Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Looking back from here, what do you see?
What do you remember?

When you consider your childhood, what memories quickly take you back to past times and finds and wonderings?

Which moments stand beckoning you to re-enter, revel in-- or revise?

Which moments did you misunderstand or not comprehend at all at the time-- or maybe still?

What moments do you want to forget?

We can return again and again to our childhood lives and selves.

Our early years supply us with endless events, situations, relationships, memories, and ideas  to examine.

In Jaqueline Woodson's latest book, Brown Girl Dreaming, she  returns to a time filled with familiar national and regional history, as her story and her family's story weave in and out of good times, southern traditions and  social injustice,  northern migration and struggles, popular culture and religion,  racial progress and love. Woven through her  free verse and narrative poems are ten numbered haiku- all entitled How to Listen.

We are, indeed,  privileged to listen to her life, remembered and contemplated.

The first and final lines of the opening poem set the mood and tone:
I was born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio
a country caught
between Black and White....

...I was born in Ohio
but  the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.
She takes us back through her poems to her little-girl love of writing and we watch her grow, within the complex context of her life, into the writer we know and love today.

Likewise  another of my favorite poets, Marilyn Nelson, examines her childhood from the wise perspective of "now" in How I Discovered Poetry.  Considering her young life against a similar background as that of Woodson, Nelson uniquely considers events and situations that, as a child, she did not always understand.

Growing up in a military family during the civil rights era, she considers not only her life and times, but her growing awareness of writing as her avocation.

In the Endnote, Nelson explains that the poems, 50 unrhymed sonnets, explore:
... (her)growing awareness of personal racial identity .. set against the tensions American experiences during the fifties....Each of the poems is built around a "hole" or "gap" in ..understanding.

Which  form would be appropriate to explore your life?
Nelson's sonnets?
Woodson's haiku and prose poems?

As you consider your life in a poetic light, my previous post, Poetic Memoirs,may be a helpful resource.

Or would a graphic novel better help you capture and examine your younger life?

I was delighted to discover El Deafo by Cece Bell and David Lasky, a graphic novel that explores the life of the author, beginning with going to school with a bulky Phonic Ear hearing aid strapped to her chest.  Her survival is accomplished as she" becomes" a superhero, " El Deafo, Listener for All"  

Ironically, the characters of the book are rabbits with huge ears

Her poignant and graphic memoir reminds us of the loneliness, frustration, and sadness that accompany dealing with a difference and disability as such a young age.

In a recent blog post, Terry Thompson, who experiences moderate hearing loss herself, shares how this book brought back all of  the above feelings, but also brought her delight and relief that "Somone is telling my story. Someone gets it. And I was reminded that I was not alone."

Click here to read Thompson's entire post about El Deafo, Hearing Things Differently,.

All children with identify with the difficulties of fitting-in, regardless of their individual and personal abilities or differences.

Many of us enjoy talking with our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, and other relatives about their respective childhoods. We all know and laugh together at the ever-growing I walked 10 miles to school stories that our parents and their parents proudly share, as they admonish our perceived weaknesses, laziness, or whatever generational target is at hand at that moment.

Each generation will delight in Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir by Eloise Greenfield and her mother, Lessie Jones Little, as they tell their own stories and that of Greenfield's grandmother.  In the opening of this treasure, Greenfield explains  the value of exploring juxtaposed childhood lives:

People are a part of their time.They are affected during the time they live by the things that happen in their world. Big things and small things. A war, an invention such as radio or television, a birthday party, a kiss.  All of these experiences shape  people, and they, in turn, help to shape the present and the future. If we could know more about our ancestors, and the experiences they had as children, and after they had grown up, too, we would then know  much more about what has shaped our world.

Talk to your folks.  Listen to their stories.  Lay them down in writing beside your own.  Think about the rich result.

What did our favorite writers experience in childhood?

One of my favorite writing mentors, Ralph Fletcher has written extensively-- novels, poems, as well as excellent texts on the writing process for both children and teachers.

His account of childhood  as the oldest sibling in his large Catholic family is full of adventures and memories, told with gentle humor. Kids and adults, alike, will delight in his story, Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid.

Finally, I  offer two additional resources that bring childhoods forward to our time, so that we can travel back, explore, compare, learn -- and gain wisdom. When I Was Your Age: Volumes I and II: Original Stories About Growing Up edited by Amy Ehrlich offers collected accounts of childhood and teen years written by some of our favorite YA writers.

At my final school assignment,  I led a teacher writer group.  During our first year together, we focused on memoir writing in our own writing and also with our students.  These volumes became major sources of mentor texts for this writing.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volumes 1 and 2

What do you remember from your childhood?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Our childhoods provide us with endless writing ideas.
We can  explore events, situations, relationships, geography, memories and ideas that shape our now and who we are.

Looking back from here, what do you see?
What do you remember?

Which moments stand beckoning you to re-enter, revel-- or revise?

Which moments did you misunderstand or not comprehend at all at the time-- or maybe still?

What moments do you want to forget?

Write about your childhood.  
Try a poetic memoir and a personal narrative. Try an essay or longer autobiography.

Talk to several other members of your family about their childhoods--your parents, grandparents or other relatives or close friends.  Write a narrative or essay about their childhoods in juxtaposition to your own childhood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014



Our world is troubled.

No matter what is going on in our personal lives- good, bad, or indifferent-- we cannot deny the state of the world.

We read the news and we despair.
We shake our heads.
We weep for our children and the world that we are offering them.

We had so hoped to give  them a better place, a fairer situation, a more peaceful existence.
A world of enough-- of abundance even.
A safe home in our global world in which each family member is welcome and happy,  in which each person is both full and fulfilled.

Instead, we are disconnected and fearful.
We talk and talk--- and we avoid talking about  the most  important things.
We don't seem to want to have honest conversations about hunger and poverty, about race and hatred, about religion and culture, about choice and  identity, about education and opportunity, about life and death.

We distrust whole groups as "other."
We watch as "other" kills "other."

Our world is troubled.

We had seen the heads of two of our citizens handed to us on proverbial TV trays,
We  have witnessed invasions into sovereign nations and the senseless brutal slaughter of multitudes.
We have seen kidnappings of hundreds of young girls, who remain unrescued.
We have witnessed murders across our nation of unarmed young black men with their hands in the air in surrender.
We  want to close our eyes and black out the visions,  erase the images that haunt our nights and color our days.

We want to tell fairy tales and fables, but not include the truth.

We face the systematic elimination of  our rights.
We watch as power cooperates with power.
We witness as money buys more money.

Our world is troubled.

How can we remake this world?
What can we do to begin the process of rebuilding, restoring, reconciling?

We dream of a world that feeds and clothes and shelters  all of us --in collaboration and cooperation.

We adults think about this.

Our children think about it also--  more that we know-- and probably in ways we have not imagined.

What would happen if they ran the world?
How would they fix it?

That is the question that Leo and Diane Dillon ponder in their latest offering If Kids Ran the World.

Note: This is also the last offering in which they will collaborate.  Leo Dillon died  May 26, 2012.  This was the project on which they were working at the time.

In this world run by children, the important things are recognized and successfully addressed: 

...everyone would have enough  to eat... a safe place to live... medicine they needed..
Everyone would laugh a lot more... no bullying.... good places that kept some people out...
People would take care of the planet... have religious freedom...
People would live together in peace. No more hate...
Our world is troubled.
Our world is broken.
I want to live in the world described by the Dillons.

This book can help us begin conversations with our youth about a different way, a different world.
This book might even help us adults begin a new conversation, as well.

What does your new world look like?

 Sometimes, even if life is orderly and neat and seemingly perfect, there can be more.
 We can imagine more.  We can envision "different."

For our smallest children, thinking about how to create a new world could begin with The Numberlys.

William Joyce and Christina Ellis start our own brains turning as we watch the numberlys transform their world of only numbers and limited possibilities into a world of numbers and letters and endless "amazements."

From the numberlys, we learn that what is doesn't have to be all there is.  We learn that we can be active conceivers and  creators-- agents of change in our world.

What does your new world look like?  How can you be an agent of change to create this new world?

Sometimes just getting to know each other is the start of a more beautiful world. Listening to each other, learning from and about each other can be the start of a new world.

For four years now, Brandon Stanton had been capturing people in photographs and collecting their stories as well.  He is now in the middle of  a United Nations Tour-- traveling across our globe  to ten nations in 50 days, capturing images  and stories of folks  and sharing with us.   So far he has been to Iraq, Jordan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda Ukraine, and India.

Click here  for his new global images and stories.

How do the people in these places  imagine a better world?

For more about his United Nations Tour and the   Millennium Goals of which he is raising awareness, click here.

For more about Brandon Stanton and his Humans of New York Project, see my previous post, Humans of New York: A Photographic Census.

What does a better world look like to the people he is meeting in these countries?
What does a better world look like to you?

Our world is troubled.

Yet, I leave you with this beautiful expression of hope from Tomorrow's Child by Rubin Alves :
What is hope?
It is the pre -sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
Read the entire poem, Tomorrow's Child here.

What is your hope for our world?

 Additional Posts for  Starting Conversations about Remaking Our World.

The Rights of Children

Wars and Rumors of Wars

War Stories

Open Season on Black Men

 Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

List your most important concerns about our world today?
How would you like to see these concerns addressed?

Who has the power to make the changes you would like to see?
What actions can you take to make your desired changes a reality?

Write an essay about your new world.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


When was the last time you had a bad day-- or off week or terrible month, or even a very bad year?

This is mine.

Bad days plague us all at one time or another.

Perhaps your car has been leaking coolant since late May (that is between visits to the dealer)....and now it is in the shop for visit number six.  Two new reserve tanks and one new radiator cap later,
perhaps you took this car in this morning and the only thing left in the ineffective service tool box is taking the engine apart to go on a scavenger hunt.

Or perhaps you wanted to print some necessary documents and your brand new computer (which has been connecting to your old printer since March) now says the printer spooler is not running.  Turning the print spooler back on doesn't work.  It won't stay on and  now communication between the printer and the computer seems to have come to a standstill.  Talk you keep telling the two of them.

And perhaps you stopped listening when the tech person called to explain that during the diagnostics the hard drive failed on one test and froze on another. But it is brand new you protest weakly-- You have learned already from the car situation that protesting bad days is useless.

Or perhaps, this is the day or month or year-- that your father died.. or the anniversary of the death of your mother, or your brother, or someone else that you need and miss.

Or perhaps, your school just adopted a brand new scripted curriculum, the kind where you all do the same thing at the same time with the same  boring texts that go with the  new boring program.  

You are spending every minute trying to recapture and recreate the excitement your students experienced last year with Socratic Circles.  

Yes, perhaps you are having a bad day/week/month/year.

As we wallow in our misfortune and declining luck, we mustn't forget that children have bad days, too.

Students come to school with their minds oppressed/repressed/suppressed by their personal iterations of failing hard drives and leaking coolant.

Perhaps it will help for them to know that grownups- teachers and coaches, parents and relatives-- as well as their friends and classmates, all have bad times.

Perhaps it will help if they share their trying times with others.

Perhaps it will help if someone says I know how you feel or That happened to me, too or How can I help?

 And perhaps it will help to commiserate ...and also laugh together --about bad days of characters in books or poems or movies.

 Younger children will nod knowingly at the misfortune and bad luck that plague the characters in books.

Beginning with my all-time-favorite-bad-day book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,  these books will foster compassion, understanding, and sharing, and will, undoubtedly, lead to both important talk and substantive writing.



Older children will easily recognize the confluence of events leading to undesirable consequences in books recounting misadventures and mishaps of folks much like themselves.


And finally I leave you, adults and young adults, with this amazing inspiration and advice by Shane Koyczan. His spoken word poem Instructions for a Bad Day says all we need to know to weather our less than perfect times.

 I plan on rereading his words of wisdom or re-watching his video each time bad days come my way.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on the most recent bad day or week or month in your life.

List all the events involved, as well your feelings and actions.

How did others react and respond as you navigated your bad time?

Write a letter to your bad time.

Or write a spoken word poem expressing your feelings about this period in your life.

Hear is my attempt to capture my thoughts in my poem  #BadDay.