Breathe, Stretch, Write: Learning to Write with Everything You’ve Got (2011), by Sheree Fitch

In addition to reviewing children’s and YA novels and picture books, I have also been assigned pedagogical texts to review for Resource Links on occasion. It strikes me that those reviews are not entirely tangential to the purpose of this review blog, so I thought I’d republish them here. I’ll post one at the beginning of each month until I run out… Here is the first installment.

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 16.5.

Breathe, Stretch Write

Fitch - BreatheSheree Fitch sums up her objective in her preface: “This is a book of common sense […] about retrieving the forgotten givens […]: your brain needs oxygen and exercise to work well and grow strong, and authentic writing is rooted in the body” (6). And so it is. Breathe, Stretch, Write is an excellent description of both the ideologies underlying Fitch’s practices and the exercises that facilitate teachers in implementing them. It is practical yoga for the mind and body of both aspiring and “reticent” writers, who can be “liberated by understanding through their bodies and senses” (10).
Interestingly, this philosophy is exactly what Fitch calls it: “forgotten,” but not unique. It was one of the tenets in the intellectual pedagogy of Amos Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott) as long ago as the 1860s in New England: children—in his case boys exclusively—need to exercise their bodies in order to be fully able to exercise their minds. Alcott was derided for (among other innovative ideas, such as veganism) the inclusion of calisthenics in his curriculum; Fitch has presented a modern, salient argument for an increased recognition of the connection between physical and mental awareness.
The structure of the text is highly accessible: it can be used as a workshop text, reading though each chapter as an exercise to learn; or it can be used as a reference, dipping in to separate exercises that appear to be useful at the moment. For each exercise, there is a description of the three steps: Breathe, Stretch (with a stick-figure drawing to help), Write. The last is, of course, the most important. Each includes a short personal narrative that grounds the practice in the author’s own teaching experience, and connects the first two activities with the mental space of narrative production. “Stand on your Own Two Feet” (22), for example, stresses an “understanding” of important elements in the writer’s and others’ lives; “Opening a Window” (49) asks the reader to imagine looking out of a window into the wider world; “Fish Twist” (65) suggests taking an existing narrative and “twisting” the elements to form a new narrative. There are “Standing Exercises,” “Sitting Exercises,” “Reclining Exercises,” “Moving Exercises,” and “Group Moves.” All of these can be incorporated into personal or classroom activities; this book is not only for the teacher assisting students to write, but for any budding author who wants to engage the full capabilities of the mind–body connection.

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