Inspirational Teacher Characters in Literature

I am a sucker for inspirational teacher characters in literature. I love books that include a teacher (or coach or mentor) who provides quiet support for a main character at just the right moment. I just finished reading Towers Falling by Rhodes and cheered for Mrs. Garcia when she quietly helps Deja adjust to the new school and anticipates Deja’s frustrations. In Hate That Cat, by Creech, I want to be the character, Miss Stretchberry. Miss Stretchberry is that once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changes a child’s entire school career. She sees all of the hidden strengths in Jack, the narrator in the story, and spends time nurturing those qualities.

Inspirational Teacher Characters book list in children's literature

Characters such as Miss Stretchberry and Mrs. Garcia are some of my favorites. They are not the only teacher characters in literature who inspire me. I love the way Mr. Burton in No Talking embraces the students’ creativity in participating in class with as few words as possible. I have so much respect for Miss Harris in The Great Gilly Hopkins when she negotiates Gilly’s anger in a positive way. I learn something valuable for my teacher toolkit from every teacher character in these books.

No Talking by Andrew Clements

My Favorite Inspirational Teacher Characters Book List

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler (pay attention to the music teacher)
  • Homesick by Kate Klise
  • Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
  • Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
  • No Talking by Andrew Clements
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, 7th grade+ (pay attention to the math teacher)
  • The Secret School by Avi
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
  • Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  • Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan
  • The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

For adults (and particularly teacher adults), try the book Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell.

Need more book ideas? CLICK HERE for a list boys will love, and CLICK HERE for a list with strong girl characters.

Author Inspiration

I love getting to the end of a book and reading an author’s note that provides insight into the story’s inspiration. The story is classified as fiction, but there is a seed or small moment that the author used as a starting point to create a character or event. Most recently, Miss Priss and I read Curtain Up by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach. At the end of the book, Wallach explains that, like the main character in the story, she too started a theatre company in her neighborhood as a teen. That real-life experience inspired the book.

After reading The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies, I found an article where Davies explained that her two children were arguing over who had the rights to the driveway for a lemonade stand, and the idea for a lemonade war was born.

Kate Klise, the author of Dying to Meet You, responded to a letter from my students and shared some background information on her book. She told us that she read a newspaper article about an elderly couple who were selling their house with all of the contents including the dog. From that article, Klise was inspired to write a story that would include a house for rent. If you rented the house, you agreed to “rent” the owners’ child as well.

Now that most authors have websites or author’s notes at the end of books, it can be easy to locate the answer to the question, “How did the author get the idea to write this book?” Hunting down the answer to the question is a great way to inspire interest in a book or author, and it has been a great way for me to motivate readers. It also shows students how writers gather ideas and encourages students to analyze small moments in their daily lives and use that as inspiration to start writing.

Here is a short list of books that have interesting backstories into why the author decided to write his/her story. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to have your students complete an author inspiration scavenger hunt to learn how or why an author created a character or plot line in their novel.

  • Curtain Up (Stagestruck series) by Lisa Fiedler and Anya Wallach
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord
  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Frozen Fire by James Houston
  • Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose
  • Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
  • Blood on the River: James Town, 1607 by Elisa Carbone
  • Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

If you want to hear from the author directly, use this freebie CONTACTING BOOK AUTHORS ACTIVITY.

 

Orphans in Children’s Literature

Have you noticed how many favorite characters in children’s literature are orphans or have absent parents or missing parents or neglectful parents? What is the draw? If a book character does not have a parent, then he or she does not need to follow certain rules that a parent might put into place. The characters can take off on an adventure at a moment’s notice. They can try something risky without fear of parental punishment. It’s attractive for young readers because they can follow an imaginary character who has total independence and freedom.

Imagine Harry Potter hunting down Voldemort had James and Lily Potter been alive. Without a parent imposing rules, the book character is free to take risks, and readers can join the adventure from the safety of their homes. Even though the stories may be sad or scary (or both), young readers love to read about a character who is close to their age and triumphs over adversity.

There are so many great children’s books with protagonists who are true orphans or close to it. In addition to Harry Potter, here are a few more orphans-in-literature suggestions.

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
  • Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng
  • The BFG by Roald Dahl (and many other books by Dahl)
  • Loot by Jude Watson
  • The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket
  • The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John A. Flanagan
  • The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Ballet Shoes series by Noel Streatfeild
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • Ms. Rapscott’s Girls series by Elise Primavera
  • Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
  • Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
  • Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  • Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart

Facebook Character Activity

facebook-group-samples

A few years ago, my students designed a Facebook page for a favorite character in the book, Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. I was surprised how much critical thinking was involved. The students needed to pick a significant scene from the story, summarize it from the point of view of a character in the form of a Facebook post, and then respond to the post from the point of view of a different character.

facebook-sample-jack

It was challenging for students to think about one story event from several angles. The finished writing activity reveals quite a bit about a student’s understanding of events in the story, character traits, and character interactions and motivations. It is a short activity but packed with reading skills, and the results are completely entertaining! It also had the bonus of incorporating technology skills since my students completed the Facebook page digitally.

facebook-page-samples

I recently assigned the activity again, and it did not disappoint. My students were in three separate reading groups this time around, but all students completed the Facebook page based on a character from their assigned book. It is such an easy activity to adapt to any novel study.

facebook-pp-template

In my classroom, I inserted the blank FACEBOOK TEMPLATE that I designed as a background in a PowerPoint slide and then added text boxes as placeholders on top of the background. I shared the template with my students, and they clicked in the text boxes to add their writing. They also inserted pictures, used bullet points, and changed font sizes (potentially tricky technology skills for 4th graders).

facebook-sample-post-seymour

For younger students or classrooms/homes without computer or printer access, the activity could be handwritten using THE TEMPLATE. The basic Facebook page with the text box outlines can be printed, and students draw profile pictures and neatly write posts, likes, and replies.

facebook-sample-post-jack

The samples above are related to the novels, Dying to Meet You, Love That Dog, and Hate That Cat. Complete novel units are available for purchase in my teacher store. Click the book names to see more details about the novel studies.

Fractured Fairy Tales

 

secret destiny of pixie piper

Fractured fairy tales are those stories that take traditional fairy tale plots and put a twist on the story everyone knows. This genre of book is pretty hot right now in children’s literature. A new book that I just finished reading in this book category is The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher. This book caught my attention because it was a mash-up Mother Goose nursery rhymes rather than traditional fairy tales (and I liked the pet goose side story). I am definitely going to recommend it to my fourth graders when we go back to school next month. My daughter, Miss Priss, highly recommends Rump, Red, and other companion books by Liesl Shurtliff; they were her favorite books this summer.

land of stories colfer

Upper Elementary

  • Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (Enchanted series)
  • The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley (The Sisters Grimm series)
  • Happily Ever After by Anna Quindlen
  • If the Shoe Fits by Jane B. Mason (Princess School series)
  • The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell series by Chris Colfer
  • Rapunzel, The One With All the Hair by Wendy Mass (Twice Upon a Time series)
  • Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff (and others by this author)
  • The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani (5th grade+)
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm series by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Wide Awake Princess series by E.D. Baker (and others by this author)

entwined by heather dixon

Middle School

  • Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey (and others by this author)
  • Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (Woodcutter series, mixed reviews)
  • Entwined by Heather Dixon
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman

red riding hood

And lots of picture books…

  • Honestly, Red Riding Hood was Rotten by Trisha Speed Shaskan (and others in this series)
  • Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson
  • The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin (and other Cinderella re-tellings like Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters)
  • The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka