Book Review: The Poet X

Voice is what surfaces with absolute clarity in Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a powerful narrative poem structure of a young woman pushing against the cultural barriers of her first-generation Dominican family in order to find herself. Xiamara Batista, or X, the main character through which the book/poem flows, is a cauldron of confusion, at times defiant; at times, fragile.

Where X finds herself is in her poetry, words as a source of expression. And slam poetry — the art of performing your poems to the world — is also where she loses herself.

When X’s mother, whose strict and confining cultural expectations of her daughter become an increasing source of tension and anguish, finds her daughter’s poems, in which X writes of a budding romance, she destroys her daughter’s book of poetry. X is distraught and angry, until she realizes her poems are in still in her head and in her heart.

The Poet X is a reminder that stories and poems flow through us all. And that these can become the threads of how we linger on our family, the past and the future. You won’t soon forget Xiamara Batista after reading this novel in verse.

Her words will linger.


I would say that this book is perfect for high school students, particularly those who don’t often see their own lives reflected in the books of our classrooms, but it may be a bit edgy for some middle school readers. There’s a real-life tension here, although nothing that would preclude this from being a potential classroom book. You might want to read it first. Well, of course, you should read it anyway.

Peace (in poems),


Comics As MultiMedia Literacy Doorways

Thanks to my friend, Lauren Z., I took a dive into this piece by Gene Luen Yang (back when he was still in the high school classroom and not writing cool award-winning graphic novels and ambassador of young people’s fiction and all that) about the power of comics and graphic novels in the classroom.

Take a look at the piece in Language Arts journal from NCTE from back in 2008 (his points are still valid today)

Thanks, Laura!

And I saw this, too, as I started looking around Yang’s website. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is a mere 15 minute drive from me, and they are going to be doing a Graphic Novel showcase in February, featuring Yang and others. I am so there!

And further rabbit-holing led me to this collection, which I just ordered through our library because the collection of stories about race and culture seems interesting. Yang is a contributor.

Peace (in frames),

Fifteen Years of Adding Words to the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

Invented Words of 2019Since 2005, I have had sixth graders in my classroom inventing and creating new words as part of our Word Origin unit. That’s 15 years of making words. Which is pretty cool. And even cooler, I think, is that each year, every student contributes a new word the online Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, which now boasts about 1,000 invented words.

In recent years, I’ve added a podcast element, so every student contributor’s voice is now embedded as part of the dictionary, a time capsule of sound. Even cooler. I’ve written before, too, about the element of “collaboration across time” here, with siblings working with siblings, but years later — sometimes, many many years later. Of all, this is the most interesting.

The dictionary has had a few homes over the years, from wikis that are no longer around, to a Google Doc one year, and now it is part of our class weblog site, The Electronic Pencil.

Visit the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

The above word cloud image is most of this year’s new word collection (a few stragglers didn’t make it to the image). Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s addition of about 75 new words (every student invents three new words but only “donates” one of their words to this project).

Visit just this year’s words


Peace (in any name available),

Who Knows What the Future Holds?

This is oddly intriguing and a bit unsettling. The video, shared in Networked Narratives, shows kids in 1966 chatting about what they envision as the future. So much of it was about Nuclear War, overpopulation, and the end of the world, and it’s sad to think how much was on the minds of these kids.

Another article had drawings of ideas of kids imagining the future, taken from 1961. An artist rendered their ideas as illustrations. Here, mainframe computers were already “serving” us (sort of like the aliens in Twilight Zone).

What about today? I teach young students, and when we have discussions these days about what’s ahead, mostly they seem optimistic, and expect that technology will be able to fix and solve most problems. They are often startled when we do a unit on technology and talk about data, privacy and more. The one significant concern many have? Climate Change. Although, they are less worried for themselves, and seem more worried about animals and ecosystems.

I was also reminded of this picture book — 2030: A Day in the Life of Tomorrow’s Kids — which is more optimistic and fun, following a kid through a day of talking dogs and virtual classrooms, and conveniently ignores most of the social and dehumanizing ramifications of technology.

Which brings us to .. Timbuk 3 … get some shades!


Peace (today and tomorrow),



A Write Out Write Up

Write Out Springfield Armory Map Photo Icon(Experience the immigration map created during Write Out)

The Educator Innovator website did a nice overview article recently about this past summer’s Write Out project, focusing on a few folks and giving an overview. I was one of the team of facilitators, and enjoyed the intersections of the outdoors, the historic, and writing/making/sharing/learning.

Read the article at Educator Innovator about Write Out.

#Writeout was a two-week professional development program, sponsored by the National Writing Project through a partnership with the National Park Service. The program connected educators and park rangers with place-based learning opportunities in July 2018. A team of educators from both organizations—educators who have themselves been working on collaborations in their local communities between Writing Project sites and national park sites—designed #WriteOut. Their goal was to help educators make connections between learning, writing/making, and local outdoor and historic public spaces. — Educator Innovator


Peace (in the woods and urban spaces),

Time Magazine: Data, Privacy, Politics and the Mess We Are In

I don’t know if others get Time magazine (do people still get magazines?) but I get a free copy because I use the Time for Kids version with my students. Last week’s issue still resonates with me, particularly as Networked Narratives opens with a theme of critical lens on technology and society.

The cover story is by Roger McNamee, who was an early investor in Facebook and whose presence during the early years helped shape what Facebook was to become. He says he was often in the room with Zuckberg during the formative years, and he is still an investor and shareholder of Facebook.

In his very critical piece that pulls few punches, McNamee chastises in a very public way both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg for losing their way, for abusing their power with the social media platform, for ignoring their privileged position to enact change, and for being so driven by profit and algorithms that users’ trust and data have been abused, used, sold and discarded with little consideration of the human impact on society.

He also lays out some major topics and areas of concern where Facebook may be a threat to a civil and civic society:

  • Democracy (see, election interference)
  • Privacy (see, data surveillance of every click and view and share by Facebook)
  • Data (see, sale of data to third-party vendors)
  • Regulation (see, not any to speak of)
  • Humanization (see, or lack thereof)
  • Addiction (see, the world around you)
  • Children (see, bullying and alarm bells about the brain)

McNamee is blunt and to the point, calling Facebook to the carpet for losing its way (Me: I don’t think they ever had a way forward with true public benefit, despite the storytelling the company does, and I have never bought Zuckerberg’s platitudes about connecting the world to make it a better place. All signs point to profit, right from the start.)

Whether McNamee’s piece (which is adapted from a book he has coming out) makes a difference is unknown. He is still an investor and an insider, so maybe his influence will influence others, and that will influence Zuckerberg and Sandberg. I suspect not.

Other pieces in this edition of Time are also interesting, from Tim Cook calling for more regulation over data privacy to Filipino journalist/activitist Maria Ressa explaining how Facebook allowed others to attack her and her alternative news organization to Eli Pariser calling for restoring a sense of dignity in the technology world through better design.

Peace (with kindness),

Book Review: The Art of Screen Time

Journalist and mom Anya Kamanetz approaches screens and family with a balanced eye in her book — The Art of Screen Time (How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media & Real Life) — and for that, I want to show appreciation. She doesn’t shy away from the troubling aspects of too much screen time for kids and parents. Nor does she ignore the positive possibilities.

Instead, she gives a nuanced look at research and findings around the impact of screens on kids, and the role of parents in the age of the digital entertainment world, and reminds us that all we can do is our best.

She borrows and remixes Michael Pollan’s phrase about food, with a technological twist: “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly with others.” I think that is good advice, even as I both see the benefits as a teacher and father, and worry about the impact of digital devices on developing brains, including my own children.

I appreciated her findings from surveying other parents about how they approach limiting screen time (something my wife and I grapple with at home with our youngest, a teenaged son) and how our difficulties are not isolated. It seems like many of us as parents are finding this a difficult world to navigate. How much screen time is too much screen time? What are the lasting effects of decisions we are making now? How can we find more balance for us and our kids?

Kamanetz looks not just at how kids use technology, but also how parents are becoming the role models for kids, and not always in good and positive ways. She explores the mommy-blogging world (something I sort of know about but not really, and I am both disheartened to see it commercialized and heartened to see there are places where good advice and caring communities exist).

The most important piece of advice — the one huge researched take-away for all parents that sticks with me — is to protect the sleep patterns of your children. No devices and no screens in bedrooms, and turn off screens an hour before bedtime. The sanctity of sleep is key to the development of a growing brain and emotional self.

In a nod to the world she is writing about, where time seems slippery and tl/dr (too long, didn’t read) is a cultural shortcut, Kamanetz even has a final chapter in which she summarizes her book into a five-minute read (sort of like a bulleted cliff notes version). You could read that, of course, but I suggest reading the entire book, and thinking about technology, our kids, ourselves and the world in a critical and constructive way. It is worth it.

Peace (on this screen and beyond),

More Seeds Planted with Zeega

Seeds in Zeega

I worked my way back into the version of Zeega that Terry hosts (and which web browsers don’t like and call unsafe but it is fine, just so you know). Zeega allows you to layer images and gifs over music, so I took the soundtrack to a project I worked on as a remix — Four Seeds Seeking Roots — and added layers of images to it.

This is just another way of “seeing” the work through making media along a theme.

This is the direct link (and your browser may ask you to approve access). Also, you might need to unmute the audio — this is done in the bottom right corner of the page. And sometimes, the embed doesn’t play nice with browsers, either, because of iframe scripts (I guess).

Peace (along the ground),

Book Review: How to Write An Autobiographical Novel


I’ve heard Alexander Chee’s name before but had not read anything by him, and then his latest book — How To Write An Autobiographical Novel – starting showing up in the places where I read about books.  I’m glad I discovered it, and him, for his writing is lyrical at times, and powerfully moving. In this collection of essays, connected by the larger theme of exploring one’s life through fiction, Chee tumbles into the terrain of writing.

I won’t recount his difficult, yet interesting, life, but themes of race and cultural identity, gender politics, sexual orientation, literary mentorship, and ways of looking at your world through a lens of words all come to the surface in interesting ways.

Even with the title, I didn’t quite realize what Chee was up to until I finished the book, and thought deeply, later, about how his pieces fit together as advice for a writer grappling with identity and stories, and how to tell those stories (and the price you pay for using your own stories to write fiction). He also has some beautifully written sentences and passages. Even if he hadn’t noted that Annie Dillard was one of his professors, you would catch some of her style in his style (not a bad thing), although his focus of topic is very different from hers.

I’d recommend this book for those seeking to explore what it means to be a writer, but this book is probably more for adults than students below the university level.

Peace (between pages),