Children's Book Reviews, English Language Arts

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.

Using Scary Stories to Motivate Writers

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 60’s. 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, it 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 mentor text to model the craft of writing. Dive in and use as many as you can this month.

Tami Parker, Author of Blog Post Using Scary Stories to Motivate Writers
Author of Blog