The Boy Who Held Back the Sea is a picture book retelling of a traditional story set in Holland. The gorgeous, moody, dark illustrations are reminiscent of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.
For our Book Detectives meeting this past month, I read the picture book aloud. Then, as a group, we asked “should questions.” [I asked the kids and parents whether they wanted to do a story chart from Teaching the Classics or an ANI chart from The Lost Tools of Writing, and everyone chose the ANI chart. We used the story chart last month with Corgiville Fair by Tasha Tudor.]
Should [character] have [action]?
No question is irrelevant or too small.
We wrote our questions on a white board:
- Should Jan have lied to his mother?
- Should the captain have acted drunk when trying to get help?
- Should the constable have neglected to send help?
- Should the guards have arrested the captain?
- Should Jan have broken the window?
- Should the guard have gone for help?
- Should Jan have kept his finger in the dike and risked his life?
- Should Jan’s mom have let him skip church to read to Mr. Schuyler?
- Should the town have held a festival for the naughty boy?
- Should Jan have given his lunch to the dog?
- Should Jan have yelled for help?
We chose one question, changed it to a more general question, and created our “issue.”
Should Jan have kept his finger in the dike when no help came?
Whether Jan should have kept his finger in the dike when no help came.
Then we separated another white board into three columns: “A” for affirmative, “N” for negative, and “I” for interesting. We wrote our issue at the top of the board. We added reasons why he *should have* to the A column and reasons why he *shouldn’t have* to the N column. We weren’t so great at filling up our I column (which is odd because kids often spout ideas that don’t fit into affirmative or negative categories!). Answers were given randomly. We didn’t work specifically on one column at a time.
In our A column we wrote:
- possibly saved lives in town
- needs of many outweigh needs of one
- paying consequences as a liar
- paying consequences for not being where he was supposed to be
- life changing event; transformative consequence
- changed his character for the better
- selfless acts are honorable
- made mom proud
- be a hero, receive honor
- saved own life from drowning
- because he could
- unplugged holes get bigger
[You’ll notice that we just jotted down ideas. They can be obvious. Or bad reasons. Or awkward wording. This is essentially organized brainstorming and I want kids to participate and share ideas. And we’re exploring human nature and the reasons humans do things, even when they shouldn’t.]
In our N column we wrote:
- he could have died
- townspeople needed to pay consequences for disbelief
- should have gone back to town (hold might not have gotten too bad)
- should have come up with a different way to plug hole
- he could have lost his finger
- could have gotten hypothermia
- his mother was worried
- he had already done his duty
- it was a job for an adult, not a kid
- his mother could have been hysterical
- his mother could have been angry that he risked his life
In our A column we only noted that there are dikes in Holland because it is below sea level.
And that’s it!
This exercise helps kids learn to think in a disciplined way about characters and actions in stories. It is a tool in their tool box for thinking deeply about literature, learning about human nature, applying wisdom to their own lives, and also coming up with material for persuasive essays!
If the kids were older than elementary/grammar students, we’d go deeper and use the five topics of invention (definition, comparison, relationship, context, and authority) for longer discussions.