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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Teach Early Childhood Literacy
Author Study
Vera B. Williams & Miriam Bissu

This author study is useful for grades K-3 and may be adapted for varying ability levels. The books can be read aloud or by the children themselves during guided reading.

Standards Addressed:
Reading: 25 books, 4 book or book equivalents by one author.
Writing: Creation of a finished piece of writing that reflects an understanding of the author's style.
Art: Use watercolors, crayons and pastels to illustrate an original story, journal or writer's notebook.
Math: Counting change in a jar; making diagrams and models to explain concepts.
Social Studies: Communities, workers, helping one another; reading and making maps to help the reader understand the geography of an area.
Technology: Text can be composed on computer.

Time required: 4-6 weeks.


Vera B. Williams writes books around the themes of community and family. They may be used to study memoir and to encourage children to write their own memoirs. The books may also be used to encourage children to begin inquiries into their own family stories. They can record their stories, memories, knowledge, and impressions in the form of books and/or artwork. These books are especially good to read when studying communities and around Mother's Day.

They also lend themselves to making predictions about the text and to allowing the reader to think of solutions to very real problems in life.

A Chair for My Mother:

This book deals with difficult times for a single parent and her family. After a fire destroys their home and their belongings, friends and family pitch in as much as they can. The mother, a waitress in a diner, has no comfortable furniture in the apartment to sit on after a long, hard day of work. The family pitches in by adding coins to the collection of tips being saved in a large jar with the goal of buying a large upholstered chair. Eventually they save enough to buy a beautiful overstuffed chair with big red flowers on the fabric.

Discussion Points:
Themes

  1. Difficult times can occur in all families.
  2. Families work and save together for a common goal.
  3. Single parent family where grandmother helps out and is cared for by her children and grandchildren.
  4. Extended family: aunts and uncles help in times of trouble.
  5. Obstacles can be overcome through hard work and people coming together to help each other.

Literary Style

  1. Use of flashback to add dramatic element.
  2. Memories of childhood experiences add interest.
  3. Interest is piqued by family problem.
  4. Problem is resolved when characters achieve goal.

Illustrations

  1. Use of color.
  2. Size of objects and people.
  3. Borders on pictures.
  4. Illustrations fill the page.

Music, Music for Everyone

This book, which is a sequel to A Chair for My Mother, can stand on its own as a story. The main character's grandmother is ill and needs medical attention, but the family lacks the money to pay for it. The girl, who plays the accordion, organizes a band to earn the money to help the family. The band earns money by playing their music at the 50th anniversary party of their great-grandparents' fruit market. The entire community is invited to the festivities and the girls earn enough money to pay for the medical attention grandma needs.

Discussion Points:
Themes

  1. Community involvement
  2. Friendship
  3. Family
  4. Empowering children: the children work together to solve the problem of the adults.

Literary Style

  1. Opening sentence involves the reader immediately.
  2. Mood of house is empty and quiet.Festive mood of the party.

Illustrations

Same in A Chair For My Mother


Cherries and Cherry Pits

This is a very charming story of a girl who makes up stories as she draws pictures of the people she sees in her neighborhood and on the subway. The characters eat cherries and throw away the pits, a refrain that is repeated throughout the book.

Discussion Points:
Themes

  1. We live in a diverse community.
  2. Members of the community have a great deal in common.
  3. We can use our knowledge of friends, family, and community to write interesting stories.

Literary Style

  1. Using a writer's notebook to record our observations of the world around us.
  2. Using a writer's notebook to draft and illustrate stories.
  3. Repetition of a refrain gives comfort to the reader.
  4. Universal appeal of certain foods, in this case, cherries.

Illustrations

  1. Using illustrations to record impressions.
  2. Using illustrations to tell stories.

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe

This book is written largely as a journal with illustrations by the child-author. The extended family chips in to take a trip on a river in a red canoe. The child who is writing the journal narrates the story. She includes illustrations, maps, and diagrams to help tell the story. She even includes instructions for making knots in a rope and for cooking dumplings and a fruit stew. All of the family members take turns paddling, cooking, building fires, and pitching tents. They encounter some difficulties during a storm and in the rapids in the river.

Discussion Points:
Themes

  1. Families are diverse.
  2. Families vacation together.
  3. All the members of the family have a distinct role.
  4. Family members pull together in times of trouble.
  5. Living and vacationing in the country require different survival skills.
  6. Vacations in the country provide us with opportunities to observe and enjoy nature.

Literary Style

  1. Use of a narrator to tell the story.
  2. Journals can be used to record events and feelings.
  3. Illustrations, maps, and diagrams help the reader get a clearer understanding of the author's writing.
  4. Writers often make lists, write out instructions and recipes for others.

Illustrations

  1. Authors use maps and diagrams to explain details.
  2. Illustrations help us visualize the experiences of others.

For each of the books in this or any other author study, I would suggest that you read the books one at a time and conduct book talks with the children. I would record the key points of the discussions, particularly those related to the author's style and themes, on chart paper with some supporting details. The children should write a response for each book. You can use their book talks and written responses to begin a chart outlining the most important ideas for each of the books.

The children can show they have met the standard by using their individual written responses and the chart mentioned above to write about the author's work in a way that shows their understanding of this author. The children could create their own memoirs, accounts of vacations, family events, or class events such as trips or preparing for a class play, to meet the standard.

 

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