Sunday, May 5, 2013

Author a Wordless Book

Who: For elementary- and middle school-aged children but especially suited to the "I don't know what to write about" crowd

What: The student writes the text for a wordless picture book. The text can be basic or elaborate, depending on the student's age and ability. 

When and Where: I've used this assignment in a mini-class. I've also included it as a project in other classes. It works well with children at home as well.

When I offered this class, using Tomie dePaola's book Pancakes for Breakfast, I sent out the following plea:

Help!  Tomie dePaola, a popular children’s writer and illustrator, must have been at a loss for words when he made the book Pancakes for Breakfast.  There is no text!  I think he needs some writers, ages six to nine (or ten), to help him.  Interested authors will meet at my house on [date] from [time] to [time] to receive instruction, guidance, and encouragement as well as a personal copy of the book to which they will add their original text.*  The class will return on [date] to share completed books with one another and, of course, enjoy a pancake breakfast.  The fee for this mini-class is [fee] which includes the cost of materials.  Payment by [date] reserves a child’s spot in the class. 

*Unless the child is able, a parent will need to type the text and help the child paste it into the book to make the book look “real.”

How: Below you will find instructions for the homeschooling mom with one or more children using  dePaola's book.

PREWRITING ~ Give your children a copy of the book. Invite them to page through it to become familiar with the story told through pictures. Encourage them to study the pictures carefully.  What do they notice? (Note: you can do this together or  individually.) Ask them to narrate the story aloud. Talk about the characters. What are their names? What are they like? Talk about setting: where and when does the story take place?

DRAFTING ~ You may give your children the following handout for writing their first draft. It's nothing fancy, but the short descriptions of each picture may help with organization, since the book doesn't have page numbers. (Some pages have more than one picture. I have described each picture on the handout. The student can write about each one or combine them instead.)  The nice thing about using a handout is that it allows for revisions. We certainly don't want any overeager students writing anything in the books yet.

If handwriting hampers the process for younger children, take dictation. It's better to ignite the imagination and draw out creativity than it is to dampen both by making the child sit there and painstakingly move his pencil.  Remember, it won't always be that way. (At least we hope not!) For older children who prefer to type their draft, let them; it will save a step.

Find a simple drafting sheet here.

REVISING ~ When the drafting is complete, the student can conference with a parent or a sibling, looking for places to add details, dialogue, personality, anything that will enhance the story, taking it beyond, "She added flour.  She added eggs...."

If you are working on a particular skill--i.e. using participles or strong verbs or parallel structure--encourage your child to find places to apply the skill.

When it's time to type, have the book nearby. Adjust margins to ensure the text won't cover any illustrations. Whether your child types the text himself or you do it for him, look at the story again.  Is the child satisfied with it?  Is there anything else to add or change?

EDITING ~ What should you do about mistakes? If the child is young and you simply want a positive writing experience for her, leave them. Someday they will be cute.  If the child is older, use this as a teaching opportunity, making grammar study practical. For example, if your student is allergic to periods, not including any or many, suggest that he read aloud his story, listening for the ends of sentences. If she needs to brush up on punctuating dialogue, this would be the perfect time to review and practice.

PREPARING THE BOOK ~ When the text is ready and printed, use a paper cutter to cut each text block, marking the back of each one lightly with a pencil, so you know on which page to place it. Of course, you can also hand the child a pair of scissors if you don't mind unique cutting lines. When the text is ready, the student can carefully paste the papers to the book's pages with a glue stick.

Now it's time to personalize the book. Invite your child to page through a variety of books to see the features of published works. Perhaps he wants to include page numbers or a dedication or an  "About the Author" blurb.  Don't let him forget to include his name next to dePaola's on the cover and the title page.

Inside the back cover, I like to include a half sheet of paper with a title, such as "Readers Say...." or "Book Reviews for __________." When your children share their books with Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt, Uncle, or Friend, ask each one to write comments about the book on this page, encouraging the author for a job well done.

PUBLISHING ~ When the books are completed, celebrate with a pancake breakfast (or lunch).  Place the books on the coffee table. Share them with friends and relatives.  Store them on the bookshelf for the next read-aloud.

Other wordless picture books:
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Tuesday by David Wiesner
And a host of other ones at

If your children do this project, leave a comment with your favorite line(s) from their books. Here are some of mine:
  • "When she was in the barn, she milked her favorite cow Louise, singing, "Winter days are lovely. Winter days are lovely. Winter days are lovely. That's just fine." 
  • "At home, she let out an AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH. The eggs were scattered, the milk was spilled, the flour was dumped, and butter was on the floor."
  • "Much to the surprise of the couple who lived there, Hattie came bounding up their front porch and bellowed, 'I smell pancakes!' Surprising the couple even more, Hattie drew up a chair, grabbed a fork and knife, heaped her plate with pancakes, plopped a glob of butter on them, and emptied the syrup pitcher onto them. She demanded, 'Let's eat!'"
Click on the cover to find Pancakes for Breakfast on Amazon.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

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