Monday, February 12, 2018

Writing Connections with Amy Sarig King

Amy Sarig King is the author of many acclaimed YA novels, but Me and Marvin Gardens (Scholastic, 2017) is her first middle-grade novel.  It garnered three starred reviews and was named a 2017 Best Book by the Washington Post.

In an interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, King talks about the childhood experiences that informed the book. She mentions her dog, Stella, as her inspiration for the mysterious creature that gets young readers thinking about recycling in a whole different way. 

Obe loves the cornfields that his family once owned, but now they are being turned into a housing development.  And his best friend is ditching him for the new kids in the neighborhood.  To add to his troubles, Obe discovers a new type of animal by the creek—a slimy tapir-like creature with the friendly personality of a dog.  He names it Marvin Gardens.  Before long, Obe realizes that the creature eats plastic but that its toxic poop is ruining the land.  Can Obe trust his science teacher, Ms. G, to help with the situation?

Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.

FACTS AS INSPIRATION: Classroom Discussion, Part 1:  In the book, Ms. G shares facts about the environment with her students.  As she researched these facts, King herself was horrified to discover that it takes a plastic bottle 500 years to decompose, and that Americans throw away 2.5 million of these bottles per hour.  King created Marvin Gardens as a character that seemingly solves the problem (by eating plastic) but creates another (the toxic chemicals excreted as waste destroy grass, tennis shoes, and pretty much whatever comes in contact with them).

Classroom Writing, Part 1:  Ask students to research several facts about dangers posed to the environment.  For example, habitat loss for cheetahs is pushing them toward extinction in the wild.  Or they might choose one of Ms. G’s facts from the book.

Have them choose one problem and brainstorm ways to solve it.  Encourage them to make these solutions as helpful as they can, even if they may be extreme or somewhat wacky.  (For example, a plastic-eating animal is a rather extreme solution to littering/recycling issues!)

Ask students to give their solution a name (such as Marvin Gardens), write one or two paragraphs on how it would work, and draw a picture or diagram of it.

Classroom Writing, Part 2, Critical Thinking and Writing:  Might this solution create other problems?  List some possible resulting problems.  How might they be solved?

TAKING ACTION, Classroom Discussion, Part 1:  Ask the class to notice environmental problems that are in the school or grounds for two days. For example, leaky faucets in bathrooms, lack of recycling bins, litter on school grounds, lack of native plants for local pollinators. List these things on the board.

Brainstorm ways to address or solve them.  Have the class identify 2 or 3 that they might take action on and help them develop a strategy to do so.

Have them do online research to discover how other students or activist groups have created positive change in these problem areas.

Ask for volunteers to write a short article for the school newspaper or bulletin or principal’s blog and an op-ed piece for the local newspaper.

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