Reading Set #3 – Contemporary Realistic Fiction


Chapter 5 – Contemporary Realistic Fiction –  Reflection

The genre of realistic fiction is a popular one, especially with middle to upper elementary aged children.  It has characters and plots that children can identify with.   The age that children begin to prefer these books coincides with the stage at which they are starting to explore their own identity more deeply.  In addition, they are being to understand adult relationships, emotions, and behaviors, but because they have not completely left the self-centeredness of early childhood, they focus on how these relationships affect them.  For example, a family divorce might make a child feel that their opinion doesn’t matter, a special needs family member might make them feel pushed aside, the loss of a family member, friend, or pet might make them fear their own mortality, and a new neighbor might make their heart skip a beat.

Readers of this age might not have huge social circles of their own, they might not know a real person who is experiencing the same thing, and that’s when the value of a good realistic fiction book really increases.  A character in a book who is experiencing a similar problem or situation can be used as a role model of what to do, or in some cases what not to do.  An added bonus for the reader is that they are able to see how the character handles the problem all the way through its resolution in a relatively short amount of reading time.  Adopting some of the coping mechanisms might truly help the reader, but in most cases simply reading about someone who is like them is all the reader needs not to feel isolated and/or different.

Because of the psychological impact these written works can have on children, authors have a responsibility to ensure the plots give readers hope that things are going to be okay.  The themes of these types of books are also very important as well.  The good guy wins in the end, things aren’t as valuable as relationships, and there’s always a silver lining to every cloud.  The reader should be left with a sense of closure, an idea of what’s important, and a thirst for another book.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide. Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.


dear mr. Henshaw Author: Beverly Cleary henshaw

Cleary, B. (1983). Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York, NY: Morrow.

Dear Mr. Henshaw is a chapter book written as a series of letter the narrator, Leigh Botts, writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw.  The book covers several years of Leigh’s life in which time his parents divorce, and Leigh and his mother move to a new town and a very small new home.  At the suggestion of Mr. Henshaw, Leigh begins keeping a journal to record events in his life, his feelings towards them, and his attempt to make sense of the world around him.

Author Beverly Cleary says about her book that it was one of the first to tackle the difficult subject of divorce and the effects on the children of a broken home.  Family and divorce are just two of the themes in this book.  Leigh also experiences loss when his dad keeps his dog, Bandit after the divorce, and then loses him at a truck stop.  Many children can relate to the pain of a lost pet, and the sacrifices they have to make when parents divorce.  In addition, many children will be able to relate to Leigh’s financial situation.  He and his mom live on a very tight budget, in a small home, and in today’s world many children will understand what it is like to live in financially strained home environment.

Teachers can use this book to focus on inference skills. The reader only reads Leigh’s letters, and all of Mr. Henshaw’s replies are inferred.  Because this book is written as a series of letter, it can also be used to teach a lesson on parts of a letter and letter writing.  As an extension, students can write a letter to their favorite author.

Dear Mr. Henshaw Book Trailer

Complete audiobook available here:

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part I

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part 2

Dear Mr. Henshaw, Part 3

Interview with Beverly Cleary

On the Teachers Pay Teachers website there is a 36 page literature unit geared for Dear Mr. Henshaw, available for $2.00! What is wonderful about this set is that it includes graphic organizers that can be used for any fiction book.

Click on the link below to go to Scholastic’s website for a FREE lesson plan that includes comprehension questions.


out of my mind Author: Sharon M. Draper

out of my mind author

Draper, S. (2010). Out of my mind. New York, NY: Atheneum.

Melody Brooks is a brilliant eleven year old girl who is trapped in her own body.  Born with cerebral palsy, she has never been able to utter a word, although she’s pretty sure she has a photographic memory, and remembers many things vividly from her early childhood.  While her parents and neighbor are convinced that she is very bright, doctors and teachers don’t agree, and poor Melody is subjected to alphabet songs and nursery rhymes day in and day out.

With the help and encouragement of a new teacher and tutor, Melody’s family finally moves forward and gets her an electronic communication device that she can operate with the only part of her body she has control of:  her thumbs.  Eleven years of bottled up conversation and emotion emerges.  Soon Melody becomes an asset to her school’s competitive academic team, but their prejudice over her condition sabotage her shot in the spotlight.

Draper nails Melody’s character, and makes the reader reassess their views towards individuals with special needs.  Multiple themes are present in this novel, including coming of age, fear of loss, family bonds, inclusion, prejudice, acceptance, and determination.

Watch the book trailer here

If you are, or want to become a member of you can click on the link below for a complete literature unit devoted to Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.

On Teachers Pay Teachers, Marty-Pants offers a 22-page literature unit with awesome graphic organizers and manipulatives that is geared towards upper elementary and middle school students for $8.99.


untitled Author: Jeff Kinney

diary author

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a wimpy kid. New York, NY: Amulet Books.

Keeping a journal as he starts middle school is Greg Heffley’s mother’s idea, but soon he realizes what a time saver having his life story written down will be when he becomes rich and famous.  Greg’s self image isn’t quite on target in this humorous book, and he has a hard time seeing the flaws he points out on others in himself.  As soon as he enters the doors to his middle school, Greg realizes it’s a whole new world.  He wants to fit in regardless of the cost, which turns out to be turning his back on his best friend Rowley.  It takes Greg awhile to see what he’s been missing because he tends to blame others for his mistakes, but eventually he sees that the only way to survive middle school is by being a true friend.

Kinney’s humor is up to date with kids today, and his Greg’s 2nd person point of view makes you feel as if he talking to the reader and not his journal.  His black and white illustrations are comical and add another layer of humor to the already funny story.  Readers will be engaged throughout the story, and hooked on the series.

These books have many themes that can be reflected upon in class, and what better way than to write a “journal entry” as a response!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid book trailer

Q & A with author Jeff Kinney

Books Digital Diary of a Wimpy Kid Enrichment activities can be found on TeacherVision’s site by clicking here:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Lesson Plans can be accessed here! rowley


rules Author: Cynthia Lord

rules author

Lord, C. (2008). Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic.

For a twelve year old, being viewed as normal is priceless, and Catherine doesn’t want anything more.  It’s a little more complicated for Catherine, however, because she has an autistic younger brother named David.  Catherine really wants to become friends with her popular neighbor, Kristi, so she comes up with a set of rules for her brother to follow to help him understand what “normal” is in the real world.  When she meets and befriends Jason, a nonverbal paraplegic who uses a book of pictures to communicate, Catherine’s idea of normal begins to shift.  She realizes that accepting others as they are is more important than a set of rules for “normal” behavior.

Lord’s book puts autism in the spotlight, exactly where it needs to be when diagnosed cases of autism are on the rise.  The theme of acceptance is so important because students with special needs are included in regular classrooms, and educators need to ensure that they are treated with respect and understanding.  Often ignorance is the root of bullying, and by introducing this topic with a novel, students are able to ask questions, communicate concerns, and learn how to become helpful instead of hurtful.

A character analysis of Catherine will show students that many of the characters in this genre have the same concerns and worries, even if their family units and situations are completely different.

See the movie trailer here:

In 2008, “New Rochelle Reads” Literature Festival offered a free reader’s guide that can be found here: RULES_Study_Guide


bridge Author: Katherine Paterson

bridge author

Paterson, K. (1972). Bridge to Terabithia. New York, NY: Crown.

Upon entering 5th grade, Jess Aarons competes in a race he is sure he going to win.  His hopes are dashed when his new neighbor, Leslie, zips to the finish line.  Even though he was disappointed, Jess and Leslie become best friends, and soon create an imaginary land called Terabithia in the woods near their home.  The pair had to cross a creek on a rope swing to get there and back each time, and after a rainy season Jess feels that crossing is too dangerous.  Always the brave one, Leslie decides to cross on her own one day when Jess is at a museum with his teacher, and has a fatal accident.  Jess is grief stricken and inconsolable, but he feels blessed having had Leslie in his life.  He begins to build a bridge to Terabithia, which connects him to Leslie, and welcomes in his closest sibling, May Belle.

The subject of death, especially of a young person, isn’t a subject that comes up too often in children’s literature.  Paterson does a wonderful job describing the grief process Jess goes through, and she explains in the video below that she used her own son’s experience of losing a friend to model it after.

Beyond death and loss, the themes of friendship, family, courage, religious beliefs, and social class can also be analyzed with this book.

There are plenty of kid-friendly resources that can be used during the novel study of Bridge to Terabithia by clicking on the link below:

The Book Umbrella offers a 32-page Bridge to Terabithia Novel Study that includes worksheets and printable for $6.50.  Available here:

Read Write Think’s website offers a free lesson guide with extension activities and printables.

Author visit with Katherine Paterson (SPOILER ALERT!  – Tip:  watch AFTER reading the novel!)

The following link will take teachers to Read Works. Read Works provides reading comprehension strategies. Here students have chapter by chapter questions.


Reading Set #4 – Historical Fiction

historical%20fiction Chapter 6 – Historical Fiction – Reflection historical%20fiction

In Vardell’s book she describes historical fiction as the most difficult to promote because children cannot relate to the characters, get confused with the history, or simply consider the stories boring.  However, it is important to remember that a good book is simply that regardless of the genre.  Nothing is a better friend to a teacher trying to teach a historical period than a well written historical fiction book.

In my classroom, I have used Patricia C. McKissack’s Goin’ Someplace Special, as part of a thematic unit on the Civil Rights Movement.  By this point, they have studied Martin Luther King, Jr., they know about Rosa Parks, but they can’t quite grasp the difficulty people of color had at the time.  The children right away feel an attachment to, and are even protective of, Tricia Ann, the protagonist in Goin’ Someplace Special.  The first year we read this story, in the midst of reading it together a second time, I had a student passionately blurt out in the middle of reading, “I hate Jim Crow Laws!” and his classmates quickly agreed.  At that moment I realized two things: that my students understood the importance of Civil Rights, and that I understood the power of a good historical fiction story.  I’ve had similar reactions every year since.  Historical fiction is a time machine that takes them to another place in time,  allows them to walk among the people of the time, and for a little while they also walk in their shoes.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide.  Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.



the watsons Author: Christopher Paul Curtis

watson's author

Curtis, C. P. (1995). The Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. New York, NY: Delacorte.

In The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, the middle child of the Watson’s, Kenny, narrates for us.  The family lives in Flint, Michigan, where they are not subjected to harsh segregation, violence, and prejudice that occurs in the South.  However, because Kenny’s older brother Byron keeps making one bad decision after another, the Watson’s decide he could use a dose of Grandma Sands.  Grandma Sands is a real disciplinarian who lives in Birmingham, Alabama.  The Watson’s decide to make the trek down South to deposit Byron with his grandmother for the summer or until he gets himself straightened up.  Curiously, though, once they get to Birmingham, Byron does change, and starts being nice.  They are exposed to racism they weren’t used to, and the author integrates the actual historical bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church into the story where they think they may have lost Kenny’s little sister, Joetta.  Luckily, she was able to get out of the church just in time.  This event causes a great amount of guilt and anxiety in Kenny who feels that he was cowardly in not trying to save his sister, and eventually he has a breakdown that his brother, Byron helps him through.

There are so many themes to be analyzed in this book such as, coming of age, family, friendship, race, mortality, and guilt.  This book which was named the Newbery Award Honor Book in 1996 is a perfect addition to a cross content thematic unit on the Civil Rights Movement.

This movie trailer includes clips from the author, screen writer, and actors, and really gives the viewer an idea of how the historical time period impacted the Watson family, and how it will impact those who read the novel.

Lindsay Zahner developed this literature focus unit for her class at Marian University which has CIF (Common Instructional Framework) activities embedded throughout with printable pages for students.  It is an excellent, ready-to-use resource!

The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963 Lit. Unit

In addition, this website has kid-friendly questions, that will have students taking a closer look at the motives of the characters in the story, and analyzing the various themes.

we r the ship Author: Kadir Nelson

we r the ship author

Nelson, K. (2008). We are the ship. New York, NY: Hyperion.

We Are the Ship is the story of Negro League Baseball that lasted from the 1920’s through 1947.  An elderly fictional narrator tell the stories from the standpoint of teammate, which is makes this book historical fiction, otherwise the stories are basically factual accounts of real Negro League players.  The chapters, set up as innings, put the various accounts in chronological order, and highlight important people that made an impact in the league.

This book discusses the hardships the players faced during this point in history, which serve as themes:  prejudice, segregation, and inequality.  However, it also shines a light on the achievements of these men, and a whole other set of positive themes can be analyzed:  perseverance, leadership, courage, opportunity, and ingenuity.  Nelson’s beautifully detailed illustrations take you back to the place and time of the Negro League, where the sun seems to be shining overhead all the time.

Interview with the author, Kadir Nelson, on the creation of his book and illustrations

RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) offers a Multicultural Lending Library Resource Guide with printable templates and thematic literature guides, including We Are the Ship. Download it here: RIF_Multicultural_Lending_Library activities

good masters Author: Laura Amy Schlitz

good masters author

Schlitz, L. A. (2007). Good masters, sweet ladies. Boston, MA: Candlewick Press.

This 2008 Newbery Medal Award winning book contains a collection of monologues of children from different classes living in and around an English manor in 1255.  The children write about their experiences in their daily life in either poetry or prose.  Because some of the language and terms are no longer used, the author includes notes in the margins of the pages that readers can use as reference.  Embedded in the monologues and essays, the author provides historical facts  about medieval times.

The watercolor and ink illustrations are reminiscent of the medieval tapestries and art of the time period, and are a useful tool for teachers when students are studying this time period.

Candlewick Press offers a Teacher’s Guide to go along with this text.  Click on the link below to access it.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Teachers’ Guide

Thinking about purchasing the audiobook on Amazon?  Click on the link below to hear a sampling of it before you buy.

Michelle Bennett offers A Culminating Project:  Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village as a free download on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Click on the link below to access this resource suitable for middle school students.


Reading Set # 5 – Fantasy

wizard Chapter 7 – Fantasy – Reflection dragon

The genre of fantasy, like other genres, has subcategories within it.  In fantasy there is low fantasy, which takes place in the world we know but there is some unreal element to it, such as animals talking, magical powers, tiny people, toys personified, and time slips.  High fantasy indicates that a story setting will take place on a whole other planet or world in addition to having magical elements.  Ghost stories also fall into the low fantasy category because the creatures usually mix in with the world as we know it, which is what makes them so scary.

Many books in this genre are written as a series, and once readers become invested with the characters and the setting, they will eagerly anticipate each new addition.  According to Vardell (2008), “Some experts say people often become lifelong readers because of series books”(p. 211).

Science fiction is also considered fantasy, but often it includes complicated vocabulary, landscapes, and technology so it is considered more appropriate for older readers.  Fantasy has always been my favorite genre, probably because as Vardell (2008) put it, it has a “what if” (p. 204), quality to it.  Anything is possible, so an author creativity can run wild, and as a reader your imagination can tag along for the ride.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide. Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.


the underneath Author: Kathi Appelt

underneath author

Appelt, K. (2008). The underneath. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Deep in the woods of the Texas-Louisiana border a hound dog named Ranger is chained up to his abusive owner’s house.  Ranger offers the protection of the porch, “The Underneath,” to a mama cat who has been abandoned by her owners.  Shortly after she arrives, she gives birth to  a couple of kittens.  Ranger wants to protect them, and warns them not to be spotted by his owner, Gar Face, otherwise he’d make alligator bait out of them.  Eventually, the curious little kittens are seen by Gar Face and he takes Puck and his mama and intends to use them as bait for Alligator King.  Ranger tries to protect them from his owner, and gets a horrible beating for his efforts.  Just as Ranger hits rock bottom and is filled with a sense of hopelessness, the mythical shape shifting creatures that have had their own story line interact with the Ranger and the kittens.  With the help of these mythical creatures Ranger and the kittens are finally free and able to start their own lives together.

The events in this story are sad, and sickening, but the theme of abuse can truly be analyzed.  Gar Face was they way he was for a reason, and even elementary aged children can make the connection between how Gar Face was treated and how he treats the animals.  This story also lends itself to study the mythology behind Grandmother Moccasin, and the similarities and differences between her and Lamia from Greek mythology.  Students can extend this activity even further by comparing Grandmother, and Lamia, to the Mexican-American myth of La Llorona.

See the book trailer here!

Click on the link below for a literature guide for The Underneath.


the graveyard book Author: Neil Gaiman

graveyard author

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, is raised in the historical graveyard by home after his family was murdered when he was a toddler.  The man Jack who killed his family wanted to kill Bod as well, but the residents of the graveyard are able to conceal and protect the baby.  The Owens’ adopt him, and Silas is his guardian.  The give him the Freedom of the Graveyard, and he learns how to fade and haunt.  As the years pass, the inhabitants of the graveyard serve as his teachers, playmates, and friends.  Silas begins leaving for longer and longer periods of time, and Bod soon discovers that he has been fighting a war against the man Jack’s awful, evil organization that sole purpose has become to destroy Bod.   It is up to Bod, now a teenager, to get rid of the man Jack and the organization he belongs to once and for all.  Bod is successful with the help of his family and friends.  Shortly afterwards, Bod begins losing his ghost-like abilities and is sent out into the world of the living to experience life for himself.

Dead or alive, this book’s main focus is on the importance of family and friends.  As dark as it may seem, there is still space for a coming of age romantic aspect, that doesn’t really get a chance to unfold.  When Bod temporarily get to go to a regular school, the theme of bullies is presented, along with the consequences of manipulation.  The bittersweet ending, requires a tissue, and focuses on a mother/son relationship, no matter how unusual.

The characteristics of the fantasy (ghost story) genre abound in this novel.  Students will be able to analyze the characteristics chapter by chapter.

Watch the book trailer here

A teaching guide is provided by Harper Collins Publishers

The Graveyard Book Teaching Guide


rapunzels revenge Authors: Shannon & Dean Hale

rapunzels revenge authors

Hale, S. (2008). Rapunzel’s revenge. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

This is a Western version of Rapunzel who isn’t exactly a helpless damsel in distress.  Rapunzel’s evil stepmother, Mother Gothel, encapsulates her in a giant tower like tree when Rapunzel discovers she was kidnapped from her real mother as a small child – and that her mother is still alive in the mines.  After five years of living in the tower, Rapunzel is able to escape with the help of her braided rope hair.  Through magic, Mother Gothel, has control of all the vegetation in the land, making a wasteland of the neighboring towns.  Rapunzel meets up with Jack (remember the beanstalk?), and together they set out to save Rapunzel’s real mother, and destroy Mother Gothel.

This graphic novel, with its adventure comic appeal, is sure to get even the most reluctant reader engaged.  The combination of adventure and romance will have boys and girls alike reading.  Graphic novels such as this one is also a great choice for an English Language Learner who will be able to use the visual support of the illustrations for context clues.

While this is not the traditional fairy tale, it does have traditional elements such as good vs. evil theme, magical elements, sacrificing for the greater good, and true love’s first kiss.

Get to know a little about the author here:

Keep up with her on her official website!

Ideas on how to use Rapunzel’s Revenge in the classroom can be found on her website.


untitled Authors: Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm


Holm, J & M. (2011). Babymouse queen of the world. New York, NY: Random House.

Besides wanting to be Queen of the World, Babymouse wants to be invited to Felicia Furrypaw’s slumber party.  Anybody who’s anybody is going, and Babymouse will do anything, including giving Felicia her book report.  When she finally gets an invitation, she realizes that she’ll have to stand up her best friend Wilson in order to go.  The party wasn’t all she thought it would be, and she leaves early and heads to Wilson’s house to watch the movie they had planned to watch.  She realizes she already is living the good life with her real true friends, good books, and yummy cupcakes!

The illustrations are done in black and white with splashes of pink here and there.  The cover art and graphics has a “girlie” feel to it, but the stories are so funny both girls and boys will be drawn to this graphic novel.  The story has the themes that are most important to elementary school children:  the importance of friendship, being yourself, and dealing with bullies and bad whisker days.

Because of the illustrations that can be used as context clues, reluctant readers and English Language Learners will be eager to read the humorous adventures of Babymouse.  Avid readers will love the story lines as well, making this book a great choice to use in a heterogeneous classroom.

Get kids really hooked with the Babymouse song!  It’s not your “typical” intro to a book! 😉

To learn a little bit more about Babymouse watch the book trailer here:

Babymouse activities can be found on the Random House Kids website by clicking on the link below:

In addition, Random House provides Book Notes Teacher’s Guide that can be accessed by clicking on the following link: Babymouse Teacher’s Guide


 Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

lunch lady author

Krosoczka, J. (2009). Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The school and local librarians have banded together and stolen fundraiser money in order to prevent the release of the new video game console system.  The Lunch Lady and her trusty sidekick Betty discover what the librarians are up to using their spy cam.  They try to stop the librarians, and are almost defeated by them until the Breakfast Bunch come to their aid.  The librarians are arrested, and the Lunch Lady steps in as librarian.  She uses the new video game system as an incentive during the school Read-A-Thon.

Krosoczka’s illustrations are drawn in four colors:  white, black, gray, and yellow.  He uses yellow in his illustrations for punch and to draw the eye towards key elements.  The action comic style of the Lunch Lady series is another excellent choice for reluctant readers.  This graphic novel will attract readers of all genders and ages.   The action packed plots read like the TV shows they watch.  English Language Learners will also enjoy these fast paced plots because they will be able to use the illustrations to help fill in any gaps they may have with the language.

This series has the classic themes of good vs. evil, teamwork, never giving up, and doing the right thing that most comic books storylines contain, therefore teachers can compare and contrast the heroes of various series.

Watch the book trailer here:

Lunch Lady: Jarrett Krosoczka Interview – Video

Random House Kids has a couple of downloadable activities you can access by clicking the link.

Random House also has a 6-page Educator’s Guide to Graphic Novels for teachers and librarians.  It is in PDF format, and can be accessed here: Educators Guide to Graphic Novels


skulld Author: Derek Landy

skull author

Landy, D. (2007). Skulduggery pleasant. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Gordon, a horror novelist, dies suddenly and leaves practically everything to his 12-year old niece, Stephanie.  On the first night she stays at her uncle’s mansion, she is attacked.  A strange friend of her uncle’s, Skulduggery Pleasant, comes to Stephanie’s rescue, and she soon discovers that he is actually a skeleton held together by magic.  Stephanie becomes Skulduggery’s apprentice and they head out to save the world from the Sceptre of the Ancients.

This book takes off from the first paragraph, and reads easily throughout.  The characters in the story are very well developed making this a great novel to use for character studies.  The magical, though dangerous and evil world of Skulduggery will engage readers’ imaginations.

Q & A with Skulduggery Pleasant’s author Derek Landy

Listen to the audiobook here (Part I)

(Part II)

HarperCollins publishers provides a teaching resource guide for the  novel.  Click on the link to access the PDF file. TeachingSkulduggeryPleasant

hugo Author: Brian Selznick

hugo author

Selznick, B. (2007). The invention of Hugo Cabret. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Hugo, a 12-year-old orphaned boy is secretly lives and works as a clock keeper with a Paris train station.  He finds an automaton that his father was fixing before his death in a fire, and decides to continue working on it.  Hugo befriends Isabelle, the spirited adopted daughter of the toymaker in the station that Hugo has been stealing parts from.  She has the key to start the automaton.  The pair soon discover that the toymaker is actually the famous French silent movie pioneer, Georges Méliès, who was thought to be dead.  Hugo is able to renew George’s interest in films, and becomes part of the family.

He uses the idea of Méliès silent films to tell parts of story solely with black and white illustrations. His incredibly detailed illustrations can be used as picture writes, and studies in inference.  The themes of hope, family, and creativity (through machines and film) can be analyzed with this work.

Watch the book trailer here:

Scholastic’s website offers interactive activities based on Selznick’s novel. Click on the link to take you there!

Find even more useful resources at Web English Teacher’s site:

Watch an interview with Brian Selznick, and find out what inspired his book.

Smart Chick offers, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by B. Selznick, HUGE Literature Unit on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This 74-page unit includes a novel study, activities, and printables for $9.99!  Find it at the link below:

big guy ball Author: Mo Willems

big guy author

Willems, M. (2013). A big guy took my ball. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Piggie finds a big ball, and a big guy takes it away.  Piggie goes to her best friend, Gerald the elephant for help, and whines that “big guys have all the fun.”  Gerald is happy to help Piggie until he sees the “big guy” for himself, and realizes that he’s actually an enormous whale, and he had taken the little ball because it belonged to him.  Piggie and Gerald also discover that the whale is sad because no one likes to play with him and says that the “little guys have all the fun.”  Gerald finds a way for them to all play together.

The theme and characters of this story are endearing. The friendship between the two main characters is like many of the reader’s real life relationships. They are easy to identify with. The theme of inclusion is a strong theme in many elementary school classrooms. That’s why this story would fit in perfectly.

Students can discuss the importance of friendship, acceptance, and inclusion.  This easy reader is also a useful introduction to the concept of perspective and point of view.

Watch the book trailer here:

Click on the next video to get Mo’s take on what it’s like to win a Geisel Award.

Here’s an interview with Mo Willems as he discusses what it’s like to be an author.

For Elephant and Pig activities click on the link below.

Elephant and Pig Event Kit

Reading Set #2 – Informational Books

info books Chapter 8   – Informational Books – Reflection info books

Informational books were once viewed as overwhelming full of facts, with black and white photos that added little interest to the text.  Over the years, the styles of informational books have changed dramatically.  The voice of the authors range from conversational and humorous to informative and serious.  What they all have in common are a dedication to presenting verifiable facts to children.  Today, with their larger than life photographs, and interesting, albeit sometimes gross topics, informational books are a favorite among elementary school children.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide. Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.

hitler youth

Author:  Susan Campbell Bartoletti

hitler youth author

Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler youth. New York, NY: Scholastic.

This book tells the story of Hitlerjugend, which was created in order to program German children with the Nazi ideals.  The Hitler Youth became an important part of the Nazi war effort.  Boys and girls were required to participate in these programs as part of their schooling.  The children were excited to serve their country and participate in recreational activities, but they soon faced the harsh reality of what taking part in the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls really meant:  discipline and drudgery.  Most German children bought right into the Nazi doctrine and became fanatical followers.  However, a few children were never convinced, such as Hans and Sophie Scholl and Helmuth Hubener, who tried to spread the word of what was truly happening in Nazi Germany.  They were beheaded for their efforts.

This is not a light topic for children to dive into, but by focusing an actual child that participated in the Hitler Youth readers become engrossed in the narratives.  Readers come to understand a bit more how it was possible to become such an ardent follower of such a horrible regime.  The power of censorship can be discussed as a theme with this book, and the advantages we have as Americans today can be compared.  Powerful black and white photography will give students a clear picture of what was happening, and they will be able to see that many of the Hitler Youth were the same age as they are now.

Bartoletti won a Newberry Honor, Sibert Honor, Orbis Pictus Honor, and the Parent’s Choice Award – Gold Winner all in 2006.

The following link provides educators with book readings, author studies, and interviews.

Other useful websites that can contribute to the thematic unit of the Holocaust/Nazi Germany can be found here:


spiders Author: Nic Bishop

spiders author

Bishop, N. (2007). Spiders. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Nic Bishop’s photographs are absolutely amazing, and take the reader into the world of spiders up close!  This informational book is especially engaging because of his conversational tone in the text.  While he introduces scientific terms, it’s never without textual clues, or a photograph to illustrate the ideas, which is perfect for elementary school children.  They will learn so much about spiders in this book, without ever getting frustrated.

After reading Spiders, I looked through other Nic Bishop informational book, and discovered his same style of writing and exceptional photography in all of them.  These books can be used as very first research projects for elementary school children.  They can also be used to study and label text features, such a subheadings, photographs and captions.  Another idea is to pair up Bishop’s informational books, with a fiction book, such as Charlotte’s Web, or Sophie’s Masterpiece and turn it into a thematic unit.

Enjoy the book trailer below!

Book Talk for Nic Bishop’s Spiders:

Reagan Tunstall offers a really cute thematic unit on spiders that will get the younger crowd looking for facts in this non-fiction book.  Offered as a download on Teachers Pay Teachers for $5.75.

spider week


how they croaked Author: Georgia Bragg

croaked author

Bragg, G. (2011). How they croaked: The awful ends of the awfully famous. New York, NY: Walker

This book takes a humorous approach to a morbid topic – death.  However, readers will be so fascinated with the interesting facts of these 19 famous figures’ lives, their death will just seem like another interesting morsel of information.  Bragg’s play on words and conversational tone throughout the story is fresh, young, and hip, so kids will be totally engaged throughout the book.  Additional information segments following each famous personality’s mini biography includes even more information and cool facts.

Bragg provides and many facts, and provides a list of works cited, to back up the claims in her book.  She clarified misconceptions I held to be true, and was actually taught in school.  The illustrations in her book take on a caricature style that adds another element of humor, even when they are depicting some of the grosser details in her biographies.  I thought the cover was a little creepy, but once I opened the book I couldn’t put it down.  Bragg proves that funny doesn’t have to mean fiction.

Because there are 19 people in the book, teachers can have students work alone or in pairs, and present a report based on Bragg’s biographies, and present them to the class.  A perfect activity for the month of October!

Smart Chick on Teachers Pay Teachers has a great resource filled with research activities and comprehension activities for $6.99.  Click on the link to learn more!


Get students hooked with this short book trailer:

And who doesn’t like to snack while reading a great book?  Well, look to Delaware Library for thematic snack ideas! Mmmmmm…I think!



magic windows Author: Carmen Lomas Garza

magic windows author

Garza, C. L. (1999). Magic windows. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.

In Garza’s book, Magic Windows, she first tells the reader what papel picado (cut-paper art) is.  She then describes her various paper cut out pieces, where they derived from, and discusses if they had been previously made in any other medium.  Each piece of artwork has some personal history attached to it, and each has additional details on the art of cut paper.

Because Garza’s hometown is near our own, and her cut paper designs depict many of the traditions we hold today, this is an especially intriguing book for the children of South Texas.  The impact of discovering that an artist and author has the same background as the children reading the book is a great one, and it can open a “magic window” of possibility for them.

By following up with Garza’s next book Making Magic Windows, teachers can make a class project.  Students can make their own magic window, with a narrative attached, depicting a scene from their own family’s traditions.  They will look beautiful displayed, and then they can be put into an anthology.  More ideas for lesson plans can be found in the link below.

Watch as the artist’s paper cutouts are turned into metal works of art.

Expand on the reading by having students write a how-to composition, and make a tissue magic window of their own.  Garza’s follow up book Making Magic Windows will help you do just that!


A lesson plan and activities, complete with potluck lunch can be found on Read Write Think by clicking on the link below.



 rosa Author: Nikki Giovanni

rosa author

Giovanni, N. (2005). Rosa. New York, NY: Holt.

Rosa Parks, a hard working seamstress, refused to get out of her seat in the “neutral area” of the bus.  She gets arrested for her refusal to move.  Her arrest spurred a bus boycott that lasted almost an entire year.  Finally, the government ruled that all segregation was wrong.

Rosa Parks’ dedication to the Civil Rights Movement can be compared/contrasted with other Civil Right Leaders of that time period, just like the link below.  The themes of equality, civil rights, courage, peace movement, and segregation can also be discussed.

Bryan Collier’s collage style artwork is beautiful, and captures the spirit and drive of those participating in the movement towards equality.  This can be especially felt in his dramatic two page foldout, depicting the people in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott.

Scholastic offers a lesson plan for Rosa that can be accessed by clicking on the link below.

Stephanie Rye has an activity pack that includes a lesson plan where students are able to compare and contrast events in Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lives.  It’s available for $2.50 by clicking on the link below.



it's so amazing Author: Robie H. Harris

its so amazing author

Harris, R. (1999). It’s so amazing. Boston, MA: Candlewick.

This book by Robie Harris is very cleverly done and provides a tremendous amount of  facts concerning human development and reproduction.  Everything a child could questions can be found here, and particularly complex ideas are accurately illustrated by Michael Emberly.  Harris writes the book without judgments or opinions, but uses the characters of a bird and bee to present feelings a child might be struggling with as he/she reads the book.

This book is an effective tool for parents to use with their children, however my opinion is that it may require a prerequisite talk between parent and child, especially because every family has their own unique values and belief system.  Without guidance, children may just take in the illustrations, and leave out valuable parts of the text needed for context.

While we may leave this book to the discretion of parents to share with their children, they still may be at a loss as to how to hand over this type of book.  Parents may find this short video clip of the author discussing her book helpful.  In in, Ms. Harris, discusses what she feels is the best way to present this text to a child.


 sweet - balloonsoverbroadway Author: Melissa Sweet

ballons author

Sweet, M. (2011). Balloons over broadway: The true story of the puppeteer of Macy’s parade. New York, NY: Houghton.

When Tony Sarg was just a boy, he loved to make objects come to life with movement.  He was a clever and inventive child, and when he grew up he continued to pursue his passion of  making marionettes.  He eventually moved to New York City, and his puppets performed on Broadway.  Word of his artistry grew, and one holiday season Macy’s department store asked him to create a “puppet parade” for their holiday window display.  This was the beginning of  a big idea that continues today:  They Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Sweet’s beautiful colorful mixed media illustrations bring Sarg’s story to life.  The cartoonish appeal almost makes you forget you are reading an informational story, which is great for those readers who shy away from non-fiction.  Educators can use this story when doing lessons on timelines, and have students put the events in Tony’s life in order.  This book can also be used as a thematic unit in science when covering pulleys and simple machines.

Pique your students’ interest with this book trailer:

Watch the read aloud – complete with awesome background music!

And here’s a quick peek at what the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade looks like today – still spectacular!

Enchanting Homeschooling Mom has a printable unit that can be downloaded free!

A Balloons Over Broadway activity kit can be downloaded free at:



Reading Set #1 – Picture Books

children-readingChapter 2 Reflection – Picture Bookschildren-reading

     Picture books are an incredibly hard working, powerful tool in the development of literacy skills.  They are typically short stories paired with illustrations.  Within the parameters of a picture book many genres can be found, and the complexity of the story can range from very simple and predictable to complex and ambiguous.   The illustrations in these books are  often the most critically analyzed and awarded, and for good reason: for a non-reader the illustrations are the story.  They not only bring the story to life for the reader, the pictures add details, foreshadowing, inferences, moods and feelings without adding an additional word to the text.  The phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words, couldn’t be more true than when a small child sits down with a picture book.  The artwork is so important to early readers because it starts the process of reading and thinking critically before the fluency process is complete, or in some cases, has even begun.

     Like Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker in Spider-Man, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” the responsibility of the picture book is also great due to the impact it has on its reader.  To begin with, a picture book must engage the reader.  This engagement process is what creates a life-long reader, which is any educator’s goal for their pupils.  In addition,  books are often the first introduction children have to other cultures, therefore, their representation must be accurate and avoid stereotypes.  Finally, a book that has multiple layers within the text and illustrations will give readers a chance to develop deeper questions as they read and reread the book.

Vardell, S.M. (2008).  Children’s literature in action:  a librarian’s guide.  Westport, Conn.:  Libraries Unlimited.


Author:  Carmen Agra Deedy

 martina author

Deedy, C. A. (2007). Martina the beautiful cockroach: a Cuban folktale. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

A beautiful Cuban cockroach is looking for a husband in this folktale by Carmen Agra Deedy.  She wants to make sure she makes the right choice, and her grandmother knows just what advice to pass along to her granddaughter:  the coffee test.  Most of Martina’s suitors don’t pass the test until Perez, a mild mannered mouse comes along and makes the grade.  Deedy’s version of this humorous Cuban folktale will have readers captivated from the first page.  The illustrations, which won the Pura Belpre Honor in 2008, add additional humor and charm to the story.  The muted colors of the illustrations set the courting mood, and Martina’s cherubic features make Martina adorably cute, not a common characteristic associated with cockroaches.  Readers will love to take the time to take in the setting that Austin cleverly designed by using household items and trash.  This can bridge over to a recycling project, or a mini-makers fair for settings of other stories.

The folktale genre comes loaded with themes, and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is no different.  In addition, there are many other literacy skills that can be studied when using this book:  predictions, cause and effect, motive, vocabulary skills, just to name a few.  Educators can use the following resources to turn this story into an entire thematic unit.

Book teasers – Watch before reading, let the students make a prediction, then read to find out if they were right!

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach Thematic Unit



Author:  Tomie DePaola

bluebonnet author

DePaola, T. (1983). The legend of the bluebonnet. New York, NY: Putnam.

In The Legend of the Bluebonnet a Native American tribe suffering from a great drought plead with the gods for much needed rain.  They respond by saying that the tribe must make a great sacrifice in order to deserve to have their prayers answered.  The tribe members look at each other agreeing that the gods couldn’t possibly mean them, and they all go to their homes without a sacrifice being made.  An little orphan girl by the name of She-Who-Is-Alone reflects upon her only possession, a doll given to her by her family before they passed.  The doll means so much to her, she decides that its sentimental value will mean something to the gods.  She goes up to the summit of a hill, and in the evening, makes a small fire,  sacrifices her doll, and then falls asleep.  The gods are so pleased with her that in the morning the hill where she sleeps, and all around her, bluebonnets are blooming.  When the tribe finds her and recognize her sacrifice and the miracle surrounding her, they rejoice and dance in the rain they are gifted with.

DePaola’s distinctive illustrations are softly painted in the earth tone hues the Native American tribes were surrounded with.  However, the color palette also symbolizes the connection the Native Americans had with nature.

The genre of legends can be studied with this selection along with the themes of sacrifice, family, loss, and humility.

A read aloud and additional resources can be found in the links below.

A printable activities  pack can be found on Teachers Pay Teachers for $5. original-1246235-1


wild things

Author: Maurice Sendak..

wild things author

Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Max is having one of those rambunctious little boy days, and his mom has finally had enough.  She sends him up to his room without his supper, and Max is so upset he imagines himself sailing off to an island where he becomes king of the wild things.  They have a wild and crazy time until Max becomes homesick, and he sails back home to his room where he finds his hot supper waiting for him.

Sendak’s illustrations grow as Max’s mood and imagination grow until they consume the pages.  For six pages there is no text, just illustrations that take up the entire page, and tell the story wordlessly.  As Max’s energy starts winding down so do the size of the illustrations.  The colors remain muted throughout, at first to match the frustration and annoyance with his mother, then to mirror the gloominess and homesickness he feels when he is with the wild things.  The cross hatching Sendak uses also creates a lot of texture especially on the wild things’ fur.

The theme of the unconditional love of parents is always a comforting one for children, who more than likely have experienced more than one Wild Thing day.

A free writing prompt is available to download on Teachers Pay Teachers! original-986585-1

Wonderful teaching resources and extensions can be found by clicking on the link below.

 Free teaching resources for Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are

Now you can enjoy it as a major motion picture!


 mirror mirror

Author: Marilyn Singer

mirror mirror author

Singer, M. (2010). Mirror mirror. New York, NY: Dutton.

Mirror, Mirror is a book of fairy tales written in reverso poetry.  Each fairy tale shows two different perspectives to the story making it an ideal choice for teaching point of view.  Another aspect that can be studied in this book is the effect of punctuation on meaning.  In many of her poems, Singer uses the same words but inserts a comma or separates words which change the meaning entirely.   Josée Masse’s illustrations, while vivid and colorful, often have a shadow or are darker on one side of the story.  These deepened hues reflect the mood of the poem.  Also, subtle details such as an arch of a brow, the slant of an eye, or a lift of the lips help convey the message in the poem.

This book can be used as an example of a totally different kind of poetry, and teachers can make an activity out of having students create their own reverso.  However, by taking a fairy tale in this book at a time, students can be asked to really analyze the message in each poem.

The following link offers a two week lesson plan that can be made into a thematic unit.

2-Week Lesson Plan for Mirror, Mirror

And here’s a snippet of the book being read:


three pigs

 Author: David Wiesner

three pigs author

Wiesner, D. (2001). The three pigs. New York, NY: Clarion.

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner is an untraditional take on a traditional children’s story.  It begins with its predictable sequence of events, but when the wolf begins huffing and puffing he blows the pigs right out of the story.  The three visit a nursery rhyme and a fairy tale bringing additional characters with them as they go.  Finally they come across a page that has the third pig’s brick house on it, and they decide to go home (bringing their new friends along, of course!).

The illustrations in this book are phenomenal, so it’s no surprise that The Three Pigs won the Caldecott Medal in 2002.  The soft background colors allow the pigs and their conversation bubbles to take center stage and remind readers that they are still the main characters.

As untraditional as the story becomes, the theme is a common one:  there’s no place like home.

Get students’ curiosity going with this book trailer:

And listen to the read aloud here:

And finally, you can find plenty of teacher resources for the book at Vicki Blackwell’s website by clicking the link below:


its a book

Author: Lane Smith

its a book author

Smith, L. (2011). It’s a book. New York, NY: Roaring Brook.

In Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, Jackass is confused by how Monkey’s book works.  He bombards Monkey with questions about his book wondering if it can do things a tablet, laptop, or other electronic device can do.  Monkey tries to explain patiently to Jackass that it’s simply a book – no charging required.  When Jackass asks to “try” Monkey’s book he becomes engrossed in the story, and Monkey goes to the library to get himself another book.

Lane’s illustrations are simple and uncomplicated in this book, similar to the style seen in Mo Willems’ books.  Very little background distraction means the reader can focus on the characters’ expressions.  The subtle changes in a character’s expression make this book really funny and entertaining – which is exactly the point of the story.

Watch the book trailer here:

This book lends itself to a lesson on parts of a book.  You can download a free worksheet at this site:

Meet the author: Lane Smith


this is not my hat

Author: Jon Klassen

this is not my hat author

Klassen, J. (2012). This is not my hat. Boston, MA: Candlewick.

In Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat, a small fish steals the hat off of a much larger sleeping fish.  He has a plan to get away with it, too.  He hides in the tall grass, proud of his accomplishment, and not aware that his plan hasn’t worked at all.  The large fish enters the tall grass and emerges with his hat on.  While this story has an ambiguous ending, teachers can definitely use this to introduce basic aquatic food chains.  The theme of honesty can also be explored, and Klassen does a wonderful job of defining rationalization with little fish’s dialogue throughout the story.  This 2013 Caldecott Medal winning book has Klassen’s signature style of earth toned colors of nature, this time against a black background.  The dark unadorned background gives the reader of a sense of depth of the water, but also makes the reader focus on the small changes in the characters’ expression.  These small movements in the eyes add an additional layer of comprehension to the story, and the angles of the bubbles add movement to the pictures.

A great resource and teaching tools that teachers can use with students to teach questioning before, during, and after reading can be found on Luckeyfrog’s Lilypad BlogSpot.  Click on the link below for more information and awesome photos.

Check out the book trailer here:

Enjoy the animated read aloud here:

Meet the author:  Jon Klassen