Kate Messner’s “Tuesday Poem: Revolution For the Tested”

May 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Posted in Writing, Reading | 4 Comments

Kate Messner, Children’s Book Author – http://www.katemessner.com

A Tuesday Poem: Revolution for the Tested

Posted on 2010.11.09 at 17:22

Because it has been one of those days…and because I’ve been thinking a lot, worrying about the direction some of our schools are going. Here is what I’d like to whisper to my students as they leave my classroom in June… Revolution for the Tested


But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.

Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.

Write for yourself.
Write because until you do,
You will never understand
What it is you mean to say
Or who you want to be.
Write because it makes you whole.

And write for the world.
Because your voice is important.
Write because people are hurting
Because animals are dying
Because there is injustice
That will never change if you don’t.
Write because it matters.

And know this.
They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
Not to trouble over grownup things,
Just fill in the lines
And leave it at that.
Tell them you know the truth.
That writing is powerful.
Just one voice on the page
Speaks loudly.
And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
It is the only thing that ever has.


But don’t read what they tell you to.
Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
Carefully selected for lexile content,
Or articles written for the sole purpose
Of testing your comprehension.

Don’t read for trinkets,
For pencils or fast food coupons.
Don’t even read for M&M’s.
And don’t read for points.

Read for yourself.
Read because it will show you who you are,
Who you want to be some day,
And who you need to understand.
Read because it will open doors
To college and opportunity, yes,
And better places still…
Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
To lands where anything is possible.
To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
To Narnia and to Hope.

Read for the world.
Read to solve its problems.
Read to separate reality from ranting,
Possibility from false promise.
And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
Read so you can tell the difference.
Because an educated person is so much harder
To enslave.

And know this.
They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
That data doesn’t lie.
Tell them you know the truth.
Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
It’s not about points
On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
And it never will be.

Copyright 2010 ~ Kate Messner

I shared this poem as part of my NCTE/ALAN presentations, and I’ve had many teachers write to ask if it’s okay to share with students and colleagues in the classroom. The answer is absolutely yes.  Share away!

However, I’ve had a problem with the poem being republished online without my permission and without appropriate citation, so please….if you’d like to share any part of this poem with online readers, please do so with my name listed as the author and a link to the full poem at this post. Thanks!


Writing Takes Guts

May 29, 2012 at 8:47 am | Posted in Writing, Reading | 2 Comments

Some say that top ten lists are going the tired, hackneyed way of the cliche. But I beg to differ. I love a good top ten list in the same way that I love a good cliche. So, here is today’s top ten list for writers of all ages, shapes and sizes.

10. Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.  Anonymous

9. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order.  Robert Silverberg

8. Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely necessary.  Jessamyn West

7. It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.  Will Shetterly

6. If you think that something small cannot make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.  Anonymous

5. First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow her!  Ray Bradbury

4. Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.  Kurt Vonnegut

3. I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.  Stephen King

2. When in doubt, blow something up.  J. Michael Staczynski

1. I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.  E.B. White

Two of the ten quotes contain the word “guts”, so I declare that to be today’s theme. So, get your guts on and sit down to write.

Decisions, Decisions!

May 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Writing, Reading | 1 Comment

Finally, the logo for Suddenly Lost In Words is here. Who would have thought that choosing the name for our e-writing company and finding a logo would be two of the hardest decisions ever? However, now that they are made, we are very pleased with ourselves and want to show it off. So, consider it shown off!! Let us know how you like it!

All Good Books Are Alike

May 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Posted in Writing, Reading | Leave a comment

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that . . . it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. . .

Ernest Hemingway

     When the cold, crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge is given a look at his boyhood self in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, he melts. Suddenly, decades of calluses drop from his soul like barnacles magically falling off the bottom of a ship. For a glistening moment, the business matters that normally dominate every corridor of his mind are gone. The only money he thinks of is in the form of a wistful contemplation of the coins he might have given to the boy who sang carols in front of his door the previous night.

The most remarkable thing about this passage though, isn’t what Scrooge isn’t thinking about; it’s what completely absorbs him, what he gets lost in. When he notices that his younger self is reading, he becomes excited, and it’s a cleansing, joyous excitement. “Why it’s Ali Baba!” he exclaims in what Dickens calls “ecstasy.” It’s hard to get higher than ecstasy.

The reason for this elevated state is the fact that Scrooge is seeing more than himself reading; he is once more beholding the characters he loved. Scrooge thrills to them as though they are parading past him.  Dickens makes you hear him pointing them out. There is a Sultan’s groom turned upside down by a genii for having married, Scrooge thinks, too far above his class. “What business had he to be married to the princess?” Scrooge disapprovingly intones. He identifies Robinson Crusoe (“Robin” to him), and describes Crusoe’s parrot in lively detail. He sees Friday running, and calls out to him. Scrooge is lost in words that have become so much more than words.

Midway through this reunion, Scrooge asks his ghostly escort, “Don’t you see him?” Scrooge isn’t just remembering; he is witnessing. These aren’t characters to him. These are people he knew, people who once gave color to his gray life, and have magically come back to him. The George C. Scott-led movie version of the story takes the idea further. When the ghost expresses sympathy for the way Scrooge once clung to such fictional characters as friends, he turns with a look of astonishment. “Ali Baba not real?” he asks incredulously, as if the ghost has just labeled England a mythical kingdom.

Isn’t that the way we feel about the stories and the characters we have loved? We might be afraid to admit our secret knowledge openly: These aren’t characters; these are people. We have known them.  They have kept us company in lonely times. They have taught us things about life that we would otherwise never have known. They have been our friends.

Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird not real? Such a contention would be as absurd as contending that there was no actual Secret Garden!  Remember our friend Tom Sawyer? He was a little manipulative, but he had compensating qualities. And what about Jay Gatsby? Didn’t it hurt to see him live and die for what turned out to be an illusion? He reached out, and there was nothing to take hold of. Only air. As for Philip “Pip” Pirrip, the little orphan of Great Expectations, how could we not be moved by his sense of wonder and by the kindness and understanding to which it ultimately brought him? Didn’t we experience the entire journey right by his side? Gandalf and Sherlock Holmes and Jane Eyre not real? One might as well contend that Jean Valjean and Anne of Green Gables were only the products of an author’s imagination. We know better, don’t we?

But that part about the author’s imagination may give us something to consider. Good authors don’t imagine; they give birth. Their offspring are not ordinary progeny; they live forever. The Dracula who chilled my grandparents was still around, unaltered by time, to chill me.  And he’ll continue to chill long after I’m gone. The same unending longevity is shared by John Steinbeck’s Billy Buck, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, and Jane Austen’s Emma. This is one of the most beautiful traits of good storytelling. The best authors don’t merely populate the tales they tell; they populate our lives – and our hearts – as well.

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