I tend to be pretty black-and-white with picture books I review here on Two Writing Teachers. If I (a) like it and (b) can see how it can be used to teach the qualities of good writing to kids, then I’ll share it in a blog post. However, every now and then there’s a book that attracts my attention, but it isn’t something I’d typically hold up as a mentor text. Unstoppable Me written by Susan Verde and illustrated by Andrew Joyner is one of the books that falls into a gray area. It might not be something you’ll use to teach reading-writing connections, but it is a book you’ll want to read aloud to your students early in the school year as you build your classroom community.
Here’s a bit about Unstoppable Me from the publisher’s summary:
I am movement
Fueled by food
And powered by PLAY!
Unstoppable Me is about the sort of energetic child we all know and love — full of fun and play…and a bit exhausting! In this book, we see an unstoppable little boy, run, jump, and soar through his day. He takes a little time to refuel, then he’s back at it—zooming and zipping around. From #1 New York Times bestselling author, Susan Verde, comes a poetic and joyful book about the celebration of an active child.
And here’s why you’ll want to pick up a copy of this book as you’re building a community of writers. Every writing workshop I’ve ever taught or consulted in has had at least one child who seems to be in perpetual motion. Many times, that child is the kid who talks their classmates during independent writing time, interrupts their teacher during a writing conference, or cannot respect their peers’ space in the meeting area. Rather than isolating, ostracizing, or stigmatizing kids who are more active than the rest of the class, the beginning of the school is the perfect time to start conversations about living in a classroom community where all learners have different needs.
I called upon the author of Unstoppable Me, Susan Verde, to gain her expertise. Here’s her insight on how to start conversations with your students about students with learning/attention differences, staying focused during writing workshop, and more!
Stacey: Who or what inspired you to write Unstoppable Me?
Susan: The inspiration for this story came right from my own experiences as a child, teacher, and parent. I remember how it felt to have my own challenges when I was growing up and in school especially and to be looked at as “difficult” instead of just needing something different in order to learn and be myself. As a teacher, and then parent, I was surrounded by kids with tons of energy and often they were being told to sit still or called “spirited” as sort of a code word for “too much.” I knew that part of the problem is perspective. If we can look at these kids and see what they can do and what they bring to the world then our approach to their needs can be more supportive. When a child feels seen and able they do better and feel better. Unstoppable Me is an ode to all of those kids no matter what their challenges are.
Stacey: How can teachers use Unstoppable Me to start conversations with their students about learning/attention differences?
Susan: I think this is a great jumping off point for conversations with kids about their own learning needs. After sharing the story and hopefully enjoying it at face value, teachers can ask kids questions like, “when you are trying to learn something new is it hard to sit still?” “What other things can make it hard to pay attention?” I think kids are very open when they feel they are in a safe environment and can actually talk about what they need so teachers have more information. The conversation can lead to creating a classroom agreement about how to ask for or access what they need in a safe way. Unstoppable Me makes movement joyful and a celebration so teachers can approach learning differences and conversations around them in a joyful way.
Stacey: How do you help kids who have trouble staying focused during the writing workshops you lead?
Susan: When working with kids, I try to notice when they need a break or movement. I incorporate some yoga or standing and stretching or just simply shaking out their arms and legs to get the blood flowing. I have a son (now 15) who needs constant redirection especially when he is working on math. His teachers have found that if he can stand during class or have opportunities to work things out on the whiteboard he is better focused. Sometimes kids haven’t eaten. And sometimes writing is just not their thing. I try to take all of that into consideration and meet them where they are. Sometimes a simple check in with their feelings at the start of the workshop can give me a lot of information.
Stacey: What do you do to help kids who you notice have trouble staying still when you lead writing workshops?
Susan: Again I try to give them some opportunity for movement. If I see a child who can’t sit I might make them my helper and give them some leadership responsibility or give the whole class a movement break. My intention for writing workshops is really to help kids feel engaged in the process whatever their ability. Sometimes kids fidget when they are not connected to topics or are feeling like they can’t do something. Letting kids know about my own challenges and how I write lots of rough drafts and make lots of mistakes and corrections can help them feel more at ease. It’s also about me remembering not to take things personally and that means being at ease with the knowledge that not everyone is going to be still and engaged. When I feel more at ease about that then I am better able to help.
Stacey: What suggestions do you have for teachers to acknowledge and respect the neurodiversity of their classes?
Susan: Everyone learns differently and while reaching each individual can feel like a daunting task in a classroom, it also allows for more success and a better environment. I think giving kids the ability to talk about difference and different learning needs and to be heard in that way is wonderful and helpful. Having many different ways of approaching a lesson is also incredibly important for kids. If you are able to come at something from a visual, kinesthetic, auditory and other perspectives than all of the different kids will get something out of it. It’s a lot and I think teachers are incredible and try very hard to do it all. I think one important piece is for teachers to be easier on themselves as they figure out who needs what and knowing that sometimes it’s trial and error. But if you have given your students a space and ability to feel like they can ask for what they need that will make a world of difference.
Stacey: How do you suggest teachers reframe the “boundless energy kids” and see their incessant energy as strengths rather than detriments?
Susan: I know it can be exhausting and often disruptive when a child can’t be still in the classroom. When I was teaching a friend told me that every behavior that is seemingly “bad” is really a reflection of an unmet need. Remembering that and then supporting a child by finding something positive about their energy, something they can do and noticing it will go a long way. Making that child or those children feel like they have abilities and something to contribute and that their energy is helpful in a lot of ways can open up the lines of communication and help them feel seen and less likely to disrupt with intention. Kids are aware of their own struggles, even if they don’t always have the language to speak about them. They need to know that they have other amazing parts of themselves that help them shine. I have another son with OCD and sometimes it gets in his way at school. He laments “WHY?” I try to remind him that without out this challenge he may not have all of the other beautiful qualities and abilities like empathy and kindness and thoughtfulness and a great sense of humor that make him who he is. Those are the things that are important and when he feels good about himself, he is more able to tackle his school work and communicate with teachers. Reframing and pointing out the positives isn’t a “cure” but it helps everyone shift their point of view and find more success and kindness.
Stacey: What are you working on now?
Susan: I have a new book in my beautiful I Am series with Peter H. Reynolds out on September 17th called I Am Love: A Book of Compassion and I am very excited about it. I am continuing to work on those as well as a series with illustrator Jay Fleck that is fractured fairy tale series infused with mindfulness and yoga. Always exciting stuff in the pipeline!
May your writing workshop be a nurturing place for all students — the quiet ones, the on-task ones, and the ones who may require some patience — this year.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Unstoppable Me. Many thanks to Macmillan for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Unstoppable Me, please leave a comment about this post by Wednesday, August 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, September 1st.
- If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – UNSTOPPABLE ME. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed. A random number generator was used and Sophia K.’s commenter number came up so she’ll win a copy of this book.