Teacher’s Guides: Adrianna Cuevas & Andrea M. Page on Creating Guides as Freelancers

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today we’re talking with two authors who created educator guides for their own books, but have also made teacher’s guides for other authors.

Adrianna Cuevas

As a former teacher, did you use teaching guides in the classroom?

I was a Spanish and ESOL teacher, so I never used teacher guides from books in my curriculum. We were too busy conjugating verbs, role playing communication scenarios, and simply giving a thumbs up or down to stories we read.

You have one of the most interesting stories I’ve heard about landing a gig to write a teacher’s guide. Can you tell us about that?

I read and review books from NetGalley. In 2019, I read Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (Disney, 2019) and absolutely loved it, due to its strong humorous voice and Cuban-American representation. I wrote an extensive review on NetGalley which was seen by Dina Sherman from Disney Publishing. She contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing the teacher guide for Sal and Gabi since they were wanting an author with the same cultural background as Carlos. I excitedly accepted.

How do you approach writing an educational guide for another author’s book?

I first think about what kind of teacher guide would best help an educator incorporate a book in their classroom curriculum. As a former teacher, I understand the extra time involved in creating materials for students so I want to make sure my guides help teachers use new books with their students while not demanding a lot of preparation time on their part.

I read the book, and as I’m reading, I’ll tag quotes I want to use for extended response selections, write down higher-order thinking questions, and brainstorm extension ideas. In the creation of the teacher guide, I provide a summary, necessary background information, short answer questions, extended response essay questions, cross-curricular activities, and extension activities.

You also wrote educational guides for your own books. Do you ever find yourself thinking about what will go into the guide as you’re writing?

I’m typically too concerned with making sure my plot makes sense, my characters are unique, and that I’ve included just the right amount of fart jokes to worry about a teacher guide. That’s a problem for Future Me.

Your new book is very different from The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2020). Can you share with us the inspiration behind the story?

Cuba in My Pocket (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2021) is the story of Cumba Fernandez, who is sent to the United States by himself from Cuba in the 1960s after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

I based this story on my father’s life. Getting to hear all of my dad’s stories while I wrote this book is something that I will treasure forever. And since my dad passed away last November, it has solidified my belief that my authorial mission is to preserve my family’s history and culture. I feel that Cuba in My Pocket does just that.

La Familia Cuevas photo, taken in Cuba. The little kid is my Tio Armando and the older boy is my dad, Gilberto.

Did the story’s historical setting influence what went into the teaching guide?

Most students are not familiar with Cuban history. I knew that providing accurate and relevant historical and cultural information was essential for the teacher guide.

While writing the teacher guide for The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, I focused on the science of eclipses and the folklore of the tule vieja. But for Cuba in My Pocket, I had to give teachers resources so their students would understand the inciting incidents of the story as well as the historical context.

Cookie- this is my dog who likes to sniff his own farts and sit right under my feet while I’m writing so that I inevitably step on him.

What are you working on next?

While I loved telling my dad’s story, I am fully aware that historical fiction is not my passion. Contemporary fantasy is my happy place and you can expect more magical stories from me featuring silly and strong Cuban-American kids.

Andrea M. Page


As a former teacher, did you use teaching guides in the classroom?

Yes, I found some very helpful. Well-written guides saved time in the classroom.

You also wrote an educational guide for your own book. Do you ever find yourself thinking about what will go into the guide as you’re writing?

At the time, I was learning how to craft a story of the Sioux Code Talkers of World War II (Pelican Publishing, 2017) while I was still teaching. I always thought about how topics in the manuscript would connect to the curriculum, but I wasn’t actively thinking about creating an educator guide while writing my book.

You’ve written resource guides for other authors as well. How do you approach those assignments?

Each project is different and I like to discuss ideas with the person first in order to map out a plan. I need to know what their expectations are for the guide and who the audience will be. Then, I read the book. I’m a slow reader, so I plan my time.

Reading rates change according to your purpose for reading, so when I’m plugging away, at first I want to read to enjoy the story. I’ve found using the post it flags (or creating my own if needed) lets me mark a spot to revisit. When I’m done, I write a summary of the story and go back to reread the flagged sections.

Then, as I make my way around to the story again, stopping to re-read all around those flagged sections, I want to make sense of why that passage stood out for me. Analyzing the story scenes requires a slower, closer reading.

At that point, I rewrite the parts that grab my attention, by hand on index cards. (This is the same approach I used with my students when they did some kind of research.) For me, using index cards is easier to manage. They can be shuffled into different categories or ranked in an order of significance. Once I have those sorted, I reflect on the themes in the story.

Thinking about themes is challenging because as an author, you have an idea of what you hope a reader will take away from the story. But when I was teaching, there were several books I read with children again and again because they were fabulous models of writing. As I re-read and discussed these stories with students, we uncovered more and more themes within a single title.

When thinking about themes as I’m writing an educator guide, I gravitate to more generalized values to cover a broader audience. And it helps to search different grade level state standards to see what topics to highlight in the discussion questions as well.

I’m mindful when creating questions, hopefully leading the reader through the book from beginning to end.

When you’re creating these guides, are you most often hired by the author or by the publisher?

So far, it’s been an equal amount of authors and publishers that I’ve been honored to work with, and I’m booked through next summer.

You’ve got an SCBWI webinar for writers coming up in November. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, I’m excited for this webinar where I’ll be sharing “golden lines” from contemporary children’s books by Native American authors. We’ll study the art and style of those lines from picture books through YA.

How do you write sentences that tickle a reader’s brain, making them want to stop and savor the words? Before I retired from teaching, I studied reading/writing resource books by educators like Laura Robb, Nancie Atwell, Katie Wood Ray, Kelly Gallagher, Georgia Heard, Ruth Culham, Katherine Bomer, Tom Romano, and Ralph Fletcher… and more.

On page 81 in her book Wondrous Words (NCTE, 1999), author/educator Katie Wood Ray explains a definition of “striking words” as:

words that are so beautiful they melt in your mouth
words you like the beat of, or the order surprises you
words that are so simple they’re just right
words that you like the way they sound
words you want to read them again and again

I have always called them “golden lines” because they stood out as “award-winning” sentences. Back when I was teaching, I guided students to focus on the parts that were most striking to them. They practiced reading and writing using the same sentence structure and their writing improved. Another benefit—it was so much fun to read their papers!

So I’ve kept up with the practice in my personal reading and writing, even though I’ve retired from teaching. Now, I study professional writing resources, ones that help me revise my works-in-progress. Writing for children (whether it’s nonfiction, poetry, and fiction) is hard work and I’m determined to keep learning and growing—and sharing ideas.

Participants will use sentence structures of “golden lines” I’ve chosen from Native authors to practice revising their own works-in-progress. Registration details for November 15th are all here.

Cynsational Notes

Adrianna Cuevas the author of the Pura Belpre honor book The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez and Cuba in My Pocket. She is a first-generation Cuban-American originally from Miami, Florida. A former Spanish and ESOL teacher, Adrianna currently resides in Austin, Texas; with her husband and son.

When not working with TOEFL students, wrangling multiple pets including an axolotl, and practicing fencing with her son, she is writing her next middle grade novel.

She is represented by Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary.

See Adrianna’s Cynsations interview on her debut book, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.

Andrea M. Page is the author of Sioux Code Talkers of World War II, a former a sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators and the New York State United Teachers.

See Andrea’s Cynsations interview on her debut book, Sioux Code Talkers of World War II.

Gayleen Rabakukk teaches creative writing classes for the Austin Public Library Foundation, is an active member of the children’s literature community and the former assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

This is the third in a three-part series exploring teacher guides. See Laurie Morrison’s guest post and the interview with Katie Potter from Lee & Low for a publisher’s perspective on teacher guides.