Friday, September 30, 2011

Notable POETRY in Social Studies

In my regular "Everyday Poetry" column for the September issue of Book Links magazine, I looked at the presence of poetry on an annual "best books" list for teaching social studies. Here's an excerpt:

Where do you go to find new books that are suitable for the social studies area? The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) has an annual book review committee that selects books for children in grades K-12 and produces an annotated list of “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” They look for books that “emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, have a pleasing format, and, where appropriate, include illustrations that enrich the text.” Annotations also indicate the thematic strand most appropriate to each title drawn from Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. These strands include the following ten areas:

Thematic Strands of the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
1. Culture
2. Time, continuity, and change
3. People, places, and environments
4. Individual development and identity
5. Individuals, groups, and institutions
6. Power, authority, and governance
7. Production, distribution, and consumption
8. Science, technology, and society
9. Global connections
10. Civic ideals and practices

As I examined the “Notable Social Studies” lists from the last decade, I was pleased to see 55 works of poetry on the combined lists, with an average of 5 poetry titles per year. A variety of poetry forms and formats have been included over the years as well, from haiku to poetry written by children, anthologies, re-envisioned classics, biographical poetry, and novels in verse. Several poets appear on the lists multiple times including Marilyn Nelson, Margarita Engle, Jen Bryant, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Linda Oatman High, Nikki Grimes, Carole Boston Weatherford, and J. Patrick Lewis. Clearly these poets have a knack for creating social studies-related poetry.

I also calculated which curriculum standards were most often covered by the 55 poetry selections of the last decade and found that nearly half the poetry books focused on Strands 1, 3, 4: Culture; People, places, and environments; Individual development and identity. Which strands were LEAST represented in works of poetry on these lists? Strands 7, 8, 9, 10: Production, distribution, and consumption; Science, technology, and society; Global connections; and Civic ideals and practices. Take note, future poets!

Which poetry books have made the cut when it comes to the social studies curriculum? I featured an abbreviated listing of those 55 titles. (Complete annotated bibliographies of all titles are available on the NCSS and CBC web sites.)

From these titles featured in 2001:
River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz
Mother Goose Remembers by Clare Beaton
The Sound that Jazz Makes by Carole Boston Weatherford

To these titles on the most recent 2011 list:
Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill
Roots and Blues by Arnold Adoff
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette’s Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle

(and many others in between 2001-2011-- see my complete article in Book Links)
For more info on the NCSS "Notables" list, go here.

What a wonderful variety of culturally rich and content-loaded poetry here. Many works lend themselves to dramatic read aloud readers’ theater style with kids taking on different “roles” or “characters” (particularly with the novels in verse). Others would be powerful in combination with a nonfiction work on the same topic, examining how information is integrated into poetic forms. Still others incorporate art and illustrations from primary sources alongside the imagery of the poetry helping young people visualize other times and places. And starting or finishing a social studies lesson with a poem is that much easier when referencing these NCSS poetry “notables.”

Featured poem, too
Once again, a new original poem also accompanies the column. This time the featured poem is “The Journalist” by J. Patrick Lewis. It tells the inspiring story of Helen Zia, a Chinese American activist and writer. As you may remember, Lewis is the 2011 recipient of the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children award as well as serving as the current Children’s Poet Laureate.

Image credit: 


Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2011. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Got art?

Another one of the "hats" that I wear is that of "Art Auction Coordinator" for the Children's Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English. I'm excited to announce that it is time to launch the fifth annual online silent Art Auction sponsored by CLA. This year’s auction features exciting work by noted illustrators Douglas Florian, Pamela Zagarenski, Rick Allen, Keith Graves, Robert Weinstock, Calef Brown, and Shadra Strickland. There are 8 original pieces and signed limited edition prints from these award winning artists—including an illustration from a Caldecott honor book!

You might notice a certain POETRY bent to many of these pieces. Since Joyce Sidman is our speaker for our annual CLA breakfast (on Sunday morning, Nov. 20, at the NCTE convention in Chicago), I thought it would be terrific to feature art from some of her books and Rick Allen and Pamela Zagarenski kindly donated pieces from Dark Emperor and Red Sings from Treetops, respectively. Then you'll also see that poet-illustrators Douglas Florian, Calef Brown, and Robert Weinstock also donated works of art-- including several original paintings! And the lovely Shadra Strickland and generous Keith Graves gave us original pieces, too. Such beautiful art; such beautiful artists!

To view digital images of these illustrators’ works, see current bids, and to learn how to participate in the auction, go HERE. Current bids range from $75 to $500 and the bids are updated periodically, so keep an eye on the web site.

All proceeds support the work of CLA including outstanding workshops, scholarships, research grants, publications, etc. Auction winners will be notified in late November following the NCTE conference. You do not have to be present to win.

Please help spread the word. Thanks!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roots and Blues

Here is the last installment in the wonderful work my students produced this summer (and generously agreed to share). This is Adaora Eigbobo's readers guide for the book, Roots and Blues by Arnold Adoff.

Adoff, A. & Gregory, R. (2011). Roots and blues: A celebration. Ill. by R. Gregory Christie. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 9780547235547

Recommended Age Levels
8 – 14 years

Summary of Book
Arnold Adoff traces and celebrates the roots of and the music that is the blues. Christie's vivid full color acrylic paintings complement Adoff‟s poems and vignettes about the slavery, hard work, religion, sights and sounds, rudimentary musical instruments and other aspects of the early African-American experience that helped shaped this American music form. He also highlights pioneers and more contemporary blues stars, including Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Billie Holliday and Eric Clapton. Each page of text features a short poignant snippet of life, presented as either prose or a shaped speech poem that is laid across the page like a musical arrangement or art work.

Review Excerpts
*Publishers Weekly (2010) Starred Review
"In this visceral collaboration, Adoff and Christie honor the enduring legacy of blues music . . .This is a challenging, open-hearted collection with images and poems that bleed into one another, but also stand powerfully alone."
*School Library Journal (2010)
“This exquisite collection of poems and paintings celebrates the history and culture of blues music. Adoff traces the horrific journey of slaves to America and the role that music played as a means of survival, of passing on "the ancestor words." Christie's haunting acrylic images bring to life the drama and emotion of the music, as well as the dignity of his subjects.”
*Booklist (2011) Starred Review
“Celebrated children’s poet Adoff here offers nothing less than a sensory history of the blues. Christie provides arresting and soul-stirring paintings that echo the poems here and add texture and harmony there, but Adoff’s poems are themselves things to be savored visually as well as out loud.”
*Kirkus Reviews (2010) Starred Review
“Adoff creates a moving meditation on the roots of American blues. … Christie's Expressionistic acrylics employ a palette of crimson, teal and brown, reserving grays for faces and hands, linking shackled slaves with sharecroppers, rocking grandmothers with juke-joint dancers. An incandescent, important work.”

*Notable Children's Trade Book in Social Studies – 2011
*Starred Review, Booklist, 2011
*Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, 2010
*Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, 2010

Questions to ask/discuss before reading
Roots and Blues
1. What is your favorite kind of music and why do you like it/ listen to it?
2. Play some samples of blues music and ask the students to respond to the music:
a. What kind of music is this?
b. How does it make you feel? Write a few words down about that.
c. Who are some current musicians who sing like this? (Middle schoolers might know Amy Winehouse and Adele, etc.)
3. Why do people sing? Why do you sing?
4. When you feel down and out, what do you do to make yourself feel better?
5. What do you know about slavery? Teacher records the answers on the board or on a poster so the responses can be revisited after. (This question is deliberately open-ended to solicit as wide a range of answers as possible. There are and have been many forms of slavery, not just the African-American experience.)

Suggestions for Reading Out Loud
Have individual students rehearse reading individual vignettes of their choice to a background of mellow blues music and do „spoken word‟ performances for the class.
*“Singing” - Using call and response, have volunteers read the lines of this poem, while the rest of the class reads the lines that begin with ”Still…” in unison.
*Add rhythm to one of the poems by having the students clap, stomp and/or snap a steady beat while reading the words to the beat. For example, “Listening” (p. 51) could be read to a four count beat with just the beat filling the blank spaces in the text.

Follow-Up Activities


*“Ma Ma” (p. 43) is one of the vignettes that is about a snippet of life. Have the students write a poem about a snippet of their own life, and arrange the text on the page in an unusual way. They should be prepared to discuss why
*Have students put together a powerpoint or short digital movie on one of the musicians mentioned in the book, e.g. Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. The presentation should incorporate pictures, facts about the artist with samples of their music.

Social Studies
*Chains, shackles, “the passage across the ocean…” Slavery is a major theme in this book. This book would go well with the 5th grade TEKS on slavery. Have the students identify what this book teaches them about slavery, in both the text and the illustrations.
*Using a world map, have the students trace the route of the transatlantic slave trade, noting facts about some of the important stops on the route.

*What do the blues look like to you? Have the students create art work (drawing, painting, collage, poster) that reflects what they feel when they feel blue or are listening to the blues.
*Have the students illustrate one of the pages that does not have an accompanying illustration. An example, “Take A Single Black Pencil” naturally invites the reader to draw a pencil sketch of the scene.

*If possible, play blues songs on an old gramophone or record player for the students. If not available, find some recordings online that maintain the old scratchy sound. Have them identify what instruments they hear on the records.
*In groups or individually, have students compose a blues song or chorus about the woes of school, using non-traditional instruments that could have been used decades ago, whether mentioned in the book or not: washboards, spoons, sticks, tin cans, buckets, etc. Example: “I've got the Homework Blues”

Related Websites
*The Blues – A PBS series
This website details the PBS series from executive producer, the famed director Martin Scorsese. The various links include information on the roots of and facts about the music, as well as musicians' biographies. It also includes the Blues Classroom with lesson plans and other resources for educators to use in the classroom.

*AOL Blues Radio
Choose from a variety of blues styles to listen to on the internet, including classic or modern blues, “She done me wrong” blues, and blues rock.

*The B. B. King Website
Visit the website of the King of the Blues, B.B. King to learn about the legendary and ongoing career of the world‟s greatest living blues man.

*National Geographic – The Underground Railroad
Students can use this interactive site to learn about slavery, and follow Harriet Tubman on the path to freedom via the Underground Railroad.

*International Slavery Museum
Students can learn a lot about the transatlantic slave trade, including the role played by the Europeans. On the Slave Stories link, students can follow the tragic journey of 4 slaves from different parts of West Africa.

Related books

Nonfiction Children’s Literature related to the Blues
*Lester, J. (2001). The blues singers: ten who rocked the world. New York: Jump At The Sun. ISBN 0786824050
This book profiles 10 renowned blues singers, including Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith and Ray Charles.
*Shelf Medearis, A, & Medearis, M. (1997). Music. New York: 21st Century Books. ISBN 0805044825
The authors trace the evolution of African-American music from its African roots to modern rap.
*Shirley, D. (1995). Every day I sing the blues: the story of B.B. King. New York: Franklin Watts. ISBN 0531112292
This is the story of the legendary blues performer B.B. King.
*Bryan, A, & Manning, D. (1991). All night, all day: a child's first book of African-American spirituals. New York: Atheneum Books. ISBN 0689316623
The blues has roots in Negro spirituals, and this book contains 20 of the most popular ones, including: “This Little Light of Mine” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Non-fiction Children’s Literature about Slavery
*Pearl, S, & Schomp, V. (2006). The slave trade and the middle passage. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark. ISBN 9780761421764
This book looks at the transatlantic slave trade.
*Adler, D. (2004). Enemies of slavery. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823415961
This book profiles 13 key figures in the fight against slavery, including Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.
*Evitts, W. (1985). Captive bodies, free spirits: the story of southern slavery. New York: Julian Messner. ISBN 0671540947
The author writes about the slave trade and the life of a slave, using anecdotes from the writings of real slaves.

Other poetry books by Arnold Adoff on the African-American experience
*Adoff, A. (1997). I am the darker brother. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks. ISBN 0613014995
This is an anthology of 21 poems by African-American writers, including Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes.
*Adoff, A. (1982). All the colors of the race: Poems. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books. ISBN 0688008798
Adoff writes poems from the perspective of a child with a white father and black mother.
*Adoff, A. (1973). The poetry of black America: anthology of the 20th century. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060200898
A collection of poems by African-American writers, including Gwendolyn Brooks and Lerone Bennett Jr.

Arnold Adoff, in his own words
*“Writing a poem is making music with words and space.”
*“I have incorporated the concept of time in my writing by the use of space. The millesecond that it takes the eyes to move forward is an aspect of time. Time is the music or the rhythmic force and that, I think, is a step forward in the medium.”
*“I began writing for kids because I wanted to effect a change in American society. I continue in that spirit. By the time we reach adulthood, we are closed and set in our attitudes. The chances of a poet reaching us are very slim. But I can open a child's imagination, develop his appetite for poetry, and more importantly, show him that poetry is a natural part of everyday life. We all need someone to point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. That's the poet's job.”

R. Gregory Christie, in his own words
*“Although I enjoy painting all ethnicities, in Children‟s books my focus is to depict distinctive images of brown people. I choose to illustrate manuscripts that shed light upon historical figures and give a sense of dignity to the many cultures on this planet. The disproportionate compositions and elongated figures are meant to be a directional device for the viewer, my own natural inclination, and a challenge for the viewer to break away from the established fundamental belief that all children's books must be realistic or cute. I take chances with each project and do what is necessary to make the art interesting and unique."

Used with permission of Adaora Eigbobo.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Great Migration

Two of my terrific graduate students created resources for Eloise Greenfield's latest work, The Great Migration. Gina Saldana made this digital trailer (below) and Annabel Moreno developed a readers' guide (further below). Check 'em out!

And here is the readers guide created by Annabel Moreno.


Greenfield, Eloise. 2011. The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Ill. By Jan Spivey Gilchrist. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Recommended Age Levels
Student ages 3 to 10 in the 1st to 4th grade level.

In this compilation of poems with beautiful realistic illustrations, the reader is introduced to the causes, emotions and feelings experienced by African Americans as they made their decisions to relocate to the North in search of a better quality of life.

Review excerpts
Booklist (February 1, 2011) - “Greatly enhancing the impact of the words, Gilchrist’s moving mixed-media collages layer drawings, maps, and color-washed archival images that have the slightly distorted look of photocopies, giving some of the figures an almost ghostly, translucent appearance. Together, the immediate words, striking images, and Greenfield’s personal story create a powerful, haunting view of a pivotal moment in U.S. history even as they show the universal challenges of leaving home behind and starting a new life.”

Publisher’s Weekly ( November 22, 2010) - “Making intriguing use of photographs of people, news headlines, maps, and painted elements, each of Gilchrist's collages has a distinctive look and lighting, ranging from conventional portraits of the travelers to more abstract images.”

School Library Journal (April 1, 2011) - “Gilchrist's illustrations gracefully complement the poetry; mixed-media collages incorporating line drawings, muted watercolor washes, newsprint clippings, photos, and sepia-toned illustrations depict warm family representations as well as stark desperation and anger.”
Horn Book Magazine (January 1, 2011) - “Details in the art effortlessly remind the reader of the time period: maps cars, trains, porters, lunch boxes, and crowded stations all played a role in moving African Americans away from the Jim Crow South and toward the promise of the North and a better life.”

Awards and
honors received
ϖ Nominated for an NAACP Image Award (January 2011)
ϖ Notable Children’s Book Nominee (Summer 2011)

Questions to ask before reading
Before reading the book, students will be asked the following questions to tap on their background knowledge, lead to the reading of the book and build into the lesson.
ϖ By utilizing a U.S. map, ask the students where the North and the South is. Ask them to name some cities in the North and some cities in the South.

ϖ What does it mean to migrate? After listening to the responses, provide the students with the definition of the word migrate and use it in context to make the word relevant to the students.

ϖ What factors might prompt somebody to leave their hometown and move to another city? What would you do if you depended on your crops to survive and these were burned during a fire, or due to a lack of water they didn’t grow?

ϖ Have you ever migrated up north to work the fields and then come home after the season was over? Would you come back, if people mistreated you, or if you wouldn’t have money to feed your family?

ϖ Do you have any relatives that live in other cities in the north? Why did they move that specific city?

ϖ After discussing the questions above, give the students a brief synopsis of The Great Migration: Journey to the North to lead them into the story.

Suggestions for reading poems aloud

ϖ Book will be displayed over a document camera and will be read over a period of one week. Students will be divided into small groups and each group will be responsible for reading two poems.

ϖ As the poems are read, discussions will be held and students will analyze important elements within each poem, such as the troubled man who is conflicted about leaving his home in “Saying goodbye to the land puts pain on my heart.”

ϖ At the end of each class, students will vote for the best poem read during that class and will volunteer to act out the poem, as a culmination activity for the day.

Follow up activities
ϖ Students will observe the various illustrations in the book and will write a short analysis of the illustrations. Elements that must be included in the analysis are the emotions depicted by the illustrations, the setting, the physical landscape, the texture and the color, as well as how the illustrations contributed to the book and their depiction of the poems.
ϖ Students will write a Compare and Contrast essay on the lives of African-Americans in the North and the South during the early 1900's.

ϖ Students will imagine living in the U.S. during the early 1900”s and will create a brochure to entice African-Americans to relocate to their city. Brochure must include elements such as housing and job opportunities, social and cultural elements of the city, as well as a description of the physical landscape and geographical features.
ϖ Students will receive an outline map of the United States and will label it with the migration routes followed by African-American during the early 1900’s.


ϖ By referring to the link from The Journal of Negro History, vol. 64, no. 3 (Summer1979) "Black Automobile Workers in Detroit, 1910 to 1930" students will calculate the percentage increase in the African-American population in Detroit from 1900 to 1910, 1920 and 1930.

Related websites
African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture.
This website is composed of an exhibit of primary documents such as letters from prospective migrants to African American churches, which assisted these migrants in finding housing and employment. In addition, the church also assisted many African American families in coping and adjusting to their new environment.

In Motion the African-American Migration Experience
This website provides a wealth of resources in reference to the Great Migration and other topics of importance in American History such as: the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Runaway Journeys.

Times is Getting Harder
Curtis, Lucious. 1940. “Times is Getting Harder”. Mississippi River Blues Vol. 1, Matchbox label reissue.
This link includes lyrics to a song, Times is Getting Harder, recorded in 1940 by Lucious Curtis. This song details some of the hardships experienced by many African American families, which prompted them to relocate to the North in search of employment and a better life.

Related books

Arnow, Harriette. 1976. The Dollmaker: A Novel. New York: Avon.
This is a story of a Kentucky family who leaves the beautiful Appalachian Mountains and relocates to Detroit, Michigan during WWII in search of employment and a better life.

Lawrence, Jacob. 1993. The Great Migration: An American Story. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
This book describes the migration of many African Americans from the rural South in search of employment and a better life in the industrial cities of the North.

Bausum, Ann. 2006. Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement. United States: National Geographic Society.

This book describes the journey of two young men trying to achieve equality for all during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. The book includes photographs and accounts of the terrible consequences of continuing with the Freedom Rides in an attempt to end racial discrimination.

Wilkerson, Isabel. 2010. The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. New York: Random House.
This book recounts the horrible experiences of African Americans in the South and details the abuses and punishments these were subjected to, and which ultimately led them to relocate to the North.

Zinn, Howard. 2009. A Young People’s History of the United States. New York: Seven Stories Press.
This book brings important elements of American History to life and presents viewpoints and the impact of workers, slaves, immigrants, women and Native American among others in American History throughout the years.

Used with permission of Gina Saldana and Annabel Moreno.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Skate Fate

My student France Loving created a digital trailer to generate interest in Skate Fate, a new verse novel by Juan Felipe Herrera. It's viewable on YouTube here. Check it out!

Used with permission of Frances Loving.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Karma by Cathy Ostlere is the featured book in two student assignments. Teri Lybecker created a digital trailer and Jessamy Sorelle developed a readers' guide. Both of these resources are featured below. Enjoy!

Here is Teri's trailer for Karma.

And here is Jessamy's readers' guide.

Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. Karma: a novel in verse. New York: Razorbill. ISBN 9781595143389

Recommended age level:
14 and up (Young Adult)

15-year-old Jiva, also known as Maya, is the Canadian born daughter of a Sikh father and a Hindu mother. After her mother’s suicide, Maya and her father return to India with her mother’s ashes. Maya writes about her experiences in her new diary. Shortly after their arrival in India, on October 31, 1984, Indira Ghandi is assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the desecration of the Golden Temple. The city of New Delhi, where Maya and her father are staying, erupts into violence as Hindus massacre Sikhs in retaliation for the prime minister’s death. In the chaos that follows, Maya is separated from her father and escapes on a train bound for Jodhpur. Maya becomes mute after witnessing a Sikh man pulled from the train and burned alive.

Maya is sent to Jaisalmer by a doctor who hopes her younger brother, Sandeep, can help her find her voice. The story continues in entries from Sandeep’s journal as he tries to protect Maya from the vicious rumors that result from having an unmarried woman staying with his family. As weeks go by, and Maya remains mute, Sandeep’s family has no choice but to send Maya away to live with desert nomads. Sandeep and his father accompany Maya on the journey across the sands, on her way to becoming the unwilling bride of their guide, Akbar. When Maya realizes what is going to happen she runs away, right into a sand storm. Maya finds her way back to Sandeep, and finds her voice.

Maya resumes the story, writing in a new journal, as she and Sandeep return to New Delhi to search for her father. Sandeep eventually finds Maya’s father, but he is a changed man who burns with hatred of Hindu people. Maya’s father forbids Maya from having any contact with Sandeep, a Hindu. It is up to Maya to remind her father that the wife he loved was Hindu, and his daughter is half-Hindu, if she is to have a chance of seeing Sandeep again before she returns to Canada.

Review Excerpts / Awards
Nominated for YALSA’s 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults
• The novel's pace and tension will compel readers to read at a gallop, but then stop again and again to turn a finely crafted phrase, whether to appreciate the richness of the language and imagery or to reconsider the layers beneath a thought. This is a book in which readers will consider the roots and realities of destiny and chance. Karma is a spectacular, sophisticated tale that will stick with readers long after they're done considering its last lines. (School Library Journal)

• In her YA debut, acclaimed adult author Ostlere offers a riveting, historically accurate coming-of-age tale of gutsy survival, self-sacrifice, and love...With artful compassion, Ostlere reveals the infinitely complex clash of cultures within both India and Maya’s family, and although the allusions to karma could have seemed awkward in less talented hands, here they lead into well-framed larger questions that will stay with readers. A fascinating, epic page-turner. (Booklist - Starred Review)

• In her first YA novel, Ostlere (Love: A Memoir) makes Maya's subsequent muteness believable in the wake of the many traumas she endures. Burdened with guilt over her parents' fate, as well as that of a Sikh man burned alive in front of her, she asks, "Is my silence unfounded too?/No. I do not deserve to be found./Or loved." A family in a desert town takes Maya in, and 17-year-old Sandeep (who contributes kinetic, love-struck journal entries) takes special interest in her. In contrast to the hatred, mistrust, and violence, the friendship--and then love--between Maya and Sandeep offers hope, rebirth', and renewal. (Publishers Weekly)

Questions to ask before reading
• What is karma? How does the concept of karma relate to concepts of vengeance or atonement?
• What are the differences between the Sikh and Hindu religions? What is the political history of the people of these faiths in India?
• What is a caste system? How is the caste system used in India?

Suggestions for reading aloud

Karma is a novel written in free verse that incorporates the voices of many characters. As such, Karma is particularly suited for Readers Theater using groups, or reading aloud as duet or monologue.

The Golden Temple (p. 94)
Duet by two narrators:
N1: Bapu says her death
is due to architecture.
Because a four-hundred-year-old
temple was desecrated.
N2: Because of the wind that
came through the cracks
in an old prairie house.
N1: Because its doors were entered
(East. West. North. South.)
without respect.
N2: Because the back door
never closed properly.
N1: Because the gold was tarnished
with blood.
N2: Because the kitchen was
always cold. And empty.
N1: Because of hate. Prejudice.
N2: Because of love.
N1: Because the extremists used the
temple for a sanctuary of violence.
N2: Because it wasn’t home.
N1: Architecture inspires and kills.

Mirage (p. 149)
Readers Theater for 3-5 people. Two narrators and a chorus of 1-3 people.
N1: They come across the yellow fields
running with dark faces and teeth bared
through ribbons of heated air
a mirage of false water.
The train slows as if waiting for them to catch up.
C: What’s happening?
Why are we stopping here?
Is it wolves?
N1: But they are not wolves
N2: We should have prayed for wolves
N1: But men instead
four-limbed and angry
carrying iron rods and knives
hands gripping gasoline cans
voices shouting into the hot dry air
their fury stirring the dust like a wind.
N2: We should have prayed for wolves
N1: They slam their bodies against the slowing
train. They cling to the window bars. They
climb to the roof and throw people into the air.
A voice demands we unlock the door of our carriage.
C: Open or be burned!
N1: I tell myself I’m still sleeping:
the unwound turban meting out
a gang of men severing the body of the
prime minister
the pounding of their fists
on this train
on this car
are only hammering
the metal walls of my head.
C: Open or be burned!
We must save ourselves!
N1: But it is no dream
my hands and arms know
my nostrils know
even my lungs and
my shallow breaths
what my heart cannot fathom
what’s going to happen next
because in dreams you cannot close
your eyes and mine are shut tight.
C: We must save ourselves!
N1: The door opens.
Oh my God. Who unlocked the door?

We are Sikh (p. 473)

Readers Theater for 3 people. Narrator, Maya, and Bapu.
N: The arguments are loudest in the morning.
We are refreshed. Ready to do battle again.
B: Khalistan will become a reality,
Jiva. God has seen our suffering
and will help us.
M: You said that would
never happen.
B: It will now. Sikh soldiers will
gather and be as one. So now is
the time for you to renounce your
Hindu blood.
M: That’s crazy, Bapu.
B: I am not crazy!
M: Well, your thinking is! One can’t wipe
away one’s heritage with the sweep of
a hand. You wouldn’t accept that for
yourself. You kept your hair long in
Canada. You wore the turban. So
you wouldn’t disappear.
B: Your blood, Jiva, is the blood of
murderers. And since I am your
only parent, I will now say what
you are!
M: Or what? You’ll bring out
your big knife?
B: Do not make me angrier!
M: There’s more? Besides my heart,
and the memory of my mother’s love,
what else will you burn with your hatred?
B: Any Hindu that comes near you.
M: Is that what you told Sandeep? Is that
why he left and hasn’t come back?
B: I told him the truth, Jiva.
M: You threatened his life! Unwilling to
see his kindness and sacrifice as
separate from his family’s religion!
B: Jiva, I am grateful to God for bringing
the boy to us. I recognize that through
his actions, he has paid a penance
for the crimes of his people. But he is
still a Hindu and cannot be in control
of his emotions.
M: So, no Hindu can ever be trusted again?
Even those who helped the Sikhs during
the riots? Putting themselves in danger?
B: No.
M: What about your oldest friend, Kiran.
B: There can be no exceptions.
M: And me, of course.
B: You must be cleansed of your nature, Jiva.
But you are still a child. There is time.
M: I used to be a child. When I lived in
Elsinore. But now I am an old,
old woman. I have seen things no child
should see. I have seen adults make
a hell of this world.

Longing (p. 517)
I close my eyes and imagine he’s with me. Holding
my face in slender hands. Lips soft and dark - a
cinnamon bloom. A poet’s words fall from his
mouth into mine: I desire my beloved only / And
there is no other wish in my heart. I touch the
memory of his arm. From wrist to shoulder.
Coffee skin. Thin and close to the bone.
My lover’s name is Miraj.
We find each other in the darkness. Our longing is
our guide out of innocence. Tongues too. We are
awkward but tender in our shyness. Do we
hesitate? Hold back? Perhaps only to take a
breath. For our desire is like a sea. Wave upon
wave. Until our souls lay bare and exposed upon a
far-off shore and our grief is eased.
The young are told to wait for emotions to catch
up to the flesh but what if the moment is now?
Our yearnings ready to set us free from sorrow
and fear?
And besides, who will show the world the
possibility of love, if it isn’t us?

Follow up activities


• Have teens write journal entries about events in their own lives in free verse.
Social Studies:
• Research the history that lead to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. What happened after? What is happening today?
• Research the caste system in India. How did it originate? What does it look like today?
• Research the history and symbolism of the sari. What does the color of a sari signify? The drape? The fabric?
• Compare and contrast the Sikh and Hindu religions.

Related websites / blogs
Cathy Ostlere’s website provides information about her inspiration for writing Karma. She talks about her travels through India as a young woman.
This website provides an annotated list of novels in verse by recommended age level. If you’re looking for more novels in verse, this is an excellent starting point.
A database of reviews of books by and about South Asians. A good way to find more fiction about Indian characters.

Related Books and Film
Young adult fiction set in India:
• McCormick, Patricia. 2006. Sold. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 9780786851713
13-year old Lakshmi is sold into prostitution in a brothel in Calcutta.

A fictional film about the legacy of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots:
• Bose, Shonali (director). 2005. Amu. Jonai Productions.
A young Indian American woman returns to India and discovers secrets that tie her to the massacre of Sikhs 20 years earlier.

Juvenile Nonfiction about Sikh and Hindu religions:
• Meredith, Susan. 2010. The Usborne encyclopedia of world religions. London: Usborne. ISBN 9781409510116
• Mann, Gurinder Singh. 2002. Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America (Religion in American life). New York: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195124422
• Hyde, Margaret O. 2008. World religions 101: An overview for teens. Connecticut: Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 9780822575184
• Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur. 2006. Sikhism (World religions). New York: Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 9781604131147
• Wangu, Madhu Bazaz. 2009. Hinduism (World religions). New York: Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 9781604131086

Adult Nonfiction about saris:
• Katiyar, Vijai Singh. 2009. Indian saris: traditions - perspectives - design. New Delhi, India: Wisdom Tree. ISBN 9788183281225

Used with permission of Teri Lybecker and Jessamy Sorelle.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Amanda Andrews created this absorbing digital trailer for Helen Frost's gripping new novel in verse, Hidden.

Plus, Linda Charles also chose Hidden for her digital trailer project. Here's her creation.

Don't these make you want to read this book?!

Used with permission of Amanda Andrews and Linda Charles.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hurricane Dancers

Bobbie Johnson, a graduate student in my Multicultural Literature course this summer, created this readers' guide for Margarita Engle's 2011 historical novel in verse, Hurricane Dancers. It's full of terrific ideas and activities!

Engle, Margarita. 2011. Hurricane Dancers; The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9780805092400

Recommended age levels: Ages 11 to 18 1. Summary
This historical novel in verse tells three intertwined stories that occurred in 1509: Quebrado’s story of finding freedom, Talavera and Ojeda’s story of selfish greed and disregard for human life, and Caucubú and Naridó’s love story. Quebrado, a boy of Taíno Indian and Spanish heritage, is captured and enslaved by pirates. His master, Bernardino de Talavera, was once a wealthy slave owner. However, he mistreated his slaves and when they died he suffered financial ruin as there was no one to take care of his land. To avoid being placed in debtor’s prison, he stole a ship and turned to piracy. Talavera captured the governor of Venezuela, Alonso de Ojeda, a ruthless conquistador who had been injured by a Native’s poison dart. When Talavera’s ship is sunk in a hurricane, Quebrado is rescued from the sea by Naridó, a Taíno fisherman from Cuba, and embraced by Naridó’s village. Talavera and Ojeda also survive and are washed up on the shore. When they wander into the village, Quebrado warns the villagers about these two evil Spaniards. Instead of executing the two men, the villagers decide to release them in the swamp, expecting them to die or be eaten by alligators.

In the mean time, Caucubú, the girl Naridó loves, is being forced into an arranged marriage. Knowing the only way to be together is to run and hide, Caucubú and Naridó secretly leave the village. The villagers blame Quebrado for the strange twist in events and exile him. He is able to find Caucubú and Naridó, and together they start their own village. Haunted by his past, Quebrado fears that Talavera and Ojeda might have survived and he leaves to warn villagers on the other side of the swamp. He gets there after Talavera and Ojeda do, and Ojeda tries to kill him upon his arrival. The villagers let Quebrado decide whether the Spaniards’ fate. In choosing to release them, Quebrado finds that, for the first time since he was a young boy, he feels whole. He sheds the name Quebrado, meaning broken in Spanish, and calls himself Yacuyo (Far Light) instead.

2. Review Excerpts
Booklist Starred Review (January 1, 2011) – “Once again, Engle fictionalizes historical fact in a powerful, original story. With the exception of Quebrado, all the characters are based on documented figures (discussed in a lengthy author’s note), whose voices narrate many of the poems. While the shifting perspectives create a somewhat dreamlike, fractured story, Engle distills the emotion in each episode with potent rhythms, sounds, and original, unforgettable imagery. Linked together, the poems capture elemental identity questions and the infinite sorrows of slavery and dislocation, felt even by the pirate’s ship, which “remembers / her true self, / her tree self, / rooted / and growing, / alive, / on shore.”
Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2011) – “Taken individually the stories are slight, but they work together elegantly; the notes and back matter make this a great choice for classroom use.”

Library Media Connection (June 2011) – “This historical fiction story, set in the Caribbean in 1510, is written in verse format. The figurative language is captivating as multiple voices spin a tale of the first Caribbean pirate shipwreck, slavery, banishment, betrayal, and love.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (April 2011) – “Based on the early sixteenth century shipwreck and on the legendary Cuban story of forbidden love between Naridó and Caucubú (who provides the fifth narrative voice here), this is both a taut adventure tale and a grim examination of the disastrous cultural contact between Europeans and the Caribbean islanders they promptly exploited or enslaved. The slender size and accessible format may help draw readers daunted by thicker materials . . .”
3. Questions to Ask Before Reading
a. This story takes place in the Caribbean. Where is that, and what countries are found there? When were these countries discovered? Many students do not understand that in 1492, Columbus did not discover the land known as the United States. Instead, he discovered Caribbean islands. A map should be displayed of the region so students understand the geography in which the story takes place.

b. Lots of people have seen the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Do you think these movies accurately depict pirates? Why or why not?

c. When you think of Native Americans, what comes to mind? What do you know about their culture, beliefs, religion, etc.? Were Native Americans only found in the American West? Where else were they found? Does anyone know if there were any Native Peoples found on the islands of the world’s oceans and/or seas? (These questions could lead to a rich discussion about Native Peoples. It would be a great time to dispel some misconceptions.)

d. We know there were slaves in the United States. Was there slavery anywhere else in the world? Was there slavery anywhere else in the Americas? Background information about the slavery of indigenous peoples in the Americas can be discussed.

4. Suggestions for Reading Aloud
a. The book can be read aloud over a series of six days, corresponding to the six parts of the story. Each day, different students can be chosen to read the words of Quebrado, Talavera, Ojeda, Naridó and Caucubú.

b. Read the poems on pages 77 and 79. These are Caucubú’s and Naridó’s reactions to the stories Quebrado tells about the things he saw and experienced while with the Spanish. Discuss their different reactions to Quebrado’s tale. After discussing this, read the poem on page 80. What part of Quebrado’s story caught Caucubú’s and Naridó’s attention?

c. Read the poems on pages 5, 9, 13, 40, 47. These poems give readers a sense of the main characters: who they are, their feelings, and their histories. After each poem is read, discuss what it says about the character it describes. Discuss how the traits portrayed by these poems explain the different reactions the characters have to the story’s events.

5. Follow Up Activities
a. Language Arts/Research Assignment - Write diary entries, as if you were a Taíno Indian, regarding your impressions of the Spanish explorers and settlers. Create entries for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, and 30 years after their arrival. You will need to do research regarding the interactions between the Taínos and the Spanish, as well as the fate of the Taíno Indians, to complete this assignment.

b. Science assignment – A research project can be conducted regarding the causes and effects of hurricanes. Students should work with one or two partners, sharing their information on a group wiki. Information regarding tropical waves, depressions, and storms, as well as the different categories of hurricanes could be included. Students should prepare a product of their choice (PowerPoint, Blog, iMovie, etc.) to share their findings with the rest of the class. The presentation should include pictures and other visual representations of hurricanes and the damage they cause.

c. Art assignment -
Make a diorama of a Taíno village. Be sure to include bohios, a central plaza, a caney (the cacique’s dwelling), and a batey court (an area for traditional ball games). The following websites will help students visualize Taíno villages and understand how they were constructed.
2. - Warning: While this website includes a very nice graphic of a Taíno village, some of the Taíno people are drawn scantily clad or naked. No body part details are shown, however the teacher may want to preview the site prior to showing it to the class to ensure it is appropriate for students’ age group.
3. A Google search for “taino village image” will provide several images of Taíno villages.

6. Related websites/blogs
a. The following websites include information regarding the Taino Indians.
1. Welcome to Puerto Rico
2. El Boriqua: Un Poquito de Todo
3. Glencoe Online: The Journey of Christopher Columbus: Native Peoples (The “Indians”)

b. Background information regarding Christopher Columbus may give students background knowledge regarding early Spanish interactions with Native cultures.
2. Although Wikipedia does not always have a reputation for providing reliable information, this article does provide some interesting background information and facts about Columbus and his voyages.

c. A more complete and accurate account of the relationship between Bernardino de Talavera and Alonso de Ojeda can be found on pages 136-139 from Tierra Firme. “Tierra Firme” is a chapter from the following book, available online in its entirety.
Anderson, Dr. C. L. G. 1911. Old Panama and Castilla Del Oro. Boston: The Page Company.

7. Related Books
a. Dorris, Michael. 1992. Morning Girl. New York: Hyperion Books.
A brother and sister tell the story of their lives as island pre-Columbian Indians in this historical novel.

b. Jacobs, Francine. 1992. The Tainos: The People who Welcomed Columbus. Ill. by Patrick Collins. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
This nonfiction book tells the story of the demise of the Taíno peoples after the arrival of Columbus.

c. Crespo, George. 1993. How the Sea Began: A Taíno Myth. New York: Clarion Books.
This Taíno myth describes how the world’s ocean was created.

d. Yolen, Jane. 1992. Encounter. Ill. by David Shannon. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
A Taino boy tries to warn his village about the arrival of three ships (Columbus) to no avail. This story tells about Columbus discoveries from the Taíno point of view.

Other books by Margarita Engle dealing with Cuban history can be read.
1. Engle, Margarita. 2008. The Surrender Tree. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
This novel in verse is about those who fought for Cuban independence during the nineteenth century.

2. Engle, Margarita. 2009. Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba. New York: Henry Holt.
This story, told in free verse, is about Jewish refugees who found their way to Cuba.

Used with permission of Bobbie Johnson.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Inside Out

Kathryn Anderson created this terrific digital trailer for the novel in verse, Inside Out & Back Again by first time (children's) author Thanhha Lai. I wrote about this book earlier this year-- it's one of my favorites of 2011-- and I was particularly pleased by what Kathryn came up with to showcase this book. What do you think?

Used with permission of Kathryn Anderson.

Friday, September 02, 2011


Giesla Zech, a graduate student in one of my summer courses created this thorough readers' guide for the novel in verse, Displacement, by Thalia Chaltas.

Chaltas,Thalia. 2011. Displacement. New York: Viking Children's Books. ISBN 978-0-670-01199-5

Recommended Age Levels:
12 and Up

Summary of Book:
A young girl named Vera is running away from a past life in the hopes of forgetting everything and everyone. She wants to leave the painful memories of her mother’s absence and her sister’s death behind her by starting a new life in a little mining town called Garrett. However, Vera’s attempts at escape and finding peace are proving unsuccessful since she cannot seem to stop the memories of the past from haunting her.

Chaltas’s novel in verse combines the best of both worlds in order to create a complicated protagonist whose layers of emotions and secrets slowly become exposed through the combination of free verse and dialogue. “So why are you suddenly here in Garrett? /Taking some summertime away from home, is what I come up with.” “It’s the closest truth I have said/ I am uncomfortable stating the reason I left.” Readers will be able to see Vera’s pain and sympathize with her struggles thanks to the use of flashback which allows readers to witness the stressed relationship Vera has with her family. The story is further brought to life by Chaltas’s use of simile and personification which help describe the setting and the characters. “Lon is still as a serpent/Peg is sprinting over grinning like a joyous demon/The desert doesn’t trust outsiders/Vegetation lounges luxuriantly.” Readers will relate to this dynamic and believable character’s struggles since her various problems are the kind that we all have faced.

Review Excerpts/Awards:
1. Kirkus Review (May 1, 2011)
In first-person free verse with halting rhythm, 17-year-old Vera narrates her sojourn in a tiny desert town she's never seen and doesn't know. Vera wants to be someplace unfamiliar, someplace that doesn't invoke her younger sister, who died in a drunken ocean swim, nor her older sister, who's tried to replace their absent mother but seems aloof, so she hitch hikes to the desert and gets out at Garrett, where "nobody knows me." Despite her obvious grief, Vera's voice doesn't easily inspire sympathy. In a mostly abandoned mining town characterized by "scraping-the-bean-can / unapologetic / starkness," Vera squats in a deserted house and scoffs at the two part-time jobs she finds ("It's certainly not what my once best friend Rob / would have called 'rocket surgery' "). Mercantile owner Tilly lisps, her pronunciations mercilessly spelled out: "He'th an artitht! / Bowlth, jugth, plateth, / thellth it all it all on the Internet." Vera crushes on Lon, a businessman whose Indian identity is frequently reiterated: "I glare at him, / leaning forward / having dumped the heaviest words / directly onto his black-feathered Native head." Lon doesn't live up to Vera's expectations ("Frickin' noncommunicating-handsome-half-Hopi," she stews), and the text casts him as bad guy; only Milo the ceramicist is truly likable here. The verse's irregular, faltering beat matches Vera's defensive grief well, but Vera herself retains an unlikable air of entitlement even as she moves on from the desert and back into her real life.(Fiction. 12-15)

2. Publishers Weekly (April 4, 2011)
An exploration of grief, guilt, and redemption, Chaltas's second novel in verse covers rocky terrain both physical and mental, as recent high school graduate Vera wrestles with the drowning death of her younger sister, Amy. Feeling abandoned by her disengaged, globe-trotting mother and cerebral older sister, Vera decamps for the desolate mining town of Garrett, which she discovers by accident. Despite Vera's abundant pain over Amy's death and her family's inability to prevent it, Chaltas (Because I Am Furniture) doesn't let it overwhelm her story, giving Vera a voice that flits between acerbic and self-deprecating, a passion for geology, and a lust interest in gorgeous, half-Hopi Lon, who provides Vera with part-time employment. As pared down as the desert landscape into which Vera immerses herself, Chaltas's verse regularly surprises with economically graceful descriptions that make her settings and characters come alive (of Lon: "And then/ that smile flashes on,/ Vegas neon, baby,/ so genuine it hurts"). A delicate suggestion of ghostly horror gives the novel further dimension, without distracting from the insights and truths Vera slowly unearths. Ages 12-up. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

3. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, June 2011 (Vol. 64, No. 10)
At seventeen, Vera’s feeling pushed out of her relationships: her mother has never paid attention to her three daughters, preferring to stay away for extended periods as a flight attendant; her eldest sister is a cold and distant caretaker, while her middle sister grows more and more out of control; her two best friends have started dating each other and left her out of their happy coupledom. When her middle sister drowns during a drunken late-night swim, Vera decides that she needs to own her feelings of displacement and actually take herself away for a while, so she runs away from home and settles in a small, out-of-the-way mining town. Here she grieves and sorts out her feelings in the company of Milo, a quiet potter grieving a loss of his own, Tilly, a tacky and careworn diner owner, and Lon, a hot but infuriating guy who hires her to do the books for his suspicious packaging business. This events in this verse novel are few, but each has metaphorical significance for Vera’s increasing self-awareness and helps both Vera and the reader understand the value of taking time out and then letting people back in. Milo, as a gay man who has lost his partner, is a kind and generous example of wisdom earned through hardship, while Tilly gives Vera a glimpse of what staying closed-off looks like. It is Lon, though, who eventually forces Vera to understand what it means to mature emotionally as she comes to realize how stunted he is. Although this constellation seems programmatic in summary, it works well with the verse-novel form, as the plot, setting, and characterization are as restrained and carefully chosen as the language itself. Readers looking for a verse novel that ably works with the potential of the form would do well to explore this well-wrought maturation tale. Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2011, Viking, 368p.; Reviewed from galleys, $16.99. Grades 7-10.

Questions to ask before reading book:
Students will be invited to participate in the following discussion activities:
1. Students will analyze the front and back cover of the book in order to make a prediction of what this book is about. Some questions for students to consider include: Who is the girl on the cover? What is she doing? Where is this girl? When do you think this story took place? Why are her eyes closed? Once students have had enough time examining the book cover, they will share their answers.
2. Students will answer the following question: What do you think displacement means? Do you think the cover of this book is a clue? Why or why not?
3. Do you think it’s possible for an entire book to be a poem in and of itself? Or do you think it’s impossible for an entire book to be a poem? How long are poems usually? What kind of book is this?
4. Before students read this novel in verse, familiarize them with the literary devices that they will encounter. For instance, this novel in verse contains many examples of personification. Explain to students what personification is and then provide them with examples. Then, have students create and share their own examples to check for understanding.
5. Finally, before reading this verse novel, students will pair up in order to read to each other a poem. One student will have a free verse poem, and the other will have a poem that rhymes. Each student will take turns reading their poem to their partner. Once students are finished sharing their poems, they will be asked to discuss what differences they saw between the two poems. This activity will help students understand free verse and thus prepare them to read this book.

Suggestions for reading aloud:
1. Modeling Reading: The teacher will invite the school librarian into her classroom in order to “hook” the students by having her/him read the beginning of the novel out loud to them. This will help students understand what good reading looks and sounds like. Students will learn that expressive reading helps a book’s story come to life and make more sense.
2. Think Aloud: Students will learn how to be effective readers by using the think aloud strategy. The teacher will first model this strategy by reading a short poem to the class making sure to stop and ask questions along the way as well as voice any thoughts that she/he might be thinking as she/he reads the text. She/he will then explain to students that these actions are what effective readers do in order to understand text. Once students see how this strategy works, they will be given an opportunity to demonstrate their comprehension by reading a section of the story and then sharing with the class something about the text they found interesting, confusing, etc. If you feel like your students might be too shy to share their thoughts with the entire class, another option for teachers would be to have their students turn to their neighbors and share their thoughts.
3. Readers Theatre: Students will be placed in pairs. They will choose a scene from Displacement and create a short skit which will be presented to the class. Students will choose a character from the story and will read their character’s dialogue. Students are encouraged to use props and should rehearse their scene until they are ready to perform it. Once students have acted out the scene they will be asked to summarize it and explain how their actions and props complemented the scene.

Follow up activities:
1. Writing: Throughout the book, Vera writes messages on postcards to her sister Carole yet she never writes one to her mother. Pretend that Vera is writing a postcard to her mother. What would she say to her? Write your postcard as if you were Vera and discuss your thoughts on your life in Garret, your sisters, and your relationship with your mother.

2. Social Studies: In this story, pieces of Vera’s life are revealed through flashbacks that she has. This causes Vera’s story to be somewhat out of order. In order to understand Vera and the events that have helped shaped her, students will create a timeline of her life starting with her childhood and ending with Vera accepting her position at Long Valley Caldera, California. Students will illustrate their timelines with simple pictures/images.

3. Art: In Displacement several of the characters in this story are involved in art in some way or another. For instance, Milo creates and sells his own pottery; Lon owns a business called “Secondary Packaging” which distributes Hopi art and pottery. Even Vera’s character plays a role in helping to create and distribute art because she works for both Lon and Milo. She even tries her hand at making pottery herself and realizes that pottery is not as easy as it seems. This experience causes Vera to understand and appreciate art more. Art teachers can use this book as an opportunity to teach students about the characteristics and history of Hopi art. Once students are familiar with the style of Hopi art, then they can try their hand at creating their own pieces. The purpose of this activity is to teach students about Hopi art so that they can fully appreciate it.

4. History: The setting in Displacement is an unfriendly gritty environment to live in; thus, residents of Garrett must be on the alert for dangerous sand storms. The characters in this story do the best they can to live in this dusty hot environment. At one point Vera even compares it to the dust bowl when she states, “Not a romantic photography…A stagnant dust bowl of the Old West” (p.183). In fact during the story, a horrible sand storm hits so hard that Vera is trapped in her dust filled home and at one point has to put a damp mask over her face in order to breath. In order for students to understand why Vera made this comparison and so that they can understand just how harsh the elements can be, students will research the Dust Bowl using various types of resources such as databases, the internet, encyclopedias, and maps. They will use these resources to answer the following questions: What was the Dust Bowl? When did it happen? Why did it happen? Which states were affected by it? How did residents deal with these dust storms? Do these dust storms still happen? Where? Once students have completed their research, they will create a short power point presentation in order to demonstrate their findings. Pictures of the Dust Bowl will be included in this presentation.

Related Websites:
1. Thalia Chaltas’s Website-Use this website to learn more about Chaltas and her writing.

2. Use the following websites to learn about the Dust Bowl

3. Use the following websites to learn about the Hopi tribe and their art

4. These websites discuss grief and how to deal with tragedy

Related books:
1. Poetry
A) Lomatewama, Ramson.1987. Silent Winds: Poetry of One Hopi. Heard Museum.
B) Young, Kevin. 2010. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. Bloomsbury USA.
C) Fox, William L. 2002. Reading Sand: Selected Desert Poems, 1976-2000. University of Nevada Press.

2. Nonfiction
A) Foster, Lynne. 1997. Adventuring in the California Desert. Sierra Club Books.
B) Pritzker, Barry. 2011. The Hopi. Chelsea House.
C) Bahti, Tom. 1997. Southwestern Indian Arts & Crafts. KC Publications.
D) Ruiz, Ruth Ann. 2001. Coping With the Death of a Brother or Sister. Rosen Publishing Group.
E) Myers, Edward. 2006. Teens, Loss, and Grief: The Ultimate Teen Guide. Scarecrow Press.
F) Canfield, Jack, and Mark Victor Hansen. 2003. Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul: Stories About Life, Death and Overcoming the Loss of a Loved One. Health Communications.

3. Fiction
A) Sones, Sonya. 2004. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
B) Nelson, Jandy. 2010. The Sky is Everywhere. Dial Books.
C) Smith, Kirsten. 2007. The Geography of Girlhood. Little, Brown.
D) Dessen, Sarah. 2004. The Truth About Forever. Viking.
E) Fullerton, Alma. 2007. Walking on Glass. Harper Tempest.

Used with permission of Giesla Zech.