Monday, April 13, 2015

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
Collected by Paul Janeczko and Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Published by Candlewick in 2015

Grades 1 and Up

Book Review

Through a collection of poems that spans more than 1400 years of human language play, anthologist Paul Janeczko traces the history of poetry. A poem by Eloise Greenfield, “Things,” introduces the organizing principle for this collection, which proffers poems about objects drawn from nine different historical periods.  While Western poets predominate the collection, a limitation Janeczko acknowledges in a lengthy introduction, there is a representative sampling of poetry with Eastern origins. This title is the fourth in a series of anthologies produced through the collaboration between Janeczko and Caldecott winning artist Chris Raschka. As with the other titles, Raschka’s soft subtle watercolors provide visual support without overwhelming the poems, leaving the words open for multiple interpretations by different readers. Readers who ponder this compelling collection of words from fifty poets, some familiar to them, and some new, will surely walk away with a deeper understanding of the human experience across centuries.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades 1 and Up

What is a Poetry Anthology? Explore the form of an anthology with your students. Gather a collection of poetry anthologies; Paul Janeczko has many and you may also want to explore the collections of anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins. As students experiences these anthologies, record their observations about the texts on chart paper. What is an anthology? How are anthologies organized? What processes do anthologists follow to create a collection? If time allows, guide students through the process of creating their own anthology framed by a topic or theme of personal interest.

Writing Poetry About an Object. After reading the poems in this collection, students will be inspired to try their hand at creating a poem about an object. Should further inspiration be required, you might want to read Valerie Worth’s collection, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More or some of Pablo Neruda’s famous odes. Have students write a reflective companion piece alongside their poems that sheds light on their thinking about every day objects and how they place value on them in new ways. Does writing about objects inspire gratitude or an appreciation for simplicity? A new understanding of beauty in unlikely places? After drafting, revising, and publishing their poems, students can create illustrations for an anthology of their work.

Poetry Aloud. Poetry is an art form that begs to be performed. Invite your students to select a poem from the collection to memorize and perform. Listen to audio clips of poets reading their own poems for inspiration, noticing how the poets use pacing, expression, and volume to more deeply convey the meaning they find in the poem. Older students may enjoy hearing peers discuss their poetry performances on the website Poetry Out Loud. Schedule an opportunity for your students to perform their poems for an audience.

Photography Inspired by Poetry. Poets invite us to look closer, to see the world from new angles. This re-envisioning process can also be inspired through the medium of photography. Invite your students to select one of the objects in these poems. Provide students with digital cameras or tables with photo capabilities. Students can experiment with light, shadow, and angle to capture a unique and meaningful perspective on the object they chose to depict. Display students photos along with copies of the poems by which they were inspired.

Grades 3 and Up

What Has Changed? What Remains the Same? The poems in this anthology were authored over a span of 1400 years. Invite your students to read the collection with an ear for patterns and disruptions across time periods, engaging with the question of what has changed over time and what remains the same. Chart students answers to these questions, asking them to cite evidence from the poems to support their statements. What can students learn about the human experience through this analysis?

More About the Poets. In his introduction to the anthology, Janeczko states that he hopes the collection will inspire readers to seek out more poems by the included poets. You can encourage this exploration by providing your students with additional information about several of the poets featured in the collection who are the subject of well written picture book biographies (see the books about Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Basho, Pablo Neruda, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes listed in the Further Explorations section as examples). If you have more time, extend this study into a genre study of the picture book biography using books about the included poets and others. What techniques do authors and illustrators of picture book biographies about poets use to represent their subjects?

Framing the Collection. As an extension of the “What is an Anthology?” teaching idea above, invite older students to closely examine the structure of The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects. Students should read the introduction, discussing how this introduction serves to frame the collection. Why did Janeczko choose to place Eloise Greenfield’s poem right after the introduction? How are the different historical periods introduced and delineated within the book? How did Janeczko choose to title the anthology and how does this choice reinforce the concept / structure of the collection? Examine additional poetry anthologies in this close manner, studying the organizational and structural techniques used by anthologists.

Timeline of Artistic Styles. Use this anthology as a launching point for a study of artists’ styles and artistic movements across the century. Create a large digital or physical timeline that includes the time periods addressed in the anthology. Guide students to explore what was happening in music, visual arts, and dance during each of these historical periods. Represent these art forms on the timeline. Invite students to look for continuity and disruptions in the arts forms of each time period. You may want to collaborate with the art and music specialists an your school to carry out this activity.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Paul B. Janeczko

Paul Janeczko and Island Readers and Writers

Poetry Out Loud

Educator Guide for the Janeczko / Raschka  Anthologies

Lee Bennett Hopkins

Poetry Foundation - Children's poetry

Academy of American Poets

The Poetry Archive

The Children's Poetry Archive


Bober, N. (2013). Papa is a poet: A story about Robert Frost. Ill. by R. Gibbon. Henry Holt.

Brown, M. (2011). Pablo Neruda: Poet of the people. Ill. by. J. Paschkis. Henry Holt.

Bryant, J. (2008). A river of words: The story of William Carlos Williams. Ill. by M. Sweet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Janeczko, J.B. (2014). Firefly July: A year of very short poems. Ill. by M. Sweet. Candlewick Press.

Janeczko, J.B. (2009). A foot in the mouth: Poems to speak, sing, and shout. Ill. by C. Raschka. Candlewick Press.

Janeczko, J.B. (2005). A kick in the head: An everyday guide to poetic forms. Ill. by C. Raschka. Candlewick Press.

Janeczko, J.B. (2001). A poke in the I: A collection of concrete poetry. Ill. by C,. Raschka. Candlewick Press.

Kerley, B. (2004). Walt Whitman: Words for America. Ill. by B. Selznik. Scholastic Press.

Medina, T. (2002). Love to Langston. Ill. by R.G. Christie. Lee & Low Books.

Yolen, J. (2009). My uncle Emily. Ill. by N. Carpenter. Philomel Books.

Spivak, D. (1997). Grass sandals: The travels of Basho. Ill. by Demi. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Worth, V. (1994). All the small poems and fourteen more. Ill. by N. Babbitt. Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat
Written by Emily Jenkins, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Published by Schwartz and Wade, 2015

ISBN 978-0-375-86832-0

Grades 2-6

Book Review
Is it possible to taste the past? Readers of A Fine Dessert may be able to do just that. After reading about four different families eating the same dessert, spread out over four different moments within a three-hundred year span, curious readers will be prompted to consider where food comes from, how it is prepared, and by whom.  Most likely, they will also hunger for a taste of Blackberry Fool, the featured dessert that has its origins in the Renaissance. The book provides examples of changes in food technology, preparation, and refrigeration. Starting in England in 1710 and ending in San Diego, California, the book also showcases changes in family and social structures, moving from the wealthy to the middle class, from slaves preparing food for white owners in the 19th century to mixed-race families and multicultural dinners in the early 21st.  Back matter includes valuable information about the history of Blackberry Fool and the author's and illustrator’s research processes, as well as a recipe for the sweet treat. This fine picture book serves as a catalyst for historical exploration, a snapshot of changes in food technology, and a love song to the delights of finger-licking-good food.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K-2

Changes Over Time. Read aloud A Fine Dessert. What observations of change can your students make in the illustrations of different time periods? Categories may include: houses, furniture, technology, food, people’s roles, and clothing. Document their thinking on chart paper. Have students do some picture writing about making dinner in their home. Who cooks? Who helps? Where does the food come from?

Grades K-Up

Cooking in Your Family. Have students interview family members about recipes that have stood the test of time in their own families. Who in the class cooks or bakes with older generations in their families? What is the story of those recipes that they make by hand alongside their family members? Where did the recipe come from? How long has it been in their family? Create a class cookbook in homage to those generational recipes and make copies for everyone in class. Each student can write/draw/dictate why the recipe is important to them, why they chose it, and what they learned by talking to their family members about it. 

Grades 2 and Up

Lenses on History. Pictures books can offer readers a unique window into the process of “doing” history. Read aloud the narrative of A Fine Dessert aloud with your students, and ask them to name what the author’s purpose was in writing the book. Next, ask them to consider what questions the illustrator may have had as she worked on the book. Read aloud the Author’s Note and the Illustrator’s Note. Explore Sophie Blackall's blog entries on researching and illustrating the book. Compare their actual questions with the questions your students developed.  Next, in the Duet Model, read Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, written by Deborah Hopkinson. Ask students what they think her author’s purpose was, and that of the illustrator. Through discussion, tease out how each book gives us a different lens for looking at history, one through a single “product” over time, and one through the interpretation of a single moment.

Growing Blackberries. Have students explore the four locations on Google Earth: Lyme, England; Charleston, South Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; and San Diego, California. Can blackberries grow in all four locations? What are the similarities and differences in their climates? Next, explore whether or not blackberries grow where you live. Have them also research the way that blackberries spread as they grow. What are some of the ways that they see this growth as beneficial? What are some of the ways that it can be problematic? If possible, bring a blackberry stalk, thorns and all, into class, and be sure to look at lots of pictures, too (local ones, if you can). Because blackberry bushes spread out over time, have students compose a four-part drawing to demonstrate the growth and spread of a blackberry bush, perhaps drawing a picture of an imaginary backyard every two years.

Graphing Whipped Cream. How hard is it to make whipped cream by hand? Bring in several wooden whisks (if you can find them), metal whisks, hand-held metal beaters, and one electric beater. Have students document the time it takes to make whipped cream using each ingredient (milk versus cream) and tool. Were they as efficient as the children in the book? Compare and contrast the times. Finally, have students in small groups create a graph to represent the times and tools visually. Since you have all that whipped cream, make a big batch of Blackberry Fool and store it in the school’s refrigerator until it is ready to eat.

Illustrating the Renaissance. In the Author's Note, Emily Jenkins reveals that Blackberry Fool is one of the oldest desserts in Western Culture, with its origins in the Renaissance. What was it like to make it then? What did kitchens and houses in Renaissance England of the 16th and 17th centuries look like? What did people wear? Who did the cooking? Have your students research Renaissance England and have them create the two illustrations for 1510 and 1610 that could precede the one for 1710 at the start of the book. 

Grades 4 and Up

Cod and Cream. Using the Duet model, follow a read aloud of A Fine Dessert with small group explorations of The Cod’s Tale by Mark Kurlansky. After completing the book, have students create presentations that compare and contrast the differences in technology used to process and/or cook food in each text. How has technology changed how and what people eat? What are the differences in social structures that students can trace within the two books?

Changes Over Time Revisited. Read aloud A Fine Dessert. What observations do your students see in the illustrations of different time periods? Place students in small groups that explore one category specifically, such as: houses, furniture, technology, food, people’s roles (in particular, pay attention to gender and race), and clothing. Next have students brainstorm the reasons why they think those changes may have taken place. Come together as a class to report out, and then have students write about the category that interests them the most, detailing changes more specifically. For research purposes, you might want to have copies of books from the two Lerner series listed below, which focus on change over time.

Writing Recipes. How have recipes changed over time? Cookbooks and recipes are a relatively new phenomenon. Explain to students the ways in which cooking was for centuries something learned only by doing and observing, not from cookbooks or written recipes. Have students explore some recipes from the first “best-selling” cookbook in England and the United States, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery. Next, using the resources from LeMoyne University’s Library, have students explore recipes from 19th and 20th century cookbooks. Finally, have some current cookbooks available in print, webpages bookmarked from popular food sites, and perhaps some food columns from your local paper. Have students try to find similar recipes or recipes that use the same ingredient over the different time periods. Next, have them write an article that compares and contrast the ingredients, methods, technology, and time required to make the recipe.  Be sure to have them also reflect on the writing style of the recipes. How formal or familiar is the “voice” of the recipe? At what points were they confused as readers, and how is that connected to the author’s assumption of prior knowledge on the part of the reader?

Food Memoirs. A Fine Dessert celebrates a beloved food. What foods do your students love? What foods do they relish eating? Have each student write a food memoir that focuses on imagery. Make sure they incorporate the five senses. What does the food look like? Taste like? Feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Perhaps you can have students conduct research at home by eating the food and taking careful notes. Students could even record themselves eating on cell phone cameras, so that they can “mine” the video for details. If you are concerned that too many students would not be able to document their eating at home, due to food scarcity, bring in school-sanctioned food, and create food stations based on the food type. Have students take notes on the five senses at each, and then write their “food memoir” of eating the food. One could even do this exercise using lunch served at your school cafeteria. Students could take notes over several days, documenting what they eat, taking pictures, and writing down their descriptions.

Critical Literacy

Gendered Cooking. In the Author’s Note, Emily Jenkins discusses the ways in which food preparation and cooking in the home has historically been the domain of women. Have students carefully document the gender roles they see at work in this picture book. In each time period, who cooks? Who serves? Next, have some students interview adults in your school community about who did the cooking in their childhood home and who does the cooking in their current home. Have other students interview fellow students about who does the cooking in their current home. Compare and contrast the data gathered, and have students do some research about current trends in home cooking.  Use the digital databases available to you through your school or local library to locate articles on family eating in America. You might also have them explore The Family Dinner project.  Have students put together presentations, in a format of their choice, in which they report out their findings on who is cooking at home in America today. What do they see happening to family dinner by the time they are adults?

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Emily Jenkins

Sophie Blackall

19th and 20th Century Cookbooks, Lemoyne University Library

Hannah Glasse, 1774, The Art of Cookery

Food Timeline

Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project

The Family Dinner Project


Boothroyd, J. (2012). [Lightening Bolt Books: Comparing Past and Present]. Lerner Publications.

Goodman, S. (2004). On this spot: An expedition through time. Il. By L. Christensen. Greenwillow Books.

Hopkinson, D. (2008). Abe Lincoln crosses a creek: A tall, thin tale.  Ill. by J. Hendrix. Schwartz and Wade.

Karas, B. G.. (2014). As an oak tree grows. Nancy Paulsen Books.

Kurlansky, M. (2001). The cod’s tale. Ill. by S. D. Schindler. Putnam’s Books.

Nelson, R. (2003). [First Step Nonfiction: Then and Now]. Lerner Publications. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
Edited by Elizabeth Hammill; Illustrated by over 70 acclaimed artists
Published by Candlewick Press, 2015
ISBN #978-0763677299

Grades PreK and up

Book Review

Listen carefully, and you’ll notice there are “tiny masterpieces of verse” all around us. Celebrate this observation (and April as National Poetry Month) with Over the Hills and Far Away, where 150 childhood nursery rhymes abound in this colorful compilation, edited by Elizabeth Hammill and illustrated by over 70 different artists. This is no ordinary collection of jump-rope chants, riddles, finger games, lullabies, and just fun nonsensical rhymes. While it may initially seem like an eclectic collection, Hammill’s acuity as an editor becomes clear as we see rhymes purposefully juxtaposed with each other in very clever ways. Sometimes a rhyme is matched with its counterpart from another culture: did you know “Little Miss Muffet” has English, Jamaican, American, and Australian versions? Other times, paired rhymes share stylistic similarities (tongue-twisters featuring Peter Piper and Betty Botter comprise a double-page spread). The illustrations are likewise globally diverse and inspired, provided by acclaimed artists including Emily Gravett, Eric Carle, Jon Klassen, Jerry Pinkney, Nina Crews, and many others. Useful back matter includes information about each illustrator, an index of first lines, and a list of sources. A stunning and surefire hit among students and teachers alike, with dozens of possibilities for instructional application, this may perhaps be the ultimate classroom nursery rhyme collection.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Shared Reading. Keep this volume close at hand to read its poems aloud throughout National Poetry Month and the rest of the school year. Select children’s favorites to rewrite on sentence strips to post in a pocket chart. Keep the lines of the poem whole on the sentence strips or cut them into individual word cards so that students can reassemble the poem from memory using letter/sound or sight word cues.

Rimes and Rhymes. Use the nursery rhymes in this volume as authentic texts for word study of rimes and rhymes. When teaching students about a particular rhyme sound, have them also find examples from the poems that show the various rimes that spell that sound (e.g., -ale and –ail, -oon and -une). Have them do this individually or in small groups, focusing on one rhyme sound at a time. You might want to photocopy certain poems from the book and arm students with highlighters, or rewrite some poems on large chart paper and have students circle the rimes during whole-class interactive reading sessions. Then, challenge them to come up with more rimes on their own to match a particular rhyme sound.

Nursery Rhymes Across the Ages. Hammill’s collection is wonderfully multicultural in its inclusion of nursery rhymes. Because of their oral tradition, what’s also interesting about nursery rhymes is that they often undergo various iterations across different generations. Have students ask family and community members across different generations about all the nursery rhymes that were popular when they were children, including riddles, lullabies, and playground rhymes. Have them transcribe these rhymes and display them before the class to compare and contrast them. You might even invite students’ family and community members to visit your class and recite some of the nursery rhymes from their childhood for the class.

Be the Editor. If your students were to gather a collection of their favorite poems, how might they purposefully arrange them into a book? Teach students the analytic and organizational skills needed to be an editor of a volume of collected works. Use Over the Hills and Far Away as a mentor text, explicitly discussing with students how Elizabeth Hammill thought carefully not just about which nursery rhymes to include, but also how to group and juxtapose them to convey more meaning than they poems themselves do. You might also want to use the poetry collections edited by Paul Janeczko, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Chris Raschka. Ask the school or local library to display the class volume for others to reflect upon and peruse.

Illustrating Poetry. Over the Hills and Far Away has a unique illustration for each of its poems. Have your class study the illustrations, using a reference like Molly Bang's Picture This to understand how line, color, composition, and other artistic principles enhance the meaning of a written text. Then have each of your students gather a few of their favorite nursery rhymes and apply those principles to illustrate the rhymes. Have each student create an anthology of their illustrated rhymes, or have small groups individually illustrate the same rhyme, then compare and discuss their different illustrative interpretations create a class anthology or bulletin board that showcases the variety of selected nursery rhymes and illustrations.

Illustrator Studies. The celebration of illustrators in this book invites readers to compare and contrast the artwork of the contributors. Have your students spend time examining the illustrations in this book and then, individually or in small groups, select an illustrator to study more closely. Help them gather a variety of that illustrator's books to survey the artwork in it. What characterizes the illustrator's artistic style? Are there any idiosyncrasies particular to that illustrator? What is his or her favorite media to use? You may want to refer to the illustrator compilation by Eric Carle, Artist to Artist, and consult your local librarian, the Internet, and other biographical sources to answer these questions. You might also have students look at the books What’s Your Favorite Animal? and Nursery Rhyme Comics. which also brings together celebrated children’s illustrators. Then, have students try their hand at illustrating their favorite nursery rhyme in the style of the illustrator they studied.

Reading Buddies and Poetry Month. Have your older elementary students read aloud some of the poems in Over the Hills and Far Away with their primary grade reading buddies. Have them take notes on their reading buddies’ reactions to the poems, and then compare and contrast with one another. What do their reading buddies think of the poems and illustrations in this book? As a component of this exercise, you might want to have the older students work with their reading buddies in jointly authoring and illustrating short poems.

Nursery Rhyme Origins
. Many of these verses have origins that go back for centuries; others for perhaps only decades. In the book’s introduction, Hammill notes these rhymes “have outlasted their origins as street cries, folk songs, political satire, remnants of custom and proverb and have been polished into perfect form over time.” Engage students in inquiry projects that research the origins of one or several of these nursery rhymes. What are the differences between the rhyme and its origins? Why do you think it changed across time? How were topics treated, and what perspectives on them were given power.? Besides helping them conduct research online, have them work with the school or local librarian to find other sources of information. Be warned, though, that some of these rhymes do have dark origins, so you may want to do this research on your own ahead of time.

Further Explorations

Online Resources 

Nursery rhyme websites

Benefits of reading nursery rhymes

Origins of nursery rhymes


Ada, A. F., & Campob, F. I. (Eds.). (2003). Pio peep! Trans. by A. Schertle, Ill. by V. Escrivá. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Carle, E., & others. (2007). Artist to artist: 23 major illustrators talk to children about their art. New York: Philomel.

Carle, E., & others. (2014). What’s your favorite animal? New York: Henry Holt and Co. 

Chorao, K. (2009). Rhymes 'round the world. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers.

Crews, N. (2003). The neighborhood Mother Goose. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Crews, N. (2011). The neighborhood sing-along. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Duffy, C. (Ed.) (2011). Nursery rhyme comics. Ill. by various artists. New York: First Second.

Hallworth, G. (Ed.). (2011). Down by the river: Afro-Caribbean rhymes, games, and songs for children. Ill. by C. Binch. London, UK: Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

Henderson, K. (Ed.). (2011). Hush, baby, hush!: Lullabies from around the world. Ill. by P. Smy. London, UK: Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

Sierra, J. (Ed.) (2012). Schoolyard rhymes. Ill. by M. Sweet. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Echo: A Novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Echo: A Novel
Written by Pam Munoz Ryan
Published in 2015 by Scholastic

Grades 3-8

Book Review

Pam Muñoz Ryan, acclaimed author of Esperanza Rising and The Dreamer, has merged fairy tale with historical fiction in her beautifully crafted new novel Echo. Dinara Mirtalipova’s intricate black-and-white illustrations signal the fairy tale beginning, where we meet a boy lost in the woods. Three enchanted women give him a harmonica. This seemingly simple instrument carries the women’s deepest hopes which echoes those we all share—“to be free, to be loved, and to belong somewhere.” We are then swept across time and place through narratives woven together by the ethereal-sounding harmonica. We are taken to Nazi Germany, Depression-era Pennsylvania, Southern California during World War II, and finally to Carnegie Hall in New York City. We meet characters that experience heart aching struggle but ultimately triumph in the face of discrimination—Friedrich, a boy with a facial deformity living in Nazi Germany who composes music in his mind, Mike and Frankie Flannery, orphaned brothers during the Great Depression who find a home in piano playing, and Ivy Lopez, a Mexican-American girl whose musical talents make her feel noticed even when she is placed in a disadvantaged, segregated school. As the title suggests, each character’s story echoes the one that came before it, revealing stories of fear, loneliness, and human atrocity. Even more powerful though, are the echoes of hope, joy, and beauty that reverberate throughout this book through the power of music. Ideal for a class read-aloud, literature club, or independent reading, this book will grab students and offers an education in music and history alongside a captivating multilayered story.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:

Grades 2 – 8

Genre Blending. In Echo, Pam Muñoz Ryan uses a fairytale to bookend the historical fiction heart of the story. Reread the beginning and ending sections of the book with students, noticing common elements of fairy tales such as magic, repetition of threes, royalty, and good versus evil. Consider why Pam Muñoz Ryan would begin and end in this way emphasizing the ways magic could offer an opportunity to rewrite history during times of intolerance and discrimination. Next, support students to reread one of the four historical fiction sections of the novel noting historical details woven within the fictional narratives. Support students as historians to notice details about the people, places, and time periods represented by each section. What themes do students notice echoed across the historical fiction sections of the text that are universal human themes?  Finally, support students to do some genre blending in their own writing such as weaving fairy tale with fiction or fantasy with informational texts.

Closely Reading Characters. Throughout the book, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are brought to life through the powerful language choices Ryan makes. We feel their pain, self-doubt, and worry and leap for their successes. Support students to zoom in on one character tracking their feelings, inner thoughts, challenges, and courage throughout the story. In what ways do these characters teach us about vulnerability? Hope? Community? Support students to zoom in even more closely by finding sentences that they feel best portray each character. What do they notice about Ryan’s lyrical use of language and word choice? In what ways can they apply Ryan’s craft techniques to their own narrative texts?

Studying Character’s Voice.  Each of the main characters has a strong and compelling voice. Have students select one character and then find passages that reveal pivotal moments in that character’s life. Next, have students to create audiorecordings in the character’s voice. What emotion do they want to project? What should they do with their voices to convey this?  Compile the audiorecordings into a podcast for other classes to listen to and comment on.

The Language of Music. Music itself travels in many directions throughout the novel as seen across the characters’ stories as they come to own the harmonica. Start an anchor chart with students to track the new language and knowledge they gain about music. Have students keep their own music glossaries that they add to as they are reading Echo. Support student to research what musical terms mean online, through books about music, and by interviewing musical members of the community such as the school’s music teacher.

A Seemingly Simple Symbol. The harmonica. It’s an instrument that young children can pick up and play. Not often seen as a powerful sound-making machine, the harmonica becomes the star of this book, redefining how we think about this seemingly simple instrument. Consider with students why Ryan would select the harmonica as the instrument of choice for all of the characters to play. Introduce the term symbolism and consider the ways in which the harmonica means more to the story than simply being a tool for the delivery of sound. Read, view, and learn about the real Albert N. Hoxie Philadelphia Harmonica Band referenced throughout Mike Flannery’s chapters as well as the rise and fall of harmonica ensembles in America. Listen with students to the work of musicians known for their harmonica playing including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springstein (See Resources below). If possible, reach out to community partnerships to support your own students as harmonica players to experience the sounds and beauty of the harmonica for themselves. Have students compare and contrast their thoughts on the harmonica based on the ways various artists use the instrument.

Historical Fiction Text Sets.  Pam Muñoz Ryan has chosen some of the most devastating moments in history to portray through Echo. Support students in research teams to learn more about one of the central time periods explored in the novel: Nazi Germany, The Great Depression, School Segregation in the 1940s, and the Japanese Internment Camps of World War II.  Pair Echo with other unforgettable novels and picture books that capture these historical time periods including The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Harmonica by Tony Johnston, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan , Moon over Manifest by Clare VaderpoolSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, So Far from the Sea by Eve Bungin, and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki.

Author Review. Pam Muñoz Ryan is the author of Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi León, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind, and TheDreamer. Support students to read across her novels noticing common themes about human struggle, identity, discrimination and freedom as well as specific ways she draws from earlier work in the creation of characters in Echo. Pair students as author reviewers writing brief summaries of the books they have read, opinions of her work, and recommendations for other readers who would enjoy her writing style. Share The Classroom Bookshelf along with book reviews from The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, and the School Library Journal to discuss craft techniques for how to write a review.

Critical Literacy

Discrimination Across Time and Place. Central to the book is the theme of discrimination. Consider with students the ways in which each of the main characters, as well as secondary characters, are discriminated against based on their life circumstances, race, ethnicity, religion, or family structure. Discuss with students the ways in which discrimination takes shape in their own lives or in the lives of people they know. Have students comb digital pages of national newspapers for evidence of discrimination. What actions can they take to counter discriminatory statements and actions by others? If the harmonica traveled to a modern day character who would they be and what would their story have to teach us about understanding? Consider pairing students or using the method of shared writing to craft a new final chapter that takes place today. In what ways could the harmonica bring harmony to communities that are actively fighting against discrimination?

Online Resources

Author’s Site

Illustrator’s Site

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Book Talk About Echo

Pam Muñoz Ryan on Writing Historical Fiction

New York Times Book Review

Harmonica Gallery including Albert N. Hoxie’s Philadelphia Harmonica Band and Philip Sousa’s Harmonica Wizard March

Harmonica Solos

History of the Harmonica Trailer

Classroom Bookshelf Entry for Southern California Mexican-American School Segregation Resources

Children of Japanese Internment Camps

National Archives on Japanese Relocation During WWII

Bunting, E. (1989). Terrible things: An allegory of the Holocaust. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia, PA.

Bunting, E. (1998). So far from the sea. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Johnston, T. (2008). The harmonica. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Mochizuki, K. (1993). Baseball saved us. New York: Lee and Low Books.

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