The middle grade books Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and All the Answers by Kate Messner share an interesting quality: they draw readers almost effortlessly into the game of parsing out how the authors might have invented their stories. Plenty of creative writing lessons instruct students to study texts for clues to the writer's craft; these books make that investigation fun and almost irresistible. They generate a sense of shared excitement at creating stories and the thrilling thought "maybe I can do this too."
All The Answers tells the story of what happens when Ava Anderson finds a magic pencil that answers her questions. Kate used this book as a basis for a school tour teaching about the creative writing process.
The story began with a wish from real life - for a pen that contained all the answers.
From that starting point, Kate began to ask basic questions:
- What would the rules be for a pen like that? In this case, the questions need an actual answer - anything involving future events and humans' freedom to change their minds is unanswerable.
- What sort of character might find this pen? A girl with a lot of anxiety, who is scared of uncertainty and what might happen in the future.
- Where is the tension / problems created by a pen like that? There are a lot of these problems related to the questions the main characters ask, but first off the pen became a pencil so that it kept getting shorter whenever anyone sharpened it, meaning the answers couldn't last forever.
- And how do these conflicts get resolved? Let's not give anything away here.
In Book Scavenger, the legendary Garrison Griswold is critically injured en route to launching his newest game. His most famous game, Book Scavenger, engages players all over the country who hide books, find books, and solve clues to get to the next book. Now, only one copy of an unusual book remains to give the clues to what he had planned. Needless to say the heroine (Emily) finds this book and must race against the bad guys to solve Griswold's puzzles.
Book Scavenger has echoes of some favorite childhood books. Garrison Griswold is a Willy Wonka-ish character for the book loving set. The world full of ciphers is reminiscent of The Westing Game (oh boy I wish I could read that for the first time as a kid again). There are more modern strands, too. The game framework is similar to geocaching or to the site Book Crossing. Closer to home it could be compared to Valley Quest, which uses clues and treasure hunts to bring participants on an exploration of their communities.
Book Scavenger offers a lesson in taking inspiration from books and other creative activities that spark our imaginations, then running with it. If you read The Westing Game and love the idea of a world full of ciphers, why not build your own world that continues in that spirit? If you try out a game like Book Crossing and imagine something much grander where thousands of ardent fans race to find the hidden books, why not build your own world where that happens?
These types of questions, and this book, would be a great pairing with Kate Messner's World Building virtual workshop.
If you want to fill your imagination with not only the stories an author has written, but also all the possibilities for stories you (or your students) could write, take a look at All the Answers and Book Scavenger.
For more reviews, ideas, and discussion, come to the Materials Review in the Bear Pond Books children's room on April 10th at 9:30 am. This event is free, open to the public, and comes with certificates of attendance for teachers who can apply it to continuing education credits.