Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus

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How many times have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? At least once, right? It’s amazing to consider how one book continues to touch so many lives. What does it take to write the great American novel? In Alabama Spitfire, readers get an idea of what makes an author noteworthy. Young Nelle Harper Lee was a reader, a writer and an observer. She watched her father, a lawyer, fight cases in the courthouse. She wondered about her reclusive neighbors and wrote stories about them. These childhood experiences prepared Lee to write a book we all know and love. Children will appreciate the illustrations that have a cinematic feel to them. The interesting storyline will compel readers to make observations and write. Who knows, maybe one day they will write the next great American novel!

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework For Learners: Curate: IV.A.2 Learners act on an information need by identifying possible sources of information.

  • Introduce Alabama Spitfire by asking the following questions: 
    • What is your favorite book? Do other people love the book as much as you do? How do you know? What do you know about the author of your favorite book?
  • Explain that you are going to read a picture book about a noteworthy author. Point to her name in the title. Tell learners that Harper Lee wrote a book that’s pretty famous. Read the subtitle and state the name of the notorious book.
  • Tell students that while you read, they have a job to do. They need to consider what made Lee such a great writer.
  • Write “Nelle Harper Lee” on a piece of chart paper after reading. Ask learners what Harper did to become such a great writer. Record responses on the chart paper.
  • Ask students if they would like to learn about other authors.
  • Model how to search for biographies about a favorite author using the online catalog. Look at the results of the search together and ask what they notice. Identify the books to read. Point out call numbers and the titles. Model how to check if books are available. Tell learners they will need to record the title and the call number so you can help them find the book in the library.
  • Locate the books and give learners time to read.
  • Divide students into groups and invite everyone to share what they learned. Learners will consider any similarities between the authors. Next, they will write the author’s name on a sticky note and include what made them a writer. Post all sticky notes on a poster with the title “What Makes a Great Writer?” Invite learners to organize the sticky notes in a fashion that makes sense to them.

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) by Barry Wittenstein

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When you cut yourself, what’s the first thing you do? Reach for a Band-Aid, right? Before the 1920s, Band-Aids did not exist. Josephine Knight was accident prone and needed to save her cuts from infection. Her husband, Earle Dickson, wanted to help. He applied his background knowledge with cotton to solve the problem. The Boo-Boos That Changed the World delivers an interesting narrative about Band-Aids. Children will enjoy the comical way the author pretends to end the story when there is more to tell. The cartoonish illustrations add to the story of this great invention known worldwide.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Curate: IV.A.2 Learners act on an information need by identifying possible sources of information.

  • Read The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) by Barry Wittenstein.
  • View old Band-Aid commercials and images by searching the online resources located at the end of the book.
  • Tell learners that you need their help finding information about other great inventions that solved a problem. Where would they find this information? What word(s) would they use in their search?
  • Model how to use the online catalog. Demonstrate how to identify available books and record the call number and title. Explain that you can help them find their books with that information. Tell learners to summarize the books they read.
  • Model how to use the library databases to find articles about inventions. Demonstrate how to read through the article and summarize what the article tells the reader.
  • Ask learners to curate their favorite resources about one invention by creating a flyer for patrons. Explain that you will give the flyers to learners who ask about the invention.

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

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How do we keep our family history alive? In this insightful and poignant book, Junot Diaz examines just how we keep our stories alive.  In an age when immigration is a debate in our nation and tops the headlines each day, we consider the story of Lola, who immigrated as a baby. She cannot remember “The Island” that she came from, since she left when she was a baby.

To bridge the past with the present, Lola’s family brings the “The Island” to her, by sharing all kinds of memories – from the wonderful to the heartbreaking.  It is a story of sharing, imagination and the importance of our stories.

Throughout this story, Lola starts to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”

Note: This book is also available in Spanish under the title “Lola”.

Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: V.A.3 Engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth.

How much do we really know about our family history? How far back in history can we imagine? How is the story of your family history conveyed over time?

  • Invite learners to begin an inquiry process with their own family members to understand the story of their own family.
  • Suggest that learners  interview members of their family, and friends that they have known over time to unfold deeper understandings,
  • Provide  learners with books and technology to  research a country of origin to investigate how their family story connects with information from that culture, geographical region and societal norms,
  • Invite learners to share this information with one another, or to another family member to continue their own story.
  • Learners can consider how their history might shape their future.  Ask the question,” How can your history influence your future?” and “How will you continue to share your story?”
  • Invite learners to explore how we can begin to understand “our own story” when we may not have family to share with us? What steps might they take?

How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 10.37.29 AMAre you teaching learners how to code? If so, you must add How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk to your lesson plans. A young girl, by the name of Pearl, narrates the thought process behind coding.  She begins by introducing her robot friend, Pascal. Readers will see how Pearl directs the robot to build the perfect sandcastle. Terms like “loop” and “sequence” are defined with appealing illustrations. A “Guide to Coding” at the end of the book further defines coding terms.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: EXPLORE V.B.1: Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection by problem solving through cycles of design, implementation, and reflection.

  • Ask learners the following questions while reading How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk:
    • What big problem did Pearl want to solve? (pg. 5)
    • What does a coder do? (pg. 6)
    • What small problems does Pearl solve? (pg. 7-24)
  • Engage learners by asking if they would like to create code to make a robot to move.
  • Model how to find the “Star Wars” page on (
  • Demonstrate how to navigate through the tutorial.
  • Point out the “</> Show Code” tab so learners can see what code looks like.
  • Invite learners to explore the Star Wars coding activity.

Check out, and consider starting a club in your library!


I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About A Simple of Kindness by Kerascoët

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I Walk With Vanessa is wordless book that provokes a conversation about bullying. All readers will relate to the concern of finding a way to stop aggressive behavior. When a new girl at school feels alone, a bully decides to make her feel worse by yelling at her. Another young girl witnesses this and is shocked and saddened by what she saw. After pondering for some time, she comes up with a brilliant plan that is sure to make Vanessa feel better. Learners will immediately connect with stories of their own. The wordless platform encourages readers to voice their experiences around bullying.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: Include: II.B.1 Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by interacting with learners who reflect a range of perspectives.

  • Introduce the story by asking learners to look at the cover and read the title. Ask what they can expect to learn from the book.
  • Explain that this is a wordless story, so they will need to look closely at the illustrations and think about what is happening.
  • Ask the following questions as you read the story:
    • What is happening on this page? (title page)
    • How do you think the little girl feels about moving to a new place? (title page)
    • How is Vanessa feeling about being in a new class? How do you know? (pages 1-2)
    • Why do you think the children don’t notice her? (pages 1-4)
    • Why is the boy yelling at Vanessa? (pages 5-6)
    • How is the girl in the yellow dress feeling about the boy yelling at Vanessa? (pages 7-8)
    • What is the girl in the yellow dress saying to her friends? How do the friends feel about it? (pages 11-12)
    • What do you suppose the girl is thinking about? (pages 13-18).
    • What do you think the girl is saying to Vanessa? (pages 19-20)
    • How does Vanessa feel now? How do you know? (pages 23-28)
  • Invite learners to share their own experiences of bullying. Ask for examples of people helping others who were bullied.
  • Create a toolbox of ideas for learners to prevent bullying. Divide learners into groups to create pamphlets or slideshows to share with other classrooms.

Tip: Take a look at the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Best Apps for Learning to find the best platforms for your learners. 

Extension Idea: Pair this book with “Each Kindness” by Jacqueline Woodson. Ask learners to think about how they would make a new student feel welcome in their classroom. 

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

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How can we introduce the concept of mindfulness with our students? Self regulation and focus are key to learning in all settings, yet often we struggle with just how to begin the conversation.  Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, is an engaging book, told through the eyes of a little boy and girl as well as Stillwater, their panda friend. Stillwater seems to have just the right story to share that matches an emotional challenge.  This book serves as a wonderful platform from which mindfulness can be explored.

Response to Literature


AASL Standards Framework for Learners: A.5.3  EXPLORE Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.

Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth

Have students work with you to identify and list a wide variety of different emotions.  Consider having them research mindfulness techniques that would help a friend with a strong feeling. They could also write or find a story that would support a friend with handling an emotion. Students can consider their own authentic audience – who could they teach mindfulness practices to?

Some ideas include:

  • Older and younger students partnered as meditation buddies
  • Learners could introduce the idea of a cool down station in classrooms/libraries.  They could develop activities, short stories or mantras to help their peers
  • Learners could consider how they can bring mindfulness strategies to the whole school

There are so many opportunities, whether you intend to follow a single lesson , or build it out to become a mindfulness unit. We would love to hear your ideas!

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, March 1st 2005 by Scholastic Press

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

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What would you do if you had to get rid of 3,186 tons of trash? This was a problem that Lowell Harrelson thought he could handle. He rented a barge, loaded it with trash from New York City and Long Island, and shipped it to North Carolina. He had an innovative plan for the trash once it reached land, but NC refused the delivery. What was Harrelson to do?
In All That Trash by Meghan McCarthy, we learn about the true story of trash that traveled for two months. McCarthy does an exceptional job making this piece of history fascinating. Readers will enjoy the illustrations that enrich the engaging storyline. Information and pictures at the end of the book answer questions readers may have about the news event.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: IV.B.1 Learners gather information appropriate to the task by seeking a variety of sources.

  • Invite learners to ask questions they have about the trash business. Record questions on chart paper.
  • Divide learners into groups to find answers to their questions using books and online resources.
  • Ask learners to share an interesting resource and describe it. Model how to record their ideas with Recap, an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning. Watch this clip to learn more about this platform prefect for curation.

Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter To Our Planet by April Pulley Sayre

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Think of a time when your whole being fully appreciated nature. What did you see? What did you hear? In Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter To Our Planet, we see incredible images of our beautiful home. Gorgeous photos of plants, animals and landscapes support the story told in poetic form. The message of appreciating Earth will inspire readers. Resources and ideas to make a difference are included at the end of the book.
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Response to Literature


AASL Standards Framework for Learners: V.A.3 Engaging in inquiry-based processes for personal growth.

  • Read the story and simply appreciate the pictures and the poetic storyline.
  • Ask learners to share what gifts of nature they are thankful for.
  • Explain that they will write and publish a love letter to Earth. They will use the Book Creator app (an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning) to craft their pages.
  • Model how to use the tools in Book Creator to write an electronic book. Learners can go outside and draw pictures or take photos of nature with the app. They can use the text feature to write about what they see or the audio feature to talk about their sightings. Compile their pages to make one book.
  • Share the book with one of the organizations mentioned at the end of the book.

A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan

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Did you know there was a time when girls were not allowed to speak in front of an audience at school? During the mid 1800’s, Belva Lockwood saw this happening and knew it was wrong. She decided to end this oppression by teaching public speaking courses to girls.

There were other injustices, too, and Belva was not going to stand by and let them happen. When someone told her “no” because she was a woman, she kept persisting until she heard “yes”. When she was not allowed to vote, Belva campaigned and ran for president.

This fascinating story will appeal to all readers as they learn a lesson in speaking up for what’s right. Belva Lockwood’s example in determination inspires readers to persevere when faced with opposition.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: II.A.2 Learners contribute a balanced perspective when participating in a learning community by adopting a discerning stance toward points of view and opinions expressed in information resources and learning products. 

  • Ask learners to think of a time when they saw something that wasn’t fair. What happened? Were they able to voice their opinion?
  • Introduce the story. Invite learners to raise their hand when they hear something that is unfair. Ask what makes it unfair. Welcome different points of view.
  • Aks, “I wonder if you encounter unfairness at school?” Ask learners to respond by writing unjust scenarios on sticky notes. Collect the notes and read some to the group. Brainstorm ideas to fix problematic situations.
  • Consider breaking the students up in groups. Give each group one problem to discuss and solve. Students can act out a scene for the class to observe.

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer


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Where does creativity come from? Steve Jobs once said it evolves from “connecting things.” The story of Ada Lovelace supports this idea. Energized by a curious imagination as a child, Ada designed fantastic creations. Her mother worried about Ada’s wild notions and sent her to school to study science. Ada thrived at the school. She was especially interested in learning about machines. One machine in particular caught her eye; the loom. Punch cards full of holes told the machine what to do, and this fascinated Ada. She wanted to apply this technology to create something new. One day, she did. She wrote the first computer program.

This is the perfect book to introduce computer programming. The fanciful illustrations work well with the enjoyable narrative to describe the technology. Readers will appreciate this story and remember Ada Lovelace’s contribution to programming.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners:V.C.1 Learners engage with the learning community by expressing curiosity about a topic of personal interest or curricular relevance.

  • Explain that code tells a computer what to do. Everything they see on a website or a game was created by code. The placement of the paragraphs, the flash of a video, the size of an image is all made with code.
  • Show learners what code looks like. Find a favorite website and view the websites source code. Learn how to do this by reading How to Read Your Website Source Code and Why It’s Important for SEO.
  • Invite learners to share what they notice about the source code.
  • Watch What Most Schools Don’t Teach to inspire coding. Show learners the code for the video by clicking the share button on the bottom right hand side. Explain that people use that code to embed the video on their websites or blogs.
  • Ask if they would like to give coding a try.
  • Go to and model how to find courses that are just right for their age group.
  • Assess learning by asking what fascinated them the most about what they learned about coding.

Web Resources:

How to Read Your Website Source Code and Why It’s Important for SEO

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing (

What Most Schools Don’t Teach (

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs by Susan Hughes

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When was the last time you paid attention to the activities in your town? What did you notice? What did you appreciate? Jane Jacobs, an author and an activist, was fascinated by the intricacies of city life. As a child, she wondered how cities sustained daily activity. She had questions about man holes, sewer systems and street design. Jacobs loved her neighborhood, and when city planners threatened to tear down her community to build a highway, she protested. She wrote letters and involved neighbors to challenge the plan. She made a difference. The highway was never built.

Jane Jacob’s story will compel readers to take a new interest in their neighborhoods. What do they appreciate about their town? How can they stay informed about proposals? Prepare learners to get involved by trying the lesson below.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: II.C.1 Learners exhibit empathy with and tolerance for diverse ideas by engaging in informed conversation and active debate.

  • Introduce the story by asking learners what it takes to make a difference. Write responses on chart paper.
  • Explain that you are going to read a story about a woman who made a difference in her community. Their job is to notice what she did. Compare her actions with the traits listed on the chart paper.
  • Ask learners what they love about their community. Read a local news article or minutes from the latest town meeting to spark debate. Ask learners what they think about the proposed changes. Do they like the idea? Why or why not? What questions do they have about the proposal?
  • Gather questions for further research and consider inviting guest speakers to answer questions.
  • Prepare learners for a debate by giving them time to research and discuss the topic. Learners will state their position and support their ideas with detailed points. They will ask questions and respond to ideas they hear during the discussion.
  • End the lesson by asking learners if their position changed after the discussion. Reflect on the importance of sharing ideas and being open to hearing opposing points of view.


Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

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It’s eerie to think that Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson was published two months before the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. The stories are the same; courageous children taking monumental risks to draw attention to atrocities.

This powerful story, illustrated with remarkable images, will inspire readers to make a difference. The Afterword provides ideas to encourage children to volunteer and learn more about important topics.

Illustrator Frank Morrison is extremely talented at illuminating the feelings of each character in the story. We clearly see worry, pain, fear, satisfaction, courage and pride in the facial expressions of the characters.

The back matter includes images of children being arrested and sprayed by a powerful hose.

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Response to Literature

AASL Standards Framework for Learners: III.C.2 Learners work productively with others to solve problems by involving diverse perspectives in their own inquiry processes.

  • Show this example of a young girl by the name of Molly Steer who is making a difference with her Straw No More campaign. Ask the following questions after watching the video:
    • “What is the problem Molly is fixing?”
    • “How did she discover it was a problem?”
    • “What does she need to solve the problem?”
    • “What are the constraints?”
  • Visit the Youth Service America website to inspire learners.
  • Ask learners to brainstorm problems they see in their school, community, country and world. Allow the class to choose a problem to solve. They can collaborate as a whole class or in small groups to develop solutions and create plans.


March for Our Lives (

Straw No More | Molly Steer | TEDxJCUCairns. (

Youth Service America. (

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