Monday, July 31, 2017

SmartARTS: Art Integration in Greenville, SC

Congratulations to Sandra Warren who won "JUST FLY AWAY" from last week's giveaway.


Some of you have seen my previous blogs about how I'm getting involved in the arts community in my new hometown, Greenville, SC. Today you'll get a glimpse into an amazing arts integration program sponsored by the Metropolitan Arts Council

When I first moved to Greenville, I looked for opportunities to teach writing and was excited to discover the Council's program of training artists to work with teachers in the classroom. An organization committed to enhancing content instruction through the vehicle of visual arts, drama, music, dance and writing? Sign me up! Based on my enthusiasm (and maybe because I wrote Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8), Gayla Day, Director of Arts Education, asked if I wanted to attend their summer training. That's like asking if I love chocolate!

Last week I participated in my first SmartARTS Institute, a four-day instructional event for teachers and teaching artist candidates. Our first day we considered the inquiry question, "What is Arts Integration?" True to the emphasis on experiential learning (students learn content more effectively when they are active physically, mentally, and emotionally) we were given a variety of tasks to perform. One activity was answering with a team "What is Arts Integration?" by ONLY considering sensory information. (My contribution was that it was like a smorgasbord or stir fry. The texture person thought it was like layering fabrics or weaving metal pieces into cloth). In small groups, we created tableaux to answer that same question by using only three words and one phrase: Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Prepositional Phrase. 

The dance class introduced us to a variety ways of moving through space using various body parts and then we choreographed small dances out of tableaux. In a group of four, two students received locomotion cards (examples: hop, gallop, slither, skip) and two non-locomotor (examples: whirl, explode, rise, jump). Our task was to first order the words and then create a tableau going from one word to another. Our group ordered reach, close, creep, and hustle. I'm proud to say we were the only group that created a story: a burglar reached for a open window, closed it, crept, and then hustled away. What a way to teach vivid verbs!

Tuesday we attended theater and music immersion workshops, as well as a session entitled "What is Inquiry?" 

We watched a powerful powerpoint about Hurricane Katrina and in groups of four created tableaux that showed what it looked like before, during, and after the storm hit. 

Here is one group's interpretation of during:

And after. 

After written reflections and group sharing we found out that the inquiry question for our "unit" had been, "What is community?"

We made books on Wednesday in the art immersion:

I enjoyed seeing the variety of ways the teachers covered their papers with color.  The facilitator's instruction that "there's no right or wrong" freed us all, even as we considered the elements of art we incorporated.

 Our instructor showed us how to fold, cut, and glue the 18x24 watercolor paper.

The end products were as diverse as the teachers themselves. The books could be used as a journal for a field trip, a repository of poems or stories, or a collection of recipes.

Throughout the art immersion classes the instructors gave examples of how to integrate their discipline into content areas. I heard about teaching fractions and a number timeline through music; how the Pythagorean Theorem could be applied to imagining, conceiving, and building a structure that would withstand an earthquake; how dance movements could teach South Carolina history; and how poetry could be used to explain science and reflect on history (think: layering meaning about light and dark times in history with the upcoming solar eclipse.) 

I watched Vera Gomez, the poet who I will shadow this fall, teach the writing immersion and then plan a unit with a second-grade teacher. I was impressed with how she responded to the teacher's goal (showing her students how to include more details in their writing) with a wide variety of written, art, and dramatic activities that will meet second grade standards.  

In the role of student, I learned and practiced new concepts. I considered other art disciplines that will invigorate me as a writer. And I'm about to enter a new phase of teaching writing: becoming a teaching artist in the classroom. My brain is stuffed with new ideas that keep me awake at night.

I'm pumped! 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Just Fly Away: An Audio CD Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won THE WOLF'S BOY.

Please note that since this is a review of an audio CD, the following quotes might not be exactly correct; I did my best to capture the words.



What do you do if you find out that your father had an affair eight years ago and you have a half-brother you never knew about?

That is fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows' problem and the crux of JUST FLY AWAY (Algonquin, 2017), the debut YA book by actor Andrew McCarthy. When her father discloses the information to her and her sister Julie, Lucy is furious. How could her mother continue living with him? How can anything ever be normal again? How could he have lied to them--pretending they were a perfectly regular family--all this time? Lucy begins a quest to find her brother Thomas. In her suburban New Jersey town this proves to be pretty easy--he lives within biking distance of her home. 

Soon after Lucy finds out about Thomas, she "falls in love" with her best friend's brother, Simon. In Save-the-Cat language, Simon provides the B-story; the love interest who supposedly provides some nuggets of truth. To be honest, as a secondary character, Simon fell flat for me. Although Lucy is crazy about the way he looks and how he kisses, until the end of the book Simon doesn't do a whole lot to warrants her effusive affection. When Lucy tells Simon how angry she is about Thomas, Simon remarks, "It's not his fault you know." True, but not an earth shattering revelation. 

In my opinion, the book bogs down in the middle. There were too many scenes that didn't show more than two teenagers smoking dope and kissing. I kept waiting for more to happen. The book became more interesting when Lucy impulsively decides to run away from home and take a bus to her grandfather's house in Maine; although I wasn't convinced that this type of impulsive behavior was built into her character. In fact, it's not until she happens to see a poster of Maine that she makes this decision and throughout the journey shows little emotional reaction to leaving home. The bus ride had some interesting moments but felt drawn out. 

I love generational stories so I found Lucy's interaction with her grandfather to be the best part of the book. As they walk along the rocks near the coast, Lucy dares to ask him why he is estranged from his son. His answers helps her to understand that her grandfather wrongly took his anger out on her father. Her grandfather remarks, "We see them [people] the way we see them. Other people may see them a different way...We never see our parents as just people. They're our parents. And that ought to be enough for them. But it's not enough."

The walk along the breakwater is the most suspenseful part of the book. Although the walk ends in tragedy, it ultimately leads to more risk-taking and honesty between Lucy and her father. 

In the car back in New Jersey, Lucy asks her father, 

“I guess you can never really know everything about a person, can you?”  
"The best we can try and do is let another person know who we truly are. To let them see us. That is, if we love them and trust them enough. And to do that, we have to reveal ourselves to the other person.” 
Her father admits that he covered up the affair because he didn't want to be seen in a bad light. Lucy babysits for Thomas and while at their house picks up a book that had been her favorite as a child. In it a Japanese farmer wisely looks at several different events from both a positive and negative point of view. At which point Lucy concludes that maybe it's not so bad having a little brother after all- a satisfying ending.


This book could be used as a conversation starter for a teen who has gone through an event such as this or is just having trouble talking with her parent.

I am giving away the audio CD, courtesy of Recorded Books. Leave me a comment by July 28 to be entered in the giveaway. Make sure you leave me your email address if I don't have it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Wolf's Boy: A Review and Autographed Giveaway

Congratulations to Kathleen Burkinshaw who won the Audio CD, MADE YOU UP.


A very long time ago, a baby boy is born with a withered foot. His father, obeying the rules of his people, leaves him out in the open, presumably to die. A mother wolf adopts him and treats him like one of her own pups. One night the boy’s mother hears a human cry mixed in with the cry of the wolves. With great longing for her child, she rescues him. In this way, Kai—or Wolfboy as the village boys eventually call him—begins his difficult, pain-filled life.


The author of THE WOLF’S BOY, (Disney Hyperion, 2016)  Susan Williams Beckhorn, reached out to me after reading my post on Kirby Larson’s blog. Her description of her book, “a ‘first dog’ story inspired by the 1994 finding of the fossilized footprints of a boy and a canine walking side by side in Chauvet Cave in France” intrigued me. Although Susan and I probably disagree about the Biblical view of creation and evolution, I found this middle grade book for boys and girls to be well-written with many layers built into it. 

Interesting enough, Beckhorn incorporated a fictional creator/supreme being, Tal, into the story. At the story’s outset Kai observes that, “Tal gives two arms, legs, eyes, ears. If one is hurt, the other grows stronger. Maybe Tal is trying to make me stronger.” (p. 37) This not only reflects that a belief in a supreme being is common among cultures (Romans 1:20, Acts 18: 22-31) and that difficulties and trials are for our good (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5), but also foreshadows Kai’s journey.

Despite his father’s reservations and his brother’s contempt, Kai gets to keep a wolf pup he rescues. This pivotal point is shown here:
I carried the pup back to my bed. The little wolf nestled against me. She stretched out a foot, bumping my nose. I ran a finger over her muzzle. It was shorter than most. Her little skull seemed rounder too. “Will you be one of the People?” I whisper to her. “Or should I be one of the innos with you?” (p. 49)

The friendship between Kai and his wolf who he names, Uff, grows as they do everything together: sleep, eat, play, and hunt small game and fish. Uff accepts Kai and his lame foot as normal; he doesn’t treat him as cursed (tabat) as the other members of the community do. “You don’t hate me for my bad foot,” I put my forehead against hers. “You are my friend.” (p. 70) 

Since he is tabat, Kai may not touch a weapon and therefore is not trained to be a blood hunter like other boys. As his brother and peers shame him he contemplates running away, with the realization that he’ll have to be able to hunt large animals in order to survive. "There must be a place in the world for us.” Kai thinks. (p. 83) 

The shaman, both revered and feared within the community, is also disfigured. When he tells Kai that he has powers, Kai is puzzled. In another pivotal moment on Kai’s journey the shaman tells him, “You are strange like me. You are other.” (p. 86) 

Without including too many spoilers, Kai risks physical dangers and estrangement from his family and community, and leaves home. His survival journey is a great metaphor for his development as a young man in this unique coming of age story. Kai faces his fear of death, of losing Uff, and of being struck down because he has gone against the rules of the community by creating his own weapon. After his last test he realizes, “I was still myself--Kai, yet I was someone new.” (p. 215)

In the classroom, teachers can use this book to discuss disabilities, friendship, bullying, risk-taking, and survival. If I were a teacher I would latch onto the shaman’s description of other and ask students if they ever felt that way or treated someone else like that. Here is a link to discussion questions.


I am giving away my autographed hardcover copy of this book. Please leave a comment by July 20 for your chance to win it. Share this on social media or start following my blog (be sure to let me know what you did and leave me your email address if you are new) and I’ll enter your name twice. 


By the way, if you are interested in a Biblical view of the world’s age, here is a link to Answers in Genesis.

Monday, July 10, 2017

MADE YOU UP- A Review and an Audio CD Giveaway

Francesca Zappia tackles the difficult subject of schizophrenia in this young adult book, MADE YOU UP. Told from Alex, the 17-year-old’s deep point of view, the reader is brought so completely into her thoughts and emotions that occasionally you can’t figure out what is real and what isn’t—which is exactly Alex’s problem. She uses a camera to record what she sees to help her figure out  what if something is real or a delusion. 

Alex has started in a new school in her senior year because of problems in her previous school. The reader doesn’t find out until ¾ of the way through what these problems were—all we know is that Alex desperately doesn’t want students in her new school to discover her diagnosis, she wants to be perceived as normal and not crazy, and she wants to get into college. (Note to self and other writers: backstory doesn’t need to be spelled out in the beginning. Just enough details to make the story plausible.) Because of last year’s issues, she’s has to provide service hours in a committee led by Miles, a senior she thinks she met as a nine-year-old. Since she had believed their encounter was a delusion, it takes her awhile to realize he is the same boy. Their love/hate relationship serve each other’s needs as they both tackle the specter and stigma of craziness in their lives. 

The book is masterfully written, interweaving Alex’s delusions with real events and characters. But although it’s clear that the phoenix Alex imagines is not real, it’s a surprise to find out that a significant secondary character lives in her imagination and died several year ago. Another time she dismisses the appearance of a boa constrictor as a delusion, but is startled to discover that it is real. (Which is a great way for the author to demonstrate that her delusional fears about Nazi spies are nothing compared to the reality of a snake almost killing her.) The fact that Alex figures out a complicated school mystery is a testimony to her intelligence and persistence. 

I would give this book five stars except for the language and sexual content. I know I represent a small minority in this regard and that MADE YOU UP probably reflects how many high school students talk and act, but I don’t agree that authors should feed that system. This could have been an equally powerful book with toned down language and without the sexual references. That being said, teen readers who choose to read this book will get an intimate view of mental illness including psychotic episodes, hallucinations, and paranoia. 

In the end, Alex forgoes graduation—what she really wanted—and signs herself into a mental health hospital. Although I was sad not to see her obtain her goals, I was glad to see her face her fears and take control of her life by getting the help she needed. As she and Miles agree in the end, “The real thing is always better.”

The narrator, Amanda Ronconi, read the book clearly and I had no difficulty following her rendition. Here is a link to an audio snippet of the book. I am giving away the audio CD courtesy of Tantor Media. Leave me a comment by July 14 for a chance to win. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Multi-Racial Read #19: Notes of a White Black Woman by Judy Scales-Trent- Part I

Congratulations to Cat Michaels who won Leonardo the Florentine from last week's blog. 
I purchased NOTE OF A WHITE BLACK WOMAN several years ago and recently found it while unpacking. I'm glad I did! Judy Scales-Trent provides amazing insights into racial identity as she reveals her thoughts and emotions as a "white black woman." As I often do when reviewing a book like this, I'm going to quote different sections that particularly hit me and which will inform Half-Truths. Since there is much that I want to quote, I will intersperse blog posts from NOTES OF A WHITE BLACK WOMAN with other book reviews and writing observations. I hope this book will challenge your thinking as it has mine.

Pennsylvania State University Press, 1955


Where race is important, there must be a way to sort by race. Thus, to the extent that we talk about race in America, we are basing our talk on notions of racial purity. The concept of race cannot exist without the concept of racial purity.
 The need for racial purity laws arose in America as soon as an African and a European had sexual relations here and produced a child. Was the child African? European? Something else? It is not surprising, then that the question was raised early....By 1662 the state of Virginia, troubled by these relationships, passes its first law banning miscegenation. (p.3)
Just as the forced migration of millions of Yoruba and Ibo wrought destruction on those cultures in Africa as well as in America, so has this newly created African American community been devastated by a vision of the world in which light skin and dark skin are seen as meditations on good and evil, civilization and savagery, intelligence and ignorance. This cruel lesson has not only affected how we see ourselves in comparisons with white Americans; it has also informed how we look at each other within our own community. 
Like my parents, I am a black American with white skin, an African American with both African and European ancestors. Thus, I live a life that is often disjointed, troubling. I also see the world in a different way...For my position does not allow me the luxury of thinking that the notion of race makes any sense. If you are black and white at the same time, once you finally realize that it is not you that is strange, you realize something very strange is going on in this society. Perhaps more directly and more starkly than other Americans, I understand "race" as a socially created metaphor, for my very existence unsettles expectations of "race." (p. 4)
photo © Rob McElroy, 2015

 Journal Entries

November, 1978. Cast out, cast out, always cast out from the only home, the only safe place, the only refuge in a terrifying, vicious land. Cast out, and alone.
No home. No home.
No place to belong.
No place to rest a frightened and lonely heart.
No place to hide.
White people would let me in, of course. They think that I belong with them. They smile at me. They welcome me. They think I'm their sister.  
Missing the safe warmth of my childhood, a colored girl growing up in the protection of a strong family in the segregated South, surrounded by their love and their strength and their definition of me and of themselves.
But I lost something more when I grew up and moved out of the segregated South, out of the safety of my childhood home, because the Jim Crow laws gave me an identity and a protection I couldn't give myself.  
What do you do if you're rejected by one world,...and are constantly rejecting the other? I am perceived by some as white, by some as black, by yet others as a black person but "really white," so (a) you can trust her and (b) you can't trust her. 
And yet I'm me all the time.  (p. 13-14)


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