Illustration of a smiling man with a cap on next to a picture of a girl holding a younger girl

Create a Character Contest Winner / A Recipe For Disaster

We received 1,340 entries for this year’s create a character contest!

By Jerry Craft- Inspired by Naomi Li
From the May/June 2020 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will make inferences about character, using both words and images in a graphic novel-style story.

Guided Reading Level: S
DRA Level: 40
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A Recipe for Disaster

Story inspired by Naomi Li

This story was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue.

Activities (5)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
Activities (5) Download All Activities
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

Get background, tips, and more resources for teaching graphic novels Scholastic’s “Guide to Using Graphic Novels With Children and Teens.” You can find more ideas and a teacher discussion of graphic novels at this Cult of Pedagogy blog post.

The creator of our very first graphic story in Storyworks is none other than the Newbery-award winning author and artist Jerry Craft. In this video, he shares the story behind how he came to write his prizewinning graphic novel, New Kid.

This step-by-step guide for creating comics, by illustrator Jessica Emmett, walks kids through making their own graphic stories. It will also help them develop a deeper understanding of the graphic novels they read.

More About the Story


vocabulary, problem and solution, character, making connections, evaluating, theme

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning/Purpose

The story is about a girl’s struggle to choose one of her two ethnic backgrounds to celebrate at school. While her solution is clever and positive, the pressure she feels to choose an ethnicity to identify with is thought-provoking and worthy of more discussion.


The story is chronological and is presented in the style of a graphic novel.


The story includes some challenging vocabulary, such as heritage and traditions, as well as some words that name foods from various cuisines.

Knowledge Demands 

The story mentions foods from many cultures (e.g. kimchi, borscht, soda bread). Familiarity with burritos and wontons will be especially helpful.  

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Introduce the Story (5 minutes)  

  • We are thrilled to be offering for the very first time in Storyworks a graphic novel-style story, the outcome of our Create a Character contest. Newbery Medal winner Jerry Craft wrote and drew the story, based on a character described by 11-year-old Naomi Li. Ask students to turn to page 15 to meet this talented team.

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

  • Graphic novels have been used in the classroom increasingly over the past decade. Like traditional prose, they offer opportunities to think about literary elements like character, plot, and theme. The visual presentation can make a story more accessible and engaging, while also challenging readers to make inferences based on what they see—or don’t see. Our Can’t Miss Teaching Extras provide links to resources for teaching graphic novels.
  • As students read, prompt them to look for how the main character, Elizabeth, feels, based on both the words and pictures.

Vocabulary (10 minutes)

  • This story revolves around a girl’s struggle to choose one dish that represents her mixed heritage. On page 16, her classmates share the names of dishes they will bring to a class celebration. Our vocabulary Skill Builder will help students explore these dishes and where they come from.

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes)

  • Read the story as a class or have students read it independently. Then ask them to discuss or write their answers to the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions

  • In the frame at the bottom of page 16, how do you think Elizabeth feels? How does the drawing help you infer this? (inference/ visual literacy) Elizabeth probably feels stressed and confused. In the picture, her face looks sad and she appears to be thinking. Her classmates’ words are surrounding her head, so it looks like what they’re saying is adding to her stress.
  • Look at the dishes kids say they will bring to the class celebration. Which ones are you familiar with? Where does each one typically come from? (vocabulary) Answers will vary for the first question. Dishes include kimchi and BBQ beef (Korea), jerk chicken (Jamaica), borscht (Russia), soda bread (Ireland), corn bread (the South), and yakitori (Japan).
  • On page 17, what do you find out is Elizabeth’s main problem? (identifying a problem) Elizabeth doesn’t know what dish to bring to represent her heritage because she has two. Her mom is Chinese American and her dad is Mexican American. She doesn’t want to hurt either one by choosing a favorite recipe from the other’s culture.
  • Based on pages 18 and 19, what are Liz’s parents like? (character) They are positive and supportive of Liz and of each other. Her dad tells her “it’s a blessing to have two amazing family traditions,” and each parent encourages her to pick the other’s special dish. In the images, they look friendly.
  • Look at the frames on pages 19-20 that are labeled “Friday night” through “Sunday afternoon.” What story do they tell? (visual literacy) They tell the story of Liz worrying all weekend about what to do. She thinks about what dish to bring while she’s in bed, playing soccer, and sitting around her house. Finally, she has a great idea.
  • How does Liz finally solve her problem? (problem and solution) With her parents’ help, she creates a dish that represents both her Chinese and Mexican heritages. She combines burritos and wontons to make . . . burri-tons!

Critical-Thinking Question

  • If you were in Liz’s class, what dish, or combination of dishes, would you make? Explain why you would pick this. (making connections) Answers will vary.
  • What do you think you get out of this story that you wouldn’t get if it were a traditional written story instead of a graphic one? (evaluating) Answers will vary. Students may say that they get to see the characters and understand what they’re thinking and doing based on their facial expressions and body movements. The settings can be understood without reading descriptions of them. Also, students might note that they’re able to read this story faster than a traditional one.
  • What important ideas do you think the author—and character creator—want you to learn from this story? (theme) They probably want you to learn to be proud of your heritage, and that having two can be even better than having one! Furthermore, they might want you to realize that sometimes problems can feel overwhelming but that you can almost always find a solution.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Visual Literacy

  • Distribute our visual literacy Skill Builder for students to look more closely at the visual elements of the story. They can even try their own hands at graphic storytelling!

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

This graphic format can be ideal for struggling readers. They can practice comprehension skills with the support of visual cues and minimal text. Guide them to complete the Skill Builders in our Core Skills Workout.

For Advanced Readers

Invite students to rewrite this story as a traditional narrative, adding descriptive passages to replace the images. Alternatively, divide students into groups and ask each group to rewrite one part of the story as a narrative.

For ELL Students

Before reading, review vocabulary words that might be challenging for ELL students; for example, represents, heritage, specialty, generations, and recipes. After reading, have students discuss whether they think Liz found a good solution.

For Independent Reading

If students enjoyed this story, invite them to read Jerry Craft’s award-winning graphic novel, New Kid. It’s about an African American boy who attends a prestigious private school and must navigate being one of the few kids of color there.