When poet/writer-in-residence, Ms. Mirabel, shows up on the fourth day of the fourth month in Miss Case’s fourth grade classroom, the magical power of words begins to bring new life to each day of school for Lucy and her friends. One of the first questions asked of Ms. Mirabel as she begins her six-week stay is, “Why do you write?” Her answer opens the door to the notion that writing can be life changing—you just have to believe that each person has an important story to share. Ms. Mirabel hopes that for each of the students (and readers) that ”…something will whisper in your ear.” And over the six weeks each character, including Miss Case (the teacher modeling writing in the classroom—very important ☺), begins to find a personal story to tell: a parent recovering from cancer, the death of a beloved pet, dealing with divorce, the joy of friendship, and more. Award-winning author Patricia MacLachlan has created very real characters—Lucy and her friends are empathetic and supportive, Miss Case, at first a bit nervous about sharing her space with a writer, and Ms. Mirabel, down to earth but with a bit of Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee thrown in to keep things mysterious. This is a wonderful book to strengthen students’ understanding of what writers do and to help them discover their own voices as writers. This book will definitely whisper something important in the ears of all who read it—you’re a writer and you have a story to tell!
Ages: Grades 2-5 (13 chapters, 128 pages)
In the Classroom
Not only does this book beg to be read aloud, its story line is perfect for inviting/engaging teachers and students to write-along with the narrator Lucy, her friends, Ms. Mirabel, and her regular classroom teacher, Miss Case.
Imitate Ms. Mirabel—read aloud passages from favorite authors and authors. Ms. Mirabel reads from Charlotte’s Web, Tuck Everlasting, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and Baby to emphasize place, characters, and memory as heard through the voices of different authors. Choose a few of your own, then have students suggest some their favorites, too. (Chapter 3)
The characters in the book end up writing poetry about things they are close to and know well—pets, brothers/sisters, parents, important places, and so on. Have your students start with some of these ideas. Be sure to write along with them and share your work. (It doesn’t have to be poetry.)
Ms. Mirabel brings in a bag of soil from the prairie where she grew up to emphasize the importance of personal “landscape” in her writing. Ask students to bring in samples or representations of their “landscapes” to write about. (Chapter 9)
By sharing Evie’s poem (pages 87-88), Ms. Mirabel guides the class to a discussion of figures of speech, focusing on metaphors and similes. But the real writer’s tool, as she explains, is each “magical” word chosen by the writer. Students are asked to write something about words for their next time together. Try this with your students (and try one yourself). Share some examples from the student writers in the book (pages 105-107) and from your own students. (Chapters 11-12)
Pair with Helen Lester’s Author: A True Story, Kate Duke’s Aunt Isabel Tells a Good One, If You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery Nixon, or Kate Bank’s Max’s Words to extend your students’ understanding of what writers do and to help them view themselves as writers.