A good friend of mine, Bonnie Jean Flom, knows her way around a classroom. With long years of experience not only as an artist but as a grade school teacher, principal, and educational consultant, Bonnie Jean is still discovering and sharing new ways to excite young children about language and learning.
Recently she shared with me an idea that got me excited, too, and so I want to share it with you. Bonnie Jean spent time during April in the Austin, Texas visiting her son, Scott Norman. While there, she spent a delightful day with the fifth graders he teaches. In addition to helping these young students write and publish their work for their classroom, Bonnie Jean observed students celebrating National Poetry Month by arranging books in stacks so that the titles on their spines created short poems. The students then photographed their poems before re-shelving their constituent books.
Poetry + photography? I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea!
Here are two examples that showcase the limitations of my library and imagination but also the fun I had. After a little experimenting, I decided they read most naturally from the top down. Frustrations included not having the sounds I wanted, wide variation in font size and style, realizing how many of my books have dull titles like “Complete Poems” that mask the excitement of the contents within, and (ouch!) having a slippery, heavy stack slide onto my toes. (Lessons learned: wear thick clogs and compose short poems.)
In the photos, I have endeavored to line up the germane phrases, but they still might be rather hard to read. I include the texts below.
Engineers of the Soul
The Enchanted Loom
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
God Be With the Clown
Write from the Heart
The Story of My Life
Can Poetry Matter?
Tirra Lirra By the River
Help, Thanks, Wow
The Opposite of Fate
Talking to the Sun
A Kiss in Space
The Golden Gate
So…are you itching to try it yourself? Go ahead! And let me know what you come up with!
Summer always means Shakespeare at our house. We think of his birthday, celebrated on April 23. (Born in 1564, that would make him 449 years old today.) And then it seems natural to seek out a production of his work or to re-read a play or recite a few of the sonnets. This year, Julia and I hosted a “Reader’s Theater”; a total of 9 people gathered at our house to read Hamlet, scene by scene, one act per day. We paused after each scene to discuss the action, to look up unfamiliar words and concepts, to puzzle over character’s motivations, to examine recurring themes, and to recast the actors’ roles. Everyone got to share in the big parts as well as the bit parts. We also included vestigial costuming (a grey pashmina draped over the head for the ghost of King Hamlet, a red beret for Laertes who is off to France, matching Disney World lanyards for the goofy Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee that are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.) We had lots of laughs and some new insights, too. A reader’s theater approach is a low-tech but highly interactive way to bring any dramatic work off the page.
Note also that the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which included in its first season a noted production of Hamlet, is hosting productions both of Hamlet and of Tom Stoppard’s companion black comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in the spring of 2014, as part of its 50th season. (www.guthrietheater.org)