The Toughest Cowboy (or How the Wild West Was Tamed)

This is a pourquoi tale about how the frisbee was invented. Grizz Brickbottom and his 3 friends are the toughest cowboys on the prairie. They decide they need someone with silky hair, a lovely smell, and sweet kisses—and accidentally adopt Foofy, the miniature poodle. She is a picky eater and likes French cooking so Chuck Wagon is charged with that as well as singing her to sleep. Bald Mountain has to comb her hair. Lariat has to make her a leash, and tie a ribbon in her hair. They have a great time with Foofy who loves to fetch thrown tin plates. Without meaning to, the cowboy team gets used to being clean and moves into the town to open a restaurant, a hairdressing salon, a gift shop, and a business making the Grizz-B.

John Frank, Simon and Schuster, ©2004, ISBN 0-689-83461-6

Write A Fractured Cowboy Fairy Tale
The Toughest Cowboy is full of “cowboy language”. You could give each student a copy of a single page, and have them work in groups with their assigned pages to identify some of the “slang” and the words about the cowboy life on the page. Here is only a small sample of what they will encounter: reckin’, move’n, ain’t, hitched up, eatin’, druther, saloon, addled, a lick and a promise, saddle up, chaps, save your bacon, bad egg, ballyhoo, barrel rider, bed down, bee in your bonnet, big guns, bilk, blarney, bridle, reins, lariat, spurs, stirrups, branding iron, etc. The idea is that they can create a list that they can use to create their own western tale.

To make it easier you could suggest creating a fractured fairy tale. A western fractured fairy tale based on Cinderella is Bubba the Cowboy Prince. The Cinderella is a cowboy who is oppressed by his two brothers. The “prince” is a woman who owns the neighbouring ranch. There is a fairy god-cow. Lots of fun. Read it to your students and discuss the points of comparison.

If you have the book, read the story a second time asking them to pay attention to the “cowboy” language being used. Stop for every page or so to ask them what they heard then give them a list of fairy tales for which they might do a cowboy version: Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, etc. They need to set it in the old west, and use cowboy lingo. Emend them there are lots of fractured fairy tales out there that are “making money” for their authors..

Good Manners
“You got no upbringin’, that’s what’ wrong,” said Grizz. “You ain’t had a bath in six months, you never heard of a napkin, and you use your fingers to clean your teeth, and pick your noses.”

Generate with students categories of good manners: table manners, telephone/message manners, social manners when you in a group, store manners, personal hygiene manners, etc.

Ask students to draw a line to create a grid or set of columns for each category then give them as individuals 5 minutes to write down as many things about good manners in Canada that they know in each of these categories. Put them into groups of 4 to generate the longest list they can with each group having its own aspect of the grid to work on.

If you don’t have a lot of time, simply select one of the categories. For example, table manners are where it is most likely that there will be differences based on ethnicity. In many ways what is good manners is culture specific or is based on increasing awareness of hygiene to keep others from getting sick.

An international example of what constitutes good manner is the SkyTrain. In Canada, it is perfectly OK to talk to your friends, and even sometimes to the stranger sharing a seat. In Japan on the other hand, the commuter train is a silent place, even for good friends riding together. Japan is very densely populated so general rules on silence help your environment from being full of “noise pollution.”

Good discussion can arise for what the logic behind the “good manners” might be. For example, it is said that shaking hands right-handed, arose from showing your good intentions to demonstrate the you were not carrying a weapon.

“Character” Exploration
Grizz Brickbottom is tough. Ask the student to listen for how tough he is. Then read the opening of the book to the students. After, ask them what Grizz eats (fried boots and lizard gizzards), what he drinks (a quart of Tabasco sauce a day), how he sleeps (with a rattle snake), how he flosses (with barbed wire), what he can do with his stubble (grind a branding iron into a belt buckle).

Give students a collection of possible characters defined by a single quality—kind, mean, messy, neat, fast, slow, etc.—and ask them to create a humorous opening description of that character…as though they were going to write a story.

Later if you are interested in expanding beyond the creation of a character by stereotype, you can ask what other qualities we learn he has as the story progresses, and how we know: he’s kind, he is a good friend, he’s a leader, he likes animals, he can learn and change, he is playful, etc.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Toughest Cowboy to download.

The Mermaid’s Muse: The Legend of the Dragon Boats

A poet named Qu Yuan, advisor to the King of Chu, is falsely banished to a far off island where the inhabitants really respect his wisdom. A dragon falls in love with him, and changes to a young woman, who asks him to come and live with her under the sea. The villagers assume, when they see him on the dragon, that he is going to be killed and they row out in their boats to save him, banging on the water to scare the dragon, throwing in rice cakes to distract the dragon, and attacking. The dragon refuses to fight back. The poet eventually changes himself into a dragon and says, “Do not believe everything your eyes will tell you.” After that, each year, the villagers celebrate the two dragons, and eventually come to celebrate with their own dragon boats.

David Bouchard, Raincoast Books, 1999, ISBN 9781551922485

Author: Dave Bouchard
Dave Bouchard is a former school administrator and teacher in BC. He has a school named after him in Ontario. He has received the Governor General’s medal and written many books. Three of his books are of Chinese folktales: The Mermaid’s Muse, The Dragon New Year, and The Great Race. Nine of his books reflect his Metis heritage which he discovered as an adult including I am Raven (click for teaching ideas).

Pourquoi Stories: How Things Came To Be
Pouquoi is French for “why”. This is a pourquoi story of how it came to be that there are dragon boat races and festivals around the world. Students could be asked to write their own imaginative, “how it came to be” story. One possibility is how the name of their school came to be, or the name of their town. Another is just an ordinary object such as an orange and how it came to be. Most pourquoi stories have a humorous element.

For example, I went to General Currie Elementary School in Richmond in grade one. We children believed that it was named after an American General (because that seemed more possible than a Canadian General) who had retired in Canada after the American Revolution. As an adult I discovered that he was the first Canadian commander of an all Canadian military division.

Art: Drawing the Dragon
There are many YouTube videos to teach students to draw important Chinese symbols, including the dragon. One I particularly like is How to Draw a Chinese Dragon by Paolo Morrone (below). Be prepared to stop the video at regular intervals so that students can catch up.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Mermaid’s Muse to download.

The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes

Emperor Ming Da is only nine years old, but he knows his minsters are corrupt. To obtain the money to help his people he convinces his ministers that burlap bags are really magic New Year’s clothes. Honest people will see splendour and the dishonest will see burlap sacks. Fooled, they claim to see the perfection of the clothes, until in the New Year’s parade a boy calls out that they are wearing burlap sacks.

Ying Chang Compestine ©2017, Abrams Books, 978-1-4187-2542-5

Comparison
The story is an obvious variation on The Emperor’s New Clothes as written by Hans Christian Anderson. Read that story to the class, asking them to note as many similarities as they can think of to The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Tell them you are going to introduce them to the SECRET for writing a “good enough” comparison every time.

  1. List 3-5 ways they are similar.
  2. List 3 ways they are different.
  3. Start with a basic introduction, “The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson and The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Compestine are variations on the same story…”
  4. Write your 3-5 ways they are the same. Start with your best example, end with your second best example, put the others between.
  5. Start with However, the two stories have quite a few differences. Then explain your 3 differences, starting with the strongest, ending with your second strongest, with the other(s) in between.
  6. Write a conclusion; perhaps your opinion of which is the better version and why.
  7. Re-write your first sentence to be more interesting. “Without Hans Christian Anderson’s original Emperor’s New Clothes there would have been no version set in China.

The Author
Compestine has had a diverse career including being a food advisor for Martha Stewart. She has also written many children’s books including: The Story of Chopsticks, The Story of Kites, The Story of Noodles, The Runaway Wok, The Runaway Rice Cake, and many more. You can visit the her website here or listen to her life story in this keynote lecture below.

For more creative writing ideas, click on The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes to download.

Pluto Gets the Call

Pluto loved being a planet but then receives the call that demotes him. He decides to head to the Sun to plead his case and on the way comments, mostly unfavourably, on the other planets as he passes them. The Sun consoles him with the fact that he now has a warm place in our hearts. With humour, we learn some facts about the solar system.

Adam Rex, Simon and Schuster, Beach Line Books, ©2019 978-1-5344-1453-2

Memorizing the Planets – In Order
Yes, there’s a mnemonic—My Very Enthusiastic Mother Just Served Us Noodles—but for me it’s as hard to remember the sentence as it is to remember the planets in order. I was once taught a story that works, because narrative is easiest to remember.

First, remember there are 4 inner smaller rocky planets, and 4 larger gas planets. Also, this names the planets from the sun out which means, for example, that if I say “Jupiter” you will always be able to say it is between Mars and Saturn.

Right next to the Sun, there was a very zippy planet called Mercury, named after the Messenger God because of its speed. Unfortunately, Mercury sneezed on the next planet over, which was the beautiful planet, Venus. Now mercury is poisonous so Venus scooped it up and threw it on the next planet, Earth. Earth didn’t want it either, and threw it onto Mars, the next planet and an angry red planet named after the god of war.

Mars was just winding up to throw it, when over the hill came a giant, that reached to the clouds, Jupiter. He was wearing a t-shirt with a huge red circle in the middle surrounded by the letters S.U.N. (Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). In the old days, he also had worn a ridiculous beanie cap on top of which was a tiny little model of the cartoon dog Pluto, but he doesn’t wear it any more.

Tales in Space
For general vocabulary, it’s a good idea to try out the Two Dozen Words You Need to Explore Space. Actually, I made that up, but they are still good words: satellite, orbit, rocket, space station, sputnik, comet, meteor, nebula, vacuum, astronomy, solar wind, big bang, Kuiper Belt, stardust, asteroid belt, International Space Station, telescope, cosmonaut/astronaut, heliosphere, black hole, galactic, magnetosphere, NASA, Canada Arm.

Once they have the words in their space suit, so to speak, ask them to write a story incorporating at least 10 of the words. It could be a space adventure such as Guardians of the Galaxy with a hero, an oddball sidekick, and a quest. It’s okay for them to create another adventure for characters they already know. The idea is to stretch their vocabulary into active use.

Ask them to highlight the words they use because there will be 2 marks: 1 for using the words, and 1 for the story, and you want your marking to be as easy as possible.

The Gods of the Greeks and Romans Are With Us Today
Give students a list of the products and events in our life that relate to the Gods of Greece and Rome. Ask each student to research one of them: what is the product and what does it do, what is the story behind the god it is named after, and why they feel that connection is appropriate. Prepare a quick PowerPoint or Keynote with pictures of the product or event. Students will turn in their paper, and also make an oral presentation. Two marks from one assignment and it’s fun too.

Here are some products: Nike shoes, Pandora jewelry, Versace designer uses the Medusa head, Ajax cleaner, Hermes fashion, Starbucks siren/ mermaid symbol, Trident gum, Goodyear tires with the flying sandal, FTD florists’ symbol of Mercury, Amazon delivers, Mars candy bar, Oracle database software, Ambrosia salad, Apollo Theatre in New York City, Delphi software, Vulcanized rubber, Centaur pharmaceuticals, Echo Digital Audio, Europa (website of the EU), Hyperion Records, Odyssey records, Pegasus travel, Poseidon Seafood, Prometheus books, Titans ()NFL team), Triton Tool and Die, Mercury Car, the Nissan Titan, the Volkswagen Phaeton, Venus Beauty supplies, Pegasus symbol of Mobil Oil. Honda Odyssey.

For more creative writing ideas, click Pluto Gets the Call to download.

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World

Earle Dickson’s wife Josephine has many kitchen injuries – cuts, burns, and scrapes. To help her Earle creates a cover to protect the injury that eventually becomes Band-Aid by Johnson and Johnson. Johnson and Johnson develops a market by providing them free to the Boy Scouts.

Barry Wittenstein, ©2018, Charlesbridge, 978-1-58089-745-7

Writing: Playing with the Structure
The most fun of this book is the series of endings—six times in the course of the book when a logical pause in the plot occurs, the author says “The End.” But when the page is turned over the plot continues! Phrases that restart the plot are “Actually, that was just the beginning,” “But WAIT,” “Oops, not yet,” “Sorry, not really.”

Students could start by writing a story, following the basic story plot of a problem, with three attempts to solve it, before succeeding. When the draft is finished, they could enlarge and expand it, by adding details of conversation, and including “The End” at each of the attempts to solve it then continuing on the next page with why that solution does not work.

Because of COVID-19
We have discovered during the pandemic, many adults don’t seem understand what a vaccination is and does. We attribute it often to the fact that in their lifetime and even their parent’s lifetime, they did not experience or see anyone who caught the many diseases that vaccination prevents. They have not experienced polio, measles, mumps, rubella, small pox, etc. and don’t know anyone who did. There’s a meme going around saying:

“Remember when you caught polio?”
“Of course you don’t. Your parents vaccinated you.”

So, if you did a small presentation about how vaccines work first, you could then assign pairs of students to study the 15 diseases for which we have vaccines—all developed since about 1920. If each pair took one disease, they could present on the following topics:

  • What is the disease and its effects?
  • How many people used to catch it?
  • How many people suffer long term effects from it or die?
  • Who developed the vaccine and when, and how?

Students could prepare a collective report—each pair preparing a two-page presentation with images. That project could be bound and catalogued for the library. Then students could prepare an oral presentation for their disease to help developing speaking skills.

Possibilities include:

  1. Insulin
  2. Tuberculosis
  3. Diphtheria
  4. Tetanus (lock jaw)
  5. Pertussis – whooping cough
  6. Penicillin (great antibiotic, not a vaccine)
  7. Yellow Fever
  8. Smallpox
  9. Shingles
  10. Measles
  11. Mumps
  12. Hepatitis A and B
  13. Polio
  14. Chicken Pox
  15. (You could include the COVID-19 vaccines if you like)

My Personal Timeline: Writing
The back of the book has a timeline for the major events of Earle Dickson’s life with a focus on his career with Johnson and Johnson. It might be an interesting project for students to write their own timeline, starting from their birth, kindergarten, grade one, etc. and also including any major events in each year.

For more creative writing ideas, click The Boo-Boos that Changed the World to download.

Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China

A good woman went to visit the granny of her three little girls and told them to be very careful to close the door tight and latch it. Soon they heard a voice claiming to be their granny and when they let her in, they recognized him as a wolf by his tail and his claws. The little girls climbed a tree claiming that the ginkgo berries on it would help you live forever. When the wolf couldn’t climb, they offered to lift him in a basket. Once they had him to the top of the tree, they let him go and he died in the fall.

Ed Young, Macmillan Books ©2007 ISBN 9781435204533

Comparison
Using a Venn diagram, students can prepare a chart comparing how this Little Red-Riding Hood story is the same as, and different from, the European version. Decide whether to read them a picture book, or show them the Disney version which is short and available on YouTube.

A simple method is to ask students to first write a rather pedestrian opening sentence such as: This is a comparison of the classic European Cinderella with the Lon Po Po version. They then choose and write about at least three ways in which they are similar and at least three ways in which they are different. They conclude by stating whether they are more similar or more different. At this point, they re-write the opening sentence to be more dramatic and interesting, and also write a conclusion that has pizzazz. Voila! It may not be amazing, but it is serviceable and can be used for a “decent” B mark throughout their student life.

Kim’s Game
In this story, observation skills are very important to the survival of the girls. In Girl Guides and Boy Scouts and other youth organizations, the observation game, Kim’s Game, is very popular. Select about 20 random objects and create a visual you can project. Give students 20 seconds to observe. Then project a visual with one object removed and ask them to try to remember and write down what is missing. The name is derived from a book called Kim, written by Rudyard Kipling in 1901, in which Kim plays this game to train to be a spy.

Extreme Writing Topics
There should always be three prompts for an Extreme Writing inspiration. Otherwise students waste time making a decision. For a complete description of the process, see my book, The Power of Extreme Writing, or visit Extreme Writing.

The children were very trusting at first; tell stories of times when you trusted someone or something and how it worked out. The children lifted the wolf; tell stories of things you have lifted and carried. Stories of any encounters with dangerous animals (dogs, crows, raccoons, coyotes, cats, bees) and how it turned out.

For more creative writing ideas, clock on Lon Po Po to download.

The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle: The Cool Science Behind Frank Epperson’s Famous Frozen Treat

Frank Epperson was a question asker and an experimenter as a child, especially with flavoured soda waters. He tested a lot of his concoctions on his little brother Cray. One year there was a cold snap in California where the weather dropped below zero and he experimented with a glass of flavoured water and voila a frozen drink on a stick. Eventually he worked out how to produce them in volume and called them the Ep-sickle, and eventually the Pop-sicle.

Anne Renaud, ©2019, Kids Can Press, ISBN 978-1-5253-0028-8

Books About Inventions
Here are ten picture books written about inventions. Students could work in groups of three to read the book and research the inventors. The group then prepares a 3-part presentation, each student taking one part. They may choose any of the following responses:

  1. A poster “celebrating” the invention and the inventor
  2. A comparison of similarities and differences of the “Real Life” of the Inventor to the book’s version
  3. A set of imaginary entries in the diary of the inventor
  4. A humorous poem about the invention and the inventor

Books about Inventions:

  • Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament
  • Popcorn at the Palace
  • Snowflake Bentley
  • Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call
  • Now and Ben
  • It’s a Snap! (George Eastman)
  • In the Bag, Margaret Knight Was It
  • Now and Ben (inventions of Benjamin Franklin)
  • Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top
  • All Aboard, Elijah McCoy

The Science of Liquids
There are three experiments in the book that are feasible for students.

  1. Why oil and liquids don’t mix
    Oil is lighter and will float on water. If a drop of food colouring (which is water-based) is dropped into the oil, it will progress slowly down to reach and colour the water level.
  2. How to make your own lemon-flavoured soda water using baking soda.
    The baking soda reacts to the acid of lemon to produce carbon dioxide.
  3. How salt lowers the freezing point of water.

Countdown Poetry
Demonstrate with the popsicle version of the poem, and then ask them to use the pattern for something in Social Studies or Science. Examples are below:

5 words for what it looks like
4 words for what it feels like
3 words for what it tastes like
2 words for what you say
1 word for how it smells

Yellow, red, green, orange, blue
Cold, icy, melting, sticky
Chilled sweet fruit
Yum, yum
Strawberry
Popsicle

Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria, compass
Danger, foolishness, bravery, adventure
Hardtack, dried cod, chickpeas
Chewy, salty, dry
Sweaty
Columbus

For more creative writing ideas, click The Boy Who Invented the Popsicle to download.

Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

Cat and Rat and The Cat’s Tale are both about the origin of the Chinese zodiac which was established in a race the Jade Emperor set up. I like the Ed Young version the best, because he is such a great illustrator and his story has more dialogue in it. On the other hand, The Cat’s Tale is in the first person which provides an opportunity to teach point of view.

Ed Young, ©2019, Macmillan Books, ISBN 9780805060492

Pourquoi Stories:  How Things Came To Be
The literary name for the stories of how things originated is the French word for “Why” which is “Pourquoi”. This is an example, among several, of stories of how things originated. Students could write their own pourquoi story of how ordinary things in their environment came to be: stop lights, bananas, a park, etc.

Stereotypes of Animals
There are specific stereotypes that are basically agreed to from one culture to the other. A matching activity with qualities on one side and the name of the animal on the other will help reveal to students how widely we agree on these stereotypes. For example:

  • Owls are …
  • Pigs are …
  • Oxen are …
  • Mules are …

Fair
Here’s an important question in life: What is fair? Is this race fair? Is the Jade Emperor rigging it? What about the actual competing animals—should the Jade Emperor intervene? Is this a good way of deciding priority?

For more creative writing ideas, click Cat and Rat to download.

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

It’s a simple biography of Margaret Wise Brown that tells of the life of one of the greatest children’s book writers ever. There are 42 pages, simple sentences, just a few examples, but what a lovely tribute to her.

Mac Barnett, ©2019, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-239344-9

The Important Book

One of Margaret Wise Brown’s out popular books was The Important Book. The video below is a reading of The Important Book by Gary Eisenberg. Students will instantly understand that the pattern of the book itself, The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, is totally an homage to her original book. You would have to know her books in order to recognize the homage.

The pattern is:

  1. The Important thing about…
  2. 5 facts about it…
  3. Then repeat, but the Important thing about the…

This is potentially a really successful writing pattern for your students. Use topics from the classroom, or gym equipment, or art materials, or positions on a team, anything that 5 things can be said about. The students construct a list of 5 items for their Important Book—humour matters if possible—and then write. The finished book will seem really easy for them to write, but it has a structure and will result in 7 sentences for each item, 5 items in total—35 sentences in total—and they’ll have a good time doing it. Below are a couple examples:

The important thing about the whiteboard is that it is white. It is in front of the room. It is written on with erasable pens—never with permanent pens unless you want the custodian to be angry. It contains important information about what we are doing. It can get very messy. It isn’t used very often any more. But the important thing about a whiteboard is that it is white.

The important thing about a pitcher is that he throws the ball. It has to be a round white official baseball. He throws in the direction of the home plate. The ball may be hit by the hitter and very rarely can be caught by the pitcher. If the hitter doesn’t swing, or swings and misses, it is caught by the catcher. The catcher throws it back to the pitcher who catches it. But the important thing about a pitcher is that he throws the ball.

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The Dragon Prince

A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale
A poor farmer with seven daughters is on his way home from his farm when a dragon seizes him and says he will eat him unless one of his daughters marries him. Seven (who makes money for the family with her excellent embroidery) agrees and they fly away to a gorgeous home, wonderful clothes, a great life…and he reveals he is a prince in disguise. She misses her home, and while there, Three, who is jealous, pushes her in the river and steals her identity. Seven is rescued by an old lady and uses her wonderful sewing skills to make clothes and shoes they can sell in the market. The prince, realizing something is wrong, seeks his real bride and finds her because he sees her embroidery in the market. Happy ending all around—except for Three.

Lawrence Yep, ©1999, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0064435185

Figures of Speech (Simile)
There are many many similes…well, I counted 9, but there may be more. This might be a good time to teach what a simile is. Perhaps read the story to them first, and then read the story to them a second time, asking them to identify the similes.

  1. The dragon raised a paw with claws as sharp as daggers.
  2. The lakes became silvery sequins.
  3. The Milky Way…like an endless bolt of the whitest silk.
  4. The moon…shone like a giant pearl upon the sea.
  5. I could crush you like a twig.
  6. His scales gleamed like jewels in a golden net.
  7. His eyes shone like twin suns.
  8. Curling his body as easily as a giant.
  9. Moon…like a school of fish darting.

A Craft: Embroidery

 

 

 

You might be able to purchase small embroidery hoops at a local dollar store. Choose a simple pattern, perhaps of a dragon, transfer it to simple white cotton, and have students embroider it in a single colour. There are many times in Chinese stories that silk, embroidery, etc. are a turning point in the story. One of these is The Silk Princess, another is The Dragon’s Robe, and of course, The Dragon Prince.

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