Prompts and resources:
Jon Scieszka is a guy who writes books — funny books. Mr. Scieszka is the guy who wrote the first episode of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. He's also the guy who was the very first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and the guy who started a campaign called Guys Read to encourage boys to read.
Mr. Scieszka is also one of six Scieszka brothers who grew up "wrestling in the living room, fighting at the dinner table, and tying up the babysitter." He and his brothers could even turn going to the bathroom into a chance to use their imaginations. In his memoir Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka, there's a chapter called "Crossing Swords" about all the Scieszka brothers going to the bathroom, together, at the same time, in the same toilet.
This and other such warm recollections of family togetherness inspire our first Exquisite Prompt. Even if you've never had your brother try to sell you your own shirt or tied a sibling to a bed or charged your friends money to watch your brother chew cigarette butts, you have a family story to tell. Your family history, your heritage, is more than just dates and places. There are stories to be told and retold.
Prompt for grades K-2
What makes where you live special? The house Jon Scieszka grew up in had a big fancy "S" on the front door which made it a little different from all the other houses on the street. If Mr. Scieszka's small house in Flint, Michigan, could talk, it might tell a story about his brothers throwing apples at the picture window or about what caused the strange smells in the basement after he and his brother moved their bedroom there. What stories could your house tell? Pretend that you are your house (or apartment) and write a story about what happened when a friend or relative came to visit for the first time. Did something funny happen? Something sad? Remember that you are writing from the point of view of your house. Be sure to tell what your house looks like and where it is.
Prompt for grades 3-5
In Episode I of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, readers are introduced to Nancy and Joe, eleven-year-old twins who thought that they were orphans until they received a birthday car from their parents. They are going to have to do some serious detective work (fraught with peril!) to uncover their true family history. Uncover family secrets of your own by interviewing an older relative such as a grandparent or great aunt or uncle who can share memories of your family from before you were born. Ask about how your mom or dad celebrated their 11th or another very special birthday. Find out if there was a party, cake, presents, or guests. Write a story about what happened and why it was memorable.
Prompt for grades 6-8
Jon Scieszka can show you his third grade report card and his Junior Bowling awards. He doesn't have his model airplanes though since he set them on fire. Choose something in your home that represents a part of your history or your family history. What is its meaning and significance to your family? Something in your house that seems ordinary, like an old suitcase, may have a very interesting story behind it or perhaps there's something that's proudly displayed, like a medal, which has a story to tell. Writing from the viewpoint of the object, describe the object in detail, explain how it came to be in your house, and who it is important to and why.
Prompt for grades 9-12
For hundreds of years, people have written songs about where they dwell from odes to sod houses to anthems about little pink houses. In many ways, a song is like a story. A song can be an excellent way to learn about our own social history, to get a point across, or to gain knowledge of facts-like the scientific facts in Jon Scieszka's parodies of old favorite poems and songs in his book, Science Verse. We're not looking for facts here, just a slice of life story. Write song lyrics about what makes your house (or apartment) a home or write about a place where you feel at home. The song does not have to be strictly autobiographical or factually accurate, but should generalize your feelings about your concept of "home" and help your listeners relate your song to their own experiences.