Wednesday, December 19, 2012


There are angels among us. And now, after the horrific events of Dec. 14, there are twenty-six new ones. Like you, I am heartbroken and saddened beyond words. To see the faces of the little ones is almost too much to watch. The teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School are heroes. All.

I am a teacher. Like me, teachers all over the country are now watching their students a little closer, enjoying them a little more, keeping them utmost in their thoughts. I was afraid to return to school on Monday, afraid of what the children knew and heard on the news, afraid of how I was going to react, afraid that I might crack. But when my 3rd graders gathered in the hallway outside my classroom, like they do every school day, their innocent, smiling faces were waiting for me. It was going to be okay. Not one child said a word. We went about our day as usual. We all needed this routine. They needed to see (as did I) that things were as they should be in our little corner of the world. That what happened was a random act of violence. We weren't thinking about gun control. We weren't thinking about the horrible events that too often take place in this world. That will come later. It is my job to teach my students and to keep them safe. To show them the beauty in this world. To surround them with lovely language and touching stories. To help them grow and feel confident. To encourage them to be life-long learners and to question. That is my job.

I will always remember the new angels among us. The faces of those little children whose lives were taken too soon. I lost a child years ago. I know about angels. They are always with us.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


It's been a crazy fall. I'm teaching 3rd grade this year, a grade which I haven't taught in seven years, and so had to take a step back and reacclimate myself to a whole new classroom. Reacclimate: readjust to a new climate, readapt to new surroundings. Exactly. I'm in a new classroom (I had to move out of my 5th grade classroom in the 5th grade wing to be near the other 3rd grade classrooms) with smaller students, younger books, cuter drawings and, quite frankly, a new set of needs. In between teaching 3rd grade, I taught special education and 5th grade, and so now I'm reacclimating myself and it's not an easy task. I won't bore you with the details but it was a struggle with some sleepless nights, and some what-went-wrong-there-days, but I'm happy to report that all is now well, and I am now (finally) feeling acclimated in my new classroom with my new younger students. And the one thing that has been consistent from day one, and the one thing that has been my feeling-like-I can-do-this is teaching writing. I love to teach writing. I don't really feel like I'm teaching, it's more like this is what I love and you all can do it, too. And they do. And they really seem to like it right along with me. I am grateful for that. I am grateful that my parents gave me the love for writing just by being readers and writers themselves. By surrounding us with books and magazines and more books, my sisters and brother and I are avid readers and love to write.

My dad passed away a year ago. It was three days after Thanksgiving and a part of me went right along with him. Luckily the writing part didn't go away, the part that he gave me is here and stronger than ever. I think he's perched on my shoulder as I write, spurring me on. "Come on Lu, you can do it." I feel his presence with me, especially when I go home to the Cape and I sit in his chair. I think he likes that.

I am grateful. I am grateful to finally feel acclimated in my classroom. I am grateful for my mom and how she is feisty and strong, and doing very well. I am grateful for my siblings and how we get along. I am grateful for my family, for my own kids and how they are finding their way in the world. I am grateful for my partner, Rick, and how we found each other again. Yes, I am grateful.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Oh The Places We'll Go...

I'm working on a new story, a middle-grade novel with the working title, Fairy Girl. I won't divulge too much about the specifics because I find that slows the momentum. I wake early to write, before I get ready to start my day as a 3rd grade teacher, and leap into words. I am often surprised by my characters and where they take me. Almost every day, they reveal more about their personalities and motivations. They amaze me with their insight and their reactions to what's going on around them. I have a basic understanding of my story and where I want it to go. Sometimes, however, my characters have different ideas about that. They often take me for wild rides and I hang on to see where they will lead. I'm sure most writers agree that this is one of the best rides they will ever take. I love to be surprised and to go with the words. It's an amazing experience.

Okay, I'll divulge one thing about my main character's best friend that I didn't know. Lilah can be bossy and gets bored easily. She revealed this about herself just the other morning when she was interacting with Gracie, my protagonist. This is the not-so-nice part of her personality, but then again, we all have not-so-nice parts. That's what makes us human. And that's what makes our characters three-dimensional and realistic. Hopefully it's what makes them jump off the page.

Hold on tight and be amazed! Oh the places we'll go...

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Wonders of Honey

This past weekend, the local county fair was held here in Foster, RI. It's called Old Home Days, and it's for young and old alike, and always held on the last weekend in July. Every year I make a point to stop at the honey booth and buy local honey. This year was no exception. I sampled different varieties using mini plastic spoons, and decided upon the darkest which the gentleman behind the table told me was his least favorite because it tasted like the "M" word. Huh? Oh, it tasted like molasses. Now I thought that was a good thing and decided it was my favorite. Anyway, there are many different types and flavors but all tasty and good for you.

When growing up, I remember my mom and dad drinking a concoction of honey, apple cider vinegar and warm water. Mom made it for the two of them to sip during the day. It was good for them, she told me, as she had seen it in Prevention Magazine. I've learned in the years since that honey has many medicinal qualities including a remedy for arthritis. I love honey in my coffee, in my tea, and on my toast. When I have a sore throat, I eat spoonfuls. When I need a pick me up, I eat a spoonful, or when I just need a sweet fix. It's the one food that never spoils.

I read the book, Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Palacco, to my students at the beginning of the school year. It's a story of how a young girl can't read until her 5th grade teacher takes the time to teach her. This story is about Patricia herself as a young girl. I love how the students come to understand that this girl who once couldn't read now writes and illustrates beautiful books for children. This is my favorite line from the story: "...Honey is sweet, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee who made the honey, it has to be chased through the pages of a book."

Ah...the wonders of honey.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Power of Words

Summer is here, and while I love the summer with no set schedules, reading books by the hour, jaunting to the beach, and the warm, sultry air, I am still thinking about the last few weeks of school, and the students I will miss next year. Teaching 5th grade is unique in that you don't get to see your former students grow and mature the following school year. They are off at a new school with new teachers, new classes, and new adventures. And it never fails, that with the new school year I inevitably miss my former students. At least for awhile, until I get to know and fall in love with my new students. I'm sure this coming year will be no different.

As you probably know by now, I love teaching writing to my students. We usually write first thing in the morning, and if the stars are in our favor, and there are no interruptions, and the kids are enjoying it, we may keep going for a full 45 minutes to an hour. Shhhhh...don't tell. Most of my kids love this part of our day.

This year, Ellie wasn't easily impressed or motivated to write. It was a struggle and she told me so. I worked with her and then let her fly (discovering at some point, that there was lots of pressure from the home front to succeed), and hoped she would find some joy in writing. She progressed immensely throughout the year and it was my hope that she was enjoying it, but I was never quite sure she ever did. But during the last week of school, we spent an hour in the courtyard (a beautiful outdoor space filled with flowers and benches in the center of our little country school) for popcorn poetry. This is a time where we eat popcorn and write poetry. The kids love it! It's a time to talk, share, eat, and marvel at the surroundings. It's a time for writing what we hear, see, touch, and are feeling.

The kids shared pieces of the poems they were working on, and some boys even wrote song lyrics. I was sitting near Ellie and we were talking about writing and I shared with her some things about writing that my mom had shared with me years before. How there are thousands of words to choose from and countless ways to arrange them, and it's how you string them together that makes up stories and poetry. Well, the last day of school, she handed me a gift (hummingbird earrings because I had told her I loved them), and a handmade card with a poem. Here is the poem:

by: Ellie

Poems, essays, stories
All put together by
Writing is lovely language

About a week before this, a student from the previous year came to see me. After giving me a hug, she handed me a piece of paper and told me it was a poem she had written and dedicated to me.

by: Emily

It cools me in the summer heat
The shade is pretty hard to beat
Unless the searing heat
Evaporates the trees
Or burns them down
The trees will always be around

The shade will always serve
As a place
To cool your face
When the going gets tough
We calm down
And look around
At all that we can see

The seas of trees
The hard and smooth pond
The fleets of flowers
Are all encompassed by one thing
The shade

I dedicate this poem to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Murphy. She always helped me when I needed
inspiration to write. Because of her, I will be a writer and a teacher just like her when I get older. Mrs. Murphy is the whole reason I love to write today. She can turn anything into a lovely written piece so I will work hard until I can as well. Thank you, Mrs. Murphy for opening my eyes to the wonders of writing. I will always remember you.

Both of these poems touch me beyond words and reinforce the pleasure and power of teaching.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Final Revisions...I think.

I'm at a point in my story where I think I'm almost done but I continue to read and edit, and edit some more. When do you make the final revisions and consider it complete? How many times do you write the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, and decide it's going to hook the reader and make them want to read every last word? I want my manuscript to be ready. To shine. To sparkle. To move young readers. I can't help but wonder if I'm almost there. Here's the first line from Melody's Song: The smell from the flowers in the living room nearly gags me and makes me wonder why people send them when someone dies. Does it compel you to want to read more?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Slave Diaries...

I teach my 5th graders American History and this year my focus has been slavery during the Revolutionary War period. I read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson to give the students a perspective on the life of a slave girl and boy and background details of life in New York City during the unrest and upheaval in 1776. One of the assignments I gave was to write a diary entry as a slave child. I asked them to write about their chores, their slave masters, and include a metaphor for how they felt about being a slave. What my students wrote were both surprising and beautiful. It is some of their best writing I've seen this year.

Here are some pieces of the slave diaries of my 5th graders:

"When I think of my family I am as sad as the rain when it cries. I am a stump, a broken down train, a torn book, and a fever. I miss my family. I want to go home. How much longer do I have to live in New York City, this place smelling of smoke, the noise, not home?"

"Although I am only 11 years old, they work me as hard as an oxen going through the whistling winds. When I am with them, they treat me like I am the ugly duckling that needs to be slaughtered."

"When I am sad about my parents my eyes are like a rain cloud."

"My name is Casey, a slave in New York, and I have been literally ripped out of the arms of my parents and sold to a nasty owner named Beth. She makes me feel like a sole on a shoe, always being stepped on and scraped with no emotions coming from the person above holding me down, totally careless."

"I feel like a rock. If people want to hit a rock they hit a rock if people want to sell a rock they sell a rock. People treat me like I have no feelings. I hate being a slave. My mistress wants me to go fast but I can't go fast. I'm sad."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Smith Family Writers

It's fun to come from a family of writers. We share our work and we listen to each other. We talk about what we're working on, what we should be working on, and what we hope to be working on. Writing is hard work, no matter the genre. My siblings and parents and I all write in different genres but we all share a love for language. Writing is challenging and rewarding and compelling. I write for children (middle grade), my older sister, Robin, is a poet and also writes for teens, my younger sister, Cindy, writes romance suspense and mysteries, my brother, Dell, writes adult fiction, my mom has written magazine stories and romance novels, my dad wrote poems, humorous stories, journals, and cartoons. I think growing up around books and writing greatly influenced us kids. Can you tell? We call ourselves the Smith Family Writers and often send each other articles of interest. We give each other books for Christmas and birthdays. If not, gift cards to buy them.

We've always talked about who would be the first to publish a book. And now we know. Robin has had a book of poetry accepted by WordTech Communications LLC, Word Press imprint. It will be making its debut in December 2013. Go, Robin! You will be sure that we will have a huge launch party to celebrate her writing and her new book, Dream of the Antique Dealer's Daughter.