GUEST BLOGGER ROXANNE TROUP
MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME (Yeehoo Press, 2023) is a lyrical, intergenerational story about the life- and harvest-cycle of pecans. It features a seasonal structure and highlights where our food comes from, readily tying it to science curricula. But it’s also a great ELA pick for discovering the diverse, yet untold stories of our country’s past.
One untold story
In the backmatter of MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME students discover the untold story of a man called Antoine. Antoine was an enslaved gardener at Oak Alley plantation in Louisiana. There he developed a grafting technique that allowed pecan growers to produce large, thin-shelled pecans on hardy wild stock. In 1876, his pecans were showcased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition—and won! Just a few years later, growers from all over the country began using Antoine’s grafting technique and the modern pecan industry was born. Today over 1,000 different varieties of pecans exist and are enjoyed throughout the world—all thanks to Antoine.
Antoine’s is not the only story to be “forgotten” by history. Many such stories exist—some of which are being uncovered and told in modern children’s books. Books like FARMER WILL ALLEN AND THE GROWING TABLE by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Shabazz Larkin, and ICE CREAM MAN by Glenda Armand and Kim Freeman feature the stories of more black men who revolutionized the food industry; other books like COUNTING ON KATHERINE by Helaine Becker and Dow Phumiruk, QUEEN OF PHYSICS by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang, and LOOK UP! by Robert Burleigh and Raul Colon highlight the untold stories of women in STEM.
Diving into research
Read a sampling of the books I’ve mentioned. Then have your students research other “untold” stories of inventors, mathematicians, and scientists that have impacted our nation. Here are a few websites/people to direct your students toward:
- Ned, inventor of the cotton scraper (slave master, Oscar Stewart);
- Benjamin Montgomery, inventor of a steamboat propeller for shallow water;
- Sarah Goode, inventor of the folding cabinet bed and the first Black woman issued a US patent;
- Ellen Eglin, inventor of the clothes wringer for washing machines;
- Native American scientists as highlighted by Discover Magazine;
- Black scientists and engineers as highlighted by PBS; and
- Female scientists in history as highlighted by Smithsonian Magazine.
Share their stories
Have students share the amazing stories they uncover. I’ve listed several presentation options that will work for multiple ability- and age-levels (3rd-6th grade). Match presentations to your student’s abilities, interest, and/or classroom tech availability:
- Writing a news article about the person;
- Creating an advertisement for the product they invented;
- Finding a picture book about the person and doing a dramatic reading;
- Creating a lapbook/digital flipbook presentation about their story; or
- Working with a partner to “interview” the subject.
You can find ELA lesson ideas for younger readers in this free teacher guide for MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME.
Roxanne Troup grew up along the waterways of Missouri, where everyone had a pecan tree but few grew pecans commercially. Today, she lives in the mountains of Colorado (where no one grows pecans) and writes kid’s books that celebrate wonder and family. With a background in education, Roxanne loves visiting schools to water seeds of literacy and teach about writing. (And sometimes remembers to water the plants in her own garden.) Learn more about her books or connect with her online at www.roxannetroup.com or on Twitter and Pinterest @roxannetroup.