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Archives: Serendipity

Pet’s-Eye View: Writing with GRA’s Fenway and Hattie + Pet Crazy

Happy Poetry Friday! I took the summer off from blogging and I’m glad to be back with you. This week’s host for the Poetry Friday link-up is Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty.  Michelle’s blogging about the International Day of Peace (September 21) and invites us all to share a poem on the them of peace.

Sam and Rudy agree! Fenway and Hattie is a great read aloud.

It’s been a few years since I blogged about Victoria J. Coe’s first middle grade novel, the hilarious Fenway and Hattie. (Read that post here.)

The charm and humor of the Fenway books (the third title in the series publishes in January) is their point of view. Narrator Fenway is a rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier who doesn’t understand that his back yard isn’t a dog park and that slippery floors are not inherently evil. What a great read-aloud for kids.

Now Fenway is going global. Fenway and Hattie is this year’s Global Read Aloud for early readers. Congratulations to Victoria! (What is Global Read Aloud? Learn more here.)

And how serendipitous for us that the latest Poetry Friday book from Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell is the newly published Pet Crazy!

Victoria and I decided to go to the dogs — and cats. We put together a poetry writing extension for Fenway and Hattie using my poem from Pet Crazy as a model. Global Read Aloud participants can find more Fenway and Hattie resources at Victoria’s Padlet.

Welcome, Victoria!

Fenway and Hattie + Pet Crazy Mini Point of View Lesson

A creative writing extension for readers of Fenway and Hattie

Victoria and Kipper.

An invitation from Victoria J. Coe

Reading Fenway and Hattie gives students the chance to experience a dog’s point of view.  

Seeing the world from a new point of view is not only fun, but it also shows that our own perspective isn’t the only one out there.

Two people – or two species – can experience the exact same thing and interpret it very differently. That doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong. It just means your reality depends on your point of view.

Writing from a point of view different from our own is an even more powerful way of realizing there are at least two sides to every story.

Victoria and poet Laura Shovan (The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) have collaborated on a creative writing extension for Fenway and Hattie!

In this mini-workshop, students will have their chance to think like a dog, or cat, or parrot as they write a short poem from an animal’s point of view. The mentor texts for this extension are Fenway and Hattie, by Victoria J. Coe, and the poem “Lost and Found,” by Laura Shovan, from Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book.

After reading Fenway and Hattie, invite the whole class or small groups to do an analysis. Create a T-chart comparing how animals and humans view one of the following experiences:

Going to the vet

Moving to a new home

Learning to obey

Dinnertime!

Ready to write a poem describing an experience from a pet’s point of view? Our model poem is “Lost and Found,” by Laura Shovan (from Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book). In this poem, a young cat goes exploring and can’t find its way back home.

Lost and Found
By Laura Shovan

I’m a curious cat.
My gray tail twitches.
I chase bird shadows
from lawn to lawn.
But when I sniff
and know I’ve lost
the scent of home,
I cry a sad song.
Meow! Meow!
Someone find me.
See my collar?
Call that number.
Take me home.

Some suggested “experiences” for young poets to write about include events from Fenway and Hattie:

  • Moving to a new home.
  • Meeting a new animal friend.
  • Being left out.
  • Describing a favorite human.
  • Something scary!
  • Learning to obey.
  • Asking for food.

After students share their writing, Victoria recommends these follow up questions:

    • What was surprising about thinking like an animal?
    • What did you learn about the pet’s point of view?
    • How would you describe the same event as a human kid?

Hints and helps from Victoria and Laura:

  • Kids can brainstorm their poems using a t-chart.
  • Prompt students to think about their five sense as their chosen animal. What would they hear, smell, and see from the pet’s-eye-view?
  • The goal is to write a poem, but it’s fine to draft in prose sentences.

Ordering information:

FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria J. Coe is available wherever books are sold, including: Your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Victoria J. Coe is the author of Fenway and Hattie, the 2017 Global Read Aloud book for Early Readers, as well as two additional Fenway and Hattie novels. She teaches creative writing to adults in Cambridge, MA. Find her online @victoriajcoe (twitter/IG) and at: www.victoriajcoe.com.

 

PET CRAZY: A POETRY FRIDAY POWER BOOK, by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong, is available at Amazon and Pomelo Books.

Laura Shovan’s middle grade novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and won CYBILS and Nerdy Book Club awards for poetry. She is a longtime poet-in-the-schools and the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Laura is a contributor to Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book, by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Visit her at: www.laurashovan.com.

 

Save Our School

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This “Save Our School” button is actually a promotional postcard for my book. Can you imagine Ms. Hill’s class wearing buttons like these to protest the closing of Emerson Elementary?

It was one of those serendipitous moments.

My friend, poet and educator J.C. Elkin. was asking about my debut children’s novel, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

“So, what’s it about?”

This, fellow writers, is a question that strikes fear into the hearts of many novelists. As soon as these words fall from someone’s lips (especially if that someone is an editor, agent, or book blogger), you have exactly 2-3 sentences to explain the book that you have spent the last X amount of years working on. In a nutshell.

I’d been working my 2-3 sentences, what’s known as “the elevator pitch.” I was prepared.

“Jane,” I said. “It’s about a group of fifth grade poets whose school is being closed and they stage a protest to save it.”

Here comes the serendipity part.

Jane didn’t reply with, “That sounds interesting.” Or “Great topic!” Or even, “And it’s a novel in verse?” Instead, she said. “That happened to me.”

What? Schools — both public and parochial — being shut down is a huge issue in my home state of Maryland right now. [You can read about parents protesting the closing of North Carroll HS at the WBAL website.] Communities are, understandably, invested in their schools. When a Board of Education slates a school for closing, it has a negative impact on the students, families, and the surrounding community.

But that’s happening now. Jane was talking about many years ago, when she was in high school.

“What’s more,” she continued. “We won. We saved our school. And it’s still around today.”

I’ll let Jane, who is a past contributor to my Author Amok blog, tell us the details.

Saving Saint A’s
by Jane C. Elkin

In the winter of 1974, my school nearly closed and I found myself fundraising for a place I thought I hated. It was freshman year at a parochial school I’ll call Saint A’s, which my mother forced me to attend after student-teaching a year at the public school my brothers attended. She transferred me in July when it was too late to say goodbye to my junior high friends, the best friends I’d ever had at the school where I’d been happiest.

Saint A’s was wrong for me on every level. It drew scholars from a thirty-five mile radius in a town I’d never been to. I was a so-so student, gifted with words and inept with numbers. Saint A’s had the worst music program in the state, officially, based on a state-wide competition. I was a talented singer, and the public school music program was the best in the state. Then again, they also had a slew of social problems my mother had seen first-hand: drugs, violence, bomb threats . . . She had seen girls cat-fighting over the fathers of their babies and seen my eldest brother beaten to a bloody pulp by a gang in the woods where he ran cross-country. She saw only a den of iniquity and a naïve girl she needed to shelter. Academics had little to do with her decision, though my second brother, the smart one in the family, was allowed to transfer with me.

Of course, Saint A’s had problems, too. Over its thirteen year history, it had developed a reputation for academic excellence amid mismanagement. Students wore any of four different uniforms dating back to the school’s inception, and the place was drowning in debt because the nuns who founded the school were now outnumbered by lay teachers. The football team, however, after two years without a win, had just won the state championship, and the once glorious debate team was rising from the ashes of dormancy. Nevertheless, when the administrators called a meeting to inform us of the financial crisis, they had already made up their minds to close.

The meeting was held in the gym on a school night, standing-room-only amid a crescendo of nervous chatter. The new principal, a stout nun, sat on the stage as rigid as a deposed monarch on a folding throne. Her diminutive administrator, an affable little priest who’d bungled the budget from day-one, was hunched by her side, the Board lined up at a distance.

After a brief prayer, they cut to the chase. Unfortunately and unavoidably, that year’s graduating class would be the last. Everyone froze in stunned silence. Then a look of dismay washed over their faces, infecting me. After only five months, I suddenly didn’t want to leave. I should have been ecstatic; I was finally going to get what I wanted. But leaving Saint A’s would mean leaving new friends, the speech team, the band’s baton squad, honors classes where I was excelling, and even the tiny chorus where I discovered I liked small ensembles better than large ones.

So there we were, four hundred students trying to wrap our heads around this new reality, and you could hear the hum of the lights.

Then the questions began. How did this happen? How much do we owe? A junior, raising his fist in defiance, yelled Hell no, we won’t go, and I joined in the anti-war chant, marveling at how original he was. The accountant appealed for order and someone from the bleachers called out, “How much do we need to tide us over? Maybe we could raise the money. ”

Instant silence. Why not? A car wash, a raffle, a spaghetti dinner? The usual ideas were tossed around and rejected like underinflated volleyballs. Then some rich kid suggested, “What if each family gave a dollar a day?” A mighty groan went up from the blue collar sector. Three hundred sixty-five dollars was about a year’s tuition in 1974. Today it is over twelve thousand.

Another guy jumped up on the bleachers, patting the air to hush us. “What if we had a pledge drive? We could call it the 365 Club!”

The segue from idea to action was immediate. Desks were dragged in, and within minutes the gymnasium was divided into communities with committees formed and names, phone numbers and addresses recorded. The accountant targeted a figure, and a Saturday was set for the student body to go door-to-door with coffee cans. Our sales pitch: no donation too small but a dollar a day would be great.

A plywood thermometer was posted on the lawn, and we reached our immediate goal by spring. Only one student received a pledge of $365 from a stranger, but it was a real eye-opener to see who gave and who didn’t. My 7th grade English teacher, who lived in a beautiful seaside cottage, didn’t believe in supporting private education –not even a dollar’s worth –but a shabbily dressed maid from the nearby resort emptied her pockets for me.

Smaller fundraisers followed, but our grassroots organization was the magic bandage. Three years later, with the school’s music program officially defunct, I won the state championship for debate and was accepted to a prestigious liberal arts college.

I often ponder how my life would have been different if Saint A’s had closed. I would have gone on to study music, but I wouldn’t have developed academically. I definitely would not have met my debate partner, who caused me to meet my husband, and that meant I wouldn’t have lived in Europe where I became bilingual and continued to hone my vocal skills, which ultimately led to a career teaching language and music.

I went on to sing professionally for thirteen years at, ironically, the country’s largest Catholic church –the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. There, I sang televised soli, made seven recordings, travel to Rome twice, and even sang for the Pope in a private vespers service.

Forty-two years after the 365 Club, twenty-one years of teaching later, thirty-three years of marriage later, two children and two grandchildren later, I can’t complain.

janeJ.C. Elkin is an optimist, linguist and singer whose writings draw heavily on spirituality, feminism, and childhood. Her work teaching English as a Second Language inspired her chapbook World Class (Apprentice House, 2014). Other poetry and prose appear in such journals as Kestrel, Kansas City Voices, Delmarva Review, and Angle.