I’m a huge fan of “quiet books”—those books that call for you to snuggle up with them and read slowly, savoring the words. But it wasn’t the text that first attracted me to the book In November by Cynthia Rylant—it was Jill Kastner’s art. I absolutely LOVE the smudgy paintings that illustrate this book so perfectly—like looking through a frosty window pane at the world outdoors.
But then there are the words.
“In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and fills up a house in the morning. It can pull everyone from bed in a fog. Food is better in November than any other time of the year.”
The book precedes this with text about the wider world: mice that huddle together under the wood pile, birds who are “serious” now that food sources are limited, and dogs that lay by the fire. After it, it discusses people gathering to be thankful.
It’s a really terrific book about Thanksgiving without ever mentioning it.
This could be the springboard for a fun writing lesson that would encourage abstract writing for older elementary kids. You might try, having kids choose a favorite food (a favorite holiday would work too). Give them the following questions:
What color is the smell?
What does the smell feel like? (The smell is as cozy as a kitten; The smell is rough as the bark on a tree.)
What texture is the taste? (The lemon pie tastes as sharp as a blade and as smooth and cool as one too.)
What emotion do you think of when you remember eating it? What event?
For younger kids, this book could be a small moments writing opportunity, focusing on a favorite food—
what it’s like when it’s being made (how the writer feels)
what it’s like when it’s waiting to be eaten,
what it’s like to eat it—does it explode in your mouth with flavor, does it melt across your tongue, slowly spreading the flavor through your mouth like melting chocolate?
As an art response to this book, show the kids the first pages of the leaves. After gathering your own leaves, paint leaves and press them on to paper as if they are rubber stamps. (Painting and pressing down the back sides of the leaves will give you leaf prints with more obvious veins.) Then, have students smudge paints into the interior of their leaves using q-tips instead of brushes. The idea is to have them dot the paint in like Jill Kastner. (When a q-tip begins to “unravel,” discard it for a new one.) Encourage your students to fill their leaves with paint, while creating the “spotty, smudgy, not-well-blended look that Kastner achieves.
You could have students create an acrostic poem to go with their leaf art. Acrostic poems provide great incentive for students to use their dictionaries.
Leaping into the fragrant pile
Each step a crunch
Air, chilly on my arms
Vivid colors upon the ground
Evening breath a cloud
Beautiful writing coupled with beautiful images. In November is a gem!
Linda Stanek is a teacher, author and illustrator who teaches in schools throughout Ohio. You can visit her blog at: AuthorsAndIllustratorsInSchools@blogspot.com.