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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Good Book About Lena




In looking at THE LEGENDARY MISS LENA HORNE by Carole Boston Weatherford as a mentor text I made some observations.

It begins with family information. “The Horne family tree was laden with achievers: teachers, activists, a Harlem Renaissance poet…..”

Then it becomes a birth, childhood and career narrative but not the cradle to grave approach.

I recently attended a webinar on page turns and examined their role in nonfiction picture books.

For example: one two-page spread ends this way: “With Sissle, eighteen-year-old Lena cut her first record…”

The following two-page spread has her fronting a band.

Does that page turn encourage the reader to turn the page?

The jacket flap says it is for ages 4-8 but I think it would be a great fit for the elementary grades where they are studying Women’s History Month and Black History Month.


Teachers, keep this title in mind.  



Thursday, September 14, 2017

What Kind of Person was Noah Webster?







Third grade teachers, have you ever had a discussion with your students that historical figures were real people, with likes and dislikes like the rest of us?

Consider for a moment Noah Webster, who is known for writing the first dictionary of  English as used by Americans.

NOAH WEBSTER'S FIGHTING WORDS by Tracy Nelson Maurer gives a sense of what kind of person Noah Webster was. Here is a sample: "He argued in speeches....He argued at dinners. Noah argued A LOT."

Here is an idea for a classroom exercise. Your class is having dinner with Noah Webster. What kind of conversation would they have?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Just a Minute






Since a new school year has started, I have decided to concentrate on interesting titles for the class room. My first one is called JUST A MINUTE : a Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales.

 First grade teachers, this book works on a number of levels. First, it tells a story.

Here's a sample: "Senior Calavera tipped his hat. What a skinny gentleman! With a pass of his hand he signaled to Grandma Beetle."

Numbers one to ten are embedded in the story and are repeated in Spanish. It's a chance  for students to learn to count to ten in English and Spanish.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Analytical Look at a Middle Grade Nonfiction Book



Sometimes  you might think you are looking at a picture book but it actually turns out to be  middle grade nonfiction.  For example, SACAJAWEA OF THE SHOSHONE by Natasha Yim has 28 numbered pages with a bibliography on the end papers. This title is part of a series : THE THINKING GIRL'S TREASURY OF REAL PRINCESSES. Sacajawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their exploration of the American West, was a Princess of the Shoshone Tribe.

This biography can also be classed as narrative nonfiction because of the moments of drama.
Here's an example: "One day, a violent gust of wind tipped the pirogue carrying Sacajawea and her family. Fortunately the boat didn't capsize, but it quickly filled with water.....Sacajawea....calmly scooped [important papers, books, trading goods] up."

Sacajawea prevented needed items from floating away. Otherwise the expedition would have had to turn back.

Sidebars provide information about her clothing and the food she ate, as well as how her name was pronounced.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Middle Grade Novel Study




















I recently finished a course on writing a middle grade novel. In this blog post, DEAD BOY by Laurel Gale is under the microscope. Crow, the dead boy hero of this novel has problems. He is a living corpse and can't go to school because he stinks and is full of maggots. Worse, he's lonely. Then things pick up when a girl named Melody moves in next door. She finds Crow fascinating and wants to be his friend inspite of the interference of Crow's protective mother and the odor.

The main plot is when Crow learns how he became a living corpse and he and Melody try to figure out a way to reverse the spell that caused the problem.

Their having to rescue classmates who accidently get snared in the spell are sideplots.

This novel is suitably snarky.

Here's a sample: "Being dead stank. Cuts didn't heal. Hair fell out and didn't grow back."  

Look at that face. Who wouldn't want to be Crow's friend?

Sunday, March 13, 2016



ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE by Laurie Wallmark is a perfect topic for Women’s History Month. Before the invention of the computer she was a mathematician who created an algorithm, a set of mathematical instructions.

This picture book biography was specifically created for STEM. I would have liked to see a glossary as part of the back matter. It would have been very useful.

The teacher’s guide says it is for grades 1-4, with the caveat that the teacher has to consider what would work for the specific grade. For grades 1 and 2, the teacher could lead a discussion about what a thinking machine is. The students could draw thinking machines. This book has a number of math problems, which are best for the older grades.  

The teacher’s guide would work very well for grades 5-8. This age range would not want to read a picture book but they could research and write their own papers on Ada. Or the teacher could just select sections from the book for class use.


Nonfiction picture book authors run the risk of being told a topic is too advanced. Perhaps more advanced texts will be a growing trend. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Put Yourself in Phillis Wheatley's Shoes







A VOICE OF HER OWN: the story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet by Kathryn Lasky is a picture book biography of Phyllis Wheatley that would be good for grades 3-5.

It has more information than the shorter picture book biographies which is important for school projects.

Take this sample which brings the reader into the mindset of a slave.

“At first there was just blackness….. Then the blackness dissolved into darkness, and the world in the creaking hold of the slave ship slid with shadows.”

Teachers, here’s  possible school assignments for Black History Month.

Have your students write a play about how a slave would feel on one of these ships .What smells would they encounter? What sounds? What would it feel like to be chained up?


Have your students write poems with Phillis Wheatley as the subject.