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I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  296 ratings  ·  57 reviews
A teacher discovers how reading, writing, and imagining can help children grow, change, and even sometimes survive

A few years back, children's-book writer Sam Swope gave a workshop to a third-grade class in Queens. So enchanted was he with his twenty-eight students that he "adopted" the class for three years, teaching them to write stories and poems. Almost all were new Am
ebook, 320 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published July 3rd 2004)
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I admire the author for his commitment to these students. He tutored them in writing for three years. Surely they benefited from his devotion and I can't think of a class who wouldn't benefit from a long term artist-in-residence who pours so much into a class. It's clear Swope cares deeply for his students and he goes to great lengths to help them have opportunities to enter good middle schools. Swope also brings his class and their families to life for the reader.

Somehow the book fell somewhat
Julie Saller
I really enjoyed reading this book. The stories and poems the students were able to create are amazing.
The author is rather judgmental towards the parents of his students. Rather bold for a man living alone with a cat. Also, while he tries to seem very open to other cultures and religions, his actions seem to indicate he laughing about them behind his hand. I think this was an interesting concept and I enjoyed hearing about the different kids and their different backgrounds. I really wanted to know what happened to them down the road and you didn't get any of that. Not awful, but I probably would ...more
Ben Canter
I am a Pencil is a memoir about a writer who volunteers his time to teach intercity immigrants writing at an elementary school. I truly enjoyed reading this book, and it was my favorite book I've read in the past couple months. However, this is less because of the writing style and the book itself and more because of the connections I could make to it on a national and personal level. I found the narration to be rather dry and the tone of the book to be somewhat flat. As a teacher and children's ...more
I really wanted to like this book and had it on my Amazon wish list for some time. Then I received it for Christmas. Alas, I found the tone off putting and the teacher somewhat self-righteous. The anecdotes were overly long and seemingly aimless at times. Maybe I was hoping for too much.
I read this almost ten years ago and wanted to revisit, since my own kids are the age of Sam's students in the book now and are becoming writers in their own right. Just as good on the second read!
Janet Meissner
What a wonderful little book. The title and cover attracted me and I was not disappointed by the story inside. Swope devotes three years of his life teaching the same class of grade school kids to express themselves in the written word. He counseled them in a group and individually while their regular teacher taught other subjects. Whether these kids use writing as their main focus of their careers as adults or not, they will still have learned the important skill of communication in a non-confr ...more
Beth Peninger
I'm a sucker for men and women who see the potential in kids that nobody else does and devotes their lives to exposing the potential. And that's what this book is about.
Sam Swope, at a crossroads in his writing career, was handed an opportunity to teach a writing workshop to some 3rd grade kids. He jumped at the chance and stuck with them for 3 years, pouring into them - not just writing techniques, etc but he poured into them belief and care and consistency. They thrived, mostly, under his pre
Sam Swope, a professional children's author, decided to spend time in a public school with third graders, talking about writing, teaching writing, writing. He, like others, fell in love with his kids and spent a total of three years, following them thru 4th and 5th grade...that's the kind of luxury a 'real' teacher lives for. Imagine!

Swope gets to know the kids well. Mostly first and second generation immigrants from all corners of the world, the kids bring so many challenges and rewards to Swo
This book is the author's account of the three years he spent as a creative writing teacher at a low-income, multicultural elementary school in Queens, NY. He follows several children as they grow from 3rd grade through fifth grade, navigating difficult home lives, poverty, and peer culture. He also writes about his own growth as a teacher -- what he came to expect from himself and his students, what counts as "good writing" and "good learning," and how much one person can impact the lives of ma ...more
Nov 27, 2012 Kerri rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All teachers or teachers-to-be
When I picked up this narrative, I must admit I was slightly disappointed it was based around an elementary school classroom. As a secondary education English major, part of me hoped for a more applicable grade level. As I worked my way through the pages, however, I realized just how useful the book remains. Sam Swope is the teacher we all wish we had; he pushes his students, engages them, and gets to know them as people. The connections he draws with his students are inspiring, and I hope to be ...more
Alyssa Trumble
Loved hearing about the children and their stories. There were some very insightful and beautiful stories and poems included in this book. I got a little annoyed with the narrator's voice and attitude throughout the book, but it didn't overshadow the beauty of the children's writing for me. I also enjoyed the projects Swope came up with for the children--I definitely would have enjoyed those projects in elementary school!
Nov 14, 2008 Josh rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Elementary teachers
I'd probably give it a 3.5 if I could, but I really did like it a lot. I really enjoyed the author's attitudes & experiences with kids the same age that I've enjoyed working with these last couple of years (3rd-5th grade). Even though I wasn't full-time or specialized to teaching writing like he was, being so fascinated at the individuality & aptitude of every student really resonated with me. What kept it from being an extremely high rating for me was something about the pace. I enjoyed ...more
I can't believe that I read an education book during the summer and enjoyed it so much!

This is a delightful book...anyone who loves children and is fascinated, as I am, as to the inner workings of their mind should read this.

Of course, I have the usual complaints. For example, the teacher, Mr. Swope, does not go into detail about how he researched for his big projects. He talks about how much time it takes in a very general, off-handed way. As a teacher, I can tell you this is not a minor piec
I read this book while I was in my graduate program for education. This book was an assigned reading for a course in classroom assessment and instruction. I couldn't put the book down! I most related to the character Miguel. I have friends who grew up catholic and experienced some of the same strict religious practices in their home. Mr. Swopes really paints a vivid picture of what it is like to teach in an inclusion type of classroom. You have so many different walks of life to acommodate and ...more
Jacqueline Lee
It's a silly title. But it intrigued me for many days and I picked it up eventually. I wasn't disappointed! In fact, I think this is one of those rare jewels, an untampered, unpretentious celebration of humanity. Sam Swope writes with an earnestness that shines through clear and honest prose. I have taught young children before and, like Sam, saw in them what they could not yet see in themselves: young minds that have the potential to become just about anything they can put themselves to: a scie ...more
The best thing about this book is definitely watching the kids grow up. It's something I would never be able to experience unless I did what he did. It made me think a lot about how much I've changed since elementary school and the kind of thoughts I had when I was that age. It just made me think. I liked reading the kids' writing, even though it was so childish. Their writing made me think more about the authors and what they were trying to say, since they couldn't express it all the way. I lik ...more
Read it in Dec 2011 with WV work book club. I think I like it, don't remember much at this point.
It took me a while to read through this book. It didn't seem to be going anywhere. It is a cute collection of a teacher's interactions with some kids but it does not really have a point. I think it would have been better if there was some reason for me to like the teacher. I really didn't feel like I understood his motivation for the book or for teaching. I would have liked to connect with him a little more which would have made his interactions with the kids a little more endearing. Overall, no ...more
Amber Baker
I picked this up on a lark. I was actually looking for books to help me teach my daughter better handwriting when I came across it. It's a pretty good book. The author follows his class of students over 3 years of teaching them writing in 3-5 grade. I like the authors perspective, the tone of the book, and I find his lessons interesting. I am applying some of them with my daughter.
rabck from karin07814; delightful book about three years that a writer volunteers his time working with a class starting in their 3rd grade year. He challenges them with writing - teaching them plots, poetry, nature. They are part of a multicultural immigrant community, which flavors their writing and their understanding, since many are first generation. Overall, a great book.
I'm not sure I can describe what I liked about this book; it is well-written, and really draws the reader into the writer's world. His story about adopting a classroom full of 3rd-grade immigrant kids for 3 years is surprisingly interesting and insightful. I found the ending sad, but part of that comes from buying into the author's hopes and expectations for the kids.
What a terrific book! Sam Swope went into a public school in Queens, New York, to do a ten-day writing workshop with a classroom of third graders, and ended up becoming their volunteer writing mentor for three entire school years. Along the way, he came to care deeply about the children – and so did I, as I read this book. Fantastic book!
Dec 29, 2007 Giselle rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love writing, teaching, or children
Shelves: favorites
Wow! What a book! This stunning chronicle of a professional writer's experiences teaching a writer's workshop to children in Queens is truly a must-read for anyone who loves writing, teaching, or children. The glimpses into the kids' lives through their writing are especially poignant. I also enjoyed reading about Swope's teaching methods.
This book was a great read. I loved the insight I gained into the state of inner-city schools and the difficulties of teaching to such a multi-cultural body of students. I really enjoyed the author's description of each student as well. The students' writing is real and the author's struggle to reach them is both honest and enjoyable to read.
It's a nice book, but I didn't like the voice. I didn't believe it and I couldn't see the children. There were some good quotes about teaching and learning, but it felt arrogant to me. I haven't read many books from a teacher 's perspective and I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction so maybe I'm just biased. Wish I enjoyed it more.
Beautiful book. Swopes volunteers in a classroom as a creative writing instructor. The man had me hooked after he wrote about the second classroom he worked in. It was then he realized that the first teacher is what made him a great teacher. So much of good teaching is invisible - you only recognize it when it's not there.
I'm so glad I remembered this title from my days in Utah Writing Project. I giggled, & got teary-eyed, & I reminisced. I had to read many passages & chapters out loud to others. You don't have to be a teacher to enjoy this memoir. I'd love to have a copy of this book of my own--it would make a super gift for a teacher!
At times I found this book charming and I found it frustrating at other times. I liked the stories and admire Swope's dedication to his students, but I also sometimes wondered where he was going with it all and I still have some questions. I also found Swope a bit self-righteous at times. Overall, though, I enjoyed it.
For anyone who has spent time with kids. A great way to live vicariously through the teaching experience of another person while pining to become a teacher! There are also some amazing ideas in here for fun writing projects. great curriculum jumping off points...
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