is a memoir including three generations of black women:  a grandmother living in a Southern mill town at the turn of the century; a mother winning the hard-fought right to vote; and a daughter born the year of the Great Depression.  Ideal Quick Write idea is for the kids to get a memory written by a grandparent, a parent, and then write one.  By the way, families love to be included like this in homework!  It adds to family time instead of taking it away.

I love The Milestones Project: Celebrating Childhood Around the World.  It's beautiful.  Children's authors, illustrators, and advocates write about childhood memories.  My favorite, of course, is Cynthia Rylant's "On Beginning School," a memory of catching the school bus with her grandfather watching. Other topics throughout the book include birthdays, haircuts, pets, doctors and dentists, etc.  Quick Write Title:  Milestone: (fill in the blank)

When I Was Your Age, Volumes One and Two  These two volumes of memoirs have a plethora of stories about growing up by children's authors such as Mary Pope Osborne, Katherine Paterson, Walter Dean Myers, James Howe, etc.  Quick Write Title:  When I Was (age)

Thank You, Mr. Falker

Any Patricia Polacco book would do, but Thank You, Mr. Falker is one of my favorites.  It is also truly autobiographical.  Quick Write:  My Favorite Teacher or A Time Someone Believed in Me or My Struggle

How Angel Peterson Got His Name

I don't read this whole memoir by Gary Paulsen, How Gary Peterson Got His Name, aloud, but the section on the skiing speed record is laugh-out-loud funny, and kids LOVE it!  Quick Write:  A Time I Did Something Stupid and Lived

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka

Jon Scieszka's memoir, Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly Ture Stories About Growing Up Scieszka can be shared as a whole, or read aloud in parts since each chapter is its own story.  Of course, it's funny, and if the kids don't know Jon Scieska yet, they will want to after this book!  Then you can introduce them to all his Guys Read books.  I think a good one to start with is "Sorry, Mom."  It's about his little brother breaking a breaking a collarbone playing football with him and his older brothers.  The kids will love the line, "Sorry, Mom.  We broke Gregg."  Quick Write ideas are endless depending on which stories you read.

I could go on, but I better stop there.  Any memoirs you'd like to share?


  1. Holly, someone mentioned your sentence collecting post in today's SOL (8/13/13). I came, read it, and wandered into this wonderful slice about memoir texts. I can't believe I missed it. It's a great compilation of memoir titles. I'm bookmarking it several places so that I can refer to it soon! Thanks for this very thoughtful and useful post!
    My favorite memoirs are Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams and Georgia Heard's book Writing Toward Home.

    1. Thanks, Ramona, for going back a full year to read my blog posts! :-) Do you happen to know who it was who mentioned my sentence collecting post? Just curious...Yes, both Marshfield Dreams and Writing Toward Home are excellent! I should have included them! :-)