Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 47: Books on refugees for K-12

Refugees have been in the news a lot recently, though the plight of such displaced people is nothing new. Here are some great books that can be used in K-12 classrooms to help students understand refugees and the issues surrounding them.

Picture Book Resources

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
A little clown falls off a passing circus train and a lonely farmer takes care of the little one till his family comes back for him. It's a sweet wordless story about an old man who lets his crustiness crack to a smile in the presence of a little lost boy. They are wonderful companions for a day. And the joy with which the family recovers the little guy is cheering too.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Inconvenience & Compassion: The farmer could have reacted very differently to having his routine interrupted. Have students brainstorm various ways the farmer could have reacted, and then what the farmer got out of being nice to the little clown. 
  • Refugees: You can easily tie that last Inconvenience & Compassion discussions into a lesson/discussion about refugees and their host families too. How do they think the little clown felt about being separated from his home and family? How do they think refugees feel about having to leave their home and sometimes friends and family? What were the pros and cons the farmer faced when helping the little clown? What are the pros and cons of helping refugees? 
  • What To Do if Lost: This book provides a good opportunity to talk to kids about what they should do if they are ever lost.
  • Writing (any Language): Since the book is wordless, it easily lends itself to a writing activity. Have students practice writing dialogue and imagine what the farmer and the little clown said to each other.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

The author tells about how his family were poor refugees when he was young, and how his father brought home a map instead of bread one day. At first he was mad because he was hungry, but soon Uri became enthralled in the map and the different places helped him forget his grumbling tummy and inspired his imagination and creativity.
Shulevitz has an incredible story, which he further fleshes out in a note at the back of the book. The illustrations change to match the mood of the different parts of the story. When he is hungry, the colors are bleak and the details are minimal. When he gets caught up in the map and the countries it depicts, the colors flare and things are drawn somewhat fancifully. 

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Geography: Maps helped inspire Uri and distract him from his troubles. This is a good book to use when talking about the benefits of studying geography and maps; Uri's story demonstrates they can go beyond the typical directional usage.
  • Poland: If you are studying Poland, this would be a short book to read and introduce a famous Polish person the students may actually have heard of.
  • Autobiographies: A nice short book to use when talking about autobiographies or to demonstrate different forms autobiographies can take.
  • Caldecott Award: This book won a Caldecott Honor in 2009. If you're talking about art awards or literary awards, you can include this book and/or artist.
  • Mood & Art: Shulevitz directly correlates the illustrations and his mood in the story. Students can talk about why he chose the different color schemes and how they can convey emotion in their artwork.
  • Refugees: Uri's book highlights some of the very real hardships that refugees face because of their displacement and reasons they have to run away from their homeland. WWII is over, but what wars/conflicts are currently going on causing people to leave home? Uri's dad has trouble finding work, and the family has trouble getting enough food. Though this happened many years ago, how were their problems similar to problems faced by today's refugees? If you want to extend this, have student research ways that will help refugees and still respect them as people.
  • WWII: There are lots of good books out there for WWII studies, and this is one of them.
  • Life Experience & Future Work: Uri Shulevitz has several published picture books. After reading this book, challenge students to read more of his books and ask them how they think his life experiences have influenced his artwork (he actually answers some of this in the back of this book).
  • Map Skills: Have students research where most refugees today are fleeing from and find those places on the map.
Novel in Verse Resource

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. by Shane Evans
Amira's life is simple and happy, that is until the Janjaweed attack her family's village, killing her father and many others. Then Amira, her Muma, sister Leila and old friends Amwar and Gamal have to go to the refugee city at Kamal to find safety. Life there is hard and Amira's tongue refuses to work since the attack, but a gift of a red pencil and paper helps Amira's voice find wings and gives her hope for the future.
Pinkney tackles a very heavy current event for middle grade readers, but manages to pull it off. She conveys the horrors and struggles of refugees in Sudan, but in a way that will not traumatize children. The book is written in free verse poetry and saturated with illustrations that help make this book fly by.

Activity Tie-Ins:
  • Africa: Modern Africa doesn't show up too often in fiction, but it does in this book. A good tie-in if your class is studying Africa.
  • Darfur Genocide: This novel makes the news stories about Sudan and the Janjaweed attacks come alive, but does so tactfully. It would help students better understand what has been/is going on there, and is a bit more fun to read than a boring news article.
  • Refugee Cities: Amira provides readers with a first person view of what it is like in a refugee city and what drives people there. Have students discuss if they would like to live in a refugee city, why or why not. If students feel motivated, research ways to meaningfully help those in refugee cities.
  • Psychology & Refugees: Many refugees, like Amira, are dealing with past traumas. It's a good opportunity to discuss with Psychology classes how trauma can affect people. Amira deals with it by going mute. How can you best help people like her? You could challenge students to find a way to make people more aware of how best to help people with past trauma in their lives.
  • Education: Amira longs to be able to go to school, but her mother's cultural opinion that school isn't for girls is holding her back. Many students complain about having to go to school. Have them imagine what they would feel like in Amira's culture and whether or not they really mean what they say about wishing not to go to school. You can also easily tie this in with Malala and her fight for education rights for girls in her similar culture.
Graphic Novel Resource

Herk is a little Nnewt fry with even littler legs, but that doesn't stop him from going on a big adventure after his town is attacked by Lizzarks. Herk starts off his epic journey by following the wishes of his mother, escaping from town, meeting an ancient Nnewt who helps him find his legs, and eventually finding a new Nnewt town. But he's still being tracked and the Wizzark has his eyes on Herk. This is just book one in a series that is sure to be super popular.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Refugees: Nnewt's town is attacked simply because they are non-scaled. The Lizzarks are scaled (reptile-ish) and are bent on wiping out those who don't have scales (amphibian-ish). Ask students why we'd classify Nnewt as a refugee. Discuss what kinds of things can force people to become refugees. Compare and contrast Nnewts plight with modern real refugees.
  • English classes: I've been looking around to see if TenNapel comments on his inspiration for this series. So far I haven't found anything. Some of the patterns of speech come off a bit Shakespearean, not that they are hard to understand, they just seem fancy and formal and Shakespeare-inspired. Also, Nnewt's journey starts to take on elements of other epic journeys in literature. It'd be fun to compare/contrast Nnewt and Odysseus or Pilgrim or others who have gone on epic journeys.
  • Empathy: Have students discuss how Nnewt felt about leaving his home and family. Do they think real people feel the same or different when they are in a similar situation?
  • Reptiles vs Amphibians: These two orders of Animalia are frequently confused. This book highlights one of the traits that distinguishes the two orders, the presence of scales on reptiles. It would make remembering the differences that much easier, because Nnewt definitely will stick in minds.
Nonfiction Resources

Gil and Eleanor Kraus were two relatively normal upperclass Jews living comfortable lives in Pennsylvania in 1938. They could have easily have lived through WWII in comfort, but when they started hearing about the dangers faced by Jews in Europe these two decided to not just feel sorry for others they decided to do something. Gil was a lawyer in Philadelphia and member of a Jewish group called Brith Sholom. One of the other Brith Sholom members mentioned to him that the group had a camp facility with 25 rooms sitting empty that could easily be used to house Jewish refugees. This set Gil and Eleanor on a journey through several months of mountains of paperwork and a crash course in US Immigration policies, and eventually into the heart of Nazi occupied Europe itself. Thanks to key connections, they were able to understand the process better than numerous other groups at the time and find a way to legally bring in 50 Jewish children out of the dangers of Nazi Austria and Germany. 

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Government & Refugee Policies: Many of the Kraus' headaches were caused by government regulations and policies, have students research past and present refugee policies by a few countries. Get your government students to brainstorm some of the things governments have to consider when deciding how many refugees to allow.
  • Past vs Present: They say the purpose of studying history is to learn from the past. Reading this, it is staggering how few children were saved during WWII by the United States versus how many died during the Holocaust. The 50 children saved by the Krauses was the largest group of refugees to come to the US during WWII. Today's refugee issues seem startlingly similar, have students compare and contrast WWII refugee issues with present ones and debate whether or not the US learned from the past or not.
  • Sacrifice for Strangers: The Krauses went through a lot for these fifty strangers. Ask readers how much they'd be willing to go through to save the lives of fifty people they'd never met.
  • WWII: This is a part of WWII history that often doesn't come up, and gives an interesting peek into the inner workings of the U.S. government at home during that time.

Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung with Tim Downs
The Chung family was an extremely successful business family in Southern Vietnam. But they were recent immigrants from China, and as such, they were double targets of the communists who took over after the Vietnam war. Firstly, the communists resented them because they had been quite wealthy before their arrival, and secondly, the communists were anti-Chinese. So Vinh Chung's parents decided it would be better to risk escaping Vietnam than staying. They gambled their lives and the lives of their 8 children by hopping into a boat and setting out into the turbulant and pirate-infested waters of Southeast Asia. If the typhoons didn't get the boat people, it was quite likely the pirates would, for refugees were found to be very easy prey. Thankfully for the Chungs, around that time World Vision founder Stan Mooneyham became burdened for the Vietnamese Boat People, and decided to see what World Vision could do to help. Thanks to several miraculous events and the work of World Vision, the Chungs made it to America. But even after landing on American soil they still had numerous cultural and emotional hurdles to overcome.
I think it's very healthy for the cozy citizens to read stories like the Chungs' here, and be reminded of their own blessings and that other human beings out there in the world could be going through some extremely harrowing circumstances, and may even take a huge pay cut in leaving. (The Chung family went from being millionaires in Vietnam to scraping by in America. Their father went from being a COO to working as a factory hand.) This book is quite the eye opener as to the perils many such people faced. It is also a very interesting look at the difference between immigrant children and refugee children in their ability to adjust to a new culture. And the stories of how God worked miracles just to help them survive their boat trip were inspiring. A great read if you want to get inside the mind of a refugee and better understand their experiences. Due to the nature of some of the things the refugees experienced, I'd only recommend this one to High School students or adults. I've highlighted this book before, so I'll keep the tie-ins brief.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Vietnam War: For those doing a unit on the Vietnam War, this provides an insider perspective of the conflict and what it was like to live there during that time period.
  • Refugees: This book highlights some of the hidden issues refugees are facing. Have students research what happens to engineers, doctors, professors and successful business men when they are resettled. How many of them are able to practice the profession in which they were successful at home? Also, discuss some of the challenges that refugee children face in adapting to a new culture.
  • Refugees in Boats: Those escaping Vietnam are not the only refugees who end up floating around in boats. The stats in this book are horrifying about the survival rates of those who look to escape certain death via boat. Where are people escaping by boat currently, and how many of them are typically surviving today? Again, students can debate whether coutnries have learned from the past or not.
  • Autobiographies: If you're looking for good modern autobiographies, add this one to your list.

This is an incredibly well-researched, well-written, informative look at the plight of modern North Korean citizens, and their current passageways to freedom. It is one of the most harrowing modern human rights issues of today, but since people aren't escaping North Korea in droves like other countries, it is hardly known. Kirkpatrick explores what is going on inside North Korea, what various refugees do to escape, and how different groups and individuals are working to get those refugees to freedom despite numerous difficulties.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Human Rights Issues: This is a quieter human rights issue, in that it doesn't often make the news. Have students research other human rights issues that numerous people are currently facing, but are not well known. They can also research who is helping and how they themselves can best help.
  • International Relations: This book brings up several very interesting international relations issues. It's a good resource to get students interested in international relations and explore careers in this field.
  • Refugees: This book has numerous interesting insights into the plights of refugees, it's too many to list here. There's lots of ways this could be used to spark debates, discussions, research, and service projects. Two issues that I had never thought of before were the plights of the children of North Korean refugee women and Chinese men, since they have no official nationality they can't easily be adopted and they are often abandoned. Also, many North Korean refugees are so accustomed to being told what to do they have to learn how to make decisions for themselves and how to have initiative, and they really find freedom overwhelming. It's a problem most Westerners can't even fathom.

Want more resource ideas? Panels just posted several recommendations in an article Empathy by Design: Understanding the Refugee Crisis through Comics.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 46: Dystopia books for K-12 classrooms

I saw in a BookRiot post this week, that it's Post-Apocalyptic Survival Month. I've had an idea to talk about some atypical Dystopias for some time, and it seems like it is quite fitting right now. So here's three Dystopias that don't fit the typical mold and could be used in K-12 classrooms.

(And if you're curious, here's the link to the post. And no, the post wasn't a list of Dystopia books like I thought it would be, it was much more practical.)

Picture Book Resource

The Numberlys by William Joyce, ill. by Christina Ellis
The Numberlys live in a world where all communication is done with numbers. But one day, five friends start to wonder if there could be more than numbers. Eventually, they develop the alphabet, which brings color (and jellybeans) to their world.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Alphabet: For those working on their letters, this is another book option to help them practice.
  • Letters, Words & Meaning: This book not only introduces the alphabet, it also talks about how letters join to form words and words join to form meaning. So it would be a good book to use when talking about the structure of language.
  • Linguistics: The Numberlys pretty much invent a whole new language, so this is a good book to use when talking about how languages develop and change, or different types of languages.
  • Counting & Number Recognition: Obviously there's numbers in this, and they aren't necessarily always in numerical order, so it's a good book to use to test whether kids actually can recognize their numbers.
  • Art, Design & Mood: The artwork in this book has a huge role in setting the mood of the story. It starts off very stark, art deco-influenced, and all in gray scale. As letters enter the world, color starts to infiltrate the pictures. It would be a fantastic book for middle and high school art classes to analyze and discuss why the architecture and color palate was chosen. Also, many of the pages are printed in a non-traditional direction, and art classes could talk about why the illustrator and designers decided to do this.
  • Community Improvement: The main characters aren't anyone really special in the society, but they dream up something that helps improve the entire community. Like the Numberlys, students can probably see areas of their communities that need help. Challenge them to think of ways, even small ways to help make their community a better place.
Chapter Book Resources

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman
WWIII’s green bombs left unexpected side effects on earth, like patches of denser than normal atmosphere called Bomb’s Breath which proves fatal to anyone or anything that breathes it (but is super fun to jump through), and Shadel’s Sickness, a disease that only appeared after the war and is cured with medicine made from a mold that only grew after the war. Cities are now few and far between on the Earth, and all are vigilant against the bandits who prefer to raid cities than grow their own food. 
Hope lives in the city of White Rock, which thanks to the crater formed by a bomb, has a natural wall. Everyone in White Rock is heavily encouraged to invent since another side effect of the green bombs was the scrambling of the electromagnetic field so magnets and electronics from before the war no longer work. Hope always tries really hard to invent something for the yearly festival, but she only seems to be good at failing more miserably than anyone else in town. She despairs of ever being useful, until the unthinkable happens and bandits come to White Rock not for food, but for their precious antibiotics. Hope is one of the few people in town adventurous enough to know of another way out of the city, so she knows it is up to her to escape from the bandits, get over the mountains, and get help from the next town before the bandits start killing people with their guns or the theft of the antibiotics.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Magnets & Electronics: The premise of the book says that all inventions based on magnets and electronics no longer work. Students could start to brainstorm all the things they use everyday that wouldn't work. They should quickly realize how much they rely on these things they don't usually think about. Students could also discuss which new inventions in the book they liked the best and why. Along the same lines, students could be challenged to think of non-electrical way to do something they normally use an electric device for.
  • Density: The Bomb's Breath is an important part of the story, and provides an opportunity to talk about the theoretical physics and chemistry about why it works the way it does.
  • Antibiotics in History: The discovery of antibiotics for Shadel's Sickness mimics the discovery of penicillin. Students could research how the two are similar and different, and how antibiotics work.
  • Inventions: There's a lot of focus on inventing in White Rock. It's a good opportunity to discuss the importance of inventions in real life, and the various ways inventions come about.
  • Self-Worth: Hope struggles with feeling unimportant because she isn't good at inventing, and it is one of the things her society values most. It's a good opportunity to talk about where we get our self-worth.
  • Values & Ethics: Most Dystopias focus on what a society values for good or evil. It provides a good opportunity to open up discussions with students about their values, how others view those values, and the relationship to philosophy and ethics.
  • Problem Solving: White Rock's survival is heavily dependent on the problem solving of it's citizens. Even though Hope isn't good at inventing, she does prove to be a problem solver in others ways. Have students discuss what problem solving skills various characters use and how they themselves use problem solving in their lives.
  • Dystopia for Middle Grades: The typical Dystopia has a lot of violence. This one has only one gun shot wound and one injury from a fall.  It is one of my go-to Dystopias for middle grade readers. It's still an exciting and adventurous read, but without the more mature content. And if students like it, there's a second book in the series that is just as fun and safe.

Atlantia by Ally Condie
Rio's world shattered with one simple phrase from her twin sister's mouth. Rio had dreamed of going Above for ages, but only one family member is allowed Above, so Bay's choice seals Rio to Atlantia, the world Below. And beyond Bay's choice, Rio just can't believe that her sister could have done this. Bay made her promise to stay Below with her and then all of a sudden Bay ups and chooses to leave? The secrets in Atlantia seem to only multiply after Bay's departure. Rio is determined to make it Above some other way, even though everyone tells her it is impossible, but as she seeks a way out and some sort of answer to Bay's choice, Rio just stumbles on more and more secrets. From the sister she thought she knew, her mother's mysterious and sudden death, her aloof and odd aunt, the history of the sirens, the current Minister's plans, the origin of Atlantia and the gods, and even the truth about the Above, nothing is as clear as she thought it was. With the help of True, a young man also devastated by the choice of someone to go Above, Rio builds her plans to escape Atlantia and to find some much-needed truths.
For much of the first half of this story, it seems to be mainly about Rio finding a way to escape Atlantia and get Above, but as the secrets start to multiply, the plot gains depth and so many layers it is really hard to write a summary that does it any justice. Condie manages to build a sci-fi futuristic setting that is entirely plausible and interesting. Rio and True are complex, flawed, wounded, but likable characters (and they don't get overly mushy or sappy!). But the two things that make this book stand out among all the YA Dystopias out there are that it is a stand alone novel (yep, no series), and a resolution is reached by...peace talks. Yes, you read that right, violence is not the answer.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Compare & Contrast: Because this book is so atypical for YA Dystopia, it makes a perfect candidate to be compared and contrasted with other more typical ones.
  • Paths to Peace: Many Dystopias rally the characters to fight for peace with weapons and forget that sometimes there are less-violent options. Have students discuss or investigate how this works in real life or students could debate which they think is more effective.
  • Values & Ethics: Like I mentioned for Sky Jumpers, Dystopias provide a good opportunity to open up discussions with students about personal or societal values, philosophy, and ethics.
  • Cleaner Dystopia option: There is still some death and bits of violence in this book, but the language is clean and there's no sexual content. Among the YA options out there, this is one of the cleanest, so if you're on the hunt for a less gritty YA read, this is a good one. And don't be worried that that means students won't like it, because this one is hardly ever on the shelves. It's super popular.