Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Misfits

       The Misfits is a children's novel written by James Howe.  It is geared toward students between grades 5 and 7.  I would rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
       Bobby, Joe, Skeezie, and Addie are the four 6th grade students who are all outsiders in their school.  Bobby is seen as an overweight slob, Joe is seen as a girly gay boy, Skeezie is a gross, greasy, loser, and Addie is a towering smart alic.  Together, these friends decide to stand up against all the wrong they see happening in their school by forming a new political party to run for student government: The No-Name Party.  This party doesn’t choose sides or subject students to being humiliated.  Before being allowed to run, they must pick someone to run for president- this is where Colin enters the picture.  Since Colin in a minority student in a sea of likeness, he is a great fit for a party that goes against the mainstream.  The No-Name Party hangs posters with their slogan, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.”  They stand up against bullying and labels that are thrown at students and cling to their identity in the school.  Later in the story, Joe shares with Bobby and Skeezie that he is gay and has developed feelings for Colin, which is a controversial subject for students at this age. 
       Unfortunately, the No-Name party loses the election.  The principal, Mr. Kiley, is so amazed by the effort and emotion put into their campaign that he announces that there will be a No-Name day in which students will not bully their peers.  Joe asks Colin to dance and they are free from the normal judgments passed by their classmates and can enjoy a budding romance. 
Bullying is here and it is serious.  It is a major problem in the school systems and it is only reaching younger and younger children every year.  It is very difficult for teachers to often identify bullying in time to intervene, but if a teacher sees bullying, they should act immediately and consistently.  The main characters in this book are all bullied and although they are all categorized as “different” the Misfits are all different from one another as well.  Although they do not fit the “norm” of the school, Addie is not teased in the same way as Joe who is not teased in the same way as Skeezie.  Although all these students are categorized as different by their peers, they do not see each other as different- or different enough to hinder forming friendships.  They see each other as individuals and they think each person brings something to the group. 
       In school, students should not cast judgments on one another because it is amazing how quickly the tables can be turned.  One week Brian can be the coolest kid in class and the next week everyone finds out he still sleeps with a baby blanket and he is thrown into the group of “losers” that he once berated.  If students bully others, they create an atmosphere where this is acceptable and where this could happen to them.  Although more often than not, it is usually the same groups of kids being bullied year to year, it doesn’t make it better or okay.  Students should not be afraid to come to school, they should not be so critical about what they wear or look like, they should not fake sick to avoid being made fun of.  This is not a learning atmosphere and this is not the place where children can grow emotionally and socially. 
       It is not a mystery that bullying exists and that it has a huge negative effect on its victims.  Teachers should incorporate activities to boost self-esteem as well as heighten class cohesiveness so a community can be formed.  If students learn that they are all, in fact, vulnerable, they might be less likely to see a peer as someone who is easily hurt.  They might actually feel guilty for hurting someone who they know is a human. 
       Another controversial aspect of the book is the fact that Joe is homosexual.  This issue is rarely ever addressed at such a literal level in children’s literature and it can often be a difficult area for teachers to tackle.  It may make some students feel uncomfortable and it may make some students go on the offensive and begin acting out in homophobia.  Although homosexuality in elementary schools is likely to be less common than bullying, it is still an issue and teachers still need to address it- in and out of the curriculum.  Students like Joe should not feel persecuted just because of an aspect of their identity or a group they identify with.  The Misfits teaches a lot of lessons that apply to elementary students currently and they should be exposed to.

Here is a lesson plan that discusses "us vs. them" or outsiders using a few different books, one of them being The Misfits

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We All Sing with the Same Voice

        We All Sing with the Same Voice is written by J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene and illustrated by Paul Miesel.  It is written for primary elementary grades, ranging from kindergarten to 2nd grade.  I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.
        This book describes the similarities that children across the world have while still having their differences.  Different hair color, eye color, home country, hobbies, and lifestyles are described, but the repetition of “my name is you” reaffirms the idea that we live in a global community in which a lot of the members are similar while maintaining their individual identities.  The authors also repeat “we all sing with the same voice, the same song, the same voice.  We all sing with the same voice, and we sing in harmony”.  This phrase suggests that we all bring things to the world and we work together in harmony to create what world exists for everyone. 
        This kind of harmonious community can also be created in the classroom.  It will not be hard for students of any age to find differences between hair color, skin color, eye color, ability levels, socioeconomic status, or other contributing factors to a community if they look hard within their classmates.  The things that divide a community are the things that bring it together and strengthen it.
        A diverse classroom is one that has a lot to learn, even from just the students within the walls of the community.  If a teacher does not have to bring diversity into the classroom for the students to learn what it is, they can connect more with the idea and see the theory of a community being acted out right in front of them.  This book is a great way to introduce diversity to children in a way that still is fun and friendly for them.  If a book addresses such a deep topic with a serious tone, children can apply a negative connotation to the idea and not realize that diversity is the spice of their lives. 
        This book can bring rich depth to lessons in the classroom and can provide students with a lot of opportunities to connect with their classmates on a deeper level.  Students could write a collaborative book about the things that they believe make up their own personal identities and then compile the writings to form a classroom book about the community.  Children will feel like they are a vital part to the environment in which they learn, which will also allow them to be more comfortable with sharing their ideas in general. 

Here is a great lesson plan using this book to promote and describe diversity in the classroom. 

Woodson Experience

Jacqueline Woodson
        I have never really read several books by the same author in a way that we did in this class.  I really enjoyed reading Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson and I was surprised to find such common themes threaded throughout a lot of her books and the specific connections that we were able to see between Locomotion and Miracle’s Boys.  Just starting at the title, the word locomotion and miracle are usually not referring to the names of people, but in both of these books they are.  The term “never judge a book by its cover” really hold true, especially relating to the title.  A lot of the driving factors of each of the plots were similar as well.  In both books, siblings are separated for an extended period of time- in Locomotion, Lonnie and his sister and separated by being put in two different foster homes and in Miracle’s Boys, the siblings are separated when one of them ends up going to jail.  The distance between family is described and stressed and it juxtaposes the ordinary “close bonds” of family that authors usually describe or rely on the reader relating to. 
        The other themes, like death and sadness were both described in the books as well as all the Woodson books discussed in class.  In Locomotion, Lonnie’s parents are both killed in a fire, a life event that he repeatedly refers to in various ways with diverse emotions ranging from sadness to guilt to remorse.  The sadness and emptiness that Lonnie feels in his life- the lack of his sister and parents is also demonstrated across all of Woodson’s books.  These emotions were described from the perspective of a child, so it makes it more accessible for elementary students to read and connect to. 
        I got a lot out of reading Jacqueline Woodson’s book and I found it interesting how much overlapping there was among all the books, with common themes.  The urban setting and the sense of family tragedy ran through all of her books, so it made finding a set of books simple for students who can relate to this theme.  Also, the main character in the books was mainly African-American.  Their Caucasian counterparts, especially in children’s books, outnumber this group of narrators.  Jacqueline Woodson does a fantastic job making her writing easily understood to readers while still discussing very complex and deep themes and ideas, which is ideal for upper elementary grades. 

I Dream of Trains

“I still stare at the tracks and wait for Casey and his engine to come flying past the fields and dream me away.”   

        I Dream of Trains is written by Angelia Johnson and illustrated by Loren Long.  It is written for 3rd-4th grade students.  I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. 
        In this book, a young boy idolizes a famous train conductor.  The story briefly discusses the life and success of Casey Jones, the conductor the child dreams about.  After the child realizes the conductor is gone, he focuses his life more on following his own dreams and setting his own goals.  There is not too much to the story- it is mostly introverted thoughts and conclusions the child draws from reflecting on the life of Casey Jones. 
        Using this book in the classroom could serve so many purposes.  The imagery that is inspired by this child’s imagination could be used to model to students what good details in writing look like and what allowing the reader to imagine the words as a movie or image.  Coupling with the use of images in writing is the use of sounds in the story.  The quote “some sounds can remind you of times gone by” can really inspire students of any grade level to relate their life experiences to sounds in their lives.  Raindrops falling on the roof on days that they were stuck inside the house or the sound of traffic outside their window in a congested city are sounds that can prompt a very personal and sensory piece of writing.  For me, growing up above a bar in a busy neighborhood in Chicago has shaped my perception of what it means to have “noisy neighbors”.  Just the sound of the bass pulsating through my bedroom is enough to bring me back to my childhood. 
        Johnson also uses the notion of sound to describe something that is completely unrelated to the things that enter our minds through our ears.  “It’s the sound of leaving that speaks to my soul.”  This is something the young boy says while he is dreaming of leaving the cotton field of Mississippi where he currently resides and works.  A prompt related to this type of writing could be asking students what they want to do one day (just like the young boy wanted to leave).  Then they could write about what that would feel like, taste like, smell like, sound like, or look like.  By allowing children to step outside their normal realm of generic prompted writing, they can create something they are truly proud of and can relate to upon reflection. 
Angela Johnson
The prevalent theme of this book relates to dreams and aspirations a person can hold in his or her life.  The little boy in this book dreams of a life that is bigger than picking cotton in a world that is beyond his reach in Mississippi.  He connects with trains because they are a means of transportation away from his current state of being.  Students could write about things that they dream of and what they need to do to get themselves to that point.  This book also takes a specific dream (escaping) or hero (Casey Jones) and relating it back to the bigger world for children to focus on their future instead of mimicking one person.  “When Papa squeezes my hand I know I have another hero besides Casey.”  This lets children know that revolving your life or your future aspirations upon one person is not practical or a good start.  The only one pushing your dreams should be yourself.

Leo the Late Bloomer

    Leo the Late Bloomer is written by Robert Kraus and illustrated by Jose Aruego.  It is written for 2nd-3rd graders and I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. 
    This story is about a young tiger that is not “blooming” or doing all the normal things that growing tigers do as they age.  He wasn’t writing, speaking, or eating neatly, so his father was concerned.  Leo’s mother told him to wait and allow Leo to bloom on his own timeline.  Leo’s father would watch him to look for signs of blooming and when he didn’t notice any, he surrendered and returned to his normal activities.  When Leo is left to develop free of his father’s watchful eye, he blooms.  His parents are joyous and the book concludes with Leo telling his parents, “I made it.”
    This book can be used in the classroom to discuss the various learning abilities between the students.  One student may be able to draw a beautiful picture but may struggle to write a narrative.  A classmate may excel in math while struggling in language arts.  Each student has their own strengths and weaknesses, as can be seen in Leo.  Leo may lack the abilities his father considers important, but he is not deficient in motivation or drive toward succeeding and making his parents happy. 
    Students may need some encouragement, like using Leo’s success as an example, to get motivated to succeed.  As George Evans said, “Every student can learn, just not on the same day or the same way.”  If students realize that learning differently or at various paces is not bad, the stigmatization of diverse learning curves can be erased in the classroom.  Also, Leo never doubted himself and his ability to succeed.  It was like he always knew it was going to happen, just when was left up to chance. 
    Also the illustrations in the book are very simple for young children to connect to.  They look like watercolors and they offer perspective and depth to the scenery because Leo is usually in the foreground and his father is in the background, which adds to the mindful attitude expressed in the text of the story.  

Here is a lesson plan to use this book in a kindergarten-2nd grade classroom. 

Scholastic has put together a great unit about "I Am Special" that includes Leo the Late Bloomer, along with I Am Special by Kimberly Jordano and The One and Only Special Me by Rozanne Lanczak Williams.  It involves students creating their own "special" books and involves the families too.

Hello World! Greetings in 42 Languages Around the Globe!

Hello World! Greetings in 42 Languages Around the Globe is written and illustrated by Manya Stojic.  It is geared toward 1st-3rd grade students and I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. 
            Each page in this book shows a child from a spoken language in the world and the way in which that language says hello.  There are a lot of colors throughout the book: background color, hair color, skin color, eye color.  Under each “hello”, the way to pronounce the word is also written.  There is a child on each page, representing the language through prominent features or clothing.  Although most people would generally think that each page represents a country, it is not the case.  A language is on each page, some are not connected to a country and others are connected to a country that has many languages spoken within its borders. 
            Besides the obvious appeals of this book, like immersion in foreign languages, it can also be used to promote an understanding for diversity in the classroom, even with younger elementary students.  The children can be utterly surprised with how many different languages there are: ones that they are proud to know and others they have never heard of.  A great page to serve as an example is page 30.  On this page, there are four children (as opposed to the usual one per page) and each one speaks a different language.  All the ways to say hello look completely different and come from completely different roots.  However, if one pays attention to the languages (Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, and Urdu), one notices that they are all spoken in the country of India and the surrounding areas.  This can show children that even within a country where it may be difficult to tell groups of people apart just based on appearance, there is diversity and communities. 

A mural where students wrote "hello" in different languages

            A way to turn this book into a classroom project would be to choose another word (to mirror the “hello”) like “peace” or “love” and have each student in your class take one language to be responsible for.  Each student has to find the word in their language that fits the English equivalent.  The classroom can then compile a new book with words that the children found on their own- maybe using a translator, a dictionary, or other resources.  This is a great way to ignite interest in foreign languages and allows each child to participate equally in a project together.  A way to wrap the project up could be making a mural with each child’s handprint and their language’s word for “peace” written near it.  The mural can represent the global community and lessons can go even more in depth with the idea of diversity.
 Here is a list of resources (websites, books, lesson plans, etc.) to help teachers cover the topic of diversity and the global community in their classroom!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Love Saturdays y Domingos

    The book I Love Saturdays y Domingos is written by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Elivia Savadier.  It is written for 2nd-4th grade students and I would rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. 
    Each page of this book illustrates and juxtaposes a young girl’s experiences at her grandparents’ houses.  One set of her grandparents are Caucasian and the other set are Hispanic.  She shows each thing she does with her grandparents and how they are so similar, yet the language is what is different.  Instead of speaking to her completely in English, her Hispanic grandparents mix Spanish into their conversations with her.  Her grandparents both like to show her new things, tell stories, and share their family experiences.  The book italicizes the Spanish words to add distinction to them. 

   This book is a great way for teachers to show the differences and similarities between cultures.  Although the grandparents come from different ethnic backgrounds, they have similar life experiences and actions.  Also, since the main character is a little girl who is half Caucasian and half Hispanic, this book displays a pretty common occurrence of ethnically mixed people.  It is hard for students to not know of someone who is mixed since this country is made up of so many various ethnic groups. 
In the classroom, this book could be used to help students find aspects of their own lives that can be described as diverse.  Students could represent different groups through aspects of their lives such as socioeconomic status, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, region, or other factors.  If students find ways that they fit “in the box” as well as ways they stay “outside the box”, they can appreciate diversity more.  Students will struggle to connect with the idea of diversity if they think it is simply a foreign, far away idea that doesn’t have any precedence in their lives.  Students will also find ways in which their friends and classmates bring diversity to the classroom.  They can appreciate the many different aspects of culture that are represented in a classroom, even if all the students may look like they all come from the same subgroups in society. 

Here is a great lesson plan to deepen the connection to this book that you can use in your classroom.