C and I had so much fun – and learned so much (yes, me too) – this week doing an exercise from Brave Writer’s The Arrow.
What is The Arrow?
The Arrow uses one classic novel each month to teach language arts to children aged from 8 to 11. It places strong emphasis on literary elements – elements which “make writing pop”. C has a great imagination and her writing is naturally crafted from vibrant language. I think The Arrow will help refine her grammar, punctuation and spelling skills while nurturing her unique writer’s “voice” and giving her the means to use, in her own writing, literary tools she enjoys in her reading. As she becomes more consciously aware of these literary elements, I think she will also begin to appreciate literature more deeply. We’re are using The Arrow in combination with other aspects of the Brave Writer lifestyle, such as Poetry Tea.
Novel of the Month: The Phantom Tollbooth
Our first novel (from August 2011’s The Arrow) is The Phantom Tollbooth, which grabs the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph with the magical words “There was once a boy named…” and then hooks us in with a series of contrasts using the literary element of surprise. The Arrow points out how punctuation – in particular, the em dash – is used in the passage to create literary power, for example in the very first sentence:
“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.”
Opening Hooks Exercise
To look at more opening hooks in action we gathered a pile of novels – old favourites and some from my read-aloud wish list – and took turns reading the opening lines aloud. We talked about how each opening introduced us to the flavour of the novel – humorous, magical, etc – and described characters, places or situations we wanted to find out more about. We piled the books in order of how effective their opening hooks were, with the most powerful at the top. (C had the casting vote!)
C”s favourite hook was from her old favourite, “You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!”:
“Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave. He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things.”
This reminded C how much she loves Mr Gum, and she spent the rest of the day re-reading Mr Gum books!
I liked the start of “The Return of the Twelves”:
“Max sat on the bare stairs below the attic, wondering whether to tell anyone.”
We haven’t yet read The Return of the Twelves but I’m sure we soon will – we want to find out what had happened to Max!
Interestingly, we decided that the opening of “Heidi”, which we we have just finished, and enjoyed immensely, had the least effective opening hook (at least in the opening paragraph) out of our selection – which was a nice reminder of how authors use a variety of ways to appeal to readers.
More Brave Writer: Language Arts for Grade 1
Next time I’ll post about J and I’s first experiences using Brave Writer’s The Wand.