Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Are YOU my mother?

Dear Creative Writers,

Do you recognize the above book?

While a mother bird flies off in search of food for her soon-to-hatch chick, her baby hatches and leaves the nest early. The baby bird roams around looking for his mother, asking different animals, "Are you my mother."

Here is a video recording of this classic story.

Come to find out, there is some truth to this little birdy's quest. Within moments of hatching, the baby bird needs to bond with its mother. And if the mother isn't around, the baby bird may bond with another creature, bird or not. Take a look at this baby turkey's situation.

What a warm and touching video!

Here is your Creative Writing Challenge:

Can you write the rest of this story? We already have the beginning (a baby turkey identifies a human as his mother). But we need a middle and an end. (All stories must have all THREE, you know.)

Also, all stories must have a conflict that the main character must solve. What is the conflict in this story? And who is your main character? The baby turkey? What if the baby turkey's real mother suddenly shows up? What happens then?

The story is YOURS, and I can't wait to see what you come up with!

With Imagination,

Professor Watermelon

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Write a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Commercial!

Dear Creative Writers,
Commercials are "mini-stories". The writer of the commercial creates a problem and shows how the "product" solves this problem.
Take a look at these commercials for Cinnamon Toast Crunch. What is the "problem" in these stories, and why should this convince us to buy Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

So, what do you think?
Here is my opinion: We all get hungry! Cinnamon Toast Crunch is so irresistible that the little squares will eat each other. If they are that satisfying, maybe we should eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch the next time we are in the mood for cereal. Problem solved!

Here is your creative writing challenge: Now that you have watched three examples of excellent commercial writing for Cinnamon Toast Crunch, can you create the fourth commercial?
Write a few paragraphs describing how these tasty squares will, once again, plot each other's demise.
With cinnamon on top,
Professor Watermelon 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Weekly MUSE: Cinnamon

With Thanksgiving around the corner, pumpkin pie has been on my mind. In fact, I’ve already had a slice… or three.
So, what is it about pumpkin pie that drives people like me BONKERS? Is it the pumpkin? Is it the crust? Is it the whipped cream? The sugar? The spice?

SPICE! It’s the SPICE!
The beautiful mixture of ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon instantly transport me to a Winter Wonderland.

But I have a question. I know that ginger is a root, nutmeg is a seed, and cloves are a dried flower, but what is cinnamon? And where does it come from?
Looks like we’ve sniffed out our Weekly Muse!

Come to find out, cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree. But not any old tree!

There are two main types of cinnamon trees: the Ceylon cinnamon tree and the Cassia cinnamon tree.
Ceylon Cinnamon Tree
Photo by: Dave Cito
Ceylon (say-lon) cinnamon is considered the only TRUE cinnamon. This makes it more rare and expensive. Cassia cinnamon is the common cinnamon most people buy at the grocery store. Cassia cinnamon has a strong cinnamon taste, while Ceylon cinnamon is more mild with citrus notes.

The Ceylon cinnamon tree is native to Sri Lanka, a small island country off the southern coast of India. Sri Lanka produces about 90% of the world’s Ceylon cinnamon. Take a look at this video and watch how cinnamon is harvested.

Most Cassia cinnamon comes from Indonesia. Other types of cinnamon come from China and Vietnam.

Can you tell the difference between Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon?
Photo by: Cinnamon Vogue

Cinnamon is used in hundreds of recipes – some savory but mostly sweet.
For instance, have you ever had a cinnamon roll? What about an ooey-gooey Cinnabon? These are the most famous cinnamon rolls in the world. Take a look at this video and see why.

Cinnamon is also used to flavor many types of popular candy.
The Ferrara Candy Company has been making two of these popular candies for over 50 years.

The Atomic Fireball candies

The Atomic Fireball was first made in 1954. And boy do these little candies pack some heat! Have you ever had one?
Red Hots have been around since the 1930’s. These little cinnamon flavored candies are eaten by themselves or used in recipes. Some people put Red Hots in their applesauce.

With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these what if questions will help you get started.
WHAT IF your story took place in the early 1800’s and your main character was boy or girl who traveled the countryside selling exotic Ceylon Cinnamon.

WHAT IF your main character concocted a new cinnamon roll recipe and the amazing scent of these treats attracted aliens from a faraway galaxy?
WHAT IF your story took place in the jungle, and people used cinnamon sticks as money instead of gold or paper currency.

The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own what if questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.
So, grab a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.

With Imagination,
Professor Watermelon

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Help Wanted? Squirrels for Hire!

Dear Creative Writers,
Squirrels were one of Roald Dahl's muses when writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Take a look at the video and see how these incredible rodents separated the good nuts from the bad nuts.
Here is your Creative Writing Challenge: Can you think of a clever job for a squirrel like Roald Dahl did? Write a paragraph or two through the squirrel's perspective, explaining why he or she should get the job!
If for some reason you can't think of a clever job for a squirrel, I'll give you one. What if a squirrel wanted to be an electrician? Have your squirrel tell us why he/she should be hired.
Go nuts!
Professor Watermelon

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Weekly MUSE: Squirrels

The lazy squirrel Tino and I saw on our walk!
While I was walking my dog this weekend, I noticed something. Usually the squirrels dart around like lunatics – dashing across the sidewalks and bolting up the trees. But lately the squirrels seem lazy and nonchalant. They wait till we are at least 10 feet away before moseying toward a tree.
Why? Don’t they know that dogs and squirrels don’t mix?  

After pondering this conundrum for a while, I approached a hypothesis: These squirrels are moving slower because they are fatter. For the past couple of weeks they have been gorging themselves on acorns and other tree nuts to prepare for winter. This added body weight must be slowing them down.
Whether my hypothesis is right or wrong, we have found our Weekly Muse: SQUIRRELS!

Squirrels are rodents. In fact, a retired teacher friend of mine calls them “tree rats”. I think squirrels are way too cute to be compared to rats, but they are related.
All rodents are known for their ever-growing front chompers. That’s why they HAVE to chew on things to file down their teeth. Could you imagine if our teeth never stopped growing. YIKES!

There are over 200 species of squirrels, and they live all over the world except Australia. The smallest squirrel is the African pygmy squirrel which grows only five inches from nose to tail. The largest squirrel is the Indian giant squirrel, which grows up to three feet long. HOLY-MOLY! That’s a big squirrel!
Indian giant squirrel
Photo by: Kumar Viacom
There are three categories of squirrels: tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels. Yes, I said FLYING squirrels. We’ll get to those in a moment.

Tree squirrels are the most commonly seen squirrels. These are the squirrels that Tino (my dog) and I see on our walks. They live in the trees but come down to the ground to find nuts.
Here in Indiana, there are two common species of tree squirrels: gray squirrels and fox squirrels.

Gray Squirrel
Photo by: Bobolink

Fox Squirrel
Photo by: Ingrid Taylar

Where I lived in Seattle, I would often see western gray squirrels, which look just like the gray squirrels in Indiana.
Take a look at this video to see how tree squirrels build their nests.

Ground squirrels live in the… you guessed it… the GROUND! These critters burrow dens and tunnel systems underground where they raise their young. Take a look at this video and see these small, yet brave little critters.

Flying Squirrels are the most fascinating! Unique flaps of skin connect their legs, which the squirrels use as gliders. See it for yourself!

Here is the most interesting fact I found. Across the world, squirrels cause thousands of power outages. How? Well, they snip power lines with those ever-growing chompers. But don’t feel too bad for those thousands of people who lose their electricity – the squirrel loses its life. ZAP!

Looks like we aren’t the only ones who use SQUIRRELS for a MUSE!

With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these what if questions will help you get started.
WHAT IF your main character had a pet squirrel?

WHAT IF your main was a squirrel who had figured out a way to cut power lines without zapping himself? What if he taught other squirrels how to do it too? Uh-oh!
WHAT IF your main character was a flying squirrel SUPERHERO?

The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own what if questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.
So, grab a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.

With Imagination,
Professor Watermelon

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Weekly MUSE: James Whitcomb Riley

Professor Watermelon with a statue of James Whitcomb Riley at the Riley Museum Home

Last week, I took you on an adventure through Crown Hill Cemetery. At the very top of Crown Hill is the grave of Indiana’s favorite poet, James Whitcomb Riley. He is also known as the Children’s Poet.

This week, I want to take you on another journey – a journey through the life of this fascinating man.

So, hold on to your top hats, and get ready for this week’s MUSE!

James Whitcomb Riley!

James Whitcomb Riley
I had the grand opportunity to visit the Riley Museum Home – the home where Mr. Riley lived the final 23 years of his life. He didn’t own the home but was an honored guest of the Nickum and Holstein families.

The James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home on Lockerbie Street in Indianapolis, IN
At the museum I learned all about this very intriguing man, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

James Whitcomb Riley was born on October, 7th 1849 in the small Indiana town of Greenfield.

He had a happy childhood, although he wasn’t very fond of school. Little James didn’t like math, history, or science. But he LOVED books and writing! Maybe that is because his mother (Elizabeth Riley) was also a poet and storyteller.
Elizabeth Riley would entertain her six children with fantastic fairytales and funny stories, which certainly inspired James Whitcomb Riley’s writing.

Reuben Riley (James’ father) was a lawyer and politician, and he was a great public speaker, too.

With parents like these, no wonder James Whitcomb Riley became one of the country’s most beloved orators. (An “orator” is a public speaker, especially one of great eloquence.)

James Whitcomb Riley dropped out of school by the age of sixteen and before he became a famous poet he had some very interesting jobs. He painted signs and houses, he traveled with a medicine show, and he worked for various newspapers.

But during this time, Mr. Riley kept writing. Finally, in 1883, he published his first book of poetry. He soon found his fame and became what we call today a “rock star.”
James Whitcomb Riley traveled the country with other “rock stars” like Mark Twain.

I’m calling these men “rock stars” because in today’s terms, that is what they were. In the late 1800’s, radio and television had not been invented. People looked towards live theatre and books as their main source of entertainment. When a famous author or poet came to town, auditoriums would be sold out like a Justin Bieber concert today.
James Whitcomb Riley was one of these poets.

Some of Mr. Riley’s most famous poems are “The Raggedy Man”, “When the Frost is on the Punkin” and “Little Orphant Annie”.
That last poem probably sounds quite familiar, huh? Here is a recording of this famous poem. Somebody has taken a photograph of James Whitcomb Riley and animated his face. This is not his real voice (wink).

This poem has inspired comic strips, radio shows, musicals, and films. Take a look at the trailer for the 1982 film “Little Orphan Annie.”
Mr. Riley’s poem, “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphant Annie” inspired Johnny Gruelle to create the beloved stories of Raggedy Ann and Andy. Do you recognize her?

Raggedy Ann
Photo by: Chefrandon
James Whitcomb Riley LOVED children. He never had any children of his own, but he adored his nieces and nephews and the school children who would visit him for storytimes at his Lockerbie home. Here is an OLD reel of Mr. Riley welcoming some school children to his home – the same home that remains a museum today.

Did you see the dog? That was one of Mr. Riley’s closest companions. Guess what the dog’s name was… Lockerbie.
Shortly after Mr. Riley’s death in 1916, a group of prominent citizens who knew Mr. Riley started a memorial association in his honor. The Riley Children’s Foundation was born. In 1922, the foundation opened the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children. To this day, Riley Hospital is ranked one of the leading children’s hospitals in the world.

Every summer, the Riley Children’s Foundation also holds Camp Riley at Bradford Woods. Over 250 children with disabilities come to Camp Riley to participate in activities designed to empower their confidence.

No wonder James Whitcomb Riley is still revered today as the Children’s Poet. What an EXTRAORDINARY legacy to leave behind.

James Whitcomb Riley, the Children's Poet

With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these what if questions will help you get started.

WHAT IF your main character was Mr. Riley’s dog, Lockerbie? Could you write a story through Lockerbie’s perspective?

WHAT IF you wrote your own rendition of a little orphan named Annie? How would you make your story different?
WHAT IF your main character was boy or a girl who lived in present time, but he/she was given the top hat of James Whitcomb Riley? What if they wore the hat every day? What if the hat was enchanted?

The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own what if questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.
So, grab a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.

With Imagination,
Professor Watermelon