Monday, January 22, 2018

Doing the Right Thing

I’ve two recommendations for today’s post that promote understanding for what it’s like to be Black in the United States today.

The first one is by Jason Reynolds’, Long Way Down. This story takes place in an elevator as it descends seven floors in an apartment building and Will, the protagonist, is on his way to avenge the death of his older brother Shawn.  He’s struggling with THE RULES that govern the lives of black men and boys in his big city neighbourhood: No Crying – No Snitching – Get Revenge. As the elevator goes down seven floors, seven ghosts who knew Will and his family and experienced gun violence too, visit Will and offer subtle guidance that will help him make up his mind about his next set of actions.

Jason Reynolds is a fantastic writer. This story, told in narrative verse, took me to a place that I had no way of knowing about and gave me a glimpse into the mind of a young man like Will. Reading about gun violence and gang-related murder in the news does not provide much insight as to how this kind of thing continues to be perpetuated.  It’s the strength of a novel like this that allows me to feel the pain and the hopelessness that must consume young black men when they feel that have no choice but to live by THE RULES.

The next book, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been getting lots of well-deserved attention in review journals and blogs. It was a National Book Award Finalist. Again, this story puts the news reports that we hear nightly, into a perspective that is totally relatable and gives new resonance for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Starr is a sixteen year-old high school student who lives in a poor, black neighbourhood but goes to a predominately white school in another part of town. She’s working out how to mesh the two people she must be to live in two vastly different universes. When a friend, a young, black man, Khalil is shot by a white police office while with Starr one night, everything changes.

By telling people, school mates, police, journalists and neighbours about what happened that night puts Starr in a precarious situation. Those fighting for the rights of black people see this as an opportunity to create awareness and demand justice. Those in positions of power are cautious about the information Starr provides as it will jeopardize the police officer. Starr fears that if her classmates know she is the witness that will jeopardize her place in the school.The desire to do the right thing is strong and eventually overcomes Starr's fears.

Again, this was a compelling story that opened a world that I will never experience firsthand. There is considerable profanity (tons of f-bombs) used by almost all the characters but this made it feel very authentic. The ending is also very realistic, sadly.

I highly recommend both of these books for grades 9 and up and for adults. Amazing reads!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Innovative thinking

Right now I’m in the middle of teaching workshops about Design Thinking to second year student-teachers. This is a thinking process that promotes creative and innovative thinking as well as collaborative practices. It’s being taken up by some of the school boards in the Calgary area so it’s a hot topic, as you might imagine, and on my mind.

(Today’s posting isn’t really about design thinking so if you’re keen to learning more about Design Thinking and education you might like to visit a library guide, developed by the Doucette Library, called, funnily enough, Design Thinking.)
So, maybe it’s my frame-of-mind right now, immersed in teaching design thinking, that a book like Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art ofConfusion by Chris Barton made a strong impression.

It’s 1917 and Britain is at risk of being cut off from crucial supplies of food brought in by ships. German U-boats were very skilled at targeting ships that supported the United Kingdom.  As the book states, “desperate times call for desperate measures” and innovative thinking was essential to overcoming these devastating loses.

Norman Wilkinson, a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant-commander, had a seemingly bizarre idea – camouflaging the ships. By painting ships with an array of dazzling patterns and colours, it would break up the ship’s form on the ocean’s waters, presenting an image so confusing that it would be difficult to track.

Dazzle was meant to make the Germans think a ship was, for example, turning toward the west when it was actually headed to the southeast.”

A small workforce (of mostly women) was organized to come up with patterns which were tested out to determine which were the most effective at tricking the eye. Thousands of British and American ships had be ‘dazzled’ by the end of the war.  Though, determining whether the dazzling really did save ships from being torpedoed is debatable, it did booster the morale of the sailors on those ships.

I love the sentiment that is summed up in the book :
 “a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed.”

The material at the back of the book, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a timeline and reference list provide additional information for research purposes. I thought that the author’s notes about researching and writing about this book of special interest and would be instructive to students about this process.

I recommend this book for grades 4-7 for social studies, art, and science. Because it’s so interdisciplinary it’s perfect for STEAM classrooms.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Being philosophical

Nothing like starting off the new year with some of the big questions in life.

 In Why Am I Here? by Constance Orbeck-Nilssen and Akin Duzakin, introduces us to a very thoughtful child (might be a boy or a girl), who wonders about some of these kinds of questions:

Why am I here?
Why am I in this place?
What if I was in a different place? Would I be different, too?
What if I lived in a city? Or a city with a war going on? 
Or live in the desert?  Or a place with ocean and melting icebergs?
What if I had to move?

After pondering these and many other deep questions, he or she ends up deciding,
                Why am I me, and not someone else?
                And why am I here?
                Maybe that’s how it is –
                I am my own house.
                And I will be at home
                Wherever I am.

The illustrations are perfectly suited for this introspective book that induces a kind of calm while thinking about topics that might be scary such as living in a place where there is conflict. There is a softness in the rendering with a muted palette of colours encouraging quiet contemplation.

Besides being a discussion starter for general conversations about life, our place in the world and our purpose, there are curriculum connections to be found in social studies and language arts. Also, a book that could be a way to approach learning about empathy, too.

Great book to pair with a Stormy Night by Michele Lemieux that also poses questions that can keep one up at night. 

 Recommended for grades 1 to 6.

Template Design | Elque 2007