Carol Dweck is the Stanford psychologist whose work around achievement and success has helped us understand the power of having a growth mindset. Someone can accomplish a lot more through hard work and dedication, rather than by relying on their smarts alone. Educators know the benefits of having a growth mindset, rather than having a fixed one. We learn from trial and error. There is value in failure.
The Most Magnificent Thing, which is written and illustrated by Ashley Spires, is a super way to initiate a conversation with students, or your own children, about the importance of possessing a growth mindset. The girl in the story tries over ten times to build something and get it right. Through hard work and some help from her trust sidekick, her pug, she eventually gets succeeds.
Here are some of the things you can use The Most Magnificent Thing to teach student writers if you’d like to use this book in writing workshop (and you should!):
- Character Development: This girl is into building and inventing. She perseveres even after failing many times. This kind of strong girl character is a rarity in picture books, which is one of the reasons I loved this book!
- Effective Ending: The character eventually succeeds. First, she succeeds after so much hard work, which left a lasting impression on me as a reader. In addition, what she built put a huge smile on my face.
- Pictures & Words Work Together: Like most of the texts young writers compose in writing workshop, Spires is also the author and illustrator of this text. The art enhances the words (e.g., the facial expressions of the girl evoke her true feelings). You can show students how the two work in conjunction with one another so they can add meaning for their readers by spending just as much time on the words as they do on the pictures.
- Print Features: There are a variety of manipulations done to the print throughout the book. There are several words that are capitalized for emphasize. Font size is changed to evoke frustration and pain.
- Pronoun Use: The girl is a she and her pug is a he. Neither one is named. Therefore, there are lots of pronouns throughout this text.
- Repetition: There is a purposeful recurrence of words to create rhythm at several places in the text.
- Varied Sentence Lengths: The first sentence of this book is long, “This is a regular girl and her best friend in the whole wide world.” Then there’s a shorter sentence, “They do all kinds of things together.” Next there are four shorter, simple sentences like “They race. They sat. They explore. They relax.” This text has sentences with a variety of comma usages as well as compound sentences. While this kind of variation works well in the text, it also gives you plenty of examples if you want to teach kids about using and punctuating different kinds of sentence structures.
- Verbs: Spires choose precise verbs to power her sentences. (See the left side of the page spread farther down in this post for an example.) Strong verbs drive sentences, thereby eliminating superfluous language.
Ashley answered several questions I had about the book, as well as her writing/illustrating process. I hope the interview that follows will be one you will share with your students when you read this book aloud.
SAS: Your bio says that all of your books have at one point or another made you cry, scream and tear your hair out as you tried to get them just right. Tell me, how does the regular girl’s struggle in the book compare with the writing process?
AS: It pretty much describes it to a tee. I think this book is my most personal to date, as it acts as an allegory for my attempts to become a better illustrator. The eraser is my favorite tool because I make SO many mistakes. When things don’t turn out, my inner critic chimes in, “You sit here until it’s perfect!” But years of experience have taught me that some distance and distraction almost always lead to new ideas and perspective.
SAS: How come you decided not to name the girl and her dog in The Most Magnificent Thing?
AS: This book, unlike all of my previous works, is not about a character but an experience. I wanted to ensure that the readers identify with the feelings she is having by keeping the character general and unnamed. Hopefully all readers will see themselves in the girl’s struggle, not the girl.
SAS: Sentence after sentence, your word choices were so precise that I could’ve closed my eyes and pictured the story you drew in my head. Tell us more about your quest to find the perfect words when you write.
AS: You should probably direct that question to my editor! Where would I be without her? We really did struggle to find the right tone. But we must have done something right, because I’ve been reading this book aloud a lot lately and it’s such fun. It is so very much my voice. Sentences like “the mad gets pushed out of her head” and “too full of all the not-right things” won’t win me any grammar gold stars, but it’s totally how I use and abuse language.
SAS: I noticed you scribbled a dark line over the girl’s head when she was getting angry. (I’ve seen Mo Willems do this in the Pigeon books too.) How come YOU choose to do this to represent the girl’s frustration?
AS: For the same reason I left the characters unnamed. I want every reader to identify with her feelings, and the dark squiggle is one of those visual symbols that we all inherently understand. I wanted every child who is following along with the pictures to see that line and immediately think, “I’ve felt like that.”
SAS: How do you think The Most Magnificent Thing can help teachers talk to kids about the importance of having a growth mindset?
AS: The character is a perfectly capable girl with a great idea and the skill to make it, but she has to try, try and try again in order to succeed. Most kids (I was one of them) think that if it’s not perfect the first time, then they should move on to something that comes to them more easily. Working hard to succeed is what true success is.
SAS: How do you use a writer’s notebook? What about a sketch notebook?
AS: I use both as a constant resource. Any germ of an idea or doodle could turn into my next book. I speak to kids about the importance of having books that are your “safe place” — journals where you are free to make mistakes without judgment. Feeling free enough to allow yourself to make mistakes is the only way to let your imagination reach its potential.
SAS: Since you’re an author/illustrator, tell us more about your process.
AS: My process is very different from book to book, but it always involves a great deal of chocolate. Some of my stories start from a drawing I’ve done, some are from my own experiences, and others are flights of my imagination inspired by those around me. I almost always start with a character sketch before I write the first draft. I still think in pictures before words, which is probably why I don’t really get swept into a book until I start to draw it.
SAS: What are you working on now?
AS: I am working on three books right now! I am doing a spin-off story from my Binky books starring a new character. I am illustrating a picture book written by Alison Hughes about a dog made of spare parts. And I am working on a picture book about an overscheduled chickadee. Oh, yeah, and I am writing The Space Chronicles monthly for chickaDEE magazine. Yikes, I better get back to work …
Ready to use The Most Magnificent Thing with your students this fall? Be sure to check out this chart I found on Twitter first:
This giveaway is for a copy of The Most Magnificent Thing. Many thanks to Kids Can Press for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of please leave a comment about this post by Friday, June 27th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 30th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Kids Can will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field.)
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone for their enthusiasm about this text. A copy of The Most Magnificent Thing will go to Dawn Sunderman whose commenter number was selected using a random number generator. Here’s what she wrote:
I will definitely be looking into using this book. Thanks for the suggestions on how to use it. Thanks for the author interview. I will be using some of it to show my students the writing process from an author’s point of view!
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.