Monday, January 20, 2014

On Assignment! Little Red Writing by Joan Holub

Once upon a time in pencil school, a teacher named Ms. 2 told her class, "Today we are going to write a story!"

"Sharp!" said Little Red Writing.

At Pencilvania School the students, whether sharp or dull, are all pencils (The better to write with, my dear!), and while the kid with the basketball eraser chooses to be a sportswriter, Little Red Writing sets out on her assignment as ace girl reporter, with a basket of special words chosen for her by Ms. 2.

"Stick to your basic story path," advised Ms. 2.

But Little Red wants a tale of raw courage, adventure, sharp wit confronting evil, all in one prize-winning story for the Pencil School News. She stops by the school gym where there is lots of action and the chance to apply her knowledge of verbs--jump, throw, catch--but the content lacks cachet. And then she passes a sign: WATCH OUT FOR ADJECTIVES ON THE PATH.

Adjectives add pizazz, but it's easy to bog down with too many, so Red pulls some scissors out of her baskets and cuts her way through the descriptors to get her story back on track.

Little Red Writing meets up with some other helpful characters--the Gluey Conjunctions And and Or-- who help her put her ideas together, and when she passes the Adverb Truck ("We deliver speedily!), she picks a few to control her verbs.

Suddenly, abruptly, surprisingly, she heard a strange sound which required all caps and rather large punctuation.

But before she can get lost in the weeds of interjections, Little Red hears a growly voice approaching. It seems to be Principal Granny, but with a long, tangly tail with an electric plug on the end. What's up with their principal? Here at last is an opportunity for sharp investigative reporting.

Following the purported principal into her office, Little Red Writing sees something definitely shocking about that tail. She pointedly questions why Granny has grown such an appendage.

"The better to get charged up when my batteries are low," Principal Granny growls.

Hmmmm! Little Red is sharp enough to know that there has got to be a top-of-the fold story behind Granny's long, strange tail and wicked teeth, and sure enough, it's not their upright principal at all! It's a Wolf 3000 Pencil Sharpener in Granny's clothing.

"The better to chomp little pencils like you and grind them up!"

Will Pencilvania School be reduced to a pile of wood shavings? With just the right noun from her word basket, Little Red courageously vanquishes the evil impostor and turns in her story just under deadline, in Joan Holub's funny, punny fractured fairy tale, taking the venerable Little Red Riding Hood out of the back pages and onto the front page, in Little Red Writing (Chronicle Books, 2013).

Holub skillfully combines the old tale with a sly lesson on the basics of writing with a gross of quips and puns that provide reams of laughs for savvy students. Caldecott honoree Melissa Sweet provides just the right visual humor throughout the pages (one reluctant young pencil has to "get a grip" before he has the write stuff to finish his story on the Write Brothers). Her clever illustrations are filled with witty illustrative details (the art teacher is Mr. Doodle and the math class is in Room 123), and Sweet adds hand-lettered text done up in (what else?) pencil. Even the endpapers write themselves into the story.

Holub's nifty tale about writing earned her gold-starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews, who writes, "Creative and fun, this book works equally well for storytime or story writing." Pair it with Janet Stevens's equally pun-filled  The Little Red Pen (Houghton, 2011) for the full gamut of school-supplies silliness." (See my (ahem!) well-red and written review here.)

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