Learning Craft From Children's Books - Part 2
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was summoned out of retirement to fill in for the rest of the year after a teacher abruptly quit. The good news is I am loving the experience. The bad news is it leaves little time for writing.
However, sometimes my worlds align. This happened recently when we had an author visit to the classroom. The author, Sarah Scheerger, wrote a book called Operation Frog Effect. It's a middle grade book about a fifth grade class told as journal entries their teacher assigned. My students loved the story and were so enthusiastic about the opportunity to ask the author questions.
I loved seeing their enjoyment, but I particularly appreciated Sarah's discussion of author's craft, so I thought I'd talk a little about that today.
Operation Frog Effect is told from NINE points of view. Eight of them are students and one is the teacher. Sarah did a really effective job of differentiating the characters, and she explained to the students how she did it.
One character is a girl named Emily. Sarah admitted that this character was most like her and the character's conflict was based on something she experienced in middle school. She used punctuation to develop Emily's character, using a lot of question marks to show her uncertain feelings and a lot of exclamation points to develop her girlish middle school character. As a middle school teacher, I definitely felt she nailed this character's personality and you felt her pain at her friendship troubles.
Kayley is the mean girl, but she's not a stereotypical mean girl. She is "doing it for Emily's own good" because she thinks Emily needs to make new friends (since her besties are going to a new school in September). She is also arrogant and condescending, thinking she knows better than her teacher. The author created this persona within one diary entry just with her word choice (which makes it really good for helping students to understand how word choice affects tone).
Sharon writes all her entries in verse.
Blake is an artist, so his entries are told in illustrated cartoon blocks.
Henry plans to be a movie writer/director, so his entries are all told in script form complete with stage directions
Cecelia has decided to write her journal entries as letters to her abuelita, so they are a mix of English and Spanish with glossary entries as she pretends to teach her abuelita English words.
Kai has the fewest entries, but his are written as messages to the class frog (who jumps out of Blake's pocket in the opening scene and is adopted as a class pet). His are mostly updates on what is happening in the class.
Sarah was also really honest with the students about the difficulties of being an author and the uncertainties of a publishing life. She explained that for all her books that are published, she has at least again as many that were rejected, but she keeps writing because she loves it! She spoke about writing what she believes and how that sometimes comes into conflict with what publishers want.
As a writer, I am in awe of the creativity and work that was required to produce such a stunning array of characters. Just like I spoke about in my post last month, I am reminded that children's books can be a great source to study for writing tips.