Picture Book Resources
Unspoken: a Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
This is a completely wordless book. Using incredible pencil illustrations, Cole tells the tale of a girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family's corn crib. Instead of exposing him, she decides to help him by slipping him food. Reading the author's note at the end of this book is a must. Cole explains why he chose to tell this story and in the wordless format.
- Writing: Any grade and any language class (even foreign languages) could use this book as a writing prompt. The author's note actually invites readers to do just this, write their own words to accompany the story or continue the story (it does not show what happens to the slave after he leaves the farm). Students could write the story from either the slave's perspective, the little girl's perspective, or a narrator's perspective.
- Civil War: This could be included in history lessons on the American Civil War. (There are soldiers searching for the slave on the farm at one point in the story.) Of course, slavery was just one of the issues involved in the war. Have students figure out some of the other causes. An excellent resource for exploring all those various causes is The Gettysburg Address: a graphic adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey. But that's a book for another post.
- The Underground Railroad: Obviously, this is an excellent book to incorporate in studies of the Underground Railroad. Incidentally, we have several other books on the Underground Railroad that could be used in conjunction with this, but the one I'm most excited about (and the students are too) is coming out April 21. Keep your eyes open for The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale. Sorry, sidetracked by another book, but can't help sharing the excitement.
- Current social issues: Many students are unaware that slavery is still a problem in various places in the world today. This could be used to bring awareness to this current issue, and even start students brainstorming how they could help people in these horrible situations. Here's an interactive map showing where slavery is currently an issue.
- Unselfish Acts of Kindness: The people who helped on the Underground Railroad, like the little girl and her family in this story were often endangering their own lives. Have students discuss why we uphold such people as heroes. What are the character qualities these people model that they admire? Perhaps have students write in a journal or discuss in small groups whether or not they would be brave enough to do something similar.
- Art: The ability to tell a story only through pictures requires a bit of skill. Have students study the illustrations and try to figure out how Cole was able to convey emotions like fear, uncertainty, gratitude, etc. Why do you think he chose to do the sketches in black and white with pencil?
- Chinese practice/ESL reading: The text in this book is in both English and Chinese, making this an opportunity for students taking Chinese to practice their Chinese reading or for Chinese second language learners to practice their English reading.
- Chinese folktales: This could be just one of several stories included in a unit of Chinese folktales. Students could see if they can find common themes, or if the stories help them understand currently practiced traditions. (Especially at a time when Chinese decorations are up everywhere for Chinese New Year.)
- Compare/Contrast: Many students will be familiar with the Disney movie version of this tale. Have students compare and contrast the two versions.
- Legendary Figures across the World: Discuss how folk tales originate and have students brainstorm other legendary figures from folk tales like Mulan but from their own culture or other cultures. (Some examples may be Aladdin or Robin Hood.)
- Ancient China: Many classes study ancient China at some point. This would be a great classic tale to incorporate into those studies. Discuss who Mulan may have been fighting, methods of conscription into the army and how the land was ruled at that time, dress/hairstyles for that time period, armament, transportation, etc.
- Poetry: Since this tale is based on a poem, it's a nice opportunity to include some Asian poetry into poetry lessons. The University of Columbia has a version of the "Ballad of Mulan" translated into English. They've even got some historical background and discussion questions with it.
- Honoring Parents: Mulan's heroism is motivated by her love for her father. Have students brainstorm some ways they can bless their parents.
- Translation: Our multicultural students are pretty used to translating things every day whether they realize it or not. This is a good opportunity to discuss different ways things are translated (word for word, or thought for thought) and pros or cons of both. Also could talk about the career opportunity of being a translator and the pros/cons of that profession.
- Lent & Easter: This is a great resource for better understanding of who Jesus was, who the disciples and crowds understood him to be, and the significance of his life, death, and resurrection.
- Literature & Historical Background: If you need examples for why it is important for students to understand the historical background of various pieces of literature, this book has numerous great examples of phrases that are missed or misunderstood without some historical information.
- Personal Reading: If you're looking for a read that will stimulate both your heart and your head, this is a good one and it's very readable.