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

Literary Guide for Cynthia Kadohata’s Half a World Away

Download Literary Guide for Half a World Away.

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

Download Literary Guide for George Ella Lyon’s The Outside Inn

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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Literary Guide for Todd Hasak-Lowy’s “33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My But”

33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt by Todd Hasak-Lowy

This week’s title in our Summer Reading Resource series is Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes… Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt, a story that offers a fresh take on a common middle school experience. Narrated by seventh grader Sam Lewis, the story is a full-length novel yet spans only a few hours of a day in the life of a somewhat average middle school student. Sam’s narration weaves together real-time experiences, thoughts, and emotions, with memories, self-reflection, and background information in order to tell the story of a changing friendship.

The story begins at 11:41am in a middle school social studies classroom, where Sam waits anxiously for the time of day to arrive when Morgan had declared that he will kick his butt. It is not until much later in the story that we learn about the true roots of the animosity that exists between Sam and Morgan. As Sam anxiously experiences the next 33 minutes of his life, he guides readers through the ins and outs of a middle school lunch period and does a lot of reflecting upon past experiences with Morgan, his parents, and his math team – and the connections between the three. Through Sam’s reflection, a secondary story begins to form alongside the real-time narrative. Each moment of anxiety that Sam experiences, and each interaction with a friend, peer, or authority figure that takes place before the time scheduled for butt-kicking inspires Sam to reflect upon himself and his relationship with Morgan – allowing readers to begin to understand the differences between the two characters and the choices that each one made that lead them to drift apart so drastically. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lisa Campbell Ernst’s “Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt”

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa Campbell Ernst

More than just a tale about a farmer who wishes to sew quilts rather than sowing seeds, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt can be used to raise discussion about gender roles and cooperation – not to mention opportunities to connect the story to concepts in math, art, and history, too!

This week’s installment of Hilltown Families’ 2015 Summer Reading Resource series features Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt. A heartwarming tale featuring themes of rural living, cooperation, and gender roles, the story is a great read for folks ages 5 and older.

Sam Johnson, one half of the book’s namesake, is a rural farmer who leads what appears to be a fairly idyllic agrarian life. One day, he decides that he’d like to learn to quilt and asks his wife’s quilting group if he can join. Surprised that a man would request such a thing, the women turn Sam away. Rather than be discouraged, Sam stands up for himself and pickets their decision, then creates his very own men’s quilting group. With his fellow male quilters, Sam creates a beautiful quilt that he plans to enter in the county fair – in order to compete against the women’s group’s creation. In the end, an accident and a compromise combine to make for a surprisingly happy ending.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lois Lowry’s “Gathering Blue”

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Designed for use with readers at a 5th grade level, our literature guide for Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue offers families support in adding insight, visualization, and even mastery of a new skill to a great summer read!

Looking for ways to enhance family reading time? Summer is the perfect time to explore books as a family, and to expand stories and create opportunities for deeper learning together. Hilltown Families offers a wealth of resources for supporting families in this endeavor, beginning with the very first featured title in our 2015 Summer Reading Resource series of literary guides!

Featured weekly throughout the summer, this year’s installments in the annual Summer Reading Resource series include downloadable guides to children’s literature written by students and alumni from the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that can provide supplemental education at home. The titles featured throughout the summer will cover a wide range of genres, themes, and reading levels, so as to provide something for everyone and to support families in their pursuit of new and fascinating reading material.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-6. Check back weekly for a new guide, or peruse the resources offered in our 2013 and 2014.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Gathering Blue, written by literary great, Lois Lowry.  Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry of Science Contest

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest

Combining science with writing and visual creativity is such a refreshing way to approach a complex topic. American Chemical Society is now seizing the day and holding an innovative poetry competition for kids that will drive them to explore different avenues in science.

Calling all young, creative-minded budding scientists! The Connecticut Valley Local Section of the American Chemical Society invites youth ages 5-18 years old to participate in the Chemists Celebrate Earth Day 2015 Illustrated Poem Contest! An annual event combining science with writing and visual artistry, the poetry contest encourages young writers to process their knowledge related to a scientific topic in a very non-traditional way. Unlike most science-based writing, writing created for the Illustrated Poem Contest won’t be centered around the task of explaining a concept or theory. Instead, entries in the contest will combine creative writing skills and scientific understanding to create a piece that is both beautiful and informative. Read the rest of this entry »

Support Language Art & Community Engagement Through Poetry

Poem in Your Pocket Day
Supporting Language Art & Community Engagement

Thursday, April 30th, 2015, is national Poem in Your Pocket Day, a day when people select poems to share with others they encounter throughout their day. We love what the community in Charlottesville, VA, organized for this national day that celebrates poetry while supporting literacy. This great community building event was a collaboration between their library, schools and senior center.  It encouraged community engagement in various locations throughout their town, including their library, town common, hospital, and local businesses.  It also encourages literacy development and a love of language.

Wouldn’t it be great if communities, groups or individuals in Western MA did something similar? Tell us if you do! It could be as simple as a youth group doing something similar to this VA community on a much smaller scale, passing out poetry to passersby in Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, Amherst or Springfield. Or you could become guerrilla poets, posting poems on community bulletin boards in your town. Share your ideas and be inspired!

Check out our archived column, “One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love” for more encouragement that supports a love for poetry in our children and ourselves.

Classics Come On Line To Thrill Audio Book Lovers

Audio Books Find a Voice Through LibriVox

Audio book lovers rejoice! LibriVox is an online resource offering thousands of recordings of a wide variety of written works. Including everything from Shakespeare to Hans Christian Andersen, LibriVox’s titles are all available through the public domain and read by volunteers, meaning that users can download recordings completely for free! Perfect for a snug winter day indoors.

For many people, fond memories of childhood include being read to by someone. During the winter months, snuggling in a cozy spot with a book and a reader is a perfect way to pass the time (and to warm up if you sit close enough together!). However, sometimes busy households don’t always have readers available, and other times, the readers would perhaps like to enjoy some listening time themselves. While local libraries offer endless titles in audio form and storyhours for kids, snow days, holidays and colds & flus can keep families away – so what’s a story-loving family to do when it’s time for a story? Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Your Family Tales Down & Punctuation Up!

Documenting Family Stories is a Fun Winter Activity that Support Language Arts

Hausausgaben

Getting a story down in paper makes it last forever.

While spring, summer, and fall easily lend themselves to outdoor exploration, winter sends us a clear message to hunker down and cozy up next to the fire or radiator. But what is an active family to do when weather dictates that adventures be brief and close-to-home (if at all)? The secret to a winter that is simultaneously adventure-filled, warm, and cozy is to have adventures in your minds. Active bodies can easily slow themselves for a few months if their equally active brains are frequently engaged in mental adventures. Winter is a time for stories. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides 2014

This summer’s installment of the annual series Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time presents families with suggestions for rich reading material to explore together. Each suggested title is accompanied by a teacher-designed guide that includes a description of the book’s educational potential, critical thinking questions to help readers process what they’ve read, activities to support and strengthen literacy skills, and suggestions for activities that allow readers to explore the themes presented in each story deeply and experientially. Written by graduate students in Antioch University New England’s Integrated Learning program, the literary guides offer families a comprehensive resources to help enrich at-home learning and touch upon a wide variety of topics.

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Literary Guide for S.D. Nelson’s “Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story
by S.D. Nelson

Written by S.D. Nelson, Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story opens readers’ eyes to life in a Native American village in the Dakotas. Based on Waheenee: An Indian Girl’s Story, told to an anthropologist by Buffalo Bird Girl herself, the story follows Buffalo Bird Girl through a full year’s worth of seasonal changes and activities, teaching readers about Hidatsa culture and the ways in which the seasons dictated their lives.

The book begins in the spring, with Buffalo Bird Girl helping to prepare fields and process meat from animals hunted by the village’s men. In the summer, readers learn about Buffalo Bird Girl’s responsibility to protect corn fields from animals, and her adventures berry picking and tuber-harvesting. During the fall, the entire village harvested crops and celebrated with a feast and dancing. In the winter, cold weather drove Buffalo Bird Girl’s village to migrate to a place with a milder climate, so as to be spared the harsh winter of the Dakotas.

The rich story teaches readers a wealth of information about Native American life and culture. The fact that the story’s protagonist is not an adult allows young readers to develop connections to her life more easily – they, too, can imagine doing seasonal tasks as chores to sustain their family and they, too, can relate to capturing rare free moments to play with friends. It is in connecting to Buffalo Bird Girl that readers will do most of their learning for, though they may find many similarities between their lives, the cultural divide between our lives today and that of Buffalo Bird Girl is deep and wide. Though here in western Massachusetts, the seasons dictate many of our activities, they do not force such drastic change upon our lives as they did upon the lives of members of Native American cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Journal-Making: Creative Outlet for Bringing Family Together

Journal-Making: Inspiration for Writing & Drawing

Sharpen your pencils. Journaling is key to bringing ideas to life.

It’s no secret of parenting that kids have a lot to say. Just as our own adult brains are constantly stirring through ideas, memories, and observations, children’s brains are working just as hard. They make note of interesting things that they see in their surroundings, develop characters and stories inspired by their experiences, and they may even craft clever illustrations to their thoughts inside the confines of their neural connections. Giving kids an outlet isn’t difficult – younger children can often satisfy their creative urges with a basket of crayons and some recycled paper, while older children create more sophisticated drawings, diagrams, stories, or logs when they’ve got something to record.

A great project to do as a family to encourage kids’ writing and drawing skills is journal-making.. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me”

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

What grows when it dies, but eats when it drinks? This and other riddles provide an intriguing and puzzling pre-read warmup for Rebecca Stead’s Newbury Medal-winning book, When You Reach Me. Classified as a science-fiction mystery novel for young adult readers, the story is a riddle-filled puzzle that will intrigue and fascinate savvy tweens and almost-tweens.

When You Reach Me is set in New York City in 1978, and is centered around the mysteries filling the life of a girl named Miranda. Miranda’s favorite activities are watching The $20,000 Pyramid, reading her favorite book (A Wrinkle in Time), and adventuring through her Manhattan neighborhood with her best friend, Sal – who helps her navigate the surprising and sometimes slightly scary things that they encounter nearby. The story truly begins when Sal and Miranda drift apart, which begins after a mysterious boy punches Sal in the stomach while they walk down a street together. After losing her best friend, Miranda encounters some other strange events – the spare key that she and her mother keep hidden is stolen, and Miranda gets a strange note from a mysterious source. Though she and her mother change the locks and assume the trouble is over, Miranda keeps getting notes – and must stay silent, though she knows not who is writing them or what they are pushing her towards.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

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Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

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