Friday, February 7, 2014
Bolden, Tonya. Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories and Mementoes of Being Young and Black in America. Abrams 2001. 128pp. Lexile 1130.
An elegant book design paired with excellent visual elements on nearly every page make this a real pleasure to read. It was the first book for young people to trace the history of being young and black in America, starting in Colonial times including a black child born in Jamestown and going through the late 1990s. While it touches on some well-known figures such as Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Banneker, most those named are not famous. Themes about the effects of racism and courage of individuals appear throughout the book. Bolden, a well-respected chronicler of black history, makes good use of primary sources such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and excerpts from books. Quotes from children throughout U.S. history appear in frequent sidebars. Photographs, paintings, etchings, posters, advertisements, and artifacts give the feeling of a scrapbook over which readers will want to linger. Outstanding in every respect.
Reading Std #5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and/or larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole. Bolden uses sidebars effectively to add the voices of real children to her chronological narrative. Have students consider the value of such quotes from primary sources and what they add to Bolden’s narrative.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Fritz, Jean. Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt! G.P. Putnam's, 1991. 127pp. Lexile 980.
“What did Theodore Roosevelt want to do? Everything. And all at once if possible. Plunging headlong into life, he refused to waste a single minute. Among other things, he studied birds, shot lions, roped steer, fought a war, wrote books, and discovered the source of a mystery river in South America.” So opens this lively biography of a man who became President of the United States. Written in Jean Fritz’s typically colorful style, the story combines a good sense of his character and his accomplishments, mostly before becoming President, with striking details--as New York City police commissioner, he wore bright pink shirts with a black silk cummerbund that had long tassels. Quotes, anecdotes, and vivid prose make this an exceptionally readable biography of one of our more unusual Presidents.
Reading Std #6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text. Clearly Fritz finds Roosevelt an interesting subject. Have students consider whether she is biased in his favor or against him, or is even-handed in her treatment, requiring them to point to specifics in the text.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Bausum takes a look at past U.S. immigration policies focusing on five groups chronologically from 1882, when the U.S. first started keeping specific groups from immigrating, to recent issues about illegal Mexican immigrants. Sections examine Chinese immigrants in the 1800s; Jewish refugees during the 1930s and 40s; and the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II. While the author does not advocate limitless immigration, she raises questions about biases and fairness in government policies. She weaves quotations from those involved into the text; black-and-white photographs also add information. Back matter includes an extensive timeline; bibliography; resource guide; and index.
Speaking Std. #2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. Timelines are a useful graphic tool in understanding the chronology of a historical topic. The six-page timeline in this book is unusually extensive and attractive, incorporating small photographs and short paragraphs of text. Have students use it as a model in conjunction with a different historical text that follows a chronological structure; then have them explain the historical event, using the timeline, to fellow students. Several free websites such as www.xtimeline.com offer digital timeline templates that can include images and different structures.
Fiction Tie-ins: Considering pairing with Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower, about a Japanese-American family at an internment camp, or Tropical Secrets by Margarita Engle, a verse novel about Jewish refugees in Cuba in 1939.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Sandler, Martin W. The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure Candlewick, 2012. 176pp. Lexile 1270.
What an amazing story of courage and danger! In 1897, eight whaling ships were stranded by ice in the Arctic, with 265 crew members facing possible death from starvation, exposure, or illness. President McKinley ordered a rescue effort by the Revenue Cutter Service, one of the predecessors of the Coast Guard. Two officers and a surgeon from the Service proved remarkable heroes as they traveled 1500 miles by sled and on foot to save the whaling men. The ingenious plan was to herd reindeer overland to Point Barrow, the whaling station nearest to the ships. With the help of various locals, including many of the indigenous people, the three put the plan into effect, constantly battling the elements as they used dogsleds and sleds pulled by reindeer over treacherous terrain, through snowy conditions including blizzards. Frequent maps make trip easy to follow. Quotes from impressively well-written official reports and letters as well as articles and books written after the event make the ordeal feel immediate. Amazing, sometimes haunting, photographs of journey by the surgeon show the stranded ships, the people involved, sleds, sled dogs, and reindeer, all set against a snowy terrain. Excellent back matter includes an appendix on what happened to the main players, timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index. A not-to-be-missed true survival story.
Reading Std #5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and/or larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole. Sandler makes the most of every feature in this book. Have students look at how the table of contents goes beyond laying out the structure to conveying a sense of the story and its emotional impact. Have them also consider why the author chose not to use sidebars, unlike most contemporary historical nonfiction.
Nonfiction Tie-in: Pair this with Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Freedman, Russell. Who Was First? Discovering the Americas. Clarion Books, 2007. 88pp. Lexile 1310.
This is an excellent model for inquiry in terms of research and writing. Freedman takes the title question, "Who Was First?" and starts with Columbus. But then he moves back chronologically to consider the various claims about others who may have reached North or South America earlier than Columbus. Some claims are from amateur historians, and Freedman lays out reasons to dismiss them. But he also highlights an amateur who is believed to be right about an early Viking settlement in Newfoundland. Freedman demonstrates how views of history change over time. He shows how archaeology and newer research tools like DNA analysis and linguistic findings change historians' perspectives. Artwork and maps add interest and information. The author provides chapter-by-chapter bibliographic essays about his sources, followed by an index.
Reading Std #8: Delineate and evaluate argument and specific claims in a text, assessing reasoning & evidence. This text repays careful study. It uses reasoning and evidence to evaluate the topic. Have students lay out the argument and then, just as Freedman applies analysis to his subject, have students apply it to Freedman's own writing to see if his conclusions are justified.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
As a Swedish diplomat in Hungary during World War II, Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews with documents that he and his staff printed. This accessible biography, which uses a verse format, starts with Wallenberg's childhood, goes on to his student days at the University of Michigan and then his career as an international businessman. Many aspects of his life, such as his facility with languages and his business experience with Germans, worked to make him remarkably effective in his dangerous mission. His enormous courage and desire to do something meaningful were key as well, making it all the more heartbreaking that he disappeared when the Russians entered Hungary and his life ended in a Russian prison. Borden discusses the attempts of family members to uncover the mystery of what happened to him. An attractive, open design makes the most of photographs and artifacts from the life and work of this hero. Bibliography, resources, and index.
Reading Std #5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and/or larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole. Biographies in verse are unusual. Have students analyze why the author used verse, what it added, and its overall effect on the story.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Myers, Walter Dean. The Greatest: Muhummad Ali. Scholastic, 2001. 172 pp. Lexile 1030.
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, has been called the greatest athlete of the twentieth century. Renowned YA writer Walter Dean Myers clearly admires Ali as an athlete and as a political activist. This compelling biography emphasizes the public man and his sport, with little about his personal life. Sports fans will appreciate the level of detail throughout about Ali’s boxing. Myers also thoroughly addresses Ali’s famous conversion to Islam and refusal to fight in Vietnam, discussing the largely negative reaction of sportswriters and fans but also the inspiration at the time to young black men such as Myers himself. As he says in his introduction, “Heroes that looked anything like me were hard to come by when I was a kid growing up in Harlem.” With a black-and-white photograph in almost every chapter and a timeline of fights at the end, this will be an appealing choice for a biography or history unit, or pleasure reading.
Reading Std #7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, visually and quantitatively, and in words. Students who like boxing may be interested in viewing the Oscar-nominated documentary, "When We Were Kings," about the heavyweight championship fight in Zaire--now the Democratic Republic of the Congo--between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, which took place in 1974, after Ali had an earlier championship title taken away when he refused to serve in the military. (Some students may find the boxing footage disturbing.) Have students compare the tone of the movie and its attitude towards Ali with that of the Myers biography.