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
Even though I did not want to do it, I returned to my 4th grade classroom for some final clean up from the school year. My main objective today was to remove the semi-permanent names on the corners of the desks.
In the past, this has been a little bit of a chore because I use Sharpie Paint Markers, medium point, to write student names on each desk, and it does not wipe off easily. That was the point when I started using the Sharpie Paint Markers– they did not wipe off easily. I was so frustrated with laminated paper name tags that were torn, bent, doodled on, and peeled apart by the third week in August. The Sharpie Paint Marker names hold no interest for the students. They can’t wipe them off. They can’t wrinkle or peel them apart. The names are smooth and flush with the desk surface, so students papers don’t rumple, bend, or tear them. They are practically perfect except when you need to remove or change the name.
I tried a few paint pen removal methods, and Goof Off really works the best. Unfortunately, you practically asphyxiate yourself by the end of the job because of the fumes. However, TheRoomDad came through on this one (accidentally) because when I sent him to Lowe’s for a new can of basic-original-classic Goof Off, he returned with a spray bottle of Goof Off Adhesive Remover Gel. The smell is not as deadly, and it worked as well as regular Goof Off to get the paint pen off the desks.
I have two groups of students who move through my room every day, so I color code my desk names. Blue is one class group; red is the second class group. The names are easy to read and stay bright and clear even when I wipe the desks down. When I do need to change names on the desks, I can wipe one name away or both names using the Goof Off. The paint pen names have been a great teacher organizational tool that reduce mess in my classroom.
To Remove Sharpie Paint Marker Names:
Spray Goof Off Adhesive Remover Gel on dried paint pen and wait a minute.
Wipe in circles (scrubbing motion) with a dry paper towel.
Wipe up the gel off the desk.
Wipe the entire desk with a Clorox wipe or other cleaning solution (or even a wet paper towel).
Repeat if necessary.
When You Don’t Have Goof Off:
Scribble over the dried Sharpie paint pen with Expo marker.
With a damp paper towel or Clorox-type wipe, rub the Expo and Sharpie paint pen away. This method takes longer.
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
I just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my students, and we spent some time discussing C.S. Lewis’ descriptive sentences. I wanted my students to mimic Lewis’ style in a writing assignment, but I needed a vehicle to make their word choice meaningful. I pulled two passages out of the book and removed key words. I replaced the key words with a blank line and labelled the space with the type of word or part of speech that should go in the blank. Basically, I built a literary Mad Lib.
The students spent some time thinking about their mothers (or another loved one) and brainstormed words to describe that person. Following the brainstorming, they re-read the original passages in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and then plugged words into the frame I gave them to create their own beautiful description with a C.S. Lewis vibe.
We typed the paragraphs, and students added small images that corresponded to details in the descriptive writing. We printed the text and pictures on a piece of cardstock and cut them apart. The students folded a small pocket folder using colored cardstock and decorated the cover. The pictures and small paragraph were no bigger than 3″ x 3″ each and fit nicely in the small pocket card.Not all of my students are quite finished with this project, but the ones I have read so far make me tear up because they capture such sweet thoughts about a loved one. If you need a thoughtful card or gift for a mother, father, grandparent, sibling… pull a favorite passage from a story and use the basic structure to write a special message.
Pocket Card Materials
8 3/4″ x 7 1/4″ colored cardstock
4″ x 3 1/2″ white cardstock (optional)
Pocket Card Directions
Place the colored cardstock on a flat surface in the landscape direction.
Fold the bottom edge (8 3/4″ edge) up about 2″, match the corners carefully, and press firmly to fold the crease.
Open the flap and fold the paper in half, so the two 7 1/4″ edges meet. Match the corners carefully and press firmly to fold the crease.
Open the paper flat and fold the 2″ section up creating the pocket. The pocket sides will be open but create a little “shelf” to hold the small pieces of paper. Fold the paper in half down the center fold.
If you would like, glue the 4″ x 3 1/2″ white rectangle to the front of the folder as a cover for writing a title or salutation.
Want to try your own literary Mad Lib? Click Author Mad Libs to download a free copy of my activity page. To purchase other Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe activities, CLICK HERE.
Mr. Star Wars just completed a science cell project– at home. While he could have completed the entire project on his own, this is one of those projects that a parent is probably going to have to offer help in some way. In our case, I drove to the grocery store to buy supplies and helped with formatting his written explanations on the computer. How much help is too much? As a teacher, if I send a multi-day 3-D project home like this, I know parents will be involved. The key is to provide only enough support that you do not “compromise the integrity” of the student project.
Read through the project assignment sheet and directions with your child.
Brainstorm a list of supplies and tentative “plan” for completing the project with your child (what to complete each day, so you finish by the deadline). This is a conversation that can happen at the dinner table or in the car on the way home from school.
Source supplies (make a trip to the grocery store, Michael’s crafts, hardware store, your pantry/junk closet at home).
Reread the directions with your student when the project is finished to make sure the student has completed all of the requirements.
Build anything while a child stands to the side and watches.
Good Project Supplies
If you have class projects come home more than twice a year, I would recommend investing in some common project supplies and saving a few items that can be hard to get when you need it at the last minute. I love having these items on hand at the 11th hour!