How to Write a Story–A Book Review

In a recent Horn Book article, Kate Messner offers five tips to get kids writing.  I’d like to offer a sixth: read aloud How to Write a Story by Kate Messner to a child. It will offer joy and excitement to the writing process. 

In this picture book beautifully illustrated by Mark Siegel, Kate offers step by step directions to write a story. She begins with searching for an idea.  As writers, we know ideas are everywhere.  We collect them in writing notebooks and save them for the moment we know we must write about them. Through the illustrations and words, Mark and Kate bring the process of collecting ideas to life.

In the remaining steps, Kate gives tips on how to develop setting, characters, and plot.  She delves into the introduction and organization of the story. She encourages writing a draft and returning for revision after the story has had time to “blossom and grow.” Kate concludes with what to do with a story when it is finished–– share it with friends.

If you’re looking for a way to spend an afternoon, read aloud How to Write a Story to a child.  Be sure to have a writing notebook and writing utensil on hand for you and the child. You won’t be able to resist the urge to write!

~Dr. Anastasia Gruper, A to Z Board Member & Contributing Writer

Kindness Rocks!

Kindness Rocks!    By Betty Trummel    

Kindness ROCKS (noun):  a natural material, hard or soft, that has a distinctive mineral composition

Kindness ROCKS (verb):  is awesome

With all of the intense challenges this world has had in the past few months, I’ve been looking for ways to read uplifting books to my grandchildren, as well as myself.  Let’s face it, we all need more kindness in our lives…both on the giving and receiving end!  And, it’s important to pass this lesson on to children as well.

Recently, I stumbled upon a real winner of a book:  “Scribble Stones” by Diane Alber.

The story is about one small gray, round stone…happy, but waiting to find its purpose in life.  The pile of stones he’s hanging out with are all chosen for various projects, but not our main character…he’s lonely and a bit sad that he’s the last stone in the pile. 

He’s worried that he’s destined to become a boring paperweight, and won’t bring happiness to others as he had hoped.  BUT…as luck would have it, his purpose will be revealed as the stone is transformed into a colorful “scribble stone.”  All of the scribble stones in the story are traveling the globe to bring happiness and fun and smiles to all. 

Sometimes called kindness rocks or stones, these bring inspirational messages and smiles to people around the world.  We all know that a simple message of kindness can go a long way to spark joy, and brighten someone’s life.  Whether it’s a written message, happy face, or a gorgeous mandala pattern, it’s a fabulous feeling to bring joy to a family member, friend or a person who could use encouragement and a smile.

After reading this book with my grandchildren, we painted rocks and had a blast.  I love that we took this story to heart, and followed through with our own kindness rocks/scribble stones.  I hope that you might get the opportunity to read this book and paint some rocks of your own.

Summer Reading and Great Conversations

For kids everywhere, this past school year ended with virtual goodbyes and feelings of uncertainty around what will happen in August. Teachers and students tried their very best during the remote learning, but at times, it was challenging to stay motivated and engaged. So now with summer in full swing, I believe one great way to support kids, academically and emotionally, is through small neighborhood book clubs. 

With a selection of four different books to choose from, I invited my 4th-grade neighbor to join me in some fun summer reading outside on the patio. We are currently reading The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani which is a fantastic story of a girl traveling from Pakistan to India during the partition of 1947. Like any good book club, we have enjoyed snacks while reading favorite parts, and of course, have gotten off topic with conversations about getting your ears pierced, picking out the right cat from the local shelter, and discussing the importance of why people are protesting in the world right now. Sure, the book has supported Penelope’s reading comprehension, but more importantly, our conversations have generated connection which will elevate her social emotional skills and promote the love of reading. And more good news–my book club partner has invited two more neighbors to join us in our next book, Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed.

(Thanks to Dr. Mal Keenan for the blog post this week)

The One and Only Bob

Katherine Applegate won our hearts in the beautifully crafted Newbery Award winner The One and Only Ivan.  Ivan, a Silverback gorilla, was trapped off exit 8 at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. As the story of Ivan’s journey to a zoo unfolded, we fell in love with him and all his friends.  In the sequel, Katherine steals our hearts again.  

Bob is a mutt of uncertain heritage.  Although, he believes to come from Chihuahua and Papillon descent.  Through his journey to rescue his friends and family in the wake of a devastating tornado, we learn how he becomes to be known as The One and Only Bob.

The character development of Bob is masterfully done through unique craft moves.   A canine glossary appears in the prologue.  We are introduced to terms such as crazy mutt, me-ball, and water bowl of power.  In the first chapter, the voice of Bob brings laughter from the first line, “Look, nobody’s ever accused me of being a good dog.”  It doesn’t stop there.  HIs obsession with food, his harassment of squirrels, and his desire to roll in garbage to enhance his aroma gives us a clear idea of the type of dog Bob is.  

As the story continues, we are reunited with Ivan and Ruby.  We also meet a few new characters: Snickers (Bob’s nemesis), Nutwit (a gray squirrel), Kimu (a grey wolf), Kinayani (a female gorilla), Kudzoo (a baby gorilla), Stretch (a giraffe), and so many more.  Each character brings depth and pivots to the story.  In the aftermath of a tornado, Bob searches his inner self to realize he does not look out for numero uno. With the help of his wise friend, Ivan, and his playful friend, Ruby, Bob finds out he is not as selfish as he proclaims. He is, in fact, a hero. 

(Special thanks to Dr. Stasia Gruper for this week’s blog post)

Expecting

When I told my family I was expecting, the first thing my mom did was go out and purchase a stack of children’s books- from classics I enjoyed (all things Dr. Seuss) to new favorites (Baby Kiss). Sharing a love of reading is something my family has done for as long as I can remember. We were read to encouraged to read and had shared ideas about the books we were reading in a sort of informal, ongoing book club. Now that I am pregnant, I am enjoying both stocking up on childhood classics for my son as well as swapping books with my husband as we delve into pregnancy and parenting books, sharing thoughts and ideas as we go. 

I am reminded how fortunate I am to have the luxury of time and resources to read right now. I am also reminded of my commitment to A to Z Literacy Movement- and how important getting books into the hands of children both locally and globally is. I can’t wait to continue to work with such an amazing organization and seek ways to pursue our goals, even in the midst of this unique and challenging time.

(Special thanks to Alia for the blog post this week.)

Distance Learning … Grandma Style!

by Betty Trummel

For the past two months of self-isolation, I’ve enjoyed sharing the joy of reading with others. Whether it’s Zoom book club meetings with my local library or book discussions with friends (“Hey, tell me about what you’re reading!”), it’s been a great time to re-focus on reading and find that quiet time to curl up with a good book. 

My greatest joy, though, has been the opportunity to read with my grandchildren each and every school day! Early on during stay-at-home orders, I wanted to reach out to our grandson (4th grade… the grade I taught for SO many years), and granddaughter (1st) grade and see what I could contribute to make home schooling/learning FUN!

The results have been a daily delight…lifting my spirits and providing a deeper connection to grandkids I can’t see very often because they live in the Las Vegas area. We’ve literally “seen” each other every day… while doing something fun and educational!

I’ve used stuffed toys and puppets to enhance various picture books for Ella…

…and Jackson and I have shared two chapter books which were perennial favorites when I taught fourth grade! 

Both children have been able to watch and listen to me read either “live” or through video recordings. But, the real bonus has been listening to them read aloud to me! Jackson always begs for “one more chapter, Grandma!” and most days Ella shares several books and I can barely get her to stop! I sent the kids an atlas (I have the same one at home) and we’ve enjoyed sharing geography knowledge together!  There are SO many ways to share the love of books and learning…even from afar!

What a joy it is to encourage these young readers and cement the bond of “reading = Grandma time” with these precious kiddos.  Who can you reach out to and read with today?  How can you share your love of reading with others?

Reading During Difficult Seasons

Looking back and reflecting on the past, I think I appreciate reading more now than I did years ago. After my husband Tim died, I just could not focus my thoughts. I couldn’t read a novel or write in my journal…at least not the way I did before. I might have been able to focus for 10 minutes…and that was on a good day. That season of my life lasted for almost two and half years. I know now through grief counseling that these distracted days, weeks, months, and years are very normal. It it was rough, but with time, I continued to heal. These days, as we all continue to stay at home to stay safe, I have found myself sitting around reading, enjoying the time with authors like Brene Brown and Daniel Pink. I’m also looking forward to reading Profiles in Courage in the coming weeks outside in the warmer spring weather. While our reading lives may shift, depending on the season we are living in, reading does promote resilience and healing in all of us.

(Thanks so much, Kate, for writing the blog post this week.)

“A Pilgrim, True of Heart”

Master storytellers have the power to transport a reader to another time and place––to help readers lose themselves in the story and challenge their thinking long after the story ends.  During the “Stay at Home” orders my heart called for a master storyteller. Pam Muñoz Ryan answered the call. In her newest masterpiece Mañanaland, I was lost in the land of Santa Maria on a quest with Maximiliano Córdoba of “somewhere in the Americas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after.” 

In this beautifully crafted tale set in yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I was immediately drawn to Max–– the motherless boy seeking a birth certificate to play on the Santa Maria fútbol team.  When Papá leaves to resolve the issue, Buelo shares some insight. Max takes it upon himself to search for answers.  Through his quest, he uncovers the secrets of his family and reveals he is true of heart.  Even now (long after the story has ended) I am pondering how to be “A pilgrim, true of heart” who escorts people who are fleeing from danger to Mañanaland.

(Blog post written by A to Z board member Dr. Anastasia Gruper)

The Gift of Time

We all have a little more time for reading these days. Whether it’s on your phone (I’m guilty of way too much of that), an e-reader, or a book, the absence of the many activities that take us outside of our homes gives us the gift of time. 

With the temporary shutdown of public libraries, people have gotten creative in finding reading material. Swapping books with friends, visiting Little Free Libraries, and gleaning long forgotten books from our own bookcases are some of my methods. Additionally, the stimulus checks may fund some online book or magazine purchases. 

To encourage reading, why not send a few books to children you know who are stuck at home?  These little gifts will for sure bring some smiles and you can use the less expensive USPS Media Mail to ship. Or perhaps buy a magazine to send to a senior citizen who is sheltering in place. Time and reading material are two things that we can take enjoyment from despite the worries of the world.

(Thanks to A to Z team member Pat for this post.)

What Have You Been Reading? (Part 2)

How’s everyone doing? Are you getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine as spring begins to settle in? A to Z team member Betty has been trying to get outside and explore a few remote natural areas in between the rainy days. (No crowds – just water, rocks, and sand) Check out Betty’s book recommendations and reasons why she loves to read.

Books to Enjoy

  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
  • A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci
  • Voices of the Bulge: Untold Stories From Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge by Michael Collins and Martin King

Why I Love to Read

  • To be entertained
  • To relax
  • To keep learning
  • To stay connected to others around the globe

We will check back in again next week with a few more book recommendations for you to enjoy! Take care and be well!