Sometimes even the best writers need a springboard – an idea just big enough to give their imaginations a boost into the air. I’m always excited when I find a great new “springboard book” to use with my young writers. Here are two of my favorites.

I recently discovered the delightful book 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore, written by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Nancy Carter. This book’s rambunctious heroine17things is full of schemes that seem like a good idea at the time, but invariably get her in trouble. “I had an idea,” the book begins, “to staple my brother’s hair to his pillow.” The facing page says, “I’m not allowed to use the stapler anymore.” Through this simple structure, the main character shows us sixteen more brilliant ideas she’s no longer allowed to pursue.

Although the illustrations give us some idea of the girl’s actions and their consequences, the beauty of this book is that it allows the reader to fill in the narrative, giving us plenty of room to imagine exactly what happened as a result of the main character acting on her rather impish ideas. After my third grade classes read this book with me, they were eager to write about the main character’s adventures–and given a starting and ending point framed by the book’s structure, they were confident in filling in the rest. Some were even inspired to continue this theme by writing their own fictional misadventures.

mysteriesofharrisburdickA book that serves as a more sinister jumping-off point for young writers is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Each surreal black-and-white illustration is accompanied by only the first line of a story. Young writers are intrigued by the slightly scary mood of the book, and are given enough information in the first line to begin to construct their own stories. The resulting mysteries, ghost stories, fantasy and science fiction tales also give young writers a chance to recognize and employ elements of each genre as well as expanding their imaginations into impossible realms.


posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools

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