The Toughest Cowboy (or How the Wild West Was Tamed)

This is a pourquoi tale about how the frisbee was invented. Grizz Brickbottom and his 3 friends are the toughest cowboys on the prairie. They decide they need someone with silky hair, a lovely smell, and sweet kisses—and accidentally adopt Foofy, the miniature poodle. She is a picky eater and likes French cooking so Chuck Wagon is charged with that as well as singing her to sleep. Bald Mountain has to comb her hair. Lariat has to make her a leash, and tie a ribbon in her hair. They have a great time with Foofy who loves to fetch thrown tin plates. Without meaning to, the cowboy team gets used to being clean and moves into the town to open a restaurant, a hairdressing salon, a gift shop, and a business making the Grizz-B.

John Frank, Simon and Schuster, ©2004, ISBN 0-689-83461-6

Write A Fractured Cowboy Fairy Tale
The Toughest Cowboy is full of “cowboy language”. You could give each student a copy of a single page, and have them work in groups with their assigned pages to identify some of the “slang” and the words about the cowboy life on the page. Here is only a small sample of what they will encounter: reckin’, move’n, ain’t, hitched up, eatin’, druther, saloon, addled, a lick and a promise, saddle up, chaps, save your bacon, bad egg, ballyhoo, barrel rider, bed down, bee in your bonnet, big guns, bilk, blarney, bridle, reins, lariat, spurs, stirrups, branding iron, etc. The idea is that they can create a list that they can use to create their own western tale.

To make it easier you could suggest creating a fractured fairy tale. A western fractured fairy tale based on Cinderella is Bubba the Cowboy Prince. The Cinderella is a cowboy who is oppressed by his two brothers. The “prince” is a woman who owns the neighbouring ranch. There is a fairy god-cow. Lots of fun. Read it to your students and discuss the points of comparison.

If you have the book, read the story a second time asking them to pay attention to the “cowboy” language being used. Stop for every page or so to ask them what they heard then give them a list of fairy tales for which they might do a cowboy version: Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc. They need to set it in the old west, and use cowboy lingo. Emend them there are lots of fractured fairy tales out there that are “making money” for their authors..

Good Manners
“You got no upbringin’, that’s what’ wrong,” said Grizz. “You ain’t had a bath in six months, you never heard of a napkin, and you use your fingers to clean your teeth, and pick your noses.”

Generate with students categories of good manners: table manners, telephone/message manners, social manners when you in a group, store manners, personal hygiene manners, etc.

Ask students to draw a line to create a grid or set of columns for each category then give them as individuals 5 minutes to write down as many things about good manners in Canada that they know in each of these categories. Put them into groups of 4 to generate the longest list they can with each group having its own aspect of the grid to work on.

If you don’t have a lot of time, simply select one of the categories. For example, table manners are where it is most likely that there will be differences based on ethnicity. In many ways what is good manners is culture specific or is based on increasing awareness of hygiene to keep others from getting sick.

An international example of what constitutes good manner is the SkyTrain. In Canada, it is perfectly OK to talk to your friends, and even sometimes to the stranger sharing a seat. In Japan on the other hand, the commuter train is a silent place, even for good friends riding together. Japan is very densely populated so general rules on silence help your environment from being full of “noise pollution.”

Good discussion can arise for what the logic behind the “good manners” might be. For example, it is said that shaking hands right-handed, arose from showing your good intentions to demonstrate the you were not carrying a weapon.

“Character” Exploration
Grizz Brickbottom is tough. Ask the student to listen for how tough he is. Then read the opening of the book to the students. After, ask them what Grizz eats (fried boots and lizard gizzards), what he drinks (a quart of Tabasco sauce a day), how he sleeps (with a rattle snake), how he flosses (with barbed wire), what he can do with his stubble (grind a branding iron into a belt buckle).

Give students a collection of possible characters defined by a single quality—kind, mean, messy, neat, fast, slow, etc.—and ask them to create a humorous opening description of that character…as though they were going to write a story.

Later if you are interested in expanding beyond the creation of a character by stereotype, you can ask what other qualities we learn he has as the story progresses, and how we know: he’s kind, he is a good friend, he’s a leader, he likes animals, he can learn and change, he is playful, etc.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Toughest Cowboy to download.

The Mermaid’s Muse: The Legend of the Dragon Boats

A poet named Qu Yuan, advisor to the King of Chu, is falsely banished to a far off island where the inhabitants really respect his wisdom. A dragon falls in love with him, and changes to a young woman, who asks him to come and live with her under the sea. The villagers assume, when they see him on the dragon, that he is going to be killed and they row out in their boats to save him, banging on the water to scare the dragon, throwing in rice cakes to distract the dragon, and attacking. The dragon refuses to fight back. The poet eventually changes himself into a dragon and says, “Do not believe everything your eyes will tell you.” After that, each year, the villagers celebrate the two dragons, and eventually come to celebrate with their own dragon boats.

David Bouchard, Raincoast Books, 1999, ISBN 9781551922485

Author: Dave Bouchard
Dave Bouchard is a former school administrator and teacher in BC. He has a school named after him in Ontario. He has received the Governor General’s medal and written many books. Three of his books are of Chinese folktales: The Mermaid’s Muse, The Dragon New Year, and The Great Race. Nine of his books reflect his Metis heritage which he discovered as an adult including I am Raven (click for teaching ideas).

Pourquoi Stories: How Things Came To Be
Pouquoi is French for “why”. This is a pourquoi story of how it came to be that there are dragon boat races and festivals around the world. Students could be asked to write their own imaginative, “how it came to be” story. One possibility is how the name of their school came to be, or the name of their town. Another is just an ordinary object such as an orange and how it came to be. Most pourquoi stories have a humorous element.

For example, I went to General Currie Elementary School in Richmond in grade one. We children believed that it was named after an American General (because that seemed more possible than a Canadian General) who had retired in Canada after the American Revolution. As an adult I discovered that he was the first Canadian commander of an all Canadian military division.

Art: Drawing the Dragon
There are many YouTube videos to teach students to draw important Chinese symbols, including the dragon. One I particularly like is How to Draw a Chinese Dragon by Paolo Morrone (below). Be prepared to stop the video at regular intervals so that students can catch up.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Mermaid’s Muse to download.

Pluto Gets the Call

Pluto loved being a planet but then receives the call that demotes him. He decides to head to the Sun to plead his case and on the way comments, mostly unfavourably, on the other planets as he passes them. The Sun consoles him with the fact that he now has a warm place in our hearts. With humour, we learn some facts about the solar system.

Adam Rex, Simon and Schuster, Beach Line Books, ©2019 978-1-5344-1453-2

Memorizing the Planets – In Order
Yes, there’s a mnemonic—My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Noodles—but for me it’s as hard to remember the sentence as it is to remember the planets in order. I was once taught a story that works, because narrative is easiest to remember.

First, remember there are 4 inner smaller rocky planets, and 4 larger gas planets. Also, this names the planets from the sun out which means, for example, that if I say “Jupiter” you will always be able to say it is between Mars and Saturn.

Right next to the Sun, there was a very zippy planet called Mercury, named after the Messenger God because of its speed. Unfortunately, Mercury sneezed on the next planet over, which was the beautiful planet, Venus. Now mercury is poisonous so Venus scooped it up and threw it on the next planet, Earth. Earth didn’t want it either, and threw it onto Mars, the next planet and an angry red planet named after the god of war.

Mars was just winding up to throw it, when over the hill came a giant, that reached to the clouds, Jupiter. He was wearing a t-shirt with a huge red circle in the middle surrounded by the letters S.U.N. (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). In the old days, he also had worn a ridiculous beanie cap on top of which was a tiny little model of the cartoon dog Pluto, but he doesn’t wear it any more.

Tales in Space
For general vocabulary, it’s a good idea to try out the Two Dozen Words You Need to Explore Space. Actually, I made that up, but they are still good words: satellite, orbit, rocket, space station, sputnik, comet, meteor, nebula, vacuum, astronomy, solar wind, big bang, Kuiper Belt, stardust, asteroid belt, International Space Station, telescope, cosmonaut/astronaut, heliosphere, black hole, galactic, magnetosphere, NASA, Canada Arm.

Once they have the words in their space suit, so to speak, ask them to write a story incorporating at least 10 of the words. It could be a space adventure such as Guardians of the Galaxy with a hero, an oddball sidekick, and a quest. It’s okay for them to create another adventure for characters they already know. The idea is to stretch their vocabulary into active use.

Ask them to highlight the words they use because there will be 2 marks: 1 for using the words, and 1 for the story, and you want your marking to be as easy as possible.

The Gods of the Greeks and Romans Are With Us Today
Give students a list of the products and events in our life that relate to the Gods of Greece and Rome. Ask each student to research one of them: what is the product and what does it do, what is the story behind the god it is named after, and why they feel that connection is appropriate. Prepare a quick PowerPoint or Keynote with pictures of the product or event. Students will turn in their paper, and also make an oral presentation. Two marks from one assignment and it’s fun too.

Here are some products: Nike shoes, Pandora jewelry, Versace designer uses the Medusa head, Ajax cleaner, Hermes fashion, Starbucks siren/ mermaid symbol, Trident gum, Goodyear tires with the flying sandal, FTD florists’ symbol of Mercury, Amazon delivers, Mars candy bar, Oracle database software, Ambrosia salad, Apollo Theatre in New York City, Delphi software, Vulcanized rubber, Centaur pharmaceuticals, Echo Digital Audio, Europa (website of the EU), Hyperion Records, Odyssey records, Pegasus travel, Poseidon Seafood, Prometheus books, Titans ()NFL team), Triton Tool and Die, Mercury Car, the Nissan Titan, the Volkswagen Phaeton, Venus Beauty supplies, Pegasus symbol of Mobil Oil. Honda Odyssey.

For more creative writing ideas, click Pluto Gets the Call to download.