Creativity and the Nurture of the Soul

In The Horn Book Magazine’s July/August 2010 awards issue, Andrea Spooner describes  the childhood of  Jerry Pinkney  (who won the Caldecott Medal for The Lion and The Mouse). She writes:

Jerry Pinkney was born…a middle child in a family of six children. He shared a crowded bedroom with two brothers, and with no physical space to call his own, he created his own personal space with his drawing pad.

As a writer of fiction, folktales, and fantasy, the concept of creativity fascinates me, and what moved me in this little snippet from Jerry Pinkney’s life was the picture it created of how creative endeavor nurtures our spirits.

Once upon a time, I went through a crowded period in my own life when there was no room for the crafting of fiction. I was newly married, the mother of three active kids, and working through a ten-month program to earn both my teaching license and Masters Degree in Education. I was starved for time to create.

Graduation came at last. To my joy, my first folktale was published in Cricket Magazine, although I still had no time to write anything new. I threw myself into finding a teaching job yearning for students to love and a classroom to call my own. Finally I landed a job and the reality of being a brand new, full-time teacher set in. I threw myself into work I loved, yet found as the months passed, a deep well of sadness yawning within me.

After much searching, I finally connected with the source of that sadness. I was grieving my writing. Yes, I had family, friends, and people to love, books to read, and a career I was passionate about. Yet without the mental space to engage in my own writer’s craft, my life had lost its vibrancy and color.

Time for creativity is an important aspect of a life well-lived. For me, it ranks right up there with food to eat, the shelter of my home, clean air, sleep, work, and love. God, the ultimate creator, made humankind in his image. Think about it; we are made to create.

What creative activities feed your soul? What creative activities make a place for you to be who you were made to be?

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Reading Response #32: What’s Important/Reading Comprehension Exercise

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read then proceed to the following questions:

  • 1. If you had to pick only one word to describe what you read and if that word had to be an actual word used in the passage you read, what would it be? Why?
  • 2. What do you feel was the most important event, character, setting, feeling, or decision in the passage you read? Why?

Write down or discuss your responses with your reading friends.

For Pre-readers: Read a story together. When done, ask your child what he or she thought was the most important event in the story. Discuss it. After your preschooler has contributed her opinions, you can even contribute yours. Enjoy this conversation.

Play with Your Words Writing Prompt #28: Playing with Point of View

Have you ever showed up for a group activity—maybe a club meeting, athletic practice or competition, or a class—only to find your group’s leader was unable to be present and had sent an inexperienced substitute? The outcome of such an event  may have ranged from frustrating, to wonderful. No matter how it ended up, it’s likely things didn’t turn out the way you expected.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of that inexperienced leader.

Write a scene, either from memory or made up, from the point of view of an inexperienced, substitute leader.  Use first person point of view (that’s the poor sub telling the story using the terms I, me, my… to refer to self).

Your creations can adapt any tone you choose from humorous to heartbreaking. Just be sure to present them to us from the perspective of your hapless leader.

When done, share your scenes with your writing companions, or as a comment here on the blog. I’d love to see what the scenarios that played out in your situations. Enjoy exploring your life and experiences from inside someone else’s heart and head.

Some thoughts on Children’s Literature and Reading

I am a collector of quotes. I love words, and I love when someone uses them to express themselves in a manner that might move me, satisfy me, or inspire me to think. I’ve been throwing lots of clippings into a Reading & Literature folder, but have not shared any of them for a long time. So, for authors of children’s and young adult books, and parents, teachers and librarians responsible for book selection, here’s some food for thought.

Today’s quote comes from an essay by Betty Carter, a professor of young adult’s and children’s literature, published in the July/August 2010 issue of The Horn Book Magazine . Reflecting on what happens when young people read and find books or genres they love, Carter writes:

What they’re doing is engaging in a pleasant leisure activity, one that requires them to move their eyes across print and thus strengthen their basic skills. They’re also beginning to discover features in and genres of books that they want to read—or not read—in the future.

Reading, however, cannot compete in a child’s contemporary world only as a diversion; it must provide a bonus that other media don’t. The complexity and depth of fine books help children discover what they’re always looking for: a way to make sense of themselves and their world.

What a tremendous responsibility lies on the shoulders of people who write and publish for children and young adults! It makes me think twice about the stories I intend to write, how I want to tell them, and what kind of worldview I will present in my telling, because when published, whether written only to entertain or not, whatever I, or you, write will have an impact on growing and maturing minds. The same goes for every book we choose to place in a young person’s hands.

What books do you think would make great companions along the journey to adulthood? What guides you as a writer in crafting what you want to say? What guides you as a parent, teacher, or librarian in selecting the books you do for your collections?

Reading Response #31: The Elements of Fiction Web Summary

Summarizing is an important skill, and when studying a work of fiction, a useful skill as well. I used the following technique for chapter by chapter summaries when conducting novel studies with my students. When it came time to go back and discuss the novel and write essays, the webs made it easy for them to locate passages to support their ideas. So…

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

Set up your Elements of Fiction web.

Now fill in rays with information for each bubble. Remember:

Characters are the people, sometimes animals, aliens, etc.–the players who are living out the story.

Plot refers to the events that take place in the story.

Conflicts are the problems the main character/s face in the story. Common conflicts involve the character being challenged by another character, him or herself, nature, or circumstance.

Setting includes the places, times, and moods of the scenes played out by the characters.

The theme or themes are ideas that the author, character, or story seems to be exploring.

Once you have filled out your web, use it to write a one to two paragraph summary of what you have read.

For Pre-readers: Enjoy a story together. When done, talk about the characters, setting, or story problem. Ask your child which character he liked best and why, how she might have handled the story problem, or what places he knows that the setting of the story remind him of.  Take your time and enjoy the discussion.

Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #10: What Is…? Poems

What is happiness? What is beauty? What is love?

Or, forget feelings. What is red? What is  gold? What is  blue?

Still not inspired? What is a grandpa? What is Oregon? What is milk?

Or, let’s consider some adjectives. What is faithful? What is freezing? What is wobbly?

A What is…? poem can address any topic, and how you describe and define that topic is something that can only be written by you. So, what to do?

Step 1: Web or brainstorm four lists of words, one for each of the following categories: feelings, colors, nouns (that’s people, places or things), and adjectives (words used to describe things). If you wish, create a category of your own that interests you, for example—food. Try to come up with three to five items for each category you are working with. Now, pick a topic, or maybe several, to write a poem about.

Step 2: Focus on the word you have selected for your What is…? poem. Again, list, web, or brainstorm images, activities, similes (comparisons using “like” or “as”), and metaphors (comparison implied by saying one thing is something else). Consider also hyperbole (exaggeration) and sounds (use onomatopoeia—words that sound like what they describe).

Step 3: Select the items from your list that best express your feelings about what your selected topic is and use them to build a poem. There are many types of poems you can build, for example, an acrostic, formal poetry with a set rhythm and rhyme scheme, or free verse.

My What is…? Poem–

What is Yosemite?

Granite,
Walls and rocks and sheets and slides of it,
Speckled white, arched over by fleecy clouds, blue sky.
Peace.
The rhythmic swaying of tall trees.
The sound of the river
Rushing, roaring, trickling, laughing.
My heart’s home.

Other topics I’d like to get to? What is blue? What is a perfect day?

Share your topics or completed poems as comments here on the blog, or at the very least with your writing companions. Enjoy.

Working with a preschooler? List for your child topics she would like to write about. List statements he makes about a topic. Put each statement on a separate piece of paper and work with the child to arrange them in the order she would like them to appear. Make a clean copy of the poem and read it to him pointing to each word as you read. Cut out or draw pictures to go with the poem.

P.S. Writing my own poem was fun. I should allow myself some time to play with my prompt more often :-)