Sunday, February 25, 2018


I know about this time in the school year many classes create a class book. I know because--to my total delight--many of you produce a brand new WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book and kindly send me a copy. 
Jen Rusin's 2nd graders
Homestead Elementary School,Aurora , IL)with their class 

So I thought this year I'd jump in with some behind-my-book tips on how I write one of my WHAT IF YOU HAD?! books. You and your students are welcome to jump in and join me in creating WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH 2?!
Here's the original.

The process can be boiled down to the 4--RRRRs!

1-R is REVV UP! This is where everyone fires up their brain cells and comes up with ideas.

Okay, we already have the book's title and thus it's subject matter. The challenge now is to come up with 11 animals with interesting teeth. Yes, every WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book introduces 11 (count them) animals. And NO-- you can not repeat any of the animals in the first WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH?! book. Those have already been featured So these animals are out--new animals deserve a turn. 

  • Beaver
  • Great White Shark
  • Narwhale
  • Elephant
  • Rattlesnake
  • Naked Mole Rat
  • Vampire Bat
  • Hippopotamus
  • Bengal Tiger
  • Crocodile
  • Camel 

The REVV UP step is a great time for a little brainstorming. Try these Google searches: 
Animals with Interesting teeth.
Animals with weird teeth.
Animals with special teeth for self-defense.
Animals with special teeth for digging.
Animals with special teeth to build home.

For best results, you'll want to try for an interesting mix. Remember, there are special kinds of teeth that can be included here, such as tusks and fangs. Could probably stretch it to include mandibles (tooth-like parts in some insects).

Try for 12 to 14 "maybe" animals for this list in case one or more doesn't pan out during the next step.

AT THIS POINT--kids can divide up into partner pairs or small groups to share steps 2, 3, and 4.

2-R is RESEARCH! Sure it may have seemed like research was already happening during the REVV UP! step (and it was). Now, it's time for REAL research.
LEFT  LEFT                                                      RIGHT                                                    

Every spread--lefthand and righthand set of pages--has one page with bursts of information about the featured animal's teeth. And one page that shares how it could be fun to actually have that kind of animal part. 

So this is where the class can vote on 11 animals they'd like to include. Set the extras aside as back up if one of the selected animals doesn't work out. That happens when there isn't enough information on its teeth and how they're used. Or no one can come up with how it would be cool to have those teeth that isn't being used for some other animal in your class book.

Check back in the original WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH?! to see what kinds of information to include on the INFO PAGE--the lefthand page in the spread.

You'll see there is brief info about the shape, structure and even color of the teeth. Plus a sentence or two on the key way those teeth are the perfect adaptation for letting the animal survive and be healthy in its home habitat. 

FACT--And every INFO PAGE has one other fun bit of information about that animal's teeth.

Now for the IMAGINE PAGE. What one totally cool, absolutely fun thing would you be able to do in your world (home habitat) with that animal's teeth? 

If possible, I like my RESEARCH step to include one or both of the following:
1. Check out the animal in person. If I ever visit or Skype visit, be sure an ask me about my personal experience with one boa constrictor named Rosie. :-)

This can be a trip to a zoo or nature center. It can even be a video of the living animal in action. I've had a great time getting up close and personal with some amazing wild animals. I do have fun writing my books! 

                  Me in Antarctica with Adelie Penguins
Me with Baby Mike, an Asian Elephant

2. Talk to an expert. Ask them to visit and talk about an animal they are studying. Or arrange a Skype visit to connect with an expert somewhere else in the world. Many are VERY willing to share. 

Time to reassess your list of 11 animals for your WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL TEETH 2?! book. Kick out and replace any that don't WOW you. Any you can't find enough about to make a good INFO PAGE. Any that just don't lend themselves to a good IMAGINE PAGE.

Then roll on to the next R.


Start with the INFO PAGE. Do what I call "Get the clay out." Roughly write sentences about the key information to be shared. Next, "Work the clay." That means work on squeezing the information down to just two or three fact-packed sentences. 

Then write the FACT in one fun sentence.

NOTE:  I always date each version of my text. This is what I wrote for my "Get the clay out" stage of the Beaver INFO PAGE.
LR pp 4-5
You could have beaver front teeth.
Chisel-shaped and very sharp.
Just right for eating bark and branches
And cutting down trees to build a lodge in a stream.

Beaver front teeth never stop growing.
So you could gnaw from morning to night,
day after day, for all of your life.
Your front teeth would never wear out
if you had beaver teeth.

A beavers lips are behind its front teeth.
That way it can gnaw branches in a pond

and not get a mouthful of water.

Finish by writing one sentence that shares the fun idea for the IMAGINE PAGE.

And on to the next R.


Good writing is as finely chiseled as a perfect diamond--as polished as gleaming silver. So this is the step where the clay that was roughly worked in step 3 is made publication quality and just right for your class book. 

This requires writing. Reading aloud to listen to the rhythm of the text. 

Thinking about just the right words to use and revising. Reading aloud to listen to the beats of the text. 

Trimming the text so it's as tight and to the point as possible. Reading aloud to listen for anything that makes you stumble. Anything you just naturally slip in so it's missing and needs adding. Or anything you just naturally leave out that clearly can be cut. 

For me--after years of practice--I reach the point where what I've written feels just right when I hear it. 

NOTE: This is one stage along the way of revising. Read the "Get the clay out" version out loud. Next read this one out loud. Then read the final published version. See how they've changed. 

Trust me when I tell you there were lots of versions in-between as I tweaked and tweaked and tweaked.

beaver’s front teeth are 
chisel-shaped and very sharp.
Teeth like that are perfect for biting off bark 
and cutting down trees.

A beaver’s front teeth never stop growing.
So you could gnaw from morning to night,
day after day, for all of your life.
Your front teeth would never wear out,
if you had beaver teeth.


A beaver’s front teeth are orange. That’s because they have a coating that contains iron. The iron colors the teeth and makes them very strong.

When the text is right, it's time to illustrate. Photos or art can illustrate the INFO PAGE. But, of course, art will be the only way to bring the IMAGINE PAGE to life.

Now, it's time for the partners and small groups to put their work together. Take a class vote on what order the animals should appear in the book. OR arrange them alphabetically. 

  • The very beginning: Page 2 needs a dedication. So dedicate the book to someone as a class. Or let each child add their own personal dedication. 
  • Page 3 can be exactly like Page 3 in the original book. Or create one as a class. 

At the end of the book: Take one spread (lefthand and righthand page) to remember some of the ways it would be cool to have the animal teeth featured in your class book.

On a second spread, share ways it's good to have people teeth instead of animal teeth. Use the ones in the original book to start you thinking but come up with new ways it's good to have people teeth for your class book. 

And then there is what's called back matter. In the original book, it's one spread that shares information about teeth and tooth care. What other information about teeth could your class share for the back matter of your class book? 

REVV UP the brain cells to come up with new information for this spread. Here's a couple of ideas to get you started:
1. How is toothpaste made and how does it clean teeth. You could include a brief history of tooth brushes and toothpaste.
2. What is tooth decay? What causes it?
3. How do fillings help teeth. 

As a personal note, I usually write the back matter after the RESEARCH step and before I "Get the clay out." That seems to start my writer juices flowing and launches me into writing the book's spreads.

My cat Beau likes to check out my books. In fact, if I don't watch out he checks out how they taste.

I also, almost always, rearrange the order the book's spreads at least once after they're all written. I do this when I see one that have things in common and should be grouped together. Or one just seems to natually follow another. 

Here I am getting in the mood to work on my next WHAT IF YOU HAD?! book. Can you guess what it's about?

Most of all, I have fun discovering and imagining as I work on these books. So I know you will too. ENJOY both the process and the finished books!

Did you guess?!

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