Monday, March 23, 2009

New Beginning 619

On the first day of first grade…

Jeffrey found his seat in Ms. Johanson’s classroom, sat down, and scanned the walls for…the Job Chart.

“There it is,” he said, relieved. It was hanging on the closet door.

Jeffrey read the list of jobs:
1. Clean white board
2. Feed hermit crab
3. Turn lights on/off
4. Office Messenger
5. Line Leader

"Good. I can’t wait to be line leader,” he said.

“Why?” Jeffrey’s tablemate, Bobby, asked him.

“I love being first out the door. And it’s fun being at the front of the line. When do we get our jobs?”

“I have no idea,” Bobby said.

A short time later, Ms. Johanson shook a jar of thin, brown sticks. “Each stick has a name on it,” she explained. “When I call your name, you can pick your job for the week.”

The class sat silent.

Ms. Johanson reached in the jar and pulled out the first stick. “Bobby,” she said. “Which job do you want?”

Jeffrey held his breath. He hoped Bobby wouldn’t choose line leader.

Bobby said, “Feed the hermit crab.” He whispered to Jeffrey, “I want to see if he bites me.”

Ms. Johanson pulled another stick and asked, "How about you, Missy?

"Missy smirked at Jeffrey as she said, "Line Leader."

"You miserable mortal fool!" shrieked Jeffrey, unable to contain his wrath. "Soon I will crush you all as insects, cast a thousand plagues before your trembling souls, and destroy all humanity with a sweep of my forked tail. I shall wrest the very stars from the heavens and turn every shaft of sunlight into bolts of blackest doom. And when I clutch the dust of this feeble universe in my hand, spitting blood into its lifeless ashes—"

"Jeffrey?" Mrs. Johanson said.

Jeffrey took a deep breath. Then he mumbled, "I'll do the lights."

Opening: MC.....Continuation: Whirlochre


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

On the second day of first grade...
Bobby and Jeffrey were called to the office.

The principal looked at them sternly.

"Look," he said. "I know Ms. Johanson is gorgeous. But that is no excuse for two forty-year-old men to enroll in first grade."


"Why?" Jeffrey asked. "Won't it hurt?"

Bobby smiled. "Not as much as the negligent endangerment suit I bring against the school board will hurt them."


Ms. Johanson pulled out another stick. “Monica?”

“I want to be line leader, Ms. Johanson.”

Jeffrey took a sheet of paper and a thin wooden pencil out of his desk.

Dear Monica,
I will tear you apart limb from limb, spit on your dead body, and dance. Then I can be line leader.


Evil Editor said...

This being the first day of first grade leads one to wonder how Jeffrey knows about the job chart or how he knows that's the door to a closet or even that it's fun being at the front of the line. As there are reasonable possible explanations, none of this is that bothersome, but if you're trying to evoke the feelings that go with starting school, maybe you shouldn't focus our attention on the fact that Jeffrey seems to have been through it all before.

Being first in line is a job? It sounds more like a reward.

writtenwyrdd said...

This is a dull, dull opening, and the pov character seems rather adult. and I also wondered if I interpreted this right, that it was the first day of school. I had to ponder that a bit, which was distracting, and tentatively had to decide that school must have been in session a bit for the kid to know all this, especially to get such a strong preference for leading the lines.

One other thing that I couldn't help wondering is why Missy smirks at Jeffrey? It's the first day of school, so how would she know his preference either?

I think your story must start when something more interesting is going on. Why not take a look at the story again and find that starting point?

Stacy said...

I second what EE said.

The continuation was stellar.

Evil Editor said...

Missy and her smirking are not part of the opening. (Though I would assume anyone who sits at Jeffrey's table or anywhere near Jeffrey might have heard him declare his preference.)

Anonymous said...

WO, I like your style.

none said...

I had the same thoughts that EE had--how does this kid know all this?

Anonymous said...

Author here -

Thanks EE and others for your comments.

All these jobs are holdovers from Kindergarten, which 98% of American children attend. They are very familiar with classooom routines which don't vary much either regionally or in public vs. private schools.

In this first chapter, Jeffrey remembers line leader as being fun (exactly, EE, because it's more of a reward than a job), but once he gets the job he can't remember where to go. He's forgotten the layout of the school because his first grade classroom is in a different place.

Each chapter in this short chapter book covers a different issue/fear particular to first graders.

batgirl said...

I figured that Jeffrey had an older sib who had filled him in about the jobs. What really puzzled me was - how come on the first day of first grade Jeffrey can READ the list? Including words like 'messenger'?

Also, would a 6 yr old really say "I have no idea?"

FWIW, this passage gets a Flesch-Kincaid score of a Grade 4 reading level.

writtenwyrdd said...

"Missy and her smirking are not part of the opening."

Duh. Sorry. There's always someone who forgets where the continuation began, and today it's me.

Anonymous said...

batgirl - MSWord gave me a Flesch-Kincaid reading level of 1.5. What did you use?

batgirl said...

Hoping to be bitten by the hermit crab sounds more like the first-graders of my acquaintance than 'I have no idea', but perhaps Bobby picked that up from an adult who says it often.
Jeffrey's reading skills still seem advanced.

Author, since this chapter turns on Jeffrey's assumption of familiarity, you might want to bring that out early on - perhaps J could look around and think that the room looked just like his kindergarten room, and the job chart was on the closet door just like before, etc. So that he's feeling confident enough to volunteer, only to discover (da-dum!)...
I'm not sure whether I'd have picked this up for a read-aloud when my son was in grade one. He did like the Lillian Hoban books, but they're picture books, not chapter books.

none said...

Hah, in my last year at secondary school I was still getting lost.

Elissa M said...

Not really a comment on the story, but I have to say my experience has been that classroom routines vary tremendously from region to region, school to school, and teacher to teacher. And yes, I have a great deal of experience in this particular area.

Rick Daley said...

For what it's worth, it made me laugh.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I think a good way to clear up some of the First Day issues would be to have Jeffrey's conversation with Bobby start earlier. That way he can tell Bobby his concerns in dialogue rather than describing them in exposition to the reader. Also, we can distinguish why he knows Bobby's name: did he meet Bobby just before the scene opens (if so, they can introduce each other in the story) or does he know Bobby from kindergarten (if so, he can ask Bobby how his summer was or something like that).

"The class sat silent" felt odd to me, unless this is a very strict school.

The continuation was just freaking fantastic.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

MSWord on my laptop gave this a 1.4 grade level and 97.6% reading ease.

That, of course, is only a part of the comprehension story.

Here are a couple of things that tripped me up:

It would seem that if the ms concentrates on fears/issues during the first typical day of school, then either you intend for a teacher to read it to a new class of first graders on the first day of school, or for the book to be read PRIOR to the first day of first grade. Either it's a read-aloud-by-an-adult story or the reading level needs to be for Kindergarten.

Not sure ellipses are the best punctuation for an early, early reader. (And I generally adore ellipses.)

Is Jeffrey really "relieved" to find the Job Chart? Maybe so, if it's clear he's looking for routine rather than the particular job he wants, but it isn't really clear that's the case. But is the Job Chart really the first issue that comes up for him? Does a book that deals with other first-day issues not start with finding the classroom or finding his seat or seeing if all his friends are in class with him or wondering what the teacher looks like? The Job Chart being the first thing on Jeffrey's mind just doesn't, for me, feel authentic.

“Why?” Jeffrey’s tablemate, Bobby, asked him. For a pre-first-grade reader, I'm thinking you want your sentence construction to be very clear. In this case, we haven't been introduced to the speaker yet. Leading the dialog tag with "Jeffrey's tablemate" rather than "Bobby" could be confusing.

When do we get our jobs?”
“I have no idea,” Bobby said.
A short time later,
Others have commented on Bobby's expression here, but I'm wondering what the point is of this exchange anyway. Nothing happens between the time Bobby answers Jeffrey and the time the teacher shakes the sticks out. She doesn't introduce herself or take roll or anything else. And the kids don't do anything. So how does this interlude advance a story where every word needs to make a connection for young readers?

Loved your continuation, WO!

batgirl said...

I used this calculator - maybe not the most reliable, if others are getting a different result:

Anonymous said...

The writing is too old for second graders and many of the words will be unknown to that age group.

Reading can help build vocabulary, but children won't look up new words, they'll put down the book.

You've posed the concept of fear, and the school bully sure, but the fear of embarrassing one's self is something that terrifies young adults. Anyway the hermit crab is by far the most interesting of what you've presented. You should focus more on that.

I'd also suggest doing a walk through of your library and see what kind of books are targeted to second grade. If you haven't done so already, check out a stack and read them. Keep reading them while you write this.

Chris Eldin said...

I liked the hermit crab part. Perhaps focus on that in the beginning, and go to the job chart later?

I liked your voice too, I'd read on.

My sons were both reading Magic Tree House books in early first grade, then novels by end of year. Reading skill at this age varies greatly, but I think most are familiar with "the job chart." And teachers often put little pictures next to the job chores...

Good luck! I think it's a cute idea!

Anonymous said...

Anon - are you the Anon who can't figure out what's the text and what's the humorous addition? Because otherwise I have no idea where you're getting:

You've posed the concept of fear, and the school bully sure,

from the passage. And if you think the fear of embarrassing oneself is limited to young adults, you don't remember childhood.

Anonymous said...

Ah, 'tis the fate of all anons to merge into one amorphous entity...

none said...

I don't buy this idea that children who run across unfamiliar words just put down the book. Just exactly how do these children ever learn to read? Cos unfamiliar words are going to be most of what's on the page for a long long time.

When I was a child, I had strategies for dealing with words I didn't know. Are these no longer taught?

Anonymous said...

I thought, given the format, it might be a picture book. I thought maybe there were supposed to be pictures to fill in some of the gaps.

Assuming it's not a picture book,
I got no sense of a classroom full of children in this. It's like Bobby and Jeffrey are the only two students. Everything seems very well-behaved and orderly and silent, a point you emphasise by writing, "The class sat silent." Unless Mrs Johanson is a total ogre (in which case, have her shout) no class full of new first-day first-graders can sit so utterly silently as you imply, even if they all manage to sit.

I'm not suggesting you need to introduce any new characters, as the two boys and the teacher are clearly the important characters at this point. However, you need to create the illusion of other characters in this setting. Even just one sentence where Mrs Johanson either introduces herself to the class or calls for everyone's attention would work.

You say in your comments that children know from kindergarten what to expect in first grade so it should all be familiar to them--I disagree, as others have done. School is an entirely different concept from a kindergarten to a small child. School is serious stuff. Children sense the immensity of school. You are correct that first-graders would feel comforted by routine and familiar things, and also many young children love being given a sense of responsibility. However, it feels odd that, having just found his seat in his new classroom in his new school experience, Jeffrey immediately has his mind on the list of jobs he might be given to do and is not particularly conscious of anything else going on. If he was autistic, then it would be slightly more believeable (but if he was autistic, he'd also most likely be frightened at this unfamiliar situation... and I digress. Sorry.)

I agree with the others about the hermit crab being interesting. Perhaps instead of seeing the list, Jeffrey sees the hermit crab's aquarium, then Bobby wonders if he'll get to feed it, and take it from there. Try for a more natural progression of plot. One has to suspend one's disbelief too much at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to disagree with the author as well. None of the elementary school classrooms I've been in as a student, relative/babysitter of child, or friend of the teacher has ever had a job chart. The absence of a job chart could be something peculiar to my region. The local district also does an full-day, academic kindergarten, so first grade is largely a repeat of the previous year. I'm not sure how common this is in other areas, so we may just be really different from the rest of the country.

The dialogue also feels off. In my experience with kids, Bobby isn't going to need to ask Jeffrey why he wants to be line leader, Jeffrey will just keep talking into his explanation.

But it's been years since I've read anything for this age level, so maybe there are some genre conventions you're following that I'm not aware of.

pacatrue said...

I was instantly at home with the reference to line leaders. My son's kindergarten has them; his pre-school had them; and I believe many of the jobs continue into first grade. But the comments make clear that these things do vary from area to area. In this state, Kindergarten is mandatory and conducted in the class next door to the first grade, so making that move would indeed be relatively easy in our situation. But for many school districts K is an entirely different world than 1st, it appears.

Anyway, I agree with others that the voice is the primary thing not working now. It doesn't sound like the 6 year-olds I know, and I see them in K 5 days a week, and it also doesn't quite work as an older voice telling a story about 1st grade. Try tweaking the voice to make it more specific and simultaneously moving closer to a stronger scene. If this is the stronger scene, it's emotional importance to the POV character is not coming through yet.

Beth said...

I have trouble imagining a first-grader who says, "I have no idea."

"I dunno" would seem more like it.

What age group is this aimed at. It's too advanced for most first-graders, and anyone older isn't going to want to read about first-graders.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming in late here, but I wanted to say that I do remember my first day of first grade, mainly because I repeated it two years in a row.

And I can tell you, if I had walked into a classroom with a hermit crab, that's ALL that would be on my mind. Hermit crab, hermit crab, hermit crab.

Eventually the teacher would wade into the crowd of us huddled around the hermit crab's tank, and would drag us all off to our seats. (Literally, in my case.)

Then I would be examining my desk, in detail. I'd check out the other kids. I'd crane my head over my shoulder and stare at the hermit crab some more.

The teacher would clap her hands and speak very loudly, which always made me nervous and a little scared, but how else was she supposed to get our attention?

And *then* she'd point to the job chart. Now, the whole reason I did first grade twice was because I couldn't read. But that wouldn't matter on the first day, because she'd read the chart out loud to us. And as soon as I heard "line leader", I'd be thinking (or more likely, saying out loud), "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the job I want!" Followed by, "Do I get to carry a flag?"

First days are exciting and scary. But I'm not getting any of that with this beginning. Even with the limitation of writing for young readers, you should be able to convey the drama. (Think, Junie B. Jones.)

Hilary said...

Whoever wrote this continuation, it makes me laugh out loud every single time I even think of it. SO funny.

batgirl said...

A big YES! to V. Dunn's evocation of a young child's pov.