Author study: paul fleischman

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Teresa Hjellming

Spring 2009

Reading the World of Children’s & YA Lit


Part One: In the Beginning

This project’s nascence came from learning that Paul Fleischman would be a visiting author at CAC next year. I opted to read all his works available at CAC and develop a lesson (or lessons) from that to make the author visit more meaningful for my students. Options for students’ work include doing an author study as well (which would likely generate questions about the writer and his craft, as well as text-specific questions). The author study would be part of a Choice Book unit, and due to limited number of copies would need to be completed over time so books could be passed around among students; specific tasks would include a Reading Record, specifically for reactions and generation of questions for Mr. Fleischman. However, I’ve decided for my presentation to focus on one work, Seedfolks and design lesson(s) around it.

Part Two: The Lesson

Materials: class set of Seedfolks, 2 copies of each chapter

Lesson Time: 2-5 class periods (by teacher preference)

Previous Lesson: perspectives lesson, detailed study with Voices in the Park

With 13 voices in this book, read-aloud volunteers needed. Have gender match and, if possible and students are open to it, ethnicity as well: Kim (Vietnamese girl), Ana (older white woman), Wendell (middle aged white man), Gonzalo (Guatemalan boy), Leona (African-American woman), Sam (man), Virgil (young son of Haitian immigrant), Sae Young (Korean woman/wife), Curtis (young African-American man), Nora (British nurse), Maricela (16-year-old pregnant Mexican girl), Amir (Indian man), and Florence (African-American woman).

Complete two read-alouds: after the first, ask students whose stories and what details struck them, as well as what they notice about the book overall; after the second, ask students what else struck them. Note responses and develop follow-up questions based on responses. Ask students if they noticed what voices are not heard (e.g., Lateesha, Royce, Mr. Miles); may need to set this up before the second read-aloud. Ask students what they think is the purpose of the garden and what they think are the central themes of this novel.

In pairs, ask students to focus on 1-2 chapters for a detailed study (use paper copies here). Their work could include: color marking; theme(s); purpose of this voice; analysis of tone, diction, characterization; links to other chapters and overall theme(s), etc. Pairs report to class and hand in notes.

Repeat probing questions from early to seek extensions: what is the purpose of the garden? How is the garden both symbol and extended metaphor? What are the central themes of this novel and how are they developed? Additional questions are likely to come from students’ responses to first and second read-alouds.

In pairs or alone, ask students to write a chapter for a voice that is present in the book but not represented by a chapter. This pastiche needs to adopt the tone, style, theme(s), realism, etc. from Fleischman’s original text. This can be either a short writing assignment with a debrief on the process or a writers’ workshop assignment with peer review and revisions (target audience: other classes doing this assignment, Mr. Fleischman).

Part Three: All Good Things Must End…unfortunately
Several texts discovered through the course have fired my imagination and I’m looking forward to incorporating them into the curriculum. I enjoyed the Author Study, even though some of his books left me flat and would only be recommended to students if they wanted to do an author study themselves. The gems from my Reading Record include: Voices from the Park, Seedfolks, Whirligig, Good Enough, Deadline, Mind’s Eye, Breakout, Helicopter Man, and God Went to Beauty School. In terms of other activity related to the course: I posted on the Wiki, shared interesting reads with colleagues, and introduced Marion to Seedfolks, which she then used in her Creative Writing class. Thank you for the experience and opportunity to read, Peter; giving up several Saturday mornings never felt like a hardship. This sparked a desire to make the time to keep reading even though the class is over, and I imagine I’ll become one of your groupies retaking the class next year!

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