Summary: Saraleen and Royce just want their daddy to come home for Christmas, but he can’t because he is working to build the NYC subway, and the foreman won’t let the crew leave. Mim (mom) sends in some of her famous jam, and the crew and foreman like it so much that they give the workers the day off after all.
Activities: I might help students use prior knowledge and experience by having them discuss favorite family recipes. Then, we’d read the book. This is a good Read-Aloud or independent reader for grades 2-4. This is a good book for predicting. At the back of the book is an author’s note on building the subway. That would be especially interesting for New Yorkers.
Immerse your students in the lush multi-sensory pleasures of Ashley Bryan’s Puppets. This unique picture book tells the story of Ashley Bryan’s puppets, made from found objects and inspired by African culture.
Ashley Bryan’s Puppets is not a picture book that children would pick up on their own. It is sophisticated and intellectual, requiring a teacher or parent to help the child derive meaning from it.
…but oh, what depth of meaning! Ashley showcases dozens of his puppets and highlights several with poems about the puppet’s meaning, inspiration from African culture, and construction.
This picture book would be great to share with a whole class. I would read a poem or two a day. That would let the students appreciate each one’s individual beauty. The students will want to thumb through the book and enjoy the lush photography of each puppet, but their attention spans will appreciate reading just a poem or two at a time.
The class might enjoy making found-object puppets and researching other puppets and puppeteers. Students might enjoy learning more about Ashley Bryan and reading his many books. Check out the Ashley Bryan Center in Isleford, Maine.
Use the success of the Paddington movie to interest your students in the books about everyone’s favorite marmalade connoisseur.
Encourage students to see the movie–or show it to your class in May for an end-of-school-year treat. Critics have praised the movie, and it’s doing well at the box office. EW‘s Jason Clark wrote that the film is “closer to the madcap spirit of the Muppets and the lovingly rendered style of a Wes Anderson film than to standard multiplex family fodder.”
Thank goodness the movie did justice to Michael Bond’s wonderful books. There are so many to choose from, and your students will love them all. Paddington stories tend to have high reading levels–6.0 according to AR–so they make great readalouds. It’s important to expose students to text with more complexity than they can handle themselves, and Paddington stories are a fun way to expose students to more complex writing. You can ask students to concentrate on the story, or you can give them Paddington coloring pages to keep their hands busy while they listen.
There are many great Paddington books. My favorite, though, is the Paddington Treasury. This comprehensive collection of Paddington stories will keep your class entertained for an entire school year. The stories are sorted by category, so stories about mistaken identity are in one section and stories about food are in another. You can read similar stories together for a lesson on theme or mix them up for variety.
The Paddington Bear – The Complete Classic Series DVD gathers all the classic TV episodes into one affordable disc. It would be fun to have in the classroom, for a quick video break on Fun Fridays or as a handy bribe to help a sub keep control of the class.
I hope you and your class have a great time with Paddington Bear!
Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer is a clever series written by John Grisham. Theodore is a thirteen-year-old kid lawyer. Both of his parents are lawyers, and he spends a lot of time hanging around the courtroom. (Kid Lawyer is the first book, but it also identifies the series.)
Theo enjoys acting as a kid lawyer for his friends. He helps a pretty girl get her dog out of the pound and advises his friend on how her parents’ divorce is likely to play out. However, things turn serious when a potential witness in a murder trial comes to Theo for advice. Now, only Theo knows who the real killer is—but it isn’t clear what he should do about it. Theo has to protect his witness.
I think that older elementary studnets will enjoy Theodore Boone. John Grisham keeps the plot churning. In everyday and school scenes, the book doesn’t always ring true. (None of the thirteen-year-old boys in Theo’s class care about girls?) However, the court scenes and legal issues are the center of the book, and they work quite well.
Theodore Boone is a sophisticated series. It will appear to intellectual students in grades 4 and up.
Books in the Theodore Boone series, all available at Amazon.com
Send a summons: submit the necessary information and the site will send a summons to a friend or family member.
Odd laws: peruse some unusual laws around the country. For example, butter substitutes must not be served to Wisconsin inmates, any person in Ohio who loses their pet tiger must notify authorities within an hour, and no one in Michigan may sell a car on Sunday.
Courtroom 101: learn the basics of a courtroom, from the locations to the people.
George Washington’s Spy is the sequel to Elvira Woodruff’s George Washington’s Socks. In both books, children from Nebraska time-travel to the American Revolution, where they encounter the harsh realities of war and hobnob with famous figures. Click here for my FREE teaching guide/comprehension questions for George Washington’s Socks. I highly recommend that novel as a classroom literature study.
George Washington’s Spy succeeds as a sequel. It pushes the envelope while giving us more of what we enjoyed in the first book. In this story, the five original characters, a boys’ adventure club and one boy’s little sister, are joined by two eleven-year-old girls. All the kids time travel to Boston in 1776. The children are quickly separated. The boys end up with Patriots, and the protagonist embarks on the titular spy mission. The girls are taken in by Loyalists. The characters’ stories intersect as the spy mission becomes deeply entwined with the Loyalists’ household.
Compared to George Washington’s Socks, this story is fairly gritty. In George Washington’s Socks, the characters encounter tough situations, most notably the death of a young soldier. George Washington’s Spy takes it up several notches, which I think puts it firmly in independent-reading territory. The kids encounter a public flogging, death by tar and feather, medicinal bleeding, and near-death by bayonet. Believe it or not, all this occurs within a relatively upbeat story, and none of it is described in the kind of colorful detail you would encounter in a novel for adults. Nevertheless, I think that reading this book aloud or assigning it to the whole class could lead to parent complaints and upset students.
Teaching resources: Click here for Elvira Woodruff’s teaching guide for George Washington’s Spy. It includes comprehension questions, ideas for class activities recipes, and more. You could use many of the ideas in a teaching unit for George Washington’s Socks. The sequel would make a good extension activity for children who want to delve more deeply into the American Revolution.
George Washington’s Socksis an excellent choice for a literature study to support a social studies unit on the American Revolution. In the novel, a mysterious rowboat transports five kids to the Battle of Trenton, where they experience the American Revolution firsthand. The kids interact with Hessian soldiers, revolutionaries, and Washington himself.
I wrote areading guide (teacher’s guide) that helps me keep the students accountable and make sure they are following the story. I wrote a half-sheet comprehension worksheet for each chapter, so the kids can answer enough questions to show they understand without belaboring the book. I hope you like the printable study guide.
Brain Rules would make a be a good choice for a professional development book club. Medina does an excellent job of explaining each of the Brain Rules, but experienced teachers can definitely expand on his ideas for applications to the classroom. You will be brimming with ideas after you read Brain Rules—why not get professional development credit for the brainstorm?
ReadingBrain Rules inspired some changes (and gave me excellent justification) for some of my teaching techniques:
Refer sleepy kids (and their parents) to research that explains why sleep is an essential part of the learning process.
Encourage students to be active at recess—no walking or sitting around! To function at its best, the brain needs the body to move.
Employ Medina’s attention technique: every ten minutes, tell a story or do something to re-engage the audience.
Provide as many visual aids as possible, because vision trumps all other senses.
One of my favorite sections covered stress. Medina’s mother was a teacher, and he remembers her frustration when a child with troublesome home circumstances struggled more and more. Medina’s mother realized that the child faced so much stress that nothing the school did made much difference. A stressed brain can’t learn. I know teachers wish that administrators and politicians understood this.
John Medina’s Twelve Brain Rules:
SURVIVAL: The human brain evolved, too.
EXERCISE: Exercise boosts brain power.
SLEEP: Sleep well, think well.
STRESS: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
WIRING: Every brain is wired differently.
ATTENTION: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
MEMORY: Repeat to remember.
SENSORY INTEGRATION: Stimulate more of the senses.
VISION: Vision trumps all other senses.
MUSIC: Study or listen to boost cognition.
GENDER: Male and female brains are different.
EXPLORATION: We are powerful and natural explorers.
Fly Away Home is a powerful picture book about homelessness. The narrator and his father live at the airport. In spare prose, the boy tells his story.
“My dad and I live in an airport . . . the airport is better than the streets.” So begins the narrative by a young boy who matter-of-factly describes his daily existence. The simple text touches on many emotions: sadness because the boy lost his mother, anger and resentment of those who have a home, and hope and hopelessness. The title Fly Away Home refers to an episode wherein the boy is given hope when a bird trapped in the airport flies to freedom.
This book makes a great readaloud and springboard for discussion. While listening, students will be so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. They are utterly sympathetic to the family’s plight. After reading, discussions of homelessness, loss of a parent, and hope follow naturally.
The illustrations complement the text. Ronald Himler’s watercolors show the vast impersonal nature of the airport and the efforts of the boy and his father to fade into the background. Often, the two are quite literally in the background. The pictures convey intense loneliness and determination.
My students often make the connection to The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith. That movie dramatizes the true story of a man who became a successful stockbroker despite the significant obstacle of having neither money nor a home.
Click here for a lesson plan and worksheet (on page 3.)
Across the Alley is a powerful picture book about what separates people: cultural and racial differences, not the small alley between their buildings. Richard Michelson’s prose and E.B. Lewis’s illustrations meld into a lovely book that’s perfect for a readaloud and discussion.
The story takes place in New York City, where Abe and Willie live across the alley from each other. Abe is Jewish and Willie is black. During the day, they don’t talk. But at night, they have a secret friendship across the alley.
The boys are hemmed in by their cultures, not only in their friendships but in their pursuits. However, they find that Abe doesn’t really like playing violin—but Willie is a natural. Likewise, with a little help from Willie, Abe soon outdoes the teacher when it comes to pitching.
Then one night, Abe’s grandfather catches them. What will happen to their friendship Across the Alley?
*Spoiler alert: the boys inspire their families and everyone becomes friends in the light.
Across the Alleysegues nicely into classroom discussions about a variety of topics:
One advantage of befriending people who are different from you is that you learn new things. How does Across the Alleyillustrate this point?
Young people have a way of crossing cultural divides, sometimes persuading their families to do so. How do the young people in Across the Alley influence the old?
New York City life and the culture of Jewish and African-American people at the time of Across the Alley
Bring the fantasy series The Tapestry into the classroom with FREE worksheets written by a National Board Certified teacher.
Have you discovered The Tapestry series? It’s a richly imagined fantasy about a Chicago boy who stumbles upon a mysterious Celtic tapestry. His discovery leads him to Rowan Academy, a secret school where great things await him.
The Tapestry series stands out because of the beautiful writing and gorgeous illustrations. The illustrations are my favorite part. Author Henry Neff is a great artist, and it’s interesting to see the world so vividly illustrated by the person that created it. Click here for a gallery of Henry Neff’s illustrations for Book One: The Hound of Rowan.
The Tapestry series is four books strong and growing, with Book Five set for release in 2015. I met author Henry Neff early on, when we presented together at the International Reading Association Annual Conference West. Henry presented his book; I presented worksheets and ideas for teaching The Tapestry in the classroom.
My worksheets: What Do You See?In The Tapestry, Max saw a tapestry depicting the Cattle Raid of Cooley. He later learns that he may have abilities like those of Cuchulain, the Irish folk hero. What qualities link you to heroes of the past?
Vye Detector:In The Tapestry, Vyes are minions of The Enemy. It is important to be able to identify them:
“A vye is not a werewolf. The vye is larger, with a more distorted and hideous face—part wolf, part jackal, part human, with squinty eyes and a twisted snout. In human form, however, they can be most convincing….They are clever in their deceits and their voices are wound with spells to ensnare you.”
After a Vye attack at Rowan, students receive extra training in identifying and fighting Vyes. In the following scenarios, how would you identify and fight a Vye?
Create Your Own Charge: In The Tapestry, students are paired with mythical animals who will be their charges and companions for the rest of their lives. In the book, the animals choose the students. Max was chosen by Nick, the lymrill. It is difficult to describe a mythical animal—until you organize.
Workers for Rowan: Like any school, Rowan depends on workers to help the school run smoothly. The cooks are a reformed hag and ogre, and a leprechaun is the bathroom attendant. The following creatures want to work at Rowan. Match the creatures with the best job for them.
Your students will love to learn life lessons from Yankees superstar Derek Jeter. His book, The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreamsshows students how the same program that took Jeter from scrawny eight-year old to World Series champion can help them achieve their dreams. Here are some tips for using the book in the elementary school classroom.
Chapters of The Life You Imagine delve deeply into life lessons such as “Set Your Goals High.” The format is ideal for a character-building program that can spread over several months of class discussion.
My sister younger is a diehard Yankees fan with a particular devotion to Jeter. Back when she was a college student with a flexible schedule, she visited my class for lessons based on Jeter’s book. We made an event out of it. My sister wore her Jeter jersey while she read from the book and led discussion. My students loved taking time to reflect on the big picture.
I recommend that you read the book on your own before sharing with your class. Highlight or underline the best passages in each chapter. The book is a little long to read aloud to elementary school students, but many passages will resonate with them. It’s best to read selections from the book rather than to summarize. That way, Jeter’s voice comes through. Hearing this advice from a Yankee rather than a teacher makes a difference.
My students really took the lessons to heart. They enjoyed recapping what Jeter said and thinking of how to apply his advice to their own lives.
Jeter’s advice to set high goals inspired my students. Jeter points out that many people try to do well—but not many try to be the best. That’s insightful. That’s inspiring. Watch how hard students work when they are trying to be the best, not just good. They’ll work to be the top student, not just make the honor roll. They’ll try to be the best player, not just make the team.
Jeter shows that when you set your sights on being the best, your idea of hard work changes. You dig deeply and find what you’re really made of, what you really can do. After reading about Jeter’s constant practice, skill building, and dedication to being the best at everything from schoolwork to sports, it’s hard to slack off. I think it’s no coincidence that my class that most loved Jeter’s book was also the class that won the district writing contest for their class book. Those students worked very, very hard on that project. They put in Derek Jeter-level dedication and saw results.
The lesson that most resonated with my students was “The World is not Fair.” Much of the chapter describes Jeter’s experience of growing up biracial. He writes about how he was treated differently when he was out with his black cousins versus his white cousins. He shares memories of being followed around stores by clerks who suspected he planned to shoplift. He relates that being biracial sometimes affected how he was treated on the ball field. All of my students were deeply moved by this. It made them more aware of unfairness and more committed to helping to make the world fair.
My students were inspired by Jeter’s candid talk of failure. When he was first drafted to the Yankees, he made 56 errors in spring training. He worried his career was over before it began. Luckily, Derek Jeter called on his reserves of inner strength and powered through. Knowing that Jeter faced failure, that he worked so hard for what he has, inspired my students to overcome their own obstacles.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough! I hope you and your students enjoy it.
To finish the post, I bring you The Play. Jeter’s famous flip that was so cool, it doesn’t even need his name in it. It was amazing!
Choose a masterpiece and imagine what would happen if Katie stepped into it.
Learn more about each masterpiece Katie encounters.
Write or discuss alternate adventures for Katie.
Write a letter to Katie. You can suggest topics (requests to become her sidekick, questions, suggestions for new adventures) or you can leave it open-ended. Students may surprise you with their creativity.
Create a Katie’s Picture Show comic book. Retell sequences from the book or create your own.
As a class, prepare a mini-lesson for younger students. This could involve mini bios on the artists, listing sensory details in the paintings, or fun facts about the masterpieces. Buddy up with a younger class and reread the book. Then, partner students and let them present their work to the youngsters.
Kids love Choose Your Own Adventure books! (CYOA for short.) The books are fun for everyone, but they are magic for reluctant readers. Here are some tips for using the books in your classroom.
Buy Choose Your Own Adventure books for all reading levels. Classics are appropriate for students in grades 4 and up—provided those students read at grade level. Remind your students that CYOA books look longer than they are, because you don’t read the whole thing. Just know that the favorites from the 80s are not super easy. Were kids better readers back then?
Check out the CYOA Dragonlarks series for younger readers. These books are good for all students in grades 3 and up. The print is bigger, there are illustrations—these books just look easier. Everyone in an elementary class can enjoy these, although the truly struggling readers will need a buddy.
Make Choose Your Own Adventure a celebration! Have class events to promote these books. Some ideas:
Set aside time for groups of 2-4 students to buddy read the books. You’ll need space for everyone to read aloud, yet not be disturbed by nearby readers. Your best behaved students might be able to form a group in the hall, freeing up space inside the classroom.
Use the books as readalouds. This works well if you only have a few titles. You can read, then let the class vote on what to do next. This will hook students on the books, and then they can read on their own.
Create CYOA literature circles. If you have multiple copies of a book, have students read independently, then meet as a group to discuss. They can talk about different options, analyze character, and create a fun advertisement for the book to interest their classmates in reading it.
Write your own CYOA stories. this is a good challenge project for Gifted students and other high achievers. Explain that students will want to map out their plot—that’s the easiest way to create the CYOA structure. Then, they can write the pages for each section.
Click here to visit the Choose Your Own Adventure site. You can read about the books, order individual titles or small group sets, and learn more about the renaissance of this fun series. Click here for CYOA teacher’s guides.
Savvy girls will love the Smart Girl’s Guide series from American Girl. Everything connected to American Girl is top quality, and the Smart Girl’s Guides are no exception. I highly recommend them for classroom use and feel they would be excellent for the school psychologists and social worker’s lending library.
Small Talk (I love “25 things to say after ‘hi'”) Asking for What You Want Making It Right That Hurts Sad Times I’m Embarrassed Saying the Right Thing
Illustrations show students the importance of posture, body language, and facial expressions in communication. That way, girls can make sure their nonverbal signals are on par their newfound conversational prowess. The book is full of quizzes, simple exercises, and demonstrations.
The American Girl books are excellent, and I encourage my boys to read the fiction series. However, these Smart Girl’s books are way too girly for boys to read with any dignity during class. Even reading them at home is risky–the wrong kid finds out, and the boy’s rep takes a dive.
Not to worry: as a teacher, you can read the books, then teach students these tips. (Just don’t mention your source.) If you’re like me, you will find the books relaxing and fun to read. You will be positively itching to share the information with students.
There are many books in the series. Enjoy Smart Girl’s Guides to…
The books retail for $9.95 each*. A smart teacher will try to get the school library fund to pay for the series, or apply for a grant—from an outside source or from the PTSO. I really think many schools would be better for owning these books.
*They run a little cheaper at bookstores: most are about $8.95 on Amazon
Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor
by Larry Dane Brimner
AR book level 8.7/Point value: 4 Available at Amazon.com
Take your civil rights lessons beyond Dr. King with this insightful book about the conflict in Birmingham. Few things in life are black and white, but I don’t see any other way to spin the conflict between civil rights leader Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor. After reading about civil rights activists being bombed, jailed, attacked, and killed, I think your students will agree that Black & White is a fitting title.
I learned about Black & White at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Author Larry Dane Brimner received the prestigious Crystal Kite Award for this book. After hearing his acceptance speech and attending a breakout session on how he wrote the book, I knew I had to read it, review it, and most importantly, share it.
Black & White has plenty of photos that help the reader believe the incomprehensible events that occurred in Birmingham during the civil rights movement. Today’s students are at least one generation removed from the civil rights movement and they truly might not believe some of what happened.
Accelerated Reader classifies the book as the 8.7 reading level, and I have to agree. This book is perfect for middle school. Older elementary students may enjoy it, but the descriptions of the important legal battles may be difficult for them to understand.
If the book is too difficult for your students, you might want to read it yourself and then teach students from it. They can learn a lot by looking at the pictures and listening to you tell about Reverend Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor. Author Larry Dane Brimner shows how Reverend Shuttlesworth was able to use Bull Connor’s zeal against him, ultimately showing the country just how bad things were in Birmingham and paving the way for real change.