What can you do with a single word?
For my latest children’s book, I gave myself the challenge of telling a complete story using only one word. I almost succeeded. On the final page, I needed to introduce a second word (and sharp-eyed students are quick to point out that there are four additional words used in the illustrations).
While working on the story I had great fun imagining all the ways that a single word, (in this case “moo”) could be depicted (Moo. Moo? Moo!), and how these variations could be strung together to form a story. Long before the book was published I began showing a dummy of the book with accompanying sketches to students during my author visits. When I did so, three things invariably happened:
- Everyone (including the teachers) laughed.
- The students spontaneously mooed along with me as I read the text.
- At least one student would say, “You should write a sequel called Baaaa!”
My response was always the same. “No, YOU should write the sequel.”
And frequently, they did. At the end of the day students of all ages would present me with one-word books they had written during recess or free time. These miniature books, made from notebook paper folded in half, were filled with illustrations of animals having wild adventures, and each was composed of a single word. Some of the students had developed an entire series of books based on a single animal sound, starting with baaa, then moving to quack and meow, and finally circling back to moo again.
It made me happy that my silly book idea was motivating so many young people to write their own books. As a former elementary school teacher myself, I was also secretly glad at all these young authors were learning in the process.
What can students learn from writing a one-word book?
A one-word book is the perfect way to show how punctuation drastically affects the meaning of text. Beginning writers can practice using question marks and exclamation points to indicate inquiry and excitement:
Older writers can experiment with more sophisticated techniques, using ellipses to suggest suspense:
Meow, meow, meow…
Or dashes to indicate an abrupt stop mid-word:
Meow, meow, meo-
And underlines to indicate emphasis:
Meow, meow, meow.
A one-word book also highlights the importance of visual clues in understanding a story. In the book MOO!, the illustrator Mike Wohnoutka creates a sense of danger and urgency on one of the spreads by focusing in on a close-up of the cow’s face, painting the background red, writing the word moo so large that it extends off the page, and slanting the entire composition at an angle.
Ask your students how they might use visual clues to make an animal look sleepy. Stir their visual creativity with questions like: What colors would best depict this mood? How would the animal’s face and body look? What type of line would be most appropriate for the illustrations: thick, thin, jagged, rounded? What size and style of lettering would they choose? How would all of these choices be different if they were trying to show an animal looking mad?
Understanding how an author/illustrator uses clues like these to convey meaning, and then practicing them in their own one-word books, strengthens students’ visual literacy, a skill needed when reading everything from graphs and charts to food labels and comic books.
Because a one-word book requires minimal spelling and vocabulary skills, even the youngest author can have success writing an entire book that they, and their classmates, can read and enjoy.
Finally, there’s one more benefit from having students write a single-word book. Along with being a way to reinforce skills and concepts mandated in curriculum guidelines, writing a one-word book is fun. Writing can and should be fun, and in my humble opinion, that’s justification enough for any writing project. In fact, writing a one-word book might be so much fun that your students will say, “Moo!”… or “Oink!” or “Roar!”
For a guide to using MOO! in your classroom, please click here.
David LaRochelle is a former fourth grade teacher who has been creating books for young people for the past twenty-five years. His other titles include IT’S A TIGER!, HOW MARTHA SAVED HER PARENTS FROM GREEN BEANS, THE BEST PET OF ALL, and 1+1=5 AND OTHER UNLIKELY ADDITIONS. The first picture book that he both wrote and illustrated, ARLO’S ARTRAGEOUS ADVENTURE!, was released in August. When he’s not writing, drawing, or visiting schools, David loves to carve creative jack-o’-lanterns, which can be viewed at his website http://http://www.davidlarochelle.com.
© 2013 David LaRochelle. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.