Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Nutcracker

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives--a Slice of Life Story. See more Slices by clicking here.

When I was a little girl, my Grandma Beazie (my great-grandmother), used to take me to see The Nutcracker every year at our local theater, the Flynn Theater in Burlington, VT. We would walk down Church Street, where all the shops had their holiday window displays set up, stop for hot chocolate, and go see our show together. Some years, I would spend the night at her house afterward. If I close my eyes, I can still picture her living room with the pull out couch, with my playbill and souvenirs spread out on top of the blankets.

This Saturday, I'm taking Little L. to see The Nutcracker for her first time. She's only four years old, so I'm not sure if she'll last through the entire performance…we'll see. I have a feeling she'll love the dancing. Despite my own reservations about princesses and ballerinas, L. has been really into these two books lately:

How to be a Ballerina by Harriet Castor and illustrated Holley Clifton-Brown is filled with flaps and moveable, interactive parts that kids love to play with, and the illustrations are filled with tiny little details. It's the kind of book where you notice something new in the pictures every time you read it.  My First Ballet Class by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (author of Biscuit, My First Soccer Game and other faves) and illustrated by Leyah Jensen is a really a well written, step by step, how-to book. L. likes to act out the ballet steps along with the book because the directions are so clear and engaging.

I wanted to help L. understand the story, so she wouldn't be totally confused by the ballet, so two nights ago, we read a picture book version of The Nutcracker at bedtime. There are about a zillion different versions of The Nutcracker, I learned. This one is a very simple version, with just a few lines per page but still beautiful.

Little L.'s eyes were wide as we read the part about the Mouse King, with his seven heads. She clung to my arm tightly all through the battle scene, where the Nutcracker and the Soldiers fought bravely against the Mouse King and his army of mice, and she gasped when the Nutcracker fell.

"What's going to happen?" she asked worriedly.

"Don't worry, let's keep reading and find out." 

As we read the next part, where Maria (in this version, the main character is named Maria instead of Clara) takes off one of her slippers and tosses it at the Mouse King. He hisses and falls into a limp pile, destroyed by Maria's slipper. Little L. excitedly started to chatter. "She…she… she SAVED him!" L. shouted triumphantly.

"She sure did. She's brave," I said.  I read on, trying to emphasize how brave Maria is. For the rest of the book, I sort of glossed over the parts where she and the prince get engaged and then married and the typical, fairy-tale sort of ending that reinforces the expectation that women need to be married in order to be happy (my thoughts on princess-culture and fairytales can be saved for another post).

"What do you think, are you ready to see the dancers bring this story to life on a stage?" I asked L.

L. stared back at me blankly. "Huh? This is REAL?"

"It's a pretend story, but on Saturday we're going to the theater to see dancers act out all the parts of the story on a stage."

I could tell she was still confused.

So, tonight we watched a few scenes from the 1986 movie version of The Nutcracker, the one that Maurice Sendak helped to write and design.

To be perfectly honest, I found it a little creepy, but Little L. LOVED it. We only watched the first ten minutes of it, but she was on the edge of her seat the entire time. 

"Now, are you ready to go see the dancers in real life on Saturday?" I asked her.

"Can we go now?!" was her answer.

"Pretty soon, L. Pretty soon."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sing Your Thanks: Songs and Verses for Thanksgiving

When visiting my daughter's preschool for their Thanksgiving celebration, I was inspired to round up some songs for the season. Enjoy!

Giving Thanks
First we give thanks for the food that we've been given (hold one hand like a bowl and the other like a spoon; pretend to eat)
Then we give thanks for the houses that we live in. (Put hands, fingertips together, over head to represent a house)
And we give thanks for the sun that shines above (Point with finger to sky and look up)
But mostly we give thanks for the people that we love. (Cross hands on chest and rock back and forth slightly as if you are giving/receiving a hug.)

* Sung to the tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider)

The Earth Is Good To Me

Oh, the earth is good to me,
And so I thank the Earth,
For giving me the things I need
Like the sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The Earth is good to me.

For every seed I sow,
Their grows another tree,
And soon there’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share
The Earth is good to me
Earth who gives to us this food
Sun that makes it ripe and good
Dear Earth, Dear Sun, by you we live
To you our loving thanks we give.

For the food before us,
For the friends beside us,
For the love that surrounds us,
We are truly grateful.

This food is a gift from the earth, the sun, the rain, the
whole universe
It comes to us through the hard work of many people
May we live in such a way as to be worthy of it
May it give us energy to do the work of love

From you I receive, to you I give
Together we share, and from this we live

Nature's Thanks

The eagle give thanks for the mountains
The fish give thanks for the sea.
We give thanks for the goodness
And for what we're about to receive.

(arms like wings, then become mountain peaks)
(hands together like swimming fish, then wave motion)
(arms raised in front like receiving something being passed down from a height)
(arms lowering, hands like they are holding something)

* spoken

Things I'm Thankful For

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for the earth
I'm thankful for the sea
I'm thankful for my friends
And I'm thankful to be me.

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for the sun
I'm thankful for each tree
I'm thankful for my home
And I'm thankful to be me

There are many things I am thankful for
I can find them near and far
There are many things I am thankful for
Let me tell you what they are

I'm thankful for my food
I'm thankful to be free
I'm thankful for the stars
And I'm thankful to be me
* Song by Hap Palmer, from the album Holiday Magic

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mom's Best Friend

Each Tuesday my colleagues and I at the blog Two Writing Teachers host a Slice of Life Story event. Teachers, students, and writers from all over the world share a short, focused story from a small moment in their own lives--a Slice of Life Story. See more Slices by clicking here.

The alarm goes off. It's early. The sun isn't quite up yet. My eyes are blurry. My head hurts. My hips hurt. My back hurts. My feet are swollen. I feel slightly sick to my stomach. Only four more weeks to our due date.

My hand touches something fuzzy and warm next to me in the bed. Indigo! He's got his furry little head resting on my belly, using it as a pillow--so cute! I wonder if he can feel the baby moving around in there. How did I not notice him sleeping on me? He's warm and soft, and suddenly I don't feel so sick anymore.

I pause for a minute to give Indigo some pats and some love, and then I gently slide him over to the side so I can get up and start the day. He lifts his head for a moment and gives me a look that says, "Hey, I'm snuggling here!" (I've always imagined that Indigo has a Brooklyn accent) and then he flops back down with a giant doggy sigh and goes back to sleep.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Book, Authored by Little L.

Here's Little L.'s latest book! She drew it and told it all by herself! The captions are her words exactly. Enjoy!

By Lily, [Book] 1
"The title is Color."

Page left: "First the little girl and her daddy woke up."
Page right: "And then they played outside in the SUNSHINE!"

"And they played outside, and then they went to sleep, and then it was night time."

"And then the next morning, it was thundering and lightening and rainy. The little girl and her daddy waited for the storm to pass."

Page left: "It's sunny and then the little girl and her daddy go out to play. But before they knew it, a storm was coming. They heard the thunder off in the distance."
Page right: "Then they hurried inside."

"And now for the final page. It's sunny again through all those storms. The sun was shining brighter than they had ever seen in their house. And they lived happily ever after."


And here's how she did it:

1. I stapled together pages of white printer paper, and asked L., "Would you like to make a book?" I said this with lots of enthusiasm, like an invitation to do something really, really special.

2. I pointed to the first page and said, "What happens first?" She told me the story aloud first, and then I said, "Great story! Draw it!" and she went to town.

3. As soon as she had drawn everything that she wanted for the first pages of her story, I turned the page and said, "What happens next?" She told me, and then again I said, "Wow! Draw it so we don't forget it!"

4. I continued this way, nudging her to turn the page before putting the whole story on one page, and asking her to tell the story aloud before drawing. As we neared the final page of the book, she started planning out how the story would end. As she drew the last few pages she told the story aloud several different ways, finally deciding on the beautiful ending that you see in her book.

Some tips:
1. Encourage your children do their own work all by themselves, with minimal intervention from you. For example, when L. first got started she turned to me and said, "I don't know how to draw a house. Draw it for me." I said, "Well, think about the shape of a house. It's kind of like a square." On a separate piece of paper I drew a very simple square shaped house. L. looked at it, and said, "I'm just going to do it this way." And she drew a circle around the little girl and her daddy to represent their house.

2. Be proud of whatever stage your child is at.  When L. was still in the scribbling stage (which she still enjoys quite a bit), I would still say, "Wow, tell me about this!" or "What's happening on this page?" To her, those little squiggly lines held meaning.

3. Resist spelling words for your child, and especially resist writing on her paper. As soon as your child sees you writing on her paper, a little switch goes off in her mind. She thinks to herself, "Aha! All I have to do is get a grown up to do it for me!" To foster independence and a sense of ownership, try to be very consistent about not writing on your child's work.  (The one exception might be if, from the start, you say, "Let's make something TOGETHER." so that it's clear that it's yours as much as your child's work).

4. Take a dictation of your child's writing word-for-word on separate paper or post-its. Don't change a thing! Even if your child is stringing together words with strange sentence grammar, or if it doesn't make that much sense to you. Think of it like a photograph--You'll want to remember this stage later!