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Posts from the ‘Curriculum’ Category

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?

Discussing the Outrageous Pippi Longstocking – by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi LongstockingReaders all over the world immediately recognize a mischievous girl with red braids and a penchant for creating trouble. And young readers will laugh and smile at Pippi’s antics! This is a fun book – perfect for summer reading! Not to mention excellent for reading out loud.

Pippi resides in Sweden, home of the author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi’s story actually began when Lindgren’s nine year old daughter, Karin, requested a story one day when she was home from school, ill in bed. Her mother began a story about an outrageous girl who had a tendency to end up in unpredictable, crazy adventures, and also has amazing strength (never explained but quite often put to use in her adventures – picking up a horse or grown man!). Karin named the character “Pippi Langstrump.” When Lindgren first submitted her manuscript for publication, it was rejected. Finally, it was published with a different company (1945), along with additional books about Pippi’s adventures over the following years. Three longer Pippi books were published (Pippi Longstocking, 1945; Pippi Goes on Board, 1946; and Pippi in the South Seas, 1948). Several picture books and short books based on adventures in the original books have also been published over the years. The first Pippi film was completed in 1949; since that time, there have been other films, television specials, television series (in Sweden in 1969), a later American film in 1988, and other productions, on stage and on screen, in multiple countries.

Pippi has a suitcase of gold coins, a house with no grown ups around (Villa Villekula) and the companionship of her horse and Mr. Nilsson (a monkey) and two best friends nearby, Tommy and Annika. Pippi is unconventional and terrible at following the “rules” of society or school. Yet she is also trustworthy, loyal, and thoughtful in her friendships with Tommy and Annika. Mrs. Settergren is not thrilled about many of Pippi’s wild adventures, but comes to understand that the friendship is good for all three children. While Pippi tells many tall tales, she also tells the truth when questioned, displays her loyalty and thoughtfulness with Tommy and Annika, and acts selflessly to help other people when the situation calls for it.

Readers will have fun discussing their favorite Pippi adventures, as well as the qualities that make Pippi an interesting and fascinating friend. This book presents an excellent opportunity to discuss characters and characterization, as we learn about each character through the many haphazard events throughout the book.

Finding the Words for Pippi

An easy extension idea that will get your readers thinking about Pippi (and words!) is a simple vocabulary brainstorming session. This brainstorming idea sparked a lot of discussion – and sometimes debate – about Pippi and her antics with a group that recently read Pippi Longstocking. One reader came up with a word and then described the incident that provided the “evidence” for that characteristic, then another reader who add another word or description. Truly, one word sparked another word and another word until we had quite a list of very creative words to describe Pippi!

Some of the words my young readers discovered:

  • spontaneousPippi
  • brave
  • creative
  • adventurous
  • unique
  • nice
  • stubborn
  • silly
  • thoughtful
  • crazy
  • smart
  • foolish
  • wild
  • helpful
  • friendly
  • artistic

More Ideas

Pippi exudes energy and creativity! So why not use that energy and creativity for writing?

  • Write your own Pippi chapter. In your chapter, include: a title, a silly or new event/adventure for Pippi, Tommy and Annika, and use dialogue for each of them. Have fun!
  • Imagine a conversation between Pippi and a teacher. Select a topic or new story for Pippi and imagine what Pippi and the teacher may discuss about this new adventure.
  • Write about what Pippi will be like as a grown up. Imagine what she is doing, where she is living, and what kinds of things she does during the day as an adult. Use dialogue and be creative!

More Resources for Pippi

Pippi Longstocking – Rebel Role Model

Fun Trivia – Pippi

Astrid Lindgren Site

Pippi’s World

Scholastic book page

Children’s Books – Astrid Lindgren

Pippi.3Did you read Pippi as a child? What are your memories?

Just Juice by Karen Hesse

Just JuiceThis is a story about a girl who cannot read. It is also about a father who cannot read and a family who struggles to keep food on the table. It is powerful and moving – a must read for those at the chapter book level.

Juice is nine years old but carries the responsibility of an adult. She cares for her younger siblings, her pregnant and diabetic mother, and is the constant companion of her father, who has been out of work for quite some time. They live in a very small Appalachian mountain town. Juice is supposed to attend school with her two older sisters, but prefers to stay with her father, much to the dismay of her teacher and the truant officer who looks for Juice regularly ()bringing her to school when he manages to fin her). To complicate matters, not only does Juice feel obligated to stay with her father and help him make money fixing things, she doesn’t want to go to school because she struggles with reading. The anxiety of being discovered as a girl who cannot read keeps Juice away from her teacher and her classroom. She constantly worries about embarrassment in the classroom. She does not realize for awhile that her own father does not know how to read. Slowly she begins to see the clues about Pa’s difficulty with reading. She and Pa stand looking at an important letter, knowing that they must read it but neither of them can make sense of the letters. Juice’s older sister, Markey, reads the letter, and soon the family knows that their money situation is worse than anyone realized; they must come up with a large sum of money to pay the property taxes or they will lose their house. Geneva, the home health nurse nearby, comes by regularly to check on Ma and bring groceries provided by the government. But the family needs money to pay for the taxes. This is a burden to Pa and Juice, as they search for a way to provide income for the family.

Important Quotations for Discussion

” ‘You can’t read, Pa?’

Pa shakes his head.

He looks so hammered down lonely, like he has finally fallen through that black hole I’ve been holding him back from all this time. But I can’t let him go down that hole alone. I look at Lulu. Her face is knotted up, and I know I’m about to be tangled in the same snarl with what I have to say next, but I can’t let Pa take it all hisself. It’s too much.

‘I can’t read, either, Lulu,’ I say.” (page 119-120) *page numbers refer to Scholastic edition

Literacy is a central issue in this novel, as Juice and Pa cannot read, which has devastating consequences for the family. When Pa receives the tax letter, he cannot read it, and decides to ignore it rather than admit he cannot read. When Markey finally reads the letter for him, he is embarrassed, just as Juice is embarrassed at school when she cannot read with her fellow classmates. This humiliation is painful for both Juice and Pa. Once Ma finally reads the letters concerning the property taxes and the Juice’s attendance at school, she heads into town to resolve the problems. When she returns with a plan, she announces that everyone in the family will learn to read and the girls will all go to school.

“The thing is, I don’t have to be a famous doctor or anything fancy like that to be happy. All I have to be is Juice, just Juice. And that’s enough.” (pg. 138)

Quietly, this novel allows Juice to be herself and claim her own place in the family. Juice is torn between school and family, knowing that he current decision to stay out of school and help her father is not going to help her learn to read. Her sisters devise ways to help Juice, and make letter cards for her to study. But she also knows that she needs to be in school, though she is unhappy every time she goes to class. This quotation is an excellent starting point for discussing the moral of the story, Juice’s lessons, and what is important in life to Juice and her family.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is literacy important in Juice’s family? How does it affect the family when Pa and Juice cannot read? How do each of the family members feel about reading?
  • Why does Juice dislike going to school? How could her classmates help Juice? How could her teacher help? What ideas do you have for helping somebody who doesn’t know how to read and is afraid of embarrassment?
  • Juice’s family does not have a lot of money. What are some of the things that they do to help each other and survive without money?
  • How does the family celebrate Christmas? What does Christmas mean to each family member? What values are important in the Faulstitch family?
  • Juice learns many lessons through the course of the novel. What are the lessons that Juice learns? Of course, she is not the only one who learns lessons in the Faulstitch family. What lessons do Ma and Pa learn? Juice’s sisters?


Scholastic Discussion Guide 

Publishers Weekly Book Review

“How A Children’s Writer Survives the Newbery Award” with Karen Hesse (Institute of Children’s Literature)


Interested in more Karen Hesse books? Head over to my blog post on The Music of the Dolphins, another great book!

Music of the Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of the DolphinsIt isn’t surprising to read that Karen Hesse was thinking about speech when she began writing this book. But Mila was a girl who surprised everyone, even Karen, as she told her story.

Mila is a young girl discovered by the Coast Guard on a island near the coast of Florida, alone and covered with barnacles, having lived with dolphins for an undetermined amount of time. Mila is unable to communicate initially, and we first read her story through a newspaper article.

Point of view is an interesting aspect in this novel, as Hesse decided to tell much of the story through Mila’s point of view, though her language is developing throughout the story. The typeface and diction reflect Mila’s progress in learning the English language and this technique adds to the rich language of the novel. The words gain in power and meaning as Mila learns new words to express her emotions and the difficulty of being the “feral child” studied by the government, locked in a ward from which she cannot escape, and separate from the ocean and the dolphins who have been her family for so many years. Mila is taught language and music, which Mila enjoys. Those studying her have hopes that she will teach them more about the dolphins and how they communicate. Dolphin talk is the hope of the scientists studying Mila. Yet Mila is learning much more about communication, humans, and music.

Important Quotations for Discussion

“I listen to the music. It is little sounds and little sounds together to make something so big. It is a bird singing and a whale singing and a people singing. It is so many sounds I cannot name. To hear it, it makes a little crying in my eyes.” (page 53)

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I am thinking. But I am alone. I am trapped in the net of the room. In the net of the humans. I think maybe I am drowning in the net of humans.” (page 110)

“But what do people know of me? Only pictures on the television. Only words. I am a thing to look at, to play with. Not a thing to touch and care for.” (page 126)

“They say they want me back, but I think they are not interested in the girl named Mila. I think they are not interested in the girl named Olivia. I think they are interested in the dolphin girl, only the dolphin girl. All my life with humans it will be this way. I will always be this dolphin girl. The humans will be curious the way the dolphin is curious about a piece of garbage floating on the sea. A thing to play with, a thing to drag and toss around, but in the end a thing to leave behind.” (page 156)

Discussion Questions

  • How is Mila different from others? What is most surprising about Mila? What does she find most surprising about her new life with humans?
  • Compare and contrast Mila and Shay. How are they alike? How are they different?
  • Why is Dr. Beck studying Mila and Shay? What does Dr. Beck hope to learn? Do you think it is okay to keep Mila and Shay confined so they can be studied?
  • Why do you think music becomes important to Mila? How does the music change her?
  • How does Mila first react to learning English and new ideas? Does her learning change? How does her motivation for learning change during the story?
  • Why does the typeface change during the story? The language?
  • Why does Mila want to go back to the sea and her dolphin family?
  • What do you think Dr. Beck and the other scientists learned from Mila?
  • Why do you think Karen Hesse decided to call the book The Music of the Dolphins? What does the title mean to you?

Writing Ideas

  • Compare Mila and Shay. How do each of them progress in the story? What kind of relationship do the two of them have? Why does Shay stop progressing? Is Mila right when she says that Shay is locked inside? Why is Mila different?
  • According to Dr. Beck, Mila is the first feral child to make true progress. Does Mila make progress throughout the novel? What about the end of the novel? Is her journey successful? Why or why not? What evidence from the text tells you that this is true?
  • Discuss the role of music in Mila’s life, both in the dolphin world and the human world. What is the music in each world? How is this music part of her life? How do we see Mila’s growth and change through her music? This is a great opportunity to bring in Mozart for students – as certainly Mila’s story includes music, so must the reading, discussing and writing of the novel. Music journals and writing is an excellent activity prior to starting an essay about Mila’s music in The Music of the Dolphins.


Scholastic book page

Interview by Students at Scholastic (scroll down for questions pertaining to The Music of the Dolphins)

Publishers Weekly Review

“How A Children’s Writer Survives the Newbery Award” with Karen Hesse (Institute of Children’s Literature)


Love reading books by Karen Hesse? Check out my blog post about Just Juice!

Yummy Goodness! Reading PIE by Sarah Weeks

PIE is a charming novel.PIE

Not surprisingly, it’s about pie. And a cat named Lardo. And a young girl named Alice. And Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly (famous for her pies and her selfless gifts) who passes away leaving her prized secret recipe for pie crust to Lardo, the cat. And Lardo is left to the care of Alice. Many questions arise. Where is the secret recipe? How is Lardo in charge of this recipe? And what is Alice to do with Lardo, the cranky cat who really doesn’t like anyone? Alice needs help to find these answers…and solve the mystery of the green Chevrolet and the mysterious people who show up in town…also on the hunt for the secret pie recipe….

This book will give readers the opportunity to discuss friendship and family, while reading about Alice, Aunt Polly and Lardo. Yet the book is also a mystery – a classic “whodunit” mystery – and readers will enjoy looking for clues while they make their own guesses about the green Chevrolet and the identity of the cat-napper. (Yes, this book includes a mysterious cat-napping incident!)

Questions to Ponder:


Why does Aunt Polly bake pies? Does she ever try to win a Blueberry Award? What does this tell the reader about Aunt Polly’s character?

What kind of friend is Alice? How does she treat other people? What kind of friend is Charlie?

Describe Ruth, Alice’s mom. How does Alice see her mom? How do you see Alice’s mom?

Friendship & Family

Alice and Charlie become good friends, especially after the death of Aunt Polly. Why do you think they become friends? Why is this friendship important to both of them? How does their friendship change?

Why are Alice and Aunt Polly so close? What makes their friendship special? Why do you think it is more difficult for Alice and her mother to get along?

What do we learn about Ruth when she shows Alice the scrapbook? What do we learn about Ruth and Polly’s relationship? How does Alice’s relationship with her mother change during the novel?


What are some of the “clues” along the way as the mystery unfolds? Who are the main suspects in the cat-napping? After finishing the story, can you go back and find some of the clues that led the readers to the right person?

Aunt Polly’s Wisdom – Important Quotations to Discuss

“Things do not change, we do.” ….”If you want things to be different, you have to start by changing yourself.” This conversation between Aunt Polly and Alice is found on page 122. Alice remembers this conversation, thinking about Charlie’s words “I’d rather be happpy.” Perfect opportunity for discussion (and readers can find about Henry David Thoreau).

“It’s important to be grateful for the gifts we have.” Polly tells Alice on their last evening together, after Alice tells her that she wishes she could sing better. “You are a wonderful songwriter. Don’t you ever forget that.” (page 21-22) This quote is excellent for revisiting after the end of the book. What do we know now in reading Aunt Polly’s words? What are the gifts of each character in the story? Aunt Polly? Alice? Ruth? Why are these gifts important?

“The most important ingredient in a pie is the love that goes into making it.” Aunt Polly told this “secret” to Alice (page 163). An excellent connection for discussing the reasons that Aunt Polly makes pies – and what doesn’t work about all of the people trying to make pies so that they can win the Blueberry Award.

Activity Ideas

  • A cookbook project that includes not only recipes, but also words of wisdom and tidbits about each of the characters. Match the characters with the pies and include a reflection.
  • Imagine that Aunt Polly won another Blueberry Award. Write Aunt Polly’s speech, and think about the wisdom she might want to share when she discusses her pies.
  • After reading the Epilogue, think about what Alice’s Blueberry Award speech would be if she won the award forty years after her Aunt Polly. Think about what Alice has learned over the years, about herself, about Aunt Polly, and those she loves. What would she include in her speech? Write Alice’s speech – and include a favorite pie recipe!

Sarah Weeks Info & Reading

BookPage Interview

bookbox daily (Scholastic reading club blog)

Booktrailer for PIE on YouTube

A note from Sarah Weeks on her website about why she did not include the recipe for Aunt Polly’s famous pie crust in the book….and a “Not So Secret Pie Crust Recipe” courtesy of Michele Stuart. And it DOES look like a good pie recipe if you are in the mood for baking!

Now for another question….what is YOUR favorite pie???

Grandfather Ratoncito Perez and the Apprentice Tooth Fairy

Grandfather Ratoncito PerezTooth fairy? Money? Spanish and English? All the makings of a unique and perfect book for reading —- and learning —- with children! Right away, I was drawn to the clever story and the many potential extension activities that easily build out of this story. No wonder. Look at the author!  Virginia Walton Pilegard. Just recently, I wrote a post about her series of Warlord’s mathematical adventures. She is fabulous. As always, an enjoyable opportunity for teaching and learning.


The original tale of El Ratoncito Perez began 120 years ago, with a small rodent who leaves presents and coins for children under their pillows after losing a tooth. Spanish writer Luis Coloma wrote the story for the eight year old Prince Alphonso (more of the history and original tale). The original story included a moral about helping the poor of the country, but this part of the tale is often forgotten now, as young ones simply know of the mouse who collects teeth in a small red bag. Children in Spain still wait for the Ratoncito Perez after losing a tooth, just as others do all across Latin America and Europe. You will even find a museum for Raton Perez in Madrid, Spain (visit online at The original “home” of Raton Perez was at Calle Arenal #8 near Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Today you can still visit and find a small statue, plaque and gift shop.

El Ratoncito Perez is now known by a variety of names in a variety of locations: el raton de dientes, La Bonne Petite Souris in France, Topolino in Italy, El Ratoncito Perez in Spain and Argentina, el Raton in Mexico, Venezuela & Guatemala. Another opportunity to bring in geography and culture for little ones who want to learn more about the tooth fairies & mice around the world! For more about the original tale and the Spanish Institute for Miguel Cervantes, go to  Centro Virtual Cervantes (Spanish)


Now this story of the tooth mouse actually includes an apprentice tooth fairy – and she needs some assistance with money. Jenny is a young fairy, new to her job delivering money to children who have lost a tooth. She attempts to carry one hundred pennies, only to drop them because it is just too heavy. Among the scattered pennies she discovers a door and a voice – leading her to Grandfather Ratoncito Perez and his grandson, Miguel. Grandfather helps Jenny understand how the one hundred pennies are the same amount of money as four quarters, twenty nickels, and ten dimes. Finally Jenny decides to carry ten dimes in her bag, as this is the lightest option. She flies off to deliver her coins, much to the happiness of young Joshua. When she returns to the fairy Queen, she tells her the poem she composed while flying home.

006Four quarters make one dollar;

Twenty nickles just as well.

Ten dimes are light to carry,

One hundred fairy pennies fell.

This little rhyme is perfect for young ears and will help kids understand pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. A coffee filter works perfectly for a little round bag like Jenny’s bag in the book, and a little piece of yarn to tie the bag of money – students can practice with their fairy bags of money and Jenny’s poem as well!


5 Beautiful Picture Books About Artists

5 Artist Picture Books

Diego Diegoby Jeanette Winter

Written by Jeanette Winter, this book will captivate you with illustrations and the story of Diego Rivera (in Spanish and English). The story is informative for all ages and conveys Diego Rivera’s celebration of Mexican culture and the people of his country. The story serves as an excellent introduction to his artwork and life. Older students can continue their research to delve more into his childhood and later, his move to Paris and back to Mexico, especially as this influenced his artwork. Students will learn about his murals as well as his passion for social justice.

VivaFridaViva Frida

by Yuyi Morales

Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s celebrated artist and passionate woman is seen through vivid language and poetry – all accompanied by lush, vibrant and colorful illustrations. The poem is told in both English and Spanish, and celebrates Frida with strong verbs and a style that evokes Frida’s artwork. The author’s note includes insight and her own connection to Frida Kahlo. This book is a great jumping off point for learning more about Frida’s life and artwork. (For another great picture book that will teach you more about Frida’s life, check out Frida by Jonah Winter).

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauFantastic Jungles of Henri Matisse by Michelle Markel

The jungles are living and breathing in the work of Rousseau. This is the story of a self-taught artist who persevered and followed his dream, only beginning to paint at the age of forty. The text is engaging and aptly bring life to the colorful illustrations – which immerse the reader in art just as Rousseau became immersed in his own paintings.  Adults will also appreciate the myriad of historical figures who appear in the illustrations and add depth to the picture book for older readers. Those who know about Rousseau will likely still find new details about his life and work, and children will be inspired by his dedication, perseverance and determination.

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri MatisseThe Iridescence of Birds by Patricia Maclachlan

Matisse is celebrated with beautiful illustrations inspired by his hometown and the French countryside. The cold, gray village is juxtaposed with light, color, patterns, paint and a home filled with opportunity for art. Young Henri and older Henri are both found in this story, and the reader can see the life story of the artist through the beautiful illustrations. Matisse’s family had pigeons and he would observe the birds, paying close attention how the light would change their colors as they moved – the iridescence of birds. You will also find author’s and illustrator’s notes which bring insight and thought to the story of Henri Matisse and the writing of this picture book.

My Name is GeorgiaMy Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter

Flowers, nature, the American Southwest, sunset, the deserts of New Mexico. Georgia O’Keefe holds an important place as an American artist. This book appeals to readers of all ages, telling Georgia O’Keefe’s story in a first person narrative. Georgia, as a young girl, was unique in her dress, manners, and focus. At the age of twelve, she knew she would be an artist. With the support of her family she attended art school and forged her own path in the male-dominated art world. She painted the beauty of nature and landscape as she saw it, with her own unique perspective. The illustrations are lovely and will transport you to Georgia’s world. The biography is simple yet interesting. Readers will be intrigued and captivated by Georgia’s life and her intense passion for art.

Of course there are many wonderful picture biographies of artists – these are only five! What are your favorite picture books about artists?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


When we recently read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for our young girls book club, I couldn’t believe how many plot summaries and multiple choice questions I found online! The internet abounds with chapter summaries, spark notes (boo) and honestly, rather boring questions. Call me crazy, but why ruin such a fun, interesting book with multiple choice and fill in the blank questions? Surely there are some better discussion topics and ideas for Roald Dahl’s fabulous novel of candy and children and life lessons!?!?!?! Of course there are some great resources out there that will help you teach the story of Charlie Bucket and learn all about Roald Dahl in the process!

Right away, I knew this classic book was a hit because the girls were so excited to start talking. They were already sharing and talking with each other before everyone was seated! A teacher’s dream come true!

An obvious discussion starter is “what did you like?” and I found that the girls had plenty to say about this! Everyone shared at least one (but sometimes five or six) scenes, or candies, or just silly events in the book that they loved! Watching one idea spark another was fun – just when one girl shared a moment she loved, someone else had another to share! Brilliant.

Our discussion kept going for a long time – definitely our longest discussion of the year. The topics ranged from candy to characters to the “moral” of the story to predictions for the future. The girls were on a roll with this book – one of our best discussions! They loved Charlie Bucket! And all of the candy!

Possible Ideas for Teaching and Exploration


This book is all about imagination. (Of course there is the Pure Imagination song from the 1971 film – you can easily find the clip of Gene Wilder singing on youtube) Imagination is one of the great qualities of Willy Wonka, and so imagination is an excellent topic for your students. How is imagination part of Willy Wonka’s factory? Why is it so important for his business? Who has more imagination – kids or adults? Why? Who do you know with the craziest, wildest imagination? What candy would you want to create? What room would you want to visit at the factory and why? Can you create a new invention that the Oompa-Loompahs could use in the factory?


charlie2Quentin Blake is a British illustrator and cartoonist who brought Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to life with amazing illustrations. You can find out more about Quentin Blake and see his artwork (from Charlie as well as many other children’s book) at   Even better, when you go to the Quentin Blake website, you will also find a “fun and free” tab that will take to some great pages to download for the kids – and COLOR! What could be better?!?! Go HERE for the link to download and color. Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Charlie & the Chocolate Factory are now iconic – and perfect for discussion. The illustrations can be a great starting point for the kids’ own illustrations or “one-pager” assignment.

My requirements for a fabulous one-pager:

  • color or shading
  • use the entire page
  • create a border
  • use at least one meaningful illustration (but hopefully several!)
  • at least one important quotation from the novel
  • on the back, write the important quotation again and then explain why it is important (depending on grade level, you may want to require one full paragraph or more)

One of the reasons that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can work so well with a one-pager is the great visuals found throughout the book. Guiding your students through the process of a one-pager will also be an opportunity to discuss descriptive writing!

What If?
This is a great starting point for questions. What if Charlie did not find the golden ticket? What would have happened to Charlie and his family? What do you think of how Charlie handled the money that he found? Did he do the right thing? What would you have done? Guiding the discussion carefully, this is an excellent opportunity for character analysis. What traits does Charlie have that may help him be successful? What kind of candy factory owner would Charlie be? What will the factory be like in the future? What if Charlie did something else – if he didn’t get the golden ticket? What would he do in the future?


Kids are quick to point out the faults of some of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One girl told me right away, “the parents didn’t do a very good job with Veruca Salt – they should have given her more rules! And made her do some chores instead of giving her everything she wants!” This was an excellent chance to talk about why sometimes we need rules and chores. Yes, the children have their flaws, and the readers can’t help but share in the amusement of some of the interesting things that happen to Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike. Why doesn’t Willy Wonka select one of the other children at the end of the book? What character traits are less than ideal for running a big chocolate factory? What is Roald Dahl telling us about the characteristics he likes to see in children?

Some other great online resources to check out:charlie3

Roald Dahl Biography at

Scholastic biography of Roald Dahl (A previously unpublished chapter “The Vanilla Fudge Room”)

Have you taught Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or read the book with your children? What are your ideas? Please share!

Hands Down, the Best Book About Teaching Shakespeare. Ever.

Worksheets, vocabulary quizzes, multiple-choice, fill in the blank, plot summaries, countless books about teaching Shakespeare. Some are good, some are okay, others are less than okay (I found a book once that was literally just a bound set of boring worksheets, boo). A colleague once mentioned how challenging it is to actually find the “good stuff” on teaching Shakespeare that can be used in a high school classroom. I had to agree. So began my quest in searching for a fabulous Shakespeare book.

When I picked up Reading Shakespeare With Young Adults, by Mary Ellen Dakin, which was just published and brand new (there is something exciting about a book still shrink wrapped!) I knew that this book was different.

What do I love about this book? First off, it is written by Mary Ellen Dakin, a high school English teacher who teaches Shakespeare and draws on her own experience with high schoolers in the classroom. (Note: I’ve never met Mary Ellen Dakin, but I would love to hang out in a classroom with her and watch her teach.) Dakin’s approach to Shakespeare is user-friendly – read “high school friendly” – she doesn’t assume that students know more than they do. She assumes they need help reading Shakespeare. And they do. There is a lot of academic, graduate level writing about Shakespeare and the teaching of Shakespeare – at the university and graduate school level. This is not one of those books. This book is meant for teachers at the high school level, who are likely teaching students at a variety of reading levels. Romeo and Juliet is required reading at many high schools in the 9th grade year – regardless of whether the students are struggling readers or college preparatory bound for AP/IB classes. Dakin’s book will help you figure out how to teach Shakespeare to ALL of your students, at all levels.

So now the nitty gritty. What exactly is in this book that makes it different from the other books about teaching Shakespeare?

1. Vocabulary. It’s obvious that Shakespeare involves a different set of vocabulary, which creates quite the challenge for our modern students. Archaic vocabulary abounds and while I’ve seen my share of crossword puzzles and word searches using archaic vocabulary, Dakin approaches the idea of archaic vocabulary with a different slant. Her approach helps students ease their apprehension about unfamiliar words and they learn new words at the same time. Now for a light bulb moment: stage directions. I’m sad to say that I never spent much time with my students on stage directions. Maybe a quick aside here and there, explaining a specific stage direction if someone asked. But I never actually planned anything with stage directions in mind and I quickly realized the fault in my ways when I read Dakin’s ideas for teaching students about stage directions. This is such an important aspect of reading a play and Dakin will walk you through the process of teaching students functional vocabulary.

2. Vocabulary again. Specifically character vocabulary and tone. Analyzing and discussing characters, generating character vocabulary, discussing tone. Amazing. I love having a tone wall in the classroom and Dakin’s ideas for teaching tone – and how to read lines with different tones – will help you bring more “tone” to your classroom (add words to the wall!) and bring more depth and thoughtful analysis to your class discussions as you read.

3. Prereading. This was another light bulb moment for me. While I had created some halfway successful prereading activities with my students, I had never created anything as deliberate and carefully constructed as Dakin suggests in her book and I immediately saw the value in spending this learning time BEFORE starting the play. Another bonus? Many of Dakin’s ideas can easily be adapted and used with other challenging works of literature. Even better.

Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults by Mary Ellen Dakin

Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults by Mary Ellen Dakin

So “Character Bookmarks” are one idea for prereading a play. (Yes, there are other ideas too!) This is perfect with Romeo and Juliet when students are starting out in unfamiliar territory and organizing the characters into Capulets and Montagues on a bookmark will help them not only with starting the play but also as they continue to read. This tool will help them make sense of the play and keep track of characters. I have taught Catch-22 many times with Advanced Placement Literatuare & Composition and I cannot imagine it without a character bookmark. The students find the character bookmark to be immensely helpful. I also share with my students my own experience reading Anna Karenina. I decided to read it several years ago on my own and I knew that I would need help. I spent significant time online reading about characters and creating my own character bookmark. The time spend reading and organizing was very helpful as I started the novel and I referred to my rather large (even folded in half!) bookmark throughout the entire novel, adding notes and page numbers as I read. This tool made it possible for me to read a difficult novel, just as the book marks help our students make sense of Shakespeare.

4. Writing. Annotating. I love annotating. And I believe that we often do not spend enough time teaching our students how to annotate. It takes time and modeling. But teaching students to annotate as they read, ask questions and make notes (connections!) is always time well spent. Dakin outlines ideas for helping students specifically annotate Shakespeare. Sticky notes, copies of texts, close reading. How do you construct an effective close reading of a passage? Mary Ellen Dakin can help you with that process. All of this adds up to TIME WELL SPENT.

5. New ideas. Storyboarding. Reading in companies. Multiple readings of characters. It is impossible to read this book and not be inspired to try new ideas. Dakin outlines so many new ideas – and focuses on ideas that will help bring the full range of Shakespeare to students (the eyes and the ears!) that you will be inspired and energized to bring out storyboards, draw images, and bring performances to a new level (no reading of the script with eyes looking downward!).

6. And finally, a chapter on sound. Shakespeare is meant to be heard, and Mary Ellen Dakin will take you through the process of exploring sound with your students. This is not always easy and quite often neglected.  What is a sound inventory? How do we tell “sound stories?” What about how a word sounds? And meter? Rhyme, alliteration, puns, repetition, irony, assonance? How can we effectively teach sound?

There are so many reasons to like this book and these are a few. I promise that if you spend time with this book, you will have your own light bulb moments. It is all time well spent! Especially for you fans of the Bard out there! Now go forth and read!

One more great piece of news is that after you are finished reading this book, Mary Ellen Dakin has another book for you to read!  Reading Shakespeare Film First was published in 2012. Stay tuned because I will be reviewing it soon and adding a new post!

Do you have any favorite Shakespeare resources? Have you read Reading Shakespeare with Young Adults? Please share!








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