Book Review: Some Writer

I am resisting the urge to say …. well … Ok … this is Some Book. Really, Some Writer is a fantastic non-fiction cross between picture book and biographical story that expertly weaves in the life of writer E.B. White with fantastic primary sources, often in the form of artistic collages.

Like many, I am sure, I know of White’s work as the author of the marvelous Charlotte’s Web. But I also remember reading The Trumpet of the Swan, and even Stuart Little, to my older sons as read-aloud books, and wondering at the inventive spirit of White’s stories. Some of the vocabulary and syntax always seemed a little more adult-like in the Swan and Stuart, but I never felt that way with Charlotte’s Web.

White, of course, made his name not just as a children’s novelist, but as a writer in the New Yorker magazine, where he wrote funny small pieces and sketches of characters and places for decades. My first encounter with White beyond my own childhood reading of Charlotte’s Web was Strunk & White’s famous Elements of Style book, which is sort of a bible for writers. I wanted to be a writer, so it became a regular reading.

In Some Writer, Melissa Sweet has not just done her homework, but she has brought White’s words and experiences to life in a book that should appeal to readers of any age. From White’s life-long journal entries, we find a curious and funny soul, noticing the world through attentive eyes. We find drafts of stories (including a fascinating series of drafts of the first lines of Charlotte’s Web, where White struggled to write the perfect opening).

It’s another in a line of new non-fiction that shows just how creative one can get with telling a story of another’s life, and here, Sweet’s gentle guiding voice and collages do just that. It’s a lovely reading experience.

Peace (written on the Web),
Kevin

 

Digitally Interpreting Wendell Berry and Billy Collins

Thanks to posts at the always wonderfully illuminating Brain Pickings the other day, I read and enjoyed (again) a poem by Billy Collins about the art of writing and then discovered a Wendell Berry poem about writing poetry. (I then donated a small amount to support Brain Pickings, because if Maria inspires me, as she does, I should support her, right?)

I decided to close read the poems with the new Lumen5 tool,  which creates interesting digital pieces from found text on the web, choosing poetic lines from the larger poem (neither of my versions is the entire poem) and revamping them as a sort of digital story. I like the way each piece came out, and how I had to adapt the imagery of the poem to the imagery of the, well, images I chose to go with phrases of the poem.

Was I writing? Is this writing? Did the ants follow me home?

Peace (and advice),
Kevin

At Middleweb: The Shape of Digital Argument

My latest column at Middleweb is a look at a new book by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner, entitled Argument in the Real World: Teaching Adolescents to Read and Write Digital Texts.  In the book, Hicks and Turner seek to explore the concept of argument — and its push deeper into classrooms with the Common Core principles — through the lens of digital media being used in the lives of many students.

I posed some questions on my mind to the writers (both of whom I am loosely connected to through the National Writing Project), trying to parse out some ideas on argument in the age of technology and how teachers might tap into the ways kids write outside of school for the teaching of argument. They were generous enough to respond.

Curious? Come read what Hicks and Turner said. And join the conversation in the comments there.

Peace (no argument here),
Kevin

Create Bravely with Storytelling

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

We had a visitor to our school yesterday with a clear and inspiring message. Paul Reynolds, author and president of Fablevision media company (and twin brother of Peter Reynolds, author of the The Dot and Ish and now out on tour to support his new book, Beautiful Dreamer) presented a message of nurturing creativity and perseverance to our students in an author visit.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Paul’s overall theme — plastered on the front of this shirt — was “create bravely” in a world that sometimes doesn’t recognize creativity for what it is. (One of my students, during Q/A time, asked: “Where can I get your t-shirt. I really want it.” Paul laughed, and said he might need to talk to Peter about making the shirt available. I know I want one, too. You?)

Paul told the story of how and he and his twin brother, Peter, founded their own company to sell books after Peter’s first book got rejected by multiple publishers, and then how Fablevision moved into video game design, websites, software, and videos.

The platforms, Paul explained, are not as important as the underlying core: Storytelling. Telling stories. The narratives are the key to any project, regardless of platform, Paul explained. And he returned to the theme of underlying story over and over again. I was quite thankful for that, but not surprised, knowing the work of the Reynolds and Fablevision.

He also noted the four “c’s” of learning (from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills): creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking — and then how Fablevision embraces the fifth “c” —  compassion. Again and again, Paul reminded students to make an impact — a dot — upon the world, and that art has a role in changing the world for the better.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

I deeply appreciated that after the big session with all of our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds), Paul and Andrea Calvin (of Fablevision) came into one of my classrooms and talked and worked and brainstormed and troubleshot for an hour with my students as they were using a beta version of a publishing site from Fablevision called Get Published. They are creating a memory picture book online that will later get published into a hardcover, bound book.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Peace (brave and creative),
Kevin

 

Making (Digital to Bound) Picture Books

Making Picture Books

We’re in our second year of a partnership of sorts with Boston-based Fablevision, a media and publishing company run by author/illustrator Peter Reynolds (of The Dot fame) and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds. Last year, we beta-tested their publishing site that allows you to make picture books, with a Reynolds-artistic-feel, in an online space that connects to a publishing space. You create in digital; and end in bound books. This year, we are beta-testing a second version of what is now called Get Published (which is a whole lot better and a whole lot less buggier than the first version.)

Making Picture Books

And today, Paul Reynolds and some folks from Fablevision are coming to our school to talk with our sixth graders and perhaps get a look at what they have been up to with their original picture books (the theme: looking back at their elementary school years, with a touch of satire and humor). Peter is on tour with his new book, called Happy Dreamer. We had talked about asking him to Skype in to join Paul but I am not sure if that is going to work.

Paul, along with writing and illustrating with Peter (see Going Places, with its cool Maker Space theme), runs Fablevision, which does a lot of interesting work around digital media and educational software, as well as publishing. The Reynolds also own their own bookstore in Eastern Massachusetts called The Blue Bunny.

It’ll be a fun day!

Making Picture Books

For our project, the parent group for our sixth graders have offered to pick up the cost of publishing the books, which we hope to have in their hands before our last day of school. We also will have our sixth graders read and share their books with second graders, for an authentic audience experience.

Peace (making it happen),
Kevin

 

Poetry Book Review: Swimming Upstream

I am afraid I can’t remember who in the Slice of Life community wrote about this book of poems, but I am thankful. Swimming Upstream by Kristine O’Connell George was the perfect way to end our recent poetry unit. My sixth graders are in the final days of their elementary school lives, soon to shift to the huge regional middle and high school building.

They have a lot of anxiety about friendships, lockers, finding classrooms, new teachers, and the social pressures that come from being a middle school student. This book of poems – small verses for the most part — was a perfect way to address some of those anxieties and also, provide a way to talk about what comes next for them. With themes built around the narrator’s own navigation of middle school, George’s poems felt authentic in feeling and emotion.

The book does what good poetry should do: it brought to the surface much of what goes unsaid in the mind of the reader. I read this book out loud, letting the words and stanzas sink in, and the classes were quiet and thoughtful.

Swimming Upstream was a nice bookend text, too, as we began our poetry unit with a Poem for Four Voices by Paul Fleischman (from the book Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices) entitled Seventh Grade Soap Opera, which has a neat twist to its weaving voices, and brought to the surface some of the same social navigation waters as does George’s book.

Perhaps poems will help get them ready.

Peace (the next step forward),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Collecting Sketching

(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.)

Last week, for my Slice of Life post, I shared out and mentioned a sketching vacation that I was on for the week. I did sketch, every single day, and now I have gathered up the sketches into a sort of video portfolio via Animoto. (I like the hanging hooks element of this particular video theme). This sketch collection includes a few sketches that I did during the week but didn’t share out, for reasons mostly due to dissatisfaction on my part.

Peace (and love to those in Manchester right now),
Kevin

Interpreting, and Honoring, the Words of Others


Untitled flickr photo by kangster shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Thanks (again) to Terry Elliott for sharing a new possibility for close reading and digital interpretation. This time, it’s something called Lumen5, which allows you to use text from blog posts (or freewrite) to create a short video not unlike a digital story. I like the “pick and choose” element.

By close reading posts of others (or close reading yourself, too), you can point to textual elements and then add images and music. The site then kicks out a video.

I tried the process first with my friend, Karen LaBonte, who wrote of her move to Portland and what she is seeing in her new community in a very poignant piece of writing. She also shares how she hopes to make an impact there (of that, I am sure.)

The second was a piece by Maha Bali, as she continues to explore the terrain of “open learning” in a variety of ways. In the post I used, she uses the metaphor of the flower.

In both cases, I hoped to honor my friends with the choosing of words (and hoped the context would not be completely lost through my interpretation) and that the video versions might lead others on a path to their blogs and writing.

Karen writes All Hands on Deck

Maha writes Reflection Allowed

And you should, of course, read Terry who writes Impedagogy

Peace (extended outward),
Kevin

PS — I also could not resist making a version of my Western Massachusetts Mission Statement as a video.

Sketching from the Couch Day Seven (Floor Music)

Floor Music

My son has white headphones for his white iPod, and he leaves it everywhere in the house. As I sat sketching on my last day of a sketch vacation this week, I noticed his headphones and iPod on the floor. It seemed like a perfect ‘still life’ scene. Of sorts.

I’ve had fun this week, with my attempts at art. A few sketches never got shared. But I aim to collect them all together in some form later this week.

Peace (sounding good),

Sketching from the Couch Day Six (Sockets)

Sockets

I am near the end of my sketching vacation, a little detour from writing this week (but who am I kidding … I’ve been writing stuff every day) as I sat in my living room, and drew what I saw (or tried to). Today’s sketch is of the electrical outlet. Something drew me to draw them.

Peace (charging forward),
Kevin