Anita's Haven

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Short story (part one)

Written by Anita Kovačević ; July 2015


Well, hello, everybody! I am Miss Daisy. Truth be told, I have not been anybody’s Miss Daisy for years, because even we preschool teachers have to retire eventually, but – once a teacher, always a teacher. If that is what you are at heart. There are so many children in my heart that I could be their teacher, Miss Daisy, for several lives to come, if I happened to return in human form.

But this is not a story about me. This is the story about one of those countless great little beings in my heart, one of the most special ones, one who teaches you such humility towards life’s miracles that the first time he calls you ‘teacher’, it feels as if you’ve won the life achievement award.

But I am rushing this a bit. Let us take it slowly and safely, the way my special little friend liked to do everything.


I first met Peter when I as preparing to be a kindergarten teacher. I was filled with the hope of changing the world, my head brimming with the wisdom I’d borrowed from other people’s books, convinced that all the parents I would be working with would be cordial, caring people confident in my abilities, and all the children like clay, their behaviour and intelligence easy to mould and direct with only a bit of creativity and a lot of love.

All I needed to do was prove myself to my mentor and the review board, but a few demonstration activities were a piece of cake for me. After all, I did pass all my other exams on time, because I didn’t need to work while I was studying, and I had read more books than we were obliged to. I had always wanted to be exactly that – a kindergarten teacher, although my father kept explaining to me there was no money in that profession! Passing the review board exam, with a few hints of an inspiring topic, was supposed to be a walk in the park for me!

Let me explain it all to you in layman’s term, because the most difficult things are best explained simply, and I am now able to do that. Back then, I was under so much pressure to use top-notch professional words, which mean absolutely nothing to children. The topic of my activity that day was food, with the aim of motivating children to think about grouping connected words. Blissfully easy! The group of four-year-olds I was supposed to work with had been under a chickenpox invasion, so, instead of the average 25 kids, I only had to do the activity with about 12 children.

My mentor assumed her corner position in the room and placed her open notebook in her lap, ready to make notes, as professionally serious as a royal scribe writing down legislative acts. Behind me there was a small mountain of my teaching materials, and in front of me, seated on the carpet, the children, admiring the glow in my inspired eyes. Even though, from today’s perspective, I believe they were admiring my gigantic strawberry-shaped hairpin; but back then, my ego needed their spark.

Everybody sat on the carpet, impatient and eager. Well, almost everybody. In the corner edge of the carpet, one boy was sitting alone, appearing to be somewhat bigger than the others. He was assembling building blocks in silence, slowly swaying to and fro, as if following the rhythm of some inaudible music.

‘What about you, honey? Won’t you be joining us?’

I invited him – my question was negatively phrased due to lack of experience, but I displayed a wide, warm smile. I was already half-way over to him, to bring him closer to us, when a tiny hand pulled on to my uniform.

‘Oh, Miss, it’s only Peter. He is always… so…’

‘Yes, yes, Peter is always acting out on the side…’

The noise of learned disapproval made me arch my eyebrows into a warning, because I hated both exclusion and acting out, but my mentor just coughed gently and gave me a wave to let it go.

‘Peter is… special, dear. Just let him be.’

So I let him be, with reluctance. I didn’t mind the child, but I couldn’t see why he should miss out on all the glorious activities I had prepared for that day, during many sleepless nights, all of them so perfectly well-timed and organised according to all the expert books on the topic? Why wouldn’t he sigh in wonder when he saw my refrigerator-shaped box, or decide with us what to put where? And why wouldn’t he too sing the carefully selected song or make appropriate art with us?

‘But, OK,’ I told myself. ‘Today we will simply pass this exam activity. We will not go about changing the world immediately!’

Peter was still swaying in his own little world, half turned away from us, and I began guiding the others into my own world.

The miraculous fridge-box was a huge success with those tiny minds and held their attention for a full quarter of an hour. I was secretly gloating, imagining the praise about my work written by my mentor in her notebook. The children reacted beautifully, with all their unpredictably predictable subquestions and ‘bloopers’. The activity went faster than I’d expected, so my mind kept browsing through its backup lesson plan ideas to efficiently continue the activity.

And then the carpet became ‘spiky’. That was the word murmured by a tiny future interior designer who was wearing a dress that day so she couldn’t be bothered to keep sitting on the carpet any longer. In case you didn’t know this, ‘spikiness’ is a highly contagious disease with children of a younger age. The consequences of this disease are fidgeting, loss of concentration and the frequent need for bathroom use. The more persistently I tried to keep implementing my lesson plan, the more the children demonstrated their discontent. They kept searching for the culprit for the spikiness with more and more noise and unrest, whereas, Peter kept humming something louder and louder in his little corner.

‘He’s mumbling again,’ thundered a rugged boy with messy hair towards Peter, pointing his finger at the boy he considered the obvious culprit for everything, and the muttering of his followers vibrated through the room.

‘Peter always mumbles when we don’t listen to our teacher,’ a curly-haired blonde girl scolded the ringleader, in a half-whisper but very eloquently, a dark look flashing below her eyebrows.

Within seconds, the room was divided into two currents which threatened to destroy my methodical approach. Peter covered his ears with his little hands and kept humming louder. I panicked, and my mind got hooked on to one of the points in my lesson plan which I considered the safest anchor at that point.

‘Come now, everything is all right,’ I said as if I honestly believed it. ‘We shall do some drawing next!’

The children quietened down for a while, sitting down into their labelled chairs, and I felt proud to notice a nod from my mentor about the change of activity. Or maybe she had merely recognised my rookie mistake of switching to art too fast? I had justified the change in the lesson plan to myself, like a proper teacher, but I was well aware of the fact that I was skipping several activities which should have taken place before art. When nobody was looking, I allowed myself to bite my lip, and then quickly checked if all the children were properly seated. Everybody was waiting for the following activity in peace. Well, everyone but Peter. But at least he had stopped mumbling and humming.

I distributed drawing papers to all the children, even to Peter. I placed his paper on the floor, right next to him.

‘You can join us when you wish,’ I said, simply to say something, but when I returned to my desk, I noticed that he had picked up his paper.

The introduction into my art activity began – carefully concocted, a bit overly ambitious for four-year-olds, but I was driven by dreams, so I tried to coax them into another prepared activity, while they were pinned in their chairs. By the time we had used my posters to sort out fruit from vegetables, main courses from condiments, breakfast from lunch and supper, boiled food from raw, even the chairs had become quite ‘spiky’. Children can smell a fraud, and they never forgive you for being dull! An empty piece of paper with no crayons in your hand can feel pretty uncomfortable! It only took a couple of minutes before I was trying, in vain again, to be louder than the kids, whether the impatient little artists or the non-artistic types. Logically, what followed was another session of Peter’s humming.

Despair and fear made me simplify the art task, all with the excuse of adapting to children. Oh, what a naive action – making it easy for the children only to make it easy for myself, and only to achieve a bit fat zero! I let them draw their favourite food. I distributed coloured pencils to everybody, even Peter, and asked each child to tell me what they would draw. They all bragged loudly about their future food masterpieces, except for Peter who kept totally quiet. However, he took his coloured pencils, lay down on the carpet and placed the paper in front of him. I had planned to devote 15 minutes to my chosen song, having prepared a detailed choreography to it for the sake of their physical activity; I was now blasting the song as a mere audio background, trying not to make eye contact with my mentor. The only ones carefully listening to the song were the kids who would sit in the first row in first grade, right close to the teacher. The others were telling their stories, colouring, doodling, some on their papers and some on the desks. I was trying to gulp down a cocktail made from my ego, pride, education and inexperience, slightly spiced up with the bitter flavour of frustration. The calmest person in the entire situation was Peter. He had leaned over his paper with his entire torso, and kept drawing with fervour.

I tried not to think negatively about the outcome of my exam and I looked at the clock. There was no way I could prolongue the drawing any longer as tiny artists are people with instant and explosive inspiration, so their art activity itself only lasted for a brief period.  Panic was drowning me in the kaleidoscope of my lesson plan, in which beginning and end had blended into a mush. The children started bringing me finished art assignments for appraisal, and I collected them with a weak grin.

‘So what will you do now? What’s next? How will you slam dunk this exam, genius?’ My own ego mocked me.

Help came out of the blue, with an accompaniment of somewhat loud mumbling which reached me from the backdrop of this tiny bunch of outstretched hands and artwork.

‘Oh, Pete, stop it!’

‘Miss, Pete’s pushing me!’

‘Stop mumbling, Pete! Move!’

But Peter would not be swayed. He reached me and placed his artwork on top of the pile. He looked at me. Straight into me. The children went quiet waiting for my reaction, and Peter withdrew into the back of the room, into his own world on the edge of the carpet.

There was not one drawing on Peter’s paper. There were 12 of them. Peter had drawn every single meal his friends had loudly announced as their favourite. The drawings were beautiful, in clear colours and shapes and completely recognizable. The only thing that confused me were dots next to each drawing – he added something like a littly black cloud next to some, and sun next to the others. And then it hit me! It didn’t take me long – after all, I was a model student, even if the teacher this time was a boy, a very special little boy.

‘And now we are all going to sit in a circle to see the most impportant thing,’ I announced with a victorious feeling.

My eyes, open wide and enthusiastic, gathered the little artists on the carpet in the blink of an eye. I lifted their artworrk and asked.

‘Let me hear it now – which of your favourite meals are heathy food, and which not so much?’

The little wisemen were full of advice copied from the adults they knew. IN the end, we assembled all their drawings in two collages – healthy and not-so-healthy food. We even sang our song. It contained a lyric about healthy and unhealthy food. It was their favourite lyric to sing out. Even Peter.

I passed my exam, with the help of my little knight who appeared just when things had gotten ‘spiky’. My mentor told me it was the very last activity that saved the day. Of course it did – it was so special.

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Wip? Perhaps…

‘Just like that,’ she thought, a cynical grin painting her face a particularly vicious shade of mouldy green. ‘My old life is deceased.’


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Listen to yourself

During the past year I was literally in this situation too often – listening to my own voice in the darkness*.

It is funny what you may hear in such times. I was lucky – I got to also listen to the voices of those I love, respect, admire. And I learned one very important thing – you can always choose not to listen to those who wish you harm, the negative voices of negative people who put others down to emphasize their own (questionable) value.

I must remember that for the following days as I return to daily routine and normal life in a few weeks. Not everyone deserves my attention. Not everyone should be in my life. And those who should, they deserve all my love and attention.

#friendship #family #postaneurysm
*(Before my eye surgery, I was almost blind as a consequence of a burst brain aneurysm.)

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Children’s books – news!

Just beacuse I was unable to see this past year, does not mean I was dilly-dallying. Here is something new/old!

These are special funbook editions of my already existent stories, Winky’s Colours, Mimi Finds Her Magic, The Good Pirate and Spikes for Hank. They were prepared by me, the author, but I am also a storytelling teacher and creative parent. Apart from the original stories (full but in black&white), these funbooks are also filled with photocopiable worksheets, riddles, colouring pages, songs, games and more. They can be used by parents, educators or children themselves. Each story contains a positive message about growing up, our environment, accepting our differences, friendship and family. Have fun! Read with a kid!
#reading #learning #teaching #childrensbooks #kidlit…/mimi-…/paperback/product-24297998.html


Can you be a good man and a pirate? Anything is possible for love!

It’s easier to let others do stuff for you, but nothing tastes quite as good as when you find it yourself…

There may be something about yourself you don’t like, but everything we are adds to our strengths – we just have to learn to accept ourselves as we are…

Sometimes we all need some more colour in our lives. But nothing ever comes by itself – seek it!
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Keep it simple

So here come the big news…

They say ‘write what you know’, so I took that piece of advice. The Question Mark Method (in my teacher workshops we called it the wh-method) is my new book baby! I am still waiting for the paperback sample, and then you will all see it, and some will receive it, as they have deserved it.

This is a book I am particularly proud of – my first non-fiction book, a short manual about a teaching method I apply in my lessons, which has developed during the last 25 years, and it has been proven to work. The book was written last year, but some life events connected to my health prevented me from publishing it then . A massive thanks to all those who have been waiting patiently, and kept encouraging me not to give it up in the past year. The methods and ideas are applicable to most subjects, not just the one I teach – English.

I spent the past year thinking (I had to) about what matters to me, and, as far as work is concerned, I decided the only thing I could – there is no competition – I love both teaching and writing, and they are both a part of me which I do not wish to constrain. My family knows this best!

I cannot wait to get back into action, both teaching and writing, although I have been keeping alive ideas from both my areas all this time I spent recovering, and as I have been developing them, I keep hoping I will be able to add to them with a touch of a newly acquired maturity, as well as playful gratitude for being alive.

I would like to thank some people who have had impact on this, so let me thank them publicly like this, and if I have not listed someone, feel free to comment;).

To my first teacher of English, Gordana Kovač, thank you for being such a teacher that you made me immediately love learning with games and singing, and for making all my thoughts of the English language always be positive and filled with memories of her smile, song, authority and warmth!

Sadly, I am unable to tag my high-school English teacher (may she rest in peace), but I know my high-school friends will know what I mean. Branka Liebhardt Šupe was more than a teacher – she was the support and inspiration and she convinced me to find courage and become who I am, because in me, as in many of us, she was able to see and encourage what made us unique and good people.

To my (first) boss, Vesna Matulić, thank you for listening to all my beginner woes, and then placing before me challenges which made me grow and develop, both as a person and a teacher, and even as a writer. Thank you for everything. Just a little bit more and I will be back!

I can never thank enough to my family and friends for everything, but there will be plenty of hugs, talks and fun, and that is the most important thing!

Many thanks to my colleagues Dunja Črnko and Tena Jurišić who took on a tough task last year – to scan the book for any and all mistakes with merciless precision! Thank you for all your suggestions and help.

To all my former and present colleagues, both in teaching and writing, thank you for all your support, constructive criticism, patience and kindness!

Just a little bit more. And then some new magic. (And my Čarolarije (Playing with Magic)… more on that soon – I hope.)

paperback @Lulu
ebook @Lulu

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The magic AFTER reading

“Everyone always talks about the magic that happens when a child reads a book or hears the story. I love it, too. But do you want to know what my favourite moment is? It is when children finish reading the story and step out of it, bringing the magic with them into the real world. When they finish Alice in Wonderland and realize there is always more than one way of looking at the world. When they read The Little Prince and know the box can contain anything you wish – it is all up to us. There are so many stories which can empower us all to be better and stronger versions of ourselves. May we all find them and spread that magic to the world. “
(From the afterword of Spikes for Hank,
#parenting #rhyme #story #kidlit #educational #teaching #autumn #winter #ebook

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Have a lovely week!

Just wanted to wish you all a lovely week. I hope you manage to dance in the rain:)
Thank you for supporting books!

My author spotlight at Lulu.com
#books #writing

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You are who you are. Me – I’m a teacher.

I am a teacher. A teacher of English, to be precise. And I am proud to be a teacher. You can’t run away from it – you are who you are. These long days, during which I was unable to teach, I have missed it terribly – both my demanding learners and my wonderful colleagues.

I cannot begin to tell you how fulfilling it is when your learner, be it a child or an adult, masters something, understands something, learns something with joy and for life. I cannot begin to describe how it makes you grow as a person when a kid, in front of a full audience gathered for the final performance, tells you ‘you know, that blue stuff on your eyes does not look good on you’, or when a teenage girl tells you what she wants to be and then gathers the courage to tell her parents… Or when an adult person tells you they finally love learning.

I will always be grateful to those who discovered this in me, gave me my first shot, offered new opportunities and challenges. In these 25 years there have been beautiful, difficult and sad times, but it is what it is – love.

The greatest compliment I ever got was given to me by a young genius, a high-school graduate at the time, who said: ‘Do you know why I like learning with you? Because you always want to know what WE think, and not what the book says, and then you listen to our opinion.’

I’m a little bit late but still – happy World Teachers’ Day to all who are or feel like teachers!


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Why I was away…

Some day I will tell you the entire story of the manuscript in the photo below, The Silver People. It was about 2 months after my SAH, burst brain aneurysm surgery, which I woke up from sightless, but kept writing and talking in both Croatian and English, sometimes simultaneously without knowing it. I cannot tell you the horrors our brains can create when afraid – when a simple path from your kitchen to your bathroom seems like heated lava spilling over Saruman’s orcs workshop in LOTR. The mind is a force of nature and we its minions. But faith, love and kindness are relentless, too. The mind is a force of nature.

So this is why I was away for a year. I’m coming back. I still have a lot to say and do.

#aneurysm #WorldMentalHealthDay

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Trees, people and similarities

“The Forest of Trees had once been just a simple forest, a beautiful, rich one at that, until slowly but steadily, trees changed for some reason.

No two trees were alike and for hundreds of years their variety had been the source of joy and beauty. All the trees had something in common, yet each of them was unique. Their singularities were intricately woven into the tapestry of The Forest.

Oddly enough, all the beautiful years and shared experience hadn’t brought wisdom. In time, the trees became disagreeable and lost compassion or patience for each other. They started to push each other and over-shadow each other’s light. They stole each other’s humidity by extending their roots. Some scared away their neighbour’s treetop dwellers – birds, bats, squirrels and bugs, pretending that their branches only got caught up in their neighbour’s treetops due to strong winds. Branches grew winded at night, and then curled up to hide during the day. Veiled by darkness, they would stretch out their coils, steal and smash their neighbour’s fruit in sheer malice. In daylight, dried up twigs were discarded, thrown in the faces of other trees. Only the sun and the moon witnessed the conflicts.

The Forest War for territory was just as stupid and pointless as any other war in history. There was quite enough room for all the existent trees, their offspring and then some, not to mention all kinds of creatures scurrying and flying around. However, enough is never enough where bad blood is concerned, even when it is not blood at all.”

#sneakpeek excerpt from #TheForestofTrees

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