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

Pen Pals

America to Zambia pic

Last week a group of high school students sent handwritten letters to secondary students at School of Hope in Zambia. The students are members of the International Girls Club at Cary Grove High School in Cary, Illinois. In years past, our team has hand-delivered short notes and homemade cards to kids when we have traveled to Zambia to work with our partner schools, but we’ve never attempted a pen pal project due to the turn around time and cost of shipping. However, when club sponsor Sonya Wadlington and I met to discuss the project, we decided scanning the letters and sending them via email to School of Hope would be best. We also chatted about possible topics and culturally sensitive content to include in the letters. The thoughtful teens got to work and hand wrote letters; many included little drawings in the margins to extend the information shared.

Here are a few favorite lines from the pen pal letters explaining high school life at Cary Grove:

  • I take 5 classes/subjects and go to them every day.
  • My favorite subject this year is either English or physics!
  • Art lets me express my creativity.
  • I really like science and I hope to become a doctor when I’m older.
  • I would like to tell you about my family because family means a lot to me.
  • That is my true goal for my time at school. To become a better thinker in order to eventually pursue my true passion.
  • I’m also planning on going to a university after high school.
  • In my eyes, to achieve happiness, you must do what you love, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
  • One of my favorite foods to eat is ice cream.
  • I’m really looking forward to exchanging letters because learning about other cultures has always been an interest of mine.
  • I’m so glad we get to write to each other from halfway across the world.
  • What does your schedule look like each day?
  • Do you know multiple languages?
  • What types of food do you like to eat?
  • Does your school have uniforms?

School of Hope director Kathleen Schwartz will share the letters this week, and hopefully, the International Girls Club will receive letters back from their Zambian pen pals in December.

Little letter pics

“Zambia, Zambia, what do you see?” A story comes full circle…

By Betty Trummel

A couple of nights ago I finished writing the book I had started with the children at Shine Zambia Reading Academy.  As I pressed “order” to send the book to Apple for printing, I felt that strong connection with my African friends once again.  Smiling faces, fingers curled into small, pretend binoculars around their eyes, it took me back to June when I stood in their classrooms reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Using my photographs of African animals (and thanks to a good friend who had amazing lion photos), and the pattern of words in this book, a new book has been written.  I can’t wait to get copies of the book, and send them to Shine.  The teaching will have come full circle…reading and listening, brainstorming ideas, writing, publishing, and sharing.

It is my hope that students at Shine Zambia Reading Academy will be motivated by this book to write their own stories. Being a part of A to Z Literacy Movement  has motivated me to keep writing down my stories and sharing them with students around the world.  Everyone has stories to share.  What’s your story?

Six Word Memoirs

By Koriann Lance

This week, I presented one of my favorite class projects: the six-word memoir! This task is exactly as it sounds. Students must share their life story in 6 words, no more, no less.

For a preteen to create a memoir of only six words in length that can encapsulate their life is quite a feat! I realized how difficult when creating my own, but here it is:


I love this assignment for so many reasons. First, they have to surmise what is most important to them at this point in their life. They must then choose the most powerful words to get this message across. And then comes their favorite part – finding the picture and creating the visual display that will make their message pop! But my favorite part? Learning more about what my students hold dear.

The finished product of my students’ memoirs becomes a slideshow compilation to music selected by my students. This is on display for parents to see at our school’s Open House. The reactions are always priceless!