Writing Tips from a First-Grader

Poof. It has already been six months since my forced blogging-sabbatical. I hit pause, stopped blogging, and started writing. Now in the midst of my first stab at NaNoWriMo, I’m finding a way to procrastinate again. But I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about returning here and focusing on writing rather than reading – of course intermixed as those two are, you can’t really write about one without the other, right? Last year while my daughter was in first grade, she began to bring home so many gems about writing from her teacher. Just simple instructions, really, about how to build character, setting, small moments, big moments, but I found myself hoarding these handouts. Usually her work eventually finds its way to the trash, but I find many of these to be quite useful basic reminders. Consider this “Retelling Script,” for example. Meant to be used as a guide for reading comprehension, I think any writer could use these tips in pulling together an essay, story or novel…

 

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Fourth Blogiversary: The Land of Free Time

Dear Mom & Dad (and my 3 or 4 other loyal readers):
Do you remember when I was ten and I announced I wanted to be a writer when I grew up? Do you? Well, if not, here’s the proof:
IMG_2040Remember now? It’s all there. I even wrote it in cursive. I remember seeing Little Women and meeting Jo and wanting to be her, to create stories, put on plays, go on adventures. I’ve been writing on and off since that 1987 diary entry – some years more fruitfully and seriously than others. And I actually devoted two whole years to studying the craft of writing when I got my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When I finished in the summer of 2008, yes I was hugely pregnant and it was hot and I was running around a lot, but I did not plan on having your granddaughter three weeks early. Not at all. I planned on writing, revising, and submitting that summer, maybe even entering some contests, trying to earn some small awards. Maybe that was a stretch, but along she came. And her brother about two years later, and then I started this blog as a creative retreat from the stress of raising young children. And I’ve loved it; it has refueled my passion for writing and given me a supportive audience and opened up new experiences. [Read more…]

No Place Like Home

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This past Sunday we had our second Mother-Daughter book club, for which we read A Stepping Stones early reader version of The Wizard of Oz. This series of abridged classics all run about 100 or so pages, which includes illustrations and short chapters. In our experience, I’d say it took about three to five sittings to read the book together; we took turns reading. Along with the length, what I like about this series is that the stories are not watered or dumbed down. The vocabulary is still rich and challenging AND this version includes the original illustrations from the 1900 book. What this also means is that as parent who is most familiar with this story through the 1939 film version of this book, you’ll be surprised and occasionally perplexed by some of the differences, namely:

  • Dorothy’s shoes are silver NOT ruby (we parents decided this decision was most likely due to the advent of technicolor movies and the filmmakers wanting to highlight as many colors as possibly)
  • The Tin Man is actually the Tin Woodman
  • They must all wear special¬† glasses when they reach the Emerald City
  • The Wicked Witch of the West has only one eye – and our girls were keenly tuned in to this fact
  • Glinda, the good witch, does not appear immediately at the end – the group must go on another journey to the Land of the Quadlings find her before having their wishes granted.
  • The book provides ample back stories for each character, which helps you understand more how they each ended up where they did along the yellow brick road.

Like the last meeting, the girls all lasted about 15-20 minutes of discussion before their small bodies led them away towards the grass, the swing set, the trampoline. They each had a favorite character and we discussed times that they felt they had courage, or showed empathy, or maybe used their brains. This time the host provided coloring pages of characters from the book with word searches and mazes. A few of the girls found their way to this activity throughout the afternoon – it was both a nice distraction and a kind of resting place.

At this point, what I’m appreciating about this book club is that it’s forcing my daughter and I to have some extra, quality alone time together. I’ll admit, we have to cram to finish this one in time – so on Saturday, we fled to her room and read together and talked – something I don’t think we’d normally to with such intention on a whim. We parents also discussed that it feels, at this point, like we’re laying important foundation. The girls appreciate the short amount of time we all talk about the book¬† – showing us the student-versions of themselves, and then of course they appreciate the time they have to play.

While I thought the girls would be more keyed in to the idea of Dorothy’s yearning to go home, this did not come up at all. When I think more about it, it makes sense – the girls range in ages from five to seven. None of them has ever left home for an extended period of time – no sleep-away camps even yet, so the idea of being displaced or far from home is not one that can really be explored, yet. It is, however, a frame of reference now, a part of their prior knowledge that they’ll be able to pull from when they read books with similar themes in the future, and this is another reasons I’m glad we’re doing this.

Interesting side-note, at bed-time my daughter asked me: “Why didn’t the Scarecrow also ask for a brain or skin or bones too? Good question.