Posted in ELA Instruction, Module 1, Picture Books

Module 1: The Plot Chickens

Title: The Plot Chickens

Author: Mary Jane and Herm Auch

ISBN: 978-0823423071

Publisher: Holiday House



The Plot Chickens details the story of Henrietta, a chicken who loves to read. After she has read all there is to read at the local library, Henrietta decides to try her hand at writing her own book. With the help of her aunts, Henrietta begins her journey to discover what makes a good story. She makes her way through the writing process, and is very proud of her final product. However, when she tries to get her writing published, she is met with only scathing reviews. One reviewer even called her work, “odoriferous” (The Plot Chickens, 2009, p.25). Henrietta doesn’t let this get her down, and she decides that she will publish her own books instead. In the end, no publisher finds any value in Henrietta’s writing, but it becomes a favorite of the kids who frequent the local library. The librarian asks Henrietta to read her story aloud to the children, and she learns that her story was just waiting for the right audience.

Auch, M. J., & Auch, H. (2009). The plot chickens. New York, NY: Holiday House.

My Impressions:

Holy cow, I loved it! This story is hilarious, and clever, while also teaching students how to follow the writing process. The characters were very well written. What especially did it for me was the speech bubbles that give the reader insight into what each of the chickens is adding to the story. Aunt Golda’s input is the best. On every page, she tries to end the story prematurely by saying something like, “Then he eats her. The end. Good story.” Aunt Golda reminds me so much of many of my students writing our writing block, who just want to get done with their writing. I can’t wait to read this to my class so that I can remind them, don’t be like Aunt Golda! I also love use of colorful vocabulary in this story. The authors do not dumb down the writing in the least, and this allows for much more interesting sentence structure, and for great teaching opportunities. Finally, The illustrations in this book are excellent. They are colorful, and do an excellent job of showing character moods and motivation through body language. Overall, this is an excellent book to read just to enjoy, or to read as a class to gain some insight into the writing process. I recommend it to readers of all ages, and for use in the classroom for elementary grades.

For use in the Library:

This title would make a great read to inspire writers. Read it to the students, and then ask them to pair up to write a story using the tips that Henrietta gives throughout the story. Remind your students, Don’t be like Aunt Golda! Take you time to develop your story. After the students are finished writing, allow them to share what they wrote. If possible, allow them to act out another group’s stories.



From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 2—Henrietta the chicken, star of Souperchicken (Holiday House, 2003), is an avid library user and decides that because reading is so much fun, “writing books must be eggshilarating.” She finds a manual of writing rules and creates her own story-with the unsolicited help of the other fowl. When it is rejected by a publisher, Henrietta decides to self-publish. She takes a copy to her librarian, who tells her to send it to The Corn Book Magazine for review. Henrietta gets another rejection: “odoriferous.” Then she wanders into the library at storytime and sees that her book was chosen best of the year by the children. Henrietta is asked to read it aloud. “She read with dramatic expression. Of course, all the children heard was BUK, BUK, BUK….” The illustrations, a combination of oil paints and digital technology, are bold and colorful. The pictures are busy, with Henrietta at her typewriter while her friends cavort around her. There are imagined scenes in cloud shapes, word balloons, and jokes aplenty. A droll chicken with a repeating line adds to the humor. This offering works on two levels. It’s a funny picture book that could be used as a manual on writing.—Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the School & Library Binding edition.

Bates, I. (2009). [Review of the book The plot chickens, by M. J. & H. Auch]. School Library Journal, 55(3), 105-106. Retrieved from:

Posted in ELA Instruction, Elementary Fiction, Module 1

Module 1: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Title of Book: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Author: Barbara Robinson

ISBN: 978-0064402750

Publisher: HarperCollins



It is time for the annual Christmas pageant, and everyone expects for it to be the same hum-drum production it is every year. Except this year, it isn’t. The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world, and when a young Peter makes the mistake of telling them that they get snacks at church, the unruly bunch of kids show up the next Sunday. It just so happens that they are organizing the pageant at church on this particular Sunday, and the Herdmans decide that they want to participate. Imogene, Ralph, and the rest are not shy about bullying their way into the spotlight. Of course, the town is appalled. The Herdmans are the most ungodly bunch around, and now Imogene is playing Mary in the pageant! Chaos ensues, and this the participants try their hardest to make the best out the turn of events. However, it soon becomes evident that the Herdmans might not ruin the pageant after all. Each of them seems to be taking their roles seriously, and are somehow growing into not so bad children. The night of the performance ends in success, and even Imogene sheds a tear as Mary presents the baby Jesus to the crowd. What could have been a disaster becomes the best Christmas pageant in town history.

Robinson, B., & Brown, J. G. (1972). The best Christmas pageant ever. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

My Impressions:

I loved this quirky Christmas story. The characters were cleverly written, and though it is pretty easy to predict the course of the plot, the humor makes it remain enjoyable. The Herdmans were such dynamic characters. It is these kids alone that keep the reader turning page after page, just to see what those crazy kids are going to do next. Likewise, I enjoyed watching all of the characters grow over the course of the book. Every person in the story seemed to have learned something about themselves that they did not know before. The plot did get somewhat bogged down in pageant scenes, and I think that a reader who is not interested in the bible story itself might become a little bored trying to wade through all of the nativity scene descriptions. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was clever and funny, and held my interest with its diverse set of characters. I would recommend this book as a classroom read aloud for grades 3-5, or to any reader who is looking for a great Christmas story.

For Use in the Library:

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever would be a great book to use to teach a characterization unit. Give a group of kids a list of character traits and descriptive adjectives, and I think they will have a lot of fun describing all of the characters. they could analyze the interactions and motivations of each of the characters in the story, and practice drawing conclusions based on evidence. This story could also be turned into a Reader’s Theater activity, where the teacher librarian chooses a scene from the book, and assigns roles for the students to act out as they read.



School Library Journal

Gr 3-6-This beloved classic by Barbara Robinson (HarpCollins, 1972) about six very unruly children who teach a whole church about the true meaning of the birth of Christ is brought to life by the narrator, C. J. Critt. By using only her voice, she gives each character its own personality. With slight voice inflections and gentle changes in the pacing of the narration, she gives listeners a real understanding of the story. While the pacing of the narration is at times a little fast during the body of the text, the pauses at commas, periods and between paragraphs are longer than normally heard in general conversation. While this doesn’t distract from the pleasure of just listening to the story, it will cause some problems if used as a read-a-long with older students. Due to the subject matter, public school libraries will find its uses limited. Since the book and the TV movie are so popular, public libraries will find a built in audience.ÄAnn West LaPrise, Detroit Public Library, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
LaPrise, A. W. (2010). [Review of the book The best Christmas pageant ever, by B. Anderson]. School Library Journal. Retrieved From:

Posted in Module 1, Picture Books

Module 1: The Runaway Bunny

 Title: The Runaway Bunny

Author: Margaret Wise Brown

ISBN: 978-0064430180

Publisher: HarperCollins



In this lovable children’s story, a young bunny decides that he wants to run away. Of course, his mom immediately replies that if he does run away, she will just come find him. The child doesn’t like this answer, and he proceeds to think different ways he could successfully get away from his mom. In a way, the exchange becomes a sort of game between the two of them. The boy says he will become a fish and swim away, but the mom just explains that she would be a fisherman and catch him. Later, the boy says he will be a rock on a mountain, but mom replies that she would be a mountain climber and climb up to him. Or he could be a sail boat, but she would become the wind that blows him about. When the baby bunny finally runs out of ideas for how to get away from his mom, he decides that he might as well just stay where he is, with his mom.

Brown, M. W., & Hurd, C. (2005). The runaway bunny. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

My Impressions:

The Runaway Bunny is a classic. I have fond memories of sitting in a recliner with my mom, listening as she read this story to me. And then when she was done, I would ask her to read it again! I loved the creative ways the baby bunny thought of successfully running away, and also the creative responses of his mom. What called to me most were the pictures. As a child, I loved seeing all of the ways the bunny and his mom evolved. For example, I like the full page spread of the baby bunny who looks like a sailboat, with his ears stretched out to form the sails, and his mom as a bunny shaped cloud in the sky, blowing the bunny-boat where she wants him to go. This story doesn’t seem to go too far with the sentimentality, and has an overarching lesson that “mom will always be there to watch out for you.” Furthermore, Margaret Wise Brown does not use simple or condescending language, so the story is able to successfully convey the lesson without sounding preachy. Overall, this is a well rounded story, and a very enjoyable read. It would make a great family read aloud before bed with the youngsters, or perhaps a story to read with Kindergarten or first graders in the library around Mother’s Day.

For Use in the Library:

This story would make a great read aloud for Mother’s Day. The class could have a beautiful discussion about all of the things that mothers do for their children. It would be great to ask someone to record the responses of the students and to make a little video to post on the school website for Mother’s Day. This would be a great way to make moms feel loved on their special day, while also helping to promote parent use of the school website.


 From Horn Book Magazine:

I don’t know that my children would agree — and I am not consulting them to find out — but high on the list of favorite read-aloud books in the house where I was the Mommy is The Runaway Bunny. As a mother, as a pillow to the warm small nestling body, as reader aloud and silent, that book satisfied. The rhythmic prose, the colorful illustrations, the balanced structure of the story, all of those contributed to our pleasure. For myself, also, there was the thought-provoking content of the book — the mother bunny who was so reassuringly always present, or was it smotheringly always present? or merely inescapably? Was I oversensitive to feel a kind of chill when I read the mother bunny’s promise, “I will be the wind and I will blow you where I want you to go”? Was I over-identifying with the child beside me in her/his longing to escape that overflowing, overwhelming Mother? The question the book raises is: What about love?

There are no answers offered, unless in the final line of the story, after the little bunny has remarked, “Shucks. I might as well stay here and be your little bunny.” The mother responds — lovingly, patiently, wisely, victoriously, smugly, above all enigmatically: “Have a carrot.”

Have a carrot, I say to my children, and they understand everything I mean. I mean, everything, including love. Whatever else it might have meant, to our children, to their parents, that line constitutes a family chord. It plays us together, and that is one of the answers about love, isn’t it?

Voigt, C. (1997). Have a carrot [Review of the book The runaway bunny, by M. W. Brown]. Horn Book Magazine, 73(2), 147. Retrieved from