Saturday, August 31, 2013

may the force be with us...

I loved The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger. It may be my favorite book in the series so far.

The Origami Yoda series has always been a favorite in our house. We love how Tom Angleberger addresses life in middle school.  Jabba the Puppet, however, reaches for issues a little bigger... federal mandates for testing in education.

I love how in this book Origami Yoda explains, "Gather a tribe you must." It's ironic that we read this book during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Like Yoda implies in the book, many small acts, peacefully done together, can create big change.

Now, back to federal mandates for testing...
I've always wondered what the tipping point would be for students to unite against 'the testing machine'. 

More specifically,  what would happen if students decided that they no longer agreed to being falsely measured by SAT testing. If students 'gathered a tribe' -  and as Origami Yoda says "Nothing you should do." -   refused to take the tests, what would colleges do? Would they have to measure students based on the portfolio of work they have done... on their creativity, innovation and curiosity?

Perhaps... lead the rebellion we must.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gone Fishing

Are you learning about poetry this year? Haikus and Hyperbole... Alliteration and Acrostic poems? What about Double Dactyl, Free Verse, Ballads or Odes?

If you want to know more about poetic forms, grab a copy of Gone Fishing, a novel in verse, by Tamera Wissinger.

Gone Fishing is the story of nine-year-old Sam and a fishing trip with his father... the trip is "ruined" when his little sister, Lucy, comes along. The story is told in three voices: Sam, Lucy, and the father, using many different styles of poetry (labeled under each title). It is a clever, fun, beautiful way to experience poetry.

My favorites, if I had to pick, were GULP a free verse poem and AMENDS a Cinquain poem.

Be sure to read "The Poet's Tackle Box" at the end of the book. It is a wealth of information. I loved Tamera's note at the end: "In fishing and in writing, I wish you the best." I think she and I should be friends.


Friday, August 16, 2013

that was summer in Bluffton

I just read the beautifully illustrated graphic novel BLUFFTON by Matt Phelan.

Matt Phelan's watercolor illustrations are a work of art and perfectly depict the magic and imagination of summers in the early 1900s.

It's the summer of 1908 and Bluffton was the name of a small neighborhood on the western bank of Muskegon Lake in Michigan. Bluffton is also a wonderful story of friendship and big dreams. The story is a fictionalized look at summers in an actors' colony and the early life of Buster Keaton ... with just the right amount of history sprinkled throughout.

It's a fast paced book with creative segues between summers.

Be sure to read the author's note at the end of the book. It may inspire you to read a bit more about Buster Keaton or The Actors' Colony at Bluffton, which existed in Muskegon Michigan from 1908 - 1938.

Also check out...
Buster Keaton's film The General on YouTube

For me, this book lead me to look into the Gerry Society or as it's known in our house... the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It was interesting to me how the Society was seen in such a negative light for the Keatons. It just goes to show that even the best intentions can have flaws.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

to the past and future children of the movement

When I read that Congressman John Lewis was at Comic-Con, I thought... "What the heck?" Then I read further...  Congressman Lewis collaborated with his staffer (and comics aficionado) Andrew Aydin as well as NewYork Times best-selling comic-book artist Nate Powell to create the graphic novel MARCH book one.

The book is dedicated to the past and future children of the movement.

Well, this was a book I knew I had to read. And I loved it.

MARCH is the first graphic novel in a three book series. Book One follows Congressman Lewis' life from boyhood in rural Alabama to meeting Dr. Martin Luther King to the rise of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins.

If you've heard Congressman Lewis speak, you can hear his voice in these pages. It's a book everyone should read and read again, and then pass along for someone else to read.

The language and images are powerful, disturbing, joyful, and unforgettable. The idea that this trilogy is in the form of a graphic novel is brilliant.

If you aren't familiar with Congressman John Lewis, be sure to watch this piece by Bill Moyers:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Little Rock Girl 1957

Our fiction/non-fiction pairing finishes with...

Little Rock Girl 1957: 
How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration.

When 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford headed to her first day at Central High School, her path was blocked by the Arkansas National Guard. An angry crowd yelled, "Go home!" and chanted, "Two, four, six, eight - we don't want to integrate!"

Photographer Will Counts snapped this photo as Elizabeth tried to leave the mob:

Little Rock Girl 1957 is, not only, an amazing walk through one moment in history captured in a photograph, but also a detailed timeline of the before and after

We find that in 1896 the US Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson upholds "separate but equal" accommodations under Jim Crow laws. But in May 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules that separate is not equal and segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Thurgood Marshall, the African-American attorney who argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court, explained why separate was not equal:
"Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place."

But, in 1957, when Elizabeth Eckford showed up for school at Central High in Little Rock, the governor of Arkansas ordered the National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering the school. 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower went on television and announced his plan: he sent in the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the federal court's order to integrate the school. He also federalized the National Guard, which meant the the president, not the Arkansas governor was in charge.

One day the National Guard was told to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering the school, and the next day they were told to protect the Little Rock Nine from the mobs as they entered the school.

And, May 27th 1958, Ernest Green becomes the first black student to graduate from Central High School.

However, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus was determined to defy the federal government. By September of 1958, Governor Faubus closed Central High School in Little Rock rather than let black students attend.  

Civil Rights leaders eventually won the conflict at Central High School. By 1972, fifteen years after the Elizabeth Eckford tried to enter Central High School, Little Rock's public school were fully integrated.

But... what about that photograph? What was learned from the power of a single photo?

A single photo can change history. News coverage can change and/or inspire a movement.

Watch Jonathan Klein's TED talk on 'Photos That Changed The World'...

Has an image ever provoked you to act?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

an American struggle

I picked up the book A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind because it was on the 10th grade summer reading list of a high school I admire. It was first published in 1997 and updated in 2005. It's the memoir of Cedric Jennings, a bright, determined honor student at Ballou High School - a high school in one of Washington D.C.'s most dangerous neighborhoods.

It is beautifully written by Mr. Suskind. In the Epilogue he writes:
"Nonetheless, the fact remains; he had hope in a better world he could not yet see that overwhelmed the cries of "you can't" or "you won't" or "why bother." More than anything else, mustering that faith, on cue, is what separated him from his peers, and distinguishes him from so many people in these literal, sophisticated times. It has made all the difference."

And in the Author's Note Mr. Suskind writes:
"It is that privilege - to be the trustee of someone's very self - that I've sought to measure up to with each page of this book."

While the book is written beautifully by Ron Suskind, the real hero is Cedric Jennings.

From GoodReads:
It is 1993, and Cedric Jennings is a bright and ferociously determined honor student at Ballou, a high school in one of Washington D.C.’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where the dropout rate is well into double digits and just 80 students out of more than 1,350 boast an average of B or better. At Ballou, Cedric has almost no friends. He eats lunch in a classroom most days, plowing through the extra work he has asked for, knowing that he’s really competing with kids from other, harder schools. Cedric Jennings’s driving ambition–which is fully supported by his forceful mother–is to attend a top-flight college.

In September 1995, after years of near superhuman dedication, he realizes that ambition when he begins as a freshman at Brown University. In this updated edition, A Hope in the Unseen chronicles Cedric’s odyssey during his last two years of high school, follows him through his difficult first year at Brown, and now tells the story of his subsequent successes in college and the world of work.

As I was reading this book, I was thinking what a perfect pick it is for a high school reading list. Every high schooler today should read it.

It is a true success story among too many unsuccessful ones. Rarely can someone face so many challenges and still persevere. It is a story of race and difference and opportunities and difficulties ... and accepting others while still keeping your own sense of self.

after finishing A Hope in the Unseen, I saw this clip on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

It lead me to read the following articles:

Justin Porter's New York Times article Reflections on the Road to Harvard and Travis Reginal's NYT article Reflections on the Road to Yale.

If you know a high school student, have them read this book.

Whether you are a student who has been given every opportunity and encouragement or one who has not, you are sure to be moved by the story of Cedric Jennings... and all 'Cedric Jennings' past and present.

If you need more enticing, check out... 
This NPR piece by Susan Gilman on A Hope in the Unseen

Saturday, August 3, 2013

reshaping the world

If you are looking for another good non-fiction read, try Sugar Changed the World : A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos. It was on the summer reading list of a middle school I admire and I can imagine the wonderful reflection and questioning that this book is prompting as students get ready to head back to school.

The book explores the impact sugar has had upon colonialism, global trade, migration, slavery, revolutions, culinary arts, production and refinement, religious practice, and more.
"It is the story of the movement of millions of people, of fortunes made and lost, of brutality and delight - all because of tiny crystals stirred into our coffee, twirled on top of cake. Sugar, we began to see, changed the world."

Ironically, while sugar was the direct cause of the expansion of slavery, the global connections that sugar brought about also fostered the most powerful ideas of human freedom.

Sugar plantations were farms, but they were run like factories - with human beings as the tireless machines. Cruelty and misery abounded as endless labor or was demanded from the slaves of the plantations.

In reference to the masters and overseers of the plantations, the English historian Lord Acton famously said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

In 1785 at Cambridge University, an essay contest asked the question "Is it lawful to make slaves of others against their will?" Thomas Clarkson won the essay prize, but in doing so convinced himself and many of the English public to abolish the terrible practice of slavery. When the English looked at the sugar they used everyday in their tea, they could see the blood of the slaves who had created it. (Imagine the power of a single essay the next time you sit down to write.)

Have you ever stopped using a product once you were forced to look at how it was made?

Have you ever considered the debate between human rights and property rights? Is cheaper worth the cost to workers and the environment?

Have you ever given any thought to indentured labor? Gandhi thought it was a form of slavery. Does indentured labor relate in any way to modern day undocumented laborers in the United States?

What do you think of Satyagraha as a revolutionary tool? How have you seen it play out in our modern day news?

Be sure to read the authors note on page 126 at the end of the book. I particularly like the part:
"... young people are smart, and therefore the more opportunity we give them to think about big questions in creative ways, the better."

Two cool aside videos you might want to check out after reading this book are on Crash Course U.S. History with John Green: Taxes and Smuggling AND Slavery.

Also, the author Marc Aronson has an awesome blog over on SLJ. Be sure to check out his answer to "Why should we care about history anyway?"

Friday, August 2, 2013

nor be troubled

I loved the historical fiction novel The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. The year is 1958, one year after the Little Rock Nine, and both local and state governments have closed many Arkansas high schools in opposition to integration. Both children and adults struggle to form their opinions on the issue of what's right.

Marlee is in junior high, but her shyness prevents her from talking to most people... until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. The book is written in Marlee's insightful, first-person narrative. She navigates social issues large and small with great courage.  Her voice is brave and compelling, making this book a real page turner.

The Lions of Little Rock definitely sparks an interest in learning more about civil rights and segregation.

If you read The Lions of Little Rock as part of our Summer Reading series... read on...

Early in the book, Marlee shares:
"You see to me, people are like things you drink. Some are like a pot of black coffee, no cream, no sugar. They make me so nervous I start to tremble. Others calm me down enough that I can sort through the words in my head and find something to say."
She likens her brother to a glass of sweet iced tea on a hot summer day, her father to a glass of milk, cold and delicious, that on occasion goes sour. Her mother is like strong hot black tea, while her sister is like an iced cold Coca-Cola. Do you agree with Marlee's assessment of her family? If you saw your family as things you drink, what would they be?

When Marlee's parents argue about integration, their two sides of the issue sum up what people were thinking at the time:
"I can't believe the governor would rather close the schools than have you go with a couple of Negroes," Daddy said to Judy.
"That's not what he said," Mother snapped. "It's about states' rights, preserving our way of life and respecting Southern traditions. Not to mention maintaining the peace."
What is the difference between Marlee's parents' views on integration of the schools in Little Rock? 

As is often the case, people look for evidence that supports their beliefs and ignore evidence that contradicts them. There is a saying that we don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. Have you ever experienced this?

Marlee says that when she is nervous or scared, she begins to count prime numbers from 1 - 100:
2  3  5  7  11  13  17  19  23  29  31  37  41  43  47  59  61  67  71  73  79  83  89  97
"It's important to face your fears," said Liz. "It makes you a better person."
What do you do when you are nervous or scared? Do you agree with Liz that it is important to face your fears?

The Women's Emergency Committee to Open our Schools

"That week in Sunday school, Miss Winthrop was talking about the apostle Peter and how he thought you should be good, kind and loving to everyone, even if it was hard. I was thinking, okay, it's just the Golden Rule. Then she read a quote from 1 Peter 3:14 that caught my attention: But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled."

The empty halls of Central High School 1958

"Maybe Mother wasn't selfish or uncaring. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she masked it like David did, not with a grin, but with a frown."

"Doing the right thing was harder than I'd expected it to be. And more confusing too."
"He'd said that things could be different in Little Rock, if only the right people could find their voice."

"I've thought about it a lot," I said. "I think a friend is someone who helps you change for the better. And whether you see them once a day or once a year, if it's a true friend, it doesn't matter."

In the author's notes, my favorite bit was:
"Sometimes I think people today forget that public schools are not just about reading and writing, math and test scores, but also about bringing different types of people together." 
Listen to an Audio Excerpt of The Lions of Little Rock HERE

I hope you loved this book as much as I did!

Be sure to read the second part of this fiction/non-fiction pairing, Little Rock Girl 1957 by August 9th; we'll be discussing it then.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

BOMB recap

As a resource, here are all the links to BOMB: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin.

BOMB : Prologue and Part I

BOMB Part 2: Chain Reactions

BOMB Part 4: Final Assembly

BOMB : Epilogue