Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 8, 2009

Wisconsin Reading Association Conference

I had a great few days in Milwaukee speaking at the Wisconsin Reading Association, where I was too busy to see much except the gorgeous lake and frozen river, and briefly be giddy about being in the state where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. The talks to teachers about writing from a sense of place went well, and a highlight for me was a teacher who came up afterward with an open journal. He said he was a writing teacher with one student who came from Ethiopia a few years ago. They keep a journal in common, writing back and forth to each other, and he’d written down some of my tips. “At the end I wrote: and here’s her signature.” Of course I felt compelled to add just a bit more than that! He said he’s encouraging her to write some of her stories, rather than just follow an impulse to forget, as a way to build her confidence.

On Saturday morning, parents brought in children who wanted to write, and it was fun breakfasting with some girls who wrote all kinds of things. My workshop with about sixty fifth graders was lively. One boy wrote a gorgeous piece about a boy whose father who’d died, but who spoke to him from the clouds at the end of his piece. All the parents in the room were doing all we could not to tear up. We’d focused on using the five senses, and one description that even memory-impaired me can recall is someone who smelled “like a monkey dipped in sour cream.” The group of sixth graders was smaller and far shyer – so much happens by the end of fifth grade – so to them I spoke about of how hard it is to read aloud, that at their age I never raised my hand – and reminded myself that though the enthusiasm was less visible, it didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

The conference was so well organized, and I loved seeing parents who wrote along with their kids, and who proudly snapped pictures when their child went to the front of the room to read. I managed to stay out of trouble, though my daughter was laughing last night when talking about gestures she’s inherited from me: like talking with our hands. I told her the woman who introduced me at one session left her glasses on the podium and I had to ask her to take them back, lest I knock them and set them flying across the room. I’m even more dangerous with hand held microphones – the hand goes out, the volume goes down. My daughter and I have both vowed to work on this!



  1. A monkey dipped in sour cream. Hee!

  2. I love that writing teacher–what a great, fun thing for the student. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who has trouble standing still while she talks!

  3. There was more, too. I don’t know why this girl chose the character she did, but he was vivid for sure.

  4. Yes, this guy was very humble though seemed so sincere about helping this girl through his words and collecting signatures from authors who were there. It sure inspired me.
    I’m glad you talk with your hands, too!

  5. Doesn’t everyone talk with their hands? 🙂
    Those sixth graders are more reserved for sure. But you’re right: their lack of visible enthusiasm doesn’t mean they weren’t into it.
    I would have been one of those moms snapping pictures. I even snapped my kids getting their library cards at age 4.
    Sounds like a wonderful conference. Lucky you! Lucky them!
    (Nice to “meet” you!!)

  6. Before I say another word, I yelped when I saw your Laura Ingalls Wilder reference. How cosmic life is! I could not sleep last night because I was so engaged in watching two amazing LITTLE HOUSE episodes on TV LAND. I wasn’t obsessed with LITTLE HOUSE like my younger sister was but darn, now maybe I wish I had been. That show is amazing!
    p.s. Lucky you for getting to meet the people we need the most: the readers! Not sure what a monkey dipped in sour cream smells like but I think I can live without that knowledge.

  7. I love working with 5th graders – so open and honest and funny.
    Don’t you love seeing that your daughter inherited those mannerisms, though? 🙂

  8. Oh, that picture of first library card — I wish I’d thought of that!

  9. I should take a look at those Little House episodes — it’s been a long time!

  10. Yes, yay for fifth graders.
    And it is nice those mannerisms — and that my daughter seems to enjoy the simliarities, too, if sometimes with a: well not much I can do about it, but some love, too.

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