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King Ben and Sir Rhino
Author and Illustrator: Eric Sailer
Published: August 7, 2018 by Two Lions

GoodReads Summary: Ben is king of the jungle. He does exactly what he pleases, as a king should. And he has everything a king could want: noble steeds, castles, and servants. What Ben doesn’t have is a loyal subject. Then he meets Rhino…and finds out what being a good king is all about.

Our Review: This adorable story offers teachers and parents opportunities to talk about bossiness! King Ben gets everything he pleases, and he decides he will make Rhino he loyal subjects. I feel like all children effort to make their parents their loyal subjects. I know that my own children have me wrapped around their fingers. This book offers opportunities to discuss why being King Ben might not always be the best approach. This makes for a very fun read-aloud.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might have fun comparing and contrasting the King Bens and Sir Rhinos in popular culture and across history. For younger children, comparing and contrasting the good and bad things about being bossy would make for a fruitful discussion.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the things that King Ben makes Sir Rhino do?; Is King Ben being kind?; What could Sir Rhino do?; What might the characters learn from their relationship?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Duck and Hippo series by Jonathan London; Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion

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**Thank you to Kristin at Two Lions for providing a copy for review!**

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The Girl With More Than One Heart
Author: Laura Geringer Bass
Published April 17th, 2018 by Abrams Books

Summary: There are times we all feel we need more than one heart to get through. When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.

Find Her!  it says. Be Your Own!  

How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock” she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.

About the Author: Laura Geringer Bass is the author of over 20 highly acclaimed books for children, tweens, and teens. Her new novel for middle graders about friendship, love, and loss — The Girl with More Than One Heart — is the lyrical story of a courageous girl who imagines she needs an extra heart to navigate her grief after the death of her dad. It will be published by Abrams this Spring. Laura serves on the National Advisory Board of First Book, a non-profit organization that has delivered over 170 million books to children in need and as a mentor for Girls Write Now and Prison Writes, teaching teens at risk.

Review: This book looks at the struggle of grief when life keeps moving on around you. And like another book I love, Courage for Beginners, it shows the struggle a child has if a parent is suffering and they have to step up in a way that is not what their peers have to. Briana doesn’t know how to deal with the grief and with her mother incapacitated with grief also, Briana finds that she needs a second heart to help guide her through this huge bump in her life. Briana’s story also shows the struggle yet love of being a sibling to a child with special needs.

Written beautifully in a way that will pull at your heartstrings, Bass’s story shows how one girl uses art, love, and courage to make her way through a loss that is unimaginable for most of us.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The Girl With More Than One Heart needs to be in classroom, school, and public libraries. There are so many readers that need this book. There are other readers that will want this book. There are definite readers for this book.

Another way in the classroom that it could be used is a mentor text for writing about memories. Briana’s second heart shares memories with her, one of the ways we get to know her dad, and the memories are so full of imagery. There are many sections that could be read for a mentor text when asking students to write a personal narrative.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Briana use art to help her through her grief?
  • How did Briana’s life change after the loss of her dad?
  • Aaron is described in the summary as her demanding little brother, but Briana loves him. What are some examples in the story that show this love?
  • How does Grandpa Ben help guide Briana?
  • Briana’s second heart is only figurative. What does it represent?

Flagged Passage: “The day my father’s heart stopped, I discovered an extra heart deep in my belly, below my right rib. It talked to me. I wasn’t crazy. Before that day, I had just one heart that never said a word.” (p. 1)

Read This If You Love: Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington, Rules by Cynthia Lord, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Far from Fair by Elana K. Arnold

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

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Water in May
Author: Ismée Amiel Williams
Published September 12th, 2017 by Abrams Books

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her—not like her mama, who took off when she was eight; or her papi, who’s in jail; or her abuela, who wants as little to do with her as possible. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the fetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.

Surrounded by her loyal girl crew, her off-and-on boyfriend, and a dedicated doctor, Mari navigates a decision that could emotionally cripple the bravest of women. But both Mari and the broken-hearted baby inside her are fighters; and it doesn’t take long to discover that this sick baby has the strength to heal an entire family.

Inspired by true events, this gorgeous debut has been called “heartfelt, heartbreaking and—yes!—even a little heart-healing, too” by bestselling YA novelist Carolyn Mackler.

About the Author: Ismée Williams is a pediatric cardiologist who practiced at the Columbia University Medical Center in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City for fifteen years. She currently sees patients at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. As the daughter of a Cuban immigrant, partially raised by her abuelos, her background helped her understand the many Maris she met along the way. Water in May is her first novel.

Praise: 

“Full of spot-on cultural texture and packing an emotional punch, this is an unusual take on the teen-pregnancy problem novel… Williams presents her experience in a way that demands not pity but respect while also reminding readers of Mari’s heartbreaking youth and innocence at unexpected times…Fierce and tender—and absolutely worth reading.” — Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

“Mari is a deeply credible character, a girl who’s always spoiling for a fight, usually a physical one, but who’s turning that impulse into fighting for her baby. Williams, formerly a pediatric cardiologist at Columbia, brings vivid authenticity to the medical side of things, including the details of life with a baby in the NICU and the varying personalities of health care personnel.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This novel is realistic and compelling, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at the same time. The author’s experience as a pediatric cardiologist brings authenticity to her writing as much as does her experience of navigating cultural barriers. Young adult readers will connect with Mari’s feisty personality, strength, and vulnerability.” — VOYA Magazine

Review: Mari’s story is one that isn’t often told. Mari is someone most people would see on the streets and would try to ignore because getting to know her would be getting to know how hard life in America can be. But Mari is also someone who is stronger than many of us will ever be. Her story is one that will make readers think about assumptions OR will help readers see a mirror into struggles they may be having in life. Although I hope teens don’t see Mari’s story as an invitation for a teenage pregnancy, I believe the truth of her hardships show the tremendous change a baby brings to life and will show that Mari’s decisions are made out of desperation when there are other paths she could have taken. Some who read the book have said they don’t like Mari as a character, but I found that when Mari was frustrating, it was because she was acting like what she is: a fifteen-year-old girl trying to find her place in this crazy world.

Teachers Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions written by me: 

Guide can also be accessed through Abrams Books’s Resource Page.

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**Thank you to Ismée Williams for finding me and allowing me to complete this guide!**

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It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus!
Author: Jody Jensen Shaffer;  Illustrator: Claire Messer
Published: July 3, 2018 by Beach Lane Books

Goodreads Summary: It’s the first day of school! But is Busy Bus ready? Find out in this darling picture book that showcases the excitement and worries little ones experience as they prepare for their first day.

Today is the very first day of school! Busy Bus is excited, but he also has some first-day jitters. Will the children like him? Will he be homesick? What if he gets lost?! Luckily, bus driver Ben knows just what to do to make sure that the school year gets off to a great start.

My Review: We have had so much fun with this book in our household. I read the book aloud, and my two sons act out the pages. Parents can substitute their children’s names for the bus driver to add a layer of fun! Almost all of the bus books that exist feature busses with children already on them. I loved the concept of this book—the bus is preparing for the first day of school and is very nervous the children won’t like him. This book is a must-have for bus-loving children, and it would make for a great first day of kindergarten read-aloud.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Children would have great fun re-envisioning this book with other vehicles and inanimate objects. For example, what might the classroom be feeling before the first day of school? Children could create their own books of their imaginations.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the bus prepare for the children?
  • What is he worried about?
  • How does the bus driver help him with his jitters?
  • What other things might be nervous for the first day of school?

Flagged Passage: 

Read This If You Loved: Dump Truck Duck by Megan E. BryantGoodnight, 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

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

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**Thank you to Jody for providing a copy for review!**

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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?

We Flagged: 

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

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**Thank you to Penguin for sending us this book! I loved it.**

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Rescued
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.

ReviewI 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!

The Unit

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 ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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I Am Gandhi
Author: Brad Meltzer
Illustrator: 25 Acclaimed Artists
Published May 8th, 2018 by Dial Books

Summary: Twenty-five exceptional comic book creators join forces to share the heroic story of Gandhi in this inspiring graphic novel biography.

As a young man in India, Gandhi saw firsthand how people were treated unfairly. Refusing to accept injustice, he came up with a brilliant way to fight back through quiet, peaceful protest. He used his methods in South Africa and India, where he led a nonviolent revolution that freed his country from British rule. Through his calm, steady heroism, Gandhi changed the lives of millions and inspired civil rights movements all over the world, proving that the smallest of us can be the most powerful.

Galvanized by Gandhi’s example of gentle, peaceful activism, New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer asked his friends in the comic book world to help him make a difference by creating this philanthropic graphic novel. Twenty-four illustrators–including many of the most acclaimed artists in comics today–enthusiastically joined the project, agreeing to donate their work so that their royalties can go to Seeds of Peace, a non-profit organization that inspires and cultivates new generations of global leaders. This extraordinary biography is a glorious team effort that truly exemplifies Gandhi’s selflessness and love for humanity.

The illustrators included are: Art Adams, John Cassaday, Jim Cheung, Amanda Connor, Carlos D’Anda, Michael Gaydos, Gene Ha, Stephanie Hans, Bryan Hitch, Phil Jimenez, Siddharth Kotian, David LaFuente, David Mack, Alex Maleev, Francis Manapul, David Marquez, Steve McNiven, Rags Morales, Saumin Patel, Nate Powell, Stephane Roux, Marco Rudy, Kamome Shirahama, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Abhishek Singh.

Kellee’s ReviewI’ll be honest–when I first read on the cover that 25 different artists illustrated this graphic biography, I was worried that the stagnation of illustration styles would hinder the narrative of Gandhi’s life, but I was so wrong. Instead, by allowing each illustrator to give us their interpretation of Gandhi, his spirit instead flowed through the pages as it was obvious that his story had touched each and every artist, and the author, taking part in this graphic biography.

While reading, it was clear to me that Meltzer wanted Gandhi’s message of equality, peace, and kindness to scream at the reader, and this was confirmed when I read the Washington Post article about Meltzer’s inspiration. I believe Meltzer did a beautiful job not only telling Gandhi’s story but also showing that peace is possible in a time of tumultuous relationships but that the only way to truly achieve it is through similar activism as Gandhi.

Ricki’s Review: I read this graphic novel twice to myself and twice with my son. Further, I’ve read portions of it to my students. I can’t stop sharing it! I was blown away by the amalgamation of the 25 graphic novelists—it made for an absolutely stunning text. I appreciate the historical perspective that extends throughout the graphic novel, and I loved that the illustrations really make Ghandi’s story come alive. This is a book that I will share often and widely. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly—even if you already know a lot about Ghandi’s life.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Have students connect Gandhi’s philosophies to those who influenced him and those he influenced. For example, in one of my literature classes, one person picked an author who was influenced by another (for example, Woody Guthrie was influenced by Walt Whitman) then the next student built on that (for example, Bob Dylan was influenced by Woody Guthrie OR Ralph Waldo Emerson influenced Walt Whitman) until a complete chain of influences were made. Then each student wrote an analysis paper showing how they were influenced then presented their findings (in order of influences) to the class. This same idea could be done here: Henry David Thoreau influenced Gandhi who influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. who influenced Barack Obama who influenced Cory Booker, etc. This idea could also be used just to look at the idea of peaceful protests that have changed the course of history: Gandhi, MLK, Black Lives Matter, Never Again, etc.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the theme of Meltzer’s story of Gandhi?
  • How did Gandhi change the course of history for Indians in South Africa and India?
  • How did the 25 different artists illustrating the graphic novel affect the reading of the biography?
  • How did Thoreau influence Gandhi? Can you infer how Gandhi influence Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  • What was the importance of Gandhi’s march to the sea to hold salt?
  • Why do you believe Meltzer chose the specific quotes he included in the back matter of the book?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Ordinary People Change the World series (ex. I am Lucille Ball, I am Jackie Robinson), Nonfiction graphic novels such as Drowned City by Don Brown

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