Steps in an Author Study
1. Collect a large sample of the author’s work and information about the author. Watch author interview videos to see where the author gets inspiration for stories. Find out details about the life and writing process of the author. Invite students to compile information about the author.
2. Read the books with children over the course of a few weeks. Talk about each individual book and encourage children to share their responses and think about the characters, settings, illustrations, and writing style. Write children's comments on chart paper, and revisit them as you read more books. After reading each book, remind children of the others they've explored and talk together about the similarities and differences among them.
3. Based on the author's work and the children's responses, select a focus for the study. Possible topics of study include: illustrations, characters, themes, text patterns, or a combination of these topics. Then review the books, highlighting that aspect and sharing related information you've collected.
4. Invite children to create their own work based on the author's. They might use the same illustration technique, create a story about a character or theme from one of the stories, or write a story that uses the same text patterns. Keep the author's books on display for inspiration.
Seeing the Setting
Ask students: What are some memorable and vivid settings for books? Encourage students to recall favorite settings for books as you list them on the chalkboard. Then talk about how authors make settings seem believable to their readers.
- Point out that if the setting is a real place, the author must be familiar enough with it to create accurate descriptions. Ask: How well do you think the author knows this setting?
- Have students compare the settings in various books by the author.
Point out that a journal is an excellent way to collect descriptive details which authors use in their books. Remind students that the best way to accumulate such details is by observation. Have students try some of these activities to hone their observation skills and to develop their writing skills.
- Ask students to choose a passage describing a setting or character in one of the author's books. Using the author's words, have students draw what the passage makes them "see."
- Take students to the playground or a room in the school for about five minutes. Ask them to observe the setting carefully and take notes about what they see. Then back in the classroom, have students write paragraphs describing the place. Invite volunteers to read their paragraphs aloud. Then compare the different ways that students describe the same setting. Or as a homework assignment ask students to describe a room in their house or apartment.
Fact vs. Fiction
After students have read the book, ask questions such as:
- What kind of research do you think the author had to do for this book? What sources might he have used?
- What are some things in the book that are not factual? Encourage students to refer to specific parts in the book to support their responses.
Ask students to reread the first lines of several of the author’s books. Invite volunteers to share these lines as you write them on the chalkboard or a poster pad.
Use these and other first lines to analyze how the author draws the reader into the story. Ask: Which opening is the most exciting? Which one focuses on setting? Which one features action? Encourage students to try different openings when they write their own stories.
Before introducing a new book in a series to students, invite them to share what they already know about the main character from the author’s other books. Create a web on the chalkboard to record students' comments and recollections. Then ask students to predict what the character might do in the new book. Suggest that students write down their predictions and expectations so they can compare them with the actual story.
Reading Response Journal
Guide students to record in a journal their responses to the author’s books with these suggestions:
- Review the author’s book titles. What does each title suggest about the book? How are this author’s titles different from those of other authors?
- Describe one of the characters. What words does the author use to paint this picture? What actions of the character help the reader understand the character? How would the student behave in a similar situation?
Have students pair up and take turns playing The Improv Game in front of the class. Encourage students to study the two characters beforehand and then invent a new situation involving the two characters. How would each character respond? What would they say? How would they feel?
Building the Connections
Help students summarize and review what they have learned about the author with one of these activities:
- Invite students to share favorite characters, lines, and events from the author's work by reading aloud passages from his books. After sharing, see if students can identify common traits shared by the characters, or any other similarities among their selected "favorites." Can they make any general conclusions that apply to all or several of the author's books?
- Have students write reviews or do a class book talk on a book by the author.
- If different reading groups have read different books, have each group act out a favorite scene from their book.
- Have students retell a chapter from a book by the author in comic book form.
- Ask your class to write a letter to a character in a book by the author.
- Hold a Colorful Character party, where each student dresses as his or her favorite character. As an alternative, you might have students pick a character name from a hat so that a variety of characters are represented. Invite each party-goer to introduce his or her character to the class.
- Create a class mural based on one or more of the author’s books.