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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! Jabari Jumps

Oh, be still my heart! Jabari. ūüíď

I was lucky enough to be able to order a six-pack of Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (2017) for our school's book room in the spring of 2017.

Teachers, if your school does not have this book, please remedy that!

This is one of those picture books that can be used on multiple levels for Kindergarteners through high school, depending on your instructional purpose. The text is deceptively simple. But don't underestimate Jabari!

For the littlest ones, it's a feel-good story about being brave, rich with family love. I read this to one of my second grade reading groups to test the waters (pun intended). K, a young man with learning and focus challenges who struggled to comprehend and retell most stories, told us everything after I read it to them. He told it all! Not just events, but feelings of the main characters, possible reasons - K made good inferences.

My favorite spread

Representation matters. In this 'simple' book about a little boy facing his fear of jumping off the diving board, bolstered by his father's love and support, K saw himself. He was literally quivering with excitement. This book mattered to him. (Not only that, but let me just point out the obvious - a functional Black family, a Black dad's love and care for his children, a Black family not just at the pool but taking swimming lessons, passing swimming tests - sadly, it's a thing that people think Black families don't do this - all of this matters.)

Above, you see my favorite spread. Look at those sweet characters - Jabari standing there just like little boys do, holding his daddy's hand. That baby girl's arm going around her daddy's back. Daddy has all his kid-care supplies in his backpack for the day.

And then read that last sentence. "But when his dad squeezed his hand, Jabari squeezed back." That is an entire mini-lesson's worth of instruction for third grade through high school right there! That is the pivot point in the book, the author dropping us a clue, the author's choice of character action - can your students analyze that sentence? Did they even notice it?  (This is CCSS R.5)

Those are the discussions you'd want to be sure to have with students reading about on Levels O - Z+ (mid-third grade and up).

You'll also want to use this book as a great model (because of its depth of complexity and its short reading time) for understanding the deeper nuances of character and theme with upper elementary through high schoolers. If you are a fan and user of Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book, Jabari Jumps would be a great mentor text for just about all of Goal 7 that marries character and theme.

Difference between plot and theme? Quick and easy with this book. Also from Serravallo's Goal 7, you can use this text for lessons on what we can learn from how characters treat each other, seed to theme, character change reveals lessons, secondary sages, aha moment, and titles (is "Jabari Jumps" literal or is there more to it?). All of these fall within CCSS R.2 and R.3, theme and characters. Great for small group lessons on all of these skills.

Look at the spread below. We've all been there.



But could we take that more than literally with this story? What could this be a metaphor for, both in the text and in the larger context of community, the world?

And then there's the art.


Look how Cornwall uses what looks to be old book text to form the city buildings. Why did she choose to do that? What is the impact on the story? The reader? CCSS Anchor Standard R.7.

Get Jabari Jumps. You'll love it as much as I do.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer is for Reading! Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock

Teachers, Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock (2018) is one of those books that will make teaching easier! Quadruple duty: theme/central message, analysis of two or more texts, stories from diverse cultures & global goals, and author's craft.


Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt, illustrated by Amanda Strong, is an #OwnVoices picture book. It's also recommended by Debbie Reese on her blog American Indians in Children's Literature. The main character, Aw√Ęsis, gets help from some animal friends after accidentally dropping her grandmother's bannock. 

Short reads, especially picture books, are great to model think-alouds for K-12. Since they are short, they get across the teaching point through example quickly, and illustrations make them memorable for students all the way through high school (and beyond). Additionally, if you use the same text to help teach multiple standards, students will become more deeply familiar with that text and thus more familiar with how to think deeply about a text.

This short read would be great to model theme and central message (RL.2), especially for 2nd through 8th grades, and even more so if your grade level standard mentions 'diverse cultures' (2nd and 3rd grades here in North Carolina). Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock also has a guide to included words in the Cree language in the back, and you can also watch this video with your students to learn the words together!

Is your school a global school? If your grade level learns about North America, this would be a perfect text to combine global goals with ELA standards.

Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock would also be fabulous to use to teach RL.9 - analyzing two or more texts. Below, these grade levels' RL.9 would be a great fit for this book:

RL.2.9 Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story by different authors or from different cultures.

RL.4.9 Compare and contrast the use of similar themes and topics and patterns of events in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
RL.5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
RL.8.9 Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works, including describing how the material is rendered new.

There are a couple of texts that students could compare to Aw√Ęsis and the World-Famous Bannock. Little Red Riding Hood would be a traditional story that students would find an interesting comparison (mother/grandma sends girl on a mission through the forest to help relatives in both stories, mission fails in both stories, girl meets animal in the forest, animals are helpful in one story, not in the other - lots of possibilities). 

The other great comparison text that springs to mind is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, in which the main character goes from relative to relative collecting jingles for her jingle dress to dance in the powwow for her relatives. (If you don't have Jingle Dancer, get it - it's phenomenal!)


Theme comparison would involve differences: listen to your parents, or do as you are told or bad things will happen vs helping others, interdependence, accepting help, working together - many possibilities.

And you know we need to insert Author's Craft whenever we can at every grade level, so check this out:



See what my pencil is pointing to? Yay! Why did the author decide to use a smaller/larger font for this part? What is the effect of the author's use of a smaller/larger font? What does the author want the reader to do when they get to the smaller/larger font? Why? 

Aaaand, the world-famous bannock recipe is in the back so you can actually make it! Science and math standards, anyone? Yum!











Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! The Sockeye Mother

Summer is for reading!

I just read The Sockeye Mother (2017) by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson).



I can see so many classroom uses for this nonfiction picture book! It details the life cycle throughout the year of a sockeye salmon, a key species for the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia. I'll be adding it to my school's purchase list.

Teachers, if your third grade does the Lucy Calkins animal research unit, this book would be perfect! It would also be a great fit for ecosystem standards (fifth grade in my home state), and animal studies standards (fourth grade in my home state).

But wait, there's more! See those text features in the pic below? You know how hard we work to teach young readers how to recognize and use these in all grade levels. This book has an author's note, a map, headings and science vocabulary text boxes (as per pic below).


Beautiful artwork by Natasha Donovan also keeps young readers engaged, as does the connection to the seasons and the Gitxsan people (see pic below).



This book is remarkable in that the overarching theme is how the two species, the sockeye salmon and the people, are interconnected. Nonfiction animal fact text and theme? Yep! It's there.

Debbie Reese has a more detailed review on her blog, American Indians In Children's Literature that you should check out, too. Debbie suggests using the video that is on the Portage & Main Press site (linked above), Youtube, and also her review, to learn how to pronounce some of the Gitxsan words in the book. I'd also suggest showing the video to your students. Have fun and do your best with the words and use it as a model of your learning, along with your students!

There is also a video on Youtube of the author, Brett Huson, talking about culture, the importance of women, mothers, grandmothers, and family, as well as where the story of The Sockeye Mother came from. This is a longer, but very interesting video that teachers will want to watch/listen to and then choose parts to share with students.

Get it, teach it, love it.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Summer is for Reading! What Jamie Saw

Summer is for reading!

I just finished reading What Jamie Saw (1995) by Carolyn Coman (Level T). It's been on my To Be Read list because I've seen it in the majority of the third, fourth and fifth grade classroom libraries at my school. It appears to have been a district purchase at one point, possibly even in multiple sets.

Teachers, I urge caution with this book. It details very graphically, and well, child abuse that a 9 year old saw and the aftermath of emotions and chaos experienced by the family.

Personally, I wouldn't put it in a classroom library for students to read on their own, especially considering that many of our students have been through this type of trauma themselves. There isn't any 'redeeming, Hail Mary, everything's okay and here's the cure to your feelings' in this book that a child who has been through similar trauma could hold onto and use to gather personal strength.

It is more a book that teachers (and social workers) could read to get a child's perspective of the emotions experienced and behavior expressed during and after critical trauma and use that knowledge to better help children who have been through it. And unfortunately, we know that there are more and more children who come to us with this in their background.

If you have What Jamie Saw in your classroom library or book room, please closely consider your chosen use for this book.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Summer is for Reading! Dragons In A Bag

Summer is for reading!

I just finished reading Zetta Elliott's Dragons In A Bag (2018), a young middle-grade fantasy novel. And check out the cover:


Notice anything unusual? As a teacher or parent or family member of young readers, did you know that it is unusual to find African American/Black main characters in fantasy books?

Teachers, this book will welcome all the fantasy lovers in your classroom. Jaxon's time travel and dragon chasing will resonate with all fantasy geeks (like me) and Elliott's authenticity with her main characters will definitely be appreciated by African American/Black young readers. What's that? Your students are mostly White? Even more reason to add this to your classroom library. African American/Black fantasy main characters need to be normalized for White kids.

Although I couldn't find a guided reading level officially for this book, I'd estimate it at a Level N, which puts it smack in the middle of third grade. However, fourth and fifth grade teachers, you should definitely add this to your classroom libraries too (especially if you do a fantasy unit) - not just for our lower level readers, but because on- and above-grade level readers also need to read this and either feel themselves or feel African American/Black fantasy main characters normalized. And all students will enjoy the characters and plot.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Summer is for Reading! The Belles

Summer is for reading!

I recently finished The Belles (2018) by Dhonielle Clayton.


Loved it! To be honest, at first I wasn't sure it was exactly my cup of tea. I'm not a girly-girl type, I don't do makeup often or well, and while I like to look good in my clothes, fashion is not a particular interest of mine. And as I began the book, that seemed to be a lot of the focus.

But WOW. Was there ever a reason for that! That focus was the entire point. Sheesh - almost like the author (gasp!) knew what she was doing!

The social commentary and implications are my favorite aspect of The Belles. This article at Tor does an excellent job of laying it out, so I won't rework it here.

I'm going to gift some teen girls I know a copy of this book because the thinking points in The Belles are so important. I'd think it has already sparked some family discussions.

Get it, read it, gift it!