I love getting to the end of a book and reading an author’s note that provides insight into the story’s inspiration. The story is classified as fiction, but there is a seed or small moment that the author used as a starting point to create a character or event. Most recently, Miss Priss and I read Curtain Up by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach. At the end of the book, Wallach explains that, like the main character in the story, she too started a theatre company in her neighborhood as a teen. That real-life experience inspired the book.
After reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, I found an article where Davies explained that her two children were arguing over who had the rights to the driveway for a lemonade stand, and the idea for a lemonade war was born.
Kate Klise, the author of Dying to Meet You, responded to a letter from my students and shared some background information on her book. She told us that she read a newspaper article about an elderly couple who were selling their house with all of the contents including the dog. From that article, Klise was inspired to write a story that would include a house for rent. If you rented the house, you agreed to “rent” the owners’ child as well.
Now that most authors have websites or author’s notes at the end of books, it can be easy to locate the answer to the question, “How did the author get the idea to write this book?” Hunting down the answer to the question is a great way to inspire interest in a book or author, and it has been a great way for me to motivate readers. It also shows students how writers gather ideas and encourages students to analyze small moments in their daily lives and use that as inspiration to start writing.
Here is a short list of books that have interesting backstories into why the author decided to write his/her story. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to have your students complete an author inspiration scavenger hunt to learn how or why an author created a character or plot line in their novel.
Curtain Up (Stagestruck series) by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Frozen Fire by James Houston
Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Blood on the River: James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone
You would never know it from the state of my dining room table, but I am very particular about my things. In my classroom, I train my students to empty pencil sharpeners certain ways to reduce pencil shaving spills. I expect them to wipe down desks following a specific system, so the name tags remain undisturbed. And, I have very particular requirements when it comes to borrowing books from my classroom library. Truth be told, I would prefer that we just look at the library and not touch anything, but the whole reason I have the library is to share with students.
Since I know many hands will be touching the books and jamming them into lockers and bookbags, I cover every book with clear contact paper to offer a little protection against all of the love the books receive. I have been perfecting my book covering technique for over 15 years. I wrote a POST on my collaborative teacher blog with step by step directions about covering books, and you can CLICK HERE to see my system.
What protective measures do you take to safeguard your prized possessions when little hands are involved?
I received an e-mail last week from a student I taught this past year. She needed help selecting summer reading books from the required summer reading list. The students at my school receive really good summer reading lists, but the lists are big. It can be difficult to select a book when a child has too many choices. How do you narrow down and make good selections when you have many titles from which to choose?
Look for authors on the list that you recognize and see if there are new or different book titles by that same author.
Locate a title on the list that you have already read and really liked. Search that book title on a website like Amazon or Goodreads. These sites offer suggestions or “read-alike” book titles. Check the suggestions against your required list to see if there are any matches.
Often the lists are organized by style or genre. Look for books within the same genre. If your child loves survival books or mysteries or humorous realistic fiction select other books in that same category from the summer reading list.
Bring the reading list to your library or bookstore and ask people there for ideas. E-mail the teacher like my student did and ask if he/she has favorite book recommendations. Ask classmates what they are reading from the list.
Look up titles and check the page count. Start with a shorter book that can be completed quickly. I don’t recommend choosing a book simply because it is the shortest, but if the summer reading list is a little daunting, start with a quick read to get in the groove.
Look at the reading range of the book. Narrow down choices by choosing books at the lower end of a child’s reading range. If you are unsure of your child’s reading range, make a guess based on his or her upcoming grade level. If your child is about to be a 4th grader and was an average reader the previous year, look for books that are intended for 3rd graders or roughly 8 to 10 years old. There are websites that help with book reading ranges if it is not listed on the back cover of the book. Scholastic Book Wizard is easy to use.
Once your child has selected a book, stay involved. Read the first few chapters together. Ask questions about what is happening in the story. Many kids need some monitoring when reading independently to make sure they are grasping key events in the story.
Don’t have a list from your school? You can use some suggestions from the books TheRoomMom’s family is reading this summer.
Mr Star Wars’ Summer Reading Choices (age 12/13)
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Bad Books by Pseudonymous Bosch
Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord
Among the Hidden series by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I attempted to join a virtual book club for upper elementary grades with other teacher bloggers, and we were supposed to read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by the beginning of May. I got distracted by other projects and did not read it until this weekend. I think the book would frustrate many readers today because it is a slower pace with more difficult vocabulary, but I liked it. The language and sentence structure is more sophisticated than books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and it has more substance.
Calpurnia lives in a rural area in Texas and spends much of the book with her grandfather pursuing her interest in nature and Darwin’s theory of evolution. I would classify the book as historical fiction and group it with other books about life on the prairie or frontier. Some of these titles are my favorites from when I was growing up. I read the Little House books repeatedly. I always loved stories where the characters had to grow their own food, build their own homes, and live off the land. When I started building a list of other books that fall in this genre, I realized that the majority have girl main characters– hmmm.
1700s (Settlers and The American Revolution)
The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
1800s (Westward Expansion)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Little House on the Prairie series Laura Ingalls Wilder
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
My Antonia by Willa Cather (middle and high school readers)
Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan
1900s (Mostly Around The Great Depression)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings
Do you have a favorite read that is this style of book? It is a type of survival book, but the characters usually have resources and family or friends, and they work together to succeed.
During one of our icy snow days, I read a new book called A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. It wasn’t the best book I have ever read but what did stick with me were the connections between the characters. The quirky characters rent rooms in a run down building without knowing they all have a relationship to each other. As the book progresses, little clues are revealed that help the reader solve the mystery about how the characters’ lives intersect. By the end, we know how and why the characters were meant to be together.
A Tangle of Knots made me think about other books I know that have this fate element to them. Books that weave character stories together to create a clever puzzle of relationships. It is a little bit like a modern (and shorter) version of Great Expectations by Dickens who always intertwined lives so cleverly. Here are the books I like that have an element of fate or destiny or secret connections.
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Holes by Louis Sachar
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley
The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I just ordered The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech, which I think may belong on this list too. Can anyone confirm?