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.

To return to the Website :: (educational activity books)

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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Friday, April 1, 2016

Southern Gothic :: The Derelict House Next Door

I usually post about history topics, but this time I decided to repost this essay I wrote in 2012, with an update at the end. Hey, you writers out there, maybe this story will give you ideas for a book!

Do you remember the run-down Radley house from To Kill a Mockingbird? Overgrown weeds in the yard, creaking porch boards underfoot, strange people living in the house. My next-door neighbor's house is like that. Here's the story:

When we moved into this neighborhood 22 years ago, neighbors told us that at one time the next door property had been a garden spot -- beautifully maintained flowers and shrubs in the backyard and immaculate upkeep of the house.

There was a dark side, though. Neighbors also told us that strange things happened at the beautiful house. The occupants were rarely seen. Cars arrived at all hours. Probably drug dealers. Maybe Mafia.

By 1989, when we moved here, the next-door property was beginning a slow decline. The gardening Mafiosos had all moved out. A woman and her elderly father had moved in. We waved at the woman, who wore flouncy Southern Belle hats, but we never saw the father. Apparently, he was in a wheelchair.

All the plants were overgrown, and the backyard was a jungle. But there were traces of former glory, like the gorgeous white camellia near the deck, gardenia bushes full of luscious white blooms in late spring, and Bradford pear trees along the edge of the driveway.

Eventually, the father died, leaving the middle aged woman alone. The years passed, and a strange Southern Gothic story began to unfold. The woman emerged from her house every day in the late afternoon, still wearing the hats. I wasn't sure where she went or when she came back. Her car filled up with junk -- boxes, papers, old clothes, rags. Eventually, only the driver's area was free of stuff.

Occasionally, the neighbor would come over to use our phone, and I learned that she was diabetic. Also, she revealed that she was a night owl who slept most of the day and got up late in the afternoon. She went out every evening to eat at a local restaurant (and to collect more junk, I presume).

Relatives came once in a while to check on the woman and help her cut the grass. She met a man at the restaurant who befriended her and also came over to cut the waist-high grass.

Time passed. I saw less and less of the woman. Several years ago we had an extremely cold, pipe-freezing spell. I heard the sound of water splattering and thought it was thawing ice dripping onto the driveway. Nope. It was water gushing over the top of the neighbor's garage door, as if a pipe had burst inside the house. I went over and knocked on her door. No answer. I called the fire department.

Eventually, the firemen came and shut off the water at the street. Still, I saw no sign of the woman, and now she didn't have any water. Strangely, her car was in the driveway.

I called the police, who came out and walked around the house, but couldn't get any answer from the woman who, we thought, was inside.

I can't remember exactly what happened next, but eventually the police/county/relatives came out and discovered that the woman had been living in her car! Adult Protective Services took over, and the woman moved away.

Several years passed. The house sat vacant, cold, and moldy. I hated to think what it smelled like inside. I had come to think that the house was way beyond rehab and that no one would want to buy it.

Little did I know that someone had been trolling the neighborhood. Actually, he had been watching the property and the woman for awhile, getting ready to pounce at the right time (and price). He even bought the woman's  junk-filled cars, which I thought was a bit creepy. Well, actually his whole mode of operation was creepy.

Recently, the sounds of chainsaws and power washers have started up next door. The young man who bought the house is renovating it, bringing it back to life. He told me some interesting things about what he found inside.

Someone had installed a heavy-duty alarm system and several huge sub-zero freezers in the house. Yikes, what were previous owners storing in there? Bodies? Large amounts of drugs? (My imagination went wild.)

Copper pipe had been stolen out of the house. That was the cause of the waterfall during the freezing weather. Did the thieves rip out the pipe while the poor woman was living in her car?

What's the moral of this story? I guess some people get left behind in our society. Should we pay more attention to each other? Is it survival of the fittest?

Call me shallow, but at this point, I'm just glad that the house next door is being renovated and will be lived in.

Update: As of spring 2016 the house is still vacant. It looks great on the outside, and the guy who bought it comes over about once a month to trim the grass and bushes, but so far he hasn't put the house on the market. Maybe the inside of the house isn't finished. Maybe he's storing bodies in the freezers. Maybe he's waiting for housing prices to go up. I don't know, but I'm still glad the house was renovated.

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