Thursday, June 29, 2017

BOOK A TRIP by Mary Louise Sanchez

Summertime is traditionally the time people like to travel. When I was younger, my family was inclined to travel close to home—usually someplace where we had relatives who would put us up for a few days or a week; and because we didn't have the financial means to travel far. When I got married, our travels still took us to places where we had family. In fact, I physically had never been east of Nebraska until I was in my 40s. Then, when our son and daughter-in-law moved to Philadelphia, we saw parts of the United States we had only read about. That was when the travel bug hit my husband and me hard.

But, I didn't realize I had really been bitten by the travel bug at a much younger age, as a young reader.  I was a good reader as a young child, but didn't have access to a large library. However, there were two books I read in third grade that greatly impacted my desire to explore the world beyond my small borders. One book was Heidi. In the story, I was transported to the Alp Mountains where Heidi traipsed the mountain side with the goats and the goat herder, Peter.

In the 1980s my husband and I got hooked watching Rick Steves and his European travel shows. We decided that we needed to travel beyond our borders and we even had some experience maneuvering subways by then.  What fun we had planning our month long trip to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. When we got to Switzerland, we traveled to the Jungfrau region where my vision of the Heidi experience came alive. Although the mountains we saw were only 4,000 feet high (Colorado has many over 14,000 feet), they looked like mountains children draw with pointed peaks. I swear, the cows and goats stood lopsided on the sides of the mountains too—just as I had imagined the goats feeding on the mountain side in Heidi!

The other book that fed my travel bug in third grade was a Row, Peterson and Company  reader called If I Were Going. In the book, we readers followed Alice and Jerry's neighbors, the Sanders, as they traveled to Europe on a steam ship. One of their destinations was Spain where they roamed the narrow streets lined with white roofed houses and orange trees. Their child guide took the Sanders to a guitar shop.
When my husband and I were in Seville, we roamed the Jewish quarter where the roofs were white and we searched for and found a guitar shop, just like one Mr. and Mrs. Sanders may have visited on their trip to Spain.  Thankfully, vintage books are available for purchase on the internet and I can now venture around the world with Mr. and Mrs. Sanders just as I remember in third grade.

As a teacher/librarian in the elementary school, I developed family reading programs each year. One of those programs was called BOOK A TRIP. I introduced the program by showing the kids my own passport, my lightly packed suitcase, and books that inspired my visits to the various countries we had visited.

My clerk and I gathered fiction and non-fiction books from the library that dealt with countries around the world and made a database of them. We also put a dot with a symbol by the book barcodes so we could put the books in the appropriate continent bins when the books were checked in. Students who joined the program had laminated passports posted on the library wall, with the student's picture and a page for each continent. When the students met the requirements for each continent, they received a continent stamp on that page of the passport. Our culminating activity was a family celebration where we served desserts from around the world.

So many of our school children do not have  opportunities to venture beyond their own neighborhoods, let alone to see the world. We need to give them resources to look into lives and places different from their own.
We also need to show children where these places are in relationship to where the children live. I often introduced stories with a globe, showing the children where we lived and where we were going to in the story.  One could even flag countries with books that have that setting.

We never know the impact we have on students or the books that will touch their lives, so we need to passionate about inspiring our students to discover their world. When my husband and I travel now, we try to take a children's book with that country's setting to give to a local child. Granted, the book is in English, but I believe the child is excited is see their own country in a story.

Simple techniques, like I've presented, can open the world for children and promote peaceful co-existence. As Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

What places in the world have you/or your students traveled to in a story? Where would you/they like to go? What story settings in the world would meet curricular needs?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sara K Joiner: Environment and History

While I was researching After the Ashes, I learned about the impact environmental disasters can have on people and geography. Sometimes these disasters happen without warning, such as the volcanic eruption and tsunamis that resulted from Krakatoa's eruption. Other times, these disasters take time for their effects to have an impact.

There are a number of great books that use environmental disasters as a key element of the plot.

Andrea White's novel Radiant Girl is set in Pripyat near the Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union when nuclear facility melts down in 1986. Katya, the main character, is looking forward to the opening of a new amusement park when disaster strikes in the middle of the night. People she knows and cares for are killed in the initial explosion, and her entire world is turned upside down when the government moves her family from their comfortable home in Pripyat to an apartment in Odessa.

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky is set in the ancient Roman city in the year 79. Main character Julia has a disability and relies on her slave Mitka for help, comfort and friendship. When Mount Vesuvius erupts and shatters their world, the two girls have only themselves to rely on if they want to survive.

In The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis, white American Sarah and Indonesian Ruslan are forced to work together after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Both have been impacted by the disaster, and both need to reach help. Along the way they learn they have more in common than they realized.

Jame Richards' Three Rivers Rising, a novel in verse, is set during the 1889 Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania. Main character Celestia loves a boy from the wrong side of the tracks which leads to her being disowned by her family. Taking shelter with the boy's family, she is living in Johnstown when the dam breaks and millions of cubic feet of water coming rushing into town.

When it comes to talking about environmental disasters that have shaken the world, you also need to look at nonfiction to learn about the causes and effects of these catastrophes. Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters That Changed History by Bryn Barnard does just that. Readers learn about the Great Fire of London, the blizzard that led to the creation of the New York Subway, and deforestation that changed the course of Ethiopia's history.

The effects of the environment on history are far-reaching and impact us in ways we can never imagine. Thankfully, through historical fiction, we can place ourselves right at the center of those historic events.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

History from a Dog's-Eye view

Any story with a dog is usually a hit for me, but what about a story told by a dog? That's a home run in my book, so I was thrilled when I found the Dog Chronicles, a series of middle readers by Alison Hart and illustrated by Michael Montgomery, published by Peachtree.

These books focus on exciting and often lesser known history that will pique the interest of readers 7-10 years of age. You can also find free teacher's guides at the link above. The following excerpts are from the Peachtree website:

Murphy: Gold Rush Dog

"Join Murphy as he finds a home with Sally and Mama, who have recently arrived in gold-rush era Alaska to seek a new life."

“Equal parts heart-wrenching and -warming…its message of the value of love over greed is as subtle as it is powerful. An adventure-filled tale set within a fascinating period of history.” ―Kirkus Reviews

You can find another great gold rush read in Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine.

Finder: Coal Mine Dog

"When Thomas’s family needs money, he and his dog, Finder, are forced to go to work in the coal mines."

“Well-told and entertaining.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Suspenseful.” ―Horn Book Guide

Darling: Mercy Dog of World War I

"When the British military asks families to volunteer their dogs to help the war effort, Darling’s family sends her off to be trained."

“While never shying away from the tragedies of battle, Darling’s story focuses on bravery, sacrifice and devotion….Wartime adventure with plenty of heart.” ―Kirkus Reviews

For more good dog stories, see Elizabeth Junner McLaughlin's post Dogs at War

Leo: Dog of the Sea

I missed the history of the spice trade when I was young. Considering how it changed the world, I was thrilled to find this reader.

"A hardened old sea dog joins Magellan on his journey to the Spice Islands in this action-packed and heartwarming story."

“Frank history, attention to factual detail, and vivid adventures make this a standout.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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