Monday, September 29, 2014

Searching for Sarah Rector

Searching for Sarah Rector
Written by Tonya Bolden
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN #9781419708466

Grades 5 and up

Book Review

Sometimes fact is more surprising (and relieving) than fiction. Coretta Scott King winner Tonya Bolden proves this and more in her gripping nonfiction picturebook, Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America. Beginning with a front-page news story about the possibility of her kidnapping, Bolden generates intrigue, invites speculation, and compiles little-known fragments of U.S. history that entice readers to assemble Sarah’s story. How did Sarah, at just eleven-years old, amass such a fortune? Therein lies the brilliance of this biography. As readers attempt to reconstruct the events and circumstances surrounding Sarah’s fortune and whereabouts, Bolden takes readers on her own journey to piece together what happened and why so that the book is both a historical mystery and an exercise in author’s craft. Bolden rouses our curiosity in a number of clever ways, including turning master narratives about slavery upside-down, dropping red herrings and taking fascinating detours with the narration, and reminding us throughout that she was writing, she too was “searching for Sarah Rector” in the shards of primary sources available. Share this book with your students, as it will fascinate them on multiple levels: as readers, as writers, and as history detectives.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Creek Nation. Bolden begins her mystery about possible betrayal and broken promises affecting Sarah with another story of betrayal and broken promises—those associated with the formation of Creek Nation. Encourage students to learn more about the Muscogee (Creek) people by reading the digital resources listed below, as well as any print references. You may want to divide the class into small groups that study different aspects of Creek Nation and then share their findings with the rest of the class.

A Fuller Picture of Slaveowners. The master narrative of slavery is one about Whites owning Black slaves, but Bolden opens this book by focusing on the slaves owned by Creek Indians in the US. What other populations were slaveholders and slaveowners in the US? Across the world? Since it’s clear there wasn’t a single blanket explanation as to why people engaged in slavery, why did each of those slaveowner populations do so? What is the history of that relationship? In small groups, have students explore these questions in a multimedia research project.

Oil Industry. The circumstances surrounding Sarah’s fortune and guardianship became convoluted and confusing in large part due to the juggernaut that is the oil industry. Have students read about and watch the videos about the oil industry on and, as well as read some of the books listed below in Further Explorations, to learn more about the forces that empower it. Then, have them create two lists: one of all the ways the oil industry has impacted society, science and technology, and the environment throughout history, and one of all the ways the industry continues to impact those three realms today. For example, your class might compare and contrast the controversies around fracking with past methods of obtaining oil from the ground. How are those lists similar and different? How might Sarah’s experience and fortune be different if the discovery of oil on her land happened in present times?

Author’s Craft. Tonya Bolden could have told Sarah’s story in a straightforward, chronological manner, but she chose to start with a sensational, if not shoddy, piece of journalism published when Sarah was 12-years old. How does that decision influence a reader’s experience of the book? How different might a reader’s introduction to and interest in Sarah’s story be had Bolden told it as a traditional, chronological biography? After discussing these questions with your class, have them plot the events of Sarah’s life and those surrounding the management of her wealth on a timeline. Then, help students brainstorm different ways an author might shape or approach Sarah’s story to entice readers in different ways. Encourage them to try a few of those approaches as well.

Tonya Bolden’s Process: Piecing Together Primary Sources. Bolden admits that it wasn’t easy to piece together Sarah’s story, since few archival materials exist that document what happened to her and her wealth. How did she begin the process? Where did she go from there? Read several of Bolden’s picture book biographies, such as Emancipation Proclamation, Maritcha, and George Washington Carver, paying special attention to notes that Bolden includes throughout the book, especially in the appendices of the book, about synthesizing primary sources to construct an evidence-based story. Visit the National Museum of American History’s website or any other online source of primary source documents. Have students determine a historical event or person that they want to study further and work through the primary source documents available there to piece together a story of what might have happened.

Child Wealth. One of the compelling aspects of Sarah’s story is that she was a child who was wealthy, not a child with a wealthy family. Today, we can point to several similar examples of child wealth, especially among celebrities. What are the concerns surrounding Sarah’s wealth that continue to be issues today? How do you think a child’s wealth should be managed? In small groups or individually, have students research examples across history, perhaps from Sarah’s time to the present. After whole-class discussions about their research, invite students to debate or write persuasive essays about the pros and cons of different ways to manage a child’s wealth.

Grades 7 and up

History Detectives. One of the most remarkable facets of this book is the way in which author Tonya Bolden shares with readers her process of investigating and researching information about Sarah Rector. Have students identify those parts of the narration where Bolden does this. Then watch an episode or two of PBS’s program History Detectives or History Detectives: Special Investigations (available online on the PBS website). Have students compare and contrast the detectives’ process with Bolden’s. Then, challenge your students to write and illustrate a nonfiction picturebook biography about the episode’s topic, using Searching for Sarah Rector as a mentor text. Alternately, you could try one of the PBS lesson plans found here to help students engage in the process of thinking and researching like a history detective themselves.

Critical Literacy

Whose History Gets Documented? As mentioned throughout the book and this blog entry, there wasn’t much information about Sarah Rector to be found in official historical records. What is also not widely known is that some Creek Indians owned slaves. Why do you think that was? Whose stories and histories do people tend to hear repeatedly, and whose repeatedly get left out? How does a book like Searching for Sarah Rector attempt to give voice to those missing histories? What other authors and books attempt to do the same thing? Have your students search through your classroom, school, and local library to find out what resources are there that also address the voices and perspectives that Tonya Bolden tries to spotlight in her book. If your students don’t find many, have them brainstorm, inquire, and pursue ways to gain access to those resources and share them with others.

Further Explorations 

Online resources 

Tonya Bolden’s website

Websites about Sarah Rector

Websites about researching Sarah Rector

Interviews with Tonya Bolden

Websites about Creek Indians

Websites about the Oil Industry


Bolden, T. (2005). Maritcha: A nineteenth-century American girl. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Bolden, T. (2008). George Washington Carver. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Bolden, T. (2013). Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the dawn of liberty. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Marrin, A. (2013). Black gold: The story of oil in our lives. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Jarnow, J. (2004). Oil, steel, and railroads: America's big businesses in the late 1800s. Rosen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Family Romanov

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia
Written by Candace Fleming
Published by Random House Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-0-385-86782-8

Grades 7 and Up 

Book Review
What do we really know and understand about the Romanov family? What really happened to them almost one hundred years ago when they fell from power during the Russian Revolution? Is what we think we know myth or reality? Fortunately, we can now read The Family Romanov and find out. Archives and treasure troves of materials unavailable to researchers for most of the 20th century have been mined by Candace Fleming to create this truly intimate portrait of the Romanov family and “murder, rebellion and the fall of Imperial Russia.” Fleming weaves the personal and the political life of the Romanov family together, so that adolescent readers can understand the private family dramas and delights as well as the concurrent political missteps, misunderstandings, self-centeredness, and naiveté of Tsar Nicholas. Additionally, she includes in this tapestry the voices of every day citizens struggling to survive in the "real" Russia, in sections called “Beyond the Palace Gates” that punctuate the text. This is a masterful piece of research and a compelling in-depth examination of the Romanov family and the dawn of the 21st century. Wonderful back matter illuminate the author's purpose and the research process. History buffs will love it for pleasure reading, but middle and high school humanities, language arts, and social studies teachers can find multiple ways of incorporating it into the curriculum, from an examination of power and leadership, to a comparison of world affairs a century ago and right now, to a mentor text for research and writing, and much, much more.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Mentor Text: Parallel Biographies. Fleming does an exceptional job of weaving together a portrait of the glittering world of the Romanov family and the day-to-day destitution of the people whom they ruled. Have your students compare the writing style used to in each part of the book, by zooming in on one chapter about the Romanovs and the “Beyond the Palace Gates” section that follows it. Have students research and write about the extreme differences among people in a different time or place using Fleming’s work model.

Identifying as a Reader. First and foremost, this is a book about the Romanov family. We see their family photos, the places they lived, and we hear about the every day lives and relationships with one another as well as their official duties and capacities as leaders of the Russian Empire. When reading, which people do your students identify with? Do they find themselves cheering on the peasant class as they learn of their struggles? Or, despite their sympathies, are they inwardly hoping the Romanovs get a second chance because they have learned so many intimate details about them? Or, because of the legend of Anastasia, do they somehow feel a closer connection? Why were the Romanov children killed alongside their parents, when they were not responsible for their parents’ decisions? Have a discussion with students about the personal responses they have to the text and whether or not their personal sympathies match their intellectual understandings of the events and decisions made by the Romanovs and others. What is to be gained by understanding the personal and the public lives of leaders? How does each impact the other? 

Faith and Leadership. What does it mean to let your faith rule your decision-making? Rasputin, the unofficial advisor to Nicholas and Alexandra, was by all accounts a fraud. Yet, they put their faith in him, and he put his faith in his visions and healing powers (or his ability to trick people). What is the line between religion, faith, and leadership? Is there a line? Have your students explore the ways in which the Romanovs relied on Rasputin. How have other leaders in different countries and time periods also relied on advisors aligned with their personal faith? Were all the advisors who they said they were? What relationships were healthy? Which were problematic?

Post-Royalty Era? Will there ever be a post-royalty era in the world? Will there ever be a time when nations are ruled by elected leaders rather than those who inherit a position of leadership? Across the different continents around the world, how many countries still have a royal family? What kind of power does that royal family have? What’s the appeal, both to citizens of that country, and the general public around the world? Why does the British Royal Family garner so much attention here in the United States while other Royals don’t? Do we need royalty in the world today? If so, why? 

Duet Reading: The Russian Revolution. Have some of your students read The Family Romanov in small groups; have others read George Orwell’s fictional allegory of the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm. Next, have the groups switch and read the other book. How does one book help influence the reading of the other? To what extent does Animal Farm help to capture the reality of everyday life in Russia after the fall of the Romanovs? How much changed for the poor of Russia after the change in power? 

Exploring World War I. With the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, have your students explore the war from multiple perspectives. Divide your class up into different countries, so that students are researching the war from the perspective of a single country, rather than just through the lens of American history. The Family Romanov can be used as part of the Russian group’s research, while some of the general books on World War I and digital resources can be mined for the views of other nations. Host a World War I forum, in which students set up booths that detail what they learned about the causes of their country’s involvement and short-term and long-term implications of the war for that country. Invite a local history professor that specializes in World War I to launch the forum or serve on a panel with students. If local families have uniforms or artifacts from family members who fought in the war, these would be wonderful to have on display. You may want to invite your local historical society to participate.

Critical Literacy 

Exploring Income Inequality Today. It is perhaps easy to compare and contrast the over-the-top luxury of Romanovs with the utter poverty in which the majority of Russians lived. But what are some of the similarities between the Romanov’s Russia and America today? Using statistics available in the book, have students conduct research in small groups on income inequality. As students complete their research, have them decide a format for presenting what they have learned. Are they comfortable with income distribution in the US? What are some the suggestions they may have for making changes? 

Where Does Power Reside in Any Government? Explore the ways in which the Romanav dynasty failed to meet the needs of the Russian people, using the events depicted in the book and digital resources below. Use this experience as a pivot to explore other moments in time when leaders have toppled. Consider the Arab Spring, the Ukraine, Iraq, and the recent failed attempt at an independence vote in Scotland. You might want to bring in the American Revolution. Does power reside in the people? Laws? Government structures? The military? Have students working in small groups to conduct their research and then have them come together to have a staged debate about power and government, or a “panel talk” about the power in the particular situations they researched. 

The Gilded Age in America and the Romanovs in Russia. Were the Romanovs so outrageous to live the way they lived? Have your students explore the Gilded Age in America and the ways in which rich Americans held a concentration of wealth and power. Have some students explore the life of the poor and middle class, while others research the very research. Compare and contrast through multimedia presentations, which can take advantage of the photographs that document the era, how people lived in the United States compared to Russia during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century.

Russia Today: Vladimir Putin and Power. After reading The Family Romanov, have students explore Russia today. Using the digital resources listed below as well as other resources made available, have them compare those in power today in Russia with the Romanov family and the leaders of the Russian Revolution. How much is different? One hundred years after the start of World War I, what has changed in Russia? What is the standard of living for most citizens compared to other European or Asian nations? What do students make of Russia’s aggressive military moves into Crimea, a part of the separate nation of the Ukraine? What do your students think the world community should be doing? Have students research different aspects of Russian life today, as well as the period of the Soviet Union, for some basic understanding of the 20th century. Then, have them write letters to your two Senators telling them what U.S. policy should look like. Have someone deliver those letters to your Senator’s local office, and/or arrange to have students meet and discuss the issue with him/her when s/he is next available.

Further Explorations

Digital Resources

Candace Fleming’s Official Website

The Family Romanov Book Trailer

Alexander Palace Time Machine

Nicholas and Alexandra Online Exhibit, State Hermitage Museum

Romanov Memorial

Royal Russia

Yale Beinecke Library, Romanov Family Albums

New York Times Topic: The Romanovs

“Missing Romanov Family,” National Geographic (short clip)

“The Great War,” PBS site on World War I

“World War I,” BBC

War and Revolution in Russia, 1914-1917, BBC

Ukraine, NY Times Topic

Russia, NY Times Topic

Lesson Plan, New York Times Blog, Russian Revolution 1917, Arab Spring 2011

Income Inequality, NY Times Topic

The Gilded Age, Digital History

The Gilded Age, Library of Congress

The Gilded Age, The Gilder-Lehrman Collection


Freedman, R. (2010). The war to end all wars. New York: Clarion.

Murphy, J. (2009). Truce: The day the soldiers stopped fighting. New York: Scholastic.

Orwell, G. (1996/1946). Animal farm. New York: Signet Classics, Penguin.

Wade, R. A. (2001). The Bolshevik revolution and Russian Civil War. San Diego, CA: Greenwood Press.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Great Big Green

The Great Big Green
Written by Peggy Gifford and Illustrated by Lisa Desimini
Published by Boyd Mills Press in 2014

Grades PreK – 6

Book Review

The thing is,/ the thing is green./ And the green is the green is green./ And by green I mean…” Peggy Gifford, author of the Monty Maxwell chapter book series, offers a picture book homage to our green green earth, a tribute that trips off the tongue. Oozing with alliteration, assonance, consonance, and wondrously over-hyphenated phrases, it is impossible to not read this book aloud. For example, try the following: “It’s got green grasshoppers springing / from green groomed lawns…” and “eat-your-broccoli greens / your bunch –of-green-grapes green/ your watermelons-sparkling-in-the-sun greens.” With perfect pacing, the free verse text lists flora, fauna, and human-invented greens; offers layers of clues; and invites readers to guess what the “thing” is. The it, earth, is never named but Lisa Desimini’s lush illustrations ensure no doubt lingers in young readers’ minds. Rendered in digital collage, Desimini’s images incorporate rich textures and entice the reader to pore over the book, drawn in to the range of color and variation. The Great Big Green has great big potential for classroom explorations of art and science, conservation and observation, and language play through poetry.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades PreK - 3

Earth from Space: Colors in Satellite Images. Using an overhead projector, display images of earth from space using the NASA website. Then, use Google Earth to zoom into your location. Allow children to explore Google Earth in a computer lab or on iPads. What colors do they see when they explore the continents? Make connections to geographical features, such as deserts, mountains, and the polar ice cap. Invite students to draw their own images of our earth, choosing colors that match their home environment.  

Creating Color Collages. Arm your students with cameras or iPads, and have them look out the window or take a walk with them around the school or neighborhood. Assign each student a different color and have them take photos of all the different objects they can find that are that color. Then, have them study the photos to compare and contrast the various shades of that color. Invite them to name and label each shade, such as “bumpy-dusty-sidewalk gray” or “gleaming-taxicab-yellow.” Collaborate with your art teacher to use prints of the photos to create a collage images for each color. Create a museum display or a class composed book. If digital cameras are not available to you, have students cut out colors and textures from magazines.

Color Text Set. Read The Great Big Green in a Solar System Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry) along with other books that celebrate the colors of our world such as Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow, Fleming’s Lunch,  Jenkins’s Living Color, Seeger's Green, Seeger’s Lemons are Not Red, or Shannon’s White is for Blueberry. Create a note-making chart and guide students to compare how information is presented in the books, the design and role of the illustrations, and the structure and style of the text. After your review of the text set, invite students to compose their own color texts.

Except where it’s blue…”: The Great Big Green as a Mentor Text. The last phrase of The Great Big Green is a clear invitation to teachers and students to extend this text – to create a companion book. Invite your students to write The Great Big Blue, using the text and illustrations of The Great Big Green as a model for their writing.

Green Pledge. Read The Great Big Green along with other texts that encourage “green” actions, such as Gabby and Grandma Go Green, The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save The Earth, or Ten Things I Can Do to Help My World. Discuss with your students some action steps that you can take in the classroom over the course of the school year, and ask each students (or the class as a whole) to make a pledge that commits them to carry out one or more of these action steps. Students can document their pledge by illustrating and writing their goals. These can be displayed on a bulletin board or bound into a class book.

Duet Model Reading with Green. Read The Great Big Green in a Duet Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry) with Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Green. Both texts explore the variations of green found in our world, but there are subtle differences worth teasing out. Discuss the illustrations as well as the texts. Your students are sure to notice that both books include striking images of a tiger! Following your focused comparison, invite students to compose their own illustrated explorations of green.

Grades 2 -6

Language Play: Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance. In The Great Big Green, Peggy Gifford provides us with many wonderful examples of language play using alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Help your students to understand these elements of style by writing examples from the book on sentence strips. Read the phrases aloud, focusing students’ attention on the sounds of the language. Sort and label the phrases. Ask students to keep an ‘ear out’ while they read other texts and collect additional examples of these stylistic elements.

Performing Poetry. You and your students are going to love reading The Great Big Green aloud. Invite students to practice reading the text aloud to achieve fluent reading and plan a performance of the book for neighboring classes. You could also build a reading of this text into a performance of other poems featuring color and nature such as those found in Joyce Sidman’s award winning book Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Color.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Author Website: Peggy Gifford

Illustrator Website: Lisa Desimini

NASA Visible Earth

Google Earth

YouTube: Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Natural Resources Defense Council: The Green Squad

Earth Day Network

Think Green: Discovery Education


Ehlert, L. (1992). Planting a rainbow. Orlando, FL: Voyager Books.

Fleming, D. (1995). Lunch. New York: Henry Holt.

Jenkins, S. (2007). Living color. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Katz, K. (2002). The colors of us. New York: Holt.

Reynolds, P.S. (2012). Sky color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Seeger, L. V. (2008). Lemons are not red. New York: Roaring Brook Press. 

Seeger, L.V. (2012). Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Shannon, G. (2005). White is for blueberry. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Sidman, J. (2009). Red sings from treetops: A year in color. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Earth Works Group. (2008). The new 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth. Ill. by M. Montez & L. Bodger. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishers.

Walsh, M. (2008). Ten things I can do to help my world. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Wellington, M. (2011). Gabby and Grandma go green. New York: Dutton

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar
Written by Alan Rabinowitz and Illustrated by Cátia Chien
Published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Grades K-5
ISBN: 978-0-547-87507-1

Book Review

“Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t get the words out. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them, the same way people ignore or misunderstand or hurt me.” In A Boy and a Jaguar, Alan Rabinowitz recounts his childhood as a boy whose stuttering led to painful misunderstandings by others and feelings of brokenness but also led to his passion for animals and the lifelong bond he developed with them, especially jaguars. There were two things he did as a boy without stuttering—singing, admittedly not well, and talking to animals. As a boy, Alan made a promise to animals, that if could ever find his voice that he would be their voice and keep them from harm. In Belize, he became the first person to study jaguars, and he went on to use his voice to advocate for the world’s first and only jaguar preserve which soon after became a reality. Catia Chien’s acrylic and charcoal pencil-art illustrations captivate readers and help evoke Alan’s feelings of brokenness as well as those of elation and wonder. A birds-eye view of the jaguar preserve will make your heart soar as you see the great cats roam free on the yellow grasslands. A Q&A at the end of the book provides readers with additional context for Rabinowitz’s work, conservation efforts, and stuttering. Sure to engage students from start to finish, this memoir will support students to listen and look closely, to wonder about the power of their own voices, and to consider issues of conservation and discrimination from a new perspective.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades K-5

Studying Memoir.  As a memoir, the book is written in the first-person and provides a model for students for how to tell a story from your own life using “I” for effect. Use A Boy and a Jaguar as a mentor text for student memoirs supporting students to consider how memoirists choose moments from their lives that will impact others in some way. Draw students’ attention to the language choices Rabinowitz uses and how Rabinowitz varies his sentences both in length and structure. Many of his sentences are technically not sentences. Encourage students to reread the book noticing simple, compound, and complex sentences as well as fragments that are used for effect. Building on this craft study, support students to then look at their own personal narrative writing noticing the impact of their topic, their own sentence variety, and the structures they use for effect.

Protecting Endangered Animals. Rabinowitz is the founder of Panthera, an organization dedicated to the conservation of great cats. Following a read aloud of the story, visit Panthera’s website and learn more about the work Rabinowitz and Panthera have done to protect these endangered and highly sought after animals. Dig deeper into the research process and consider having students independently or in small groups study a particular endangered animal reporting through writing, drawing, or speaking about what is being done around the world to protect various endangered species and what we can do to help. Build a text set for students using some of the following titles featured on The Classroom Bookshelf: Kakapo Rescue,

Promises: How Will You Use Your Voice? As Rabinowitz leans in to the jaguar’s cage at The Bronx Zoo we learn that he whispers something to the great creature but are left wondering what those words were. Later, we read his promise to his own pets and to all of the animals of the world that he will use his voice to keep them from harm. Reread the page with Rabinowitz’s promise and support students to share promises they want to make to others by using their voice to do good in the world.

Exploring Feelings through Writing. As a boy, Rabinowitz was sent to a class for “disturbed” children due to his stutter despite his parents’ protests. This experience led him to feel broken. Later, as he explored the jungles of Belize he felt alive. When he was studying the bears of The Great Smoky Mountains he felt at home. Look back throughout the text to track Rabinowitz’s various feelings and the progression he experienced moving from feeling broken to whole. Support students to write, draw, or dictate moments when they have experienced strong feelings. Encourage students to consider moments when they have felt excited and happy as well as times when they have felt alone, frustrated, or unwelcome. Allow for a range of feelings.

Gratitude. The end of the book concludes with Rabinowitz saying “thank you” to a jaguar. Engage the class in a discussion about what they think Rabinowitz was thanking the jaguar for. Open up a dialogue about the word gratitude and support students to share people, places, animals, and experiences they have had that they are grateful for. Encourage students to recognize that sometimes things we persevere through can lead to feelings of resiliency and gratefulness in the end, despite hardship or challenges we may have faced.

Grades 3-5
Fifteen Minutes to Make a Message. When Rabinowitz met with the Prime Minister of Belize he had fifteen minutes to deliver his message. He knew his voice had to be clear, concise, and impassioned. For a person who stutters, he knew this was a great challenge. Support students to consider messages that are important to them and engage students in a speech writing unit beginning with brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and delivering speeches. View TED talks on topics you think your students may be interested in noting the topics, messages, and delivery methods various speakers use for effect. TED speakers have 22 minutes to deliver their messages and the subtitle to TED talks are “Ideas that Matter”. What are the ideas your students think matter? Consider filming your students’ speeches and sharing them with families through digital spaces.

Reading and Writing Interviews. On the back endpaper, Rabinowitz shares a Question and Answer session. Support students to notice the kinds of questions that were asked and what his responses reveal about who he is and what matters to him. Then, invite students to write interviews for people in their own communities or in the world-at-large that they would like to interview. Consider people within your school building, family members, community members, living authors of your students’ favorite books, and local leaders working to make a difference. Consider writing a shared interview as a class and sending questions to Alan Rabinowitz himself!

Complexity of Conservation. Rabinowitz shares briefly that Belize is one of the poorest countries in the world, and as such, convincing the Prime Minister to spend funds on the preservation of jaguars may have been an even greater challenge given the economic needs of the people of the country. Discuss with students the complexity of conservation and the need for funding to preserve animals and lands when people locally and globally are also in financial need.

Critical Literacy and Social Justice

Challenging Notions of Difference as Deficit. As a boy, Rabinowitz was hurt by the judgment and discrimination of those who misunderstood his stutter, particularly adults, including teachers. However, Rabinowitz explains in the Q&A as well as in other interviews that his stutter in many ways led to the person he became and the passion he developed for animals. Share other examples of individuals who believe that what makes them different is also what has made them interesting and passionate individuals including Temple Grandin, a spokesperson for Autism Spectrum as well as a writer, speaker, and inventor, William Hoy, a major league baseball player who was also deaf and often credited with the hand signals used in games today, or Spencer West who climbed Mount Kilamanjaro without the use of legs.

Further Explorations
Online Resources
Book Website

Houghton Mifflin Author Interview

Illustrator’s Site

Panthera, Leaders in Wildcat Conservation

The Stuttering Foundation

RadioLab Feature Story

Alan Rabinowitz on The Moth

Colbert Report Interview with Alan Rabinowitz

TED Talks

Authored by Alan Rabinowitz
Rabinowitz, A. (2014). An indomitable beast: The remarkable journey of the jaguar. (2nd ed). Island Press.

Rabinowitz, A. (2000). Jaguar: One man's struggle to establish the world's first jaguar preserve. (2nd ed.). Island Press.

Figures With Special Needs Who Changed the World
Grandin, T. (2012). How the girl who loved cows embraced autism and changed the world. HMH Books for Young Readers.

Wise, B. (2012). Silent star: The story of deaf major leaguer William Hoy.  New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.

Memoirs for Middle Grades
Ehlrich, A. When I was your age: Original stories about growing up. New York, NY: Candlewick Press.

Fletcher, R. (2012). Marshfield dreams: When I was a kid, a memoir. Square Fish.

Spinelli, J. (1998). Knots in my yo-yo string. Ember Press.

Endangered Animals (Blogged about on Classroom Bookshelf)