I’m so excited to be here at the Middle Grade Book Village to tell you about the teaching guide that I developed for my middle-grade debut, THE MIRACULOUS (learn more about the novel at the bottom of the post).
The first part of this post is for educators who may be interested in using the guide with readers. The second part is for authors who might want to make guides for their own books.
The guide can be found here: https://www.jessredman.com/resources.
I decided to create this teaching guide because it’s a dream of mine for students to read and discuss THE MIRACULOUS together. I know how much work teachers put into prepping and running classes, so I wanted to provide materials that would make bringing THE MIRACULOUS into the classroom that much easier.
THE MIRACULOUS is a story about facing grief, seeking community support, and finding light even when the world seems dark. Big questions and big feelings are explored with a message of hope and wonder at the end. With in-text journal entries, a unique seven-part structure, and mysteries that will keep readers turning pages, THE MIRACULOUS would make a great choice (in my totally unbiased opinion) for a classroom read-aloud, whole-class/school text, book club, summer reading list, or independent read.
The guide that I created is aligned with Common Core Standards for 5th grade, but it can be applied for grades 3-8. I broke the guide into four sections:
- Before You Read—Pre-reading questions that deal with the themes of the story, as well as the epigraphs.
- As You Read—Questions for each of the seven parts of the story. These questions can be used as reflection questions, written or discussed aloud, and as jumping off points for other prompts and activities.
- After You Read—Ten big-picture discussion questions to use after the story has been read. For book clubs or reports, this is the part of the guide I recommend.
- Readings Activities—Extension activities, including an exploration of names used in the story, research projects related to the archetype of the World Tree and the meaning of miracles, an art project for cover design, and prompts related to the ending of the story and perspective.
I loved creating this guide because it gave me an opportunity to pull out and share some of the many strands that I wove into this story. I love that readers will get to explore not just the surface of the text, but some of its depths. Being a therapist, some of my questions focus on readers’ feelings and reactions to the story, and I hope that this produces some positive and connecting conversations.
So please check out the guide, and see if it’s something you would like to introduce to your students! I will be offering some free Skype visits to classes and groups who read the book as well, and you can find out more about that, plus book trailers, a chapter one read aloud, and more on my website: www.jessredman.com.
My experience in the education system is teaching psychology classes as an adjunct professor and being a humungous school nerd. I was the kid who got 110% on projects because I just did WAY TOO MUCH (perhaps some of you can relate!). I tried to bring that school nerd energy to this teaching guide.
Whenever I’m doing an author-ly project, the first step is always researching what other authors have done, and there are some wonderful teaching guides out there. Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen, for example, created a detailed and gorgeous teaching guide for EVERY SHINY THING (https://lauriemorrisonwrites.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Teaching-Guide-for-Every-Shiny-Thing.pdf) , and www.MacKidsEducators.com has some fantastic guides as well for stories like WISHTREE and HOW TO STEAL A DOG.
I chose to go the more involved route of creating pre-reading questions, questions to answer while reading, post-reading questions, and extension activities. I would say, however, that a discussion guide of 10 big picture questions is also an excellent and much faster route.
I am new to the world of designing, but I used Canva to create this teaching guide. I started with a letterhead template for the first page because I wanted a header featuring my book cover and a footer with relevant links and publisher info. I chose fonts and a color scheme to carry throughout the document to add cohesion. You can find their website here: https://www.canva.com/
When I started this project, I didn’t know very much about Common Core State Standards, and they sounded intimidating to figure out. They are, in fact, very straight forward. Some states do not follow Common Core and some are doing away with them, but it’s still widely-used and probably signals to teachers that you have done your research.
The first thing I did was read the English Language Arts standards, which can be found here: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/. I focused on the standards for Reading: Literature, Writing, and Language, as well as one from Speaking & Listening for an extension activity that asked readers to give a presentation/speech.
I found that the standards acted as prompts for my questions, which gave me some direction and clarity. For example, standard RL.5.4 states, “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.” In my guide, I have a question that quotes a figurative language-filled line from THE MIRACULOUS, and then asks the reader to explain the quote’s meaning.
I also added quite a few standard-less questions that I came up with on my own.
Some guides specify which standards apply to individual questions. I did not do this, but you certainly can. Instead, I specified which standards were used in each section of the guide (pre-reading questions, extension activities, etc.). This was less time-consuming for me, but, hopefully, will still be useful for educators.
I used the standards for grade 5, because my story can be used for upper elementary and middle-school. If you write upper middle grade, you may want to use grade 6 or 7 standards; lower middle-grade might go down to grade 3 or 4. There is a lot of overlap between the grades’ standards, however, so they are easily adaptable.
My best advice is to try to approach the story as a brand-new reader—what questions would you have? What would you want to know more about? What would you be surprised by? What did you leave out that your readers might be interested to know? Creating a guide allows you to provide readers with more insight into the world of your story, further engaging them and sparking their imaginations. It can be time-consuming, but it’s also fun and, hopefully, worthwhile!
Jess Redman has wanted to be an author since age six, when her poem “I Read and Read and Read All Day” appeared in a local anthology. It took a little while though. First, she did things like survive middle school, travel around the world, become a therapist, and have two kids.
But then finally, her childhood dream came true! Her middle-grade debut, THE MIRACULOUS, will be published by FSG/Macmillan on July 30, 2019. Her second middle-grade novel, QUINTESSENCE, will be out on July 28, 2020. You can find her at www.JessRedman.com.
THE MIRACULOUS: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374309749
In the tradition of heartwrenching and hopeful middle grade novels such as Bridge to Terabithia comes Jess Redman’s stunning debut about a young boy who must regain his faith in miracles after a tragedy changes his world.
Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracle-collector. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. And he believes every single one. But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles can’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. He stops believing.
Then he meets Faye―a cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an abandoned house by the cemetery and a mysterious old woman who just might be a witch. The old woman asks them for their help. She asks them to believe. And they go on a journey that leads to friendship, to adventure, to healing―and to miracles.
The Miraculous is Jess Redman’s sparkling debut novel about facing grief, trusting the unknown, and finding brightness in the darkest moments.
Praise for THE MIRACULOUS:
“Redman explores faith, the intertwined nature of sorrow and joy, and the transformative process of grief through Wunder’s eyes in a part-fantasy, part-realistic adventure with genuinely humorous moments…Layered, engaging, and emotionally true.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Redman’s gorgeous debut uses a cozy world of bright characters to tackle themes of death, grief, and doubt with gentle compassion and a light touch…a moving lesson for young people learning to cope with both the good and the bad that life has to offer.” —Booklist
“Filled with longing, love, hope, and wisdom, THE MIRACULOUS is a small miracle of a book.” —Alison McGhee, author of SHADOW BABY and the NYT Bestseller SOMEDAY
“Exquisitely crafted, serious, yet woven through with wry humor, this story’s miracles are its fierce and tender characters. I loved this extraordinary debut.” —Leslie Connor, author of the National Book Award Finalist THE TRUTH AS TOLD BY MASON BUTTLE
“A stunning story expressing the complexities and mysteries of love and death in all of its light and darkness. A beautifully rendered and meaningful read for young readers asking deep questions.” —Veera Hiranandani, author of Newbery Honor-winning THE NIGHT DIARY