A Great Writing Activity for Kids: Create Your Own Magical Creature

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Finding good writing prompts for kids can be quite difficult sometimes. It often requires a lot of trial and error, but once a great prompt is discovered, the experience is extremely rewarding.

This summer, I led a Harry Potter themed writing camp called Word Wizardry. The 3rd through 6th graders who took the camp were incredibly wonderful and creative in all their writing. However, they responded especially well to one writing prompt in particular: “Create Your Own Magical Creature.”

We introduced this prompt by having the kids name a couple of magical creatures they already knew from the Harry Potter series and from mythology in general. They shouted out everything from hippogriffs to unicorns to werewolves, and it provided them with a relatively solid frame of reference. We then asked the kids to create a creature of their own. As a part of this creation, the kids described their creature, providing details about its appearance and abilities. Most of the kids also chose to draw pictures of their creatures, which allowed the visual artists a chance to shine as well. The last component of this prompt was for the kids to write a story about their creature. We presented many options for this aspect: they could write a scene in which they (or a character) was interacting with their creature, a day in the life of the creature, or some kind of history on their new creation.

Not only did the kids have an absolute blast creating their own creatures, but they came up with some super imaginative and hilarious stuff. One of my personal favorites was the “Giant Blob.” This blob was so immense that it consumed the entire Earth. The premise of the blob’s story was that we humans were all just living inside the Giant Blob’s stomach, completely unaware of the true nature of our existence. Pretty awesome, right?

Another great creature creation was the green serpent that guarded a volcano full of gold. The boy who made this creature created an entire back story filled with long-lost prophecies, daring adventurers, and even underlying messages about the cost of greed. Needless to say, it’s kind of amazing what elementary schoolers can create when given the opportunity.

This writing prompt accomplished two awesome things: it generated super cool work from the kids, and it was also incredibly fun. Remember that this prompt is easily adaptable for any workshop; it does not need to be Harry Potter themed in order for it to work! I would highly recommend “Create Your Own Magical Creature” as a writing activity for 3rd through 6th graders. Happy creating!

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Reading about Kids of Color: Superheroines

by IYWP intern Robyn Henderson

 

Comics have a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because I’m still attached to picture books of pretty much any kind, but there’s something about bright colors and beautifully drawn pictures that makes the kid in me very happy. When I found these books, I was even happier to find brown girls being superheroes while grappling with very real questions of family, friends, school and work. Just a heads up, these are all Marvel comics simply because Marvel has been working to create and reboot series with characters of color as their protagonists. We’ll see if DC comics catches up. Enjoy!

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur vol. 1

moon-girl-and-devil-dinosaur-coverLunella Lafayette is an Inhuman preteen genius who wants to change the world! That job would be a lot easier if she wasn’t living in mortal fear of her latent Inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into—but Lunella’s got a plan. All she needs in an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! Together they form the most Marvelous Team-Up of all—the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another—especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric Killer-Folk, New York City’s deadliest tourists. Can Lunella handle all this turmoil and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster?

 

Lunella is a nine year old genius who is trying to solve a problem that nobody else can figure out. In the most recent events of the Marvel Universe, there are a lot of people who have a gene that could give them superpowers if it’s activated, and mysterious green clouds that have been appearing all over NYC have been causing more and more people to get superhuman—or, as the people are called, Inhuman—abilities. While some kids might be excited by that idea, Lunella isn’t too thrilled, and decides to science her way out of it. And, yes, along the way, a giant red T. Rex gets involved. Lunella is a wonderful character because her smarts don’t keep her from being a kid. She’s just a super intelligent child who feels left out, and who is scared of the unknown consequences of having a superpower. She’s a strong, bold girl who stands up for herself, thinks on her feet, and who has no problems bossing around a giant red dinosaur. This comic is great for kids aged eight and up, and I recommend it to anyone who likes comics in general.

Ms. Marvel vol. 1: No Normal

ms-marvel-vol-1-reviewKamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City—until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she also unlocks a secret behind them. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her prove too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey City!

Remember those mysterious green clouds I mentioned before? Kamala Khan is a Pakistani-American Muslim teen who is trying to navigate high school and life in general. She sneaks out to go to a party and gets caught up in a green cloud, which gives her the powers of Captain Marvel. Shenanigans ensue. I adore this series for many reasons. It juggles representation, religion, family dynamics, pressure to fit in, and expectations from parents and family as well as dealing with more serious issues like gentrification and casual racism. And it does it all beautifully, in a lighthearted way that is both fun and realistic. Ms. Marvel is a series I’d recommend for middle school aged kids and up, and if they love the first volume, they should check out the rest!

 

Silk vol. 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon

silkAs Silk, Cindy is on her own in New York City, searching for her past, defining her own future, and webbing up wrongdoers along the way! But she’s about to cross the Black Cat’s path, and that’s not good news for her. Silk has been picking at the edges of Black Cat’s operation, and Black Cat has had about enough. She gets the drop on Cindy, and Silk hits rock bottom.

Cindy Moon was originally introduced in one of the more recent Spiderman storylines, but as a whole, Silk stands on its own as a distinctive story. We begin with Cindy juggling a double life as a reporter and as Silk, as she searches for her family, who she has not seen for more than ten years. There are some references here and there to other comic book series, mainly Spider Man, but Cindy stands on her own as a strong woman who is searching for remnants of her past, all while taking care of the people around her. Just to let you know, the series starts from volume zero, not volume one. Recommended for teens 14 and up.

My Favorite Children’s Book: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

 

giving tree

By IYWP intern Megan Wynn
I haven’t read this book in years. I remember running my stubby fingers along a small collection of children’s books, searching to find the thin green book. I flip through the pages now, sitting in my childhood home, squeezed tightly into the corner of our sectional couch in the basement, closest to the bookshelves, as I did when I was small. I read the words carefully, hearing my mother’s voice. She slightly raises her pitch at the end of every sentence as if slightly winded. As a child I mostly loved the illustrations and the idea of being friends with a tree, but as I grew older, I became perplexed by the progression of the story. Why did the tree give and give to this seemingly ungrateful boy? Why did he take everything the tree had to offer without giving anything back in return?

The Giving Tree wasn’t like any of the other books that my mother would read to me. The other books had happy endings and resolved conflicts but this book just ended because the boy was old and the tree had nothing else to give. I would make my mom read it over and over to me. Maybe I was searching for something between the black and white pages. I remember bringing the Giving Tree into class for show-and-tell and ignoring the writing inside the front cover that read, “Merry Christmas Ryan, my brother, Love Aunt Judy and Uncle Tom,” and claiming the book as my own. I loved the look on my classmate’s faces when I finished the book. They glanced at each other awkwardly and some stared into the play area carpet in frustration. Why did the tree give so much to this boy? Why did he take everything the tree had without showing any gratitude? I could see these questions in their faces.

Growing up our house was always spotless. Everything had its place and its purpose, or else it would be given to charity or tossed in the trash. My mother kept everything around me together, but I hardly noticed. I didn’t until I went off to college and my life got messy without her in it. Our yard was always perfect. There was never a single flower that wilted and the grass never went brown. A literal white picket fence surrounded the back yard and a small playground with an emerald green slide towered over everything. Everything except a large oak tree that sprouted from the middle of our lawn. It was an unusual place for such a large tree to grow. It shaded our entire backyard and was the most popular hiding spot among my three siblings and I during hide-and-seek. I named this abnormally large oak tree The Giving Tree. I loved this tree very much. When I knew my mother wasn’t watching me through the window I would try and wrap my small arms around it in a big hug. I would whisper, “thank you,” and give its rough bark a kiss. One day, the tree died and the “tree-people” came and cut it down within a few hours. I cried from the window. There is no stump left to sit on. I didn’t touch the thin green book for a while. My mother was the one who picked it up after months. I remember that the tree kept on giving and giving and the boy taking everything from her, but I couldn’t remember what the illustrations had looked like. I started not to care about them. I fell in love with the book all over again, but as I grew older the book felt different to me. Whenever my mom was out of town I would pluck it from the bookshelf and curl up with it. It was comforting. This book reminds me of her. Not just because she would read it to me, but because the tree is my mother and I am the boy.

This weekend, while I sat in my childhood home, I realized why the story of the tree’s generosity and the boy’s ignorance stumped me. I couldn’t see all that my mom had done for me, and I really wish I would have appreciated her more. I wish I hadn’t set such a high expectation for what a mother should be like. I wish I hadn’t blamed her for tearing down my Giving Tree. I wish I would have realized sooner that she is not perfect even though she tries so hard to look it. I wish I would have known that perfection does not make a great mother, love does. The Giving Tree is about loving someone so much that you would do anything for them without wanting anything in return. The Giving Tree is about unconditional love.

Image result for the giving tree tree hugging boy

Reading About Kids of Color: Book Recommendations

By IYWP intern Robyn Henderson

As a book lover from a young age and as a person of color, one of the major things that I have discovered is that it matters who is the hero or heroine of the books you read. When I was younger, my mother would hunt for books about black girls like me having fantastic adventures, solving mysteries and occasionally discovering that they had superpowers. There is something really magical about seeing someone who looks like you in the books that you read, and I was fortunate to have that experience. The older I got, the more I realized how hard it is for people of color to find themselves in literature outside of history books. So with this series of book recommendations, I’ll be posting every other week about books by people of color, about kids and teens of color, for anyone who is interested. Enjoy!

 

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon 

Ashanti to Zulu

It would take volumes to describe the cultures of all the African tribes, but here are insights about twenty-six of them, from Ashanti to Zulu. This picture book describes ceremonies, celebrations, and day to day customs. Some of them are shared by many peoples, others are unique, but all are fascinating.

Going from A to Z, Ashanti to Zulu is a picture book that introduces kids to some of the customs and stories diverse African tribes. The book describes the markets of the Ouadai people, how the Ikoma gather honey, and how the Wagenia fishermen catch fish, to name a few. The short descriptions are accompanied by stunning illustrations of the people of the different tribes. I personally adore the illustrations in this book because of their rich, dramatic colors and amazing attention to detail. They are what bring me back to this book every time.

 

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

The Gauntlet

Nothing can prepare you for The Gauntlet. It doesn’t look dangerous, exactly. When twelve year old Farah first lays eyes on the old-fashioned board game, she thinks it looks… elegant. It is made of wood, etched with exquisite images—a palace with domes and turrets, latticework windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider—and at the very center of its cover, in broad letters, is written The Gauntlet Of Blood and Sand. The Gauntlet is more than a game, though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic. It holds worlds inside worlds. And it takes players as prisoners.

The Gauntlet is a middle grade novel that follows the story of Farah Mirzah, a twelve year old Bangladeshi American girl who loves playing games, as she and her friends are swept into the world of the Gauntlet, a world within a game where they must beat challenge after challenge in order to find her little brother, Ahmad. This book reminds me a lot of Jumanji, and I would argue that it is even more fun. With complicated twists and turns, intelligent characters and incredibly high stakes, The Gauntlet draws you into a rich world of puzzles and mystery.

 

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper

Sierra Santiago planned to have an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather stars apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears…  Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on. With the help of a mysterious fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one–and the killer believes that Sierra is hiding their greatest secret.

Shadowshaper is a YA urban fantasy novel that follows Sierra Santiago’s discovery of her family’s magical abilities and her own. There are quite a few books where a completely ordinary teen discovers that they are the Chosen One who will save the world, but Sierra’s story is about saving her family and her community, not the world. She is racing to protect people that she knows and loves, as well as her community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the author makes the world that she lives in feel very real. From the prose that blends Spanish and English, to Sierra’s vibrant cast of friends, Shadowshaper paints an intimate picture of a community and the magic hidden in it. Also, she has a giant afro and it’s amazing.

 

My Favorite Children’s Book: Ashanti to Zulu

Ashanti

By IYWP intern Robyn Henderson

One of the first books that I can distinctly remember reading as a kid is Ashanti to Zulu by Margaret Musgrove, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. It was the first book that made me feel beautiful.

 

I was seven years old and my family had just moved from our townhouse on Chicago’s North Side to the southwest suburbs. We left our little shared courtyard and my Caribbean, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern playmates for a sprawling suburb full of houses with fences and big yards where we were one of only four black families in a subdivision with at least two hundred homes. For most kids, a move like this comes with a new school and new friends, but I was homeschooled and pretty much stayed around my family all of the time. My best friends were books, and I was delighted to find out that I could check out as many books as I wanted from the suburban library. For the first several months, every other week my mom, my siblings and I would visit and check out at least a hundred books at once. But I don’t remember those books.

 

I used to draw all of the time. My mom would get me these giant sketchbooks with hundreds of lightweight pages, and I would scribble to my heart’s content with my crayons. And one day, my mother noticed that I had stopped drawing brown people. My characters all had blonde hair, pale blue eyes and peachy skin. When she asked me why I didn’t draw myself or other brown girls, I told her that white girls were better, so I was drawing them instead. And that was when my mother started hunting for books with black characters in them. The one that stands out the most in my mind is Ashanti to Zulu, because I had never seen black people like me drawn in a way that looked so dignified and beautiful.

 

It took me a while to realize that the book was about different African tribes, but when I did, it just made me love it more. It is a simple A to Z book that describes small facts about 26 different African tribes, accompanied by illustrations. There were so many different pictures of people as brown as me, dressed in unique, meticulously illustrated outfits from each of their cultures. And they were proud, with deep skin and high cheekbones like my mother, had their hair in cornrows like me and my sister, and had full lips like my father and my brother. My favorite was—and still is—the page about the Tuareg people. It is accompanied by an image of a woman with her hair in long braids, playing a stringed instrument next to a man wrapped in white and blue cloth. The description talks about women and men sitting together, with the women singing, sharing poetry and telling stories.  I checked the book out over and over again, and even tried drawing pictures like the ones in it. I never quite got close, but I was drawing brown people again and giving them the full lips and high cheekbones that I saw in my face and my mother’s.

 

Of all of the books that I read during my childhood, this is one that stands out the most prominently in my memory. It stands out so prominently that, when I came to college, I decided to see if I could find it in the University’s main library. And I actually succeeded. The second that I opened it up, I was transported back to that moment when I was seven years old, realizing that there could be interesting stories about people like me, and distinctive pictures of people who look like me, and today, the same as back then, it makes me feel important. It makes me feel beautiful.

Thank You, Longfellow

By IYWP Mentor Taryen Lannutti

Imagine almost twenty students stuff their face with pizza, eating each slice so fast it’s almost a magic trick. It was really quite funny. Our last lesson at Longfellow was a humorous reading party. We ate pizza while each student read their favorite work from this semester’s anthologies and as our final day at Longfellow came to a close; I began to think about the time I have spent with these wonderful writers.

The fall semester of 2015 was not a semester I particularly looking forward. Not for any negative reasons, but I had a full class load which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but these classes were not exactly courses I was looking forward to. I decided to keep my sanity I would sign up for a class I would enjoy, writing with a purpose. This class was recommended to me by a friend who endlessly talked about a group of young writers she worked with every week. She spent most her time thinking about lessons and talking about how wonderful the kids at her site were. She had convinced me this class would be a class that was worth trying. “It can be challenging, but it’s totally worth it,” she said repeatedly. Before I knew it my first day at Longfellow Elementary and I had no idea what I was in for. We walked into the LMC and were quickly greeted by very eager kids. Then something strange happened, I blinked, and two semesters with them flew by. The past year I’ve spent with the Longfellow writing club has been the best. I know a lot of people say that, “I volunteer with blah… blah… blah… and it’s the most amazing experience you will ever have,” but they are so wrong because I can with out a doubt say that volunteering with the IYWP has been the most amazing experience I have ever had and I don’t think there’s really topping that. I have learned an incredible amount about myself, my future career, and the importance of creativity while writing. I have never met a group of kids more imaginative and expressive as these kids. I also have had the great pleasure of volunteering among a wonderful group of peers who are just as talented and imitative as the students we mentor. I want nothing more than to peek into these kids future lives to see the amazing things they will inevitably do, that’s how invested we have all become. We love these kids and the few that are leaving for Jr. High will be incredibly missed because what’s writing club without every single one of these kids? I honestly have no idea, but what I do know is that I want to continue my time at Longfellow. I’m not ready to leave them just yet. There are so many stories I want to hear from them, Poems I want to be impressed by, and plays I want to workshop with them. I have so much gratitude for the IYWP for creating such a unique organization that adds such imagination to our community. I also am so thankful for every Longfellow kid who has unknowingly made every volunteer’s semester enjoyable while simultaneously showing us how we can strengthen our own writing as well.

 

There are a group of Longfellow writers that are leaving for Jr. High, when asked what they will miss about writing club this is what Sully, a writer extraordinaire, said, “I’ll miss a cool place to express my ideas to others. Well, that’s the meaningful reason, but really I’m going to miss this pizza.” Sully is quite the jokester. His thought provoking work was also quite popular during our anthology reading. I’d like to end this semester with a poem he wrote.

Once I Had a Midnight Dream

by Sullivan

Once I had a midnight dream
It was strange, as most dreams seem
It left me in a blackened daze
In my eyes, a colored haze
That no one else but I could see
An array of paints all owned by me Green just like a fresh cut lawn
A red sun at the crack of dawn
Black smothered across the sky
Yellow as a firefly
Trees were floating in the air
Fish were flopping everywhere
An icy gust whips past my face
I got attacked by my shoelace
The dream just kept getting more weird I even began to grow a beard
An ugly bird
A fresh cut lawn
What in the world did I do wrong
A heavy lull
A booger knife
What’s the meaning of my life
I can’t stop
spinning spinning spinning
spinning spinning
spinning
(slower)
I finally wake up in my bed
Honestly I’m filled with dread
I’m relieved that the dream has died

Until I see a floating tree outside.

Growing Writers II

By IYWP Mentor at Longfellow Elementary Taryen Lannutti

Remember the story about a girl who meets her clone? This is a continuation of Ordinary Life by Eliza. To read the first half just click on the Growing Writers blog post. Now, Eliza is still eagerly writing this story, but here is an update!

Ordinary Life By: Eliza

When I researched 7th Ave and she wasn’t there I knew it was not a big deal. But where would I find her? I finally found her I asked her name.

“Alina, that’s my name,” She said. I knew it could be a big coincidence, but still!

“Got to go…” I said. She started to walk in front of me, phew! I crept behind her and snipped her hair. I carefully put it in the zip lock baggie. I began to run faster than my sneakers have ever let me before! That was so close! When I got home I gave the hair to Erin.

“What took you so long!?” She asked. It was not an easy task…

“What are you going to do with it?”

“There is this thing called a microscope…” she kept talking and when she was finally done we walked out of her room and she took my hair and her hair and started looking at them closely.

“What. Are. You. Doing?”

“I am combining your hair with hers, putting them into a test tube, so I can see if there will be a chemical reaction, duh!” she answered

“Do you see anything?” I whispered, glaring at her. “It’s not going to work!”

“Just wait, I need her fingerprint…” she said. How was I supposed to get that?

“Fine.” I answered and walked down stairs to the door.

“What are you up to, honey?” My mom caught me…

“Nothing. Why? What have you heard?” I snapped.

“Nothing, honey. I have to go run an errand.” Finally… My mom left. I decided to empty my backpack and grab a notebook, pencil, ink pad, and more paper. I walked out of the house in search for the girl.

 

To Be Continued. After all, a writer is always writing.