A Must-Read Book: Hugo Cabret

I just finished up a book that I have to share with anyone who is interested in the merging worlds of novels, graphic novels, photographs and tangled (but resolved) plot lines. The book is called The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

I won’t give the story away, but it involves a young boy in Paris with a passion for clocks and mechanical objects, an automaton that can do something wonderful, a passion for the power of movies in our lives, and how fragile but powerful the connections are between people.

Here is a blurb from the introduction, just to set the stage:

“…before you turn the page, I want you to picture yourself sitting in darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming towards a train station in the middle of the city. You will rush through the doors into a crowded lobby. You will eventually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he’s waiting for his story to begin.”

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I heard about the book from somewhere in my Bloglines aggregator and ordered it from Amazon (here is the link to order), thinking it would be a slim graphic novel. So I was quite surprised to find one of the fattest books I’ve seen in some time (500-plus pages) but is a combination of various genres and I read the entire thing in two days.

Now I wish I could order a class set for my students, but we don’t have the budget for that. Sigh. And, man, I just checked out the author’s flash site — very cool.
Peace (with gears fitting together like the reels of a film),

Hello Windy City

On Friday, I am off to Chicago for a Monograph Book Project with the National Writing Project. My colleagues, Bruce P. and Susan B., and I have been writing the story of what happened to our Western Massachusetts Writing Project when three seismic events took place:

  • We lost all of our state funding for supporting writing teachers in our region
  • One of our founders and guiding forces died suddenly and unexpectedly
  • Another founding member and longtime director announced that he would be retiring

This was all before my time at WMWP, so it has been quite a narrative journey for me to discover the history of our site. In Chicago, we will be meeting with editors and other writers from other writing projects to discuss our progress and how things are going.

Essentially, our book is built around these ideas:

Þ The creation of an inservice coordinator position to spearhead our efforts to reach into more schools by tapping into the expanding knowledge base of our teacher consultants.

Þ The addition of a technology liaison who not only helped move us forward into technology in new ways but also became part of the leadership team that allowed our site to view what we were doing, and how we could improve, through a different spectrum.

Þ A model of mentoring in which veteran leaders of site-based programs would ask for newer, less-experienced teacher consultants to become co-leaders and this not only gave us flexibility in times of unexpected crisis, but also expanded the number of leadership positions at our site.

Þ Writing out explicit job descriptions for leadership posts, from co-director to technology liaison, as a way of not only explaining the roles and responsibilities of the position, but also leaving a paper trail for the future.

Þ The recasting of our entire leadership structure to feature rotating co-director slots with three-year term limits and the launch of a task force structure that allowed more teacher consultants to get involved in the decision-making process of our site than had happened previously.

Þ Increased efforts to create partnerships with organizations outside of our traditional circle of friends that allowed us to expand our visibility and reach in a wider geographic and demographic area. These partnerships included Westfield State College, the Wisteriahurst Museum in Holyoke and the Springfield Republican newspaper.

Peace (with reflection),


Comic Book Creator

I bought my middle son the Comic Book Creator (Marvel-edition) software package for his seventh birthday and when he wasn’t have some fun with it, I was:


Peace (in a fantastical world),


The Quidditch Poetry Podcasts

This time of year is Quidditch Season at our school. About eight years ago, a student worked with the gym teacher to devise a version of the Harry Potter magical game for our sixth graders to play. There are about five different things going on the field at the same time and the sixth graders spend an entire day (this coming Wednesday) playing the other sixth grade classes in a Quidditch Tournament that lasts the entire school day. (My classroom’s team name this year is ARCTIC FROST)

(click on the illustration of the Quidditch field to go to Flickr and learn more about the game)

This week, I had them write poems celebrating the game or their team or some aspect of the game, and we had volunteers read their poems for a podcast.


Peace (on broomsticks, with quaffles, bludgers and snitches),
Coach Kevin




Teachers Teaching Teachers: TechStories

On Wednesday night, I guest-hosted Teachers Teaching Teachers on the topic of technology and storytelling. It was a bit nerve-wracking (not knowing how things were going to go and how to get everyone on) but exciting and informative and all of that good stuff.

You can listen to the show as a podcast now and check out the chat room discussion.

Among the topics:

  • What IS digital storytelling and is that even the correct term?
  • Are our notions of DS constricted by the genre of personal narrative?
  • How does the interactive Web 2.0 play into what we envision for future storytelling?
  • What is the ABC project all about?
  • What role does privacy of the storyteller (young person) play in the publishing aspect of the work?
  • And more.

Listen to the podcast

Read the Chat Room transcripts

Thanks again to Paul and Susan for inviting me to sit in. They are wonderful hosts of that weekly show.

Peace (with a story),

Media Literacy Wiki

As part of a book project that I am helping to edit around how composition is changing in the classroom, a colleague passed along a new resource book called Teachingmedialiteracy.com by Richard Beach. I haven’t yet had a chance to really check it out but, being digital, I did check out his website, weblog and wiki.


I like the Wiki best of all. Beach has his students 9college, I think) contributing to the collective knowledge in such areas as:

The sites within the Wiki are well thought out, instructive and reflective, and provide a myriad of resources. This Wiki is a great site for anyone venturing into the thicket of what media literacy is all about these days and the voices of students come through with the power of the collective Wiki.

Peace (with no deceptive advertising),

The Skittle/Blog Experiment

As part of a larger weblog project called Making Connections through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a colleague and I at my school are working with three other regional middle school classes to conduct an science experiment (Question: Which skittle will melt quicker — sour or sweet?), share data through a weblog, post a scientific abstract and then, later (and not related to Skittles), post a creative scientific journey story.

As you can imagine, there have been complications along the way. We are using Survey Monkey to collect data, and, well, one day, the settings on the survey collection were not quite right and so after all of our students put their data in, we had to wipe everything clean and start again (my fault).

But here are a few photos we are sharing that show the distribution of colors of Skittles with our students:


Peace (with sweet and sour),


Poets in the Age of the Samurai

I am reading aloud a new book to my older boys. It is the newest edition of the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. They are getting a bit old for the series but they still enjoy hearing them and I am going to hold on to that experience as long as I can. Anyway, in this particular book, the main characters — Jack and Annie — are back in the time of Ancient Japan, and they have met an older man who is respected by everyone he meets and they think he is a great warrior. What they find out is that he is a great poet and that writers were respected by warriors at a level not quite seen these days.

“Yes, the samurai greatly honor the art of poetry,” said Basho. “Poetry helps focus the mind. The samurai believe a truly brave warrior should be able to compose a poem even in the midst of an earthquake, or while facing an enemy on the battlefield.” — (p.61)

Thanksgiving on Thursday

Peace (without the battlefield),

OnPoEvMo: Beyond the Cloth of Broken Glass April 2007

The past few weeks, this poem has bubbled up slowly. It was no doubt inspired by the rediscovery of my writing notebook from my Summer Institute with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The words drew me back to that magical summer of writing, teaching and connecting with this network of people and friends.


Beyond the Cloth of Broken Glass

April 2007

Listen to the poem

I came upon myself today
and I was trapped inside the page
of an ratty old notebook that had been sitting there
for ages and ages
and I reflected on the hours — oh, those glorious hours —
in which I had been the writer, and nothing more,
just a pure scribbler armed with paper, pen, a locked door and an open mind.

And so, I removed all of my clothes
and danced naked among ruins of the long-forgotten poetry
of rhythm and rhyme that had been long lost to time’s fickle ways.
I squeezed in among the half-finished chords littered with abandoned notes
just yearning for a special place somewhere farther up the staff
but now rendered immobile with forgetfulness.
I inched forward onto the stage, into the plays, an actor composed of thoughts,
and inhabited the characters who moved inside my singular spotlight of mind,
and then vanished behind the curtain call of the closed notebook cover.

It was then that I found the letter,
the note that I wrote on a day when I had nothing better to do
but muse upon the future, the “me” that now reads the “me,”
and I uncorked this bottle
and sank down into the words that I created for only my eyes to see:

Write with your heart, search with your soul,
hold tight to the love,
so that you don’t fall back into the weariness
and uncertainty that seems to shove up against you at every turn,
and, for God’s sake,
don’t wrap yourself up again in that cloth of broken glass —
the shards will surely cut anyone
who comes in close and you — me, we — we may not last
if you have to go it alone in this world.

Bits of glass stung my tongue as the memory crawled back
and I remembered, finally, what this was,
this pad of paper filled with words from some other time
that had been squirreled away.
It had been a lifeline holding me together
when everything else was coming undone
and I feared the loosening of the threads above all else.

I closed the past and tucked it back where it belonged
and let the words of that letter settle in and live with me again as a friend
as I pulled up my blanket of silk and cotton threads and connectiveness and comfort
and silently slipped into a safe sleep.

Peace (in poetry),

Guest Host for TTT

So this is what I get for suggesting a topic to Paul Allison for the wonderful Teachers Teaching Teachers show — he asks me to guest host this Wednesday night (9 p.m. Eastern time) on the topic of how we can integrate the Web 2.0 technology with storytelling. I am, of course, honored and excited to be asked to sit in the Big Chair and I want to invite you all to join me.

Here is my blurb:

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Using Technology to Tell Stories

The concept of digital storytelling has been around for some time as people began to envision the impact that the visual and aural elements could have on the traditional writing process. Video documentaries, radio reflections and other experiments have blossomed with the Web 2.0 world. There are many publishing sources and many means of expression. But what does it all mean? How can the interactive web be tapped into to bring storytelling and composition to an even deeper level of meaning for the writer and for the audience?

Join guest host Kevin Hodgson, who is the technology liaison of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, this week on Teachers Teaching Teachers as he seeks to explore some of these questions. Kevin is a sixth grade teacher who has students create digital picture books (last year’s theme — math, and this year’s theme — science) and stop-motion claymation projects (in which his sixth graders collaborate with second graders). He has been exploring the intersection of the world of digital storytelling and the Web 2.0 frontier in recent months with NWP Colleague Bonnie Kaplan through a community Weblog and a new collaborative ABC movie project that features more than a dozen teachers throughout the country who are contributing video segments to a larger collaborative project that uses online tools to plan, produce and distribute a digital story.

The program will try to showcase some different aspects of storytelling and technology, brainstorm some ways that people can get started, and consider what the future holds for telling stories in a digital environment.

Our guests will include Tonya Witherspoon, who has run a claymation movie camp for kids; Gail Desler, who is part of the ABC Movie Project and a deep thinker on the pedagogy underlying the use of technology in the classroom; and others.

Please join us for the conversation this Wednesday evening on EdTechTalk.com (6pm PDT / 9pm EDT / 1am GMT (global times).

Some Resource Links

Kevin and Bonnie’s Using Technology to Tell Stories Weblog (http://techstories.edublogs.org/)
More information about the ABC Movie Project (http://techstories.edublogs.org/category/abc-movie-project/)
Tonya’s Claymation Camp Site
Kevin’s Weblog (https://dogtrax.edublogs.org/)
Bonnie’s Weblog (http://blk1.edublogs.org/)
Gail’s Weblog (http://blogwalker.edublogs.org/)
Tonya’s Weblog (http://essdack.org/spoonfed/index.html)
Kevin’s Storytelling Site (http://www.umass.edu/wmwp/DigitalStorytelling/Digital%20Storytelling%20Main%20Page.htm)
Tonya’s Delicious links for Digital Storytelling (http://del.icio.us/tonya.witherspoon/digitalstorytelling)

I hope to hear you then.

Peace (with podcasts and people),