Imagine This. A Friend.

June 24, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, teaching, writing | By

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Imagine this. A friend.

 

Beekle gets tired of waiting to be imagined, and sets off on a journey through the real world to find his friend.

 

What is so magical about this book is the interplay between the real and the fantastical. The combination of both elements in such close proximity makes us believe anything is possible. Beekle is a spectacular creature, yet he is wearing a crown held together with Scotch tape. Heck, I could make that crown.

 

Maybe I could have a friend like Beekle.

 

And that, right there, is the magic in this book. It is filled with everyday magic that could give even those of us in our saddest and loneliest moment a glimmer of hope.

 

Dan Santat assumes that we have spectacular imaginations, like the kids in the story. Just check out the endpapers if you need more evidence of miraculous friends.

 

Children do have imaginations like this – all they need is a little time, encouragement and inspiration. I’m so thankful Santat has provided us some inspiration in The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend and glad he has a Caldecott Award to show for it.

 

If you’d like a CCSS aligned worksheet for first and second graders to get started on a story about an unimaginary friendship of their own, try this free download: Unimaginary Friend Story Sheet.

 

Title The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend

  • Author Dan Santat
  • Illustrator Dan Santat
  • Copyright 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-316-19998-8
  • Dewey Decimal Number PB San
  • Reading Range K-3 (3.3)
  • Book cover image

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Gone Fishing – A Novel for Second Graders

June 13, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries, teaching, writing | By

Gone Fishing is a treasure for many reasons. First of all: kids love it. It has just enough mischief and naughtiness to spice up a read-a-loud and keep any reluctant reader turning pages. The sibling rivalry at the center of this story will hit home with anyone who has, well, had a sibling. Even for those of us who don’t normally fish, the slimy details keep us involved and invested because we identify with Sam and rejoice as he overcomes his frustrations and failures.

The second reason this book is such a treat you may not even notice up front: it’s a novel-in-verse. And what’s even better is that the audience is second and third grade, where we have a dearth of novels-in-verse. Gone Fishing is perfect for this age group because the subject matter is on-point emotionally: a younger sister horns in on her big brother’s fishing trip with dad. Even more appealing to teachers: the poetry is meticulous. After you’ve been through the book once to catch the plot, you will enjoy re-reading to enjoy Wissinger’s craft. Here, the various poetic forms reveal the emotions as true and entertaining, without being overwrought. And, each form is outlined in a neat appendix, handy for future – and practicing – poets.

Gone Fishing is a natural fit for the second grade English Language Arts Standards in Reading Literature. The story is told from two very different points of view – both Sam and Lucy ­– making this a perfect read to “speak in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.6).” This short book will help round out the range of complexity called for in the Standards (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.10) by introducing a wide variety of poetry.

Some students may be lucky enough to try writing some of their own poetry using the examples in the back of this book. Turning our complaints, failures and frustrations into entertaining poems can take a lot of the sting out of the curves we all get thrown every now and again. Kudos to Wissinger for setting this shining example of resiliency.

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  • Title Gone Fishing
  • Author Tamera Will Wissinger
  • Illustrator Matthew Cordell
  • Copyright 2013
  • ISBN 9780547820118
  • Dewey Decimal Number Fic
  • Reading Range 1-3 (2.6)

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Out of My Mind is Must-Read Middle Grade

May 31, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries, teaching | By

Out of My Mind is told by a girl who cannot speak – or even move at all – yet she loves words. Melody is practically trapped in her body. But she feels words. Sees words.

So, how does she tell the story?

That’s the question.

I absolutely loved Out of My Mind by Sharon M Draper and I have yet to find a middle school student who does not also adore the book. I understood Melody, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak, yet is highly intelligent. Draper does an exceptional job of getting the reader to feel what Melody feels and to empathize with her. The stakes in the story are high enough to keep you reading yet not falsely trumped up as some middle grades can be. There is no unnecessary death, rather the normal ups and downs of a fifth grader, told through an extraordinary lens: Melody’s.

I would recommend this book to any middle school reader who enjoys complex characters, and a realistic yet unusual story well told. This book will stay with you because it will expand your understanding of the human experience.

For teachers, this book will help with the Common Core Literacy standard to describe how a narrator’s point of view influences how events are described (ELA Literacy RL 5.6). Melody can describe events so accurately yet she is nearly unable to participate in them, verbally at least. Teachers will be able to imagine all sorts of ways to simulate this feeling for students in class. Abled-students have real difficulty with this feeling. Chapters one and two are particularly rich with “concrete words and phrases and sensory details” called for in the ELA Writing standards (ELA Writing 5.3d).

Out of My Mind

Sharon M Draper

2010

978-1-4169-8045-2 (e-book)

Fic

4.3

 

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Cookies Conquer Fear

June 20, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

As a Young Inklings and Hillview Author Author teacher, I have hosted thirty-one class parties over the last three years. I’ve heard nearly three hundred kids – Kindergarten through age fourteen – read their original stories out loud to an audience.

Each student created something unique, from her own imagination. This story – brand new to the world but very close to her heart – she shared with others, some of whom she did not know.

This takes incredible courage. For boys and girls alike.readingfears

I usually ask the teenagers to list their fears the week before the reading. This takes a lot of paper. Fears about reading original work aloud include: “people won’t understand you, tripping up reading, being judged, being misunderstood, tripping up and other variations on what others may think.”

We discuss each of the fears. Unfortunately, these are rational fears. I never promise kids that these things will not happen. They might.

We can’t control what others think. We make mistakes.

I don’t tell students this, but I’ve seen worse things happen: accidents, tears or uncontrolled giggles. It’s scary to face your greatest fears while everyone is watching you.

So, why do it?

Well, the kids in my elementary classes will tell you its because they get a cookie afterward.  At each party every kid gets a cookie. They know this from day one. Each student reads the story she has written aloud to an audience of other students and, if elementary kids, also parents – usually about 15 – 30 people. We talk a lot about this cookie for the nine weeks leading up to the party.

When we have writer’s block because we can’t come up with the exactly perfect thing to write, we talk about the cookie, and how many weeks it is until cookies. This might be a good time to go ahead write anything: it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be ready for when we have cookies together.

When we start to get scared about reading the story we have written out loud, we talk about how there will be cookies afterwards. No one will be thinking about us and whether our pants are zipped up, they will be thinking about when we have cookies together.

To be clear: these cookies are from Safeway.

Even though it’s all about the cookies, it’s not about the cookies at all.

It’s about the other part of the sentence: We will all have the cookies together.

It’s about faith. We need to know that all our effort, all our work will be valued by those around us. We need to know we matter. We need to be acknowledged. We will not be alone in the moment of our greatest vulnerability.

Promising friends and families cookies for that support seems like the least we can do. And, certainly, when kids are this courageous, they must know they we will be there for them at the end. When they face their fears – and they are substantial: rejection, judgment, and failure – we will be there.

And, we want to know everything will be OK on the other side.

The cookie is just our excuse.

And that’s just fine with me. These kids are brave enough as it is.

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Plant a Seed

June 12, 2013 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, teaching | By

A seed is full of genetic material. It contains a bit of food to get the next creation growing.

Without a seed, a writing class is a writing club.

After the fun, after the friends, a writing class needs a seed: a small, inspiring, critical component. I like to read a story. Usually I ask a question – or introduce an idea – before I read a story. That question – or idea – is the seed.

Before Audrey Wood’s Heckedy Peg we talked about foreshadowing. As I read the story to a group of second and third graders we discussed how the items children needed from the market foreshadowed what they became at the witch’s house, which foreshadowed how their mother saved them.

I asked: Did you foreshadow something in your story?

I never point out a lack of something in a child’s story. I know, from writing my own stories, that it is far too easy to shut down the creative process. I learn more by seeing new things in other stories. When I’m really lucky, I might make a connection to my own writing. When I’m fortunate as a teacher, one of my students might find his own connection.

After reading Heckedy Peg, I said, “Sometimes we give ourselves a gift at the beginning of our stories we forget. Maybe if we have trouble with an ending, we can re-read the beginning we have already written.”

“Oh!” said a second grade student, “I just thought of an idea for my story.”

That is my greatest hope for students when we read and discuss literature: that they will make a connection to their own writing. And, that this connection will help them to grow.

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