Miss Geneva's Lantern

By Alisyn Martin

About the Book

This book was written in 1996 by Mary Dixon Lake and illustrated by Mary Frances Robinson. This lesson is made for 5th grade students. It is a folklore passed down from generation to generation in the American South and focuses in Georgia. The story follows the African American Southern culture and traditions while taking the audience through a journey into a story that very well could have happened.

The Author, Mrs Mary Dixon Lake

Mary Dixon Lake is a retired literacy teacher who used to work in the New York City public school system. Lakes family comes from the South, but she was born and grew up in New York. This was the best of both worlds for Lake because she was able to add both styles into her writing. Mary Dixon Lake's passion is writing books for the elementary aged child.

Lake also loves to read, dance and learn American Sign Language. She has two children and two cats. Lake has said, "I am a true New Yorker and love the city and all it has to offer. Besides my own life and family, what better place to find inspiration for stories. I just open my eyes and look around me."

The illustrator, Mary Frances Robinson

Mary Frances Robinson grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Even though she did not grow up in the South, she often incorporated southern style into her drawings. Being a self-taught artist, she thrived in the creative atmosphere and won many awards because of her take on Southern Life that she poured into her paintings. Most of her paintings feature a multicolored quilt hanging in the backyard. In her past, Robinson went to Mississippi to meet her mother-in-law, she was amazed to see that the lifestyle down in Mississippi was so similar to her paintings. At the time, she simply pictures so she could remember how it was. After her first child, she started painting again and in 1983 sold her first painting.

After that she was hooked. She took her family to the south in search of old buildings and farmhouses. Robinson has said about the topic, “They were falling down, but when I painted them, I would put them back up and put the families back in...That’s what my paintings represent — a certain time when family was very important and quilts were important,”

Southern Culture and Traditions

Some of the specific traits of the Southern culture (during the time of the books setting-1940's) are, attachment to churches/religion, a relaxed slower pace, polite and well-mannered which is called "southern hospitality", also, the culture in the south is much more socially conservative than the rest of the country.

In Miss Geneva's Lantern, there are a few customs that the student should be aware of; walking down dusty clay roads, elderly sitting on the front porch rocking in rockers, the "southern hospitality" as said above, and children being scared of adult due to rumors them having heard.

Evaluation of Miss Geneva's Lantern

According to the Evaluation Criteria for Multicultural Children's Literature (Hancock, 2007, p. 87), Miss Geneva's Lantern has these three strengths; it is rich in cultural details, it includes members of a "minority" group for a purpose other than filling a "quota" and it demonstrates unique language or style.

-Miss Geneva's Lantern demonstrates how it is rich in cultural details through the illustrations throughout the book. It allows the audience to see the different housing types in the south, the different vegetation/ environment surrounding the story, the different clothing types, and many more.

-This story also includes members of a "minority" group for a purpose other than filling a "quota"; the entire story simply follows a young girl in a small town in Georgia. The author chose to make the character African American, I would think, because she herself is an African American and this story was passed down from her mother.

-The language usage in this book is a direct nod to the dialect that was spoken for the region and time period in the time.

Due to these three reasons, I believe Miss Geneva's Lantern meets enough criteria to be considered a multicultural book.


The two words I am choosing to teach to the 5th grade class are colloquialism and elephant-ear lily.

- Colloquialism is "...a word or phrase that is not formal or literary, typically one used in ordinary or familiar conversation."

- Elephant-Ear Lily is a type of plant that can gain up to 2 feet across. Elephant-Ear Lillies tend to grow best in the warm weather, which is why they are so typical in the South where is it warm and sunny all the time.


1) What do you think life would be like in the 1940's?

2) Do we use words like this today? "Haint's" What do you think Miss Geneva's trying to say when she uses this word?

3) Why do you think it is so important for Inez to give her mother an elephant-ear lily?

4) Do you think that Inez was scared after she saw the lantern at Miss Geneva's after she heard she had passed away?

5) If Inez knew that Miss Geneva had passed away, then why did she leave a note for her?

Instructional Sequence

-"Okay everyone, this is the story we are going to be reading today. It is a folklore called, Miss Geneva's Lantern. Can anyone tell me what the word folklore means?"

-Teacher calls on student A, B and C.

-The answer to the question is, a story that has been passed down by mouth from generation to generation, it serves to teach a lesson or give a moral to the audience.

-"So this story is a bit like a campfire story, it could be true and it could be false but either way this story has meaning. Have any of you ever been around a campfire and been told some kind of story? Can you turn to your partner and tell each other your stories, but make it fast!”

-Teacher give students 2 minutes to discuss. “Class, class. Let’s get started on Miss Geneva’s Lantern! Everyone come sit on the carpet.”

-“Here are my rule when it comes to sitting on the carpet, you can sit criss-cross, you can lay down on your stomach, but you absolutely have to be at a level zero the whole time, unless I ask a question. I need to be able to see that you are paying attention, or we are going to go straight back to our seats. Everyone understand? Thumbs up if you understand, thumbs down if you don’t.”

-“Before we start, I want to teach you a few words so you can understand the story and its contents a little better."

-Teacher will hold up a photo of an elephant-ear lily and say, "Has anyone seen one of these before?" while walking around so that each student can take in the flower on the page and see if it jogs their memory of seeing it before.

-"This is called an Elephant-Ear Lily. Why do you think it is called that?"

-Teacher will call on student E. The answer can be, some kind of lily, or that they do not know.

-"That's right! It is a kind of lily, it is called an Elephant-Ear because it kind of has the shape of an elephants ear. The reason is in the name. You will see this plant in the story when we read it, so keep your eyes out. This kind of plant grows very well in the warm, it needs lots of constant sunshine."

-"The next word we are going to talk about is colloquialism. It’s a big, long word. What do you think it means? Tell your partner."

-After a minute of letting the students discuss, call on student E. "What did you and your partner come up with?" The answer they come up with could be anything really. Some might come close, but it is a long word that I think they may not understand.

-"Colloquialism is an odd word, it means words or phrases that are used every day and are a lot like shortcuts. Words like; gonna for going to, or What's up instead of Hello, how are you. What are some other examples that maybe you guys use today?"

-The answer could be any colloquialism.

-"When we read Miss Geneva's Lantern, there are going to be certain words that sound funny to us, but back when this story was taking place, it would be pretty normal."

-"While we are reading, it is important to remember that while the teacher is talking the conversation level is at a zero. When I ask the group a question, you need to participate. We are going to be reading Miss Geneva's Lantern and answering some questions. While we are working, there is no movement unless you ask me. You need to stay in your chair and be active in the group discussion."

-Teacher will then read Miss Geneva's Lantern.

-Teacher must take notice to the Note About The Story.

-On the first page, after reading the print, ask the students, "What do you think life would be like in the 1940's?"

-Acceptable answer would be along the lines of, nothing like we have today.

-On page 20, after reading the print, point out to students the word, "'Haints..." "Do we use words like this today? "'Haints"? What do you think Miss Geneva is saying when she says this? Tell your partner."

-An acceptable answer would be, 'He ain't'. Which is not proper English, so 'He isn't' is better.

-On page 22, after reading the text, ask the students "Why do you think it was so important to Inez that she get an elephant-ear lily to give to her mother?" Call on Student F.

-The answer should be along the lines of 'at first it was something nice to give to her, and then it turned to be a more curious adventure.'

-Continue reading until page 24. After reading the text on that page, stop and ask the students, "Do you think that Inez was scared after she saw the lantern at Miss Geneva's after she heard that Miss Geneva had passed away?" Call on 2 students

-The answer should be along the lines of 'No, she felt comforted a little'

-The teacher should finish the story and say, " If Inez knew that Miss Geneva had passed away, then why did she leave a note for her?" I want you guys to think about it, and once you have an answer share it with your partner. You have 2 minutes. So take your time and think about it. Okay, go."

-The teacher should wait and once the students start to simmer down, say, "Okay, class, class." "Who wants to share?" Call on Student G

-The answer should be along the lines of, 'Inez felt grateful to Miss Geneva, she didn't completely believe that Miss Geneva was dead, because her lantern was still checking on her barn, the same as every night.'

-“Okay everybody, lets go back to our seats for a little bit. Hustle.”

- Once everyone gets back to their seats the teacher will say, “What we are going to do today is write our own campfire stories. After you write your story I am going to pick them up and read out loud a few of them. If you absolutely don’t want your story read, put your name and don’t read at the top of the paper.”

-“Everyone get out a piece of paper and pencil, please.”

-Let students get paper.

-"Have any of you heard a story that your mother/father told you without them actually having a book in front of them? What about your grandparents? Well, what we are going to do today is write our own campfire story. You can be as creative as you want, before we start I want to go over what makes a good story.”

-Teacher should go to the board and write down; main character, setting, problem and result. "Your story has to have these 5 things in them in order for it to be successful. Make sure you put your names on the paper, so I can get it back to you! You guys need a piece of paper and a pencil. If you have any questions, raise your hand and I will be happy to help you. You have 10 minutes to write, I'll put on some music but you all need to continue working."

-"Once you're done writing, get out a book and read but you must stay quiet so that others can focus on their writing."

-Teacher puts calming, wordless music on, and sets a timer at 10 minutes on the document camera for everyone to see.

-“Okay, times up! If you aren’t already done, go ahead and finish your thought. I’m going to come around and pick up the rest of them.”

-Teacher should go around and get the rest of the papers.

-“So I’m going to read one or two of these awesome looking stories, but while we are listening to campfire stories we should be eating something that we cook in a campfire right? What do you make when you are camping? Anyone?”

-They should answer s’mores.

-“That’s right! We are going to make some s’mores! If Mr. Hughes would be so kind as to man the microwave while I read some of the stories. You guys are going to have to be patient, because we can only make two at a time.”

-“Let’s go over our CHAMPS while we are listening to stories. Overall, we are going to be respectful. Everyone tried their hardest, so if I hear laughter, you are going straight to the safe seat. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Conversation level is at a zero while we are listening, you shouldn’t need help, but if you do raise your hand. Activity, you are listening to your peer’s folklore stories. Movement, there should be none. After we finish, we will go to the bathroom so you all can wash your hands. Do not ask me to go while we are reading. Participation, please show respect for your classmates and me, at the end of the stories we read, we will clap for the person. If you follow these you will have success!”

- Teacher will pick three short stories from the class, do not pick ones that have ‘do not read’ at the top.

-After each story make sure to say a compliment about the story, and if any student makes fun of the story they must go to the safe seat. Respect must be followed.

-"So what were some ways that you guys saw similarities in the stories your friends wrote and Miss Geneva's Lantern?"

-Their answers should range, but the main point is that they could be made up stories or they could have some truth to them. Both stories share a spooky quality, and have a moral to share with the audience.

-Call on at least two students.

-Make sure each student gets a s’more.

-“I’m very proud of all you guys did today, thank you for listening and participating!”





-Whiteboard marker


-Chocolate Bars

-Graham Crackers

-Miss Geneva's Lantern book