Saturday, September 25, 2010

My dog, Xavier, whose pesky characteristics
could launch an entire series!
 Characters: Animals/Pets

As my students and I watched My Dog Skip during class this past Friday, I prepared them, didn't give the world away, but answered the question they feared most, "Does the dog die?"

"Yes, eventually, all dogs die," I replied, "but, didn't you watch the Disney movie All Dogs Go to Heaven?"

Now for junior high students, the wonderful thing is that the majority of them had seen All Dogs Go to Heaven and they do still watch Disney movies on occasion. Thankfully, the voice of comfort that a sad ol' Disney movie can bring, was enough to make my worried little charges calm down. That is, almost.

"Mrs. Caveny, obviously, you never met my dog," one student piped up, "there's no way he went to heaven."

I smiled. I understood what the student meant. Some dogs, well, some dogs follow difficult paths. I turned to her and added, "But did you love him?"

The student looked up at me. Her eyes were sad. Ya, they did. And that right there folks, is why Disney and animal-story writers in the world today win every time. We do love those pets, regardless.

Take The Incredible Journey*, by Sheila Burnford, for example, one of my favorite animal books-made-into-a-movie. Sure you love Shadow, but you also love Sassy. Why? She's rotten. Ask anyone who has ever had a Siamese cat. They know. Siamese are independent and full of arrogance. But despite Sassy's faults we love her.

In Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo, one can't help but to fall for the awkward mutt with the snarky smile. He's flawed, and up against a character that feels flawed to some extent herself; he's her perfect match.

So is it the dependence we are attracted too? Is it the unconditional love? Do we love these animals because of some need they fulfill in the character's heart? I believe it is all this exactly...and more.

When I write about the animals that have shared my life, they have each touched upon different aspects of myself. Kitty, the golden mutt--companionship; Oscar, (and later Sophie), both canaries--joy and peacefulness; Sam, the bossy Siamese-- stability; Max, the white zoom-a-roo, Spitz-a-poo,-- mothering, and currently, Xavier, the insane Cattle dog-- understanding. (Note: Xavier is currently "in-the-dog-house" for misbehavior/overzealousness--a daily thing.)

I guess that whatever breed they are, whatever traits they themselves possess, animals will always win in a story. Ultimately, they move from being the "vehicle" that reveal a main character's traits, to being one of the main character themselves.

Which animal/pet/friend from your life complements or suggests a characteristic of yourself? Have you written about them lately?

P.s. *The Incredible Journey is the original book for the movie Homeward Bound, the Incredible Journey. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For the Love of the Language- Favorite Lines

Today I was suckered into reading a book that was suggested by a student of mine. She promised it would be worth my time, and although I was reluctant, I did truly believe that she loved the book. "How bad could it be then?" I convinced myself.

I started reading it during our sustained-reading time and found that the book was, at least, interesting. It made it's way into my backpack, and then, into my home, were it sat on the sofa-table. By 9:00, I had read a few more chapters.

The book, PEEPS, by Scott Westerfeld is (by no surprise) a vampire-themed story like the other 70% of my students' current choices. Although I'm not thoroughly convinced of the story yet, I am in love with the language.

If you have never read Scott Westerfeld, you might at least recognize his name from the incredibly popular YA series he recently concluded: The Uglies, The Pretties, The Specials and The Extras. Most of his stories are futuristic fantasies which blend teenage internal conflicts with the societal chaos of slightly stranger, new worlds.

Despite my reluctance to dig into another vampire story, I can't get out of this book! Westerfeld is fun and creative. He feeds the teacher in me with great context clues surrounding strange new words. He builds bridges between his details, setting me up for some mystery he'll reveal bit by bit. He uses fabulous figurative language and often carries it on for a paragraph or even an entire page! He's sometimes a bit trite, and that's o.k. too. Truth is, I've been suckered in to this book by the language.

Early on in the book,Westerfeld main character, Cal states, "The bruises on my chest were still throbbing, and my ribs were knitting back together in an itchy way." Perfect! (I'm borrowing that one next week as an example for the class.) It's that LANGUAGE that keeps me reading. I want more. I crave more.

Heck, I'm a special breed of vampire, maybe I'll even write about it: Vampires that crave fanciful words, witty phrases and creative figurative language!

Do you have a favorite line or a great passage that should be shared? Post it!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Personal Writing: A Community of Writers
During the past few weeks I have felt more and more akin to one of my favorite characters, Alice, as I, too, have found myself lost in a rabbit-hole of sorts. My blog has suffered, my soul needs "fed" and my notebook is calling me. And that is why, today, I made a point to scupt out some of that "valuable" time to meet up with a community of writers (in this case, teacher-writers).

Regardless of our professions or trade, being among a community of writers is an essential part of a writing life. This particular group that I met with today are all past participants in the Piasa Bluffs Writing Project (a subsidery of the National Writing Project). We're all teachers of one level of students or another, and we have all experienced the joys and trials of teaching writing as well as experienced the value of our own personal writing.

Unlike my Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) critique group, this NWP group uses the majority of time together to sit quietly and write to reflect. Where the SCBWI group provides guiding and critical advice while presenting new personal challenges, the NWP group gives me a chance to delve into my "metaconsciousness" and find out what really makes me tick (or in the more recent case, what causes my "tick" to become stuck) as a teacher of writing and a writer.

Both groups are vital to my growth. Both groups are places, spaces, and "aces" that provide support and feedback for my writing soul. I encourage those who do not have one of these supports to find a group. Whether it's a partner in crime that will sit alongside while you write and lend an ear to listen, or a large group that serves as your sounding board that you can bounce those gems of your writing out upon, find one. I know that I would be at a loss without my writing groups.

Thanks SCBWI and PBWP partners!