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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - My New Book of Fables for Core Essentials Values!


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
a hole


©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.

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Poetry Friday - Epigrammatically Speaking...

Greetings, Poetry Lovers!


I finally hit "send" on this year's regular freelance writing gig I've done for more than a dozen years. (Lost count.)  I write three components of a nation-wide character education curriculum, Core Essentials Values.  This adventure started when we lived in Georgia, and the folks at the helm were women I knew.  They needed some writers and contacted me, and I jumped aboard.  My regular assignments have evolved over the years, but here's what I do.  Each month of the school year has its own value (say, "compassion" or "respect" or "commitment" or some such.)  As part of the elementary school curriculum, I come up with an animal to represent each value, and a color to represent each value, and a little set of quotes for each month as well. (I love seeing the animals and colors magically appear on the yearly poster & graphics.  And I love that many of the materials are in Spanish as well as English.)


Each nonfiction animal description runs about 250-280 words; each "reason for the color," about 100 words (also nonfiction).  I do love me some research, and these little gems require a lot of it.  For the quotes, I search far and wide to find sayings or quotations that relate to the value and/or its definition. That might sound easy, but it's involved, too.


For one thing, I use old quotes.  I don't want to get into any sticky copyright situations.  Also, voices from the past have a lot to teach us, even though time marches on and our society changes and evolves.  I take care with these, and don't claim to always get it exactly right.  If you simply search for quotes online, you'll find a zillion websites, many attributing the same quotes to the same folks, but despite the colorful, uplifting graphics and bold fonts, these are not always well researched.  So my trust level for authenticity has been honed through the years. 


It's also a challenge sometimes trying to find diverse voices, but I try.  If you think about it, whose voices were most likely to be solidified in print 50 or 100 or more years ago?  Yep.  And I have nothing against white men - I've been happily married to one for decades.  But I try to incorporate perspectives from women and writers of color whenever possible as well. 


If you love quotes, I do have one site to recommend: Dr. Mardy Grothe's website, particularly his "Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations."  You will find sources for each entry, as well as some helpful "error alerts" for quotes commonly misattributed or misused. I do also use books, especially antiques - one of the hundred-plus-years-old ones I have has 40,000 quotes - and I love literary and museum sites.  I try to collect quotes throughout the year.  What does any of this have to do with Poetry Friday?


I frequently meander down roads less travelled when I'm writing, and this week I stumbled into a patch of epigrams.  Well, I was using a quotation from the fella pictured above, François VI, Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), and discovered that the work he is famous for is his Maximes, which include 500 astute/often biting nuggets of observation about being human.  Aphorisms such as:


On ne donne rien si libéralement que ses conseils - "We give nothing so generously as…advice."  


I didn't realize how many classic writers were drawn to reading and writing these literary cordials. The haiku poet in me, trying to squeeze multiple drops of meaning out of a very few words, was/is intrigued.  And while La Rochefoucauld's name was not on the tip of my tongue, I learned he influenced many later writers, from Voltaire to Thomas Hardy to Friedrich Nietzsche, to name a few. My epirgram detours this week occurred primarily in the online Encyclopdia Britannica.  I'm old enough to remember having a whole, hard-copy set in our home when my brother and I were young!  So it has a special place in my psyche. Here are a couple more for you, with Britannica links below. 



I saw a Flie within a Beade

Of Amber cleanly buried:

The Urne was little, but the room

More rich than Cleopatra's Tombe.


Robert Herrick (1591-1674)


(Herrick gave us  "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.")




What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole,

Its body brevity, and wit its soul.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)




For more about our French duke, click here.


For more about epigrams, click here.


To gather rosebuds with Robert Herrick, click here.


To revisit Samuel Taylor Coleridge, click here



And to come back to the 21st Century and lots of great poetry, visit our lovely and talented Patricia at Reverie.  Thanks for hosting, Patricia! Wishing all a safe and memorable Memorial Day weekend, with special thanks to military families. Prayers for those who are remembering precious loved ones, especially. 

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