Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Brainstorm 57: YMA 2016 winners cont.

Last week I highlighted the Caldecott winner and some related books. Of the rest of the list of this year's Youth Media Award winners and honors, I've already highlighted two, one of the Newbery honor winners and one of the Schneider Family Book Award Winners for Middle School. To see ideas for using Newbery honor Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, click here. To see ideas for using the Schneider Family Award winner Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt, click here. This leaves just 2 other award winners I've already read, and one I'm currently reading. So here's the Bulpré author award winner, a Newbery honor book, and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist.

Nonfiction Resources

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: a Memoir by Margarita Engle
In free verse poems, Margarita Engle tells of her childhood from her parents falling in love, her birth and on through age fourteen. The book covers 1947-1965, and since Margarita's mother was Cuban and father American, she had a unique perspective of the Cold War events that happened during her childhood. She tells of the family's yearly visits to family in Cuba until the civil war and politics prevented those. Margarita shares her love for the life in Cuba, how the part of her that loved plants and animals felt most at home there, and how confused she felt by the events that prevented her from visiting an island she loved. There's an afterward giving an overview of Cold War events and what happened in Margarita's life since age 14.

It is a beautifully written autobiography important both for children in similar positions and for the unique perspective on historical events.

Activity Tie-ins:
Bulpré Award: The Pura Bulpré Award is a relatively new award. Have students research what the award is for here.
Third & Fourth Culture Kids: Margarita beautifully captures the identity crisis of children caught between cultures. Third and fourth culture kids will readily identify with how she tried to figure out where she was most at home. If you're looking for an autobiography that third and fourth culture kids can identify with, this is a good one.
Cuban Missile Crisis & the Cold War: If you have classes studying this time period in American history, this memoir provides a very unique perspective on the event. It is extremely interesting to see the Cuban Missile Crisis and other Cold War events through the eyes of a child who loved both Cuba and America. How does Margarita portray the events as opposed to perhaps the class textbook?
Psychology, Culture & Refugees: Engle's paternal grandparents were refugees from the Ukraine, and refused to talk about life before they came to America. Her mother's family loves to talk about Cuba before the Cold War. It provides an opportunity to look at the various ways people respond to crisis. Was it just their cultures that dictated how they responded so differently or do you think it was based on their personalities?
Free Verse Poetry: This memoir is written entirely in free verse. Ask students why they think Engle chose this form of writing for her memoir. Were you able to get a full feel for events she describes despite the sparse text? How did the author make it work?
Authors' Other Jobs Research Project: I was surprised to learn that before she took up a pen full time, Engle was the first woman agronomy professor at a California polytechnic university. What other authors have had surprising jobs before writing?
Quick Nonfiction Read: If you're looking for an autobiography that's a quick read, this is a good pick. Thanks to the free verse poetry format, the pages fly by.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Shostakovitch and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson
A biography of the pioneering 20th century Russian composer, Shostakovitch. The book follows his life from childhood in czarist Russia, through Stalin's takeover, and on through World War II. At this point I'm 25% of the way through and so far I've come away from reading this very grateful I was not born in Russia in the past century or so. The things Shostakovitch, his family and colleagues are going through are so rough, and I'm not even to WWII yet! I will say this at this point, I would only recommend this to teens on up due to the harsh regime of the Soviets and the lifestyles of some of the artists we're introduced to (nothing graphic yet, but Russian artists of the 1920s definitely weren't great role models). The book is definitely well-written and suffused with photographs of people and places mentioned, which I really appreciate.

Activity Tie-ins:

Russian History: If you're studying Russian history and want students to get a good picture of the roller coaster of regimes and policies thrown around in the first half of the 20th century, this book definitely does that.
Gratitude: If your students need a good dose of gratitude for how good they have it, this would be a great wake up call.
WWII & Music: I haven't gotten there yet, but eventually this promises to cover Shostakovitch's role in WWII. Evidently, they snuck one of his symphonies out on microfilm because of the message it held. The music was also instrumental in giving hope to many people. It gives a new perspective on the importance of a composer.
Russian Arts: Of all of Shostakovitch's artist associates, the only one I had previously heard about was Prokofiev. And it isn't like I've been hiding under a rock from music and art history. I took music history in high school, and was a music major for a while in college. I tested out of art history in college, so I've been exposed to quite a bit of music and art history, but most of these people weren't included. Anderson is also including quite a bit on those involved in early Russian movie productions, since Shostakovitch was involved in writing musical scores for several of them. It's fascinating, and like I mentioned, not often covered in the average arts history class.
YALSA Nonfiction Finalist: Find out what it means for a book to be a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist here.

Graphic Novel/Fiction Resource

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid's mom takes her and her best friend Nicole to the local roller derby as one of their cultural nights. Astrid falls in love with roller derby and begs her mom to sign her up for the summer camp which starts in a few weeks. Astrid thinks Nicole is eager to sign up too, but it turns out Nicole has signed up instead for ballet camp. Over the summer, Astrid discovers that roller derby is a whole lot harder than she ever imagined. She wants to be good at it. She dreams of being a roller derby star. But she really isn't sure if she's got what it takes. And then she finds out that Nicole has been hanging out with arch-nemesis Rachel at ballet camp and on top of the blood, sweat, and tears of derby she may have lost her best friend to the dark side.

This one is going to rank right up there with CeCe Bell's El Deafo as most popular books to get Newbery Honors. Graphic novel + realistic story is a ginormous win right now. Though I'm not a huge roller derby fan, I do like that the book will be voraciously devoured and has good messages kids will get along the way.

Activity Tie-ins:

Newbery Honor: Find out what it means for a book to be awarded a Newbery Honor here.
Perseverance: Astrid has a really hard time getting the hang of roller derby. She wants to quit at one point, but she perseveres and eventually sees little moments of progress. A good read to encourage kids who want to quit when the going gets hard.
Honesty: Astrid lies to her mother for a while about Nicole being at the same camp. Eventually the truth comes out and she and her mom work things out. It's a good opportunity to discuss with students how Astrid could have made her life easier (both emotionally and physically, she had to walk back from camp each day because of her lie instead of getting a ride). There's also the opportunity to discuss what would be the best course if you want to die your hair a wild color, ask before or after you do it. (Guess which one Astrid picks? Yes, she likes to learn the hard way.)
Friendship: There's a big lesson on friendship in this book, and it paves the way to talk about how people change when they hit middle and high school, how to work through disagreements best, and what to do when someone is mean to you.
Unique Sports Writing Prompt: This book obviously highlights a lesser known sport. What are some other lesser known sports out there? Could you write a story featuring it?
Reluctant Readers: This is a great pick for reluctant readers because it is a full-color graphic novel. I have yet to meet a student who does not like graphic novels, even those who say they don't like to read can't turn down a vibrant graphic novel.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Brainstorm 56: Books for K-12 classrooms

In honor of the Caldecott being awarded this past Monday, a Brainstorm featuring the winner and two books that could be used with it (or on their own).

Picture Book Resources

Finding Winne: the True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, ill. by Sophie Blackall

A biographical picture book about Harry Coleburn, the bear he bought and named Winnipeg (Winnie for short), their adventures during WWI, Winnie's eventual placement at the London Zoo, and a little boy named Christopher Robin who fell in love with Winnie at the zoo.

There is another picture book biography of Coleburn, Christopher Robin, and Winnie (see next book in this blog post). This one is more sentimental in both text tone and art style. It is written by the great-granddaughter of Harry Coleburn so it has a tiny amount of more personal details. The story is written as if Mattick is telling her son a bedtime story about a man first (Harry) and then a boy (Christopher Robin), and at the end she reveals the relationship of herself and her son to Harry. There are real pictures in the back of the book of artifacts of Harry's as well as photographs of Harry, Winnie, and Christopher Robin. I like both books for their own merits. I like the succinct way Winnie conveys the story. I like the personal interest spin that this book puts on the tale. I like the illustrations in both books, but I may like Blackall's a tiny bit more. If asked to choose just one version of the story to read I think I'd pick this one if I had more time, but the other if time was short (but it'd be a really close call).

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Current Events: This book has appeared in several news articles this week since it just won the Caldecott Medal on Monday.
  • Caldecott Medal: Discuss the requirements for the Caldecott Medal winners, the history of the award, and ask students why they think this book won the award. (For requirements and history, click here.)
  • WWI: This is a happier story from WWI, and how it affected history. If Harry hadn't brought Winnie with him to England during the war, there may never have been a Winnie-the-Pooh.
  • Canadians: Looking for a story of a famous Canadian? Here’s one who often falls under the radar.
  • Further Research: There’s more information out there about Winnie. Winnie eventually ended up in the London Zoo, which is where she met Christopher Robin. The London Zoo has several resources on her including a 2 min video. Go to the ZLS website and type in Winnie-the-Pooh in their search box for the website. 
  • Veterinarians: It’s not often a veterinarian stars in a biographical picture book. This gives a peek into the occupation’s roll in WWI.
  • Bears: If you’re studying bears. Winnie is a captivating real bear of history.
  • A.A. Milne: This story highlights much of the inspiration for a well-loved children’s literature character. If you’re studying Milne, this book not only provides background, but real pictures of the author, his son, and his inspiration.

Winnie: the True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, ill. by Jonathan D. Voss
Tells the story of the veterinarian, Harry Coleburn, enlisted in the Canadian army in WWI to care for horses who made a bear cub part of his troop. He named the bear Winnipeg after the troop's hometown, and they called the cub Winnie for short. Winnie was trained very well and loved by many. Eventually the mascot traveled with the Canadian soldiers to England, but when they were moved to the front lines of France, Harry decided to leave Winnie at the London Zoo for safety. Winnie adapted so well to the zoo, Harry left the bear there. Because Winnie was so tame, the keepers at the zoo let children pet, feed, and even ride Winnie. One of the children who became enamored with the friendly bear was a little boy named Christopher Robin. He loved Winnie so much he renamed his teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh, and his father wrote stories about the toy bear's adventures.

This book is just the perfect length. All the essential details are included, but it still remains a fairly quick read. The illustrations are charming, and there are real photographs of Harry, Winnie and Christopher Robin on the end papers. There's also an author's note with more historic details for those who want them.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • (Obviously many of the tie-ins for Finding Winnie apply to this book as well.)
  • Compare/Contrast: There are some subtle differences between this tale of Harry and Finding Winnie in tone or the way they tell certain parts of the story. Obviously, the illustration style is different too. A great opportunity to do a Venn diagram exercise.
  • Seeming Historic Discrepancies & Artistic License: This book has the man at the station asking for $20 and in Finding Winnie Harry offers the man $20. It’s a great opportunity to talk about why history books may have subtle differences. This one’s even better because we know why there are two different interpretations. The back of Finding Winnie includes the ledger where Harry records paying $20 for Winnie but it has no further details. Walker decided that meant the man asked for $20. Mattick decided her great-grandfather offered $20. Is either one wrong based on the recorded information? Does it really matter which way it happened? Which author do you think might have some further inside information about what really happened and why?

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Dessert by Emily Jenkins, ill. by Sophie Blackall
Readers watch as four families in 1710, 1810, 1910 and 2010 make blackberry fool. The methods of getting the ingredients, whisking the cream and cooling the treat vary over time along with the dress and location of the families, but the basic treat and enjoyment of it remain the same.

A fantastic book for looking at how food preparation has changed over time and also the ways it has remained the same. I liked the diversity of the families included. The first is a British family, the second a slave family in the South, the third a middle class Boston family, and the fourth a Hispanic-American family in California who have quite the diverse group of friends over for the meal featured. And you absolutely HAVE to read the author and illustrator's notes in the back of this book. It's a beautiful book in illustration style that is also rich in education and entertainment aspects.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Illustrations & the Caldecott: Blackall had two books eligible for the Caldecott this year. Obviously, Finding Winnie was one. This was the other one. Many people thought she should win the award for this book. Have students look at both books and debate why they think Finding Winnie won the award instead of this one. Which book would they have picked for the Caldecott and why?
  • History: A great picture book for classes covering 1710, 1810, or 1910. You get a picture of some everyday activities from each time period.
  • Compare/Contrast Various Time Periods: There are definite patterns in this book that will aid a compare/contrast of time periods. What stayed the same and what changed as times changed? Which periods were most alike and which the most different?
  • Class Cooking: If you’re looking for a book to tie in with a food prep activity in class, this would be an easy dessert to make. You just need blackberries, cream, sugar, and vanilla. If you want to make things interesting, you could pick which time period to replicate in the food preparation.
  • Art & Research: Blackall provides an excellent note on all the research she did for this book to make it authentic. Art classes could use this as inspiration and a launching pad for an art project that requires research.