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“Journey” by Michael Cottman

My journey to write Shackles From The Deep started when I was a boy growing up in Detroit and watching a popular television show called Sea Hunt, a 1960s adventure program about an underwater detective.

From the time I was a kid, I wanted to scuba dive and explore the ocean’s depths. And because National Geographic embraces adventure tales like no other company, this was a perfect publishing partnership.

I wrote Shackles From The Deep in a conversational way for young readers to share the story of the Henrietta Marie, a sunken 17th century slave ship. This is more than just the story of one ship – it’s the untold story about millions of African people taken as captives to the New World.

I traveled to three continents to piece together a trans-Atlantic puzzle. I reviewed shipping records and slave-ship captain’s logs in London. I retraced the route of the Henrietta Marie slave ship and scuba-dived the ship’s ports of call in Jamaica, Barbados, and West Africa.

During my research, I learned amazing things:  Today, the Henrietta Marie is believed to be the world’s largest source of tangible objects from the early years of the slave trade.

The Henrietta Marie is the only slave ship in America that has been scientifically documented and where more than 20,000 artifacts were recovered, including the largest collection of slave-ship shackles ever found on one site.

I also learned the shackles were discovered in 1973 by Moe Molinar, a black underwater treasure hunter who was searching for the Atocha, a Spanish galleon that had sunk nearly 400 years ago filled with gold, silver and $400 million worth of jewels.

Treasure hunters didn’t know what to make of these relics. Then in 1983, maritime archaeologists, intrigued by the mystery, revisited the site and came upon a ship’s bell. As they chipped away at the limestone encrustation a name and a date emerged: Henrietta Marie, 1699.

Beneath the sea, on the wreck of the Henrietta Marie, I ran my hands through the sand and held the tiny glass trade beads that were used by the Henrietta Marie’s crew to trade for African people.

The story of Shackles From The Deep also introduces young readers to the unprecedented partnership between members of The National Association of Black Scuba Divers (I’m a lifetime member) and white maritime archaeologists who explored the Henrietta Marie together for a common purpose and forged lifelong friendships along the way.

After all, the global institution of slavery is our collective history.

But because of slavery, it is nearly impossible for African Americans to pinpoint the origins of our ancestors.

We cannot always identify a country in Africa where they were born, let alone a city or village. We can only know they came from somewhere on the west coast of the enormous continent.

Are my people Ibo from Nigeria, or Fulani from Mali, or Wolof from Senegal, or Ashanti from Ghana? I may never know.

What’s important, however, is my appreciation for the African culture — my culture, too — and my need to draw strength from the African people who came before me and survived.

And we continue to honor them.

In 1993, I joined members of The National Association of Black Scuba Divers to place a one-ton concrete memorial on the site of the Henrietta Marie shipwreck.

The bronze inscription on the memorial is a powerful testament to the human spirit: “In memory and recognition of the courage, pain and suffering of enslaved African people. Speak her name and gently touch the souls of our ancestors.”

Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy
Author: Michael Cottman
Published January 3rd, 2017 by The National Geographic Society

Summary: A pile of lime-encrusted shackles discovered on the seafloor in the remains of a ship called the Henrietta Marie, lands Michael Cottman, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and avid scuba diver, in the middle of an amazing journey that stretches across three continents, from foundries and tombs in England, to slave ports on the shores of West Africa, to present-day Caribbean plantations. This is more than just the story of one ship it’s the untold story of millions of people taken as captives to the New World. Told from the author’s perspective, this book introduces young readers to the wonders of diving, detective work, and discovery, while shedding light on the history of slavery.

Critical Praise: 

“The idea of identity is at the center of this fascinating narrative nonfiction book…This truly multidisciplinary volume….engagingly explores a wide scope of topics, including the history of slavery, marine archaeology, and contemporary racial discrimination, culminating in a dive down to the wreck itself. Every bit of this concise, detailed book feels personal, and Cottman’s exploration and investigation of the wreck is rich with intrigue and poignant, thought-provoking questions.” -Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)

“Cottman weaves his personal story of discovery with history of the slave trade, helping readers understand why a sunken slave ship from the 1700s still matters. His emotional attachment to the artifacts, including child-sized shackles, deepens the storytelling in this highly readable narrative.” –Kirkus

“Accessible and very personal account….(a) chilling exploration of the slave trade.” -Publishers Weekly

“Cottman’s personal journey, fraught with reminders of the trials and injustice his own enslaved ancestors must have endured, is compelling” -BCCB

About the Author: Michael H. Cottman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, is a former political reporter for the Washington Post. Cottman has appeared on National Public Radio’s (NPR) “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin and also the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2000 to discuss his (adult) book The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie. Cottman also serves as a special consultant to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a national multimedia project, “Voyage to Discovery,” an education initiative that focuses on the African-American contribution to the maritime industry spanning 300 years and efforts to teach students of color about careers in marine biology and oceanography. Visit his website at http://www.michaelhcottman.com/.

Thank you to Michael for his post and to Barbara from Blue Slip Media for providing the resources!

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A Boy Called Bat
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 14th, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Critical Praise: 

“Delightful, endearing, and utterly relatable, Bat Tam is destined to be a dear and necessary friend for young readers. I adore him and his story.” — Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy

“Written in third person, this engaging and insightful story makes readers intimately aware of what Bat is thinking and how he perceives the events and people in his life. With empathy and humor, Arnold delves into Bat’s relationships with his divorced parents, older sister, teachers, and classmates.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Comfortably familiar and quietly groundbreaking, this introduction to Bat should charm readers, who will likely look forward to more opportunities to explore life from Bat’s particular point of view.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Brimming with quietly tender moments, subtle humor, and authentically rendered family dynamics, Arnold’s story, the first in a new series, offers a nonprescriptive and deeply heartfelt glimpse into the life of a boy on the autism spectrum.” — Booklist

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in Southern California, where she was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet—a gorgeous mare named Rainbow—and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

Review: A Boy Called Bat is one of those quiet yet impactful books that will find a special place in many hearts. The story is about Bat’s Asperger’s and his parent’s divorce without it being about that at all. The main character, Bat, is one of those special characters that as I was reading about him I knew that readers getting to know him will make them grow as people and that their empathy to fellow kids who may seem different will grow as well.

Bat’s story will not only appeal to our readers that love stories that promote empathy and understanding of others, Bat and his skunk, Thor, will definitely appeal to our readers who love animals. Bat’s mother is a veterinarian and Bat is 99.9% sure he is going to be as well. There are many animal references throughout the book, so these will all draw in readers who love animals. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to an amazing read aloud opportunity, I can definitely see the text being part of lit circles. Bat himself is unique, but he and his story remind me of so many other characters who I love and I wish all students would read about: Auggie from Wonder; Melody from Out of my Mind; David from Rules; Candice from The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee; Rose from Rain, Reign; and Adam from How to Speak Dolphin. All of these texts are must reads! I picture all of these texts with their extraordinary characters being part of lit circles with a focus on disabilities/disorders and empathy.

Discussion Questions: How did Thor help Bat grow emotionally? What changes did you see within him and his actions since getting Thor?; What persuasive techniques did Bat use throughout the book to work to try to get his mom to agree to let him keep Thor?; What makes Mr. Grayson a good teacher in general? A good teacher for Bat?

Teaching Guide: 

Flagged Passages: “‘Bat’ was what almost everyone called Bixby Alxander Tam, for a couple of reasons: first, because the initials of his name — B, A, and T– spelled Bat.

But there were maybe other reasons. Bat’s sensitive hearing, for one. He didn’t like loud sounds. What was so unusual about that? And if Janei’s old earmuffs happened to make an outstanding muffling device, was it that funny if he liked to wear them?

There was also the way he sometimes flapped his hands, when he was nervous or excited or thinking about something interesting. Some of the kids at school seemed to think that was hilarious. And, of course, bats have wings, which they flap.

So between the initials and the earmuffs and the hand flapping, the nickname had stuck.

And truthfully, Bat didn’t mind. Animals were his very favorite thing.” (p. 2-3)

Read This If You Loved: Any of the lit circle books I listed above

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Don’t miss out on the other stops on the blog tour!

March 1 Read, Write, Reflect
March 2 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
March 3 Bluestocking Thinking
March 6 The Official Tumblr of Walden Media
March 7 For Those About to Mock
March 8 Maria’s Melange
March 9 Novel Novice
March 10 Unleashing Readers
March 13 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
March 13 Mundie Kids
March 14 All the Wonders
March 15 Teach Mentor Texts
March 19 Nerdy Book Club
March 20 LibLaura5
March 22 Book Monsters
March 27 Librarian’s Quest
March 29 Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
March 30 Lit Coach Lou

**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

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An Adaptation: Better Than The Original? by John Powers

I am not an MG writer. My work is with the stage and movies. My usual arena for subject matter is recent American history and horror. In addition to creating original stories, I have adapted existing texts: speeches; books; transcripts. I had chosen these works because something within them resonated with me, and I felt it would resonate with others.

I am pretty ruthless as an adapter. My first task is to cut away what I consider the unnecessary narrative and to focus on the dramatic and emotional story. I then take a second pass at the text, which at this point is more like surgery. I am focused on creating and sustaining dramatic momentum, the effect of quickly “turning the page.” Once that is done, the challenge begins: focusing relentlessly on what resonates with today’s readers and viewers.

Who should care about the rabble-rousing speeches of Mary Jones (a.k.a. Mother Jones) during a West Virginia coal strike? What do we care about the efforts of poet Amy Lowell to promote the works of then little known writers Carl Sandberg and Robert Frost? Are the doubts and obstacles facing the novice Zane Grey of any importance to us in the age of Instagram and Snapchat?

These are questions that I have asked and answered in adapting existing texts for contemporary audiences. We cannot bring back great people who have passed, but by working closely with their texts we can breathe life into their creations. We can do it in a way that enables contemporary readers and viewers, particularly young ones, to emotionally connect with the values and ideas that these people fought to express.

For example, the Pentagon Papers is a frequently referenced document. But who knows anything about it? In working with the 7000-page text for a stage production, I grew to think that it is the most important work in the American language. I saw how it revealed the American character in depth, as it traced 23 years of a 30-year war. It was our Iliad. Yet who today would read a 7000-page document about a lost war?

In adapting the Pentagon Papers for readers, I sought to tell the story in the most concise and comprehensive manner. I drew excerpts from the four-volume Gravel edition of the Papers, and I grouped them into brief, distinct chapters. The result became a quick page-turning experience that a reader could consume in one or two sittings. In addition, I included links to on-line resources, such as articles and historical videos, to broaden their knowledge.

The key to finding success with the work, however, was in making it resonate with people, particularly young people. I did that by relating this previous “endless war” with the current one. In particular, I directed the adaptation toward millennials, whom I felt would be continually trying to make sense out of the situation we currently are in and would be asking could there ever be an end to it.

In another example, I discovered a little known work by L. Frank Baum when I was creating a solo performance for the stage about his life in early Hollywood. I was struck by the vivid imagery of the world and characters that he created in Sky Island, and I was surprised that it had not been exploited further.

Baum, an early feminist, considered it one of his best stories, and yet it had migrated into the land of forgotten treasures. I had my ideas of why: it was unnecessarily long; the main “earth” characters were no longer relatable; and there was no dramatic momentum.

In my adaptation, I titled the work Queen of Sky Island to give it a central focus and to assert Baum’s feminism; I wanted the reader to know from the outset whose journey this was and what was the desired goal. I also cut the length of the original text in half, eliminating tangential episodes that pulled focus away from the hero. Also, I also drew the hero as an assertive, impulsive girl striving to bring her broken family back together, and I surrounded her with new companions: an almost angel-like boy and a disabled veteran.

I left in place the vivid characters and the key actions that Baum envisioned on his island in the sky. Now, all the elements of the story are working to focus our attention on this young hero’s choices that put her and her companions at risk in this bizarre, unearthly world; and we witness her dig deep within herself to both save their situation and to bring lasting justice to this morally compromised world.

Without question, much of Queen of Sky Island is about visual imagery, but in my adaptation I have found something that will resonate with young readers; they will relate to this contemporary hero who at times is stubborn and violent, but who is also caring and heroic. She grows immensely during a brief course of time, from a selfish child to a selfless queen.

Creations age quickly in our new world, but there are invaluable elements within these creations that should be sought out like precious gems and placed in new jewelry settings. Adaptations are not better than the originals; they are different; they aim to preserve the best and carry it forward to resonate in the hearts and minds of new generations.

 

About the Author: John Powers (a.k.a. J-Powers) is the author of Queen of Sky Island (Amazon, Smashwords 2014, Audible 2016) and Pentagon Papers: Recently Abridged Edition for the Millennial Generation (Amazon, Smashwords 2012). He lives in the harbor area of Los Angeles with his wife and three millennial stepchildren. Find him at powerplayz.com


About the Book: Queen of Sky Island is a coming of age story charged with fantasy, heroic adventure, and vividly imagined new worlds. It is a 21st century adaptation of a story by L. Frank Baum, the creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

As reconceived and adapted by John Powers (a.k.a. J-Powers), Queen of Sky Island reveals a young girl, Tara, who in her determined search for her military father becomes trapped on an actual island in the sky where she leads one other worldly army against another. Tara’s faithful companions on this perilous adventure are Bobo, a brave young boy who possesses a flying umbrella, and Sgt. Rik, a resourceful disabled veteran who looks after Tara and her mother at their sea cliff cottage on the Earth. Through miscommunication, Tara and her companions arrive at Sky Island, a bizarre land divided between wildly different pink and blue territories. They are unfairly taken prisoner by the Boolooroo, the selfish and mean-spirited leader of the Blue people. Facing a horrible punishment known as “patching,” Tara and her companions escape and run for a thick fog bank that separates the two territories. With help from an unusual creature, they cross through the dense fog, and they are taken to the queen of the Pinkies. After surviving a near fatal test in this new realm, Tara shows what she is made of and rises to lead the Pinkies against the Blues in an attempt to defeat the Boolooroo.

Thank you, John, for this thought-provoking post!

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Star-Crossed
Author: Barbara Dee
Published March 14th, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: I really, really, really enjoyed this book. First, it made me like Shakespeare more than I did before. Second, I think that it dealt with sexual identity in a gentle and realistic manner. 

I must admit that Shakespeare is a fear of mine because I just never have felt like I got him the way I should as an English Lit major and English teacher; however, it is what it is. When I see Shakespeare plays, I am always transported into the story and understand what all the hoopla is about, but reading it cold, I just never get it. I worried that a story about a middle school putting on Romeo and Juliet would let the Shakespeare bog it down, but it did the opposite–it helped this story be what it is. The reader learns to love Shakespeare as Mattie learns to love him. And since we are in class and at rehearsals with Mattie, we also get to be part of some of the lessons about the play thus helping the reader understand the text as well as Mattie is supposed to. It was brilliantly intertwined.

Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma are obvious to the reader before Mattie even realizes what they are, but that felt truly realistic to me because if you are someone who has already crushed on boys, feeling the same way towards a girl could be confusing, but Dee never makes it seem like what Mattie seems is anything but natural which is beautiful to see in a middle grade novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being in classroom, school, and public libraries, sections of the story could definitely be used in conjunction to a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Some of the discussions of the play, both during Mattie’s English class and during play rehearsals, would be great jumping off points for similar discussions in the classroom.

Discussion Questions: What clues did Dee include that Mattie’s feelings for Gemma were deeper than she first realized?; If your class was putting on Romeo and Juliet, who do you think would be best to play each character? Explain.; What allusions to Romeo and Juliet did Dee include within the text?; Have you ever read a text that affected you the way Romeo and Juliet effected Mattie?

Flagged Passages: “But that afternoon, when I got home from Verona’s and locked myself in my bedroom to read Romeo and Juliet, something happened to me. It was kind of like a thunderbolt, I guess you could call it. Because as I was reading, I stared speaking the words out loud, feeling the characters’ emotions as if they were mind. I didn’t understand every word, and a few times I skimmed when certain characters (specifically, Mercutio and Friar Lawrench) got speechy. But the idea that Romeo and Juliet had a secret love they had to hid from their families, even from their best friends–it was a story so real I could almost see it happening in front of me.

And wen I got to the end, when Juliet discovers that Romeo is dead, and kisses his lips, and they’re still warm, I did the whole scene in front of the mirror, including the kiss. My eyes had actual tears, and I thought: It’s like this play is happening TO me. Inside me. 

I wanted to own it. I wanted to eat it, as if it were chocolate layer cake.” (p. 68-69)

Read This If You Love: Shakespeare, Middle grade novels about school life and identity 

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book and to Barbara Dee for reaching out to me!**

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Because of Mr. Terupt
Author: Rob Buyea
Published October 12, 2010 by Delacorte

A Guest Review by Julia Kipphut

Summary: Mr. Terupt’s fifth grade class at Snow Hill School is comprised of various types of students, some including: a new student, a popular girl, a bully, and a troublemaker. Their teacher, Mr. Terupt who is passionate and energetic, strives to engage his students and instill a sense of community amongst his class. Unfortunately, one day, a snowball fight goes awry and leaves Mr. Terupt in a coma. His class is rattled and must learn to work together, be kind, and hope for Mr. Terupt’s recovery.

Review: This book includes a variety of characters, each owning their own identity and personality. Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, making for a fluid and interesting read. They are relatable for children and allow them to recognize themselves in each character. Each character evolves in the story and shows tremendous growth, proving the rich development of the people in this book. The message of community and forgiveness is nicely intertwined in the story and proves that it is always better to choose kindness. The theme of this book is positive and motivational. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Because of Mr. Terupt serves as a great reader aloud for upper elementary school students. 4th and 5th graders who are struggling with their identity and place in a classroom community can learn the importance of compassion. Students can learn to embrace individual differences for a common goal or outcome, mirroring the characters in this book. Additionally, this book allows students to study character development throughout the story; each character evolves- allowing for effective classroom discussion.

Because of each character of this book is written from a different character’s perspective, students are able to study point of view and consider the influence each chapter has on the story as a whole. Students are able to learn about each character in depth and can even use literature circles to each study a character for analysis.

Discussion Questions: How might the story be different if the snowball accident did not happen?; What do you think the author’s purpose or message was for this story?; Why do you think the author chose to write this story from different characters points of views? Do you think this was effective?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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Thank you, Julia!

RickiSig

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power
Author: Ann Bausum
Published January 3rd, 2017 by National Geographic Society

Summary: James Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi began as one man’s peaceful protest for voter registration and became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. It brought together leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, who formed an unlikely alliance that resulted in the Black Power movement, which ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

The retelling of Meredith’s story opens on the day of his assassination attempt and goes back in time to recount the moments leading up to that event and its aftermath. Readers learn about the powerful figures and emerging leaders who joined the over 200-mile walk that became known as the “March Against Fear.”

Thoughtfully presented by award-winning author Ann Bausum, this book helps readers understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change. It is a history lesson that’s as important and relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

About the Author: Ann Bausum writes about U.S. history for young people, and she has published eight titles with National Geographic Children’s Books including, most recently, Marching to the Mountaintop (2012) and Unraveling Freedom (2010). Ann’s books consistently earn prominent national recognition. Denied, Detained, Deported (2009) was named the 2010 Carter G. Woodson Book Award winner at the secondary school level from the National Council for the Social Studies. Muckrakers (2007) earned the Golden Kite Award as best nonfiction book of the year from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Freedom Riders (2006) gained Sibert Honor designation from the American Library Association and With Courage and Cloth (2004) received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award as the year’s best book on social justice issues for older readers. In addition, Ann has written about the nation’s chief executives and their spouses—Our Country’s Presidents (2013, 4th edition) and Our Country’s First Ladies (2007)—as well as the intrepid explorer Roy Chapman Andrews (Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs, 2000).

Review: Ann Bausum’s text is a suspenseful story of the last Civil Rights march from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS told in chronological order with captioned photographs that help the reader feel like they are present at the time of this march and the social, racial tension that filled America. I am having a very hard time reviewing this book, not because I don’t have nice things to say, but because this timely story is tough because although it is history, it seems like we haven’t come far from where the story takes place (which is terrifying).

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I believe that now is the most important time to teach resilience to our children as rights of many people are being threatened. Much of this education can come from conversation and amazing fictional stories, but I think it is vital to teach the history of diverse people within our nation that fought for rights. Children need to learn about women’s history, Black American history, Native American/American Indian history, Asian American history, LBGTQIA history, Irish American history, Jewish history, and so many more–all diverse populations that were prejudiced against and fought. Ann Bausum’s text (and her bibliography!) is a must-read in this education of our future.

Discussion Questions: Why was this march the last of the Civil Rights Movement?; This book is being called “timely” by many reviewers. Why do you think that timely is being used to describe the book?; Why would Bausum choose this march as the topic of her book?; How do the photographs and quotes throughout the book change the experience of reading the text?

Flagged Passages: “A cornerstone of this social justice movement became the willingness of people to put their lives on the line in the fight for change, much as Meredith had done during the integration of Ole Miss. Volunteers in the movement countered the violence of segregationists with tremendous acts of courage. They stood their ground peacefully in the midst of racist attacks, confident that love was a more powerful emotion than hate. Year after year, they persevered, whether it meant walking to work instead of riding segregated buses during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and 1956, or braving violent mobs during the freedom rides of 1961, or enduring police attacks with high-pressure fire hoses during the Birmingham campaign of 196.

Such efforts drew on what movement leaders called the power of nonviolence. Some viewed nonviolence as a strategy, a series of tactics that forced reluctant foes to submit to change; others saw it was a way of life. For nonviolence to work, people had to be willing to remain peaceful, but determined, in the face of any level of violence. They had to outmaneuver their violent oppressors and step in and complete a protest whether their comrades had been arrested, injured, or even killed.” (p. 12-13)

Read This If You Love: To learn about the history of Civil Rights Movement

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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“Theater Games to Promote Reading and Writing”

WHY BRING THEATER GAMES INTO THE CLASSROOM?

Everyone can play! Everyone can learn through playing. The Theater Game format is a charted course for the regular classroom teacher who wishes to bring the excitement, the pleasures, the disciplines and the magic of theater to the classroom.

Theater games, played in the classroom, should be recognized not as diversions from curriculum needs, but rather as supports, which can thread through each day, acting as energizers and/or springboards for everyone. Inherent in theater techniques is verbal, nonverbal, written and unwritten communicating. Communication abilities, developed and heightened in theater game workshops will, in time, spill over into other curriculum need (the 3 Rs) and into everyday life.

Teaching/learning should be a happy, joyful experience, as full of glee as the infant’s breakthrough out of the limitations of crawling into the first step walking!

Beyond immediate curriculum needs, playing theater games will bring moments of spontaneity. The intuitive comes bearing its gifts only in the moment of spontaneity.” Right now is the time of discovery, of creativity, of learning. While playing theater games, teachers and students can meet as fellow players in present time, involved with one another, off the subject, and ready for free connecting, communicating, responding, experiencing, experimenting and breaking through to new horizons.

Reprinted from THEATER GAME FILE HANDBOOK, Viola Spolin, Northwestern University Press


I had the extreme good fortune to study with Viola Spolin author of Improvsiation for the Theater and inventor of modern day Improvisation. I can honestly say she changed my life in many ways. After a long career as an actor and performer and teacher I’ve written extensively on the philosophy of education she imparted to me. (http://spolin.com/?page_id=322) Recently I’ve branched out and written my first full-length children’s adventure novel and incorporated some the lessons I learned from Improvisational Theater Games. The main one being PRESENCE is the state one must be in to tap imagination, and creativity.

To that end, I would like to introduce you to some games I learned from Viola Spolin that foster a love of words, creative writing and story-telling. I urge you to try these games in the classroom or at home for fun.

Warm-up with HANDWRITING LARGE – have the student think of their favorite word or phrase and go to the black or white board and write the word as large as possible to fill the entire board! At desks make sure they cover on page entirely with their favorite word or phrase. Urge them to “FEEL” the word as they write! It is essential the body be involved. You may coach them to feel the word in their feet, their spine, their chest – now write your word!

SINGING SYLLABLES – Have one person go out of the room and the rest of the group or class decide on a 3 or 4 syllable word. (depending on age group). Break the word into its syllables and assign each syllable to a portion of the group. Then decide on a simple song to sing. Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday, etc. A song where all know the melody. Have each group sing their syllable to that tune, simultaneously. Then bring in the person who does not know the word, have them wander through the singing groups and “put the word together”. It’s a lot of fun and you can use this as part of a vocabulary lesson or just for fun.

THE WRITING GAME is a more advanced game is also fun if you are teaching creative writing:

Materials: 4 pieces of paper or one divided into quadrants, pen or pencil

Label each paper 1, 2, 3 and 4. Title #1 My Dream, #2 How To, #3 A Story and #4 A letter (or any 4 disparate subjects or styles of writing. i.e., A memory, A poem, etc.)

Sidecoach calls out a number to the players. Players must begin (without hesitation or forethought) writing on that subject. Writing is to continue non-stop. Points off for hesitating or too much thinking and not writing. After a short interval coach calls another number and players must INSTANTLY SWITCH to that number’s page, writing non-stop on the new subject. Coach will call each number randomly and at intervals under one minute. Players are to switch to each subject called and continue writing where they left off.

Game continues until each player has covered each page with writing.

Focus: To switch instantly between 4 different subjects when coached

Sidecoaching: One!      Three!      Two!, etc. (giving enough time to get a flow going but not too much and vary the times from short to medium short) Keep writing! Don’t plan! No pausing – write continuously!

Points of Observation:

  1. Each subject requires a different mode of thinking and switching instantly between modes allows access to player’s intuitive areas.
  2. This is an exercise and not a test. Have fun and push to make switches instantly. Hesitation is bound up with worry that what you write will be evaluated. Judgement causes hesitation. Judgement is subjective and will cancel flow.
  3. Avoid forethought. Forethought is writing without putting it down.

My experience in improvisation has allowed me to reach into areas of my own creativity that I never imagined and the experience contributed to my life as an actor, teacher and now author.

I hope this work will do the same for you and your students.

About the Author: Gary Schwartz is an award-winning, TV and film actor, director, comedian and a master improvisational acting coach whose 30 years as a performer and improv teacher has helped transform the lives of thousands of people, both on- and off-screen.

It was Gary’s 18-year association with world-renowned theater educator and author, Viola Spolin – famous for training the very first improvisational theater troupe in the US which led to the creation of today’s well-known Second City improv troupe – that has provided the foundation for his work today. In 1988 Gary co-founded the Spolin Players improv troupe (www.spolinplayers.com), and is the only master teacher to have ever earned an endorsement from both Viola Spolin and her son, the legendary original director of Second City, Paul Sills.

Originally from New York State, Gary began his professional career as a mime at age 13, performing up and down the Hudson River with Pete Seegar, Arlo Guthrie and other great folk entertainers of the 60’s. In the 70’s and 80’s he appeared in numerous film and television projects including the Oscar-winning feature film Quest for Fire and 65 episodes of the Emmy-winning TV series Zoobilee Zoo, with Ben Vereen. Since then, as a voice actor, Gary has gone on to work with Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Tim Burton, Kenneth Brannagh and many other well-known directors. Details of his extensive acting career are available at IMDB.com. (www.imdb.com/name/nm0777229).

Currently Gary resides in North Bend WA. He is founder of The Valley Center Stage, North Bend’s Community Theater. He teaches theater games locally and around the world. He also teaches acting for animation and writes on Spolin.

He has recently authored his first children’s novel The King of Average (978-0-9975860-7-7 Paperback ),  published by Bunny Moon Books. It has been named to The Best Books of 2016 lists by Kirkus Reviews and IndieReader.com. More information can be found at his website http://gary-schwartz.com

About The King of AverageJames isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: he’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid who ever lived, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking Scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.

He’s joined on his quest by a professional Optimist and his grouchy companion, an equally professional Pessimist. Together, they set out on a journey of self-discovery that leads them all the way from the Sea of Doubt to Mount Impossible, the highest peak in the Unattainable Mountains. When James stumbles into a Shangri-la called Epiphany, he uncovers the secret of who he really is.

Follow James on his hilarious, adventure-packed journey to find self-worth in this heartfelt middle grade novel The King of Average by debut author Gary Schwartz.

 

Thank you, Gary, for this fun-filled and kinesthetic-focused post!

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