Thursday, November 8, 2012

National Picture Book Month!

Did you know November is National Picture Book Month?

Picture books are the first exposure kids get to poetry, literature and art.  While I have known this for a long time, I have to admit that it first struck me when I discovered the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA about 8 or 9 years ago.  We took my step daughter out to Amherst to look at schools on a "mini vacation" and I was looking for something to do with the boys while she and her dad interviewed with admission officers.

It was an eye opening experience for me to see the artwork on the walls and be able to enjoy them in a new way.  One memory that stands with me was the time we went to the opening of Chris Van Allsburg's exhibit.  Not only was his artwork from his books on the walls, but some of his sculptures and other pieces were as well.  The closest I have ever come to criminal thoughts was seeing the full sized version of this piece from his book "The Widow's Broom."

I fell in love with this piece.  It is a large drawing with incredible detail and I stood there for a good 15-20 minutes before one of the kids dragged me away.  It is such a beautiful drawing with incredible details.  It was far larger than I expected and it was one of those works that drew me in and I could feel myself being able to do that one thing they always tell you in art appreciation: put yourself in the picture.  I have read the book so many times over the years to a variety of audiences and it never grabbed me like the way I saw it that evening.

I want the original of this piece.  Some day I may be able to purchase it but I admit, for a fleeting moment, I actually thought, "I wonder if I could smuggle this out of here?"

That night, two things happened, my oldest son met two of his childhood idols: Eric Carle and Chris Van Allsburg.  He had a lovely conversation with Chris and became absolutely tongue tied when he met Eric.  On the way home, I asked him what happened and this teen merely said, "Mom, it was Eric Carle.  Eric Carle!"

I can't even begin to express how I love going out time after time to look at Eric Carle's work.  His illustrations as well as his "artart" (as he calls it).  When we were there for the dedication of a piece of William Steig's, I noticed my son's hair was the same shade of green as the green painting in the main hall of the museum that Carle thinks of as the museum's end papers and snapped this photo.

it's still one of my favorite photos of Pi and it made Eric Carle smile.  The museum is also a special place for us because it gave us access to artists and authors in an unexpected way.  It is how Pi met and came to know Tony DiTerlizzi, who has mentored my son in his art. Tony encouraged him to think in ways others couldn't and encouraged him.  Now at MassArt, my son hopes to one day become a SPED art teacher and children's illustrator.

All of these thing are the result of the picture books we spent hours upon hours upon hours pouring over.  We searched for the details in "Animalia" looking for various little secrets in the pictures, I still have many Sandra Boynton books memorized after 20+ years and so many others.

Picture books are truly the great introduction for children.  Art, language, literature and learning at a time when they are still little sponges soaking all of it up thirstily.  So take at least the month to celebrate picture books.  Buy one for a child, read them for yourself, visit the Carle (if you can) and spread the word.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I voted

This morning I left the house at 7:30 to drop a few things off at school and then stopped at the polls on the way home to vote.  I had to wait in line to get my ballot.  I had to wait in line to mark my ballot and I had to wait in line to put it in the machine.

It was wonderful.  It was exhilarating.  It was good to be an American even though the whole process took 15 minutes.

In many parts of this country, that's not the case.  People are waiting in line for hours to exercise a basic right.  They are experiencing intimidation from partisan poll watchers.  They are being told that the polls are closed, even though they are in line and have the right to vote even though hours are over.

Don't be intimidated.  VOTE and demand your right to VOTE.  It counts, it's your right and your responsibility.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What did I get myself into?

As of Friday, 35 kids had signed up for NaNoWriMo!  Really, it's more than that but a couple of kids decided to write in pairs and I'm good with that.  One fifth grader heard about it from her brother (who didn't sign up) and wanted to try, so I told her no problem.

I even have to order more pencils because I ran out!

Today I will be going to a write in and I will also finish preparing tools to distribute to the kids tomorrow: progress charts, writing prompts and such.

I'm floored.  I am absolutely, gob smacked and floored by the response.

I figured the best way to do the writing prompts was to print them on business cards and put them in a small box for each classroom.  That way, each set of kids have their own set to reference during their writing time.  The writing count chart is a little more difficult as each kid chose a different amount of words to write.  The most common are 50 words a day (1,500 total) and 100 (3,000 total) but there are a lot of one-upping as well.  The adding one more to a count over a friend as a bit of a challenge and rivalry.

Although one of the real tests for me won't actually come until the spring.  My theory (and this is the stuff of which graduate theses and dissertations are made) is that these kids will excel when it comes to the MCAS because they will know that it's no big deal to write an essay.  That this month they are building a habit of writing and over the next couple of months they will learn about other writing traits (revision, editing, etc.) as we clean up their November work to prepare to upload stories and publish them with their create-space code.

Of course, I also have to write my novel through all this while finishing school, working and life, the universe and everything.

To be honest, I don't know what else I'd do with myself if I didn't have all this on my plate. This is my happy writing time, I hope it is everyone else's as well.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Let the Madness Begin!

It's November First, that means it's National Novel Writer's Month!

Along with leading a bunch of 3rd graders through the process this year, I'm also writing my own 50k work novel.  Unlike past years, I have no idea what I'm writing this year.  All I have is an opening:

My family is the punchline of a joke: an Orthodox Rabbi, Catholic nun and Buddhist Unitarian Universalist minister sit down for a family Thanksgiving dinner together.....

I'm not sure but I think it will involve a (possibly) haunted house, an overgrown park and pixies.  I don't know the gender or age of the main character as they haven't told me yet.  I have a vague idea where it might be going, but I'm not positive.

My 3rd graders are excited.  Yesterday they received a composition book and a NaNoWriMo pencil that has "There's a novel in this pencil" printed on the side of it.  I have stickers and pins for the kids as well and I'm going to have a couple more pins I'm going to have made up for them.  Many of the kids are shooting for 100 words a day (kids set their own word count).  Part of the reason I'm doing this is because I believe that many of the reluctant writers will will lose their fear of the MCAS - a huge source of anxiety already - if they know writing an essay is no big deal.

Heck... after writing a novel, it will be no big deal.

It will be interesting for me because these kids really only made the transition to being writers a month ago when Writer's Workshop started for them at the beginning of October.  Last time I lead a group of students through, they were fourth graders who had been writing, many of them reluctantly for a year.  It will be interesting to see if this group of 3rd graders go into 4th grade thinking of themselves as writers and how that changes them as they continue on.

I have been developing some tools for the kids as well: writing prompts for when they get stuck and progress charts (which I have to modify as different kids are going for different counts).  I'll keep talking about here as well as my own progress.

In the meantime, think about jumping into the deep end with us this year.  There's still time and 1667 words a day isn't too bad.  It's a great habit to get into.