As part of the “Read Across America” celebration Friday, we found out some interesting things about Dr. Suess. It’s so easy to recall our favorite books from those days when we were early readers. So many of them were by Dr. Suess! We created this short fun video in honor of him. We hope you recognize how he was our inspiration!
We’ve been very fortunate this year. In October we had a Skype visit with author Derek Kent who prefers to be known as Derek the ghost. I read both of his books aloud to the class. The first was Scary School, and the second was Scary School – Monsters on the March. We loved them both because of the way they left us laughing out loud. Every time I picked it up the class cheered because they knew there would be something funny in the pages ahead. The characters were imaginative and unexpected and added drama to every chapter.
Last week we had a Skype visit with author Rob Buyea. I read both of his books aloud as well. The first was Because of Mr. Terupt, and the second was Mr. Terupt Falls Again. We loved these books because we made such a strong connection to the characters and their lives. The first book is about a class of 5th graders and their very cool teacher. The second is the same group of students, now in 6th grade, having looped with the same teacher. These books also made us laugh out loud, but there was more. They made us cry too. The situations among the students was familiar, yet unpredictable. We waiting breathlessly to see what would happen next.
Two days ago, I asked my students to brainstorm a list of things that they had learned about writing by reading these books and talking to these two authors. Here are some of the things the students wrote down.
-Always put yourself in your story – meaning, have one of your characters be part you.
-Always have a big thing happen – something that the characters will have to deal with.
-Get ideas from your own life. Think back to some funny events or situations in your own life.
-Have your character learn some life lessons during the course of your story.
-Include some well known people as characters and change their name and characteristics just enough to allow your reader to recognize and draw a connection.
-Add things that no one is expecting.
-Add humor to lighten the mood.
-Have your main character go against the crowd now and then.
-If you base a book on your everyday life, ideas will come to you more easily.
-Always carry a writer’s notebook. You never know when an idea will pop into your head.
-Writing ideas seem to strike at the weirdest moments. (The idea for Because of Mr. Terupt came to Rob Buyea while he was in his mother’s garden!)
-Take your own memories and change them to fit your story and/or your characters.
-Make the reader wonder what will happen next.
-Jot down ideas. You may not use them for years, but it gives you a collection to draw from.
-If you don’t like the situation/character/story, your reader won’t either. Sometimes you want your reader to dislike a character, but make sure you think about whether you want your reader to change their opinion by the story’s end.
-Base your characters and events on real life people and events in your life.
I’m very pleased to see that the combination of reading the books and actually talking to/asking questions of these authors has left the students with great advice and tips to apply in their own writing.
Today we finished Rob Buyea’s first novel. It’s called Because of Mr. Terupt, and it’s about a classroom of fifth graders and their awesome teacher. The book is sectioned off into months so it is easy to imagine where the students are in the school year. The students love Mr. Terupt’s teaching style, but it ends up being questioned when the big event of the story happens.
We loved the fact that we didn’t see it coming (the big event). We knew something was coming because the characters kept alluding to it, but we didn’t know what it would be. Mr. Buyea does a beautiful job with foreshadowing and creating believable and recognizable characters. And much like in real life classrooms, as we read we found out that everyone has a story.
It was a book so beautifully written that towards the end we cried about a character that we only knew for one page. The story really focused on the emotions that people feel when they are in relationships with other people and how those emotions change as the relationship changes.
Without giving too much away, here are some student responses to the book.
“I loved Because of Mr. Terupt because it had moments when I felt like I was really there. When someone got hurt, I felt all weird, like I was part of it.”
“I really liked the book. It is for sure my second favorite book!”
“I liked the author because he used foreshadowing and hooked me in. My heart was either beating fast, or I was laughing hard.”
“I loved this book because it really touched my heart. The author really made the student’s lives …. real. I also hated this book because it hurt me sooooooooo bad. It actually made me cry.”
“I felt really sorry for Jeffrey. I can’t imagine living in his house. I think that Jeffrey did the right thing by telling his parents he loved them.”
“My favorite character is Mr. Terupt because he changed everything for all the kids he had in his class. He helped everyone in that class. He helped Jeffrey talk to his parents, Lexi bring out her nice, and Danielle become more self confident. Mr. Terupt is really awesome.”
“I felt bad for Anna because she doesn’t have a dad, and her mom is hated by Danielle’s mom and grandma.”
“I loved this book because there were emotional parts, but there were many jubilant parts, too.”
“My favorite character is Anna because she is always calm and quiet.”
“My favorite person in the book is Mr. Terupt because he is awesome, and he’s very kind.”
Today we thoroughly enjoyed our skype visit with Derek Kent, the author of Scary School and Scary School Monsters on the March. He made us feel very relaxed, and we were able to ask lots of questions. We found out that he has always loved to make kids laugh, and he has always loved to write. He remembers that when he was in elementary school and creative writing time was over, everyone else closed their notebook, but he didn’t want to. He also remembers that he enjoyed reading the dictionary! He liked learning new words and then using them on his friends (who had no idea what they meant!)
Derek still loves making kids laugh. It is his goal that his readers laugh out loud when reading his books. We eagerly let him know that he indeed made us laugh out loud many times. We weren’t surprised to learn that he was a big Roald Dahl fan. He’s read all of Roald Dahl’s books! He’s also a fan of Louis Sachar. In fact the Sideways School books really gave Derek ideas to think about.
In creating characters, he was inspired by teachers, people he has known, characters in other books and movies, and himself! Dr. Dragonbreath is based on a teacher in Derek’s past who always wore a tie and unfortunately had a case of dragon breath! Charles Nukid is a character that Derek relates to. As a student in school, Derek was also kind of skinny. Steven Kingsley is based on the author Stephen King. The character, like the author, likes writing and baseball.
Derek is the only author in his family, but he did mention that his mother is a very talented artist. If you google her name you can see some of her art. Her name is Melanie Taylor Kent.
When asked if he is planning a fourth book in the series, Derek said he actually had a plan for each of six books, but only had an offer from his publisher for the first three books. We’re planning on writing persuasive letters to his publisher to let them know how much we’re enjoying the Scary School series and how much we would love to read more! We may also write persuasive letters to Nickelodeon to support the idea of his books being made into a series for TV.
We have become big time fans of Derek Kent. We hope he writes many more books!