I had the great opportunity yesterday to see illustrator, Floyd Cooper, in action at the Missouri SCBWI conference in St. Charles. The award winning illustrator demonstrated his unique style of erasing–using a kneaded eraser to create the underpainting for his works of art. Somehow Mr. Cooper was able to create a quick portrait for us as he talked, the microphone in one hand and the eraser in the other, as he worked with the paper virtually upside down to his perspective. It was amazing, but then he is a Coretta Scott King Award winning illustrator.
Last night I stayed up to watch Barack Obama as he claimed his victory in the U. S. presidential race. I wanted to be a part of this important time in history. I was not disappointed. His speech was inspiring– hope-filled. A unifying speech for all of our people.
On Friday, June 13, at Harding University I had the great privilege to listen to readings and teachings of poet and author, Nikki Grimes.
Ms. Grimes stated that as our world grows more complicated nothing can prepare a child for it like poetry.
She said poetry can be a message or a massage, depending on the words used in the poem. She takes a natural, organic approach to poetry and has been a lifelong student of it. Ms. Grimes said, “I’m a poet down to my soul.” She explained that a poem tells a story or paints a picture with as few words as possible. She directed us to tune into our senses and draw on the environment—to play with the words.
She told us to begin with a simple description of a subject and then play around with a couple of the phrases we had written. We were to use word tools, like a dictionary and thesaurus. And she cautioned us about using rhyme—it should only be included when used well and with intention. But she does like internal rhyme and uses it often.
She shared with us the galley of her picture book biography of Barack Obama, which is to be released in September of this year. Her poetic voice shaped the story of the senator’s life from childhood to his current Presidential election campaign.
Ms. Grimes read excerpts from her latest novel in verse, THE DARK SONS. The story parallels the lives of two boys, one modern (Sam) and one ancient (biblical Ishmael) She also read selections from two of her narrative poetry picture books, WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING, and MEET DANITRA BROWN. Ms. Grimes explained that every poem in a narrative poetry book must be a complete poem in itself, but it must also add to the development of the story. And a novel in verse is more complicated than narrative poetry because it must have a more detailed plot, setting and time period.
Ms. Grimes wove the words of her poems with the skill of a master. She truly was an inspiration–a revelation, a celebration, pure jubilation! (And I hope she will forgive me for using these rhyming words to describe it all.)
Today author A. LaFaye took us through an exercise on WOW Words. What is a WOW Word, you ask? Words that appeal to the senses. They should be concrete and have a unique quality.
Like pifflesquat. Or acrobat. Or rhinoceros. Or fluttered. Or mesmerized.
WOW Words energize writing. They are great to use in poetry and wonderful for prose. Writers, of course, need to surround themselves with WOW Words. To collect them like dazzling jewels to make their stories sparkle.
Teachers in the classroom can help students recognize and utilize WOW Words. Ms. LaFaye suggested creating a funky jar of WOW Words which the students can draw from. She recommended introducing this topic over a five day period. At the start of the instruction, have students select 5 WOW Words and then use them in a poem or a short story. On the next day, the students may only draw out 4 WOW Words and must provide the additional word themselves. On the third day, they select 3 words and provide 2 of their own. On the fourth day, they select 2 words and provide 3 of their own. And on the fifth day, they can only select one WOW Word or perhaps even challenge them to provide all 5 WOW Words themselves.
After each day’s session, the teacher can collect the new WOW Words—written on index cards—then discuss with the class some of the new words and why they work. The teacher can add these words to the WOW jar for future writing exercises.
Here are a few highlights from Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s presentation on writing nonfiction.
It doesn’t have to be written in chronological order.
It needs to have rising and falling action just as fiction does.
Too much information shouldn’t be given at once.
Ms. Bartoletti showed us a page from her book, BLACK POTATOES: THE STORY OF THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE. She pointed out the 8 literary devices she used to make the material more appealing:
SETTING (quickly established)
SCENE (a specific instance)
CHARACTERS (quickly drawn so the reader can identify)
DIALOG (which can NEVER be made up in nonfiction)
PLOT (rising and falling action)
NARRATION (mixed in with the showing)
VIVID WRITING (active verbs, sensory words)
Be sure to tune back in here because Nikki Grimes comes tomorrow to share her expertise with us. I can’t wait!
I’m very excited to be preparing for the TEACHERS AS WRITERS Moebius Workshop at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. The authors scheduled for the event include: Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Alexandra LaFaye, Nikki Grimes, and Carla McClafferty. (Patricia Hermes and Phyllis Root unfortunately had to cancel their appearances.)
I’ve been a fan of Alexandra LaFaye since I read her novel, WORTH, which won the 2005 Scott O’dell Award for historical fiction. WORTH was one of those books I didn’t want to come to an end. I felt so moved by the story that I immediately sent fan mail to Ms. LaFaye, who graciously answered my email. So I’m hoping to learn from Ms. LaFaye how to polish my stories into such an endearing masterpieces.
I just finished reading THE BOY WHO DARED by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
This intense look into a German teen’s life during World War II in Nazi Germany was both compelling and insightful. The story framed this dismal time in history through the eyes of a youth who dared to counter the oppressive military might of the day. Based on a true story, Ms. Bartoletti did extensive research to bring the story to light. Both Ms. Bartoletti and fellow author, Carla McClafferty–author of SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING:MARIE CURIE AND RADIUM, are masters of historical writing. Ms. McClafferty focuses on scientific facts and figures in her nonfiction books. So I’m hoping to learn many tips on researching and writing historical books from these two amazing authors.
And I’m also looking forward to meeting author and poet, Nikki Grimes. I eagerly sampled some of this versatile author’s works in preparation for the workshop. My favorites were THE ROAD TO PARIS ; WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING ; AT JERUSALEM’S GATE: POEMS OF EASTER ; WHEN DADDY PRAYS ; and SHOE MAGIC. To listen to this versatile author’s lessons on writing will be incredible, I’m sure.
Check back later when I have time to share some of my experiences at the Teachers As Writers Workshop.