"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, March 22, 2018

ReedALOUD: Islandborn

In IslandbornJunot Diaz has created a character that readers will love. Lola is a young girl tasked with creating a picture of her island home, an island home she left when only a baby. Thus Lola sets out to learn about her island home by asking her relatives and neighbors about it. Lola's earnest quest to know her island home becomes the reader's earnest quest. We want her to find her answers. We want her notebook to be filled with ideas and images. 

Diaz also fills the reader's senses with the sights and sounds of the island. We can also smell those empanada's and taste that coconut water. 
Soon her relatives' and neighbors' memories become her memories, but not all memories are good ones and Lola learns that many people had to flee from her island home. Lola returns to school triumphant and with not just a picture, but many pictures telling the story of her island.

Diaz's writing is matched by the energetic and colorful art bursting from each page. Just look at the cover. How can one not immediately love that beautiful face peering back at you? Leo Espinosa has created characters and scenes to remember. We feel the connectedness of the people in this neighborhood. As the people tell their stories to Lola, Espinosa captures perfectly their moments of remembering the island, as in the image above or this one:

The scenes in Lola's neighborhood are filled with important details and readers will want to pause to take them in. As she learns more about the island and images start to fill her mind, they start to creep into the neighborhood scenes as well, a subtle and lovely way to have the two worlds begin to meld. 
Check out this spectacular spread:
This particular illustration feels like an homage to Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, a book that is dear to my heart. Those patterns, that view out the window, that unconditional love -- wonderful.

Diaz has drawn upon his own childhood for Islandborn. 
Although not mentioned in the book, the island being referred to is the Dominican Republic and the monster the people fled from is Trujillo. This interview on NPR is worth reading. 

I love this book, but there is something that I am confused about. I don't understand the character Nelson and his role in the story. As a teacher in a fully inclusive school that also has a social and emotional learning approach, his character reads as off, especially in a book that promotes inclusivity and celebrates diversity. It doesn't make me any less eager to share the book with my students, but I am prepared to address any questions that students might have regarding Nelson. 

I got to hear Junot Diaz speak at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. His talk was both inspiring and motivating. Here are two excerpts:

ReedALOUD: The Night Diary

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is a beautifully-rendered and deftly-handled story of the partition. 

"It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders. Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore."

The Night Diary is about a young girl navigating family dynamics and friendships while trying to understand and deal with the historical implications of the partition. 

Told in letters to her deceased mother, Nisha shares her growing understanding of the political situation and it's impact on her family. Nisha secretly writes to her mother each night. 

"After I finish, it's like the part of me that can't fall asleep, the part that's staring at the cracks on the ceiling, wondering and worrying, is emptied in the diary for the night. During the day I fill back up again and the pages wait. I think you are holding my thoughts for me until I can tend to them again."

The letters are written in a journal gifted to her on her twelfth birthday by Kazi, family caretaker and cook. Yet Kazi is much more than just that, Kazi is the one person Nisha thinks understands her and that she feels comfortable with. A quiet person by nature, Nisha and Kazi connect through the preparation the family's meals, sharing the joy of cooking. As in this excerpt:

"At home, I followed Kazi into the kitchen and tugged on his shirt so he'd turn around a look at me. I didn't feel like talking at all today. Watching the boys made me want to be quiet, so I could think about them. Kazi handed me a bowl. He told me how much flour to pour and I mixed the dough. He showed me how to roll it out into circles, cut them in half, and put a spoonful of pea and potato filling in the middle of each one. Then he taught me how to fold the dough over the filling and dab the edges with water before pressing the corners together. Each samosa felt like a small animal, soft and warm in my hand. We worked quietly, me filling the dough, Kazi frying them until they became golden brown."

Nisha and her twin brother Amil appear to be polar opposites in temperament and personality, and, at twelve years of age, find themselves growing apart, but, as their world shrinks, their bonds grow stronger once again. 

"It was a girl who lives in the house next door," I said, pointing toward it. "But she's gone now." I turned my eyes toward the floor, the words falling out of my mouth. "She waved at me."
I raised my head and watched his eyes grow wide. Then he smiled.
"Brilliant," he said in English.
"I started to laugh and I couldn't stop. Amil joined me. We laughed until tears began to run down our faces."

and a bit later...

"I couldn't keep the girl a secret from Amil. If Amil doesn't know about it, it's like it's not really happening."

As Nisha's understanding of how the partition is impacting families and communities grows, so too does the readers. 

"There was one thing I did understand. I would have memories of life here in Mirpur Khas and memories of life in the new India. My childhood would always have a line drawn through it, the before and after."

Initially Nisha's father tries to hide the reality from Nisha and Amil, but when they can no longer attend school and must stay within their family compound, Nisha's desire to understand pushes her and her family to confront the truthShe must leave behind what she knows of her mother and leave behind her beloved Kazi, because he is Muslim. As a doctor, Nisha's father is needed at the local hospital and they must to prolong their departure for the new India. By the time they can leave, things have gotten violent and they must escape in the early dawn hours and walk with other refugees. (The map in the end papers will help young readers visualize the migration of people during the partition.) 

"We didn't walk through town. It was too dangerous. We walked through shaggy fields of prickly grasses until we found a clearer path toward the desert. There were people behind and in front of us. Some people had oxcarts filled high with belongings. Some people rode camels. We carried less than everyone else around us except for the water. We each had a large jug that would last us a few days before we would need to fill it. Papa carried two."

The migration to the new India takes its toll on Nisha and she retreats within herself. As their journey progresses and things get worse (knowing the father is a doctor will bring relief to readers) and an unexpected stop at Uncle Rashid's house allows the weary travels to heal in more ways than one and new knowledge about her family, allows Nisha to begin to begin to find her voice when they are safely in their new country.

"I have decided something. I will try to speak to Sumita, if it's the last thing I do. I want you to see me have a real friend, and I want to feel the way I felt with Hafa. It may take me a long time, but I will try because Sumita is the first person who ever told me that it's okay to just be myself."

The Night Diary is one of those books that will be read and then passed along to another student before it even hits the shelves because students will want to talk about it and that's a good thing, because only through knowing and understanding history can we learn from it. 

Here's an excerpt from the Penguin Random House website:

July 14, 1947

Dear Mama,

I know you know what happened today at 6:00 a.m., twelve years ago. How could you not? It was the day we came and you left, but I don’t want to be sad today. I want to be happy and tell you everything. I’ll start at the beginning. You probably already know what I’m telling you, but maybe you don’t. Maybe you haven’t been watching.

I like turning twelve so much already. It’s the biggest number I’ve ever been, but it’s an easy number—easy to say, easy to count, easy to split in half. I wonder if Amil thinks about you on this day like I do. I wonder if he likes being twelve?

We woke up at a little before seven. Amil and I usually sleep through our birth minutes and then when we wake up, we stand next to the last mark we etched into the wall with a sharp rock. No one else knows it’s there. I do it for Amil and he does mine and then we compare how much we’ve grown since last year. Amil has finally caught up with me. Papa says someday Amil will tower over all of us. That’s hard to imagine.

Papa gave me your gold chain with a small ruby stone hanging from it. He started giving me the jewelry when I was seven. Now I have two gold bangles, two gold rings, small emerald-and-gold hoop earrings, and the ruby necklace. Papa said I should save the jewelry for special occasions, but lately there are none, so I wear all the jewelry at once and never take it off. I don’t know where he keeps all of it, but each year on my birthday, another piece appears at my bedside in a dark blue velvet box with gold trim. When you open it, the blue satin lining winks back at you. Papa always asks for the box back after I take out the jewelry.

Secretly, I want the box more than the jewelry. I want it to be all mine and never have to give it back. I could find any old thing—a pebble, a leaf, a pistachio shell—and put it in the box. Like magic, these things would get to be special at least for a day. Maybe he’ll let me have it when your jewelry runs out.

I want to tell you about this diary I’m writing in. Kazi gave it to me this morning wrapped in brown paper, tied with a piece of dried grass. He never gives me gifts on my birthday. I once read an English story where a little girl got a big pink cake and presents wrapped in shiny paper and bows for her birthday. I thought about the little gifts Kazi gives us all the time—pieces of candy under our pillows or a ripe tomato from the garden, sliced, salted, and sprinkled with chili pepper on a plate. Cake and bows must be nice, but is anything better than a perfect tomato?

The diary is covered in purple and red silk, decorated with small sequins and bits of mirrored glass sewn in. The paper is rough, thick, and the color of butter. It is not lined, which I like. I’ve never had a diary before. When Kazi gave it to me, he said it was time to start writing things down, and that I was the one to do it. He said someone needs to make a record of the things that will happen because the grown-ups will be too busy. I’m not sure what he thinks is going to happen, but I’ve decided I’m going to write in it every day if I can. I want to explain things to you as if I’m writing a storybook, like The Jungle Book except without all the animals. I want to make it real so you can imagine it. I want to remember what everyone says and does, and I won’t know the ending until I get there.

Kazi also gave Amil five charcoal drawing pencils. Five! He also made us rice kheer with our pooris. I’m not sure there is anything better tasting in the world. Amil, who normally eats too fast, makes his pudding last extra long, eating the smallest bites he can. I think he just does it so I have to watch him long after I’ve finished. Every so often he’ll look up and smile. I pretend I don’t care. Sometimes he saves his sweets for me, but not rice kheer.

Today we were running late, though, and Amil couldn’t spend forever eating his kheer because Dadi took our plates away and told us to get ready. Amil started grumbling about school and how he wished he was a grown-up and could work at the hospital like Papa instead. “The drums sound better at a distance,” Dadi said like she always does, and rushed us out the door.

Here’s another secret, and don’t be mad. Amil and I didn’t go to school. We headed all the way out of town to the sugarcane field and tried to walk through it like a maze. We broke off pieces to chew. Later we stopped under a shady tree. Amil found bugs to draw and I read. After, we bought potato pakoras at the roadside cart in town, hoping no one would ask why we weren’t in school. The pakoras tasted crisp and extra salty. Amil thinks they’re too salty, but I like the sting on my tongue that stays long after I’ve finished eating.

Amil would rather draw and play all day instead of going to school. He would rather do anything besides school. He draws very well. Did you know that? I don’t hate school, but I didn’t want Amil to be alone on our birthday. When Papa finds out we didn’t go to school, he’ll be much angrier at Amil than he will at me. That’s how it is with Papa and Amil. It hasn’t always been like that. Amil used to be Papa’s favorite, I think because Amil was always louder, happier, and funnier than I am. But now because Amil isn’t small and cute, Papa is different.

When we were about seven or eight, Amil ran away. That’s when it started. Papa came home from a long day at the hospital and during dinner he told Amil to stop smiling so much, that it made him look ridiculous. This only made Amil smile more.
Then Papa said, “Amil, you can’t read. You play around too much and draw little pictures. You must be more serious or you will become nothing.”

“Maybe I should leave. Then you’ll be happy,” Amil said. He waited for Papa to say something, but Papa didn’t. He just turned back to his food. Amil got up and walked straight out of the house. An hour went by and he didn’t come back, so I went out to look for him. I looked everywhere, around the garden, the shed, Kazi’s and Mahit’s cottages, all the places he might go. I even looked in the pantry and in Papa’s closet. Papa acted like nothing was happening, but I told Kazi that I couldn’t find Amil anywhere and he told Dadi and Dadi told Papa, so Papa went out with a lantern. I stayed awake in my bed wondering what I would do if Amil never came back. I couldn’t imagine being in this house, in this life, without him. I heard Papa return and I waited to hear Amil’s voice or his footsteps, but I didn’t hear anything and began to cry, holding my doll, Dee, tight. At some point I fell asleep. When I woke at first light, Amil slept soundly in his bed next to mine. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed the whole thing.

“Amil,” I said, poking him awake, standing over him. “Where did you go? Does Papa know you’re back?”

“Papa knows I’m back,” Amil said in a dull voice. “I walked into town, but then I kept going. I didn’t want to stop. But Papa found me.”

“Is Papa mad?” I asked.

“Papa will always be mad at me. It doesn’t matter if I smile or don’t smile. I’m just not what he wanted.”

“That’s not true,” I said, and put my hand on his shoulder. He turned away. He might have been right about Papa, though. Since that night he ran away, Papa always seems angry at Amil for being Amil.

Papa left a book on Amil’s bed this morning. Normally on our birthday he only gives me the jewelry and we do puja at our temple and offer the gods handfuls of leaves and sweets for a prosperous year, but Papa did not talk about it this morning. Maybe we will go tomorrow. Papa doesn’t like to go to temple. We only go on our birthdays and Diwali because Dadi begs us to go. Sometimes Papa walks her there and waits outside for her. I always look forward to going. I drink in the smoky smell of the lamps burning. I even like the metal taste of the holy water on my tongue. The soft sounds of the prayers being chanted and sung make me feel loved, like you’re there, watching. But maybe a Hindu temple is the last place you’d be.

Amil’s book is beautiful. It’s a thick collection of tales from the Mahabharata with gold lettering on the cover and bright colorful pictures inside. Amil will love the drawings, but he won’t read it. Amil says he can’t read right because the words jump around and change on him. Papa thinks he’s lying so he doesn’t have to do his schoolwork. But I know he’s not. I see the way he studies the writing, his eyes squinted, his face pinched. I see how hard he tries. He even turns the book upside down sometimes, but he says nothing helps. I think it’s because Amil is a little bit magical. His eyes turn everything into art. Maybe Papa thought if he brought him a really good book, Amil would read it.

Papa didn’t say anything about skipping school today. I hope our headmasters don’t send a messenger with a note. Now I’m tired and must drink my warm milk and go to bed. Amil is already sound asleep, making little whistling sounds through his nose. I’ve decided that night is the best time to write to you. That way no one will ask me any questions.

Love, Nisha


Want to read more? 
I'm giving away a copy of this book! 
I'll be drawing a name on Tuesday, March 27th.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Women's History Month: On Being Connected with Women You Have Something in Common With

My students love learning from Capstone's PebbleGo Encyclopedia. We use it in first grade for rotting log critter research, biography research, and ocean animals research. In second grade they use it for endangered animal research along with smaller projects. We have our own units mapped out along with the data gathering sheets created for these units.

Yet, sometimes a great new opportunity to get students exploring and learning arises. I was looking through ideas in the Capstone Community for Women's History Month. (If you are not a member of the Capstone Community, check it out here: My Capstone.) 
Turns out they had just what I needed! A quiz that my second graders could take and then get paired with the biography of a woman from history. Answer the following four questions and viola!
I got Bessie Coleman!

Who were my students connected with?
At the start of the second week of our project, the students shared who they were connected with and why they thought they were lead to that biography. Here are their responses:

We had a snow day, so I was not able to ask these two classes the same question, but look at the differences in all four of these classes. Wilma Rudolph hold strong among all four classes, but class three must see themselves as more athletic. Class four has some future teachers and scientists. Classes one and two above have some serious science interests as well.

Class three:
Wilma Rudolph - 12
Marie Curie - 8
Jane Goodall - 1
Bessie Coleman - 1
Frida Kahlo -1

Class four:
Wilma Rudolph -6
Mary McLeod Bethune - 5
Marie Curie - 4
Frida Kahlo - 3
Bessie Coleman - 1
Jane Goodall - 1

There are printable data collection sheets from Capstone, 

but I had another idea and in mind and made one of my own. I wanted for them to choose a woman to read about on their own and to see how having a connection to a person makes it more interesting. Having them state why they chose the person they did helped get them thinking about this connection.
I reminded the students how to use the breadcrumb trail across the top to navigate back to read more articles about women.

Who did my students choose to read about?
Due to the snow day, I was only able to get to this part of the lesson with two of the classes. It was really interesting to see how the students chose their second biography. In one class, a child who had been matched by the quiz with Amelia Earhart talked all about her, which led two students to seek her out when they had a chance. 


Clever, Informative, Motivating, Interesting, Captivating

These are a few of the words I would use to describe HELLO HELLO by Brendan Wenzel after reading this story aloud with my first graders. 
HELLO HELLO is a celebration of the interconnectedness on Earth, but it's not just a celebration, it is a call to action to see and hear that which surrounds us. That act of seeing and hearing leads to learning and an understanding of the importance of caring for our planet and the beings that inhabit it.

Brendan Wenzel's mixed media art for this book is wonderfully-engaging and encourages the reader to slow down and explore each spread. Expressions and body language enliven this friendly group of animals.

The back matter includes a note from Brendan Wenzel encouraging readers to keep on learning. This is followed by a listing of the ninety-two animals that appear in the book along with their status - vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, etc. This back matter proved useful when my students wanted to identify a few of the animals in the story.

Want a sense of how I shared HELLO HELLO with my students and the project it lead to? Read on!

I showed my students the book trailer before I read the book:
I was able to do a case art reveal and it was fun. The students were eager to share the names of all the animals they recognized in the silhouettes on the case.  We took a quick gander at the end papers and then were ready to read. 

Given the enthusiasm for sharing all the animals they recognized (and had some pretty vast knowledge of) on the case, I asked the students to practice their visual literacy skills and see what they noticed, what did they see that the words didn't mention? 

They shared some of common features and similarities that they saw. My students noticed many small and big details within the story, like how the last animal that appears on the far right of the spread is the first animal on the far left of the next spread, thereby reminding readers of the continuous thread of connectedness woven through the book. They also noticed when bird plumage and fish spiky fin rays were the same, or webbed feet, or striped tails.

We finished by going back page by page and talking through the connections. With these ideas in mind, the students went to the PebbleGo Animals Encyclopedia to begin exploring and looking for common features and connections between animals. Here are a few that I heard about just in an initial perusal of the articles:

cardinal and blue jay - they are both birds
hawk and a jaguar - they both hunt
eel and newt - similar tails
parrot fish and parrot - colors and teeth/beak

The students will return this week to gather information on this sheet:

I am excited to see how they continue this thread of interconnectedness started by HELLO HELLO.

What are you waiting for?
Just say...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

ReedALOUD: Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Image result for rescue and jessica
Back in February, I had the opportunity to meet Jessica Kensky (along with Rescue) and Patrick Downes, the authors of Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship. This week I had the great pleasure of hosting Jessica, Patrick, and Rescue at my school to read their story with one of my third grade classes. 

Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship is about parallel journeys that intersect just when it is needed. Rescue, a service dog is on a new path to help others. Jessica, a young girl who is injured, and, like Kensky, ultimately becomes a double amputee, is on a path of healing. The book is about how the lives of a service dog who needs a job and a girl who needs a service dog come together.  
As with Kensky, the Jessica of the story finds hope, freedom, and a return to normalcy when she receives her service dog, Rescue, who, in turn, finds purpose. It's a life-changing friendship.  Here's a trailer for the book:

Promotional material for the book states: "...the heartening story of the love and teamwork between a girl and her service dog will illuminate and inspire." Illuminate and inspire this book does, in many ways, just like the authors.
Through spare text, Kensky and Downes tell Rescue and Jessica's journey from both perspectives. We see how these two are made for each other. Rescue's voice brings a lightness to the story, yet he is serious about training for the job ahead of him. Kensky and Downes convey in straight forward and clear language the experiences the young girl is going through, deftly covering aspects like becoming an amputee. Their narrative engenders compassion, not pity, in the reader.

Kensky and Downes have channeled their real-life experiences and emotions allowing readers to feel, not just see, how Jessica's life changes when she gets her service dog, Rescue (whose life also changes).
Image result for rescue and jessica

Scott Magoon's art has a lightness and softness, yet is realistic. From hospital settings to life with Rescue, Magoon shows the fine details, as with the medical equipment, including wheel chairs, prosthetic devices, and physical therapy settings. Effective use of white space frames the scenes and invites further inspection.
His art shines a light, literally, on Jessica's emotional journey, from the darker shaded spreads where she is dealing with the removal of her lower leg to the sunlight filled spreads where hope exists and when Rescue comes into her life. 

Image result for rescue and jessica

Being in my library when authors are reading their books to my students is always an incredible experience - the privilege to witness the connection that reader and writer make. The visit from Jessica Kenksy, Patrick Downes, and Rescue was this and so much more.

I visited this classroom of third graders a few days before to explain that they were going to have a special author visit. I explained that the book is about a young girl who has a similar disability as one of the authors, the girl has to have both of her legs removed below the knee. "Rescue and Jessica: A Life -Changing Friendship is about a young girl and a service dog whose lives intersect at just the right moment. The young girl has injuries and has to have both of her legs removed (amputated) below the knee. Rescue becomes Jessica's service dog and helps her rebuild her life." 

I asked the students about the Boston Marathon. How many watch it? How many have friends and family who run it? I then explained that our authors had been hurt during the bombing at the Marathon almost five years ago and that the story is based upon Jessica's own experiences after the bombing.

We then watched the book trailer that I posted above. 

I wanted my students to see Jessica and Rescue doing the things they do together. It was easy to show some footage of them at home and at the park because Rescue won the ASPCA Dog of the Year and there is a video about them. I started the video at about 45 seconds to skip past the footage from the bombing. 

The students loved seeing Rescue get a tissue or a blanket for Jessica. They also loved seeing them out playing in the park. 
Fast forward three days and Jessica, Patrick and Rescue were in the house! They read their book, with Patrick reading Rescue's journey and Jessica her own. As you can see, it was a wonderful read aloud experience.

After reading their book, Jessica and Patrick invited the students to share comments or ask questions. 
The comments affirmed my feelings about this book. Students felt the book was a little sad, but not too sad, and more hopeful and inspiring than anything else. The students loved how Patrick voiced Rescue's part. They also demonstrated their visual literacy skills by talking about the effective use of color in the artwork (shout out to Scott Magoon!).

The questions demonstrated the natural inquisitiveness of children and also indicated that they are focused on the practicality of life as an amputee as opposed to focusing on what happened before. They loved Rescue and asked many questions about him and what he likes to do. 

One student asked why they had not included the Marathon bombing. Patrick's answer was perfect. He shared that that was just seconds of their life, that these last five years are what is important as are the life ahead of them. 

Patrick asked why the students thought they had made the girl in the story young and not an adult like Jessica, someone quickly answered that it was easier for the students to connect with the young girl because she is their age. I say this often, but children are deep thinkers and keen observers. 

The students noticed the little boy with the fire truck throughout the book. Patrick explained that that is his cameo in the book. When asked why they thought he carried a fire truck, the students remembered that Rescue was named after a fire fighter. Deep thinkers and keen observers.
I had reminded students that Rescue would be working when they visited and that we needed to respect his job and give him space, you will notice that they took this part seriously.

For the visit, I received an early copy of the book from Candlewick. I wanted to share my experiences reading the book with students with Jessica and Patrick, so I read the book with my fifth graders, which was the only grade I saw before their visit. After we read Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship, I invited the students to leave comments or questions if they wanted to, they did.


I plan to bring Jessica, Rescue, Patrick, and hopefully Scott back to our school for all of our students in grades one through five. You'll likely hear about it here.

More Information:
For those of you not familiar with the book, here's the publisher's description:

Rescue thought he’d grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog — it’s the family business, after all. When he gets the news that he’s better suited to being a service dog, he’s worried that he’s not up to the task. Then he meets Jessica, a girl whose life is turning out differently than the way she’d imagined it, too. Now Jessica needs Rescue by her side to help her accomplish everyday tasks. And it turns out that Rescue can help Jessica see after all: a way forward, together, one step at a time. An endnote from the authors tells more about the training and extraordinary abilities of service dogs, particularly their real-life best friend and black lab, Rescue."

The Rescue and Jessica book tour starts in April, if they are in your area, you should go!