Across the Alley

March 17, 2018

Stories embedded into my heart are my favorites like Pricilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles. Although I came across this book in 2009, I still recall the richness of the words and the endurance of the character.

Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is a new books to add to this favorite list of powerful stories. I have read it five times trying to comb the craft and I just sit in the story. Richard Michelson brings to life the friendship of two boys, one Jewish, one black, both separated by many cultural differences, but blend through nightly conversations through their bedroom windows. Not allowed to be friends during the day and in the open, the persist for the good.

Abe plays violin. Willis plays baseball. Through their nightly, across-the-alley window talks they teach each other their skill. Ironically, the switched activity becomes a natural talent for the other. Read how the boys rise above the grown-up expectations and bridge a friendship between their families. My guess is you’ll be cheering at the end like I did. Share this sense of hope with your students.

Willie’s real quiet now and I wonder if I said something wrong. Maybe he doesn’t know about the Nazis.
“My great-granddaddy was a slave too,” Willie finally says. “I never knew any white folk that were.”

Click on the link to view a preview of the book. My guess is you will be drawn to the story too. You can also listen to Jay O. Sanders read the book on this link (scroll midway down the page).

Share this 2 minute video with your students as he talks about writing fiction.

Savorings for Across the Alley:

  • Figurative language/ Visualization
  • Overcoming racial differences
  • Friendship
  • Sharing talents – the arts and sports blended
  • Show not Tell – “My palms turn sweaty.”
  • Sequence of pivotal scenes
  • Sense of hearing – descriptive in order for the reader to feel as if they are watching and hearing the scenes unfold

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

February 15, 2018

Kids connect with history through story. Historical narrative invites the reader into the time period, the setting, the dialect. Our students can relate to characters and feel the emotions of the events. Picture books give readers a weighted historical highlight to peak their interest. For a moment, we can be transported back in time and watch the movie unfold before our eyes.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville ,by Pat Zietlow Miller, begins as an ordinary happening – a girl playing outside with her friends, racing to see who is the fastest. More than anything, the character emulates her hero, Wilma Rudolph, the fastest woman in 1960 and the first woman to win 3 gold medals in the same Olympic Games. Along comes Charmaine, with her “brand-new, only-been-worn-by-her shoes” challenging Alta’s stand as the fastest kid in Clarksville, TN. They race. She trips. Words fly.

In story, the girls have a conflict. Because of their hero’s example and forgiveness, their differences are put aside and a friendship begins. Not only did they want to imitate Wilma’s running abilities, they also wanted to imitate the peace she was inviting.

The author’s note highlights Wilma Rudolph, from a family of twenty-two children , ill as a child and wore a leg brace, and had the first major integrated event in her home town of Clarksville, TN.

Companion book: Wilma Unlimited .  Click on this link to view the book read to you.

Savorings for The Quickest Kid in Clarksville:

  • Dialect – “Boy – howdy, does she ever.
  • Varied sentences (two word sentences for emphasis)
  • Hyphenated words as craft – “shoe-buying daddy”
  • Character emotions
  • Possessive nouns – several examples of using the apostrophe s (Charmaine’s strutting)
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Author’s Note

Satchel Paige: Don’t Look Back

February 4, 2011

David Adler once again shares a biography that will engage children.  February is Black History Month, and Satchel Paige:  Don’t Look Back is a great story to share.   I love to find books that capture character traits I want my students to develop.  This book shows the determination and stamina of a young man, Leroy Paige.  He gained his nick name “Satchel” when he began working at age 7 at a train station.  He would carry people’s bags, or satchels, by stringing them on a pole that ran over his shoulders.  Leroy also went to work sweeping a baseball field.  He loved the game and began practicing by throwing rocks.  Satchel didn’t let his lack of resources stop his determination to better himself.

Satchel Paige played in the World Series for the Cleveland Indians on July 7, 1948.  He was 42 years old.  In today’s baseball market, most players are much younger and are just ending their careers in their forty’s.  Not Satchel.  He played baseball until he was 60 years old.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Satchel Paige:  Don’t Look Back:

  • Perseverance and Stamina
  • Inferring – “Paige was overcome with emotion. His nerves, he later said, ‘were jumping every which way.’  He knew he wasn’t pitching just for his team but also for African-Americans everywhere.”
  • Magic of 3 – “He stretched.  He waited.  He shook his fingers.
  • Questioning
  • Semi-colon with a list

PES Library books

Girls playing Baseball

February 25, 2009

Enjoying the sport of baseball, I love learning about historical events that are reflective of the game.  Angela Johnson shares a story told by a grandmama to her granddaughter in Just Like Josh Gibson (illustrated by Beth Beck).  The story begins with a glimpse into Josh Gibson’s life playing baseball and hitting a ball out of the park.  On that day, the grandmother was born. 

Her papa “showed up […] with a Louisville slugger and a smile.  He said his new baby would make baseballs fly, just like Josh Gibson.”

Grandmama continued to share how she learned to play well, but in those days, girls did not play baseball.  Until… a boy broke his arm and couldn’t.  Grandmama was the star of the game.  The story ends with her passing the legacy on to her granddaughter.

An author’s note shares information about Josh Gibson.  Surprisingly, it also shares about “one young lady during the 1950’s that did get to play with the boys though it wasn’t in the majors.”  I’m intrigued by the information shared and plan to read more about these famous baseball-playing women.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Just Like Josh Gibson:

  • Family stories – passing on the legacy
  • Repeating phrase – “Grandmama says...”
  • Close echo – “Those summer days were like magic as the balls sailed away, sailed away, gone.”
  • Ellipse – “Too bad she’s a girl….  Until …”
  • Author’s note – historical information

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

Butch Cassidy’s Thanksgiving Feast

November 24, 2008

Image result for an outlaw thanksgivingThe title, An Outlaw Thanksgiving, caught my eye and sparked my curiosity.  The two words – outlaw and thanksgiving – seems ironic being side by side.  But Emily Arnold McCully creates a piece of history that isn’t published in the school history books.  In 1896, the wild west was changing from untamed country to the “railroad’s golden age”.  Territory had been settled from the east to California, and the railroad opened many an opportunity for people to begin anew.

New territory does not come without its challenges.  Winter was hard on the prairie states and travel was often stopped by the devastating blizzards.  Just the thought of icy winds, bitter cold, and frozen snow makes me want to snuggle up in my warm home.  I love my heaters, blankets, and flannel PJs.  This story begins with Clara and her mother traveling cross country by train only to be stopped by the snow.  You get a taste of adventure from the little girl, Clara, as she is eager to explore and see all that is new.

When the train is stopped by blinding, heavy snow, Clara and her mother are left with a dilemma.  A kind “Mr. Jones” invites them to join friends for Thanksgiving at Brown’s Hole, “just over the border in Utah.”  Taking a frigid sleigh ride, they arrive in time for the grandest Thanksgiving feast ever.  Cowhands and townspeople welcome them in.  Through Clara’s inquisitiveness, she learns that her host is Butch Cassidy.  I wonder what it would have been like to meet an outlaw.  Although somewhat suspicious, Clara finds out that even outlaws can be thankful for their home.

This book takes on a totally different angle on Thanksgiving.  It’s unique and will grab the attention of your students, especially the boys.

Author’s Note:  This story is based on historical events that happened at Brown’s Hole, Utah.  Emily Arnold McCully has an excellent author’s note that supports the story’s basis.  Ann Bassett, a town member, wrote an account of some unexpected guests attending the annual Thanksgiving feast hosted by Butch Cassidy and other outlaws, who made their home in the valley.  She recorded the food and trimmings that later was used by high society ladies in Colorado.  I find it fascinating that history can come alive through the eyes of an author, connecting us to the past in unique, but ordinary ways.

Savorings for reading and in writing for An Outlaw Thanksgiving:

  • Characterization – Clara’s mother is cautious and nervous throughout the story; Clara is an adventurer.  “‘Clara!  You worry me so!’  She glannced at the poster {of Butch Cassidy} and shuddred.
  • compare/contrast – today’s travel to the past; roads paved then versus now
  • Map Skills – railroad maps included
  • Decision making – prediction with discussion – what would you do if…(you were Clara)?
  • Historical fiction and author’s note

Boxes for Katje

November 2, 2008

Image result for boxes for katjeI often will read the dedications to get a glimpse of the author’s life.  I wonder how the people named touched the life of an author.  In Boxes for Katje, Candace Fleming’s dedication states: “To Mom, for sharing her life’s stories.”  It roused my curiosity, and so looked for the author’s note.  I was pleased to find on the end sleeve that Candace shares “A True Story about Boxes.”  She states that the book is “based on events that really happened.  In May 1945, my mother sent a small box to Europe.”  Because Candace’s mother shared a story from her childhood, a book was created to touch people’s hearts.  How many life stories do we have that will change someone’s life?  More than we think.  We need to teach our children that life stories are important to share and holding on to memories can create hope for someone else.

Boxes for Katje begins in Olst, Holland in 1945.  Stacey Dressen-McQueen adds to the beginning text by illustrating another little girl, Rosie, mailing a package. A little girl named Katje receives the package from America containing four items:  a bar of soap, wool socks, a chocolate bar, and a letter. Holland had been hit hard during World War II and the people’s needs were great.  Candace Fleming states in her introduction, “They patched and repatched their worn-thin clothing, and they went without soap or milk, sugar or new shoes.”

Katje, from the start, unselfishly shares her gifts with her neighbors.  In our country of plenty, even in this economic struggle, we take for granted so many of life’s pleasures.  This book continues to show how Katje shares what she receives.  She writes letters of gratitude to Rosie, who in turns creates more awareness with her community of Mayfield, Indiana.    In the end, Katje sends a gift to her American friend, Rosie – tulips.  Notice how Stacey Dressen-McQueen illustrates the before and after scenes of Mayfield, Indiana in the end sleeves.  I think this book paves the way for discussion on philanthropy and thinking of others.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Boxes for Katje:

  • Hybrid text – letters are displayed as the story goes from one scene to the next
  • Illustrations – inlays from each country/community to see the events between the pen pals
  • Highlighting scenes – creating a story with
  • Passage of Time – the seasons and its hardships create the passing of time:  “Weeks passed, and winter roared in, snow-deep and bitter cold, the worst winter anyone could remember.”
  • Philanthropy – learning to give to others; excellent for Thanksgiving season
  • Math connection and superlatives:  comparison of packages beginning small and getting bigger each time; big, bigger, biggest