Pam Munoz Ryan: Using an Author Study in the Classroom

Pam Munoz Ryan is an author to be trusted. If you have ever read one of her stories, you know you’re bound to have a captivating and emotional experience when you pick up one of her books. Pam Munoz Ryan is the perfect writer to begin an author study within the classroom. Her books contain profound life lessons and deep themes.

Pam Munoz Ryan:
Using an Author Study in the Classroom

Pam Munoz Ryan is a winner of multiple awards. Two such are the Newberry Honor Medal and a NAPPA Gold award, among countless others. She is a New York Times Bestseller author. Her novels are perfect for upper elementary to middle school readers. Ryan is known for her multi-cultural literature, strong protagonists, and deep themes written in an age-appropriate way. 

I first found Pam Munoz Ryan when teaching elementary grades. I taught her novel, Esperanza Rising. It is a wonderful historical-fictional book based on true events surrounding her own grandmother Esperanza Ortega’s life and immigration to the United States.

In Esperanza Rising, we are taken on a journey of loss. Quickly into the story, the reader learns Esperanza’s loving and wealthy rancher father is killed at the hands of bandits. Esperanza, her mother, and their servants who are like family must move. This is due their beautiful Mexican ranch is burned down by Esperanza’s uncle. They leave behind her abuelita, whom she was very close with, in a convent. The death of her father, separation from her beloved grandmother, and a series of events causes Esperanza to grieve and grow so much within a year.

Pam Munoz Ryan weaves real history in her novel as detailed through the Mexican Revolution, the Dust Bowl, discrimination, immigration, Repatriation, migrant farms, the Great Depression, and labor strikes. During these major events, Esperanza must contend with losing all her material possessions, living extremely poorly, losing her father and possibly her mother, and growing up very quickly through the process. This novel is recommended for grades 4 and up.

If you are interested in teaching this novel, hop on over to our other blog post: 5 Activities for Teaching Esperanza Rising.

Becoming Naomi Leon

Another treasure of Pam Munoz Ryan’s is Becoming Naomi Leon. When I read this novel, I immediately noticed similar details to Esperanza Rising, but Becoming Naomi Leon had more modern elements. Similarities include the Mexican landscape, heritage, and food, as well as a journey of the female protagonist finding herself while dealing with trauma. 

Publisher Synopsis:

Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, and her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears for the first time in seven years, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.

Naomi, her great-grandmother Gram, and her little brother Owen all live in a small trailer/RV. Naomi and Owen are happy and cared for, enjoying evenings with pork-chops and Wheel of Fortune. Their mother, an alcoholic who abandoned Naomi and Owen seven years prior, shows up suddenly wanting to be part of their lives. Naomi and Owen’s trauma resurfaces from the neglect they had faced under her care and with the threat of her mother, Skyla, taking only Naomi to go live with her and her new boyfriend in Las Vegas.

There are deep themes such as child neglect, abandonment, alcoholism, inter-generational living, and custody hearings, so please choose this book wisely for your students. Nevertheless, Ryan has a way of making these topics age-appropriate without too much detail and just the right amount of discretion and subtlety. The reader is taken on a journey of Gram fighting for her great-grandkids, Naomi finding her father and her voice to be used for justice and redemption. 

I was drawn into this book immediately. The quirky characters, the desert backdrop, the Mexican landscape and food, the Spanish language and the warmth of family and friends all draw the reader in. With Naomi’s soap carvings and the big woodcarving event in Mexico they attend in which Naomi finds her gifts, will excite younger readers. This book has heart and soul, uniqueness, and strong characters. 

Paint the Wind

Ryan’s novel Paint the Wind has similarities to Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Leon as well. The female protagonist, Maya, lives with her grandmother, but it is not a great situation. Her grandmother is an avid liar and has woven lies about Maya’s dead mother and her whole personal history. Maya, herself, tells lies in order to save face and impress. Through a series of events, Maya must move from California to Wyoming to live with her mother’s family, who are adamant against lying. They push her to find out the truth about who she really is and her mother’s horse helps her do this. Ryan has a knack for describing settings in her novels and the Wyoming wilderness is described beautifully, coupled with her description of the wild horse, Paint. 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

This epic horse story, in the tradition of BLACK STALLION, marks exciting new territory for one of our most treasured and celebrated novelists.

A puzzling photograph, a box filled with faded toy horses, and a single fractured memory are all that Maya has left of her mother. In her grandmother’s house, she lives like a captive, tethered by rules… until a shocking event changes everything. A world away, in the rugged Wyoming wilderness, a wild mustang called Artemisia runs free, belonging only to the stars. In a land where mountain lions pose an ever-present threat, she must vigilantly defend her foal… until a devastating act separates them from their band. Like a braided rein, Maya’s and Artemisia’s lives will ultimately intertwine. 

Paint the Wind left me gripping with emotion. As an adult, the story carried me through a roller coaster of sadness, grief, fear, and shock. You don’t have to be a horse person to enjoy this book. The book, Paint the Wind, has extensive vocabulary, exciting plot twists, so much heart, and the ever-present strong female lead that Ryan is known for.  

Author Study

Exposing students to a variety of authors is crucial for them to became diversified readers and writers, learning from many different writing styles and enjoying many genres of books; however, completely focusing on one writer and investigating author studies in the classroom has added benefits as well. Here are three ways to complete author studies in your classroom. 

Author Study

1. Read-Alouds

Completing a series of read-alouds from the same author opens the class up to great discussion on writing styles. They discuss comparing and contrasting, author’s craft, and so much more. Even by using book series as read-alouds, students can see similarities of how a particular author creates a story arc. The students can also see if it is similar or different from book to book within a series. Students will connect each novel naturally. They will make inferences about the author, and find consistency among different novels. 

For reasons to utilize a read-aloud in the Middle School Classroom, read our blog about it here!

2. Pair a Read-Aloud with a Novel Unit

As you teach a novel unit, simultaneously choose a read-aloud by the same author. I did this when we studied Mighty Miss Malone. I used Christopher Paul Curtis’s novel Bud, Not Buddy as our read-aloud at the same time. In fact, in Bud, Not Buddy, worlds collide when Deza from Mighty Miss Malone is featured. It was an awesome moment when students realized this. (I got bonus points for not revealing this meet-up until we came across it.) 

My students were able to compare and contrast Curtis’ books. They realized that Curtis loved to write about similar themes of poverty and real life history of the Great Depression. He also loved including riding the rails. Furthermore, he included many mentions of Michigan and similar places between both novels, and even humor. Curtis has a way of executing humor beautifully in normally sad topics. My students made so many connections as we studied both of his books. 

Students will be able to learn so much as they study two novels by the same author simultaneously. 

3. Independent Reading Projects

As a middle school English teacher, I assigned one independent reading project per quarter. One particular student had a penchant for reading Gary Paulsen books. So for each independent reading project he completed, he read a different Gary Paulsen book. For the last independent reading project, he compared and contrasted all four books he had read by him that year. He made deep connections throughout the novels, inferences about Paulsen’s personality, and formed a deep attachment to this author’s books.

By forming a deep bond with an author, this student developed a love of reading. He also could easily recognize the specific author’s craft. By reading an author’s work in a variety of books, students are able to learn and recognize different writing styles. Thus, in turn, become amazing writers too.  

As a teacher, you can assign an Independent Reading Project. Students will read two books by the same author, any writer of their choosing, and form connections between the two.

Here is a FREE project that does just that:  Author Study Independent Reading Project. 

If you’re interested in exploring Gary Paulsen projects for the classroom, take a look at our resource here.

Conclusion

Pam Munoz Ryan is an author you must add to your bookshelves if you have not done so. Her books are enthralling, contain profound life lessons and deep themes, and are always hopeful. By completing an author study in the classroom, students gain the benefit of learning a particular author’s writing style. They also form deep connections between books and attachments to an author. Consider using Pam Munoz Ryan as an author study in your classroom to begin!

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Women’s History Month: Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman’s Climbing Hills: An Inspiration to All

Amanda Gorman was initially thrust into the spotlight when she made her debut in 2021 as the youngest poet in history to speak at a presidential inauguration. She was only twenty-two years old. With her red headband and bright yellow blazer, people all across America leaned in to hear her poetic and articulate words. She inspired boys, girls, young and old with her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” spoken at President Biden’s swearing-in ceremony. 

The media, for weeks afterward, educated Americans on Amanda Gorman. A cum laude Harvard University graduate, a New York Times writer, winner of countless awards, and a published author, this Californian native has accomplished so much in her twenty-three years. Hailed as the next Maya Angelou, Gorman is beautiful, poised, and intelligent. She is a wonderful woman to learn about during Women’s History Month in March. 

The daughter of a sixth-grade English teacher, Amanda loved reading and had restricted access to television as a child. Amanda Gorman’s life story is inspirational and can teach young children the art of overcoming adversity. Now an accomplished and articulate public speaker of wonderfully-written words, she has dealt with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment since she was a child. She also struggled with the sound of the letter “R” until she was twenty years old. These challenges did not stop her from writing and reading her work aloud. 

Amanda Gorman stated in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, “I’m really grateful for that experience because it informs my poetry. I think it made me all that much stronger of a writer when you have to teach yourself how to say words from scratch. When you are learning through poetry how to speak English, it lends to a great understanding of sound, pitch, of pronunciation, so I think of my speech impediment not as a weakness or a disability, but as one of my greatest strengths.”

Amanda Gorman, as a young woman, is relational to the students of today. So often, students are learning about figures from the past, but to see a young woman who is alive now and making achievements in the world of poetry, literature, and the arts can inspire them to make the world a better place through their passions.

Here are some excellent books to teach all about Amanda Gorman from elementary to middle school. 

Book 1 – Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem

From an author’s perspective, students can appreciate and see Amanda as a writer through this beautiful picture book which details one of her eloquent poems. 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In this stirring, much-anticipated picture book by presidential inaugural poet and activist Amanda Gorman, anything is possible when our voices join together. As a young girl leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes—big or small—in the world, in their communities, and in most importantly, in themselves. 

With lyrical text and rhythmic illustrations that build to a dazzling crescendo by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long, Change Sings is a triumphant call to action for everyone to use their abilities to make a difference.

Book 2Amanda Gorman (Little People, Big Dreams)

Publisher’s Synopsis: 

From an early age, Little Amanda read everything she could get her hands on, from books to cereal boxes. Growing up with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment, Amanda had to work hard, but ultimately she took great strength from her experiences.

After hearing her teacher read aloud to the class, she knew that she wanted to become a poet, and nothing would stand in her way. At the age of 19, she became America’s first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. And, after performing her inspiring poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ at the Presidential Inauguration in January 2021, she became an icon across the world.

Book 3 – Amanda Gorman (My Itty-Bitty Bio)

I recently discovered these Itty Bitty Bio books, which are perfect for pre-school to younger elementary grades. 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The My Itty-Bitty Bio series are biographies for the earliest readers. This book examines the life of National Youth Poet Laureate and activist Amanda Gorman in a simple, age-appropriate way that will help young readers develop word recognition and reading skills. Includes a table of contents, author biography, timeline, glossary, index, and other informative backmatter.

Book 4 – Call Us What We Carry

I just purchased this book for my classroom! I am reading it right now in preparation for April’s Poetry Month. Utilizing her poems from this collection will be so exciting. My favorite part so far is how relational the poems are for young people. Many of the poems are about being a student during Covid. It captures the uneasiness, sadness, and fear of the times. Here is a quick excerpt from her poem “School’s Out.” 

The announcement

Swung blunt as an axe-blow:

All students were to leave

Campus as soon as possible

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

Book 5 – The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country 

This book is of Gorman’s famous poem, The Hill We Climb, the poem that put her on the map. 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On January 20, 2021, Amanda Gorman became the sixth and youngest poet to deliver a poetry reading at a presidential inauguration. Taking the stage after the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, Gorman captivated the nation and brought hope to viewers around the globe with her call for unity and healing. Her poem “The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country” can now be cherished in this special gift edition, perfect for any reader looking for some inspiration. Including an enduring foreword by Oprah Winfrey, this remarkable keepsake celebrates the promise of America and affirms the power of poetry.

Activities to Complete with The Hill We Climb

Last year, after the presidential inauguration, I had my middle-school students watch Amanda Gorman deliver this poem. Afterward, we read it together and identified similes, metaphors, personification, imagery, and alliteration present in the poem. It is a treasure trove of figurative language!

We also discussed how “The Hill” is a metaphor. We made a list out of all the “hills” Amanda could possibly be referring to, from racism to Covid, from personal struggles to America’s core issues. 

Next, I had students write a paragraph response about their own personal hill. The hill they will need to climb in their lives and how they could climb it. Some chose to write about Covid. Others wrote about academic struggles, family issues, or anxiety. It was an eye-opening activity for students and myself to see what makes them tick. In addition, I learned what bothers them and how they are trying to overcome this adversity in their lives. We discussed ways to overcome these challenges and talked about how Gorman overcame her own challenges. Students could even turn their responses into their own poems. 

The next day, I had students illustrate a visual from The Hill We Climb. From “gold-limbed hill,” to “lake-rimmed cities,” to “light in this never-ending shade,” and “the belly of the beast,” students drew and colored. The main focus of their drawing is the image pictured while they read the poem. They wrote a response detailing why they chose that image and what it could mean.

To use this same activity, click below for a FREE PDF with Google Slides.

To incorporate music into a lesson on  The Hill We Climb, we listened to the Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb,” and read the lyrics.

We discussed the meaning behind Cyrus’ song and compared it to Gorman’s poem. We discussed how we all have a hill we must climb. Furthermore, we discussed how Cyrus’ song helps point out that it’s not necessarily the destination, but the journey that counts. 

We also have an awesome bulletin board for Women’s History Month available right now with original clip art you won’t find anywhere else. It is a print-and-go bulletin board, complete with inspirational quotes.

Want to buy from ETSY, click picture.
Want to purchase from TpT, click here.

Conclusion

Amanda Gorman’s eloquent, gripping, and stimulating poetry is a gift to students. Her presence as a young female poet can inspire generations. Most importantly, students can see history made before their eyes. Furthermore, Amanda Gorman joins the amazing list of great poets of history, such as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson. Amanda Gorman would make a wonderful woman for students to learn about during Women’s History Month in March. 

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Women’s History Month: 4 Activities for The Diary of Anne Frank

Women’s History Month, coming up in March, is a wonderful time to honor women who have made monumental contributions to this world, whether through math, science, social justice, or through the written word.

Anne Frank did just that through her diary. 

The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most haunting books I have ever read or taught. Anne Frank’s own penned words tell the bitter-sweetness of living in hiding with her family and other Jewish individuals for two years during the Holocaust. 

Her diary is raw, honest, and unfiltered. From writing about her frustrations concerning her own mother to telling about her crushes on boys, Anne leaves nothing to the imagination. A girl, who bared her heart on paper and never imagined it would be read, has transformed what we know about what it was like to live during the Holocaust and be a teenager during this harrowing time.

The diary itself is suitable for grades 7 and up, but even if you are an elementary teacher, Anne Frank is a wonderful young girl to learn about during Women’s History Month in March.

Anne Frank, the daughter of Otto and Edith, was born in Germany and later lived in Amsterdam once her father relocated due to work. Anne and her family went into hiding in 1942 after Anne’s sister, Margot, was called up to report to camp. Anne’s diary portrays the two years they were in hiding, leading up to 1945 when the diary eerily ends. Anne and her family were discovered and taken to a concentration camp. From there, Anne died at the age of fifteen years old from typhus fever at Bergen-Belsen Camp. 

If you are unable to teach about Anne Frank from her actual diary because of the age of your students, the following are great books that explore all about Anne, as well.

Just thirty-seven pages and suitable for the ages of 5-10, this picture book is historical, age-appropriate, and contains wonderful illustrations. 

At 112 pages and suitable for ages 8-12, this short novel is perfect to learn about the basic major details of Anne’s life. You can never go wrong with a Who Was book. 

For second to fifth graders, this book is a more gentle way to introduce the Holocaust and Anne’s life to children. The book is narrated by her real-life cat, Mouschi, and explores the pets of the Holocaust as well as Anne’s life, including the guilt she feels for living in comfortable surroundings while her friends are in a concentration camp. Real excerpts are included in this picture book as well. 

4 Activities for Anne Frank

Once you have taught your students about Anne Frank’s life, here are 4 activities you can utilize. 

Epitaph

Anne sadly died at the young age of fifteen at a concentration camp after having endured illness and separation from her family. 

I discussed with students what an epitaph is and how these are words written on someone’s gravestone. Epitaphs are chosen carefully to commemorate that person’s life, to honor them, and to let others know about this person. 

I tasked students to write an epitaph about a person from The Diary of Anne Frank. The epitaph had to be six lines, including their birth and death dates, and honor as well as a detail this person’s life. The epitaph was then written on a poster-board gravestone cut-out I created. Students had to also include an image that would show this person’s life. Some students chose to select the Star of David that Jewish people had to wear, or a pen to honor Anne. It is a sorrowful, yet poignant activity. 

Life Narrative

Anne’s diary was her life narrative. She revealed that one of her deepest desires was to grow up and become a writer. Sadly, even though she did not grow up in the standard sense of the word, she did, in fact, become a writer. 

“I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the greatest question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

In class, we discuss how Anne used writing to release her emotions, from anger to joy. She viewed writing and her diary as her friend. She even named her diary Kitty. We talked about how writing can be a true outlet for us if we utilize it as such.

During our unit of The Diary of Anne Frank, I have students write a narrative of a time in their lives. Students have to essentially write about an event they experienced, just like Anne penned two years of her life. Some students chose happy events like visiting Disneyworld, and others chose a more serious event like a car accident. 

Nevertheless, I wanted my students to see that writing can become a gift in their lives, just like it was to Anne. It was a channel for her to express her emotions, and I wanted students to be able to have that avenue as well. After all, writing is something that cannot be taken away from you.

Make Your Own Diary

Even though I teach 8th graders this book, the idea of making their own diary could transcend all grade levels. The fact that Anne’s diary was kept by a family friend, Miep, and later turned into a published book with the permission of her surviving father, shows how influential someone’s private thoughts can be when made public.

Anne’s diary can inspire generations of writers to explore their feelings and thoughts through the written word. Students can write a daily diary while they read this novel, or you can simply assign a prompt where students create a 4-5 diary entry writing piece that explores any time in their life. 

Here is a freebie I shared in last week’s blog for students to write a diary during the time of the pandemic. Check it out here!

Quote Illustration

Anne was an extremely intelligent young girl with an extensive vocabulary and a wondrous way with words. Her diary is full of eloquent and articulate quotes. 

After reading the novel, students explore what they’ve read to find a quote that truly impacted them on a personal level. They write this quote on an index card.

Their chosen quote is then illustrated either through symbolic colors, small drawings, or a combination. On the back of their card, they write a paragraph explaining why they felt drawn to this quote. 

One particular quote that Anne wrote in her very last entry, which became ironic, yet fitting was, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” 

Another widely chosen quote by my classes is, The young are not afraid of telling the truth.”

Anne’s words still touch and inspire generations today. 

Conclusion

Anne Frank was a strong, courageous, insightful, and remarkable young woman. Anne Frank is a perfect personification of what we honor during Women’s History Month: a woman who made tremendous contributions to this world. Anne did so through her enthralling diary. Her quote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” was actualized in her words and can inspire our students to do just that. 

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