Saturday, July 18, 2015

"The Flower Man" by Mark Ludy

Mark Ludy created a wordless picture book about a man who moves into a colorless world and brings color to it through his care, kindness, and foliage that follow him.  There are a bunch of random story lines, if you look for them, and kids enjoy looking at the Hallmark-lady-styled characters (Maxine is her name, I guess).  The story goes quickly, in this 10-12 page double-spread story (21 printed pages in all), and has dozens of characters whose lives are changed by the Flower Man coming to town. It is perfect for ages 5 on up to enjoy a unique story--younger kids, however, seem a little bored and slightly overwhelmed by all the details.

Me and "The Flower Man"


This book would be a good one to start conversations with your kids. It is not one that I'd use for large groups of children; it would work well in small groups or for writing and discussion. I highly suggest using it in groups of 4-6 during writers' workshop. Here are some ideas for you to steal...

1. Write the Words to the Wordless Picture Book:
This would be a fun, visual writing prompt. Have each follow the full story of The Flower Man, and then have them each write what is happening holistically. Don't let students just focus on one small storyline; have them consider what a picture book author would say for the entire page. For an added bonus, have each child create a "secret last page" for the book. They can each draw an accompanying picture of what happens after the book ends. I find this is an interesting task to consider what the author would have said in his narrative. With older children you can consider narrators (e.g first, second, third person limited, third person omniscient). This will help them focus on the BIG IDEA of the work.

2. Characterization Activity:

Ask the kids to write a narrative, at least four sentences in length, focusing on one subordinate character. My suggestion is to have kids first find a character they think is interesting on page one. Without telling anyone in the room (this becomes important later), the child will write one sentence for each page of action. Once each child's description is complete, have students read their writing in front of the class without physically pointing out which character they have chosen. If the class can identify who the character is by the end of a child's piece, there is enough detail in the child's writing. If not, the child needs to add more detail to his/her work. For instance, a child may write:

He dozed off. Nothing could wake him. He sat there, ignoring the world around him. 

If this is all a child wrote, there isn't enough to distinguish this character from the others--it could be the old man on the bench or the fat man in the tub. Thus, she/he needs more description. Like this:

He dozed off on the bench. Nothing could wake him. He sat there, ignoring the world around him. That is, until The Flower Man tiptoed past him. He lifted his left eye and smirked at the old man.

The above sentence, thanks to the specific nouns of "bench" and "Flower Man", let us know which character is described.

The game can develop into which student can identify the character first (thanks to the great descriptive narrative), or which writer can keep his/her character a secret until the third or fourth sentence. Whatever the task, the fun is in the sharing and revealing that word choice matters. 

For younger kids, they could verbalize their ideas, but encourage them to write! Gibberish to you is writing to them! Write, write, write!

Have students select three characters in the book using the SWBSTF Method (Somebody wants, but, so, then, finally) to understand the structure of story lines embedded in the book. For instance, the obese man in the bathtub may be a good example... we'll call him Herb.  A student who selects Herb would write: 
One of the many characters from the book.

Herb is bored and wants something to do, but he is alone and in a bathtub. A bird comes to Herb's window, so Herb doesn't feel alone. Then the bird gives Herb the idea to see the outdoors. Finally, Herb climbs up to the top of the roof, clad only in his bath towel, and joins the birds. Thankfully, Herb doesn't feel alone anymore.

This process helps students see the basic structure to any story. I suggest modeling it with The Flower Man himself.

4. Discussions/Writing Prompts:

Use these prompts to talk about the book with your kids, or you can have them write their responses. Remember, picture books don't need to stop in second grade!

1. Why does the community change when the Flower Man comes to town?
2. How can that change happen in our community?
3. Do you think everyone is happy about the change in the community? Why or why not? Support your ideas with evidence.
4. Since we only get one view of the street, we don't see what is happening anywhere else. What other stories do you think are happening behind the buildings?
5. What is the difference between a community and a city?

I hope you enjoy "The Flower Man"... And I hope you and your kids learn something from this quick and quirky tale.

Happy learning!

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