Posted on Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Words

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

But Shakespeare knew this long before Mark Twain spoke these words!

Have you ever received an invitation? Well, you can thank William Shakespeare for bringing that happy word into popularity! William Shakespeare actually invented 1700 words over the course of his lifetime and generously brought them into the wide world through his 154 sonnets and 38 plays.

Dis you know that the rate of words disappearing from English is greater than the rate they are appearing? Yes, the English language is shrinking! I, for one, am so thankful for William Shakespeare and the words he left us to chew on. 

Shakespeare used verbs as adjectives and nouns as verbs. We see the verb “impair” used as an adjective in his play Troilus and Cressida: “Nor dignifies an impair thought with breath.” In his play, Julius Caesar,” he uses the noun “dog” as a verb: ”Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels.” He generated compound words like starblasting and doghearted and so much more! He played with suffixes. He played with prefixes. His imagination was limitless!

Above all else Shakespeare reminds us, like Mark Twain, that every word has unique power to communicate!

Come December, we will be celebrating Twelve Days of Haiku. More details tomorrow, but let’s begin with the prizes! We will be giving away a wonderful pairing of Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Companion and Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk. We will be offering this pairing to three three winners on the last day of 2023!










More details tomorrow!


Posted on Leave a comment

Creating Tradition of Letters

While cleaning out a closet I found some treasure! Real writing gold. A stash of letters my mother had written to my father over the course of a year while she was simultaneously raising 4 children and trying to sell our house in North Carolina. My father was out west in California building a new house in the 1960’s. As I read through these seven letters (as well as a few my older brother and sister had written to him), I was instantly transported back to my childhood in that small town as my mother was reporting on each child and all the goings-on of friends and close relatives like my grandmother and my aunts and uncles.

I was struck how writing letters is a record in time, an anchor to the shifting sands of time, people and places.

This led me to realize how much we forget from the past and how our lives change so much. How could we not change as we age? Each life stage changes us—education marriage, raising family, careers, possible trauma, big life changes, and so on.

And then I found another letter that really hit my heart.

This is a letter I wrote to a beloved aunt all about the man I was dating at the time (late 70”s), named John.  I was trying to convey matters of my heart and all my feelings about dating him and wondering if he was the one? I have never been a journal keeper, so these letters are all I have to remember who I was at that time.

I fear letter writing and all its myriad benefits have fallen away to the convenience of email and texting but it’s not the same. I can feel my mother’s love through that beautiful penmanship and the slow deliberate retelling of stories and gossip. I can imagine my father working alone up on the mountain, pulling up a paint can to sit upon while reading about his wife and children. There is so much love and longing in those letters flowing from the tip of that pen.

I am happy to report that my daughter was pen pals with her grandfather all through her childhood, as he was living a nomadic life in the desert, sending her sweet letters with little desert creature drawings imbedded. And at 30 she corresponds regularly with my cousin who is 45 years her senior! They share a love of travel and always send post cards from far flung places on the globe.

No wonder letters are regularly studied by historians to learn facts about the people and subjects they are writing about. Where would we be without Van Gogh’s wonderful letters to his brother Theo and all the insights contained therein? Or Emily Dickinson’s thousand extant letters (experts believe there were thousands more) that reveal her interests and profound feelings, which obviously informed her poetry and life? Or all the WWII letters written by soldiers to their mothers and fathers and wives? These letters are obviously invaluable.

So we at Blackbird and Company want to encourage the art and gift of letter writing! We have some brand new FREE resources—Letter Writing and Letterforms—to help you establish the very fun and rewarding endeavor that is letter writing.

Happy Holiday Season to you all!


Posted on Leave a comment

Fall Leaves for a Friendly Letter

It’s November and we’re celebrating the art of letter writing, let’s embellish!

Once you’ve composed a friendly letter first draft, it’s time to choose stationary. There are all sorts of envelopes and flat cards in many colors, shapes, and sizes available everywhere. Choose a shape and color that is perfect for fall. Accentuate these simple cards with a fall-themed crafty insert. What’s more symbolic of fall than fallen leaves?

The best place to begin is with a little exploration of fall science. Why do leaves turn from green to the colors of fall? In fall, days are shorter, sunlight is less intense, and temperatures are cooler. This causes leaves to stop photosynthesizing. When this happens the leaf’s  chlorophyll (the pigment that makes them green) breaks down, and its green turns to the beautiful yellows and oranges and reds that are quintessentially fall.

Let’s make some fall leaves!


Begin with one sheet of watercolor paper. Cut it in two pieces then fold each into an accordion.


Open the sheets back up and paint some fall colors.


Once the paint is dry, draw a leaf shape and cut.


Now punch holes.


Now fold the leaf and staple the stem. Thread a piece of embroidery floss through the leaf stem to wrap the little leaf up for its journey to the recipient of your extravagant letter!



Posted on Leave a comment

A Reason for Handwriting

About a dozen years ago, a friend shared with me that she decided to bypass teaching her children the art of penmanship. Her children would jump straight to keyboarding: “This is the computer age. Cursive handwriting is archaic. Why do the work?”

What about beauty?

When I pressed her, my friend agreed that handwriting is an art form. She simply did not see the value of her young children expending effort to master an art form that would not be useful in college a decade or so in the future. This was my first encounter with creative illiteracy.

Mastering the art of handwriting fosters the ability to concentrate, to contemplate, and to communicate confidently.

Let’s face it. We are a distracted people. We are technology-centric, and our children are at risk. We are obsessed with digital signals that tickle our attention.

But we all, somewhere deep down, appreciate ideas that are beautifully inked by hand. I, for one, long for this personal touch. Of course, there are countless typographical fonts that mimic hand-written text. We download them for free. Sometimes we even pay for these fonts. But can the illusion of written-by-hand really fill the void?

Technology is here to stay. We all need to be technologically literate. I’m connected to my iPhone because I value the many benefits this technology offers.

But what if a technological world without the balance of human artistry is shrinking individuality?Taymusic copy
My eldest son is a composer. Until recently, he composed all his pieces by hand on archival paper. When he was a college student, his professor pulled him aside and praised his melodic compositions that are equally beautiful to the eye. However, while he crowned Taylor one of the last “by-hand” composers, he suggested that purchasing a notation program such as Sebelius would be imperative. This is not because the program will make Taylor’s work easier, but because most musicians who will read his work have never played music that is handwritten and the foreign individual nuances are challenging to interpret. Taylor purchased the program, but assured the professor that he will always begin the process of composing by hand hoping to, in the end to also be known for the individuality of his hand on the page.

This got me to thinking, how many times do children come to me and say, “I can’t read cursive.”

Handwriting is an extension of the writer’s voice. Lettering by hand—whether it’s verbal or musical—is beauty, is unique voice. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien encouraged one another as writers, still, their voices on the page are vastly different. Voice is the fingerprint of the writer, that one-of-a-kind something that no two writers have in common.  Our handwriting is a beautiful extension of that voice. We are known by the whisper of our loops on the page.

Remember, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” That’s Hemingway, of course, from A Moveable Feast. I want to add:  Ink your one-true-sentence by hand onto paper in the most beautiful way you can!

This month, try carving out fifteen minutes a day to compose one true sentence, but not just the truest sentence you know, the truest-most-beautifully-handwritten sentence you know!

Begin with these things in mind:

Choose the right writing implement and the right
. The feel of the pencil or pen on the page is a personal choice. The balance of resistance and flow has to be just right. Take time to explore the options.

Consider grip and posture. While I don’t believe there is a single right way to grip the writing implement, I do believe the pressure of the grip matters. The grip should always be relaxed, not cramped. The posture should be upright, comfortable, and the arm should rest on a table so that the arm directs the stroke, not the wrist.

Beautiful handwriting begins with beautiful lines. Remember, our alphabet is a set of symbols developed by human beings to represent spoken sound. The symbols, from an artist’s standpoint, are arbitrarily looped and curved lines that
represent the spoken word. There are many letter forms in the world. You might even add one of your own!

Be the tortoise. Slow handwriting is nimble. Slow and steady is non-chaotic. Fast handwriting is mindless, awkward. Fast and rickety is chaotic. Consider the metaphor. An investment of time practicing the art of handwriting will generate much more than beautiful strokes on the page.

Click through to access our FREE lettering by hand activity to get the tradition started.



Posted on Leave a comment

The Friendly Letter is a Gift

Let’s start a tradition!

Let’s write friendly letters!

Composing a letter by hand—a non-electronic letter—is a relational, social activity that teaches generosity, idea making, and the nature of beauty.

Once upon a time there was no such thing as email, text messages, and social media. Back then there was mail. The art of letter writing began way before Pony Express.  I love watching movies where fancy-dressed people are sitting together after a lovely meal sharing news from friends and relatives living in far reaches of the wide world. Letters. They called them letters.

Ephemera is a wonderful word. Say it aloud. Ephemera.

But ephemera is something that is not meant to be preserved. I would argue that letters, the thoughtfully crafted kind, are not ephemera but rather lasting gifts!

  1. Letter writing, like all writing, begins with an idea. It’s November. And November is the season of gratitude. So why not write an idea tied to the theme of gratitude? Starting with a list is always a good idea. Brainstorm! What are you thankful for?
  2. Hone in: Once there is some fodder on the page, focus in on a specific topic that you can develop. Encourage student writers to keep ideas simple, being grateful for finding that favorite lost sock,  watching the goldfish swimming in the backyard pond, or accomplishing a difficult task like mastering a new math concept. Brainstorm some more.
  3. With a topic nailed down, begin crafting the rough draft. Time to pick up the pencil and tell the story—yes the story! Narrative writing (a story of gratitude is no exception) is an opportunity to share. Write a first draft.
  4. Lay down the pencil when all the ideas are on the page. Set the writing aside for up to 24 hours. Let the story simmer.
  5. Re-read what was written. Now is the time to make edits, to re-arrange, to add wonderful words and phrases and to read again! Once satisfied, copy the gratitude narrative into the card you have chosen. You can certainly add some “pleasantries” to introduce the purpose of your gratitude narrative (’tis the season, after all), and you can share a bit of personal news after your narrative, but however you shape your letter, don’t forget to mark it with a date, create a salutation, and a friendly closing.

Check out our FREE letter writing worksheet here.

Well-told stories encourage people to see things in new ways.

Snail Mail is not archaic!

To write a letter is to offer a generosity.

To receive a letter is a gift.

Heres to a month of letter writing! Let’s put a stamp on it!

“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” ~Emily Dickinson

Posted on Leave a comment

Three Ideas with Fall Leaves

It’s fall! Leaves are turning. Following are three ideas to help you “switch it up” with fall leaf activities! While reading the following ideas, listen to Vivaldi, Autumn from The Four Seasons performed by the Netherlands Bach Society. This will surely get the fall mood stirring!


Listen to a fall leaf story, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is amazing place to begin! This one is also a fall leaf favorite.

Read a fall poem.

October by Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with a
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Stitch a leaf. These leaves began with a leaf walk. Grab a basket and collect some freshly fallen leaves. Look up and, if possible, pluck a a few fresh leaves too. Once home, observe the different shapes you collected. Trace your favorite onto a piece of felt. Felt squares can be found at your local craft store. The felt we used was purchased on Etsy from an artisan who dyes beautiful colors with natural materials. Once the leaf shape is drawn on the felt, cut out the leaf. Now stitch the veins with matching embroidery floss using a simple running stitch.

This project is a really fun throwback to a classic that my sister-in-law, Tracey, beautified with unexpected bright fall colors and simple organic shapes! These leaves, once cut, are unfolded and embellished with a hole punch (all terrific fine motor for little ones), then veins are drawn with colored pencils. String these paper leaves for a decorative fall garland. Collect them in a little basket. You might even use these leaves as a little greeting card!


Haiku are the little powerhouses of the poetry world! They are a fun challenge involving the best of word play, mixed with a little finger counting to get the syllables just right! Here’s a brief “Haiku 101” to help you get started:

1. Haiku poems consist of a three-line stanza that has a total of 17 syllables written in the following pattern:

Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables

*Slight variations in syllabication is appropriate as this helps the poet maintain the “one thought in three lines” rule.

2. Haiku poems are observations of nature, often making reference to the seasons.

3. Haiku poems are like photographs, which capture moments in time. A  “haiku moment” describes a scene that leads the reader to a feeling.

4. Haiku poems were originally written as introductions to longer works of poetry and should be written as one thought in three lines.

Consider this simple, but lovely, fall haiku written by the Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho:

In the autumn night,

 Breaking into

A pleasant chat.

Ready to write? Try crafting a leaf haiku. Use photos in this post to inspire.


Posted on Leave a comment

Three Ideas with Apples

It’s apple picking time! Apples are quintessentially fall. Following are three ideas with apples to help you “switch it up” with activities to enjoy those fall feelings…


Listen to an apple story (this one was a favorite in our house).

Another favorite is How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman.

Read an apple poem:

A Drop Fell on the Apple Tree (794) by Emily Dickinson

A Drop fell on the Apple Tree —
Another – on the Roof —
A Half a Dozen kissed the Eaves —
And made the Gables laugh —

A few went out to help the Brook
That went to help the Sea —
Myself Conjectured were they Pearls —
What Necklaces could be —

The Dust replaced, in Hoisted Roads —
The Birds jocoser sung —
The Sunshine threw his Hat away —
The Bushes – spangles flung —

The Breezes brought dejected Lutes —
And bathed them in the Glee —
The Orient showed a single Flag,
And signed the fête away —


Paint some apples. This painting is a “study” (a copycat!). Pick up a canvas, some brushes, and a few tubes of acrylic paint. Before you begin, do some research. Do you know Paul Cézanne? Listen to a story about his apple paintings. Now study the apple painting by Paul Cézanne that inspired the copycat above! The first step of a painting is to prepare the canvas. Create a light brown to wash all over the canvas. This will dry quickly and once it does, use a pencil to sketch the apples—four on the top, and six on the bottom. Notice how each apple has a beautiful organic shape? There are zero perfect circles here! The next step is to add your big brush strokes of color—red and yellow and green. Can you mimic the colors? Here’s a hint: never paint straight out of a tube. To get a Cézanne red, you must mix a tiny drop of green into a quarter-sized blob of the red. To get a Cézanne yellow, you must mix a tiny drop of purple into a quarter-sized blob of the yellow. To get a Cézanne green, you must mix a tiny drop of red into a quarter-sized blob of the green. Mixing with complimentary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel) make beautiful complex hues! Practice mixing colors until you have colors that are similar to Cézanne. The dark blue-black outline work is the very last step.


Draw an apple and write an apple poem! Following are two photographs to inspire a small poem.  Fall is the time of year when we enjoy back-to-school. The leaves are changing and there may even be a scrumptious apple pie baking in the oven! Fall is the perfect season to write our ideas! What better way to capture a wonderful fall feeling than to craft a haiku for a change in season!



Posted on Leave a comment

How to Encourage Middle and High School Writers

Students using our Middle School ELA Grade Level Collections will be exploring essay form, enhancing vocabulary, and being introduced to advanced rhetoric in addition to the CORE units. Students at this level have developed confidence in the expanded form of idea-making, are crafting clever Hook openings with unique voicing, and are moving into the territory of unencumbered idea making!

Students regularly engage in the process of writing, idea to draft to the re-read/edit loop that leads to a beautiful polished final work.

When students move to the high school level, each week, in addition to journaling observations character development, themes, symbols, and motifs, they are encouraged to craft a synopsis and a personal reflection to help them timk deeply about the story at hand in preparation for the crafting of a literary essay.

Crafting the synopsis and reflection within a constrained word count, challenges the writer to make each word matter!

Each culminating essay follows the same form introduced in middle school, so that the writer is now prepared to craft original observations and ideas tied to complex literature constrained to the particular literary form.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development sessions with Mrs. B & Ms. Clare:

How to Encourage Middle School and High Student Writing! 



Posted on Leave a comment

How to Encourage Elementary Writers


How do students in 3rd Grade who are brand new to the paragraph form and still mastering foundational skills become unencumbered idea makers?

Incrementally and inspired by idea making, of course!

Writing is a creative habit that begins with an idea and ends with words on the page.

Over time, as students move into upper elementary (4th and 5th grade), with our CORE, they will become engaged in the work of learning to re-read their work, becoming friends with the red pen. Self-editing is courageous! Engaging in this process will bring shape to ideas which is precisely what enables them to press into and enjoy the process of writing.

And this habit, built over time, motivates students to write well!

Let’s explore how our CORE Integrated Literature and Writing units produce exceptional writers! Gain insight, tips, and encouragement.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development sessions with Mrs. B & Ms. Clare:

How to Edit Elementary Student Writing! 




Posted on 1 Comment

How to Encourage Primary Writers

And the ability to tame an idea begins with some foundational skills introduced and practiced in the primary grades—Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd!

Our Grade Level Collections include everything you need to introduce and reinforce phonics for reading and writing, plus a multitude of creative opportunities for idea making to motivate students in this important work.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development session with Mrs. B. & Ms. Clare. Be inspired this fall:

How to Encourage Primary Student Writing!