Things that you can do and think about
Here you will find activities related to many of my books, most particularly Seeker of Knowledge, Calabash Cat, Rain School, and Tiger and Turtle.
:: From the book Seeker of Knowledge ::
After you've read The Seeker of Knowledge or You Can Write Hieroglyphs, why not make ancient Egyptian amulets? Print this pdf on thick paper and color them the way you would like. To access the pdf, click on "Egyptian Amulets" below:
:: From the book Calabash Cat ::
In Calabash Cat, the original calabash cat has a lizard and a fish inside the cat. (See the original calabash here.) I don’t know why the artist did that but I decided to draw animals inside all of the animals I put in the book, too.
Then I thought: what if someone reading my book could think of a story about why there is a lizard and a fish inside the cat? What if the story started out like this:
One day, Lizard went down to the river to get a drink. A fish popped her head out of the water and said, “Friend-Lizard! Friend-Lizard! I need your help!”
Lizard looked up, a bit surprised, and said, “Who? Me?”
“Yes, you!” cried Fish. “I want to teach that old cat a lesson, and only you can help.”
“Hm,” thought Lizard, for he was often bothered by Cat who wanted to catch him for his dinner. So, Lizard said, “What’s your plan? Then I’ll see if I can help.”
“Well,” said Fish, her eyes gleaming with delight, her scales glistening. “This is my plan.”
And she told Lizard what she had in mind.
That afternoon, everything was ready. Cat was sniffing around the rocks by the river looking for something to eat as he usually did that time of day, when suddenly, . . . . .
I bet you could finish this story. What could their plan have been? Will it work? Will they be able to teach the cat a lesson or will they end up as his dinner?
Or, maybe you can think up another story. If so, write it! The trick is: let your imagine go! Look, too, at the other animals in the book. Why is there a snake in the camel? What is the story behind the bird, the fish, and the horse? Could the title of the story about the tiger be: “The Most Beautiful Tiger in the World”?
Why not draw your own animals in the style of the ones in Calabash Cat? I did mine with a felt tip marker. I used a fat one to draw the outline and a thin one to make some of the designs. What if you drew a dog with butterflies all over him? How about a pig with mice? There is no end to what you could do!
:: From the book Rain School ::
1 In Rain School the Chadian children built their own school out of tree limbs, grass, and mud. Write how you would feel if you came to school on the first day and had to learn how to build your own school room.
2 Write a history of your school. When was it built? What is it made out of? What was there before your school was built? A pasture? A parking lot? An old house? After your school was built, were buildings added? When were they added and why? Does your school need repairs? Does it need to be renovated? If so, what needs to be done?
3 Make an essay of photos of the schools in your area. Which one is the oldest? Which one is the newest? Which one do you think looks the nicest and why?
4 Search the internet for pictures of interesting schools around the world. What kinds of buildings do you find? What are they made of? Write a caption for each picture and turn your research into a photo essay and present it to your class.
5 If you could design and build a dream school, what would it look like? Draw some pictures and describe why your school would be the best ever. Maybe you would even like to make a cardboard model of your dream school.
6 Write an essay on why a school building is not as important as the teachers and the students in it.
7 Write an essay on why in today’s world it is important to have the most up-to-date school possible. What does “up-to-date” mean in terms of the technology you would like to have in your school?
8 Interview your parents and your grandparents. Find out what their schools were like and how they are different from the school you go to.
9 Go back in time. Pick a time and describe what school was like: in Ancient Greece, in biblical times, in Ancient Rome, in medieval times, in colonial times in America, in the Old West, in America for African-American children after the Civil War, in America now for illegal immigrants and migrant workers.
:: From the book Tiger and Turtle ::
How do you write a story like Tiger and Turtle?
I used an age-old trick in storytelling. I wrote about a problem and how the problem was solved. Who solved the problem? The main characters.
I kept the story simple. I had only two main characters.
Next I answered these 7 questions:
1 Who are the two main characters? Tiger and Turtle.
2 Where are they? In a forest.
3 What is something important about the two characters? They were not friends. They stayed out of each other’s way.
4 What was the problem? They both wanted the same flower.
5 Why wasn’t there a solution? They would not stop fighting over the flower.
6 What was the solution finally? They saw there were millions of flowers.
7 How did the solution change the two characters forever? They became friends.
Hint: the solution always has something to do with what you said was important about the two characters.
Now choose two characters and answer these same questions. The answers should give you a story!
I am going to choose two animals: an alligator and aflamingo! I’ll write the story by answering the questions and see where the answers take me. Writing isn’t just about finding the right words. It’s also about building a good, strong story.
1. Alligator and Flamingo.
2. A swamp.
3. Alligator thinks Flamingo is beautiful.
4. Alligator loves Flamingo, but she doesn’t love him.
5. Flamingo always flies away.
6. See below.
7. See below.
The Alligator and the Flamingo
One day Alligator was going through the Great Swamp when he spied a flamingo. She was beautiful! Pink and delicate. Tall and elegant. Immediately Alligator fell in love.
He swam over to her and called, “Oh, miss! Miss!”
But she would have nothing to do with him. She immediately flew off.
Such grace in the sky! An angel!
Alligator was more in love than ever before.
[How are we going to get the two of them together?]
Day after day, Alligator tried to get Flamingo to stay and talk to him, but she always flew off.
Finally, Alligator could stand it no longer. From a distance, he poked his snout out of the water and yelled, “I love you, Flamingo!”
Flamingo turned and said laughing, “You in love with me? Impossible!” And she flew off.
[Now here’s a real problem. There doesn’t seem to be a solution. Of course, Alligator is not going to give up no matter how Flamingo treats him. What can change the situation? Here are three answers to question 6. Number One: Maybe alligator hunters come to the swamp and Flamingo, flying high overhead, spies them and warns Alligator.]
“Thank you for saving my life,” Alligator said to Flamingo. “I thought you didn’t like me.”
“I just couldn’t let them get you,” she said.
“Then, you like me?”
“Yes,” she said smiling the way flamingos do with their long curved beaks. “Yes, I guess I really do.”
[Answer Number One is a little weak. We don’t feel like the story should end here. It should go on. Here’s Answer Number Two: a hurricane comes up suddenly and Flamingo is in great danger. Alligator saves her life by protecting her from the storm.]
“Thank you for saving my life,” Flamingo said to Alligator, when the hurricane had passed. Then she flew off. Alligator was disappointed, but what could he do?
The next day, Alligator saw Flamingo standing, as always, at the water’s edge. But this time, as he swam by, she called to him, “Alligator! Come. I have made a picnic for us.”
It was a small thing that picnic, but it was the start of a long and beautiful friendship just the same.
[Or maybe you want Alligator to learn something important, something you might have had to learn . . . the hard way. Here’s Answer Number Three]
After a time, Alligator stopped coming to see Flamingo. He made friends with the other animals of the swamp.
“Some things are just never meant to be,” he said to himself one day.
Then he smiled, a big alligator smile and said,“But she was still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
[Are there other answers to Question 6? Of course, there are! I am sure that you can think of some.]