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.

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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.

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.

Cinder Edna

Cinder EdnaCinder Edna is the liberated neighbour of Cinderella. Cinderella needs a fairy godmother to get her to the ball; Cinder Edna earns money mowing lawns and cleaning parrot cages. She earns enough for the dress, wears comfortable loafers to the ball, and takes the bus. She gets the best prince too—the brother of the one Cinderella marries.

Ellen Jackson, Mulberry Books, 1998, ISBN 0688162959

Here It Is, and Again, and Again.

A turning point in the story is going to be that Cinder Edna knows 16 ways to make tuna casserole. The fact is planted in the story when we first meet her and it is listed as one of her skills. It is mentioned again when she meets Rupert and discovers he likes tuna casserole too. Finally, Rupert uses the 16 types of tuna casserole to determine which is the real Cinder Edna.

This is a really great skill to teach students when writing a story. When you have decided on the solution to your problem, you can plant it into the story three times—the first two quite unobtrusively. It makes the whole story seem to come together perfectly.

What Happened Next Stories

In addition to being really entertaining, the “What Happened Next” story is a natural development of the predicting skill of reading. It is also easy to write because students do not have to create a character, a setting, a problem, etc. They can limit themselves to a problem or two for their character.

There are many existing “What Happened Next” stories, but you will not want to have the students read them before they write their own. However, studying them afterward can show students that many adults do what they have just done and make a good living doing it.

First, brainstorm a list of fairy tales where “What Happened Next?” Here are some possibilities: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs , Three Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince.

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Cinder Edna to download.

From the Good Mountain

FromtheGoodMountainHow Gutenberg Changed the World. Illustrated like a medieval manuscript, the book shows how all the parts of the process came together to create the first printing press.

James Rumford, Roaring Book Press, ©2012, ISBN 978-59643-542-1

Writing From the Parts

The structure of this book is to describe something without saying what it is, and then to ask a question.

  • What was it?

Then it describes how to make the thing, and asks another question:

  • What was this thing made of rags and bones?

Then it answers it, and says it was ready.

  • It was paper, and it was ready.

Slowly, the story builds as the next thing needed is leather, then gold, then ink, then printing types, then the printing presses, then the person (Johannes Gutenberg) until finally the book is made.

It’s a gorgeous, rhythmical pattern that students could imitate with something easier, such as making fudge. To make fudge you need:

  • sugar
  • butter
  • brown sugar
  • icing sugar
  • a stove
  • a glass tray
  • a knife
  • a refrigerator

The recipe online for Cora’s fudge is the easiest one I know, because it doesn’t require any temperature gauge. Students don’t make the fudge—you do so that you can give out a sample.

“In the year 2012, in the city of New Westminster, there appeared a mysterious thing. It was made of sugar cane, cows milk, brown sugar, icing sugar, a stove, a fridge, a glass tray, and a knife. What was it?”…and so on.

It would be fun…and they could see that any time they needed to explain something where many other things had to come together first in order for the item to be successful…this pattern would be very impressive.

The recipe for Cora’s fudge is at here. (One tip: when it is partially chilled, make cut lines in the fudge, so that it comes out more easily in the end. If you forget, this will still work.)

Paper chase Vocabulary Game

Here’s a chance to develop the vocabulary of paper. Find samples of all of these kinds of paper and create 8 different packages with labels. Allow students to feel and look at, and study the names of the papers. Then remove these study material.

Next given them an envelope with sample papers and separate labels and ask them to match the word to the sample. Add a timing factor to make it more fun.

  1. bond paper
  2. cellophane
  3. parchment paper
  4. cardboard
  5. blotting paper
  6. carbon paper
  7. cardstock
  8. butcher paper
  9. newsprint
  10. crêpe paper
  11. glassine paper
  12. origami paper
  13. wax paper
  14. tissue paper
  15. wrapping paper
  16. manila tag
  17. toilet paper

 

For 10 creative writing ideas, click From the Good Mountain to download.

Titanicat

Titanicat CoverJim is a cabin boy on the Titanic assigned to watch over a cat and her kittens. He sees the cat taking her kittens off the ship before it sails. As the “All ashore” is called there is one last kitten, so Jim takes it off and misses the ship. Based on a true story.

Marty Crisp, Scholastic, ©2008, ISBN 978-0-545-2880-2

Superstitions

Our cabin boy is saved from the Titanic because of the superstition that a cat leaving a ship is a sign of disaster. Show students the pictures on the Titanicat Superstitions PDF and have them describe what the luck is that the image is conveying (good or bad).

Cat Breeds

The ship’s cat is a tortoiseshell cat. This might be a good time to introduce students to the names and vocabulary of cat breeds, some of which are:

  • Ragdoll
  • Maine or coon cat
  • Bengal
  • Siamese
  • Manx
  • Persian
  • Abyssinian
  • Angora
  • Russian blue

For 10 creative writing ideas, click Titanicat to download.

Blockhead – The Life of Fibonacci

BlockheadFibonacci was part of the revolutionary change from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals in the 12th century. His most important contribution to math is the Fibonacci sequence, which this book explains.

Joseph D’Agnesi, Henry Holt, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8050-6305-9

Fibonacci Numbers

If you add any two consecutive numbers in the pattern you get the next number:

  • 1 pair plus 1 pair = 2 pairs
  • 1 pair plus 2 pairs = 3 pairs
  • 2 pairs plus 3 pairs = 5 pairs
  • 3 pairs plus 5 pairs = 8 pairs

The first numbers are 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,55,89,144,233,377.

Pages 26 and 27 explain the Fibonacci numbers…demonstrate to 8 and ask them to continue until they get to 233.

blockheadphotoAstonishingly, nature uses these numbers all the time…in flower petals, seeds inside, starfish, 3 leaf clovers, 8 sections in a lemon, etc. Even humans have 1 head, 2 eyes, 5 fingers, etc.

Roman Numerals

The book mentions that, in Egypt, Fibonacci encountered Arabic Numerals and thought how much simpler they were than his Roman numerals – making it a good time to introduce them. (Actually, the numbers are from India, but the west encountered them in the Arab countries and so called them Arabic numerals.) Lots of sites have activity sheets, but a good site for an explanation is Adrian Bruce’s Maths Stuff. Roman numerals, it reminds us, may be found on watches, old buildings, page numbers in a preface, as subsections in a list on Microsoft Word, titles of kings and queens, periods of Egyptian history, and at the end of Hollywood movies, comics, and games to show the year it was made.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Blockhead to download.