When I was doing lots and lots of author visits, many schools were focusing professional development — and writing instruction — on Six Traits: Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency. I liked to show ways that I, a professional writer, also dance and wrestle with those traits. In particular, I liked to focus on ideas and details.
When fairy tale characters step into the woods, they are beset by tests, yet are stronger by the time they find their way out. At the beginning of 2021, I wandered in a deep, dark woods because, as Bruno Bettelheim warns in The Uses of Enchantment, it’s where you go after losing the framework which gives structure to your life.
This year, Hal Borland’s Book of Days migrates upstairs with me to read during my afternoon rest and before bed. It’s a daily journal beginning January 1, written from his farm in rural Connecticut, meant to help him answer the questions: Who am I? Where am I? What time is it? At 68, I ask those questions, too. Borland’s entries mix mid-70s science with New England lore, his natural observations of the seasons with his own quiet musings. January 6: Frost flowers fascinate me. They are related to frost ferns, those intricate patterns that formed on windowpanes before we slept in heated bedrooms. Frost ferns were indoor plants, created by the humidity in the room. Frost flowers are wildlings, outdoor grows created by humidity in the starlight.
When I was ten, I wanted to be a detective-veterinarian-artist-writer-ballet dancer. Never mind I couldn’t stay up late, stand the sight of blood, or ever had a single dance lesson. Ten-year-olds view the world as limitless. When I was a teenager, my dreams shifted to more specific: a writer of children’s books and an animator for Walt Disney Studios.
On my “final” draft of Bones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth, I drew a line of little mastodons trooping across the bottom of the manuscript pages. Each animal bore a date that matched a sidebar fact or referenced the main text. I thought this was a clever way to remind readers of the march of time. The first little mastodon (or “mammoth,” as the creature was called in Jefferson’s day) was labeled “700 million years ago,” the second “13,000 years ago,” the third “11,000 years ago,” inching along like an Ice Age glacier to the time period of the story. … more
This is the sound of walking into retirement for me and so many teachers this spring. Although friends are already emailing to congratulate us on this new journey, we’re all alone while packing up our offices and classrooms for the last time. There will be no big parties, no formal farewells, no cozy get-togethers where everyone dredges up the good, sad, and funny days of our teaching careers.… more
The stack of student papers lurks on the corner of your desk, just waiting to be marked and graded. Yes, the rubrics and grading standards will be applied conscientiously, paper after paper. Your students wait, some in dread, some in hopeful anticipation, for your final judgments on their papers. But wait — there’s another way to evaluate student writing — one that I read many years ago in the English Journal.… more
Encourage kids to be creative without worrying about being perfect. —Dav Pilkey At the start of the fall program season, I asked our youngest patrons what programs they would like the library to offer. I heard a child yell out, “DOGMAN”! I smiled and I told him that was a great idea. Dogman© is a graphic novel series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey that tells the story of George and Harold’s newly created hero of justice.… more
Back when my kids were little, I started work on a nonfiction SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) series called the “Best Behavior” series. More than a decade later, these board books and paperbacks are still going strong, I’m happy to say. Titles in the series include Teeth Are Not for Biting, Voices Are Not for Yelling, and Worries Are Not Forever.… more