"It didn't matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home."
-Lev Grossman, The Magician's Land

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Habibi - A Story of Hope

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1997. Habibi. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-689-80149-1

Habibi is the story of a family who moves halfway across the world, from St. Louis to Jerusalem.  Fourteen-year-old Liyana has just had her first kiss when her father announces that the family will be moving to his native city of Jerusalem.  He believes the violence there has abated, and now is the perfect time to return.  Liyana is unsure how to feel.  While this may be an exciting adventure, there are so many people and places she will miss.  She is looking forward to meeting her Sitti, grandmother, and the rest of her father's side of the family, but how will she communicate with them?  She does not speak Arabic, and they do not speak English.

Liyana and her brother, Rafik, find they enjoy living in Jerusalem.  The city is beautiful, their family is loving, and she is adjusting nicely to her new school.  But nobody knows her there, what she likes, who her friends were.  She feels like she has to start her life over from scratch.  

As time passes, Liyana starts to feel more at home in Jerusalem and even meets a boy, Omer.  But she is not in America anymore, and the expectations are completely different.  Omer is Jewish, and tensions are running high between the Arabs and the Jews.  Will her family see Omer for who he really is and not just as a Jew?  And what will her family do when the soldiers attack?  Her family and friends are not as safe as she'd like to pretend they are.  Will a shooting and imprisonment leave her family in ruins, or will they be able to rise above it and work towards peace?      

Naomi Shihab Nye draws upon her own experiences of living in Jerusalem when she was a teen to craft this authentic story.  Jerusalem has a long history as a conflict-ridden city.  Through the Abboud family, she is able to show what life is like there for the residents who desperately want peace. 

Arabic is seamlessly interwoven in the text.  Nye sheds light on the differences between American and Arab customs; for example, Liyana is not allowed to wear shorts.  Sitti has never been in an elevator and does not like using the telephone.  Nye also exposes the unfortunate living conditions of those living in the refugee camp.

This novel will appeal to anyone who has ever longed for peace.  Liyana does not let her family's prejudices affect her relationship with Omer.  She is able to look past things such as religion and ethnicity to see people for who they really are.  Teens today have a similar mindset, so they will be able to relate to Liyana.

1998 Jane Addams Children's Book Award Winner

1998 Judy Lopez Memorial Award

ALA Best Book for Young Adults

ALA Notable Children's Book

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY -"This soul-stirring novel about the Abbouds, an Arab American family, puts faces and names to the victims of violence and persecution in Jerusalem today...Nye's climactic ending will leave readers pondering, long after the last page is turned, why Arabs, Jews, Greeks and Armenians can no longer live in harmony the way they once did."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Though the story begins at a leisurely pace, readers will be engaged by the characters, the romance, and the foreshadowed danger. Poetically imaged and leavened with humor, the story renders layered and complex history understandable through character and incident. Habibi succeeds in making the hope for peace compellingly personal and concrete...as long as individual citizens like Liyana's grandmother Sitti can say, "I never lost my peace inside."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "In her first novel, Nye shows all of the charms and flaws of the old city through unique, short-story-like chapters and poetic language. The sights, sounds, and smells of Jerusalem drift through the pages and readers glean a sense of current Palestinian-Israeli relations and the region's troubled history."

Nye is a prolific author and poet.  Have your students read more of her work.
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab. There Is No Long Distance Now: Very Short Stories. ISBN 978-0062019653
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab. What Have You Lost? ISBN 978-0380733071
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab. A Maze Me: Poems for Girls. ISBN 978-0060581916

To give students an idea of the culture shock Liyana experienced, share images with your students of all the places mentioned in the novel. 

To give your students an idea of who Naomi Shihab Nye really is, share this video of Nye reading one of her poems.

Use this novel as a jumping off point to have your students research the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts.

Have students take on the perspective of either Liyana or Rafik.  Have them choose an event from the story and write a journal entry as that character.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

George - Be Who You Are

Gino, Alex. 2015. George. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 978-0-545-81254-2

This middle grade novel is about a boy named George, but George knows she is really a girl.  This is a secret she has not shared with anyone.  It tears her apart inside when others refer to her as a boy or as a soon to be man, but every time she thinks about telling someone, the words get stuck in her mouth.  

George's fourth grade class is going to put on a production of Charlotte's Web, and George really wants to be cast as Charlotte.  If she could only perform as Charlotte, maybe everyone would finally realize that she is a girl, as well.  Unfortunately, her teacher won't even consider her for the part because "he's a boy."  As the story progresses, George struggles with sharing this information about herself with her mother and her best friend, Kelly.

Is George destined to work behind the scenes, while her best friend, Kelly, performs onstage as Charlotte?  And will George ever be able to let the world know who she really is?

Alex Gino has given the world a true gift in this powerful and important novel.  There is a profound lack of children's literature about characters who are transgender, especially for middle grade students.  This timely novel helps fill that gap.  It is beautifully written and completely age appropriate.  It is not about dating or sexuality; it is simply a story about personal identity.  Anyone who has ever felt different will relate to George.  Her dreams of being accepted for who she really is are not all that different than the dreams of most preteens.  Her utter devastation at not only not getting the role of Charlotte, but being dismissed as a joke by her teacher for even reading for the role, will resonate with readers who have ever been unfairly denied something they wanted.  And Kelly's ultimate acceptance of her and their experience together at the zoo will leave readers with a feeling of hope that George's (Melissa's) life is finally moving in the right direction. 

George's mother was a believable character.  She seemed to be in denial that her son was anything other than a typical fourth grade boy.  When she found George's secret stash of magazines, her first instinct was anger and to take them away from her.  As a mother, she doesn't want her child to choose a difficult path in life, and that's what she initially thinks when George tells her that she's a girl.  Fortunately, she does seem to start accepting her child for who she really is at the end of the book, in her words, "one step at a time."

Inevitably, there will be some who feel that the subject matter of this book is too controversial or inappropriate for middle grade students.  To those, I would say that it is my role as a library media specialist to promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of ALL young people.  If today's students are going to grow to be intelligent, empathetic, and kind adults, they need to build an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of the world we live in.  Literature is the best way to expose children to other cultures they may not encounter in their own lives.  George is an exemplary novel that can do just that.

Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 Finalist

Kirkus Reviews Best of 2015

Publishers Weekly Best Books 2015

School Library Journal Best Books 2015

School Library Journal Top 10 Audio Books 2015

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should. VERDICT A required purchase for any collection that serves a middle grade population."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "George’s joy during stolen moments when she can be herself will resonate with anyone who has felt different, while providing a necessary window into the specific challenges of a child recognizing that they are transgender. Profound, moving, and—as Charlotte would say—radiant, this book will stay with anyone lucky enough to find it."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "George, a fourth-grader who knows she is a girl, despite appearances, begins to tell her secret.  The word “transgender” is used midway through, but far more work is done by the simple choice to tell George’s story using third-person narration and the pronouns “she” and “her.” Readers then cringe as much as George herself when bullies mock her or—perhaps worse—when well-meaning friends and family reassure her with sentiments like “I know you’ll turn into a fine young man.”...Warm, funny, and inspiring."
For teachers who are looking for ways to talk about George in a sensitive manner, Alex Gino has written a blog post that addresses just that.  This is a great resource to use before reading/discussing this book with your students. http://www.alexgino.com/2015/08/how-to-talk-about-george/

Have your students write about a time they felt different from their peers.  Have anyone who is brave enough share their writing with the class.

Check out this blog post for other quality LGBTQ literature for middle grade students. http://www.leewind.org/2009/12/glbtq-middle-grade-bookshelf.html

One of the characters in the story, Jeff, is a classic example of a bully.  Have a discussion with your students about bullying and what they can each do to help a friend who is the victim of a bully.

Kelly is truly George's best friend in every way.  Have students write about their best friend and what that friend does to make them feel special.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Pirate of Kindergarten - A Must See Book

Lyon, George Ella. 2010. The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. by Lynne Avril. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-1-4169-5024-0

Ginny is a Kindergartener who loves school.  She enjoys reading and drawing.  But Ginny has a problem.  Her eyes like to play tricks on her.  She has difficulty walking to Reading Circle because she sees double the amount of chairs.  Reading is tricky because the words seem to move all over the page.  And using scissors is even trickier; multiple images appear on the paper, and she's never sure which one to cut.

Everything changes for Ginny on Vision Screening Day.  To Ginny's dismay, the nurse finds that she has double vision.  This prompts a visit to Dr. Clare, who gives Ginny an eye patch to wear.  This patch allows Ginny to see only one of everything.  Now, she is a Kindergarten Pirate.  She is able to read, cut, run, climb, and walk successfully.  Ginny's problem has been solved, and she couldn't be happier.

The Pirate of Kindergarten is actually based on George Ella Lyon's own experiences as a child.  She has written the story in a way that makes it easy for young children to comprehend Ginny's visual impairment.  Ginny is a relatable character, in that she enjoys school and the many activities that happen there throughout the day.  Her frustration over using the scissors and her anxiety over the vision screening are understandable.  When Ginny is given the patch to wear, Lyon highlights all of its positive effects.  This lets the reader know that wearing an eye patch is not weird or strange, but helpful and exciting.  Should any young children encounter someone with an eye patch in the future, they will have a much better understanding of why the person is wearing it after reading this book.

Lynne Avril's vibrant illustrations realistically portray how Ginny's eyes work, both before and after the patch.  When I read this story to my own children, ages 7 and 5, the illustrations really helped them understand what it would be like to have a visual impairment.  The book prompted a discussion with my children about my own eye sight.  I do not have double vision, but I have very poor eye sight and wear contact lessons.  They both asked, "Is this what it is like for you when you don't have your contacts in?"  I don't think they ever really understood what it meant to have a visual impairment until they read this book.  

2011 Schneider Family Book Award Winner

Volunteer State Book Award Master List

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly, and Avril's astute chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of "two of everything" provide a vivid window into Ginny's pre-treatment world. It is not until the end of the story that Ginny declares herself a pirate, but as a metaphor for confidence and competence, her patch effectively declares her to be captain of her own ship."

From BOOKLIST - "Based on Lyon’s own experience, the sensitively written story radiates empathy and good humor. Even children who have not experienced Ginny’s problem will understand her occasional frustration and find it intriguing that one person can literally see the world differently from another."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Without lecturing or making Ginny the object of pity, Lyon (Sleepsong) and Avril (Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse), who works in cheery but remarkably expressive pastels, show how disorientating and alienating it feels when something as fundamental as visual perception goes awry."

Have a discussion with your students about visual impairments.  Do any of them have a visual impairment?  Do they know someone with a visual impairment?  

Invite the school nurse into your classroom.  Have him/her administer a vision screening on each student, so they can experience it for themselves.

Read your students more books about characters with visual impairments.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Headley, Justina Chen. The Patch. ISBN 978-1580891707
  • Shaw, Beth Kobliner. Jacob's Eye Patch. ISBN 978-1476737324
  • Kostecki-Shaw, Jenny Sue. My Travelin' Eye. ISBN 978-0805081695

Ginny's eye patch is just one way she is unique.  Have a discussion with your students about what makes each of them unique.

Share this book trailer with your students.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experience the Power of Imagination with The Boy in the Garden

Say, Allen. 2010. The Boy in the Garden. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children: Boston. ISBN 978-0-547-21410-8

After listening to Mama read him a story about a crane who turns into a woman, Jiro goes with his father to visit Mr. Ozu.  Mr. Ozu has a beautiful garden, in which Jiro spies a crane.  He approaches the crane carefully, so as not to frighten it.  But when he hears the laughter of his father and Mr. Ozu, he realizes the crane is a statue.

Jiro runs away in embarrassment, and he comes across a small cottage.  Thinking it may be the cottage of the woodcutter from Mama's story, Jiro goes in and makes himself at home.  Soon after, a beautiful woman appears, and Jiro believes it is the Crane Woman.  He is thrilled to be part of the story, and he is determined to take care of her.

Unfortunately, it appears to have all been a dream.  Papa wakes Jiro up after finding him asleep in Mr. Ozu's teahouse.  As father and son walk home, they take a moment to observe the bronze crane.

Did Jiro actually enter the story Mama read to him?  Or was it all really a dream?

Allen Say opens his book with "The Story That Mama Read to Jiro."  When he switches to the narrative of Jiro and his father going to visit Mr. Ozu, readers will likely wonder what the connection is between these two stories.  As the tale unfolds, the reader sees that Jiro may have just wandered into Mama's book.  This is certainly an intriguing idea that will grab readers and keep them guessing as to what is really going on.  Many children have often fantasized about becoming a part of their favorite books.

Say's muted watercolor paintings complement the text.  The wonder in Jiro's face is evident on each page.  While he does put on a kimono at the small cottage, Jiro is initially painted wearing pants and a coat (as well as his father).  This helps make him a relatable character to children of any culture.  The kimono comes into play when the legend comes to life.  The most important illustration, however, is the one on the last page of the book.  The reader has just come to the conclusion that Jiro's experiences took place in a dream, but a small bird flying in the distance might lead them to believe maybe it did really happen after all.   

Allen Say has written and illustrated countless picture books and was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1994.  He has a true gift for storytelling.   

From THE HORN BOOK - "A gently unsettling tale of the power of the imagination." 

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Say is at the height of his artistic achievement in this tale of a little boy named Jiro and the powerful impact that a story has on him...This is a beautiful, moving, quietly mysterious read, ripe with possibilities for interpretation and contemplation." 

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "Caldecott Medalist Say (Grandfather's Journey), his work always painstaking and poignant, ventures tentatively into the realm of fantasy....Pale colors and expanses of empty space contribute to the feeling of haunted charm. Did Jiro dream? Possibly—or possibly not." 

Visit this website to listen to Allen Say talk about his inspiration for The Boy in the Gardenhttp://www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=4794&a=1

Share more of Allen Say's picture books with your students, including his 1994 Caldecott Medal Winner, Grandfather's Journey.  Click on this website to find a list of his books. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/bookwizard/books-by/allen-say#cart/cleanup

Click on this website to find a printable activity for your students to complete. http://www.thewiseowlfactory.com/PDFs/2011/09/TheBoyintheGardenQandA.pdf

Have your students share what story they would like to become a part of and why.

Show your students pictures of real looms and share some videos of what weaving cloth looks like.  This may be an unfamiliar process for them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kira-Kira - A Novel of Love and Hope in the Face of Tragedy

Kadohata, Cynthia. 2004. Kira-Kira. New York: Atheneum Books For Young Readers.  ISBN 0-689-85639-3

The year is 1956.  Katie, a young Japanese American girl, has spent the first five years of her life living in a Japanese community in Iowa with her family.  When her parents' Oriental foods grocery store goes out of business, however, they decide to pack up and move to Georgia, where her uncle lives.  

Life in Georgia is very different.  Her family moved from a comfortable house in Iowa to a cramped apartment.   Katie's parents work all the time.   The other children at school ignore her.  Her only real friend is her older sister, Lynn.  Katie idolizes Lynn.  She is a shining star who seems to know everything about everything.  Katie feels happiest when she is with Lynn and always tries to please her.  

Everything changes when Lynn gets sick.  At first, she just seems tired all the time and needs extra rest.  The purchase of their own home breathes new life into Lynn, but as more time passes, it becomes clear that she is not getting any better.  The hospital bills start to pile up and Katie's parents fall behind on their mortgage payments.  They work more and more hours, but it's still not enough.

Katie's life is filled with a combination of worry, uncertainty, and despair.  What is wrong with her sister, and will she ever get better?  And how can she prevent her family from falling apart?

A sign of a remarkable author is the ability to make the reader both laugh and cry, and Cynthia Kadohata does just that in her stunning novel.  She uses the power of voice to make Katie a memorable and relatable character.  Katie is a typical young girl who would rather spend time with her older sister than do her homework.  Her observations of the world around her are often amusing.  She has a family who loves her and would do anything for her.  And while her family may be poor financially, their lives are rich with love.  Readers will root for Katie to succeed because she is so likable.

Kadohata's portrayal of the racism the Takeshimas face is accurate based on the setting of the novel.  The receptionist at the motel mistakes the Japanese American family for Indian and then Mexican.  She offers them a room at the back of the motel but charges them two dollars extra for it.  The only people who are friendly to the family in Georgia are the other Japanese Americans.  The white people ignore them or point and stare.  Mrs. Takeshima experiences this vividly when she gives birth to Sam.  The nurses in the hospital can't stop staring at the "cute Japanese" baby, but are purposely neglectful to her.  Both Lynn and Katie have a difficult time making friends, and it is a big deal when Amber, a white girl, befriends Lynn.

Kadohata intersperses Japanese words within the text.  The title of the novel, Kira-Kira, is Japanese for "glittering," and this word is meaningful to both Lynn and Katie.  Lynn dreams of moving to California and seeing the kira-kira sea, and for Katie, it was the first word she learned.  The older characters have Japanese names.  Kadohata also makes note of the most important holiday in her culture, New Year.  The most devastating event in the novel actually takes place on New Year.

I look forward to reading more of this prolific author's work.

2005 Newbery Medal Winner

2005 Asian Pacific American Literature Award Winner

2005 ALA Notable Book

From BOOKLIST - "In her first novel for young people, Kadohata stays true to the child's viewpoint in plain, beautiful prose that can barely contain the passionate feelings. Just as heart wrenching as the sisters' story is what Katie knows of her father's struggle, whether it's his backbreaking work in the factory or his love for his family. The quiet words will speak to readers who have lost someone they love—or fear that they could."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "Told from Katie's point of view and set in the 1950s, this beautifully written story tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrendous work conditions. Katie's parents can barely afford to pay their daughter's medical bills, yet they refuse to join the growing movement to unionize until after Lynn's death. All of the characters are believable and well developed, especially Katie, who acts as a careful observer of everything that happens in her family, even though there is a lot she doesn't understand. Especially heartbreaking are the weeks leading up to Lynn's death, when Katie is exhausted and frustrated by the demands of her sister's illness, yet willing to do anything to make her happy. Girls will relate to and empathize with the appealing protagonist."

From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "This novel shines."

If your students enjoyed this novel, have them read another of Kadohata's titles:
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. The Thing About Luck. ISBN 978-1416918820
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower. ISBN 978-0689865749
  • Kadohata, Cynthia. A Million Shades of Gray. ISBN 978-1416918837

Have your students write a journal entry describing what school was like for Katie.  

Have your students research why New Year is the most important holiday in the Japanese culture.

Ask your students to think about what might happen next for Katie and her family.  Will her parents still be struggling with money?  Have them write an epilogue of what the family is doing a year from when the novel ends.

Share this video with your students of Cynthia Kadohata discussing the novel.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Chinese Folktales and Imagination Blend Together in Where The Mountain Meets The Moon

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-03863-8

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is the story of a young girl named Minli.  Minli and her parents live in the poor village of Fruitless Mountain.  Their tireless work, day after day, provides them with only the smallest amount of food.  Ma is dissatisfied with the life they have and would love nothing more than a change in fortune.  Inspired by Ba's exciting stories, Minli decides to leave home and seek out the Old Man of the Moon, in the hopes that he will tell her how to change her family's fortune.

Thus begins a long and dangerous journey.  Along the way, Minli befriends a lonely dragon, and he becomes her constant companion, as he, too would like to ask a question of the Old Man of the Moon.  Together, they outsmart some monkeys, search for the Guardian of the City of Bright Moonlight and a borrowed line, encounter an evil green tiger, and listen to a wealth of old stories.  They also make many new friends who are more than happy to assist Minli and Dragon in whatever way they can.

Meanwhile, Ma and Ba are worried sick about their precious daughter and fear they may never see her again.  Will Minli succeed in finding the Old Man of the Moon?  And if so, will he be willing to help her?  The ending of this exciting tale may surprise you.   

Lin's novel is both enchanting and compelling.  Minli is a strong female character who decides to take fate into her own hands.  She is determined, courageous, and kind.  In short, she has all of the qualities that any young girl might aspire to have.  I think this is particularly important because girls in Asian Pacific American literature have been portrayed as shy, obedient, and subservient in the past.  It is refreshing to read a story where the character breaks free of those stereotypes.  Minli's quest will likely fascinate all young readers, but her character will have just as a profound effect on the perception of Asian Pacific American girls.

Chinese folklore, both traditional and newly imagined by Lin, plays an essential role in this novel. Throughout the book, Minli is surrounded by these stories.  The stories Ba tells her in the evenings are the catalyst for her journey.  Throughout her travels, each character she meets has another story to share.  These stories further her knowledge and help guide her in making important decisions.  For example, The Unknown Part of the Story of the Old Man of the Moon tells both Minli and the King of the City of Bright Moonlight that the paper passed down to him from his predecessors is in all likeliness the borrowed line.  Minli uses that knowledge when she arrives at Never-Ending Mountain to create a kite from the valuable paper (along with the red string).  The Old Man of the Moon will surely take notice of her when he sees that she has returned a paper from the Book of Fortune to him.  It is important to note that at the end of her novel, Lin shares which aspects of the book were based on real Chinese folktales and which parts she created herself.

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is a culturally authentic novel.  The characters have Chinese names, the foods they eat are traditional Chinese foods, and the clothes they wear are bright in color and made of silk.  The color red is important in the Chinese culture, and the twins, Da-A-Fu, are described as wearing red.  Dragons are symbolic in Chinese culture, and there are many dragons in this story (both real and as part of the stories).  The people who encounter Minli's friend, Dragon, are awed by him.  Likewise, goldfish are considered symbols of luck and good fortune, and their appearance in the novel marks considerable change for the characters.   

It would be remiss not to mention Lin's beautiful artwork.  Her full color paintings are vibrant and add another layer to this already engaging story.  They help the reader to more completely visualize the characters and events. 

This is the first title by Grace Lin that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading more of her work.  She is a noteworthy author from a diverse cultural group that is poorly underrepresented in American children's literature today, and I look forward to sharing her books with my students.    

2010 Newbery Honor Book

2010 CCBC Choices List

2013 Nutmeg Award Nominee

From BOOKLIST - "With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin's own full-color drawings open each chapter."

From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "The author's writing is elegant, and her full-color illustrations are stunning. Minli's determination to help her family, as well as the grief her parents feel at her absence, is compelling and thoroughly human."

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "Lin deftly incorporates elements from Chinese folk- and fairy tales to create stories within the main story and provide context for Minli's quest. With her "lively and impulsive spirit," Minli emerges a stalwart female role model who learns the importance of family, friendship and faith during her amazing journey. Richly hued illustrations reinforce the Chinese folk theme."

Grace Lin has several wonderful activities that go along with the novel on her website.  Check them out by clicking on this link. Grace Lin's Website  

Share this video of Lin being interviewed about her novel by some children.

If your students enjoyed Lin's writing, have them choose another of her books to read.  Her other middle grade novels include:
  • Lin, Grace. Starry River of the Sky. ISBN 978-0316125970
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. ISBN 978-0316060028
  • Lin, Grace. The Year of the Rat. ISBN 978-0316033619
  • Lin, Grace. Dumpling Days. ISBN 978-0316125895  

Have your students write about what one question they would ask the Old Man of the Moon if they had the opportunity and why.

Ask your students to think about which character in the novel they are most like.  Have them write why they are similar to this character and list attributes that they both share.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Walk the Trail of Tears in How I Became a Ghost

Tingle, Tim. 2013. How I Became a Ghost. Oklahoma City: The Roadrunner Press. ISBN 978-1-937054-53-3

The year is 1830.  Isaac, a ten year old boy, lives in Choctaw Nation, Mississippi with his parents and older brother.  They have a comfortable life there, with many friends.  But all that changes once the Treaty Talk begins.  The Nahullos (White people) come in the middle of the night and set fire to all of the homes in their town.  Most of the Choctaw people barely make it out alive, while some perish in the flames.  They flee to a swamp, thinking it unlikely that the Nahullos would look for them there, but eventually they do arrive with a nasty surprise. 

Thus begins a long and difficult journey for the people of Choctaw Nation.  As per the agreement of the treaty, the Nahullo soldiers march the Choctaws through the sleet and snow towards the new land where they are being relocated to.  Through all of this, Isaac begins to see ghosts and learns that he will soon become one of them.  On this journey, new friendships are formed, and the Choctaws remain brave and strong in the face of so much misery.  Along with a shapeshifting panther boy and a charming five year old ghost, Isaac embarks on a mission to save a young girl's life.  Will he remain alive long enough to see this mission through?  Or will the cruel Nahullos bring more terror and death to the Choctaws along the Trail of Tears?   

How I Became a Ghost is a truly compelling story.  It is part historical fiction, part supernatural, and part mystery all wrapped up in one important middle grade novel.  The story is told from Isaac's perspective.  From his opening line, "Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before," Tingle quickly pulls the reader into Isaac's world and immerses him/her in this tragic piece of history. Isaac's tale keeps the reader on his/her toes, anticipating the moment when he finally becomes a ghost.  But despite this, Isaac comes across as an ordinary ten year old, who children will easily relate to.  And while the topic of death is certainly a sad one, the tone of the novel is not.  The Choctaws do not really leave when they die.  They remain with their family members and can appear before them, offering them some measure of comfort.  Children with no prior knowledge of the Trail of Tears may pick up this book because of its supernatural elements, but will leave the book emotionally connected to the Choctaws and their devastating plight.

For all of the novel's positive qualities, Tingle does the leave the reader with some unanswered questions.  It is never explained how Isaac's mother knew to keep her family from taking the blankets or who cast the spell to make the rattlesnake appear on Nita's body.  How I Became a Ghost is marketed as the beginning of a trilogy, so hopefully these questions will be answered in the next book.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information on if and when the second book will be out.

Tingle is Choctaw, himself, and this novel was inspired by his own memories of retracing the trail and speaking with tribal elders.  The Choctaw beliefs, traditions, and language add to the authenticity of the story.  This is an important novel for all middle grade students to read, offering a glimpse into a culture they may not be familiar with while bringing to life an important event in our country's history.

2014 American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner

2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

From KIRKUS REVIEWS - ""The beginning of a trilogy, this tale is valuable for both its recounting of a historical tragedy and its immersive Choctaw perspective."

From THE HORN BOOK - "Tingle, a Choctaw storyteller, relates his tale in the engaging repetitions and rhythms of an oft-told story...Spare and authentic."

From THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS - "Tingle's prose is terse, urgently propelling the story along and providing a minimalist aesthetic that evokes storytelling techniques and renders accessible a tragic piece of history."

Tingle has written several Choctaw novels.  If your students would like to read more about this Native American culture, suggest the following titles.
  • Tingle, Tim. House of Purple Cedar. ISBN 978-1935955245
  • Tingle, Tim. Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness into Light. ISBN 978-1933693675
  • Tingle, Tim. Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom. ISBN 978-1933693200

The Choctaws do not say good-bye.  Instead, they say chi pisa lattice, which means "I will see you again, in the future."  Why do they say that, and how is that different than just saying goodbye?  Have a discussion about this with your students.

This novel has many characters who display bravery.  Ask your students to write about who they think the bravest character in the story is and why.

Use this book as a jumping off point to have your students research the The Trail of Tears.

Tim Tingle is also a renowned storyteller.  Share this video with your students of Tingle telling a Choctaw story about how rabbit got his short tail.