Benny Breakiron in The Red Taxis: Reading and Teaching Guides | Ages 5 - 8

Benny Breakiron in The Red Taxis: Reading and Teaching Guides | Ages 5 - 8


Papercutz has, once again, given the reader a delightful romp in the world of literature, engaging students with humor, action, vulnerability, and mystery while offering classic comics visuals. Naturally infused into the story are rich vocabulary, multiple languages and settings, a mystery to investigate, a problem to solve, lessons in economics and geography, character education, text to connections, reading strategies and so much more. BENNY BREAKIRON: “The Red Taxis” is ripe with academic opportunities for the elementary student, making it an excellent addition to the classroom library and the curriculum.


Common Core

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.3.1

CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RF 3.3-3.4

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.5, 3.10

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 & 3.8



Directions for Teachers, Librarians and Parents

This lesson plan is designed to guide you through the process of teaching this story from beginning to end with multiple stops along the way to help students develop a love of reading as well as build literacy skills (fluency, prediction, inference, and decoding). There are multiple activities presented; however, it is not necessary to do them all. Choose the activities you feel will fit your classroom best. Save the others for tutoring individual students.

When teaching comics, it is important to remember some key elements to teaching reading generally and reading comics specifically:

1. Read The Pictures! Comics are art-dominant. This means the images are vital to understanding the entire story. Every piece of art is designed to do something: make the reader feel, make connections, cause the reader to question or draw conclusions. Teach your students to read, not only the text but also the images. (Common Core:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 & 3.8)
2. Read S-L-O-W-L-Y. Reading a comic is designed to be a slow process, where the reader takes in both the text and the images in a complex story integration brain activity. Encourage students to take their time and absorb every image and text detail.
3. Comics Flow Matters. Comics are read from left to right, top to bottom. This is important in order for students and teachers to make sense of the story. (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8)


(Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.10)

Comics offer a unique experience for differentiating instruction in the classroom. Struggling readers may find the duality of image and text helps them naturally decode and understand – and thus enjoy – the process of reading. Students will still need instruction on applying reading strategies to comics to make reading as efficient and enjoyable as possible. Some activities will have ideas for differentiation built-in. Some general guidelines for comics include:

1. Paired Readings.
Comics lend themselves to paired readings because of the image and text marriage. A basic reader may be paired with a proficient reader during reading sessions. The struggling reader can choose the character(s) he wishes to read, and the proficient reader will read everything else. This alleviates the stress on the struggling child while still promoting reading. If they both follow along with their fingers, pointing at the panels as they go, then everyone is engaged.

2. Encourage Growth.
As the struggling readers become more proficient with comics reading and utilizing reading strategies, encourage him to choose more characters to read during a paired reading. Eventually, guide him toward more independent reading of comics and other texts.

3. Paired Readings Inverted.
This is an activity specifically designed for struggling readers and those who are convinced they are poor readers, even when those students have grown significantly. Consider having your older struggling elementary readers become comics reading buddies to young children in your school. Your older struggling reader can read an emergent reader comic to K-1 students. This builds confidence in your struggling reader and his reading and teaching ability, as well as, introduces comics to younger kids and helps prevent young children – especially boys – from rejecting reading at young ages.

Before Reading

1. Show the cover of the comic to students. Discuss what the story may be about with them. (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.3.1)
2. Explain the setting of the story is France (as well as other countries). Locate France on a map. Look at other European countries including Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
3. What language do they speak in France? For the rest of the Before Reading activities, teach in a French accent. Encourage students to speak in a French accent as well.
4. Create a paper French beret for students to wear when they read. The craft can be created in the classroom or as a crossover with the art teacher. Have students wear it whenever they are reading BENNY BREAKIRON: “The Red Taxis”. Activities like this draw children into their story, making it feel real and authentic and allows struggling readers to connect with the story. Enjoyment is key to reading. Instructions to construct a paper beret for elementary students can be found at: 
5. Use the “Comics Flow” graphic to teach students how to read a comic. Teach students how to identify exact places in a comic by page and panel number. (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.5, 3.10)
6. Explore some vocabulary the students will encounter. Pronounce them with the proper French accent. Use context clues, chunking, and other reading strategies to decode them later. For now, help students pronounce these words. A comprehensive list of juicy vocabulary words is included in the Vocabulary section. (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RF 3.3-3.4)
      a. Monsieur (M’sieur)
      b. Zut
      c. Ciao
      d. Merci
      e. Voila
      f. Bon Voyage
      g. Jalopy
      h. Bamboozle


Text-To Connections

(Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL3.4)


Page 3, Panel 4
Benny is singing a song to help him remember his math facts. Do you know a math song that helps you remember your multiplication facts? Sing it. 


Page 4, Panel 1; Page 4, Panel 8 & Page 6, Panel 1

We see several instances of Benny doing amazing feats. Pull these panels out of context and let students see the panels. Ask, “Does this remind you of anything or anyone? Make a connection!”

Decoding Meaning

(Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF3.3), (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL3.4), (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI3.7)

Replacement Word

Page 3, Panel 4
What does “studious” mean? Use the art to help you decode the meaning of that word. Then teach reading strategies (chunking, stretching, prefixes, suffixes, Latin, etc.), and show students how to use those reading strategies along with the art context to decode text meaning.
(Teacher’s Note: Benny has a pencil in his hand, is sitting at the kitchen table with a book open and has a pen and ink well with his book bag below the table. Notice he’s so short he has to sit on a book. When students read the pictures, they can infer that he studies 
hard. Use the word “studies” to decode “studious.”)


Page 4, Panel 2
Are those real words? Nah, but read them anyway. Say them with style. Say them with meaning. Say them out loud!
(Teacher’s Note: No doubt your students have studied onomatopoeia before in earlier grades. This is a perfect place to reintroduce the term. onomatopoeia is a staple in comics. Help your students with fluency and emotion by practicing these words as they are intended. You might also practice them with a French accent.)

Decoding Phrases

Page 4, Panel 8
“You don’t know your own strength.” Have you ever heard this phrase before? If I said, “Benny doesn’t know his own strength,” what am I saying? Explain using examples from the story.

Decoding Phrases

Page 6, Panel 3
“Yes, Benny does jump high. It’s relative to his strength.” What does that mean?
(Teacher’s Note: In panel 1, we see Benny jump really high. We know he’s strong because we saw him pick up a cabinet. The stronger he is, the higher he can jump. Benny’s ability to jump high is related to his strength.)

Reading Strategies

Page 7, Panel 7
I don’t read French, do you? What does “Zut!” mean? Read page 7 again. Use the images and text to come up with a replacement word for “Zut.”
(Teacher’s Note: Show this stand-alone panel on a single page. Beneath it, have the same panel printed, but show it without the words. Have students read page 7. Then give them the printed page, and have them write their own dialogue. Use this to teach the strategy of Replacement Words. When students come to a word they don’t know, one strategy they may use is to replace the word they don’t know with a word they do know and see if it makes sense. There are many strategies, of course, but this is a good one, and
this panel makes it pretty easy. “Zut” is the short form for “Zut alore” and it means “crud,” “crap,” “dang,” “darn,” “heck,” “shucks,” or “shoot.” You choose the word that best fits your school community and go with that. Kids will have fun coming up with this word. It feels Naughty. They will giggle. Let them.)

Reading Strategies

Page 8, Panel 3
“Voila!” There’s another French word. What does “voila” mean? Let’s try our Replacement Word strategy again.
(Teacher’s Note: Again, have the single panel printed on a page twice. The first time, have all the words. The second time, remove all the words and have students write their own dialogue. “Voila” has several meanings. In general, it is used to say specific things like: “here it is,” “there it is,” “there you are,” or more general filler language like: “there you have it,” “ok,” “ah ha,” “got it,” etc. This one may be a bit harder for kids, so give them time and consider allowing them to work in groups if they need it.)

Reading Strategies

Page 17, Panel 4
“Inadvertently.” It’s not a French word, but it is a big word. What does “inadvertently” mean? Practice your Replacement Word strategy.
(Teacher’s Note: Have the single panel printed on a page twice. The first time have all the words. The second time, remove all the words and have students write their own dialogue.)

Reading Strategies

Page 35, Panel 4
“Gesundheit.” This time we have a German word. What does “Gesundheit” mean? Practice your Replacement Word strategy. Partner with a friend and read the first four panels. Think of an English word that could replace “Gesundheit.” Write your answer onto a white board and then share with the class.

Decoding Phrases

Page 59, Panel 6
Benny says, “Ill-gotten gains seldom profit.” What does that mean? Re-read that page, use replacement words and other context clues to figure out the meaning of this phrase.

Predict, Infer & Check for Comprehension

(Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RSL3.1, 3.2 & 3.6), (Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL3.4, 3.5,3.7)

Comics often contain cliffhangers at the end of pages. They give us information through images and text that make us wonder, question and infer, thus making us want to turn the page to see what will happen next. These are excellent places to stop and ask students to predict and infer before turning the page. Then read the next page to compare their predictions and inferences to the actual story. Cliffhangers and panels that make us ponder are also extraordinary places to stop reading and retell the story so far in order to ensure comprehension. This can be done in many ways.
1. Group discussion. Ask the class what has happened so far. Then ask them to predict what will happen next.

2.   Small Groups. Split students into groups of 3-4. On the board write:
            What do you think will happen next?
            How do you know?
            What makes you think that? 
      Ask students to come to a consensus on what they think will happen next. This means they have to work together. Each group chooses a recorder, who will write down their discussion. Students should write their prediction, using complete sentences, names of
      characters, settings, or other details that are appropriate. Below the prediction, students should write at least 3-4 statements to support their prediction. They need to use images, text, or context or other aspects from the story in the statements. Each child should be       responsible for coming up with at least one support statement, and should write that child’s name at the end of the support statement. This allows the teacher to grade each student independently while they work in groups.

3.   Pairs #1. If you are using the Paired Reading strategy, then use those pairs to discuss the prediction.
      On the board write:
            What do you think will happen next?
            How do you know?
            What makes you think that?
      Have them write their prediction on a white board and 2-4 support statements. Again, use the art, text, context, and other story aspects in the support statements.

4.   Pairs #2. This is the same as Pairs #1 but is more informal and conversational.
      On the board write:
            What do you think will happen next?
            How do you know?
            What makes you think that?
      Let them discuss ideas in their pairs, discussing their prediction and reasons for the prediction. Then have the pairs group meet with other pairs and discuss. Come together as a whole 8 group and discuss the different opinions and reasons. If you do not wish to       combine pairs, move into whole group immediately.

Exact page and panels for Predict, Infer & Check for Understanding are listed below:


Page 3, Panel 7
Predict what will happen next.


Page 21, Panel 12
Predict what will happen next.

Read The Pictures

Page 21, Panel 11 
Something clever and funny happened at the bottom of page 21. What was it?
(Teacher’s Note: The police captain (aqua suit) made fun of kids for being silly and reading comics books. When he went back into his office he was reading THE SMURFS comic book. This is a good way to assess if kids are reading the pictures on their own.)


Page 4, Panel 3
Explain what happened with as much detail as you can. Use the images to help you. How could this happen? Make an inference.
(Teacher’s Note: When Benny picked up the  cabinet, all the doors came open and the dishes came crashing to the floor. He then set the cabinet back down and thinks he’s in big trouble.)

Read The Pictures

Page 8, Panel 8
Read page 8, but do not go on. Study Benny’s face and body language. How does he feel? How do you know?
(Teacher’s Note: His face looks sad, and he has emotion lines coming off of him. He looks deject- ed. Kids might not get that yet. They may read his “Oh” as  Excited even though his face doesn’t look that way. Read the next page, and then come back to this panel and study it again. Clear up student misconceptions about his emotions. This is called “Read The Pictures.” It’s important to show students how every panel, Background, character, and even art outside the panels is very important. Comics don’t tell the details of story with words like a traditional book. Comics use the art to show the details.)

Read The Pictures

Page 34, Panels 6-7
Read page 34, then go back and look at panels 6-7. In panel 6, Monsieur Dussiflard is refusing to write the note. Then in panel 7, we see him sitting behind the desk writing it. What happened between those two panels?
(Teacher’s Note: This is another “Read The Pictures” moment. There is white space between those panels. Action occurs in that space. We read two panels and then the action occurring between those two panels is called closure. Comics scholar, Scott McCloud1 described what happens to us as readers. Our minds, according to McCloud, fill in the action, which is a complex activity where the brain must comprehend, analyze and synthesize the information in order to make sense of the story.)

Writing Activities

(CCSS. ELA-Literacy. RL.3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7), (CCSS. ELA-Literacy. W.3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.10)

Understanding The Setting – Part 1

Page 3, Panel 4
On the table in front of Benny, is a jar with something sticking out. What is that?
(Teacher’s Note: Gather some pictures of inkwells. Show them to students. If you can get a real one, bring it to class. Show it to students. Use one. Your art teacher may have one, too. Consider bringing the art teacher in to demonstrate one. Help students understand the time period these were used.)

Understanding the Setting – Part 2

Page 3, Panel 4
Do a picture walk of the entire comic. Read the Pictures. What do you notice about the setting? (Teacher’s Note: Discuss in pairs or small groups and then discuss as a whole class.) What is the setting of BENNY BREAKIRON: “The Red Taxis”? How are people dressed? How do they talk? Use details from the story. When does this story take place? Now? In the future? In the past? How do you know?
(Teacher’s Note: Show pictures of France and the United States of America from the early 1960s to help students get into the story.)

Writing About Superheroes: 1 & 2

Page 7
Predict what will happen next. Use what you know about Benny or characters from other stories to make your prediction. Write down at least three details from this story or other stories to explain your answer. Be as detailed as you can.
(Teacher’s Note: Project this image onto a screen using a document camera or interactive white board. If you don’t have that technology, make a temporary photocopy for students so they cannot read ahead. Cover up panels 4-9. Students are going to use their previous knowledge of Benny’s powers – all relative to his strength – and their knowledge of superheroes like Superman to predict what will happen.

Page 7 (Alternative Prompt)
Predict what will happen next. Use what you know about Benny or characters from other stories to make your prediction. Draw your own ending to this comic. Use at least three panels to tell your story. Don’t worry about being a perfect artist. Just draw a rough draft. Use stick figures.
(Teacher’s Note: Some students may not have the writing skills or vocabulary for the Writing Prompt. The Alternative Prompt can be used as differentiation for those students. Those students can even orally explain their prediction along with the drawings. You may have some students point to other panels to help them explain it to you.)


Pages 9-11
Red Taxis tried to steal Monsieur Dussiflard’s customer. How did that make Benny and Monsieur Dussiflard feel? Share with a partner, then we will discuss as a class.
(Teacher’s Note: This is where you, as a teacher, can guide students through the secret third answer: there is nothing wrong with a business being more innovative to serve their customers and make their business more successful. However, it is very wrong to try to steal from others. This lesson is offered here as a stand-alone prompt. However, it is also offered below in the integrated unit.)

What is Operation Taxi?

Pages 12-14
Monsieur Dussiflard learned Red Taxis was only pretending to be nice. They are planning something called, “Operation Taxi.” What is “Operation Taxi?”
      1.   Predict what “Operation Taxi” is and what will happen.
      2.   Create your own ending to this story. Write at least five sentences.
      3.   Create your own ending to this story. Create your own comic.

WWSD (What Would a Superhero Do?)

Page 15
(Teacher’s Note: Read page 15, panels 1-9 only. Cover up the other panels so students cannot read them.)
Benny is hungry so he puts money into a vending machine and pulls open the slot. He’s so strong, he breaks the vending machine and all the snacks fall onto the ground. What should he do? Predict what will Benny do. Use details from the story to answer the question. (Teacher’s Note: Some students may be worried that someone else will steal the snacks. They may suggest Benny take the food and try to find the person who owns the vending  machine and give it to him. They may also suggest taking the snacks into the building and giving it to them. Have students finish reading afterwards to see if their predictions came true.)

On Being a Kid

Pages 20-21
Sometimes grown-ups don’t believe kids even when  kids are telling the truth. Can you ever think of a time when you knew the truth but no one would believe you? Write as many sentences you can to describe in detail what happened.
(Teacher’s Note: You may want to give them a graphic organizer first to help them  organize their ideas, and then have them go through the entire writing process.)

A Dangerous Plan

Page 29, Panel 8
Benny got away from the criminals in the park, but then he had an idea. What is his idea and why does he think it will work? Give lots of details.
(Teacher’s Note: Benny realizes the only way he can find and save his friend, Monsieur Dussiflard, is to be captured. Benny thinks they will lock him up with Monsieur Dussiflard. If students struggle understanding this concept on page 29, have them put the question in the back of their minds and continue reading to Page 30, Panel 8. Monsieur Hairynose gives it away.)

Exploring Flaws 1 & 2

Page 32, Panel 8
When Benny gets sick, he loses all his superpowers. Can you think of anyone else who has lots of powers but has one big weakness?
(Teacher’s Note: Superman is probably the most widely known superhero with a serious weakness. Whenever he gets near Kryptonite, he loses all his power. There are plenty of others who have a weakness. We all have our weaknesses, don’t we? Let students make text-to-text connections.)


Page 32, Panel 8
Create your own superhero. Give him or her some kind of super power, but also give him or her a super weakness. 

The Plan: Parts 1, 2, & 3

Part 1
The criminals go over the plan. Write down what will happen step-by-step. Keep it in order. Now get into a group of 2-3 students and compare your step-by-step instructions. Was yours the same as the other students? Why or why not?
Part 2
In your groups, read page 46. Monsieur Hairynose explains the details of the plan between panel 8 and 9. We do not get to see or hear the plan. Using your step-by-step instructions above, write your own “Operation Taxi” plan. We will compare yours with the one that happens in the story.
Part 3
After reading the entire story, now you know what “Operation Taxi” was. Take your step-by-step sheet you completed earlier. Now, finish writing down exactly what happened during “Operation Taxi” step-by-step. What happened and how did the criminals do it?


Page 50, Panels 1-6
Look back at page 34, panel 10. Monsieur Hairynose says he is going to drop our heroes off on the Galapagos Islands. Find the Galapagos Islands on a map. They didn’t quite make it to those islands. Where could Benny and Monsieur Dussiflard have landed? When Benny leaves the island, he paddles somewhere else. What language do they speak? Where could he possibly be?
(Teacher’s Note: Only show panels 1-6. Don’t let kids read ahead yet. The answer is Portugal, which is revealed later on page 50.)

Stories Versus Real Life

Page 52
Benny is too tired to go on. A man in a truck offers to drive him the rest of the way. Benny accepted the ride. Benny is a superhero, and this is just a story. What if it were real life? Explain what a real kid, like you, should do if a stranger offers you a ride. Why?


All Pages
begin reading BENNY BREAKIRON: “The Red Taxis”. Are Benny and Monsieur Dussiflard friends? How do you know? Use details from the story to explain your answer to a shoulder partner. Create your own story about two friends, where one friend is much older than the other. Use the details in BENNY BREAKIRON to help you write your story, so the reader knows your characters are friends. How do they treat each other? What does an older friend do for a younger friend? What does a younger friend do for an older friend? How does the reader know they are friends?
(Teacher’s Note: This could be a traditional writing assignment or students could be allowed to make their own comic. Students with disabilities may find a comic allows them to express their feelings more than traditional writing.) 

Deep Connections: Writing & Economics

Integrated units are powerful ways for students to learn deeply and construct a lot of useful knowledge that will stay with them for years. This unit develops an integrated unit with reading, writing, and economics. Students will be challenged to apply the learning gained in the economics lesson to the story and demonstrate learning by support- ing their opinions with details from the economics lesson, the story, and their own experiences.

Before You Open the Comic
1.   Begin an economics lesson. There are many excellent economics lessons for elementary students available on the Internet. Economic subjects should include:
      a.   Entrepreneurship
      b.   Innovation
      c.   Goods and services

2.   Once finished with the economics unit, begin reading BENNY BREAKIRON: “The Red Taxis”.

How Do You Feel?

Page 8, Panel 8 & Pages 9-11
Benny is a good friend with Monsieur Dussiflard, who is an independent taxi driver. Red Taxis got new radios for their taxis. This makes Benny very worried. Why? Write a three-paragraph essay with an introduction, body, and a conclusion. Explain why Benny is so upset. How does he feel? How do you know? Use details from the story in your essay.
(Teacher’s Note: Before beginning this writing prompt, you will want to teach students the basic structure of a three-paragraph essay and even consider giving them a graphic organizer. This is a big assignment and will take time. This writing prompt is appropriate for students in grades 3-4 and is common in my own class, but it is challenging. The key to all of this is in the iconography. Notice on page 8, panel 8, Benny stops at the corner. Look at his face and his dialogue. What does it tell us? His face is unhappy so we know why he uttered a very loud and disgruntled, “Oh” not an excited and happy, “Oh.” This is a foundational point for students to get the whole story and understand Benny’s feelings. This is where you teach students to “Read the Pictures.”)


Page 9, Panels 1-6 Only
Bennie learns that the big taxi company, Red Taxis, now has radios in their cars. Benny is upset about this. Is it wrong for Red Taxis to help their business grow and be successful? Isn’t that a good thing? Think about your economics lesson. Explain if it is okay for businesses to grow their business. 
(Teacher’s Note: Do not let students read beyond panel 6. We find Red Taxis does use some bad business strategies like stealing, lying, destroying Monsieur Dussiflard’s taxi, and kidnapping. This should not color students’ view of good companies behaving responsibly. The economics lesson should occur before page 9. Students are likely going to take one of two positions: 1) It’s okay for Red Taxis to grow and do better, that is what businesses do. 2) It’s not right of Red Taxis to do that because they are hurting Monsieur Dussiflard’s business. There is a secret third answer, of course. It is okay for businesses to invest and grow their company. It is not right to use inappropriate or illegal tactics to grow. Monsieur Dussiflard could invest in his independent company and make it grow. This writing activity is deep and requires a lot of deep thought on the part of students. Combining it with an economics lesson will deepen their conceptual knowledge of the story and of the economic system used in the United States.)

Character Education

Pages 9-11
Red Taxis tried to steal Monsieur Dussiflard’s customer. How did that make Benny and Monsieur Dussiflard feel? Share with a partner. Then we will discuss as a class.
(Teacher’s Note: This is where you, as a teacher, can guide students through the secret third answer:  There is nothing wrong with a business being more innovative to serve their customers and make their business more successful. However, it is very wrong to try to steal from others. This lesson plan could be a precursor to an economics unit.)


Bon Voyage
Central Dispatch
Vending Machine
Ciao (pronounced