Prompts and resources:
M.T. Anderson — he goes mainly by his middle name, Tobin — has been writing since he was a teenager. Now that he's no longer a teen, one of the things that concerns him is the idea that somehow books for teens have to be simpler than books for adults — that the whole idea of the plot, the cause and effect, the way the characters are depicted — that all of these things have to be boiled down in someway. So, many of his books are challenging reads, from his picture books, like Strange Mr. Satie and Handel, Who Knew What He Liked to his teen/adult titles like his National Book Award winner, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom on the Waves. Other Anderson titles are both challenging and challenged, such as his National Book Award Finalist Feed.
He also believes very firmly in the idea of literacy as being part of good citizenship. That's why he serves on the Board of Directors of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance (NCBLA). Both in his role as author and advocate, Anderson believes in fostering a love of narrative. He writes this about himself on his website: "I love writing for younger readers. I love their passion. I love their commitment to stories. I love the way their heads are exploding with all the things they want to say and do."
Prompt for grades K-2 (Level I)
M.T. Anderson "grew up in a small town surrounded by apple orchards and woods that had grown up where fields once stood." For the NCBLA, he wrote about himself: "I spent my childhood playing in the forest, naming the streams and the valleys formed by quarries. I was not the only one to wander in those woods, and I was always stumbling across weird assemblages of refuse in glades and on hidden paths: automobile chassis overgrown with sweet fern; hideous curtains of unspooled cassette-tape hanging across ravines; a window leaning on an old, burnt washing-machine festooned with yarn."
Do you have an adventure-scape like this near you? Is the creek in your park or backyard just a creek or have you given it your own name like "River of Delight and Doom?" Is that a swing or do you call it a Sonic Rocket? Introduce us to an imaginary world from your backyard or another familiar place by making a map. Your map should include a map title that explains what the map shows, a compass rose or a north arrow to show the map's orientation, a scale to explain distance, and a legend or key to explain your map's colors and symbols. (Consider making your map using graph paper because the squares make it easier to keep things in scale.) Include major geographic features on your map, important landmarks, and any interesting "facts."
Prompt for grades 3-5 (Level II)
Everyone needs some "alone time" or time to himself now and then. Time alone gives you a chance to think and to learn. In M.T. Anderson's picture book, Me All Alone at the End of the World, a boy lives a very happy and peaceful life all alone at the End of the World. Even though he is alone, he has his own fun and adventure — hunting for treasure, finding bones and fossils, and netting fish. On his website, Anderson writes about this book, "As a kid, sure, I thought my friends were great — but I really did love being alone too. So as an adult, I decided to write a book that discussed the pleasures of solitude. I wanted to say to kids: You don't need to be in a crowd all the time to enjoy yourself. It's great to make up your own kind of fun."So if you had a day all to yourself — with no teachers, family or friends around — what would you do? On this day, you can be anywhere you like, but you are by yourself. You also have to spend at least part of your day outside. Write a journal or diary entry that describes your good day and how you felt about spending it alone. You can include drawings that highlight your day's activities if you like.
Prompt for grades 6-8 (Level III)
In this interview with AdLit.org, M.T. Anderson talks about why books sometimes get banned. His satirical, futuristic novel Feed has been frequently challenged in school libraries. When books get challenged, banned or removed from library shelves, it is because adults have decided that the subject matter or language is unsuitable for young readers. Even if the intention is to protect children, this form of censorship restricts the ability of other readers to make their own reading choices.
Imagine that your school library has been asked to remove a book. It may be because it includes inappropriate or offensive language, mature themes, or another reason. Look at this list from the American Library Association of frequently challenged or banned books and pick a title you are familiar with. Write a persuasive letter to your school board about how you feel about why this book should not be banned or why you think it should not be included in your school library.
Prompt for grades 9-12 (Level IV)
M.T. Anderson was the former music critic at The Improper Bostonian or in his own words, "I did for a time, when I was young and foolish, write music reviews — reviews of classical music around Boston and CD reviews, that kind of thing." There's a lot of ground to cover when you write about music. First, it is like you're almost translating from another language, turning sound into words so that readers can understand your listening experience. But you also need to convey mood and meaning and how the music and the performance makes the writer feel.
Write a review of music you've listened to recently. It can be a review of your school orchestra's spring concert, a favorite song or album by a professional artist, or any live musical performance. (No critiques on your friends' Rock Hero, Guitar Band or karaoke performances please.) You can choose any genre. Make your review objective, pointing out not just what you liked, but what you didn't like. Your goal is to inspire the judges to try the music for themselves or at least wish they'd seen the show.