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A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard

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

Quotes for Discussions and Journals

*page numbers refer to the 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition

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

Discussion Questions

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


Linda Sue Park Website

Reading Rockets Interview

Linda Sue Park Interview (Cynthia Smith Site)

Interview with Tim Podell (youtube)

Newbery Project

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

Korean Folk Tales, Fairy Tales & More

The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale by Yumi Heo

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

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo

All About Korea by Ann Martin Bowler

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park

The Royal Bee by Frances Park and Ginger Park

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

Discussing the Outrageous Pippi Longstocking – by Astrid Lindgren

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

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

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

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

Finding the Words for Pippi

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

Some of the words my young readers discovered:

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

More Ideas

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

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

More Resources for Pippi

Pippi Longstocking – Rebel Role Model

Fun Trivia – Pippi

Astrid Lindgren Site

Pippi’s World

Scholastic book page

Children’s Books – Astrid Lindgren

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

Just Juice by Karen Hesse

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

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

Important Quotations for Discussion

” ‘You can’t read, Pa?’

Pa shakes his head.

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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


Scholastic Discussion Guide 

Publishers Weekly Book Review

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


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

Music of the Dolphins by Karen Hesse

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

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

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

Important Quotations for Discussion

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

Writing Ideas

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


Scholastic book page

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

Publishers Weekly Review

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


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

Yummy Goodness! Reading PIE by Sarah Weeks

PIE is a charming novel.PIE

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

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

Questions to Ponder:


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

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

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

Friendship & Family

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

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

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


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

Aunt Polly’s Wisdom – Important Quotations to Discuss

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

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

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

Activity Ideas

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

Sarah Weeks Info & Reading

BookPage Interview

bookbox daily (Scholastic reading club blog)

Booktrailer for PIE on YouTube

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

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

Grandfather Ratoncito Perez and the Apprentice Tooth Fairy

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


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

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


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

006Four quarters make one dollar;

Twenty nickles just as well.

Ten dimes are light to carry,

One hundred fairy pennies fell.

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


5 Beautiful Picture Books About Artists

5 Artist Picture Books

Diego Diegoby Jeanette Winter

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

VivaFridaViva Frida

by Yuyi Morales

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

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

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

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

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

My Name is GeorgiaMy Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter

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

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

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!

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!

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