Thursday, June 2, 2011

Social Studies Picture Books in Middle School

I’m working with seventh and eighth grade social studies teachers to write several collaborative lessons using picture books for read alouds. Keith Schoch's Teaching with Picture Books blog is a great resource. His Squidoo article "Teaching with Picture Books" was a helpful starting point for our discussion. I also took notes on Lucy Calkins' helpful advice on read alouds from A Guide to the Reading Workshop in preparation for our discussion.

At home, Solana and I have been revisiting Virginia Hamilton’s If the People Could Fly: although there is no traditional history content, the stories are a powerful example of the importance of recording oral history and the notes at the end of each story give information about their historical origins.

I’m finding in general as I read through the picture books that the author’s note at the end, not always easy to understand for younger readers, can provide useful information for older readers on both additional historical context as well as author’s purpose. For example, Michael McCurdy's great-grandfather was a Union soldier and kept a journal during the war: he thought of his grandfather as he created the drawings for the book Gettysburg. Alan Shroeder, after drawing us into the life of the young Harriet Tubman, accompanied by Jerry Pinkney’s beautiful illustrations, lets the reader know what happened in her adult life in his author’s note.

Harvesting Hope: the Story of Cesar Chavez, which is also published in a bilingual edition, stood out among the pile of books I looked through, so I was happy when the teachers chose it as one of the books they’d like to focus on. I’m also really liking Independent Dames, Dolly Madison Saves George Washington, Sybil’s Night Ride and especially They Called Her Molly Pitcher. These are exciting and inspiring stories of girls and women in the colonial period.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers and Leonard Jenkins has a winning combination of artful illustrations, biography and compelling quotes, finishing with a timeline sprinkled with more quotes. Reading this book with students is timely , as there is much discussion currently on the internet of the late Columbia professor Manning Marable’s new biography.

Carol Hurst’s web site is always a great resource for picture books by topic. And I’m lucky to have such a great local children’s librarian.

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