Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ “McElligot’s Pool”

Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ McElligot’s Pool

McElligot’s Pool is not one of Dr. Seuss’ best-known books, but it is certainly one of his most creative and most beautiful! Blending true Seuss-ian creativity with environmentalist undertones, the story follows a young fisherman through the many different imaginary marine scenarios that could be playing out in the dark water below his fishing pole. McElligot’s Pool is a farm pond scarcely larger than a puddle and filled with human detritus (an alarm clock, a boot, a tea kettle, a tin can, and so on), and while it seems likely that the small, dirty pond holds no fish at all, the narrator’s youthful imagination is not bound by the constraints of environmental reality (nor any other type of reality) and takes readers on a fantastic underwater trip around the world.

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Literary Guide for Anthony Browne’s “Zoo”

Literary Guide for Anthony Browne’s Zoo

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A family outing to the zoo serves as a catalyst for deep thought in this 25-year-old work of children’s literature. Author and illustrator Anthony Browne, known as one of late 20th century England’s best children’s writers, has transformed a quintessential (and perhaps stereotypical) family adventure into a thought-provoking examination of humans’ regard for the natural world in Zoo. Within the book’s pages, illustrations in which humans seem to be animals and animals seem almost human haunt a text dripping with the narrator’s disdain for the lackluster creatures found within the concrete confines of the zoo.

The story is extraordinarily extraordinary without presenting as such: what was (and still is) a very common family experience reveals itself to be something that is conceptually much greater, and experientially (for the characters) much less. The family of four featured in the cover illustration argue their way through traffic and pay exorbitant prices in order to gain the privilege of interacting with nature, the absence of which is subtly included in the first few pages’ illustrations. Though seemingly excited about their destination, the family engages only passively with their surroundings, failing to get a map and looking at some “boring” animals before searching for their favorites. Creature after creature is met with criticism from the narrator and his kin, while the creatures themselves are depicted as disengaged from reality within their unnatural surroundings. Even the creatures that promised excitement (tigers, for example) leave much to be desired, and by the end of the day, the family favorites are the cafeteria and the gift shop.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Ruther Heller’s “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones”

Literature Guide for Ruther Heller’s Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones

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As a nonfiction text that looks very much like most fiction books, Ruth Heller’s Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones is filled with rich illustrations and vocabulary and draws readers in with its alluring, picture-book-like structure. This fun, upbeat, and informative text pairs the inherent wonder of childhood with a collection of fascinating facts, and despite its appearance, it is a great example of a rich nonfiction text for young readers.

The text within the book is short and simple, and draws meaty sentences out over the course of several pages, thus allowing young readers to digest each piece of information on its own while working to piece together a larger idea. There are few words, but the ones that are there convey important information and essential vocabulary. The rich, detailed illustrations appear to be simply artwork, but provide readers with accurate images of the many species mentioned in the book. Young readers can gain much knowledge (and entertainment!) from an endless close examination of the pictures alone.

The book’s simplistic nature makes it ideal for readers ages 5-8, but it can be read and enjoyed by readers of any age. Using our literary guide, educators of all kinds can use Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones as a tool for helping readers strengthen their observational skills as a tool for comprehension of texts. Critical thinking questions, extension activities, and mini-lesson help readers to build their knowledge base, share their thinking, and stretch their learning to connect to numerous skills and ideas.

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Literary Guide for Ann M. Martin’s “Rain Reign”

Literary Guide for Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign

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Appropriately titled with a homonym pair, Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign is told through the eyes of a young girl on the Autism spectrum whose two loves in life are homonyms and rules. Rose’s love of these things, unfortunately, often stands in the way of her ability to connect with those around her – including her father, a single parent with little patience for Rose’s needs. Through Rose’s narration, readers learn about the thoughts that drive her mind and the compulsions that fuel the behaviors that those around her cannot seem to understand.

Rose learns how to forge a deep connection when her father brings her home a dog, who she names Rain due to the very special triple homonym nature of the word (it matches both reign and rein). Rose cares for Rain herself, taking her responsibilities as a pet owner very seriously. But when a hurricane hits Rose’s home in upstate New York, Rain is lost in the storm. With homes destroyed, power lines downed, and roads (such as Rose’s) washed out, it’s nearly impossible for Rose to search for Rain. Showing incredible resilience and determination as a result of her intense love, Rose pushes herself to search long and hard for Rain – encountering new opportunities and challenges she couldn’t have imagined.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Bernard Waber’s “Courage”

Literary Guide for Bernard Waber’s “Courage”

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Raising strong, resilient children is a theme in communities perhaps more than ever right now. There are a great many traits that such children must learn to possess before adulthood, and Bernard Waber’s Courage belongs in the library of anyone striving to cultivate strength and resilience in children.

Waber’s sweet, simple story – created late in his career – is a study of courageous acts both great and small. Rather than preaching the importance of courage or spotlighting the immense acts of courage shown by others, the story focuses on everyday courage – the kind that young readers can easily understand, connect to, and replicate in their own lives. Written in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the book serves both as a tool for supporting readers in recognizing their own everyday courage and as a catalyst for future courageous acts.

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The Art of Letter Writing

The Art of Letter Writing

While in the summertime it seems easy to explore a multitude of activities, the wintertime provides the space for quieter activities, new hobbies, or creative outlets that encourage reflection. The intense winter storms and their impact on travel keep us inside to discover new activities or pastimes. Winter days feel quiet and reflective as our time indoors beckons us to think more about how to spend our time intentionally.

When was the last time you wrote a handwritten letter to someone? In the age of quick text messaging, instant emails and continuous communication, letter writing is beginning to feel like a lost art.  Take paper (maybe made locally by Crane & Co.) and pen, and set time aside to write a letter to a friend, family member, or neighbor.  Particularly when the weather is ferocious outside and a Nor’easter is upon us, seize the opportunity to sit down with pen, paper, and the backdrop of falling snow to compose a multi-page letter.  Unlike computer keyboards, there is no backspace key or delete function.  It’s the chance to move slowly, choosing words carefully and with care; to meditate on what you want to want to communicate.  Letter writing connects people and lets the recipient hold onto the letter as a keepsake. The art of letter writing can preserve a fond memory or anecdote. It can be  a record of friendship.  Read the rest of this entry »

Local Literary Musings: A Winter Piece

Local Literary Musings:
William Cullen Bryant’s A Winter Piece

Remember Cummington native William Cullen Bryant, who was featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead? After a career in New York, Bryant returned to his childhood home in Cummington when he was 71. Bryant’s early poetry is very much influenced by the landscape of the Western Massachusetts Hilltowns of his youth. In fact, Bryant’s A Winter Piece is a reflection on this time of year.  Even though the summer is gone, Bryant notes in his poem how winter has an unexpected beauty that is still marvelous to behold.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Guide for Leo Lionni’s “Tillie and the Wall”

Literature Guide for Leo Lionni’s Tillie and the Wall

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One of beloved author and illustrator Leo Lionni’s lesser known works, Tillie and the Wall tells a fantastically symbolic tale of a young mouse and the power of curiosity. Told through somewhat simplistic text, the story is accessible to young readers yet includes deep symbolism that older readers can engage with.

Lionni’s classic style of illustration (a mixture of cut paper, collage, and traditional hand-drawn images) echoes both the story’s simplicity and below-the-surface complexity, and the book’s images add additional layers to the embedded symbolism. Read the rest of this entry »

Language Arts & Creativity: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Handmade: Write a Zine or Make a Journal

Zines (short for magazine or fanzine) are self-published books that include different media forms: collage, illustrations, comic strips, and words.  A zine can be a book of poetry or a story, it can be a guide book or a collection of fairy tales – the sky’s the limit!  Zines can also be photocopied and bound so that you can produce multiple copies.  Here’s a short documentary on Zines…

Making a zine is a rewarding, creative process and can certainly be a part of your gift giving plans for the holidays. Need some inspiration for your zine-making adventures? Check out the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA.  The Flywheel Arts Collective has a community Zine library and cafe with over 3,000 zines, featuring many from Western Massachusetts!  Flywheel is a collective of art and poetry that allows people to share their work with others in their local community.  It’s a great community resource for those looking to feel inspired through grassroots art and literature that aims to inspire, provoke thought and engage the community.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

Literary Guide for Barbara Cohen’s “Molly’s Pilgrim”

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Set in the early 20th century, Molly’s Pilgrim illuminates the multiple meanings and cultural roots of the word pilgrim. The story features a Jewish family who immigrated to the United States from Russia, likely to flee the pogroms.

Molly, the title character, has just moved with her parents to a small and culturally homogenous community. She doesn’t yet speak English fluently, and her parents are even less fluent than she is. Molly’s biggest challenge is fitting in at school. As the only Jewish student, she is teased and taunted for her difference in appearance, her accent, and her lack of knowledge about American cultural traditions – especially Thanksgiving.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

Literary Guide for Natalia Romanova’s “Once There Was a Tree”

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Natalia Romanova’s Once There Was a Tree tells the story of life after death in nature. Beginning at the end of a great tree’s life, the book spotlights the many visitors and inhabitants who benefit from what the former tree’s stump and roots have to offer. Beginning and ending with human visitors, the chain of use includes bark beetles, ants, and even a bear! Each visitor to the stump gains something substantial from it and begins to feel ownership of it – though each, unbeknownst to them, ends up sharing it with all of the others. In the end, the stump remains and, though many have utilized it as a resource, it continues to offer itself to the world. So who then does it belong to? All of the visitors feel that it is theirs, yet each of them has taken advantage of a different part of the stump. Without realizing it, the people and creatures who feel they own the stump have actually shared it – allowing the stump to truly belong to everyone and, ultimately, to the earth itself.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

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Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School introduces young readers to the idea of self-directed learning. Centered around a somewhat chaotic household and its many inhabitants, the story points out that, for the homeschooled narrator, home and school are one and the same – making home a place for living and a place for learning. Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, the book helps readers see the ways in which a family can use their everyday experiences to support the acquisition of almost any kind of knowledge.

Beginning with pages that repeat the story’s title, the book follows the narrator through a quick tour of his home, wherein it is learned that his siblings are his classmates, his mom is his teacher (and dad the substitute), his kitchen is his cafeteria, his back yard is his playground, his family van is his school bus, and all of the rooms of his home (as well as the outdoor spaces nearby) serve as his classrooms. Readers see family members (students!) engaged in a wide variety of activities during the tour, from traditional “school-style” activities like computer research and worksheets to less structured activities like basement science experiments, cooking projects, family music jams, treehouse building, and stream exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Molly Bang’s “Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays”

Literary Guide for Molly Bang’s Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays

Diane Wilson was always a strong woman. She made a living as a shrimper while raising five children, and relied on her own resilience and pure grit in order to raise her family. In 1989, shrimp became scarce in the bays of her hometown in Calhoun County, Texas. Diane worried about the size of her catch, and the future of the shrimp population in Texas’ bays. What would happen to the industry if the shrimp died out? How would she support her family?

Diane’s concerns turned into action when she learned about a connection between the lack of shrimp and the monstrous plastics manufacturing plants that dotted the coastline of her home county. At the time (1989), her county was responsible for over half of the state’s pollution – and it wasn’t just killing the shrimp. Diane saw the effects that the plants had all around her – in the local landscape and within the human community, too. And much to her horror, the companies causing environmental destruction and human health problems were not only being allowed to do so, they were about to be allowed to expand without any consideration of the environment impact that expansion would have.

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Writing Contest Encourages Community Story Sharing

Writing Contest Encourages Community Story Sharing

Writing is a hobby which can help kids and adults in many areas of life including academics, careers, and even relationships. In general, being able to write clearly helps people work through their own thoughts and express their emotions. Writing fiction in particular can build a stronger sense of empathy. In 2013, researchers at The New School in New York City found that reading fiction helped people perform better on tests of their ability to understand what others were thinking or feeling. Writing fiction requires a similarly empathetic process of deciding what characters feel and how those feelings lead to actions.  This summer, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield is encouraging children and young adults to foster their creative and expressive abilities through a short story writing contest this summer!

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Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Literary Guide for David Wiesner’s June 29, 1999

Though set in the now somewhat distant past, David Weisner’s cleverly written June 29, 1999 is part fantasy, part scientific study – pulling readers into a world where science and the (nearly) impossible intersect.

The date is May 11th, 1999, and young scientist Holly Evans has just begun her first major experiment. Holly has released vegetable seedlings into the earth’s atmosphere in hopes of studying the effects that outer space will have on the growth of her tiny plants. She shares her work with her classmates who are, understandably, quite speechless. Weeks go by without much excitement; Holly tracks the days and, we can assume, waits patiently for her seedlings to return. Finally, on June 29th, something exciting happens – the event lending itself as the story’s namesake. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Cynthia Kadohata’s “Half a World Away”

Literary Guide for Cynthia Kadohata’s Half a World Away

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Cynthia Kadohata’s Half a World Away is a complex and emotionally-charged work of incredibly realistic fiction. Weaving together themes of family, adoption, truth, and love, the story challenges readers to consider major ethical questions as they learn about protagonist Jaden’s struggles with change and self-discovery.

Adopted from a Romanian group home at the age of 8, Jaden has never truly felt a part of his so-called family. Though his parents show him love and care for him, he struggles greatly with strong emotions and dangerous habits that he doesn’t completely understand – causing him to feel that he doesn’t truly belong in his family. Having been abandoned by his mother at a young age, he fears that something is wrong with him – something that will make history repeat itself, leading his family to eventually cast him out as well.

Jaden’s challenges come to the forefront of his consciousness during a family trip to Kazakhstan, where they are to adopt baby Bahytzan from an orphanage in the southern city of Kyzylorda. While Jaden enjoys the almost unreal quality of his experiences in Kyzylorda, his parents deal with strong emotions as they struggle to bond with the new member of their family – leaving Jaden emotionally out of the loop, as he can’t seem to be able to engage emotionally with anyone, especially not his parents or their new baby. And he can’t escape the nagging feeling that the new child is meant as a do-over, thanks to the parenting obstacles that he has presented.

Half a World Away is a powerful story of astounding depth. Readers ages 10 and older can gain insight into the complexity of human psychology and the power of experience in human development. Using our literary guide, families can work together to delve into the many layers of the story, and can take advantage of critical thinking questions and suggestions for extension activities in order to put the story into context and to develop schema to support the development of connections to the characters and their experiences.

Building Community One Poem at a Time!

Spread Poetry and Build Community with Poem in Your Pocket Day

Celebrated annually as part of National Poetry Month, Poem in Your Pocket Day encourages people to share writing and connect with others by spreading poems throughout their communities. Celebrated by literally carrying poems in pockets or by sharing words through more creative means, the event presents a unique opportunity to share important writing and to connect with others through the thoughts and feelings that great writing can provoke.

In Barbara Cooney’s book Miss Rumphius, the woman lovingly know as the Lupine Lady spreads beauty throughout her community by keeping a pocketful of seeds to distribute – so as to share the joy of nature’s treasures. During National Poetry Month, families can apply the Lupine Lady’s philosophy of life to the written word by participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Begun in New York City in 2002, Poem in Your Pocket Day encourages folks of all ages to celebrate the power of the written word by sharing poetry with others. Participation is fairly easy and is exactly what the name implies – carry a meaningful poem in your pocket, and share it with those around you! However, in order to have as large of an impact as possible, families can employ some creative strategies in order to sow the seed of their chosen words far and wide. Thanks to digital media, poems can be taken from the depths of pockets and shared via e-mail and social networking sites.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors

Literary Guide for The Black Book of Colors

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Unique within the landscape of children’s literature, Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria’s The Black Book of Colors accomplishes something that no other book has yet to do: telling a story about color without actually using any true colors. Made up of pages filled with shiny black-on-black images and bright white text, The Black Book of Colors links colors to sensory experiences, managing to activate all of the senses but sight in order to describe all of the colors of the rainbow.

In addition to lacking color, The Black Book of Colors is unique in another way. The book is written with braille letters accompanying the text on each page, allowing readers to inspect and gently feel the patterns of tiny bumps that share the same meaning as the letters and words they’re used to. While the braille included in the book isn’t printed in a way that allows it to be read by blind children, its presence allows sighted readers to consider the similarities and differences between their own literacy and that of a blind peer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Leading Up to National Poetry Month

March Events and Contests Lead up to National Poetry Month

In anticipation of April’s celebration of National Poetry Month, young poets can share their work through community art workshops and poetry contests! Offering young writers a space in which to share their voices, these upcoming events and contests provide unique opportunities to explore creativity.

In preparation for National Poetry Month in April, opportunities are beginning to arise for young writers to create and share original works – offering youth poets (and aspiring poets) spaces in which to share their voices.

Every Tuesday during the month of March, budding poets and origami enthusiasts ages 9 and up can congregate at the Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton for Random Acts of Poetry! The ongoing event series weaves traditional origami paper-folding techniques with the writing and sharing of poetry to make unique folded flowers that “bloom” to reveal small poems. Participants are welcome to attend one or all of the events, but will get more out of Random Acts of Poetry if they’re able to be a part of all or most of the workshops. While participants will learn origami and writing skills by attending, an additional product of the series is a display of work to be shown and shared during Easthampton’s Bookfest, held on April 9th. Random Acts of Poetry is held from 3:30-4:30pm. Sign up by calling 413-529-1605 or by e-mailing youthdept@ewmlibrary.org.

While Random Acts of Poetry offers a relaxed, community-minded means of sharing poetry, young poets have a second – and more competitive – means of sharing their poetry this month… Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s “Honor Girl”

Literary Guide for Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl

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Honor Girl, the debut book by graphic novelist Maggie Thrash, is part memoir, part coming-of-age story, and part critical analysis of the discovery of sexuality. This young adult story (without a doubt written for teen audiences) is set at an all-girls summer camp in the south, and follows its author through a summer of confusing emotions, unexpected challenges, alongside a slew of heteronormative, gender-based assumptions.

Maggie has attended a very traditional sleepaway camp for nearly every summer of her life. It’s so traditional, in fact, that campers wear uniforms, sleep in true canvas tents, and can only arrive at camp via barge. It almost goes without saying that Maggie’s fellow campers are overwhelmingly white and Christian, and are portrayed as epitomizing what it means to be a budding southern belle. Vanity reigns supreme, trends are set through creative use of barrettes and non-camp-issue socks, and rumors of crushes on the few males to set foot on camp grounds run rampant.

Within this microcosm of southern culture, Maggie discovers that she has fallen in love for the first time. It comes as a surprise and catches her off guard – not only because it’s the first time she has ever experienced such feelings, but because the person for whom she falls madly and deeply is Erin, a female counselor a few years her senior. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s “Me… Jane”

Literary Guide for Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane

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Offering a beautifully simple take on biographical writing, Patrick McDonnell’s Me… Jane shares Jane Goodall’s journey from young naturalist to internationally renowned primatologist. The story is told through a series of concise, rhythmic, and engaging phrases, drawing readers in through its carefully chosen and accessible language. Alongside McDonnell’s writing are charming illustrations that show young Jane – looking and behaving very much like a curious and determined child – engaging with her surroundings. Readers are even treated to a two-page spread of illustrations transferred from notebooks filled during Jane’s youth, adding proof to support the story’s claim that childhood dreams can, in fact, be pursued into adulthood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s “Crunch”

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s Crunch

Literary Guide for Leslie Connor’s Crunch

Set in a time that is an ambiguous (yet scarily small) number of years in the future, Crunch tells the story of a family and a community dealing with life in a world where gasoline has ceased to remain available. Featuring protagonist Dewey Marriss, a 14-going-on-30-year-old bicycle mechanic, the story highlights some of the uncomfortable realities of a world suddenly without gasoline without delving deep into the true societal disintegration that would likely take place should such a thing truly happen. Author Leslie Connor’s gentle depiction of a community frantically striving to achieve self-sufficiency by any means matches the worldview and developmental stage of 10- to 14-year-olds perfectly, and beautifully intertwines the themes of independence, ingenuity, and responsibility with an examination of a world in which fuel has ceased to be available.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s “A Seed is Sleepy”

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy

Literary Guide for Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy

Filled with beautiful, intricately detailed illustrations of fascinating seeds from around the world, Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long’s A Seed is Sleepy is a visual treat. Paired with rich adjectives that succinctly describe the unique and interesting qualities of a wide variety of seeds, the watercolor illustrations give the book an almost guide-like quality, allowing readers to examine the fine detail of each seed depicted. Readers of all ages can easily fall in love with the book which, rather than telling a story, focuses on teaching those who peruse its pages about the life cycle of seeds.

Not your average seeds-to-plants life cycle book, A Seed is Sleepy includes seeds familiar to American readers like dandelion, sunflower, pumpkin, and corn, and includes many rare and/or unfamiliar seeds from far-flung locales, including monkey’s comb, Guyanese wild coffee, hog plum, and the extinct date palm. The depth with which the science of seeds is considered within the book makes it appealing to readers of literally any age – even adults will love it!  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lucy Frank’s “The Homeschool Liberation League”

The Homeschool Liberation League
by Lucy Frank

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Speaking to teenagers’ need for independence, author Lucy Frank’s The Homeschool Liberation League follows Katya on her search for an alternative to traditional public education. Katya – who until recently went by Kaity – has just returned from a summer spent in the outdoors, immersed in experiential environmental education. While away from home at camp, she recognizes how liberating it is to be in a learning environment in which she has the freedom to let her curiosity lead her learning, and how powerful it is to have adult support while engaging in self-directed learning.

Back home in Connecticut, however, Katya’s new-found independence and worldview (and not to mention name) don’t mesh well with the firm belief in public education held by her parents. Katya is able to convince her parents to let her try homeschooling, even though their idea of homeschooling looks almost exactly like school – except that it takes place in her mother’s beauty salon. While spending time with her mother’s geriatric regulars turns out to be much more educational than anyone anticipated thanks to the power of intergenerational environments, Katya still feels stifled by the predetermined curricula fed to her via daily instructional matrices.  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA

Readers Rejoice! Community-Based Educational Resources for Literary Learning Abound

Luckily for literature lovers, western Massachusetts is a treasure trove of opportunities to engage in community-based learning about literature, literary history, and the process of creating writing that is inspired by a local community or the local landscape. Made up of landmarks, historic homes, museums, trails, and real-life human beings, western Massachusetts’ connections to the world of literature are strong.

Berkshires

Berkshire Gardens- The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home, Lenox, MA; photo credit David Dashiell- FlowersHome to beautiful hills and winding rivers (with quaint towns nestled amongst them), Massachusetts’ Berkshire region has been a favorite locale for artists and authors alike for centuries. Among the most notable literary greats to call the Berkshires home is Edith Wharton, whose self-designed home The Mount now serves both as a monument to Wharton’s career and as a year-round cultural center. Located in Lenox, The Mount offers opportunities to learn about Wharton’s remarkable literary achievements (40+ books in 40 years and a Pulitzer Prize), experience art and cultural events, and to learn about life in the early 1900’s.

Arrowhead, PittsfieldIn nearby Pittsfield, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn about the author’s American Renaissance career. Made up of Melville’s historic home, beautiful grounds, and a working farm, Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn not only about Melville’s life and significant works, but the lives of all those living in the Berkshires during the 19th century.

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Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ “Whistle for Willie”

Literary Guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

Literary guide for Ezra Jack Keats’ Whistle for Willie

One of many wonderful and beloved children’s books by Ezra Jack Keats, Whistle for Willie is a simple story that perfectly captures the play-based learning that is essential to early childhood. The child engaging in such play is a character named Peter, a young boy who graces the pages of six of Keats’ other stories as well.

Whistle for Willie begins as Peter is exploring his neighborhood one afternoon, wishing desperately that he could whistle. Peter observes an older boy whistling to summon his pet dog, and longs to do the same – but he just can’t seem to make his lips work properly. Throughout the rest of the story, Peter alternates between longing for the ability to whistle and engaging in creative free play using chalk, a mirror, and even an empty box that he finds on the street. Peter’s play is unstructured and driven by impulse, and echoes the play that all children engage in during early childhood. Young readers can easily relate to both Peter’s play and his desire to be just a little bit more grown up (and to prove this growth by whistling loud and clear!).  Read the rest of this entry »

People-Watching! Supporting Language Arts, Theater & Community Awareness

Late-Summer People-Watching as Inspiration for Young Writers and Thespians

A fun way to learn about a local culture, people-watching can serve as a great tool for young writers and thespians too! The observations made in a particular context can help inspire or contribute to the development or portrayal of a character. Visit some of our suggested people-watching locations!

Inspiration can come in many forms for young writers and creators, and the sparks that ignite the creative process can sometimes come from unexpected places. Often, inspiration can come from experience, allowing works to be created as a result of personal experience, but other times, inspiration needs to come from external sources. A great (and always accessible) source of inspiration is people-watching – an activity that can lead to everything from laughter to critical and reflective observations about human nature.

People-watching is especially useful for young writers and thespians, as close observation of human behavior can help with character development in writing, and can help actors, directors, and costume designers draw from experience when portraying characters from a story. Best when done in a situation in which you are not directly involved, people-watching can allow those to participate to gather useful information about how people move and talk, as well as the choices that they make, the clothes that they wear, and the people who they associate with. People-watching can feel a bit like judging people, but when observations are made through careful, critical thought, they are much more useful than the snap judgments that are sometimes made at first glance, and an excellent way to develop an appreciation and acceptance of the wonderful diversity found in our communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s “The Outside Inn”

Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

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Introduced to readers by a beautiful bug-laden cover, title page, and dedication, George Ella Lyon and Vera Rosenberry’s The Outside Inn is quite obviously a book about nature, and just so happens to be our next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series. The children who grace the cover and the story’s first page (with a dish-filled wagon in tow) show the story’s connection to childhood – clearly ready to engage in some creative free play, the quartet seem right at home in the muddy puddle in which they have settled at the story’s start. Just as the children begin to dig their muddy meals, narration of their invented game begins. Told in rhymes that beautifully capture children’s imagination and the possibilities for nature-based play, The Outside Inn is not only a silly story for children to enjoy, but it serves as a representation of the mind of a young child.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s “Owls in the Family”

Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Download Literary Guide for Farley Mowat’s Owls in the Family

Bird enthusiasts rejoice – the next installation of our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series is Owls in the Family! Inspired by true events in author Farley Mowat’s childhood in northern Canada, Owls in the Family is charming, humorous, and full of adventures involving creatures of all kinds. As the title suggests, two of the story’s main characters are Great Horned Owls who have been adopted by a human family. Set in rural Saskatchewan, the story revolves around the owls, Weeps and Wol, and Billy, their rescuer, and follows the trio through a series of adventures.

Weeps and Wol, both saved from grim fates, are the stars of Billy’s pet collection. The owls share the spotlight with snakes, gophers, and other small creatures common to the plains of western Canada. Each chapter of the book features a different story of adventure involving Billy, his friends, and either Weeps or Wol (or both, often). Readers follow Billy through the training of the owls, a community pet parade, days swimming on the banks of a river, trips to school with owls in tow, and a move to the big city of Toronto, among other things.

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Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s “Tough Boris”

Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Download Literary Guide for Mem Fox and Kathryn Brown’s Tough Boris

Our next installation of the Summer Reading Resource literary guide series is Tough Boris, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by local illustrator Kathryn Brown. Much more than just a run-of-the-mill pirate book, Tough Boris is a beautiful and succinct tale that teaches an important lesson about human emotions. Centered around Boris, the story’s namesake, the story begins with a wordless page filled with an ocean where upon the horizon sits a ship and upon a sand dune sits a young boy. This scene sets the stage for the tale that’s about to begin – told with few words set amongst images that speak volumes.

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