Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - January 2011 - Hooked on a Series

Here in the 5th grade trenches we LOVE a good middle grade literature series.  My credit card is steaming from overuse as I fill our shelves with the latest installments of our favorites.  I get excited when a kid comes charging in the door waving a new series they’ve just discovered.  I’m a pushover.  I’ll make a beeline for the bookstore and grab up every piece of the series I can get my hands on.   

What hooks a middle grader on a series?

О   Characters – Who wouldn’t want Harry Potter for a friend? 
О   Adventure – It’s a blast to face obstacles, danger, or wonders we’ll never face in real life.  Let’s ride a dragon, fight the Minotaur, or live underwater.
О   Humor-Humor-Humor – Make us laugh and we’ll follow you home. 
О   New Worlds and Fantastic Places – We all voted here in Room 15 that we want to go to school in a castle like Hogwarts.
О   Relatability - Kids love seeing themselves in the situations and dilemmas they find in books.  It helps them understand similarities in their own lives and can be very validating.
О   Attachment – Readers, 5th graders included, make emotional investments in stories that we follow over multiple books.  There is a sense of loss and sorrow when the path we’ve been sharing with our characters comes to an end.  How many of us took to our beds for weeks after finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, knowing it was the last time we’d break bread with Harry, Ron, and Hermione? 

The top three series being read in our classroom even as we speak are:

                        PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS by Rick Riordan
                        “It’s fun watching a kid have to make big decisions.”
Robyn, Kyle, Ilker, Fernanda
                        “Every page is heart pounding, exciting, and breath taking.
                                    Mark, Tyler, Sal, Caleb, Aryanna

                        HARRY POTTER by JK Rowling
                        “The Harry Potter books make you wish you had magic.  We would
like to have teachers like Mad Eye Moody, Dumbledore, and
                                    Hazel, Kathleen, Pratik, Rylee
                        DIARY OF A WIMPY KID by Jeff Kinney
                        “It’s a funny look at facing challenges.”
                                    Melina, Jerry, Kait, Gage

                                    LAST DRAGON CHRONICLES by Chris D’lacey
                                    SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS by Lemony Snicket
THE 39 CLUES by Various Authors 

What are your favorites?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To Plot, or Not to Plot...

“…That is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous over thinking
Or to take arms against a sea of graphic organizers and tedious outlines…

…To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye there’s the creative process
For in that sleep of subconscious ideas, what dreams may come”

I don’t plot.  I just lied.  I don’t consciously plot.  I subconsciously plot.  Anyone who survived public school has ingested countless plotting tools such as Roman numeral outlines, story maps, flash cards with the word dénouement, and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. (Which I LOVE.)  Our gray matter is permanently stamped with format.   

I have tried the pre-planning route in my creative writing and I find it stifling.  I prefer a plethora of post-its smattered all over my mirrored closet door with scribbles of ideas I didn’t want to lose.  Do I use them all?  Nope.  Doesn’t matter.  They helped form the subconscious shape of my story. 

I love Stephen King’s take on plotting in his book, ON WRITING.  (I'm lamely paraphrasing Mr. King's phenomenal philosophy) He discusses setting a situation and then narrating how the characters handle it.  He doesn’t force them to follow a prescribed step-by-step plan, but rather lets the story organically evolve around character reactions and decisions as they navigate their situation.  In this style sometimes what you visualized happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

I say, WHAT FUN!  This is my cup of tea.

Okay, I know some of you are freaking out.  Too much freedom?  Too much unknown?  If it is – you need to be a conscious plotter.  No judgment here.  Every creative process has it’s own preferences.  The bottom line is to write the way that brings you that rush of joy and makes you shout, “I love doing this.”

Fess up.  Are you a conscious or subconscious plotter?

Treat yourself to these two books on writing: ON WRITING by Stephen King and RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY by Ron Carlson.  They are better than chocolate.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Stealing Characters

Yes, I admit it.  I am a character thief.  Beware if you know me, you will probably end up in a story.  Everyone in my immediate air space is unsafe.  I’ve fictionalized my entire family, pets included.  This habit of mine makes the likelihood that I will someday end up in the witness protection program highly probable.

Here are some of my offenses:

  1. The Direct Steal: No one is immune.  I’ve taken your looks, your accent, your clothing, your occupation, your quirks, your morals, that questionable hair-do, and possibly even your name.
  2. The Mash Up: I love it on GLEE when they take two songs and combine them for a mini medley.  My favorite character mash up is to take two people who absolutely HATE each other and morph their beings into one person.  Ah, inner conflict.
  3. The Magic Genie/Djinn:  I am personally attached to this infraction.  I take the unfortunate incidents in your life and give you a fabulous outcome instead.  Make no mistake, I give the bad stuff to someone else, but you get a free pass this time.
  4. The Flaw Machine: Remember the “spanking machine” that we of a certain age were subjected to in grade school on our birthdays?  I pummel you with the exposure of every character flaw I have uncovered in your soul.
  5. The “That’s not you.  It’s one of my college boyfriends.”: Swear.  Totally swear.  The likeness is purely coincidental.
  6. Stranger Danger: I love to sit on a bench with my notebook and spy my hiney off.  I lift people and their dialogue off the street and slap them in my journal.  Las Vegas and Disneyland are my two favorite thieving venues.  If you see someone furiously writing in a notebook…flee…it’s me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Vote: Cockeyed Optimist

Okay, okay, I know it’s a brand spanking new year, and I’m supposed to make some goals.  Heaven knows I have enough areas of my life that need some tidying up, but I’m choosing instead to pass on specific goals and wrap myself in a blanket of positive “what ifs.”

·      What if I sign with a literary agent this year? (I may just sprout wings and fly.)
·      What if I finally get the boxes unpacked in the garage? (I’ve been in the house 8 years.)
·      What if a publisher slurps up one of my manuscripts? (Back handspring, even though I haven’t done one in 30+ years.  Get the hip surgeon ready.)
·      What if I unravel the mystery of the wily comma? (I will tame the shape shifter of the punctuation world.)
·      What if I actually do lose weight? (Hush falls over the crowd)

I’ll let Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II sum up my philosophy for 2011 with a few lyrics from their awesome song, “Cockeyed Optimist,” from the musical, SOUTH PACIFIC.

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I'm stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can't get it out of my heart!
Not this heart...”