Brown Girl Dreaming…


..catching up on some blog entries….

Brown Girl Dreaming, the award-winning novel by Jacqueline Woodson, is so many things to me. As a teacher, I see the countless possibilities for deep discussion, thoughtspots for writing, endless possibilities for visual and emotional expression. As a writer, I am invited into the genre of memoir in powerful ways.

I had recently purchased BGD when I was coincidentally asked to visit an Encountering Cultures class at the college, to share my thoughts on keeping writer’s notebooks. I’ve been writing snippets for several years about my two grandmothers; BGD quenched my thirst to continue my memoir piece on my grandmothers. I shared snippets of my memoir with the Encountering Cultures class and invited them to choose a powerful place in BGD and write. They did; their sharings were amazing. BGD is memoir at its best.

I assigned BGD to my preservice literacy students last semester. They met in book club groups to share the novel. They brought responses to their groups—an open-ended assignment for which I encouraged their imaginations to soar.

While you cannot enjoy their descriptions (so compelling) of their responses, you can view them below. Without question, they were as captivated by this wonderful novel as I.


Brown Girl Dreaming Animoto

…poetry newsletter grab

My newsletter yesterday from the Academy of American Poets celebrates that March is Women’s History Month. The poems from ten American women poets are featured in the newsletter–well worth taking a look. (Newsletter sign-up is available on the website–FREE–it’s a wonderful resource, and while you are at check out all of the other free resources available–particularly for educators. The newsletters are archived. The one I feature in this post will be dated March 3rd).

One of the celebrated poets is Naomi Shibab Nye, poet, songwriter and novelist, whose works I have devoured with relish for years, and have also shared so many with students. The poem featured in the newsletter, The Words Under the Words, is dedicated to her Sitti–her grandmother. While the poem stands beautiful alone, I look forward to sharing it with a paired text by Naomi Shibab Nye–a picture book (my personal copy so well used) also of her Sitti–Sitti’s Secrets. The story is beautiful, universal, and reaches across nationality, ethnicity, religion, and ages. A favorite part of this small book is the Author Page comment, where Nye says if grandmothers were in charge of the world there would be no wars. I gotta agree….


More “cake baking” with Synthesis strategy…

For my post of last semester, check out Baking a Synthesis Cake… on this blog.

This week my current group of preservice teachers revisited familiar texts to synthesize meanings they created from close, deep reading. Following the cake baking strategy, which requires the cook to know what kind of cake is desired before s/he can compile the ingredients, the teachers did the same with their meaning creations. They had rich discussions and decided as small groups at least one powerful meaning created from their chosen text–that was the “cake,”–and the “ingredients” became significant pieces lifted from the text that helped them create meaning. As always, the group work and the opportunity to “create” visuals added to the powerful engagement in the project. Here are their visuals and a list of the texts from which they chose.

“The Flowers,” by Alice Walker          “Salvador, Late or Early,” by Sandra Cisneros       “Eleven,” by Sandra Cisneros

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Visual/Emotional Responses x 2

Again, I had my preservice teachers collaborate to create visuals that portrayed emotional connections to “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros–a short text about a young girl who experiences her eleventh birthday with hurt and pain as she is wrongly accused (by the teacher and a few classmates) of leaving a raggedy red sweater too long in the cloakroom. The short story is powerful–so much so that invariably a few of my students choose to use this short text with various strategic teaching lessons in their field classrooms.

Here are the visuals they created from “Eleven,” and the link below is to my post of last spring–amazing how art can reveal what words cannot.

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When Visuals are Just Right…

The text, “Eleven,” can be found in the following collection of short stories by Sandra Cisneros..available on Amazon or BN, or your favorite online resource: Unknown

She also has a fabulous website


The importance of Memoir–capturing memories through writing

“A memoir,” says Gore Vidal, “is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. In a memoir it isn’t the end of the world if your memory tricks you and your dates are off by a week or a month as long as you honestly try to tell the truth” (Palimpsest: A Memoir, 1995).

I like to use this Vidal quote as I try to explain the critical concept of “voice” in memoir to my students. I, of course, use examples, from picture books (that “show”in 30 pages or less, fine examples of memoir writing), to excerpts from other sources.

I also like to clarify the differences between memoir and autobiography through providing some take of the following scenario: You and your sister are having coffee in a cafe and in walks a lady who has a striking resemblance to your late Aunt Sara. You then begin to recall childhood memories of Aunt Sara, and you land upon one specific memory that involved a childhood prank. You and your sister disagree on how it went down. You say this way…she says Oh No–it happened like this…in the end, the argued-over-details remain less significant than your shared recollections of the fun you had in pulling it off, and the good-natured, laugh-at-herself-spirit of Aunt Sara. Memoir is like that. You flavor your life experiences with voice—how you remember, how you felt at the time, as Vidal says, is independent  perhaps from actual dates and facts—but that your narration rings an honest truth is paramount.

Here are just some memoir resources that I use with my students:

When I was little: A four-year old’s memoir of her youth-Jamie Lee Curtis

Memoirs of a goldfish–David Scillian, Tim Bowers;

Through my eyes–Ruby Bridges

The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain–Peter Sis

When I was young in the mountains–Cynthia Rylant; The relatives came–Cynthia Rylant

The year of the perfect Christmas Tree–Gloria Houston; My Great-Aunt Arizona–Gloria Houston

These  (and more) by Paricia Polacco: My rotten redheaded older brother; The keeping quilt; Thank you Mr. Falker; The lightning jar; Thunder cake

Tar beach–Faith Ringgold

Marshfield dreams–Ralph Fletcher

The moon and I–Betsy Byars

Too many tamales–Gary Soto

My life in dog years–Gary paulsen

Dakota dugout–Ann Turner

Little by little–Jean Little

Owl moon–Jane Yolen

The raft–Jim LaMarche

The house on mango street–Sandra Cisneros

Sitti’s secrets–Naomi Shihab Nye

Looking back: A book of memories–Lois Lowry

Farewell to Manzanar–Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Woodsong–Gary Paulsen

…and wonderful teaching texts

—Crafting a life: Teaching memoir–Catherine Bomer

—-Old friend from far Away–Natalie Goldberg, a book my son gifted me with that has been a great personal resource for my own writing. Goldberg is a “goldmine” for memoir writing–she has many books, all inspirational

So many wonderful mentor texts within which to immerse students so they capture the many possibilities for memoir writing.

..and this is why I write, why I sketch, why I play with words and images

…a quote from a mentor who inspires me. Her book, A Trail Through Leaves (a gift to me from a treasured friend) is one I revisit from time to time, and upon each visit am startled by wonderings and images new to me, though I have held this book closely for so many years…



“A long-running journal is an invaluable document, because it records something other than the time-and-goal-dominated anxiety that drives us through our days. We can tease out of it evolving evidence of sub-lives, parallel existences, omens of shifts that won’t be realized for decades, recurrences of themes glimpsed periodically through the years….The trail of words and pictures that I am leaving is more complete than most people’s, but it is still a trail of tips and ice bergs, little slices of light and color that are all I can capture of the big masses moving underneath. But threading through are moments of the ordinary-made-extraordinary by the simple act of choosing and isolating them.”

                                                                                                Hannah Hinchman

                                                                                           A Trail Through Leaves: The  Journal As a Path to Place




The Writer’s Desk

The Writer’s Desk

Author Ralph Fletcher’s blog, The Writer’s Desk. His skinny little book, Breathing In, Breathing Out, remains an inspiration to me. His writing style is simple and direct and kids can relate well to him, as he does not leave them in the language jungle trying desperately to find their way out. He connects. This blog, appropriately named, opens windows into his writing life. Each day or so he provides snippets of his thinking about writing, pieces of his notebooks, tips for writers of all ages, and more. Check him out!

Kooser, again!

The poet Ted Kooser (past poet laureate for USA) just speaks to me. I have all of his poetry books, most are dog-eared from re-reading. Perhaps it’s his Midwestern Nebraska voice that finds myriad ways to distill the complexity of our lives to simple and beautiful words—perhaps that is why he reaches into my heart and head with his poetry. In this poem, Splitting an Order, can you not visualize the scene—an elderly couple sitting at a table in a diner, probably the same table and the same diner they have visited for decades?? I would use this poem with middle/high school kids to invite them to consider how keen the observation in this poem, how the simple details create powerful emotion. It was a sandwich order split among two people!—how beautiful the images created by the details. Enlarging small moments.  Kooser is a wonderful poet-author study for middle and high school. His poems reach deep into our own storehouses of memories. Writing from what we know best. This poem is in the collection Valentines, a poetry text I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog.

Splitting an Order

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,

maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,

no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady

by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table

and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,

and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,

observing his progress through glasses that moments before

he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half

onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,

and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife

while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,

her knife and her fork in their proper places,

then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees

and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

by Ted Kooser, from Valentines. © University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

…More on Sensory representation of short text

Interpreting text through sensory images provides a rich experience for readers. Last semester preservice teacher students worked in small groups to create a visual representation of the short, powerful text we were working through: “Salvador, Late or Early” by Sandra Cisneros. If you know this text about a young boy too soon with the responsibilities of an adult, too soon to leave childhood though yet a child, too late to be care and worry free, you can see how deeply my students connected through these visuals. The visuals reveal understanding of the reading comprehension strategies we focus on: inferring, determining what is important, making connections…..this semester’s group will create a team visual interpretation of “Eleven,” another Cisneros text. Expression through the arts is as critical as verbal-linguistic expression. 

Below the visuals I’ll post images of my to go-to Cisneros books. 

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(Note: Be selective with Woman Hollering Creek and Vintage Cisneros. Some content too mature for middle graders)

An Egret’s Day—-Inspiring us to look closely….

As the title of An Egret’s Day suggests, the subject of this children’s poetry book is the daily life of the large and beautiful bird known as the Great Egret. Using a variety of poetic forms, Jane Yolen has written more than a dozen poems about egrets. Each of the poems examines a different aspect of the egret. These include: the egret’s name, eating habits, size, nest, flight, feet, walk, preening, beak and more.  What a great model for writing, teachers!!

Each double-page spread contains one or more striking color photographs of an egret and a poem that relates to what’s in the photo. A paragraph of factual information that sheds further light on the subject of the photo and poem is also provided.

Wonderful integration of poetry, art and science—and an inspirational invitation for students to show what they can learn through close observation in multiple ways.

Children’s literature is just a misnomer—what adult would not be enchanted with this book!

egrets day