Play With Your Words # 19: Catch a Memory–Narrative Prompt

December 31, New Year’s Eve, is a time for looking back over the past year. But this 31st, don’t  just look back over the year, take a little time to record your favorite memory (or memories) from 2010.

Do this in the form of a first person narrative. (That means you will need to use the word “I” to refer to yourself as the narrator.) This is a form of writing used by memoirists and writers of autobiographies.

Tell the whole story of the memory you have chosen, recounting not just the events, but the full sensory experience. Reference anything you might have seen, heard, tasted, smelled or touched during the experience. Use your words to sketch in the details of the place this memory occurred. Savor the memory to the fullest and then capture it for your future delight.

Share your writing. Compliment the strengths in each other’s writing.

For parents and teachers of preschoolers, ask the child to tell you about a favorite memory and write down what he or she says. Read it back to the child when done pointing to each word as you say it to reinforce the connection between the written and spoken word.


My Favorite Books for December

Here we are—the end of a month and the end of a year. Today, however, we will just think short-term. What is your favorite book you read this month? What is your child’s favorite for December? Is your child old enough to write? Invite him or her write his or her own recommendation for the blog.

I have three categories of favorites this month:

  • a novel
  • a picture book
  • a devotional

My favorite novel this month is The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. It is about a young woman, a survivor twin, whose life has been spent in her dad’s antiquarian book store. Although she considers writing biographies a hobby, she is invited by a terminally ill, best-selling author to write the author’s biography. This author has long been known for her reclusive lifestyle and the lies she makes up when interviewers ask her about her life. Who would have guessed the truth could be stranger than the fictions?

My favorite picture book this month is Tomie DePaola’s The Friendly Beasts. This is a book that can be sung! It is based on an old English Christmas carol and visits the night Jesus was born from the point of view of the animals who shared the stable. I always loved singing it to my children. This year I bought my granddaughter a copy.

My third favorite is a devotional. I love to read Christmas related devotions during Advent. This year I did not have a book I had not read recently, so I went to my favorite used book store, Readers Guide to Recycled Literature, in Salem, Oregon. They had a sale cart of Christmas books prominently displayed and the book I bought was the only devotional amidst the lot. Thomas Kinkade’s Christ, the Light of the World, is a beautiful gem of a book, with a Kinkade painting accompanying each day’s reading. Kinkade reflects on his life and his family, faith, light, gifts, and giving. I have a bunch of sticky notes poking out marking thoughts I want to revisit before I put the book away.

Every Christmas, I put all our Christmas books underneath the Christmas tree for reading. However, in spite of this bountiful display of picture books, my three-year old granddaughter still went for Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham every time she came over.

What was your favorite read this month?

Merry Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
   there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
   and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
   with justice and righteousness
   from that time on and forever.  –Isaiah 9:6-7

~I will be taking a break until December  29, when I’ll be back asking about your favorite reads this December.

Have a very merry Christmas and may God rain blessings on your new year!

Gifts of a Grandmother’s Love

I am Yea Yea, that’s Greek for grandma, to two absolutely darling little girls, ages three-years-old and seven-months-old. These precious souls are two of the major delights in my life. Just thinking about them makes me smile!

So what do I get them for Christmas?

There are three categories of gifts I deem a must.

The first is clothes. I buy each of them an outfit. These represent my commitment to my daughter and son-in-law to cherish and protect these beloved little persons. And I pray as these clothes cover their small frames, God will cover their lives with his mercy, protection, and grace.

The second category of gifts is books. I buy each granddaughter a book. As has already been long-established, I love reading, and I want to be part of making sure my little girls have plenty of opportunity to enjoy reading and books throughout their lives. Reading supports and develops not just literacy skills, but the imagination and creativity, two of the primary fuels not just for childhood pleasure, but for the science and industry that powers our economy. And, reading provides connecting points with our world, all while blessing in our lives with stories and characters to love, and information to bolster any interest or need.

The last category of gift is a toy. I get each granddaughter a toy, often something that can help them learn, grow, or develop a skill, but most important something to fuel their delight. Play and delight are intrinsic to the life well-appreciated and lived. Plus, they are essential to developing a capacity for gratitude and wonder, prime facilitators in recognizing the work of God in our lives.

So give some blessings for Christmas. Do you have no kids or grandkids of your own? Pick up a tag from one of the giving trees located in malls, stores, and businesses all over every community. I developed this three-fold strategy of giving when I was the mother of young children and shopped with them each December to provide gifts for children in need..

You don’t have to be yea yea to bless young people this holiday season.

Play With Your Words! Art Prompt # 3: From Character to Story

Lets start a story with a character.

Who is the figure below? What might this character’s world be like? What is important to this character? What kinds of conflicts and challenges might this character face?

Write a description of this character and then write the story. (For those working with young children, encourage them to talk about the character and tell a story)

This character is a creation of Mary Ennis Davis of Crow River Studio. To view more of her wonderful work, go to


Holiday Cheer: Favorite Books for the Month of December

Do you have some books that are like best friends?

Are there stories you return to again and again? I know, for me, the answer is “Yes” to both questions.

So here are some of my favorite reads for December:

Pilgrims Inn (aka The Herb of Grace). This is a novel by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Goudge. Written in the 1940’s, It’s a multigenerational story about a family who buys an old country inn near where the husband was raised and his mother still lives. They take in a London artist and his daughter as their first guests and hire a down and out couple to help them run the inn. As the family struggles to adjust to their new lifestyle and explore their new home, the mixture of place and people is magical, and their Christmas celebration is the climax of the story. (Just a side note for any animal lovers, Goudge is crazy about dogs, and Grandmother’s dogs are classic.)

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas:  This is a novella by Madeleine L’Engle that I cut out of a magazine when I was a young, before I ever knew I who Madeleine L’Engle was. It has just been rereleased this year in hardback. (Someone in my family will be finding this beneath the tree!) It, too, is a family story, told from the middle child, Vicky Austin’s point of view. (Yes, that Vicky Austin—Any of you familiar with L’Engle’s work will know she wrote a series of novels about Vicky and her family.) This Christmas, the Austin’s are not just waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth, but also for a new, little member of their family to be born. Vicky has been given a very important role in the Christmas pageant and is worried she might mess up and let everyone down. Even though this story is not conveniently broken up into twenty-four little readings, I loved reading it to my kids over the weeks of advent. Those are precious and cherished memories.

And last, but by no means least!

Santa’s Favorite Story. This is a picture book by Hisako Aoki. When my children were little ( well, no actually, until they moved out of my home) I always bought them a Christmas book each Christmas. This is one I found for my oldest son when he was about three years old. I loved it so much, his sister and baby brother each got their own copies over the years as well. In the book, the animals find Santa napping in the woods and are worried that because he wasn’t back at the house working, there would be no Christmas. He assures them such an outcome would be impossible, but they go back with him and help him get ready just in case. When all their work is done they celebrate and Santa tells them his favorite story—the story of the first Christmas. In a season our culture has sculpted into a materialistic orgy, the beauty and simplicity of this story is a balm for the soul.

What do you love to read in December?

Revision? Done!

I did it! I may not have completed it in November, but I am finally done revising my novel and can now and enjoy the remainder of the advent season.

So, as I used to ask my students, (which drove them nuts, by the way) “What have I learned from this project?”

I used to worry my storytelling style was too simplistic. (I got a D on one of my first writing assignments at UC Berkeley—where I planned to be an English major! I’ve carried with me huge insecurities about my personal “depth” as a writer ever since.) However, I think I finally learned how to get some depth into my novel.


Well, first of all, as I’ve written before, my mission was to kill all telling. It’s amazing how much deeper a story reads when lazy, cheap-trick telling has been either eliminated or filled out with juicy showing.

Second, I took a hard look at my subplot. For a long, long time I thought my main plot was so complicated, I didn’t need a subplot. (I also, coincidentally, felt totally incapable of conceiving, weaving in, and writing a subplot.) But as I did my quick read-through in preparation for the revision, I noticed the story actually has a thin subplot. I also realized that this skinny little subplot has a powerful influence on my main character that I had never addressed in the novel. Indeed, its influence is powerful enough to impact the decision she makes that ends the story. And so, this time through, I fleshed out my subplot.

I am so excited about what these changes have done to my novel. I can’t hardly wait to get them all typed in and do my last quick read-through before submitting it.

Please, say a little prayer that my novel will find a publishing home.

Reading Response #15: Characterization

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

People of many faiths display ornaments or decorations at this time of year. Choose a character from your story and think about what kind of decoration or ornament might he or she might favor. Describe it and the reasons your character would like it. For any who might feel locked in by the faith angle, remember it does not have to be religious. Many people decorate with things that interest them. What kind of object would appeal to your character as a decoration for her bedroom, his cubicle, or her home?

Write or talk about your response. Share your responses with each and talk about what you are reading. A good story always make a good gift.

Play With Your Words # 17 Photo/Story

Below is a photo of my fireplace mantle. Pick a character (or two or three) and write a scene or story that features them. As you create your scene remember to create a setting for your characters to move around in, some action for them to perform, maybe even a conflict for them to resolve, and dialogue to facilitate their interaction with each other.

Dream Shopping—Books About Teaching, Language Arts, and Literacy

As a former teacher, I continue to get catalogues from educational publishers, and because I am still very interested in the areas of teaching and literacy, I thoroughly enjoy a good browse through them. However, as professional books tend to be expensive, I cannot buy all I like. And so I dog-ear the corners of pages and make notes in the margins, dream about buying them, and put them on a list to look for at the library!

Recently I received catalogues from The National Council of Teachers of English and Teachers College Press. Here are three books I wish I could add to my personal library:

Reading for Learning: Using Discipline-Based Texts to Build Content Knowledge by Heather Lattimer. I was on my school’s improvement committee and one of our goals with in-service classes, etc, was to encourage all subject area teachers to teach reading and textbook strategies that will help their students to read and comprehend subject matter material. NCTE says, “Reading for Learning addresses this issue head-on, exploring the reality that reading and content can, and should, go hand-in-hand to support subject area learning….Lattimer provides practical, classroom-tested approaches to helping students access and critically respond to content-based based texts such as…using strategies to help focus student readers before they engage with texts, Supporting Comprehension in content areas through discussion and writing, analyzing texts and applying content to learning.” I’m always a sucker for a new strategy. As a teacher my objective was to continually add to my “toolbox” of strategies so there’d be one for every kind of student I might encounter. (NCTE Catalogue)

Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction, by Susan L. Groenke and Lisa Scherff. Students are so much more enthusiastic about self-selected reading. I liked to always include at least one unit each year where students can select their own texts, and read and respond to them. The catalogue says, “Groenke and…Scherff offer suggestions for incorporating YA lit into the high school curriculum.” The book is divided into chapters that introduce popular aspects of young adult literature including: “science fiction, realistic teen fiction, graphic novels, Pura Belpre award winners, nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction,” and “offers suggestions within that genre for whole-class instruction juxtaposed with a young adult novel more suited for independent reading or small-group activities.” The books intent is to help teachers “address the different reading needs and strengths adolescents bring to our classrooms.” As a young adult writer, I am happy to see young adult literature welcomed and made use of in the English/Language Arts classroom. (NCTE Catalogue)

Let’s Poem: The Essential Guide to Teaching Poetry in a High-Stakes, multimodal world (Middle-through High-School by Mark Dressman. Just the title of this book sound fun and you know how I like to have fun with words. The catalogue says, Let’s Poem shows “how to preserve the fun of poetry while also developing critical writing and analysis skills, how to introduce students to the basic formal elements of classic and contemporary poetry, and how to expand their repertoires through the use of digital technology and the Internet.” There are chapters that cover “choral reading of poetry…jazz poetry…spoken word poetry…’remixing’ of canonical poems…and more.” I say, let’s poem. (Teachers College Press Catalogue)

Have you read any of these books? I would love to hear about them, or any like them. Please share your thoughts.