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WIHWT: Just peachy.

James and the Giant Peach

Today we had a special assembly and focus put together by the PE Department, “Wellness Day.”  The various content area teachers provided our support by creating lessons around healthy nutrition, etc.

Well, as important as all that is, my own take was to have students start to think about how food is used by writers in stories, and immediately thought of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I love the movie adaptation, done by the same stop-motion animator who did Coraline and Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick.

In researching a quote from the book (my copy is at home, safe and sound), I came across this Wikipedia entry:

James and the Giant Peach is a popular children’s novel written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl. The original first edition published by Alfred Knopf featured illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. However, there have been various reillustrated versions of it over the years, done by Michael Simeon for the first British edition, Emma Chichester Clark, Lane Smith and Quentin Blake. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1996. The plot centers on a young English orphan boy who enters a gigantic, magical peach, and has a wild and surreal cross-world adventure with six anthropomorphic insects he meets within the giant peach. Originally titled James and the Giant Cherry, Dahl changed it to James and the Giant Peach because a peach is “prettier, bigger and squishier” than a cherry.[1][2]

Because of the story’s occasional macabre and potentially frightening content, it has become a regular target of the censors and is no. 56 on the American Library Association‘s top 100 list of most frequently challenged books.[3]


Deep breath. Deeeeeeep……breath.

But who in their right or otherwise mind would challenge this book?

Roald Dahl was a brilliant writer. His stories are sublime modern-aged fairy tales that expose the terrors and horrors of childhood. Children are in danger, all the time, in great peril caused by forces beyond their control.

So, to those of you who challenge these sorts of books, would you please consider this: do something else. Stop war. Be peaceful. Think. Make sure children don’t get hurt or exploited. Adhere to your moral compass. Don’t embrace ignorance, but choose love and knowledge.

Now – back to literary analysis. The peach may symbolize motherhood, nurturing, warmth, and love. Roald Dahl didn’t choose a peach by accident. It’s not James and the Giant Orange, or Apple, did he? (Although I think a kiwi would work.)

Think about food in stories. It will nourish you well.

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You may all think I am evangelizing the mighty gospel of gaming, but that is not true.

What I am promoting is relevance.

My brother-in-law works for Blizzard games. He has been working 60-90 hour weeks for months on end. He is extremely talented and intelligent, like all of the Love brothers. He sent this e-mail about his work on Diablo III yesterday afternoon:

The above link has some breakdown videos of various player skills in Diablo III. We just released this info to the public today. I did all of the special FX for these, except for the baseline whirlwind and some of the Cluster Arrow variations. Some of these things, such as the Monk’s Sweeping Wind variations, require a entire week to create. So, now you can see where all those long hours have been going.


Here is an e-mail I sent to my brother-in-law in response:

B-I-L: – shared this with some of my students this morning, and talked about the relevance of learning math, science, language arts especially – and how they connect. Between the understanding of complex mathematical systems, and science systems, like flocking, physics, etc. and the dialogue and text of Language Arts, they need to know these entertaining and engaging games don’t just come out of “nowhere” but come from months of blood, sweat, tears, and mainly: intelligent talent.

 The real challenge of an 8th grade teacher is making sure they begin to connect the relevance of their education with their connected and engaged futures. They are going into 9th grade where things start to ‘count,’ and if there is undiscovered talent or drive, oftentimes it gets lost in the mystification of “how is this going to help me?” They are constantly looking for the cost/benefit analysis and finding a vacuum instead.

And, they all thought it was COOL! Me, too! Can’t wait.


PS Someday it would be wonderful if you could come and speak at my school.

Just a mental note-to-self that was motivates us is not necessarily not doing any work at all, but doing work that feels important and relevant. Many times this year, perhaps, that’s what I felt: that what I was doing wasn’t making a difference, wasn’t relevant, or impactful. My motivation, my drive, in the past was signified by being a rock star of curriculum planning, creative lessons, etc. I need to get back to those roots, the big, burning questions of our lives we want answered.

My team and I are looking forward to next year so much. There is a renewed excitement that feels genuinely needed and warranted. Hope the blood, sweat, and tears of my own profession leaves me just as satisfied and proud.

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Summer romance.

This is a timely reflection on summer reading lists:

No one ever gave me a summer reading list. No one had to: I just read. I associate the blood, chills, and horror of The Shining with the cheer of a July sun. The Mists of Avalon was read on sandy beaches: the moors and castle walls brought to life in the pages of a book, with gritty sand and coconut oil in the background. Soaking in the sun’s rays or cooling off in air conditioning, there was a novel in my hands at all times.

Most of what I do is basically this: I try to get 8th grade students to not hate school.

They come to me saying they hate to read. They hate to write. And I feel that I have to constantly “trick them” into other behaviors. It feels manipulative and sneaky sometimes. That spoonful of sugar only works with British governesses who drop out of skies, slowed by bumbershoots.  But I model that joy, share it excessively, exhubertenly, and rain down on their darling heads lots of sugar and chimney dance numbers.

But it doesn’t always work.

And I must admit, sometimes I feel a bit discouraged. Were there more kids who would step up and read? Now it seems that the majority are defiantly, blatantly embracing ignorance and broken habits of mind. We enjoyed an emergence of a generation of nerds and geeks who rule; is now the age of the punks and rebels?

I look around. Did we “take away” the summer day, the day at the beach, park, library, where a kid can just read?

It’s our fault. Bring back the metaphorical lounge chair.

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Characters out of the bag.!/

Currently, I’m having fun in my spare time writing again. I say it’s “fun,” but am not sure that’s true. Is writing “fun?”

In a story I’m working on now, the main character shares a lot of qualities with who I was in my 20s, some of the same pitfalls and heartaches. But how much is loosely biographical, and used as a launching point, does an audience believe or trust? In other words, will they read it, and think it’s all about me, and not an exploration of bigger themes?

Right now, we’re working on a creative writing assignment, an idea I borrowed from my mentor, and she borrowed from someone else. The idea is to take a brown paper bag, and put a variety of objects in this bag. As a class, we decided not to use anything that wouldn’t normally fit in a gym bag, backpack or purse. For example, you couldn’t put a car, but a toy car would be fine. In order to speed things along, students could print or draw pictures of the objects. (In the future, I don’t recommend this. Having the tactile objects is much more engaging. Live and learn.) This has a caution, too: students should not put anything in their bags that they would mind never seeing again, because they trade bags.

Students’ reactions were interesting:

Do they just write about the objects?

Do they write about themselves?

So, here is what I modeled:

In the bag: movie tickets, hair bow, cell phone, picture of  a puppy, and a bag of cookies.

We went through the list, and determined some of the character’s basics: gender, age, etc.

My off-the-top-of-head story: (I said this out loud, not writing.)

She sat alone in the darkened movie theatre. Credits end, and house lights go on. She sits there and stares at her cell phone for the twentieth time. No text from him. She had been stood up again. She reaches in the bag of homemade chocolate-walnut cookies, the ones she promised him she’d make. This was the third time he has sent her a text asking her out. She believed him. There was usually some good reason why he didn’t show. She shouldn’t have eaten the cookies. She was trying to lose a few pounds, to impress him, and the butter alone would put her off her goal for a week. Glancing down at the cell phone again, no text or message. Blinking in the bright sunlight of the afternoon, she didn’t see the three girls across the street, laughing hysterically. They had gotten her again, and couldn’t wait to put up the pix of the fat girl walking out of the movie alone on Facebook.

Now, every 8th grade kid gasps, and some say, “Oh, Mrs. Love, that’s GREASY!” — Translation: “greased” to be ill used.

Then some asked, “Is that a true story?”

Well, I wasn’t a chubby teenage girl. I have never been stood up (a personal record), and Facebook didn’t exist when I was a teenage (and, again, thank heavens!!).

Explaining that writers are, and are not, their stories, when writing fiction, is a tricky concept for the literally-minded adolescent (and adult). That we take little gems, seeds, nuggets, and springboard to telling tall-tales when we want to explore a burning question or theme is complicated. I was thinking of what actors and actresses must go through when portraying a convincing kiss on screen. There is a whole crew watching, and their own loved ones at home. They must kiss someone that they are not in love with (with the exception of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), and make it convincing, real, and get their audience swept up in the moment. However they as individuals feel about that kiss is moot.

Allowing ourselves to play those roles on paper is both terrifying and exhilarating, and may be the essence of what is so powerful of the written word. And it’s tough to keep that one in the bag.

Postcript: Some of my students’ stories are absolutey amazing. Love being a teacher: get paid to read and write most of the day, and share in the creative process. Wow.