Monday, May 23, 2016

Diana's White House Garden

Diana’s White House Garden
Written by Elisa Carbone and Illustrated by Jen Hill
Published by Viking in 2016
ISBN 978-0-670-01649-5

Grades PK – 6

Book Review

The year is 1943; America is at war and the inhabitants of the White House include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor, and a spunky ten year old girl – Diana Hopkins, daughter of Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s chief advisor. Drawing from Diana’s memories of her childhood, accomplished author Elisa Carbone offers a work of historical fiction that features the Victory Garden planted by Diana and Eleanor on the White House lawn. Diana’s desire to support the war efforts drives the plotline forward; she experiments with being a spy, creating propaganda posters, and even booby-traps the state rooms with straight pins on seat cushions. It’s a relief to all involved when Diana is offered a role as chief gardener and she dons a pair of coveralls. Jen Hill’s carefully researched illustrations depict a White House of a past era. With a wartime backdrop, the story focuses on citizen responsibilities, child initiative, and the value of growing your own food. A playful look at a serious time, this title offers an intriguing slice of history, one that is certain to sprout further inquiry.

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom.

Duet Model:  First Gardens. Pair a reading of Diana’s White House Garden with Robin Gourley’s First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew, which features First Lady Michelle Obama’s garden. Encourage students to make connections across the two texts and to discuss the similarities and differences. What structures are used by the authors? What content is featured? How are the differences between the two texts related to differences in genre – one book is a work of historical fiction, the other is nonfiction. What content is included in each book? How does each book articulate a rationale for gardening? In each book, in what ways does the White House serve as a role model?  What historical differences are evident across the books? Be sure to read Jen Hill’s illustrator’s note and juxtapose the roles and representations of the African American experiences across these two time periods.

Gardens: A Text Set. Gather together a variety of picture book titles that feature gardens and gardening practices and invite students to consider different kinds of gardens and their purposes. Some titles to start with:  And the Good Brown Earth; Up, Down and Around; Planting the Wild Garden, and It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden; And Then It’s Spring; and City Green. Construct comparison charts to record student learning across the texts. If you have time, expand your text set to include different types of texts related to gardening, such as magazines, informational brochures, plant and seed catalogues, and nonfiction gardening books. Older students might be invited to consider the roles that gardens have played in classic and contemporary works of literature.

Victory Gardens. After reading Diana’s White House garden, use the online resources found below to learn more about Victory Gardens. Why and how were they established? What role did they serve? How were they promoted? Work with your local school or public librarian and/or your local historical society to find evidence of Victory Gardens in your own community. Share your findings with an audience by creating a presentation, class authored book, or poster display.

Garden Posters. Provide your students with the opportunity to view the historical posters that were created to promote Victory Gardens (links are included in the Further Explorations section below). Conduct a close reading of these posters. What kinds of visual and print information are included? What techniques of persuasion are used? What reasons are articulated to convince viewers to plant their own Victory Gardens? Work with your students to identify contemporary rationale for home and community gardens. Students can work in small groups to design posters featuring art and text for display around your community.

Gardens in Your Neighborhood. What kinds of gardens are found in your community? How were they created? Who do they serve? Who is responsible for gardening? Engage your students in an inquiry project to find the answer to these questions. Consider inviting a member of a local garden club, a local farmer, or a representative of the local Agricultural Society to visit your class or to video conference with you. Once a broad survey has been conducted, assign small groups to different gardens in the community and ask these groups to learn more about that particular garden. Collaborate to create a photo essay that presents the range of gardens in your community.

Grades 4 and Up

Author Study / Writing Historical Fiction. In her author’s note, Elisa Carbone makes it clear that a great deal of research is involved in writing historical fiction. She is the author both of novels and picture books. Use the resources below to learn more about Elisa Carbone’s writing process and engage your students in reading a broad selection of her books. Expand your exploration of the genre by reading the works of additional authors of historical fiction, such as Deborah Wiles, Deborah Hopkinson, Christopher Paul Curtis, Karen Hesse, Doreen Rappaport, Emily Arnold McCully and Rita Garcia Williams (for additional titles and authors use the Historical Fiction tag to search this blog). After learning more about the genre and the research processes of authors who write in this genre, invite your students to try writing a short work of historical fiction either individually or collaboratively.

Social Justice

Gardening and Healthy Food Choices. Read a collection of texts that make the connection between healthy eating and gardening, such as: The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough, The White House Garden and How it Grew, Watch Me Grow: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City, and It’s Our Garden. Ask students to keep track of the number of fresh fruits and vegetables that they are able to eat during a week. Chris Butterworth’s How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food  is a good resource to support conversations about the sources of our food. Older students may be interested in reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. For an even more in depth exploration, have students watch the trailer for the documentary film A Place at the Table: One Nation. Underfed and launch an inquiry into the problem of child hunger in our country. (This teaching idea originally appeared in the Classroom Bookshelf entry for It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden).

Representations of the African American Experience. Read Jen Hill’s Illustrator’s Note and discuss her decision to include visual representations of African Americans in service roles in the FDR White House. Engage your students in a discussion of an illustrator’s responsibility for accurately depicting a historical time period. Read the professional reviews of Diana’s White House Garden  found in  Kirkus and School Library Journal. How have these reviewers chosen to discuss the representations of diversity in this book?  Expand the discussion by sharing with students the recent controversies over the depiction of slavery in A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Invite your students to develop their own protocol for critiquing the representations of the African American Experience across different historical time periods in picture books ( or adapt the protocol developed by John Bickford and Cynthia Rich in Examining the Representation of Slavery Within Children’s Literature or Bickford’s recent article in the Journal of Children’s Literature co-authored with Lieren N. Schute: “Trade Books’ Historical Representation of the Black Freedom Movement, Slavery Through Civil Rights”). Extend this line of inquiry further by exploring online resources that describe the roles that African Americans have played in the White House, using the resource of the White House Historical Association as a starting point.

Further Explorations:

Online Resources

Author’s Website: Elisa Carbone

Illustrator’s Website: Jen Hill

White House Garden Video Tour

CNN: Inside the White House Garden: A Conversation with White House Chef Sam Kass

White House Vegetable Gardens

Smithsonian Institution: Grow Your Own Victory Garden

Smithsonian Victory Garden

The National World War II Museum: Victory Gardens at a Glance

The National World War II Museum: Food on the Home Front

Strawberry Banke Museum: World War II Victory Garden

History.Com: America’s Patriotic Victory Gardens

White House Historical Society: African Americans in the White House Timeline

Cultural Tourism DC: A Brief History of African Americans in Washington DC

Examining the Representation of Slavery Within Children’s Literature

American Community Gardening Association

Trailer: Documentary: A Place at the Table

Local Harvest

The Sustainable Table

The Edible Schoolyard

Farm to School

Stone Barns Center

Slow Food International

Slow Food USA


Ancona, G. (2013). It’s our garden: From seeds to harvest in a school garden. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press

Ayres, K. (2007). Up, Down, and Around. Ill. by N.B. Wescott. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Butterworth, C. (2011). How did that get in my lunchbox?: The story of food. Ill. by L. Gaggiotti. Summerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

DiSalvo-Ryan, D. (1994). City green. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

Fogliano, J. (2012). And then it’s spring. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Gourley, R. (2011). First garden: The White House garden and how it grew. Boston: Clarion Books.

Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the wild garden. Ill. by W.A. Haperin. Altanta, GA: Peachtree.

Henderson, K. (2008). And the good brown earth. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Hodge, D. (2011). Watch me grow: A down-to-earth look at growing food in the city. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

Hodge, D. (2010). Up we grow: A year in the life of a small, local farm. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

Jurmain, S. (2016). Nice work, Franklin!. Ill. by L. Day. New York: Dial.

Kochenderfer, L. (2002). The Victory Garden. New York: Delacourte.

Krull, K. (2011). A boy named FDR: How Franklin D. Roosevelt grew up to change America. Ill. by S. Johnson. New York: Knopf.

Milway, K.S. (2010). The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough. Ill. by S. Daigneault. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

Rappaport, D (2009). Eleanor: Quiet no more: The life of Eleanor Roosevelt. Ill. by G. Kelley. New York: Hyperion/ Disney.

Ray, D.K. (1990). My daddy was a soldier: A World War II story. New York: Holiday House.

Van Steenwyk, E. (2008). First dog Fala. Ill. by M. Montgmery. Altanta, GA: Peachtree.

Wilbur, H.L. (2010). Lily’s Victory Garden. Ill. by R.G. Steele. Sleeping Bear Press.


Bickford, J. & Schuette, L. (2016). Trade books’ historical representation of the Black Freedom Movement, slavery through civil rights. Journal of Children’s Literature, 41(1), 20-43. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Bandit's Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket

Written by Deborah Hopkinson

Published by Alfred A. Knopf Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-385-75499-6

Grades 4-8

Book Review
“These days, when anyone asks, I say I’m an American, New York City-born. And why not? Because, in a way, I was born here.” Rocco Zaccaro is ripped away from his family in Cavello, Italy when his father signs a contract with a padrone who promises to find him work in America. The challenges of his first year in America, and his responses to the abuse, starvation, and deprivation, form his identity and consciousness. In Deborah Hopkinson’s portrayal of Rocco, young readers experience a touch of the picaresque novel, reminiscent of Fielding and Dickens, with a dash of the rags to riches stories of 19th century dime novels, and a strong first-person narration that often speaks directly to the reader. While Hopkinson chronicles Rocco’s story, her readers gain an intricate entry point into late 19th century lower Manhattan and the forces that preyed on newly arrived immigrants, particularly children. Readers also witness the ways in which America was responding to these forces, such as the birth of the photo essay and investigative journalism, as well as the ASPCA. Jacob Reiss and other notable New Yorkers serve as characters, and readers accustomed to fairly precise weather forecasts get to experience the surprise that was the Great Blizzard of 1888. While Rocco’s story has a happy ending, it is a somewhat realistic one, tempered by his suffering. Ideal as an independent read, book club book, or whole class exploration, A Bandit’s Tale is ripe for integrated explorations in language arts and social studies that focus on immigration and poverty, child labor, advocacy, and the power of print and image to inform and shape public understanding and policy.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Exploring Rocco’s New York. Before reading The Bandit’s Tale, allow your students to explore Rocco’s New York using the Jacob Riis photographs online from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As students view the photographs, ask them to list what they see in each. Next, have them write down questions they would like to ask the people they see in the photographs. Have students compare and contrast their observations and questions in small groups and then as a full class. What are some of their common assumptions about life in New York City for immigrant children during the late 19th century? As they read the novel, ask them to note moments in the book when the photographs help them to visualize what is happening.

Author Study. First, have the students explore a range of Hopkinson’s picture books, both historical fiction and nonfiction (see the author’s website for a complete list). What do the books have in common with one another? How do they differ? In small groups, have students read one of her three stand-alone historical novels: A Bandit’s Tale, The Great Trouble, and Into the Firestorm. What commonalities do they see in Hopkinson’s novels? How are her male protagonists similar and different from one another? What themes overlap? How do the themes and topics in her picture books connect with those in her novels? To cap off your exploration, have students research a time period of interest in order to write an original short story. Have students mine Hopkinson’s authors notes for information on her process of researching and writing. What kinds of sources does she use? What are some of the ways they can use Hopkinson’s work as a mentor text for their writing?

Newspapers and the Art and Craft of Printing. While at the House of Refuge, Rocco learns to read and write in English, and he studies the craft of printmaking. While free, he follows journalist Max Fischel, and ultimately, he realizes that the only way to make citizens aware of child abuse, such as the kind that he experienced at 45 Crosby Street, is to cover it in a newspaper article. What do your students know about print making and newspaper publication? What newspapers are they aware of? Using the resources below, allow your students to explore the history of print making, fonts, and the changing “face” of American newspapers. Bring in some local and national newspapers, in print form, to balance the exploration of historic newspapers online. How do the newspapers differ from one another in terms of the scope of coverage, the font and layout, the use of color versus black and white photographs? Explore different digital fonts available from resources like Have students in small groups create their own digital newspaper documenting events in your school and the larger community. When their papers are completed, make sure that they write a reflection that conveys their editorial decisions regarding font, format, and organization, as well as the content that they have covered.

Communities Over Time. After Rocco flees the House of Refuge the first time, or at the conclusion of the book when we discover he will be freed, provide your students with time to explore the Randall’s Island Park Alliance. How has the island changed over the years? Have your students explore the timeline available on the Alliance website, and trace the park’s history to the present day. How has the city of New York reconsidered the utility and value of the island over the years? How has it helped provide different resources to the city? What do they imagine the island could become in the future? What possible positive and negative futures could it face? Next, have students select different spots in your own community. How has that single spot (a school, library, town building, park, development) been used over time? Work with the local historical society and/or the reference section of your local library to create parallel interactive timelines, using the Randall’s Island Alliance timeline or the Tenement Museum’s interactive tour as mentor texts. Be sure to interview members of your community who have been involved with the site over the course of the 20th century.

Grades 6-8

Historical Fiction Genre Study. Both A Bandit’s Tale and The King of Mulberry Street by Donna Jo Napoli are set in New York City, just a few years apart. Each features a male protagonist who is taken against his will from Italy to New York City. Have half of your students read one book, half the other. Since setting is so critical to historical fiction, have students create a graphic organizer in which they can document the descriptions of New York City that appear in each book. What people and places are mentioned? What details seem important? What details about lower Manhattan during the late 19th century are consistent across the books? What details differ and how does that impact each story? Have students meet in their book club groups, but also provide opportunities for groups to jigsaw with one another to compare and contrast their books and the characters within. Finally, have students consider the themes at work in each book. What consistent themes do they see? How do the themes differ? Have students identify topics about this time and place that they would like to learn more about. Students can conduct research using some of the resources below, like the Tenement Museum, and then write their own original historical fiction.

Picaresque Novels. In her extensive author’s note, Hopkinson informs her readers that she wrote the novel in the picaresque style, and shares that the Spanish root “picaro” means “rogue” in English. These novels originated in 17th century Spain and are frequently told in the first person, through the voice of the protagonist. This protagonist is often a young man from humble means who struggles to survive in the world, relying on his own wits and luck. Hopkinson lists some of the most famous picaresque novels in her author’s note. While students are reading A Bandit’s Tale, give them the opportunity to explore the first chapter of some of these famous novels. What similarities and differences do the students notice between the earlier novels and Hopkinson’s, in terms of voice, characterization, conflict, and plot? Walk students through a close reading protocol to “mine” these literary elements from the evidence in the first chapters. The open-ended questions articulated by Nancy Boyles may be useful to you, as may the power point on close reading created by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. When students conclude the novel, ask them how knowing about the genre of the picaresque supported their overall reading. Have students explore the idea of a contemporary picaresque, and write original short stories, microfiction, or first-person monologues in the style.

Historical Fiction & Nonfiction Duet.  Deborah Hopkinson has written about the experiences of newly arrived immigrants in New York City before, in her middle grade nonfiction book Shutting Out the Sky. Have some students in class start off reading A Bandit’s Tale and other students read Shutting Out the Sky. Have the students keep reading journals where they track their thinking about what is happening in New York City and what they learn about a range of immigrants, conditions, and particular people and events. Have students meet in book groups to compare their notes. Next, have them read the other book, and continue to take notes in their reading journal. When they are finished, have them discuss their “paths” into the past. Who preferred nonfiction? Who preferred historical fiction? What similarities and differences did they find in Hopkinson’s writing in each? In conclusion, have students identify topics about this time and place that they would like to learn more about. Students can conduct research using some of the resources below, like the Tenement Museum, and then write their own original historical fiction or nonfiction.  Or, like Hopkinson, they may want to try both.

Critical Literacy

Who is Missing? Much of A Bandit’s Tale is set in lower Manhattan, south of 14th street, where thousands of European immigrant families were living in tenements after passing through Castle Garden (prior to the opening of Ellis Island). Ask your students to consider who else was living in New York City at the time, and where? Specifically, ask them to consider what the lives of poor, middle, and upper class African Americans like. After reading A Bandit’s Tale, you might want to have your students explore Marilyn Nelson’s verse novel My Seneca Village, comprised of vignettes detailed Seneca Village’s history in the first half of the 19th century. By the late 1850s, the village was destroyed in order to build Central Park. Where did those children and their families go? You might also have some students explore Tonya Bolden’s Maritcha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl. Where were African Americans living in Manhattan by the late 19th century? Next, you might want to have your students research the Black Gotham archive, the digital resources at the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, and the New York HistoricalSociety. Give your students some freedom in how they want to represent their research findings. The concept of portraits might be useful, drawing on the vignettes in My Seneca Village and some of the paintings and photographs they may uncover in their research. You might want to share Walter Dean Myers's Brown Angels, a photo essay about residents of Harlem at the turn of the 20th century, as a mentor text as well. Students can write first person monologues from the perspective of one of the residents of New York they uncover, or a composite resident based on their research. Or, they could paint or draw a portrait of someone, and write a museum card providing that person’s story. Student monologues can be performed for students in other grades at your school, or community members, alongside an exhibit of the portraits. 

Change and Advocacy in the 19th and 21st Centuries. The time in which Rocco lived was a time of great change in the United States. The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. European-Americans were moving inward from each coast, forcing Native Americans into smaller and smaller areas. Factories were being built. Immigrants were pouring in on both coasts, including Asian immigrants in the west.  In the late 19th century, we see new advocacy groups starting up to provide a network of support within the changing society. In A Bandit’s Tale, we witness the start of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an organization with which the students in your class may very well be familiar. The Children’s Aid Society started approximately twenty years earlier, while The Sierra Club, an organization devoted to conservation, started in 1892.  Have students consider, either while they are reading A Bandit’s Tale, or after, what problems our country currently faces. Who needs help? What problems do they see in their community? Students can identify a few topics to research in-depth in small groups. Have your students research these problems by talking with members of your local town and city government, both staff and elected, as well as state and national government representatives. What advocacy organizations does our current society need? What organizations exist and which ones should exist? Students can make culminating presentations to the community, perhaps at your local library, providing information on the problems they have researched, the organizations that are doing work on those problems, and the new organizations that might be needed to meet the complex demands of the 21st century.

Child Labor in the 19th and 21st Centuries. A Bandit’s Tale reveals some of the jobs that both native born and immigrant children were forced to do in the late 19th centuries. For many of those children, school was out of reach. Certainly Rocco was enslaved by his padrone, as were the other boys forced to live in squalor and work long hours in extreme conditions.  When Rocco dreams of bringing his family over, he considers the different jobs his parents and siblings can do upon arrival, and imagines the possibility of sending only his youngest brother to school. What about children today in America and around the world? Who might be working instead of attending school, despite national and international protections? After reading A Bandit’s Tale, have students read Boys Without Names, about boys stolen into slavery in India to make rugs. After completing the novel, and comparing and contrasting the boys’ situation in each, discuss what is being done about child slave labor today. Using the digital resources below, research child labor with your children. In particular, you might want use The Child Labor Coalition’s links to agricultural and industrial child labor, and have the students research the different areas listed within. As a culminating activity, students can present information on what they have learned to the school community. If they are so inspired, perhaps your students can fundraise on behalf of child laborers around the world, and contribute to an organization that they believe will best help efforts to eradicate child labor. Students may also choose to write to your members of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S.Senate, to express their concerns and their desire for action.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Deborah Hopkinson’s Official Website

Immigration and Poverty

History of Poverty and Homeless in New York City, The Institute of Children, Poverty, and Homelessness

The Tenement Museum

Digital Collections of the New York Public Library

Library of Congress, Immigration Online Exhibit

Non-Profit Organizations
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The Children’s Aid Society

The Sierra Club

Randall’s Island Park Alliance

Jacob Riis
Jacob Riis, New York Times Topic

Jacob Riis, Museum of the City of New York Photos

Jacob Riis Photographs, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis, Google Book

Michael Hallanan

Hallanan’s Blacksmith Building and the Hallanan Building, New York City

The Blizzard of 1888


New York Historical Society

New York Public Library

Learning Blog – Blizzard of 1888, The New York Times

Child Labor

Child Labor, New York Times Topic

The Child Labor Commission of the National Consumers League

Classroom Bookshelf Entry on Child Labor


History of Printing Timeline, American Printing History Association

History of Printmaking, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Fonts for Sale  

“100 Years Ago Today,” Online Feature, Library of Congress

History of Fonts

African-Americans in New York City, 19th Century

Black Gotham

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

New York Historical Society


Bolden, T. (2005). Maritcha: A nineteenth-century American girl. New  York: Abrams.

Hopkinson, D. (2008). Into the firestorm: A novel of San Francisco, 1906. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Books.

Hopkinson, D. (2013). The great trouble: A mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a boy called Eel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Books.

Hopkinson, D. (2003). Shutting out the sky: Life in the tenements of New York, 1880-1924. New York: Orchard Books.

Murphy. J. (2000) Blizzard! The storm that changed America. New York: Scholastic.

Myers, W.D. (1996). Brown angels: An album of pictures and verse. New York: Harper Collins.

Napoli, D.J. (2005). The king of Mulberry Street. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

Nelson, M. (2015). My Seneca village. Namelos.

Seth, K. (2010). Boys without names. New York: Balzar and Bray.