Slice of Life: Know Where You’re Going

Yesterday, Jo Knowles shared a writing warm up as part of the Teachers Write summer writing camp urging writers to “know where you’re going.” She also observed that “most general advice, if you think about it long enough, can be applied to writing.”

Jo’s words were still echoing in my brain as I headed out for my morning walk. When I paused to check the progress of the rebuilding of my neighbor’s stone wall, I thought, “Of course! Writing is like building a wall.” Not advice really, but certainly a useful metaphor.

These talented stone masons have a direction, they know where they’re going. You can’t see them in these photos, but there are two strings precisely positioned on either side of this trench to guide construction. What else can we learn from these stone masons about writing (and teaching writing)?

Notice the huge rocks forming the foundation of the wall. This will stabilize the wall against the forces of weather and time and prevent it from crumbling. Without a strong foundation, our writing often falls apart. More worrisome to me, though, is how writing workshops can crumble if we don’t take the time to establish the rituals and routines that are the bedrock of any successful workshop.

                    

Look how many rocks they have! They will never use them all in this wall. Just as these craftsman need multiple rocks so they can choose exactly the right one for the right spot, writers need to write and write and write. This will ensure they have plenty of material on hand as they craft personal, meaningful writing.

The men building this wall clearly know what they’re doing. They have a valuable skill, honed through years of hard work (see above). We also have skills. One of them is to help students view themselves as writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. Without this vision, writing is just a task to complete (or not). Students have to share our vision of what is possible through writing—or at least see its potential: providing the opportunity to “write something personal and powerful.” (Gallagher & Kittle, 2018, p. XV)

These ideas aren’t new or groundbreaking (pun intended!) But it’s important to revisit them. During these long summer days, when the demands on our time are different, take a few moments to consider the importance of laying down this bedrock, of building this foundation, layer by layer. Reflect on the year that was and use those insights to refine a vision for the coming year. Without it, we won’t know where we’re going.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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Poetry Friday: “The Wrens”

Our librarian has been culling our collections and leaving a box of books for us to look through before these withdrawn books are…(I’m not sure what, maybe sent to the Island of Withdrawn Books?) Of course I peruse the box each day, hoping to find a treasure or two. So you can imagine how happy I was to find this the other day:

I’ve always loved Fisher’s poetry. Her keen observations and sense of humor make her work timeless. This spring, we have wrens nesting in the roof overhang of our new porch. They are dedicated parents, making countless trips back and forth from the nest to the nearby bushes for insects. As usual, Fisher gets their behavior exactly right in this sweet poem.

“The Wrens”
by Aileen Fisher

The wrens who rent our birdhouse
come back before it’s May.

They hang their hats inside the door
and settle down to stay.

We never have to send a bill,
so punctual are they…

They start each morning loud and clear,
to sing the rent away.

On another note, I am thrilled to share that two of my poems appear in The Quickwrite Handbook, Linda Rief’s new book full of mentor texts to “jumpstart…student’s writing and thinking.” Both poems first appeared here and here. Thank you, Linda, for including my work in your book!

Please be sure to visit Carol at Carol’s Corner for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Welcome to the Bayou Teche

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
John Muir

Welcome to the second stop on the blog tour for Margaret Simon‘s new book, Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2018)! Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to get to know Margaret both as a writer and a friend through our online critique group. Sharing early drafts of your writing with another person is an act of trust, but it is also an invitation. An invitation to learn more about the truth of that person’s heart. The south Louisiana landscape is woven into Margaret’s heart and has always been integral to her writing. So it was no surprise when she first mentioned her idea for this book. Watching Bayou Song grow from that tentative glimmer to a published book and been a thrill and an honor.

Annie Dillard once wrote “there is no such thing as an artist–only the world lit or unlit, as the world allows.” I’m not sure I agree with the first part of this thought, but Margaret is definitely someone who sees “the world lit.” This light shines throughout Bayou Song, creating a brilliant mosaic that brings Margaret’s beloved Bayou Teche magically to life.

© Anna Cantrell, 2018

This book is an invitation to linger and get to know the Bayou Teche. From the opening pages, where we learn legend of the bayou’s origin, to “Bayou Sunset Tanka,” the collection’s final poem, we are captivated. “I Am a Beckoning Brown Bayou” literally invites us to “stay awhile” and get to know the many moods of this mysterious world.

Margaret’s poems introduce us to the many plants and animals who make their home in the bayou. Nutria, with their “bright orange tusks” were unfamiliar to me. Other inhabitants were familiar, but Margaret’s vivid images helped me see them in a new light. I will never think of crawfish again without thinking of their “round peppercorn peepers.” And of course baby egrets are “feather-glistening,” “worm-juggling,” and “nest snuggling.”

© Anna Cantrell, 2018

Anna Cantrell’s illustrations and Henry Cancienne’s photographs complement Margaret’s words beautifully, bringing the bayou to life in a way any one medium couldn’t individually. Their collaboration is similar to the collaboration of our critique group. The work of each member makes the others stronger. Henry Cancienne’s photos provide visual support for readers who aren’t familiar with the diverse inhabitants of the bayou. Anna Cantrell’s watercolors, from two-stepping herons to “mischievous” raccoons bring Margaret’s whimsical images to life.  Together, they create a tapestry of “paper-lace fragments of butterfly wings” and the “waving leaves of cypress trees”

The inclusion of factual information about the plants and animals who call the bayou home adds another dimension to this incredible resource. Through the “Write It” and “Sketch It” sections, Margaret extends an invitation to readers to learn more about their own environment. This appeal to write and draw will help readers see the similarities between the animals that live in habitats familiar to them–raccoons, toads, turtles–as well as understand the adaptability of these animals that allow them to thrive in a variety of habitats.

I am grateful to Margaret for inviting me to share this journey with her. Of our group she writes, “You hold me up. You give me…confidence…” Our words are our own, but by sharing and letting others help us shape them, they become stronger, we become stronger. Strong enough to write an amazing book like Bayou Song.

Don’t miss the next stops on Margaret’s blog tour to learn more about Bayou Song!

Friday, June 22:
Michelle Kogan

Friday, June 29:
Ruth Hersey at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town

Friday, July 6:
Kimberly Hutmacher at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes

Friday, July 13:
Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise

Tuesday, July 17:
Laura Shovan 

Tuesday, July 24
Amanda Potts at Persistence and Pedagogy

Friday, July 27:
Carol Varsalona at Beyond LiteracyLink

Monday, July 30
Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

Friday, Aug. 3
Dani Burtsfield at Doing the Work that Matters

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Lee Bennett Hopkins!

 

Today, the KidLitosphere is celebrating poet and anthologist extraordinaire Lee Bennett Hopkins‘s 80th birthday. Although I’ve never met Lee, he has been a guiding light to me for years. Pass the Poetry, Please was one of the first professional books I purchased when I began teaching, and the poetry section of my classroom library is filled with anthologies Lee has edited over the years. More recently, Lee’s wise words have helped me write and polish my own poetry.

It was impossible for me to choose one favorite Hopkins book or poem to share today, so I created a found poem using the titles of some of Lee’s books.

To Lee Bennett Hopkins, on his birthday:

Pass the Poetry, Please!

Good Rhymes! Good Times!
Days to Celebrate:
Hanukkah Lights,
Christmas Presents,
Halloween Howls,
Morning, Noon, and Nighttime, Too!

Wonderful Words:
Alphathoughts,
Hand in Hand
Jumping Off the Library Shelves

I Am the Book
Blast Off!
The Sky is Full of Song,
Full Moon and Star

Sky Magic
Sharing the Seasons
On the Farm
A Dog’s Life,
A Pet For Me

My America
Home to Me
Amazing Places
City I Love

World Make Way
Time to Shout:
Happy Birthday!

Please be sure to visit Robyn Hood Black at Life of the Deckle Edge for a special Poetry Friday Roundup of birthday wishes for Lee Bennett Hopkins!

SOL18: Found Poetry

Last week, my lovely and talented friend, Robyn Hood Black, invited her Poetry Friday friends to find a poem in a passage she shared from Cassell’s Family Magazine. The passage reminded me of a collection of cut outs I have that my grandmother and her sister used as paper dolls that date to 1916 or so. A little digging revealed that most of these came from The Delineator, “an American women’s magazine of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, founded by the Butterick Publishing Company.” (from Wikipedia) I searched my grandmother’s collection for styles that matched the description in the passage Robyn shared, but it’s from the 1890s, so fashions had changed. But I was able to find a few stylish dresses that have some similar features.

Because I live in spring-deprived New England, I found all the weather words to create my poem.  Thank you, Robyn, for this fun exercise!

WHAT TO WEAR IN APRIL

The long cloak savors of SPRING; it opens at the neck and TRIMS with close feather bands, instead of fur. It is composed of ribbed silk AND EMBROIDERED velvet, the velvet is cut as a Bolero jacket, elongated into panel sides over which fall the long pointed sleeves, embroidered on THE OUTSIDE of the arm, and edged like the jacket with ball fringe in character with the hat. It is a mantle that completely covers the dress. The muff matches the hat, and I notice

women are wearing them WELL ON TO SUMMER, partially because they are so infinitesimal. The floral muffs are often carried by bridesmaids; they are made of satin and COVERED WITH FLOWERS so that little but of the foundation is seen. They let the odour of the flower be easily enjoyed by the holder, and are more to be DESIRED than BOUQUETS because they have a raison d’être.  (From Cassell’s Family Magazine)

WHAT TO WEAR IN APRIL

SPRING
TRIMS
AND EMBROIDERED
THE OUTSIDE
WELL ON TO SUMMER
COVERED WITH FLOWERS
DESIRED
BOUQUETS

Inspired to try found poetry with your students? Don’t miss Linda Mitchell‘s terrific work with her eighth grade library students!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 18: The MEET MY FAMILY Blog Tour is Here!

 

“Every family’s different–each family is just right!”
Laura Purdie Salas

Welcome to the latest stop on the Blog Tour for Laura Purdie Salas’s beautiful new book, Meet My Family: Animal Babies and Their Families (Millbrook Press, 2018). When I first read Laura’s heartfelt words and saw Stephanie Fizer Coleman‘s lively illustrations, I knew this book was a perfect mentor text for student writing.

© Laura Purdie Salas and Stephanie Fizer Coleman, 2018

Laura was inspired to write Meet My Family by feelings she had about her own family growing up. In her interview with Kirby Larson (the link is listed below), Laura says that “my family felt very different from other families.” She hopes “this book might erase some of the shame so many kids feel about their families.”

One of my colleagues is the most amazing Kindergarten teacher on the planet, and she welcomed me into her classroom to share Laura’s book with her students and work on this writing project with them. After reading Meet My Family to the children, we talked about all the different kinds of animal families in the book. Then we talked about all the ways our own families are different. After brainstorming together, the kids wrote a sentence about their own family.

The next day, we reread the book, this time looking closely at the subtext on each page. Again, using Laura’s text as a mentor, the students added details to their writing about their family. Some chose to write about activities they do together, others wrote about favorite foods. Everyone gained an appreciation for all the different kinds of families we have!

Illustrations are a very big deal for Kindergarteners, and they couldn’t wait to start drawing their families. We even used the cover layout as a model for the cover of the book we created.

Here is their work:

I live with my mom and dad in my house. We love to babysit my baby cousin.
by R.

I am the only child. And sometimes I go out to walk with my family.
by R.

I have three sisters. I watch TV with my sisters.
by S.

I moved across the country. Sometimes we go on hikes!
by J.

I live with my family. We go to Five Guys for burgers.
by L.

I am the smallest in my family! My family likes to bike together! I like my family!
by K.

I am the youngest in my family. I went with my family in the forest. We had fun.
by A.

I live with my brothers and my baby sister. My family likes to go to the beach.
by I.

I live with my mimi and poppy. We like to go out to dinner.
by Z.

I have one sister. After school we go to gymnastics. It is tiring and it is fun.
by B.

I live with my mom and my brothers. We play Manhunt outside. I am fast.
by L.

My brother is eight and I am five. My baby sister is two. I live with my Nana and my PopPop, my puppy and cats.
by E.

I live with my mommy and dad and my baby sister, too. After school I help mom and dad make chicken for dinner.
by L.

These Kindergarten students are very proud to share their work today, and are already busy planning their next writing project. Thank you, Laura, for writing this informative, inspiring book!

Thanks to Laura’s generosity, one lucky reader will win a copy of Meet My Family! Just leave a comment before midnight, Thursday, March 22nd, to be entered in the drawing.

To find out more about Laura and this wonderful book, be sure to visit the other stops on the Meet My Family Blog Tour:

The tour has two more upcoming stops! Don’t miss them!

A Classroom Guide is available to download here.

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOL 18: Poetry Is…Revisited

Last week, Slicer Christie Wyman of Wondering and Wandering realized she was writing about a topic she’d written about last year. (Another nor’easter; my New England friends don’t even want to think about the new one brewing for next week!) Christie wondered, “do you have a slice from last year’s SOLC you could revisit because some things never change? Or maybe because they have!”

I had already been considering revisiting an exercise from Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing. (Read another post inspired by this book here.) Here’s the explanation of  “Juxtaposition” (found on page 56) from last year’s post:

This exercise begins by folding a piece of paper in half lengthwise, then choosing ten words from one of the many word lists in the book. Next, add a descriptive word in front of each of the chosen words. Turn the paper over and follow the directions for what to write next. When you unfold the paper, write “Poetry Is” at the top. Try various combinations from the assortment of words and phrases you wrote until you find a “juxtaposition…two unlike things (side by side) to wake up your ears and make your mouth smile.”

In response to last year’s post I wrote, Some of these pairings aren’t really a surprise, but I liked the images they conjured.

I did not reread the last year’s poem before starting this year, but some images appeared again anyway. I guess those words and ideas are deeply ingrained in me. Last year’s poem is structured differently from this year’s poem, and I think I like it a little better, but this year’s poem created some images that deserve a poem of their own.

Poetry hides…

In gentle rains of summers past
In rippling, whispering waves
In the soft peaks of a lemon meringue pie

Poetry lurks…

under the slow drift of pale sunshine
inside the molten silver of Wednesdays
behind the secret of cerulean blue

Poetry lives…

inside a cosmic whirl of serenity
in the full moon of my imagination
within the quickening spark of my heart.

© Catherine Flynn, 2018

This activity is exactly what Benke’s subtitle promises: an adventure in creative writing. Students love it for many reasons. Some of the combinations turn out to be very funny. It also provides a structure that reluctant writers find comforting and supportive. Confident writers will appreciate the flexibility they have to play with the format of their poem. The possibilities are endless!

Photo by Jeff Golenski via Unsplash

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBeth, KathleenDeb, Melanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.