The Dark by Lemony Snicket Book Review

The month of October is upon us. We are fully into our lessons, teaching reading comprehension, how to write better sentences, paragraphs, research projects, etc. However, our students seem to have one thing on their mind and that is also that it is the month of Halloween. With this, I wanted to share The Dark by Lemony Snicket book review to give you something to help make it through this month.

Several times in the past week my students interrupted me in the middle of a lesson by raising their hand. Quickly, I smile because there is someone who is paying attention and wants to know more of the wonderous lesson I am teaching. Then I hear the magical words, “Is Halloween on a Monday or Friday?” 

So why should I fight this month and all of its pitfalls, but instead just embrace it? With this, I have chosen a quick and simple book that works so well with grades 4th through 7th. Our students may feel a childish picture book is beneath them. Nevertheless, I quickly inform my students that the same author of The Dark also wrote everyone’s favorite book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Once I say that, their ears perk up, and they want to know more.

Not only is The Dark a fun story to share, but it is also full of examples of personification, primal fear, and a deep need to conquer evil. Plus, it is adorable for your older students to remember their childhood when everything was so fearful during October, especially the dark.

The Dark is about a young lad named Lazslo, who is terrified of the dark. He avoids “the dark” as it mainly hangs out in the basement. Then, one night “the dark” is in his room as his nightlight bulb loses its spark. Lazslo, the young lad, must come face-to-face with his fears of “the dark,” while Lemony Snicket personifies “the dark” into a friendly being. This book contains a plethora of personification examples. 

Personification Examples

Personification is when something other than a human is given human characteristics in a story, paragraph, or sentence.

Examples:

The moon winked at the owl when the dark clouds wandered past. 

In this sentence, the moon winked at the owl. Of course, the moon can’t wink because it is definitely an inanimate object. As well, clouds can’t wander. Wandering is when one walks or moves in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way. Clouds may seem like they wander, but of course they too are inanimate objects that float or travel where the wind moves them.

Another example is from Patricia MacLachlan’s book, My Friend Earth.

“Under the white, the silent seed is cradled in the dark soil. Watching.

In this beautifully constructed sentence, one envisions a seed cradled in the dark by the earth’s soil as if the earth were its mother, gently clutching its child.

The last example is from The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

“And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy.”

Yes. These books were originally written for children. However, until older students journey back and study the writing techniques of these magnificent writers, these books haven’t been fully appreciated as they should. 

As C. S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” With that, I totally agree.

Author: Lemony Snicket, “The Dark

Lemony Snicket is a pseudonym for the writer, Daniel Handler. He was born on February 28, 1970, in California. He is married to a book illustrator, and they have one child named, Otto. Lemony Snicket is best known for his novel series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, which was made into a movie by Nickelodeon and a television show on Netflix. 

Daniel Handler graduated with a B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1992. He has always loved to read. One of his favorite authors was Roald Dahl, writer of James and the Giant Peach. Daniel Handler has published several books for adults as well. He is a seasoned accordion player and has played in a couple of bands.

Daniel Handler created the author Lemony Snicket as a type of additional character in his A Series of Unfortunate Events novels. Lemony Snicket breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience, using a rare 2nd person point of view. He regularly explains difficult vocabulary, foreshadows events, and directly interacts with the audience based on the story. Lemony Snicket does not do this in The Dark, something he is known for. One of the funniest clips of Lemony Snicket explaining is below. If only he had created more for all of figurative language.

The Dark was the winner of the Annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing of a picture book writing in 2014. The Charlotte Zolotow Award is awarded annually to the best picture book of the year. The picture book must be published in the United States. The Charlotte Zolotow Award is awarded by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a children’s literature library of the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Illustrator: Jon Klassen, “The Dark

Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen illustrated The Dark. Jon Klassen is a Canadian writer and illustrator of children’s books. In 2011, the book, I Want My Hat Back, won the American 2013 Caldecott Medal and the English equivalent, Kate Greenaway Medal. The Dark made history an illustrator won both awards for the same book in the same year.

Another connection for your students is the fact that Klassen is an animator. His animations appear in the movies, Kung Fu Panda and the spine tingler, Coraline. I am sure just telling your students that bit of information would definitely peak their interest.

Klassen was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and raised in the Niagara Falls area. Klassen studied animation at Sheridan College. Later, he moved to Los Angeles after graduation. Please visit his website for examples of his work. I am sure your budding artist would love to see what he has accomplished.

The illustrations in The Dark takes us along on a journey of following a young lad through his enormous old house. As we follow along, we see the surroundings of the home through the boy’s viewpoint. By seeing the dark through his viewpoint, we see it as he sees it. Shadows around every corner, dark stairs leading to the basement, and the dark waiting for him at every turn.

To enhance this book, you may talk with your students of the importance of illustrations. Illustrations play a huge part of setting the mood of a story. Light and shadow is definitely one thing that Klassen did an excellent job with.

To read more about creating the mood of a story with illustrations, please visit…

The Dark by Lemony Snicket Activities, Personification, and Writing Project

Our activities will take you from beginning to the end with the reading of Lemony Snicket’s Award Winning story, The Dark, to thoroughly teaching your students all about personifications by helping them create their own story concentrating on this important figurative language element. These activities will give your students perfect examples and activities using personification and how to use this figurative language element in their writing through our activities, graphic organizers, and writing project.

Conclusion

If you want to grab your student’s attention this October, and you want to excite them about writing as well, please grab a copy of The Dark. Written by the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events and illustrated by one of the animators of the movie Coraline, it is sure to grab their attention. In addition, they will be immersed in the element of personification in a whole new spooky way.

Author of Blog

Want more? Click over to our other blog post, How to Teach Writing with Lemony Snicket.

Perfect Picture Book for Middle School

One of the perks of being a librarian is to attend events in which the newest picture books are introduced to the world. I recently spent a day attending the SLJ Picture Book Palooza event of the year. This is an online event in which librarians and teachers are acquainted with the authors and illustrators of these lovely gems entering the world for the first time.  One gem that I did find and want to share is The Station Cat, a perfect picture book for middle school.

SLJ Picture Book Palooza

After attending each year, I chuckle when I hear someone say picture books are only for very young children. To me, it’s like someone strolling past a bookstore saying there’s nothing in there but a bunch of old books. Ahh. If they could only perceive the magical worlds they just paced past that both young and old would enjoy. 

The Creation of a Perfect Picture Book

Attendees are able to listen to how books are created through the minds of the authors. I loved each moment. One particular moment was when a distinguished author said while she was writing a biography, she kept hearing a voice. She said the voice said many times, “I didn’t talk that way.” As the voice got louder and louder in her mind, she did more research. It was then she realized that the person’s “at home” voice was very different than the one the public knew. To me, this was incredible. It was also a good lesson on how important “voice” is in our writing. 

The Perfect Picture Book Must Include Illustrations

Another aspect of the event that I loved was listening to and watching the illustrators. I perceive illustrators as just as important as authors. Many times, the illustrator seems to take a back seat to the writing of a book. 

However, I feel if we could place more emphasis on the illustrations, it would pull in the reluctant readers that we seem to lose. This is especially true when we introduce chapter books and novels to our students. 

Visual-Spatial Learners

In addition, illustrations draw in the interest of the artistic students. In the publishing world, there is a little secret. Did you know that 60% of the story is only told through words, and that the other 40% is told through the illustrations? For example, the author shouldn’t write “The sky was gloomy when the child entered the beautiful garden.” The job of expressing the gloomy sky and the beauty of the garden is placed on the illustrator, not the author. 

Magical Creation of Flowing Words

I will always say over and over again, picture books, or storybooks as I call them, are not only for the ones who are just beginning to read, but for all who love a good story, no matter the age. It’s for all who want to fall into another world and stop time until the magical creation of flowing words slowly comes to an end.

Storybooks to me are like short movies. They gently pull you in at the beginning, holding your emotions as they rise and fall, all the while carrying you tenderly to the end. It’s at this point in which you feel like you will never be the same person you were before you opened those well-written illustrated pages. 

For more information, click here…

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, does just this. I was introduced to this and many other picture books this year. 

The Station Cat is a story that begins its journey in a world full of grayness, void of any colors or joy at a busy, lonely train station. As the story progresses, we are introduced to a colorful kitten, a lonely, starving, little lady that no one pays any mind to. However, as time drifts past, one by one, slowly, ever so slowly, the sad passengers begin to notice her. As they do and begin to show her empathy, they realize how much this one little kitten changes them and opens their life up to a more colorful world.

Publisher’s Synopsis of The Station Cat:

A stunning picture book about the power of hope.

A lonely little kitten wanders into a dull, gray station, full of dull, gray people. Her colorful fur and bright green eyes bring warmth and life to this weary place, and soon people begin to notice the kitten. As she learns about the different travelers and their struggles from loss and loneliness, the little kitten wants to help fill their world with hope and color, too. 

In this timely and important book, author and illustrator Stephen Hogtun shows young readers the pride and sense of purpose that can come from helping others.

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, is the perfect book to bring the beauty and hope of a well-written story into your classroom. Full of beautifully written similes and metaphors, Hogtun’s writing takes the reader through a delightful journey. Warning: have your tissues nearby for the ending. Better yet, watch the faces of your students when they reach that final destination. Believe me, they will be given the priceless gift of empathy for others and how this empathy can truly make the world around them a more colorful place. 

Please enjoy the reading of this wonderful book by the author himself. A true gift.

The Art of Illustrating a Picture Book

One thing my daughter, who is a teacher as well, emphasizes is that not all children have the same interest. This is so true. For this reason, I pay just as much attention to the beautifully crafted illustrations for the budding artist in the class. Most of the time, if I have a reluctant reader, I go the other direction, and introduce them to the beauty of the paintings, the use of color, the light strokes, the heavy emphasis of the paint brush here and there. This opens up worlds of art for them, thus bringing them into the world of books too.

Colors Are Extremely Important

In the story, The Station Cat, perfect picture book for middle school, not only does Hogtun write the words, he brings those words to life through his beautiful illustrations. This is particularly true in the area of color. In the beginning, the young kitten is the only one full of color, or as we may imagine, full of hopes and dreams. Everyone else is dull, void of color, and life. As the story progresses, things begin to change. Color begins to flow through to the lonely passengers drifting by. 

This is one of those beautifully constructed books in which we could easily take away the words to only imagine the story through its illustrations. For the reluctant readers, placing emphasis on the illustrations will open up worlds for them as well. 

As a librarian, there are many joys with my job. I love being the first to view new books as they begin their journey. For I know the next ones to view them will be through the hands of my students. I love the classics. However, I put just as much, if not more emphasis on the newer books emerging from the presses. I know The Station Cat will be much loved along its journey. 

Conclusion 

If you ever get a chance to virtually attend next year’s SLJ Palooza of Picture Books, please do. It will open your heart to the world of picture books. Furthermore, t will also open up the possibilities of what you can do with them in middle school. Please do not let the age limits on these books stop you. I did check the age limit for The Station Cat. They recommended eight for the oldest reader. I dare to disagree. In my tender older age, I enjoyed every moment. I can only imagine the lessons I can create from its pages. Please consider attending next year’s event and let this wonderful world of perfect picture books open up for you as well. 

Author of Blog

If you would like to learn more about reading picture books in middle school, please visit our other blog post…

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

Using Scary Stories to Motivate Writers

Are you searching for a way to motivate writers in your classroom? If so, grab some quick and easy scary mentor text to read to your students during October. Reading a variety of samples of mentor text is an awesome way to model the craft of writing. Plus, using scary stories to motivate writers is even easier in the month of October.

Literary Elements and Figurative Language

What’s the secret to writing a suspenseful Halloween story? By making sure key pieces of literary elements and figurative language are intertwined throughout. Many spooky stories contain such crucial aspects as a unique setting on the edge of night, spooky sounds that only well-crafted onomatopoeia can produce, and sensory words that really make a reader feel a part of the action.

Setting

As you know, the setting of a story is the location in which a narrative takes place and time of the events. The setting creates the mood. However, a scary story doesn’t always have to occur in the typical graveyard or a haunted house with a long history of misfortune. No. It can be somewhere totally unexpected, but with the right twist and turns, becomes a place of danger, a place of fear. For example, in the story, The Creepy Carrots, who would have ever thought a carrot patch named Crackenhopper Field could produce an air of fright. Nonetheless, it most certainly does through the creative mind of Aaron Reynolds.

While much emphasis is placed on the location, which is indeed extremely important, so is the time. Nothing grabs the reader’s attention more than when a story begins at the edge of night. For example, Linda Williams writes in The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, “She walked so long and so far that it started to get dark. There was only a sliver of moon shining through the night.” I personally believe it has to do with primal fear kicking in with the reader, creating an environment in which the hairs stand up on the back of their necks and they are dying to know more.

Onomatopoeia

What’s another crucial aspect that a spooky story must contain? Sound. Nothing creates more dread than an unexpected sound coming from an unexpected place, no matter the time or location. For example, in The Creepy Carrots, Reynolds writes, “Jasper was about to help himself to a victory snack…when he heard it. The soft…sinister…tunktunktunk of carrots creeping.” No one is scared of pulling carrots from the ground. However, when the sky is on the edge of darkness and the field is located along the side of woods, and you are all alone, then suddenly a sinister echo vibrates from the garden behind you. Yes, primal fear automatically kicks in, even if it is a carrot patch.

Sensory Words

Last, what brings a reader fully into a story than the use of sensory words in mentor text. Sensory words really make the reader feel a part of the action. In the story, The Snowmen at Night, Buehner writes, “Some bite into caramel treats, which give them gooey grins.” I can taste the caramel now. Can you?

Let’s explore the mentor text mentioned above even more.

The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown

A quick and fun mentor text to read aloud is The Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown. It definitely takes suspense to a whole different level by demonstrating to your students how a simple carrot field can be transformed into a sinister setting.

Can carrots, the simple vegetable, that doctors tell everyone is good for them, stalk you home and make your life such a disaster you are scared to sleep at night? That is exactly what happened to the fun-loving bunny named Jasper one fall.

This mentor text is perfectly written and illustrated in the Twilight Zone style of the 60s. Reynolds uses the setting of a carrot field on the edge of night to send shivers down the spines of his readers. The author brilliantly weaves the figurative language of onomatopoeia throughout this story to keep his readers on edge.

Additionally, this story makes the perfect mentor text to demonstrate the writing of a scary story without using any truly scary parts. I mean, who fears a couple of carrots, right? Well, just ask Jasper that question.

Publisher’s Synopsis: In this Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch as a rabbit fears his favorite treats are out to get him. Celebrated artist Peter Brown’s stylish illustrations pair perfectly with Aaron Reynold’s text in this hilarious picture book that shows it’s all fun and games…until you get too greedy.

The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

Another great one that will instantly grab your student’s attention is The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything. The use of onomatopoeia is expertly crafted throughout this story.

How do you scare a little old lady who isn’t afraid of anything? Well, if things don’t scare her, maybe sounds will. Williams incorporates the figurative language of onomatopoeia to create a fun and rhythmic story for all readers.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Once upon a time, there was a little old lady who was not afraid of anything! But one autumn night, while walking in the woods, the little old lady heard . . . clomp, clomp, shake, shake, clap, clap. And the little old lady who was not afraid of anything had the scare of her life! With bouncy refrains and classic art, this timeless Halloween story is perfect for reading aloud.

The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner

Another fantastic book to read to show how an ordinary setting can be changed into a spooky narrative is The Snowmen at Night, by Caralyn Buehner. Who would have ever thought of using snowmen for a Halloween story? However, Buehner does it beautifully.

Are there such things as snowmen at Halloween? Not only does this mentor text show how to craft a good story, but it also gives your students a great research project. Plus, adding a nonfiction writing project motivates writers as well.

After analyzing this story for literary elements and figurative language, my students also did some research. They researched how many states and countries may possibly have snowmen on their front lawns during Halloween. The answer might amaze you.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Have you ever built a snowman and discovered the next day that his grin has gotten a little crooked, or his tree-branch arms have moved? And you’ve wondered . . . what do snowmen do when we’re not watching? After an early snowfall, a few kids build some snowmen before going trick-or-treating. And when the kids go off to bed, the snowmen have their own Halloween festival! 

Conclusion:

An assortment of scary mentor text may be just the thing to share with your writers this October. Using scary stories is the perfect mentor text to motivate writers in the classroom. This is the month to clearly show the power of the literary element and the figurative language through a variety of scary stories. Your students will love to read or listen to as many as possible. There are so many different samples of a mentor text to model the craft of writing. Dive in and use as many as you can this month.

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