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.

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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:

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Friday, February 5, 2021

The Interesting History of Curious George

Cover from CURIOUS George by H.A. Rey. Copyright © 1941,

renewed 1969 by Margret E. Rey and H.A. Rey. Curious George®,

including without limitation the character’s name and the character’s

likenesses, are registered trademarks of Houghton Mifflin

Harcourt Publishing Company.Used by permission. All rights reserved


Although the focus of my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy, is on narrative non-fiction, I also discuss story structure through the use of fictional books like those found in the Curious George series. I was delighted to discover a nonfiction connection in a story of how the creators of the famous series, Hans Augusto Rey and his wife, Margaret Rey, fled from Paris to escape the Nazis in 1940 by bicycle during World War 2. Now I can explore historical events and connect to the social studies curriculum with my students even while exploring something as fanciful as a monkey getting into trouble through a series of comical misadventures.

One of the only items the Reys were able to take with them when they escaped Paris was the manuscript for Curious George. They eventually ended up in the U.S. where the first book in the series was published in 1941. Many of the books are available in Spanish and other languages. The last book in the original series was published in 1966 and entitled, Curious George Goes to the Hospital. Subsequent books have come out written by other writers such as Curious George Goes to the Bookstore.


A BOOKSTORE. Jacket art © 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publishing Company. Curious George®, including without limitation

the character’s name and the character’s likenesses,

are registered trademarks of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing

Company. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Read about the escape of the Rey’s in The JourneyThat Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margaret and H.A. Rey, written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond. ISBN 978-054-7417462. 80 pages. (2010) HMH.

Blog by HMH

For suggestions for how students can create their own Curious George stories, see the author's note at the end of Curious George Goes to the Bookstore.