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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


You may find the video above on YouTube.

It's summer and everyone is exhausted from months of pandemic isolation, hunkering down at home, and neverending Netflix. We want to get outside. We want to play. We want to travel. But many of us are concerned that our kids have missed valuable instruction time over the past several months. We know that summer reading is important, but how do we balance that with having fun in the sun and being with friends? Is there anything more that we can do for our kids to enhance the reading experience besides taking them to the library and the bookstore? Does leisure reading end when summer is over?

Today's discussion is about simple ways to make books come alive. Join me and my lively panel of New Mexico children's authors (Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Lois Ruby, and Caroline Starr Rose) to explore tips for getting the most out of leisure/summer reading. These authors and their books are featured in my new resource Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling. The authors begin the video with exciting previews of their books which would all make great summer reads. 

My book is primarily for educators, but the focus of today's panel is on families. If you are a teacher, feel free to send this blog link and the PDF downloads home to families to encourage summer reading.

The authors featured today are also retired educators and librarians. They helped me come up with a list of tips for enhancing leisure reading. The list of our FIVE TIPS is below. To access the expanded and printable version discussed in the video, see the PDF download. 

Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Summer Reading

1. Be a Book Lover
2. Provide Access to Books and Other Reading Materials
3. Encourage Exploration
4. Read Books Together
5. Make Reading Connections

Amy Miller, Director of the May Center for Learning, was not able to be part of our video as was originally planned, but she and I did hold a separate interview that may be accessed HERE. Find out what inspired her to use superhero stories with struggling learners. 

For further exploration, see my previous blog posts where authors Lois Ruby and Caroline Starr Rose talk about their writing styles and the differences between being a Panster vs. a Plotter.

See author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's post on her blog - Poetry Break! Enjoy the Moment. During our panel, she also mentions one of her favorite books for encouraging reading aloud Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox, as well as The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma who shares her experience of being in fourth grade and making a promise with her father to read 100 books aloud with him in 100 days. The experience was so meaningful that they continued reading books together until she graduated from high school. 

Reading aloud is not just for little kids!

To find out more about the books written by the authors in this video, visit the links below.

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

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland (She Made History) by Caroline Starr Rose.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.

Steal Away Home by Lois Ruby

You may download a complete list of the 32 children's books explored in Story Frames for more great ideas for summer reading.

For suggestions from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associatin (ASHA) on how to improve language, literacy, and learning over the summer, visit ASHA SUMMER TIPS.


Thanks to the following bookstores for supporting the recent release of

Story Frames for Teaching Literacy

Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse, 202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, NM 87501 (505-988-4226). Thanks to the bookstore for their generous support of my book and of Amy Miller, contributing author to Story Frames and director of the May Center for Learning. During the entire month of May 2021, CW will donate 15% of all book sales when the purchaser mentions the May Center (unless the publisher's discount to CW is less than the industry standard).

Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Coronado Mall, 6600 Menaul Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 (505-855-7799). B&N will donate a percentage of sales in the store on May 26 (and online on May 26-30) to the May Center for Learning for scholarships to the Summer LEAP Program which will be held at the Albuquerque Academy. Use the code when 12609863 ordering books. This code may be used at any B&N nationwide, so spread the word. 

Second Star to the Right, 1545 S. Pearl Street, Denver, CO (303-733-3773). On Tuesday, June 1, the bookstore will host a live, online event at 7pm Mountain Time when I travel north to talk with Colorado children's authors/illustrators Andrea Wang, Dow Phumiruk, and Beth Anderson. We will explore writing personal narratives and memoir. Find out more about the event and find the Event Brite Signup HERE.

Watch for more bookstore collaborations coming late summer and early fall.

To receive a FREE writing template PDF for kids, sign up for my newsletter HERE and have fun with summer writing!

Monday, April 26, 2021



Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence was written by Luke Jackson when he was 13 years old. He has Asperger Syndrome and also has a brother on the autism spectrum and another with AD/HD. His book provides tips on bullying, friendship, dating, and relationships. He also talks about how and when to talk to others about being on the autism spectrum. The insights this book provides are useful to parents and teachers as well as to people with AS. The book is 216 pages long and for ages 11-18.

In Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Kiara, an eighth-grade girl with Asperger’s is shunned at school and expelled after a violent outburst. She finds friendship with a neighbor boy until dark family secrets (his parents run a meth lab) threaten to destroy more than the budding kinship. Kiara finds inspiration with the X-Men character, Rogue (a mutant who unintentionally hurts anyone she touches until she learns to control her superpower). Kiara eventually discovers that she might just have special gifts of her own- The author, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, has Asperger’s Syndrome which lends authenticity and perspective to the story. Read my interview with Lyn HERE. 241 pages for grades 5-10. 

Out just this month (April 6) is a new book by Temple Grandin- The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. This book is 208 pages long for grades 3-7 and contains 40 outdoor projects as well as information about Temple and other scientists who explore the natural world. 

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, also by Temple Grandin, looks at the science and methodology behind various inventions and shows kids how to think like an inventor. Temple talks about the inventions she created as a child. It is 240 pages long and is for kids in grades 3-7. Read more about Temple Grandin and her other books in last week's post.

See books for kids written about the life of Temple Grandin in my April 11 Blog Post.

This last book is not specifically written for kids. It has received both criticism and accolades. I will share both sides of the conversation. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism was written by Naoki Higashida, a thirteen-year-old boy on the spectrum. He is described as being nonverbal, though to clarify, he is able to read out loud as is described by the translator, David Mitchell in the notes at the end of the book. It is unscripted conversations with which Naoki struggles. Even answering simple questions verbally is a challenge. He reportedly wrote his book (a Q&A interspersed with short, fictional stories) by pointing to letters on an alphabet grid that someone else transcribed into words and sentences. The book has received praise for providing unique insights into autism. It has also received criticism by those who question the validity of the methods used to elicit the answers to the Q&A saying it feels a bit too much like Facilitated Communication (FC) which has been debunked as pseudoscience. In FC an assistant guides and supports the hand of a non-verbal person as they point to letters. That was not the case with Naoki, but he did point to letters on a board in response to questions as opposed to typing them on a computer keyboard or communication device.

ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) discourages the use FC and Spelling to Communicate. Read the ASHA  perspective to learn why. They do support independent typing as well as other forms of augmentative and alternative communication that are more independent in nature.

David Mitchell, the best-selling author of Cloud Atlas, translated Why I Jump into English with his wife, K.A. Yoshida. Mitchell appears in a video interview talking about his experience with the translation. He first became acquainted with Naoki's story when trying to better understand his own son with autism. He then set out to translate the book from Japanese into English so that he could share the story and its insights with his son's teachers. Watch his interview on YouTube and read his Q&A HERE

At the end of the English translation of the book, Mitchell talks about conversations he has had with Naoki using his communication board. He also says that Naoki is a motivational speaker who reads aloud from a prepared script. He does not answer questions from the audience verbally, though. He types those responses. I looked on YouTube but could not find any examples of these motivational talks. If anyone is aware of any, I would like to know.

A 2020 documentary film of the same title inspired by the book features 5 other young people with autism. Watch the TRAILER to learn more. 

Read this blog post by the National Council on Severe Autism which raises concerns about the movie. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

INTERVIEW WITH LYN MILLER-LACHMANN (Talking About Asperger Syndrome)

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of the middle grade and young adult novels Gringolandia, Surviving Santiago, and Rogue, with two new novels, Moonwalking and Torch, forthcoming in 2022. She also edited Once Upon a Cuento which is a collection of short stories for young readers written by emerging Latino authors. She lives in New York City. She is joining me today to talk about her young adult novel, Rogue

Carolee: How did your experiences with having Asperger’s impact writing Rogue, a story about a girl with Asperger Syndrome? 

Lyn: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s 15 years ago, a diagnosis that has since 2013 been folded into the autism spectrum. At that time, I’d published one novel, with another recently accepted by the same publisher. Neither of them had autobiographical elements; in fact, I’d avoided writing a protagonist like myself because I didn’t want to remember the bullying and exclusion I experienced as a child. My diagnosis changed that. Finally, I had an answer for why I was different, why I had trouble understanding and following rules, why so many of my peers took advantage of me or bullied me for sport. I wanted to write a novel to show kids like me that they are not alone. Rogue is based on a choice I had to make when I wasn’t much older than Kiara—to keep doing something I knew was dangerous and wrong in order to be part of a group, or to stop letting these kids use me even if it meant being on my own and bullied again. 

Carolee: It was very brave of you to share so much of your personal experience in the story. One of the benefits of writing about our personal experiences through fiction is that the reader connects with the truth and honesty behind what we write, but at the same time never knows how much of the story is truth and how much is fiction. Why did you decide to write about your experiences as fiction rather than as a traditional autobiography? 

Lyn: I’ve fictionalized in service to the story, in order to create a book that readers will want to read. In Rogue, I began with a “What if?” Like Kiara, I tried to sit at the popular girls’ table in seventh grade thinking that’s how I could become popular, and one of the girls pushed my lunch tray to the floor. I did nothing in response, just stood there crying, but for decades I asked myself what would have happened if I’d picked up the tray and smacked her in the face with it. I would have salvaged my dignity, but I would have also gotten into a lot of trouble. So at the beginning of Rogue, Kiara does pick up the tray and hit the bully with it. And it creates a big problem for her, because she’s suspended for the rest of the school year. She wants to have friends and to belong to a group, but now she’s even more isolated, and the New Kid who moves in around the corner really is her last chance to make a friend for a long time. 

Carolee: Amy Miller, director of the May Center in Santa Fe, NM, wrote a chapter for my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. Her chapter is “Fostering a Growth Mindset: Strengths-Based Super Hero Stories.” The May School is for students with learning differences. Amy heads a project called The Dyslexia Justice League and one of the ways she helps students to discover their “superpower” is to teach them to write superhero stories. In Rogue, the main character, Kiara, finds that she has special talents and unique gifts. She does this partly by identifying with the mutant X-Men character named Rogue. Do you have any suggestions for young writers about writing their own superhero stories or about writing stories in general? 

Lyn: No matter what you write, the most important thing to do is to read. It will give you ideas and help you figure out what kinds of stories and characters you like and don’t like. A lot of times, the characters that feel closest to you—whether or not they’re superheroes—are the ones most like you. For instance, the X-Men character Rogue is most like Kiara because she can’t touch or be touched and she learns about emotions and what to say or do from watching others. Sometimes, the characters you respond to are the ones who do the things you wish you could do, like be good at sports if you are not. Writing your own story is your chance to be someone different, or be yourself but rewrite the past or possess a special power you don’t have in real life and see what you can accomplish with it. 

Carolee: Speaking of heroes, early in Rogue, a friend of Kiara’s family gives her a book by Temple Grandin entitled Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. She tells Kiara that Temple has a “special talent” for understanding animals. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist on the autism spectrum, becomes a role model and a hero of sorts to Kiara. Tell us a little bit about the people who have been your real-life heroes. 

Lyn: Temple Grandin is one of my heroes as well, ever since I read Dr. Oliver Sacks’s profile of her in The New Yorker in the 1990s and recognized so much of myself in her. Although I wasn’t diagnosed until almost ten years later, it meant a lot to me to see someone who had become as successful as she had and whose different ways of seeing the world has had such an impact on the way we treat the animals we raise for food. In general, my heroes are people who have defied convention and authority to make a positive impact on the world. Many of them are human rights activists, people who have resisted brutal dictatorships to bring democracy to their countries (like my protagonist’s father in another one of my novels, Gringolandia) or who have fought for the rights of people with disabilities and others who have been excluded or faced discrimination. 

Carolee: Is there anything else you would like to say to young people struggling to find their place in the world? 

Lyn: Do what you love, pursue your dreams, and find the people who understand you. And when you do find those people, try to be a good friend as well. Being a good friend is one of the things I still strive (and sometimes struggle) to do. It’s at the heart of Kiara’s journey in Rogue and of JJ’s journey in my forthcoming middle-grade verse novel Moonwalking, which I’ve written with my friend Zetta Elliott. 

Carolee: Thank you for joining us and for sharing your experiences as a person with Asperger’s. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Rogue and look forward to Moonwalking and Torch. You are a hero who is making a positive impact on the world with your stories! 

Lyn: Thank you for inviting me!

Read about books for kids written by Temple Grandin in last week's post as well as books written about her life - Books for Kids by (and about) Temple Grandin - Celebrating World Autism Month.

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Temple Grandin is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and specializes in the humane treatment of livestock animals. She has written numerous scientific papers about the humane treatment of animals as well as books about caring for and understanding animals such as Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals and Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior.

Temple is also autistic and often speaks at educational conferences about her experiences growing up on the spectrum. She has written books on that subject for adult audiences such as Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism and Emergence: Labeled Autistic

She has also written books for kids, mostly about the sciences, but weaving in her personal experiences such as Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor pictured above. This book looks at the science and methodology behind various inventions and shows kids how to think like an inventor. Temple talks about the inventions she created as a child. It is 240 pages long and is for kids in grades 3-7. 

Out just this past week is a new book by Temple - The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. pictured above. This book is 208 pages long for grades 3-7 and contains 40 outdoor projects as well as information about Temple and other scientists who explore the natural world.

Many other people have written books for children about Temple Grandin and her experiences with autism. How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville and illustrated by Giselle Potter, is a 48-page picture book for grades PreK-3.

The Girl Who Thought In Picture: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin (Amazing Scientists)  written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley is for grades K-5 is told in rhyme with cartoon illustrations and is 40 pages in length.

For middle-grade readers, there is Who Is Temple Grandin? written by Patricia Brennan DeMuth and illustrated by Robert Squler. This book is from the Who Was series and is 112 pages in length for grades 3-7. The black and white illustrations provide a nice addition to the story. It is written like a narrative of Temple's life from her early struggles with autism to her great achievements as an adult.

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery has a foreword written by Temple Grandin.  It is 160 pages long and for grades 5-7 and is written as traditional non-fiction with numerous facts and photographs.

Watch for next week's post where I will interview another author on the autism spectrum - Lyn Miller-Lachmann who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Her book, Rogue, is for grades 7-10 and features a main character with Asperger's who identifies with the X-Men character, Rogue, because she has so much trouble fitting in with her peers. She eventually discovers her own unique gifts and this helps her begin to find her place in the world.

Friday, April 2, 2021


It's April 2, 2021 - World Autism Awareness Day and the start of World Autism Awareness Month. You can find out more about how to increase understanding and awareness of autism at In future blog posts, I will be talking about how to use narratives to work with students on the autism spectrum and sharing children's books featuring main characters with autism, but for now, I would like to take a minute to celebrate the official book birthday for Story Frames for Teaching Literacy which is now available at Brookes Publishing and also at It is already out of stock at Amazon, but they will be getting more books in soon. You may also order this title through any bookstore if you want to support local retailers. 

According to today's Amazon rating, Story Frames is #1 in Elementary Education. Yesterday, based on pre-orders, it was the #1 new release in Special Education. 


Amazon Ratings 4/1/21 and 4/2/21

Thank you to my friend, Jill, for the lovely birthday lunch and the flowers in the photo above. Thanks to all of my friends, family, colleagues, and the amazing team at Brookes Publishing who have supported this project throughout the years. Remember, if you sign up for my online newsletter, you will receive a code for 20% off of Story Frames when the next edition of my newsletter comes out later in April.

Brookes Publishing hosted a live webinar/coffee chat last Wednesday where I had the chance to talk about Story Frames and answer questions about the book. Later this month I will post a link to the recording of that webinar.

Before I go, I want to give a shout-out to the most famous person with autism that I know, the amazing Temple Grandin. There are several books written about her for children including the following:

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery.  It is 160 pages long and for grades 5-7. Watch for next week's post where I will share more children's books about Temple. Bye for now - I have more celebrating to do!

Thursday, March 25, 2021


Mary Jo O’Neill, M.Ed. Is a Special Education Advocate at Hickman & Lowder Company in Cleveland, Ohio. As an educational advocate, Mary Jo works with families of children with learning disabilities. Her background as a teacher and intervention specialist supports collaboration with teachers, administrators, and school systems to work together to create and implement the best systems and tools for successful learning. She is a contributing author for my new book on story structure, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. She was generous enough to give a video interview to talk about how she helps families write their family stories. The video and transcript are below.

If the video does not display correctly, you may also find it on YouTube.


Carolee: Good morning, Mary Jo. Thank you so much for being here with me to talk about my book and thank you for being a contributor.

Mary Jo: Thank you for having me. It’s exciting for the families. It’s exciting for the educators.

Carolee: My book is Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling and the chapter you’ve written is “Advocating for Students: The Family Story.” In just a minute, I’m going to ask you to talk about your role as an advocate, what that means, and who you advocate for, but before we do that, I have a little story to share about how we met. 

 Carolee: Here we are in Annapolis with either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, I’m not sure who. We were in Annapolis in 2015, along with Paula Moraine, who is also a contributing author for my book. We were there for the Destiny Meeting of the International Dyslexia Association and we were working on strategic planning for the organization. At that time, I was the president of the Southwest Branch.

Mary Jo: And I was president of the Northern Ohio Branch.

Carolee: Your chapter is in a section of my book dedicated to “The Power of the Personal Narrative.” I’ve always been involved in stories. I’m an author of young adult novels, and as a speech-language pathologist working in the public schools for twenty years, I often used stories as a medium to work on expressive and receptive language, but I was surprised to find out that writing stories was a part of your job as a parent advocate. Tell us about that. That is fascinating to me.

Mary Jo: When a parent comes to us, there is a journey. The IEP (Individualized Educational Program) process, the special education process, are pieces to the puzzle. I need to listen to their story and find out where they are in that process. Are they at the planning meeting stage? Are they at the ETR (Evaluation Team Report) pieces? Are they receiving a 504 plan? I need to actively listen to where they are, if their needs are being met, and find out how they are feeling about the process. Then I take that information and we go back to the district, and we collaborate together to make sure that their child’s needs are being met.

Carolee: You have a whole process of writing a story with the family. That’s what you talk about in my book. How do you actually come up with the story that they write that they then share with the school?

Mary Jo: I call it a non-emotional timeline. It gives us the beginning, middle, and end of their story. When did they implement Orton-Gillingham instruction? When did they add occupational therapy? We bring that story to the school district and the district might have some “aha” moments. “Oh, I didn’t know you were doing speech-language therapy at home. I didn’t realize you were doing occupational therapy? It brings the story together.

Carolee: Does the school have their own story, their own perspective or version of events?

Mary Jo: Yes, they do have their own story, and their story matters. When that student is in speech-language therapy maybe twice a week at school, and then the child is getting speech twice a week at home, we may be wondering why he is so emotionally drained when he comes home, and it might be because he’s having speech four times a week. It may not have been necessary, or maybe it was, but either way, he is emotionally drained. Listening to everybody’s story helps us figure out what’s happening throughout his day - during the school day at home. 

Carolee: That perspective-taking is something that I have found is one of the most valuable aspects of getting kids to read a variety of stories from different people, different cultures, and different backgrounds. That ability to take other people’s perspectives, not only take the perspective but to honor that perspective. That is something that we need very much in our world right now. Perspective-taking through stories, writing your own story to share your perspective, reading other people’s stories to learn theirs, is invaluable. Tell us a little bit about that perspective-taking.

Mary Jo: Everyone has their version of the narrative. We need to respect the educator’s version and we also need to respect the parents’ version. By bringing those stories together we are able to understand the child’s learning patterns and we are able to put in place better instruction, which will only support the child.

Carolee: Mary Jo, thank you so much for sharing how you advocate for smilies through stories. This has been such an invaluable addition to my book and I hope that parents are inspired and empowered now to share their stories. Thank you so much. 

Mary Jo: Thank you for having me.

To receive a code for 20% off of Story Frames in my March and April newsletters and receive a free story template, sign up for my mailing list.

Q & A With Brookes Publishing

Read my recent Q & A with Brookes Publishing where I discuss my new book.

Q. Your book explores the ways in which analyzing and creating stories can improve literacy and learning skills for all students. How does the process of mastering storytelling help boost those critical skills?

A. As a speech-language pathologist, anytime I evaluate a student’s receptive and expressive language I look at how they express themselves in connected discourse. Retelling a story is often part of that process. The ability to retell a story or create an original narrative are important skills for both school and life. Standardized tests have even been created to measure these abilities, and I discuss some of these tests in my book.

Understanding story structure gives kids a framework to organize a narrative that helps them determine which details to prioritize so they can recall those details, sequence information, make meaning out of new words and concepts, and learn to self-question to assess their own comprehension.

Stories are part of our daily lives. Families members tell stories to connect with each other, share their history, and to inform. Peers share stories to build relationships. Educators use stories to teach. Marketers use stories to persuade. Lawyers use stories to prove guilt or innocence. Detectives interview witnesses and use their stories to solve crimes. Stories help us to take the perspective of others, organize the events of our life, and make meaning from chaos.

I have found that struggling learners typically have two approaches to retelling a story. Either they have no frame of reference for the events, shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know,” or else they feel they must start at the beginning and include every single detail they can remember. Both responses stem from not understanding the basic structure of a narrative and what elements are essential to include in a retelling. When a student understands that structure, they then have a framework for organizing all kinds of narratives—those they encounter in school and those they encounter in everyday life. Consider how many core subjects use stories to convey information on topics as diverse as the Revolutionary War to space flight...

For the rest of the Q & A, visit the Brookes website. To receive a code for 20% off of Story Frames in my March and April newsletters and receive a free story template, sign up for my mailing list.

Sunday, March 21, 2021


A box arrived this morning and I opened it to find my preview copies of Story Frames for Teaching Literacy - 270 pages of my heart and soul - plus about 80 pages of additional online material. I lost count somewhere along the way! It is available for sale to the public on April 2, 2021, at Brookes and on  Amazon.

This book is the culmination of two decades of work as a young adult author and a speech-language pathologist in the public schools as well as in my private practice working with students with dyslexia. 

Here I am below, looking a little more composed.

In Story Frames, I combine my insights as a fiction novelist with my experience working with struggling learners to show students how to think and create stories like a professional writer. I owe a debt of gratitude to the parents and students who allowed me to share their stories in my book. Thank you to all my students, young and old, who inspired me to find a method to teach storytelling and writing that is accessible to anyone. 

Here is a little secret - I use the same basic strategies with first graders, middle school students, and teens as I do when I teach novel plotting to adults who want to become professionally published authors. I am able to do this because almost all stories (movies, novels, and even picture books) are based on a universal structure found in myths and fairy around the world. 

I shared these strategies with my friend and fellow author, Jennifer Cervantes (as best-selling author of the Storm Runner series she goes by J.C. Cervantes), and she used the strategies to teach her college literature students the structure of stories.

"I used this text with my university students to illustrate story structure as well as highlight the most important elements of a hero’s journey." - Jennifer Cervantes

Whether you are young or old, a published author or a struggling writer, whether you want to publish the next great novel or simply want to preserve your personal family stories, I hope you find inspiration from my little book.  

To find out more about Story Frames, please join me on March 31 for an online Coffee Chat hosted by Brookes Publishing. Register for the Coffee Chat HERE. Sign up for my mailing list HERE and get a code in my April Newsletter for 20% off of Story Frames.

Now I have to go. It's party time! My new book has arrived.

Happy Writing! 


Sunday, March 14, 2021


Get a discount code for 20% off of my new book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy, in my March and April Newsletters when you join my MAILING LIST. You may unsubscribe at any time. You will also receive a free fill-in-the-blank story template called Travel Trouble.

I'm also excited to announce that I will be holding a live online Coffee Chat with Brookes Publishing on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 from 1:00 - 1:45. Register HERE. The description from Brookes is below:

Presented by: Carolee Dean, M.S., CCC-SLP, CALT, Speech-Language Pathologist, Certified Academic Language Therapist, Dyslexia Therapist Age range: Upper elementary (3–5) Who this chat is for: teachers, speech-language pathologists, dyslexia tutors, and therapists Analyzing and creating stories can boost critical literacy skills for all learners—and this engaging and informative coffee chat will show you how. Presented by Carolee Dean, author of the new book Story Frames for Teaching Literacy, this must-see chat introduces you to the twelve elements found in almost all stories and reveals how to teach these elements effectively to your students. Through an overview of the book, Dean will emphasize ways you can use narratives to help students with a variety of learning objectives, such as improving comprehension, written language, and other key skills. ATTENDEES WILL: • Learn the underlying structure present in almost all stories—and explore how to effectively teach this structure to students to improve comprehension

• Understand how using the context of a story facilitates vocabulary development

• Explore how teaching self-questioning (and other strategies) improves both comprehension and written language

• Discover activities that will inspire even the most reluctant writers


Sunday, March 7, 2021


Brookes Publishing has created a lovely two-page handout entitled, 6 Ways to Explore Story Elements With Your Students. It's a great visual to share with teachers, librarians, and school administrators especially if you are requesting funds to purchase my new book - Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. The publisher and I have worked hard to keep this resource affordable by creating a robust downloads section with power points, activity sheets, and book synopses. It is due for publication in early April of 2021.

To learn more about how film structure inspired me to write this book, check out my previous blog post Screenwriting and Novel Plotting: The Inspiration Behind Story Frames.

Each section of Story Frames starts with the evidence base behind the strategies for that chapter and there are links to the Common Core State Standards throughout. There is also a lengthy reference section at the end. Go to the Brookes Website to get the downloadable version of this handout and don't forget to sign up for my NEWSLETTER to receive a free Story Template if you have not already done so.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Not Just Little Kid Stuff - A Picture Book That Tackles a Tough Subject Beautifully

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by Floyd Cooper. 

This title was just released this February and I've already added it to my library. Unspeakable tells the true story of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. It's a picture book that tackles a tough subject beautifully and sensitively. 

The Greenwood District, known as the "Black Wall Street" was a prosperous area of Tulsa, Oklahoma with thriving businesses, salons, and theaters. The oil industry was booming and many people, black and white, moved to Tulsa looking for a brighter future.

A white female elevator operator accused a 19-year-old black teen, Dick Rowland, of assaulting her. He had stepped on her foot. He was arrested and an angry mob of two thousand went to the jail, intent on lynching him, but 30 armed black men stood guard. That confrontation left 12 dead. The mob then turned on the town, looting, burning homes and buildings to the ground, and killing two to three-hundred residents. Another 8,000 lost their homes. Officials did nothing to stop the violence and the incident was not even investigated for 75 years. The next day the young black man, Dick Rowland, was released from jail and all the charges were dropped.

The book is recommended for grades 3-6 (ages 8-12), but with a reading Lexile of 1100L, it is also appropriate for older middle school and even high school students. Read more about the book on the Lerner Blog.

The illustrator, Coretta Scott King winner, Floyd Cooper, has a special connection to the story. He grew up in Tulsa. His grandfather was in the Greenwood District during the massacre and witnessed the events firsthand. It was initially called the Tulsa Race Riot which meant that insurance companies were not required to pay any damages to those who lost homes, businesses, and family members.

My book club will be reading a more adult version of the Tulsa Race Massacre later this year - The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. 

It should result in a very lively discussion!

Friday, February 19, 2021


I am excited and delighted to share the cover for my new book, STORY FRAMES FOR TEACHING LITERACY coming out with Brookes Publishing in early April 2021. Many of you have participated in my workshops for Story Frames (formerly The Secret Language of Stories). I have presented these strategies at ASHA, ILA/IRA, and the Annual Reading, Literacy and Learning Conference put on each year by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), as well as many smaller conferences and workshops. 

If you have used these resources with your students and would like to share your experiences, please contact me at

Story Frames combines the strategies that teachers and SLPs implement to teach story grammar with the techniques that professional authors use to plot their books. This unique combination helps students appreciate stories at a deeper level and gives them tools for creating their own narratives. 

Here are a few of the features of the book described by the publisher:

"This guidebook reveals how to unlock literacy and learning skills by captivating K–12 students with the power of stories: how they’re structured, how they reflect and change lives, and how students can create their own original narratives. Using dozens of diverse fiction and nonfiction books as vivid examples, you’ll discover how to teach 12 key story elements (Story Frames) in dynamic, fun, and highly visual ways, including Quick Draws, storyboards, and icons that make narrative structure easy to grasp. Then you’ll get in-depth guidance on how to use knowledge of story structure to build core literacy skills—from oral language to reading comprehension—and empower students to write their own personal stories in a variety of genres. The book includes more than 35 adaptable lesson plans and a complete package of online support materials including PowerPoints and other tools for online learning." 

ONLINE MATERIALS: Implement Story Frames effectively with a full package of downloadable materials, including sample storyboards and templates, 40+ handouts and worksheets, game cards, slide decks to use in instruction, 30+ sample story analyses of books for children and young adults, and brief literature guides for applying Story Frames to picture books and to chapter books and novels.

Several noteworthy authors have contributed chapters to Story Frames including:

Amy Miller, Director of the May Center for Learning in Santa Fe, NM shares how students transform personal experiences into superhero stories. She runs a project called the Dyslexia Justice League where she uses superheroes and the Hero's Journey to help students explore personal struggles and develop a growth mindset.

Paula Moraine, educator, consultant, and author of Helping Students Take Control of Everyday Executive Functions provides practical strategies for using narratives as a medium for improving executive function skills.

Mary Jo O'Neill, parent advocate, discusses how getting parents to write down their family stories provides a powerful tool for advocacy. Her chapter highlights a type of persuasive writing that has real-world implications for students receiving special education services. 

Lesley Roessing, university lecturer and author of Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically and Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core shares insights for teaching memoir writing and explains how memoir can be a bridge to expository writing.

William Van Cleave, educational consultant and author of Writing Matters: Designing Sentence Skills in Students of All Ages, helps educators make sense out of grammar instruction by focusing on function rather than form.

Carol Westby, university lecturer, researcher, author, and leading authority on narrative development, discusses the importance of considering multicultural perspectives in the writing of personal stories and the ways storytelling varies across countries and cultures. Her chapter also discusses strategies for empowering English as a Second Language (ESL) students. She offers several online courses through PESI including Developing Social-Emotional Skills and Self Regulation in Students: Narrative Intervention for Long-Term Academic, Personal & Social Success. 

For a full list of the downloadable resources that accompany my book, find out more at Brookes Publishing.

Sign up for my monthly NEWSLETTER for articles, book news, and FREE offers. Receive a FREE Story Template PDF called Travel Trouble when you sign up.

Sunday, February 14, 2021


STORY FRAMES is a twelve-step story analysis method that I created based upon my experiences as both an author of fiction and a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with struggling students in the public schools in grades K-12. As I observed the difficulties my students faced with reading, writing, and understanding stories, I set out to create a narrative analysis method that would bring stories to life and provide young people with tools to create exciting tales of their own.

Creative writing courses along with numerous books on the subject of story plotting for authors and screenwriters gave me the inspiration to combine the way teachers look at story structure with the way that professional writers plot their stories.  Reading teachers and SLPs frequently use the Story Grammar elements outlined by Stein and Glenn (1979) to teach story structure to students:
    1. Setting
    2. Initiating Event
    3. Internal Response
    4. Attempt
    5. Consequence
    6. Reaction

 English Teachers tend to draw upon tools such as Freytag's Pyramid
  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Resolution
The STORY FRAMES method is broken down into twelve basic elements or Story Frames based on the Hero's Journey as originally discussed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With A Thousand Faces and later adapted for screenwriters and novelists by Christopher Vogler in The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Now in its 25th year). Other books on story plotting that influenced STORY FRAMES are found at the end of this post. I use the term "Hero's" Journey loosely. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and their adventures don’t have to be epic odysseys to be life-changing. Stories do not necessarily contain all of the components outlined, and they don’t always occur in the order given below. In longer stories, many of the elements are repeated. The purpose of this analysis is to help students and other writers to recognize what is going on in stories and to begin to think like authors.

The twelve elements of STORY FRAMES include:

1. Ordinary World
2. Call and Response
3. Mentors, Guides, and Gifts
4. Crossing
5. New World
6. Problems, Prizes, and Plans
7. Midpoint Attempt
8. Downtime
9. Chase and Escape
10. Death and Transformation
11. Climax: The Final Test
12. Final Reward

To find out more about my story analysis method, visit the STORY FRAMES tab on this blog. Check out my fiction novels HERE.

There are many excellent books that have influenced my plotting techniques. For further reading I recommend:

To receive a FREE Story Builder Template called Travel Trouble SIGN UP for my monthly newsletter.