1Courtney M. Riggin Fall 2011--LL ED 597G Writing for ChildrenDr. Susan Campbell BartolettiPennsylvania State University
2 This portfolio is dedicated to my husband, Justin Thomas Riggin, who patiently listens to all my tales... and sometimes helps me discover them; and to my newborn son, Thomas Walker Riggin,in honor of the stories he will hear, experience, and create throughout his life. It is dedicated to these two fellows because, as I like to tell them, they are my favorites.
4 Table of ContentsPart One Poem: Autumn Fort 6 Reflection: Autumn Fort 8 Poem: Sunday Best 9 Reflection: Sunday Best 11 Poem: A Letter to Rain 12 Reflection: A Letter to Rain 13 Poem: Messy Room 14 Reflection: Messy Room 15 Short Story: The Feast of the After-Christmas Birds 16 Reflection: The Feast of the After-Christmas Birds 21Part Two Critique One 23 Critique One Reflection 25 Critique Two 26 Critique Two Reflection 28 Critique Three 29 Critique Three Reflection 30 Critique Four 31 Critique Four Reflection 32 Writing Philosophy: An Essay 33Part Three Author’s Note 36 Biography 37 Blurbs 38
5 PART ONE Poem: Autumn Fort Reflection: Autumn Fort Poem: Sunday Best Reflection: Sunday Best Poem: A Letter to Rain Reflection: A Letter to Rain Poem: Messy Room Reflection: Messy RoomShort Story: The Feast of the After-Christmas BirdsReflection: The Feast of the After-Christmas Birds
6 Autumn FortAs the first Autumn winds whipped through the air, I hollered for my brother across the yard, and barely glimpsed his outline as he darted behind a bush.I dashed around the bush to catch up with him, leaning into my turn like a rodeo barrel racer; the bush must have been the size of a funnel cake stand— the kind with windows and wheels that travels around from fair to fair, circus to circus, and show to show.As the swiftly-moving clouds sprinkled sunlight like a disco ball across the lawn, I suddenly stopped, frowned, and turned round and round looking for him, I shuffled my feet through the fallen leaves until I heard the soft, smooth sound of a single harmonica chord.When the harmonica went silent, I moved closer, staring at the bush’s curtain of leaves; suddenly his hand burst through a thick vine, pushing it aside in one sweep, scattering leaves from the branches like confetti tossed toward a parade float.As the leaves were caught by the wind and carried through the playful sprays of sunlight, I realized the branch was only a thin wall of leaves covering a secret space—I crawled into the entrance and saw the open room he had chopped inside the bush with the garden shears meant for pruning mother’s holly bushes.I looked around the room— I liked the walls and ceiling of gnarly, leaf-studded branches And the roots and limbs that stood like ballroom pillars across the room;
7 I liked the spongy floor of twigs and damp leaves And the way the earth smelled like black pepper and cinnamon sprinkled on the pages of my favorite books.As my brother disappeared through the leaf curtain to build a new secret fort, I decided the room needed a table and two chairs, a vase of flowers, and a welcome rug to make it just right.
8 “Autumn Fort” Reflection I grew up in a rural community in Alabama. Our house rested on a 600-acre pecan orchardsurrounded by woods. Our yard alone covered 3 acres of Earth. In this yard, there was a bush thesize of a traveling funnel cake stand—maybe even larger—and one afternoon my brother revealedto me that he had cleared the branches and leaves from the middle of the bush to create the effect ofa room big enough for me to stand and twirl around in. I could probably have managed a decentcartwheel, too. In real life, my older brother has always been evasive and romantic in his endeavors,which was how I hoped to portray his character in the poem. In both real life and the poem, herevealed the hideaway to me only after he had decided to move on to something bigger and better. Itook over the fort and made it my own, just like the girl in the poem. It is a wonder all that choppingdid not kill the bush; but as I grew up, it grew back to its original density with health and vigor.Although my parents have since moved to a new house nearby, the bush still stands.
9 Sunday BestThe pictures etched in the stained glass windows show people silent, kneeling, and listening— never playing, singing, or dancing. Their images echo the well-known rule, Shhhhhh… Be still!The stiff wooden pews hold people sitting like wooden soldiers mirroring the faces of the stained-glass people staring straight ahead at the priest in his long black robes and heavy silver cross, And he reminds us from the pulpit, Shhhhhh… Be still!Everyone pretends not to notice Mama trying to catch my little brother as he scampers by; scurrying under the pews and out again, marching up and down the rows, She’s reaching, He escapes, She hisses, Shhhhhh… Be still!I sit very straight with my hands in my lap— I am old enough to know how to act. The preacher asks us to bow our heads for prayer. Brother scurries by, hopping like a jackrabbit, He giggles And it echoes through the heavy pine beams. They seem to roar, Shhhhhh… Be still!A gray-haired man watches with a scowl, Then he turns his face But I can see him chuckle.
10A matron in a high-necked wool dress shakes her head and frowns, Then she holds her handkerchief to her mouth And her eyes crinkle from the smile she hides.Brother escapes Mama’s grasp again, He croons as another giggle rises from his belly. She begs, Shhhhhh… Be still!I try to be silent, but I giggle too. Then the gray-haired man and the matron look at each other And laugh out loud. And all the people throw back their heads in a chorus of noisy laughter. Who says we should be so quiet? Who says we should be so still?As the organ begins the closing hymn, the sun strikes through the stained glass casting a honey-glow on the faces of the people in the rigid wooden pews and commands them, Stand and sing! Stand and sing! Stand and sing! Stand and sing!
11 “Sunday Best” Reflection I grew up in a very traditional church atmosphere—and I still prefer traditional services.However, since I have moved away from my childhood church, they have had a series of issues withpreachers. One of these preachers was plagued by depression. The church congregation wanted togive him a chance even though his illness often caused him to totally miss church services withoutany notice, leaving the congregation members to divvy up responsibilities and lead their ownservices in his absence(yes, this is a true story!). One of these Sundays when the preacher didn’t show up, I happened to be visiting. I wasdeeply impressed by the way the congregation honored the essence of their reason for coming tochurch and collaborated to thread together a makeshift, informal service (even though they areaccustomed to proper and predictable). Their version was one of the most touching and enjoyableservices I have attended. I was remembering this incident one Sunday as I sat watching a toddler. I was wonderingwhy he had been allowed to come into the service and why the mother wasn’t taking him out of thesanctuary when I suddenly remembered that spontaneous, totally improvised service at mychildhood church. I looked around and an old man caught my eye. From time to time, he would turntoward the boy and mother with a sour expression. “He’s ticked,” I thought with confidence. Then,the little boy suddenly escaped and ran up to the man’s pew and slid into the seat next to him. Theman’s face lit up. The boy made lots of racket. The man laughed. I jotted down my observations ofthis exchange, and the idea for this poem was born. This is a piece I will continue to work on. Originally, the poem was not child-centric. I onlysubmitted it to the workshop once, so the revisions have been heavily focused on modifying thepoem from an adult-centric observation to a child-centric piece. I am still struggling withstructuring the lines and achieving the voice of the on-looking child. My next revisions will focusmore on achieving a more playful, casual tone as well as tightening the structure so that the linesform a repetitious rhythm and the “Shhhhh… be still!” lines are more predictable for a childlistening to the poem.
12 A Letter to RainDear Rain,I don’t know why you catch such a racket.As soon as the weather man says, “Rain, rain, rain!”boring grown-ups and stodgy kids throw up their hands,and they moan, moan, moanas if the forecast for your arrival was the same as,“Everyone will step in chewed-up, gooey gum today,and it will stink like canned asparagus.”But Rain, I don’t agree.You make me want to parade through your showers cheering, “You’re here, You’re here!”I throw on my slick raincoat and galoshes and try to trap your wind in my open umbrella.I imagine your raindrops are candied sprinkles fallingto cover the rooftops, parking lots, and sidewalks like giant cakes squares;I watch your droplets race down the windows of cars and buildings.Even after you’ve left, I can watch the squishy earth rise up between my toesand flood my toenails:I pretend the murky water is ocean wavesand I am a lifeguard or a surfer or a sandcastle artist;and then I stir up the waves and become a dancer,splashing the water to the rhythm of my feetand making the puddles swirl and splatter.Rain,I especially like when you visit in summerbecause it’s like a gigantic sprinkler has been turned onfor us to play in together.
13 “A Letter to Rain” Reflection I wrote this piece by accident. It was born from the assignment in which we listed ten thingsfound in nature. I was frankly not in the mood, so I listed the most obvious—“rain” made the listbecause at the time it was raining outside. As I was reviewing the list (in a better state of mind!),“rain” caught my eye. For a split second I was going to write about what one can do on a dreary,rainy day. Then, I thought… maybe a child wouldn’t always see a rainy day as dreary. In fact, Isuddenly remembered that I loved rainy days until I started fixing my hair and putting on makeupin junior high school. As a child, I thought rainy days were exciting and even a bit enchanting. So, Idecided to write a “Letter to Rain” from a child who happens to enjoy rainy days. I wanted the childto seem as if he or she was concerned that people’s general reaction to “rain” was something thathurt “Rain’s” feelings.
14 Messy RoomPssst! C’mere and let me tell you something:A messy room can promote an average middle-school kidto the ranks of the coolest college guys.All you have to do is smear greasy fingers across the wallafter snacking on Tator Tots; eat funnel cakes in bedand let the powdered sugar and fried ringlet crumbsfall between the layers of sheets; let the dust pile upuntil you can make mini moguls on the window silland surfaces, lounge around with a pack of long-haired dogsand let them shed their fur and slather their drooling tongues acrosseverything a soapy mop might clean; leave glasses of half-drunk milkin every nook and cranny until they curdle and stink and eventuallyharden in the bottom of the glass; then pop them out andwhittle little carvings from the sour-smelling slabsand place them on display.Well, now I gotta go. It’s almost time for the bash of the year—Everyone who’s anyone will be there—And anyone who’s not will be a loser at school on Monday.My gang of guys will be here any minute...Oh wait a sec, my mom’s calling me—“WHAT? But Mooooooom, why do I have to clean my roombefore I can go to the party?”
15 “Messy Room” Reflection Writing “Messy Room” was one of the assignments that removed me from my comfort zone.One of my personal tendencies I have noticed this semester is to automatically slip into a detached,nostalgic voice. I also tend to be drawn more towards complexity and formality in meaning andtone rather than just sitting down to write fun, lighthearted pieces. Children seem to generallyprefer playful pieces, so my hope was that in writing a few, I could gradually become morecomfortable balancing “fun” and “funny” with profound meanings and poetic language. This is not a poem I would want to share with the general public— that “cool” means“irresponsible” is just not the sort of message I want to send. Kids get that message enough frompop culture and peers. I had several suggestions to remove or totally rewrite the ending. My goalwas to achieve a point in a lighthearted, Shel Silverstein way. The last stanza is meant to convey thepoint that you won’t actually get anywhere if you live by the “messy is cool” philosophy—maybe myintentions make the piece a little too pedantic, which is another reason I wouldn’t strive todistribute it. I tried to rework the last stanza rather than delete it in an effort to keep a bit ofhumorous ethics to the piece. So, I’m sure you would like to know why I revised and included a poem I don’t like. One ofthe main reasons is because of the cool and irreverent tone. I think the voice is consistent andconvincing. I included it merely to show my flexibility as a writer—and because it was such animportant discipline for me to create and revise the piece. In the final revision, I chose to play with colloquialisms to more greatly influence thenarrator’s voice. In addition, I tried to apply more of my classmates’ suggestions—with theexception of replacing the term “mini moguls” with a more common image. After considering it, Idecided that “moguls” are common enough for anyone who has attempted snow sports or watchedthe winter Olympics—and if the child reader doesn’t know the term it would be a good one to learn!
16 The Feast of the After-Christmas Birds, A Picture BookWhen green polka-dots sprout on the trees,and pinkand purpleand redand yellow starburstspop from the tight buds,and the warmth finally drives the nip awayThat’s when she remembers the birds.There was a River Oak tree behind the blueberry patchwhere she found them,living in a holedeep in the trunknear the ground.The hole wound downand aroundand through the trunk,and there,tucked in the cool, dark bottom,were four baby birds.They were only scrawny creatureswrapped in pink skin and tissuewith ugly stems for legsand gaping beakson spindly necks.She hurried to see them every day.
17Between chores. Before school. After school.And soon, they began to look fuzzy(like an odd peach that had sprouted spindly stretches of limbs)and still so pinkbut with a tinge of brown and gray.And then, they grewsoft and plumpwith feathers of grayish-brownlike the mud scooped from puddles after a spring rain.She wanted them to playin the polka-dotted trees,the blueberry patch,and the bright starburst blooms.But Father said,“Don’t touch themor the mother might get spooked by your scentand leave them.”So instead, she left them giftsof little china teacups filled to the rim with nutsand seedsand dried red berries.And she left cotton fluff she pulled from her pillowand even some very curly pencil shavings.Then one day, the birds were gone.She searched through the patches of brushwhere the blueberries had all been picked,and the starbursts
18were already beginning to wiltand fade.And then she saw them.No, not them—not the birds—she saw four velvet feathersresting at the bottom of the hole.Her legs shook.Her lip quivered.She searched through the brushand did not find the birds.She turned from the treeand felt warm tears begin to dripdown her cheeks.What went wrong?She was sure she hadn’t touched them—But she had gazedand lingeredand left so many gifts.School began.She studied. She played. She laughed some, too.But she could not—she did not—talk about the birds.Nor did she forget them.Christmas came.She and her father decorated an evergreen tree.Christmas went.She helped her father take down the tree.
19He said,“Maybe we should have an After-Christmas Tree this year.”And she agreed.So, she helped him make garlands of dried red berriesand pinecone ornaments gilded with peanut butter, cereal, nuts, and seedsto lace throughout the After-Christmas Treefor the squirrels.And then, they came.No, not they—not the squirrels—the birds came.Four grown-up birds the creamy color of rain-puddle mudfluttered around her After-Christmas Tree.Every day the snow whipped fresh drifts,And every day they cameuntilthe winter bluster surrenderedand the feast of the After-Christmas Treewas over.But, the birds seemed…very busy.And one day,in the holeat the bottomof the River Oak Treeshe heard a fragile chirp.And behind the blueberry patch,she heard another,
20And near a green polka-dotted tree,There was another,And then,in the pinkand purpleand redand yellowstarbursts,she heard a lot of fragile chirps.And Father said,“I think we need to put out a bigger bird bath.”And after many teacups of treats,she once againfound nothing but a soft pile of featherswhere the birds had been.And this time,she understood.
21 The Feast of the After-Christmas Birds Reflection This poem is based on an idea I jotted down two years ago and decided to begin writing itout this semester. At the time of the inspiration, we lived in Charlotte, NC. Even though our housewas just two miles from the bustling uptown, we had a large fenced-in backyard. It was the kind ofyard where something was always in bloom. One spring day, I noticed a hole at the bottom of a tree.I looked in the hole and saw four gaping, hungry beaks begging me for gourmet worms to eat. I hadseen bird nests in the rafters of porches, nestled in rooftop eaves, and in the limbs of branches, but Ihad never seen one in a hole in a tree trunk so close to the ground. Suddenly, this story just came tome, and I have loved the idea since. Now, I must get it right, which I am learning reluctantlyrequires “killing my darlings”, as Dr. Bartoletti quoted. But, I think it’s close. In my last round of revisions, I tried to focus on cutting words, phrases, and entire stanzas—especially from the end. It’s amazing how deleting words take hours upon hours more than it takesto string words together.
22 PART TWO Critique One Critique One Reflection Critique Two Critique Two Reflection Critique Three Critique Three Reflection Critique Four Critique Four ReflectionWriting Philosophy: An Essay
23 Critique One By: Paula White For: Courtney Riggin’s “The Barn Loft” Lesson 5 WorkshopThe Barn Loft After presents had been ripped open and cake eaten down to the chocolate-streakedcardboard platter and the leftover ice cream had melted in the trash bags and begun to seep out of ahole onto the garage floor attracting an army of ants, Allie asked if we wanted to see their old barn.This sounds a bit like passive voice~you might want to rethink this opening as occuring rather thana recollection- We all ran behind her with our party hats hanging from our necks or jutting off our mouthslike beaks.This scene has child-centric qualities ~I see the kids running and laughing with the hatshanging off of their faces. I like this imagery. She was right. The barn was old. The red paint had faded to a chalky hue that made it lookas if a fog stood between our little group and the barn. Vines climbed up the looming clapboardwalls, and the metal roof was rusted and dented. Inside, it smelled like hay, manure, and horsemusk. I could hear Allies three horses blowing and shuffling inside their dark stalls. The air wascold and with each snort and blow, a little gust of steam puffed through the feeding trough windowat each stall. Perhaps you can pick a tense and present the whole piece in that tense. "Whats up there?" Lucia asked Allie. We all looked to the wooden ladder, draped withcobwebs and dusted with hay remnants, earth, and pollen. Dried mud clumps clung relentlessly tothe tops of each rung--probably left by someones boots. Your story could start here-"Follow me!" Allie whispered mysteriously. We all made ourway silently, single file, up each ladder rung, each one of us hoping not to meet the weaver of thewhite, sticky webs. I was the last one up, and as I crawled over the ledge at the top rung, I saw what I thoughtmust be Gods spirit itself piercing like a beam across the open loft. The effect was from the sunlightfiltering through a broken window, catching the hay particles waltzing through the air. Bales werestacked up along the walls as high as the ceiling. “This must be what ‘holy ground’ looks like,” Ithought. Allie was showing the group a shoebox coffin where she had buried her dead pet Finch theyear before. It had mummified perfectly so that it looked as if it would hop up chirping at anymoment. “Well, that’s all there is to see up here!” Allie announced. The group--no longer silent and
24mystified-- began to clamor a perfect word choice-down the ladder. I thought Id take just a fewmore moments to gaze at what I was sure must have been the spirit of God wafting I like this wordchoice, but Im wondering if your reader will understand that this is a spiritual piece-is it? You say"holy ground" and allude to the hereafter when you mention death and a coffin (although only witha pet)...Are you setting up the plot to unfold as a spiritual journey? Just wondering... across theroom. Suddenly, I couldnt hear the voices of the girls any more. Where had they gone? How hadthey gotten out of earshot so fast? Then I looked down the ladder I had come up just minutes agoand my knees began to shake. I realized with terror that I couldnt climb down. This beginning unfolds not only as a mystery but also as a spiritual journey of sorts. Youmention "Gods spirit itself" and "the spirit of God" and "holy ground." Are these mentions strictlydenotations? They carry some weight. Will the reader take the spiritual journey in which you seemto be alluding?
25 Critique One Reflection This particular critique was helpful to me for two reasons. First, Paula showed me anotheroption for my opening lines when she pointed out “Your story could start here.” I realized as I re-read that she was right. It would be a much more interesting opening line and more likely to hookthe reader right away—or at least not make the reader work very hard in the first sentence. In thisfirst draft, the story’s opening line is long and descriptive. It’s a good sentence, as several othercritiques pointed out, but it also asks too much of the reader too soon. I don’t want my reader tohave to work so hard in the beginning—at least not until the second sentence of the story! Paula’ssuggestion brings the reader right into the story’s action. What’s more, it works out so perfectly toswitch a few lines around, I don’t even need to lose much from the descriptions I really like. Second, Paula’s questions about the spiritually-charged descriptions in the last paragraphmade me realize the kind of character I am introducing—and it dawned on me, I like her! Originally,I set out to write about a mysterious barn loft. I ended up seeing that I was writing about a little girlwho fits in well on the outside but feels very different within herself. Yes, Paula. This is a storyabout “a spiritual journey of sorts”—I just didn’t know it until this critique helped me see it!
26 Critique Two By: Lisa Moe For: Courtney Riggin’s “Autumn Fort” Lesson 11 WorkshopI felt like I was discovering the fort along with your character. What a great idea! Kids and forts gohand-in-hand, dont they? :-)Yellow: sophisticated wording that feels too old for the speakerBlue: great word choicePurple: exceptionally awesome imageryGreen: This seem to assign the speaker to a specific gender. If that’s the intent, you’ve donewell. If you’d like to make the poem relevant to all children who fantasize about such a fort,perhaps you might change this detail to something more gender-neutral.Autumn FortAs the first Autumn winds whipped through the air, I hollered for my brother across the yard, and barely glimpsed his outline as he darted behind a bush.I dashed around the bush to catch up with him, leaning into my turn like a rodeo barrel racer; the bush must have been the size of a funnel cake stand— the kind on wheels that travels around from fair to fair, circus to circus, and show to show.As the swiftly-moving clouds sprinkled sunlight like a disco ball across the lawn, I suddenly stopped, frowned, and turned round and round looking for him, I shuffled my feet through the fallen leaves until I heard the soft, smooth sound of a single Harmonica chord.When the Harmonica went silent, I moved closer, staring at the bush’s curtain of leaves; suddenly my brother’s hand burst through the draping foliage, pushing it aside in one sweep, scattering leaves from the branches like the confetti tossed toward a parade float carrying Miss America.As the leaves were caught by the wind and carried through the playful sprays of sunlight,
27 I realized the branch was only a thin wall of leaves covering a secret space—I crawled into the entrance and saw the open room my brother had chopped inside the bush with the garden shears meant for pruning mother’s holly bushes.I looked around the room— I liked the walls and ceiling of gnarly, leaf-studded branches And the roots and limbs that stood like ballroom pillars across the room; I liked the spongy floor of twigs and damp leaves; I liked the fresh smell of wet earth and cool air;As my brother exited through the leaf curtain to build a better fort, I decided the room needed a table and two chairs, a welcome rug, and a vase of flowers to make it just right.
28 Critique Two Reflection Throughout the semester, Lisa has offered so many helpful suggestions. I love reading herstories and admire her skill, so I always perk up a little as I read her critiques on my own writing,feeling that perhaps some secret potion to acquire some of her talent might be hidden in hersuggestions. At some point during our workshop experience, Lisa began a color-coding technique. It is anorderly approach that makes it easy to skim through the critique, picking out the good and the bad.She also seems to identify and focus on select facets of craft for each workshop rather than pointingout everything that needs work in one sitting. I have found that this approach helps me focus moreproductively on revisions because the editing load seems more manageable. For example, the firsttime I posted “Autumn Fort”, she focused on areas that seemed wordy and phrases with niceconsonance. In this particular critique from a later posting of “Autumn Fort”, she focused on wordchoices and images that work versus those that do not. She highlighted the images that were“exceptional” and the wording that was “good” so that I could easily skim through those sectionswhile editing, knowing that she considered them valuable. She then highlighted the wording thatdid not work, specifically stating that the reason was the age-appropriateness of the word choices. Ithink her approach has worked for me on many occasions because it is direct, constructive, andconcise.
29 Critique Three By: Courtney Riggin For: Jennifer Fliss Lesson 6 WorkshopWalking through the rolling hills of rural Pennsylvania in the fall is like nothing else.I shiver from the chill of the early morning crispness still left in the air.I smell the faint scent of wood burning furnaces keeping families warm whose homes are nestleddeep in the forest glens.I watch the sun illuminate a kaleidoscope of colors on trees whose leaves have turned into huesharvested straight from a preschoolers crayon box. This line is beautiful, yet it doesn’t read easily.It’s not far from great! Just tighten or clarify.I hear the snapping and splintering of breaking branches as deer cautiously search for food amidstamid/among the protection and shelter too similar in meaning? Maybe choose one of the massivetowering pines.I am captivated by the beauty of God’s untouched canvas.The wonder of nature is all around me.Its simplicity is mesmerizing and its wonder is inspiring.I am at peace. Turquoise: I love the structural repetition of I verb in these lines. I especially love the build up to “Iam”. “I am” is such a strong yet concise phrase. It’s so full of confidence and vigor, not to mentionit’s ties back to the Old Testament in which God declares himself the great “I Am”. It leads perfectlyinto your graceful, humble use of “God’s untouched canvas”. In fact, it makes the whole poem feel asif it’s on the move! Therefore…Purple: I would remove these lines altogether. Try having your last two lines be your “I am”statements. I don’t think the poem will lose anything by tossing these out—they’re a bit sentimentaland abstract anyway.Yellow: Try editing for better word choices or more meaningful concrete images in these areas.And last, great use of consonance/alliteration throughout!
30 Critique Three Reflection For this critique, I tried Lisa’s color-coded approach. In looking back, I don’t know why Ididn’t continue offering critiques this way. It forced me to focus on a few specific areas ofimprovement— which as I stated in my Critique Two Reflection, makes it easier on the author toedit thoroughly and fruitfully. It also helped me elaborate on the highlighted areas more concisely.In reviewing this critique, I like to think that Jenn sat down with a mug of peppermint cocoa andpretzels (which is a lovely combination if you’ve never tried it!) and had a stress-free, productiveediting session.
31 Critique Four By: Courtney Riggin For: Kelly White Lesson 11 WorkshopHey Kelly!I agree with the other two comments on watching pronouns and wordiness and making dialoguemore concise. Here are two specific suggestions:The scent of a wood fire pit burning in the crisp fall air floated through the air as groups of peoplewalked across the large, dirt parking lot situated on a hill where crops were once planted. I still think it’s distracting to repeat the word “air” so close together. I’ve offered a remedybelow. I think this remedy also shortens your introduction just enough so that there are fewerwords padding your lovely details: The scent of a wood fire pit burning filled the crisp fall air as groups of people walked acrossthe large, dirt parking lot situated on a hill where crops were once planted. Crowds of people stood in line to see how long it would take them to conquer the 1 ½ miletrack where monsters lingered and dead ends played the spoiler to progressing closer to the exit ofthe maze. This sentence still doesn’t make sense to me… Also, I like the way you switched the perspective from your original piece! It makes it atotally new story in the same setting. If you like the way it turned out from this perspective, I sayleave it and work within the text for revising. If you still arent head over heels for it AND are up fordoing a total revision again :) , I suggest keeping the story as close as possible to the original onethat included you and your friends but write it from the childs viewpoint. In that viepoint, we wontknow what the mom and dad are doing. In this version, the story almost focuses too much on theparents fear-- and therefore their perspective-- and too little on the childs experience of being lostin a strange, crowded place. Whatever you decide, I also think you could consider starting the story with less of a scenedescription and more of the immediate action. Re-read it looking for points of energy anddetermine if any of those areas would make an interesting beginning. Then, tie in your scenedescriptions (which as VERY good!) within or immediately after the action of the opening. Id be interested to see how you approach these final revisions! Its a great piece with a lotof options.
32 Critique Four Reflection I appreciate criticism more than praise in writing workshops. For that reason, I like to givemore criticism than praise. Granted, I certainly want to know what works and what strikes thereader as particularly poignant; but in connection with laud, I want to know what stands in starkcontrast as weak , ambiguous or unnecessary. I want to know what drags my story down—and Iwant to know bluntly without having to interpret the feedback. I also like open-ended suggestions or proposals that contain several options when someonefeels that the story simply isn’t working. I want to know what revisions the critic thinks would turnfailure into potential. There was one particular workshop critique where I felt I was reading a story withpotential—but one that (in my view) needed to be re-worked in order to reach its potential as achild’s story. Kelly submitted the story twice. The first time it was written from her point of view asan adult. The second time, it included more of the child’s story but the point of view was 3rd-personwith a strong focus on the mom. The first time I read it, I felt it was a good start. The story couldeasily be relevant to a child’s experience or fear of being lost in a crowded public place. I tried tomake several suggestions for revision while maintaining that the story still needed to focus more onthe child’s viewpoint. In other critiques, I have commented on all the areas I see room forimprovement. In this particular critique I tried to focus on one main area while offering a smallhandful of mechanical suggestions.
33 Writing Philosophy: An Essay My philosophy of children’s literature centers around the belief that reading is amultifaceted experience that should be productive as well as pleasant. It should be somethingenjoyable and relevant; yet it is also one of the ways we constantly improve our use andunderstanding of language as well as our experiences of the world and its cultures. This isespecially true for children. It often seems that children learn new words and ways of stringingsentences together more quickly and easily than adults. Therefore, they should be exposed to thediversity of language early on while they still have pictures to support the text and before theybegin claiming a preference for only one type of style, subject, or genre. In Lesson One, I stated that children’s books “should challenge [child readers] with newwords, turns of phrases, more complex tones and sentence structures” in order to “demonstrate theendless possibilities of language.” Although this basic belief has not changed, it has been enhancedand modified. In looking back over my reviews from the workshops, it’s obvious that I have beentrying to learn how to apply my own philosophy to writing effectively for children. My reviewerscertainly noticed. In almost every workshop I had comments such as, “I question the use of theseterms. I dont see them as child centric,” and , “I dont hear those terms coming out of childsmouth,” and, “I cant picture a child using such terms.” Sometimes these comments would be inrelation to descriptions such as, “Do kids really notice the colors and intricacies of birds?” At times Ifelt defensive— I remember noticing the colors and intricacies of birds as a child. Why can I onlyuse words a child would say? Why should I patronize child readers and assume they only want toread books with words they already know and use? Am I supposed to cater to a child’s perspectiveto the point of stifling their growth and learning? Then I found myself doubting my beliefs andwondering, Am I really that far off with my philosophy… or do I just need more practice applying it? And the answer that came was—as it so often is—both. They are right; and I am right, too.In my original statements, I claimed that using this type of language might mean creating“combinations of simple words with complex syntax—or complex words with simple syntax—usedin interesting ways.” Or it might mean writing a book about an experience so relevant to a child’slife that the language has room to spiral “into a complexity the child can relate to simply becausethe subject is mundane and well-known, even if the words are not.” I made these statements inLesson One, but I don’t think I have been working to apply them as if they are the philosophy bywhich I write. In hindsight, I should have practiced my philosophy more acutely. I could havewritten a piece about brushing teeth and used advanced vocabulary and onomatopoeia; and then Icould have written a piece describing an Indian marketplace using more familiar words and images
34since the experience would be so new. These are exercises I hope to use in my freewriting as I exitthis course. In addition to nailing the use of sophisticated wording in children’s literature, other areas Ihope to improve include wordiness, identifying unnecessary lines and stanzas, locating the “real”beginning and ending, avoiding too many descriptors and metaphors, tightening the structure, andunderstanding the way beat and meter work rather than making decisions based solely on how itfeels. I think if I can continue to improve in these areas, this will also help my rich word choiceswork.
36 Author’s Note This portfolio represents a journey of sorts. Compiling it got me wondering, Whydon’t I think of myself as a writer? I certainly enjoy writing and feel compelled to writeoften. Perhaps I cannot see myself as a “writer” because I am not published; or maybe it isbecause I have an everyday job; or possibly it is merely that I am too busy to be a writer. In the first several weeks, this course quickly extinguished any logic I might haveargued these reasons carried. I do not need special certification or ordination to be awriter, as I would to be a priest or a nurse. I do not need a series of books published in myname and listed in Oprah’s book club to call myself a “writer”, just as I do not need to beaccepted to the Boston Marathon to call myself a runner. Being a writer simply meansappreciating writing, carving out time for it often, and working diligently to revise drafts. Inshort, being a writer means being a person who writes. Now, this is not to say I use the term irreverently. I would not call myself a runner ifI only ran 1.4 miles once a year. I call myself a runner because running is something I amdedicated to doing several times a week. On the other hand, I do not call myself aphotographer even though I take pictures—this is because taking pictures is not somethingthat drives me or touches my brain in a place that determines my sanity for that particularmoment, nor is it something I strive to improve and work into my daily routine, likerunning. I am not dedicated to photography. I simply take pictures. Considering this, I think I can begin to whisper quietly to myself in a mirror eachmorning, You are a writer. Therefore you must value the calling you have answered and carveout some time to write today. So I whisper into empty spaces where only I can hear, I am awriter. And I write. Maybe soon I will be able to whisper in someone’s ear. And maybe soon after that, Ican whisper the words to a group of people. And maybe someday, I can say it aloud inordinary conversation without missing a beat.
37 Biography Courtney Riggin is currently completing her last course in the M.Ed. in Curriculumand Instruction program at Pennsylvania State University. She also has a Post-Baccalaureate certificate in Family Literacy and a B.A. in English from Auburn University. In her career, Courtney teaches reading to children who have language-basedlearning disorders or attention deficits. She is in the process of completing her certificationin the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is an individualized, multisensory, phonetic-basedprogram specifically used to teach reading and writing to students with dyslexia. She and her husband, Justin, recently moved from Greenville, SC to Columbus, GA,where she has started a new job at a large private school. She says, “It’s an exciting positionto be in because it will be the schools first venture in using the Orton-Gillingham approachwith students who have language processing differences. In fact, it is the first school inColumbus to implement Orton-Gillingham for struggling readers. I feel like a pioneer!” Courtney says her husband is a handsome and ambitious construction manager. Inthe four years they have been married, his job has transferred them to five different states.“It makes for great writing material!” she says. They hope to settle in or near Atlanta, GA inthe next several years. In their spare time, Courtney and Justin are also renovating a 1960’sranch-style home to fit their tastes and invite more daylight into a drab, outdated home.They hope to renovate more homes in the future, making dark, ugly houses light andcharming one mortgage at a time. Most importantly, Courtney and Justin had their first child—a boy—on 11-11-11.Thomas Walker Riggin came into the world two weeks early at 6 lbs 11 oz, and he has beenteaching them many lessons and skills since his arrival! They are thankful beyond wordsfor his health and presence (and overall adorable-ness!).
38 BlurbsCourtney is by far the most innovative and imaginative writer I know. Her use ofhyperboles is exquisite and I have never once been disappointed reading her work. -Ashleigh Land, Atlanta, GA AttorneyRiggin is a marvelous author! Her imaginative and wholesome tales weave beautiful storyand lessons to be enjoyed by all ages. My students and children ask for stories to read againand again...and I certainly dont mind obliging! -Lydia Knizely Johnson, Mobile, AL Director of Children’s MinistryAlways a delight...Ms. Riggins writings are at once a cozy warm sweater to the soul and ajolt of stimulating peppermint mocha to the brain. She never disappoints! -Betsy Mazzola, Hatchechubbee, AL TeacherCourtney is one of the most creative writers Ive met. From beginning to end, her writingcaptivates you and makes you want to dive in to each of her stories. Her knowledge inhistoric English literature is also extremely impressive. -Rachel Wright, Auburn, AL Artist, Blogger, and Graphic DesignerCourtney’s superior linguistics and literary eloquence glisten as she captures the hearts ofboth young and old, speaks as a proponent of the forgotten middle class, and encouragesAmericans to take the road less traveled. -Todd McGilliss, Athens, GA Entrepreneur