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The Stories Julian Tells | Class #3, 2016

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. Hannah Yang says:

    Each of the chapters tells a different story in the perspective of Julian. In the beginning, the book seemed to be a collection of stories by Julian that seem distinct and unrelated to the others. For example, the first chapter, ‘the Puddling Like a Night on the Sea’, has no relation to the second chapter, ‘Catalog Cats’, besides the appearance of same characters. But upon closer look, the author links contents from some of the chapters together by briefly referencing them subtly. For example, the list of wishes on pg. 66 of the last chapter, ‘Gloria Who Might Be My Best Friend’, brings in the ‘catalog cats’ and ‘fig trees’ from the previous stories. I think the chapter books for younger aged children tend to have the format of each section being a different story, or at least sort of choppy, whereas chapter books for older children tend to have a single central plot with sequential events that are gradual progressions of the previous chapter. The shorter independent plots may be to retain attention of children who are beginning readers that may fall astray with lengthier plotlines.
    Also, it’s interesting that the main character is African American and there’s nothing in the text to indicate to the readers that component of the character. Rather, it is the pictures that tell us the most about the characters. Additionally, Julian’s stories are events that any child could experience and because this book is not focused on the cultural/heritage aspect, does it really matter that the author is of different ethnicity than the characters?

  2. Jacqueline Scherr says:

    I enjoyed this book by Ann Cameron and definitely think it is engaging enough for children still struggling with reading. As Hannah mentioned, I think the shorter independent plot lines of each chapter play a role in engaging children who are first learning to read. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book was because it reminded me of events in my childhood. For example, I remember having a tooth pulled out, baking, and waiting for items to come in the mail. I also remember moving or having new neighbors when I was younger. This book presents events that are very relatable, which can be used to engage children. For that reason, I even think this book has potential to be read out loud-a chapter at a time to keep everyone’s attention.
    I think Hannah brings up a good point about the textual versus illustrated descriptions of the characters. I think it is great that a white author wanted to write a book about African Americans. It brings diversity.
    Also , I found an overarching theme of waiting within all the stories. I liked how the author was able to integrate this theme across all chapters. Examples include waiting to taste the pudding, waiting for the wish, waiting for teeth to come out, and waiting for the fig tree to grow.

  3. Marty Ray says:

    One of the things that I noticed is the relationship between the two brothers, Julian and Huey. Julian always wanted to come across as the all knowing big brother but the stories wonderfully lay bare how Julian himself had the thinking of a little boy, and the belief in things that adults will not even think twice about. The style of the prose seemed perfect for children just entering the phase of reading books with plots and storylines but still needing it to be simple enough to make sense. There is enough ‘magic’ in the stories to enthrall young readers and plenty of wonder to captivate them. Lastly, I loved the ‘punishment’ of ‘whipping’ and ‘beating’ that Julian and Huey received from their father – it was a wonderful example of parental discipline combined with a teaching moment.

  4. Megan Wilhelm says:

    I really enjoyed the word play and imagination Ann Cameron injects into The Stories Julian Tells. The English language has many words with multiple meanings, and the way that Cameron uses Julian’s perspective to introduce them is both amusing and informative. Cameron also does a great job of incorporating new vocabulary words that are still easy to decode for younger readers (cat-a-log, fig, ig-nor-ant, etc.). I wish I had known about this series when I was teaching 1st grade because I could think of several students who would have absolutely loved reading this accessible and funny chapter book. Overall, I caught myself smiling often while reading and I can see why children would be spellbound by the characters and the charm, or “magic” as Marty Ray put it, of this book.

  5. Addie Webb says:

    I used this book (as well as a couple of the others in the series) in reading groups with my second graders every year, and they absolutely adored them. The subject matter (losing teeth, sibling relationships, getting into trouble with parents, finding friends etc.) is both approachable and relevant for children, and thus allows them to make inferences and read beyond the literal in order to find humor that much more easily. I found Ann Cameron’s descriptive writing style, especially in the first chapter “The Pudding Like a Night on the Sea”, to be a perfect window into the world of imagery and similes. Students enjoyed taking the time to visualize what was being described, which made this a very strong anchor text for teaching how to incorporate imagery and descriptive detail into one’s own writing.

  6. Joanna Craig says:

    I completely agree with what Marty stated in his comment about this book containing a good combination of parental discipline and teachable moments. I found that a lot of the stories, as told from Julian’s perspective, discussed the way that Julian’s father and mother took potentially difficult situations and turned them into powerful experiences. For example, rather than simply discipline Julian for lying to Huey about the garden catalog, their father gave Huey the opportunity to continue believing in catalog cats and to keep the magic alive. Similarly, as Marty mentioned, the ‘whipping’ and ‘beating’ story exemplified how parents can give meaning to their child’s misbehavior. Not only do the stories in this book show a different parental response, but they also model to children how even though they may have done something that they weren’t supposed to, or something that their parents would not like, they have the opportunity to make it right in the end.

  7. Sophie Blumert says:

    I agree with Hannah and Jacqueline about the portrayal of race in the book, and the fact that it’s written by a white author. I like that Ann Cameron wrote these stories with the purpose of being universal for all children, like losing a tooth, sibling relationships, making new friends, etc. These are things that could happen to all children, regardless of their race, and like Hannah mentioned, I believe that because it’s about the experience of childhood in general rather than the experience of a specific culture. It’s a good way to bring diversity to young readers, while allowing them to relate to and empathize with a character that may not look exactly like them.

  8. Kaitlin Herbert says:

    I really enjoyed reading this chapter book. I agree with the posters before me who discuss the number of teachable moments and tiny moments of childhood Ann Cameron presented within the text. I found the interweaving of different aspects of the book throughout the chapters to be an excellent tool for beginning readers to track characters and events. One of my favorite aspects of this book was Julian and Huey’s relationship with the father, particularly the gentle touch he used to teach important lessons. I’m curious to know if the father continues to play as important of a role in future texts within the series as I find this to be very unusual!

  9. Kate Cunningham says:

    I agree with the posts above regarding the relatable childhood moments sprinkled throughout the book. I can see how this helps readers to develop their comprehension and reading independence since they likely already have all the background knowledge they need to read this book on their own. Since this is also an age when students are book shopping and selecting books on their own, there were a number of things I thought were good about the layout and design. One of the most entertaining excerpts from the book (catalog cats) was printed on the first page. As students are previewing, this will jump out to them right away and make the book more appealing to pick up and read. The blurb on the book cover also makes the book sound exciting to read (“Julian is a quick fibber… But some stories can lead to a heap of trouble,” etc.). The cover also looks funny, with the cat in the moon especially, but I actually think it’s a little confusing and may not appeal to young readers as much. Having read the book, I see that it’s trying to depict other elements of the garden and the idea that Julian takes care of it (hence the hose), but it seems like it’s trying to combine too many different things, and something simpler might have worked better.

  10. Tom Grasso says:

    I agree with so many of the comments from previous posters. Ann Cameron accomplishes a lot with a relatively short and accessible amount of text, e.g., touching upon: universal themes of childhood, older-younger sibling relationships, the mischief of children, and some of the funny moments that result from that mischief. There is a lot here for young readers to be engaged with, and Cameron’s style is simple, but at the same time complex, e.g., multiple meanings of words. Some previous posts mention teachable moments, and I agree that there are many woven into the different stories. However, Cameron is not heavy handed or overly didactic with these teachable moments, which can be the case in many children’s books that try to “teach” a lesson. One of my favorite things about Julian and Huey is their “magical thinking” (eating fig tree leaves to grow), which is something that Marty pointed out. This type of magical thinking is something that many children can relate to, and I imagine that young readers would get hooked into these stories as a result. I agree with Jacqueline and Hannah’s comments about culture and diversity as it relates to a white author writing a book in which all the characters are African-American. Some of my favorite adult novels are written by “cultural outsiders;” one that comes to mind is “Memoirs of a Geisha”—a book written by a white American man (Arthur Golden) from the perspective of a Japanese geisha. Knowing that Golden wrote the book made me appreciate the richness of the story in a way that I cannot quite put into words.

  11. Soujanya Ganig says:

    There were so many great things about this book but I would like to point to two things in particular. First is the use of phrases like “taste like a night on the sea”, “when he laughs, the sun laughs in the window-panes, “when he thinks, you can almost see his thoughts sitting on all the tables and chairs and “when he is angry, me and my little brother, Huey, shiver to the bottom of our shoes.” I think the book is great in developing some higher order cognitive skills in early readers.
    Second, the stories are very endearing because of the nature of interactions of the children with adults and between themselves. I liked how the author built the suspense by making it seem like the father would do something else and these make for great teachable moments for both young and old readers. Like many have pointed in the comments above, it models healthy parent-child and peer relationships.

  12. Gabrielle Cohn says:

    I agree with so many of the comments related to this book. Hannah, Jacqueline and Sophie all touched on the important element of race in this book. Ann Cameron introduces characters of different races, genders, ages and backgrounds, which exposes children to people that are different from them. Without being too overbearing, Cameron is able to convey beautiful lessons to her readers. She highlights the values of family, loyalty, and friendship, while referencing the journey of growing up. I also admire Cameron’s ability to relate to common childhood experiences; interactions with siblings, developing friendships, learning how to be patient and embracing simple life milestones like losing teeth.

  13. Kara lawson says:

    Children’s books that showcase African American characters are far too few, and when they do exist, from my experience, many are about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. According to their website, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center received just 269 of 3400 books with African or African American protagonists last year. How refreshing to see Julian portrayed in the illustrations as an African American child, though his race is not explicitly addressed in the text, taking early independent readers on a fun ride into the everyday adventures of being a kid — flying kites, losing a tooth, and learning how to cook. My third graders deserve access to books about things they can relate to and about people who look like them… I’m excited to share The Stories Julian Tells with my students!

  14. Sammie Herrick says:

    I really enjoyed this book and I think it’s a great book for children just starting chapter books. It has large text and a few pictures that help break up the words. I also like that the book has smaller stories within it. It helps students feel accomplished if they can get to the end of a story when they read, so to have five stories within one book gives students the opportunity to feel the success of finishing a story multiple times. I also appreciate that this book uses metaphors. This is something students learn in school but doesn’t show up in text very often, so hearing Julian and Huey’s dad talk about how the pudding will taste like a whole raft of lemons, was a good piece of language. Another element that I liked was the combination of reality and imagination in the illustrations, there was the family making pudding together alongside the raft of lemons. The next story shows the father and sons on the couch looking at the catalog, but also surrounded by cats. It brings together whimsy and actuality, which makes the book more fun. I also agree with many posters above about the teachable moments in the stories and the experiences Julian and Huey go through are fairly common and easy to relate to for a child, but also endlessly entertaining.

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