Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Every quarter I do a little map-making activity with my reading class. When asked if he had any advice for young writers, Newbury award author Jack Gantos suggested the following:

The first tip is to get a good journal or small notebook—not too big as you want to be able to slip it into your back pocket. Then get a decent pen. Then I want you to draw a map of your house, or a map of your neighborhood, or map of your school and I want you to draw where everything funny, serious, insane, unexpected, heroic, lousy, triumphant and tragic took place. And then I want you to think about your life as the best material in the world, and each one of your small drawings where something interesting happened will be the opening material for your story.

And so we do. I share a map of the neighborhood where I lived from the ages of 4-10, and every student creates a map of someplace special to them. Having looked at over 200 maps, I've concluded that it's human nature to place your place in the middle of the action, and so every time we look at my map I make the joke that my house just happened to be at the center of the neighborhood, and probably the universe, too.

So I wasn't surprised today as I circulated through the room while the students worked to see that most of them had started in the center of their paper and worked outward, not surprised at all. That is until one student noticed my gaze. "What?" she asked.

"Nothing," I shrugged. "I like your map-- it's great!"

"Thanks!" she answered, "But did you see? My house really is the center of the neighborhood! All the other houses are around it."

"I did see that!" I told her. "What a coincidence!"

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