• Linda Ulleseit, author

  • NaNoWriMo!

Novel Madness 2015 Round Two


My sixth grade class in in the midst of choosing their favorite novel of all time. I call this annual event Novel Madness. They started with 16 novels, all brainstormed by the students. To see the original list, click here. Pairs of students wrote persuasive essays and presented them. The class voted.

The following books made it through to Round Two and are being pitted against each other. Which of your favorites made it? Which are you surprised to see?

Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo vs. Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Giver by Lois Lowry vs. Ghost Files by Apryl Baker

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli vs.  Holes by Louis Sachar

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling vs. BFG by Roald Dahl


Results from Round Two will be posted on Wednesday, April 1.


Novel Madness!

It’s that time again. March Madness for basketball, and Novel Madness in my classroom. The students whittled down a long list to come up with their top 16 favorite novels. Students will write persuasive speeches to convince their classmates to vote for their book. By Easter, we’ll have a winner–stay tuned!

Round One:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio vs. The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien vs. The Giver by Lois Lowry

Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan vs. Holes by Louis Sachar

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli vs. Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan vs. BFG by Roald Dahl

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling vs. Diary of a  Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Ghost Files by Apryl Baker vs. Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart vs. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


There are some old favorites here that come up every year, but as usual there are some new ones, too. Which is your favorite? Round One ends Friday and I will post the results of all these matchups then.

Tech Inspiration


I just returned home after attending the CUE 2015 conference in Palm Springs, California, for Computer Using Educators. Conferences are always inspiring, and this time I picked up a bunch of new ideas I can use immediately! Among the tech coming soon to my classroom:

1. Minecraft.edu  This is an educational version of the popular game. We are already using it to build landmarks in ancient civilizations. Now I can use it in language arts–imagine building a scene from a novel!

2. Google Classroom   Truly on the way to a paperless classroom, this allows students to receive assignments, complete them on Google Docs, and turn them in. They can provide feedback, save them to their own Goodle Drive, and create Google Forms. I can also use Google Forms for online quizzes!

3. Kidblog  A safe way for students to each have their own blog. Teachers monitor content, of course. We’ll also participate in Quadblogging, where four classes share a month. One class blogs for a week while the other three focus on commenting on the blogs. Then the second class blogs for a week, and the others comment, etc. What wonderful feedback!

4. Skype  is a marvelous face-to-face opportunity for students. I envision Skyping with a park ranger next year before visiting Alcatraz, with another class participating in NaNoWriMo, maybe with the NaNoWriMo director or even the vice mayor of San Jose!

Four ways that will challenge me to engage more students and teach them digital citizenship through daily Internet use. Now I just need to hijack the iPad cart…or get one of my own.

On Inspiration


Waimea, 2015


Inspiration is a very personal thing. For me, it means whatever fuels my desire to click away from Facebook games and open my current Work in Progress. No one procrastinates better than a writer. Even though I love to write, my brain is tired from Real Life and it takes a great effort of willpower, or Inspiration, to begin writing for the day. Once I start, I get in the zone and can write uninterrupted for hours.

For my last two books, inspiration has come from the heart. UNDER THE ALMOND TREES follows three women in my family that I have always admired. Their stories rattled around in my head for years before I began the novel. My current piece is titled ALOHA SPIRIT. It is about the life of my husband’s grandmother. I love stories of real women contributed to the events of their times in very real albeit small and unknown ways. Setting  family stories down amid the historical fact makes me feel like I have a personal connection to well-known events.


Carmen James in front of a plantation cottage, Honolulu, 1920’s

Recently, my husband and I stayed at Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai. His grandmother was born on Kauai, scant miles from where we were. Nothing is left of the sugar plantation where her father worked as a dairy man but grassy fields. The plantation cottage we stayed in was built in 1905. It retains the rustic feel of its plantation days. Sitting in the kitchen, I could easily imagine a young girl’s life.

Carmen James lived with her parents and brother on Kauai until her mother passed away in childbirth. Shortly after that, the family moved to Oahu, where Carmen’s father left her in the care of a Hawaiian family. He took his son and went to the mainland to find work. Carmen lived on a sugar plantation near Diamond Head. She spent her entire childhood in a plantation cottage similar to the one where I wrote three chapters of her story.

Even though I am back in California, I can still feel the ambiance of that cottage set between the ocean and the mountains. I am nearly halfway done with the first draft of ALOHA SPIRIT. May the memories continue to inspire me!

The Wolf and the Sorceress

coverThe Wolf and the Sorceress; The King’s Magician by Brian Pemberton

The sorceress, Nemeila, crash landed in the woods as baby–in a spaceship. She is rescued by a wolf. Now if that doesn’t hook your interest right away, I don’t know what will. Nemeila is taken in by a woodsman and his wife and is raised as their daughter. But that’s not the end of the story. We meet Nemeila’s real mother and an evil sorcerer who is her nemesis. Nemeila’s adventure includes traveling to another land to rescue a prince when the sorceror kills his father. In addition to the wolf, the story includes a dragon, an eagle, and a horse. While the animals can’t talk, I enjoy how the author puts their thoughts into words for the reader.

This novel is perfect for middle grade readers and up. The character of Nemeila instantly makes you root for her. Parlan and Tyler, the prince and his friend, are also well developed characters. The conflict is great, plausible with just the right amount of magic.

The very best news of all is that the author is planning five more books in this series. We don’t have to leave Nemeila and her wolf yet!

Teaching Grammar vs. Writing

grammarOn the report card in elementary school, the subject is called Writing. One subject, one grade. Writing encompasses so much, though, it hardly seems fair to give one grade. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and composition are all part of that grade.

Composition is the creative part of writing. It’s true that outlining and paragraph structure have to be learned, but the art of composing a piece of writing can’t be taught. Ideas come from the part of the brain where imagination dwells. Strong readers do well here (hmmm, future article on Reading and Writing coming), but this part of writing is unrelated to grammar. Think of composing a piece of writing as painting a picture. The author is putting personal ideas down on paper, trying to communicate a feeling, a reaction, some sort of emotion. There is no emotion in grammar.

Grammar is often seen as the necessary evil of writing. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation go together. Without this trio, the writing is incomprehensible, and the teacher can’t tell what the student is trying to say. I’ve always told my students that writing is like talking on paper. If I can’t read it, you’re mumbling and I can’t understand you. English is such a crazy language that every rule seems to have more exceptions than examples. Grammar (I’m including spelling and punctuation here) must be explicitly taught so that students can effectively communicate. I’ve never understood why the general public loves to point fingers at misspelled signage yet doesn’t understand the need for teaching grammar.

So composition is more of a right-brain activity and grammar more of a left-brain one. Both are necessary, both need to be practiced, but each deserves a separate grade. Lumping grammar and writing in the same grading category is like scoring apples and oranges on the same fruit rubric. Students should be free to excel at one or the other without having them averaged together.

Work in Progress

IMG_2071This is Carmen Dolores Jaime (James) Medeiros Rodrigues…okay, Grandma Carmen. She was my husband’s grandmother and is the subject of my current work in progress, Aloha Spirit. Today I’ve put a short excerpt from the beginning of Part Two here for you to read. Choosing an excerpt helps me focus, and reminds me that this is still a very early draft! Enjoy

Punch Bowl, Honolulu, 1931

I can’t decide which is my favorite thing about our house on Iolani and Magellan, whether it’s the sweeping view down the hill from Punch Bowl to Honolulu Harbor dotted with ship’s masts, or the multitude of family that surrounds us. Manley and I live in a small house owned by his mother, whom everyone calls Grandma Jessie. The family fills four homes near this intersection, four homes that Grandma Jessie owns. Manley tells me that she came to Hawaii from Portugal when she was only a year old. She married Jose Medeiros, Joe to his family, and he gave her nine children. Manley is the youngest, and Earl’s mother is the second oldest. Joe left his wife shortly after Manley was born. It is said he went to California to collect a debt owed him by some blonde woman. He has never been heard from since.

Earl and his family live across the street with Grandma Jessie. Lydia and AJ Rodrigues have two other children, Melbarine and Sherwood. Earl is the middle child. Manley’s brother John lives there, too, as Manley did until we married and moved across the street.

Grandma Jessie gets up early and washes clothes in a big tub in her basement. Some mornings I go over to help her. I still feel as though laundry is my responsibility. Since Manley announced my pregnancy, however, she shoos me back across the street when I try to help. You’d think a mother of nine would understand that a pregnant woman isn’t that fragile.

I turn away from the window and pick up a basket of vegetables. It’s late enough in the morning now that Grandma Jessie will accept my help. I let myself in through the screen door and head for the tiny kitchen. Grandma Jessie stands at the sink, peeling potatoes. I watch, still fascinated by how fast she peels them in a single long piece. Wisps of hair escape her tightly wrapped bun, where hints of gray tint her dark hair. Her apron completely covers her dress and is always present—Grandma Jessie without her apron is like Duke Kahanamoku without his surfboard. I come up next to her and put my basket on the counter. Leaning over to kiss her cheek, I say, “Smells wonderfully ono in here.”

She smiles and waves my words away. “Ah, go on with you. It’s just the stew.”

Stew is what she called whatever was in the massive pot on the stove. It could be soup, sauce, or stew depending on what is added to it. The entire family comes home for midday lunch, and stretching food so far means a large pot. I quickly peel and chop the carrots and turnips I brought and add them to the pot. I reverently pick up Grandma Jessie’s battered silver ladle to stir.

“Polly wants a cracker!” The raucous words startle me and I drop the ladle into the pot.

“Dratted bird!” I complain.

Grandma Jessie laughs. “Polly is a good bird, Carmen.”

“She bites,” I say, glowering at the colorful parrot. “You won’t catch me near her.”

The older woman picks up a couple of pieces of diced carrot and pokes them through the bars of the bird’s cage. “There you go, Polly dear. Don’t let Carmen scare you.”


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