Read with us!

If you haven’t yet had a chance to join the BCTELA summer book club, don’t worry: you still can! The coordinated date has been extended to July 6th.
This year we are reading about theories of Place-Based education. As this topic is still emerging as a area of study, we will be reading four articles rather than a single text.
Let us know if you have questions. If you’re ready to read, please download the form and send it to the address you’ll find at the bottom. We will send you the articles. The first two will be discussed on Twitter on July 9th, and the second two on August 11th (see the Important Dates in the sidebar to the left).

Place-Making with Poetry

Posted by Celia Brogan

We are halfway through Poetry Month! In a change from last year, this April we are focusing on specifically BC literatures in support of the ABPBC’s Read Local BC campaign but luckily, when we look around poetry features prominently in the local cannon.

Today I would like to continue a thread started yesterday and share another iten created by the intersection of Local + Maps + Story.

A Verse Map of Vancouver  ed. George McWhirter (photographs by Derek Von Essen) is a beautiful volume of poetry and photographs whose aim is to celebrate and “represent the city’s places and principal features in poetry.” (from the introduction) It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but a snapshot of the city (so to speak: the actual photographs often are more portrait-like than snapshot.)

I love the idea of a verse map. Should you be inspired by this idea, the breadth of topography might vary: from covering a region or your entire town, to remaining on within the bounds of the school property.

Another book that could fall within the Local + Maps + Story thread, and is simultaneously smaller and larger in scope, is Gulf Islands Alphabet by Bronwyn Preece (Illustrated by Alex Walton). This picture book is a poetic description of the Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea, featuring an alphabetic sequence of alliterative passages accompanied by rich watercolour illustrations. It differs from A Verse Map of Vancouver in that it covers a wider area, but does so with a single text. It’s another option to inspire a way for students to engage with their geography through poetry.
(One drawback of this text for me is the minimal mention of First Nations’ current and historical use of the area as well as not enough information about marine life. These two aspects can serve as entry points for a critical reading.)

If you have a local resource of this sort for your town or area in BC, please share it in the comments!

Myth, Madness and a Tale of a Golden Spruce

posted by Celia Brogan

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed  by John Vaillant.

I love this book. The prose are poetic to the extent that I have used passages as prompts in an art class. The story opens with a mystery and proceeds to weave together strands of natural history, botany,  political and economic history, adventure, cultural history, and social activism.

Every time I try to book talk this title I fall down some sort of rabbit hole: I can’t quite seem to ever tighten my description of the book enough and end up rambling. I could tell you that it’s the life story of an culturally important and botanically unique tree, from germination to felling, but that’s only one piece. I could tell you that it’s the story of a man named Grant Hadwin, who worked in the BC lumber industry and who suffered from a (probable) mental illness, who made headlines with his actions when he took a stand against logging practices in BC. But the book is so much more than that! I could also say that this text provides a lyrical and informative portrayal of geologic history, the history of human culture and the history of economic development of natural resources in BC (which is pretty great since that last topic can at times be a little dry). But those threads don’t constitute the whole text either.  Look! It’s happening again!

Make this book one of your summer reads this year (but keep a set of post-its near by!)

Getting to know BC through Farm and Food Lit

posted by Celia Brogan

I realized a few years ago that I like what I have decided to call “Farm Literature.” There may be an industry name for this but I’m happy with mine. Farm Lit is, for me, a book about someone’s experience living on a farm–hobby or sustenance–or other intimate experience with the food we eat. That’s not a exhaustively vetted definition, and has been developed as I read books I holistically add to the category.

When a local angle is added to the farm/food aspect, I feel even more fulfilled.  Here are three titles from my bookshelf you may want to check out:

Home: tales of a heritage farm  by Anny Scoones is a collection of stories about the ten years she spent living on and restoring Glamorgan Farm.  The farm is on the Saanich Peninsula, on the South end of Vancouver Island and was threatened by development when Anny bought it.  She restored it and made a point of raising heritage breeds and growing heirloom vegetables, opening the workings of the farm to the community.

Wise Acres: Free-Range Reflections on the Rural Route  by Michael Kluckner. Kluckner, a notable watercolourist and Vancouver historian, moved with his wife from a house in Vancouver to a hobby farm in the Fraser Valley. The book is a darkly funny chronicle of the couple’s experience adjusting to farm life, including animal husbandry.

The third title I’ll share today is a bit different. You may have heard of The 100-Mile Diet: a year of local eating  by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The authors generated a huge amount of press when they spent a year eating only food that was grown or produced within 100 miles of their homes in Vancouver. Whereas the first two titles are a microcosm of BC food-life, sharing the day-to-day at the production end of the chain, The 100-Mile Diet shows us a broad view of the myriad aspects of the food industry in BC (and not even all of BC–how might this story differ if it was based in Smithers, or Kelowna, or Nelson?) from the consumer’s end.

Looking at local sources of food can be an inspiring way to get to know the land where we live. The people who feed us from our land are often unknown to us in the lower mainland. It’s not as anonymous in smaller communities, but time spent with our students on this topic can’t help but enrich their literacies of place.


Poetry Month: day 2

This week I’m introducing found poetry to two classes of 6/7s.

There are many variations of the rules of found poetry: whether the poet must only use words from the found text, or if she can add her own; whether the found words/phrases must be used in the order they appear in the original text, or if the poet has license to move them around; whether one original text is used, or many.  Its up to you what constraints you put in place.  I used this lesson from ReadWriteThink and this description from to focus my instructions to my students.

I gave each student a short text, or excerpt.  I chose six texts so each student at every table had a different one.  I asked them to read it through once, then go through it again and underline strong words and phrases, then I asked them to make a list of what they underlined on a piece of paper in the order the bits appear in the original.  That’s as far as we got in the first period.
In the second period they each read through their list and some chose to add additional bits from the original text as they felt necessary.   I told them about the variations in ‘rules’ and let them, as writers, make their own choices regarding the “purity” of the text and the order of lines.  They have started to construct their poems.

We’ll see what my young writers come up with…

I want them to consider the ‘story’ and voice in their original text as they construct something new.  I want their new piece to have a distinctly different voice–and possibly a different story–from the original.  The example by Reznikoff in the link above from is a great snapshot of what it could be.

The texts I chose were not simple texts.  In fact, they are not ones my 6/7s would have anywhere near their fingertips.  The texts I chose were:

You may notice some addition April-related thematic work here (cherry blossom festival, Earth Day).  I though I may as well get these NF texts to double as thematic exposure too 🙂

Happy writing!



Beyond the Book Club: Info-circles in Ancient Roman Studies by Jane MacMillan & Christy Rollo

Jane MacMillan is a lover of all things literacy and enjoys sharing her passion for literature both with her students at school and at home with her three children.

Christy Rollo knew she wanted to be a teacher from the moment she taught her brother how to tie his shoe laces. She is now having the ultimate teaching experience with her two young daughters.

In September of 2006, Christy, a Grade 6/7 teacher, approached Jane, a teacher-librarian with a question: How could Christy engage all the diverse learners in her class, including reluctant learners and English language learners? Jane was new to the school, and Christy had been teaching Gr. 6/7 for a number of years at the school. We were looking to collaborate with the library as a venue. Further, Christy wanted to help all of her learners connect with Social Studies in a meaningful way, even though it included reading a variety of texts, note-making, critical thinking and discussion, all areas in which reluctant and ESL learners may struggle due to gaps in skills and background knowledge. Looking to develop authentic conversation and create a greater depth in student engagement as part of a unit on Ancient Rome, we decided to try something new; that is, bring information books to the traditional “book club.” Thus, “info-circles” was born, proving to be not only a popular choice among our students, but an incredibly rewarding teaching experience for us, as well. (more…)

Writing Palettes: An Exercise in Writing, Seeing, and Breaking Writer’s Block

Harold, lives in 150 Mile House, BC. He won the Confederation Poetry Prize, 1991, and the Arc Poem of the Year Award and the Critic’s Desk Award for best long poetry review, 2003. He has been a five-time runner-up in the CBC/Tilden/ Saturday Night Literary Contest and won the BC & Yukon Community Newspapers Association Award for Best Arts and Culture Writing, 1996. His non-fiction book Tom Thomson’s Shack was shortlisted for two BC Book Prizes in 2000, and its sequel, The Wolves at Evelyn, will be published by Brindle & Glass in September, 2006.

“There is a lot of time up on the Cariboo to contemplate the colour of snow: six months out of every twelve, in fact. When you add it all up, it becomes half a lifetime. So, what colour is snow? Well, not white. The snow that falls in November, for example, comes down in the evening like ashes from a July forest fire. The next dawn, it lies on the ground the colour of plum blossoms. By February, after the snow has half-melted and refrozen countless times, the shadows of trees burn across it in tattoos of bright lilac, while between the shadows it is dogrose pink – something between Martha Stewart’s “Plaster Pink” and “Heirloom Rose.”

Mind you, when I ask students what colour snow is, the answer is most often “white.” I know what they mean. This confusion has a lot to do with the generalizing way in which language is most commonly used. Most of the time generalities serve our purposes well, allowing us to set shared terms and to encompass large amounts of information within easily transmissible categories. Where generalities don’t always work, however, is in creative writing. However useful generalities might be in conversation or in technical writing, they are not easily going to lead to symbolism or expressive metaphors. To create those, we need enough individual, sensory material to make sufficient connections with our physical, perceptual lives to allow for the opening of unexpected doorways. With those doorways open, there is little, if any, writer’s block; with them closed, every sentence can be a struggle. I know about that: when I first moved to the Cariboo, I was silenced completely.


I had just left the Similkameen Valley, where I had lived for thirty-five years, most of that spent working the land. In fact, I knew the land so intimately that I could walk out of my house, smell the cloudless, 35 degree early afternoon air, and tell you that a storm would come at 2 a.m., bringing two inches of rain. I wrote poems and my autobiography Out of the Interior out of that knowledge. Even so, it was not easily transferable: as soon as I moved to the Cariboo the world became generic overnight. I looked out over the lake in front of my new house and saw blue water, white clouds, green trees, brown tree trunks, and blue sky. It was ridiculous. I felt like I had entered a box of Crayola crayons.


My solution was to create palettes of colour. I set myself the task of sitting outside for a half hour every afternoon to create, in the manner of a watercolour painter, a palette of colours which I would be able to apply to my writing. Over the next three weeks, the reeds out on the point revealed their colours: old mason jars in my grandmother’s basement, Bibb lettuce, the yellow of a D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer, and even, on the edges where the glaring light burnt into the stalks, the crazy purples of zinnias or petunias and the red of my daughter’s rusty wagon. So it went for the whole landscape, until at the end of three weeks I was writing with great energy – no longer creating palettes but applying them. The result was a host of books: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and, most importantly of all, my latest book Winging Home: A Palette of Birds – the direct result of that experiment with colour. Over the course of writing the book – and living it – the palette did change, of course, from the use of colour to find my connections with the landscape to the use of the lives of birds to find connections between my family, my children, the land, and the social life of an entire community. The book became a celebration – one which would have been impossible without that exercise in creating a palette. The experience was so powerful that I wanted to share the process with others. In short, I wanted to give it away.


I got my chance this spring in Vernon. In early May I met a group of writers at the Alan Brooks Nature Centre in the grasslands overlooking town. During the following six hours, I shared with them a variety of colour palettes, from the rather stultifying soil colour profiles of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Brown, Light Brown, Dark Brown, Dark Yellow Brown, etc.), to the delightful shades of Revlon hair dyes (Honey Glaze, Cherry Cola, Buttered Toast) and the riotous extravagance of Martha Stewart (Hooked Rug, Green Tea, Lamb’s Ear) and explored the colours within the landscape of the nature centre grounds itself. Together, we moved through palettes of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet to describe the leaves, flowers, stones, and man-made objects that surrounded us. To focus our discoveries, I set three limitations: first, we would not use the generic names of colours, second, we would describe each colour in terms of a second obect, and third, we would find at least one example of each colour in every type of object. When it came to blue, for example, we found shades of blue within the gravel of the walkways (not an easy task!), in the doors of the Nature Centre storage shed, in the leaves of the saskatoon bushes, in the balsam root flowers, in the sky – everywhere, even where it seemed impossible. By the afternoon, we had a detailed palette for the landscape and were able to write about saskatoon bushes like silk blouses and garage doors like hydrangea flowers, and applied our palettes to our own writings. The results were stunning: generic descriptions of landscape written early in the day suddenly came alive. Instead of each sentence ending a thought and the next sentence coming in with a new one, each sentence suddenly provided doorways for memory, emotion, and gave linkages which bound paragraphs into common threads of thought. The writing now flowed with ease between description of natural and humanly created landscapes, including the growth of subdivisions and the entire history of land use in the valley. All the connections so important to the creation of poems, short stories, and essays had become immediately present. All that was left was to follow them.


A week later, I repeated the exercise with a group of writers in Kamloops. This time, we covered a far larger area, and with a far less homogenous group. The responses varied: some people responded to the walking itself, actively surging ahead to be the first to discover colours, while others hung behind more contemplatively and discovered colours that the more active members had missed. Still others initially bypassed words altogether and collected debris – posters, sandwich wrappers, etc. – blown off of the TRU campus by the wind, to illustrate colours they had noticed earlier in pine bark and lichen. We concluded the day with a thirty minute discussion while looking out over the Thompson Valley and the city of Kamloops. During the discussion, each participant explained what struck them most about the landscape, after which the entire group explored the possibilities of colour, shape, and motion which could create alternate palettes for teasing out the connections within their particular interests. One workshop participant, for instance, was drawn not to colour but to the traffic crossing a distant bridge; the palette we worked out communally for him was a palette of movement, not one of colour.

Right now, I am editing a book on the grasslands of the Chilcotin and am making plans to lead a group of writers there to experience that remarkable and little-known landscape. I’m confident that we will find a palette for it and that if we start with a palette of colour some people will quickly gravitate to palettes of stone, dust, grasses or wind, while others will move as deeply into colour as I did with Winging Home. I see no reason why a dozen other books will not come of the workshop, following the process which Winging Home documents in greater detail than these brief notes can do. As liberating as the grasslands are, to lead this workshop you don’t need them, of course, or even a lake, or trees, or even a cityscape. In a pinch, any school yard will serve just as well, or even a collection of natural and artificial objects within a classroom. All that are required to break the bounds of the ordinary are open eyes and a sense of discovery – which, of course, abound, even within our more generalized world.

Harold Rhenisch


You can find out more about
Winging Home from the publisher at
Winging Home: A Palette of Birds
Vital Statistics 1-897142-12-9 ($24.95 C | $22.95 US)
6″ x 9″ paperback, 288 pages.



Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: