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

Native American Books

birchbark house

Summer is here and that means I can catch up with my kid lit book pile. To start this summer, I picked up a few books that were rereads for me. Rereading is a great activity for readers because it builds fluency and gives the reader a chance to glean more (and different ideas) from a story, and it builds stronger connections. It also has the benefit of helping you get through any book mourning you may experience when you don’t want a special book to end.

Two books that started my summer reading binge are books that have Native American settings, The Birchbark House and Morning Girl. I had not read either book in several years, but one of the reasons I wanted to reread them is because they have characters who make everything they need to live from scratch. I love the scenes in the story where the author describes the procedures for building a house or hunting for food or making clothing. If you like Little House on the Prairie because of the parts where Laura and her family build a cabin or gather maple syrup, you will enjoy these stories too. I should probably focus more on the results of white settlers claiming American Indian land and the destructive impact it had on these groups. The books include recognition of that topic too. I happen to like the parts that show self-reliance the best since the other parts are so sad.

morning girl

Chapter Books

  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
  • Morning Girl by Michael Dorris
  • Guests by Michael Dorris
  • The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  • The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George
  • Far North by Will Hobbs
  • Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski
  • The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen
  • When the Legend Dies by Hal Borland (7th grade+)
  • Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen (7th grade+)

Short Story

  • A Man Called Horse by Dorothy M. Johnson (7th grade+)

rough face girl

Picture Books

  • The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
  • The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
  • Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble
  • The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor

girl who loved wild horses

There were many more recommendations on THIS AICL WEBSITE dedicated to American Indians in children’s literature.

For more summer reading ideas, my teacher blogger friend, Amy, has posted a new Hidden Gem book that you might not find on your own. CLICK HERE to read her latest recommendation.

Hidden Gems: The Missing Golden Ticket

hidden gems missing golden ticket

“Writing process” is a big catch phrase in the education world, and students will do everything possible to complete as little of the process as possible. The writing process involves reflecting on your own writing and actually making noticeable changes and improvements.

The Missing Golden Ticket is a book of Roald Dahl writing secrets and includes tidbits about Dahl’s process for writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It includes a chapter from the Chocolate Factory book that was edited out before publication. Readers get to learn about Dahl’s original story and character ideas, which are very different from the published book. This book is a great option to illustrate an author’s journey through the writing process.

If you love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might also like these gems:

Floors by Patrick Carman

  • Instead of a candy factory, this book is set in a hotel. Each room of the hotel has a different crazy theme. The book also has a duck side story, which made me think of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. I wrote to Mr. Carman, the author inquiring about the ducks, and it is an allusion to the Peabody Hotel.

floors cover

Candymakers by Wendy Mass

  • A group of children are selected to participate in a candy making contest. The book is broken into parts, and the same events are retold in each part of the story but from the point of view of a different character.

candymakers cover

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

  • This book is set in a toy factory, but like Charlie, the kids in the story have to survive the challenges and be the last one standing.

gollywhopper games

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

  • Using clues from books, people try to be the first to win the scavenger hunt. It is set in San Francisco and mixes whodunnit with literary references.

book scavenger

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

  • This combines library and literature knowledge into a scavenger hunt. It’s like Book Scavenger meets Gollywhopper Games.

mr lemoncellos library cover

For more Hidden Gem book ideas, CLICK HERE. Some of my teacher blogging friends are sharing more great-but-often-forgotten book titles! To purchase activities related to The Missing Golden Ticket, CLICK HERE.