Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Visit With Louise Borden

During all the Looking for Newbery excitement of the past month here at Literate Lives, and the hoopla surrounding the ALA announcements and awards yesterday, I haven't had a chance to squeeze in a piece about a wonderful author who visited our school last week.

Louise Borden spent two wonderful days at our school, and I was amazed at how much she packed into those two days. She did 2 larger assemblies, one for the primary grades and then one for the intermediate grades. In addition, she did a writing workshop lesson with every single student in our school. Even by combining two classes at a time, that was a lot to accomplish in only two days.

I have been a huge fan of Louise's for years. She is a prolific writer, and someone who writes in a variety of genres. One of my favorite books is Just in Time for Christmas. Whenever I read this book during writing workshop, it evokes other stories from my students. They can always pick out a holiday tradition of their own, or a family get together, a food that is special to their family, or a story about a dog. This story just appeals to kids on so many levels. Recently, I have also become very appreciative of Louise Borden's talent when it comes to historical fiction. She writes about people or times in history and makes it very appealing to read.

Writing narrative nonfiction is actually what Louise did her mini-lesson on with my class and one other 5th grade class. I loved that she used mentor text (her own, of course) to make some points about how she writes nonfiction. Isn't that what we as writing teachers are constantly doing -- looking for great mentor text?

She started by saying how nervous she gets when she starts a new piece. She told our students that it all starts with a blank piece of paper, and how overwhelming that can feel at times. How will she possibly fill that page? As I looked around the classroom, I could see several of my students shaking their heads in agreement. They were loving that even Louise Borden worries about the same things that they do as writers from time to time.

Then she got into the "meat" of what she wanted to say about narrative nonfiction. I've tried to capture a few of her thoughts:
  • She doesn't use much dialogue when writing nonfiction.
  • She "sets up" her nonfiction stories with some type of introduction.
  • She writes some of her nonfiction in verse because she feels it makes it easier for the reader.
  • Narrative actually means "telling a story", so when she writes narrative nonfiction, she writes it in such a way as to put the reader there in the scene.
  • A lot of hard work has to come before actually starting the writing of nonfiction. She does much research, gathering of information, and interviews about her topic.
  • She encouraged the students to choose topics of wonder and amazement, because if they are passionate about a topic, the reader will be also.
These points were reflected in the different books she shared with us.

Louise's final message to the children was perhaps the most important. She told the kids to "Read as Writers." What a powerful concept for the children as readers and writers!

We were very fortunate to have Louise Borden visit us and work with us. A huge thank you to her!


  1. Just in Time for Christmas is my favorite too because Grandma on the front porch looks just like my mom!

  2. I have been asking for Louise Borden as a guest author for years now. Funny thing is, I just used her book The Day Eddie Met the Author today in class. Weird!

  3. What a great two days and experience your students had. Nothing could be better than spending time with an author while we travel the journey as writers.

  4. I LOVE Just In Time for Christmas as well. For me it's the tradition piece that does it. Traditions for our family makes up a lot of who we are.