If you want your homeschool students to learn to write, give them the book they'll want to read.
Eager to see how the stories in this book demonstrate a writing technique? Follow James and Jessica as they learn what plagiarism is all about, and then again when   they find themselves standing next to a bank robber with a gun.

It’s Latin for Kidnapping

The orange jumpsuit with a big “Juvenile" printed on the back, the handcuffs digging into her wrists, the shackles on her ankles, the smell of dried sweat—they all seemed somehow unreal, clouded in a fearful haze inside Jessica’s head. Nothing made any sense to her: not the walls filled with angry graffiti, and certainly not the huge metal door that held them prisoner inside a tiny room with no windows. Her brother James sat next to her, yawning and pulling on the chain that connected his handcuffs to another chain around his waist.  

"We’re in jail!" Jessica shouted, her eyes full of fear.

"Nope," James said, "we’re in a holding cell next to a courtroom. Hear the judge in there rambling on about right and wrong?"

"How did we get here?" Jessica said. "What happened?"

“Don’t you remember?" James said. “That cop came into the classroom then the teacher handed him some papers and next thing I know we’re in handcuffs!" 

Jessica looked up as a deputy sheriff approached the holding cell and unlocked the door. James listened to it creak as it swung open. Sounds like a door to a smelly old dungeon, he thought.

"Let’s go," the deputy said. "Your turn."

"But officer," Jessica said, "we don’t belong here. There’s been a mistake for sure."

"No mistake," the deputy said. "Let’s go."

James stood up then nearly fell as he tried to walk, forgetting that his ankle chain forced him to take baby shuffle steps.

"Isn’t there something we can do?" James asked. "There must be some options."

"Oh sure," the deputy said. "You’ve got several options: the firing squad, the hangman’s rope, the electric chair, or if you’re lucky life in prison." 

Shocked by the deputy’s prediction of pain and agony, Jessica and James shuffled out of the holding cell and into the courtroom. Standing before judge Gil Tee, Jessica looked up and up until she finally saw his face hovering far above them like a vulture ready to pounce on its prey. The judge’s face was hidden, darkened by a shimmering shadow that seemed to have no beginning. Standing near the judge, a tall man dressed in black leather and a mask stood at attention, a long black whip in his hand.

"Are you ready, Pain Master?" the judge asked. The man nodded slowly and cracked his whip. Jessica began to feel sick as she and James huddled next to each other. 

"This is unreal," Jessica said, shaking her head.

"No," James said, "this is surreal." 

A crowd of onlookers seated behind them began to mumble curses and damnations. The judge shook his finger at the crowd.

"Quiet!" he shouted, shifting his glare to James and Jessica.

"Now, you two, James and Jessica Davis. Do you know why you’re here? Do you know what you’ve been charged with?"

 "No, your honor," Jessica said. "This is crazy. We haven’t done a thing."

The judge held up a set of papers in each hand.

"These are your essays, right?" he said. Jessica leaned forward, trying to hear the judge. To her, his voice seemed to come from a long tunnel, like an echo.  

"You’ve been charged with grand theft," the judge said. "You stole the property of others and tried to pass it off as your own. This isn’t your writing. Don’t you realize your teacher can see through that?"

 "Words are property?" James asked.  

The judge glared at James. "Words or images arranged in a certain way represent the writer’s property," he said. "It’s called intellectual property, and it belongs to them! That’s the law. It’s obvious you stole paragraphs from some source without giving credit to the author or publication. That’s plagiarism. Any by the way, did you know that plagiarism is Latin for kidnapping?"  

"I didn’t think it was wrong," Jessica said. "I thought everybody did it."

"Well it is wrong," the judge said, "very wrong, and you could get a failing grade or even get suspended. Did you know that? It’s stealing, thievery, theft, taking something that’s not yours! Let me repeat that, just in case you didn’t hear me. You could fail the whole course, or you might even get suspended! You need to wake up!"

 "Boil them in oil!" a voice shouted from the back of the room.

"Off with their heads!" a victimized author yelled.  

"You people back there keep quiet!" the judge shouted. "I’m going to give these two thieves the maximum sentence."

 The judge whacked his gavel, silencing the room. Then, turning slowly to his left, he moved his hand toward a red button, a red button that would open a trap door that James and Jessica unknowingly stood upon, a trap door that would send them falling into a pool of hungry alligators. Counting down, the judge put his finger on the button and shouted, "Five! Four! Three! Two! One!—"


Standing beside the couch Jessica was sleeping on, James leaned down and poked her shoulder.

"Hey, wake up," he said. "You’ve been mumbling and flopping around on this couch for an hour."

Jessica rubbed her eyes and sat up.

"Oh my God," she said. "I just had the most horrible dream. C’mon, we’ve got to make something right."

Jessica reached for her laptop and clicked on the file name of an essay she had finished the night before.

"What are you doing?" James said.

"That dream taught me something," Jessica said, "and now we’ve got to…how shall I put it…return some property to the rightful owner."

As she began to credit the sources she used in her essay, Jessica began to feel a familiar sensation, the feeling of relief and pride that always came over her when she knew she was doing the right thing.



One Dumb Bank Robber 

In the lobby of the Midland City Bank, standing at a counter with a pen and pad in his hand, a man wearing dark glasses and long overcoat with a bulge in the right pocket shifted his eyes quickly around the lobby, watching customers and, especially, the movement of two security guards. The man’s watchful eye noted the guards’ semi-automatic handguns protruding from shiny leather holsters.  James and Jessica Davis had been looking forward to this day for two weeks—a field trip to the bank and a chance to do bank things: fill out deposit and withdrawal slips and enjoy a guided tour conducted by one of the bank’s vice presidents.

Directing his students into a corner of the lobby, language arts teacher Alex Johnson first showed them how to fill out a withdrawal slip, then sent James and his sister to an island counter to fill out theirs, the same counter where the man in the dark glasses stood with pen and paper in hand. Mumbling and scribbling, the man looked out over his glasses and asked James: "Is stick up one word or two?"
Stunned, James looked quickly at Jessica then back at the man."I think it’s two words," James added, looking to his sister for confirmation, "although I’ve seen it as one and sometimes with a hyphen."
"I think two words," Jessica said, her mouth suddenly dry. "Are you writing something?" James asked. "Yes," the man said, glancing again at the security guards. "And I’m stuck.""Maybe we can help," James said, astonished that he was actually talking to what appeared to be a real bank robber getting ready to rob the bank. Jessica bit her lip and kicked James in the shin.
"What have you got so far?" James asked. The man handed James a note pad. James read it and swallowed hard:              
                        I have a gun. I want all the money. Give it to me or I will shoot. I am not   kidding. I am very serious.

 "Ahh," James said, gulping. "I see."
Still amazed that he was actually talking to a bank robber, James suddenly thought of a plan, a way to stop the thief. He did realize that for the plan to work, the thief would have to be really, really dumb.
"Well, you know you might not get what you want if you write it that way," James said. Jessica gritted her teeth and tried to concentrate on filling out her deposit slip.
"And why not?" the man asked.
"You’ve got five declarative sentences in a row. Very dull, boring.  The teller will lose interest and probably stop reading."
"So," the man said, "how can I fix that?"

 James took a deep breath, momentarily pleased with the thought that the man was actually going along.
"You could introduce some variety in your sentences, you know, change the structure of one or two, put some emphasis here or there, create some flow. Right now, your sentences are like speed bumps, repetitive and annoying."
"Show me," the man said, "I don’t have a lot of time."
"Okay," James said, his heart thumping hard and fast.
"Here’s an example" James said as he turned over a deposit slip and began to write. "You could combine a couple of your simple sentences into one compound sentence, like this." 

               I have a gun, and I want all the money.

"That’s one way," James said, writing again. "Here’s another."

               I have a gun, and I will shoot if you don’t give me all the money—and I’m not kidding!

The man looked at James's version and nodded.
"I like that one, makes me sound tough, huh?"
"Sure does. You now have a compound sentence ending with a dependent clause set off by a dash for emphasis."
"Uh huh, whatever you say."
"There are lots of ways to vary sentences," James said. "You should look into that next time you rob—uh, write a note like this."

James knew he was running out of time, and he also knew he had to do something before the man decided to go to one of the tellers and demand money.
"Here’s another version," James said, "one that might really get the teller’s attention."
"Okay, one more. I’ve got to get going."
James began to write, but not another version; he was writing a note to Jessica, who had so far remained quiet and nearly frozen with fear.
"Is that security guard looking at you?" James asked the man. Just as the man looked toward the guard, James slipped the note to Jessica and gave her a gentle shove. She folded the note and walked away, back toward Mr. Johnson and her classmates. Her whole arm shaking, she handed the note to Mr. Johnson who, questioning Jessica with his eyes, read the note silently:

               Take this to Mr. Johnson. Notify security guards. Man across from me in dark glasses 
                and long coat has a gun and is planning to rob the bank.

"About that other version," James said, trying to keep the man looking at him. "You could begin the sentence with a couple of introductory dependent clauses, then follow them with the main clause. Like this."
The man took the paper from James and read it: 

               If you don’t give me the money, and if you think I’m kidding, you need to know that I have a gun.

While the man studied James's newest version, Mr. Johnson handed the note to one of the bank employees, who quietly strolled to one of the security guards and slipped the note into his hand.
"I like this version," the man said. "I think I’ll go with it because I got to get going."
"The only place you’re going is to jail," the security guard whispered in the man’s ear. The man felt the steel-hard barrel of a handgun pressed against his back. After the bank manager thanked James and Jessica, they gave each other a smacking high five and walked toward the entrance as their classmates grinned and handed out congratulations. The guard handcuffed the man and sat him down in a corner of the lobby, then glared at him and said, "You had intent. You're carrying a lethal weapon. You were writing threats. You were going to break the law. I’m going to charge you big time, buddy."

Thinking for a moment, the robber slumped in the corner then looked up at the guard and said:  "You know what? You just gave me five declarative sentences in a row. You really need to work on your sentence variety...I might lose interest."



Homeschool writing skills
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p.s. Don't overlook the good ideas at www.middlestudentsgetit.org
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