It’s a Snap

In 1877, George Eastman started what was then the complicated hobby of photography. He decided to invent a camera—the Brownie—that would make it possible for everyone to take pictures and today, we can take pictures with our phones.

Monica Kulling, Tundra Books, ©2009, 978-0-99776-881-1

Taking a Good Photo

Students can learn some of the basics of good photography. They can practise improving photos by cropping magazine and newspaper photographs. When so many cameras are now available in schools, students can practise taking good photographs, as well. (The first two tips in italics are also mentioned at the back of the book.)

  1. Frame your shot—look at what is behind the person. Why take their picture in front of a garbage can, or where it will look like a post is growing out of their head?
  2. Almost always you can move closer and get a better shot.
  3. Avoid clutter in the picture—a clean single image is best.
  4. No more than 3 people in the picture—unless it’s a crowd shot where you don’t want to see individuals.
  5. Keep the sun behind you, so that it falls directly on the subject.
  6. Fluffy or dramatic clouds always look good in the background of a picture.

Kodachrome

In 1976, Kodak had 95% of the market for film. Kodachrome film was the standard of photography, although kodachrome discontinued production in 2010 after over 75 years because there are fewer pictures now that are developed.

Paul Simon’s song, Kodachrome (below), has a chorus that celebrates photography.

KODACHROME
You give us those nice bright colours
You give us the green of summer
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
Oh yea!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

Students might be interested in writing their own 9-line poem celebrating or making fun of taking photos in their life, or being photographed. First, brainstorm words and phrases related to photography such as: snap, smile, say cheese, hold that pose, be natural, camera, capture, iphone, flash, pic, paparazzi, focus, selfie, lens, enlarge, digital, zoom, or edit.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click It’s a Snap to download.

Advertisements

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.

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.

The Spider and the Fly

TheSpiderandtheFlyBased on the original poem of the story of the fly who is flattered into stepping into the spider’s web, this picture book is beautifully illustrated in black and white. The spooky Victorian house is the perfect setting for the tale.

Mary Howitt, Simon and Schuster, ©2002, ISBN978-0-689-85289-3

A Non-Aesop Fable

This is a fable not written by Aesop. What are the characteristics of a fable that demonstrate that this is one:

  • animal characters—behaving in their stereotypes
  • a moral to the story
  • succinct
  • animals are anthropomorphized
  • frequently doesn’t have a “happy ending”

The Moral of the Story

Fables always have a moral. The rhyming moral of this story is:

And now, dear little children, who may this story read, To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you neer give heed; Unto an evil counselor, close heart and ear and eye, And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.”

Be sure students know what that means. Do they agree that it is the moral of the story? What modern “schemer’s webs” might there be to tangle you up?

  • internet fraud
  • internet predator
  • free “start up” drugs

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Spider and the Fly to download.

I am Raven

I Am RavenA great chief of the Pacific Northwest is creating his totem. The animals (beaver, bear, wolf, owl, eagle, frog, killer whale, otter, thunder, and raven) each present a quality that the chief might have that would lend itself to creating his totem.  Each tries to persuade him to include them.

Andy Everson, MTW Publisher, ©2007, 978-0-9784327-0-6

Build Your Own Totem

The entire book is built around the premise of finding the totem that symbolizes you. First, read the book to the students. At a second reading, as a listening skill, students can listen for those qualities each of the animals presents to the chief. The attached page includes a black line master for listening. After the discussion, ask students to use the little sketches to create a totem with 4 qualities that they would like to have.

The back of the book has a double-page spread with additional possible qualities including: hummingbird, duck, dragonfly, Canada goose, swan, loon, kingfisher, beetle, moon, and sun. Students might want to think about these qualities as well…although it makes the project even more complicated.

If You’re Not From BC

David Bouchard once was a principal in North Vancouver, BC. Since becoming an author and discovering his roots as an aboriginal, he has become one of the most evocative writers in the field. Author of over 50 books, he is a recipient of the Order of Canada.

My favourite from Dave Bouchard is If You’re Not From the Prairie… which is a lyrical praise of growing up in the prairies:

  • The sun is our friend from when we are young
  • If you’re not from the prairies, you don’t know the sun.

A good assignment might be for students to write an “If You’re Not from BC…” book.

For 4 creative writing ideas, click I am Raven to download.

Night Flight

NightFlightNight Flight has few words.  It concentrates on just 14 hours and 56 minutes of time, starting in the evening from Harbour Grace in Newfoundland on May 20th, 1932, and ending in Ireland.  The author recreates the experience in vivid descriptive language of what she had to do to stay awake, storms, failure of equipment, flying through the night.  The author also describes what is seen from the plane as she left, during the night, flying over tundra, approaching land in Ireland. Imagine the Irish farmer coming toward this strange vehicle that had landed in his field, and the woman waving and saying, “I’ve come from America.”  Amazing.

Robert Burleigh, Simon and Schuster, ©2011, 978-1-4169-6733-0

Talking With Amelia Earhart

The back of the book has many quotes from Amelia Earhart that are worth discussing with students, or using as prompts for journal writing:

  • Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
  • I prefer good mechanical work to rabbits’ feet.
  • I could not see.  I carried on.
  • Everyone has their own Atlantic to fly.  Whatever you want very much to do, against  the opposition of tradition, neighbourhood opinion, and so-called common sense—that is an Atlantic.
  • One of my favourite phobias is that girls, especially those whose tastes aren’t routine, often don’t get a fair break.
  • The most effective way to do it, is to do it.

 Journal Writing

Having students draw from their own experience is a good way to get a journal response to a piece of

writing.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Amelia had to stay awake a long time.  Describe a time when you were up very late.  Did you have to do anything special to stay awake?
  • Amelia was caught in a lightning storm.  Describe an experience you had with a storm?
  • Amelia had to be well prepared, but still incredibly brave.  Describe a time when you prepared very well for something and then did it.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Night Flight to download.

Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the School Bus

Ten-Rules-You-Absolutely-Must-Not-Break-If-You-Want-to-Survive-the-School-BusJames advises his younger brother on the 10 things you must not do if you ride the school bus.  They range from not sitting at the front, not sitting at the back, not making eye contact with the bully, to not touching the bully’s stuff, not sitting with a girl, and finally to not talking to the bus driver.  During the course of the day, his brother inadvertently breaks all 10.  But he discovers that things work out and makes a rule 11—you don’t have to pay attention to the rules.

John Grandits, Houghton Mifflin, ©2011, 978-0-618-78822-4

Listening Idea

With the PDF of lesson ideas there is a listening chart with the 10 rules cited on it. The second time you read the story, students could note how these rules are broken. Discuss at the end. For each one, ask if it is a sensible rule and why.

Similes

This is a good time to teach students the structure of a simile. Each of the 7 similes in the book is reflected in the illustration, which cleverly reflects the perception of the narrator. You may want to project the illustrations as you point out the similes in the book and ask the students to discuss their meaning. The only simile missing is that of the bus driver, although the illustration of her is of a predator bird. The similes are:

  • a dog…sounded like an arctic wolf that hadn’t eaten all winter
  • school bus …charging at me like a giant yellow rhinoceros
  • staring at me…I felt like a zebra at a lion party
  • big kid…up close, he was the size of a grizzly bear
  • girls…as mean as snakes
  • bus driver…illustration of a predator bird, no simile
  • brother…jumping up and down like a spider monkey.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Ten Rules to download.