September 2011 brought a new challenge for me as a public educator. I was to teach seventh grade for the first time. One would think that this could not possibly be much different than the eighth graders to whom I was accustomed; but, any instructor of middle-grade students is aware of the maturation occurring within the bodies and minds of these youngsters. It was only for one year that I added a class of seventh-graders to my curriculum. I needed a new idea or two in designing my daily lessons.
A solution came to me early on. This group of seventh graders was particularly bright. After only two weeks of participating in ou8r weekly Friday Journal Sharing, a student had the audacity to ask me to share my writing with the class.
"We know you're writing, Mrs. McCombs. You've even got a special journal to write in," James said. "And sometimes I see you laughing at what you're writing."
The perceptive James was right. I had begun playing with a writing idea of late and realized there was no reason why I could not share it with the class.
One of my goals for these Friday writing sessions was to collect samples (anonymously, of course) to be used as grammar worksheets. Another purpose was for the students to practice writing fluency. Why not cash in on this free editing?
Students who volunteered were invited to read aloud, but on this day the teacher got volunteered. Here is what I read:
Today Miss Tortelleni surprised our French class with a free pen pal...from France! Each of us received a personal information packet about our new international friend. These pen pals are our age and gender and they all supposedly understand English...at least enough to correspond with us in our own language. Miss Tortellini is encouraging us, though, to write as much in French as we can because this is an opportunity for us to practic3e our French on authentic French speakers and for our French pen pals to practice their English.
I didn't get much further because there was a barrage of questions about pen pals. Even the most seasoned teacher get caught in the moment, which is what happened. I was suddenly planning to research student pen pal websites over the weekend on top of the homework the class assignment me. I was to match their writing assignment of one page on any topic with ten pages of Abby's story.
Yep, they played me.
We continued this routine until mid-April when I discovered I had a full manuscript. The students wanted me to publish it, but I just laughed it off. UNTIL I discovered Create Space on Amazon and decided to play around with it over the summer.
Since I was the only eighth grade English teacher at our school, I knew those students would be presented to me again in the fall, and I made certain the school year would be memorable. I met each of those students at the door to Room 110 with a personalized copy of freshly printed Abby.
The book is dedicated to the seventh grade MMS Class of 2011for their participation and encouragement.
Not only did I realize a dream of publication, but these students were a huge part of that experience. James continued editing my work for the creation of Raspberry Beret and Opening Pandora's Box to complete a trilogy.
The publication of Abby ignited not only my desire to write, but it also served as a much-needed stress reliever. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six months after the birth of my only child, it wasn't possible for me to verbally express my emotions. By writing about a fictional character living with the disease (Abby's mother is diagnosed with MS), I was able to ease into my new reality.
Maybe not the best writing, Abby did receive a Readers' Favorite Honorable Mention and received a Purple Dragonfly Award for young fiction.
Abby also set the stage for my current writing success.
Feel free to look at my award-winning YA novels at