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Take a Journey to Self-acceptance and Growth in The Summer of the Swans

Take a Journey to Self-acceptance and Growth in The Summer of the Swans

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a great coming of age novel to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, in small book groups, or with individual book studies to explore the character’s path to self-acceptance and the growth to understand what is really important in her heart.

The Summer of the Swans was published in 1970 and went on to be awarded the Newbery Medal in 1971. Betsy Byars is well-versed in tapping into the mind of a young teen while giving empathy to characters who face adversity in a relatable way. Protagonist, Sara is going through all the normal doubts and fears of all 14-year-old girls while also dealing with feelings of grief over her mother’s death, abandonment by her father, and the hardships of having a brother who is disabled.

From the Book Jacket:

Sara’s fourteenth summer was turning out to be the most confusing time of her life. Up until then, things had flowed smoothly, like the gliding swans on the lake. Now she wanted to fly away from everything—her beautiful older sister, her bossy Aunty Willie, her remote father, and, most of all, from herself.

But could she fly away from Charlie? She loved her younger brother in a way she couldn’t understand, though sometimes she grew tired of his neediness. But when Charlie himself took flight, Sara suddenly knew what she had to do….

I offer a complete novel study to accompany The Summer of the Swans for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

Swans gliding over water

This book shows the reader how our perspective can change in an instant when the things we truly care about are threatened. Byars’ incorporation of the beauty and fascination with swans is symbolic of the loyal nature of a swan. It helps to show Sara where the true loyalty of her heart lies.



Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.

Filling in the Holes with Small Steps

Filling in the Holes with Small Steps

Louis Sachar has a special way of using wit and compassion to help his readers really get into the heads of his characters to understand their hearts. He does it again in Small Steps, the sequel to his wildly popular novel, Holes. It is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.

The main character, Stanley Yelnats’ story was wrapped up in the book Holes. In Holes, we were introduced to several other boys who had been sentenced to Camp Green Lake but the book didn’t go too much into their backstories, nor do we know what happened to them moving forward. Small Steps fills this hole for the readers regarding the characters, Armpit and X-Ray.

From the Book Jacket:

Two years after being released from Camp Green Lake, Armpit is home in Austin, Texas, trying to turn his life around. But it’s hard when you have a record and everyone expects the worst from you. The only person who believes in Armpit is Ginny, his ten-year-old disabled neighbor. Together, they are learning to take small steps.

 Armpit seems to be on the right path until X-Ray, a buddy from Camp Green Lake, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme. X-Ray’s plan leads to a chance encounter with teen pop sensation Kaira DeLeon, the Beyoncé of her time, and suddenly Armpit’s life spins out of control. Only one thing is certain: he’ll never be the same again.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Small Steps for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

The subject matter of Small Steps is a little more mature than Holes. I have my Holes novel study marked for 4-6th grades, whereas Small Steps is marked for 5-8th grade due to the more mature nature of the plotline.

The issues of race, the nature of celebrity, how things happen out of our control that shape our lives, and the hard road of choosing to do the right thing vs. the easy, are all addressed by Sachar in this novel. Readers will learn to understand a little better the hard road people face once they are released from prison and how it is always shadowing them ready to ruin the good things that they’ve worked hard for. Readers will empathize with Armpit as he tries to do the right thing, one small step at a time.

I do offer my Holes Novel Study and Small Steps Novel Study bundled together at a 20% savings if you are interested in having your student read both.



Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.

The School Story through the Eyes of a Tween

The School Story through the Eyes of a Tween

Andrew Clements followed up the wildly successful novel, Frindle, with a series of school stories with main characters working to push through an adversity of sorts. The School Story is about two middle school girls who are determined to show that they have what it takes to publish a novel of their own by whatever means necessary. It is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.

Andrew Clements has a special knack for treating his readers with respect by writing tween characters as intelligent, witty, and clever. This technique has worked well and has made him one of the most popular tween authors of our time. In The School Story, he used this talent well in writing about two smart and determined female protagonists.

From the Book Jacket:

Natalie’s best friend, Zoe, is sure that the novel Natalie’s written is good enough to be published. But how can a twelve-year-old girl publish a book? Natalie’s mother is an editor for a big children’s publisher, but Natalie doesn’t want to ask for any favors.

Then Zoe has a brilliant idea: Natalie can submit her manuscript under a pen name, with Zoe acting as her literary agent. But it’s not easy for two sixth graders to put themselves over as grown-ups, even with some help from a couple of real grown-ups who are supportive but skeptical. The next bestselling school story may be in their hands—but can Natalie and Zoe pull off their masquerade?

I offer a complete novel study to accompany The School Story for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

girl at desck writing

Students will quickly empathize with and relate to the main character, Natalie, who works through the grief of losing her father in a car accident by writing. Students will also admire Natalie for wanting to succeed on her own merits and not by favors through connections with her Mom’s employer. With the help of a good friend and a trusted teacher, Natalie is able to persevere and is a great role model for tween students to emulate.



Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.

Working through grief and loss: A Taste of Blackberries

Working through grief and loss: A Taste of Blackberries

A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith is a poignant tale of friendship and loss. It is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.

A Taste of Blackberries was published in 1973 and won multiple awards. It was a struggle for Ms. Smith to get her novel published as many felt the subject matter was too advanced for young readers. Topics such as death had been taboo unless the characters were animals, such as 1952’s, Charlotte’s Web. Smith’s story fits well into the literary realism of that era and after being rejected by three publishers she finally found a home in Harper Collins.

From the Book Jacket:

Jamie isn’t afraid of anything. Always ready to get into trouble, then right back out of it, he’s a fun and exasperating best friend.

But when something terrible happens to Jamie, his best friend has to face the tragedy alone. Without Jamie, there are so many impossible questions to answer — how can your best friend be gone forever? How can some things, like playing games in the sun or the taste of the blackberries that Jamie loved, go on without him?

I offer a complete novel study to accompany A Taste of Blackberries for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

The story is a somber one but it isn’t one that students should shy away from. Many of us have a friend like Jamie, with a carefree and often reckless manner. It also is a subject matter that helps students understand grief and guilt and how a person moves through that after a loss. It can be a helpful read for a child going through a grieving period to help them feel less alone. It is also good for those that want to help someone move through a loss and empathize.



Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.

Historical Fiction with a Twist: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Historical Fiction with a Twist: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, is historical fiction told in a quirky and interesting way. It is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.

Published in 2006, and named as a Newbery Honor selection, this novel introduces readers to Al Capone, Alcatraz (when it was a working prison), and the challenges of living with a sister who has a disability, in a funny and modern way. Students will instantly relate to the protagonist, Moose, even though he is living on Alcatraz Island with prisoners, in 1935.

From the Book Jacket:

Today I moved to Alcatraz, a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I’m not the only kid who lives here. There are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cooks or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. And then there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don’t want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Al Capone Does My Shirts for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

In 1935, Autism was not understood and treated as it is today. At the heart of Moose’s story is his sister Natalie who is autistic. The family desperately wants to get Natalie the treatment and education that she needs to flourish, which is what brings them to Alcatraz of all places. The story set on Alcatraz Island with the infamous Al Capone, as a resident during the Great Depression, sets an interesting and unique backdrop for a story about coming of age that kids today can still understand and relate to.



Are you interested in reading about and sharing ideas with other educators on using children’s literature in your classroom? My goal is to bring together teachers and homeschoolers who teach grades 3-8 and use novels with their students. I’d love for you to join me to learn, share, and grow together!

Click here or the image below to join my Facebook group, Book Talk with The Teaching Bank!

Click to join Book Talk with The Teaching Bank

*The Teaching Bank participates in the Amazon Associate Program and earns a fee from qualifying purchases made on the Amazon.com site.