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
Have you noticed how many favorite characters in children’s literature are orphans or have absent parents or missing parents or neglectful parents? What is the draw? If a book character does not have a parent, then he or she does not need to follow certain rules that a parent might put into place. The characters can take off on an adventure at a moment’s notice. They can try something risky without fear of parental punishment. It’s attractive for young readers because they can follow an imaginary character who has total independence and freedom.
Imagine Harry Potter hunting down Voldemort had James and Lily Potter been alive. Without a parent imposing rules, the book character is free to take risks, and readers can join the adventure from the safety of their homes. Even though the stories may be sad or scary (or both), young readers love to read about a character who is close to their age and triumphs over adversity.
There are so many great children’s books with protagonists who are true orphans or close to it. In addition to Harry Potter, here are a few more orphans-in-literature suggestions.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng
The BFG by Roald Dahl (and many other books by Dahl)
Loot by Jude Watson
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket
The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John A. Flanagan
The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Ballet Shoes series by Noel Streatfeild
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Ms. Rapscott’s Girls series by Elise Primavera
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
A few years ago, my students designed a Facebook page for a favorite character in the book, Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. I was surprised how much critical thinking was involved. The students needed to pick a significant scene from the story, summarize it from the point of view of a character in the form of a Facebook post, and then respond to the post from the point of view of a different character.
It was challenging for students to think about one story event from several angles. The finished writing activity reveals quite a bit about a student’s understanding of events in the story, character traits, and character interactions and motivations. It is a short activity but packed with reading skills, and the results are completely entertaining! It also had the bonus of incorporating technology skills since my students completed the Facebook page digitally.
I recently assigned the activity again, and it did not disappoint. My students were in three separate reading groups this time around, but all students completed the Facebook page based on a character from their assigned book. It is such an easy activity to adapt to any novel study.
In my classroom, I inserted the blank FACEBOOK TEMPLATE that I designed as a background in a PowerPoint slide and then added text boxes as placeholders on top of the background. I shared the template with my students, and they clicked in the text boxes to add their writing. They also inserted pictures, used bullet points, and changed font sizes (potentially tricky technology skills for 4th graders).
For younger students or classrooms/homes without computer or printer access, the activity could be handwritten using THE TEMPLATE. The basic Facebook page with the text box outlines can be printed, and students draw profile pictures and neatly write posts, likes, and replies.
The samples above are related to the novels, Dying to Meet You, Love That Dog, and Hate That Cat. Complete novel units are available for purchase in my teacher store. Click the book names to see more details about the novel studies.
Fractured fairy tales are those stories that take traditional fairy tale plots and put a twist on the story everyone knows. This genre of book is pretty hot right now in children’s literature. A new book that I just finished reading in this book category is The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher. This book caught my attention because it was a mash-up Mother Goose nursery rhymes rather than traditional fairy tales (and I liked the pet goose side story). I am definitely going to recommend it to my fourth graders when we go back to school next month. My daughter, Miss Priss, highly recommends Rump, Red, and other companion books by Liesl Shurtliff; they were her favorite books this summer.
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (Enchanted series)
The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley (The Sisters Grimm series)
Happily Ever After by Anna Quindlen
If the Shoe Fits by Jane B. Mason (Princess School series)
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell series by Chris Colfer
Rapunzel, The One With All the Hair by Wendy Mass (Twice Upon a Time series)
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff (and others by this author)
The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani (5th grade+)
A Tale Dark and Grimm series by Adam Gidwitz
The Wide Awake Princess series by E.D. Baker (and others by this author)
Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey (and others by this author)
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (Woodcutter series, mixed reviews)
Entwined by Heather Dixon
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
And lots of picture books…
Honestly, Red Riding Hood was Rotten by Trisha Speed Shaskan (and others in this series)
Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin (and other Cinderella re-tellings like Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters)
The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Summer is here and that means I can catch up with my kid lit book pile. To start this summer, I picked up a few books that were rereads for me. Rereading is a great activity for readers because it builds fluency and gives the reader a chance to glean more (and different ideas) from a story, and it builds stronger connections. It also has the benefit of helping you get through any book mourning you may experience when you don’t want a special book to end.
Two books that started my summer reading binge are books that have Native American settings, The Birchbark House and Morning Girl. I had not read either book in several years, but one of the reasons I wanted to reread them is because they have characters who make everything they need to live from scratch. I love the scenes in the story where the author describes the procedures for building a house or hunting for food or making clothing. If you like Little House on the Prairie because of the parts where Laura and her family build a cabin or gather maple syrup, you will enjoy these stories too. I should probably focus more on the results of white settlers claiming American Indian land and the destructive impact it had on these groups. The books include recognition of that topic too. I happen to like the parts that show self-reliance the best since the other parts are so sad.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Morning Girl by Michael Dorris
Guests by Michael Dorris
The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George
Far North by Will Hobbs
Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen
When the Legend Dies by Hal Borland (7th grade+)
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen (7th grade+)
A Man Called Horse by Dorothy M. Johnson (7th grade+)
The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble
The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor
There were many more recommendations on THIS AICL WEBSITE dedicated to American Indians in children’s literature.
For more summer reading ideas, my teacher blogger friend, Amy, has posted a new Hidden Gem book that you might not find on your own. CLICK HERE to read her latest recommendation.