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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making Peace with Picture Books

Character education is best taught through models. 

But one look at the headlines of any newspaper should reveal that we, as adults, are failing to provide those models for children. Perhaps picture books can better serve this purpose. But rather than focus upon just one of the Six Pillars of Character®, let's focus upon the intended result: Peace.

Through picture books we can Make Peace with Ourselves, Make Peace with Each Other, and Make Peace with the World.

Make Peace with Yourself

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners
by Laurie Keller

When Mr. Rabbit discovers that the Otters will be his new neighbors, he exclaims, "I don't know anything about otters. What if we don't get along?" That alone is a fabulous conversation starter for students, who are likely to offer many ways that the two animals might disagree, and agree.

Mr. Owl shares an old saying: "Do unto Otters as you would have otters do unto you." This, in turn, leads Mr. Rabbit to wonder, "How would I like otters to treat me?" He decides he would like otters to be friendly, and polite, and honest, and so on, but more importantly, he describes what those words mean to him, and provides many examples.

So while Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners at first glance seems to be about manners, it's actually about becoming the kind of person you would like others to be. What's surprising and refreshing is that it doesn't come off as preachy, and Laurie Keller's illustrations are simply hilarious.
  • Extension: Using the traits provided in the book, help students create a "Looks Like, Sounds Like" T-chart for each. We all know that Honesty is important, but what does that look like? How can we see it being practiced? And what does it sound like?
Those Shoes 
by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

More than anything else, Jeremy wants "those shoes," those cool black ones with the two white stripes. They're in every ad, and everyone has them! Everyone, it seems, but Jeremy. His grandmother tells him that "There's no room for 'want' around here - just 'need.' And what you need are new boots for winter."

Through a series of events, Jeremy discovers that Grandma is right: a new best friend, a loving family, and a pair of warm boots are all that he needs, and all that he wants.
  • Extension: After reading Those Shoes, show students some ads from magazines, or even some popular commercials which have been posted online. Are these advertisements appealing to our needs, or our wants? If you're looking for an in-depth lesson plan on this topic, check out a previous post on Media Messages (featuring some great links) and another on Dollars and Sense (financial literacy for students).
Making Peace with Others

Three Hens and a Peacock
written by Lester L. Laminack, illustrated by Henry Cole

Life on the farm is quiet, with only an occasional visitor stopping to buy tomatoes or corn, or perhaps a quart of milk. All of that changes when a crate falls from a passing truck, and a peacock finds itself down on the farm.

Confused by his new surroundings, the peacock does what comes naturally: he spreads his feathers and begins shrieking. Folks passing by stop to admire this marvel, and of course they purchase all the tomatoes, corn, and milk. Soon business is booming and everyone is happy!

Everyone, that is, but the chickens.

"We do all the work around here." they complain. I'd like to see that peacock lay one single egg... That peacock gets all the attention and we do all the work!"

Dismayed by the hens' comments, the peacock mopes around for days, until the old dog finally suggests a solution. "Why not let the peacock stay here to be useful while you hens take the glamorous job down by the road?"

Henry Cole's hilarious illustrations of the fat chickens dressed in their finery, and the equally plump peacock attempting to squeeze into the hen house, help the reader to instantly realize that neither party is playing to its strengths. Neither the chickens nor the peacock find satisfaction in their new roles, and all are happy to return to the previous arrangement.

All's well that ends well, right? Maybe. But what's in that new crate that just fell from the passing truck?
  • Extension: Students will love predicting what might be in the box which falls off the truck at book's end. (The large egg pictured in the book's inside back cover might give us a hint). Students may also enjoy writing their own versions of a role-reversal tale with its funny implications. Settings might include a farm, zoo, or circus.
Peace Week in Miss Fox's Class
by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Anne Kennedy

Miss Fox has had it with all the arguing in her class. "That does it!" she exclaims. "We're having Peace Week." When her students ask her what that is, she puts the question back in their laps: "It's your Peace Week. You design it."

What a wonderful prompt! I think we'd all agree that students often know what it means to be polite and peaceful, but putting those abstract notions into concrete actions is where the problem lies. Her students succeed in doing it, and the good feelings and the positive interactions carry over into the words and actions of all with whom they come into contact.
  • Extension: A natural extension is to create a Peace Week! You'll certainly find ideas in Peace Week in Miss Fox's Class, but additionally you may want to share books about peace (some suggestions appear here!) and perhaps study great peace makers (winners of the Nobel Peace Prize might be a good place to start; see Wangari's Trees of Peace below). The week could even culminate with a "Mirthday Party," celebrating what was accomplished.
Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare
by Patricia Polacco

This oldie but goodie is especially popular with older students who can sympathize with sibling squabbles! In this autobiographical tale, Patricia laments that she'll be in the same school as her "rotten redheaded older brother."

After Richie and his friends make fun of her dancing, Patricia challenges him to attend her ballet school and perform in the recital. Richie counters the challenge with one of his own: his sister must practice with the ice hockey team and play in a game. Students love cheering on the siblings, and they're always surprised to learn that the story is based on a real-life event from the author's life.
  • Extension: How does putting ourselves in "another person's shoes" help us to better understand them? Have students create a story where two characters come to appreciate each other's differences through a reversal in roles. 
    Making Peace with the World

    Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa
    by Jeanette Winter

    "The earth was naked. For me the mission was to try to cover it with green." Wangari Maathai

    Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa tells the true story of how Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai revived her native Kenya by encouraging the planting of over thirty million trees. Although almost cliche, the phrase "Think globally, act locally," could never be so true.
    • Extension: You might also consider sharing Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya, written by written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. How is the same story interpreted by two different writers and illustrators? Which sentence from each book is most powerful? Do those sentences express the same thought? Which illustrations help you to best visualize Wangari Maathai? Which pictures help you to best visualize the land of Kenya? Why might it be important to use multiple resources when researching a topic?
    • Extension: Ask students what could be done beautify their own world. Consider taking on a simple project to make the classroom or school more beautiful.
    A Lion's Mane
    by Navjot Kaur, illustrated by Jaspreet Sandhu

    "I have a lion's mane and I am different, just like you. Do you know who I am? The lion and its mane are special in many cultures around the world. Join my flowing red dastaar on a journey to find out why I have a long mane."

    A daastar is another term for turban; often worn by young Sikh males and in another style by young Sikh females. Beneath this daastar, Sikh males wear a long "mane" of hair. Taking the metaphor of a lion's mane, author Navjot Kaur transports readers to many diverse cultures the world over, whose esteem for the virtues of the lion (strength, respect, courage, loyalty, patience, wisdom) unites them, regardless of their other differences.

    Illustrator Jaspreet Sandhu enforces the metaphor of the mane by unfurling the bright red sash across every page, providing a bold contrast to the the lion's virtues which are printed clearly upon it. Additionally, a glossary and pronunciation guide assist the teacher in further discussion of the book's topics. A wonderful title for children struggling with tolerance and acceptance of cultures which seem very different from their own.
    • Extension: A simple way to discuss cultural symbolism is through the study of national flags. What do the colors, shapes, and symbols of each flag represent? Students are excited to learn that their flag shares common traits with those of their classmates.
    Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace
    by James Proimos

    Paulie Pastrami can't whistle, he has trouble matching his socks, and he is usually picked last in sports. But he plans to achieve world peace before he turns eight. After all he's accomplished a lot in his lifetime: he ate an entire pizza in one sitting, he beat a tiger in a race (actually, it was a kitty named Tiger), and he was even kissed by a girl (Aunt Margie). "But achieving world peace was his greatest accomplishment to date."

    Paulie begins with being kind to plants and animals, and his efforts soon turn to humankind. His actions have an impact on his classmates and then his entire school. Eager to do more, Paulie convinces his father that a world tour is in order! Armed with a trailer full of cupcakes (which can often settle a dispute when nothing else can), Paulie and Dad tour the world, or at least their small part of it (Furniture World, Tire World, Sports World, Toy World, World of Magic and finally Mattress World).

    Upon returning home, Paulie Pastrami's father announces, "Now entering your home: Paulie Pastrami, the boy who just achieved world peace!" Exhausted but satisfied with his efforts, Paulie goes to sleep, peacefully. James Proimos' bold and bright pictures and minimal text per page will make this a popular independent book for younger readers.
    • Extension: Paulie's success relies upon cause and effect. After discussing this with students, ask them what small act they could carry out which might have a positive effect upon a single person, who might, in turn, do a kind act for another. Encourage students to ask themselves, "What Would Paulie Do?" and write about and illustrate one kind act they could commit that might lead to world peace.
    What Does Peace Feel Like
    by Vladimir Radunsky

    What Does Peace Feel Like gathers the wisdom of numerous children who tell us what peace smells like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, and feels like. Each spread is devoted to one of the senses, with the thoughts of five to seven children per page.
    • Extension: This simple book relies upon bright images and similes and metaphors to share its message. Students can easily use figurative language to create their own interpretations of what peace looks like, smells like, etc. and illustrate those same thoughts with watercolor paintings. A nice activity for kicking off or culminating your very own Peace Week.
    Have your own favorite book on peacemaking, or an activity you've successfully used in your class or school? Please share it in a comment below!

    For more on ideas on making peace, check out Josephson Institute's Six Pillars of Character®.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Literary Giveaway Blog Hop

    I'm pleased to participate in Leeswammes's Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, which allows blog readers to visit many excellent blogs (see the list below) for the chance to win awesome books and other prizes. (THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED). Here at Teach with Picture Books I'm giving away a Caldecott Honor picture book (of course!), a Newbery Honor Award chapter book, and a sensational nonfiction business title.

    My guidelines, as always, are simple:
    1. The giveaway is open to US residents only.
    2. To enter, email me with the title of the book you hope to win in the subject line. Want to win all three? Send three separate emails.
    3. You don't have to follow me to win, but it would be a nice gesture. Pity follows are happily accepted. Following my blog will increase your good karma, but not your chances of winning.
    4. Contest will close at midnight EST on February 24th EST. I'll notify winners shortly thereafter.
    My picture book giveaway is the 2010 Caldecott Honor Book Interrupting Chicken, written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, and generously provided by my friends at Candlewick Press.

    From the Candlewick site:
    It’s time for the little red chicken’s bedtime story --and a reminder from Papa to try not to interrupt. But the chicken can’t help herself! Whether the tale is HANSEL AND GRETEL or LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD or even CHICKEN LITTLE, she jumps into the story to save its hapless characters from doing some dangerous or silly thing. Now it’s the little red chicken’s turn to tell a story, but will her yawning papa make it to the end without his own kind of interrupting? Energetically illustrated with glowing colors --and offering humorous story-within-a-story views --this all-too-familiar tale is sure to amuse (and hold the attention of ) spirited little chicks.
    A favorite joke inspires this charming tale, in which a little chicken’s habit of interrupting bedtime stories is gleefully turned on its head.
    Be sure to visit the publisher's site for downloadable activities, as well as their original Story Hour kit.

    My chapter book giveaway is the Newbery Honor Book The Jumping Off Place, written by Marian Hurd McNeely, and generously provided by my friends at South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

    From the SDSHP site:
    Four young homesteaders strive to succeed on a quarter section in Tripp County, South Dakota, at the beginning of the 1900s. Faced with the prospect of the upcoming harsh winter, the youngsters work hard to "prove up" the land and buildings. All the while, Becky, Dick, Phil, and Joan contend with drought, discomfort, and sabotaging squatters. As winter looms, the battle for their land heats up. Short of money and fearful for their lives, the children learn that the prairie is not as lonely as it looks and that they are stronger than they thought. With the help of new-found friends and their own derring-do, the youngsters seek to hold the enemy at bay and withstand whatever the elements throw at them.
    The Jumping Off Place makes an excellent companion book to any study of Pioneers or the Westward Movement. Also a great comparison novel to such classics as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.

    My nonfiction business book giveaway is the soon-to-be-best-selling Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, written by Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple, and generously provided by the man himself.

    Reviews of this book say it all:

    "Guy's book captures the importance - and the art - of believing in an idea that delivers something entirely unique to the customer. The power of a really good idea to transform the marketplace and individual customer experiences is huge, and this book offers a wealth of insights to help businesses and entrepreneurs tap into that potential."
    -Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
    "Kawasaki provides insights so valuable we all wish we'd had them first."
    -Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice
    "Guy has written the small-business manifesto. There is nothing more important for entrepreneurs than to enchant their customers, and Guy explains exactly how to do this."
    -Jane Applegate, author of 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business
    Hope you see a book you like!

    Good luck with the drawing, and be sure to visit these other awesome blogs for more chances to win:

    1. Leeswammes (Int)
    2. Teadevotee (Int)
    3. The Book Whisperer (Int)
    4. Uniflame Creates (Int)
    5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
    6. Stiletto Storytime (USA, CA)
    7. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (Int)
    8. The Bookkeeper (Int)
    9. Chinoiseries (Int)
    10. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
    11. bibliosue (Int)
    12. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
    13. Nishitas Rants and Raves (Int)
    14. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
    15. Actin Up with books (USA)
    16. Sarah Reads Too Much (USA)
    17. Book Journey (US)
    18. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
    19. Read, Write and Live (Int)
    20. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
    21. Graasland (Int) - From Saturday evening onwards
    22. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
    23. Books in the City (Int)
    24. thebookbee (Int)
    25. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
    26. Seaside Book Nook (USA)
    27. Chocolate and Croissants (Int)
    28. write meg! (USA)

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Sit Down and Be Counted: Exploring the Civil Rights Movement with Picture Books

    Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down

    History is often made by ordinary people taking extraordinary risks.

    Such was the case on February 4, 1960, when four black college students took seats at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, tells that story with same passion and intensity with which it took place.

    The story is told with minimal yet factual narrative, with a delicious dash of figurative language salted throughout (Brian explains why in the video below). The narrative is also punctuated with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which not only guided the protesters of the time in their nonviolent methods, but may also help young readers of today understand how these crusaders could withstand such abuse and humiliation.

    In this video, author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Brian Pinkney discuss the events leading up to the sit-ins (these same events are detailed in an epilogue called "A Final Helping" at book's end). They also discuss the writing and illustration process, and close with a brief overview of the book.

    Several segments of this video lend themselves to discussion and extensions for the book: 
    • Andrea and Brian discussed the food references used in the book. Why was food mentioned so often? Share a specific passage which employs a food metaphor and ask, What does that passage mean? Why not just come right out and say that? What other food-related metaphors did you hear? In our everyday language, what other metaphors are often used?
    • The author and illustrator talked about the need for conducting research using photographs from the time. Why would this be so important? What information might the photographs provide? If the author/illustrator team chose to create a picture book set in a time period before photography was invented, how might they gather information for their pictures? If we also say, "Write what you know," then why do research?
    • Toward the end of the video, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brain Pinkney discuss their own heroes. Why is that included in the video? How might their own heroes have affected their decision to create this book? Why is it important to have heroes? Who are some of your heroes? How could you find out more about them?
    • For additional ideas and extensions, check out the teaching guide from Hatchette Book Group, prepared by the very talented Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.
    Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

    In Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, a young narrator describes her family's involvement in the sit-ins and protests which took place in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. This would serve as a terrific companion book to Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, since the two books chronicle the same event, but in very different styles and perspectives. Author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Jerome Lagarrigue take a much more linear storytelling approach to the event, and provide many more historical details in the actual narrative.

    Once you've read Freedom on the Menu with students, 
    • Grab the excellent lesson plan outline, with lots of links to related resources, at author Carole Boston Weatherford's website
    • Encourage some theatrics with a Readers Theater Script based on Freedom on the Menu.
    • Check out some recommended activities for this book including an activity that compares the story of the civil right movement told in newspapers from 1960, a work of historical fiction, and students' own social studies textbook. You'll also found a download meant as a reading guide for Freedom Summer, aimed at parents but also a valuable resource for the classroom.
    • Show students this excellent dramatic interpretation of the Greensboro events. (Visit the Smithsonian's History Explorer for related lesson plans as well as transcripts of the video below). Consider having students create their own dramatic retelling of another Civil Rights era event.

    Freedom Summer

    Freedom Summer begins with this note from author Deborah Wiles:
    In the early 1960s the American South had long been a place where Black Americans could not drink from the same drinking fountains as whites, attend the same schools, or enjoy the same public areas. Then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law and states that "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment" of any public place, regardless of "...race, color, religion, or national origin."

    I was born a white child in  Mobile, Alabama, and sent summers visiting my beloved Mississippi relatives. When the Civil Rights Act was passed, the town pool closed. So did the roller rink and the ice cream parlor. Rather than lawfully giving blacks the same rights and freedoms as whites, many southern businesses chose to shut their doors in protest. Some of them closed forever.
    In this fictional account, two boys, one white and one black, share all the joys of summer together: shooting marbles, swimming in Fiddler's Creek, and cooling down with ice pops, all beautifully portrayed in Jerome Lagarrigue's images (yes, he's the same guy who illustrated Freedom on the Menu). So the boys are excited to learn that the town pool, which previously catered to whites only, will be opened to "everybody under the sun, no matter what color."

    But the next day, their eager feet skid to a stop when the boys discover county dump trucks backing up to the pool. The trucks pour hot asphalt where the water used to be. Rather than allow blacks to swim in the pool, the county has tarred it over. "I didn't want to swim in this old pool anyway," the white narrator offers bravely. "I did," replies his friend. "I wanted to swim in this pool. I want to do everything you do."

    The title Freedom Summer refers to a movement organized by civil rights workers to register black voters in Mississippi. Even children, who might have been blissfully unaware of tensions before, began to notice the dangers of open friendships between the races.

    As you discuss this book, you may want to ask
    • Why are these two boys friends? What qualities do you look for in a friend?
    • Do the changes happening around the two boys strengthen their friendship, or weaken it? Explain.
    • John Henry and his older brother, Will, are both black, yet his brother is part of the crew that fills the pool with asphalt. Why would Will choose to do that? How does he feel about it? How do we know?
    • What else could the county have done about the pool situation?
    • Does this book contain any heroes? What makes a person heroic?
    The Other Side

    A terrific comparison book to Freedom Summer is The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, with illustrations by E. B. Lewis. Students can compare the two protagonists of this book (two girls, one white, one black) with the two boys of Freedom Summer.
    • How were they alike? Different? 
    • How did the children in each book react to the changing times? 
    • What part did adults play in each book? 
    • In The Other Side, Mama says, "Because that's the way things have always been." Is a similar sentiment expressed in Freedom Summer? What evidence is presented in both books that times are now changing? 
    • In The Other Side, what is the fence meant to represent? Is there a similar symbol in Freedom Summer
    • Do the books seem to contain the same message?
    • See the lesson plan at Learning to Give for more activities and extensions. At that same site, another lesson plan on trust also uses The Other Side as a reference.
    Below are three more titles you might want to consider as companion books in this discussion of the Civil Rights Movement:

    The School is Not White: A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement

    In 1965, seven children from one family signed up to attend an all-white school in Mississippi. Although school segregation had been declared illegal eleven years earlier, the schools in Drew, Mississippi were still separated by race, with black schools being far inferior in facilities and supplies.

    Unlike the victory in Greensboro which was achieved in less than a year, the ordeal of the Carter family lasted much longer. "Every day, for five years, the children suffered constant humiliations, name-calling, and death threats." Even those white children brave enough to reach out to the Carters were chastised by teachers at the school. Read the story of their unbelievable bravery and ultimate triumph in The School is Not White: A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement, by Doreen Rappaport, with illustrations by Curtis James.

    Rosa's Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights

    Rosa's Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights chronicles the life story of bus #2857 from its birth in the General Motors Corporation factory in Pontiac Michigan to its brush with junkyard oblivion. Author Jo S. Kittinger provides a unique perspective on the oft-told story of Rosa Parks, and the book as a whole explains the Southern way of life circa 1955. Governed by Jim Crow laws, both black and white folks simply resign themselves to the situation, saying "That's just the way things were." Until Rosa, of course, refuses to give up her seat. Simple yet powerful illustrations by Steven Walker.

    Download some comprehension questions written by the author herself.

    Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation

    You might want to compare Rosa's Bus to Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. If you're seeking books to help students understand the concepts of boycott and nonviolent resistance, these two are perfect. Use the following questions to help students debrief:
    • What are the basic facts given in each book?
    • How does each book present those facts?
    • Why did the writer and author of each book choose their unique approach?
    • Where did each book begin? Where did each end?
    • What message can we take away from each book?
    • What questions are left unanswered?
    • Check out the Boycott Blues Teaching Guide at Harper Collins Children's Books.
    Teaching Resource 

    If you're looking for a teacher reference, or a book appropriate for readers in grades 6 and up, I can recommend none more highly than A Dream of Freedom: The Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968. Well organized by year and event, with plenty of period photographs, this is the book that will help you answer all of your students questions (and your own!) about this tumultuous and important time in our nation's history Author Diane McWhorter provides fact in a beautiful tapestry that reads like a story, full of real-life human beings whose individual stories form the larger transformation that we call The Civil Rights Movement.

    Web Links for Exploring the Civil Rights Movement

    (some links inactive)

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Fatty Legs: A True Story

    Fatty Legs tells the true story of one girl's triumph in the face of oppression and alienation in a foreign environment.

    Although the tales eight year-old Olemaun (OO-lee-mawn) hears of the outsiders' school are ominous, she wants nothing more than to learn how to read. When she's finally granted permission to leave her Inuvialuit people and attend the Anglican school, nothing can prepare her for the institution's intentional humiliations, nor the ridicule of her fellow students.

    While many students will recognize the bullying behaviors of Olemaun's peers, they'll be shocked to hear of the even greater torment dealt out by The Raven, Olemaun's pale-faced, hook-nosed teacher. The Raven, after all, isn't a storybook villain, but a real-life person. How could an adult charged with the care of a child be so malicious?

    In what author Christy Jordan-Fenton calls a "hybrid picture book and chapter book," we are effectively transported to another world which, in reality, is not far from ours either in time or space. The setting and culture are new to readers, but the emotions and themes of the book are universal.

    In addition to the book's faithfulness to its narrative, it's also beautifully written. In a scene from the first few pages, for example, we are shown Olemaun's interpretation of a book's event through the eyes of her culture:

    "What's a rabbit?" I asked Rosie in our language, Inuvialuktun.

    "It's like a hare," she told me, lifting her eyes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

    "Oh. Well, why did Alice follow it down the hole? To hunt it?"

    She's told that Alice followed the rabbit out of curiosity, but even later, after reading the book for herself and finding that Rosie had told the truth, Olemaun muses, "I would have brought its pelt back for my father."

    In a later scene, Olemaun begs her father a final time for permission to attend the school:

    "Please," I said again. "Please."

    He crouched to my height. He picked up a rock with one of his hands and held it out to me. "Do you see this rock? It was once jagged and full of sharp, jutting points, but the water of the ocean slapped at it, carrying away its angles and edges. Now it is nothing but a small pebble. This is what the outsiders will do to you at the school."

    "But Father, the water did not change the stone inside the rock. Besides, I am not a rock. I am a girl. I can move. I am not stuck upon the shore for an eternity."

    And true to her word, Olemaun is not worn down by the outsiders, not even by the malicious and vindictive Raven who singles Olemaun out for the most tedious chores. It's this same Raven who requires Olemaun to wear thick, red socks, in sharp contrast to the slender grey socks of the other girls, giving rise to the derisive nickname Fatty Legs.

    At some level, this is a book of historical importance, decrying the attempt to wipe out the cultural roots of Native People. At another level, it's a book of social importance, condemning those who would bully and belittle the children whom they're intended to instruct and nurture. But at its highest level, I believe that Fatty Legs is a a book about a willful spirit that can't be broken. In Olemaun's own words:

    The Raven thought that she was there to teach me a few things, but in the end, I think it was she who learned a lesson. Be careful what birds you choose to pluck from their nests. A wren can be just as clever as a raven.

    I highly recommend this book as a read-aloud. Its characters and images will resonate with children long after you've read it. What's more tragic than bullying is the fact that discussion of it has become almost cliche. Powerful, personal accounts like this one, however, put a face on the victims. At the same time, this book will help the bullied to realize that they're only victims if they choose to be.

    As far as history goes, readers should realize that although this story involves the large group of Native People collectively called the Inuit, similar and even harsher programs of "Indian education" took place in the United States. According to Charla Bear in the NPR feature American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many:
    The federal government began sending American Indians to off-reservation boarding schools in the 1870s, when the United States was still at war with Indians.

    An Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first of these schools. He based it on an education program he had developed in an Indian prison. He described his philosophy in a speech he gave in 1892.

    "A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one," Pratt said. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."
    According to Tsianina Lomawaima, head of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona, the intent was to completely transform people, inside and out. "Language, religion, family structure, economics, the way you make a living, the way you express emotion, everything," The government's objective was to "erase and replace" Indian culture, part of a larger strategy to conquer Indians.

    The irony of these Indian schools, and the school described in Fatty Legs, is that in their attempt to indocrinate children in the ways of the White men, they ignored Native wisdoms and skills which were key to survival in their environment. A note in the book, for example, reports that Olemaun could operate her own dogsled team by the time she was ten. A fascinating extension to this book would be The Inuit Thought of It: Amazing Arctic Innovations, which is full of inventions which originated with these Native people, from sunglasses to snowshoes. A Native American Thought of It was featured in an earlier post on Invention.

    If you'd like to read more on Native cultures, or if you intend to study them with your class, I'd recommend following Debbie Reese's excellent American Indians in Children's Literature blog. Tribal College Journal had this to say about Debbie's resources:
    This premier website compiled by Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) provides plenty of Native perspectives on everything from children’s books to movies and museums. Check out the link to recommended children’s and young adult books. Books are listed by level and genre... You will also find links to Guidelines for Evaluating Websites, resources for research projects, “how to” guides, lesson plans, award winners, bibliographies, links to professional journals, various association statements about mascots, links to Native writer websites, audio and video interviews, and much more. Check this site out, and allow yourself time to browse.
    And on a final note, be sure to read author Christy Jordan-Fenton's biography at Annick Press. She's Jack London, Teddy Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa rolled into one!

    You can also hear a podcast of Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton discussing the true-life story behind the book.