Robert Munsch-Author Study & Focus Lesson by Danielle Rodino

Welcome to my Author Study on Robert Munsch! What follows is a brief investigation into the work of one of my favorite authors of picture books for children. Here, you will find:

  • A brief biography of the author
  • Discussions of 4 techniques I noticed used throughout his writing
  • A sample focus mini-lesson to teach the 2nd technique discussed, Turning the Story Around.

Many of these materials will make more sense if the reader is familiar with Munsch’s work, and I have included a list of popular titles at the end of this post for reference.

About the Author

Robert Munsch is the author of many picture books for young children. Munsch was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a family with 9 children. He says of his early schooling, “I almost flunked first grade and also the second, third, fourth, and fifth…I never learned how to spell, graduated from eighth grade counting on my fingers to do simple addition, and in general was not a resounding academic success.” (Munsch, 2017). He was, however, fond of writing poetry. In high school, he says he “didn’t get along with anybody, read a lot of books, and decided to be a Catholic priest.” (Munsch, 2017).

Munsch’s career post-college was rather eclectic. He studied to become a priest with the Jesuits, worked at an orphanage, then a daycare, and then decided to go back to school for a year for child studies. It was during student teaching placement that he first developed the story that would (12 years later) become the book Mortimer. Munsch’s talent for telling stories came in handy during his work at daycare centers. He did not realize that this talent was anything out of the ordinary until his boss’s wife, then a children’s librarian, heard him sharing a story one day. This led to Robert taking a few months off to transcribe the stories he had been sharing orally for so long, sending them to publishers, and waiting.

Mud Puddle, Munsch’s first book, was published by Annick Press in 1996. Munsch cites as his inspiration the real kids he has met throughout his life. He says the first child who hears the story when he makes it up often “owns” the story, in his mind, and becomes the main character in the book. One of his best-known books, Love You Forever, was written as a memorial for two stillborn babies he and his wife had in 1979 and 1980. It became a bestselling book in Canada and the USA almost immediately after being published. He has continued to write books for children, with 54 currently in publication and more in the works.

 

A Few Literary Techniques Munsch is fond of using:

  • Repeated Scenarios: Predictable requests get predictable responses on multiple occasions throughout the text
    • Examples from Munsch’s Work:
      • In Alligator Baby, Kristen’s family goes to the zoo multiple times in an effort to reclaim their human baby. Each time, they return with a different animal baby swaddled in a blanket. This scenario repeats, almost verbatim, 3 times until Kristen intervenes.
      • In I Have to Go! Andrew and his parents have the same conversation before Andrew begins any activity: “ANDREW! DO YOU HAVE TO GO PEE?” Andrew responds in exactly the same way: “No, no, no, no, no.” Every time, Andrew begins his activity and yells: “I HAVE TO GO PEE!”
    • Envisioning: If I were writing a story and I want to highlight a particularly frustrating day I had, or a particular part of my day or week that felt monotonous, I might use this technique to show the redundancy of that particular occasion.
  • Scenario Reversal: The predictable structure in the first ⅔ of the text is somehow turned on its head, usually by the child at the center of the action.
    • Examples from Munsch’s Work:
      • In I Have to Go!, after Andrew’s busy day, he wets the bed. His family changes his sheets & pajamas, and waits 5….10…15…20 minutes, until Andrew yells from upstairs, “GRANDPA, DO YOU HAVE TO GO PEE?” and then takes his grandfather to the bathroom, in a reversal of both role and outcome from what we have seen through the rest of the book.
      • In Love You Forever, a mother holds her baby boy and sings to him. The book follows this child as he grows older, and his mother continues to sing to him. The end of the narrative not only finds the boy holding his frail mother, but subsequently holding his own newborn child, singing,
        I’ll love you forever,
        I’ll like you for always,
        As long as I’m living,
        My baby you’ll be.
    • Envisioning: If I were writing a story and I want to show that a character is taking control of a situation, or if I want to show someone coming full circle in an interesting way, I might put that character in the shoes of someone else from earlier in the story, and replay the scenario with different roles to show the change in power or characterization.
  • Expressive Print: ALL CAPS, BOLD TEXT, text shapes, and changes in font to emphasize certain words or phrases.
    • Examples from Munsch’s Work:
      • “Amy’s brother ran up the stairs and yelled as loudly as he could: “Aaaaaaammyyy!!!”” (Get Out of Bed! Pg 5)
      • Up, Up, Down uses font placement and shaping to depict Anna’s climbing & falling:OwOuch
    • Envisioning: If I were writing and I wanted to show young or emergent readers how to say certain lines, or if I wanted them to be able to visualize action simply by looking at the page, I could use this technique of varying font shape, size, and placement.

 

  • Repeated Phrasing: A question, comment, or sentence structure is repeated many times within the same exchange of dialogue.
    • Examples from Munsch’s Work:
      • “You will wash it right away?” said Lacey. “Yes,” said Lacey’s mom. “You will not talk on the phone?” “No,” said her mom. “You will not wash the dishes?” “No,” said her mom. “You will not go shopping on the way?” “No,” said her mom. (Kiss Me, I’m Perfect!)
      • “Wow!” said Tina. “They look nicer when they are clean.
        “Wow!” said Tina. “They smell nicer when they are clean.
        “Wow!” said Tina. “They feel nicer when they are clean.”(Smelly Socks)
    • Envisioning: If I were writing and I wanted to emphasize a certain part of a conversation or a point that a character was trying to make, I might use this technique and repeat phrasing to keep the reader focused on that word or phrase and its meaning.

 

3rd Grade Focus Mini-Lesson

This lesson is a focus mini-lesson, targeted at teaching 3rd graders one specific strategy as modeled by an author with whom they are familiar-in this case, Munsch. This lesson is intended to introduce students to a literary technique, show them examples of its use, and allow them time to envision this technique in their own writing. There is no expectation nor requirement that students utilize this strategy immediately in their pieces; student writers are asked instead to store this strategy in their toolboxes in case an opportunity arises in the future.

Note: “TW” in the lesson plan stands for “Teacher Will”, and often precedes italicized reminders for the instructor of places to pause or solicit comments from the class.

Introduction/Hook

“Good morning, writers! Today, we continue our deep dive into Robert Munsch’s writing. Who remembers some of the things we’ve noticed in his books already?” TW allow 1 or 2 students to remind us of “noticings” already discussed in this unit.

“Well today, we are going to think about the way his books turn the story around at the end. Let me show you what I mean.” TW read aloud the first 3 pages and last 3 pages of I Have to Go! “See how Robert Munsch took this conversation, which we know happens over and over and over again in the story, and changes it that last time? This is a specific choice he is making in his writing. He does this to show us that something has changed in the character of Andrew, and that change in Andrew changes the whole family’s situation.”

Teaching Point

“Writers, I think we can call this technique Turning the Story Around. Today, we are going to think about times that we might want to Turn the Story Around in our own writing to show a big change in the characters or the plot.”

Demonstration

“We see this technique in a few of Munsch’s other books, including Get Out of Bed!, Up, Up, Down, and Love You Forever. Let’s take a look.

TW read or quickly review with students the scenario reversals in each book.

“I also used this technique in my own personal memoir story, when I wrote about learning to cook. I’ll read to you the scenes from the beginning and the end of my story. Listen for when I turn my story around, and see if you can figure out what I was trying to convey to my reader by using this technique.”

TW read from her own story, where the mother cooks at the beginning, and the daughter takes over at the end. TW engage student comments after reading to check for understanding and highlight reasons one might use this technique.

Guided Practice

“Now that you’ve seen how a few different books and authors Turn the Story Around, it’s time for you to think about when you could use this technique in your own work. When I say go, turn to your elbow partner and brainstorm some ideas of types of stories where you might use this technique. Remember, you don’t have to use it in the story you’re working on now. We want to think broadly and allow ourselves to see this technique in any of our future writing. Ready? Go.”

TW allow students 1-2 minutes of turn & talk time. During student discussion, TW circulate and listen, asking certain pairs to prepare to share their ideas at the end of the lesson. At the end of 1-2 minutes, TW call class’ attention back, and invite preselected pairs to share their ideas and offer specific examples of how they would use the technique.

Link

“So, writers, now that we have looked at Turning the Story Around from many angles, I want you to think about what your classmates suggested, how Robert Munsch uses this technique, and what you are already writing. Reread your current drafts and see if any of your pieces would benefit from this technique. If anyone chooses to try Turning the Story Around today, please let me know. Writers ready? Go write!”

 

References:

Munsch, Robert. “All About Robert Munsch.” The Official Website of Robert Munsch, Robert Munsch, 2017, robertmunsch.com/about.

I also read a small selection of Munsch’s published work as part of this exploration:

  • Something Good (1990)
  • Smelly Socks (2004)
  • The Paper Bag Princess (1992)
  • Purple, Green and Yellow (1992)
  • Kiss Me, I’m Perfect (2006)
  • Alligator Baby (1997)
  • I Have to Go! (1987)
  • Get Out of Bed! (1998)
  • Up, Up, Down (2001)
  • Love You Forever (1986)
  • The Fire Station (1991)
  • David’s Father (1983)
  • Thomas’ Snowsuit (1985)
  • Pigs (1989)
  • Mortimer (1985)
  • Murmel, Murmel, Murmel (1982)

 

 

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