One popular WITS writing activity for elementary school students is based on Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities. Gendler got the idea for her book when she was a young girl. She made up a story about a store where they sell qualities such as courage, excitement, and joy instead of products such as milk, bread, and jam. She imagined the store as a trading post where customers could visit and try out different qualities, including ones such as anger, terror, and despair.
The Book of Qualities introduces 74 qualities as everyday characters who live among us. Gendler says that she wanted to penetrate through the layers and stereotypes of each quality, not just assume it was “good” or “bad.” She wanted to explore what it could teach us. The best way to do this, she thought, was to imagine that they were real characters who inhabit a town.
Here is a character description of the word “messy” by a third grader. He imagines where Messy lives, what he was like as kid, and how he died.
Messy was born in a garbage can in a dump. It smelled worse than anything. He went to school at Trash Elementary, which was a really dirty, messed up place. When he was in middle school, he got a pet pig, and he named it Dumpster. Dumpster messed up the house and yard and never behaved. In high school Messy always wore the same clothes, overalls with worms in the pockets. He was not very popular. He loved to go to the movies, and his favorite one was “My Trashcan Talks.” When he grew up, Mr. Messy’s best friend was Mr. Dirty. They loved to tackle and run in the mud. They didn’t care what they looked like. One time Mr. Messy got a special award from the city called “Most Trashy Award.” He was happy about that. When Mr. Messy was old, he moved to Not Clean Street, where he lived the rest of his life. When Mr. Messy died, he had a trash funeral.
By Jacob, age 9
by Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools