January’s Sparrow by Patricia Palacco

January Theme:  Patricia Polacco picture books

Patricia Polacco is another author whose books became touchstone texts in my classroom.  Her ability to write stories that children can relate to makes it easy to see why her books became model texts.

Comprehension Strategy: Asking Questions

Polacco’s most recent contribution to the kidlit world, January’s Sparrow, is a touching and semi-true story of a family of runaway slaves. With the help of abolitionists, the Crosswhite’s leave Kentucky for Canada.  They make it to Michigan and decide to settle down there (just a couple of miles from where Patricia Polacco grew up), but they are always looking over their shoulders.  Will the slave catchers find them?  Will they make it to Canada?

A fantastic story with surprises along the way, I would recommend this book be read to upper elementary or middle school students in a Slavery or Underground Railroad unit.  It’s a lot longer than your typical picture book and it has some scenes that may not be appropriate for kids younger than 9 or so.

January’s Sparrow is a great model text to use to teach students how good readers ask questions to help them understand the text.  There are many occasions on which a child may have questions related to the reading.  For example, “Will the Crosswhite’s get caught?”

Lesson idea: A great resource to use when teaching students about the Underground Railroad, provide an opportunity for students to record general questions they have about the Underground Railroad and slavery before reading.  As you read, stop at various opportunities and allow students to record questions they have specific to the text.  Finally, after reading, allow students to record any questions they still have about the Crosswhites, slavery, and the Underground Railroad.  Then take time to determine if any of the questions can be answered.  Use a T-chart to record questions before, during, and after reading and their answers.  Remind students that not all answers may be found in the text, and that activation of background knowledge, additional research, or discussion may need to occur to find the answers.

If you are teaching a unit on the Underground Railroad or slavery, you may want to check out this lesson I posted on Henry’s Freedom Box.  I think both books would be an excellent addition to your unit.

What touchstone texts or touchstone authors do you use in your classroom?

**Note** I provide these lesson ideas under the assumption that you are familiar with teaching comprehension strategies.  If you are not, and would like more information about teaching students to Ask Questions or any other comprehension strategy, please feel free to contact me at Dlittle[at]linkstoliteracy[dot]com.  I am happy to provide more specific lessons if necessary.**

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