The Giant

October 4, 2009

A year and a half ago,  I had the privilege of meeting Claire Ewart.  Claire is an Indiana author and illustrator, residing in Fort Wayne.  She spoke at our school for our Young Author’s Conference.

One of my favorite texts is The Giant.   The text is rather moving, bringing the emotion of the daughter alive to the reader.  A girl, who has lost her mama, searches for the giant who was to watch over her.  She looks and notices the giant in the clouds, stars, and every time she thinks she can reach the giant, he always is beyond her.  Paralleling this search, Pa is working the farm.  Pa was steady by his daughter’s side, yet she could not see beyond her loss and the daily chores… until one morning.

“And there was Pa…like he’d always been, standing there, tall and strong in the wind.”

Claire shared that one idea for the book came one day as she was driving along US Hwy. 30.  Looking out across the spring fields, she noticed large puddles.  Claire said the puddles seemed like giant footprints walking across the land.   Claire uses figurative language so beautifully.  I savor the words like chocolate.

Small lakes formed

where ponds and low spots had been,

like Pa’s big boot prints,

like huge feet had walked across the land.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Giant:

  • Figurative Language – interwoven throughout the text
  • Transition in Time – from early spring to harvest time in the fall
  • Illustrations – painted in the clouds, shadows is a foreshadowing of the giant
  • Inference – the reader longs to find the giant with the girl
  • Symbolism – What does the giant stand for?  In the end, who is the mysterious giant?
  • Varying Sentences

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

January 26, 2009

Image result for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne BroylesReading books brings much pleasure to me, but sharing a great story with children and teachers is my delight.  I read lots of books; some I like, others I don’t, some teach lessons and then … some move me as a reader.  When I read a book that moves my heart and makes me think deeper, it is a treasure!  Priscilla and the Hollyhocks is my find today.  Wow!  Knowing that Priscilla existed deepens the story.  I can’t get it out of my mind!

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles is based on historical events.  The book jacket stated that Anne Broyles  “discovered Priscilla’s story while researching the Cherokee Trail of Tears for a young adult novel she was writing.” Click on this link to see a preview of the book. (The first two pages still linger with me, let alone the story. March 2018)

The story begins with Priscilla’s mother being sold away when she ‘s young, approximately five.  Then, she begins working in the Big House by age six.  One visitor to the plantation talked with Priscilla and was kind.  His name was Basil Silkwood.  He didn’t agree with slavery.  By age 10, her master dies and she is bought by a new owner:  a Cherokee family.  Priscilla finds comfort in the hollyhocks she has planted at the new place.

During her time with the Cherokee family, America was expanding and began to round up the Indians.  The Cherokee family was forced to move.  They were “rounded up like animals” and forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.”  Priscilla went too.  After several months, they were passing through a town, when Priscilla miraculously happened to see Mr. Silkwood on a hotel porch.  She called to him and Mr. Silkwood asked about her.

Later that evening, Basil came to her Cherokee master.  “Massa Silkwood handed the Cherokee a bag of gold that held my freedom.”  He took her home and then set her free, adopting her into his family of fifteen children.  “Home we went to a family who claimed me slave not longer, daughter once more.”  Incredible!

The author’s note sheds more light on the background events shared in the story.  I know my eyes will look upon Hollyhock’s with a new appreciation.

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks tells a story too often ignored or overlooked – a story of how the west was not won but captured.  Reading about Priscilla’s remarkable life makes all our hearts a bit warmer while filling our heads with a much-needed piece of American history.”  – Nikki Giovanni, poet

Symbolism of hope/love/home:  Interweaving hollyhocks –

  • The one item that Priscilla loved and remained unchanging in an unsettling environment was the hollyhocks.  She carried the seeds with her to each new place she went and found comfort being near the plants.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks:

  • Synthesize:  What can we learn from this story?  How does it affect us now?  We must guard against prejudices and be like Basil Silkwood, seeing worth in a person.
  • Lead – emotional, “Freedom filled my dreams, but I was born a slave’s child.”
  • Word choice – mirrored the mood; yoke, pined
  • Inference – “my insides was a’quiverin.”
  • Varied punctuation including semi-colon and colon –

(Warsaw Public Library/ MH owns)


A Sweet Smell of Roses

January 20, 2009

Angela Johnson has a beautiful way of taking a slice of life and creating a text that children connect with.  I enjoy using her books with children, as they can see themselves being able to write stories like her.  Angela Johnson has taken a snapshot in time on the historical day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s freedom speech in the book, A Sweet Smell of Roses.  This poetic narrative is unique by shedding light that children also marched for their rights.

But the men and women we commonly hear about are not the only ones who took action against injustice and oppression.  For each of the names that we know, there are tens of thousands that we do not.  And some of those overlooked names belong to children.  A Sweet Smell of Roses is a tribute to them. (author’s note from Angela Johnson)”

The illustrations have been designed with pencils, black and white drawings.  On each page,  Eric Velasquez adds a bit of red coloring on the ribbon, roses, or the United States flag.  I’m not a great interpreter of art, but the red makes me think of contrast.  The roses are  beautiful yet not without it’s thorns.  I would envision having a conversation with your students about the symbolism created in the text.  As Ellin Oliver Keene has shared in To Understand, our children often have deeper understanding when given the opportunity to think beyond surface comprehension.  If you use the book, I would love to know what discussion arises.

Savorings for reading and in writing for A Sweet Smell of Roses:

  • Repeating line – “the sweet smell of roses
  • Book ending the text
  • One Day historical event – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech
  • Each refrain repeats
  • Poetic narrative

Snow Ponies

January 10, 2009

The illustrations created by Jason Cockcroft caught my eyes.  (I also admire horses and am awestruck by their beauty.)

Snow Ponies by Cynthia Cotten is a metaphoric narrative that makes the reader ponder.  Prior to this writing, I have read, reread, put it away, reread and pondered about this book.  Although the symbolism of the changing winter season is clear, I kept being “stumped” about what to write about.  The language in this book drew me in each time that I felt I needed to share.

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader–not the fact that it’s raining, but the feel of being rained upon.
– E.L. Doctorow (found on Cynthia Cotton’s website, under her writing quotes)

I finally showed the book to my eleven year old daughter and asked what she thought about the book.  Through my discussion with her, my wonderings and questions, I was able to finally process the text.  Her new perspective and our sharing discussion made my writerly-eyes become focused… and my understanding deepen.  A lesson learned!!

Our students need time to process.  Conversations about a text is so crucial for children to go deeper into their comprehension.  But I also think it has to do with returning to a familiar text.  With rereadings, deeper meaning arises.

Jason Cockcroft illustrates “Old Man Winter” as a wilderness, rugged, white-haired gentleman.  My daughter, E, immediately exclaimed, “He looks like Santa Claus in work clothes.”  It made sense.

Cynthia Cottenscripts her mind’s eye of how snow storms blankets the wintery setting.  Old Man Winter sends his snow ponies out to romp.  “Their feet make no sound on the cold, hard ground, and whatever they touch turns white.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for Snow Ponies:

  • Symbolism – Old Man Winter for the season change and weather
  • Alliteration – “Their whinnies and whickers whistle through the trees.”
  • Science – hibernation and changing of a season
  • Author’s dedication – “… for James Ashcraft, the first teacher ever to make me rewrite something – now I know why.”
  • “Paced” action – I’m not sure what to call this craft, but the author chooses her words to create a mood like music, a symphony of word notes.

The snow ponies “toss their heads and paw the floor” –> “Faster and faster they go, manes flying” –> “In their flurry…” –> “Flakes fly off branches…”  “Wilder and wilder their play becomes” –> “At last the snow ponies begin to tire.”  –> “shake their heads, shuffle their feet, and sigh long sleepy sighs.”  –> “…and slowly, slowly nod off to sleep.”