Author-Inspired Student Work

In my last post I shared my favorite books from children’s author, Jerry Pallotta. So many of his titles are perfect for integrating ELA content with science and social studies.

In preparation for his visit to my children’s school, the teachers read his books with their students and created some amazing books and hall displays- all inspired by Mr. Pallotta.

Get ready for some eye candy! (Teacher flavored.)

I’ll start with the amazingly creative Mrs. Greenman! She did two projects with her students; A Kentucky Derby ABC project (which involved research, informational writing, and amazing pastel resists!!) and a book innovation of Jerry Pallotta’s “Who Will…” book series.

First, look at this Kentucky Derby project. I wish you could have seen it up on the wall.  The photos don’t do it justice. My 1st grade son loved doing the research and told me how he read about the Derby and recorded facts on index cards.

Kentucky Derby ABC pages


The second project was a class book about imaginary summer plans. They had fun with this one!

Class book inspired by Jerry Pallotta


Mrs. Claxton’s class did another amazing project. They read Jerry’s The Skull Alphabet Book. Then she brought in a box of animal skulls and bones and they observed/ examined them. They also looked at the artwork of Georgia O’Keefe (who often used skulls and bones in her images.) Next they took the skulls/bones outside and held them up to the blue sky to see the natural objects “like an artist sees.” Their final project was to create artistic images of the artifacts coupled with informational writing. Isn’t that inspiring?

Skull and Bone ABCs with OKeefe
And I loved this… Jerry walked around the school and signed all the displays and class books. How awesome is that?
Have the author sign displays

There was so much inspiration on display!

It was wonderful to see how Jerry’s informational writing style motivated student writing in projects such as Mrs. Adams’ Shark Alphabet book (below.)

Shark Alphabet Book


And this was a cute idea from Mrs. Leach and her students: to combine an alphabet book with poetry writing! (And you could combine it with research too- like the Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night book I love so much. See previous post featuring that title.)

Animal Haiku ABC Book


Finally, I’ll leave you with one more beautiful example (though there were dozens and dozens more on display!) My friend, Ms. Baker, had her children create a Charleston ABC book full of historical landmarks and local symbols. The images were huge and so well done. I think an ABC book featuring your town is a fantastic idea!

Charleston ABCs
*One more thing to go back and notice: all the different ways teachers bound and formatted the student work. I need to do a post on that one of these days. The take-away: you don’t have to spend hours typing and binding! For example, the shark book mainly uses student handwriting and binder clips. Simple yet effective!

Posts in this series:

Author Visits Inspire Young Writers

7 Ways to Make an Author Visit Fabulous

Featured Author: Jerry Pallotta

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Featured Author: Jerry Pallotta

Featured Author Jerry Pallotta In my recent series on the importance of bringing “real” published authors to your school, I mentioned that Jerry Pallotta was going to be visiting my children’s school. This was a special treat for me because he was the first “real author” experience I had as a teacher- over 10 years ago!

The first thing I noticed about Jerry was that he looked exactly the same! The second thing was that he has been very busy since I saw him last. What an impressive catalog of books!

I wanted to take a moment and feature Jerry and his books because they are so helpful in the classroom. Here are three of his current series that are especially supportive in terms of connecting to content or being “easy to innovate.” (That is- easy to use as a format for student writing.)

Alphabet Book Series: This was where the magic began. Jerry’s first book was an ocean alphabet book. He now has more than 20 alphabet books to his credit. The best part is that they are non-fiction and topical in nature- a great structure for students to use in a project that integrates research with informational writing. Here are a few of my favorites:

Skull Alphabet Book The Skull Alphabet Book – This is such a cool alphabet book! Textual and visual clues in the illustrations help children to figure out which animal’s skull is being featured on this page. Unique!



butterfly alphabet book The Butterfly Alphabet Book (Jerry Pallotta’s Alphabet Books)

This is a beautiful book. General information on butterflies is presented, as well as interesting facts about the different species of butterflies.



icky bug alphabet book The Icky Bug Alphabet Book (Jerry Pallotta’s Alphabet Books)

This is one of Jerry’s “greatest hits” and is a solid match for any insect unit.




The Extinct Alphabet Book The Extinct Alphabet Book (Jerry Pallotta’s Alphabet Books)Another really cool concept! This book features 26 animals and insects that are now extinct (and no dinosaurs!) Though the cover image shows fossils and bones, many of the illustrations show what scientists believe the animals really looked like. Students are always fascinated with this book.


The Furry Alphabet Book The Furry Animal Alphabet Book
As with all Jerry’s books, this one contains a nice balance of humor, interesting facts, and illustration to present factual information. One of the things I love about these alphabet books is that they work so well with older grades in addition to younger grades.


Beetle Alphabet Book The Beetle Alphabet Book Who knew there were so many different interesting (and beautiful) beetles in the world? Another cool feature: there is a Beatles (as in the band) song title hidden in each picture. Those of us in the “older” generations have fun looking!


Who Would Win Nonfiction Series Who Would Win Series: Got any reluctant readers? Any kids who think reading is boring? This series was designed for them!

In the Who Would Win series, Jerry compares two (dangerous) animals, reptiles, fish, or insects to determine which one would win in a fight. Of course, it’s really just a great gimmick that draws children into an interesting informational text full of compelling facts, enticing illustrations, diagrams, labeled images, and a variety of non-fiction text features. My first grade son is absolutely in love with these books! However, they could be used with any grade K-5.

The Who Would Win books don’t seem to be available on Amazon but you can order all of Jerry’s books through his personal website. That might be your easiest option- especially if your school wanted to put together a larger order.

Jerry also has some great “story books” that I love. Here are a few recommendations:

Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta Dory Story – This is an adventure story combined with a lesson about the food chain. A little boy sneaks out in his dory to look for plankton, only to see bigger and bigger fish. Things get dramatic when the boat capsizes… but the surprise ending makes it all OK. Really nice story.



A Giraffe Did One A Giraffe Did One – What do people and animals and insects and fish all have in common? Poop! Enough said. (Fun and cute book. Kids love it.)





Who Will Plant A Tree? Who Will Plant a Tree?– I used to think that teaching children about “seed dispersal” was one of my more boring teaching tasks. I needed this book! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an interesting and beautifully illustrated book about the various ways in which seeds travel and are planted. (And yes, poop makes another “appearance.”)

Finally, his holiday series is a lot of fun. Check those out too.

The best thing about studying Jerry Pallotta’s work with your students is that he is great at making informational text fun and interesting. It isn’t easy to share factual information with a strong and unique “voice” but Jerry pulls it off. He has a wonderful sense of humor and it comes across in his writing. (And during his talks with children and teachers.) If you’d like more information on Jerry’s visits to schools, see his website.

His books make wonderful mentor texts for your students. You can anchor a non-fiction writing project with an alphabet book or a “Who would win?” format. These are easy structures for children to use when organizing their information.

In my next post I’ll share some examples of student work inspired by Jerry’s books… you will be inspired!

Other posts in this series:

Author Visits Inspire Young Writers

7 Ways to Make an Author Visit Fabulous

Would you Like to Follow Wonder Teacher?

Receive an email when there is a new post:: Follow on Facebook:: Follow on Twitter:: Follow on Pinterest:: Read in a FeedBurner

A Favorite Noodlehead Story Series

Epossumondas Noodlehead Series- fun read alouds! Are you familiar with “noodlehead” stories? These are stories in which a well-intentioned character takes instructions too literally- usually with comical results. (Also known as literal language stories.) The Amelia Bedelia series is a prime example of “noodlehead” storytelling.

The other day when I was visiting Chrissy Greenman’s room, I asked her to share her favorite children’s books with me. Lo and behold, I once again found “old” books that were new to me. That is always a thrill!

The series is the Epossumondas series by Coleen Salley and illustrated by Janet Stevens. Oh what fun! Epossumondas is a baby possum (wearing diapers!) being raised by his Lousiana mama (who happens to be the spitting image of Coleen Salley.) Mama gives Epossumondas specific directions, but he sometimes takes them too literally and makes quite a mess!

These books are absolutely delightful and make perfect read-alouds for the K-3 age group. (I dare say that older kids would like them too!) The illustrations are full of personality and are done in an effective mixed media style. Kudos to Janet Stevens for adding so much depth to the text through her images.

Sadly, Coleen Salley passed away in 2008. (FYI- she published her first children’s book at the age of 72! How’s that for living a full life right up to the end?) However, she will live on forever in her Epossumondus books. I love them.

Get your best Southern accent ready (preferably Cajun, if you can pull it off,) grab a group of children, and get ready for some serious fun with reading!


Epossumondas – This is the first story in the series. It follows the typical format for a “noodlehead” story. Great for working on prediction!





Why Epossumondas Has No Hair On His Tail

Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail – This one is  a pourquoi tale as it explains why the possum has a “naked” tail.




Epossumondas Plays Possum

Epossumondas Plays Possum – Coleen Salley employs another storytelling device in this entertaining tale- the art of the cumulative narrative. In this type of narrative (also known as a “chain tale”) the storyteller repeats action or dialogue to build the story. Though the plot is usually spare in these kinds of stories, a good storyteller can pull it off. Coleen Salley is a good storyteller.


Epossumondas Saves the Day

Epossumondas Saves the Day – Finally, Epossumondas is the hero of the tale! It’s his birthday, and Mama keeps sending folks to get more “sody sallyraytus” (baking soda) for the strawberry shortcake. (The kind made with biscuits, of course.) The problem is that her helpers keep getting eaten up by the “great, huge, ugly, Louisiana snapping turtle!” Finally it’s up to Epossumondas to save his loved ones (and his party.) Great fun!

What could you do with the Epossumondas stories in your classroom? (Besides the main goal of demonstrating just how fun reading can be!) Here are a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Teach a writing mini-lesson modeling how authentic dialogue strengthens an author’s voice. (These books are the perfect anchor text for this lesson.)
  • Read other “noodlehead” stories (like Amelia Bedelia) and comapre/contrast the characters.
  • Invite students to write their own “noodlehead” stories during Writing Workshop. If students are young, perhaps the class can create a group story under the teacher’s guidance. Maybe another Epossumondas story?
  • Teach prediction and cause/effect. All of the Epossumondas stories (with the exception of the one about his tail) follow a fairly predictable pattern. The teacher could model prediction or cause/effect with one title and then engage the children in a guided practice of the skill with another.

Do you have any other favorite “noodlehead” stories to recommend?

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