Slice of Life Story Challenge March 20 -Speaking Personally About PERSONIFICATION

I remain eternally grateful to Ralph Fletcher for alerting me to a wonderful book about ten years when he recommended, Suzanna Marshak’s,  I Am The Ocean as an excellent text for teaching personification, or as Ralph referred to it –writing through a mask. Sadly, the book is no longer in print, so I greatly value the second hand copy I managed to obtain. The book has become a collector's item, attracting a hefty price.

Over the years I have used this book many times to teach personification. The voice of the ocean is so strong in this beautifully constructed text. Writing in the first person, the author allows the ocean to tell its unique story. The author uses repetition, strong visual imagery, vibrant similes and vivid verbs, to convey a clear image of the sea. The contrasting moods of the ocean are captured in such clarity. Human characteristics are well applied here. This is poetry written across several pages.

‘Once, I wet the toes of dinosaurs, but that was long ago.’  (My favourite line)

Over the past two days I have been based at Brighton Primary School in Adelaide, South Australia working with young writers (Grades 6/7) as a Poet in Residence. This much trusted mentor text has been an essential resource for my work this week

 I made a point of using Suzanna Marshak’s book to alert these enthusiastic poets to the potential power of writing through a mask and giving voice to a non speaking entity or inanimate object.  I shared the text and asked the assembled writers to identify exactly what the author was doing in the text which might be helpful to them as poets. We listed the author craft we had heard and seen. We discussed how we could write in the style of another author. I showed them how I had attempted to write in the style of the author and shared my poem, I Am The Sun. I invited the group to assess my writing in relation to the agreed list of craft moves. They were gentle with me and agreed I had hit the marks we had on the list.

Then, it was the turn of the young poets. They talked and identified their targets for personification. They rehearsed their opening lines. They rechecked the list of craft moves available to them and then they set about writing their pieces.

Here are two examples from these young poets, I believe deserve some time in the light!

I am a bugle
I watch the grieving crowds
As they listen to my sound
It drifts through the quiet air
I feel the nerves of my player

I am a bugle

I feel the bullets whistle past me
My dents worsen as I fall to the battered earthen floor
I feel the cold tears from my owner
I sound off to alert the soldiers preparing for war

I am a bugle

I lay by my owner in the coffin
After I have played for the last time
The zip on my case stops suddenly
As the speed bumps, slide me around
I listen to the weeping widow beside me

I am a bugle


I Am The Moon
I am the moon
I rip the blue sea from the sandy beaches
And release it hours later
I am the dark sun
I am the moon
I fear the red hot sun
And flee when it  arises
I cast vague light over the dark earth

I am the tide’s ruler
I am the moon



  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing these examples from the students. So, if this book is no longer in publication, what can you recommend that is in publication and can be used for teaching personification?

    1. Cindy, I would suggest Petr Horacek's 'The Fly.' It is probably more suited to younger writers , but it is a great example of voice and personification.

  2. When you use a powerful mentor text and you know what you love about it and the possibilities it holds for student writers, it is really amazing what happens.
    Thank you for sharing. I wish the book was in print...

  3. Thanks for the recommendation Alan. What lovely student pieces.

    1. Thanks Bonnie. The students have excelled throughout the week.

  4. Thanks for sharing these student poems - Emma's was particularly moving.

  5. These are beautiful, Alan, and thanks for the book title. Even my library doesn't have it, but Amazon does for about $25.00. I'll have to check Abe's books too. The mentoring must have been wonderful to touch the students so well.

    1. Hope you can locate a copy Linda. Good luck!

  6. It's fun to picture you working with students in Adelaide, Alan. What lucky kids to have you as an inspiration. You must have done some pretty great work with them based on the poems that you have put up. The Bugle is so sad--what a story that poem wraps itself around--wow! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I have had a wonderful week with these young poets Melanie. They have inspired me with their brave writing efforts. Going to the edges with their words. Emma's poem certainly evoked an emotional response.


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