Posts Tagged reading

“What I Didn’t Do This Summer” and Other MG Narrative Writing Ideas

A hearty thank you to all the teachers and librarians who are off and running in a new school year! We certainly wish you the best. Educational settings of all types have seen wild change and plenty of challenges in the last year and a half, but educators continue to rally, adapt, instruct, and inspire.

For those of you on the lookout for ways to offer your middle grade writers new and creative ideas, here are some suggestions to try!

These ideas:

  • Capitalize upon and promote students’ start-of-the-year enthusiasm and excitement.
  • Can be used as icebreakers and in peer-response circles (in which each student provides one “This is awesome!” and one “This is just a suggestion!” remark for a fellow writer).
  • Will fulfill one of the most fun Common Core State Standards—Narrative Writing (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W3)!
  • Will connect to (relatively) pain-free grammar and composition mini-lessons as students revise and edit, which account for additional Writing Standards.
  • Will connect to Reading: Literature CCSS if you tie the writing lesson to the study of a novel and Speaking and Listening CCSS if students share their original work aloud (with a bit of coaching on presentation skills).
  • Can serve as a foundation for powerhouse lessons and quality use of instructional time–not to mention a chance for kids to use imagination along with skills in a memorable and fun writing experience.

The “What I Didn’t Do This Summer” Composition

Students might need a little explanation if they are not aware of the traditional “What I Did This Summer” essay that kicked off each year of English class for so many generations of students. Then, turn the notion on its head: Kids write an imaginative piece that includes events their summer certainly did not showcase: didn’t talk to penguins at the South Pole, didn’t go back in time and meet pirates or ninjas, didn’t even try to dig a hole to the other side of the world, didn’t get the cell phone to work as a portal to another planet. Offer more structure to those who don’t jump in on their own, for example, “Three Adventures I Wanted to Try This Summer But Didn’t,” or “Three Things I Wouldn’t Have Done This Summer Even for Ten Thousand Dollars.”

The First-Line Fest

The best part about a First-Line Fest is the time involved; you can spend a few class periods on this activity, use it for a five-minute filler, or utilize any length of time in between. You might want to start by offering a read-aloud of first lines from some great test-of-time middle grade novels (and letting kids guess the titles is a nice intro). Some possibilities:

“It was one of those super-duper cold Saturdays.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital / Columbus, Ohio, / USA— / a country caught / between Black and White.”

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni and cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

Then, coach students to compose an attention-getting first line to a story or novel that they do not have to write. Use whatever guidelines or fun twists suit your purposes: must be a full sentence with an action verb; must contain at least two characters; must jump in with a conflict; must be a setting description with an animal; must be more than 20 words but fewer than 25; etc.  Or, throw rules out the window (except, of course, for your classroom-appropriate guidelines 😊 ) and see what first-line creations students come up with.

The Favorite Genre Never-Been-Done Premise

Explain the concept of a premise to your would-be writers and allow them to guess a book based on its premise. Knowing what books they covered as a class the previous year ensures success here, so for example, if they read Other Words for Home: “A seventh grade girl leaves Syria for Cincinnati, bravely auditions for a musical, and remains hopeful for the safety of the missing brother she left behind.”

Next, review genre as a literary characteristic, and have kids narrow their favorite genres. Finally, assign a fun one-to-three sentence premise for a story or novel in their favorite genre they’d love to someday read or write. Some facet of the imagined storyline must make the premise never-been-done before (a challenge, as we writers are well aware!). Look to recent releases in some favorite genres for inspiration and recommended reads for your students to dovetail with this writing assignment:

Fantasy: The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde, The Hidden Knife by Melissa Marr, Arrow by Samantha M. Clark

Sports/Outdoors/Activities: Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz, Soccer Trophy Mystery by Fred Bowen, Much Ado about Baseball by Rajani LaRocca

Scare Stories: Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

MG contemporary: Thanks A Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas, To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel, The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron

Also, consider genre mash-ups to make the never-been-done objective a little easier—and a lot more creative.

Have a great year filled with creative opportunities for your middle grade writers, and thank you again for your devotion to educating kids.

 

First lines: The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis;  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling; Holes by Louis Sachar; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

What Makes It Tick?

The creative mind is a wonderful and mysterious thing.

Serendipity. Déjà vu. That sweet feeling when one thing enters the equation and the answer snaps into place like pieces of a puzzle. The workings of the human brain are sublime. Humans have worked for centuries to define the nuts and bolts of how our brains work.  The neurotransmitters, the ion gradients, the neurons, the processing centers, and the communication patterns are biologically understood. Understanding creativity, however, is a whole other thing. We can record Peter Brown’s brain activity but we fall short trying to understand exactly how his brain can take a shipwrecked cargo of robots, a remote island, and wild animals and then create the world of The Wild Robot.

A wonderful and mysterious thing, right?

What makes the creative mind tick? That’s a question I’m constantly investigating.  From voice to style to structure to wild, unadulterated imagination, the facets of a creative mind are the gears that drive the bus to its destination. I find this creative engine that floats inside our skulls amazing and worthy of study. What makes 1000 writers come up with 1000 unique stories even after being given a fairly strict and narrow writing prompt?

I want to know! 

Several months ago, while driving home from work, a memory of author/illustrator Bill Peet’s autobiography popped into my head. I remember reading it in the early 1990s after checking it out from the public library. I always liked Bill Peet’s illustration work so I enjoyed his illustrated autobiography immensely. That said, I hadn’t thought of the book in well over 20 years. The memory just popped out of nowhere and I made a mental note to see if the library still had a copy in circulation. 

I made no mention of this to anyone and soon forgot to investigate further.

The weird, wild, and serendipitous part of the story is that last week, my wife came home with a certain author/illustrator’s autobiography she pulled out of the culled pile of books from the library at the elementary school she teaches at. As if it appeared from thin air, I stood, open-jawed, holding a copy of, Bill Peet: An Autobiography.

It is as good as I remembered. However, I’m still perplexed at the pure, blind fortune that resulted in the book resting on my shelf. Was my mind sending electromagnetic energy into the universe about Bill Peet’s autobiography? Was this simple luck and the coming together of unrelated events? The answer may never be known; at least not to my feeble brain.

The creative mind yearns to understand. 

I’ve always had this blessing (or curse) to understand how things work. I’ve dissected everything from lampreys to cow eyes to dogfish sharks to learn anatomy and how it relates to function. I’ve set up elaborate experiments in attempts to figure out how infectious diseases work and how the host fights them. I’ve taken apart old furniture, radios, televisions, and computers in an attempt to understand their workings. The problem in my case is I’m not so good at putting these things back together properly. 🙂

Perhaps this is why I became a scientist and why I enjoy writing and studying the processes of how stories are built. Yes, part of being a writer is to understand how to build a story and then how to best build your stories. It’s akin to studying how Seurat, Van Gogh, or Kadir Nelson create their art masterpieces.

In short, in order to build a house, you first have to know what a house is and understand what the important bits are. 

The creative mind is curious.

Confession time…

I like writing craft books. I own too many. I probably spend too much time reading and re-reading them instead of actually writing. I know many of you can relate. Writers also learn to read with a purpose. Reading a book with an eye on the author’s craft involved in creating the work. Reading to find out what made that story, that book, that graphic image effective. Kidlit-ology!

There’s also an often untapped resource out there to help understand what makes authors tick.

The kidlit creator autobiography. 

As I hinted at above with my love of the Bill Peet book, I enjoy autobiographies. I really enjoy author autobiographies. They are often different from true biographies because they’re told through the lens of the person and not from a third party. The autobiography is told through a completely different filter. Author autobiographies are like taking mom’s sewing machine apart to see its workings; they are a peek into what made them the writer they grew up to be.

After an “extensive” internet search, which, in my case, is typing “children’s authors’ autobiographies in the search box, I unearthed an interesting list of kidlit author autobiographies. Some I own, some I’ve read, and many are new to me but are now on the TBR list.

On My Shelf List

  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood & Going Solo by Roald Dahl
  • When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
  • Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

Ones I’ve Read List

  • El Deafo by Cece Bell
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Not exactly 100% reality but as the description says, “Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional…”)

 

 

The TBR List

  • Knots In My Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli
  • 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tommie DePaola
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Gone To The Woods: Surviving A Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up by Jon Scieszka
  • The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life by Sid Fleischman
  • It Came From Ohio!: My Life As A Writer by R.L. Stine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you read any of the books on the list?

Do you have other kidlit author autobiographies to share? I’m particularly interested in reading and studying more autobiographies from diverse creators, especially Native and Indigenous creators. If anyone knows of any, please share these books in the comments. I’d be very interested in adding them to the TBR list! 

Learning and growing. That’s what a writer does. Writing is a constant, ever-shifting process. Each piece is different in its own, unique way while carrying a core consistency that’s coined as “voice”. 

The mind is indeed a weird and wonderful thing. A writer’s mind is doubly so. A middle-grade writer may triple or quadruple that!

Have a creative spring and then carry it over into summer. Take inspiration and knowledge from those who came before us. Be a source of inspiration and knowledge to those who will come behind us.

Learn and grow. Every day.

You got this, friends.

Read. Write. Repeat.

Celebrating Spring with Outdoor and Reading Activities

Spring is officially here, the days are getting longer, and there’s no better time than now to start spending more time outdoors. The Child Mind Institute has compiled a list of benefits to children of getting outside. These include an increase in confidence and creativity and a decrease in stress. Below are five easy ways for you and the students in your life to get in more sunshine time. In addition, below you can find some books to explore while you’re outdoors.

 

 

Five Easy Ways to Spend More Time Outdoors

  • Create an outdoor reading space. This can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. You can use anything from a quilt or pillow laid out on the grass to a vine-covered arbor with a comfortable bench.
  • Invite students to take homework outdoors. Outdoorosity.org has five easy steps to start studying outdoors. Leaving electronic devices indoors while working on homework outdoors also helps to increase focus.
  • Jot observations in a nature journal. Writing in a nature journal during a break from reading or schoolwork helps students to tune into the details around them. What animals and plants do they notice?  What questions do they have? Students can use some of the books below to help find answers.
  • Take up birdwatching. As students read, study or explore outdoors, they will most likely see and hear plenty of birds. Why not learn more about them? Students can track sightings in their nature journal. At Audubon.org, you and the students in your life can learn more about birds in your area and connect with local birders. In addition, you can find a field guide specific to your region to help identify the birds you find.
  • Plan a visit to a park. Visit a local, state or national park. There you can explore how the history of your area has been shaped by the availability of water, dirt for growing crops, and other natural resources.

Books to Help Explore Your Natural World

The students in your life and you can use the books below to learn more about your natural world:

Book Beastly Bionics

 

Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature Paperback by Jennifer Swanson. This book takes readers on a journey to explore how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology. The inspiration for the next great discovery just might be in your own backyard.

 

 

 

Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel

 

Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk and Feel by Nancy Castaldo. This book provides insight into animal intelligence. Readers can explore how animals communicate, show empathy, use tools, and interact in social societies.

 

 

 

 

Insects and Spiders

 

Insects and Spiders by Christine Taylor-Butler. This book provides readers with an up-close look at insects and spiders including their habitats and unique abilities. In addition, the book provides insight into dangers facing these creatures and how humans can help keep these species alive.

 

 

 

 

butterfly guide

 

National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Butterflies of North America by the National Audubon Society. This guide is small enough to carry almost everywhere, but it is packed full of information to help readers identify 80 of the most common butterflies .

 

 

 

are ants like plants

 

 

Super Science: Are Ants Like Plants?  by Sue Heavenrich. This book takes readers deeper into the world of ants and plants and introduces students to fascinating facts about how these living things access food, grow, and communicate with their friends.

 

 

 

 

kid's Guide to Exploring nature

 

The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet) by Brooklyn Botanic Garden Educators (Author) and László Veres (Illustrator). This guide provides readers with information on how to observe their natural world as a naturalist does. In addition, it leads them on 24 adventures to explore the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park.

 

 

 

 

Rocking Book of Rocks

 

 

The Rocking Book of Rocks: An Illustrated Guide to Everything Rocks, Gems, and Minerals by Florence Bullough (Author), Amy Ball (Author) and Anna Alanko (Illustrator). This book helps students explore the diverse world of rocks, gems and minerals. As a result, they just might become budding geologists.

 

 

 

 

trees leaves flowers and seeds

 

 

Trees, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom by DK with contribution by the Smithsonian Institution. This book helps readers explore the diverse and intriguing world of plants. It features more than 1,000 images and interesting facts to take readers into the botanical world, from tiny seeds to giant trees.

 

 

 

ultimate bug-opedia

 

 

Ultimate Bugopedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Nancy Honovich and Darlyne A. Murawski. This book invites readers to explore the hidden world of the most popular bugs on the planet.

 

 

 

 

who gives a poop

 

 

Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery (Author) and Iris Gottlieb (Illustrator). This book  invites readers to explore the interesting science behind poop and to discover how poop has a purpose. In addition, readers will learn about the role that poop has played in history.

 

 

 

 

wildlife ranger action guide

 

 

Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson. This book helps students become citizen-scientists with dozens of hands-on activities and habitat-creation projects.

 

 

 

 

For more information to help explore the natural world of the students in your life and you, please check out our STEM Tuesday section.