Monday, December 29, 2014


I never realized that writing a concept book would feel like solving a puzzle. When I sat down to write Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, I first brainstormed objects to represent each of the colors I wanted to include. Some were obvious choices, like brown dates or orange henna designs, but most of the others were not. Next I had to come up with something to say about each object using the formula I had created:

“Gold is the dome of the mosque, big and grand,
Beside it two towering minarets stand

I continued with “Blue is…”, “Red is…”, “Green is…”, and so on, writing rhyming couplets. After arranging them into an order that made sense, I concluded with a summary page that tied everything together.

I’m going through the process again these days, this time working on a shape concept book. I’ve asked my own children to help me with the process of selecting objects and coming up with rhymes, and they have great ideas even as it often turns into silliness. I’ve realized that working on a concept book of poetry can make for both a fun group and individual writing exercise.

I picked Islam to introduce the topic to young kids, but your students can pick any theme that is special to them, like basketball, the backyard, the music room, or dance. They can choose to focus on colors, shapes, or numbers and use the same formula I do, starting each section with either “Red is . . .” “Square is . . .” or  “One is . . .”

For younger children, it might be enough of an activity to have them write a line about each object and illustrate their books. But it would be fun to challenge older kids to come up with rhyming couplets of their own and see what kind of puzzles they can piece together. At the end of the activity, there should be an opportunity to share a variety of creative concepts.  

Hena Khan is a picture book and middle grade author from Rockville, MD. Her most recent picture book, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns (Chronicle Books, 2012) is a 2013 ALA Notable Book and a 2013 Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year. Night Of The Moon (Chronicle, 2008) was a Booklist 2009 Top 10 Religion Book for Youth. Hena has written two middle grade choose-your-own-adventure style novels, Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Mars (Chronicle, 2011) and Amazon (Chronicle, 2012); Mars received the 2012 Eleanor Cameron Golden Duck Award for Middle Grade Science Fiction.

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