Monday, July 28, 2014

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi

 Bascomb, Neal. The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World's Most Notorious Nazi . Scholastic, 2013. 256pp. Lexile 1000.

 In 1960, six agents from Israel's Mossad intelligence operations tracked down and captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who had orchestrated the deaths of millions of Jews.  This adaptation of Hunting Eichmann, the author's book for adults, conveys the story in context with intriguing details and well-chosen quotations from primary sources.  Eichmann was living in Argentina, a country not likely to facilitate the capture, so the agents worked secretly.  After verifying the identity of Eichmann, who was working in a factory, the Mossad agents carefully put their plan into action.  Each of the agents on the team had a strength--languages, falsifying documents, building secret compartments.  Most of them had relatives killed in the Holocaust, which gave the mission an unusual level of meaning, knowing they'd meet one of the men responsible for their loss.  Without fictionalizing, this reads like a spy novel but one with a deep emotional impact. 

Reading Std #3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.  The author does a good job of building suspense throughout the story, even for the reader who knows at the beginning what will happen to Eichmann.  Have students analyze the text to see how the author creates tension in the reader through the pacing.  How does he use structure and language to speed up and slow down the pace?  How does this compare to techniques used to create suspense in fiction?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us

Stone, Tanya Lee. The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us. Penguin, 2010. 136pp. Lexile 1120.

So much of social history can be studied through everyday objects.  What better way to look at middle-class America over the last fifty-plus years--especially among girls--than through the popular doll, Barbie.  Ace nonfiction writer Tanya Lee Stone spreads the net wide, starting with the history of Barbie's creation (by a woman) and the doll's role in making Mattel a big business.  Stone looks at Barbie's clothes, how they reflected the times and how they influenced future designers.  One chapter examines the increase over the years in racially diverse and international Barbies while another discusses controversies. Quotes throughout from doll-owners convey positives and negatives about the doll, with a refreshingly forthright chapter on how kids played with naked Barbies and sometimes mutilated the dolls.  Photographs and captions, including a color inset, add information and interest.

 Reading Std #1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and implicitly, citing specific textual evidence to support conclusions drawn from it.  Have students examine the quotes from Barbie owners in the text, pull-out quotes, and the purse-shaped sidebars.  They should be looking for positive and negative views of the doll in the quotes as well as from their overall reading of the book.  Then convene a discussion in which students discuss the positive and negative impact of Barbie, and weigh in with their own opinions.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Tougas, Shelley. Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration. Compass Point, 2012. 64pp. Lexile 1010.

This is an entry in a terrific series called Captured History, in which each book focuses on a photograph that changed American history: the Migrant Mother photograph from the Great Depression; raising the flag at Iwo Jima; Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon; black children being sprayed with water by police in Birmingham, 1963; and a Lewis Hine photo of boy miners.  In each book, short chapters provide background and then explore the significance of the photograph and the impact it made.  In Little Rock Girl 1957, the photograph is of Elizabeth Eckfort, one of the nine students to integrate Little Rock High. Because she didn't get a phone message, she ended up walking into the school alone, surrounded by angry whites.  The photograph alerted the world to the ugliness of racial hatred, even against a teen wanting better education.  Eckfort and the screaming white girl behind her met years later in a temporary highly publicized reconciliation, prompted in part by the photographer, covered in one chapter.  The book also addresses inequality in schools at that time and now.  Sidebars and many more photographs add information throughout.  This is an excellent, accessible book for students at a range of reading levels, that can serve as an introduction to the civil rights movement and the story of a courageous teen.  Available in hardcover and paperback

Reading Std #7:  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, visually and quantitatively, and in words.  The entire series addresses this facet of the CC standards, speaking to the power of visual images.  The book would lend itself to any response--discussion, debate, essay writing--on the topic.  It could also be easily compared and contrasted with other books in the series.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Science Warriors: The Battle against Invasive Species

Collard, Sneed B. Science Warriors: The Battle against Invasive Species. Houghton, 2008. 48pp. Lexile: 1110.

It's a rare science book that brings to mind Indiana Jones, but this important book in the Scientists in the Field series does just that.  Just check out the photograph of red imported fire ants swarming.  Non-native plants and animals like these ants are wreaking havoc on parts of our country.  This fine photo-essay focuses on three main examples but mentions others as well.  It looks at the history of the problem, finding that typically the species was introduced with good intentions that backfired.  Collard examines the costs to agriculture and the efforts to solve the increasingly serious problem.  The book offers the series' usual helpful back matter including glossary, websites, index, and "local steps to take" in helping in the fight.

Writing Std. #7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.  Since this book is now eight years old, students could supplement it with more up-to-date information and find out what progress has been made on the three species. They could also each research a species that Collar didn't highlight--there are 6,200 invasive species in the U.S.  The websites in the book under "More Invasive Information" are a good starting point.  The U.S. Department of Agriculturel also has a great resource page for K-12 at

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Snow Falling in Spring

Li, Moying. Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution. FSG, 2008. Available in paperback. 176pp. Lexile 1020.

In this fascinating memoir, Li, who was 12 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, focuses on her teenage years and the effect of the political change on her educated, book-loving family.  Her father, who made films for the army, and her mother, a teacher, were separated from their family, leaving Li and her brother with their grandmother.  As teens, Li and her peers were encouraged to denounce their parents and teachers (which she had no wish to do); in one sad scene, Li learns that a beloved headmaster has committed suicide. The power of education and reading is a theme throughout. Family friends secretly loaned Li forbidden books that sustained her, including Western classics like Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jack London.  In the end, Li had the chance—unusual at the time--to study in the U.S., where she now lives.

Reading Std #2: Determine central ideas or themes and analyze their development; summarize key supporting details and ideas. Have students trace the theme about reading and the role it played in Li’s teen years.  Have them consider the restrictions the Chinese government put on books, and why, and compare those to the availability of books in their own lives.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary

Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary. Viking, 2009. 80pp. Lexile 960.

“The first time Joanne Blackmon was arrested, she was just ten years old,” opens this powerful tribute to young people who participated in the Civil Rights movement.  Blackmon was arrested when she accompanied her grandmother who was trying to register to vote as an African-American in Selma, Alabama, in 1963.  From this gripping incident, Partridge takes readers to 1965, when Martin Luther King, Jr., came to Selma to further the cause.  Based in part on extensive interviews, the book dramatically documents the role of children and teenagers in protest marches where they were attacked by dogs, tear gas, clubs, and even cattle prods.  Three thousand young people were arrested, yet they continued to practice non-violence.  Their fear and determination come across in the narrative, quotes, and photographs, some of which show the violence.  Notes, bibliography, index.  A remarkable book about the role of courageous young people in our history.

Reading Std #2: Determine central ideas or themes and analyze their development; summarize key supporting details and ideas.  One key theme throughout this moving book is the role of music including spirituals and protest songs in keeping up the spirits of the young people involved.  Have students find specific evidence of this theme to see how Partridge develops it.

Reading Std #9 for grades 6-8: Compare/contrast texts on similar themes or topics.:  Pair this with Cynthia Levinson's. We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March. (Peachtree, 2012) to see how the two authors address similar material about children involved in civil rights.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories and Mementoes of Being Young and Black in America

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.