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.

Nine Words Max

NineWordsMaxMax is very verbal, and his two brothers are not. Tired of his constant chatter, they obtain a wizard whose spell limits Max to 9 words. This works well for the brothers, until Queen Spark, of the land of Flint, who must be treated in a very specific way that only Max knows, visits them. Without his knowledge, war may erupt.

Dan Bar-el, Tundra Books, 2014, 978-1-77049-562-3

The Nine-Word Sentence Story

First ask students to create a story, or take one they have already written. Then ask them to re-write it so that each sentence has exactly 9 words, and no more. Here is a sample.

Max was playing with his truck in the yard. He sat happily in the dirt getting totally filthy. His hands, arms, legs, clothes, and face were grimy. Occasionally he poured water into a shallow corner depression. Clutching his truck, he drove downhill through the “flood.”

Hello and Goodbye

Max’s kingdom signals goodbye to Queen Spark by wiggling their fingers. Ask students to brainstorm the hello/goodbye signals with which they are familiar. They may come up with:

  • handshake
  • hugging and kissing one cheek
  • a light bump on the shoulder
  • waving: hello or goodbye
  • rock on: small finger and thumb out, others in, and rock slightly
  • peace symbol: make a v with the palm out
  • fist bump

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Nine Words Max 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.

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes

LousyRottenStinkinGrapesIn this twist on Aesop, the fox progressively involves a series of animals in an elaborate plan to help him get the grapes. He refuses to listen to their advice, and when his plan fails, he leaves saying the grapes are probably not ripe. After he leaves, the other animals get the grapes.

Margie Palatini, Simon and Schuster, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-689-80246-1

The Power of Repetition

This book presents an opportunity for students to understand the power of a repeated line; in this case, “After all, I’m the fox. Sly. Clever. Smart.” Also repeated are: “Voila! Grapes!” and “If you say so.”

As a listening skill, ask each 1/3 of the class to listen for their particular phrase and note the total number of times it occurs, as well as when each of them happens.

Ask them to write a story, or re-write an existing one, to add humorous repeated phrases.

A Rube Goldberg Plan

gizmodo-the-top-10-rube-goldberg-machines-featured-on-film-rube-goldbergOur fox makes somewhat of a “Rube Goldberg” plan, each part of which is more elaborate than next, and requiring ever more complicated diagrams. The original model of a plan that is too elaborate is named after Rube Goldberg. The illustration is of a machine to brush your teeth. Ask students to create a “Rube Goldberg” plan to do something simple like wash a car, or sharpen a pencil.

Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who was most famous for creating cartoons to solve simple problems in an elaborate way. The board game, Mouse Trap, is based on a Rube Goldberg machine. Today, there are Rube Goldberg contests for inventors to create overly elaborate solutions to problems. You can view some of these machines on YouTube, my particular favourite is OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass” because there is music cleverly included.

For 9 creative writing ideas, click Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes to download.

The Discovery of Longitude

Longitude coverLatitude and Longitude are just imaginary lines on the surface of the earth, but are critical to navigation. Latitude (north and south) was known, but it wasn’t until John Harrison (a clockmaker) tackled it in the 1700’s in order to win a prize, that the problem was solved.

Joan Marie Galat, Pelican ©2012, 978-1-4556-1637-4

Great Shipwrecks

In the 21st century, with GPS and vast improvements in diving equipment, many wrecks are now being found, and even being raised from the sea.

Students could conduct a Rapid Research topic where groups look into 17 famous shipwrecks:

  • The Mary Rose, 1545
  • The Spanish Armada, 1588
  • The Vasa (Swedish), 1628
  • The Merchant Royal, 1641
  • The Scilly Naval Disaster, 1707
  • The Black Swan, 1804
  • The Tek Sing, 1822 (China)
  • The HMS Birkenhead, 1845
  • The Titanic, 1912
  • The Kiche Maru Typhoon, 1912 (Japan)
  • The Great Lakes Storm, 1913
  • The Lusitania, 1915
  • The Halifax Explosion, 1917
  • The Bismarck, 1941
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff, 1945
  • The Edmund Fitzgerald, 1975
  • The Exxon Valdez, 1994

discoverwrecks

Using the Internet, in a limited period of time, students find out:

1. What was this wreck, where was it located, why was it important? When did it happen?

2. What was the impact of this wreck on future navigation if any?

They create a PowerPoint, an essay, a speech, etc. as a group – pooling their research and writing in a “voice” that is aimed at their own grade level.

Careful Listening

Students can be asked to listen very carefully and make note of the PROBLEMS that some of the early solutions to navigation had. Note-taking is one of the critical skills for achievement according to Marzano.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Discovery of Longitude to download.

Such a Prince

such-prince-dan-bar-el-book-cover-artMarvin, is small, skinny, and in competition for the princess with several rude suitors. With the assistance of an an unusual fairy he succeeds in presenting the princess with the three perfect peaches she needs. Unfortunately, rather than giving him his daughter, the kind presents him with challenges including fattening 100 rabbits without losing any of them. Of course he succeeds, with a little magic. An adaptation of a French fairy tale.

Dan Bar-el, Houghton Mifflin, ©2007, 13:978-0-618-71468-1

Once Upon a Time Magazine

The cover features many of the elements of a magazine at the supermarket, trying to tempt you to read what is inside the magazine. “Local Fairy Tells All”, “Exclusive Story!”, “Shocking Pictures”, “Happy Ending Inside!”, and “Will He Win Princess Vera’s Heart?” are all from the cover of Such a Prince.

Bring some magazines into class such as: US, People, Star, National Enquirer, etc. Discuss how the headlines and catchlines try to sell the magazine to a customer who is waiting at checkout. Which headlines draw them the most? Would that be the same for their parents? For their next piece of writing, ask students to create a simple magazine-style cover featuring those kinds of elements to draw people into their piece.

Listening Skill

As you read, ask students to make a list of what the fairy tells us are her qualities. She mentions that she is a people person, naturally curious, likes to stay active and busy, and isn’t flashy.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Such a Prince, to download.

The Perfect Sword

perfectswordMasa and his apprentice Michio make a “perfect sword” and then seek the person worthy of it. Each candidate is rejected as they hear from the warrior, the swordsman, the noble, and so on. They need someone kind, who doesn’t automatically reach for a sword to solve problems, who wants to help others, and who is noble. Like a fairy tale, but this one takes FOUR tries, they eventually find the right candidate. Satisfied, they turn to making the next “perfect sword.”

Scott Goto, Charlesbridge, ©2010, ISBN 978-1-57091-697-7

The Story of the Perfect…

It would be fun to write a story about something like the “perfect sandwich”. What would it have in it? Who would be worthy of it? Which characters would like it and why do you turn them down? Who gets it? There are lots of opportunities to tell a story of something perfect.

Listening for the Answer

This is a really good book to teach listening skills. Give students a chart with four columns:

  1. The candidates for the sword on the left.
  2. The qualities the apprentice thinks might make them worthy. (column 1)
  3. The reason they are turned down, or accepted in the case of the last one. (column 2)
  4. What the apprentice thinks might be the lesson to be learned. (column 3)

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Perfect Sword to download.

Lipman Pike

Lipman PikeLipman Pike is credited with being the first professional baseball player (then called “base”).  This is the story of his childhood, the development of his skills, the aspirations his father had for him, and how he came to be the first “professional” baseball player.

Richard Michelson, Sleeping Bear Press, ©2010, 978-1-58536-465-7

The History of a Sport

Working in small groups, students could investigate the origins of various common sports. This can be turned into a quick class presentation from each group with students sharing the task of presenting. If each group prepares an outline, a portion can be assigned to each member. If you have time, this oral language experience could become an illustrated Powerpoint. Sample sports could include:

  • basketball
  • football
  • hockey
  • golf
  • tennis
  • soccer
  • polo
  • badminton

Racing a Horse

As a listening skill, ask the students to listen for the number of times that someone in the story mentions that they think Lipman Pike could outrun a racehorse. When you finish, agree together on the number, and then tell them that he did once race a horse and won.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Lipman Pike to download.