The loves of my life:
granddaughters, books, libraries
stories yet to come
Ages six months and six years. A sisterhood of book love.
The loves of my life:
granddaughters, books, libraries
stories yet to come
Ages six months and six years. A sisterhood of book love.
Today on Ethical ELA Jessica Shernburg invites teacher-poets to find 1-3 short texts to read and annotate or texts that we’ve previously annotated (“examples you have modeled for your students, your responses to student work, books you have marked up, etc.”). The idea is to use your own annotations in creating a found poem.
This is the kind of thing that could keep me busy for days, weeks, infinity…
My annotations come from an eclectic mix of professional development, research, an old but much-loved novel, and the Bible: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students (Zaretta Hammond), The Power of Moments (Chip and Dan Heath), The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Patricia A. McKillip), and John 16.
Might I violate the expectation
of an experience
with the right amount of tension
keeping the rubber band taut
bearing in mind that
there must be trust enough
for productive struggle
even as a disciple unprepared
for the terribleness
of what is to come
imagine tapping inner power
to call creatures with ancient magic
the freewheeling thoughts
Many years ago I read a series of books about a young 1940s veterinary surgeon beginning his career in Yorkshire, England. The stories are captivating, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking; the characters—some of them animals—are larger than life, unforgettable. I fell in love with these stories right away.
And so I have again, with the Masterpiece Theater version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. When the series premiered in 2020, it was deemed “the surprise runaway hit of the year.” The second season recently ended and I do not know how I am going to endure until Season Three. I have begun watching episodes over and over…and over…
I have to ask myself why.
Maybe it’s that I loved these stories so much when I was young. I recall encountering the name “Tristan” for the first time and being so enchanted by it (and by the comical character, another young vet) that I thought about naming one of my eventual children Tristan (a thought which earned a resounding Are you serious? NO from my eventual husband). Maybe it’s that I find details of long-ago rural veterinary practice fascinating. James delivers calves and tangled-up twin lambs; in the show he must figure out how to untwist a mare’s uterus to deliver a foal, or both will die. Or maybe it’s James’s ongoing struggle for acceptance by the local farmers who are often mistrustful, preferring their familiar “old ways” (I so relate to this as an instructional coach, sometimes).
I suspect it’s all of these. And more.
Beyond James’s love for the animals and his gentle spirit is a compelling, refreshing sense of purity. Times aren’t simple, life is hard, loss is always imminent, yet there’s a richness in it all, a sacred honesty born of living close to the land, a sense of true interdependence and valuing all living things…
Not to mention the scenery. The Yorkshire Dales are breathtaking. I have to go there someday. I feel like I have seen this place before, in some of my most beautiful dreams. Place is a character in itself, alive, vibrant, calling in its own voice, and the Dales will not be outdone by human nor beast…speaking of which: the animal performances are astounding (how DO the directors manage this magic?).
As the series progresses, so do relationships. I will not say anything more than this: Conflict, humor, and great love are all bound together by cords of civility. Reputation matters. Honor matters. Honoring life matters…
And just as one is getting cozy at the end of 1938, and snow begins to fall, and farmers lead draft horses through the town streets at the close of day, and young people are gathered together, beginning new chapters of their lives…the first war plane flies overhead in the darkening sky…
And I’ve an overwhelming desire to stop time, to hit rewind, to savor peace… which we almost never realize we have, until we don’t…
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.
On the last day of the February Open Write at Ethical ELA, Britt Decker invites participants to write a poem based on a picture book, taking inspiration from beautiful lines, illustrations, or theme.
My little acrostic is inspired by Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home, by Sy Montgomery (a true story).
The Long-Reaching Tentacle of Adaptability
“Sometimes the keeper gave Inky toys. Inky liked to take apart LEGO blocks, and put them back together. He liked playing with Mr. Potato Head. One time, with his suckers, he pulled off Mr. Potato Head’s eyes and handed them to the starfish in his tank.”
Once upon a time, a
To understand why
Others seem such a
Until she learned
She didn’t have to solve them.
From Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home, written by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2018.
I am in awe of octopuses. Inky’s story is etched on my heart. There’s something so poignant to me in his giving Mr. Potato Head’s eyes to the starfish.
She heard the same voice
before she ever arrived,
reading and reading
her big sister’s voice,
reading and reading
see how she listens
and looks toward the pages
—a reader is born.
My granddaughters: Scout, age six, reading Bible stories to Micah, age three months
Discovering people who love Narnia is the closest thing there is to actually waking up and discovering you’re in Narnia. From the time I was ten I felt the same longing of those fictional English schoolchildren who found their way in though several different portals between that magical world and this one, that constant desire to return, to see Aslan again…
So when my children were born, I set about imparting a love of Narnia (and books) in their hearts.
My oldest loves books to this day. Narnia, however, never seemed to hold the same Deeper Magic for him that it does for me.`
He began reading the series to his five-year-old daughter last year and Narnia pulled him in. All the way in.
That is what Narnia does.
He would text me at different points on his adventure, the same adventures I’ve had over and over all my life. The snow. The lamppost. The thaw. Talking Beasts. Dr. Cornelius. Bree the Horse. Boarding the Dawn Treader. Meeting Reepicheep. The royal line of kings. Falling in love with Aslan, over and over and over again…
At the beginning of The Last Battle, this text: It’s heartbreaking.
Later: I got to the part where Cair Paravel has fallen and Tirian says Narnia is no more…am weeping…
Later still: Just finished The Last Battle. It broke me.
I learned from my little granddaughter, who whispered in my ear: “He cried so much that I told Mama we should be really nice to him. His eyes were all red.”
My boy, my boy. Once Narnia gets a hold of you, it never lets go. It’s in your blood, forever and ever.
It is but the beginning.
For Christmas he gave me this necklace with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus
in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
“The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.” -Abraham Joshua Heschel
Epigraph in Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
(Foer, Thuras, & Morton).
On the first week back to school after the holidays, I spent time covering classes and duties for colleagues who are out due to COVID protocols. I arrived on campus each day not knowing what I’d be called on to do. This has been the pattern for the whole school year thus far, in fact, and it may continue until June…
But I am not going to focus on the intensified daily juggling act.
I will concentrate on the unexpected moments of light…such as when a colleague told me that my iPhone could understand spoken Harry Potter spells.
This I had to see for myself.
Hey, Siri: Lumos...and my flashlight came on. (Lumos is the spell that makes wands and lamps light up in the books in and movies, for those who don’t know).
Hey, Siri: Nox…and my flashlight turned off.
Hey, Siri: Accio Twitter…and my Twitter app opened up in my phone.
Tell me this is not a great wonder, technology.
Furthermore, the knowledge came in handy when I filled in for quarantined teachers in upper grades. I demonstrated the “magic” and wowed the kids.
That’s the thing about wonders…you want to share them. Wonders are not meant to be contained. They are contagious. They are forever beckoning and burgeoning.
So maybe the magic of Siri understanding Harry Potter is a small thing.
Maybe a greater wonder is finding the right book to inspire a reluctant reader. This past week it was not Harry Potter but books about children with physical limitations and differences who face extreme challenges. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. And, of course, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. They grip you from the start…
I pause to reflect here on all the wonder wrought by books in my own life. I feel the covers tingling with magic whenever I pick them up (maybe it’s just my anticipation).
Last week I watched the wonder on kids’ faces as they learned how a prism or raindrop separates light into colors. I watched in wonder as two students known for behavior issues stayed on task to complete their assignments when they were allowed to work together.
I thought, randomly, about the fireworks that went off in the distance on New Year’s Eve. My six-year-old granddaughter was spending the night. My husband and I allowed her to stay up. She heard the booming of the fireworks at midnight and wanted to see them. We went out on the back deck, but fog and trees obscured our view.
I’ve never gotten to see fireworks, said my granddaughter.
One day you will, I told her.
I like the sound of them. It makes me feel calm.
That filled me with wonder…I have never heard anyone express that about the sound of fireworks. Least of all a child.
Maybe the calmness has not so much to do with the sound but the place and the sense of safety…these are linked in their way to wonder. The unexpected, the new, a bit of uncertainty but also an embracing. The opening Heschel quote encapsulates it well: The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.
Like a bright, beckoning burst suddenly illuminating a moment, a mind, a spirit.
Do you remember spending last New Year’s Eve with us, too? my husband asked our granddaughter.
Oh yeah! Can I stay here next year, too? And the one after that?
Sure you can! You can stay every New Year’s Eve if you want.
Even when I am fifty-nine?
Yes, even when you are fifty-nine.
Wonders upon wonders await.
Of this, I am sure.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge and the wondrous community of writers.
In my various morning readings
I encountered plagues
and wounded trees
weeping until their blood-sap
into fragrant resin
ancient gift of kings
and in one passage, this line:
It is almost too beautiful to believe
my mind is replaying
all these things
when I catch sight of you there
perched on a wire
against the eggshell sky
—an owl! No,
not in daylight
ancient bird of kings
winter sun glinting
on your snow-banded wings
—almost too beautiful to believe
my heart sings
My hawk looked like this one. Stunning.
Hawks have a number of symbolic meanings, such as associations with Egypt, pharaohs, divine power, and salvation from slavery…I’d just been reading about these in Exodus.
I’d also been reading of the Magi.
Hawks, birds of keen vision, are also said to represent the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences
—if one is willing to become more observant.
A Slice of Life doubling as a Spiritual Journey offering later this week, on the first Thursday of the month (thanks to Ruth for hosting). The SJT participants are revisiting the “one little word” each of us chose at the beginning of the year. At that time, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word for the year…but “awe” chose me, in spite of myself. Also practicing a bit for my poetry course this week; we are writing prose poems. Priming the pump, if you will…
Where am I now in relation to awe?
Perhaps more in tune to its vibrations each day…
Late in the evenings, a whipporwhill sings, three notes repeated over and over in the dark; yet it is the brightest of songs, summoning summer, beckoning life, new life in the making, love echoing from the treetops. Whipporwhills are seldom seen and their numbers are declining, yet the song illuminates the night, vibrant, rising and falling, going on and on, like rhythmic patterns of life itself…my granddaughter comes to visit with a book she’s reading, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I say, “Oh, I love that book! It was my favorite when I was little,” except that I was ten when I first read it and she is five. Five. And she laughs when I tell her that I’ve dubbed her bedroom here in my house the “Spare Oom” in honor of the faun, Mr. Tumnus. She reads to me, her little voice rising and falling in all the right places; I marvel that she’s been in the world so short a time…I recall my son telling me how she stood on a box at the pulpit with him on Easter Sunday to read the Scriptures, the story of life overcoming death; images of trees crowd into my mind, for around this part of the country storms swept through as winter gave way to spring, snapping off the top-heavy crowns of young trees. Their crowns are still lying dead where they fell but on the broken tree trunks, new shoots are already growing tall, reaching their green arms skyward, waving in the breeze, new life from old, wholeness and healing springing from broken places… meanwhile, my son’s wife cradles her belly, just beginning to swell with my new grandchild; at the end of this this week we will get to see the pictures, and will learn if it’s a boy or a girl, and the naming process will be solidified…my younger son comes in from his work at the funeral home and speaks of birds, barn swallows with basket-like nests tucked at the tops of columns in the entryway, hatching brood after brood as the bereaved pass by to mourn beside the caskets of their loved ones awaiting burial, and how one of the funeral directors who lives alone in the apartment above likes to open the windows on pretty days to toss bread crumbs to the birds on the rooftop, taking pleasure in watching them eat…in it all I find a rhythm, a song, the prosody of life, awe flickering like flame in the shadows, whipporwhill, whipporwhill, whipporwhill…
Reading the old, old story
On behalf of children, on Day Twenty-Three of National Poetry Month
Speaking Points (Do They?)
Glowing screen split into
graphs, trendlines, colors
a virtual sea of data
and faces of colleagues floating
with the question:
“You are the literacy person—
what do you think?”
What I think is that
there’s no secret code
or magic bullet
or any infallible translation
of impersonal little dots
scattered like breadcrumbs
leading to ponderous conclusions
about the beating heart
of a living, breathing child
and so I say,
“I don’t know what I think
until I hear this child read.”
For while the thunder of uncertainty rumbles
and pedagogies rise and fall
on billowing waves,
I cannot imagine the whole
of my own existence
crammed into little dots
for others to interpret
the magnitude of my story
or divining and defining
the scope of my future
without ever hearing
Child’s hands at the window. Nenad Stojkovic. CC BY
with thanks to teacher-poet Angie Braaten for the suggestion of writing around “an important question you’ve been asked,” using this format:
Stanza 1: Question
Stanza 2: Answer
Stanza 3: Reflection