Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Daddy Went to War :: A Time Capsule of One Man's Experience in WWII

"Musso" carving
Image credit: U.S. Army
Signal Corps Museum,
Ft. Gordon, August, GA

Hello friends who follow this blog. I've created a new blog and associated Flickr gallery to display my late father's drawings, photos, and paintings of his military service in northern Australia during WWII. This arena of the war has been severely underreported.

Perhaps this new blog will be helpful to teachers and home schoolers who teach WWII. Looking at these pictures is like opening a time capsule into the late 1930's through 1945.

Please let me know what you think!

Return to educational activity books --

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review :: "May B" by Caroline Starr Rose

Is it welcome-back-to-school time in your community? Do you have students (or homeschooled children) who want to try reading historical fiction? Here's a review of May B, a book by Caroline Starr Rose (ages 9 - 14, published by Schwartz & Wade, 2012, starred review on Kirkus). This book would fit well into a unit about settling the American West in the 1870's.

"For the first time ever, I am alone." 

These are the words of 11-year-old May B, the main character of the story, who finds herself alone in a one-room soddy homestead in Kansas after the people who hired her leave. She is 15 miles from her family, and she can't walk across the featureless prairie. Will May B. survive six months alone until her father picks her up at Christmas?

Through May B.'s thoughts, we learn about her family -- Ma, Pa, and her brother Hiram. And we also learn that May B. has an embarrassing disorder --  dyslexia, which makes it difficult to learn to read. Students may begin to wonder what they would think about if they were alone for six months. Happy memories, painful memories, and everything in between. And, of course, fear.

"The freezing starts in hands and feet, 

then comes a sleep with no waking." 

A soddy -- house made of sod
Image: public domain
The garden gives out, a wolf scratches at the door, blizzard snow piles up so that May B. can't get the door open. Readers will be fascinated to learn how this plucky, resourceful girl survives her ordeal.

This book is written as a prose poem, but should not present any difficulties for teachers who like to read books to their students. There's a comfortable staccato rhythm to the writing. 

Resources for further study:

Return to educational activity books, including more book reviews and activities:

Friday, February 3, 2017

How to recognize propaganda (and gaslighting in particular)

Hello Fellow Travelers:

I usually blog about historical fiction and nonfiction for children and teens, but today I decided to address a topic that has been on my mind for about a year (during the political season)  -- how to recognize propaganda and how, or if, this topic is taught in schools.

Lately, folks on social media have been throwing around the term "gaslighting." So I decided to delve into this topic as well because it's a type of propaganda. Personally, I think it's very important for students to be taught how to recognize when someone or a group of people are trying to persuade them (the students) to think a certain way.

This post only scratches the surface of the topic of propaganda.  So, please feel free to jump in and leave comments, especially about how this topic is taught in your school. Please include activities you've used with your students.

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that in the 1600's the definition of "propaganda" was not particular derogatory. It meant "a committee of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions." Who knew?

In modern times it has come to mean "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view." (according to the OED)
What resources are there for teachers to educate students about propaganda? Not many, unfortunately. At least, that's what I discovered here in DeKalb County, Georgia. The few library books tend to be focused on propaganda during WWII. For instance, World War II Sourcebook: Propaganda (Charles Samuels, Brown Bear Books Ltd., Tucson, AZ and London: 2011)

This book describes propaganda as "deliberate attempts to influence people's beliefs and actions."

Original 1939 U.K.
Wikimedia scan, public domain
According to this book "white propaganda" was what your government produced during the war to reassure you, such as posters in Britain that said: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Photos of leaders acting courageously like the king climbing through bombing rubble. Your government also produced images to inform citizens about the enemy, such as posters in U.S. post offices that showed menacing images of Hitler. 

So called "black propaganda" was produced by the enemy and included books promoting leader's world views (Mein Kampf) and parades and rallies to show strength.

I did find a book that is only about propaganda and is not connected to war. The title is: Zoos: Identifying Propaganda Techniques (Terry O'Neill, Greenhaven Press Inc., San Diego, CA: 1990) The reason for the odd title is that this book presents four propaganda techniques that are used to argue whether zoos are good or bad. 
  1. Testimonials -- This technique quotes or paraphrases an authority or celebrity to support an argument whether or not the authority figure knows anything about the topic. For instance, an actor is hired to look and speak like a doctor to promote a medicine. 
  2. Card stacking -- This technique involves distorting or twisting facts or providing facts that are only favorable to your argument. Also, quoting someone incompletely or out of context.
  3. Scare tactics -- The propagandist says: If you don't do or believe this, SOMETHING TERRIBLE WILL HAPPEN.
  4. Slanted words and phrases -- This technique uses words that have opinions or emotions built into them. For instance, describing a low-income housing project as a SLUM.

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in
Gaslight, the movie that inspired
the term gaslighting

So, on to gaslighting, a type of insidious propaganda that is described as "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality." ("Gaslighting: Know It and Identify It to Protect Yourself," Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D.) This article describes interpersonal gaslighting, but social media is currently using the term to describe gaslighting that is being done by politicians and others to influence citizens.

Here is a sample of techniques that gaslighters use:
  1. They tell blatant lies. Once they tell you a huge lie, you're not sure if anything they say is true, keeping you unsteady and off-kilter.
  2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. You start questioning your reality, thinking maybe they never really said that thing.
  3. Gaslighters wear you down over time. Exhaustion sets in so that people find it harder and harder to resist the assault on reality.
Several weeks ago I wrote a post on Facebook that elicited a few comments about propaganda that is or was being taught in schools. Here are a few of the comments:

J Bea wrote: My social studies teacher in high school brought in a man who was in the intelligence service in WWII and had intercepted the communique that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor. It was sent to the President who sat on the info. The man was broken and I believe we had advanced intelligence of the attack. It was a good lesson in propaganda and what is written in the history books just might not be so.

wrote:  Thinking used to be taught in school but often as Advanced Placement or elective classes. Not sure if it is taught any more. Perhaps now (or in four years?) it will be brought back.
David wrote: I teach propaganda to my fifth graders and discuss how it was used in both World War One and two. We also discuss various types of propaganda and where we see it used today. I even have them create their own propaganda posters . Many of the comments above show the misperceptions of what is and isn't actually being taught in schools.

Ann wrote: My daughter taught a section on logical fallacy and argument while in a high school class. I teach it to my students in literature class. Learning to identify logical fallacy helps students recognize propaganda.

I checked the Georgia educational standards Website and could not find anything specific about the teaching of propaganda or gaslighting. All I could find was something under the Reading Standards section:

L6-8RH6 Craft and Structure: Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

So, there you have it. I hope this long post gives you (teachers, parents, grandparents, home schoolers) something to work with if you decide to discuss the prickly subject of propaganda with your students/children.

To return to the Website (educational materials), click here. 

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

Return to Website [educational books]

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.


To return to (Educational books for children/teens)