Written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor with illustrations by Ross Collins.
Published by Delacourt Press, 2010.
Peppered with humorous characters, lively language, and Collins’ expressive illustrations, this fast moving novel set in the Wild West employs the comedic exaggeration and outrageous happenings characteristic of a tall tale. Eight-year old Emily Wiggins hasn’t learned much more about the world other than how to be ‘seen and not heard ’ when she suddenly finds herself orphaned and en route via stagecoach to her Aunt Hilda’s. She must quickly discover her own resourcefulness, while determining whether she can completely trust a fellow traveling orphan rascal named Jackson. Together, the two devise a plan to keep Emily safe from grasping tiger-tattooed Uncle Victor who seeks to claim Emily as his own after learning that Emily stands to inherit a large fortune from her mother’s deceased employer. Readers will hold their breath on this wild ride, spurred on by cliffhanger chapter endings, and they just might learn a little something about friendship, courage, storytelling and American history along the way.
- Emily’s Fortune as a Mentor Text: Character Development. Emily’s Fortune is filled with vivid characters. Revisit the text as an opportunity to study how authors bring a character to life in the minds of their readers. Select passages that serve to further the reader’s understanding of a character, such as the discussion of Emily at the beginning of page 5, or the description of Uncle Victor at the bottom of page 7, and display these passages with a document camera or an overhead projector. Ask student to look closely at how the author uses description, dialogue, or action to let us know more about a character’s personality, motivation, and beliefs. Students can then try to apply these techniques in character sketches of their own composition.
- Tall Tale Genre Study. Read-aloud Emily’s Fortune to launch a class genre study of the Tall Tale. You will want to read many different examples of Tall Tales together in order to generate a list of characteristic of the genre. Be sure to include Tall Tales from various cultures in order to explore similarities and differences within the genre. As students develop their understandings of this form of writing, they can begin to draft their own original tall tales, ultimately publishing these tales individually or as a class compilation.
- Ready, Aim, Fire: Three of the many humorous characters in this novel are the neighbors, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim and Mrs. Fire. These characters speak in a pattern. “Mrs. Ready always repeated the problem. Mrs. Aim always asked the question. And Mrs. Fire always had an answer” (p. 6). Throughout her journey to find Aunt Hilda, Emily imagines how these ladies would respond to the situations in which she finds herself. Invite your students to practice writing dialogue following this conversational pattern. Students will have fun coming up with funny problems and solutions, and this is also a sneaky opportunity to practice correct punctuation for dialogue!
- Life in the “Wild West”: Emily’s Fortune is a work of historical fiction and as such, invites further study of the time period. Ask your students to identify the rough time period of the novel using the setting clues. Use the links below to assemble and display a collection of visual images from the time period and invite students to indentify and research a personal topic of interest related to the “Wild West.” Students can present their findings through digital media, writing, artwork, or performance art.
- Language / Strong Expressions: Each chapter in Emily’s Fortune ends with a dramatic question highlighted in large bold font. These questions contain creative and expressive language use, for example: “Where in tumblin’ tarnation was Emily supposed to sleep?” (p. 37). Students will naturally want to repeat these phrases and may come up with some humdingers of their own creation. Use this opportunity to discuss language variations (dialects and expressions) that are cultural, regional, and dependent on social contexts, as well as how those dialects and expressions are perceived by different social groups.
- Gender Roles: “Good Girl” / “Bad Boy”: When Emily disguises herself as a boy, she must adjust to different social expectations for her behavior. Discuss gender roles as they are depicted in this work of historical fiction. You may want to share excerpts of literature from this time period, such as Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl written in 1869 (available online at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/alcott/girl/girl.html#I ) and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer written in 1876 to further explore gender roles of the time period. Ask students to compare these presentations of proper ‘girl’ and ‘boy ’ behavior to the gender role stereotypes they may encounter in their daily lives.
Tall Tales at American FolkloreRead Write Think: Thundering Tall Tales
Aaron Shepherd’s Home Page: Storytelling
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
CA State Parks Stagecoach Lines Page
National Museum of American History - Gold and the Westhttp://americanhistory.si.edu/coins/flash/exhibition_theme.cfm?theme=4
Library of Congress: Stagecoach Photoshttp://loc.gov/pictures/resource/stereo.1s01576/
Carlson, L. M. (1996). Westward ho: An activity guide to the wild west. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
- A collection of songs, games, and activities related to the settlement of the West.
- Twelve year old Lucy is distressed when her mother moves the family from Massachusetts to California in the height of the gold rush. Her adventure is recounted in this coming of age novel.
- This photo essay from pioneering nonfiction writer Russell Freedman describes life in the western frontier from 1840 to the early 1900’s.
- A modern, boisterous tall tale about how opposites attract, set in the West Indies.
- This original Tall Tale, based on the real-life figure Henderson Luelling, depicts a fruit-tree-obsessed father who travels from Iowa to Oregon transporting his precious nursery stock, ably assisted by his children.
- A collection of exaggerated tales in the African American storytelling tradition.
- This Caldecott Honor winning picture book features larger than life Angelica Longrider, a.k.a. Swamp Angel, a Tall Tale heroine from Tennessee.
- The continued adventures of Swamp Angel as she moves from Tennessee to Montana.
- With Spanish phrases throughout, the original Tall Tale from the American Southwest features a giant heroine who lovingly cares for the people in the village near her home.
- With a conversational tone, the author provides an overview of American’s expansion Westward that covers the major historical events, includes maps, and features biographies of major historical figures.
- A boastful strong man receives his comeuppance in this Tall Tale from Nigeria.
- Holler Loudly is gifted with powerful vocal cords, but his family and community don’t fully appreciate his talents until he scares away a tornado that is about to descend on the town.
- In this Japanese folktale, a wrestler learns a lesson in humility from three generations of strong women.
- In this tale, marked by the classic exaggeration of the Tall Tale form, a cowboy sets his dog to guard his clothes while he takes his annual bath. Trouble ensues when the dog doesn’t recognize his newly washed master’s scent.
- Drawing on primary sources, the author presents a collection of ten carefully researched true stories about famous characters of the Wild West.
- This Tall Tale set in Michigan follows a traditional French Canadian storytelling form and features a smart young heroine who outwits a giant.