Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Widow’s Broom
By Chris Van Allsburg

I have always felt that award winning author Chris Van Allsburg is an extremely gifted, brilliant author.  I marvel at his level of creativity and thoroughly enjoy his use of language,as well as the layers of twists and intrigue that he includes in all his stories.

The Widow’s Broom does not disappoint and holds the students spellbound—as many of Van Allsburg’s stories do.  I have read it to my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in our library classes and all thoroughly enjoy the suspense and fun twists in the story.

As a mentor text, The Widow’s Broom would be an excellent example of narrative writing. Van Allsburg’s use of words and language, sentence structure and his use of mystery should be pointed out. Students at all levels of writing will gleam something from his work and hopefully transfer it to their own.  In particular in The Widow’s Broom, Van Allsburg presents writers with a fitting example of a strong lead AND a strong, surprising ending.  If your class is writing Halloween narratives, of course, it would be an exceptional mentor for how to write a suspenseful story without getting into all the gore that students seem to default to almost immediately!

Speaking of being held spellbound, I was when I watched the Reading Rockets segments of an interview with Chris Van Allsburg. Here is the link:   I particularly love his personal story of being a sculptor in New York City(he has a Masters from Rhode Island School of Design in Sculpture).  His sculpture studio was so cold in the winter time he couldn’t work there in the evenings, so he would often sketch pictures just to pass the time. One day, he showed his sketches to his wife, who is an elementary art teacher. She encouraged him to  show them to his agent, who encouraged him to create a children’s story around the pictures. That became his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, which, of course, won a Caldecott Honor Award. Wow!  What an impressive, inspirational beginning!

Be sure to have your students look for the little while terrier in the The Widow's Broom. Van Allsburg featured the dog in The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, and has featured the dog since. He has always placed the dog somewhere in the story or in an illustration in every single one of his books. He also talks about the dog in the Reading Rockets interview.

Book Talk
One autumn evening, a witch’s broom looses its power. The witch falls to earth landing in the garden of widow, Minna Shaw. Minna finds the witch the next day battered and bruised, but being the kind person that she is, Minna helps the witch tend to her wounds. The witch finally leaves and also leaves the old broom since it is no use to her any longer.  Minna already has a good cleaning broom, but keeps the witch’s broom anyway.

Soon after that, Minna discovers that the witch’s broom still has unique powers—it sweeps and sweeps Minna’s house— all by itself!  Minna soon teaches the broom to do many of the chores around the house—cutting wood, fetching water, playing tunes on the piano.  Minna is delighted and thankful for the help. 

Soon the neighbor, Mr. Spivey, notices, but considers the broom evil and dangerous! Minna politely disagrees—and so do many of the women in the area as they see what a help the broom is to Minna.

One day, two of the Spivey boys and their dog see the broom joyfully sweeping a dirt road and they begin to harass the broom. The broom does its best to ignore the boys, but they continue the bullying. Finally the broom knocks the boys on the ground and flings the dog into far-off trees.

Mr. Spivey and other neighboring farmers are now furious and come to Minna’s house to burn the broom. She agrees with them, gives them the broom.

Some favorite lines:
“The widow could tell by their faces that the men would not be leaving without her broom.  There was nothing she could do to stop them. For a moment she stood silently, then answered. ‘Of course you are right. If it could do such  thing, we must get rid of it.’ She led the men into her kitchen. ‘It sleeps in here,’ she whispered, pointing to a closet. ‘If you move it carefully, it will not wake up.’ The men knew how strong the broom was and hoped the widow was right.”

The men burn the broom and everything soon returned to normal.  

Sort of.

One day a few weeks later, Minna informs the Spiveys that she has seen the Ghost of the Broom! It looked like the broom, but it was white and it was carrying an axe! The Spiveys see the Ghost of the Broom circling their house that night. Within a few days, it gets so close that it taps on their front door with the axe!

The next day, the Spiveys and their eight kids move away and beg Minna Shaw to come with them.  She refuses and won’t leave her farm.

That night as she is falling asleep, the broom—which had been painted white—continues to play the piano. Readers figure out that Minna had outsmarted the neighbors by giving them her plain, old, regular broom to burn and keeping the witch’s broom to help her and to keep her company.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Synthesizing, Questioning, Character Development
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative writing, Strong Ending, Strong Beginning, Strong Female, Elaboration, Fantasy writing

Chris Van Allsburg website

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