Recent Posts

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Picture Book Experience

The folks at Stenhouse Publishing recently sent me a copy of Larry Swartz's The Picture Book Experience: Choosing and Using Picture Books in the Classroom, a 32-page flipchart on choosing and using picture books in the classroom.

If you don't know Stenhouse, I recommend you make their acquaintance. This publisher engages in the nearly unheard-of practice of publishing full books online, in pdf format, for educators to preview before purchasing. While this seems incredibly foolhardy, I'll admit that I've bought several books after previewing them in this way. The previewing experience showed me exactly what I was getting, and in many cases turned me on to a book which I might have otherwise passed by. (Other publishers should take a page from the Stenhouse playbook).

Now I have to admit, I was at first pretty skeptical about this 32-page book. How much useful information could possibly be contained in such a small publication?

A lot, it turns out. This concise little booklet very quickly gets to the core of what the "experience" of picture books is about by asking readers to inventory their own feelings about picture books. From there it moves to picture book classifications, topics, and "best of" lists. For the novice, this is all good stuff.

Then Swartz begins discussing the process of sharing picture books by creating a purposeful plan for the experience in the classroom. He provides questions and organizational structures for before, during, and after the reading, including what he calls "30 Ways of Working Inside and Outside Picture Books." The final pages present Class Events (culminating activities adaptable for any grade level) and blackline masters relating to activities discussed previously in the booklet.
Whether you're looking for a way to get your toe in the water or you're ready to jump in and totally commit, then The Picture Book Experience is a good start. And while at Stenhouse, be sure to browse some of their other titles. Need a recommendation? Have a book that's a favorite? Drop me a line.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A League of Their Own: Women in Baseball

Ask most people what they know about women's professional baseball and they're apt to sheepishly mutter that they once saw A League of Their Own. A good movie; no complaints there. But women created a much richer legacy in the history of baseball that deserves exploration.

Once you've checked out the summaries of the books below, refer back to the Extra Innings post for themes, questions, cross-curricular extensions, and some pretty cool websites. I've included just a few extra resources below to enhance your use of these titles.

Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women who Won the World Championship
by Doreen Rappaport and Lyndall Callan
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The true-life 1946 championship game between the Rockford Peaches and the Racine Belles sets the scene for a young girl's first professional baseball game. We experience the excitement of the moment with her through multiple perspectives of the event. Interspersed are brief historical notes, baseball idioms, and beautiful uses of figurative language. Illustrator E.B. Lewis once again contributes his considerable artistic talents (see Across the Alley in the previous post) to make this book a satisfying read.

One way Lewis accomplishes this is by showing us varying points of view throughout the book. First we see young Margaret in the stands with her mother, visibly excited. We then find ourselves sitting in the stands with her, looking out at the field. Next we're facing the batter straight on (from the pitcher's mound), and so on. These visual perspectives are an excellent lead-in to any novel which deals with multiple character/narrator perspectives. I've used this book for exactly that purpose prior to class readings of books such as Poppy by Avi and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, where a grasp of differing points of view is essential for understanding the narrative.

Mama Played Baseball
by David Adler
illustrated by Chris O'Leary

Amy helps her mother to get a job as a player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League while Amy's father serves in the army during World War II. Like the above book, this one provides excellent background about both the women's baseball league and the role that women played in the workplace during the war. This book seems to make the argument that what were doing at home to support the war effort was nearly as important as what the boys themselves were doing overseas.

This is illustrator Chris O'Leary's first picture book, and I think half this book's charm comes from the fact that the pictures are so reminiscent of the 1930's mural art (such as Early Spanish Caballeros, pictured to the right)created by Works Progress Administration artists during the Great Depression.

A brief history of the WPA, plus links to WPA murals in many states, can be found here. Have students compare some of those works to O'Leary's to discuss similarities and differences.

Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen
by Marissa Moss
illustrated by C.F.Payne

I love this true story of the seventeen year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, back to back, during a 1931 exhibition game in Chattanooga. This is a perfect example of a picture book at its finest, giving the reader "just enough information" to care, while leaving the reader wanting to know more. C.F. Payne, one of America's greatest illustrators, is totally on his game here (you knew I had to throw in a baseball idiom eventually).

Unfortunately for Jackie, women's time in baseball had not yet come, and to read the Author's Note about her career in the game is somewhat heartbreaking. But Jackie proved that any girl can achieve great things once she chooses to commit herself to a dream, with heart, soul, mind, and body.

This book clearly illustrates the sexism which was present at this time, and can certainly be used as a discussion starter for sexist remarks which continue to this day such as, "You throw like a girl." A question for students to consider might be, "If Jackie was as good as any male pitcher, then why wasn't she permitted to play in the major leagues?"

Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • After you read aloud the Author's Note at the end of Mighty Jackie, have students write a letter to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the then-baseball commissioner, providing reasons why Jackie should be permitted to play. At this time (1931), what strides were other women making that were proving that they were as good as, if not better than, men?
  • Share a version of Casey at the Bat with students (the reworking by Christopher Bing is one of my favorites). Have students work in pairs to rewrite the poem, telling how Jackie Mitchell struck out the Babe.
Extension Ideas: Social Studies
  • The All American Girls Professional Baseball League site is full of histories, records, pictures, and player information. Have students learn about a player from their geographical area. Students can also map all known players and try to determine if a majority of them came from any one region of the U.S. If so, why?
  • Have students design a team logo or uniform for a newly formed team from a town or city of their choice? What's the team's name, you ask? That's up to students! Through a bit of research, students can find an animal or other symbol of that region to create a team name.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Going Extra Innings with Baseball Picture Books

Baseball is America's great pastime. But baseball is also history, science, biography, statistics, and story. Here I discuss just a few of the dozens of titles available for exploring this beloved (and to many, sacred) sport. And no worries, ladies; you'll get your turn at bat in the next post. Those ladies with "dirt on their skirts" have equally amazing stories to tell.

Universal Themes:
Acceptance, Accomplishment, Change, Culture, Determination, Differences, Enthusiasm, Excellence, Generations, Heroism, Inspiration, Leadership, Loyalty, Memory, Origins, Perspectives, Prejudice, Pride, Respect, Social Change, Success, Teamwork, Tolerance, Tradition

Before Reading Questions
  • Who here has ever played baseball or softball?
  • How do you feel about baseball as a sport?
  • Who has ever been to a stadium to see a game? Do you prefer major leagues or minor leagues?
  • Who collects baseball cards? Why? Who has a favorite player, or who has a mom or dad that has a favorite player?
Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth
written by Robert Burleigh
illustrated by Mike Wimmer

Through one at-bat, this story eloquently retells how Babe Ruth changed baseball forever. The illustrations are bold and immediate; each one puts us squarely in the action. Many, especially those that depict the crowd, are nostalgically reminiscent of Norman Rockwell paintings. The large text is almost poetry, and finer historical details are provided on the backs of baseball cards which adorn each page. For those of us who may have forgotten just how large a shadow the Babe cast (literally and figuratively), these facts remind us. For example, in 1921, with 59 home runs, Babe had more than most other entire American League teams.

written by Peter Golenbock
illustrated by Paul Bacon

While most Americans can identify Jackie Robinson and his achievement in becoming the first black player to play on a Major League baseball team, few know much about the players of the Negro Leagues and their contributions to the game. This simple picture book provides just enough background for students to understand the difficulties and sacrifice involved with Robinson's decision, and it beautifully illustrates how Pee Wee Reese stood by his friend when even his own teammates disparaged and ostracized Robinson openly.

I often use this book to introduce the concept of conflict. We discuss the conflict of character vs. society when Jackie chooses to leave the Negro Leagues for the Major Leagues at a time when American society was still widely and systematically segregated. Character vs. character conflicts are evident in both the fans' and teammates' rejections of Robinson. Finally, Jackie faced a conflict with himself as he struggled to find the courage to persevere through the most trying times. Players on opposing teams tried to spike him with their cleats or beam him in the head with high pitches. He received death threats from both individuals and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. But Pee Wee Reese's single, bold show of solidarity and friendship proved to Jackie and the world that nothing could stand in the way of an idea whose time had come, ushered in by a man of good heart and great talent.

Across the Alley
written by Richard Michelson
illustrated by E.B.Lewis

Abe and Willie are next door neighbors but can't play together because Abe's grandfather feels that Jewish boys shouldn't waste their time with baseball. Little does Grandfather know that every night Abe pretends he's Sandy Koufax, and he and Willie toss a ball back and forth across the alley. But what happens when they're discovered by Grandfather?

There's obviously more to this story, but I want you to experience it for yourself. In addition to some beautiful imagery and language, the author introduces readers to Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, and Jascha Heifetz, but only by name. Who were these people? Why are they mentioned? We also hear references to the Negro Leagues and the Nazis, but again, we're not given full explanations. So this book offers many opportunities for students to create their own historical context for a better understanding of the story's core ideas.

Oliver's Game
by Matt Tavares

When Oliver discovers an old jersey in the back of his grandfather's shop, he's surprised to learn that it belongs to Grandfather. "But you never played for the Cubs," protests Oliver. And so Grandfather retells the tale of the jersey and how one fateful day (December 7, 1941) changed the life of every American.
This book recalls the heroism of those who chose to serve their country, and it also points out that baseball is for everyone, not just the lucky few who can play on the field.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

You might argue that this isn't a picture book since it's divided into chapters. Well, I don't know what book you're talking about, because mine is divided into innings. It's also filled with some of the most outstanding artwork to grace the pages of any book in recent memory. Kadir Nelson's paintings are heroic, iconic, and simply mesmerizing. They dare the reader not to explore the lives of these great players of Negro baseball. Read in "installments" over a period of days, this book will prove a big hit with your students. Another thing I love about it: it's narrated in the first person, using "we." We are there to witness the tribulations and triumphs.

Post Reading Questions

Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • Apart from baseball, what else was this book about?
  • Which parts of this book do we know are real? Which parts might be fiction? Does it matter which are which?
  • What were some difficulties the main character faced in this book?
  • What do you think happened next?
  • Many students will want to write about their own experiences playing baseball. Those who prefer another sport or activity or who have had little experience with playing or watching baseball can either write about their own sport, or create a fictional narrative about any sport they choose.
  • The Educator's Reference Desk features a Negro League Baseball lesson plan on writing which uses the picture book The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. The plan includes printable activity sheets.
  • Have students brainstorm a list of baseball-inspired idioms (such as "batting a thousand"). Each students can then define and illustrate one of those expressions for a class book on Baseball Idioms. (This activity was adapted from a set of ideas which can be found at Education World).
Extension Ideas: Math
  • Imagine sports without numbers. What problems would that cause? Have students first brainstorm a list of ways in which numbers are used in baseball. Then, ask student teams to redesign the game so that numbers would need to be used in any way for player identification, field designations, scoring, seating, ticketing, concessions, etc.
  • Teach your students how to calculate a batting average. Students can then use this skill to calculate their own batting average after playing a virtual batting game online, such as the one found at the kids' section of the Major League Baseball site. Illuminations provides a more complete, structured lesson plan for middle and high school teachers wishing to do more with the math concepts behind batting averages.
  • Batter's Up gives kids a good math work-out while swing the bat at multiplication facts.
Extension Ideas: Science

  • The Science of Baseball at Exploratorium is a well-designed site with a retro feel. It features baseball history infused with the science behind the game. Lots to explore here, including a neat simulation that allows students to change variables of batting in order to try hitting one out of the park, and a simulation testing reaction time when swinging at a 90 mph major league pitch.
  • Science of Baseball from the Why Files isn't nearly as interactive or charming, but provides the rest of the science behind the game for any student interested.
Extension Ideas: Social Studies
  • Kaboose features a neat baseball timeline. Students can use this as a starting point for researching some of baseball's most important events. An exhaustive site such as the Baseball Almanac will help provide additional facts. Your kids may also enjoy the online companion to Ken Burns' phenomenal Baseball mini-series on PBS.
For Further Study:
At this same site I've also written about Women in Baseball, as well as a wonderful picture book that teaches kids how to keep a scorecard at a ball game

Teachers First has many more sites and ideas for teachers seeking to really extend the baseball topic in the classrooms.

Also, the folks over at TeqSmart (a company which develops some really awesome SMART applications) came up with one cool baseball link I hadn't seen before, the Kids' site from the West Michigan Whitecaps, featuring baseball content categorized by subject area. More math ideas, baseball terms, and fun historical facts, plus a cool glossary of baseball-related injuries.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tough Teaching Topic: Holocaust Remembrance Days

In a recent press release I suggest the use of picture books when teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching an important current event such as National Holocaust Remembrance Days, observed this week.

As my readers know, this is a topic about which I feel strongly. See my post on Holocaust picture books, which I recently updated to include a review of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit at Daphne Lee's The Places You Will Go blog.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Secret Olivia Told Me

The Secret Olivia Told Me
by N. Joy
Illustrated by Nancy Devard

Universal Themes:
Cause and Effect, Conflict Resolution, Friendship, Integrity, Loyalty, Relationships, Respect, Sensitivity

Social skills, while usually "caught," sometimes need to be taught. The Secret Olivia Told Me is an elegantly simple book which illustrates the way in which a secret, once shared, is a secret no more. Like that old party game Telephone, the secret changes and grows as it spreads from person to person.

Before Reading Questions
  • Who has ever had a secret that was just to good to keep to yourself? With whom did you share that secret?
  • Who likes to hear secrets? What's the problem with hearing a secret? Is it easy to keep to ourselves?
  • Take a look at our cover, both front and back. What' seems to be happening here? Have you ever seen this occurring at our school?
Olivia told me a secret
I promised I would not tell
It was such a great, big secret,
I thought my head would swell.
So begins this tale, simply told in rhyme, and beautifully illustrated in crisply drawn black silhouettes with selective white details. Of course the story's narrator cannot keep the secret to herself, so she shares it with just one more friend. As the story progresses, a red balloon metaphorically grows in size in the background of each picture, until it explodes in a rain of confetti at story's end. Although this story is entirely predictable, students love it for that very reason; they have, after all, been witness to this very same phenomenon. They are secretly hoping that the two girls can salvage the relationship before this thing gets too far.

Post Reading Questions

The Author's Note at the book's end provides the reader with several excellent questions for reflection (a great resource when sharing the book aloud, as well). I won't reprint them all here (you can see them for yourself in the book), but the one question which is key for any age group is this: "Are there any secrets you shouldn't keep?" This book is invaluable for the deep discussion which will result from that one question alone. And of course, it may prompt additional questions such as:
  • Are there secrets that can be harmful if kept?
  • Who are some people we can trust with our secrets, especially those secrets that make us uncomfortable?
  • How do we know the difference between a good secret and a bad secret? Can you give an example of each?
Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • After hearing this poem read aloud, many students have wanted to share stories about secrets and secret telling. This is probably best handled as an optional journal prompt, since other children may have personal narrative to share on the concept.
  • A simple acrostic poem using the word SECRET can give advice on how to be a better friend when it comes to keeping secrets.
  • Discuss the purpose of advice columns in newspapers, and share an appropriate example with students. Then, provide two to three fictitious scenarios and allow students to respond with their advice. In which situations should they advocate secret keeping? In which situations should they advocate telling a trusted adult?
Extension Ideas: Social Studies

A number of picture books on spies and codes are available for those students who want to explore the world of "professional secret keepers."

Extension Ideas: Sunday School/Home School

The Bible contains a good deal of wisdom about the power of the tongue, and the need for it to be tamed. If you teach Sunday School, if you home school, or if you're seeking an idea for a devotional, check out this resource called Taming the Tongue.

The Secret Olivia Told Me is published by Just Us Books, founded by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson in 1988. This innovative, New Jersey-based company is now considered one of the leading publishers of Black interest titles for young people.

The Privileged Status of Story

"I have read that the mind treats stories differently than other types of information. It seems obvious that people like listening to stories, but it’s not obvious how to use that in the classroom. Is it really true that stories are somehow "special" and, if so, how can teachers capitalize on that fact?"

The answer to this question is well worth a read for any teacher desiring to put the power of story into their daily instruction. Cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham addresses the topic of the application of story in the classroom in his excellent article The Privileged Status of Story, one of his many Ask the Cognitive Scientist columns at the AFT's American Educator.

Daniel first defines story using four features commonly agreed upon by professional storytellers (playwrights, screenwriters, and novelists). These features (sometimes called the 4 Cs) are Causality, Conflict, Complications, and Character. Even if a teacher chooses not to tell "stories" in the traditional sense, employing just one of these features can have a profound impact on every lesson, helping to create learning that is interesting, memorable, and easier to comprehend.

Many of his ideas can be adapted to the use of picture books in the content areas. Be sure to read all the way through; you'll find great practical applications throughout!

Upcoming post: Play Ball! Baseball Picture Books

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Comical Relief for Reluctant Writers

MakeBeliefsComix is a terrific interactive site which will help to motivate even your most reluctant writers. Okay, so this isn't my usual "teaching with picture books" content. But lately, I've gotten a few emails from teachers looking for ways to get their hardcore haters excited about writing. "Picture books helped with the reading," one follower said, "but what about the writing?"

First, if you haven't checked out my small collection of Interactive Writing Sites, head over there now. We'll wait. You'll find some really good stuff that has proven effective in many classrooms. There's a poetry generator there that's just perfect for Poetry Month!

Then, check out MakeBeliefsComix. For our graphic novels generation, what could possibly make more sense? I won't spend long selling you on the site, because I think you'll see for yourself that it's well designed, highly intuitive, and very open-ended.

If you'd rather not unleash such unbridled freedom upon your young writers, there's good news for you. MakeBeliefsComix has just launched a printables section, with teachers and parents in mind. These aren't coloring pages! We're talking prompts, people!

If you try any of these activities in your classroom, let me know how they work out!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Paul Revere Rides Again and Again and Again

Picture books are a fabulous resource for building background knowledge on a historic topic. The true but ugly fact is that in most history textbooks today there's simply not much story. Without details and drama, few kids get excited about the past. Picture books to the rescue!

While your curriculum may not include the Revolutionary War or a historical fiction text set in that time (such as Esther Forbe's Johnny Tremain), you nonetheless can get some ideas for using multiple-perspective texts as we discuss the picture book interpretations of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. However, if you like the Midnight Ride topic, one great way to use these ideas to to play up the poetry angle! April is, after all, Poetry Month. Also, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which came as a result of the midnight ride, occurred on April 19th, so the timing is serendipitous.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
illustrated by Christopher Bing

Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
illustrated by Monica Vachula

Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
illustrated by Ted Rand

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
illustrated by Jeffrey Thompson

Paul Revere's Midnight Ride
by Stephen Krensky
illustrated by Greg Harlin

Before Reading Questions
  • In the 1770s, which country owned the most colonies in America? How many colonies did Great Britain own along the Atlantic coast?
  • Why were the colonies upset with Great Britain? (Large debts incurred due to the recent French and Indian War had prompted Britain to tax the colonies; this was done, however, without the colonists having any representation in Parliament, the law-making body of British government. Thus, the phrase "taxation without representation." The British government had also decided that colonial settlement should expand no further to the West; this upset George Washington and others who had commercial interests in lands beyond the thirteen colonies).
  • What events had occurred in Boston prior to 1775 that had increased tensions? (taxes which were deemed unfair, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party)
  • What did the group of Patriots in Boston call themselves? (the Sons of Liberty) Who were some of the most famous leaders of this group? (Samuel Adams, Paul Revere)


For most picture book experiences in my class, I prefer a group read-aloud approach. That is certainly true of the Holocaust picture books we use to provide background for our Number the Stars unit.

In the case of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, however, we took a different approach. I divided students into groups of four and gave each student a double-spaced copy of Longfellow's poem. Students read the poem as a group, underlining words and passages which they didn't understand.

I then spread out the six picture books on the topic, and assigned each group a place to begin. Working just six minutes at each station, students read the book together and viewed the illustrations. They then attempted to add notes, definitions, and general thoughts and questions to their printed copies of the poems. As time ended, each group rotated clockwise to the next station which offered a slightly different perspective of the same story.

After Reading Questions
  • How many of you were able to define unknown words or explain unfamiliar phrases by looking at the pictures in the books provided? Which words or phrases are still confusing?
  • What did you group like most about this book? (hold up each book in turn) Overall, which book did your group find most helpful?
  • Why would this historical event appeal to this poet?

Extension Ideas: Language Arts/Social Studies
  • Following a very brief discussion of students' findings through the picture books, I introduce them to The Midnight Rider Virtual Museum, an interactive, online resource which allows students to read a hypertext version of the famous poem. As students read, they can click on any highlighted text for which they'd like more information. This resource allows them to independently confirm or emend any information which their group has recorded. The site contains additional printable resources which teachers can choose from to enrich the experience. A highly recommended follow-up to the picture book experience.
  • Show the Disney film version of Johnny Tremain in class, or read select text passages from that book. Have students compare and contrast with the poem version of the famous ride. What other information does the movie or book provide that helps the reader to better understand the poem?
  • features a multi-part lesson plan on Paul Revere which makes use of its online student writing tools and The Midnight Rider Virtual Museum. Even if you don't prefer to extend this lesson for four or five class periods, do check this site for the additional online references it provides.

  • Paul Revere was just one rider charged with the task of spreading news. Who were some other Patriots who defied the odds in carrying out these dangerous missions? Why were couriers such as these necessary at this time in history?
  • Provide some additional versions of the event, such as the graphic novel Paul Revere's Ride, as alternatives for the picture books mentioned above.
  • As you study the American Revolution, assign these same student groups historical events or dates which they must set to verse using a given number of lines. Combine all groups' efforts for a class poem (and an effective study guide!).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holocaust Picture Books

Universal Themes:
Acceptance, Courage, Determination, Heroism, Loss, Tolerance

NOTE: Since the publishing of this post, I have created an Annotated List of Holocaust Picture Books which includes the following books, and many more. Get that free resource and be sure to share recommendations I may have missed!

A growing number of teachers and parents who have attended my workshops or visited my sites have asked about picture books for teaching the Holocaust. Many teachers, for example, express interest in using picture books to establish historical background for novels such as The Devil's Arithmetic, Number the Stars, The Diary of a Young Girl, and Milkweed. Another great Holocaust-related novel is When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (read a review at Daphne Lee's The Places You Will Go blog).

I know from several years' experience with my own fourth graders that students at this level have an extremely limited (if not nonexistent) schema concerning World War II and the Holocaust. And furthermore, their parents typically do not want them to learn the gruesome details of the event. Picture books allow me to prepare students with just enough age-appropriate foundational knowledge to understand the social and historical context of a novel such as Number the Stars.

Some teachers have asked, "How can picture books address a serious topic such as the Holocaust, an historic event filled with equal parts tragedy and heroism, horror and courage? Don't picture books denigrate and disrespect the memories of those who perished and those who survived?"

I would challenge those teachers to examine the excellent picture books I've collected here. I think you'll agree that each of these texts will provide a concise, emotionally powerful account of this important human story that dignifies and honors all who were involved.
"... in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at
heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion,
misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I
hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the
sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it
will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and
tranquility will return again."

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
by Jo Hoestlandt

In the middle of the night, children wonder about the strange comings and goings they witness in their apartment building. Why the mysterious knocks and whispered exchanges? Why do they never see some of their neighbors again? Told with brevity and illustrated with subdued colors, this books encapsulates the uncertainty and intensity of the times.

by Karen Hesse

Upon my first reading, I thought this book was somewhat of a joke, if not outright disrespectful. When the citizens of Warsaw hear that the Germans have learned of a plot to smuggle Jews through the train depot, an unlikely plot is hatched. The citizens, most of them children, gather all of the city's stray cats and bundle them in large sacks. These cats are later released at the station, confounding the Nazi dogs that were brought in to sniff out the Jews. I was shocked to read the final page and discover that this event actually occurred! Students are amazed to learn that kids their age could act with such bravery in such a desperate time.

The Butterfly
by Patricia Polacco

Monique awakens one night and imagines that she sees a ghost in her room. She later discovers that the ghost is actually a young Jewish girl, being hidden from the Nazis who occupy the French town. Although the symbol of a butterfly as freedom may seem too familiar to adults, students will enjoy identifying and discussing the metaphorical meaning of the book's title. This book, too, is based upon actual events, this time involving relatives of the author.

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark 

by Carmen Agra Deedy

When Denmark is occupied by the Nazis, King Christian X is allowed to remain in office, and he faithfully rides, unguarded, through the streets of Copenhagen each day, greeting his subjects. When this popular king learns that the Nazis plan to force Danish Jews to wear stars, the king enlists his tailor to sew a Star of David on his tunic. The following day the king, who is not Jewish, proudly wears the star as he takes his morning ride. His subjects, inspired by this act of bravery and resistance, follow his example. Unfortunately, the author explains at the book's end, this story did not, in fact, happen in this way. But, she asks, what if it had? What if the king had summoned the courage to do this? And what if everyone in the world, when facing unfairness and prejudice, were brave enough to stand up for what is right?

I Never Saw Another Butterfly 

by Hana Volavkova

"Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism." (from the Review)

This unusual picture book contains drawings and verse from children who passed through a German concentration camp. A simple, yet powerful, book for sharing.

Before Reading Questions
  • What do we know about World War II? Why was it called a world war? Which countries were at war?
  • Who has ever heard of the Holocaust? What do we know about that event?
  • What is meant by prejudice? What seems to be that word's root word? Who has ever heard of the word tolerance?
In my own class, two or three of these books are used to set historical background and build schema. As we begin our novel, other picture books are read to see this event from different perspectives. The selection and order of picture books depends upon many variables including the age of students, existing knowledge, the chosen novel, and selected themes. As the unit progresses you may decide that you need to include additional picture books to fill in learning gaps.

After Reading Questions
  • What are your feelings about this book?
  • What would you have done in this same situation?
  • Who had difficult choices to make? Who was forced to act in a certain way without any other choice?
  • Think about our themes for this unit. How are those themes addressed here?
  • Let me share with you what the author wrote at the end of this book (share any additional historical information which the author or editor have provided). How does that help us better understand what we read?
Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • The nation of Israel created a postage stamp and a monument to honor the Danes who helped smuggle Jews from their country during World War II. Similarly, students could design a stamp, monument, or other memorial to honor a person or group of people who exhibited bravery or integrity during this troubling time.
  • Many Jews were able to emigrate from Europe in order to escape the Nazi regime. Who were some of the most famous Jewish refugees? What contributions have they made to American culture? An excellent picture book for understanding the refuge experience is Ann E. Burg's Rebekkah's Journey, a meticulously researched historical fiction picture book which describes President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to shelter 1000 Jews in upstate New York. The facts are given a human perspective through the eyes of seven-year-old Rebekkah.

Extension Ideas: Social Studies
  • In 1998, the principal of Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee wanted to open her students eyes to the world beyond their small, rural community. Students and teachers began collecting six million paper clips to symbolize the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The project took on a life of its own, which is chronicled in an excellent documentary titled Paper Clips. You can find an informative discussion of that film at the American Historical Association site. This movie is appropriate for grades four and up. After viewing the film, students can discuss which understandings of the Holocaust were confirmed, and what new information was gained. Older students may even wish to research media reactions to this project; not all were supportive.
  • Students can research Holocaust memorials throughout the world. How are the victims and heroes of this tragic event remembered?

Do you have another resource you use for teaching the Holocaust? Does your class read a Holocaust related novel, and if so, what are the themes upon which you focus? Would love to hear from you; please email me your thoughts!