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Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Groove
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: Keith Mallett
Published May 21st, 2019 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: This groovy, bebopping picture book biography chronicles the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’s search for inspiration on the Williamsburg Bridge after quitting the jazz scene in 1959.

Rollins is one of the most prolific sax players in the history of jazz, but, in 1959, at the height of his career, he vanished from the jazz scene. His return to music was an interesting journey–with a long detour on the Williamsburg Bridge. Too loud to practice in his apartment, Rollins played on the New York City landmark for two years among the cacophony of traffic and the stares of bystanders, leading to the release of his album, The Bridge.

Written in rhythmic prose with a bebop edge, this picture-book biography of Sonny Rollins’s journey to get his groove back will delight young and old fans alike.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now a New York City elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author. He is the author of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: The True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) and Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry lives in the Bronx.

About the Illustrator: Keith Mallett studied art at Hunter College in New York City. Keith’s work was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic breakthrough into major league baseball, has graced the cover of Chicken Soup for the African American Soul, and has been featured in many movies and TV shows. He is the illustrator of Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee and How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz. Keith lives in San Diego, California.

Praise: “An appropriately jazzy picture-book biography of African-American musician Sonny Rollins. It impresses from the endpapers, which mirror a vinyl LP in its paper sleeve and then playing on a turntable, to the liner notes about Rollins’ seminal album “The Bridge” in the back.” -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The life of jazz legend Sonny Rollins pulses with the rousing spontaneity of his music in Wittenstein’s free verse biography. Readers witness Rollins’s career as an acclaimed musician followed by his explosive success and the subsequent reincarnations of his art.” -School Library Journal, starred review

Review: The rhythm of the writing in Sonny’s Bridge automatically gets you toe tapping while reading. It captures the feeling and flow of jazz which truly sets the stage for Sonny’s story because in the end this is the story of Sonny Rollins and his path to finding his musical voice.

In addition to the rhythm in the writing, the illustrators images bring the words to life using movement, color, and line to show the power of the music.

Together, the words and music bring Sonny’s story to the readers in a way that will illuminate his struggles and his triumphs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of the rhythmic writing, this will be an amazing read aloud! And then the students can listen to The Bridge.

We are lucky to be living in a time with so many wonderful biographies out there about amazing people and a lot of them happen to be musicians, so what a great opportunity for book clubs or jig saws to look at different musicians and how they became who they are/were and how they changed not only musical history but sometimes even history.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why does Sonny find the bridge to be the best place for him to practice?
  • Why did Sonny take off two years and how did it change his life?
  • How did Sonny’s life correspond with Black Americans’ fight for equal rights?
  • How did the illustrator show Sonny’s music through is artwork?
  • Why would some want the bridge to be renamed Sonny’s Bridge?
  • After listening to The Bridge, how did the author capture the feeling of jazz in his writing?

Creator Corner with Barry Wittenstein from KidLitTV: 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Music (specifically jazz), Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill, Trombone Shorty by Troy AndrewsLittle Melba and her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, Ella Fitzgerald by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Hip Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari, The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy Andrews, Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff, Muddy by Michael James Mahin, Stand Up and Sing by Suanna Reich

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**Thank you to Charlesbridge Publishing for providing a copy for review**

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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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“Understanding Race in a Country Divided”

Race and racism can be tricky topics to discuss in the classroom. With so many diverse experiences, perspectives, and opinions on these emotionally-charged issues, it can be tempting to avoid conversations about race to skirt potential conflict.

But if there’s any hope of creating greater harmony and understanding among people of all colors in our society, we have to face these issues head-on. Our kids must learn to discuss racial issues openly, with honesty, empathy–and historical perspective.

To my mind, no fruitful discussion of the United States’ racial issues can occur without having a comprehensive grasp of America’s history of race relations. This long and painful story is key to understanding today’s divisive racial climate and recognizing how America’s past continues to haunt and impact race relations today.

My book, Race Relations: The Struggle for Equality in America, helps put the complexity of contemporary U.S. race relations into historical context. It offers kids the chance to explore race and racism in ways that promote critical thinking about difficult societal problems.

The book begins, not with slavery, but with the creation of racial categories in the fifteenth century. Readers learn, in a fact-based way, how European colonizers embraced and honed these categories to create a racial hierarchy to justify the enslavement and persecution of races they believed to be inferior. Even as some people fought against it, this hierarchy would become codified in U.S. laws and woven into American social codes for the next 400 years, substantially affecting how people of different colors view and treat each other.

Race Relations guides tweens and teens through these four centuries of American race relations. It touches every major era, from colonization and slavery to Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights to the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Links to online primary sources such as narratives, laws, articles, poems, songs, statistics, and even YouTube videos help them explore the nature of American race relations during each era and allow them to consider how relations have changed–or haven’t–over the years.

The book also fosters discussions of contemporary racial issues, such as voting rights, imprisonment rate disparities, and affirmative action, and asks students to reflect on concepts such as racial bias, prejudice, and privilege and how these impact their lives. It further highlights current social justice movements, including Black Lives Matters, and encourages students to consider actions they can take to help improve race relations.

I wrote Race Relations to provide young teens with the tools for recognizing racism and the historical context for talking about it.  Only by addressing these problems can we begin to bridge our differences, understand each other’s realities, and build a more peaceful and unified society.

Here are some activities to get healthy conversations started!

Check Yourself

History isn’t the only factor that can influence our perception of races different from our own. Naturally, having a personal relationship with people of a different race plays a huge role in your perceptions, as does the nature of that relationship with them. But we also receive input from a variety of other sources—our family, friends, neighborhood, community, images on television, magazines, newspapers, books, videos, and music. How do all these factors influence our perception of race?

Write down the different factors that influence your perceptions of these races as listed on the U.S. Census: White, Latino, African American, Native American, Asian American. You do not have to share this list with anyone—it is for you to gain insights into your perceptions of other races and where they come from.

  • Do you know anyone of each race?
  • How many people?
  • Have you ever participated in any social events with someone of each race?
  • What do you frequently hear about people of each race?
  • What three adjectives would you use to describe people of each race?
  • Where do your strongest impressions of each race come from?
  • Can you find any patterns in your thinking? Are your impressions about groups that include people you know personally more positive than those groups that don’t contain anyone you know? What other patterns can you spot?

To investigate more, give yourself an assignment of reading, watching, or listening to books, movies, and music produced by people from each of the different races. Does this change your perception? If so, how?

Mass Depopulation of Native Americans

Before Europeans arrived in 1492, an estimated 54 million Native Americans were living in what is now the United States. Within decades, millions died due to European diseases, war, and displacement. By 1890, the Native American population had dropped to 228,000. Although historians debate whether the devastation of the Native American population was an intentional genocide, they do not dispute that Europeans caused the dramatic depopulation, whether by acting purposefully, accidentally, or with reckless indifference.

Trace the history of one of the Native American tribes. Choose between the Cherokee, Iroquois, Mohawk, Seminole, Sioux, Comanche, Algonquin, or Cheyenne.

Make a timeline of significant events in the tribe’s history. These should include important relationships with colonists or Americans, treaties made with the U.S. government, wars, peacetimes, displacements, and current status.

Research the culture of your chosen tribe. How did the historical events affect that culture?

To investigate more, write a short play or scene about an event in your chosen tribe’s history that affected its lifestyle or population. Incorporate differing views tribe members may have had and how they may have felt looking to the future.

More classroom resources can be found at https://nomadpress.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Race-Relations-Classroom-Guide.pdf.

Race Relations: The Struggle for Equality in America
Author: Barbara Diggs
Illustrator: Richard Chapman
Published April 9th, 2019 by Nomad Press

About the Book: How could a country founded on the honorable ideals of freedom and equality have so willingly embraced the evils of enslavement and oppression?

America’s history of race relations is a difficult one, full of uncomfortable inconsistencies and unpleasant truths. Although the topic is sensitive, it is important to face this painful past unflinchingly—knowing this history is key to understanding today’s racial climate and working towards a more harmonious society.

In Race Relations: The Struggle for Equality in America, kids ages 12 to 15 follow the evolution of race relations in America from the country’s earliest beginnings until present day. The book examines how the concept of race was constructed in the seventeenth century and how American colonists used racial differences to justify slavery, discrimination and the persecution of people of color. Through links to online primary sources such as newspaper articles, letters, poems, and songs, young readers will explore how race relations changed—and didn’t—through the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, and under the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

About the Author: Barbara Diggs is a non-fiction writer who has written a range of historical articles for children. Her work has been featured in Learning Through History MagazineHistory Magazine, and Renaissance, among others. A graduate of Stanford Law School, Barbara practiced law in New York for several years before becoming a professional writer. She and her family currently split their time between Paris, France, and Washington DC. Website: barbaradiggs.com

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at the history, present, and future of race relations in the United States!

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Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Published: September 11th, 2018 by Candlewick Press

Summary: Thoughtful, strong-willed sixth-grader Merci Suárez navigates difficult changes with friends, family, and everyone in between in a resonant new novel from Meg Medina.

Merci Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren’t going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for Merci Suárez Changes Gears:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Merci on Candlewick Press’s Merci Suárez Changes Gears page.

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The Atlas of Monsters: Mythical Creatures from Around the World
Creators: Sandra Lawrence and Stuart Hill
Published April 23rd, 2019 by Running Press

Summary: A whimsical and imaginative catalog of fantastical beasts and creatures of myth and legend from around the world-complete with a code that needs cracking to uncover the mystery of the monster atlas!

One day a collection of very old maps is found in a dusty library. They show where in the world monsters and creatures from mythology and folklore can be found. According to the notes left with the maps, they were made by Cornelius Walters, an intrepid explorer from the 15th century. But did Walters really make these elaborate maps, or is it all a hoax? The librarian who discovered them is not certain . . . and what are the strange messages in a cryptic code that Walters records in his ship’s log? The codes throughout, once cracked, may indeed lead to something sinister that will happen should the atlas ever be published!

This is a gorgeously illustrated and comprehensive catalog of monsters, beasts, and mythical creatures from around the globe, with an easy-to-read format and incredible detail on each spread. It is many things, all at once:

  • A reference guide: Grouped by continent, this illustrated atlas lists and defines magical creatures from folklore around the world. Readers will find creatures from stories they’ve heard–like leprachauns, manticores, zombies–and learn about lesser-known creatures like the squonk, the tatzelwurm, and the fengu.
  • A journal: Presented as a record created by a fifteenth-century voyager named Cornelius Walters, the book includes Cornelius’s personal anecdotes about encountering monsters during his journey.
  • A mystery: The book also includes notes from a librarian who supposedly found the atlas and is trying to figure out whether Cornelius was making up stories for the monsters…or whether monsters are real.
  • A code: A mysterious code appears on each page and is referred to by both Cornelius and the librarian, encouraging readers to crack it…before it’s too late.

For kids (and adults) who love mythology, the supernatural, mysteries, or code-breaking, this whimsical blend of folklore and fiction provides both a joy and a surprise on every page.

About the Creators: 

Sandra Lawrence is an author and journalist. She is the author of two middle grade history books: Grisly History: Death and Destruction and Grisly History: Trials and Treachery. She lives in London, England.

Stuart Hill is an illustrator and designer. He is especially interested in printed textures, hand-lettering, and map illustration. He lives in England.

Review: This book is really everything that the summary states. It is fascinating! And beautiful! There is some humor because of the voyager’s anecdotes and the librarian’s notes, too, which is always nice. And the addition of the code adds an interactive element to the text. Highly recommended for any teacher teaching mythology or any traditional stories with monsters/creatures.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This text would be perfect for teaching and discussing the Literacy.RL.9 standard which discusses how modern texts uses traditional text. Using The Atlas of Monsters, students can get an introduction to allusion around a discussion of where they have heard of the monsters before. And this is just the beginning! It would be so much fun to make your own Atlas of Monsters!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Find the clues throughout each page, and crack the codes in the book.
  • How many different points of view are shared in the book? How does this affect the reading experience?
  • Pick one of the creatures and do further research and create a longer profile about them.
  • Before reading about one of the continents, do your own research and try to predict which mythical creatures will be mentioned.
  • What are some similarities/differences between what you knew about ____ and what is in the text?

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Read This If You Love: Mythology, Cryptozoology, Folklore, the supernatural, code breaking

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**Thank you Running Press Kids for providing a copy of the book to review!**

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On the Come Up
Authors: Angie Thomas
Published: February 5, 2019 by Balzer + Bray

GoodReads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

My Review: After reading this book, I promptly went into my course syllabus for next semester and swapped out another book to include this one. There are so many things that I love about this book. In particular, I really liked how this book tackled the issues of violence against and the assumptions stereotypically made of black females. There are only a few other recent books that tackle these issues, and they are critically important. I get incredibly frustrated by assumptions like “aggressive black female.” Angie Thomas deftly addresses these assumptions and provides a variety of angles for readers. Bri, the narrator, is incredibly strong, and I admire her greatly. I will never have a daughter, but if I did, I would be so proud if my daughter turned out to be like her. This book just feels different from any book that I’ve read. It offers something different that is going to make for great classroom conversations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am going to be using this book in a Social Movements and Collective Action course. I will be using it with other texts to talk about the history and currency of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I am very excited that this book exists in the world, and I know that my students will love it.

Discussion Questions: How does the author craft dialogue? What might other writers learn from her work?; What messages does the text reveal? Which messages are less obvious but implicit in a reading of the text?; What connections does this text have with the world today?

Flagged Passage: “There’s only so much you can take being described as somebody you’re not.”

Read This If You Loved: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas; All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; by Ilyassah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon; The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon; How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; Audacity by Melanie Crowder; The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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When I began planning my research unit for my Advanced Reading classes, I took to asking my students what they would be interested in learning more about, and overwhelmingly they asked to learn about the Civil Rights movement and other aspects of Black American history; however, when we began planning, my students took note that there are many other fights for equal rights in American History, and they asked if we could focus on all of them. That is when this idea unfolded.

I teach three classes of Advanced Reading equaling 47 students. I wanted to make sure students were given choice in their topics and also were choosing topics based on their interests and not who is in their group, so I made different topics/time periods they could choose from and asked them to rate their interests. I then grouped them based on this and the students began to work.

The students began by researching their topic/time period independently and brainstorming a list of everything important that they could find that happened during that time period. Then, as a group they decided which ten or more events they were going to expand on and include in our timeline.

Once they had their events, they collaboratively researched the events creating a paragraph about each (with a link to sources) and an image (with a caption and source) to add to the timeline.

They then each added to our timeline creating what I believe is a resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the internet. The timeline begins with 1688 Quaker Petition Against Slavery and ends with the 2019 rejection of Trump’s Border Wall touching on events and people who have changed the course of our history.

Please view it on Sutori, and I hope you find a way to utilize and share it.
(Embedding it puts the whole timeline and it is VERY long.)

Also, please note: If you see anything that I missed (and my colleagues who helped vet the timeline missed) that is incorrect or not written in the most progressive way, please feel free to reach out to me at Kellee.Moye@gmail.com with any comments, questions, or concerns.

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