Backlighting - Jenny Walicek, LitWits Workshops

Sunshine on My Shoulders

You know that squirm.  The move that means your student (or spouse) has had enough.  Enough of your patient explanations, your helpful advice, even your encouraging words.  It’s a move that says back off.

It can be kind of annoying, don’t you think? After all, we’re just trying to help.

Not long ago I was walking in the woods, wondering why something I’d said as encouragement hadn’t been well received. At the edge of the woods, the trail emerged in an open stretch of sun.  I squinted and turned, walking backward for a bit, so the light wouldn’t be in my face. When I slipped out of my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist, Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun came to mind. 

Do you remember the story?  The two were competing to see who could force the cloak from a man.  The wind whipped at it fiercely, but the man only clutched it more tightly; the sun simply beamed, and the man took it off right away.  It’s a fable of persuasion over power.

But it occurred to me, walking backward against the sun, that it’s also about too much warmth  — encouragement, fervor, support . That all that beaming and shining was making the man uncomfortable.  Even a little sweaty, maybe. Such warmth can be overwhelming, even unwelcome, when it’s too intense or in your face instead of at your back.

I realized that I myself would prefer an arm around my shoulder, a quick little backrub, a quiet “you can do it – I’ve got your back.”  I’d rather have indirect light.  Illumination, not a blinding glare. 

Sometimes we learn more about ourselves from indirect lessons, as I did that day.  I “got it” from the bright heat of the sun, a lingering conversation, and a fable I’d read as a child.  The life-changing lesson wasn’t taught; it happened.

In fact, this very idea of experiential, indirect teaching is the LitWits approach to literature. We don’t have to turn up the heat for kids to “get it.”  We illuminate stories from behind and allow the aha! moments to happen. We play with great books for fun, with the sun at our backs.

And no one ever – hardly ever — squirms.

Happy reading,


We love hearing your comments and welcome your own shared experiences. 

Jenny Walicek

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