The Three Questions

In this picture book, based on a Leo Tolstoy short story, our hero Nikolai seeks the answer to his three questions from a series of animals, ending with the wise turtle of the mountain. It is his response to a stranger’s cry for help that leads him to the answer. It’s a simple book based on three questions: What is the right time? Who is the most important one? What is the most important thing to do?

John J. Muth, Scholastic, ©2002, 978-0-439-19996-4

Fables

A fable has specific characteristics:

  • There are animals in the story.
  • The animals talk.
  • The animals represent human qualities.
  • A fable is very short.
  • There is an explicit statement of the moral of the story.

By this definition, which of the qualities of a fable does this story have or not have?

Internet Version of the Book

I looked at several YouTube versions of this book, and think this is the best. If you want to read it yourself, simply turn off the sound, and read aloud as the story proceeds.

Philosophy for Kids

The Teaching Children Philosophy website has a collection of some interesting activities for students based around picture books (click book modules). Some discussions that might be useful are:

  1. What is it to be a hero? to be heroic?
  2. Give students a small collection of 3 songs. What makes a beautiful song? An ugly song? What makes something beautiful or ugly?

(This can be applied to images as well.)

For 10 creative writing ideas, click The Three Questions to download.

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Detective LaRue

The follow-up book to Dear Mrs. LaRue, using the same pattern, finds Ike accused of abducting the neighbour’s cats. Mrs. LaRue is on vacation, and the story proceeds through his letters from jail, and on the road, as he tracks down the culprits. As with the other book, his letters in black and white show the difficulties he is claiming to have; the coloured pictures show the reality of his experience.

Mark Teague, Scholastic, ©2004, ISBN 0- 439-45868-4

The Letter Story

This book can provide an excellent model for telling a story that advances through a series of letters. Ask students to first outline a story they wish to write, then to add rich details in the form of a series of letters home, or to a friend, or someone who has moved a way, telling a bit of the story in each letter.

The Point of View Story

Each page of the book contrasts black and white with colour. The black and white portion of the picture represents how Ike is seeing the situation. In the first letter he is seeing himself as sitting in a bare cell, singing with a rat, with a metal tin, presumably having held food on the floor, looking pathetic. In the colour picture, he is sitting at the officer’s desk, with dog bones and a doughnut, drinking a coffee the officer has presumably poured, while typing his letter on the officer’s typewriter.

This is an excellent model for two perspectives on any historic Social Studies event being studied. For example, on one side of the page of a report on Columbus, students could write the historic story of Columbus. On the other side, the same story from the point of view of the miserable sailor who is suffering from sea sickness, shortage of food, scummy water, scurvy, crowded conditions, etc.

Did you know, for example, that the three ships of Columbus were actually the Nina, the Pinta, and the Navidad. Apparently, on Christmas the crew was drunkenly celebrating and a sailor ran the Santa Maria aground. They built a new ship from scavenging the old one, and anything else they could find and christened it The Navidad (for the name of Christmas in Spanish.) It would make a great letter.

YouTube Reading Rockets

An interview with Mark Teague about his early writing experiences is available at YouTube Reading Rockets where he describes dictating stories to his mom. It’s very short…and might make a really good prompt to students writing a journal entry about their earliest writing experiences.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Detective LaRue 2pdf to download.

Marco Polo

The story of Marco Polo and his trip from Venice to Beijing starting in 1271 and his return 24 years later. The illustrations are in an eastern 13th century style, with gilding and gorgeous elaborate borders all using Chinese inks. Be selective in your choices of what you read – it is a long picture book.

Demi, Marshall Cavendish Chidren, ©2008, 978-0-7614-5433-5

Here is a three-minute summary of Marco Polo’s travels …without the amazing things that he saw and reported. It could be a quick introduction before you start your selected readings.

The Life Lessons of Marco Polo

Try giving the students a set of potential life lessons we could learn from Marco Polo before you read excerpts from the book. Ask them to listen and select four potential lessons. Tell them they can also draw lessons of their own from your readings. For each of them, they are to write one paragraph explaining how Marco Polo exemplifies that lesson. Discuss their opinions in small groups and as the class.

  1. Go outside your comfort zone.
  2. Always record your travels.
  3. Taste many different types of food.
  4. Stick to your guns.
  5. Be prepared to take risks.
  6. Build a network of connections and friends.
  7. Work hard for your money.
  8. Learn other languages.
  9. Be charming.

Why You Wouldn’t Want to Take A Trip with Marco Polo

An opposite point of view could be taken of Marco Polo’s travels…and that is, all of the privations and dangers he encountered. Ask students to listen as you read, and make a list of things that were difficult on his journey…then to write a letter, or an essay, or a rant about “Why I Wouldn’t Want to Take a Trip with Marco Polo.”

Zentangles

While Demi’s used patterns and designs common in the Middle East in the 1200’s, those are difficult for students to imitate. On the other hand, elaboration of design within an outline can be easily achieved using zentangles. There are many websites and YouTube videos dedicated to zentangle, a popular contemporary “doodle” students can use to create a frame or illustration for a piece of their own writing. Start with a simple outline drawing, and then pattern the inside. This particular YouTube not only demonstrates fitting designs into an outline, it also provides many different patterns students can imitate. Have a set of patterns available on a single sheet of paper for each student as well.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Marco Polo to download.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

TheBoyWhoHarnassedTheWindThe true story of a boy living in Malawi who created a windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his village.

William Kamkwamba, Penguin, ©2012, 978-0-8037-3511-8

Science of Corn

As a science study, you could bring in jeweller’s loupes and enough corn so that each pair of students can have a slice. Use the loupes to have students ask themselves, “What does this look like? What does it remind me of?” They should think of 5-10. Some examples are:

  • tiny pats of butter
  • little yellow pillows
  • coated pills
  • colourful pool toys
  • little balloons

The science question is, “If it looks like a tiny pat of butter, is there any way it could act like a tiny pat of butter?” Of course, corn oil, is very high calorie and often used as a replacement for butter, so that isn’t too hard.

What about “If it looks like a little yellow pillow, is there any way it could be acting like a little yellow pillow?

A good Inquiry series of questions can come out of these, and often a little experiment can be constructed to test whether it is indeed acting like what it looks like. For example, could we extract a kernel carefully and see if it floats, like a pool toy?

Remind students that 95% of nature is function over form. That is, it doesn’t look beautiful just to look beautiful; there is a reason for it.

An Inquiry into Crops of the Americas

Historically, corn was one of the North American crops exported around the world, so it is interesting that it is the major crop of Malawai. Students may be interested in investigating what other foods originated in the Americas, including chocolate, tobacco, potatoes, vanilla, tomatoes, peanuts, avocado, chili peppers, papaya, pineapple, maple syrup, sunflower, wild rice, turkey, cranberry, sweet potato, quinoa, brazil nuts, cashews.

Art

The Internet has lessons for how to draw nearly anything—in this case, an ear of corn. You could start students with a cartoon corn:

Followed by a more sophisticated drawing:

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to download.

Who Put the B in Ballyhoo

WhoPutTheBInBallyhooA delightful ABC book of circus anecdotes principally focusing on the most famous acts of Barnum and Bailey. It is all done in the style of the big circus posters of the 30’s advertising the next circus to come to town. Visually gorgeous.

Carlyn Beccia, Houghton Mifflin, ©2007, 978-0-618-71718-7

Circus Words

There are many common words and expressions that come from the circus world. Here are a few to explore with your students. They have been taken from the circus and theatre episode of America’s Secret Slang, a worthwhile TV series:

  1. Circus: from the Circus Maximus in Rome (circo=-circle, maximus = biggest).
  2. Float: because they started out as decorated floating barges.
  3. Carnival:  from carne = meat, and val = removal. A celebration to eat all the food before the month of Lent in the Catholic faith
  4. Mardi Gras: mardi= Tuesday, gras= fat. Fat Tuesday. Again, the day to eat all the meat before Lent when meat may not be eaten.
  5. Dog and Pony Show: from a cheap circus that only had a trained dog and a pony. Now used to mean any pair of speakers—like politicians—with a simple “act.
  6. Jumping through hoops: from tricks done by trained dogs, to mean anyone who will do anything to get the deal.
  7. Jumbo: from Jumbo the elephant, but now meaning large, as in jumbo popcorn.
  8. Gimmick: a trick used by a carnie to cheat suckers at a carnival skill game.
  9. Close but no cigar: a prize at a carnival skill game was often a cigar.

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Stories of going to any tent show—a circus, Bard on the Beach, Children’s Festival, Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia, etc.
  2. Stories of being fooled by something or someone: a magic show, an optical illusion, a friend.
  3. The ABC’s of school words, with an explanation for each.
    A is for alphabet.
    B is for brush.
    C is for classroom, and so on.

Hoaxes Inquiry

Parts of the midway were often interesting hoaxes for fairgoers— the Fiji Mermaid perhaps being the most famous. There is a detailed list of hoaxes for a student inquiry in the pdf. Why do people create a hoax? What is the difference between fraud and a hoax? Why do people believe in hoaxes? How do we define a hoax?

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Who Put the B in Ballyhoo to download.

Wabi Sabi

WabiSabiWabi Sabi, the cat, goes on a journey to find the meaning of her name. She asks a cat friend, a dog, a bird, and finally a monkey. Each says, “That’s hard to explain”—the catch phrase of the book. Slowly she discovers that it is a kind of humble beauty, you will be exploring with student.

Mark Reibstein, Little Brown, © 2008, 9789-0-316-11825-5

Extreme Writing

A springboard from a picture book to personal writing should provide at least three topics if possible. Here are some ideas:

  1. Wabi Sabi wants to know what his name means. What does your name mean? Tell a story about how you got your name(s), or nickname.
  2. Wabi Sabi goes on a journey to find the answer to her question. Write about any journeys you have been on.
  3. This story is set in Japan. Either write “Everything I know about Japan” or “Everything I know about Canada, B.C., or my home town.”
  4. Wabi Sabi asks for an explanation. Explain how to do a few things that were hard for you to do at first.

The Author

There is a nice YouTube video of how Mark Reibstein came to write the book based on what he learned about Wabi-sabi while teaching in Japan, and his adoption of his cat. Then Ed Young explains how he illustrated it, how the illustrations were actually lost or stolen, and how he came to use ordinary materials to create the next version. Rather nice.

Incidental Geography

Three Japanese locations are mentioned as Wabi Sabi conducts his search for the meaning of his name: Tokyo, Mount Hiei, and Ginkakuji. Put them on a simple map of Japan. Ask the students to think about how to calculate the distance of the journey, round trip from Tokyo to Mount Hiei to Ginkakuji and back to Tokyo. The fastest way will be Google. Just search “Distance from Tokyo to Mount Hiei” etc. and add the numbers which will turn out to be over 900 km—a long distance for a cat.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Wabi Sabi to download.

Dog vs. Cat

Dog vs. CatMr. Button buys a dog; Mrs. Button buys a cat. The two have conflicting habits and fight constantly until their owners bring home – a baby. The problem is solved when the cat and dog reconcile and build a home for themselves in the backyard.

Chris Gall, Little Brown, ©2014, 978-0-316-23801-4

If Your Friends Acted Like Your Dog and Cat

There is a terrific YouTube video using two human actors who are acting like the disdainful cat or the needy dog. Lots of fun. Talk about what characteristics of these animals the video is making fun of—and incidentally also making fun of us for loving them anyway.

Drawing the Dog or the Cat

Using quick cartoon drawings of a cat and a dog—maybe only the head—students illustrate a dog vs. cat story of their own. Students can see that just by squinting the eyes, and making the “smile” mouth fold down (and perhaps making the ears a little more pointed), the cat, for example, can look angry.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Dog vs. Cat to download.

The Lion’s Share

The Lion's ShareThe ant is invited to the lion’s dinner party and is shocked at the manners of the other guests as they greedily “share” the cake. When she herself is accused of being greedy, the ant turns the tables on the other guests.

McCelligott’s Math

On his website, McCelligott has an interesting step-by-step explanation of geometric progression, which is what this book represents. It culminates in explaining why we get I-POD in 2,4,8,16, or 32 GB and not other numbers. For your older students.

Math – Geometric Progression

Geometric ProgressionGive students a list of the animals and ask them to create a chart of the values in each division of the cake. Walk them through the first three, then explore the math pattern for solving the rest of progression and the equivalencies.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Lion’s Share to download.

The Lost Horse

The Lost HorseA classic Chinese folktale, of a man who owned a horse and at each turn of fate believed that things were neither as good, nor as bad, as they might seem.

Ed Young, Voyager Books, Harcourt, ©2004, ISBN 0-15-201061-5

Oral Language: The Unfortunately Game
Ask students to stand in a large circle. Start with a line such as “James went to the library.” Continue from there with the next student saying, “Fortunately…”. Students alternate a fortunate, unfortunate circumstance as they go around the circle. This requires students to be a little inventive, and warms them up to the idea of writing their own book. Once students understand the system, playing in smaller groups creates more participation for each individual.

Write Your Own “Perhaps It Might Not Be A Good Thing” Story…

Create a scenario and then write a story in which a character repeats your catch phrase—each time saying “It might not be so great” or “It might not be so bad”.  This can involve something simple like forgetting your homework, lunch, library book, etc.  It could even be set somewhere such as the middle east, with the issue involving a camel.

The Lost Horse is written in only 207 words in total, and 17 sentences, so it is not a huge challenge.

Create Your Own Wisdom

What do you think the “moral” of the story is?  Discuss with the students.

Talk about using the idea of “what I learned from this was…” when they write their own personal writing anecdotes.  We take away a lesson from a lot of the things we do in life…that’s how we avoid making the same mistakes  over and over again.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click The Lost Horse to download.

Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize

Alfred NobelAlfred Nobel invented dynamite and became very wealthy.  Saddened by its us in war he left his entire fortune to a yearly prize for those “who have rendered the greatest services to mankind.”

Kathy-Jo Wargin, Sleeping Bear Press, ©2009, ISBN 978-1-58536-281-3

Famous Winners of the Nobel Prize

Divide the class into 4 giving you approximately 8 groups. Further divide them until there are 8 groups of 4. Give each group 4 names from the Prize Winners Page to search at NobelPrize.org. As they click each name, they will find a picture of the winner and the biography will give them a description of what the person did that made them a worthy winner of the prize.

prize winners pageEach chooses one of their 4 names and writes from 50-100 words describing their winner. These can be turned into oral presentations if you wish. Have students with the same winner work together.

Nobel Prize Games

NobelPrize.org has more than 10 great games you can play to learn more about the Nobel Prize winners, about science and medicine, as well as a nice “doves game” which would fit in well with the theme of this book. Games include:  Laser Challenge, blood typing, Pavlov’s dog, double helix, electrocardiogram, peace doves, split brain, and the immune system.  They are really fun to play, and demanding. Click here to visit the Nobel Prize Games.

Origami:  The Crane

Because the crane is a symbol of peace in Japan, this can also be a time to introduce the book Sadako and the Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.  This is the story of the little survivor of Hiroshima who succumbs to leukemia—“the atom bomb disease”—and makes a thousand origami cranes in order to wish for peace.

There are several YouTube sites with more information on Sadako—as well as this being a good time to teach students how to make the origami crane.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize to download.