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.