Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 41: Books for K-12 classrooms

Picture Book Resources

Waiting Is NOT Easy by Mo Willems
Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, BUT Gerald has to wait for it. And wait. And wait. And waiting is SO not easy. Gerald just about gives up, but curiosity gets the best of him. Finally the surprise arrives, and it is turns out well worth the wait. Gerald totally captures the essence of everything that is painful about secrets and waiting, but Willems manages to make it humorous. The surprise is something in nature, highlighting the beauty of the simple things around us we take for granted (if you really want to know what it is, click on the title and peek at the spoiler).

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Patience: I know, patience is often a seemingly dirty word. It's so hard. But it is an inevitability. This book provides a great chance to talk to students about the benefits of waiting patiently versus getting something immediately. Have them think of something they had to wait for and something they got quickly, which do they value more?
  • Waiting Activities: This is a great segue into planning how to use time while waiting. Have students brainstorm a list of things they can do to fill those painful hours of waiting, like reading this book or other good books.
  • Appreciating Nature: The surprise is 100% natural, but often overlooked or taken for granted. Have students come up with other options for natural surprises Piggie could show Gerald. Maybe they can even make their own book with their own characters sharing the beauty of creation with each other.
  • Drama/Speech Exercises: Elephant and Piggie are very emotive characters. This book and all of their books are great for having students practice reading expressively. Drama teachers could easily use the books for students to practice various emotions and expressiveness in by acting out the books in class with a partner.

Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman

Pirate and Scientist are friends. Scientist and Viking are friends. But Pirate and Viking are decidedly NOT friends. Scientist wants both his friends to have fun at his birthday party so he comes up with several different hypothesis for how to get the two enemies to be friendly. He tests each one out at his birthday party, but nothing seems to be working. The results are clear, none of Scientist’s hypotheses have been correct so far. So he decides to try one last thing, he asks the two about their favorite activities...and wonder of wonders, the former enemies are brought together by a common interest.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Scientific Method: If you're looking for a fun way to introduce the scientific method, this is THE book. It's fun and funny, but also scientifically sound. Scientist drafts his hypotheses, runs the experiments, and then goes back to the drawing board each they fail.
  • Friendships: Making friends with people is not always easy. Read this book and talk with students about how finding common ground can help build friendships.
  • Peacemaking: I love that Scientist didn't just choose one of his friends to come to his party, he decided to be a peacemaker between his two friends. A great book to use when talking about resolving conflicts, helping friends work out differences, and being a peer peacemaker.
  • Fun read aloud: Sometimes, we just need to blow off steam with a rollicking good book, and so do kids. As the end of the year craziness starts to set in and tempers start to run short, this may be just the book break you and your class need.
Chapter Book Resource

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Mark is tired of his life being controlled by illness. He's tired of putting on a brave face. He's tired of hiding tears. He's tired of making his parents cry. And so when the latest news comes from the doctor that the cancer is back again Mark grabs his dog and decides to go climb Mt. Rainier. He's thought this through enough that he leads a false trail for the police and his parents so he can actually make it there. The way to the mountain is rough, especially for someone as sick as Mark, but he's determined to die on his own terms. He did leave a note for his best friend Jessie, giving her a clue as to where he's gone. But he trusts her to keep his secret, just as he's trusted her to let him be real when no one else would. Jessie is tormented by this burden Mark has left on her shoulders. Is it best to let him have his desire, or should she tell his worried parents where he is? As Mark sets out to conquer the mountain, he finds unexpected things the trip brings up that he must confront to get at the honest truth.
To be honest, I picked this up expecting the usual cancer book. The type that scars you enough you have to tell someone about it, but really isn't that spectacular writing-wise. This is not the usual cancer book. Gemeinhart's writing has depth in symbolism and lyrical flow (especially when it's Jessie's voice). From the haikus throughout the book that better express things than any paragraph could to the way the mountain symbolizes cancer in a way anyone with cancer (or anyone who has watched someone going through cancer) can relate to. It's not as gut wrenching as A Monster Calls and not as cheesy or cliché as The Fault in Our Stars (and certainly doesn't have the mature content of that book). This is a perfectly even-keeled look at what a person going through cancer experiences, but it is done in an exceedingly artful way.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Build empathy: If your class has someone going through something like Mark or has a family member going through such an ordeal, this book could help students better understand their struggles. 
  • Symbolism: If you're looking for a book for students to read so that you can talk with them about symbolism, this is a good one. There are several things in the story that can be picked apart and analyzed for greater depth.
  • Debate/Persuasive Paper: Mark puts Jessie in a very tricky position of knowing where Mark is but not knowing whether she should tell his parents or not. This would generate great grounding for a class debate or a short persuasive paper. Did Jessie do the right thing or not? What should she have done differently? What would you have done in her place?
  • Haiku: Haiku poems are found throughout the story and Gemeinhart uses them very well. You can discuss with students why you think the author chose to include these, why they make the writing better, etc. You can also challenge students to write their own haikus in short stories.
  • Voice: The story is told both by Mark and Jessie. Each has a distinct voice even though they were written by the same person. Have students try to analyze what Gemeinhart did to make their voices distinct. Then have them try and write a story that includes two different characters' perspectives and apply what they learned. 
  • Map skills: Readers can practice their map skills by tracing Mark's path. This may also help them better understand the pacing and setting of the story.
  • Writing: Many readers are not going to be 100% satisfied with the end of the story. Ask them to write what happens to Mark and Jessie in the following year.