Panel I Handout: Developing Curriculum Connections for Fiction

Red Thread Sisters
Written by Carol Antoinette Peacock
Published by Viking Juvenile, 2012
ISBN # 978-0670013869

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Intertextual Connections

·        Carol Antoinette Peacock Author Study. Carol Peacock has written several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of her books and conduct an author study. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the fiction titles. Examine Peacock’s storytelling techniques in the books, as well as the topics and perspectives she writes about in her nonfiction books. Gather information about Peacock from her website listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources. 

·        Stories of Intercountry Adoptions. Adoption itself is a complex process that goes beyond the legal protocol and paperwork, let alone adoption across countries and cultures. Share with your students a wide variety of texts and genres that chronicle the stories of children who have been adopted from other countries to live in America. Consider the following questions: Why might someone want to adopt a child from another country? What personal and cultural considerations must be addressed before, during, and after the adoption occurs? Watch the 2011 documentary Somewhere Between and the 2007 documentary Found in China, which spotlights the experiences of several children who were adopted from China. Read some of the articles listed below in Further Explorations to learn about the challenges and surprises involved in intercountry adoptions. Have students compare and contrast the various stories, and compile a list of further questions they want to investigate further about the experience of children and families involved in these adoptions.

Themed Inquiry Projects

·        What Makes a Family? Throughout the novel, Wen adamantly refers to Shu Ling as her sister. In the same breath, she hesitates to call Emily her mei mei (little sister) or her new mother Mom. Engage your students in a discussion about what defines a family. What kinds of family structures exist? Are some more “legitimate” than others? Who says? Is there something more that’s needed than just biological or legal relationships? You may want to share Robie Harris’s picturebook Who’s in My Family? (see, as well as some of the other novels listed in the Further Explorations section, to spur further discussion about this theme.

·        Investigating Orphanages. Many fictional stories are set in orphanages; yet not every orphanage is depicted in the same way. Invite your students to inquire into the purpose and evolution of orphanages throughout literature and over time. How do these fictional depictions compare to real, contemporary orphanages? What improvements have been gained in the way orphanages are managed? What needs and challenges still exist? Encourage students to research feasible ways they can help to address some of those issues. For example, some of the websites listed below in Further Explorations describe how even a donation of $25 can provide books, medical supplies, or toys to children in orphanages.

The Craft of Storytelling

·        Using Flashbacks – We learn much about Wen’s history with her biological family and during her years at the orphanage through periodic flashbacks. Have students reread these flashbacks with a writer’s eye. How are the flashbacks introduced and woven into the present-tense storyline?  How do the flashbacks segue back to the main story? What do these flashbacks reveal about the characters in the book? After discussing and taking notes on students’ analyses, invite students to try using flashbacks in any of their narrative writing, whether personal narrative or fiction.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Carol Antoinette Peacock’s website

Red Thread Sisters Book Trailer

Intercountry Adoption website – Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State

China Center of Adoption Affairs

Somewhere Between documentary

Article about Found in China

News Articles about Issues Concerning Intercountry Adoption

Articles and Websites about Family Structures and Definitions

Help for Orphans International

Half the Sky – provides child-centered education and development to children in Chinese orphanages

Love without Boundaries – a nonprofit foundation that provides assistance to Chinese orphanages


Creech, S. (1994). Walk two moons. New York: HarperTrophy.

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, not Buddy. New York: Yearling.

D’Antonio, N. (1997). Our baby from China: An adoption story. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.

Giff, P. R. (2002). Pictures of Hollis Woods. New York: Dell Yearling.

Harris, R. (2012). Who’s in my family? Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Helminski, P. (2011). Daughter of a thousand pieces of gold. Cary, NC: MNH Publications.

MacLachlan, P. (1993). Baby. New York: Random House.

MacLachlan, P. (1991). Journey. New York: Yearling.

Peacock, C. A. (2000). Mommy far, mommy near: An adoption story. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.

The Universe of Fair
Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2012
ISBN # 978-1561456345

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Intertextual Connections

·        Leslie Bulion Author Study – Leslie Bulion has written several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of her books and conduct an author study. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the fiction titles. Examine Leslie Bulion’s storytelling techniques in the books, as well as the topics and perspectives she writes about in her poetry collections. Gather information about Bulion from her website listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources. 

·        Fairs Around the World and Throughout Time – Fairs have been popular events throughout the world and throughout history. What is the purpose of a fair? How is it similar or different from a carnival? What unique contributions and facts have fairs made to local cultures and histories? Gather a set of texts about the stories, events, exhibitions, and contests that take place at different fairs. You can start by comparing and contrasting other chapter books and novels set at fairs, such as Watch out World, Rosy Cole is Going Green! and Fair Weather. Use picturebooks to gather more visual information about fairs (see Further Explorations below). Use websites about fairs, especially ones about the World’s Fair, to investigate further (see Further Explorations below). Finally, round out this set of texts about fairs by listening to NPR Road Trips: Fairs and Festivals: Stories That Take You Away, a captivating audio CD collection of stories and silliness that occur at fairs across the United States. If a local fair happens to be nearby, enrich students' understandings with a trip there and behind the scenes.

Themed Inquiry Projects

·        What Does It Mean to Be Responsible? – Miller is determined to prove to his parents that he’s responsible, but there are times he debates what is the more responsible course of action. Divide students into literature circles, and share several of the children’s books below that deal with characters trying to prove they are responsible, such as Flour Babies and No Such Thing. Guide each group to consider the following questions: How does each character define “being responsible”? Are they trying to prove something more? What obstacles must they overcome to show they are responsible? Can showing responsibility in one way also show lack of responsibility in another?

·        Debating Theories of Everything – Miller ponders several scientific theories to help figure out the mysteries and problems he encounters throughout the novel. In particular, he focuses on String Theory and a Theory of Everything. Pair The Universe of Fair with another novel in which the characters attempt to explain the events surrounding them through a specific scientific theory, such as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. Direct your students to websites (see Further Explorations below) and easily digestible printed explanations of the various theories under consideration. After engaging them in a discussion about the various theories, set up a debate in which students argue and defend each of the theories against the others.

The Craft of Storytelling

·        Inner Monologues – Miller’s first-person narration allows us to know what he thinks about the people and events around him. One of the ways Leslie Bulion accomplishes this is by writing out Miller’s inner monologues, or the actual long train of thought that goes through his mind as he experiences life around him, such as whenever he contemplates the Theory of Everything. Have students reread some of Miller’s inner monologues, studying how Leslie Bulion shapes them to reveal more about character and plot. Then, using The Universe of Fair as a mentor text, encourage students to try inserting inner monologues into their own fiction writing. You may want to scaffold this strategy by having students assume the role of one of their characters and then freewriting from that character’s point of view.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Leslie Bulion’s website

Frank W. Dormer’s website

International Association of Fairs and Expositions

The World’s Fair Museum

Fairs Everywhere

Facts about Fairs

Kid-Friendly Websites about String Theory

Websites about the Theory of Everything


Cleary, B. (1957). Henry and the paper route. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

DiCamillo, K., & McGhee, A. (2012). Bink and Gollie: Two for one. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Fine, A. (1994). Flour babies. Boston: Little, Brown.

Greenwald, S. (2010). Watch out world, Rosy Cole is going green! New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kehret, P. (1995). Danger at the fair. New York: Cobblehill Books.

Krulik, N. (2013). Katie Kazoo switcheroo: All’s fair. Ill. by John & Wendy. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group.

NPR. (2012). NPR road trips: Fairs and festivals: Stories that take you away. [Audio CD]. HighBridge Company.

Peck, R. (1998). A long way from Chicago. New York: Dial Press.

Peck, R. (2003). Fair weather. New York: Puffin.

Stead, R. (2010). When you reach me. New York: Yearling.

Tudor, T. (1998). Corgiville fair. Boston: Little, Brown & Company.

 Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & 
     Schuster, 2012
ISBN # 978-1-4424-0601-8

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Intertextual Connections

·  Susan Hood Author Study/Melissa Sweet Illustrator Study. Both Susan Hood and Melissa Sweet have written and illustrated several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of their books to conduct an author study and/or illustrator study. For the author study, ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the books. Examine Susan Hood’s storytelling techniques in the books, as well as the topics and perspectives she writes about in her books. For the illustrator study, survey Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, and identify her artistic style, her artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about both of these women from their websites listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources. 

·        Axolotls and Other Specialized Salamander Species – Axolotls, like Spike, live in only one place in the entire world: Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Additionally, unlike other salamanders, axolotls never develop lungs for living on land. Build a text set with your students about axolotls and other salamanders, making sure to pull texts from a diverse range of genres and modes. For example, you might want to share the nonfiction books, The Salamander Room and Animals Up Close (both listed below), along with several news articles and online informational texts (see below). What else makes axolotls unique among other salamanders, or among the world’s creatures? How are they similar? What ecological and biological issues are challenging the continued existence of axolotls? What can be done to help them?

Themed Inquiry Projects

·        (Mis)Judging and Fearing Appearances. Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster presents readers with questions and challenges about judging and fearing others’ appearances. Divide students into literature circles. Share several of the picturebooks listed below that deal with similar issues with characters’ frightful (or tame) appearances, such as Shrek! and No Such Thing. Guide each group to consider the following questions: What judgments are made in the book about other characters? What is the source of the characters’ fears? Are those fears and judgments reasonable or well founded? Why or why not? How do the characters’ confront their fears or question their judgments? What is each of these stories saying about the topic of judging and fearing appearances? What connections or disconnections might these stories have to their own lives? How can they work toward stopping snap judgments and confronting these fears, both in themselves and in others?

The Craft of Storytelling

·        Mixing Languages to Strengthen Voice – Voice is one of the most difficult writing traits for students to grasp and for teachers to teach. Voice is the trait that allows readers to develop a full sense of who is speaking the words on the page, whether it is a narrator, fictionalized character, or the author himself/herself. Spike, the Mixed-Up Monster does a great job of illustrating exactly what voice is, as we read and hear Spike’s own Spanish language. Engage your students in a study of how Susan Hood does this. What words or phrases does she choose to help readers “hear” Spike’s distinct voice as an axolotl? How does he view and describe the same things differently from how other animals do? To further demonstrate the quality of voice, do a reader’s theater activity with excerpts from the novel so students can really hear what Hood is doing in her writing. Then, have students experiment with voice by perhaps writing about the same topic in different voices, including mixing in words from different languages.

·        The Interplay of Text and Illustration – As a genre, picturebooks offer a unique opportunity to meld words and artwork to create meaning, with each medium enhancing the other so that both are necessary for readers to develop full understanding. Do a picture walk with students, having them carefully study each of Melissa Sweet’s illustrations only to tell the story. Record their picture walk storytelling with an audio recorder, perhaps on a smart phone, computer, tablet, or digital recorder. Then, cover up the illustrations or retype the text and have them reread only the text of the story. Have students compare and contrast the details and understandings they gained through each mode and medium of storytelling. Then, invite students to write and illustrate their own picturebooks, stressing that picturebooks are much more than “illustrated books” meaning is not just connected through text and pictures, but enhanced and elaborated through the interplay.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Susan Hood’s website

Melissa Sweet’s website

Websites about Axolotls

News Articles about Issues Related to the Axolotl

Videos of Axolotls

“Axolotl” – a short story for older readers by Julio Cort├ízar


Koller, J. F. (1997). No such thing. Ill. by B. Lewin. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.

Mazer, A. (1991). The salamander room. Ill. by S. Johnson. New York: Knopf.

McGhee, A. (2006). A very brave witch. Ill. by H. Bliss. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Siwanowicz, I. (2009). Animals up close: Zoom in on the world's most incredible creatures. London: DK Publishing.

Steig, W. (1990). Shrek! New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Stone, J. (1972). The monster at the end of this book. Ill. by M. Smollin. New York: Golden Books.

Willems, M. (2005). Leonardo, the terrible monster. New York: Hyperion.

Winters, K. (1997). The teeny, tiny ghost. Ill. by L. Munsinger. New York: HarperCollins.

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