Archive for Social Justice

Something Beautiful

Something Beautiful

by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

picture book

A young girl looks out her window into a trash-filled courtyard.  She leaves her house and walks around the neighborhood, seeing cruel graffiti, a homeless woman, and a dangerous dark alley.  She claims that her mother says that “everyone should have something beautiful in their life.”  She asks,  “where is my something beautiful?”

In school she learns the word “Beautiful.”  She thinks it means “something that when you have it, your heart is happy.”  When she walks around town later that day, she tells everyone she meets that she’s looking for something beautiful.  Every person in the diverse community is able to tell her about something that is beautiful to them.  Beautiful is a fried fish sandwich, a jump rope, an apple at the store, music, a smooth stone, a baby’s laugh, and even the little girl herself.

When she returns home, she looks around her at the bad things, then begins cleaning up the trash and scrubbing off the graffiti.  In her mind she plants flowers and gives the homeless woman a home.  She creates her own beauty in her community.

Realistic illustrations framed in interesting angles make this a rich visual treat.  As I was writing this review, a student peeked over my shoulder and asked what I was reading.  He asked if we would read it in class, and perhaps we will.  The spare text, hopeful message, and vibrant illustrations lend themselves well to create a wonderful and wonderfully usable book about revitalization.

Curriculum Connections:

Have students make a list of things that are ugly and beautiful in their community.  Is there a way to fix the ugly things?  What can kids do to help?  Why is it important to help?

Why does the main character decide to clean up the trash and scrub off the spray paint?  What do you think she will do if someone puts out more trash or makes more graffiti?

Some of the best parts of this book are the details – the fried fish sandwich or the beads in Rebecca’s hands, for example.  What details do you think help make the story come to life?  If you were to write your story about your community, what details would you include?

Leave a comment »

Addie On the Inside

            Addie on the Inside

             by James Howe

Addie Carle, activist extraordinaire, wakes worrying about states of matters: the state of the world, the state of middle school, the state of her relationship, the state of her friends.  Her voice is too loud for most people.   Her clothes are too blah for others.  And she tries her hardest to ignore whispers asking why he is going out with her.  But Addie has a rich internal mind, and she just can’t help caring about the world.

“I worry about/injustice and/ how to make the world/ a better place,/ because I contend/ that if you are not part/ of the solution,/ you are part/ of the problem./” she says in the second poem of this novel-in-verse.  “I worry how in the world/ the world will ever be okay. Then/I turn off my alarm/ and get on with the day” (p. 7, 9).

Addie wears duct tape over her mouth on her school’s first (unapproved) day of silence.  She responds emotionally to terrible news articles she reads, and isn’t afraid to say it aloud in class.  People don’t always understand her, and this book is rife with Addie’s internal turmoil about how own actions and thoughts and their discrepancy with others’.

With Addie, James Howe brings back one of his characters from anti-bullying groundbreaker The Misfits, offering a very personal look at a socially conscious middle school girl.  Recommended for middle schools (I probably won’t get this for my K-5), Addie On the Inside will appeal to students for its spot-on views of social dynamics, a respectful look at a middle school relationship, and a portrayal of Addie’s need to both fit in and find her own way.  Addie is hard not to like, although middle school students will also understand how others don’t “get” her.   Novels in verse are also a great choice for those who want light reading, but who are ready for real substance.

Curriculum Connections:

Questions for students-

How would Addie fit in in your school?  How would people react to the things she says?  What are some words you would use to describe her?

Do you think Addie approaches social change in a positive way?  What happens when she does or says something (like criticizing the abusive star , or creating a Gay Straight Alliance)?  How do her methods for approaching social change work or not work?  What are the best ways to create social change, and to be a champion at your school?

How does a novel written in poetry give us a different experience than a novel written in prose?  Is it more personal?  Easier to read?  Harder?  How could you go about writing your own novel in verse?

Leave a comment »

Zebrafish

Zebrafish

 

presented by Peter H. Reynolds and FableVision

written by Sharon Emerson

drawn by Renée Kurilla 

graphic novel 

 

A sense of loneliness pervades the beginning of this graphic novel, which presents a glimpse of six young adult characters, most notably showing purple haired Vita and her older brother Pablo, who have lost their mother to cancer and live on their own, and activist Tanya, who is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.  Colors are muted grays, browns and blues, which combine with distant shots and silhouettes to create a feeling of isolation.

In late summer, Vita impulsively buys a used guitar and when the ambiguous middle/high school year begins, she holds a meeting to recruit for her new band, Zebrafish.  Friends Jay and Plinko, Tanya, and Tanya’s brother Walt stop in to audition, each for different reasons.  Although no one but Vita even claims to play an instrument, they soon hatch a plan to create a music video centered around Walt’s art and Vita’s guitar, to perform at a fundraising concert Tanya hopes to hold for one of her many causes.  As they carry out their plans, the members of the “band” find that they are becoming friends.  Images are more colorful and contain busy dialogue, leading to a more cheerful tone.

One day, Vita stops by Pablo’s lab at the hospital and runs into Tanya.  She is left in shock after learning that Tanya has leukemia.  Pablo shows her around his lab upstairs, including tanks of clear zebrafish that help him study potential cures for cancer.  He tells her about a PCR machine that he can’t afford, but that would speed up his research.  Vita decides that the concert is the perfect way to help fundraise for the machine that could help her friend.  When the day of the concert arrives, there is a full house.  All is well until, mid show, Vita’s dog bites through the power cord and everything goes black.  Vita carries through and finishes the show with wild applause from the audience, making school history. 

In the short, inspirational afterward, Peter Reynolds describes how change happens “to you or by you.”   He encourages readers to find something they care about and do something to make a difference.

Although Zebrafish can feel a bit fragmented, humor works its way into the more serious elements of the story to create an entertaining journey into friendship, band-creation, and taking action.  The diverse group of cool-looking kids and the colorful illustrations will instantly attract readers.  The message of social action is one rarely seen in graphic novels, and this may be the perfect book for readers who want older characters and need an empowering message.  Recommended for grades 4+ but includes nothing that would make it inappropriate for younger children.

Curriculum Connections:

Zebrafish revolves around cancer and cancer research.  On the book jacket, it states that a portion of the proceeds is being donated to Children’s Hospital Boston.  It also may be interesting to note that text and illustration copyrights also go to Children’s Hospital Boston.  What does this say about choices of the publishers and authors?  How do other businesses make choices about their products that can be beneficial to the community?

Kids love graphic novels.  There is something so cool about reading both words and images and I know I feel totally absorbed each time I begin a good graphic novel.  Have students create their own graphic novel, either based on Zebrafish (introduce characters, present problem, think of ways they can take action to fix it), relay information about an issue, or create their own story.

The characters in Zebrafish make a difference by using their talents and skills to raise money for a cause they believe in. Brainstorm a few ideas of ways every-day kids can use their strengths to support a good cause.

 

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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?

Leave a comment »

Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace

Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace

By Jen Cullerton Johnson

Illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

picture book biography

“Wangari had an idea as small as a seed but as tall as a tree that reaches for the sky.  Harabee! Let’s work together!’ she said to her fellow countrywomen…” (Johnson, page 24)

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2004, is known for her Green Belt Movement in Kenya, in which she enlisted hundreds of women to plant trees.  Together, they worked against corrupt officials and greedy businesspeople to improve the quality of life for all. Seeds of Change: planting a path to peace is the story of Maathai’s childhood as a precocious learner, her studies as a college student, her work with women and children in Kenya and, finally, her outreach throughout the world.

Curriculum Connections:

Biography units are widespread in education.  Studying Maathai’s biography would be a great connection with studies on environmentalism, social justice, and creating an effective movement.  This book also highlights the important work she did as a woman and for women’s rights.  The economic benefits for the women planting trees can be examined when looking at the sustainability of the movement itself.

Literature connections can be made with other biographies on Maathai, including picture book Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and, for high school students and adults, Unbowed, a memoir by Wangari Maathai.

Connections can be made when doing greening up projects and tree plantings, or as a positive approach to studies on deforestation and land-use or natural resource issues.  Humans cause damage, but can also help repair it.  We can learn much by being inspired, and Maathai does inspire!

Leave a comment »

Nibbles: a green tale

Nibbles: a green tale by Charlotte Middleton

Nibbles: a green tale

 

by Charlotte Middleton

picture book

There is only one thing Nibbles the guinea pig loves more than soccer:  dandelion leaves!  Everyone in the town of Dandeville loves dandelion leaves just as much as Nibbles.  So what is a guinea pig to do when the population of dandelion leaves dwindles down to almost nothing?  Pay lots of money for just a few leaves?  Eat cabbage instead?  Cabbage-and-broccoli quiche just doesn’t have the same delicious ring to it…

The day Nibbles discovers one last dandelion leaf outside his window, he must make a very important decision.  Should he eat it all by himself?  Or should he think a little harder?  Nibbles goes to the library and finds information about dandelions.  He shields the dandelion, waters it, and picks off bad bugs.  He is so patient that even when his dandelion is perfectly blooming, he doesn’t eat it.  Instead, when the dandelion goes to seed, he climbs the highest hill and blows the seeds out across Dandeville.  Soon, fresh leaves begin to sprout and the sound of eating again fills the town.  But does Nibbles go back to life as normal, or does he try something new?

Curriculum Connections:

Nibbles deals with sustainability through brief looks at economics (the price of dandelions goes through the roof  when the number dwindles), social justice (Nibbles finds a solution that works to provide food to all guinea pigs), and the environment (Nibbles protects the plant so it can go to seed and grow again).

Students can look at resources in their local community and environment, and think about ways to protect those resources for others in the future. For younger students, taking care of trees or gardens, growing food for others, and exploring the role of farmers would help bring the idea from book to practice.  Nibbles is one “person” who makes a big difference by doing the responsible thing.

Older students can expand upon the intersections between environment, economy, and social justice, and explore those relationships further by looking at fuel consumption, mining, and practices that utilize our natural resources.  How does the cost of dandelions change when supplies dwindle?  How can we make sure to plan our resources for future use?  What happens if the cost of heating homes sky-rockets and not everyone can afford it?

So – how can we best take care of our last remaining “dandelions?”  This book gives a few answers, but an even bigger opportunity for conversations.

Leave a comment »