Saturday, May 16, 2015

Summer Kickoff: Notes from Amy LV & Kimberley Moran

Dear Readers of Sharing Our Notebooks,

So many summer welcomes to second grade teacher Kimberley Moran from iWrite in Maine.  I am excited to share that Kimberly wrote to early in May and suggested a Summer Edition of Sharing Our Notebooks. She was kind enough to kick off the fun, and there are now already almost seventy great ideas.

Would you please consider adding to this collection?  To do so, simply photograph a notebook page - written or drawn by any age child or adult (parent permission required for student notebooks) and write a brief (no more than one paragraph) Try This! of how a writer/artist might try this on his or her own.

Simply e-mail me with your notebooking idea at  All are welcome - children (parent permission), teenagers (parent permission please), teachers, authors, all.  

You need not be a teacher or writer...but simply remember that Sharing Our Notebooks has a youth audience, so please keep it clean and healthy.  If you have already posted here, I would love to have you again!  If you would rather e-mail your paragraph and photograph/scan to me, you can find my contact information here.  I have created a new page for all Try This! ideas, this page will continue to grow here.

It has been a joy to host this project so far, and I hope that it will inspire many writers.  Please help yourself to the bookmarks on the sidebar - they might come in handy for students' summer notebooks.  Thank you, Kimberley, and welcome, all!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Host at Sharing Our Notebooks

And now, kicking off our Summer Edition...welcome to Kimberley Moran!


After making myself a cup of coffee, I grab for my favorite blanket and head to the screened in porch with my current book and my writing notebook.  It's spring, and this ritual is as familiar to me as climbing out of bed in the morning.  When I was seven, I would have been drinking fresh squeezed orange juice, and the porch would have been our sunroom, but the book and writing notebook would have been in hand just they are today.

When I got my summer reading list each year, I was thrilled.  My mother would buy me every book I wanted on that list.  There was so much choice allowed in what I read, but I usually read 75% of the list.  I loved all kinds of books, so there was no forcing necessary.  I think the most wonderful part about my summer reading was that there was no required list making or reading response requirements.  I was just supposed to read...and read I did.

Very soon after my second grade year, I discovered journals.  I found an old blue batik journal in a special store in the town where we spent our summers. I had always identified with characters I read about, but with a journal I began thinking about my reading and my summer world of independence in a way I never had before.

When I read the ALL-OF-A-KIND-FAMILY series, I tested myself by writing all of the children's names in my writing notebook.  I never thought about my writing as educational, I never judged what I wrote, I just wrote about whatever I wanted.  These journals show how books transformed me each summer.

Every year as a teacher I get asked what kids should do over the summer to avoid the summer slide.  I always tell them to read.  Read all summer.  It's the easiest and best way I know.  Recently I started thinking about how to give a more complete answer because I never JUST read. I experienced what I read and wrote about that in my notebook.  We each experience reading in our own ways.  So shouldn't we all have the opportunity to process and save how we think about our reading and our summer lives?

Enter Sharing Our Notebooks: Summer Edition.  Here is one way you can write in your summer journal, and we hope you'll come back for ideas from other teachers, readers, writers, adults, children, and friends.

You can find the home for this just-stated list of Try This! exercises for summer notebooking here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Olga McLaren: Grandmother Journals

I taught young children for forty plus years.  Early on, I was influenced by Jean Piaget and came to believe that children learn best when all senses are involved in the process.  Therefore, writing and reading instruction went hand in hand in my classes.  I journaled, and my students kept journals.  I never used lined paper, and I encouraged invented spelling to develop fluency.

Personally, I keep many kinds of journals: personal journals, travel journals, garden journals, journals of gardens we visit, and journals of books I have read.  Before I retired, I kept professional journals.

In 2000, when our first grandchild was born I began a journal for him, and in 2003, one for his new brother. My goal was to bring us closer together by my observation of their lives, and to hope that in the future they would have a perspective of their lives before their memories began.

Two Pages from Duncan's Journal

Close up of the Great Great Grandparents' Cabin 
Built Circa 1900 in Natchitoches Parish, LA

Duncan's Journal - Close Up

I determined early to be honest.  The books are a narrative, embellished with photos and other materials related to events in their lives.

Duncan's Journal

I write when the mood strikes me.  The kind of book you use matters little. I started with one 6” X 8” hard coverbook  for stability.  I use rubber cement to glue in the pictures and materials, and I’m now on a second volume for each.

Lorn's Journal

Lorn's Journal

I plan for Lorn and Duncan to have these journals when I die.  I do show them the journals occasionally, but they show little interest.  The journals are a chronicle of their lives from the viewpoint of a loving grandmother and very different from what their parents would make.

Olga Christopher McLaren, 77, taught in both public and private schools for 42 years.  Some of her students are professional writers on the East and West Coast. She stays in touch with many of them.  She’s been married to Theron for 57  years.  She is the proud mother of Christopher and grandmother of his two sons. The Olga C. McLaren Poetry Endowment was established when she retired in 2002.  So far 12 poets, including Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, have visited St. John’s School in Houston Texas as a result of this program. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Winners of MY QUICK WRITES Announcement!

Alex McCarron and Ben Wilkinson have each won copies of MY QUICK WRITES by Penny Kittle and Donald Graves!

Winners - please just send me your snail mail address, and I will send your book. Thank you again to Penny Kittle for her great post and thank you to Heinemann for the books!

Readers - if you or one of your students or friends keeps a notebook and would like to share in this space, please send an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com.  I welcome your contributions and will send you the post specs for this blog.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Penny Kittle: My Writing Notebook is Always With Me

Hello Writers,

I spent an hour in my chair by the window this morning working in my writer's notebook. It is a regular routine of mine, and it helps me work out lots of thinking so that I can write better. In the bookshelves behind the desk in my office are stacks of notebooks from the past. You can see them next to my guitar in this photograph. You can also see how my notebooks have changed over time. I used to always use a spiral bound notebook (bottom shelf) and now I almost always have a black cover, lined-paper-inside notebook. One notebook lasts about 3-4 months, so there are even older notebooks in other places in my house. I remember writing in one of them as a 12-year-old--when I wrote mostly about boys and basketball.

I also care about what I write with. I used to buy fancy pens--mostly cartridge pens--to write with. Here are the ones that I found in my desk this morning:

but now I use felt tip pens like the one on the bottom right of this picture because ink cartridges have been a problem on airplanes and I travel a lot. (Sometimes the air pressure makes ink cartridges leak all over me and once the security people took them out of my luggage because they said they looked dangerous.) I always travel with a small pack of pens and colored pencils so I can work anywhere.

Here is something I was working on recently. It's a map of my neighborhood where I grew up in Portland, Oregon. My high school students are writing practice responses to college admissions essay questions and one question asks about a favorite place. I drew mine and they worked on theirs and then we all chose one place on our map to write about. From this map you're looking at I wrote the story of riding my bike to play tennis every morning with my friends. But there are lots of stories on this map! Every time I draw one with students I find more stories to tell. Try this.

You could play with the voice of who tells the story... what would your dog say? How would your best friend tell the story of your bike-riding adventure? Notebooks are the perfect place to try things out as a writer.

I created a video to tell my high school students about some of the things they might write about in their notebooks. It is here:

My writing notebook is always with me. It holds the lists of books I've been reading and the thinking I am doing as I read. My notebook has photographs and concert tickets and sketches I draw of things and people I love. My notebooks is filled with the words of writers I admire. It is a place to practice my thinking and to tell the stories of my life. Every one of my books has been written mostly in a notebook first. It's where I grow into the best writing I can do.

Happy writing,
Penny Kittle

Penny Kittle teaches high school English and is a K-12 literacy coach in North Conway, NH. She is the author of five books, including Book Love and Write Beside Them. Penny speaks throughout the U.S. and internationally on empowering all students to love reading and writing and to embrace independent thinking through workshop teaching., @pennykittle

Penny and Heinemann have generously offered copies of MY QUICK WRITES, Penny's book with Donald Graves, for two commenters on this post.  Please leave a comment by Monday, November 24 to be entered into this drawing.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Congratulations to Kristie Miner!  You have won the book and notebook from  The Western New York Writer's Studio!  Please send me your snail mail address, and I will pass it along to Angela.  Thank you again, writers and Angela and commenters too, for making this such a delightful post.  xo, Amy

We are so grateful to Amy for inviting us to share our thinking about our notebooks on her blog today! We're all writers from the WNY Young Writer's Studio, and our notebooks help us gather our ideas, tinker with our drafts, hold on to important strategies, and reflect on what we do. It's exciting to meet other people who love notebooks as much as we do in this space. We hope you enjoy your peek into ours!



Erin with her Notebook

Hi! I’m Erin. I love to use my notebook to brainstorm new ideas. I am inspired by nature, and I love to draw too. This is where most of my ideas come from. The picture below shows you the beginning of a poem I am starting to write. It isn’t in lines yet, because the ideas are just coming to me. I thought of it by looking out the window at the trees while I was at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. This is how many ideas come to me—by looking outside. Stop and look outside right now. What could you write about?

Beginning of a Poem

I also love to draw, and this is how many of my stories begin. In the picture below, I am drawing my characters from my story. During a conference, I used the picture to begin describing the story out loud, and those who were listening said that it seemed like my character would be experiencing a problem soon.

Character Drawings

Drawing makes my characters and my story feel real. I use my drawings to talk about my characters with other people. Talking helps me come up with new ideas or details. Rather than writing your story, draw it. Then, talk about it with someone. Think about how drawing and then talking about your drawings makes your ideas better.

Erin Day is a 10 year old artist and writer at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. Last spring, she published her first short story. It was about a tragedy that befell a granny smith apple. She sketched the story first and then talked it through with several others before adding words.



Peter with his Notebook

Hello. I am Peter, and this is my notebook. I use it to plan my stories. It has room for me to draw pictures. This is how I like to write because I am six, and sometimes, the words are hard to write for me. This slows down my writing. When I draw I can add lots of details fast and my story keeps moving. I like that.

If you look at my picture, you can see how I used my notebook to plan the beginning, the middle, and the end of my story. I started by drawing the pictures, and I had an older writer write my words for me. My story has seven characters. Some of them are monsters. I began my story by thinking about what my characters were doing. I added all of the action to my story first. This is what I like most about stories myself. 

When I look at the pictures now, I notice details in the pictures that are not mentioned in the words. Now, I am going back and adding these details a little bit at a time. I’m using sticky notes to do this. 
My notebook is a place where I can draw and write fast and be messy. I am just starting to get ideas. I will make them better and better. I will write my other fixed-up copies on lined paper or on the computer. My notebook is for making a plan.

Here is an idea for you to try: instead of using words to plan your story, try to use pictures. You can draw them or you can even use your camera to take them. Maybe you can find some in a magazine. See if the pictures help you add better details to your story plan.

Peter Kane is six years old and a fellow of the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. His stories are inspired by his favorite games, including Minecraft. 


Julia and Sydney

Julia with her Notebook

Sydney with Her Notebook

Our writer’s notebooks are where we keep all kinds of ideas for our writing. We use lists and maps and sticky notes to keep track of our ideas. We also use make mini versions of the anchor charts at Studio and at those to our notebooks. Then, we can write and plan with them.

We recently decided to add little pockets to some of our notebook pages, and they have been very helpful.

Sydney's Notebook Pocket Words

The pockets are filled with words that help us think about our stories better. When we pull them out, they make us wonder things about our stories. Where could we add more action? What are our characters feeling? Should we add more drama to our stories? Where? When it comes to our stories, we come up with new things that we should be thinking about all of the time. These get added to slips of paper and tucked into the pockets.

Julia's Word Pocket and Personal Story Arc

Story Arc Anchor Chart

We are learning to think about the problems we have as writers. We use our notebooks to try to solve these problems. One problem we had was getting stuck for ideas while we were writing stories. Creating these pockets helps us. When we are stuck, we just pull out our words of inspiration, and they help us come up with better ideas. We also make lists of ideas too, like the colorful list in the picture.

Julia's Idea List

We made these tools all on our own. It kind of works like a game. Maybe you could try to do the same thing. Create a pocket for your writer’s notebook. Then, add all of the things that you could think about in order to make your writing better. When you get stuck, look at the words in your pocket. It helps!

Julia Flynn and Sydney Mosher are both 8 years old, and they love to write together at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio. They also like to invent writing strategies like these.


Located at 3062 Delaware Avenue in Kenmore, New York, The WNY Young Writer's Studio, founded by Angela Stockman,  is a community where writers, teachers and young people come together to discover what good writing is, how to create it, and how to inspire others to do the same. We believe that all people are born writers and that the act of writing enables us to communicate our needs, raise our voices, connect and learn from others, and heal our lives as well as the world. At Studio, we learn how to honor and support the writer in everyone, because writers make the world a better place.

Angela has graciously offered a giveaway of DON'T FORGET TO WRITE, published by 826 National, and a new notebook to a commenter on this post.  Please leave your words by Sunday, October 5, to be entered into the drawing.  Thank you, young writers, and thank you, Angela!

Please share a comment below if you wish.


Matt Forrest Esenwine has won the copy of Irene Latham's DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST!  Matt, please just send me your snail mail address, and I will send your book. Thank you again to Irene Latham for your wonderful post.

Next up will be a post full of young notebook-keepers from the WNY Writers' Studio.  Watch for this later today!

Readers - if you or one of your students or friends keeps a notebook and would like to share in this space, please send an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com.  I welcome your contributions and will send you the post specs for this blog.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Irene Latham: My Life in Notebooks

I'm one of those writers who really cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't writing.

This may be frustrating to those who come to writing late in life – I am brand new to the fiddle, and sometimes, when my fingers just won't do what I want them to do, I bemoan the fact that I am SO OLD a starter. Alas. Please know that there is no wrong time to come to something like writing (or fiddle), and that being an early writer gives me no advantage and means nothing in terms of likelihood for a successful career or anything else. It's just my story. I cannot conceive of  “me” that doesn't include pencil and paper.

My first written works were love poems --for my mother. I was 4.

By the time I was 8, I was writing poem for anyone and everyone I loved. Here's one I wrote for my father:

When I was a teenager, I became dependent on writing as a means of tunneling through the diamond mine of feelings, each so sparkly and new and brilliant, there were not enough notebooks to contain me.

And, like any miner, I worked in the dark. I was furtive about my writing and rarely shared it with anyone. It was too personal, too revealing. What would people think?? I read through those pages and try to rediscover the girl who wrote the words. It's scary, and I can only do it a little at a time.

Like so many writers, I did have a number of amazing teachers in my life who nurtured me along the way. I adored teachers who asked us to journal. I loved reading the little encouraging notes those teachers would leave for me in the  margins. Here is a classroom journal entry from 1986, when I was 15 (on the facing page, my teacher wrote “Are you trying to earn Brownie points?”:

These days I do the vast majority of my composing straight to keyboard. But I still use notebooks when I am revising, or when I am stuck somewhere without a computer, or for making lists. There's nothing special about these notebooks – most of them are hand-me-downs from my kids:

One of the most frequent ways I use a notebook is for catching ideas – lines I want to use or explore, ideas for poem or story titles, basic randomness that speaks to me. On this page, you'll see I found inspiration from several Poetry Friday friends, Robyn Hood Black and Mary Lee Hahn:

When I checked my rubber-banded manila file folder marked “Water Hole Poems” for any notebook pages, I found this note, from when I was driving my son 45 minutes away to Tuscaloosa so he could attend an Early College class – and I had to wait for him. (I know I should date these things, but most often I don't, so I have to rely on context clues, as in the notepaper found here.) It contains some brainstorming on the opening poem for DEAR WANDERING  WILDEBEEST... and, in fact, holds the title “To All the Beasts Who Enter Here.”

Sometimes I wish I wrote more in notebooks, because I do love the idea of it. But, as you can tell, my handwriting is not always legible. And I am so much faster on the keyboard! Also, for poetry, I love the instant gratification the keyboard grants for rearranging words and lines and trying different line and stanza breaks.

But, when I see my own handwriting, I feel such tenderness for myself and my inner world – it feels more vulnerable somehow, and it makes me want to do it more.

Also, you might be interested to know that I prefer PENCIL to pen... I need a clean page, so erasing is better for me than marking out... though it's less useful in terms of sharing my process in a blog post like this!

Notebook Exercise:

In my experience, art inspires art. Today, when you pop in your headphones to listen to favorite music, grab your notebook. Write down whatever lines speak to you. Then, go back and make those lines your own by changing a word here, adding a phrase there. Allow the words to flow through you, and you will discover your very own song!

Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to share my notebooks! I love peeking in on the many, many ways people live the creative life.

Available through
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Irene Latham was inspired to write DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST after viewing images taken by wildlife photographer Greg du Toit, who submerged himself in a Kenyan water hole in order to best capture the animals drinking. In response, she submerged herself in research and waited for the poems to arrive. She is also the author of three volumes of poetry for adults and two award-winning novels for children: LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY. Two more collections of poetry for children -  FRESH DELICIOUS: POEMS FROM THE FARMERS MARKET and SUMMER IN ANTARCTICA - are forthcoming in 2016. Visit her online at 

Please share a comment below if you wish.