Monday, February 21, 2011


1. I love the alliterative action that occurs when each animal escapes the sled. Would you please talk about why you chose to use alliterative phrases when each animal exits the sled?

I confess, I'm a sucker for alliteration. If I'd been a 1950s movie star, I'd definitely have been one of the alliteration queens like Marilyn Monroe or Diana Dors. Also, I knew this would be a way to strengthen the educational opportunities within the text, which already has several lesson-friendly elements such as numbers (counting-down) and science (arctic animals.)

I never make education the main focus of any of my books; it's always about simply creating a fun book, at the start. But once I've gotten down the bones, I do try to think in terms of educational possibilities. Choosing alliterative verbs serves several functions. First, it adds to the quality of language. To me, sounds are as important in language as meaning, especially because I mostly write picture books, which are meant to be read aloud.

Secondly, I think of verbs as the engine of any sentence. The stronger the engine, the farther the "car" (the sentence) will take me. I always tell older elementary students during author school visits that I'd rather use a single strong verb than a weak verb propped up by an adverb. And, of course, choosing a different verb for each animal also stretches the vocabulary in the book. Even if it's a verb with which the young reader is unfamiliar, LIza Woodruff's marvelous (and hilarious!) illustrations make it clear to the reader exactly what's happening in each scene.

2. In addition to alliteration, each spread uses different action words that rhyme. Would you please talk about one rhyming action pair that was particularly challenging or one rhyming action pair that you thought of immediately?

That wasn't too hard, although it might have become a bigger challenge if I'd had to write more than ten stanzas. Some couplets were easy because certain words about a sled race, (snowing/going, riding/gliding) were easy to rhyme. Two couplets that were hardest to come up with were,

"Great thunder! Duck under!" (where Liza shows the sledders ducking under fir trees)

and "We're lighter! Hold tighter!" (immediately after the heavy walrus has "whirled out.")

Reading the words now, paired with Liza's illustrations, those couplets seem very organic to the story. But the words came long before the illustrations were drawn, so it wasn't as obvious back then. I had to think in terms of visual scenes, asking myself, "What else could happen during this race?" In picture book writing, the author always has to come up with visual variety in the actions so that the illustrator isn't just drawing the same scene over and over again.

3. How did you come up with the idea of having the snowball race the sled?

I wish I could take the credit, but it's all thanks to my lovely critique group, which includes clever Joe Kulka ( an illustrator in my group. The first draft I submitted to the group was much more stagnant and true to its inspiration, "Ten in the Bed." I had everyone falling off the sled, but not much else happening. Joe read the manuscript and said, "This is fine, but let's remember this is a sled, a much more dynamic setting than a bed." Then he described how he would illustrate the story; that he'd show the ejected animals collecting into a big snowball which begins to race with the sled. I quickly rewrote, based on Joe's brilliant suggestion. I think it was at that point that I came up with the alliterative "falling-off" verbs, but I can't remember exactly. Perhaps I had already employed that device in the first draft.

4. I know you live in Virginia, but have you ever been sledding?

Not often, I confess. I like to brag that we have the best sledding hill in town, right behind our house. That's true, but since we live in a town on a relatively flat, tidal plain, it's pretty anemic in comparison to magnificent Alaskan mountains. Coincidentally, as I write this, there are sledders behind my house, since we had a little snowfall last night. That's another reason I don't often get to enjoy sledding, since snow is not as common here in southeastern Virginia as in Maine, where many of my relatives live.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Just that I'm pleased to be featured on your blog, Kate, and really grateful for the clever lessons you created to go with my book! Thank you so much!

It's my pleasure. Thank you, Kim, for the fantastic book!

Monday, February 7, 2011


By Rob Buyea
Publisher: Delacorte Press
ISBN: 978-0-385-73882-8

FROM THE FLAP: It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s Jessica, the new girl, smart, perceptive, who’s having a hard time trying to fit in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much… until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone.

Rob Buyea’s engaging first novel features seven narrators, each with a unique story, and each with a different perspective on what makes their teacher special.

KATE’S TAKE: This book is a must read because it’s heartbreaking, heartwarming, and inspirational in every way.

Mr. Terupt’s students read The Summer of the Swans, by Betsy Byars, and then they regularly visit their school’s collaborative classroom in small groups. This is a great way to develop community, enhance self-esteem, increase communication, and eradicate stereotypes.

DOLLAR WORDS Logical/Mathematical and Verbal/Linguistic
Mr. Terupt assigns each letter a value, and challenges his students to make as many dollar words as possible. Here’s a sheet you can copy and paste, to have a ready-made activity for your class:

Name: ________________________________ Date: ___________
Each letter of the alphabet is worth a certain amount of cents. A is worth one cent, B is worth 2 cents, C is worth three cents and so on. First, fill in the value of each letter. Then, create as many dollar words as you can. Who will be the first person to find a dollar word? Who will create the most dollar words? All words need to be spelled correctly and be school appropriate.
A=1 B=2 C=3 D=__ E=__ F=__ G=__ H=__ I=__ J=__ K=__ L=__ M=__
N=__ O=__ P=__ Q=__ R=__ S=__ T=__ U=__ V=__ W=__ X=__ Y=__ Z=__
This activity comes from Rob Buyea’s novel, Because of Mr. Terupt.

PLANT POWER Naturalist
Mr. Terupt’s students learn about phototropism, the direction of plant growth is determined by light source, geotropism, roots grow downward and plants grow upward even if a plant is turned sideways or upside down, and then concocted their own mixtures to see which ones would make their plants grow best. Pair up your kids in partners, and make sure you have a class control plant, one that gets to sit on the windowsill, right side up, and receives water every day. Each pair can plant a seed. Then, to study phototropism, put the plant in a box and punch a hole in the box. How does the plant grow? For geotropism, have students place their plants on their sides and watch what happens. As for students creating their own concoctions, ask them to bring in a list of ingredients they plan to use, a few days ahead of time. That way you won’t end up with a visit from the fire department. Poor Mr. Terupt!

SHAPE POEMS Visual/Spatial and Verbal/Linguistic
Because of Mr. Terupt celebrates each child’s individuality, and so does this activity. Have students sketch a full-body, self-portrait of themselves, on an 8x11 sheet of white paper. Next, ask each student to brainstorm twenty descriptive words that describe themselves and write them around their silhouette. After you’ve checked the spelling in pencil, have them trace their work with a Sharpie.

WORRY DOLLS Visual/Spatial
Some of the students make worry dolls in Mr. Buyea’s book, and your students can too, with these easy directions:

-Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
-Rules by Cynthia Lord
-The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
-The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars
-Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls