Book Review: Echo Mountain

I went into Echo Mountain, by Lauren Wolk, not quite knowing what I was getting into. That was a good thing, for once I stepped foot into the story of young Ellie and her family, living on an isolated mountain during the Great Depression, I was transported to time and place so thoroughly, I could barely put the novel down (and now need to get my hands on her Wolf Hollow, too, I guess).

The writing here is just beautiful, and while this book is a young adult fiction, Wolk never writes down to her readers. Instead, her prose brings us so thoroughly into Ellie’s world that it’s hard to shake loose from her story, in which her father is in a coma (which her family lays blame on Ellie, who takes the blame to protect her younger brother, whom she saved from the tree her father was cutting, only to have him run to save her and get crushed by the tree).

Meanwhile, Ellie falls in love with the mountain and its terrain, and all of its natural powers of beauty and allure, and danger, too. In particular, she is becoming a self-taught healer, with a mission to find a way, any way possible, to wake her father from his coma and save her family.

While on that mission to help her father, another story thread emerges, that of the old “hag” who lives farther up the mountain, in isolation and maybe with some magical powers of her own. When Ellie finally goes there to that hut, all sorts of story tapestries are being woven by Wolk, and remembered, and it was afterwards — when I was done with the book — that the “echo” of the title made complete sense as I saw the tale in its whole, and I nodded in appreciation to Wolk’s writing talents.

Little is given away in this story, until the moment it is needed, and yet, in doing so, Wolk reveals much of human nature and the spirit of survival, and the power of family and memory, of music and stories, of the ways we heal ourselves even when all seems lost. Echo Mountain is a place to visit, and learn from, too.

Peace (up and over and down again),

Playing with Nature Photos and Color Palettes

In October, this year’s Write Out project has a theme of “palettes, storyboards and cadences” — I will share more about Write Out in another post but it is a free two-week place-based online activity in collaboration between National Writing Project an the National Park Service — and the Write Out facilitators (I am one) behind the scenes are sussing out how best to engage teachers, students, families, communities in these thematic ideas (which come from the Park Service’s October themes).

Thanks to my Write Out colleague, Becki, we’ve been tinkering around with a cool tool from Adobe that allows you to upload and image, and it pulls out the color palettes from your photo. It’s pretty intriguing, and a good tool for Write Out.

I kept going, and wondered if I could take that palette information and create different forms, turning the palette into remix, and then layering one on top of the other, so the colors change but not the objects in the image (like the leaf). I used an earlier Silent Sunday photo.

I like how the video composition came out – it has a meditative cadence (another Write Out theme!) to it.

Tools used:

Peace (tinkering around the color wheel),

Slice of Life: A Game of Hide the Water Bottle

(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.)

Sometimes, I just watch to see what my students will do in the time between learning. It’s always fascinating. In other years, this is how I first learned about Minecraft, and heard about Visco Girls, and watched students show me the Mannequin Challenge, and was taught in detail about dance moves on Tik Tok, and more.

This year, I’ve been observing a gaggle of my most energetic boys play a game in which they hide each other’s water bottles in the classroom. They play it voluntarily and I have not noticed them bothering anyone else’s water bottles. Here’s how they do it: one boy turns his back or goes into the hallway, and the others scheme inventive places to hide it. The owner returns and tries to find it, and the others give hints, if needed.

At this point, they are running out of new places to hide things in the classroom, but I’ve observed them put it behind books in the bookcase, inside a tube of rolled paper that I have, behind our class mailboxes, below the old mounted television set, buried in a box of colored pencils, stuffed under tables and desks, and more. They get very excited when they find a new hiding spot.

They tell me they have been playing versions of this game for years, which I find rather amusing, and as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and as long they are not bothering anyone else, I am content to keep them engaged in their playful game, and see where the water bottles will go next.

Peace (and play),

Poetry Book Review: Slate Petals (And Other Wordscapes)


I first stumbled on Anthony Etherin‘s poetry on Twitter. What caught my eye was the visual formats and sheer playfulness of his odd verses in tweets, including some crazy palindromes. I ordered his poetry collection — Slate Petals (And Other Wordscapes) — both out of curiosity and to support a fellow poet.

I enjoyed many of the poems here — gathered under different kinds of ‘scapes: Landscapes, Seascapes, Skyscapes, Mindscapes, Lorescapes, Endscapes, and then at the back, Formscapes, where Etherin returns to the poem to further explain his intentions with form, concision and constraint.

It was this last section that brought a deeper appreciation for what Etherin was going after. For while I enjoyed many of the poems as I was reading them, I had trouble wrapping my head around the different poetic forms he was both working in and hen breaking way from. Etherin, in particular, enjoys many forms of palindromes, and word and phrase reversals run through many of his verses.

His visual poems, too, are surprising on second view, with the knowledge of what he was doing with ancient texts, or cut up poems, or invented visual letters, and more. It seems everything he does is an invention, fueled by the curiosity that I admire in writers and poets. He even has a musical manuscript in which he has composed a song palindrome in the book, too, for harpsichord.

Here, for example, is a poem I saw before knowing the background, and I sat it with for some time, following the phases of the moon and trying to gather the underlying poem. In his back notes, Etherin explains how it is a visual sestina, using the six phases of the moon and end-word patterns.

PB19 SP03.png

He also works with poems within poems, so that a new poem unfolds inside the larger poem, causing both intersections and dissections. In the book, he uses a lighter font color that draws the reader’s eye downward.

PB19 SP 01.png

(Note: these images are taken from his Penteract Press order site for Slate Petals)

Finally, I noticed references to a form of poem called the Aeliondrome, which I had never heard of. Of course not. Etherin invented the form, and although there is a two-page description and definition that goes deep into some mathematical permeations and thinking, I am still getting my head around the form, which involves a palindrome-like reversal not of letters (as palindromes do) but of number sequences, or word parts and phrases.

Even when I wasn’t sure what form I was experiencing, Etherin had my attention. That’s a good trick of any poet.

Peace (and form and pieces),

Audio Postcard 2021: Three, of Six, Weeks of School

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

Last year, I took part in a research project in which teachers recorded weekly audio postcard journey entries for the first six weeks of school. It was the Pandemic Year, so I was already trying to document my time as an educator in such a disruptive time, and I found the audio entries were helpful for my own reflective practice. (See my last post with all six audio files)

This year, they are doing the Six Weeks project again, and I agreed to be part of the project again, too. So far, I have recorded three entries for my first three weeks.

Week One

Week Two

Week Three


Peace (listening in),

Slice of Life: Finding a Rhythm

(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.)

My wife and I were chatting the other night with a friend of our eldest son. This friend just became an elementary classroom teacher so my wife and I are checking in with him, regularly, and cheerleading him through the start of his career.

We were talking about settling down into a rhythm, and I admitted to him, even after so many years, I am still trying to find that rhythm of my new school year days, three weeks in. There is a flow that I know happens, where lesson planning and curriculum design and daily schedules and student stories and administrative busywork … it all eventually comes together so that there is a rhythm of the days.

I’m getting there, I told him, but I am not there yet. (I think he was relieved that a longtime teacher felt the same way as he was feeling, although I know he is experiencing the craziness of newness more than I am – I still remember those days).

Meanwhile, our Music Special had to take part in the classroom yesterday because of some classroom space shifting in our building for cleaning (mold). Our new music teacher has been teaching drumming and patterns. As I worked in the back of the room or wandered in and out, my students were using drumsticks on their desks to pound out drum patterns she had printed out for them.

Mostly, it sounded chaotic, but every now and then, they found a beat together, and the click click click of the sticks on the tops of desks became one solid sound, and I thought, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about working as one and making music together in the uncertainty of flexible learning in a Pandemic.

So I am ending this slice on the idea that began it – my students and my classroom. Call it circular writing rhythm.

Peace (on the two and four),