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Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

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Bayou Song is on the wall of books!

The rains had ended, the cool front came through, adding an element of celebration (like Christmas) to the Louisiana Book Festival.  This year was the 15th annual book festival and the 15th awards ceremony for LA Writes, our state youth writing contest.  I have been involved since the first contest and the first book festival.  I always marvel at the young authors as they arrive dressed up with their whole extended families with them. It is an event for celebrating good writing and for families celebrating their authors.

My student Chloe reads her winning poem, Cool Words.

Following the wonderful awards ceremony, I offered a student writing workshop.  You never really know what kind of audience to expect.  I was delighted to have 3 writers join me.  One was a 6-year-old who wrote and drew, then buzzed around. Her mother said, “She’s doing a lap.”  Then she was back to writing and drawing.  The other two girls were a sister pair.  The older sister is a student at LSU.  I am not accustomed to teaching college kids, but I was pleasantly surprised at how she responded to my prompts.  She wrote an I am poem about the river. (Baton Rouge is located on the Mississippi River.) When I taught them about the zeno poem, she transformed her I am poem into a zeno.  This was an unexpected transfer that worked well for her poem.  She gave me permission to publish it here.

I am a rusted red river.
My mouth echoes
rising
flood.
I touch cities
with their
blood.
Reminder they
come from
mud.

–Jami Kleinpeter

Thanks, Jami, for enriching our lives with your poem and for showing me how a simple (meant for elementary kids) prompt can be transformed into a sophisticated and profound poem.

 

 

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Six more weeks until I become a grandmother!  Last week I shared a Billy Collins poem with my students, On Turning 10.  After reading and discussing the poem, I invited my students to write.  What would I write about? “I don’t want to write about turning 57,” I said.

Chloe said, “Then write about being a grandmother.”

Aha!  Thanks!

On Becoming a Grandmother
          (after Billy Collins’ “On Turning 10”)

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like a little girl at Halloween
dressed up in a new costume
that itches at the seams
and yet sends her off in a thrill of confidence.

How a costume can transform you
into a different version of yourself– a witch,
Wonder Woman, or Cinderella–invincible
and transformative!

When I think of that little boy calling me
something grand or made-up– Mimi,
Gran Gran, Nanny–I feel wonder and joy.

I want to memorize the names of constellations
so I can tell him. I need to find that just right
picture book he’ll want to read again and again.
I will learn a lullaby he’ll sing in his mind
whenever he is lonely or sad.

Wasn’t it just yesterday
I was the new mom?
Worries over enough milk
and enough love. I know now
there’s always enough love.

–Margaret Simon, (c) 2018

 

 

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This was my first time to attend the T.E.C.H.E. Project’s Shake Your Trail Feather Festival in Breaux Bridge, LA on the shores of Bayou Teche, the same bayou that runs behind my home in New Iberia.  When researching for Bayou Song, I found their website and began to take more interest in learning about their mission.  I even discovered that some of our friends are involved.  When I got an email from the tourist commission about this event, I wrote to the organizers and asked if I could sell books and give proceeds to the project.  I didn’t know how much fun I would have!

I set up my book table inside a gazebo with the children’s activities.  The women here welcomed me, and I enjoyed chatting with them all throughout the day.  One of the kids’ activities was a bird scavenger hunt. The children were given a booklet of common bayou birds.  The children decorated “binoculars” made with paper towel tubes and Mardi Gras beads.  Then they searched for pictures with facts placed around the event area.  The kids were charged with writing one fact about each bird and returning for a prize.  The prizes included a bookmark, a sticker, and a turtle puzzle.

Ava came back from her scavenger hunt excited to turn her facts into a poem.  But how?  I showed her the poem “Barred Owl” written with two to three word lines in rhyming couplets, such as “soulful eyes/From hollow spies.”  I talked with Ava about how her facts could become a poem.

“Which bird is your favorite?”

“The belted kingfisher.”

“What did you learn about the kingfisher?”

Ava reads, “He hovers…”

“What rhymes with hovers?”

Ava shouts, “covers!”

“What covers the kingfisher?”

“Feathers!”

I scribed each line as we discussed her ideas.

At one point, Ava turned and ran. I realized she was going back to the fact sheet to find more facts to use.  When we finished writing, she excitedly shared her poem with whomever would listen.  She felt like a poet!

Her grandfather bought her a book, so she copied her poem into her book.  Later when an art teacher happened by, I asked her to help Ava draw a picture of a kingfisher to go with her poem.  Then she not only felt like a poet, she was an artist too.

Ava, 3rd grade, copied her poem into her Bayou Song book.

Me with Ava and her little sister celebrating writing poetry and art at the Shake Your Trail Feather Festival.

Huge kingfisher sculptures adorn a party barge that led the canoe paddle on Bayou Teche.

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Mug Shot

My sister is seven years younger than me.  Yes, she is a grown woman, and the mother of two children, but even so, she will always be my younger sister, and I will always advocate for her like a mother.

I wish we lived closer to each other, and never so much as I did last week when I got this text from her.

That was Wednesday.  On Thursday, I checked in and she had spent 4 hours in the ER on Wednesday night getting fluids and nausea medicine. Did they check for appendicitis?  I asked.  She wasn’t sure.  My gut was telling me something, but I live in South Louisiana, and she is in Austin, TX.  How could I tell her that the ER had been wrong?

What I did tell her was to get in touch with her regular doctor.  She did.  They gave her an appointment for Friday morning.  Are you kidding me?! The mother in me was yelling inside my head.  I asked, “Did you tell them your symptoms? Promise me if the pain gets more severe, you will insist on an appointment today!”

Friday came.  Her husband and son packed up to leave for Louisiana to go to the LSU football game.  Their daughter, my niece, attends LSU.  Beth told him to go ahead with his plans, and she would let him know what the doctor said.

Her appointment was mid-morning.  I got a text at 12:10 PM:

The CT scan took forever.  I didn’t hear from her again until after school around 4 PM.  The diagnosis was appendicitis.  I broke down.  I wanted to get on the next flight to Austin, but I knew that was unrealistic. Instead, I got in touch with her best friend. She assured me she was going to be able to help. I talked to my people (my husband, daughter, and mother).  They all advised that she was in good hands, and there was nothing more I could do.

My brother-in-law turned around and headed back home.  She was alone, but he would be there when she woke up.

My worry turned to anger. I’m still trying to deal with that side of it.  Beth is home and feeling sore, but she will recover.  She told me that I “advocate like a mother,” a slogan a friend of hers uses in her advocacy for her trisomy 18 child.

My sister will be fine, but I’ve realized with this incident how fiercely I care about her, as if she were my own daughter.  And I will always “Fight like a Mother!”

 

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Last night was the #TeachWrite Twitter chat on “Facing our writing fears.” Turns out, we all have them.   I’ve heard Kate Dicamillo say multiple times (I’m not a groupie, really!) that she faces the fear of writing every day.  Every. Day.

Writing fear is a real thing.  It creeps into our lives at the worst of times and the best of times.  And publishing a book is no shield from it.  In fact, it may increase it.  Self talk, “Oh, this publication was a fluke.  No one will ever want to read another poem I’ve written ever again.”

Do you get messages from the universe?  I do. And if you pay attention, you’ll understand that everyone lives with fear every day.  What separates us is the way we deal with it.  I am trying hard to get better at holding myself up and away from the fear.  I love what Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about fear. “Do something every day that scares you.”  We must do this because, otherwise, fear is the winner.  But I also believe that if you are not writing in fear, then you are not writing.  The act itself is brave!

 

Here are two of my favorite Tweets from the chat.

 

I told my students today, truthfully, that writing is hard work, and if it’s not hard, you are not doing it right.  It’s important for us to keep writing (facing the writing fears) so that we can tell our students the truth.  That nothing worth doing well is easy.  Not even the greatest of authors have had it easy.  Take heart, though, because once you have written something good, you know how that feels, so you are more willing and ready to do it again.

 

What are your writing fears?  How do you overcome them?

 

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I’ve been a fan of using heart maps in my classroom for a while.  At the beginning of the year, we made name heart maps.  Later in the year, we may use a heart map to identify an interest area for a research project.  This week, for the first time, I tried out readers’ heart maps.  Georgia Heard’s book about heart maps offers many different styles.  I tend to use the simple design.  Plain white paper. Taco fold. Draw half a heart. Cut it out. Then glue in your journal.

Chloe decided to cut out three hearts.  She made one with white paper.  Then she asked if she could use colored paper.  Then she made a blue one and a pink one.  I suggested that she could layer them one on top of the other.  She loved that idea.  One heart became about her favorite book at home about Ariel.  She’s a Dr. Seuss fan and made her blue heart about Dr. Seuss.  On the big white heart, she chose herself and wrote one of her poems.  Why not choose yourself as your favorite author?

Chloe’s layer of Reader’s Heart Maps.

Madison decided to fill her reader’s heart map with quotes from her favorite books.  Her all time favorite quote comes from Percy Jackson, “I have become one with the plumbing.”  She laughs out loud.

 

Madison’s reading heart map

 

I’ve been reading aloud Kate Dicamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” so my reader’s heart map became about this book.  Edward breaks my heart over and over again.

 

My reader’s heart is broken and healed by Edward Tulane.

I think making heart maps is a great way to honor your students’ individual choices in reading.  They can express what they love to read in a reader’s heart map. We will come back to the heart maps to write about ourselves as readers.  What would you make your reader’s heart map about?

 

 

 

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International Dot Day is one of my favorite days of the year.  For years, I’ve celebrated with my students.  This year I tried out a new activity for Dot Day, a Zeno Zine.  We started by reading The Dot and playing the Emily Arrow Dot Day Song.  Then each student decorated a dot on white art paper using markers. Rainbow dots seemed to be the choice of the day.

After drawing a dot, I asked my students to collect words and phrases about their artwork to use in a zeno poem.  We wrote a zeno together using ideas from the book.  Then they wrote their own zeno about their own dot.  We folded their art work into a zine and copied their poems into their zine.

Zeno form: syllable count 8, 4, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1 (Each one syllable line rhymes. )

Our Group Dot Zeno

I can’t draw a straight line, can you?
May I please see
you draw
dot?
I don’t think so
maybe
not
I bet you can
draw a
lot!

Dot Day Zeno Zine by Chloe

 

 

After the rainstorm has happened
Colors appear
rainbow
light
a beautiful
hopeful
sight
flower petals
amazing
bright 

by Breighlynn

Zine by Breighlynn

 

I draw and write alongside my students, so I made three zeno zines throughout the day.  My student Madison suggested that I post this one because, as she said, “The solar system is full of dots!”

Solar System Dot Zeno Zine

Gravitational central sun
spiral orbit
spinning
round
Solar system
planets
bound
Constant spinning
without
sound.

Margaret Simon, (c) 2018

 

 

Bayou Song Interview on KRVS:

If you are interested in hearing an interview with me on our local public radio station, click this link and go to “Interview.”

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