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4 Amazing Picture Books About Poets

4 Amazing Picture Books About Poets

Celebrating Poetry Month!

And my love of picture books as well… here are four fabulous picture books about poets….ready to enjoy wPablo Nerudaith readers of all levels!

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

This has to be one of my favorite covers. I love the artwork and the visual of the words in the tree and flowing through the beautiful green and blue, all at the fingertips of Pablo Neruda, poet of the people. When you open the book, you will find captivating text and more illustrations that will capture the mind of the young reader. Neruda’s words are woven throughout the illustrations, evoking the play of language and love of words that readers find in Pablo Neruda’s poems. Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. After Neruda’s death, Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote

“….he carries his poetry to the people

as simply and calmly

as a loaf of bread.”

This line became the inspiration for the title of Monica Brown’s book. Readers will be inspired to continue reading his poetry and learn more about his life. The illustrations are memorable – the colors are bright and engaging, and they celebrate people! A perfect introduction to Pablo Neruda, a poet that speaks to so many around the world.

Emily Emily by Michael Bedard, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

This is the story of a young girl and her quiet, reclusive neighbor, the poet Emily Dickinson. One day, the girl brings a gift of lily bulbs to the poet and is given a poem in return. While the story is fictional, this unassuming tale will impress you with its language and sparse beauty. The illustrations speak to the mood of the story and bring life to the words without detracting or overwhelming the language. Readers will find quiet examples of alliteration, metaphor, rhyme, imagery, personification, echoing so many of the literary techniques that Dickinson masterfully employed in her own poetry. All told with through the voice of a child, the point of view adds to both the subtlety and power of the story.

Enormous Smallness A Story of ee cummingsEnormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Magical. The illustrations are beautiful, incorporating language and collages in a way that will interest the reader and bring together the poetry and words of ee cummings in a new light. This picture book incorporates some of cummings own poems in the story, which of course makes it an excellent introduction to his life and work. The poems also give a sense of his voice, which is even more powerful when surrounded by Matthew Burgess’ words and the illustrations of Kris Di Giacomo. Of course elephants are part of this book, as well as “birds who are the secret of living.” Readers will discover that the images and metaphors in the poems are engaging and accessible for readers to connect, discuss and enjoy.

Coming Home from the life of Langston HughesComing Home Langston Hughes  written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

The pairing of the dreamer and the concept of home is woven together in the story of Langston Hughes, one of the greatest African-American poets whose words still speak to readers today. This book is a perfect companion for introducing readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes, giving an appropriate and accurate historical context to his life and the time period in which he lived. The tale is one of home, an easily identifiable concept and theme in so many of Hughes’ works. The concepts of loneliness, happiness, freedom, overcoming obstacles, achieving the seemingly impossible dreams. Readers will quickly recognize the parallel themes and connected ideas found in Hughes’ poems, such as “Theme for English B,” “I, Too,” “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Dream Variations,” all easily paired with this picture book.

Neruda, Dickinson, Cummings, Hughes. Fabulous poets to read and share! What are your favorite picture books about poets?

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst

Close reading.

Looking through titles of journal articles, professional development books and teacher training sessions, it seems that close reading is the buzz word of the year. And yes, I already overheard a parent ask, “Is it really something new? Weren’t we all reading texts and answering questions thirty years ago too? What changed?”close.reading

Actually, a lot has changed. We have so many people to thank for helping us understand how readers make sense of text and how meaning is created. (I’m just going to add one gigantic thank you to Louise Rosenblatt at this point!) And while students have been answering questions for many, many years, there is still more for teachers to learn on the subject of reading. Now when we talk about close reading, Notice and Note is the book that will become a turning point for teachers everywhere. I have no doubt that Kylene Beers & Bob Probst’s text will become the definitive text on the subject of close reading for narrative texts. And now I will add: Thank you Kylene and Bob!

What will you learn when you read this book? Topics that will keep your highlighter in use—-

  • What does literacy look like in the 21st century?
  • What are text dependent questions?
  • How are they part of the Common Core State Standards?
  • How can I create and use text dependent questions with the text I am teaching?

And of course, the signposts. What are signposts? Kylene and Bob have identified six signposts that we need to teach:

  • Aha Moment

    Using color with signposts

    Using color with signposts

  • Again & Again – Repetition
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Tough Questions
  • Compare & Contrast
  • Memory Moment

We know what good readers do when they read: they make connections, construct meaning, ask questions and try to answer them. They engage with the text. And we know that often, our struggling readers don’t do these things. They miss the cues for the important moments in the text. Teaching your students the signposts will bring about the “aha moment” – yep, and that is one of the signposts! It is the “wait – that was repetition. We read that phrase in the last chapter. I remember it. Why did the author repeat it? Why is it important?” And we stop, notice it and then take note. Then we build and make connections. So after you learn about the six signposts, you will be ready for anchor questions, reading logs and charts. You will be ready to build these concepts into your curriculum.

  • What are anchor questions?
  • How can I use anchor questions to help students further their analysis of complex texts?
  • How can I use a reading log in my classroom? How can I use signposts with independent reading?
Signpost Bookmark

Signpost Bookmark with color

You will also discover that many teachers are already sharing their signpost bookmarks, charts and reference materials. Check out pinterest boards and Teachers Pay Teachers for plenty of ideas (you will find not only bookmarks, but also posters, anchor charts, flip books, strategy cards, reading logs and more). I made a color coordinated signpost page (to use with colored post-its) and bookmark as well. The book will also give you some fabulous inspiration for creating signpost charts with your students for continued reference throughout the year. The appendix include reading log samples. You can also head to the Heinemann website and find the pdfs of the documents in the appendix, which is quite handy. (Check out the Companion Resources tab)

At the heart of this text is creating opportunity for student engagement with texts – and fostering meaningful, thoughtful engagement and conversations that will create new reading habits. This isn’t a text about how to teach a novel, but rather how to teach students to become better readers of all novels that they pick up, whether it is in the library or the classroom or at home.

Friends, this is a book you will want on a shelf in your classroom. Read. Annotate. Highlight. Start teaching the signposts. And drop me a line to let me know how your students are doing with their close reading!

Holy bagumba! A girl, a squirrel, a vaccuum, a lamp and more! Flora & Ulysses – The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures is definitely a book that will entertain and delight young readers  – as well as  their teachers and parents!flora.ulysses First off, I LOVED the illustrations and the comics. Such a great part of the story and we see Flora’s character develop both through the text and the comics. Flora is a young girl who often finds herself alone and looking for an escape through her comics. She is often frustrated by her mother (and her mother’s writing of romance novels) and is torn between two households, as she visits her father on weekends at an apartment complex. When Ulysses, the flying, poetry-writing, superhero squirrel enters her life, Flora sets off on a journey that will help her discover friendship, happiness, and a little bit of peace amid the chaos of life. She also discovers laughter. While reading this book, you will laugh out loud at Ulysses and Flora as they brave giant donuts and crazy mishaps, all while encountering very real and often familiar problems of sadness and uncertainty. Reading this book will bring about discussions of loneliness, hope, friends, happiness, adventure and love. Ultimately, Flora finds hope, and this is at the heart of the novel.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

  • Flora and her mother. What do you think of Flora and her mother? How does Flora feel about her mom? How do we know this as the reader? What clues are there about how Flora feels? Can you find a good quote from the book about Flora and her mother?
  • Flora misses her father terribly. What do we know about Flora’s father? What does Flora do when she visits her dad? Why does she look forward to these visits?
  • Ulysses astounds everyone with his poetry. And Flora declares him to be a superhero. What is a superhero? Do you think Ulysses is a superhero? Why or why not? What does he do that is out of the ordinary? Are any other characters in the book “superheros” in your opinion? What do we learn about Ulysses through his poems?
  • William (not Billy) tells Flora that he misses her. Why is this important to Flora? What do we learn about William (not Billy)? Why does he like to be called William? What does Flora think about William at first? Does she start to think differently about William? How do we know? What do you think of their friendship at the end of the book? What brings William and Flora together?
  • Ullysses the squirrel. What are some of the funny things that Ulysses does in the book? What are some of the most unbelievable things that Ulysses does – with Flora as his witness?
  • Why does Flora think that her mother wants the lamp? Is she correct? Are you surprised about what Flora’s mother was looking for during the chaos? Why? Or why not? Is Flora surprised?
  • Change. Many things – and relationships – change throughout the book. Flora and William. Flora and her mother. Flora and her father. Dr. Meescham and Mr. Klaus (the cat) bring about change for many of the characters. Possible essay topics for change: How does Flora change throughout the novel? How do we see Flora change? How are her parents part of this change? How does Flora and William Spiver’s relationship change throughout the book? What do we learn about Flora and William, and what is important about this relationship? What do we learn through Dr. Meescham and what do Flora, William, and Flora’s parents learn through Dr. Meescham?



I am not a fan of vocabulary worksheets, period. Probably because I spent a lot of time in junior high filling in vocabulary worksheets, matching, fill in the blank, and every week was a new set of twenty words. Yes, twenty. Now, reading Flora and Ulysses will present some amazing opportunities to teach new vocabulary words – without worksheets!

Words that cannot be missed when you read this book:

  • malfeasance
  • hyperbole
  • unanticipated
  • hallucination
  • mundane

Now are there other words in Flora and Ulysses to teach? Absolutely. This is a list of five words from the book. And I like these particular five words because they are important to the story, often repeated, and they provide multiple connections throughout the story. I also like the idea of limiting the vocabulary words for focus – it would be easy to come up with twenty words in this novel, but that doesn’t mean that the students will truly learn all of them. Five words will allow us to focus on depth of knowledge with each of the words. These words are also perfect for word mapping. Creating a word map will allow students to learn the new word in context and expand upon their knowledge of the word as they read the book. I like the word map pdf and discussion at Read Write Think

This word map pdf (available at Read Write Think) is a great resource. I also recommend adding additional blank pages and allowing students to keep all word maps/pages together while reading the novel. They will be able to add when they encounter one of their words again or a scene that they connect to one of their vocabulary words. Making more connections to other words and scenes in the book will help them solidify their understanding of the word. Malfeasance!


Ulysses is a squirrel who writes poetry. We have two of his poems in the book, “What It Said” on page 65 and the Epilogue “Squirrel Poetry” on page 232. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss poetry and point of view! What do we learn about Ulysses from his poetry? Can you write a poem from Ulysses’ point of view? Can you write a poem from the point of view of Flora, after the final chapter – Flora’s own “Epilogue”? What would Flora want everyone to learn from her poem? What would she want her parents to learn about her?

Websites & Resources

New York Times article “Super Squirrel”

Kate DiCamillo on ‘Flora and Ulysses’ (YouTube)

Holy bagumba! Please read this fabulous adventure of a girl and a squirrel, and then please tell me what you think of this book!

Florida, a Diaper Gang, the Great Depression and a Mysterious Pirate Adventure! Turtle in Paradise awaits…

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm

Lately I have been on a reading kick with historical fiction, especially for the middle grades. There are some amazing books out there and I was thrilled to discover Turtle in Paradise. How did I miss this book when it won the Newbery Honor in 2010? I don’t know! But I’m so glad that I found Jennifer Holm’s book – it is a must read! Turtle in Paradise is set in the Florida Keys during the Great Depression.turtle Turtle, our main character, is an eleven year old girl who doesn’t care for Shirley Temple and does not appreciate any comparisons! She is sent to live with her aunt and cousins (new family members!) in the Florida Keys. She quickly discovers that life in this strange place involves the Diaper gang (some of her cousins who watch babies in a wagon that they pull around town), interesting characters and nicknames (Pork Chop, Slow Poke, Kermit, Beans, Pudding), a mysterious Grandma Nana Philly and of course, secret treasure.


Right away, Holm introduces unique characters who are three dimensional and fascinating! This book presents an excellent opportunity to teach readers about characterization. Perfect for a character study!

  • Character name (and nickname) What does the name and/or nickname tell us? Why do you think this nickname is appropriate for the character?
  • List three interesting things that you learned about the character.
  • Find two important quotes in the book about your character or something that your character does. Using a double entry journal style page, write your own thoughts about why these quotes are important in the right hand column. Why are your quotes important? What do we learn about the character from the quotes?
  • Think about an image for your character (perhaps something from the book or something that you create for your character). What is the image? Draw your image and write one paragraph about why this image is a good representation for your character.

Foreshadowing and Plot

The structure and storyline of Turtle in Paradise lends itself well to discussing plot and foreshadowing. A few places for stopping to discuss and make predictions (and an excellent opportunity for open-ended journals before discussion).

  • Chapter 3: Lucky as an Orphan. This is Turtle’s arrival in Florida and introduction to the Diaper Gang. It’s a great place to stop and talk about the chapter titles and make some predictions about what might happen to Turtle in the Florida Keys.
  • Chapter 11: Ladies Who Lunch. Turtle’s introduction to Nana Philly is a good place to discuss characterization. What do we learn about Turtle? What do we learn about Nana Philly?
  • Chapter 13: Believing in Monsters. Adventure! What happens that causes excitement for the kids? Why do you think the author called this chapter “believing in monsters?” Is this chapter suspenseful? Why?
  • Chapter 16: The Rescue Party. A great chance to make some predictions! What has surprised you about the story so far? What do you think will happen after the rescue? What will Turtle’s future be when the kids return?
  • Chapter 18: Paradise Found. The final chapter when Turtle’s adventure comes to a close. Why is this chapter called “paradise found?” What are the good things that happen, even after the disappointments?

Turtle in Paradise is a novel that readers will enjoy and a great opportunity to learn about characterization, foreshadowing, plot and suspense. And if you are interested in using other books to help readers learn more about the Great Depression and the time period of Turtle’s story, check out the following picture books and history resources. A good chance to create a text set and let kids explore!

Great Depression Picture Books to Accompany Turtle in Paradise

Potato: A Story from the Great Depression by Kate Lied

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter

Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story by Dandi Mackall

The Lucky Star by Judy Young

More Resources (some longer books worth the read!)

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman

Children of the Dust Bowl – The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley

The Great Depression: A History Just for Kids by KidsCap

Cinderella Fun with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

ellaElla Enchanted

Yes, here she is, Cinderella! In a slightly different form, of course. Meet Ella, who has been given the wonderful gift of obedience from the fairy Lucinda. Of course, this obedience is not a welcome gift and poor Ella has quite the time living with the curse that forces her to do whatever anyone commands her to do. Especially when two rather unkind, greedy step-sisters enter her life. What is poor Ella to do?

This is a great book for discussion with students 3rd-6th grade, and the book easily lends itself to many extension activities, including possibilities for teaching characterization, setting, point of view, and theme.

The Curse

Why does Lucinda believe that her gift is a wonderful piece of magic? Why is it actually a curse for Ella? Is Ella’s curse ever a good thing?

Does Lucinda ever give gifts that are truly good? What is the worst gift that Lucinda bestows upon a person in the novel? Why is this the worst gift? How will it affect the person’s life?

Do you think you could live with the curse of obedience? Have you tried it? How long did it take until you were not thrilled with obeying every command?

The Fairy Book

Ella’s fairy book lets her see things that others cannot. How do you think that this book works? Why can’t Hattie see what Ella sees in the book? Why does Ella see certain things at particular times? Why do the stories change? Is this small magic or big magic? Is it a curse or a gift?

The Evil Stepsister – Hattie (and Olive!)

When we first meet Hattie, it is only for a brief moment. What are the first clues about Hattie’s character and what type of person she is? How does Hattie figure out Ella’s curse? Why does she decide to keep Ella’s obedience a secret? What do we know about Hattie through her relationship with Ella? Compare Hattie and Olive. How are they alike? How are they different?


Most decidedly, languages are an integral part of Ella Enchanted. Ella has a talent for languages and is eager to learn Ayorthaian. What does this tell us about Ella? Why are there so many different languages in the book? How is this important to the setting of Ella Enchanted?

Ella & Prince Char

How does Prince Char feel about Ella? When does Ella begin to realize Prince Char’s feelings for her? What are the clues that help Ella figure out his emotions? Ella doesn’t want to let Prince Char know how she feels. Why is this? What do we learn about Ella’s character through her decisions regarding Prince Char?

Ella & Cinderella

The story Ella Enchanted is loosely based on the classic fairy tale Cinderella. What do you think are the most important similarities? What are the most important differences between the two stories? How are Ella and Cinderella different?

Lessons Learned

While this story does not include a traditional school (finishing school is certainly not the normal school experience today!), there are many lessons learned throughout the story. By the end of the story, Ella has learned many important things that help make her a courageous, thoughtful, and caring girl. Make a list of the lessons that Ella learned. Hint: think about the lessons she learned from Mandy, Hattie, Prince Char and her parents. What is perhaps the most important lesson of all? What helps her break the curse and how is this an important lesson for Ella?

Ideas for Beyond Ella

  • Characterization.  Venn diagram (or an alternate graphic organizer) for Ella & Cinderella. Ask students to record each characteristic along with a line from the text that shows the characteristic in play in the story. Also good preparation for a compare/contrast essay using characters as the topic.
  • Setting. How is the setting important in Ella Enchanted? This is an excellent opportunity to explore the depth of the setting. This goes beyond just the setting of “Frell” as a place. How is magic a part of the setting? Fairies? Ogres? Gnomes? How does the setting affect the story when Ella moves to the city – and finishing school? What are the details that make Frell (and all of the places in the book) realistic? How does the author make the setting unique and realistic for the reader?
  • Writing Project:  What is a fairy tale? With the entire class, create a list of fairy tale characteristics. Next, take a fairy tale (not Cinderella) and rewrite the fairy tale in a different setting or a different time period. This is fun to do as a class – and you should expect your students to have some very creative ideas! It is also great preparation for the students to write their own versions of the fairy tale on their own. After the students finish their writing (this will take some time!) regroup as a class and share. Now compare the original fairy tale with the new version. Ask students to record their changes for the new fairy tale. What changed in the new version? Why did you make the changes? What is still the same? Read and share!

Cinderella Picture Books

There are many, many wonderful Cinderella picture books out there, and countless versions of this classic tale. Here are a few of my favorites that work well for pairing with Ella Enchanted. You will find that they lend themselves well to compare/contrast and studies in characterization and setting.

Have you read Ella Enchanted? Have you read this book with your students? Please share!

Teaching Mathematical Concepts with the Warlord’s Series of Picture Books


The Warlord’s Series of books by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord series of books invites readers to explore mathematical concepts in a narrative format. The illustrations (courtesy of Nicolas Debon) are inviting and engaging, using clever details and rich color to bring the story to life and help the reader see the mathematical concepts at play in each story. Each story involves a different activity for further exploration of the concept in the book. The activities are easily adaptable to the classroom or can be used at home for a fun afternoon project. Most of the activities involve items you can quickly find at home or in the classroom. Have fun with this!


  • The Warlord’s Kites In this story, Chuan and Jing Jing seek to save the palace from a growing army outside the palace gates. While the elders hold back the gates and decide to wait out the invaders, Jing Jing has a clever plan to keep the invaders away from the palace. Chuan teaches her how to measure the area of a square so that she can form three square kites. Her plan involving kites and bamboo flutes displays wit and ingenuity – and the invaders quickly flee. After reading the story, students will find directions for forming their own square kite.
  • The Warlord’s Puzzle An artist presents the warlord with a beautiful blue tile, but sadly it breaks, and the artist cannot fit the pieces back together. A contest is announced and people from all over the country line up to solve the warlord’s puzzle. Many people fail at the task, but finally a young boy studies the shapes and quietly begins to piece the tile together, creaming a square once again. This tangram puzzle has fascinated people for centuries, and readers can trace their own tangram puzzle and play with the intriguing shapes.
  • The Warlord’s Beads A counting adventure for all who have spentwarlord.beads time counting blocks, beads, boxes, anything at all! This might be my personal favorite, as I really do love the possibilities that come with an abacus and I love the idea that readers can create their own abacus. Chuan is a young boy who is worried about his peasant father, a man who has been given the task of counting. He often loses his place while counting carved boxes and consequently, the number always changes. The warlord is concerned about theft and Chuan’s father needs a clever way to count in order to assure the warlord that his boxes are all present. Chuan comes up with the idea of counting beads using small switches to keep track of the beads. This method helps Chuan and his father continue the counting. Using simple supplies (a cardboard frame, pipe cleaners and O shaped cereal (Cheerios!), readers can create their own abacus and start counting! A fun activity that will engage readers and inspire many counting sessions of course!

  • The Warlord’s Fish The story of a sandstorm and a desert journey, this is the tale of the compass. Chuan and the artist are kidnapped and led through the desert on a long journey. Sand obscures everything and they cannot use the sun to find their direction. It seems that all are lost and no one is able to find their way out of the desert. But Chuan and the artist have a plan, using a strange fish and a bowl of water. This fish will always point south when floating in water, and although everyone is doubtful, they have no choice but to follow the fish. Fortunately, the fish does lead the way and the lost wanderers make their way to an oasis. Chuan and the artist are rewarded with their freedom and then began carving fish to create magnets that travelers could use for their own compasses. In fact, a south pointing compass using magnets was created in third century BC in China, and readers can then learn about how these early compasses were carved and often shaped like fish or turtles. Using a styrofoam cup and a paper clip, readers can create their own compass.
  • The Warlord’s Puppeteers This is the tale of young Chuan and his mentor artist, who travel with a troupe of puppeteers and the puppeteer’s daughter. When the precious puppets (which take three months to create) are stolen by bandits, all are despondent. But the artist is determined to make new puppets for the puppeteer’s daughter, following the Chinese tradition of true proportions of life in the puppets. The new puppets must have a body that is six times the size of the head. After reading the book, students can create their own sock puppets while learning about ratios.
  • The Warlord’s Messengers  In this tale, the warlord is sixteen days away from the emperor’s palace, not knowing that his presence is requested in just fourteen days. Chuan and Jing Jing know that the messenger is on his way to meet the warlord, but they need to arrive at the warlord’s camp right away, ahead of the messenger in order to give the warlord enough traveling time to make the journey to the palace. They built a sailing cart (like the land-sailing wind driven carriage of 550 in China, which reached thirty to forty miles per hour). Chuan and Jing Jing are able to meet the warlord in just a matter of hours, delivering the message and saving valuable time, while the messenger used a horse and met them two days later. The ingenuity once again saves the day. Readers can then create their own windsock using recycled household items (oatmeal box, old sheet or pillowcase, and string).
  • The Warlord’s Alarm  The idea of creating an alarm without a clock is a tricky one, but Chuan and Jing Jing do not warlord.alarmhave a choice in this matter. They must come up with an idea to wake the warlord before the sun rises and set out on their journey to the palace. They can only sleep for four hours before the wake-up call, but initially they are at a loss for how to achieve an effective alarm in the middle of the night. Fortunately, they remember a leaking water bag and eventually devise a simplified Chinese water clock that will help wake them (and wash them!) in time for their journey. The story displays creative problem-solving skills and their ingenuity is indeed successful, which readers will appreciate. The story is also an opportunity for students to learn about the ancient Chinese water clocks and even a three-story mechanical clock, built in 1088, which will fascinate readers with its ability to keep track of time.

Have you tried any of these activities in your classroom? What is your favorite?


The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill – An Alaskan Adventure for Students!

The Year of Miss Agnes – in Alaska!MissAgnes

Set in 1948, this book is narrated by 10 year old Frederika. The kids in this one room school house are accustomed to teachers who come – and then go – rather quickly. But Miss Agnes is a bit different, leading the kids to wonder if perhaps this teacher will stay for the whole school year!

Miss Agnes tosses the old textbooks and sets about teaching the students about maps, timelines, speaking properly and reading books (and not the Dick and Jane books that the kids do not enjoy reading!). This book will help students learn about Alaska, the Athabascan natives, and what life was like in a one-room schoolhouse – and a small fishing village –  many years ago.


Questions Worth Discussing

  • Miss Agnes is a teacher unlike the other teachers. How is she different?
  • How does Fred’s mother feel about school? Why do you think she feels this way?
  • What are school days like for Fred and her friends? How is this similar to your school days? How is it different?
  • Why did so many teachers leave the village in previous years? Why is Miss Agnes a good teacher? How is she a good teacher for Fred and her friends?
  • Why does Miss Agnes change the Dick and Jane readers for the students? What does this tell us about Miss Agnes and what kind of teacher (and person) she is? Why do you think the students did not like the Dick and Jane books? Why do you think they like the new books?
  • Miss Agnes believes that learning happens even after school is done- for adults as well. She believes that adults should keep learning throughout their lives. Does this happen in the book for the adults? How do you know? Do you think Miss Agnes learns some new things from her students in Fred’s class? What does Miss Agnes learn? What does Momma (Fred’s mother) learn? Grandpa?
  • What are the lessons that Fred learns from Miss Agnes?
  • What do you think the students and Miss Agnes will do the following school year? Make some predictions about the future of the class!


  • Make a map of the places in book, labeling the village, school, the Koyukuk River, etc.
  • Trace the route from England (Miss Agnes’ home country) to Alaska on a map. How would Miss Agnes have made this journey in 1948?
  • Read about muskrats (or another animal found in Alaska) and then create a poster of your animal, using visuals and interesting facts about the animal to share with the class.
  • Study the sign language alphabet and learn to sign names.
  • Miss Agnes makes a timeline for the students. Make a timeline of important events in your life or make a timeline as a class of your school/history/etc.
  • Write a new chapter about Miss Agnes’ return on the first day of school for the new school year.

Have you read The Year of Miss Agnes with your class? Or a different book set in Alaska? Please share your thoughts (and then read below for more resources and links for teaching Miss Agnes and learning about Alaska!) Thank you!

All About Alaska

Alaska Kid’s Corner (Official State Alaska Website)athabascan.cabin

Kids Discover Alaska!

Awesome America Alaska

A-Z Kid Stuff – Alaska activities & facts

Alaska’s Gold Rush

Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature – Student Book Report of The Year of Miss Agnes

Resources for Learning About Athabascan Indians

Alaskan Native Heritage Center – Athabascan

Alaska Native Knowledge Network – Athabascan’s of Interior Alaska 4th Grade Social Studies Unit

Alaska HIstory & Culture – Athabascans

Alaskan Nature – Athabascans and other tribes of Alaska


More Interesting Kids Books About Alaska

The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandlerberrymagic

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Berry Magic by Betty Huffman and Terry Sloat (Yup’ik Eskimo tale)

Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North by Michael Bania (ice fishing)

The Salmon Princess: An Alaska Cinderella Story by Mindy Dwyer

The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska by Eric Kimmel

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan Mccarthy (Balto – Iditarod dog sled race)

John Muir and Stickeen: An Alaskan Adventure by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg


I LOVED this book when I was a child. I am the oldest child, so I probably found myself identifying with Claudia and I admired her initiative. But I would have never run away from home – as I would have been terrified! I loved how organized, thoughtful and thorough she was in her preparations to run away to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a fun book and a good opportunity for connections to art as well!
There are some challenges in reading and teaching this book with children, especially in terms of context. The setting is New York City, and for the girls in my group, this was difficult. None of the girls had ever traveled to New York and since we do not live in a large city, it was difficult for the girls to picture taking the trains, subways, etc and traveling around a large city. Not to mention the museum itself. But challenges are okay! Reading this book was an opportunity to discuss some life lessons and learn about New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the famous artist Michaelangelo.


NYCsubwayMaps can be very useful with this book, as they will provide much needed visuals. Students can learn a lot about New York City and the setting by examining and discussing maps. Reading this book is also a great opportunity for students to create their own maps of the important elements of the novel. Mapping out the museum and the route from the museum to the subway/train/post office/home is an excellent exercise for students which will help their comprehension.

A subway map is an interesting image for kids to discuss. How do we read a map and more specifically, how do we read a subway map? Why is this map important for traveling in New York City?

Next, ask students to think about what items they would include on a map of Claudia and Jamie’s adventure. Create a own map of their travels – and don’t forget the statue!

Questions Worth Asking


Why does Claudia run away? What are Jamie’s reasons for running away with her? What kind of person is Claudia? Would Claudia make a good friend? Why?

Why does the Angel statue become so important to Claudia? Why does she want to find out if the statue was created by Michaelangelo? Describe Mrs. Frankweiler. What kind of person is she? Why does she donate the statue to the museum but decide not to give them the important papers that she owns? What does this tell the reader about Mrs. Frankweiler? Why does she create a “task” for the kids instead of giving them the papers? What does Mrs. Frankweiler teach Claudia and Jamie?


Why does Claudia select the Metropolitan Museum of Art for her destination? What is the museum like at night? What makes it a good place for hiding? How is the museum different from the school and home world that Claudia & Jamie are escaping?


Life involves learning lessons (and not just at school). What are some of the things that Claudia and Jamie learn because of their experience running away from home and hiding at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? What does Claudia learn about being happy? About her family and her home? What does she learn through the angel and Michaelangelo? Claudia wants to experience change before she returns home – what do you think? Does Claudia change? How? And why?

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Met Home Website

Met Egyptian Art website

“A ‘New’ Michaelangelo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art”


Since Claudia and Jamie spend a great deal of time with the “Angel” of Michaelangelo as they search for clues as to the statue’s authenticity, this seemed like a good time to learn more about Michaelangelo.

Hey Kids, Meet Michaelangelo   This page includes a printable/downloadable kid-friendly biography

Pinterest Board – Michaelangelo for kids (information and projects)

Pinterest Board – Michaelangelo (more projects and lessons for kids)

Mr. Nussbaum Blog – Michaelangelo information

Art History Mom Blog – Michaelangelo

Meet the Masters: Michaelangelo

More Resources for Teaching From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Scholastic website/questions

Schoolhouse lesson plan & extension activities

Simon & Schuster Author Website & Reading Guides

New Yorker: Postscript E.L. Konigsburg


Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold

Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold

AuntHarrietThis beautiful picture book will capture you with its colorful and engaging illustrations. Faith Ringgold tells the story of Cassie and Be Be, two children who encounter a train full of people and meet the conductor “Aunt Harriet” (Harriet Tubman). Be Be boards the train but Cassie is left behind. Cassie is distraught and wants to find her brother. So Harriet Tubman takes Cassie on a journey, retracing the steps of slaves who escaped using the real Underground Railroad and learning about the experiences of fugitive slaves. At the end, Cassie is reunited with Be Be and they celebrate the anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s first flight to freedom.

This book provides historical information in an accessible, narrative format that will appeal to children and teachers alike. In the classroom, this book provides an excellent opportunity for students to learn of Harriet Tubman and her underground railroad, leading so many slaves to freedom. There are multiple opportunities for lessons, text sets and connections using this engaging picture book.

Topics for Exploration and Connections

     Harriet Tubman

Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Caldecott)

Harriet Tubman information (National Geographic for Kids)

Harriet Tubman Biography (Ducksters site)

Timeline and other resources (Buffalo)

     Underground Railroad Information

Underground Railroad – PBS Site  

Teacher’s Guide at PBS

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Geographic Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom (with Educator Guide link)

Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad


More Picture Books About the Underground Railroad

  • The Last Safe House by Barbara Greenwood
  • Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom by Bettye Stroud
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
  • Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
  • Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards

More Picture Books About Slavery

  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
  • Big Jabe by Jerdine Nolen
  • The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom by Emily Arnold McCully
  • If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America by Anne Kamma
  • From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester

Teaching English Language Learners (Part II)

Language Learners in the English Classroom by Douglas Fisher, Carol Rothenberg & Nancy Frey (Part II)

Now for the second half of the book and Fisher’s discussion of the last two components: fluency and comprehension. If you missed my discussion of the first two components (vocabulary and grammar) go to Part I.ELL

Fluency – More Than the Need for Speed

In order to address fluency, generally recognized as automatic word recognition while reading, Fisher examines what he believes are the three major components of literacy for the English language learner: oral fluency, reading fluency, and writing fluency.

  • Oral fluency. First off, Fisher discusses the importance of not only public speaking, but also private rehearsal and practice. This is especially important for students who may be self-conscious about the mistakes that they make when speaking, and the opportunity for private practice (and listening to their own recordings) allows them to focus on pronunciation in a safe environment. Public speeches in class (with practice!) is also important in developing oral fluency, and Fisher outlines ideas for effective speeches and rehearsals in the classroom.
  • Reading fluency. There are many ideas for improving reading fluency in the classroom. Fisher discusses how repeated readings can improve word recognition and comprehension. Using repeated readings in a variety of ways can help students practice their reading and improve not only their speed, but also voice, inflection, expression, tone and pitch. Readers theater and choral readings are also helpful for English language learners. They have the opportunity to practice aloud but with partners, which can lesson their anxiety about speaking and give them the opportunity for meaningful collaboration. Check out more about readers theater at Reading A-Z. NIM (Neurological Impress Method) is another method which is very effective with ELL students, though this requires planning and time, as teacher and student sit together to read using NIM steps. Read more at ReadStrong.
  • Writing fluency. Sometimes writing fluency is overlooked, yet this is also an important component to address with students learning English. Power writing, using short timed events, sometimes with a specific focus (such as grammar or content) can help students improve their writing and “get the words on paper” – often a struggle for ELL students. Using sentence and paragraph frames (Fisher and Frey discuss this in detail in a previous book, as well as Language Learners for the English Classroom) are also helpful and productive in gaining writing fluency. The frames create a model of sorts, that can readily be used for reference by the ELL student. This is especially helpful with using academic language and text structures that lend themselves to academic writing. Do not miss Fisher & Frey’s discussion of writing frames and strategies.

Comprehension – “The Cooperation of Many Forces”

What is comprehension? Bloom’s Taxonomy comes to mind; a student needs to be able to make meaning, explain, interpret, analyze and discuss. Effective comprehension instruction involves reading comprehension strategies, and the National Reading Panel (2000) identified eight strategies (comprehension monitoring, cooperative learning, graphic organizers, story structure, question answering, question generation, summarization, and multiple strategy instruction) for comprehension. Fisher makes a particular note of the multiple strategies instruction, as teaching students multiple strategies in context (rather than as a stand alone strategy out of context) results in much higher comprehension for the student. Instruction should involve multiple reading strategies and be integrated in an authentic reading situation. Ultimately, students must learn how to apply the reading strategies (think tools) in his or her own reading without the assistance of the instructor – keeping in mind that independence is the goal of all reading comprehension strategies. Fisher recognizes and discusses how metacognitive awareness must be a part of the reading comprehension instructional plan – students must be aware of one’s own learning and how the reading strategies help them make sense of the text. Think-alouds, guided reading instruction in small groups, and reciprocal teaching can all be part of a successful reading comprehension instructional plan that focuses on metacognitive awareness. Read the ASCD Express discussion of comprehension strategies for English language learners.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model

Planing an instructional lesson with the gradual release method involves thoughtful preparation with the end result of independent reading and writing in mind.  For more about Fisher’s Gradual Release, go here for discussion and images of the instructional model. Using the strategies discussed with the framework of vocabulary, grammar, fluency, and comprehension, you can build your own lessons using the gradual release model – all helping together to achieve the goal of fluency for our English language learners. All four sections of this book work together to give you a more comprehensive approach to teaching English language learners. If you are looking for a book to help you bring together the effective strategies of a reading comprehension program for the ELL students in your class, this is the book you should read.
Have you read Language Learners in the English Classroom? What are your favorite books and teaching resources for working with English language learners?

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