I pick up a lot of fun trivia in the course of researching nonfiction books for young readers. For example: Did you know that the red paint associated with Ferrari cars is so celebrated that it was chosen to be launched on a spaceship headed for Mars? Which means that when we compare something to Ferrari Red, we’re not just talking about any old red. We’re talking about a particular, special, worthy-of-space red.
I did a school visit with a 5th grade classroom yesterday, and the teacher asked me to talk about using description in writing. Right away my mind went to two of my very favorite literary devices—similes (comparing two unlike things through a connective word such as “like” or “as”), and metaphors (an implicit comparison between two unlike things). My mind no doubt jumped to these writing devices because there’s just the tiniest outside chance that I tend to be “simile-happy” as an author. So I told students I was going to read the first chapter of my new mystery novel Turn Left at the Cow, and I asked them to listen in particular for figurative language.
I kick off my story with this simile, so right off the bat they heard one example: “There were so many dead bodies stuffed into Gram’s freezer chest that it was kind of like wandering through a cryonics lab. You know, one of those places where they turn rich old guys into Popsicles?”
Once we’d talked through the various other examples they picked up from my reading, I asked all of them to look around the room and choose one of their classmates’ shirts. Then I had them write a simile comparing the color (or some other aspect) of that shirt to something else. When they had their similes ready, I told them, they would get a chance to share them and make the other members of the class guess which shirt had been their original inspiration.
I was pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastically the students took to this simple exercise. They loved the guessing game aspect of it, and many of them wrote very clever similes.
I have to say, it all made me as happy as a clam!