Updated: May 5
I adjusted the light at the top of my computer, signed into Zoom, and waited. It was the last session of class with a tech savvy kid who signed up for a summer reading and writing. I pressed the Admit button, the thinking circle appeared, and a smiling face emerged.
I smiled back.
Then, I listened. My eyes grew big. And I remembered why I love what I do. Most days I get to make someone a success. This was a great summer day this July. It was another day that I got to see how kids learn, improve, and grow when you give them tools, resources, and watch them build something amazing, something wonderful, something jubilant!
Her story, like all good stories, had a clear structure.
Her story began with somebody. She created two wonderful characters: A protagonist named Banana Lily (a pink wooly mammoth) and and antagonist named Jelly Jumper George (an irritating character who liked to plant banana trees where they didn't belong).
She pitted these characters against one other by placing them both in a garden with opposing agendas. Banana Lily had a dream for the future, which this young author explained in the very first line (where she introduced both her character and setting) by describing her character as "terrifically excited about her future avocado orchard."
Sadly, Jelly Jumper George had an agenda which ran contrary to Banana Lily's dream. His utilitarian task was to complete a science project, despite the fact that he was "shockingly dreadful at planting banana trees; but he [had] to try because unfortunately, his science experiment [was] to watch a banana tree grow."
Her story, like all good stories, presented a problem to care about.
Two characters. Two agendas (a dream and a project). One problem. This problem became an inciting incident, a pathway to challenge, and a way to think beyond challenge to solutions - which is something we all care about.
This amazing little author gave her protagonist a dream, something she really wanted: "As she walked she started imagining her own magnificent avocado orchard."
But when Banana Lilly wandered the garden where she hoped to plant an avocado seed (and eventually an avocado orchard), she found that it was filled with Jelly Jumper George's failed projects; because, as you remember, Jelly Jumper George was, "shockingly dreadful at planting banana trees," and there wasn't anywhere for Banana Lily to plant her avocado seed.
Good stories provide solutions to problems!
Banana Lily's dreams were dashed. But, happily we find from this brilliantly written little story, that Banana Lily wasn't just a dreamer, she was an entrepreneur! So, she found a little hill outside the garden, borrowed a shovel, and planted her avocado seed. "After she filled the hole up, she returned the shovel and walked home happily."
Great stories close well, and often end with something to ponder.
Then this story ends with a jubilant celebration of theme (dream big, maybe?), colorful word choices (she had a long list of sensory word choices to choose from), and she tied up all of her ideas with a celebration of sorts. It's worth letting her words stand alone, (and by the way, I have taken no liberties at all in her grammar or word choice because this doesn't need any revising)!
"After many years, Banana Lily’s avocado tree grew into an avocado orchard. Her avocados were big, creamy, and refreshing.
Each year there was a delightful avocado festival with avocado rolling contests, avocado baking contests, avocado spinning contests, avocado drawing contests, avocado photography contests, and delectable avocado desserts like avocado ice cream, avocado pie, and avocado cake. There were plerry* pies, meach* tarts, unicorn berries and cream, monkey pastries, gumdrop gigglecakes, fragrant tickle-me-nots, Jelly Jumper George’s banana galette (he finally kept his banana tree alive), marshminnow* berry nut pie, lightbulb fruit, and of course, there were delicious avocados, too. Lots of them."
This little writer did so much more than follow a format - she invented her own words, she used repetition, and she created characters with dreams. Her mom didn't write this for her. I didn't write this for her. She has her own voice, her own personality, her own style.
But we both provided this student with something every writer needs - helpful tools and strategies (she was given lots of resources and taught how to use them - including the handout above which references the "Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then" method , which is sometimes called the "Five Finger Method"), handouts for character development, definitions like "protagonist" and "antagonist" (with an explanation of why it's helpful to have two opposing characters), and lists to use for great sensory word choices.
So, at the end of this zoom call, Mom (who had been invited to presentation day) and I both broke into applause. Smiles all around. Interestingly, I think Mom and I smiled broader and bigger than this shy writer. Why? This kind of writing is worth celebrating, and so is the success of each and every student who comes our way.
What happens when you put tools and resources in a young author's hands and teach them how to use those tools?
You get jubilant writing!
*If you are wondering what a plerry pie, a meach tart, or a marshminnow is, she explained as she introduced these words earlier in the story. A plerry is a plum/cherry, a meach is a mango/peach, and a marshminnow is a marshmallow shaped like a minnow.