The samples of student writing that follow were collected over the years from students at Ridgewood Elementary school where I was librarian from 1987-2000, and also taught writing. Ridgewood Elementary is in the Kent School District in Washington State. Only mild editing has been done–to preserve the privacy of students, and to make reading somewhat easier. The majority of misspellings, and grammar and punctuation errors have been left intact.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CHEETAH
The cheetah suns himself on a rock. It’s been over a day since he’s eaten something beside lizards and rabbits. He sees a herd of gazelles in the distance. He jogs after the group until he’s within 100 yards of it. After singling out one particularly small gazelle, he prowls through the tall grass of the African plains. Unable to sheathe his claws like lions he has to be extra careful not to be heard. A gazelle puts his head up and the cheetah freezes. When the gazelle goes back to grazing, the cheetah dashes at the gazelle. His blinding speed is twice as fast as the gazelle’s and he is at it’s side in seconds. With his hooked dew claw he knocks the gazelle over and quickly bites its throat to cut off its air supply.
The rest of the herd is gone, not wanting the fate of the small gazelle. As blood streams from the body, the cheetah hauls it up a tree and onto a branch so other predators can not steal his prize. He waits to catch his breath because even though the chase only took 25 seconds he has run over 400 feet. 20 minutes later he eats his fill and leaves the rest of the carcass for the vultures.
He walks over to a waterhole and takes a drink. It is dark and the cheetah lies down to rest and falls asleep.
–Grade 6 student
FROM THE DIARY OF ROSITA LOPEZ
May 14,1996 9:00 a.m.
Hi, I’m Rosita Lopez, a Paraguayan cunatai; I mean, girl. I am Mestizo, which is a mix between Spanish and Guarani Indian. My madre is Spanish and Padre is part Guarani. I live in Asuncion, which is the capital city of Paraguay. I’m going to fill up this diary my Madre gave me, and bury it under the ground in a shoe box. Maybe sometime in the future, someone will dig it up, and then they’ll know what life was like “back then.”
When I told Padre this, he said, “Do you know anything about Paraguay’s history?”
“Well,” I said, “we did start a history segment at school yesterday. After I fill up the diary Madre gave me, I’m going to bury it. Like a time capsule. Have you ever made a time capsule?”
“Well, no. But a long time ago it was a custom among Guarani Indians to bury their dead in jars in the ground. Some of those were found by archaeologists. That’s sort of like a time capsule, isn’t it?”
“Eww! I sure wouldn’t put a dead body in my time capsule.”
Well, I’d better get dressed, ’cause in twenty minutes Madre, Padre, my older brother Pepe and I are going to an Independence Day parade with my grandma, my abuela.
For this special occasion, I’m dressing like a grown-up woman. I’m wearing a huge brown skirt that touches my ankles, a white blouse, and this really nice rebozo, a shawl, that my abuela knit for me. I can just hear her now, “Such a nice young lady. Are you sure you’re only ten?” Oh. Here’s Pepe.
A few minutes later…
He told me we have to leave now. He certainly looks different! Pepe looks like Padre! He’s wearing loose trousers like Padre does, but they’re so loose he has to wear a
belt, too. But still, with that nice new shirt Madre bought him, and the rainbow-colored poncho my abuela knit for him, (she likes to knit). I’ll have to admit he does look kind of nice. Admit to myself, that is.
Same day, 5: 30 p.m.
Wow! That was fun! At the parade my Padre said to me, “1 bet you don’t even know what Independence Day is about, do you?”
“Yes, I do,” I retorted as we followed the parade down the street. “We learned it in school yesterday. If I can just remember it. . . ,
Padre laughs. “You weren’t paying attention, were you?”
“1 was too! OK, um… In the early 1800’s a lot of South American countries were c-c-colonies of Spain. Some of them were trying to get rid of their Spanish leaders and become independent. In 18– 18–”
” 1810,” Padre finished for me.
“Oh, yes. In 1810 Argentina became independent and asked Paraguay to do the same. When they wouldn’t, Argentina sent over a military force led by General Bel–, Bel-, Bell?”
Padre smiled. ” Belgrano. Argentina sent over their military and General Belgrano to “convince” the Paraguayans to get rid of their Spanish leaders.”
“Yeah, but we had our own forces and told old Belgrano to get the heck out of here,” I said with a grin. “He was forced to retreat.”
“Eh, more or less. However, the following year we overthrew our Spanish governor without bloodshed or conflict and became independent.”
I pointed toward the parade. “Look. ,
The parade had gotten about a mile ahead of us, so Padre and I had a good workout trying to catch up with everyone else.
After the parade, we went to Abuela’ s apartment. When she was unlocking the door, I whispered to Pepe, “Abuela’s apartment sure is small compared to our house.” Our house is painted white and has little red shingles, a typical Asuncion house.
“Don’t a lot of your friends live in apartments? Carmena lives in one.”
“Yes, but Abuela’s apartment is so little!”
” A long time ago,” preached Pepe, “Guarani Indians lived in houses around a square plaza. Some of the houses were over 150 feet long…”
“What are you talking about,” I interrupted, “those houses were huge!”
“You didn’t let me finish,” said Pepe. “See, the houses were divided to accommodate each family, and some houses held as many as sixty families!”
“Wow! I sure wouldn’t want to be living back then! Hey, where’d you learn
“History class. ”
I don’t think I need history class. I’m learning enough from my family members as it is. I bet if Mrs. Gomez, my teacher, gave a test on Guarani Indians, I could ace it.
We ate lunch at Abuela’ s house. She made Sopa Paraguaya, my favorite dish, which happens to be the national dish, (can’t you tell?) Sopa Paraguaya is a dumpling soup made from cornmeal, parmesan cheese, eggs, and other good stufflike that.
Oh yum, what is that smell?! Madre must be making Chipa soo, maize bread filled with meat. Madre says the Guarani Indians have been using maize for a long time. Maize is in a lot of recipes. Well, better sign off. I think I hear her calling me for dinner.
Same day, 8: 50 p.m.
I was looking at the stars with Madre tonight, just thinking, when Madre said, “You know, Rosita, the stars are very important. ”
“How’s that?” I said, half-listening.
“Well, a long time ago, the Guarani Indians used to look at them to tell when to plant and sow.
“Oh, ” I said. By now I was really tired of hearing about the Guarani Indians. “Well, they may have done that,” I told her. “But I just look at them because they’re pretty.”
Rosita Lopez, age 10
—Grade 5 student
THOMAS JEFFERSON—DIARY ENTRIES
August 17, 1757
I was sitting up straight, facing front, and paying very close attention, which I want to do so I can go to the college of William and Mary as soon possible. One day I felt it was going to be different but I wasn’t sure until that terrible moment my sister rushed in. To my surprise she was weeping cold, hard tears. With many gasps of breath she managed to say, “Father’s dead.” At that very moment my heart broke in half. It felt as if I’d just dropped a precious glass vase and it had shattered into millions of pieces, and glass puzzle pieces could not be put back together. The same with my heart it had shattered into pieces also. I wanted to drop dead just like my father had. I was frozen solid like being outside for ten days while it was snowing. How I got out of the door the question still remains. On the horse-drawn carriage ride home it was completely silent between my sister and me. I faced the other way so she cou1dn’t see the tears rushing out of my eyes. I had no way to stop them.
The big white pillars at the front of the house greeted me, so did the reddish brown bricks, which is what you see a lot of at Shadwell. I wished my father would come out to greet me but deep down knew he wouldn’t. I leaped out of the carriage and dashed up to my room on the second floor. I was left an alone, at least without a father . I didn’t even get to say good-bye. Now unfortunately I am the only male, and I have to help take care of my mother, my sisters, and one little baby brother. What will I do next? I am sure things will work out.
Red and Orange flames burning everything to a crisp at Shadwell. I wasn’t there at the time but I have a vivid picture in my head. A terrible sadness has come over me, the house I grew up in and all my belongings have been burned. My wooden violin was the only thing saved from the fire. I guess 1 should be happy that my violin that I learned how to play at Dover Church was saved. I should really be happy that no one was hurt. All my books that I spent most of my paycheck from the many cases I solved as a lawyer [are gone]. Now I’ll have to spend more of my paycheck to replace all my volumes. I estimate it will cost nearly two sterling. I dream of starting my own library, but I need to start replacing those books as soon as possible. Now we’ll be moving into my unfinished house, Monticello.
–Grade 5 student
I have a picture of my great grampa Conny in a wheel chiar holding me when I was a baby age two. Whenever I look at it, it gives me a warm soft feeling like he is still alive and on earth with me. I kee it in the corner of our guest bedroom on a low shelf. The picture reminds me of when my family, my grampa, my grama and me use to viset my great grampa Conny’s apartment. He welcomed us with a joyfull hug. We brought flowers for him, or sumtimes candy, but the thing he liked the most was to see us agian. He was very kind to us but after a few years he passed away. I’m not glad he died but I’m glad I have sumthing to remember him by. I’m never even going to dream about giving my picture away. Not ever for all the money in the world becuse I loved him dearly and I still do. We bring flowers to his gravstone to let him know he is still important to us.
–Grade 2 student
My Dad That Died and All the Memories
Most kids have a dad or two parents. Well I don’t. My dad died in a car crash when I was three weeks old. Right before he died my mom and dad got in a argument. My dad left to cool off, but he never came back. My mom and my older brother, who was six, knew something was wrong. Then a call came. “[Your husband] has died in a car crash, Miss.” It was hard for my mom and brother.
Since I’d really never seen him, I have a picture of the dad I never saw. His picture is on my self of my best things. Like trophies, stuff like dolls my grandma made in Japan. His picture is in the center of all of it. That picture and many more show a lot like his personality. Most of the time he smiled. There’s a picture of him downstairs. I like it because him and my brother are together and he’s holding my brother.
Most kids can play with a dad or a step dad. But I could never play with a dad because he died when I was three weeks old! I hear lots of kids say “I hate my dad,” when they’re angry. But I say “you’re lucky to have a dad, and be happy.” A lot of kids can play games with their dad and catch. I have a wish I could play with my dad in all sports like baseball and basketball, and more, but that will never happen but I will keep on wishing.
If I could write to [my dad] I would write this:
I’m in 6th grade now and ten years old and 3/4. Now I have a buzz cut. My height is 4′ 5″. I live in a pink, pink house. But Dad, could you answer some questions? How tall are you? Do you have a car? But the most important, do you remember me?
P.S. Please don’t forget none of us like mom, J., me, plus grandma.
Ding dong! As soon as the doorbell rings, I always rush over to see who it is.
But most of the time I don’t have to look because it’s my seven-year-old neighbor, Alex.
I can tell it’s him because he always rings the doorbell more than once if don’t get to the
door fast enough. And usually I can see him running up our driveway.
Most of the time when he comes over, it’s right after I get home from school, so
usually I have lots of homework. When I do have homework, sometimes he just sits
down in front of my house and waits for me, even if I never come out. When I don’t
have homework and I get to play with him, lots of times we catch bugs in his backyard.
Or we create huge bubble storms that float around the cul-de-sac. We’ve invented many
games together , like Pop Can Bowling and Cross the River, which involves drawing chalk
“stones” leading in multiple paths across the cul-de-sac and jumping from stone to stone and
not stepping off of the stones.
Whenever I meet him I first ask him what he wants to do, and then I tell him if I
have homework or not. Sometimes when we’re both bored and he can’t think of anything
to do, he lets me pick out a game to play. One thing about him that I dislike is that I can
never win in an argument with him. The good things about Alex are whenever I want to
play with him, I don’t have to wait long before he comes to the door And he never runs
out of game ideas. Alex, I’ll always be your friend, and I will remember every thing
we did together even when we tried to wrestle our 8th grade neighbor and you got your
tooth knocked out. Hopefully we’ll be friends forever.
As the plane takes off my stomach lurches. I can see the lake become a blue puddle in the distance. My dad and I always take vacations to the Yukon every year. Below me towering snowcapped mountains and deep, blue lakes stretch for miles and miles.
The noisy bush plane roars on for half and hour or so until we touch down on Tagish Lake with a splash. Tagish Lake is a huge lake, maybe forty miles long, wedged in between mountains.
The floats on the float plane scrape up on to the rocky beach by our cabin. We unload all of our luggage onto the beach. We walk up the path made out of small flat stones, all of my memories returning.
We open the door with a wrench and key that we hid on a tree. Inside is the old cook stove, the open fireplace (which my dad made himself.) The anceint log walls, and the new (compared to the cabin itself) deck. Now we will live fore a month or two without the normal convienences of a modern home. It’s actually quite fun!
We hike through the mountains, swim or go paddling in our kayak on the sparkling, blue lake. One hike I especially like is up a steep, rocky mountain called Cloutier. It is very, very, very hard to climb up because the rocks are loose and the slope is about 45 degrees steep. It’s very dangerous!
But for all that work and risk it is rewarding. At the top there is a valley. It is green and colorful with grass and wildflowers, and, at the right time of year, there are thousands of black and orange butterflies. I named it butterflie valley. (Hmmm… I wonder where it got it’s name?)
On the top there are two rocky arms extending from the side of the mountain. From the end of the arm there is a drop that could obliterate anyone on the rocks below. It’s thrilling to stand two feet from the edge and see all the mountains, lakes, and forests sprawled out below me like a map.
My dad names off the different lakes and mountains. The wind blows hard up there and the arms are only about twenty feet across so it’s pretty freaky! The air is so thin on top of Cloutier you accually get sleepy after a while. Once, on the way down, I slipped on a tough spot with lots of loose rocks. I would have fallen about eight feet then rolled down the steep hill, possibly seriously hurting myself, (Well… probably seriously hurting myself.) but I finally found a rock that wasn’t loose and stoped myself.
When we get to the bottom it’s evening. We then paddle back across the lake to our cabin. There is a lot of peace and quiet in the Yukon, barely anyone for miles. No huge apartment buildings or noisy cars. Just untouched mountains, lakes, an forest. Untouched wildlife, too. There are moose, mice, squirrels, fish, bears, and many more. I did catch mice live, by hand and homemade traps, untill rumor had it that a sickness was carried by the mice.
Fishing is a big part of the Yukon too. You just lower the flashing lure into the dark depths and wait for the fish. My dad’s motto is “You never know when the line’s gonna zing out!” Pretty stupid but it’s true.
After a long day of incredibly boring fishing and grueling hiking, it’s nice to sit down by a glowing fire with a book. We have a whole bunch of old, old books you can read. We can sit by the fire or go up in the hammock to read.
Once we can’t hold our eyes open any longer we flop into bed and fall asleep to the sound of mice running across the wooden floor.
Sisters, Oregon: the ultimate adventure!
It’s 10:00am and my bags are packed and ready to go to Sisters, Oregon–
population 800. Sisters is a tiny town and a seven hour drive from home, but it’s worth it.
When we finally arrive, I leap out of the car and run up to the side door, only to
remember that it’s locked, and my dad has the key.
“Emily,” my mom calls, “come and help us unload the trunk!”
I bounce back to the car, grab a couple of bags, and wait eagerly for my mom,
dad, and brother, Ward, to get their bags so I can go inside. Yukon and Perry, our two
dogs, are also eager to get inside. They’re jumping around, barking and whining.
My dad unlocks the cabin door, and they run inside, skittering across the cold,
rocky floor. The floor is actually cement, with little rocks in it. It keeps the cabin cool
during the day, and warm at night.
I skip down the hall to the room with the two twin beds, where Ward and I sleep.
As I’m walking into the room, Ward is just dashing out. “Hey, wait up!” Flinging my
bags onto the bed, I bound after him. Yanking open the sliding glass door at the front of
the cabin, I jump off the porch, and run to the little creek to see if there’s any water in it.
It’s not a creek, really. It’s an irrigation ditch, about three feet across and two feet deep,
bigger in some places. But I like to call it a creek. Besides, it sounds better that way.
“Mom,” I yell. “There’s water in the creek!”
“That’s good, honey,” she calls back.
I walk across the plank bridge, followed by Ward, and take in a big breath of air .
Ahhh. The smell of sagebrush, juniper, and pine trees is just enchanting. There are so
many trees and bushes, it’s like you’re in a forest, but you can always find your way back
to the cabin. Just follow the creek. “Hey, Ward,” I say, “can we play that ‘Choose Your
Own Adventure’ game?”
“Well, all right,” he says.
One of the many things I like about going to Sisters is that even though he’s three
years older than me, Ward still plays with me a lot while we’re here. Probably just
because none of his friends are around. But who cares? It doesn’t matter why he plays
with me, as long as he does.
“Okay,” he says. “You are about to set off on your journey. The object of the
game is to make it to the end of the creek, along the way, winning weapons and gathering
advice from allies.” Brushing aside the pine needles on the ground, he draws a map in the
dirt with his finger. “Make it to the end of the creek alive,” he says, pointing to an “X”
on the map, “and you will meet the ultimate enemy. Beat him, and you win. Are you
I laugh. “Yes, I’m ready.” My brother plays a lot of video games, so he’s always
making up games like this.
“Emily! Ward! Dinner!” calls my dad.
“We can finish this game after dinner.” Ward runs toward the cabin, and I follow.
* * * * *
After dinner, including the best maple bars in the world from the bakery in town
(thanks to Dad), Ward and I convince our parents to go “boat racing.” The dogs can’t go
with us. They’d run off. Or at least Yukon would. He’s part husky, and is always looking
for adventure…or a chance to get away.
I pick a boat I made during our last visit, a boat called The Fast Frog. Making a
boat is quite easy, actually. All you do is find a board around two inches wide and half an
inch thick. Then saw off a piece that’s six to seven inches long. (The sawing part I let
someone else do.) Saw a point at the front of your boat, and take it inside and color it.
There you have it. A boat.
“Ready, set, go!” Ward yells. Kneeling on the bridge, we drop our boats into the
water. I jump onto the ground, and grab a stick, in case The Fast Frog gets stuck in the
weeds along the sides of the creek.
Racing close to the banks of the creek, jumping and stumbling over bushes, we
shout things like “Yes! I’m ahead!” and “Stupid boat! Don’t tip over,” while we follow
our boats down the cool waters of the creek.
As we near the end, we move even quicker, hoping to make it to the weir in time,
so we don’t lose our boats. (A weir is this fence across the creek that makes the water
change directions. If our boats get into the weir, they’ll float into someone else’s
Ward and I kneel down on the boards over the weir, ready to catch the boats as
they come. And the first boat to come sailing down is…mine!
“Yay, I win!” I say as Ward scoops my boat out of the water. This is shaping up to
be a wonderful vacation.
“Yeah, but look who’s boat is coming very close behind.” Ward reaches down to
grab his boat. “I was almost first; you just cheated somehow and got ahead,” he said, like
that explained everything.
I roll my eyes. “How was I supposed to cheat, if l didn’t even touch my boat?”
“Oh, trying to cover it up, are you? Well, I know you cheated, and…”
“Somebody get my boat!” Mom says sounding anxious.
I reach into the icy cold water and take hold of her boat just before it can get
sucked through the weir .
“Thanks.” Mom smiles. She takes the boat, and shakes it dry.
“Where’s my boat?” Dad pouts.
“Right here. And it’s the very last one.” Ward smirks as he lifts the boat out of
“Give me that!” Dad grabs the boat from Ward. But I know he’s not really mad.
Dad and Ward are always teasing each other .
“Ha, ha! Daddy is a loo-zer!”
Dad lunges forward, pretending he’s going to grab Ward.
“You can’t scare me, Dad-ooo,” Ward says. But when Dad makes another move
towards him, Ward screams, and runs up ahead.
Later, Ward and I sit around in the cabin and read for a while. Ward reads his
Garfield books, which he will absolutely not share with me for who knows what reason. I, myself, read a book called Cages, about a girl who gets caught shoplifting and has to work in the animal shelter to payoff her debt. I get to the part where this cute little dog that the girl fell in love with gets put to sleep, and I am almost crying, when Ward says, “Let’s go outside and continue our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ game.”
“Okay,” I say, sniffling a little.
He looks at me kind of strange, but doesn’t say anything. We run outside to the
bridge. The dogs run after us. “Hey, you can’t come out here,” Ward says. But at that
exact moment, they see a rabbit, and are off quicker than the blink of an eye.
After at least fifteen minutes of chasing the dogs, we finally get them inside and
come back to the bridge. “Okay,” says Ward, panting a little. “You are at a bridge.” He
points to it. “You start to cross it, and nearly trip over an ogre, sleeping on the job. He is
a guard, and has a cudgel,” Ward picks up a stick from the ground, “that looks
dangerous. Do you wish to a) fight the ogre; b) try to kill him while he’s asleep; or c) try
to slip past him unnoticed? Remember, if you pick “c,” you will not get his weapon.”
“Hmm,” I say, “I’ll pick ‘b.”‘
Ward sits down near the bridge, and pretends to be the ogre, sleeping. I sneak up
to him, and with a stick sword, I get ready to “stab” him in the chest. But he “wakes up,”
before I get a chance to, grunting and snorting loudly.
I slip behind him, and pretend to stab him in the back. He grunts painfully, and
falls forward, catching himself before he hits the ground. “Okay,” he says, “You have
killed the ogre. Here is his cudgel.” He hands me the big stick.
“Thank you,” I say, and I cross the bridge.
It’s pretty dark by the time we get to the end of the game. I’m just finishing off
the evil wizard–who is very hard to beat–when I hear my mom calling us in.
As my mom and dad are tucking me into bed, I complain, “Why do I have to go to
bed so early?”
“Emily, it’s almost ten o’clock,” my dad says.
“Yeah, but I still haven’t done a lot of things. I haven’t gone caving, or fed the
fishes at the fish hatchery, or even visited the horses next door. I haven’t…”
“Emily,” my mom interrupts, “we can do all that stuff in the next three days. Right
now, all you need to worry about is getting to sleep so you’ll have enough energy to do all
those things.” She bends down and kisses me on the cheek. “Good night, honey.”
“Night, Mom. Night, Dad,” I say as they close the door.
I sigh. We can’t possibly do everything there is to do in just three more days. I
wish we could stay here a month.
Written by my daughter, 5th grade
Click here for more student writing samples – Fairytale Takeoffs.
From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams www.suzanne-williams.com