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In addition to their email list, you will find many great tools and resources for classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators.

To Understand List

The "To Understand List" is a forum for discussing Ellin Keene's latest book To Understand: New Horizons in Reading Comprehension. The discussion is progressing chapter by chapter with approximately two weeks for each chapter.

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Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco Author Study

Patricia Polacco is well known for writing stories about her childhood. Her Russian background and life on a Michigan farm are central themes in her books. Patricia Polacco's works include a wide variety of themes. She touches upon such issues as war, poverty, friendship, holidays, traditions, weather and cooking.

Patricia Polacco lives in Oakland, California in a mixed neighborhood. Her mother's side of the family is from Russia and her father's side is Irish. Many of her books focus on relationships between children and their elders, and are woven from the threads and colors of her own experiences and family history.

She is great to study when introducing the genre of memoir. An interesting fact to share with your students, is that Patricia has 12 rocking chairs in her house. When she is composing a story she sits in one and rocks and dreams it up. I've only use a small selection of her wonderful work in this unit. Be sure to check out her other titles.

Beginning the Author Study

Firetalking Book Cover
  • Introduce the author by making a poster that includes her photograph and some biographical information. This poster should be placed in a designated area of your room. Let everyone know that you are studying this wonderful author. In this corner, place anything that has to do with the author. I generally include, books, newspaper clippings, and a miniature rocking chair.
  • I also like to include a small map of Russia to show the country to my class.
  • Display the books and do a book walk with the children to generate interest in reading.
  • Read what you feel is the best story to hook your class.
  • Share Firetalking (Meet the Author) by Patricia Polacco a wonderful autobiography.

Thunder Cake

Thunder Cake Book Cover In the story Thunder Cake Grandma helps Patricia overcome her fear of thunderstorms by telling her it is Thunder Cake baking weather. They must gather the ingredients and put the cake in the oven before the storm arrives.

  • Stop during reading and predict the secret ingredient needed for the cake.
  • Create a story grammar retelling of the story.
  • Create a recipe for a thunderstorm. Ingredients will be things you hear and see during a storm. The children can then write, using ideas generated on the web, about how they would feel during a storm.
  • Bake a thundercake using the recipe that is included in the back of the book. Make a language experience chart listing the steps used in baking the cake. Then eat - Delicious!

Babuska's Doll

Babuska's Doll Book Cover In Babuska's Doll Natasha is a little girl who is very impatient and likes to play. Natasha wanted to play with Babushka's doll -- a doll Babushka only played with once.

  • Perfect lead in to a discussion of kindness.
  • Create a story grammar and focus on the lesson.
  • Guided writing - Write about a toy of your own that came to life. Tell about what happened.

Babuska Baba Yaga

Babuska Baba Yaga Book Cover In the story Babuska Baba Yaga everyone in the village is scared of Baba Yaga. One day, she disguises herself as an old woman to see the joys of being a grandmother. She takes care of a boy named Victor and becomes his babushka. Baba Yaga, although happy with her new life, winds up leaving Victor because she fears he will find out who she really is. Everyone changes their opinions of Baba Yaga when she saves Victor after he is surrounded by a pack of wolves. The lesson in this story is not to judge a book by its cover.

  • Discuss the concept of lesson/moral.
  • Create a story grammar retelling.
  • Create paper plate masks of Baba Yaga and other characters. Do a dramatic interpretation of this story.

Uncle Vova's Tree

Uncle Vova's Tree Book Cover In Uncle Vova's Tree Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and children gather at a farm house to celebrate Christmas in the Russian tradition.

  • Create a story grammar retelling.
  • Web and discuss holiday traditions celebrated in your class.
  • Using ideas generated on web, write about a special tradition that your family celebrates.

Two Great Books for Comparing and Contrasting

Two Great Books for Comparing and Contrasting

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Taking care of an abandoned kitten with his neighbor, Mrs. Katz, leads young Larnel to an understanding of the elderly woman's Jewish heritage and of the suffering and triumph it shares with his own African-American heritage.

Chicken Sunday

After being initiated into a neighbor's family in a solemn backyard ceremony, a young Russian-American girl and her African-American "brothers" determine to buy their "grandma" Eula a beautiful Easter hat. But their good intentions are misunderstood, until they discover just the right way to pay for the hat that Eula has her eye on.

The Keeping Quilt

The Keeping Quilt Book Cover The Keeping Quilt is a book that weaves this study together. When the author's great-great-grandmother came to America from Russia, she made a quilt out of the family's old clothes. The quilt became a cherished symbol of love passed down from one generation to the next--and used for a variety of purposes. In this tenth anniversary edition, Polacco has expanded the story with five new pages of text and paintings to include her own two children.

With my class we create a "Keeping Quilt". Each child brings in a piece of material that is special to them. They share the story of it and we put them together to form our own keeping quilt. The children also write about their piece.

Culminating the Study

  • Make a list of the books read.
  • Compare/Contrast the story grammars you have completed for each story. Look for common elements/threads in each of the stories read. List these elements and discuss an author's style.
  • Write and draw an original class book in the author's style. This is done in groups.
  • Have the children interview an older family member and find out something about their family's customs and traditions.
  • Have a festival and ask children to bring in one type of food that is symbolic of their culture. If there is a a predominance for one culture in your class do this in class and do the cooking together assigning each group a country. They can research and tell you the food they want to make and what they will need to do so.
  • Have an author's tea and share the food from the different countries. Invite the older family members if they are available to speak to the children at this tea about their country.
  • Graph favorite Patricia Polacco story.

 Printable Version

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