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Well, I made it to June. Not quite sure how, but I did.

Funny, when I wrote that May Madness post on April 30, I had no idea the degree of madness that would ensue. But, here we are, on a cold and rainy June 1. Aaaaaahhhhhhh.

The Young Authors Conference at Fairfax went very well. It was an extraordinary amount of work that required an army of volunteers, to whom I am eternally grateful. But we typed, printed and “published” more than 350 books, 285 of which were printed, tediously, double-sided, on my home computer. The kids produced stories that were funny, clever, creative, original, sometimes sad, a little bit crazy and, on occasion, deeply profound.  As one of my typing volunteers commented, “This makes me wish I knew these kids better. There is a lot going on in their minds!”  Indeed, there is.

Yesterday we had a culminating assembly with a local author, to which the students proudly brought their completed books.

A few brave kids got up to read excerpts including this familiar-looking guy, whose teacher challenged him to use non-human characters so his are mitts, bats and one very unhappy baseball:

This 4th grade girl wrote a beautifully moving, fictionalized tribute to her teacher who passed away very unexpectedly in the winter:

And this 1st grader’s pirate story had a battle “that lasted eight hours, which is a reasonable amount of time for a battle:”

I had the chance to get to know a lot of children, the youngest of whom began calling me “Young Author,” as in, “Look, there’s Young Author” on my daily trips through the building. And many of the kids were genuinely excited about the project and seemed eager to write more stories (although one of my favorite — and most honest — About the Author paragraphs said, “This is so-and-so’s first book and he doesn’t plan to write any more”!).

Ultimately I’m glad I did it and very very glad it’s over. There were several times, after late nights of typing up page after page of unpunctuated dialogue, when I said to Mark, “I don’t see how on earth I can possibly get this done. But I am going to get it done.”  And I did. With a ton of help, of course. Thank you to all, especially Amy and Cynthia of Lake Erie Ink, who partnered with me in this madness and surely, more than once, wondered what they’d gotten themselves into.

Now, I will host the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at school on Tuesday and help out with the 2nd grade picnic that afternoon and then, . . . then it’s summertime!

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Whenever I’m out walking or biking with my kids and they start to dilly-dally — you know, stopping to fiddle with the bell on their bike when we have to be at school in five minutes or standing still to tell a story when they can just as easily tell the story while walking, I always tell them, “Forward motion, guys, forward motion.” Always moving, getting to some destination.

And so that is what we’re doing … still moving forward, in ways both meaningful and mundane.  Remember my May Madness post?  Well, none of those tasks on my to do list disappeared just because Austin might have cancer. Oh, actually, one of them disappeared: the Rainbow event on May 25 at which we were to be the honored family. There is simply nothing I can stand up and say to those people at this moment that wouldn’t be completely depressing. So, we’ve backed out of that one.

But everything else is still on. The Family Connections Carnival took place last Saturday and we reached our budgeted goal, even surpassed it by a small amount. Cullen Sweeney’s fundraiser is still taking place at our house this Sunday and you’re all still invited. And, of course, The Young Authors Conference at Fairfax is in full swing, although I have cut down a bit on my daily classroom appearances.  I’ve actually really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the kids, they are so sweet and so eager that they sweep me up in their childlike creativity. Coordinating the volunteers with the constantly changing schedules of twenty-seven very busy teachers is rather more difficult, but it’s happening.  The students will finish their drafts by Monday and then starts the next big phase: typing.  I’ve managed to finish a few of the early ones here at home, but am worried when Braedan tells me that his story is 24 pages long! Uuuuummmm, what’s wrong with eight paragraphs?

Some people become paralyzed with fear or uncertainty in these situations, others spring into action. We’re springers. It’s just how we deal. Always moving forward.

And so it begins. Tomorrow is the Kick Off for the Young Authors Conference at Fairfax.  I have an author coming in from Columbus who will do three repeat assemblies in the morning, one for kindergarten and 1st graders, one for 2nd and 3rd and another for 4th and 5th.  This will include her interactive game “The Inside Track to Creative Writing.” Then eight lucky 4th and 5th graders will have lunch with her (and moi) and another 24 will attend a one-hour writing workshop int he afternoon.

I will then spend most of the month in the building, working with individual children on their stories or teaching mini-lessons on writing. I will also be coordinating an army of volunteers who will be visiting the classrooms for several weeks. By the end of the month, we will have 392 typed, illustrated and bound books.

And then in my spare time, I am co-chairing a fabulous event for Family Connections on May 12. Every single one of you is invited and strongly encouraged to attend. It’s an adult carnival (not as racy as that sounds though, I promise … or I’m sorry) with, among other things, a Wine Pull Ring Toss, Hula Hoop Contest and juggling/fire-eating act.  Click here for tickets.

And then on May 21, we’re hosting a fundraiser for Cullen Sweeney, the Democratic judicial candidate for Court of Common Pleas, who runs in the same legal circles as Mark. You’re all invited to that too — with your children.

And, this one is exciting, I will be a guest blogger on Mother’s Day on Melinda Roberts’ The Mommy Blog, an author and one of the original “Mommy Bloggers” (she’s been around since 2002 — I didn’t even know what blogging was then!) and the recipient of all sorts of impressive media attention and awards.

And I was just asked to be the speaker at a Circle of Friends event to benefit Rainbow on May 25.

And then there’s baseball practice twice a week and eventually games, end-of-the-year picnics, PTA meetings, art shows and teacher appreciation brunches calling for homemade muffins.

And, of course, we must throw in this Thursday’s Big Scans.

So, if you see me on May 31 and I’m still standing and speaking in complete sentences, consider it a mission accomplished. And know that in June, I’m doing a whole lotta NOTHIN’.

On to the next big thing. You may remember that back in the fall, I was wishing I could bring a Young Authors Conference back to the Heights? Well, I can. And I am.

It’ll be on a small scale, not a major district-wide event, but the entire student body at Fairfax School will spend the month of May creating, writing, revising, illustrating and binding their own individual works of fiction. I’ve settled on Journeys as a theme because it’s broad enough that the kids will have a huge range of topics to choose from and yet concrete enough for them to have a good jumping-off point. They could write a completely fantastical tale of a journey to another world, the moon, the bottom of the sea … or could write a realistic story about a typical family vacation or even a field trip. If they’re advanced enough, they could even use the theme metaphorically to write about a journey through something, like childhood or divorce. The fifth grade classes will be taking all they’ve learned about early American history in social studies to write journeys back to Colonial or Revolutionary America, a la The Magic Treehouse books, and an excellent example of cross-curricular teaching and learning.

I’ll give you all the tiny details if you’re interested but, really, this post is a plea for help. I do have a good team of helpers, especially Amy and Cynthia from Lake Erie Ink who, along with me, have each taken two grade levels to work with throughout the process.  But, of course, there are many other ways to get involved, both large and small. I’ll start with the small: The students will be creating their book covers in Art class the old-school way, using wallpaper samples bound over poster board.  If you have access to any old wallpaper, especially in designs that might appeal to children aged 5 through 11, I’ll be happy to take it off your hands.  I’ve been calling around to the local hardware stores but have only gotten a few discontinued books (one of all brown stripes — clearly, why it was discontinued!). I can come to your house and pick stuff up or you can drop them here, so long as I have it all by April 27.

I also need volunteers to help type the student work. The kids will spend several weeks going through the steps of the writing process, brainstorming, drafting, editing, revising, and so on, but, except for some fourth and fifth graders, few are adept enough at typing to do it themselves without an extraordinary time commitment. So I will collect all the final drafts from teachers by Monday, May 21 and that evening, you are cordially invited to a Typing Party at Lake Erie Ink. I know, we’re wild and crazy gals, huh? Let me know if you’re tempted … or if you’re willing to take a few manuscripts home to type on your own time.

If you’re able and willing to work directly with students, I have a wonderful opportunity for you too. During the Revise & Edit stage (Monday, May 14 through Friday, May 18), students will work in pairs to read and critique one another’s drafts. I am coordinating volunteers to go into the classrooms and oversee peer conferences, working with two students at a time as they offer constructive criticism to their partner. I will provide written tips and instructions, as well as a brief training on the process, if you could give an hour (or more) in either the morning or afternoon that week.

So, if your days are long and empty or you’re feeling particularly unfulfilled and have a strong desire to make a difference in the life of a child…, you know where to find me!

Just takin’ care of business today:  If you still have things to donate to the Toy & Learning Material Drive, it’s not too late.  A lot of wonderful stuff has been collected (thank you) but it’s mostly for very young children. This is okay because many of the students selected by the school guidance counselors have younger siblings in their homes, but we do still need items for children older than 9.  I know it can be hard to get “toys” for that age group, especially if they’re not tech toys and video games, but books, puzzles, board games, model kits and certain crafts (like jewelry building) are totally appropriate.  If you have something to donate, please bring it to any of the CHUH elementary schools (or my house) by this Thursday.  More information can be found here and here.

Also, I am moving ahead with a Young Authors’ Conference for the district (as discussed here), which will likely be held in the spring at just one or two elementary schools (to be expanded to the others in coming years).  I am hosting a brainstorming meeting next Wednesday morning at 9:15 at my house if you’re interested.

Thanks, all, for being wonderful members to share this community with or for bearing with me when I write such local posts.

This is a total non sequitur (yes, that is the correct spelling of that word, I looked it up!) but you’re my best source of information, so I figured I’d come to you first, my trusted readers.  I’ve been super engaged in all things school-related lately (more on that later in the week), and have been thinking about the Young Authors’ Conferences we used to have when I was in elementary school. We’d spend weeks and weeks creating our own stories, going through all the steps of the writing process and then eventually “publishing” them, which is those days meant typing it all up on a typewriter and stapling the pages together.

My kids have two of my laminated books, part of a series about Fred the Flying Monkey, which I painstakingly typed out a typewriter that had no letter K.  I instead had to punch an L every time I wanted a K andthen go back with a black pen and add the legs. Something tells me we wouldn’t have that problem nowadays!

Once the books were complete, the district hosted a big event at one of the elementary schools to which all “young authors” were invited.  We’d share excerpts from our books and browse other student books and then have an opportunity to hear from a professional children’s author and usually an illustrator as well.

I’d love to bring that program back to the Heights.  I think so much of the writing curriculum, in our district and nationwide, has been watered down to fit what’s required on standardized tests. I would love to see children putting effort into a long-term project that relied on their creativity, with each child coming up with a book that is so uniquely their own. And for them to then have the opportunity to celebrate it and share it with such a wide audience.

So, anyway, the reason I’ve come to you is that I always assumed the Young Authors’ Conference was part of a single national program but after doing some quick research, it seems it’s just a term used by schools and districts across the country to describe their own similar projects.  Who remembers the way we did it in CH-UH in the 80s (Judi, I know you’re reading this)? Did anyone else do something similar in their schools or do anyone’s kids do it now? All thoughts welcome.

And maybe when I’m done with this, I’ll dust off an old typewriter and type up my book and then staple the pages together and let you all have at it.

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