Before our third class writing-science residency, I noticed Karen’s “Quote of the Week,” a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote with which I was not familiar. “For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” All day long I got to witness this principle in action! Happiness was the perfect match for what I felt returning to Karen’s class.
Greetings as usual made everyone happy—the choice of a hug or an ear tug. Karen rapidly proceeded to establish the tone starting with 30 seconds of doing the Happy Dance. She followed by leading us in taking deep breaths with deep smiles.
We reached out to others to discover “what makes you happy.” For me and two other students, it was MORE hugs!!
We read a huge range of books, all of them fiction, so that we could segue into studying plot and developing our plot for Chirp, our cricket. Generally narrative non-fiction biographies work well for understanding plot and I wanted to share a nonfiction that showed stylistic sparkle. So we read Barb Rosenstock’s The noisy paint box : the colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s abstract art(Knopf, ages 7 and up). We had fascinating talks about Kandinsky’s synesthesia (one student’s doing research to find out what brain science has to say about interpreting one sense at the same time as another).
In another class we read Gretchen Griffith’s When Christmas Feels Like Home (Whitman, ages 6 and up). It’s the story about a little boy who immigrates from Mexico and is trying to adjust. His aunt and uncle promise that he’ll do so when the mountains turn the color of the sun (fall), pumpkins smile (Halloween). There follow several other mysterious promises based on the changes of nature–eventually leading to Christmas. I thought it might open conversation about how Chirp, our cricket, “reads nature.” Instead I most enjoyed having students help me with the Spanish pronounciations that weave in and out of the book.
We continued with our exploration of Tony Johnston, sharing her wonderful lyrical, rollocking biography, Levi Strauss gets a bright idea : a fairly fabricated story of a pair of pants (Harcourt, ages 6 and up). It was easy book for students to recognize the inventor of the now famous jeans and also to easily understand her effective use of alliteration, the refrain of “Dang!” and Levi’s process of invention.
In another class I read Johnston’s now out-of-print Angel City (Philomel, ages 10 and up). “It’s intense,” I warned the children and, unanimously, they chose it. I felt slightly uncomfortable when the Assistant Principal came to observe, but she is a woman who doesn’t shy away from intensity. The story tells of an aging African-American man, Joseph, who discovers a Hispanic baby in a dumpster. He decides to raise the baby he names Juan, teaching him about his Hispanic heritage as well Joseph’s own growing up in rural Georgia. Johnston’s lyricism balances the plot intensity when Juan’s best friend is shot, Juan experiences profound grief and questioning whether he’ll ever grow up. “Where’s the love?” Joseph says again and again. Johnston wrote the story as a result of reading an article about the true event. Karen said the story had meaning for all her students–the ones who are growing up in neighborhoods like Juan’s and others who certainly could stand to expanded their awareness. The most startling moment of the day came when one girl, cried, “Wait! I just realized that Juan wasn’t just abandoned, someone meant to throw him out!”
We spoke about conflict, climax and resolution, showed how they worked on the Story Skeleton and then we went to “Yum” Round 2 to complete our plot. By the end of the day, we’d come up with a full story skeleton for Chirp! Karen made a fabulous record of the day including our Chirp Story Skeleton, but I couldn’t figure out how to download her good work. So here’s hoping you can read my handwritten version!