Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ “Whistle for Willie”

Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

Literary guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

One of many wonderful and beloved children’s books by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is a simple story that perfectly captures the play-based learning that is essential to early childhood. The child engaging in such play is a character named Peter, a young boy who graces the pages of six of Keats’ other stories as well.

Whistle for Willie begins as Peter is exploring his neighborhood one afternoon, wishing desperately that he could whistle. Peter observes an older boy whistling to summon his pet dog, and longs to do the same – but he just can’t seem to make his lips work properly. Throughout the rest of the story, Peter alternates between longing for the ability to whistle and engaging in creative free play using chalk, a mirror, and even an empty box that he finds on the street. Peter’s play is unstructured and driven by impulse, and echoes the play that all children engage in during early childhood. Young readers can easily relate to both Peter’s play and his desire to be just a little bit more grown up (and to prove this growth by whistling loud and clear!).  Read the rest of this entry »

People-Watching! Supporting Language Arts, Theater & Community Awareness

Late-Summer People-Watching as Inspiration for Young Writers and Thespians

A fun way to learn about a local culture, people-watching can serve as a great tool for young writers and thespians too! The observations made in a particular context can help inspire or contribute to the development or portrayal of a character. Visit some of our suggested people-watching locations!

Inspiration can come in many forms for young writers and creators, and the sparks that ignite the creative process can sometimes come from unexpected places. Often, inspiration can come from experience, allowing works to be created as a result of personal experience, but other times, inspiration needs to come from external sources. A great (and always accessible) source of inspiration is people-watching – an activity that can lead to everything from laughter to critical and reflective observations about human nature.

People-watching is especially useful for young writers and thespians, as close observation of human behavior can help with character development in writing, and can help actors, directors, and costume designers draw from experience when portraying characters from a story. Best when done in a situation in which you are not directly involved, people-watching can allow those to participate to gather useful information about how people move and talk, as well as the choices that they make, the clothes that they wear, and the people who they associate with. People-watching can feel a bit like judging people, but when observations are made through careful, critical thought, they are much more useful than the snap judgments that are sometimes made at first glance, and an excellent way to develop an appreciation and acceptance of the wonderful diversity found in our communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s “The Outside Inn”

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Download Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

Introduced to readers by a beautiful bug-laden cover, title page, and dedication, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s The Outside Inn is quite obviously a book about nature, and just so happens to be our next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series. The children who grace the cover and the story’s first page (with a dish-filled wagon in tow) show the story’s connection to childhood – clearly ready to engage in some creative free play, the quartet seem right at home in the muddy puddle in which they have settled at the story’s start. Just as the children begin to dig their muddy meals, narration of their invented game begins. Told in rhymes that beautifully capture children’s imagination and the possibilities for nature-based play, The Outside Inn is not only a silly story for children to enjoy, but it serves as a representation of the mind of a young child.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s “Owls in the Family”

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Download Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Bird enthusiasts rejoice – the next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series is Owls in the Family! Inspired by true events in author Farley Mowat’s childhood in northern Canada, Owls in the Family is charming, humorous, and full of adventures involving creatures of all kinds. As the title suggests, two of the story’s main characters are Great Horned Owls who have been adopted by a human family. Set in rural Saskatchewan, the story revolves around the owls, Weeps and Wol, and Billy, their rescuer, and follows the trio through a series of adventures.

Weeps and Wol, both saved from grim fates, are the stars of Billy’s pet collection. The owls share the spotlight with snakes, gophers, and other small creatures common to the plains of western Canada. Each chapter of the book features a different story of adventure involving Billy, his friends, and either Weeps or Wol (or both, often). Readers follow Billy through the training of the owls, a community pet parade, days swimming on the banks of a river, trips to school with owls in tow, and a move to the big city of Toronto, among other things.

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Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s “Tough Boris”

Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Download Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Our next installation of the Summer Reading Resource literary guide series is Tough Boris, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by local illustrator Kathryn Brown. Much more than just a run-of-the-mill pirate book, Tough Boris is a beautiful and succinct tale that teaches an important lesson about human emotions. Centered around Boris, the story’s namesake, the story begins with a wordless page filled with an ocean where upon the horizon sits a ship and upon a sand dune sits a young boy. This scene sets the stage for the tale that’s about to begin – told with few words set amongst images that speak volumes.

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Literary Guide for Todd Hasak-Lowy’s “33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My But”

33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt by Todd Hasak-Lowy

This week’s title in our Summer Reading Resource series is Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt, a story that offers a fresh take on a common middle school experience. Narrated by seventh grader Sam Lewis, the story is a full-length novel yet spans only a few hours of a day in the life of a somewhat average middle school student. Sam’s narration weaves together real-time experiences, thoughts, and emotions, with memories, self-reflection, and background information in order to tell the story of a changing friendship.

The story begins at 11:41am in a middle school social studies classroom, where Sam waits anxiously for the time of day to arrive when Morgan had declared that he will kick his butt. It is not until much later in the story that we learn about the true roots of the animosity that exists between Sam and Morgan. As Sam anxiously experiences the next 33 minutes of his life, he guides readers through the ins and outs of a middle school lunch period and does a lot of reflecting upon past experiences with Morgan, his parents, and his math team – and the connections between the three. Through Sam’s reflection, a secondary story begins to form alongside the real-time narrative. Each moment of anxiety that Sam experiences, and each interaction with a friend, peer, or authority figure that takes place before the time scheduled for butt-kicking inspires Sam to reflect upon himself and his relationship with Morgan – allowing readers to begin to understand the differences between the two characters and the choices that each one made that lead them to drift apart so drastically. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lisa Campbell Ernst’s “Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt”

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt can be used to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation – not to mention opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history, too!

This week’s installment of Hilltown Families’ 2015 Summer Reading Resource series features Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. A heartwarming tale featuring themes of rural living, cooperation, and gender roles, the story is a great read for folks ages 5 and older.

Sam Johnson, one half of the book’s namesake, is a rural farmer who leads what appears to be a fairly idyllic agrarian life. One day, he decides that he’d like to learn to quilt and asks his wife’s quilting group if he can join. Surprised that a man would request such a thing, the women turn Sam away. Rather than be discouraged, Sam stands up for himself and pickets their decision, then creates his very own men’s quilting group. With his fellow male quilters, Sam creates a beautiful quilt that he plans to enter in the county fair – in order to compete against the women’s group’s creation. In the end, an accident and a compromise combine to make for a surprisingly happy ending.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lois Lowry’s “Gathering Blue”

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Designed for use with readers at a 5th grade level, our literature guide for Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue offers families support in adding insight, visualization, and even mastery of a new skill to a great summer read!

Looking for ways to enhance family reading time? Summer is the perfect time to explore books as a family, and to expand stories and create opportunities for deeper learning together. Hilltown Families offers a wealth of resources for supporting families in this endeavor, beginning with the very first featured title in our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series of literary guides!

Featured weekly throughout the summer, this year’s installments in the annual Summer Reading Resource series include downloadable guides to children’s literature written by students and alumni from the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that can provide supplemental education at home. The titles featured throughout the summer will cover a wide range of genres, themes, and reading levels, so as to provide something for everyone and to support families in their pursuit of new and fascinating reading material.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-6. Check back weekly for a new guide, or peruse the resources offered in our 2013 and 2014.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Gathering Blue, written by literary great, Lois Lowry.  Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry of Science Contest

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest

Combining science with writing and visual creativity is such a refreshing way to approach a complex topic. American Chemical Society is now seizing the day and holding an innovative poetry competition for kids that will drive them to explore different avenues in science.

Calling all young, creative-minded budding scientists! The Connecticut Valley Local Section of the American Chemical Society invites youth ages 5-18 years old to participate in the Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest! An annual event combining science with writing and visual artistry, the poetry contest encourages young writers to process their knowledge related to a scientific topic in a very non-traditional way. Unlike most science-based writing, writing created for the Illustrated Poem Contest won’t be centered around the task of explaining a concept or theory. Instead, entries in the contest will combine creative writing skills and scientific understanding to create a piece that is both beautiful and informative. Read the rest of this entry »

Support Language Art & Community Engagement Through Poetry

Poem in Your Pocket Day
Supporting Language Art & Community Engagement

Thursday, April 30th, 2015, is national Poem in Your Pocket Day, a day when people select poems to share with others they encounter throughout their day. We love what the community in Charlottesville, VA, organized for this national day that celebrates poetry while supporting literacy. This great community building event was a collaboration between their library, schools and senior center.  It encouraged community engagement in various locations throughout their town, including their library, town common, hospital, and local businesses.  It also encourages literacy development and a love of language.

Wouldn’t it be great if communities, groups or individuals in Western MA did something similar? Tell us if you do! It could be as simple as a youth group doing something similar to this VA community on a much smaller scale, passing out poetry to passersby in Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, Amherst or Springfield. Or you could become guerrilla poets, posting poems on community bulletin boards in your town. Share your ideas and be inspired!

Check out our archived column, “One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love” for more encouragement that supports a love for poetry in our children and ourselves.

Classics Come On Line To Thrill Audio Book Lovers

Audio Books Find a Voice Through LibriVox

Audio book lovers rejoice! LibriVox is an online resource offering thousands of recordings of a wide variety of written works. Including everything from Shakespeare to Hans Christian Andersen, LibriVox’s titles are all available through the public domain and read by volunteers, meaning that users can download recordings completely for free! Perfect for a snug winter day indoors.

For many people, fond memories of childhood include being read to by someone. During the winter months, snuggling in a cozy spot with a book and a reader is a perfect way to pass the time (and to warm up if you sit close enough together!). However, sometimes busy households don’t always have readers available, and other times, the readers would perhaps like to enjoy some listening time themselves. While local libraries offer endless titles in audio form and storyhours for kids, snow days, holidays and colds & flus can keep families away – so what’s a story-loving family to do when it’s time for a story? Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Your Family Tales Down & Punctuation Up!

Documenting Family Stories is a Fun Winter Activity that Support Language Arts

Hausausgaben

Getting a story down in paper makes it last forever.

While spring, summer, and fall easily lend themselves to outdoor exploration, winter sends us a clear message to hunker down and cozy up next to the fire or radiator. But what is an active family to do when weather dictates that adventures be brief and close-to-home (if at all)? The secret to a winter that is simultaneously adventure-filled, warm, and cozy is to have adventures in your minds. Active bodies can easily slow themselves for a few months if their equally active brains are frequently engaged in mental adventures. Winter is a time for stories. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides 2014

This summer’s installment of the annual series Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time presents families with suggestions for rich reading material to explore together. Each suggested title is accompanied by a teacher-designed guide that includes a description of the book’s educational potential, critical thinking questions to help readers process what they’ve read, activities to support and strengthen literacy skills, and suggestions for activities that allow readers to explore the themes presented in each story deeply and experientially. Written by graduate students in Antioch University New England’s Integrated Learning program, the literary guides offer families a comprehensive resources to help enrich at-home learning and touch upon a wide variety of topics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Journal-Making: Creative Outlet for Bringing Family Together

Journal-Making: Inspiration for Writing & Drawing

Sharpen your pencils. Journaling is key to bringing ideas to life.

It’s no secret of parenting that kids have a lot to say. Just as our own adult brains are constantly stirring through ideas, memories, and observations, children’s brains are working just as hard. They make note of interesting things that they see in their surroundings, develop characters and stories inspired by their experiences, and they may even craft clever illustrations to their thoughts inside the confines of their neural connections. Giving kids an outlet isn’t difficult – younger children can often satisfy their creative urges with a basket of crayons and some recycled paper, while older children create more sophisticated drawings, diagrams, stories, or logs when they’ve got something to record.

A great project to do as a family to encourage kids’ writing and drawing skills is journal-making.. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

Abuela
by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Families & Flower Pots at Emily Dickinson Museum Garden Days

Garden Days at Emily Dickinson Museum welcomes families to explore and connect with the story and legacy of poet Emily Dickinson and her family

Next week, garden-loving families can get some historic dirt underneath their fingernails at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. The museum’s annual Garden Days will be held this year from June 8th through 11th, and brings with them ample opportunities to learn, grow, and honor Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening – all while helping to maintain the museum’s beautiful and historic grounds.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst

To kick off Garden Days, the Emily Dickinson Museum will hold Family Day on Saturday, June 8th from 1-4pm. Gardeners and plant enthusiasts of all ages and abilities are welcome at the museum, and there will be a plethora of gardening activities that anyone can easily participate in. Additionally, Family Day will include a special kid-friendly garden tour at 1:30pm, as well as a historic garden tour (better for older students) at 2:30pm, which will be lead by Marta McDowell, author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener.

After learning about the gardens and helping out with some projects around the museum’s grounds, families can take Emily Dickinson’s love of gardening home with them – supplies will be available for beginning your very own herbarium, which Emily herself did as a child. Read the rest of this entry »

Edible Books Connect Culinary Arts & Literature

The Edible Book: A Benefit for the Friends of the Forbes & Lilly Libraries

The Forbes and Lilly Libraries are holding their Edible Book event on Sunday, April 6th this year, an annual event that crosses culinary arts and language arts with creative free play!

If you could make a piece of art that describes your favorite book, what would it look like? If you created a food whose flavor matches your family’s favorite story, what would it taste like? And what do you think would happen if you combined your art piece with the book’s perfect flavor match? Create a real-life edible artistic masterpiece – just like you’ve imagined! – by participating in Forbes Library’s event, Edible Book Northampton!

Read the rest of this entry »

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

National Novel Writing Month happens every November! It’s a fun, seat-of-your-pants writing event where the challenge is to complete an entire novel in just 30 days. For one month, you get to lock away your inner editor, let your imagination take over, and just create!

Have you ever wanted to write a novel? Take on the challenge as a family with NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is an annual event where writers challenge themselves to create a novel within only 30 days! Technically beginning at the first of the month and ending at midnight on the 30th, NaNoWriMo is a fun exercise in creativity where writers get to turn off their inner editor, skip endless revising, and just write straight through an entire story!

Of course, novel writing is an activity best suited for older skilled writers, but NaNoWriMo is something that writers of all ages can participate in! And even though November has already started, there’s still plenty of time to participate. Younger writers for whom an entire novel may not be a reasonable goal can determine for themselves what their writing goal should be (instead of the adult goal of 50,000), in terms of number of words (Not sure how many words to write? The NaNoWriMo website offers a special Word Count Generator tool to users who have signed up for the challenge.), And of course, you’re welcome to surpass your word count goal or keep working on your story once the month is over – just work to meet your goal by November 30th, and everything past that is extra! Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Autumn

Fall Changes—Poems for Outside & In

Fall is a great time for poetry. The season is bursting with vivid sights, sounds and smells. It’s wonderful to be outside, taking in the warm autumn colors that surround us and that late-day, slanting light that makes everything look like it’s dipped in honey.

The next time you’re enjoying the out-of-doors, bring this poem by Lilian Moore along. It’s an easy one for little kids to remember, and is fun for saying aloud and making into a game, because the poem breaks down the experience of crunching through dry leaves so     that     we     can     feel     every step.

Try saying it with your child as you walk, using the line breaks as a guide to where you should slow down and speed up.

New Sounds

by Lilian Moore

New sounds to
walk on
today,

dry
leaves
talking
in hoarse
whispers
under bare trees.

Indoors, many of us are also making transitions, starting school or other new routines, taking stock of the year ahead. When it’s time to pull out the sweaters and long pants, there might be some surprises…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Belle of Amherst

The Bee of Amherst

Emily Dickinson is one of our best-known poets, and many of us can probably conjure up a few of her most quoted lines. But while we know she’s important, I’m willing to bet that most of us also find her poems somewhat difficult. They’re so compact, so very personal, full of references that are difficult to grasp from our modern perspective.

As a result, when we’re first introduced to her work, sometimes the poems that are selected—because they seem more accessible—are also kind of…greeting card sweet (Please, no hate mail!). This is a shame, because when we take the time to read more of Dickinson’s work, we find an incredibly inventive, smart and passionate poet. She can even be quite funny. Hey, I named this column after her—so you know I’m a fan.

Therefore, on behalf of the Belle of Amherst, I offer a poem of hers that I think is a winner for families on all counts: it’s very accessible, but not at the expense of smart. It’s fun to say out loud, and not as twisty in its rhythms as some of her work. It is sweet, but not syrupy—more like refreshing, ice-cold, home-made lemonade on a hot summer day…

Read the rest of this entry »

Journal-Making: Inspiration for Writing & Drawing

Making Journals with Kids Can Encourage & Support Language & Visual Art Skills

On Sunday, July 21, 2013, at 1pm, children’s illustrator Pamela Zagarenski will lead a drawing and booklet binding workshop in the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s studio in Amherst. Kids of all ages can come play a drawing-based game and learn how to bind their drawings into a booklet. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield – Handmade journals at the Hilltown Spring Festival Kids’ Made Craft Bazaar)

It’s no secret of parenting that kids have a lot to say. Just as our own adult brains are constantly stirring through ideas, memories, and observations, children’s brains are working just as hard. They make note of interesting things that they see in their surroundings, develop characters and stories inspired by their experiences, and they may even craft clever illustrations to their thoughts inside the confines of their neural connections. Giving kids an outlet isn’t difficult – younger children can often satisfy their creative urges with a basket of crayons and some recycled paper, while older children create more sophisticated drawings, diagrams, stories, or logs when they’ve got something to record.

A great summer project to do as a family to encourage kids’ writing and drawing skills is journal-making…

Read the rest of this entry »

One Clover & A Bee: Story of Summer with E. E. Cummings

Take a Poem to the Beach

To kick off the summer, here’s a poem by E.E. Cummings. Cummings is known for his inventiveness—his play with language and form. That playfulness is usually most obvious in the capitalization (or lack of) and punctuation (seemingly random) in his poems, and kids love to see a grown-up breaking those rules.

———

maggie and milly and molly and may
by E. E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

[From “The Complete Poems: 1904-1962” by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage.]

———

In this poem the sense of play is also present in the parenthetical asides; they create an extra intimacy—I feel like the poet is speaking just to me, letting me into his confidence. Sort of like when you watch an episode of The Office (or a Shakespeare play), and the actors break out of character and speak directly to the camera/audience…

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One Clover & A Bee: A Writing Challenge for Families

Big Ideas (in the Ordinary)

This month I invite you to take all of those lost imaginative ideas and share them by writing with your child! In fact, you could try a writing game where you just put a bunch of ordinary stuff from your house on a table, then challenge each other to write a poem that has all the stuff on the table in it… and, if you like, feel free to post your family’s writing here in the comments. I would love to see what you come up with!

I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way.

The poem I’ve chosen for this month’s column, “Today,” by Frank O’Hara, is a great antidote to this kind of inhibition. O’Hara was immersed in the New York art scene, and his poems reflect the exciting changes that were happening in the visual arts of the 1950’s. They’re colorful, irreverent, noisy, seemingly casual but secretly well-crafted.

But what I appreciate most about this poem (and others by O’Hara) is that it shows us that anything can be in art, and art can be about anything. Just by writing about it, by putting the ordinary stuff of our lives into a poem it becomes changed and celebrated. It becomes interesting.

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Equality for All: Spoken Word Video Contest for Western MA Youth

Hampshire County Law Day 2013
Spoken Word Contest for Middle & High School Youth

Hampshire County LAW DAY 2013: A Spoken Word Video Contest for Middle & High School Aged Youth. — Spoken word poetry is a powerful, high energy form of storytelling intended for onstage performance. It has ties to hip hop, modern poetry, postmodern performance and monologue theater, as well as jazz, blues and folk music.

As we teach our children how to conceptualize the world, they are most certainly forming their own opinions about what it means to live and exist within it.  We give them lots of information on the past, and perhaps even more than that, we give them advice and guidance for navigating today and the future.  We share with them critical information about our history – both as individuals and as a country and culture – and we try to help them make sense of it.  Whatever they gain from it, they then use to find their own place in the world.  But rarely do we ask them to tell us what it means to them.

When we teach students about things like feminism, civil rights, tolerance, and equality, the topics become important to them not when we teach them, but when they find a way to connect to them.  And what better way to find out what they’ve learned than to ask them to share what these things mean to them?

The upcoming Hampshire County Law Day (which will take place on May 1st, 2013) is offering an opportunity for middle and high school students to do just that.  Youth interested in making themselves heard can create an original piece of spoken word to the Northwest District Attorney’s Citizen Advisory Board – pieces will be reviewed by the board and three students will be given the chance to share their voice and their perspective during the event.  Held to celebrate the steady development of equality in America, the event focuses on the same ideals shared by those who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago, as well as followers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech took place 50 years ago.

Submissions to the contest should be in video form, as the most important element in spoken word is the delivery of the poet’s work.  The deadline for submission is 4pm on Tuesday, April 23rd.  For more information about both the contest and the event, including specific content guidelines for submissions, visit northwesternda.org.

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