The Best Worst Thing


  • Written by: Kathleen Lane
  • Age Range: 10 – 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 – 7
  • Lexile Measure: 820
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (June 7, 2016)

Summary: In light of an ever-changing, and uncertain world comes The Best Worst Thing. It’s the story of a young girl, Maggie, who is entering middle school. She has many anxieties, such as the fear that the person that murdered a grocery store worker will kill other people. Maggie’s anxieties control much of her life, but there is a happy ending which proves that sometimes things that are scary can bring things that are not.

5 keywords: Coming-of-Age, Diversity, Fiction, Middle Grade Read, Chapter Book. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Suggested Delivery: Small-group read.

Electronic Resources:

Share both of these reviews of the story before the story, this will give the students a bit more background on the story in order to make predictions about the story.

Website: This website has information about the author and the book. Use this as a schema resource where students can find information about their questions. Using Author websites is a great habit to get students into.

Key Vocabulary:

Siccing – Attacking

Socializing – Interacting with people

Casualties – A person hurt or killed during a war or accident

Bengal – Region between Bangladesh and India

Acting pretty – To act in a way that is beautiful

Witness – A person who sees something happen, usually a crime

Before:  Introduce students to the book by asking them what the title means. Have them make predictions based on this, the cover image, and the inside description. Write a list of possible outcomes the students have come up with.

During: While reading the book, students should reflect at the end of every three chapters (they’re very short) and write about any questions, concerns, predictions, or reactions to the story, in their writing notebook. When they finish the book have students look back at the questions they asked and reflect on these. Were any other questions answered later in the story? What does this say about the author and chapter books? If their questions were not answered have the students probe the teacher. 

After: After the story has been read in small groups, have students review what they have read by asking them questions. There is a lot of inferential comprehension in this book. Ask students why they think Maggie repeated many of her prayers twice, why many chapters were exactly the same (her “going to be” ritual), or why she needed even things? Why do you think she no longer needed to get a kiss on both sides of her cheeks in the end? Discuss anxiety and how it can sometimes make people want to organize things evenly, or say things a certain amount of times.

Writing Activity: Have students write a blog post (audience: the public) about their “best worst thing,” or something that made them nervous. They can use Tumblr, Blogspot, or WordPress to organize their blog post. It should be written in a journal format in the first person. However, grammar and spelling will count, as they are writing for the public. Have the students respond to each other’s blogs with advice for nervousness/comments about their thoughts on what they shared. 

Was there something that has happened to you that was perceived as bad? But actually only ended up being something good? In what ways is this similar to Maggie? In what ways is it not?


The Good, The Bad, and The Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us

  • Written by: Tanya Lee Stone
  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1120
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Speak; October 14, 2010
  • Language: English

Summary: This book describes the history of Barbie, the iconic American doll, and controversies surrounding her. Does she represent the stereotypical ideal woman? Or is she an inspiration to women around the world? The author uses direct quotes from women of all ages, who describe to her, their relationship with the doll. So what is the truth? Is Barbie more bad then good?

5 keywords: Non-fiction, Barbie, Psychology, Research, Informational Text.

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1.B
Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Suggested Delivery: Can use chapters for in class discussions/independent read.

Electronic Resources: Here is a youtube video trailer for the book. This should be used prior to reading, as it gives images to build schema, and creates interest.

This video shows the effects of “The Doll Study.” This should be used during/after reading, depending on the delivery of the lesson. Discuss with students, and prompt them with questions.

Which doll did the children pick more?

What races were the children?

What can we conclude from this story? 

Why is this bad? 

What is a caste society? Do we have one in America in concern to races?

What do the majority of dolls look like in toy stores?

Website: This website includes information about the author and the book, which can be used to build schema about the topic and author.

Teaching guide – This has really great resources for CCSS and how to implement into your lessons and school year.

Key Vocabulary:  

Tribute – To do something in honor of someone

Convention – A way of acting that is normal

Momentous – Very important

Gala – Big public party

Hippest – Very popular and fashionable

Emigrated – To leave a country to move elsewhere

Rivaled – When two people (or companies) compete against one another

Sued – When a person or company has done something wrong or hurtful to you, and you legally ask that they repay you in someway

Diverse – Different from each other

Tumult – Noisy confusion

Idyllic – Happy, peaceful, enjoyable

Rhapsodize –  To praise someone/something with a lot of passion

Titillating – To excite someone in an enjoyable way

Haute Couture – Very expensive and fashionable clothes

Coy – Being sweetly innocent to get attention

Witless – Very foolish

Stereotype – Unfair and untrue belief that people with similar characteristics are all the same in some way

Naive – Lack of experience

Doled – To give something to people

Before: Prior to reading this book, students should know about non-fiction style books, table of contents, academic language, and structure. Knowing these foundational skills for reading non-fiction texts, students will be able to comprehend more of what they are reading.

During: While reading the text, give students historically relevant lessons. For example, this is a great place to introduce “The Doll Study,” and the Supreme Court Decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, that this study was first introduced in. Prompt questions about this topic, such as:

Do you think the Doll Study is still relevant?

Where did you find examples of this in this book?

Do you think Barbie’s accurately depict women of all races? Or do you think just like caucasian Barbie, there is no possible way to make a Barbie look like everyone?

Do you think that children of a different race than you feel alienated by Barbie because she doesn’t look like them?

After: After reading this story ask students their opinion of the text.

Do they also feel a hatred towards dolls? Where do they think this hatred came from?

How do you think the author feels about Barbie? (Great place to discuss neutrality in writing).

Do you think Barbie promotes bad self image to girls?

Writing Activity: This is a great book to use to master the art of the persuasive essay, and using textual information to back up answers. Ask the students this essay question: In what ways has Barbie helped society? In what ways has she harmed society? Use text evidence to support your answer. Do you think she is a good model or a bad model for children?

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures


  • Written by: Kate DiCamillo
  • Illustrated by:  K.G. Campbell 
  • Age Range: 8 – 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 – 7
  • Paperback: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)

Summary: Flora describes herself as a cynic, a person who is always looking at the negative. One day Flora gains two friends, a superhero squirrel named Ulysses, and William, the boy next door. Through their adventures to try to protect and save Ulysses from Floras mother, who just isn’t a believer yet, Flora discovers that maybe being a cynic isn’t what its cracked up to be. This isn’t just the story of a young girl and her squirrel, its the story of young romance, torn family relationships, and how even the smallest laughter can bring them back together again.

5 keywords: Fiction, Anthropomorphic, Newbury Award Winner, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.A
Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.

Suggested Delivery: Independent read.

Electronic Resources: This is a great pre-reading video for getting the students excited to read Flora and Ulysses.

This can be used at any time during the book reading, it is an interview with the illustrator, and includes some images from other works he has done.

Website: This is a website full of student and teaching resources for the novel. It includes discussion guides and author question and answer posts.

Teaching guide – This is a teaching guide from the publishers, it provides succinct details about the author and illustrator, at the same time divides pre-reading, during and post-reading questions. Much of those lessons can be based off of this website, and the questions can help formulate assessment.

Key Vocabulary: 

Malfeasance – Illegal or wrong activity

Hallucinations – When you see something that isn’t real

Multiplicity – A large number of something

Induce – To cause something to happen

Trauma – A terrible experience that causes a person to have emotional or mental consequences

Profoundly – To have great knowledge and understanding

Radioactive – Something that has radiation

Treacherousness – Not able to be trusted

Cryptic – When something has hidden meaning

Cynic – A person who is negative

Euphemism – Picking a word which sounds better than another word, that is unpleasant

Foreboding – When you feel something bad is going to happen

Treacle – Blend of molasses, sugar and corn syrup

Before: Prior to reading the story have students fill in a KWL chart in their writing notebooks based on the book trailer and descriptions. Based on this the student will begin to build schema and become self-aware of what they know and what they do not know about the story they are about to read. 

This is a great point to make about judging books by their covers. Students may assume things about the story based on the first few chapters. This book is full of surprises and was not an ending I was fully expecting, so students may have things they think they know about the book, but these won’t happen. 

During: While reading the story the students can fill in the W and L parts of the KWL chart. They are also welcome to fill in any K parts, if they find they know something that is being discussed in the story.

After: After reading the students are invited to finish their KWL charts. They should fill in any vocabulary words they did not know, and if they cannot find the answer to a question encourage them to research this in a dictionary. Use their questions for book discussions. Ask at if any point during their reading if their question was answered later, or made sense as they read. 

Writing Activity: Have the students write a summary about the story twice, using a different tone of voice for each. One time they will use a cynical voice to summarize the story, and the other time they should use an idealistic tone. This will have students use their literal comprehension skills for summarizing the story, but based on how they understood Flora’s transformation from cynic to more optimistic, their summaries will also be inferential.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine


  • Written by: Laurie Wallmark
  • Illustrated by: April Chu
  • Age Range: 5 – 9 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten and up
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Creston Books (October 13, 2015)

Summary: This story is about the life of Ada Byron Lovelace, the first computer programer, in the world! The story showcases the adversity that she faced through a difficult illness, and her ability to continue through sexism as a nineteenth century female inventor and mathematician. The book wonderfully illustrates her imagination and how it helped her think through some of the toughest math equations to become one of the most important scientific woman ever. 

5 keywords: Science, Historical Fiction, Women’s History, Biography, Picture Book 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.3
Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Suggested Delivery: Read-a-loud.

Electronic Resources: Pre: Use this video trailer to introduce the story and to base pre-reading questions off of this.

What is a computer? 

When was it invented?

What is the role of a programmer? 

Was the first programmer a woman or a man? Why do you think this?

Are computer programmers currently more male or more female?

This is an image of what Ada invented, show this to the students after to help them comprehend the magnitude of what she created.

Website: This is the authors website, where she includes some activities and curriculum ideas for the story.

Teaching guide – I LOVE this teaching guide! It has lessons on how to use this story for LA, Math, History, and Science. It’s all encompassing of these and bridges the gaps between disciplines.

Key Vocabulary: 

Dominated – To have power of control over someone or something

Notorious – Well known or famous for something bad

Scandalous – Shocking or offensive

Equations – Math – An expression when two things are equal

Wriggled – Twist from side to side (like a worm)

Pelted – When you throw small objects at someone, repeatedly

Scold – To be critical and angry with someone

Majestic – Very beautiful and large

Compose – To make something

Multiplication – The act of multiplying numbers together

Before: Ask students when they think the first computer was invented? Who invented it? What do we know about computers? Ask them if they think that the person who invented the computer was a boy or a girl? Introduce Ada Byron Lovelace as the worlds first computer programer.

During: The story contains many similes and examples of personification, so as the story is read, ask students what that means. This will reinforce their inferential comprehension, as they have to make sense of the comparisons and personification.

After: After reading, ask the students about the story. Ask them how she ended up flying, as the page does not explain that her equations made it possible for satellites to orbit and fly in space, but the picture shows this. This question will build upon inferential comprehension, as they have to use the picture and question together. Ask if they think she has benefited their life in any way. If she were alive today what would you say to her or what would you ask her? 

Writing Activity: Divide students up into pairs. Explain to them that one of them will be the reporter and one will be Ada Lovelace. They will have to write, questions and answers about Ada Lovelace to be filmed. Their interview will be recorded, as the students improv questions, and also use their question and answer sheet. The interview should last 3-5 minutes, depending on the age. Students will have to explore other books written about Ada, and find online resources about her life in order to come up with enough questions and answers to satisfy the time allotment. They should cite these sources on a document when they hand in their question and answer sheet. This activity will enhance students ability to comprehend literally and inferentially, as they have to put themselves in Ada’s shoes, and ask questions based on what they have read about her. 



  • Written by: Helen Frost
  • Age Range: 10 – 14 years
  • Grade Level: 5 – 9
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Square Fish; Reprint edition (December 1, 2015)

Summary: Salt is the story of two young boys, James and Anikwa, an American and a Native American, during 1812. James and his family are respectful of the Native Americans and their culture, but not everyone is. When the war threat of the British backing the Natives becomes serious, everyone must pick a side, including the two best friends. Written in a free form poem form the story comes to life with every line.

5 keywords: Poetry, Free-Verse, Historical Non-Fiction, American History, Colonial America. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.B
Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.

Suggested Delivery: Audiobook read aloud

Electronic Resources: Use this before reading the book. It is a book trailer for the story and can provide background information

This Myaamia dictionary website can be used during reading to ensure that students are understanding vocabulary.

Website: This is a link to the audiobook for Salt.

Key Vocabulary: 

Brine – Salty water that preserves food

Cattails – A tall plant that grows in wet places (looks like a corndog)

Stockade – A tall barrier that aims to protect a place

Snares – A trap for small animals

Unusual – Not regular

Provisions – Supplying something

Washbasin – A large bowl of water for washing faces

Kindling – Twigs and paper that start a fire and burn easily

Before: Prior to reading this verse novel students will watch the book trailers that show what life was like in 1812. This will give students some historical context of the book and will help understand what is happening in the story. Discuss this map with students as well. This will give students the schema of where tribes were located during this time. 

During: While reading students will use the Myaamia dictionary to clarify any vocabulary they do not understand. The book on tape will also help with the fact that students can listen for clarification and context of words they cannot easily decode. Students will be asked to keep a page in their writing journal for difficult Native American words they do not understand.

After: After reading students will analyze different verses from the novel to gain some insight to inferential comprehension. Many of the verses are written in the way that foreshadow what is going to happen, and students may not pick up on. There are examples on page 33, 35, 45, and 86. Through analyzing this foreshadowing and lines that have many inferences, students can develop the skills of inferential comprehension.

Writing Activity: The writing activity for the students will consist of writing their own free verse poem about the story. This should reflect on the style of the story and include information about the characters to show literal and inferential comprehension of the text. Poetry is emotional in nature and the students understanding of the emotional bond between the characters should come through in their poems.

Brown Girl Dreaming


  • Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 0990
  • Series: Newbery Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books; 1 edition (August 28, 2014)

Summary: Born into the Civil Rights Movement, author Jaqueline Woodson writes about her life growing up. Filled with vivid images, written in poetic verse, Woodson fills the reader into what life was like for her. She deeply describes growing up at her grandparents home, and later moving to New York City, comparing how different the two were at the time. Woodson dealt with many family issues growing up and she describes them brilliantly in the novel. The story of her life is both touching as well as heartwarming, and at times tearful.

5 keywords: Verse, Poetry, Free-form, Auto-biography, Civil Rights Movement

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.D
Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.

Suggested Delivery: Whole class

Electronic Resources: This is a video where Jaqueline Woodson describes her inspirations for this memoir, and her reasons for the title.

This webpage can be used by the teacher for discussions and lesson ideas –

Website: This is the authors website where she gives information on the story, and where to find out more about her. This website can be used as a primer and as a way to answer questions students have about the story.

Teaching guide – This teaching guide is provided by Penguin, it includes all of the author’s other works. It has great discussion questions that can serve as the basis for class/assessment prompts.

Key Vocabulary:

Infinite – Having no limits

Accuses – Blaming someone

Galaxy – Large group of stars that makes up the universe

Gravity – Very serious conditions

Goggled – To look at someone/something in a surprising way – your eyes are wide

Fascinated – To be very interested in someone/something

Protruding – To stick out

Tomboy – A girl who likes things that are typically for boys

Pastels – Light colors

Feminist – Someone who believes in equality of both sexes

Before: Prior to reading Brown Girl Dreaming, give students historical context to the time period. The Civil Right’s movement is very important when discussing the story. While the story is not all about this movement, and doesn’t always flat out state Civil Rights, there are inferences to certain historic moments, such as when Jaqueline discusses her uncle’s incarceration. Show primary sources from the time, and discuss these with the class. 

Why was her uncle arrested? 

Would a similar thing happen today?

How did her grandparents feel about her moving to New York City?

How was life different for Jaqueline when she returned to the South in the summer? How did this compare and contrast to her Northern home?

During: While reading the story discuss some of the poems in detail. Discuss literary and poetic language, verses, and tone. Have students identify inferences to other things while reading to build upon inferential comprehension. An example of this is dissecting the poem What Everybody Knows Now (237), where the author mentions that Woolworths Department Store lunch counter made her grandmother wait. This is not only foreshadowing to another poem where she mentions Woolworths (John’s Bargain Store, 253), but also a historic reference. The sit-ins were first started at Woolworths Department Store, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Anne Moody. Woodson infers this, and without this background information, the context is lost. Show students primary footage of the incidents at Woolworths –

After: After reading Brown Girl Dreaming, discuss the story with students and ask what they thought about Woodson’s life and the time period she grew up in. Discuss her personal challenges with the students, and assess them informally about what they can recall about the text. Students should have a good understanding of literal details but prompt them with emotional questions. How did Jaqueline feel when the teacher called her Jackie? What was her special talent, and what were her siblings? How did she feel when her teachers assumed she was as smart as her sister? Do you relate to this? How are assumptions good and how are they bad?

Writing Activity: Have students emulate the Author’s voice in February 12th, 1963, to write their own poem about the day they were born. Through this students will learn about poetic voice, verse and language. While exploring poems and language students will learn how to differentiate their own writing to fit different genres. Based on this prompt students will have to base their poem off of Brown Girl Dreaming. Through this they will show inferential and literal comprehension of the story. By following and modeling Woodson’s poems, students show they literally know how to write a poem that resembles hers. In terms of tone of voice, and emotions that come from the poem the students write, there will be evidence of inferential comprehension. The students who show they understand these elements are clearly picking up on the underlying message of the text and of the poems.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream


  • Written by: Tanya Lee Stone
  • Forward by: Margaret A. Weitekamp 
  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 980L
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (February 24, 2009)

Summary: This is the true story, of thirteen American women, who pushed the boundaries of sexism in the 1960s. Most famously, Jerri Cobb, a pilot, wanted to become an astronaut. NASA and the majority of the American public did not think that being an astronaut was a woman’s job. This opinion lead to the support of the decision to have all male astronauts to be the first in space. These women set out to prove they should be allowed as astronauts, on the basis of the legal system, as human beings, and also scientifically. After reading this inspiring story, the reader will be left wondering why after the dramatic discoveries women were still challenged in their role in space. 

5 keywords: Non-Fiction, Historical Non-Fiction, American History, Women’s History, Space History. 

Common Core State Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.9
Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Suggested Delivery: Independent/Class read  

Electronic Resources: A book talk. This can be used to preface the general outlines of the story, or during certain chapters of the books. These help students develop schema in the story they are reading. Book talks are especially helpful when it comes to comprehension of non-fiction texts as it helps students ask questions of what they are reading. This, in turn, makes a more reflective reader.

This is a great trailer with some historical quotes and statistics that would be most useful before reading this story. This will help the students gain an understanding of the time period and the challenges of everyday women in the 1960s.

Website: This website is a podcast of the author discussing the book.

Teaching guide from publisher – Great author interview and detailed discussion questions. This is a fabulous resource for the book.

Key Vocabulary:

Parliamentarian – A member of Parliament

Naysayers –  A person who says something is not possible

Empowering – To give power to someone

Feminist – The belief that men and women have equal rights

Hurdles – A series of barriers

Venture – To do something that is risky

Glass Ceiling – An unfair system that prevents women and minorities from getting better jobs

Electroencephalogram – A machine that tests brain activity

WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilot

Altitude – The height of something above the sea

Before: Prior to reading, have students do a quick write about what they know about the Women’s Rights Movement, and historically important female figures. In order to give historical relevance and context, in addition to background information which will prove to be helpful in terms of comprehension, discuss the events leading to this and the climate in America at the time. For example, Many of these women would not have been pilots if not for WWII, and therefore would not have had the opportunity to be educated in flight. The Space Race was also a huge factor in this, as was the Cold War. Lastly, women had been given a taste of career in WWII and after being forced back into their socially accepted home life, became fed up and therefore started the second wave of feminism.

During: While reading, have students underline words that they do not understand. Have them look these words up in a Thesaurus to help them find if there are other words that fit and they know the definition to. They can also use a dictionary to help them with understanding content specific, tier III words. This type of vocabulary notation aids in students understanding of what they are reading. This book has many tier II and III words which students will need to understand in order to read the book to its full potential. 

After: When the reading has ended ask students a variety of questions. These questions should be thought provoking, and mainly consisting of opinion and persuasive questions.

Do you think women deserve to be astronauts?

Why do you think the military rejected the advancement of female astronauts? 

If you were a NASA executive would you have let women be astronauts or not? 

In what ways have these women bettered your life?

Having a discussion about these women and their story will force students to think and use what they have read to back up their answers and formulate discussions. Many adults struggle to have a discussion about topics such as this, and by having kids learn how to respectfully hear opinions of others based on knowledge will hopefully teach that reading and knowing how to read is key, and that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Remain a mediator and narrator of this discussion and stay neutral.

Writing Activity: To begin enforcing writing and using text quotes to back up what is written, have students write about how Almost Astronauts and the events inside are similar to current day female struggles. Their text to world connections do not have to be quoted, but they should come from relevant and reliable sources. Students are also welcome to compare these events to other historical women attempts of advancing the gender. To further enforce an acceptance of all people, students should also be asked to write about how the strides of these women have positively impacted their lives, as gender roles hurt men as well as women. These prompts will help with inferential comprehension as they are asked to connect this to current and past historical events, by thinking about how what they read relates. They are also asked to think about how this helped themselves, which has students think larger than just the story itself and influences a text to self connection.