Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Post Today... I'm writing!

I'm away on a writing retreat. I'll be back next Tuesday with a new post.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Writing Retreat

Today I find myself preparing for a kind of travel that's new to me. Tomorrow morning I'll leave for a writing retreat for a few nights while my husband holds down the fort at home. I'm simultaneously thankful for the uninterrupted time to dig into my new writing project and a bit intimidated by the prospect. Normally, I sneak writing into the spaces not taken up being mom, wife, PTO member, school committee chairperson, etc. Having three full days that require me to do nothing but focus my energy on a writing project is a dream. And also a bit of an anxiety provoker, if I'm going to be honest. What if I crumble under all that time?

So, I've done my best to prepare. I have a shoebox of paraphernalia that I hope will inspire my writing- a collection of letters, photographs, artifacts, etc. connected the setting and time period of my story. My one "to do" before I leave is to finish building a playlist of related music. Like many people, I find music can immediately put me in a different place the same way a certain smell can. (Too bad I can't also bottle up related smells!)

I also reread Julie Hedlund's guest blog post Top 10 Reasons Why You (yes, YOU!) Should Go on a Retreat to get myself into the right mindset.

And tomorrow, off I go...

Related Post
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Reasons Why You (yes, YOU!) Should Go on a Retreat

Friday, March 22, 2013

Picture Book Biographies

Recently, my son reported that he would be writing a biography about one of his grandparents for a school assignment. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been building Pinterest boards that I hope will be useful to parents, teachers and home schoolers. One of those boards is a Picture Book Biographies board, so of course my ears perked up when he mentioned this assignment. Even though he isn't writing a picture book, per se, published picture books serve as great models for this assignment.

I reached out to his teachers and told them about my Pinterest boards in case they would be helpful. I also asked if my writing and teaching experience might be useful to them for this assignment. What I learned is that openings (leads) and closings are places that their students seem to have difficulty. They asked if I had any suggestions for how to help their students improve in those areas.

What follows is one suggestion for working on leads and endings.

There are four picture book biographies written about Wangari Maathi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Four!

What a perfect opportunity for teachers to examine an author's ideas, organization, voice, word choice, etc. Each of these books is about the same person, yet none of them describes her life and accomplishments in exactly the same way. Yes, the facts are the same, but the authors made many different choices about how to present those facts.

In this particular case, I'd start by having students examine how each author chose to open their biography by reading the openings and talking about the devises the authors used to open them.

Did they open with dialogue? An anecdote? Something else? What is the tone? Do you understand the author's "topic sentence" without it being stated directly as in, "Wangari Maathi helped return the trees to East Africa and empowered women." (Blah. Boring). How did the author pique your interest (or not)? Which book has the strongest opening?

Teaching strategy: If this is a new approach for your students, model it first. Read the opening of one book and ask them to answer the questions. Get them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the writing while you record their responses. If they've done this kind of work before, you could send them off to work alone or in pairs to identify the answers and then come back to share it in a whole group setting.  (Each student/pair could be given one of the versions, being sure all versions are covered. When you share, they can teach each other what they learned from their book).

In any case, I strongly recommend making a list on chart paper that you can hang on the wall and leave visible the entire time they work on their biographies. Students can reference their lists to help improve their own writing.

Once you've identified strong leads, you can repeat the process with closings. Did the author "bring the story back around"? Leave the reader with an interesting question? End with a summary statement? Something else? Which ending was more satisfying?

Of course, once students have done all of this investigation, ask them to choose some of the devises they identified to be used in their own writing.

Art Connection: Each of these books has a different artist. You could also consider the decisions the artists had to make when creating the illustrations for books. Some artists include an "Artist's Note" in the book that may answer students' questions. Other illustrators describe their processes on their blogs/websites.

There are many other people who have had multiple picture book biographies written about them. (There are 2 wonderful ones about Jacques Cousteau, for example). Many of these books are on my Pinterest Board and I discover more every day. I hope you'll hop over to see my suggestions. And if you have a book to suggest, please leave it in the comments or send me an email at michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com.

Have you tried this approach? What tips would you like to add?

You Might Also Like:
Resources for Readers: Pinterest Boards
Travel Tuesdays: How Travel Informs My Writing

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Travelin' Frogs

You don't get sick  of me posting photos and videos of migrating wood frogs, do you? They're cool, right? Well, I hope you think so because the day wood frogs migrate each spring really is one of my favorite days of the year.

In case you're new to my blog, here are some posts from previous years that will bring you up to speed:

The Big Day
Big Day for Wood Frogs?

And now, some photos from this year:

Photos taken 13 March 2013

And a video of several frogs making their way from the woods to the water:

And finally, I know this is a terrible photo, but I also saw a spotted salamander! (I had my zoom lens on and was shooting into the water while balancing on a log overhanging the water- it was the best I could do!)

The weather turned cold the next day, so we haven't been back to check on the frogs. And now, we have more snow predicted for tonight. I'm hoping the weather will warm up again by this weekend.

Have you seen wood frogs in your area? Have you heard peepers? These are typical frogs seen/heard around here at this time of year. How about where you live?

Recently, I was asked why my blog is called Polliwog on Safari. When I first started blogging, I was asked that often, so it's described on my FAQ's page.

Related Post:
Big Night for Salamanders

Friday, March 15, 2013

Yarn Bombing

At then end of January, I learned that Artworks! (an all around awesome community arts center in New Bedford, MA) would be yarn bombing the front of their building and a nearby fountain during aha! night in March. (aha! celebrates Arts History and Architecture in New Bedford). I wondered if they knew about the book Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klasssen, so I called them up and asked. I learned they didn't,  so offered to read the book in conjunction with their yarn bombing event. They welcomed the idea, so last night I headed down.

This is what greeted me upon my arrival:

And here's the nearby fountain:

I read Extra Yarn:

And then the kids got to help yarn bomb the tree outside:
All photos taken 14 March 2013

It was a fun way to spend and evening, but what does all of this have to do with you? 

I think this is a great activity you can do with your kids- connect reading the story with a fun project. Perhaps it will easiest if you work in a Waldorf School or are a homeschooler, but public school teachers could do this as part of an after school club or enrichment activity. Even better, a regular education teacher could do the reading lessons while the art teacher explores textile arts during his or her class time. 

A project like this also offers a unique opportunity involve multiple generations in a project. Perhaps clients at your local Senior Center (Council on Aging) would like to help. They could teach your kids how to knit, crochet, or weave pieces that can then be connected to yarn bomb something in your town or city. Its fun to see different styles of squares all stitched together.

Think your kids are too young to knit or weave? You'd be surprised by how much young children can do. My three year old niece has started learning how to use a "knitting fork" and my 7 year old daughter is a whiz at it. My daughter has also been learning to weave and knit from her grandmother. They enjoy their time together equally.

One final note: If you do yarn bomb something, please be sure to go back and remove it once it starts to look drab. You don't want your art to become an eyesore.

What do you think? Want to give it a try? Have you already read Extra Yarn and yarb bombed something with your kids?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Nature Walks in the City, cont'd

I've often blogged about finding a bit of nature in the city, whether it's flying kites on the National Mall, exploring the beach in a coastal city, or observing the moon's phases over the course of a month.  Last month, when we visited my sisters in San Francisco, I blogged about all of our nature sightings in San Francisco Parks.

Since we returned home, we've been getting updates from my sister about two particular sightings: the nesting Great Horned Owl in Golden Gate Park (She stars in my new blog header- photo by me) and the Anna's Hummingbird nesting near her apartment.

My sister's friend Joe Moss, of Urban Owls took some amazing photographs (All photos are the property of Joe Moss. They are used here with permission).

Great Horned Owl and owlets in Golden Gate Park
Photo taken 1 March 2013
Photo taken 6 March 2013

Photo taken 6 March 2013
You never know what you might be missing if you're constantly rushing from place to place. This Anna's hummingbird nest is in a tree overhanging the sidewalk near my sister's apartment. People unknowingly walk below it all day long.

Photo taken 1 March 2013
Photo taken 3 March 2013
Photo taken 3 March 2013
Once I started communicating with Joe to secure permission to use his photos, he also sent me these photos of a coyote  taken in Golden Gate Park.

Photo taken 8 March 2013
Photo taken 8 March 2013
While I wish I were still in San Francisco to see these beautiful birds fledge, I'm excited to receive updates from my sister. My sister tells me my 3 year old niece was sad when the hummers fledged last week- her little friends move on- but I know they had fun watching their growth.

What amazing nature sightings have you made in the city lately? Will you slow down and look a little closer?

You Might Also Like:
Moon Observations
Nature Walks in the City
Go on a Raccoon Hunt

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Flowering Tree

Photo taken in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 16 Feb 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Support Local Businesses and Artists

Whenever we travel, we do our best to shop in local businesses. Sometimes that can be a challenging endeavor. I remember a trip to Florida for our niece's wedding last winter. When I asked for a restaurant recommendation from the front desk, the first question, of course, was "What kind of food do you want?" My response was a simple, "Not a chain." In that particular area, my request was not so simple to fill. Every restaurant we had seen was a chain.  In the end, we found a Cuban-American place that was part of a small chain, but a local one still owned by the family that had opened it many years before.

Supporting locally owned businesses means supporting the local economy. And often you meet some wonderful "locals" in the process.

This happened recently when we visited 3 Fish Studios in San Francisco. We were greeted warmly by one of the artists, Eric Rewitzer. We had three kids with us- my nearly 11 year old son, my 7 1/2 year old daughter, and my 3 year old niece. They were as welcomed as the adults. Eric gave us a chance to view the art and answered our questions about his process. And then he did the coolest thing... he let each of the kids "pull a print."

Basically, that means he showed them how to ink his linoleum carvings

 Line everything up to run it through the press

Crank it through

And Voila!

Each of our kids made a print and got to bring it home. 

I found our visit to be exceptional. But these are the kinds of amazing things that can happen when you stop into a local business. (Long time readers may remember I told of another great experience at an artist's studio in Acadia, ME). I had never been in 3 Fish Studios before this day and did not know this artist, yet our visit became one of the highlights of our trip. And we got some meaningful souvenirs  in the process!

I know most of my readers don't live in San Francisco and may never have a chance to visit 3 Fish Studios (though I hope you will if you get to San Francisco!). But this post is about visiting the local business or artist wherever you travel. 

Try to get off the beaten path, the route that all tourists travel, and find an interesting local person to interact with. If it's in your budget, make a purchase, even if it's something small.

What interesting interactions have you had while visiting a local business or artists studio?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Nature Meanders With Children

Last week I blogged about nature walks with toddlers. Today, I encourage you to consider a different kind of experience in nature- what I'll call the "Nature Meander." Unlike a walk, which may have a specific destination or goal, the meander involves having no plan, no destination in mind, and no goal.

Nature Meanders are perfect for toddlers who tend to meander anyway. They stop to watch a trail of ants walk in their path, pick every flower they see, and otherwise notice the things adults tend to miss. By the time they reach the upper elementary grades, though, many children stop noticing these little details, unless free time in nature is a regular part of their lives.

So head out into the woods or desert, to a city park, or along the beach and just see where your kids' interests take you. Maybe you'll walk half a mile. Or maybe you'll get to know one hundred square feet of an area really well. Maybe you'll see vultures eating a dead fish, or collect loads of interesting rocks that weigh down your pockets. Or maybe you'll spend an hour skipping those rocks across a pond. Let your children guide you. You might be surprised by what you discover together.

When was the last time you and your kids spent time meandering. What did you discover?

You Might Also Like:
Play Outside
Help Build Children's Connections to Nature
Feeding Winter Birds