Category Archives: Flash fiction

Sucked out or sucked in

We often hear stories of swimmers being sucked out to sea by dangerous riptides and of the heroic efforts of lifeguards to save them. In Australia, life savers are volunteers who generously give up their time to help ensure the safety of others. According to this article from news.com.au,  most drownings in Australia occur in ocean rips; many because people are overconfident of their ability to recognise them. Though surf life savers who patrol our beaches clearly identify areas under surveillance, many beachgoers choose to swim outside the flags, believing they will be safe, that it won’t happen to them.

With summer on its way and warmer weather already (or still) here, people, including my grandchildren and their parents, are heading to the beaches for our spring school holidays. I urge everyone to stay safe and be wary of those unseen rips. I also offer a huge word of thanks to the generous volunteers who safeguard our swimmers.

swimmer

This news report, which aired on Saturday evening, explains some reasons for their generosity:

“Life is just that precious. If we can’t see you, we can’t help you.”

“We get paid nothing, but it’s worth it.”

“It’s about the community giving back to the community, and you know, helping out.”

dear life savers

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about riptides. She has sucked me along in the current with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.

In her post, Charli repeats a line, reminiscent of a song of which I was unaware:

“I run down to the riptide”.

Each time Charli reaches the riptide, she opens a hatch of treasures and possibilities, of ideas and achievements with which she could swirl away. Me? At the mention of riptide, I was thinking of being sucked in and drowning, of being carried away from safety. But to be picked up and carried to a land of possibilities may be more enticing with more opportunities to explore. There may be more to currents than the ocean’s deadly pull. Let’s see where this one goes.

Where else but education?

For teachers, it’s important to not get carried away by the latest fads with their deceptive surfaces hiding dangers in their depths. Many teachers flounder in overwhelming workloads, unrealistic expectations, and defective advice. They lose sight of the shore and get dragged out to sea where, sadly, many drown.

It is also important for teachers to know where the (figurative) waters are safe for children, and where there are just enough ripples to challenge them, strengthening their grit and confidence.

Children themselves need to know how to interpret the waters, to avoid the dangers so that they might enjoy what is on offer. Standing on the edge in fear while others are having fun may spark “if only” thoughts of dissatisfaction. Jumping recklessly in too deep may be just as disastrous.

The same is true in life. If we don’t have a go, how will we ever know if success is possible?

readilearn

I jumped into blogging just over three years ago, tested the waters and developed my swimming skills. I thought I was doing okay. A little over a year ago, I dived in deeper, perhaps a little recklessly though it didn’t seem so at the time, with the launch of readilearn, an online collection of early childhood teaching resources. I sometimes feel that I am treading water, struggling to hold my head above the surface and avoid the rip that threatens to suck me under. I knew it would be a learning journey. I just didn’t realise how much I needed to learn.  Belief in what I’m doing and hope for what the future may hold, drives me forward. I swim, hoping to find the current that carries me towards my goal rather than away from it.

So, I’m thinking about the child on the beach, feeling the drag of the water underfoot, unsure of whether to enter or not. No dangerous undercurrents here. I hope you enjoy it.

Sucked in

The older ones squealed, dropped their towels, and raced for the water. The little one toddled beside Mum, each laborious step prolonged by distractions of beach debris, flapping gulls, and footprints in soft white sand. Mum’s eyes flitted between him and the two in the waves. Thankfully, guards were on duty. When they reached the water’s edge, he baulked, shook his head, and plopped backwards. Gentle waves lapped his feet, then tickled as they sucked out the sand. Mesmerised, he chuckled. His siblings joined him. When they offered their hands, he accepted, stepping joyfully alongside them in the shallows.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

Busy work

What does being busy mean to you?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills asks readers to contemplate that question, wondering “Is it a danger or a joy to become so busy?”

She then challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a busy character. It could be a busy beaver, gnawing birch trees endlessly or an executive on the go. Go where the prompt leads.

What about a busy toddler? Toddlers are some of the busiest people I know. And they are generally quite joyous in their busyness, demonstrating the true meaning of being in the present moment.

girl smelling flowers

For me, being busy is a joy when the activities are of my choice and for my purposes. I have no need to find things to keep me busy. There is more I wish to do than I will ever have time to complete. I resent tasks that keep me busy and away from what I’d rather be doing. But even in the busyness, there still must be time for fun.

As a teacher, I was never in favour of setting children “busy work”, preferring instead to provide opportunities to progress learning. By busy work I refer to meaningless tasks with the sole purpose of keeping children quiet and busy. They may involve things such as copying a passage of text or completing a worksheet unrelated to either learning goals or needs; tasks that offer little to either interest or challenge children, and certainly no fun. Now, while there is nothing wrong with having some downtime in which to relax, daydream and imagine, keeping children busy with meaningless tasks has none of these benefits.

busy bee of the week

Having said that, I used to call my class The Busy Bees. We had a Busy Bees chant and Busy Bee awards. In fact, there are 20+ Busy Bee themed teaching resources available on readilearn. How the busy work of busy bees differs from classroom “busy work”, is that it is purposeful and productive, not busy for the sake of it, and whenever possible, lots of fun.

For my response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d stick with a busy toddler.

leaves incoming

Never too busy for fun

After days of endless rain, the chorus of birds and bees urged them outdoors. Mum bustled about the garden; thinning weeds, pinching off dead flowers, trimming ragged edges, tidying fallen leaves, enjoying the sunshine. Jamie, with toddler-sized wheelbarrow and infinite determination, filled the barrow, again and again, adding to the growing piles of detritus. Back and forth, back and forth, he went. Until … leaves crackling underfoot and crunching under wheels, called him to play. Jamie giggled as armfuls scooped up swooshed into the air and fluttered to earth. Mum, about to reprimand, hesitated, then joined in the fun.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Invention vs gobbledegook

kids writing

One thing I love about working with beginning literacy learners is their use of invented spellings.  To avoid inhibiting the flow of ideas, children are encouraged to “have a go”. This invention involves an interaction of

  • knowledge of letter sound correspondence
  • recall of familiar words, such as basic sight words
  • memory of words previously encountered including words of interest or meaning to them,
  • in conjunction with available resources such as classroom word walls or lists.

The purpose is to encourage them to write, to express their ideas. There’s plenty of time for attention to the finer details later.

We early childhood teachers become experts at reading children’s writing. Like all effective readers, we use a combination of letter-sound knowledge, syntax, and meaning. If we are ever unable to decode a message, the writer is always happy to read the work to us, and may never realise the request stemmed from our reading disability.

As children’s knowledge of written language develops, their spellings more closely approximate the conventional. The comparison of writing samples taken over time informs teachers of the child’s progress. Consonants, especially beginning consonants, usually appear first; then a combination of first and last consonants. Vowels may be the last to be included.

© Norah Colvin

It is not surprising that vowels are the last to appear. They are more difficult to hear and distinguish, and not only may they be represented in more than one way (think of the long ī sound from my recent post A piece of pie), their pronunciation may (does) vary from locale to locale. Not only that, they are less important to reading than consonants. Think of text messages on the phone, or check out this article A World Without Vowels.

Or maybe now with predictive text available on phones, you are less likely to use the abbreviated form of words and allow your phone to predict what you want to write. That tends to work less than perfectly for me. It doesn’t always predict what I’m thinking and is just as likely to accept gobbledegook as any real word, let alone the correct one. Give me children’s invented spellings any day. At least I can use meaning and prior knowledge to help me unlock the message.

As a literacy educator, I am particularly interested in written language and fascinated by children’s development. I enjoyed the opportunity to write about children’s writing in a guest post on the Carrot Ranch A Class of Raw Literature earlier this year. I previously shared thoughts about spelling tests and the difficulty of knowing how to spell a word if its meaning is unknown. A variety of resources for teaching writing also appear in the readilearn collection.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a speller. It can be one who spells or a primer like Lawrence once had. You can deviate from the primary meaning if magic catches your imagination. Go where the prompt leads. Thanks, Charli. I love this challenge. Spelling: my forte. But which meaning should I choose?

  • To represent a word in written form
  • To create an event using magic
  • To have a rest
  • To signal the occurrence of something (usual disastrous)

Can I include all four?

Here goes.

MISSPELLING SPELLING DISASTER AVERTED: NEW SPELL RELEASES OLD FOR A SPELL

Chatter erupted as assessment commenced. A pass would grant membership to the Spellnovators, but the best would replace Imara, who, for her final duty, mixed their potions and tested their spells. She praised ingenuity as stars exploded, flowers blossomed, and extinct animals reappeared. Choosing her replacement would be difficult. Suddenly her glare in Ruby’s direction spelled trouble. The chatter ceased. “What’s this?” she demanded. “Mix in happy witches!?” Ruby’s lip quivered. “Wishes. I meant to spell wishes.” Voices united in wishes. Instantaneously, everywhere, hearts opened with love.  Goodwill rained down, filling all with hope. Imara would spell in peace.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Escape to anywhere

We sometimes think of reading as a form of escapism. But many stories, including those in picture books, feature an escape as part of the complication or resolution.

It doesn’t require much thought to create a list. Here are just a few to start:

#6 Traditional stories

By Charles Perrault, Harry Clarke (ill.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack escapes from the giant

Hansel and Gretel – the children escape from the witch

Snow White – escapes death ordered by the jealous queen

The Three Pigs – escape from the Big Bad Wolf

The Lion and the Mouse – the mouse helps the lion escape the hunter’s trap

The Gingerbread Man – escapes from the oven and those who pursue him

I had a little more difficulty in finding modern tales involving an escape, but here are a few:

#6 Modern tales

Hey, I Love You! by Ian Whybrow – father and son mouse escape the claws of the cat

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson – the mouse uses his wiles to escape being eaten

Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan – Wombat’s friends help him escape being Dingo’s dinner

Fox and Fine Feathers by Narelle Oliver – with the help of the nightjar the birds escape being a feast for fox

Run, Hare, Run! The story of a drawing by John Winch – the rabbit has numerous attempts at escaping the hunter but is caught, and finally freed

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – the family escapes from the bear encountered in a cave

A new favourite

This Mo Willems story is an innovation on the traditional tale of Goldilocks escaping from the three bears. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Goldilocks has a lucky escape out the back door just as the dinosaurs return home through the front door. Willems concludes his story with two morals, one for the dinosaurs:

Lock the back door!

And one for Goldilocks:

If you ever find yourself in the wrong story: leave.

What a great philosophy that we could perhaps employ more often. If we don’t like where we’re at, just leave. Life’s decisions are not always that easy though.

I rather like the idea of characters appearing in the wrong story. What a great topic for discussion with children and a wonderful stimulus for their writing.

  • What if the Big Bad Wolf knocked on the Giant’s door?
  • What if the Three Pigs chased the Gingerbread Man?
  • What if Goldilocks came to the house of Red Riding Hood’s grandma?
  • What if?

In fact, Nick Bland has written a story that utilises this concept. In The Wrong Book, Nicholas Ickle tries to tell his story but keeps getting interrupted by other characters such as an elephant, monsters, a queen and a pirate. Nicholas tells them that they are in the wrong book and to go away. By the time they leave, we get to the end of the book and there is no time for him to tell his story.

But what if the story characters didn’t want to be in the book at all, and decide to escape? How would they escape? What would the writers do if their characters revolted and walked off the job?

I’m thinking about escapes this week as Charli Mills has challenged the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an escape artist. It can even be you, the writer, escaping into a different realm or space in imagination. It can be any genre, including BOTS (based on a true story) or fantasy. You can focus on the escape, the twist or the person who is the escape artist.

Where could I escape to if not picture books? Here’s my contribution. I hope you like it.

Let’s get out of here

Delaying the inevitable, she was picking wildflowers when she heard sobbing. She gasped to see him cowering behind the bushes but ignored instructions to avoid strangers.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do it anymore. Every day: first the pigs; then your grandma. They’ve painted me bad. I’m not. I’m –“

A giant with a goose crash-landed beside them.

“I’ll not let that nasty boy steal my goose, again. And he says I’m bad.”

A diverse troupe in T-shirts emblazoned “Freedom for princesses” appeared.

“We want out,” they all chanted.

A witch magicked a rocket from a pinecone and everyone disappeared.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

What’s the difference? #WATWB #FF

Charli's cat

News from Charlottesville has flooded the media this week and it is difficult to not be gripped by despair at the hatred that exists and fear for the future.

I don’t usually express my political feelings publicly, other than the important role that education has in developing responsibility and compassion in all, and for all, travellers on our planet.

Education will remain my focus for I believe it is the solution. However, I am writing in this context, as that is the context chosen by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community when setting her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that heals America. Difficult and idealistic, I know. Think about building bonds of trust or stories of friendship. It could be a positive story about America. Bonus points for hugging a cat.

mirror

Well, I don’t know about healing America. I think any healing needs to start with the self. This situation implores us to look at ourselves and see where our own attitudes can be improved. Australia’s history of treating its indigenous peoples is no more admirable. Recognition as people in our constitution was granted a mere 50 years ago.

On the last Friday of each month many writers join in the We Are The World Blogfest which “seeks to promote positive news.” It says, “There are many an oasis of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world.” Follow the link if you wish to join in with their mission to “flood social media with peace and love.” Or contact this month’s co-hosts  Simon Falk, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Inderpreet Uppal, Lynn Hallbrooks, Eric Lahti, and Mary J Giese.

Charli’s post reiterates the importance of creating connections through trust and friendship. With both these prompts in mind, I share with you some positive messages that shine a light in the darkness that sometimes seems overwhelming. (Apologies to #WATWB. I have broken the 500 word rule.)

  1. On his Science and Education blog, Daniel Willingham, a psychologist who works at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, wrote about Nazis in Charlottesville. He discusses the reasons why people hold onto false beliefs and the importance of education in teaching truths, fighting fake news, and standing up for media sites that get it right. He says,

“Truth is our greatest weapon against senseless evil. Fight with it. Fight for it. And don’t be discouraged.”

2.       Fast Company published Ben Paynter’s article How Charlottesville’s Small Businesses Supported Their Community Against White Nationalists. The article tells of rainbow coloured posters displayed by small businesses in support of equality and against hate. The posters read,

“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we.”

Seven different equality symbols are displayed at the bottom of the poster along with the words,

“Minority rights are human rights.”

  1. In the Huffington Post I read How I Handled Homophobia in my Third Grade Classroom by Ilana Greenstein. I agree with Ilana’s position that,

“teaching tolerance and acceptance is not and should not be remotely political.”

After overhearing a homophobic remark made by an eight-year-old student, she embarked on a discussion of family, family composition, and what makes a family. The discussions continued throughout the school year and included other topics such as inequality and stereotypes.

At the end of the year she asked the children to write about the role of president and what they would do if they were the president. The boy who had made the “gay” remark earlier in the year, wrote:

As the president of the United States, I would want to be kind, brave, and nice. I would want to try to end fighting. I can do this by trying to let them be friends instead of being enemies. I also want to stop people saying ‘gay’ offensively. And last I want to stop people saying stereotypes.”

What a wonderfully hopeful statement that supports the importance of education for the whole person, not just cramming them with a bunch of facts to pass a test. Surely the ability to live a life that honours and respects others is the most important test to pass.

  1. On the theme of equality and diversity I wish to acknowledge two wonderful picture books by one of my favourite authors, Mem Fox:

Whoever You Are and I’m Australian Too.

While I’m Australian Too may be considered specific to the Australian multi-cultural situation, Whoever you are is suitable for reading to Little Ones, “whoever they are, wherever they are, all over the world.”

Possum Magic

I was delighted to read that one of Mem’s books Possum Magic has been honoured by the Royal Australian Mint with its very own coin collection. Of course, I had to purchase a set or three, didn’t I? What a lovely celebration of a wonderful book by writer Mem Fox and illustrator Julie Vivas and the importance of children’s literature in general.

  1. I watched an inspirational video on the blog of one of the most inspiring teachers I have met online. Her name is Jennie and she blogs at A Teacher’s Reflections. Pop on over and find out how she improves the lives of all in her care. Here is the video titled Change the World. It’s a perfect fit for this post. I hope you watch it.

I have combined some of these ideas into my childish flash. I hope you like it.

What’s the difference?

She dumped the toys on the floor, then proceeded to arrange and rearrange them in groups. The largest group was of bears, a smaller group of cats, a few lizards, two puppies and an assortment of singles. With a finger tapping her cheek, she surveyed them. First, she dismantled the group of bears muttering about bows, hats and vests.  She hugged Tiger as she separated all the toys. Then Dad appeared with his briefcase.

“Ready?”

“Not yet.”

“What’re you doing?”

“Thinking.”

“Which one to take?”

“I can’t choose,” she said, scooping them up. “I love them all the same.”

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

P.S. I hope I earned bonus points for hugging a cat!

Berry delightful

What is your favourite berry?

Which berries make your taste buds sing?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) include music and berries. It can be fantastical, such as the music of berries or a story that unfolds about a concert in a berry patch. Go where the prompt leads.

mulberries

When I was a child, there was a huge mulberry tree growing in the backyard of one of our neighbours who was kind enough to allow access to the multitude of children in our family. Each summer the tree would be laden with fruit and we would pull at its branches to gather as much as we could into buckets and bowls. We would go home stained with purple on our bodies and our clothes and, mostly, around our mouths. We couldn’t wait to eat and there were plenty to go around. Mum would bake mulberry pies and fill jars with mulberry jam that was delicious on our buttered bread for breakfast or lunch.

Since then, I have encountered few mulberries trees, only occasionally sourcing their leaves to feed voracious silkworm caterpillars. The berries themselves seem not to be harvested for store sales. However, I was recently reminded of Mum’s mulberry jam when I spotted some on a shelf at the Jamworks gourmet deli. I must admit though, while I resisted the mulberry jam, I couldn’t resist the fig and ginger variety.

gooseberries

The other berry that was most familiar to me as a child, but never since seen, was what we called the gooseberry. There were gooseberry plants growing by our back fence. I remember picking the berries, peeling back the outer leaves and eating the small fruit, which I think had quite a tart flavour. As I recall, Mum would also make jam, but not pies, with these.

strawberry torte

(c) Norah Colvin

I recall that, even as a young adult, a serving of strawberries and cream had seemed a very luxurious and decadent dessert. Now strawberries are more affordable and readily available all year round. They are a favourite of my granddaughter. So much so that I need to have at least one punnet in the fridge for her when she visits. A strawberry torte is my family’s pick for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. I wrote about it and included the recipe here.

In addition to strawberries, stores now have a variety available all year round; including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries. The berries make a wonderful filling for the other family favourite, pavlova.

pavlova

(c) Norah Colvin

But do you know what a berry is?

I checked with Wikipedia for the definition of a berry, and found that it is “a fleshy fruit without a stone produced from a single flower containing one ovary”.

Botanically, the following fruits (and vegetables) are berries:

  • Grapes
  • Currants
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplants
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Coffee beans
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon

and these, commonly called berries, are not:

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Mulberry
  • Blackberry

Do you need to change you answers to my initial questions:

What is your favourite berry?

Which berries make your taste buds sing?

Or are you happy to go with common usage? If I write about mulberries, will I be fulfilling the requirements of Charli’s prompt? Perhaps I should write about picking watermelons instead.

Mulberry picking

Mulberry Stew

Branches hung heavy with berries in reach of even the youngest child. They ate more than they bucketed; but there were plenty, including for birds singing in higher branches. Mum had forbidden them. “Mrs Wilson’s poorly. Don’t disturb her.” But they couldn’t resist. They scampered the instant she called.

“Where have you been?” She eyed the purple stains.

“We …” the youngest began to sing.

“Nowhere,” they shushed with hands concealed.

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing.”

Her lips twitched. “Hand them over.”

Later they pondered together how she knew.

When Dad got home, they’d have to face the music.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

Sounds surround us

tinkling tree

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) use sound to create a story.

While reading Charli’s post in a motel room, I listened to an amazing chorus of birds in the trees outside. They were mostly magpies, but their song was not quite the same as that of the magpies at home, and I found it entrancing. Not long after, I went for a walk down town and serendipitously came across this beautiful tree sculpture with tinkling metal leaves. Would these sound bites be useful in responding to Charli’s challenge?

I have written about sound in other posts.

In Listen to the sounds I discussed the use of onomatopoeia in children’s picture books, including sounds made by:

  • animals,
  • machinery,
  • musical instruments, and
  • actions.

I listed pictures books that make use of each, and included a flash fiction piece about storm sounds.

In Sounds like … I wrote about the natural sounds made by some of our native wildlife; the beautiful music of our song birds heralding changes in the days and seasons; and other more unusual sounds that may alarm the unfamiliar, like that of the brushtail possum.

I wrote about the unnerving sound of mutton birds in response to Charli’s challenge in that post.

In Writing poetry with children I shared the structure of a sound poem and experimented with using the structure to write poems about other senses in a 99-word flash fiction. I also wrote about these poems on the readilearn blog. Instructions for writing the poems are available in readilearn resources, including here and here.

I wasn’t sure where to go this time, and after much consideration, found myself in more of a contemplative mood, stuck between ideas. I did what I suggest to children when they say they don’t know what to write: just write what’s in your head.

Sounds surround us

The deadline looms and I wonder how to extract a 99-word story from my unwilling brain. Contemplation, false starts, abandoned ideas: the well is dry. But listen! Outside, the day fades. Birds serenade folk hurrying homewards and signal the changing shifts. Soon they’ll sleep and the night time chorus will begin. Inside, the computer hums patiently, waiting to tap out the words. In the kitchen, doors creak: pantry then fridge. Vegetables are scraped and rinsed. Water bubbles on the stove. What joy!  Yes, I get to eat tonight; but my, how the gift of hearing enriches my world. Gratitude.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.