26 Fairmount Avenue
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
1938 was a special year for 5-year old Tomie, because his parents decided to move into a brand-new house being built at 26 Fairmount Avenue. It's exciting to watch his new house be built, but there are all sorts of setbacks, like a flood, a fire, and even a hurricane! While Tomie waits and waits for his house to be completed, he begins kindergarten, goes to see Disney's "Snow White" when it is brand-new, and and spends lots of time with his fun family. Finally the new house is ready, and Tomie must leave his old neighborhood, and get ready for all of the new adventures at 26 Fairmount Avenue.
Before Reading the Book
Before you begin 26 Fairmount Avenue, discuss with your class the difference between a biography and an autobiography. (Both are true stories about a person's life; the difference is that in an autobiography, the writer is writing about him- or herself, while in a biography, the writer is writing about somebody else). Study both definitions, and use examples illustrate the differences.
Introduce 26 Fairmount Avenue to your students as an autobiography written by famous picture book author Tomie dePaola about his own childhood. Many of your students will have read his books before, so remind your class of some of his famous picture books, like Strega Nona (bring copies to show to your students, and maybe even read one together).
Tomie is five years old and just entering kindergarten in 26 Fairmount Avenue. Before you begin reading, ask the students in your class what they remember about being five. You may want to ask them about their kindergarten class, their teacher, what games they liked to play, and what books or TV shows or songs they really liked.
Tomie dePaola incorporates many historical details from his childhood. Research the year 1938 with your class using a history book or time line to learn about the major events that happened that year such as the Great Depression. You may also want to further explore some of the thirties references that Tomie makes, such as famous actresses Mae West and Shirley Temple, the release of Disney's "Snow White" (the first full-length animated feature), newsreels, radio programs, and even the thirties fashions that Tomie describes and draws.
Story of My Life
Now that you've read Tomie dePaola's autobiography, have your students write their own autobiographies! Start by creating a list of questions for each student to answer. Sample questions are listed below, but you may also want to create a list made of suggestions from your students.
What is your full name?
When and where were you born?
Where do you live?
How many siblings do you have? What are their names and ages?
What is your favorite/ least favorite food, color, subject at school, number?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
You can even create headings for certain groups of questions; some possibilities are "Family Life," "All About Me," "My Life So Far." Then, once your students have filled out their own lists, ask them to use the information in writing a few paragraphs about themselves. Voila - they've written their own autobiographies!
You may also want to further discuss the differences between biographies and autobiographies. How would your students gather information about a biography subject if they were alive? What if they were writing a biography about a figure from the past? How would they write differently if they were writing about their classmates than if they were writing about themselves?
Tomie dePaola's Family Fun
Several of the family members in 26 Fairmount Avenue appear in picture books written by Tomie dePaola. Tom is about his grandfather Tom, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs is about his grandmother and great-grandmother, and The Art Lesson is about Tomie's kindergarten experiences. These picture books may be fun read-alouds for the class after you have finished 26 Fairmount Avenue since they expand upon the stories they will have heard. You may also want to offer these books to readers who are more comfortable independently reading picture books rather than chapter books.
Your class can also create a big family tree of the dePaola family. Create a fill-in family tree to xerox for your student, or create a giant classroom-size family tree on posterboard. Refer to the list of characters at the beginning of the book, and decorate with xeroxed pictures from the book or drawings that your students create. You may also want to incorporate this activity into a study of your students' own family trees.
Create a Classroom Community
Ask your students to draw a picture of where they live. Encourage them to add as many details as they can, including the sorts of things that take place at their homes: friends on bikes, parents and neighbors in cars, kickball games in the yard, dogs or cats running around. Create a "Classroom Community" by hanging up all of the pictures in a neighborhood-style bulletin board, complete with cardboard mailboxes below each picture identifying who lives there.
26 Fairmount Avenue is all about Tomie dePaola's family of the 1930's. Let your students write about their own family members - and learn about them at the same time! First, discuss with your students how to interview someone. Some good tips to give them are to make a list of questions ahead of time, to ask open-ended questions (not just yes-or-no questions), to take good notes, and to pay close attention. Then ask them to interview a grown family member about their childhood. Questions they will want to ask include where they grew up, what they did for fun, what their families were like, and any major events they remember from their childhood. Your students will write down their answers during the interview, and then turn them into a short story about their parent's life as a kid.