Sunday, September 19, 2021

Interview with Beth Anderson, the Author of TAD LINCOLN'S RESTLESS WRIGGLE

I’m excited to be interviewing author, Beth Anderson, for a Q&A about her new book, Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President’s House. The book is illustrated by S.D. Schindler and due to be released on October 5, 2021, but I was very lucky to get a sneak preview. Speech-language pathologists and classroom teachers are going to love this unique look into Abraham Lincoln’s special relationship with his most unique son, especially as we approach Dyslexia Awareness Month coming up in October.

Carolee: As a speech-language pathologist, what excites me the most about your new book is that you feature a main character with a speech difference which your sources indicate may have been a partial cleft palate. Could you give us more details about what evidence points to that conclusion?

Beth: Thank you for inviting me to share some of the research, Carolee. It was fascinating to see what experts learned from the historical record. But, before I share their work, it’s important to know that they used limited details reported by non-professionals at a time when there was no generally accepted terminology for speech disorders. I found one in-depth analysis and a few other articles that explore possibilities while noting the limits of available information and the complicated nature of diagnosis.

Definitive evidence for cleft lip shows up in photographs, while strong evidence for cleft palate or partial cleft palate comes through other sources. Considering the hereditary aspect of cleft palates, a picture of Tad’s grandfather appears to have the same notching on the upper lip.

A reference to an orthodontic device of the time signals a dental abnormality. Also, Tad’s need for specially prepared food indicates problems chewing/swallowing. Some of Tad’s speech patterns are associated with cleft palate, as well as some of his reported social emotional and learning challenges that young people with cleft palate sometimes face. 

Carolee: Because I work with so many students with dyslexia, I’m also interested in learning more about Tad’s language-based learning disability. Were there interesting details about his learning style and/or differences you would like to share that didn’t make it into the book?

Beth: This area lacks specifics. The most detailed research addresses his speech rather than learning disabilities. The evidence for LD tends to be that of association with other issues of his. There’s a strong indication of language delay and possibly dyslexia. Tad was called a slow learner, impulsive, and hyperactive. And he was also described as quick-minded and wise beyond his years. I’ll share some of his documented language issues here.

There are multiple examples from first-hand accounts of Tad’s pronunciation issues. Many are consistent with immature speech patterns. Tad called Elizabeth Keckley “Yib” (probably for “Lib”), Crook was “Took”, Papa dear was “Papa-day,” and Mrs. Sprigg was “Mith Spwigg.” There seems to be a consensus that Tad had an articulation disorder, perhaps a severe one.

As far as his "gushing" speech, it’s possible he had a cluttering disorder as he also exhibited a few of the issues that go with it like distractibility, hyperactivity, certain social/vocational problems (such as delayed ability to dress himself), and language difficulties. Experts are cautious due to the difficulty in diagnosing cluttering.

Tad’s behavior also had signs of ADHD. Though this is supported by association with some of his other difficulties, a diagnosis would require more information.

He insisted (at age 12) that a-p-e spelled monkey when presented a picture and the word. It appears to be more than a substitution as the anecdote notes the interaction had an intentional focus on the letters. Some see that as evidence of dyslexia.

As a former educator, when a child runs away from his tutor and does anything he can to avoid lessons, I tend to think he’s frustrated by his failure and learning differences—even more disheartening when your older brother is a whiz kid. And when you consider all the stress he was dealing with from his personal challenges, as well as living life in the White House (age 8 to just after his 12th birthday), it adds another layer. When Willie died in 1862, Tad lost a brother, playmate, and the person who “translated” his speech for others. In school, he was mocked for his garbled speech and called a stutterer. There’s no real evidence he was actually stuttering, and it’s likely that people used the term for a speech impediment. Many reported a lisp and said his speech was unintelligible due to both his pronunciation and his words flooding out and being jumbled. So you can imagine how people reacted to him, rejected him, and discredited him. Learning about what Tad struggled with and all he faced helped me try to understand the world from his point of view.

Carolee: As an adolescent, Tad did learn to read and write and to speak clearly. Is there any more information available about how he overcame his challenges?

Beth: Tad was a joyful rambunctious child. I would bet he got away with a lot and pushed his limits because he was the son of the President. The President’s House, as the White House was called at the time, was an exciting place. An attic full of treasures. A bell system to call servants. A rooftop perfect for play cannons. A stable with all sorts of animals. A soldiers’ camp on the property. All pretty irresistible for a child! I think there are a number of factors contributing to Tad’s rejection of schooling, and there are a few hints that one of those was that he wasn’t giving lessons his all. After the loss of his father, he realized that he would have to take life more seriously, be more responsible, and grow up.

There is little information about how he overcame his challenges. At age 14, in Chicago, his brother Robert hired an “elocution” tutor. At 15, Mary took him to Germany where he boarded at Dr. Johann Heinrich Hohagen’s Institute and received special instruction. Tad didn’t learn to read, write, and speak clearly until he was sixteen. I didn’t find any information about his instruction.

Carolee: You portray a very unique relationship between Abraham Lincoln and his son, Tad. The president was quite understanding and accepting of his son’s differences at a time when most adults had little patience with children. When you consider that the story is set during the Civil War, Lincoln’s relationship with Tad is even more impressive. How do you think this relationship affected Tad’s development as a person? As a parent and an educator, do you have any personal suggestions for building self-esteem in students with learning challenges?
Beth: Abraham and Mary Lincoln were considered permissive parents and criticized for their lack of discipline. The quote that opens the back matter gives us a window into Abraham’s thinking:

“Love is the chain whereby to bind a child to its parents.”

Other quotes from Lincoln showed he understood the challenges Tad faced, the pressure of life in the public eye, and a child’s need to play. There was plenty of time for Tad to learn his letters. After Willie died, Tad and his father had a special bond that sustained both of them. Lincoln said, “I laugh because I must not weep.”

The more I learn about Abraham Lincoln, the more I see his extraordinary ability to see goodness in people, whether the “enemy” or an unruly child. And I think that’s the secret—being able to see past the inappropriate behaviors to find the goodness. Not always easy, right? When I look at father guiding son, I see the familiar “I do, we do, you do” pattern. I saw the father’s behaviors come through in the son. If you look at Tad’s actions, especially the turkey pardon, he’s seeing goodness, too, and speaking for those who can’t. Papa modeled, then guided, then gave Tad opportunities to be successful and use his energy in deeds that allowed others to recognize his goodness. Patience is hard, but I have to imagine that the child is feeling frustration too, and trying to be patient with the rest of the world. I think it’s about mutual trust and respect, and offering a scaffolded path that provides comfort and encouragement for each child to see their own goodness. 

Thanks so much for your questions and the opportunity to share the fascinating research!

Carolee: Thank you, Beth, for taking time out of your busy writing schedule to talk about your book.

Earlier this summer, Beth joined me and two other Colorado authors for a discussion with Second Star Books about writing memoirs and personal stories. Watch the video and read the Q&A HERE. Pre-order your copy of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle today from a local bookstore or from AMAZON.

Watch for next week's post where I will share an Educator's Guide for Beth's new book.

Beth has another book that is featured in my recent educational resource Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning through the Power of Storytelling. That title is An Inconvenient Alphabet: Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution. Beth is a former ESL teacher and conducts intensive research for her books about the lives of popular historical figures. I always learn something new from reading her work. Narrative non-fiction picture books make great therapy tools for SLPs working in the area of narrative intervention which is the subject of Story Frames.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Coffee Chat with Brookes Publishing - Story Frames Overview

The live Coffee Chat happened in March, but you can watch the recording at the Brookes Publishing Resource Library anytime. The video provides a nice overview of my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling. If you are wondering what it is about, visit the Story Frames page at Brookes Publishing.

The question and answer from the audience for the Brookes Coffee Chat follows:

Question: Does Story Frames introduce teaching of nouns, verbs, adjectives first or is this program more for students that have been taught the above concepts?

Answer: Story Frames addresses both the macrostructure of stories (the overarching plot structure) and the microstructure, the building blocks and key skills needed to understand and create stories. Parts of speech are taught within the context of the story using somewhat different terminology since struggling learners often have difficulty remembering terms like noun, verb, adjective, preposition, adverb, conjunction. Also, students can become easily confused when a word functions like a noun in one context and an adjective in another.

Because of my background as a speech-language pathologist, I start with oral language and focus on talking about stories long before writing about them. I have an entire chapter devoted to  Oral Retells: Vocabulary, Sequencing and Grammar (Chapter 5). At the end of that chapter, I discuss using Wh-Questions to help students verbally build complex sentences (Who or what is the subject of the sentence? What are they doing? Where are they doing it? When, Why etc.) I use questions to elicit parts of speech rather than asking specifically for examples of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so forth. Chapter Five also includes a game for improving grammaticality judgment – determining if a variety of verbs are used correctly.

In Chapter 9, written by William Van Cleave, he talks about written language and sentence structure. Within his chapter, he addresses parts of speech by looking at the function of a word within a sentence as opposed to a label like noun, verb, adjective, or conjunction.

Question: Do you ever use other visuals such as sentence frames or sentence starters?

Answer: As mentioned above, I use Wh-Questions to build sentences. I have created a set of icons to go with each Wh- Question (Who, What Thing, What Action, Where, When, Why, How, Which One) to make these abstract concepts more concrete. The chart in chapter 5 – “Wh-Questions and Answers for Sentence Building” is an example of one way to create a graphic organizer for sentence construction.

In chapter 6, I provide several story starter activities. In the Brookes downloadable resources connected with that chapter, there is a slide deck called Dicey Stories. It helps students build a story sentence by sentence by providing options for each story element that may be selected by preference or by a roll of the dice. The Chapter 6 downloads also contain a template for a fill-in-the-blank Story Ad Lib based on the 12 elements. To give an idea of what this activity entails, I have a free fill-in-the-blank story-building template based on the 8 story elements available on my website. Go to the HOME page at and scroll to the bottom.

Question: Do you choose which story grammar outline you use depending on the students or do you have a preferred one?

Answer: The Basic Storyboard containing 8 elements can be used interchangeably with the Complete Storyboard containing 12 elements for the purpose of determining the level of story grammar complexity that a child is using. The questions on Westby’s Story Grammar Decision Tree (see Chapter 4) that help to determine story grammar level may be applied to a retelling based on either storyboard. Some very simple stories for young children will not contain all of the nuances of the Complete Storyboard; however, any story that contains all 12 elements may be retold using only 8. For writing purposes, I tend to use the basic storyboard with 8 elements when students are creating original stories and time is limited. I use the 12 elements when I want a student to write a more complex story. The twelve-element storyboard is also useful for writing a three-paragraph summary because the structure of the three rows of the storyboard fits nicely with the beginning, middle, and end structure of a summary.

Question: How does comprehension fit into story frames?  I'm thinking you have to have some comprehension before writing?

Answer: Chapter 8 is devoted to comprehension. Asking questions of students is valuable, but even more important is teaching students to ask themselves questions about a text. This self-questioning leads to the ability to clarify their understanding. Other strategies discussed in this chapter include forming mental images. Some students do it easily while others need explicit instruction on how to create visual images. Higher-order thinking is facilitated by looking at Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and focusing on activities that move across the Cognitive Process Dimension (Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create) and the Knowledge Dimension (Factual Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge, and Metacognitive Knowledge.) Suggestions for exploring each dimension are provided at the end of Chapter 8. 

Question: Can you speak to informal writing assessments or rubrics that you use in tandem with some of these wonderful writing strategies?

Answer: Story Frames contains many informal assessments such as data collection sheets for grammaticality judgment and vocabulary (choosing correct definitions, using target words in a sentence, using target vocabulary during story retells). A Story Element Score Sheet lists each story element and what is required to achieve a score from 0-2 points for each item. It is useful for both oral retells and written summaries. Chapter 4 includes Westby’s Story Grammar Decision Tree (reprinted with permission). It can be implemented to assess a child’s level of story grammar usage.

Question: Do you have a specific Narrative Non-Fiction Picture book you like?

Answer: There are so many wonderful narrative non-fiction picture books available now. There are three books I particularly love, all with plots analyzed in Story Frames. They feature kids with disabilities or challenges of one kind or another such as Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. See her interviews on Reading Rockets as she talks about topics like bullying and growing up with dyslexia. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls features a young man who brings disability awareness to his home country of Ghana by riding a bicycle for 400 hundred miles with one leg. My students love watching YouTube videos of Emmanuel playing soccer with one leg and riding a bicycle with his prosthetic limb. The book on which I base many of the activities found in Story Frames is Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. I was fascinated to discover that Louis Braille created the Braille writing system while a teenager and a student at the Royal School for the Blind.

If you would like to check out other titles, I have created a list of 32 picture books and novels featured in Story Frames. I have completed a plot analysis for each book and these appear in the downloadable resources at the Brookes hub. Fourteen of those books are narrative non-fiction picture books. A listing of these books appears in the introduction of Story Frames. The list may also be found at
Question: Hello! I work with younger children, and I had a question - do you know at which age children begin recognizing patterns in stories, as well as when they begin to really comprehend and recall the outcomes of different stories?

Answer: I have an entire chapter dedicated to Understanding Narrative Development (Chapter 4), so it is a complex topic. I will say that understanding the structure of stories helps children remember the plots and the outcomes of different stories. In preschool, young children tell stories with events that may appear on a timeline with one action coming before another, but with very little linking the events. Then the beginnings of cause and effect emerge, but the events of a story tend to be reactionary rather than purposeful. In the early elementary years, goals appear in the stories children tell, but planning is often only implied. As storytelling skills advance, planning is more apparent. In the late elementary grades, children tell stories with obstacles arising to block a character's goals or plans.

Question: What is the exact difference between story elements and story frames?

Answer: Imagine an old-fashioned reel of film. Now imagine each frame within that reel. The frame is a still shot in the story. The story element is what is contained within that frame. The story elements are represented by terms that describe a specific plot point or concept within a story such as the Ordinary World, Call & Response etc. Each element is represented with an icon. The story frames are the containers or units in which that information appears. For instance, the beginning of a story contains 4 frames of information. Each frame contains one of the story elements.

Question: What are some helpful websites that come to mind for virtual learning?

Answer: That depends on your goals and objectives as well as your setting and the number of students involved. Keep in mind that copyrights may affect the terms of use of the products below. is a free site. I believe there is also a paid option with more features. It has games for parts of speech, idioms, homophones, verb tense, capitalization and punctuation. Toontastic 3D is an app for creating animated cartoon stories. It is free and can be used on a phone, tablet or Chromebook with options for a 3 or 5 part story. The 5 part story includes a setup, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution. Students can choose animated characters and settings, and move characters around within those settings while adding a voice-over feature to create a mini-movie. An iPad can be connected to a computer so that what is on the screen of the iPad can be displayed on a computer screen, but I don’t know of a way to give the student control of the iPad. They can play director and verbally tell you what to do which is an excellent way to build oral language skills, for instance by describing which character or setting to pick for a specific scene. is a website for kids ages 2-8. It includes 450 books (traditional trade books as well as books they have created for their site). The website has educational games and songs. There are writing activities to work on sentence structure, punctuation, and parts of speech. Progress tracking is available. There is a monthly fee but the first month is free. Inspiration software can be used to work on concept mapping, brainstorming, webbing, and outlining.

IDA Book Chat Recording

In May I did a Book Chat with the International Dyslexia Association on the topic of sharing books with struggling readers. The recording may be found HERE.

During the chat, I discuss many of the titles of narrative non-fiction picture books that are featured in Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. Here is a FREE PDF listing those titles. The PDF includes suggestions for related books that may be taught together on common subjects such as the Revolutionary War, Post War Japan, and the Old West.

In the video above, I discuss the many considerations that go into choosing books for struggling readers which includes a comparison of decodable books versus leveled books as well as help in understanding the benefits and limitations of various types of texts.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Children's Author Panel on Promoting Storytelling


Watch the video HERE. 

Thanks to everyone who joined me on June 1 along with Lauren Casey from Second Star to the Right Bookstore and Colorado authors Andrea Wang, Beth Anderson, and Dow Phumiruk for our author panel on Promoting Storytelling with Your Kids. It was a wonderful event. If you missed it the recording is now available above. 

In the first half of the video, we talk about tips for writing personal narratives including using picture books as a conversation starter between caregivers and children. You may download a FREE PDF of my handout - Picture Books For Reminiscing. It includes questions for each of the picture books we discuss. These questions may be used at home or in the classroom to stimulate a discussion about personal experiences. Specifically for teachers, download the PDF: Writing Personal Narratives: Using Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books as Inspiration for Telling Your Story.

I've included an excerpt below of our Q&A at the end of the video which Lauren moderated. It starts about 25 minutes into the recording.

Lauren: How do you find the courage to share what you have created.

Carolee: This is a very good question, especially for kids. I remember being a kid and not wanting to stand out, not even in a good way. We don't want to be too dull, but we don't want to be too bright either. We don't want to be too tall and we don't want to be too short. One of the things that helps us to share our work is finding people we can take that risk with - sharing a little bit of ourselves and our story with people we can trust. When we are back in school it would be wonderful if we were writing more personal stories and sharing them in the classroom Validating our experiences and celebrating how different we all are helps us create connections. Today we've been talking about very different stories about people who lived before us or lived in very different places, but we each relate to each of these stories because of that connection. We need to get to the place where that connection is more important to us than our fear of rejection. Our part is that when we hear someone else's story, we let them know that is safe. We give them that acceptance. Hopefully, when it comes back around to us, someone will give us that courtesy as well.

Beth: Can I add something to that? The most significant experience I had as a teacher in writing with my students was when we were writing personal memoirs and I wrote with the kids. This applies across the board whether it's with family or in the classroom, whether it's written or whether it's oral. We all just wrote. And when I shared my memoir piece and my voice cracked at the end, and they saw me vulnerable, sharing a piece of my life and how it had an emotional impact on me, it opened up that safe place and they all shared miraculous stories of their lives. These were all immigrants and refugees. People who had very different kinds of experiences that they were not willing to share usually. I think that as adults, if we open up that space, we not only share family stories that are personal to our families that can be passed along, we create that safe space to connect at a deeper level and let kids share those emotional experiences. 

Andrea: I think it is also important to remember that being brave does not mean that you aren't scared. I was always an incredibly shy kid and wouldn't show my writing to anybody except the teacher because you have to do that. Then the teacher in my third-grade class decided that she was sending all of our poems to the town newspaper, and they were all printed. That was a defining moment in my life because I thought, "Wow, my name is in the paper. I've made it." From then on it wasn't so bad because people were complimenting all of us. It was a safe place. It was a very lovely town. With Watercress and it being such a personal story, I've been afraid since the moment that I sent it to my agent. I was essentially revealing my heart to everyone. But you really do have to embrace that vulnerability that we've been talking about. That allows other people a turn to be brave and share their own stories. That's what I really hope that Watercress does, is to encourage everybody: parents, caregivers, and kids, to share their stories. 

Dow: I love everything that everyone has said. I was going to add that you can be scared, and maybe the time isn't right to share your story, and that's okay, but when you meet that favorite teacher or that good friend, or a family member that you really connect with, that's a time to test it out. Go ahead and share things. You might be surprised. You might think that it's awful or it's embarrassing but when you share it with someone you trust and who is supportive of you, you might get a response that encourages you to keep going and keep writing. They may share their stories back with you. So give it a try. For me, I didn't feel like I wrote any stories that I wanted to share except maybe in fourth grade. Then there was a big gap until I was well into my forties before I really shared it as an adult because I didn't feel like I had anybody who really connected with me and who I was until I joined a bunch of creative people in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. But it doesn't have to take that long. Take your chances. Find people you trust who will support you and show them what you are up to. You will be surprised. I'll bet they're going to encourage you.

Lauren: Those are such great answers. I love this so much especially because I know that we reach so many educators and so many parents who had to educate unexpectedly this school year. These are all such important messages. Something else that we get asked a lot that I would like everyone to share briefly is who inspires you? If you get stuck writing, what book do you grab or what author do you reach for to help those creative juices.

Dow: I illustrate more than I write so I look at art. I look at work from past Caldecott winners. The beautiful pieces that get me motivated are just so beautiful to look at. I imagine how I could create something similar. It never matches, but I imagine how I can attempt to portray that feeling for people who are viewing my work. That's what I try to do.

Carolee: On the heels of what Dow said, I like to read poetry. Just like a picture is a snapshot, a poem is a snapshot. Sometimes it's hard to get inspiration from an entire book. It takes so long to read it. I'm a speech-language pathologist and with my own students, I may only see them once a week. I look for something short to share with them. I'm going to pick something short like one of these picture books we've discussed today from my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. A picture book is short, it's crisp, it's to the point, and yet it's so beautifully written and touches on something meaningful in a very short bit of time. Poetry is the same way. There is so much metaphor and symbolism in poetry. You can read one poem and have the main idea. I like to read something short and then just meditate on it or read something and take a walk, be out in nature where the world is full of metaphors that symbolize so much of our experience. 

Andrea: Right now I'm most interested in writing more about culture and identity, so what I've been doing is I've been reading non-fiction books about the history of Asian America and Asian American Experiences so I turn to those books that discuss the making of Asian America. I will even watch documentaries. PBS has an excellent documentary about Asian Americans. I also listen to podcasts. There is one called Asian Enough that I really love. They interview Asian Americans from all walks of life. I will try to listen and take notes at the same time. It could be something completely unrelated, but it jogs something in my brain and I get an idea. Lots of different kinds of media. Not just books. 

Lauren: I love that, bringing it in from all over. So you just keep a notebook with you then?

Andrea: Or my phone.

Lauren: Right. It's not 1992. 

Beth: Sometimes I get stuck because I don't know enough. I'm too limited in my thinking. So I try to look at the wider picture, to get into the setting. I write a lot of history so I do a lot of research to try and understand the time and the place and the traditions and the beliefs, all of the things that are at work in that person and understanding their life. If it's an idea that is theme-related, I read other articles about that topic and it exposes me to different viewpoints and makes me jog my thinking a little bit. So that's usually what I do. Or take a walk.

Lauren: I love the walks, yes! To end, I know that you all gave really great advice when you were speaking about different tips that you have for parents, but I wonder if we could speak to educators specifically. We love our educators. We work with so many schools and we love them all. What advice do you have for educators, especially after this hard year? Virtual school was rough. People may not be feeling like they want to share their stories. I think a lot of people are shut down. Do you have any advice for the classrooms or for home learners? How can they open that back up? How can we break out of the pandemic blues?

Andrea: I have a writing exercise that I give out when I do school visits and educators can use this too. Taking a cue from Watercress, write about a memory, but choose one where your feelings change from before the activity to afterward and that's really where your story lies. For example, in Watercress, the girl in the story feels very embarrassed and confused about why her parents are making her pick watercress. By the end, when her mother shares her own story from her past about her relationship to watercress growing up during the Great Famine in China, the girl then gains a new understanding and awareness and her feelings have really changed by the end. She's much more connected to and proud of her heritage. Remind kids that they can be proud of who they are and where they are from.

Beth: I think that the best writing comes from writing you really care about that really fires you up whether it's anger or passion or love. If it is hooked in emotionally it goes much deeper and it's not just for the teacher. It's more for you. Teachers know that the best way to get kids to learn is to connect with them and to reach them on an emotional level. If you can make assignments touch on the emotional level like - Why does this matter? Why do you care about this? Whether it's science or social studies or whatever it is. One of the things I've talked with kids about during my visits with Lizzie Demands a Seat is about how your time and place affect who you are. Interpreting a fact, like she's a teacher, became very different. When you look at the times and the place, she actually was an activist as a teacher. It totally changes motivation and everything about the story. I say that if you don't think that your time and place affect you, think about your life now with the pandemic. You will never think the same. You will always see things differently. This will forever affect your view of the world and this will be something you tell your kids about. That's how you become you. Get it on the page or in your speech or in whatever you're doing. Let that emotion connect you.

Carolee: I love the books that we've talked about today. These are what I use when I work with students and I tend to work with students who have pretty significant learning challenges. As a speech-language pathologist, I specialize in working with students with dyslexia, so when I read a book it's not just to find the main idea or answer detail questions, I tell my students, "I have something so special to share with you today. It's a book about a woman who saves the Apollo 13 mission." I only share books I love and it just to happens that they are usually narrative non-fiction picture books that are absolutely full of vocabulary, main idea, with all of those things we want kids to learn without it being drill and kill and now let's have a test over the book. You can't help but learn from the story because it's so exciting. Sometimes we'll just analyze an illustration. We will talk about who is the subject of the picture. What are they doing? Where is it happening? When? Why? That is basically the construct of a complex sentence. We use that conversation to build how complex sentences are made from either looking at the pictures or reading the book. I would challenge teachers to find books you love that you cannot wait to share with your students. That enthusiasm is contagious. If our students learn nothing more from us than a love for stories, then we will have done a great thing because the stories do the work. Kids learn so many life lessons from those stories, and if we can encourage that love of stories by loving stories ourselves, and sharing that love and sharing that enthusiasm, then we will have done a great thing. 

(Side Note: Obviously, there is much more work that we need to do besides simply fostering a love of books, especially for kids who struggle with learning to read, but sharing our enthusiasm will help remind our students of why all of that hard work is important.)  

Lauren: I'm so glad we are recording this my friends. This is amazing advice.

Dow: I love that you can encourage yourself to bring your own enthusiasm for books to the classroom. I think that is great advice. Just in case you hadn't heard anybody else on this soapbox yet - let children choose their own books to read. Let them pick what they are interested in be it a picture book or a graphic novel or YA books that are banned in a few states. These are safe ways for children to learn as they make that discovery on their own with a book of their choice. It's going to stick with them and they're going to become lifelong readers and learn about the world that way. Picture books are my favorite and I think that adults and children alike need picture books. I think the world would be a kinder, gentler place if we all embraced picture books. Let children pick as well what they prefer. 

Lauren: I love that, and I think I know a store where these children can go to pick their own books. We might just have a place on South Pearl Street. Thank you all so much for being here today and for sharing such amazing advice. Carolee, thanks for orchestrating this and putting us all together and getting us out in front of our audience. Thank you!

Carolee: I could not have done it without the great material and the great authors that are here with us today sharing their amazing talent.

Lauren: Once again friends, my name is Lauren from Second Star to the Right. Thank you so much for joining us here today. Happy reading and we'll see you next time. You can find these books on our website:

Check out books from our Story Frames Panel at Second Star to the Right Books:

Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling by Carolee Dean 

Watercress by Andrea Wang

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuko Ando by Andrea Wang

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Websters Spelling Revolution by Beth Anderson 

Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Titan and the Wild Boars: The True Cave Rescue of the Thai Soccer Team written by Susan Hood and Pathana Sornhiran and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk.

To receive a free Fill-In-The-Blank Story Template sign up for my newsletter HERE.

To watch the video on Tips for Leisure Reading by New Mexico authors, go HERE.

Friday, May 21, 2021


Join me on Monday, May 24 at 4pm EDT for a Book Chat on the Facebook Channel for the International Dyslexia Association. I will be discussing some of my favorite narrative non-fiction picture books and how they can motivate kids of all ages by teaching them about grit and determination. I will also discuss considerations for choosing books for struggling readers including student factors, purposes, supports, and text types.

To receive a free fill-in-the-blank story template, sign up for my mailing list.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021


Using books to stimulate a discussion about past experiences is an engaging way to help kids of all ages connect with caregivers and family members and build autobiographical memories. Sometimes these conversations result in new stories you may want to write down and keep.

Join us and Second Star to the Right Book Store on June 1st at 7 PM Mountain Time to ring in summer reading with an author panel on promoting storytelling with your kids featuring bestselling authors Andrea Wang, Beth Anderson, and Dow Phumiruk, (moderated by me, Carolee Dean), as they talk about their books, their personal experiences with writing, and why they believe personal narratives are important. The event is free but you will need to register at Event Brite 

Download the FREE PDF entitled "Picture Books for Reminiscing." It is based on activities from my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy, and includes a short summary of picture books by the authors on the panel along with questions to stimulate conversations between children and caregivers.

Hope to see you on June 1!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Amy Miller and Superhero Stories

Earlier this month, Amy Miller interviewed me about my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. She is the director of the May Center for Learning and also the author of the chapter in my book entitled "Fostering a Growth Mindset: Strengths-Based Superhero Stories." She asked me several questions about Story Frames and at the end of our chat, I had the opportunity to ask her about her chapter. If you've already heard one of my previous talks about Story Frames and would like to skip ahead to the section where she discusses what got her interested in using superhero stories with diverse learners, it starts about 53 minutes into the video. You may access the video HERE. I have transcribed that section below:

Carolee: I recently did an interview with a very interesting author. Her name is Lyn Miller-Lachmann. She wrote a middle-grade novel entitled, Rogue. The main character has Asperger Syndrome and the author has Asperger's as well. That post appeared in April on my blog. Rogue is the X-Men character who can't be touched and can't touch other people. The main character of the story uses this superhero component to explain her experience with Asperger's, so it made me think about your chapter and how you use superhero stories with your students.

Amy: It was the kids who really initiated that because, as I say at the beginning of the chapter, I was not a big superhero fan when I was a kid. I really liked Spider-Man, but mostly I liked Spider-Man because of the visuals associated with him. I didn't really internalize the stories, which is so interesting because I internalized every other story. When we started the Dyslexia Justice League, which is an advocacy group for students with learning differences all across the state of New Mexico, the first thing we did was had a gathering and asked the kids to define the organization. They were the ones who came up with the name of the organization. They came up with the visuals and with the logo which was a superhero. They had heard the phrase that "Dyslexia is My Superpower," and they really loved that notion. So, they really brought the superheroes to the table, and then the more that I started thinking about and had the opportunity to talk to someone here who is a big fanatic who runs a comic shop here in Santa Fe, I recognized that superheroes face adversity and overcome that adversity. Often, that adversity is the source of their superpower. That just resonated so nicely to me and so deeply with my experience of working with kids with learning differences. When you work with kids who have learning differences there is a whole journey of acceptance that not just the child but the whole family goes through. It starts oftentimes with denial and the family not really wanting to know what's going on, thinking that maybe the child will grow out of it - all of those things that we go through as parents when we are concerned that something is going on with our kid. Then, of course, what we really come to learn, what I came to learn as an educator and as a mom of a dyslexic child myself was that the only way to persevere was to go through it and to embrace ultimately that this is who I am and that is not a bad thing. It is not something to be ashamed of. It's something that gives me strength and it is powerful. That was what really launched the whole experience for me was that idea that was so important for the students I work with particularly.

The Dyslexia Justice League has inspired many struggling learners. Thank you to Amy Miller and the May Center for the important work you do.

Watch my interview with another Story Frames contributing author and parent advocate, Mary Jo O'Neill, as she talks about her chapter, "Advocating for Students: The Family Story."

Watch the author panel where three New Mexico children's authors and I discuss Tips for Getting the Most out of Summer Reading and download the free PDF.