Classroom Guide for Keepersby Jeri Hanel Watts, illustrated by Felicia Marshall
*Reading Level: Grades 2-3
Interest Level: Grades 1-3
Accelerated Reader® Level/Points: 4.6/0.5
Scholastic Reading Counts!™:4.8
*Reading level based on the Spache Readability Formula
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Family Traditions, Sharing/Giving, Sports, African Americans, Intergenerational Relationships, Sports
Kenyon loves listening to the stories told by his grandmother, Little Dolly. Kenyon’s other passion is baseball, which sometimes conflicts with his homework. When Little Dolly mentions the Keeper, the one who holds onto the stories and legends of a family, Kenyon offers to take on this role for his family. However, Little Dolly says the Keeper must be a girl. “That’s nice,” Little Dolly says about Kenyon’s offer, “but you a boy. I got to find me a girl Keeper. You cain’t be a Keeper if you a boy.”
In anticipation of Little Dolly’s ninetieth birthday, Kenyon takes the neighborhood-chores money he has saved out of its box and walks through town looking for the perfect gift. He visits all the shops on Main Street, talking with the shopkeepers about ideas for a present for Little Dolly. But before he can decide on a gift, Kenyon sees a baseball glove on sale and impulsively spends his money on that. When Kenyon realizes what he has done, he is filled with remorse. How can he blame Little Dolly for not trusting him with the family stories when he can’t even be trusted with his own money? Kenyon tells his father what he has done and asks for advice. “[You can try to] do better the next time,” his father says. Finally, Kenyon thinks of a gift he can give Little Dolly. After a surprise party attended by people from all over town—all the friends Little Dolly has made during her many years living there—Little Dolly opens Kenyon’s gift. It is a handmade book filled with her stories. Little Dolly is greatly touched and realizes that “a Keeper don’t have to be a girl.” It can also be a boy.
People of all cultures have storytelling traditions that preserve the history of individuals, families, communities, and larger groups in which they are involved. These stories are often passed down orally from one generation to the next. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in recording these stories in the form of oral histories. An oral history consists of stories and information obtained in interviews with people who have firsthand knowledge of an event or occurrence. It is the story of past events as remembered by the people who actually saw, experienced, or participated in the events.
As a teacher, the author tries to interest her students in the value of heritage and in writing down family stories that reflect their heritage. She also is feels that certain people are viewed as good candidates for the role of telling and “keeping” stories because they are interested in what is being told, rather than because they are male or female, old or young.
Prereading Focus Questions
Before reading the book, you may wish to have students discuss one or more of the following questions as a motivation for reading.
Setting a Purpose for Reading
Display the book and discuss the front cover illustration with students. Prompt discussion by asking questions such as: What is the boy doing? Where is he? What do the boy’s eyes say about him? Would you like to know this boy? Why ?
Invite students to tell what they think the title means. How might the title relate to the boy in the picture? List students’ ideas on chart paper and plan to revisit it after students have read the book.
To help students develop and reinforce vocabulary, select a few words from the book to focus on each day. Use the words listed below or choose others which may be more appropriate for your students.
Discuss the words and then present students with a graphic organizer similar to the one shown here. Model how to complete the organizer using the words in capital letters. Note that this organizer requires students to choose a word for the circle in the center and then really think about what the word means and how it is used. Encourage students to share and discuss their completed organizers.
After reading the book, use these questions to generate discussion and expand students’ understanding of the text. Encourage students to refer back to the text to support their responses.
If you use literature circles during reading time, students might find the following suggestions helpful in focusing on the different roles of the group members.
There are many resource books available with more information about organizing and implementing literature circles. Three such books you may wish to refer to are: Getting Started with Literature Circles by Katherine L. Schlick Noe and Nancy J. Johnson (Christopher-Gordon, 1999), Literature Circles: Voice And Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups by Harvey Daniels (Stenhouse, 2002), and Literature Circles Resource Guide by Bonnie Campbell Hill, Katherine L. Schlick Noe, and Nancy J. Johnson (Christopher-Gordon, 2000).
Use the following questions or similar ones to help students practice active reading and personalize their responses to what they have read. Suggest that students respond in reader’s journals, oral discussion, or drawings.
Other Writing Activities
You may wish to have students participate in one or more of the following writing activities.
ELL/ESL Teaching Strategies
These strategies might be helpful to use with students who are English language learners or who are learning to speak English as a second language.
To help students integrate their reading experiences with other curriculum areas, you might try some of the following activities.
Remind students that Kenyon learns how to make a handmade book in school. Then invite students to “take a leaf from Kenyon’s page” and make their own books to tell a family story or to create a class book of their oral histories (see first Social Studies activity above). Students might make simple shape books, mini-books, accordion folded books, origami books, window books, flap books, or books with pop-up pages. Have students plan the pages of their books and choose and gather their materials before they begin.
Use Kenyon’s interest in baseball to launch a math activity involving baseball statistics. Have students begin with something specific, such as labeling a diagram showing the dimensions of a softball field or a professional baseball field. Students can also collect and compare statistics involving professional baseball teams and individual players.
About the Author
Jeri Hanel Watts is a reading specialist who teaches elementary reading in Lexington, Virginia. Keepers is her first picture book, and she was inspired to write it after her students observed that there were more stories written about African American girls that African American boys. She also felt the theme of this story would excite her students into wanting to write more of their own stories.
Watts gets her ideas for stories “from things that have happened in my life, from newspaper articles, from I-don’t-know-where sometimes.” She says that her stories always begin with a character because she likes people. Watts adds that although she is the Keeper in her own family, her husband considers her a poor one because she doesn’t tell the stories the way he remembers them. However, says Watts, “I think I’m right . . . and mine are funnier, too!”
Watts was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. She and her husband and two daughters live in Lexington with their pet Labrador, Nimbus.
About the Illustrator
Felicia Marshall is a fine artist and art teacher who has illustrated several books for children, including Molasses Man, published by Holiday House. She is also a contributing artist to Lee & Low’s America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land, now also available as a bilingual board book. What intrigued Marshall most about Keepers was the fact that the story closely related to her own experiences growing up in the South, and she used her grandmother’s house as the setting for her illustrations. Marshall received her degree in fine arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. A native Texan, Marshall currently lives in Houston.
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