March 2011 Archives

Writer uses blood, guts and gore to connect kids to days of yore

Award-winning author Jim Murphy visits Stone Bridge Middle School
Staff Writer - Examiner

Award-winning author Jim Murphy, of Maplewood, talks about the writing process during a PTA-sponsored visit to Stone Bridge Middle School on March 25. 

 Award-winning author Jim Murphy, of Maplewood, talks about the writing process during a PTA-sponsored visit to Stone Bridge Middle School on March 25. Photo by LAUREN CASSELBERRY


Young readers who usually pass on nonfiction may never do so again, now that they know books about giant disease-sniffing rats, diapers for parakeets and George Washington losing legal documents are not fiction.

Two-time Newbery Honor Book- and Sibert Award-winning author Jim Murphy visited the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 25 and intrigued students with the little-known facts he has discovered while writing stories about explosions, killer germs and other cataclysmic events that shaped the course of American history.

"Who can resist a giant fire or an unstoppable disease?" Murphy said. "I want my nonfiction to be as exciting and readable as any novel, so I'm always searching for topics that are inherently dramatic."

The Maplewood resident, who has authored more than 30 books about American history, including "The Crossing," "Truce," "A Savage Thunder," "An American Plague," "The Great Fire" and "Blizzard," candidly spoke with students about his voracious appetite for researching interesting topics to create provocative, entertaining and educational literature for young readers.

"When people talk about research, it sounds kind of boring," Murphy said. "I consider it detective work."

Murphy said he loves scouring libraries for firsthand accounts of "what really took place" and hunting for odd, interesting and sometimes bizarre details to include in his books. When Murphy gets to a point in his research where he can create a mental image of a particular place in time, he begins the writing process.

"The actual writing is much harder for me," Murphy said. "I want the sentences and books to be as good as they can be. I write one sentence at a time. I rewrite and revise. And I do this with every sentence and every paragraph I write."

Murphy told students that researching a book can take him three to five years, and writing the first draft can take one to two years.

"After this, there are revisions and more revisions, and then the book has to be designed and scheduled to be printed," Murphy said. "It helps to be patient in this business and work on several projects at once."

Murphy said history is an endless succession of fascinating stories just waiting to be discovered and told, and his role is to make the voices of the past come alive again in hopes of teaching the young readers of today a lesson.

"Adramatic situation is nice, but history really comes alive when I can use the firsthand accounts -- excerpts from letters, memoirs, journals, diaries, and recollections -- of people who were actually there," Murphy said. "These voices help readers experience events as if they were actually there. Hopefully, they also not only shed light on those events, but also help us better understand who we are today."

He added that he often features children in his books "because kids -- even very young kids -- weren't just observers of the events that shaped our nation's history. They often participated in an active, heroic way and then wrote eloquently about their experiences."

PTA representative Donna Furda organized Murphy's visit in hopes of engaging students with reading material that they may not normally take an interest in.

"History books are books kids usually pass up on the shelf," Furda said. "But the way he talks about history, I wouldn't be surprised if the kids all want to take his books out of the library on Monday."

Prior to the PTA-sponsored author visit, Stone Bridge Middle School librarian Shannon Manigrasso introduced students to a few of Murphy's books in the school library. She also co-coordinated a competition in which students were asked to submit an essay on the topic "If I were a historical author, what time period, event or person in history would I write about?"

The winners of the contest were Carly Roche, KaileighMcLaughlin, SaraGutter, Mari Kay Hannon, Tommy Krosnowski, Nick Stagnetti, Adrianna Amaro and Michael Gagliardi.

Furda thanked everyone who entered the essay contest.

"We had many great entries, and everyone should be commended for their hard work," she said.

Contest entry winners had lunch with Murphy after he gave two 30-minute presentations with question-and-answer periods in the school auditorium that he concluded with, "Go out and read books, and you'll find books that you really will love."

Redbird Rally Article in The Examiner

A Community Built with Spikes and Blocks

Stone Bridge Middle School hosts fourth Redbird Rally volleyball tourney


Correspondent (Photos by Scott Friedman)


Students return a shot during the Redbird Rally volleyball tournament at the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 18. 
SCOTT FRIEDMAN Students return a shot during the Redbird Rally volleyball tournament at the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 18. 

Students attacked. Teachers killed. That's how school spirit is built. Attacking and killing are not usually actions people take to develop a sense of community, but they are during the annual Redbird Rally volleyball tournament at the Stone Bridge Middle School. The PTA organizes the event, encouraging teachers, administrators and community members to participate to help students develop school and community spirit. "Its sole purpose is to build a sense of community among our middle school family," Principal Mark Guterl said.

Guterl, Vice Principal Stefanie Negro, school lunch monitor Darien Dowbnia, Board of Education members Gregg Barkley and Chris Shaw, and Superintendent of Schools Dick Fitzpatrick demonstrated their caring for students by proudly displaying their lack of volleyball skills at the after-school-hours tournament.

Special education teacher Nick Barletta takes to the air in a vertical jump to block a shot made by students during the Redbird Rally at the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 18. 
SCOTT FRIEDMAN  Special education teacher Nick Barletta takes to the air in a vertical jump to block a shot made by students during the Redbird Rally at the Stone Bridge Middle School on March 18.

Teachers from every grade level proved their commitment to seeing children succeed beyond the classroom by taking to the court. PTA Executive Board members, local business owners, recreation coaches, youth group leaders, policemen, firefighters, first aid squad members and parent volunteers proved the positive influence they want to have on the students by participating. And middle school students benefited from the physical exercise, fun and community connections they experienced during the games.

This year, 22 teams made up of more than 170 players competed in the event. While students from every grade level joined forces and executed some superior plays during the friendly competition, they couldn't topple their teachers. The team of fifth-grade and sixth-grade teachers won the tournament, beating a team of eighthgraders for the championship.

"The Redbird Rally has become a night that everyone looks forward to each year," Guterl said. "It has become a piece of the fabric that is our Stone Bridge community."

Four years ago, PTA member Amie Kazawic pioneered the first rally with a vision of strengthening the school community.

"Amie is a middle school parent whose vision really made this rally happen," Guterl said. "Everyone benefits from this event."

Kazawic said, "I don't know of any other event that has as great of a variety of community members who participate. For four years it has been my goal to create a cross section of our community, representing as many aspects of the village that touch the lives of our youngsters. While most are not skilled volleyball players, they willingly accept the honor and join us."

Guterl said the Stone Bridge Middle School community is successful because of the partnerships its members work to build.

"This event helped to foster, strengthen and support our sense of community inside and outside of Stone Bridge," Guterl said.

Kazawic added, "It is nice to see entire families, including younger siblings and grandparents, come out to cheer students, faculty and community members on."

Parents donate food and refreshments to make the event free for all. The money raised at the concession stand helps to cover the cost of medals for the champions and T-shirts for all participants and volunteers, according to Kazawic.

"While I may be the organizer, the event could not be a success without the 200-plus participants, volunteers and donators," she said. "I am grateful to live in such a wonderful community that comes together to support our kids. It is events like this that create memories that last a lifetime."



SBMS Teacher of the Year Announced

Dear Friends,

It is our honor and pleasure to announce that Kristin Graham has been selected the Stone Bridge Middle School Teacher of the Year. Kristin is a wonderful representation of what middle school teaching is all about. Her high expectations, positive relationships, and genuine compassion for her students are a testament to her love of her colleagues and kids! Kristin epitomizes the definition of great teaching. As an alum of this district, Kristin also represents all of the great teachers she has had over the years.

We are so proud of you, Kristin! This is such a well deserved honor!


Our terrific PTA (see information below about our contest and the preordering of his books below) has arranged for our first-ever author visit to Stone Bridge Middle School on March 25th!  Mr. Jim Murphy (, a two-time Newbery Honor winner,  will be speaking to our 5th-8th grade students. 

Jim Murphy.jpgMr. Murphy is the author of more than 30 books about American history. His work has received numerous awards including:    

      • 2010 Margaret A. Edwards Award
      • 2 ALA Newbery Honor Book Awards
      • ALA Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
      • ALA Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Award
      • National Book Award Finalist Medal
      • 3 NCTE Orbis Pictus Awards
      • 3 Jefferson Cup Awards
      • 2 SCBWI's Golden Kite Award
      • The Washington Post/Children's Book Guild Award for Distinguished Nonfiction
      • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

Want to take part in our student contest? 

 Jim Murphy Student Contest.pdf

Want to preorder his book so he can autograph it?

 Murphy Preorder PTA.pdf


Thank you PTA and Mrs. Manigrasso for making this happen!

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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