Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Mary Ann, Erika, Grace, and Katie at The Classroom Bookshelf. We will be back next week, offering a few more favorites from 2015 before the year ends.  We are grateful for the work we do, and the opportunity to share it with you and your students.

If you are looking for a read aloud for these next few days before the holiday, you might find our entry for Melissa Stewart's Balloons Over Broadway of interest. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-in-the-Bayou Story

Written by Caroline Starr Rose
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

Published by Schwartz and Wade Books, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-449-81016-3

Grades K-8

Book Review
"Over in the wetlands/where the silky mist weaves,/Dragonfly lights on a slender reed." In the Louisiana bayou, crabs also "scuttle in swells" and "spoonbills stalk." However, this peaceful setting does not remain so for long; on the first page of Over in the Wetlands, we learn that "[g]entle as a whisper too soft to hear,/a faint breeze hints that a storm draws near." Rose's lyrical narrative about the arrival of a hurricane in the bayou borrows some of the forms and structures from "Over in the Meadow," the 19th century nursery rhyme, but not its playful mood. This deceptively simple fictional picture book envelopes readers in word and image. Rose's rich language utilizes similes, metaphors, alliteration and imagery to paint a portrait of the bayou and the animals within it. For example, "the wind stirs moss like silent bells." Dunlavey's glorious watercolor, pen and ink, and collage illustrations skillfully present the range of habitats within the ecosystem of the bayou. Through his use of color, line, and perspective, the reader experiences the full arrival and impact of the hurricane, as well as the peace that follows in its wake. An author's note provides important information about wetlands in general and the Mississippi Delta in particular, as well as several digital resources to explore; a "More About the Animals in This Book" section extends readers' knowledge of the animals introduced in the book. There is no full bibliography revealing the sources used by both the author and illustrator to create the book. Over in the Wetlands will leave adults and children alike thinking about language, wetlands, hurricanes, and habitats; the book is ideal for exploration in language arts, science, and social studies, as well as art.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K-Up

Imagery: How does imagery allow us to better understand what the author wants us to see? Read aloud Over in the Wetlands but don't show your students the illustrations. Have students take notes, jotting down what they see in their mind's eye. You may need to read the text twice. In small groups or pairs, have students compare and contrast the visual details they hear. Have students illustrate what they see in their mind's eye based on what they heard using colored pencils or crayons. Compare and contrast their illustrations in their pairs or small groups. Finally, read aloud the book revealing the pictures. To what extent do their illustrations match some of the content of Dunlavey's illustrations? Have them discuss the role that the language played in painting a picture.

Similes and Metaphors. Read aloud Over in the Wetlands. Next, have students pour over the book in small groups and identify similes and metaphors. Depending on whether or not you have already explored these literary elements, you may need to use the examples on the first page of the text as a starting point for an explanation. Have students share out the similes and metaphors that they have identified. Next, have them write and illustrate their own sentences that contain a simile or a metaphor.

Grades 2 and Up

Matching Content and Artistic Choices: Meadowlands and Over in the Wetlands Duet. Have your students read both Over in the Wetlands and Tom Yazerski's Meadowlands. Using a graphic organizer of your choice, have students compare and contrast the information that they learn about wetlands in each book. Next, have them consider the use of watercolors in the illustrations of each. What does water color accomplish compared to other media? Next, have students research another time of ecosystem and have them write and illustrate their own texts. Have students include an artist's note that discusses why their choice of medium is appropriate for that particular ecosystem.

Science Content: Who Lives in the Wetlands? Give students a graphic organizer that lists "Animals" on one side and "Ecosystem" on the other. As you read the book aloud, have students document the different animals that live in the bayou as well as the different plants and trees that grow there. Using the digital resources below, have students in small groups compare and contrast the animals and plants in this wetlands with the animals and plants in a wetland located in another part of the United States. What's similar? What's different? Why? Next, take a field trip to a local wetlands, either salt or freshwater, to identify who lives there and what grows there. Make sure to bring clipboards, tablets or digital cameras, and wildlife identification guides or apps so that students can begin to apply what they have learned in a more authentic hands-on context.  Have your class work together to create a wetland mural of your local wetlands to demonstrate their learning and educate others in your school community.

Teaching Vocabulary: Great Verbs.  In Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (2002), Beck, McKeown, and Kucan discuss how valuable it is to take an accessible text with rich vocabulary and use it as the basis for authentic vocabulary instruction. On your own or with your teaching team, review the many rich verbs used in Over in the Wetlands, such as:  pelting, frothing, churns, snarls, and grumbles. Create kid-friendly definitions to use with your students, and use this book to launch a discussion of interesting verbs. Have students writing short vignettes using some of these interesting verbs.

Science and Literacy: Writing about Weather. After reading the book together, ask your students what they know about hurricanes. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, your students may know a lot about hurricanes. If not, read Melissa Stewart's Hurricane Watch. If you work with older students, use Seymour Simon's Hurricanes and/or some of the digital resources listed below instead. Discuss how the author and the illustrator conveyed an understanding of the hurricane to the reader through words and images. Next, have students research a weather event of their choosing, such as a blizzard or drought. Have them use their new knowledge to create a fictional picture book that demonstrates what animals do to survive that weather experience, to showcase their adaptation to their environment. Share these books with younger members of your school community if possible.

Grades 3 and Up 

Social Studies and Science Reading Duet and Persuasive Writing: Experiencing a Hurricane in the Louisiana Bayou. Read Over in the Wetlands aloud to your class, and have students list all the ways in which the animals and the other living things in the ecosystem (water, trees, reeds and grasses) weather the storm. How are they adapted for survival in such a storm? Next, read aloud the fictional picture book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen. What are some of the ways that humans have altered their environment to help them survive hurricanes? What ways have human impact made the environment less safe during a hurricane? What are some of the strategies humans use to weather the storm? Are humans less able to survive the storm than the surrounding animals, and why? Have your students consider these questions and perhaps write a persuasive piece arguing who is better able to withstand a hurricane, humans or animals.

Social Studies and Science: Altering the Mississippi Delta. The author's note of Over in the Wetlands details the very specific ways in which the Mississippi Delta has been damaged by human industry. What missteps have we taken in altering the Misssissippi Delta? Have students explore some of the digital resources listed below. What is the damage that has been done? What are the implications of that damage for people and animals living far beyond the Delta? What are some of the ways that scientists and local communities are trying to restore the wetlands? What else needs to happen? Have students research in small groups and create plans for preventing further destruction of these important wetlands. You might want to add a local connection here. What is happening in your local wetlands? How is it impacting the safety and health of your community? What needs to be done to protect your wetlands?

Bibliograhies: As Necessary in Fiction as Nonfiction? Over in the Wetlands is a work of fiction; the publisher has labeled it as such, and the event is a composite of what could happen during a hurricane. But this isn't a work of fiction that just conveys a set of experiences. It is really informative. When we read fiction, we often do so in order to be transported into a fictional character's "lived" experiences; we explore characterization and plot, we take pleasure in literary elements that add beauty to the work. But to what extent do we expect to learn information from fiction? And if fiction is "informational fiction," to what extent should the reader expect a bibliograhy of source material in the same way s/he does when reading nonfiction? Should all fiction that involves research - contemporary realistic, historical fiction, and science fiction - have a bibliography? Is it problematic that Over in the Wetlands does not have a full bibliography? Have your students debates this issue, and then put their beliefs into practice in their own writing over the course of the year.

Grades 5 and Up 

Critical Literacy 

Endanged Wetlands Outside the Narrative. The author of this picture book chose to write a story that provides a "window" into the ways in which animals in the bayou have adapted to survive a hurricane. Hurricanes are dangerous and violent storms, and animals' ability to survive such extreme weather is noteworthy and fascinating. However, in the author's note, Rose reveals that over one third of the endangered species in the United States live in wetlands; our wetlands are disappearing rapidly due to development. Why did the author choose to include this information? Why is it in the afterward and not the primary narrative? Why write a relatively simple book about a hurricane when the very subject of the book, and the creatures that live within it, are in jeopardy? How would this book be different if she did not include that information at all?  Explore the links included in the author's note, as well as other digital resources and books listed below in order to learn more about wetlands. Students can create podcasts to share with younger members of your school community, and/or to educate members of your larger community to take action and preserve nearby wetlands.

Further Explorations 

Online Resources

Caroline Rose Starr

Rob Dunlavey

Wetlands Resources

Environmental Protection Agency: Wetlands

America's Wetland Foundation

Defenders of Wildlife: Wetlands

World Wildlife Foundation: Wetlands

National Wildlife Federation: What is a Wetland?

The New York Times: Wetlands

Louisiana-Specific Wetlands Resources

NPR: "In Louisiana, Rebuilding Mother Nature's Storm Protection: A Living Coast"

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper

Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act

Restore the Mississippi River Delta


National Hurricane Center, NOAA

Hurricanes, FEMA

NASA: Hurricanes

Hurricanes, National Geographic

PBS, Nova: Hurricanes and Climate Change

Live Science: Hurricanes

Hurricanes, New York Times Topic

Hurricane Katrina, New York Times Topic

Miami Museum of Science: "Hurricanes"



Benoit, P. (2011). Wetlands. Scholastic.

Sill, C. (2008). Wetlands. Ill. by J. Sill.  Peachtree.

Weaver, J. (2007). Wetlands Journey.  National Geographic.

Yezerski, T. (2011). Meadowlands. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux.


Simon, S. (2007). [Smithsonian]. Hurricanes. Collins.

Stewart, M. (2015). [Let's Read and Find Out]. Hurricane watch. Ill. by T. Morley. Harper Collins.

Zelch, P. (2010). Ready, set, wait. What animals do before a hurricane. Sylvan Dell Publishing.

Hurricane Katrina 

Watson, R. (2010). A place where hurricanes happen. Ill. by S. Strickland. Random House.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries
Written by Christa Holtei; Illustrated by Gerda Raidt
Published by Charlesbridge, 2015
ISBN # 978-1-58089-630-6

Grades K and up

Book Review

     Immigration stories have been told before in picture books, so when the invitation to “take a closer look at an immigrant family’s journey” (p. 7) is extended in the first pages of this book, one might wonder what is different or new about this one. The answer is: a lot. In In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries, the author and illustrator team of Holtei and Raidt chronicle the developments of the fictional Peters family as they emigrate from Germany to America in 1869 and endeavor to build a homestead in the Midwest. Then they spring forward 150 years to tell about the Peterses’ contemporary descendants who seek to return to Germany to explore their ancestral home. It’s a tale of looking forward and looking back, emphasizing both the trials of building a life and home in a new place and the charge of learning from and experiencing a bit from the past in a place that seems just as unfamiliar. Holtei’s text is straightforward and compelling, providing enough intriguing facts and details to make the Peterses’ story an engrossing blend of fiction and nonfiction. We learn, for example, about what the Peters family feared and hoped alongside what they packed for the journey, how they built their home, what they ate. Raidt’s pencil and watercolor illustrations render an upbeat outlook on the family’s journeys without trivializing the challenges involved. In the New World is a vibrant addition to any picture book collection for immigration units of study, inspiring much to talk about and explore.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Family Immigration Stories. Ask students to locate an immigration story within their families, whether it be their own or an extended relative's. They might also need to go back a few generations to find someone who knows the story of an ancestor's immigration. As a class, have students list the questions they would want to know about those immigration stories. Use those questions to create general questions that your students could ask to learn as many details about the story as possible. If family members aren’t available to ask, perhaps family friends or neighbors are. Students may want to record those interviews on smartphones or iPads. Have each student write a narrative based on the interview, and use either photographs or their own original creations as illustrations. A fun visual extension activity would be to mark where each immigration story originated on a large class map. You might also want to integrate these activities with NPR StoryCorps' Great Thanksgiving Listen Project, which asks students to record an interview with a grandparent or elder to contribute to a large-scale oral history project.

Multiple Ethnicities, Multiple Families, Multiple Stories. As made clear via Raidt’s illustrations, the modern-day Peters family is a multi-ethnic one. Learning about their German ancestors provides them with only part of their family's stories. Offer students the option to explore the individual parts of their family's stories, not just the most recent or most prominent. For example, a student might investigate her great-grandmother’s Hawaiian heritage along with her stepfather’s Icelandic roots. Another student might explore the two different regions of Brazil where his parents were born. Use and adapt some of the activities described in the previous teaching invitation on family immigration stories to support students’ investigations.

Extracting a Day in the Life - Historical Fiction and Contemporary Realistic Fiction. The combined specificity of detail provided in Holtei’s text and Raidt’s illustrations is a nice balance of offering just enough information and leaving just enough to the imagination for readers. To extend students’ skills at writing historical fiction, have them select a part of the Peterses’ immigration experience and narrate the events of that day. To extend their contemporary realistic fiction writing skills, have them select a part of the modern-day Peters family's visit to Germany and narrate the events of that day. Make sure what students write stays true to the facts provided in the book, but encourage them to also creatively speculate and incorporate facts from other resources and reference materials about the immigration experience.

Immigration via Other Points of Entry. Most people may associate Ellis Island and Angel Island as the key stations for immigration into America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the Peterses entered the country via New Orleans, a city not often known for its role in the immigration movement during that time. Have students research more about New Orleans and other lesser recognized places as a port of entry for immigrants to America, such as Boston, San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Savannah. Why would people arrive there instead of Ellis Island or Angel Island? How did people arrive there? What were the immigration processing stations like? How were they similar and different to Ellis Island and Angel Island, and why? You might want to begin this research with local newspaper articles that recount its corresponding city’s immigration station history, such as this article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Visual Literacy and Storytelling. The full double-page illustrations on pp. 14-15 and pp. 32-33 depict the historical and modern-day Peters families traveling by boat to their destinations. Have students closely read these illustrations, noting what is similar and different about them. In particular, what do they notice about how these illustrations tell part of the families’ stories? What do students notice about the passengers and the spectators? What do they notice about the buildings, the boat, and the loading equipment? How do the details of the illustrations enhance the story of the Peters families?

Exploring the End Pages.
The first pair of In the New World’s end pages shows a map of the Peters family’s journey from Germany to the U.S., while the end pages at the back of the book show the Peters family’s journey from the U.S. to Germany. Notice the other details included in the maps. Have students identify them and determine why they are included. What do these details add to or emphasize in the story? What commentary do these details provide about the overall knowledge about the reasons for and effects of immigration? An extension activity might be to have students identify towns and cities across the U.S. that are named after places in other countries and create maps that showcase those places.

Critical Literacy

Historical Representations of Diverse People. Holtei and Raidt do not ignore the fact that the Peterses saw, met, and interacted with diverse populations, such as African Americans and Native Americans, throughout their immigration experience. Have students identify these moments, either in text or illustration, and consider how different groups are depicted. If the groups are described in text, from what perspective(s) are they viewed? If they appear in the illustrations, what understandings or assumptions can be derived from their actions, postures, or expressions? Have students compare and contrast the representations of different populations in other picture books about immigration. Are these representations historically accurate? Are there any instances when historical accuracy might be confused with a bias of perspective? Encourage students to consider how different authors and illustrators deal with facts, perspectives, and assumptions about the historical times they depict. You might want to refer to the website American Indians in Children's Literature, for example, for books by and about American Indians and First Nations peoples to compare and contrast experiences about Westward Expansion with what is described in picture books about American immigration.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Gerda Raidt’s website (German)

Harvard University Library Open Collections: Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930

Library of Congress: Immigration Resources for Teachers

New York Public Library Immigration Images

U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs: Immigration and U.S. History

NPR StoryCorps Great Thanksgiving Listen Project


Arnosky, J. (2006). Grandfather Buffalo. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Bial, R. (2009). Ellis Island: Coming to the land of liberty. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Currier, K.S. (2005). Kai’s journey to Gold Mountain: An Angel Island story. Angel Island Press: San Francisco.

Fleischman, P. (2013). The matchbox diary. Candlewick Press. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Johnson, A. (1990). When I am old with you. Ill. by David Soman. New York: Orchard Books.

Kim, P. (2013). Here I am. Ill. by S. Sanchez. Capstone Young Readers. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Maestro, B. (1996). Coming to America: The story of immigration. Ill. by S. Ryan. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Mortenson, L. (2009). Angel Island. Ill. by M. Skeens. Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Petricic, D. (2015). My family tree and me. Kids Can Press.

Polacco, P. (1998). The keeping quilt. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Say, A. (1993). Grandfather's journey. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Tarbesca, E. (1998). Annushka’s voyage. Ill. by L. Dabcovich. New York: Clarion Book

Yaccarino, D. (2011). All the way to America: The story of a big Italian family and a little shovel. Alfred Knopf. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree
Written by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Grades 4-8
ISBN: 978-0-399-16259-6

Book Review
“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” Meet Ally Nickerson, a sixth grade girl who has learned the art of disruptive distractions as a way of surviving the daily grind of school. Like many middle grade students, Ally has years of feeling inadequate, insecure, and inept in her history of schooling—that is, until she meets Mr. Daniels. Calling his students “Fantasticos” and challenging them with Friday thinking puzzles, Mr. Daniels represents the teacher we all want to have and that many of us strive to be. He recognizes Ally’s creativity and intellectualism and affirms in her the bright student that she has always been struggling to reveal. In Fish in a Tree we bear witness to Ally’s transformation as a student who initially believes the taunts of “loser” and “dumb” she repeatedly hears from her classmates to a student who is willing to ask for help as she comes to understand her diagnosis of dyslexia. Like her poignant debut novel One for the Murphys, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree is a powerful reminder that our identities are never fixed and that given a classroom environment grounded by care students can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their learning and in their social lives. Fish in a Tree is a welcome addition to middle grade classroom libraries as a text club selection, read-aloud, or independent reading book that is sure to inspire conversations about how to build a compassionate classroom community. This book is part of a growing collection of children’s literature that positions readers to not only acknowledge differences among peers but to act with greater empathy and understanding.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades 4-8

Thinking Metaphorically: Fish in a Tree. Discuss with students Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s selected title for the book. What are the ways in which Ally has been positioned as a fish trying to climb a tree throughout her years of schooling? How did her teachers perpetuate this model? Encourage students to talk back to schooling experiences that positioned Ally as incapable. How is Mr. Daniels different in his approach to teaching and how does this transform Ally’s understandings of herself as a learner? Support students to consider the ways in which they feel they have been positioned in school and beyond. What are times when they have felt like a fish in a tree? Have students write, draw, or orally share those moments. Next, challenge students in partnerships or small groups to craft other metaphors for feeling disenfranchised, othered, or incapable. Display their metaphors as year-long reminders of the power of positioning and the shared goals you have as a classroom community to counter those “fish in a tree” narratives.

Author Study: One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree. Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s two novels are worthy of close study using a duet read-aloud structure or in text clubs. To build student interest for either approach, initiate the author study with the sharing of book trailers (see Further Investigations below). What do students learn about the characters and plots of these stories by viewing the trailers? What similarities do they already notice between Carley Conners and Ally Nickerson from these viewing experiences? Consider ways you can support your students as close readers of multimedia by viewing and reviewing the trailers using different lenses: a personal lens (what connections or disconnections do I have to this?), a contextual lens (what do I notice about the setting and context of the story?), or a semantic lens (what does this book seem to be mostly about?). As students engage in reading one or both of the novels, support them to read as writers noticing Hunt’s use craft techniques and overlapping themes evident across both selections. Finally, support students to create collaborative book trailers themselves for one of the selections using digital storytelling techniques with consideration of framing, use of visuals, sound, and print text to reveal their collective thinking about the book.

Character Study: Compassion, Connection, Community. Ally. Mr. Daniels. Albert. Keisha. Travis. Oliver. Jessica. Even Shay. The characters in Fish in a Tree help us consider our own humanity and how caring communities are built. Engage in class discussions about which characters feel most authentic and why using questions like: Which characters live their lives compassionately? In what ways? When do characters feel connection or disconnection? And what are the ways community is built in the classroom, in Ally’s home, and in other spaces throughout the book? Have students select a character they want to focus on in a character study. Students can be supported to select passages that are defining moments for the character. Following passage selection, have students explain in writing and by speaking about why they selected particular textual moments and what they reveal about the character. Use ReadWriteThink’s Character Trading Card Creator for students to further demonstrate their knowledge about the character.

Reading with Empathy Text Set. Great literature often encourages us to rethink our own assumptions about others, to act with greater compassion, and to empathize with characters and the people we come to meet in life. Gather other middle grade texts that can support students to read with empathy and grow in their understanding of other’s diverse life experiences including Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, El Deafo by CeCe Bell, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea, Sahara Special by Esme Radji Codell, and various Joey Pigza titles by Jack Gantos.  Make this your text set of read alouds across the school year or organize students in text clubs by having them self-select the book that speaks to them the most.  Have students present book reviews of their selected stories with an emphasis on how the book encourages readers to act with empathy in their own lives.

Researching Famous Figures: Understanding Dyslexia. As Mr. Daniels comes to understand that Ally may have dyslexia he decides to share with the class famous figures that changed the world and who historians believe may have had dyslexia including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Patricia Polacco, and Whoopi Goldberg. Organize students into research teams to learn more about these famous figures and their impact on the world. Using online and library resources, develop a selection of ways for students to share with one another what they learn including poster presentations, Glogster multimedia posters, character profiles, imagined interviews, or dramatic representations. Engage in class discussions about how these figures and their impact on the world help us better understand dyslexia from an asset-perspective rather than a deficit-perspective. Further the class investigation by learning more about dyslexia from a variety of organizations including the International Dyslexia Association and The National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Outside the Box Thinking. Ally is told by Mr. Daniels that she has “outside the box thinking”. Discuss with students what they think that might mean and create either a traditional anchor chart or use a cardboard box to create a three-dimensional “chart” that lists the ways they engage in outside the box thinking. Make the chart or box interactive and ongoing by placing it in a classroom space alongside some post-its for students to add moments when they engage in outside the box thinking or when they see a classmate engaged in outside the box thinking. One way we see this in Ally is through her Sketchbook of Impossible Things where she sketches things like flying cars and flying fish, but where she also sketches seemingly impossible things about herself such as a sketch of her speaking at a podium to a room of admiring fans.  Like Ally, students can sketch their own ideas about impossible things about the world and themselves, but students can also use their sketchbooks for their own purposes such as to record what they see in nature, to sketch things from their home life, to sketch dreams they have for themselves and the world. 

Set the World on Fire Action Projects. Mr. Daniels uses the phrase “set the world on fire” to encourage his “Fantasticos” to find their own missions in life. Consider the ways in which various characters set the world on fire such as Ally running for class President, Albert standing up to the boys who repeatedly bullied him, and Jessica rejecting Shay’s group think. Encourage students to map their own thinking about the ways they already set the world on fire and how they hope to do so in the future. Students can construct timelines of moments in their lives they recognize they set the world on fire by doing something new, different, or scary. Students can use this as a running theme in personal narrative or memoir writing as they reflect on and craft stories from their own lives that have significance to their readers. Encourage students to come together to create their own action projects that strive to make the world a better place in their school or local community. Extend student learning by reading biographies about people who have “set the world on fire” in a myriad of ways including Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, and One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul. Share the book Can We Help?: Kids Volunteering to Help Their Communities written and photographed by George Ancona to show some of the ways young people are setting the world on fire in their local communities.   

Critical Literacy

Global Read Aloud Project. Created in 2010 by Pernille Ripp, a seventh grade teacher, The Global Read Aloud project is an opportunity for classrooms and readers to engage in collaborative conversations about a select group of books each school year. Since 2010, there have been more than 500,000 students that have participated in over 60 countries. One of the 2015 text selections is Fish in a Tree along with The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes as well as other middle grade novels and picture books. View the Global Read Aloud Project website with your class and view the embedded introductory video that explains the purpose and process for participating.  Part of the vision of Pernille Ripp is to have “one book connect the world”. Engage in debate as a class around whether students think that is impossible, realistic, or visionary. Do they agree with Pernille Ripp’s selections for this year? Engage in online discussion with other schools through Twitter using the #GRA2015. Finally, investigate the map of the world that represents global locations where readers have committed to the project. What do your students notice about where in the world participation is coming from? Does this correlate to places in the world where students have access to free books? To public education? What could be done to include greater global representation for communities that are underserved when it comes to public access to children’s literature?

Complicating The Discourse of Grit. Mr. Daniels helps Ally value herself by reframing dyslexia as one of the reasons why Ally has shown grit and determination in her life. The discourse on grit has been sweeping schools since research by Angela Duckworth from University of Pennsylvania and Carol Dweck from Stanford University has made its way to the public discourse around school success. View with students a variety of TED Talks on the topic of grit including Angela Duckworth’s “The Key to Success? Grit”  and Alain de Botton’s “A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success”.  Counter their perspectives with other media outlets including a range of articles from the Washington Post such as Mike Rose’s piece “Why Teaching Kids Grit Isn’t Always a Good Thing”. Engage in discussion around whose argument seems strongest? Why? What evidence does each researcher give to support their thinking? What are the dangers of overemphasizing grit over other things such as social and economic factors that influence success?  Have students complicate the discourse of grit by composing and presenting their own position statements on the role of grit in determining one’s success in school and in life. Consider having students interview family and community members to find out their positions on the topic.

Further Investigation
Online Resources

Fish in a Tree Site

Fish in a Tree Book Trailer

One for the Murphys Book Trailer

Read.Write.Think Character Trading Card Creator

Global Read Aloud Site

TED Talks on Grit

Washington Post articles on Grit

National Center for Learning Disabilities

International Center for Dyslexia


Applegate, K. (2015). Crenshaw. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.

Benjamin, A. (2015). The thing about jellyfish. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Bell, C. (2014). El deafo. New York, NY: Harry Abrams.

Buyea, R. (2011). Because of Mr. Terupt. New York, NY: Yearling.

Codell, E. (2004). Sahara special. White Plains, NY: Disney Hyperion.

Draper, S. (2012). Out of my mind. New York, NY: Antheneum Books for Young Readers.

Gantos, J. (2011). Joey Pigza swallowed the key. Bronx, NY: Square Fish. 

Hunt, L. (2013). One for the Murphys. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.

Palacio, R.J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Polacco, P. (2012). Thank you, Mr. Falker. New York, NY: Philomel Books.

Stead, R. (2015). Goodbye, stranger. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.