Being part of the writing process
Below is the journal that my son wrote about his “trip” out to California. There were certain pieces of information he was asked to include (why he chose the particular route, landmarks along the way, distance and time spent traveling, etc) but truly, the storyline, characters, and ideas are all his.
I partnered with him in the typing, in keeping him on track in the storyline, and in encouraging him to find colorful words. (There were times that I wanted to “encourage” him to change some of his wording, but I kept reminding myself that this was a child’s journal and I wanted it to be authentically HIS voice.) ? So, he would freewrite a particular day’s entry, and then we would flesh it out together as I typed what he decided on. We had a great time together in the process, and I loved watching him enjoy the challenge of it all.
What you have written and spoken about partnering with our kids in writing really helped me to feel comfortable being a part of the process without feeling like I was writing the piece for him. I have learned through you how to guide without intruding on his creativity. If I made a suggestion, I always reminded him that HE was the author, so it was HIS choice if he took it or not. Sometimes he liked an idea and sometimes he stuck to his own. It was magnificent!
February 15, 1850-
Wow! It had been a sad and exciting day! The past couple weeks have been filled with packing, and working extra hard with my dad. He is a carpenter and has been trying to get as many buildings up as possible before we leave. It has been really hard, especially because the snow in Boston this time of year has slowed our work down. But my dad knew it was important to make the extra money to save for our trip. It cost us $200 each for our tickets!
My mom has been helping me pack. She keeps telling us how brave we are to go on this trip without anyone else we know. I am thankful for her encouragement, but she is also making me feel more nervous about going. I am afraid that I will get lonely.
But, I am excited to head to the gold fields with my dad! We are going by ship around the continent of South America! We chose the Cape Horn route because we heard that it was cheaper and faster than going by the overland route. Anyway, today when I woke up, I was nervous, yet excited. I felt like I had butterflies in my stomach. I quickly ate my porridge, grabbed my bags, and headed toward the ship with my family. At the dock, we paid our fare and got two tickets. When I was about to walk up the ramp onto the ship, I turned back to my mom and hugged her. She gave me one final, “Oh! How brave you are!” Then I said goodbye to my sisters. After that, I boarded the ship with my dad.
Being as I have never been on a ship before, I was curious to know what our room would be like and who we would be sharing our room with. It was larger than I had expected. Our two cabin mates were already there: a judge and his son, who is about my age of ten years. We talked with them for a little while and then wandered off to go explore the ship. The ship blew its whistle to signal our departure and immediately, I started getting woozy and nauseous. But, the gold fever overtook the yucky feeling, and my adventurous self came out again.
Tonight at dinner, we sat next to our roommates. We talked about what we have been doing for the past week, and it turns out that the judge, John, has a wife and only the one son, James. The cook made a wonderful meal for us! I loved it! I really can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow!
Today I am starting to feel sea sick again. It has come and gone ever since we departed. We spent the past month talking and going fishing off the side of the boat with our cabin mates. Sometimes we would read a book, play card games, and tell jokes. My favorite thing to do is to sit alone dreaming of what it will be like in CA, and wondering what my mom and sisters are doing at home.
I am kind of getting tired of the meals that the ship’s cook makes. We eat a lot of fish and potatoes as well as hard tack, pork, beans, and rice. For dessert sometimes we have plum pudding. It’s not bad food, but I am just getting tired of it.
I woke up to shouts of joy today because of the cry “Land, ho!!” coming from the mast. The passengers were running to the sides of the boat to see the land because we have been in the middle of the ocean for two months! There it was! Rio!!
Mountains, mountains everywhere! Reaching to the sky with their green heads, brown clothes, and white sandy feet. I saw a huge beach line with the white foam rushing up against the land and the sparkly blue water so calm and peaceful. I pushed through the people and peeked through the rails. Men were shouting and talking excitedly.
“Hey, I can’t see!”
“Look at those beautiful mountains!”
“Do you see those nifty villas with their orange groves?”
“What is that glittering?”
“That’s a cross!”
“Oh, it must be a convent!”
And on and on and on it went.
When we docked, we found John and James and went out with them to explore. James and I stumbled around at first trying to get our land legs back. We saw fountains where slaves got water to carry back on their heads. We talked with a slave girl named Emily. All the buildings in the town were half finished, which made my dad want to complete them. We wandered through a marketplace on the street that was filled with people and fruits and homemade dolls. Dogs sniffed around. Buyers bargained with vendors.
Our dads bought two bananas each and we gobbled them up immediately! I had never tasted a banana like this before! I said to my dad, “These bananas are really sweet!” He answered, “Just like your mother.”
Later, on our way back to the ship I was able to see another vessel from home. Can you believe that?!
Today we passed Cape Horn. I thought that we would be in high spirits. But this morning when my dreams dripped away and I sat up, my dad was still sleeping. John and James were already gone, so I went up to the top deck of the ship. Everyone was gathered at the side of the ship.
“Look!” James said. So I pushed my way through the men, their eyes still half-closed. What I saw was Cape Horn, with its long mountain range dressed from head to toe in her frosty frock. Everyone meandered back down below deck to play cards or listen to music or attend the chapel service. As for me, I wandered back to bed, arms shivering and all.
Later, two storms passed by, back to back, each lasting two hours. The good news is that after they passed, I was able to see a double rainbow! It was like the sky was making up for all of its bad deeds! By the middle of the afternoon, it was sunny enough for James and I to go catch some fish. We caught five! While we were out there, we saw a shark and a shoal of blackfish! And I forgot to write down that last week when we were by the coast of Argentina, I saw a huge penguin!
Today I woke up as happy as a dog with a bone! I went upstairs and saw a crowd of people in the dining hall. So I went over next to my dad, who was up before me, and immediately, they all yelled, “Happy Birthday!” and started singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to me. For today was my birthday! Eleven years old! I am sad that I can’t see my mom and sisters on my birthday. I’ve been away for what feels like forever, and I miss them. But I’m glad that I can have friends like James and his dad on the ship with me for my birthday. I am also glad that my dad is with me.
We are going to get rich with gold. I think the gold fields are going to be small with lots and lots of miners. I want to go pan and mine for gold, and if we find enough of it, we can live there with my family and friends from home.
While I was thinking of this, we all went up to the top of the boat. Men were shouting, guns were booming, and birds were getting killed. Then….SPLASH!! A whale spouted! The men stopped the bird shooting and went over to the side of the ship. Hundreds of whales! And they were all around the ship!
Later that night, I saw my dad shaving for the first time since we departed from Boston!
“Are we going to be there soon?” I asked my dad.
“Yep. Happy birthday, Son.”
Well, after 5 ½ months and over 15,000 miles, we made it to San Francisco! This morning, my dad was smiling at me when I woke up. We got dressed and headed up to breakfast. Lo and behold, there was land!!! I looked at my dad and he was laughing at me.
“That’s not funny!!” I said jokingly. He hugged me.
We ate breakfast with all the people on the ship one last time. Even the captain came down! Then we disembarked.
In town, we bought our pans and a shovel. We checked in to a hotel and unpacked our things in our room. For some reason, he took me back to the harbor. There was the ship from home that we saw in Rio!! And guess what? My friend Sophia was on it with her family! My dad chuckled and smiled at me. He knew all along that their family was coming!
Later after they disembarked, Sophia’s family, my dad, John, James and I went out for dinner. The parents discussed it and decided that we would all go together to the mining fields. The five of us kids shouted for joy! My dreams are coming true!
And thus ends my tale of my electrifying adventure to the gold fields.
The video below is Judah’s project on Mission Santa Barbara (with his friend, Sophia). I really crack up every time I watch it because the whole thing is filled with their silly senses of humor and excellent ideas. My parents laughed because it was so much like the videos I would make with my friends for our school projects in the 80’s as my dad filmed us on his enormous camcorder! ? I hope you enjoy it!
Oh my goodness! Do they even have to do any more writing for the rest of the year?!?! The production values of that video are incredible! What an imaginative program and such a wonderful explanation of all they learned about Mission Santa Barbara.
And the diary—spot on. Totally gets the idea. These are both brilliant. You can hardly know how much they learned through these amazing experiences of writing. Far more than a dusty old report. I’m blown away. You’re doing it all right! —Julie