SPRINGing Forward to the Literary Critique - Unit 9: Formal Critique
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May 2015 Newsletter

SPRINGing Forward to the Literary Critique

Unit 9: Formal Critique

Dear Readers,

It is time to “spring” forward to Unit 9 – formal critique writing. When writing a critique, remember to insert three paragraphs answering the Story Sequence Chart questions (taught in Unit 3) between introduction and conclusion paragraphs, creating a five-paragraph format. Additionally, keep in mind that a critique is not simply a book summary, but must also include a recommendation about the book. Avoid using phrases such as “I think” or “In my opinion”; rather, give your opinion boldly and with confidence as if you are the expert.

“A book report just reports. A critique analyzes and makes a recommendation about the book.” – Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

It is also important to remind students that they do not need to report every detail or describe each character; instead stress the main points and primary characters. Lastly, emphasize creating a key word outline prior to writing the critique. As always, this will aid students in organizing information and their thoughts.  
Congratulations to our student writers who are published in this newsletter:
  • Katherine Page
  • Taryn Perry
  • Levi Smith
  • Andrew Wright
  • Benjamin Ziesmer
Thank you to all who submitted work. Keep writing and submit again!

Upcoming Deadlines for Homeschooled Students
  • Fiction – May 11, 2015
  • Journalism – June 15, 2015

Submission Reminders
  1. A Publication Consent Form should be submitted along with your work.
  2. Submissions should be sent in a Word document, not as a PDF.
  3. The top of each submission should include the author’s name, current age, and submission category (example: Unit 5).
  4. Format correctly: single spaced, size 12 in Times New Roman font, and only one space after each sentence.
  5. Please do not include stylistic indicators within your submission.

For complete writer’s guidelines, visit our website.
Happy critique writing,

Megan L. House
Magnum Opus Magazine Managing Editor
800.856.5815 x5101
A Recommendation for the World
by Levi Smith, age 12
Worry, loss, and love combine to create a deeply moving and well-known tale. Adeptly written, Sarah, Plain and Tall is an applauded novel that leaves the reader consumed with emotion. Inspiring and full of friendship and love, this story’s conflict can be described as “man versus man and nature” because the protagonist struggles with her own desires, as well as with the symbolic pull of the sea. Patricia MacLachlan was unsurprisingly awarded the Newberry Medal, the Scott O’Dell Award, and the Golden Kite Award for her amazing tale, Sarah, Plain and Tall. As a child, MacLachlan had absolutely no desire for writing, since her first story was rejected by her teacher. This crushed her. Only in her later years did she finally discover a desire and passion for writing, which led her to create a phenomenal narrative enjoyed by all ages.

On a rural farm on the prairie live Anna, the main character, her younger brother Caleb, and their Papa. The author sets the fictional yet inspiring tale with the family having lost their mother during Caleb’s birth. Unfortunately, due to their loss, their father has become somewhat despondent and longs for a wife, as the children yearn for a mother. Hoping to find a wife, Papa sends out an ad to the East because he knows he has a greater chance of finding a wife in more urbanized states. While the days go by, the children ecstatically anticipate a response. They shan’t wait long. Hailing from Maine, Sarah, who is the main protagonist, responds and tells them she will soon visit. She informs them that she will be wearing a yellow bonnet and that she is plain and tall.

In spite of this strange introduction, everyone immediately loves Sarah. She sings to them, draws pictures of the sea, and helps them feel complete as a family. However, the conflict lies in whether Sarah will stay with the family or return to her own family in Maine. The author clearly alludes to the answer with Sarah’s joy in spending time with them, and her love for the children. While the reader might presume she will stay, she does manifest a note of sadness since she begins to profoundly miss the sea, which represents her old life. Because she misses the sea, she begins to talk about the waves, the smooth sand of the beach, and the rolling dunes. Trying to cheer Sarah up, Papa shows her their own “dune,” which happens to be a haystack. Subduing their worries, Sarah seems to be genuinely enjoying herself again. Life is grand once more. With summer approaching, Sarah demands that she learn how to drive the wagon. Their plans are cut short, though, as the sky suddenly darkens. Thunder booms. The wind roars. In the rising action, an infamously dangerous squall rolls in. Terrified, they race to the barn since that is the safest place to be. Sarah, realizing she has forgotten her chickens, and having created an emotional bond with them, races toward the house to retrieve them. Papa quickly follows. Finally safe, the family calmly waits out the storm. Undeterred by this significant event, Sarah again demands that Papa teach her to drive the wagon. Fearing the reason for this request, he hesitantly complies.

In the beginning of the climax, Anna and Caleb nervously pace the porch. Sarah had left that morning driving the wagon and has still not returned. Quickly, they begin to fear that she has left permanently for Maine. The reader can easily empathize with their worries because the climax is clearly presented. With sundown approaching, three figures stand on the porch, eyes eagerly scanning the horizon, fearing that Sarah might not be coming back. Suddenly, dust begins to rise from the road. They hold their breath. When Sarah drives up in the wagon, shouts of joy can be heard as they race out to greet her. Returning with colored pencils, flower seeds, and songbooks for them, the denouement comes into play. Sarah, who feels guilty for the drama caused by her lengthy departure, admits that although she misses the sea, she would miss them more if she left. The heartwarming story concludes with Papa and Sarah soon being wed, and Anna and Caleb having a mother again in their lives.

Engaging and well-written, Sarah, Plain and Tall leaves the reader justly satisfied, while still hungry for more. As a negative, the location of the events was relatively abstruse, which makes it difficult for one to have a strong picture of the geographical setting. In spite of this, because the author used excellent quality of language effectively, the story is still very enjoyable. MacLachlan undoubtedly meant the theme of this novel to be that love is without bounds and can bring people together in unexpected ways. It is stirring and motivating. Finally, this book is recommended to any and every person, young and old.
A High Quality, Well-Written Novel:
The Big Wave

by Benjamin Ziesmer, age 12
On the shore, a monstrous wave crashes, mercilessly swallowing a small helpless fishing village on the east coast of Japan. Written as a short historical novel, The Big Wave takes place in the early 1900s. It was composed by Pearl S. Buck and first copyrighted in 1947 by the Curtis Publishing Company. Famously, the novelist wrote best-sellers which occurred in the Orient, where she was a resident for many years. As a winner of numerous prizes such as the distinguished Pulitzer Prize and the 1938 Nobel Prize for Literature, Buck was awarded the Child’s Study Associations Children’s Book Award for The Big Wave because her story was so powerfully presented.

The story is set on a mountain that borders a beach in rural Japan. On the beach there is a village, and on the mountain there is a terraced rice farm, although the soil is rocky. A boy named Kino happily resides on the farm with his parents and his sister, whose name is Setsu. Living in the village is Jiya, Kino’s best friend, the son of a fisherman and the protagonist. Strangely, not a single house in the village has windows facing the antagonistic sea. Although the people in the village are mostly fishermen, they are afraid of the mysterious ocean. Kino also has a fear, which is a volcano fifteen miles away from his farm, because it has the ability to spew forth lava. Danger is soon to come.

One tragic day, the volcano erupts triggering a tsunami. The tsunami savagely obliterates the village and most of its inhabitants, initiating Jiya’s problem. Being signaled by Kino’s father, Jiya escapes although his family sadly drowned. Kindly, Kino and his family care for Jiya, who is grief-stricken, and provide food and shelter for him, lessening his sorrow. An old gentleman who lives in a castle on a large nearby hill asks to adopt Jiya because the boy is intelligent and handsome. Although the old gentleman has much to offer, Jiya declines and lives on the farm with Kino’s family, which provides temporary resolution. Many years pass by.

One day, the survivors of the tsunami return to the beach and begin to reconstruct the village, building their homes where their previous ones had stood, the most exciting moment. When the old gentleman sees the construction, which is well under way, he becomes angry because he thinks the people are foolish to build homes where the big wave could destroy them. Wisely, Jiya says that it is the fishermen’s rightful home and that they have a right to live there. Jiya then buys a boat. The story begins to come to a close when he marries Setsu and becomes a fisherman. Building a house in the village, they construct it with windows openly facing the sea, because they have overcome their fear and learned the moral of living bravely in times of danger.

The Big Wave has effective characters, strong rising action, and a smooth transition from the climax to the conclusion. Engagingly, the tale is clearly presented and contains many vivid descriptions, which move the story forward. Although an American citizen, the author masterfully portrays a well-founded view of the Japanese culture since she had spent many years living in that region. Inspiring courage, the theme depicts bravery in times of danger. As for the quality of the novel, it is a well-written narrative, evidenced by Buck’s accomplished literary talents.
Shaping Robinson Crusoe
by Taryn Perry, age 15
Set in the 1700s, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is a captivating book. Crusoe’s adventures encompass much of the world, so the story’s location often changes. Author Daniel Defoe utilizes numerous aspects of the setting to shape his characters and storyline. By writing in first person, Defoe gives the reader a unique view of how the setting affects Crusoe. As the story unfolds, Crusoe’s voyages take him many places, and these various circumstances change his life.

By placing the story in a time that relied almost entirely on ships, Crusoe’s growing fear of sailing adds unique obstacles to his plans. Although trouble usually comes to him when aboard a ship, the time frame, European mindset, and his own longing for adventure drives him to more sea voyages. His unfortunate sailing experiences lead him to settle in Brazil, avoiding sea trips for a short time. Inevitably, he is soon on another ocean voyage, which ends suddenly in a storm and shipwreck.

Most of Crusoe’s ocean trips ended in disaster. During his first voyage a storm arose, and he vowed: “I would go directly home to my father, and never set it [my foot] into a ship again.” (4). When the storm subsided, so did all of Crusoe’s regret. Eventually, he was shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. His loneliness and desperate condition changed him. He felt his miserable condition was a punishment for his previous lifestyle. He repented and recorded: “I daily read the Word of God, and applied all the comforts of it to my present state” (72). Being the sole survivor of his ship shaped Crusoe’s life. He began to make better choices and see his situation differently. He thanked God that he had been saved and had managed to secure a few supplies from the ship before it sank. Had he not been so alone, he would have enjoyed his time on the island. Without distractions or choices about wild living, Crusoe focused a lot of time and effort on God and reading His Word.

Sometime later Crusoe discovers that cannibals come to the island on occasion. By combining cannibals with mutineers, slavers, and pirates, Defoe keeps the book filled with suspense and action. Facing new dangers and responsibility, Crusoe becomes more mature. He avoids impulsive behavior and begins to consider what consequences would result from his actions. As Crusoe develops prudence, he avoids making many mistakes. After many years, Crusoe is able to board a passing ship and sail to the mainland. Upon his rescue and departure from the island, Crusoe is noticeably different from the reckless man he was before.

Most importantly, Crusoe developed prudence during his solitude. He learned to be thankful for his deliverance, and careful to consider the consequences of his actions. Upon his return to England, Crusoe was no longer reckless, but looked to trusted friends for advice. He recorded: “My principal guide and privy-counsellor was my good ancient widow” (193). Having learned much, Crusoe was careful and circumspect. As a result, the book closes with Crusoe very different from the beginning.
The Courageous Conductor: The Story of Harriet Tubman
by Andrew Wright, age 17
Ann Petry, author of Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad, was thought by her teachers destined to become a writer. She was born in 1908 on October 12th. She was the youngest of her three siblings and was raised in a small town. Originally, she wanted to become a writer when she was in high school but went to the College of Pharmacy because she needed to help her family's farm. During her college career, she earned her Ph.D. but also found time to write short stories. In 1938, she eventually married George D. Petry, which led Ms. Petry to New York. Eight years later she published her most popular novel, The Street. It was idolized by most readers. Excited, she went on creating many more stories including the book Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad in 1971. Although the book is non-fiction, the narrative is told in story form. Sadly, Petry passed away in 1997.

This inspiring story begins with a husband and wife, Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, supporting characters on a plantation in Tidewater, Maryland. Ross and Greene do what they are told honoring their owner, Edward Brodas, hoping they and their children will eventually be granted their freedom as the law at the time promised. They have several children, most of whom still live with them, except those who are hired out by their master to other farmers. In 1820, they have another baby, and the protagonist is born. After the central character’s birth, Greene and Ross decide to give their new child the “basket name” Minta, or Minty. Eventually, as she grows older, her name changes to Harriet because each slave child needs a grown-up name. Although once in a while she toys with the inconceivable idea of her family running away to freedom, she does not act on the impulse immediately.

The conflict of the story is whether Harriet Tubman and her family will be freed. One day in 1849, while working in vast fields, she hears her sister is being sold to another farmer, which leads a terrified Tubman to believe that she will soon follow. She devises a plan. After a long, harsh scheme of events, thanks to the help of people who believe slaves should be free, she miraculously smuggles herself to Pennsylvania. Having escaped, Tubman often thinks of her family, which leads to her decision to help free her husband. Upon returning, Tubman discovers that her husband has remarried another woman since Tubman had run away and left him alone. By the path she uses to Pennsylvania, she leads other slaves to the North. Triumphantly, she even leads some other slaves to Canada since the new fugitive slave law in Pennsylvania helps return runaway slaves to the South. Tubman is then given the nickname “Moses” for leading them to their “promised land.”

The turning point in the story is when Tubman decides to free her family who are still enslaved at the plantation. Finally, after a game of “cat and mouse” she retrieves her family and then journeys to Canada. They travel day and night. Through perseverance, the group eventually reaches their destination. Experienced, throughout the years following, she makes more trips to the South, bringing hundreds of other slaves to freedom. When the Civil War breaks out, in 1861 she serves as a scout for the Union army in South Carolina, advising Union forces on how to attack the rebellious Confederacy. The story is at its close after the war as she has little to no money and feels slightly lonely because she hears that her former husband was murdered. She dies on March 10, 1913. After reading this story, the main message is clearly emphasized—through perseverance anyone can achieve anything.

Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad is an engaging, well-told third person tale about how Tubman goes from a slave to a hero. In the story, characters are well thought out, and the story explains almost every supporting character descriptively. They are also well visualized as the story describes clothing, weather conditions, and even the feelings some of the characters have, such as sadness to physical pain. In the same form, the setting of the story can be easily imagined as well, from a windowless small cabin to the plantation the slaves worked on. As Tubman is going from North to South several times, her journey is well narrated while telling about each stage of smuggling she goes through to complete each of her journeys. The effective and powerfully presented theme is clearly survival as Tubman struggles to keep out of sight without being caught and executed. The conflict is well presented as Tubman decides to achieve what used to be unthinkable because there were consequences if anyone failed to escape. She achieved that and more. Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad is a suspenseful story about how an unsuspecting girl who rises from her chains is freed, becoming a courageous conductor aiding others to freedom.
A Bittersweet Ending
by Katherine Page, age 15
“Nothing gave the youngest princess such pleasure as to hear about the world of human beings up above them.” Echoing through the mind of a young mermaid, these invigorating thoughts appeal to anyone who has pondered adventure into another avenue of life. The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen recounts the captivating tale of adventure, romance, and tragedy. As a young, lively mermaid discovers the bright and wonderful world above the surface of her familiar underwater kingdom, she passionately pursues her love for the handsome human prince and her desire for a life above the cerulean waters. This enchanting story was one of the most renowned fairy tales of the 19th century. Andersen, who was of Danish descent, came from a family of limited means. The author, while born to little wealth and a lack of proper education, grew to be the father of many well-known short stories and children’s tales due to his own determination and natural talent. Subsequently, Disney published a kinder, revised film of the story in 1989, which soon grew to be the better-known version of the tale. Although several aspects of the original story are preserved in the movie, the differences between the two versions outweigh the similarities.

On account of the brevity of the short story, it was necessary to further develop and devise figures for the movie, which led to many character similarities and differences between those of the narrative and those of the film. How do the characters contrast? While the protagonist remains a young mermaid princess with an astoundingly clear, beautiful voice and an affinity to the sunlit human world, the similarities between the little mermaid’s character in the short story and film mostly cease there. The little mermaid, somber and attentive, behaves more sensibly than the spirited and rebellious Ariel, although both are driven by a fierce desire. Remaining kind and accommodating to his young and silent guest, the prince is oblivious to the little mermaid’s interest in him in both scenarios. While the prince’s blindness hampers the little mermaid, no clear antagonist is identified in the short story. Contrarily, the sea witch, who shows no glaring signs of malice in the narrative, evilly entices and deceives Ariel, taking the position of the antagonist in the film. Also, the authority figure changes. While in the short story, the little mermaid’s experienced grandmother poses as a source of wisdom and charge, Ariel’s father, Triton, protectively oversees Ariel’s well-being in the movie. While some characters and their aspects from the original short story are preserved in the movie, others are modified.

Several aspects of the conflict between the original narrative and the filmed rendition of The Little Mermaid remain alike; however, the differences between the two ultimately outweigh the similarities. Both the silent little mermaid and the spirited Ariel face the same unfortunate fate of being born a mermaid, unable to independently fulfill their deafening desires. In view of this, while man versus fate represents the opposition in the short story, it is not so in the movie. Separating the story from the movie, the main conflict of The Little Mermaid is man versus man. In the book, the nameless sea witch simply offers the little mermaid her request, a decision that costs her dearly. There is no clear antagonist. Contrarily, in the movie, the sea witch, Ursula, is portrayed as the antagonist because she maliciously and mendaciously plots against Ariel. The young mermaid, ensnared by Ursula’s deceiving plan, is led directly into the trap formulated by the evil character. Since one version of the story tells of how the mermaid attempts to overcome her unfortunate fate and the other tells of how the mermaid attempts to overcome an evil antagonist, the conflicts lead up to strikingly differing climaxes and resolutions.

From the climax to the resolution, the two scenarios have very little in common. At the turning point of the short story, the muted little mermaid comes to a crossroad. She may either kill the prince so that she might live, or she may sacrifice her own life in exchange for his. Selflessly, the little mermaid casts herself into the sea, instantly dissolving into sea foam and deserting her dream of obtaining an immortal soul, in order to preserve the life of her oblivious love, the prince. Because the little mermaid displayed such an act of selfless love, however, her spirit is sustained with promise of an immortal soul, in time. Surprisingly, the turning point and falling action of the movie drastically diverge. In the movie, Ariel regains her gentle voice from Ursula, and the spell over Prince Eric is broken, much to the sea witch’s displeasure. However, it is too late. Ursula cruelly kidnaps Ariel. King Triton demands her release. Bargaining with the evil Ursula, King Triton offers the witch his power in exchange for his stolen daughter. After a turbulent battle against the power-crazed Ursula, Prince Eric finishes off the sea witch, and Ariel and her beloved prince live happily ever after. While the two plots are initially similar, the climaxes diverge strikingly.

Clearly recognized, several aspects are sustained between the two editions of the story. However, the differences are greater. Since the characters carry such vague description in the short story, further development and additional characters were necessary for the film. Causing further contrast, the conflicts of the two editions are surprisingly diverse. While this may be, the underlying conflicts of the two scenarios coincide. From the climax through the resolution, similarities between the two editions are unseen. The climaxes of the stories differ to such a striking degree because the characters and conflicts are so contrasting. Further, the resolutions are nearly opposite. Which of the remarkably disparate portrayals of the story is better? While the spirited and cheerful storyline of the movie contains foreshadowing, symbolism, and provokes satisfaction from the viewer, its predictable ending follows the clichéd route of most modern fairy tales. The suspenseful short story entrances the reader with sharp and unpredictable twists, engaging imagery, and a bittersweet ending that leaves the reader feeling as if he were hit by a bus, and somehow enjoyed it.
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