Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

I wrote about a Harris Burdick writing unit a little over a year ago.

Here are the pictures that are at the heart of this unit:

A couple of days after I created that post, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came out. I picked it up this summer. Here is a really cool and really poorly acted trailer for this new book:

I love all the authors this features! I loathe their acting! But I still enjoy watching it.
I started reading this book yesterday and I'm about half way through. What gave me an idea for this post though is my favorite story so far, "A Strange Day In July" by Sherman Alexie.
The story that Sherman Alexie created comes from this illustration and caption:
"He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back"

There are a few reasons why I'll use this story as a mentor text when teaching this fiction unit.

Character Development
The first is character development. The characters in this story are superb. Their strange and mean. They terrorize animals and old ladies. Their twins but pretend to be triplets. So this story used in conjuction with Nancie Atwell's Main Character Questionnaire could help children think of great characters to fill their stories:
1. What’s your name?
2. How old are you?
3. What’s the problem you’re facing?
4. What’s your family background?
5. Where do you live?
6. What do you like to do?
7. What’s different about you?
8. What do you care about? What do you want?
9. What do you fear?
10. What are your dreams?
11. Who are the important people in your life?
12. What are the important things in your life?
13. How will you change through confronting your problem? Possibilities:
14. What will you understand about yourself and your world at the end of
the story? Possibilities: 

Author Craft
The voice of this story is fresh and original, full of author craft that can be pointed out and emulated.
Here is an example passage:

Heck, if they had discovered severed thumbs in the middle of their ice cream Timmy and Tina would have just licked them clean and dropped them into a fish tank.
Okay, that's not true
When Timmy and Tina walked in the woods, the birds would shake their tail feathers and flutter their wings and sing, strange kids, strange kids, strange kids. 
Okay, that's not true, either.
But Timmy and Tina scared birds. And they scared dogs. Heck, the lions at the zoo would cover their faces with their paws whenever Timmy and Tina came to visit.
Okay, that's not true at all.

The playfulness of the description, oscillating between something true and something false throws off the reader. They don't know what to expect, and what to believe. It also gives a creepy, mean story a much needed sense of lightness.

The Ending
In the few years that I've taught this unit, I've never had a student make the caption to the picture the last sentence of the story. But it makes perfect sense, leaving the reader with as much wonder and curiosity as the potential writer has when they first see the illustration. It's an extremely effective craft for this type of project.

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