Discover This: Parody

Last week, LitHub’s Jessie Gaynor posted a fun piece on rewriting the opening lines to 10 classic novels, reflecting social distancing. It was a light-hearted post meant to encourage people to stay home and flatten the curve of COVID19.

Gaynor’s rewrite for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was subtle but apropos:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like going to a restaurant,’ he told me, ‘just remember there are people in this world whose immune systems haven’t had all the advantages yours has had.‘”

Her rewrite of the opening line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was much simpler. Gaynor took “Call me Ishmael” and came up with “FaceTime me, Ishmael.

I thought of my own all-time favorite opening line, written by Franz Kafka in his short story Metamorphosis. Without much effort, I came up with:

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed, alone and distant from the monstrous virus.

Now that some states are in full lockdown mode and schools across the country may be closed for the rest of the academic year, Gaynor’s tongue-in-cheek post presents an excellent #HomeschoolThis opportunity. It’s an easy language arts lesson that requires no preparation. All you’ll need is some paper and pencil and a few of your favorite books from your bookshelf. Don’t have the books? Search for the book on Amazon and click on the Look Inside tab to read the first sentence.

Why Parodies

Parodies imitate books, poems, songs, movies, and even art in a purposefully exaggerated form. Parodies make people laugh. Some parodies also try to send a learning message. Both goals are super important right now during this global pandemic.

Weird Al Yankovich is probably one of the most well-known parodiest known, rewriting lyrics of famous songs. What makes Weird Al so much fun is that his parodies pay close attention to syllable count and rhyming patterns. He also blends just enough of the original words, that you’ll be expecting to hear the real song but instead you wind up OMG-ing at his clever word play.

Writing Parodies

Both emerging writers and your most reluctant writer can enjoy coming up with parodies with the proper support. All it takes is modeling the brainstorming process together – and not getting hung up on actually writing the words down. Let me show you.

Start with a story that your kiddo knows well. Read over the first sentence together – or, in the case of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat, read over the first set of sentences.

Working with opening lines that rhyme is actually a little more difficult. With rhyming books, you’ll need to figure out the rhyme scheme. Listen to the last word in each line. Which lines rhyme and which ones don’t? You’ll also want to count the syllables in each line.

Next, take a look at the sentence content. Do you see a pattern? With The Cat In The Hat opening lines, the sentences are cause and effect. The first 2 sentences tell us basic facts. The 3rd sentence is the resulting effect.

[Do you really want to get into all this sentence analyzing detail with little kids? No – but it’s helpful for you to know so you can keep the activity from getting frustrating.]

Now the brainstorming part begins. Since your parody will be about the coronavirus, think of all the keywords that relate to COVID19 and staying inside. Be sure to include a list of words that rhyme for lines 2 and 4. Stuck on rhyming words? Check out a free online rhyming dictionaries.

Online Rhyming Dictionaries

Finally, the fun part! Play around with different parody lines. When opening lines rhyme, you’ll also need to check if you have the correct number of syllable counts in each line. You don’t have to be exact, but being more than 1 or 2 beats off will cause your parody to lose its cadence.

I kept my Cat In The Hat parody simple. What did you come up with?

Parody Line
1A5The virus was here.
2B6We were looking to play.
3C6As we sat in the house
4B5Just day after day.

Try another rhyming opening line parody rewrite.with Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon.

My rewrite took the liberty of making lines 2 and 3 rhyming lines. I feel kind of meh about it. I bet your teenager can do better.

In the great green room
There was a mask,
An isolation task,
And a bottle of lysol
Inspiring a sense of doom.

Your Turn

I put together a list of 16 opening lines that your kids can play around with. There’s everything from pictures books to chapter books to Shakespeare. Do as many parody rewrites as your kids enjoy.

You can also extend this activity. When you rewrite an opening line, you change the premise of the story. Have your child give you a short synopsis of how the ending will change. To do this, you’ll want to take a few minutes to first review the main parts of the story and important characters.

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea
“Things are a lot different around here since that Unicorn moved in.”
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him “WILD THING!” and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything.”
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
“If a hungry little traveler shows up at your house, you might want to give him a cookie.”
Winne-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
“Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
“First of all, let me get something straight: this is a journal not a diary.”
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
“If you are interested in stories with happy endings you would be better off reading some other book.”
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
” ‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”
Holes by Lois Sachar“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.”
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
“When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the chief build and the assistant builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.”
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
” ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salnger“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
Macbeth by Shakespeare“First Witch: When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second Witch: When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.”

Learning Value

I classify this activity as a writing lesson, but I encourage you to not get hung up on spelling. For that matter, ditch the actual act of writing out words if your kiddo hates to write. Instead, let them dictate their opening lines to you OR use the speech to text option on your phone.

This parody writing activity focuses on the skills of:
[1] analyzing text;
[2] brainstorming;
[3] thinking creatively;
[4] summarizing (if you do the extension activity); and
[5] practicing positive thinking.

In a very literal way, kids have the opportunity to see how they can rewrite a perspective and change the course of a story. This becomes a valuable lesson during the coronavirus pandemic – especially on the days when we may feel helpless.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer to this activity. Just like all humor, some rewrites will be funnier than others and that’s okay. If your child is proud of their rewrite, then giggle along with them.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.