Saturday, June 17, 2017

Using Great Books to Teach Writing Great Hooks

At my Kids' Writing Workshop yesterday, I updated a lesson I created a few years ago about writing engaging beginnings. I combed through the upper middle grade books at our library and looked through all of my favorites, seeing if the first line was something I would hold up as an example of a great "hook."

 You'll notice the selection of books is very eclectic. It's something I try to keep in mind when planning workshops for kids who have all different reading interests.

Not all good books have a gripping first line, but of the ones that do, I found a lot of patterns. I grouped these into five categories:

1. Give the Reader a Sense of Urgency and Danger (Adventure, Thriller)

The house is falling in. 
The house is falling in and Danny is falling, knees and elbows crumpling onto the floor, and an earsplitting crash is tearing through the air—that’s surely the roof, breaking in two, about to come pelting down on top of him.

--The Bookof Storms by Ruth Hatfield

2. Tug on the Reader’s Heart Strings (Sympathy, often for poverty or loss, often sad)

            It was fun at first, playing house.
            I made all my own meals.  Crackers and cheese, three times a day.
                        --Love,Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

            Wilhelmina knew that there were some houses that had glass in every window and locks on the doors. 
            The farmhouse in which she lived was not one of them.

                        --Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

3. Make the Reader Scratch His Head (Humor, Strangeness, Mystery)

            On the morning I was scheduled to die, a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house.  The thirty-degree temperature didn’t seem to bother him, but he must have had a lousy breakfast, because he let out a burp as loud as a tuba. 
            Belching barefoot giants who look like Vikings are not normal in Belleville, Indiana.  But I didn’t really get a chance to see the guy closely.
            At that moment, I, Jack McKinley, was under attack in my own bedroom.  By a flying reptile.
--The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.  In fact, if she were to list her worries right then and there as she sat spellbound on the park bench and watched her little brother, Mac, carried aloft in the talons of these five black crows, puzzling out just how this feat was being done would likely come in dead last.  First on the list: Her baby brother, her responsibility, was being abducted by birds.  A close second: What did they plan on doing with him?
--Wildwood by Colin Meloy

4. Speak to the Reader Like a Trusted Friend (Narrative voice, Show the reader who you are)

            We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.
            If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger.  Sadie and I might be your only chance.
                        --TheRed Pyramid by Rick Riordan

            My name is Charlie Joe Jackson, and I hate reading.  And if you’re reading this book, you hate reading, too. 
            In fact, you do whatever you can to avoid reading, and the fact that you’re holding a book in your hand right now is kind of shocking.
            I know exactly how you feel; I’m one of you.
            Just remember: you are not alone.  We’ll get through this together.
--Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald       

            All I’ve ever wanted is for Juli Baker to leave me alone.  For her to back off—you know, just give me some space.
                        --Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

5. Set the Scene (Not Just The Setting! Tie it to plot, themes, meaning of book)

            There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.  There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas.  That was over a hundred years ago.  Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.
--Holes by Louis Sachar

            The fjord is freezing over. I watch it from the edge of the cliff near our hall, and each day the ice claims more of the narrow winding of ocean. It squeezes out the waves and the blue-black water, while it squeezes us in. Just as Father intended it to. Winter is here to wall us up, to bury us in snow and keep us safe.
                        --Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

After we read these excerpts and talked about each writing style, I read selections from five other middle grade books and asked the kids which category each one would fall under:
The kids really got into analyzing these opening lines for what kind of opening they represented. I love it when I see kids realize there are principles and theories that they can apply to their own writing.

Then we did an activity: the kids had to write two different openings to a story, and their peers voted on which one they liked better by holding up "A" or "B." I find that the method of having everyone vote on their favorite version is a kind and encouraging way of giving kids feedback on which piece was the most effective. The kids read their pieces aloud. We all guessed what kind of opening they wrote (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) and then we voted which ones we liked best.

Here's a photo from when I did this a few years ago:

The other thing I like about this is that they can see that different people respond to different things. It's all very subjective, and that's how writing is.

I encouraged everyone to read The Tiara on the Terrace or The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, because she's going to be our guest instructor for our next workshop! I told the kids that I would have a prize for whoever asked Kristen the best question, and then they rushed to grab the library copies of her books.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Music Literacy in the Library

A while back, parents in my local school district were surveyed about what needs there are for kids in the community. Many parents expressed a need for more music. That got me thinking, as a children's librarian, about how I could bring more music programs to kids at the library, and how I could connect that to literacy.

Then I discovered a great partnership in the person of this music educator I know who had come to one of our Educator Nights at the library: Dayita Datta. She came to me and pitched an idea for a music program for kids to introduce them to all kinds of concepts about music, while keeping the focus on singing, dancing and having fun. 

Yesterday we got to try out that program here, just as a one-time thing because of budget limitations. It was awesome. She had the kids dancing, singing, clapping rhythms, playing the metallophone. But literacy was deeply involved in the program all the way through: in the books she presented, in the ways she "sang" the books, and in the ways the kids anticipated outcomes and participated in repetition and rhymes. 

Here are a few of the books Dayita shared:

Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree

First this book starts out illustrating an English song, then it changes to a "music map" with chestnuts rising and falling to indicate the rise and fall of the melody, and growing bigger or smaller to indicate how long to hold each note.

I loved the music literacy applications of that! Eventually, what the kids see is the official sheet music of what they just sang.


Dayita didn't just read this book--she sang it on chant pitches, and encouraged the kids to come in on chanted "Oh yes!" and "Oh no!"

Freight Train

Playing a train whistle, Dayita taught the kids about the difference between rhythm and tempo. She kept the same rhythm but changed the tempo, or speed. Then she read the book, playing the whistle and inviting kids to clap along.

I hope I can have Dayita back at my library because there are a lot of possibilities I think she could explore with the kids if we were able to hire her for a longer series!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Takeaways from Library 2.017

In a few months I am going to assist my colleagues in teaching an Internet Safety and Digital Literacy program for kids, so it was perfect timing to attend today's Library 2.017: Digital Literacy and Fake News worldwide conference! Here are the top 3 concepts I took away from it:

Show Kids What a Web Page Looks Like From the Inside
When teaching kids about digital literacy and using the Internet for research, it's important that they have some concept of web coding, so that they know how easy it is to put a website together. This was mentioned in the presentation by Sarah FitzHenry and Kim Wilkens, and it resonated strongly with me because when I took my first HTML web design class in library school, it opened my eyes to how websites work, and how easy it is for any crook with an Internet connection and a laptop to create a webpage that looks exactly like a legitimate official site. For this reason, I definitely see myself using the X-Ray Goggles and the 45-min lesson that Kim created to teach web literacy.

Also, I just love their interactive, fun approach to teaching kids how to dissect fake news on the web. You can read more about that in this School Library Journal article.

(I would love to teach a full web design class for kids one of these days. And if I do, I think I'll be using the resources Mozilla created here!)

Don't Anchor -- Dig Deeper
I learned this one from Mark E. Moran. A lot of kids stop at the first Google result that looks like it has the information they are looking for. They often never get to the best stuff, which may be hidden as deep as 53 results in. Good researchers have to be persistent; you always have to be willing to go a little further than the first results page.

And probably my favorite concept for kids, also from Mark E. Moran:

Batman's Tool Belt
Batman wouldn't use just one research tool. He likes having a full toolkit with all kinds of gadgets. Kids need to learn to use more than just Google--use their school library, their public library, online databases, and search engines like the one Mark created for students: