Greetings, Poetry Lovers! I hope you don't mind a little sidestepping from poetry into another genre. I'll try not to keep you long!
A decade ago, I wrote the following haiku which appeared in Acorn.
telling it slant
a ghost crab slips into
©Robyn Hood Black
Acorn, No. 31, Fall 2013
This poem was a grateful nod to our dear Emily's poem:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant — (1263)
By Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
"Explanation kind" and slightly slanted truth can come in other forms, too. Fiction. Parables. And... Fables.
For well more than a decade, I've written several monthly components for Core Essentials Values, a character education program in more than two thousand schools across the country, and based in my old former stomping grounds in Georgia. (Here's a link to their website.) Programs are available for students from pre-K through high school, and my work is for the elementary school components.
For each month's value (say, kindness, or patience, or initiative), I choose an animal to represent it and compose a short nonfiction piece about that animal; a color, with a brief explanation of how it relates to the value; and quotations (usually quite old - 1. there's a lot of wisdom in generations past, and 2. I respect copyright!). It's a LOT of research and a good bit of writing, but I love doing it. Other writer/educators write the direct curriculum, and most of them have been around since the early days, too.
In years past, Core Essentials teamed up with a publisher and offered "book bundles" with trade titles as supplemental classroom materials, a fun way to reinforce that year's values. With changes at that publisher, this option was not really feasible moving forward. The talented folks I answer to (Elizabeth Higgins and Leslie Bolser) wanted to come up with another books-related offering, if I would do the writing! After bouncing around varioius ideas via email and Zoom, we had a meeting last November that took a fun turn. Producing a book for each month was not a very realistic goal, but I grabbed a thought from Leslie and then tossed out the idea of doing a book of fables - just one book, but with 10 chapters corresponding to each value for the year. And, I'd make whatever animal I had previously chosen "star" in that month's fable. During this meeting, I happened to have within arm's reach several antique Aesop's Fables books, because that's how much of a nerd I am. I've always enjoyed sharing fables in author school visits.
They were excited and asked if I could come up with a sample in a few weeks. "Of course," I heard myself say, though with my online artsyletters business, November and December are downright crazy months. I turned in a prototype, they liked it, and we were off and running. After the holidays, I wrote the rest of the fables, in the chaos of a temporary apartment-more-like-storage-unit, as we were selling our house at the coast and getting ready to move here to the hills.
Those were a 'wild' few weeks, but I had a blast writing the stories (after purchasing and reading even more old books of fables, of course...). I enjoyed the challenge of some of the animals I had to work with; I always try to mix in a variety (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, the occasional fish, insects etc.), and I try to highlight North American animals familiar to US kids as well as animals in unusual habitats on other continents. So that's how I ended up having to figure out how to make a decorator crab the central figure in a fable, among other wonderful creatures.
At the end of each fable are discussion questions, thoughtfully written by Lois Brown and Leslie Bolser. Super classroom-friendly!
Jonathan Maloney, our curriculum illustrator, was eager to have a go with the book. He makes amazing graphics each year, including the poster featuring all of the animals. His work is bright, accessible, clear, and kid-friendly. I wondered how he was going to translate that simple graphic style into actual characters for the book. Magically, evidently! His compositions, character expressions, and fun small touches here and there make the animals visually endearing and add another layer of subtle humor. A youngster in my extended family saw the book recently and appreciated the "shoes on the alligator" in The Manatee & the Alligator. (That was one of my favorite stories to write, too.)
Here's a peek at the book's page on the Core Essentials website [ https://coreessentials.org/collections/all-resources/products/new-august-2023-may-2024-values-book?variant=40256881328174 ] , with a link to that first fable I mentioned writing, The Pika and the Bear.
This softcover/paperback book is tailored to be used with Core Essentials Values curriculum, but it's also offered separately.
I hope teachers find this bonus book fun and helpful; I'm ready to tackle the next menagerie! I also look forward to sharing OUT ON A LIMB with students this fall and discussing how reading and writing poetry helps us write across all genres, including fables.
Our wonderful Molly is tackling the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Nix the Comfort Zone.