Saturday, November 13, 2021


This week I'm over at Beth Anderson's blog sharing my new article - Not Just for Little Kids: Five Reasons to Use Picture Books with Older Students. In promotion of Beth's blog, I'm giving away a FREE copy of Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling.

Just leave a comment on her blog for a chance to win a FREE book. Be sure to read the article for tips on how to use narrative fiction picture books with older students. For instance, did you know that many picture books have a similar or even higher Lexile than chapter books or novels. Consider that the highly acclaimed The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway has a Lexile of 610L while the picture book, Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov has a similar Lexile of 590L. Even more interesting, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie has a Lexile of 860L. Head over to Beth's Blog to learn more.

On a separate note, Brookes Publishing is offering a 20% discount for my book and many others at the Brookes IDA Virtual Bookstore through December 24, 2021 in honor of the recent International Dyslexia Association Conference. Just use the code IDA2021 to get 20% off your purchase including Nancy Hennessy's new book, The Reading Comprehension Blueprint: Helping Student's Make Meaning from Text.

Hennessy was generous enough to let me use one of her visuals for expository text in Story Frames. Her books is full of practical and useful tools for teachers. 

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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Children's Books Featuring Main Characters with Speech, Language, Learning, and Hearing Challenges

After spending 20 years working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist with students with a variety of speech and language challenges, it's exciting to see so many books featuring characters with the same challenges I observed in my students. A few noteworthy titles are described below.
Unbound: The Life and Art of Judith Scott, released June of 2021, is a picture book biography for ages 4-8 exploring the life of a fiber artist with Down Syndrome and hearing impairment. Judith has over 160 sculptures featured in museums around the world. The book was written by Judith's twin sister, Joyce, along with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet. Born in 1943 before laws were in place to protect disabled children, Judith was not allowed to go to school and was sent to an institution instead. Joyce took Judith out of the institution as soon as she was able to live with her in California where Judith attended the Creative Growth Art Center where her innate talent blossomed. On the subject of disability rights, check out the picture book, We Want to Go to School: The Fight for Disability Rights by Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Janine Leffler who has cerebral palsy. 

See my September 20 Post about the picture book, Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House.  It's another new 2021 release. Read the Q&A with author Beth Anderson as she talks about the evidence that Tad Lincoln may have had a partial cleft palate in addition to speech and learning challenges. My Educator's Guide may be downloaded as a PDF

I Talk Like a River written by poet Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith is a picture book that explores the world of a boy who is full of words, but has difficulty expressing himself because he stutters. In the author's note, Jordan Scott talks about his own struggles with stuttering. Winner of the 2021 Schneider Family Book Award. Find activities and lesson plans at Teaching Books.

A Boy and a Jaguar is the autobiographical account of author Alan Robinwitz's early struggles with stuttering. He loves visiting the cat house at the Bronx Zoo and discovers that when he talks to the animals, he does not stutter. He learns to speak for the animals and becomes a wildlife conservationist. This picture book, illustrated by Catia Chen, is for grades Pre K - 2 and is a 2015 Schneider Family Book Award Winner. The Teacher's Guide from the Classroom Bookshelf includes tips for teaching students to write memoir.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte for ages 9-12 explores the little-known history of an 1805 deaf community on Martha's Vineyard. There was little distinction between the hearing and the hearing impaired because almost everyone used sign language. Though the heroine is fictional as are the events of the story, the history of the island was well-researched by the author who is deaf and the back matter includes an author's note about the island. Winner of the 2021 Schneider Family Book Award. Find Lesson Plans at Teaching Books.

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, sign language interpreter, written for grades 4-8 explores the connection between Iris, a girl with a hearing impairment, and a Blue 55, a whale that cannot communicate with other whales of his species. She is the only deaf student at her school and she understands what it is like to have difficulty interacting with her peers. Winner of the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award. See the. Educator's Guide by Random House.

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice, and illustrated by Rafael Lopez,  is a picture book for ages 4-8. Sonia writes from her own experience with having diabetes, but the additional characters, with a variety of physical and cognitive challenges, are all fictional. The book tells the story of a group of children working together to create a garden. It embraces diversity by encouraging children to "Just Ask" when they wonder about someone who is different from them. The text points out that not all children are comfortable talking about their differences, in which case children can seek answers from parents and teachers. The book includes perspectives from children with dyslexia as well as asthma, blindness, hearing impairment, autism, stuttering, Tourette's Syndrome, Down Syndrome, ADHD, and allergies. There is also a child in a wheelchair. Winner of the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award. The Lesson Guide from Read Across American includes resources for teaching kids about disability. The Nora Project offers additional guidance about the difference between showing respectful curiosity versus requiring answers of children who may feel very private about their challenges.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret) for grades 8-13 explores the lives of two young people with hearing impairments. Ben and Rose each set out on a journey to find lost parents that ends at the Museum of Natural history in New York City. Their stories intertwine even though they are separated by fifty years. Ben's story is told in prose while Roses's story is told in beautiful black and white illustrations. Winner of the 2012 Schneider Family Book Award. Find lessons plans from the Texas School for the Deaf Statewide Outreach Center and a Discussion Guide by Scholastic.

Rules was written by Cynthia Lord who is the parent of a child with autism. In this book for ages 11-14, Catherine develops a list of rules to help her autistic brother, David, regulate his behavior. While waiting for David at the Occupational Therapy clinic, Catherine befriends Jason, a boy in a wheelchair, who communicates via words in a communication book. The story explores feelings of love, frustration, embarrassment, acceptance, and sibling conflict. Winner of the 2007 Schneider Family Book Award. It is also a Newbery Honor Book. See the Discussion Guide from author Cynthia Lord. 

To find my list of children's books featuring main characters with DYSLEXIA, visit my October Blog Post.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Dyslexia Networks

My presentation Dyslexia Networks: Supporting Students by Fostering Collaborative Connections Between Disciplines with me, Paula Moraine, and Dr. Shreya Hessler is part of a Science of Reading Content Power Session, an extension of the 2020 Annual Conference. Is now available on IDA Streaming TV.  It is free if you paid for the 2020 IDA conference supplemental program. Otherwise, there is a fee for IDA TV. Watch for my upcoming IDA presentation, The Goldilocks Effect: Finding the "Just Right" Books for Struggling Readers. In addition, I now have a page on my blog that provides information about decodable books along with publishers and links to book information. If you are looking for titles to use with your struggling students, check out my new page HERE!

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Free Dyslexia Infographic and a Belgian Chocolate Dyslexia Fundraiser

Below is a free dyslexia infographic created by ALTA for Dyslexia Awareness Month that you may share.

The International Dyslexia Association is teaming up with Lekkco for a Chocolate for Charity fundraiser.  Go to their website for details and to order yummy Belgian chocolate.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Children's Books Featuring Young People with Dyslexia

In celebration of Dyslexia Awareness month, this week I'm featuring children's books with main character's who have dyslexia or other language based reading challenges. Sharing these stories with students, whether fictional or real, helps them to see kids like themselves represented in literature and to know they are not alone.

Just Ask written by Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice, and illustrated by Rafael Lopez,  is a picture book for ages 4-8. Sonia writes from her own experience with having diabetes, but the additional characters, with a variety of physical and cognitive challenges including dyslexia, are all fictional. The book tells the story of a group of children working together to create a garden. It embraces diversity by encouraging children to "Just Ask" when they wonder about someone who is different from them. The text points out that not all children are comfortable talking about their differences, in which case children can seek answers from parents and teachers. The book includes perspectives from children with a variety of challenges including asthma, blindness, hearing impairment, autism, stuttering, Tourette's Syndrome, Down Syndrome,  and ADHD. Winner of the 2020 Schneider Family Book Award. The Lesson Guide from Read Across American includes resources for teaching kids about disability awareness. The Nora Project offers additional guidance about the difference between showing respectful curiosity versus requiring answers of children who may feel very private about their challenges.

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle written by Leslie Conner is about a boy who struggles with reading and writing. Taunted by bullies because of his dyslexia, he finds himself in continual conflict with the neighborhood boys at the same time that he is struggling with the mysterious death of his best friend. When his new friend goes missing, he must figure out what has happened. This Middle-Grade Mystery for Grades 4-8 was a National Book Award Finalist in addition to a 2019 Schneider Family Book Award Winner. See the Educator's Guide by Harper Collins.

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, is the recipient of the 2016 Schneider Family Book award. The story features a bright and creative six grade girl who hides her dyslexia by creating numerous distractions in class. With the help of a new teacher, she is able to embrace her dyslexia and celebrate her talents. Read the Q&A on the author's blog where she discusses her personal struggles with reading. 

Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever, is a series of middle-grade novels based on Henry Winkler's own experiences with dyslexia. Hank is smart, resourceful, funny, and creative, but he struggles with the many ways dyslexia can impact everyday life. The series is for grades 3-7, ages 8-12. The Here's Hank series is based on a younger version of the same boy in second grade and is written for ages 6-9. Read my post about Henry Winkler.

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan features a main character with ADHD and dyslexia. Characters throughout his books face a variety of challenges. Percy Jackson, the main character of the series by the same name, has ADHD and dyslexia, but in this colorful adventure series, these differences are a sign of his extraordinary powers. He is a demigod, the son of a Poseidon. Just like the other demigods at Camp Half-Blood, he never fit into the ordinary world, especially not at school. Author Rick Riordan, a former classroom teacher, modeled Percy after his own son who has dyslexia and ADHD. In his article with The Guardian, Riordan tells how his son hated books and so each night Rick would tell him stories from Greek mythology. When he ran out of stories, his son asked him to make some up. That's when the author created the Percy Jackson character. 

Thank You, Mr. Falker is a picture book that the author/illustrator, Patricia Polacco, wrote about her early struggles with reading. See the Classroom Resource Guide for the book published by the International Literacy Association. Polacco did a video interview with Reading Rockets where she discussed her reading challenges and the Teacher Who Changed Everything. Mr. Falker was the first one to realize she had dyslexia and he even paid for her reading therapy out of his own pocket. 

See my September 20 Post about Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House and the Q&A with author Beth Anderson as she talks about the evidence that Tad Lincoln may have had speech and learning challenges. My Educator's Guide may be downloaded as a PDF.

My book, Take Me There, is a gritty teen story with mature subject matter for ages 14 and up that explores the correlation between incarceration and learning disability. It is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Dylan Dawson tries to turn his life around after a stint in juvie, but trouble just seems to follow him wherever he goes. On the run from the police and an LA street gang, he goes to Texas looking for his father who is in prison. When they reunite, he learns how his father's struggles with literacy limited his options which led to a life of crime, the same path that Dylan appears to be following. Even so, Dylan refuses to believe that his father is responsible for the murder for which he has been convicted and sets out to find the real killer.

On a related topic, see my previous post about Children's Authors with Dyslexia. Many of them have interviews featured on Reading Rockets. I hope you have the opportunity to share some of these great books with your struggling learners during Dyslexia Awareness Month and all through the year.

Also, in celebration of dyslexia month, subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE PDF of my decodable book, No Gift for Man. The PDF is text only. It links to an audio. The illustrated version will be available on Amazon in November. This is the first book in the HOT ROD Series (Higher Order Thinking Through the Reading of Decodables.)

Saturday, September 25, 2021


Last week's blog post featured an Interview with Beth Anderson, author of the picture book, Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House. This week I'm providing an analysis of the plot that teachers and SLPs can use with students to talk about the story after reading the book. The analysis is based on the approach found in my resource, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy. Find out more about Story Frames HERE. This blog post is also available as a downloadable Educator's Guide.

This narrative non-fiction picture book is an excellent resource to use with students of all ages for the following objectives:

1. Improve Understanding of Text Structure. Talk to students about the plot structure found below. Then ask them to retell the story to a peer or write a summary. 

2. Connect to the Social Studies Curriculum. The narrative explores what it was like living in the White House during the Civil War and contains an extensive Author's Note that will appeal to older readers. Ask students to find other books about the Civil War appropriate for their grade level.

3. Build Grit, Resilience, and Disability Awareness. The story features a child with both speech/language and learning challenges and can be used to talk about resilience, determination, and acceptance of self and others as well as additional topics related to social-emotional development. Ask students to list their strengths and weaknesses.

4. Improve Vocabulary. The author uses many action verbs to portray Tad's exuberant nature. Have students go through the book looking for action words like careen, launch, scurry, trot, scramble. Have them find definitions for each word and practice conjugating the verb for various tenses (scurry, scurries, scurried, scurrying). Then use the verbs in a story or summary.

5. Promote Ideas for Writing Personal Narratives. The book can be used to inspire students to write their own stories. After reading the book, ask students this question: Have you or someone you know ever tried to find a small way that you could help impact a big problem?  Examples might include homelessness, hunger, poverty, or protecting the environment. 

For more suggestions on how to use picture books to encourage students to write personal narratives, see my AUTHOR PANEL video with Beth Anderson and other children's authors and download the free PDFs from my website below:

PDF for Parents: Picture Books for Reminiscing

PDF for Teachers: Writing Personal Narratives: Using Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books as Inspiration for Telling Your Story


ORDINARY WORLD- Tad lived at the White House with this father, Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War. He was a restless child who ran from his tutors and interrupted his father's meetings, but he also brought joy and comfort to the president during a very difficult time.

CALL TO ADVENTURE- His father invited him along on official business. 

MENTORS, GUIDES, & GIFTS- Tad learned much from watching his father. He preferred learning from his father to learning from his tutor.

CROSSING- When Tad was 10, his parents took him to visit an army camp.

NEW WORLD- Tad slept in a tent and visited the troops. He was greatly affected by the experience and when he returned home, he listened to the problems of the people who came to visit his father.

PROBLEMS, PRIZES, & PLANS- There were many problems related to the war, but the one that seemed to affect Lincoln the most was that the generals didn't have enough bandages and medicine for their soldiers. Tad planned to raise money to help the war effort.

MIDPOINT ATTEMPT- Tad charged a fee to people who wanted to visit his father at the White House until his father shut down his efforts. He also tried selling food, broken toys, and his parent's clothing until his father brought that to an end as well.

DOWNTIME- He finally settled for keeping his father company in his office. Late each night, his father carried him to bed.

CHASE & ESCAPE- Tad tried to find other ways to help. He gave coins to the homeless and freed a turkey that arrived shortly before the holidays.

DEATH & TRANSFORMATION- When Tad realized that the cook had recaptured the turkey was going to cook it for Christmas dinner, he begged his father to intervene. Lincoln wrote a note saving the turkey's life.

CLIMAX/THE FINAL TEST- For Christmas, Tad received many books as presents. That's when he got his best idea yet. He packed up the books along with warm clothing and food and took a large box to the soldiers recovering in the army hospital.

REWARD- The soldiers are the ones who received the gifts in the end, though we can be certain that Tad benefitted as much as they did and that his generosity brought joy to his father as well.

To get the most out of this narrative analysis and to find additional supports for writing, vocabulary development, and comprehension, check out my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy.

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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.

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