If Not For Franki by Donalyn Miller

I am not sure when I first met Franki Sibberson. I think it was at the 2009 NCTE Convention in Philadelphia. I knew about her work as a professional development author and speaker, of course. The Book Whisperer was published that year and I was just beginning to meet other professional authors and speak at conferences. I didn’t know many people, but I felt OK about it because I knew Franki and EVERYBODY knew and adored her. I tease her that she is the Katie Couric of the literacy world–she’s smart, she’s encouraging, she’s kind, and she’s a great interviewer.

Franki’s greatest strength is that she forges connections between people. Need a co-presenter for a conference? Call Franki. Need a roommate for said conference? Call Franki. Need someone to contribute about __________________ for your latest article or book? Call Franki. She has great instincts about who would work well together and she seems tapped into what everyone is doing.

Franki has tremendous influence because you trust her. Immediately. You would go with her wherever she suggested and commit to almost any endeavor. She gives great advice and you would be wise to take it. My favorite Franki story sums up everything that’s great about her.

In the spring of 2011, Franki and I were chatting on Twitter about how much we enjoyed speaking at conferences, but every once in awhile, we wished that we could just attend a conference for our personal learning. We dreamed about sitting with our notebooks, in ponytails and flip flops, learning from great teachers without the pressure of presenting. Open workshops, which you can attend by simply signing up, aren’t that easy to find. Typically, you must work for the school district or belong to the organization hosting the event.

I asked Franki, “I’ll go anywhere if I can make my schedule work. How can we find a place where we can just register and show up?”

Franki tweeted, “I will find a place!”

Within 30 minutes, she was back, ” I found a conference in Warsaw, IN. It’s in the middle-of-nowhere, but they have a great lineup!” Franki sent me the link for the All-Write Summer Institute, and an annual event was born.

Franki convinced about twenty other people to attend the two-day conference that year, too. I met the rockstar teachers of Dublin, OH–Mary Lee Hahn, Karen Terlecky, Tony Keefer, Cathy Mere, and more. Friends I rarely see, like Paul Hankins, Teresa Bunner, Mindi Rench, and Katherine Sokolowski came from all over the country to attend. I think Franki personally contacted all of them. Franki planned this wonderful meet-up dinner at The Boathouse restaurant that first night. She spent two days introducing everyone to each other and checking in to ensure we were having a great time.

Just like we dreamed, we sat in high school classrooms and learned from Katie Wood Ray, Jeff Anderson, Lester Laminack, Ruth Ayers and other incredible teachers. And we keep going back. All-Write has become an annual tradition for many of us.  I consider this small two-day institute in a tiny little Indiana town, the Sundance of literacy conferences. I look forward to it all year. It’s the perfect blend of learning and fellowship.

Karaoke at Bennigan’s, listening spellbound to Lester Laminack’s closing keynote speech, eating pistachio muffins and Starbucks every morning, sharing incredible dinners at Cerulean and walking along the river, sitting through Debbie Miller’s sessions twice in a row, laughing late into the night with Jillian, Lea, and Katherine—a treasure trove of special memories that would not have been possible without Franki.

Planning for this year, Franki texted me, “When are you arriving at All-Write?”

Answering her, “I’m not sure. I’m speaking at conference in Sandusky, Ohio the day before and I haven’t worked out my travel plan.”

In true Franki spirit, she responded, “I’ll pass right through there on my way to Indiana. How about I come and pick you up? It will be fun!”

I tagged this post “Pay It Forward” because I don’t know anyone in my life who lives the pay it forward message more than Franki. Her boundless encouragement, wisdom, and kindness feed and inspire everyone she meets. Even if you’ve never met Franki or know her work, you’ve probably been influenced by someone who has learned from her.


All over the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook today, those of us who know and love Franki Sibberson have come together to celebrate her landmark birthday and share our stories about her. As you read the “If Not for Franki” posts and tweets today, join me in celebrating one of our profession’s leading lights. Happy Birthday, Franki! Your friendship and professional influence have changed my life for the better.



Donalyn Miller is a fifth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.