Making Text-to-Text Connections

Today my students impressed me so much!  We were reading Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and discussing the part of the story where Hannah/Chaya experiences the tattooing of Jews in the camps. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Ms. M., that reminds me a lot of Chains“.

Intrigued, I encouraged him to continue.

“Well, the tattooing reminded me of Isabel being branded with an ‘I’ by Mrs. Lockton. In Chains, the ‘I’ is a punishment, a way for Mrs. Lockton to take even more away from Isabel. But instead, Isabel took back the branding and made it hers. She said the ‘I’ stood for Isabel, for her, and not for insolent. And now Hannah/Chaya is taking back the tattoo, making it meaningful to her instead of just giving in and taking it.”

WOW! I had never even thought of that connection, but how great is that? It’s so true, and such a solid connection between the two novels we read this year. I am so proud of my students!

Predicting the Newbery as a Class and 21st Century Literacy

We are almost finished reading Chains as our current read-aloud. Both classes have about 25 pages to go, and they were begging to read more today! We ended right after Isabel escaped from the potato bin. The greatest sound in the world is the united groans of 20 6th graders begging you to continue reading a read-aloud!

Seeing as the Newbery will be announced in a little over a week, we have slightly altered our read-aloud plans. I plan to finish Chains tomorrow, complete with an awesome discussion.  We then have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr., Day.  My class begged that we read Diamond Willow  beginning on Tuesday.  After considering the logistics for about a second, I said, “Of course!”  At 108 pages, and with a lot of white space, I think we can finish it before the announcement is made.  Then we will have read three books that are on numerous mock Newbery lists.

Diamond Willow will present some interesting challenges.  The diamond-shape poems and the bold words throughout need to be viewed to be appreciated.  I think I will show the book using my document camera.  This way the students can see the poems as I read them, just like if they had the book in their hands.  It’s the first time I will be combining technology and literacy this way, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!  Will the experience of reading the book on the board, via the camera, be the same as reading the book in your lap?  It should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to find out!

And now January 26th will be even more fun!

Newbery Award Discussions

Last week I did a quick Newbery unit in my 6th grade class.  We reviewed the history of the award, the terms, criteria, and rules.  We also read articles about the recent Newbery controversy and discussed them as a class.  It was amazing to hear my students’ thoughts on the award and the recent controversy and I think we all learned a lot!  But my favorite part was the end of the unit- I had my students write me at least a paragraph explaining whether they thought Chains (our current read-aloud) or The Underneath (which we previously read as a read-aloud) deserved to win a Newbery or Honor on January 26th and why.

I was stunned by the responses I received!  Some of my students wrote over a page, expounding the virtues of one or both of the books.  They were extremely passionate in their opinions, so I wanted to share a few with my readers.

 

“I think that The Underneath should win because I like how it tells different problems happening with different characters.  If you don’t understand one problem that’s going on you may understand another one.  I also liked in The Underneath  how at the end all the characters come together.  “

“I think that Chains should win the Newbery because it is a good book with real info and sometimes you think Wow I have it good.”

“I think that both Chains and The Underneath should be honors.  The Underneath should not just be in the honors but it should win…It should win because it keeps you thinking and it keeps you reading.”

“I think that Chains will win the Newbery and The Underneath will be recognized as an Honor book.  Both books have great writing in them and the authors really did a good job with the character development.  In my opinion, Chains is written better, but The Underneath is good, too.  I can’t wait until Jan. 26th!”

“I think Chains and The Underneath both have a chance of winning the Newbery.  Chains is very interesting and seems like I am actually in the Revolutionary War.  I like this book because it is suspenseful and you don’t know what will happen next.  I like how bad things keep happening and Isabelle doesn’t give up.  The Underneath is a book that I liked but I thought it was hard to understand. “

“I really believe that Chains should win.  I believe there should be a change.  Since we now have an African-American president, we should have an African-American book.  This books is fantastic because because it has true facts about American history.  I feel this book should win over The Underneath because The Underneath is about imaginary things. “

“I believe The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it has lessons to teach the reader.  It tells the stories about the struggles of life and how to get through it.  When the animals in the story get into difficult situations they seem to find a way out.  It also shows the sacrifices we will make for friends and family.  For example, when the mother cat saves Puck from drowning. “

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it was a great book and made my class so emotional.  I saw and heard crying when the calico cat died.  I heard rage when Ranger was beaten.  I saw happiness when Garface died.  But most of all tears of joy for Grandmother helping Ranger, Puck, and Sabine and when they all ran away together as a family.”

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery- or at least an honor book- for many reasons.  One reason she should get the award is because her book is a page turner for children.  I am a child and I know I loved the book. “

 

Those are just a few of the opinions in my two classes.  Between all of my students, the votes are pretty evenly divided between Chains and The Underneath.  But every student felt that they both fit the criteria and deserved to at least win an honor on January 26th!  I just love how passionate they are about both books and how invested they are in the award ceremony.

National Book Award Nominees!

The National Book Award Nominees have been announced!  I can not tell you how ecstatic I am about these nominations.  And I didn’t even write the books-  I just read them!

 

 

Featuring 2008 National Book Award Finalists:

Laurie Halse AndersonChains (Simon & Schuster)
Kathi AppeltThe Underneath (Atheneum)
Judy BlundellWhat I Saw And How I Lied (Scholastic)
E. LockhartThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks(Hyperion)
Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)

 

I have already read Chains, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and The Underneath (and absolutely loved them all).   What I Saw and How I Lied is on my shelf and just moved up on my review pile with this endorsement!  I guess that means I need to get my hands on The Spectacular Now!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I am a huge Laurie Halse Anderson fan. Just ask my kids from last year how often I recommended Fever 1793 to them.  I loved Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution when I reviewed it back in May, and I can’t wait to use it when I introduce our women’s history project this year.  And I still remember reading Speak for the first time in junior high (and I keep meaning to reread it).  As you can imagine, I was thrilled when I heard that Anderson would be publishing a new historical fiction novel this month and even more thrilled when my school librarian tracked down an ARC for me!

 Chains did not disappoint.

In 1776, Isabel is a young slave (about 11?).  She and her little sister, Ruth,  live in Rhode Island and Isabel dreams of the day they will be free.  Their master, Miss Finch, has promised them freedom upon her death, but when the time comes her lawyer has fled the sporadic battles between the Loyalists and Patriots.  Miss Finch’s greedy young nephew quickly sells the girls off to a wealthy Loyalist and his cruel wife.  Isabel and Ruth are sent to New York City, ophaned, alone, and at the mercy of the cruel Mrs. Lockton.  

When they arrive in New York City, Isabel immediately meets a young slave named Curzon, who convinces her that the quickest way to freedom is to spy on her Loyalist master and report to the Patriots.  

Ruth is “simple” and Isabel spends much of her time hiding her sister’s episodes from Mrs. Lockton.  But when they are discovered, she is thought to be possessed by the devil and Mrs. Lockton immediately sells her off.  Thus begins Isabel’s moral struggle- who should she support?  More importantly, which side will help her become free and find her sister?  She has no particularly strong feelings for the Patriots or the Loyalists-  she only wants her own freedom.  Sadly, both sides fail to take slaves into account, using them as tools rather than people: messengers, spies, soldiers, cooks, and everything in between.  

It’s difficult to do the plot justice in a brief recap.  There is so much going on, yet the reader never feels overwhelmed.  I found myself putting the book down after a chapter and going back to it later on.  Oh no, no because I wasn’t enjoying it!  Because I didn’t want the book to end.  I was digesting it in small pieces, constantly mulling ideas and events over in my mind.  Anderson does nothing if she doesn’t force you to think, really think about the American Revolutionary War.  I frequently found myself torn between the British and the Colonists, for Isabel’s sake.  I can honestly say I have never really sat down to consider the Revolutionary War.  We grow up romanticizing the fight for independence and history books rarely qualify or quantify the people who were chained between the two sides, forced to choose and getting nothing in return.  Wow!

Isabel’s voice rings true to the times, without being overwhelming.  The book reads like a story set in 1776 without being dry or difficult to understand.  In historical fiction that is extremely important.  If kids feel overwhelmed by dialogue, accents, or vernacular it is that much harder to get them to read and enjoy the book.  

What really makes me happy is how kid-friendly Chains is.  I already promised my students that we would be using it as a read-aloud later in the year.  As a teacher, I know it will push their thinking and I can already foresee the great conversations and debates we will have.  But I also know that they will genuinely enjoy the book.  Anderson has a gift- she makes history come alive and she makes it fun.  Yet I still come away from her historical fiction books knowing more than I did going in.  I know the same will be true for my students.

I am sure Chains will be at the top of many Newbery prediction lists and it is certainly on mine. However, it should also begin making its way into school reading lists. It seems like the same old books have been around since I was in elementary school. My Brother Sam Is Dead and Johnny Tremain are both great books but I think Chains is more historically-accurate and kid-friendly.  In NJ, the Revolutionary War is taught in 5th grade and I feel like Chains is just that much more kid-friendly and accessible while preserving (and exceeding) historical accuracy needs.  So I am starting up the chant, “Here, here!  Chains for the curriculum!”

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