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Posts tagged ‘Curriculum’

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!

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!

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

West of the MoonTrolls, a spell book, spinning straw into gold, and a magic hairbrush….all of these elements weave together in the tale of Astri and her sister, Greta, in a story that is part fantasy, part folk tale, part history, and completely enchanting. Astri is a young girl in Norway who is sold to a cruel goat farmer, the evil Svaalberd. Despite her miserable conditions and the separation from her beloved sister, Astri never loses faith that her situation will improve. She escapes, through impossible odds, and is off on a journey to find her father in America.

While this story is based in folk tale, the story is original and brings to light many interesting topics for discussion. The power of stories and truth weave a powerful thread throughout the novel, as Astri tells stories that often stray quite far from the truth, and then wonders, is it worse to her to her sister through a story or steal from a cruel master? Astri doesn’t answer this question, but continues to wonder about truth and stories, the “thin thread of truth” left after the spinning yarn of gold disappears. Astri’s character is also perfect for discussion, as she is honest, flawed, cunning, manipulative, dishonest and well intentioned even when all odds are against her. She is determined to escape, even when that requires her to lie (a magic hairbrush!) in order to get what she needs for her journey. She is a well-rounded character, one which the reader roots for and also questions, wondering just what she will do next.

Another element that I love about this book is the history. No doubt all readers will walk away with new knowledge about immigration and the people who made the perilous voyage to the new world, despite the difficulties. Astri and her sister procure a list of necessities for the journey that will surprise young readers, most likely unfamiliar with the food and personal necessities that a person had to bring on board, in addition to their passage fare. The realities of a long boat journey are seen through Astri and Greta’s eyes. Readers will also appreciate the struggles that people faced just to board the boat and pay for their passage, not an easy task.

In all, this book raises many questions about Astri’s actions, the morality of people and doing what is right, family values and forgiveness. Astri is a complicated girl who will no doubt provoke discussion about what is right and wrong, what one should do for others and for oneself, and whether it is ever justified to lie or steal. No matter the conclusions of the reader, everyone will understand the difficulties of journeying to a new, unknown land and the perilous undertaking of two children who desperately want to be with their father.

At the close of the book, you will find the Author’s Note which is packed full of useful information, history, photos of the author’s great-great-grandmother’s diary from her journey to America on board the Columbus in 1851. Norwegian folk tales and fairy tales also provided the author with inspiration and material for West of the Moon, and Preus lists some of the folk tales she references in the novel (including “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”). Also helpful is the glossary of Norwegian words as well as the bibliography for further reading.

Important Quotations for Discussion

  • “The sun is ahead of him now; he is walking west. West. That is the direction I will have to go to get to America. Spinning Girl presses a damp rag to my face and wipes the blood and filth from my limbs. When I’m as clean as I’m going to get, she goes back to her work. As she spins her yarn, I spin a golden dream out of dust motes. A dream of going to America.” (page 40)
  • “Quickly, without letting myself think about it, I unpin Mama’s brooch from my dress and pin it on Spinning Girl’s. By the look on her face, I’ll wager she’s never been given anything like it. Or any gift at all, most like. Still, somehow, I feel that it’s I who have been given the greater gift.” (page 100)
  • “She looks at me sadly and pushes two of the bigger coins back to me across the counter. ‘Use these coins wisely,’ she says. ‘They’re only a trifle, but a mere trifle is often enough when luck is on your side.'” (page 119)
  • “Greta is silent, and I think of how Papa used to say, ‘Sometimes silence is an answer.’  The little brook we ride along chatters so much, there’s hardly need for us to talk anyway.” (page 123)
  • “‘Perhaps you and I could be friends,’ she says. I can only nod, for suddenly my eyes are full of tears. A symptom of my bad eyes, must be. I wipe them dry and look out at the sea.  At that moment, sea and sky go dark and seem to disappear altogether. Then, as if by magic, they are rekindled, this time with a pale glean – not like daylight, yet not dark night either. It’s the moon, rising up full behind us, casting a blue glow over the world as we sail toward the last of the sun.  Though I don’t know everything about my past, nor do I know what the future will bring, right now I know I’m just where I belong: sailing on a perfect ocean of light, east of the sun and west of the moon.” (page 197)

Writing Ideas

  • Astri’s Journal. Write three journal entries from Astri’s point of view. Include at least one from her journey escaping the evil Svaalberd and at least during the time on the boat to America. Think about what details Astri would want to include and what she might want to tell her father about the adventures.
  • Greta’s thoughts. Write a chapter from Greta’s point of view, perhaps waiting for Astri to arrive, on the journey to the sea shore or on the boat to America. Think about how Greta would view the events and what she would choose to retell in her story. Think about how her story would be different from Astri’s version of the story.
  • Father’s letters. Write one of Father’s letters to Astri and Greta, one which the girls are not able to read. What does he tell them about America? His journey? His plans for the future?


Have you read West of the Moon? Or other novels based on a folk tale or fairy tale such as this? Please share!

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.

Christopher Mouse by William Wise

Christopher MouseThis is the tale of a young mouse on a journey. Christopher begins his life with his mother and siblings in a box, only to see his brothers sold to a laboratory and his sister sold to a young girl at a pet store. Christopher, too, is separated from his mother and siblings, and is sold to a young boy with the appearance of the perfect pet owner. But Christopher’s life is full of surprising adventures, as he ends up with a new owner, an amazing and almost devastating encounter with a cat, an escape and adventure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and more surprises along the way as he searches for a loving, forever home.

Words of Wisdom

Christopher receives several tidbits of advice from his mother, great for discussions and predictions along the way!

“‘Certainly the world can be grim at times,’ she told us once. ‘And yet, if we try, I think we can train ourselves to bear up under our burdens.'” (page 23)

“Escape…should be thought of only as a last resort. If you’re sure your owner is either so careless or cruel that your life is endangered, then you’ll have no choice. Look for a hole in your cage, or some other way of gaining your liberty. Once outside, you must hope good fortune will smile on you, and that somehow you will survive.” (page 25)

“With people for company, you’ll never be bored. The things they say to their friends and relatives – and the other things they say when their friends and relatives have gone. Books? College? Listen to people, study them, and you’ll end up with a real education!” (page 27)

“Soon I was to be traded or sold. I would belong to someone else, and any new owner, I was sure, was bound to be an improvement on Aubrey. Which merely proved how much I still had to learn about life.” (page 86)

“I have such an odd feeling in my bones,…..our story might end the way every story should, with singing and laughter–and a poem that says that long after our separation, Anna and I lived happily ever after.” (page 152)

Discussion Questions

1. Christopher learns many lessons from his mother, though he must leave her at a young age. What are some of the important lessons he learns?

2. How does Christopher come to decide that Freddy would be a good owner? What are the clues in the pet shop that Christopher notices?

3. Why does Christopher like to write poems? What do we learn about Christopher’s character through his poems?

4. When does Christopher first suspect that Aubrey will not be a good owner?

5. Why does Christopher decide it is better to escape and be on his own – even though freedom could mean danger and peril for him? What do we learn about Christopher’s character at this point? What kind of mouse has he become as he grown up in an unpredictable and surprising world after leaving his mother’s box?

6. By the time Christopher ends up in his “forever home” with attentive and trustworthy humans, he has learned many lessons. What are some of the lessons he has learned? What surprised you the most about his lessons and what he comes to understand about the world and the people he encounters?

7. What is your favorite Christopher Mouse poem? Explain why it is your favorite and why it is a good example of Christopher’s writing and character.

 Writing Ideas

  • Write your own Christopher chapter. Give him a new adventure in the museum or in Aubrey’s house, the setting is your choice! Create an exciting event for Christopher, perhaps one in which he meets a new character or has a narrow escape!
  • Write a final poem for Christopher, after he is reunited with Anna. Or an epilogue for the book, telling us about his new life with Anna and wrapping up his final adventures with Aubrey, the cat, the museum, umbrella, sink, etc.!

It’s not a surprise that Christopher Mouse: The Tale of a Small Traveler won the Winner of the 2011 California Young Reader Medal (Intermediate). This is an engaging, interesting book that will entertain young readers as they ponder life from the point of view of a mouse!

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee


Two girls, different and yet the best of friends, hilarious adventures, crazy antics, you will laugh out loud and fall in love with Bink and Gollie. Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee teamed up to create a fabulous duo, perfect for beginning readers. After all, who wouldn’t laugh at the idea of giving a fish a pancake, right?

When Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee met, they quickly became friends – laughing along the way and discussing books. Soon, they were planning a book together and trading letters back and forth – good old fashioned pen pals! Read about how Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee created Bink and Gollie at the StarTribune.  The chemistry between DiCamillo & McGhee is readily apparent in Bink and Gollie, who can get a tad annoyed with each other (seriously, those socks, Bink? yes, a fish is a marvelous companion, and no, I am not answering the door….I am in the Andes Mountains….but of course!) but ultimately, they remain the best of friends.

“‘Gollie,’ said Bink, ‘use your gray matter.

Don’t know you know that you are the most marvelous companion of all?’

‘Really?’ said Gollie.

‘Really,’ said Bink.”

The illustrations, by Tony Fucile, are such an integral part of the book that it is difficult to picture the words without Bink and Gollie, searching through a bin of colorful socks or planting a pole at the top of the Andes Mountains. Certain illustrations are mostly black and white, with carefully selected color for emphasis (a colorful bin of socks with a black and white sock sign, or a black and white movie theater full of people with Bink, Gollie, and a fishbowl with Fred in it, balanced precariously on Bink’s head in color)  Some pages are wordless, letting Fucile’s images say everything that needs to be said. The layouts change with each page, sometimes one full picture, other times a page is broken into three pieces of a scene – reminiscent of story boarding. This adds to the interest and engagement with each page – the reader can’t help but want to turn the page and see what is next for these two girls! Bink and Gollie are captured perfectly through Fucile’s artwork, Bink’s crazy hair, energy, positive attitude and willingness to try new adventures, Gollie’s careful, organized and also nurturing nature, and the relationship between the two is simply charming. You can’t help but want to part of their child-centered world (no parents in these books to tell them no!). Their activities and antics are appealing and fun for all — roller-skating, climbing mountains in the Andes, gardening, these girls aren’t afraid of anything!

Finally, the language is inventive, surprising, and engaging. In a land filled with mostly boring and stilted books for beginning readers (I will never forget listening to a six-year-old reader put down a text-book company created “reader” and say “This book just doesn’t make any sense! The words don’t even go with the picture!” and really there was nothing I could say other than, yes, you’re right….a heart-breaking moment) — it is lovely to pick up an interesting book for emerging readers that doesn’t shy away from using words and phrases such as:

  • outrageous
  • bonanza
  • baffled
  • marvelous companion
  • gray matter
  • implore
  • venture

The language in Bink and Gollie will surprise, delight, engage, and young readers will beg for more of Bink and more of Gollie! Thank goodness there are two more Bink and Gollie books…..Bink and Gollie: Two for One (#2) and Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever (#3).










Fun Stuff & Activities for Bink & Gollie

Check out Bink and Gollie’s home page for fun activities, book info and teacher guides

Candlewick Press Teacher’s Guide

Scholastic Treasure Coloring page

Love Bink and Gollie? Please share? More Kate DiCamillo? Check out Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures!

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?

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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