Nothing Stopped Sophie

nothing stopped sophie cheryl bardoeThe Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain. Sophie Germain was an 18th century math prodigy who simply refused to accept the assigned roles for a female. Her parents, the schools, the science establishment—nothing stopped her insatiable need to understand and use mathematics. She eventually found the formula that would predict patterns of vibration. We use it today to build bridges, skyscrapers, skytrains, earthquake scenarios…anything that has a structure and can vibrate. In 1816, she became the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences.

Cheryl Bardoe, ©2018, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 978-0-316-27820-1

Writing to a Pattern

One of the things that holds this story together is the repeated line, “But nothing stopped Sophie.” Ask students to write of something they wanted to do and worked hard to do—it can be as simple as mastering a computer program or a game, riding a bicycle, learning to type, playing an instrument, reading a map…it doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to be a challenge.

Ask them to set up the scenario of failing at first, then having 3 tries before the final success. At each stage it would be “But nothing stopped (name of student)”.

The French Revolution and Sophie

A great way of remembering lists of things or connections of things is through mnemonics—memory devices. Most students easily remember, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” because it rhymes. We can remember HOMES as the names of the Great Lakes—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior—because we can think of them as being in your HOME country,

Well, to remember when the French Revolution was, we need to think of the song, The Marseilles, and then sing,

Louis the Sixteenth was the king of France, in 1789,
He was worth than Louis the fifteenth
He was worse than Louis the fourteenth
He was worse than Lou-o-ie the Thirteenth
He was the worst…da, da, da, da
Since Louie the First.

Why does this matter to this book? It doesn’t, except that Sophie lived in France, during the French Revolution, and it affected how she saw math—as something solid, unchanging, and true in a world that was chaotic.

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The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

mark-twain-coverThis is the story of Mark Twain’s life in picture book form, with accompanying anecdotes from Susy who is writing this memoir so we can meet the “real” Mark Twain.  Susy, Mark Twain’s favourite daughter, did keep a memoir of observations of her dad for a short period of time, and excerpts from it are included as little fold out pages.  She talks about their home, his writing process and the role her mom plays, his leisure activities, and much more.

Barbara Kerley, Scholastic, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-545-12508-6

Spelling Mistakes

Mark Twain says his daughter’s spelling was frequently desperate.” Give students her spellings and ask them to spell them correctly—time them if you want to add some pressure. They need to add 5 seconds to their time for every word they still misspell.

Her incorrect words are: discribed incorectly, mustache, exept, extrordinary, sute, doute, Misouri, in good trimm, varius, chreatures (for creatures), expergate, donky, prosession.

This is a good time to mention that the first English dictionary was written in 9 years by one man, Samuel Johnson, and published in 1755. By contrast, the first French dictionary was written by an entire French Academy and published in 1694. It took 69 years to write. The first American dictionary was Noah Webster’s in 1806. After this spelling began to “solidify” into “correct” and “incorrect” spelling. Susy was writing in 1885.

A Book “In the Style Of”

This book has a particular style. For the most part it is a kind of story of Susy’s foray into biography. However, glued into place in the book are miniature foldout excerpts from Susy’s actual words. This is an excellent model to imitate.

In Social Studies it could take the form of a report on an explorer (for example) with inserted pages from his “diary” commenting on the events described on that page. In Science, it could be a report on a whale’s life cycle, with examples interspersed from the whale’s diary. In art, a research report on a particular artist could be written, with short imaginary diary inserts on occasion. Be sure that students realize the diary entries need only be 2-3 sentences long.

For 11 creative writing ideas, click The Extraordinary Mark Twain to download.

Library Mouse

library-mouseSam, the Library Mouse, lives in the reference section and reads all the genres in the school library. One day he decides to write his own miniature book – a biography. His next is a mystery, then a full chapter book. He sneaks them onto the shelves in the correct library section and slowly develops “fans”. The librarian invites him to do an author reading but Sam knows he can’t. He solves the problem by making a pile of blank miniature books. Then he wraps a Kleenex box with a sign saying, “Meet the Author”. When students look in, they see their own face in the mirror he placed in the box.

Daniel Kirk, Abrams, Books, ©2007, ISBN 13: 978-0-8109-9346-4

Creating Your Own Miniature Books

Before reading the book to the students, design a decorated Kleenex box with a “meet the author” sign and a mirror glued inside. At the critical point in the story, allow a student to look into the box to “meet the author.” Continue the story, but when it is complete, place some story idea strips in the box from which the students can draw. Ask students to use the idea they drew to start their own “mini masterpiece.” (Of course, if necessary they could suggest their own.) A pattern for a very tiny book (use 11 X 17 paper) is available with the pdf of ideas.

Archy and Mehitabel

Archy was a cockroach that “lived” in the office of the newspaper writer Don Marquis. This lovely character declared, “Expression is the need of my soul.” Every day he wrote free-verse poetry by diving head first onto the keys of Don Marquis’ typewriter in the night to describe a cynical cockroach’s eye view of the world. Because he can’t do upper case or punctuation (because he can’t hold down the shift key) all his “poems” are written in lower case without punctuation. Included with the pdf is a copy of the very first “article” he wrote when the character was introduced to the public.

Archy’s enemy is Mehitabel the reincarnated alley cat. Students could try their hand at writing from the point of view of a typing mouse.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Library Mouse to download.