Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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“Such a simple thing, kindness. Such a simple thing. A nice word of encouragement given when needed. An act of friendship. A passing smile.” 

What a fantastic book. I honestly think this book should be a must-read for students. I was blown away by how much it made me think and evaluate my own life. How far does my kindness go? How much am I willing to do? I would hope that I would be like Summer, the one who doesn’t care what others think and befriends August without a second thought. It breaks my heart to think that I might not be that person. This book helped me to get more perspective on life. Lately I’ve been realizing how significant of an impact the most seemingly insignificant things can have. I feel like its honestly so easy to make someone happy, show them you care, or bring a smile to their face….but yet for some reason we make it so hard on ourselves. One of my favorites part about the style of this book was how it was told from the viewpoints of different characters in the book, rather than just August. I really think this helped to get the bigger picture and understand why people act the way they do and what thoughts are going through everyone’s head. In the end, each character just wanted to feel special and be loved. Crazy what really matters in this world when you think about it. 

 

Big truths from the book that stuck out to me:

1. Everyone has their own problems and struggles. Sometimes they’re obvious. Sometimes you may have to dig deeper to discover what they are. No matter what though, they are there.

2. A kid is a kid. 

3. Just because someone is different does not mean he isn’t ordinary. 

4. Having the courage to go against the crowd is hard. Having the courage to stand up for something that is different is hard. Love, friendship, smiles, and laughter, though – these things make going against the crowd worth it. 

5. Kindess makes the world go round. 

I want to somehow make this book required reading in my future classroom. If I can’t do that, then I will definitely recommend it as a top choice for students to read. I would love to see how middle school students react to this book. Double thumbs up for Wonder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Overall, I was very impressed with this book and thought it was great read. Junior’s story shown a light on reservations and more modern Indian culture that I think a lot of students would miss out on otherwise. HIs life in general is something that ALL students can relate to, and I think that’s why they would really love this book. He is talking like any other kid, with everything exposed and honest.

I would be completely okay with having this book available in a high school library/classroom, but I’m not so sure about middle school. I’ve seen middle schoolers read a book with one cuss word or sexual reference and they eat it up: showing all their friends, re-reading it, saying it out loud since “its okay because its in the book.” Maybe I’m too modest, but I feel like if I was a parent, I wouldn’t want my middle school child reading this. We censor books like these to try to protect kids from what we think they can’t handle or what may just simply be inappropriate for their age group. But how do we know what they can and cannot handle? Who gets to make the final judgment call? This is where all the controversy comes into play, and I have definitely have trouble myself deciding what to think of censoring/banning books. For this specific book, I would be more prone to recommend it to parents and have them decide if its a good book for their child, rather than me directly recommending it to the child. 

3 Picture Books

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The Wall by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler  

         This book is about the personal impact that the Vietnam War had on a dad and a son. The dad lost his father, and the son lost his grandfather. In the book, the dad and son go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. While the dad tries to locate his father’s name, the little boy notices all the people and things around him, all a symbol of the war. Finally, the dad finds the name he is looking for and uses a pencil to rub it onto a piece of paper. Again, the dad silently reflects while the boy notices things around him. The book presents a powerful image of the grief that has followed losing a loved one in the Vietnam War, but also the pride and honor that comes with his name being on the memorial. I think this book could definitely be used in a middle school history classroom to make the Vietnam War more personal and more relatable. Middle school students reading this book would feel bad for the little boy who now does not have a grandfather, and maybe start to better understand people’s reactions against the Vietnam War. Also, the pictures show the vastness of the memorial and how many names are on the wall, something that may surprise students who did not realize how many lost their lives fighting in the Vietnam War. 

 

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The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

            This book is about a Native American girl who loves spending time with horses and has a special connection to them. One night, she falls asleep among the horses but a huge storm frightens the horses and causes them to run away. She jumps onto the back of one and eventually finds herself lost in the wilderness. In the morning, a stallion appears and welcomes them to live among the other wild horses. A year later, hunters capture the girl, but she is sad to return home because being with the horses it what truly makes her happy. Her parents agree to let her go back, and the people have a joyful celebration. Eventually, the girl turns into a beautiful mare, giving the Native Americans relatives among the Horse People.

            This book won a Caldecott Medal, which recognizes the “most distinguished picture books.” The illustrations are wonderful, and I think most middle school students would really enjoy them. Like The Wall, this book could also be used in a history classroom because both the story and the pictures express a way that Native Americans related to nature. I think students would be able to relate to this book because like the girl, they all have things that they really love and make them happy. The book was not the most exciting or thought-provoking thing I’ve ever read, but I think it could be used very effectively in combination with other books. 

 

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Mandy by Barbara D. Booth, illustrated by Jim Lamarche

           This book was really neat in that it was written from the perspective of a deaf child. Mandy wonders what everything around her sounds like, and she hates night because when it is dark she cannot see to sign or read lips. The main storyline centers around the relationship between Mandy and her Grandma. When they go on a walk through the yard and woods, Grandma loses her pin that was given to her by Grandpa. They look for it, but cannot find it before dark. Even though she is scared, Mandy decides to go back outside in the dark and look again for the pin. Eventually she finds it and runs back to the house to meet Grandma.

             I personally liked the book for its examination of the thoughts of a deaf girl much more than the actual storyline. I think it did a good job of showing how love and feelings can be expressed even without talking, and how just because a person is ‘different’ that does not mean that there are not similarities as well. This book could probably be used by students to pick out literary elements such as theme, setting, plot events, word choice, descriptive language, etc. Other literary activities could also stem from reading this book, such as writing their own story from the point-of-view of a child who is deaf. 

Why Use Picture Books?

Reactions to “Aren’t These Books for Little Kids?” and  “A Middle School Teacher’s Guide for Selecting Picture Books”

            Using picture books in a middle school classroom is an idea I was introduced to a few months ago, and I am still sometimes having trouble fully understanding how useful this can actually be. These two articles really opened my eyes and helped me better appreciate what picture books have to offer, even to older kids. Before, I thought the main point of using the picture books was simply that the illustrations add to the understanding of the text while also drawing students in. This aspect of picture books is definitely true, but there are also many more reasons why using them can be a positive thing. Oftentimes, picture books zero in on one specific topic more than a textbook does. This can help students get more of the details rather than just a broad concept. Also, they can be used to show multiple perspectives. Overall, I think one of the biggest take-away points from these articles is that picture books are a great way to help students relate to the material and see how it connects to their own lives. Picture books can aide in teaching about war by adding a face to the people and the situation rather than just raw memorization of facts. They can aide in a math classroom by teaching math concepts through a story about a girl who hates math, something that the students will be able to relate to.  

            Picture books are simply something different. As a teacher, you can’t always know what to expect or how students will react to different things you use in your classroom. Using picture books is just one more way to differentiate and hopefully get more students on board with what is being discussed. I also thought it was really interesting how both of these articles talked about the benefit of using picture books for ELL students. The illustrations can help these students understand the text and slowly help to increase their knowledge of English. When a teacher starts asking questions about a picture book, such as “Whose voice is not being heard?” or “What ethical issue is being raised?”, I think students will be surprised by how much a picture book contains and how much they can learn from one.