For Teachers & Students

“I’ve Never Read a Whole Book Before”

Today, I’m going to brag about my kids. All thirty of them.

The students in Mr. Shapiro's class have been studying Tom Rogers' book, Eleven.

Mr. Shapiro’s Class, Room 26, McKinley Avenue School

Since January, I’ve been teaching Eleven to the students in Jeff Shapiro’s sixth-grade class at McKinley Avenue School in South Los Angeles.

Room 26 scholars

They are serious scholars, every one.

Mr. Shapiro is an old friend and has been a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at McKinley for fifteen years. For as long as he’s been teaching, I’ve been coming to visit his classes and to speak at McKinley’s annual Career Day about reading, writing, revising (a topic loved by no student ever), movies, cartoons, and college, while trying to creatively evade every kid’s favorite question: “How much money do you make?”

McKinley exterior

As I said, Mr. Shapiro and I have been friends forever. His wife cuts my hair. I sometimes pick up his kid from the school bus stop. And Jeff and I played tennis for years, until he blew out his knees. I still bring him bags full of old tennis balls, which he puts to use in creative ways.

Tennis balls

You would think old friends should be able to ask each other anything, but you would be wrong. He was instrumental in giving feedback on early drafts of the book, but the instant the book came out, we turned into wallflowers at a school dance, each of us too nervous to ask if the other would be willing to help teach it. The answer, of course, was “Yes….” (That sentence ends with a part of speech we call the “silent idiot.”)

The Man in the White Shirt (with camera-shy Ernesto behind)

The Man in the White Shirt (with camera-shy Ernesto behind)

But let’s get back to the kids. When we started, they knew almost nothing about 9/11, mainly because most hadn’t even been born then. Some needed work on reading skills. Some needed work on being quiet. (You know who you are, guys.) But every one of them embraced this challenge with gusto, and I’ve been consistently surprised and moved by their enthusiasm. As Mr. Shapiro likes to say, we are getting out our shovels and digging deep, using the book to teach Common Core English/Language Arts standards–not just vocabulary and similes and metaphors, but also more abstract concepts like figurative language, imagery, and theme.

Check out Amie, citing text to support her argument that strangers acted differently to each other on 9/11.

And what do I get in return? Major swag.

Noemi, Vivian, Ashley V., and the author, with the rubber-band bracelet they made him.

Noemi, Vivian, Ashley V., and the author, with the rubber-band bracelet they made him.

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Eleven Things That Didn’t Exist on September 11

Welcome to the Neighborhood!  Glad you could stop by.

When I was growing up, my mother used to drive me and my brother crazy making lists for everything — grocery lists, chore lists, homework lists, lists of lists to keep track of her lists.

So I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see me start off this blog with a list.

Here are Eleven Things That Didn’t Exist on September 11, 2001:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • #hashtags
  • American Idol
  • The TSA
  • Homeland Security
  • iPads
  • iPhones
  • iPods (!)
  • Parents filming sixth-graders on iPads/iPhones/iPods
  • Today’s sixth graders

If you’re an adult, you probably remember exactly where you were on 9/11.

If you’re a sixth grader, you probably weren’t even born yet.

I can still recall the details of that day with startling clarity:  living in Los Angeles, we woke up to news of the disaster on the Today Show.  I remember standing at the foot of the bed, one sock on, staring in disbelief at the footage of airplanes flying into buildings.  There were rumors of more attacks coming on the West Coast; we could see downtown from our house and kept counting the buildings and watching for smoke.  I remember how the normally busy skies grew eerily empty as no more planes were allowed to fly.  A friend gathered a bunch of us together for a quiet dinner that night.  I remember every face at that table.

It’s still so vivid to me that it’s easy to forget that most kids today have no memory of that time.  It’s as remote to them as the Korean War was to me.

Still, if you’re a kid, you’ve probably heard about 9/11, and maybe you want to know a little bit more about it.  What happened that day, and why’s it such a big deal?  Why do adults get quiet when they talk about it?  Was it all bad, or did anything good come out of it?

What was it like to be a kid that day?

That’s why I decided to write this book, eleven, to help young people who weren’t even alive then begin to understand not only the difficult events of that day but also the heroism displayed by ordinary men and women, the kindness shown by strangers to strangers, and what it felt like when this entire country came together as friends and neighbors.

I also wanted a good excuse to write about a dog.  (Radar says hi.  He has promised to take over this blog from time to time but agreed to let me have the first post.  Watch for him hanging out at Radar’s Corner.)

So I’ll be posting regularly here to talk about reading, writing, publishing, dogs, 9/11, dogs, old people, young people, books, teachers, school, our country, our world, and dogs.

Welcome to The Neighborhood.  Stop by anytime.

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