Molly was a school teacher and now write middle grade books. She has read her books to her class and engaged them in storytelling. This also leads to a nice discussion about teaching kids storytelling and how grammar and spelling fit into that.
Fire Keeper’s Daughter – Angeline Boullie
Sea of Tranquility – EMily St. John Mandel
The Ferryman – Justin Cronin
In the Lives of Puppets – TJ Klune
The Climate Book – Greta Thunberg
Poverty, by America – Michael Desmond
Knowing What We Know – Simon Winchester
Happy Place – Emily Henry
Stephen: today on Discover Wordsmith, I wanna welcome Molly. Molly, good morning.
How are you doing? I’m doing
Stephen: So I know we live fairly close by, so since you’re in Ohio, and I have a question for you, how do you know it’s springtime in Ohio?
Stephen: no more snow. No, the opposite. You get more snow than you did during the winter.
Molly: Oh my gosh. I have snow right outside. My, yes. That’s Ohio.
Welcome to Ohio. But when spring comes, Ohio is beautiful.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Molly, we’re gonna talk about your books today, but before we do that, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself, where you live, what you like to do outside of writing
Molly: books. Okay. So I live in in the suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, near Lake Erie.
And I have been I guess teaching. And the other thing that I love to do is dancing. I’m, I love to do swing dancing and all kinds of contra dancing and all kinds of dancing, and it brings me a lot of joy. Where do you go for dancing? It’s all over the place. There’s little venues and different, like church basement, church basements and one that’s nearby is a community of saints in Cleveland Heights.
And we just it’s wonderful because the people are very down to earth and it’s all group dancing and just, and then, we have a little break in the middle where we socialize and of course we have to eat nibble. Nice. It’s a, and it’s just so good for your body, but it’s also good, releases any stress.
You just, you laugh and you enjoy each other. Nice. And the swing dancing is a lot of, it’s mostly on the west side of Cleveland. I live on the east side, but we carpool over and it’s, you don’t have to be perfect. You just move to the music and Nice. Good. Yeah.
And so I, one of my earliest memories. Of me as a child, I would I was like, I would be dancing around the house, holding my ma, holding my notebook with my stories. So I combined both things and teaching I guess I was just a natural born teacher, I loved children so much. And it’s, it just I think if I had to say something about teaching that is that when you have two choices, when something goes, awry in the classroom, you could be very tough and say, this is the rules and this is, but I found that kindness and is a huge part of my approach to teaching.
I’ll tell a quick story that I was teach, I taught third grade most of the time. Now I’m teaching just groups, little small groups, which I love too. But I was teaching third grade and we were studying the different states and. The kids were doing all these parts of the project and one of them was to do a a big poster and it had to have the name of the state and they had, books and things to do, write about him, pictures, and they had to put a cap.
We learned what a caption was, so everybody was working on him. My little boy comes up to my desk and he shows me his poster in progress, and it was a wreck. It was a mess. It was awful. It was just scribbled all over. He, and so in that moment I had a choice. I could have said, oh my gosh, that’s a wreck. You have to start over.
Oh my God, I can’t believe, blah, blah, blah. But I decided to go a different route, and what I said to him was, what you have here is a good start. But I think we could use another poster, go get a new poster. And there was no crying. This is not, wasn’t being mean. He grabbed the poster. I sketched out a few, the letters on the name of the state.
And I went, we put the pictures, lay them out, and I said, okay, Luke on those pictures and type over the thing, tape over what I wrote and then bring it back and let’s see what we can, else we can do. And he was happy as a clam. I didn’t have a breakdown. He was excited about the project and I feel like I didn’t mess up.
Nice. Nice. And so yeah, I, that’s how I approach children all the time. I’m, when they’re, if you go from a positive approach, it’s just tremendously more powerful.
Stephen: Yeah. Nice. Okay. And we’re gonna talk about teaching and working with kids later, cuz you’ve written some middle grade books. So let’s talk about those. So you’ve got two books out right now. Tell us a little bit about those books.
Molly: Okay the main characters are,
Stephen: Lily. What are the titles? And I know you have them if you wanna hold ’em up too.
Molly: Yeah. So this is the title of the first book And I wrote this book in front of my third grade class and they chapter by chapter, they listened.
But this book is called The Game and it’s the Game is where three main characters three children Lily, who’s about 12, and then her brother Jimmy, and I’m gonna hold up the second book cuz there’s a picture of them. Lily is, and this was a little bit older Jimmy, her brother and their next door neighbor, Jamal, who is their best friends.
And in the first book in the game, they are they’re playing a game like Monopoly and that they found in their father’s startup children’s museum. And so they roll the dice and they pick a card and it said go to Ottos antiques. And they said, what? But they took their tokens, they stuck ’em in their pockets and they took their bikes over to this antique store.
And Otto is a main, is another character. But he sends them down the basement and they open up a, they open up this guidebook that they find about sweet Abundance, which is the name of the la cartoon Land. And so they open it up. And so without going into too much more detail they go to the back of the basement and Jimmy climbs under these curtains.
And he says, oh, wow. And he opens up the, they open the curtain and he’s a cartoon and they’re stunned. And so they end up crawling through the window and they go to this cartoon world called Sweet Abundance. And there they they meet all their car, their tokens turn into a. They said in the guidebook, if you add water, tokens will come to life size.
So they, so that’s another funny thing about Jamal, he’s a great character. They’re sitting in there, they said as a, we all, if he was add water to the tokens, but we’re in the middle of a park, I don’t know how we can do it. So Jamal takes the van token and he spits on it, and he says it’s water.
And he puts it down and it’s and it grows. And then they had the other one was the the other one was a dund. And so they spit on that token and he gets to be life size. And so they’re scratching the din. And they said, oh, what’s your name, boy? And in perfectly clear words, as I say, he said they don’t give, do dogs tokens with names in the factory, come on, don’t you know that?
And he said, I really prefer the name Bernard, because St. Bernard’s. They get to be heroes. They save people. It’s right up my alley. So nice. So those are the main the two, the three kids. And they drive around in the van named Randy. And they drive around sweet abundance and they meet different characters.
But the main part of the story is that there is a villain named John Hartless, which I think is a great name for a villain. And he looks like a s nightly whiplash, if you ever watched that right. Cartoon, the top hat and everything. And he wants to take over sweet abundance and he chases them around and finally skipping through all the different parts of the book.
At the very end, he’s got them, he’s cornered them. And there’s just nothing left. And Lily doesn’t know what to do. So she stands up and she kisses him on the cheek and he says, no, no one’s ever kissed me before. And my mean aunt raised me and he starts to shrink like the Wizard of Oz, but he doesn’t shrink all the way.
He gets to be like a four or five year old boy. And he starts crying and he said, my aunt looks very mean to me. And a, an adult character in the story steps in, and he says, it’s okay, Jo Little Johnny, I’ll take care of you. And pretty much that’s, then they go back and they end up being asked to come back again.
And you know that there’s, they’re losing all the color in sweet abundance. And so they somehow get, oh, they, in that story, another character comes up that is a very big favorite, as my grandson designed it. It’s a a robot named Tramo and Trio they find him in this antique store in a box.
Cause they’re, they got a letter saying that, please come back. We need you. The color’s disappearing from sweet abundance. And trio they push the right button and he comes alive and he’s got spring legs and he jumps all over the place. And they go back and the color is missing.
So they, that whole journey to find the color and also another main character is missing also. But it’s a beautiful story of what Ha Oh, forgot. The most important part in the second book, Eddie is the v is the bully at school. And he’s bullying Jimmy and he follows them into sweet abundance by mistake.
Cuz they go through this into the, through the store, the antique shop. He follows them in and What happens to Eddie in the story is really amazing. He’s really mean and he, he chases them around and a second car is actually born in that story cuz he chases him around in their car little car.
And he, things work out and he ends up so much better and they all end up as very close friends by the end. Nice. So it’s really lovely ending.
Stephen: Nice. Great. What would you say you work with middle school kids, younger kids, what other books out there are similar to these that you could point to for re readers that are interested?
Molly: I wrote them down that I have used before. One of them first, actually, the first one is an old book that is actually when I was a child. I read these Beverly Cleary books. In fact, she just died at 105 or something. And the characters were very real in there. They’re, they’re not these I don’t know.
The they, they get into me scraps, scrapes, and so Beverly Cleary is a huge, was a huge influence. And even though they’re old books, I like them. What did I do with race? Oh, here. So I read the book that I really liked was the recent book was the Voyage of Sparrowhawk. And the author is Natasha Farran, and they go on a journey also.
They are in a boat and they get into all kinds of scrapes and they go to these various different places. And the other one is Mr. Lemon Cell’s Library by Chris Stein. And it’s, again, it’s another adventure. They had this museum that’s really really strange, but really cool in there. So those are the, some of the books that Similar.
Stephen: Nice. Great. And have you had any of your students reading the books? What have they, what have people said about the books?
Molly: Okay two things. One, as I was reading them to my class as I was writing the first book when I got near the end, the kids in my GRA class, they’d like to lay on this rug while I was, I read stories to them.
He jumped up and he started saying, this is gonna be a movie and I’m gonna be Jimmy, and you’re gonna be Lily, and you’re gonna be Jamal. And they were just completely, they became the huge fans that really pushed me into getting it, published and everything. And then I I got I hear from the kids at my school who’ve read them.
In fact, in the second book, the second car, and it named Tony, she raps and my brother said to me, you’re really not gonna write, try writing raps are you? Molly said, give it a shot. If it comes out horrible, ill, I’ll take it out. So Tony does all these raps and these in my school, these girls that ha love my books and read them their teachers said they were marching around the classroom going with my determination, I’ll reach my destination.
And yeah, I there, there’s one girl that I see in school, she carries my book around with. Nice. That’s great. Yeah, I have, and I had I actually ran into some parents of a, of the From the class where I read the books the first class, and they were the parents there. And I ran into them and they remembered me.
I actually didn’t remember them exactly, but you
Stephen: get how many kids every single year. Yeah. You,
Molly: but I smiled. Oh yeah. I remembered their son. And he said he just loved your books, and she said, and she said, we credit you in your books to his love of reading. I thought, I wish I had a video of that I could carry around my head.
That was the most, I almost wanted to grab the mother and hug her. And I’ve I, the comments that I’ve gotten, I actually got a letter from a girl I, or she’s a paper letter and It was, oh, I almost should have brought it with me. But anyway, it was I just, she she is a student at the school of where I wrote the book, and I don’t teach there anymore.
And she said, you had my two brothers. And she said, but I, she said, I got lost in the story and I just love the characters and I can’t wait for the next book to come out. And so I I wrote back, I, I found out who her mom was and I remembered, and I called her and I said, how in the world did she read the book?
She said, oh no, our. Your books at our house is a big deal. So Nice. When she read it. So I received an actual paper letter and I’ve actually posted it on Facebook for my friends to see
Stephen: them. That’s beautiful. Love that. Yeah, kids, it’s great. That’s one of the things with kids, they, when they get into stories, they are so into it and love it.
And that’s one of the best things. Writing, reading with kids and all that. A absolutely. You get a group of adults and you read a little bit to ’em. They’re like, so kids are always so fun.
Molly: Oh yeah. They, there’s no holding them back, they it just comes. And I think that’s what I really love about them.
Stephen: Yeah. Obviously one of the little boys thinks that your book should be a movie. What do you think a movie or TV show for the books?
Molly: I like the idea of a movie. Yeah. I like the idea of a movie. It’s it lends itself to it. There’s the description of them. And in the first book I do have illustrations.
Second book, I did not do illustrations. Someone said in middle grade books, you really don’t need them. But I can see, I can, so here is a picture Oh, nice. Of, that’s Lily and Jamal and Jimmy, and they’re in the basement looking in that guidebook before they climb through the window and get into sweet Abundance.
And the the woman who, Sylvia Masic, who did the illustrations, she, it was strange because she just really liked the book and her kids liked the book. She’s the illustrator. And in the book, in this picture, she put little clues on his backpack. No. There’s a picture of the van somewhere on the shelf.
And the dund, the Bernard and then there’s thing that says dead end in one. In the first scene, they meet the main, one of the main character in Isador Benefactor. He’s the president of the bank and he’s like the head of the whole place of sweet abundance. And they found him. And originally I put him in jail, but that’s too close to Monopoly, so I called it that he was stuck in dead end.
Ah. They named did it. And so she put the word, this little sign that said, dead end there. So Nice. It’s the, yeah. And the kids. I I just love their reaction to it. I just love their reaction. Great. So yeah, I would say a movie. Okay.
Stephen: See, I always had the idea, you know how in the summertime some of the theaters show kids movies like every Tuesday and you could get a pass.
Oh they show like 10 movies through the summer every Tuesday or something like afternoon. Oh, that’s great. What I would love is to take my book and turn it into a cereal cartoon, and then every week for those 10 weeks, they show three minutes of the whole thing. I, that’s what I would love to do if it was, if I could figure out how to make it possible,
Molly: yeah. That I would, yeah. That’s a very, I didn’t know about those. I have to look for ’em and see if I can go see them.
Stephen: That’s, yeah. Yeah. I used to take my kids to ’em. It’s a lot of fun. Yeah. Molly, do you have a website for people to check out?
Molly: Yes. It’s molly perry author.com.
Stephen: perry author.com.
Molly: All I’ll puts. Yeah. Yeah. I I have on there some Just some posted. I just, things that are on my mind, it’s not necessarily, it should, I’m kinda learning about it. So yeah, they, and they can order the, they can order the book on the website. There’s a, the person who did it, they wrote the word Amazon, and if you just click on the word Amazon takes you right to Amazon on the
Okay, great. And what’s your plans for your third book?
Molly: So I’m about three quarters of the way through writing it. And the third book is wild, crazy also. They don’t go to sweet Abundance right away. Because the thing I didn’t tell you about the first book is they I did they found the game in the first book at their father’s.
Museum. He was trying to start up a children’s museum, which does get started up. And they found the game in a in a wooden box that was locked up cuz it was all just packages and things. And in fact he so they were left alone in the museum. He had an appointment and so they pulled it out and they played the game of Monopoly.
And so it sends them to the to the antique store. But this time it starts out with the characters’, main characters of the book showing up at their house in Mayville. That’s the real world. And they, the, is it, our benefactor is with the little little Johnny and Bernard at their front window, at their front door.
And he said, you gotta come right away. There’s very big trouble and we really need your help. And so they They get in the they go to the museum and they said, we can’t tell you now, is it her and his brother was there also, blah, blah, blah. And so they go to the museum and they find and they wanna make sure that the game is okay at the museum.
And and there is a twin museum in a suite. Abundance is a cartoon museum. It’s a twin. So they came because the game disappeared from the museum in sweet abundance. And they had come to the real world to see what if the game was still there in the real world of the real world. And they found out that it wasn’t, it was missing.
And so it was horrible cause I didn’t know if sweet abundance was gonna disappear. And so the father, Says we have to, oh, little Johnny crawls under the table, which normally kept the game was on display. And he, you hear him pulling and he crawls out and he’s ho there he’s holding the game.
This package the wrapped a package with these silver, that silver tape, and it looks like a spider and he holds it up. And so some things happen, but the father goes back to his office, which normally is his little tiny office in the museum, with a beat up old desk and a, a file cabinet.
And the father said, follow me. And everybody follows him. And they opened the door and the music, the offices changed. It’s huge. It’s beautiful. It’s big. And there’s a big new d the desk with his old swivel chair, which he’s very grateful for. They got the old swivel chair, but on and on. The one wall is this huge painting, so they all gather around the painting and it’s a painting of a field and a mountain, and there’s a little cabin at the top of the mountain and in the air, some birds.
So what I didn’t tell you in the first book is they talked about ho sweet abundance came into being. It was very short part of it. It turns out that is, the villain, John Hartless had run away from his job as an artist in this company because his boss was really mean. And so he went up to his cabin where he goes to relax and he starts drawing pictures.
Of this world of sweet abundance. And he drew it enough and says, and as if you believe in something long enough, it’s gonna become real. I thought I was gonna get a lot of flack from it, but everybody accepted it. And so he opened the trap door in the cabin, and he went into sweet abundance.
So there’s a, that, that’s what the cabin is at the top of the mountain and in the air are two new characters in the air. They said, they look closer and they said those two birds over there aren’t really birds. And they look, they said they look like little dragons. So they look closely in there.
They’re these two, two little dragons. And so the father opens up the package and there’s another character that appears. It’s actually a diary of a journey. And it turns out it’s the grandfather of Isador and. Otto. And so they take the guidebook with them and they said, and the father said, we follow me.
They go back to the room where the game was and they push this big bookcase away from the door and they open up these doors that open up like wings, whatever. And they see this hallway, this dark hallway with bricks, and there’s a torch stuck into the wall. And they said, this is where you’re gonna take your journey.
So the all the the kids go into that hallway and Jamal and of course Bernard goes and the three kids and and Tramo trio’s in this thing. I haven’t talked about him. And then I don’t know. This may or may not continue, but Right. But I had little Johnny say, you know what, I’m not, I’m brave.
He’s a little boy and he runs in with them and he begins to change and get to be their age. And he’s part of the team. I don’t know, it’s too many characters, so I don’t know what, but I like little Johnny. Anyway, so they go into this and they climb up this, these steps and they see these two little giggling faces of those two dragons and one’s green, sparkling green, her name is Emerald and the other one is Purple Sparkling.
Her name is pear Purple Emerald. And so they go in there and they climb up, and they see them at the top and they go into the store. And they’re in the cabin where, from the first book where they had actually created the Land of Sweet Abundance. And they go on this journey to.
Find the games. And it’s crazy because there’s another, they go open the trap door again and they go down and there’s railroad tracks in there. And Lily’s really thrilled that she doesn’t, that she doesn’t have to continually TRAs around, because there’s a train and a, an old fashioned train shows up with the, these smoke popping out.
And it’s Bruno, he’s the train and he, they travel on this train towards sweet abundance, but they go down this mountain and that’s where the real problem of the story actually comes about because it’s really bizarre. But they are encountered with a rat. His name is King Poison, and he, oh they stop in halfway down the mountain and they go into this house.
They see this lady sitting on a porch and she’s asked them for cookies, but she seems very suspicious. And, but they go in the house and she actually changes into this rat, this female rat. And she’s wearing this old baggy dress and there’s a, and she’s trying to capture them. So she said, you should go into this little wire box where she had two, two cats that were her kind of prisoners.
And but they somehow they won’t, they don’t go in to the thing that the cats actually popped the door open. And all the other people that were waiting outside, the traveling people broke into the, went in, and she ran away. And so if the next part you meet her name is of course, now I’m not gonna remember her name, but she goes to, oh no, her name is Malice.
And actually the word malice popped in my head before I started writing the book. I had no idea what the book was about, but there was gonna be a malice. And so she goes over and meets up with, and she’s Terri and she’s scared to talk to King Poison because she left the, everybody the cats escaped and everybody escaped and she ran away.
And he’s furious, but then they they go chasing them and they are Chas chasing them. And as they’re going down the mountain they no that when they go down the mountain, that’s when they meet Alice, the whole thing. And then they escape the house and they go down the mountain and they have to stop again.
It’s a crazy thing, but I won’t tell you about that, but up in the mountains, they see the wrath. They see king poison and they see malice and hundreds of rats. Wow. So the whole thing about the rats are, is that they said, somebody says in one part of it, they just, I wish they would just go home.
And one of them said they can’t go home. Rats have no homes. They live in behind the walls and in sewers, but they have no home. And they’re gonna find, there’s a home in sweet abundance, another land, a cartoon land, and the rats wanna take over sweet abundance and king Poison has the games, but they’re disguised as dice in his safe.
Stephen: That, that, and that’s a lot coming up, A lot going on.
Molly: First of all I’ve been telling everybody, I don’t know I know I have too many characters. I know I have too many characters, but everybody knows the main characters so well. So I have, the dragons and then the rats and the Bruno the steam.
So I don’t know, I guess that’s part of writing the book. You have to play with it.
Stephen: Great. Okay. So let me ask you a couple things about your teaching in that. Okay. Because I, with my books am working on a study guide and I’m working on like words to know and cuz I wanna get kids writing a bit more.
So as a teacher of young peoples what’s some of the problems you face getting them to read and some of the problems they have with the books and reading and e and even enjoying it and all that. What do you see as some of the problems?
Molly: I think the problems are, first of all, if they are, they they need help in learning how to read.
Then for some of them that’s where they really get difficult and they just don’t want, they know they don’t wanna do that. And I think for, as a classroom teacher, when you read, when I read a book to them, I’ve read some Roll Doll books and there’s one Roll Doll book, the short book, and it’s hilarious.
And I burst out laughing. Year after year I burst out laughing. I can’t stop laughing over these books. And the kids start laughing. And so I said, oh, you’ll have to, I’m sorry. And they said no, it really was really funny. And or I’ll be reading to them, so I’m going from another angle of reading to them instead of, then getting to the books that we read that they have to read.
And I’ll say, what do you think is gonna happen now? And they have all these ideas, so that’s to just get them. Hooked into the book, into the story. I said one time I tried various things and I said let’s make a little short story together. So I said in this book that I just read, this royal doll, he has this character.
So I said, let me just name some characters and I’ll put ’em in there. And I’ll tell you the beginning of it, are you up for it? That’s what I say. Are you up for it? And yeah. And so I say, okay, is this there in this character? And I said, the problem is da. What does there think of a better problem?
Yeah. He could have lost his homework in his, in trouble with the teacher. Oh yeah, let’s use that one instead. So I, and we create this story. I don’t, I can’t spend too much time on it, but I create a story and then I’ll say what, let’s brainstorm some Some endings. We talked about the characters, blah, blah, blah.
So that’s, it seems like a, a ti for some principles that’s wasting my time. I should just really teaching vocabulary and make them read the book. And and then she’s right, we should learn the vocabulary, but I just want ’em to get the idea of loving, of the process of writing a book so they understand the book.
And then I read to them every day. I read to them every day. And so they oh the other thing about before I get into that as a teacher, as I read to them an unexpected consequence or good, it was a good consequence happened about, from my books, they started bringing in from home their books that they wrote.
It could have been like two pages I thought I. If I made an assignment, everybody has to write a story, but all these books start coming from home that they were writing at home. The parents were so excited that they were doing that. If you, I think your general attitude towards the book that you’re trying to teach is excited, then I think that they get into it a little more.
I, repeat your question again so that I
Stephen: make sure No, I was just chatting because I like what you do and what you said about that. One of the things, and again, fu this is a touchy subject because first of all, I think our teachers are extremely undervalued and not admired. I have said for quite a while that I have the solution to fix everything in our country.
And what we do is we take the pay for the politicians and the pay for the teachers and switch ’em and Oh my God, yes. 20 years. The kids going through a system with highly paid teachers would have all the answers to everything, and we wouldn’t be listening to politicians that are underpaid. And it would solve our
And having them tell us how to teach too
Stephen: is right. And what you said about the principal thinking you should teach ’em grammar, teach ’em vocabulary, teach ’em spelling. But to what end? What’s the point if the kids don’t know how to use the spelling and use the grammar to write stories or tell stories, or read and understand what they’re reading, what’s the point in learning all of that?
Because, spelling, my, my cousin doesn’t spell great. And he says, why do I have to, I put everything on my phone. It tells me what I spelled wrong. So if you’re learning spelling in a vacuum what? No wonder they don’t care and wanna learn. But if they see, oh, I’m writing stories and these stories are exciting and people are reading ’em and enjoying them, and I read stories it’s it all feeds on itself.
That’s my thoughts and opinions. Abs.
Molly: Absolutely. It really does feed on itself. Absolutely. I saw this the, this Teacher, this really super teacher that they gave us, came to talk to us, and she told us about a thing that she did with spelling, and I loved it. What she does is she said, she has her spelling list from the book, and she said, but from their stories that they write, she said she finds books, words that are misspelled all the time, said, and she said she adds them to their individual.
So you have the 10 words, and then these words that she finds in their writing that are misspelled she adds them to individual’s spelling tests. I thought how you, how do they do it? So what she did was she gave the spelling test. And then everybody gets in pairs at the end for the last three, and they swap this card, which she keeps an index card of all the words that they misspelled.
And if I had your list and you had mine, I would give you those three, three words from their card of all these spelling words that they, words that they misspelled in their work. And and then if they spelled ’em right, I call, I call ’em and I crossed off the things on their card.
They said, yes, I’m gonna get everything off of my card. I said, yes, I bet you will. And so it, it individualizes their spelling, but you’re right. You need to know how to spell the words, but if there’s a motivation to do it it’s, I don’t, it’s very hard.
And I you do it and I. I had this one teacher. She was very smug. She said to me, how is it that your, the kids’ spelling scores on the tests are so high? I said they misspell them first, and then they spelled ’em right for a test. She was just very annoyed. She left. She didn’t, that’s impossible.
I said, I got it from a teacher’s top teacher. She told me how to do it. But I don’t know. I, sometimes it’s the way you teach the story you have those readers with the short stories of it encourages love of reading and writing. I, my first year of teaching, I had this principal who was, yes, they needed a better principal.
So she comes in to look at me, to observe me. But she just really wants to see my lesson plan. And I said, when I saw her, I said, oh, you gotta come to see my reading group. This is cuz there was three groups and I had my top group in front of me when she walked in and I wasn’t looking at her, I thought that she was following the group.
I said you wrote this little short story in the reader. I said, everybody, did you come up with your own ending? I changed ending to the story and they were all excited cuz these kids were like super brilliant kids and they were reading some of their own endings to the story that were in the book.
So I dismissed them and then, I went over to her and she was just looking through my plan book and I said, did you like the lesson? She said, your lesson plans need to be in more. These are very scattered. I wanted to just say, is that what you got outta this visit? Oh my.
Stephen: And right there. I love that you do that.
And I, I think that’s part of the problem is we’re so focused on the paper of what Common Core says we should do. Oh, yeah. And the kids aren’t really learning. And we’ve gotten, I know a lot of schools will spend a whole week preparing the kids for Common Core, so all they’re learning is how to take the Common Core test.
They’re not learning and oh, yeah. Telling, there’s so many things in telling a story. Like reading the stories, like what you did. I think some exercises I’ve suggested and some people were like surprised is the kids all went and saw the new Harry Potter movie, or the new Star Wars, or the new cartoon that’s out from Disney, whatever it happens to be.
So the following, if they, if you see it in the classroom or they’re all talking about, it’s like, Why don’t we write fan fiction? Why don’t we write our own story with those characters? What happens next? Oh, that’s a great idea. And then they’re, because they’re interested. Who cares?
Because then you can introduce some spellings. You know what, this is on our spelling list. It, you could use that word here. And when they see it, it clicks so much. Because I noticed with a lot of early write writers, adults in the, not just kids they read all these craft books. They read all this, how to do this, that, and the other thing.
But they haven’t written anything, so it doesn’t click. Oh, I know that. That’s okay. So we’re teaching spelling, we’re teaching grammar, but we don’t teach ’em how to write a story. So none of that clicks. And I, if we wrote or what you said hey let’s stop here. Why don’t you write how this story would end?
Yes. Yeah. And you could do, and then you could take what they wrote and do the grammar. You could do the spelling from that and that they’re more
Molly: engaged. Yeah. That comes later. First they’ve gotta be psyched. Yes. If they don’t like that story, I’ll say, yeah, now you got a great story. But we, we have to do, have to fix up the spelling.
So do you want me to circle the words and so you fix it up. Do you want me to do that? Oh yeah. If I had said cir, there are circled words. Fix them. It’s a whole different, yeah. I tell this story. This is, I didn’t plan on telling this, but I was teaching at this school and I. This little boy had run out of his, out, ran away from out of the building.
He hated school. And so they pulled him out of that school, and I don’t, they came to our, the school where I was teaching, and the principal stuck him in my room. She said, I’m giving him to you. I said, okay. So he came up to my desk, the kids were working, and he was. And so I said to him would, I just would like you to write me a little story.
I didn’t know anything about him. So he said, oh, I said, but make it funny or exciting or something, I got ’em all prepped up for it. And he wrote this story. It had to be maybe 50 words. And he came up and he pointed it down on my desk and I looked at it and the words were all mushed together.
There, there were, there, it was un unreadable, but I saw the little word, the, in the middle of it. And so I came up with this, come here. I said, I said, I feel cheated. He said, what? I said, I feel cheated. I said, you wrote a story. I don’t get to hear the story. And he said, why? I said, I can’t read it.
And he looked at and he said there’s the, I said, I know I saw it. I said, but now I don’t get to read your story. And he said I could rewrite it for you. I said, would you? And he sat down and he, now that’s a take B. He, he calls up a kid, this story is a mess. I can’t read a word of it except that word the redo it and the kid does this.
No, I’m not. And you run this building, he voluntarily sat there and I said, if you put your finger between each word, I’ll be able to see it better. Cause that’s where we teach. And the story was a nothing story, but I read it and I was exci, I was excited about it. And he and I. Did very well.
That was many years ago. I ran into his sister and I said, how is he doing? He said, oh, he is happily married. He has two little ba two little kids, and he is part owner in the gas station where he works. And I said, fantastic. So I’m not saying he was this genius, but he probably was very good with his hands.
And, but he found a home in my class that he was safe. He wasn’t gonna run away. I wasn’t gonna beat him up. And that’s part of what you’re saying. It’s gotta be an atmosphere where, you’re encouraged to do things. And I once taught haiku and I was being observed by this principal.
And cuz I, the new job, a possibility and I had all these people in the back and I had this haiku lesson, which is my favorite, one of my favorite lessons. And I had this packet with all these haiku that I had found. So I told ’em about the history of the haiku, that it third grade class. And I said I said, this describes a mountain and the fish jumps in the water at the end.
So I said, it tells a little story. I said, we’re gonna do haiku, but we’re not gonna follow how many, we’re not gonna count how many sounds or anything, we’re just gonna enjoy the haiku. When you get the high school, you’re gonna have to count the sounds. But right now, so I did, I wrote down a baseball haiku that, from another class that had written, it wasn’t the, it wasn’t the one that was from the Haiku book.
And at the plate holding the bat, bam, home run, whatever. And of course they understood that they could picture it. And so then I said, but let’s read some of the other ones. And we went around and, I said, we don’t have a lot of time, so just somebody, we’ll take four people, volunteer, look through the thing.
Who wants to read? So they read them. And so I said At the back is this pink blank with these lines on it. I said, see if you could write a haiku what could we write a haiku about? And they said, baseball. And then they said spring, summer, vacation all these different things, going to Camp Thanksgiving.
I said, yeah, go for it. Try something. So I, this is what I tell other teachers that are new. I said, I walked off the stage, I let them be on the stage. So I walked off to the side and I said, okay, who’s willing to, I said, and I said, let’s, I turned to the principals and every, I said, now we don’t wanna criticize.
We’re just gonna listen. Yes. I said, because they’re brave to do this, to come up in front. So they came up and they were okay. They did it and we all were, we’re all very happy with them. And then like a gift from heaven. This boy said, can I write some at home and bring them in? I said, let me think.
Should you write some at home and bring them in? Yeah. Nice. And so we wrote all these haiku and we walked out and my principal said, you’re hired. And because I stepped off the stage, it became theirs. It was them, I wasn’t grading them at the time, and, it, and so my, the one lady, no, it wasn’t her, it was this woman I shared the classroom with.
She said, Molly, what you do is you love them into submission mission. And I do, I love the kids, and I don’t have, I, that’s, and that’s part of teaching, but it’s also, I love the stories and I, I and I, and I. I, I did play a trick on that boy with the thing, but I, I didn’t do it with being
Stephen: mean, but Yeah. But you’re right. Like when you told the principal, we’re not criticizing because in the younger grades we need to encourage them in writing and their stories because that’ll get ’em excited and then they’ll read. And once you read your spelling and grammar becomes easier and better.
Absolutely. But we have it so backwards in that the only time we ask ’em to write something is, what did you do this summer? That’s the only thing you ask. And then we say, here, read this book. We know it’s dry and you’ll hate it, but you have to read it cuz we said so, okay, let’s do spelling.
And there are all this stuff in it. It gets ’em like, who cares? By the time they’re in eighth, ninth grade, they’re like, I am so tired of spelling. But if we just worried about. The story and the reading in the younger grades then when they’re like,
Molly: you’re a great teacher.
Stephen: I’ve been told that, and I do love to teach and I work with kids a lot.
I always have, even when I was younger. It is just, honestly, I don’t think I could have handled all the politics and the stuff. I would’ve been one of the teachers driven out by all the administration.
Molly: Oh I could not go back into the classroom because every minute is scheduled for me.
I can’t tell my stories. I’m a storyteller. If I, I would say one time I said about the word said to this one little group or one class. I said, I hate the word said. I said, but my son David, he’s the one who helped me with the word, said, they’re looking like I lost my mind. And I said Them. He, I said he had written a story for school and he asked me to look at it and he had misspelled, s e d I said, which is how he should spelled?
So I said, I dunno how you’re gonna re I, I really wasn’t being tricky. I just was, I don’t know how I can, I teach kids how to spelled. And he got up off the table. He said, let’s try this. And he took a step, s a i, and he was stepping with each letter. I said, do that again. S So I said, okay, fix your words.
Fix the word setting paper. And so I went to school and I said, I got this great idea from my son how to spell the words that, what’s his name? They wanna know everything about you. His name is David. And I said, get outta your seat. I said, let’s try what he did. I told them the story and they were gonna go, oh, walking around s a i, I said, So I shouldn’t have a word misspelled said in our, and I know that there would be teachers who say, I wasted all this teaching time playing around with step stomping around the room.
But you know what? Fun is good. That’s my motto, by the way. Fun is good.
Stephen: Exactly. And they learn through that better. And I think sometimes hitting them with, here’s a list of 10 spelling words for the week. Go home, memorize it. And the spelling test at the end of the week, and then 10 more next week.
So many kids, my, my stepson was bad at math and he had a hard time with math and working with him, what we discovered was that he would work on a lesson and work on learning a principle and a topic, but then when he went to the next one, he forgot all of that. And so it wasn’t connecting and it made the next one harder and yeah.
Great. Some kids. Thrive in that I’m gonna sit down and memorize 10 words and get ’em right next week and 10 more. And other kids are just like my brain’s turning to mush. But, If you wrote stories and told stories and they used those words, they would, so many more of them would then get it.
And there’s just, we’ve been learning that kids learn in different ways and work in different ways and it’s, is it more important for them to do 10 words a week and forget all of ’em and never be able to spell hardly any of ’em correctly? Or is it better to learn five or six that they use and they know how to spell really good and can always spell it?
It’s like my kids when they went to school, instead of learning in chemistry, all the elements on the table, cuz we had to do that, we had to try and memorize them and where they were and the A two letter combination and, memorize that. Instead, they were put in the groups of five and they got assigned two elements each and they had to research it.
Who discovered it? Oh my god. Discovered. And what led to that and how does it work with other elements. And so they became experts at just two elements. And then they had to give a presentation, which got ’em in front of kids talking. And so they all heard about all the elements, but they only really worked with two.
And there were parents arguing that now my kid doesn’t know all of ’em. Like they know ’em as well as they would have, but they know two of them like intimately
Molly: and it was right. And they, and if they needed to know another one, they know how to research it and find out
Stephen: about it. Yes. We don’t need to teach ’em how to memorize these element, how to look it up, research it, work with other people, how to give presentations.
And the rest of it comes, it falls. You work with other
Molly: people. That’s. Very
Stephen: important. Nowadays it’s big. They teach classes on it. It’s like, why teach classes? Just put ’em in the groups. They learn how to do
Molly: it. That’s right. That, yeah, that’s, yeah. The, I love that. I love that style of learning. In fact, when I was taught my third grade class, we learned about Native Americans and there was a map of all these different tribes.
And so I broke the kids up into five groups and this is after talking a lot about their culture and food and blah, blah, blah. And I said, we’re never gonna learn about all of ’em. It’s impossible. I’m doing exactly what you’re talking about. So I said, here, I’m gonna break you up in groups of five.
And I said, and I said, I’m not sure how to do this. Should I, should you pick a tribe? I said, I don’t want everybody to pick the same one. Cuz then you can get together, you can make, pictures of their homes and, Oh my God. They went crazy. But the, and it turns out we picked five different tribes and I gave them time in class to, and I think I gave ’em an outline of, food, this, what to do.
And then they made a presentation of it and they loved it. They loved it. And I just went around from group to group and we, and then they made their presentations. And I, when, I learned so much about Native Americans that about these different groups and some things about how certain things that certain tribes do well, they, they actually got passed along through, so some of the things, maybe the north or the south, right?
They got pa passed along. And like the Totem poles. They were, I think the north first, and then they finally they found ’em in Florida. So the, those things who knew I didn’t know about, but that’s really learning some interesting stuff about it. And the one year I did that, and there was a mother that came in to videotape their presentation because they’ve been working so hard on it.
That’s when you get worried, how much were you involved in this? But yes. Yeah. But anyway, but no, the more involvement, the more you’re off the stage. The talking head, because I remember taking a class in college and the ta, the teachers talked about that, and he said, when you just stand there and talk to them, usually only one third hears anything you said.
That I never forgot that. And your enthusiasm. Should be in the classroom. No, they shouldn’t be in the classroom because they wouldn’t let you.
Stephen: It’ll kill me. But no I’m working on some presentations to give the classes so I could come in as a visiting author. Yes. And do things with storytelling with video game.
That’s video game storytelling is where I’m really pushing some things because they can relate to that yeah, it’s stories, it’s video games. You can do it now, that type of thing. And that’s gets them more excited about what story is, even though it’s told in a different way in a video game.
But that’s where they’re at. That’s what their interest is. So instead of fighting it, use it.
Molly: Yes. That’s the difference. That’s the way that teaching should be. You shouldn’t be, I walked down my, in my school and there’s these teachers sitting at their desk and they’re pointing to things and then the kids are working.
And I’m thinking, I’m falling asleep, just walking, seeing you sitting at the desk. Right?
Stephen: It’s not the 18 hundreds anymore,
Molly: but you’d be surprised all up and down the hall, people sitting. And then you see one, I saw there’s one teacher. I love to watch her. She’s pacing around and up and down and the kids are all wound up and excited.
And I that’s a teacher. Not that you have to be that way all the time. But, and and just, they, you need to get them participating and doing and creating. Yeah.
Stephen: And we gotta the, this is a whole nother topic. And I know we gotta get going here, but yeah, we gotta watch the.
We’re so concerned about the grading system and who’s getting A’s and B’s, that we only focus on those numbers and we have to quantify it, that we’re missing what the kids may actually be learning and what’s useful and helpful and making ’em, people I know there’s some new, the kids, the high school my kids went to, they had different ways of grading whether kids were passing or not, and what their grades were.
And I like the system. I don’t think it’s perfect yet. I just think we need to, discuss, open our eyes and talk about it more rather than this is the way it’s always been. Let’s keep doing it.
Molly: Also I find that, who’s creating all this stuff? I don’t know if they’re in the classroom, creating textbooks or creating curriculum.
I don’t know if they’re in the classroom. Do they have any, and so how can they even begin to understand things that you can’t write about in a book? You’re, you, the way that you care about them, the way that you. Your personal enthusiasm. I don’t think that is addressed, but the teachers who haven’t and do it, the kids come back to visit, they come back to visit me.
Absolutely. And I’m talking about that and, I that’s that’s it’s, we have such an opportunity. You have those kids together. You don’t know what the heck’s going on at home and fear of the world blowing, going to heck right. And all that stuff. So you have a million different things going on.
And for you to just tell them to study for this spelling test, that’s the least of their issues we should. Start campaign.
Stephen: I’m sure we’ll be in touch a little bit more. I’ll let you know when the episode goes live and I’m sure being a close teacher and stuff I might shoot you some emails and have thoughts and discussion.
That’d be awesome. I’d love it, Abby. And sit down for coffee one morning or something. Oh, Abby, she’s a character. Yes. Yes. I’m gonna see her at the end of the month at the writer’s conference over at the library. Oh, I’m gonna be there. Oh, I’ll see you there on the 25th. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be
Molly: there. Yeah. I’m gonna, I have to leave a little bit early, but I’ll be there for most of it.
Stephen: Great. Oh, excited. I’m, there’s an author I’ve been talking to, I want meet, so yeah, it’ll be a fun day. Okay. So Molly, before we go real quick since we’ve been talking about writing and your stories and your books do you have any advice you’d give out there to parents of their kids to encourage them to write or anything like that?
Or young kids that are writing.
Molly: If, just off the top of my head, if you if you can read a simple story with them, sit down, and then when the story’s done, we’ll say Billy and Johnny and that story, maybe we can make an adventure with them. And you write what their ideas are and, and then say, okay, if they’re old enough, read your story.
You become the just the writer, the script scribe, whatever. And depending on that, but like with the haiku, I’ll say why don’t you write one? And I, that day I had the kids a hard time getting the kids to stop coming up with more, running to the front, waiting to write another one.
And finally my time was up. They were really, I said if you wanna go home and your teacher will listen to them. Nice. And they were psyched, and that’s what we’re looking for. Yeah. You, if you you’ll get them to write if you appreciate their efforts, maybe. But in the end, say yeah, I love this.
We, we really got a great story now, but now here’s the part that we all have to do. So what do you think that would be? I’m not gonna, we have to write it in Anitas writing. Yeah. We’re gonna have to do that. But before we do that, we have to do stuff. Here’s, if I as a, I don’t like to talk as an author particularly, but when I was in school and when I have to write things, what do I do?
I have to fix what’s, what’s mistakes and I have to read it again. And one of the other, and I said, and when you write your stories cuz my kids were writing stories for me at home and bringing them, they typically would repeat the same thing over and over and over again.
So I said, can I give you one hint? I said sometimes I, when I write it, I do this. When I write a story, I’ll write it and then I find myself writing the same thing over and over. So would you mind if I like, circled that paragraph and said, you just, you know you’re doing that? And they said, yeah. I said, then you don’t, because then it won’t.
Cuz they say, my story’s five pages long. My story’s 10 pages long. I said, it doesn’t have to, it doesn’t, it’s not, but I’d rather have it one page long or two pages long. But you’re not repeating cuz you have some good story, but you just wanna make it even better. So that’s, and they let me circle ’em, but I have their permission.
It’s, when you get back a thing from a teacher, it’s all red and all that you.
Stephen: Yeah. And I love that you just said that you have their permission, you get the kids involved empower them. They want to get better. They wanna learn, they wanna know. They really do. But again, when we’re just hitting them and all that it turns ’em off.
Yeah, absolutely. Yep.
Molly: Yep. All right. I, you make a good teacher.
Stephen: All right, Molly, it’s been wonderful talking to you. I wish you very much luck on your books and I can’t wait to see you in a couple weeks. Okay. I’ll see you soon. Thank you. Take care. Bye-bye all. And I’ll let you know when this goes live. Oh
Molly: Yeah, please.