Interview with Newbery Honoree and Instructional Assistant, Alicia D. Williams
Welcome back to Chalk + Ink: The Podcast for Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach. Meet Alicia D. Williams, Newbery Honoree and instructional aide. Alicia is the author of the Newbery Honor novel Genesis Begins Again and Jump at the Sun, a picture book biography about Zora Neale Hurston.
During this episode, the vivacious and courageous Alicia D. Williams tackles tough topics such as the importance of diversifying the academic canon so that all children see reflections of themselves in the classroom, why children as young as five years old believe they don't belong because of their brown skin and how colorism has existed for generations yet it's not discussed or acknowledged.
In fact, when Alicia was in graduate school, one professor told her she couldn't write a novel about colorism. Luckily, Alicia sought out another professor's opinion. The second professor assured Alicia that her novel was well done and that the only reason why the first professor had told Alicia not to write Genesis Begins Again was because the topic hit too close to the bone. The novel's dedication reads, "For every person who has ever felt they weren't good enough. You were. And always will be," which is why every child should have access to this book. Who hasn't felt lesser than at some point in their life?
Of course life isn't always a struggle. There are countless joyous moments and many of them are expressed through art which is one of the reasons why Alicia wants young readers to learn about Zora Neale Hurston. Jump at the Sun is tons of fun and will give readers a peek at one of the important writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Alicia gives great tips on how classroom teachers can spark creativity before beginning writer's workshop. One idea she talks about is splitting the class up into various groups to form a vocal orchestra. Teachers can show four different pictures of instruments and ask each group to mimic the sound of a different instrument. Then all four sounds can come together in a pre writer's workshop jam. Asking students to engage in a creative exercise before sitting down to write will help them not freeze up when it's time to put pencil to paper.
According to Alicia, every classroom should have a copy of Renee Watson's Harlem's Little Blackbird, a picture book biography about singer and dancer, Florence Mills, another important member of the Harlem Renaissance.
We also gave shout outs to Renee Watson's Some Places More Than Others and Ways to Make Sunshine and Jonah Winter's Lillian's Right to Vote.
Interview with Author and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Sarah Lynn Scheerger
Welcome back to Chalk + Ink: The Podcast for Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach. Meet licensed clinical social worker and children's author, Sarah Lynn Scheerger. Sarah is the author of eight books, from picture books to young adult novels.
In this episode, Sarah talks about how reading, writing and social emotional learning (SEL) are intertwined, how to take advantage of pockets of time (she has four children, in kindergarten through high school), and the importance of supporting students with different learning styles. One of my favorite aspects of this episode is that it feels like a warm hug, just like her picture book Mitzvah Pizza. I don't know about you, but a warm hug is just what I needed this week!
Sarah's inspiration for her books comes from various places. We didn't talk about all of Sarah's books, but we did discuss the following titles:
1) Mitzvah Pizza
I love this sweet, kind book that overflows with empathy! Sarah talks about how the inspiration from this book came when she was preparing to talk to students about empathy and discovered this Ellen Show episode. You can read about the real life pizzeria, Rosa's Fresh Pizza, that inspired Sarah's book here.
2) 1-2-3, Va-Va Vroom! A Counting Book
Sarah's oldest son loved race cars but wasn't fond of learning his numbers to prepare for kindergarten. So, she came up with a super creative idea of pretending a pencil was a race car creating a figure-eight race track. Have fun reading this title!
3) Tip-Tap Pop
This is a story of how a young girl uses tap dancing to communicate with her grandpa when his memory begins to fail him. This book would pair nicely with The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros, Drawn Together by Minh Le and Katrina Moore's Grandpa Grumps. Listen to Chalk + Ink's interview with Katrina Moorehere.
4) Meet the Boulder Brothers: Mo and Jo
Mo Willem's Elephant & Piggy books inspired Sarah to create this early chapter book.
5) Operation Frog Effect
Sarah runs an intervention and prevention program in many sixth-grade classrooms. Many of the classrooms read Wonder by R. J. Palacio. As the classrooms read the book, the empathy in the classroom communities grew. Sarah knew she wanted to write a book that would have the same effect. Operation Frog Effect is also a tribute to Sarah's own innovative fourth grade teacher.
6) How to Live on the Edge
Sarah has the BRCA gene mutation which increases her risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer. Sometimes people with this gene mutation opt to have a masectomy. Sarah began thinking about how this is a very different decision for someone who is older and already had children versus someone who discovers they have the gene mutation as a teenager. This thought process led to the creation of Sarah's risk-taking character, Cayenne.
Sarah recommends that all middle school classrooms have the following titles:
1) Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
This is Sarah's favorite book of the year. She thinks every school, every library and every home should have this title because Ernesto writes with such heart. Listen to Chalk + Ink's interview with Ernesto here.
2) Wonder byR.J. Palacio
This is Sarah's all-time favorite multi-viewpoint book. She holds this book up as a gold standard.
Sarah listed these last books and then asked me to talk about the titles I'd read. I talked about a few of them on the podcast, but I've read more than I talked about on the episode. My opionions are below.
3)A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
I love this book because it explores the inner courage individuals need to stand up to systemic injustices.
4) Everlasting Nora byMarie Miranda Cruz
I haven't read this book but now it'll be in my "to be read" stack.
5) The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
For me, this book should be in every classroom because it takes a deep dive into poverty and emotional abuse. I'm super glad Sarah brought up this title because Ann Braden has a new book that releases in just a few days, The Flight of the Puffin (It's being compared to Wonder). So now I have another book to add to my stack!
6) Front Desk by Kelly Yang
This is a Project Lit Book Club title like so many of the other books on this list. Our Project Lit Book Club at Center School read this title last year and it was a big hit. Also, there's a sequel which is great for kids who like to read series.
7) Any Book by Dusti Bowling
I admit I have not read any of Dusti Bowling's books but I obviously need to get on that!
8) Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
This is another outstanding title and a fellow Massachusetts author. I need to buy another copy of this book because my first copy disappeared long ago from my classroom-that's what happens to the books the kids love.
Interview with Middle Grade Science Teacher and
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