Monday, November 24, 2014

The Twisty Turny Road to Publication

As a longtime writer, I know how complicated and painful the road to publication can be. Enduring rejection of one's innermost work comes with the territory. Still, every journey illuminates, and
I think it's important to try to gain authentic audiences.
To that end, fifth graders have been submitting to one of my favorite, yet very plain, websites: Family Travel Haiku. If you visit, click on "read haiku" and find the recent Yarmouth ones. The editor's emails are often priceless, bordering on purple prose. Here's an example (as the emails do not appear on the site). And yes, I do answer to "venerable mentor!"
Dear Venerable Mentor,

We must apologize.  For perhaps the first time in the immemorial history of the Family Travel Haiku web site, the Editors find themselves in the awkward position of desiring to publish a haiku with no commentary, not because the haiku is not worthy of perhaps volumes of elucidation by future scholars of much greater erudition than our humble selves, but because we feel that in this case the addition of any paltry comments of our own would merely distract from the poem's self-sufficient power.  However, as it is our common practice (or perhaps bad habit) to comment on most of the poems that we select for publication, we feel that some commentary on our lack of commentary is required, though perhaps in this we may be mistaken.  We hope, in any case, that the poet can, if not forgive, at least understand, our ungainly response to this dilemma.

The Editors
Family Travel Haiku

You get the picture....

And then...some of the young poets decided to write them back. Corresponding is a writer's work, after all. They composed this response, so well matched in tone to the original note:

 Dear Venerable Editors,

We have eagerly devoured your deep, whole-hearted critiques. We have pondered your candid opinions on our debut and fancied them greatly.
Our thank you's to you are bottomless and they last an eternity. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, etc....

Future Famous Poets

So, if you get the chance, visit the site to check out the fifth grader's metaphor-based haiku. The strong and simple poems will reassure you that we have not all gone eloquence-mad.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

In a Nutshell

"The ancient Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder claimed that a copy of Homer's The Iliad existed that was small enough to fit inside a walnut shell. Almost 2000 years later in the early 1700s the Bishop of Avranches tested Pliny's theory by writing out the epic in tiny handwriting on a walnut-sized piece of paper and lo and behold, he did it!" (

Well, we're not exactly writing The Iliad in room 104 - at least not yet - but here, in the proverbial nutshell, is a review of some of our September activities:

The 8th Grade has investigated and invented some offbeat literary genres. If you'd like to visit a few, please click here.
We often write to prompts. A recent one was the H.L. Mencken quote below. Note: it yielded some illustrations as well. Why not draw the Unknowable?
Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the unknowable. But there it sits, nevertheless, calmly licking its chops.

So, what can we know? Why do we believe? These questions underlie our group reading of the National Book Award Winner, Godless, by Pete Hautman. Read the author's own thoughts on this book here.

The 7th Grade started the year bringing in their strangest objects. We wrote about these, as a curated representation of oddities. This correlated with both the upstairs Artifact Project, and our quick look at the Smithsonian 101 Objects That Made America website. Do objects speak across time?
Then, we began to investigate whether or not thoughts "matter" as in ...  do they exist? This lead to a reading of "Levitation" by Joseph Payne Brennan - a super writing prompt.

Grade Six is in the midst of an exploration of the evolution of LANGUAGE! Why does language change? How? What makes a word a WORD?
 If you have a few minutes, please watch this video of The Three Little Pigs told as a Shakespearean would....We'll be wading around in this unit for a while. Stay tuned for more particulars.

Grade Five and I are just getting to know each other as writers and thinkers. We're writing to prompts. Our first unit will explore metaphor - from their use in political speech ("I Have a Dream" - Martin Luther King, Jr. ) to poetry and picture books, to their judicious use in everyday writing. Our culminating goal will be to publish metaphor haiku on The Family Travel Haiku Website.

Thank you for these wonderful question askers, for these quick thinkers, and offbeat creators! It's a joy to come to work. Please contact me by email or phone with any questions you may have!

If you are able, join me at our annual conference. Click HERE for details!

Save the Date!

Maine Educators of the Gifted And Talented (MEGAT)
2014 Annual Conference

Advocating and Navigating:
How do we support Twice Exceptional, Gifted and Talented Students?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Altered Book Show!

Dear Viewers,

Below you will find snapshots of our altered books, along with the artists' statements. The books were on display in our library for a few weeks during the spring of 2014. It's hard to do them justice here, but we hope you will enjoy the collection!

I altered this book to signify that books can take people on a journey. While reading, you can travel anywhere your imagination takes you. You can do anything. Where will you go next? --Emma W.

Books are wondrous adventures for people any ages, so I chose to make my altered book with randomness, I made it up as I went along. I did this to represent all the different kinds of books available. I also said that books can grow on you (hence the tree on the front) meaning that you should not drop a book immediately even if at first it doesn’t appeal to you. So, I think the message I was trying to get across was that books are amazing and that reading is an adventure in itself. I want you to experience the excitement in reading!
- Anna S.

You never know what a book will unleash!
Dylan Doyle

This book represents being hungry for more books. Have you ever heard someone say  “You are devouring that book”? This book is hungry for more books and knowledge.
What will it devour next?
- Grady Welsh

The message of my altered book is that if a book is really good, it will feel like a hand is pulling you in. That’s why I had a hand cut out of a paper coming out of the pages, to show how a book grabs a hold of you.
- Jesse G.

Art takes on a shape and form of its own in its creator’s hand. Step by step it comes alive. Books are a form of art built with words that can help lead to other art, like papier-mache.
- Olivia Feeley

War Is An Endless Circle
By Lulu Rasor

For my altered book, I choose to show how war is an endless circle, no matter what time period. To do this, I took a copy of the Iliad, which recounts the Trojan War, one of the most famous wars in mythology. First, I taped the book’s covers together so its pages went in a rough circle. Then I divided the book into four sections to show the different ways war is terrible. In the first section, I highlighted every word that had to do with war, battle or death to show how much it appears. In the second section I cut up most of the pages to show how war needlessly destroys many things. In the third section, I painted the pages red to show how war colors the lives of all who are involved. The fourth section I simply tore out to show how war often destroys things and never gives them back. That is how I altered my book to show how war is an endless circle.

I've highlighted all the names that are mentioned in the Odyssey to represent the idea that you die twice, once when you stop breathing and then you really die when no one speaks your name again. The Odyssey has been around for ages, and people still read it and speak the names of the people in it, so in a sense, even though Odysseus and all the others were never alive in the first place, they haven't died that second time yet.
–Pie Rasor (the photographer, Ms. Agell, apologizes for the blurriness of this image!)

My book is wonderful. It shows the true value of potatoes. Some people think that potatoes are just meant to be eaten. This book should prove those idiots wrong. My book shows that potatoes themselves are pieces of art, and they can make art as well. Potatoes, therefore, are more useful than many people think. Plus, they can’t eat each other. Therefore, they are better than humans. Because potatoes are better than humans, they should not be eaten by humans. The humans can eat themselves. All should bow down to the potatoes and eat the humans.
-Ceanne L.

Anna Baker made this book in grade 7. Books bloom!

Gemma Shay made the butterfly book when she was in 7th grade. Her theme was Metamorphosis (and how a book can change you).

I was playing with the theme: The Nature of Music. When I see birds on phone lines, they remind me of musical notation. Maybe they are?
- Ms. Agell

So, there you have it.
Now, d
o YOU want to alter a book? Pick one that has seen its best days. Maybe it’s even at the Yarmouth dump?
Then, pick a theme and make a plan. There are many inspirational sites showing “altered books” on the web. Here are some images....
Why not make some art today?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Translation: AKA a Typical Warm-up

Things are often not as they seem.
In this typical warm-up (typical in that language lies at its heart), students sought to unravel the mystery of this artwork by Xu Bing. What at first seems like calligraphy is in fact the entirety of the poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats....

Students tried their hand at translating this, with much success!
Then we wrote our own work in the same vein....

And then we endeavored to make it more calligraphic:

We had fun thinking about translation. 

As a corollary, and a way to talk about the implications translations with your child, why not listen to the theme song from Disney's Frozen, as ably sung by Malinda Kathleen Reese... and not so ably translated by google.translator.

Here's the first stanza of the poem, above...
I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,         5
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What Does It Mean to Have a Voice?

The 8th grade group is currently reading Karen Hesse's Witness, a novel-in-verse account of what happens when the Ku Klux Klan comes to Vermont in 1924. It's part of our spring-long investigation: What does it mean to have a voice?
We started our inquiry with a visit to Martin Steingesser's Thinking Heart project. Martin is a Maine poet who visited the 7th grade last year, during their poetry unit. At the center of the Thinking Heart project is the work of Etty Hillesum, a Dutch woman who died at Auschwitz. For a glimpse of the project: click HERE
Is the pen mightier than the sword? This is a long, nuanced conversation.
"I will write these times like faint brush strokes against the great wordlessness of God . . . wield this fountain pen like a hammer, my words so many hammer blows,” Etty Hillesum (from her diary, written in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Resource for Parenting

Did you know that there's a whole organization devoted to supporting the emotional needs of the gifted? SENG has many good resources!
Right now, they are offering an online parent support group for parents of the gifted.
My wonderful colleague, Molly Kellogg, has captured this offering well on her Think Tank blog. Click HERE to connect to her post, and to this opportunity.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Obfuscation Inoculation...and Worst Writing Escapades!'s everywhere.
We delved into its intricate and bamboozling artistry in the seventh grade group. The goal was to recognize it for what it is, and to avoid falling into the trap of using it.
A prime source was an art catalogue, in which the art spoke for itself but the text obfuscated. Here's a sample (if you get lost reading this, we shall send out search parties):
The compelling weight of substance and palpable mood which distinguishes the canvases of A.K. conveys constituents of pertinent value to transfer visual gratification. Excepting and exclusionary emphasis demotes the influence of superfluous detail while raising the authority of veritable presence as phenomenon suffused by, rather than delineated by, explicit definition.
Are you with us? I hope not! Is this even English?
The students decided quite wisely that the catalogue copy was designed to fool people into buying art by using incomprehensible high fallutin' language...featuring words that sound so expensive that (by logical deduction) the art must be pretty spiffy, too.
When writing functions to obscure rather than illuminate, that is obfuscation. And it is everywhere, like the work of a young student with a bad case of Thesaurusitis!
We experimented with writing our own such pieces, wreaking havoc on syntax and frolicking in ostentatious vocabulary.
In a related vein, some students will enter the WORST WRITING CONTEST, an actual contest in honor of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, that master of the purple prose (who nonetheless coined quotable phrases, such as "The pen is mightier than the sword").
Why not try your hand at obfuscation? Why not experiment with the lush indirectness of purple prose? A student commented on how styles in writing change, and how - back in the day - some of these very qualities were valued.
Language - a history lesson to be sure.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Save the Idioms! A Fifth Grade Production

Fifth graders have been writing and reading (notably, the provocative short story "In Our Hands" by Bruce Coville)...but mostly they have been busy making a movie for their cause: SAVING IDIOMS
Why let such useful figures of speech drop away from common parlance?
What is the difference between the literal and the figurative?
How can all this be conveyed in a short bit of theater?

Find out the answers to these questions and enjoy the production by clicking HERE.
Please also note that meeting once and week and having so many movie makers working on one movie means that there is editing that we will leave undone for now, in favor of moving on to other projects. But, in case you were wondering, too many cooks did NOT spoil the broth.
Enjoy, and here's to idioms. Please use them daily!