Archive for May, 2011

No!

No!

David McPhail

picture book


How much can you say with just one word? David McPhail’s almost-wordless picture book No! begins with a boy stamping an envelope addressed simply to “the President.”  He puts on his coat and travels down empty, war-torn streets.  Fighter jets streak overhead while tanks and soldiers appear on the road.  As the boy silently continues on his way, somber-faced people peer out of windows.  One man defaces a picture of the president, and a policeman and his wolf-like dog angrily chase him.  When the boy reaches the mailbox, there is a bigger boy (a bully) leaning against it.  The bully knocks off the boy’s hat, and the boy finally says the book’s one, powerful word, “No.”  “No?” says the bully, scratching his head.  As the bully leans aggressively toward the boy again, the boy then shouts “No!”  The bully is stunned by his word and sits on the ground while the boy mails his letter.

As he returns down the street he walked before, the boy sees the policeman smiling, and his dog licking the face of the man they were chasing.  The soldiers have wrapped presents in their hands instead of guns, and a tank pulls a farmer’s plow up a hill.  Planes release a parachute holding a bicycle, which the (former) bully and the boy untangle and ride together, finally friends.

Curriculum Connections:

Simultaneously dark and empowering, No! symbolically shows how one person can make a difference.  When the boy says “No,” and then sends his letter to the President, he affects an instant and perceptible change in the world.  Illustrated in soft, sketchy drawings in the tradition of Maurice Sendak, No! can spark discussions of ways we can change the world, and gives the message that immense problems can sometimes be changed by the simple act of standing up to things that are wrong and saying “No.”

While it is appropriate for all ages, No! may be best used with older students (grades 3+)when covering local or world conflicts that are overwhelming and discouraging.  There are many people in the world who have, in essence, said “no” to things they don’t believe in, and this book would be a good introduction to a biography unit on people who have stood up for the things in which they believe.

No! connects well with letter-writing campaigns and any movement toward social or political change.  Use it (specifically mentioning the letter to the president) to discuss of the importance of speaking up about ways to positively change the world in addition to saying no to negative actions or behaviors.

No! could also be appropriate when discussing bullying behavior and examining the ways bullying can escalate.  When the boy refuses to accept or internalize the bully’s behavior, he stops it.  While the bully exhibits negative behavior, he is still a boy, and a boy with whom friendship is still possible.  There is a parallel between the behaviors of one person and one political entity.

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The Garden of Happiness

The Garden of Happiness

By Erika Tamar

picture book

    Marisol lives on a New York City block that has an empty, garbage filled lot nearby.  One morning in April, Marisol sees members of the community clearing it out.  They tell her that they are making a garden, and Marisol decides she wants to plant something too.  The garden plots have all been taken, but outside the fence she finds a tiny patch of ground where the sidewalk has cracked.  She picks up a seed from the pigeons and plants it in her little plot.  All summer long she waits, takes care of the seed, and wonders what the plant will be, until the morning when she arrives at the fence and sees a beautiful sunflower blooming high above her.  People in the community stop and smile at the flower, commenting on the ways the flower makes them think of the places they come from, whether Poland, Mexico, or right there in New York City.

As the seasons change, Marisol grows sad as she must collect the last remaining seeds of her dying plant.  All winter, she misses the sunflower.  Then, one day, Marisol is called to come quickly to see something.  Across the street, painted by teenagers in the community, is a beautiful mural of blooming sunflowers.  Under the towering flowers, bright in her red dress, is Marisol watering her growing seed.

The Garden of Happiness blooms brightly with colors and movement-filled illustrations on every page.  Community members play a large, positive part in Marisol’s story, and the growth of her sunflower is an accomplishment celebrated by all.  The Garden of Happiness celebrates one girl’s efforts to help something live and grow, while people all around her are also helping to make the community a more beautiful place.

Curriculum Connections:

The Garden of Happiness is a great book for gardening or community beautification projects.  The story could be read before beginning a garden or mural project meant to make the community beautiful.

The life cycle of a sunflower is depicted from seed until the plan dies and its seeds are collected by Marisol.  Read before planting flower seeds

Marisol also has a supportive community made up of people from all over the country and world.  A focus on diversity could show that even though people are from many different places, they all come together to clean up the city and they come together in their common experiences with sunflowers.

For a focus on the environment, the community works together to remove trash and make the earth healthy again.  Marisol and the rest of the gardeners take excellent care of the garden and take pride in their work and the upkeep of their community. 

Marisol shows that just one person can make a difference.  She doesn’t have a large piece of land or special seeds, but she cares for the earth  by making the effort to plant the sunflower and taking good care of it.



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Almost Zero

  Almost Zero


a Dyamonde Daniel book by Nikki Grimes

chapter book

When Dyamonde Daniel admires her classmate Tameeka’s new pink high-top sneakers, Tameeka tells her the key to getting a pair of her own. “Why don’t you tell your mom to buy you some,” she says.  “That’s what I do.  If I need something, I tell my mom to get it….She’s my mom, and it’s her job to get me whatever I need.”  Dyamonde goes home and does just that.  The next thing she knows, her mom has packed away her closet, once full of clothes, and has left her with what she really needs: the clothes on her back.  Dyamonde suffers and complains through mustard stains and washing her clothes in the sink until she hears that her classmate Isabel’s apartment has been destroyed by a fire.  Isabel’s family has lost everything, and Dyamonde comes to understand the difference between want and need as she organizes the community to help Isabel’s family by holding a clothing drive.

Curriculum Connections:

Almost Zero is the third book in this beginning chapter book series, and addresses core sustainability concepts, including community action, want vs. need, and personal initiative for making life better for all.

What does want vs. need mean?  What does Dyamonde want and what does she need?  Is it easy for people to get this mixed up? How does Isabel’s misfortune help teach Dyamonde about what people really need?

Dyamonde organizes a clothing drive to help Isabel’s family.  Have you done anything like this? What are other ways one person can act to make a difference?

Do the people in your community get most of what they need?  What could your community do to better help people get the things they need?

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