Monday, December 27, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
- Setting and Writer’s Craft. Jansson created a rich and vivid landscape for the Moomins to inhabit and explore. Help students identify sections in the series where descriptions of the setting are particularly detailed and investigate how Jansson uses language to make the setting come alive. For example, in Comet in Moominland, the characters need to scale some mountains to reach an observatory. Jansson writes the following:
Damp veils of mist swirled around them. They were dreadfully cold (Moomintroll thought longlingly of his wooly trousers) and surrounded completely by an awful floating emptiness.
What vocabulary choices does she make? How does she use adjectives and adverbs? Have students apply some of these craft skills to pieces of their own writing and share the revisions with a partner or the class.
- Mapping Moominvalley. At the beginning of some of the books, Jansson provides a map of Moominvalley and the places the characters visit during their escapades. Activate students’ envisionment skills by having them draw more maps of Moominvalley, especially for the books that do not provide any. Have them mark locations where important plot events occur, and encourage them to fill in the topographical details of the land. Perhaps you can create a map as a whole class that spans the entire series, adding to it as you make your way through the series. Or perhaps they can create 3-D maps or virtual maps online, but make sure students stay accountable to the settings described in the books.
- Series Inquiry. Series books are ubiquitous in the realm of children’s and young adult literature. While some may find that series books initially seem formulaic and predictable, others are comforted by the familiar characters and plot lines. Begin an inquiry into the Moomin book series with students. How are the various books similar? How are they different? How do the various characters remain the same or perhaps grow and develop as the series continues? What about Jansson’s underlying themes across the series? Once students complete an in-depth exploration of the series as a whole, have them try similar investigations into other classic children’s series (such as the ones listed below in the “Further Explorations” section). For example, some series have the characters and settings that stay the same (such as the Moomins), while others have characters that grow older and settings that evolve. Series inquiries make for great book club and literature circle discussions.
- Reader’s Theater. Part of what makes the world of the Moomins so memorable are the characters, though Jansson rarely describes their personalities directly. Instead, much of the characterization is revealed through dialogue. Have students study each character’s spoken words, determine how the character is speaking (i.e., with what tone, inflection, or volume), and infer the character’s personality. For example, the Muskrat makes it a point to tell everyone what he feels is unnecessary in life. What do his words say about his outlook on life? Once students feel they have a better grasp on each character’s disposition and motivation, have them perform a reader’s theater version of a part of the book that they especially enjoy.
- Idiomatic Phrases. The appeal of the Moomin characters also comes from the idiomatic expressions they use, such as, “Strike me pink!” and “higgledy-piggledy." Guide students to study the context in which those idioms are voiced to determine what they mean. Then have students brainstorm the various idioms they hear in everyday life. Help them research the meanings of those idioms, research their origins, and discuss the perspectives and values underlying the expressions. They may be surprised to learn that a seemingly benign and popularly used idiom may have controversial origins.
- The Question of Classics. Like the Moomin books, many series as well as single works in children’s literature have been deemed classics. But what makes something a “classic” and who says? What characteristics do each of these literary works share that qualify them for the special status? Is it merely that they have stood the test of time, or is there something more to them? If those books were to be published today, rather than when they were initially published, would they have the same appeal? Whose perspectives are missing or misrepresented in some of the classics of children’s literature? What works could be considered modern-day classics, and why? This exploration could culminate in a variety of classroom activities: debates, essays, role-plays, collections of student-designated “classics” in the school or classroom library, etc.
- Commercialization of Children’s Books. There is a growing concern that children’s literature, especially series books, is becoming more and more commercialized to the detriment of the field. Like the Disney industry, the Moomins have inspired Moominworld theme parks and museums across the world, as well as a merchandising boom across Finland and Japan. But are all the figurines, games, cartoons, clothing, and marketing going too far? Are they taking anything away from the lure and experience of reading the original texts? Watch this video by the Media Education Foundation (http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=134), read this article (http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Ch-Co/Consumer-Culture.html), or read this one (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/books/19cathy.html) to spark discussion about this issue.
Banks, L. R. (1980-1998). The Indian in the cupboard series. New York: Yearling.
- This series describes Omri's discovery that an old medicine cabinet he got for his birthday brings to life any figurine he puts into it.
- Beginning with the famous story of Dorothy's journey, this series takes readers on various adventures through the Land of Oz.
- A comic strip compilation of Jansson's artwork about the whimsical Moomins.
- The escapades of an irreverent, high-spirited, amazingly strong, and ultimately delightful girl.
- The amusing and charming misadventures of the beloved teddy bear and his friends.
- The popular series about the tiny people who live in the homes of normal-sized people and "borrow" what they need to survive.
- Another well-loved series about tiny humanoids with mouse-like features who live in the walls of the Bigg family.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions
Written by Jacqueline Farmer and Illustrated by Joanne Friar
Published by Charlesbridge Publishers, 2010
‘Tis the season to find brightly decorated trees outdoors and indoors almost everywhere you go. But how did the Christmas tree as we know it come to be, and why is it a longstanding symbol for this holiday? Readers of Jacqueline Farmer’s nonfiction picture book may be surprised to learn that evergreen branches as decoration do not have their origins in Christian traditions; this symbol can be traced back to Egyptian solstice celebrations. In this survey text, Farmer describes the evolution of the modern Christmas tree, highlighting interesting aspects of its history, including the tree’s presence in the White House. In the second half of the book, Farmer focuses on the industry of Christmas farming, describing farming practices and tree types. The book will inspire many questions, prompting further research and learning about this holiday icon. Deep green endpapers and Joanne Friar’s detailed gouache illustrations make this attractive and informative book a perfect package for the holidays.
Grades K – 6
- Winter Holiday Symbols. Guide your students to identify and learn the history of symbols associated with winter celebrations around the globe, such as Diwali, Loy Krathong, Hanukkah, Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Dong Zhi, and Kwanzaa. Ask your students to consider what these symbols and celebrations have in common and how the celebrations also represent unique cultural orientations.
- Family Traditions. Invite your students to share their special family winter celebration traditions with their classmates. There are many ways of honoring students’ family customs. You could invite your students to write about the ways in which their family celebrates the season, ask students to bring in and talk about an artifact related to their family’s celebrations, or encourage students to create and display artwork related to their family traditions.
- Class Christmas Trees. Decorate an evergreen tree in the classroom to represent the cultural backgrounds of the students in your classroom and/or your global community. Alternatively, you could have students design a tree to be placed in a central location in your community. Many communities use decorated trees for local fund-raising efforts. Students could participate in an ongoing initiative or start a new social action project.
- Christmas Tree Farming. Farmer provides an overview of the Christmas Tree farming industry. If it is possible in your area, arrange for a visit to a local nursery. Have students be prepared to ask questions that they have about tree farming. Follow up your visit with further online or print research and create a presentation (oral or written) of the students’ learning.
- Famous Trees. Have students, individually or in groups research a famous tree, such as the one at Rockefeller Center and present its history to their classmates. You may want to create a class book or presentation deck to document their findings.
- The White House Tree. Using the information in book and the online resources below about the annual Christmas tree at the White House, engage students in an exploration of how White House trees have reflected the politics of their times and / or the social agendas of the first ladies who have sponsored them. Have students work in cooperative groups to design a tree that reflects the current sociopolitical environment – if they were responsible for decorating this year’s tree, how would they accomplish this task?
- Separation of Church and State. Farmer’s text notes that the General Court of Massachusetts banned Christmas due to its non-Christian origins in 1659. What exactly does “separation of church and state” mean? What is the law and how has it been interpreted in different contexts over time? What are the implications of the law for schools and schools’ recognition of holidays that have a religious origin? Invite your students to explore these questions.
Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg
The Tree at Rockefeller Center
National Geographic Kids: Diwali India’s Festival of Light
Akhlah: The Jewish Children’s Learning Network
BBC Guide to the Religions of the World and Interfaith Calendar
Smithsonian: Arts of the Islamic World: A Teacher’s Guide
National Christmas Tree Association
Christmas Tree Farm Network
National Geographic: Solstice A Cause for Celebration Since Ancient Times
Ben-Zvi, R.T. (2005). Four sides, eight nights: A new spin on Hanukkah. Ill by S. Natti. New Milford, CT: Roaring Brook Press.
- Children introduce various aspects of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah by describing their favorite practices or stories associated with the celebrations.
Hassett, J. & Hassett, A. (2005). The finest Christmas tree. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
- When people start favoring artificial Christmas trees, Farmer Tuttle doesn’t generate enough business to be able to afford his wife’s Christmas hat. Fortunately a special order from the “Boss saves the day in this humorous picture book.
Heiligman, D. (2006). Celebrate Diwali. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Heiligman, D. (2006). Celebrate Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
- Part of the National Geographic Holidays Around the World series, these titles provides an overview of these winter celebrations; the books are illustrated with photographs.
Khan, H. (2008). Night of the moon. Ill. by J. Paschkis. San Fransisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
- Yasmeen, a seven year old Pakistani American girl, celebrates the month of Ramadan with her family and shares her experiences with her classmates at school.
Pfeffer, W. (2003). The shortest day: Celebrating the winter solstice. Ill. by J. Reisch. New York: Dutton Children’s Books.
- This informational picture book describes the science behind the change of seasons, the response of humans and animals to the approach of winter, and how the solstice has been celebrated throughout history.
Whitman, S. (2008). Under the Ramadan moon. Ill. by S. Williams. Morton Grove, ILL: Whitman.
- In this lyrical picture book, a family is depicted carrying out the practices of Ramadan, “under the moon, under the moon, under the Ramadan moon .”
Monday, December 6, 2010
By Laurie Halse Anderson
- Slavery in the North. What do your students know about slavery in the North? Before reading Chains or Forge, have students list what they know and what questions they have. After they finish one or both books, they can examine Douglas Harper’s well-documented “Slavery in the North” website at: http://www.slavenorth.com/index.html as a starting point for research .
- Paired Texts. Have some students in class read the novel Forge and others read Washington at Valley Forge, a nonfiction chapter book by Russell Freedman (see below). Use book-based groups as a “home base” for exploring each text, the conditions faced by the soldiers, and the political climate during the winter of 1777-1778. Next, jigsaw the students in mixed-book groups. Have students compare and contrast their understandings of the events at Valley Forge. What similarities and differences emerge? How were their understandings of the history shaped by their readings of historical fiction versus nonfiction ? If time permits, all students could read both books, for a more in-depth examination of both this period during the American Revolution and the genres of historical fiction and nonfiction literature.
- Local History. If you teach in one of the original thirteen colonies, who were the African-American soldiers who fought from your town, city, county, or state? Go to your local historical society or seek out the reference librarian at your local library, and try to locate the names of African-Americans who fought during the American Revolution. Using the print and digital resources available to you through your local library and historical society, have students research these soldiers. Who were these men? What did they do before and after the war? Were they free or enslaved? Did they have families ? There are many ways to share this knowledge with the community. Students could write and illustrate their own historical fiction or biographies. As a class, they could write a collected biography of these men and women. Or, with the help of the historical society and/or library staff students could create an exhibit to put on display honoring these veterans.
- Point-of-View and Writer’s Craft. Chains is written from Isabel’s first person point-of-view, and Forge is written from Curazon’s first person point-of-view. How would the books be different in Anderson decided to write from both characters’ points-of-view in alternating chapters ? Have students take a scene from Forge from Part III, and rewrite it so that it’s from Isabel’s point-of-view, keeping the dialogue exactly the same. As students share their samples, ask them to consider how their understanding of and interpretation of Isabel as a character has been deepened by this exercise . Have students predict how the third novel in the trilogy will be written. Would they recommend alternating chapters?
- Camp Conditions and Supplies. Compare and contrast the conditions in Valley Forge with conditions experienced by American soldiers stationed overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq during the early stages of the respective invasions in 2001 and 2003. Using the digital databases available through your local library, locate newspaper accounts of the conditions in the 21st century and compare them to conditions at Valley Forge. What problems were experienced? What caused a lack of supplies? Who was to blame? What similarities exist between these very different events, despite the difference in time periods? Who ultimately benefits from these wars, and at whose risk or expense?
- Integrated Armed Forces. In the Appendix of Forge, author Laurie Halse Anderson states, “The American Revolution was the last war in which black and white Americans served in integrated units until the Korean War in 1950” (p. 288). Have students discuss their reactions to that statement. Are they surprised? What assumptions lie beneath their reactions? Explore some of the documents and photographs on the “Desegregation of the Armed Forces” section of the Harry Truman Presidential Library Webpage at: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/desegregation/large/index.php?action=chronology. What are some of the similarities and differences between the experiences of black soldiers in the 18th century and the 20th century? What were some of the reasons why it took so long to desegregate the military? Is segregation still practiced in the military today? To explore more closely the roles African-American soldiers played in World War II, go to “African-Americans During World War II” at the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/ww2-pictures/#army .
- A specialized look at the role of spies in the American Revolution.
- A specialized look at the events that unfolded at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778.
- This first book in Isabel and Curazon’s trilogy is set in New York City in 1776. Isabel , promised her freedom upon the death of her Rhode Island owner, is sold and enslaved, along with her sister to Ruth, to the cruel Lockton family of Manhattan. In this brutally honest portrayal of slavery in the northern colonies, Curazon encourages Isabel to help the Whig cause by spying on her Tory owners.
- These lengthy, sophisticated works of young adult historical fiction provide readers with a complex and dramatic portrait of a Octavian, an enslaved African from New England attempting to find his rightful place during the American Revolution.
- As young adult nonfiction, this text provides an in-depth examination of the causes of the American Revolution that goes beyond a recitation of the usual refrains “taxation without representation” or “give me liberty or give me death.” Aronson presents the war within the context of the global economy, and how England’s wealth hung in the balance of her colonies in America and Asia.
- Now out of print, this nonfiction title is worth seeking out from used booksellers for its in-depth and complex portrait of the role free and enslaved blacks, like Curazon, played in the American Revolution.
- Freedman’s account of the winter of 1777-1778 provides readers of Forge with the other side of the story, and the ways in which Washington and others worked behind the scenes to reconstruct the Continental Army’s supply lines and restore the dignity and morale of the solders.