Editor's notes

My Personal Connection to Our WWII Read-Aloud Play

Anna Starecheski

My paternal grandmother Irene in her WAVES uniform

After every issue of Storyworks Jr. has been sent off to the printer, Executive Editor Kara Corridan and I sit down and brainstorm for our "Can't-Miss Teaching Extras." (Unfamiliar with those? With most stories in Storyworks Jr., we offer a curated list of teaching tips, fun facts, and learning extensions. They're listed in a column on the righthand side of the story page. Check them out!)

Our May/June play is When Girls Ruled Baseball by Lauren Tarshis, which is about one of the special roles women took on during World War II: that of pro baseball players. When we were discussing Teaching Extras, Kara suggested we research other roles of women in World War II, from their work in munitions factories to women who served in the Armed Forces. "My grandmother served in World War II," I offered. And thus, this Ideabook post was born!

I invite you to read my story and perhaps share it with your students—along with your own experiences! Do you have relatives who fought in World War II? Share their stories! The people who came of age during World War II are elderly now, and all my relatives who fought have passed away. It's important to keep telling their stories, so that we can keep this history alive for kids growing up today, for whom World War II seems like ancient history. I've included some discussion questions at the end of this post so you can keep the conversation going with your students.

A recruiting poster for the WAVES

When we think about women in World War II, we often think of Rosie the Riveter, of women working in factories while the men were away. (Be sure to check out our awesome video for great info on and powerful footage of women in the workforce during the war.) But many people might not know that women were also called upon to serve in the Armed Forces. The Navy was one branch of the military that welcomed women. Well, "welcomed" may be a strong word. Unsurprisingly, not everyone was on board with bringing women into the military.

Nevertheless, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES, was created in 1942. Its primary purpose was to place women in shore establishments to free up more men for sea duty. This meant that no WAVES served in combat—they ranged from doctors and engineers to administrative and clerical roles. They took jobs previously held by men, so that those men could go and fight at sea. At the height of the program, there were more than 86,000 women in the WAVES.

A photograph of my grandmother before her days in the WAVES

In 1945, my grandmother, Irene Anderson, was 21 years old. She was a quiet Swedish girl, the daughter of immigrants, living in Ridgway, Pennsylvania. When she found out that the WAVES were recruiting, she was eager to sign up. To be honest, I don't know much about my grandma's early life. She was always very mysterious and shy, and I never got the nerve to ask her all the questions I wanted to. When someone is as quiet and unforthcoming as my grandma was, you find yourself not wanting to pry too much. So I'm really not sure why a young woman who had never lived away from home would sign up to join the military. Maybe she craved adventure. Maybe she wanted to serve her country. Whatever the reason, she enlisted and was trained at Hunter College (now Lehman College) in the Bronx. 

She served from 1945-1946. She was in charge of a WAVES barracks at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. She handed out bedding and made sure toilet paper and cleaning supplies were in stock. Nothing fancy, but she was proud to serve. After the war ended, a young seaman named Edward Starecheski arrived at Patuxent to be discharged. His barracks was within sight of my grandmother's, and they saw each other in what I imagine was a time-stopping, super-romantic movie moment. Before long, they fell in love. They got married on the base with a military preacher and had a one-night honeymoon.

My grandma had entered the war as Irene Anderson, and would leave it as Irene Starecheski. After the war ended, the WAVES were quickly demobilized. Just as the female factory workers were shooed back into their homes, the women of the WAVES were thanked for their service and encouraged to go back to their civilian lives as wives and mothers. My grandparents moved to a tiny apartment in Philadelphia and started a quiet postwar life.

After the war, my grandparents lived in the second-floor apartment of this little house in West Philadelphia (now a taco shop). 

I wish I knew more about my grandma's experience in the WAVES. I'm proud that she was one of the brave, adventurous women who signed up to take a traditionally male role in such a brutal war. There's so much complexity, so many layers to World War II history, and it's important to remember the roles women held. From pro baseball players, to munitions factory workers, to military personnel like my grandmother.

Here are some discussion questions to raise with your students when learning about women in World War II:

  • Why do you think women were forced back into their roles as housewives after the war ended?
  • How are things different for women today? 
  • Do you have any family members who served in World War II or other wars?
  • Are there any family members who have experiences you'd like to know more about?
  • Why do you think it's important to talk to the older people in our lives and learn about their experiences?

Teach Earth Day With Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.

Anna Starecheski

Earth Day is on April 22nd, and if you're in search of a great lesson, we've got you covered! We've gathered our favorite Earth Day-friendly articles from this years' issues of Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. and have suggested some mini-lessons to go along with them. Happy Earth Day, from us to you!


Should Helium Balloons Be Banned?

In this fun debate from the February 2017 issue, students will learn the surprising ways in which helium balloons are not so environmentally-friendly. But does the fun outweigh the harm? Use this teacher's fun and simple debate lesson plan along with this debate!

Monster Goldfish/Pigs on the Loose

This paired text from the February 2017 issue is sure to blow your students' minds! Two texts explore two unlikely invasive species: goldfish and wild pigs. These stories are exciting to read, while teaching an important lesson about the environment. For a fun extension activity, have students research invasive species in your area. 

Storyworks Jr.

The Girl Who's Saving the Bees

This bite-size nonfiction piece from the October/November 2016 issue covers an incredible kid named Mikaila Ulmer, who was disturbed by the plight of bees in the world today. Mikaila has created a business selling lemonade while raising money and awareness. She uses local honey in her lemonade, and a portion of the profits go to saving the bees. Your students are sure to be inspired by Mikaila's mission! For a learning extension, do some research with your students and find out which local plants in your area are best for bees. You could even plant some at your school! 

The Snake That's Eating Florida

The feature nonfiction from the September 2016 issue is about one of the most well-known and destructive invasive species: the Burmese python. These huge snakes live in the Florida everglades and gobble up everything in their paths. We predict that your students will be fascinated by these slithery creatures. For extra fun, watch this video about invasive species created by our colleagues at Action magazine!


Do you have a successful Earth Day lesson we should know about? Tell us about it in the comments below!

More Favorite #MyStoryworksMoment Tweets!

Anna Starecheski

In February, we asked you to join our social media community at #MyStoryworksMoment to share your quintessential and out-of-the-box moments using Storyworks or  Storyworks Jr. in your classroom. We just love these visual connections that teachers are posting. It continues to inspire and amaze us to see your beautiful tweets, so keep them coming. Plus we love connecting with you on social media! Here are a few more of our favorites:

Not one but two awesome teachers shared pictures of their classes building real-life popsicle-stick bridges after reading our fiction story "The Popsicle-Stick Bridge" in Storyworks Jr.!

Storyworks adviser Dana Canales of Texas shared some awesome tweets about how she uses Storyworks to prep her students for STAAR assessments! We loved her idea so much that we asked her to turn it into an Ideabook post. Luckily for us, she agreed! Her post is coming soon.

Our beloved Link Ladies shared a snippet of their famous app-style learning: Their students were so excited to read about lucky charms around the world in Grammar Cop that they researched more on their own!


We've already showcased some of our favorite #MyStoryworksMoment tweets, and we're eager to share more with you! We can't overstate how much it makes our day to see your tweets. We're so excited to be in touch with you! Feel free to follow our editors on Twitter:

  • Lauren Tarshis, editor of Storyworks@laurenTarshis
  • Allison Friedman, associate editor of Storyworks@alli_friedman
  • Kara Corridan, editor of Storyworks Jr.@kcorridan
  • Anna Starecheski, assistant editor of Storyworks Jr.@annastarecheski
  • Rebecca Leon, education editor for Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.@RebeccaLeon12
  • Aimee Dolan, director of teacher outreach for all of our ELA mags: @Dolan_AS

Enter to Win a Test-Prep Essential!

Aimee Dolan

Hello, teachers! We know that testing is on your minds at this point in the year, and we want to help make your test-prep lessons as meaningful, simple, and joyful (yes, I said that!) as possible. It's a tall order but we've got an effective and delightful solution. It's Storyworks Core Skills Workout: Making Inferences, a 64-page workbook focused on one of the most difficult skills to teach. What you'll find in this uniquely designed activity book is a multigenre, scaffolded, treasure trove of test-prep goodness!

Take a look at just one way you can tackle inference:  

We're giving away a full class set of this fabulous activity book to three of you.  

All you need to do is enter using this form. As a bonus, when you enter, you'll be subscribed to the free Storyworks Ideabook newsletter, where you'll find simple and exciting ways to teach with Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.! We send out two awesome emails every month featuring Genius Teaching Ideas from your colleagues, alerts on our latest content, and amazing strategies for using our texts in your classroom.

We will randomly select three winners by March 13th, 2017. Good luck!

Our favorite #MyStoryworksMoment Tweets...So Far!

Anna Starecheski

Earlier this month, we asked you to join our social media community and share your special moments with Storyworks or Storyworks Jr. All I can say is WOW! It's been such a pleasure seeing your #MyStoryworksMoment tweets, sharing our own, and talking with you! Here are just a few of our favorites:

This tweet from teacher Stacy Musick seriously killed us: So adorable, and so great to see partner reading in action!

LOVE seeing Mrs. Smothers' class working on the readaloud play The Legend of King Midas from Storyworks Jr. There are definitely some future actors in that bunch!

Here's another tweet about King Midas, this time featuring the wonderful students in teacher Renee Johnson's class!

This tweet from Ideabook contributor Kristen Cruikshank made us so happy: Love seeing friends reading and learning together!

We can't overstate how much it makes our day to see your tweets. We're so excited to be in touch with you! Feel free to follow our editors on Twitter:

Use This Story to Teach SEL

Kara Corridan

We've been getting a great response to "What Makes Charlie Awesome?" in the February issue of Storyworks Jr., a story about a boy whose physical difference--hands with two fingers each--is by far the least remarkable thing about him. We'd hoped it would serve as a wonderful opportunity to teach acceptance and empathy, and according to the teachers we've heard from, that's exactly what it's done. If you haven't yet used the videos we've offered as learning extensions, please check them out. There's one about Charlie's older brother, Ethan, which was created for Storyworks a few years back, and one filmed last fall when I visited Charlie at his home—have gone a long way with your students. (That's me and Charlie in the photo.) You might want to share these extra facts about Charlie that didn't make it into the story, too:

1. He has no problem with public speaking. At the end of 5th grade, Charlie was asked to give a speech reflecting on how school had changed over the years for him and his classmates. ("It didn't scare me at all.") And this past January, he read an award-winning story he wrote for a Martin Luther King community event. 

2. He's a straight-A student. His favorite subjects are Spanish and Art. He describes it as "very relaxing." Math can be "very stressing" and as for Social Studies, "I don't get the best feeing." What's his impression of middle school? "Honestly, it's kind of a cool experience." 

3. When I asked Charlie to think of one thing that he wishes were different about himself, guess what he said? "I could try to make my hair look better, but that has nothing to do with my hands."

Charlie is truly a one-of-a-kind kid, and we're so glad his story has resonated with your students. Consider it Phase One of our upcoming emphasis on social-emotional learning, which we'll be focusing on in a big way in the 2017-18 school year. You'll hear lots more about this as it gets closer. But in the meantime, tell us: What SEL lessons are you incorporating into your classrooms? And what impact have they had on your students? 

Behind the Scenes: What No One Knows About Our Videos

Allison Friedman

If there’s one online resource our teachers can’t get enough of, it’s videos. The most consistent piece of feedback we hear about them is “more, please!”

I’ve been working on Storyworks videos for 3 years now, and can honestly say that we love producing them as much as you and your students love watching them. But believe it or not, putting together a 5-minute video is no small feat!

Here’s a quick glimpse at what went into the Behind the Scenes video for our February 2017 Nonfiction article, “Disaster in Space”:

  • 2: The number of weeks it took to make the video, from beginning to end
  • 9: The number of times we edited the script before we were happy with it
  • 400: The number of photos and video clips our eagle-eyed photo editor Larry Schwartz gathered for us to look at
  • 200: The number of astronaut photos we combed through before finding this perfect image:

  • 30: The approximate number of snacks we consumed while working on this video (and that’s a conservative estimate!)
  • 5: The number of video drafts our incredibly talented (and patient!) video editor, Seth Stein, put together before we settled on the final
  • 12,200: The number of times the video has been viewed so far

Do you have any suggestions for future Storyworks videos? Let us know in the comments!

We Love Teachers!

Kara Corridan

Happy Valentine's Day, teachers! You inspire us every day, and we're in constant awe of all that you do. With that in mind, here are just a few of the reasons we love you!

  1. You go the extra mile for your students. We know that you do many, many hours of extra work to ensure that your students are thriving.
  2. You help us make our resources great. We're endlessly grateful for the feedback, critiques, and suggestions you share with us. 
  3. You shape our kids' minds and hearts. It's no newsflash that children look up to their teachers. The compassion and validation you offer means everything to them. 
  4. You're a vital part of our community. We just launched a hashtag, #MyStoryworksMoment, where teachers (and members of our team) can share their moments with Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. The things you're tweeting make us SO happy! We love connecting with you any chance we get.
  5. You're incredibly creative. At least once a week we meet a teacher who is imparting a lesson in a way that is so original and unique and important, and with such love.

We could go on and on...really. Please feel free to share what you love about teaching OR your favorite teachers and colleagues in the comments. Happy Valentine's Day from all of us at Storyworks and Storyworks Jr.!

Share Your #MyStoryworksMoment with Us!

Anna Starecheski

Hello, teachers! In addition to my work as assistant editor of Storyworks Jr., I also coordinate social media for all of our wonderful ELA classroom magazines. One of my favorite things to do is to simply search #Storyworks and #StoryworksJr on Twitter. Nothing makes our day more than seeing a tweet from a teacher who has had a classroom success, or wants to share her students interacting with our resourcesWe realized that you're all tweeting, pinning, and Facebooking moments like this regularly, and not only do we want to see them all, we want you to see each other's! And thus, #MyStoryworksMoment was born.

We want to see your students' reactions when they crack open a new issue!

Yes, we even want to see you planning lessons!

Because we can't throw that giant Storyworks house party we've been dreaming up, we hope that we can stay connected with each other by sharing our collective moments in our newly launched #MyStoryworksMoment hashtag. We'll share our own Storyworks moments with you too, so we hope you'll join us!

(Don't worry about putting a fancy schmancy border on yours: Simply snap a pic and post it! Just be sure to use the hashtag so we can see it!)

We'll share our own, too: Here are Storyworks editors Rebecca Leon and Allison Friedman, hard at work on activity sheets!

Check out the hashtag #MyStoryworksMoment on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, and share your own moments! We'll be featuring our favorite classroom pics every week, and hosting Skypes this spring with winners chosen at random. We can't wait to see how you've captured the joy of learning with all of your amazing students.

Celebrate Black History Month With These Editor's Picks!

In honor of Martin Luther King Day on January 16, and Black History Month in February, we want to highlight some of our favorite Civil Rights-related Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. content from past and present. (Here's your friendly reminder that with a subscription, you can access our archives, with contain many gems like these!) Most of what I’m recommending are plays, which gives your students the chance to step into the shoes of some of the most important figures in this movement.  

For Storyworks Jr. Subscribers:

The Day Mrs. Parks Was Arrested

This month in Storyworks Jr. we’ve got an incredible play about Rosa Parks, whose story features the young preacher Martin Luther King Jr. Make sure to check out our vocabulary slideshow and special Time Machine video, which gives students historical and cultural context by taking them back to the 1950s. Featured skill: cause and effect
NOTE: If you’re a Storyworks subscriber, you can check out a higher-level version of the play that we published a few years back!


For Storyworks subscribers:

The Unstoppable Ruby Bridges

Be sure to check out our latest Storyworks play about a brave 6-year-old who helped lead the way to school integration. While you’re poking around our resources, make sure to check out the vocabulary slideshow which can help introduce your students to the Civil Rights vocabulary they’ll encounter in the play. Featured skill: theme


Sitting Down for Mr. King

In this Civil Rights-era play, students learn about the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, and how four brave students inspired thousands to “sit down” for equality. Featured skill: how character changes


The Daring Escape of Henry Box Brown

This play isn’t directly related to MLK or the civil rights movement of the 20th century, but it has important lessons about our country’s treatment of African Americans. It tells the story of Henry Brown, and the unusual risk he took to escape slavery. Featured skill: inference


”Up From Slavery”

This nonfiction article tells the inspiring story of Booker T. Washington, a man who relentlessly pursued an education for himself and other former slaves. The article includes background information about the horrendous conditions of slavery and offers a video about the troubled times Booker lived through, including the Civil War and the difficult Reconstruction era. Featured skill: character traits


We hope you find these resources useful. Let us know how you use them in the classroom by commenting below, or emailing me directly at nkouri@scholastic.com.