Monday, May 8, 2017

It’s All in the Details

I remember my high school biology teacher years ago assigning each of us a square yard of ground near the football field. We were to record every bit of life we could find.  We expected the assignment to take no time at all since most of our patches were little more than scruffy dirt. Or were they? Look at that blade of grass. And is that an almost microscopic bug climbing up the dandelion?  There was life in that square if we looked closely. 

It’s all in the details.

Details are key to colorful, descriptive writing and illustrating, as in the picture book Prairie Dog Song by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore (Lee and Low, 2016).  Prairie dog tunnels “connect to a maze of rooms. Some rooms are for listening for predators, enemies that eat prairie dogs. Other rooms are used for sleeping, storing food, and raising playful prairie dog pups. Another room is a toilet area.”

The story of the prairie dog ecosystem is also told in verse, written to the tune of the old folk song, “The Green Grass Grows All Around.”

“And down those holes
Lived prairie dogs,
With the friskiest pups
That you ever did see.
Yes, the prairie dogs built
Their homes in the ground.
And the grasses waved
All around, all around,
And the grasses waved all around.”

Spring is a perfect time of year to take advantage of writing prompts suggested by nature.  Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore traveled to New Mexico because, said Susan, “we both HAD to see the real prairie dogs and the grasses and the skies in the west.” Take children outside so they can see the real animals and grasses and skies - and provide several optional writing or drawing prompts.

·       We think grass is green – just like the folk song.  But look at the blades of grass in Prairie Dog Song. Illustrator Susan L. Roth thinks she may have cut fifty billion blades of grass for her collages! And they are brown, yellow, reddish and many shades of green. Look at real grass or real leaves: draw and color all the different shades and shapes you see. 

·       Write a paragraph about a patch of grass or woodland. Describe everything you see in detail so that a reader can truly imagine its colors, shapes and movement.

·       Imagine and write a story about a shape in the clouds.

·       Take a photograph or draw a bug or a flower. Try to identify it through good Internet or library research and write a paragraph about your find.  Add colorful details to your photo or drawing.  Speaking of details, did you know Susan Roth glued freshly ground coffee on the buffalo to make its rich brown fur look matted? 

·       In Prairie Dog Song, ferrets are predators and prairie dogs are prey.  What are some predators and prey you can see where you are sitting or walking outside?  Write a paragraph from the point of view of the prey. What could you do to escape or hide?

·       Write lyrics about what you see outdoors using the rhyming pattern and rhythm of a simple, favorite song. This could be a good project for a whole class, with everyone offering details for the lyrics and then singing together at the end. “And the grasses waved/All around, all around/And the grasses waved all around.”

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