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Fiction Writing Prompts for 4th and 5th Graders

by Miriam Downey 29. April 2014 10:36

Author David Baldacci was asked to describe what a kid who wants to be a writer should do to prepare. He suggested that what future writers should do is to read a lot of non-fiction. Certainly, I didn't choose non-fiction books at the library when I was a kid, but we had lots of magazines in our house, and I read National Geographic every month among other magazines. So, I actually did get a lot of non-fiction reading done.

Most fiction doesn't just come come out of an author's head. That is what Baldacci is trying to tell potential authors. Most authors do an extensive amount of research to make sure that they get the setting right and the historical aspects right as well. Even science fiction authors have to know that the science behind their fiction is correct to give authenticity to their writing.

One good tool for encouraging writing skills is to have a child read a book of non-fiction and then make up a short story using the information or those facts as part of the story. For instance, Africa might become the setting for a story after the child has read a book about the lions of Africa. Or the book Orphan Train Rider might inspire a child to imagine that he/she was a rider on the orphan trains of the 1800s. Here is a list of non-fiction books that could easily serve as inspiration for fiction writing. As you can tell from this list, almost any good non-fiction book can serve as a starting place for writing and for further research. I have included a writing prompt at the end of each title. The books will be available at your local library or bookstore, and they are appropriate for third, fourth, and fifth graders.

Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story by Andrea Warren. Facts about the children sent West on orphan trains are interspersed with the story of one 9-year-old boy who was sent to Texas on an orphan train in 1926. What would it be like to have no parents and be sent far away on a train to an unknown future?

Blizzard: The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy. This is the harrowing story of the blizzard of 1888. How did people get around in New York City during such a blizzard?

Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep under the Chilean Desert by Elaine Scott. What did the miners feel, trapped in the steam darkness so far underground?

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge. The chaotic, passionate, and deadly three months of protests that led to the Selma March in 1965. Would I have marched in Selma in 1965?

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson. The real stories and voices of survivors and witnesses. What would my life have been like if I survived the Titanic?

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca. A story of adventure and discovery during the summer of 1969. How would I have responded if it had been my father on Apollo 11?


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The Immigrant Experience

by Miriam Downey 14. April 2014 07:52

Last Friday evening, we went to see our granddaughter in a play at the end of a vacation week day camp. The created and produced a play version of the charming book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I had forgotten what a remarkable story it is. It is about the experience of an immigrant girl named Wanda in the 1930s who brags to the kids at school that she has 100 dresses in her closet. The kids ridicule her for her name, her accent, and her "100 dresses." Today we would call this bullying. Too late the kids realize what they have done when Wanda's family decides that she doesn't need to suffer any more abuse and they move away.

The experience with The Hundred Dresses reminded me that the United States has always been about the immigrant experience. In the case of Wanda and her hundred dresses, the immigrants were from Poland. Before that, the immigrants were from Ireland. Now, the immigrants can be from almost anywhere. Imagine coming to a new town where no one understands you and no one can even pronounce your name. It's a scary situation.

Here is a list of classic children's books that explains the immigrant experience for this generation of children. Most of these books are appropriate for elementary school aged children, although I also included a list of adult books that are appropriate for high school students.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Wanda is teased at school because she is an immigrant from Poland.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord. Shirley is an immigrant from China and is inspired to learn English so she can listen to baseball games on the radio.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. This is a Newbery Honor book. The novel is based on the author's experiences escaping Vietnam during the war and coming to live in Alabama.

Lowji Discovers America by Denise Fleming. Lowji moves from Bombay to an apartment in small town Illinois and faces all the problems children face when they move to a new place.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park. Julia Song's family is the only Korean family in their town. She and a friend try to grow silkworms for the fair guided by her mother who raised them when she was a girl in Korea.

The Tia Lola Stories by Julia Alvarez. Tales of a Dominican girl in Vermont.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munos Ryan. A sudden tragedy forces Esperanza's family to move from Mexico to California during the Great Depression.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A wordless book that tells the adventure and wonder of an immigrant's arrival in the big city.

Adult Books for High School Readers

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. A long closed hotel shelters the secrets of a group of interned Japanese residents during World War II.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. the classic story of an immigrant family in Brooklyn.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Deo's true story of coming from Burundi with only $200 in his pocket.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggars. A Syrian immigrant faces life after the New Orleans hurricane.

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. Enrique sets out from Honduras looking for his mother who has come to the United States to find work.


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