|As a child I had a multitude of outdoor spots for playing and even reading in. While many children aren't so fortunate; they can vicariously enjoy outdoor experiences through books that celebrate our natural world. |
I grew up in a ghost town in the piney woods of Mississippi and spent much of my childhood exploring. I walked the thick concrete sidewalks through overgrown woods. I’m also a life-long fan of the work of the artist Walter Inglis Anderson and I was intrigued by the secret room he left behind when he died. I thought that it would be the perfect inspiration for a clue trail. When I set out to write my novel, I wanted to combine those two elements- outdoor survival and an art mystery clue trail.
My goal was to create an immersive experience for the reader. I began keeping a daily journal of things that I could see, smell, taste, touch and hear outdoors. I paid attention to what plants were edible at each time of year, what smells were in the air, what animals could be seen and heard, and what plants were dormant, sprouting, and in bud, bloom or in seed head.
I took classes in outdoor survival. I learned to make a fire using things from the woods, harvest water from trees, make rope from honeysuckle, make a shelter in the woods, and forage for edible and medicinal plants. To keep the pace moving, I tied the things I learned in outdoor survival to Cricket’s quest to solve the clue trail. Time in nature helped give Cricket the perspective she needed as she worked to solve the increasingly baffling clue trail and to come to terms with her family.
I committed these things to the page. I asked myself if the things Cricket observed would likely be things she would notice in real time, if the details were accurate, and if description incorporated the senses to make the scene come alive for the reader. I view the book as an invitation to enter the physical landscape of my childhood and I hope that readers will come right on in.
Jo Watson Hackl is the author of the novel Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe. Jo is also the founder of www.outdoorosity.org, a free resource for educators and families interested in spending more time outdoors. You can find Jo online at JoHackl.com and watch the trailer for her book there.
by Carol Baldwin
Can you take your classroom outdoors? If so, use your time outside to pump up your students' writing. Take a walk around your school or playground and ask students to create word banks of what they see, hear, smell, touch, or taste (the last one might be difficult unless your school is near the ocean and students can taste the salty air!). Note: Hearing and touching are often accentuated if the student wears a blindfold.
Back in the classroom, try one of these activities:
- Have your students practice writing similes and metaphors based on their observations. (Example: Did the tree's bark feel like an alligator's skin or a baseball bat? Was the hot pavement a pizza oven? Did the air feel like an ice storm or a steamy jungle?)
- Write a free verse poem or haiku incorporating one or two of these images.
- Write a setting for a story using at least three out of the five sensory areas recorded.
- Write a paragraph that shows this outdoor scene without naming where it is. You can alter the activity by asking students to only use one or two senses. Work with another classroom that took their sensory walk elsewhere. Trade paragraphs and let peers guess where the place is that is being described.
A Teen's Take on Three books
by Sierra Hostetter
The Call of the Wild
by Jack London
The Call of the Wild is an adventurous book about a kidnapped dog and the life he has ahead of him. Buck goes through rough times. From the beating by the man in the red sweater, to being the leader of a sled pulling dog team. As he faces this adventure head-on; he discovers an inner Buck he didn't know; the wolf side of him. This classic is a heart-wrenching story. It shows anger, fear, death and even love. This is a story!
Water is Water
by Miranda Paul
Water is in a lot of different forms. It is in liquid form known as water, steam, clouds, rain, puddles, ice, and snow. Water is a common element just like fire and air. This is a good picture book. I would suggest this if you read to your children before bed.
The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown
Can you imagine as soon as you start your life people reject you? That every living thing thinks you are a monster and runs at the sight of you? That was the first couple of weeks for Roz, a robot who becomes stranded on a remote island. She was programmed with survival instincts and a helpful nature. Roz changes as we get deeper into the story. She learns the languages of the animals, teaches herself to build a fire and learns to be a mom. She sacrifices herself for the island and for a gosling. If you like adventure, read this book. It will give you a wild ride.
Sierra Hostetter is a rising 9th grader at a small Christian high school in North Carolina. She loves reading, crafting, and riding horses. She even enjoys mucking out the horses' stalls.
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by Joyce Hostetter
While I don't write specifically about the out-of-doors it does play into my writing--at least when I remember to include it! Sometimes I'll have a character walk to the school bus and totally forget to include the weather. And that's okay for the first draft or maybe for several, but eventually I should think about what my character is experiencing in the outside world. It's helpful to consider how the temperatures, the feel of the wind, or the smell of freshly cut grass affect my character's mood. Or maybe I can use some feature of the great outdoors to reflect a larger theme of the story. Weather, landscape, plants, birds, and animal life add depth to our stories while connecting to the real life experiences of our readers.
Congratulations to winners from our
|Linda Gutheil won Welcome|
Kathy Temean won Boy Bites Bug
Theresa Milsten won Breaking Through
Michelle Wall won Ebenezer Creek
|Crayola wants to recycle your classroom markers while reminding students of the need to care for our earth. Check out Crayola Cycle |
- Jo Hackl for being our expert and for donating a copy of Smack Dab in The Middle.
- Sleeping Bear Press for Nature's Friend and An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth
- Eileen Ryan Ewen for our illustration.
- Strange, Unusual, and Gross Animals from Time, Life inc.
|Have you noticed the "Share" button on the top of this newsletter? If you share TALKING STORY either on social media or email it to a friend, we will enter your name in our giveaway. Please email by July 23, tell us what you have done, and your book preference (we try to honor requests) and we will add your name to the hat! |