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Literacy Now

Putting Books to Work
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
  • Middle school boys have been waiting for Julian Twerski.

    In the recent novel TWERP, author Mark Goldblatt turns the bully paradigm on its head, giving us a gruesomely honest account of the middle school power dynamic.

    Many books have been written about the “mean girl” mentality and about bullying in general. Let's face it: teasing, ridicule, abuse, and the desire to belong are so rife in our tween years that practically no middle grade book would be complete without them.

    • Blog Posts
    • Putting Books to Work

    Putting Books to Work: TWERP

    by Erin O'Leary
     | Oct 07, 2013

    TWERP (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013)
    By Mark Goldblatt
    Grades 4 through 7

    Putting Books to Work: TWERP | On the Engage blog.Middle school boys have been waiting for Julian Twerski.

    In the recent novel TWERP, author Mark Goldblatt turns the bully paradigm on its head, giving us a gruesomely honest account of the middle school power dynamic.

    Many books have been written about the “mean girl” mentality and about bullying in general. Let's face it: teasing, ridicule, abuse, and the desire to belong are so rife in our tween years that practically no middle grade book would be complete without them.

    More often than not, they center around the tragic figure—the female protagonist. We bear witness to the victim's story and over the course of the novel, we watch as she finds her own strength and the beauty that lies within. It's emotional. We end up crying. We identify with the ostracized teen and cheer her on when she finally tells everyone off. She romps past the final pages with renewed strength and self-esteem, headed for her own happily ever after.

    This one is for the boys. The action makes you nauseous with internal conflict without smacking you in the face with it. It’s plot driven, not dramatic. This one isn't about the victim, or the bully. It's about the follower. And it's brilliant.

    At times it was difficult turning the pages while my hands were blocking my eyes, shielding them from the horror I knew was to come. That was just the first chapter.

    How often do we have the right words (and the guts) to stand up for something? I don't know about you, but when I was in school, I wasn't the one with her head held high, having the courage to believe in herself and function without caring what other people thought of me.

    Nope.

    Most of us were Julian, standing in a situation we didn't see coming, going along with something we never intended. How desperately we wanted to belong. How quickly we compromised our morals and rationalized horrific behavior. We made excuses for our friends and for ourselves. We stood by. We did nothing. We said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that we weren't the target.
    If we have any hope of dealing with the bully crisis, we have to address the real problem. And it's not the bullies. It's the followers.

    Any school adjustment counselor will tell you—bullies don't have power unless someone gives to them. The good news is, we can reach those kids and I think this book is a start. Through Julian, we recognize the moments where we would have made a different decision. We see Lonnie's power and witness the highly controlling group dynamic.

    The book takes place in the late ’60s, which is hardly essential to the plot. It is merely a cool fact that is reflected in notebook entry dates, images of kids playing outside, and dirt cheap movie prices. Every scenario in this book is relatable and probably happened yesterday to some kid.

    Here's the other cool thing: Julian. He is a man's man, but he has a conscience. He's competitive and brutally honest about his desire to win, but a win means nothing when he knows he could have done better. He's annoyed by his sister, except when he needs some cash or halfway-decent advice. He's an athlete, but he sort of loves to write. He likes a girl, but he doesn't really like her. He strikes a deal with his teacher to avoid reading JULIUS CAESAR, only to find out he kinda enjoys Shakespeare and reads it anyway.In Julian Twerski, Mark Goldblatt has succeeded in giving middle school boys both a voice and a role model.

    The book is organized into chapters that are almost vignettes, each one a complete story unto itself, told through Julian's stream of consciousness narrative. Instructed by his English teacher to write a reflection about his week-long suspension from the sixth grade, Julian reluctantly picks up his pencil and begins to write. For a while, I actually thought the book would end without the reader finding out what transgression resulted in Julian's suspension. Don't worry.

    The silent hero is Mr. Selkirk, the English teacher who sees in Julian something he can't see for himself; giving a young man the chance at salvation, a chance Julian never thought he had, or even knew he wanted.

    If you're the follower, this story might give you the courage to pause. If you're the victim, it might give you the courage to forgive.

    Cross-curricular Connections: English/Language Arts, History/Social Studies

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    Boys Book Club

    In my opinion, this is the kind of novel for which book clubs are made. Gather a group of boys and call it a tribe, clan, or team...something cooler than “club.” Lead a four-to-six week discussion group based on TWERP. Use the chance to place older boys in the role of facilitator. Talk to the school's adjustment counselor about trying some social experiments during Bully Prevention Month (October).

    Storyboard It

    Divide your class into groups—one per chapter. Have them storyboard the plot as the action takes place. What is the scenery? Time of day? Where would cameras focus? What do the characters look like? What is their body language? Students can then try their hands at directing a live scene and share the video.

    Point of View

    Select a chapter or a scene in the book to recreate from another character's point of view (i.e. Mr. Selkirk, Lonnie, Danley, Devlin) make a voice recording or two-minute video blog based on his experience.

    Shakespearean Selfie

    When Julian gets going on his Shakespeare kick, he is drawn to the scene in Hamlet where man "is but a quintessence of dust." Throughout the remainder of the novel, Julian looks at his life through this window. Find a Shakespeare quote that defines you. Using photo editing software, superimpose the quote on a personal image.

    Get Your Write On

    TWERP offers a lot of opportunities for writing prompts, including:

    • Six-Word Memoirs: Using only six words, state the theme of one chapter, or even the book.
    • Soundtrack: If the book was made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack? Choose one song per chapter.
    • Decisions, Decisions: What is the decision you A) are most proud of, B) regret deeply, or C) you would like to change if you could? Select one and write a blog to respond.
    • Influential Teacher: Write a thank you note to a teacher who encouraged you.
    • Stream of Consciousness: Try your hand at writing exactly what you think, see, and feel for fifteen minutes. Generate a bunch of topics (waking up this morning, the first day of school, a sports tryout) and let your students write like crazy.

    Additional Activities

    • Use news media search engines or online research tools to find a news item from each of Julian’s journal entry dates—after all, 1969 was quite the year (or so I've heard…)
    • Have students generate a list of questions they would like to ask regarding the middle school experience.  Interview an adult about their memories of middle school.  What was their schedule like?  Did you have a best friend?  What did you do after school?  Who was your favorite teacher?  This could be further developed into a presentation where the experiences of interviewer and interviewee are compared to each other.
      Speak to the school's adjustment counselor or administrators about organizing a social experience in which students’ treatment is based solely on something over which they have no control. Assign each student one of two colors and post the results. Then, assign each teacher in the school a bias—either pro-green or pro-purple. For one day, students are either treated with deference or discriminated against. At the end, have students examine how they felt—either in writing, video blogging, or even a class debate.

    Additional Resources

    Choose To Be Nice – Take the pledge!
    Read about the CTBN movement.  This site features stories of random acts of kindess and encourages visitors to sign a pledge.  Your students can join others in making the promise to Choose To Be Nice! 

    Rachel’s Challenge
    Created in memory of the first victim of Columbine, Rachel’s Challenge is a program that inspires school-age children to be up-standers and start “a chain reaction” of kindness.  Students may take a 5-part pledge to make their school a better, more positive place.

    Erin O’Leary (@allinoleary) received her B.S. in Elementary Education and English from Framingham State University and her M.S.Ed. in Language and Literacy from Simmons College.  She has the best job in the world, working as a Reading Specialist at Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts.  She proudly represents half of the Crazy Reading Ladies team, where she and her literary soulmate (@mzcotillo) seek any opportunity to combine good books with crazy kids and lavish costumes. 

    © 2013 Erin O'Leary. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • BOXERS and SAINTS is a two-volume work hot off the presses (September 10, 2013) from highly acclaimed AMERICAN BORN CHINESE author, Gene Luen Yang. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE was the first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award (2007) and was also a National Book Award nominee.
    • Blog Posts
    • Putting Books to Work

    Putting Books to Work: Gene Luen Yang’s BOXERS and SAINTS

    by Aimee Rogers
     | Oct 01, 2013

    BOXERS (First Second, 2013)
    SAINTS (First Second, 2013)
    Written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang
    Grades 7–12

    BOXERS and SAINTS is a two-volume work hot off the presses (September 10, 2013) from highly acclaimed AMERICAN BORN CHINESE author, Gene Luen Yang. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE was the first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award (2007) and was also a National Book Award nominee. Yang skillfully captures and re-presents ideas of identity, stereotypes, cultural expectations and multiple perspectives in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and he lends his skills to many of the same issues in BOXERS and SAINTS. BOXERS and SAINTS can best be classified as historical fiction, with a healthy dose of magical realism.

    Putting Books to Work: Gene Luen Yang's BOXERS and SAINTS via #IRAEngageYang focuses on China during the late 1800s and early 1900s as the setting for both texts. The Boxer Rebellion bubbled to the surface during this time period and began raging across China. Like most historical conflicts, The Boxer Rebellion (a label from the Western press) is difficult to summarize and has many facets and intricacies. In an extremely simplified summary, the Boxer Rebellion originated from the desire of many Chinese to reclaim their land from European influence and control. European Christians were one of the most heavily targeted populations, as were any Chinese who had converted to Christianity; they were referred to as “secondary devils.”

    Little Bao, the main character of BOXERS, is a young Chinese boy from a poor village. He is inspired to join the Boxer Rebellion after witnessing firsthand the cruelty of a group of foreign missionaries in his village. His desire for revenge is further fueled by injuries inflicted on his father from a foreign army that leave his father a husk of his former self. Little Bao receives special training from one of the current leaders of the Rebellion and another mysterious mentor; he learns to tap into the power of ancient Chinese gods and assumes the body and spirit of a former Chinese emperor. Little Bao becomes the newest leader of the Boxers and leads a growing army of fighters across the land to Peking. During this time Little Bao struggles with being a leader, especially when he is in charge of his two brothers and others from his village, he wrestles with what is right and wrong in this fight for China and he must fight distractions, such as attractive young women.

    SAINTS is the story of Four-Girl, a young girl who receives no acceptance or love from her family and therefore seeks to find this love and acceptance elsewhere. She is surprised when Christianity provides her the home she has always craved. Joan of Arc appears regularly to Four-Girl, revealing the story of Christianity and the power of faith. She is subjected to much abuse from those around her for joining the Christian devils. Four-Girl, now baptized as Vibiana, flees her family and leaves her village with Father Bey. The two establish a life in Peking where Vibiana assumes a caretaker role for young orphans. Unbeknownst to her, she is now at the center of the showdown between the Boxers and the foreigners.

    In Peking, her path crosses that of Little Bao and both are forced to make difficult decisions about their beliefs and the extent to which each is willing to go to defend them. I recommend reading BOXERS before SAINTS as more of the story is revealed through BOXERS and the nuances in SAINTS would be difficult to appreciate without the background provided in BOXERS.

    Cross-Curricular Connections: English/Language Arts (literary genres/magical realism), History/Social Studies, Geography, Art, Music (Chinese operas)

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    Multiple Perspectives

    BOXERS and SAINTS is a literarily and artistically excellent example of a text with multiple perspectives and can serve as an introduction to multiple perspectives in many disciplines and for many activities. I have listed some possibilities below, but the opportunities to use this text to foster an ability to see things from multiple perspectives is unlimited!

    History/Social Studies:

    • It is sometimes said that history is told from the perspective of the “winner.” Encourage students to write about a historical event from the perspective of the “loser.” For example, what would Native Americans say about Westward Expansion?
    • Objects are important in many historical events. For example, the gun that shot Lincoln or Kennedy, the quill pen that was used to sign the Declaration of Independence, or Anne Frank’s diary. Have students assume the perspective of an important historical object and tell about that event/time period from this unique perspective.

    English/Language Arts:

    • Many classical texts are told from the perspective of one character. Have students rewrite a scene or event from another character’s perspective. How does the story change? What elements are important from the perspective of this new character that were not noticed by the “original” character?
    • Poetry is full of works written from unique perspectives. Encourage students to search out these poems as inspiration for writing their own poem from a unique perspective.
    • Multiple viewpoints abound in recent texts published for intermediate and young adult readers. Encourage students to find and read one of these texts. Check out: CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein or ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell.
    • There are also many picture books, such as THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, which use this device as well. These can be used as examples to “prime the pump” of students’ own writing.

    Current Events:

    • The current events in many locations around the world, such as Syria, Israel, and Palestine, provide an important and educational opportunity to view a situation from more than one perspective. After students have learned about an event have them write, draw, or create a piece from both perspectives.
    • Students can also assume the roles of different lawmakers or people on different sides of the same issue (gay marriage, abortion, universal health care) and do a similar activity. Creating a concise poster from each perspective will challenge students to understand and synthesize the essences of each perspective.
    • Are there always two perspectives on an event? Have students brainstorm current issues that have more than two perspectives. To extend the activity, students can brainstorm ways to unite multiple parties around a single objective.

    Magical Realism

    Magical realism abounds in BOXERS and SAINTS. Little Bao and those fighting with him are able to assume the body and spirit of Chinese gods and legends through a simple ceremony. Four-Girl is often visited by the ghost/spirit of Joan of Arc who provides her guidance and inspiration.

    While either BOXERS or SAINTS would make a fantastic addition to a unit on magical realism, I think that they can be their own place from which to launch an exploration of magical realism. As the elements of magical realism provided Little Bao and Four-Girl with the strength and bravery they needed to fight for their beliefs, students could use this premise to explore what might bring them more strength and bravery in a situation. For example, the ghost/spirit of a beloved grandmother could visit to provide encouragement to stand for one’s belief even in the face of peer pressure or a former pet could return to provide comfort and companionship during a difficult time.

    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

    The purpose of this activity is to develop and hone students’ visual literacy skills.  Many theorists in the field of comics and graphic novels, including Scott McCloud (UNDERSTANDING COMICS), discuss the importance of “reading” and understanding visual images.  Yang is a master of using the elements of the graphic novel to capture a feeling or to emphasize a point.  He is particularly skillful at manipulating the size, shape and orientation of the panels to provide emphasis and to add extra texture and depth to the meaning of the images and text.

    Ask students to make note of these changes in panel size, shape and orientation. Have them speculate on why Yang made these choices. Did these adjustments change the meaning? How so?

    Additional Resources and Activities:

    BOXERS and SAINTS Book Trailer
    Book trailers are an excellent way to get students excited about reading a text. They are also a fun assignment for students. Instead of a book report, next time ask your students to create a one-minute book trailer. This activity requires a deep understanding of the book as well as creativity and fun.

    Gene Luen Yang’s Blog
    Yang’s blog is filled with additional information about BOXERS and SAINTS. Several of his blog posts address, in more detail, specific elements of BOXERS and SAINTS, or the process of creating these graphic novels.

    In this blog post, Yang discusses how Chinese opera and American comics are alike:
    http://geneyang.com/how-chinese-opera-and-american-comics-are-alike

    This post explores the influence of pop culture on the young Chinese men who took part in the Boxer Rebellion: http://geneyang.com/boxers-and-pop-culture

    An Interview with Gene Luen Yang
    This is a link to WIRED MAGAZINE’s brief interview with Yang about BOXERS and SAINTS, his interest in the Boxer Rebellion, and his writing process.

    Historical Figures of China
    Artist and historian George Stuart creates realistic sculptures of famous people throughout world history. He pairs these figures with monologs he researches and writes. This website is dedicated to his works; he has created over 400 of these sculptures. The website has separated these historical figures into groups so that they can be easily searched. I recommend visiting the section on historical figures from China.

    Aimee Rogers is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota studying children’s and adolescent literature.  Prior to her return to school, Aimee taught high school students with special needs, in a wide variety of settings, for ten years.  She misses working with adolescents but is developing a passion for working with undergraduate pre-service teachers.  She has a growing interest in graphic novels for children and young adults and is making them the focus of her dissertation.

    © 2013 Aimee Rogers. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • IRA’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 was “Invent Your Future.” The idea of “inventing your future” made me think immediately of George Washington Carver and Marilyn Nelson’s gorgeous verse biography of him and his life. The combination of Nelson’s poetic skills and Carver’s amazing life resulted in a magical work.
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    • Putting Books to Work

    Putting Books to Work: CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS

    by Aimee Rogers
     | Sep 26, 2013

    CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS (Front Street, 2001)
    Written by Marilyn Nelson
    Grades 6–12

    IRA’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 was “Invent Your Future.” (See the following website for more information: http://www.cloudy-movie.com/literacy/.) The idea of “inventing your future” made me think immediately of George Washington Carver and Marilyn Nelson’s gorgeous verse biography of him and his life. The combination of Nelson’s poetic skills and Carver’s amazing life resulted in a magical work. CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS received numerous awards, including being named a Newbery Honor book, a Coretta Scott King Honor book, and a National Book Award finalist.

    Nelson provides an arcing, yet detailed, look into Caver’s life from the beginning to the end. She has a fine eye for including both the daily details and many accomplishments that show Carver in all his aspects. Too many times biographies seek to put the subject on a pedestal, but the truly great ones reveal the subject as a person, and an intricate one at that. Nelson integrates details about Carver’s life as a scholar, an inventor, an explorer, a devoted religious man, and a mentor. Across these numerous roles Nelson makes it clear that Carver brought a passion to all his tasks and interests.

    Throughout the text Nelson reveals many of the inventions that can be credited to Carver. Perhaps he is best remembered for his work with peanuts, but he was also a wizard with sweet potatoes and tomatoes as well. Carver’s knowledge of the natural world and plants allowed him to create a blue pigment that many had strived to create since the days of King Tut. This color surrounds us in our daily lives, but was only made possible by Carver’s knowledge, his curious mind and his unwillingness to give up on a project once he embarked on it. Nelson memorializes this discovery in her poem, “Egyptian Blue.” 

    Nelson’s book should be appreciated as the great literary accomplishment it is. But readers will also gain insight and appreciation of the humble George Washington Carver whose work and inventions go unnoticed in our everyday lives, but which indelibly changed our lives forever.

    Cross-Curricular Connections: History/Social Studies, Science, Language Arts

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    Patenting Peanut Products

    It is thought that Carver created more than 300 products from/with peanuts. However, Carver never patented any of his processes or products, so it is difficult to accurately identify everything he should be credited with inventing.

    This multi-step activity can be expanded or shortened based on your classroom needs. Initially students should conduct research into the peanut and peanut-based products attributed to Carver. You can challenge students to identify all 300+ products. To expand the activity students can identify modern day products that stem directly from Carver’s inventions. You can also send students to the grocery store in order to record surprising products that may contain peanuts or peanut by-products.

    The next step in this activity would be to explore the patent process in your country. This process is often long and difficult. Obtain a copy of the patent application and have students fill it out on behalf of one of Carver’s inventions. Students should assume the identity of Carver as they complete this application.

    To extend the activity students can speculate on why Carver may not have patented most of his products. Carver was known for his generosity and sought to serve the common good, as a further extension activity, students can write an essay regarding the pros and cons of patenting products. Students could consider whether or not patents are harmful to some members of the population, for example, medical devices or drugs that may be extremely expensive because of the patent or whether or not the inventor has the right to patent and protect his/her invention.

    Personification Poem

    Throughout Nelson’s poetic text, she describes important items, activities or inventions in Carver’s life. For example, “Prayer of the Ivory-Handled Knife” tells of Carver finding an ivory-handled knife that he had dreamed of; he found it in a watermelon in the garden.

    Assume the point of view of one of these objects, activities or inventions and write a poem about Carver from this perspective. Examples might include writing from the point of view of a piece of dirty laundry or the washboard as Carver takes in laundry to survive in Highland, Kansas (see Nelson’s poem, “Washboard Wizard.”) Another example can be found in Nelson’s “The Joy of Sewing,” which describes how Carver sewed and mended most of his own clothes, and made lace as well.

    A Timeline of African American Achievements

    George Washington Carver was a pioneering African American whose life and work paved the way for many African Americans that followed him. Carver was a contemporary of Booker T. Washington, another pioneering African American who is mentioned in several of Nelson’s poems about Carver.

    In this activity, students will create a timeline of African American achievements. The timeline can start with Carver or before and ideally it should extend into the present day. The goal of this activity would be to recognize the power of one individual to influence the future and to change the lives of others.

    Tolstoy Quote

    Leo Tolstoy said, “To let oneself seem inferior to what one is is the supreme attribute of virtue.” Marilyn Nelson chose to put this quote, among others, at the beginning of CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS. In a five-paragraph essay students should discuss how this quote is relevant to George Washington Carver. Students should be encouraged to use examples from CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS as well as to conduct their own further research into Carver’s life.

    Additional Resources and Activities:

    George Washington Carver National Monument
    This is a link to the National Park Service website of the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri. This site includes images from the Monument including the Carver family cemetery and statues of Carver found at the Monument. Additionally, there are links and resources for children and teachers focused around Carver’s life and accomplishments.

    IN THE GARDEN WITH DR. CARVER by Susan Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
    Although this is a picture book intended for younger children, I am a firm believer in using picture books with all ages and for all subjects, and this is a beautiful picture book that explores some of Carver’s outreach work with rural farmers. The publisher, Albert Whitman & Company, has put together a comprehensive teaching guide for this text. And while the teaching guide is targeted towards younger readers, many of the ideas can be modified for older readers or can serve as inspiration for other activities.

    Agricultural Awareness through Poetry
    These lesson plans were designed by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom and feature poetry that ties into natural and agricultural themes. There is a poem about Carver, “Green-Thumb Boy” by Dr. L.H. Pammel, as well as a snippet of a poem from Nelson’s text.

    BOSTON GLOBE-HORN BOOK Award Acceptance
    This is a link to Marilyn Nelson’s BOSTON GLOBE-HORN BOOK acceptance speech for CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS. She explains what led her to write CARVER and a bit about her writing process. Additional information about Carver and his importance, as Nelson sees it, is also included.

    A Poet for All: An Interview with Marilyn Nelson
    Andrea Schmitz conducted an interview with Nelson and includes snippets here about Nelson’s writing process, including the depth of research she must conduct, especially with texts such as Carver.

    Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac
    The above link is to Anita Silvey’s entry about CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS by Marilyn Nelson. Silvey selected this book to highlight on August 6 as August is National Inventor’s Month. She provides a brief description of the book, some information on Carver and Nelson, and an excerpt from the text as well.

    Aimee Rogers is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota studying children’s and adolescent literature.  Prior to her return to school, Aimee taught high school students with special needs, in a wide variety of settings, for ten years.  She misses working with adolescents but is developing a passion for working with undergraduate pre-service teachers.  She has a growing interest in graphic novels for children and young adults and is making them the focus of her dissertation.

    © 2013 Aimee Rogers. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • In ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, a young girl learns to follow her dreams no matter what else happens. Rosie Revere is a young girl who sees beyond the trash and finds treasure. At school, she is very shy and hides her talents; at home, when no one is looking, she makes amazing creations. She hides out in the attic and creates all sorts of gadgets until she’s too tired to continue working. Why does she hide her fantastic inventions?
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    • Putting Books to Work

    Putting Books to Work: ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER

    by Kathy Prater
     | Sep 17, 2013

    Rosie Revere, Engineer (Abrams, 2013)
    Written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
    Pre-K through Grade 4
     

    In ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, a young girl learns to follow her dreams no matter what else happens.

    Rosie Revere is a young girl who sees beyond the trash and finds treasure. At school, she is very shy and hides her talents; at home, when no one is looking, she makes amazing creations. She hides out in the attic and creates all sorts of gadgets until she’s too tired to continue working. Why does she hide her fantastic inventions? When she was younger, Rosie made a hat to chase off snakes for her favorite uncle…who laughed at her invention. This reaction caused Rosie to be self-conscious and withdrawn from following her dreams.

    She continues with this fear of creating until one day in the fall, her oldest aunt shows up to visit with her. The great-great-aunt, Rose, worked on planes and as a young adult had adventure after adventure. She admits she has one desire that had never been quenched: Aunt Rose (a.k.a. Rosie the Riveter) has always wanted to fly.

    Rosie contemplates the stories and her aunt’s dream to fly. As soon as she wakes the next morning, she begins to build and create a cheese copter to test. But when she tests the machine for flight, it does not do well. Her Aunt Rose begins to laugh, and Rosie’s confidence shrinks again. Rosie begins to think she should give up inventing, but Aunt Rose reminds her with a hug that she has made a beginning and the only thing to do is try again.

    This book illustrates the power that our words have on others and the ability to choose any career desired. Girls can choose science; boys can choose fashion. Careers are not built on getting everything right the first time, but rather on persistence and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

    Cross-curricular connections: Science, Art, Social Studies, English

    Ideas for Classroom Use

    Career Day

    The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to make connections with real life events and the story. After reading ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, discuss Aunt Rose’s career and how that was different for women of her generation. Show pictures of some of the Rosie the Riveter women that helped during the time of crisis in war. Discuss how these women were strong enough to choose to help even though society frowned upon it at first.

    After this discussion, encourage students to think about what job they may like to have when they grow up. Encourage them to think outside the box and consider careers that might not be generally accepted for them. Have the students write or dictate a short speech on why they would choose that particular career and how it might be challenging for them.

    Hold a career day in which each students comes dressed as their chosen career worker. Allow students time to explain why they would choose the career and how it would be challenging for them.

    (Re)Invention

    The purpose of this activity is to explore the concept of inventing along with the process of recycling. Ask parents to save “clean” garbage to donate to the class before the project begins. Discuss inventions and creating ideas out of materials that are unlikely to be used. Read the book about Rosie Revere and then discuss the inventions she created. Allow students to work independently or in small groups using that material that were donated.

    Have students explain their inventions to the classroom. Encourage students to give positive feedback and constructive criticism to each invention.

    Sticks and Stones

    The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to think about their choice of words and actions in respect to others around them.

    After reading ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, ask students to think about how Rosie felt. What actions and words made her happy? What actions and words made her sad? What actions and words made her quit doing what she loved? Why were her reactions different with Aunt Rose laughing than when her uncle laughed?

    Brainstorm ways to encourage people and list ways we discourage people. As a culminating activity, allow students to journal write about a time when they felt discouraged because of the actions of others. Have them include a way that they could have reacted differently like Rosie did at the end of the story.

    Allow students to share as they feel comfortable, in small groups or as a whole class. With young children this may best be completed as a small group discussion and activity, with the teacher taking dictation of their stories. Do not force any student to share because of the personal nature of the stories. Read and respond to each one in writing to help encourage students to build confidence and stand up for themselves.

    Additional Resources and Activities:

    How Stuff Works: History of Rosie the Riveter
    This site has an easy to understand description of the history of the Rosie the Riveter campaign during World War II. Pictures, descriptions, and a list of several links that explain the work force for women and men of that time, more information about World War II, and links to additional sites about the Rosie the Riveter campaign are all available through this link.

    Job Exploration
    This website created by Kids.gov is set up in three sections. Learn about jobs, play games about jobs, and videos about jobs all give easy to understand information designed for the lower elementary level, teens, and adults. Students can view a list of jobs by category or by skill. The jobs include a range from chef to veterinarian. Videos showcase several of the jobs to reinforce their skills and interest levels. The links to games provides a range of interactive activities for students.

    Andrea Beaty…Children’s Author
    The ROSIE THE REVERE, ENGINEER author’s website has information about the author herself and includes links to teacher resources connected to the book. The teacher resources include cross-curricular activities as well as a downloadable paper airplane for students to create. The author also includes links to several other books that are career related, INCLUDING IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT.

    Kathy Prater is a Reading Specialist who works with students with dyslexia, an Adjunct Professor at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, and a full time pre-kindergarten teacher at Starkville Academy in Starkville, Mississippi. Her passions include reading, writing, tending her flock of chickens, and helping students at all levels to find motivation for lifelong reading and learning. She believes that every child can become a successful reader if given the right tools and encouragement. 

    © 2013 Kathy Prater. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Unfortunately, the plight of child soldiers—the focus of WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance—has become a topic that we are all too familiar with, especially after the KONY 2012 campaign, which sought to bring attention to the issue. WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is based upon McKay’s 2008 novel of the same title. The story features Jacob and his school friends and their experiences, after being kidnapped from school, of serving as child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda.
    • Blog Posts
    • Putting Books to Work

    Putting Books to Work: McKay and Lafrance’s WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL

    by Aimee Rogers
     | Aug 13, 2013
    WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL (Annick Press, 2013)
    Written by Sharon E. McKay and illustrated by Daniel Lafrance
    Grades 6–12

    Unfortunately, the plight of child soldiers—the focus of WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance—has become a topic that we are all too familiar with, especially after the KONY 2012 campaign, which sought to bring attention to the issue. WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is based upon McKay’s 2008 novel of the same title. The story features Jacob and his school friends and their experiences, after being kidnapped from school, of serving as child soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Both the original novel and the graphic adaptation are based upon true events and extensive research.

    As stated above, stories like these have become well-known, but McKay’s text has several features that make it a unique and high-quality version of these events. Jacob and some of his friends manage to escape their LRA captives and eventually return home, but McKay doesn’t end the story here. Instead, she follows her characters as they try to rebuild their lives. Although certainly victims of the LRA, many of the returned child soldiers are viewed as dangerous; in some ways they’re seen in the same light as the leaders of the LRA. By continuing the story McKay provides a more complete picture of the long lasting impact of being forced to serve as a child soldier.

    The second feature of McKay’s work that sets it apart is the quality of the graphic novel adaptation. Much of this can be attributed to Lafrance’s visuals. Lafrance is particularly skillful in his use of color, especially in enhancing emotions, throughout the text. Varying perspectives are another visual strength of WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL.

    Finally, McKay and Lafrance don’t attempt to soften the horrors experienced by this group of child soldiers, but neither do they seek to glorify the violence either. While the topic and the events make this book inappropriate for younger audiences, the sensitivity with which the violence is handled does not preclude younger readers from experiencing the text.

    The one drawback of the text is that while it fosters an emotional connection between the characters and the readers, it does not provide suggestions for steps readers can take to help stop the practice of using child soldiers. However, while the text does not provide guidance for action, readers and educators can find, create, and contribute to these opportunities themselves.

    Cross-Curricular Connections: History/Social Studies, Geography, Politics, Service Learning, Language Arts/English, Visual Literacy

    Ideas for Classroom Use:

    Next Steps

    As noted above, WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL does not provide any suggestions for how readers can help to end the use of child soldiers. However, the Internet is full of resources and recommendations for action. Educators and students can work together to harness the passion fueled by WAR BROTHERS and focus it towards ending the practice of child soldiers.

    Teachers can organize this activity in numerous ways, including having small groups find or design a way to help the cause. They can then present their ideas to the class, and the class can choose between all of the proposed methods. Students can prepare for these presentations by using the Persuasion Map Student Interactive from ReadWriteThink.

    For older students, this activity provides an opportunity to dive deeper into researching nonprofits and their practices. Unfortunately not all organizations make the best use of the funds raised on their behalf, nor utilize volunteers to their full extent. Savvy contributors and volunteers often research organizations before contributing time or money. These same approaches can be used to evaluate the media and to strengthen critical media literacy skills.

    Translating into Another Format

    Many people might be surprised to read about child soldiers in a graphic novel. However, the graphic novel format can be used to tell almost any story.

    In this activity, students will translate a portion of WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL into another format. For example, students can write a short story based on part of the story. Students could also assume the identity of a character from WAR BROTHERS and write a letter from that perspective. Songs, timelines, or even Facebook pages—the possibilities for alternate formats are unlimited.

    This activity will foster students’ ability to read and understand information in a variety of formats. It’s particularly targeted toward understanding visual information to the extent necessary to present it in a different format.

    Paired Reading

    SON OF A GUN by Anne de Graaf, previously published in the Netherlands, would provide a beautiful companion text to WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. It tells the story of a brother and sister who were captured and forced into service in the Liberian Civil War. This 2013 Batchelder Honor Winner (awarded to books previously published outside of the United States in another language and later translated into English and published by an American publisher) is based upon interviews with former child soldiers. On deGraaf’s blog, she posts pictures from her research in Liberia.

    Additional Resources and Activities:

    WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL Workblog
    THE WAR BROTHERS: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL Workblog is a unique resource for this text as it provides insight into some elements of the book’s creation. Lafrance supplies some before and after sketches as he plays with different artistic techniques in order to find the perfect way to illustrate the story. There is also a tab for latest news about the LRA and additional web resources. This may be a good starting point for finding service projects and more information.

    Amnesty International Child Soldiers
    Amnesty International’s fight for human rights extends to child soldiers. While there are many sources regarding child soldiers on the Amnesty International websites, the above link is for a unit on child soldiers including lesson plans and suggested activities.

    Emmanuel Jal TED Talk: The Music of a War Child
    Prior to becoming a hip-hop star, Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier in the Sudanese rebel army. The stories from this time in his life, which began when he was seven years old, fill his songs. Jal has dedicated his life to fighting poverty and child warfare. The TED talk includes several of Jal’s songs, which likely will appeal to middle and high school viewers.

    Timeline Student Interactive
    ReadWriteThink.org is a collaboration between the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE); the site provides a plethora of resources for a wide span of grades and subjects. This popular interactive guides students through the process of organizing information in timeline form and results in a polished finished product. It’s particularly useful for the “Translating into Another Format” activity outlined above.

    Aimee Rogers is a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota studying children’s and adolescent literature. Prior to her return to school, Aimee taught high school students with special needs, in a wide variety of settings, for ten years. She misses working with adolescents but is developing a passion for working with undergraduate pre-service teachers. She has a growing interest in graphic novels for children and young adults and is making them the focus of her dissertation.
    © 2013 Aimee Rogers. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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