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Fifty years ago cell phones unleashed a Brain Cancer Epidemic.Terrified by technology, worried parents entrusted their children to a charismatic leader.Barbelo promised to keep his Vestals safe from the Internet, hidden behind lead-lined walls.Now, digital purity is valuable and a Vestal named Blanca is auctioned off to the highest bidder.Blanca is the most obedient eighteen-year-old her purchasers have ever met.She is a blank slate for the genesis of anything they want.But too bad for Blanca.Their new beginning could be her end.
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My boot hits him in the nuts at the same time as the flash goes off, but it’s too late. The Virus has already taken my picture. He was aiming for Fatima, but I pushed her away just in time. I sideswipe his legs and topple the Virus over while he moans in agony from my kick to his groin.
“Nobody takes my picture, you freak!” I stare at his tattooed face. There’s something familiar about the snake inked around his eyebrow, but I can’t quite place it. We’re in the underground parking garage at school, and the fluorescent lights shade everything ugly. I crouch down and flip the Virus onto his stomach, bashing his nose against the pavement.
Ever since I was little, teachers have warned me about Viruses. They’re paparazzi scumbags whose sole purpose in life is to destroy privacy and expose secrets. I’ve never seen one in person until today.
“Hand me your belt,” I tell Fatima. I hold the Virus in place by grinding my knee into his back while Fatima slips off the cinch from her black spandex uniform. I wrestle the man’s arms behind me with both hands. Surprise, surprise—security doesn’t show up until I’m already hog-tying the bastard.
“You’re not so special now, Vestal!” the Virus says as they haul him off.
Until about two minutes ago, I was a Vestal postulant. A blank slate. An Internet virgin. There were no images of my moniker floating around cyberspace. My parents had never blogged about my every poop. It had been planned that way from the beginning. They had castrated my virtual identity for the promise of a better life.
In one week I’m graduating from Tabula Rasa. Today was my chance to shine while I’m interviewed by companies. Only nobody will want me now.
With one flash of his thumb camera, that jerk destroyed my life.
“Don’t worry,” Fatima says, helping me to my feet. “You’ve still got a face that can sell soap. I knew it the first time I saw you. Your skin’s your best feature, and that hasn’t changed.”
The sound of the security gate opening drowns Fatima out. We watch as a white car enters the Tabula Rasa garage. A flash of sunlight taunts me before the gate closes. All my life I’ve lived in this twenty-story fortress of protection. Today was going to be my first day in sunshine, being interviewed by bidders.
But that Virus ruined it all. How the hell he snuck in, I’ll never know.
“You’re the girl next door,” Fatima says, a bit louder. “Couture might not want you, but the average American will.”
I nod because I’ve heard it all before. Not everyone can be the seductress. I’ll never be like Fatima, I don’t begrudge her that. A clear face, green eyes, and brown hair are what I have to work with, and that’s fine. But there’s no fixing a picture of me on the Internet.
“It’ll be okay, Blanca,” Fatima says again.
But we both know that isn’t true.
For a Vestal, a clear Internet history is the most important thing. Without that I’m nothing. Our elusive privacy is what makes us valuable.
I’ve watched our class shrink from two hundred eager postulants to a graduating group of ten. The infractions were usually unavoidable: their memory was spotty, their temperament was bad, or worst of all, they turned out ugly. But once in a while, somebody was thrown out because of an online transgression.
Everyone left is bankable. Ten perfect human specimens who could sell you anything.
Even Ethan, with his poufy hair and scrawny build, is a sure thing. He wears glasses now despite his perfect vision, and goes around in bow ties and suspenders. “Nerdy but in a good way,” the teachers say. “This one’s going high-tech.”
Beau can write his own ticket too. He’s six feet tall and can out bench-press every other guy in the group. America will drool.
And then there’s Fatima standing next to me. With her dark eyes and svelte figure, she’ll have her choice of any fashion house.
I had been hoping to sell cosmetics. That’s prestigious too, and I really had a chance. But nobody will bid on me now. The auction is a week away, and I’m ruined!
“Blanca?” A woman approaches us right as a dark black limousine pulls through the gate. “That car isn’t for you. Good luck with your interviews, Fatima.”
Fatima waves at me sadly and slides into the vehicle.
“Let’s get this disaster under control,” says the woman as the limo drives away. Her billowing skirt makes her look ethereal in the shadows of the parking garage. I have never seen her before. But she’s wearing white like our teachers and has a platinum cuff, so of course, I follow her.
She takes me to a room on the twentieth floor of Tabula Rasa that boasts a wall of windows. “Darkened for privacy,” says the woman when she sees my apprehension.
I approach them hesitantly, unaccustomed to the glass. I see a tiny patch of sky surrounded by glowing billboards. On every rooftop is an advertisement featuring a face I already know. Vestals stare down at me from all vantage point, hawking perfumes, cars, and weight-loss supplements.
“You’ll be up there too, Blanca. There’s still hope.” The woman stands at my elbow.
I peek and study her this time. She’s fortyish with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. I know she’s a Vestal because of her white outfit, but I don’t recognize her.
Weird. I know all the Vestals. Everyone does.
The hydraulic doors hiss open, and we both turn to look. The Tabula Rasa headmaster enters in a swirl of white cloak.
“Blanca,” he says, “you have a problem.”
“Yes, Headmaster Russell. I’m sorry, Headmaster Russell.”
“I don’t know how you let this happen.” He strides to the enormous windows, holding a manila file folder. None of the Tabula Rasa faculty are permitted computers, including Headmaster Russell.
“You mean you don’t know how you let this happen, Russell.”
I brace for impact. Nobody talks to Headmaster Russell that way and gets away with it. I know that better than anyone. He grits his teeth. “Security is being questioned as we speak. Sit down, Ms. Lydia. Please.”
“I will not sit down.” Ms. Lydia’s stare could cut glass. “Not until you apologize to Blanca. She deserves better, and you know it.”
There is audible silence. Headmaster Russell rubs the golden cuff on his wrist. “Blanca, I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His eyes don’t meet mine.
Ms. Lydia snaps her fingers.
Headmaster Russell clears his throat and tries again, this time meeting my gaze. “I’m sorry that I let this happen to you. I should have protected you better. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are still harvested at the auction.” Then he turns to Ms. Lydia who stands resolute and icy. “Are you satisfied?”
“Perhaps.” She shrugs. “Let’s see what’s in the folder.”
A few moments later we are seated at the table in the center of the room. Headmaster Russell shows us the picture of me that is now plastered all over cyberspace. I fight back tears.
first look at newest vestal, the caption reads. Then there’s me executing a roundhouse kick, my hair flying back, and my face a perfect mask of rage.
“This is what we are dealing with,” says Headmaster Russell.
“It could be worse.” Ms. Lydia presses her lips together. Right then an old-fashioned phone hanging on the wall rings. “Well, Russ? Aren’t you going to answer that?”
Headmaster Russell jumps to answer the phone. I can hear him say “Blanca” and “photograph,” but that’s it. My future is muffled as he whispers into the receiver.
Ms. Lydia extends her hand to me. Her touch is very cold, but her shake is firm. “My name is Lydia. I’m the elected agent of all Vestal graduates. I lead the Tabula Rasa board of directors.”
“What was your company?” I ask. I still don’t recognize her. But I notice her platinum cuff. That means she was top pick.
“I didn’t have a company. I went Geisha.”
I try to keep my face blank. Really, I do. But what she said is so shocking that my eyes widen for an instant. Ms. Lydia notices.
“It’s not as bad as you think,” she says. “Maybe it’s better. There are many ways to be a Vestal, and they all have honor.”
“Of course,” I answer. “It says so right in the Vestal Code of Ethics.”
Most Vestals leave Tabula Rasa with major corporations, but on rare occasions they enter contracts with private individuals as Geishas.
Nobody wants to go Geisha. Giving up privacy for another person’s pleasure is creepy. Selling out to a company is so much better.
Headmaster Russell hangs up the phone with a loud click. He smoothes his cloak over his barrel chest. “Blanca has five bidders,” he says. “That picture has whipped up a frenzy.”
“Good,” says Ms. Lydia. “You’re redeemed.”
I’m not sure who she’s talking to, but I brave a smile anyway.
Barbelo Nemo founded the Vestals fifty years ago after the Brain Cancer Epidemic rotted humankind via cell phones. Bluetooth scanned sensitive neurons. Wi-Fi washed over weakened gray matter. Before the medical community realized what was happening, millions of people were dead.
Scientists promised finger-chips were the solution, but Barbelo forged a different path. Why risk another tech-induced health crisis? Barbelo set Vestals apart and kept us safe. Eighteen years of schooling at Tabula Rasa behind lead-lined walls, and then twenty-five years of service to the Brethren. We have a sacred duty to remain digitally pure.
If it weren’t for Tabula Rasa, I’d be tech-addicted like everyone else. I’d expose my private thoughts to total strangers. I’d be too engrossed in my finger-chips to pay attention to my friends. I’d judge people by scanning their profile before I met them in person. I wouldn’t buy anything or go anywhere unless the Internet told me it was a good idea. I would let my finger-chips rob me of forming real relationships with the actual people who matter in my life. What’s worse, I wouldn’t know I was ruined. I’d willingly give up my humanity one byte at a time.
But as a Vestal postulant, I’m sheltered from that. Chaos swirls around us, but Vestals are constant. We are loyal. We keep secrets. We remind the world there is a better way to live. Because we are so trustworthy, the public buys anything we sell.
No wonder corporations lust for us.
It’s been seven days since the Virus stole my picture, and I’ve made it to the auction after all. I’m sitting on stage with the other Tabula Rasa graduates, safe inside the lead-lined walls of school. The Harvest is minutes away. We’re about to auction our purity to the highest bidder. In front of us are Silicon Valley elite. Many of them are flexing their palms, frustrated that their finger-chip connections won’t work.
Fatima’s hand is on my thigh, and my hand covers hers. Sweat trickles down my back, tracing the curve of my spine as I arch my shoulders in perfect posture. I curl my toes inside their black leather boots, trying to release the pressure.
My whole education, my entire existence, has led up to now.
This morning I woke up in the metal bunk bed of my cloister. In a few days I’ll move to my new home, the Vestal quarters of my business sponsor. I’ll represent a company, a product, and a lifestyle. The world will follow my life through carefully released images. Whatever my company chooses to share will become my new identity.
Where I eat, who I date, what I do. It will all be for one purpose— to sell my company’s products.
I’ll never beg my friends to like my pictures. Total strangers will hang on my every word. I’ll be a Vestal, and millions of people will care about who I am.
Even better, I’ll have a family. Older Vestals will be my mentors. I’ll join their manufactured family in print, media, and billboard campaigns across America.
If I’m lucky, the company will have at least one Vestal in their roster close to me in age. Hopefully a guy. Preferably one who looks more like Beau and less like Ethan. I’ve been waiting eighteen years for a boyfriend, and he had better be good.
“Fatima,” the announcer says. My best friend squeezes my hand and winks at me. Then she walks to the stage. She’s gorgeous, like always. Ever since we were little, I always knew Fatima would be the top pick. Fatima has a body that can sell anything. She’s smart too. It will say that in her portfolio.
But when Fatima stands up there at the podium next to Headmaster Russell, there is only a shuffle of papers in the audience. Heads are bent over still placards. Fatima glances back at me with panic.
No one is bidding.
A woman wearing a white suit scrambles on stage and grabs Headmaster Russell’s arm, whispering into his ear. It’s Ms. Corina, from charm and deportment. She doesn’t appear so polished now.
Ms. Corina points to me, and Headmaster Russell looks too. Then he cringes.
“There has been a change of plans,” he announces to the audience. “Bidding on Miss Fatima will wait. Bidding on Miss Blanca will begin.”
Fatima gazes at me from across the stage. I know what she’s thinking without her saying one word. Fatima’s the seductress, and I’m the girl-next-door. She’s the one people drool for, not me.
I try to smile placidly, like Charming Corina taught us. But watching the audience freaks me out. I’m used to the black uniforms of students and the white robes of teachers. Now all I see is the ambiguity of color.
I try to focus as Headmaster Russell says something about my education.
“Poetry, literature, music,” he says. “Blanca is the perfect package. She’s well versed in the seven liberal arts and entirely ignorant about science and technology. A Vestal Virgin for the modern age.”
Headmaster Russell regards me with dark eyes. Then he turns back to the sea of faces. “Blanca’s the perfect image for your company. Born and bred in Nevada and groomed right here at Tabula Rasa. Let’s start the bidding at five million dollars.”
A deep breath. I fight to be calm when I see arms shoot up and numbers wave. But I don’t think about the auction or my impending future. I think about my past.
Until now, I had no idea I came from Nevada.
Were my parents still in Nevada? Were they scanning the news feed on their palms at this very second? Were they trying to guess which name was mine, eagerly anticipating their cut from my sale? My parents were going to make a lot of money off me.
But my so-called parents aren’t important. All that matters is right now: the bidding war. So many people shout that Headmaster Russell appears stressed. He uses the sleeve of his cloak to wipe sweat off his forehead.
“Thirty million? Do I hear thirty-one?” he asks. That’s when I feel the skin on my arms prickle. Companies won’t pay that much for a Vestal. But private individuals do.
“Thirty-one-and-a-half?” Headmaster Russell asks loudly. Another arm goes up. Then another. “Thirty-two? Thirty-two going once? Going twice? Sold,” says Headmaster Russell, banging the gavel. “Sold for the highest price ever paid in Vestal history. Sold to Mr. Calum McNeal for thirty-two million dollars.”
And just like that I’ve gone Geisha.
A middle-aged man stands. His hair is brown but graying and longish around the ears. He’s smiling so hard, it looks like he’s going to burst.
I’m finally wearing white, but I don’t feel like I deserve it. Instead I feel dirty inside as I stand with my fellow graduates around the Pool of Purity. My unlit candle weighs heavy in my hand, and I nervously finger its waxy edge. Everyone has been sold to a company but me. Fatima won’t make eye contact.
“On this the most private of nights,” Headmaster Russell says, “we celebrate the blessing of one more class of Tabula Rasa graduates. The brothers and sisters who came before you surround you with their guidance and welcome you to our ranks.”
I feel their presence before I see them. Older, experienced Vestals step from the shadows and flank us in a larger ring. Together we form two concentric circles, our billowing white robes hovering over the pavement, reflected in the water.
“The candle please.” Headmaster Russell turns to look at Ms. Lydia, who stands nearby.
She is beautiful in the moonlight, her heart-shaped face a mask of serenity. When she reaches out her candle to touch his, the sleeve of her gown slips down below her elbow, exposing her platinum cuff against creamy skin. “The beacon of light,” she says. “We are a sacred fire that will not burn out. Those who came before you welcome you into our Brethren.”
Soon the flame is passed from candle to candle. The dark circle of Tabula Rasa graduates illuminates in a warm glow. When Fatima tips her candle to mine, she struggles to smile. She hasn’t spoken one word to me since the auction. My harvest price was double hers. But I know that’s not the real problem between us. It’s because I’ve gone Geisha.
Headmaster Russell’s voice is solemn. “Vestals are a beacon in a dark world. We alone stand together. We are living sacrifices for all that is pure and all that is sacred.”
An older Vestal steps forward with a silver tray. Nine golden cuffs sparkle in the candlelight. The single platinum cuff beckons to me. I am the top pick.
Ms. Lydia selects a golden cuff. “It is time for the vows. Master Ethan, do you solemnly swear to uphold the Vestal order?”
“I do,” says Ethan, stepping forward.
“Will you consecrate your body? Will you promise to never be marked by ink, stain, piercing, or technology? Will you give your highest self to our cause?”
“I promise,” says Ethan, holding out his arm.
Ms. Lydia snaps the golden cuff on his wrist.
“And now, for the sealing,” says Headmaster Russell, who approaches with a small blue flame. There is total and utter silence for this, the most sacred part of the ceremony. Headmaster Russell singes the metal, searing it shut. Ethan’s golden cuff now marks him for life. The whole world will forever know he is a Vestal.
The sealing happens eight more times until finally, I am the only graduate who remains.
Ms. Lydia picks up the platinum cuff and holds it to the light. “There are many paths a Vestal can take, but one thing is constant. The world relies on us. We are the last guardians of private living. When we sell our reputation, it is with purpose and thought. We do not give it away freely like the masses of humanity. To be purchased privately is a holy act within itself.”
My tears start when she says this. They roll down my cheeks, washing away the shame. It’s like a window has opened in my heart, releasing all the pressure. I feel joy again. Joy and pride for being a Vestal, no matter what.
This is my time. This is what I have lived for. When Ms. Lydia snaps the platinum cuff on my wrist, it is the happiest moment of my life.
Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily Herald. She also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA.
Genesis Girl hits the world September 27, 2016!
In addition to being the most adorable middle grade book I’ve read in a long time, Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe is an exceptional resource for teaching kids about point of view. “Why?” do you ask. “Woof.” Because the narrator is a dog of course!
Fenway is a Jack Russell Terrier big at heart and full of wild observations. He devotes hours to understanding his favorite short human, Hattie, and how to best please her. Fenway is a professional. He alerts Food Lady and Fetch Man to intruders, chases nasty squirrels at the dog park, and is willing to do anything it takes–even if it means braving the Wicked Floor–to protect his family.
Both of my kids ages ten and six adored Fenway and Hattie. The former teacher in me couldn’t help thinking what an awesome read aloud this would be in a 1st-4th grade classroom. Not only is it funny and heartfelt, but it would tie in perfectly to writer’s workshop.
Fenway and Hattie hits stores February 9, 2016. I received an early look at an Advanced Review Copy as part of my membership in The Sweet Sixteens, and then mailed it off to the next reader. I’ll definitely buy a copy to keep!
Mommy Blogs scare me, and I say that having blogged for four years. Once you write something on the Internet, it is there forever–even if you delete it. No post is worth hurting your child’s feelings. No amount of “likes” or “followers” makes up for a positive relationship between yourself and your child.
As my life continues to bleed over into the public sphere with my newspaper column, book deal, website, and Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr accounts, I’ve reigned back on what I share about my children “Bruce” and “Jenna” who are now 10 and 6 years old.
I know for many of you, Teaching My Baby to Read has been a source of lesson-plan ideas and a vehicle to connect with other parents who are equally committed to education. I am thrilled every time somebody emails me or leaves a positive comment. Parenting can be isolating, and for me, blogging has been a way to share what I learned as a teacher and a parent.
Now, I’m in a tough position because there is so much about education I still want to share. I want to tell you about Bruce’s life in fourth grade, or Jenna’s experiences in Kindergarten. I want to tell you specific data about how they are succeeding academically, or in some cases, falling behind. I want to share how I feel burnt out after approximately 1,800 hours of Afterschooling. I want to explain why, after all these years, I’m more committed to Afterschooling than ever.
But at the same time I want to protect the sacredness of my children’s privacy for what little bit of childhood they have left. The years go by so fast. I blink and another school year is gone.
Can you teach your baby/child to read? Yes. Here’s how. Can you make math fun? Absolutely. Check these ideas out. Did my ideas work for my own children? You bet–even in the face of giftedness and a potential learning disability. Both my kids were reading ahead of grade level by the end of Kindergarten.
When I first started blogging I wrote new posts every day. Now I barely post once a week. That’s mainly due to of self-censorship. It’s also because I’ve shifted my focus into studying Young Adult fiction. If you are a parent of a teenager who struggles to screen what your kid reads, please check out my website The YA Gal or my YA Gal Facebook Page. You can always ask me the “clean-teen” rating of a particular book, and if I haven’t read it one of my YA Gal followers probably has.
I am still blogging. I am still here. I’m just a lot more careful about what I share.
If you’re a parent you know life can get so busy sometimes you don’t have time to take a deep breath let alone write a blog post. It’s doesn’t matter if you work full time in the workforce, or are a SAHM, your plate fills up fast. But sometimes the universe tells us we need to take a break. In my case, literally.
A year ago I fell ice skating and broke my wrist. You can read the full story here:
Believe me, nothing says “Slow down, Mom!” like surgery, titanium implants, and the inability to drive. Today I revisited my Facebook posts from a year ago and had a good chuckle at my past misery. Why the laughter? Well, it’s pretty funny to read what I wrote while drugged up on pain medication:
March 27, 2014 Good news: learned how to do spins in ice skating lessons last night. Bad news: fell and broke my wrist during free skate with my daughter. Am now in splint and counting minutes to next V. Go to ortho on Monday for cast. Got great people taking care of me and kids.
March 28, 2014 I have decided I am done with capital letters unless autocorrect helps me out.
March 28, 2014 Television has become really confusing. Couldn’t follow plot of modern family or new girl. Not sure my comprehension skills are all there at the moment.
March 30, 2014 I don’t know how this is possible, but my spelling is getting worse. either I’m having decreased blood flow to my brain, or my left hand was a lot smarter than I thought!
And the pictures:
I’ve got a YA book coming out next year, a weekly newspaper column, and a Facebook Page called The YA Gal that is a whole lot of fun. A couple of weeks ago I joined forces with fifteen other 2016 authors and founded Sixteen To Read which is tremendously exciting.
Then there’s all the “mom stuff.” I volunteer in two classrooms, lead my daughter’s Daisy troop, and am treasurer of a parent group similar to the PTA.
Most days I feel like this:
But in my heart, I want to be like this:
Please Universe, don’t teach me another lesson. I know I need to slow down! It’s just really hard to figure out how…
Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.
Give the kids three choices to write about.
- How to brush your teeth.
- How to plant a seed.
- How to make a sandwich.
Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.
Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.
In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.
See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!
Dear Teaching My Baby to Read followers,
I’ve waited years to write this post. Today, Publishers Marketplace announced my two book deal with Georgia McBride at Month9Books. BLANK SLATE will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The sequel will come out in 2017.
Here’s the link to my brand new author page at Month9Books: http://month9booksblog.com/authors/jennifer-bardsley/, my new Facebook page: The YA Gal, and my new homepage: http://jenniferbardsley.net.
I’ve got so many people to thank that my acknowledgement page will be a mile long. But none of this would be possible without the incredible dedication of my literary agent, Liza Fleissig, of the Liza Royce Agency.
I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 11 years old.
On this blog I’ve talked about the importance of empowering our kids to become resilient. This is a lesson I hope to teach my own children by example. Three blogs, five manuscripts, 100+ “I Brake for Moms” columns in The Everett Daily Herald; I’ve put in 10,000 hours of writing and my family knows what this dream has cost.
But it’s worth it.
In 2016 there will be an author box in our family library with my name on it.
I hope when 2016 comes, you’re still with me. I hope you love my book and write glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I hope you tweet about it to all your friends!
In the meantime, my mission for Teaching My Baby to Read remains unchanged. My dream is to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education. Resiliency will make it happen.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your readership.
Just Sayin’: Write ‘Em, Draw ‘Em, Hide ‘Em in Your Heart by Carol McAdams Moore is a 90 day devotional for modern girls. The format is simple; for each entry there’s a Bible verse and one or two opportunities to respond through doodles, artwork or writing. A plus for me as a United Methodist is there is very little editorializing of the verses. This book doesn’t push one particular religious dogma down kids’ throats.
I was however, a little bid disappointed in some of the verses Moore chose to include. Some of them seemed taken out of context. Do I really need to explain the woman at the well to my young daughter? I don’t know; that’s probably a personal parenting choice. But still, nothing was too “out there” for my five-year-old.
I realize that my daughter is probably younger than the target audience for this book, but she LOVES it. She is very committed to finishing every last page. Part of her enthusiasm comes from watching her brother get Moore’s devotional for boys, Dare U 2 Open This Book: Draw It, Write It, Dare 2 Live It, first.
All in all, I’m impressed with both books. You can find my review for Dare U 2 Open This Book: Draw It, Write It, Dare 2 Live It here.
P.S. I received a free copy of both books from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinion and review.
“My kid writes upside down and backward!” Should you freak out?
Answer: Is your child mid third grade or older? Then yes, be concerned and look into it. Younger than third grade? Don’t sweat it.
My daughter is a classic emergent writer. All of the pictures in this blog post come from the past two weeks. I didn’t help her spell or write anything. The words come from her 5 year-old brain.
Here’s a picture of reverse writing, starting from the bottom and working it’s way up:
In this card to her uncle, she experiments with punctuation:
Here she starts writing in the middle of the page, but runs out of room for [with me] so she adds “wis me” at the top.
Here she starts at the top left–yay!– but then decides to go right to left again.
I wasn’t present when she wrote this one so I’m not 100% sure what it says. It looks like another bottom to top piece.
I’m a certificated, experienced K-4 teacher, and I’m telling you, this is what normal looks like for four and five year olds. So if your child is writing like this too, don’t freak out and think your child has a learning disability.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to help kids move past this stage. The #1 tip is provide lots of opportunities to write. It’s also helpful to focus on three types of writing:
- Free writing (pictured above)
- Scaffold writing (with dot letters or tracing)
- Handwriting practice (worksheets that only focus on proper letter formation)
And Remember! By winter of third grade, if your child is still doing reversed or backwards letters, that is the time to seek evaluation for a possible learning disability. I’ve consulted dozens of teachers on this, and that is the general consensus. By the end of third grade, backwards letters should be gone.
I love-love-LOVE this new handwriting paper I’m trying out with my five-year-old daughter Jenna. It’s called Smart Start K-1 Story Paper and I bought it from Amazon.
What makes this paper genius is the colored lines. The blue line at the top is the sky, the green line on the bottom is the ground, and the dotted red line is the fence. While your child is writing you say “Start at the Sky. Pull down to the ground. Lower case letters like the fence.”
Learning how big to make each letter is really complex. At school, teachers need to use the cheapest paper available. But at home I can afford to buy a higher quality paper to make life easier for my child. Enough practice with me in the afternoon, and Jenna will remember “Start at the Sky. Pull down to the ground. Lower case letters like the fence,” when she’s working at school.
My goal is for Jenna to work on handwriting 20 minutes a week. For more ideas for Afterschooling a half-day Kindergartener, please click here. For more ideas about handwriting, check out my Pinterst board.
What a happy delight! Seattle based Sasquatch Books sent me two beautiful journals for children: The Next 1000 Days: A Journal of Ages Two to Six by Nikki McClure and This Is Me: A Girl’s Journal by Julie Metzger. I was really impressed by each book, both as a parent and a former teacher.
The Next 1000 Days is full of pictures, captions and blank space. There are about 23 pages for each age. When children are younger, parents can document favorite foods, books read and new words and capabilities. Once kids get older, they can use newfound literacy skills to take ownership of the remaining pages and to read what Mom or Dad has already written.
Capturing a child’s emerging handwriting is so much fun and The Next 1000 Days is a great way to do it. There are also special places for self portraits.
This Is Me: A Girl’s Journal is for preteens and up. It has a wide variety of prompts too. This is excellent because blank pages can be really intimidating, especially to emergent writers. Some kids do fine with traditional diaries, but often times a question, checklist, or space to draw a picture can really garner a better response. This journal has the perfect balance between open-ended and closed-ended responses. It is also colorful and pretty; important attributes for a girl audience.
Unlike a lot of diaries you see for kids these days–diaries based on popular characters– there’s nothing gimmicky about This Is Me: A Girl’s Journal and it won’t turn your children into products of advertising. I definitely appreciate that.
My niece is heading off to Girl Scout Camp next week and I’m going to mail This Is Me off to her just in time. This is a journal begging for a young girl’s heart!
I’m headed off to the classroom today to teach 100 first and second graders what is supposed to be a fun writing lesson. (Fingers crossed!)
Here’s my plan:
Learning Objectives: This lesson is focused on prewriting and drafting. My goal is for there to be so much scaffolding that it’s easy for kids to get their initial ideas on paper.
How I’m going to activate prior knowledge: I’ll start with a brief (2 minute) discussion on what dinner is like at their houses. There’ll be lots of opportunity to complain about their moms’ cooking!
Materials: “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “A Pizza the Size of a Sun” by Jack Prelutsky, and Who wants to eat princesses, anyway? by yours truly. Also, paper plates, markers, pencils, papers and two cans of soup for props.
The Plan: I’ll show the kids my plate chart, and perhaps draw a giant one on the board. Then I’ll read small experts from each piece of writing; a chapter book, a poem, and a newspaper column. After each reading, I’ll show how that gets organized on the plates.
From “Farmer Boy”: From the chapter “Winter Evening”, the two paragraph description starting with “Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans”.
From “A Pizza the Size of a Sun”: The poem “My mother makes me chicken”.
From “Who wants to eat princess, anyway?”: Just a few lines about eating Cinderella vs. eating Agent P.
After the readings: The body of the lesson will be kids getting the plates and organizing their own ideas. This is called prewriting, and I’ll walk around the room and help. After about 10-15 minutes of prewriting, we’ll move on to drafting. I’ll pass out some notebook paper and let them start writing. If we have time, kids will share what they have written during the last five minutes of the lesson.
What about the 5 Step Writing Process?: That would be prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. I won’t have time to get to all of that in one lesson! 😦 But this will be a good start.