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Let’s Talk Struggle!

writing

During the last Pages session we explored Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamilo. The author’s journey continues to be on my mind. I am inspired by her resilience. Resilience, I am sure, makes her a courageous and successful writer. In the last week of the Pages class, the writing prompt for the rough draft was, “Write a story about yourself that you would like to tell someone someday.” This prompt leads to unlimited possibilities! As I read each child’s submitted rough draft, I realized they all decided to write about a struggle they experienced. That made me reflect on the books we have read for the Pages class this past year.

During our first Pages session we read Fish In A Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  This is a school story focusing on a new Teacher, Mr. Daniels, and 8 of his students. Like any classroom there is diversity—race, culture, socioeconomic status, intelligence, personality, family life, and more. The main character, Ally, struggles in school and is ultimately diagnosed with dyslexia. The author’s own struggle inspired this story. She was never officially tested for dyslexia growing up, but struggled with reading and self-esteem until she reached middle school, when she experienced her own Mr. Daniels who cared and inspired. Lynda has written two other books, both highlighting characters with struggles and how they successfully made it through to the other side.

Kate DiCamillo openly talks about her children’s books being a little sad. Her characters demonstrate how we readers can survive trials such as suffering or loneliness. In the end there is always a seed of hope, that ultimately things will work out. I mentioned in my previous post that Kate moved to Florida from Philadelphia when she was 5 years old due to chronic pneumonia. What I didn’t mention was that her father who was a dentist who had a practice in Philadelphia and never left. He visited over the years but kept his life and practice in Philadelphia. Opal, the main character in “Because of Winn-Dixie”, struggles throughout the book with understanding why her mom left her when she was 3 years old. Opal has no contact with her mother and is filled with many questions and a great longing that we readers feel deeply.

We as human beings are drawn to struggle. We see struggle every day in the world. We see it in the people around us. Reading about struggle helps us see our own and other’s struggles in life. Writing about struggle can help us figure out the world around us and the workings of ourselves as well. I have heard writers say “we write what we know”. I like what Lynda Mullaly Hunt says, “I think I tend to write what I’d like to know—things I long to understand but don’t.”

It takes courage to look deep within and write our struggles for the world to see.

It takes resilience and a long list of related traits to add hope to any struggle.

Struggle is part of our human condition; sharing is how we relate to each other. When we share our struggle in stories, we see the similarities in our humanity over our differences. There is always the thread of hope in struggle. The question is not whether there is hope but how we get there.

Keep writing courageously! I will get to the other side, understanding my struggle a little bit better, knowing I am not alone, that hope is waiting for me. Hope for me does not guarantee happiness, only the knowledge that things can be better or different then today. And that I believe, is enough.

~Clare Bonn

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Ars Poetica for April

A poem about “what-is-a-poem” is an Ars Poetica.

 

Sometimes a poem is as small as a list.

Sometimes it encompasses all the words we need.

Sometimes a poem is restless buttons  in a jar.

But always,

a  l  w  a  y  s

a poem

is translucent,

waiting to unfurl

its magic.

 

~Kimberly Bredberg

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Caterpillar of Birds

Caterpillar_Birds

Write poem that is at once a story describing an image or event or memory. Be imaginative. Think Caterpillar of Birds. Be the blind man who thinks he is describing a snake but is actually describing an elephant. Draw more inspiration from metaphor and synecdoche.

“The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop overtly describes the catching of a fish, but subtly describes the concept of choice, the wonder of the natural world, mortality, beauty, and more.

Example:

 

“Dropping a Plate While Washing Dishes”

 

I nearly caught it—

the plunge of dish from hand

frame by frame was frozen

as the slippery china slid,

still fleeced with shining bubbles,

from my gloves, and the wild waltz

of slippery fingers grasping

still failed to stop

its spiral to floor: one frame remains

still rendering in loops—

my heartbeat expanded into

throbs of meaty bass

the second when the runaway

nearly seemed suspended

above the unforgiving tile,

I stood staring like a friend

left behind on a train platform,

even after the floor burst

into a kaleidoscope, shreds

of blue glass.

~Constance

 

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Flourishing an Idea

Mozart Season Bundle

Aesthetics is a set of principles that inform the outcome of a work of art. Aesthetics taps into that part of our being that connects with beauty. Last spring, after reading The Mozart Season,  knew the section of the story that would inspire the most creativity. I know this because I have seen it here, and here, and here. And when readers stumble upon this three-page passage, well, Section 5 happens.

As the story goes, when Allegra and her mother’s friend, Diedre spend an afternoon in the Rose Garden, well, music happens. Nestled atop a hill in the park is a silvery aluminum sculpture. There are tall columns and arched columns, smaller columns and water uniting them all.

“It was Diedre who started the song. She began slowly, BONG bong Bong bong with her knuckles on the three big columns, walking between them.”

Now I’ve seen some fantastic creative responses to The Mozart Season (some that have won awards), but when this past year, one of my students finished the book and brought in her Section 5 project to share, I marveled that, yet again, it was in response to this specific music-making passage.

And the project she brought in was not only “nique” (as Allegra and her friends would say), but also a perfect opportunity to share some tips to elevate the Section 5 project artistically.

With a cardboard box, some discarded bottles, aluminum foil, a few scraps of notebook paper, one green marker, Scotch tape, and a pitcher of water, my student made a musical instrument! While I have seen many musical instruments (even musical compositions) inspired by this little section of The Mozart Season, this one captured my imagination. Think “don’t judge a book by its cover” for a moment. This homely little project surprised me with rich sounds made from filling the bottles with different levels of water and blowing gently across each the neck. Oh! I was simply tickled, “My favorite Mozart invention so far!”

But the poor dear was in desperate need of a makeover. So I gave the maker a simple lesson.

So following is the simple make-over:

BEFORE

 

  1. To begin, if you are going to use a box (and boxes are a great way to begin), always paint the box! Give yourself a blank canvas upon which you can build your idea. A coat or two of gesso or acrylic paint will do just fine.
  2. Use more than one art medium. Here for example, using green marker and green paint on both folded and crumpled paper makes the viewer read ‘foliage” more clearly.
  3. Give the reader an anchor to the book where the idea originated by posting quotes around the project.

You don’t have to be an artist to make your idea beautiful. And, think about it, ideas are meant to be appreciated. So, go on, beautify.

AFTER

One last thought… There is a trend in all sectors of education to discount the reading of pure fiction. This is not wise. This quiet little story is, in my opinion, powerful proof why we all need to read across many genres, read all kinds of stories. Every time I’ve led students through this purely fictional story set in a very real setting (the competition that Allegra is working toward is a real competition that happens annually in Oregon), they read a few pages and groan. But by the time they get to the end, they have a deep appreciation for the rich story and significant fodder for their creativity to unfold.

~Kimberly Bredberg

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It’s April… Read and Write Poetry!

Try Douglas Florian.

Winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and recipient of an ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, Douglas Florian is the author and illustrator of many children’s books. He believes there is only one rule when it comes to poetry, that there are no rules. Douglas Florian gives credit to his father as his first art teacher, who taught him to love nature. He begins his poems with research of the real thing and then uses that information to create an imaginary poem. Douglas Florian lives in New York City with his wife and five children.

Try Love That Dog.

What is a poem anyway?

I don’t want to
because boys

don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

Meet Jack, who tells his story with a little help from some paper, a pencil, his teacher, and a dog named Sky.

Although this guide includes many of the same elements as the other Level 1 guides, such as vocabulary and comprehension, the format is unique.Each week, your student will be encouraged and guided to write poems in the style of each poet being introduced in the story.

Try Locomotion.

When Lonnie Collins Motion – Locomotion – was seven years old, his life changed forever.

Now he’s eleven, and his life is about to change again. His teacher, Ms. Marcus, is showing him ways to put his jumbled feelings on paper. And suddenly, Lonnie has a whole new way to tell the world about his life, his friends, his little sister Lili, and even his foster mom, Miss Edna, who started out crabby but isn’t so bad after all

Poetry bundleTry Exploring Poetry.

Discover the poet within you!

This unit will help you discover the craft of writing poems and the delight of reading poetry. Over the course of seven weeks you will be introduced to some of the basic techniques used by poets, explore excellent poetry, and practice writing original poems. Each section is designed to be completed in about two, one hour sittings.

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Let’s Talk Section 5

Each and every Literature + Writing Discovery Journal (the core of our language arts offering) sets aside a week to create and celebrate.

Don’t wait until week 5 to begin thinking about your Section 5 idea!

Why not start imagining during Section 2?

Make a plan.

During Section 2, begin brainstorming. Download our free planning worksheet to begin brainstorming. Write down your ideas and, since your Section 5 will include a visual component, create small sketches demonstrating different ways you imagine your idea might take shape and what materials you might utilize.

During Section 3, choose the idea you like best and make a full-page sketch with labels that will help you prepare.

During Section 4, gather all the materials you will need to complete your project build.

After all this, when week 5 rolls around, you will be prepared to focus on creating a meaningful project. A project that you will surely be proud of for years to come. Check out our Student Project Gallery to be inspired. Send us photos of your completed project so we can add it to the gallery to inspire others.

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It’s Nearly Spring!

The first day of Spring is right around the corner.

Celebrate spring with your students! Blackbird and Company’s Early Bird Spring Stories Thematic Unit will help do just that! You’ll have 5 weeks of great reading and writing and projects at your finger tips.

First book in the line up is, It’s Spring by Linda Glaser. The cut paper illustrations are so adorable! It’s quite a fun project to paint a wide selection of colorful papers with tempera paint then after they dry use them to cut out a spring scene. Think of all the colors of spring like blues and greens and browns for trees and animals. Use the illustrations in the book as inspiration for your collage.

Or, another idea to celebrate the arrival of spring, from our very own blog archives,  write a haiku and make some blossom cards.

 

Whatever you decide, be sure to celebrate the blossoming!

~Kimberly

 

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Never Give Up!

One of the things I love about teaching the Pages classes is the opportunity to read and learn right alongside my students. I am endlessly amazed at their insights. There is never a class when they don’t point out something I did not see or interpret another way. This is the same thing I loved about homeschooling, watching the light come on in my children’s eyes as they discussed a great character in a book or a line they were chewing on!

I started out this last Pages class as I usually do, discussing the author. This session we are reading, “Because of Winn-Dixie”, by Kate DiCamillo, which happens to be her first published book. Kate has led an interesting life. She was born in Philadelphia but moved to Florida when she was five due to health problems. She had chronic pneumonia as a child and was often hospitalized, which gave her plenty of time, (you got it) to read!

What I loved most about Kate’s story was the realness in her struggle to become a writer and the resilience it took to get her writing into the “right” person’s hands.

After graduating with an English degree and working lots of odd jobs, Kate ended up following a friend to Minnesota at 30-years old. She started working at a book warehouse (not her dream job). She also started waking up at 4am before her shifts to write two pages every day.—a habit that Kate has kept to this day. After four years she started submitting her books to publishers and received 473 rejection letters. Let me say that again, 473 rejection letters! That number has had me thinking and talking with my family and my students.

How would it feel to receive 473 rejection letters?

Would I personally give up?

Throw in the towel?

Would I think I don’t have anything of value to say?

And the answer I keep coming to is: I think I might. I am not sure my ego could withstand that number—473!

Resilience is simply the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. To really go deeper, what are resilience skills? This is the list of traits that appeared when I looked it up:

Self-confidence.

Optimism.

Flexibility.

Responsibility.

Patience.

Problem-Solving.

Self-awareness.

It made me think that this is the list we should hang for ourselves to remind us of what is needed to push through the hard, ego-breaking experiences and get to the other side.

I am glad that Kate picked up that list and continued to submit her writing. Because of Winn-Dixie did finally get into the right person’s hand. It made it through sitting on one of these people’s desks while they were on maternity leave, only to be found again when the person returned and was cleaning her desk.

On top of this, her story went through multiple rewrites before it was published. Kate DiCamillo’s path to success was not an easy assent but more of a difficult and sometimes brutal climb. Gone are my assumptions that writing just comes easy to some. What replaced that thought is the thought that those who get to the top of the climb embrace that list of resilience skills and are courageous in using them.

Kate DiCamillo has gone on to publish 25 novels and has sold over 37 million copies. Four of her books have been turned into films and she is one of only six authors to have won two Newbery Honor awards. She spends 12-15 hours a week writing and 35-40 hours a week reading. I don’t know about you, but I will keep my resilience list hanging, right next to my pencil and paper. I will keep a warm cup of tea right next to the book I am reading. I choose to make it courageously to the other side, one page at a time.

~Clare Bonn

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Written by Hand

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her hand was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Sadly, digital teaching tools have pushed handwriting instruction to the back seat. But writing by hand is multi-sensory, connecting hand-eye coordination and memory. Writing by hand, the art of encoding language, strengthens the ability to read (decode) language. Writing by hand slows us down so that we might engage with and bring shape to our ideas.

This past Sunday, January 23, was the birthday of John Hancock—the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. I can see his strong, courageous calligraphy in my mind’s eye. His is the one famous signature that my elementary classmates and I committed to memory. So it is fitting that here at the end of January each year we celebrate the art of handwriting connected to this larger than life signature!

So at the dawn of 2022, may you pick up a pencil, craft your very own John Hancock, marveling at each individual stroke that defines your hand.

Want to learn more about printed letterforms?

Take a look at our free worksheet: Typography 101

Typography 101

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Tracing Character Development

The Iron Giant.  Naima.  Hollis Woods.  Juan de Pareja.

We readers know they are people who don’t exist but we get involved anyway.

Why?

It’s complicated.
And yet it’s simple.
Characters inspire.
They inspire is to try.
They inspire us persevere.
They inspire us to be kind.
They inspire us to take heart.
They inspire us to hope.

Great characters remind us that we may be flawed but we are incredibly able. They remind us that we are not alone. Great characters offer truths that shape and spur us on.

Think Prospero.  Jane Eyre.  Sherlock Holmes.  Elizabeth Bennett.  Atticus Finch.  Jay Gatsby.  Gandalf.  Even Winnie-the-Pooh.

These characters, like us humans, are not one-dimensional. They are the tragically flawed heroes that inspire us to action—even if that action is simply a smile and a sigh and a moment of introspection at the end of the read.

We are here to help!

We are so happy to announce our new downloadable FREE Character Trait Decks to empower our students journalling in our Level 1, 2, 3 or 4 Literature + Writing Discovery Guides.

✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧

“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.”

~Winnie-the-Pooh

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

~Gandalf

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

~Atticus Finch

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

~Prospero

✧ ✧ ✧ ✧ ✧

Generally Speaking, when it comes to understanding literary characters, actions speak louder than words.

Will they, like Frodo, carry the ring into Mordor? Or, like Edmund, eat the Turkish delight?

The main thing to keep in mind when considering the “character” of a literary character is this: Does the character act/think/feel this way all the time, or is this only a momentary response?

Just like real life, a character’s actions speak louder than words. Take Goldilocks. We’re all familiar with her adventure in the home of the three bears and her conundrum deciding which porridge to eat. On the surface, at first superficial glance, Goldilocks seem cute, an innocent little girl. It might be easy to describe Goldilocks as simply curious. Is Goldilocks always curious? Sure.

But might we infer that she is hungry or confused? If so is she always hungry? Always confused? And do these traits often lead her into all sorts of mischief? Maybe in the moment.

Let’s think again. What do the actions of Goldilocks within the context of the story really tell us about who she is?

Goldilocks seems greedy—eating food that does not belong to her without asking. She is for sure picky—dipping her spoon into every bowl before she finds the one she feels is “just right.” She seems selfish—freely taking for her own whatever goody presents itself. But is this who she is at her core?

These are aspects of character we gather about Goldilocks as we read her story. As we trace these traits throughout the story. We stumble upon more evidence later on when Goldilocks undergoes a similar situation involving the beds of the bears. In the end, these traits seem to be ingrained in her personality and give us insight into who Goldilocks is as a whole character.

The traits of Goldilocks are perse, but I think we’d all agree her actions at the home of the three bears are greedy and picky and selfish.

When it comes to character traits, literary characters truly are the sum of their actions.

~Sharayah Hooper