Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is a magical story about the world, written from the perspective of a tree. Many rings old, the tree weaves a story that spans the arrival of immigrants---both animal and human over the span of its lifetime. The immigrant family that now lives nearby is being harassed, and the tree, feeling the end of its life, attempts to help; in the only way a tree can help.

Woven throughout this story are science terms, a bit of nature vocabulary---even some math. There are many ways this book could be used as a language arts writing aid. For example, the animals in the story all have names, and their own specific criterion for naming. The skunks are all named with pleasant scents like RosePetal. The raccoons are all named You, because they can't remember names. This might be turned into a fun writing prompt. The science vocabulary could be pulled out and expanded. The message of the book could be expanded as a personal reflection essay by students.  

The best part of the book, is its timely message of community being larger than bullying and discrimination. In this book, the Earth and all its creatures are connected, not just today, but throughout the years---beyond an individual human's existence. This is one of the best books I have read---one that I highly recommend for a classroom, especially 3-6th grades.

There is also a list of lesson ideas on the author's website:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Stepping Stones by Margaret Ruurs

Stepping Stones is a fantastic book to introduce into an inclusive classroom that has a student who comes from an Arabic background. This book is a dual language book---with English and Arabic side by side.

The story is told from a child's point of view. It is about a refugee family who lives peacefully and simply until a war afflicts their land. They are forced to flee with only those belongings that they can carry on their backs. They find refuge in America.

The illustrations are done using small stones to create pictures. My first thought for a lesson plan is after reading and discussing the book, to have students create a story of their own about a time in their own lives when they struggled with adversity. The students could write their own story and also create the same kind of rock art as in the book. To culminate the lesson it might be beneficial to compare and contrast the hardships that the refugee family endured to the hardships students describe.

This is a beautiful, poignant book that I would highly recommend for use in the classroom.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down---A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman is a must read book for anyone who is struggling to serve people of a different culture. The book follows a Hmong family as they immigrate from Laos to the United States. The Hmong, immigrants to Laos, flee their adopted country of Laos out of necessity after helping the United States' agenda in the 1970's. The Hmong fought along side U.S. troops, and, at times, saved U.S. lives. The Hmong were left in dire straits when the U.S. made the decision to pull out of Laos. Those Hmong who were lucky enough to immigrate to the U.S. felt that they were entitled, as veterans of the conflict, to certain assistance once they arrived. They have been treated mainly as any other immigrant group even though promises had been made to them by the U.S. to gain their help back in Laos.

The Hmong have a very closed culture. This is a culture that wraps around Hmong families and communities and protects the Hmong people in body and spirit. The only way to provide the Hmong with any kind of service whether educational, medical, or another service type is to work within and along side the Hmong culture. And the Hmong culture must be treated with respect. The Hmong culture differs from western culture in significant ways. A busy social service worker who has just a second to make an assessment of a Hmong need may miss the implications that the culture has on the ability to deliver service and satisfy a very crucial need. And while the Hmong's clash with Western culture may be an extreme case, the lessons learned from the case in this book can be transferred to other cultures.

This book relays the story of a child from another culture who has grave medical needs, and the failure of the system to provide those needs. As adults surrounding this child desperately attempt to fulfill these needs, the system collapses around the child, leaving all the adults responsible in despair. The child might have been helped and the end would have been different had a respectful discussion within the boundaries of the culture taken place. Instead, well meaning professionals and loving and caring parents missed coming together and the child suffered.

Whether you teach or provide medical or social worker assistance to people of a different culture than your own, this book is a must read. The old adage of hindsight being 20/20 flowers in this book inviting all of us to learn from the mistakes of others so that no other child is caught between so many well meaning people again.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Take Heart, My Child by Ainsley Earhardt with illustrations by Jaime Kim

Take Heart, My Child by Ainsley Earhardt is a beautiful, dreamy picture book about a mother's love and dream for her child. The book's prose is clean and fresh. It repeats at certain intervals, making it easy for smaller children to follow along. The story offers up a mother's dreams for the future for the child and teaches good lessons such as being unique, not following the crowd, striving to be happy or changing course, and persevering. The illustrations, done by Jaime Kim, are dreamy and magic-like, matching the book's story perfectly. If the book does not win an award for the storyline, it should for the beautiful illustrations.

I would highly recommend this book for a classroom or home library. I imagine it will become a childhood favorite with its feeling of safety and childhood empowerment. It would be suitable for a kindergarten through third grade classroom, but I would think that this picture book might find room in a fourth or fifth grade classroom. It would definitely be appropriate for a child who was facing a loss of a parent.  A portion of the sales of this book is designated toward the Folds of Honor organization that provides scholarships and assistance to the families of America's fallen soldiers.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Julie of the Wolves is a wonderful story about an Eskimo girl facing the encroachment of the modern world on the Eskimo traditions and the natural world of the Arctic she lives in. Julie loses her mother at a very young age and her aunt takes her away from her father through legal means. Julie is then forced into marriage at thirteen, as is sometimes the custom among the Eskimos. This type of marriage is not binding, however, and Julie escapes into the wilderness in an attempt to find a life where she can start over again. Along the way to her destination, she uses knowledge of the old Eskimo ways to survive the harsh conditions that she experiences. This book is full of the wonder of living as part of nature. It also explores the Eskimo culture and the clash that happens when the modern world meets the old ways.

I would plan to use this book as an adjunct to lessons on the Arctic, Eskimos, the life cycles of lemmings, wolves, ecosystems, and/or ecology. There are bits that may be too much for younger students: the marriage between the thirteen year olds ends in a vaguely described assault. The main character befriends a wolf pack and the wolf pack adopts her and helps her to survive. Later, after we learn to love the wolves individually, the leader is shot cold by humans that happen to be out hunting. There are also vague references to Julie "not being a woman yet." The benefits of this book would be great in the classroom. It is a well told story, with a well developed plot and characters that are believable, even when they're wolves. It was found in the children's section of the library. It was awarded the Newbery in 1973. I would use it in a fourth through ninth grade classroom.         

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S Durbin

I found A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin in the adult section of the library.  It is a fantasy that will become a classic one day. It is one of the best books that I have read in a long time. It is suitable in every way for a third grade classroom all the way up through high school. The book is centered around a young boy who is sent to stay with his Grandmother over the summer during war time. The country, the time period, the names are all mysteries to create a story that could be anytime, any country fighting any other country. Readers are not allowed to pick sides in the war. That is not what the story is about. The story is about loyalty, love, and sacrifice. It's about honesty and trust. And it's about loss.

The young boy and his grandmother work on a puzzle that appears in an ancient garden. In the meanwhile an enemy soldier's plane crashes near the garden. The grandmother patches up the soldier even though he's the enemy. And because she helps the soldier, the soldier lives to help the young boy and his grandmother. This story is full of metaphor. It is thoughtful and kind and beautiful. It would be an excellent story, much in the line of the Lion and the Wardrobe but kinder and gentler.

I would use this book to teach diversity and tolerance. A lesson plan might include discussions of the reasons why the author left the names of the characters out of the book. The riddles of garden can be expanded to discussions of stars and constellations or myths. Or this book could just be enjoyed in order to make students lifelong readers.          

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt

I found What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt in the children's section of the local library. The book is said to be for 10-15 year olds. It is a Newbery Honor Winner. The book is traditionally like Tolkien---the author creates another world complete with a new language and new objects and new beings. The story is about a young boy who has just lost his mother to a horrible auto accident. The boy blames himself for the accident. He didn't say goodbye to Mom the day she died; he was angry. On his next birthday a magical necklace from another world appears in his lunchbox. He puts the necklace on and starts interacting with the strange beings from another planet.

This book is full of metaphors, similes, and hyperbole. It has a very complex storyline, plot, and list of characters. I would not use it for elementary school at all. Perhaps it would be acceptable for a middle school classroom. It would be an excellent example of the use of symbolism. The book is very enjoyable, engaging, and well written. The plot keeps moving but at times is hard to follow. There are a lot of characters to keep track of and this would make it difficult for elementary and even some middle school students.  But the characters are believable and the good are caring and evil loses in the end.