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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.

Exploring Intersectionality with the Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Exploring Intersectionality with the Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

This past summer I attended a seminar presented by Sherri from Literary Sherri, about Intersectionality. This is a newer term that may be unfamiliar to many, but it is meaningful and impactful and is worthy of everyone, especially teachers, educating themselves about. From Merriam-Webster, “Intersectionality refers to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.” You can read in more detail about how it is all intertwined at the Merriam-Webster website.

I am happy to say I already had several novel studies to support intersectionality in the classroom such as Out of My Mind, El Deafo, Fish in a Tree, Freak the Mighty, and Wonder to name a few. These modern novels help students understand the differences and challenges that others face and help build empathy and awareness that lead to a better educated and caring community.

I had heard a lot of chatter in teacher circles about the 2017 novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, as a good one to use to help build a stronger, more caring and kind classroom community. The chatter was right! This book is wonderful to help others really see through the eyes of another the challenges that can be faced by differences and disabilities. In addition to the empathy it sparks, it is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud many times at the humor of Aven, the main character. Students will relate to her snarky and modern take on living the life of a thirteen-year-old. I dare say, I may have even liked this book more than Wonder!

From the book jacket:

Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is just so wonderful to use in the classroom to incorporate intersectionality. You have Aven who lives with a congenital disability, Connor who lives with Tourette Syndrome, Zion who deals with bullying over his weight, add in adoption, divorce, and money struggles told from both a male and female perspective and there’s a lot of areas that intertwine in the intersectionality of life to help build the bridges of understanding and empathy.

I offer a full novel study for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus that you can use with a whole class, small book groups, or individual students. It is easily adaptable and contains both a printable option and a Google Drive™ option.

Desert landscape with the title Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I really, really loved it and I know you and your students will too. Aven’s voice is so funny and she really challenges the readers to open their hearts and minds to the differences of others.


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.

Meet the World’s Greatest Underachiever, Hank Zipzer!

Meet the World’s Greatest Underachiever, Hank Zipzer!

Niagara Falls or Does It? is the first book in Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver’s Hank Zipzer series. is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies that present the learning challenges that Hank Zipzer experiences due to his undiagnosed Dyslexia.

Hank Zipzer is inspired by the challenges that Henry Winkler (best known as the Fonz!) faced as a boy. Henry’s undiagnosed Dyslexia made him a classic underachiever and gave him great anxiety about all aspects of going to school. The Hank Zipzer series is about Hank’s funny adventures while highlighting the inner thoughts, doubts, and fears that living with learning differences poses.  Henry himself along with his co-author, Lin Oliver, explain their inspiration for the series here:

I loved the quote from Lin Oliver, ” The most important part for us in creating the series is to speak to kids and let them know that inside each one of them they have a unique and special contribution that they can make to the world.” Kids that face learning challenges, among them Dyslexia, often face depression and low-self esteem thinking they are dumb, or less than their peers. The series gives kids the voice to know that they aren’t “stupid” that they are just wired in a different way and in many ways, this makes them even more talented in certain things.

From the Book Jacket of Niagara Falls, or Does it?:

It’s science project time in Ms. Adolf’s class. This is good news and bad news for Hank-he loves science, but he hates the report part. So Hank turns to TV to take his mind off things. But when the program directory scrolls by too quickly for Hank to know what’s on, he decides to take apart the cable box to try to slow down the crawl. Great! Now Hank has found the perfect science project! But what he wasn’t counting on was his sister’s pet iguana laying eighteen eggs in the disassembled cable box. How is Hank going to get out of this one? 

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Niagara Falls, or Does it? 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.

niagara falls with a rainbow

As a parent who has a child that deals with similar learning challenges, I find Henry Winkler and his Hank Zipzer so inspiring. I was so happy to be able to give this book to my son in third grade so that he could read a book that had a character that he could relate to and give him inspiration that he is smarter than he may feel. Add the humor and this kid was hooked. It’s great that there are sixteen more books in the series to keep kids reading.

I’d like to share another video from Henry Winkler where he discusses Dyslexia and shares his experiences. He is an inspiring role model for kids with learning challenges and if you have someone in your life struggling, may it be a student or your own child, please share this with them as well.

Once you’ve moved through the Hank Zipzer series another great book I highly recommend for kids, in grades 4-6, that comes from the voice of a character with Dyslexia is Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt.


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.

Underdogs use the Power of Friendship to Become Freak the Mighty

Underdogs use the Power of Friendship to Become Freak the Mighty

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick is a must-read. Philbrick combines heart, adventure, suspense, drama, and heartbreak to make this an instant classic that all your students will love. This is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.

Freak the Mighty was first published in 1993. The tale is timeless. Max is an outcast. He feels stupid, too large, hated for the crimes of his father, basically unloved and all alone in the world. Kevin is smart and adventurous but has a disease that prevents him from doing all he wants to do. When Max and Kevin form an unlikely friendship they fill each other’s weaknesses with their own strengths to create Freak the Mighty. Together there’s no stopping them!

From the Book Jacket:

Max. Freak. Best Friends. Forever.

“I never had a brain until Freak came along…”

That’s what Max thought. All his life he’d been called stupid. Dumb. Slow. It didn’t help that his body seemed to be growing faster than his mind. It didn’t help that people were afraid of him. So Max learned how to be alone. At least until Freak came along.

Freak was weird, too. He had a little body-and a really big brain. Together Max and Freak were unstoppable.

Together, they were Freak the Mighty.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Freak the Mighty 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.

Large boy holding smaller boy on his shoulders watching the sun set.

Freak the Mighty touches on so many topics: learning disabilities, family issues, low self-esteem, physical disabilities, adventure, heroics, and loss. It is a tale that just about every upper elementary to middle school student can relate to or empathize with. It will help them look differently at those that have been deemed the outcasts to help them unleash the gems that are hiding in plain sight.

Until 9/30/19, you can find Freak the Mighty in the Scholastic TAB Book Order for only $1. It’s a great time to stock up on this novel for your classroom!


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.

Out of My Mind About this Book!

Out of My Mind About this Book!

“We all have disabilities. What’s yours?” This is one of the most profound and truthful quotes from the amazing Out of My Mind novel by Sharon M. Draper. I loved this book so much. It made me cry with joy and also broke my heart with how cruel humans can be. I also loved how the author brought it to a close in an unexpected way. I think your students will love it just as much and also make them take the time to think about how they are treating one another, especially those that may be different from them. This is a great book to use in the classroom and I can’t recommend it enough!

Out of My Mind was first published in 2010, by the award-winning, Sharon M. Draper. It is the story of Melody, a fifth-grader who has Cerebral Palsy. Melody has always felt that she is trapped in her own mind without a door or a key because she is not able to talk and communicate all that is in her genius, photographic mind.

As Melody is “let out of her mind” with the help of an electric wheelchair, technology, and school aides, she shows everyone just how much has been trapped there for all these years. It is an inspiring story while staying true to the realities of just how cruel fifth-graders (and older ignorant people) can be when faced with someone they don’t have experience with or understanding for.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Out of My Mind 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. 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.

Out of My Mind should be a must-read for every fifth-grader to help enhance empathy and understanding for those that are different from us. We should all be asked to face the question, “We all have disabilities. What’s yours?”



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.