Last year the New York Times listed 11/23/63 by Stephen King as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011. In high school the book everyone was reading was the Shining. I tried to read it, but it scared the living daylights out of me. (Of course that doesn’t take much, but still….) 11/23/63 is about a guy that travels back in time to try to stop the assignation of John F. Kennedy. It sounded interesting, so I put it on my stack of books to read this summer. I am still reading it. (I know this post should be on Monday for What are You Reading?) Anyhow, Jake Epping, the main character, is a high school English teacher. He, also, teaches English for people pursuing their GED’s. At the beginning of the book Jake is describing his job as a teacher. Jake says his job is hard, and “the red pen became my primary teaching tool…I practically wore it out.”
During a GED class Jake has his students write a paper on “The Day That Changed My Life.” Most of the themes turned in were, well you can imagine. However, “There were no violins or warning bells when I pulled the janitor’s theme off the top of the stack and set it before me, no sense that my little life would change.” The paper was filled with misspelled words, and awful grammar; but “half way down the first page, my eyes began to sting and I put down my trusty red pen.” Jake let the story and the words impact him. He didn’t let the mechanics control his emotions.
About the same time I started 11/23/63 I received a copy of Ralph Fletcher’s new book Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know. As I read this book I kept thinking about what Jake had done with the janitor’s story. Teachers often get so caught up in the mechanics of the story that we can see the true story. Before I continue I want to make it clear that I do understand and know that mechanics are important, but imagine what would happen if mechanics became the secondary thought?
Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know is not a professional book. It is a book for guy writers. With that said teachers must read this book. It gives wonderful insight into what half our class is thinking. (Unless you teach at an all boys school where it is 100%. Or a girls school, and well…) Ralph uses interviews with boy writers and grown boy writers.
In the chapter Riding the Vomit Comet Writing About Disgusting Stuff, Ralph interviews Jon Scieszka about making gross stuff good writing. Jon talks about using interesting language to describe the scene, and stretching out the description. I really liked this because a famous author is giving our guy writers permission to write about what they like, but it better be interesting or the reader will be BORED!
When I was a kid we lived for a couple of years in Nogales, Arizona, actually a few miles north of town out in the middle of the desert. My friends and I had motorcycles. (Yes, I got my first motorcycle when I was nine!) Playing War on motorcycles is way more fun then just plain old War. We could cover more ground, but a surprise attack was challenging. My point is that I played War all summer long, and my favorite cartoon was Jonny Quest. I grew up to be even keeled. I don’t walk around with guns. Yet there is this believe by many educators that if kids write about violence etc. the young author is going to go on a shooting spree in school. I know there evil is out there! I don’t want to make light of anyone’s loss to such violence. I live in Colorado, so I know that guns kill way too many innocent people. As teachers we must balance kids innocent writing about blood, guts, guns, etc. In the opening chapter Ralph writes about how guys are constantly shot down for using violence in their writing. He uses a poem written by a first grader to demonstrate this:
I feel like I am hunting a very victorious plant, a weed.
I circle it. I study it. I watch its every move.
I always take it by the roots.
My weapon is my shovel.
Weeds come up way ahead of the other plants.
I shall pull up every one I see and
Put it a very dry place without any dirt.
I will defeat these weeds
even if it will take my entire life!
Because of one word this poem was not printed in the classroom anthology. I’m sure it is easy to figure out which word.
Now reality. We have to get up out test scores, we have to fit everything into common core standards, we have to………… So with everything how do we balance what our kids want to write with what we want them to write? Libations. OK, well not at school, but at school we compromise. I believe Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know will help everyone in class become a better writer.
Book provided from Ralph Fletcher!
Book provided from Ralph Fletcher!