A Sibling Relationship Brought to Life

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies reminded me of my own relationship with my sister growing up. The main characters, Evan and Jessie live with their mother. Evan is a charismatic fourth grader, who has strong interpersonal skills. Jessie is academically strong, yet she lacks her brother’s social graces. The problem in the story is that Jessie will be skipping third grade and has been assigned to Evan’s fourth grade class in the fall.

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Evan worries that his genius sister will make him look dumb in front of his peers, meanwhile Jessie worries about fitting in. Each character’s insecurities build and result in the declaration of a lemonade stand war. 

The Lemonade War (Guided Reading Level: S) is great for readers in grades 3-5. The characters’ actions and reactions are very realistic. The real-life problems will engage readers, and they will want to keep reading to find what happens. Since teaching conflict resolution has been on my mind lately, I really liked that Evan and Jessie demonstrated ways to communicate effectively and to problem solve together. Each character is accountable for his/her actions and apologizes when appropriate.

One other aspect of the book that I found impressive was the tips for increasing sales. Real-life math problems were woven into the story along with business-aligned vocabulary (i.e. value added and gross sales).  

The Lemonade War ends with a cliffhanger, which sets up the sequel The Lemonade Crime. There are a total of five books in the series to date.

Strategies for Tackling Unfamiliar Vocabulary

Last summer as I reflected on my first year of teaching 5th grade, I considered the many skills and strategies that I wanted to weave into learning experiences throughout the year. Tackling unfamiliar vocabulary was something I knew would be helpful to all readers regardless of reading level, genre or unit of study. 

There are many reasons why I selected The BFG by Roald Dahl as the read aloud to teach into and provide opportunities for this type of work. (Guided Reading Level: U)

First of all, the plot is amazing. This is a story about the unlikely friendship between the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) and a clever young girl named Sophie. The BFG is an easily confused character, so the reader has to pay close attention to the text to make sense of what he is saying. Luckily, Sophie asks many questions to help clarify what is being said. Since our Fantasy reading unit was not until May, I thought this would be a great way to preview the genre. 

Secondly, Dahl takes the opportunity to invent a lot of vocabulary for this story. For example as a vegetarian giant, the only thing the BFG eats is a disgusting vegetable called the snozzcumber. 

Third, and most important for the purpose of the read aloud, the book contains an abundance of rich vocabulary. I reread the BFG through the lens of tricky vocabulary, and I was not disappointed. I collected these words and created a series of word banks, which I distributed to students to reference during read alouds. Each time we encountered a word in the text, we would stop to determine its meaning. (I was careful not to pick too many vocabulary words.)

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As I prepared to launch the read aloud of The BFG, it occurred to me to access the class’ previous knowledge of word solving strategies. So I opened it up to them. I asked, “What are some strategies that we already know to help us figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words?” Their answers were so strong and impressive that I charted them.

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If they were able to name so many different strategies, why did they have a hard time using them? It turned out that they simply needed opportunities to practice using them. Each time we read The BFG, I made sure the chart was in our meeting area. By the time we reached the end of the book, these young learners had become much more confident word solvers. The chart remained up in our class for the rest of the school year, and students easily transferred these skills across genres and content areas.