Recent Posts

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recommended Picture Books for Black History, Part II

This post is way overdue! But the fact is, the books I'm about to share are great for any time of the year, and certainly need not be limited to Black History Month. Be sure to also check out Part One of this post for more great ideas!

George Crum and the Saratoga Chips, written by Gaylia Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison, is a terrific tale of invention. Having always felt like an outsider because of the color of his skin, George Crum thinks he's finally found in his place as chef at a prestigious Saratoga Springs restaurant. But when a customer's complaint makes him feel inferior, his inventiveness helps to create one of America's finest "delicacies," now enjoyed in almost every American home.

Students, of course, love to create, so some exercises in invention are in order as an extension to this fun book. There tons of sites on invention, but I'm a teacher, and I know you don't want messy, time-consuming projects to litter your classroom! Here instead are a few simple, neat web links to explore:
  • African American Inventors is a site designed for upper grade students, but can be easily navigated with just a little assistance. There students can research achievements of an assigned Black American. If you need a few names to get started, see Cengage Learning's Invent-O-Rama page.
  • Meet Me at The Corner is a cool virtual field trip site, and their video on Kid Inventors' Day is supplemented with some simple follow-up questions and activities.
  • Whizzball allows students to either solve or create a pathway of gadgets to move a ball from one place to another in a Mousetrap-like environment. Extremely open-ended and adaptable to many skill levels.
  • The History of Invention is a cool invention timeline which can be scrolled either vertically or horizontally. There students can learn about the origins of the "stuff" they use every day.
Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield is the inspiration behind The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby, written by Crystal Hubbard and illustrated by Robert McGuire. Jimmy Winkfield is the only black Jockey to win two Kentucky Derby titles back to back, and for this honor was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. This book chronicles his determination to win on and off the track in the face of increasing racism in the world of horse racing.

Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Francois Roca, tells the tale of the man who would be King, not on the race track, but in the boxing ring.

This is the true Ali: proud, controversial, devastating. Roca's thick, sculpturesque paintings are the perfect complement to Winter's narrative, which echoes the language and rhythm of the Book of Genesis. All in all, a satisfying, fact-filled tribute to the Champion of the World.

Be sure to check out Ali's complete biography, as this book is certain to prompt questions from many students. From Ali's own official site, you'll find many video segments of his greatest fights.

Willie and the All Stars, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, is one of that author's finest titles. While many of us know Floyd Cooper as simply an illustrator, providing beautiful images for the words of others (as in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, by Joyce Carol Thomas), Willie and the All-Stars establishes Cooper as a double threat talent.

Young Willie dreams of playing professional baseball one day, but is dissuaded from pursuing that dream because, after all, Blacks don't play in the major leagues in 1942 America. He's close to giving up hope until one day a neighbor gives him tickets to an exhibition game between Negro League and Major League All-Stars at Wrigley Field. The Negro League players, led by Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, quickly impress the crowd with their determination playing style, and through their grit edge the much-favored major leaguers for the win. The book ends with a glimmer of hope for Willie and boys like him as white and black players shake hands on the field at game's end. An author's note adds a bit of history regarding the Negro Leagues.

This book would, of course, be a perfect companion title to Let Them Play, mentioned in my Recommended Picture Books for Black History Month, Part I post. Let Them Play details the struggle of young players which mirrored those of their idols.

Following a reading of Willie and the All Stars, students may wish to explore the history of Negro Leagues. A good place to start would be Carole Boston Weatherford's A Negro League Scrapbook or Kadir Nelson's excellent We Are the Ship. See my Going Extra Innings with Baseball Picture Books post for questions, lessons, and more online extensions.

For further research and activities, you'll find everything you need at the Negro Baseball League site at 42Explore (Four to Explore). Using the resources there, students can create a baseball card, player biography, or team poster, or complete a webquest on Negro Baseball.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Focus on a Skill: Elaboration

So often student writing efforts are what I call "bare bones." Student writing lacks muscle and flesh and features, due to a paucity of specific verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Students often have also not had instruction in showing versus telling.

The best remedy for this, of course, is for students to examine excellent writing. As students read exempary passages, they need to ask:
  • What's happening here that's not happening in my own writing?

  • What choices has the author made?

  • What has been included to provide me with a picture of what's happening?

  • What has the author deliberately left out for the reader to piece together?

  • Sometimes the missing piece of the puzzle is simply word choice. When teaching my students the importance of using alternatives to "said," for example, I assigned pairs of students two chapters from Gordon Korman's Swindle. Korman is a master at crafting realistic dialogue, and in one chapter alone a student found thirty speaking words other than said, and the word said itself was used just five times (and most often with an adverb). (Using just a portion of a novel like this to examine craft absolutely works! You can use online book trailers to fill in the missing information, or to give a complete picture of the story line).

    At other times, the details which are important and of interest to the reader simply aren't fleshed out. If you need a wonderful example for this skill of elaboration, I recommend Daniel Boone's Great Escape, written by Michael P. Spradlin and illustrated by Ard Hoyt. This book, filled with action and suspense, and described with strong verbs and vivid details, is inspired by just a single line in Boone's diary!

    A great extension would have students choose historical events from their typically brief descriptions in textbooks and "blow them up." Will some imagination be involved? Yes. Will some "liberties be taken"? Yes. But I think if we resign ourselves to those concessions, and rightfully call our pieces historical fiction, we can then focus on the craft of elaboration.

    Need a couple more books for ideas? Check out the extremely descriptive language of The Scarlet Stockings Spy, written by Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Robert Papp, or the humorous, fictional retellings of great lives in Lane Smith's John, Paul, George and Ben. Both books are described in a previous post on The American Revolution.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Dollars and Sense for Students

    When most of us hear the word economics, we think of either our present precarious financial circumstances, or of world financial issues far beyond our own understanding, let alone the understanding of our students. But the fact is, a number of variables from economics (supply, demand, surplus, and profit) are important components of simple financial literacy which our students, comprising one of the largest consumer groups in the world, need to understand in order to function and succeed in society. If they can avoid even half of the mistakes adults have made, we'll be much better off!

    Understanding Global Economies

    A simple picture book such as One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference concisely illustrates how planning, hard work, and determination can equal success. At the story's start, young Kojo and his mother just barely survive by gathering and selling firewood. When Kojo is granted a small loan, he chooses to purchase a hen. The hen not only provides eggs to eat, but additional eggs to sell, With the profits, Kojo buys more hens. What's really wonderful, and only revealed at the book's end, is that Kojo is based upon real-life Kwabena Darko, a man who literally changed the economy of his entire village through a microloan. Katie Smith Milway's patient and informative narrative is perfectly matched to Eugenie Fernandes' bright, mural-like illustrations. Kids Can Press provides a free teaching resource for One Hen, and the Heifer Village game (see below) would be an excellent extension for this book.

    Similarly, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming (written and illustrated with photographs by Jan Reynolds) shows how people can interact with the environment, providing for their own needs while respecting natural resources. From the water temple system to the farmers' fields, the Balinese people rely upon predictable cycles for their survival. What happens when these cycles are threatened by nature's forces or human progress? Like One Hen, this book presents just a microcosm of world economy, perfect for a class study. See the three-part video series on the sustainability of rice farming at the Lee and Low Books site.

    In looking at history through the eyes of economics, both The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History and We're Riding on a Caravan present child-friendly views of the complex economy of the Silk Road, which not only accounted for the livelihood of thousands in the Far and Middle East, but also largely drove European exploration efforts of the 1500s. If you're reading about Columbus or any of the other explorers seeking shorter routes to the Indies, it's important that students have perspectives from both sides. (It should also be noted that the latter book provides many wonderful details of Chinese cities through maps and descriptions. Now that China has pretty soundly reestablished itself as a giant in the world of commerce, this book couldn't be more meaningful).

    Exploring Everyday Economics

    How do economics work in our everyday lives? That question is answered through Lerner Publishing's excellent Exploring Economics Series. Do I Need It? or Do I Want It? by Jennifer S. Larson helps students see many of the variables involved in making budget choices. With sections such as Spending Money, Making Choices, Budgets, Wants and Needs, and Saving, this title is a perfect reading and comprehension level for elementary students. While it's as colorful and narrative as a picture book, it's also as organized and informative as a textbook. Larson's liberal use of questions, text boxes, and photographs will engage students from beginning to end. One recommended web site for extension of this title (found in the Additional Resources at the book's end) is the PBS's My Life feature on Money.

    Who's Buying? Who's Selling? is another title in this series which helps students understand consumers and producers. This terrific examination of supply and demand is supported with a glossary and index, which can additionally be used to help students practice reference skills. Explore the entire series list at Lerner Publishing. Highly recommended if you're seeking to put a financial literacy program into place in the lower grades.

    Finally, we can't talk with students about buying and selling without also discussing advertising. One of the best titles on that topic for upper elementary through high school students is Shari Graydon's Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know. Cartoon illustrations by Warren Clark, fab facts, quotes from the marketers themselves, charts, graphs, lists, and Try This at Home features make this book extremely attractive for this age group. The solid facts, delivered in a fun yet informative way, make it a winner with teachers. If you're looking for a consumer awareness title for this upper group, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

    Know, too, that if you're teaching persuasive writing to students, this book is equally valuable for that purpose. So many tricks of the trade that are used to "create demand" for products are reliant upon persuasive writing! This book would serve as an excellent sourcebook for any Language Arts or Tech teacher looking to design creative and original assignments for persuasive writing and presenting. (Be sure to check out the free lesson plans for this title at Annick Press; they'll also give you a good idea of the book's "look." Also, check out their cool thematic list, where you can click on a theme or topic to get related books, many of which also have free lesson plans).

    Making Money is Kids Play!

    The following web sites present simple simulations designed to help students understand the basics of any economy (supply, demand, capital, inventory, surplus, variables). While talk of economics may sound both complicated and intimidating, these sites make it easy! From the serious Heifer Village to the primary-level Bake Shop, there's something here for every student!

    Heifer Village is a somewhat serious simulation which follows a native girl's efforts to secure her own goat, and in the process, her own means of livelihood. Older students will instantly recognize and appreciate the realistic game play. This one requires a bit of time, but students will soon get the hang of it. This is a natural extension of the idea of self-sufficiency found in One Hen. Your students may also enjoy providing feedback to the game's designers, as this is a beta version for which they're seeking suggestions.

    Coffee Shop is just one of several math games which can be found at Cool Math. Like the other sites here, it requires that you take a look at all the possibilities to see what best matches your students' abilities and your teaching needs

    In the Coffee Shop simulation, students must use their knowledge of controlling variables to run a successful business. They use a base amount of money to purchase supplies (4 variables there), and adjust their recipe (at least 4 variables) based upon past sales and the predicted weather for the following day (2 variables). In my first attempt at the game, my coffee recipe needed more cream. Some old lady (who looked a lot like my second grade teacher) wasn't too happy and poured it out on the sidewalk.

    Like coffee itself, this game is addicting! It's a great simulation involving real-world variables in a highly entertaining way.

    The Bakery Shop is designed for younger students. While it has some elements of The Coffee Shop, it's not nearly as "math rigorous," uses fewer variables, and is a little less realistic (that is, brutal) than the more demanding and unforgiving Coffee Shop. (Students above third grade will likely find Bakery Shop too easy).

    Online Interactive Learning

    These sites contain interactive learning which is less game-like and more content explicit. (And for the record, sites for teaching financial education to students are some of the ugliest and most confusing on the Internet! It took me a while to separate the wheat from the chaff! But I think you'll dig the ones below!).

    Sense and Dollars is an informative yet engaging set of games for older students. It challenges what they know about earning, spending, and saving money through three interactive games (Check It Out, DreamProm, and Charge). Charge, for example, lets students choose luxury objects and pick a payment plan. It then calculates the object's real, eye-opening cost once credit card interest is added on!

    The Story of Stuff is a 20 minute-long video which pretty creatively and accurately portrays our obsession with "stuff." It's appropriate for older students, but isn't exactly "rainy day matinee" material. Check it out for yourself and decide if it's right for your purposes.

    Two great books to present with this video? If America Were a Village and If the World Were a Village, both written by David J. Smith. Each book uses a the limited scope of a village to compare the larger scope of the U.S. and the World. If America Were a Village, for example, asks, "How wealthy are we?" The answer:
    In our U.S village of 100:
    • 5 people have more than half of all the wealth.
    • The one wealthiest person (and remember, 1 person represents 3 million people in the real America) has more than 30 percent of all the wealth.
    • The 60 poorest people share only about 4 percent of the wealth.
    Analogies like this make both books excellent resources for helping students see world economics in a more mathematically comprehensible way. Be sure to visit Kids Can Press to get free downloadable teaching guides for If the World Were a Village and If America Were a Village.

    Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart! is a PBS site that helps students "see the ads" when they're hidden in plain site. Advertising Tricks is the first of four modules, followed by Buying Smart, Your Entertainment, and What You Can Do. This site is a great extension activity for Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know.

    Did You Get the Message? is just one of the lessons available at EconEdLink. Even if you don't incorporate these lessons into your teaching, you'll still find some awesome links offered there.

    So, what did I miss? Leave a comment below and let me know!

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Crossroads of the Revolution

    I've posted several times in the past on picture books about the American Revolution (Selene Castrovilla's By the Sword and Upon Secrecy, Anne Rockwell's They Called Her Molly Pitcher, and several versions of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere). And yet, I continue to get requests for more!

    New Jersey teachers, especially, have a keen interest in this topic, and not just because it's required in the Core Content Curriculum standards. New Jersey is known as the Garden State, but ask any 4th grader in the state for a second claim to fame, and they'll tell you that New Jersey is also called The Crossroads of the Revolution. Situated between the strategic colonial cities of New York and Philadelphia, New Jersey witnessed over 100 battles during the War for Independence, as many battles as all other colonies combined.

    Lynne Cheney's When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots tells how an event in Trenton, New Jersey would later be called a turning point in the War for Independence. Readers are provided just enough historical context to set the scene for Washington’s bold attack on Trenton. With his army depleted to just ten percent of its original strength and half his troops’ enlistments about to expire, General George Washington is desperate for a victory. The hope of the new nation rests upon an impossible winter attack on an intimidating foe who has already crushed the Americans in New York and chased them across New Jersey and the Delaware River itself. The rich text and saturated illustrations recount the battles of Trenton as well as Princeton, and accurately depict the resounding effect that these two victories had upon the morale of the Continental Army. Cheney's book is filled not only with beautiful illustrations, but also with numerous quotations from those who lived the events described within the book's covers.

    A great extension for this book? Let students pretend that they're colonial soldiers under Washington's command and have them write letters "home" explaining why they're continuing to fight. (An interesting note: following the Battle of Trenton, the majority of enlistments in Washington's army were up. When the soldiers were promised additional pay, not one stepped forward. Washington then appealed to their loyalty to a noble cause, and then, and only then, because of their trust in and respect for their general, did the men step forward).

    The Scarlet Stockings Spy, written by Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Robert Papp, is perhaps one of the least known but most impressive picture books on the American Revolution. The story and vibrant paintings of this wonderful book will give students an excellent overall picture of life in the colonies during the rebellion. This story, as stated on the book's inner flap, is "a suspenseful tale of devotion, sacrifice, and patriotism" melded with "the stark realities of our country's birth."

    The Scarlet Stockings Spy doesn't shrink from history telling. From the book's first page, we're offered plenty of context to set the scene:
    In the fall of 1777, Philadelphia sat twitching like a nervous mouse. The British were going to attack, but no one knew where or when. Congress had fled inland to York. The Liberty Bell was secreted to Allentown. Folks thought the year resembled a hangman's gallows and took it as a bad sign. Now, all the church bells were being removed to keep the British from melting them down into firearms.
    And what is best of all, this book succeeds in the area of excellent writing. In the next paragraph we hear:
    Uncertainty settled over the city like soot. Suspicions sulked through the cobblestone streets like hungry alley cats. Rumors multiplied like horseflies. Spies were everywhere.
    The text details, along with the meticulously researched paintings by Robert Papp, transport students to the colonial era through what Jane Yolen has termed "the time machine of historical fiction." While this book can be used for any number of extensions, it certainly fits well with the Revolutionary spy books I described in an earlier post, and students might be interested in some of the activities I recommended there.

    John, Paul, George and Ben is Lane Smith's light-hearted and somewhat irreverent look at the childhoods of some of our founding fathers. We see John Hancock, Paul Revere, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson as somewhat mischievous young misfits, whose character traits foretell their future feats and fame. I love the fact that the author includes an epilogue titled "Taking Liberties," wherein he sets the record straight regarding some misconceptions (most from his book!) about these famous five.

    A fun extension activity for John, Paul, George and Ben would have students write similar fictional childhoods of other famous Patriots. This would, of course, include a bit of research into those famous folks, but the clever assignment provides students with a genuine purpose for that research. Their stories should likewise include a "Taking Liberties" section to separate fact from fiction. A great picture book with which to start? Heroes of the Revolution by David A. Adler, which provides brief, one page biographies of some great patriots.

    Abecedaries (aka ABC books) are an excellent way to give students an overall view of people, places, and ideas from the Revolutionary period. Yankee Doodle America: The Spirit of 1776 from A to Z, written and illustrated by Wendell Minor, features paintings inspired by historic inn and tavern signs. The American Revolution from A to Z, written by Laura Crawford and illustrated by Judith Hierstein, is a perfect introduction for lower grade students, although older elementary students will enjoy reading it on their own. Between the covers is a complete introduction to the ideas and people your students are likely to come across in their study of this time period. The Declaration of Independence from A to Z, written by Catherine Osornio with paintings by Layne Johnson, is an excellent look at the political intrigues behind the Revolution. While students (especially boys) will want to jump to the battles, the truth is that most of the Founding Fathers made their mark on history off the battlefield. This terrific book celebrates those who worked tirelessly to create one of the world's most important documents.

    Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak, my daughter's favorite book ever) brings us an eye-opening look at the surprising number of contributions by women to the Cause. Anderson's conversational tone begins this way:
    Look, another school play about the heroes of the American Revolution. How sweet. We've got George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine. Famous guys who did important things. Wonderful. Just wonderful. Of course, you're missing part of the story. In fact, you're missing about half of it.
    And from there, we're taken on a guided tour of the whole Revolution. While Anderson provides narration, Matt Faulkner's clever, cartoon-style illustrations provide the reader with an equal amount of humor. Text inserts tell about the famous lasses while a timeline at the bottom of the page provides a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the war. The awesome pictures and snarky writing style will make this book a big hit with all your students (yes, even the boys!).

    Let It Begin Here: Lexington and Concord, written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and illustrated by Larry Day, chronicles the fateful hours of these first two battles. For students studying the Revolution, textbooks offer a pitiful two or three sentences about the events surrounding these first conflicts, and yet they were the percussive results of a fuse that had been burning for years in the city of Boston. In addition to the excellent narrative, Fradin provides short biographies of the "players" on both sides of the conflict, thereby answering the oft-asked question: "So what ever happened to these guys?" Day's illustrations are both iconic and detailed, and he provides numerous vantage points from which the reader can view the story. (Be sure to also check out another Dennis Brindell Fradin and Larry Day collaboration on Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words, which describes the events which led to the fatal shooting of one of Washington's most beloved and loyal friends).

    Other Recommended Titles

    George Vs. George: The Revolutionary War as Seen by Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer, provides a look at the issues and conflict from both sides. A terrific, must-have reference for those students who just need to know more!
    George Washington: A Picture Book Biography, written by James Cross Giblin and illustrated by Michael Dooling, provides a well rounded look at the man who wouldn't be king.

    Valley Forge, written by Richard Ammon and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, allows readers a more complete understanding of this crucial turning point than what is typically allotted in the single paragraph of most history books.

    Samuel's Choice, written by Richard Berleth and illustrated by James Watling, provides a look at the Revolution from a slave's perspective.

    Katie's Trunk, written by Ann Turner and illustrated by Ron Himler, provides a look at the Revolution from a Loyalist's perspective.

    When Mr. Jefferson Came to Philadelphia, also by Ann Turner and illustrated by Mark Hess, is a very simple introduction to one of America's greatest Patriots.

    Recommended Sites for Further Exploration

    Frontier Forts is a site which provides beautiful photographs of colonial reenactors demonstrating life on America's frontier in the 1770s. Be sure to first read the teacher's page to see how this site might be incorporated into your classroom teaching.

    Liberty! The American Revolution is a PBS site that includes the Road to Revolution, an interactive site which challenges older students on their knowledge of the Revolution. The site includes additional links and areas of interest to teachers.

    Archiving Early America features short biographical videos on Revolution heroes. The link I've provided shows clips about Paul Revere and the Boston Massacre, and compares Paul Revere’s famous engraving with the facts of that event.

    From the National Museum of American History comes You be the Historian. In this interactive learning module, students explore the lifestyle of a colonial family through artifacts.

    Check out 18th century Colonial Williamsburg Trades; information about each trade and some related activities.

    Mr. Nussbaum.com features interactive battle maps, Revolutionary timeline, causes and effects, people, the thirteen colonies, clip art, activities, videos, and flags.

    Liberty’s Kids was an animated television show which ran on PBS for some time. The animated show featured fictional characters interacting with real-life people of early 1700s Boston. One feature I particularly like is the video section Now and Then, comparing life now to that of life in the 1700’s. Be sure to check out the Parents and Teachers section to get the most from this site. Want to use the video series? Most public libraries have all episodes on DVD.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    The Cinderella Tale: A Mirror of Culture

    The story of Cinderella is actually an ancient tale, and arguably the best known fairy tale. Although the most familiar retelling is Charles Perrault's Cendrillon, published in France in 1697, modern day readers more likely picture the blonde-haired, blue eyed Cinderella of Disney fame. But according to the Author's Note in Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella, the tale can be traced all the way back to China, circa 850 AD (see Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China). Scholars, in fact, have gathered over 500 versions of the tale.

    So what is it about this tale that has proven timeless? Why does it continue to capture the imagination of children generation after generation? And more importantly, what surprises are contained in these other variations on the Cinderella tale, collected from all over the world?

    Before I discuss individual books, let me say that if you're really serious about a Cinderella unit, I cannot recommend In Search of Cinderella: A Curriculum for the 21st Century by Katharine Goodwin highly enough. This curriculum guide features book talks on a wide variety of Cinderella tales, along with activity sheets for each. What I love most about it is its emphasis of motifs; if children can learn to recognize narrative patterns within the stories they read, they will read those stories (and others as well) with much greater comprehension. This excellent resource book also provides activities to teach analogies, grammar, vocabulary, text structure, poetry, and writing, all through interactions with the authentic Cinderella texts.

    The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin is an Algonquin Indian version of the Cinderella story. Two domineering sisters (who modern readers instantly recognize!) set out to marry the "rich, powerful, and supposedly handsome" Invisible Being. But as in many other tales, a test is involved: they must first prove that they can see him. They cannot, but their abused younger sister, the Rough-Face Girl, can, for she sees his "sweet yet awesome face" all around her. He appears to her, reveals her true hidden beauty, and marries her. David Shannon (creator of the popular No, David! series and illustrator of Jane Yolen's powerful Encounter) paints powerful, iconic figures and evocative scenes of nature and Native American life. Both this book and Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story, retold by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Daniel San Souci, would be excellent additions to units on Native Americans, and a perfect segue into a study of other Cinderella books.

    Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella, written by Alan Schroeder and illustrated by Brad Sneed, is a wonderful American version of the tale, told in folksy diction and illustrated in the exaggerated style of 1930s mural paintings. The "voice" of the book can be heard in its opening paragraph:

    Now lis'en. Smack in the heart o' the Smoky Mountains, there was this old trapper livin' in a log cabin with his daughter. One night, while Rose was fryin' a mess o' fish, the trapper, he starts lookin' dejected like.
    In its review of this book, the School Library Journal said:

    Everyone knows what's going to happen, but getting there is half the fun. Sneed's slick, stylized watercolors seem at first to be out of sync with the down-home narrative, but it quickly becomes clear that the disparate union is a successful one. The paintings are realistically rendered but slightly distorted; figures are elongated and angular, features exaggerated, and perspectives askew... The fanciful, but decidedly quirky artwork effectively informs readers, in case they didn't already know it, that there's magic in them thar hills. An appealing all-American addition to the canon of "Cinderella" variants.
    Smoky Mountain Rose is one of my favorite new versions of this tale. (Note that later versions feature a different cover which prominently features a glass slipper, obviously meant to draw in more young readers already familiar with the Cinderella tale).

    The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story, retold by Rebecca Hickox with illustrations by Will Hillenbrand, is based on the Iraqi folktale of "The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold." In this tale, young Maha wishes for her widowed father to remarry the kindly neighbor lady who has a daughter of her own. Maha gets her wish, but in true Cinderella tradition her stepmother makes her do all the work while her stepsister makes the work all the more difficult.

    One day Maha spares the life of a small red fish, who from then on helps her out of many difficult situations, since he has promised her that she can "call for me any time and ask what you will." This same magic fish helps Maha prepare for the big event in town, where her beauty and grace are noticed by her future mother-in-law, who does the searching for the "dainty foot" which is also such a critical component of most Cinderella tales. (This lesson plan challenges students to read and compare four Middle Eastern Cindrella tales, including The Golden Sandal).

    Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition, is an impressive take on the Cinderella tale. First of all, it's one of the few versions where characters show growth (in this case, the arrogant politician's son becomes compassionate). It's also a version which doesn't rely upon magic to save the day, but rather upon Domitila's innate qualities. There's more sophisticated language structure here as well, and of course a wonderful dose of Mexican culture. What I found to be very clever was that each page included (along with the text and large illustrations) a moral, printed in both Spanish and English. Students would enjoy discussing what is meant by "Deeds, more than words, are proof of love," and "A task well done cannot be hidden." Even the border decorations around the text beg to be deciphered on each page.

    The Caldecott Honor Book Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters tells of two beautiful sisters: Nyasha who is selfless and considerate, and Manyara who is selfish and spoiled. They are equally loved by their father who sees no faults in either. When the king announces that he will take a wife and invites "The Most Worthy and Beautiful Daughters in the Land" to appear before him, Manyara sets out to make certain that she will be chosen. Each girl undergoes a very different experience along the way, based upon their unique dispositions. The late John Steptoe's illustrations make this a fabulous addition to any home or classroom library.

    In Fanny's Dream, written by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner, plain and simple Fanny chooses to marry an ordinary man and live an ordinary and, at times, even difficult life, running a farm and raising children. When given the chance to exchange it all for that trip to the ball which she always dreamed of, what choice will she make? This book is definitely one from the category of "Anti-Cinderella" books. Although she doesn't have that same cliched experience as our other heroines, perhaps she lives to be the happiest of all. A wonderful tale with gorgeous pictures by this husband and wife team.

    Cinder-Elly is a modern, hip-hop version of the old Cinderella tale. In this version we find Cinder-Elly living a funky lifestyle in New York City, and she's invited not to a ball, but to a ball game. The story is told in rhyming four line stanzas, which makes it not only fun and lyrical to read, but perfect for chanting, rapping, or singing. I'm also a big fan of illustrator G. Brian Karas' simple, cartoon-like renderings. Cinder-Elly is a creative and appealing version for younger readers, or as an inspiration for older readers to "modernize" similar traditional tales.

    In The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition, the rabbi loves his three daughters very much, but one day wonders, "How much do they love me?" When asked, the eldest daughter replies that she loves him as much as diamonds. The middle daughter replies that she loves him as much as silver and gold. But the youngest, named Mireleh, replies that she loves him "the way meat loves salt." Insulted and hurt, the rabbi banishes her from his house and family. Mireleh begins living the life of a servant girl, assisted first by a kindly old man who gives her a magical stick, and later by a family that feels takes pity on her. From this point on, the more traditional events of the Cinderella tale take place, but it's through Mireleh's own ingenuity, rather than the timely rescue of a Prince Charming, that she gets what she wants. The author's introduction explains the origin of this tale and how it relates to both traditional Cinderella tales and other Jewish folktales.

    Yeh-Shen, retold by Ai-Ling Louie, is probably the oldest version we're apt to find. Unlike most other Cinderella tales that we're told, however, this one features a more ethical heroine. The reader doesn't pity her, but feels instead that Yeh-Shen truly earns the "happily ever after" based upon her actions toward others. This series of activity pages from abcteach.com assesses student understanding of sequencing, vocabulary, and story elements from Yeh-Shen.

    Two others I'd recommend? If the Shoes Fits: Voices from Cinderella by Laura Whipple shares various perspectives from characters in our favorite fairy tales, all told in poem form. The Hummingbird King by Argentina Palacios is a South American legend with motifs we recognize from Cinderella, but with a terrific "flavor" of that continent.

    Extension Activities

    If you're looking for an interactive version of Cinderella, Annenberg Media provides an animated, narrated version of the most familiar retelling. But this retelling is actually just a small part of the Annenberg activity which is called Interactives: Elements of a Story. This self-guided learning module uses the traditional tale to help students understand Setting, Characters, Sequence, Exposition, Conflict, Climax, and Resolution. Each story element tests students along the way, and a summative assessment not only allows a teacher to see a student's overall understanding, but allows the students to revisit sections of the tutorial to self-correct missed responses. A very cool activity overall, appropriate for grades 3-5. Also be sure to see the Tips for Adults section of this site, which features links and extension activities for the Cinderella tale. (If you dig this site's format but you teach older grades, be sure to check out the Annenberg literature interactive for older students based upon Susan Glaspell's short story "A Jury of Her Peers").

    Looking for an older, more "authentic" telling? National Geographic's Grimm Brothers site features the Grimm retelling of the Cinderella tale, which is a bit more PG-13 (for its gruesomeness). Older students might enjoy reading less "cuddly" versions of storybook favorites there.

    Need more extension ideas?
    If you're looking for a terrific collection of Cinderella books for your elementary curriculum, The Booksource has a nicely chosen set of fifteen Cinderella tales at a reasonable price. It includes many of the titles from above, plus others you'll want to explore.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Books to Inspire Learning: Nomad Press

    Often as teachers we have a terrific theme (Survival, Balance, Interdependence) or topic (Transportation, Inventions, Rain Forest), and plenty of awesome trade books with which to explore that theme or topic, but what we're missing is the "hands-on" component. Hands-on has become almost a buzz word that I dislike when simply slapped onto a math curriculum that might use manipulatives for one lesson each week. But what I mean here by hands-on is projects, experiments, activities, and explorations that use "stuff" to help students truly understand what they're learning.

    When I taught third grade, for example, high school students who returned to visit their old classroom didn't reminisce about worksheets, basal reader stories, or spelling quizzes. They instead fondly recalled when we created a working model of the Erie Canal lock system out of milk cartons, or a paper mache mountain to model the water cycle in the Appalachians, or when Mr. Schoch lit the classroom reading rug on fire trying to demonstrate how fire needed oxygen to burn. And that was just September!

    You might be saying to yourself, "Keith, I love ideas like that (with the possible exception of setting the rug on fire), but where can I find the time and the ideas to make that happen?" Nomad Press has the answer. I recently discovered this publisher while ferreting out free resources for teachers, and boy, I wish I had owned their books two decades ago when I started out in third grade!

    First of all, the books. From their Explore series, Nomad shared with me their Explore Colonial America and Explore Transportation titles. Both contained the coolest projects, experiments, and activities! But the design of the books themselves is very smart. While both books would be helpful to the teacher, they're also are super kid friendly and readable on the elementary level. Both books contain text inserts featuring Words to Know (vocabulary, with easy-to-understand definitions), Guess What (cool facts, which some of my students would read in their entirety before reading the rest of the book), Then and Now (contrasting technology in past and present) and occasional fact boxes, containing relevant whos, whats, whys, and hows. The projects are explicitly titled (Make Your Own Water Compass) while the experiments present titles in the form of a question (What Floats? What Sinks?), getting students into the practice of forming a hypothesis when exploring an unknown concept. (Explore Colonial America also includes "spotlights" on each of the thirteen colonies).

    If you want a better sense of what this looks like, Nomad provides free sample downloads of a project or experiment from each book at their site. The site itself is an exemplary resource for parents and teachers. In addition to book summaries and samples, you'll also find neat sidebar features including Latest News (cool facts from science and nature), This Day in History (great topics for discussion and writing), Word of the Day, and Did You Know? Overall, it's an extremely clean site which begs further exploration. Somewhere in that site, yes, they are selling books, but not at the expense of the user experience.

    Individual book summaries (such as this one for Amazing Biome Projects) make for interesting reading, because they include not just the book's contents, but also related web sites, related resource books, a media kit containing fact sheets and author interviews, and endorsements. In recommending Amazing Biome Projects, for example, Greg DeFrancis, Director of Education Montshire Museum, said:
    This high-powered tour of ecological principles is chock full of information, activities, and science vocabulary. The indoor and outdoor activities connect kids to the science being discussed in each chapter. Science educators and parents will be thrilled with the amount of information the author has packed into Biomes.
    If you teach math, science, or social studies, I highly recommend Nomad Press. Give their site a look, try just one of their titles, and I think you'll be hooked! And also, whether you're a teaching novice or an old vet like me, be sure to check out their teacher titles, such as The New Teacher's Handbook: Practical Strategies and Techniques for Success in the Classroom from Kindergarten Through High School and The Power of Positive Teaching: 35 Successful Strategies for Active and Enthusiastic Classroom Participation. Perfect titles for those seeking professional development reading selections for their PLCs.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Pop-Ups that Stand Out!

    Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda have created an awesome new pop-up book titled Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes. Now it's rare that I get too crazy about pop-up books, and most teachers in fact would consider them gimmicky and not really worth their time. But check out the video preview provided at the Candlewick site (be sure to go full screen), and I think you'll agree: this is one really impressive book! Students in the middle grades are really drawn to mythology, so this is one more great rendition that should be added to every classroom library.

    Although both Reinhart and Sabuda take credit for authoring and illustrating, it's mostly Sabuda that I know as the "pop-up" guy. Check out his homepage to see some of his more impressive previous works, including Encyclopedia Prehistorica Mega-Beasts Pop-Up, Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures (both with Reinhart), and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-up (a favorite in my classroom, especially with the emerald glasses).

    A great extension of any of these books would be for students to create their own pop-ups. Not as easy as it sounds, unless, of course, you have a resource such as Sabuda's own web site which features printable templates for over two dozen pop-ups. Once students get the hang of the physics behind the pop-up, they're likely to invent their own variations. These can serve as great presentation formats for seasonal poetry, short stories, or book reports, or for creating cards for a special occasion.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Life Lessons from Picture Books

    Psychology Today recently published an article titled The Value of a Picture Book: 5 Life-Lessons Your Child Gets From Stories. I first saw mention of this article at Kid Tested, Librarian Approved, another great blog for those of you who want to keep up with current titles and trends in picture books. See? I can play nice sometimes...

    Psychology Today writer Pam Allyn discusses how picture books can model universal themes such as empathy (Mama, I'll Give You the World by Roni Schotter), patience (Catching the Moon by Myla Goldberg), importance of imagination (Dream Carver by Diana Cohn), curiosity (Becoming Butterflies by Anne Rockwell) and community (Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston). She begins by saying:
    Reading a book is a unique opportunity to see the world from another person or thing's perspective. When a child reads a book, whether it is a fantastical story about an object come to life or a very real article about a neighboring country, he or she becomes a part of that world and sees life, however briefly, through the eyes of another. Children are uniquely able to accept and invest in the reality created in what they are reading.
    Couldn't have said it better myself! These are just a few of the advantages of picture books I've been preaching through this blog for nearly a year now. Check out the whole article, since Allyn includes more titles for each theme which might find a place in your classroom library.

    Looking for other reasons to use picture books in the classroom? Be sure to check out my static site Teaching with Picture Books which describes thirteen reasons why teachers in grades 3-8 should be using picture books in their instruction.