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

Mother’s Day Writing

mothers day pocket folders

I just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my students, and we spent some time discussing C.S. Lewis’ descriptive sentences. I wanted my students to mimic Lewis’ style in a writing assignment, but I needed a vehicle to make their word choice meaningful. I pulled two passages out of the book and removed key words. I replaced the key words with a blank line and labelled the space with the type of word or part of speech that should go in the blank. Basically, I built a literary Mad Lib.

mothers day mad lib

The students spent some time thinking about their mothers (or another loved one) and brainstormed words to describe that person. Following the brainstorming, they re-read the original passages in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and then plugged words into the frame I gave them to create their own beautiful description with a C.S. Lewis vibe.

We typed the paragraphs, and students added small images that corresponded to details in the descriptive writing. We printed the text and pictures on a piece of cardstock and cut them apart. The students folded a small pocket folder using colored cardstock and decorated the cover. The pictures and small paragraph were no bigger than 3″ x 3″ each and fit nicely in the small pocket card.mothers day writing sample 2Not all of my students are quite finished with this project, but the ones I have read so far make me tear up because they capture such sweet thoughts about a loved one. If you need a thoughtful card or gift for a mother, father, grandparent, sibling… pull a favorite passage from a story and use the basic structure to write a special message.

Pocket Card Materials

  • 8 3/4″ x 7 1/4″ colored cardstock
  • 4″ x 3 1/2″ white cardstock (optional)

mini pocket folder

Pocket Card Directions

  • Place the colored cardstock on a flat surface in the landscape direction.
  • Fold the bottom edge (8 3/4″ edge) up about 2″, match the corners carefully, and press firmly to fold the crease.
  • Open the flap and fold the paper in half, so the two 7 1/4″ edges meet. Match the corners carefully and press firmly to fold the crease.
  • Open the paper flat and fold the 2″ section up creating the pocket. The pocket sides will be open but create a little “shelf” to hold the small pieces of paper. Fold the paper in half down the center fold.
  • If you would like, glue the 4″ x 3 1/2″ white rectangle to the front of the folder as a cover for writing a title or salutation.

Want to try your own literary Mad Lib? Click Author Mad Libs to download a free copy of my activity page. To purchase other Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe activities, CLICK HERE.

mothers day writing sample

 

Parent Help

cell project complete

Mr. Star Wars just completed a science cell project– at home. While he could have completed the entire project on his own, this is one of those projects that a parent is probably going to have to offer help in some way. In our case, I drove to the grocery store to buy supplies and helped with formatting his written explanations on the computer. How much help is too much? As a teacher, if I send a multi-day 3-D project home like this, I know parents will be involved. The key is to provide only enough support that you do not “compromise the integrity” of the student project.

cell project close up

Parent Dos

  • Read through the project assignment sheet and directions with your child.
  • Brainstorm a list of supplies and tentative “plan” for completing the project with your child (what to complete each day, so you finish by the deadline). This is a conversation that can happen at the dinner table or in the car on the way home from school.
  • Source supplies (make a trip to the grocery store, Michael’s crafts, hardware store, your pantry/junk closet at home).
  • Reread the directions with your student when the project is finished to make sure the student has completed all of the requirements.

Parent Don’ts

  • Write anything.
  • Rewrite anything.
  • Build anything while a child stands to the side and watches.

Good Project Supplies

If you have class projects come home more than twice a year, I would recommend investing in some common project supplies and saving a few items that can be hard to get when you need it at the last minute. I love having these items on hand at the 11th hour!

  • shoeboxes
  • paper cutter
  • cardstock– assorted colors (Astrobrights are great!)
  • Avery labels– small and large size
  • one set of Sharpie markers in bright colors

cell project

Explorer Timelines

explorer timelines group

Timelines are a great way for students to get an overview of a history topic. We recently finished a unit in our history book about famous explorers. Our textbook organizes the explorers by country, so students read about Marco Polo (Italy) first. Then, move over to Portugal, followed by lots of Spanish guys, and end with Engand, France, and the Netherlands. The format of the book makes it seem like Spain did all of this conquering and then other people sailed across the Atlantic and explored the northeast coast of North America and Canada last.

I had my students create an explorer timeline, so we could see that after Marco Polo’s great journey, the explorers of the Americas were actually all sailing and conquering at about the same time. We used paper Sentence Strips for the timelines, which are a great length and width to make a timeline– and they already have a straight line printed on them.

Building a Timeline

  • Gather your information in notes or a chart like this Explorer Timeline Notes page. Identify the first date and the last date that will appear on the timeline. Determine the time span and then add a few years before the first date and after the last date, so there will be space at the beginning and end of the timeline. With our explorer timeline, the first year was 1295 and the final year was 1609. We needed a span of at least 314 years.
  • The sentence strips are 24″ in length. The next step is to determine the increments of time along the strip. This is the part that can confuse kids. Their first reaction is to list each explorer in order of travel on evenly spaced lines, but the point of a timeline is to show how close or far apart events happened from each other. After counting, subtracting, dividing, and measuring, we determined that we would make marks every 1.25″ and each mark would equal 10 years. Creating the spacing on the timeline is great measuring and counting practice.

explorer timelines

  • We noted that there was a break in explorer activity from 1295 until 1492. We created a “broken timeline” where we could jump over 100 years, so we would have enough space to fit all of the years we needed.
  • To further emphasize the point that the explorers from various countries were all sailing within the same time, we color coded the explorer information by sponsoring country. The color on the timeline created a great visual and helped students group the information by time as well as by nationality.

explorer dates

  • The final timeline included 12 explorers, the year of the explorer’s main or first voyage, a brief explanation, and a small illustration that represented the explorer.

The finished timelines gave a great overview of all of the explorers we studied. We were able to make generalizations about the explorers as well as incorporate math skills. Students need more practice reading charts, tables, and graphs, so they can draw conclusions about any data presented. When students are reviewing big chunks of information at the end of a unit of study, have them create a chart or table of some kind to help visualize similarities, differences and big ideas.

explorer timelines close

Another fun way to work with data is to build infographics. After our timelines were finished, students focused on two explorers to compare. To see how the infographic project turned out, Click Here.

 

Hidden Gems: The Bread Winner

hidden gems bread winner

Even though the end of the school year is nowhere in sight, I am already considering books to teach my students next year. My goal every year is to find high interest books that no student in the class has read– yet. No easy feat. I do reteach favorite books from year to year, but I always rotate one or two out of the line up.

This week, I have been assessing my bookshelf and determining what will stay and what will go next year. The one book that will definitely stay is The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore (not to be confused by The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis). I have yet to have a student who has read this book prior to entering my class, but I always have students who come back and tell me it was the best book they read in the fourth grade.

The story takes place during the Great Depression and centers on Sarah Puckett, a girl who won a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair for her homemade bread. Through her creativity and problem solving skills, she starts a bread business out of the house and solves many of her family’s problems. Sarah independently overcomes obstacles, and while she has supportive parents, Sarah is the one who takes action. Since I witness so many students asking for help before even attempting to start something new or unfamiliar, a character like Sarah is a great role model.

Other books that I would consider to be a hidden gem and are possibilities for next year are:

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

  • There are many books available right now that feature characters with a learning difference of some kind. One of the hot books this year in teacher circles is Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; I thought Rain Reign was better. My daughter read it and barely made it through due to the dog situation (tissue alert– nobody dies, but…), so that may bump it off the list. Not that I am against crying in front of my students, but I try to avoid “ugly crying.”

rain reign

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

  • This novel is based on a true story. Children in a Norwegian town smuggle gold away from the Nazis during WWII. I like the fact that I would be able to hunt down the real story with students after finishing the book.

snow treasure

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

  • This book has a slower pace and is a little longer, but I love the way the book focuses on a group of school kids who get their community involved in investigating a question about why storks no longer settle in the town. Anything that promotes teamwork and persistance is a great option.

the wheel on the school

Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey

  • I think this may be better suited to 6th graders due to the tiny print in the book and more sophisticated vocabulary, but a loyal dog’s search for his home is usually a winner with all readers. It could definitely be a read aloud with students rather than a novel that is studied as a class.

kavik the wolf dog

For more Hidden Gem book ideas, CLICK HERE. Some of my teacher blogging friends are sharing more great-but-often-forgotten book titles!