Teacher’s File Drawer: A Focus on Gratitude for November

I know, I know! Halloween hasn’t even arrived, but if you’re a teacher, you know now is the time to start considering seasonal activities for the upcoming month. And so, for all you teachers, both at home and at school, three ideas for bringing gratitude to the forefront in your and your students’ lives.

Teacher's File Drawer: A Focus on Gratitude for November

Why Gratitude?

Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. Since November culminates in the grand holiday of Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to build toward this crescendo by focusing on gratitude each day in the weeks leading up to it.

Exercise 1: Thanksgiving Freewrites

Set aside time daily for your students to write a paragraph of at least 5 to 10 sentences, (depending on the ability of your students) about one person or thing for which each is grateful.

Requiring students to write multiple sentences will provide them with opportunities to practice elaborating on their subject and develop fluency in writing.

In addition to requiring a minimum number of sentences each day, limit students free-writing on any topic to just once each topic, thus encouraging them to think in an increasingly broad way about their lives and their world, and to find pleasure and gratitude in a wider range of subjects than they may have initially been aware of or considered.

For further details about this option go here.

Exercise 2: Thank You Notes

November is also a great month for students to learn how to, and practice, writing thank you notes. (After all, everyone knows the holiday season will be coming next.) During the month of November, I like to have my students write thank you notes to teachers, school staff, and other people who are important to their lives.

At the Downtown Learning Center, I teach my students the following template for writing thank you notes:

Dear Recipient:

Thank you so much for whatever it is you appreciate about this person.
Write one or two sentences explaining why you appreciate this.
Reword and repeat the first sentence.


For more information click here

Exercise 3: Gratitude Leaves

The Downtown Learning Center is located, you guessed it, in our city’s downtown shopping and business area, and so we have a large, storefront window that faces onto the sidewalk and street.

We started to make Gratitude Leaves about three years ago and they have been such a hit with the staff and neighbors that I can hardly wait to do it again this year.

What are Gratitude Leaves? They are individual leaves, in a variety of shapes and colors, on which students, anonymously, write one thing they are grateful for every day until we break for Thanksgiving. All the staff participates as well. Then each day we tape our leaves to the window.

By the time Thanksgiving break comes our wide, wide window is a wonderful mosaic of yellow, gold, red, orange, crimson and even a few purple leaves that seem to glow as the western light shines through them.

If you want your students to be able to take these home for Thanksgiving, you instruct them to take them down on the last day of break and have each student tape his or her leaves to a paper ring, making a Gratitude Wreath.

Writing about these options for reflecting on how blessed we are and how much good there actually is in our lives has me so excited. Let those dark days of November come!

Writing Blues: Just Open a Vein…

writing-bluesA year and a half ago, I tripped over the edge of the sidewalk, sailed through the air, and crash landed on my head. No, I did not bleed all over; this is not that kind of post. However, my little experiment in aviation resulted in a concussion. So where does the bleeding come in?

Resilience, or Lack Thereof

Post-concussion recovery is a far more serious thing than I ever dream it would be, even right after the concussion. My doctor told me it would take at least a year to fully recover. I thought she was exaggerating, so I would not get impatient. She wasn’t. I have only begun to feel like myself this last month.

What does this have to do with opening a vein?

This weekend I attended a writing retreat.

When asked how it is possible to be a daily columnist, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith is credited with saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

I need to bleed a little. This is the first writing conference since my fall where I have attended every session, even the evening ones. (See above–I thought I was back to my old self) However, by Saturday, after my one-on-one consultation, I felt weepy; after the Saturday night party, I felt achingly lonely; and by the end of the retreat I found myself wondering why I’ve even tried this ‘writing thing’ (for XX years, might I add, working mostly on novels the whole time). I cried all the home, most of the afternoon, and at church that night.

It is so heartbreaking to work so long toward a dream and not have it come true (“Yet”–thank you, Gretchen).


A good night’s sleep, some time with God, and a quiet house have helped restore some perspective.

Recovering from a concussion takes a long time. Just because I don’t have daily headaches doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. I think the dark stormy weather, sleeping in a strange bed, getting up too early, learning, and being around constant conversation and auditory stimuli was just too much for my post-concussion brain.

And the frustration with lack of publication? I just have to get real with myself.

Reality Number 1: Writing something new is so much more fun than trying to sell what you wrote. I don’t struggle with writer’s block; I struggle with submission block. It doesn’t matter that I have 8 full novels, not to mention at least 6 picture book manuscripts, and scads of poetry lolling around in my file drawers, if I don’t focus more attention on trying to find publishing homes for them, they will never find their way into readers’ hands.

Reality Number 2: I have not been stagnant as a writer. Through reading and professional events, I have never stopped learning and building my skills. That’s not something to be ashamed of.

Reality Number 3: I am a published author. So my novels aren’t there yet. I have had five folktale retellings published in Cricket Magazine, most of them serialized. This is a publication I have greatly respected and admired, long before my stories found a home there.

Reality Number 4: I know God has plans for my life, “plans to prosper” me “and not to harm” me, “plans to give” me “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Should I give up on writing? It is a question I have asked myself, and God, many times over the years, and every time I do, I wake up with fresh, exciting story ideas, and seem to encounter more around every corner.

“Can I give up writing?” should be the real question. I don’t think I can. It is the way my brain processes life. Even as I teen, I recognized that my best thinking was done with pen and paper rather than just letting the thoughts and feelings trundle round and around in my own mind. It’s as true now as it was then–only I often use a keyboard instead.

I have tried not writing. (Actually I was driven to it by professional responsibilities when I was teaching Language Arts full-time.) I was one sad soul, and the ideas never stopped coming. Talk about frustration!


So, vein opened, commitment renewed, what will I do?

I will be more patient with my traumatized brain, I will write, and I will get more serious about submissions. A literate lifestyle is still the life for me.

How About You?

  • Have you encountered roadblocks in building your literate lifestyle?
  • Have you ever had to be more patient with yourself than you are inclined be?
  • How do you pick yourself up and keep on going when life gets you down?

*art background: Depositphotos_13525625_original

No Negative Reviews: Why Readers Will Not Find Negative Reviews Here

no-negative-reviews-This weekend, a dear friend and faithful blog brainstorm/critiquer asked me why I never write a critical review in my “Books of the Month” posts.

My gut reaction and immediate response was, “Because, I do not want to tear people down or hurt their feelings. That is not who I want to be.”

However, since our discussion, the question would not leave me alone. I think she, and you deserve a better thought out answer.

Why No Negative Reviews

When I consider writing critical reviews, my first question is, who am I to set myself up as judge over the quality of an author’s work who has actually made it past all the gatekeepers and critical eyes on the road to publication? Surely, if a book has come far enough to be published by a third-party, there must be someone who will appreciate it. Although I will admit, it might be a limited number of individuals and not necessarily me.

And if a book is self-published, as I novelist, I understand all the love and labor that went into producing it. Who am I that I should tear apart someone’s dream, someone whose hopes are not all that different from my own?

Yes, of course some books are of higher quality than others. Some books can be quite flawed. But I do not want to be the person who points these things out.

The Simpler Reason I Don’t Write Negative Reviews

Then, after all my philosophizing, I had to laugh at myself. There is actually a much simpler reason you will not find negative reviews on Literate Lives. I do not finish reading books that I do not like and therefore cannot count them as books I read in any month.

It took me many years of living with the inner insistence, “You must finish everything you start,” but finally, sensibly, I concluded that life is too short, time is too precious, and there are too many unread books on my shelves for me to finish any book I find to be low in quality or of minimal appeal to me.

Stop Reading Lousy/Unappealing Books

If I am not enjoying a book, fiction or nonfiction, that I am reading, if I do not feel it has anything to offer me, I may give it an additional chapter or two to improve, but if it fails to, I stop reading. You should too.

Value of Book Listings on this Site

So why read the “Books of the Month” posts?

Literate Lives is about creating a community of like-minded readers, writers, and teachers. If you like what you find here, you might like the books I like. (And if you like what you find here, how I’d love to hear about books you have enjoyed!)

The “Books of the Month” posts are more a recommended reading list than a critique or review. They are an invitation to seek out a good read.

The Purpose of “Literate Lives”

In the end, all my initial philosophizing was not a waste. It clarified for me, again, what I want this blog to be. I want to bring light, joy, pleasure, and inspiration to others, and I want to encourage and support readers, writers, parents and teachers in cultivating a reading, writing, thinking, imaginative lives.

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment section to respond.

*photo credit: Depositphotos_28904783_original

The Books of September 2016: A FLAW IN THE BLOOD and BALLAD

This September I read two books. Yeah. Just two.

I have to say returning to a school year schedule took some adjusting and so, many nights instead of going to bed and reading a chapter or two before lights out, I went to bed and went to sleep.

That said, the fact that I did not race breathlessly through the two novels I read is no indication of my enjoyment of them.

So, here goes–the books of September!

A Flaw in the BloodA Flaw in the Blood
by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron has long been a favorite author of mine. I love, love, love her Jane Austen mystery novels. While A Flaw in the Blood involves a slightly different time period and a new array of characters (Queen Victoria, for one), it does not disappoint.

Set in the days and weeks shortly after Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort, dies, it kicks off a race to uncover a perilous secret sending the protagonists, Patrick Fitzgerald and his ward, Georgianna Armistead, a female physician, across the whole of Europe, with men who will stop at nothing to kill them hot on their trail. It is an excellent thrill ride.

by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the second book of Stiefvater’s duology A GATHERING OF FAERIE, the first, Lament, I read last spring. While both are excellent YA fantasy novels, I think I enjoyed Ballad, even more than Lament.

As the story opens, James Morgan, along with his friend Dierdre, the protagonist of Lament, begin school at Thornking-Ash Academy, a boarding/high school for the musically gifted. Both are still deeply shaken from the concluding events of Lament. James, whose love for Deidre remains unreturned, finds himself pursued by a faerie muse. Together they make “beautiful music,” but all is not well.

As Halloween draws near, the faerie court dances in the hills around the academy, Cernunnos, lord of the dead, haunts the valley in which the school is set, and danger hangs in the air like wood smoke.

I did have to read the last third of the novel in a mad dash. It is gripping and haunting. A great autumn read.

How About You?

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment space to tell us a bit about them.