The Strongest Man in the World

In graphic novel style, we hear the story of Louis Cyr, a French-Canadian who was the “strongest man in the world.” His life story is told in flashback with some of his amazing feats of strength.

Nicholas Debon, Anansi Press, ©2007, 13: 978-0-88899-731-9

Writing in Flashback

This book begins with Louis Cyr’s report to his daughter that the doctor says due to his health problems he must retire. He then tells his daughter the story of his life, and ends with his final show. For students to imitate this style, I think they should begin with the complete draft of a story they have already written that is in time order. Then after you read them the story so that they can see how it is done, they would re-write their story, beginning with the moment before the ending, and then the full story, and finally the full ending of the story.

Other Books in Flashback

These picture books are variations of the concept of the flashback. They could be read as further examples of this style of writing. Point out that “money can be made” and “A’s can be gotten” by using an interesting style:

  • Miss Rumphius
  • Kamishibai Man
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
  • One Small Blue Bead
  • Pink and Say

Guinness Book of World Records

Students love the Guinness Book of World Records. Select several records a day to read aloud…and then be sure that the library has a couple of copies for students to read on their own.

If you look on the Internet, Louis Cyr is still considered to be the strongest man who ever lived. This Canadian boy apparently weighed 18 pounds when he was born.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Strongest Man in the World 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.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

TheBoyWhoHarnassedTheWindThe true story of a boy living in Malawi who created a windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his village.

William Kamkwamba, Penguin, ©2012, 978-0-8037-3511-8

Science of Corn

As a science study, you could bring in jeweller’s loupes and enough corn so that each pair of students can have a slice. Use the loupes to have students ask themselves, “What does this look like? What does it remind me of?” They should think of 5-10. Some examples are:

  • tiny pats of butter
  • little yellow pillows
  • coated pills
  • colourful pool toys
  • little balloons

The science question is, “If it looks like a tiny pat of butter, is there any way it could act like a tiny pat of butter?” Of course, corn oil, is very high calorie and often used as a replacement for butter, so that isn’t too hard.

What about “If it looks like a little yellow pillow, is there any way it could be acting like a little yellow pillow?

A good Inquiry series of questions can come out of these, and often a little experiment can be constructed to test whether it is indeed acting like what it looks like. For example, could we extract a kernel carefully and see if it floats, like a pool toy?

Remind students that 95% of nature is function over form. That is, it doesn’t look beautiful just to look beautiful; there is a reason for it.

An Inquiry into Crops of the Americas

Historically, corn was one of the North American crops exported around the world, so it is interesting that it is the major crop of Malawai. Students may be interested in investigating what other foods originated in the Americas, including chocolate, tobacco, potatoes, vanilla, tomatoes, peanuts, avocado, chili peppers, papaya, pineapple, maple syrup, sunflower, wild rice, turkey, cranberry, sweet potato, quinoa, brazil nuts, cashews.

Art

The Internet has lessons for how to draw nearly anything—in this case, an ear of corn. You could start students with a cartoon corn:

Followed by a more sophisticated drawing:

For 9 creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to download.

Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize

Alfred NobelAlfred Nobel invented dynamite and became very wealthy.  Saddened by its us in war he left his entire fortune to a yearly prize for those “who have rendered the greatest services to mankind.”

Kathy-Jo Wargin, Sleeping Bear Press, ©2009, ISBN 978-1-58536-281-3

Famous Winners of the Nobel Prize

Divide the class into 4 giving you approximately 8 groups. Further divide them until there are 8 groups of 4. Give each group 4 names from the Prize Winners Page to search at NobelPrize.org. As they click each name, they will find a picture of the winner and the biography will give them a description of what the person did that made them a worthy winner of the prize.

prize winners pageEach chooses one of their 4 names and writes from 50-100 words describing their winner. These can be turned into oral presentations if you wish. Have students with the same winner work together.

Nobel Prize Games

NobelPrize.org has more than 10 great games you can play to learn more about the Nobel Prize winners, about science and medicine, as well as a nice “doves game” which would fit in well with the theme of this book. Games include:  Laser Challenge, blood typing, Pavlov’s dog, double helix, electrocardiogram, peace doves, split brain, and the immune system.  They are really fun to play, and demanding. Click here to visit the Nobel Prize Games.

Origami:  The Crane

Because the crane is a symbol of peace in Japan, this can also be a time to introduce the book Sadako and the Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.  This is the story of the little survivor of Hiroshima who succumbs to leukemia—“the atom bomb disease”—and makes a thousand origami cranes in order to wish for peace.

There are several YouTube sites with more information on Sadako—as well as this being a good time to teach students how to make the origami crane.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Peace Prize to download.

Tsunami

TsunamiIn Japan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village lives on the hill in his rice farm. In the village below, villagers are getting ready for a festival. Suddenly he senses a problem, and when he sees the waters recede realizes a tsunami is coming. He cannot get down to the village to warn them in time so he needs to draw the villagers to him. As a desperate act, he sets his crop on fire. The villagers rush up the hill to help put out the fire, and they are all saved.

Kimiko Kajikawa, Philomel Books, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-399-25006-4

Tsunami

This is a good time to study the science of the tsunami. These giant waves form where tectonic plates collide, where there is a gigantic (frequently underwater) eruption of a volcano, or after a meteor impact. 86% of all tsunamis come from underwater volcanoes or seismic shifts. These displace huge quantities of water suddenly. The water rushes in to fill the vacuum (thus explaining why the “tide” seems to go out suddenly and unusually far) and then rushes back out again in the form of a huge wave.

There are many websites with great information including the video below.

The True Story

This book is based on a story in the 1897 publication by Lafadio Hearn called Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. The original wise wealthy man of the village was Hamguchi Goryo and there is a Japanese museum dedicated to him. (He was 35, not an old man, when it happened but the story is still wonderful. Making him older makes it possible for “experience” to tell him what to do.) Ask students to research the real person at locations such as The Fire of Rice Sheaves.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Tsunami 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.

Queen of Falls

QueenFallsAnnie Taylor was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, the first to survive, the first woman for over 95 years, and the only woman to do it alone. This is her story – the story of a woman over 60 years of age who did an amazing thing.

Chris Van Allsburg, Houghton Mifflin, ©2010, 978-0547-31581-2

Start in the Middle of the Action

This book is a brilliant example of starting a story in the middle of the action, then going back to fill in the backstory, and bringing your reader back up to the beginning point of the story.

In this book, a crowd has gathered to watch a barrel go over the falls but why is the barrel so important? The book then flashes back to Annie Taylor’s life, leads her up to the falls, and then follows on with the rest of the story. After analyzing how the “start in the middle of the action” strategy works, have students re-write a story they have written by starting at the action point and flashing back to the beginning.

Science Egg Drop Project

Annie Taylor knows, “You can put an egg inside a can and let it drop to the floor. The can may not be damaged, but it’s a different story for the egg.” This is a classic science project. How do you protect an egg from breaking in a 20 foot drop? One of the neatest demonstrations is The Science Egg Drop Project by Bradley who demonstrates 5l contraptions he built to protect an egg in a 19 foot drop. This can also make a good science challenge for your students.

For 9 writing ideas, click Queen of the Falls to download.