Bumper Stickers tell a simple personal truth. A truth-telling bumper sticker might be “We Brake for Barbecue.” I’m not sure there really is such a bumper sticker, but I know that over the years we have Braked for Barbecue many times on our way up I-95 to Washington: at the Smokey Pig in Ashland; or at Allman’s in Fredericksburg; or at Dixie Bones in Woodbridge. Sometimes we don’t even make it out of Richmond—we stop at Buzz and Ned’s on the Boulevard before we get on the road.
“We Brake for Sentences.” That would be a good truth telling bumper sticker on the classroom door of Room 204. When I am reading aloud, I often brake and marvel aloud at the way an author crafts a sentence. Children bring books to me to show me a sentence that makes them brake. We love to talk about what the author is doing. We sometimes give the technique a name. It is fun and it makes us playful writing insiders together.
The day came when I had admired the work of other Barbecue cooks long enough. I could associate region with technique and taste with place. It was time to find my own recipe; it was time to create an homage to the Barbecue we’ve braked for along the way.
It’s like that for my students. Their own style and voice continue to emerge. I hear the voices of parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends mingled with the voices of authors we have loved. It’s all in the sauce — their sauce — each child’s unique blend.
And now it is Spring Break. The story unfolds before our eyes: cherry blossoms and daffodils and dogwood and tulips and irises are blooming all over Richmond. If you leave town, it will only be more glorious when you come back. You’ll see a story unfold wherever you are. It will be in the tuning up of instruments or in the crack of a bat. It will be in the eyes of zoo animals or in the stroke of a paint brush. What will inspire you to brake?