Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Happy Summer Reading!

Photo M.A. Cappiello
The Classroom Bookshelf will be taking a summer vacation, returning on Monday, August 25th. As our final entry for the academic year, we offer you a collection of links designed to keep you and the children and young adults in your life happily reading over the next several months. We wish you have a restful, peaceful, and productive summer. 

During this time, we would really love to hear from you. If you have used teaching ideas from our blog in your classroom, how did it go? What worked? What didn't? How did your students respond?

Please email one or all four of us. No story or classroom anecdote is too small!
Erika, Mary Ann, Grace, and Katie

2014 Summer Readings Lists 

Reading Rockets: Get Ready For Summer!

Collaborative Summer Library Program

ALA: Library Summer Reading Programs

Enhancing Summer Reading White Paper 

The Horn Book - 2014 Summer Reading Recommendations 

Children’s Choices (International Reading Association)

Teachers’ Choices (International Reading Association)

Children's Book Council: Building a Home Library

PBS Parents: Fun Summer Science Projects for Kids

Text Sets for Summer Reading: Cambridge, MA

Audio Books for Families 

We love audio books for long car rides with the family. Many public libraries now have downloadable audio books that you can listen to on an MP3 player, iPad, or iPod. Check in with your local public library and share the details with parents and students before the year is over. You might want to search for some of the books included in these lists below.

The Audies Awards 2014 (Audio Book Awards)

2014 Notable Children’s Recordings (American Library Association)

2014 Notable Young Adult Recordings (American Library Association)

Resources for Teachers/Parents

Literacy Tips for Parents (Reading Rockets)

Summer Reading Loss (Reading Rockets)

Summer Reading Loss: School Library Journal Interview with Dick Allington

American Library Association Great Websites for Kids

The Cooperative Center for Books for Children Bibliographies

50 Bilingual Spanish/English Integrated Books (CCBC)

International Children’s Digital Library
Free digital PDFs of children’s picture books from around the globe in their original language. There is an iPad app that allows for easy viewing on your iPad.Start With a Book

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rules of Summer

Rules of Summer
Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Published in 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Book
ISBN 978-0-545-63912-5

Grades preK-5

Book Review 
While birth order is often invisible in school, once the schedule-free days of summer come many children find themselves defined by whether they are “the big” or “the little." In Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan brings us into an imaginary world of two brothers where stepping on a snail can cause a tornado or forgetting to close the back door can invite a host of unwelcome creatures into your living room. Driven by the complex relationship between siblings, Tan uses simple language coupled with multifarious images and associations to let us linger over what rules of summer count when it comes to childhood. We witness a little brother repeatedly left behind not quite remembering the rules he should. We also watch an older brother transform from the role of dictator to rescuer and perhaps even hero. Like his previous books The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia, Tan captures our imaginations through his fantastical scenes that compel us to think about our own childhood fears, rivalries, and past hopes for redemption. Masterfully, Tan explores the duality of brotherhood—to love and to torment your sibling; to lead and to follow; to leave or to rescue. This book will bring some students to laugh out loud at the older brother’s triumphs and others to wonder whether they themselves will be let into the mysterious and wonder-filled rooms of their siblings down the hall. Sure to spark conversations about the rules that define their summers, Tan's whimsical illustrations lend themselves to closely read again and again to find new ways of thinking about childhood, summer, family, and the unwritten rules we live by. 

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades preK-5

Illustration Study. Shaun Tan uses whimsical landscapes that blend reality with fantasy that invite us to reread each page to better understand the scenes and the relationships between the two brothers. Support students to choose a favorite illustration to study more closely. What do they notice about the page? What’s happening to each of the characters? What questions do they have about what’s happening on the page? What colors are used and what impact do they have on how we feel about the scene? In what ways can they borrow some of Tan’s illustration techniques to make their own blends of reality and fantasy through writing and drawing?

Rules of Summer List Making. Consider with students why Tan made the purposeful decision of starting the narrative with what the little brother should never do and end with what the big brother should always do. What are the rules of summer that they think matter? Begin a class list of rules of summer. Allow students to share widely. Borrow from Tan’s technique of beginning with “Never ____” and “Always _____”. Notice the last page of the book with students and how the rules and imaginary scenes came out of the illustrations the boys had drawn that are hanging on their wall. Have students choose a rule to illustrate with a blending of reality and fantasy drawing from their own life.

Family Narratives. While fantasy dominates the landscape, the reality of family dynamics foregrounds each page to remind readers that this is ultimately a narrative about family. Support students to write and draw their own family narratives. What relationships matter to them most? In what ways can they construct a family narrative that explores the complexity of relationships that matter to them? What moments from their lives do they want to share? Support students to write and draw both real and/or fantastical scenes to craft their narratives.

Inference Building Through Internal Thinking. To support students to make inferences, draw attention to the kinds of internal thinking each of the boys may be experiencing based on the situation, their facial expressions, and their body language. Model and provide guided practice around select images from the book and then support students to choose pages to construct internal thinking sentences independently or in partnership. Have students share what they constructed with others and support them to explain their decision-making using text evidence.

Dialogue Construction. While dialogue is absent from the text itself, the situations presented throughout the text welcome dialogue. As with internal thinking, model and provide guided practice around select images from the book and then support students to choose pages to construct dialogue between the two brothers based on the situation they are in, where they are each standing, and what’s happening around them. Emphasize crafting lines of dialogue that sound the way siblings really speak. Have students share their lines of dialogue with one another while explaining their thinking about the language they chose. For upper elementary students, consider further supporting students with dialogue tags and proper rules for punctuation.

Author Study Text Set. Shaun Tan’s work is highly regarded for his masterful blend of fantasy and reality in works including The Red Tree and The Bird King. While many of his texts themselves are best suited for upper elementary classrooms, students of all ages will be able to notice similarities across the images. What style of illustration do they notice him using across his texts? When does he use color and when does the absence of color evoke an important feeling or message? Investigate Tan's website to look at and consider what other kinds of media besides picture books he creates. Invite students to characterize his artistic style and to consider the messages he constructs for readers. In what ways does he question everyday experiences? How does he look at things in life in a new way across the media he uses?

Where The Wild Things Are Duet Model. Reminiscent of Max being sent to his room without dinner, we are reminded in Rules of Summer that rules are often arbitrary to children and a powerful imagination is often the best escape from a rule-driven world. Support students to consider how Shaun Tan may have drawn from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. In what ways are the boys similar to Max? In what ways are they different? Likewise, how are the landscapes that Sendak and Tan have created similar and how do they differ?

Critical Literacy

Power and Position.  This book provides a pathway for discussion about who makes the rules at home and in society. Have a conversation with students about who they sided with in the story. Was their decision based on their own position in their family? In what ways do they think they are powerful in their families? In what ways are they not? Who makes the rules? How can they use their voices to explain themselves if they disagree with a rule? What vehicles do members of society have for voicing disagreement with rules set forth by society or governing bodies?

Online Resources

Shaun Tan: Author's Website

Shaun Tan's Blog:

Boston Globe Horn-Book Honors Award Review

ABC Radio News Interview with Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan Talks About Rules of Summer and the Drawing Process

The Arrival YouTube

The Lost Thing: A Short Film by Shaun Tan (Academy Award Winner)


Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 

Tan, S.  (2007). The arrivalNew York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 

Tan, S. (2009). Tales from outer suburbia. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 

Tan, S. (2010). The red tree. Melbourne, Australia: Lothian Children's Books. 

Tan, S. (2010). The lost thingMelbourne, Australia: Lothian Children's Books. 

Tan, S. (2013). The bird king: an artist's notebookNew York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey
Written by Loree Griffin Burns
Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
ISBN 978-780761393429

Grades K – 6

Book Review

Few things feel more miraculous than witnessing the transformation of pupa to butterfly. This process is both celebrated and elaborated in a picture book photo essay by the team that brought us The Hive Detectives and Citizen Scientists. In this title, author Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz take a younger audience along on their field research, documenting their travels to El Bosque Nuevo, a special kind of farm in Costa Rica. “The farmers here don’t grow carrots or potatoes or cucumbers. They grow butterfly pupae.” Clear explanatory text, well suited for a primary and elementary audience, is accompanied by stunning photographs that provide illustration of the work involved in nurturing and harvesting pupae and elaborate the processes of metamorphosis. An overarching narrative traces the origins of a box containing pupae that arrives at the Museum of Science, in Boston, MA, thus the title An Unusual Butterfly Journey. In addition to a helpful glossary, clarification on the terminology of insect life cycles, further reading suggestions, and an author’s note, the back matter invites readers to investigate opportunities to view butterflies in museums or butterfly houses in their own communities. While an obvious and excellent choice for the commonly taught unit of study on life cycles, this well executed photo essay holds many other possibilities for classroom use, particular as a mentor text for nonfiction writing.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades K - 4

Duet Model Reading with A Place for Butterflies. To engage your students in a comparison of butterflies in their natural habitats and butterflies on a farm, such as El Bosque Nuevo, read Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey paired with Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Butterflies. Provide students with lots of discussion time to share their learning about butterfly life cycles, habitats and behaviors, and the need for conservation efforts. These two titles could be used to launch a unit of study on butterflies focusing on their role in ecosystems, current threats, and conservation efforts. After their initial reading and discussion to these two titles, students can brainstorm a list of inquiry questions to pursue, using additional print and digital texts.

Nonfiction Text Features. This narrative photo essay incorporates many features typically found in nonfiction texts. Do a walk through of the text with your students examining and discussing special features such the map, diagrams, captions, back matter, glossary and author’s note. You might want to create a chart on which you list the name of the feature and record students’ descriptions of the functions that each feature serves. Add to this list over time as you encounter additional features of nonfiction. When students are writing their own works of nonfiction the chart can serve as both inspiration and reference.
Understanding Metamorphosis. Gather a collection of texts to use in a Solar System model (see our Teaching With Text Sets entry for a description of this instructional model) focusing on metamorphosis. Depending on the age of your students, you may choose to have students read one or multiple texts in a small group or you may read them aloud to your students over the course of several days. Read titles such as: Frogs, Butterflies, Growing Frogs, How do Tadpoles Become Frogs?, Metamorphosis: Changing Bodies, and Face to Face with Caterpillars (see listing of books below). Provide your students with note-making graphic organizers that prompt them to illustrate and write about the changes frogs, butterflies, and beetles undergo through the process of metamorphosis.

Grades 2 - 6

Missing Monarchs?: Butterflies as Endangered Species. Recently, backyard observers, naturalists, and scientists have noticed a dramatic decline in monarch butterfly populations. Share with your students digital video, audio, and newspaper clips that discuss this decline in population. Use the collection of monarch related resources accessible on the Teaching with Text Sets blog site to explore suspected causes for the decline of the species. This site includes a collection of texts that invite kids to take action to change our world, making a difference for threatened species.

Field Research. To write Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, author Loree Griffin Burns traveled along with Ellen Harasimowicz to conduct first hand research at El Bosque Nuevo. Visit Loree Griffin Burns’s wonderful website and click on the “Resources” link to read about Loree’s research trips for each of her books (Tracking Trash, The Hive Detectives, Citizen Scientists, and the forthcoming Beetle Busters). Discuss the process of field research including identifying questions, selecting research locations, documenting findings, and identifying new questions. If time allows, use Citizen Scientists as a launching point for students to design and conduct environmental field research in your community.

Genre Study: Photo Essay. Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey is a beautifully crafted photo essay in which the author’s clearly written text is accompanied by fascinating photographs that play an equal role in conveying the story of butterfly farming at El Bosque Nuevo. Read Handle with Care along with other well crafted photo essays such as George Ancona’s It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden and Nic Bishop’s Frogs. Discuss the relationship between the photographs and the text on double page spreads, as well as aspects of the book’s layout and design, such as placement of the photographs, the use of white space, borders, and captions. Discuss, too, the inquiry processes used by authors and photographs to craft a photo essay. Photo essays often (although not always) involve first hand research and documentation. Using the photo essays you have studied as mentor texts, invite your students to plan, research, document, and craft a photo essay featuring your school or community.

Loree Griffin Burns: Author’s Website

Ellen Harasimowicz: Photographer

American Museum of Natural History: The Butterfly Conservatory

Boston Museum of Science: Butterfly Garden

Monarch Watch

North American Butterfly Association
Costa Rica: Entomological Supply


Arnosky, J. (2002). All about frogs. New York: Scholastic.

Bailer, D. (2011). How do tadpoles become frogs? New York: Marshall Cavendish.

Bishop, N. (2008). Frogs. New York: Scholastic.

Bishop, N. (2009). Butterflies and moths. New York: Scholastic.

Burns, L.G. (2012). Citizen scientists: Be a part of scientific discovery from your own backyard. New York: Henry Holt.

Frost, H. (2008). Monarch and milkweed. Ill. by. L. Gore. New York: Atheneum.

French, V. (2000). Growing frogs. Ill. by A. Bartlett. Cambridge, MA; Candlewick.

Hutts, D.A. (2011). A butterfly is patient. Ill. by S. Long. New York: Chronicle.

Kalman, B. (2002). Metamorphosis: Changing bodies. New York: Crabtree Publishers.

Kelly, I. (2007). It’s a butterfly’s life. New York: Holiday House.

Murawaski, D. (2007). Face to face with caterpillars. Washington, DC; National Geographic.

Simon, S. (2011). Butterflies. New York: Harper Collins.

Stewart, M. (2014). A place for butterflies. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA.

Stewart, M. (2014). How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? And other questions about butterflies. Ill. by A. Patterson. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

Written by Steve Sheinkin
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-59643-796-8

Grades 7 and Up

Book Review
“[I]t’s important to remember that before Brown v. Board of Education or Truman’s executive order, before Rosa Parks or Jackie Robinson--- before any of this, there was Port Chicago.” What is Port Chicago? Who, you might wonder? The Port Chicago fifty were fifty enlisted African American servicemen in the U.S. Navy, who refused to return to work loading munitions during World War II after surviving an explosion at the Port Chicago, California naval base, and witnessing the death of over 300 men, the majority of them fellow untrained African American servicemen. The men killed and those who survived were part of the first group of African Americans allowed to serve in the U.S. Navy in a position other than mess attendant. In the midst of World War II and the segregated U.S. military, they were asked to perform a highly dangerous task without any specialized training, a task reserved exclusively for the African American enlistments. This relatively unknown early catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States is brought to young adult readers in riveting short chapters that burst with primary source quotes that work like dialogue, helping to fuel Sheinkin’s trademark stealth pacing. As an exploration of the Civil Rights Movement, another window into World War II on the homefront, a launching pad for original research, and as a mentor text for writing engaging nonfiction, this book can serve many roles in middle and high school classrooms.

Teaching Ideas & Invitations

Grades 7 and Up

When is Doing Something Wrong Right? Were the men who refused to obey orders and return to loading ammunitions at Port Chicago right to do so? They had not been given proper training on handling munitions, and had just witnessed the death of over 300 fellow servicemen. Were they wrong? They were enlisted members of the U.S. Navy, and the military depends on obedience within the chain of command. What do your students think was the “right” choice?  Hold a Socratic seminar in which students mull over and consider these opposing perspectives.

Exploring Segregation in World War II. Read through the first teaching idea from The Classroom Bookshelf entry on Courage has No Color by Tanya Stone (2013), and add The Port Chicago 50 to the list of books that can be read in literature circles exploring segregation and prejudice in the U.S. military during World War II.

Oral History with Veterans. Sheinkin was able to write this book because of the oral histories conducted in the 1970s by U.C. Berkeley professor Dr. Robert Allen. Oral histories provide us with access to first-person accounts that get lost in official government documents or news media coverage of events. Working with your local veteran’s organizations and via local personal networks, have your students conduct interviews with veterans living in your area. You might want to organize students in small groups by specific military conflict, so that they can prepare questions suited to the period of U.S. history in which the veterans served. Students can conduct interviews in small groups, pairs, or individually, using audio or video material. Have students create a multimedia presentation on their interview that includes primary and secondary source material and the voice of the veteran. What are the commonalities in the experiences of military members across the interviews? What are the differences that emerge? Conclude by sharing these portraits with veterans; host a viewing session and invite veterans, families, and community members.

Emotional Impact of Port Chicago.  Before or after reading the book, or both before and after, have students watch the 10 minute video, “Into Forgetfulness,” about the Port Chicago disaster, available on the Park Service site and the Friends of the Port Chicago Memorial site. The video covers much of the same information as the book does. Have students discuss the ways in which the video, like the book, stirs an emotional response. How does the video do that effectively? How does the book?

Writing Nonfiction: Setting the Stage. Once you have completed the book, have students return to chapter one. Why did Sheinkin choose to start this book by telling the story of Mess Attendant Dorie Miller during the bombing of Pearl Harbor? How does that impact and ground the reader? How does it preview the content of the book? Have students read the opening chapters of other award-winning nonfiction writers for children and young adults. Develop a list of “opening moves” that they see the authors using. Have students research and write nonfiction of their own on a topic of their choice or one connected to your curriculum standards in social studies, science, or English; make sure they apply one of the identified “opening moves.”

Expanding the Context. In the process of telling the story of the Port Chicago fifty, Sheinkin also tells the story of the emerging Civil Rights Movement and some of the key players and/or events that led up to some of the more well-known turning points in the Civil Rights Movement. For example, throughout the book, Marshall is referred to as a talented lawyer working for the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall appeals the Port Chicago mutiny conviction, but loses the case. But what cases did Marshall win? What did he go on to do? What was the impact of Brown vs. the Board of Education? What connections can students make between the actions of Lieutenant Jack Robinson, who refused to move to the back of the bus at Fort Hood just ten days before the Port Chicago explosion, and first basemen Jackie Robinson who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947? What ultimately led Truman to desegregate the military years before the United States was desegregated? Place students in small groups to research these important people and events, and have students decide how best to share their research.

Critical Literacy

Mainstream Media and Historical Understanding. On page 46, Sheinkin writes that stories about the mistreatment, even murder, of African Americans in the segregated military did not make it into mainstream media at the time, but black newspapers did report on these events. What events are unfolding right now in your community, within the United States, or around the world that are not being covered by mainstream media? Put students in small groups, and have each group compare and contrast the coverage of a different news story by a range of local news outlets, including newspapers, radio, and television stations. What gets covered in some but not all? How does the coverage differ? Students can co-author their analysis in a genre that makes the most sense to them (oral presentation, shared writing, multimedia presentation). 

Missing Pieces. Before reading the book, have students read the summary of the disaster on the History Channel. Use this short article to have students anticipate what details and perspectives might be in the book. When students have completed the book, have them return to this short text. What important details are included? What are excluded? Why does this article fail to mention the connection between the Port Chicago fifty and the desegregation of the military? How does that missing information shape and deepened someone’s understanding of the impact of this event? If you only read this one source, what would you understand about the impact of the Port Chicago fifty? Next, have students read the UNC article. How does the perspective change again? What is included that was left out of the History Channel article? Using their knowledge gained from reading the book, have students discuss or write, formally or informally, about what someone can learn about the event from reading the two articles, and how the Sheinkin’s book differs in its perspective and approach.

More Missing Pieces. The Port Chicago 50 focuses on the fifty men who were ultimately put on trial by the U.S. Navy and convicted as mutineers. It was the largest mutiny trial in the history of the navy. However, when the explosion took place on July 17, 1944, 320 servicemen were killed. Who were they? Who were their families? How did the U.S. Navy compensate the families of the dead African American servicemen? This is an extra-challenging research project that may not be completed quickly. But for interested and engaged students who up for the challenge, have them research naval records to get the names of the dead. Using online resources, including, perhaps, an subscription available through your local public library system, try to track down surviving relatives of those servicemen. 

Overturn the Conviction! The Port Chicago fifty are still considered convicted mutineers according to the U.S. Navy.  After reading the book, do your students believe that this is appropriate? Next, have students examine the Port Chicago Memorial website, to get a sense of the legacy of the disaster in its fullest sense – from the people who keep the memory alive. Discuss Freddie Meeks’s decision, to seek a presidential pardon, which was issued to him by President Clinton in 1999. In the end, all of the Port Chicago fifty are dead, and as Sheinkin reminds us, “[a]ll fifty remain convinced mutineers.” If your students feel so moved, have them write persuasive letters to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, arguing that he ignore the 1994 review of the Port Chicago trial, and overturn their convictions posthumously. 

Further Explorations


Friends of the Port Chicago Memorial

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Park Site

“Port Chicago Disaster,” History Channel

“Remembering the Port Chicago Mutiny,” UNC Special Collections

Teen Reads Interview with Steve Sheinkin, January 2014

Courage has No Color Entry, The Classroom Bookshelf


Fleishman, J. (2007). Black and white airmen: Their true history. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nathan, A. (2002). Yankee Doodle gals: Women pilots of World War II. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

Stone, T. (2013). Courage has no color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.