Thursday, November 1, 2012

Turning to stone is hard work!

Kristin Russo, an English teacher and writer, reads TENDING TO GRACE to her high school classes each year. She says the novel is an English teacher's dream. This year she asked if her Scituate, RI, students could write to me and discuss the book.

I said, "Sure!"

Here's what they had to say:

From Ed: I found your figurative language to be rather extraordinary, and it really hooked me in. "Only God’s perfect” foreshadows that mistakes will be made in the future. I love the way you show instead of tell, it makes the book more flowing and rhythmic. Your writing is very smooth and just takes me for a ride.

From Robert: In the beginning of the book you said that Cornelia curls up into a ball and pushes her feelings back into her toes and turns to stone. I really got the impression that she was forcing herself not to say anything and to show no emotion, like a stone.

From Abbie: When you wrote “They’re dandelions. They’re sending off their seeds, becomin’ something new. This is a lucky day, Cornelia.” To me this symbolizes Cornelia becoming something new.

Alisha wrote: I love it when she talks metaphorically about turning into a shadow. I can see her doing that. "I am a shadow. I burrow deeper within myself and pray that if the other kids don't see me, they won't talk to me. I pretend I am the desk, the book, the floor, and we all expect less of me each day. I try not to lose myself, but the shame of always looking at my feet beats me deeper and deeper into the earth, planting me as surely as my mother planted tulip bulbs one summer, face down." I adore the detail. I can see a woman planting tulips face down. I can see a girl looking at her feet.

From Lindsay: Thank you for using the carrots to describe how Cornelia feels. It helped me to understand that Cornelia feels like her mom doesn’t want her anymore. Cornelia is all upset when Agatha pulls the baby carrots out of the ground and throws them to the side. Then Cornelia sits there and replants them, hoping they will grow.

From Troy: I love how you used the metaphor, “Turning to stone is hard work.” That really shows me how Cornelia is acting to her family, and it helped me understand more about her mom. Also, Cornelia’s sock collection is really the only thing that Cornelia has. She has purple socks, Christmas socks, wool socks, and homemade socks. Every sock you could imagine...but with one sock missing, the pair is worthless. It's the same with family....

From Sydney: I LOVED how Agatha was planting the carrots and she had a pile of the throwaway carrots and Cornelia said, "I look at her throwaways and see myself." I thought that was super-creative and hinted about how Cornelia feels about her mom just dumping her.

And Gabby agreed: “I really like the way you used Cornelia ripping all the baby carrots out of the ground and she puts them all in a big pile and calls them the throwaways because that's what she feels like. We know Cornelia feels like this because her mom and her boyfriend just drop her off at her aunt's house, who she's never even met ...

From Taylor: Your use of figurative language helped me understand how Cornelia and Agatha's thoughts, feelings, and emotions change and/or stay the same throughout the book.

From Alexandria: “This is my old girl Esther,” is about Agatha's outhouse. I think you are trying to show that Agatha is a very lonesome person and she names non-human objects to make it seem like she has other people or company around her.

From Andrew: "A house with clapboards looser than old skin" foreshadows that Agatha's house is a dump.

From Jessica: I want to know if Cornelia ever becomes more comfortable with herself and if she is able to believe that other people are there for her. My honest opinion is that if she can't accept herself, she’ll never believe anyone else can.

From Maria: The way you describe Cornelia's life had such on impact on me. It feels as if Cornelia is a real girl stuck living a life like this. What I never expected was that a teacher would tell her that she should be in an honor's class.

Several students discussed the turning to stone metaphor, including Brendan, Ryan, and Andrew. Shea said that the stone metaphor helped show what Cornelia has to do in order to keep her anger inside. "This shows that Cornelia doesn't want the attention that she could be getting ..." Caitlyn said, "The way you use figurative language and imagery to describe the characters is why I find this book so interesting." Holly said, "The style of writing in this book is very enrapturing, it keeps me wondering what will happen next."

Jamie liked the part where Cornelia doesn't like Yodels: "That really showed that her taste buds had grown up, and that she had grown up a little quickly." Jenna liked the way the barn was described with "the dry smell of crushed hay." Kyra said that when Cornelia asks Agatha, “Why d-d-d-don't we leave them where they are?” it helped her to see that you can point something out to your audience, without directly telling them.

Hannah said: While I was reading the book I really wanted to know that Cornelia would be okay and that she would go to Vegas and have a wonderful life. I held onto that. Then I realized that Agatha and Cornelia can probably fix each other.

And boy did I love what Robert had to say: "I can already tell that this is going to be a great book that will somehow change the way I look at things."

Tomorrow I will blog about what it is like to teach TENDING TO GRACE, from their teacher's perspective.

Thanks everybody!