Philip Nel > Courses > English 355: Literature for Children (Fall 2008) > Paper #2

English 355: Options for the Paper


at the beginning of class on 2 Dec 2008.


see each assignment.


Option #1 | Option #2 | Useful handouts and on-line resources

Option #1: Middle-grade readers / Fables (Creative Assignment + Short Essay)

Length: 350-word story (approximate length) plus 2-page justification/analysis.

        Imagine that you are a children's book editor. You have been rummaging around in HarperCollins' archives, and have found a long-lost Frog and Toad story. You think this story is worth publishing and you want to convince your publishers of this. This paper option asks you (a) to write this story, and (b) to write a short paper (2 pages) justifying its publication. (See guidelines for writing a paper.)

        In writing the story, you should do the following:

  1. Read Arnold Lobel's four Frog and Toad books: Frog and Toad Together (which we read in class), Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad All Year, and Days with Frog and Toad.
  2. Decide what a new story will be about. Is there a subject -- as yet unaddressed in a Frog and Toad story -- that would make a suitable subject for a Frog and Toad story?
  3. Be aware of length and vocabulary. Each of Lobel's stories is (roughly) no more than about 350 words long, and limits its word choice to "Grades 1-3." You, too, will want to limit your word choice. And, you'll want to be concise.
  4. Suggest but do not announce the tale's moral or morals. A fable delivers a moral thesis about human behavior, often using animal characters to represent types of human beings; at the end, a character usually states the moral. Though they are like fables, Lobel's Frog and Toad stories tend to imply a moral instead of explicitly stating that moral. Indeed, there's often more than one possible moral to any given story. So, your new Frog and Toad story should only imply its moral or morals. A successful story will focus more on the narrative, and will allow its messges to emerge through the behaviors of the characters.

        In writing the essay, you'll want to make sure to address the above issues. Your thesis will state why the new Frog and Toad tale should be published. What moral or morals does this story hope to imply? Why is it a classic Frog and Toad tale? What characteristics does it share with the published Frog and Toad tales? Your publisher will be most persuaded by the degree to which you can show this story fulfills -- and perhaps even exceeds -- the expectations that we have for Frog and Toad stories. So, your Frog and Toad story and short essay should demonstrate that you understand how middle-grade readers and fables work and that you have thought about how Lobel's Frog and Toad stories work. (For guidance, see the list we drew up in class.) For more on how this assignment will be evaluated, please see the Guidelines for Grading the Creative Assignments.

Option #2: Definitions

Length: The definition should be just as long as it needs to be.

        Andrew Clements' Frindle raises the question of how words acquire meanings. Choose a word not yet in a standard dictionary (say, Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language or the Oxford English Dictionary). Write a definition for that word in the style of the Oxford English Dictionary. For your model, use the sample page I handed out in class or look at the OED itself (it's in the library and on-line). Your definition will include the following:

  1. Part of speech. Noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc. For example, "phat" is an adjective (abbreviated as "a.")
  2. Pronunciation. How do you prounce the word? For "phat," the OED suggests "fat."
  3. Etymology. Include the derivation of a word, or an account of the history of the word. For "phat," the OED tells us: "[Origin unknown; prob. (at least in sense b) a respelling of FAT a.: cf. the similar use of big, large, etc., as terms of approbation. The explanations of the term as an acronym given in quots. 1974 and 2000 seem likely to be later rationalizations.]"
  4. Definitions for the word, with the primary meaning first, secondary meaning second, and so on. How many definitions are there? Can the word be used in more than one way? If it can, you'll want to provide definitions for each. For "phat," the OED offers the following: "a. Of a person, esp. a woman: sexy, attractive. b. Esp. of music: excellent, admirable; fashionable, 'cool'. Particularly associated with the hip-hop subculture."
  5. Quotations. For each definition, you will need to include quotations: year, author, title of work, and a brief quotation. The OED comes up with many sources for "phat," including: "1963 Time 2 Aug. 14 Negro argot... Mellow, phat, stone, boss. General adjectives of approval. 1974 H. L. FOSTER Ribbin', Jivin', & Playin' Dozens ii. 52 This teacher, however, was a 'phat tip'..[....]. 1992 Face Dec. 68 They're just really distinctivea London crew with a really phat funk sound. 1995 Guardian 8 May II. 8/4 The Criminal Justice Act put the rave under House arrest. But it's out and it's phat in Oxfordshire. 1998 Newsday (Electronic ed.) 17 Mar., Phat? With a fearless, exciting, aggressive playing style, El-Amin fits the recent youth-culture term that suggests, loosely translated: cool. 2000 Herald (Glasgow) (Electronic ed.) 18 Nov., Every Giants player emerges from the dug-out to his own personal anthem. For coach Dusty Baker there's James Brown and Dr Dre. Cool or what?.. For..Barry Bonds it's Song 2 by Blur. Phat! (Pretty Hot and Tempting.)"

Attached to your definition will be:

  1. A bibliography. You should have at least four sources. And I'd prefer a variety of sources.
  2. Photocopies (or print outs) of relevant portions of your sources.

In creating your definition, you may use print sources, audio or video sources, websites, song lyrics, even interviews. However, you must have at least one print source. What's a print source? Could be a CD jacket, a newspaper article, an advertisement.

Resources for this assignment:

Where you might find quotations

Dictionaries (to help you with your etymologies)

  • articles in the Kansas State Collegian
  • articles in a "specialized" publication, such as Sports Illustrated (devoted to sports), Rolling Stone (devoted to music and politics), fan "zines," or periodicals devoted to any specific interest
  • an advertisement
  • a flyer hanging on a telephone pole
  • an interview or conversation with someone (copy down the exact sentence)
  • a television program
  • a website
  • a comic book
  • a blog
  • databases like Lexis-Nexis or Expanded Academic ASAP (see KSU Libraries' Databases at <>)
  • ...and this is by no means an exhaustive list...
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
  • J. E. Lighter, Random House Dictionary of American Slang
  • Older dictionaries of standard English and of slang
  • Other books with call numbers that begin in PE3721-PE3729 or PE1625-PE1630

Guidelines for Writing an Essay

Getting Started…

1. Read and Reread. Read and reread the work or works you've decided to write about, with a mind to the topic you have chosen. As you take careful notes (making note of all relevant words, phrases, images, and illustrations), consult the "Imagery and Figurative Language" handout and any other relevant handouts.

Writing the Paper…

1. Formulate a thesis. Make sure your thesis is specific enough to be covered adequately in the space of your discussion. Remember: merely noting a difference or similarity does not constitute a thesis. So, it would not be sufficient to say that Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1937), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), and The Lorax (1971) all are versions of the "quest" narrative. True enough, but so what? Instead, you might argue that the changing nature of the "quest" narrative in Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1937), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), and The Lorax (1971) shows an increasingly political engagement with real-world issues: from a fairly mild indictment of an unjust king, Seuss's concerns grow to include threats of anihilation and environmental catastrophe. Refer to the handout titled "Thesis vs. Topic."

2. Each paragraph should begin with a claim. Just as a thesis claim guides the paper as a whole, a paragraph's claim (often referred to as a "topic sentence") guides a paragraph. So, at or near the beginning of each paragraph, include a topic sentence that states your paragraph's central argument. The topic sentence serves as a bridge between thesis and paragraph by making an interpretive claim that indicates how the paragraph will support your thesis.

3. Provide support. To persuade your readers to your position, you will need to provide some evidence in support of your claims. Quotations from the poem, or illustrations and text from a picture book should be used as evidence to prove your assertions.

4. Analysis and explanation of evidence. Be sure to analyze the quotation and discuss its significance. Explain for your reader how your evidence supports your claims.

5. Conclusion. Your last paragraph should synthesize, not summarize. You should resolve -- and not merely repeat -- your argument. Think of a conclusion this way: it both reminds your reader of where you've been and suggests new areas to explore. For these papers, I suggest you devote your conclusion to practical applications of your thesis. What implications does what you've proven have for the teaching of these children's books? How would you put your ideas into action, in the classroom?

And, after you finish your draft…

1. Revise and edit. Read your paper out loud to yourself. Often you will hear what your eyes will miss.

2. Grammar and structure are important. To help yourself proofread and revise with both of these ideas in mind, please see the handout titled "Keys to Structure and Style."

3. When in doubt, get help. My office hours are on the syllabus, and by appointment. My email address is Also, please make use of a grammar handbook and of the handouts linked to this paper assignment: "Imagery and Figurative Language," "Thesis vs. Topic," "Keys to Structure and Style," and Sample # 2.

Useful Handouts:

Imagery and Figurative Language
Thesis vs. Topic
Keys to Structure and Style
Sample # 2

Useful On-line resources:

KSU Libraries' Databases
Oxford English Dictionary
Random House's Word of the Day (click on "Alphabetical")

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