Monday, July 24, 2023

How Do We Explain Difficult Topics?

Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember
tells the story of September 11, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia through a tapestry of poems. Each narrative poem discusses the terrorist attack on the Pentagon from the perspective of a young person. The narrators all have their own story of that day and its aftermath.  

Seven-year-old Henry waits for his mother. Almost all the other children have been picked up early from elementary school. He’s confused and aware that the adults around him have been crying. Henry says, “Grown-ups talk to each other, but not to kids.”

Read Henry's poem and discuss: How should adults explain frightening news events? Should they be direct with kids or should they try to protect them? What can adults do or say to make kids feel safe when current events are disturbing?

Sixteen-year-old Calista is taken aback when the little boy she is babysitting tells her he saw a hole in the Pentagon. Calista doesn’t know how to explain to a three year old something she doesn’t really understand herself.

Writing Prompt: Imagine someone younger asks you about a frightening news event. Would you explain it? Or change the subject? Write a dialogue between Calista and Dylan about what happened at the Pentagon on September 11th. Or if you prefer, write a dialogue between yourself and a younger sibling to explain a troubling news event.

For more activities and ideas for using Smoke at the Pentagon: Poems to Remember, please visit my website to download the full Teacher’s Guide.

BIO: Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, My Name is Hamburger, The Porridge-Pot Goblin, Never Say a Mean Word Again, and Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence. The resources page of her website has many activities for educators and parents. Visit 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Persuasive Writing: A Letter to a Bully

In My Name is Hamburger, ten-year-old Trudie Hamburger is ashamed of her last name. Daniel Reynolds, the class bully, frequently reminds her that it means, “Chopped meat. Something a butcher grinds up.”  

My Name is Hamburger takes place in 1962 in the small southern town of Colburn. As the Jewish child of a German-speaking immigrant, Trudie stands out as different from her peers. When a Korean boy joins her class, she feels guilty, knowing negative attention has been diverted away from her and onto him. Trudie doesn’t like being a bystander any better than being a victim. She doesn’t know what to do.  

Only after a family crisis and the support of friends is Trudie able to stand up for herself.

Something people cook on the fourth of July,”

I answer. “An all-American food!”

Daniel blinks as if he can’t believe

someone like me, with a dad from somewhere else,

knows what Americans eat. But he doesn’t say more

because I got the last word today.

My name is Hamburger. An all-American food.

Writing Prompt: To stop a bully, it helps if both the victim and the bystander speak out. Write a persuasive letter from either the perspective of a person being bullied or a person watching cruel treatment. Express your emotions in the letter. Do you feel anger, fear, or hope that relationships could change? Can you share personal experiences or reasons why bullying behavior hurts all involved? Do you have the courage to try and persuade a bully to rethink his/her behavior?    

Jacqueline Jules

Monday, September 12, 2022

Defeating Goblins with Teamwork

In The Porridge Pot Goblin, siblings Benny and Rose are frightened by an invisible goblin, only known by his pranks and his tracks. They fear the goblin is too big for them to stop. But working together, Benny and Rose learn they are much braver than they think.

After reading The Porridge Pot Goblin aloud, have the class discuss how teamwork saved the day for Benny and Rose. If Benny had refused to help, do they think Rose could have trapped the goblin on her own? Did Benny’s presence make Rose bolder? What role did Benny play in how they ultimately handled the goblin?

Ask students to share a time when they worked with another person to overcome a challenge. Could they have solved the problem on their own? What are the advantages of joining forces? Are there disadvantages?

Writing Prompt: Write your own goblin story. Imagine the presence of an invisible spirit in your home. How would it make itself known? What tricks would it play? Would you try to trap it or make friends? Would you work alone or with someone’s help?   

Happy Writing!

Jacqueline Jules

Thursday, September 3, 2020



Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence celebrates being active, reaching goals, and learning limits. The poems employ figurative language devices such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, repetition, personification, and onomatopoeia. Each poem tells a story about a young person discovering skills, strengths, and dreams through activity. Team sports are included along with playground games, biking, sledding, swimming, hiking, and simply twirling in the rain.  

To help teachers use Tag YourDreams as a classroom resource, I have developed a teacher's guide with questions to discuss, ways to examine the poetry, and writing prompts. 

To give you a taste, please see the poem and questions below:



What are your dreams for the future?

Examine the Poem!

Identify verbs which refer to the game of tag, e.g., chase, running, reaching.

Do dreams have strong legs? Is this personification— attributing human characteristics to something that is not human?


Write about your dreams. Does anything stand in your way? Are you confident you will succeed or are you afraid of failure?

The entire teacher’s guide can be found on my website. 

I am available for virtual visits with students. Please contact me through my website at


Happy Reading!


Wednesday, June 3, 2020


Do you know how to smell a poem? 

In Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Reading Poems, Marjorie Maddox offers the reader a delightful suggestion. “Keep following the trail of scent to sniff out the meaning.”

Maddox also tells us how to befriend a poem. “Invite him home for dinner but don’t insist on rhyme.”

And she explains that “Much of what he has to say lies between the lines.”

This clever collection of poems and writing exercises begins with verses on how to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch a poem and then delves into poetic devices and forms. Teachers should find ample inspiration to motivate student writing.

For example, these glorious lines from “Fishing for Sestinas.”
“the poems themselves sew together our world,
the way fish in waves thread themselves in and out,
the way dreams swim their own stories”

And this couplet invites writers to try a villanelle.
“To write a villanelle, think like a bird
that sings a song that you’ve already heard.”

 The 27 poems in this collection are followed by 9 creative writing exercises including fun suggestions for writing persona poems, clerihews, and sonnets.

A 3 page glossary provides succinct definitions for every term referenced in the poems. Inside Out by Marjorie Maddox is an excellent resource to jump start creativity in the classroom or at home. 

Jacqueline Jules

Sunday, July 21, 2019


It hardly sounds like nonfiction: “From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion,” but this is Jessica Long’s autobiography written with her sister Hannah. Born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia, Jessica had no ankles, heels or most of the bones in her lower legs. She was adopted by an American family in Baltimore, Maryland, and eventually had both legs amputated below the knee. There were six children in the Long family, including another little boy adopted from Russia. 

            From early childhood, Jessica was “determined to dominate at everything I did,” including climbing on top of the refrigerator! 
            “I made the daily choice to not let anything hold me back, especially my legs.”
            Initially, she excelled at gymnastics: “I walk on my knees. I’m just a little shorter.” By age 10, she discovered water and started beating girls with legs. “It’s all about technique and how you can work the water. Giving up was never an option.”
            Jessica swam her first Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004. At the games in Beijing in 2008, she felt she had failed because she won “only” four gold medals, along with a silver and a bronze.  But then she added modeling and public speaking to her accomplishments and has now told her own story in a young adult autobiography.
            Jessica’s story is inspirational and often funny. “My high-heel legs, or ‘sexy legs,’ were created using my sister’s feet…they molded her feet at a four-inch arch and used those molds to make my prosthetic feet.” She showed off her new legs on Twitter!

            Jessica challenges herself in and out of the water, but her experiences will tantalize young writers as well.
            She has rituals before every race, including eating a banana, clapping her hands three times and shaking her arms out.

·       What do you do to calm or inspire yourself or give you good luck before a match, game or special event? Why do you think it helps?

Jessica was always willing to try something new.
·       What is something new you tried to do? How did you feel? What did you learn from the experience?

Jessica is rightly proud of her accomplishments.
·       Write about something in your life that gives you great pride – don’t worry about being boastful. This is your time to “show and tell” on a piece of paper!

Jessica likes posing for photo shoots and often did this with her siblings.  Elle decided to use a picture of me on a couch, posing on my knees without my prosthetics…It was really cool to be part of something that showed how people with disabilities an do the same things as everyone else, including model.”  
·       Have students pair off and take flattering photos of each other. Write an “artist statement” about your photo, explaining why you chose a particular pose or background and what you want people to learn from the photo.

Finally, think about Jessica’s story overall and write your thoughts about what qualities and factors in her life enabled her to overcome great challenges and contribute to her success. Then think about what qualities and factors in your own life could help you be successful – and unsinkable.

Monday, June 3, 2019

What Does Your Character Want?

Guest Post by Claudia Mills

            One of the most powerful questions for launching a story is: what does my main character want? So simple and obvious - and yet even experienced authors can forget this.

            As I was writing my most recent book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, set in an after-school cooking camp, at first I focused only on Nixie’s predicament. Now that her mother has a job outside the home, Nixie has to attend an after-school program, which means she’ll no longer be spending afternoons at home with her best friend, Grace, which means Grace will be spending afternoons instead with Nixie’s nemesis, Elyse. But what should happen next? I was stuck until I asked the crucial question: what does Nixie want? Well, she wants her life to be the way it used to be. But this is such a vague and hopeless desire. The story came into focus for me when I gave a different answer: Nixie feels she is losing her best friend, and she wants to get her best friend back again.
            Once we know what our character wants, the plot is driven by what she does to get it. If her first attempt succeeds, we have a very short and skimpy story. But if her first attempt fails, and her second attempt fails, and even her third attempt fails, her ultimate success is much more satisfying.
            If your students are stuck for a story idea, encourage them to think of what a character might want. They might start by thinking about what they want. A bike? A dog? A sleepover with a friend? A special family vacation?
            Then lead them in brainstorming how someone could try to get this thing. With brainstorming, even preposterous ideas are welcome. Remember it’s good if the first ideas end up failing! One of Nixie’s failed friendship-saving ideas is to get fame and fortune by starring in the cooking-camp video. Another is to bribe her friend with yummy camp-baked treats. A third is to pretend to be sick at camp in order to guilt her mother into quitting her job.
            For young writers, simple wants, simple strategies, and simple failures can work best.
            Your character wants a bike.  How could he get a bike?
1.     Find a job and save up money to buy one.
2.     Win one in a contest.
3.     Get a friend to trade his bike for something he wants even more.
Then, the really fun part: How could each of these ideas go wrong? Failure can be one of the most comical things to write about – and one of the saddest. And then the success that follows is sweeter still.
Nixie ends up keeping her best friend, but in the process she realizes Grace can still be her friend even if Grace is now friends with Elyse, too. It’s fine if a story ends with a character coming to a new understanding of what she wants.
But knowing what your character wants is where a story begins.

Claudia Mills is the author of almost 60 books for young readers, including most recently the Franklin School Friends series from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and her new After-School Superstars series from Holiday House.  In addition to writing books, she has been a college professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and in the graduate programs in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke. Visit Claudia at