The “Creative” Process

Kickstarter update: Yesterday was a slow day! But the support of my friends and family for this project (The History of Depression Era Outlaws book set) has been both encouraging and heartwarming.

Wall of Gratitude: Sonja Randerson, Wyoming Irwin, Evan Rege,  Kathy and Dave Rege, Chris Toves, Teresa Knapp, Janeen Mears, Pam Kahl, and Lisa Poncia. Special thanks to Jonathan Meek, my daughter’s boyfriend, for being such an awesome dude.

Before I FINALLY get around to my experiences trying to get ready for publication…

It makes sense to explore how I got to this place. This place where I felt inspired enough to leave a secure job that made me very happy. This place where I couldn’t NOT do it.

First of all, I am an odd duck. I am left handed and just the most not-creative person artistically. I don’t know if it is because of my bizarre childhood, if it arises out of my teaching experiences, or if it is just down to my personality, but I find crafting educational materials to be my creative jam. When I get on a roll and create amazing it just feels like home.

I only taught older kids for the last 6 years. Before that, I did the littles, working on pre-reading, simple number concepts and such. Transitioning to more academic content blew my mind! Like, kids can read and stuff!

In my Learning Center classroom, though, I observed the struggles my students had around reading. Not just learning how to read, but finding books for independent reading that were interesting to them, at their independent reading level, and developmentally appropriate. I became obsessed with books and curated my library with everything new as it came out. But it still wasn’t enough. There is an inadequate supply of nonfiction material. The topics are repetitive and restricted. Kids would make very reasonable requests for books on, say, trucks. Or spaceships. Or dirtbikes. If I could find anything on the topic, it would be 1 measly book. So that is where the idea for books published in sets on a common topic came from. But it was just a vague feeling of discomfort.

Enter Lauren Tarshis. You may know her as the author of the books in the I Survived… series. But she is so much more than that! Over time I pieced together the quilt of her career and was just gobsmacked.

I ordered a Scholastic product called Storyworks Jr. as a supplemental Language Arts material to use with my kiddos. I noticed that she authored the nonfiction passages in the magazine and let it pass by. One day I put up a video read-aloud version of an article she wrote (Killer Smog? Mt. St. Helens? I can’t remember the first…) There she was! Reading the article, showing pictures and videos with the passage, and talking about her research for the project. I finally got that she does these research trips, writes an I Survived book about it, writes different levels of a nonfiction article for Storyworks, makes these videos, and… I just about died.

I don’t know how she came to be the queen of this amazing job, but boy do I want to do that! So Lauren Tarshis showed me what is possible in a career for an author beyond just writing books. That I am so a fan of the Storyworks magazines just adds to my admiration.

I think I will talk about my frustrations with curriculum another time. It is just too depressing. But to summarize, children with IEPs receiving Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI) have been proven to be seriously behind academically. It’s why and how they get an IEP. We have also demonstrated that something in their developmental process is impeding the learning process for them.

Then, we have coming down from on high – in this case, the State Superintendent of Education – that children with disabilities should be taught using the same materials as those in regular education. This is a whole separate blog post [rant], but in short, this has spiraled out of control in America to the point where schools are closing Special Education classrooms, children are placed in inappropriate classrooms and denied the services they really need. All in the name of “Educational Equity.” Deep breathe! Yes, I will talk about that later.

On a happier note… My husband and I started watching this PBS show called History Detectives. We learned the most fascinating and obscure stuff about history! I started gobbling up American Experience, Drunk History, and Bay Area Revelations. Then, I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. And it was like the sun came out. Not because I didn’t know the history, but because for the first time I could see it in 3D.

We are taught history as a linear timeline, usually about discrete events or geographical areas. Hamilton illustrated for me how interconnected important historical events and figures are. I never realized that all of the founding fathers of America were friends. They were real people who knew each other, not figureheads lined up in order of their presidency.  They were also flawed human beings, just like we are. And no one, much less kids in school, are really taught about history from this perspective.

Considering this approach to history, and all of the obscure facts that are buried in some archive somewhere, I developed a vision of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of nonfiction readers, published in related sets, written at appropriate levels for struggling readers. Interesting people, places, and things can provide enough books to last kids through their earlier reading stages. Events happened, the ball started rolling, and here I am! Now hopefully I can turn that vision into reality!

2 thoughts on “The “Creative” Process

  1. Reading through the first part of your writing is an education in what’s left out for kids in the learning process. It’s a shame we as adults need to fill in the blanks left by a mediocre education. Your inspiration to include personalities in history, simple and common topics into learning is exciting and needed. Thank you and more power to you…. Mary.

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    1. Thanks Mary – there is so much involved in the deficits, including politics, that should never, ever impact children in school. I think only those on the front line are even aware it is happening!

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