Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Compare and Contrast: American History Edition

Master George's People: George Washington, His Slaves, and His Revolutionary Transformation
by Marfé Ferguson Delano
National Geographic Children's Books (January 8, 2013)
review copy from the public library

This is an important book.

All year long my students struggled with the reading standard about how the setting (both time and place) influences the story. What I realized by the end of the year is that this standard is easier to grasp when applied to a person's own life, or to historical events.

That George Washington, the slave owner, was influenced by the time and place of his life story is one of the main themes of this book. We can't blame him for owning slaves, and we can't judge him for owning slaves. We need to understand what it was about his life and times that made it okay, even necessary. But the most important thing we need to learn, is how Washington's views about slavery changed during the course of his lifetime. And that is another of the main themes of this book which relates to another hard standard -- identifying what influences a character's thoughts, words, or actions.

I'm not sure I'll read this entire book aloud next year, but the chapter that details Washington's change of heart and mind will be a good one for close and repeated reading.

Crankee Doodle
by Tom Angleberger
illustrated by CeCe Bell
Clarion Books (June 4, 2013)
review copy from the public library

This is a silly book.

Crankee Doodle and his horse could hold their own with Dr. Seuss' Sam I Am and the "I do not like them" character, with Elephant and Piggie, with Bink and Gollie.

The book includes a historical note about the song, but you will love it more for the characters than for any deep and lasting understandings about American History or Folklore.

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book)
by Steve Sheinken
Flash Point; First Edition, First Printing edition (September 4, 2012)
review copy from my classroom library

This is a scary book.

At first it's a gripping and fast-paced description of, as the subtitle puts it so well, "The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon." I'm hoping to encourage a group of my fifth graders to dig into this book next year in a book club. I want to test my sense that it's written at an understandable level for middle grade readers. I also want to start conversations about the realities of war with a generation that has no qualms about the virtual death and destruction that they reenact in video games. I want them to witness the horrific destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the multiple points of view presented in the book. And I want them to think about the final thought Sheinken leaves the reader with:

"In the end, this is a difficult story to sum up. The making of the atomic bomb is one of history's most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure. But it's also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet. It's a story with no end in sight.

And like it or not, you're in it."



  1. A light bulb moment early in the morning-thank you. "What I realized by the end of the year is that this standard is easier to grasp when applied to a person's own life, or to historical events." I will think differently about how the setting influences the story.

  2. Mary Lee, I love how you really dig into a book to find its deeper meaning and implications to education. I would have turned away from the Bomb book but I see your point, especially in light of all the violent games out there. Thanks for these reviews.


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