I had the most amazing weekend, and I thought I’d share a few highlights. First of all, I got the opportunity to present with a few of my blogging buddies. Yep, me…little… ol’…me. I had presented locally two other times at our division’s Best Practices Conference, but not at the Virginia State Reading Association conference. I am pleased to say that the presentation went well, and we plan to give it a whirl next year too. I felt so honored that we were chosen, and I think we all expected to see 5-6 people in the audience. Instead, we had about 35 who truly were interested in the topic we’d chosen, Blogging in the Classroom and for the Classroom. Here are a few pictures from our experience, and if you’re interested in learning more about blogging, you can visit Adventures in Literacy Land to check out the presentation we put together as well as the handout provided.
So…I began this post with a quote from Jeff Kinney. He was the feature author for the conference this year, and my students were just crazy about the fact that I was going to meet THE Jeff Kinney. One of my boys, KJ, was SO excited about it that he asked if I could take his book along to get Jeff Kinney’s autograph. I told Mr. Kinney about my guy, and this is what he wrote. Can you believe it? It was just perfect, and I can honestly say that KJ was on cloud nine when I showed him.
Once we got past the starstruck feelings, it was time to actually take in the important lessons to learn from Jeff.
First of all, he was always a reader, but he was a reader of a variety of genres. That is important as we teach our students. They may have their favorites, but they need to understand all genre types. His father loved comic books, and there was no shortage in his home. He loved The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbs. His very favorite though was Donald Duck-Lost in the Andes In fact, he commented that it was the basis of how he thought about the world. I bet you have a child or two like this.
Another important lesson…share the classics if you want to build readers. Look at the books that are recommended for your grade level and weave them into your program. Our kids need to hear the classics and discover what’s new too. Even though he loved comics, Jeff’s mom, a teacher, shared with him many great books, Where the Wild Things Are (which he said gave him bad dreams.), Swimmy by Leo Lionni, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, and the “Fudge” stories by Judy Blume.
Jeff grew up in Ft. Washington, Virginia, and he remembered buying his very first book and the experience in the book store. Crown Books gave him the feel of hardbacks, the smell of the paper, and the imagery of a great story. It was there that he found his first interest in books. He purchased his first book gift of Bloom County’s “Loose Tails” for dad, but he went on to enjoy Tolkein and many others. He discovered a book,, How to Draw and Sell Comics which got him interested in writing comics, and the lesson here is that books can help lead you to careers that will make you happy.
Several years later, Jeff began at the University of Maryland and it was there that he began to write. His first book, The Igdoof Bathroom Companion…got rejected, but he did not give up. That is important an important life lesson. Writing takes practice, so be persistent.
Once Jeff graduated, he was hired with a newspaper doing layouts (which we see as a skill in his Wimpy Kid books). Then, he moved into medical software, and eventually, game designer. I never knew he was involved with Fun Brain? Do you use that website? Cool huh?? He began working for Pearson, but still kept looking for the “right” job. He enjoyed workng on the Poptropica website. He loved the fact that this website requires no words to play. No identifying information and no words needed to play. Both Funbrain and Poptropica used his ability to draw cartoons. He worked on the illustrations for both.
A few years ago, Jeff read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a great book that looks at statistics and how the variables that impact them. The book gave him the encouragement to continue working on Wimpy Kid. The lesson here is to choose positive. Motivation in all aspects of life is important, and providing students with a purpose for reading pushes them to seek other books later.
It took eight years working on Diary of the Wimpy Kid, and three years of work trying to get it published. When the publisher called, they decided to break it into a series of books, and the original included the events in book one through book five. To this day, Jeff said that he truly treasures the feel of hardback book. He said, “The physical book reaches senses that digital copies just can’t.” The experience of going to the bookstore, looking for just the right book, feeling it and the pride of carrying it out of the store is an important experience for children to have.
Jeff Kinney is still working since he “doesn’t want to give up health insurance”, but he is reaching another goal soon, opening up The Unlikely Story Bookstore where an old general store called Falks Market once stood. Below is the before and after, and if you’re ever in Plainville, Massachusetts, you’ll have to drop in. It sounded like an amazing place, and I think the lesson to learn from this is to follow your dreams and what is important to you.
Have a great week!