Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2009

I believe that it is important to honor our veterans.  Our country has been founded on many men and women who have given their time, energy, and in some cases, their lives for our freedoms.

I love the book, America’s White Table.  I wrote about it last year.  It’s awesome.

The Wall by Eve Bunting is another long time favorite.

What favorite books do you use to celebrate our country?


A Slave’s Hero: a Dog

July 16, 2009

I stumbled upon this rich text in the new book section at the library.  The underground railroad is a standard in social studies for fourth grade.   Sharing this story may help bridge history with something familiar – a boy and his dog. 

Elisa Carbone wrote Night Running:  How James Escaped with the Help of His Faithful Dog (illustrated by E.B. Lewis).  It’s based on a true story of James Smith, a runaway slave.  James decided to confide in a friend about his plans to escape.  Unfortunately, his friend betrayed him and he was caught.  James’s dog, Zeus, stayed close by and helped him escape his captors.  Although James was thankful, he worried that Zeus would make too much noise.

Zeus didn’t follow.  No, sir.  He ran on a head.  And noisy?  He made more racket…

This book is excellent for teaching students to focus in and highlight the most important parts.  Time upon time, Zeus saved James’s life, alerting him of danger and helping divert attention.  I was on the edge of my seat.  Eventually, James had to cross the Ohio River to freedom.  He hugged his dog for the last time and began to cross, only to be saved by Zeus again.

Boys like to see themselves as being fearless.  Night Running captures the sense of adventure, courage, and perseverance.  It also taps into the bond a dog has with his boy, as James loves his dog, but he is not willing to take Zeus.  Internal character conflict arises.  I had to reread parts to gain better understanding, visualizing the scenes and feeling the conflict.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Night Running:

  • Voice – you can almost hear James talking to Zeus and letting you into his head
  • Repeating Line woven in text –   Zeus was good at that.
  • Personification –
  • Simile – droopy as an old mulethrew that switch down like it was a rattlesnake on fire
  • Hyphenated words – good-for-nothings; fired-up mad; sweet-smelling


This is the Dream

February 12, 2009

In celebration of Black History Month, take time to read some books in regards to the positive change our nation has made.  I’m rather humbled that several of these historical events have happened during my lifetime.

This is the Dream by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander is a poetic rhythmic prose that leads the reader from the segregation laws to the present where all people are united.  My favorite line is “and the unwritten rule is to take turns and share.”  Isn’t that what we teach our children everyday?

The authors connect highlighted scenes in history that represent the discrimination and segregation differences.  Each of the five examples – drinking fountains, buses, restaurants, libraries, schools – are focused snapshots.  The text peaks at the “separate but equal” ruling.  The authors’ note states, “[the text] celebrates the power of nonviolent change.”

James Ransome’s illustrations are powerful, adding key visual scenes that intensify the text.  In his illustrator’s note, he used a combination of painting and collage “to help the reader understand the emotional impact of the era….”   My son’s fourth grade teacher read This is the Dream to the class and were impacted.  “Why are those people pouring sugar on the lady’s head?”  someone asked.  They couldn’t believe people could be so unkind.  The illustrations plus text helped lead to a great discussion.

Savorings for reading and in writing for This is the Dream:

  • Repeating structure – “These are the _____”
  • Poetic, rhythmic
  • Time line through text and photos of then versus now.
  • Hyphen/dash – fair paying jobs
  • Contrast of change – beginning states:  “the black-and-white signs says who will drink where“; end:  “the black-and-white sign says ‘OPEN FOR LUNCH'”

Text to text connection:

  • Library – Goin’ Someplace  Special by Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney
  • Hospital – Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell and James E. Ransome

(PES Library book)


Rosa Parks

February 4, 2009

What a remarkable woman Rosa Parks was.  Her name is famous with children as the lady who refused to move on the bus.  But, Rosa Parks was so much more.  She believed in respect of equal rights.

I have a book called I am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins.  Rosa shared her thoughts that day she stayed in her seat.  She said, “Some people think I kept my seat because I’d had a hard day, but that is not true.  I was just tired of giving in.”  Rosa didn’t plan on the events of that day; she just wanted to be treated as an equal.

During Black History Month, I hope that you take the time to talk with your students about being kind, accepting, and respectful of each other.

I hope that children today will grow up without hate.  I hope they wil learn to respect one another, no matter what color they are.  Rosa Parks”

Savorings for reading and in writing for I am Rosa Parks:

  • First person narrative
  • Narrative scenes as supportive examples
  • Timeline
  • Character thinking

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

January 26, 2009

Image result for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne BroylesReading books brings much pleasure to me, but sharing a great story with children and teachers is my delight.  I read lots of books; some I like, others I don’t, some teach lessons and then … some move me as a reader.  When I read a book that moves my heart and makes me think deeper, it is a treasure!  Priscilla and the Hollyhocks is my find today.  Wow!  Knowing that Priscilla existed deepens the story.  I can’t get it out of my mind!

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles is based on historical events.  The book jacket stated that Anne Broyles  “discovered Priscilla’s story while researching the Cherokee Trail of Tears for a young adult novel she was writing.” Click on this link to see a preview of the book. (The first two pages still linger with me, let alone the story. March 2018)

The story begins with Priscilla’s mother being sold away when she ‘s young, approximately five.  Then, she begins working in the Big House by age six.  One visitor to the plantation talked with Priscilla and was kind.  His name was Basil Silkwood.  He didn’t agree with slavery.  By age 10, her master dies and she is bought by a new owner:  a Cherokee family.  Priscilla finds comfort in the hollyhocks she has planted at the new place.

During her time with the Cherokee family, America was expanding and began to round up the Indians.  The Cherokee family was forced to move.  They were “rounded up like animals” and forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.”  Priscilla went too.  After several months, they were passing through a town, when Priscilla miraculously happened to see Mr. Silkwood on a hotel porch.  She called to him and Mr. Silkwood asked about her.

Later that evening, Basil came to her Cherokee master.  “Massa Silkwood handed the Cherokee a bag of gold that held my freedom.”  He took her home and then set her free, adopting her into his family of fifteen children.  “Home we went to a family who claimed me slave not longer, daughter once more.”  Incredible!

The author’s note sheds more light on the background events shared in the story.  I know my eyes will look upon Hollyhock’s with a new appreciation.

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks tells a story too often ignored or overlooked – a story of how the west was not won but captured.  Reading about Priscilla’s remarkable life makes all our hearts a bit warmer while filling our heads with a much-needed piece of American history.”  – Nikki Giovanni, poet

Symbolism of hope/love/home:  Interweaving hollyhocks –

  • The one item that Priscilla loved and remained unchanging in an unsettling environment was the hollyhocks.  She carried the seeds with her to each new place she went and found comfort being near the plants.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks:

  • Synthesize:  What can we learn from this story?  How does it affect us now?  We must guard against prejudices and be like Basil Silkwood, seeing worth in a person.
  • Lead – emotional, “Freedom filled my dreams, but I was born a slave’s child.”
  • Word choice – mirrored the mood; yoke, pined
  • Inference – “my insides was a’quiverin.”
  • Varied punctuation including semi-colon and colon –

(Warsaw Public Library/ MH owns)


Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2009

Today is an honorable day as we remember the dream and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As my daughter read the book, my brother Martin, she was amazed to even think that skin color made a difference.  I am thankful that our nation is changing, although I’m still a realist in knowing that people are still self-centered and judgmental.

Christine King Farris shares her memories of her younger brother through the book, my brother Martin.  I love the way Christine shares stories of practical jokes and childhood happenings that she shared with her brother.  For children, the book allows them to connect with Dr. King.  They can visualize that he was a “real” person with ambitions and a view for a better world. 

Savorings for reading and in writing for my brother, Martin:

  • Visualizing
  • Poetic narrative
  • Historical connection – kids can compare/contrast events during history to current events.
  • Purpose – so many of our students do not write with a purpose.  Dr. King’s dream had a purpose and so did Christine by sharing her stories about her brother. 

What’s Your Favorite Christmas?

December 14, 2008

Grandpa, do you have a favorite Christmas?”  Grandpa begins to share his tale.  “I was 1914.  My mates and I had been on the battlefield fro any weeks….” John McCutcheon brings to life this fictional tale of a historical event that happened along a 400 mile stretch between the British and the Germans during Christmas.

John McCutcheon first heard of the Christmas truce in 1984.  “I was so taken with the woman’s story, I wrote the entire song ‘Christmas in the Trenches’ during the intermission of my concert that night.”

This story, Christmas in the Trenches, highlights one character’s memory of a true event on Christmas Eve.  The British soldiers were waiting in trenches, knowing they would not be able to be with their families.  Across No Man’s Land, the Germans were waiting too.  Suddenly Christmas carols could be heard.  The British responded singing in their native language until both sides blended singing ‘Silent Night’.

The story continues of a conflict stopped in time, differences put aside.  A soldier appears crossing the field with a candle-lit tree.  The Christmas Truce began.  Soldiers mingled, sharing little gifts of food and showing pictures of loved ones.  For one night, the Great War was put on hold.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Christmas in the Trenches:

  • a Tension Twist – “A ghostly sound cut through the cold night air.”  (next page – Singing!)
  • Resolution – a moment where human differences could be put on hold for a greater good
  • Flashback – an important slice of life that impressed the character for life
  • Character emotion – “It was so surprising and so brave I couldn’t help myself.
  • Suddenly – for tension, surprise, and closure

Happy Birthday, Indiana!

December 11, 2008

Today is Indiana’s statehood birthday.  I read a unique book to some fourth grade classes today in honor of our state.  The book is called Dadblamed Union Army Cow by Susan Fletcher.  As I have mentioned before, the book jacket frequently shed light on the author’s idea for the book. 

The illustrator, Kimberly Bulcken Root, states, “Because of my family history, I fell in love with two daguerriotypes of my great-grandfather in his cavalry uniform, and some of my earliest drawings were of him.”

Susan Fletcher shares in her author’s note that she first heard of this story from a media specialist in Washington, who learned of it from Mrs. Tethers, the daughter of Captain Lee of the regiment.  The cow traveled with the Fifty-Ninth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, supplying them with milk and helping keep them alive. “After the war, the cow was written up in the Greencastle, Indiana, newspaper.”  Go to the website linked above to see the real photos of the cow and captain.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Dadblamed Union Army Cow:

  • Voice – “she come in mighty useful”
  • Hyphenated words – sweat-soaked, rope-burned, hoof-bruised
  • Adjectives – a different descriptive word is used for the dadblamed cow, summarizing an event:  persnickety, heavy, dangerous
  • Apostrophes – whittlin’, playin’

America’s White Table

November 11, 2008

In honor of our veterans, Margot Theis Raven has written a beautifully moving piece called America’s White Table.  The American Legion and military events honor those men and women who have fought for our country.  Margot Theis Raven introduces this symbol of honor by writing a story of a mother telling a story to her three girls.  Each part of the table, from the white table cloth to the red rose, is explained.  She interweaves a repeating line:  “It was just little white table…“.  Margot also has the words of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” throughout the bottom of each two page spread.

The story unfolds through the eyes of the oldest niece.  She learns what happened to Uncle John during the Vietnam War.  When the story ended, Katie wanted to do something special.  Her sisters drew him pictures and another wrote him a letter.  Uncle John comes and Katie realizes that she will promise “to put the words from my heart into a little book about America’s White Table.

Margot Theis Raven goes on and shares in the Author’s Note the history of the white table.  “A group called the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association or the River Rats set the first MIA/POW Remembrance Table.”  May we not forget the courage and sacrifice our veterans have given for our freedom.

Savorings for reading and in writing for America’s White Table:

  • Repeating line – “It was just a little white table...”
  • Story within a story – flashbacks
  • Time of reflection
  • Gathering stories from families – writing them down to preserve for future generations
  • Illustrations – the coloring changes during the flashback

The Rest of the Gettysburg Story

November 5, 2008

AImage result for the cemetery keepers of gettysburg by linda oatman highuthor’s notes provide added background knowledge for deeper understanding.  It often gives more to the story, and so I often will read it first (although its usually placed in the back).  Linda Oatman High was intrigued by the history of the Gettysburg Battled and learned of the heroic determination of Elizabeth Thorn.

The Cemetery Keepers of Gettysburg is written in poetic narrative, and it moves me.  The story is told through the eyes of the Thorn’s eldest seven-year-old son, Fred.  The Battle of Gettysburg was “the most ferocious and bloody battle of the Civil War“, and Linda Oatman High captures the emotion of the wounded soldiers, the fear-gripped children, and the devastation left behind. Although the battle was horrible, Linda’s words are poetic and rich and appropriate for upper elementary-aged children.

Linda Oatman High then tells the rest of the aftermath.  Nearly one hundred soldiers lay dead.  Elizabeth Thorn (six months pregnant), her father, and Fred dig the graves to honor the men.  Astounding!  The story ends with President Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address and then honoring Elizabeth for her heroism.  Wow!  I have to read and reread this book and each time I focus on something new.  This book is excellent for developing background knowledge for the Civil War and provides good discuss on what families did behind the scenes. Savorings for reading and in writing for The Cemetery Keepers of Gettysburg:

  • Point of view – from a child
  • Word Choice – “grandfather with wrinkled skin
  • Emotion – “huddling, shuddering together
  • Poetic narrative
  • Show don’t Tell – “he said as a tear creeped down his cheek