QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES TO USE WITH BOOKS BY SUZANNE WILLIAMS
Mommy Doesn’t Know My Name
A first/second grade teacher I know uses this book as part of a unit on self-esteem. After she reads the story, children talk about names their parents use that “make them feel warm and loved.” Then they draw pictures of themselves looking like one of the names used at home (similar to the book’s illustrations). On another day, the class discusses names that don’t feel warm, and how it feels to be called those kinds of names. The teacher then asks children to share what name they would like to be called by at school, and in what situations “pet” names are okay. (She says children usually tell her they like their parents to use pet names at home, but at school they only want to be called by their first names.) Other teachers simply have children use the pattern in the story (“I’m not a _________, I’m _______.”) to create individual pages for a class book similar to my book. (Pages might start “Sometimes my mommy calls me ________.”)
Questions to discuss and/or write about: Are you a reader? Why or why not? How much is too much TV? How much TV do you watch compared to how much you read? Why do some people read more than other people? Why did Bill change and become more interested in books? Is it important to be a good reader? Why or why not? How can a person become a better reader? What makes a person want to become a better reader? Here’s a good “sentence starter” to use as a follow-up to Library Lil to help you get to know students as readers: What you should know about me as a reader is…
Library Lil can also be used in tall tales units. Students might like to write their own tall tales choosing a hero whose occupation is one they’re familiar with. What special tall tale strengths might a dentist (or a doctor, a teacher, a firefighter, etc.) possess? What problems might they encounter in their work that could be solved with special tall tale strengths? Have students look for examples of hyperbole (“Lil threw motorcycle after motorcycle onto a stack reading up toward the moon.”) and simile (“He spat the words out like bullets.”)
My Dog Never Says Please
Discuss the meaning of the saying “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” Ginny Mae thinks a dog’s life is much easier than her own–until she actually experiences a dog’s life. Ask children if they’ve ever had experiences where something they thought they wanted to do turned out to be not as much fun as they’d hoped. Students might like to share and/or write about these experiences.
Writers often use dialogue (and character thoughts and action) to show what characters are like, and to make characters different from one another. (For example: Ginny would never say–as her little brother Jack does–“I always remember to use the magic word.”)
After reading the story ask students to come up with words that describe Ginny Mae, Jack, and Ginny Mae’s parents. (ex. Ginny Mae: messy, frustrated, feels “put upon”) Now re-read the story, paying attention to what the characters say (and do). Does each character’s words and actions “fit” with the descriptive words students have chosen? A good “fit” makes a character seem more “real.”
Old MacDonald in the City
In this book, Old MacDonald travels to the city where his food cart is visited by squirrels, dogs, cats, pigeons, ants, etc. Have students brainstorm other places OldMacDonald could go – China, Antarctica, Outer Space, the Rain Forest, Oregon Trail—and reconstruct the song using a list of animals/things found in that place. This would make a great class book.
— Idea contributed by Barbara Gutzler, Library Media Specialist
Emily At School
Making new friends is not easy. To discuss: Why did Emily and Alex get off to a bad start with each other in the first chapter? What might they have done differently? Why did Alex follow Emily around? We can sometimes guess what someone may be feeling by the way he acts. (Here you may want to discuss the concept of body language.) Why did Emily decide to invite Alex to read with her and Jenny? Which of Alex’s actions helped Emily guess how he was feeling?
Chapter Two is about making mistakes. There is a really big mistake on pages 26 and 27, where the illustration and the text don’t match. Can you see what is missing? Everybody makes mistakes, even people who make books! Why did Emily think her teacher didn’t like her? How do you think Mrs. Brown really felt about Emily? Why do you think that? Students might like to share and/or write about a time they made a mistake, describing what happened, how they felt about it, and what they learned from the experience.
In Chapter Three Emily wants to play hopscotch, but Alex and Jenny want to play an imaginary game. To discuss: How does Emily solve this problem, and what does she learn as a result? Have you ever had an experience similar to Emily’s where you and a friend (or friends) couldn’t agree on what you wanted to do together? What happened? Were you able to solve the problem in a way that satisfied everyone? Why or why not? What did you learn from the experience?
Edwin and Emily
Emily is younger in this book than in Emily At School. In fact, in Chapter Two we see that she’s too young to understand about school rules when she and her brother Edwin play “school.” Like Edwin and Emily, lots of children play “pretend games.” To discuss: How are “pretend games” different from board, video or computer games? What’s a pretend game you’ve played? How is the game played? Who plays with you? Students might like to write about a pretend game experience. Or they might like to write about experiences playing in the snow (Chapter One).
In Chapter Three Edwin thinks Emily is a pest when she keeps coming into his room and asking for things. Why didn’t Edwin realize what Emily was doing? At the end of the story, why did Edwin give Emily his candy bar? Emily gives Edwin back half saying “it’s too much candy for me.” Why else might she have given him half? Brothers and sisters don’t always get along well, but deep down they really do care about each other. Students might like to share and/or write about a time a brother, sister (or friend) did something nice for them.
Secret Pal Surprises
Tommy misjudges Jake at the beginning of this story. Discuss why that was so. What causes Tommy to change his opinion of Jake as the story progresses? Making quick judgments about people we meet is a very human thing to do. Students might like to discuss or write how their opinion of someone in their lives changed as they got to know that person better. Tommy had trouble admitting to Elizabeth about tearing her fan, and he never told her about gluing on the legs of her clay turtle. To discuss or write about: Have you ever accidentally broken something, but been unable to ‘fess up? Tell about that experience. At the end of the book we find out that Jennifer had been taking things from other kids in the classroom. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the teacher, Mrs. Hall, handled the situation? Why or why not? Which character in the book would you most like to have as a friend? Why? Students might also like to discuss or write about “secret pal” experiences they have had.
From the Writing Curriculum Files
of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams