October 31, 2008

Last spring, my school hosted a Young Authors’ Conference with Claire Ewart. With her gentle spirit, she shared “from words a story grows” and showed the children how she gathered ideas from nature, visiting places, and even observing in her backyard.  I’ll be sharing more of her the books she has authored and illustrated in the near future.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from her.  Thanks, Claire.

Claire Ewart illustrates a delightful mystery written by another Hoosier, Valiska Gregory, called The Mystery of the Grindlecat.  The end note in the book explains the purpose in writing the book:  in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Children Museum’s Haunted House in Indianapolis, IN.

The book is filled with many writing lesson possibilities.  On a first time read, this book has several avenues for prediction, conversation, and wonderings with your class.  Your kids will be hooked in with Claire’s brilliant illustrations and Valiska’s beautiful words.  Even the font used crates a spooky foreshadowing.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Mystery of the Grindlecat:

  • Enticing lead –
  • Magic of 3 – used with the characters, their dialogue; from phrases to sentences
  • Building Emotion with the use of Personification – “The tree branch knocked against her window.  ‘I hear the tapping of skeleton bones,’ she said.”
  • Simile – “… an enormous nose with a wart as black as a licorice drop.”
  • Show don’t Tell – “Then all together they knew exactly what to do.”

Henry and Mudge

October 30, 2008

Cynthia Rylant has created a series based on everyday events between a boy and his dog, Henry and Mudge.  As in an earlier blog, kids have simple experiences that are worthy of writing.  Most children have pets and have stories to share.  These books make great mentor texts for younger children, focusing on the important parts.  Cynthia Rylant takes the ordinary and molds the words into a sculpture of words. Henry and Mudge:  Under the Yellow Moon has three short stories in its collection that focus on the autumn season and holidays. 

Savorings for reading and in writing for Henry and Mudge:  Under the Yellow Moon:

Chapter 1:  Together in the Fall

  • See Saw effect using opposites – “Henry likes…Mudge likes…”  It reminds me of Tough Boris by Mem Fox.
  • Ending – “…liked being together most of all.”
  • Repeating prepositional phrase – “In the fall...”

Chapter 2:  Under the Yellow Moon

  • Punctuation – Colon – p. 6 uses it with a list; p. 15 highlighting; apostrophe – p.20 jack-o’-lantern
  • Mudge is personified – “And he was more scared of the yellow moon and the dark room and the witch’s stories than anybody else!
  • Onomatopoeia – to increase the tension
  • Twist at the beginning

Chapter 3:  Thanksgiving Guest

  • Character thinking like a kid – p. 36 and 37 are great examples
  • Inference – p. 41:  “Henry knew what Aunt Sally would be doing in the kitchen.”
  • Kid perspective of relatives
  • Character description – not what she looked like but rather about her behavior


October 29, 2008

Margaret Wise Brown, author of Good Night Moon, brings to life the maturing of an ordinary pumpkin into a beloved jack-o-lantern in her book, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin. She shares the yearning of this pumpkin character, wishing and wanting to be something fierce to scare the mice away.  Don’t children often yearn to be something more?  Don’t they dream?  This book shares the desire of wanting something now, learning patience, and having to endure some trials along the way all within an autumn setting.

Richard Egielski’s illustrations show the happenings between the lines of the story.  Three children enter in the background of the first page and then later reappear as knights in shining armor to a pumpkin.  Margaret then proceeds to have the children carve the character into a fierce jack-o-lantern.

Savoring for reading and in writing for The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin:

  • Beginning:  With my reading like a writer lenses on, I am not sure of a technical term, but notice with me how Margaret stages this pumpkin’s smallness: using the word “little” almost as a noun with an accenting adjective – “a fat little, round little, yellow little pumpkin in a great big field.”
  • Alliteration sprinkled throughout the story
  • Sensory Delight – “There was a burning smell of leaves in the air and a crisp tingle that tickled the fat little pumpkin’s sides.”
  • Passage of time – from the size of an apple to a fierce fiery orange
  • Wondering – the story makes you ask questions and reread to understand what is being inferred


October 26, 2008

Subject and predicate – why bother with teaching sentence structure anyway?  Well, in my opinion, if the terms are just used within a skill and drill concept of teaching grammatical writing, then I don’t see much to it.  The students will obediently place their lines between the subject and predicate, but does it really help in teaching writing?  I believe that we have so little time to teach that each lesson must touch their writing and reading lives in a deep way.  So, back to subject and predicate.

A fun book for teaching these concepts to integrate into the children’s writing is Skeleton Hiccupsby Margery Cuyler.  Halloween is only five days away and this cute book accents the parts of a sentence.  The skeleton wakes up with the hiccups, and Margery Cuyler adds the onomatopoeia throughout the story.  (I was just thinking that the kindergartners, who are learning to label, would learn a new way to add their voice to the writing.)  The story continues by adding different things that Skeleton does – the predicate of the sentence.  Ghost enters the story, adding in some conversation as well.  Finally, only he thinks of a clever way to get the Skeleton to stop hiccuping.  (Drinking water is one of my favorite pages.)

Savorings for reading and in writing for Skeleton Hiccups:

  • Predicate – teach to vocabulary word that is hounded on standardized tests
  • Turning point – “But nothing worked….Then Ghost got smart.”
  • Labeling onomatopoeia with different fonts – hic, hic, hic
  • Command – “Hold your breath.”


Little Old Lady

October 23, 2008

The book by Linda Williams, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, is so much fun to read.  I have enjoyed reading the book to some second grade classes this Halloween season.  Linda Williams takes the concept of fear that all children have and creates a book that celebrates bravery.  Throughout the writing, she breaks up the suspense by using onomatopoeia (sound words in writing).  The children love to do motions with each onomatopoeia.  I had the children slap their laps for CLOMP! CLOMP! They WIGGLE, SHAKE, CLAP, and NOD along with the story.  They especially love saying BOO at the end.

To increase the interaction with the read aloud,  allow the children to turn and share with a partner what they think will happen next.  They love predicting correctly.  One student gave the prediction that the pumpkin head at the end said “Ha, Ha” instead of “Boo!  Boo!”  I asked if “ha,ha” would work and then asked them to think about why the author said “Boo” instead. The Halloween holiday was linked.  This read aloud helped build their comprehension, and it was fun.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything:

  • Onomatopoeia in the writing
  • Suspense – “…and on she walked, just a little bit faster.”
  • Suddenly – “The little old lady started to walk home.  Suddenly she stopped!”
  • Change in mood – “Then what’s to become of us?”  The pumpkin head suddenly looked unhappy.”
  • Magic of 3 – “This time the little old lady did not stop to talk.  She did not stop at all.  She RAN!”


October 22, 2008

Another Halloween favorite is Porkenstein by Kathryn Lasky.  Many of our boys love action, fantasy, and monsters.  The book is a combination of ideas from Frankenstein and The Three Little Pigs.  Kathryn molds the story into a funny, yet enticing text.

I do not enjoy the physical or chemical sciences much, but many children do.  This comical book uses scientific terms that can help build background knowledge or create a better picture understanding of such terms as beaker, laboratory, and incubator.

The friendship theme appears from the beginning paragraph:  “Dr. Smart Pig was a famous inventor, but he didn’t have any friends.”  When I read books, my eye searches for any possible way to connect the book with children.  With many legislative standards being placed on teachers, we have to be creative to overlap subjects to allow children more exposure to ideas, more reflection, more possibilities than the obvious.  Porkenstein is one example of this, as in my last post on The Hallo-Weiner by Dav Pilkey.  As you savor books, look for several avenues the book may take you.  Your students will begin to do the same.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Porkenstein:

  • Vivid verbs – “grunts, squirt, peered
  • Problem/solution – three tries and then a problem
  • Passage of time – “Halloween night was getting closer…, It was almost sunset when he heard…”
  • Character thinking:  questioning self – “Dr. Smart Pig was worried.  Maybe inventing a friend wasn’t such a good idea after all.
  • Show don’t tell – “Suddenly there was a scuffling sound – followed by a huge gulp and a rumbling belch.  Then silence.”

The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin

October 20, 2008

The Hallo-Wienerby Dav Pilkey has loads of craft to teach.  It can serve as a great mentor text during this Halloween season.  Themes such as name-calling, bullying, friendship, persistence, loyalty, and kindness are embedded, creating an avenue for class discussion and community building. The illustrations lift the text and provide foreshadowing clues. The book’s humor entices the kids to reread it several times, allowing the message to sink in.  What a fun way to learn!  I highly recommend visiting Dav Pilkey‘s website.  He shares his story of being a hyperactive kid.

Savorings in reading and for writing for The Hallo-Wiener:

  • Flexing sentences – “Because of his unusual shape and size, all the other dogs made fun of him.”
  • Think bubbles – “All day long at obedience school, Oscar daydreamed about Halloween…”
  • Hyphenated words – “Half-a-dog tall and one-and-a-half dogs long
  • Play on words – “Then Oscar showed up, looking quite frank.”
  • Suspense – “The dogs stopped dead in their tracks.”


October 18, 2008

In preparation for the upcoming elections, I have been encouraging my teachers to share read alouds that will build background knowledge of the process.  I have favorites:  If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier and Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio.  Both books have an author’s note that shares facts about the Electoral College and how it works.

9780807535448If I Ran for Presidentby Catherine Stier speaks to the reader in first person.  Each part begins with “If I ran for president…” and then proceeds to illustrate how he/she might be chosen as the political candidate, then campaign across the USA, and make speeches plus debates.  The characters change between male and female as well as different ethnic backgrounds.  The characters are children though, thus connecting with the students we work with.  It has such great voice. Catherine ends the book by saying, “And what would I do when I became president?  Well, that’s another story.”  I look forward to the next book in this hopeful series.  What a great way to grab a child’s interest and explain it in clearer terms than what they are hearing through the media.

Grace for Presidentby Kelly DiPucchio is set within a narrative structure.  Grace comes to school one day when her teacher rolls out a poster of all of the American presidents.  She is shocked to learn that there has never been a woman president.  After some reflection, Grace announces that she wants to be president. The story continues with the elementary holding an election.  Along with campaigning and speeches, the teachers assign students with a state and its number of electoral votes.  Students gain a better understanding of the electoral college system.  I love the ending.  Read the book to see what happens.

Bootsie Barker Bites

October 17, 2008

To tie in with yesterday’s every day happenings post, Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner came to mind.  Bullying is a real life situation that most children are faced with sometime in their childhood.

In Bootsie Barker Bites,  Barbara Bottner has incredible insights she shares from the viewpoint of the victim.  The girl who is bullied is unnamed, so I’ll refer to her as Susan.  Susan is faced with an incredulous tormentor, Bootsie.  During each bullied situation, Barbara paints a picture of Susan’s thinking – the thinking children would relate to. Susan creates a daydream scenario of revenge she wishes on Bootsie, with a twist of humor.  We can all relate, which is the drawing point of the book.

I have used this book with fifth graders and all are interested, even the boys.  Throughout the story, the reader is cheering for Susan, empathizing with her.  The book is an excellent resource for discussion of characterization and inferring and can also enhance class community.  It’s full of possible teaching points.

Savorings in reading and for writing for Bootsie Barker Bites:

  • internal and external characterization – illustrations show physical differences between the two characters
  • grabber lead – (When Mrs. Barker comes to visit, she always brings chocolate donuts, fresh strawberries, and Bootsie.)
  • show don’t tell – (“Play nicely, girls!”  Bootsie yells, “We are!”  I can’t yell anything.)
  • visualizing – (“I picture Charlene and me being rushed to the hospital with dinosaur bites.”)
  • character emotions – (When my mother asks me what Bootsie and I would like for snacks, I can’t stand it anymore.)

Every Day Happenings

October 16, 2008

Through my work, I have noticed that young children, kindergartners especially, are enthusiastic about their writing.  They have fewer life experience, yet are content to write about ordinary, every day happenings.

Beverly Cleary is a master of writing every day experiences that kids relate to with her Ramona Quimbly series.  Abby Klein, author of the Ready Freddy series, has grasped the same concept.  Tomie dePaola shares everyday experiences from his life as a kid in the 26 Fairmont Avenue series.

As teachers, we need to be aware of modeling every day happenings in our writing.  The struggling writers are the ones who say, “I don’t have anything to write about.”  They have every day experiences, but don’t see those as being important.  How often do we model the ordinary happenings in the day-to-day life for our children?

One tried and true touchstone text for me is When Sophie Gets Angry  by Molly Bang.   The book is based on a sisterly argument that enrages Sophie.  Molly Bang creates vivid illustrations of how we often want to explode when we are furious.  Children connect to this story line; they’ve lived it.

Savorings in reading and for writing for When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry:

  • Magic of Three  with sentences – “She kicks.  She screams.  She wants to smash the world to smithereens.”
  • Alliteration
  • Interweaving of Detail – character action, character thinking/feeling, character dialogue
  • Problem and Solution
  • Structure – For younger students, this book sets up the flow of a story that they can follow.