A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year , Larry Smith’s newest “six-word memoir” book about the pandemic, is the perfect gift for any teacher in your life. As any editor can tell you, it’s incredibly difficult to tell succinct stories. Yet, hundreds –of young students, teachers and parents across the United States shared poignant, creative six-word memoirs about their pandemic experiences in Smith’s new book, whose title was inspired by the classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day . The six-word memoir series, where people of all ages are asked to share a personal story in just six words, was launched in 2006 on Twitter (then called Twttr) and has grown to be a book series, classroom guide, card game and learning tool across countless professions. All of the books are edited by Larry Smith, but the authors range from famous writers to children and other first-time authors. In this instalment, children as young as three, their grandparents, and parents and teachers in between shared personal, funny and candid memoirs about their lives during the pandemic with illustrations that bring their words to life. Here are three reasons why A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year is a great book to read, gift and even use in classroom settings: 1. Beautiful illustrations help highlight themes that span many people’s experiences In addition to each memoir being individually formatted with its own font, spacing and organisation to give visual cues about the themes, some memoirs have larger, more intricate illustrations done by students from the Kansas City Art Institute, in the US state of Missouri. Covid-19 has changed what ‘home-schooling’ means. Here’s how Despite the variety in the writers’ ages and demographics, Smith often can’t tell who wrote any given memoir. “Fatigue and resiliency are cross-generational themes,” Smith says. Without the credit, “you wouldn’t know if a memoir was by a student, a teacher, or a parent.” 2. The book includes longer backstories that make the six-word memoirs even more engaging The 149-page book not only includes short memoirs, primarily grouped by themes – like technology, family, loss and even toilet paper – but also 13 short descriptions that explain the context behind these concise stories in what Smith calls “Lessons Learned”. “The ideal backstory gives you a window into a world maybe you don’t know much about,” Smith said. The descriptions, which all come from teachers, take place in more typical classrooms as well as in the prison system and more unique settings. Every six-word memoir – even the outwardly funny or straightforward – has a noteworthy backstory, especially with Covid-19 as the backdrop of all of them. Across a range of fields and disciplines, Smith has seen these memoirs spark larger conversations. 3. Smith offers free interactive lesson plans with the book, making it an especially useful classroom tool for teachers The book also comes with a free classroom kit that educators can use to help format lesson plans for their students to write their own six-word memoirs. Since the inception of the six-word memoir idea, teachers have been informally incorporating it into their lesson plans. “I used it to practise effective storytelling and some kids got really into it,” says Kay O’Connor, who teaches the 7th and 8th grades. “I wouldn’t say it was totally successful because our memoirs were done at the beginning of the switch to virtual learning and were only a small part of a larger unit, so some students thought of the six words as titles for their longer essays rather than a synthesis of their stories.” Hong Kong’s vulnerable pupils set back by months of online lessons While it can sometimes be difficult to get the most out of this exercise, O’Connor says she is “absolutely obsessed with the concept”, adding she would welcome even more tools, like the classroom kit, to help her to implement the memoirs into her curriculum. Some examples of O’Connor’s students’ memoirs include “Missing who I didn’t really meet” and “But trying your best is perfect”. Larry Smith’s tips for adding six-word memoirs to your curriculum if you’re a teacher (or parent): Give examples when introducing the concept Let the kids help each other write: you know your story best, but friends can help Give enough time for brainstorming – these may be short but work best with 10 to 15 minutes of brainstorming Use the memoirs to start larger conversations Consider the age of the students when deciding what you want to get out of the assignment Let these exercises help kids experience quick successes The six-word structure makes the book more approachable without diminishing the power of the memoirs inside. I was captivated by the stories, visuals and organisation of the book and kept thinking of what my own six-word memoir would be. Covid-19 class disruptions affect Hong Kong students’ performance, well-being One thing to note: the visuals and free-flowing layout of pages in the physical book give each memoir “its own texture”, according to Smith – and are crucial to fully experience the stories inside. However, the e-book version is almost unreadable, according to the reviews of those who ordered the Kindle and iPad versions. The physical copy is a great gift for teachers and students but also resonates with people who aren’t at all involved with primary or secondary education. The descriptions of others’ pandemic experiences felt relatable without being cliché or obvious – a difficult thing to accomplish when describing a universal experience. Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .