Exploring Literary Devices with Owl Moon

Picture books are my all-time favorite teaching tool, especially when working with multiple ages.  A well-written picture book is a whole pouch of seeds waiting to be planted.  For your visual learner, pictures cover pages from edge to edge.  For your auditory learner, a feast of well-chosen words awaits.  And picture books cover a rainbow of topics and genres, so you’re sure to find something to spark the interest of your kids. 

Perhaps my favorite use of picture books is to inspire writing because.....

  1. Picture books are short.  We want to make the most of our time during busy homeschool days, and since picture books can be read in one sitting, they’re perfect for the job.  We can read the book through once, typically in 10 minutes or less, and then re-read sections we want to highlight as we guide our emerging writers to explore various techniques.
  2. Picture books authors have to choose words with care.  When an author is limited to about 32 pages, she has to select her words really, really carefully.  Otherwise, the young readers and listeners on our laps will be asleep before we get to the last page. The same is true with “older” pre-teen and teen readers.  A picture book for the purpose of teaching writing, must be engaging enough to hold the interest of everyone.  After all, it was C.S. Lewis who said, “A children’s story that is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.”
  3. Picture books are written with younger readers in mind, but that doesn't mean older readers won't learn anything from them.  What it does mean is that they make ample use of literary techniques such as descriptive language, similes and metaphors, and voice.   Picture book authors have a gift for serving up bite-sized portions of amazing language and vocabulary.  Just enough that we feel satiated but not overwhelmed. 

One of my favorite books to use is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  It’s chock-full of vivid writing and literary devices & tools with which we want our children to make friends.  I’ve outlined three that are easily spotted in Owl Moon, including examples from the text.  Because good writing weaves literary elements together, these overlap, but that's the beauty of this book!

Here's a list of literary devices I want to make sure my kids know before they leave home.

Here's a list of literary devices I want to make sure my kids know before they leave home.

Simile & Metaphor
Well placed similes and metaphors blend seamlessly into the writing to compare something, possibly unfamiliar, to something familiar.  To create a picture for the reader, to bring the reader into the emotion of the story.  Similes and metaphors are powerful tools when used well.  It’s often the difference between showing the reader what is happening, rather than just telling them.

  • The trees stood still as giant statues.
  • Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.
  • And when their voices faded away it was as quiet as a dream.
  • The moon made his face into a silver mask.
  • Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow.

I like to play a game with my kids when we’re exploring similes and metaphors.  We find similes and metaphors in the text (showing) and then rephrase it so that it is no longer showing, but telling.  Here are some examples from the text that "show" and my "tell" is in italics.

  • The trees stood still as giant statues.  The trees were tall.
  • Somewhere behind us a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song.  We could hear the train whistle blowing.
  • And when their voices faded away it was as quiet as a dream.  When their voices were quiet, it was silent.
  • The moon made his face into a silver mask.  His face looked shiny in the moonlight.
  • Then the owl pumped its great wings and lifted off the branch like a shadow.  The owl flew off the branch.

Then, we reverse it.  I give them a simple sentence such as, “I ate ice cream.”  And they rewrite it to be more descriptive by including similes and metaphors.

  • The ice cream dribbled down my arm like raindrops plopping from the sky.
  • I licked the ice cream round and round the cone like a merry-go-round, faster and faster until I caught every last dripping drop.
  • I bit the bottom off my cone and it was a faucet, dripping strawberry ice cream into my open mouth.

Descriptive language
Descriptive language covers a large area of writing because really, doesn’t all good writing rely on the perfect description?!  Here are just a few examples I pulled from Owl Moon.  Once you read the book, you’ll see that every line, every phrase is full of beautiful description.

  • Our feet crunched over the crisp snow and little gray footprints followed us.
  • The shadows were the blackest things I had ever seen.  They stained the white snow.
  • My mouth felt furry, for the scarf over it was wet and warm.

Now it’s your turn.  Play charades where the only answers are strong verbs.  Are you galloping, shuffling, sauntering, trudging, sipping, gulping, teetering?  Or pull out a magazine and leaf through it.  Find a picture of a scene or something that interests you.  Describe it using strong verbs and adjectives. 

In Owl Moon, Jane Yolen is consistently bringing us back to the setting. She gives us details right from the beginning that show us what a cold, bright, clear winter evening it is.  Go on a scavenger hunt through the book to find these.

Your turn.  Go outside and find a comfortable place to sit.  Describe the setting in such a way that your reader will feel like he is there.  Keep in mind all the ways you take in your surrounding, through your senses.


So, grab a copy of Owl Moon and jump in.  Choose one literary device.  Define it.  Find it.  Try your hand at it.   Most of all, have fun with it. 

To download a printable pdf of how to use Owl Moon to explore literary devices, click on the image below.

The Big Book Pile-Up revisited

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*This is a re-post from last year's reading challenge, but it still speaks to me today. * To have the free printables emailed to you, click here.

The Big Book Pile-Up came from my desire to get our read-aloud time out of the rut it is in. Our book choices sometimes feel uninspired. Our enthusiasm waning, not because we don’t love reading aloud together, but because reading aloud with a toddler (and this toddler in particular) has its challenges. I am determined not to let this become an excuse. Reading aloud is too important for the intellectual and emotional development of our children to allow ourselves to become apathetic in our attempts.

With World Read Aloud on March 4thDay coming , I decided to give our read-aloud time a kick-start, to bring it from mediocre to the joyful family time I know it can be. Together with my children, we created a list of book categories to introduce or reacquaint us (and you if you choose to join us and I really, really hope you do!) with books of all kinds. Not only will we meet great books and characters and ideas but we’ll get to know each other better through our discussions and just enjoy spending time together. The list of suggestions offers a variety of genres and topics and is meant to be a spring of inspiration. I am not sure how we will approach the list just yet. Will we start at the top? Bottom? Somewhere in the middle? Use it as more of a checklist and read a selection each day? I do know that we will try to read from a variety of sources; picture books, novels, stories from children’s literary magazines, and whatever else we can get our hands-on. We may add other genres or topics that spark our interest or skip the ones that just don’t seem to be working for us right now. The most important thing is that we’ll read together everyday!

We’ve got a trip to the library planned in the next few days and an amazon cart brimming with some books that I want to make sure we read even if we can’t find them at our local library.

Each day I’ll be sharing what we’re reading and how our adventure is going. I hope that you’ll do the same!

Here’s the reading list!

  1. Read a picture book
  2. Read non-fiction
  3. Read a Newberry award winner
  4. Read a book about a famous person
  5. Read some poetry
  6. Listen to an audio book
  7. Read a newly published book
  8. Read a book you’ve read before
  9. Read an alphabet book
  10. Read a book about food and cook together
  11. Read a classic book
  12. Read a Greek Myth
  13. Read some Shakespeare
  14. Read a fairy tale
  15. Read a version of the same fairy tale from another country
  16. Read about history
  17. Read about math
  18. Read about nature
  19. Read about friendship
  20. Read from a book by your favorite author
  21. Begin a chapter book
  22. Read a book about art
  23. Read a book about music
  24. Read a rhyming book
  25. Read a book by an author you’ve never read before
  26. Read a book about a science topic
  27. Read a fable, folktale, or tall tale
  28. Read a fantasy
  29. Read a wordless book
  30. Read a book that has won the Caldecott Medal

Happy Reading!

Thank You, Sarah Mackenzie!


     Thank you,Sarah Mackenzie!

The other day I was reorganizing my files and came across a piece I wrote about 8 months ago and NEVER shared!  Rereading it, I saw the truth it contained and decided it needed to make its way here.  I hope reading it blesses you as much as it has me.

Next week my baby turns two. The approach of her birthday doesn’t feel as difficult as it did last year. But boy, the past two years have been tough! This little girl is full of spunk, and toddler, through and through! When the natural curiosity of this little lady is combined with her preschool brother’s natural mischievousness, we have a recipe for mayhem. All. The. Time. J I’ll save you the gory details and just say that the antics (some adorable, some not so much) on any given day have made homeschooling our 4 school-age kiddos much more challenging, and many days just frustrating!

We’re pretty relaxed homeschoolers at heart, but I was feeling like we weren’t getting to even a sliver of what we wanted to. And when we did get to something, I felt rushed, my mind not able to stay focused on the task at hand. I was always thinking about all the things I wasn’t getting to, all the things left undone. It’s awful feeling as though my efforts aren’t enough. It was well into the little one’s second year that I came across that quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge your day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”

It was also around this time that I discovered The Read Aloud Revival Podcasts, hosted by Sarah Mackenzie. I distinctly remember listening to the first episode. I remember standing there after it finished playing, just standing still, a rarity for me. I remember wondering how I had forgotten how much I love reading to my kids.

We had always read aloud. Day after day, we would spend an hour or two reading together. I had looked forward to snuggling in with a cup of tea and my favorite book lists every Sunday afternoon. I’d read over the lists, get a preview online if I’d never read it before, and reserve a boat load at my local library. I had been intentional and generous with our read aloud time. But with the birth of baby #6, I had lost my balance and finding it seemed out of reach.

So, standing there in the glow of inspiration of the conversation I had just heard on the podcast, I felt that spark again, that feeling of excitement about witnessing the education of my children by sharing great books together. As I write this, I realize that reclaiming our read aloud time wasn’t just about educating my children. It was about reclaiming our family culture. It took Sarah spelling that out for me to remember what I had set out to do in the first place. I am forever grateful because sometimes a weary, sleep-deprived mama just needs a reminder (and a swift kick in the pants :-). So if you haven’t had the privilege of listening to Sarah’s podcasts over at the Read Aloud Revival, go! Just pick one and start listening. You’ll be glad you did. No matter what the topic is you’ll find yourself energized and inspired!

The Simple Guide to Enjoying Shakespeare with Kids


Enjoy Shakespeare.

For many this statement seems like an oxymoron. Their feelings about Shakespeare are on par with having a tooth pulled without the anesthesia. Why is that? Why is Shakespeare so well-known and yet so feared? I am willing to bet that the biggest reason is unfamiliarity with the language of Shakespeare. I think one could argue that it is a foreign language all its own! With that said, I am going to share with you ways to enjoy Shakespeare with children of all ages!

Start with re-tellings!

The stories of Shakespeare really are inviting once you break the barrier of the poetic language. The best way our family has been able to do this is to listen to and read re-tellings! Our favorites have been from Jim Weiss and Bruce Coville. Both of these authors and storytellers have a way of capturing the beauty of the story, seamlessly merging original lines from Shakespeare into their re-tellings. So not only do we better understand the story but the poetry of the language is gracefully maintained.Another path to enjoying Shakespeare, and simulatenously expanding our view of his works, is to read a book like Shakespeare’s storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard. This book shares 6 folk tales and a little history and insight about how each one relates to the works of Shakespeare. The best part is that it comes with 2 CDs so that you can listen to them on the go. I can’t say enough about this book! And I can’t help but smile when my kids say, “Can we listen to Shakespeare? Plleeeaaase?”

coville shakespeare
coville shakespeare

Find your guides!

Gather some resources about Shakespeare that work for your family.  These will end up being as much for you as your kids. They’ll be your go-to when you want to dig a little deeper or get some fresh ideas! My favorites are linked below. Having them on hand has helped me to be consistent with making Shakespeare more a part of our family culture, rather than just a story we read once.

Listen, read and watch!

Shakespeare is poetry and play. It is meant to be heard and seen, both on the written page and on the stage. But I have to confess that I am terrified of reading Shakespeare aloud to my kids. Not so much that I will mispronounce words but that I will lose the beauty of the language and kill any chance of my kids enjoying the experience. So, I got creative! I bought several copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story with which my children are already familiar. And I purchased the audio version. So we have options. We can listen. We can read. And most preferred, we can listen and read along at the same time! I am still on the look-out for a well performed screen or stage production of Shakespeare plays, but that is on my to-do list before the year is through. So if you have any favorites to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!


So that’s it! 

Simple strategies. 

Gather some resources. 

Start small and jump in.

You will gain confidence as you go.

You may even find that you and your kids enjoy Shakespeare!

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Sassafras Science Adventures

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Day 15: Sassafras Science Adventures

I am always looking for ways to bring learning alive in our home.  And when I found the Sassafras Science Adventures, I had a hard time deciding on which one to choose.  All three looked amazing and I had one of those 'I-want-it-all' moments.  I finally settled on Botany, much to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my six-year-old botanist.  And we have not been disappointed.  This book has quickly become a favorite read-aloud, and closing the book is a guaranteed way to hear a chorus of "Don't stop....Just one more chapter...Pleeeaaaase?"

sassafras botany DSC_0218

But our learning hasn't stopped there.  We have headed out the door to see what we can find.  To see if we can spot some of the plants the story so gracefully introduces.  And our rabbit trails lead us to other books and still more discoveries.  We keep track of our learning in our logbooks, but even if we didn't, reading the story and exploring the world would be enough.  Because real learning is an adventure.  You never want it to end!

The Apple Pie Tree

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Day 14: The Apple Pie Tree

Who doesn't read at least one book about apples in the fall?  Even as our kids get older, we still smile when we see the display of picture books at the library with their apple illustrations on the cover.  They beg us to sit a while, as if just by opening the pages, we will be immersed into the goodness of autumn.  And then we will feel all warm inside and immediately have the intense desire to bake an apple pie:)

apple pie tree

The Apple Pie Tree will do all of these things.  It's simplicity is top among its merits, along with the way it leads us to think upon the magic of the apple seed and the cycle of the seasons.  Little ones will want to look inside an apple, and that leads to all sorts of activities.  Apple picking, making apple prints, making applesauce, apple crisp, apple pie.  Sometimes simple is best!  Happy Learning!

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Learn Geography with a Laugh


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Day 13: Learn Geography with a Laugh

Sometimes I take this whole parenting & shaping my children's future thing too seriously.  Do you know what I mean?

I carefully select books to support the development of their character and their minds.  I look for themes that will inspire and teach, and being well-written is a MUST!  But sometimes, I just need to loosen up!

Enter The Scrambled States of America.

scrmabled states scrambles states game

We found this book, or rather it found us, after we purchased the game at a yard sale.  I am always looking for engaging ways of introducing topics that have traditionally been presented in dry, lackluster fashion.  The game is just that!  It includes geography of the United States, including capitols and state nicknames, spelling, and color identification.  It is one of the first games that every member of our family has enjoyed no matter their age.

The book is equally fun!  My kids will always remember that "Nevada and Mississippi are in love."  Not sure what that means?  Check out the book to find out.  You'll never look at geography the same again!

Want more practical & inspirational tools to inspire learning in your home?   Click here

Learning to Trust with Boys & Baseball


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There's a Book for That, Day 10:
Boys & Baseball

Allowing learning to unfold naturally is a tightrope walk between anxiety and trust. At least it has been for me. I have often questioned my own notion of learning, and often done so multiple times in an hour. What I have learned is that whenever I allow trust to win out over the fear and anxiety, the result is beautiful. Always. The process is not always neat and orderly. Actually, it rarely is. But beauty and blessing can be found in every corner of trusting enough to respect your child’s voice in his own education. That’s the lesson all six of my children teach me daily. And among my children, there is no better teacher than our eight year old. This boy has pushed me out of my comfort zone in splendid ways that I thank him for.

boys baseball graphic

So when his love of baseball happily threatened to take over every aspect of his waking (and most likely dreaming) hours, I made the conscious decision to welcome the passion. Thanks to Julie Bogart over at Brave Writer and Lori Pickert over at Project-Based Homeschooling, this decision was easy. I suggested to my boy that he come up with a project about baseball. His enthusiasm for this ideas matched that of Christmas morning. Not only was he going to immerse himself in learning all about baseball, but he got to take the lead and he got quality time with me sharing his passion. All of these are immense benefits, but the latter is what this parenting gig is all about. Nothing says ‘I love you’ to a child more than spending time together focusing on what they love.

So now, on to the books….

These are just some of the books we read together. We also watched some YouTube videos documentaries about different baseball players and baseball history. And this boy amazed me every step of the way. He was focused and attentive and persistent. After some brainstorming, he decided he wanted to write a book. And he doesn’t mean just a little, easy reader book. He means a BOOK, and he is prepared for it to take him all year to do it.

jeter project text

This is the result of trusting my boy and being his partner in learning.  As recent as a few months ago, he did not want to learn to read or write.  Now he is doing both, with enthusiasm!

two paths

Throughout the process so far, he has learned how to read and spell several dozen words. He has learned how to paraphrase and re-tell what he has learned. He has learned how to ask questions and seek the answers. And he has learned how to go through a video or book with a fine tooth comb a second, and sometimes third time, to make sure he got the facts straight. And above all, he has learned that he is a reader and a writer. So if you ever  When you come to the fork in the road where you have to choose the path of fear or the path of trust, choose trust. Let’s make it the path more traveled.

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The Hundred Dresses Story Chart

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There's a Book for That, Day 9: The Hundred Dresses, part three & a free printable!

For the past two days, I have been sharing my notes and resources for the book club I facilitate at our local homeschool co-op.  You can find those posts here and here.  Even though I tried to make the description of our process and conversations as clear as possible, I know that sometimes it's helpful to just have something that you can download and print to have on hand when you are ready to jump into your own discussion.  So, I made you a story chart, based on the one found in Teaching the Classics, complete with notes for each aspect of the story.  While your discussion won't be exactly like ours, I thought you may find it helpful, as I did when I was just getting started, to have some notes to guide you.   So, consider this little story chart my way of paying it forward.  I hope you find it helpful and that it encourages you to dive in to a book discussion.  It's really not so scary once you get started.  :)  If you'd like a copy of the story chart delivered to your inbox, just pop your name and email address into the form below.  Happy reading (& discussing)!

Get a free story chart to jumpstart your own book discussion!

100 dresses