Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review :: The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson (bonus crossword puzzle)

If your students are studying the Revolutionary War, the Seeds of America trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson presents the story from the perspective of slaves who found themselves in the middle of the great struggle, not knowing if the Patriots or the British or neither would set them free. [Grades 6 - 10, but adults will like it, too)

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum, 2010
The first book, Chains, is told from the point of view of Isabel, a 13-year-old slave. She and her younger sister, Ruth, are promised freedom when their elderly mistress dies, but a cruel, greedy relative of the deceased sells them back into slavery.

Isabel and Ruth wind up in New York City, which is occupied by the Continental Army during the start of the Revolution. Here, they learn what it's like to be owned by the cruel Locton family, who sympathize with the British. Isabel also meets Curzon, a slave boy several years older, who is owned by Col. Bellingham, a Patriot.

The words "All men created equal" rings hollow to Isabel as she endures betrayal, unspeakable cruelty, and loss.

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum, 2012

The second book, Forge, is told from the point of view of Curzon.

After escaping from New York, Isabel and Curzon go their separate ways. 

Still believing that the Patriots will support his quest for freedom, Curzon enlists in the Patriot army, which camps for the winter at Valley Forge (1777 - 78).

Anderson does a masterful job of describing life in the camp, where 12,000 men endured bitter cold, no barracks, and little food or clothing. 

Curzon's past catches up to him when Col. Bellingham, his former master (and Patriot), joins the camp and claims that Curzon is still his slave. It turns out that Bellingham has also enslaved Isabel, who wears a neck scarf that hides a nasty secret.

Will Curzon and Isabel escape again and achieve freedom?

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Atheneum, 2016
The third book in the series is Ashes and is told from the point of view of Isabel.

From page 2:
After walking more than a thousand miles, after months spent laboring, first in Lancaster, then Baltimore, then Richmond, and at whatever mountain farm would have us . . . . After months lost in worry, waiting to see if Curzon would recover from the wounds inflicted by a falling hemlock, then another half a year wasted as I fought an intermittent fever that gripped my lungs so tight I could barely walk . . . After dodging two armies, wild packs of banditti, and armed Loyalists deep in liquor . . . . After sleepless nights haunted by ghosts and endless days of empty bellies . . . . After all that, I was close to finding my baby sister, Ruth. 

Isabel does find Ruth, who had been shipped off to Charleston when the cruel Loctons of New York owned the girls. 

Eventually, Curzon, Isabel, and Ruth find themselves involved in the Battle of Yorktown, 1781. Curzon still believes that the Patriots will set him and all slaves free, but Isabel is skeptical. 

Isabel and Ruth find out what women's work is like in support of the soldiers. 

From page 220:
They [the soldiers] had been digging the trench all through the night. As the sun climbed into the sky, they returned to camp, tired and filthy, but in high spirits. I heated more water for washing. In those days of digging no man was ever clean in the proper sense of the word. The best I could do was to keep lice and other varmints from infesting their clothes, and insist that they dried their feet after working, so mushrooms wouldn't grow between their toes.

This book answers the overriding questions of the series:

  • Will Isabel, Curzon, Ruth and other slaves finally achieve freedom when the Patriots win the war?
  • Will Isabel and Curzon get together romantically? [strictly PG]

Each book has an Appendix that includes questions and answers about topics in the text and suggestions for further reading.

Crossword Puzzle! [based on the book Ashes

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review :: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (and bonus activity)

 One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, grades 4-7

Imagine flying across country from New York to California to spend your summer vacation with a mother you barely know, and who doesn't want you or your two sisters. That's the situation for 11-year-old Delphine, whose father puts her in charge of 9-year-old Vonetta and 7-year-old Fern.

No hugs, no kisses at the airport. The woman who abandoned Delphine when she was 4, says, "Ya'll have to move if you're going to be with me." Delphine quickly learns that she's on her own. Mother doesn't cook, so supper is take-out Chinese from mean Lady Ming's shop down the street. Breakfast is at the People's Center where food is handed out to the poor. "It don't make me no difference," says Mother about what the girls do during the day.

Delphine and her sisters have landed in the middle of the Black Panther Movement of the 1960's, in which their mysterious mother is heavily involved. Children (and adults) will enjoy reading about how Delphine negotiates with humor and wisdom her summer of emerging (and scary) black power.

There are two sequels to this book: P.S. Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

Students might enjoy a word search activity based on One Crazy Summer. You can find this activity at my Website: Please feel free to copy this activity for your students (however, no commercial use, thanks!).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Resources for Teaching History :: Book Review :: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Five Ojibwa chiefs, 19th century
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich: This book tells the story of an Ojibwa Native American family living on an island in Lake Superior in the mid-1800's. It's full of details about daily life during one year -- preparing animal skins, beadwork, planting crops, food preparation, hunting, clothing. So much detail could be boring, but interwoven with details are the lives of the people, mostly from the point of view of seven-year-old Omakayas. Children will identify with her because, like most children, she is stuck doing something she really dislikes, but her family needs her to do it. In her case the task is scraping animal skins. Gradually, with the help of her devoted grandmother, she learns what her true talents are. Omakayas also has to live with an extremely annoying little brother and an older sister who is perfect in every way. 

This is not a plot-driven story. We simply follow a family and their neighbors through a year-long cycle including traditions like the maple sugar festival. We also follow their journey through horrible sickness, near starvation, and a harsh winter. This story is full of three-dimensional characters, including my favorite, Old Tallow, a tall rangy woman who has chased away three husbands, lives by herself in the woods, has a pack of snarling dogs, carries a gun, and smokes a pipe.


I don't have a follow-up crossword puzzle or other game to offer this time, but I wanted to share this wonderful blog post I found: Ten Ways to Ditch that Reading Log (written by a middle school teacher, whose name, unfortunately, I wasn't able to find)

One of my favorite suggestions is Sketch Quotes (this quote taken directly from her/his blog):

If spending time on text is the goal, sketchquotes are very effective. My students love to go back into the text to look for sketchable lines. 
I am always impressed by the deep understanding and connections they are making that is shown by what they choose to quote.


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Friday, July 15, 2016

Resources for Teaching History :: Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Bonus: Crossword Puzzle)

Why do I begin this blog post with a photo of a vetch plant? Because, believe it or not, it is crucial to the storyline in the book: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

Written for grades 5 - 8, this charming book tells the story of eleven-year-old Calpurnia (nicknamed Callie) and her large, well-off family, who live in Texas in 1899. It's hard enough growing up with six brothers, but Callie is caught in a dilemma. She wants to get down and dirty and explore the natural world with her granddad, but her mother wants her to learn to be a proper young lady who is content to cook, do needlework, and get married.

There are many reasons pre-teens will like this book, including the spunky main character, the exploration of the natural world, the portrayal of life at the turn of the 20th century (the first automobile!), the adventures of Callie's brothers, and the grumpy old granddad who is a big fan of Charles Darwin.  And there are sequels! The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate is the second book and, I believe, a third book is in the works.

Now, I'm not a fan of students being required to write book reports or take tests based on books they've read because I think these activities discourage reading. But I do think it can be fun for students to do crossword puzzles, word searches, and word jumbles, as long as these are not required. So, in the spirit of fun, I present a link to a crossword puzzle based on the book reviewed here.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Resources for Teaching History :: On the Anniversary of D-Day :: Remembering Anne Frank

It's summertime ... and the living is easy ...

You're probably thinking about vacation plans rather than lesson plans, but here's an idea for next year.

I just re-read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  I had forgotten how powerful the book is, and what an excellent writer Anne was, even at the tender age of 14/15. She could have become a journalist or novelist if she had survived.

Telegrams being delivered by bicycle
Amsterdam, c. 1930.
Did you have your students read this book for class? They might be interested in reading about the story from the other side; that is, from the point of view of the Dutch people who hid, fed, and clothed the Franks, the Van Daans, and Dr. Dussel.  Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies (Meep Geese) tells that story.

Here are some of the details that students will learn if they read this book:

  • Miep worked in Mr. Frank's company (manufacturing and selling pectin, an ingredient in making jams)
  • Life was carefree for the Dutch in the 1930's -- riding bikes, going to movies ...
  • Miep was often invited to the Frank house, where world events were discussed, including the spread of Nazism. By 1939 Amsterdam was bursting with refugees.
  • She describes Anne as quick witted, extroverted, and extremely interested in boys even from an early age.
  • Holland is attacked and occupied by the Germans in May, 1940, but at first life goes on as usual.
  • Miep describes how the Nazis began to restrict and oppress Jews. Dutch citizens had to sign a statement saying: "I am not a Jew."
After the Franks go into hiding in an annex of the company, Miep writes about the difficulties of getting food for 8 extra people, especially as the war drags on, and food becomes scarce. She describes how she and other employees in the company would visit the Franks and the others, who were desperate for news of the outside world.

If students combine what they learn from reading Anne's diary with information in Miep's book, they will get a complete picture of what life was like for the Dutch citizens who hid the Franks and what life was like on a day-to-day basis for those in hiding. 

Mr. Frank was the only one who returned after the war. He and Miep stayed close, and waited for news of Anne and her sister. Many photos are included in the book, including a picture of a letter stating that Anne and Margot Frank had died at the Bergen-Belsen prison camp, beginning of March, 1945.

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Resources for Teaching History :: Harriet Tubman :: Little Known Facts

Most folks are familiar with Harriet Tubman, the African-American woman who will replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. She escaped to freedom in Philadelphia (1849) and became a famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. She went back to Maryland (a slave state) 13 times to bring out approximately 70 people. She used disguises to slip past slave owners, and she used coded language and song to guide the escapees. This is the song she sang to tell her people it was safe to move on:

                                                    Oh, go down Moses,
                                                    Way down into Egypt's land.
                                                    Tell old Pharaoh
                                                    Let my people go.

Your students might not be familiar with other parts of Harriet's life.
Woodcut of Harriet Tubman
as she looked during the
Civil War
  • When she was a teenager, she was accidentally hit on the head by a stone or weight thrown by a white overseer who was trying to stop a runaway slave. She was not given any medical attention by her owner and was forced to go back to work in the fields two days later "with the blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn't see." For the rest of her life she suffered from spells of lethargy, seizures, and headaches. She also began to experience potent dreams, visions, and religious fervor, which inspired her lifelong passion for religion and helping others. Now, historians believe that she suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as a result of the head injury. 
  • During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army as a nurse in South Carolina, but she was not paid! To earn money to support herself and her elderly parents, she baked pies and gingerbread and made root beer and sold them to the soldiers. She became a scout for the Union, traveling into the interior of South Carolina to get information about Rebel troop movements. In 1863 she helped to lead a raid to find Rebel reinforcements and mined rivers. After a Union assault on Charleston, Tubman wrote about what she had seen: "And then we saw the lightening, and that was the guns. And then we heard the thunder, and that was the big guns. And then we heard the rain falling, and that was the drops of blood falling. And when we came to get in the crops, it was the dead that we reaped."
  • After the Civil War, Tubman went back to her home in Auburn, New York, to focus mainly on her family and community. She supported her elderly parents and various relatives in her home. An observer commented that Tubman "had a great number of young and old, black and white, all poorer than she. There were children that she brought up ... also a blind woman." Late in life Tubman turned her attention to the women's suffrage movement and opened a home for aged and indigent Negroes. She finally received a pension from the U.S. Government for her service with the Union but never received the back pay that she thought she deserved. Harriet Tubman died in 1913 at the age of 91. 
Questions for students (scroll down for answers):
  1. What was Tubman's nickname?
  2. What revolutionary (for the time), but comfy, item of clothing did Tubman wear on her expeditions for the Union Army?

  1.  Tubman was called the Moses of her people
  2.  Tubman wore bloomers -- a combination pantaloon and dress made famous by suffragette
    Bloomers gave women
    more freedom of movement
    Amelia Bloomer.

Information in this post comes from the book: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero: Bound for the Promised Land by Kate Clifford Larson (a fascinating biography).

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