Writing Up a Storm

by Sarah Venable

Wings Made of Words by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

The dog flew up in the tree! That’s what one child told our class. He didn’t imagine it, though. It’s something he actually saw when Tropical Storm Tomas struck.

Shortly before that near-disaster, I was engaged as a creative writing tutor in the WISE (Writers in Schools and Education) programme. For three months, I spent one day a week at a small primary school in the north of Barbados. If no-one had seen a flying dog, would it be possible to imagine one and explain it? Sometimes it takes a storm.

The children had varying abilities, but all seemed glad for the break from rote and routine. Getting them to create original work was the challenge. Where were the ignition and the clutch in this vehicle? Too often, it would grind to a fearful halt. Some children had difficulty with writing at the most basic level, producing only brief, confusing statements. One such child was so shy that she assumed the foetal position on the floor when I read her best work (two understandable sentences) aloud.

And then, I was fooled. One boy mapped out a fantastically complex story about a demonic character who piled up skulls on his island. At last! Then I discovered that it was a regurgitation of some video. On another occasion, one child, who has been labeled as "developmentally challenged," stood proudly to read his creation. A few sentences in, I noticed an uncanny resemblance to the story of Clifford, the big red dog. The evidence was at hand; the boy had simply copied it out. For some, the desire to get up in front of the class and tell something—anything—was so strong that everything else took a back seat. Could their desire to speak be converted?

What would ease them into their own ideas? Try just talking. I related what had happened to me after our session the previous week: trapped in a flood, my car stopped working. Rescued, I got home to find my dog dying, and was now without a car to take him to the vet. It was very bad day. Have you ever had one? What happened? Would you write about it? They did. What are your favourite things? Why? Put this to rhythm and we have a rap song about them. Can a mistake be converted to an inspiration? Yes! When a child misspelled mongoose as moongoose, a magical creature was born. True, they only drew pictures and explained them, but this dialog was a start towards something fresh.

Another thing that worked was to provide a basis and invite them to add to it. I gave an outlandish description of a giant, and asked them to imagine the difficulties that such a huge person might encounter. Lots of children voiced ideas. Then they began writing. Makena Jackman in Class 3 wrote:

The Mad Hatter by Paul McConnie

The Giant

Once upon a time there was a giant named Jack. He had to use a large scrubbing brush to brush his teeth, and he had to use a pencil to pick his teeth after he has done eat his Sunday food, which was eight plates of rice, pork meat, etc. 

He had problems travelling. When Jack walked, everyone screamed and ran. One day Jack got very angry. He screamed and stamped. Everybody in that city heard and was very afraid. When he stamped, the earth shook like there was an earthquake. Everyone hid with their family. 

Jack said he was sick and tired with people running from him and his problems. So he said, “Come people, I will not hurt you.” One little girl came to him, and from that day, everybody was his friend. 

Tried and true, the “colour poem” exercise produced some interesting images. Here is one:


from material by Shaniyah Husbands and Khadejah Hinds

Pink is the colour of roses
Made of strawberry milk.
Pink is so bright, so cool, and smooth,
It opens doors.
Pink is the colour of a pig,
Pretty houses, my bag, my bus stop,
My rubber, my dress,
And even my hair.
Pink is the song of a pink cat.
Pink is the colour of my world,
And all my love.

And then there was the Post Office of the Emotions. Fellow writer Linda Deane suggested this game, wherein everyone writes something concrete to represent one emotion on a strip of paper. Around the classroom, I taped up five folders labelled Post Office, one each for Sad, Mad/bad, Happy, Scared and Angry. Each child got one strip of paper per emotion. The paper was small, and the children were so eager to “post” their thoughts that they forgot to be frightened or in any way resistant. Afterwards, they clamoured to hear what had been written. Among other things, they learned that they were often not alone in feeling what they felt.

In a follow up session, we used the smart board to arrange their thoughts into something that could be called a poem. With what shall we begin? What ideas are similar? Can we choose the strongest and group them? What if we compress two ideas to say something surprising? How shall we end the poem? Democratic writing is not the easiest process, but it got the children engaged.

Here are some of the results.

Angry, by Class 3 Headley

Wunna does mek muh angry.
Wunna does mek me real sick.
Yuh does tes’ muh limits when yuh cuss muh,
When you brek muh windahs,
When yuh tek muh pencil,
Or muh sharpnah or muh money.
If y’all could, yuh would tek muh brain
Right out muh head!
An den, evry Sundah wunna does come round
Confusing muh wif church.

Happy, by Class 4 Hinds

The storm is over.
My house didn’t fall down,
Nor the trees uproot.
The electricity is on.
A happy smile today
Sweet smell, pretty flowers.
I love someone as my friend.
The blue sky is having a party.

As I said, sometimes it takes a storm—or a brainstorm.


About the Author...

Sarah Venable has been writing forever and still loves it. Her articles have been published in magazines including Skywritings, Maco, Select Barbados, Life in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, NY Press, and Ins & Outs of Barbados. She won bronze and gold medals in the 2010 NIFCA (National Independence Festival of Creative Arts) for her poetry, which has also appeared Poui, the Cave Hill literary annual. She currently teaches creative writing to graphic arts students at the Barbados Community College.

About the Illustrator...

Paul McConnie is five years old and from Barbados. He was a recent attendee of the ArtSplash Barbados art camp where he learned about pen and ink drawing and other media. He likes sports, drawing and playing the guitar. Paul attends St. Winnifred's School. 

About the Illustrator...

Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné is a poet and artist from Trinidad. Her poetry has previously been published in Bim: Arts for the 21st Century, The Caribbean Writer, Anthurium, Small Axe Literary Salon, Poui: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, Tongues of the Ocean, Canopic Jar, and St. Somewhere Journal. Her art has also been featured in St. Somewhere Journal.

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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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