Posts tagged ‘taking responsible risks’

115. Tea With Milk by Allen Say

tea with milkRetell: Masako is a Japanese-American who moves to Japan after spending her childhood in America.  Adjusting to life in Japan is rough for Masako.  She must repeat high school in order to learn Japanese, her classmates call her gaijin (a derogatory word for ‘foreigner’), and she must learn how to be a proper Japanese lady.  One day she boards a bus for Osaka and finds work, a companion and a cure for her homesickness.

Topics: English, Japanese-Americans, homesickness, culture shock, matchmaking, individuality

Units of Study: Character, Social Issues, Personal Narrative, Memoir

Tribes: right to pass

Habits of Mind: taking responsible risks, thinking flexibly

Reading Skills: inference, interpretation, prediction, empathy

My Thoughts: I especially enjoy Tea With Milk because I have a personal connection to this book.  I taught English for three years in a rural village in Japan.  I can relate to May and her struggle to get used to sitting on the floor (women are expected to sit on their knees–it’s considered rude to sit cross-legged) and missing comfort foods.  When I read this book I thought of my students who often visit the countries where their parents are from and experience an identity crisis similar to the one that May faced.  I hope that this book inspires them to write their stories.  Though this is technically a personal narrative (the main character was the author’s mother) you could angle this to fit in many different units including the current Character unit.  It’s particularly useful for modeling how readers notice subtle changes in a character.

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October 19, 2009 at 8:54 pm Leave a comment

98. The Bus Ride by William Miller

the bus rideRetell: William Miller recreates the story of Rosa Parks and imagines what would have happened if a young girl refused to give up her seat.

Topics: taking a stand, segregation, laws, civil disobedience, bravery, boycotts, power

Units of Study: Social Issues, Historical Fiction, Character

Tribes: right to pass

Habits of Mind: taking responsible risks

Reading Skills: interpretation, prediction

Writing Skills: balancing description, reflection and dialogue

My Thoughts: When I read this book I thought back to a unit our fifth grade teachers did last year that was focused on power.  Students looked at power structures in the classroom, in school and at home.  Students looked at times when they were powerless and times when they had the power.  When reading this book it would be interesting to discuss the question, “Who has the power?”  This story inspires children to think about what risks they would be willing to take.  Imagine if an entire classroom decided to boycott McDonalds because they disagreed with how the company targets children.  Or what would happen if a classroom decided to boycott toys made in places that use child labor?

October 4, 2009 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

92. Butterflies for Kiri by Cathryn Falwell

butterflies for kiriRetell: Kiri loves to paint and draw.  When her Auntie Lu sends her a package of origami paper, Kiri begins teaching herself how to fold a paper butterfly.  She gets to a point where her corners are supposed to match up and tears her paper.  She attempts the butterfly the next day but she is scared that she will tear one of her beautiful papers.  Through practice and persistence Kiri eventually folds a successful butterfly.

Topics: origami, art, paper, diagrams, how-to

Units of Study: Realistic Fiction

Tribes: personal best, appreciations/no put-downs

Habits of Mind: persisting, striving for accuracy, creating-innovating-imagining, thinking flexibly, managing impulsivity, taking responsible risks, remaining open to continuous learning

Writing Skills: including similes, making several drafts before publishing

My Thoughts: I wish I had known about this book years ago when I started a paper crane project with my fourth graders.  We read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, folded 1,000 paper cranes, and sent them to a school in Japan who delivered our cranes to the peace memorial in Hiroshima.  When I had started the project, I didn’t realize how difficult paper crane folding would be for that age.  Some students were able to pick it up quickly while others got really frustrated with the process.  Kiri teaches us how to deal with frustration.  She took a break from the project, practiced with other materials, and tackled the project with new energy.  Throughout this book many ‘habits of mind’ are presented.  Even if you don’t plan on doing origami with your class, it’s great to read during the revising process of any Writing unit.

September 27, 2009 at 8:05 pm 1 comment

89. Mrs. Morgan’s Lawn by Barney Saltzberg

mrs morgan's lawnRetell: Mrs. Morgan does not tolerate anyone or anything treading on her lawn.  Whenever a ball lands on her lawn she confiscates it and it is never seen again.  After some encouragement from his parents, Mrs. Morgan’s neighbor decides to confront her and ask for his ball back.  Even when he asks her nicely Mrs. Morgan refuses to return his ball.  After a few weeks he notices that Mrs. Morgan’s lawn is looking unkempt.  He rakes up leaves for her and discovers that kindness can often change people’s minds.

Topics: kindness, problem-solving

Units of Study: Character, Talking and Writing About Texts

Tribes: mutual respect

Habits of Mind: taking responsible risks

Reading Skills: inference, interpretation

My Thoughts: I like to read this story when students start having conflicts with each other.  Giving “I-Messages” solves many of these conflicts but sometimes something more is needed to solve a problem.  Creating peace often starts by attempting to understand the person you have a conflict with.  In this story, the neighbor changes from thinking Mrs. Morgan is mean to understanding how she feels about her lawn and eventually helps her, despite the fact that she has not been kind in return.  When I read this out loud to my class last year, a student pointed out that “sometimes bullies act mean because they don’t feel that people are nice to them.”  She was talking about a particular bully in the class who had been absent during the read aloud.  She suggested to the class that they should say nice things to the student and compliment him when he did something well.

September 24, 2009 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

57. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

the dot

Retell: Vashti is frustrated in art class.  She doesn’t have confidence in her artistic ability.  Her teacher tells her to start with a dot and see where it takes her.  Soon she experiments with dots of different colors, shapes and sizes and becomes pleased with the results.

Topics: art, writer’s block, creativity, experimentation

Units of Study: Personal Narrative

Tribes: personal best, appreciations/no put-downs, mutual respect

Habits of Mind: persisting, creating-imagining-innovating, responding with wonderment and awe, taking responsible risks, thinking interdependently

Writing Skills: dealing with writer’s block, revising

My Thoughts: Though this book is about art, readers will make the obvious connection to writing.  I love the message of this book—experiment and enjoy the process.  If I don’t read this out loud to my entire class, I will definitely use this in small group work to help struggling writers get over their fear of the blank page.  I like how at the end of the book Vashti helps another young artist get over his frustration.  It’s a good example of how learners help one another.

August 23, 2009 at 3:53 am Leave a comment

54. Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery

two bobbiesRetell: This is the true story of how a stranded cat and dog survived the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Topics: pets, Hurricane Katrina, survival, friendship, family, homelessness

Units of Study: Social Issues, Nonfiction, Talking and Writing about Texts

Tribes: personal best, mutual respect

Habits of Mind: taking responsible risks, thinking flexibly

Reading Skills: envisionment, inference, interpretation

My Thoughts: This is a book that I didn’t mind buying brand new and in hardcover.  I found this in a bookstore in Ashland, Oregon.  The cashier and I spent a few moments cooing over her ridiculously cute it is.  In addition to being an amazingly touching story it’s a great text to read to learn about Hurricane Katrina.   It could also be a great read aloud during an interpretation unit.  On one level it’s a story about survival but it could also be interpreted as a story about friendship between two individuals who come from groups who are normally not friendly to each other.

August 19, 2009 at 8:35 pm Leave a comment

43. A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech

a fine fine schoolRetell: Mr. Keene is a principal who loves his school.  He loves it so much that he gradually increases the amount of days students and teachers come to school.  He learns that it’s impossible to have a ‘fine, fine school’ without balance between studying and play.

Topics: school, siblings, principals, problem-solving, authority

Units of Study: Social Issues, Talking and Writing About Texts, Test Prep

Tribes: mutual respect

Habits of Mind: taking responsible risks

Reading Skills: interpretation, inference

Writing Skills: using repetition

My Thoughts: This may be a nice book to read aloud during test time.  It will remind everyone that school isn’t the only place where learning happens.  I think I may read this book when I want to discuss respectful and powerful ways to solve problems.  The main character, Tillie is patient when her school year keeps increasing.  However, when she’s had enough she doesn’t melt down.  She goes to the principal, calmly states her case, and ends up changing his mind.  A Fine, Fine School illustrates the importance of (respectfully) challenging authority.  I hope after reading this book, my students will have the courage to (respectfully) challenge me.

August 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm Leave a comment


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