English 355: Two Options for the Paper


in class, Wednesday, October 24, 2001.


see each assignment.


Option #1 | Option #2 | Guidelines | Useful handouts

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

        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 option asks you to write this story, and then write a short paper (2 pages) justifying its publication.

        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. Should it follow up on one of the stories that Lobel's already told? Maybe the new story will offer an entirely new adventure: Frog and Toad will do something they haven't done before. Or maybe, you'll update one of the Frog and Toad tales? Lobel wrote these in the 1970s, but he lived until 1987.
  3. Be aware of length and vocabulary. Each of Lobel's story 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 story, and allow its messges to be felt (instead of preaching those messages to the reader).

        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. (In fact, you may decide to add more criteria to the list I've drawn up.) For more on how this assignment will be evaluated, please see the Guidelines for Grading the Creative Assignments.

Option #2: Picture Books (Creative Assignment + Short Essay)

        In the Foreword to Molly Bang's Picture This, Rudolf Arnheim writes that Bang's "special talent derives from her natural response to what comes alive when one is open to the elements of vision, the disks and the rectangles, the reds and the blacks. Far from being mere shapes, they transmit joy and fear, awe and gentleness. . . . These simple shapes, animated by Molly Bang, do more than tell a story: they offer an order, a kind of grammar for the eyes, a recipe for yet further things to say. Therefore, they also teach" (x). These are 10 (though by no means all) of Bang's insights (all are direct quotations from Bang):

  1. Smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm. See Bang, pp. 42-43.
  2. Vertical shapes are more exciting and more active. Vertical shapes rebel against the earth's gravity. They imply energy and a reaching toward heights or the heavens. See Bang, pp. 44-46
  3. Diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension. See Bang, pp. 46-54.
  4. The upper half of a picture is a place of freedom, happiness and triumph; objects placed in the top half often feel more "spiritual." The bottom half of a picture feels more threatened, heavier, sadder, or more constrained; objects placed in the bottom half also feel more "grounded." An object placed higher up on the page has "greater pictorial weight." See Bang, pp. 54-62.
  5. The center of the page is the most effective "center of attention." It is the point of greatest attraction. The edges and corners of the picture are the edges and corners of the picture world.
  6. Light backgrounds feel safer to us than dark backgrounds because we can see well during the day and only poorly at night. See Bang, pp. 68-69.
  7. We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves. See Bang, pp. 70-71.
  8. The larger an object is in a picture, the stronger it feels. See Bang, pp. 72-76.
  9. We associate the same or similar colors much more strongly than we associate the same or similar shapes. See Bang, pp. 76-80.
  10. We notice contrasts; contrast enables us to see. See Bang, p. 80.

        Assignment. Create a picture in which you combine in some fashion up to but no more than four colors (including background) and distinctive shapes in order to illustrate some aspect of Bang's principles. You might use a particular moment from a poem, fairy tale, a nursery rhyme, or some other well-known story as the inspiration for your picture. You might even re-illustrate a scene from an illustrated work we've read or provide an illustration for a moment not depicted in the illustrated work. Strong emotions are easier to depict than weak ones. Don't be too realistic: follow the abstract style of Bang's depiction of "Little Red Riding Hood" (where she relies on a red triangle to characterize and represent the heroine). Use construction paper -- experiment with different sizes, shapes, colors and arrangement. Tape it together.

        Write a 2-page (typed) explanation of your final picture. Tell me what you originally wanted to produce (in terms of effect -- focus particularly on emotion); tell me how you experimented before finalizing the project and what emotion you're trying to evoke, what you're trying to accomplish with your arrangement. If you need a model for structuring your essay, consult the essay guidelines below. Your final picture doesn't need to be pretty, but it does need to demonstrate that you have learned something from your exposure to Picture This.

        Bang's finished picture (p. 40) may serve as an example of what a picture might look like. Or, to see one student's paper and the illustration she created, click here. For more on how this assignment will be evaluated, please see the Guidelines for Grading the Creative Assignments.

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 philnel@ksu.edu. 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 | Analyzing Picture Books | Thesis vs. Topic | Keys to Structure and Style | Sample # 2

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Paper assignment #2 adapted from Anne Phillips. Paper assingment #1 and any modifications to the above are copyright © 2001 Philip Nel, but Molly Bang's text is copyright © 1991, 2000 Molly Bang. All rights reserved. Please read the Disclaimer.
This page was last updated on 3 September 2001