Posts Tagged historical fiction

Using Picture Books to Teach Middle Grade and Beyond

Teaching with Picture Books

by Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

When most people think of picture books, they think of cute pictures and feel-good stories that thrill children from ages 0-7. But, teachers know better. There is much more to picture books than meets the eye.

Students have grown up with visuals since the day they were born. From elementary to high school, picture books can spark the imagination and open the eyes as an introduction to a subject. Picture books boil down to the main topic and draw the reader in with interesting tidbits. Our public libraries are full of wonderful picture books ready to do the job. Picture books inspire conversations and provide topics for research. They allow insightful tie-ins to curriculum and present opportunities for projects. Their pictures bring the topic to life. They create understanding unlike anything else. They are quick reads that can fit into almost any schedule.

Take the book, The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Ree.

One of the greatest historical war heroes in the S. Korean culture was Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is known for saving Korea from Japan, a conquering country with a formidable naval fleet. Because of his design, the undefeatable Turtle ship had the ability to defeat the Japanese. His larger than life statue looms high over the skyline in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul.

In the picture book, a young Sun-Sin comes to life as a boy who is afraid to enter a shipbuilding contest sponsored by the King. The King needs an indestructible ship able to withstand ongoing invasions from the sea. Sun-Sin decides to accept the challenge. The author imagines what experiences might have influenced a young Sun-Sin’s turtle ship design, and from there the story is told.

Teaching Middle Grade with Picture Books

(Artwork from “Fighting Ships of the Far East (2)” by Stephen Turnbull © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc)

The Turtle Ship picture book goes step by step through the design engineering process. Young Sun-Sin tries and fails at several design attempts before creating the design known today. This was something I was able to use in my 6th-grade science class. As we talked about the boy Sun-Sin and identified how the process was evolving, it created a bridge to understanding the design process. We had also learned that historically, a lot of designs were inspired by nature. The Wright brothers studied birds before designing the first airplane. In our story, Sun-Sin looks to his turtle for solutions.

When I used The Turtle Ship book in our lesson, my students were fascinated by the Turtle ship design from the 1500s. They learned the ship could rotate in one spot and fire cannons from each of its sides. They discovered soldiers were encased inside the ship so the enemy could not attack. They loved that the top was curved and covered in spikes to keep from being boarded by the enemy. They also learned that the hull was designed to ram into other vessels.

The Korean Turtle Ship

The turtle ship became one of the top engineering designs in warship history. You can read about this incredible ship and its design ingenuity on the U.S. Naval Institute News website. USNI News asked its readers, “What is the greatest warship of all time and why?” The answer can be found on the USNI News website https://news.usni.org/2016/04/06/survey-results-what-is-the-greatest-warship-of-all-time

Teachers in grade levels from primary to high school have used this story to inspire students with a wide range of activities and topics.

Engineering Design Process (EDP)

Research on Korean Inventions

Historical Fiction Comparative Study

Creating a Historical Timeline between Asia and American History

Writing Sijo, a Korean Poetic Form

Analyzing Civic Characteristics of Main Characters

Origin Story with Read-Alouds and Comparisons with Multiple Sources

Teaching Korea through Writing

Teaching Modern Asian Culture through History

Creative Writing

Using the Glossary for Vocabulary Understanding

Study of Honor

Compare and Contrast Other Korean Historical Picture Books

STEAM: Create a Vessel that Holds the Most Weight

STEAM: Design a Boat That is the Fastest

Downloadable Teaching resources:

Lee and Lowe Teaching Guide: TURTLE-SHIP.TG

Historical Information on Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Admiral Yi Sunsin_KSCPP(1)

 

Mini-Museums for Middle Grade Favorites

Hello, fans of Middle Grade! I hope the school year is running smoothly for your students, your readers, or your own kids, whether they are learning in-person, remotely, independently, or in a hybrid or homeschool environment. While online learning and the use of technology are certainly helpful in this time of Covid, I know my own kids sometimes grow weary of screens and keyboards in their current environments. So I wanted to share a fun and engaging reading activity that can work equally well in both the home and classroom: A Mini-Museum display based on a great Middle Grade read.

As a teacher, librarian, or homeschooling parent, you can pose this idea before readers start or finish a book, or encourage readers to choose a favorite story with which they are already familiar. The Mini-Museum employs reading, writing, and creative/critical thinking skills, and culminates in a hands-on and 3-D product. You can include teamwork and presentation/delivery skills if you choose. The steps are simple and the supplies minimal—and the search for objects gets a reader out of his or her chair and away from the screen.

Step One – After (or while) reading a novel, the reader lists notable and important physical objects mentioned in the book that have some significant relevance and/or symbolic value to the plot, characters, theme, point-of-view, or setting. Eight to ten objects make a nice-sized museum collection, but the suggested or required number would be determined by your readers’ abilities, your environment, your time, and the book choice.

Step Two – Readers gather household, three-dimensional objects that are the real thing, a replica, or a constructed facsimile of each object on his or her list.

Step Three – Readers choose and prepare a display space. This can be a shelf, tabletop, or windowsill in the classroom, or a table or empty corner at home. Use cardboard boxes, recyclables, or piles of books to create museum stands and exhibit spaces. A variety of sizes and levels makes the overall look of the display more interesting and easier to see. Readers can cover these items with plain fabric or paper for a clean “museum look.”

Step Four – Readers fill the museum with their objects. Objects of greatest significance get the choicest spots in the display.

Step Five – Readers write brief descriptive captions to display near each object, like you’d see in a real museum. These can include the object name, the date of use (setting of book), the materials that form the object, and a few sentences on the object’s significance to one or more story elements in the book. Mount the typed and printed (or handwritten) captions on folded index cards and place each free-standing description near its object.

Step Six –Optional share and tell with the class! Thanks to smart phones and cameras, most readers can find a way to show their display distantly to their teacher and classmates.

If you’ve read or taught the excellent Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, you’ll recognize how these real objects make great representations of the novel’s important character and plot points:

  • Notebook (Stella uses one to practice writing late at night.)
  • Cigar box (Stella keeps her collection of inspirational newspaper articles in one.)
  • An edition of the Star Sentinel (This is the newspaper Stella creates.)
  • Small, unmarked bottle (Stella buys medicine for her sick brother Jojo.)
  • Clean rags torn into strips (Stella tends to her mother’s snakebite.)

Students can manufacture some objects when necessary, like Stella’s original newspaper the Star Sentinel, which she types on a donated typewriter. A description for the torn rags might be something like: “Extra wound dressings, circa early 1930s; wool and cotton. Stella uses dressings like these to help treat her mother’s snakebite. When she finds Mama unconscious in the woods, Stella brings water, whiskey, and dressings to clean and wrap the wound. Mama survives in part due to Stella’s quick actions.”

Benefits of a Mini-Museum Display:

  • It’s highly flexible with strong potential for individualization.
  • Visual-spatial learners will enjoy creating the display space.
  • Readers can work in groups or independently, depending on their situation and capabilities.

Thanks for reading and sharing this idea! Enjoy the holidays, keep safe, and stay well.

Family Book Club: Middle Grade Books That Can Be Enjoyed by ALL

As I write this I am preparing to leave New York where we’ve been for the summer and return to London (where we live during the year) in time to quarantine for 14 days before school starts. I am kind of freaking out about what I am going to do with my kids in quarantine, but probably like most people with children or who are around children, the theme of this summer has certainly been “unstructured time.” My kids are currently 15, almost-12, 9.5, and almost-6. And thinking back to lockdown, one of the things that worked well was spending some time a few days a week listening to an audiobook while we colored or just relaxed. Okay, the 15-year-old did not involve herself in this, but for the rest of us it was nice. And when I would be reading a middle grade book to the 11 and 9 year old before bed, she would often casually come in and listen, or if we were discussing a book she’d read or I’d read to her when she was younger, she would happily weigh in.

How about a Family Book Club, in whatever shape that might look like to you?

So, for other people struggling with how to fill the last weeks of kids’ summers with something other than screens and devices, I thought I’d make a list of middle grade books that family members of different ages and genders would all enjoy reading (or listening to) and could then discuss.

I’m thinking middle grade books that work on a number of different levels—understood even by little ones not quite reading chapter books to themselves, hit the sweet spot of middle grade readers (either to be read out loud to or to read themselves), might interest your teen if they’ll deign to participate (boredom works in interesting ways), and sophisticated and nuanced enough to be truly enjoyed by adult readers too. 

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea—this moves quickly because of short chapters narrated by different voices. The classroom dynamics are realistic and I found it wise in a way that I, as an adult, have taken the subtle lessons, for example how to handle a “girl wars” bully. There are now 3 additional sequels.

 

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo—written deceptively simply, this one is funny and moving and heartwarming—an all-round winner for everyone every time I’ve read it. I’d say ANY Kate DiCamillo is a good choice for family book club: as Ann Patchett writes, some people like the magic animals ones (her) and some the realistic childhood ones (me) but they all “crack you open and make you a better person.”

  All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor—written in the 1950s about a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s, this one just never, ever, feels dated. We are working our way through the sequels now.

 

 

Fudge books, in particular Superfudge by Judy Blume—laugh-out-loud funny and relatable about 6th grader Peter and the antics of his irrepressible 5-year-old brother Fudge. (My teen daughter’s suggestion was Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great).

 

Fortunately The Milk, by Neil Gaiman—madcap storytelling that’s fun for all ages.

 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White—honestly, I hadn’t read this since I was a kid and pretty much remembered nothing from it. Reading it to my almost-6 year old this summer, the writing blew me away as well as the story. Garth Williams’ illustrations are a delight for everyone. A classic for a reason.

 

The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary—again, funny and relatable situations that make moving drama out of everyday circumstances and relationships. These have been a big hit over and over again and provoke great discussions about relationships and difficult situations. My personal favorites are Ramona and Her Mother and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

 

All of the above are available as audiobooks too. And speaking of audiobooks, a special mention for How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell narrated by David Tennant because on the SCBWI British Isles Facebook group someone queried if people had recommendations for an audio book for a long car ride with an 8-year-old that everyone else in the car would enjoy, and this was the overwhelming favorite.  

An important note:

When I looked at my list above I realized that it had no real diversity or POC in it. While many of the books we’ve enjoyed as a family do (see below), I couldn’t think of one that worked as well with my criteria of working for young children too—please, if anyone has any suggestions please add them in the comments.

 

Books next on my own family to-read list that I think will work well:

George by Alex Gino

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

Babysitter’s Club, the original books by Ann Martin—I loved this piece in the New York Times recently about boys reading these and my sons have devoured the graphic versions, not to mention that all of us are LOVING the fabulous Netflix series. Thought this might work well for us in audio. The first 5 are narrated by Elle Fanning.

 

Family Book Club for Middle Grade Readers and Up:

Graphic novels abound with moving stories and are great for reluctant readers or for kids ready for sophisticated themes but aren’t at a reading level for more advanced MG novels. They don’t work as well for the littlest members of the family, but if that’s not your situation, these books sparked lots of conversation and good book discussion in our family recently.

New Kid by Jerry Kraft —code switching and discomfort in either world when middle schooler Jordan changes schools, but instead of art school where he’d wanted to go, his parents send him to a prestigious academic school where he is one of the few kids of color. My kids have each read this several times and have asked a lot of questions sparking great discussion.

 

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed—family love, education, and a Somali refugee’s story as told to graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson. Both my sons devoured this. My 9-year-old described it as about “a boy with a brother who can’t speak. Really sad but really good.”

 

Other MG books on my (older) Family Book Club list:

One Crazy Summer trilogy—The first book, the story of 3 sisters joining their estranged mother in tumultuous 1960s San Francisco, has been a big hit with all my kids over the years and coming late to the party I’ve just discovered that there are two sequels which I can’t wait to try.

The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman—“Imani is adopted, and she’s ready to search for her birth parents. But when she discovers the diary her Jewish great-grandmother wrote chronicling her escape from Holocaust-era Europe, Imani begins to see family in a new way.” I can’t recommend this book highly enough—I think my boys will be ready for it this year and really look forward to reading it with them. I also gave it to my older daughter’s best friend who loved it and I hope my daughter will read it too!

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson—this just won the prestigious Waterstones Book Prize in the UK and I’m excited to read it with the kids. 

If mysteries are your family’s thing, check out some of these.

 

Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein. I just finished this and want to hand a copy to everyone I know. In a portrait of contemporary Jewish life, this book explores self-image, grief and friendship and is a wonderful, wonderful, thoughtfully-written debut.

Middle Grade for All

In truth, minus needing to encompass a little one’s needs, to me the perfect Middle Grade book is written in a way that absolutely resonates on many levels and to many ages. My list includes a lot of obvious ones–classics and award-winners. But there are thankfully untold numbers that are amazing for a Family Book Club. In addition to the ones mentioned above, here are some suggested by friends of mine who said these worked well for different-aged readers in their families:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (for fans of The Westing Game)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds (have just ordered this for myself)

Born a Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, adapted for young readers edition

And Finally, In Her Own Words:

One of my favorite middle grade readers, who was in a neighborhood mother-daughter book club with her mom, recommends these (and her mom endorses them too 🙂

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

A Drop of Hope by Keith Calabrese

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Jennifer Choldenko

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt 

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

 

Happy Reading, Everyone!

Let me know how you get on with any of these, and please write more Family Book Club suggestions in the comments. With fears of a second Covid-19 wave and another lockdown looming (and who knows what will be with school), we all might have a LOT of time on our hands. But I can think of worse things than spending it reading and discussing great children’s books. Stay safe and Happy Reading! 

 

All books can be bought on MUF’s Bookshop.org affiliate program or wherever fine books are sold.