By Barbara DiLorenzi
When Lynne Dorfman kindly invited me to share my writing/drawing/bookmaking process with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project Blog, I was thrilled. But then I remembered that writers will be reading my words. Despite publishing my debut picture book in 2017, and with another in 2018, I continue to feel like an imposter in the field. An artist, yes. An illustrator, yes. But if someone refers to me as an author, I feel inadequate. I should have a degree in English, or better command of language. Or at least grammar. I’m forever using too many commas.
Part of the reason I don’t feel like an author is because my books don’t start with words. Like most authors, I start with an idea that grabs me. But instead of opening up Word, and typing a draft, I sketch. I doodle characters. I think about the conflict, and how that would look in a spread. Sometimes these doodles take months. If I don’t have the arc of the story in my mind, I just keep tugging at the characters, asking them to reveal themselves in my drawings.
At some point, whether the arc of the story is satisfying or not, I start to organize my thoughts with tiny thumbnail sketches, plotting out the entire book in a basic 32 page format. (Though my first book is 44 pages, and the second, 40 pages.) This way I can see if the pacing will work within a picture book format, and if the plot has any hold on me. This stage can take a long time. I made close to 20 thumbnail storyboards for QUINCY over the years. With RENATO AND THE LION, I can’t even count how many drafts went into this story.
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Different languages, different food, different customs. That’s our neighborhood: wild and tangled and colorful. Like the best kind of garden. (p. 54)
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is an amazing book told from the viewpoint of a red oak tree. Red is a city tree that has lived for 216 years (she has 216 rings). She’s also known as the wishtree, and on the first of May, people of all ages come to tie rags, tags, and even the occasional gym sock to her limbs with wishes scribbled on them. Red is an optimist and has strong opinions about things. Bongo, a pessimistic crow and a loyal friend, are two of the main characters along with Samar, a ten year old Muslim girl. Red is home to owlets, possums, raccoons and skunks. They talk with one another, but nature has one rule: Don’t talk to people. Read more
Gratitude is the golden frame through which we see the meaning of life. -Brendon Burchard
This past Thanksgiving my husband posted these words to his Instagram account along with this picture of our happy family. As you can see from the photo, I have a lot to be grateful for in my personal life this year. However, at the time I read this post I had just returned to school and was feeling the strain of balancing my work and home life along with missing my daughter and trying to play catch up with my classes. Needless to say I was forgetting to look through this golden frame in my professional life.
My husband’s post reminded me of a project I undertook with my students last school year and inspired me to attempt it again this year. Around Thanksgiving time I showed them a TEDx titled “Unlimited Gratitude” by Brian Doyle. In this talk, a young man describes a near death experience that awakened him to the realization that he needed to express his gratitude to the people in his life; not just once a year, but everyday. So he created a year-long project in which he set out to personally thank a different person every single day. At the end of his talk he issues a call to action to his audience: “I want to call on us to think about these people in our lives that we appreciate. Those that we have gratitude for. Those that we’re thankful for… And let’s not stop there. Let’s say it. Let’s tell them before it’s too late.” Read more
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Teaching today looks very different than it did when I started teaching in the 70s. We closed our doors and we were alone, for the most part. We didn’t have opportunities to share our thinking with others. We spent a great deal of classroom time delivering the content. Our principals, our rating officers, were often management leaders but not always instructional leaders.
Times have changed. Today, teachers must develop a collective teacher efficacy by going to conferences, reading professional journals, belonging to groups such as PCTELA (Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English Language Arts) and Keystone State Reading Association, an organization that includes membership in a local council. Becoming a fellow of the National Writing Project by attending the graduate level course for the invitational summer writing institute is a path to continuing staff development by participating in events such as Continuity Days and PAWLPdays, offered by our site, the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. From these conferences, courses, and readings, teachers need to take back information to their colleagues, talk about it, implement it, and decide what worked and what didn’t work. Ongoing collaboration through study groups, grade level meetings, and district professional development keep us honest, current, and cutting edge.
Three leading questions help us guide the work we do with our students. These questions are appropriate for both teachers and their students:
- What am I learning today? (content)
- Why am I learning this? (relevance)
- How will I know that I have learned it? (criteria for success)
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Booked by Kwame Alexander is a great read for fifth through ninth grade students. Nick Hall, the main character, is a bright eighth grader who loves soccer and spends time dreaming about upcoming soccer tournaments in school as well as a girl he likes. His best friend Coby shares his passion for soccer. This perfectly crafted story is told in verse and deals with the stress of separation and the eventual divorce of Nick’s parents. When Nick ends up in the hospital to have his appendix removed, he turns to books he has avoided with his soccer dreams temporarily on hold. He is surprised to find more than he expected there – a good message for middle school readers! A reflective narrative with a likable protagonist, Booked brings to life very solid teen and adult characters. It includes vivid soccer scenes, great wordplay, and a clear picture of some of the challenges (including bullying) that young people face. A satisfying, winning read! Read more