Third-Grade Authorsby Katie Foth on 06/10/18
Here I am opening a thank-you gift from a parent who owns Zhi Bath and Body - wonderful hand-crafted products! Let me explain. Back in September 2017, I visited my granddaughters' classes at United Community School in Charlotte, NC and read a story as part of a birthday celebration. I read the "Turgin's Magic Bauble" chapter from my Legends of Ellandria book, but I enhanced the reading with props. I also read several of the children into the story as Turgin's friends. Both the first-grade class and the third-grade class loved the experience!
Afterward my daughter-in-law kindly forwarded a parent e-mail from the teacher of the third-grade class highlighting that week's activities. Her response was very positive. Within the next week, I received a thank-you letter from each child in the class. Wow! I was so impressed. I decided to answer each one personally. I mailed the letters to Mrs. Cooke at the school thinking "Let's keep the ball rolling. What kid doesn't love mail?"
An idea grew in my mind. Now that I have this connection with the students, what would happen if I volunteered to come back and teach them how to write a story? I worked out a plan and contacted Tracey Cooke. She accepted my proposition and bravely launched a year-long writing project.
So began a series of mid-week trips to Charlotte (Wednesday is my day off work at Park Place Children's Center). I returned November 1 to read my story of "Harley and the Hermit's Garden" and to talk about story settings. Mrs. Cooke kindly granted me plenty of time (8:20 to 9:30), and so I built an activity into the lesson. The children molded their setting out of white Crayola air-dry clay. They had so much fun!
On November 15 I returned to talk about characters. This time I read "Whimsy Gatan and the Happy Wanderer." The children each chose an animal character for their stories, and they made character sketches using oil pastels on card stock. They loved the brilliant colors and different texture of that media. As a precaution, I taped a sheet of onion-skin to the top edge of each student's cardstock to prevent smearing. I also left non-fiction books on various animals so that the children could read up on the characteristics of the animal they'd chosen.
On December 6 I talked about the basics of plot. I read excerpts from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (illustrated by Jerry Pinkney), Best Friends for Frances, and one of Richard Scarry's stories about Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm fishing with Father Cat. With Mrs. Cooke's help, I projected posters from various animated movies. The children were so excited about identifying different types of conflict in the movies they'd seen. They started brainstorming about all the problems their characters could have or all the bad things that might happen.
Mrs. Cooke taught the students more about plot, and I returned on January 10 to talk about story-boarding and illustrations. I wrote a new story, "Whimsy Gatan and the Crest of Fathom," to use as an example of breaking a story down into pages that play up action-filled illustrations. I showed them different pictures my illustrator (Scotty Roberts) had revised. I also talked about all the hard work and patience that the editing and publishing process requires.
The students started a book cover and teaser on an 11x17 piece of cardstock. I left large sheets of newsprint for Mrs. Cooke and showed her how to fold the paper into a signature to form a booklet. Mrs. Cooke helped the students make the booklet for their rough drafts, and the students launched into writing their stories. Mrs. Cooke was able to have the rough drafts delivered to me before I returned.
On my January 24 visit, I returned the rough drafts with editorial comments. I read five of the students' stories aloud, and we discussed them together. We asked such questions as "What did you like about the story?" and "What did you want to hear more about?" and "What part confused you?" The children loved participating.
Over the next few months, Mrs. Cooke worked with the children individually to finish and revise their stories. She sent me the revised drafts, and I keyed them into an 8.5 by 11-inch template. I printed the pages on cardstock and slipped them inside sheet-protectors in a folder with a transparent cover. Presto bingo! Instant book! The children loved seeing their names in print and marveled over the copyright page. They added their illustrations.
Mrs. Cooke wrapped up the project with a wonderful Meet-the-Author event. Her newly-published students displayed their painted setting, their character sketch, their cover and finished book. I attended the event and was so pleased to see the wonderful illustrated stories. Many parents attended (besides the owner of Zhi Bath and Body) and appreciated the finished product. Students beamed with pleasure, so tickled to be a "published" author. That made parents proud too, and I'm tickled. I hosted a display alongside my granddaughter, who was bouncing on her toes with excitement, but I spent most of the event enjoying the students' work (my granddaughter and family enjoyed frozen yogurt together later in the afternoon...I didn't neglect her).
Wow, Mrs. Cooke! I thank you for the opportunity to work together to inspire interest in books and to encourage writing skills. As a former English teacher, I think I have a good idea how much hard work and patience you must have expended in guiding such a big project through to a glorious end. Your students are so fortunate to have you!