Book of the Week: Dear Benjamin Banneker

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

Dear Benjamin Banneker, by Andrea Davis Pinkney

You can preview this book on Google Books.

I wanted to highlight this as a book of the week because I know many grade-level teams have planned a unit highlighting interesting and inspiring Americans, and I wanted to make sure we have enough resources to support this unit.

Benjamin Banneker was a freed black man living in the late 1700s who ran a successful tobacco farm, published a successful almanac, and told off a young Thomas Jefferson for his hypocrisy in owning slaves.

Well-known books like this already have a bunch of full lesson plans available online, so there’s no real need for me to redo them. If you’re looking for a more in-depth project, you might want to take a look at:

Additionally, this book used to be an SFA text, so 30 copies are available for use as a shared text. If you use multiple bags of books, please make sure you check out each bag from the bookroom. There’s also an SFA teacher’s guide with vocabulary and comprehension questions.

We have enough of a collection of books by Andrea David Pinkney / Brian Pinkney that you might want to consider an author’s study of their work. See me if you’d like help putting this together!

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:


  • Recognize literary elements (theme). Especially if this is part of a larger unit on inspiring Americans, you might want to explore some of these universal themes:

    • Persistence in the face of challenges
    • Standing up for what you believe in
    • A full life is well-rounded and allows you to develop your passions
    • Privilege plays a role in what individual determination can achieve (how would Banneker’s life be different if he hadn’t been born to a freedman? If he had been born closer to the civil war? If he was born in the South during the civil rights movement?)

  • Compare and contrast within and between text. The SFA skill focus for this book is compare and contrast. Please refer to the teachers’ guide in the book bag for more details.


  • Use the pictures… Do the words and pictures match? More complex words like observing, plotted, astronomy, and eclipse make sense in the context of this book. It would also be interesting to use this book with the Astro Adventures science kit, because students would already be primed to be more aware of sky-and-space related terms.

Behaviors that support reading

  • Select and read good-fit book. Benjamin Banneker taught himself astronomy! Amazing. The level of self-motivation he must’ve had is amazing. Our students need to strive to find topics and issues that interest them so they too can be motivated to take a lead role in their own successes. Use this book to reinforce the strategy of IPICK.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


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