Saturday, November 19, 2011

War and Peace and other goings on in my classroom

I am back.  I get busy and just don't get to writing this blog but here I am.  It was a good week.  My classes and I love projects.  They take us out of the mundane.  War and Peace newspapers are an old favorite of mine.  Not sure where the idea came from initially.  I used to do lots with newspapers so perhaps that was the beginning, and sharing the history of the Second War World seemed to be a bit of an obsession of mine.  I love picture books and  have quite a collection of those on this theme.  And again anyone who has taught six and seventh grade boys knows you are always going to have a few with a fascination about war!

September 11, 2001 changed things because wars seemed to become more immediate as we felt the impact of that day...  And as those of you who follow my column may remember, I have been reading my class Eric Walter's book We all Fall Down about a boy who goes to work with his dad at the World Trade Centre on that date.

 One the nice thing about having a brand new class is you can repeat projects when you feel like it.  My class two years ago had done newspapers but because I kept ten of my students last year we didn't do that project, though we all learned lots about World War One as we read Charlie Wilcox.

Well we have had a great couple of weeks as I shared some of my favorite books and they responded and researched and created.  I have to admit I kind of wondered how this would all turn out but as I see bits and pieces of the projects they are looking rather amazing.  They are passionate about their work.  One thing that is helpful is the fact that I had kept some of my past students' projects so that they had an idea what their work could look like. 

There have been such magic moments... What a gift it is to share the story of Anne Frank through the lovely picture book, The Picture Book of Anne Frank by David A. Adler and illustrated by Karen Ritz and the story of My Hiroshima through the eyes of author and illustrator,Junko Morimoto.  These are such excellent starting points as was the students learning a beautiful new song version of Flanders Field in choir.  Another high point was reading the new picture book, Blowing in the Wind illustrated by Jon Muth, and then playing the original CD by Bob Dylan and my students listening with rapt attention.

 But of course I do have a few other subjects I need to teach and I realized that my students hadn't really "gotten into" a basket of more books I had on War and Peace  so that I did one of my favorite activities for both children and adults-quick book shares.  I stuck two of a variety of books I had, mainly picture books on each group's tables.  Students had to share the books quickly and write quick responses and then after about seven minutes pass them on to the next group.  I think we were able to do six switches in the seven groups.  Then students decided their favorite books.  This worked out really well with lots of great conversation and enjoyment.  

I don't have a complete book list for you but I have attached a copy of the assignment and I promise some pictures of the finished newspapers. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Honolulu to Hanoi to the Amazon-my latest adult reads

In the dark mornings of October and November it's appealing to read a book set in Honolulu.  I just finished reading Honolulu by Alan Brennert.  I absolutely loved it.  It's the fascinating story of a young woman who dreaming of an education and more freedom than she can have in Korea she becomes a picture bride in Honolulu 1914.  Focusing on life in Korea and then Honolulu from the turn of the century to the 1950s but particularly between the two wars, it is a fascinating glimpse into the history of Hawaii.

Once having spent a week in Kauai I was fascinated with the multicultural society and history of the islands as various workers came from different parts of the world  and how these societies were able to mesh together.   One thing that is fascinating in the novel is how the attitudes of the mainland USA varied with that of the reality of Hawaii. 

I just finished another book that I really enjoyed.  That was The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.  I think I heard Camilla speak about this book a year ago at the Vancouver International Writers' Festival, but somehow it took me a year to read it!  I loved her book, Sweetness in the Belly.  I think I liked this one just as much, perhaps more.  Set in Hanoi, it focuses on an old man who sells the best Pho from his cart and a young American woman of Vietnamese ancestry who has returned to try to find out what happened to her artist father whom she and her mom were forced to leave behind thinking that he would one day join them.  Between them is a young Vietnamese former math teacher and current tour guide, and his father, a carpenter who was the son of a writer who was tortured and killed for being a free thinker.  The mystery unravels and we learn a little of the history of those terrible times.  And yes, it actually has quite a happy ending.

A third book that I enjoyed reading was Ann Patchett's latest, State of Wonder.  This time I was transported from Minnesota to a Brazilian jungle.  A pharmaceutical company has a woman researching fertility but she isn't giving regular reports so that Anders, a researcher is sent to investigate.  It's then reported that he died and was buried at the research camp.  His colleague, Marina, very reluctantly goes to find out more information about what has happened.  I do love a novel set in an exotic location (not that Patchett makes it any too appealing) and the issues that are raised are very interesting.  This is a very "discussable" book. 

And now I have returned to reading children's books so stay tuned.