This spring I was voted in as president for the Maine chapter of the AATG (American Association of Teachers of German). It’s work I’m proud to do, but it’s not quite as glamorous an honor as it sounds, since ours is a small chapter, so there are few of us to do the work. Nevertheless, it puts me in touch with German teachers across the state and it’s a wonderful way to develop in my profession. Yesterday was an annual event we hold at the governor’s mansion (called the Blaine House) to honor the achievements of our German students. Our main speaker was Dr. Jay Ketner, the World Languages Specialist for the Maine Department of Education, but I gave a few remarks before his speech and seeing as this blog is all about a love of writing AND languages, I thought I would share it with my readers.
One of my Mother’s Day gifts today was time: a few uninterrupted hours by myself including time to read a slew of picture books at the local bookstore. Although it’s been a while since my last PB Review blog post, I have been reading a lot of picture books, I just haven’t had time to immerse myself in them enough to write quality reviews. So my family’s gift to me becomes my gift to you.
There’s a theme to these books: they are all written by people I consider as inspirations for my writing, two of whom I’ve actually met, and all of whom I follow on Twitter. I’ll say a little more about those connections in my reviews, so let’s get right to them:
When I was about 12, my parents and I went on a 3 week road trip across the country to visit my older sister in Colorado. In addition to my suitcase, I had a “carry-on” sized bag which was FILLED with books. I slowly went through them all on the course of the trip, reading my way though Indiana, Nebraska, Kentucky, etc. As a teenager, I remember staying up until 2am finishing a book one New Year’s Eve. Years later, I still consider myself a book lover, even though I don’t read nearly as much as I would like to. (I’m a teacher, so it’s really hard for me to find time outside of summer vacation).
The point here, is that when I hear people say they “don’t read” or “don’t like to read,” my heart sinks. I hear that from my students a lot, and it is like a punch to my gut, but since I don’t teach English, I try not to take it too personally.
When it’s your own kid? It’s a whole different story.
Thankfully, I haven’t yet heard the “I don’t like to read” line from my boys (they are 8 and 11), but the truth is, they are not yet truly “readers” in the way I would like. Up until recently, getting them to read was a real chore and there were many afternoons when I had to cheat a bit when filling out the dreaded “reading log” for school. It hurt.
Mind you, reading aloud before bedtime was different– from picture books to Harry Potter to our obsession now with Percy Jackson, they love hearing me read to them. They clearly have respect and interest in storytelling, so that helps. But a passion for the feel and smell of books? An addiction to grabbing the next book in a series and devouring it in a sitting? Not so much.
Until now. Without wanting to jinx anything, I can share that I’m starting to see the beginnings of a real love of reading in my boys, and for that, I am truly grateful to the authors of several fantastic series:
John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I have been pretty busy lately, so I guess a lot of life has happened. I apologize for the lack of picture book reviews to those following my blog– they will have their triumphant return, I promise! I’ve been reading plenty of them, but the posts take a long time to put together. In the meantime, my literary life has been pretty full of other things (above and beyond my day job which right now involves scrambling to get grades in for the end of the quarter):
- My first “open-mic night”: Tonight I was a guest reader at my local public library’s annual “Community Poetry Night” to celebrate National Poetry month. I read five of my poems — forgot how much I love performing!
- Coaching my school’s Speech & Debate team: I am the assistant coach for our team and the past two months were filled with state competition and national qualifiers. Our small school is sending three competitors to nationals! I love working with these talented students and encouraging their love of words!
- Entering a writing contest! I am excited to announce that I was named a finalist in Michelle Hauck’s “PB Party”! My picture book “The Great Holiday Cookie Fight” and 26 other finalists will be going in front of agents on April 5th! Wish me luck!
4. Sparking a love of reading in my sons!! That’s hands down the biggest accomplishment of the bunch! Both of my boys are quite bright but reluctant readers and BOTH have managed to find series they are thrilled with. Max just finished up the “Wimpy Kid” series (Jeff Kinney) and has read the first book in the Origami Yoda series (Tom Angelberger). Meanwhile, Robbie (8) can’t get enough of Ursula Vernon’s “Dragonbreath” series. All three are great, creative, unique creations and I’m thrilled.
And in the category of not specifically literary, but definitely linguistic, I’ll be traveling to Germany and Austria next week with 20 of my German students. We will spend 12 days visiting the sights and spending time with our sister school outside Stuttgart. Introducing these kids to the magic of travel and watching as they interact with a new culture is the best part of my job and a definite inspiration for future writing.
So, watch this space! I’ve got some great things planned once life slows down a little!
My sons got several games for Christmas and I bought another one at a recent after-Christmas sale. We love playing games at our house, and I realized during our gameplay this vacation that not only am I spending awesome quality time with them, but I can also consider it an important writing exercise. While strategy games like chess or Parcheesi may not be particularly inspiring linguistically, there are plenty of games which exercise the imagination.
Our newest game, “Pickles to Penguins” is an excellent example. This game is played with a huge deck of double-sided cards containing photos of everyday objects such as a kitchen sink, a lion, or a beach ball. Two cards are face up on the table and each player has a stack of their own cards. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards by drawing connections between one of your cards and one of the cards on the table.
For example, in the photo shown, one of the “community” cards is a playground slide, and one of “my” cards is a banana. I could say “Sometimes people slide on a *banana peel* like they slide on a *slide.*” You are not allowed to make the same connection twice (such as stacking animals on top of each other) or to connect things by simply their starting letter or background color. The remaining cards before me in the photo are “polar bear,” “ball,” “cello,” and “tiger.” Which of those can somehow connect to “banana” or “earrings”? The easy play is probably “ball”, the same round shape as the circles on the earrings…but you can see how making connections with words quickly leads to innovative thinking!
When I played with my 11 year old, we kept the pace relaxed and basically took turns, but the game could easily become frenetic with more equally matched competitors. (And if you try to make a connection which is too far-fetched, your opponents can penalize you!) Meanwhile, it was great mental gymnastics for me as I tried to force myself to make creative connections, and it was an equally useful learning experience for my son, who went from “they’re both animals,” to “they’re both mammals,” to “They’re both things you use on vacation.”
The title “Pickles to Penguins” might remind you of another classic party game which involves making creative connections: “Apples to Apples.” Aside from being pretty hilarious, a few rounds of that game is bound to remind you of ways you can combine nouns with unexpected adjectives to make your writing more fresh and less cliché. Even a quick look at a finished Scrabble or Bananagrams board is a good way to brainstorm a new story or plot twist.
There are many other lesser-known games which can inspire writers, however. Some of my favorites are those with inherent story-telling characteristics. Three great examples to look into are “Rory’s Story Cubes,” “Nanofictionary,” and “Once Upon a a Time.” In all of those games (which I highly recommend you check out), you create a story using elements on cards or dice either cooperatively or competitively. And of course, there’s also the world of Role-playing games (probably worthy of a separate post entirely), which are by their very nature, cooperative storytelling and a phenomenal way to work out a story. Dungeons & Dragons is one example, but there are many, many other systems out there to let you create just the kind of story world you would like to immerse yourself in.
So, don’t feel guilty about game night! Get out there and spend some quality time with friends and family– just think of it as another form of professional development!
I originally intended to write a “Top Ten” list of my favorite books that I had reviewed in 2016. I started my blog in February of this year and I have read/reviewed a lot of wonderful books in that time! It’s very hard to narrow down the list, but I have come up with a “baker’s dozen” that might help you out if you’re still looking for a picture book to buy that voracious picture book reader for the holidays. They’re not all published in 2016, but most of them are at least within the past two years or so– links are to my reviews. I decided in the end not to number them because I love them all for different reasons.
So, read these when you want a book that will…
We all wear a lot of hats– look at my Twitter bio and you’ll see that I’m a teacher, parent, musician, German-speaker, Christian, cook and heck, even a soap-maker in addition to being a writer. This past weekend I was at ACTFL – a conference for foreign language teachers – but since I’m also participating in a challenge to write 30 poems in 30 days,* my mind was constantly working on ideas for new poems as well as swimming with new ideas for teaching German. The result– I decided to write a poem about my conference experience in German (followed by an English prose version– didn’t feel like being crazy enough to make them BOTH rhyme!). This is what my blog Schreibenfreude is all about: the joy (and sometimes overwhelming chaos) of writing AND of language. If you’ve been to a conference or really productive workshop, you may relate:
Auf der Sprachkonferenz
Alles was noch übrig bleibt,
Nach dem langen, vollen Tag
Wie ein Stift, der nicht mehr schreibt,
Wie ein Auto, das versagt,
Ist in meinem Gedächtnis wach.
Bilder Fliegen, Filme gleich,
Jedes Wort, das jeder sprach
Schwmmt wie im bespanntem Teich.
Durchsortieren mit der Zeit
Bringt Verständnis, klärt viel auf.
Doch hilft Abstand nur soweit
Ganz allein, lieg ich und denk:
Ich bin dankbar für mein Glück,
Was noch bleibt ist ein Geschenk
Auch wenn nur ein kleines Stück.
English Version in Prose:
At the language conference:
All that remains after a long full day,
Like a pen that is out of ink
Or a car that has stopped working,
Is awake in my consciousness.
Pictures fly by like films
And every word that everyone said
Swims like fish in a freshly stocked pool.
With time, sorting through these memories
Brings clarity and understanding…
Yet distance only helps so much until
The memories fade away.
All alone I lie and think:
I am thankful for my luck.
What remains is a gift
Even if only a small one.
*My 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge is part of a fundraiser for the “Center for New Americans.” Click on the link for more information!