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!

Guest Review: All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

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Guest Reviewer: Sharon, UCF Elementary Education Student

All Are Welcome
Author: Alexandra Penfold
Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman
Published July 10th, 2018 by Bloomsbury Publishing

Summary: Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yamulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

About the Creators: 

A graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Alexandra Penfold began her career in publishing as a children’s book publicist at Simon & Schuster where she worked on media campaigns that appeared in USA Today, Newsweek, US News and World Report, and NPR’s All Things Considered. For eight years she served as an editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster working on award-winning books for young readers of all ages. She is currently a literary agent with Upstart Crow Literary representing children book authors and illustrators as well as select adult projects.

Suzanne Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling illustrator of All Are Welcome.  She is the recipient of The Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship, Society of Children’s Book Writers Illustrators Mentorship and Portfolio Honors and Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Her books have been awarded Bank Street College Education Best Children’s Books of the Year Honors, Notable Books for a Global Society, CCBC Choice Award, Washington State Best Picture Book Award, Mathical Honor Award, and Amazon Best Children Book of the Year.  Her books include her own book Confiscated and illustrated work: Big Feelings, Take Your Pets to School Day, 100 Bugs, Naughty Claudine Christmas, and Samanthasaurus Rex.  She has presented at SCBWI Summer Conference, NMAEYC Conference, Tucson Book Festival, Los Angeles Festival of Books and Penguin Random House Book Festival.

Review: This story was very inspiring, and I enjoyed reading it very much. This story resembles what I wish for my future classroom and school to be like. I think it is very important to teach acceptance to children at a very young age and to show them that not everyone looks the same or has the same traditions. This book teaches children that diversity is something good and a strength. This book will hopefully make students feel that no matter what they are welcomed and have a safe space in their school. There are a lot of illustrations and repetition that will help ELL students. This book shows flags of other countries and different types of people which I think will make ELL students feel welcomed at their new school. Students should find someone in the book they can relate to and feel special that they have someone like them in the story. This book emphasizes that no matter what you do at home with your family, what clothes you wear, where you come from, what foods you eat, or what traditions you have with your family, everyone is able to come together and be friends and play together at school. This message is so important and so strong. Children who learn about diversity early on will later become more understanding of their differences with others and will realize what a good thing it is to have diversity.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book could be used to talk about different countries and the types of traditions different people have around the world. Teacher’s can pause while reading the book and discuss different characters’ countries. This book also teaches the valuable lesson that everyone is welcomed and that acceptance of others is very important. This is a good book to read to teach the class about acceptance and in an underlying way it also prevents bullying. If students learn to be accepting of each other’s differences, that could stop a lot of the bullying that goes on in schools. Teachers can use this book to discuss how their community is similar and different to the one portrayed in the book. Students can also discuss how diversity makes a community better and why they think that. Teachers can also discuss with students times they have felt unwelcomed and what they could do to make others feel welcomed.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What makes the kids in the book remind you of yourself and your friends?
  • Based on what you have seen in the book, do you think having a diverse community like the one in the book is better? Why or why not?
  • If you could be a part of this classroom would you want to? Why or why not.
  • What are some things that the children in the book are doing that makes you think they are kind? Look close at the illustrations on each page. What are some kind things you could do to other students?
  • What is something you and your family do that you think is unique? Explain what it is that you do and why it is unique.
  • What do you think is happening in the cover illustration of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Inclusion and diversity

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Sharon, for your review!

Author Guest Post: “It’s Okay to be Optimistic” by Laura Schaefer, Author of A Long Way from Home

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“It’s Okay to be Optimistic”

The soul of A Long Way from Home is its optimism, which leads me to reflect a little bit about where that comes from in my own life. Some of my best memories growing up involved my family’s regular visits to Florida in wintertime. Not only did I love the sun and the beach, but like most kids, I couldn’t get enough of Disney World. There was something about Epcot Center in particular that captured my imagination. The combination of Walt Disney’s cheerful vision of a World’s Fair-style utopia and the regular shuttle launches from Florida’s nearby Space Coast has always stayed with me.

When I moved with my family from Madison, Wisconsin to Central Florida as an adult, I knew I wanted to explore what the future could promise, and what our role could be in creating some kind of real solarpunk society. Feeling inspired by the advent of SpaceX and the ongoing work of NASA, with its regular rocket launches visible from our front yard, I began writing A Long Way from Home in 2018. Though I’m not a scientist or engineer by a long shot, I thought a lot about the people who were making these launches possible—and the skills, dedication, and hard work these events required.

I’m lucky to count among my friends and family several engineers, whose abilities impress and baffle me. The best thing about being a writer is it gives me good excuse to pester them about what they do and why they do it. It was with their help that A Long Way from Home came to fruition. I hope if it contains any glaring inaccuracies, they’ll forgive me…or figure out a way for me to go back in time and fix them.

My wish for this book as it travels out into the world is that readers will get the sense that the events of history and the way that the future unfolds isn’t something apart from them or their lives. Each of us—as individuals and as pieces of a larger community—is engaged all the time in the act of creation. We create the kind of society we want to live in, which is why maintaining core optimism really matters. I believe it’s possible to make our world a peaceful and green one in which more than just a lucky few get to thrive.

It’s not my intention to sound Pollyanna-ish, but it is my intention to sound hopeful. I want to tell stories that inspire readers to make and do beautiful, astounding things in loving, fully participatory lives.

I also want readers to know that if they’re anxious or sad, they’re not alone and that it’s not forever. I see anxiety and sadness as part of being human. If we all talk about these feelings more and the ways we’ve learned to cope, we can be less isolated. Connection with others isn’t a cure, exactly, because there isn’t a cure. But connection is a way forward, even when it’s hard to find hope. I love the fact that Abby is changed by her time with Adam and Bix, and by the choices she makes in order to help them. Her new perspective on the enormity of the universe and the possibilities it contains breaks her malaise and puts her in the captain seat of her life. That’s optimism.

Other people (sometimes from very, very far away) can and do change us, usually for the better.

One of the best ways I personally deal with my feelings and fears is by reading a lot of fiction. It makes me feel better to know other human beings have grappled with tough situations or challenging emotions and grown as a result. Some of my favorite middle grade and young adult reads include:

  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Some of my favorite authors these days are Andy Weir, Neal Stephenson, Stuart Gibbs, Emily Calandrelli, Jennifer L. Holm, Tana French, Kira Jane Buxton, Hank Green, Ted Chiang, Martha Wells, Becky Chambers, Emily St. John Mandel, Ali Benjamin, Samantha Irby and Ann Patchett.

There’s nothing like a great book if you’re looking to feel better.

Publishing October 4th, 2022 by Carolrhoda Books

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Abby has a lot to worry about: Climate change. The news. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And now moving to Florida for her mom’s new job at an aerospace company.

On the Space Coast, Abby meets two boys, Adam and Bix, who tell her they’re a long way from home and need her help. Abby discovers they’re from the future, from a time when all the problems of the 21st century have been solved. Thrilled, Abby strikes a deal: She’ll help them–if they let her come to the future. But soon Abby is forced to question her attachment to a perfect future and her complicated feelings about the present.

About the Author: Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida, with her husband and daughter, where she enjoys visiting theme parks and watching rocket launches from her front yard. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and twitter.com/teashopgirl.

Thank you, Laura, for this enlightening post!

Guest Review: We Can: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon

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Guest Reviewer: Sailor, UCF Elementary Education Student

We Can: Portraits of Power
Creator: Tyler Gordon
Published September 28th, 2021 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Summary: “When I was born, the doctors told my mom that if I did survive I would have lots of health problems and be blind, deaf and severely mentally delayed . . . Boy were they wrong!” —Tyler Gordon

Fifteen-year-old Tyler Gordon’s journey from a regular kid growing up in San Jose, California, to a nationally recognized artist wasn’t without its challenges. For the first six years of his life he was fully deaf, which led to a stutter and bullying. Art gave him a creative outlet for his pain. Then, after painting a portrait of Kamala Harris and posting it on social media, he received a call from the vice president herself! Soon his art was everywhere. He had an interview with the The Today Show. He was the youngest artist featured in the Beverly Center. His portrait of LeBron James graced the cover of TIME Magazine. And that was only the beginning!

Here is a debut picture book by partially deaf prodigy Tyler Gordon, featuring his bold paintings of over 30 icons—musicians, artists, writers, civils rights leaders, sports legends, change-makers, record-setters, and more—alongside short explanations of how these people inspire him.

If Tyler can make art and follow his dreams, you can, too. We all can.

About the Author: Tyler Gordon is a fourteen-year-old painter whose work has been featured in TIME Magazine, Essence, Good Morning America, and ABC News. In 2020, he was awarded the Global Child Prodigy Award. He currently lives in San Jose, California with his family.

Review: We Can: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon is by far one of the best books for children to read. This book provides a lot of historical, and current information, that many people do not know, but should, about very famous and influential people. Tyler Gordon was only 14 years old when his book was published. He relates every single person that he paints to himself and talks about the honorable work that these people have done, walls they have torn down, and glass ceilings they have broken through.

Every single student can relate to this book in some way or another, with over 30 people showcased in We Can: Portraits of Power, students will be able to see themselves through one of them, all of them, or even through Tyler Gordon himself. This book is filled with politicians, artists, athletes, singers, philanthropists, civil rights activists, and many more. This story is able to empower students to be activists for theirs, and other people’s rights, all while also getting them excited and encouraging  them to learn about the history that some of these amazing  people have made, and are continuing to make.

I loved reading this book and looking at the beautiful art that Tyler has done and will continue to do. I cannot wait to see what this young man’s future holds.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: We Can: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon provides many great opportunities for use within the classroom. To start, teachers are able to have students pick their favorite person that Tyler had painted and write why that person was also an inspiration to them.  Teachers can also have students paint a portrait of someone who had has a big impact in their lives,  and. then write about them.

I think that one of the best ideas to pair with We Can: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon. would be to have students make a list of people who they look up to, and people that empower them to be great. After students make their lists, they would go back and write why these people have been so influential in their life, and then finally paint an image of them. Creating their own mini versions of We Can: Portraits of Power.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Tyler relate to President Biden? Do you know anyone that could also relate to President Biden and Tyler? Why is it good to be able to relate to successful people?
  • How did Tyler’s creativity help him?
  • How did this book inspire you?
  • Who did you relate to in this book? Why?
  • Why did Tyler use athletes, politicians, and historical figures in this book? What did it do to the story that he used  a variety of people?
  • Who do you think is the most important person in this book? Why do you think that? How can you relate to this person?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Art, Diversity, Empowerment

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Sailor, for your review!

Author Guest Post: “Understand the Rules, Then Forget Them” by Erin Entrada Kelly, Author of Surely Surely Marisol Rainey

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“Understand the Rules, Then Forget Them”

I run a kids book club at my local library. It’s for ages eight to twelve. Each month, we read and discuss a middle grade book then complete a related activity. After we read The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold, we created a mural inspired by Haitian art. For Jennifer L. Holm’s The Lion of Mars, one of the students crafted a clay astronaut. To celebrate Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, we excavated bugs.

One afternoon, as we prepared to discuss Dan Santat’s The Aquanaut, I pulled paper and pencils out of my bag. One of the young readers, Anthony, wrinkled his nose.

“Oh, no,” he said. “We’re not gonna write, are we?”

As a lifelong writer, it’s difficult for me to imagine not wanting to write. But over the years I have come to accept a disappointing reality: A lot of kids really hate writing. For them, it feels like work.

“I’m not good at it,” Anthony said. With a tilted whine to his voice, he added: “I haaaate writing.”

While it’s true that some young people hate writing, will forever hate writing, and will instead excel in some other trade or craft, it’s my mission, as a lifelong wordsmith, to make them hate it a little less.

One of the ways to do that is to eliminate all the qualities about writing that feel like work. Anything that shackles them. Anything that limits their imagination. When our goal is to simply create something, without worrying whether it’s grammatically correct or good or even readable, we are suddenly free to make mistakes. And if there’s one thing I know about young people—they don’t like making mistakes. It’s the mistakes that often prevent them from trying. It’s the mistakes that make them think they’re not good at something.

What if we limit the possibility of error? What if we create simply for the joy of creating?

Here are a few things I’ve done with students.

  • Toss the rules. Give students a writing prompt and encourage them to respond however they want. Tell them not to worry about any rules of grammar or spelling. They won’t be graded on either. In fact, they won’t be graded at all. It will be a ten-minute writing sprint and that’s it. Afterward, give them the freedom of choice: They can keep what they wrote, share it with a friend, or toss it in the trash.
  • Encourage storythinking. When you read books together, stop at the end of each chapter and ask them what they think will happen next. If too many students answer at once, take differing answers from two or three students then take a poll with the rest of the class. If you want to incorporate writing, ask your students to write one or two sentences with their predictions. They don’t need to show their predictions to anyone if they don’t want to.
  • Encourage storytelling. When you finish reading a chapter or a book, ask them how they would have written it to make it more interesting. I ask my book club these questions all the time. Their answer is almost always the same: “More dragons.” In their opinion, dragons always make things more interesting. If your students say “more dragons,” your instinct may be similar to mine—you’ll find yourself explaining why dragons aren’t logical in a story like Charlotte’s Web. But instead of launching into your logical explanation, why not embrace all their ideas? That’s what I did with my book club, and they were immediately engaged, firing off one idea after another, until they reached the end of their own story. For me, the importance of the moment wasn’t to force them to think critically about Charlotte’s Web. It was to get them excited about stories and all the possibilities they offer.

To develop a love of writing, we must develop a love of creativity, a love of storytelling, and an appreciation of how words create stories. Rules, logic, grammar, spelling—all of these sound like work. Because they are work. They serve a purpose, certainly, but they also confine us.

There are times when it’s okay to prioritize creativity above all else, and let the work come later. As grown-ups, we often forget that.

Published August 9th, 2022 by Greenwillow Books

About the Book: Everyone loves sports . . . except Marisol! The stand-alone companion to Newbery Medal winner and New York Times-bestselling Erin Entrada Kelly’s Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey is an irresistible and humorous story about friendship, family, and fitting in. Fans of Clementine, Billy Miller Makes a Wish, and Ramona the Pest will find a new friend in Marisol.

Marisol Rainey’s two least-favorite things are radishes and gym class. She avoids radishes with very little trouble, but gym is another story–especially when Coach Decker announces that they will be learning to play kickball.

There are so many things that can go wrong in kickball. What if Marisol tries to kick the ball . . . but falls down? What if she tries to catch the ball and gets smacked in the nose? What if she’s the worst kickballer in the history of kickball? Marisol and her best friend Jada decide to get help from the most unlikely–and most annoying–athlete in the world: Marisol’s big brother, Oz.

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on almost every page, Erin Entrada Kelly’s stand-alone companion novel to Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey celebrates the small but mighty Marisol, the joys of friendship, the power of being different, and the triumph of persevering.

About the Author: New York Times–bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly was awarded the Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe and a Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and now lives in Delaware. She is a professor of children’s literature in the graduate fiction and publishing programs at Rosemont College, where she earned her MFA, and is on the faculty at Hamline University. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut novel, Blackbird Fly, was a Kirkus Best Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, an ALSC Notable Book, and an Asian/Pacific American Literature Honor Book. She is also the author of The Land of Forgotten Girls, winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; You Go First, a Spring 2018 Indie Next Pick; Lalani of the Distant Sea, an Indie Next Pick; and Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey which she also illustrated.

Thank you, Erin, for this reminder to allow kids to write freely!

Guest Review: A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, Illustrated by Sylvia Long

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Guest Reviewer: Natalia, UCF Elementary Education Student

A Butterfly is Patient
Author: Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrator: Sylvia Long
Published May 18th, 2011 by Chronicle Books

Summary: The creators of the award-winning An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy have teamed up again to create this gorgeous and informative introduction to the world of butterflies. From iridescent blue swallowtails and brilliant orange monarchs to the worlds tiniest butterfly (Western Pygmy Blue) and the largest (Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing), an incredible variety of butterflies are celebrated here in all of their beauty and wonder. Perfect for a child’s bedroom bookshelf or for a classroom reading circle!  (Summary from Goodreads)

About the Creators: 

Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of many books for children and is the founder of the nonprofit foundation for disadvantaged children, The Oz Project. She lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Sylvia Long is the illustrator of many best-selling books for children, including Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose and Hush Little Baby. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and their dogs.

Review: I loved this beautifully illustrated book by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long!  There is a wide variety of butterflies depicted in this nonfiction picture book about the life cycle and anatomy of butterflies.  Not only can it be enjoyed for its visual aspects, but the descriptive vocabulary shares basic facts about butterflies as well as more unusual information.  Did you know butterflies taste with their feet?  Some butterflies eat plants that are poisonous to their predators when they are caterpillars, so they will be poisonous as adults.  For such a seemingly delicate creature, A Butterfly is Patient shares that butterflies are so much more than they seem.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

In addition to providing beautiful, life-like illustrations of a variety of butterflies, this nonfiction picture book follows the life cycle of a butterfly.  There are many opportunities to infuse reading, ELA, math, art, and science and more using this book.  There is a rich descriptive vocabulary and uses key terms like anatomy, metamorphosis, migration, coloration/camouflage, and more.  I can see using these words cross-curricular lessons, from an ELA-based writing exercise to science-based compare/contrast activity with other animals and insects.  Math and geography activities can be used to calculate and track the migratory paths that different species of butterflies travel in their lifetimes.  Take it a step further, compare/contrast how many hours/days/weeks that would take a person using different modes of transportation.  Students can use what they have learned about butterfly camouflage and anatomy, to create their own butterfly.  They can describe why they chose the colors and features, then use art supplies to create a painting, drawing, or model of their “newly discovered” species.

Something I love to do with my children and students, is purchase milkweed plants.  They attract Monarch Butterflies.  Sometimes the plants already have tiny eggs or caterpillars living on them.  Other times, if I wait long enough, Monarchs will lay eggs on my plants.  We love to watch the caterpillars grow from teeny tiny slivers, to thick, fat caterpillars, which in turn, change into gorgeous jade chrysalis.  If we are lucky enough, we get to see the butterfly when it hatches.  There are butterfly net cages you can use in the classroom or just keep the plants outdoors if there is a safe place.  Students can track the growth and changes throughout the process with drawings and/or written descriptions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does a butterfly lay its egg under a leaf?
  • What does it mean to “molt?”
  • What is “metamorphosis?”
  • How does a caterpillar protect itself during metamorphosis?
  • How do butterflies help pollinate flowers?
  • What are some ways that butterflies use their wings to protect themselves?
  • How does a butterfly use its probiscis?
  • Are butterflies all the same size?
  • What would happen if a butterfly didn’t have scales?
  • How are butterflies’ scales helpful to them?
  • Where do Monarch butterflies migrate to and from?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Recommended For: 

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Thank you, Natalia, for your review!

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!