Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Misfits

The Misfits
By James Howe
5/5 *****
5th-7th Graders

            The Misfits is the story of 5 young students who are all outcasts in their school, and their struggles to fit in or find their niche.  They form a political party to run for student council, in order to force their peers to accept diversity and each other’s differences, but they are denied by their teachers.  Instead, they end up running as a No-Name Party based on the platform that nobody should ever be called names, because it is very hurtful. 
            Addie, Skeezie, Bobby and Joe struggle are called so many names by their peers; nerdy, geeky, greasy and many derogatory names referring to Joe’s sexual identity.  While reading this book, I was quite appalled; I did not have this experience growing up, nor do I remember seeing it happen, although I am quite certain that it probably did happen to some of my peers.  I want to give the other students the benefit of the doubt, and to argue that maybe they didn’t realize how hurtful they were being.  I think this is a really great book for upper elementary students and even middle school students to read, because the characters are so easy to relate to; not everyone can see themselves as Addie, Skeezie, Bobby or Joe, but we probably have seen an Addie, Skeezie, Bobby or Joe at some point in our lives.  And whether or not we will admit it, many of us have at least felt uncomfortable or left out or felt different at some point in time.
            I’m sure that this novel is considered controversial, just because of all the touchy issues it addresses (mostly the homosexuality, but also bullying, emotional abuse, diversity, racism, discrimination, lack of teacher/adult support etc…), but given the chance I think I would definitely teach this novel. This book may make students feel uncomfortable, but in my mind, if they are feeling uncomfortable about it then they are really getting the point of it; they see how hurtful it is, and maybe they are relating to it and that is making them reflect on the novel.  I don’t think that any student will be personally offended by this novel, which makes me feel that it is a book that students can learn from, and they may not be able to learn about these issues to this extent in another book, so that justifies teaching it in the classroom.
One theme that is so important and so apparent in this novel is that: “Different is okay, and we should accept people for who they are”.  I think that especially considering the target audience of this novel, reinforcing that idea is so crucial.  Given what has been happening lately in our society, bullying is such a problem, and the way to prevent it in the future is to teach our children and students just how hurtful it can be.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Woodson Experience

        After reading some of Woodson's books, both novels and picture books, I think she is one of the most thought-provoking and talented authors I have read.  She has a way of addressing such tough issues and controversial topics, yet she doesn't lose quality of writing or literary elements.  I think a couple major literary elements she uses especially effectively are metaphor and symbolism.  Because she is often addressing such tough topics, I think these are great to take advantage of.
        I found myself really connecting to her characters and becoming emotionally invested both in her novels and picture books.  I think it takes such a special author to create these feelings for the reader, and it makes her message so much more powerful and meaningful.
       I really want to commend Woodson for writing about topics many authors scare away from (homosexuality, poverty, segregation, racism, family, religion, bullying, friendship and disabilities/difference among MANY other), and as a future teacher, I definitely want to incorporate her and her books into my classroom.  I think is is so important for us as educators to incorporate discussions on these topics in the classroom, especially before students come across them in real life.  So many of these topics are still causing so many problems in our society today, and in order to change things for the future, we need to start with teaching acceptance and equality to our children and students.
          I can honestly say that, although I have only just learned of Woodson in this class, I think that she is such an admirable person and author, potentially one of my new favorites, and I know I will incorporate some of her books into my classroom, and hopefully get the chance to teach some of her novels.

The Other Side

The Other Side
By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
5/5 *****
Grades 1-4

            After reading this book, I instantly ordered in online for my future classroom.  It is an amazing book that has so many great uses for the classroom.  Woodson is such a talented author, especially because she can write and reach so many different audiences.  This story takes place in a small town that is racially segregated.  The two main characters are Clover (a young black girl) and Annie (a young white girl) who are neighbors, and a fence separates their yards.  Annie is very lonely, while Clover is always playing with friends in her yard.  Clover and Annie have each been told not to cross over the fence by their mothers, and abide by this rule; they have never spoken to each other.  Finally, one day they meet and become friends.  They begin to play together, and sit on the fence talking.
            The most incredible part about this book, is Clover and Annie’s conversation on the final page of the book, “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down,” Annie said.  And I nodded, “Yeah,” I said, “Someday”.  This has such a strong and intense underlying message, and I think it is one that students will really understand and relate to. 

Woodson to carefully creates a relatable, believable, touching story of friendship while addressing such intense and emotional underlying issues as well; I think she does such an amazing job of this.  This would be a great way to introduce a discussion on racism, segregation, friendship and many other topics. I think this would be a great way to incorporate literary elements into the classroom as well; the fence is such a strong metaphor and symbol in the book, as are Clover and Annie. 
This would be a great book to use as a cross-curricular resource as well as just a very touching and interesting story that I think kids would really enjoy, relate to, and comprehend on a very deep level.  

A Safe Home for Manatees

A Safe Home for Manatees
By Priscilla Belz Jenkins
Illustrated by Martin Classen
5/5 *****
Grades 2-4

         I thought Jenkins did a great job of incorporating several different writing styles and aspects of Manatee life into this book. She included factual information about Manatee’s: how they live, what they eat, what their relationship with their babies is and much more. In addition, she weaved in a personal story of a mother and baby manatee and how they fight to survive despite many human-caused complications. Because of the diversity she uses, this book could be used in so many different ways.
        One of the first ways I noticed would be to use it to introduce the Manatee or a unit on marine life, habitats, life cycle, the ocean or many other great topics. Using the Manatee to introduce a broad unit would be very beneficial, because most students wouldn’t have very much, if any, background knowledge on Manatee’s, so this would likely be an intriguing book for them. At the end of the book there is a page giving more information on how to help save the Manatee’s, which are a recently endangered species. This is a very empowering section, as kids could write a letter to someone or simply spread the word about Manatee’s and their struggles and feel like they are helping to solve a major, worldwide problem.
          Another great way to use this book in the classroom, is to introduce a science lesson on the environment. The book gives several specific examples of how human pollution causes major problems in the lives of the mother and baby Manatees. Giving students examples of how the human race doesn’t always respect nature and when we litter or as a society put our waste into other animal’s homes, their lives become very difficult. How would we feel if animals were putting trash in our homes or schools? I think this book has such great examples of the negative impact we as humans have on animals. Then at the end of the book, the Manatee’s finally reach a “Manatee-safe area” which humans created. This could open the door for many different animal rights or environmentally friendly groups to be discussed or simply introduced.
         I think that this book is foreshadowing events in our future as a society. It doesn’t tell the reader what is going to happen in the future, but if we keep disrespecting animals and our environment, they will soon have no place to go. And there is something that we can do to prevent this, which I am very glad the author included at the end of the book, because it makes it so much more meaningful to the students reading it to know they can make a difference. I would definitely use this book in my classroom; I think that it is a very interesting and intriguing topic with lots of lessons to teach students.

The Promise Quilt

The Promise Quilt
By Candice F. Ransom
Illustrations by Ellen Beier
5/5 *****
Grades 2-4

            I loved this book; it was extremely emotional, but I think it has a lot of uses in the classroom and would be very beneficial for students to read.  It is about a family during the Civil War, and the father goes off to fight in the war, and is told from the perspective of his daughter, Addie.  Halfway through the book, Addie finds out that her dad was killed in the war, and they receive his jacket from the army.  Addie wants to make her father proud and fulfill his promise to her she would go to school and get a great education.  In order to do this, she has to give up her dad’s jacket to help her mom make a quilt to sell so they can buy books for school. 
            One thing I really liked in this book was how the illustrations capture the emotions of the characters.  And not only that, but because of the way Ransom writes from Addie’s point of view (a child), we can really feel what she is feeling. Both of these contribute to the emotions the reader goes through throughout the book. 
            I think this would be a good book to use when introducing a Civil War or any type of War unit in social studies.  At the end, there is an overview of the actual history of the Civil War, if students are intrigued and want to read more right away.  This book really gives a different and important perspective that is often forgotten; the families and dreams of children are not often the focus of books written about wartime.  I think that even though kids haven’t gone through this specific situation, it is a good way to help reach out to children who have had a loved one, maybe even a parent, die and reinforcing that feeling these emotions after experiencing something like this is normal and expected.  What is important is to hold on to the positive memories you have of that person, and to do what you think they would be proud of.  By reading this book, you can discuss those ideas in terms of the book without singling out specific students or situations but still reaching them.

            This can also be used in a language arts or literacy situation.  Addie’s goes through all of this trouble and gives up her most prized possession in order to get an education and to learn how to read and write.  Today, we take school and reading so fore-granted, it could be interesting what kids have to say about what life might be like if they didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. Would they give up everything they had, like Addie, to get an education?
            The red coat is really symbolic in this book, and would be a good way to introduce symbolism or motifs to younger students.  Lastly, there are lots of important messages and themes of this book; importance of family, staying positive in difficult times, value of education and always maintaining hope for the future among others. 

She Is Born

She is Born
By Virginia Kroll
Illustrated by John Rowe
5/5 *****

            This was a very interesting book, and wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. It is a melting pot book, incorporating many different cultures and showing major similarities in lots of areas; medical personnel, type of clothing/blankets, celebrations/decorations, baptisms, religion, good luck charms, names, eye color, houses, food, crafts, sports, school/education among others. It starts with a picture of a baby girl, and has a different girl growing up eventually into a mother herself; each picture is a woman of a different race or ethnicity and there are several examples of the topics previously listed on each page. So, although different people of different cultures have different types of clothes, food, eye colors etc… we are all either a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, friend, wife or mother; we are essentially all the same, despite our obvious cultural differences.
            I think this book has lots of potential for introducing different social studies units, whether they are studying a new culture, a new religion, or any of the topics mentioned in this book, I think it would be a great way to spark interest in students and intrigue them in many ways. Because it is showing the life of an individual from birth to adulthood, it could be an introduction to a unit on the life cycle. It is also solely based on females, and could be related to feminism.
          One literary element I really liked in this book, was that there was a phrase on the first page of the book, “And earth will never be the same,” that was also found on the last page of the book. Not only does it help the book come to a close and tie everything together, it leaves the reader really thinking. Each and every individual changes the word and the earth and many other lives. I think this is an incredibly empowering idea that we should be teaching all students, because this is how we will help individuals continue to grow and develop, even as a global society.


By Ann Morris
4/5 ***

            I thought this book was a very good example of a melting pot situation. The book doesn’t have a specific plotline, but is a collection of photographs of people around the world doing different types of work. It shows different looking “mommies” working and different “daddies” working different types of jobs, and the message of the book is that we are all people who work hard to achieve our goals in life.

           This book has very few words, and I think the main focus and main value are the photographs. I think it is a good book for beginning or struggling readers, because it still has a complex meaning even though there are so few words. It would be a great way to introduce a social studies unit on different cultures or communities and different jobs people do. Everyone has a role in our society, and we are all working together towards our individual and societal goals.

               In the back of the book, there are detailed descriptions of the situations going on in each picture. There is information on what the person is doing and where the photograph was taken. I think this gives the book more credibility, especially in the eyes of the students, to
know that these are real people who are actually doing this type of work in the world right now. It also is a tool to help students who want to further their knowledge on a certain type of work or about a certain geographic area; this is a great way to spark interest or to be a gateway to a research project of some sort. So, despite the few words, I think there are some great ways to incorporate this book into the classroom.