Book Review: Odd Type Writers

 

Now here is a book for those who not only love to read (me!) but also those who are curious about the writers behind the books we love to read (me!). Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson is a light-hearted, whirlwind tour of the eccentricities of many of the most famous writers, with all of their quirks and processes laid bare for us to marvel at or wonder about.

Johnson explores through research the elements of where some writers wrote, their odd routines, the foods they had to eat when writing, the color pens and inks they used, animal companions and more. Yes, writers are quirky characters and this book really brings that to the surface (making my own quirks as a writer feel a bit normal).

You might think of this as a gossip book about Joyce, Dickens, Woolf, Wharton, O’Connor, Capote and many others, and I suppose you would be correct. But there is a certain humanity that comes to the surface, too, when you dive into the lives of famous writers and the passions that drove them to create great art.

Peace (under cover),
Kevin

The Beginning and the Ending: An Image

Start of fall, end of summer
Kim had us thinking of how to capture the start of something or the end of something via an image, as part of our Photo Fridays adventure. (Actually, she is gathering folks to do an image a day for September. I don’t think I can do it, but you might want to try. At least, follow along with her ideas for photos as literacy.)

I live in New England, and already, the trees are beginning to change. We know it’s coming, this thing we call Autumn, but to see it happening in a few select trees (the same trees, changing first every year, and those are the trees we think of the dreaded Harbinger of Winter on the Horizon.)

I found this leaf on a walk and it seemed to perfectly illustrate the start of something (Autumn) and the end of something (Summer) with its color pattern. The deep green, run through with golden brown. It is as if the leaf was resisting. Resistance is futile.

Autumn is coming … maybe it is here.

Peace (in the air),
Kevin

 

Two Funny, Slightly Scary Pop Culture Moments

Last week, there were two moments that stood out for me on the first days of school because they shone a light on the influence of pop culture and television programming on my sixth graders. Both were funny, but also … a little disconcerting.

First, every morning, our school has the typical “morning announcements” on our system television, and music comes on as a way to alert us to turn on our televisions. The music choice is recommended by students, but ultimately approved by a teacher in charge of morning announcements. We have preschool through sixth grade in our school, so no Kanye … if you know what I mean.

On Friday, the theme from the Little Einsteins show came on, and with the very first note of the melody, my entire classroom of sixth graders began singing the song. It was an immediate thing. A chorus of voices. I was laughing, but thinking: Wow, they remember this theme from when they were toddlers. That’s a commercial hook.

Second, earlier in the week, we were going over some vocabulary words, and I was explaining the meaning of “lofty” and how to remember its various definitions. I referenced Bob the Builder, which has a character named Lofty, and one girl mentioned how they were revamping the cartoon for a new generation of kids.

“You know your childhood is over when they remake your childhood cartoons!” she moaned. She’s only 11 years old. I hope her childhood is far from over.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

Me — on Medium — Writing

Me on Medium

I’m trying out the idea of writing posts over at Medium, a publishing site that I have been following and reading for some time now, but never took the plunge into posting to beyond a comment here and there. For now, I am revamping some of the material that I have posted here, at my blog, for over there, at Medium.

Check out my posts at Medium:

Medium is an interesting site, as it is trying to find some ground between long-form journalism and small form writing. It seems a bit as if other journalist groups are linking into Medium to publish/republish content. There are a lot of technology-related pieces (and too many tales of the “start up” culture for my tastes, as it feels as if companies are using their Medium stories of being a start up to get publicity to get funding … is that too cynical of me? It may be that I don’t quite know Medium’s audience)

Still, some of the education pieces that I have read have been pretty insightful and intriguing, and my reading of those pieces gave me the courage to wonder if I might add my voice to the site, too.  Why not, right? Writing and posting to Medium is certainly easy enough with the publishing tool they provide.

I’m in …. how about you?

Peace (in the new),
Kevin

Phew … The First Week Sets the Stage

First week of school

This is the first year that I can remember that we started school on a Monday and went five days to Friday. Normally, we come mid-week for a few days and then hit the ground running the next week. Instead, we had five full days and now a three-day weekend before coming back to a short week.

I admit: I was exhausted yesterday afternoon.

But I think my new students – 76 sixth graders — are wonderful, and engaged already. Here’s a bit of what we accomplished in our first five days of school:

  • Community Building (but I wish we had time to have done more … I will write another time about schedule changes this year that have taken away from this)
  • Created accounts and created avatars in our webcomic site
  • Finished up an introductory webcomic (an activity called Pro Card), which gets us ready to dive into our first year real project next week, called Dream Scenes
  • Did two writing prompts, including a creative writing/expository writing/art element about an imaginary treehouse
  • Introduced vocabulary and set the bi-weekly system in motion
  • Read a short story and began to connect with literary concepts (protagonist/antagonist, foreshadowing, etc.)
  • Worked on an organizational chart for planning a literature response piece, which will get written next week
  • Laughed a lot and had students feeling like writers

That last one is important, even if it is not on the standards. It sets the stage for all the hard work and deep writing I hope we can accomplish as the year progresses.

Peace (on Saturday),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: The League of Seven

I introduced by son to the concept of Steampunk with a read-aloud of The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz, and he was intrigued by the elements of alternative history (in which electricity is bad) as much as the development of a new book series. Gratz has a nice pacing to his writing, and although this is the first book (we meet only three of the seven heroes who will have to saved the world), those three are interesting.

The story revolves around mythology, with a mix of traditional and non-traditional stories of evil lurking below and ready to rise. In this book, Archie Dent is our protagonist, and he envisions himself the leader of a new League of Seven (each generation has a league to fight evil), although twists at the end change this expectation in intriguing ways. But I won’t give it away.

In this world, Edison is the evil genius, and electricity will help the evil creatures (Titans, in Greek Mythology, I assume) rise from their prisons in the depths of the Earth. Archie’s parents are part of the Septemberists, a collection of people who work to keep the world safe. But they get, well, kidnapped (in a way) and Archie must save them, along with two new friends with different, special abilities.

What unfolds is an adventure and immersion into a world both like and unlike our own, and the League of Seven has us hooked as a read-aloud, and now we wait for the second book (The Dragon Lantern) sometime later this year.

Peace (in the place),
Kevin

Reverberation Effect: How Poetry Beats Prose as a Comment

PreciousConnections

This morning, I followed a link from my friend, Simon, to his post yesterday about connections and disconnections. As always, Simon had me thinking as I was reading and then, afterwards. I wanted to leave a thought for him at his blog, a little flag in the ground to say: I read what you wrote, and it affected me, and now my brain is thinking, wondering.

A few seconds after posting a short comment, I realized that what I really wanted to do was write a poem, that the disparities of the world that Simon wrote about — of a former student struggling to keep power, literally, flowing in order to get a message out to the world — were part of a larger issue of access and technology in the world.

So, I wrote a poem, and shared it with him. Interestingly enough, the poem moved into the opposite direction: it was a poem of relationship of connections between two people. I was working to get at the narrow vision in order to make a point about the larger concept of how we decide where we will spend our energy connecting. I didn’t realize that until I was done writing the poem.

That got me thinking: why do I so often these days take what I have read in a blog post and turn my response into a poem?

I think it points to the power of poetry to get at something deeper. Prose comments on blogs are more of a “I was here” acknowledgement — and appreciated, by the way — but poetry is a “Your words affected me deeply and inspired this.

I wish there were more poems sitting in my blog comment bin. No pressure if you are reading this (and I don’t need a deluge of poems, but dang, that would be cool). Still, it seems like the whole idea of reading and getting inspired is to take that inspiration, and move it into art of some sort, and then share it back. It creates this reverberation effect with the writer. It breaks down the walls between reader and writer.

I know many people are uncomfortable writing poems, never mind writing poems on the fly while reading blog posts, and then, to add to the pressure, posting it on a public space. It’s just one of those things that came to me as I was writing this post about Simon, creating a larger reverberation.

Maybe the ripple will allow you to float on a poem one of these days.

Peace (peacepeacepeacepeace),
Kevin

Our Class Picture (Comic Version)

6H Class Comic Picture 2015

Day One has come and gone, and we dove right into technology yesterday, with identity/avatar creation via Bitstrips for Schools. As always, my sixth graders were highly engaged, helping each other with questions and answers, and learning quite a bit about how we appropriately use our laptops and how we might think about comics as a tool for writing.

Today, I bring the other three classes into the comic site, too, as we move towards our first project of the year called Dream Scenes.

Peace (in the funnies),
Kevin

Here We Go — The Start of School

In just a few hours, I will get to meet and hang out with my new crop of sixth graders for the school year. I’m excited about that, and nervous about the first day. Even though I have a plan in place for beginning our community-building, and even though I have been doing this for a few years now, I still get nervous.

But I slept mostly OK. So, there’s that.

I spent part of the weekend working on student learning and professional practice goals for the year, but those are still “under development” for now. We have some class schedule changes this year, so the timing of the day is a bit disjointed than in the past; and I have some students with specific needs that I need to be cognizant of on a regular basis, and we have a new lunch count system; and add to all that, I have reading assessments already hanging over my head; and ….

Still, this is where we start … at the beginning.

As we begin this new school year, I wanted to share out my latest post over at Middleweb, in which I write back to a former student, as writer to writer more than teacher to student. (I write a monthly column there called Working Draft.)

Read My Letter to a Former Student

Badge for Mr H

Peace (today and everyday),
Kevin