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The Stories Julian Tells | Class #3, 2015

The Stories Julian TellsThe Stories Julian Tells is the first book in an ongoing series about brothers Julian and Hughie, and their neighbor Gloria. This is an early chapter book for readers who have acquired some fluency but aren’t ready to tackle longer books yet. The chapters are fairly short, there’s lots of conversation, the plot is easy to follow, and there is a clear central character.

What do you think of Ann Cameron’s writing? Is the story engaging enough for children who are still struggling a bit with reading?

How do you feel about a white author writing a book in which all the characters are African American?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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  1. Lolly–do you remember when an excerpt of her books was used by standardized test maker in Illinois? During the test, a teacher who taught the books noticed her kids were unsettled during the test. The illustrations showed white, not African American kids.

    Here’s an article with info:
    http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/2978836/whitewashed

  2. Nicole Eslinger says:

    I found the writing to be rather descriptive and engaging, especially for an early-reader book. Cameron avoids using language that may be too difficult for young readers to figure out, and utilizes pictures to hold attention and supplement the text. I personally found the first chapter to be most captivating. Even with limited vocabulary, Cameron created the scene so that I could almost taste the lemon pudding myself. In fact, the detailed description of the pudding triggered memories of reading this book when I was in grade school.

    I think that the relatable characters and humor Cameron utilizes would hold the attention of many young readers. If they struggle, I feel that the pictures might be somewhat helpful to help students figure out the main points of the story.

  3. Lindsey Bailey says:

    The figurative language in this book is amazing – when Julian says that “we felt like two leaves in a storm,” I knew exactly what he meant! And the wordplay is so much fun – Huey’s “beating” and Julian’s “whipping” are a great opportunity to talk about homonyms and contextual language.

  4. Sara Gordon says:

    I see this book as a great teaching tool for so many things! First, going off of Lindsey’s comment, the similes/metaphors/figurative language is fantastic and could be used seamlessly to teach these concepts. Also, I found the book and the language to be very engaging. It would be good for young children who are learning, and possibly struggling, to read because the chapters are short and pretty much independent of each other, aside from knowing the characters (who could easily be introduced to the child by a teacher or parent). Additionally, there is at least one illustration per chapter/story, which serves as a kind of summary for the important parts of each chapter. New/struggling readers should be able to maintain their attention through each brief chapter; maybe they can only do one chapter at a time, or even take breaks during each one, but it is feasible that they could do one chapter a day and still maintain some sort of flow.

    I think that a white author writing a book in which all of the characters are African-American could serve to open up a conversation about why it is important for people who might seem “different” to be able to put themselves in each other’s shoes, and tell a story from their point of view. I believe that an “empathy” conversation might occur following this book, if done sensitively.

    Going off of that, this book could also be used to discuss the concept of point of view, as it is written in the first-person. Seeing the world from Julian’s perspective gets readers thinking about what Julian sees compared to what might be happening from another person’s perspective (e.g., his father or Hughie) .

  5. Annie Thomas says:

    I agree that this book uses great language for teaching purposes and also letting kids get immersed in the reading. The descriptive language makes the book engaging and may inspire a desire to continue reading and work through the difficult parts of the book. I also think having African American characters is great. It is perfect for children who share the background of the children and family in the book but also great for children who are not African American to see how similar many families are and the shared experiences.

  6. Samantha says:

    I’ve actually used this book many times in my own classroom to teach characterization, point of view, and dialogue. Because it mainly uses simple language and is incredibly entertaining, students at all reading levels are able to access to the text and enjoy it. The sense of humor brought into each mini-story is great for discussion and deeper analysis, such as when Dad says he’s going to beat the boys, or when Dad brainstorms numerous ways to gruesomely pull out Julian’s teeth because of all of his complaining. It’s also part of a book series that further explores Julian’s adventures as well as Huey’s and Gloria’s, which offers even more opportunities to study characters more deeply within a series. When I tell my students this, they are eager to read the rest of them!

  7. Ying Xiang Lai says:

    When I read the part about the beating and whipping, I thought the plot twist was really clever, and clever plots are one of those things I really appreciate in a children’s book. After reading through the above comments, I became aware that it also served as an opportunity to teach the reader homonyms, making it doubly valuable. I admit that when I realized the stories were being told from the point of view of an African American boy, I immediately checked to see if the author was an African American male too, and thought that it was really interesting that the author’s actually a white female. Reflecting on my own surprised reaction, I agree with Sara that directing the reader to this could open up a conversation on being able to empathize with others who are different from you.

  8. Amy Louer says:

    I am glad to read Samatha’s comment that in her experience in the classroom, the students have engaged with and enjoyed this story. While I greatly appreciated how the metaphors were infused with humor and hyperboles, I wondered how a young reader would make sense of it. I also appreciated the focus on Dad in a teaching through parenting role, when so often mothers are shown in that way.

  9. Joshua Jenkins says:

    The Stories Julian Tells feels like easy reader 2.0–definitely intending to build fluency since there’s a lot of repeated text and banter (it’s also like an easy reader in that many of the chapters are more episodic though Cameron does attempt to string the ‘chapters’ together at the end when Julian makes his wishlist).
    Since it’s designed as a beginning book for younger students to read as they develop fluency and independence, I can imagine using this for independent reading or perhaps guided reading, but I think a more complex text that pushes and increases students’ vocabulary and knowledge of language structure would be more appropriate for read aloud.

  10. Haneen Sakakini says:

    As I began reading this book, as many of my classmates mentioned, I never really thought about who the author was. I was more focused on the story itself. When I teach books in my classroom I tend to only say who the author is, rather than provide a background on the author him/herself. After reading some of the comments above, I valued what Ying said. Knowing that the author is not African American and wrote a book about an African American, can lead to a class discussion as Ying mentioned.

    It was very refreshing to find a book that I could connect with, even as a 24 year old. Julian reminded me of my older brother. He was able to convince me about just about anything and everything. My brother never convinced me that I could grow taller, but I thought this book was a great read for a younger siblings.

    Ann does a great job bringing Julian’s story to life while keeping young readers engaged throughout the book. As a kid chapter books were pretty daunting, the author’s word choice is essential. The words can either be encouraging or discouraging for the reader to continue, personally I felt that this would was very encouraging. The words in this book seemed to be relatable to young readers and exciting and descriptive to keep readers engaged.

  11. Allison Bates says:

    Like many of my classmates, I was struck by this chapter book’s use of language. It is perfect for young readers who are learning complex words like “catalog,” as Huey himself is still learning the word and thus is easy to identify with. Julian’s complex descriptions of imaginary events are captivating and entertaining for adults and children alike.

  12. Moses Kim says:

    Julian’s language in this book is so simple but poetic: like many readers, I could taste the pudding as I read the first chapter! I also appreciated the whimsy of the illustrations, which are grounded in an almost photo-realistic style but incorporate some of the recurring images in the book (like the catalog cats).

    One thing that I question is the wordplay with “beating” and “whipping.” The book *was* written in 1981, when people’s views on corporal punishment were very different from what they are now (thanks to research done on its effects), but I imagine that there are still children who may be closeted victims of domestic violence. (I myself was often beat as a child by parents who were well-meaning but hot-tempered.) That Ann Cameron is a white woman writing about African-American families, who are often stereotyped as using physical violence more than other families, is another point I’d be interested in continuing discussion on. That said, it is a very cute pun, and I imagine it being used in the classroom to introduce the concept of wordplay!

  13. Mary Winters says:

    I agree with all of the above comments my classmates articulated regarding the figurative language and the ability to use this book as a teaching tool for multiple topics/themes. This book appears to be for readers just delving into chapter books- the thing I liked about it was how each chapter could stand on its own as its own short story, but each chapter could also be read in succession as there are sometimes hints of plot lines from previous chapters. I feel by chunking the book in this way, it makes the book much more manageable for a first-time chapter book reader. It may take some time to get through the whole book, so starting each chapter with a new story does not require the reader to recall events and details throughout the book while reading. I feel this is a great chapter book for children transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

  14. Rebecca Tan says:

    This book manages to touch on themes in a light manner that may otherwise be too heavy or disengaging to manage in easy reader for young children. For example, I appreciated the way in which Julian’s mischievous lies and his father’s discovery of his lies were managed. Many children let their imagination run wild when they encounter new words and ideas. Julian’s imagination is one of the most creative I’ve encountered. Although Julian is aware he has told his brother fibs, his father skilfully manages the brother’s expectations while keeping up the playful attitude. In this way the writer keeps up the creativity and imaginative aspects of the book, the twist engaging readers more and more. In another example, Julian’s father’s punishment for the two boys after they eat his pudding shows how actions have consequences, but appropriately so. I believe these stories are highly effective in appealing to children’s experiences, engaging young readers, and at the same time showing them that mischievousness can have consequences!

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