Cover image for I am a pencil : a teacher, his kids, and their world of stories
I am a pencil : a teacher, his kids, and their world of stories
Swope, Sam.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiii pages : 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
LB1576 .S96 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
LB1576 .S96 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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 Americans (his class included students fom twenty-one countries) and Swope was drawn deep into their real and imaginary lives, their problems, hopes, and fears. I Am a Pencil is the story of his years with this very special group of students. It is as funny, warm, heartbreaking, and hopeful as the children themselves.
Swope follows his colorful troop of resilient writers from grades three to five, coaxing out their stories, watching talents blossom, explode, and sometimes fizzle, holding his breath as the kids' families brave new lives in a strange big city. We meet Susie (whose mom was a Taoist priestess), Alex (who cannot seem to tell the truth), and Noelia (a wacky Dominican chatterbox). All of the children have big dreams. Some have big problems: Salvador, an Ecuadorian boy, must cope with a strict Pentecostal father; Soo Jung mystifies Swope with sudden silences-until he discovers that her mother has left the family. Preparing his students for a world of adult dangers, Swope is astonished by their courage, humanity, but most of all by their strength.

Author Notes

Sam Swope is the author of several very well-received children's books, including The Araboolies of Liberty Street , The Krazees , and Gotta Go! Gotta Go! , and of the soon-to-be-published Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants . He lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A writer of children's books, Swope accepts a request from the Teachers and Writers Collaborative to run a 10-day writing workshop with a class of third-graders, never imagining how emotionally involved he'll become or that the workshop will turn into a remarkably fruitful three-year project. Swope throws himself into his new role, and his first assignment, the Box Project, ends up spanning the entire year as each child writes a story, makes a book, and builds a box to hold it. The results are surprisingly good, each box unique as a fingerprint. The reader soon becomes familiar with individual students and eagerly follows the fourth-graders' struggle with the Island Project, during which they write about their own imaginary island. In the final year, Swope and his aspiring writers take on the Tree Project, which includes a poem about trees, letters to a favorite tree, and trees drawn from direct observation. All are turned into a book, which each child takes home and saves for the day when some, Swope is sure, will actually become writers. --Deborah Donovan Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Children's book writer Swope (The Araboolies of Liberty Street, etc.) was in a slump. And what better way to liven things up than by accepting an offer to teach a 10-day writing workshop to a class of third-graders in Queens, New York City, a prime destination for immigrants to the U.S. and one of the world's most ethnically diverse areas? Swope became so intrigued by the children, he devoted himself for the next three years to teaching them, unpaid. This delightful, sometimes heartbreaking work relates how, as Swope taught, his writing lessons extended into story-writing collaborations with his students, lessons in how to draw a tree and assignments to play in the snow and write about it. Swope's affection for the kids involved him deeply in their lives, which were often ridden with familial stress. His teaching (and writing) approach is seriously playful; he bestows on his students the power of words (as when Miguel, infuriated by his home life, uses the word "stalwart" to keep himself from giving up during troubled times). Swope shows how children flourish when their imaginations are nurtured and they are challenged to find inner discipline and write what they see as truth. He also reveals the painful seesaw of hope and limitations in their lives. Agent, Gail Hochman. (Aug. 3) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When Swope (Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants) was asked to present a ten-day writing workshop to a third-grade class in Queens, NY, little did he know that he would spend the next three years following these children through school. They were mostly immigrant children, with a wide variety of backgrounds and problems. Swope's immediate connection to the kids gave him an idea: he would help them learn, get to know more about their lives and their dreams, and watch them grow as both people and writers. With the permission of the school, Swope was given a small storage closet to use as an office and set himself up as the writing teacher. His book details his experiences while also presenting selected stories and poems. It doesn't provide any earthshaking new educational theories but instead draws readers into the true-life stories of these children. It will appeal to both educators and the general public. Recommended for most libraries. Terry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Preface: The Blackbird Is Flyingp. 3
Grade 3 The Box Project
Becoming Mr. Swopep. 23
Mrs. Duncanp. 27
Write a Story, Any Storyp. 28
Which One Is Su Jung?p. 33
I Do! I Do Believe in Fairies!p. 37
Hunting for Storiesp. 44
The Christmas Spiritp. 48
Couragep. 52
How to Kill the Parentsp. 57
Your Child Is Wonderfulp. 63
You Don't Got No Friendsp. 68
The Little Liarp. 71
All That Glitters Is Not Goldp. 80
Sugar Plum Saves the Dayp. 85
Kindness and Doomp. 89
A World without Storyp. 94
Grade 4 The Island Project
All about Mep. 101
Mr. Swope Redefinedp. 106
Poetry 101p. 108
The Animal in Miguelp. 115
Surprise!p. 120
The Queen Mother of the Westp. 122
The Fantastic Binomialp. 128
The Great Tribulationp. 133
The Case of the Missing Report Cardsp. 138
La Viejap. 145
They Go All the Way Downp. 149
The Island Projectp. 153
Blubber Islandp. 157
Whose Story Is It, Anyway?p. 160
Miguel's Islandp. 165
The Ludicrous Girlp. 168
The Black Plainp. 173
Party Islandp. 178
Grade 5 The Tree Project
A Tree Isp. 183
Dear Treep. 192
The Parkp. 197
The Middle School Problemp. 205
Max in Controlp. 210
Afros, Chinos, and Skittlesp. 215
The Willow Treep. 220
How to Draw a Treep. 228
Night Writingp. 232
The McDonald's Conferencesp. 236
The Stalwart Boyp. 242
Emotion Recollected in Tranquillityp. 247
Snow Poemsp. 252
The Bud Lessonp. 254
Epithalamiump. 262
The Story Treesp. 264
The Mountain Climberp. 267
A Spring Surprisep. 275
Who Is Su Jung?p. 279
Loose Endsp. 283
Good-bye and Good Luckp. 289
Epiloguep. 295