Posts tagged citizenship

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?

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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?

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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.

 

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Each Living Thing

Each Living Thing

 

by Joanne Ryder

illustrated by Ashley Wolff

 picture book

 

The outdoors is filled with creatures, both small and large, going about their lives in tandem with human activity.  Each Living Thing reminds us, in simple rhyming phrases, to watch out for every living thing on earth.  Each colorful illustration depicts different children going about daily life (carrying out recycling, planting vegetables, swimming, etc.) and encountering animals in their natural habitats.  Straightforward text encourages readers to do what they can to respect and care for each animal, reminding them to look out for “streaming ants who streak the dusty trails – please step around their sandy towers,” and to watch out for “toads who lurch and leap across the road – please stop to let them pass.”  The ending message to watch out for each living thing advises us to “Be aware of them.  Take care of them.  Be watchful.  Let them be.” 

Each Living Thing is a reminder of the importance of being mindful of all the living things around us.  Just right for young children who may not want to let animals pass without picking them up or taking them home, this book shows a respectful (sometimes wary?) view of wild animals and examines of our role as caretakers of the environment.

 

Curriculum Connections:

Before a nature walk, read Each Living Thing to children as a reminder of some of the animals they may see and of the respectful ways to treat these animals.  During the walk, point out the benefits of leaving these animals to do what they need to do (spiders spin webs that catch pests, etc.).

Have children create a guidebook for others on ways to be respectful toward wild animals. For example, a child could draw a picture or write instructions for capturing a spider with paper and setting it outside instead of killing it.

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One Hundred Is a Family

  One Hundred Is a Family

by Pam Muñoz Ryan,
illustrated by Benrei Huang

 counting book

How large or small is a family, and who makes up this core community with whom most of us spend the bulk of our lives?  One Hundred Is a Family is a rhyming counting book that takes readers from one to ten, then by tens to one hundred.  Each number shows a different family doing an activity together, such as “FIVE is a family planting seedlings in the ground,” and “SEVEN is a family keeping traditions of the past.”  Especially as numbers increase after 10, we see the make-up of a family changing into a community-family as, for example, “FIFTY is a family mending after an angry wind” and “SIXTY is a family sharing a neighborhood street.”  These illustrations show an entire community coming together to help each other or enjoy spending time together.

Cheerful illustrations depict multicultural characters engaging in a variety of activities.  There is a myriad of stories shown on each page, especially as the people increase with each number.  Readers will enjoy looking at every detail.  One Hundred Is a Family ends with its title connection:  “ONE HUNDRED is a family caring for the fragile universe…and making life better for every ONE on earth.”  This is a great book to share when celebrating family and community!

Curriculum Connections:

This book would be excellent to use in Community units, particularly for students in K-1.  Some pages show concepts that directly relate to other topics discussed in sustainability, such as bringing in a harvest, beautifying the neighborhood, and helping a neighbor in need.  Discuss ways in which every family is different, and ways in which communities are similar to families.

The book would be a great model for students to use to create their own counting book.  How do your school community members help each other?  Students can practice math skills by placing the correct number of people on each page doing activities that help a community function.  Keep the numbers low (drawing 100 people might get challenging) and bind the book to put in your school library for others to enjoy!

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Ivy and Bean: What’s the Big Idea?


Ivy and Bean: What’s the Big Idea?

(Book 7)

by Annie Barrows

chapter-book

Second graders Ivy and Bean are stunned when a group of fifth graders share their very depressing report on global warming. They slump on a bench afterward and worry about polar bears and pollution. The whole class arrives at school the following day feeling a little bit sad. When Ms. Aruba-Tate announces that the second grade will participate in a science fair, her students share how discouraged they are. She encourages them to be a part of the solution, and to use science to help solve the world’s problems. She suggests that the science fair’s theme be “Ideas that Fight Global Warming.”

Now, Ivy and Bean simply have to think of a way to once-and-for-all stop global warming. The two girls discover that throwing ice cubes into the air to lower the temperature doesn’t work, tying their hands together to make humans less powerful has unintended consequences, and hammering rice to make clean energy just, well, makes rice dust. Then, Ivy says, “If grown-ups weren’t scared of nature, they’d probably try harder to save it from global warming” and their great idea for the science fair is born (Barrows, 96).

Always funny and engaging, Ivy and Bean tackle the big issue of global warming in a heartfelt and courageous way. The series’ characteristic meanderings and funny moments make this an age-appropriate look at an environmental problem. The ending of the book will touch any adult or child who has wanted to make a real difference in the world.

Curriculum Connections:

What’s the Big Idea? would make a great read-aloud for younger children to connect with scientific method as Ivy and Bean come up with ideas, try them out, and evaluate whether or not they work.

It could also be connected with an upcoming science fair, or used as a positive approach to studies about global warming or environmental problems.

This book especially shows how Ivy and Bean, while not hard scientists, can make a difference by using their natural charm, skills, and talents for communication to share how much they care about the earth.  Before a day of service, or when brainstorming about ways to help in the community, share this book with students before having them think of their own particular talents and how those talents can help bring about big or small changes in the world.

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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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