Slice of Life: I’d Rather Be Reading

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The last day of school is June 21st for students; the last day for teachers is the 24th. After that, I’ll be working with middle school English/Language Arts teachers to align our curriculum to the CCSS. As everyone knows, this is an incredibly busy time of year. A former principal once compared the end of the school year to water draining out of a tub. At first the swirl is manageable, but the closer it gets to the final day, ready or not, you are sucked into that swirling vortex. I’m trying to keep my head above water while I get orders completed, assessment data entered, and on and on. So what am I doing this evening? Reading.

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I ordered these books on Sunday, thinking it would take at least a week for them to arrive. Imagine my surprise when they were waiting for me on my porch this afternoon! Hero on a Bicycle, (Candlewick Press, 2013) by Shirley Hughes, has gotten lots of praise this spring. Stories of the citizens of Europe resisting and rebelling against the terrors of the Nazis have always fascinated me, so this book caught my attention right away.

The American Revolution has long been the subject of much historical fiction. I recently finished listening to Sophia’s War (Beach Lane Books, 2012) Avi’s recent addition to this tradition. The fictional heroine, Sophia Calderwood, becomes involved in the historical treachery of Benedict Arnold. I know very little about Arnold and his plans to turn West Point over to the British, and Sophia’s War piqued my curiosity. Having recently read Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steve Sheinkin’s excellent account of the Manhattan Project and the people involved, I knew Sheinkin’s The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery (Flash Point, 2010) would answer all my questions about this infamous figure from our history.

Who can resist the allure of brand new books? Not me! Everything I have to do for school will be waiting for me in the morning. You’ll forgive me if I say goodnight. I have some books to read.

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly Slice of Life Challenge!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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Yesterday I finished reading Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, so now I’ve read all of this year’s Newbery books. Talk about a diverse selection! Each book is so different from the others, it’s difficult to say which I enjoyed the most. All of the novels would be excellent read-alouds. Splendors & Glooms has a lot of possibility for vocabulary and symbolism, and Clara’s family name Wintermute has to be one of the best charactonyms ever! I would certainly promote them for independent reading.

Bomb, however, is a different story altogether. Sheinkin, a former textbook writer, stated in an interview here that “history is just stories about people and dramatic events, so there’s nothing inherently boring about it.” He proves this in Bomb. This is the kind of book you could build an entire curriculum around. Science, history, math, it has everything. There are at least three separate story lines, and the narrative shifts back and forth between them, building suspense for readers who probably don’t have a lot of background knowledge about this subject. So many CC standards could be addressed through this text, especially Literacy anchor standard 3: “Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.”

The story of the heavy water plant in Norway is a thrilling adventure all on its own. My first thought was, how has this not been made into a movie? (Of course it has, once in 1948 and again in the 1960s.) Nova produced an episode devoted to these events in 2005. Surviving members of the team are interviewed, clips from the 1948 movie are included, and present-day footage of the area give viewers an even greater appreciation for what the commandoes accomplished. Incorporating clips from this episode while reading Bomb would allow students to “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” (CC anchor standard 7)

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The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, is a great work of fiction to pair with Bomb. This 2007 winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction centers on the life of Dewey Kerrigan, a bright 11-year old, whose father is involved with the work at Los Alamos. Historical figures, such as Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman, make brief appearances in the story. Klages’ depiction of daily life at Los Alamos adds a depth of understanding and reality to the events described in Bomb. Feynman’s use of codes is mentioned in both books, and Dewey’s father writes to her in code. Watching the Trinity test, the children’s impromptu parade at the end of war and other events mentioned in both books would allow students to “Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.” (RL.7.9)

In addition, both Bomb and The Green Glass Sea bring up the misgivings of many of the scientists, including Oppenheimer, about the use of atomic bombs after their use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This debate, as Sheinkin, states at the end of his book, are ongoing to this day. It is a natural topic for research and argument writing as spelled in Writing Anchor Standards 1,7, 8, and 9.

Bomb makes history exciting and engaging. It is exactly the kind of book we should be using in our classrooms to spark the imagination of our students and open doors to further study.

Be sure to stop by Teach Mentor Texts to see what other fabulous books people are reading today.