What if you dared go through a magical door into another land? What would lie on the other side?
What if you came across a letter…the old fashioned kind sealed with wax? Where would you find it? What was written on the envelope? Was it addressed to you?
What did the wax seal look like? Did it have symbols on it? A crest? Initials? What do you think these symbols mean? Do you dare open it?
If you do, what does the letter say? Does it invite you somewhere? Present a mystery? Give you directions? A warning?
So many questions. Questions always lead to a good story, whether they be answered or unanswered.
To fire up your creativity, why not make your own seal and use it as kindling for a new story or to extend one that you have already started?
Draw your seal first, selecting symbols to represent the sender. Simple symbols like crowns or trees are best for this craft. Then carve your symbol into a styrofoam plate to make a print template. Using coloured markers, colour the styrofoam. Note: brighter, vibrant colours work best. Yellow washes out, for example. Next, using a sponge, wet a piece of plain, white paper (do not leave puddles). Press and hold the coloured side of your styrofoam crest on the wet spot. When you remove it, you should see an impression of your crest. When dry, you can outline it in sharpie. You can use the template over and over again, using different colours each time.
Here is a link to help you understand the art of printmaking with styrofoam.
Enjoy using art to inspire writing! You have my ‘seal’ of approval!
I have always loved Roald Dahl’s sense of whimsy, fancy and fun! He took such liberties to create his own words and entertained us with heavy sprinklings of nonsense.
After reading parts of “The BFG” and creating a list of our own nonsense words, my students and I put our imaginations to work.
What kind of restaurant would a giant or monster go to? What kinds of things would be on the menu?
We looked at a few ‘unsavoury’ images for the menu covers and then, inspired by Roald Dahl’s whimsy, invented a restaurant full of appetizers, drinks, soups, salads, mains and desserts for giant clients!
One student created a menu for the: Trolly Bolly Restaurant where you can order an Oliymoly to start, a Blooduckel to drink, a Seaple for soup, and a Blaclsam for dessert.
If you opened a restaurant for giants or monsters, what would you put on the menu?
This Mother’s Day I recommend that you DO NOT give your mom a bouquet from THIS garden!
Scary Mary, from my book, “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on” has inspired a few new breeds of plants…but be careful, some of them bite.
This week, to honour spring we ‘grew’ a few new stories of our own. First we read “Scary Mary’s Garden Tour”, then we watched some videos about real life plants, ones that eat…um there is no nice way to say this…meat. Then we watched one about some of the most beautiful flowers in the world for contrast.
After this, we drew or modelled plants of our own creation. They had to have a head, a body and roots, with at least 3 human characteristics. We named them and then wrote short stories about them. Where did we find them? What did they look like? Were they poisonous? What could they be used for? What was unique about them?
One young horticulturist grew a “Do-nut-touch-me Plant”. It looks sweet, but do not try to pick it!
I grew a Cat-a-pult-a-killicus Plant. If you try to dig it up, it will scratch you with its claw-like roots. It has a blue tail and uses it to flick or catapult flies into its cat like flower face. Once on the cat’s whiskers, these flies don’t stand a chance. Like the victims of the Pitcher Plant, they slide down into sticky goo and well…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Try inventing your own plant. Scary Mary has plenty of room in her garden for more flowers.
To view a reading of “Scary Mary’s Garden Tour” visit:
April has been National Poetry Month and while I did not quite write or read a poem a day, I did hone my haikus and pen a few quirky quatrains.
Thursday, April 29th is Poem in Your Pocket Day, a fantastic way to celebrate and share your favourite verses!
PIYP is an international movement that encourages folks to invite poetry into their daily interactions. On PIYP Day, select a poem, carry it with you, and share it with others at schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, workplaces, coffee shops, street corners, and on social media using the hashtag #PocketPoem.
Of course I recommend playful poems written by my friends Tiffany Stone and Kari-Lynn Winters. Visit them at https://www.tiffanystone.ca and https://kariwinters.com. Or…put this poem in your pocket, written by me and found in “Hungry for Science Poems to Crunch on”
Cycles, cycles ’round and ’round
like wheels upon a bike.
Winter, spring, summer, fall–
which season do you like?
The earth moves ’round the sun
bringing winter snow.
Some months later, moving still
spring flowers start to grow.
The earth moves ’round the sun
bringing summer heat.
Some months later, moving still
we have fall fruit to eat.
Here are a few suggestions about how to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day from the League of Canadian Poets website: http://www.poets.ca. Why not try one this Thursday!
Start a “poems for pockets” giveaway in your school or workplace
Urge local businesses to offer discounts for those carrying poems
Post pocket-sized verses in public places
Memorize a poem
Start a street team to pass out poems in your community
Distribute bookmarks with your favorite lines of poetry
Add a poem to your email footer
Post lines from your favorite poem on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr
Art and words go hand in hand. Simple sculpting helps students develop a richer and more evocative vocabulary. It encourages them to pause and include things that would normally be overlooked. It allows them to explore colour and mood both in 3D and on paper.
I worked on retellings with my students recently. We read “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” retold and illustrated by Mo Willems. After that students thought of who Goldilocks could be…did she have to be human or could she be a monkey or a potato of all things. Then they thought about who she was visiting…three dragons, three sharks, three…you fill in the blank.
Each of us re-wrote the story with the new characters in their new environments.
First drafts were pretty good, but I felt they needed more detail, so we built mini-models of one of the rooms in the house Goldi was visiting. This whole activity was inspired by my 6 year old neighbour who gifted me with an entire mini fairy scene made out of plasticine. I was so impressed with her mini fairy pizzas, mini flowers, mini fairy umbrellas and such that I had to try it myself!
Students made models of their favourite room and their writing blossomed. I asked them to add these new found details to their story.
Sentences went from, ‘there were three beds’ to describing each in detail right down to the colours and designs on the bed sheets. Some even included little stuffies for each character to sleep with, bedside books and lamps.
So, the next time you are at a loss for words…go mini! Build a mini-world and build vocabulary at the same time. But do watch out for those dragons…they could be home at any minute!
Words. They can help to elaborate on or describe a character or their actions, they can capture a mood, highlight a feeling…but what if words elude you? What if, however hard you try and however many times you use thesaurus.com, you keep recycling all of the ones you are most comfortable with? What if all of your stories and the characters in them start to sound the same?
Time to shake things up a bit! In one of my writing classes, we decided, literally and figuratively to build a character from scratch. We created our own magician’s pets using modelling clay and a lot of imagination.
The pet had to have three distinct parts: the head of an animal or mythical beast, the body of something else and the feet of another creature. Students then drew their creature, gave the pet a name and built a miniature version of it out of clay/plastercine.
Here are some of the ideas students came up with:
-a Sharkasaurus: a creature with 2 panda heads, 3 horse legs and the body of crocodile.
-a Duckle: a creature with the head of a duck, the body of a turtle and cat’s legs.
-a Flabuzzle: a creature with a dinosaur’s head, a bee’s body, flamingo legs and a peacock’s tail.
-Pinky Pie: a creature with the head of a wolf, the body of a duck and dragon’s legs.
-a Driggy: a creature with a dragon’s head, a pig’s body, and 20 chicken legs.
Building these mini monsters helped everyone to develop their vocabulary and discover some fine and intricate details that they could use in their writing. Nobody was at a loss for words when they were asked to describe them.
We all kept our mini pets close by and made them the centre of their own stories in days to come as we explored how to train them, what to feed them and what kinds of trouble or adventures they got into with their magicians!
Why not try this when you are at a loss for words? Build your very own mini magician’s pet and make it the centre of an adventure story! Feel free to post and share your creatures below!
Every year for the past 15 plus years or more, it has been my tradition, along with 1000’s of others and a handful of brave friends, to take the plunge, the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day.
Here in Vancouver it usually takes place at English Bay. This year, it went virtual and avid polar bears were encouraged to dip in family groups at socially distanced venues in bathtubs, backyard pools and fish ponds…
For the 101stVancouver Polar Bear swim, though we could not host our usual party, some of the ‘guests’ that showed up were truly magical! We met a Scotsman, an astronaut and the Loch Ness Monster. Together we broke the ice on ‘Loch Ness’ in North Vancouver and jumped in! We improvised.
Every year, I dress up. Last year I was Flamingo Lady and sported a pink boa, a pink bouffont wig, a large inflatable pool flamingo, pink flamingo glasses and a pink boa. My mom and dad participated too as Snowflake and Elvis. There are Vikings, penguins, clowns and princesses that show up in full garb!
This year I wasn’t sure what to dress up as, what character to be. Recently my writer friends have been encouraging me to draw on my own culture and experience. I do have Scottish ancestry and am always present for the PB swim…so why not create characters around that?
The story of how the first polar bear swim in Scotland came to be was born on a stormy, rainy, dark morning, nestled under my cosy duvet, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee. I had Loch Ness Monster hats and Scottish tams in my Tickle Trunk from our trip to Scotland. I had a kilt and a Scottish looking scarf. When I went to find them (and I had just seen them before Christmas), they were nowhere to be found. So, as you can see, we improvised.
We did our traditional pre-photo shoot…and though I did not plan for an astronaut to show up, our youngest dipper came dressed in full space gear for his inaugural dip! We made a quick few alterations to the story, added a historical reference to breaking the ice with swords and went live to the backyard splash pool!
The result? A HUGE amount of fun! A tsunami of splashing! An improvised sword fight! Stuttering and sputtering! And the possibility that this improvised, unlikely story may very well turn up in a picture book in 2021!
Lessons to be embraced this year…be willing to improvise (it can be fun and lead to unexpected twists and turns in your story!) Play! Place unusual characters together and see what happens! Be true to you and your experience, draw on it! See where it goes! And above all…dive right in!
Happy writing and Happy New Year everyone! Special thanks to my family who hosted this smallest of swims and congrats to the young astronaut who says this is now his tradition too!
Now that I have your attention…with a few simple ingredients you and your friends, students or children can ‘cook’ up a delicious holiday treat without even going near a stove! Not only that, but before the snow people you make become ‘dessert’, they can provide the inspirational twist to a favourite holiday story!
I made these when I was a kid and I was sure the kids I work with today would love a chance to do some crafting, especially if it involved candy! And so our adventure began!
First, we made our snow people using marshmallows, ju-jubes, icing, chocolate kisses and pretzels, basically anything that is colourful and tasty! Using the icing as ‘glue’ we built our 3 layer families. Use the link below or google marshmallow snowmen to view the how to video.
Next, we watched and listened to a reading of Frosty the Snowman. We stopped the story when poor old Frosty is in the greenhouse and has melted into a puddle. Use the link below to hear the traditional story. Grandma’s House has plenty of great read alouds!
This is where the storytelling kicks in. Students then had to find a way to solve the problem. They had to find a way to turn ‘puddle’ Frosty back into ‘snowman’ Frosty.
After introducing their characters, (they named their own snow people and used them in the story) and setting up the problem, they added their very own creative solutions. My favourite one involved feeding Frosty 1000 popsicles.
If you are really creative, you can make a stop motion video of your story or imagine you are reporters and write a blog or newspaper article on the melting of a magical snowman.
Try this fun and flavourful holiday activity and see if your family can come up with the ‘story of the year’!
Every year, I ask my students to write a poem or essay to submit to the Royal Canadian Legion’s essay and poetry competition.
Every year, I am astounded at how much they learn and how they find ways to connect to a time and place they have not experienced, but which has impacted the freedoms they take for granted today.
Every year, the theme is the same…remembrance.
This year, when we cannot gather as we usually do, take time to read, to reflect, perhaps even to write on what this powerful word means to you.
Below are two evocative pieces, a poem written by Isabelle Song, then in grade 4 and an essay written by Farrah Fang, then in grade 7. Both entered the Legion competition and both won first place municipally and regionally competing with students two years older than them. Both went on to the BC and Yukon provincial level, where Farrah did admirably and Isabelle won third place.
May their words help us to remember…
They Shall Not Forget
By: Isabelle Song,Grade 4
Mothers… they shall not forget the bright smiles of their sons as they darted up the lane into their waiting arms.
They shall not forget how tears streamed down their faces as they sent them off to war.
They shall not forget how they anxiously waited for letters from them
telling them that they were safe.
They shall not forget.
Siblings… they shall not forget how their brothers protected them from bullies at school.
They shall not forget how their brothers said “I’ll go,” instead of them.
They shall not forget how their brother’s body still lies in some far away field under a white cross with a poppy.
They shall not forget.
Soldiers… they shall not forget the jokes he told to raise their spirits.
They shall not forget how he kindly shared his rations even though he was still hungry.
They shall not forget weeping over his dead body peppered with gunshots.
They shall not forget.
We… we shall not forget how selflessly they sacrificed themselves for us to live freely.
We shall not forget how they starved so we could eat square meals.
We shall not forget to remember.
We shall not forget.
I… I shall not forget to reflect during the two minutes of silence.
I shall not forget to wear my poppy proudly on my chest.
I shall not forget the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
I shall not forget.
Last Man Standing
By: Farrah Fang
“I trudged towards the trench, clutching my radio receiver, my exhausted feet dragging behind me. As I reached the bottom rung, the stench of blood mixed with smoke filled my nose. Scattered bits of shrapnel littered the dirt. My heart stopped beating when I realized I was the last man standing. I strained to see through the smoke and glimpsed a figure nearby. I stepped over corpses and turned over the cold body of my brother, a bullet buried in his chest. Memories swarmed in my head of Jack, how I’d taught him how to ride a bike, how he’d earned the nickname Shortcake because he was barely five foot five. He’d always been there for me. I’d vowed to protect him. Tears streamed down my face. I dug into his pocket and pulled out the letter we all wrote as a last letter to relatives. I stuffed it in my pocket and was getting ready to carry his body when a bullet went through my neck.”
“No longer fit to fight, I was sent home. Mum read Shortcake’s letter, clutching it to her heart, trembling.The twinkle in her eye disappeared and she fell into a silence that lasted for months on end. I tried to pull every memory of him from my brain and scavenged for every photo I had of us together to help us remember as much of him as possible.”
“When the war finally ended, I stood in my uniform at the first remembrance ceremony, acknowledged as the only one who had made it back from my unit. I clenched my quivering fingers around the black and white photo of my brother and I outside our favorite alley in the city, both smiling. I pinned it to the center of my poppy on top of all the medals and badges.”
“The gold and silver could not bring back my brother nor the twinkle in my mother’s eyes. Being the last man standing wasn’t something to celebrate without my brother beside me. I’d always imagined Shortcake and I standing together at one of these celebrations, now there is just an empty space in my heart.”
We had reached the cenotaph. I wheeled my great grandfather to the front row. I went with him to the remembrance ceremonies every year in the city square. He pointed a finger at a name engraved in stone, Jack Abbot.
“When I am gone, you must do the remembering.” He unpinned the poppy that had the photo of Jack and gave it to me, insisting that I needed it more than he did.