Rebuilding School & Classroom Libraries in Louisiana

UPDATE AS OF 1/31/17 – At this time, all of the schools I’m aware of have had to stop taking donations so they can catch up on moving back into buildings and processing. Please do not send books without checking first! 

If you’re like me, you’ve been watching the news out of Louisiana and wanting to do more to help. When whole communities are flooded, families who have lost everything are uprooted, and that can be especially tough on kids. As a result of flood-damaged schools, many students have also been displaced from their classrooms for now, and teachers & librarians have lost books and supplies. Let’s make sure those kids have beautiful books in their school and classroom libraries when they return. The losses are devastating, and the need is enormous.

flooded books

For Flooded Schools & Libraries: Here are two resources that have been brought to my attention that may be helpful to you. Check out Beyond Words, the ALA’s relief fund with Dollar General and The Lisa Libraries, which donates books to organizations that work with kids in poor & under-served areas.

For People Who Want to Help: Not all schools are ready to accept book donations right now, so donating money to this disaster relief fund set up by the Association Education Professionals of Louisiana is one great way to help.

Tanglewood Elementary lost 90% of its library books in the flood and has set up this fund for donations to help rebuild. (For libraries, this type of monetary donation is even better than new book donations because books can be selected and purchased already processed so that they’re accessible to kids immediately.)

Some schools that lost classroom libraries are ready to receive donations of new and like-new books to replace classroom libraries now. Please follow the guidelines carefully so we don’t inadvertently create more work for people who are already buried in it.

What NOT to send at this time:

*Used books, unless they’re relatively current and like new. Please do NOT send boxes of used books that have been weeded from a collection. If your classroom or family has two new copies of the Harry Potter series, and you only need one set, that’s great to donate. But please don’t send discarded books or other boxes of used books at this time. When we were working to rebuild a library in the Adirondacks after Tropical Storm Irene a few years back, we found that boxes of used books quickly become overwhelming, and many had to be disposed of. The last thing we want to do is create another job for people who are already very busy cleaning up from the floods. If this changes and there’s a need for more books, I’ll post an update here.

*Books that do not meet the needs of the specific schools to which you’re donating (and for now, those are all elementary schools). If you have YA novels to donate, please hold onto them for right now. I know of at least one high school library that lost books to the flood, and they’d love donations eventually but are not prepared to receive them just yet. I’ll update this page with more information when I can.

More schools will be added as I learn about them, but here is a start for folks who are ready to help.

Brookstown Middle School

Brookstown Middle School had as much as 5 feet of water in places.  330 students are displaced and will be hosted by Scotlandville Middle until they can rebuild. 15 classroom libraries were lost. Most students here are people of color, so diverse titles would be especially appreciated. Donations of new and like-new books can be shipped to Scotlandville since they are open and dry.

Need: New and like-new books for grades 6-8 (both MG and YA – especially diverse titles)

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see. You can sign “For Readers of Brookstown Middle School” or just “For Louisiana Readers.”

Send to: 

Attn: Angela Rae
c/o Scotlandville Middle School
9147 Elm Grove Garden Dr.
Baton Rouge, LA 70807



Southside Junior High in Denham Springs, LA


Southside librarian Lindsay Varnado shared the photos above – one showing an aerial view of her school during the flooding and one showing what her remaining library books looked like when she and her colleagues were finally allowed back in to tour the school with a HAZMAT guide. The library is a total loss, as are classroom libraries, and new/like-new book donations will be very much appreciated.

Need: New and like-new books for grades 6-8 (both MG and YA)

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see. You can sign “For Readers of Southside Junior High” or just “For Louisiana Readers.”

Send to: 

Lindsay Varnado
Books for Southside Junior High
9111 Harris Rd.
Denham Springs, LA 70726


St. Amant Primary School in St. Amant, LA


Jessica Paz, a fourth grade science & social studies teacher at St. Amant Primary School shared this photo of her flooded building, along with the news that teachers there lost their classroom libraries for grades PreK-5.   They still cannot return to their school. For now, they are teaching grades 3-5 in an old community college.

“Our rooms are bare- not even everyone has a while/chalk board. We’re having to bring in items from home to improvise an environment as normal as possible. Students don’t have any reading materials for when they finish their work or when they come into class. We also do not have a library at this location, so reading books is considered a luxury as of now.”   ~Lindsey Kelley, 4th grade teacher

Need: New and like-new books for grades PreK-5 

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see when they get back to school. Either “For Readers of St. Amant Primary School” or just “For Louisiana Readers” would be great. (Some books may also be distributed to other schools in need.)

Send to: 

Lindsey Kelley
Books for St. Amant
37054 Kathleen Ave.
Prairieville, LA 70769


Jessica Paz
Books for St. Amant
15510 Oakstone Dr. 
Prairieville, LA 70769


Glen Oaks Park Elementary in Baton Rouge


The photos above are from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, where first grade teacher Aimee Manzella Lastner lost the classroom library she’s built over the past four years. Other teachers and the library have lost books as well. Aimee says the K-2 classrooms seemed to suffer most of the losses. Her school is set up at a dry temporary location now and would appreciate donations of new and like-new books for grades K-2.

Need: New and like-new books for K-2

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see when they get back to school. Either “For Readers of Glen Oaks Park Elementary” or just “For Louisiana Readers” would be great. (Some books may also be distributed to other schools in need.)

Send to:

Glen Oaks Park at Banks Elementary
Attn: Aimee Manzella Lastner
2401 72nd Avenue 
Baton Rouge, LA 70807


Tanglewood Elementary in Baton Rouge

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Tanglewood Elementary in Baton Rouge also suffered devastating flood damage. The library lost nearly everything, as have many classroom libraries. Brittney Banta-Troxclair’s first grade daughter was only in class for one day before the rains began and school had to be closed. Brittney’s home was spared, so she has a safe, dry place to store donations and is working with the librarian on a book drive to begin rebuilding.


*New and like-new books for grades K-4, including picture books, easy readers, chapter books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and middle grade books of all genres.

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see when they get back to school. Either “For Readers of Tanglewood Elementary” or just “For Louisiana Readers” would be great. (Some books may also be distributed to other schools in need.)

Send to:

Brittney Banta-Troxclair
Books for Tanglewood
17186 Benton’s Ferry Ave.
Greenwell Springs, LA 70739


Westside Elementary in Scott, LA


(Photo: Westside Elementary, by Erick Knezek in The Advertiser)      (Photo: Westside library, KFLY News10)

Westside Elementary School in Scott, LA was also severely damaged by flooding. The school library lost many books, and K-5 teachers lost most of their classroom libraries. A nearby school in the district is dry and prepared to take donations for Westside now. Truman Early Childhood Education Center is dry and prepared to accept, store, and distribute book donations for grades K-5. Books may also be distributed to other schools in need and to families that lost their books in flooding.


*New and like-new books for grades K-5, including picture books, easy readers, chapter books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and middle grade books of all genres.

*Authors & Illustrators: If you’re sending your own books and would like to sign them, I think that would be lovely for students to see when they get back to school. Either “For Readers of Westside Elementary” or just “For Louisiana Readers” would be great. (Some books may also be distributed to other schools in need.)

Send to: 

Truman Early Childhood Education Center
Attn: Anita Pool
200 Clara Street
Lafayette, La 70501


Sharing and Updates

If you’d like to share this information, please share a link to this blog post, which will be updated as needed. Please do not copy and paste the address for donations. There may come a time when these schools are no longer able to accept donations, and there’s no way to stop that from happening if the information isn’t being updated. Also, we expect to have information about other schools in need soon. As I hear from them and learn about needs and storage abilities, I’ll post updates here, so there will be more opportunities to help in the coming days.  If you are a teacher or librarian at another school that suffered damage and you’d like help with book donations, please send me an email via my contact form with information about what you need and when/where it can be sent. Thanks!!

Dear Grace: Hiking Lower & Upper Wolfjaw on 8.8.16

August 8, 2016

Dear Grace*,

My June and July were crowded with travel to cities whose views come atop buildings instead of peaks, but I finally made it out for the first big hike of the season this week. I was worried about having waited so long, but I shouldn’t have been. From the unmistakable smell of deep Adirondack woods to the scrape of rock on my palms as I climbed to the familiar burn in my legs on the descent…it was just so good to be back.

My hiking pal Marsha and I decided we’d climb Lower Wolfjaw and see how we were doing as far as time and energy, and make the call about continuing on to Upper Wolfjaw from there. We set out from the St. Huberts parking area at 7:22, and it wasn’t long before we reached the trailhead…along with a note about bears.


We decided to take the Wedge Book Trail, which heads into the woods after a short walk along the Lake Road.


We’d read that this climb is a gentle one at first, and that proved to be true – the trail is beautifully maintained and soft, with more pine needles than rocks. After a while, it begins to follow the brook, which was lovely. There’s an especially pretty little waterfall near this bridge crossing.


The last mile or so was steeper and rockier, but nothing particularly challenging by high peaks standards, even for someone a little out of practice. We reached the summit of Lower Wolfjaw at 10:10. It’s not an open summit, but there are some pretty views if you explore a bit and climb the rocks.


We decided to continue on to Upper Wolfjaw, since it was only 1.5 miles away. This was a fun spot…a tight squeeze that required us to take off our packs and shimmy through the rocks, climbing sideways.


(Hikers who don’t fit through here could bypass the crevice by climbing over a rock face instead. It’s steep but doable.)

We’d read about a false summit on Upper WJ, so we weren’t surprised when the trail continued on past this big boulder that seemed summit-like…


We were, however, a bit confused when the trail kept descending – a lot. Then it leveled off and started climbing again. It wasn’t until we got to the top of Upper Wolfjaw at 11:45 that we figured out why. In order to get from Lower to Upper, you have to climb a smaller mountain in between. You can see that in the photo below – that’s Lower on the left and the smaller hill on the right. My hiking buddy called it the “fake mountain” since it didn’t count for our 46.


The summit rock at Upper Wolfjaw is on the small side, but there was plenty of space to sit down for lunch and enjoy the views.



That’s Armstrong in the photo above, a mountain that some people climb along with the Wolfjaws. We were running low on both time and water, though, so we left Armstrong for another day and headed down. The path between Upper and Lower has some steeper sections that involve scrambling on the way up. We chose the tried and true Adirondack butt-sliding strategy to get down a couple of them.


I learn something on every hike, and if I had this one to do over again, I’d bring more water. I’d brought two liters and knew there were opportunities to filter along Wedge Brook Trail on the way down, but it was a hot day, and we were both out of water and thirsty about a mile before we reached the brook. Lesson learned. I’ll bring another liter next time I do a hike of this length. But the hike down was still enjoyable. We stopped to admire some cool fungi.



I had to take a photo of the AMR gate on the way out…so pretty with the afternoon sun in the trees.


It was fun to see Giant Mountain from the road back to the car and be able to say, “We’ve been up there!” It was one of my favorite hikes of last fall.


Our Wolfjaws hike ended up being about 12.5 miles and took just over 8 hours – not a bad start to the 2016 climbing season. My legs were feeling it the next day, but I feel like I have my high peaks confidence back now and am ready to get back out there. The mountains are already calling again.

Good climbing!



* Grace (in the greeting) is Grace Hudowalski, the first woman to climb all 46 high peaks. She was a founding member of the Adirondack 46ers, the group’s 1st president, and later on, its secretary and historian, roles she filled until she died in 2004. It used to be that if you wanted to be a 46er, you had to log each climb by writing a letter to Grace. And Grace would write back. She answered thousands and thousands of letters, with encouraging words and sometimes, her own reflections on a climb, too.  Today, the 46er application process is simplified; one only needs to keep simple climb records on a club form that can be downloaded. But I wish I’d had the chance to climb these mountains and write letters about them when Grace was around to read them. I love her story and her strength and the way she urged others to get outside and explore and tell their stories. So I’ve decided to write the letters anyway. I think Grace would have liked that.


Teachers Write 8.5.16 One Last Time…

I’m starting our last morning of Teachers Write with my favorite song from the musical  Hamilton. George Washington’s farewell song felt like a good way to end, since we’re saying a goodbye of our own today. It’s always bittersweet. Each August, I’m sad to say goodbye to our every-day-writing-together summer, but I’m also excited for all of the students you’re about to meet, students who will benefit so much from the brave work you’ve done this summer and from the community you’ve forged.

Gae has one more Friday Feedback for you, and I have one last writing prompt here, too. Let’s do a little reflecting together.

Write a few quick lines about what you learned about writing, about being part of a community of writers, about yourself and the work that you do. Here’s a starting place if you need one.

This summer in Teachers Write, I discovered…

Feel free to share in the comments if you’d like. Even if you’ve never shared before. Especially if you’ve never shared before.

And finally, thank you. Your beautiful words and your brave willingness to share them, to make yourselves vulnerable to better serve your students, has been an inspiration to all of us this summer.

Teachers Write may be wrapping up, but we’re not going anywhere. I’m around on social media if you want to talk writing. We’ll be back next summer with new lessons and inspiration. And if you listen carefully through the school year, you’ll be able to hear me, cheering you on.



Teachers Write 8.4.16 Thursday Quick-Write with Tracy Holczer

Good morning! It’s Thursday Quick-Write day, and we have guest author Tracy Holczer with us this morning. Tracy is the author of THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY and joins us today to talk about creating characters readers will remember.


Digging Deep: Creating Memorable Characters

“Go deep, not wide.”

I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but I think about it often in life and in my writing. Because no matter how well a story is plotted, for me, it won’t come to life unless the characters ring true and deep. Although everyone has a different personal story, and each book is different in terms of circumstances and plot, the deepest shades of the human condition tend to be the same. Wanting to be loved, feeling disconnected or lonely, yearning for acceptance to name a few that are universal. These are themes covered over and over again in stories because they strike the heart directly. And if we can strike the heart, we connect to our reader, and that is the whole point.

So how do we show this emotion on the page? The only way I’ve found (and believe me, I have tried to work around this more than I should) is by digging deeply into ourselves.

As a child growing up, I felt outcast. Like I didn’t belong. Whether this was actually true or not is irrelevant. It felt true. And as we all know, feelings and reality don’t always go hand in hand. And although adults and children alike have these types of overwhelming feelings, adults can more often talk themselves through it. We have the tools we need to deal with life on life’s terms. And if we don’t, we can pay someone for their expertise or read trucks full of books on the subject or beat phone books with a hose (very therapeutic) or take a yoga class or drink wine, or, or, or.

But children? They are at the mercy of the adults in their lives. How much they learn about their own emotional landscape is up to adults. Here is where fiction can help. As a novelist, I try to explore every layer of emotion that characters may be feeling, and the only way I can do that is by tapping into my own.

This is when I think of the Big Feelings in my life. Like when I was seven-years-old and my mom sat me down at the foot of her bed and told me she and my father were divorcing, how it literally felt like my entire world was falling apart. Everything I believed to be true about family, suddenly wasn’t. Or my first crush in the seventh grade, how I chased him and caught him to be my date to the Sadie Hawkins dance, which filled me with an exhilaration unmatched to this day. How when we were “married” by the minister in front of the haystacks at the dance, and he turned to me to “kiss the bride,” and I leaned so far backwards that I fell into said haystacks. As exhilarated as I felt, I wasn’t ready for that first kiss.

There are so many of these memories to explore and mine for their emotional truth. So much in our own lives that carry the universal. This is the way we connect to each other. Through shared experience and hope. And for me, digging deep into my own emotional truth is the only way to tell a story.

Today’s Assignment: A great writing exercise is to fictionalize an actual event in your own life. Take a Big Feeling and tell a story around it. Texturize it. Give it sounds and smells. Sit with the memory and look around. Who was there? What did they add or take away from you? Who were you before that moment and how did it change you? Explore, explore, explore. And bring it to life. Not only will your readers love you for it, but you will love yourself, heal yourself maybe, just a little bit more.

Happy writing!

Teachers Write 8.3.16 Q&A Wednesday

Good morning! This is our final Q&A Wednesday of the summer, so if you’ve been saving up questions, today is the day! Our official guest authors are Augusta Scattergood and Karen Romano Young!


Other authors will probably pop in today as well, so feel free to direct questions directly to Karen and/or Augusta or just ask general questions for anyone to answer. 

Teachers Write 8.2.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Nanci Turner Steveson

Good morning! It’s time for your last Tuesday Quick-Write of the summer, and our guest today is Nanci Turner Steveson. Nanci is the author of SWING SIDEWAYS, a great new novel for middle grade readers, and she joins us today to talk about “spit poetry.” 


Let me start by saying I am a novelist, not a poet. However, I am on the Board of Directors of Jackson Hole Writers, and we have a very active group of poets who meet monthly. I was just starting to work through revisions of Swing Sideways when I decided I should attend one meeting so I could get to know that side of our organization.

I am a very organic writer. Everything I write in a first draft is, as we say, “puked onto the page.” You will see shortly that the quality of loveliness in this puking process is non-existent. It’s during revisions that I take The Ugly Duckling and work toward creating something I hope will be beautiful. I like to think of this as sculpting.

This process changed after listening to the poets dissect one person’s work at a meeting I attended. They discussed (for 20 minutes!) how the placement of one word changed the magnificence, or clarity, or subtleness of one line. I started going to their meetings to learn, because it was clear I had a lot to learn from them.

My most active takeaway has been an exercise I challenge you to try with a piece of rough draft work you may be fretting over. Below you will see the extremely ugly, spit-it-out-on-the-page paragraph I tried this with the first time. I took that mess of thoughts and words and plunked them onto separate document, in a different format, to create more white space: double line spacing, and sentence breaks so at first glance it looks like it could be the makings of a poem.

In this format it was easier for me to see the words that needed to come out. I began cutting and, with each pass, the beauty of the real message began to shine. After I got rid of all unnecessary words, I was able to put it back into prose form to flesh out the rest. The paragraph at the bottom is the actual result of this process.

ORIGINAL MESS: Ahead of me, about one hundred yards away, was an area that looked darker than the rest of the night. I looked at the sky and saw how it was changing from dark to light. I was still crying, hiccuping away the tears I couldn’t control, looking for something, but what? Something to tell me where I was, and to show me what we’d been searching for all summer. The wooden oars of the rowboat burned my hands when I picked them up again, my hands were weak, achy, they hurt as much as my heart. But I rowed on, toward where I thought land might be, where I thought there might be a willow like the one we’d seen in the picture. Maybe if I found just the willow, maybe that would be enough for California, maybe then I could take her home and we could forget about everything and hopefully it all would be fine. But I had to find that piece of land, that part of the shore that could be were Dad said I would find the willow.



Ahead of me,

about one hundred yards away,

was an area that looked darker

than the rest of the night.

I looked at the sky

and saw how it was changing

from dark to light.

I was still crying,

hiccuping away the tears

I couldn’t control,

looking for something,

but what?

Something to tell me where I was,

and to show me what

we’d been searching for

all summer.

The wooden oars of the rowboat

burned my hands

when I picked them up again,

my hands were weak,


they hurt

as much as my heart.

But I rowed on,

toward where I thought land might be,

where I thought there might be

a willow

like the one we’d seen

in the picture.

Maybe if I found just the willow,

maybe that would be enough

for California,

maybe then I could take her home

and we could forget

about everything

and hopefully

it all would be fine.

But I had to find that piece of land,

that part of the shore

that could be were Dad said

I would find the willow.



Up ahead, a ribbon of sky changed, ebony to silver. I rubbed my arms and hiccuped away the last of my tears. When I reached for the oars again, the first hint of peach was beginning to mingle with the gray. The border of the lake took on a real shape. I could make out the tops of the trees and the bottom, where their trunks met the ground—black against green. Wood in hand, I rowed harder, faster toward the blooming light, toward a place where the earth arched and curved, then spun into an almost perfect circle.


Today’s assignment: Try this yourself now… Take something you literally just spit out and see where you end up after using this little trick. Would love to hear how it worked for you, and/or your students.

Happy sculpting!


Teachers Write 8.1.16 Mini-Lesson Monday with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick

Good morning! Ready to get writing for our final week of Teachers Write? Start with Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-Up, and when you’re back, we have a great mini-lesson today – from Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, two great authors who have collaborated on their newest project, called TWO NAOMIS.

Many of us know the positives of collaborative work; it can strengthen higher order thinking skills and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL); can lessen stress by reducing burdens on individual students, build community, and even promote healthy competition. And since working together is often enhanced by snacking together whenever possible, it can also be an opportunity for cake. (Really, though; when isn’t there an opportunity for cake?)

There can be challenges, though:  the workload becomes uneven, some voices dominate while others go unheard, students worry about being critical of peers—it’s a delicate balance.

Collaboration for us is all about conversation — asking questions, listening for answers. But it’s okay–it’s great, even–if that conversation has some surprises. In a collaborative writing piece, writers have the chance to throw some surprises at their collaborators–and it can really up the fun quotient. When one writer adds details that are new and unexpected, it can be confusing and challenging. But more often, with the right mindset, it can be fun. Imagine a juggler working with two balls. Along comes the collaborator. The juggler stands there, waiting for the third ball to be tossed in. But what if the collaborator tosses a small toaster? A giant stuffed Elmo? Or a bowling trophy? Being open to surprises and willing to work with them is one of the great joys of collaboration.


I love incorporating drama into my workshops and visits, so I often bring index cards that have characters written on them, such as “ten year old”, “toddler”, “mom” and a separate set of cards with one-word emotions, like “frustrated”, “ecstatic”, “miserable”, etc. Then we just mix and match, and act it out, to work on using descriptive language: “Ecstatic toddler!” “Frustrated mom!” We act it out, and take note of movement, dialogue, reaction, etc. and pretty soon we’ve written a scene together.  Soon we throw in different settings and go wild: 

“A frustrated mom at a fast food restaurant! With an ecstatic toddler! And no money!” Then the students make their own sets of index cards and do the same in small groups. Writing “out loud” in this way can free students up from a focus on writing the “right” words to the freedom of really seeing and being the words as they brainstorm together, to noticing small details that enhance storytelling and listening others’ ideas and points of view.

When we were writing a chapter about one of the first joint Naomis meetups, we started out that way:

What if Naomi Marie had planned to go to the museum with her best friend to work on the BEST PROJECT EVER, on what was supposed to be the perfect day off from school that turned into a forced outing with her pesky little sister, no best friend, AND the Other Naomi who’s threatening to ruin EVERYTHING about her life?

What if Naomi Edith loves nothing more than spending a Lazy Day Off at home, leaving home only to go to her favorite bakery for a late-morning treat, and wakes up to find that she is going to the museum (not the one that her father’s been promising to take her to), with the Other Naomi, a pesky little sister, and a mother who’s NOT her mom?

And what if that mom and that dad are nervous and preoccupied when the Naomis need them most?

And then what if that pesky little sister keeps getting lost and always needs to go to the bathroom?

My Naomi began this chapter annoyed with her little sister. As Audrey wrote her Naomi’s irritation with these moments, I was able to see very clearly how my Naomi, who was equally irritated, also began to feel protective of that same pesky little sister, and had opportunities to include moments and details that showed her tender “big sister” side as well.

Two Naomis started with a conversation – a very silly, what if this? and what if THAT? conversation. And once we settled on a story of two girls both named “Naomi”, we ran with it.


“When I was a junior and senior in college, I was part of an improv comedy troupe. Improv is very much an anything-goes kind of situation, but there’s one main rule everyone generally abides by–the YES, AND rule. If you’re in a scene and someone says, “I’m sorry you broke your arm,” you don’t contradict. You go with it. You’re now a character with a broken arm.

One of the most fun parts for me of collaborative writing is trying mightily to YES, AND any surprising elements your collaborator plants in the text and throwing her some of your own. It’s basically about accepting a premise or information. For me, it made my writing go in directions I would not have strayed, and though it can be scary, it can also be a very good thing.

Here’s how it played out in Two Naomis. We had two characters who shared a first name. We had not yet picked out middle names. And in a chapter Olugbemisola was writing, she gave the Naomi I was writing the middle name Edith. EDITH! I did not think of the Naomi I was writing as someone who would have the middle name Edith! My initial instinct was to talk it out with Olugbemisola and come up with a different name. But once I got past that initial reaction, I was ready to yes-and my way through that. The first Edith who came to mind (after Edith Houghton, the subject of a picture-book biography I had just completed) was Edith Head, the famous costume designer. And just like that I made Naomi E.’s mother, who did not yet have a set occupation, a costume designer which led me to ideas I’d have never had if Olugbemisola had given Edith the kind of middle my character thought she’d have preferred, like Violet or Ruby.

Using questions as a collaborative writing and revision strategy can help make the process less stressful and even fun for student writers. As we worked together, writing alternate chapters, instead of “critiquing” each other’s work, and simply suggesting changes or edits, we asked questions.

How do you want the reader to feel?

What do you mean by this phrase?

Why is this character doing that?

How do you think Character A will feel if Character B does this?

Why did you make her say THAT?

This strategy of focusing on meaning-making rather than “corrections” can ease the pressure of “being critical” for students working with each other on revision, and encourage student writers to dig deeper, to clarify, to figure out what they really mean. And as we believe that revision is an essential part of the writing process, we find that revisiting and revising these strategies is also vital. Give student writers opportunities for confidential assessment and feedback without the worry of stigma as whistleblowers, as well as opportunities for whole group conversation…about the conversation.

Asking open-ended questions, listening with “Yes, and…” in mind, making the “what ifs” a conversation – incorporating these strategies in the collaborative writing process opens windows of opportunity for surprise and wonder, for creative thinking, and for unique and thoughtful stories. And that is certainly something to celebrate together.

Perhaps with cake.

YES, AND ice cream.

Today’s Assignment: Want to give this collaborative writing thing a try? Find a buddy. It can your friend or partner or one of your kids or neighbors. It can  be an online friend you’ve met here or a colleague at school. Try brainstorming a story idea together using some of Gbemi & Audrey’s techniques. Then come back and let us know how it went!