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.


The Qultimaker’s Gift

QuiltmakersGiftThis book is not new, but has been recently re-issued, so I am including it because it is great for writing ideas. The Quiltmaker makes quilts only for the poor. When the king covets one she refuses, but will make one square for each gift he gives away. After several threats, he gives in, and finds that giving to others is where he find happiness.

Jeff Brumbeau, Scholastic, ©2001, ISBN 0-439-30910-7

The Pattern Story

The quilting patterns shown on the 32 pages of the book have been chosen to echo the part of story told on each page. Give each student a page and a copy of the patterns in the book (on the inside covers.) First they find their pattern, and its name. Then they develop an explanation of why that pattern has been chosen for that page. Create a quick PowerPoint showing each of pages and a close-up of each of the patterns in order. Finally, you read the story (or students read the story), page by page. As each page is read, show the pattern. At the end of that page, a student explains the pattern and why he/she feels it was chosen for the page. There are 23 patterns in total, so some of the students will need to “double up” if you have a larger class. (The key to the match of the pattern to the page is included in the PDF you can download for this book.)

Vocabulary of Shimmer

In describing the king’s storehouse of gifts, the author says they “shimmer”. Ask students to brainstorm words that mean to reflect or give off light. Some words they may come up with are: shimmer, glitter, sparkle, glow, flash, shine, twinkle, scintillate, radiate, dazzle, glint, glisten, beam, emit, gleam, glare, etc. Give students a pair of words and ask them to tell you the difference—ie. shimmer vs glare or twinkle vs. gleam. Then ask them to arrange the words from least amount of light to most amount of light. In general, playing with the words solidifies the vocabulary.

For 10 creative writing ideas, click The Quilt Maker’s Gift to download.


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


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.

Miss Hunnicutt’s Hat

61VXWEWPH0LThe Queen is coming to Littleton and Miss Hunnicutt wants to wear her hat with a chicken on top. After she stands up for her right to wear what she wants, we discover that the Queen loves her hat with the turkey on top.

Jeff Brumbeau, Orchard Books/ Scholastic, ©2003, ISBN 0-439-31895-5

The Art of Hats

Many famous pieces of art involve women wearing hats. Attached are a couple of pages of samples of such pieces of art, with their name, and the artist.

hatsinartAsk students to choose one to research (in pairs). The team needs to produce 12 facts about the artist, and 6 facts about the painting (where it is located, size, and, the model, the hat, etc.)

Depending on the time you have students may:

  • Report on an 8.5 X 11 poster with the picture and their information
  • Report orally (2 minutes. 1 minute each) as you show the images on a screen.
  • Create a scavenger hunt to expose them to at least 5 of the poster reports.

Follow the Pattern

Students can incorporate their own pattern into a story that they create. Each time Miss Hunnicutt is asked to take off her hat she replies:

  1. I will not.
  2. I have a right to wear what I like.
  3. I won’t wear a (flounder) and I won’t wear (an orangutan).
  4. But I will wear (a chicken) and I will wear it on my head.


Student patterns can be either about wearing something, or can be about something they commonly do, such as ride a bicycle.

  1. I will not.
  2. I have a right to ride a bicycle.
  3. I won’t ride in the ditch, and I won’t ride in the store.
  4. But I will ride in the bike lane, and I’ll do it in the morning.


For 10 creative writing ideas, click Miss Hunnicut’s Hat 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


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.

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.

Wonder Horse

Wonder HorseSubtitled The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse, this is the story of how Bill Key, former slave, found and trained his horse Jim Key. Unlike other trainers of the time, he used only kindness to teach Jim to recognize the alphabet and colours. They travelled America doing shows, where Bill took the opportunity to teach animal owners the importance of humane treatment. Bill and his horse had a huge influence on the movement leading to the RSPCA.

Emily Arnold McCully, Henry Holt, ©2010, ISBN 978-0-8050-8793-2

Famous Animals – A Rapid Research Topic

Jim Key is the story of both an amazing horse and an amazing owner. Give students a list of famous animals and ask them to prepare a quick research report of about 4 paragraphs (with an illustration if possible from the internet) to make an 11 X 17 poster set of displays for the class.

Working in pairs, students could then make an oral presentation (or a PowerPoint presentation about their particular horses)..length 2 minutes to a maximum length of 5 minutes.

I have created a Pinterest page with 30 amazing animals (horses, dogs, cats) that students can use to start their research (or illustrate it). You can either visit my Pinterest page on my website to view the board (it’s the last one on the page) or visit my Pinterest boards directly (also, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest!).


The words students might find difficult are: colic, profile, console, antics, equine, and liniment. This might be a good time to explore vocabulary about horses as a theme. (See page 3 of the attachment.)

For 5 creative writing ideas, click Wonder Horse 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.

Stella Louella’s Runaway Book‏

Stella-LouellaStella Louella’s is very concerned because today is the day her book is due at the library, and she cannot find it.  She traces the book through the neighbourhood.  Each person she meets has enjoyed the book, each for a different reason, and passed it on to the next person in the neighbourhood.  By the time Stella arrives at the library she has more than 10 neighbours with her.

Lisa Campbell Ernst, Aladdin Paperbacks, ©2001, ISBN 0-689-84460-3

Write Your Own Cumulative Tale

A cumulative tale is one where at each step in the plot, another character is involved (usually to solve the problem). In Stella Louella’s Runaway Book at each step Stella pursues the last person who had the book, and that person joins in the pursuit until there are move than 10 who eventually arrive at the library.

Give the students some possibilities for writing their own clever cumulative tale. Choose another fairy tale such as:

  • The Three Little Pigs and have the pigs searching for something to build the brick house. A sort of “got to get the brick house built in time” plot might be fun, with each person they are visiting contributing something until they have everything they need and all the helpers they need.
  • Another possibility might be a school problem where they are looking for the tether ball, for example, and going from one part of the school to the other as they track where it has been before the end of lunch hour.


This book uses interesting “slang” types of language. For example: willy nilly goes back to the 17th century and means “whether you want to or not”. Other words are smack-dab, simmer down, and tizzy. It might be fun for students to brainstorm as many possible slang expressions as they can think of, with their meanings, and then to incorporate a minimum of 12 into their story. These should be highlighted in their final copy.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click Stella Louells’ Runaway Book to download.


The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont

FabulousFlyingMachines_JKTThe author’s child learns in school that the Wright Brothers invented flight.  Her Brazilian husband says, “No they didn’t.  It was Alberto Santos-Dumont”.

Santos-Dumont was a wealthy Brazilian living in Paris who created the first practical dirigible and in the book uses it to go to a store, drop anchor, and go in to shop for a hat.  He then creates the first plane to fly with some controls and under its own power, as opposed to needing assistance to get into the air. Amazingly, he was also the first man to wear a wristwatch.  Clocks wouldn’t work on an airplane, so his friend, Piaget, created a small watch you could wear on your wrist.

Victoria Griffith, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2011, 978-1-4197-0011-8

Contrasting Two Things

The story opens with the author recounting how her child had learned in school that the Wright Brothers had invented flight, only to have her Brazilian husband point out that it was a Brazilian who flew first, and in Paris at that.

Students could read about the Wright Brothers and contrast the two.
The Wright Brothers:

  • Flew in 1903 with few witnesses vs. Santos-Dumont flying in 1905 with a thousand witnesses
  • Needed assistance—high winds and a rail system to get up speed—to get into the air vs. Santos-Dumont taking to the air under its own power.
  • Were not wealthy vs. Santos-Dumont who was wealthy
  • Had little control of the flight vs. Santos-Dumont with controls
  • Were up for 12 seconds vs. Santos-Dumont for 20 seconds
  • Had one first in their life vs. Santos-Dumont having the first practical dirigible, first unassisted flight, first mass-produced airplane (the Dragonfly), and the first person to wear a wristwatch (invented just for him).

Then ask students why they think the Wright Brothers are famous and everyone, except Brazil, has forgotten Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Teaching the Word “Irony”

Irony means to use words, and sometimes tone, to convey the opposite of what the words seem to say. For example, it is ironic to survive the San Francisco earthquake only to die in the Jamaica earthquake. It is ironic to put a “do not deface the stop sign” on the actual stop sign. In the case of this book there are two ironic statements:

  • Santos-Dumont says that airplanes will bring about peace because we will see how similar all people really are.
  • Spectators say “nobody will forget this day” when they see Santos fly.

Discuss with students the irony of these statements.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont to download.