Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cynthia Grady: Notebooks in My Sock Drawer

I’ve been a notebook buyer since I was very young, and could spend my weekly allowance at Jolly Five & Ten, while our father did the grocery shopping. I liked to buy small 4-inch notebooks in different colors —but here’s the thing, I never wrote in them. I didn’t want to spoil them! So, they sat in my sock drawer, waiting for me. For years I did this. When I wrote, I wrote on binder paper—loose-leaf, not a bound notebook. Something about writing in a book, whether diary, journal, or sketchbook, terrified me.

While I still write on loose sheets of paper and yellow pads, I’ve lately been trying to keep my poems and other writing ideas in notebooks. I keep different kinds of notebooks, but that sounds more organized than it is. Most of them are a jumble of all kinds of written things. I have one notebook just for words and phrases I like. It’s a journalist’s notebook with unlined pages that a reporter-friend gave to me.

I keep a lined pad of paper beside me when I’m reading—sometimes it has white sheets and sometimes yellow. In it I jot down every phrase, image, or sentence that I love as I’m reading a given book. I do this with almost every novel I read. Here is a page I kept while reading ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond.

When I’m researching a book of my own that I’m writing, I tend to keep my notes in composition books because they feel like school to me. Here is the notebook I used for a picture book biography coming out in 2017. I first began the research for it in 2006!

For my first book I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY, I used several notebooks, a binder, and pads of yellow paper. I was making a quilt, researching slavery, and writing the poems, all at the same time. This is how I did it: I picked quilt block patterns that sounded like there could be a connection to slavery—for example, Log Cabin or Cotton Boll. I drew up the pattern I’d use to sew the quilt block, and then asked all kinds of questions about it. I’d generate 30-50 questions for each quilt block. After that I’d start composing the poem for that block. Here is the first page of “Basket” questions for the final poem in STITCHES.

And here is the poem that grew partially from these questions:


Each night, I take my patches, blocks, and scraps
of fabric from the basket by the chair;
my thimble, thread, and needle comfort me.
I lay my stitches down and troubles fall
away. Before too long, I'm breathing with
the rhythm of my quilting -- listening
wide with every fiber of my soul:
the praise songs of my people; voices
of my kin; drumbeats of my motherland form
the threads that weave the fabric of my life.

I strongly believe one creative endeavor feeds another, and this definitely held true while I was working my quilt and the poems for I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN. I'd go back and forth between sewing and writing. Then when I needed to know some historical fact, I'd go off to the library to do a little research on basket-making or blacksmithing or the North Star or whatever. It was so much fun, I've decided to make a quilt for each book I write!

I’ve since found that asking questions about a photograph, a sculpture, or some object on my desk is my favorite exercise to do when I’m stuck—or when I’m beginning a new writing project.

You might wish to try this technique yourself.  Look at a piece of artwork:  painting, sculpture, quilt, postcard, paperweight--whatever.

Ask and list 50 questions about the object before writing!

Then begin. You will know the object intimately by this time -- it will turn into a beautiful poem.

Cynthia Grady is a poet and librarian living in New Mexico. You can learn more about her and her upcoming books at

Cynthia has generously offered a signed copy of I LAY MY STITCHES DOWN: POEMS OF AMERICAN SLAVERY to one commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, October 11 to be entered into this drawing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Unlined Sketchbook Winner!

Lee Ann Spillane has won the unlined sketchbook from Michelle Haseltine's post!

Yay!  A New Notebook for Lee Ann!

Lee Ann - please just send me your snail mail address, and I will send your sketchbook. Thank you again to Michelle Haseltine for her inspiring post.

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.

Sharing Our Notebooks is currently seeking short videos of teachers and students and anyone at all sharing your notebooks as well!  Please consider opening your notebook for the camera and telling how your notebook matters to you.

Also, do you have a guy notebooker in your life?  Please send him by way of this blog?  We would love to feature more boys and men in this space.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Michelle Haseltine: I am Safe and Free

I write in notebooks. As a kid, I didn’t love dolls and teddy bears...I loved books and notebooks.

My life as a notebook writer began on Saturday November 5,1983.

Ever since that first notebook, I’ve always kept a notebook. The kind of notebook has changed: spiral notebook, hardbound, lines, no lines. 

Ever since that first notebook, I’ve always kept a notebook. The kind of notebook has changed: spiral notebook, hardbound, lines, no lines. 

Today I prefer using a sketchbook for my notebook. The utensils I use to write have progressed from pencils to pens to fancy pens. What hasn’t changed is how my notebook is an extension of me. It travels with me. It’s the place that feels like home. No matter where I am in the world, when I open the pages of my notebook, I am safe and free. 

The most important thing about writing in a notebook is permission. Give yourself permission to allow your notebook what you need it to be. Make up your own rules. The audience is YOU and only YOU. Sometimes you’ll share your notebook pages with someone else, but for me that’s the exception, not the rule. I write for me. The words fall out and I allow it. I scribble. I cross out. I make giant messes of some pages, while others are works of art. It’s me. It’s all me. Problems get untangled in my notebook, ideas are born and nurtured, and memories are cherished on the pages. 

Here are my rules for keeping a notebook. 

1. Write the date, day and time for every entry. 

2. Use lots of color and find pens that fit me and my mood! 

3. If what I’m writing could be hurtful to someone else, be aware of how it’s written. My audience is me, but I think about what would happen if I lost my notebook. I don’t curse and I don’t call anyone names. When I’m mad...I write about how I feel instead of what someone else has done! 

4. Have fun! 

5. Open my notebook everyday. I find if I open it, I will usually jot something down. Making a rule of writing everyday is too much (for me) and then I feel guilty...NO FEELING GUILTY. Maybe that should be rule number six. 

6. No guilt!

Writing in a notebook may take practice if you aren’t used to it. Make it a habit. Start with noticing and make lists. Sketch and doodle. Write a poem. The important thing about notebook writing is that you begin.

Try this: Find a spot you enjoy spending time and bring your notebook. Sit. Watch. Listen. Jot down whatever you notice. Make a list. Sketch. Use your surroundings to inspire a piece of writing. After ten minutes, stand up and walk to another spot. Start all over again. Notice things. Write them down. Live life as a writer. Michelle Haseltine is in her twentieth year of education. Currently spending her days with sixth graders in Loudoun County, VA reading and writing. Michelle is a Teacher-Consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project and continues to search for the book she’s destined to write. She can be found at Twitter as @mhaseltine or @haseltineclass and at her blog One Grateful Teacher.

In honor of Michelle's notebook keeping, Sharing Our Notebooks is offering a giveaway to a commenter on this post...a giveaway of an unlined sketchbook, just as Michelle likes to use. Please leave a comment by Wednesday, September 15, 2015 to be entered into this drawing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Keeping a Notebook - July 2015 Keynote by Amy LV

Happy new school year, friends!

This year, I look forward to deepening and widening this blog evermore, and I welcome you and your students to share your notebook pages, ideas, favorite notebook-inspiring books.  Soon, you'll find a few new ways to do so here, but for now, I would like to share with you my first Haiku Deck.  Haiku Deck is simply an alternate presentation platform to PowerPoint, and I had fun making this one, all focused on notebooks and titled KEEPING A NOTEBOOK.

On July 28, I was fortunate enough to give a keynote at the fifth annual Paramus Summer Institute on the Teaching of Writing in Paramus, New Jersey.  Here it is, below.  If you wish, you may read the text of the talk after enlarging the slides.  The whole text is there in the notes pages.  If anyone would like, I'll be happy to post it as a Google Doc as well.  Just let me know.

Feel free to click through (just use the arrows at the bottom left) many notebook pictures, from my Great Aunt Tom's notebook of inked palms to Orville Wright's notebook page on which he recorded the first 12 second flight of the Kitty Hawk.  I adore peeking into others' notebook pages!

Wishing you all kinds of notebook fun and inspiration this new year!  I look forward to learning together.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

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.