Flying Lessons was included in a list on the AICL blog of Best Books for 2017 by native writers or illustrators. It was the only book listed under the heading “For Middle Grades.” The specific Best Book status was for the short story entitled “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains.” The author, Tim Tingle, is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Like other authors mentioned on the blog, Tingle’s story is honored for its accurate portrayal of native people, their traditions, cultures, and beliefs.
Flying Lessons & Other Stories contains ten short stories and poetry by ten diverse writers, including Kwame Alexander, Grace Lin, Walter Dean Myers, and Jaqueline Woodson, among others.
Ellen Oh, co-founder and president of We Need Diverse Books, edited the collection of stories. This organization, according to its website, exists to advocate “essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” In the words of Walter Dean Myers, as quoted in a section of the book entitled “Why We Need Diverse Books,” young people need to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books they rea.d
So far, I’ve read only a few selections from the book: Tingle’s story, Tim Federle’s “Secret Samantha,” Jacqueline Woodson’s “Main Street,” and the collection’s namesake, “Flying Lessons” by Soman Chainani. I feel that the book will be good for reading aloud during class, and also a source of mentor texts that contain effective examples of realistic dialogue, descriptive settings, and captivating opening lines. I’ll be reading more stories from the book over the next week.
I struggle to find engaging short stories for middle school students. Since I usually start the school year off with memoir writing, I feel that this book will provide relevant, contemporary storylines and characters that my students can identify with.
One regret: I do wish the book had a more interesting cover. Because of its text-only design, I already know I’ll have to really talk up the book to get my students to check it out. Books with photographs or colorful pictures or illustrations always get more attention.
As I work more with the book in my classroom, I’ll relay to you how my students receive it. In fact, having a few of them write a short review will be beneficial for them and you.
It’s fun to add new books over the summer when I actually have more time to read. Thanks for checking out this post. Follow my blog for more book reviews as I discover new reads!
Read my post for a more complete explanation of the decision and my take on preserving historical literature, but here’s the gist: I feel removing Wilder’s name from the award punishes Wilder for writing about the time period in which she lived. I also feel the decision is a way to indirectly control the work of authors.
While I disagree with the ASLC’s decision to remove Wilder’s name from their award, I appreciate the conversation that has been sparked by the decision. As a result, I hope to broaden my own knowledge of accurate, unbiased Native American literature. The site’s “Best Books” tab contains an inventory of selections of books by year, from 2010 to 2017. Some of the lists are divided by elementary, middle, and high school.
The middle school book that made the list for 2017 is a story by Oklahoma Choctaw Tim Tingle called “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains.” It is found in an anthology called Flying Lessons & Other Stories. I have ordered a copy for my classroom library and will share about it in an upcoming post.
The AICL site also contains full-length articles to help you learn more about Native American literature. For example, you’ll find “Erasing Native American Stereotypes,” and “Getting the Indian Out of the Cupboard: Using Information Literacy to Promote Critical Thinking.” I did notice that a few links did not connect to the articles; however, there are so many titles in the sidebar, you’ll no doubt locate several to read.
Furthermore, the articles dig deep by providing analysis of specific titles. Read “An Open Letter to Jan Brett,” as an example. Here’s another: “A Teacher Reconsiders Virginia Grossman’s Ten Little Rabbits.” This review takes issue with the book’s language, stereotypes, illustrations, and other elements that provide misinformation about Native American tribes.
In fact, many items on the AICL site take many issues with many authors, especially non-Native authors. At times, it seems— based on the tone of the reviews and articles— that non-Native authors should just avoid writing anything regarding Native Americans because they’ll never get it right.
In any case, you owe it to yourself and your students to surf around on the AICL website. It’s one of those sites that I can get lost in quickly.
I think I probably speak for many teachers when I say that my knowledge of literature written by Native Americans is negligible. The AICL site goes a long way in helping me to learn more.
Click like if you learned something new in this post. Leave a comment about your own experience with Native American literature. Better yet, follow my blog for updates and more middle school ELA ideas.
I have a black-and-white poster of The Outsidersin my classroom. One year, I decided to photocopy my picture, cut off my head, and snuggle it in between Darry and Steve. And then I laminated it, so it’s never comin’ off! My students don’t always notice it right away, but when they do, they crack up to see me with the Greasers.
Obviously, you can tell I love The Outsiders. So imagine my excitement when I found out just yesterday that a new museum, located at the bungalow-style house where author S. E. Hinton’s Curtis brothers lived in the 1983 movie The Outsiders, will open in late summer or early fall!
The Outsiders House Museum is located at 731 N. St. Louis Ave. and will be open by appointment 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Owned by House of Pain hip-hop artist, Danny O’Connor, construction crews have spent several months restoring and preparing the house for its new life. Inside, visitors will tour the house, see book and movie memorabilia, and browse a retail shop for serious fans, of which there are thousands… including every single student at my middle school.
Seriously, what is it about students and The Outsiders? I asked teachers this question: Do you still teach The Outsiders and why? Here are some of those teachers’ comments, including several that shared content areas they address with the novel.
“Yes, because it is a classic and because we have the opportunity to discuss tolerance, stereotypes, and other points of view.”
“Because I can teach all the elements of fiction, character development and nearly all figurative language with this read that every student can relate to their own lives and how they treat others no matter what side of town they are from.”
“Yes, because my students LOVE it. I was thinking of giving it a rest, but the majority told me it was their favorite book this year, and when a book touches kids like that, I have to keep it in the repertoire.”
“Absolutely! We really focus on symbolism of eye colors, colors of hair, and numbers. Characterization done by a biased point-of-view. And stereotypes.”
“The last few pages are well-written, especially when Pony has his epiphany that he can be the voice for the voiceless. That idea is powerful, and this coming year I want to do a project connected to that idea.”
“I found that kids of all cultures could relate to it. The last time I taught it, I was at an all-girls school, and I liked the fact that it was (written by) a female author. We also did a writing project in which my students rewrote a scene from the book as if all the main characters were girls.”
“I moved to a new school in a new state and hadn’t taught The Outsiders since 1995. I was absolutely AMAZED how it spoke to my 7th graders in 2018. They were engaged from page one and did a wonderful job discussing the themes in the novel: empathy, peer pressure, socio-economic pressure, the concept of family. Most exciting to me, I believe for about ten or so students, this was THE book, the one that caused them to see themselves as readers. My heart melted to watch this happen.”
“It has become iconic. The references to the novel appear all over in pop culture. Stay Golden is what we want for all.”
“Yes. My 7th graders love it! Students who have shown no interest in reading will finish the book before the class. They become invested in the characters and show true empathy.”
“I have been teaching this to my 8th graders for nine years. EVERY year we start out with eye-rolls and “This book is sooooo old!” And EVERY year we finish reading the last chapter out loud together and—without prompting—they ALL say that last line TOGETHER. I swear I tear up EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.”
So even though the book was first published 51 years ago and the movie came out 35 years ago (can you believe it?!), The Outsiders is still a winner. If you don’t teach The Outsiders, think about doing so for next year. There’s a wealth of lessons and unit plans available for you to adapt to your teaching style and curriculum. If you already teach The Outsiders… well—all together now—Stay Gold.
Click like and leave a comment to share your experience with The Outsiders. And it’s okay to have a different opinion, since some teachers just don’t care for it. Share your ideas either way!
“Laura was frightened. Jack had never growled at her before. Then she looked over her shoulder, where Jack was looking, and she saw two naked, wild men coming, one behind the other, on the Indian trail.
‘Mary! Look!’ she cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.
They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake’s eyes.”
Note: I’m including this essay on this blog because, as a language arts teacher, I think it’s imperative to be up-to-date on current news in literature. In addition, providing reading materials for students that can be read for their historical accounts is also important. I think the ALSC decision discussed in this post may ultimately be harmful to students.
I remember reading this excerpt as a young girl when prairie mania reigned in one small slice of American pop culture. The craze for all things “prairie” owed its popularity to a series of nine volumes collectively called the Little Housebooks. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series’ popularity was aided by the launch of a TV drama, Little House on the Prairie, starring Michael Landon. I owned the entire Little House set and a pricey collectible wall calendar. I even visited Mansfield, Mo. with my family to tour Wilder’s final home where she wrote her books.
Spellbound through that breathless chapter where the Indians later entered the Ingalls cabin for tobacco and cornbread prepared by the girls’ mother, I considered how vulnerable the Ingalls were as they settled into the frontier of the Osage Indians who lived nearby. Based on my own background and Wilder’s perspective as told through the eyes of Laura, I never considered the vulnerability of the Osage and their culture. I just wanted to keep reading and turning the pages, so I could finish the book and dash off to the bookstore to buy the next.
The sage was enthralling and heart-breaking: white settlers making a home on the American frontier, occasional clashes with the Native Americans, Laura’s coming-of-age, tenuous friendships with the Olson family, Mary’s blindness.
Diverse? Not at all. Inclusive? Nope. It was 1975. As such, Wilder’s Little House series was considered a darn good story and was deemed worthy of recognition.
Until last week.
That’s when the American Library Association (ALA) and its branch, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), decided to change the name of its prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. Inaugurated in 1954 and awarded to Wilder herself for her book series, “This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature,” according to this ALA newsletter.
Sounds reasonable. Few would disagree that Wilder’s books indeed made “a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature” over the years, albeit not universally among readers.
Here’s how ALSC President Nina Lindsay explained the name change in a letter to her board of directors: “Laura Ingalls Wilder has long held a complex legacy, as her books reflect racist and anti-Native sentiments and are not universally embraced…”
She continued, “Today, this award elevates a legacy that is not consistent with values of diversity and inclusion—something we did not fully understand as a profession when we created the award. While many of Wilder’s books received Newbery honors, (and one may easily find other books within our award canon that don’t live up completely to our current values), we recognize that the name of an award itself holds significant power… The ALSC Executive Committee noted that the name of the award is a currently potentially significant barrier to achieving our goals, and is within our power to change.”
To counter these messages that misinform young children, the AICL website recommends works “by Native authors who write books that provide children with accurate information about American Indians.”
After all, Wilder’s books do contain racist depictions and stereotypes (in Chapter 11 of Little House on the Prairie and in other books in the series) of Native Americans and Africans. In addition, Reese cites Wilder’s recurring descriptions of the land as “empty” and her arguable notions that Indians were primitive beings without civilized, autonomous societies.
And let’s not forget this: the ALSC is not censoring Wilder’s work. Anyone can still purchase her books or find them at their local library. The ALSC merely removed Wilder’s name from its prestigious award.
It should also be noted that the decision does not appear to have been made hastily and members did not unanimously favor the change. An ALSC task force conducted a survey of members and ALA ethnic affiliates. The results: 305 favored the name change; 156 did not. Still, according to the ALSC task force’s recommendation, “We believe that this decision serves the best interest of our Association, its members, and all of those they serve, not only now, in 2018, but in the long term.
But what about history? Is it wise to attempt to remove evidence of the prejudicial attitudes from our past by denigrating the authors who recorded them? Wilder’s works were clearly set in the past and while they contain objectionable content for some, they remain a historical account. According to a statement from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo., “Mrs. Wilder believed her books to be historically accurate and reflect American life during the Western Movement. However difficult it may be to agree with social mores within these years, the fact remains that was a different time and what was accepted then would not be today.”
Even so, the quest for diversity and inclusion in historical literature takes precedence. With its action, the ALSC is indirectly controlling authors by condoning the events, characters and the actions of the characters those authors write about, historical or otherwise.
Regardless, the end result of all this is that now Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name comes with a warning label attached. And so does the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is what that label says:
Your characters will speak and behave with respect for all.
Your plot’s conflict must offend no one now nor in the future, and include the diverse views of all parties.
Your character’s thoughts and impressions must not be their own, or the author’s, but of those with the ability to make institutional change within the prevailing culture.
In short, write inclusively or you will be punished.
What are your thoughts? Click like and leave a comment so more people may see this and be able to weigh in. Follow my blog for more articles on education topics, as well as teaching ideas and resources, and news about writing contests specifically for middle schoolers.
I asked myself this question recently as I perused an English Language Arts curriculum map for grades 6-8 and found that out of dozens of texts the curriculum uses over the three years, only one text addressed or had any connection to World War II: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. However, this book, while an excellent and necessary text, does not focus on the Holocaust; instead, it depicts Japan’s brutal treatment of American POWs during wartime.
Seven out of ten Americans say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to
Nearly 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of Millennials believe that substantially fewer than six million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
45 percent of all Americans and 49 percent of Millennials cannot name a single concentration camp or ghetto of the 40,000 that existed
In fairness, the Engage New York middle school ELA curriculum does list other grievous events in world history. The curriculum contains a diverse range of texts. For example, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park chronicles the life of Salva Dut, a “lost boy” refugee fleeing the war in South Sudan. Inside Out & Back Againby Thanhha Lai tells the story of Ha, a ten-year-old girl Vietnamese girl forced to flee the violence of her home country to find refuge in the United States. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass recounts the hardships and dehumanization of the slavery system of the American South.
And yes, perhaps placing emphasis on these other events adds greater relevancy to classroom discussions of oppression. Students can, after all, livestream discussions with Salva Dut. Also, some middle schoolers have grandparents and great-grandparents who may have fought in Vietnam. The effects of American slavery are still reverberating in our current racial divisions and controversies. In contrast, very few Holocaust survivors are alive today. I’m sure that in the minds of many kids, the Holocaust is ancient history.
Without doubt, the inhumane intention, shocking magnitude, and cold machinations of Nazi Germany reveal humanity’s darkest side. We must learn from the Holocaust to prevent its reoccurrence. As Wiesel wrote in his lecture, “Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history…It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.”
Here’s another major finding from the “Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study”: a majority (58 percent) believe something like the Holocaust could happen again. I fear that if students don’t read about the Holocaust, it will be forgotten, and could likely reoccur.
And, in case you’re wondering why an English teacher is teaching history, it’s really a very common approach educators take to teach literacy skills. It’s necessary to provide a context within which language arts skills—reading, writing, speaking and listening— can be taught. Comma worksheets don’t engage students; real-world events do.
Thanks for reading! If this post made you think, please click “like.” Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts about the need for Holocaust literature in our schools. Which Holocaust texts have you read or taught in your classes?
November is National Novel Writing Month and this fall, I’m writing a first draft of my first novel in thirty days! I have always wanted to take on Nanowrimo, but the idea of writing a novel has always scared me to death. This year, however, I think I’ll approach this behemoth with a group of my students who have expressed interest in going on this journey with me in Nanowrimo’s Young Writers Program.
Yesterday, I posted about Nanowrimo’s student program on my private class Instagram account. I asked those students who were interested to let me know in the comments. Several did exactly that!
So this summer, I’ll be collecting resources and doing some research on how to approach the program with students. I do know we’ll be setting a daily word-count goal, which means that we’ll need to meet daily for thirty days (after school most likely) to crank out our novels.
Our point in meeting for thirty days after school is not to create perfect first drafts, but adequate first drafts. Some of the drafts will be shakily plotted and some of them might have less-than-stellar characterization, but that’s okay! The point is to create a first draft that’s ripe for revision. In short, the program is designed to get writers actually writing their novels, not just thinking about writing their novels. Amen to that! How many times have I told myself that “someday” I’m going to write a novel?! Nanowrimo provides the framework to defeat procrastination and just get a novel written.
If you do a quick Google search of “Nanowrimo young writers program,” you’ll find a guide for educators. You can print out a PDF of a workbook for students. It explains how to build an online class profile with individual records of student progress. Students can create their own accounts that track their own word count progress. At the end of the thirty days, if they’ve met their goals, they win recognition and the capability to print out their novels.
Because the students will end with a first draft, we’ll probably print these out and consider them WIPs (Works in Progress), and then continue to revise them throughout the year. Perhaps by the end of the year, we’ll have a second draft!
But that’s a long way off and there’s much planning to be done. It’s good to know, however, in the meantime, that I have the first requirement taken care of: my students are enthusiastic to accomplish this goal with me.
Have you ever tried Nanowrimo? How did it go? Did you try it with your classes? I’m open to any information you have about Nanowrimo. Click “like” and leave a comment about your novel writing experiences!
Copy off the paragraph below from writing guru Gary Provost and read it aloud to your students at the beginning of class or as a mini-lesson. Don’t just read it aloud… make sure they follow along on their own copy. It’s more effective that way. You’ll see the light bulbs pop on across your room as you read it. That’s what happens when I read it to my students. I usually read it once in seventh-grade, and then we revisit it once or twice in eighth grade. It’s awesome.
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals— sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
As you read this aloud to your students, if your kids are like mine, you’ll see their eyes raise from the page and lock with yours in recognition of what Provost is cleverly doing: literally showing them sentence variety and how effective it is.
You may have to explain a few things (What’s a stuck record? What does it mean when something drones? What does monotonous mean?), but I can’t think of a faster, more effective way to explain the positives of sentence variety.
Then collect the paragraphs, and remind your kids to apply sentence variety to the writing project they happen to be working on for the day…. assuming they’re not first-drafting. For my own writing, sentence variety comes into play during revision. If I’m lucky, it’ll happen during a first draft, but not usually.
That’s all for today! Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this useful and leave a comment with your own approach to teaching sentence variety. This works for me, but I’d like to know what works for you.