Magic Month: The Best Read of February

This month, although my reading time was limited, I discovered I read with an unplanned theme: magic. Shadow Magic by Patricia Wrede and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. One was a fantasy novel by someone I consider the queen of world-building, the other a how-to book for young readers containing instruction exercises, and encouragement for writing their own fantasy stories. I enjoyed both.

However, the title Best Read of February goes to Patricia Wrede for Shadow Magic. It’s hard to beat “experiencing” a magical realm. Shadow Magic is a story that explores the disunity of the races in a magical realm and what it takes to unite them and use their magic for the common good.

Many may be familiar with Wrede’s recent young adult titles—The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, The Sorcery and Cecilia books she wrote with Caroline Stevermer and, more recently, The Thirteenth Child. However, before hitting it big in the world of YA literature, she was already an established fantasy novelist.

Among those in the science fiction/fantasy writing world she is gratefully known for the extensive list of world building questions she shares on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Website.

And so, although I only read two books this month, you get a double dose of fantasy writing help. Check out Wrede’s questions and Levine’s book. Then curl up in a comfy chair to enjoy Shadow Magic and see those fantasy writing principals in action.


Reading Comprehension Poem: Reading Response Exercise #74


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.


Think about what you have read.


Jot down some of the major developments in this reading. Now use this list to help you write a poem about your reading. Things you may want to include: the main characters, plot/action, character thoughts and feelings, setting, or mood of the section you read.


Share your responses with your reading partners. Does anyone else’s book intrigue you?

Preschool Literacy:

Read: a picture book with your preschooler.

Write: Create a list poem by asking your preschooler to tell you some things that were important in the story.

When you are done, read back what he or she has said, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word then post your poem somewhere others can enjoy it.

Imaginary Traveler Pre-Write: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #53

Stretch your “pre-writing” muscles with today’s exercise. Choose an object from the list below or imagine one uniquely your own that might travel or be “carried away”:

  • A bottle in a river or on the ocean
  • A feather or scrap of paper in the wind
  • A small insect or animal on a ship, or in an airplane, or on a truck
  • An object left on a bus, train, or a plane

Web your ideas for the journey this object might take and the ways it would interact with people, animals, or its environment along the way. Do not limit the ideas you put down; this is an idea generating exercise. Remember, you don’t have to use every plot point you come up with. You just want a good selection of ideas to support your story of adventure.

Look over your web and decide how you want your story to start. (Keep going and figure out how you want your story to proceed and end if you want to.) Write the opening paragraphs of this travelogue.

When done, share your web and read what you’ve written with your writing partners or post them here as a comment. Compliment one another on the creativity and twistiness of the plot ideas. Brainstorm more adventures for each other’s webs.

Have fun imagining a tale of wonder, excitement, and adventure.

Details and the Writing Life

Details, observing and recording specific details adds richness to our writing and our lives.

For example, you can describe the skin of an old woman in many ways. However, of the following two, which is more resonant with meaning?

She was wrinkly.


She had skin that looked like crepe paper, ridged, crinkled and brittle, but to the touch it was like the petal of a newly opened rose.

Details give life and breath and physicality to your written world, and they don’t have to be exotic to add layers of associations and depth.

Natalie Goldberg discusses details in Writing Down the Bones. Her words give hope to any novice writer who thinks she had to undertake a grand adventure or experience some hideous trial in order to have something interesting to say.

Original details are very ordinary, except to the mind that sees their extraordinariness. It’s not that we need to go to the Hopi mesas to see greatness, we need to view what we already have in a different way….If we see their lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty. We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It is our minds that either open or close          ~Natalie Goldberg, p. 75

Open your mind to some details today. See if they explode the mundane to superlative.

Help! I Need Advice: Reading Response Exercise #73


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.


Think about what you have read.


Imagine your protagonist is a newspaper advice columnist. Write a letter from someone requesting advice then write your character/columnist’s response. The advice given should reflect the protagonist’s values and experiences in the novel so far. How does your “advice” do so?


Share and discuss your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy:


Read a picture book with your preschooler.


Mid-three-quarters of the way through, stop and ask your preschooler what kinds of problems the main character is having and how he or she would solve them.


Have a good conversation about your child’s ideas then finish enjoying the story together.

Teacher’s File Drawer—A “Lift the Flap” Book Report

A “Lift the Flap” Book Report does not take a lot of materials, space, or time, yet it provides students an opportunity for writing and creative expression in reviewing elements of fiction that helped make the book unique.

All your students need is the one page hand-out, a pen or pencil, crayons, colored pencils or marking pens, and scissors.

Prepare the hand-out as shown in the illustration.

Complete a sample “Lift the Flap” Book Report featuring a familiar film or story. (You might even want to do this with the students as a class so they will better understand what is expected for them when they do their own.)

Provide each student with a hand-out and provide either class time (a period or two should be enough) or assign it as homework.

Completing the book report will enable students to consider and display their knowledge of characters, setting, plot, and theme. Combining writing and drawing allows students share their understanding of their reading using multiple modalities.

When assessing the work, consider the following criteria in assigning a score:

Cover Illustration:                   1 pt.
Underlined Title:                    ½ pt.
Author:                                       ½ pt.
Character Portraits                  1 pt.
Character Descriptions          1 pt.
Illustration of a Setting          1 pt.
Description of a Setting          1 pt.
Plot Summary                            1 pt.
Theme/Author Purpose        1 pt.
Neatness/Effort                        3 pts.
Use of Complete Sentences  2 pts.
Use of Color                                1 pt.
Use of Allotted Space             1 pt.
Total             ___/15 pts.

“Lift the Flap” Book Reports were fun for my students to produce and fun look at. I enjoyed the creativity displayed in them, yet also had the satisfaction of seeing my students express their thoughts in complete sentences. I hope the “Lift the Flap” Book Report brings fun and creativity to your classroom.

Nickname/Characterization: Reading Response Exercise #72

Read: for at least twenty to thirty minutes.

Reflect: Think about what you have read. Choose a character from your reading and make up an appropriate nickname for the character.

Write/Discuss the name you chose. Explain why it is a suitable name for the character who inspired it.

Preschool Literacy:

Read a picture book with your preschooler.

Ask your preschooler to pick a character, other than the main character, that he or she enjoyed. Ask him or her to make up a nickname for the character. (Be prepared to explain what a nickname is in case your preschooler does not understand the term.)

Discuss the name your preschooler makes up. Ask what made him or her decide that would be a good name.

Your Rules Rule: Persuasive Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #52

If you could write several new rules, policies or procedures for home, work or school, what would they be?

Write them out, including your arguments for their implementation. Explain the value of your new rules, how they are fair, and why they should be adopted.

When done, read what you’ve written with your writing partners or share it as a comment. Compliment one another on the strength of your arguments and persuasiveness of your writing.

Preschool Literacy:

Ask your preschooler what he or she thinks should be done differently at school or at home. Write it down. Then ask why he or she would like to see this change made. Put down their reasons in the form of a bulleted list.

When you are done, read back what your preschooler has said, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between written and spoke word. Consider implementing the proposed change.

ABC Coloring Books and Collages

Today I made ABC coloring books for my two granddaughters who are leaving tomorrow with their mom and dad for a trip to Disneyland. I had designed the pages for my three and four-year-old students’ use when I taught preschool. Unearthing them brought back a lot of fun memories.

One of my favorite things I did as I introduced each letter of the alphabet was to ask the parents to help their children find pictures—from magazines, catalogues, newspapers, clip art…, cut them out, and bring them to school on the day I planned to introduce the new letter.

That day as we gathered for circle time, I would begin to read an alphabet book and stop when we came to the our new letter for the week. The children would go get their envelopes of clippings and we would talk about all the things they found that started with our new letter. Then I’d get out the glue sticks and we would glue the pictures onto a giant block letter I’d drawn on 18” by 24” newsprint and I’d hang the new collage poster beside the letter that preceded it along the roofline of the room. The parade of alphabet posters made such a colorful border around our room, and the kids were so proud to see the “posters” they’d contributed to on our walls.

I enjoyed their pride and delight and, afterwards, my own homework—the drawing a new alphabet page for them to color. When the school year was over they each had an alphabet book to take home. And now my Grace and Hannah will each have their own to color on the long drive south to Anaheim.

Plot—Difficulties, Difficulties: Reading Response Exercise #71


Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.

Reflect & Write

Think about what you have read. What kinds of difficulties did the main character get into in this passage? How did he or she deal with them? What were the results? How would you have dealt with them? Would that have yielded different results?

Write/Discuss: your responses with your reading partners.

Preschool Literacy:

Read: a picture book with your preschooler.

Ask: What kinds of difficulties did the main character have in this story?

Discuss: With your preschooler, discuss not only the problems the character had, how he or she resolved it, and what the child would have done in the main character’s place.