Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Objects that Inspire Writing - Jenny Land

When writing the fictional diary of a young Vermont girl in 1843 that became her first novel, The Spare Room, Jenny Land turned to collections of historical objects for inspiration. Some she found in museums, like the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh (Jenny highly recommends a visit). Others were items she'd collected along the way.

One example is this antique pen that she bought with her first babysitting money, which makes an appearance in the final book.

Another interesting find is old diaries. These two were written by a father and his 11 year old son in 1871 in Randolph. Comparing entries on the same dates provides two very different perspectives on the events of their lives.

You can also find virtual images of objects online. For example, Jenny set her book in 1843, the year Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Vermont. The Library of Congress has a digital archive that includes images of the handwritten notes from Douglass' speeches. Visit The Frederick Douglass Papers online to browse.

Sample Activity for Students: 

Historical objects can be great writing prompts. Jenny has found that for students younger than high school age, she needs to give some structure along with the object, asking questions like who do you think made this? Who found it? Who are the different people who have owned it along the way and what did they think about it?

Jenny provides sample questions in this handout.

This activity is just one example - Jenny's website (www.thespareroombook.com) provides activities ideas and this teacher's guide for using her book in the classroom.


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