Peace (in the yard),
Monthly Archives: February 2021
Book Review: The Silver Arrow
I always enjoyed Lev Grossman’s technology column’s in Time magazine, but never got into the flow of his Magicians book series. His latest young adult novel — The Silver Arrow — is a lovely ride, designed for read-aloud and packed with adventure.
I read it alone, and not as a read-aloud, and wished it were otherwise, as Grossman kicks of the story with his protagonist, Katie, getting a train – The Silver Arrow – from her eccentric uncle and then, before you know it, Katie and her younger brother, Tom, as off on the tracks, learning to be conductors from the train itself and picking up animals at different stations.
Why, becomes clear, as the novel barrels along, as Grossman has centered his story of the train with the rescue of animals from the world of humans. The prospects of climate change and development means the animals needs to go elsewhere, and that’s where Katie, Tom and The Silver Arrow are going, with plenty of magic along the way.
Grossman is careful with how he develops this theme, though, and he comes to the story with a light touch, centering on the adventure and introspection of Katie more than hitting the reader over the head with a message. One sequence in a forest of trees, where Katie and Tom are transformed, is written with beauty and compassion.
The strongest moment is when a polar bear, who barely made it to the train because its station — made of ice, now melted — leans in to Katie before departing the train, and says: “If you humans let us die, you will never, ever forgive yourselves.”
Which is true.
The stage is set for a sequel, too. If not this train, then perhaps we can catch the next.
Peace (on the tracks),
Comics About Writing: Break and Bend the Rules
The comic above led to a great conversation on Twitter the other day about the role of mentor texts, and learning from genres, and remix. Thanks to everyone who added in to the conversation (Sarah, Terry, Sheri, Daniel, Ronald, Jayne, etc.)
At one point, something somebody wrote (prob Terry) brought me back to making a comic about remix …
Peace (in learning),
A Beautiful Drive In the Snow
Slice of Life: Audio Postcard Update
(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.)
At the start of the year, I took part in a research study that asked teachers to post an audio postcard each week for the first six weeks of school. I found it valuable as a reflection point to what was (and is) a pretty hectic and uncertain time.
This week, we were asked to provide an audio postcard update on things are going, now that we are pretty far into the year. There were some guiding questions, and again, I found it useful to think about how the year is unfolding, when each week and month seems to have a different challenge.
Here is my audio postcard: (link)
Peace (voicing it),
PS — If interested, here is:
- the first week of school audio postcard
- the second week of school audio postcard
- the third week of school audio postcard
- the fourth week of school audio postcard
- the fifth week of school audio postcard
- the sixth week of school audio postcard
DSC01722 (2) -01 flickr photo by suzyhazelwood shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license
Book Review: Horizon
I admit: I had never heard or run across writer Barry Lopez before (as far as I remember), and I only got my hands on Horizon because it was in the Little Free Library in our neighborhood. The title and cover art caught my eye. I took a chance. Once inside book of powerful, exploratory essays by Lopez, I was hooked.
Later, after listening to an NPR retrospective of Lopez, who died late last year, I realized how strong was the resonance of his writing over time for many readers and writers.
A previous book — Arctic Dreams — won many accolades and his writing for environmental and science publications is a long and admirable list. I read Horizon (at 512 dense pages of story) over many months (rare for me to take that long with any book and to stay with it, but I wanted Lopez’s journeys across the world and observations about the changing climate, to settle with me over time).
His journeys here take him from his home in Oregon to Skraeling Island to Africa, Australia and the Antarctic, and beyond. Each place is so different, even as Lopez weaves the story of humanity and discovery into each location.
I would not call Lopez a travel writer, although his writing comes from his travels. He’s more of a naturalist, an environmental writer who wonders about the world and then goes out, and finds ways to discover and share his insights. He embeds himself with scientists of all ilk, and his wanderings take him to tropical places to arctic places, and everywhere in between.
It seems to me that Lopez is most interested in our collective human footprints on the world, for good and for bad, and how we might make sense of change through what has come before, and maybe make some adjustments for what comes next. Horizon is not an collection overtly about Climate Change, but the changing planet and humans role in that change is a constant underlying echo of everything here, and the topic that worries Lopez on his journeys.
He ends Horizon on a poetic note, asking the reader to wonder “what is out there, just beyond the end of the road …?” and suggests our collective future “arrives as a cantus, tying the faraway place to the thing living deep inside us, a canticle that releases us from the painstaking assembly of the milagros, year after year, and from a faith only in miracles.” (Lopez, p. 512, in Horizon)
I’m still mulling over those lines — maybe among the last he wrote — and what they meant for Lopez, an experienced observer, and what the words might mean for me, and maybe for all of us.
Peace (looking out on horizon),
PS — Cantus is a song from African culture; Canticle is a Christian hymn; and milagros are Mexican folk charms. I had to look up each of those words, and am grateful I did, and happy to share.
CLMOOC Silent Sunday
Walk My World Comic: A Turning Point for Teaching
The latest prompt in Walk My World is a look at a “turning point” in our own narrative stories — a place where something shifted and took you in a new direction. Of course, every life has many of these decision paths, and some are too personal to share in a public space like this.
My comic is about a moment as a new teacher — just coming out of ten years as a newspaper journalist — when a friend, Paul, shared an idea and a technology so new at the time, we didn’t even know the word: blog. But I immediately saw the possibilities for my students as connected writers in shared spaces, and for how technology might add to my writing curriculum, and I never looked back.
All of it, thanks to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project.
Peace (in a moment of insight),
Comic About Teaching: Zoom Mutterings
I find it fascinating how pretty much universal this is: a presenter/teacher talking out about the technological things they are doing as the Zoom crowd waits for whatever comes next. I’ve even found myself apologizing to my students to narrating what I am doing to get things ready for class when we are on Zoom.
I always imagine my students having a chuckle about it at my expense. Which I don’t mind at all. The mute button is … right … over … here.
I put this into my album of Pandemic Comics, started last year.
Peace (out loud),
Turning Collaborative Poem Into Song (but it ain’t no Shanty)
The other day, I wrote about a collaborative poem that folks in #ds106, and #clmooc, and beyond had contributed to. With 106 lines in its construction, the poem has now become a place of possible remix. I had joked at one point at trying to write a Sea Shanty with some of the words (ie, TikTok trend) and yesterday morning, after watching a bunch of YouTube videos of the recent Shanty trend, I was pretty confident that I could remix something. Too confident. I tried to work out a song on my guitar and realized my Sea Shanty was becoming more folk-punk with a hint of Dylan.
Ah well. I abandoned that ship and sailed forward into this:
Here are my process notes for the writing and recording:
I dove into the 106 lines of poem and began to find and make couplets to the rhythm I had started on my guitar. Sometimes, I could use the phrasing outright. Other times, I had to do a little twisting and editing to make the words fit. If a line didn’t seem right, I moved on to the next.
I quickly realized again just how much interesting phrasing was going on in the collaboration, as people jumped into the original poem to add lines. I felt bad that I could not use something from every line but that was not going to happen or else it would be a 30 minute song. In the end, I had eight full stanzas of four lines of mostly rhymed couplets.
I realized a chorus and maybe a little musical bridge was needed to break up the song and to give it a hook. I tried a bunch of possibilities and ended up on a Believe/See theme (after abandoning a Breathe/See theme). The couplet lines in the chorus are mine, as they capture what the poem is all about, about remembering and connecting. The short musical interlude is a way to put space between the verse and the chorus.
You can read all the lyrics here.
For the music, I had first thought just to do a raw recording and be done with it. Guitar and voice. But then I had this bass line in my mind and I realized a simple drum pattern would propel it along, so I jumped into Garageband to lay down some tracks. From there, I moved the files to my computer, and recorded the guitar part.
The vocals, always my weakest point, came last and I nearly passed out, trying to fit all the words into the phrasing. At some points, you can hear me, gasping for breath on the phrasing. (or I hear me, anyway). I gave it a real Dylan reading/singing feel. You may notice that the first section has two verses, and then the next two sections, three verses, before landing on the last section, with one verse. It makes the center of the song feel longer than I’d like but when I had it another way, it all felt too long. Combining verses condensed the song.
I tweaked some of the audio settings here and there, and added an underlying vocal track to the chorus to give it more life and played an organ keyboard down low in the mix, but mostly, the song was recorded straightforward. I think it’s OK.
Peace (listening in),