• Linda Ulleseit, author

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Magical Realism


I have long been a fan of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquivel, and Jorge Luis Borges. The way they thread supernatural and even magical elements into normal daily life, and treat them as expected events, speaks to me in a special way. In addition, readers have suggested that my flying horse books remind them of magical realism. As you can imagine, that made me beam! So when the opportunity presented itself to take a class in writing magical realism, I jumped at it. One of our first assignments was to mimic “The Wave,” by Octavio Paz, and show a love story with an inanimate object. Here is my story.

Lifelong Love

“Do you remember?” It’s how all our conversations begin these days. The washer and dryer hum in the background, and remnants of our shared past crowd around us in the garage. I sit in your driver’s seat, as I’ve done for more years than I want to count.

Deep within, you rumble, coming to life a little more slowly than yesterday, affirming our shared memories.

“When we met I was looking for something else,” I begin.

“A Cabriolet,” you scoff. “Probably pink.”

“Don’t judge,” I scold softly. Then I tease, “I did have a friend with a pink Tacoma.”

“A Tacoma is not a real truck,” you say, “and she was not a real friend.”

You’re right about both, but that’s not a memory I want to relive.

I was young and foolish when I first saw you. I’d been shopping for my first brand new car, and I’d never considered a truck. But you were more than a truck. All gleaming chrome and black steel, you towered over the other vehicles. And you looked right at me. I was lost. I always loved the bad boys.

Every time I turned the key in your ignition, we shared a new adventure. You took me soaring over the mundane, our love at one with the clouds. On the ground, we raced past those who struggled alone. Our strength was in being together. You gave me confidence.

“How do you feel?” I ask now.

“Everything’s rusting or seizing.” There’s a new creak in your voice that says more than your words.

Back then I washed you every week, changed your oil every three months, and took you in for scheduled maintenance. The rest of the time, you took care of me. Each time I slipped into your cab, I came home. It was more than the leather seats. I belonged. Now it’s my turn to care for you.

“Do you remember?” I ask softly. “When you used to whisk me away at the end of a hard day? When we sailed the ocean and flew over the mountains?”

You don’t respond.

As the years passed, we slowed together. With you I watched sunsets in the middle of the day and drove through moss-laden forests on the way to the grocery store. Life settled, but it was never commonplace.

Recently the sick times have been more frequent than the healthy ones. Each time you stay at the shop, I’m scared, both for your health and because I am alone. The mechanic takes good care of you, though, and you always come home refreshed and like new.

But now, you’re not so easy to fix. For awhile now I’ve hidden my concern from you. Somehow, though, I think you know.

“Will you remember? When I’m gone?” Your voice is barely a breath.

“Hush, you’ll feel better tomorrow.” I try reassurance, but you know me too well and don’t answer.

Our latest adventures are memories and dreams. Less active, maybe, but no less pleasant. I sit in your cab and close my eyes, and we are together, reliving old trips and taking new ones. This time it’s me who takes us to the lake of the beautiful sunsets.

“I love you,” I say.

You don’t respond.

I place a hand on your steering wheel, on a spot worn from my fingers. Maybe a trip around the block? Surely that would do us both some good. The mechanic said not to drive you, that your engine could seize completely. But I don’t understand the appeal of rusting and dreaming in a garage. I want to live with you again.

I put the key in your ignition. It jiggles, loose from wear. Your radio plays, my favorite station as always, and I bask for a minute. The starter grates as I turn the key, and you barely cough. The second time, nothing. Slowly, with great dignity, you carefully set me on my feet and dissolve into dust.

I curl my hand around your key.

Novel Madness FAll 2015 FINALS

ribbonI’ve been remiss in updating this contest! On Monday, September 21, my students voted on the remaining novels. As a result, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hobbit were sent into the finals. Yesterday, the final round of speeches and the final vote took place. This year, the title of favorite novel was awarded to

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit joins the ranks of past winners:

Spring 2015: Holes by Louis Sachar

2014: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

2013: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

2012: Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

I find it interesting that in five years the winner has never been duplicated even though all of these books have appeared in the list more than once. Super favorites like Riordan’s Percy Jackson books or Roald Dahl’s Matilda haven’t won either. I am proud of the variety shown in my students’ reading over the years, and proud that every winner is a book I believe to be worthy of the title. I wonder what they’ll be reading next year?

Novel Madness 2015 ROUND TWO

2Novel Madness is the annual tournament my students conduct to determine their favorite novels of all time. For the beginning of this year’s contest, go here. Students tweaked their speeches to reflect their new opponents and delivered them in class. Then everyone voted. The winners of Round Two will match up like this for Monday’s (September 21) Semifinal Match:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


The Maze Runner by James Dashner


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was quite surprised that The Hobbit beat the perennial favorite Lightning Thief, but the contest between Divergent and The Maze Runner could have gone either way. Diary of a Wimpy Kid beat Hatchet to make it to the semifinals. I wonder if that vote would have come out differently had I waited until after we read Hatchet in class? One thing is for sure. Every year my class has its own reading preferences even though a few books make the list consistently. Stay tuned for semifinal results next week!


one     Today my students presented speeches on their books. To get ready for this, they researched Goodreads and Amazon to find out what good reviews said about their books, and what bad reviews said about their opponent. They read their opponent’s book if they weren’t familiar with it, and surveyed classmates for their opinions. Finally, they blogged about the upcoming competition. Today was the day. They presented, and the class voted. Here are the Round One winners, all paired up for Round Two!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling vs. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney vs. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Cinder by Marissa Meyer vs. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien vs. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Round Two speeches and voting will take place the week of September 14. That gives you a whole weekend to comment on the students’ blogs. Give them encouragement, your opinions, or advice. They’d love to hear from you.

Novel Madness News

book turning pages_animatedEvery year I do an activity with my students I call Novel Madness. It’s a tournament to determine their favorite novel of all time. They initially brainstorm 30 or 40 books, then narrow it to the top 16. Pairs of students work with one book to prepare a speech, persuasive essay, and blog posts. Round One this year is September 11, 2015. Here are the matchups:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling vs. Flush by Carl Hiassen

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey vs. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Wonder by R.J. Palacio vs. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney vs. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Cinder by Marissa Meyer vs. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

By the Great Horned Spoon by Sid Fleischman vs. Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli vs. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Read student blogs about Novel Madness here. Please leave comments! My students love it when someone besides their classmates comment!

Personal Narrative or Personal Essay?

anpencil3One of the writing genres we teach in sixth grade is the personal narrative, and that hasn’t changed with the Common Core State Standards. (Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences. W6.3) Personal narratives are defined as stories about something real that actually happened to you. Students write on topics like a special person, how they acquired a special object, the first time they rode a bike, or an important event. Everything they write about is true. It actually happened. So what’s the difference between personal narrative and personal essay?

Essay writing is also not new for Common Core. (Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content. W6.2) So if you are writing a personal essay about your life–a special person, an event, etc.–can you use the same paper you wrote for the narrative?

While both genres may have the same topic, the purpose is quite different. In a personal narrative, the writer focuses on the elements that make a good story: sensory details, character’s emotion, and a strong beginning, middle and end. A personal essay, however, focuses on personal growth. It is less about the scene and more about the reflection.

Personal essays, of course, can have great details and description, as personal narratives can show character growth. In short, a personal narrative is more about the story and a personal essay is more about the reflection. A popular topic my students write about is riding a roller coaster. Their personal narrative may go something like this:

The hot sun bounced off the pavement and wrapped my bare legs. Thank goodness for the snow cones my brother and I had just bought. 

“Let’s go on The Ripper!” he said as he finished the icy goodness.

“The Ripper?” My heart dropped. It was big. It was fast. It was scary.

“Come on, it’s just another roller coaster.”

Reluctantly I followed him to the line. Minutes passed and we creeped toward the loading platform. With each step, I had to work harder to swallow my fear. My hands were damp with sweat when they finally grasped the cold metal bar of safety that crossed my lap. 

“Wahooo!” my brother yelled as we started off.

I smiled weakly as the coaster began its click, click, click to the top of the hill. My stomach twisted. I felt like I was going to throw up, but if I did that my brother would tease me forever. The roller coaster reached the top and we had a split second to view the entire park. Then the wind snapped my hair straight out in back of me as the coaster whooshed down and around and around and around. My eyes teared up. I screamed, but with exhilaration not fear. 

The roller coaster slid to a smooth stop at the landing platform. I turned to my brother with a big smile. “Let’s go again!” 

That is a short example, but it has the elements of a personal narrative: It’s a true incident that happened to me. There’s a clear beginning, middle, and end. Sensory details and character emotion give it interest and draw the reader in. Now let’s try the same scene as a personal essay.

The sun blazed down on my brother and I as we walked around the park with our snow cones. I thought we were having a good time, but actually we were there for two very different reasons. I was there to eat grape snow cones and go on the log ride to cool off. My brother was there to bring me to the brink of terror. 

“Let’s go on The Ripper!” he said as he finished the icy goodness.

“The Ripper?” My heart dropped. It was big. It was fast. It was scary.

“Come on, it’s just another roller coaster.”

I knew better, of course. There was a reason I stayed with the slower, more reasonable rides. I didn’t like the height and speed of rides like The Ripper. But some sort of brotherly challenge in his tone made me agree. I refused to consider what we were about to do as we waited in line. Finally my sweaty hands gripped the cool metal of the safety bar, and we were ready to go. No turning back now–as if I could turn back and have any shred of dignity for the rest of my life.

The coaster clicked its way up the giant hill. Each click felt like another rock added to my stomach. At the top, the park spread out around us for an instant too quick to appreciate.Then we were rushing down and around the flips and turns. To my astonishment, I screamed in delight. What had I been afraid of? This was great! 

When we reached the end, I turned to my brother with a smile. “Let’s go again!” On the second ride, I racked my brain to remember all the huge roller coasters in every park I’d ever been to. My summer was going to be busy!

While you may have enjoyed both examples, you should be able to see that the second one showed more reflection on the part of the narrator. So could a student turn in either example for a personal narrative? At the sixth grade level, of course.

Meet My Characters

YA BlogfestToday I’m being hosted on Apryl Baker’s Blogfest! I like doing these events because it gives me an opportunity to show a different side of my characters, to do something different. In this post, a fictional patroness interviews the key characters of my three flying horse novels to see who might be the best barn leader. Check it out!

My Crazy Corner‘s YA/NA Blogfest


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