I’ve always had a special space in my heart for Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg because of the memories associated with it. Somehow, my teacher knew how to reach me on my first truly horrible big kid bad day. She helped calm down with a picture book, a new book that had just come in to the library. I think it’s a good reminder how picture books can touch the lives of big kids. Just because we can read chapter books does not mean we need to cut out the picture books!
Not only did this book help me when I first read it, but it also has great writing to learn from. Two Bad Ants is a great example of how a picture book (with illustrations that tell half of the story) can help older students learn to write with creative word choice.
Examining Word Choice in Two Bad Ants
Two Bad Ants is so much fun because the illustrations are essential to truly understanding the story. In his words, Chris Van Allsburg explains an adventure the ants go on: through the woods and up a mountain to find a sparkling treasure. The true journey and destination, however, are very clear to the reader who also has the illustrations at his fingertips: the “woods” are really blades of grass. The mountain is really a brick wall.
Just as with A Tale of Two Beasts that I discussed yesterday, this is a perfect opportunity to discuss different perspectives. This book is told from the ants’ perspective. to the ants, the grass stems are (what we would call) the woods. The wall is like a mountain.
What other ways could your students describe the items in the kitchen from the ant’s perspective? Brainstorm with them to get the ideas flowing. For example, the sparkling crystal could be a “diamond,” the strange red glow could be “fire” and the waterfall could be a river.
Creating a New Adventure with Strong Word Choice
As a creative writing prompt, I think Two Bad Ants has a lot of potential. What other characters would have a similar foreign experience in a setting that is unfamiliar to them? What creative words could students use to describe the new setting?
Although this post is referring to word choice a lot, what the book and the writing prompt are doing is encouraging the students to think in terms of metaphor. A metaphor is defined as “a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show or suggest that they are similar” (Merriam-Webster.com).
Download the Lesson Idea
Once again, I’ve put together some simple worksheets to go along with the process I describe above. If you’d like it, download it from my shop!