Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Line Lifts - A Great Strategy Still

Hey, Mr. Allen, listen to this… 
I love this line, listen…
Close your eyes for a minute.  Ready?  Listen to these words… 
Wow, Mr. Allen, listen…

     My students and I have been paying close attention to some of the fantastic lines we are noticing as readers.  We’re knee-deep in a study of how wise readers ask questions to better understand, remember, extend meaning, and make readers experiences memorable (Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop, p. 28).  As writers, we’re honing in on exquisite lines to nudge our writing work—a parallel notebook study of  “What does a wise writer do to nudge his/her writing?"  (One of the strategies we're playing around with is "lifting a line" to coax our own writing.  A strategy I first learned from Linda Reif and have loved since.)
 Questions abound!

     In Write from the Start, Donald Graves reminds us, "Whenever there's a connection made between old knowledge and new knowledge, that's where the new growth is.  Those are the green shoots out of the old stock, the shoots that will bear fruit.  But it takes a fair amount of pruning to get new growth.  The dead wood comes when children pay attention to what they think the teacher wants instead of what, in fact, they see."

     So as writers were working toward the "shoots that will bear fruit."  Helping see that we have a lot to learn from mentors.  A lot of young writers these days seem "prompt-bound" or "Is this good? bound" or "I don't know what to write-bound."  They've been stifled by outside forces of programs and perfection... of skill and drill types of writing.

     But if I can encourage my students to develop a sense of agency as writers... to open their notebooks and start writing from a great line that they've discovered, they'll have one more authentic tool to help them develop independence during those times when writing ideas aren't coming easy.  Giving them a chance to break chains that are, sadly, already cramping their young writing lives.  To encourage purpose.  To encourage play.  To encourage risk.  To encourage thought.  To encourage putting pencil to paper.

     I've shown them my own notebook with the lines I've borrowed... lines that are waiting for me when I'm stuck or need a jumping off point.  

  Helen Frost - Salt
"Fireflies light up the edge of the dark forest."
"Our fire will keep us warm inside while we tell winter stories."

Kate Banks - Max's Words
"I'm going to collect words."
"When Max put his words together, he had thoughts."

Ruth Ayres - Celebrating Writers:  From Possibilities Through Publication
"Sometimes leaving things unsaid is more difficult than knowing what to say."
"Sometimes rejoicing is quiet.  It's a nod of encouragement."

Barbara O'Connor - How to Steal a Dog
"I closed the notebook and watched the moths flutter around the streetlight outside the window.' 
"I pushed my face against the screen and peered inside.  My stomach did a flip-flop."

Gary Paulsen - Brian's Hunt
"A perfect day among many perfect days and the last thought he had before slipping into sleep was that he was in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time in his life."

Gari Meacham - Watershed Moments
"A true watershed isn't to be hoarded; rather, it is to be shared, to spread it's gift of insight from our life to the lives of those around us."

     So what?  Now I have a notebook nudge.  Parts that can lead to wholes.  If I'm sitting with my notebook, facing a blank page, I have some great lines from some of my favorite writers that might just lead me into a piece of my own.  Not stolen.  Just borrowed.  Lines that spark a memory.  Lines that encourage me to write.  Just a little "tidbit" borrowed from a mentor that invites me to move words across a blank page.  A tool for a specific time for a specific purpose that fits into the "big picture" of being a writer.  Practice.

     It's a simple strategy that can serve as a guide to more complex pieces, more personal pieces.  Teach.  Model.  Empower.  

Hey, Mr. Allen, listen to this… 
I love this line, listen…
Close your eyes for a minute.  Ready?  Listen to these words… 
Wow, Mr. Allen, listen…

Let the pruning begin...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ice Bear - Nicola Davies

I've been rereading a bit of Nicola Davies lately.  There's something reenergizing to thumb through my stakes.  Among her books, I ran across a favorite of mine... Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear.  
     I love her narrative... but what attracts me most to her writing is the way she interweaves bits of nonfiction, lines that float through the text.  I've been sitting down to contemplate a writing project lately and I'm using her as one of my mentors (along with Don Brown and Louise Borden).  
     One of the things we know as teachers of writers is how important it is to surround them with the types of writing we want them to explore... the types of writers who can become their mentors.  Of course, the more I work with young writers, the more I realize that often times they are the ones who have to match themselves to a mentor; they are the ultimate decision maker.  They find their own mentors.  Someone they respect.  Someone whose writing inspires them.  Someone who intrigues them.  Someone whose writing nudges them.
      And I've realized that I have an important job:  to expose them to writers, to help them discover great writers, to encourage them to "have a go" with interesting examples of text, and to demonstrate my own passion for writers and great writing.  Expose.  Discover.  Encourage.  Demonstrate.  That's just good teaching, right?  
     So Nicola Davies is one of my "go to" mentors and by sharing what I learn from her with my students, perhaps they will, in turn, find a "go to" writer that inspires them.  Consider this line...
"Its ears sit close to its head, 
neatly out of cutting winds, 
and its feet are furred for warmth and grip."

     What can a young writer learn?  What can I learn?  In 21 words I notice the power of three, the strength of noun modifiers, the effective use of "and" as a coordinating conjunction, the musicality of rhythmic words.  If I read Nicola Davies to my students (and myself)... once for the heart and once for the head, how can her words not engage them in the wonderful thing we call writing.  
     It's time to pull together a Nicola Davies basket... my students will love her.  IF I don't beat them to the basket first.

Friday, November 8, 2013

God Got a Dog - A Gem

Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee.  Another perfect combination.  Using sixteen poems from God Went to Beauty School, they've created a beautiful collection in God Got a Dog.  Who doesn't love these two talented women?
     What I imagine most is Marla chatting with Cynthia about this book, these poems, during their collaboration.  And, me only wishing I could have been a fly on the wall... okay, actually a fellow reader/writer sitting with the both of them at the table as they chatted.  Can you imagine?  Cynthia Rylant, a writer's writer/illustrator.  Marla Frazee, a writer's writer/illustrator.  Two talents that God has put together to create this book... two talents that we all admire.  Imagine.
     Now there might be a few biblical scholars who would disagree with Rylant's interpretation of God.  But, they can't argue with the fact that she's a brilliant writer who writes from her heart, a wordsmith beyond compare.  And her words, coupled with Frazee's illustrations make a reader's heart happy.  And who doesn't need a heart that's happy?  God himself said so in Proverbs 15:13 and Proverbs 4:23.  A happy heart is good medicine! 
     My favorite poem in the entire collection is "God Went to India."  Perhaps it's because it reminded me of my mom and her love for elephants (I have two from her collection).  Perhaps it reminded me of my daughter and her recent life-changing trip to visit the orphanages in India.  But, perhaps it's because of this beautiful section:
 God understands mourning
better than any other emotion,
better even than love.
Because He has lost
everything He has
ever made.
You make life.
You make death.
The things God makes
always turn into
something else and
He does find this good. 
But He can't help missing all the originals.
So, Rylant fans.  So, Frazee fans.  We have a new gem for our collections.  Two of our friends have come together to create this special book.  God does do good work.  And, we can only hope that these new-found friends collaborate and come together on the pages of another book... sooner than later. 
     In the meantime, I'll be sitting at my table with the two of them, reading God Got a Dog. Imagining that they, too, were wishing that were HERE!  Imagine.  

... and our hearts are happy!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Snowflakes Fall

When you combine the talents of Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg, there's not much more to say...
     Snowflakes Fall arrived today.  My heart is full.  With the simplicity of MacLachlan's words, I was once again moved and inspired.  With the honesty of Kellogg's illustrations, I was once again reminded and touched.  
     As a tribute to Sandy Hook, this book is meant to be joyful and spirit-filled.  It is.  If you haven't purchased this book.  You should.  Read it once for your head.  Read it once for your heart.  And then read it to your students... tomorrow.

     "Snowflakes fall
     To Sit on garden
     And evergreen trees
                                On the fur of dogs
                                And the tongues of laughing children--
                                                                                No two the same--
                                                                                All beautiful."

And we remember the children.  I just want to say thank you to both the author and the illustrator for creating such a fine tribute to life.  Thank you.