N.C. Historical Fiction Must-Reads

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I love all genres of children's literature.  I grew up on realistic fiction, dreaming of being a member of The Baby-sitter's Club.  I love fantasy; I rank Roald Dahl at the top of my favorite children's authors and I'm a huge Harry Potter fan.  As a teacher, I've seen the power other genres like mystery, graphic novels, and informational text has to attract reluctant readers.  But perhaps no genre of children's literature is more powerful than historical fiction.

We've heard it said many times: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." I've invoked the famous quote once or twice in my classroom when my students ask "why" we have to learn about a particular topic or read a particular book.  I believe it, and I also believe the best way for children to learn from history in a way that makes as impact is to immerse themselves in it.  There's no better way to accomplish that than with a good book.

This summer I've been reading through the North Carolina Elementary Battle of the Books (EBOB) list and I recently finished Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  Any book that has me wiping tears on the beach on vacation deserves a nod and this one did just that.  I read a lot of children's books but only once in a while does the content truly change my personal outlook.  I want to share with you three historical fiction novels rooted in North Carolina that impacted my views on racial, political, social and/or physical oppression. These books shaped a little corner of my heart, and I believe they'll do the same for yours and any children with whom you share them.

We'll start with the one I read first and know the best.  You may notice this copy is well-worn, and that's for good reason.  Five years ago, my grade level heard about Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornelissen and we decided to start teaching it every year in every classroom.  We had all just missed it as kids (it was published in 1998) but we didn't want our kids to miss it.  I wrote a Novel Unit for it and we ran with it.  It's a simple book and definitely the easiest read of these three, but it truly has changed the way I feel inside every time I hear the phrase "Trail of Tears."  It is written from the perspective of a nine-year-old Cherokee girl named Soft Rain who, along with her family, is driven West from their North Carolina mountain home.  Year after year, we read this book and students cry out for reasons ranging from worrying about the main character's dog left behind to asking with big eyes, "How could the government do that?"

There are plenty of present day examples we can use to talk about tolerance, diversity and quality with children.  However, there are also age-old examples like this one that serve to show 1) we have made so much progress as a society but 2) in order to sustain that progress, we must be vigilant.  I tell my students every year it is up to them to be aware of what's going on around them, look at situations from other people's points-of-view and most importantly, to stand up for those who aren't being treated fairly.  I always hope that they'll remember their frustration at not being able to help Soft Rain when they find themselves with an opportunity to help someone else.

Next is the book that took me by surprise on my vacation.  I always take my Kindle when we travel, so didn't have any idea what this book was about when I started it on the beach that day.  Blue by Joyce Meyer Hostetter is the story of a young teenage girl named Ann Fay Honeycutt who lives near Hickory in 1944, as her father goes off to fight in World War II and polio strikes her small town, including her family.  This book is beautifully written, and Ann Fay's plight took hold deep in my heart as I turned those pages.  I just kept thinking how daunting these challenges were only 75 years ago and how fortunate we are to live not only in a time of relative peace but also of medical advancement.  This book offers much needed perspective today for the young and the old.

Added bonus: I just found out there's also a sequel (Comfort) and it's in my Amazon cart now!

I read Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper school year before last when my EBOB team made it to the finals.  It was a pretty new release then, published in January 2015, and was one of the books we analyzed together.  The more I studied this novel, the deeper impression it made on me.  It is set in the 1930s and focuses on the daily challenges faced by an African American girl alongside her family and community.  We focus in schools on times of slavery, including the Underground Railroad and the Civil War.  But what happened next?  Reading this book goes a long way to fill in those blanks and to give children a deeper understanding of the long, hard and tense battle fought for fairness, respect and equality.  You can hear more from the author here...

Whether there's still some room on your summer reading list, you're lesson planning for next school year or you just want to enlighten yourself or your own children, I highly recommend getting your hands on any of these three novels.  As Sharon Draper writes in Stella by Starlight, "Words fall out of the sky like leaves, girl.  Grab a couple and write 'em down." (p. 156)  In this case, grab a couple and read 'em, share 'em, learn from 'em... It'll change your heart!


Teachers on Summer Break...

Wednesday, July 5, 2017
I saw this photo on Bored Teachers' Facebook page at the beginning of the summer and the image has stuck with me.  It cracks me up because 1) we do sorta act like that and 2) people really are jealous.  Teachers tend to get all defensive about this, arguing that we work 60 hour weeks during the school year and that if we didn't get a break we'd all go insane.  While that's true, it's also true that having summers off is pretty darn amazing!  In the last three weeks, I've visited the mountains, been to the waterpark, chaperoned my youth group at the beach, and spent a long weekend at the lake.  I'm home for a couple of days now just to pack for my next vacation.  Life is good and I'm not complaining!

With that said, even with all the strutting, real teachers never stop think about our students and our classrooms.  More than once over the last month, I've thought about this past year's students, laughing at something they would've found funny or remembering something I meant to share with one of them.  While we do cheer when that last bell rings, it doesn't untie those heartstrings.  And while still thinking about the last school year, I'm also preparing for the next, checking out teacher blogs and Pinterest for the trends of next school year (please, dear God, let them be less annoying than bottle flipping and fidget spinners).  Do I need a focus wall?  How can I make my classroom library more cozy? What Donors Choose grant should I be writing?  What novels do I want to read with next year's class?  Our minds are always going...

Not only do I have trouble slowing down my mind, I also have trouble keeping my wallet closed.  Just today I placed an order with Teacher Created Resources for polka dot border, nameplates, and a couple of bulletin board sets.  I polka dot border EVERYTHING and I must have a stockpile when I walk back into my classroom in August.  Right now, it's free shipping with orders over $49 if you have the latest catalog and the prices on those sort of items really are cheaper direct from the manufacturer rather than through Amazon, as much as I love Amazon.

[By the way, I get asked about those flowers on my front wall often.  I purchased them from Dali Decals on a Living Social deal four years ago.  They still have the exact flowers available at this link.  There are always deals for decal sites available on Living Social and Groupon.]

After I'd already placed that order this morning, I went to Target this afternoon to pick up some other things and they had begun putting back-to-school items in the Dollar Spot.  Furthermore, when I went to the back of the store the Target employees were stocking THE back-to-school section.  I felt like a vulture as I weaved in and out of their boxes and peered over their shoulders, but it was worth it!  I scored the following items...

These are THE best storage for markers for students.  I already have two in my classroom and was excited to snag a third to complete the set.  They don't collect dust and are very sturdy for five bucks.

Not sure if I'm going to use this at Open House or on the first day (they're about 5" x 7") but these were too great to pass up with 24 in the pack for $1!  While I have things like this I could copy, it's always nice to have something ready-to-go and so professional looking.  There are also some $1 sentence strips hiding behind there...you can never have too many!

I have an old schedule pocket chart and of course I've re-written those times every year so long that nothing matches anymore.  This 25 piece set with every subject and plenty of time cards is a great replacement for only $1!  

There were four of these posters in a pack for only $3 and I almost bought a nearly identical one online this morning for $3.49 for only one. Target to the rescue!

Last but BEST... this will be my second year using a teacher planner that I simply picked up at Target for around ten bucks.  Last year's was from a company called Blue Sky but this year this Mead one was calling my name with it's purple cover and cute font.  Is it bad that I thought about writing some big topics for each month in it already?? 

SO...while we know the most of the world is "hating us cause they ain't us" we also know that we're always on the clock in our minds... Even if our bodies are all kinds of elsewhere.  Happy summer break, friends!