Writing for a Cause: adolescent activism

bother listI had the privilege of leading a workshop at the Kellogg Hubbard Library a few weeks ago. Because I teach 6th grade, I have a deep affection for the spirit and heart of middle grade students. I happen to know that this age students has a fierce passion for social justice. They just need some support and direction. This is why I feel so strongly about service learning and helping these students channel their energy into something good. It’s why I wrote Change the World with Service Learning and it’s why I led this workshop.

I started with having students list their “bothers.”  What is wrong with the world? What do you want to change? What makes you mad, keeps you up? Here’s what we came up with:

bother list 2Then I showed them what you can do. Write books. Make art. Make videos. Write poems. Write songs. Write posts, editorials, letters, you name it. We made a list of ideas.

Then I had the kids pick— what do you want to do? Some ideas that emerged were editorial cartoons, a new organization called Stomp Out Stereotypes (SOS), and friendship poems. All these kids needed was time, support and inspiration.

solutions

We exchanged email addresses and vowed to support each other’s work.  We were all inspired and hopeful. I’d love to do this workshop again or help others lead it. Kids– find your passion and go do it to make the world a better place.

Katy Farber is a teacher and author of the new book, The Order of the Trees, published by Green Writer’s Press. 

Needy (a poem dedicated to all mamas of babies and toddlers)

07-10-21_kbp_232This poem is dedicated to all the moms of babies and toddlers who are in the thick of motherhood. Finding that you are losing yourself a bit. Struggling to be everything you need to be. Sleepless, overwhelmed, with too much to do and not enough hands. You are not alone. You are enough.

relentless neediness
constant noise
a perpetual state
of get this
get that
watch this
not that
do this
mommy, now!
I need
I want
I’m hungry
I didn’t want THAT!
I feel a lifetime
of never being enough
creeping in

the constant chatter
requests, demands
chase me farther
from myself
make me take
longer showers
hide in the bathroom
dream of days
in a hotel room
alone.
where no. one.
needs. anything.
and I can just
eat and sleep
whenever I want.
do whatever I want
be whatever I want.

I know I’ll long
for the noise
that feeling of
being needed
of mattering
because it
won’t last

I’ll have so
many days of
not mattering
as much as
friends
clothes
what is “cool”
and I will pine
for when they
needed me
wanted me
and I could give
what they needed
and could shelter
them from the
wild world, waiting.

but that doesn’t
change the pressing
pulling, pushing
feeling of being
a mom with young kids
who constantly NEED
something.
everyday.
all the time.

Education Week Teacher: Teachers Stay Because They Made a Choice to Serve

Education Week Teacher imageI was happy to have the opportunity to answer a question for the Education Week Teacher blog. It was: Why do some teachers stay at difficult to staff schools? What are the rewards? What do these long term teachers learn about specific communities & learning that benefit their students?

Three educators from across the country, in different educational environments were asked this same question. This post shares our answers. It was my honor to share insight from and with my fellow educators on this topic.

 

 

The Order of the Trees on Twitter

One of my favorite places to fit in a little writing each day is Twitter. Brief, pointed, and focused text– high engagement, low risk. I love it. Here’s what some folks have been saying about my new middle grade fiction book on Twitter:

The Order of the Trees (idea babies, rejection, and a policy)

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(This is a speech I made at the official launch of my middle grade fiction book on May 1, 2015, called The Order of the Trees. I feel so lucky that all these families came to talk about reading, ideas, and writing!)

I’m so excited and thrilled to see you all here. Thank you for making the time to come. It is truly an amazing community in which to live and work. I am very thankful.

Now about this book. You see, I have always written. In journals, late at night, while waiting, observing the world. I started writing for kids about 15 years ago. Over the course of that time I wrote, edited, and sent out work. I received many rejections. Some hand written, lovely and kind, but still rejections. I won’t pretend they didn’t hurt. But I have developed a policy.

The world will tell you NO. They will tell you all the problems with your ideas. The world is very good at that.

You see—if you believe in what you are doing, that is all that matters. You HAVE to put your work out there, whatever it is. What the world chooses to do with it is their problem. You are honoring yourself, your ideas, if you keep putting your best work out there into the universe. Again and again. Even if you keep hearing no. Because at some point, you will hear YES. You will find your people. The champions of your work. It won’t be easy. You have to ignore that voice that tells you you aren’t good enough, that voice that tells you all the reasons you shouldn’t do whatever it is.

IGNORE THAT VOICE.

Huck your work out there again and again. Honor what I call your idea babies. Mine are waiting in line. They tug on my sleeve and my soul. To ignore them forever is to ignore who you really are. Your true essence. You can’t feed all of them. It is impossible. But you can pick them up one by one and see if they should be developed and released to the world. Honor your idea babies.

Next you should know that sometimes you will feel so utterly alone. Everyone does. All the fabulous performers, famous politicians and leaders, the ones you think have it altogether. You are never alone. At some point you will feel bullied, different—just like the characters in this book. But you will find your tribe, even if that tribe is just ONE other person. That is all you need. The characters in this book found each other—and what they do is extraordinary. You might not find your tribe for a long while. There is nothing wrong with that. We each find them in our own time. Just hang out—and know that EVERYONE feels alone and isolated at some point. Just like the characters in this book.

So, The Order of the Trees. This book is inspired by the beautiful place in which we live. Our woods, our school, our dirt roads and our people. This is the story of a girl who was as different as they come. She was found as a baby under an old growth white Cedar tree. We find her in sixth grade, making her first real friend, when the trouble starts.

New Review on Goodreads

I was excited to see this pop up from fellow author Eric Andreas. He wrote (which I am avidly reading) Origins Rising, a post apocalyptic, futuristic thriller with humans that evolve with different skills sets–flying, running, and swimming and a whole bunch of new and scary animals that evolved with them. He posted this review of The Order of the Trees on Goodreads:

My review below includes a couple of plot points that could be considered spoilers. But if you’re a parent of a middle schooler looking for a helpful review of this wonderful book, read on.

When a couple finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods at the foot of a tall cedar tree, they don’t know what to make of it. Who would leave a babe in the woods? The trees know . . . but they can’t say. The couple adopt the girl and name her Cedar, after the tree where she was found. They know she’s special, just not how special. The kids in school make fun of Cedar because she’s different, but she’s able to spark up a friendship with another outcast named Phillip. Cedar opens up to her new friend and asks him to join her club—The Order of the Trees. Phillip quickly realizes that he and Cedar are the only human members; the other members are the trees and the animals in the woods where Cedar was found. But Phillip doesn’t mind, he thinks it’s cool. And it is! Cedar teaches him about the trees and animals and how special they are; it’s like she’s connected to the trees, feels what they feel, knows what they know. Does she? One day, Cedar and Phillip notice orange tape tied to all the trees in Cedar’s woods, and they learn that the land is going to be cleared for development. At once Cedar falls deathly ill. Nobody knows what’s wrong with her—but Phillip does. The problem is, he’s sure no one will believe him. What follows is some great derring-do by two kids determined to do the right thing.

Farber’s The Order Of The Trees is a enjoyable eco-adventure for middle schoolers. The author puts a loving touch on this book, and her writing is clear and crisp. Any middle schooler should be able to read this with no trouble, but at the same time won’t feel like it’s a “kiddy” book. The characters are also genuine, not stiff, and easily relatable. It was a joy to read and is a must have for any young nature lover in your family.

-Eric Andreas (author of Origins Rising)

I am so thankful for this review! Please join me on Goodreads so we can share great books.  You can find The Order of the Trees on Amazon to pre-order before the May 1, 2015 publication date.

Fiction Writing Magic: K-3 Students at Kellogg Hubbard Library

fiction writing kidsThe young writers started showing up in little bursts. Shyly, then entered the room. They brought tiny handmade books, notebooks, and special pens. We met in the center of the room with markers and a big piece of paper. While more writers showed up, we drew settings– purple waves, lollip pop trees, thoughtful owls.

Then I asked them what a setting was– and what makes them special. I read Dogteam by Gary Paulsen and we drank in the glowing moon and reflecting snow, the dogs dancing through the trees. I read a scene from my upcoming book The Order of the Trees where Cedar and her friend are in a secret woodland spot and listening to the nighttime orchestra of insects and animals. I asked them what their special place is– imaginary or real. To close their eyes and picture the details.

Now make it! We painted, drew, brainstormed. Ideas swirled over little heads. The art bloomed from their fingers.

Then we pushed away the art and I said what if only you could see the art? What if you had to describe it for anyone else to see it? So we started writing and scribing and the creativity positively vibrated the room. We needed more time!

All the kids ended up sharing their creative works. We had stories about a lost and brave fish, stories about a rainbow as a character, a magical rock, and fairies in a forest.

Later I received an email that said one little girl continued writing in the grocery store cart while her mom piled food around her. This is why I write with and for kids!

The Order of the Trees (pre-orders open now)

TreesCover2 (2)

I am thrilled (and a bit nervous!) to announce that Green Writer’s Press, a homegrown, Vermont publisher with a focus on “authors who want to make the world a better place” will be publishing my first middle level/young adult novel in May. I couldn’t ask for a publisher that is more in line with the my values and this story. It makes me proud that the book will be printed on FSC certified recycled paper with soy based inks in the U.S.

The book is called The Order of the Trees– and is about Cedar, who was found as a baby under an old growth tree in the Vermont woods. This is the story of her sixth grade year, her first true friend, and how their fate is connected to the magical woods in which she was found.

The Order of the Trees is now available for pre-order through Amazon. If you order during the pre-order period and let me know (in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter) I would be happy to send you a previously unpublished short story about redemption on a junior high bus that was filled with spit balls, harassment and exclusion. This story created a forum for those who experienced similar traumatic events on junior high buses. Many found the story validating and I am so grateful for this as it has helped me to process this challenging time as well.

I couldn’t be more excited about my new publisher. Dede Cummings, literary agent and publisher, is a fireball of positivity and is bringing beautiful books to life this spring about sustainability, climate change, teaching and mindfulness. I am so excited to be included in this spring catalog. 

I’m so lucky that two of my favorite Vermont authors for young adults wrote blurbs for the book after reading advance copies: Rita Murphy, author of Night Flying, and Doug Wilhelm, author of The Revealer and many other books. I will share those soon.

I would be so grateful if you could ask for this book at your local library, bookstore, and school. It releases on May 1st and I will fill you in on other details as the date draws near!

Common Core: Opportunity and Potential

(First published at the Vermont Agency of Education blog.)

Imagine there is a wide field of grasses, and each blade is one of the possible math concepts to teach. Then, imagine someone running around, cultivating the wild grasses that never took seed, the ones that are growing heartily and need to flower fully, and expanding the grassland in all directions. That person is constantly exhausted. The field is huge, and the grasses have limited depth. But the person keeps running, trying to cultivate all of them, but never quite managing to do so. Weeds grow. Areas are unmaintained, because the field is endless.

Mathematics is an abundant field with many, many concepts. The teacher is the person running around this field endlessly.

The Common Core has limited the field, and required that certain grasses take root, deeply. The math concepts in the Common Core per grade level allow teachers to focus on certain skills and make sure all students master them. This then allows each grade level to build upon the one before it, especially after this has been in place for several years, we will see less gaps, more evidence, and more cohesion in our math scope and sequence, and in our math learners themselves.

In the meantime, teachers are in that difficult transition time where they are creating materials, filling gaps from other years, and trying to figure out a way to gather, report, and share data. This is no small task, and we must work together to find ways to support teachers in this meaningful work, and also to promote the sharing of good practices to use with Common Core, such as successful reporting systems, unit plans, plans for classroom structure and curricular mapping, and so forth.

For new teachers, the Common Core can be daunting or liberating, and all shades in between. With no program to follow, new (and experienced) teachers run the risk of teaching concepts from the Common Core in a scattered, disorganized fashion. It can be overwhelming to plan a cohesive math curriculum at a particular grade level for a year. That is why it is so important that schools and districts support teachers in this work—utilizing math experts and quality resources—and give teachers the time to do the work. We face an exciting opportunity with the Common Core, but we must all work in the field together, supporting the growth of our young math learners and our teachers.

 

New Posts on MomsRising, Moms Clean Air Force, and Non-Toxic Kids

2014 ecotiptue

 

Last week was very busy in the area of environmental health and in my posting.  I wrote articles on Non-Toxic Kids, and for MomsRising and Moms Clean Air Force.

 

On Non-Toxic Kids, I reviewed the top 3 stories of the week. GMO free Cheerios, new flame retardant rules, and Triclosan under review by the FDA top the list.  The issues to report on and decisions to make as a parent are endless! I also wrote a post sharing 8 ways to help children avoid toxic chemicals at public schools. This is an issue near and dear to my heart as a teacher, parent and writer.

 

At Moms Clean Air Force, I shared my take on the top 10 children’s health stories of 2013. These clearly indicate how regular parents are impacting the decisions companies are making for the better. We have the power– and in 2014 we need to continue to use it to move markets and legislation in favor of protecting public health versus profits.

 

On MomsRising, I shared  10 tips for a green, toxin-free and healthy 2014. These were from the MomsRising weekly Twitter chat I host called #EcoTipTue. We had three great guests and lots of participants who shared their ideas and goals for 2014.  The ideas are inspiring and give me hope that we will continue to make great progress is raising healthy families and protecting kids everywhere.