Posted in Book Spotlights

Book Spotlight: A Bike Like Sergio’s

I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t love Maribeth Boelts’s classroom classic, Those Shoes (Candlewick, 2007).  I’ve never had a group of students that didn’t cringe in deepest sympathy and embarrassment when Jeremy has to wear the “Mr. Alfrey shoes.” I’ve never seen a group of teachers and students who can’t talk on and on about why Jeremey really gives those cool shoes to Antonio.  It’s the best kind of book–one teachers and students are equally excited to be reading.

Boelts hits the same notes of pleasing teachers and students with A Bike Like Sergio’s (Candlewick, 2016). Students and teachers alike will connect with Ruben, who is desperate for a bike like the one his friend Sergio has. One day Ruben picks up a what he thinks is a dollar dropped by a lady in a store. It turns out to be a one hundred dollar bill. He’s rich!  With various twists and turns, Ruben loses the money, finds it again, and ultimately figures out the right thing to do.

This relatable book is sure to hook kids (there were audible gasps in second grade when Ruben realized the dollar was really a hundred dollars).  It’s also a versatile title for teaching reading comprehension skills.  Just as I did with my spotlight on The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, I will break down possible uses for this text across Jennifer Serravallo’s categories:

  • Plot and Setting
  • Characterfullsizerender-11
  • Vocabulary and Figurative Language
  • Themes and Ideas

I stickied up the text at moments that seemed to lend themselves to teaching in a particular area and compiled my list. New for this post, I also put together a menu of Text-Dependent Questions to use with this book.

Plot and Setting

  • There is more than one problem in this story and students will have to sift through the smaller problems (not having a bike, losing the money) to to realize the big issue is Ruben’s internal struggle over the money he finds.
  • Students will have to follow some small shifts in time, but all places would be familiar enough to most students to not present a challenge.


  • Character background is revealed through dialogue. A conversation between Ruben and Sergio implies that Sergio’s family has money but Ruben’s does not.  Understanding this is crucial to understanding the story.FullSizeRender 26
  • Across the text, students will need to infer Ruben’s thoughts and motivation.  Once he has the dollar he doesn’t tell his parents.  He pretends to be asleep when Dad gets home. Why?
  • The lady who drops the money and Ruben’s parents don’t play enormous roles in the story, but as secondary characters they do influence Ruben’s feelings and ultimately his actions.
  • Ruben feels complex and conflicting emotions upon taking the money and upon giving it back.  If you are working on going beyond “happy” and “sad”, this book presents a perfect gateway to “guilt”and “uneasiness.”FullSizeRender 29.jpg

Vocabulary and Figurative Language

  • I just love this page. “She walks her fingers through the cash in her wallet. Then she crosses things off.”

FullSizeRender 27.jpg

  • Similes:
    • “I squeeze my eyes shut and stay still as stone.”
    • “And like a hot blast, I remember how it was for me when that money was hers -then mine-was gone.”
    • “…the words bust loose like they’ve been waiting.”
  • When Ruben loses the money: “Leaves and money look the same. Rain and tears feel the same.”

Themes and Ideas

  • This is a great book for taking students from surface level lessons to more meaningful lessons.  Some students may initially say the lesson of this text is that you shouldn’t steal, but when they dig in, they’ll realize this book is really about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.
  • As is often the case, an older, wiser character states the lesson explicitly, as a “pearl of wisdom” if you will.

FullSizeRender 28

Do yourself a favor and read this one.  Read it just to enjoy it, then read it to grow stronger readers.

Posted in Book Spotlights

Book Spotlight: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

I cannot believe that it is October and that I haven’t posted in a month! September seemed to fly by and took summer with it. Now that my television is teeming with political ads, I find myself wishing for the simple pleasures of August’s summer Olympics.  Luckily, I have the perfect book to get my fix.

In the first of what I hope will be a regular feature, I plan to shine the spotlight on an individual book, highlighting different skills and standards to which the book lends itself particularly well.

Since this is the first post of its kind, I thought I’d start by telling you how I go about deciding what I might be able to use a book for.  I bucket my thoughts into four categories, taken from Jennifer Serravallo’s Independent Reading Assessment and The Reading Strategies Bookplot and setting, character, vocabulary and figurative language, and themes and ideas.  I give each category a different color sticky and I get going.   I read the book four times through, each time through the lens of a different category and with a different color sticky in hand.fullsizerender-11

In the end, I have loads of ideas for how I might use the text, and the book ends up looking something like this:fullsizerender-13

So, onto the book spotlight!  The Quickest Kid in Clarksville was written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison.    Alta is a girl growing up in Clarksville, Tennessee, which just happens to be the hometown of Olympic runner (and gold medalist), Wilma Rudolph.  It’s 1960 and Clarksville is throwing a parade in celebration of Wilma’s gold medals.  Alta knows she’s the quickest kid in town, just like Wilma, that is until Charmaine comes into the picture.   She’s got fancy shoes and fast feet.   Eventually, on the day of the parade, Alta, Charmaine, and their friends run the relay race of their lives to get a banner to the parade on time.

So, how could you use this book?

When I finished stickying up the book, I noticed just how many pink stickies I had (vocabulary and figurative language).
The book is just crying out to be used with standard RL.2.4: Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.

fullsizerender-12The author repeats the name “Wil-ma Ru-dolph. Wil-ma Ru-dolph,” every time the characters are running, giving their feet a beat.  She also repeatedly uses two word fragments across different pages to create a mood and a sense of rhythm  (“Arms moving.  Legs grooving,” and “Bodies lunge.  Feet tangle,” and “Feet dragging.  Head hanging.”)   This isn’t the easiest standard to match texts to and this book was positively made for it.

How else could you use this book?

Plot and Setting

  • Setting affects the plot: It matters that this story takes place in Clarksville in 1960.
  • Multiple problems: Alta has the conflict with Charmaine about who is the fastest runner, she has the problem of not having new shoes and much money, and finally the problem of getting the banner to the race on time.   Each of these ends up affecting what the character learns in the end.
  • Passage of time: Midway through the story the line, “When parade day dawns…” tells the reader that it is now the next day.
  • Identify the narrator: This story is told in the first person from Alta’s perspective.  (This also makes it a great mentor for personal narrative!)
  • Unassigned dialogue: At various points, readers need to use what is happening in the story to figure out who is speaking.


  • Infer character’s feeling: Much of what Alta is feeling must be inferred through what she says, thinks, or does, or through her facial expressions in the rich illustrations.  There are opportunities for students to go beyond “happy” or “sad” to more rich feeling words.
  • Character comparisons: Alta and Charmaine have more in common than they have differences.  They don’t see their similarities, but skillful readers will.
  • Feeling change: Alta’s feelings change about Charmaine and about herself throughout the story.  Readers will have to identify when those feelings change, how they changed, and why they changed.

Vocabulary and Figurative Language

  • Repetition and rhythm: As described above, this book is perfect for analyzing how and why authors use repetition of words, phrases, or even sentence structure.
  • Simile: There are fantastic similes in this book!  (“I puff up like a spitting cat,”  “I leap after her like a scalded frog,” and so many more).
  • Other figurative language: When describing her old sneakers, Alta laments that they have “laces that never thought to glimmer.”

Theme and Ideas

  • Lesson revealed through an “Aha Moment”: Alta realizes that shiny shoes don’t matter as long as she has her feet.  Readers will have to work to think about what this really means
  • Character change reveals lesson: Alta changes her attitude towards Charmaine and in doing so gets the banner to the parade on time–also learning something about teamwork.
  • Cross-genre work: Using Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull, readers can work to compare the lessons learned from Wilma Rudolph’s real life to the lessons learned from this work of fiction.


I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!   Happy Reading!