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Posts from the ‘Curriculum’ Category

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

Paper Hearts is a beautiful novel in verse; it is the story of two young Jewish girls who become friends and survive Auschwitz. Zania and Flatka’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, particularly with the knowledge that this is “a novel based on true events.” In the face of cruelty, death, and horror, we also see the beauty of humanity, friendship, and love. The girls in Auschwitz have little to call their own and are constantly in fear of the guards, who will bring swift punishment to those who do not follow the rules. A small piece of silk or a hidden letter could bring death. And in the midst of the horror, the girls look for the beauty that ties them together, the love that will give them strength and hope to face another day. Zlatka found a way – through bartered paper and scissors, pens, she made an origami heart to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. All of the girls at the work tables signePaper Heartsd the heart, wishing for freedom and happiness for all. Fania keeps this heart, treasured and hidden, while the girls continue to work, even through death marches. Eventually, Fania, Zlatka, and several other girls who signed the heart survived the death marches and returned to Poland. Fania emigrated to Canada with her husband many years later while Zlatka moved to Argentina. Fania kept the heart, which she donated to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre in 1988. The Heart is still on exhibit at the Memorial Centre.


Wiviott’s book is an easy one to read in one sitting. I found myself unable to put it down and the flow of the writing, in verse, adds to the readability. The language is amazing. Breathtaking and poignant. Wiviott’s words carry weight and power. Not only the story, but the language too stayed with me after the last page.

“The Heart

Small enough

To fit in the palm of my hand.

Big enough

To restore my faith.

Friends replacing

The family I’d lost.

A reason to take risks.

A reason to keep living.”

Paper Hearts ends with a final poem “The Last Train” and the words “Never again.” The book also includes photos of Fania’s heart, a glossary (very helpful) and an author’s note about what is true in the story. There are many resources out there for learning more about Fania, Zlatka, and the paper heart.

The possibilities for Paper Hearts with young readers are numerous and this book will be a significant addition to the book shelves of Holocaust stories for both young readers and adults.

Resources for the Holocaust, Auschwitz, and the Heart

Have you read Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, Meg Wiviott’s picture book about Kristallnacht? Check out my blog post here.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton


What are you reading?

Full Cicada MoonToday I want to share a book I recently finished. For part of my reading challenge for 2016 (read more about my #SixtyBooks challenge here), I decided to read more novels in verse. Towards the end of 2015, I noticed the title Full Cicada Moon buzzing around a few book blogs that I read, so I added this to my list. So glad that I did. The moment I started reading Mimi’s story, I was hooked. I love that this story is set in the 1960s, against a backdrop of historic change and the Apollo space program. Mimi is half-Japanese and half-black, which means that in the mostly-white Vermont, she is different from all of her peers. She is in a new school, a new home, with many changes, and a new set of opportunities. But she is trying to figure out who she is, which is not an easy task. She defies the stereotypes, asking why girls can’t take shop class and why boys can’t take home economics. She even inspires her classmates to ask questions too! She speaks her mind and is thoughtful and courageous in showing others what is important in life. She makes sacrifices for those she loves. She holds herself to high standards and always remains true to what is important in her life.

I loved many things about Mimi. First, she was not afraid of a challenge. She did not back down and simply walk away when faced with a tough choice. When she encountered people who did not like her or those who judged her, she handled it with grace and dignity. Over and over again, Mimi displayed her courage and determination. Her dream to be an astronaut was not popular with many around her and that never once moved her away from this dream. She held true to herself. Readers will learn many things from this book – they will learn about the historical moments in Mimi’s life, the 1960s and the space exploration that dared people to dream, the small town life and the challenges that faced young people every day – but most importantly, readers will be inspired by a young girl with big dreams and courage to match. In a time where people are crying out for diverse books (read more about We Need Diverse Books), Marilyn Hilton has given readers a beautiful, important, and moving diverse book. I hope many readers will discover Mimi’s beautiful story in Full Cicada Moon. If you are interested in learning more about Full Cicada Moon and Marilyn Hilton’s books, head over her author website.


Some of Mimi’s words, which are perfect for closing:


The stars and the moon,

the sun and all the planets,

every cell, every atom,

every single snowflake

belong in this universe.

And I,

Mimi Yoshiko Oliver,

belong here, too.

This year

I reached for the stars.

One day

I’ll touch the moon.

But tonight









Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

Riding FreedomRiding Freedom is the story of Charlotte Parkhurst – also known as Charley. Charlotte spent several years in a boys orphanage after both of her parents died in a crash. After her best friend was adopted, Charlotte struck out on her own, but in disguise as a boy. Charlotte knew that as a young girl, she would face trouble trying to travel on her own, but as a boy she would not encounter as many questions. Hence, she became Charley. With a deep love for horses and an understanding of horse stables, Charley quickly found a home and later, a job as a stage coach driver. Her reputation grew and “one-eyed Charley” was known as a top rate stage coach driver like no other. Young readers will definitely enjoy Charley’s adventurous life and her headstrong, spirited and courageous personality, which is at the heart of this novel. Charley’s story, based on the true story of Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (born in 1812 in Vermont) is inspiring for both young readers and adults. In dressing like a man, Charley experienced the freedom of working, living, owning land, and voting. Her obituary includes the question: “Who shall longer say that a woman can not labor and vote like a man?”

Journals and Writing

Something about this book inspires writing. In reading Charley’s story, I can’t help but think of what a student might write from her point of view. The book gives the reader the opportunity to imagine the possibilities…

  • Vern. When Charley finds out that Vern is gone, she says “I won’t ever be forgetting him for what all he done for me.” Write a journal entry from Charley’s point of view about Vern. What would she want to say to him and tell him after all these years? What is important about Vern in Charley’s life, the past and the present?
  • Voting. Write a journal entry from Charley’s point of view about voting in the election. How does she feel about women being able to vote? How does she feel about women taking on tasks that are deemed “men’s work”?
  • Freedom. What is the significance of the word freedom for Charley? What meanings does the word have for her? How is the concept of freedom important in Charley’s life?

Great Quotes for Discussion

  • “Since the day you were born, you’ve been determined as a mule and tough as a rawhide bone.” (page 4)
  • “Just like when he taught her to ride, he kept putting her back on Freedom after each fall, saying ‘Every time you fall, you learn somethin’ new ’bout your horse. You learn what not to do next time.'” (page 64)
  • “She felt like she did that day on the stagecoach when she’d run away from the orphanage. Like she was on the verge of something exciting. Something new. Like she was closer to realizing her dream.” (page 85)
  • “This was something she could do for that woman who stood up in front of all those laughing men and passed out handbills on the saloon steps. Something for those women out front who were pretending they didn’t mind that they couldn’t vote. For Vern, who hadn’t been allowed to speak up and should have been able to. And for that little girl outside who was already standing up for herself.  She smiled. And for me, she thought. Because I’m as qualified as the next man.” (page 129)
  • “Important names that stood for something and were fitting for fine animals. She named the colt, Vern’s Thunder. And she named the filly, Freedom.” (page 134)


Resources for Riding Freedom

Mobile Ranger: One Eyed Charley: The Cross Dressing Stage Coach Driver – great website with pics & info!

Scholastic Page & Book Talk

Charley Parkhurst Facts and Legends

The Most Famous Stagecoach Driver….California’s Charley Parkhurst


Children’s Resources for Learning About Women’s Suffrage and the Right to Vote

Time for Kids: The Fight to Vote

National Women’s History Museum: Did you know? Facts About Woman Suffrage

Scholastic Suffrage Page (Activities)

Civil Rights for Kids (Ducksters page for Women’s Suffrage


Have you read Riding Freedom? Or other novels by Pam Munoz Ryan? Please share!

Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts

Kizzy Ann begins her story with a letter dated July 1, 1963, to Miss Anderson, who will be her teacher at the whiteKizzy Ann Stamps school in September. Through letters, journal entries and conversations, we grow to know and love Kizzy Ann. There are so many things to appreciate about Kizzy Ann – she is sensitive, honest (at one point she tells her new teacher that she doesn’t want to attend the white school), caring, determined, and hard-working. She worries about feeling out of place; she wants to be welcomed into her new school and find new friends. She wants to belong. She also knows that challenges await her, especially as she witnesses her brothers’ struggles with his new school. Throughout the book, Kizzy Ann perseveres, full of hope and optimism for her future.

Shag is Kizzy Ann’s constant companion, her furry, loyal, smart and obedient friend. This Border Collie is special for Kizzy Ann and she finds unconditional friendship and loyalty with Shag. She also finds the opportunity to test her own determination and Shag’s as well – can she train Shag to compete in the dog trials? And will Kizzy Ann be able to enter the dog trials? No African-American girl has competed with her dog in the official dog trials. Kizzy Ann knows that she is trying something new. She faces her fears and obstacles with determination.

Kizzy’s story shows us the complications that arose with integration, through the eyes of a young, intelligent and thoughtful girl. It is a window to an important piece of history that deserves time and attention. Kizzy Ann Stamps is a book that lends itself well to discussions and teaching students about both integration and racism. It is a story of hope, friendship, humanity and the amazing spirit of one girl and her dog.

Important Quotes for Discussion and Journal Ideas

  • “We’re the ones trying something new, being made to go where we aren’t wanted and aren’t really wanting to go.” (page 27)
  • “I don’t think your world has been exactly like mine. I won’t hold that against you, though. I hope you won’t hold it against me.” (page 28)
  • “…being at a school together doesn’t change things. Those white kids aren’t my friends. I know it. Folks may be pretending to offer some changes to black people, going to school together and all, but this is still a place that can see Medgar Evers shot down in his driveway like he is nothing and no one gets arrested. This is still a place where a white man can tell somebody else to switch a black girl in public and no one does a thing. You say that things are changing, Miss Anderson, but I don’t see much changing at all.” (page 62)
  • “I feel free and sure. I am like Miss Anne Spencer’s friend who had a lot of living to do. I’m not exactly celebrating that people are staring at me, but I’m not going to be ashamed of them looking either. Let them look. I’m a girl with a scar. I’m Moon Child, me, just a girl who can teach her dog some things, while that dog teaches things back.” (page 152)
  • “We’ve already found some friends who will go with us on the way. We only have to let them join us. That was hard for both of us, for both Shag and I are hard-pressed to ask for help, but we’re learning to lean on others. We’re learning to trust, we are. The lessons we’re learning together along this road are not the easiest, but once we have them, we ‘own’ them, you might say. When I follow my Shag, it seems I follow my heart. I guess that will do just fine.” (page 181)


  • What kind of girl is Kizzy Ann Stamps? How do we learn about her?
  • How does Kizzy Ann change during the novel? What lessons does she learn?
  • Miss Anderson is a new teacher. Why does she write to her students? What kind of teacher is Miss Anderson? How does she try to help her students?
  • James has a different story from Kizzy Ann. How are their experiences alike and different? What is important for James in his journey through school integration?
  • Kizzy Ann’s relationship with Frank Charles changes a great deal. What does Kizzy Ann learn about Frank? How do things change for the two of them? How is Shag part of their friendship?

Extension Ideas:

Read the Kid Reporter book review and write your own response/book report. Agree/disagree? Provide evidence from the text.

Time for Kids: Kid Reporter Book Review

Journaling: Write new journal entries for Kizzy Ann – imagine her life the following school year. What will she and Shag do? Who are Kizzy Ann’s friends and how do their friendships develop? What do you think James will do in the future?

Picture Books and Resources for Text Sets

Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison (book includes many powerful pictures to illustrate the experiences of school integration – excellent resource for students!)

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

This is the Dream by Diane Shore and Jessica Alexander

Additional Resources

Jeri Watts Shares Why She Believes in Picture Books (vimeo)

James River Writers

Publishers Weekly Review – Kizzy Ann Stamps


Have you read Kizzy Ann Stamps? Please share!

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out & Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a poignant, touching story of loss, war, conflict, coming of age, and hope. Há Ma is just a young girl when her family flees their beloved home country during the Fall of Saigon. They leave behind everything they know and love, including Father, for the hope of safety and stability. They endure endless days on a ship with little food, waiting for someone to arrive and rescue them. Eventually, Há and her family end up with an American sponsor from Alabama and they move to a new country.

Told in verse, this coming-of-age story will leave the reader breathless with both its powerful imagery and captivating story. Há’s story brings new light to the reader’s understanding of immigration and how children process the trauma of leaving a home country and entering a new culture. The possibilities for this book in the classroom are numerous, thanks to the richness and depth of Thannha Lai’s story.

Important Quotations Topics for Discussion

  • “Every new year Mother visits / the I Ching Teller of Fate. / This year he predicts / our lives will twist inside out /…… The war is coming / closer to home.” (page 4)
  • “Some verbs / switch all over / just because. /…. Would be simpler / if English / and life / were logical.” (page 135)
  • “Wishes /….. Mostly / I wish / I were / still / smart.” (page 159)
  • “But Not Bad   Mother slaps my hand / Learn to compromise” (page 233)
  • “Our lives / will twist and twist, / intermingling the old and the new / until it doesn’t matter / which is which.” (page 257)

Discussion Topics and Questions

  • Poetry. Why do you think the author decided to tell the story in poems instead of a prose narrative format? How do you think the story is different because it is told in verse? Why do some poems have dates while others are dated “every day”?
  • Refugees. Há and her family leave Vietnam very quickly. What emotions do you think they are feeling during this time? Why does Há bring her doll as her one item from home? Do you have one time that you would select if you had to leave your home forever?
  • Vietnam and Albama. How are the two places different? What is Há’s life like in Saigon? What is it like in Alabama? Do you think there are any similarities?
  • Learning English. Há says at one point that there are too many rules in English. Why do you think that learning English is frustrating for her? Aside from the rules, are there other reasons that make it difficult to learn English? Why do you think Mrs. Washington decides to help Há? What kind of person is Mrs. Washington? How do you learn about her character and what type of person she is?
  • Bullying and friendship. Há experiences many difficulties in her new school in Alabama. How do the other students respond to Há and her siblings? What do you think are the reasons for their actions? How does Ha respond? How does Há grow and change as a character?
  • Understanding Vietnam. Há wants people to understand her beloved home country. Why does she want them to know her country? What does she want them to learn about? How does she feel about her teacher, Miss Scott, showing pictures of war in Vietnam? What kind of pictures does Há want people to see and discuss? Why?
  • Family. Há and her family wish for the return of father. How does the family find resolution?

Text Set to Accompany Teaching of Inside Out and Back Again

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland    This story provides for many text-to-text connections with Há’s story in Inside Out. Garland’s story begins with the last emperor of Vietnam, and a woman who takes a lotus seed with her from the emperor’s garden on the day that he abdicated the throne. The country is then torn apart by war, first with the French and then a civil war. The woman, Bá, leaves her beloved country on a ship with other refugees, landing in a strange new land. She and her family work for years. One day, her grandson takes her precious lotus seed and plants it, as he has never seen a lotus flower. Bá cries, but the following spring, a beautiful pink lotus appears, “the flower of life and hope….the flower of my country.” The story is powerful and hopeful, while the illustrations that capture the beauty of Vietnam and the lotus flower. The author’s note gives a brief overview of the historical background for the story.

The Wall by Eve Bunting  A boy and his father visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and search for the grandfather’s name among the thousands of names inscribed on the wall. The boy and his father find the name and create a rubbing of the name George Munoz on paper. The story is simple but powerful, evoking the strength and honor of the Vietnam wall with all of the names honoring the soldiers who lost their lives. The final note on the last page gives readers a few details about the wall, along with the information that names are still being added to the wall as those who were “missing in action” are identified. This book will introduce the reader to the Vietnam memorial and honor all of the Americans who fought in Vietnam.

Always With You by Ruth Vander Zee  A picture book with poignant illustrations and a moving, heartbreaking tale of a girl in South Vietnam. Young Kim is only four years old when her mother is killed when their village is bombed. Kim’s mother tells her “I will always be with you.” Kim is found by American soldiers who take her to an orphanage, where she lives for five years before traveling to the US for eye surgery. Based on a true events, this picture book brings to life the story of one young girl, but also the story of the many orphans in Vietnam, numbered in the hundreds of thousands, during the Vietnam War. The author’s note also provides more background for students.

Voices Compassion Education: Vietnamese Poetry  This website contains a great number of resources, including photos, poetry, and non-fiction that could be used with a text set on the Vietnam War.

Writing Ideas

  • Poetry. Take a story from your own family and create a poem. Use specific images and select your words carefully. Notice how Thannha Lai uses emphasis with specific words and images. Think about how you want to arrange the words to tell your story and what you want the reader to notice and think about.
  • Photos of Vietnam. Using a variety of pictures from Vietnam, respond to the photos as Ha might respond. Write about the photos from Há’s point of view. What is important about each photo? Why? (Teachers may want to use images described in “War and Peace” poem.)
  • Journal. Create journal entries from important events in Há’s life. What moments might she want to write about in a journal? Tell her stories with many details and use dialogue.
  • Think about the most important poem in Inside Out & Back Again. (Remember there is not just one “right” answer!) Why do you think this poem is the most important? How does it help the reader understand Há’s story?

Web Resources

Thanhha Lai Author Website

National Book Foundation, 2011 National Book Award Winner (Young People’s Literature) – author video

HarperCollins Book Page Overview & Author Info

Scholastic Book Page: Inside Out and Back Again


Have you read Inside Out & Back Again? Please share your thoughts!

Five Fun & Spooky Picture Books for Halloween!


Halloween Picture Books

Love Halloween? And books? There are so many fun and spooky books out there – here a few of my favorites that you will want to read out loud!

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

So is there room on the broom with this friendly little witch? Why of course there Room on the Broomis, and the witch is soon accompanied by a cat, a dog, a frog and a bird. Whoosh and suddenly this little witch has quite a lot on one tiny broom, when suddenly that broom breaks in two and the witch finds herself facing a scary, fire-breathing dragon. What will she do? She needs help! But fortunately, she has some friends who are ready to come to her aid in the form of a scary mud monster! This adorable tale will captivate little ones with colorful pictures and rhymes for everyone. Witches can be friendly, animals can help each other out of a dragon situation, and a little bit of magic from everyone can create the perfect broom for a happy little witch and all of her friends, with room on the broom!



The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of AnythingThe Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

What will you love about this book? It is clever, cumulative, rhyming, and you will get up at move when you read it! It’s a chance to clomp, shake, wiggle, clap and nod! Great sound effects and pleasant rhyming that will appeal to young readers (and the adults in the room too!). This little old lady is not afraid of anything…but that may change when she is walking alone at night and discovers a spooky set of clothes following her, and a clomp, clomp, shake, shake! Will she be scared? What will she do? Kids will love the ending as she puts the magic clothes to a new use – clever and fun! The illustrations are engaging, colorful, and the many details show both the humorous and the scary elements of the story. Kids will love returning to the various pages to examine all the elements of the story and find the clever details hidden in the illustrations.


Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’ConnellTen Timid Ghosts

So what happens when a clever witch wants to move into a haunted house? Oh no, ten ghosts already live in this house and they don’t want to leave! What is a witch to do? Not only is this a counting books (young readers will enjoy counting backwards with the witch) it is also a book that grabs your attention with the illustrations, as kids will be able to hunt for the sneaky tricks that witch uses to evict the ten timid ghosts. Have fun on the ghost hunt!



Big PumpkinBig Pumpkin by Erica Silverman

Drat! This witch has a pumpkin too big to move! She can’t even get it off the vine! What to do? Lots of characters show up and are willing to help, but even the ghost, the vampire, nor the mummy can move this pumpkin. When a bat appears and wants to help, everyone laughs. But this clever bat has an idea. This adorable book serves up a great message about teamwork in addition to delicious pumpkin pie in the final treat. Fun for all!


And finally,

The Very Busy Spider by Eric CarleThe Very Busy Spider

Is this a Halloween book? Well….it doesn’t have to be a Halloween book (and we can read about spiders all year long) but I LOVE this book so I have to include it in the list! Perfect for learning about spiders, this busy little spider keeps spinning her web, even as her animal friends try to tempt her into playing out in the sun, climbing on rocks and swimming in the pond. Instead, she perseveres and builds her web. And surprise, she catches a fly! Young readers will enjoy Eric Carle’s distinctive style and illustrations, running their fingers across the spider web and feeling the edges of the web as the spider builds on each page. Perfect for the spider spookiness of Halloween.


Spooky, scary, funny or mysterious, what are your favorite Halloween picture books???

The Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine

The Badger KnightThe Badger Knight is the story of a young boy, Adrian, in medieval times (1346) who suffers from albinism and asthma, making him a sickly boy in the midst of war times. Adrian wants nothing more than to go into battle along side his friend Hugh, who has run off in search of his own father and to fight in glorious battle against the Scots, who have invaded northern England.

Several elements make this an excellent choice for upper elementary grade level fiction. Adrian is a boy who does not fit in with others and is often misunderstood. His health and albinism set him apart from others. He is underestimated as well; though he is magnificent with a bow and arrow, far surpassing the skills of adults around him, people often assume that he cannot shoot well, much to his frustration. His character is multi-dimensional, intriguing, and likable for the reader, creating an emotional investment at the start of the book. Once Adrian, the Badger Knight, takes off on his own to find Hugh and help battle the Scots, the adventure begins. And while Adrian undertakes a physically strenuous and unpredictable journey (involving monks, knights, and young boys who live on the streets), he also goes through an emotional journey and grapples with issues in war and life that surprise and astound him as he makes decisions and forges relationships that once seemed impossible.

Adrian’s journey of emotional growth is what sets this book apart from others. While it could be simply an adventurous medieval tale of battles, knights, and villains, Adrian’s character keeps the reader intrigued and pushes the question, what would you do? Prior to battle, Adrian believed that all Scots were pagans who deserved to die at the hands of the English. But things change when Adrian witnesses a monk, who should be a man of God, stealing from others and lying. Then Adrian finds himself in battle, where not everything is as he expects. Adrian meets a man from Scotland, an encounter which has a profound effect on Adrian and causes him to reconsider what he believed about being honorable and noble in times of war.

At the heart of this book is the morality Adrian ponders and the notion of honor – what does Adrian learn in this journey? What does it mean to be honorable? Who are the honorable people in Adrian’s life? What lessons does Adrian learn from the street gang, Sir Geoffrey, the monks, Donald and Hugh? What does he learn about girls in battle? Why does Adrian risk his life for someone he thought was the enemy? Why does “Badger” work well for Adrian’s nickname? What does noble mean for Adrian? Friendship?

(Note: Adrian also pens a glossary of medieval words and phrases for the young reader, found at the end of the book, Godspeed Friends!)

Important Quotations for Discussion

  • “I wonder how the boy felt at that last moment before he was shot. I think about how Hugh gives a blessing to the creatures he kills, thanking them for providing him sustenance, which I always thought strange. I’ve never before felt the need to say a prayer like that, but I do now.” (page 189)
  • “It’s not the reunion I pictured. Maybe Hugh and I have both seen too much. The horrible death of Sir Geoffrey is enough to make me never want to see a Scottish soldier again, never mind heal him. I know Hugh is a healer at heart. He has knowledge and patience like Nigel. He’s noble like Henry and Sir Geoffrey. He’s my best friend. But right now, I can’t even stand to look at him.” (page 203)
  • “‘Bowyer, like my father,’ I say, out of habit. But Father won’t allow it and even being an archer has lost its appeal. I always thought they were such noble callings. Now, as I gut the squirrels and remember Sir Geoffrey’s death, I wonder what, exactly, noble means.” (page 282)
  • “‘What about you, laddie?’ ‘I’m fine,’ I say. We’re both lying, but sometimes friends do that for each other to keep their spirits up.” (page 312)
  • “I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how all these “truths” aren’t real at all. They’re things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like are supposedly angels or, more often, devils. I didn’t believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.” (page 314)
  • “I’m the Badger, tough and scrappy. I’m the Spider, small but determined. Mostly, I’m someone useful from the village of Ashcroft. My name is Adrian Black, and I am a man.” (page 325)

Writing Ideas & Activities

  • Make a map. Trace Adrian’s journey, using symbols to represent different events in the story. Explain the symbols and important events in a reflection to accompany your map.
  • Create a journal of Adrian’s adventure. Select several important moments in the story to write about in a journal from Adrian’s point of view.
  • Write a letter to Donald. Think about what Adrian might want to tell Donald after the novel ends. Imagine what Adrian may be doing and what Donald’s life was like after he returned. What would Adrian share with Donald?
  • Write a new chapter. Spend some time thinking about how Adrian will tell his story to his father. What will he tell his family, especially his father who was anxiously search for Adrian? What important moments will Adrian share? What will he tell his father about the monks and Sir Geoffrey? What about the battles he witnessed and Hugh’s story? What will he tell his father about Donald?


Have you read The Badger Knight? Interested in other historical novels for elementary grades? Check out A Single Shard and Turtle in Paradise.

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass by Meg Wiviott

Benno is a friendly neighborhood cat, and through him we have a new perspective of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass). For many, this night Benno and the Night of Broken Glassmarks the beginning of the Holocaust, on November 9, 1938. There are many books about the Night of Broken Glass, but Meg Wiviott’s book is a powerful addition to Holocaust literature with the story of a cat who belongs to many people in the town of Berlin. Benno frequently visits Professor Goldfarb, the Adler family, the Schmidt family, Frau Gerber, Mitzi Stein, Mosche the butcher. He visits all people, Jewish and non-Jewish, and is the beloved neighborhood cat who get free milk, comfy places to nap, ear rubs, and lots of affection from Sophie and Inge, two young girls in his neighborhood. He is loved by everyone, and he leads a quiet, contented life.

Yet things do not remain content, when Benno sees a bonfire and men in brown shirts. Things are not the same and Benno senses the change immediately. Sophie and Inge no longer walk together, all is quiet and people are not as friendly and happy. The meat scraps disappear, eyes lowered, people hurry about their business. More men in brown shirts. The illustrations reflect the changes that Benno witnesses, showing the chaos and unhappiness that begins to surround the neighborhood. Then the night of broken glass arrives. Benno hears glass shattering. Stores are set ablaze, apartments ransacked, Professor Goldfarb cannot save his books. The Adlers’ door remains closed the next morning and Benno doesn’t see Sophie. Smoke is in the air and nothing is as it was before, even though Frau Gerber’s grocery is open and unchanged. The reader is left with the words “life of Resenstrasse would never be the same.”

Telling the story through the eyes of a cat allows the reader to see the German and Jewish people together harmoniously, especially with the friendship between Sophie and Inge. The change is seen with the arrival of men in brown shirts, and everyone is affected. The reader also witnesses how life changes for the Jewish residents of Berlin, again through Benno’s eyes. In this sense, the reader sees the events through the innocent and unwavering eyes of Benno. We witness how life is torn apart and people become separated.

This is an excellent book to introduce the Holocaust and the Night of Broken Glass to students who are going to learn more about these topics. The book also includes more information about Kristallnacht and additional children’s books for reference.

More Resources on Kristallnacht

This Day in History (

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: The Night of Broken Glass

PBS People & Events: Kristallnacht


Interested in more picture books about World War II and the Holocaust? Check out Star of Fear, Star of Hope and The Harmonica.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish in a TreeA fish in a tree? The title will grab your attention and you will pick up the book. But when you start reading, it is Ally who will hold your attention. With every page of Ally, you will want another. This is a girl who doesn’t fit it, who is called “slow” and doesn’t have a lot of friends. She isn’t one of the cool kids or the smart kids. And she can’t read. She has made it quite a few years by faking…while her mother and her teachers haven’t figured out her secret. She never learned to read. But this year, and this teacher, are going to be quite a different experience for Ally.

Mr. Daniels is the new teacher who has some different ideas about the classroom. And he is the first teacher to realize that Ally can’t read. (As a teacher, this is a frustrating point in the book – Ally’s teachers do not realize her problem. Instead, we watch Mrs. Hall repeatedly send Ally to the principal’s office without ever investigating deeper into Ally’s problems in class. No one realized that Travis, Ally’s older brother, also “faked” his reading in school. Read more about Travis & Ally in Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s post “Who is Travis Nickerson?” at Nerdy Book Club.) When Mr. Daniels comes along, a young, new teacher working on his special education credential in the evenings, he not only realizes that Ally can’t read, he has some ideas about how to help her.

The teacher is not the only force of change in this book. Ally and her friends bring change to the classroom through their friendship and their willingness to defy the crowd. Ally, Keisha and Albert become friends, though unlikely friends at first, they soon bond. Keisha is a girl who doesn’t put up with nonsense, speaks her mind, creates unique bakery items in the kitchen. Albert is intelligent, quirky, and honest. They are individuals and celebrate each other through their friendship. Shay is the girl who dominates the classroom, has friends around her, but is heartless and cruel to those she decides are not worthy of her friendship. The teachers don’t seem to pick up on the subtleties of Shay’s true nature, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. But Ally and her friends manage, slowly but surely, to influence the class through harmony and friendship, a quiet and positive force.

There are multiple strands running through this book that will engage and interest young readers. While Ally has dyslexia and not all readers will understand her struggles with seeing the letters move on the page, many readers will identify with the idea of not fitting in and feeling invisible, whatever the reason. Albert and Keisha are two more characters who are unique, interesting, and surprising. Readers will empathize with these good-hearted characters. Adults (and teachers too!) will enjoy this uplifting and optimistic novel. Yes, change can happen! And yes, kids who struggle can learn to read!

Topics for Writing and Discussion

  • Loneliness. When Mr. Daniels asks the class about the words lonely and alone, Ally surprises herself by raising her hand. She explains that “‘Well…alone is a way to be. It’s being by yourself with no one else around. And it can be good or bad. And it can be a choice. When my mom and brother are both working, I’m alone, but I don’t mind it.’ I swallow hard. Shift in my seat. ‘But being lonely is never a choice. It’s not about who is with you or not. You can feel lonely when you’re alone, but the worst kind of lonely is when you’re in a room full of people, but you’re still alone. Or you feel like you are, anyway.'” (pages 123-124)  Why do you think Ally describes alone and lonely in this manner? How has she experienced loneliness? It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people?
  • Friendship. How do you see friendships at work in Ally’s classroom? Why do you think that Keisha, Albert and Ally become friends? What do they have in common? Are they good friends? What friendship moments come to mind? How does their friendship change the class?
  • Bullying. People might describe Shay as a bully in the classroom. Do you think she is a bully? What characteristics does she have that lead you to this conclusion? What moments in the story show the reader Shay’s character? When Ally approaches Shay in the classroom, did you make a prediction about how Shay would respond? Do you think Shay was feeling lonely in a classroom full of kids? Why doesn’t Shay take the opportunity to be friends with Ally? Why does Ally say that it “felt like the right thing” to come over to Shay, even though Shay was mean to her again?
  • Catalyst. When Jessica apologizes to Ally and tells her that she is a good artist, Albert calls Ally a “catalyst.” What does he mean by this? What is the definition of catalyst? How does Ally become a catalyst in her group of friends and her class? Are there other “catalysts” in this novel?

Important Quotations

  • “Mr. Daniels looks up at that bright blue sky and says, ‘Now, don’t be so hard on yourself, okay? You know, a wise person once said, ‘Everyone is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it’s stupid.'” (page 159)
  • “And I think of words. The power they have. How they can be waved around like a wand – sometimes for good, like how Mr. Daniels uses them. How he makes kids like me and Oliver feel better about ourselves. And how words can also be used for bad. To hurt. My grandpa used to say to be careful with eggs and words, because neither can ever be fixed. The older I get, the more I realize how smart my grandpa was.” (page 184)
  • “I realize that dealing with Shay every day is like playing chess. She is always looking for your weakness, always trying to get you flustered and force you into a mistake. Against her, you have to remember that the board is always changing and moving. Keep your eyes open. Be careful. Have a plan. Realize that you can only stay on the defensive for so long – eventually, you have to take a stand. But no matter what, don’t give up. Because, every once in a while, a pawn becomes a queen.” (pages 191-192)
  • “‘I think you’re just invincible.’ And then he winks and begins taking the pieces off the board and putting them in the box. I am sad the game is over and I’m relieved that I trust him again. And isn’t it funny – I’ve gone from being invisible to invincible.” (page 192)
  • “At first I’m surprised, but then I realize it wasn’t a mistake to come over, because it felt like the right thing. Shay’s the one who decided to act mean, but at least I tried. I have to admit though, I do feel sorry for her.” (page 252)

Dyslexia Resources & Books

Kids Health Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand

Chess for Kids – Special Needs

The Alphabet War – A Story About Dyslexia by Diane Robb

Tom’s Special Talent – Dyslexia by Kate Gaynor

Knees – the Mixed Up World of a Boy with Dyslexia by Vanita Oelschlager

It’s Called Dyslexia by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos


Have you read Fish in a Tree? Other books on the subject of dyslexia and reading? Please share!

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard

One could dismiss A Single Shard by thinking that a story set in twelfth century Korea would not hold the interest of today’s young readers. Until reading the first page, and then you would realize your error. Right away, Tree-ear’s story is one that needs to be told. There are so many wonderful things about this book, it is hard to name just a few. First is the relationship between Tree-ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge, and Crane-man, his companion and teacher in the important elements of life. Then we have Min, a master potter who is strict and unfriendly, punishing Min for breaking a piece of pottery with many days of hard work. Min’s wife, Ajima, makes food everyday for Tree-ear, once Tree-ear begins the work of an apprentice. Yet Tree-ear is an orphan, and as much as he loves pottery and desires to become a master potter, tradition dictates that only a potter’s son may be an apprentice and learn the trade of his father. Tree-ear wants to help Min receive a royal commission for his work, a difficult task for a potter. Yet Min and Tree-ear are determined, despite the obstacles in their paths. Will Min receive a royal commission? Will their plan be successful? Can Tree-ear make a long, sometimes dangerous journey to Songdo on his own? What will happen to Crane-man without Tree-ear nearby? Will Tree-ear ever become an official apprentice and learn the trade of pottery?

Quotes for Discussions and Journals

*page numbers refer to the 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition

  • “Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” (page 6)
  • “Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” (page 7)
  • “My friend, the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another open.” (Crane-man, page 97)
  • “Why was it that pride and foolishness were so often close companions?” (page 102)
  • “‘I have no gift for you beyond words,” he said. ‘I would tell you this. Of all the problems you may meet on your journey, it will be people who are the greatest danger. But it will also be people to whom you must turn if ever you are in need of aid. Remember this, my friend, and you will travel well.'” (page 107)
  • “Leaping into death is not the only way to show true courage.” (page 126)
  • “There were some things that could not be molded into words.” (page 139)
  • “Tree-ear ducked his head quickly, recalling that the son of Min had been called Hyung-gu. A name that shared a syllable! It was an honor bestowed on siblings. No longer would Tree-ear go by the name of an orphan. He could only nod wordlessly, but he felt Ajima’s smile at his back as he turned away.” (page 147)

Discussion Questions

  • The first scene in the novel involves Tree-ear and a farmer. What do you think of Tree-ear’s decision in this scene? What do we learn about Tree-ear? What kind of person is he? Find evidence in the text to support the characteristics you see in Tree-ear.
  • Describe Tree-ear and Crane-man’s relationship? Why are they friends? What ideas and values form the basis of their friendship?
  • Crane-man offers many moments of wisdom for Tree-ear. What are some of the lessons learned by Tree-ear because of his elder friend? What quotes show Crane-man’s wisdom?
  • Explain the apprentice process for potter’s in twelfth century Korea. What are the advantages to this type of system? What are the disadvantages? How is the apprentice system similar to modern day education? How is it different?
  • Honor and honesty are both important values in this story. How does Tree-ear learn about both honor and honesty? What incidents in the storyline help us understand how honor and honesty are part of the characters’ lives? Why is it so important to Tree-ear to be honest and live his life with honor?
  • Names are very important in Korean culture. What are the stories behind Tree-ear and Crane-man’s names? What is the significance of the name that Ajima gives Tree-ear in the final chapter? Why is this important to Tree-ear? What do you think this means for Tree-ear’s future?
  • What is the significance of the title A Single Shard? Can you think of other titles that would also be appropriate for this book? Cite evidence from the text in discussing your proposal for a title.


Linda Sue Park Website

Reading Rockets Interview

Linda Sue Park Interview (Cynthia Smith Site)

Interview with Tim Podell (youtube)

Newbery Project

Interested in pairing books with A Single Shard? Here are some great possibilities!

Korean Folk Tales, Fairy Tales & More

The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale by Yumi Heo

The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy: A Korean Folktale by Yangsook Choi

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo

All About Korea by Ann Martin Bowler

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park

The Royal Bee by Frances Park and Ginger Park

Readers of A Single Shard will likely be inspired to read another Linda Sue Park novel. Which one will you read next?

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