Posts Tagged Middle Grade

The (Almost) No-Rules Storytelling Project for Middle Graders: “Tell Me a Story”

For those of you starting to compile ideas for the new school year, here’s a storytelling project that promotes creativity, engages interest, and can be readily differentiated.

Early fall is a great time for a storytelling activity for middle graders in your ELA classes, library or author workshop, or homeschool sessions. Learners might be eager to employ creativity after summer break, and seeing evidence of student work through storytelling early on can guide your personalized instruction moving forward. Students’ topics might connect with middle grade titles you plan to introduce. And as these early-in-the-year projects might be a little more loosely structured than formal writing assignments later, it’s a nice way to ease into the workload of a new year.

So for an (almost) no-rules storytelling project, consider saying to your Language Arts, homeschool, or library students, “Just tell me a story…”  Then stand back for the flood of questions! “Real, or made up?” “Does it have to have me in it?” And of course, “How long does it have to be?”  For an open-ended storytelling project like this, almost anything goes—fiction or creative non-fiction; almost any genre; set in current times, recent or long-ago past, or the future. Really, once the most basic of guidelines (appropriateness, length or time involved, etc.) are established, set storytellers free to compose and create.

What’s more, an open-ended storytelling project has great flexibility for differentiation. Some, most, or all of a story might be told visually, told aloud, told through song or drama, told with or through a partner or group… and even if the student utilizes minimal or no written words, you can still assess their story sense with categories that might feed your rubric creation:

  • their ability to perceive and comprehend conflict and characters/key figures;
  • their ability to convey setting and passage of time; and
  • their ability to communicate messages, lessons, and themes to others.

Here are some ideas to get your assignment wheels turning in preparation for an (Almost) No-Rules Storytelling project:

1. Try timed brainstorming by categories for idea generation (books read, places visited, fun family times, cool facts, weird tales), then narrow down to potential story topics.

2. Once a writer has an idea, they can think about all the ways in which the story might be told:

  • Graphic/comics-style story – Show some great graphic novel or memoir examples to get storytellers’ wheels going (When Stars Are Scattered, New Kid, El Deafo).
  • Map story – The writer draws a map that includes all the locations important to their story, then briefly summarizes the story’s events in brief phrases or images associated with those micro-settings.
  • PTD story – Story events are summarized or sketched on a traditional Plot Triangle Diagram (or create a plot diagram that is not so traditional!).
  • Drama performance – Write the story in “sides” like Shakespeare used: Each performer holds a list of their lines, each with a bit of the previous line to serve as the cue. A great exercise in listening, reacting, and communication!
  • Musically – Tell the story set to original music or to a known song reset to the student’s story in lyric form; add movement (dance, statues, interpretive movement, etc.) if the storyteller would like.
  • Art series – Tell the story in a series of sketches, paintings, drawings.
  • Photography – Show examples of photo essays or photojournalism; storytellers use a camera and a series of images they photograph to tell a story. (Or, offer class members a series of abstract, unrelated images taken with your camera and challenge each learner to tell a story based on the images.)
  • Oral storytelling – Storytellers use whatever notes they want to suit their comfort level as they tell the story aloud.
  • Group storytelling – Group members add on lines or plot spontaneously to keep a story going; or, group members can generate a story in pieces while working independently, then compile the events in a way that tells a cohesive story.

3. Encourage students to think outside the box, and to feel free to experiment with form, structure, and style. Combine two or more methods of storytelling or invent an original way to tell the story.

4. Ready some resources for inspiration:

Secrets of Storytelling by MUF’s own contributor Natalie Rompella offers ready-made activity sheets, writer tips, and fun story prompts.

Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine – Chapter One is online here and includes starters and advice.

Story cubes are fun for everyone and might especially benefit visual learners and English language learners in the idea generation process.

5. Finally, for inspiration, share some MG titles with learners in which characters’ storytelling is part of the plot:

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin – Twelve-year-old Jason is autistic and often struggles with relationships in a neurotypical world. Thanks to a site where Jason posts original stories, he has the chance to make a friend in a fellow writer named Rebecca—if he can just work up the courage to meet her.

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist – To get by in tough times, young Isaiah looks to his late father’s stories about Isaiah’s inspirational superhero self.

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern – Eleven-year-old Maple loves dictating stories into her recorder—but reading words on the page is difficult due to her dyslexia. When Maple must repeat fifth grade, she uses her storytelling skills to hide the truth from classmates.

Good luck to all educators as you ready your stellar assignments for fall, and thank you for the invaluable work you do for middle graders and all learners.

Great Friendships in Middle Great Books

Honey and Me, my debut novel out Oct 18th with Scholastic Press, which follows the highs and lows of 6th grade with best friends Milla and Honey. Cover art by Shamar Knight-Justice.

In honor of my debut novel Honey and Me—a coming-of-age story about the friendship and escapades of two eleven-year-old girls—being available for preorder, I thought I would do a post about the central theme of friendship in middle grade novels. Although main character Milla has her insecurities and must find the courage to step out of her best friend Honey’s shadow, I deliberately wanted to write about a true friendship, supportive rather than undermining, with give and take, each friend filling in in the spaces where the other needs help.

I adore the friendship between Isaac and Marco in Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

For this reason, I just absolutely loved Falling Short, the new book by Pura Belpré-award-winning author Ernesto Cisneros. Isaac and Marco go through sixth grade going to all kinds of lengths to try to help each other when one has a strength and the other a weakness. The two boys continuously respect each other despite their differences, and I can’t think of another book where the friendship between two boys appears in quite this way (please add in the comments any that you know of!) Everyone should be blessed with a friend like Isaac to Marco, and Marco to Isaac.

Alexa & Katie on Netflix, my favorite show about a friendship

 

A special shout-out to the Netflix show Alexa & Katie for one of the most beautiful of female friendships I’ve ever seen depicted. While this is obviously not a middle grade novel, I think it’s noteworthy in this context. I watched it with my seven-year-old (who was watching it a second time), my sixteen-year-old loved it too, and although it’s about two girls starting high school (while one is just finishing a course of chemo for leukemia,) I’d say it’s perfectly pitched toward a middle grade audience. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch it for its humor, poignancy, spot-on cast, fabulous acting, sharp dialogue, and that perfect combination of every episode making me both laugh out loud as well as surreptitiously wipe tears from my eyes.

 

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, a wonderful book about finding yourself and friendship

Another book that I adore for the core friendship at its heart is The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, about Pacy, known as Grace at school, who is looking for her talent, her identity and a best friend. The essence of the Chinese Year of the Dog, which Pacy’s mother tells her is a year for friendship, comes true when Melody arrives and the two girls develop an instant bond. Especially moving and illuminating is this joint interview of Newbery Honor-winning author/illustrator Grace Lin and Alvina Ling, VP and Editor-in-Chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, about how this book is actually based on their own friendship as children!  Or this joint podcast interview with them about the publishing industry, or even better their own podcast Book Friends Forever.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE FRIENDSHIPS?

I put a call-out to my fellow MUF contributors as well as to the SCBWI-British Isles Facebook group for more suggestions of great, not-so-great, favorite or otherwise memorable friendships in MG literature—whether something that you read as a child and stuck with you, or something you’ve read more recently— and got some great recommendations.

Props to YA author Matt Killeen for immediately suggesting “Anne Shirley and Diana… bosom friends.” Although I used “Judy Blume meets All-of-A-Kind Family” to pitch Honey and Me, I think the friendship between Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables was definitely an inspiration for my own characters Milla and Honey. And actually, when I think about it, it really does all come back to Anne and Diana, who are eleven when they first meet, as the prototype for middle grade friendships in modern literature. (Again, please add in the comments if there’s something older I’m not thinking of.)

When I See Blue by Lily Bailey has a gorgeous friendship in it. Hannah Gold’s books have beautiful animal-human friendships of course! And Phil Earles’s When the Sky Falls has an animal-boy friendship too and themes of being understood my someone/thing. The Super-Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates has a really authentic friendship trio in it and it’s worth checking out Jenny Pearson’s other books as she really gets child friendships right (being a teacher helps).” Anna Gamble

MUF bloggers write:

I like Wish by Barbara O’Connor, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson, and as a kid I loved the loyalty and friendship between Sara Crewe and Ermengarde St. John in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.” Laurie J. Edwards

Soup by Robert Newton Peck was my favorite friendship book growing up. Its about the hilarious adventures during the 1930s of Robert and Soup and it’s based on the author’s own childhood. I also loved All-of-a-Kind Family which explores friendship and sisterhood. Most recently feels almost impossible to choose. So many! But I must include a shout to Simon & Schuster’s MIX imprint (Aladdin Books) which is dedicated to books about tween female friendship. I’ve had the honor of writing three books for the imprint including, Queen of Likes, The Hot List and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly.Hillary Homzie

The Hot List, by Hillary Homzie, about the “de-intensification of a friendship”

I also want to note that sometimes friendships are unstable, toxic, or unhealthy, and unfortunately this is something that most people encounter at some point in their life, not to mention being the root cause of so much middle school emotional injury. Hillary Homzie’s The Hot List is about what she describes as the “de-intensification of a friendship” which I think is an invaluable topic for an MG book.

 


Many people suggested New Kid by Jerry Kraft, which was on my list too.
“I was thinking about your Q[uestion] about MG books and friendship, and how essential friendship is at that age and often how complicated those relationships are. One more recent MG book I really enjoyed was the graphic novel NEW KID by Jerry Craft, about a 7th grade boy named Jordan who starts at a new school where he is one of the few kids of color in his grade. Jordan wants to keep his old friends from his neighborhood and make new ones at his school, but he often feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. This is a smart, engaging, funny and moving #middlegradenovel I think kids really relate to.” Andrea Pyros

Agreed! And I particularly love that in its sequel, Class Act, we also get the POV of some of Jordan’s friends.

THE MAGIC INGREDIENT

I think that one could argue that friendship is both essential in MG literature, and also that little bit of magic ingredient that makes it stick with you long after you are a child, becoming a part of the make up of your own coming of age. Here are some great lists of middle grade books about friendship that have already been compiled. Please add your own favorites, from childhood or more recently, in the comments!

15 Great Middle Grade Books About Friendship

4 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Books

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/kids/6-awesome-middle-grade-friendship-novels/

 

50 Must-Read Middle Grade Friendship Stories

12 Books About Friendship for Middle Grade Readers

Better Together: 10 of the Best Friendships in Middle Grade Lit

 

Honey and Me, out with Scholastic Press on October 18th, 2022, and available for preorder now. Visit me at meiradrazin.com.

Pushing the Kindness Agenda

Since the now-infamous awards show last week that, unfortunately, probably far too many young people saw, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness. I saw very little of that broadcast, admittedly—the abundance of “gibes” and “roasts” and physical gags (long before the most talked-about moment) had me turning away early on. It made me wonder if that show/“joke”-fest might be one representation of a lack of general goodwill between people these days stemming from societal stress. Society seems a bit besieged right now with supercharged tensions (the years-long weight of the pandemic, increased political polarity, harmful social media, images of war, economic concerns…) that sometimes eclipse kindness in words and deeds.

Despite parents’ and teachers’ best efforts, kids may struggle to find kindness in the midst of those confusing stressors, especially if they don’t understand them. Counterbalancing our increased societal tension with some extra promotion of kindness seems more and more crucial.

Luckily, there’s at least one way to push a kindness agenda that’s easy for us as writers, teachers, parents, and librarians: Offer good books that show what kindness can do. Many, many middle grade books offer a dose of kindness, as we all know that books for this age range have great potential for character education; parents and teachers see the merits of sharing and teaching books to middle graders in which virtues like kindness are rewarded. And some middle grade reads promote kindness as the very root of the plot, theme, or main character’s arc.

These middle grade choices count under the kindness column, including some newer titles on the scene as well as older favorites worthy of a fresh read with compassion in mind. Eager to hear your personal picks for kindness in the comments.

Like Auggie said, choose kind.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park – Fourteen-year-old Hanna is not surprised by the mostly unwelcoming attitudes of townspeople in the new railroad town of LaForge, Dakota Territory in 1880, where she and father settle to open a dress goods shop; she is half-Chinese, and others have made their prejudiced views clear all her life. In the midst of unfriendliness and harassment, Hanna must find the courage to draw on the kindness of one genuine friend to save her father’s shop and their future in LaForge.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros – Seventh grader Efrén embodies kindness towards his family and friends, even when his mother’s deportation requires him to take on the care and supervision duties for his kindergarten-aged twin siblings, making his own homework difficult to complete and his free time disappear. A rocky friendship that heals through empathy and Efrén’s goals to extend his kindness beyond his family’s needs solidify the goodwill theme.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk – Annabelle, going on 12, learns perseverance and resiliency in her attempts to show kindness to a misunderstood local WWI veteran who becomes the victim of a malicious harasser. Look for the sequel to Wolf Hollow, My Own Lightning, due out next month.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh – In this graphic novel, main character Snap befriends a local older woman whom many in town consider a witch. Snap learns some unexpected things about her own family—as well as a little magic—through this kindness.

Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross – Twelve-year-old Jacques makes an unexpected friend through kindness: Kiki, a Somalian refugee new to his small Maine town. On a larger scale, the book invites a look at how towns can change for the better through acceptance and generosity toward others in need.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein – A group of middle schoolers try to beat Mr. Lemoncello’s “escape room”-like game with kindness in mind; those who are unkind or play unfairly break the rules and face ejection from the competition.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – Eighth grader Carley Conners feels bitter, betrayed, and fearful after an episode of abuse involving her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now in foster care, Carley is initially mistrustful of the kindness shown to her by foster parent Mrs. Murphy, a mom of three boys. Soon, Carley learns that the kindness you accept can be practiced toward others.

A Long Way from Home by Alice Walsh – Reflecting the true story of kindness extended by the town of Gander, Newfoundland to thousands of diverted plane passengers on 9/11, this novel’s main character is a young Muslim refugee on her way to America. A boy, Colin, initially sees only differences between Rabia and himself, but the charity of Gander’s citizens soon leads to a change in perceptions.

Wonder by RJ Palacio – To borrow the author’s phrase, this “meditation on kindness” has certainly impacted millions of readers. Readers new to Wonder will explore the struggle behind individuals’ difficulty in accepting a boy just because his appearance is different from theirs.