Have you ever been completely satisfied with a book because of the power of its ending? The last few words or paragraphs the author chooses can leave me fulfilled . . . or not. Sue Monk Kidd ends The Secret Life of Bees with a meaningful reflection by Lily, a dynamic 10-year-old who is transformed while trying to understand the secrets of her mother’s past:
This is the autumn of wonders, yet every single day, I go back to that burned afternoon in August when T. Ray left. I go back to the moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me.
I loved this ending. I felt Lily’s pain and joy in this brief paragraph, and embraced Kidd’s comparison of her “mothers” to the moons shining over (her). Though this example is from a more sophisticated text, we want to be able to teach our students how to provide closure to their pieces the way Sue Monk Kidd has done for her readers. I think we can do this in a way that honors young voices and makes sense. But we need to show them how to study and think about closure.
With the introduction of Common Core, our students are now expected to know how to provide closure to a piece of writing. Not just with the words “the end,” which so many of our primary students just want to throw down on the paper when they run out of pages in their booklet, but with a thoughtful ending that echoes the purpose for their pieces as well as their voices. With a little help from some mentors and time to study a bit about how authors end their pieces, imagine the possibilities our six- and seven-year-olds could have at their fingertips. In the early days of school, the books we read are for enjoyment while children are busy learning the routine of workshop. Later, I reread these books looking closely at endings. We chart what different authors say in their endings, name the types of endings, and provide a space for kids to write their name on the chart if they’ve tried it.
One of the picture books we enjoy in the first few days of school and then later for studying endings is Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This book is the story of a little boy blessed with a “yes” answer for every question posed to his mom. It is a narrative written in a question/answer format that many kids can try on after experiencing the book. It ends: See you again next year! We talk about how Amy Krouse Rosenthal really talks to us (the readers) at the end of her book, inviting kids to try this in their own writing when it feels right.
Big Sister, Little Sister by Leugen Pham finds a place in the hearts of the little girls in first grade who have a little sister or big sister. It is a patterned text in which the author writes about the big sister on one page and the little sister’s response to what the big sister can do on the opposite page. It ends: My sister is very good at being a Big sister but I’ll always be better than her at begin a Little sister! We then think about how the author talks to the reader, and I ask kids to think about the possibilities for this in their own stories.
The Best Bike Ride Ever by James Proimos and Johanna Wright is the story of little Bonnie and her first adventure after learning to ride a bike. The only problem is she hasn’t learned to stop. The story begins: I want a bike! I want a bike! I want a bike! With help from dad, Bonnie learns to stop and enjoys lots of time biking. It ends: I want a pony! I want a pony! I want a pony! The kids laugh about how she always wants more! We think about the similarity between the beginning and ending. I invite kids to try endings that go back to the beginning when it makes sense in their writing.
Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino is one of those ideal narrative mentor texts for primary writers. It has a very simple beginning, middle, and ending focusing in on one moment in a boy’s day. It tells the story of a weekly tradition between a boy and his father who visit a local diner each Friday for breakfast. The text often inspires many writers to write about traditions or family interactions. It ends: But soon it is time for us to go. “See you next Friday!” Already, I can’t wait. My students and I think about how Dan Yaccarino shares how he feels at the end of the book, and kids begin to think about the possibilities of how sharing a feeling could help them end their stories.
Anna Walker has written a series of very simple texts about Ollie, a cheerful little zebra. In her book I Love to Dance, Ollie explains all the ways she loves to dance and move. It ends: But what I love best is to dance on my bed with duck pajamas on my head! Since this ending is very literal, it is easy for kids to think about how the author ends with what she loves best about dance.
If I Had A Piece Of String written by McQueen, Martin, Edwards and students was a story I pulled out and read out of the blue one morning. It turns out many of my students were inspired to write their own If I had stories. The book names the possibilities for play with a piece of string. I used it again during writing workshop to study how the authors end their stories. It ends: What would you do with a piece of string? We talked a lot about how authors sometimes will end with a question.
By studying texts with some simple closure, these books have helped us begin conversations about why and how authors end their pieces. What often happens because of these discussions and close reading is that students begin experimenting in their own pieces. Then student pieces become the mentor texts we learn from and share. When we can stand our students’ writing next to picture book authors, their confidence, identity, and productivity always soars.