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.