William Steig Author Study

By Ruth Manna on February 2, 2011

When I was a kid, I loved William Steig’s cartoons and covers for the The New Yorker. Much later my own children loved Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and The Amazing Bone, books I read to them dozens of times.

Because I love Steig as an illustrator and author, I read his books with my class. Steig’s stories capture the imaginations of 2nd through 5th graders, who are old enough to appreciate his daffy sense of humor and rich use of language, but young enough to still get drawn into the fantasy adventures.



It is amazing to me that William Steig wrote his first children’s book at age sixty. His second book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, won the Caldecott Medal. Other Steig books, The Amazing Bone, Dr. De Soto, and Abel’s Island, are Caldecott Honor Books. William Steig wrote more than 30 books and continued to create for children until he died, at age 95, in 2003.

Display of William Steig's Books
Here is how I have studied Steig with my 2nd graders. To prepare, I do the following:

   • Make a chart for comparing and contrasting books.
   • Set up a book display with Steig stories.
   • Get Pete's a Pizza and Getting to Know William Steig DVDs.

In this Steig author study students will learn about:

    • Story structure
    • Character development
    • Comparative literature
    • Values, life lessons
    • Themes
    • Rich vocabulary
    • Writing and illustrating in the style of the author

 

 

Read, discuss, and reread — Divide the books into animal and human stories. Start by reading the stories with animals as characters. I usually start with Gorky Rises because kids have never heard of Gorky and the story has the elements I want students to remember. It establishes a pattern for story structure.

Steig animal stories are about young, anthropomorphic animals that have adventures, take trips, and get kidnapped or are otherwise separated from their families. Somehow, frequently through magic, they find their way home and are met with hugs and kisses. Children love this plotline.

Fill out chart — As we read the book a second time we fill out a Steig stories chart together. I use chart paper and set up the chart like this:

Steig Stories Chart

Title

 

Hero and Species

Setting

Villain   

Problem

Magic?

Solution and Ending

Gorky Rises

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazing Bone

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiffky Doofky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gorky3[1] After Gorky Rises, I read The Amazing Bone, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Zeke Pippin, and Tiffky Doofky. We read and discuss the real Shrek!, which is different from the films. It’s another opportunity to make connections.

 

Brave Irene[1] There’s another group of Steig stories about humans, which includes Brave Irene, Spinky Sulks, and Pete’s a Pizza.

Irene in Brave Irene, a self-sacrificing, thoughtful daughter of a widow, is a good contrast to Spinky, a spoiled, whiney boy in Spinky Sulks. Pete in Pete’s a Pizza contrasts with both Spinky and Irene. All three books make for great discussions about character and values. A Venn diagram works well for these books.

Writing Steig Stories 
After reading many Steig books, making connections, filling out charts and diagrams, and talking about character, values, and vocabulary, students are ready to write and illustrate their own stories in the style of William Steig.

Modeling the Process — We start with a class story. I make an overhead of my graphic organizer and we complete it together as a class. Then we use the graphic organizer to write a draft of the story on the overhead. This takes several days. I make copies of the class story for students.

We compare our class story to our chart. We make changes and add onto this story. The emphasis is on story elements such as character development and word choice, not on grammar, syntax, etc., which will flow naturally since students have heard or read many of the books. When we’re finished, I type up our class story and make copies for all the students.

0374469903.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] Writing — Students then complete their own graphic organizers and write their own stories. They have all the Steig books to help them get started and stay on track. We have a group meeting every day, in which students share their ideas and offer suggestions. When students get stuck, we talk and I scribe a couple of sentences to get them writing. After a writing conference with each student and more additions and revisions, I type up the final drafts.

Illustrating — Students illustrate in the style of Steig with black, ultra-fine point Sharpies on detailed pencil drawings. Students paint their drawings with watercolors. Then we display paintings and stories in the hallway.
 

Take Time — When I brought my students’ original Steig stories to a teachers’ writing workshop, the other teachers doubted that 2nd graders had written the stories. What the teachers didn’t realize was how much time students had spent reading, discussing, listening, writing, and painting. Quality work cannot be rushed.   

 

For additional support in thinking about the stories, students may use this organizer:

 

William Steig Story Organizer                   Name _______________________________

Main character’s name _____________________________________________________

Main character’s species ___________________________________________________

Parents’ names ___________________________________________________________

Character’s street address and hometown  _____________________________________

 _______________________________________________________________________

Villain’s name ___________________________________________________________

Villain’s species __________________________________________________________

Other characters __________________________________________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

Problem — Main character gets lost, kidnapped, separated from family, runs away, goes

on a journey or adventure, etc. __________________________________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

 Is there magic in this story? If yes, what's the magic? ____________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

 How does the story end? Main character gets back home, is reunited with family, gets

 hugs and kisses, family is happy to see him/her? _________________________________

 ________________________________________________________________________

 What happens to magical object? Where is it kept? ______________________________

 

Comments

Melissa, Doesn't Jan Brett have an awesome website?

I am going to do one this year with Greg Tang. I have done Jan Brett in the past and she responds quickly.

Hi Melissa, Thanks for writing. Yes, it's great writing to authors. Sadly, William Steig died in 2003. I don't know how old your students are but here are a few suggestions: Jan Brett, Jon Scieszka, Kate Di Camillo, Cynthia Rylant, Rick Riordan, Daniel Pinkwater, Gary Paulsen, and Kevin Henkes, Matthew Holm and Jennifer Holm.

I love author studies. If author's are still alive my students enjoy writing to them.

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