Prather’s Pick: Teachers should read ‘Little Red Writing’ to help with speech, writing

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Picture books that retell well-known tales are popular these days. In this week’s retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Little Red is a pencil.

Teachers might want to check out this book, especially if their students are ready to learn about the parts of speech and the steps to writing a story.

photo

Diane Prather

The book is “Little Red Writing,” written by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

The reader meets the book’s characters before the story gets started. They’re right there on the front inside cover pages of the book. Seven students are headed for school. These are no ordinary students. They’re pencils. Each one stands straight and tall, moving around on his or her sharpened lead. However, on their way to Pencilvania School, some of the students ride scooters, and one even gets there by bouncing on a pogo stick.

Among the students is a basketball pencil with a basketball on his head, a birthday pencil with a party hat, a dinothepencilus pencil with a dinosaur hat and even a pencil with a gripper around his middle. Little Red is solid red, but she wears a pink hat.

Three Punctuation Patrol pencils are in charge at the “Pencil Xing.” Each one has a punctuation mark on his head, and they give orders such as “no scribbling.”

At school, Ms. 2, the teacher (who is a yellow No. 2 pencil), announces that they’re going to write a story, and she points to four steps to follow on the story path. They include “trouble,” “even bigger trouble” and “fix the trouble.”

The pencils all start thinking about their stories. Little Red wants to write a story about bravery because red is the color of courage, so she goes right to work thinking about a brave pencil might do.

Ms. 2 gives Little Red a basketful of red nouns to use just in case she gets lost on her story path.

So Little Red opens her notebook and starts to write. Since she wants the story to be exciting, she goes to the gym where there’s plenty of action.

Pretty soon she cartwheels right off the page and into the library, where she finds herself in a dark, descriptive forest. A sign even warns to “Watch out for adjectives on the path.”

There’s way too much description for Little Red. She takes the word “scissors” out of her basket and cuts right through some of the words.

Little Red is on the story path again. She gets some help from Conjunction Glue and a pickup load of adverbs. And then, right at the middle of her story, something exciting happens, right when it’s supposed to. Little Red hears a growling sound. She notices a tail that disappears around a corner.

The little pencil follows the tail for a couple of pages. It leads to Principal Granny’s office. A suspicious voice invites her inside. The imposter Granny talks like this: “The better to be heard …” Little Red notices the imposter’s sharp teeth.

The imposter is the Wolf 3000, a powerful pencil sharpener that charges his batteries by sharpening pencils. He already has shortened Principal Granny considerably.

Does Little Red have a noun in her basket that is powerful enough to defeat the Wolf?

What a delightful book! It’s inventive, to say the least. The teacher in me can imagine reading the book to students and then giving them a basketful of nouns, a truckload of adverbs and so forth. What fun.

The author, Joan Holub, has written more than 130 books, and, according to her biography, she has lots of pencils, too. Melissa Sweet has illustrated nearly 100 children’s books, including “A River of Words,” a Caldecott Honor Book. She used 17 HB pencils to create the artwork for this week’s book.

“Little Red Writing” is published by Chronicle Books LLC (2013). It costs about $16.99 in hardcover.

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