During the past month I’ve been helping a grade 5/6 teacher with a writing unit, exploring the world of children’s picture books: What favourite books were etched in the students’ memories. Why did they love them so much? What made a children’s picture book so engaging? And discussions about repetition, rhyme, unusual adjectives and other “ingredients” found in everything from Robert Munsch to Jan Brett.
It was an exciting session. And the kids loved it. We took a good long look at various picture books, talked about what made the books special, came up with very imaginative ideas for stories, and wrote our own. I have never seen a class so keen.
In the ultimate test, they shared their book with their Kindergarten reading buddy to see if it was “kid approved”. They all passed with flying colours.
So, a big tip of the hat, a salute to a job well done, a toast to a fine accomplishment. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, one or two or three of these students will make their name as a writer. And to think, it all started here.
It’s become common practice for authors to show off their desks so their readers can get a glimpse into their writing world. And for lack of a better blog I thought, what the heck? Why not? So here it is:
That jar in the right hand corner is my reward and sustenance: Peanuts from Uganda that a lady gave me. After I’ve written so many pages I treat myself to a handful. It keeps me energized.
That silvery thing next to the jar? It’s made of bottle caps, bent in half, enclosing a small bead or stone, joined together on a long piece of leather. I picked it up at the Gulu Recovery Centre for former child soldiers. It was used as part of the musical therapy when the counsellors wanted to bring joy and laughter and dance into the children’s lives. I leave it there to remind me to focus on the new lives these people have now. That it is not all doom and gloom. When I shake it, it sounds like a hundred birds taking flight, their songs spreading over the forest, announcing a new day.
And of course there’s research. I have three books I’ve read and taken lots of notes from: The Lord’s Resistance Army: Myth and Reality by Tim Allen and Koen Klassenroot, Child, Victim, Soldier: the loss of innocence in Uganda by Donald H. Dunson and First Kill Your Family: child soldiers in Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army by Peter Eichstaedt. All valuable resources that I turn to again and again. Of course I use the internet, but these books have provided me with lots of information to help round out my stories.
Those pictures on the right hand side, by the peanuts? I left them there to remind me to take them to a school I’m doing a presentation at. They’re drawings former child soldiers made while in the recovery centre. They show abductions, raids, forced marches and gunfire exchanges between the LRA and the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force). They’re a reminder that the stories are real and the ones who suffered the most were the children. The bookmarks are for the students. They’ve really enjoyed the book and I want to thank them for their enthusiasm. The class is doing a fundraiser to help former child soldiers too. Cool.
And to the left of my laptop - yep, those are bullets. 30-40 KRAG SP. They’re not the same bullets used in an AK-47, but they’re close enough to work for photo shoots. I keep them safe on my desk.
Then there’s the paper work, placed strategically here and there. I know where everything is. The “To do” lists, the papers with African quotes I refer to, the files for the writing groups I belong to and their “To do” lists, etc. etc. I know it looks chaotic but I can rummage through my desk and find what I’m looking for in a matter of five, say ten minutes.
And the cup - usually filled with tea, herbal, homemade using mint from my garden and rosehips collected in the fall after the first hard frost. Delicious. The tea in this cup is cold, and has been reheated probably three times already today. Which is a good sign. Means I’ve been on a role and haven’t had time to stop the writing to take a sip.
And that’s about it. Oh, yes. The window. Gives me a wonderful view onto the trees that run along the edge of our house and the birds and squirrels that search for the spruce cones in amongst its branches. If I peer past the trees I can see my horses. The view can be quite distracting sometimes. But I like it there. A little distraction now and then can be a good thing.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.