Thursday, September 29, 2011


          Yesterday an English teacher who has 7th and 9th grade classes sent this request to the Teacher Librarian and me:

"I wonder if you can help me with our writing unit. We are finding examples of descriptive writing as a class. I would like students to note the unique styles different authors use while articulating through the same stylistic devices. Would either of you be able to pull some books/pages for me to introduce strong description? They will be reading a page--not a whole novel/book. I would love to have 10 books to use for an activity. I plan to have them do a Gallery Walk, where they read and discuss the style and impression."

          The Librarian found some examples online, citing passages from picture books, since students could easily read an entire picture book and talk about the descriptions.
          As soon as I read the English teacher's request, some of my favorite authors' names had started popping into my head, so I began pulling books and putting post-it notes on pages with good description. This is what I came up with. Of course, these are examples of what I PERSONALLY consider quality literature. Incidentally, I haven't actually read Kerouac, but I know some of our kids dig him, so I found a passage I liked.

The following excerpt is from Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails' eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.
     In the one instant before they come apart they are like the peonies in the front garden at Mr. Kinnear's, that first day, only those were white. Nancy was cutting them. She wore a pale dress with pink rosebuds and a triple-flounced skirt, and a straw bonnet that hid her face. She carried a flat basket, to put the flowers in; she bent from the hips like a lady, holding her waist straight. When she heard us and turned to look, she put her hand up to her throat as if startled.

The following excerpt is from The Rose and the Beast: fairy tales retold by Francesca Lia Block

She came that night like every girl's worst fear, dazzling frost star ice queen. Tall and with that long silver blond hair and a flawless face, a perfect body in white crushed velvet and a diamond snowflake tiara. The boys and girls parted to let her through--they had all instantaneously given up on him when they saw her.
     I felt almost--relieved. Like that first night with him but different. Relieved because what I dreaded most in the whole world was going to happen and I wouldn't have to live with it anymore--the fear.
     There is the relief of finally not being alone and the relief of being alone when no one can take anything away from you. Here she was, my beautiful fear. Shiny as crystal lace frost.

The following excerpt is from The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

     Behind one door, Tom Skelton, aged thirteen, stopped and listened.
     The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.
     Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.

The following excerpt is from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil.

The following excerpt is from Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson

     The forest was heavy with rain and the trees were absolutely motionless. Everything had withered and died, but right down on the ground the late autumn's secret garden was growing with great vigour straight out of the mouldering earth, a strange vegetation of shiny puffed-up plants that had nothing at all to do with summer. The late blueberry sprigs were yellowish-green and the cranberries as dark as blood. Hidden lichens and mosses began to grow, and they grew like a big soft carpet until they took over the whole forest. There were strong new colours everywhere, and red rowan berries were shining all over the place. But the bracken had turned black.

The following excerpt is from Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac

     Those afternoons, those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snowcovered rock all around, looming Mount Hozomeen on my north, vast snowy Jack to the south, the encharmed picture of the lake below to the west and the snowy hump of Mt. Baker beyond, and to the east the rilled and ridged monstrosities humping to the Cascade Ridge, and after that first time suddenly realizing "It's me that's changed and done all this and come and gone and complained and hurt and joyed and yelled, not the Void" and so that every time I thought of the void I'd be looking at Mt. Hozomeen (...) Stark naked rock, pinnacles and thousand feet high protruding from immense timbered shoulders, and the green pointy-fir snake of my own (Starvation) ridge wriggling to it, to its awful vaulty blue smokebody rock...

The following excerpt is from Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

(NOTE: these aren't typos, Kiernan's style is to sometimes smear her adjectives/adverbs together for effect)

Alice Sprinkle has hands like a bricklayer, sturdylong fingers and calluses and muscle, all the white and inconsequential scars that come from twenty years spent climbing around in limestone quarries, shale quarries, road cuts. Scars and the damage the sun does to a woman's skin, the fine wrinkles and her nails thick and nubby, a fresh Band-Aid wrapped around her left index finger; Chance smiles politely at her across the cluttered kitchen table and pours Alice another cup of coffee.
     "I just can't see any reason for it, Chance," Alice says and sighs, lifts her grayblue china cup and blows hard on the steaming black liquid inside. Breath to send tiny ripples across the dark surface, and "It's a goddamned, stupid waste," she says.
     "You really don't have to keep saying that," Chance says quietly, trying to sound confident, trying to sound like she doesn't know she's losing this argument again, and she drinks her own coffee, scaldingquick mouthful and a glance out the kitchen window at the summer night filling up the backyard. July night full of crickets and the metronome cicada thrum, a little cooler now because of the thunderstorms this afternoon, and the grass out there will still be wet, the soil underfoot still damp.

The following excerpt is from The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli

Luscious rose brittles capture the light in air bubbles that seem to move on a sunny day. They line the outer walls. Bright red buttery caramels form a cornice on every window. Palest of jellied gumdrops stick up in cone-shaped mounds along the roof. I know they are delicious, though I do not indulge myself. Their sight is enough of a pleasure. The entire log house is decorated with candies. I've achieved a harmony of lights and darks that would bring a flush to my Asa's face. I know that. Or maybe I just fool myself into believing that.


  1. One book I love for descriptive imagery is Katherine Langrish's Troll Fell. She can really weave some great images. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. Thanks, Angela! I'm pretty sure we have that, so I will definitely look it up tomorrow! :)

  3. These literary passages are AWESOME. Hope the teachers you work with know how lucky they are to have you. I especially love Ray Bradbury's, "The Halloween Tree." :-)

  4. Helpful :) Needed a descriptive passage :)

  5. it was very helpful.... thank you

  6. Thank you so much! Such a great choice of books which really helped with my block! :) (times a hundred more smileys)

  7. Thanks.....wonderful resource

  8. This is just great. The sample you made up is purrfect.!!

  9. It is awesome my Cass and I plus my teacher used to give us this site for descriptive passages. Thx too much