a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finding Stories

My favorite part of summer is the time I am able to spend reading.  I love reading as soon as I wake up even more than reading right before I fall asleep.  Summer affords me the time to do so.  However, floating on a raft in the lake is by far the best place for summer reading. 

Today I am reading The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney.  As an 8th grade language arts teacher, I am often focused on reading the latest teen titles.  Over the past few years, I feel like they have gotten edgier and edgier.  It is so difficult to find books for 8th graders that contain appropriate content and still push my students’ thinking forward.  I have grown tired of spending money on books only to find I can’t justify placing them on my classroom library shelves.  So, this summer, I decided to take a break from the edgy and dig for gold amongst books that may seem “young” for my students, but just may be thought provoking enough to be worthwhile. 

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs is not disappointing me.  It is a quaint reminder that everyone has a story; there are stories hiding all over the place just waiting to be uncovered.

Needless to say, the book got me to thinking…

Here I am at my father’s house on Bass Lake in Knox, Indiana, a small town filled with characters like those of Betty G. Birney’s Sassafras Springs, Missouri.  In fact, I am even in the same house as some potential characters.  What stories do the people around me have to tell? 

Well for starters, the true life story of Jane, my dad’s life partner, is a story just itching to be written.  She was sent on a plane to the United States from Cuba to escape the rule of Fidel Castro.  Her mom was given the opportunity to send her to freedom, and she risked it.  She was told that she could put her daughter on one of two airplanes.  One airplane would end up in the United States, and one would end up in Russia.  However, she wouldn’t know which was which.  She took the risk to do what she thought was best for her daughter, and Jane ended up living in an orphanage run by nuns for several years in the United States.  Eventually, she was reunited with her mother. 

My father is also filled with stories.  As a young boy, he was locked in the closet when he misbehaved.  When I first heard this, I was shocked at the cruelty of my grandmother.  However, I had to giggle when my dad explained that he finally learned to hide toys in the back of the closet to keep him entertained, and ultimately to foil my grandmother’s plans of punishment. 

Everywhere I look in my dad’s house I find objects that take me back to my own childhood.  I guess that is an advantage of having a father who just can’t get rid of things: there is always something to trigger a memory. 

 I am thinking that The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs is likely to inspire many readers to search for stories in their own worlds.  Now I just have to learn to be okay with the collecting of stories like these and to be patient about allowing them to sit as dormant seed ideas until I am ready to make one bloom. 


  1. Fascinating stories surround us, we just have to know where to look. You've got some intriguing stories in your family. I hope those seeds take root, I'd like to know more.

  2. It's great you connected the book with your home place and the stories surrounding it, too. Before my career change last year, I taught a mixed group of 6th, 7th & 8th graders & was always looking for good books for them, not just the YA ones. Even if they are a different reading level, so much can be gained from a good story. Now I'm looking for other teachers, so thanks for the book idea, too.

  3. I like how your SOL moves from the raft to your teacher goal - to a specific book- to your father's house - to the fascinating story seeds from your family - to kind of a promise to write some of them down. I hope that you will find time to write about the girl on a plane and the boy in a closet. And about the little girl who used to live on Bass lake in Knox, Indiana.

  4. I teach 8th grade too, and find myself wondering the same things as you - what can I bring into my room that will challenge and encourage...and be appropriate. It is a juggling act. I'm intrigued by this title and am adding it to my list of books to try and read this summer. Thanks for the idea!

  5. The book sounds intriguing...and so do your unwritten books. Better sharpen that pencil...or charge your laptop. There's a need to fill.

  6. The others have said it so well--your shift from your summer reading life (sounds perfect) to reading for your students to increasing awareness of the stories around you just flowed beautifully. I hope to read more about what you discover!