Kiri Jorgensen began Chicken Scratch Books because of the widening gulf between children’s literature from mainstream publishers--often pushing trending social and political issues at the expense of good writing--and religious publishers who have their own agendas. In her work, Jorgensen had seen many great authors rejected because they weren’t edgy enough or didn’t align with the goals of publishers. So Chicken Scratch Books was created to publish good literature for middle-grade students, without any social, religious, or political agendas, and without excessive swearing, sexual innuendos, and graphic violence.
As of December 2021, Chicken Scratch Books has published four novels along with online courses for studying each one. The books are available in paperback, epub books, and Kindle formats. Here are the titles and brief descriptions of the novels.
- Best Friends Playbook by A.W. Downer is about a homeschooled girl who loves football and sports. When her best friend goes to a private school, she has to learn how to make new friends in her small homeschool setting.
- Maddie McDowell and the Rodeo Robbery by LuAnn M. Rod is the story of a twelve-year-old girl. Feeling rejected by her family, Maddie McDowell runs away to join the rodeo. She finds herself enmeshed in the mysteries of a robbery and people who have disappeared.
- Sophie Murphy Does Not Exist by Tiffany Blanchard is about a seventh grader who is struggling with major life issues, including the loss of her father.
- Dread Watch by Jared Agard is a paranormal thriller that involves a train wreck, ghosts, a mysterious gold watch, a dreadmonger who can take possession of bodies, and many frightening events. This book is exceptionally well written. However, those with a Christian worldview will likely take issue with a number of elements in this story, and the content may be too dark and frightening for some middle-school students.
The online courses, taught by Kiri Jorgensen, are designed for use either within group classes or for independent study. Jorgensen sometimes tells students to discuss different aspects of the assignments with their group. Students working independently can easily discuss with a parent instead. The books can be read relatively quickly, and if parents read the book, that should be adequate preparation for participation in discussions.
The online courses are laid out with an introduction and six sections that together are intended to take about six weeks to complete. However, they are self-paced, and you can move through them at whatever pace works.
The courses are primarily focused on helping students learn how to do a deep analysis of literature. Students need to watch two videos before they start reading. One explains how to use the "bookmarks" and the second explains the “focus skill” process. (I explain both below.) Students will take notes and complete graphic organizers as they read each novel. Then they will complete a final writing assignment and their choice of a project. Jorgensen presents a number of videos that walk students through each assignment, and she shares many of her own observations for students to compare with those they have noted. The videos are not professional, but they work fine for these courses.
Each course also includes three videos presented by the book’s author to help readers learn about the authors’ background and the genesis of their book. (In the third video by the author of Dread Watch, he teaches students how to draw the dreadmonger and another monster—something different than in the other courses.)
The courses each have six sections. The first five sections direct students to read a group of chapters for each section and present videos and assignments for those chapters. The first five sections all have the same four elements.
- Bookmarks (each the size of one-third of a page) are printed out from a downloadable file. Students will need a bookmark for each of the five sections of the course, and all bookmarks are identical. On the bookmark, there are six different items students are to identify and note as they read: repetition, contradictions, aha! Moments, wise advice given, flashbacks, and tough questions. (These six items are explained in an instructional video.) Students jot down the page numbers where they spot each of these.
- Focus Skill Worksheets are graphic organizers that are also printed from a downloadable file—one copy of the same worksheet for each section. Students take notes about character interactions, character development, setting, and plot in response to questions on this graphic organizer. The Focus Skill Worksheet is tailored to suit each book.
- Vocabulary work has students choose five vocabulary words within the assigned chapters and complete a vocabulary form online. For each word, they will identify the page number where the word was encountered, write out the sentence in which it is found, then identify two synonyms for the word. Vocabulary assignments are completed and submitted online. (Parents might want to print these out to see what their student has written before they are submitted.)
- An online, multiple-choice quiz presents one question at a time. There’s no easy way to print out a copy, and results are not tracked by the website. The course does display the student’s score immediately after they complete the quiz, and parents should write that down.
The sixth section of each course, titled Final Analysis, has two final assignments. All students will complete a writing assignment based on the focus skill worksheet, writing about a theme in the book, analyzing the main character's arc, writing a compare-and-contrast essay, or writing some other type of literary analysis suitable for the book. Students are also given four options for a final project. They will generally be choosing from projects that require research and writing, an artistic or construction activity, a creative activity reflecting a theme in the book (doesn’t require significant writing or art), and a second writing project.
Chicken Scratch Books is creating alternative courses, called "Novel Explore Courses." that will take up to four weeks to complete. That option is available for Best Friends Playbook, and others will follow. They are lighter on study elements, having no vocabulary activities or quizzes. Students will watch videos, including two from the author of the book.
Rather than using the bookmarks for finding clues as they read, students read a section of the book then have an interview with their teacher or parent. In this interview, they draw a Question Card (provided), select a question to answer, and answer that question to their interviewer. They answer questions about the story in regard to four different areas: story, character, motive, and theme. Parents don't have to know the story well to lead the interview, since the students will be telling them about it as they go.
I read two of the four novels and was very impressed by the quality of the writing. I found the stories engaging enough that I finished each book in one day. Students might also feel the same way, and you might meet resistance if you make them wait over a period of weeks to find out what happens next!
The online courses are well organized with worthwhile content. They work on many aspects of literary analysis in an incremental fashion that should be very manageable for middle-school students.