What’s On Your Backpack?

By Ellen Rothberg

Backpacks are icons of personalities. One would never consider carrying a backpack emblazoned with a picture or caricature of something or someone they were not connected to in some shape or form. The advent of the backpack is a real nineties phenomenon, one that obviously earned tons of money for an industry previously employed by Colorado hikers. Have you ever thought about what we carried our books around in before the big backpack bang? I had a red rubber book band. It had two metal doohickey things on the ends that sort of connected to each other and tried to keep the books sort of together, but didn’t actually work well in the New York winters. It didn’t help that I had a pretty long walk to and from school in those cold winter months either because the red rubber band invariably froze and disintegrated on the long, snow-laden treks home. This musing is not, however, actually about my school experience or how I managed those miles and miles of walking in the snow . . . it is about the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the apparatus chosen to, well, lighten the load that students have to bear.

Back in the nineties, my children were introduced to backpacks depicting the Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake. There might have been a Batman one school year and I think we might have done Barbie once. There were Nike bags when in middle school and cartoon characters were no longer cool. We had a Jansport era in high school, I think. I can visualize the many backpacks, but there are no photos of them. I don’t think that we record those items the way we do Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters. If I were to ask my son and daughter to name their favorite backpack, I know they would give me that look. The one that says, “Oh, she’s writing something about us” or “Oh, she’s about to remind us of the trials of growing up in an apartment with only one bathroom”. This musing is not, however, actually about my children’s school experience or how their backpacks defined or didn’t define their school success, popularity or ability to roll their eyes at things their mother says. . . it is bout the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the heavy-duty canvas surrounding their load of books.

Now tht I have a grandchild, I know that the backpack phenomenon is coming full circle. Will students really contiune to need backpacks? After all, one only needs to have a small tablet computer, right? Do kids really need a whole backpack just to carry their electronic device to school? The answer is a resounding YES! The backpack is here to stay. My precious granddaughter, age 4 1/2 has three current backpacks. The first was purchased at her birth and has the beautifully embroidered words “Aggie Class of 2033” underneath her name (courtesy of her Texas A & M parents). The second one came from Pottery Barn Kids and also has her name embroidered on it (a very Twenty-First Century thing). The third one and her favorite, was purchased at Walmart and has the cartoon character Sofia the First beautifully screen printed across it. It ranks up there with the Strawberry Shortcake and Transformer ones. This musing is not, however, actually about my granddaughter’s school experience or how the more things change the more they stay the same. . . it is about how each generation is cherished by the ones that came before and how, when you get right down to it, we will always be carrying something to school in something that is popular at the moment. Oh, and that we love grandchildren!

And . . .speaking about books, Come out and Celebrate Local Authors at the Maud Marks Library, 1815 Westgreen Blvd., Katy, Texas on Saturday, October 24, 2015 fom 12:30 PM — 5:00 PM. Mingle with local authors of children’s and adult books. Books can be purchased and autographed. The library will also host presenters reading excerpts from a variety of genres. Attendees are eligible for door prizes! Come in costume for a bonus door prize ticket!

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I NEED THAT CHERRY SCENTED HIGHLIGHTER!

by Ellen Leventhal

 

BackTo-School-Kids-At-Desk-Lead-In[1]

I admit it. I’m a Back to School geek. I kind of get into all the Back to School hoopla. The ads, the sales, all of it. It may be the middle of August and 100 degrees, but it’s still Back to School Season.

Back to School time is like New Year’s. The beginning of the school year is filled with possibilities. But to be honest, that’s not the reason I like this season. The real reason lies at Office Max and teacher supply stores. My name is Ellen, and I am a school supply junkie. I started young. I began hoarding pens and pencils in elementary school. My habit got worse as I went through school. By the time I was a student teacher, I found that I couldn’t be trusted with loose supplies. They ended up in my possession, and I could never remember how they got there. As I reflect, I now wonder if I went into education just for the supplies.

At first,  pencils and blue ball point pens were my supplies of choice. When that didn’t do it for me anymore, I moved up to bigger things. Gel pens and highlighters. I couldn’t resist the colors. Now I’ve added sticky notes. Not just the yellow kind. Oh no, I have sticky notes in every color. And pens to match each note.

I’ve always had a problem. When I think back on my life, I realize what an impact the school supply aisle had on me. Cue the dreamlike music…

Elementary School: My feet really hurt in these new shoes, but I get to sharpen all those yellow number two pencils. I wonder if the president of Crayola got my fan letter. A crayon sharpener right in the box! Brilliant!

Junior High: I hope that boy will notice me. I’m sure he likes my brand new pink eraser and Beatles notebook. And those girls must be pretty jealous of my Herman’s Hermits’ pencils and note pads.

High School: I love my blue notebook and college lined paper. The separators with multi-colored tabs are the best money can buy. I think that boy is pretty impressed too. He looked at me when I clicked my Bic. I think I’ll write his name on my notebook.

College: This may be the real thing. We go school supply shopping together. We spend hours at the store enabling each other and then go back to the dorm and look at our stash. Sigh.

Post College: I’m the teacher now, and that boy is still shopping with me. He’s kicked his habit, but he still enables me. Do I really need two attendance books and highlighters of every color? Sure. You just never know. Oh, and look at those stamps I need!

Fast forward many years to a recent conversation.

Me: Honey, my house flooded, so I won’t be able to tutor you there for a while.

Student: Did all our markers and highlighters get ruined?

Me: Yes.

We both wept just a little.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year filled with happiness, success, and cherry scented highlighters.

Unicorns, Glitter, and Green Neon Marker

By Ellen Leventhal

I’ve had better summers. My house flooded, I broke two teeth, and I gained five pounds. Did I mention my house flooded? I watched parts of my life, including manuscript upon manuscript, float away. In the aftermath, I found soaked stories and putrid smelling poems. Ideas scribbled in journals were illegible, and water oozed out of notebooks and folders. Along with all of this, my creativity seems to have drowned too.  I have to assume that it will resurface at some point, but for now, I’m focusing on the creativity of seven and eight year olds.

Every year, teaching at the Writers in the Schools/ Rice Literacy and Culture Creative Writing Camp is the highlight of my summer. This year it saved my sanity. I usually teach older kids, but this time I was assigned seven and eight year olds. I was a bit concerned about working with such young kiddos, but there are definitely some advantages to working with kids this age. Here are a few.

  1. They laugh at my jokes and don’t roll their eyes.
  2. They are silly. And they don’t care.
  3. They ask questions like, “Why does glitter glitter?”
  4. They write about unicorns and kidnappers all in the same story.
  5. They love everything they write and think that “wings” and “fins” rhyme.
  6. They know that writing is better when it’s done in neon green, and the margins are decorated with pink hearts.
  7. They totally get that if you sing while you write, you can conquer the world.
  8. They know that writing with a friend is the best. Especially when you giggle and illustrate your work.
  9. They fall over laughing when they read their work aloud.
  10. They smile. A lot. And cry. Just sometimes.

These children’s creativity bubbles to the top. It hasn’t been buried under concerns about state mandated tests and grades. They are filled with wonder, and they are carefree. They make me smile. So when I am with them, just for a few hours,  I am not worried about FEMA, insurance, and the fact that I need to adjust to a new normal.  I just take a neon green marker and write a story about unicorns that save the earth. And of course, I decorate the margins with pink hearts.