Margin Notes

CRAFT STUDIO: WINTERGIRLS BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

Oct
10

What I Was Reading:220px-Wintergirls.jpg

When I was reading Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was reminded of a technique I had seen this author use in Wintergirls, the story of two girls with two different eating disorders who compete with each other to be the thinnest, which turns out to be a deadlier competition than either of them could ever have known.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • Throughout Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson uses the technique of strikethrough. Occasionally, words, phrases, or whole lines are written with a line through the middle. The words that are crossed through are the ones Lia believes to be the real truth, but they are never the details that she shares with anyone.

WinterGirls1.jpeg

  • There are other places where strikethrough is used to express her hunger and desire to enjoy food again. The strikethrough in those situations represents Lia literally striking these thoughts from her mind. She does not let herself even fully realize these thoughts or desires she has; they must be crossed out as soon as they even briefly flit across her mind.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Think about a conversation you have had where what you said and what you were actually thinking were quite different. Use the technique of strikethrough to recount this experience.
  • Think about an internal conversation you have had in which you try to push certain thoughts out of your head. Use strikethrough to show this internal struggle.
  • Dig into previous writing or your writer’s notebook for places where the technique of strikethrough could be used.

CRAFT STUDIO: UNDERRATED BY STEPHEN CURRY

Jun
06

What I Was Reading:5658a7b4-underrated-social-card.jpg

In Underrated, his most recent essay published on The Players’ Tribune, Stephen Curry introduces a new venture he is calling The Underrated Tour, “a camp for kids who love to hoop, and are looking for a chance to show scouts that their perceived weaknesses might actually be their secret strengths.”

Stephen Curry opens this essay with a memory of being 13 and playing poorly at a tournament. At the hotel later, as he was questioning whether he was good enough or if basketball might be over for him, his mom “gave me what I’d call probably the most important talks of my life.” His mother’s words became a mantra for him: This is no one’s story to write but mine. It’s no one’s story but mine. He goes on to share experiences when he has drawn on his mother’s words of advice, including the time he thought Virginia Tech was interested in him, only to discover they were meeting with him as a courtesy to his father.

I’ve used other examples of Stephen Curry’s writing with students, including The Noise. I enjoy the way he infuses his writing with energy and voice. He incorporates punctuation and text features—italics, capitals, commas, dashes, ellipses, italics—to create pauses and add emphasis. What results is writing that reads as though Steph Curry is speaking directly to us.

The section that stands out most to me is Curry’s description of playing basketball at Davidson College:

I remember how……humble our whole experience was at Davidson.

Which, first of all, is funny—because it’s really nice now. Like, for real: if you’re reading this, go to Davidson. It’s an amazing school with an amazing hoops program. But back when I got there, what I mostly remember is just how loud and clear we all got the message that, you know—we were not playing Big-Time College Hoops. Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes. Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete. We were “cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper” athletes. We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

The progression of the last four sentences creates an image of what it meant to be a student athlete at Davidson. This combination of sentences makes the point in four different ways, each one layering on to the next:

  1. “Man, like, we were STUDENT athletes.” I can hear the emphasis on STUDENT in this sentence.
  2. “Size 100 font STUDENT, size 12 font athlete.” The way Curry uses font size as an adjective here creates a visual image and paints a picture how much more emphasis was placed on being a student than on being an athlete.
  3. “We were ‘cool, how you hoop and everything…but I’m going to need that Philosophy paper’ athletes.” Curry turns a quote, presumably from a professor, into an adjective to replace the word student. Again, the effect is to show that academics took priority over athletics.
  4. “We shared a practice court with the volleyball team.” Here, the emphasis shifts from describing student to telling us about the state of athletics. What kind of athletes were they? The kind who didn’t even have their own practice court.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves, and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
  • Use a four-sentence progression like Curry’s to demonstrate the relationship between two words commonly paired (school vacation, long weekend, loyal fan, etc).
  • Describe how words might be written in font sizes or styles to signify their meaning.
  • Use a quotation as an adjective to create a specific image for your reader.
  • End a paragraph with a simple concrete detail that underscores your point and requires no explanation for the reader.

CRAFT STUDIO: MY HEART FILLS WITH HAPPINESS BY MONIQUE GRAY SMITH

May
09

What I Was Reading:My-Heart-Fills-With-Happiness.jpeg

Monique Gray Smith wrote the picture book My Heart Fills With Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families and to encourage readers to reflect on the moments in life that bring them joy. This beautiful book, with illustrations by Julie Flett, is written in both Plains Cree and English, with the words on each page printed in both languages in some versions.

My Heart Fills With Happiness

My heart fills with happiness when…

I see the face of someone I love

I smell bannock baking in the oven

I sing

My heart fills with happiness when…

I feel the sun dancing on my cheeks

I walk barefoot on the grass

I dance

My heart fills with happiness when…

I hold the hand of someone I love

I listen to stories

I drum

What fills YOUR heart with happiness?

You can also view and listen to the author read the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBCNFMzvyl4

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • There are three stanzas, each with four lines
  • Each stanza begins with the same repeated line
  • The second line of each of the stanzas follows a similar rhythm with nine syllables
  • The second, third, and fourth lines all begin with “I”
  • Each stanza ends with two words and a total of two syllables
  • The last line invites readers to reflect and write their own poem

Possibilities for Writers:

  • Writing their own poem about what makes them happy
  • Trying out rhythms that are similar throughout the poem
  • Translating their poem into another language
  • Illustrating their poem
  • Sharing their poem with others and maybe even children at a nearby school

CRAFT STUDIO: SHOUT BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

May
02

ShoutWhat I Was Reading:

Shout, Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest book, written in verse, is both a memoir and a call to action against censorship, sexual assault, and the silencing of victims.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

  • In this section the author uses a numbered list to write short narratives to help the reader understand her year in grade 9.
  • Some of the numbered items recount events and some reveal her internal thinking and struggles.

Possibilities for Writers:

  • This piece could be used to help students reflect on a year in their life.
  • Use the title “ninth grade: my year of living stupidly” to create your own title “____ grade: my year of living_______”
  • Students can then use a numbered list to include short pieces of writing that reveal why this was their year of living ______”

CRAFT STUDIO: VOX BY CHRISTINA DALCHER

Apr
18

What I Was Reading:vox.jpg

Vox by Christina Dalcher was a two-sitting read for me. Once I started this suspenseful, fast-paced thriller I didn’t want to put it down. Vox depicts a United States where women have been silenced by the President’s decision to limit them to only 100 words per day. Every woman and girl is forced to wear a word counter that provides a shock when the daily quota has been reached.

Early in the novel, the narrator, Dr. Jean McLellan, reflects on how things are for her now compared to how they used to be before the word allotment:

This is how things are now: We have allotments of one hundred words a day. My books, even the old copies of Julia Child and—here’s irony—the tattered red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens a friend decided would be a cute joke for a wedding gift, are locked in a cupboard so Sonia can’t get at them. Which means I can’t get at them either. Patrick carries the keys around like a weight, and sometimes I think it’s the heaviness of this burden that makes him look older.

It’s the little stuff I miss most: jars of pens tucked into the corners of every room, notepads wedged in between cookbooks, the dry-erase shopping list on the wall next to the spice cabinet. Even my old refrigerator magnets, the ones Steven used to concoct ridiculous Italo-English sentences with, laughing himself to pieces. Gone, gone, gone. Like my email account.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

• This progression of the paragraphs contrasts how things are now from how they used to be. The descriptions of the “little things” Jean misses paint a picture of the impact of the word allotment.
• The first paragraph matter-of-factly introduces Jean’s current reality with the statement “This is how things are now” followed by a colon. With no build-up or mincing of words, the horrifying situation is laid out in one simple statement of fact: “We have allotments of one hundred words a day.” This is followed by a personal detail that illustrates just what these mean for a woman. Something as commonplace as a cookbook must be kept under lock and key.
• The second paragraph follows the same format to introduce a second list. This time she shares the things she misses in order to contrast her life before the allotment to her life now. Jean makes her current reality clear to us by telling us what it isn’t. The “little stuff” includes the tools for reading and writing—for consuming words—she was once surrounded by but are now forbidden. It is easy to recognize how quickly one could use up an allotment of 100 words.

Possibilities for Writers:

• Read this text as a writer to notice and name other interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.
• Use this format to show a contrast between before and after. For example, writers might show the difference between elementary school and middle school or between Grade 9 to Grade 12 by using the same structure: “This is how things are now” and “It’s the little stuff I miss most.”
• Writers can describe what something is by describing what it is no longer, using specific images to illustrate the point.

CRAFT STUDIO: GIRL MADE OF STARS BY ASHLEY HERRING BLAKE

Mar
21

What I Was Reading:Girl Made of Stars Cover
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake follows Mara as she navigates her way through her twin brother being accused of raping her friend, her broken relationship with her best friend and ex-girlfriend, and facing a trauma from her past. Experiencing and dealing with these difficult situations leads Mara to question who she is and who she wants to be.

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:
• Using a title (italicized): Her name, followed by a brief context for the thoughts that follow
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences: The first eight lines begin with the same seven words: “Maybe I’m the type of girl who…”
• The series of thoughts focus on exploring her identity through highlighting events, emotions, and realizations
• The last two lines move to be more definitive, as though she is coming to a conclusion about who she is and is okay with what she comes to understand about herself
• The excerpt ends with a simple drawing that reflects what she has realized about her identity

Possibilities for Writers:
• Using a similar format, explore a part of your identity:
o “Maybe I’m the type of __________ who…”
• In your last line, or few lines, see if you can draw some conclusions about the thoughts that came through your writing about who you are
• Write a title that includes your name, followed by context for what you are exploring about yourself
• Draw a sketch at the end of your writing that in some way reflects the part of your identity you wrote about

CRAFT STUDIO: SAVING RED BY SONYA SONES

Feb
28

What I Was Reading:Saving Red

Saving Red by Sonya Sones is the story of what happens when Molly meets Red, a homeless girl only a few years older than she is, and becomes fixated on reuniting Red with her family. What quickly becomes apparent to the reader are two things: Red is suffering with some serious mental health issues and Molly’s family has experienced some type of trauma. This is a beautiful story, written in verse, that reveals how sometimes when we try to save someone else, we end up saving ourselves.

Saving Red Craft Studio

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

• Using a title to provide brief context to a conversation
• A conversation written in verse
• Spacing that provides time for the reader to consider the message of the conversation
• The use of italics for emphasis
• Intentional use of repetition to begin sentences
• Smooth pacing of writing that leads up to what makes this conversation necessary to write about

Possibilities for Writers:

• Think of a conversation you have had and try writing it out in verse, using only the essential parts of the conversation.
• Play around with italics to see how emphasizing different words in your writing impacts the way it is read.
• Play around with the organization of your stanzas to see how the line breaks speed up or slow down the conversation.
• Write a title that sets the stage for the conversation.

CRAFT STUDIO: GMORNING, GNIGHT! BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

Feb
14

What I Was Reading: gnight

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks For Me & You is a collection of inspirational and encouraging words for the beginning and end of each day. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton, compiled the best of his daily messages from his Twitter account for this book. Accompanied by artwork by Jonny Sun, these greetings challenge, inspire, and empower readers with their brief and honest bits of wisdom.

Here are three excerpts from the book:

GMorning GNight Excerpt 1GMorning GNight Excerpt 2GMorning GNight Excerpt 3

 

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Each set of greetings begins with a variation of “Good Morning” and “Good Night”

* Each greeting directly addresses the reader.

* The advice uses verbs, insinuating that the advice is actionable and attainable.

* Each greeting is three to four sentences in length.

* The varying sentence lengths and use of punctuation for pause and intonation allow the voice of the writer to sound more relaxed and inviting.

* The illustrations are simple, black and white, and allow the reader to connect them to the greetings with their own interpretation.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Using Miranda’s greetings as a model, write your own Gmorning, Gnight! messages. They could be based on what you need to hear or what you want to tell someone else.

* Illustrate your greetings yourself based on what you think best represents your words.

* After writing your messages, ask a friend or a classmate to create an illustration that they connect to the greetings.

* Write about how one of the above excerpts spoke to you and may have been what you needed to hear.

* Revisit a draft in your notebook and find a place that can be rewritten to address the readers directly. Consider varying your sentence lengths, using one-word sentences, and playing around with punctuation to create a voice that is relaxed and conversational.

Craft Studio: Hunger by Roxane Gay

Jan
31

What I Was Reading:

Roxane Gay opens Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by telling us exactly what it isn’t:

“The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover with me standing in one of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation, I don’t have any powerful insights into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* Roxanne Gay takes a unique approach to introducing her memoir. Instead of attempting to capture the reader’s attention by indicating what she will discuss in the pages to follow, she states very clearly what she will not. She clearly defines what this memoir isn’t.

* She acknowledges and addresses what readers might be expecting of a traditional weight-loss memoir: motivation, insight, success. Each is ruled out explicitly.

* The image she creates of herself standing in one leg of her jeans to display how much weight she has lost is easy for the reader to imagine because it has become a cliché. She seems to be letting us know up front that if we think it is that kind of typical weight-loss memoir, we are terribly mistaken.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Students can discuss the impact of beginning a piece of writing by addressing the reader directly and tell them what their writing isn’t going to be. They can brainstorm a list of possibilities.

* Invite students to borrow Gay’s technique in a draft. For example:

-This restaurant review is not going to tell you how excellent the food is. Instead, it will describe the stellar service.

-This essay is not going to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate. This is essay is about why you should vote.

-Most memoirs are about a lesson learned. I’m going to tell you about a lesson taught.

Craft Studio: Why America Is Terrible At Making Biscuits

Jan
08

What I Was Reading:

When I saw the tweet from The Atlantic linking to an article called, Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits, I was intrigued. I have only attempted biscuit-making a few times and the results were always underwhelming. They never seemed to turn out as well as my dad’s, but I suspect the magic of his biscuits resides in a combination of the specific juice glass he used to cut them out after rolling them and my childhood nostalgia for them.

In this article, Amanda Mull describes her experiences as a Southerner transplanted to New York in search of a good biscuit. In her words, “With every dense, dry, flat, scone-adjacent clump of carbohydrates, I became more distressed.” Mull decides to take matters into her own hands. Using her mother’s recipe, Mull makes a batch of biscuits that turns out to be “just as terrible as all the other ones in New York.”

This passage describing her process caught my attention:

“In subsequent attempts, I tried everything I could think of to get it right. I worried about the buttermilk, so I bought an expensive bottle at the farmer’s market, which did nothing. I tried different fat sources, including butter and lard, which made small differences in flavor and texture but still resulted in a shape and density better suited for a hockey rink than a plate. I made sure all of my ingredients were ice-cold when I started mixing, which is a good tip in general, but did not fix my problem. I kneaded the dough more or less, made it wetter or drier. The only thing left was the flour, but I figured it couldn’t be that—wasn’t self-rising flour the same everywhere? We had just used grocery-store flour back home.”

What Moves I Notice the Writer Making:

* We often give writers feedback along the lines of “vary your sentence beginnings and endings” and “avoid repetition.” This is a terrific example of breaking those “school writing” rules for effect. This paragraph reads more like a list of all the possible solutions the author tried and their results. The repetition of “I” at the beginning reinforces the image of her trying one thing after another after another.

* Most of the sentences follow a similar pattern: I __________, detail, description of how the attempt failed. As I read, I noticed my own investment in this biscuit project growing with each disappointment. I wanted, as I’m sure Mull did, the next one to work. This series of sentences, each following a similar construction, underscores the attempts as a process of elimination.

Possibilities for Writers:

* Read this passage as a writer to notice and name interesting craft moves and discuss how they impact you as a reader.

* Examine one of the longer sentences and describe the role of the commas. Use the same structure to create an original sentence of your own.

* Organize a series of events or actions into a paragraph using similar repetition.

* Watch for other examples of effective repetition in your independent reading.

* As you read, find examples of writers breaking “school writing” rules and consider why they might have made those choices.