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Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

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“You created a group of kids who advocate for themselves.” My supervisor called me on my way to school.

“I didn’t create them.  They came to me like that. I just encouraged it.”

“Yes, but so often that spirit is crushed by teachers.”

B. called me to tell me good news.  That’s the kind of supervisor she is.  A group of gifted seventh graders had summoned her to come to answer questions they have about their next steps in math.  It’s a pivotal decision that will put them on a certain math track.

These were my kids in 6th grade.  One of them was in my class from 1st through 6th.  They are my heart.  I’ve come to understand how to best respond to these moments of affirmation.  I just say, “Thanks.”

On deeper reflection, however, I think back to how these kids were with me during a vulnerable time.  Their education involved very little choice.  They often came to my class frustrated over one constraint or another.  What I gave them in the safe space of our gifted classroom was freedom.  They could be themselves.  They had choice over what they read, what they wrote, and who they wanted to be.  Acceptance and love permeated the room.

I miss these kids.  They stretched me to be the best teacher I could be.  They trusted me as I trusted them.  They taught me to embrace them as unique individuals, to respect each one’s dignity and voice.  They demanded it.  We made a difference together.  I’m happy to know their wings are soaring.

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I take inspiration wherever it comes from.  My friend and I recently discussed the book Big Magic.  He said, “It really works.  I send the wish out into the universe and inspiration comes.”

I’ve subscribed to Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac .

Every day there is a poem to read and other short articles about famous birthdays and historical events.

Yesterday was Robert Frost’s birthday.  I love this quote from Robert Frost about poetry.

Using a line from Robert Frost’s poem A Prayer in Spring, and keeping this quote in mind, I wrote a poem.

Keep Us Here

With this spring day
while pollen dances on the wind
while blossoms open to the sun,
keep us here.

With our true love
gathering flowers in a vase
digging deep in the earth
keep us here.

With our eyes on death,
holy is the dirt.
Holy is your face.
Keep us here.

–Margaret Simon

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Over the weekend I attended the JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans.  You can read Part One here.

Many of the notes I took at the conference not only apply to me as a writer, but could also be advice for my own students as writers.

My friend Denise Gallagher is an illustrator and she takes notes in sketches.  Here is Ernest Gaines’ advice delivered by author Freddi Williams Evans.

Denise Gallagher’s notebook

Bullet points from Freddi Williams Evans’ presentation:

  • Choose interest over trends.
  • Narrow down your topic.
  • Show some.  Don’t tell all.
  • Add kid appeal.
  • Present the truth.
  • Pay attention to details.
  • Use your voice.

Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents an impressive list of authors, ones I admire and follow like Kate Messner, Linda Urban, and Nancy Castaldo.  Jenn is hilarious.  Along with her humor, she presented ideas around creating your own brand.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the meaningful themes, subjects behind my writing and life?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my tone?
  • What is my Big Dream?

She reminded us to “Be a mensch!” Ok, new word.  It means to be a good person.

  • Meet your book sellers.
  • Make friends with librarians.
  • Boost fellow authors.

We also heard from Grace Kendall, an editor with FSG Books for Young Readers/ Macmillan who reminded us of the 25+ questions to ask yourself about your manuscript.  And from Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster who took us through the steps from concept to book cover.

I was in awe of these giants who were easily 10 or more years my junior.  I am such a novice in this book making business, but they each made me feel like it was doable.  If my goals are in the right place, and I have a heart for children, there is room in this kidlit world for me and others like me.

If you are writing for children and ever have a chance to attend a regional SCBWI conference, go.  You will be glad you did.

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Over the weekend I attended the JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans put on by the SCBWI Louisiana/ Mississippi region.  I am still such a novice in the field of children’s publishing.  I learned so much as well as networked with friends, new and old.

One of the perks of a regional conference is the agents and editors who attend offer to accept unsolicited submissions following the conference. This is both good and bad.  Good because I can polish up a manuscript and send it off.  Bad because I can polish up a manuscript and send it off.

Academy of the Sacred Heart, New Orleans.

The conference took place at The Academy of Sacred Heart in uptown New Orleans on St. Charles Ave.  The building breathes of history and catholic girls.  The library had many nooks for students to tuck into to read (and editors to critique).  I was welcomed by authors such as Angie Thomas and Jason Reynolds folded out on the librarian’s desk.

I signed up for a critique from editor Catherine Frank.  She sat sweetly in the corner of the library.  I took a deep breath and tried to relax.  Maybe I tried too hard to relax because the conversation with Catherine was easy and fun.  We laughed.  We shared our love of musicals.  Wow!  She had tickets to Hamilton for that night! And she told me she adored verse novels.

Then she said I had to make some changes if I wanted it to sell.  The breath caught in my throat.  I don’t know if I can do that.

“Of course you can.  You’re a good writer.”

She had me in the palm of her hand.  The teacher pleaser in me will go back to the manuscript (Did I mention I’ve been writing this one off and on for 10 years?), and  make the g.d. revisions.  I’ll let you know if I get a book deal.  It may take another 10 years, though.

This book writing business is hard work.  A Louisiana author and friend, Johnette Downing, reminded us, in her wonderful presentation about writing “From the Roots Up: Culture as Character,” that we are in the service of children.  A little poem from her talk:

Be the river.
Write what you know.
Write what you love.
Let the river flow.

The conference experience was too big for one post, so I think I’ll write part two tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

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March Super Moon
Photo by Margaret Simon

I am your silent super moon
I light the equinox sky
I touch the tips of trees
I hear nocturnal owls
I whisper secrets to your soul.

I am your silent super moon
I tell the myths of constellations
I cry tears for fading Earth
I pretend to keep my eyes on you.
I pull tides of ocean waves.

I am your silent super moon.
I wonder if I’m magical
I play hide-n-seek with stars
I carry your wishes in my moondust
Sprinkle heaven with hope.
I am your silent super moon.

(c) Margaret Simon

This poem came to me in stages beginning with my morning walk with the super moon earlier this week.  I was reminded of this form when Elisabeth Ellington used it to write a response poem to the first poem in my book Bayou Song, I am a Beckoning Brown Bayou. I’ve used the form with students and adults in writing workshops.  Here is a template for the form.  If you use it to create your own poem or have students respond, let me know.  I love to share how Bayou Song inspires on my book Facebook page. 

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Bach Google Doodle screen shot

Did you see the Google doodle on Thursday and Friday?  To celebrate Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday, Google had an app for writing music.

I come from a musical background.  My mother has her masters in piano and taught lessons for many years.  My brother got the talent in his fingers and still makes a living as a professional musician.

Me? I gave up piano after high school, but I can still read music and sing in the church choir.  But I’ve never written music before. That is, until Thursday.

In my last group of students, Madison and I played around with the doodle and discovered we could save a link and return to the song we created.  Of course, we also had to write words to go with our songs, all of which proved to be harder than you would think.

I introduced this idea to my first group on Friday morning.  We had to borrow headphones from the computer lab because all that composing going on in one room was enough to drive you crazy.

I was fascinated by how challenging this was for my kids.  They spent at least an hour on it and would have gone longer, but it was a gorgeous spring day, so I shooed them out for recess.

Here is a link to a tune I created for the words “When I sing this lovely song, I feel a sense of pride.

My students posted theirs on our kidblog site here. 

Who would think that you could build a whole class activity around a Google Doodle? Technology never ceases to amaze me.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Rebecca at Sloth Reads.

On Thursday morning, I got some shocking and scary news.  My good friend who is battling cancer was air lifted to a larger, more equipped hospital.  A message went out asking for prayers.

I recalled being air lifted almost 34 years ago when my then 4 month old daughter went into heart tachycardia.  The medics placed me on the gurney and then laid her on top of me.  As the helicopter beat through the air, my attention went to prayer.  As I prayed begged, I remember feeling a physical presence with me, an actual laying on of hands, and my daughter’s heartbeat slowed.  When we arrived at Oschner Hospital in New Orleans, the doctors there explained that her heart was responding to an infection in her body; it was not her heart.  She had pneumonia.  Now, she is the mother of a near 4 month old herself, so this memory is close.

Laura Purdie Salas posts an image and prompt ever Thursday for “15 words or less.”  Her image Thursday was a rescue helicopter from the Coast Guard Monument in DC.  This was my poem:

First Flight

Steady drumming beat
of my heart against hers
matching the rhythm
to helicopter rotors–
Life!

When we write together in my classroom, we often use quotes.  Thursday morning I looked on my Wonder app and found this quote.

The Daily Wonder App

In my notebook I wrote a prayer poem:

Oh clouds!
You are so necessary for life, but
if you don’t mind, please
move aside.
Let sun’s light
shine on Amy.
Bring her out of darkness
into hope.

Oh clouds!
We are helpless to move
you out of the way.
We send smoke signals,
wave wands, dance in a circle,
all to overcome your gloom.
Show us the sun today.
Show us the way to hope.

–Margaret Simon

Amy is getting the care she needs, but if you are the praying type, it wouldn’t hurt to add her name to your list.  Thanks!

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