by Susan Weaver Jones, Reading Recovery Teacher, Guest Blogger.
When you were growing up, what well-known people captured your attention? Who were your role models? What historical figures intrigued you?
As a kid, I enjoyed reading biographies that included the subjects' early years. With that background, I could better understand what their childhoods were like before they became famous. I also looked for other relevance to my life, so I searched for biographies about women. In addition, I read about a patriot who shared the month and day of my birthday. My interest in an educational career led me to biographies about teachers. Reading about educators who inspired me to explore my potential gave me insight into my craft. Learning about others' lives and accomplishments helped me appreciate the importance of fulfilling personal and professional goals.
Because I looked for connections between my interests and the achievements of others as I grew up, I welcome a series like Hameray's Inspire! chapter books on behalf of elementary readers. It allows students opportunities to learn about individuals who traveled paths similar to ones they may consider in the future. The Inspire! series pairs biographies of noteworthy individuals with related nonfiction books that capitalize on themes from the persons' lives. The nonfiction themed books are bonuses for readers who want glimpses of background important to the success and fame of those individuals.
Even now, one pair of Inspire! books hold particular significance for me. When I trained as a Reading Recovery Teacher, I was introduced to books for beginning readers written by children's author Joy Cowley. My students and I were delighted to become acquainted with many of her recurring characters, such as Huggles, the Hungry Giant, Dan the Flying Man, and Mrs. Wishy-Washy. Years later, I had the privilege of meeting Joy Cowley as I learned how to write books for young readers myself. Thus, finding her story as part of the Inspire! series (Joy Cowley: Are You Mrs. Wishy-Washy? by Jordan Moore) was a special treat!
Because children enjoy reading and rereading stories by Joy Cowley, the book that accompanies her biography in the Inspire! series is most appropriate: Read It Again! Favorite Stories by Jordan Moore. Read It Again! Favorite Stories focuses on the appeal of traditional folktales, as well as innovations of the familiar stories. This book reminded me of the volumes of fairy tales and folktales I read as a young girl, thanks to my school library and the local public library. Students can also enjoy the well-known folktales from various countries while appreciating the creative approaches of contemporary authors who've retold the stories from new perspectives.
For students who are aspiring storytellers and authors, the biography about Joy Cowley could serve as an inspiration to write, as well as read. One of the hardest parts about writing can be getting started, though. To assist students with writing about Joy Cowley, guide them through creating a cinquain poem about her. They can reread and use the biography to identify key details that fit into the cinquain elements. Before they begin writing, you can ask students the following questions to kickstart their minds:
Writing About Joy Cowley
- What adjectives describe Joy Cowley?
- What verbs tell what she likes to do?
- What is another idea about her that you could explain in a phrase or short sentence?
- What word could be a synonym for her that tells something important about her?
Riding Flying Woodworking
She loves to tell children stories!
-ing Verb -ing Verb -ing Verb
Phrase or short sentence
Synonym for noun
Writing About Folktales
Once students have worked through the development of cinquain poems based on the biography, they will have refreshed their understanding of the specific parts of speech used: nouns, adjectives, and verbs. They will then be well-equipped to try their hand at writing diamond/diamante poems about a favorite folktale of the class (or the teacher). Some recommended classic and reinvented folktales are featured in Read It Again! Favorite Stories. Folktales, including fairy tales, usually have good characters (protagonists) opposing bad characters (antagonists). After the students have read or listened to the selected story, have them identify two such characters from the chosen story. Then guide them through writing diamond/diamante poems, using keywords and details from the story that describe those characters. The poems begin with one focus; then transitions to the second focus in the middle. The words in the poem form a diamond shape. An example diamond/diamante poem created from The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, one of the stories referenced in Read It Again! Favorite Stories, is shown below. Some questions to ask students before they create their diamond/diamante poems might include:
- What folktale did you read (or listen to)?
- Which characters are opposites of each other?
- How are they different from each other?
- Why did you choose those particular words (adjectives, verbs, nouns) to describe the characters?
Example Diamond Poem:
Building Hiding Yelling
Neighbors Cheeseburgers---Sugar Cake
Huffing Puffing Sneezing
Diamond / Diamante Poem Format:
Adjective for #1 Adjective for #1
-ing Verb for #1 -ing Verb for #1 -ing Verb for #1
Related Noun for #1 Related Noun for #1---Related Noun for #2 Related Noun for #2
-ing Verb for #2 -ing Verb for #2 -ing Verb for #2
Adjective for #2 Adjective for #2
Reading and Writing with Other Inspire! Biographies
Students might find inspiration in other biographies included in the Inspire! series. Fans of the Star Wars movies might gravitate toward another kind of writing and storytelling: filmmaking! Those students would likely enjoy the biography about George Lucas and its accompanying how-to book: Mini-Movie Makers. Students who appreciate poetry might welcome the opportunity to read the biography about poet Maya Angelou. The informational book paired with her biography is most practical for aspiring poets: How to Write a Great Poem.
If students are more interested in drawing cartoons, they might find the biography about Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki intriguing. They can learn how to get started with the partner book: Cool Cartoons You Can Draw.
The Inspire! series also includes biographies and paired books that focus on topics such as sports, martial arts, politics, exploration, and inventions--to name a few. After students read and reread the biographies, they can discuss and write cinquain poems to share what resonated with them about the subjects of the biographies. In reading and writing about the biographies of the inspirational people included in the Inspire! series, students may discover new interests--or reaffirm existing ones.
Susan Weaver Jones has taught students in kindergarten through eighth grade as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, Reading Recovery teacher, and literacy coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.