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.”

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  • 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.

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

Posted in Skill Spotlights

Skill Spotlight: Retelling

Retelling is a perfect skill to work on at the beginning of the school year. It’s the foundation for so much of the deeper comprehension work that you’ll do as the year goes on.  Sometimes, though, getting kids to retell can feel like pulling teeth.  (Just say what happened!   Just tell it in order!)

When this happens, the cause often comes down to our text selection (our own pick of the lit, you might say.)

Children’s literature often seems deceptively simple.  However these books, like all narrative text, can be organized with a wide variety of plot structures.  The more complex the plot structure, the harder the text will be to retell.

Take, for instance, Vera B. William’s A Chair for My Mother.  Its 32 pages and brightly colored illustrations might make it seem uncomplicated.  But in these 32 pages, readers must navigate a flashback, as the narrator remembers when the family’s old apartment burned down.  The action then returns to the present and the quest for the chair.  This text might present the first opportunity some students will have navigating a text that doesn’t follow a chronological timeline.  Retelling here would require students to have understood that the story went back in time and returned to the present, and then to be able to reorganize that information in order to retell.

26502934915_d094068906_bRobert McCloskey’s classic Blueberries for Sal is another text that appears simpler than it actually is.  We could call this a “meanwhile” story.  McCloskey alternates between telling us what Sal and her mother are doing and what the baby bear and the baby bear’s mother are doing.  All of the action is happening simultaneously, but is relayed separately, presenting a challenge for a reader who must retell what Sal was doing and, meanwhile, what the baby bear was doing.  Not so easy.

 As teachers, then, text selection is key to the success of any reading lesson in which we aim to teach retelling.   We must examine books with the lens of plot organization and choose according for our students’ needs.  If students struggle, we should treat plot structure as a continuum along which we can move students in their retelling work, moving from the most basic structures to the more complex.

Here is a list of some plot structures commonly found in picture books, arranged from easiest to most difficult, along with titles that fit the category. Use these lists to guide your students to become master retellers!

1. Beginning, Repetitive Pattern, Ending

This is the most simple of narrative structure, and thus the simplest to retell.  The story begins, something keeps on happening, then something might change to bring about the ending.  Many early readers follow this structure, making the text predictable to decode and the plot easier to hold on to. Beginning

Books that follow this plot structure:

2. Rising Action-simple

story mountainAfter students have mastered the retelling of the “beginning, repeating pattern, ending” retell, they will be ready to retell stories with a simple problem/solution structure, also referred to as a Rising Action structure, represented in the image to the left.  The mountain itself is lopsided, because so much more of a story is generally dedicated to the rise up to the problem and the attempts to solve it, than to the resolution of the story.  The vast majority of children’s stories follow this plot structure.  Variability for difficulty might come in the length of the “seeds of trouble” and “attempts to fix the problem” sections of the plot.

Books with a simple rising action structure:

3. Rising Action -complex

These stories share a similar structure to the rising action-simple stories above, but that story mountain might have a few more peaks and valleys on the way up or down.  You might even be climbing two mountains at once (hello, subplots!).  These would be our stories with flashbacks, flashforwards, or large jumps in time,  our “meanwhile” stories, stories with parallel plots, subplots, or stories with multidimensional problems.   These could each have their own category, but for the purpose of picking books for retelling, if the text you are considering has any of these, know that it is going to present a deeper challenge.

Books with a complex rising action structure: