This week’s Cybils batch includes some fantastic books. I’ve decided to focus on some that are (more or less) based on the concepts of Friends and Telling Stories. These are common themes for picture books, and these books I list below are some fantastic examples. (more…)
I mentioned last year that my son is a very creative child. He is regularly having imaginary adventures with his imaginary friends, and he constantly comes up with stories for me, stories he tells as if he’s surely experienced them. Given his intense interest in creative writing, I was seeking further instruction on how to nurture his creativity in his early years.
No More “I’m Done!” by Jennifer Jacobson (Stenhouse Publishers, 2010) is an inspiring how-to manual for early primary grade teachers. Subtitled “Fostering Independent Writing in the Primary Grades,” Jacobson’s book describes a system of nurturing creative writing that lets children take control of the process. After she describes her system, she provides a year’s worth of mini-lessons for encouraging development of ideas in various segments of writing (including voice, organization, word choice, fluency, details) all using well known and beloved children’s picture books as examples. Although I am not a teacher in a classroom setting, her ideas have given me the confidence to institute some similar casual instruction during our “school time.” It is informative and inspiring, helping one think outside the traditional box of writing prompts.
I am falling in love with biographies for young adults. I love how in less than 300 pages, I get a (partial) picture of some historical figures I’ve always wanted to study, but that I’ve never studied because of lack of time to delve in a full-length biography for adults.
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Henry Holt, 2009) is not a typical, full-life biography because it focuses on specific aspects of the Darwins’ married life, of course in the context of Charles Darwin’s scientific studies. As a former religious studies student, the author Deborarh Heiligman married a scientist. When she discovered that scientist Charles Darwin likewise married a religious woman, she was intrigued to know how Emma reconciled her faith with science, thus beginning her study to understand the Darwins’ relationship.
I loved how Ms Heiligman brought the relationship alive. After reading the book, I feel somewhat close to Charles and Emma, because their personalities were so carefully developed. Further, Charles’ struggle to have faith and Emma’s struggle to come to terms with Charles’ scientific understandings were so poignant to me. Given the strict literal religious understandings of the era and the novelty of Charles’ scientific findings, I could really relate to the couple’s struggle.
Further, I loved the emotion with which Ms Heiligman discussed Charles’ developing scientific understanding in the context of his own family. My favorite part of the book was the discussion about his daughter who passed away at a young age. I found myself in tears as I considered this small family’s pain at their loss, especially given the family’s struggles to accept religion. Further, Annie’s death brought the implications of Charles’ scientific theories (especially the concept of “survival of the fittest”) into context.
Emma’s struggle with acceptance of Charles’ lack of faith was likewise emotional to read about. She frequently sent him inspiration-filled letters asking him to accept God, and she worried throughout their life that he would go to “hell” because of his lack of faith. Although Charles found he ultimately could not accept God (as an agnostic, he believed there was no way to know one way or another), he still treasured Emma’s faithful encouragement. I loved the tenderness with which the two corresponded throughout life about both science and religion.
As I mentioned, Charles and Emma does not feel like a complete picture of the scientist Charles Darwin. Nevertheless, it does provide a context for Charles Darwin’s life and scientific findings, and the author brings the reader in the Darwin’s family life and their personal struggles between science and religion with sensitivity and understanding.
As a religious person with a faith in God, I personally do not struggle as I embrace scientific fact as well as religious faith, but I can understand how one might. Charles and Emma’s story does not answer any questions but it does paint a clear picture of how such questions have always arisen for the faithful. I found it marvelously executed.
William Blake has always fascinated me as a poet and also as a man. He was quite strange, but his writing is incredible: it’s powerful, it has a message, and yet it sounds so good. That said, I haven’t read much Blake poetry since my years in college and I’m certainly out of practice in literary and poetic criticism in general.
My Business Is To Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing by Eric G. Wilson (published May 2001 by University of Iowa Press) is partly an homage to the life of William Blake, partly an exercise in literary criticism of Blake’s writing and messages, and partly a manual in how to apply Blake’s literary approach in successfully creating our own beautiful writing. I don’t consider myself either an expert on Blake or a creative writer but I enjoyed the insights into the creative process. Mr Wilson’s short essays on various aspects of the writing process, as related to William Blake’s own processes, were wonderfully written and poetic as themselves even apart from the information they share. (more…)
When I was young, I wrote.
When we were about 6, my friend and I would sit at my blue Smurf picnic table in the family room of my house, armed with crayons. One of us would write the story and the other would illustrate it. When I was in first grade, my class had regular writing assignments, and we’d take our carefully written and illustrated creations down the hall to the “publishing center” where it was spiral bound like a treasure. I loved being a creative writer. When I was in seventh grade, I wrote half of a novel on our family computer.1
At some point after seventh grade, I stopped writing fiction2. Even until a few years ago, I thought I wanted to write fiction, but I never have. I don’t know why. Too many other papers over the years, now too much books blogging? Too much self-consciousness, realizing I am not that good? Maybe I just prefer nonfiction, but I wish I had the creativity for fiction I had as a child.
Pam Allyn’s Your Child’s Writing Life (published by Penguin USA, 2011) is about the need to nurture our children’s writing and creativity. It’s a handbook for the parent to open up opportunities throughout the child’s childhood. Ms Allyn talks about why nurturing your child’s writing life is important, the various stages to watch for in your child’s development, strategies to help the reluctant writer3, writing prompts to get children started, and suggested books to read together for discussion opportunities and ideas.
Your Child’s Writing Life is, as the title suggests, geared towards parents. Ms Allyn is giving advice for those after school hours. The teacher may find gems for helping bring more creativity into the classroom (especially with the chapters with writing prompts), but most of the book suggests a cozy home environment conducive to sitting down and writing whatever one wants, without the pressure of an assignment, just for the sake of personal enjoyment.
What really stood out to me on finishing this book is that just as reading with your child is an indicator of future success, encouraging your child to write regularly beyond school work likewise aids in future success. Creativity is a must for adapting to new situations in the home and work place. One wonderful way to encourage creativity is by encouraging writing.
My favorite chapter was that which discussed the different stages of writing. Although my son cannot yet physically write with a pen, he still has stories to tell. Ms Allyn’s book encouraged me to ask him for his stories, and he’s enjoyed creating them with me. Here’s one of my favorites from the past weeks, dictated straight from Raisin’s mouth.
Winnie-the-Pooh and the Mice
June 21, 2011
by Goldbug (or so Raisin informs me; Goldbug is his best imaginary friend)
Once upon a time, there were some mice. And the mice tried to find their friend Pooh. The mice looked up and down, here and there, front and back, left and right. But they couldn’t find him. And they started looking for Winnie-the-Pooh. They went to a bush and looked behind it. But Winnie-the-Pooh wasn’t behind it. They saw a snake behind the bush! And they go to a tree and looked behind. But they didn’t see Pooh. They saw Owl. That means they were in Hundred Acre Woods. And they looked right across from it. And they saw a house. And they looked behind the house, and they saw their friend Winnie-the-Pooh. And that’s the end.
What I liked about this story was the fact that Raisin started with an end in mind: he knew that by the end, the mice would find Winnie-the-Pooh. He also followed patterns in the search, and gave a little adventure with the snake. Some of his other stories were like random dreams, ending up anywhere compared to the beginning or the title. I can see progress after just a few weeks of our “writing time” together. I hope we continue it, because it’s fun to see his creativity. I’ve also got him to journal, for me, the time he spent with the babysitter and grandma while I was in New York. That was fun, as he detailed every stoplight essentially.
Ms Allyn’s book reminded me that although I strongly encourage reading in the home by reading with him frequently, I don’t often model the writing side of creativity. Raisin can mostly read already thanks to our picture book shelves, but how often have I written stories with him? Maybe once every six months we write a story and illustrate it together. That needs to be more frequent. Besides, I’m now inspired to rediscover my own fictional muse. She must be dormant somewhere inside.
I read Your Children’s Writing Life via Netgalley courtesy the publisher, Penguin.
- It was a time travel to the 1980s from the very distant future, and it was supposed to have a romance between seventh graders by the end. I think it was the romance that kept me from finishing it, since seventh-grade me had never yet had a “romance” that I could write about. Unfortunately, my novel has been lost so I can’t share the gems from the 2078 I’d created. ↩
- I remained a compulsive journal writer, and obviously have taken my writing into a blog instead. ↩
- I mentioned I was reading a book on the subject to a sister-in-law and she asked “Does she address what to do when a child won’t write?” In answer, I say, yes, there is a chapter. But, I don’t know how easily Ms Allyn’s techniques may be applied in an individual situation. I read the book with my unique perspective as the mother of an almost four-year-old. I can see the steps to creating a life-long writer. I don’t know how I’d apply the ideas to an older child because I haven’t gotten to that point in my mothering yet. I feel inexperienced to respond to the hows of mothering an older child. ↩