Eleanor, Quiet No More

Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 in Biography, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Print Motivation, Range of Reading, Self Smart | 1 comment

Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport and Gary KelleyThis morning, I sat basking in the presence of an amazingly talented author. Doreen Rappaport was speaking at our local university, and because my husband, Matt Faulkner, will illustrate her biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matt and I were able to sit in on her lecture. I’ve been a huge fan of Doreen’s work for years, but hearing her speak made me want to read everything she’s ever written. It reminded me just how powerful it is to hear an author or illustrator in person.

Doreen has a series of picture book biographies about famous Americans that perfectly hit that Common Core Standard of Range of Reading for elementary students. I love using her books because her writing style is so engaging that any one of them make for a great Craft & Structure lesson. Take, for example, Eleanor, Quiet No More written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Gary Kelley. Gorgeous, large illustrations accompany the story of Eleanor’s life. Yes, you will find a timeline of her life and key facts to use for writing reports, but more importantly you will get a sense of who this remarkable woman was. Direct quotes are written in huge letters, and discussing why this is can be the beginning of the lesson on author’s craft.

Doreen has video clips of Eleanor Roosevelt and Common Core-aligned study guides with cross-curricular activities on her website, but I think one of the best ways to extend this book is to have your students contact Doreen herself. If you aren’t able to bring her to your school, email her questions, or snail-mail her letters. Allowing your students to personally connect with authors and illustrators will inspire them to appreciate books on an entirely new level. Many authors and illustrators will Skype with students across the country, but check out who lives in your state. Michigan has a list of authors and illustrators available for school visits through the Library of Michigan website. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( has a  speaker’s list that is searchable by region. All of your students will benefit from hearing an author or an illustrator speak, but for those who dream of making their own books, it may be the spark that lights the next Gary Kelley or Doreen Rappaport.

For more information about the author, please visit

For more information about the illustrator, please visit

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Celebrate America with “Seed by Seed”

Posted by on Jul 3, 2013 in Biography, Early Learning, Holiday, Key Ideas and Details, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Social Studies | 2 comments

seedbyseedWhat better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than with a slice of apple pie and a beautiful picture book about an American legend? Seed by Seed: the Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman written by Esme Raji Codell and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins is one of the most thought-full biographies I’ve read. Codell and Perkins invite children to leave behind the world of concrete, cars, and screens, and enter a time when one man made a huge impact on our country, seed by seed.

John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed, planted so many seeds across America that chances are the apples you eat are descendents of his trees. His legend of humble generosity is a story every child should know. I love the five examples Johnny Appleseed planted that we can follow:

“Use what you have.
Share what you have.
Respect nature.
Try to make peace where there is war.
You can reach your destination by taking small steps.”

And I just want to hug the book every time I read the end:

“Seed by seed, deed by deed,
Johnny Appleseed changed the landscape of a nation.
And now it’s your turn.
One small deed, every day.
What seed will you plant?”

Pick this book to use in your classroom as a biography, as part of a unit on apples, in an American legends unit. Codell, who knows what works in the classroom (remember the terrific book about a teacher’s first year called Educating Esme? That’s her!) has great ideas in the back of the book, including a recipe for apple pie. There’s also a fantastic free teacher’s guide on I’d have students help me make a yummy apple treat to share as we discuss the five examples of Johnny Appleseed. Connecting what Johnny did in his life to each of those ideas will be a good Common Core Key Ideas & Details lesson (plus you can put a checkmark next to Range of Reading).  You can talk with your students about putting these examples into place in your classroom. Seed by Seed could inspire your students to plant seeds of kindness, and those seeds could spread through your school, your community, your nation. That is as wonderful and American as apple pie.

Have a happy Fourth of July!

For more information about the author, please visit
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My favorite Earth Day book: Wangari’s Trees of Peace

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Biography, Early Learning, Holiday, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Logic Smart, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading | 0 comments

2010-wangari-trees-of-peace-africaSometimes I fear that I can’t make a real difference in helping the planet, but Wangari’s Trees of Peace: a true story from Africa by Jeanette Winter shows how powerful one person’s actions can be. Wangari Maathai was devastated to see how barren Kenya was after thousands of trees were cleared. Soil was eroding and crops wouldn’t grow. The birds were gone. Women walked for miles to gather firewood. “I can begin to replace some of the lost trees here in my own backyard – one tree at a time.”

Wangari started with nine seedlings, which grew into a nursery. Wangari gave new seedlings to village women for them to plant, and gave them money to keep those trees thriving. When Wangari tried to stop the clearing of old trees, she was beaten and arrested. But her message of caring for the Earth was taking root just like her trees were, and because of her, Kenyan women planted over 30 million trees, saving their land and making life there better.

For Earth Day/Arbor Day/natural resources units/biography units/non-fiction read-alouds that you can finish in one sitting, this is my new go-to book. Just by reading it and discussing it with students, you’re hitting the Common Core Standard of Range of Reading (a biography that teaches science and social studies? Non-fiction score!) Wangari’s Trees of Peace is also excellent for an ecological cause-and-effect lesson, one of the big pieces of Key Ideas and Details. Using the book for reference, students can write and draw the effects of deforestation (crops wouldn’t grow, birds were gone, lack of firewood) and the effects of planting all those trees (women don’t have to walk so far to gather firewood, more birds, crops growing in the soil.) Winter’s picture book doesn’t delve deeply into the science of why a lack of trees leads to soil erosion, so you can share Planting the Trees of Kenya: the story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola if you need to build that knowledge with your students. Use both books as resources for student writing and drawing, and now you’re Integrating Knowledge and Ideas!

If in the past you’ve received more apple-themed coffee mugs than you need as end-of-the-year teacher gifts, you can suggest that in lieu of a present for you, students can give a gift to us all by planting a tree. If you can spring for a seedling or if your parent-teacher organization will chip in, plant a tree with your students and let them help take responsibility for watering it (seeds are cool, but watering a visible seedling is way more exciting than watering a patch of dirt.) Wangari’s Trees of Peace may plant in your students a dedication to care for our planet.


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Drummer Boy of John John

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Art, Biography, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Music Smart, Onomatopoeia, Print Concepts, Range of Reading, Social Studies, Vocabulary | 0 comments

drummer-boy-of-john-john-largeMaybe it’s the vibrant art or maybe it’s the tropical setting of Trinidad, but on this snowy March day, I am in love with Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood with illustrations by Frane Lessac. Knowing that it’s a biography (so it hits the Common Core standard of Range of Reading) that incorporates music and art makes me love it even more.

It’s almost time for Carnival and everyone in Winston’s town is getting ready to celebrate with calypso music. Winston wishes he were in a band, because the best band in the parade will get free rotis from the Roti King. (Is your Craft and Structure Common Core Standard alarm ringing? Lots of interesting word choices in this book!) But Winston has no gourds full of seeds that go “shoush-shap/ shukka-shac” and no bamboo to pound on the ground with a “click clack/ rappa-tap” (Check Print Concepts off on your Common Core score card). When Winston throws his mango pit into the junkyard, he hears a “pong ping pang” as the pit hits old metal. Winston makes his own instrument from the dented metal containers – the first steel drum. Winston’s friends hear this music and form a junkyard band. They paint pots, pans, tins, and cans rainbow colors and experiment with the dents and bumps in the metal to make different pitches. Winston’s band is crowned the best band in the Carnival parade, so they all feast on rotis and mango lemonade.

This book has so many tie-ins for art, music, and social studies. (I wish I’d found it a month ago, so I could’ve used it for Carnival/Mardi Gras, but it’s a fun lesson any time of year.) Students can use recycled cans, jars, bottles and containers to make their own instruments. Paint them in the tropical rainbow colors Lessac used in her art. Play a clip of steel drum music for students (you can get cd’s from your local library or use this Youtube clip: Steel Drums in Trinidad and Tobago. Bring in mangos for students to taste after they try dancing under the limbo pole like the Roti King does. Use your recycled instruments to play a “listen and repeat” rhythm game to build listening skills. Winston Simon began with junk from the junkyard and ended up touring London and Paris with the Trinidad All Stars Percussion Orchestra. Who knows where tin cans and this inspirational book might take your students?

For more information about the author, visit:
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