Author Guest Post: “Fun Ways to Bring Animal Migration into the Classroom” by Amy Hevron, Author of The Longest Journey: An Artic Tern’s Migration

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“Fun Ways to Bring Animal Migration into the Classroom”

I love birdwatching and am fascinated by migrating birds. In The Longest Journey: An Arctic Tern’s Migration, I showcase an epic migrator on her first globe-spanning adventure. When I began writing this story, I wondered, what would it be like to travel across the globe? Across every climate zone from polar lands to temperate zones, to subtropics and tropics? What would the landscapes look like? What other animals would be along the way? Piecing together this little seabird’s journey was fascinating and combined my passions for wildlife, world geography, Earth sciences and art. Here are some fun ways kids can explore animal migration and mapmaking in the classroom.

Track birds in your area

Birds are all around us. And whether they are year-round residents or just here for the season, these wildlife neighbors of ours are fascinating to learn more about. Kids could pick a migrating bird from your area and find out where they migrate. They could plot their bird’s journey on a world map. What cities, states, countries, and continents does this local bird see? Kids could learn about their bird’s life cycle and draw how it looks at the different life stages from egg, to chick, to juvenile, to adult. Many birds migrate in their first year of life. At what age does their bird migrate? They could find out what kind of habitat their bird lives in, what kind of nest it makes, and what kind of food it eats. And in learning more about its migration, kids could think about what obstacles this bird might encounter or what amazing sites it might see on its journey. A helpful site to find out more about birds in your area is www.allaboutbirds.org. Also, the Audubon app for smart phones and tablets is a great birding resource as well.

Track other Arctic migrators

In addition to Arctic terns, other Arctic animals migrate, like narwhals and Pacific walruses. Kids could pick a different Arctic animal and explore the migration of this species. Why does it migrate? What might that journey look like on a map? By focusing on other animals that live in the Arctic region, this could provide an opportunity to discuss the impacts of climate change on wildlife as well. Animals that live in the Arctic are especially sensitive to global warming because the Arctic is warming at a faster rate than elsewhere in the world. How is their Arctic animal impacted by warming land and oceans? How is it adapting? Additionally, you could talk about the Earth’s seasons as they relate to the Arctic and how around Summer Soltice the sun never sets, and in Winter it is dark all day. How do the Arctic seasons affect their animal’s activities? The Active Wild website lists a range of interesting Arctic animals to learn more about (https://www.activewild.com/arctic-animals-list/).

Dive into mapmaking

A fun way to learn about world geography is through creating maps. Kids could create a map of their own migration adventure, either real or imaginary. They could start with a whole world map, a continent or a country. Kids could add traditional map details like labels for the land, bodies of water, and a compass with North, South, East, and West. On a world map, kids could add in the major latitudinal lines of the Equator, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, the Arctic circle and Antarctic circle. They could learn about how the climate is different at these different latitudes. They could research and then illustrate different flora and fauna on the map within their appropriate climate zones. From here, kids could plot their migration path. Where would their journey take them? What sites would they see? What food would they eat along the way? A fun tool to use for research is Google Earth (earth.google.com). You can zoom in to see what the landscape looks like anywhere on Earth. Also, Google image searching “illustrated maps” can provide some inspiration for different ways to illustrate maps. Wikipedia’s site provides different world map images, including this simple world map that could be used as a starting point https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_large_blank_world_map_with_oceans_marked_in_blue.PNG.

Published July 12, 2022 by Neal Porter Books

About the Book: Follow the epic annual migration of an Arctic Tern on its sixty-thousand-mile journey to the South Pole and back again, the longest such migration in the animal kingdom.

In their thirty-year lifetimes, Arctic Terns travel nearly 1.5 million miles, that’s enough to fly to the Moon and back three times! Each year they brave blistering winds, storms, rough seas, and airborne predators as they travel between the Earth’s poles, chasing the summer. In The Longest Journey: An Arctic Tern’s Migration, we follow one such bird as it spreads its wings and sets out to make its first globe-spanning trip with its flock.

Amy Hevron is the illustrator of Trevor by Jim Averbeck, the recipient of multiple starred reviews. She also illustrated Candace Fleming’s The Tide Pool Waits which was the recipient of the Portfolio Honor Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her brilliant, naturalistic artwork mimicking maps and nautical charts is supported by extensive research and paired with material at the back of the book explaining the science behind the life cycle of Arctic Terns.

About the Author: Amy Hevron is an illustrator, designer, and children’s book author. She wrote and illustrated Dust Bunny Wants a Friend and illustrated Trevor by Jim Averbeck, which received multiple starred reviews. She also illustrated The Tide Pool Waits, by Candace Fleming. In both 2015 and 2016, she received the Portfolio Honor Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Seattle with her family.

https://www.amyhevron.com/
@amyhevron on Instagram and Twitter

https://holidayhouse.com/book/the-longest-journey/
@holidayhousebks on all social platforms

Thank you, Amy, for these fun migration activities for the classroom!

Author Guest Post: “Little Red and the Big Bad Educator’s Guide” by Rebecca Kraft Rector, Author of Little Red and the Big Bad Editor

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“Little Red and the Big Bad Educator’s Guide”

When I learned Shanda McCloskey would be illustrating my story LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR, I was ecstatic. I knew her art would bring to life my story of the Big Bad Wolf correcting Little Red’s thank you letter to Granny. And I was right. The vibrant colors! The actions! The humor! I was so lucky to be paired with Shanda.

Then I learned Shanda, like me, had an educational background and she wanted to collaborate on an educator’s guide for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR. What a great idea! Many publishers and editors provide educator’s guides for their picture books.

There are so many ways to use picture books in classrooms from kindergarten on up. They’re rich in vocabulary and can have a higher reading level than many novels. They’re short and appealing to lower-level readers, ESL, and special needs students. For a generation that enjoys graphic novels and sharing pictures and stories on social media, picture books can be a familiar format. In fact, picture books often introduce new concepts and facts in an accessible way. They are an excellent entry point for all ages about topics that are difficult to understand or discuss.

But what about LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR? Could we put together a useful educator’s guide for a fun story about correcting a heartfelt but poorly written letter? No problem! I’d done a basic guide for my first picture book SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED and even produced a short video for a school librarian presentation. My brain was stuffed with methods for meeting curriculum standards after writing lesson plans, test passages, questions and answers for educational publishers.

I told Shanda “Yes!” and got to work.

Like Little Red, I whipped out my crayons (computer) and started writing. And like the Big Bad Wolf, I crumpled up those pages and threw them away. The Big Bad Wolf couldn’t fault me on my capitalization and finger spacing, but there were just too many elements that I wanted to include.

For instance, I could ask students to look for examples of characterization, plot, setting, theme, and story structure. They could practice story prediction by guessing what would happen in the story based on the cover and title.

So many possibilities for discussions and story prompts, too! Students could write their own stories by thinking about what happens before or after the story, or within the pictures. What was Little Red doing before the present arrived? What happened after the last page of the story? What about that little turtle, what’s his story?

Maybe I should focus on figurative language—the assonance, alliteration, similes, idioms, onomatopoeia, etc. in LITTLE RED. Find the simile: “Little Red was pleased as punch. Granny had sent her a present! Red ripped off the wrappings and removed a cape as scarlet as a ripe tomato.”

What about sequencing and cause and effect? Oh, we could use Shanda’s art for that! Which picture shows what comes first, middle, and last? Which picture shows what caused Little Red to write a thank you note?

And I couldn’t forget about compare/contrast! Both SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED and LITTLE RED are “fractured” versions of folktales. SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED is considered a modern version of both TOO MUCH NOISE and IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE. After reading an original version and the new version, students could compare/contrast the stories for all of the elements listed above, plus author’s voice and even author’s purpose. Younger students could compare/contrast the illustrations for the stories.

Shanda created awesome activities within a week. She even included practice sheets for writing letters and cursive writing. But after a month I still struggled with narrowing down all the possibilities.

Finally, I realized (why did it take me so long?!) that I couldn’t include everything. Some things would have to be left out. But we’re both really happy with the final product and would be thrilled if you’d take a look. It’s on my website https://rebeccakraftrector.wordpress.com and Shanda’s https://www.shandamc.com and here’s a direct link http://ow.ly/IHPC50KffBh.

Published September 6th, 2022 by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster

About the Book: In this clever and playful fractured fairy tale picture book, the Big Bad Wolf is so distracted by Little Red’s poorly written thank you note to her grandmother that he keeps missing the chance to eat her!

Once upon a time, Little Red received a bold new cape from her Granny. She wrote her a thank you note, packed a basket of goodies, and walked through the meadow to Granny’s house. But swish swash SWOOP, the big bad wolf stops her in her tracks, opens his mouth wide, leans in close and…​

Sees the note.

Mr. Wolf can’t believe how sloppy the letter is—Red can’t give this to Granny! He corrects her grammar but misses out on his dinner while he’s distracted each time he encounters Red on the path. Can she keep outsmarting the Big Bad Editor and make it all the way to Granny’s house?

About the Author: Rebecca Kraft Rector is a retired librarian and the author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children. Her cats Ollie and Opal keep her company while she writes. When she isn’t writing and eating chocolate, she’s trying to keep deer out of her garden.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR is Rebecca’s second picture book, coming from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster on September 6, 2022.

Visit Rebecca online at https://rebeccakraftrector.wordpress.com

Thank you, Rebecca, for introducing us to your book and how useful it will be in classrooms and libraries!

Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Illustrated by Diana Toledano

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Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head
Author: Jeanne Walker Harvey
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published September 20th, 2022 by Beach Lane Books

Summary: Discover the true story of how a shy miner’s daughter became one of the most legendary costume designers in Hollywood in this inspiring nonfiction picture book biography.

As a child in the small mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, Edith Head (1897 – 1981) had few friends and spent most of her time dressing up her toys and pets and even wild animals using fabric scraps. She always knew she wanted to move somewhere full of people and excitement. She set her sights on Hollywood and talked her way into a job sketching costumes for a movie studio.

Did she have formal training? Did she know how to draw or sew costumes? No. But that didn’t stop her!

Strong and determined, Edith taught herself how to sew and tirelessly worked her way up until she was dressing some of the biggest stars of the day. These included Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Ginger Rogers, and Elizabeth Taylor. She made costumes for films like Sabrina and Rear Window and TV shows like Bewitched. She also designed costumes for many of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, including To Catch a ThiefNotorious, and The Trouble With Harry. She became the first woman to head a major Hollywood movie studio costume department and went on to win eight Academy Awards for best costume design—and she defined the style of an era.

By ultimately becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after designers, Edith Head proved that with tenacity, anything is possible. This insightful behind-the-scenes look at the iconic figure is a must-have for cinephiles, history buffs, and fashionistas alike.

FUN FACT! Edith served as the inspiration for the iconic character Edna Mode in the Pixar film The Incredibles! With her classic hairstyle and glasses, Edith will be recognizable as the inspiration for Edna to the observant reader.

Praise:

* “Together, the art and storytelling capture Head’s belief in the transformative magic of costumes, which will certainly strike a chord with dress-up enthusiasts.” — ALA Booklist (STARRED review)

“Toledano’s mixed-media artwork… combined with starry-eyed prose, the result is a glamorous life story with a Hollywood ending.” — Publishers Weekly

About the Creators: 

Jeanne Walker Harvey studied literature and psychology at Stanford University and has worn many job hats, ranging from being a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney, a middle school language arts teacher, and a long-time docent for school groups at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is the author of several books for young readers, including the picture book biographies Dressing up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith HeadAblaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas, and Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. Jeanne lives in Northern California. Visit her online at JeanneHarvey.com.

Twitter: @JeanneWHarvey
Pinterest: @JeanneWalkerHarvey
Check out the many resources here at Jeanne Walker Harvey’s website!

Diana Toledano is an illustrator, writer, and educator. She is also a Pisces who loves children’s books, patterns, and dancing her heart out. Originally from Spain, Diana (pronounced the Spanish way: dee-ah-na) grew up in Madrid where she studied art history and illustration. Now she lives in San Francisco with her husband and two fluffy cats. Her mixed media art seeks to capture the magic of the ordinary. Diana’s product designs, picture books, board books, and chapter books have been published and sold all over the world. Diana also teaches workshops for kids and adults. She enjoys doing school visits and speaking at conferences. Learn more at Diana-Toledano.com.

Instagram: @dianatoledano
Facebook: Diana Toledano
Pinterest: Diana Toledano

Review: As a fan of old Hollywood, I recognized Edith Head’s costumes right away. I mean–Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Tippi Hedren in The Birds, Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn, Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii–anyone?!? And this is just the tip of the iceberg of Head’s designing. She was nominated for an Academy Award THIRTY FIVE times and won EIGHT making her the most awarded woman in the Academy’s history. But yet, she was behind the scenes and not as well known as the actors in front of the camera, so I am so happy to have this picture book biography to bring to light her genius. A self-taught young woman with no experience fighting her way up to being an Oscar winner–yes, please! Harvey does a fantastic job of sharing Edith’s magic from her childhood dreams to her adult reality and Toledano’s illustrations work perfectly for Edith’s style and costumes.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 

Check out the publisher-provided activity kit for some fun activities to do with the book:

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Edith’s journey to her dream job teach you about growth mindset?
  • How did Edith’s hobbies as a child help her reach her dreams?
  • Why do you think Edith chose to wear black or other dark, neutral colors when dressing stars?
  • How does a costume designer impact a movie or show?
  • Why do you think Edith was given a second chance after she failed to create costumes for dancers dressed as candy?
  • How do you think Edith grew her confidence overtime so much that she was able to not allow nay-sayers to make her question herself?
  • What are some words in the book that you did not know? What do you think they mean based on context? Check your guess by looking ups its definition.
  • How does the Author’s Note at the end of the book add to the book experience?

Book Trailer: 

The trailer can also be viewed on the author’s website:
https://www.jeanneharvey.com/dressingupthe-stars

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Nonfiction biography picture books, specifically about groundbreaking women, including Harvey’s books on Maya Lin and Alma Thomas

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Alex at Simon & Schuster and Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee

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Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Author: Barbara Dee
Published September 27th, 2022 by Aladdin

Summary: Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.

When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.

But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.

She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.

About the Author: Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

Review: I’ve never read a book about eco-anxiety before, but I could definitely empathize with Haven Jacobs and her true anxiety over the state of our planet. I loved that the book gave tangible things that could be done in a community and also looks at global issues. Additionally, like all of Barbara Dee’s books, she does a great job balancing teaching (about science and climate change) and storytelling.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The publisher-provided reading group guide also includes extension activities:

1. Choose one of the following and write an essay:

– How does Haven’s name reflect the major theme of the book?

– Revisit the chapter titled “The Scratch,” and the scene in which the author describes Haven’s room and talks about how her room shows readers who she is and what’s important to her. Then write a description of your own room, and ask a partner if they can identify what is most important to you.

– Using the quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”), write an essay about what that means, giving specific examples from the book.

2. Haven’s heroine is a fictional Inuit teen climate activist named Kirima Ansong. Choose a real-life teen activist and write a report about them, the issue they support, and the actions they’ve taken.

3. The headline of the RiverFest story is “SEVENTH GRADER GRIPPED BY ECO-ANXIETY,” which nicely sums up the major theme of this book. How prevalent is eco-anxiety among the kids at your school? Create a survey and share it to discover the answer. Write a report sharing your findings.

4. Choose one of the following topics from the book to research and write a report about, using the facts shared in the book as a jumping-off point to learn more.

Discussion Questions:
(Chosen questions from the publisher-provided reading group guide; there are 16 questions on the guide)

1. Talk about how the two events that Haven relates in the book’s opening chapter illustrate two of the book’s major themes. What does the bouncy house incident show readers about Haven’s personality? Do you agree with Grandpa Aaron that “‘Haven’s a true problem solver’”? (Chapter: Sensitive) Do you consider yourself to be a problem solver?

2. Why does Haven decide to become a vegetarian? Do you understand and sympathize with her reaction when she goes fishing with Carter and her dad? Are you a vegetarian, or do you have friends who are? What are some other reasons that people make this choice? Talk about how vegetarianism connects with the issue of climate change.

3. Do you understand why Haven is so upset about climate change? How do you feel about her statement that “’no one cares about anything except what’s going on in their own lives’”? (Chapter: Dinner) Why do some of her friends think climate change is too depressing to talk about? Haven tells Lauren, the reporter, that all kids are worried about the issue. How do you and your friends feel?

4. Have you ever heard of eco-anxiety? What are some of the signs of eco-anxiety that Haven is experiencing? How might eco-anxiety feel different from other things kids are anxious about, like taking tests or giving oral reports? What are some actions Haven takes, or could take, to relieve this anxiety?

5. Ms. Packer says to Haven: “‘There’s a positive way to be upset, and another way that just makes you feel hopeless and depressed.’” (Chapter: The Blanks) Do you understand both options? Do you identify with one more than the other? What do you think when Haven says she feels that going to school is pointless, that there are more important things going on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Learning or reading about climate change, science, and/or mental health

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post: “Their Story, Our Legacy” by Emily Francis, Author of If You Only Knew: Letters from an Immigrant Teacher

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“Their Story, Our Legacy”

During the first days back this year, our school received a special guest speaker, former educator and coach, who left a remarkable legacy. Coach Smith was fired up, sharing the wonderful stories that highlighted the amazing history of our school which he collected from 1893 to the day he retired.

I began to think about how his passionate stories impacted every staff member listening. The power of a story hit me to my core, and I began wondering about our students’ stories: What stories are students telling about our school? About us as teachers? Just like Coach Smith can share his powerful and impactful stories about a building, so our students are out and about telling stories about us.

Of course, I connected it to my personal experience as a former student new to the USA. As a fifteen-year-old scared immigrant, I entered high school with so much passion and persistence but left with shattered dreams. My story about my experience as a student in the USA is not a good one. It’s a story of pity and sadness and pain. I can close my eyes and feel exactly how I felt in my high school classes. These were uneasy feelings I don’t want my students to feel.

I cannot remember a teacher who would have incorporated practices to support my culture, identity, and strength. My high school years made me question my own identity. Just the fact that it was never acknowledged made me question my own existence.

Thinking about my personal stories from my former high school and listening to Coach Smith led me to think about my legacy. George Couros said, “Your legacy is not what you do. It’s what your students do because of you.” I dare to add… It’s what your students SAY because of you.

Feeling like we have been robbed of our identity may cause dysfunction in society. I know. I lived it. I now strive every year to make sure equitable practices are in place to better serve our students.

Sense of Belonging

A sense of belonging is imperative. Creating and maintaining a sense of belonging for our immigrant students is key to their success. As an individual from a diverse background, feeling a sense of belonging gives me the space I need to be myself without having to become someone that I am not. It’s the validation and the permission we need to develop our individuality and identity. Look at the decor around your learning space. Does it reflect their experiences, their cultural background? Does it provide an opportunity to not only embrace diversity but also validate other cultures? Make the space say, “We all belong.”

Pedagogical Practices

I have to quote Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Some pedagogical practices we implement in the classroom may actually hinder students. The “I’ve always done it this way” approach does not work anymore. Our classrooms are more diverse than ever; meaning, our practices must change, and we must do better for our new generation. I wholeheartedly believe that being an open-minded life-long learner can help us as educators on the lookout for better practices that support students. Immigrant students work twice as much as monolingual English-speaking students to understand what is happening in lessons. With our help and effective classroom practices, we can ensure our students’ success instead of traumatize their learning experiences.

Amplify their Voices

We are not our students’ voices. All students need, especially students with marginalized backgrounds, is a microphone and a space to share who they are. When my high school economics teacher gave me an assignment to read the law of supply and demand, my mind traveled back to when I was in Guatemala City selling oranges for our family business. I was so happy to make a personal connection with the content I was learning. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a relationship with my teacher to ask if I could share that experience. He had never asked about my experiences, so he didn’t know of the asset I would have gladly shared. To amplify students’ voices, we MUST know their stories. We must intentionally embed lessons that serve as opportunities to get to know our students at a deeper level.

One way I encourage my students to share about themselves and their stories is through literature. I choose books that not only represent my students’ cultural backgrounds but also open their perspectives to others. Once students see characters that reflect their journeys, they feel validated, affirmed, and encouraged to tell their own. I’ve seen students cry because they couldn’t believe an immigrant story such as crossing the Rio Grande or deserts was worth telling. They begin to embrace their experiences and use them as stepping stones to success, to enter society with their heads held high and pride in their identity — ready to impact our community and world.

So, what are you doing to make sure your students are telling good stories about you and their learning experience? What’s your legacy?

Published September 1st, 2022 by Seidlitz Education

About the Book: Written with passion and a visceral commitment to her students, If You Only Knew: Letters from An Immigrant Teacher reflects the journey and experiences of Emily Francis, an immigrant and unaccompanied minor who travels from Guatemala to the USA to become a teacher. Once in the classroom, “Ms. Francis” learns about her students’ stories and journeys and begins to see her own life reflected in the lives of her students. Emily starts writing letters to her students in which her story is intertwined with theirs. This offers a unique expression of empathy, which helps them on their own personal journeys as immigrants living and learning in a new country.

“I could… imagine the fear you probably felt as you prepared to walk in a brand new school in a brand new country, so I made a promise that… I would make sure your experience would be a whole lot different than the one you had in that “icebox” with immigration.” (from the letter, “Dear Orlando”)

Speaking to both young adults and their teachers, If You Only Knew delivers support, solace, and empathy for immigrant students whose stories are too often are ignored. From personal experience, Emily Francis’ mission to offer a leg up to immigrant students deeply resonates with everyone interested in the immigrants and their journeys.

About the Author: Emily Francis is a high school ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Concord High School in Concord, North Carolina. Her experience as an immigrant from Guatemala and English Language Learner inspired her to become an ESL teacher and equipped her with a deep understanding of the challenges her immigrant students must overcome to find success. Cabarrus County Board of Education’s Teacher of the Year in 2016, she serves as a professional development facilitator, motivational speaker, and board member for the Carolina TESOL. Her book, If You Only Knew: Letters from an Immigrant Teacher, delivers support, solace, and empathy for immigrant students whose stories are too often ignored.

Thank you, Emily, for this post celebrating your students!

Author Guest Post: “Five Tips to Excite Students About Writing” by Laurel Solorzano, Author of The Land of Fake Believe

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“Five Tips to Excite Students About Writing”

One of the most difficult parts of teaching writing is convincing all students to be involved in the various activities. Some of my students have reached the end of the writing period with NOTHING on their paper. How many distractions could they possibly have had? These five tips should help you get those students not only involved but excited to tell their story.

Tip #1

Allow Alternative Ways to Tell Their Story. Most of the time, my students who have trouble putting words on paper are the ones who talk. Everyone else may be working quietly, but they are talking- to me, to the other students, to themselves. It doesn’t matter if anyone is responding or not, their mouths are moving.

One way I’ve been able to get these students involved is by using a recording device (a phone or an app on a tablet works well). I move them out into the hall and have them record themselves telling their story or answering the prompt. I usually tell them that they have two minutes to record it (any longer than that, and transcription takes a while).

They LOVE doing this, because they can talk and avoid writing for a few minutes with the teacher’s permission!

Once they’ve recorded themselves, depending on the student’s age, I can either use an online program to transcribe it for them (I then have them read what they “wrote” and fix the errors), OR I’ll have them transcribe it themselves.

Tip #2

SHARE their writing. Some of my students have disliked writing because they don’t get the chance to talk/share with their classmates. They prefer to tell the story out loud rather than write it down and pass it to me.

Whenever I’ve given them the chance to read their story/writing out loud, then they get more excited about writing it. They can’t wait to make their classmates laugh!

I give other students the chance to share too, but don’t force it on the quieter ones who already enjoy the writing.

Tip #3

Give them creative freedom. While mentor texts or examples that students can follow is helpful for SOME students, it can make others struggle. How can they make their writing sound like that writing? They become overwhelmed trying to make it perfect, so they either don’t try at all or copy the example writing and just change a word or two.

For example, if you give them the topic of writing about a favorite memory, then give them subject examples, but not paragraph examples. “Did you ever receive a special Christmas or birthday present? What made it special? Where have you gone that you really enjoyed? The zoo, amusement park?” This can get their ideas pumping without feeling like they have to churn out a perfect paragraph.

Tip #4

Don’t compare writing. You probably already know this, and you wouldn’t do it on purpose. However, sometimes, comments slip out accidentally. “Wow! Did everyone see what a great paragraph Johnny wrote?” or maybe even something that you think is more subtle because you are just speaking to the student. “Johnny, that was really great. I don’t know how you do it!”

Written feedback helps avoid this comparison. I always write one thing each student did well and one thing they can improve. Instead of writing that one student needs to fix their verb tenses and their quotation marks, indent their paragraphs, not use fragments, and. . . well, you get the idea. That would be overwhelming as an adult.

Pick one, concrete thing that they can improve, and write that one. For example, “Don’t start sentences with ‘and’” or “Use an apostrophe to show possession.” That way, they can improve and not be overwhelmed.

Tip #5

Connect reading and writing. A lot of students who don’t necessarily enjoy writing do enjoy listening to stories. Even when students can read on their own, they aren’t too old to be read to as well.

Once they have a story in their head, writing prompts related to the story can turn on their creativity.

Read-aloud continues in my classroom even through fifth grade, which is why I love picking stories that are fun not only for the kids but for me to read year after year as well. Check out my book below for a fun classroom read!

Fun Writing Ideas

Now that you have some ideas about how to involve the non-writers in writing time, here are some prompts to use in your class.

  • If you could meet one fairy tale character, who would it be? What would happen when you meet them?
  • (After reading a book or part of a book together) What do you think should happen in the next chapter?
  • Pick one notoriously bad guy (the Joker, the Big Bad Wolf, or Maleficent for example) and write about them as if they were good.

Published September 1st, 2022

About the Book: The Land of Fake Believe is a twisted fairy tale about two siblings and their fateful encounter with real amusement park characters. It is geared to children ages eight to twelve, but can be read aloud to younger children.

In this fractured fairy tale story, twelve-year-old Taylan is angry when her mom scolds her for telling her five-year-old sister, Judy, that Cinderella isn’t real, just as the little girl is about to meet her favorite princess at the famed Happily Ever After amusement park. Relegated to their vacation hotel room for the evening as a punishment, Taylan enlists the help of her ten-year-old brother, Colby, to prove her mom wrong. What they discover in the park after dark is beyond their wildest dreams—or nightmares.

Soon, the siblings find themselves in the middle of a secret century-long battle among the park’s characters—the good Ever Afters and the dark Ever Afters—and are in a race to help their new friends before the Evil Queen takes over the park for good. With Beauty, Cindy, and Peter Pan on their side, will they be able to survive the conflict before it’s too late?

Fun activities after reading the book including a coloring sheet, quiz, and maze: https://www.laurelsolorzano.com/activities

About the Author: Children’s book author Laurel Solorzano has been creating stories since she first learned how to write, completing her first full-length novel while in middle school. Her love for fairy tales is what inspired her to write The Land of Fake Believe.

Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Yader, Laurel is a Spanish and English teacher. When she’s not penning creative stories for young readers, Laurel enjoys reading and spending time with her two dogs. Also the published author of five young adult books, Laurel’s book The Land of Fake Believe is the debut book in a series of twisted fairy tales including book 2-Once Upon a Climb and book 3- The Princess and the Key.

Author Q&A can be seen here. https://www.laurelsolorzano.com/about

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/laurelsbooks

Signing up for her newsletter on her website is the best way to stay connected!

Thank you, Laurel, for these amazing engaging tips!

Guest Post: Classroom Uses for New Kid by Jerry Craft, Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, Stella Díaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez, and From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

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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. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these realistic fiction books.

New Kid
Author: Jerry Craft
Published February 5th, 2019 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: A graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: You can cover social topics like: Inclusion for BIPOC students and new kids, microaggressions, and stereotyping. If you have a new student in the class, maybe they could read and relate to this book. How to like the way Liam treated Jordan. Maybe you could also use Andy as an example of how not to treat others, since he is the antagonist of the story. Jordan also learned throughout the book how to be more confident, outspoken, stand up for others (telling the teacher that Andy was in the wrong over Drew in the lunch room scene), and how to be a bigger person (Jordan signing Andy’s yearbook at the end of the year).

Some topics for navigation would be using this text to discuss family dynamics and friendships. It would be great to also bring up the topic of diversity, bullying, and respect in the classrooms. Most of the characters in the book have some kind of conflict going on. Draw these conflicts to the students as some of these conflicts may mirror conflicts they could be personally dealing with. Open up the discussion for them to make connections to the story and its characters. Have the students discuss in what ways the conflicts in the book are fueled by social, racial, economic, and cultural differences? Using the book, have students do some freewriting about how to navigate through their emotions, just as Jordan found a way to cope. Teachers can also use the book to have students explore the ways the neighborhood Jordan speaks about is portrayed in the illustrations and words. They can investigate Washington Heights where Jordan and his family live and discuss how or why Jordan would camouflage.

Interdisciplinary options:

  • Geography: have students work with maps and have them draw a way that Jordan would have gone to school every day on the bus.
  • History: teach about how diversity is viewed now vs what it was in the past and why it is important to have it within our school and classroom.
  • Art: Jordan has great drawing skills and he loves to draw about what is going on in his life, maybe the students could try to draw what there day/week has looked like.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of the many pressures that Jordan faced can you relate to the most?
  • How do you handle having a new kid at your school?
  • How does Jordan handle the impacts of race on his friendships?
  • Which character in the book do you identify with the most? Why?
  • Why do you think Jordan saying something when the altercation between Drew and Andy happened, made others step up to report the truth, too?
  • Jordan states that when he has to ride the bus to school he has to be like a chameleon. In your own words, explain what this simile means.
  • In your own opinion, explain why you think the teacher keeps calling Jordan by the wrong name.
  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • Why do you think Jordan at the end of the book decided to write in Andy’s yearbook?
  • Have you ever lost touch with a friend after moving? Why do you think that happens?
  • Have you ever been the new kid? What was that like?
  • How would you have handled the situation like Jordan where the teacher had his notebook? And why?
  • Do you think that Jordan Moving helped develop his character in the book? Why?
  • Why do you think Drew reacted upset towards his teacher calling him Deandre?
  • Write about a time that you didn’t fit in. What happened? How did this make you feel? Did anyone notice and include you?
  • How do you handle having a new kid at your school? Classroom?

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Other Words for Home
Author: Jasmine Warga
Published May 7th, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: I am learning how to be
sad
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book does a great job of taking a situation that is happening in the world and putting it into context in a way that resonates with students as is easy to understand.

A great activity for this book would be “Webbing what’s on my mind.” Students would take moments to write down key concepts throughout the book and talk about how they feel about the themes and issues that they read about. This will also give students time to research issues in the book, research it and then reflect. This will allow students to easily see key concepts in the books and compare their thoughts to the thoughts of their peers. This will allow a group discussion on key elements throughout the story.

Interdisciplinary opportunities:

Social Studies- Students will take this book as an opportunity to research about different countries and cultures to learn more about the characters and what they have gone through. This will also allow the students to understand the differences between the United States and Syria and the changes that Jude went through in the book.

Outreach/Humanitarian Aid- Students can learn about different organizations within their community and learn how to help those around them. Students can participate in drives to help refugees and those displaced by conflict.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Put yourself in Judes shoes. How would you have felt if you had to move across the country and leave your loved ones behind?
  • How does Baba feel when Mama and Jude say goodbye? Provide some examples from the book.
  • Why does Issa believe that he should protest?
  • Whose side do you understand more, the brothers or the parents?
  • Why did Jude have to move away?
  • How did Jude’s relationships with the other ELL students affect her confidence in school?
  • How did Mama and Jude first describe Cincinnati when they landed?
  • How did people treat Layla and Jude differently as one was born in America and spoke fluent English while the other struggled communicating and was seen as more of an outsider?
  • How did the behavior of those around Jude change after she began wearing a hijab. What evidence supports this?
  • The first time Jude is reminded of home in the US iis when she enters Layla’s family restaurant. How does this affect her relationship with Layla and her comfort level within Layla’s restaurant.

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Stella Díaz Has Something to Say
Author: Angela Dominguez
Published January 16th, 2018 by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.

Stella Díaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Díaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.

When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say!

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say introduces an infectiously charming new character with relatable writing and adorable black-and-white art throughout. Simple Spanish vocabulary is also integrated within the text, providing a bilingual element.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful by helping students know that they can overcome the fear of speaking and sharing  opinions, beliefs or ideas to other people, even if it means that those opinions may be different from other people. It also has bilingual opportunities!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Have you ever been the new students at school, if you have, how did you begin to make friends? If you haven’t, did you still feel nervous on your first day, why or why not?
  • If you moved to a different state and had to introduce yourself to the class, what would you say? Would you bring gifts for your classmates?
  • Do you think it’s an important best friend rule to match one another and no one else or do you think Stella was being over-protective of her best friend?
  • List some questions you would ask a new classmate to get to know them. What would you share with a classmate for them to get to know you?
  • How does Jenny suggest Stella start conversations with people? Do you think it is good advice?
  • Why do you think Stella doesn’t let people see her artwork until it’s perfect?
  • Why do you think Stella was afraid of speaking in public?
  • How did the spelling bee or marine report help Stella overcome her fear of speaking in public? What has helped you overcome the fear of speaking in public?
  • Stella and her family celebrate the new year with a trip to Wisconsin, how does your family celebrate special occasions or holidays?

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Author: Janae Marks
Published January 14th, 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary: Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is AMAZING, and is recommended for all to young readers to dive in. This story is also relatable and a lot of young readers can relate to this story and have a special bond with this book. This story also teaches the lesson to fight for what you believe in which is a great lesson to teach students.

This book would be useful to teach kids to fight for what they believe in. Even though Zoe didn’t know her father, she still fought to prove his innocence and was willing to uncover hard truths.

A great tool to use for this story is chronological order journals and open discussions. This book talks about a tough topic that may be hard for other students and this would be the perfect opportunity for teachers to connect with students and have an honest discussion about how the book makes them feel, what they think, and if they are open to sharing stories. You can also have a “mailbox” where students can send you mail and let them know that whatever mail  they send is only for your eyes, if they are uncomfortable with the conversation.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the theme of the book from the desk of Zoe Washington?
  • Describe where “From The Desk of Zoe Washington” take place.
  • How did the letter’s in the novel make you feel while reading the book?
  • What would you have done in Zoe’s  mother’s shoes? Why? What about other characters?
  • How do you think Zoe’s grandmother handles the situation?
  • Why do you think Zoe was so eager to rebuild her friendship with Trevor after he found out about Marcus?
  • Describe your favorite scene in the book and the way you imagined it while reading.
  • Why do you think it was so important for Zoe to build a relationship with his biological father?
  • Describe the conflicts that came up in Zoe and her mothers relationship when Zoe found the letter on her 12th birthday.

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