The Writing Classroom – Summer Reading Story Quilts

It may still be 15C out in the middle of August here in Vancouver (we’ve had what amounts to five days of truly hot weather this season), but the kids are out of school, the pool is open, and we are in full summer mode for a few more weeks.

That also means that my creative writing classes were PACKED (and I mean packed) with young authors who knew they need to keep reading and writing during the long break but also didn’t really want comma worksheets and book summaries.

My secret plan to keep them going was to bribe them with pizza. They received long reading lists and daily writing tasks at the beginning of the term. The pizza at the end of the Summer Reading Challenge Rainbow proved the key to getting them to read more than 100 novels this summer.

The way we kept track of it all was a bit sentimental, a bit creative, and a bit old-school community building.

We made a Summer Reading Story Quilt.

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Over the course of eight weeks, the kids got to make a quilt square every time the read a new book. Around the edges, they had to come up with symbols that stood for the theme, the characters, or a literary device used in the novel. Then, in the middle, they drew their favourite scene and captioned it.

Admittedly, there was a wide range of engagement, but they had fun using their brains in a different way, setting reading goals, and achieving them.

For me, this was also a demonstration of how much can be accomplished by taking learning one step at a time. When we started, the wall looked pretty sorry and everyone wondered if we could ever fill it.

Within a couple of weeks, the quilt started to take shape.

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Kids would pile in to see what others had read. They named their teams in order to identify which squares belonged to them and counted to make sure they were in the race for the pizza at the end.

Yesterday, the final square made it up onto the wall.

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The kids couldn’t believe how much they accomplished and we all marveled at the 100+ books read over the course of the Summer.

Now, time for the celebration!

The Summer Reading Challenge Quilt

I am totally loving the Summer Reading Challenge quilt my writing group students are making right now.

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Each student has a list of books they have to read this Summer, and the way they log them is to create a square illustrating their favourite moment in that book.

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Six teams.

28 students.

There will be more than 300 squares on that wall by the end of the Summer.

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My favourite part is how it reveals how everyone interprets a piece of literature differently. Every book shapes the individual in its own way.

When Kids Learn to Love Poetry

I admit it, poetry was never my favourite thing.

In fact, it’s easy and honest to say that I’ve spent pretty much no significant period in my life reading any sort of rhythm or rhyme.

For a long time, I dismissed such musings outright.

Who wants to read stuff that you have to guess at the meaning?

Rhyming, whatever!

I’m a novelist, not a poet!

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Then, of course, came children.

I read SO MANY RHYMING BOOKS when my kids were little, and I started to realize the true cantor of words. Then, how spoken word carried a lyrical quality when written well. Then, how writing poetry could help me become a better long-form writer.

I was hooked and slightly ashamed at my willingness to dismiss such a gorgeous art form.

As I started teaching creative writing, I used it as a way for kids to develop their descriptive writing skills. The results are often amazing

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This past week, I introduced my wonderful Grade-1 student, Rickie, to this sort of magic. He got to take home a copy of the lovely Children’s First Book of Poems with illustrations from Cyndy Szekeres.

He pored through it for the last week, and got to pick out the one that made his heart sing.

It was, indeed, a lovely tale about a lonely puffin who traded eating fish for making friends with them (and got to eat pancakes instead, bonus!).

 

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We spent time today learning how to use descriptive words to write a rhyming puffin poem of his own, and it turned out so great.

In the end, though, the biggest win from all of this poetry was receiving an inspired text from his mom over the weekend with him reading a newly minted poem written by Rickie himself. Then, I got to see the hard copy of it today:

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Why Summer Reading Makes You Smarter (Reading Lists for Every Age Included)

In the beginning, there was the word.

The word came in the form of Richard Scary’s What Do People Do All Day? 

It evolved into The Aristocats (I also owned the LP record for my wee orange record player).  I must have read that book and listened to those songs a hundred times tucked away in the quiet of my bedroom closet which I transformed into my very personal 7-year-old reading nook.

Then, I found The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and I knew—reading was my thing.

No one really had to guess what I was going to be when I grew up, words stuck to me and with me.

I became the girl that reads everything.

Now, about two weeks before the end of school each year, my notorious book nerd status earns me about a billion conversations with other moms about how to keep the reading love (or at least requirement) going over the 10-week break about to descend upon us.

They know the Summer brain drain is real (seriously, kids lose so much when skills are not applied, like getting all flabby after not exercising for 2.5 months). However, getting most kids to read is exasperating at the best of times. When the sun is out, the pool is calling, vacation keeps them from any sort of normal routine, and parents are checking off the days until they can return their children to the care of saintly teachers, getting kids to read is, well, ya know . . .

Reading is pretty much the number one Summer brain activity.

It’s a great way to chill out, ground after a long flight, stay busy on a car trip, cool off in the tent with while camping. It’s a fantastic way to explore the world right around you (by parents grabbing some content-specific books before heading out on a trip or a day activity).

I supplement my kids’ learning all the time without them even knowing it by passing along guide books or identification books. They get storybooks on owls and fairies. I slip a fiction novel into their backpack, knowing they will love it once they’ve gotten over that their phone doesn’t work in the wilderness.

There are lots of ways to slip the reading in this Summer.

In terms of dedicated “reading” time, I’d tell you to go all free range and let them read what they want, join the library Summer reading club, or stuff like that. Let’s get real, though. Free range means they read Archie comics all Summer—fun, but not brain food. Summer reading club at the library is, well, usually not effective because we, the parents, are lousy at getting our kids to the ACTUAL library.

However, reading groups that give a few dedicated hours a week to discussing literature are a great way to make sure your kids are getting their brain food. In my writing groups, we are jumping into Summer reading love too.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

This year, all of my writing groups are going to get down to business with some serious reading through Summer reading challenges. I had them pick the genres and “approve” the books we’d read in each group over the next 10 weeks.

Then, they get started and read until their faces fall off. 🙂

I’m not monitoring their reading in the sense that we are not doing weekly quizzes. However, they will have to know the books to make the art, write the stories, create poetry, go on scavenger hunts, and write vocabulary songs. They earn points all Summer, not just for reading, but for all of the other goodness too.

And, they are competing against the other classes for a pizza party at the end of the Summer.

Yep. It’s a little extra work on my part. However, I can report that even my most reluctant readers are totally into this Summer challenge.

If you are in Vancouver and want to get in on one of the reading challenges, CONTACT ME and I will hook you up.

Otherwise, I wanted to spread the Summer Reading Challenge love and share the reading lists I’ve developed. You can download them by clicking on the links.

HAPPY SUMMER READING!

Primary Grade Reading List

Middle-Grade Reading List

Young Adult Reading List

Fan Art From My Students

I’ve been REALLY quiet on the blog and social media this past week as I am a bit low on energy. The last couple of weeks of school are always a challenge to get my family across the finish line, and I am—well—a bit of a grump.

However, nothing warms the soul like some fan art from your students.

This appeared after my all-girl Saturday class. I love it so much.

Young Author Feature – Mac Boy by Quintin Dong

Note: When I am not writing novels of my own, I lead creative writing groups for young writers in Vancouver. Each week, I feature one young author and their original work here as a celebration of creativity and the power of story. This week, the classic tale of good vs. evil in Saskatchewan—where macaroni is king—comes to us from Grade-4 author Quintin Dong. Enjoy!

Mac Boy And The Missing Macaroni

By Quintin Dong

          Not long ago, a boy named David lived in town Saskatchewan. It was a dark country and the sun never shined. Crimes were everywhere and there were few cops. They talked without speaking, listened without hearing, and wrote books and songs that were never read or sung out loud. Flowers broke apart and laid dead on the muddy hard floor, turning darker and darker. The rivers were gray and a blue sky never excited. Skyscrapers of horror and thunder with lighting struck onto the floor, haunting the innocent people.

The only bright time of the day was dinner.

Saskatchewan’s macaroni tasted absolutely delicious. It was the only thing the people desired, especially David. He would have eaten this food day to night if his parents let him.

There was only one man in Saskatchewan who did not like macaroni, Doctor Intelligent, the wicked scientist. He was a very mad one. The inventions he made were powerful. With his invention, macaroni would vanish and Saskatchewan would never be famous again.

In a hotel, David was gobbling and shoving more and more into his mouth.  This time, David felt funny.  His arm stretched and he became tough and strong. Suddenly, the macaroni was circling around him. David felt like never before. He went outside and, surprisingly, he was face-to–face with Dr.Intelligent. The Doctor blasted him with a laser and David pressed a button on his Mac boy belt that seemed to appear on his waist randomly.

The whole city’s macaronI flew to him and formed a shield to block the attack. The macaronI splattered all over Doctor Intelligent and he hated being outsmarted.

Again, he fired, but the cheese stuffed his weapon and the gun blew up. The macaroni formed a chain. David swung it at a nearby skyscraper and crashed it onto Doctor Intelligent. Instead of being defeated, the doctor had a diamond shield himself and used his gravity gun and did the some to David.

Our hero wasn’t dead, but bruised all over. He took a piece of macaroni and put it in his mouth. The bruises on him recovered.

“That is just ridiculous!” Doctor Intelligent yelled.

“You are now Mac Boy,” the belt said. Mac Boy twisted and turned his feet.

“Dance fight,” he said.

“Whapow” went the swinging foot.

“Whatblow“ went the fist.

Mac Boy finished Doctor Intelligent with a mighty Mac blast.

The police came and licked the mess the macaroni made. It tasted delicious even if it was on the ground.

Doctor Intelligent was put in jail, but everyone still didn’t live happily ever after. So, David put on a macaroni party and everyone was allowed to come. The Doctor climbed out the window and escaped with his newest weapon:”the Mac o zap” while no one was listening. He took the weapon and blasted everywhere until the only place that had macaroni was the macaroni party.

Doctor Intelligent aimed his blaster at the party and “BOOM” the party’s macaroni vanished. Mac Boy blasted but nothing happened.

“Without macaroni, Mac Boy doesn’t have  a super power! ” a man said.

Just then, Doctor Intelligent shot Mac Boy with his Mac-o-zapper and destroyed Mac Boy’s belt. Then he used his gun that was still stuffed with cheese to fire at the boy. Instead of a bullet, cheese came out and went in David’s mouth. He turned into Mac Boy again and used his power to gather macaroni. It formed a hummer and smashed Doctor Intelligent onto the floor.

“More of Doctor Stupid,” said Mac Boy.

Doctor Intelligent actually still had a trick up his sleeve. He summoned his robot to attack. The macaroni formed an immensely enormous macaroni. The two battled and battled. The good guys and bad guys were getting exhausted. Mac Boy called the military to help him. In a while, they came and there was a disaster.

  I’m not telling you the violent part, because your parents won’t let you read this book.

Mac Boy escaped, but the military didn’t. Doctor Intelligent was winning. The last button on Mac Boy was labeled AR. Without even thinking he pressed the button.

“Animal Rescuers,” said the belt.

Here comes the grand list. Horses, sheep, rabbits, cows, bulls, dogs, cats, zebras, giraffes, elephants, tigers, lions, hippos, jaguars, monkeys, apes, mice, gorillas, cheetahs, squirrels, birds, and a bunch of other ones rushed at the robot. It fell backwards and crashed into the ground. The pieces shattered and Doctor Intelligent lost.

He screamed until he reached the boat.

“Go away and never return, ” said the citizens.

Instead of obeying what they said, Doctor Intelligent came back with a army of robots. The animals and the macaroni split the small robot one-by-one. Then, they had Doctor Intelligent arrested. He was put in a metal cell that had no window, no sink, and no bed and was there for the rest of his life.

Now, Saskatchewan got it’s macaroni from the Mac-o-zapper. Mac Boy won the Nobel Prize of Macaroni and the city’s people were very happy. All crimes were solved and more cops were hired. The skyscrapers were made shorter for the sunlight was made to shine. Everyone had conversations and music was made.

Saskatchewan was better and better.

Day 25 – The Teacher

As a writer, I have found nothing more aggressively instructive in the best of ways than teaching creative writing to others.

Unless you’re wealthy by other means, a writer’s life requires a day job or a side hustle to make the pieces fit together. Not to get all cheesy, but teaching writing is really the best case scenario for a professional writer in terms of that ebb and flow. For the last several years, I’ve taught people of all ages how to find their own voices, write stronger stories, and edit their own work.

It keeps me sharp, well-read in all genres, creative, and always thinking about stories, more stories, then at least another one.

Part of staying laser-focused on my writing career is to not get distracted. Teaching keeps me in the zone. Plus, I literally could spend all day every day talking about writing. So . . .