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Reading and Writing Outside of the Box: How Unconventional Narrators Help Readers Bring Understanding to Their Lives and World


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Authors often take the approach of an unconventional narrator to help readers experience various perspectives and produce windows into the unknown. Three children’s authors and a middle-school teacher discuss unconventional narrators, how they help readers build empathy and understanding, and how students can explore different perspectives in their writing.

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Reading and Writing Outside of the Box: How Unconventional Narrators Help Readers Bring Understanding to Their Lives and World

  1. 1. Reading and Writing Outside the Box How Unconventional Narrators Help Readers Bring Understanding to Their Lives and World With Katherine Applegate, Lisa Bunker, Josh Funk, & Adam Rex Moderated by Kellee Moye
  2. 2. Kellee Moye Educator and Lifelong Reader 6th-8th Grade Advanced Reading Teacher 7th-8th Grade Journalism Teacher 6th-12th Grade Future Problem Solvers Advisor Middle School Reading Coach ALAN Executive Board 2015-2018 2017-18 HCMS Teacher of the Year Teaching Guide Author Past-Chair of ALAN’s Walden Award Past 6th & 7th Grade ELA Teacher Past 6th-8th Grade Intensive Reading Teacher Past 6th-8th Grade ELL Developmental LA Teacher
  3. 3. Using Unconventional Narrators in the Classroom ● Traditionally, narrators are human to help the reader connect with the story; however, authors also often take the approach of an unconventional/non-human narrator to help readers experience various perspectives and produce windows into the unknown. It is through these unique voices and perspectives that authors are able to explore fantastical stories; delve deeply into themes about our world and humanity; and help their readers make connections between their story and their lives without most students even realizing what the text is doing. ● Unconventional narrators can help build empathy and can help students can explore different perspectives in their writing and reading
  4. 4. Using Unconventional Narrators in the Classroom ● Common Core Standards for Literature across grade levels challenge students to explore the development of theme through characterization and plot development, and unconventional voices allow for theme to be deeply explored. ● In addition to the exploration of perspective and theme, Marco Caracciolo, in Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction, studied how the use of differing narrators can elicit feelings from their audience through different reading strategies such as reflexive reading (insight into self), categorizing reading (insight into mental category), metacognitive reading (insight into mental process), and existential reading (insight into human existence)
  5. 5. Example Texts With Unconventional Narrators Unconventional human narrators ● The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak ● The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold ● Hazardous Tales series by Nathan Hale ● If I Stay by Gayle Forman ● Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper ● Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman Unconventional non-human narrators ● Red by Michael Hall ● Normal Norman by Tara Lazar ● Anthropomorphic books like Warriors and Redwall series & Zootopia
  6. 6. Author Introductions ● Katherine Applegate: I fail daily. Best job ever. ● Lisa Bunker: Whimsical word geek, radical kindness revolutionista ● Josh Funk: Coder. How did I get HERE? ● Adam Rex: Jack of all trades. Something something.
  7. 7. Katherine Applegate Author of Wishtree (Feiwel & Friends, 2017) Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal for The One and Only Ivan
  8. 8. Unconventional Narrators = Unlimited Freedom ● Writing outside the box helps writers, new or experienced, flex their muscles without fear of failure. ● But there’s nothing wrong with failure!
  9. 9. Children have their own particular take on the world. They are, by definition, unconventional narrators.
  10. 10. Animals in particular, perhaps because of their vulnerability, are natural teachers of empathy.
  11. 11. For students who are writing from the pov of an unconventional narrator, have them create an original glossary. ● time conventions ● “domain” ● “Slimy chimps” ● “me-balls” ● naming conventions ● “hollows” ● “residents” ● “making a deposit”
  12. 12. Lisa Bunker Author of Felix Yz (Viking, 2017) and the upcoming Zenobia July (also Viking, 2019) Trans activist Many geekeries: words, languages, music, chess...
  13. 13. *zyxilef Pushing past stock tropes to get *way* outside the usual POV The foil effect - character development and interplay Geeky glee!
  14. 14. Felix Self-discovery as a writer So often silent in the world, but not on the page Incidentally gay
  15. 15. Josh Funk Author* of: ● Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (Sterling, 2015) ● Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin, 2016) ● It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (Two Lions, 2017) ● How to Code a Sandcastle (Viking/Penguin, 2018) ● and others books … *Has never won an award for anything.
  16. 16. Perspective & Empathy - and Humor ● Perspective ○ As a writer, perspective is something I love to explore … ■ but it’s not on the forefront of my mind when I start writing a story. ○ I usually start with humor. ○ Assumptions -> Misunderstanding ■ To the characters: Conflict ■ To the reader: Comedy ● Empathy ○ Similarly, empathy is something that tends to get weaved into lots of books, mine included. ○ Lack of empathy: ■ To the characters: Conflict ■ To the reader: Comedy ○ Mirrors and Windows and Sliding Glass Doors
  17. 17. Writing Tip* Try writing the same story from the perspective of two different characters: ● heroine and villain ● main character and sidekick ● student and teacher Similarly, try rewriting a classic story or picture book from the perspective of someone who is not the main character. *Josh Funk is not a teacher, but he is married to one. Nonetheless, he is completely unqualified to give actual teaching advice. Use these tips with caution.
  18. 18. Adam Rex Author of Nothing Rhymes with Orange (Chronicle, 2017)
  19. 19. There Are No Unconventional Narrators in Children’s Books It’s been a 150 years since Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ● We’ve always been weird ○ Books with no narrator at all apart from the wordless direction of the illustrator ○ A book told entirely through images and balloon dialogue in an invented bug language I don’t set out to write unconventional narrators. I barely set out to write unconventional books. I stumble on an idea like a lost dog and I try to give it the slack it needs to find its own way home. But I have to remind myself that I can write anything. We shut doors on kids all their lives without meaning to. —You can’t be unconventional if your audience doesn’t know what the conventions are.
  20. 20. Commentary Track for a Story (favorite or otherwise) In Nothing Rhymes With Orange, the titular character comments on and criticizes the book as it’s happening ● Write a commentary track for a story ○ From the POV of a main character ○ Or a background character ○ Or a character who should have been in the book but wasn’t ○ Or from the perspective of the writer and/or illustrator
  21. 21. Facilitated Q&A Followed by Audience Q&A Then More Questions and a Lightning Round (if time allows)
  22. 22. Facilitated questions: ● Many of your stories with unconventional narrators could have been told differently with a traditional human narrator. Why did you choose to use your specific narrator to tell the story you told? AND Do you find it easier to use an unconventional narrator? Why or why not? ● One theme that can be found in all of your books is acceptance. Why do you think this theme is so prevalent in books with unconventional narrators?
  23. 23. Audience: Now it’s your turn!
  24. 24. If Time Allows More facilitated questions: ● What advice would you give to a student who is thinking about a future in writing? ● How do you decide what to keep, change, or remove when revising your writing?
  25. 25. If time allows: Lightning Round! ● Pen or pencil or typing? ● Silence or music? ● Morning or night? ● Outline or stream of consciousness? ● iPhone or Droid? ● Fantasy or realistic? ● TV or movie? ● One book or multiple? ● eBook or paper? ● Revise: ongoing or at the end? ● Comic Sans: yea or nay?
  26. 26. Contact ● Kellee Moye @kelleemoye ● Katherine Applegate @kaaauthor ● Lisa Bunker @LisaBunker ● Josh Funk @joshfunkbooks ● Adam Rex @mradamrex Presentation available at ● Katherine Applegate ○ Friday 11:30-12:00 Macmillan Booth 527 & 1:00-1:30 HarperCollins Booth 206 ● Lisa Bunker ○ Friday 11:30-12:30 Penguin Booth 626 ● Josh Funk ○ Saturday 10:30-11 Penguin Book 626 ● Adam Rex ○ Friday 11:30-12:30 HarperCollins Booth 206 & 1:30-2:30 Chronicle Booth 709 Signings