Illustrator Sofia deGraff-Ford, 13 for Me, Myself, and My Personality by Simon Gonzalez, 11. Published March/April 2006.
A note from William Rubel
I am back from Kenya! Wow! It is very difficult to explain what a totally different place I have been. Before I tell one story from my trip, about commissioning a house for $80, I'd like first to call your attention to the incredibly dynamic illustration of a roller coaster rider that my colleague, Jane Levi, has found for you, then remind you about a project I wrote about earlier in the Summer, and mention some Stone Soup news.
To the roller coaster! What a great picture! What an evocative image! The tousled hair! You feel the lead boy's feeling of excitement, the adrenaline rush that makes the roller coaster so addictive to some riders. As for me—I live in Santa Cruz, California, home to the Giant Dipper. It was built in 1924, making it one of the oldest roller coasters in the world, and one of the few remaining wooden roller coasters still in operation. Is it fun? Yes, it is. I won't say I go on it often, but I will say that the memory of the creaky climb up to the top of the Giant Dipper and then the rush of the whoosh down the steep slope stays with you. It is terrifying and exhilarating—just the feeling memorialized in Sofia deGraff-Ford's fabulous drawing published in Stone Soup twelve years ago, to illustrate Simon Gonzales’ evocative piece of short short fiction (below).
Just before leaving for Kenya I wrote to you about keeping a Summer journal. How many of you have? I know, fewer of us are keeping a journal than I have fingers on my right hand. Which includes me! I started out good and strong, made my first entry in the San Francisco airport, my heart full of good intentions. But then… However, I am delighted to say that there is one reader who has set all of us a good example: ten-year-old Abhi Sukhdial has sent us a couple of pages from his summer journal of his family trip to visit his grandparents in India. We will post his journal extract on our blog next week, so do look out for Abhi's great word-picture and drawings, and let it inspire your own efforts.
There is plenty of summer left for journalling! I'm going to get back to journal writing myself in a couple of weeks' time. For now, whatever your age, if you are reading this Newsletter, create something this weekend that memorializes this weekend—a photograph, a drawing, a poem, a story. Get that journal started. No excuses—just do it!
Over the next few weeks I will share a few photographs from my trip. Along with your journals, I'd like some of you to share with Stone Soup photographs from trips you have made this summer, too.
Stone Soup for Schools – Chromebooks and iPads
A couple of orders have just come in from schools subscribing to Stone Soup for Chromebook and iPads. This kind of full school subscription, that lets every student and teacher use Stone Soup on their device in school, is our bread and butter. This is the way we reach the greatest number of students, and it provides us with the income that lets us keep doing what we do through the Children's Art Foundation. So, we'd like to say a huge thank you to all the schools who subscribe to Stone Soup.
If you are a teacher or a parent at a school that doesn't yet have full access to Stone Soup, please lobby your school to subscribe to Stone Soup for Chromebooks and iPads, or to add Stone Soup to the list of resource options your Charter School offers to parents. It's easy to give the option of Stone Soup access to every student in your school. Schools subscriptions are on sale in our online store. And if you need any extra support from us to make it happen, just write to me by replying to this newsletter, or drop Sarah Ainsworth a line via firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is difficult explaining how different where I go in Kenya is from where many of Stone Soup's readers tend to live. This photo gives you a little bit of an idea. The woman on the left is called England. She is the sister of my friend Haile with whom I stay. The other three women are England's friends. They are all from the Samburu tribe. If you look at a map you may be able to find the town of Wamba which is about an hour-and-a-half's walk from where I stay by the Lengusaka River. Lengusaka is just North of the equator on a high plateau, so the days and nights are about equal in length, and it neither gets super hot nor super cold.
Together, England and her friends help people out by building houses. I was tired of sleeping in a tent and so I asked Halie whether it would be possible to build a small house so my daughter and I could sleep on a mattress up off the ground. Haile said, yes! No problem! My sister builds houses! So, for $80, England and her friends built me a small house out of branches and mud. The only tools they used were a machete for cutting the wood, a shovel for digging the clay and a bucket to carry the water for mixing the clay.
The house has two rooms, a bedroom and a kitchen/sitting room. It is small, but in much of the world people live in very small houses. You can see the house under construction just behind the women—the roof isn't on yet. The line of vertical sticks are the basis of the walls. Behind the house you see sand. That is the Lengusaka River, a seasonal river which in July, when this picture was taken, is dry. The trees overhead are home to a large monkey troupe. Yes, monkeys are mischievous, just like in storybooks. They enjoyed playing in the unfinished house and they swoop down out the trees to eat anything that you are not actively guarding. The monkeys in the trees are small, very cute, and, like us, hugely fond of bananas which you have to eat with great care lest you lose it to one of the monkeys. They are brilliant at tricking you into thinking they aren't watching and then seeming to appear out of nowhere—in a literal blink of the eye—to grab that half-eaten banana you so foolishly set down on the table for a fraction of a second.
Where we live, houses don't cost $80, they are rarely built by women, and they take more than 5 days to build. Our houses are designed to be permanent. But the Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists. They don't raise crops; they take care of goats, sheep, camels, and cows. Their settlements are not permanent so their houses are quick to build and easy to dismantle. When a community moves on they break their houses apart, saving the larger branches which they load onto donkeys to transport and use again when they reach where they want to relocate.
When I was a child I recall spending hours upon hours making what I called forts. These were structures made from sheets and blankets that I'd lay across tables and other furniture to create private places to play in. When I was older, I had a private place in our backyard where I would go to be alone, and sometimes where I'd go with friends. For another project this week I'd like you to write about a small house or structure or hiding place that either meant something to you when you were younger or that still means something to you now. It doesn't have to be long. You can keep it in the range of flash fiction—something that is a page, or two at most. Like your own small house, make the writing special. When you are done with the writing, please send it to Stone Soup for Emma to read.
Until next week
Read the latest updates on our blog
We'd like to call attention this week to the latest entry from Sarah Cymrot, Knitting Socks and Learning from Someone Younger than You. This is an exceptionally well written piece, a thought-provoking self-reflective essay on sibling relationships woven into a work that is ostensibly about knitting. And, Anastasia Brown reviews what sounds like a wonderfully entertaining show produced by Amazon as a Prime Original, Just Add Magic.
We'd also like to mention again Sabrina Guo's piece, The Refugee Children Crisis, from two weeks ago. While she doesn't use the word, Sabrina's essay is about the importance of empathy, the emotions you feel when you imagine yourself in another person's situation. Her commitment to this issue and her sensitive writing about it is inspiring, and we are excited to say that there will be another piece coming from her related to this (an interview), soon.
Yes! We are still looking for more book reviewers and bloggers. So, if you are age 13 or younger, click on the submit link and follow the instructions for people who want to blog. If you are an adult and would like to write for stonesoup.com about teaching kids writing, then please click on the submit link, too. We look forward to hearing from you!
From Stone Soup, March/April 2006
Me, Myself, and My Personality
By Simon Gonzalez, 11
Illustrated by Sofia deGraff-Ford, 13
“Can we please do it again? Please?” My mother looked at me, dumbfounded. “No way,”she replied. “When I saw you go upside down, I thought you were going to fall. You know how I feel about roller coasters.”
“Oh, Mom, you are so cautious. Stop being so worried.”
“Oh, all right,” my mother breathed.
Ahhhhhhh. How I loved that steel carriage; the rushing wind that made me feel like a bird, the racketing of the cars along the tracks, and my screams of excitement, all came together at once. Freedom, that’s what pushed out of me on that day. My wild-jungle-like outrageous personality that jumps out of me when I am done with school work. That personality that was fighting, fighting to get out. Finally, it burst through, in a frenzy. This was me when I lurched upside-down. This was me when I run. This was me when I play. Now on that coaster, I was feeling that combination all over again. My heart was beating wildly. This was me. This daring, screaming, and full-of-energy boy. That day in the amusement park was one of my few days to show who I really am.
When I walked back into school, a few weeks later, my serious mind fought back. My willingness to learn and my love for school fought back, my smarts and my skills, fought back, they teamed up, locked up my other personality, and threw away the key . . .
That is until next summer!
Ahhhhhhh. How I love . . .
Stone Soup's Advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.