Monday, June 19, 2017

Writing Connections with Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill’s atmospheric novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon won this year’s Newbery Medal.  In an interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, Barnhill talks about trying to create nuanced characters and her desire for a pet dragon as a kid.

Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.  Barnhill’s website has a hilarious FAQ about her writing process and information on her other books.

CREATING CHARACTERS:  Exploring Stereotype:  Barnhill’s novel is full of witches, who are usually presented as problematic in most books. Witches often are the villains or antagonists in fairy tales, for example.  Barnhill said that she wanted to push beyond the usual stereotype of the witch as mean (even evil), old, homely, and solitary.  Her witch characters are unique individuals, with a mix of positive and negative traits.

Classroom Discussion:  Have kids read the novel and make a list of the positive and negative traits for some of the witches.

Classroom Discussion and Writing:  Have students think about a character in a fairy tale or story that is usually presented in a stereotyped way.  The wolf in “The Three Little Pigs” or “Little Red Riding Hood,” is an example of a character that is usually presented only with negative traits.   The princess (“Cinderella,” “Snow White”) is usually presented with only positive traits.  Ask students to read their fairy tale carefully and list traits of this character or what they learn about the character from this tale.  Then ask them to give this character 1 or 2 traits that are the opposite of what they listed.  For example, the wolf might be listed as “nurturing” or Cinderella as “lazy.”  Ask students to write a story or even just a short scene to show this character with at least one positive and one negative trait.

An Unexpected Character:  We usually think of dragons as large fierce characters but the young witch’s pet in Barnhill’s novel is a tiny bossy dragon.  Classroom Discussion:  Ask kids to list some the physical and psychological traits of one of their favorite animals.  Then ask them to change one or two of the traits to its opposite (for example, from “big” to “small” of from “cuddly” to “fierce”), and in this way the character becomes fresh and unexpected.  Classroom Writing:  Ask students to create a story about or that includes such an unexpected pet.   Perhaps the unexpected pet is even the main character!  What happens next?

Ask a few students to volunteer to read their pieces aloud.  As a group, discuss what they learned about creating more nuanced or well-rounded characters and unexpected pets.

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