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1. Where In The World: How One Class Used Google Maps to Explore the Vanishing Cultures Series

Throughout April, we are exploring how Jan Reynolds’ Vanishing Cultures series can be used in the classroom to teach about the environment, geo-literacy, global citizenship, and nonfiction. Today, we want to share how one school has integrated geo-literacy with digital and visual literacy.

Michael Willis and the Kaleidoscope Team at Williston Central School in Williston, Vermont helped their 3rd and 4th grade classroom build a map on Google Maps of the cultures featured in the books. Through this project, students were able to investigate topics and themes in the Vanishing Cultures series, practice deriving information from other formats and develop visual literacy skills, and gain rich social studies/ geography content knowledge.

The Google Maps assignment is an exciting way to engage reluctant or struggling readers, facilitate the participation of visual learners and English Language Learners, or provide an extension opportunity for ready or advanced learners. The 3rd and 4th grade students hope that in addition to deepening their own knowledge about traditional cultures, their project provides useful and valuable information for others.

From educator, Michael Willis: My 3rd and 4th grade team wanted to get an author in to share their experiences with our young writers.  Ideally we wanted a local person and sure enough Jan Reynolds, who lives in Vermont, was available.  First we hit up our library as well as the others in our area and got our hands on Jan’s Vanishing Cultures series.  We read aloud her books, visited her website, and then Jan came.

She shared a movie about her work and travels with our whole team in the auditorium and then spent time answering questions in smaller groups.  It was during one of the small presentations that Jan mentioned how great it would be to use Google Maps to highlight her book locations.  I thought it would be a great project for our students, and they were motivated to do it by the idea that the project could be shared with other students who read Jan’s books.

We used Google Maps to plot out where in the world Jan’s Vanishing Cultures books take place, and put together this map.


Williston Central School Google Earth Map for Vanishing Cultures series

Here’s what the students had to say about the project:

What was it like doing the Google Earth Project?

Grace – I thought that it was really fun because we were working with a famous author.  We had to get all of her books and look up where she had been using Google Earth.

Isabelle – We dropped pins on the locations using the facts and map information on the inside covers of her books.  Doing this project motivated us to have to read her books and learn about the cultures that she visited.  It made me appreciate how lucky we are to have the things we have.

Logan – The map project was really interesting.  It helped me understand how many different places Jan had been.  I didn’t know that there were cultures vanishing from the Earth.  It made me want to learn more about the cultures.  The books were helpful because she had really been to visit the people, talk to them, and learn how they live.

Addie – We used the summaries and the content from the books to add a brief description to the pins which marked the places.  This project motivated us because we wanted to help others learn.  It felt special because we were the first ones to do this and actually get published!  Plus, I didn’t even know these cultures existed!

Myleigh – The motivating part of the project was that I don’t usually get to explore the world. How often do people get to learn about this kind of thing?  It was almost like traveling the world reading Jan’s books.

What do you think is the purpose of Jan’s books?  What do they help you realize?

Sean – Her purpose was to teach children about the Vanishing Cultures and what is happening to them.  I think Jan’s message was not that they need our help because they have been surviving for a long time.  She was telling us that we should respect them, their way of life, and to respect their land.  I learned that they are just like everyday people.  To them, I bet we would look like the outsiders.  Everyone has traditions that they do.

Addie – We are lucky to have so many resources to use.

Grace – It made me realize how different these cultures are from us

Isabelle – It also made me realize that we all are not that different.  We may have different stuff and live in different parts of the world, but we all are people.

Grace – We can help other cultures by protecting the regions where they live

Addie – We realized that while our cultures are different, we shouldn’t force them to disappear because we all have something to learn from each other.  We could be more conscious of our waste and our pollution and that could help them keep their culture and survive

Isabelle – I think that it is important to respect different cultures because it’s how they live.  The Celebrations book helped me learn that different cultures celebrate different holidays

What was it like having Jan visit?

Myleigh – It was really cool to see Jan’s presentation and to hear her describe her trips first hand.  It really helped me put myself in her shoes and understand what she was going through.  When I was hearing her use such descriptive language it felt like I was right there with her.

Katrina – I think that since she came it really helped us understand that you should appreciate what you have – even though the people in the other cultures don’t have a lot they still seemed happy.  The people in those cultures work hard to live off the land and work with nature by using their resources. It really helped me learn about cultures that I didn’t know about.

For more resources on the Vanishing Cultures series, check out:

How are you using the Vanishing Cultures series in your classroom? Share your thoughts, experiences, and strategies that have worked in your school and community! Post a comment below or email Lee & Low at curriculum@leeandlow.com.



Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, classroom projects, close reading, common core standards, digital literacy, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, geography, geoliteracy, reading comprehension, visual literacy

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2. Beyond “Did you know…”: Teaching Geo-Literacy Using the Vanishing Cultures Book Series

JillJill_Eisenberg Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Vanishing Cultures: Mongolia

Vanishing Cultures: Mongolia

Last week on the blog we spotlighted the work of Jan Reynolds, an author and explorer who has written nonfiction for young readers about cultures across the globe. If we had read the Vanishing Cultures series when I was a classroom teacher, my students would have been competing with each other over who knew the most outrageous fact. Did you know the Tiwi, an aboriginal tribe from an island off the coast of Australia, eat mangrove worms fresh? Did you know the Inuit from the Hudson Bay build rock piles that are stacked to look like men in order to scare caribou toward the real Inuit hunters?

My students loved to play the “did you know…” game. That became a popular sentence starter in our classroom. Students would scramble for the latest book or periodical on animals, prehistoric times, and exotic locales. The peregrine falcon, megalodon, and the giant panda were unshakable favorites.

Yet, we don’t want students to know “just facts” as if they are mini-encyclopedias. We aspire for our students to wonder and to investigate how our world works, how we are all connected to our environment and other humans halfway around the globe, and how our actions here affect others way over there.

The Common Core brings a refreshed spotlight to the nonfiction genre in children’s books, challenging publishers, educators, librarians, and parents to present children with high interest, high quality texts. What a time to engage students’ senses, sustain their wonder, and teach them geo-literacy!

National Geographic affirms, “with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century, it is more important than ever that young people understand the world around them.” It has adopted the concept of “geo-literacy,” and even gone so far as to create a community to support and cultivate “geo-educators.”

Vanishing Cultures: Himalaya

Vanishing Cultures: Himalaya

Enjoyed in classrooms around the nation, Jan Reynolds’ collection on at-risk traditional cultures is even more significant and striking today than when the series was first published. The persistent popularity of the Vanishing Cultures series speaks to its captivating power to make geo-literacy learning personal and tangible. This collection supports geo-literacy learning because each book challenges students to examine:

  • the characteristics of each culture
  • what makes this featured culture unique
  • how this group of people has adapted to survive in its environment
  • what challenges this group of people faces
  • the modern human impact (positive and negative) on this traditional culture and the environment
  • why the author would want to share this story with children and create a whole series on this topic

When we educate children about other cultures and geo-literacy more broadly, we are implanting the idea that we learn in order to make better, more informed decisions. Before our students become adults in positions of power, we want them to have practice in pausing and thinking how their choices to construct their community could disturb the environment of another community or animal species.

The Vanishing Cultures books encourage students to reason and reflect critically and deeply about how humans affect other humans and why we all benefit from diversity. As classrooms around the country can attest, Jan Reynolds’ books will not only spark enthusiasm that we hope ignites into lifelong careers and hobbies, but also conversation on what information we need to make decisions that will shape our and others’ health, environment, and well-being.

Vanishing Cultures: Down Under

Vanishing Cultures: Down Under

Classroom Ideas for Comparing and Contrasting Between Vanishing Cultures Books and Teaching Geo-Literacy

(Reading Standards, Integration of Knowledge & Ideas, Strand 9)

(Writing Standards, Research to Build & Present Knowledge, Strand 7 and 9)

  1. How are these cultures similar and different from each other? What actions do these families take in both books to protect their ways of life?
  2. Compare how the challenges of each culture are similar or different.
  3. Compare how the children in each book demonstrate their pride in their culture. Why is it important for the children to feel proud of who they are and their way of life?
  4. What is the author’s purpose in starting each book with the parents telling their child a story from long ago? How does this affect the tone of and set the mood in the series? How does this opening support the central idea?
  5. After reading two or more of the Vanishing Cultures books, what common features or characteristics does a Vanishing Culture book have? If you were to write a book about your family’s culture, what kinds of things happen in a Vanishing Cultures book? What are some things that will not happen in a Vanishing Cultures book? What central ideas and lessons will be in the book?
  6. Have students create a chart to compare different aspects of life across two or more cultures. Write the name of each cultural group being compared on the top of the chart, and list the topics for points of comparison down the left side. Here are some possible topics: Food, Clothing, Climate, Geography, Important Animals, Homes, How Children Help (Chores), Roles of Men & Women, Family Life, How People Have Fun, Beliefs, Means of Transportation, Challenges Faced Today, Celebrations, Honoring Loved Ones. Have students record appropriate information as they read and re-read the texts.
  7. One elementary class created the “Around the World with Jan Reynolds” project on Google Earth. Explore where each of the books takes place. Compare the political map with the satellite map. Reflect on how geography has helped or hurt the survival of these ancient cultures. Students can create their own maps of the different cultures at National Geographic’s MapMaker’s 1-Page Maps.

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, geography, geoliteracy, guided reading, Multiracial, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, vanishing cultures

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3. The Best Cheerleaders May Come In the Smallest Packages: How Siblings Affect Literacy Education

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Home to Medicine Mountain

Home to Medicine Mountain

My students and their siblings were often alone or spent a lot of time with each other. For some, siblings were the only constant in their lives. Fittingly, siblings and close-in-age relatives held powerful sway and influence over each other.

I found that brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors saw each other’s success as their OWN success. One of my third-graders danced in the middle of the carpet for twelve minutes after he heard the intercom announcement that his fifth-grade sister would be the new school president of the student council. What if I could channel that excitement towards literacy?

Brothers and sisters WANTED to see their siblings succeed. Sure, when one of my third-graders struggled to translate from English to Spanish that she hadn’t turned her homework in for a week at the parent-teacher conference, her older sister was delighted to impart the correct information to their mother.

In addition to using siblings for accountability and parent-teacher bridges, siblings became an incredible reward and relationship in my classroom. When my students, especially the struggling readers, made it to a new level, aced an assessment, or turned in excellent high-quality work, I wrote laudatory notes and let those students deliver them to their siblings in another classroom.

Mama Elizabeti

Mama Elizabeti

This system turned out to be just as powerful as a celebratory phone call home to adults, but I was recognizing the child in real time and recognizing the strength of the family presence at school. And it went further: the younger or older sibling was able to celebrate my student in their classroom and admire them publicly amidst their peers for academic achievement. There are not enough Dollar Tree prizes to compete with that kind of reward.

Beyond my school, psychologists have noticed the effect older brothers and sisters can have. In fact, NPR explored the positive and negative consequences of older sibling influence in a segment called, “Big Sibling’s Big Influence: Some Behaviors Run In The Family.”

At Arlington Elementary in Arlington, Tennessee, The Jackson Sun reported how teachers are recruiting older students to read to younger students in their Big Brothers, Big Sisters Reading Club every morning before school. More advanced students can relate to struggling readers and explain strategies in a friendly, non-high-stakes atmosphere.

In Carmel Valley, California, the Read To Me Project is an early literacy program that builds school readiness by engaging elementary brothers and sisters to read to their siblings. So far, 350 participating older siblings are reading to 443 young children across four school districts.

For Dr. Seuss’ Birthday last year at my school in the Bay Area, our kindergarten teachers invited the third-graders to read to them. Everyone was ecstatic to read to their brother, sister, cousin, or neighbor. My scholars had the opportunity to show off the chapter books they were tackling and feel like experts as they helped the kinders decode and recognize sight words. The kinders, in turn, received extra reading time, exposure to high-quality texts, and an opportunity to show off how remarkable their older sibling was.

One of my students who was an advanced learner, but had a very unstable home life, was very, very protective of his three younger brothers. His active kinder brother had refused to read with any third-grader, hiding each time another class of third-graders came throughout the day. Not until the last period arrived and his third-grade brother, my student, finally appeared did this kinder cuddle up to read. Even though my student brought a dense, picture-less chapter book on sharks and their presence in Fiji cultural traditions, his kinder brother sat in rapt attention for nearly an hour soaking in every word from his big brother.

We know the results on a child’s motivation and confidence when parents relish in their child’s success, so why don’t we harness that effect from siblings as well? Equipping our children with the love for reading and the skills needed to confront real world problems involves every stakeholder in our children’s lives—and that may include their smallest (but loudest!) cheerleaders.

If you need more inspiration, check out these books with strong sibling relationships:

Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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4. Where Do Boys Belong In Women’s History Month?

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Irena's Jars Of Secrets

Irena’s Jars Of Secrets

I entered the education field to broaden the minds of a new generation and teach the truths that I felt I had missed or was denied in my own education. Indeed, I was not alone in those motivations. According to the Primary Sources project by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of the more than 20,000 public school classroom teachers polled, 85% of teachers say they chose the profession in order to make a difference in children’s lives.

Despite my righteous ambitions, once in the classroom, I was hesitant to broach the conversation about gender with a mixed class of boys and girls. So many of my own college classes that focused on social justice and equality issues were almost entirely women.

Acutely aware of my students’ fragile perception of themselves, I was intimated by the prospect of guiding the discussion. When I was leading a classroom of my own, it was often easier to concentrate on the benign world of synonyms, dictionary skills, main idea, and genre features than push my students to think about what role gender plays in achievement, history, and identity.

I wondered: How do we teach about women’s history and contributions without alienating boys? Will boys disengage if a girl or woman is on the cover or is the main character? In this day and age, do girls still need explicit attention drawn to high-achievers that share their gender?

Leading up to my first month of March as a teacher, I thought I would “just” read more books with women as the central figures during Women’s History Month, but not explicitly point out that these were all women so as not to freak out boys and hope the girls would pick up on my subliminal messages of empowerment….

Face palm

Insert face palm here.

This thinking was a huge disservice to ALL of my students’ educations. As I introduced books with prominent women historic figures or girl characters, I realized if the books were about gender, we would discuss identity and tolerance. Other times if the story just happened to have a girl character, but gender wasn’t a central feature of the story, my scholars just wanted to focus on the great story and how the universal lessons applied to their lives.

Four lessons to think about when teaching women’s history so both boys AND girls grow and learn:

  1. Two words: cool stories. Above all, if it’s a great story, it doesn’t matter who is on the cover. Everyone will want to sit up and participate.
  2. Pick contemporary and diverse stories. To continue to show the relevancy of the women’s movements and contributions of women to society, we owe it to all of our students to find more contemporary examples of women figures and showcase more diverse participants in equality. Let’s keep exposing our kids to women of today and of different backgrounds.
  3. Show explicit examples of men championing women. Boys need to see great role models of men advocating for women alongside or behind the scenes. There are plenty of men who have been in the trenches with women fighting for social If we want to instill resiliency and develop children’s imaginations, we need to present children with stories about long odds, big dreams, and fantastic leadership that come in all shapes, sizes, and bodies.justice and as invested in their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers achieving great success in a field of study as the women themselves. If we want future generations of men to respect and support women, we need to offer boys examples of how to recognize and champion women’s contributions. Boys and girls need to see that the struggles for equality impacted everyone and were not about one group’s success at the other’s detriment.
  4. Talk about the universal lesson and character traits. Everyone can learn from a story about overcoming obstacles, persistence, and courage. Women like Wangari Maathai and Pura Belpré fought for what they loved and believed was right first, and then fought for who they were and who they represented. If we want to instill resiliency and develop children’s imaginations, we need to present children with stories about long odds, big dreams, and fantastic leadership that come in all shapes, sizes, and bodies.

Throughout the year and especially during Women’s History Month, we need to teach that gender shouldn’t be an excuse to bar someone from exploring or contributing to a field of study. Concurrently, we want to show all students that gender can offer a unique perspective or approach that should be recognized and celebrated.

Alongside our girls, boys need the language of equality and a broader view of history. Women’s contributions advanced our society and continue to impact all of us. We need to teach that gender totally does matter and, at the same time, totally doesn’t matter.

Shining Star: The Story Of Anna May Wong

Shining Star: The Story Of Anna May Wong

Susan B. Anthony Is Great, But Who Else Do We Have? Here are books about high-achieving women from diverse backgrounds with diverse pursuits.

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up The Stage

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up The Stage

Women and The Men That Championed Them. Explore these books with awesome men celebrating awesome women:

Killer Of Enemies

Killer Of Enemies

Stories That Will Hook ’Em All. Here are stories so fun that it won’t matter who is on the cover…but the cover just happens to feature a girl:

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Girls/women, History, holidays, Reading Aloud, reluctant readers, Wangari Maathai, women in history, women's history month

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5. Michelle Obama & Su Dongpo: A Character Analysis with Bloom’s Taxonomy

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

First Lady Michelle Obama travels to China this week from March 19-26 and will be focusing on the power and importance of education. In an open letter to American students, the First Lady writes, “During my trip, I’ll be visiting a university and two high schools in Beijing and Chengdu (which are two of China’s largest cities). I’ll be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear. I’ll be focusing in particular on the power and importance of education, both in my own life and in the lives of young people in both of our countries.”

We at Lee & Low Books wish we could join the First Lady, but since we can’t this time around, we will be reading the biography of one of China’s greatest statesmen, poets, and humanitarians, Su Dongpo. This scholar is a shining example of how persistence and dedication to one’s studies lead to achievement beyond the classroom and enable one to affect meaningful change.

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

This biography presents a rich setting for Standard 3 of the Common Core State Standards: character analysis. We follow Bloom’s Taxonomy to illustrate the range of questions you can use to meet your students’ needs and access their literary strengths. By creating a progression of questions within one standard, we differentiate for students within a class, provide extension opportunities for ready learners, or move the whole class from literal- to higher-level thinking over the course of several readings.


  • What are Su Dongpo’s appearance/physical attributes, deeds/actions, thoughts/dialogue, and feelings/emotions?
  • What are other character’s opinions of and reactions to Su Dongpo?
  • Can you select sections showing how Su Dongpo relates to other characters?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo in a paragraph?


  • How would you classify Su Dongpo’s character trait(s) based on these actions, thoughts, and feelings above?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion or feelings about Wang Anshi?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo’s feelings about being banished from his job and home?
  • What problems does Su Dongpo face and how does he solve them?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion about the purpose of government?


  • When Su Dongpo was twenty, he took the official exams and earned status as the First Scholar for his academic achievements. Based on what you know about Su Dongpo’s character traits, how would he have handled the situation differently if he had not earned such high marks the first time?
  • How would Su Dongpo react if his brother, Su Ziyou, became a corrupt government official?
  • What would need to happen or change for Su Dongpo to work for Emperor Zhezong?
  • How would Su Dongpo distinguish a “good” government from a “bad” government?
  • What would Su Dongpo likely think about our end of the year state assessments or the Common Core State Standards?
  • What advice do you think Su Dongpo would have for students who take state and national tests today?
  • If Su Dongpo worked for the U.S. Department of Education, what might Su Dongpo feel and think about the role of education in America today?


  • How did Su Dongpo’s upbringing prepare him for his career in government?
  • What inspired Su Dongpo’s beliefs about the purpose of government?
  • Why did Su Dongpo not care about “instant glory” or “worldly fame” when making a decision?
  • Compare Su Dongpo and Wang Anshi’s motivations for working in the government.


  • Compose and present a speech that will communicate the thoughts and feelings of Su Dongpo to the Chinese people after he is pardoned when Emperor Zhezong dies.
  • Imagine you are Su Dongpo and write a diary account of your daily thoughts and activities. What would you say about the work that you do, the people you meet in government and in the villages, and the challenges you face?
  • Rewrite the scene of Su Dongpo hearing he is pardoned after the death of Emperor Zhezong. What would Su Dongpo feel and what would the Chinese people think about him if he were not pardoned?


  • Defend whether you would or would not like Su Dongpo to work in your government.
  • Argue what lessons Su Dongpo learned from his career in and out of government.
  • How effective is Su Dongpo as a humanitarian?
  • Determine whether Su Dongpo was or was not disrespectful of government.
  • Assess whether Su Dongpo changed from the beginning to the end of the book based on his character traits.

Additional resources:

Sign up for updates from the First Lady throughout her trips and opportunities to ask questions.

Explore PBS LearningMedia for the First Lady’s blog, a map of China, and other resources.

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: biography, bloom's taxonomy, CCSS, character analysis, children's books, close reading, common core standards, differentiation, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, higher level thinking, History, reading comprehension, rigor, white house

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6. Resources For Teaching About Wangari Maathai and Seeds Of Change

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Seeds of Change cover

Seeds Of Change

In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday on Tuesday, April 1 and upcoming Earth Day later this month, we at Lee & Low Books want to share all the fantastic resources and ideas that are available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace.

Wangari Maathai

Seeds Of Change

Elementary School:

Seeds of ChangeMiddle School and High School:

  • Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
  • Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
  • After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
  • In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.

What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!



Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: African/African American Interest, biographies, CCSS, children's books, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, History, holidays, lesson plans, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, ReadyGEN, Wangari Maathai

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7. 100 More Great Books to Read Together

epl800Two adorable Orca board books, Hamsters Holding Hands by Kass Reich and The Ways I Will Love You by Rachel Boehm with illustrations by Mary Jane Gerber, were selected for the Edmonton Public Library’s “100 More Great Books to Read Together” recommended reading booklet! Download it here!

And, if you’re looking for a great gift set for mom or baby, check out our new board book bundle! Three books for only $24.95 with a beautiful inscription band for personalizing your gift.

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8. ‘Ebonics’ in flux

By Tim Allen

On this day forty years ago, the African American psychologist Robert Williams coined the term “Ebonics” during an education conference held at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. At the time, his audience was receptive to, even enthusiastic about, the word. But invoke the word “Ebonics” today and you’ll have no trouble raising the hackles of educators, journalists, linguists, and anyone else who might have an opinion about how people speak. (That basically accounts for all of us, right?) The meaning of the controversial term, however, has never been entirely stable.

For Williams, Ebonics encompassed not only the language of African Americans, but also their social and cultural histories. Williams fashioned the word “Ebonics”—a portmanteau of the words “ebony” (black) and “phonics” (sounds)—in order to address a perceived lack of understanding of the shared linguistic heritage of those who are descended from African slaves, whether in North America, the Caribbean, or Africa. Williams and several other scholars in attendance at the 1973 conference felt that the then-prevalent term “Black English” was insufficient to describe the totality of this legacy.

Ebonics managed to stay under the radar for the next couple of decades, but then re-emerged at the center of a national controversy surrounding linguistic, cultural, and racial diversity in late 1996. At that time, the Oakland, California school board, in an attempt to address some of the challenges of effectively teaching standard American English to African American schoolchildren, passed a resolution recognizing the utility of Ebonics in the classroom. The resolution suggested that teachers should acknowledge the legitimacy of the language that their students actually spoke and use it as a sort of tool in Standard English instruction. Many critics understood this idea as a lowering of standards and an endorsement of “slang”, but the proposed use of Ebonics in the classroom did not strike most linguists or educators as particularly troublesome. However, the resolution also initially characterized Ebonics as a language nearly entirely separate from English. (For example, the primary advocate of this theory, Ernie Smith, has called Ebonics “an antonym for Black English.” (Beyond Ebonics, p. 21)) The divisive idea that “Ebonics” could be considered its own language—not an English dialect but more closely related to West African languages—rubbed many people the wrong way and gave a number of detractors additional fodder for their derision.

Linguists were quick to respond to the controversy and offer their own understanding of “Ebonics”. In the midst of the Oakland debate, the Linguistic Society of America resolved that Ebonics is a speech variety that is “systematic and rule-governed like all natural speech varieties. […] Characterizations of Ebonics as “slang,” “mutant,” ” lazy,” “defective,” “ungrammatical,” or “broken English” are incorrect and demeaning.” The linguists refused to make a pronouncement on the status of Ebonics as either a language or dialect, stating that the distinction was largely a political or social one. However, most linguists agree on the notion that the linguistic features described by “Ebonics” compose a dialect of English that they would more likely call “African American Vernacular English” (AAVE) or perhaps “Black English Vernacular”. This dialect is one among many American English dialects, including Chicano English, Southern English, and New England English.

And if the meaning of “Ebonics” weren’t muddy enough, a fourth perspective on the term emerged around the time of the Oakland debate. Developed by Professor Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay, this idea takes the original view of Ebonics as a descriptive term for languages spoken by the descendants of West African slaves and expands it to cover the language of anyone from Africa or in the African diaspora. Her Afrocentric vision of Ebonics, in linguist John Baugh’s estimation, “elevates racial unity, but it does so at the expense of linguistic accuracy.” (Beyond Ebonics, p. 23)

The term “Ebonics” seems to have fallen out of favor recently, perhaps due to the unpleasant associations with racially-tinged debate that it engenders (not to mention the confusing multitude of definitions it has produced!). However, the legacy of the Ebonics controversy that erupted in the United States in 1996 and 1997 has been analyzed extensively by scholars of language, politics, and race in subsequent years. And while “Ebonics”, the word, may have a reduced presence in our collective vocabulary, many of the larger issues surrounding its controversial history are still with us: How do we improve the academic achievement of African American children? How can we best teach English in school? How do we understand African American linguistic heritage in the context of American culture? Answers to these questions may not be immediately forthcoming, but we can, perhaps, thank “Ebonics” for moving the national conversation forward.

Tim Allen is an Assistant Editor for the Oxford African American Studies Center.

The Oxford African American Studies Center combines the authority of carefully edited reference works with sophisticated technology to create the most comprehensive collection of scholarship available online to focus on the lives and events which have shaped African American and African history and culture. It provides students, scholars and librarians with more than 10,000 articles by top scholars in the field.

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9. “What does this book have to do with me?” Why Mirror and Window Books Are Important for All Readers

Katie CunninghamGuest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal. 

When we lived in Brooklyn, I knew my sons were growing up in a diverse community. They understood that people have different skin colors. That people speak different languages. That people eat different foods. That people believe different things. That we all share a common humanity. That life is full of complexity.

Now we live in the woods and appreciate the quiet of country living but this is far from a diverse community. For my boys, there is greater diversity in the pages of a book than on the streets of their town. Multicultural children’s literature is a doorway into greater understanding that their cultural background is not the only cultural background. That their way of speaking is not the only way of speaking. That their point of view is not shared by everyone.

When we open a book and start to read a story, we use our imaginations to walk through whatever world the author has created. Children’s literature is full of stories about boys and girls that look like my children. Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms mirror books and window books to describe how we both see ourselves and see others when we read literature. The characters my sons encounter are often mirrors and they find their life experiences reflected in the books they read. Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but do they have enough access to high-quality stories that represent other cultural backgrounds in a positive way?

artwork from Amazing Faces

artwork by Chris Soentpiet from Amazing Faces

My sons need more than mirror books. As I scan our reading shelves at home I know we can do better. When I walk into many classrooms, I know they too can do better. My sons and all children need books that provide windows into other life experiences to understand the diverse world we live in and to build connections to all other humans. After all, when the lighting is just right can’t a window become a mirror?

My friend, colleague, and global literacy leader Pam Allyn takes Charlotte’s Web with her when she travels to Lit Clubs in Kenya, Haiti, and South Korea. She takes Charlotte’s Web because even though the children she meets do not look like or speak like Fern, there is a shared humanity in E. B. White’s words that is unparalleled, and all children can find a mirror in Fern’s courageous spirit. Pam has created Lit Clubs and Lit Camps through her organization LitWorld that emphasize the human strengths found in stories. Imagine if all the stories we read with children were framed around human strengths? What strengths would you choose?

Baseball Saved Us cover

Of course, stories also help us understand that the world we live in is not what it should be. Stories can help young children understand that racism very much exists in this country, and that power is unequally distributed based on race, class, and gender. For children from dominant groups, window moments in stories come when the children realize they hold a powerful place in society and that there is something unjust about this. Two stories that center on human strength and offer powerful mirror/window possibilities for children are Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson. Baseball Saved Us is about an underdog believing in himself and the strength that comes from confidence, but it also tells about an ugly chapter in United States history when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. Seeds of Change is a story of perseverance in the face of political opposition and bias against women. It is also about respecting nature and the power of collective action to change a landscape and the sustainability of a nation. There are many more such stories. Yet, are we reading them to children at home and in our classrooms?

Seeds of Change cover

President Obama in his Second Inaugural Address emphasized the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.” Stories can help children realize this. Isn’t a sense of social justice something we want all children to develop? Through the thoughtful selection of books we read to our children we take a step toward creating adults who desire a world that is better than the one we live in today.

So, parents and teachers, what can you do?

  • Acknowledge that every story has mirror and window possibilities
  • Emphasize that we live in a diverse society
  • Arm students with stories where their background is represented in a positive light and where their life experiences are validated
  • Discuss themes in stories to unpack mirror possibilities for all children
  • Read aloud stories that represent positive aspects of the human spirit and where characters rally together for collective action
  • Be open to discussions of inequality that you see in stories and in life; discuss with children a vision for a better world
  • Look for links to literacy standards such as the Common Core State Standards Reading Literature Standard 6 across grade levels; this is a strand of standards that emphasizes point of view

Further reading:

What’s in your classroom library? Rethinking Common Core recommended texts

A More Diverse Appendix B

Filed under: Book Lists, Curriculum Corner, guest blogger, Resources Tagged: common core standards, diversity, Educators, Power of Words, Race issues, windows and mirrors

1 Comments on “What does this book have to do with me?” Why Mirror and Window Books Are Important for All Readers, last added: 2/11/2013
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10. UPDATE: A More Multicultural Appendix B

Jaclyn DeForgeJaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a literacy expert who was SUPER involved with the creation of the Common Core Standards (!!!!!), and she gave me some important feedback about the Appendix B supplement  I posted last week. To refresh your memory, what we’ve done is compiled a supplement to Appendix B that includes both contemporary literature and authors/characters of color, and that also meets the criteria (complexity, quality, range) used by the authors of the Common Core. We were lucky enough to have this literacy expert take a look at our supplement, and she gave some great suggestions:

  1. The texts selected for Read Aloud can be outside the text complexity bands for each grade cluster.
  2. Texts that are Read Aloud in lower grades can be read as Independent Reading in upper grades.

We’ve incorporated these ideas into our Appendix B supplement. So, without further ado, click here for a PDF of our new and improved multicultural supplement to the Common Core’s Appendix B.

Know who else is excited about the updated Appendix B list? This guy:

Smiling Dog" by Benjamin Liew

“Smiling Dog” by Benjamin Liew

Further Reading:

What’s in your classroom? Rethinking Common Core recommended texts

Why Window and Mirror Books are Important for All Readers

Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: appendix b, Book Lists, common core standards, common core standards appendix b, common core standards ela appendix b, common core standards language arts appendix b, diversity, Educators, exemplar texts appendix B, guided reading, independent reading, multicultural books, Read Alouds, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, smiling dogs

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11. Best Books for Kids & Teens 2013

Looking for the best books for your kids and teens? Of course you are! Fortunately, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre  (a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1976) publishes just such a list. And we’re thrilled to share that sixteen Orca titles made the list for Spring 2013.

“All of the titles in Best Books for Kids & Teens have been handpicked by expert committees of educators, booksellers, and school and public librarians from across Canada. The reviewed materials include picture books, junior/intermediate fiction, graphic novels, and powerful teen fiction, in addition to a wide array of non-fiction, magazines and audio/video resources.” —Canadian Children’s Book Centre website

The following Orca titles were selected for the list this season. Congratulations to all the authors on their achievement!

Best Books for Kids and TeensClose to the Heel, Norah McClintock
Dead Run, Sean Rodman
Edge of Flight, Kate Jaimet
High Wire, Melanie Jackson
I, Witness, Norah McClintock and Mike Deas
Jump Cut, Ted Staunton
Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug, Susan Musgrave
Oracle, Alex Van Tol
Pieces of Me, Darlene Ryan
Prince for a Princess, Eric Walters
Pyro, Monique Polak
Redwing, Holly Bennett
Seeing Orange, Sara Cassidy
Shallow Grave, Alex Van Tol
Three Little Words, Sarah N. Harvey
Uncle Wally’s Old Brown Shoe, Wallace Edwards

CCBC members receive a copy of Best Books for Kids & Teens as part of their membership package, as do subscribers to Canadian Children’s Book News.

Best Books for Kids & Teens can be purchased at select bookstores or online at: www.bookcentre.ca.


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12. Read! Build! Play! With Lego and Doors in the Air

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.41.27 AMThe Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has teamed up with LEGO® DUPLO® to expand the Read! Build! Play initiative by creating the LEGO® DUPLO® Read! Build! Play! 2013 Summer Reading List.  This reading list features recommended titles that inspire play for children age 5 and under and is free to download.

To accompany the Read! Build! Play! 2013 Summer Reading List, LEGO® DUPLO® has created a free downloadable parent activity guide.  This guide includes inspirational building instructions matched with each book for children and their caregivers. Doors in the Air (Orca Book Publishers, 2012) by David Weale and illustrated by Pierre Pratt is one of five titles featured in the Summer Activity Guide for children ages 3-5.

Visit www.readbuildplay.com to download free Summer Activity Guides today. Or click here to direct download the Activity Guide featuring Doors in the Air.

More About Doors in the Air

Doors in the Air is the story of a boy who is fascinated by doors. He marvels at how stepping through a doorway can take him from one world to another. He is especially enthralled by the doors of his imagination, which he refers to as “doors in the air.” He delights in discovering that when he passes through these doors, he leaves behind all feelings of boredom, fear and unpleasantness. Doors in the Air is a lilting journey through house doors, dream doors and, best of all, doors in the air.

“Surreal in its effect, this celebration of the creative mind encourages young readers and listeners to open doors of their own.” —Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2012

“Written in Seussian rhyming couplets…[and] employing alliteration that makes reading it aloud a pleasure…Doors in the Air is a fantastical triumph, celebrating the spaces in which the ordinary and the extraordinary intersect.” —Quill & Quire, May 1, 2012

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13. Raising a Reader with Comics and Graphic Novels

Raising a reader: how comics and graphic novels can help your kids love to read!


Great article by Cory Doctorow highlighting a new educational resource about comics’ role in literacy. Titled “Raising a Reader” and written by Dr. Meryl Jaffee, this resource is aimed at parents and educators and is available in PDF form for free download.

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14. Using Infographics in the Classroom to Teach Visual Literacy

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Infographics’ format and economy of words make infographics engaging and accessible to children, reluctant readers, visual learners, and English Language Learners. As infographics contain multiple layers of information, they are a challenging medium for students to practice inferences and interpretation. Lee & Low Books’ infographic series on the diversity gap in major spheres of influence is a valuable vehicle to build students’ visual literacy skills and understanding of diversity. The following discussion questions and suggested activities were created based on the Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards infographic, but these can be applied to the rest of the series.

Infographic: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards

Infographic: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards (click to enlarge)

Discussion questions to consider with your students:

  1. What patterns do you see? What trends do you see? How are the different charts related?
  2. What is the central idea of this infographic? How do the words, phrases, and visuals interact to affirm the central idea?
  3. Based on the infographic, what does “diversity gap” mean in terms of the Academy Awards?
  4. What might the author’s purpose be in choosing this medium to convey the central idea (to shame, inspire, shock, etc.)?
  5. Does the infographic make the central idea clear and obvious? How does the infographic use an economy of words, language, typography, pie charts, bar graphs, negative space, and title to communicate the central idea?
  6. What type of infographic is this (flow chart, web, map, graph, diagram, table, timeline)? What might the author’s purpose be in choosing this type of infographic? How effective is this format of infographic at organizing and displaying data compared to just text?
  7. Evaluate the effectiveness of the infographic as a form of communication as compared to text alone. Is this the most effective and convincing way to convey information about a lack of diversity at the Academy Awards? Why or why not?
  8. Why might the creators have assembled this information about the Academy Awards and race at all?
  9. Who is the intended audience (moviegoers, actors, directors, writers, producers, movie studios, general public, government officials)? What might the creators of this infographic want them to do with this information?
  10. What is the context of this infographic? What major events in the United States were taking place when this infographic was created? Why is it important to understand the context of the infographic?
  11. Is this infographic’s argument and presentation persuasive or compelling? Why or why not? Analyze this infographic’s effectiveness in inspiring activism.
  12. Based on the information presented, what can you predict future trends will be for award winners, actors, directors, producers, and writers?
  13. Can you determine causes for the lack of diversity in this infographic? Why or why not? How might researchers go about figuring out the cause(s) for the historical and current lack of diversity in the Academy Awards?
  14. What is the impact of a lack of diversity amongst writers, actors, producers, directors, and award winners? What does it mean to be a young child growing up and consuming this form of media (movies)? What will they see? What will they not see? Tell me more about the possible effects of this situation and current trends.

Suggested activities:

  1. Challenge students to translate this infographic’s central idea into a written argument. Students should use key details and evidence from the infographic to assert the central idea.
  2. Have students revise or add on to make the infographic more effective. Students should consider format, adding or deleting information, and more. What would make the infographic stronger, more persuasive, or more memorable?
  3. Encourage students to investigate how these percentages compare to the general public. Students can use the United States Census data for demographics.
  4. Have students investigate possible causes for the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards. Urge students to propose ways to change these trends.
  5. If possible, ask students to research the percent of moviegoers who are people of color. Check industry publications or major news periodicals. How do these numbers compare to the information in the infographic?
  6. Permit students to interview their grade, class, or school on questions, including: Do you go to the movies? How often? What kinds of movies do you see? Who are your favorite actor and actress in Hollywood today? Who is a director/actor/actress of color that you have seen in a movie recently? Why do you think there aren’t more movies by and with people of color? Students can organize and display data in graphs and present findings to the class. Reflect on this information’s relationship to the infographic’s central idea.
  7. Dig deeper—investigate the artists that were nominated each year. How many were people of color over those 85 years? What roles did these artists play in the movies they were nominated for? What genres of movies were they in for this nomination? Explore the people of color who did win best actress or best actor. What roles did they play and what kind of movies were they in when they won for best acting?
  8. Compare this to other Lee & Low Books’ infographics in the series: The Tony Awards,  The Emmy Awards, Children’s Book Publishing, The NY Times Top 10 Bestsellers List, and American Politics. Consider central idea, evidence, format, and audience.
  9. Update the information to include the 2013 and 2014 Academy Awards results. What changed? What did not change?

For further reading on teaching visual literacy and diversity in the classroom, check out these fantastic resources:

How are you building visual literacy skills in the classroom? Let us know below!

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: Academy Awards, CCSS, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, History, infographics, Oscars, Race issues, reading comprehension, teaching about race, visual literacy

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15. More Seven (the Series) excerpts ready for YOU!

Are you excited about the upcoming launch of Seven (the Series)? Seven adventures from seven fantastic YA authors: Eric Walters, John Wilson, Ted Staunton, Richard Scrimger, Norah McClintock, Sigmund Brouwer and Shane Peacock. And all seven titles will be released on the same day!

To help you decide which of the seven adventures to read first, Orca Book Publishers is releasing an excerpt from one book each month leading up to the series launch on October 10, 2012. The excerpt for August is from Sigmund Brouwer’s Devil’s Pass.

About Devil’s Pass
Seventeen-year-old Webb’s abusive stepfather has made it impossible for him to live at home, so Webb survives on the streets of Toronto by busking with his guitar and working as a dishwasher. When Webb’s grandfather dies, his will stipulates that his grandsons fulfill specific requests. Webb’s task takes him to the Canol Trail in Canada’s Far North, where he finds out that there are much scarier things than the cold and the occasional grizzly bear. With a Native guide, two German tourists and his guitar for company, Webb is forced to confront terrible events in his grandfather’s past and somehow deal with the pain and confusion of his own life.

Visit www.seventheseries.com to download an excerpt of Devil’s Pass or any of the five previously published excerpts.

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16. Let’s go to the Ex…for the books!

Canada’s National Exhibit kicked off on August 17, and this year we hope you’ll visit the Ex…not for the music, not for the fair rides, not for the bacon-wrapped-deep-fried-Mars-bars, but for the BOOKS! The picture books, to be specific.

The Ontario Library Association (OLA) will soon be marking the 1o-year anniversary of the Blue Spruce reading program. The anniversary event will be held at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto from Aug. 17, 2012 to Sept. 3, 2012.

The Blue Spruce program brings Canadian children’s picture books to Ontario children in kindergarten through grade two. Over 70 Blue Spruce books will be featured, at the Ex, including two recent Orca picturebooks: Jeffrey and Sloth (Kari-Lynn Winters and Ben Hodson) and Buttercup’s Lovely Day (Carolyn Beck and Andrea Beck).

The Blue Spruce exhibit will feature craft activities for children based on the themes of the nominated titles, illustrator signings and more. Author Kari-Lynn Winters will be on hand August 18 and August 31 from 2-5pm in the Arts, Crafts and Hobbies building of the exhibition, so we hope you’ll head down and pay her a visit. And maybe you can grab a Mars bar while you’re at it…




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17. Reeling in Reluctant Readers webinar

Teachers and librarians are always looking for new ways to connect with children and teens categorized as “reluctant readers.” On September 25, 2012, you can participate in a free hour-long webinar that addresses that need.

Joining Orca’s publisher, Andrew Wooldridge, will be a reading specialist and literacy coach, along with a representative from Saddleback Educational Publishing. The webinar will cover strategies and resources effective in reaching struggling readers ages 10 and up, as well as present books that combine high-interest topics with accessible writing. You’ll also hear about new releases and best-selling series from Saddleback Educational Publishing and Orca Book Publishers.

Register now.

Have a question about “reluctant readers”? Please email hiloquestions@orcabook.com before September 24 and we will attempt to answer your query in the webinar. Questions addressed during the webinar will receive a sampling of current titles valued at $100. So keep them coming!

Webinar details:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 1:00 pm (Central Daylight Time)



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18. Happy birthday, Richard Wright

Richard Wright

Author Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908 on a plantation in rural Mississippi. He attended school through the first few weeks of high school before he dropped out to work, but always maintained a deep love of reading. As a black man in the South at that time, he was not allowed to borrow books from the library, so he borrowed the library card of an Irish American co-worker to access books. He later became a respected author of such classics as Native Son and his autobiography, Black Boy. Happy birthday, Richard Wright!

Learn more about Richard Wright in our picture book, Richard Wright and the Library Card.

Filed under: Holidays Tagged: African/African American Interest, diversity, Educators, richard wright and the library card, Why I Love Librarians

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19. Seven (the Series) authors team up at Vancouver Writers Fest

The launch of Seven (the Series) is just around the corner, and just a few days after the launch, three of the seven authors (Norah McClintock, Shane Peacock and Richard Scrimger) will team up at the Vancouver Writers Fest to discuss their parts in the project. If you plan to be in the Vancouver area on October 16, 2012, this would be a fantastic event to attend. Tickets are available to individuals and school groups, and you can download a study guide right from the online ticket office.


Purchase tickets to Seven: the Series at the Vancouver Writers Fest
Learn more about Seven (watch the trailer and download excerpts too!) at www.seventheseries.com 

Event Details
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2012—1:00-2:30pm
Location: Granville Island Stage
Cost: $17 / $8.50 for student groups BUY NOW

Event Description:
A unique and ambitious series is launching just days before this year’s Vancouver Writers Fest—seven Young Adult novels published simultaneously, stemming from the fictional instructions of a dying man to his seven teenaged grandsons. Each grandson is thrust into challenging and sometimes dangerous events to fulfill his grandfather’s wishes—ranging from tattooed gangs close to home, to near-impossible tasks set in Iceland, France, Spain or Tanzania. Three of the seven exceptional Canadian authors chosen to write these stories will talk about their part in this unusual project. Readers can look forward to Scrimger’s sense of humour, McClintock’s sense of mystery and Peacock’s dark plotting.

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20. What does close reading look like in Second Grade?

Jaclyn DeForgeJaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

Before I start discussing close reading in the second grade classroom, I want to take a minute to acknowledge educators and students across the Northeast, who over the past two weeks have dealt with not just superstorm Sandy, but a Nor’easter!  Some schools sustained significant flooding and damage, or have classrooms without heat or power.  And in some areas, even though the children are back in the classrooms, after a long day teachers and students head home to clean and repair damage sustained to their own homes and communities.  And last week, they did that in the wind and snow.  If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.  My thoughts are with everyone who continues to be affected by this awful streak of weather.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Over the next several weeks, I’ll be modeling how to do a close reading at several different grade levels.  Last week, I wrote about close reading in first grade. Next up: Close Reading in Second Grade using the L level text  Under the Lemon Moon by  Edith Hope Fine and illustrated by Rene King Moreno.

In terms of student questioning, start general and move up Bloom’s Taxonomy by gradually increasing the rigor.  For example, say you want to focus your close reading of Under the Lemon Moon on author’s craft, specifically focusing on language and word choice in just the first six pages of the story  (2nd grade reading standard for literature, Craft and Structure, strand 4,  AND 2nd grade language standards, Vocabulary Acquisition and Use, strands 4-6 from the Common Core Standards).  Here are the questions I would ask:

Question 1 (Knowledge):  Can you list several examples of onomatopoeia in the story so far?  Why do authors use onomatopoeia?

Under The Lemon MoonQuestion 2 (Comprehension & Analysis):  How would you rephrase the meaning of “mi arbolito”? What clues does the author give you as to the meaning of that phrase?  What language is that phrase?  How do you know?  What clues does the author give you? Why do you think the author chose to include Spanish words and phrases in this story?

Question 3 (Comprehension):  What details does Edith Hope Fine include on the first page to set the scene for the story?  Why does she choose to include these details?

Question 4 (Application):  Edith Hope Fine has chosen strong, specific verbs so far.  For example, on page 5, she uses the strong, specific verb “crooned” instead of the everyday verb “sang.”  What are some other examples of strong, specific verbs that Edith Hope Fine used to describe characters’ actions?

Question 5 (Analysis):  In the beginning of the story, instead of telling us Rosalinda scared the Night Man away, Edith Hope Fine described what Rosalinda and Blanca did that caused the Night Man to cry out and run away.  Can you identify other parts in the story where the author used that same “show not tell” strategy?

Question 6 (Synthesis):  What words or images did the author use to build suspense?  What other words or details would you add to the story to further build suspense?

Question 7 (Evaluation):  Edith Hope Fine chooses to name the stranger in the garden “Night Man.”  Why do you think she made the choice to give him a name? Do you agree with her choice of name?  What would you have called the stranger in the garden if you were writing the story?Under the Lemon Moon

Additional questions to ask:

  • Make a list of words that were unfamiliar to you before you read this story.  How did you figure out what these words meant?
  • Choose the most important sentence from the story so far.  Why did you choose this sentence?  Why do you feel it is so important?
  • Choose a word that you learned or particularly liked from the beginning of the story.  Write the meaning of the word in your own words, then draw a picture that shows what the word means.
  • Choose a word that best represents the story so far.  Is there a time in your life when this word applied to or was important to you? Is there a time when this word was important in another text you read?
  • List some descriptive words Edith Hope Fine uses to set the scene or to show characters thoughts, actions and feelings.
  • What techniques did the author use to hook you into the story?  To make the story suspenseful?  To make the writing lively?
  • So far, what word best describes Rosalinda? Cite evidence from the text to support your answer.
  • What words or phrases from the story helped you visualize the story?

What are your favorite questions to ask when doing a close reading focused on author’s craft, language and word choice?

Further reading:

What does close reading look like in First Grade?

What does close reading look like in Kindergarten?

What is close reading?

Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: close reading, close reading in second grade, common core standards, Educators, guided reading, Language, literacy, reading comprehension, slow reading

7 Comments on What does close reading look like in Second Grade?, last added: 12/7/2012
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21. What does close reading look like in Third Grade?

Jaclyn DeForge thumbnailJaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been modeling how to do a close reading at several different grade levels. Next up: Close Reading in Third Grade using the O level text  Baseball Saved Us by  Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee.

One way to structure close reading questioning is to use the format laid out by the Institute for Learning of the University of Pittsburgh.  Under their framework, students read the text selection four times: first, to get the gist; second, to find significant moments or ideas; third, to interpret the ideas in the text; and finally, to analyze the author’s methods (craft).  Here’s an example of how to plan out your questions for close reading of just the first 8 pages of Baseball Saved Us:

1st reading (read to get the gist): 

  • Which characters have we met so far in the story?  What do we know about each character so far? Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.
  • Where does the story take place?  In what country?  During what period in history?  How do you know?  Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.
  • How did the characters get to the camp?  Why are they there?  What is the purpose of the camp?  What hardships did the main character’s family face at the camp? How is life at the camp similar to or different from life at home? How does life at the camp affect the people in the story?  How do you know? Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.
  • Summarize what you have learned about the narrator.  How does he see himself?  How do others view him?  How do you know? Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.

2nd reading (read to find significant moments or ideas): 

  • What is the most important thing you learned or that happened in this section of the story? Why is it significant?  Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.

3rd reading (read to interpret ideas):

  • The characters in Baseball Saved Us were Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast at a time when the United States was fighting a war with Japan. Do you think it was fair for the government to take them from their homes and make them move into an internment camp? Why do you think the government made this decision?  Do you agree with the decision? What does it mean to be an American?  Do you think the author would agree with you?  Do you think the character of Dad would agree with you? Why or why not?  Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.

4th reading (read to analyze the author’s methods/craft):

  • Based on what you have read so far, how do you think author Ken Mochizuki feels about Japanese internment during World War II? How does he want you to feel about internment camps, specifically about the camp in the story?  How do you know?  What details does he choose to include in order to influence the reader?  Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.
  • What is the mood of the story so far?  How does illustrator Dom Lee create this mood in his illustrations? Cite evidence from the text to support your answers.

By asking students to ground their responses in the text by citing text-based support for their answers, the following Common Core Standard is addressed:

Reading Literature, Grade 3, Key Ideas and Details, Strand 1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

How does close reading look in your classroom?  Any tricks and tips to share?

Further reading:

Filed under: Curriculum Corner, Resources Tagged: Baseball Saved Us, close reading, common core standards, Dom Lee, Educators, guided reading, Ken Mochizuki, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, slow reading

4 Comments on What does close reading look like in Third Grade?, last added: 12/13/2012
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22. Reaching Those Resistant Readers

Searching for books that will hook your reluctant readers? School Library Journal recently published a list of fun, fast-paced fiction that fits the bill. These books “feature clear narratives that quickly draw readers into the action and are supported by snappy dialogue that helps move the stories along.” They feature “appealing protagonists, attractive covers, and layouts that feature generous print size and plenty of white space, and bingo, you have something to hand to the hard-to-please.” [Read full article]

Featured on this list is Dawn Patrol, by Jeff Ross. Dawn Patrol is part of the Orca Sports series, which combine mystery and adventure with sports action.

Book Synopsis: Everything stops making sense for extreme surfer Kevin Taylor after his parents die in a plane crash. When Kevin disappears, leaving only a cryptic note, his best friends Luca and Esme have no choice but to try and find him. Their journey takes them to the coast of Panama, where they must confront unfriendly locals, a surfer who seems bent on destroying them, and monster waves. As their hope dwindles and time runs out, the mystery of what really happened to Kevin’s parents deepens, and Luca and Esme begin to wonder if they are in over their heads.

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23. Turning to Story after the Sandy Hook Shooting

Katie CunninghamKatie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal. 

As we unravel the tragic events that took place in Newtown, CT, I am reminded of the dedication Jan Spivey Gilchrest wrote in When The Horses Ride By: Children in the Time of War:

For the beautiful, powerful and courageous children of the world, you are far more than dolls and toy trucks. You are real people only smaller. Know that we are here to love you, listen to you, respect you and protect you.

Gilchrest’s words remind us as educators, parents, and writers that there is great beauty and strength in the children who fill our lives. As the process of healing begins, stories can remind us of just how beautiful, powerful, and courageous children are. Stories can celebrate the simple acts of care people bestow on one another. Stories can, in turn, inspire acts of kindness.

Every semester I ask my students to consider how they will use children’s literature to help their own young students understand traumatic events. Rather than turning to texts that offer generic historical accounts, I find my students selecting stories that center the human spirit. The Classroom Bookshelf has generated a wonderful book list for supporting children with grief and loss. It’s a resource to turn to in the days and weeks ahead as we come together to grieve and to take action. As we move forward as a nation, we will also need books that celebrate children and the power of love and remind us to give thanks. The following books are stories that I continue to come back to as I work alongside teachers. Consider how these and other stories can provide comfort and build a community of care in your classroom. Let’s continue to recognize what’s most important in our classrooms—the children, their stories, and stories that inspire them.

Children that Inspire

When the Horses Ride By
I continue to turn to The Horses Ride By By to remember the hopeful spirit of children. In this book, it is children who are the helpers and the beacons of peace. It is the children who see beauty in the midst of devastation. It reminds us to see this spirit in the everyday lives of children.

Upside Down Boy



In times like these, many of us feel upside down. Our children feel upside down as they encounter hurt, fear, and sorrow. The Upside Down Boy shares Juan Felipe Herrara’s own story of immigration and what it felt like to be new in a school, new to a country with new words floating around him. This is his story but this is also the story of the power of teachers and families to love and support children to find their voice.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
What can a child draw when they don’t find anything beautiful in the place where they live? How can art provide a safe place when you are living in fear? A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is the story of Mari, one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. With the help of her art teacher, her family, and her new friend, Mari finds hope in an unquestionably unjust place.

The Can Man

Our capacity to give is a great human strength. In The Can Man, Tim is hoping for a skateboard and inspired by a homeless man he decides to collects cans to have enough money to buy one. As he almost reaches his goal, Tim changes his mind. Your students and children will be left wondering how they can make a difference in someone else’s life?


Stories of Enduring Love and Human Dignity

Love Twelve Miles Long
Frederick Douglass is a figure we traditionally study in school. His words move us to consider his life as a slave and his fight for the rights of all humans. Yet, we don’t study the life of his mother. In Love Twelve Miles Long, Frederick’s mother walked twelve miles to visit him. How her love was with him no matter the distance between them. We need stories that continue to champion the power of love.

Irena's Jars of Secrets
Where does courage come from? In a city ravaged by World War II, Irena Sendler was safe. Yet, at tremendous personal risk she smuggled food and clothing to Jewish prisoners in Warsaw and ultimately smuggled children out of the ghetto. She kept a list of their names in the hopes they would reunite with their families. Turn to Irena’s Jars of Secrets for a reminder of our great capacity to find courage within.


Giving Thanks

Gracias - ThanksAs a classroom teacher, I tried to build in a time at the end of the day to reflect on what we learned. In retrospect, I should have also used that time to share with my class how thankful I was for them. In Gracias – Thanks, this beautiful, colorful, engaging book, Pat Mora continues to wow and gently reminds us of thankfulness through the eyes of children. 

I know of no better way to support the children in our lives to become empathetic, caring people than through the sharing of stories and the modeling of care. What stories are you using to center the strong voices of children? To empower them? To model care?

Filed under: Book Lists, guest blogger, Resources Tagged: Educators, Power of Words

1 Comments on Turning to Story after the Sandy Hook Shooting, last added: 12/21/2012
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24. Canadian Children’s Book Center names its Best Books from Fall ’12

The Canadian Children’s Book Center recently released its guide to the Best Books for Kids & Teens from Fall 2012. We’re thrilled to announce that twenty four Orca titles were included, many of those as starred selections.

The list comprises recommended books for kids and teens ages 0-18 and helps parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and children’s literature enthusiasts stock their bookshelves with the very best books Canada has to offer

According to the Canadian Children’s Book Center, “all of the titles in Best Books for Kids & Teens have been handpicked by expert committees of educators, booksellers, school and public librarians from across Canada, so every book included in the guide is guaranteed to be a great read!” Each listing contains a brief summary of the book, the interest level listed by age, reading level listed by grade and thematic links—a simple reference tool to help readers select appropriate books by subject.

The full list of selected titles is not available online, but you can purchase a copy of the guide from the Canadian Children’s Book Center website for $5.95. We can, however, share the list of selected Orca titles. Asterisks indicated a starred selection. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators! (Click each title to learn more about the book or order a copy from us.)

All Good Children*
Box of Shocks
Breaking Point*
Charlie’s Key*
City Critters*
Cuts Like a Knife*
Dalen & Gole
Doors in the Air*
Flood Warning
Ghost Moon
Hamsters Holding Hands
I Owe You One
Justine McKeen – Walk the Talk
Kishka for Koppel
Living Rough
The Matatu
Out of Season
Power Chord
The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls*
Riot Act*
Seal Song*
Wrong Bus

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25. Resources to help traumatized children

By Robert Hull

As parents, children, and communities struggle to come to terms with the events in Newtown last week, it is important for educators and parents to be aware of just how deeply children can be affected by violence.

Community violence is very different from other sources of trauma that children witness or experience. Most trauma impacts individual students or small groups, whereas the violence that was experienced in Newtown affected the local community and the entire nation. The lack of warning and the unexpected nature of these kinds of events, combined with the seemingly random nature of the attack, contribute to a change in individuals’ personal views of the world, and their ideas about how safe they and their loved ones actually are. The world comes to seem more dangerous, people less trustworthy.

Exposure to trauma can impact several areas of children’s functioning. Teachers may notice that students who have experienced trauma appear to be shut down, bored, and/or hyperactive and impulsive. Interpersonal skills might be impacted, which can lead to social withdrawal, isolation, or overly aggressive behavior. Students might appear confused or easily frustrated. In addition they might have difficulty understanding and following directions, making decisions, and generating ideas or solving problems.

Family members and educators are often at a loss in how to support students following an event such as what happened in Newtown. The following are guidelines on helping students exposed to community violence:

  • Teachers and family members should attempt to maintain the routines and high expectations of students. This directly communicates to children that they can succeed in the face of traumatic events.
  • Reinforcing safety is essential following unpredictable violence. Remind children that the school is a safe place and that adults are available to provide assistance.
  • Do not force children to talk. This can lead to withdrawal and downplaying the impact. A neutral conversation opening can be stated in this way: “You haven’t seemed yourself today. Would you like to share how you are feeling?”
  • Teachers can model coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, relaxation and demonstrating empathy.
  • Being flexible is a must following traumatic events. Teachers should allow students to turn in work late or to postpone testing.
  • Educators should increase communication with parents in order to provide support that recognizes a specific child’s vulnerabilities.

There are several websites that can provide additional information on supporting students who have been exposed to violence. These include:

Robert Hull is an award-winning school psychologist with over 25 years of experience working in some of the most challenging of educational settings, and was for many years the facilitator of school psychology for the Maryland State Department of Education. Currently he teaches at the University of Missouri. He is the co-editor, with Eric Rossen, of Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students: A Guide for School-Based Professionals.

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