A fiction writer chronicles his journey teaching Detroit children to use words to give flight to their imaginations.
For 20 years, Michigan-based novelist and short story writer Markus (The Fish and the Not Fish, 2014, etc.) has worked at the InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit as a writer in residence and educator. In this book, he presents a series of quirky, charming essays that capture some of the exchanges he had with the young inner-city students he taught. Markus begins with a piece that recalls how he transformed an episode of tardiness to class into an occasion to tell his students about the “twelve-legged purple octopus with the goldfish-orange top hat” that made him late. “I wanted to talk to the kids about the powers of the imagination, how words can get us to believe in the unbelievable,” he writes. In “Inside My Magic Pencil,” Markus shares some of the creative visions of his “young seers”—which included everything from a giant purple squid eating a cheeseburger to a rainbow eyeball—after they looked inside pencils that Markus made them believe were “magic.” As he writes in “Caged Brains,” his intent was to make the children “see what nobody else has seen.” With eyes trained to “see beyond the surface,” his students, most of whom struggled with poverty, could then begin to look for beauty in everything from broken glass to crushed violets. In “Nothing Beautiful,” the author recounts how an 8-year-old girl who believed that “nothing is beautiful” in the world later discovered it in herself after her mother told her that she was beautiful. Markus writes in spare yet poetic language that is simple enough to be read and understood by younger readers. However, adults—especially writers and teachers—willing to see with their hearts as well as their minds will also be rewarded for reading this unique book.
An inventive and inspiring memoir from an innovative educator.