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A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: Xia Gordon
Published January 1st, 2019 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: “The combination of biography and Brooks’ own poems makes for a strong, useful, and beautiful text . . . A solid introduction to a brilliant writer”—Kirkus.

Acclaimed writer Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.

With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.

A Message from Alice Faye Duncan: 

“Dear Teachers and Librarians:

Welcome to my FIRST virtual book signing. In this media presentation you will see AND hear me read my new book A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks. It is the poet’s biography told in 9 short poems. Gwendolyn Brooks and her pursuit of words is lesson in audacity, tenacity and victory.  Her life is a journey that young readers can use to navigate this trying world.”

About Alice Faye Duncan: Alice Faye Duncan writes books for young readers and adults. HONEY BABY SUGAR CHILD is a mother’s love song to her baby. The lyrical text sings and swings just like music. One must read it aloud with LOVE, JOY and SOUL!

MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP (The 1968 Sanitation Strike) is a lyrical combination of poetry and prose that explores Dr. King’s assassination and his last stand for economic justice in the city of Memphis. The illustrator is Caldecott Honor recipient, Gregory Christie.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE is a child’s travel guide across the Volunteer State (GO VOLS!). Two cousins in ugly holiday sweaters visit important landmarks throughout the state, while traveling in a mini-van called the “Reindeer Express.” The illustrator is Mary Uhles.

A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS will debut in January 2019. This is the first picture book biography to explore the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950, Miss Brooks was the first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize.

Have you heard the name, “Pinkney?” Alice’s book–JUST LIKE A MAMA will make its debut on Mother’s Day (2019). The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Her grand father is Caldecott illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Charnelle is a master artist too. Get ready to be charmed with impressive images and a lyrical text.

Thank you so much to Alice Faye Duncan for sharing this amazing reading with us! The Virtual Book Signing, more about Alice and her books, and FREE LESSON PLANS for her books can all be found on her website: https://alicefayeduncan.com/.

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Pride
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Published: September 18, 2018 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Pride and Prejudice gets remixed in this smart, funny, gorgeous retelling of the classic, starring all characters of color, from Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award finalist and author of American Street.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

Teaching Pride

I love retellings of classics, and I would argue that this retelling is far superior to the original. Ibi presented at the NCTE convention, and she is absolutely brilliant. She talked about how she values the inclusion of the pantheon in literature and how she does so in her own texts. She also shared how different poems within Pride are retellings of classic poems. I love her work and will read anything she writes.

Love stories are tricky. They can get sappy quickly. This book is so much more than a love story. It interrogates themes related to economics, race, education, and gender.

Gentrification

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What those rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love” (p. 1).

Teaching Idea: As a class, explore the impacts of gentrification and displacement. Using this knowledge develop your own form of political art (https://youtu.be/JMVd5k2a2IM) to make a statement.

Culture

If Madrina’s basement is where the tamboras, los espíritus, and old ancestral memories live, the roof is where the wind chimes, dreams, and possibilities float with the stars, where Janae and I share our secrets and plan to travel all over the world, Haiti and the Dominican Republic being our first stop” (p. 23).

Teaching Idea: Pick a place in your life, and Use Zoboi’s writing as a mentor text to share that place with others (e.g. “If [place] is where_________, [another place] is where__________, where________.”

Equity

“Sometimes love is not enough to keep a community together. There needs to be something more tangible, like fair housing, opportunities, and access to resources” (p. 33).

Teaching Idea: As a class, discuss whether love is enough and whether tangible aspects must exist in order to keep a community together. Generate a concept or brain map that depicts tangible aspects that can impact communities.

Male/Female Gender Roles

I don’t need no knights in shining armor

Ain’t no horses in the hood

I killed chivalry myself with a pocketknife…” (p. 243).

Teaching idea: The teachers finds materials/advertisements that are gender-specific, and students rewrite the materials to remove gender from the text. Students evaluate how the meaning or the impact has changed.

Education

“There is more to learn

about my old, old self, and black and brown girls like me

from hoods all over this country want to

take over the world,

but there’s something missing

in our history books the public schools give us” (p. 147).

Teaching idea: Consider the school curricula. Whose voices are honored? Whose are missing? Rewrite a course to be more inclusive.

Home

“I have always thought of Bushwick as home, but in that moment, I realize that home is where the people I love are, wherever that is” (p. 270).

Teaching idea: Where is home? Create a visual depiction of your own home, and below it, write, “Home is…” How do our interpretations of home differ? What do they have in common?

Read This If You Loved: American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

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RickiSig

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We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
Author: Traci Sorell
Illustrator: Frané Lessac
Published September 4, 2018 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences.

Appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah

Review: This beautiful book makes for a wonderful read-aloud. I loved the repetition and the different things to be grateful for. The images are captivating, and I found myself slowing down as I read and turned each page. The seasons shift through the text, which offers great opportunities for discussion. Indigenous people are often perceived to be people of the past, but this book demonstrates that they are living, breathing people. The culture is very much alive. I’ll be gifting this book to several friends with young children.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: Students might list the different things that they are grateful for and draw accompanying pictures. It offers great opportunities for discussing how Native people still exists and are not relics of the past, reserved for discussions on Thanksgiving day.

Discussion Questions: How do the seasons change across the pages? How does this shift the story?; Describe the people you see on the pages. What can you learn from them?; Find three words that you don’t know. Learn what they mean and share their definitions with a peer.

We Flagged: “…while we collect buckbrush and honeysuckle to weave baskets.”

Read This If You Loved: The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

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RickiSig

**Thank you, Donna, from Charlesbridge Publishing for sending a copy for review!**

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Just so we all have the same definition of close reading, I wanted to share how I define it:
The process of close reading is reading a short, worthy text more than once to get deeper into its meaning.
(See “A Secret About Close Reading” for more information.)

Here is a fun close reading activity I did with my reading classes a couple of weeks ago.

Standards for this lesson: RL.1 & RI.1 (Inference & text evidence), RL.2 (Theme), RI.2 (Central Idea), RL.3 (Narrative elements interact)

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester is a much more complex text than it first seems, so I really wanted to take this fun text and push my students’ thinking to realize that Tacky teaches us more than they first thought.

First read: For the first read of Tacky the Penguin, I just had my students enjoy the story. I love watching kids see this book for the first time because he is such a ridiculous yet awesome penguin.

Second read: When we read the story again, this time I chunked the text and had them take notes about a different characters’ emotions for each section. They then went on our Canvas discussion board and made an inference about how the character was feeling based on their notes and included evidence.

“The other penguins are much more accepting of Tacky at the end. In the text it shows that all the penguins hugged Tacky since his oddness had scared the hunters away and saved them. This action showed that even though they might disagree on how to do things they were still thankful of him.” -EX, 8th grade

“I think that the other penguins, Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect are happy that Tacky is around. In the story it is showing all the penguins celebrating that the hunters were gone. Usually when you are celebrating it is because someone has accomplished something and you feel happy for them. So, you can conclude that the other penguins are happy that Tacky is around because he got rid of the hunters and without Tacky they might’ve died.” -JK, 6th grade

For the final section of the text, I asked them to think about the theme of the story, and they answered their inferred theme with evidence on the discussion board.

“I think the theme of Tacky the penguin is that differences can be good. I think that because at first the other penguins didn’t like Tacky because he was very different in the way he acted. They thought he was annoying and didn’t really include him in their group. At the end, they appreciate him because he saved them from the hunters, so his differences were good.” -AN, 8th grade

“The theme is to treat everyone fairly. Because in the beginning the other penguins treated Tacky badly, by excluding him, being annoyed at his greets, singing, and diving. But when Tacky acted like a hero they all appreciated him like they should of in the beginning.” -AK, 8th grade

“I think the theme of TACKY THE PENGUIN is to always be yourself. In the beginning of the story, the other penguins didn’t seem to really like Tacky because he did things so differently from them. However, as the middle towards end of the story, Tacky uses that to his advantage to scare away the hunters. So really, because Tacky was himself, he saved the day!” -DV, 7th grade

As we know, there are many themes that can be taken from a story, and most of the themes I received were spot on and focused primarily on how Tacky may seem odd but that doesn’t mean being different is bad. But there was one theme that I didn’t have any students pick up on, and I felt it was a big one. So, for the third read, I added in another text.

Third read: For the third read, I had my students read an Aesop Fable to connect with Tacky. “The Lion and the Three Bullocks” has the theme “In Unity is Strength” because the bulls survive the predator because they work together. The students did a wonderful job realizing that this theme connected to Tacky because it was only when all the of the penguins worked together that they were able to ward off the hunters.

“The theme “Unity is Strength” works for both books because together they defeated the enemy(ies). In Tacky the Penguin it says, “ Tacky began to sing, and from behind the block of ice came the voices of his companions, all singing as loudly and dreadfully as they could.” This shows that together the penguins can work together to be strong. The next page says “The hunters could not stand the horrible singing” This evidence illustrates that together as a team they can do anything. In Aesop For Children (Three Bullocks and a Lion), it says that a hungry lion is looking for his next meal. He was only sitting and watching because all of them were together so he would lose. In a little bit the bullocks separated and it was the lion’s time to strike (He ate them). This shows that when you are together you can be even stronger then when you were alone.” -EN, 7th grade

At this point, I was so proud of the connections my students were making, but it was still on a level where they were not connecting it to life–they saw it as a penguin and bullocks lesson mostly. This meant that I added in another text that I had them close read:

Scila Elworthy’s TED Talk is titled “Fighting with Nonviolence” and shares how fighting violence with violence is not successful while using nonviolence has been successful. I love TED Talks because you have the video and the transcript! What a great text for the classroom! (And thank you Jennifer Shettel for pointing me in this direction!)

First read: We watched the first 5 minutes and 11 seconds of the TED talk, and I gave each student a Post-It note. I asked them to write down words that stuck out to them. We then shared the words and defined any words they didn’t know.

Second read: For their second read of the text, they went to the transcript and were to focus on the central idea of this section of the text. Each person wrote down their own central idea.

Then I did a variety on one of the discussion ideas that Ricki shared in her Engaging Classroom Discussion Techniques post. Kind of like in Facts of Five, I had students then go into groups of three and come up with a consensus of a central idea together. They then wrote these on sentences strips to display in the room. We also discussed each one and talked about the supporting evidence for each central idea. I called it “Most Important Point.”

“As a group for the “most important point activity” we came up with the point that “solving a problem with violence only ever causes more violence”. Toward the end of the ted talk the speaker gives an example of when her ‘heroine’ was faced with guns during a protest and solved it by walking up to them and getting them to put their guns down. Had she not solved that problem this way it can be assumed that the soldiers would have shot them. By solving a situation with non violence she avoided the problem all together. We concluded from this, and the other points she made in ted talk including Nelson Mandela and her own personal anecdote about non violence, that that was the central point.” -KA, 8th grade

Third read: For the culminating task for all of these texts, I added in one more text to truly make all of this connect to reality. I knew I wanted to pick an image from the Civil Rights Movement because it is a true example of this idea at work. I introduced my students to sit-ins.

I then asked, “Why did we watch this TED Talk and why did I share the Sit-In images after reading Tacky the Penguin and the Aesop Fable? How do they all connect? Write a short paragraph explaining the connection, and remember to Restate, Answer, have Text evidence, and Explain/elaborate.”

All of these connect because they all show them going against things together. In “Tacky the Penguin” all of the penguins started singing in the end together, driving them away. If it was only Tacky singing, the hunters might not have gone away if the other penguins had not shown up.  In “Three Bullocks and a Lion”, the lion would not attack them when they were together because he knew he was no match for all three of them combined. In the Sit- In photo, there are four people sitting at a counter, and in the other photo, it shows them getting drinks poured on them from other people in the restaurant. If there was only one person sitting at the counter, the point would not have been proven as well as it would if there were four. All of them show that when they are together, they are stronger.” -MA, 7th grade

The Ted Talk, Sit-in images, Tacky the Penguin, and Aesop Fable connect because they show how if we stick together and try to solve conflict in nonviolent ways, we will not have to resolve problems with more fighting.  The Ted Talk says that bullies use violence to intimidate, terrorize, and undermine, but “only very rarely in few cases does it work to use more violence.” This just makes people more and more violent. An example is when the “Students who participated in sit-ins refused to become violent” even when people were not treating them fair by not serving them or even pouring a drink on them. Tacky the Penguin helped save all the penguins from being taken away by hunters because he had the attitude that people should be friendly and kind to each other and because he acted like this, it scared the hunters and they ran away. In the Aesop Fable, the bulls were able to keep the lion from eating them by staying close and being strong together. When they began to argue and separated from each other, they were not strong enough alone to keep from being attacked. “It was now an easy matter for the lion to attack them one at a time, and this he proceeded to do with the greatest satisfaction and relish.” This shows that we need each other to be strong and reach our goals and when we begin to fight, we lose our strength against enemies. We can control all of this, like she says, “It’s my response, my attitude, to oppression that I’ve got control over, and that I can do something about.” -DA, 6th grade

I was so impressed with my students’ deep thinking, connections, inferences, and elaboration! And overall they truly loved the activity, and I think that it truly shows that a text to analyze can be more than the canon!

 

 

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The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X. R. Pan
Published: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown

Goodreads Summary: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Review: I just finished discussing this book with my class, and they loved it. It is a bit of a longer book and moves somewhat slowly, but even my students who didn’t finish it in time insisted that I should use it again next year. The writing is absolutely stunning. Pan depicts humanity in ways that are very powerful. She integrates color and emotion to connect readers to the characters. We had two one-hour class periods to discuss this book, and there were so many things to talk about. Discussion was easy, and students made meaningful connections with the book. This book is simply unforgettable. I recommend it highly and hope it wins some awards in January!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My students said that they Googled the colors within the text as they read. We spent a lot of time talking about the colors as an effective writing tool. I asked students to think of a moment in their lives that they’d be willing to share. Then, I asked them to attach a color with the moment. They shared beautiful stories of working at drive-ins, meeting their SOs, visiting places with friends, etc. The colors they attached with the images were fascinating and made the stories come alive.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the author incorporate magical realism in the text? Is it effective?
  • Did Leigh and Axel’s relationship feel realistic to you? Why or why not?
  • Which scenes are beautifully written, and how do they demonstrate excellent writing?
  • Should we forgive Leigh’s father? Why might he make the decisions he makes?

We Flagged: “Once you figure out what matters, you’ll figure out how to be brave.”

Read This If You Loved: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Miles Away From You by A. B. Rutledge, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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  RickiSig

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When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published October 4, 2016 by Thomas Dunne

Goodreads Summary: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

My Review: This book appears again and again on English department lists for courses about gender and sexuality. After I saw it for the dozenth time, I realized that I had to read it. I loved it so much that I adopted it for my course, and my students read it along with three other texts when we talked about gender and sexuality as they pertain to adolescence. I will admit that a few of my students had difficulty with the magical realism of the book, but overall, they found this book to be incredibly powerful and recommended I continue to use it in the course. There is so much to discuss, and it offers beautiful insight. I attach so many emotions to this book, which proves how much I cared deeply for the characters and content. If you missed this one, you should read it. I promise it will be different than any other book that you’ve read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The third of my class that read this book developed a great activity to inspire their peers to want to read it. They asked the students: “If an egg could cure your heartsickness, what color would it be? If a flower grew from your wrist, what type of flower would it be? If you could hang a moon from the trees to help you sleep at night, what would it look like? Or, pick another object to connect with.” We had a lot of fun discussing the great possibilities.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is this book used often in college English courses? What makes it so impactful?
  • What does this book teach you about people, places, life, and quite frankly, humanity as a whole?
  • There are a very many magically realistic objects in the text. If you examine them closely, what does each mean? For example, why are glass pumpkins growing in the town?

We Flagged: “Miel was a handful of foil stars, but they were the fire that made constellations” (p. 12).

Read This If You Love: Magical realism, books that make you think, books that push binary traditions of gender

Recommended For: 

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RickiSig

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Gods and Heroes
Author: Korwin Briggs
Published August 21, 2018 by Workman

GoodReads Summary: Meet the Original Superheroes.

Before there was Batman, Wonder Woman, or Black Panther…there was Indra, Hindu king of gods, who battled a fearsome snake to save the world from drought. Athena, the powerful Greek goddess of wisdom who could decide the fate of battles before they even began. Okuninushi, the Japanese hero who defeated eighty brothers to become king and then traded it all for a chance at immortality.

Featuring more than 70 characters from 23 cultures around the world, this A-to-Z encyclopedia of mythology is a who’s who of powerful gods and goddesses, warriors and kings, enchanted creatures and earthshaking giants whose stories have been passed down since the beginning of time—and are now given fresh life for a new generation of young readers.

Plus, You’ll Learn All About:
Dragons: The Hydra, St. George’s Dragon, and the Australian Rainbow Snake
Giants: Grendel, Balor of the Evuil Eye, Polyphemus, and the Purusha with the thousand heads
Monsters: Manticore, Sphinx, Minotaur, Thunderbird, and Echidne, mother of the Nemean lion that nearly killed Heracles
Underworlds: Travel to Hades, Valhalla, and the Elysian Fields

Review: I always enjoy Workman books. The offer nonfiction information in a way that is fun and engaging. My four-year-old loved this book (even though most of it was a bit over his head). I’d recommend this book for the targeted audience (grades 3-7), but I think younger and older kids would really enjoy it (I know I did!). There are a diverse set of gods and heroes within this story, and they don’t originate from one culture, which I liked a lot. My son seemed to love the Greek/Roman gods the most, so those are the ones that we’ve read so far. We read about a different god/hero each night, and we’ve been going strong for about two weeks. We look forward to reading these stories each night. It makes for a fantastic bedtime routine.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask each student to pick a different god or hero and present it to the class. I’d encourage students to choose a god/hero that interests them, and I think this onus would help students get excited about their presentations!

Discussion Questions: Which heroine/hero did you enjoy the most? Why?; Did you notice any similarities across cultural heroes? Differences? Which hero would you want to learn more about?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Mythology, Gods, Heroes, History

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**Thank you to Diana at Workman for providing a copy for review!**

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