Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Unspeakable Crime The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank and Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America

I am not a huge non-fiction reader, but this year I have read two that I have really enjoyed. One is a grown-up book and the other is a young adult book.

A parent at our school recently published a book. Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe. Many of us at school read the book and felt the same. We would come to school the next day annoyed and exhausted because we stayed up WAY TOO late reading the well written, thought provoking, and page turning book. The book follows the lives of four girls in Denver. All four attend college. Two have legal status so they are able to get grants, etcetera. Two do not and even though they have been in the USA for years, attended school, and graduated with honors they cannot apply for the same grants. The debate about immigration is bigger then this little blog, but it is one that impacts everyone. I could go on about his book, but for the sake of your sanity I won’t. I will say very simply this is a MUST READ!

The second non-fiction book, a young adult book, is An Unspeakable Crime The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin. Ms. Alphin writes about a Jew accused of killing a young girl in Atlanta in the early part of the 20th century. It is a fascinating story. Anti-Semitism and, more importantly, hatred of northerners led to this awful persecution of an innocent man. I found it interesting that the Anti-Defamation League was founded because of this trial. The story is about Leo Frank, a northern Jew. He moves to Atlanta to work for his uncle’s pencil company. He falls in loves and marries and soon after he is accused of murdering a 13 year old girl that works at the factory. Most southerners still resented the North. They hated the fact that many families had to work in factories owned my northern companies. This led to the police and media wanting to blame the gruesome murder on a non-southerner.

The book is engaging. The use of photographs, newspaper articles and layout of the chapters makes it difficult to put down. I like how Ms. Alphin explained how the lack of technology played a part in this story. There was no CSI or Law and Order SVU of find the real killer.

Both non-fiction books I have read spotlight the conceptions or misconceptions our society has on people that are “different” from us. As a teacher it makes me think about how I interact with children that are different backgrounds from me. I hope that I am able to provide a learning environment where they will grow to be responsible adults and not judge someone based on the color of their skin, the language they speak at home, the church they attend or the person they love.

Just Like Us was a gift from a student. Leo Frank was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thank You Jon Scieszka

Yesterday was our first day back to school. We spent the morning grading a district mandated writing assessment and the afternoon in our rooms. Oh, and lunch out with teachers. In my box was a Christmas card from a student that I had two years ago. Sadly, his family moved and he goes to another school. Fortunately, his mom still brings him to book club each month. In the card his mother had included a copy of a writing sample G had to do at his other school. I thought I would share a couple of sentences from the writing. They are appropriate in our days of thanking Jon Scieszka.

Here is a little background about G. He was at Montclair for just the year he spent with me. He had been at a private school and left there wounded from a bad year in second grade. He had VERY low self-esteem when he entered my class. He was reading a little below grade level and was very upset when he made mistakes. Over the year G grew more then any other student I taught. He found his voice and was willing to take risks. The writing his mom sent is about me and that year.

There is no better way to thank someone then by telling them the impact they have on your life. I met Ambassador Scieszka at the CCIRA conference a couple of years ago. It was after we had started our Guys Read Book Club at Montclair. So Ambassador here is what a fifth grader writes about the importance of book clubs:

“Mr. Kimmal announced he would start a book club for boys only….Mr. Kimmal handed out fliers to everyone. My friends and I decided to join. On the day it started, we walked up to Mr. Kimmal’s room. He explained how a book club would energize boys. Next he showed us some books that interested us, even though he knew none of us would read them, but after the second book, we got hooked. Mr. Kimmal knew how to make everyone crave reading…..Just by looking at the cover we knew our parents would hate it, and they did.”

I can’t remember the first book. I did know they would read the book. They often are true knuckleheads, but they come each month and the numbers keeping growing, so THANK YOU for inspiring me and my guys.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Happy New Year and Happy Cybils reading! The Cybils Shortlists are posted and two of my favorites made the lists (from categories I didn’t judge). The Curious Garden by Peter Brown made the fiction picture book shortlist and The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton made the non-fiction picture book shortlist. I love both of these books.

I contributed to the shortlist of Middle-grade fiction. It was hard to narrow down to JUST seven books. Good luck judges. One book that made the list is Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes. (The teacher in the story Miss Loupe is on A Year of Reading’s 100 Cool Teachers of Children’s Literature. She is a great first year teacher. One we would all loved to have had.) I truly enjoyed this book. It even made me cry. Here is my little blurb about the story that is, also, posted on the Cybils site:

Operation Yes is a story that revolves around cousins, Bo and Gari. Bo’s father is in charge of a military base in the south and Gari’s mother is deployed to Afghanistan; so Gari must relocate from Seattle to live with her cousin. They are both in the same sixth grade class and their teacher teaches in a box about the importance of life outside the box. What makes this story standout is how kids can overcome tough times and show adults what kids are capable of doing when they work together.
Book provided by the publisher.