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A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic
Written by Natalie Lloyd
Published by Scholastic in 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-55279-7
Grades 3 – 8
Book Review
Twelve-year-old Felicity Pickle has a mama who is “cursed with a wandering heart;” as a result she’s a veteran at being the new girl. But when Mama’s heart leads her back to her childhood home in Midnight Gulch, Felicity and her little sister Frannie Jo hope that this move will be different. Midnight Gulch has a magical history and Felicity fits right in there with her own special talent of seeing words – words appear to her in the air and help her to know what others are thinking and feeling. A she describes it, “I see words everywhere, all around me, all the time.” Felicity weaves the words she plucks from the air into poetry that she is too shy to share with anyone other than her immediate family. In her debut novel for the intermediate and middle grades, Natalie Lloyd explores the themes of love, loss, home, community, and redemption through a cast of eccentric, yet appealing, characters. These include, to name just a few, a wheelchair bound classmate with a secret do-gooder identity, a love-lorn long-bearded school bus driver, and a hairdresser who also serves as the town’s auto mechanic.  Aided by her new friends and newly reunited family members, Felicity seeks to unravel the mysterious curse under which her family seems to be suffering, striving to “patch it, mend it, stitch it back together.”  Equally humorous and heart-tugging, this “splendiferous” novel will inspire readers to listen for wind-chime winds and look for snickers of magic all around.
Teaching Invitations: Ideas for Your Classroom
Home is…  At the end of the novel, Felicity asserts, “Home isn’t just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you’re brave enough to love people” (p. 302). After re-reading this quote aloud, ask students to do a quick write, jotting down ideas, thoughts, and responses, considering what home is/means to them. You might choose to have students expand this writing through further drafting, feedback, and revision. Alternatively, students could also offer a visual response, drawing or making a collage or mural of what home is/ means to them.
Teaching Literary Elements. A Snicker of Magic provides a wonderful opportunity to explore three literary elements: theme, setting, and characterization. Through discussion, students can examine these three elements and how they are interrelated in this well-developed novel. Students are like to identify theme statements related to home, community, family, connections, love, loss, redemption and change. After you have teased out these themes statements, write them as headers on chart paper. Divide the class up into small groups, assigning each group a statement to further explore. Ask students to record their thoughts on the chart about how the setting and characters reinforce / reflect the theme. Share thinking across groups inviting feedback and further ideas.
Favorite Words.  Felicity collects favorite words in her journal and crafts them into poems. Provide each of your students with 5-10 index cards and ask students to record their favorite words, writing one on each card. Have students label the cards on the reverse side with their initials and then pool the cards together. Read through the words and have students identify different ways that the words can be sorted or grouped. The words can be used for a spelling/phonics lesson if you group them by phonetic patterns or for a vocabulary lesson if the words are sorted semantically. The possibilities are endless. As an extension, divide up the words, distribute them to small groups and invite the groups to compose a found poem (see teaching suggestion above). You may also want to explore other books that feature protagonists who are word collectors, or linguaphiles, such as the fictional picture books: Max’s Words, The Word Collector, The Boy Who Loved Words, One Word Pearl, Donovan’s Word Jar and the Fancy Nancy series or the nonfiction picture book biographies Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People and The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus.  
Found Poems. Introduce your students to the writing technique of creating a found poem. Begin with a shared writing activity, selecting a passage from the book, asking students to write interesting words from the passage on index cards, and then work cooperatively to craft a poem.Using a local newspaper, invite students to select an article that they feel captures the spirit of your community; students can work in teams to craft found poems from the chosen articles. Finally, invite your students to select a piece of text with which they will work to individually create a found poem. You might choose to use the technology tool called Word Mover provided by Read Write Think for this activity.
Literature Circles. A Snicker of Magic pairs well with two other books that focus on special talents, Savvyby Ingrid Law and A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. Divide the class up intro three groups, each group reading one of these three novels, and provide time for students to read and discuss their book. When groups have finished reading the group, create an opportunity for groups to share the content and themes of their book with their classmates. This might lead to further explanation of the concept of ‘talents.’ Students could share their own special talents through an oral, written or dramatic presentation.
Finding a Snicker of Magic. Toward the end of the novel, Felicity speculates, “I bet there’s a snicker of magic on every street, in every building, every broken heart, every word of a story. Maybe it’s hidden away and you need to look harder for it. Or maybe the magic is right there, right in front of you, and all you have to do is believe” (p. 309).  Invite your students to consider the magical in the everyday. You might launch this conversation by considering the differences between the genres of magical realism and fantasy. In which category would they place A Snicker of Magic.  It might be interesting to add the discussion the idea that Felicity might have synesthesia (for more on this see our entry on The Noisy Paint Box). Ask students to think about what is magical to them in their everyday life. After having the opportunity to talk about it with classmates, students can be invited to write or draw their ideas.
Envisioning Characters. This novel is chock-full of intriguing characters, so many that students may have trouble keeping track of them all. As characters debut in the story, create a chart to keep track of the character’s name, unique characteristics, and relationships to other characters in the story. At the conclusion of the book, ask each student to select a character of interest to them. They should revisit the book, doing a close examination of the writing to determine the writing techniques Natalie Lloyd has employed to introduce and help us get to know the character. Students can create character portraits, drawing an image of the character and surrounding his/her with the words Felicity might see around him/her.  
Ice Cream Flavors. As students read/listen to A Snicker of Magic, they may naturally begin inventing their own unique and unusual ice cream flavors. Post a chart in the classroom on which students can record their creations. When the list is lengthy enough, have students create a descriptive advertisement poster for their flavor, including visual images. If time allows, you might want to actually make ice cream in the classroom, using an old-fashioned hand crank or newly automated ice-cream maker (ask parents if anyone has one to loan).
Mural of Your Town. Felicity’s mama finds healing power in the process of creating a mural that depicts the soul and character of Midnight Gulch. Collaborate with the art teacher at your school or an artist in your community to have your students produce a large-scale mural depicting your community. Begin by discussing significant landmarks and characteristics of your town/city. Extending this discussion, invite students to consider the soul and character of your community. What should be included in the mural? How can the community’s uniqueness be represented though this form of artistic expression?
Town Stories. Storytelling plays a strong role in A Snicker of Magic, weaving the texture and fabric of the community. Invite your students to explore stories connected with the history of your community. Identify key figures in your community and invite students to interview them, focusing on documenting the stories that shape your community’s history.
Critical Literacy:
The Power of Words. Invite your students to consider how Felicity’s words transformed her future. Ask students to discuss the power of language, thinking of a time when words influenced the direction that their life took. Consider the aesthetic power of poetry as a tool for advocacy. Invite children to identify an aspect of their life that they would like to change and have them explore this concept through poetry. Poems can be kept private or shared publicly.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Natalie Lloyd’s Website
Scholastic Teacher’s Guide
Finding the Message: Grasping Themes in Literature
Read Write Think: Creating a Found Poem
Read Write Think: Word Mover
Books
Banks, K. (2008). Max’s words. Ill. by B. Kulikov. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Brown, M. (2011). Pablo Neruda: Poet of the people. Ill. by J. Paschkis. Boston: Henry Holt.
Bryant, J. (2014). The right word: Roget and his thesaurus. Ill. by M. Sweet. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s.
DeGrosse, M. (1994). Donovan’s word jar. New York: Harper Collins.
Graff, L. (2013). A tangle of knots. New York: Philomel.
Groeneweg, N. (2013). One word Pearl. Ill. by H. Mitchell. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.
Law, I. (2008). Savvy. New York: Dial.
Schotter, R. (2006). The boy who loved words. Ill. by G. Potter. New York: Schwartz and Wade.
Wimmer, S. (2011). The word collector. River Forest, IL: Legato Publishers Group / Cuento de Luz.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.

Comments

  1. This is my first experience with this blog, and it is a goldmine! Everything we need to help choose new titles for our interactive read alouds is included in this thorough exploration of each title. I will be a regular reader and promoter of your work here as a Literacy Coach in my district. Thank you!