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Thank You, Pseudonymous Bosch!

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas

Thank You, Pseudonymous Bosch!I love the engaged and enthusiastic looks I see on my students' faces when I am reading out loud. I especially enjoy the wide-eyed expressions they have as the reading comes to a climatic pause. The sound of groans and pleas for me to continue reading is music to my ears.

Every day for fifteen minutes, my fourth grade students participate in the fictional lives and misadventures of Cass and Max-Ernest. They follow along on their quest to discover The Secret and defeat the evil villains that make up the Midnight Sun, Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais. My students have followed Cass and Max-Ernest through four installments of The Secret Series, written by the mysterious Pseudonymous Bosch. With the clock ticking before the end of school, we are hoping to finish the series.

I stumbled upon this creative, clever, and humorous author by chance.  While tutoring during the summer, one of my students was reading the author’s first book. Curious, I read the back cover. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about this unfamiliar author.  So, of course, I performed a web search for Pseudonymous Bosch. I loved what I discovered!

Pseudonymous Bosch wrote the book as part of a volunteer program at an elementary school. He had a fourth grade writing partner (how cool is that?!) and wrote the story, sharing it in installments via mail. Both agreed not to divulge their names – that’s how Pseudonymous came to be. I presented my students with this information as we began our readings, demonstrating that you are never too young to be a writer or to share ideas for a story. What a wonderful opportunity for the 4th grader who got to share in this experience!

I also learned that Pseudonymous Bosch was an author who was not only writing about secret identities and mysteries, but also continuing to bring his life to his stories by keeping his true identity a secret. Throughout his blog, and while at public appearances and various book signings, PB (what we now call Pseudonymous Bosch) is wearing sunglasses to mask his identity and maintain this mystery. Children don't know who PB really is and this secret has led to great class discussions, multiple theories, and wonderful predictions.

Now, back to the books. Each book in the series revolves around one of the five senses.  In his first book, The Name of this Book is Secret, PB writes about the sense of smell. He introduces readers to synesthesia, the confusion of the senses, a condition a couple of the characters in the story have. The second book deals with sound, the third taste, the fourth sight, and the fifth with touch.

Thank you, Pseudonymous Bosch!

A photo of our homunculi (from book two) bulletin board, with creative writing, is posted with a comment granting me “special agent” status! The kids really loved that!!

His newest book, released in April, is a do-it-yourself-mystery entitled Write This Book.  This 17-chapter book covers everything you would want know about writing a book. PB also posted a video asking for help writing the book. Through the website DOGOnews, PB sponsored a short story writing contest for students in grades 4-8. The stories must be 100-300 words and can be from one of three categories: mystery, strange, or funny. I showed my students the short video PB made and used it to transition into our own short story unit.

They were so excited! Of course, they felt the prize should have been a visit from PB himself and I agree! I was also able to use his new book to share a variety of writing techniques, including teaching students how to use a plot map, a marvelous graphing tool that is helpful when writing a story of any length.

I think what makes PB so popular with my students is not only his ongoing desire to keep his identity elusive, but also his writing style.

He writes as if he was in the room speaking to the students directly, one on one, pausing often mid-adventure to give warning, define a challenged word, or take a much needed chocolate break. Inside are codes Cass and Max-Ernest have to decipher. I often post these on the board for my students to solve - great morning activity. His chapters are sometimes labeled backwards and a few are even “invisible” or missing. The characters he introduces throughout the series are relate-able and fun, each with their own special gift or talent. The illustrations by Gilbert Ford create a springboard for discussions and are simple enough that students can re-create, as they often like to do. The books are incredibly entertaining, to say the least.

I decided to write this blog not only to share with you a wonderful series, but also to express how sometimes we discover something on whim, try it in the classroom, and find it has the power to unleash great and mighty things.

This author and his series have done just that. What started as just a simple read aloud, has exploded into science labs, creative writings, and so much more. I now have students who hated to read tell me how much they love PB’s stories and can't wait for the next book, or have read ahead and have finished the series. Students are “dying” to share what happens next but trying desperately (and often impatiently) not to give away the ending. The enthusiasm is amazing!

The spark PB has created in my classroom through class discussions, engaging activities, and various writing assignments has yet to die out. For that, I am incredibly thankful.