Thursday, March 15, 2012

Living the Life of a Writer

Writing Workshop was buzzing along in my classroom today.  Kids were stretched out in every corner of the room with their Writer's Notebooks, creating two-word sentences with lively verbs.  Our Skype window opened on the projector screen.  "anneursu" murmured one of my girls, as she glanced over at the screen.  "Waaaaait, isn't she the author of Breadcrumbs?"  Another student dashed over to the book basket of multiple copies of latest readaloud.  "It is!  It is!"  Immediately, I had 22 pairs of little eyes on me, wide with astonishment when they all realized we were about to Skype with Anne Ursu, author and storyteller extraordinaire.  My stomach gurgled with anticipation.  I had been keeping our Skype session under wraps for six looooong weeks. Finally, the moment had arrived, and I was drinking in their contagious excitement.

Over Winter Break, a list of authors who were willing to Skype with classes came through my Twitter feed.  I pored over titles and read voraciously to seek a perfect match to my kiddoes.  Breadcrumbs touched my heart, and I knew right away I needed to share the book with my class.  Ursu tells a tale of  Hazel and Jack with inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen.  It is a haunting story of friendship, grief, and inspiration against a backdrop of snow and ice, fantasy and reality.  Snowflakes swirled around the December sky as I curled up in my fleecy blanket, devouring the text.  As my heart wept, I knew I had found a winner.

Moments later, "Anne Ursu fever" spread like wildfire through our classroom, igniting whispers and chatter among friends.  An electric vibe filled the air.  "Do you mean we are going to TALK to her? Like TALK TALK?!  Really?! But she's a real live writer!"  The kids scrambled to the middle of the room, clutching their Writer's Notebooks to their chests, filled with questions and thoughts about the text.    The thought of talking to a "real live writer" was reducing my "spirited" kiddoes to mere shadows of themselves.  Nervous giggles and hushed tones filled the room:  "Is she rich, Mrs. Traber?"  "Do you think she has a Writer's Notebook too?"  "What did you tell her about us?"

A moment later, our screen was filled with the glowing face of Anne Ursu, real live writer.  The class began waving furiously into the camera, not yet convinced she could really see them.  She smiled warmly, and the kids fell silent, eager to drink in her knowledge.

One at a time, my kids crawled over to my computer and asked their well-thought out questions.  As I called each student up, kiddoes would look over to me and beg, "Am I next, Mrs. Traber?" their eyes pleading.  Each student came up and talked to her.  As they posed questions to her, she volleyed right back.  "What do you think?" was often her reply.  I could tell from their incredulous stares that they were in awe that she cared about their thinking, their opinions, and their feelings. And, I can tell you that my skin flushed red with embarrassment only once, when one of my kids asked her, "Why did you take so long to get to the conflict?"

After a half hour of picking her brain about the birth of a literary masterpiece, Anne left the kids with nuggets for "living the lives of writers."  Hearing her talk of her struggles as a writer confirmed for the kids that writing is hard for everyone, even published authors.  She told them that a sentence is difficult, but you have to keep on going.  She called them "writers" several times, a small detail that was not lost on them (I guess hearing that come from a "real live writer" and not their ol' fourth grade teacher lended credibility to the word).  Their eyes glimmered with anticipation of her next piece of advice.  She implored them to read anything and everything they could get their hands on. Never give up, she said.  Keep writing.   As our call ended and her face disappeared, one of the kids said, "Man, Mrs. Traber, THAT was AWESOME!" Another one called out, "Let's write a book and send it to her!  Wouldn't that be the COOLEST?!"

As we walked out of our classroom at dismissal, the kids bounced down the hall filled with pride and hope.  Pride at all they had accomplished this year as readers and writers, and hope for what their reading and writing futures hold for them.  My writers held their heads high.  Ah, the power of one little word.

Secretly, the Skype visit was for me as much as it was for my kiddoes.  The Slice of Life Challenge has pushed me to write alongside my kids, to experience their frustrations when they feel they have "nothing to write about."  To feel that sense of nervousness of revealing yourself to your readers.  To marinate in an idea, watch it grow and expand.  To feel the power of words and who we ultimately are and who we want to be through them.  Now I know what it means.  Now I get it.  For I am living the life of a writer.  Together, 22 kiddoes and their teacher will write.


  1. I can't believe you were able to keep this quiet up until the very moment! How special for your kids. I like your line about drinking in their contagious excitement.

  2. I agree with Christy - however did you keep the lid on this?!! What an amazing opportunity for your students.

    Love your line, "to marinate in an idea, watch it grow and expand."