Subscribe to The Horn Book

Chapter books | Class #3, fall 2017

chapter books juana joey birchbark

For our next class on October 4, we are reading three chapter books — Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, and The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. Each is the first book in a series (the sequel to Juana & Lucas has not yet been published) and each has a strong central character, an element that I think is essential in early chapter books. As you read, keep in mind the age of the target audience, which is normally the age of the protagonist (approximately 2nd grade for Juana, 5th for Joey). The Birchbark House is different because it is more difficult to read and is longer than you might expect given the protagonist’s age. Most teachers solve this by reading it aloud; 2nd grade would be right for the protagonist, but 3rd grade is more common given some aspects of the plot.

We’re also reading two articles to go along with these books. One is Robin Smith‘s “Teaching New Readers to Love Books,” where, among other things, she describes reading The Birchbark House aloud to her second graders every year. The other article is an interview with Jack Gantos from the Embracing the Child website. I find that teachers tend to have a lot of questions about Gantos’s credentials for writing about ADHD, and he addresses them especially well here.

I hope you will join our discussions of these readings in the comments below.

Special comments this week will be coming from

  • Camila Garcia on Juana Medina
  • Salvador Sanchez on Jack Gantos
  • Kiran Bhai on Louise Erdrich
  • Andres Garcia Lopez on
  • Tnja Kriechhammer on Heavy Medal blog
  • Sally Baines on John Schu/MrSchuReads
  • Gaelle Pierre-Louis on Coretta Scott King Awards
  • Arlyn Madsen-Bond on Pura Belpré Awards
  • Nezile Mthembu on Stonewall Book Awards
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.



  1. Lolly, I think your point about the age of the protagonist helps to define “chapter book”. Many very new readers ( and their parents ) belittle picture books in favor of chapter books and yet picture books cover a wide range of ages and reading abilities as do chapter books. Lately, I’ve noticed some recent books we call middle grade have a very large number of chapters. What’s up with this new trend? I’d hate to think it is a choice due to the attention span of the intended audience.

  2. I enjoyed reading Juana and Lucas. I think it might be somewhat challenging for a first grader to read but the bright and fun illustrations and going on a journey to Bogota with Juana and then to Florida as she learns English kept me interested — and I imagine young readers would feel the same. One aspect I particularly liked is that it’s a book about a young girl learning a new language and the incorporation of Spanish words will help children who don’t speak Spanish also learn a new language and in a sense, they are on their own journey parallel to Juana’s — making her struggles all the more relatable.

  3. I think Juana and Lucas is a fun book to read. I was also wondering if it is a little bit challenging for 1st graders. However, the book itself is so much fun. First, the combination of some simple Spanish words and English is novel to me. So readers could pick up some Spanish words while reading. Also, as the story goes on, Juana finally finds the motivation to learn English. Discovering a motivation to learn English well is way important than thousands of lecturing of the importance of learning English. I will read this story to my son who is struggling with second language acquisition.

  4. Hi

  5. Hello!

  6. Here is what I found on the ‘Heavy Medal Blog‘:
    It is a mock Newbery blog on children’s literature by the School Library Journal (SLJ) with three main bloggers from different parts of the US. It was launched in 2008. The three bloggers are Sharon McKellar, Steven Engelfried and Roxanne Hsu Feldmann. Sharon McKellar works as a Community Relations Librarian for the Oakland Public Library in California. Steven Engelfried is Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He actually participated in the 2010 Newbery committee. Roxanne Hsu Feldman teaches 4th to 8th grade. She also works as librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. In 2016, she served as a judge in the Boston-Globe Horn Book Awards.
    The Newbery is awarded anually to the author of the most outstanding contribution to American literature for children. From September to January, the ‘Heavy Medal‘ bloggers write on all kinds of different aspects of the Newbery. (e.g. possible competitors, terms of the award, books,..) It is definitly a perfect source for getting inspired about top-quality children’s book.
    Click below to learn more about it:

  7. Andres Garcia says:

    This week I learned about Oyate (, a Native organization “working to see that Native American lives and histories are portrayed with honesty and integrity, and that all people know that our stories belong to us”.
    I appreciated learning about this web site, it is a great resource for finding books that accurately touch on Native American topics.
    The work of Oyate includes, evaluation of books and curricula with Indian American themes, conducting workshops, administration of a resource center and reference library; and distribution of literature and learning materials.
    I recommend looking at the website’s resources section. There, one can find a sub section called “How to Tell the Difference” ( Which explains Oyate’s “very basic criteria for evaluating books about native peoples, or that engage Native themes”. The book’s authors are Doris Seale, Beverly Slapin and Rosemary Gonzales.
    In addition to finding books, one can get involved with Oyate by volunteering and making donations.
    Another good resource for researching books that touch on Native American themes could be the Indian American Library Association (

  8. Gabrielle Abramow says:

    I really enjoyed reading the book, Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina. Coincidently, I am starting a course this week which focuses on instructing English language learners accurately. Therefore, this book really resonated with me in that it is not easy to suddenly learn English as a second language. I like how the book explains Juana’s feelings about learning English to inform the reader who may or may not be learning English the difficult process. I also felt a connection with Juana in that she wanted a purpose and sense of motivation to want to learn English. I understood Juana’s feelings because I grew up hating Math and felt no reason to try. However, similar to Juana’s situation a close family member took me around the neighborhood and showed me why math is so important in everyone’s daily life. I think this book is a great story not only to share with English language learners but also for any child going through struggles that one does not feel motivated to succeed in.

  9. Juana Medina’s Juana & Lucas for this week is really an inspiring book for me. I spent a great time reading it and there are two things I love this book:
    The DESIGN of pictures and texts is contagious. The word design is correlated with the emotions of the story. When the chocolate melts, the words are also melting and fading out the color. When Juana describes herself as a fountain of English, the words are presented in a fountain shape. There are also many other examples of how well the design of texts is closely fit into the story. Moreover, the pictures are funny in that Juana is always drawn in various physical actions. Readers can directly feel her emotional changes through her facial expressions and body movements. The pictures used, together with the texts, make the story more contagious to the readers.
    The theme of BILINGUALISM stands out in this book, which makes this book empathy-raising among immigrant children in the US or numerous English language learners around the world. The story is told from the perspective of the first person, making ELLs feel that they are also the protagonist in the story. Instead of illustrating how important learning English is, the author presents the emotional change of Juana herself during the process of learning English. From this book, readers can feel how important ELLs value their native languages- instead of devaluing ELLs’ native languages for a transition to all-English speaking, children should be guided into a dual-language learning environment. This book, through reflecting the Juana’s English learning experience, shed light on the bilingual education that children’s L1 and L2 should be equally valued.

  10. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Hello, students –
    Because of our website issues this week, remember we have temporarily moved our discussion to the course website. Here’s a link for students (who need to log in to access it):

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind