Category Archives: children’s books

anne shirley, you’re my hero.

I joined a writing group and ever since have been absent from my blog. Ha. This is slightly ironic. But, my focus for the group has been fiction which I haven’t seriously attempting since my junior year creative writing class at Miami, so due to my quasi ineptitude of writing a story and the craziness of the fall, I have been absent. But this kind of writing feels like home, so on day two of a three day weekend, here I am. I may have a few posts today.

Back in June I wrote about the opening reading assignment we’re doing with the 8th graders: to reread a childhood favorite with new eyes, and to ultimately write “an appreciation” for the book. This idea was inspired by the redesigned children’s classics by Penguin (see previous post for the link), which include an “appreciation” by a modern author (seriously gorgeous: I highly recommend checking them out).

This is my appreciation in honor of Anne:

Anne of Green Gables is a marker of lifelong friendships for me. I have been lucky enough to always have amazing friendships in my life and to have known Anne since age 8, but I didn’t know true kindred spirits until I was nearly twenty and met three girls who embodied not only the love of Anne, but the characteristics that make her so, well Anne: a longing for adventure, a lover of beauty, a desire to be completely moved to the core and an inescapable ridiculousness. These are girls whose friendship has spanned nearly ten years, four cities and two coasts, but we are able to pick up immediately where we left off.

I moved to New York City right after college with three great guy friends from Ohio, without a kindred spirit in sight. I spent many evenings as “one of the guys” but I can vividly place myself on the patio of Rudy’s in midtown (think duct tape seats and free hot dogs) with them and a girl I had just met. We realized we had similar stories prior to moving to New York and then in a burst of energy we both asked the other if she loved Anne . It was over. One of my best, best friends. Another time, I was introduced on the subway platform to a girl who had recently moved to the city. I kid you not, we found out within minutes that we were both lovers of Anne and were literally jumping up and down, much to the disturbance and confusion of those around us. But. Kindred spirits are one of the dearest parts of life, as Anne knows, and cause for celebration.

It’s difficult to name the enchantment that was placed over all of us that would continue to impact our lives well into adulthood and cause us all to return to her story on a regular basis. Anne chased adventure and the beautiful, got lost in her wanderings and loved learning. Anne is the perfectly imperfect heroine; the best kind. Her excitement for life was contagious and her theatrics and exaggeration wildly entertaining. Anne is smart, determined, stubborn, loyal, passionate. Not only that, but she gave name to what I didn’t know other people felt:

“Pretty? Oh pretty doesn’t seem the right word to use. Nor beautiful, either. They don’t go far enough. Oh it was wonderful-wonderful…it made a queer funny ache and yet it was a pleasant ache. Did you ever have an ache like that, Mr. Cuthbert?”

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill—several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

I thought for a long time that finding a character who experiences the world in the same way I do was enough. But. C.S. says: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”.To find someone who loves those same things…sigh. Anne was that person for me and gave me the word for others: kindred spirits.

I reread this book almost every year not only to transport me back to my own childhood and the early 1900’s Prince Edward Island (a time period and setting completely romanticized in my mind) but becauseAnne reminds me of my need to frolic: something that gets lost in my city life sometimes (save for the fall, when I, too am so moved by the trees on fire). It reminds me of my carefree days spent in the woods with flowers in my hair; days that need to be remembered as I sometimes bury myself in my to do lists. I need regular reminders to soak in small beauties and to “dust off my ambitions.” Anne reminds me of the things I love the most: my family, my friends and the tiny things in the world that make my heart soar that are easy to miss if you’re not looking.

As a teacher, I live my life closely watching children become young adults. I really believe that Anne and characters like her are the best guides into adulthood: strong, young women who do not take a backseat in adventuring, learning, imagination. Young women who do not feel entitled, but who work toward their goals and dreams. Young women who know that wealth and prestige are not the makers of happiness.

“We are rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got our imaginations, more or less.”


i want to go to there.

I just wrote an email to some friends who are doing a similar trip to the United Kingdom that I did a few years ago. I was using my photo album from the trip as a guide to send them links of the hostels where we stayed and some of the places I’d recommend. My heart just began to ache for England. All I would like to do right now is order a cream tea with some kindred spirits and then fall upon the grass and read. Then maybe go hiking.

I know I’ve already written about it just a few weeks ago, but since then I’ve realized that the majority of my reading this summer has been rereads of my favorite books, most of which take place in English countryside, London, or countryside from a century ago. Harry Potter 6, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and I think I’m going to reread Swallows and Amazons next (which I can’t recommend highly enough if you love kids stories with adventure and imagination). All of these books just capture me. I realized it was getting bad (or good…) when after I read Anne of Green Gables for the hundredth time, I couldn’t even look at a book that took place in the modern day.

Anyway. My summer reading update is that it has been completely wonderful. I don’t have a lot of deep thoughts, but my heart is just soaring because of these stories.

For the love of reading.

June planning is half of the reason I still live in New York. The time at the end of the year when my department at work reflects on the past year and begins making plans for the next. I suppose it’s a sign that I’m in the right profession, because every year the idea of re-imagining how to help kids love reading and writing is incredibly energizing. Five years ago probably this week I was deciding whether I should move back to Ohio or stay in New York. My first year of teaching was a circus: teaching 3 different subjects, two grades and not having my own classroom, I was literally beat. But when my team sat down to talk, I realized I actually had insight, rather than my typical sitting at meetings and soaking in other people’s advice and ideas. Planning was a creative outlet for me. So I stayed, excited for the next year (and an all 7th grade ELA program, obviously)…and the prospect of living in a bug free apartment with two of the greatest friends in the world (the other half of my reason for staying.)

Anyway. My 8th grade ELA team’s June planning has been so invigorating. In our re-imagining of our reading curriculum, it has left me wanting to do nothing but read. Truly. 8th grade reading is mostly about going deep, making connections and being excited about the ideas you find. In order to teach into this idea, we are revisiting old favorites from childhood and reading them with a closer lens–teaching skills for close, thoughtful reading with an incredibly accessible text. Then they can practice in a childhood re-read of their own, then apply the skills to their on-level reading. Make sense? Stay with me for why this is relevant to you.

Our read aloud is Charlotte’s Web. Yes, the book that you probably read in second grade. But. You have no idea just how thought provoking, well written and life-giving this book is. The teachers are also reading “The Annotated Charlotte’s Web” in preparation, which includes a ridiculous amount of information on E.B. White, his overall brilliance, writing craft and the tracing of themes. This facilitates “reading like a writer” better than any text I’ve come across. I can’t wait to talk about this with my students. But. The greatest part:

After our students have read Charlotte’s Web with us, and have re-read a childhood classic, they will write an “appreciation.” A colleague found these forewords in Penguin’s Children’s Classics: an author writes about his/her childhood experience reading the book and what it means to them as an adult. It has been so much fun talking about our favorite reading experiences as children: The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, The Wind in the Willows…We can’t wait to give our students the opportunity to revisit these books and write about their experience with them the first time and what it was like to reread them as young adults. Sigh. It just takes me back to the world of imagination when playing pretend felt so real.

You should seriously consider going back to some childhood favorites and rereading them. I’m convinced that they help remind us of all that is good and true. I just love how reading can change us and shape us and I am forever grateful that my parents “forced” my brother and I to read every night before we went to bed…a habit I never grew out of. I’ll post my “appreciation” later this summer. I’d love to hear about the books that defined your childhood. Reread and remember.

I love books.