Once Upon a Camel
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Published September 7th, 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Summary: An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.
Once Upon a Camel
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Published September 7th, 2021 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Summary: An old camel is out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert.
Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.
But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.
About the Author: Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.
Richard, the camel, and Kathi Appelt taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum.
Review: Happy book birthday, Kathi & Once Upon a Camel! So honored to review this special book on your special day!
In all of Kathi Appelt’s books, what I have found that I adore the most is her ability to craft voice. She is brilliant. In this book, Zada the camel’s voice rings throughout with patience and determination. I was calmed by her stories of her upbringing as she works to keep the baby kestrels’ minds off of their parents. I think part of Appelt’s magic to craft voice is through her very specific word choice in all instances. Her descriptive words are so precise, and she is never deterred to use a word that may be challenging if it is the correct word. This leads to such lyrical prose–it is a pleasure to read!
There is also so much to learn throughout this story about stories: weather events (haboobs), animals of West Texas (kesterels, mountain lions, hawks, and more), and the history of camels. I found myself going on research tangents as I was introduced to different animals or different adventures that Zada goes on. It is no wonder that the Reading Group Guide is so extensive–there is so much to delve into!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation (Excerpt from the publisher provided Reading Group Guide):
- Explain to students that alliteration is a literary device in which initial consonant sounds of successive or closely related words are repeated. This book contains tons of alliteration. Some examples include “arches and arroyos,” “moving mountain,” “posh Pasha palace,” “Pasha’s princess turns a little pale,” and “best beloved babies.” Using game tiles with letters or small pieces of paper with letters written on them, allow each student to draw a letter and write five alliterative sentences using that letter. Each sentence must contain a subject, verb, and describing words. Once everyone has written their sentences, each person should share their best alliterative sentence with the class.
- Zada has had a long life filled with experiences and relationships. Her story in the book moves in time as she shares memories while continuing present experiences. Ask students to create a time line for Zada. There are online resources such as Adobe (https://www.adobe.com/express/create/timeline) and TimeGraphics (https://time.graphics) to help with organization. They may also do this in a slideshow format. Have them include dates, locations, and important experiences.
- Beulah licks Wims, and he is upset. He is described as being “incensed. Put out. Piqued.” Discuss with students how this alliterative and repetitive approach to communicating his feelings is an effective way to convey the strength of those feelings as well as a lyrical way to engage the reader. Ask students to choose one emotion and make a list of synonyms or short expressions that express that emotion. Next, ask them to express the emotion in as many ways as possible in short sentences. Finally, ask them to use their list and sentences to write a paragraph that first explains why their character is feeling that emotion and that then elaborates on how they are feeling in as many ways and with as much creative imagery as possible.
- Like humans and all other members of the animal kingdom, camels and kestrels have been classified based on shared characteristics. Looking at the list below, you can see that camels, kestrels, and humans are classified together in their kingdom and phylum, but begin to diverge at class groups and fully diverge in orders. Ask students to review the table and have a class discussion about classification. Give students the opportunity to consult some sources, if necessary, to answer their questions.
- Camels: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Mammalia (Class) / Artiodactyla
(Order) / Camelidae (Family) / Camelus (Genus) / Dromedarius or Bactrianus (Species)
- American Kestrels: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Aves (Class) / Falconiformes
(Order) / Falconidae (Family) / Falco (Genus) / F. tinnunculus (Species)
- Humans: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Mammalia (Class) / Primates (Order) / Hominidae (Family) / Homo (Genus) / Homo Sapiens (Species)
- After review and discussion, ask students to write short answers to the following questions:
- Why do we classify animals and other living things in this manner?
- What characteristics do all living things have in common?
- Do camels, kestrels, and humans have the same basic needs?
- Do humans understand more about animals than animals know about humans?
- Even though humans and camels are both mammals, do humans or camels have more in common with kestrels than they do with one another?
- Camels: Animalia (Kingdom) / Chordata (Phylum) / Mammalia (Class) / Artiodactyla
Discussion Questions (Excerpt from the publisher provided Reading Group Guide):
- The story’s action begins with Pard and Perlita telling Zada that a mountain is eating everything and is soon going to eat them. Zada cannot comprehend this. Why do you think that is? How do you handle things you don’t understand? In truth, the mountain is a great sand-and-dust storm coming their way. How does knowing this change your perspective of the situation? How does Zada react?
- The author explains how a camel has adapted to the desert, and how American kestrels are built for flight. All animals have adaptations: evolved physical and behavioral traits that help their species survive and thrive. Can you think of any other examples of this? What about cultural adaptations? Are there ways in which groups or individuals adapt for their own safety, comfort, or survival?
- As Zada tries to outrun the storm, she wishes she could fly. This is not the first time in her life she has wished this. Why do you think she has continued to yearn for this ability? Thinking about your life and the environment in which you live, what other animal adaptations would come in handy for you? Explain your answers.
- As Zada worries about Pecos de Leon, she reflects on the fact that she and the mountain lion have “both traveled a lot of miles and traversed a lot of country. That was worth something.” How can having many experiences help you? Do you think it’s important to experience situations similar to and different from your own life? What might you learn from someone who has lived a long time and done many things? Explain your answers.
- As Zada moves through the storm carrying the chicks, an enormous old tree comes down behind them. “The wind had yanked it up by its roots. A hundred years, that old tree had stood there, watching over the creek, keeping generations of bird families safe. Now it lay in a heap on its side.” How does the falling tree make Zada feel? How did it make you feel? Do you think generations of bird families will be able to find a new home?
- As the storm spins Perlita and Pard around, they call out, “‘Keep them safe!’” This is described as the “universal prayer” of parents. What does it mean for something to be universal? Do you have knowledge, ideas, or habits that are universal?
- Zada’s and Asiye’s motto is “En parlak yildiz ol.” This means “Become the brightest star.” What do they mean by this? How do you see them striving to do this throughout the story?
Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Foothills, Chisos Mountains West Texas, 1910
Even in her sleep, Zada recognized that voice.
The old camel raised one eyelid. It was still dark. There was at least an hour left before dawn. She did not recall setting an early alarm bird.”
Read This If You Love: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison Mcghee, The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher, Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer, Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, Granted by John David Anderson
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**
Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 5, 2020 by HarperTeen
Summary: In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.
And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
Ricki’s Review: I was so happy to see that this book won the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. It is one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read. It made me laugh, it made me weep, and it filled me with so many emotions and so many wonderings. The book is beautifully lyrical, and the voices are so strong. There’s a scene in the book that simply took my breath away. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend you head out and purchase it now. It’s absolutely magnificent.
- How do the two perspectives of the story work together? How did it enhance your reading of the story?
- How does place function in the story?
- Where is home for the characters?
- How do the characters in the story grieve? What understandings did it offer about grief and loss?
- How do the characters in this book show strength in many different ways?
“Can you be from a place
you have never been?
You can find the island stamped all over me,
but what would the island find if I was there?
Can you claim a home that does not know you,
much less claim you as its own?”
Read This If You Love: Books. Seriously, it would be very difficult not to see the beauty of this book. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the greatest writers of our time.
Scooper and Dumper
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: January 1, 2021 by Two Lions
Goodreads Summary: Introducing two new vehicles who work together no matter what!
The best of friends, Scooper the front loader and Dumper the snowplow take care of their town in all kinds of weather. One day a snowstorm hits, and the big city needs their help to clear the roads. Each of them must be brave in their own way to get the job done.
This wintry adventure spotlights the ideas of individual strengths, teamwork, and friendship in a vehicle buddy story that boys and girls alike will love.
About the Author: Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series, as well as Rosie: Stronger than Steel, This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family in Peninsula, Ohio, where vehicles such as Scooper and Dumper take care of the roads all year-round. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com.
Review: I loved this fresh take on vehicles. This is a story that teaches about the power of working together to get a job done. Parents and teachers can easily transfer it to lessons of togetherness and contribution. The winter scenes are beautifully illustrated, and the book flows easily to make for a fun read-aloud. Each page uses a unique ABCB rhyme pattern, which makes every page finish with a satisfying lilt. The rhyme feels natural and works well with the story.
My four-year-old is obsessed with vehicles, and this book inspired him to try reading it aloud. He absolutely loved the story. Here’s a brief clip of him reading the first page aloud:
I recommend this book to parents and teachers who seek to teach wonderful lessons with a topic that kids love!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to use this book as a model for kids to write about a time that they worked together toward a common goal. Students might draw a picture and write sentences below the picture to describe the moment or event. Then the pages could be posted on a bulletin board, working together in a quilt fashion.
- How do Scooper and Dumper work together? What is their goal?
- What steps are required to clear snow?
- What is one time you’ve worked with one or more people toward a common goal?
- Why does working together matter?
Read This If You Loved: Dump Truck Duck by Meghan E. Bryant; Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Demolition by Sally Sutton, Little Blue Truck by Alice Shertle, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night? by Brianna Caplan Sayres
**Thank you to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**
The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published March 6th, 2018 by HarperTeen
Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
About the Author: Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC
- National Book Award
- Pura Belpré Award
- Michael L. Printz Award
- Golden Kite Award Honor Book
★ “Themes as diverse as growing up first-generation American, Latinx culture, sizeism, music, burgeoning sexuality, and the power of the written and spoken word are all explored with nuance. Poignant and real, beautiful and intense.”– Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★ “Debut novelist Acevedo’s free verse gives Xiomara’s coming-of-age story an undeniable pull, its emotionally charged bluntness reflecting her determination and strength. At its heart, this is a complex and sometimes painful exploration of love in its many forms, with Xiomara’s growing love for herself reigning supreme.”– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
★ “In nearly every poem, there is at least one universal truth about adolescence, family, gender, race, religion, or sexuality that will have readers either nodding in grateful acknowledgment or blinking away tears.”– Horn Book (starred review)
★ “The Poet X is beautiful and true—a splendid debut.”– Shelf Awareness (starred review)
★ “Acevedo’s poetry is skillfully and gorgeously crafted, each verse can be savored on its own, but together they create a portrait of a young poet sure to resonate with readers long after the book’s end.”– School Library Journal (starred review)
“Crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice.” —Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
“An incredibly potent debut.” —Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award Finalist Ghost
“Acevedo has amplified the voices of girls en el barrio who are equal parts goddess, saint, warrior, and hero.” —Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
Kellee’s Review: I am not a rereader. Once I know a story, very rarely do I feel the need to revisit it; however, with The Poet X, I didn’t want to stop reading and listening to her words. As soon as I finished reading it, I found the audiobook so I could listen to it. The power of the words do not diminish with rereading, instead they scream from the pages into the reader’s hearts and minds with each read. I even plan on rereading it again because now that I know the story, I want to dive into the beautiful poetry.
With her story, Elizabeth Acevedo took me back to high school–she was talking to me. Actually, she is talking to so many: Girls who are trying to figure out their body and sexuality, Kids who are questioning religion, Families who are struggling with change, Students who are learning to find their voice, and So many people out there that need these words.
Ricki’s Review: I haven’t been able to stop recommending this book. I’ve even bought it for a few people! I’ve read this book twice, and I find new beauty in different elements each time that I read it. The writing is so captivating that I’d really love to see it as a movie or performed on a stage. Elizabeth Acevedo is known for her slam poetry performances, and she definitely won’t disappoint her followers in this one.
As Kellee noted, the themes are richly realized and offer much conversation for readers. It would make a wonderful book club selection. Each character has great depth, and I imagined them to be friends. I suspect many of the readers of this blog have read this book, but if you haven’t, drop everything and read it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- How did one teacher change the course of Xiomara’s existence?
- How are Xiomara and her mother alike in their passions?
- How does Father Sean support Xiomara in her search for her personal identity?
- Aman shows Xiomara that her body is not the only thing that speaks to boys. How does he show her that she is more than other men have made her feel?
Example Discussion Questions from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- How does Xiomara reckon with her own silence? Have you ever felt silenced? Why or why not?
- How does Xiomara’s relationship with writing change her relationship with her mother over the course of the novel? Why do you think writing affects her relationship with her mother? What about church and spirituality–how does X compare and contrast religion (prayer) and poetry?
- What is it about writing that makes Xiomara feel brave?
Example Creative Writing Prompts from the Publisher-Provided Educator’s Guide:
- List the five senses. Read the poem “Names.” What do you know about your name? How is your name a sound? A smell? A touch?
- Read Xiomara’s responses to Ms. Galiano’s writing assignment “When was the last time you felt free?” Write your own response to Ms. Galiano’s question.
- I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.
- My brother was born a soft whistle:
quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.
But I was born all the hurricane he needed
to lift – and drop- those that hurt him to the ground.
- Just because your father’s present, doesn’t mean he isn’t absent.
- While I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
“Music for A” from The Poet X, Live Performance by Elizabeth Acevedo:
Audio Exceprt also found at: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062662804/the-poet-x/
Read This If You Love: Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Sandra Cisneros, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Solo by Kwame Alexander, Open Riffs edited by Mitali Perkins, Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Water in May by Ismée Amiel Williams
Bone Soup: A Spooky Tasty Tale
Author: Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Illustrator: Tom Knight
Published: July 24, 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Goodreads Summary: Three little witches and a bunch of spooky characters come together to prepare a delicious batch of Bone Soup in this Halloween tale based on the beloved fable, Stone Soup. This just-scary-enough picture book comes with a recipe for Bone Soup—perfect for Halloween eating.
We’ve something usually good to eat!
One Halloween morning three witches are looking for a tasty treat and they find only a small bone in their cupboard. So they decide to go from door to door in their village to find just the right ingredients for their Bone Soup. No one in the village is convinced that soup can be made from a bone, until the littlest monster reveals just what the special ingredient should be.
My Review: We received this book earlier in the month, and we’ve read it dozens and dozens of times. I was very excited about it and have held it in my pocket for Halloween! If you enjoy spooky, fun tales, this book is for you. I find myself walking around repeating, “It’s bone soup! Soup from the bone!” and “Piff-Poof!” The text is quite catchy, and it’s a highly entertaining read-aloud. This is a book that parents and teachers will find extra fun for their classrooms and homes. I recommend adding Bone Soup to your Halloween collection!
Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Students might take a trip outdoors and gather their own materials for bone soup. For instance, a stick could be imagined as the bone from a pirate. Grass might be the hair from a goblin. Then, they can take their materials inside and craft their own class story together.
- How do the sister witches interact?
- How do they build their bone soup? What do they add to it?
- What creative things would you add to your own bone soup?
Read This If You Loved: Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson, Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt, Dragon’s Halloween by Dav Pilkey, Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex, Monster Mash (Babymouse #9) by Jennifer L. Holm, Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween by Melanie Watt; Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**
Hedgehog Needs a Hug
Author: Jen Betton
Published June 19, 2018 by Putnam
Goodreads Summary: Everyone needs hugs, even if they’re prickly.
When Hedgehog wakes up feeling down in the snout and droopy in the prickles, he knows a hug will make him feel better. But none of his friends are eager to wrap their arms around Hedgehog’s prickles, and he’s too smart to fall for Fox’s sly offer.
Then Hedgehog gets a surprise: Another animal in the forest is feeling exactly the same way.
Luckily, both are kind and brave enough for the perfect hug.
My Review: I adored this book. It’s about a hedgehog who wakes up and feels down. He really, really needs a hug, and the other animals are clearly avoiding him because he is prickly. The book doesn’t say this, so it was fun to ask my son why he thought they were avoiding him. Then he meets skunk, and skunk needs a hug (but of course, skunk is stinky). This is a great book to teach kids about some of the ways in which they might unintentionally hurt people.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great text to talk about how we treat others. I’d love to pair it with texts like Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. Sometimes, we subtly hurt others without realizing it. A close analysis of the words and behaviors of characters in these two texts offers great potential for building classroom community and kindness.
Additionally, many of the defense quality of animals are addressed in the book which would make it a great elementary book to use cross-curricularly in science, reading, and community building.
Discussion Questions: How do the animals react to hedgehog? How does this make hedgehog feel?; What is hedgehog’s reaction to skunk? How are they similar and different?; How did the author use alliteration to make the rhythm of the text sing-songy?
Read This If You Loved: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review), My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea, Endgame by Nancy Garden, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Burn by Suzanne Phillips, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
**Thank you to Penguin for sending us this book! I loved it.**
Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press
Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.
Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.
John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.
There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.
About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.
Review: I think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.
I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.
I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.
As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.
Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!
Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:
- Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
- These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
- Focus questions:
- 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
- 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
- 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
- 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
- 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
- The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
- Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
- Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)
The Field Trip
Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!
I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit http://www.centerforgreatapes.org/.
Author Virtual Visit
After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:
- Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet?
- Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
- Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet?
- While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
- Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When?
- Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
- How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario?
- How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland?
- How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew?
- Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal?
- Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book?
- Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
- Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
- You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word?
- What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?
We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:
Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:
- Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
- Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
- I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
- Apes should not be kept against their will.
- I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
- Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.
Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).
- What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
- Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
- In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
- Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
- Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
- How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?
Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)
Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and Threatened, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, Primates by Jim Ottaviani
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