Gone Fishing – A Novel for Second Graders

June 13, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries, teaching, writing | By

Gone Fishing is a treasure for many reasons. First of all: kids love it. It has just enough mischief and naughtiness to spice up a read-a-loud and keep any reluctant reader turning pages. The sibling rivalry at the center of this story will hit home with anyone who has, well, had a sibling. Even for those of us who don’t normally fish, the slimy details keep us involved and invested because we identify with Sam and rejoice as he overcomes his frustrations and failures.

The second reason this book is such a treat you may not even notice up front: it’s a novel-in-verse. And what’s even better is that the audience is second and third grade, where we have a dearth of novels-in-verse. Gone Fishing is perfect for this age group because the subject matter is on-point emotionally: a younger sister horns in on her big brother’s fishing trip with dad. Even more appealing to teachers: the poetry is meticulous. After you’ve been through the book once to catch the plot, you will enjoy re-reading to enjoy Wissinger’s craft. Here, the various poetic forms reveal the emotions as true and entertaining, without being overwrought. And, each form is outlined in a neat appendix, handy for future – and practicing – poets.

Gone Fishing is a natural fit for the second grade English Language Arts Standards in Reading Literature. The story is told from two very different points of view – both Sam and Lucy ­– making this a perfect read to “speak in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.6).” This short book will help round out the range of complexity called for in the Standards (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.10) by introducing a wide variety of poetry.

Some students may be lucky enough to try writing some of their own poetry using the examples in the back of this book. Turning our complaints, failures and frustrations into entertaining poems can take a lot of the sting out of the curves we all get thrown every now and again. Kudos to Wissinger for setting this shining example of resiliency.

imgres

  • Title Gone Fishing
  • Author Tamera Will Wissinger
  • Illustrator Matthew Cordell
  • Copyright 2013
  • ISBN 9780547820118
  • Dewey Decimal Number Fic
  • Reading Range 1-3 (2.6)

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Encourage At Risk Behavior

September 23, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews | By

Recently I ate dinner with e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, who is brave. I say that not simply because she wrote Fat Angie, but because she came to San Francisco to meet a bunch of writers she didn’t know for dinner. Over the Bay Bridge. At six p.m.

Clearly, she’s not from The Bay Area.

But yet, Eunice set up a dinner – over the internet – with strangers, and drove up from LA – from the morning commute – to meet us. We brought the food. She ate it.

Not only is she brave. She’s trusting.

This dinner was one stop on Eunice’s “At Risk” summer. Rather than do a typical sign-the-title-page book tour, she is touring the country, actually meeting and interacting with her readers. She is taking some serious risks.

Although, I don’t think that’s what she had in mind by the term “at – risk.” I believe she meant working with kids who are “at – risk.” But her summer has put her in some high risk situations: driving rental cars in Bay Area traffic, meeting strangers in private homes, eating surprise food, and above-all-else, telling the truth about herself, to anyone who will listen. She puts herself at risk everyday.

To me, that’s the beauty in Eunice and her work. Her bravery encourages us.

That evening, Eunice did two things to make me braver. First of all: she spoke up. She simply sat at the table with us and told us about herself. Even though we’d never met. That was risky. Maybe we would have a different opinion or attitude. But she made herself vulnerable immediately, easily and with a laugh. Several laughs, actually.

Her honesty enabled me to speak up.

The second thing she did to make me brave was she listened. She paid attention to each and every person at the table. Listening is risky because you might not like what you hear. Or you might change. Or you might feel you have to respond. Eunice did respond. She asked questions after every story.

Eunice’s book, Fat Angie, may be a powerful force, but I believe its because Eunice is so gentle. She knows people so well because she can interact with us honestly. She can risk a conversation, risk her time, risk a change, risk a bad dinner, a different opinion, or a wrong turn. And laugh.

I hope you read Fat Angie. It’s about a girl who takes risks. She’s hurt, bullied and ostracized. But, ultimately, Angie’s efforts pay off. Angie is brave because she puts herself at-risk again, even though she’s been hurt in the past.

The book is a quick read because the characters enter your heart quickly, as if they simply sat down at your table and started asking you questions.

If you are a high school teacher, I’ve got a story sheet for your students on narrative structure (part of the common core). It’s free to download. Help yourself.

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Plant a Seed

June 12, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

A seed is full of genetic material. It contains a bit of food to get the next creation growing.

Without a seed, a writing class is a writing club.

After the fun, after the friends, a writing class needs a seed: a small, inspiring, critical component. I like to read a story. Usually I ask a question – or introduce an idea – before I read a story. That question – or idea – is the seed.

Before Audrey Wood’s Heckedy Peg we talked about foreshadowing. As I read the story to a group of second and third graders we discussed how the items children needed from the market foreshadowed what they became at the witch’s house, which foreshadowed how their mother saved them.

I asked: Did you foreshadow something in your story?

I never point out a lack of something in a child’s story. I know, from writing my own stories, that it is far too easy to shut down the creative process. I learn more by seeing new things in other stories. When I’m really lucky, I might make a connection to my own writing. When I’m fortunate as a teacher, one of my students might find his own connection.

After reading Heckedy Peg, I said, “Sometimes we give ourselves a gift at the beginning of our stories we forget. Maybe if we have trouble with an ending, we can re-read the beginning we have already written.”

“Oh!” said a second grade student, “I just thought of an idea for my story.”

That is my greatest hope for students when we read and discuss literature: that they will make a connection to their own writing. And, that this connection will help them to grow.

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We Are Not Alone

June 10, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

Kids who write need friends who write. Every writer needs friends. We need to be heard. Writing friends are special because they listen to our stories.

Writing friends share a story.

Writing friends share a story.

Friends believe us. They know the names of our characters, the places we’ve created and the challenges we face. They ask us questions. They cheer for us and laugh alongside us. They remind us about what we have forgotten.

I love to see kids sit next to each other in writing class. They don’t always read each other’s journals, but they frequently discuss their stories together.

Often, there is laughter.

It is lonely to make a new world. When we invite a friend – a real person – into this new place, we know we are not alone. Our friend has entered with us. She will help us get this place ready for other visitors: which is our greatest dream and biggest fear.

In writing class, many kids are ready to share their work immediately – sometimes we read to everyone at the end of the day – and some kids may take almost a year until they find someone they trust, or are ready to read to the group.

When a writer is afraid, often her friend will read her work aloud for her. This way she knows her work matters to us.

Sometimes our writing friends are the only ones who demonstrate that our work matters. Writing friends have many important jobs.

Writing friendships are delicate because writers tend to be sensitive. Something intended as an observation may be felt as a criticism. When spoken by one we trust, however, just such an observation can lead to growth. For example, a fourth grade student recently commented to another: “Your main characters are always girls.”

Instead of feeling hurt, this writer took the challenge. She wrote her next story outside of her comfort zone, with a fascinating new premise. The class begged to hear sections of her new story read aloud each week. When friends believe in us enough to listen carefully and tell the truth, everyone benefits.

We don’t need 500 friends. Anyone – kids or adults – would be lucky to have one or two true friends.

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Let’s Mandate Fun

June 7, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

Creating something from nothing. Marjorie Frank calls it “romance.” Naomi Kinsman Downing calls it “play.” Some call it “foreplay.” No matter what you call it, it’s an essential start to the writing process.

One must get one’s creative juices flowing, so to speak. But I’ll stick with the PG version: Fun. Writing starts with fun. If you’re not having it, most likely you’re staring at a blank page or computer screen.

A haiku written by a fourth grade class, based on a scribble drawing.

A haiku written by a fourth grade class, based on a scribble drawing.

The same goes for teaching a writing class. Kids can’t write if they are not having fun. If the kids aren’t having fun, you’ve got a class full of kids ripping up paper, playing light sabers with pencils, crawling under desks, or using up all the anti-bacterial gel.

In short, kids will make their own fun. And it won’t be fun for you.

Fun is paramount. If I could, I’d make fun mandatory. For teachers. Forget the kids, man. If we’re having fun, so are they.

Naomi Kinsman Downing, Founder and Creative Director of Society of Young Inklings, articulates it this way.

“The freedom associated with letting go, being silly, breaking patterns, is the very thing most likely to bring new ideas and insight. Play isn’t trivial. It’s vital.”

She’s right. How often have you been unable to solve a problem as you sit for hours at your computer? Miraculously, when you release your mind from it – sew, garden, shower, feed the kittens ­– a brand new idea may come.

Play frees. We need fun to create. The first book I bought about writing was called “If You’re Trying to Teach Kids How to Write You Gotta Have This Book.” It was written by Marjorie Frank and published in 1979. I kept it on my desk when I began teaching over twenty years ago. I still have it on my desk now.

In her chapter titled “Romance,” Frank say this:

“Experiences – with self, with others, with literature, with arts, are the catalysts that ignite expression…PLEASE, don’t ask kids to write without giving them some input!…SOMETHING romantic needs to proceed the writing assignment: some happening that jars loose the poetry inside their heads and sets free a flow of new ideas.”

As a teacher, mostly I can figure out what will be fun for kids. Usually its what’s fun for me: playing a silly game, reading a book, making detailed observations of art or life, experiencing art, or sharing interesting information. Today we drew silly pictures – starting with a scribble – then wrote haikus together. We had fun trying to make sense of our pictures, within the syllable count of haiku.

When an activity is no longer fun, sometimes a kid will ask, “Can we just go write?”

I’ve never said, “No,” to that question. Sometimes, writing is more fun than a game, or a story, or whatever else I’ve brought for the day. Sometimes, that question means the game, or story, or photo did its job.

Each writing session is a chance for joy. If you’re not having fun while you’re teaching writing, stop. Do something that sounds fun. To you. Its vital.

It should be mandatory.

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