Posts Tagged historical fiction

Movies Inspire Reading!

Bringing Books and Movies Together

Robyn Gioia

Teaching today’s students is a different ballgame than twenty years ago.

Even ten years ago. This is a generation of visual learners. Students in middle school down through elementary have grown up on cell phones and tablets. Visuals accompany almost everything they read. There isn’t a day go by that my students don’t say, “Can we see a picture of that?”

In the forefront are movies, moving visuals that provide setting, plot, memorable characters, action, and a storyline that comes to life in a different era.

This provides a great opportunity to take advantage of the stage movies produce.

Heroes stand out. It is from their hardships and the trials that follow that make history. One such hero is Harriet Tubman, a slave and political activist, who escaped captivity, and returned as a “conductor” to lead slaves through the “underground railroad” to freedom during the 1800s. She did this repeatedly, even though it put her in grave peril and she carried a bounty on her head.

Enter the Harriet Tubman Movie:

teacher's guide

A tremendous opportunity for children to understand what these women worked so hard to accomplish—one succeeding and one coming close. —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Give students rich opportunities to learn more. Set the background. Provide students with information that provides historical depth and broadens the movie’s perspective.

Go beyond the internet. Teach your students the value of book research. Provide the class with a broad collection of books, both informational and historically based. Encourage them to be detectives. Encourage them to find the clues that tell us more. (Adjust as needed for your level of students.)

Brainstorm with the class. Discuss the different aspects of the movie. What questions do they have? Was the movie historically accurate? What was correct and what was fiction? Were the characters true to life? Did the plot follow the facts?

Examine the bigger picture. What drove the economy? What kind of  society was it? What was happening politically? What were the customs? How did these things contribute to Harriet’s plight?

Divide the class into topics that were generated from their discussion. Let your students discover the answers through research. Teach them how to use the book index and chapter headings to speed up fact finding. Groups love to share what they’ve learned with others. Provide time each day to let them tell their favorite fun facts. Help them become experts.

Make an Experts’ Bulletin Board: At the end of each session, have students post fast facts and visuals from their book research. Provide a parking lot for questions. Let the specialized experts research the answers and post them on the board.

Have a Socratic Seminar: Pose thought provoking questions and let students discuss the answers citing evidence from their research.

Stage a Debate: Students choose an historical issue and debate the pros and cons.

Read historical novels.

Below are some of my favorite activities for Book Reports or/and Research Projects:

  • Write a Readers’ Theater.
  • Produce a historical newspaper with student journalists.
  • Write a picture book for first grade.
  • Create a Jeopardy game.
  • Design a board game of the Underground railroad. Create a schoolwide simulation.
  • Make a Slideshow to teach others.
  • Write and perform a skit.
  • Design posters.
  • Produce a new book jacket cover.
  • Design an informational brochure.
  • Produce a video clip.
  • Create trading cards.
  • Write a story using historical evidence based on a different perspective.
  • Write and perform a song.
  • Create a dance.
  • Write a poem.

 

How Middle Grade Fiction Can Fuel Young Writers’ Search for Truth

In one of my Lit classes recently, students read I, Juan de Pareja, a Newbery Medal-winning novel by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño. This fictionalized account of the life of Juan de Pareja follows his childhood in 17th Century Spain to his role as servant-turned-apprentice to master painter Diego Velázquez. It’s a great middle grade book for studying voice, historical setting, and imagery. Though only a few factual consistencies are known about the life of Juan de Pareja, the author built this novel based upon those few facts, or what she called a “kernel of truth” (The Glencoe Literature Library).

This idea brought up a connected discussion regarding how events in real life inspire realistic fiction… and conversely, how fictitious characters and plotlines remind us of the real happenings in our lives. We began talking about our own “kernels of truth”—stand-out memories, transitions and moves, objects and possessions that hold special meaning, gifts given or received… so many authentic experiences that contribute to the construction of one’s identity! We then complemented the novel study with a writing project that became known as the “Kernel of Truth” creative non-fiction assignment. Each student wrote about an authentic experience that in some way contributed to or connected with his or her identity. With some established parameters and brainstorming sessions, they were well on their way to authoring excellent pieces.

Creative nonfiction is a great genre for middle graders to explore as writers. They get to jump directly into the writing process without time-consuming research or structured main points; instead, they can write what they know. It’s a way to express true narratives, nostalgic anecdotes, tales of travel or adventure, and stories of personal interest while employing storytelling techniques like dialogue, setting, plotting, and figurative language.

Best of all, creative nonfiction writing can work with any novel, and it can support another level of connection between the reader and the text. In other words, just as I, Juan de Pareja inspired my students’ ability to seek individual kernels of truth, most other novels have at least one feature (setting, history, conflict, etc.) that will inspire your students’ true stories, and their own creative nonfiction.

For example, here are a few recent realistic fiction titles along with some potential leads towards CNF writing projects that might accompany them.

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith – What experiences have you had witnessing the power of nature? What’s the most curious coincidence in your life you can remember? Have you ever discovered a connection between you and someone with whom you originally thought you had nothing in common?

Hunger by Donna Jo Napoli – Home can be a complicated word. What joy do you find in your home (town, city, residence, or whatever home means to you)? What, if any, frustration? What situations have you encountered or witnessed in which a choice that went against the rules seemed justified (for the good of others)?

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson – Any real-life mysteries in your experiences? What books have you read that have stayed with you long after you finished reading, and what does that book mean to you now?

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet – What unexpected turn of events has contributed to your own “plot twist”? What curiosities have lately caught your attention, like pigeon photography caught the attention of protagonist Gusta?

Middle grade students may wonder initially how a historical or fantasy could inspire them to write about something from their own lives in a CNF piece. Take the time to brainstorm as a class, and soon they’ll see how many elements and factors about the character’s life and story are possible points of connection with their own lives.  Depending on the readers in your class or library, you may decide to give the group a lot of freedom of topic, style, and length… or that it might be better to put some guidelines down on paper. Guiding questions like the ones above or general topics and suggestions can be especially comforting to the hesitant writer. Sometimes it takes prompting and parameters for imaginations to lose their inhibitions.

Hope these ideas are useful ones for your bag of tricks! Good luck and thanks for encouraging reading and writing in middle graders.

Nostalgia and Those Childhood Favorites: Which books are we just sentimental about, and which books stand the test of time?

Fresh or Frozen?

For many of us of a certain age, there comes a time where we want to impart to our children, or children we know, the culture that we got at their age that essentially made us “us.” What I mean is, when our child is nine, we really want them to love the books that we loved when we were nine. That we read over and over again. That we can instantly recall incidents and episodes from; as well as the smell of the couch we would lie on when we read it; the ache of our hearts and taste of our tears from the sorrow of a character dying, experiencing cruelty or even just going through heartbreak. The same goes for movies. Cue me excitedly putting on Grease for my then-nine-year-old daughter in the hospital room TV as she waited to be wheeled down to surgery for her tonsils to be taken out. Wow, bad idea on so many levels. She didn’t enjoy it, not just because she was a nervous wreck about the impending surgery, but also because she didn’t get it. The movie went right over her head—thankfully. (I was mortified to be watching it with her. And felt like the worst parent!) And let’s just say the film has not aged well in terms of values, in terms of feminism, in terms of #metoo, in terms of America as a white world, in terms of anything frankly. But happily, for the most part, many of the books I loved as a child I have been able to read to my children with more confidence in my parenting skills—and with the added bonus that my kids loved these books too.

What is the Common Denominator?

Jonathan Rosen spoke here on the MUF blog about his nostalgia for the books he read as a child which have inspired the spooky books he writes today. And Marjorie Ingall, who reviews children’s books for the New York Times and is a culture columnist at Tablet Magazine, while on the faculty of the TENT writing residency mentioned The Carp in the Bathtub “as a book that holds up for today’s kids and isn’t purely a nostalgia exercise for adults.” I started thinking about this idea of nostalgia when I was planning a tribute to Judith Kerr and the relevancy of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

A nostalgic-feeling cover of the All-of-a-Kind Family series from 2014

What other middle grade books from my own childhood stand the test of time—both for me and for my own kids? Is there a common denominator? When I first started writing my middle grade novel HONEY AND ME, my eldest daughter was at an age where I had begun to read to her some of my favorites as a child— Ballet Shoes, Anne of Green Gables, tons of Judy Blume, all the Ramona books, and All-of-a-Kind Family. My daughter is now fourteen, but I have been reading these to my sons too—currently ages eight-and-a-half and nearly eleven—and they’ve also loved them. One of the things I think connects these books is writers who deeply understand the magnitude of the smaller dramas of every day life, and are interested in the details of them. (What I particularly loved about the All-of-a-Kind Family books was that they did this about being Jewish, in a way that was both integral and incidental.) I very much try to bring this sensibility to my own writing.

If Not Now When?

Beverly Clearly’s Ramona books (the first one is from 1955), all the Judy Blume books, but especially the Fudge series (first one is from the 1970s) and All-of-a-Kind Family (first one is from 1951) all particularly still feel fresh and relevant. But I do wonder: could these books be published today?

I clearly like the old-fashioned—or lets say the character-driven and safe-feeling. But in my own writing I constantly feel like I come up against (probably rightly) what works for today’s audience. It would seem that with all the above books all still in print, the market generally does keep the books worth keeping. However at the same time, the fashions have changed so when it comes to what is being published today even when something has an old-fashioned feel to it, it’s still done in a modern way. I’m thinking for example of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser—it’s reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright’s beloved The Saturdays, but when I tried the episodic The Saturdays with my then-eight and ten-year-old sons they were bored—whereas The Vanderbeekers has a modern-feeling plot structure and they were immediately sucked in. (Just to say also, I think of my sons’ reading tastes as a litmus test—if they don’t like something it’s not necessarily conclusive, but when they do like something, especially novels that you wouldn’t automatically think to hand to tween boys, it is telling about the strength of that particular book.)

A range of eras in these covers from my personal evergreen library

 

…. Then again, just because something has gone out of print doesn’t mean that is deserved. I recently tracked down two 1980s favorites to read to my kids: This Can’t be Happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman, about the antics of a duo called Bruno and Boots at their boarding school—which was still hands-down hilarious to both my sons and me; and Here She is Ms. Teeny Wonderful by Martyn Godfrey about a girl who likes to jump BMX bikes and to her utter dismay becomes a finalist in a national beauty pageant. I haven’t read this last one to my sons yet, it’s next on the list (we’re currently on Rita Garcia Williams’ One Crazy Summer: historical fiction and over their heads that they’re still enjoying)—but when I read it again myself I was delighted to see that notwithstanding the cover, it was still funny, fast-paced and feminist. I should also mention that the Bruno and Boots books (there were several sequels) I was able to find were a 35th anniversary edition, reissued by Scholastic in 2013, and the Kindle editions are still available for purchase.

Some things never change

So perhaps this is all to say: a well-constructed book with sympathetic characters, emotions you can relate to and dramas you feel invested in no matter how similar or foreign they might be to your own life, will always have the power to suck a young reader in so the pages keep turning. And long after they have turned the last page and closed the book, or perhaps even started the whole thing again from the beginning, —the story, the experience of reading it, and the memories of that experience—will become baked into their very being. And one day, many years later, they will wish to impart this multi-faceted cultural experience on to the important young people in their own lives. Just as we did to them.