Possumbilities

It was not a thing I expected to see while on a Chick-Fil-A lunch run.

But there it was, directly opposite the drive-through menu board for ordering: A possum in a tree.

First thoughts: What’s wrong with it? Why would a possum be out and about during the day?

Next thoughts: Where did it come from? Why is it here? Has the smell of food lured it? Did it somehow manage to cross the busy street? Or (I shuddered): Will it TRY to cross the busy street? What will become of it?

Then: I need a picture. I’ll have to write about this.

And so I left the drive-through with the possum’s image preserved in my phone. Before I pulled into traffic, I looked back at the tree one last time. The animal wasn’t there any more.

It’s hard, for a storyteller, to not know fate or destiny.

I wondered many things as I drove away: Will restaurant workers or patrons call Animal Control? What does Animal Control do in a case like this? Will some random person decide to shoot it, deciding it poses a safety hazard, or just for the sake of shooting it? I am not a big fan of opossums but I didn’t want harm to come to it. Maybe it was old, weak, confused, like a person wandering in a nursing home. Maybe it was a female with babies hidden in her pouch. One Sunday morning when I was coming home from church a possum darted in front of my car. “Dart” isn’t really accurate; it hobbled as fast as it could. A mother laden with knobbly pink and gray babies on her back. Four little faces with eyes looking right at me. I slowed; they skittered across the road to safety.

That time, anyway.

And so I remembered them as I drove farther from my drive-through possum, contemplating the whole gamut of what might happen to it. Then, thankfully, my fanciful side kicked in: It knew where the speaker was. Maybe the possum comes on a daily basis to place an order: “Twenty-piece nuggets, please. Don’t forget my ketchup.” With those little pink hands, it could probably peel the ketchup foil back for dipping. Maybe the famous renegade cows are initiating this possum for the next round of their advertising campaign to ‘Eat Mor Chikin‘. . .

Oh, I thought, children would really like that story! I wonder what THEY would write . . . ?

There was a time when I’d take the photo and my story right into classrooms, across grade levels, as a model for any kind of writing. Small moment narratives, opinion, informational (for I ended up researching why an opossum would be so visible during the day and guess what? It’s not out of the ordinary at all. I further learned that opossums have a natural resistance to rabies and snake venom. Imagine people shooting it out of the tree because they don’t know). As an intro I might ask students if they know that the opossum is the only marsupial native to the Americas and link it to the koalas and kangaroos in Australia; we might consider relief efforts and life preservation, for all life is connected.

I’d even use my possum for teaching poetry writing. My mind is playing, this very minute, with opposite and opossum and tree and see, with an atmosphere of fear, wishing for a safe place. . . and of course there’s the fabulous fun of writing fantasy. Perhaps this possum took Chik-Fil-A home to its family where the bigger possum kids are playing video games (it always appears in some students’ writing). Maybe the possum babies got their nuggets “to go,” eating them in their mother’s pouch, with the littlest one crying that it didn’t get a toy . . .

The possibilities—or, in this case, “possumbilities”—are endless.

Or were endless, in the days when we did those kinds of writing, in that way, before the advent of programs that “incorporate” writing via a series of formulaic steps with whole classes writing on the same thing for the same amount of prescribed time. When authentic process was valued above uniform product and the end results were all different, because students—humans—are all different. In the days when students asked questions they generated themselves, because they really wanted to know the answers, because the answers mattered to them. When mining their own experiences for meaning lit up their faces and exploring their own ideas illuminated their minds. When the most priceless gift of childhood, imagination, wasn’t constrained and when teachers were not conscripted to teaching writing this way (with some believing that it’s better because it’s “easier”).

—Not me.

I saw a possum in a tree.

And I wondered, knowing I’d write about it, to find out why I needed to write about it.

It’s not about knowing fate or destiny.

It’s all about seeing possibilities, great and small, without and within, following a thread of thinking, of feeling, of life, to see where it takes you.

In other words, not blindly driving through and missing possumbilities.

A work of heart

No way out

No way out. Jayt74CC BY-SA

This week I’m co-facilitating my district’s third annual Teacher Summer Writing Institute. The ever-gracious author Matt de la Peña spent the first day guiding us deeper into the craft. He prefaced one portion of the session with “Reading is the ultimate form of empathy”—reminding us writers to get out of the way and let characters be the stars of our stories. He began, oddly enough, with asking us to describe the media center learning space where we were gathered in three or four sentences.

I have loved libraries all of my life. I quickly wrote: Spacious, welcoming, a vast array of books on shelves. A spotless carpet of soft blue; effort is made to keep it neat. This is a place that invites silence, thought, reflection—a clean, well-lighted room.

All right, I confess that I borrowed that last phrase from Hemingway. But the room WAS well-lit . . .  and clean . . . 

Then de la Peña threw down the gauntlet: “We’re going to add an emotional layer. Now describe this room from the perspective of a struggling reader.”

I blinked.

I looked at that description I’d written, the words I’d used.

Welcoming. Invites.

Would I feel that way about this place if I didn’t love to read?

Already I felt something quite different as I slid into the character’s mind and shoes, as I looked through eyes so different from my own  . . . 

It’s huge and full of books and all I want is to be first in line so I can get to the Lego wall or the headphones — across this sea of blue carpet — I’ve got to run on water to get where I’m going or be drowned in books — I can swim in pictures but only for so long. Will I drift and drift forever? Just let me anchor myself to that Lego wall or those headphones, please . . .

—If reading is the ultimate form of empathy, then perhaps writing is the penultimate form. 

All I can say is, for the first time in my life, my need to escape books was necessary. Palpable, urgent.

Alarming.

And I was only imagining.

*******

More to share in subsequent posts, but deepest thanks to Matt de la Peña for his work of heart today — the exercise in empathy and emphasizing the value of emotional diversity in children’s books.

And for “recalibration moments.”  

Free

Helen and Annie

Helen Keller taking a speech lesson from Annie Sullivan. 1890s. City of Boston ArchivesCC-BY

Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.

—Anne Sullivan

Today I am thinking of the twelve Thai boys trapped in the flooded cave with their soccer coach for over two weeks. They’re almost all rescued now; the world holds its collective breath for the news that the final boy is free, as well as the coach, to be saved last.

They wrote letters, the boys. To their parents, telling them not to worry, that they love them.

Parents wrote letters to the boys . . . telling them not to worry, that they love them.

The letters are now a celebration of life. Of freedom. Of overcoming those long, unimaginable days in the depths of the cave, at the mercy of an unpredictable sea, of hunger, of separation, of darkness.

Words of hope . . . for, as Alexander Pope wrote long ago: Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Words of survival. I think of Anne Sullivan’s words on “the cry of the human spirit to be free” and how, as a teacher, despite the magnitude of the task, that it was uncharted territory, she reached into the depths of Helen Keller’s dark, silent, anguished world to give her a voice, to set her free.

Helen’s own words: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

A freelance writer recently told me: “I teach writing to prisoners in North Carolina. It’s a powerful thing to see, someone with no voice suddenly having a voice. Despite all the restrictions, if you can write, you are free.”

The cry of the human spirit.

That is, above all, why we write.

For ourselves, for one another, for freedom, for hope.

For life.

Seeing me

img_4994

Come back to examine this image after you read: In how many ways does it represent the information in this post? 

The big question on Day Three of our Teacher Summer Writing Institute: How do I see myself as a teacher of writing—no matter my grade level or content area? 

The day became a collage of images and symbolism.

Teachers were tasked with using postcards and personal artifacts as metaphors for teaching writing. They used these ideas as springboards into poetry and a means of writing to inform.

Then came the birds.

It began with the fact that 2018 is the Year of the Bird. The National Audubon Society and National Geographic, among other organizations, made this designation to honor the centennial of the Migratory Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. My co-facilitator posed this question: How do birds inform us? Group answers: They indicate coming changes in the weather, or the quality of the air. Their migration patterns have changed because the climate has changed; the birds are getting confused. That’s a reflection of society and the world, don’t you think? This segued into an activity called “Everyone Has a Bird Story.” For just a couple of minutes, teachers were challenged with a quick write about a bird (everyone really DOES have a bird story of some kind). The teachers gathered in a circle afterward, each reading one line aloud from his or her story, to compose a group bird poem. The effect was funny, strange, and beautiful. The closing question: How might we use this activity to inform student writers?  Answers: It’s a visual way to show students about organization and revision. Students can actually move around so that their poem makes more sense,  or to attain better flow. You can use this activity to physically show students how to group like ideas. It’s an easy way to show students that writing is fun. 

Just as the group broke for lunch, two birds—doves, to be exact—crashed into the windows of our meeting room. Generating both awe and alarm, they hovered, wings flapping, knocking against the glass as if seeking a way inside. A couple of us ran out to guide them away before the birds injured themselves.

Birds, ancient symbols of freedom and perspective, the human soul pursuing higher knowledge, the dove especially representative of peace, love, gentleness, harmony, balance, relationships, appearing at this gathering of teacher-writers as if invoked . . . so much to analyze there, metaphorically . . . .

Following lunch, the group spent time exploring abiding images. These are images that stay with us in our memories (and sometimes in our dreams); they usually have deeper meanings and significance than are obvious at first. One of mine, shared as an example: long, skinny, flesh-colored worms with triangular heads that my grandfather and I encountered when I was a child. He didn’t know what they were (land planarians, I’ve learned), we never saw them again,  and neither of us could have guessed what they have the power to do. They just resurfaced in memory recently; I had to figure out why. Here’s the story of that experience, if you’d like to read it: First do no harm.

Participants were then invited to take virtual journeys in their minds to capture the specific sights, sounds, smells of their favorite places. Others went outdoors to capture the same (see Abiding images for my original experience with this). Whether the journey was real or virtual, everyone encountered something unexpected or fascinating —something so representative of writing itself. The point of collecting abiding images is the intensity of focus, the close examination and capturing of the smallest detail, which might be used later in writing vivid scenes and settings that are necessary in both fiction and nonfiction, as well as for metaphor in poetry. Writers communicate information to readers through images. Teachers must be able to test and try ideas and creative processes—this is called birdwalking—through things like abiding images to inform their teaching and to communicate information to students.

And to write.

At this point teachers could rotate through any or all of three breakouts: Minilessons and content area writing, where they discussed ways to incorporate their new learning to grow student writers, or continuing to work on their own writing with the option of conferring with a facilitator, if desired.

As this vibrant day on writing to inform and “How do I see myself as a teacher of writing?” came to a close, my co-facilitators and I received the most welcome information from our fellow educators who span grades K-12 and all content areas, including ESL and AIG: These have been the most helpful sessions—I have learned so much about writing. There’s so much I want to try with my students! I am excited! How can I find more workshops like this? With most professional development, I am tired before lunch, and the afternoon is a long haul, but with these I go to lunch energized and can’t wait for the afternoon! The breakout sessions, where we choose to work on what we want to, are exactly what we need. Don’t change anything; just keep it coming!

That is like music—or shall I say birdsong?—to our ears.

 

Your story matters

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“The world needs stronger stories.

We’re here to live a story and we’re made to live a good one.”

– Ruth Ayres

The focus of Day Two of my district’s Teacher Summer Writing Institute was Your story matters, with the driving question for teachers: “Why is it important for me to see myself as a writer?”

The bottom line is that we grow strong at writing by writing. If teachers expect to help students grow as writers, teachers must be actively writing. And teachers must believe in the craft, in the process, in the transformative power of writing, if they expect students to. As Ruth Ayres states in Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers (Stenhouse, 2017): “When writers believe their words matter, nothing can stop them.”

Our group of K-12 cross-curricular teachers took some time to delve into their own stories by charting “peaks and valleys” from their life experiences. Peaks meaning moments or experiences that were positive—not necessarily milestones like getting married, seeing your newborn child, etc., although these can be peaks. Exploring moments or memories that have stuck with us over the years, those that carry great emotion, can impart greater insight to why we are who we are (see Your why for the expanded explanation of this activity). One of my peaks, for example, is from 5th grade, when I saw a classmate  do something extraordinarily brave. It’s my definition of “noble” to this day (if you want to read that story, see The Valentine ).

Valleys, or pits, are harder moments that have also defined who we are and why. They’re often ones of loss, but not always. Sometimes the valleys are moments of despair or disappointment, especially in yourself. Yet there’s great learning and insight attached to these moments. One of my valley-moments occurred when my mother invited a boy who bullied me to my birthday party.  When I began writing this piece, I recalled only my anger at my mother and our conflict. But a funny thing happens when one continues to write . . . I learned a truth that has stayed with me, subconsciously, all these years; it continues to shape me and my relationships with other people (you may read this story, if you like: The birthday ).

So the teacher-writers explored their peaks and valleys. They watched an extraordinary Ted Talk on perspective and assumptions of others, The Danger of a Single Story,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They read articles and books of their choosing on writing. They studied visual texts.

Their takeaways:

“Writing about the peaks and valleys was so therapeutic.”

“I loved having the space to write. I began writing about one of my peaks and my mind hopped to something I saw recently; these two things don’t seem to be remotely connected . . . I wrote that instead because the image and what I was thinking were so vivid. I don’t know the last time I wrote like this.”

“I thought about things I haven’t thought about in years.”

“It’s so cool how writing takes you to places you don’t expect.”

You stories matter. Not just to you, but to others who may need to hear them.

Write first, Writer, to know thyself.

Find your stories and to discover where they take you, and what they mean. What they reveal to you about who and why you are.

Then tell your stories. Encourage others to tell theirs.

That’s what stories are meant for.

Write me

Write me

Write me. Menno Abbink. CC-BY

As I stood at a checkout counter this weekend, the young lady ringing up my purchase eyed my #WhyIWrite T-shirt.

“So, you’re a writer?” she smiled, scanning my items.

Someone asks me this every time I wear the shirt in public. The interest always surprises me.

And, in spite of blogging for two years, having an untold number of stories in various stages of completion since I was six, and continuously capturing ideas in notebooks for more things to explore through writing, I still pause when asked this question. Funny how hard it is to own I am a writer. 

After a slight beat, I gave the young lady my short answer: “Yes. And I teach writing.”

Although she kept smiling, a shadow crossed her beautifully made-up face. “I struggled with writing in high school,” she said. “I speak well” —unmistakable pride glimmered in her dark eyes— “but I can’t write as well as I speak.”

There was something almost apologetic in her self-assessment. A trace of shame over this perceived shortcoming.

I hear this in people’s voices every time they tell me that they’re “not good writers.”

Some of them are teachers.

And I mourn, because, somewhere along the way, others have made them believe this.

“How often did you see the writing process modeled?” I asked the cashier, already knowing the answer. “Did you see examples of what the teachers wanted you to do, to make it concrete? Did you get feedback from the teachers during the writing of your essays, to help you improve your writing?”

She shook her head. “Oh, no. We were just told ‘Here’s the assignment, here’s when it’s due.’ ”

She completed my transaction. A long line of people waited behind me; I couldn’t ask this affable, well-spoken cashier if she’d ever enjoyed writing, or tried it for fun, just to see what she could do. I couldn’t say: You think you’re not a writer, but that is not the end of your story. 

I left the store knowing that I’ll have to return for a follow-up conversation in which I will say these things and encourage her to write. Maybe I’ll even take her a journal. I have several lovely ones waiting to be used.

My checkout conversation reiterates to me, yet again, that students struggle with writing because teachers struggle with teaching it. Writing is labor-intensive. It’s time-consuming. Teacher education programs often offer very little in the way of solid writing pedagogy, and unless teachers have access to professional development that provides them with the “how” and “why”—positive writing experiences of their own—the struggle goes on. Systems, administrators, and teachers battle over a clear vision of what quality writing instruction is, what the authentic writing process is versus any program, and why effective writing instruction matters (that’s another whole post in itself). I know educators who confess to “not being good” at teaching writing. Some happen to be in positions where they are advocating for the removal of writing workshop in schools.

In truth, it all begins with So, you’re a writer?

For the answer to that question must be yes before one is equipped to be a teacher of writing.

As for me, I’d start a grassroots SAVE EDUCATION THROUGH WRITING movement if I could.

In the meantime, I content myself with helping whomever I can, whenever I can, to grow themselves as writers.

The timing of my checkout encounter happens to be uncanny; I was, in fact, preparing to co-facilitate my district’s second annual Teacher Summer Writing Institute, which starts today.

In a few hours, I’ll meet the participants, elementary through high school cross-curricular educators who are willing to give up seven hours a day for an entire week during their vacation, ultimately to benefit the students they serve. Part of our institute rationale reads:

Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help students become better writers.

Writing grows out of many different purposes. 

Participants will be invited to be writers and engage in creative struggle.

We become experts at teaching writing by writing.

We will coach one another as we want our students to be coached on their writing journeys.

I know great things lie in store for the teachers who are coming. Not because of anything I or my co-facilitators say or do, but because of what lies within these teachers, these writers. I anticipate my own surprises— about the craft, about myself—because it always happens when I work at writing. The wellspring never runs dry. Never. Whenever writing is involved, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. And to let it pour.

However these teachers may feel about writing, they’re already illustrating an important truth before Day One is up and running: This is not the end of the story.

It’s a beginning.

New pages await, expectantly, beckoning:

Write me.

You can do it.

And so can that cashier . . . .

*****

See Stone speaks for words of wisdom on teaching, literacy, reading, and the power of writing as shared by author Nic Stone on Day 1 of the Teacher Summer Writing Institute.

How do I inspire them?

Inspire

Inspire. chattygdCC BY 

The crowd of educators goes to lunch, posting their “gots” and “wants” on a chart as they exit the morning’s session on growing young writers. My co-facilitators and I look over these sticky notes, preparing to address the “wants” in the afternoon when the participants return.

One note in particular grabs my attention:

I want my students to be excited about writing and to write more. How do I inspire them?

“It’s all yours,” say my colleagues.

I smile.

This is what I love.

Educators talking about inspiration. It’s vital to professional development, to the work that we do

To inspire, one must first be inspired.

Author Avi, in a Skype with students at my elementary school a couple of years ago, defined inspiration as breathing life.

Writers are life-breathers.

So are teachers.

Lucy Calkins, speaking of launching writing workshop, says: “No matter how tentative and insecure you may feel, role-play your way into being confident of yourself and your children because they will hitch a ride on your enthusiasm.”

It’s more than modeling the writing; it’s modeling a passion for writing. It’s digging deep within yourself to find your own stories, your own ideas, your own stances, and giving life to them . . .

The crowd returns. Little knots of teachers, support personnel, and administrators spanning kindergarten through high school, chattering, laughing. They take their seats one by one; an air of expectancy settles over all as my co-facilitators and I respond to their “wants.”

It’s my turn.

I want my students to be excited about writing and to write more. How do I inspire them?

“If we want students to get excited about writing, we must be excited about writing. We must write more ourselves, for ourselves first. Walk the walk; if we’re telling them writing is important, we’d better be writing ourselves. That’s why I started my blog, to keep me writing consistently. Tap into your own memories, the things that matter to you. Write in front of the students; show them every step of the way, how the ideas and images come to you, why you want to say what you’re trying to say, why it’s important.  That’s authentic writing. Tell students writing is the closest thing to magic that there is. Show them the power that’s in it. That what THEY think and feel matters. Good writing is labor-intensive; they have to get a taste of why it’s worth it. Tap into their emotions; there’s always a way . . . help them see that writing isn’t just something to be done for school for a grade, over and done. Writing is about life itself . . . .”

Breathe life. From your writing to theirs, from your soul to theirs.

There’s a whole world within each young writer. There’s a world around them that they’re grappling to understand. A world with a place for each of them. We don’t create these worlds for them. We just open the doors.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.

On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

– Arundhati Roy

Celebrating Young Authors

Show Your Strength

Raleigh-Wake Reading Council 

This afternoon, I am celebrating young writers from kindergarten through high school. Our local reading council, affiliated with the International Literacy Association, sponsors the Young Authors Project annually. Students write on a given theme and council members submit their work. A committee then scores the pieces for quality of content and structure. This competition is about encouraging young writers to work hard at the craft, to tell their stories well. The stories are published in a local book. Some stories have gone on to the state level, to be recognized and published later this month by the North Carolina Reading Association.

This year’s theme is “Show Your Strength!” The students could write about their personal experiences of perseverance, how they’ve overcome obstacles, how they found strength in a time of weakness, and who or what inspired them to rise above a particular challenge.

It’s my honor today to be the speaker at the awards ceremony.

Here’s my tribute to these courageous writers:

Thank you, members of the Young Authors Committee and the Raleigh-Wake Council for encouraging students of all ages to write. Thank you, families and teachers, for being the wind beneath the wings of these young writers; because of your support, because of your belief in these writers, many of them have now flown higher than they ever thought they could before.

And thank you, Writers, for your stories. I’ve read your work and it’s breathtaking. I stand in awe of what you’ve experienced and how you captured it on paper.  It’s an honor and a joy to celebrate your courage, your beautiful work, and your personal victories today.

So you know that I am a writer, too. I remember being six years old and sitting at the coffee table in my living room with some notebook paper and a pencil, trying to write a story, not because a teacher told me to, but just because I wanted to. Something inside me needed to get out and even at age six, all by myself, I understood that I needed to write it. I’ve been writing all my life and I’ve written a lot of different things for different reasons, but I do it mostly because I love it. Why do I love it? I think it’s because writing helps me see things in different ways, sometimes in deeper ways than I would have if I didn’t write.

Here’s an example from last summer: I noticed that seahorses had started showing up in my life. Yes, seahorses! When I ordered some books, they came with a tote bag that had a seahorse on it. A friend gave me a notebook that happened to have a seahorse on it. I took my seahorse tote bag and my seahorse notebook to a teachers’ writing workshop at the beach, where I was given a journal to decorate . . . guess what was in the decorations? Seahorses! This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what we a call a motif, a symbol that keeps recurring, or showing up. I started wondering if there was a reason for all these seahorses suddenly appearing —what could they mean? I do what writers always do: research. I looked up seahorses and I learned a few pretty cool things: The scientific name of the seahorse is hippocampus, the same word for the part of the human brain that’s the center of emotion and memory. As a writer, this connection between the seahorse and the human brain fascinates me. I also learned that seahorses are a species recorded as the slowest swimmers in the animal kingdom. They swim so slowly that they can die of exhaustion when storms come and churn the seas, so seahorses use their tails to anchor them to long grasses and corals. They survive by being anchored.

And that’s another big thing that writing does for me; it anchors me, it helps me survive whatever comes.

Seahorses, Writers, are a symbol of perseverance, the very theme that you wrote on for our Young Authors Project. You’re here today because you persevered in writing your stories.

Your stories show your strength as writers and your strength as human beings. Stories, in the end, are gifts that we give to others. We give these pieces of ourselves away to make other people think and feel; writing is an almost magical connection between the heart and mind of the writer and the hearts and minds of readers. There’s power in it. Think about it. We can use our words, our power, to hurt others or to strengthen them. Be mindful that you always use your power for good.

It is my hope, as a teacher of writing, that you will keep writing. Today is just the beginning of what you can accomplish, and you’ve started off so strong! Good writing is hard work. Sometimes it comes so, so slowly. Don’t give up. Always remember there’s power in writing and the effort is always worth it. The more you work on your writing, the more your writing will work on you; it will give you more and more strength to share with the world, and the world needs you.

Thank you all.

Why I Write 2017

The Light is On

The Light is on. Susanne NilssonCC BY-SA

Write the things which thou hast seen and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.

Revelation 1:19

I write to celebrate the strange adventure of life.

I write to relive moments too precious to forget.

I write to light the way for the children, so that they will find their own writing paths.

I write to clear the clutter in my mind, to ease the ache in my soul – and to encourage others to do the same.

I write to set my imagination free, to create worlds, to discover what happens there.

I write because characters pop into my head and need a place to be.

I write because mental images materialize, insisting that they have meanings, and that their meanings matter.

I write because I am a warrior. I will defend what I believe.

I write because I believe writing is a transcendent, transformative force.

I write to celebrate having loved and been loved

because love and words never die.

I write because words are in my life’s blood, always flowing, arranging, rearranging, singing a story

that really has

no end.

*******

 Another celebration: This is the 100th post on Lit Bits and Pieces.

The escape artist

Yellow parakeet

Yellow parakeet. IMG_3172. lobo325CC BY

Yesterday’s post, Just the Right Word, was about writing realistic fiction with a third grade class. I modeled taking an event from one’s one life – a slice of life – to create a work of fiction. As a child, I had a yellow parakeet that frequently escaped his cage (the part about the window in this story is true!). “The Escape Artist” was composed over the course of several days with the class making suggestions during the process, some of which strengthened the story profoundly.

Enjoy. 

Tweety Bird sat inside his cage on his swing, rocking back and forth. He lifted one yellow wing, preened it, fluffed all of his yellow feathers, and went back to swinging.

As if he didn’t know Jake was watching.

“You don’t fool me, Bird.”

Tweety blinked his purple eyes at Jake and kept on swinging.

“Jake,” Mom called from the kitchen, “Did you get the mail for me like I asked you to?”

“No, ma’am,” Jake replied. “I’ll go now.”

As Jake left the living room, he turned back toward the birdcage. He shook his finger at Tweety:

“You better stay put. I’m going to figure out how you keep escaping from your cage.”

With that, he walked through the front door.

As soon as the door closed behind Jake, Tommy popped up from behind the sofa. He was wearing his Batman costume, mask, cape, and all.

Tommy looked to the left.

He looked to the right.

Tommy snuck very Ninja-like over to the cage.

“Don’t worry, Robin,” Tommy whispered to Tweety Bird. “I’m here!”

Tweety Bird chirped happily.

Tommy reached for the door of the cage just as the front door opened and Jake walked back into the living room.

“The mail truck is on its way down the street … HEY! TOMMY! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!”

Tommy twirled around and hurtled himself in one motion over the top of the sofa. He crashed onto the floor on the other side.

“Uggghhhh,” came Tommy’s voice from behind the sofa.

Jake stomped over to the couch. “You little dirtbag! You’ve been letting Tweety out this whole time and I thought he was doing it all by himself. Some mystery!”

“Acckkk…” groaned Tommy. “I think I hurt myself.”

“I don’t care!”

“And I haven’t been letting him out ALL the time. Sometimes Robin gets out by himself,” said Tommy, beginning to cry.

Mom, with her radar-hearing for crying, came into the living room from the kitchen.

“What’s going on in here?” she demanded, with her hands on her hips.

Tommy wailed louder. “I’m HHHUUUUURRRRT!”

Mom stepped over to Jake. “What did you do to your brother?”

“I didn’t do anything to him!” shouted Jake. “I caught him trying to let Tweety out of the cage! He’s been doing it all along!”

“Tommy, is this true?” Mom asked the sofa. “Have you been letting Tweety out of his cage?”

Loud sniffles echoed behind the sofa. “Maybe once or twice … and he’s not Tweety, he’s Robin!”

“He’s Tweety, you bonehead!” Jake rolled his eyes.

“Jake!” Mom snapped. “You used to like make-believe, too. Besides, Tweety – or Robin – has gotten out of the cage when you boys are not home, so it’s not always Tommy letting him out.”

Mom shoved the sofa over and pulled Tommy out from behind it. “Come on, let’s go have some cookies and milk, Batman. You too, Jake.”

Just as they turned toward the kitchen, a scratching sound came from the birdcage.

They turned back.

Right before their eyes, Tweety, clinging to the bars on the front of the cage, used his beak to lift the cage door so that it fell open.

Tweety looked to the left.

He looked to the right.

And he flew out of the cage!

“Fly, Robin, fly!” screamed Tommy, jumping up and down, his Batman cape flapping.

“Jake!” cried Mom. “Go grab a dishtowel! We have to catch Tweety!”

Jake ran for the towel. He came back and threw it at Tweety, who was squawking madly and flying back across the room in confusion. The towel landed on Mom’s head.

Tommy ripped off his cape – Jake could hear the Velcro – and swiped at Tweety, who was now flying rather low. Tommy missed. Feathers floated through the air as Tweety flew high again.

Jake stared as Tweety flew as hard as he could across the living room, right toward the huge picture window with a view of the trees in the front yard.

Oh no, Jake thought, he doesn’t know that’s a window! He thinks he will escape to the outside!

Just then, Tweety smacked into the window with a sickening SPLAT. He slid down the glass and landed on the floor.

“NO!” shouted Jake!

“Tweety!” cried Mom.

“ROBIN!” screamed Tommy.

All three of them rushed over to Tweety’s crumpled yellow body.

Tweety’s eyes were closed.

He’s broken his neck, thought Jake. Hot tears stung his eyes.

Then he noticed that Tweety had opened one purple eye.

“Robin, you’re all right!” shouted Tommy, jumping up and down.

“Shhh, let’s be calm and quiet,” said Mom. Very carefully, she picked Tweety up.

Tweety promptly bit her hand as hard as he could with his beak.

“OUCH! Quick, Tommy, give me your cape!”

Tommy handed Mom his Batman cape. Mom covered Tweety, head and all, and wrapped the cape into a tiny bundle.

“Ok, escape artist, back to your cage you go,” she said, and she carried him over, put the bundle inside the cage, and shook gently until Tweety stepped out. She shut the cage door.

Tweety looked at them with his purple eyes. He lifted a wing, preened it, then climbed up the bars on the side of the cage to hop on his swing, like nothing at all had happened.

“I’ll have to get one of my ponytail holders from the bathroom to keep the cage door tied shut from now on,” said Mom. “We must keep Tweety safe.”

Tommy looked through the bars at Tweety. “Sorry, Robin,” he said. “It’s better this way.”

Tweety chirped. He swung back and forth on his swing.

Jake sighed. “At least he’s all right.” He looked at his little brother.

“You know, Tommy,” he said, “I have a Batman flashlight that I used for the Bat signal, if you want it.”

“Awesome!” said Tommy. “I can shine it on the wall behind the cage. I can still play with Robin.”

With that Tweety chirped loudly, flapped his wings several times, then held them out like a bat, just for a second, before he settled back to swinging.

Tommy and Jake stared at Tweety with their mouths hanging open.

“That’s one tricky bird,” Mom smiled. “You never know what he might be up to next.”

Tweety blinked his purple eyes and kept on swinging.

As if he didn’t know all three humans were watching.

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer