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How to gracefully juggle writing time, work life, and family in acceptable measures? The balancing act is challenging for many writers. Most of the time, I feel lucky to have this balance in my life. I love my teaching, treasure my writing time, and my family anchors me to the here and now, to what is most important.

All the layers of technology clamor for attention, and I am less successful at keeping those plates spinning. I connect with friends and colleagues on Facebook, work and communicate with critique partners on e-mail... and then I dip in and out of Twitter, Instagram, blogging, and more... when I can!

So for now, I will be at peace with sporadic blogging, as I aim to finish and polish my middle-grade novel, Menders-- the time-travel novel I want to send out into the world! It was awarded the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship at the New England SCBWI conference two weeks ago, a wonderful bit of validation and encouragement that I needed. Wish me luck. And happy Spring!

cherry trees

Helping others along the way...

Writing is tough. Fun, thrilling at times, but tough. I sometimes focus too much on the edge of my learning, what it is I don't feel confident about. I forget to look back and think about how much I've learned, how far I've come.

I am just finishing up teaching a college course on critical writing, and it's been a huge professional challenge for me. I was leading nervous undergraduate students through feminist/gender perspective, gay/lesbian criticism, and ecocritical criticism. It was a tough climb for them, and I was working my hardest to make sure they felt supported. Behind the scenes, I wasn't always confident myself!

I got this feedback from one of my students today: "This course was the most challenging course I have taken. It has also been the most fulfilling. It is amazing how much my writing has improved in just eight weeks! I owe this to Mary and her guidance and expertise. Mary, you are an incredible educator with the patience of a saint and endless knowledge and optimism. You made it all seem easy and took us through this difficult course step-by-step."


Wow. It's a thrill to think that I have helped someone else make a leap in their writing, just as I stretch to make leaps in my own writing. I'm putting my teacher and writer hats on today, and celebrating!

notebook

For Young Children, in an Imperfect World

It is difficult to think about explaining our broken world to young children. Even if they are not explicitly aware of current events such as the Newtown tragedy, they are indeed aware on some level that their world is off kilter. Jean Gralley’s picture book THE MOON CAME DOWN ON MILK STREET is a perfect vehicle for talking to young children about how people can come together when things start to go wrong.

moonIn this picture book for the very young, something very bad happens:  the moon comes down out of the sky, lands on Milk Street, and breaks into pieces.  Gralley shows us how the “helpers” in the neighborhood all pitch in together to solve the problem.  With lyrical language and warmly-lit illustrations, the “helpers” (all children) come in a variety of guises—the Fire Chief, rescue workers, and even “the Helper Dogs, with short, soft hair.”  One amazing aspect of the book is that it shows  the helpers coming together to address a calamity with resolve and cooperation; despite the crisis, feelings of calm and competence infuse the story.  I also love that the cast of characters in the illustrations are a beautiful mix of races and genders. 

As an early childhood educator, I’m struck by the calming and empowering effects of this book—in the wake of any tragedy or unsettling event, it’s the perfect read-aloud.  As I tell all of my college students who are studying early childhood education, this book should be on the bookshelf of every early childhood classroom!

Buy THE MOON CAME DOWN ON MILK STREET for the child in your life, for the teacher in your life, or for yourself.

There is no perfect offering...

The world seems darker today, a different place than it was yesterday morning at this time. As a parent, as an educator who has spent my entire career caring for or thinking on behalf of young children, I woke up with two responses to yesterday’s tragedy: outrage and love.

I’m going to focus my outrage on my elected officials, and write to them today about the ease with which weapons can be purchased. I can see how a weapon that shoots that fast, with such deadly accuracy, might be used in a military or police context. But by the average person? No. A thousand times no.

Just as I was hearing about yesterday’s death toll, I was dropping off a toy at the Toys for Tots program in my community. That felt right. I’m going to do something similar today.

Find a way to do something for children today. Act locally. Donate a toy to Toys for Tots, or a few books to First Book. Write a check to an organization in your community that does something wonderful for children, whether it be the arts, sports, or mental health. Do you have a religious or civic organization with a teen group? Drop off some brownies or snack food to them today, to let them know the community values its youth. Volunteer to babysit for a friend’s children, so they can go out for an hour and shop, take a walk, or cry. Do something today that will demonstrate how precious our children are to us as a people.

candle 2
That’s my plan, to express the outrage and the love, on the last night of Hanukkah, as Christmas approaches.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

--Leonard Cohen

I get a deep feeling of connection when I visit the majestic New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, as I did a few weeks ago.


It has a lot to do with the lions, and the stonework.

Because in my mind and heart,  “lion” pretty much equals “library,” thanks to some very early imprinting. Growing up, my first library was the Jerome Park branch in the Bronx. It meant a peaceful sense of quiet, the smell of books, the sound of a page turning, the joy of a first library card. Of course, all New York public libraries have the same logo… thus my early, very positive attachment to the lion symbol!

Jerome pk lib. rootsIt wasn’t until later that I discovered some interesting facts about my great-grandfather John Battle, who emigrated from Ireland to NYC in the late 1800s. He was a stone cutter who lived on Amsterdam Avenue, and it turns out he worked on two big projects of his day, two of my favorite buildings… Grand Central Station and yes, the beautiful Public Library. His hands have touched that stonework, that building.

NYPL in 1915
Here is what the library looked like in 1915!

So I pat that stonework each time I visit, and I gaze at Patience and Fortitude, the lions majestically posing out front. I remind myself that I need both of those qualities as I keep writing, as I finish the middle-grade novel I’m working on, as I think about searching for an agent in the coming months.

NYPL lion

Here’s to good things in 2013!  Patience… and Fortitude.

It's Gay Pride month, and I'm thinking about how picture books, and adult role models, can affect young children's perceptions of sexual orientation and gender.
 
As teachers, we can make the ground fertile and plant some seeds--- but sometimes there’s some magic involved, too. In my early days as a kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, MA, I felt lucky to be working in a gay-positive environment. As a young lesbian teacher fresh out of grad school, I was able to create my own curriculum; our unit on Family, done in the fall, was my pride and joy. I had children in the class with straight parents, same-sex parents, single parents and foster parents. Each child made a photo collage of her/his family for our huge "Love Makes a Family" display. I put my collage up there, too, of me and my partner Bonnie (in the heady days of domestic partnership!). The array of photos and family configurations sparked some great questions and conversations.
 
And yet…one day just before dismissal time, we read a picture book in which a female character gives flowers to a male character. I'm pretty sure it was Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona Meets Her Match.  One of the boys in the class piped up, “Girls can’t give boys flowers!” We launched into a brief but spirited discussion of all the different ways people can give flowers to those they love... girls to boys, boys to girls, girls to girls, boys to boys, child to adult, etc. But the clock was ticking, and it was time to go.
 
We opened the door and parents came in to collect their children. Bonnie surprised me by meeting me at the classroom, a rare treat. Turns out that a friend, a master gardener, had just thrust a bunch of flowers into Bonnie’s hands, saying, “Here! These are for you and Mary!”

 
The children in my class crowed with joy. “Mary! Mary! Bonnie’s here, and she brought you flowers!” Yes. We can make the ground fertile and plant the seeds, but that day there was some magic in those flowers.

Thanks, Tomie.

Connecting the South Bronx and Cape Cod

Like I tell my writing students, putting words down on the page has a power all its own. It can help us to travel through time and leap across a map in a single bound. I was reminded of that this week in my very own town here on Cape Cod, in the Harwich Fire Department.

Back in September, I wrote about my father's work as a firefighter, and how he talked about it (or didn't talk about it) in the Cape Cod Times-- "Stories My Father Never Told Me." I wrote about how an action-packed photo that landed on the front page of the Daily News  many years ago captured my father in a dramatic firefighting moment, and how the picture was chosen as the cover photo of an iconic book about the New York Fire Department.

I got lots of great feedback after the article was published, including from my friend Glenn, a local firefighter here in Harwich. Glenn asked if I by any chance had an extra copy of the wonderful photo, which hangs framed in my dining room. I offered him a copy, and then he went ahead and did this:



The photo, my article in the Cape Cod Times, and a brief note I wrote to the Harwich Fire Department now hang in the lobby of the Harwich fire station. Glenn showed it to me  last night, and I had the chance marvel at it, and to meet a firefighter named Margaret, and the Chief, too!

I drove past today, on my way to the market to get milk, bread, and bananas. "Hi, Dad," I thought as I passed by. The act of putting words on paper has knitted together my past and present, linking the firefighting families of the South Bronx and Cape Cod in a wonderful way.

The voices of innocence and experience were our topics last night in my Time to Write class, where a lively group of writers gather in my home twice a month to deepen our writing skills.


Sue William Silverman's wonderful article "The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Non-Fiction" served a perfect jumping-off point. It has an excellent section on Memoir and the uses of the voice of the innocent (employed so well by Michael Patrick MacDonald in All Souls-- my favorite example!) and the voice of experience. The poem "Design"by Billy Collins provided a perfect example of the voice of experience in poetic form. The voice of the innocent relates events, but does not judge, process, or put them in much context. It is perfect for capturing complex events that may be swirling around a child. The voice of experience uses humor, reflection, metaphor, and more to relate events as well as their significance and connections.

Then we wrote, using first one voice, and then the other. As we read aloud, tears were shed, there were belly laughs, and we all learned so much from each other.

I love my brave band of writers and the risks we take in our writing!


Poems for Little Ones

In one of the early childhood courses I teach, the talk has turned to using poetry as part of a solid literacy curriculum.  My go-to book for early childhood teachers is Here's  a Little Poem, a wonderful anthology of poems for young children collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters. The illustrations by Polly Dunbar are vivid and eye-catching.




One of the reasons I love this book, aside from the outstanding array of poems and lovely pictures, is its size. It is the perfect book to use in a circle time; all the children will be able to see the poem and its accompanying illustration with no trouble at all. I found this photo on line of a young child enjoying the book; it will give you a good idea of its size.



This book would be a perfect gift for the young child in your life, no doubt. But it also makes a smashing gift for the teacher of young children in your life.  It will be used again and again, I guarantee!



The Writing Class is a go!

Four people have now signed up for Time to Write, the fun writing class I will be offering starting next week. That was the minimum number I had in mind in order to get some momentum and energy flowing in the group. We can still take on one or two others. Do you know someone who might be interested?

Time to Write: a relaxed yet invigorating writing group

Time to Write is a writing class for those of us who love good
writing, who think about writing, but who rarely make the time
for it. Time to Write is a relaxed, fun, eight-session writing
workshop for adults led by Mary Cronin in her home.

We will meet on two Tuesday evenings a month for four months.
Mary will provide writing prompts, instruction, and feedback,
and a supportive, fun environment in which to try out poetry,
free writes, and more. Mary will answer questions about various
forms of writing (poetry, essay, memoir, novels, and more). She
promises to fire up the fireplace, set out the candy dish, and
help you get the words flowing. Water and wine glasses
provided; bring your own beverage!

This is not a workshop for professional writers—it’s for those
who love to play with words.


Dates for Time to Write:
Tuesday evenings, 7-9 p.m.
February 7 and 21
March 6 and 20
April 10 and 24
May 8 and 22, 2012.
Cost: $120.

Contact Mary for more details: 774-722-1420,
or maryecronin @ yahoo.com

About Mary E. Cronin
Mary’s work has been published in anthologies, newspapers,
and educational journals. She has an MFA in Writing for
Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts,
and a BA in Journalism. Mary is a teacher, mom, writer, and
blogger. She doesn’t believe that being busy should get in the
way of fine writing or good friends.

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