Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris, Bunheads by Misty Copeland, I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black, and Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk


One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. 

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these five picture books.

Ambitious Girl
Author: Meena Harris
Illustrator: Marissa Valdez
Published January 19th, 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: Anyone who’s ever been underestimated or overshadowed will find inspiration in this empowering new picture book from Meena Harris, New York Times-bestselling author of Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea.

When a young girl sees a strong woman on TV labeled as “too assertive” and “too ambitious,” it sends her on a journey of discovery through past, present, and future about the challenges faced by women and girls and the ways in which they can reframe, redefine, and reclaim words meant to knock them down.

As Ambitious Girl says:

No “too that” or “too this”
will stop what’s inside us from flowering.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be most useful as a classroom read-aloud. You could possibly use this book during Women’s History Month (or on the national day), Black History Month, at the beginning of the school year, or even randomly if you notice certain issues like those in the book present in the classroom.

This book is interdisciplinary due to the fact it can be used to demonstrate social skills, vocabulary, confidence, and social studies such as Women’s Rights and the history of how women were allowed to speak.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What words could you use to describe yourself?
  • If you were the main character in this book, what would people say that you’re too much of?
  • Was there a time when you felt you were being ambitious?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What was the main idea of this story?
  • Who do you look up to that makes you feel
  • When are you the most confident?
  • What do you think the woman on the T.V screen was giving a speech about?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • Why is it important to be who you are?

Recommended For: 


Author: Misty Copeland
Illustrator: Setor Fiadzibgey
Published September 29th, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: The story of a young Misty, who discovers her love of dance through the ballet Coppélia–a story about a toymaker who devises a villainous plan to bring a doll to life.

Misty is so captivated by the tale and its heroine, Swanilda, she decides to audition for the role. But she’s never danced ballet before; in fact, this is the very first day of her very first dance class!

Though Misty is excited, she’s also nervous. But as she learns from her fellow bunheads; she makes wonderful friends who encourage her to do her very best. Misty’s nerves quickly fall away, and with a little teamwork, the bunheads put on a show to remember.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A great response that students could do after reading the text is a consensus board.  A consensus board is when a large board is divided into different sections with a circle in the center.  The circle contains the book’s title or key theme.  In the individual sections, each person writes or sketches personal connections to the book or theme.  The group discusses these connections and comes to a consensus on the issues or big ideas to explore further.  These are written in the middle of the board for further discussion. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • Within the book, Misty expresses that she was nervous about auditioning for the role of Coppelia, has there ever been a time when you were scared or nervous to try something new?
  • Towards the end of the book, you see all the bunheads gather around and support one another. Tell me about a time when you felt as though you were being a supportive classmate.
  • Have you ever felt a time when your classmates were inspiring you to try harder?
  • If you were to audition for this ballet who would you want to audition for and why?
  • What feelings did this book evoke for you while reading?
  • What do you think about the book’s cover? Do you think it conveys what the book is about?  What would you change about the book cover?
  • Has there ever been a time where you tried something new?
  • Why do you think the instructor introduced Misty to Cat?
  • Have you ever been so excited that you could hardly sleep?  If so when?
  • How did Misty overcome her feeling of being nervous?
  • What do you do when you feel nervous about something?

Recommended For: 


I Talk Like a River
Author: Jordan Scott
Illustrator: Sydney Smith
Published by September 1st, 2020 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing.

I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.

And I can’t say them all . . .

When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be good to use in the classroom when talking about overcoming obstacles and accepting who you are. The book also represents a good way to talk about mood.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the little boy not want to speak?
  • Why did the author compare a river to his speech?
  • What are similarities between the river and his speech?
  • What helped him overcome his stutter?
  • Why did he like being with his dad?
  • How does the story apply to your life?
  • How does the book help us think differently about fluency?
  • How do you feel connected to the story?
  • What is the theme of this book?
  • How do the illustrations help tell the story?

Recommended For: 


I’m Worried
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published June 4th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: A girl, a flamingo, and a worried potato star in the third book in New York Times bestselling author Michael Ian Black and celebrated illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s series about feelings—and why they’re good, even when they feel bad.

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be useful in a classroom when a student may be having a bad day. Everyone has bad days and everyone worries about everyday stresses. This book would also be useful on the 1st day of school. “I’m Worried” will bring a sense of community to the students. Everyone is nervous and worried on their first day of school reading this book could be a good source to calm everyone’s nerves.

A freewrite would allow students the ability to apply the book’s message to themselves. It allows them to reflect on the topic of “worry” and understand that worry is something that everyone feels. They then would share with their classmates which would further the idea that everyone feels worried at some point.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did this book help you learn about feelings?
  • What is one thing that you are worried about and why?
  • How do you think the potato felt by the end of the book?
  • Do you think that you live in the now? Why or why not?
  • How would you overcome your anxieties?
  • How would you describe the little girl? How would you describe the potato?
  • What does it mean to be  worried?
  • How can I help you when you are worried?
  • Why are some of the illustrations in green?
  • If you see a friend who is worried, how would you help them?

Recommended For: 


Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Brendan Kearney
Published September 1st, 2015 by Sterling

Summary: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s ONLY ONE DROP of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past the Orange Juice Fountain, skiing through Sauerkraut Peak, and reeling down the linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? And could working together be better than tearing each other apart?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast can teach students how to rhyme, help students understand problems and solutions in this story, and help with social-emotional learning looking at the power of words and the impact it has on others.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is it important to share with your friends?
  • Is it ok to compete with others? Especially your friends?
  • What do you think the meaning of the story is?
  • What do you guys think Baron von Waffle is up to next?
  • What did you like least about this book?
  • Which character can you relate to the most?
  • If you could give this book another name, what would it be?
  • What advice can you give Lady Pancake and Mr. French Toast?
  • Can you describe what the illustration on the front cover is trying to tell us?
  • What did the characters learn at the end?
  • What is your favorite food?

Recommended For: 


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