Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Tree Lady          
by H. Joseph Hopkins
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Published: 2013

Awards: 2015 Oregon Book Award Finalist, Booklist 2013 Top 10 Books for Youth, Science & Health; Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2013: Crafts and Gardening; 2014 Irma Black Award Finalist; Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2014, Sustainability; 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project List, Early Readers Nonfiction; Booklist 2014 Top 10 Books for Youth, Biography; IRA Children’s Choices 2015: Young Readers (Grades 3 & 4). 

The Tree Lady is a picture book biography about Katherine Olivia Sessions, the woman who is credited for planting trees in San Diego in the 1890s that ultimately transformed the city from a desert to the beautiful lush landscaped city that we know today.  The Tree Lady  would be perfect to use in many ways in your classroom,not only in reading and writing workshop, but in science, environmental education, gardening classes or as an example of inspirational people. (Sessions was the first women to be granted a degree in science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1881.)  

In writing workshop, The Tree Lady would model for students on how to write a biography that is in a short, picture book format. This would involve writing the movement and passage of time of a person’s life in an  effective way to keep readers engaged. Writers would need to make decisions on important aspects of the person’s life to write about—all mature decisions as a writer to make.

The Tree Lady is excellent to use in reading workshop as an informational read to teach about the structure of biographies.  Thinking critically about the text, synthesizing, summarizing as well as inferring Sessions actions throughout the story can easily be emphasized with this story.

Another idea would be to compare Katherine Sessions early childhood as described in the book (loving nature and trees, getting dirty, etc in the 1870s) to Jane Goodall’s early childhood and how these two inspirational women made a difference in the world.

Book Talk
Katherine Olivia Sessions (later in the book referred to as Kate) was born in Northern California in 1857.  As as child she absolutely loved nature.  She was always found outdoors in the forests surrounding her home. She always got dirty, which little girls in the 1860s were not suppose to do!

Some favorite lines:
“Kate felt the trees were her friends. She loved the way they reached toward the sky and how their branches stretched wide to catch the light. Trees seemed to Kate like giant umbrellas that sheltered her and the animals, birds, and plants that lived in the forest. Not everyone feels at home in the woods. But Kate did.”

Her love and fascination with nature grew and in school she focused on her science classes—highly unusual for a girl at that time. She attended the University of California, Berkeley and in 1881, she was the first women to graduate from Berkeley with a degree in science.

In 1883, she took a teaching job in San Diego and was so surprised upon her arrival to see that San Diego was mostly desert.  She stayed with her teaching job for just a while as her yearning for trees pulled her outside to do something about the barren environment around the city.

She opened her own plant nursery and worked with the San Diego city government to allow her to run her growing fields in the City Park (now the beautifully landscape Balboa Park.) At that time, City Park was scrubby and deserty.  

City leaders made a deal with her to plant 100 trees in the park and 300 around the city. She eagerly and happily did and the landscape of San Diego began to change for the better.  She was able to import hundreds of plants and seeds from all over the world.

When the city leaders announced that a great fair call the Panama-California Exposition was to be held in San Diego, they went to Kate to see if she could continue to plant and beautify the city.  She and her hundreds of volunteers did not disappoint.

if you visit Balboa Park today, notice the old trees.  They were all planted by Kate Sessions.

She received many great honors in her life. The honor she cherished most was being called “Mother of Balboa Park”. 

Kate Sessions died in 1940 at the age of 82.  She continued to garden until she died.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Biography (picture book)
Reading Workshop Strategies: Making Connections, Critiquing, inferring, Synthesizing, Summarizing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Informational (Biography), Character development, Narrative, Elaboration
Curricular areas: environmental sciences, gardening

Jill McElmurry’s website:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Great Gracie Chase-Stop that dog! 

By Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Mark Teague
Published: 2001

Awards: 2001 School Library Journal -- Starred Review (*)
2005 Young Hoosier Book Award -- Picture Book (Nominee)

If your students are dog-lovers and/or dog-owners—they will delightfully connect and thoroughly enjoy The Great Gracie Chase-Stop that Dog!  (Even if they aren’t dog-owners-the students will love this book!)  

The immediate engagement by your students will open the door for you to use The Great Gracie Chase as a mentor for reading and writing workshop. 

The Great Gracie Chase has such a strong, flowing, almost folksy, storytelling voice. In fact, when I read it, I can almost see and hear Cynthia Rylant before a group of people at a storytelling festival telling this story!  

I would use The Great Gracie Chase to examine ‘voice’ in writing workshop with older students. Students should note sentence structure, sentence length and how Rylant uses punctuation to create voice. Students should notice how this ‘storyteller's’ voice uses ‘internal thinking’ to let readers know what Gracie was thinking as she was running from the big crowd.The Great Gracie Chase also has a lead strung over the first several pages that draws students in and sets up the ‘drama’ of the chase. Another great example for older students—and a strong example to emphasis that the ‘lead’ of the story can go beyond the first sentence or two.

The Great Gracie Chase is perfect to use in reading workshop or in guided reading as well. Again, students can connect to a dog getting loose and trying to catch it. The storytelling voice will help fluency. Students can infer, as well as analyze the author’s craft.

Book Talk
Gracie, the little, round dog, loves living quietly in her house helping the bigger dog keep order, peace and quiet. Quiet is especially what little Gracie loves.  And everything  is normally quiet at her house…until the painters come!

Some favorite lines:
“When the painters arrived one day to the paint Gracie’s kitchen, she did not  like it! Here they came in a big, noisy truck. There they were at the door with their clingy ladders and big person voices!  There they were, dragging chairs across gracie’s quiet kitchen floor! Gracie watched them with her ears straight up in the air and she was not happy. She barked and barked and told them to go outside.”

Even though Gracie barked and barked to get rid of the painters—Gracie is the one set outside!

She then noticed a gate open and decided to escape—which is very unusual behavior for her.

But escape she did—-and as she ran, she soon gathered a large crowd that was following her—including the painters!  Gracie was not sure why she was running, but she did not like all the people following her—-so run she did!  The more Gracie ran, the more people gathered to chase her—and the more she ran.  It seemed endless!

FINALLY…..the people all wore out, pooped out and fell down….leaving Gracie with the quiet she was craving!

Gracie turned around, put her nose in the air with dignity and pride and strutted to her peaceful home….where the painters did not return!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Animal Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Connecting, Analyzing, Inferring, Summarizing, Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Personal Narrative, Small moment
Voice, Strong leads

Cynthia Rylant’s website:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

All the Places to Love   
by Patricia MacLachlan
Paintings by Mike Wimmer
Published: 1994

Awards: 1994 Booklist -- Starred Review (*) ; 1995 Book Sense Book of the Year Award -- Children's (Nominee)

Patricia Maclachlan’s style of writing is an outstanding example to share with student writers.  All the Places to Love is told in first person by Eli, the main character who is a young boy. The sentences are short, like a child would speak, but the short sentences create a calm, rhythmic cadence as one reads setting the tone of the story. Maclachlan’s use of sensory language and rich word choice definitely lights up one’s imagination.  

I would use All the Places to Love as a mentor text in writing workshop with older students to demonstrate the power of word choice as well as sentence structure that can create a rhythm in the story.  Maclachlan also does an excellent job with the craft move of 'movement of time and place'. Through Eli's descriptions , the reader is taken around the farm and learns about the Eli’s (and the family's) deep connection to each special locale. Maclachlan's word choice also gives readers a vivid description of the setting—another great example for writers.

Most importantly, her sentence length, rhythm, sensory words, movement of story as well as word choice in the setting description, all work together to create a writer’s voice that resonates with readers and is a model for writers.

Another possibility for using All the Places to Love in writing workshop would be as mentor text for personal narrative (for younger writers-Grades 2 or 3)  or even as a memoir (Grades 4 and up).

Book Talk:
Young Eli tells readers of life at the farm with his loving, devoted family by describing all the places he loves—and with whom he loves them.

Eli tells readers of the day he was born and the reaction of his grandmother and grandfather. He describes going to the meadow with his mother as a toddler, plowing the fields with grandfather when he was a little older and exploring and fishing at the river with his grandmother as a young boy.

Some Favorite lines:
“ My grandmother loved the river best of all the places to love.
'That sound, like a whisper,' she said.
Gathering in pools
Where trout flashed like jewels in the sunlight.
Grandmother sailed little bark boats downriver to me with messages.
'I Love You Eli,' one said.
We jumped from rock to rock to rock,
Across the river to where the woods began.
Under a beech tree was a soft, rounded bed where a deer had slept.
The bed was warm when I touched it.”

Near the end of the story, Eli’s little sister is born in the same farm bed that he was born in. Eli waits with Grandpa in the barn for the news of the new baby. When Grandma raises the baby to the window for them to see, they quietly celebrate by carving Sylvie’s name into the barn post with the rest of the family.

Eli tells readers that he looks forward to sharing with Sylvie all the places on the farm that he loves.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Adjust Words/Fluency, Making Connection, Inferring, Analyzing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies:  Personal Narrative or Memoir,Word Choice, Movement of Time and Place, Rhythm/Cadence, Writer’s Voice

Mike Wimmer website:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Light in the Darkness    

By Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrations by James E. Ransome
Published: 2013

Awards:  Junior Library Guild selection, CCBC Choices  2014, 2014 Notable Children's Book in Language Arts 

Light in the Darkness is an outstanding example of a historical fiction to use in Writing Workshop in 4th grade and above.  Based on stories about slave ‘pit schools’  that author Lesa Cline-Ransome discovered while researching a book on Frederick Douglass, Cline-Ransome does an excellent job of developing an imagined, yet believable story set around this historical event.

Pit Schools were large, deep holes that were covered with brush and sticks to conceal the pit. Slaves of all ages would meet there at night basically to learn to read.  Cline-Ransome has an author's note at the end of the book explaining more.

The story is told in first person. This would be an exciting challenge for a student writer—to write a historical fiction in the first person. It would require the writer to have a deep understanding of the characters, time period and problems in the story.

Light in the Darkness would also be a great example of how to develop an interesting lead. The book begins with one word in quotations: “Rosa.”  The next words continue to set the scene as a secretive moment in the story.  It immediately draws the audience into the story—which what a writer wants.

Using Light in the Darkness as a historical fiction in Reading Workshop will deepen your students thinking about this particular historical time. According to Fountas and Pinnell's Genre Quick Guide, historical fiction requires readers to understand a certain time of history, the physical setting as well as understand characters in their culture. Students will be required to synthesize their understanding of the time period (slavery). Students might also be motivated to analyze the historical information during this time period and research deeper into pit schools. Students could also make connections to other texts they have read about this time period.

Illustrations by James E.Ransome are realistic, soft and make the reader feel like she is right there sitting among the characters in the pit school.  

Book Talk
Rosa is awakened in the middle of the night by her mother. They quietly leave the slave quarters and under the blanket of darkness, they travel for a long time to a secluded and hidden pit school.

Some favorite lines:
In the dark of our cabin I can’t see my mama, but I can feel her breath on my face in whispers.
“It’s time.”
I rise from my pallet on the floor and stumble. Mama holds my hand tight and pulls me close.
“Follow me,” she says, even softer.

They feel they need to learn to read because someday, if they become free, they would need to be able to read to survive in life. They discuss the excitement of learning from a slave who was taught to read by his Master’s wife, but they are also aware that they do this at a tremendous risk!  Masters do not like their slaves to be able to read. 

The pit school is a deep, large, hole covered with brush so that it is not detected by the patrollers that look for runaway slaves during the night.  Upon arriving in the area of the pit school, Rosa’s mother makes a bird call sound and the brush parts revealing a group of people-men, women, children-all slaves- down below in the pit shadowed by some low light.  Rosa and mother crawl down and their learning begins!  They stay most of the night, and begin to learn about letters and sounds.

Some more favorite lines:
“She calls out like a bird, then the bushes in front of us move to the side. We step forward and look down into a big hole in the ground. In the light of a lantern I see faces, young and old, looking up at us. As many as the fingers on my hands. Some of the faces I know and some I don’t.”

After a night of schooling, they make it back home and Rosa is sworn to secrecy. They continue to return to the pit school in the darkness of the night to continue their learning.

However, one night while many folks are in the pit learning, they hear horses stop very near the pit.  As the slaves listen to the patrollers conversations, they stand still not making a sound. The patrollers eventually leave, but the slaves are frightened. 

They decide not to have a school for a while—but Rosa is on the verge of putting all the letters and sounds together to read—and begs her mother to return.

They take the risk again and travel to the pit school in the middle of the night.  When they arrive, they are the only ones there with the teacher.  They again hear footsteps outside and fear that it is the patrollers. Then they hear the bird call and realize it is a large group of slaves that have arrived all wanting to learn.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text: 
Book Genre:  Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Making Connections, Synthesize, Analyze, Critique
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Historical Fiction, Strong Leads, Elaboration, Inspiring Writers, We Need Diverse Books

Lesa Cline-Ransome’s website:

James E. Ransome’s website:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

By Lyn Rossiter McFarland
Pictures by Jim McFarland
Published: 2001

Awards: Booklist Editors' Choice, Booklinks Lasting Connection, IRA-CBC Children's Choices, Alabama Children's Choice Book Award, Washington State Children’s Choice Picture Book Award-2003, Missouri Library Building Block Award-2002

The book reviewed today,Widget, is a book that is perfect for our younger students in both Reading and Writing Workshop!

In Reading Workshop for grades K-2, I would use Widget to work on the strategies of predicting, questioning and inferring.  Although my Mentor Text Golden Rule #1(see upper right sidebar) is basically: 'the first duty of a mentor text is to be a read-aloud’…and after only that—a teacher should use the mentor text in a mini-lesson to demonstrate teaching points, craft and strategies—the strategy of ‘prediction’ creates an exception to that Golden Rule!  

How can you work on predicting—and sometimes questioning—if the students already know the outcome of the book??  So I admit, that I do bend a little—at times—about my Mentor Text Golden Rule #1! ;-D

Widget’s narrative,vocabulary, sentence length, problem/solution, and humor are all perfect to engage K-2 students for both Reading and Writing Workshop.In fact, since in my mind, Reading and Writing Workshop are nearly seamless, I would use Widget as a mentor text for both workshops. Many students who have dogs and cats as pets will easily be able to connect and relate to this story.  That will spark conversation and storytelling of their own—which in turn-creates stories for writing workshop and the motivation to read more animal stories!

Book Talk
Widget is a stray, lonely, hungry dog who wanders through a pet door one night and comes across (what at first seems to be) a marvelous sight: a warm room, six dishes of pet food, six warm pet beds.

As he rushes towards the food-he meets Mrs. Diggs-who is warm and friendly—but has to check with ‘the girls’ to see if truly Widget would be welcomed into the home. 'The Girls’ turn out to be Mrs. Diggs’ six cats. AND- as Mrs. Diggs has already informed Widget—they do not like dogs!

However, Widget really likes Mrs. Diggs and the home is so nice and warm, that he decides to do anything to stay. (Even if that means acting like a cat!)

The cats are not welcoming, but Widget is determined!

Some favorite lines:
“Widget really wanted to stay. “Meow?” said Widget.
Mrs. Diggs  laughed. “Well, girls,” she said. “What do you think?”
The girls puffed up.
Widget puffed up.
The girls hissed and spit.
Widget hissed and spit.
The girls growled.
Widget purred…played with a toy mouse…and used the litter box.
The girls were confused.”

The ‘girls’ finally and reluctantly accept Widget into their home.  He gets fed and gets his own bed. He plays with the cats and does everything they do.Sometimes Widget even thought he was a cat! (Your students will laugh at the humor in the text and the pictures.)

But one day, Mrs. Diggs falls and cannot get up. The cats and Widget make all kinds of cat noises to try to attract the neighbors’ attention—but it didn’t work.

Finally—Widget starts barking very loudly—just like a dog should.  And within minutes, help for Mrs. Diggs had arrived.

Widget—acting like a dog—had saved the day!  

In the end, the cats lovingly accept Widget for what he is—a wonderful dog!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fiction/ Animal Story
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Questioning, Inferring, Questioning, Synthesize
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Animal Story, Grammar-Sentence Length, Character Development

Friday, July 8, 2016

by Janell Cannon
Published: 1993

Awards: ABBY-American Booksellers Book Of The Year Award for Children (1994), California Young Reader Medal, Keystone to Reading Book Award, Reading Rainbow Feature Book, Southern California Council on Literature for Young People Award. 

Stellaluna is a beloved classic and should already be on everyone’s library shelf—if not—check with your school library or get it immediately!!

While many writers list Stellaluna’s genre as a folktale /fairytale/myth, it would be an excellent mentor text to accompany non-fiction/informational reading and writing. Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli mention in their book, Non-fiction Mentor Texts, “Sometimes we need a fiction book to serve as a catalyst to write about a topic or to imitate the form, voice or syntax of an author.” (page 4). Stellaluna would fit that bill for you if you choose to use it in that way for writing workshop.

Stellaluna as a narrative fiction would serve as a wonderful example of narrative writing and/or an Animal Fantasy -whether it is used just in the ‘immersion’ phase of Workshop when you read-aloud a group of books chosen in the same genre that you will be reading or writing, or if you use it for a specific example of a particular craft move.  Author Janell Cannon weaves into the story factual information about bats (and birds) and in the back of the book she adds some ‘bat notes’ with facts about bats.  Stellaluna is an excellent example for older students of that sophisticated writer’s craft move.

Book Talk
Stellaluna is a baby bat who is loved by her mother and who is learning about all the things that bats are suppose to do. 

One night when Stellaluna goes out with her mother for food, an owl attacks the mother bat and Stellaluna slips out of her grasp and (luckily) lands far below in a tree.

Stellaluna ends up near a nest of birds. Mother Bird is kind enough to feed Stellaluna (bugs, not fruit) and the three baby birds accept her into the nest, too.

But Stellaluna is a bat and does ‘strange’ things like hang upside down on the side of the nest while she sleeps—-as well as preferring  to go out and hunt at night.  The Mother Birds, three baby birds and Stellaluna discuss their differences—and Stellaluna finally agrees to act like a bird ( as much as she can).

BUT—one day, when Mother Bird sends them all out to fly on their own, Stellaluna flies and flies and ends up very far away from the Bird family. She tries to hang like a bird, falls asleep and is discovered by a group of bats!

And one of the bats is her own bat mother!  Mother Bat spends time re-teaching Stellaluna all things that are bat things to do. Stellaluna flies back to her bird family and invites them to meet her bat family. They fly at night, the birds can’t see, Stellaluna helps them out. They all realize how different they are, but how much they like each other, and the differences really do not matter.

Some favorite lines:
“We’re safe,” said Stellaluna. Then she sighed. “I wish you could see in the dark, too!”
“We wish you could land on your feet,” Flitter replied.
“How can we be so different and feel so much alike?” mused Flitter.
“And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?” wondered Pip.
“I think this is quite a mystery.” Flap chirped.
“I agree,” said Stellaluna. “But we’re friends. And that’s a fact.”

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Animal Fantasy/Folktale 
Reading Workshop: Connecting, Inferring, Questioning, Summarizing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative Writing / Animal Fantasy, Character Development, Inspiring Writers, Grammar (quotation marks) Search for and Use Information
Curriculum Connections: Acceptance of differences among each other, Science-Bats, Birds characteristics and habits.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door         

By Adam Rubin          

Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Published: 2011

Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by New York Times best-selling author Adam Rubin (for Dragons Love Tacos) is part of a small series of hilarious and amusing picture books starring “Those Darn Squirrels”.  

I would use Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door in Writing Workshop for upper elementary or even middle schools writers to demonstrate the difficult craft move of narrative writing using humor.  What exactly does the author do to make one chuckle and laugh—and draw his readers deeper into the story-wanting to the pages to see what will happen next?  Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door is a complex story with several layers and it would be worth dedicated conversations to lift your students work for those who are ready to try out humor.  Adam Rubin’s use of vocabulary—and some silly, funny, made-up words—add elaboration and enhances the story and humor.

Rubin once again teams up with illustrator Daniel Salmieri,whose creative talent creates comical illustrations that help deepen the humor..and understanding, as well as enjoyment, of the story.

As a reminder—the first duty of a mentor text is to be a read-aloud!  Read this book first in the ‘immersion’ phase of your Unit of Study for your students to understand it as readers.  Then…use it as a mentor text during specific mini-lessons to emphasize your teaching point.

**As a fun fact—in the Adam Rubin interviewed listed below-he mentions that he got idea for his “Darn Squirrels” books from childhood memories of his father always trying to get rid of and chase the squirrels in their yard.  Many of us can relate to that!

Book Talk
Readers meet the main character, Old Man Fookwire, who loves and dreams about summer and warm weather. He is a terrible grump to be around most of the time. He loves summer, loves to paint and loves the birds that return in the spring.

But throughout the year, his yard is dominated by  a bunch of aggressive, smart, crafty, and mischievous squirrels who plot and plan to humorously wreck havoc in all phases Fookwire’s life.

Spring finally arrives and the birds return. Fookwire is delighted and gets out his paints and easel to paint pictures of the birds.

Some favorite lines:
Old Man Fookwire thought spring would never come. But eventually, the forest bloomed and the first birds returned from their winter vacation. Whirley birds chomped on tumbleberries. Bongo birds snacked on honey snaps. And the floogle bird ate farfle seeds until he got so full, he had to lie down. Fookwire danced through the yard with delight. He set up his easel and brushes. Then he painted the birds till he got blisters on his fingers.”

Suddenly—there is a new ‘something’ making noise. It is the town baker, Little Old Lady Hu (whom the town loves), who is moving in next door.  This would have been fine with Fookwire, who, as  grump, would not be friendly and could care less.

BUT, Little Old Lady Hu also moves in with her cat, Muffins, who is despised by the whole town. As a kind gesture to her new neighbor, Little Old Lady Hu makes a nice pie to give to Fookwire, but he is such a grump he doesn’t answer the door.  The squirrels finally get ahold of the pie and eat it all up immediately.

More favorite lines:
Little Old Lady Hu baked a tumbleberry pie.  Then she and Muffins went to say hello to their new neighbor. Fookwire despised conversation, so he hid behind the drapes. The squirrels were scared of the cat, so they hid inside the drainpipes. The birds were sure why everyone was hiding, but they stuffed themselves down the chimney just to be safe.”

In the meantime, Muffins discovers the squirrels and begins a reign of terror, playing horrible tricks on them constantly.  Muffins even interrupts Fookwire’s painting of the birds. Old Man Fookwire decides to write a letter to the mayor complaining about his neighbor.  

AND the squirrels hatch a plan of their own to get back at Muffins…and they do!

In the end, Little Old Lady Hu does make friends with the birds and the squirrels. Each week, she shares the bakery goods with her new friends. Old Man Fookwire, while not super friendly, tolerates her. 

And Muffins?  Well, after the squirrels retaliation, Muffins never comes out of the house again—to everyone’s delight!

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Hybrid-Realistic Fiction with Animal Story elements
Reading Workshop Strategies: Summarizing, Connecting, Synthesizing, Analyzing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Narrative, Elaboration, Word Choice, Boy Hook, Writing with Humor, Character Development, Grades 3-5

Daniel Salmieri website:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk  

by Colin Stimpson
Published: 2012

Awards: 2013 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Book, starred reviews in both Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk  is a fractured fairytale that needs to be in your mentor text collection for reading and/or writing workshop!  

The story is an updated version of Jack and the Beanstalk, with its own new, fun twists and changes from the original.

In Reading Workshop, students will be able to compare and contrast the two stories by characters, settings, events and final resolution. Summarizing and analyzing the differences will help them understand the story and its nuances. Predicting (a strategy that should be worked on as a class when the book is initially read as a read-aloud), inferring and questioning Jack’s and the Giant’s motives are all excellent strategies that can be worked into this mentor text. Because of the similarities to the original tale, it would be a good book for students to read that need extra practice with reading fluency.

For Writing Workshop, Jack and the Baked Beanstalk, is an excellent model for branching out from an original fairytale and recreating the story with different twists in the characters, setting, events and plot. Stimpson uses detailed elaboration in describing the castle, the giant, the chicken, among other things and that elaboration helps the reader-writer to understand the differences from the original tale. It would be a good model for character study ( comparing the old and new Jack and the old and new Giant). I think many students will be inspired by this version and motivated and excited to create a fracture fairytale of their own!

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk is artist Colin Stimpson’s first authored children’s books (he has illustrated several previous to this one).  The illustrations are detailed and elaborate.  Be sure to spend time with your class taking in the fine points of the illustrations.  This teaching strategy always, always helps our strugglers and reluctant readers—giving them needed scaffolding in understanding and enjoying a story.

Book Talk
Jack and his mother lived in and ran a fast food burger truck at the edge of a busy city.  Business and life was good for them and they were happy.  The city decided to build a huge overpass over the food truck that would eventually cause traffic to bypass the food truck. At first, they did not feel the effects of the overpass on their business,as the construction workers would always eat there, but eventually, business came to a screeching halt.

They had very little food and very little money left.  Out of desperation, Jack’s mother sent him to town with some change to buy some more coffee beans. "Everyone needs a good cup of coffee," she said.

By chance, Jack ran into a very mysterious man, who offers him a can of magic baked beans for the money. Since baked beans are Jack’s all-time favorite, he happily bought them!  He was so excited to share the news with his mother.

The mother, of course, is furious, threw the can of baked beans out the window and sent Jack to bed without supper.

In the morning, Jack woke up to the sight of a beanstalk reaching up into the clouds.  He and his dog, Bella, climbed it to the top and found a huge castle at the very top.

Some favorite lines:
“Early the next morning, Jack woke up to find his room bathed in a curious green light. Strange branches twisted in through the wind.A the end of each shoot dangled a silver can of baked beans! 
“It’s a magic baked beanstalk.” Jack whispered to Bella, trying not to wake his mother. “If I remember right, there should be heaps of treasure at the top!”
After hurriedly eating a breakfast of the best beans he had ever tasted, Jack crept outside.”

Jack and Bella snuck under the door of the castle and immediately they saw a Giant counting money as he roared:

The Giant spotted Jack and his dog and scooped them up in his hand. He laid them on the table—and he seemed very pleased to have guests! The Giant decided to make Jack some lunch, got some golden eggs from the hen, and while listening to his favorite radio to while he cooked, he made a huge, delicious omelet to share with Jack. 

The Giant, Jack, the Hen and Bella, had an enjoyable lunch. Jack tried to convince the Giant to join he and his mother in the city—they could use his wonderful cooking skills in the Fast Food Truck. However, the Giant was afraid of heights and decided he couldn’t go down the beanstalk. The Hen and the Radio decided to join Jack and Bella and the Giant gave them his blessing to start a new life.

But as the Giant leaned over the baked beanstalk to wave good-bye, he accidentally fell to the ground far below!

When he did, he landed on top of—-and destroyed—the big overpass that was taking traffic and business away from the fast food truck.

In the end, the Giant joined Jack and his mother as a cook, the Hen laid eggs for the omelets, the Radio played great music for all the customers who had returned and everyone lived happily every after together!

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Fairytale (fractured)
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Questioning, Inferring, Summarizing, Analyzing, Fluency
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Fairytale, Narrative, Inspiring Writers, Elaboration, Character Study, Boy Hook

Colin Stimpson’s website:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble   

By William Steig
Published: 1969

Awards: 1970 Caldecott Award Winner, National Book Association Finalist, 1970

Many of my colleagues that write about mentor texts, advocate for sticking with familiar and favorite authors when you are building your mentor text collection.

I agree with that idea—to a point.  The point is that there are many, many wonderful new books by wonderful new authors that are just waiting to be ‘discovered’ by us to use in our classrooms, as read-alouds, for shared reading and as mentor texts.

I feel that I owe my many readers and followers of this blog the opportunity to be exposed to new authors and titles so that you can possibly move them into your mentor text collection…for the kids! (It should always be about—what is best for the kids!)

I know that you are tremendously busy with your classroom work, so I feel it is part of my job to read these new books and put them on my mentor text blog for your convenience of taking it a step further to vet the books for your own use.

Saying all that—today on the way to the library to browse and find some books to write reviews for the blog—all of a sudden, a title—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble-just popped into my mind!!  Getting to the library, I went straight to the ’S’ section of the picturebooks (for Steig, of course!), and there it was-Sylvester and the Magic Pebble —just waiting for me!

SO—today I am sticking to an old, familiar favorite author and title! 

If you are an upper elementary teacher, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is a perfect mentor text for reading and writing workshop for many reading strategies and writing craft moves.

I would use it especially in writing workshop to model personification in an animal fantasy, word choice (Steig uses incredible vocabulary!), elaboration of details, and using those three craft moves to help develop a stronger voice and style. 

For any and all grade levels—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble—is a read-aloud MUST!

**Of interesting note—Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was actually banned by several school districts in the late 60s and early 70s because pigs were used to depict the policemen in the story. (In this animal fantasy, personification abounds and all human-like characters are animals.) Oh boy—the 60s!

Also—many students may not know that William Steig is also the author of Shrek!-the book that was behind the well-loved movie.

Book Talk
The Duncan Family lived happily in Oatsdale. They were a very close family of Mother, Father and son, Sylvester and they loved doing activities together.  One of Sylvester’s very favorite hobbies was collecting interesting pebbles.

One day when he is out walking, he found a bright red, perfectly rounded pebble!  He picked it up and held it. Because it was cold and rainy- he immediately (and without really realizing it) made a wish that the rain would stop—and it did! The rain actually stopped in mid-air!  

Sylvester was thrilled!  He headed home to show his parents! On his way home, his head will filling up with ideas on how the pebble could benefit their life. He was so deep in thought—that he did not notice that a lion had approached him.

Scared—Sylvester immediately made a wish to turn into a rock (instead of wishing the lion would go away!). He turned into a very large rock and the pebble lays nearby.  

Some favorite lines:
The lion came bounding over, sniffed the rock a hundred times, walked around and around it, and went away confused, perplexed, puzzled and bewildered. “

Sylvester’s parents were frantic when he doesn’t return and they asked the whole village to help in the search—but to no avail.  They were devastated!  And so was Sylvester-when he realized that the chances of someone picking up the red pebble, putting it on the rock, so that he can wish that he could back into himself—is almost nil. He resigned to the fact that he will probably be a rock the rest of his life!

And he probably would have—had not(nearly a year later) his parents decide to take a picnic at the very spot where Sylvester’s big rock was. In fact-they placed their picnic blanket right on top of the rock1

Some more favorite lines:
They sat down to eat. Sylvester was now as wide awake as a donkey that was rock could possibly be. Mrs. Duncan felt some mysterious excitement. “You know, Father. “ she said suddenly. “I have the strangest feeling that our dear Sylvester is still alive and not far away.”

THEN they noticed the pebble on the ground, picked it up and PLACED IT ON THE ROCK! Sylvester felt the pebble—made his wish to be his regular self again—and ta-dah!  He transformed back into Sylvester-to the shock and delight of his parents.

They decided to put the magic pebble away-they may need it someday.  But they realized they had all they really needed with the three of them being together.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre:  Animal Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Questioning, Inferring, Analyzing, Connections to traditional literature (magic, talking animals), Personification
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies: Fantasy Writing, Elaboration, Word Choice, Voice, Personification