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.

Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

help-me-mr-muttMr. Mutt is the Ann Landers of dogs. Six dogs write in with their problems, and receive answers from Mr. Mutt, along with critiques from The Queen (a cat with a point of view. Answers are accompanied by cute graphs, useful for teaching graphing to students. It also closes with two newspaper articles as the cats attack Mr. Mutt.

Janet Stevens, Harcourt Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-15-204628-6

We’re Off Exploring

It might be fun in a Social Studies unit for students to write an “Agony Aunt” column for crew members that are with an explorer:

  • Henry Hudson’s crew
  • Columbus’ crew
  • Cartier’s crew
  • Cabot’s crew, etc.

Students would need to research and incorporate the kinds of typical problems an explorer might encounter, as well an including details for the specific trip of that explorer (where are they, what is happening, the date?). The advice, on the other hand, need not be practical if you wanted to include a humourous element in the writing.

The Queen’s Advice

The Queen comments on Mutt’s advice each time, especially when she feels insulted by his remarks. On the back cover she advertises herself in the newspaper, “Do you have Dog Problems? Write to The Queen, the expert for cats, 9 Palace Place, The Catskills, NY.

Ask students to brainstorm the kinds of issues a cat might have—try to ensure each group has a cat owner in it. They may come up with: being overweight, eating foods you don’t like, going for a walk, not liking to get wet, licking yourself, dressing up, scratching furniture, walking around at night, going to the vet, interrupted sleeping in the daytime, walking over the owner’s newspaper, refusing to do tricks, hairballs, etc.

At this point they divide up the list, choosing one to write on as a “Letter to the Queen” of about 50-75 words. Students then pair up, exchange letters, and write The Queen’s Advice…remembering to stay in character as a snooty supercilious cat. The answers can be from 75-100 words. Collect. Read out some letters to the Queen. Ask the class, “What advice do you think should be given?” Then read out the actual advice given.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Help Me, Mr. Mutt! to download.

The Princess and the Pizza

ThePrincessandthePizzaThe king has given up his kingdom and his daughter decides to try to marry Prince Drupert so she enters the competition for his hand. During the food portion of the competition she accidentally invents pizza and discovers that she would rather sell pizza than marry the prince.

Mary Jane and Herm Auch, Holiday House, © 2002, ISBN 0-8234-1683-6

Stories about Inventing

This story is about the invention of pizza and how it got its name. Students could be asked to write inventive stories of how ice-cream, sandwiches, Coca-Cola, and other common foods were invented got their names. These “how things came to be” stories have their roots in ancient Greek tales by Aesop, and extend to the 20th century tales of Paul Bunyan.

Genre Writing

There are several writing topics that rise naturally from this picture book. The topics could be done as Five Square Genre as well.

  • Write the essay: Why I Want to Have the Gracious and Exquisitely Beautiful Queen Zelda for my mother-in-law.
  • Write a letter from Queen Zelda to the princess asking Paulina to forgive all and getting permission to marry her dad.
  • Write a story of what happened to one of the other princesses on her way home.
  • Write a personal memory about a time when you were treated unfairly. (It doesn’t have to turn out well.)
  • Write a diary entry from Paulina about her new boyfriend who is the opposite in every way from Prince Drupert.

For 6 creative writing ideas, click The Princess and the Pizza to download.

Postcards from Camp

PostcardsFromCampMichael hates camp and informs his father in a series of self-designed postcards of the many trials of his life there.  His father returns reassuring postcards until Michael finally comes to love camp.

Simms Taback, Penguin Young Readers, ©2011 978-0-399-23973-1

Writing a Postcard Book

This is a simple model for students to follow. It consists of a supply list for the trip, a welcome card from the camp, and a series of 8 postcards to the father, and 7 responses from the father. It does not require a great deal of writing, but to be done effectively requires a sense of humour.
Students could write from camp, from staying with grandma and grandpa, from going on vacation to a friend back at home, from a new home to a friend in the old neighbourhood, etc.
If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Pluto

Students studying the solar system could easily write a series of postcards as though they were on vacation. Ask them to write 5-8 sentences for each planet they visit (and the demoted planet, Pluto) providing at least 5-8 facts about each planet. Ask them to make it amusing, perhaps complaining, but really factual.

For 8 creative writing ideas click Postcards from Camp to download.

The House Baba Built

housebabauiltEd Young is well known for his picture books. The House Baba Built is more in the nature of a memoir of his childhood in the house his father built in Shanghai in which the family lived during World War II. We learn about the war, school, family activities in the house, taking in refugees including a Jewish family, food shortages, being unable to fill the pool…all through his eyes as a child. You can take just a part of this book for a rich study of many different topics.

Ed Young, Little Brown and Co.©2011, 978-0-316-07628-9

Exploring a Photo

Ed Young uses family photos as one of the many methods he uses to illustrate his story. Ask students to bring a picture of themselves that their family has taken – it’s best if they bring a coy. If they bring an original, make a copy for them so that the original is not accidentally destroyed.

Students need to look at their pictures and ask themselves the following types of questions:

  • How old was I when this picture was taken?
  • Where was this picture taken – describe quite precisely?
  • Why was this picture taken and kept? (Instead of others)
  • What am I wearing in this picture? How do I feel about these clothes? Was this typical of what I wore at this time?
  • What sensory memories do I have about this place – food, feel, sights, taste, smell, etc.?
  • What emotions are around this picture and why?

Encourage students elaborate and then use a copy of the picture to illustrate their “story” of the taking of the picture.

Make an Origami Box

In early spring, when the mulberry leaves sprouted, Ed Young and his friends traded silkworm eggs. They made paper origami boxes for silkworm houses and fed them on mulberry leaves.

Watch the YouTube several times and make it yourself, before you teach the class. Once they know how, it is very easy. If you live close to Richmond, there is very inexpensive origami paper at Daizo.

For 16 creative writing ideas, click The House Baba Built to download.

Mr Maxwell’s Mouse

maxwellmouseAt the Paw and Claw restaurant it is lunch and Mr. Maxwell wants to celebrate his promotion with something special. He orders the headwaiter, Clyde to bring him a live mouse instead. When Clyde asks “Would you like us to kill it for you?” Mr. Maxwell replies, “That won’t be necessary.”

But his decision results in a mouse with excellent manners slowly undermining his desire to kill it. The mouse speaks for one thing, has excellent manners, suggests salt and pepper, requests that grace be said, suggests and appropriate wine, and so on.

How the mouse gets out of it is very reminiscent of other “escape” stories including the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Frank and Devin Asch, Kids Can Press, 2004, ISBN 978-1-55337486-2

Food Advice From Your Parents

Mr. Maxwell’s mother had always said, “Don’t fraternize with your food.” Use this as a starting point to a discussion of advice, rules, and sayings about food that the students have from their parents. Ask them to brainstorm at least six sayings and be prepared to present the logic behind the sayings.

  • Don’t play with your food
  • Don’t chew with your mouth open
  • Eat everything on your plate
  • Just try it
  • Don’t bit off more than you can chew
  • As easy as apple pie
  • It’s a piece of cake
  • It’s like taking candy from a baby
  • It’s good for you
  • A dish fit for a king
  • As alike as two peas in a pod
  • A watched pot never boils
  • Man does not live by bread alone
  • Take that with a pinch of salt
  • You are what you eat

A story where one character persistently offers “food” sayings and advice to the other character might be fun if students are enjoying this activity. (Perhaps a frog that is trying rather unsuccessfully to catch flies while his little friend is continually offering advice.)

The Note of Apology

At the end of the book the mouse sends a note of apology to Mr. Maxwell. Analyze it with the students to identify its characteristics, before they practice an imaginary apology themselves. It might be fun for them to write a story that is actually an extended apology for a whole series of mishaps.

Characteristics students might identify could include:

  • It must be sincerely felt and must include the words “I am sorry” or “I apologize.”
  • The apology cannot be followed by the word “but…”
  • It should be short (but not if it is actually a disguise for a story).
  • It should identify the thing(s) that happened and what you are apologizing for.
  • It should offer to make up for it in some way, if possible.
  • It should end with the hope for the future
  • It needs to include a salutation, and an ending. Dear…and Sincerely…

With the criteria the students identify, how good is the mouse’s apology?

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse to download.

Hello Muddah Hello Faddah!

Sherman HelloMuddahThe hit parade novelty song by Allan Sherman made into a children’s book. The book tells, in song, the tale of the letter from camp, and asking his parents to please bring him home immediately. It ends with the sun breaking out and him asking his parents to “kindly disregard this letter.”

Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, Dutton Children’s Books, ©2004, ISBN 0-525-46942

Writing the Complaining Letter

Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah! can be used to introduce the writing of the friendly letter. In this case, the author is a boy at campy who wants to be brought hom immediately and gives many reasons why his parents should not leave him there, before discovering that he really likes it. This is a picture book version of Allan Sherman’s famous song of the same name. Students could practice writing letters in a similar voice imagining they have moved to a different neighbourhood, joined a different baseball team, gone to a new school…any experience could precipitate the letter.

Comparing Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah! to Dear Mrs. LaRue

In Dear Mrs. LaRue, the dog, Ike, has been sent to Obedience School. Each day he describes the problems with the school and asks to come home. Using a Venn Diagram, students could compare the two books, and then, perhaps use that draft material to write a comparison of their own.

For 4 writing ideas, click Hello Muddah! Hellow Faddah! to download.

Dear Mrs. LaRue

Dear_Mrs._LaRueIke is sent to Obedience School because he misbehaves. Read his heartrending letters to his master in this witty story. With each letter, see the luxury in which he is really living, with the black and white picture of what he is writing about. Ike eventually escapes, returns home, and rescues his owner.

Mark Teague, Scholastic, ©2002, ISBN 0-439-20663-4

Double Takes

In this story, Ike tells the heartrending stories (in black and white) of his sufferings, while the other side of the page (in full colour) shows the true luxury he is living in. Instead of using illustrations as is done in this picture book students could write a research paper in which on the left side of the page they report their research, and on the right side a narrator describes the “true” story of the endeavor.

For example, the research could be on a specific explorer, while the facing page describes the “truth” from the point of view of a sailor…scurvy, dysentery, weevils in the flour, salt herring, storms at sea, etc.

Envelope Books

The Jolly Postman and several other clever books in the same vein, advance the story through a series of letters. Students could do the same, and enjoy binding envelopes into a hand-made book, including a letter in each envelope.

For 6 writing ideas, click Dear Mrs. LaRue to download.