Mission: Lettering Literature

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If you follow me on OneFifty, you know I’ve got a bit of a branding problem. Namely, it’s hard for me to commit to just one idea because I want to do it all! Any rational human being would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Oh, wait. That was Ron Swanson.

But branding can also be difficult when you’re still in the process of discovering yourself as an artist, or “a creative,” which may be a better term for me. I’ve always had a penchant for writing and for words—it was my first passion. Lettering, art, and crafting are things I do to unwind, and things I happen to do pretty well, too. But while I’m an experienced teacher in the world of words, I’m a kindergartener in the world of visual arts. And like a child, I want to do it all, learn it all, and be all of the things.

After nearly a year of being engaged in the Instagram lettering community and studying the crafts of lettering, calligraphy, and typography, I feel like I’m starting to get a focus. I had grand ideas of wedding signage and birthday chalkboards (I’ve actually gotten the chance to do the latter over the past year!), but I think my passion lies somewhere smaller.

I had to remind myself of why I started. I had to remember that I started a public lettering journey not just to reduce stress, but because the source of that stress angered me so much that I wanted to create a voice for myself.

I’m an English teacher in an education system that is shifting to becoming entirely career-centric. I was told that the books I wanted to teach were antiquated and had no more value in our modern world. I was nudged in the direction of more practical reading and writing that would be better suited for the workplace. And maybe that’s where education is now. Practical work-related tasks. But that’s not what drew me to being an English teacher. I believe in the power of reading, the value of beautiful words, the magic of those rare moments of connection that we find in the words of others. I believe that the arts and humanities do have a place in the modern workplace–especially now, when we are suffering from a lack of empathy and connection. It was that belief that brought me to lettering; it was that rage that drove me to find a creative outlet.

As I continue learning and practicing the craft of drawing stylized letters, I want to focus on my true passion: literature. Books are where I started, and books are what I want to highlight. I dropped off on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project around February because school got hectic, but I’ll be moving forward along the same lines: handlettering lines from books and sharing their stories. These books will range from “the classics” to modern capital-L Literature to popular YA series. My goal is to encourage people to see the magic within stories and their ability to show the power of the human spirit. To me, this is far more valuable than any practical, work-related texts or writing that I would be told to teach at school.

My blog will finally have a focus: books and lettering. It will go hand-in-hand with my Instagram (@nerdladydraws), where I post my daily adventures in art and lettering. I already started a new series after refocusing: #alphalitbooks is a passion project in which I highlight different works by the alphabet. Currently, I’m working with the names of women writers. I’m also hoping to continue with #literarywhiteboardlettering once school calms down a bit (after our state test ends in two weeks). I hope that pairing my Instagram and blog–the former for all my artistic exploits, and the latter for my Lettering Literature project–will give me both the versatility and sense of purpose I need.

As always, thank you for following me on this journey. Creativity can light a burning desire in you, and it can be really scary to share it all and announce a purpose. It helps to have a supportive group of people when you’re trying out new things. I’m looking forward to exploring new books and styles as I delve into literary lettering! Leave a comment with any book recommendations! I’m always on the lookout for a new book.

Thirteen Books to Close the Year: Books 40-53 of Literary Whiteboard Lettering

We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!

Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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This was actually a huge whiteboard! The entire text stretched about 7 feet tall!

What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.

Day 41: The Odyssey

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What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.

Day 42: The Hobbit

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This was my book talk right before we left for Thanksgiving Break, and right after we covered the archetypal hero’s journey. Seemed like a perfect text for the moment!

What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.

Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.

Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk

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What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.

Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata

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What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.

Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights

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What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!

Day 47: A Christmas Carol

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This was when I learned of a new app that would take clearer pictures of my boards, without glare from surrounding lights. The following pictures are still of my whiteboards!

What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.

Day 48: King Lear

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My students jokingly said, “Oooh, Ms. Gardner, you have a bad word on the board!” when the walked in. So of course I had to give a lesson on the word “bastard,” and I enjoyed every minute of it.

What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.

Day 49: Oedipus Rex

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What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.

Day 50: Antigone

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What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.

Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.

Day 52: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!

Day 53: Romeo and Juliet

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What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 11

For the final creepy week of October, I did two of my favorite works by two of my favorite writers.

Day 38: Macbeth

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Publication Performance: 1606 (play)

What It’s About: A noble warrior hears a prophecy that he will become the king of Scotland. With the aid of his wife, he makes it so–through murder. This is my favorite Shakespeare work for so many reasons: (1) it’s short and action-packed, making it an excellent entry into Shakespeare for students, (2) it is constantly alluded to in pop culture (Breaking BadHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) because (3) its themes of how power can corrupt and how guilt can corrode are timeless.

Read Online (Link to Sparknotes No Fear Shakespeare, a strong tool for first-time Shakespeare readers)

Day 39: The Cask of Amontillado

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Publication: 1846

What It’s About: The narrator, Montresor, seeks revenge against his friend Fortunato by luring him into catacombs to judge the quality of his newest wine acquisition. This is often taught in 9th grade to teach irony, and because Montresor’s means of revenge excites even the most reluctant readers.

Read Online

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 5-6

Because I work at a PBL school, my weekly schedule can get pretty weird depending on where we are in a project. Weeks 5-6 of the school year were part of our transition from Project 1 to Project 2, so I had to give up some English days to cover things like presentation etiquette and practice presentations. Our second project of the year covers American regions, so I continued presenting works from various parts of the US.

Day 20: Brown Girl Dreaming 

I adore this book of autobiographical, narrative poetry. This is a good entry into poetry for readers who are intimidated by it. It tells the story of Woodson’s youth during the Civil Rights era as she and her family moved through the Midwest, South, and Northeast.

Day 21: The Bean Trees

This book surprised me. On the surface, it seemed like a piece of “chick lit”: a young woman gets tired of living in her tiny town and seeks adventure by driving out west. When she makes a pit stop in Oklahoma, someone drops a baby in her car and vanishes. She takes the baby with her and finally settles in Arizona when her car breaks down. It sounds like a Lifetime movie. But this book has a sense of humor as the narrator navigates through her new parenthood, and grapples the topic of undocumented immigration when she makes her new family in Arizona.

Day 22: Dandelion Wine

A few years ago, I had a student who was terrified of growing up. All the adults in her life either pressured her about growing up or told her (truthfully) that growing up sucks. By the time she got to me in the 9th grade, the transition into high school had completely shaken her. I suggested that she read this book, the story of a boy who realizes that childhood and life will end one day, and she loved it. A lot of things happened that school year to give her more confidence about her place in the school and life, and I’d like to say that this book was one of them.

Day 23: The Great Gatsby

Yes, I realize I got the quote wrong. It should be “Can’t repeat the past?…” But I was going off memory and lettering while the IT Specialist was talking to me about some student concern. I didn’t realize until the end of the day. Oh well… It still applies to Gatsby.

Day 24: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Another book that surprised me. This is an beautifully written work of YA literature. I love the writing style, and it’s got a touch of the surreal: it’s the story of a girl born with wings. It feels like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the way it describes the history of her family, and like Chocolat with the way it shows how her family settles in a new town in the Northwest. It’s got a touch of romance for teens, and a touch of melancholy for adults.

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 4

Life got busy. The lettering and Instagram went on, but my blog got neglected. I’ll be updating all weekend! 

Week 4 was the week of September 11. School was officially in full swing, and everyone was in the weeds. This was the week when I learned that I need to keep my boards simple. All my morning meetings cut it too close to the start of class for me to have an intricate typographical masterpiece.

Day 15: Leviathan Wakes 

I haven’t read this book, but the math teacher has. He’s a good source for sci-fi literature, a genre I’m still unsure about, but which my STEM students crave.

Day 16: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I was pleasantly surprised when my students smiled and laughed over the story of Tom and the fence. Mark Twain does it again!

Day 17: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

One of my favorite books. I read this when I was feeling disillusioned with teaching, and it reminded me why I love working in education.

Day 18: O Pioneers!


I haven’t read this books either… but as my students are in the middle of a regional project, I thought Willa Cather was appropriate. Plus, there’s a pretty cool plaque for this book on the New York Library Walk .

Day 19: Seraphina

I don’t like many YA books, but I enjoyed this one because it seems to try to explore race politics through dragons. I love dragons.