Tag Archives: writing

Sparking the Imagination with Written Imagery

As a classroom teacher of upper MG readers, I’ve been wondering lately on the constant technological pummeling we get from images—gaming, TV, movies, computers, tablets, phones. Screened devices have a powerful attention-grabbing effect on kids, and with so many stimulating colors, photos, Snapchat animations, and videos to look at, the modern-day imagination is contending with a very different ball of yarn than in decades past. It’s great that we can Google-Machine “Roman Empire ruins” and see hundreds of pictures, and it’s fun to test our eye-hand coordination by slashing air-borne fruit, chopping ropes, or helping a chicken across a road. But for many readers, after all that color and movement and music, the imagination may balk a bit when given black words on a white page.

For that reason, it might be pretty difficult for a middle grade teacher, parent, librarian, or writer to hook readers on books with descriptive passages, figurative language, or a generally more literary bent. But instead of avoiding imagery, it may be more important than ever to give readers an opportunity to envision and imagine through the words on the page. We should strive to provide work-out routines and fitness centers for the imagination in our stories through language and description. Inclusion of imagery in MG stories will complement the reader’s experience and ultimately improve and enhance the reader’s imagination. And imagination is important in any setting, as it drives flexible thinking and creative problem solving.

So, in order to spark readers’ imaginations, how do you recognize good imagery in MG works, and how do you write your own? Here are some qualities typically associated with imagery:

  • Imagery is language that employs a mental use of the five senses.
  • It can use certain figurative language devices like similes and metaphors, personification, and hyperbole, but it can exist without any other lit devices being present, too.
  • Good imagery isn’t fluffy or fancy or filled with words you’d find on the SAT. Sometimes, in fact, incredibly simple syntax and short phrases make up excellent imagery.
  • Imagery lets you see, touch, taste, hear, and smell the surroundings  in the character’s world, and it draws the reader in with those experiences.
  • Most importantly, good imagery leads the imagination off-leash—it guides, but never forces. The imagination has to be allowed to run free, if it’s to grow strong.

Here are some scenes in three works of MG fiction with imagery to consider:

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The description of Camazotz is brilliantly creepy in its simplicity. L’Engle’s choice of short, clipped words and phrases reflect the vision concocted in the reader’s imagination of this austere town where anomalies are forbidden:

Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of land in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door.

Things get more eerie with the rhythmical description of the kids outside all those houses, girls jumping rope and boys bouncing balls:

Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

The imagery prompts our imaginations to not only see Camazotz but to hear and feel its driving beat, too.

Sarah Jean Horwitz’s Carmer and Grit, Book One: The Wingsnatchers. Big, immediate conflicts or surprised exclamations from characters can work beautifully as openers in MG fiction and nonfiction. But atmospheric imagery can be used just as masterfully to hook the reader into the story. In this book, the two-and-a-half-page opener has no dialogue and no loud clatter of forces. But the tone of mystery, the discordant sounds, and the symbolic light/darkness imagery all work together to pull the reader in:

At the South Gate, just outside the winding iron bars, the Autocat waits. Its jeweled eyes gleam in the darkness. It watches as each golden lantern on the pathway blinks out, one by one, and it growls–a rough, scraping sound like metal on metal, a sound never heard in the garden before. The creature slinks off into Skemantis’s black night, its mission accomplished.

Karen Hesse’s Letters from Rivka. Good imagery keeps firmly in the voice of the 1st person character, in this case, a young Russian refugee fleeing to America in 1919 and seeing Poland for the first time:

The same crooked cottages, the same patchy roads, the same bony fences leaning in to the dust. Looking out from the train, we see people dressed like us, in browns and blacks; people wrapped in layers of clothes.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share thoughts you have on imagery in MG writing, or name some writers you enjoy who do a great job at sparking readers’ imaginations.

STEM Tuesday Science in Fiction Books — Book List

Welcome to December! You’ve heard of science fiction, well this month we are focusing on science IN fiction! These middle grade novels  include  inspiring characters who love science. We’ve included a “cheat-sheet” breakdown beside each book to alert you to the STEM topic included.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Lucy’s Lab chapter book series by Michelle Houts
[book 1: habitats, book 2: states of matter, book 3:fossils]
In book one of the series, Lucy’s teacher tells her that they will have their very own lab in the classroom, complete with lab coats and goggles. Lucy can’t wait! Lucy’s first inquiry-based project? Find out where the squirrels will live once the tree in front of the school is cut down.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtmann
[invention, engineering, physics]
Eddy is a science geek who has problems communicating with others. He must learn to trust his real friends and use his talents to succeed. *Library Media Connection

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Red Blazer Girls by Michael Beil
[math]
A series of four titles for mystery lovers, and the detectives are girls who love math. In The Secret Cellar (book 4), Sophie finds a secret message in an antique fountain pen. To solve the mystery, the girls must solve puzzles which lead to a hidden treasure.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Frank Einstein series by Jon Scieszka
[invention, engineering, physics, robotics]
Science experiments, inventions, jokes, and a kid-genius are the subject of this series. Frank Einstein loves to figure out how the world works by creating unusual household contraptions that are part science, and part imagination. “I never thought science could be funny,” say Jeff Kinney (author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
[science of life and death, genetics, science of aging]
A new boy enters Ellie’s life who looks a lot like her dead grandfather, a scientist who’s always been obsessed with immortality. Could the pimply boy really be Grandpa  Melvin?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Same  Stuff as Stars by Katherine Patterson
[astronomy]
The bright part in Angel’s life is learning about the stars, planets, and constellations from a mysterious stranger. *Kirkus

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner
[climatology]
This title is set in a future time when massive storms are part of everyday life. NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
[zoology, oceanography]
This story focuses on grief, wonder, life, death, and oceanography. Benjamin weaves in details about jellyfish and the ocean into her lyrical text. National Book Award Finalist

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Saving Wonder by Mary Knight
[conservation, environmental health]
Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Saving Wonder tells the story of Curley Hines, who must speak out against Big Coal to save his mountain. Green Earth Book Award

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
[evolution]
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is an inquisitive eleven-year old in 1890 who will inspire budding naturalists. 2010 Newbery Award  (Look for the sequel)

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Cry of the Crow by Jean Craighead George
[ornithology, animal behavior]
Mandy’s family thinks of crows as pests and hunts them to protect their valuable strawberry crop. But when Mandy takes on the care of a baby crow  she is faced with difficult decisions and the struggles of growing up.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Someday Suitcase by Corey Ann Haydu
[health]
A mixture of science, art, magic, and love. Clover and Danny are two best friends who are better together. In fact, Clover thinks they’re symbiotic. In this poignant story, Haydu introduces readers to complex characters who face tough situations with friendship and love.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman
[science ethics]
On Founder’s Day in St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord, everyone over the age of twelve must eat a sliver of bear’s liver to celebrate the town’s history. When Jean Huddy finally comes of age to participate in this great honor, she pukes up her portion. A few hours later, all of St. Polonius’s adults fall into a deep sleep, and the children must run the town. Courage, teamwork, ans science come to the rescue to unlock this unusual mystery.

We could go on and on with lots of other great titles that include science in fiction. Can you name others?

 

STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the 2017 Green Earth Book Award and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips with readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. www.nancycastaldo.com

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Check back every Tuesday of every month:

  • Week 1:  STEM Tuesday Themed Book Lists
  • Week 2:  STEM Tuesday in the Classroom
  • Week 3:  STEM Tuesday Crafts and Resources
  • Week 4:  STEM Tuesday Author Interviews and Giveaways

December New Releases!

The holidays are almost here. What makes a better gift than a book? NOTHING!  As you start your shopping, consider looking for great books to buy for all of your friends, relatives, and well, just anyone. Here are a few wonderful books releasing this month to get you started…. Happy Holidays!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMidnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (HMH BFYR)

It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. For now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.

 

 

Dog Man and Cat Kid by Dav Pilkey (Graphix)    Hot diggity dog! Dog Man, the newest hero from Dav Pilkey, the creator of CapSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgtain Underpants, is back — and this time he’s not alone. The heroic hound with a real nose for justice now has a furry feline sidekick, and together they have a mystery to sniff out! When a new kitty sitter arrives and a glamorous movie starlet goes missing, it’s up to Dog Man and Cat Kid to save the day! Will these heroes stay hot on the trail, or will Petey, the World’s Most Evil Cat, send them barking up the wrong tree?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgthe Bad Guys in Intergalatic Gas by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)

The bad news? The world is ending. The good news? The Bad Guys are back to save it! Sure, they might have to “borrow” a rocket. And there might be something nasty in one of the spacesuits. And Mr. Piranha miiiight have eaten too many bean burritos. Surviving this mission may only be one small step for man, but it’s one giant leap for the Bad Guys.
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Liberty  (Dogs of WWII) by Kirby Larson (Scholastic)

Fish has a knack for inventing. His annoying neighbor, Olympia, has a knack for messing things up. But when his latest invention leads Fish to Liberty, a beautiful stray dog who needs a home, he and Olympia work together to rescue her. At the Higgins boatyard, where the boats that just might save the Allied forces during World War II are built, the wartime workforce is integrated and includes women and the disabled. However, a friendship that crosses racial lines is not the norm in 1940s New Orleans.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org  The Slime Book by DK Children

Includes more than 30 borax-free, simple, safe, homemade slime recipes—from basic slime to edible, textured, glow-in-the-dark, and color-changing slime. Kids will be mesmerized and “slimerized” by the book’s gloopy, gooey, colorful slime recipes. The easy-to-follow recipes all use inexpensive, accessible, and safe everyday products.

 


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
Detention of Doom by  Derek Fridolfs  (Scholastic, Inc.)

When Lex Luthor’s family company, Lexcorp(TM), invites kids from all over the country to attend an honors ceremony, Clark Kent is happy to participate. That is, until his award trophy creates a portal to another dimension and sucks him in! Lucky for Clark, his old friends Bruce and Diana along with newer friends Barry (The Flash(TM)) and Ollie (Green Arrow(TM)) are on the case! They’ll have to travel to an alternate dimension to free their friend from Lex Luthor’s grasp (and the worst detention ever) in this all-new adventure from Eisner Award winner Dustin Nguyen and Eisner Award nominee Derek Fridolfs.
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Who Was Corretta Scott? King by Gail Herman (Penguin Workshop)

The wife of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King was a civil rights leader in her own right, playing a prominent role in the African American struggle for racial equality in the 1960s.

Here’s a gripping portrait of a smart, remarkable woman. Growing up in Alabama, Coretta Scott King graduated valedictorian from her high school before becoming one of the first African American students at Antioch College in Ohio. It was there that she became politically active, joining the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After her marriage to Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta took part in the Civil Rights Movement. Following her husband’s assassination in 1968, she assumed leadership of the movement. Later in life she was an advocate for the Women’s Rights Movement, LGBT rights, and she worked to end apartheid in South Africa.