Thursday, May 26, 2016

Brainstorm Vol 72: Unplug this summer

Both kids and adults today struggle with balancing screen time and unplugged time. As we head into the summer when all of us will be tempted to turn to those flashy electronics for entertainment during the down time, here are some books on the importance of unplugging or that celebrate non-electronic activities. There are 9 books for kids (plus 1, see post script), and 2 books for parents/teachers.

Picture Book Resources

Dot by Randi Zuckerberg, ill. by Joe Berger
Dot knows how to use all the technology. She knows how to swipe and talk and click. But she also realizes there are joys to be found in the outdoor world.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Screen Time vs Social Time: This book does a great job of portraying keeping a healthy balance between unplugged activities and technology use. It’s very relevant for today's kids. Use this to start a discussion about healthy balance in your family, and devise a plan together of how much screen time is enough.
  • Language Arts: There's some clever word choice in the book, verbs used to describe tech activities are also able to describe outdoor activities. Language arts classes could use the book to talk about multiple meanings for words.

Look by Jeff Mack
Gorilla is really trying hard to get the little boy's attention. He has something amazing to show the boy, but the little boy is very absorbed in the TV and can't be bothered. Eventually, Gorilla does get the boy's attention, but definitely not as planned.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unplug Activity Ideas: Little ones should find the gorilla's antics entertaining as he tries to get the boy to notice the books in the room in this story. Adults will like the message to unplug and read every once in a while (hopefully through less drastic methods though). 
  • Emergent Reading: I continue to appreciate what Jeff Mack can do with just two words throughout an entire book. In this one, the entire text consists of the words "look" and "out" in various tones and arrangements. A good book for little ones to learn to recognize two sight words and be able to “read” the book for themselves.
  • Context & Word Meaning: As just mentioned, there are only two words used throughout this book, but with illustrations and punctuational context, Mack manages to give the words various meanings. Use this one to talk about how to use context to determine different voice inflections and meanings for words. 

InvisiBill by Maureen Fergus, ill. by Dusan Petricic
Bill just wanted his family to pass the potatoes, but his family was so distracted...Bill went invisible. His mother's temporary fix was worse than the original problem, so Bill decides to do something drastic.

This is a bit of a tall tale to encourage families to unplug and spend time face to face.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Social Time vs Screen Time: This picture book addresses a very common issue, the tug of war between screens and family time. Read this and then discuss with your family or friends the boundaries for screens at meals and other times.
  • Tall Tales/Parables: Thankfully, no one literally turns invisible when they are ignored due to devices distracting people. This is a modern tall tale - or you could even argue a parable - that points out a modern issue. It illustrates one of the purposes of such stories, to explore an issue in a somewhat ridiculous and less-threatening way. 

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
A little boy and his pet dog and turtle enjoy activities both inside and outside through four seasons.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Emergent Readers: This book is wordless, perfect for little ones learning about reading concepts. 
  • Art: There are clever die-cuts that allow parts of future and former spreads be part of the next spread. An unplugging activity could be trying to do some of this type of art that requires some good brain exercise and problem solving. 
  • Unplug Activity Ideas: I love how the boy keeps himself entertained with fun activities that require no electronics. This is a great book for kids who say they are bored. Can they find an activity the boy is doing that perhaps they could do? 
  • Seasons: This book explores inside and outside activities through the four seasons, but being wordless these aren’t labeled. Can readers identify each season? What clues help them?

This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, ill. by Julie Morstad
Sadie is a girl with a grand imagination and a love of stories. Find out all the places her imagination and stories have taken her.

Sadie is a girl after my own heart. I spent many days as a child imagining fantastic adventures with my siblings with things like boxes and sofas and backyard bushes for props. And of course, stories from books spurred along many of those adventures. A fantastic read for imaginative kids who love stories (or nostalgic adults who still like stories).

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unplug Activity Ideas: Sadie is a great role model full of ideas for how to occupy yourself without an electronic device. 
  • Imagination: This book is a grand celebration of the power of imagination. 
  • Characters to Love: I just adore Sadie. She can join the ranks of Anne Shirley and Jo March for being a stellar female character with a grand imagination.

On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah, ill. by Benji Davies
Birt and Etho are best friends who imagine all sorts of fun with their cardboard boxes up on Sudden Hill. But will their friendship survive when a new boy Shu joins the group?

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Friendship Flexibility: This is a great choice for kids dealing with changes in friendships, especially the arrival of someone new. It ends happily for all and shows that changes aren’t always bad.
  • Unplug Activity Ideas: The boys in this book have all sorts of fun with cardboard boxes. What can you create with a cardboard box or other repurposed item?
  • Compare/Contrast: Read this one and Not a Box for a compare/contrast activity.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Rabbit is playing with a box, but even though it may look like a box to you, it is definitely not a box to rabbit. It is a rocket, a building on fire, a mountain, etc.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Compare/Contrast: Read this one and On Sudden Hill. Both books feature boxes that are not just boxes.
  • Geisel Honor: This book won a Geisel Honor in 2007. Find out what a Geisel Honor is.
  • Unplug Activity Ideas: Go get a box and see what your imagination turns it into. 
  • Imagination: Introduce young ones to the concept of imagination with this creative bunny.

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton
A little boy has many, many wishes swimming around in his imagination, but he finds the best things of all are the little miracles that happen in real life.

I loved the illustration style, but the conclusion of the book is best of all. A good book to encourage kids who often have their heads in the clouds to come to earth and find some real things to enjoy once in a while. (Though not minimizing the importance of imagination either.)

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unplug Activity Ideas: Challenge kids to find every day items that are actually pretty extraordinary. What new treasures will be discovered?
  • Art: The illustration style of this is quiet, with just touches of color. Explore how that enhances the message.
  • Imagination vs Reality: Several of the books in this list celebrate the powers of imagination, but this one also warns about the dangers of staying in your imaginary too long and missing out. But it also doesn’t minimize the importance of imagination. Another one to talk about having a healthy balance, this time between fantasizing and engaging in the real world.

Blackout by John Rocco
One night, the city is bustling as normal and the people are busy doing what they normally do when all of a sudden all the lights go out. The night patterns are broken and the people get to spend time doing things with others they don't normally get to do.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Unplug Activity Ideas: The people in this story are forced to unplug by a blackout. In the process, they discover several fun activities that don’t require electricity. Have a pretend blackout day and do activities without electricity.
  • Caldecott Honor: This book won a Caldecott Honor. Look at the illustrations and decide why you think they won this honor.
  • Social Time vs Screen Time: This is another book that reminds readers of the importance of social time. The characters in the book discover friends and fun with others because they are unplugged. It points out that sometimes we need to slow down and step away from electronics to get to know people.

Adult Nonfiction Resources
Two resources for parents & teachers who want more ideas of how to get kids to have a healthy balance of technology and socialization.

Growing up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman & Arlene Pellicane
"In this digital age, children are spending more and more time interacting with a screen rather than a parent. Technology has the potential to add value to our families, but it can also erode a sense of togetherness and hinder a child's emotional growth. In Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World, you'll learn how to take back your home from an over-dependence on screens. Discover the five A+ skills needed to give your child the relational edge in a screen-driven world: affection, appreciation, anger management, apology, and attention. Today's screens aren't just in our living rooms; they are in our pockets. Now is the time to equip your child to live with screen time, not for screen time. Constant entertainment is not the goal of childhood. No phone, tablet, or gaming device can teach your child how to have healthy relationships; only you can. Growing Up Social will help you:
Equip your child to be relational rich in a digital world
Replace mindless screen time with meaningful family time
Establish simple boundaries that make a huge difference
Read what's working for the screen savvy family down the street
Prepare your child to succeed down the road in relationships and life
Learn healthy ways to occupy your child while you get things done" –from back of book

Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World by Kathy Koch, PhD
"Technology is one of the benefits of living in today's world. It is a non-negotiable for success in our educational, vocational, and social cultures. Yet, with all the advantages there are inherent dangers, deceptions, and abuses. Teens often look to their digital tools to make them happy, when you set boundaries or take them away they feel frustrated and incomplete. Unhealthy habits formed in this stage of life easily carry over into adulthood and addictions to technology make other addictions more likely. Screens and Teens applauds the good aspects of the digital age, but also alerts parents to how technology contributes to self-centered character, negative behaviors, and beliefs that inhibit spiritual growth, prescribing manageable solutions regardless of the level of their teen's involvement. Unmasking the lies teenagers tend to believe, like "I must have choices," the book majors on truth, acknowledging that Truth alone brings contentment, freedom, and success" –from back of book

P.S. One More Picture Book!!! (added an hour after first publication)

Chloe by Peter McCarty
I forgot this fantastic picture book before! I just had to come back and add as a post script for this blog post. 
Chloe is the middle rabbit in a family of 21 bunny children. They love their family fun time. But when Daddy Bunny brings home a TV for family fun time, Chloe and Bridget don't think it's so fun. They find a better way to have fun together with some simple supplies.

A not-to-disguised message to get away from the tv and interact. (Or possibly on the magical intrigue of bubble wrap popping.)

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Art: I like McCarty's soft illustration style. Sometimes the illustrations in this one get a bit interpretive and modern (like the page where the Bunny family is all in a swirly pattern around Chloe to demonstrate she's in the middle of the family). So probably a good one for Secondary art classes to analyze for style.
  • Unplug Activity Ideas: If you're having trouble getting kids away from the TV to interact, this could be a good read to introduce a brain storming session for other activity ideas or to discuss why Chloe might have been upset about the arrival of the TV (but you better have bubble wrap and a box on hand).

Friday, May 20, 2016

Brainstorm Vol 71: Summer Reading Challenge

I wanted to come up with a way to encourage reading this summer among the entire reading community of our school. So I came up with this challenge that can be adapted for any level reader. Each person sets their own reading goals and chooses which categories they want to challenge themselves with. Some readers may end up just reading one or two books, while others could read over a dozen. Feel free to adapt this for your own reading community. I'm including a list of the categories, and also my real person summer challenge that I'm posting as an example/encouragement. I'm also providing blank copies of the challenge for students, staff, and parents to grab.

Mrs Becky’s Summer Reading Challenge

Don't know what to read this summer? Want to be a better, more well-rounded person and student? Challenge yourself to step outside your reading comfort genre and read a greater variety of books this summer. Set a goal, and see what you can do. Whether you pick just three categories or all of them, enjoy expanding your reading horizons! (Hint: If you pick strategically, a book can count for multiple categories. For example, Hidden by Dauvillier is a historical fiction graphic novel that was translated from French into English, so it counts for 3 categories.)

This summer I’m going to read a…
Historical Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
Fantasy Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
Mystery or Thriller Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
Adventure or Survival Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
Science Fiction or Dystopian Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
Realistic or Sport or Animal Fiction (Title I chose:____________________)
A Schneider Family Award book (Title I chose:____________________)
A Sibert Award or Honor book (Title I chose:____________________)
A graphic novel (Title I chose:____________________)
A poetry collection or novel in verse (Title I chose:____________________)
A nonfiction religious, psychology or business book (Title I chose:____________________)
A nonfiction historical or social sciences book (Title I chose:____________________)
A nonfiction literature, sports, or arts-related book (Title I chose:____________________)
A nonfiction science, forensics, or animal book (Title I chose:____________________)
A book published before you were born (Title I chose:____________________)
A book published within the past two years (Title I chose:____________________)
A book that was translated into English (Title I chose:____________________)
A picture book (Title I chose:____________________)

I have a massive TBR pile, so I could have filled all of these categories with different books, but for the sake of being an example, I put a few titles in multiple categories. I also chose to cross out a category to help students feel free to do the same. Two more things I did for the sake of students I work with in the Secondary Media Center, I picked almost all middle grade and YA books that will be hitting the shelves after summer break to help build some interest in them among returning students. You'll also probably notice the awards I chose to include as categories aren't as well known. The Schneider Family Book Award is for books that feature someone with a disability, and the Sibert Award is for best nonfiction for kids/teens. I'd love to see our students reading more of those award winners. They include numerous fantastic titles.

This summer Mrs Becky's going to read a…
Historical Fiction (Title I chose:_Paper Wishes by Sepahban_)
Fantasy Fiction (Title I chose:_Forest of Wonders by Park_)
Mystery or Thriller Fiction (Title I chose:_A Spy's Devotion by Dickerson_)
Adventure or Survival Fiction (Title I chose:_Leeplike Ridge by Wilson_)
Science Fiction or Dystopian Fiction (Title I chose:_A Long, Long Sleep by Sheehan_)

Realistic or Sport or Animal Fiction (Title I chose:_Pax by Pennypacker_)
A Schneider Family Award book (Title I chose:_A Mango-Shaped Space by Mass_)
A Sibert Award or Honor book (Title I chose:_The Boys Who Challenged Hilter by Hoose_)
A graphic novel (Title I chose:_The Shadow Hero by Yang & Liew_)
A poetry collection or novel in verse (Title I chose:____________________)
A nonfiction religious, psychology or business book (Title I chose:_The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor by Labberton_)

A nonfiction historical or social sciences book (Title I chose:_The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Hoose_)
A nonfiction literature, sports, or arts-related book (Title I chose:_The Fellowship: the Literary Lives of the Inklings by Zaleski & Zaleski_)
A nonfiction science, forensics, or animal book (Title I chose:_The Elephant Whisperer by Anthony_)
A book published before you were born (Title I chose:_Farmer Giles of Ham by Tolkien_)
A book published within the past two years (Title I chose:_Samurai Rising by Turner & Hinds_)

A book that was translated into English (Title I chose:_The Girl in the Blue Coat by Hesse_)
A picture book (Title I chose:__Max at Night by Vere__)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Brainstorm 70: WWII books in honor of VE Day

A Brainstorm in honor of VE Day celebrated this past week. Here's 10 great World War II books that came out in the past 3 years. (Sorry, I had to limit myself somehow or this edition would be really, really long. There’s lots of great WWII books out there.)

Graphic Novel Resource

Hidden: a Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, ill. by Marc Lizano, ink by Greg Salsedo, translated by Alexis Siegel
Grandma is up late looking at a scrapbook when her granddaughter finds her. She sees grandma is sad and asks her to tell the story so she can feel better. So Grandma tells her about when she was a little Jewish girl in France and had to hide in a wardrobe when people arrested her father and mother. She tells about a nice neighbor family who took care of her and kept her safe until the end of the war. And how they helped her find her mother again.

This is the English edition of a graphic novel originally published in French. It does a good job of portraying what it could have been like for a little Jewish girl in France during the war. And like a grandmother would do in telling a story to a child, it skips the most graphic parts of the war or manages to tell them in ways that are less harsh. A nice historical graphic novel for kids.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Batchelder Award: This book won the Batchelder Honor in 2015. The Batchelder is one of those lesser-known Youth Media Awards. Have students research what the award recognizes.
  • “Safe” Holocaust Story: It is hard to write a story that conveys the gravity of the Holocaust in a way appropriate for kids, but Dauvillier pulls it off and in a format that is super popular.
  • WWII Stories for Kids: This kind of goes along with the last point. It is really hard to find WWII stories safe to share with K-3 without traumatizing them. This one should be ok, and it is in a format that stretches multiple interest levels, so it isn’t too little kid-ish for middle graders. 
  • Occupations: Becoming a translator is hard, but important. This book provides an opportunity to talk about this job, it’s requirements, and why translators are needed.
  • Historical Fiction: A short and very approachable historical fiction for those who aren't sure about this genre.
  • Graphic Novel: Hand this to graphic novel fans. 

Middle Grade Fiction Resources

Echo by Pam Muñez Ryan
Once upon a time, a little boy in Germany becomes lost in the forest where he meets three strange young women and finds a book that tells an odd tale about them, a witch, and a harmonica that must save a life for the women to be freed.

Friedrich is a boy in 1930s Germany. Life isn’t easy for him due to a birthmark on his face, making him easy prey for bullies and teasing. It’s for this reason he works as an apprentice at the harmonica factory during the morning and spends the afternoon in private tutoring with various men of the factory. During hard times Friedrich finds solace in music, playing the cello or a special harmonica he finds in the factory. Things start looking worse and worse for Friedrich as Hitler’s policies begin to spread and all those who have differences, including birth marks, fall into ill-favor. And those who don’t agree with Hitler’s policies could be in just as much danger, like his Papa.

Mike is an orphan in 1930s Pennsylvania. When Granny was getting to ill to care for him and his little brother Frankie, Gran found them a boys’ home with a piano and left them with the stipulation that they should be kept together. But Ms Pennyweather seems more concerned with what kind of money she can get out of the boys in the home than honoring last requests of relatives. She begins threatening to send the boys separate ways. Mike’s one solace is in music. One day a man comes and asks to hear the piano played. He is enthralled with Mike and Frankie’s music, and takes them to live with a Mrs Sturbridge. But though the house is beautiful and they get new clothes, great food, and even things like harmonicas, the new place feels too good to be true, and it seems that Mrs Sturbridge doesn’t want them.

Ivy is perfectly happy with her life in 1942 in Fresno, but the new year promises to bring changes. Her father gets an offer to go work at an orange grove in Orange County with a chance at a permanent house and land if the job goes well. Ivy is crushed that they have to move right then. Her class was going to be on the radio and she had a harmonica solo. The move has some happy surprises, like her own bedroom and a nice girl her age who lives next door. But to her shock, because of her heritage, Ivy has to go to Lincoln Annex school instead of the main school. It seems grossly unfair. Injustice seems to run rampant in the area. The land her father is working belongs to Mr. Yamamoto, who, along with his wife and two daughters, has been put into an internment camp because of his heritage. His son, Kenneth, alone escaped the camp, only because he had already enlisted with the Marines. Other neighbors want the Yamamotos to sell the land and be gone for good, but if that happens, the job for Ivy’s father disappears. Still, there are bright spots in Ivy’s life here. She has her new friend Susan, and she gets to start learning the flute, which greatly excites Ivy because she loves music.

One thing unites all of the stories, a single harmonica that moves from one person to the next and brings hope, and eventually to one owner, a saved life.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:
I mentioned this before in Brainstorm 43, go there for more info & ideas.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada was born with a club foot. Her mother has told her that her crippled foot makes her useless and unwanted. She hides Ada away in the house, treats her like dirt, and tells Ada she's protecting the rest of the world from her. Ada's life isn't happy, but she makes do. And her younger brother Jamie is a bright spot in her life. When Mama is out working, the two siblings have moments of fun and joy despite little to eat. Jamie is growing up and attending school now, though, and Ada is starting to feel left behind. Then Jamie comes home with news that they are evacuating all children because of the war Hitler is threatening. Ada decides that she must go away with Jamie, so she works on standing and walking when Mama is not watching. The day of the evacuation the two siblings sneak out before their mother can stop them and soon find themselves in a strange town in the country. No one wants the two grubby evacuees, and eventually they get dumped on a reclusive spinster lady named Susan Smith. Susan claims to know nothing about children and begs off taking them, but the wily woman in charge of the evacuees manages to get them placed with her anyway. Despite Susan's rough exterior, the two neglected children soon learn much about the world that their mother kept from them. With the help of an old pony and a scruffy cat, as well as the soft depths of Susan's outwardly-crusty heart, Ada and Jamie begin to heal, grow and recover from their former lives. And a war that threatens everyone's lives ends up dramatically changing three lives for the better.

The whole time I was reading this I was reminded of Goodnight Mister Tom by Magorian. Both books are about abused children who are evacuees from London in WWII ending up with older, crusty adults, and their lives dramatically being turned around while also melting the older person's heart. The one difference in this one is Ada's disability. So in addition to learning what a proper home life is supposed to look like, Ada also learns how to function in society despite her disability. The things Ada and Jamie have gone through are heart-breaking. Ms Smith is wonderfully understanding, and so very patient. The story is sure to tug at the most stubborn of heart strings. I think what most impressed me about the writing was how Bradley was able to think about what kinds of things Ada would have been ignorant of being stuck inside a city flat all her life. I haven't heard many people mention that this is also a book likely to resonate with horse lovers. Much of Ada's recovery and growth is tied to how she falls in love with horses and is determined to ride them despite her disability. A sweet historical fiction that deserved the Schneider sticker on it's cover. I thought the writing was good but still wondered if the plot wasn't too similar to Goodnight Mister Tom to earn the Newbery Honor. Oh well, it's still a good story.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers: 

  • Newbery Honor: This book won the Newbery Honor this year. Have students discuss why they think it won.
  • Schneider Family Book Award: Ada’s story also won a Schneider Family award for being a fantastic story about someone with a disability. How Ada is treated because of her disability provides lots of fodder for discussions.
  • Compare/Contrast: Challenge students to read both this story and Goodnight Mister Tom. Which one do they like better? Did they notice similarities and differences? 
  • WWII Read: A good book to read while learning about WWII. It paints the war through the eyes of children at the time. 
  • Historical Fiction: Those looking for a touching historical fiction read, should find this just the ticket.
  • Horse Lovers: Equine lovers will readily identify with Ada’s love of horses and cheer for the ways they help change her life.

Duke by Kirby Larson
Hobie, a 5th grade boy in Seattle in 1944, is really plagued by the question of whether he is doing all he can to help the war effort. So far he's had to take over being the man of the house so Dad could go fly fighter planes in Europe, and he's just had to say goodbye to his best friend Scooter who is moving so his Dad can help build ships in Portland. Hobie makes sure to buy war stamps and help out with his little sister at home, but when someone suggests that maybe he should donate his beloved dog, Duke, to Dogs for Defense, Hobie thinks that may be too much. But the idea keeps plaguing him everywhere he turns. Mom says he's made enough sacrifices for the war, but Hobie starts to feel that maybe Duke could help make the war end faster. So he donates Duke, and immediately starts having second thoughts. In between plotting ways to get Duke back, Hobie gets to deal with normal 5th grade stuff...making friends, dealing with the class bully, and trying not to be annoyed too much by his little sister. Life isn't always easy, especially when you get telegrams saying your dad is now a Prisoner of War or letters saying that your best four-legged friend might be going into danger. Hobie finds he has some things to learn over that year about attitude and motives, sacrifice, and just a tiny bit of what it really means to be a man.

I completely devoured this book in one afternoon. It does have a slightly larger than normal font, but Hobie's day to day experiences on the home front keep you reading. He is impeccably normal, flawed, and sometimes awkward (all in lovable ways) driving you to want to know what this 5th grader (eventually 6th) gets himself up to and how he grows along the way. You also want to keep reading to make sure his dad and dog make it through the war ok. And I have to admit, Ms Larson surprised me with the outcome of the book on both those points.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • WWII & Dogs for Defense: This touches on a real program run during WWII that used dogs in the war. It gives an owner’s perspective of the program. I first learned about the Dogs for Defense program through a kids’ movie. When my siblings and I were young, we LOVED Chips the War Dog. If you want more of a flavor of the Dogs for Defense program by following what the dogs went through this would be a great resource...if you can even find it around any more. As an extension, have students see if they can find out what other animals were used in the war effort.
  • Dog Lovers: Hobie is a fantastic dog lover, and modern dog lovers will go on all sorts of emotional highs and lows with him through this book. Ms. Kirby has written other dog books set in WWII, so if you like this one snatch up one of her others, like Dash. Note: if you are the easily moved to tears type, you may want to keep a box of tissues nearby while reading this.
  • Life at Home During WWII: I loved many things that Ms Larson managed to work into Hobie's life to give a good picture of many aspects of life in America during WWII. For example, the kids in Hobie's class mention missing their friend of Japanese descent who had to go away. The new kid in class, Max, has a German last name, and the class bully picks on him for it. When Hobie visits Max's house he also feels unsure of how to act because Max's grandfather has a German accent. And Hobie (and some of his classmates) is slightly obsessed with a radio program about an adventurous war hero. 
  • Historical Fiction: If you’re looking for a relatable historical main character and a story with lots of feels, pick this book.

Young Adult Fiction Resources

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
It's early 1945 in East Prussia. The Nazis occupy most of the land, but they are slowly crumbling and the Russians are pushing in from the East. And there's a host of people who have been displaced from their homes by the war moving towards the shore of the Baltic Sea in hopes they can escape before the Russians arrive. One of the biggest ships waiting at Gotenhafen for refugees and evacuating German forces is the former cruise ship, Wilhelm Gustloff. Readers experience this harrowing time through the voices of four young adults: Florian, the German, who may or may not be on a special mission from one of Hitler's top men. Joanna, a Lithuanian nurse who seeks to help those around her and assuage the guilt of something she did in her efforts to survive. Emilia, a Polish teenager who has lost everything to the war. And Alfred, a German soldier assigned to prepare the Wilhelm Gustloff for it's rescue journey. Florian, Emilia, Joanna, a giant woman named Eva, a blind young woman named Ingrid, an old cobbler the group calls the Shoe Poet, and a young boy who wandered out of the woods form a rag-tag group as chance encounters bring them together on the road to Gotenhafen. Through them, readers experience all the joys and horrors of the life of refugees trying to make it to safety. Meanwhile, Alfred is using his amazing brain to figure out ways to evade work and write imaginary letters to his sweetheart. All of them meet at Gotenhafen, where most of them board the Wilhelm Gustloff and watch their salvation turn into what seems to be doom.

Ok, confession time. This entire Brainstorm was just an excuse to be able to share this book! I have a group of students who’ve also read it. We’re all torn over how to describe our feelings, but we’re all highly recommending the book to others. The writing in this was amazing and the overall message of the book was important, but at times it was also a very hard read. Along with much of the world, I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy before Sepetys released information about this book. I'm glad she is giving these unsung victims a voice and a memory. At the same time, I almost wish going into the book I had not watched Sepetys' videos on the historical background of the book, because as I grew more and more attached to the characters I grew increasingly worried that they were all doomed. The writing in this is powerful and so well done. It is really hard to switch voices so frequently and create a fluid story, but Sepetys does manage to pull it off. And she manages to give each one a unique voice too. True to shell-shocked and damaged people, most of the characters hold secrets and hidden hurts that only come out as they learn that it is worth the potential pain to trust and care for one another, or they break. There's an elaborate layering that propels the reading despite knowing they're all headed for a literal shipwreck. I grew attached to many of the characters, but I especially loved the Shoe Poet. He's a philosophical and wise man, who shares his wisdom through his knowledge of shoes and feet. He's quirky, but he frequently reminds the group about the little joys in life and how to love. He's the grandpa many of them need at that moment. So yes, in many ways this book is a hard read, but it also had moments of tenderness and heart. And I think it incorporates so many important lessons and helps modern readers realize the trials refugees and war torn peoples suffer. Hopefully, readers will come away with a great appreciation for all the many blessings they have, and a greater heart for those in the world suffering from displacement and war.

Side Note: One of the observant students who devoured and loved this book realized there is a tie between this story and the Sepetys book I mentioned last week, Between Shades of Gray. You have to be really paying attention to catch on to it though as it isn’t spelled out. I’ll give you a hint, main characters in the two books are related.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Hidden History: The story of the Wilhelm Gustoff tragedy was largely unknown until recently. Have students look up Sepetys’ videos on the book and other reliable resources to find out why this and other stories like it have been lost to history till recently.
  • Emotional Read: There are some students I know who just love emotional reads. Maybe it’s teenage hormones needing an excuse to express themselves. Whatever the reason, I’ve been handing this to such students and they’ve been loving it.
  • Suspense Read: You know what’s going to happen to the ship in this story, but what happens to the individual refugees on the road and on the ships is still very much up in the air. I kept tearing through the book while simultaneously wanting to close my eyes with a mixture of hope and fear over how things would turn out. I won’t lie, there is some heartache, but I was also pleasantly surprise that some do survive.
  • Historical Fiction: I have mentioned before that historical fiction is a genre hard to sell to students of late, but I have no problem getting students to read WWII or thrilling books. And this is both.
  • Point of View & Voice: Sepetys does an incredible job of telling this story from multiple points of view with some very different voices. It’s exemplary.

Rose under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Rose Justice is an American teen fresh out of high school who isn't satisfied with just sitting in Pennsylvania hearing about the war, she wants to do something. Thanks to her father's training, she can, because Rose Justice has been flying planes since she was twelve. Her British Uncle gets her a position with the ATA in England, so she's taxiing planes all over the UK. Rose and the other ATA girls can't help but feel they should be doing more. Rose's Uncle pulls some strings to get her as his pilot for a trip to the newly liberated Paris in the fall of 1944. The drop off is successful, but on the way home, Rose comes across a flying bomb. She decides to try something called a taran, which is buzzing the bomb close enough to throw off it's flight and miss its mark. In throwing off the bomb, though, she also manages to throw off her navigation and loses her way. Soon it is horrifyingly clear she has gone the wrong way when to Nazi fighter planes intercept her. Rose is unarmed, and the Nazi pilots force her to land at a place they choose...somewhere deep in German territory. Rose is caught. The Nazis transfer her to Ravensbruck concentration camp, and Rose soon finds out that the horrifying tales she heard on the BBC radio about Nazi concentration camps was not just trumped up British anti-Nazi propaganda; in fact, it's even worse than the BBC let on. Rose is put into a Block house with some of the prisoners dubbed "Rabbits;" they are the poor girls and women the Nazi doctors decided to do experimental operations on before finishing them off with a bullet or some gas. To help keep herself sane, Rose often composes or recites poems. The Rabbits in her block, Róza and Karolina especially, charge Rose with the task of committing the names of all of the Rabbits to memory. They want the world to know the truth about what the Nazis did to them. So Rose works on memorizing the names of all the Rabbits, and also just on learning how to survive all the horrors of Ravensbruck.

I have read several books about prisoners during WWII and the trials of surviving a concentration camp, but I don't think I've ever come across one that focused on telling the world the plight of the Rabbits (which was a real group of women) or which so vividly portrayed the agonizing recovery period for concentration camp victims upon re-entry into normal life. Rose's story is heartbreaking, but at the same time inspirational and hopeful. I think it also does a great job of portraying women so devastated by what happened they struggle to find the strength to even tell anyone about it, let alone confront their abusers during trial. I love how normal Rose is. She isn't a super hero. She isn't Jules of Code Name Verity, and she isn't her friend Maddie. (Yes, that's the link between the two books...Maddie is also Rose's friend though Rose arrived at the ATA too late to know Jules. You don’t have to have read Code Name Verity to read this but you should because it is so good. Very intense, but good.) Rose is an average 18 yr old girl who is sometimes brave but more often is too scared to move. And I think that shows the greater beauty of when she does do something brave, because you know she is rising above her normal tendencies and desires, often for the sake of others. And that is what makes this such a beautiful tale.

Also, kudos to Elizabeth Wein to her dedication to writing this authentically. How many authors would be willing to go through the Ravensbruck Summer School to get a more authentic feel for what it was like to be a prisoner at Ravensbruck?!

Due to the realistic descriptions of concentration camp life, I would only recommend this for reader's mature enough to handle the content. Same goes for it's companion book, Code Name Verity.

Activity Tie-in/Target Readers:

  • Schneider Family Book Award: This won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2014 for it’s depiction of the ladies with disabilities because of their experiences in Ravensbruck. 
  • Historical Fiction: Like the last book, this is a historical fiction I have no problem convincing students to read. It is very tense, thrilling, and eye-opening.
  • WWII: This highlights a painful part of WWII history frequently overlooked.
  • Suspenseful Read: This has nail-biting action, harrowing concentration camp experiences, and realistically-painful recovery. It is never boring. Hard to read at times, but not boring.
  • Concentration Camp Survivors: If this book grips readers, encourage them to read historical accounts of real survivors.

Adult Fiction Resource

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
As World War II envelopes Europe, the lives of two teenagers, one a blind French girl, and one a young German, are entwined by radio waves, an ailing German soldier, and a legendary diamond on the small island of Saint-Malo. The story goes back and forth in time till eventually you get the whole picture of each person and the fateful events on Saint-Malo that bring them together.
Werner is a young German orphan when the rumblings of war break out. He is known in his community for his small build, shockingly blond hair, and knack with radios. If it's broken, he can puzzle it out and have it working again. Of course, these are the days before the radios are all confiscated. But this time period of tinkering with electronics gets noticed, and takes him away from his destiny in the mines to a special Nazi school where he helps a teacher develop a set of radios to help locate resistance broadcasts throughout Europe. Eventually, his age is tampered with and he is out in the midst of the war with a special team that hunts down rogue broadcasters.
Marie-Laure is blinded by an illness at a young age. Her father, keeper of the keys at the National Museum in Paris, constructs models of her community for her to learn her way around. And his colleagues at the National Museum keep Marie-Laure's love for nature and curiosity alive. When Paris is threatened with invasion, Marie-Laure and her father set out to find refuge with great-uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo, her father entrusted with a very special diamond from the museum. It takes several years for the war to make it's way to Saint-Malo, but it eventually does arrive. In part because of the big radio in the attic that Uncle Etienne uses to help the resistance.
Von Rumpel is the Nazi's gem specialist. When they invade Paris, he makes a visit to the National Museum and sets off on the trail of a very special gem legend says just might save his life.

Most WWII novels just due to the time period are highly suspenseful, but I found this one to be an exception. Not to say that it was boring or slow, it wasn't. But the focus of the story was primarily on the growing up of Werner and Marie-Laure from around age 12-16, and how the war affected them. Much of the time was spent in school or everyday activities, the high action moments were few and far between, and that resulted in a calm but steady progression for the novel. I especially liked the time spent with Marie-Laure and "seeing" things from her unique perspective, and how she helps her uncle conquer some of his PTSD from WWI. Werner's tale is more of a tragedy, but no less interesting. It is good to consider how conflicted genius German youth must have struggled under the Nazi regime. That is also a perspective I have not encountered in literature before. The end of the novel follows several characters all the way to 2014, and how the war continues to leave an impact on lives to the present, in ways of which younger generations may be completely ignorant. It was an eye-opening novel, peering into perspectives of the war not often explored.

As mentioned with the last book, only recommend to those mature enough to handle the horrors of war that are part of the story.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Alex Award: The Alex Award is another of those lesser known Youth Media Awards. Have students find out what the award recognizes.
  • Pulitzer Prize: This book also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015. Have students research who hands out the Pulitzer and what that group is looking for in a book.
  • Historical Fiction: An interesting WWII in that it follows main characters on both sides of the conflict and paints both equally humanly.
  • Blind Characters: Marie-Laure’s sections of the book provide readers an interesting perspective of the world. Doerr did an exceptional job writing things from her vision-less point of view.
  • Quieter WWII Read: This definitely has harrowing moments, but for the most part the book is a quieter and calmer read than a lot of other WWII reads. Most of the book is not highly-intense.

Adult Nonfiction Resources

Girls of Atomic City: the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
In the Appalachian hills of Tennessee, the US government started building a very secret and different place during WWII. They would recruit people to work and live there, but no one really knew where they were headed or what they were going to do when they set out. They just knew it would help bring their brothers, husbands and fathers home quicker from the war. Living in a place where you couldn't talk to your neighbors about what they did or what you did during your work day created for a unique community, but somehow, the men and women of Oak Ridge made it work and several even managed to thrive in one of the strangest communities on Earth. Eventually, these people found out some of the most basic of secrets after the bombs dropped on Japan to help end the war. They had been helping make an atomic bomb. Many of the details about the work there remained secret for decades afterward. Now, after several decades have past, Kiernan brings the story of the community built around the Manhattan project primarily through first hand accounts from the women who worked and lived there. In doing so, much of the history of the Manhattan project itself is related too.

There really aren't too many books out there about the men and women who worked to end WWII by staying on US soil. Usually you get to follow people across Europe or the Pacific, or if you stay on US soil you follow around the kids. But this was an interesting look at men and women who stayed behind and worked just as hard as those overseas, though they didn't necessarily face bullets every day. They still faced their share of hardships, from incessant mud to the psychological strain of so much secrecy. After I started reading this, I found out that I actually had a great-uncle and great-aunt who were part of this work force at Oak Ridge, making the story that much more meaningful. Kiernan does a good job of including the science/history background necessary to appreciate what was going on at Oak Ridge without bogging you down in details. At the same time, I found myself thankful that I had read Bomb by Steve Shienkin within the past year or so. The two books complement each other well in filling in info on the Manhattan project to give a more well-rounded picture. Kiernan only touches on some of the events at Los Alamos & University of Chicago, while Bomb provides a much more detailed picture. I felt like having read that previously helped me better follow Kiernan's story and appreciate what the people were doing at Oak Ridge. (Interestingly, Bomb barely touches on Oak Ridge's role, so yes, I'd recommend you read both.) At times, following the everyday lives of the women working at Oak Ridge started to feel a tad repetitive, but you also get a grasp of how they felt - not knowing precisely what they were doing or why. But overall, Kiernan keeps the story moving well, you get to know several "ordinary" heroes of WWII, and come away with a good picture and better appreciation for a piece of WWII history not often explored. I also liked that the author ended with a brief overview of how the area changed and developed after the war, and what happened to the women who had been the primary focus of the book. I also appreciated how she showed the ways the people working at Oak Ridge wrestled with knowing they had been working on a bomb that helped both save from further killing in the war but at the same time killed people. She doesn't shy away from ending with hard questions mixed with deep appreciation, which I found appropriate.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Readable Nonfiction: Let’s face it. Not all nonfiction out there is readable as a story. This one shouldn’t put you to sleep, and should keep you entertained while building your knowledge.
  • WWII Stateside: An interesting look at the Manhattan project through the eyes of average US citizens.

Saving Italy (Monuments Men, #2) by Robert M. Edsel
In The Monuments Men Edsel highlighted the action of the special Allied task force in charge of preserving and restoring the arts of Western Europe to their rightful owners during and after WWII, but he did not have space to cover the Monuments Men's work in Italy. This is their book, and in addition also looks at some of the Italians and even Germans instrumental in preserving the arts of Italy for Italians. The book focuses on a handful of the most instrumental men in that arena, the plights of arts and monuments in the region during the war, and how these men worked tirelessly to preserve, restore, and most importantly help the Italian people.

I enjoyed The Monuments Men and their rather unsung story of WWII. (Read it too.) So I was curious to learn more about what happened in Italy during the same period. I know much more about military actions in France and Germany during the time period covered (1943-1945), so I also learned a lot about how the war played out in Italy during that time period. I found the actions of the German SS commander Wolff and his secret negotiations for surrender particularly interesting as I'd never heard anything about that. Of course, the fate of famous pieces of art and architecture are forefront in the story, highlighting major losses suffered as well as major victories (like the rather high percentage of art that was never completely carted off by the Nazis unlike in other parts of Europe). I didn't find this story quite as tightly focused as The Monuments Men, that one had the hunt for certain pieces of art that really drove the story. This one has a tiny bit of that, but not to the same degree so it lacks a bit of the momentum. It is still quite interesting if you like history, especially art history or relatively unknown stories of WWII.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Art in History: This book focuses on the plight of famous art and architecture in Italy during WWII, so it’s a great read for those who like art and history.
  • Italian History: An interesting look at what was going on in Italy during WWII.

50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple’s Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Germany by Steven Pressman
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.

Given the huge humanitarian crisis in Europe at the time, I found it shocking that this rescue mission was the largest number of children ever brought over from Nazi territory to the US during WWII. I also found it shocking how much opposition the Krauses received from fellow Americans telling them not to even try and/or that they were doing the wrong thing. I was moved by the amount of persecution and danger this couple faced in order to save 50 perfect strangers, and I'm so glad their story is being told. We need more people willing to do what is right and noble despite the opposition. While reading this, I found the story startlingly relevant to current immigrant/refugee debates hitting headlines this week. It makes me wonder if America learned anything from the past. The US could have arguably saved thousands more Jewish children from the Holocaust during WWII but due to strict immigration laws cemented by the isolationist and anti-semitic sentiments of America at the time, that didn't happen. Current news is filled with a similar crisis of children wanting to enter the US to escape life-threatening situations and I hear similar arguments used back in WWII. I know there are a lot of things to consider in the current issues and I'm not saying there is an easy solution, but I can't help but hope that maybe this story will help save more lives today.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:
This book previously appeared in Brainstorm 47. Look there for activity tie-ins and target reader suggestions.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Brainstorm 69: The Are You My Mother-ish Quartet

A set of four animal picture books that could be used separately or in any combination together. The three fiction books feature an animal looking for another animal and receiving varied responses from other critters along the way, as in the classic Are You My Mother?

Picture Book Resources

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Mother bird goes and looks for something to eat for her baby who is about to hatch. But the baby comes out of his shell before mother bird gets back, and he goes around asking everyone and everything he meets, "Are you my mother?"

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Matching: Find pictures of the animals that are mentioned in this book as well as their young and have young children match the little ones with their mothers.
  • Predicting: Because of the repetitive nature of the text, this is a good book for young kids to practice predicting what will come next.
  • Early Read: The repetitive nature of this text is good for beginning readers. See if they can start to match the words on the page with the words you say over and over, “Are you my mother?” by pointing to them as you read and then asking them to point to them later in the book.
  • Living/Non-living: Baby bird asks a machine if it is his mother, which many readers will find silly. But how can we distinguish between living and nonliving? What are characteristics that distinguish the two groups?

Max the Brave (Max, #1) by Ed Vere
Max is a kitten. A kitten who prefers the title of brave rather than cute. To prove his bravery he will chase a mouse...if he can find out what a mouse is. Max goes around asking the various animals if they've seen Mouse, they point him along the way and eventually he thinks he's found a Mouse. But is the Mouse really a mouse?

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Compare/Contrast: Compare/contrast this with Are You My Mother? Max asking a series of creatures if they've seen Mouse and getting continually pointed onward definitely has similarities. Of course, I guess this one is more like, "Are you my arch nemesis?" But in an adorably cute way. 
  • Plot Diagraming: This would be a good book to practice plot diagrams on as the plot is simple and the crisis moment is obvious.
  • Predicting: Like Are You My Mother? this one has a pattern that makes it easy to predict, but the twist at the end may stump several readers. (The real mouse is trying to mislead Max by calling a different thing a mouse.)
  • Predetor/Prey Relationship: A cute way to introduce the science topic of predator and prey.
  • Trickster Tales: The Mouse is quite the trickster character and fits well in the pattern of trickster folk tales. If you’re looking for a simple trickster tale, pick this one. You can also have kids compare Mouse with other tricksters and what makes them similar.
  • Fun Read: Max is absolutely adorable, and the twist at the end of the story is delightfully fun.

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson
Baby Bear is lost and trying to find home. He gets advice from many creatures of the forest, some more helpful than others, but eventually makes it home.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Art: This was on a lot of lists for a potential Caldecott a few years ago. The illustrations in this are gorgeous! Nelson did an amazing job with the moonlight on the animals' eyes and fur. 
  • Psychology & Color: The color scheme of this book has a definite affect on the mood it conveys. It's a great pick for psych students evaluation how color can affect people.
  • Evaluating Advice: Some of the "advice" Baby Bear gets is a little suspect, so it is probably a good activity to ask young readers which critter gave the best advice and why. (Much is good for their kind, but not for a bear.) Have older readers apply this to their own lives. Why do they need to evaluate advice, and how do they respond to well-meant advice that doesn’t apply to them politely.
  • Good Samaritan/Kindness Towards “Enemies”: I really liked that the one to take Baby Bear on the final part of his journey was a critter who should have not cared about a bear, but helped him anyway. Compare this with the Good Samaritan story. And/or talk about showing kindness to those others tell you should be your enemy.
  • Compare/Contrast: Read this one with either of the books already mentioned. All of them have elements that are similar (looking for someone and getting advice from a string of critters), but each have unique elements too.
  • Relaxing Read: The art and tone of this book make it a good story to read when you need to settle the class down.

Animal Groups by Jill Esbaum, photos by Frans Lanting
Find out the group names of 10 exotic animals, and a few more too. Facts about the animals highlighted are also included.

Ok, maybe it is a stretch to put this book in with this grouping of reads, but it is such a fantastic nonfiction animal book I needed an excuse to share it.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Nonfiction/Fiction Pair: This book could be used as a nonfiction pair with any of the books above thanks to the animals that feature prominently in each. Have students research various names for groups of robins, house cats, bears or any of the other animals that come up.
  • Informative/Curious Read: I learned several things from this book, even though I taught Biology and this book is aimed at little kids. I'd never heard some of these group names, like a celebration of polar bears. Also, I never knew there aren't official scientific names for the groups of various animals. It seems like there's always a group somewhere trying to establish what's official, but not in this case. It's all up to what someone feels like calling them and if that name catches on. There's a great list of a broad range of creatures after the first 10 are featured, showing the various names by which a group of that animals can be called. For example, the book highlights zebras as one of the main 10, calling the group a zeal but shares later that groups of zebras can also be called a dazzle, herd or harem. A fascinating book for animal lovers with great pictures. 
  • Language Arts: Because there are no “official” group names and because English is a living language, students could be challenged to see if they can come up with a new group name for a specific animal. Who knows, maybe it will catch on!
  • Flexible Read Time: This book can be read as fast or slow as you want. You can just read the main group names for a quick read, or also include the further info on each animal and the text boxes to extend the reading time. There's also a few activities in the back that can further extend the time this book takes.
  • Animal Lovers: This is a no-brainer pick for animal lovers. Lots and lots of fun animal facts and loads of fantastic photographs abound.