Monday, January 26, 2015

Lowriders in Space

Lowriders in Space 
Written by Cathy Camper; Illustrated by Raúl the Third
Published by Chronicle Books, 2014
ISBN# 978-1-4521-2869-6

Grades 3 and up

Book Review

Bajito y suavecito: low and slow. That’s how expert car mechanics Lupe Impala, Elirio Malaria, and El Chavo Flapjack like their cars, and a lowrider is exactly the kind of car they hope will help them achieve their dream of opening their own shop. From author Cathy Camper and illustrator Raúl the Third, Lowriders in Space is an original, energetic, and dazzling graphic novel that fuses science fiction and animal realism to follow the lowriding trio’s adventures and efforts. Using spare rocket parts, they outfit a jalopy that literally thrusts them out of this world. Once in outer space, they take advantage of the cosmos to stylize their car in truly stellar fashion. But is it enough to win the Universal Car Competition and its grand prize of “a carload of cash”? Fluidly blending Spanish and English, science factoid and everyday slang, Camper’s vibrant text echoes the dynamic hybrid culture of lowriding. Meanwhile, Raúl the Third’s spectacular black, blue, and red ballpoint pen illustrations reflect the intricate sketches and doodles that the book’s target audience might be drawing themselves. Appendices provide a glossary of terms that are also footnoted throughout the text, as well as information about the evolution of lowriding from its Southern Californian beginnings after WWII. Particularly appealing for book clubs and independent reading, Lowriders in Space is a wild and thrilling ride for sure. With its focus on Chicano culture, cosmic creativity, and even female mechanics, ¡hay mucho que celebrar!

Teaching Ideas and Invitations 

Lowriding Culture. Lowriding is much more than a recreational activity, as an entire subculture surrounds it, dating back to the 1950s. Survey your students to find out what they already know about lowriding. If your students are familiar with lowriding culture, position them as experts to teach the class about it. To introduce students to lowriding culture, or to supplement what classmates teach them, share some of the articles listed in the Further Explorations section below. What did they learn that matched or challenged their prior knowledge? More specifically, what stereotypes were dispelled after taking the time to learn more about it? Additionally, have students compare and contrast lowriding culture with other subcultures—such as skater culture, gaming culture, or hip hop—including those in their own communities.

Car Characteristics and Design. The announcement for the Universal Car Competition lists a variety of cars that are eligible to compete. What distinguishes each car from the other? Specifically, what characteristics does each car have (e.g., engine, tires, seats, body, transmission, etc.)? Have students research the different types of cars listed on the announcement, as well as other types they might want to add, and present their research in a slide show or other multimedia presentation. To extend this activity, encourage students to design their own cars based on their research to “enter” into the Universal Car Competition. Have the class or another one vote on the winner.

Performing Low Riding Rhythm, Music, and Lyrics. Share the lyrics and listen to the original song “Low Rider,” by the band War, and some of various covers of the song by different artists, such as Phish, Blues Traveler, Barry White, and George Clinton (click here for a list of cover versions). As a whole class or in small groups, have students come up with additional lyrics to the song, based on Lowriders in Space and what they know about lowriding culture. Stage a performance of the song with new lyrics for all to enjoy.

Creative Refurbishing. Part of the appeal of lowriding is the creativity involved in improving, detailing, personalizing cars. Lupe, Elirio, and Flapjack certainly take all of those steps to a new level when they soup up their car with cosmic parts. Challenge your students to creatively think of ways they might refurbish an ordinary vehicle or appliance. They could follow the book characters’ example and use items from outer space, or they could borrow items from other unique locations, such as the ocean, the desert, or the forest.

Learning More about Astronomy. As the lowriding trio travel through space, they use their knowledge about the planets, stars, solar system, and other celestial objects to gather parts for their car. Divide students into groups to inquire further about any of those cosmic entities, using the information in Lowriders in Space as a starting point. Have students present their findings in a multimedia presentation.

STEM Studies. What actually makes lowriders “hip and hop, dip and drop”? What indeed would happen if rocket parts were used on cars? Which ones would realistically work? Would some of the substances found on or near the planets that the lowriders visit really work in cars? Invite students to inquire into any of these questions, in small groups or a whole class inquiry, folding in concepts about physics, engineering, and astronomy.

Mixing Languages to Strengthen Voice. Voice is one of the most difficult writing traits for students to grasp and for teachers to teach. Voice is the trait that allows readers to develop a full sense of who is speaking the words on the page, whether it is a narrator, fictionalized character, or the author himself/herself. Lowriders in Space does a great job of illustrating exactly what voice is, as we read and hear the character’s everyday talk as a blend of Spanish and English. Engage your students in a study of how Cathy Camper does this. What words or phrases does she choose to help readers “hear” the characters’ distinct voices as lowrider enthusiasts? To further demonstrate the quality of voice, do a reader’s theater activity with excerpts from the novel so students can really hear what Camper is doing in her writing. Then, have students experiment with voice by perhaps writing about the same topic in different voices, including mixing in words from different languages.

Hybrid Genre Exploration. Lowriders in Space fuses elements of adventure, animal realism, and science fiction into a graphic novel format. Have students identify the distinct characteristics of each genre, noting archetypes and essential elements of plot, setting, and format. Then have students analyze how Lowriders in Space blends these genres. Referring to some of the links and tools listed below in Further Explorations, invite students to create their own graphic novels that merge various genres into a single story.

Everyday School Supplies as Artistic Tools. In the illustrator notes at the end of the book, Raúl the Third explains that when he was a child, he used everyday black, red, and blue ballpoint pens to draw because he didn’t have and “didn’t need ‘professional tools.’” Encourage your students to create works of art using only everyday school supplies instead of tools specifically made for art. Display their artwork in the classroom, in the hallway, or on a class website, along with illustrator notes written by the student-artist that explains their thought processes while creating their art.

The Great Graphic Novel Debate. Graphic novels continue to be a source of controversy in English language arts classrooms. Critics believe that graphic novels are just glorified comics and detract from real literacy learning. Proponents of including graphic novels in literacy curricula maintain that they contain complex plots, characters, and narrative structures; appeal to both reluctant and advanced readers; and can be useful as scaffolds to other literary genres. Have students research the grounds for each side’s argument. You may want to direct them to the online articles listed in the Further Explorations section below. Then, set up a forum for students to debate the issue. If your class unanimously supports the use of graphic novels in literacy curricula, engage them in a class project—such as a letter to the local newspaper, or a presentation before the school board—where they can authentically and productively express their argument and hope for educational reform.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Cathy Camper’s website

Raúl the Third’s website

Websites and articles about lowriding culture

Eek! Comics in the Classroom!—article in Education World

Can the X-Men Make You Smarter?—article in Parents’ Choice

Graphic Novels for Multiple Literacies—article in Reading Online

ReadWriteThink's Comic Creator

Comics in the Classroom – A Site for Teachers, Parents, and Librarians

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art


Bee, W. (2013). And the cars go… Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Doeden, M. (2007). Crazy cars. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Company.

Gifford, C. (2012). Car crazy. New York: DK Publishing.

Hammond, R. (2008). Car science. New York: DK Publishing.

Lewis, J. P., & Florian, D. (2014). Poem-mobiles: Crazy car poems. New York: Schwartz & Wade.

Paulsen, G. (2006). The car. HMH Books for Young Readers.

Van Dusen, C. (2007). If I built a car. New York: Puffin.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan

Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan
Written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Published in 2014 by Beach Lane Books
ISBN: 978-4814-2294-9

Grades 2-5

Book Review
Stories can help explain the unspeakable, inspire bravery, and conquer fear. As the world faces and responds to violence rooted in social and political forces, it can be challenging to know where to turn to explain such events to young people.  A master of picture book biographies, Jeanette Winter shares two stories that sensitively explain but more importantly inspire in her book Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan. Beautifully crafted with digitally rendered art, Winter shares how two children who transcended their youth and spoke out injustice in their homeland of Pakistan. Attacked on her way to school and shot in the head, Malala has been fighting for the rights of girls to an education before she was in her teens and continues to do so today. After years of bonded slavery, Iqbal became an international advocate for the freedom of children. In 1995, when he was only 12, Iqbal was shot and killed while out riding his bike. Represented as two separate tales, Malala’s and Iqbal’s stories symbolically meet in the middle in an awe-inspiring double-page spread where the two children are found flying kites at the top of a mountain in a fictional shared moment. With clear, concise prose, Winter’s book takes the painful but hopeful stories of these children’s lives and provides us with an opportunity for critical reflection and social action in our classrooms.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades 2 – 5

Bravery: Notice and Name. Unquestionably, Malala Yousafzai and Iqbal Masih are heroes. After reading Winter’s book, ask students to consider how these two children used their voices to advocate for children’s rights. In what ways do their words and actions show bravery? Read other books that feature children heroes such as Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Discuss how acts of bravery can be small, everyday actions such as asking a question when you are unsure of something, standing up for someone on the playground, or trying something new for the first time. Craft a class definition of bravery and support students to notice and name acts of bravery in their own lives.  In addition, notice the ways pop culture is championing bravery using Sara Bareilles’s music video for her song “Brave”. Support students to notice how the lyrics speak to what it means to be brave especially Bareilles’s call to “show how big your brave is”. Start a Look How Big Our Brave Is campaign where students anonymously document acts of bravery they see each day.

Stand Up for Statements. Iqbal and Malala stood up for what they believed in—the rights of children and the right to an education. LitWorld’s Stand Up for Girls campaign is an annual event that takes place on October 11th in honor of the International Day of the Girl. After reading the stories of Iqbal and Malala, view LitWorld’s website and read about the 10,000 Global Girls Initiative. On their page, they have downloadable Stand Up for ____ signs. Invite students to write or draw about what they stand up for in their own lives or in the fight for the rights of children. Learn more about how you as a class can continue to stand up for girls using social media.

Gathering Details to Learn More about Pakistan. Support students to gather details about Pakistan throughout their reading of both stories. Chart words that may be unfamiliar or abstract to students such as Taliban, Peshgi, Swat Valley, knowledge, broadcast, and outwit. Locate Pakistan on a map or globe or using online resources to better understand where Pakistan is situated. Research with students the history of Pakistan and the political, social, and religious context of Pakistan today. In addition, read about the Human Rights Watch and The International Crisis Group to better understand international efforts to end conflict in this region of the world.

Winter’s Picture Book Biographies. Jeanette Winter is a renowned picture book biographer whose collection of books is worthy of close study to learn more about the genre as well as to learn about the history of real people who have acted for change. Gather a variety of her books including Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes; The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with Chimps; Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia; The Libarian of Basra; Henri’s Scissors; and Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan. Reading across these texts, engage the class in a discussion about the kinds of figures Winter writes about. What do the people in her biographies have in common? In what ways do their stories overlap? In what ways do they each offer readers stories of hope? How can we use her words and illustrations to better understand what makes a compelling biography? Notice with students how these books do not often include a list of bibliographic sources.  Why not? While Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan includes an author’s note that provides more information on each child, Winter does not include her sources. Discuss with students why this would be a criticism of Winter’s work.

The Art of Bookmaking. As a reader, one immediately notices that Malala/Iqbal is two stories in one requiring you to start one story from the front and the other from the back flipping the book in the process.  In this way, Winter has reconceptualized the picture book. Encourage students to rethink the standard format of books when publishing their own stories in your classroom. Partner students and have them write their own research-based biographies that join in the middle using Winter’s book as a mentor text. Then, compare Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan to Mirror by Jeannie Baker noticing the similar format.  Use Pinterest to search for different book making formats to provide scaffolded choice to students in their own bookmaking ventures. Envelope books, accordion books, books in a box, and scrolls are just some of the techniques you could explore with students.  Use Winter and Baker’s books as mentor texts as well as books like Dogs and Cats by Steve Jenkins and New York: Panorama Pops by Sarah McMenemy.

Illustration Study: Analysis of Process and Product. Throughout the book, Winter uses the power of illustration to draw us further in to the stories of Malala and Iqbal. Notice with students her choices in colors, the use of close-ups and borders, and moments when she does not show children’s faces in both stories. In what ways do her choices as an illustrator reveal more of their stories? What emotions are conveyed? Spend additional time focusing on the center image spread across two pages. Notice how Malala is in color but Iqbal is gray. Notice the kites and how Malala holds the string tightly but Iqbal’s string has been let go. Explore with students what those choices might symbolize about each of these children. Learn more as a class about the process of digitally rendered art and consider Winter’s choice of this technique as opposed to collage, hand drawn illustrations, or paintings as possibilities for her illustrations. Set up illustration stations for your students to experience multiple media to illustrate a single subject. Which medium do your students prefer and why? What effect does each medium have to convey their subject matter?

Critical Literacy, Grades 4, 5

Girls and Education. Read the author’s note to understand more about Malala and her fight for girls’ education. Support students to consider issues of girls and education within and beyond the Malala’s story as it is represented here. View Malala’s speech before the United Nations Youth Assembly as well as her interview with Jon Stewart. View her recent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. From her words in these contexts what else do we learn from this brave girl about the power of education?   Give students different quotes from Malala and have them write a reflection about how her words demonstrate bravery and the power of education. Read The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney and draw comparisons between the fictional character of Amira and the real figure of Malala in the role literacy has played in their lives.

Who Was Iqbal? Iqbal was sold into child slavery at four years old working more than twelve hours a day. Consider with students the desperation his family must have felt to put him in this position.
Research with students more about Iqbal’s childhood and places where child slavery remains a societal problem today. In 2000, Iqbal received posthumously the World’s Children’s Prize for standing up for the rights of children. Yet, many of us have never heard of Iqbal. Discuss with students ways to keep Iqbal’s memory and fight for the rights of children alive. Consider with students why his story is not well known today despite the numerous awards and kinds of recognition he once received. View the World’s Children’s Prize website and learn more about Iqbal and other children who have received this honorary award. Investigate on their website ways your class can get involved in the fight for children’s rights around the world. 

Understanding Islam. As violent events transpire around the globe led by extremists, the religion of Islam and the people in Muslim communities continue to be misunderstood. Research with students the tenets of Islam and support students to notice the peaceful underpinnings of the religion. Read books such as The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper to consider the ways in which the golden rule is embedded in most of the world’s religions.  Support families to have conversations at home about their own beliefs and the ways in which we can come to understand others better for a more peaceful world.  One challenge for educators is finding books on Islam that are not superficial and stereotypical. Consult with your local librarian to locate books that feature Muslim communities through compelling, authentic stories in both fiction and nonfiction texts such as Sharing Our Homeland by Trish Marx, King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, and Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo.

Online Resources

Jeanette Winter’s Page at Simon & Shuster

Interview with Jeanette Winter by the blog A Mighty Girl

Interview with Jeanette Winter about Librarian of Basra

Malala Fund

Quotes from Malala

World’s Children’s Prize Website for Iqbal Masih

Lit World

Women and Literacy, the UN

Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Kahn, R. (2014). King for a day. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.

Marx, T. (2010). Sharing our homeland: Palestinian and Jewish children at summer peace camp. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.

Pinkey, A.D. (2014). The red pencil. New York: Little Brown.

Winter, J. (2005). The librarian of Basra: A true story from Iraq. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Young Readers.

Winter, J. (2004). September roses. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Winter, J. (2010). Biblioburro: A true story from Colombia. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.

Winter, J. (2011). The watcher: Jane Goodall's life with the chimps. New York: Schwartz and Wade.

Winter, J. (2014). Mr. Cornell’s dream boxes. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books.

Yoo, P. (2014). Twenty-two cents: Muhammad Yunus and the village bank. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Edward Hopper Paints His World

Edward Hopper Paints His World
Written by Robert Burleigh and Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Published in 2014 by Henry Holt
ISBN 978-0-8050-8752-9

Grades 2 and Up

Book Review

“Edward Hopper: Hero, Explorer, and Artist” is the subject of the newest picture book biography collaboration of author Robert Burleigh and illustrator Wendell Minor. This representation of the life and work of the iconic American artist transcends our expectations for biography for children. Burleigh’s text and Minor’s paintings immerse readers in the psyche of the introspective and solitary artist, prompting us to see buildings, people, and landscapes and light and shadow from new angles.  Beginning with a description of his early desire to capture the precise nature of “sunlight on the water’s rippling surface,” Burleigh describes Hopper’s unwavering commitment to “paint what others didn’t see,” - to pursue art with a style that spoke to him, rather than following the trend popular in the art world toward abstraction. An afterword, quotations from Hopper, reproductions of four of his paintings, important dates, references and an “Artist’s Note on the Images in this Books” comprise the helpful back matter. Perhaps most poignant is the concluding image of the text depicting across a double page spread: Hopper, his beloved Cape Cod landscape, and one of his last works, Sun in an Empty Room. The text and images beg reflection: “We see a room with light pouring through the window. Nothing more. All is calm. All is still.”

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades 2 - 8

More About Edward Hopper. Following this introduction to Hopper’s life and art, provide students with additional resources to learn more about Hopper. Many of the websites linked below include images of Hopper’s paintings. Students may be particularly interested in the Smithsonian Institution’s An EdwardHopper Scrapbook. As students learn more about Edward Hopper, generate a list of questions that they have about Hopper, his life, and his place in American History. If time permits, students could break into small groups to conduct further research to answer these questions.

Light and Shadow. Hopper’s paintings celebrate light and shadow in the natural world. Invite students to study large projected images of his painting and to talk about the light and shadow that they notice. Read Look! Seeing the Light in Art by Gillian Wolfe as a launching point for further exploration of how artists represent light in their works of art. Collaborate with your art teacher to provide students with opportunities to paint or sketch their surroundings, paying careful attention to how light and shadow change at different times of day.

Place Inspires Art. Edward Hopper was a keen observer of his surroundings. He loved cityscapes and the countryside equally and spent a lifetime engaged in the process of representing what he saw. Take your students outside and provide them with materials to sketch and/or paint what they see in their community. Ask them to talk about what happens when we slow down and really “see” our surroundings. What did they notice? What did they think about? What did they seek to capture? Remind students that Hopper sometimes used his imagination to meld images when creating his paintings; these paintings captured an essence rather than a reality. For those students who wish to continue to refine their sketches or paintings provide time and space for this to happen and a forum to display and celebrate their finished works of art.

Art About Art. In an “Artist’s Note on Images in this Book,” Wendell Minor describes the challenge of representing the life and work of one of the “most important American artists of the twentieth century.” The idea of one artist representing the work of another is a fascinating and layered concept. Invite your students to consider what it means to re-create a work of art in a similar or different medium. Use additional picture book biographies of artists as examples (see the listing of Classroom Bookshelf entries below). Consider what it means to cross modalities. For example, to write a poem or a song in response to a painting? Finally invite students to select a favorite work of art and to create an original artistic work in response.

Author Study. Robert Burleigh’s biographies have received much attention and many starred reviews. Gather a collection of these titles and conduct an author study of Burleigh, focusing on his writing style and the themes and commitments that span his books and subjects. How does Burleigh use words to invoke strong emotional responses in readers? What can we learn about writing and the writing process from this author?

How Do We Express Ourselves? “Edward wanted his paintings to show what he saw, what he felt, and who he really was.” Invite your students to use visual media to portray an aspect of who they are. While this could be a very open ended task, a concrete way to begin would be to ask students to take a digital photograph of something that is deeply meaningful to them. After students have shared and discussed these images, collaborate with your art teacher to provide children with various materials to explore and re-present their image through art they create. Another angle to explore this question would be to invite students to bring in an artifact that represents their mode of self-expression. Encourage students to consider and identify the moments when they feel most like themselves, most grounded, and most confident. What activities inspire these feelings?

Picture Book Biographies of Artists. Before or after reading Edward Hopper Paints his World, read sections of Edward Hopper: Painter of Light and Shadow, a biography for middle grade readers that is illustrated with reproductions of Hopper’s paintings. Compare and contrast these two examples of the genre of biography. Invite students to consider the role that illustrations play in conveying the life story of the subject of a picture book biography. Follow this discussion with a genre study of the picture book biography, drawing on the resources provided by the entries in the Classroom Bookshelf that feature examples of the genre. 

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Author Robert Burleigh’s Website

Illustrator Wendell Minor’s Website

Edward Hopper House Art Center

New York Times: Cape Cod in Hopper’s Light

Smithsonian Institution: An Edward Hopper Scrapbook

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Edward Hopper

Whitney Museum of American Art

MoMA: Edward Hopper


Rubin, S.G. (2007).  Edward Hopper, painter of light and shadow. New York: Abrams.

Venezia, M. (1990). Edward Hopper. [Getting to know the world’s greatest artists series.] Chicago, IL: Children’s Press.

Wolfe, G. (2006). Look! Seeing the light in art. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Picture Book Biographies of Artists:

Bryant, J. (2013). A splash of red: The life and art of Horace Pippin. Ill. by M. Sweet. New York: Knopf

Hill, L.B. (2010). Dave the Potter: Artist, poet, slave. Ill. by Bryan Collier. New York: Little Brown.

Novesky, A. (2012). Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe painted what she pleased. Ill. by Y. Morales. New York: Harcourt.

Parker, M.B. (2012). Colorful dreamer: The story of artist Henri Matisse. Ill. by H. Berry. New York: Dial.

Rosenstock, B. (2014). The noisy paint box: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art. Ill. by M. Grandpre. New York: Knopf.

Tonatiuth, D. (2011). Diego Rivera, His world and ours. New York: Abrams Books.