Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Thursday, August 26, 2021
What’s next for me? I’m still writing everything from YA novels to poetry. My agent has one novel on submission (please send good vibes!), I’m drafting another, and I have a poem in a forthcoming anthology (Rhyme and Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes). But I’m also excited to move in some new directions, including teaching a Creative Writing Workshop for Social Workers. I’ll still be here for SCBWI-MI events (I’m presenting on a poetry panel with Shutta Crum and Heather Meloche on Sept. 11th for the Farmington Shop Talk), and I’m looking forward to writing an occasional Mitten blog post - something I rarely had time for as co-editor!
Our humble beginning seven years ago:
Our first Featured Illustrator and blog banner from Heidi Woodward Sheffield:
Neal Levin shared dozens of his Kiddie Litter cartoons:
Flash back to a few of our most popular posts with thousands of views:
- Self-Publishing Success: https://scbwimithemitten.blogspot.com/2020/01/self-publishing-success.html
- If You're Blogging and You Know it, Raise Your Hand: https://scbwimithemitten.blogspot.com/2018/04/if-youre-blogging-and-you-know-it-raise.html
- Writer Spotlight: Fatma Al Lawati: https://scbwimithemitten.blogspot.com/2018/09/writer-spotlight-fatma-al-lawati.html
- Back to School: MFA Week (a 7-day series!): https://scbwimithemitten.blogspot.com/2016/09/back-to-school-mfa-week-day-seven-thats.html
Coming up on the Mitten Blog:
Friday, August 20, 2021
Baskets of Poetry, Little Free Libraries and Summer Writing Camps: Dionna Roberts
I was lucky enough to interview you for the Michigan Reading Association’s blog (Read it HERE) Your mother taught you to read before Kindergarten. Was she your first inspiration to be a reader and a writer?
My mother equipped me with the foundational skills needed to be a capable reader, but moreover, she gave me an appreciation for stories. I enjoyed those she told from books, but it was the family stories of down south and her growing up that inspired me most! I wanted to write stories the way that she told them with an authentic voice, dialogue, and people who were like us. I looked for stories like this to read growing up. Needless to say, they weren’t always easy to find.
In fourth grade, you also experienced your first male teacher, Mr. Hayes, who you said “made everything we learned cooler than COOL.” Now you teach fourth grade. Is cooler than COOL your goal for your students, too?
Cooler than COOL has never been my goal. However, I strongly believe that when teachers put building relationships at the heart and as a top priority of their teaching, “being cooler than cool” or “ice cold” as Outkast rapper Andre 3000 would say, becomes an unintentional, positive outcome. I decided to ask a former student of mine from the 2003-2004 school year if cool would be a word they would use to describe me as a teacher.
Their response: “If cool means relatable; yes. You were good at teaching at grade-level, but made things easy for all of us to understand whether we were at grade level or not. Your approach was on point because you took the time to get to know us and our cultures. This allowed you to relate to and communicate with us effectively. We loved you and knew you loved us This is better than just being cool.”
Teachers seem to have influenced you throughout your life, so much so that you remember their names. In second grade, Mrs. Kaye instilled in you a love of poetry. Do you still keep notebooks full of poetry?
I do. I have notebooks and journals that live in baskets and on the bookshelves in my home. Each school year, I set up and use writer’s notebooks alongside my students as I model what it looks like to be a “teacher as writer” during our workshop times. There are also random ramblings and pieces of poetry that take up space in the notes app of my phone. You never know when inspiration will present itself.
You’ve attended nErD Camp and MRA conferences, paid attention and took notes. Works by Donalyn Miller seem to have changed your style of teaching. Can you explain?
Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp changed what teaching reading looked like in my classroom tremendously. They both provided me with a profound revelation of the power of building reading culture and community in my classroom. Going back to my belief that building relationships and getting to know my students should be at the heart of my teaching, this is inclusive of getting an understanding of their reading lives.
I learned from Donalyn and Colby how as teachers, we need to provide young people with choice and access to a wide variety of texts. We must make space and opportunity for independent reading and book sharing each day. They reminded me that read-alouds are magical times of connection between the stories being told across pages, a teacher, and their students.
After learning from them at various conferences, including those you mentioned, I saw the importance of being intentional with building and organizing an accessible classroom library reflective of the readers in my classroom and what they were interested in reading rather than simply displaying and housing books on shelves.
I was inspired to breathe life into the act of reading by making being a reader in my classroom an unforgettable, positive experience.
You helped to start Little Free Libraries throughout Kalamazoo and lower Michigan. (Read more about it HERE.) How did you become involved in this project?
The Art of Planting Little Free Libraries is a collaborative project that is the result of my passion to “end book deserts” in my community and my colleague, Kellen Deau’s desires to lift up the work of community artists and use art as a way to inspire a love of literacy.
When brick and mortar schools were initially shut down as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, some of my immediate thoughts were, what are my students reading and how were they going to have access to books with schools and libraries being shut down indefinitely. That thought then grew deeper and considered not only the students at my school but the families in my neighborhood.
I remembered the story in the book Game Changer: Book Access for All by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, and how Little Free Libraries provided book access to families within a small community. I wanted to be a catalyst for making this happen in ALL neighborhoods in Kalamazoo, regardless of the socioeconomic status of families who live there.
I designed a t-shirt and hosted an online fundraising campaign through www.teespring.com during July 2020 in hopes of raising money to purchase and install at least one or two Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood, just as I’d seen in more affluent parts of town.
Well, I did that. By October 2020, two LFLs had been planted in my neighborhood and were stocked with quality texts for young people.
However, it wasn’t until Kellen Deau and I talked in early Fall 2020 about expanding this effort more widely, submitted grant applications that were awarded in full, that this amazing movement took root and began to really bloom!
To date, 23 Little Free Libraries have been built by a local carpenter, The Dapper Hammer, painted by a host of talented local artists, planted and stewarded by book-loving community members, and stocked with books provided by individual donations, and support from our local independent booksellers at Bookbug/This Is a Bookstore.
You are on the Board of Directors for Read and Write Kalamazoo, and you conduct summer programs for creative writing for children. Why?
There was a quote shared online by the organization We Are Teachers that reads: Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out. I serve as a board member of RAWK and support youth in creative writing camps deeply believing in this idea. I want to help facilitate and advocate for programming and spaces for our young people to be able to breathe in this way. I understand the power of it, having been a young person who benefited greatly from spaces such as these growing up.
How about your own writing? What are you working on now?
I am currently working on building routines and habits for myself as a writer. I have found it challenging to write consistently while also taking care of my family and working full time. I do love it though. We make time for what we love, right? There are two solid drafts that I am giving considerable attention to. One is a book of poetry inspired by students I’ve known over my 19 years in education and the other is a picture book about studious, socially awkward groundhog named Gideon and their backyard adventures. I also recently became part of a critique group through SCBWI. My goal is to build accountability to myself as a writer, by working alongside and sharing with other writers.
You are a member of SCBWI and MRA. If your life was a Venn Diagram, what would be at the intersection of those two organizations?
At the intersection of both of these organizations is the love of literature and the empowerment and celebration of individual stories. I am grateful to be a part of both.
Facebook Page: @LiteracyAdventures
If you've got a suggestion for a future Writer Spotlight interview, contact me, Charlie Barshaw, at email@example.com.
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Here's a message from SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator, Ann Finkelstein:
Thanks to the judges (Heidi Sheffield, Brianne Farley and Amy Nielander) for writing detailed and constructive comments on each submission. I feel like I took a graduate level illustration class by reading the judges' feedback.
The 2022 mentorship will be for middle grade and YA novelists. It's never too early to begin preparing! Stay tuned for more information via email, social media, and our SCBWI-MI website.