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.

Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China

A good woman went to visit the granny of her three little girls and told them to be very careful to close the door tight and latch it. Soon they heard a voice claiming to be their granny and when they let her in, they recognized him as a wolf by his tail and his claws. The little girls climbed a tree claiming that the ginkgo berries on it would help you live forever. When the wolf couldn’t climb, they offered to lift him in a basket. Once they had him to the top of the tree, they let him go and he died in the fall.

Ed Young, Macmillan Books ©2007 ISBN 9781435204533

Comparison
Using a Venn diagram, students can prepare a chart comparing how this Little Red-Riding Hood story is the same as, and different from, the European version. Decide whether to read them a picture book, or show them the Disney version which is short and available on YouTube.

A simple method is to ask students to first write a rather pedestrian opening sentence such as: This is a comparison of the classic European Cinderella with the Lon Po Po version. They then choose and write about at least three ways in which they are similar and at least three ways in which they are different. They conclude by stating whether they are more similar or more different. At this point, they re-write the opening sentence to be more dramatic and interesting, and also write a conclusion that has pizzazz. Voila! It may not be amazing, but it is serviceable and can be used for a “decent” B mark throughout their student life.

Kim’s Game
In this story, observation skills are very important to the survival of the girls. In Girl Guides and Boy Scouts and other youth organizations, the observation game, Kim’s Game, is very popular. Select about 20 random objects and create a visual you can project. Give students 20 seconds to observe. Then project a visual with one object removed and ask them to try to remember and write down what is missing. The name is derived from a book called Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1901, in which Kim plays this game to train to be a spy.

Extreme Writing Topics
There should always be three prompts for an Extreme Writing inspiration. Otherwise students waste time making a decision. For a complete description of the process, see my book, The Power of Extreme Writing, or visit Extreme Writing.

The children were very trusting at first; tell stories of times when you trusted someone or something and how it worked out. The children lifted the wolf; tell stories of things you have lifted and carried. Stories of any encounters with dangerous animals (dogs, crows, raccoons, coyotes, cats, bees) and how it turned out.

For more creative writing ideas, clock on Lon Po Po to download.

Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China

Yeh-Shen was the orphan daughter in her stepmother’s home, but the stepmother favoured her own daughter. Yeh-Shen’s friend, the fish, would come out of the water, rest on the shore, and she should feed it from her scarce resources. Her stepmother put on Yeh-Shen’s coat, lured out the fish, and killed it. As Yeh-Shen grieved, an old man appeared and told her to retrieve the bones, for they had power to grant wishes. Yen-Shen then wished on the bones for food. When the spring festival arrived (where young men and women could find partners), Yeh-Shen was not allowed to go. The bones of the fish made her an azure gown, a kingfisher feather cloak, and shoes of solid gold. When it looked like her stepmother would recognize her, she fled, leaving behind one gold slipper. In searching for his “bride”, the king noticed Yeh-Shen’s tiny feet, and when she tried on the slipper, her spring festival clothes reappeared on her. Ta da!

Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young, ©1982, Philomel Books, 978-0-399-21594-0

Comparison

Using a Venn diagram, students can prepare a chart comparing how this Cinderella story is the same as, and different from, the European version. It is your decision whether to read them a picture book, or count on their knowledge of the Disney version.

A simple method is to ask students to first write a rather pedestrian opening sentence such as: This is a comparison of the classic European Cinderella with the Yeh-Shen version; then they choose and write about at least three ways in which they are similar. Begin with the best idea for a comparison, end with the second best, put others between. Next, they write about at least three ways in which they are different then follow the same process of beginning with their best idea, ending with the second best, and putting the others between. They can conclude by stating whether the two stories are more similar or more different. At this point, the students can re-write the opening sentence to be more dramatic and interesting, and also write a conclusion that has pizzazz. (From analyzing the similarities and differences between the story of Yeh-Shen and Cinderella we may conclude that the tale began in China.) Voila! It may not be amazing, but it is serviceable.

Mutilating the Body

Another mini-research project topic could be customs that involve altering the body to create “beauty”, such as the custom of foot-binding in China. Customs, such as foot binding, actually distort the body to such an extent that it can even be crippling. A discussion with students, about potentially not making any changes to their body that cannot be reversed would be fruitful.

  1. Extending the ears (Inca, Tutankhamen, Africa, etc.)
  2. Tiny feet (China)
  3. Elongated necks (some African tribes where if the rings are removed the person suffocates).
  4. Teeth blackening (in Elizabeth I’s court she had eaten so much sugar that her teeth were black, so some women as a fashion statement blackened their teeth)
  5. Cranial binding (the head to create a shape. Very common in Incas)
  6. Facial Scarring (Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Aboriginal tribes in Australia, Karo people of Ethiopia)
  7. Teeth sharpening (Mayan, Vietnamese, Balinese, Africa)
  8. Lip plates (Ecuador, Sudan, Ethiopia, Central America)

CBS Storybreak: Yeh-Shen

CBC Storybreak has a really quite nice fully animated version of Yeh-Shen based on the book, but with more elaborated characters.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China to download.

The Wolf’s Story

TheWolfsStoryThe Big Bad Wolf explains that he used to be a handyman for Grandma and that Little Red Riding Hood always ignored him. On the day Little Red Riding Hood came, Grandma was accidentally knocked unconscious in the wardrobe and everything went from bad to worse from there. All he wants is a new job with someone else.

Toby Forward, Candlewick Press ©2005, ISBN 978-0-7636-2785-0

Slam Dunk Echo

Older students can be taught a wonderful writing “trick” that never fails to impress the reader, and that is the Slam Dunk Echo. In this method, you introduce a phrase at the beginning of the story or essay that is repeated with significance at the end.

The example in this book is : “No, please. Look at me. Would I lie to you?” Frequently, the repeated phrase is a metaphor or simile. In Patricia Polacco’s Chicken Sunday, the line is “Sometimes when we are especially quiet inside, we can hear singing. A voice that sounds like slow thunder and sweet rain.” In I Am the Mummy Heb-Nefert, the line is “I am the mummy Heb-Nefert, black as night, stretched as tight, as leather on a drum.”

Vocabulary Thoughts

Grandma is knocked out in “the wardrobe”—which is pictured in the book. Students may not know this word as a term for furniture. It originated when rooms did not have closets. This is an opportune vocabulary expansion moment to ask students to go on line to find images of other furniture items they may not know: sofa, chesterfield, ottoman, chiffonier, armoire, roll-top desk, parson’s table, sideboard, cabinet, hutch, etc.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Wolf’s Story to download.

The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma

TheCatTheDogThe Cat tries to tell the Little Red Riding Hood story while the Dog, who loves superheroes, criticizes, adds his own thoughts, and questions the morality of the story. Lots of fun…very post-modern.

Diane and Christyan Fox, Scholastic Press, ©2014, 978-0-545 69481-0

Fairy Tale Poetry or Fairy Tale Slang

Working in pairs, ask students to write rhyming versions of the following list of 14 fairy tales. Just rhyming couplets is fine. It’s much easier for them to do than to write an original story in rhyme because they know the plot already.

Alternatively, the class could brainstorm slang expressions and words and write a slang version of the fairy tale. In either case, the object is to make amusing versions of all 14 of the stories:

  1. The Three Little Pig
  2. Snow White
  3. Cinderella
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. The Three Billy Goats Gruff
  6. The Gingerbread Man
  7. The Boy Who Cried Wolf
  8. Jack and the Beanstalk
  9. Little Red Riding Hood
  10. Goldilocks
  11. Rumpelstiltskin
  12. Rapunzel
  13. The Ugly Duckling
  14. Hansel and Gretel

The Favourite Fairy Tale Survey

Design a survey form to allow students to conduct a survey of students in the school to identify the top 3 fairy tales—or to rank them from most to least favourite. For math, students could construct a chart of their results.

For fun, students could carry random copies of each of the fairy tale or slang versions they and their classmates wrote, and give one as a “prize” to each survey participant. To add to the sense of adventure, save some of those miniature Halloween candies. Tell students who can find a partner with the same story to meet at by the front office to “meet the authors”, get their autographs, and receive a prize. Alternative prizes could be a juice bottle, or a free coupon for french fries, or a really cool bookmark.

Teach the students the “manners of conducting a survey”: “May I have a few moments of your time for a simple survey about favourite fairy tales? The results of the survey will be announced over the PA in two days.” Record the results in the correct column. “Thank you very much. Here is a randomly chosen fairy tale for you to read. If you can find someone else who got the same fairy tale, go together to the Principal’s Office and have your versions signed by the authors, and receive a candy prize.”

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma to download.

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude

OnceUponACoolMotorcycleDudeA pair of students have an assignment to create and tell a fairy tale to the class and are in serious dispute as to the direction the plot will take. The girl wants it traditional; the boy wants it cool.

Kevin O’Malley, Walker and Co, 2005, ISBN 10: 0-8027-8947-1

The Cliff Hanger Game

Divide the class into teams of 4 or 6.   Each team starts with a “cliff-hanger”―Once upon a time there was a boy named John who was very happy until the day he stepped off…―The next student takes over and keeps the plot going for a few sentences ending in another “cliff hanger”.

Encourage students to jot a few notes about good plot turns so that they can take the best parts and individually write a story.

Once Upon A…

Another book with the same premise of a boy and a girl wanting different turns in the plot is Once Upon a Golden Apple.

Read both of them to the students and ask students to create their own scenario for a “conflicting collaboration” on a story. They could be making up an excuse for why they came home late from school, explaining how it was that the teacher happened to give them a detention, throwing a birthday party, washing a car, or even creating a different fairy tale, etc.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude to download.