To strengthen my students as readers and writers, I had them take to the Reader's Chair and the Author's Chair to share their responses to a study on Kevin Henkes, who writes and illustrates books about lovable mouse characters who express common childhood feelings, fears, and fantasies. After evaluating his writing style and comparing the characters, settings, and themes of four of his books, my students showed off their own reading, writing, artistic, and critical-thinking skills.
First we studied the author himself. We read a little about his life, and we watched a video where he talks about being a writer.
We kept our comparisons simple by focusing on the characters, settings, problem, and solution for each book. We wrote and drew pictures of the comparisons on a big chart. We also made mobiles of the two main settings in the books: school and home.
The children drew sequence pictures of the books and made puppets of the mouse boys and mouse girls.
The students got together in groups of four for Reader's Chair. Each student read aloud from one of the books and discussed his or her impressions with the others in the group. They talked about things such as similarities and differences between the books; connections between the books and the author's life; connections between the books and their own lives; and what they thought about the writing style, subject, and characters in each of the books.
As a whole group, the students got together to listen to each other read the impressions they had written down about the books. Becoming "authors" themselves by writing their responses to an author study was motivating and inspiring. Some of the questions the listeners asked (with prompting) were: Are you like that character? Why did you write/draw about that? Why did you pick that book? How would you have fixed the problem? If you could meet the author, what would you ask?
In the book Owen, a little boy mouse just about to enter kindergarten is too attached to his security blanket, named Fuzzy. Since he can't take it to school, his parents try to separate Owen and Fuzzy. My students made a maze that separated them from a blanket, and took turns trying to get to it. They also drew patches that were sewn into paper blankets.
Jessica, in the book Jessica, is the imaginary friend of a little girl (this one's not a mouse) named Ruthie. On the night before the first day of kindergarten, Ruthie's parents tell her that Jessica should stay home from school, but Jessica goes anyway. I made silhouettes of my students' heads, and they drew pictures of what they imagined doing with an imaginary friend. With their real-life friends, they painted pictures side-by-side.
Wemberly Worried is about a shy little mouse who worries about everything, including her first day of nursery school. My students wrote their own worries on worry scrolls. They shared them with each other and offered each other solutions.
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is about an enthusiastic little mouse who is so excited about her new movie star sunglasses and purple plastic purse that she breaks the rules by interrupting her teacher to show everyone, and he takes them away until the end of the day. Lilly is so mad she draws a mean picture of the teacher in the Lightbulb Lab (where great ideas are born).
My students made their own movie star sunglasses and purple plastic purses. We set up a Lightbulb Lab in the room where they made pictures with craft supplies and wrote letters of apology to Mr. Slinger, Lilly's teacher. They also weighed the consequences of Lilly's actions by putting counters on two sides of a scale: Benefit and Burden.
We had a great time learning about Kevin Henkes and reading his books. The author study was a new experience that provided us with a lot of insight: We read a lot of books for enjoyment and learning, but we hardly ever get a glimpse into an author's life and process. Do you have author studies in your classroom?
Have a studious weekend!
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