Readers can reduce a story to a character's goals, the plot's complications and the problem's solution. Even with a simple task, it's a good idea to model the approach using a children's book.
Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach works well.
Scaredy Squirrel wants to create a private beach, but he'll need to visit a real beach and face his fears to get a seashell. So he hatches a plan to address all of his worries (sea monsters, pirates, falling coconuts) and get a shell. He even accidentally enjoys himself when his careful preparations go awry.
Scaredy Squirrel likes to be in control of his environment and pre-plan for any potential worst case scenario. Sound like anyone you know? Ahem. That would be me.
[Which brings me to my next point. When I was allowed back into the library after the tornado hit, I started hoarding a few books on behalf of my colleagues and our students. Some of my all-time favorites went into bright orange tubs while the rest of the library was packed into cardboard boxes. I wanted to know where Captain Underpants, Harold & George and Babymouse were at all times. They went with me to "night school" last year, to my shed for the summer and to our new campus for the fall.]
Since we've finished novel studies in class, I thought we'd relax with our heroes today. Each child read one of the books and summarized the text using Somebody Wants But So. For most 8th graders, the books can be finished in a blocked class. If students read at a slower pace, the Babymouse series is shorter than the Underpants.
To an 8th grader, children's books are non-threatening and provide a platform for teaching new concepts. Graphic novels often contain humor and plots that speak to the teenage experience. Babymouse's locker troubles, bad whisker days and mean girl encounters are familiar to 8th graders. As for Harold and George-- well-- they ARE a little immature sometimes for 8th graders, but I can't help but love their shenanigans, and my students are kind enough to indulge me.
While the majority of our library is still in cardboard boxes, it was nice to look out across the classroom and see everyone relaxed and engaged in a book. And that makes the Scaredy Squirrel inside me relax too.