The GiverWhy Read?

Ever had a kid tell you half-defiantly, “I don’t read”?  I’ve even had one who said, “I can read all right, but I won’t do it.”

Maybe they know we love challenges–they do bring rewards.  One new non-reader ended up finishing three books in his first two weeks–non-fiction books with lots of pictures.  My librarian knew boys.

One year, I had entire classes embrace reading.  While a teacher was on medical leave, I got students who could not spell–and most did not or could not read well.  For them, I chose Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a tale of a future without pain–no cold weather, no childbirth, no dead end careers, no old age. The cost was no excitement, no choices, and euthanasia.   Well, these kids hadn’t known there were books that you had to argue with!

When we were done, I gave them six choices for their next book.  They choose the darkest, Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic, a story of a Jewish girl inside a Nazi death camp.  They wanted to feel.

When kids learn in order to get a great job someday, it restricts their interests. These are the greater gifts from reading.

1.  LEARN TO MAKE LIFE CHOICES.
Analyze character’s actions–would you have done the same thing?  Would you have risked death to hide Anne Frank in your home?  Would you have accepted your aunt’s reasons for marrying a humorless Puritan?  Would you have stayed with the plane or tried to walk out?

2. KNOW THAT, WHATEVER YOUR SITUATION, OTHERS HAVE FACED IT.
Pain is bad enough, but it’s harder to cope if you believe life is singling you out for ill treatment. So the kids at school make fun of your shoes, you can’t hit a basket with a bat, much less a ball, and your getting weary of hiding your mom’s alcoholism from the world. You are not alone. Others have survived–and grown–from such challenges.

3. LEARN TO UNDERSTAND PAIN AND PEOPLE’S REACTIONS TO IT
Before you suffer great pain, books can help you learn what causes it and how sufferers cope. What would it be like to lose a parent or a leg? How would it feel to be trapped in a avalanche or lost in a blizzard? What if your parents’ divorce or your brother takes his anger out on you? It happens. And people have not one reaction, but a string of them–and authors write of them.

We must endure much more than we can imagine–but we can be strong, at least sometimes, and learn to forgive ourselves for the others.

One for the Money, Two for the Show

Act I, Scene 5

(Next morning in the empty ball room.  KARL OF GRUNWALD and KARL’S MOMMA enter stage right and, during dialog, move to stage center front.)

KARL’S MOMMA: (Looks around). This has to be the right room.  Why isn’t anyone else here?

KARL:  It’s early, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA:  Well, good.  It would be amusing if no one else showed up.  The nerve of that girl—wanting a man with wit.  Whoever heard of such a thing?  Wit.

KARL:  Yes, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA:  You’ll just have to show wit today, Karl.  And speak out loudly and boldly.

KARL:  Yes, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA:  Loudly and boldly.

KARL:  Yes, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA: (Inhales deeply. Exhales slowly.)  That’s better.  Now remember the riddles we worked on this morning.  When does a cherry have no pit?  When does a ring have no end?  When does a babe make no crying?
Well, tell me.

KARL:  When it’s a blossom, when it’s rolling, and when it’s sleeping, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA:  Well, that’ll have to do.  It would be just like Lea to make up her own riddle though.  That girl is too smart for my taste.  Why does she have to be the one with the great dowry? 
Well, we can’t change that.  Remember—stand straight, speak loudly and have wit.

KARL: Yes, Momma.

KARL’S MOMMA: (Moving to stage rear) I’ll be watching and depending on you to do your best.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to get Blackbird Villa.
(Turn back to Karl while walking) Remember, loudly and boldly.

KARL: Yes, Momma. (Turns to audience. Patter song.)
Karl of Grunwald, do you want this audience or not?
Do you seek Lea’s hand—or what?
     Her hand is just fine,
    In act, it fits well in mine,
But, Lord, what a mouth she has got.

(BERTRAM OF ADLER enters stage left.  Mumbles as though practicing riddles.)

KARL:
Momma told me to come do my best,
Although with wit I am really not blest,
    I know Lea’s a shrew,
    But what else can I do
To earn a villa with sheep and all the rest?

BERTRAM: (Patter song.)
Bertram of Adler, do you want this audience or not?
Do you seek Lea’s hand—or what?
    Her hand is just fine
    And the rest is divine,
But, Lord, what a mouth she has got.

(ODO OF BRANDT enters stage right.  Mumbles as though practicing riddles.)

BERTRAM:
I’ve heard a wife is a terrible expense,
Wanting pounds and shillings rather than pence,
    But the dowry’s a size
    Makes even Lea a prize
Not to be ignored by a man of good sense.

ODO: (Patter song.)
Odo of Brandt, do you want this audience or not?
Do you seek Lea’s hand—or what?
    Her hand is just fine
    And the rest is divine,
But, Lord, what a mouth she has got.

(EXTRAS filter in.)

ODO: 
A woman should devote her hours to praying
When she’s done with the cooking, cleaning, and haying,
    Yet sheep, cattle and steeds
    Are all a man needs
To ignore all the drivel his wife’s saying.

(KARL, BERTRAM and ODO move to center stage.)

KARL, BERTRAM and ODO:
Think man, do you want this audience or not?
Do you seek Lea’s hand—or what?
    Her hand is just fine

KARL: In fact, it fits well in mine.

BERTRAM:  And the rest of her is divine,

ODO:  And the dowry is just fine.

ALL: But, Lord, what a mouth she has got.!

(MARKUS AND LEA enter center rear. MARKUS nods greetings to others as he leads LEA to a seat.)

MARKUS: (Turns to waiting men.)  I have invited you today because my beloved sister plans to wed.  As you know, she has a dowry befitting a lady of refinement…and grace.  Lea asks only that her suitor correctly answer this riddle.  (Hesitates while others wait.)  If you threw a blue shoe into the Red Sea, what would it become?

(ALL talk to themselves.)

ODO: (Steps forward to address Markus) Hmmph.  That is obvious.  It would become ruined.  And a terrible waste it would be.

KARL: (Steps forward and speaks loudly) It would become a boat.  (Quieter.) I mean, you could call it a boat..if it didn’t sink.  (Quieter.) I once had a boat that looked just like a wooden shoe.

BERTRAND: (Steps forward)  A blue shoe in the Red Sea might become purple?

(Loud laughter offstage.  ALL turn to stare as LANZO, dressed in ragged minstrel gear, runs in stage right.)

LANZO: (Triumphant)
Boat or shoe,
Purple or blue,
In the Red Sea set,
All becomes wet.
(Throw arms wide.)  Now where is this wench that prizes wit?

(ALL stare first at Lanzo, then at Markus. LEA looks ill.)

MARKUS:  (Stares, hesitates, then takes LEA by the hand and helps her rise.)  Sir, you have won the hand of my sister Lea, complete with her dowry—Blackberry Villa, 100 sheep…

LANZO: (Laughs and approaches Lea) A skinny wench like this will be enough of a bother without all that sheep and drivel.  (Takes her hand and hops wildly.)
I am no king, and I am no lord,And I am no soldier of arms, said me.
I’m none but a harper, a traveling harper
That am come hither to wed with ye.

(LANZO dances, pulling LEA after him, as  ALL gossip and the curtain falls.)

One for the Money, Two for the Show (Act I, Scene 3)

Scene 3

(At the ball. Musicians at stage right rear. Dancers in action. GUNDA, heavily jeweled, is left front. MARKUS and STEFAN talk left rear. LEA dances in with ULRICH. ) 

LEA: (Sees GUNDA. Stops dancing.) Why, Gunda, you’re looking lovely this evening. 

GUNDA: Of course. People expect it. 

LEA: Of course, dear.  Why you’ve been a beautiful maiden for decades, haven’t you? 

GUNDA: (To Ulrich.) If you can’t control your dog, you really should leave her at home. (Walks to stage left rear.) 

LEA: (Watches GUNDA. Turns to ULRICH.) Must be past her bedtime, poor old dear.

(LEA and ULRICH resume dancing. LEA stops stage center near KARINA.) 

LEA: Karina, so glad you are here tonight. 

KARINA: I’m sure. 

(MARKUS aproaches unnoticed.) 

LEA: I am so looking forward to your moving to Ritter House. 

KARINA. Really? 

LEA: We always have such a problem getting rid of the table scraps when you aren’t here. 

MARKUS: Lea, that’s enough. Excuse us, Ulrich, Karina. Lea and I must talk. 

(ULRICH and KARINA dance away.) 

MARKUS: I didn’t throw this ball so you could insult my guests. 

LEA: Well, what do you expect. I’m bored. You promised to introduce me to a tall, handsome duke-to-be. I certainly don’t see one. 

MARKUS: Hardly fitting when you’re so enthralled with Ulrich. 

LEA: Isn’t he handsome tonight? I know he wants to marry me, Markus. You must talk wth him tonight. 

MARKUS: So you don’t want to meet Stefan? 

LEA: It might be amusing. Let me see him. (MARKUS takes LEA’S arm and guides her.)  You can’t mean that small, brown creature? 

MARKUS: You behave. He’s seen us approaching. 

LEA: But he’s not handsome at all. 

MARKUS: Do this for me. (Reaches out to STEFAN.) Lea, allow me to introduce  my friend Stefan. 

LEA: No. No, I won’t allow it. (LEA walks off stage left.) 

(Lights dim.)

One for the Money, Two for the Show (Act I, Scene 2)

Scene 2 

(Sitting room. Dresses are strewn around.  LEA sits in dressing gown idly throwing dice and scooping them up.  DIANA and ELISABETH, in fine dresses, enter stage left.)

DIANA: I have never seen so many people! 

ELISABETH: Eligible male people, at that. 

DIANA: I can’t believe Markus planned all this. I was beginning to suspect he liked being in mourning. 

ELISABETH:  He would like seeing Lea engaged even better. 

DIANA:  Lea engaged?  (Turns to Lea.)  Lea, you’re not keeping secrets? 

LEA:  (Rises, stretches.)  As Elisabeth said, Markus wants to see me engaged.  And when have I ever given my brother what he wanted? 

DIANA:  (Starts to speak.  Stops.  Hesitates.  Starts again.) Why should Markus want you engaged. 

ELISABETH:  It’s Katrina’s idea. 

DIANA:  Why should Katrina want Lea engaged. 

LEA:  It might have something to do with me saying she belched like a sick hunting dog. 

(DIANA giggles. 

ELISABETH:  (Frowns.)  Lea, you didn’t? 

LEA:  But I did.  And I can’t wait to tell her that she is getting so slender that she reminds me of a starving walrus.

ELISABETH:  (Laughs in spite of herself).  Don’t.  She’s going to be lady of Ritter House.  .  

LEA:  Well, I’m sick of hearing Barbara Allen.  I don’t care if it’s her favorite song.  You think Markus would have some mercy  for the rest of us. 

ELISABETH:  Katrina is really very sweet and… 

LEA:  Do not start.  It’s always how sweet Katrina is. How lovely she is.  How considerate she is.  Well, if you look like a starving walrus and want to marry a rich man, you had better be sweet and considerate—even if you’re willing to settle for a stingy dullard like Markus. 

DIANA:  But Markus spent a fortune on this ball.  Such food!  I don’t know the names of half of it. 

LEA:  (Walks back to chair. Sits down.)  I (pause) am not going. 

ELISABETH: But you must go! 

DIANA: But everyone important is here! 

LEA:  (Plays with dice.)  I’m far too busy tonight. 

DIANA: But we can’t go without you! 

ELISABETH: (Serious.)  But we must…if only so Markus can’t blame us. 

(DIANA and ELISABETH exit stage left.  LEA rises and paces nervously, biting her lip and glancing toward the door. There’s a rap at the door and she sits hurriedly sits and picks up the dice.  MARKUS enters stage left.) 

MARKUS:  So it is true.  You have not dressed for the ball. 

LEA:  And I’m not going to.  Not unless you promise a decent dowry. 

MARKUS: I’m offering an immense dowry.  Ulrich is just playing for more.  It is time you considered marrying someone else. 

LEA:  (Stands) One of your friends.  (Waves toward ballroom.)  That perpetually smirking Gerold?  Or that antique—what is his name?—Randulf? 

MARKUS: Karl of Grunwald is… 

LEA: A prattling popinjay!  And it is always, “Momma this” and “Momma that.”  

MARKUS: (Tense).  Odo of Brandt is… 

LEA:  A spindly miser.  Dear brother, I don’t plan to go through life eating beans and cabbage every night. 

MARKUS:  And Bertram of Adler? 

LEA:  Is a solemn ass.  Have you ever seen him smile?  He disapproves of music, jewelry and laughter.  I suspect he disapproves of women entirely. 

MARKUS:  So no one is worthy of your great beauty and wit?  You—the most spoiled, the most inconsiderate—sling insults at the world.  Well, I’m sorry that Father spoiled you.  I’m sorry that he died.  But insulting everyone we know won’t make things better. 

LEA: I don’t insult them.  I describe them. 

MARKUS:  All but your precious Ulrich?  You must have the unreachable toy or none? 

LEA: He wouldn’t be unreachable if you’d offer a decent dowry. 

MARKUS:  And I suppose you have insults ready for Stefan? 

LEA:  Stefan? 

MARKUS:  The son of the Duke of Trommler. 

LEA:  And he’s here? 

MARKUS: He’s come all this way to meet you.  I guess I’ll tell him you are too busy. 

LEA:  Is he taller than Ulrich?  Does he dress as fine? 

MARKUS:  You’ll have to come to the ball to find out.  (Starts toward door stage left.  Turns back.)  I’ll have you announced after two more songs.  (Exits.) 

(LEA is thoughtful.  Hums.  Begans gathering her things. Lights dim.)

 

One for the Money, Two for the Show Act I, Scene 1

Zummara_MedievalAct I

 

Scene 1 

(In the gray, dimly lit anteroom before the Ritter House’s front door.  Spotlight follows as Karina enters stage right carrying a heavy carpetbag and walks to front center.) 

KARINA:  (Setting bag down) I am getting out and I am never coming back.  It’s bad enough that the musicians played “Barbara Allen” eight times this evening. Markus is overdoing  the life-is-fleeting bit.

He’ll find out how fleeting if I have to stay under the same roof as his she-witch of a sister one for nght.

Where is that carriage?  It should be here.. 

MARKUS: (Entering stage right).  Karina!  There you are.  Why did you leave dinner?  It’s time to announce our engagement. (Grabs and swirls with her.) 

KARINA:  (Stops abruptly and adjusts her skirts). I left, my dearest Markus, so you could not announce our engagement. 

MARKUS:  Karina, sweetie, I thought we’d agreed that we’d announce our engagement as soon as the mourning period for my father was over. 

KARINA:  (Shakes head.  Walks left to peer out door.  Turns back.)  That was a mistake. 

MARKUS: What is the matter? 

KARINA:  You don’t know? 

MARKUS: (Suddenly angry)  So it is Lea.  What did she say this time? 

KARINA:  More insults than I can remember.  I cannot stay here, Markus. 

MARKUS:  But you will be mistress of Ritter House, not Lea.  I’ll make her stay in her room.  I’ll forbid her to speak in your presence.  Just don’t let her ruin our future.

Besides, Lea will marry soon and plague some other household. 

KARINA:  Lea may never marry.  She’ll never meet anyone who is a match for her.  

MARKUS:  She will marry—soon. 

KARINA:  If I could only believe that. 

MARKUS:  I’ve made her dowry immense—Blackbird Villa, 100 sheep, 20 horses, and 20 head of cattle. 

KARINA:  You think a man would marry a witch for that? 

MARKUS:  Then I’ll make it more.  Trust me, Katrina, I will invite every eligible man to a ball soon and have this settled by Christmas.  I promise.  

KARINA:  By Christmas.  (Pause.)  And I need not spend a day in this house until she is gone? 

(Barbara Allen plays backstage.) 

MARKUS:  Not a day.  Come with me now.  (Takes her arm.)  The musicians are playig our song.  (Hums.) 

KARINA:  (Sigh.)  How nice.  

   (Pair exits stage right. )

 

Teaching Reading (1)

Somewhere out there is an article titled “Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science.”  Well, the

Borrowed from www.dyslexiaa2z.com

Borrowed from www.dyslexiaa2z.com

fact that kids learn in so many different ways may make it even more complicated though, fortunately, most people catch on.   

               Few kids in my family learned though phonics; in fact, I never knew phonics until I had to teach it.  Yes, I could sound out b’s and d’s but the vowels and accents were a mystery—and dipthongs?  Often you have to know the country of a word’s origin to know which rule to use. 

               Motivation is a big factor.  Adults enjoy reading.  It’s mysterious and fun.  I remember reading a book with French words to my granddaughters and seeing the older one catch on that I didn’t know any of this stuff, that all these thoughts were on the page.  I could feel myself falling from a pedestal, but I had sensed her resolve to learn to read for herself and was glad.

               Her mother had been even younger when she started scowling whenever Sesame Street featured letters—she didn’t like not understanding.  I showed that her name had letters and helped her learn the “c”.  Before long she asked her Dad what y-o-b-y-a-l-p spelled. She had learned letters from Sesame Street, but hadn’t yet figured out we read left-to-right.

               Repetition is also important.  When my seventh grade class doubted my statement that most kids memorized books before they read, I started reciting “Green Eggs and Ham” and enjoyed the amazed faces as half the class chimed in.  Young children love repetition.  They are wired to learn that way—and that learning sticks with them.

               The hardest kids to teach are those who have not been exposed to story young.  I can teach a kid whose parents told him marvelous stories in Spanish to read easier than I can an English-speaking kid who has not been raised surrounded by story.  The wonder of story is a strong motivator. For kids raised without it, todays’ colorful books on the natural world can help.  Curiosity about the world is also a good motivator.

               Then there are the skills.  The brain is actually reforming and reprioritizing as we learn to decode and form mental pictures.  Kids can learn a fact on Tuesday and recite it on Friday, but reading is a skill—like bicycle riding or swimming—and requires time and patience. 

               Here are some of the letter games I played with my kids while we were in the car.

               One, make up words that end in the sounds “-at” or “-an” or “-ed.”  A kid who can’t say “cat, bat, fat, rat” will have a harder time learning letters. 

               Two, once kids know letters, they can call out combinations for mom to pronounce. (I think we made this game up).  A girl would say “b-d-t” or “r-c-g” and laugh wildly at the weird sounds mom would make.  One day one said “a-r-m” and there was awe and pride when mom said a real world.  She had spelled. 

               Three, once kids know the alphabet, they can work from “a” to “z” by spotting items that start with the sound or by spotting the written letters.  (You can choose to skip “q”, “x” and a few others.)  You can do this cooperatively by all working through the alphabet together and graduate to a more competitive version where each kid works through the alphabet and only the first to spot an item gets to count it.

               Play is a child’s work.

Introducing Adverbs

adverbs

A way to introduce adverbs to students….

               Parts-of-speech qualify as abstract ideas—those theoretical things that you can’t taste, feel or point to.  They must be understood.

               It helps to think of them as a word’s job.  Just as I can be a teacher, bookkeeper, or writer at different times, a word can be a noun, verb, adjective or adverb at different times.  You have to look at what it is doing to know.

               Start with a simple phrase.  “The boy jumped quickly.” The job of the word “quickly” is to tell you how the boy jumped.  In “the boy jumped daily,” the word “daily” says when the boy ran.  Or you could say, “the boy jumped eastward,” and “eastward” would tell you where the boy jumped.  All three jobs–telling how, when and where—are adverb jobs. 

               “The boy jumped _______” is an adverb-generator.  If you need a list of words that can act as adverbs, just think of words that will fit in the blank.  List all you can in 60 or 90 seconds and you will have lots. 

               Kids can make such a list as young as 7.  Why do they have such trouble understanding that these are adverbs?  Perhaps because words that sit in the blank can be so different? 

               With several students I’d let the one who wrote the most words read his or her entire list—then have others read their four favorites. 

               You can use the lists to teach more about adverbs.

               Did a lot of your words end in –ly?  Well, a lot of words get –ly after their names when they become adverbs—quickly, slowly, wildly, constantly, wildly, happily.  Other words, however, don’t need –ly to make they change.

               Are some of your words familiar nouns?  Like “home” or “Monday”?  Well, these words have hired out as adverbs saying where or when.   

               And did you write some phrases?  If you use this adverb generator long enough, phrases like “in the air,” “for joy,” or even “over the moon” come to mind.  These are prepositional phrases–which have a connecting word followed by a noun—can do the job of an adverb. 

               Other phrases like “all day long” aren’t easy to categorize.  Just be assured if they tell you how, when or where the boy jumped, the phrase is acting as an adverb.

               Other adverb generators—

               The ship sailed ________.

               The girl laughed ________.

               The teacher stared _________.

               The clock fell __________.

               Adverb generators are a noun followed by an intransitive verb—a verb that cannot take an object.  Transitive verbs can be followed by a noun.  For example, the girl ran the business or the boy ran a race.  Linking verbs can be followed by a noun or adjective—mom was an actress or dad was happy.  

               It’s good to have students keep a list of adverbs on hand to use in mad-libs or in assignments on sentence variety.       

 

Plot Structure

Plot-Diagram

There’s a saying that 90% of published stories follow “the formula”—and the other 10% are great literature.

               So what is “the formula”?  So glad you asked–I’ve taught plotting for 15 years and need spend no time researching an answer in this busy season. 

               First, let me tell you why it helps to know.  If you’re acting as a teacher, it provides you with built-in questions about a book you’ve never read.  If a student has just started a book, you ask about aspects of the opening.  If they’re halfway through, you ask about character, conflict and one point of rising action. 

               If you’re acting as a reader, using the language from plot helps you state why you like or dislike a book.  The main character was inspiring or dorky; the conflict was interesting or weak; the climax was riveting or predictable. 

               If you’re a storyteller or a writer, what you need to know is that opening and conflict get the first 20%; the rising action and climax, the next 60%; and the falling action and denouement, the final 20%.   

               This is it—the basis of the majority of the world’s literature. 

               Opening/Exposition:  Introduces the setting (time and place) and the characters.  Recently, there’s a trend to having the first scene be a life-or-death action borrowed from later in the plot, but at some time the author has to get around to who and where.  

               Conflict:  The problem that must be solved before the story can end.  By the end of the third or fourth chapter, readers need to know there is a problem, one they care about, and have some idea what direction they want the story to go. 

               Rising action:  The problem gets worse—and worse—and worse yet.  New challenges arise and possible solutions disappear. 

               Climax: The point at which the solution is revealed.  Sometimes this is a breathtaking action—the poor hero hanging from roof’s edge manages to pull himself up and knock out the villian.  But it may be two starving children lost In a blizzard stumbling into campground and finding a half loaf of bread in the garbage.

               Falling action: The handling of loose ends.  The police arrive and take the villian away or the kids to the hospital.

               Denouement/Resolution: The “new normal” is revealed.  The characters go forth with new knowledge and understanding.  

               Now take a story you know—the simpler the better—and see if you can identify the elements of the plot.  I’ll use the “The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs” as an example.

               Opening: Each little pig goes off to seek his fortune.

               Conflict: A hungry wolf decides to eat the pigs.

               Rising action:  The house of straw disintegrates.  The house of sticks follows.  The wolf is using all his wind power to threaten the house of brick.

               Climax: The wolf goes down the chimney and lands in a vat of boiling water.

               Falling action: Everyone realizes what has happened and celebrates.

               Denouement:  All of the pigs now understand the benefits of preparation and hard work and live happily ever after.               

               Admittedly, longer stories are more complicated with subplots and character development, but we tend to get disappointed if each of these major elements is not well done.