top of page

WRITING ASSIGNMENTS for TEACHERS from Phil Bildner, fellow teacher and writer, too!


Getting Near to Baby

1) There is no sequel to Getting Near to Baby. But we might write our own:

It is six months later. Willa Jo and Little Sister are back at home with Noreen. Aunt Patty wants them to come for a visit. Pretend you are either Aunt Patty or Noreen.


a) Write Aunt Patty's letter. Invite them back and tell them some interesting news as well. A personal letter should include the date, the salutation, the body of the letter, the complimentary close, and your signature.


b) Or be Noreen and accept the invitation, and tell her how everyone is doing. Tell what Willa Jo or Little Sister or Uncle Hob will most look forward to in this visit.


2) Choose any character from Getting Near to Baby. Pick three (3) personality traits or attributes this character demonstrates and write about them. Support your opinion with specific references or quotes from the text.


This essay should have an introduction and conclusion, and three (3) body paragraphs, a total of five (5) paragraphs.


(It's often very effective to ask your students to make at least one connection to other literature they've read this year. Ask them to compare one of Willa Jo's, Little Sister's, Aunt Patty's or Noreen's personality traits to the traits of another character they have encountered in this year's reading.)


3) There were many lessons and themes that ran through Getting Near to Baby. Choose three (3) of these and write about them. How were these themes developed? Support your answer with references and quotes from the text.

Say Yes


1) Choose one of these events from Say Yes:

  • A woman in upper Manhattan leaves home, abandoning her stepdaughter. 

  • An unknown girl robs Mrs. Clark's home. 

  • A gypsy tries to take over an apartment in upper Manhattan but is foiled by neighbors. A child is discovered to be living there alone. 

  • A foster parent in upper Manhattan is relieved of his responsibilities after beating a teenager in his care.


2) Write a newspaper article about this singular event.

A news article follows a specific structure. The first paragraph must tell WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. The second paragraph adds important details. The next paragraphs add details of lesser and lesser importance. Remember, a newspaper reporter is just supposed to report the facts, he or she is not supposed to take sides.


3) Write Casey's diary.

  • To do this, you will have to determine what happened on each day of the week for two weeks. Your entries do not have to be any longer than three lines. You don't have to make up events, and sometimes you will find text in the book that is precisely what Casey would have put in her diary. You can use that. But also try to answer these questions: 

  • What discoveries does Casey make about the things that Sylvia worried about from day to day that Casey now worries about? 

  • How do Casey's perceptions of the lives being lived around her change over the time that Sylvia is gone? 

  • What do her entries tell you about her and about the other characters? What can you figure out about those characters from what she does not tell you?


4) Choose one character from Say Yes and write a character sketch. Before writing the sketch in paragraph form, answer these questions about the character:

  • What adjectives can be (or were) used to describe the character's appearance? 

  • What adjectives will you use to describe the character's personality in your character sketch? 

  • What would others say about this character and/or how would others react to this character? 

  • How would this character like his or her life to be? 


What does (or would) this character think about or how would the character feel about everyday things like school, television, pizza, movies?

Maude March on the Run

Sallie tells us her side of the story. In what way do the newspaper accounts tell us more of the story?


Contrast is when two things are opposites. Tell about these contrasts in the story:

• Inside and outside the mercantile. 

• Having hot chocolate with Aunt Ruthie and Mrs. Golightly. 

• Working with Aunt Ruthie and Mrs. Peasley. 

• Sleeping in their own bed and sleeping under the stars. 

• Advice they receive from Mr. Peasley and from Marion. 

• How Sallie thinks Maude will be once they are range riding, and how Maude turns out to be. 

• How Maude tries to be someone for Sallie to look up to, and how this sometimes goes wrong.

The Misadventures of Maude March

Writers use many techniques to draw us into the story. To see how this works, answer these questions, and discuss how well that technique helped you to experience the story:


Who is telling the story? 


What first draws you into Maude and Sallie's world? (Another way to ask this: when do you first feel like you can see their world?) 


What surprises you about their world? (How is it very different from your world in an unexpected way?) 


How is their world very much like yours? 


What do Maude and Sallie, and even Aunt Ruthie, do that makes you feel like you know them? 


Tell one color you saw, one thing you heard, something you smelled, one feeling you had on your skin, something you could almost taste, while reading the story.


There are some things we think we know about girls, heroes, villains, old ladies, helpful people, and strangers.

• Tell where you found something in the story that was not quite what you expected. 

• Tell what each of them, Maude and Sallie, learned that might not have been what they expected. 

• Tell what somebody might have learned from them.




There isn’t any mention of grandparents in the story, but I kept wishing I had a place in the story for Lexie’s grandparents to meet the boys. I contemplated a surprise visit, grandparents living nearby might take a ride to the beach house to see their granddaughter. It seemed ripe for humor. But the idea also felt like it would interrupt the flow of Lexie’s growing understanding. However, your students could imagine such a scene and play it for all the madcap incident their imaginations have to offer.

Lists can be fun. And conflicts, contrasts, are part of what make a story interesting. Have students write a list of one good thing about the beach alternating with one not so good thing until they have as long a list as they can make. 


Kids might like to write their own imaginary day at the beach.


If letter-writing is part of the curriculum, they could write it like a letter from camp. Have them write it to a movie producer in the hopes someone will make a movie about their family.

Love Me Tender

When I wrote, I would’ve liked to have sound for the pages, but I had to settle for describing Daddy.


-Elvis became a kind of wallpaper to set this story against. He was the kickoff conflict, the inciting incident that was more colorful than starting out with Aunt Clare’s phone call. At the time, I thought that was okay because the generations that are reading are hardly aware of Elvis. 


But I see that older readers, reviewing online, feel there’s a good deal missing from the story because I didn’t put more Elvis in it. You could play “Love Me Tender” and “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Hound Dog” for your students and let them Google Elvis, get a sense of what an iconic figure he still is for many of us. No doubt they can draw comparisons to some of their favorite artists.


Perhaps you have a few eager Elvis impersonators in your class!

Summer's End

Go to the Internet to find the answers to these questions:

• When did the Vietnam War happen? 

• Where is Vietnam?

• How did the Vietnam War end? 


On the first page of the story, Grace is not entirely sympathetic to her brother's situation. When does she begin to have second thoughts?


Sometimes a crisis overrides everyday life. Grace really wanted a birthday party, but maybe it was just easier for her to complain about that than to worry about her brother. Find places in the story where you think this might be true.


Grace thinks her brother, Collin, does not care about her desire for a birthday party. When does she realize he wanted her to have a party, and a happy birthday? Why didn't she know this any sooner?


Where in the story does Grace find out some things she didn't know about Collin?


How do her cousins, Dolly and Theo, contribute to her understanding of the decision Collin has to make?


Many of the people in this story, including Grace, guard secrets. Which ones did you see revealed?


What is Grace's attitude toward Collin in the first paragraph of the story, and what is her attitude toward him in the last paragraph?

bottom of page