Chapter Three: The Serendipity Journal

Just when Kip thought that she couldn’t like Mrs. Holiday more, Mrs. Holiday proved Kip wrong.

Mrs. Holiday ran her fingers across a small set of chimes that were placed on the corner of her desk. Its lovely sound made Kip think of rain falling gently on trees. Susan, Kip, and the rest of the class looked up as Mrs. Holiday said, “Okay seventh graders. We are going to transition to English class now and we are going to dive into one of my very favorite things to teach–writing!” Mrs. Holiday clapped her hands together and was practically bouncing up and down because she was so excited.

“Our goal for today is to get our journals set up and to start writing. I can’t wait to get to know you through journaling. This is going to be a great adventure!” Mrs. Holiday was giddy as she instructed the class.

“Okay, um, wow again,” Kip thought. Besides reading, she loved to write. To clarify that, she did not love to write things that people told her to write, like the essays she was assigned on boring topics. She loved to write stories and poems and whatever suited her fancy at the time. “I wonder if Mrs. Holiday will give us dumb prompts for our writing or really let us journal?” Kip’s eyes narrowed for a moment as she waited for the next set of directions with a little skepticism.

Mrs. Holiday continued, “First, please get out the picture I asked you to bring with you today. We are going to glue the picture to the front of our journals. There are a few reasons why we are doing this. First, I will be able to get to know you a little bit better by seeing a picture of something you love to do. Also, you will enjoy getting out your journal a little bit more because you get to look at your picture each time you do. Last, it will help you identify your journal when you get yours from the bin. Go ahead and glue your picture on the cover of your journal. You can let me know when you have finished by holding your journal up so I can come take a look at your picture.”

Kip and her classmates glued their pictures onto their notebooks while Mrs. Holiday walked around laughing with students and making comments on their pictures. “She just makes the world a brighter place,” thought Kip.

After Kip finished with her picture, she looked over at the picture Susan was glueing on her notebook. Susan’s curly hair was blowing in the wind and she had a smile as big as the state of Texas on her face as she sat atop a beautiful brown horse. Kip had never ridden a horse but always daydreamed about riding a horse like Susan’s. 

Susan caught Kip looking at her picture and smiled at her, “This is Bess, my first horse. I got her about a year ago. She is the sweetest, most gentle horse you’d ever meet. Would you like to? Meet her, I mean?”

“Yes!” Kip responded, excitedly. “I would love that. I have always wanted to ride a horse one day.” She couldn’t imagine her clumsy self ever looking as comfortable and confident on top of a horse as Susan did, but sometimes you just have to take a chance.

The word chance always makes Kip think of a song called Chances by Five for Fighting that is from one of her family’s favorite movies, The Blind Side. She watched that movie like a billion times with her dad, so much so that she almost has it memorized. Her dad quotes the movie all the time. He loves this line, “I said you could thank me later. Burt, it’s later.” Kip tries not to laugh, but she does, every time he says it.

“So you’ve never ridden a horse? Okay then, we will have to make sure that happens. My dad will help you, he taught me everything I know.” Susan promised.

Before Kip could thank her, Mrs. Holiday got the class’ attention again. “Okay my friends, I see that you all have finished. Before we start writing, let’s talk a little bit about the goals for our journals.”

As Mrs. Holiday wrote a list of three things on the board, Kip watched her with curiosity. She wondered how Mrs. Holiday could be so excited about everything. Kip hadn’t noticed how short she was until she saw Mrs. Holiday reach up on her tippy-toes to write on the whiteboard. Her blonde hair was cut to her chin and it was pin-straight. Although she must be in her twenties, she dressed kind of like a teenager with black leggings, ankle boots, and a longer burgundy top.

Kip read what Mrs. Holiday had written on the board and the Pharrell Williams song Happy started playing through her head louder and louder as she read each bullet point. Journaling back and forth with Mrs. Holiday sounded like a dream come true.

Our journals will be...

“These are our three goals for our journals. We will begin every English class with journal writing, and I will write back to you at least once per week. I would love to write back to you everyday, but Mr. Holiday requires some of my attention throughout the week.” Mrs. Holiday giggled as she said that last sentence. “Don’t tell Mr. Holiday, but I enjoy writing to you much more than cooking dinner.”

“We are going to call our notebooks our Serendipity Journals. I absolutely love the idea of serendipity, of stumbling upon beautiful lessons in the most surprising places. I fell in love with the word when I first watched a movie called Serendipity. I do admit that John Cusack was a big part of the appeal of the movie.” Mrs. Holiday blushed a little before she was interrupted by a boy named Glenn impatiently waving his hand in the air. Glenn was a short boy with a freckled face and short brown hair. He sat two rows over from where Kip was sitting.

“Yes, Glenn? Do you have a question?” Mrs. Holiday asked.

Glenn had a puzzled look on his face, “Who is John Cusack? I never heard of him.”

Mrs. Holiday laughed, “Of course you haven’t! I forget how young you are and how old I am. He is a famous actor who was considered somewhat of a heart-throb in the 1980s and 1990s. You can google him later to see what I mean. Anyway, back to my love for serendipity–the word, not just the movie.”

“The word serendipity is defined as finding something valuable that you weren’t looking for. I take a little liberty with my own definition of serendipity. I define it as looking for the gifts in life in everything you experience, from the greatest joys to the deepest sorrows. All experiences have the opportunity to teach us beautiful lessons if we look for them.” Mrs. Holiday had a dreamy look in her brown eyes. Kip noticed how kind her eyes were, and how they crinkled up and shone bright when she smiled.

Kip’s hope was a real flame now, she started to have a feeling that this move to Jackson just might be…serendipitous. Maybe.

Questions for my editors:

  1. A very important part of the story is introduced in this chapter. What do you think it is? What connections did you make to it?
  2. Readers learn more about Mrs. Holiday in this chapter. What did you learn about her and what connections did you make? What questions do you have about Mrs. Holiday?
  3. What does serendipity mean to you after reading the chapter? What questions do you have about serendipity?
  4. Are there any parts of this chapter that you did not connect with or that seem out of place?
  5. Are there any parts where more detail should be added? If so, which parts and what suggestions do you have?
  6. Did you learn any new words in this chapter? If so, what were the words you learned?
  7. Always let me know if you find grammatical errors.

Please put your edits in the comments on this post. I will comment back to you and make changes to the chapter based upon your feedback. I can’t wait to learn from you!

Behind the scenes info:

This chapter sets up an element of the plot that will take us all the way through the end of the book…The Serendipity Journal. When I was teaching seventh and eighth grade students, I taught a class called Serendipity because I did fall in love with the idea of serendipity after watching that John Cusack movie. In the class we learned ways to take care of ourselves and our own needs without interfering with others taking care of their needs. We learned how to have strong and positive relationships with the people around us. And, we journaled. It was one of my favorite classes because I got to know the hopes, dreams, passions, and struggles of my students in a very special way when we journaled back and forth.

I also enjoy writing back to you way more than cooking dinner! (Don’t tell Mr. Apsey)

Chapter Two: I Could Use a Friend

His name was Cody and Kip was sure that Cody was going to try to make this a long, long year. After Cody’s throw hit her hard in the chest, Mrs. Holiday asked the students to please throw underhand so they wouldn’t “accidentally” throw the ball too hard. Kip knew that Mrs. Holiday was trying to give Cody the benefit of the doubt this first day. She was also certain that Cody was a bully and that if Mrs. Holiday was smart, she would be figuring that out soon too.

The game actually ended up working in her favor. By the time they were done, her name had been said over and over again so people were getting used to it. Mrs. Holiday made the game more fun by spontaneously adding in more balls to toss around and by timing the class to see if they could break the previous class’ record. They were all a little out of breath and giggling as they went back to their seats.

Mrs. Holiday handed out name tags that they would keep on their desks. She asked them to write the name they would like to be called, like if they had a nickname. Kip was happy to let everyone know that she preferred to be called Kip as she wrote the three letters on her nametag. Even though Kip was a boy’s name, it still elicited less teasing than Kipalee. Kip decorated her name with her different colored flair pens, a different color for each letter. She loved doodling and being a little artsy. She didn’t have much talent in the art department, but she enjoyed it all the same. She used her purple pen to draw flowers in the corners.

The day started with homeroom taught by Mrs. Holiday followed by her first hour class, English. In her new school, the homeroom teacher and her first hour teacher were the same. Kip breathed a sigh of relief that she got to stay in the same classroom for the first two classes of the day. She could tell that Mrs. Holiday was the nice-type of teacher. The kind who saw that her students were human beings and valued who they were. The kind of teacher who smiled and tried to make learning fun. Kip didn’t know exactly how she could tell that after just a half-hour with her teacher, but she could. Kip’s mom says that she has a sixth-sense about people, that she could tell what kind of person they were within minutes of meeting them.

She could also tell that she should steer clear of Cody as much as possible. He glanced her way quite a few times since he threw the ball at her, and his expression didn’t change. Cody looked like an athlete, he was wearing Nike shorts and a t-shirt and he had dark brown hair that was cut really short on the sides and was longer on the top. He kept brushing his hand through his hair to keep it over to the side. Sometimes as he did that he glared at Kip, looking at her like she was fresh meat to torture this year. Well, Cody had no idea who he was dealing with. No, she wouldn’t fight him in the alley after school, but she could ignore someone like nobody’s business. And to a bully, being ignored is worse than being beat up. She didn’t even glance his way once. Not once.

Kip’s mom loves Kelly Clarkson and one of the songs she plays all the time, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) started running through Kip’s head. One of the benefits of being super stubborn is that she is very patient and determined.

“Cody may have met his match,” Kip thought to herself.

After the half-hour of homeroom, Mrs. Holiday gave them a couple minutes to get out their English supplies. Kip already had her notebook and pen out on her desk. She thought back to the letter that Mrs. Holiday sent her students over the summer asking them to bring a picture of something they enjoy doing. It could be a photograph or a picture from a magazine.

Kip brought a picture of herself reading her favorite book. Her mom snapped the photo when they were camping this past summer on the beaches of Lake Michigan. Kip was laying on a faded yellow beach towel, wearing sunglasses but still using her free hand to shade her eyes from the bright sun, and she was wearing her favorite hooded blue and white striped bathing suit cover-up that zipped up in the front. Her brown hair was in a ponytail on top of her head. You could see her little brother Jeff digging in the sand in the background. Kip placed her photo on top of her notebook and waited for Mrs. Holiday to begin English class.

A girl sitting next to Kip looked over at her and gave her a little smile. Kip looked down at the girl’s name tag to see that her name was Susan. Smiling back, she noticed Susan’s curly brown almost black hair and that she was really pretty in a friendly-looking way. Her eyes turned into little crescent moons when she smiled. Susan asked, “Are you new to Jackson Middle School?”

Kip nodded, “Yes, this is my first day. We just moved here this past summer because my dad got a new job. I used to live in Grand Rapids.”

“Well, welcome to Jackson. I hope you like it here, it’s okay most of the time. Pizza day is the best day of the week for sure because they have the best pizza ever in the cafeteria. My name is Susan. I like your name, it’s unique. My name is so plain. What classes do you have?” Susan responded cheerfully.

Kip showed Susan her schedule and they discovered that they have practically identical courses. Kip’s flame of hope burned just a bit brighter in her chest and the chorus of Natasha Bedingfield’s song Hope started playing in her mind. Another one of her mom’s favorites that is played on repeat. Maybe this school and this move would work out okay. Maybe.

“I could help you find the classes if you want. I went here last year so I know my way around pretty well.” Susan’s offer of help sounded wonderful to Kip.

“I would really like that. Thank you.” Kip responded quietly, but with a shy smile.

Susan smiled big, her crescent moon eyes becoming just narrow slits. Kip really liked how Susan’s face lit up when she smiled. She reassured Kip, “I am glad you are here. I could use a friend.”

Questions for my editors:

  1. What do you learn from this chapter? What questions does it leave you with?
  2. Readers are introduced to Cody in this chapter. Did you connect to Kip’s experience with Cody? Are you interested in learning more about him?
  3. Readers are also introduced to Susan. What are your impressions of Susan and what questions do you have about her?
  4. After the feedback from Chapter 1, I added more details about the characters. What details do you notice? Are they helpful to you as you make a picture of this story in your mind? Are there any details that could be omitted because they interfere with the storyline?
  5. What are your thoughts about the songs that Kip thinks of? Do you connect with this part of the story?
  6. Did you learn any new words in this chapter? If so, what were the words you learned?
  7. Always let me know if you find grammatical errors.

Please put your edits in the comments on this post. I will comment back to you and make changes to the chapter based upon your feedback. I can’t wait to learn from you!

Behind the scenes info:

There are bits of me and bits of my mom in this chapter.

I grew up in Grand Rapids and my mom (Kipalee) grew up in Jackson, so I have a strong connection to both of these places. My mom actually moved from Jackson to Grand Rapids after she met my dad in college.

I am a doodler. Anytime I am sitting and listening with a pen and paper in front of me, I am doodling as I take notes. I often draw flowers. Also, I love to read and I love the beach!

The songs that Kip thinks of throughout the chapters are songs that touch my heart and help me be positive and strong. I linked them here so you can listen to them. I would love to hear about connections you make to the songs.

Chapter One: Kipalee

Kipalee was often trying to make uncomfortable situations more comfortable by making herself laugh. As she stumbled on her way into her new school, she awarded herself a gold metal…for tripping on air.

“And the gold medal for tripping on air goes to…,” a voice in Kipalee’s head said as she tried to straighten up quickly after almost falling, smoothing her faded jeans and blue t-shirt. In her mind, the crowd went wild waiting to see who won the gold medal.

“Kipalee Ann Carrigan! Congratulations Kipalee, who would you like to thank?” Kip laughed quietly as she accepted the award she bestowed on herself for being so clumsy.

Kip had a knack for tripping and often she tripped on nothing. That was the case the morning she first walked up the sidewalk leading to Jackson Middle School. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice and she caught herself before she fell all the way to the ground. This time.

She walked into school, eyes darting from side to side. She was trying so hard to look calm and comfortable but failing miserably. The expression on her round, innocent-looking, sweet face made her look like she was wound tighter than a drum.

Looking around at her new classmates, Kip noticed the fold lines from the store in their new clothes. Tears sprang to her eyes, missing her friends from her old school. “Quit your blubbering Kip, you are not a baby. You are a seventh grader! Grow up girl and own your bad self.”

Beyonce’s song Run the World ran through Kip’s head. Thinking about her favorite songs always comforted Kip. Today though, she couldn’t shake the pit in her stomach. At her old school she was well known and she was comfortable being herself. She knew she was a bit of an odd duck and she was always a little uncomfortable and self-conscious, but so were many of her old classmates. They knew her inside and out, her strengths and her weaknesses, and accepted her just the same.

She was dreading the first time the teacher said her name, fearing the ridicule that would follow. What new variation of her name would they come up with? She probably had heard them all…Pippy, Skip-a-lee, Skippy…ugh, who was named Kipalee anyway? It was so embarrassing that her mom found her name in a romance novel with that long-haired blond guy named Fabio on the cover, the guy who was on nearly every romance novel cover on her mom’s bookshelf. And then moving her to this new school and new town without even asking her opinion? Unforgivable. Her nickname, Kip, was only marginally better. Although she was teased less about her nickname, everyone thought she was a boy when they saw Kip on a class list. Last year she was even assigned to the boys locker room for PE.

Kip found a desk in the back and pulled out her fresh new notebook. Typically she loved new school supplies and the endless possibilities of a new school year made it  one of her favorite times of the year. She tore open her package of multi-color flair pens with a little help from her teeth. Taking out a purple pen, she settled into the hard wooden seat as best as she could and breathed a heavy sigh. This was going to be awful, she just knew it.

More kids piled into the room and Kip looked up through her long brown bangs, her deep blue eyes looking at her classmates apprehensively. Her mom says that her eyes are the color of the deepest part of the ocean and that wearing blue makes them stand out even more. That is why she wore her favorite blue t-shirt today. As she looked around, she noticed a couple other kids who seemed as nervous as she was. “Maybe they need a new friend,” she thought hopefully. Maybe.

She was startled out of her self-pity by an exuberant greeting from her teacher. “Good morning boys and girls! Welcome to seventh grade! This will be an exciting year for all of us. This is just my second year teaching and I am so excited to begin our adventure! My name is Mrs. Holiday and I get to be your teacher this year. Let’s start by getting to know each other with a little game.”

“Wow!” thought Kip. “I have never had a teacher start the first day with a game. Usually we go over the same rules year after year. The rules we already know. The rules that the same kids follow and the same kids break year to year. Maybe Mrs. Holiday will be different. Maybe.”

The light of hope that sparked within Kip when she noticed that she was not the only nervous student in the class just grew to a barely perceptible flame. Kip felt the warmth of her tiny light of hope loosen her up and she wondered if her new school wouldn’t be as horrible as she imagined. Maybe a little less horrible.

Mrs. Holiday explained the directions to the class. They would stand in a circle and pass the ball to each other. The only rules were that they could not pass to someone next to them or to someone who already had a turn. They needed to say the name of the person they were passing the ball to in a loud voice, and they needed to remember who passed them the ball and who they passed the ball to so they could repeat the pattern.

“Here we go,” thought Kipalee, straightening her shoulders and faking a confidence she didn’t quite feel. “Let the teasing begin. Who will be the first sucker to laugh at my name? Bring it, I’ve heard it all before.”

Whack! The ball hit Kip hard in the chest. Before she could catch her breath, she glanced up and saw the sneer of the boy who threw it at her. “Kip-a-lee,” he yelled, emphasizing the syllables of her name. The snickers that followed made Kip want to melt into the worn carpet below her.

Questions for my editors:

  1. Does this first chapter of the book grab your attention? How could I make an even better first impression with readers?
  2. What information do you learn about Kipalee in this chapter? Is it enough to help you begin to understand who she is?
  3. What traits of Kipalee do you like? Are there any you don’t connect with?
  4. Is there any place where I use an ordinary word that could be replaced with a more descriptive word?
  5. Is there any place where I repeat a word too frequently?
  6. Always let me know if you find grammatical errors.

Please put your edits in the comments on this post. I can’t wait to learn from you!

Behind the scenes info:

Kipalee was my mom’s name. My mom passed away in 2012 after a two year battle with ovarian cancer. You can read about my mom’s illness here. I love using her name in this story for the main character. She seriously was assigned to the boys locker room once because they thought that Kip was a boys name. My grandma did find the name Kipalee in a romance novel, but Fabio wasn’t on the cover because he wasn’t born yet. My mom actually grew up in Jackson and moved to Grand Rapids as an adult.

That ball name game that Mrs. Holiday played with the class is one of my favorite name games to play with students and even with adults. You should try it with the speed and extra balls variations. It is so fun!

The Serendipity Journal Begins

This blog is something new, something I have never done before. I am going to write an adolescent chapter book and I will be sharing the draft of the chapters here. And, children from all over the world will be my editors. I am so excited to begin this journey with you.

There are many reasons I am doing this. First, I love to write and I love to inspire children to see themselves as writers. Second, research has shown that writing and reading for an authentic purpose has a significant impact on student achievement and student engagement. Third, students are wonderful editors because they are so honest. I am writing this book for them. Who better to get feedback from?

That is my why for this unique process.

My why for writing this book dates back to my first years as a teacher. I was teaching my students about William Glasser’s Choice Theory and I dreamed of writing a realistic fiction chapter book that would teach them the concepts. That dream will be coming true, chapter by chapter, week by week. Right here. And each chapter will bring an opportunity for children to proofread, to give feedback, to ask questions, to point out errors, to show me where to elaborate, and more.

Some of what I write is autobiographical and some of it is my mom’s story. Other parts are completely fictional. As I share the chapters, I will also share some “behind the scenes” information about the section of the story.

I plan on posting new chapters on Sundays, ready in time for school on Monday. My hope is that teachers will use this process to help engage their students in reading and writing in a real and authentic way. I am not sure of my schedule yet, I would love to post weekly but that may be too ambitious. We will be working through this process and learning together.

Okay, are you ready? Ready to get started with The Serendipity Journal?

Let’s go!