Picture Book Review: 16 Words (William Carlos Williams and ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’)

“Williams saw poetry in his patient’s lives.” — from Author’s Note, 16 Words, by Lisa Rogers and Chuck Groenink

Of course, I know the poem, the famous short verse about the red wheelbarrow, the rain and the white chickens. You probably do, too. What I didn’t know was who poet William Carlos Williams was — in fact, I didn’t know he was a doctor who scribbled poems on his way to patients or typed out verse in between appointments.

And I didn’t know the poem that made him most famous (along with his apology poem to his wife for eating her plumbs) was inspired by a neighbor, friend, and patient — Thaddeus Marshall — from whose window Williams saw the wheelbarrow, the rain, the chickens.

We learn all this in 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” picture book by writer Lisa Rogers and illustrator Chuck Groenink. I appreciate books about writers, and picture books in particular have a way of bringing us a bit closer to the people in focus. This book is written in beautiful minimal language (as befits the topic) and the illustrations are lovely, too, bringing us into the small community where Williams is a family doctor as he writes his poetry.

You can of course enjoy his poetry, not knowing much about him. Even Williams said he didn’t strive so much for deeper meaning but to capture the lives and world around him. We teachers may be overanalyzing his poems, but there is no doubt to his skill of minimal beauty — of the glimpses into what he saw, through short verse and descriptive language.

This picture book would be a perfect read aloud for any poetry unit, and a reminder that poets can be any of us, and all of us, if we just take time and attention to noticing what is around us.

Peace (and poems),

Slice of Life: It’s All So Dang Quiet

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The first thing I noticed as we began our first day back in the school building since March with students (half of them, anyway) was the quietness of the building. The hallways, shining from cleaning and new lighting; the cafeteria, set up for one student per table for lunches; our classrooms, with desks spaced apart; everywhere.

So quiet.

And the students, on their first day back to our school but not their first day of school, were subdued. Maybe it was the masks. Maybe it was learning the protocols of how to move through the building and how to clean desks and when we can go outside to get fresh air. Maybe it was all just very overwhelming. Just as important is the class sizes, of no more than 10 students per classroom at this point (the other half of the classes are home, doing independent learning and come to school on Thursday and Friday).

I asked people about the quiet, which was so noticeable in a building often filled with loud students and raucous energy. They all noticed but whether they liked it or not was rather mixed. Same with my students, as some said they like the quietness of the classrooms, and hope to get more schoolwork done. Others admitted they missed the noise of friends, even as they were happy to be back.

Outside, under a tent, for a mask break, the students could chat with each other, although a few pairs of friends had to be reminded about social distancing more times than once.

“How long will we have to do this?” one boy asked, exasperated, after being told to move a few more feet away from a friend he had not seen in person since March.

“For as long as we need to stay safe,” I replied, sympathetically.

Another student chimed in, “Until the virus is gone.”

A fourth noted, rather sadly, “And who knows when that will be.”

We all went quiet at that.

Peace (back in the building),

Getting Back into the School Building

Missing Colleagues

This morning, my team of sixth grade teachers (along with fifth grade teachers), head back into our school building after two and a half weeks of remote instruction, from home. I am both excited by the prospect of being back in the physical school and a little anxious about all of the health protocols and expected uneasiness of our students.

We’ll get through it, together.

Peace (one day each day),

Write Out Takes You Outside and Beyond

Coming Soon to a hashtag near you: #writeout

Starting Oct 11 and running for two weeks, the National Writing Project and the National Park Service will once again host Write Out (#writeout), a free online celebration of writing and the simple pleasures of being outside—all gathered by a hashtag! This year’s Write Out features ideas for connecting classroom learning and the out-of-doors under the National Park Service theme of “Stories Around the Campfire,” including online writing prompt “visits” by Park Rangers, storytelling events for a range of age levels, resources for how to run a classroom-based writing marathon, and more. Keep in mind that Write Out also bookends the National Day of Writing on October 20th. Sign up today for the resource-packed newsletter to get updates and curricular resources to bring Write Out to your classroom, park, community, or school yard.

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— from the National Writing Project Newsletter

Come and play with us!

Peace (outside and in),

Audio Postcard: Third Week of School

DSC01722 (2) -01 DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

As part of a research project about teachers returning to school, I am recording an audio diary each week for the first six weeks of school. This week, a guiding prompt was to think about how our students are doing, and I have definitely been having conversations with my class about emotional health and anxiety, particularly as we begin a shift next week back into the school after starting the year in a remote setting.

These are being recorded informally on my phone.

Here is the first week of school audio postcard and the second week of school audio postcard.

Peace (thinking it through),

Getting Back to Rock and Roll

Sold Out band

Last night, for the first time since early March, I made my way to my friend’s house to play rock and roll with my bandmates. The Pandemic had shut us down, and as one who will soon be in a building of many people (students and teachers), I am a little leery of being in someone else’s house.

But they all agreed and I was eager, and so we gathered to try to remember some songs we haven’t thought about for seven months, and I tried to get a singing voice in shape (I am a fill-in singer while we look for a lead singer and a bass player, a project also put on the back burner in March).

It felt good to run my fingers along the keys of my tenor saxophone and to get warm sounds into the air. (I had left it there but had an alto here at home). It felt even better just to connect with my friends through music, even if some parts were a little rough. There’s something magical about musical connections.

My voice is a little hoarse this morning, and I hope it holds out for my teaching today. I tried to not overdo it last night, keeping the singing to a minimum, but …. that’s rock and roll for you.

Peace (when music fills the air),