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!


DIA Museum Trip!

If I had a travel budget to take my class around the world, you can bet a big part of our visits would be spent in museums. Art is such a tremendous way to learn about history and the world around you, and I wish we could spend time close to the masters more often.

I’ll do my best to document my trip today to the Detroit Institute of Art and post it here. The DIA is one of my favorite museums in the world (The Henry Ford is undoubtedly the best, of course, and I also like the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery of Art in DC), and going there was about the only thing I told my parents I REALLY wanted to do when I came back to Michigan this summer.

Here are a few pieces by artists we’ve studied that I’m REALLY excited to see.

"Giant Three-Way Plug," Claes Oldenberg
"Dancers in Repose," Edgar Degas
"Basket Set," Dale Chihuly
"The Bird of Washington or Great American Sea Eagle," John James Audubon

And no visit to the DIA would be complete without an extended visit to the jaw-droppingly magnificent Diego Rivera mural (It’s the one you’ve seen in the Chrysler Imported from Detroit commercial).

"Detroit Industry," Diego Rivera

Rad pictures hopefully to come tomorrow!


Ben Franklin myths

We talked today about the idea that Ben Franklin’s famous key and kite experiment was not actually struck by lightning. Instead, he felt a small zap of static electricity that was not enough to harm him, but was enough to prove that lightning was related to electricity.

We talked about the fact that nonfiction means not fake, but you still sometimes need to double check information, especially if the book is old. We then saw the Mythbusters video showing that Ben Franklin’s kite experiment was not quite what it seemed.


Appalachian Spring

Today, we started reading Ballet for Martha, a narrative nonfiction book illustrated by Brian Floca, who also illustrates Poppy, our current chapter read aloud.

Ballet for Martha is one of the books included in our Mock Caldecott Awards, and it’s pretty magnificent. I’ll review it in tomorrow’s book talk, but today I told our class that I’d upload the full ballet. We watched Part 1 today in class during snack time.