Author Archives: Robyn Gioia

Hiroshima Through the Eyes of a Japanese Girl

As a teacher, (and author of Under Siege!) I find books to be a great source of information and an intimate connection to a subject. The subject of historical fiction is one dear to my heart. In a previous Mixed-Up Files post, I talked about using historical fiction in the classroom and how it brings life to an era long-ago. The very nature of historical fiction opens doors for discussion and understanding.

When students study history, we want them to understand the big concept, not just facts and dates. We want them to see the humanity and feel the emotion that was part of an event.

In my interview with author Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom, we transport back in time to Hiroshima where we experience the elements of humanity and emotion through the eyes of a Japanese girl.

Please tell us about The Last Cherry Blossom and how you came to write it?

Author Kathleen Burkinshaw

When my daughter was in seventh grade, she came home from school very upset. They were wrapping up WWII in their history class, and she had overheard some students talking about the ‘cool’ mushroom cloud picture. She asked me if I could visit her class and talk about the people under those famous mushroom clouds, people like her Grandma.

I had never discussed my mother’s life in Hiroshima during WWII. My mother was a very private person and she also didn’t want attention drawn to herself. But after my daughter’s request she gave me her consent. She bravely shared more memories of the most horrific day of her life. Memories that she had locked away in her heart because they had been too painful to discuss.

The main reason, my mother agreed (aside from the fact her granddaughter asked her), was that she knew students in seventh grade would be around the same age she was when the bomb dropped. She was 12-years-old. She hoped that students could relate to her story and by sharing her experience, these future voters would realize that the use of nuclear weapons against any country or people, for any reason, should never be repeated.

I received requests to visit other schools the following year. I began to write about my mom and August 6th after teachers requested a book to complement their curriculum.

I told my mom about this request. Later that week, she sent me a copy of her most treasured photo from her childhood. It is the one of her and her Papa (which I’m so grateful that Sky Pony placed it in my Afterword). When I looked at the photo which I remembered from my childhood because it always had a place of honor in our home; I realized there was more to her life than just war and death, she had loving memories as well.

That’s when I knew I needed to start the book months before the bomb. I wanted to show the culture, the mindset, and the daily life in Japan during the war. The main character, Yuriko is trying to figure things out in her own life, dealing with family issues, school, and then dealing with heartbreak. Yet, she finds strength she never thought she had that leads her to a new hopeful beginning. I intended to give the reader the view of the last year of WWII through the eyes of a 12-year-old Japanese girl-something that has not been done before.

How is Hiroshima’s history present in the story?

I used information that my mother gave me about her childhood as well as researching about Hiroshima and Japan during the war. (This was not an easy feat to find information written in English). The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum website had some great information.

My family and I visited Hiroshima for the first time in July 2015. Sadly, we went to honor my mom at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims. My mom passed away in January of 2015(but she did see the publishing contract and read one of my drafts). I met with some librarians at the Memorial Hall and learned that my mom lived less than two miles away from the epicenter! She had described it as a lot further away, so it was miraculous she survived and lived a healthy 82 years, (except her last few months)! I researched information by viewing the exhibits in the Hiroshima National Peace Museum. Standing on the same spot where my mother had witnessed so much horror and death, broke my heart and I cried through most of the museum. It just made me want to hug my 12-year-old mother, tell her she will have incredible strength, and find hope again.

Lastly, the fact that my mother’s Papa had his own newspaper company in Hiroshima, I could use the information that I had found to give a glimpse into the world and set the tone to the story by what everyday citizens were reading in newspapers and listening to on the radio. In this way, I could give the emotional impact that two paragraphs and a picture in a text book cannot do.

How much of the story is historical fact and how much of the story is fictional?

I would say that 75% of the book is fact either from my mother’s life or the history in Hiroshima and Japan during WWII that I gleaned from my research.

The timeline for events in the main character, Yuriko’s family life is probably the biggest section of fiction because I had to have it fit in the one-year time span. Some of the conversations and smaller side events were also fictionalized.

However, the description of August 6th is taken from my mom’s account of that day. So much so that when I read excerpts, I can’t help but tear up because I can still hear my mom telling me and crying as if it just happened all over again.

What will students learn from reading The Last Cherry Blossom that will help them relate to this time in history?

Students will learn that there is always another side. My hope is not only to convey the message that nuclear weapons should never be used again; but to also reveal that the children in Japan (like my mother) had the same love for family, fear of what could happen to them, and hopes for peace as the Allied children had. I want the students to walk away knowing that the ones we may think are our “enemy” are not always so different from ourselves. A message, I feel needs to be heard now more than ever.

A discussion guide is available on Kathleen Burkinshaw’s website: http://www.kathleenburkinshaw.com

 

Transporting Students Into the Past With Historical Fiction

What teaches you the perspective of others… the struggles a society may have suffered, the demands of distant cultures, or about an era so far removed from our own, that you are forced to wrap your brain around a different logic?

HISTORICAL FICTION is such a beast. It transports you into the past where life and a culture previously existed. You become part of a world where you walk-the-walk alongside characters dealing with the trials and tribulations of an era long gone.

Creative Commons Read Aloud

When I was in college, we were introduced to Jim Trelease, an educator who stressed that reading aloud builds students’ imaginations and improves listening skills. It also gives them a love of books.

I have read many books aloud to my classes ranging from 4th to 8th grade since my first year of teaching. (In case you aren’t aware, read-alouds are in addition to students’ regular reading and work that is associated with it, not a replacement for it.)

Last school year as a teacher, I used historical fiction to bring life to the social studies curriculum. I correlated our read-alouds to what was going on in their social studies lessons.

I read the section first with my best dramatic voice, and  asked comprehension questions along the way. We stopped, occasionally, for someone to look up a more challenging vocabulary word in the dictionary.  They identified locations on maps; they researched details to know more about a related topic; they ate foods that we read about.

A good portion of the class asked if they could take notes. Before long, everyone was recording in their journals, which supported their required writing and reflection afterwards. As a teacher, I know that annotating their thoughts helps them to develop a stronger understanding of the material and organize the details.

The best part were the discussions sparked by the stories themselves. They were meaningful and thought provoking. Mini-lessons to further understanding were also part of the process.

I collected their journals every week to do a quick check for comprehension and to assign an effort grade. If a student was absent, they picked-up the book and read the pages they had missed. At the end of the book, they took an assessment test. Many reported that our read-alouds with social studies was their favorite subject.

In Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607 by Elisa Carbone, we traced the journey from England to the coast of America on our map. We focused on how the colonists grappled with the hardships of the Jamestown colony as it struggled to survive, discussed their governing laws, and debated how business sponsored the settlement.

We also learned about the introduction of slave labor. When we got to the 13 colonies in social studies, there wasn’t a student in the class who didn’t understand what was involved in starting a new world.

In Under Siege! by (me) Robyn Gioia, we continued our discussion of how European nations were expanding into the New World for resources and the conflict between early colonial groups maneuvering for control.

In the story, my class learned about one of U.S. history’s best kept secrets: the 1702 English attack on the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine, Florida (a city later recognized as America’s oldest). Students deal with the angst and hardship of being under siege inside a fort surrounded by a superior enemy. At the heart of the story is survival and loss, war, friendship and adventure.

In Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, we see the colonies through the eyes of a slave girl. There were many discussions on the ownership of peoples and the burdens they bore, the dependence of society on slave labor, the laws governing the colonies, the discourse between factions, and the devastating hardships of war.We continued our read into the next book in the series, Forge, which deals with being a slave and a soldier coupled with the realities of war.

Johnny Tremain, by Ester Forbes, was not used as a read-aloud for the entire class. It was read by one of my literature circles. Those students were quick to jump in with further details about the Revolutionary War during open discussions. Insight into the Sons of Liberty was a favorite topic.

There are many wonderful historical fiction books out there. The problem is narrowing it down to just a few. Interacting with history through read-alouds is an excellent way to build conceptual knowledge and for students to internalize the intricacies of that era long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video Conferencing: Authors at Your Fingertips

Author S A Larsen

You’ve just finished reading a fantastic book with your class. The kids are engaged and the story is the topic of conversation. Go beyond the traditional project or book report and transport the author to your doorstep.

The Digital Age:
We live in a digital age, and fortunately for our schools, many authors are available to video conference. Location and time differences are no longer a deterrent. Many authors list video conferencing information on their websites. An internet search can also help you find available authors. Some authors charge a fee and some don’t. Chat with your author to see what terms can be reached. Link To Mixed-Up File Authors

If your school doesn’t have a budget for author presentations, be creative:

  • Take book orders from the students. Many authors are happy to sell and ship personally signed copies.
  • Ask the PTO to purchase class sets for the grade levels.
  • Offer to post  a review of the book on strategic websites.
  • Feature the book in the school newspaper or on the school website.
  • Post the book and video conference snippets on the school Facebook page.
  • Display the author’s name and book title on the school billboard.
  • Invite your local newspaper columnist to cover the class video chat.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Annabelle Fisher, author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, Skypes with a class of readers

So, you’ve booked the author. Now what?

Ask the author:
First, ask the author what they offer. Some will talk about their book and the background it took to write it. But, if it’s a science author, they may have a favorite demonstration to share. If it’s a picture book illustrator, they may draw the character for the kids. If it’s a fantasy author, they may demonstrate how to create imagery through descriptive writing from a new world.

Does the author request questions before the video conference? This helps the author give informed and well-thought-out answers. Poll your students. What do they want to know? Was there a fascinating section of the book they wanted to know more about? What about behind-the-scene events? Why did the author create a certain character? Did the author use traits from real people? Were any of the events in the book part of the author’s life? Were there unanswered questions in the story line? Help students focus their questions so they pull out unique elements of the author’s work. This is the benefit of video conferencing. You have the author’s ear! When conference day comes, let the students take turns asking the questions.

Student Created Games

Do students have something to share with the author? 

Did they create a skit? Did they write an alternative ending to the story or insert a chapter in-between? Did they write a quiz show or create a game that targets details from the book? Did they create trading cards of the different events and characters? Or perhaps your students would like to dress in character and the author has to guess the character’s identity.

Using Google Maps with author interview:
Also, consider things like Google maps. Students have the ability to bookmark a location on the world-wide map with their own information and facts. This is a great option for historical novels or any story that travels. Consider having students interview the author about the different locations and the importance of each site. Besides being a great project where students research and enter information on the world-wide map, people from around the globe get instant access to the information your students have entered. Extend the project by collaborating with other classes (from anywhere in the world) and build a map together.

Before you read:
Think forward. Invite the author beforehand to share background information and tidbits before you start reading. Why did they write this book? Did they face challenges? Does the story relate to their own life or the life of someone else? Who or what influenced them? Meaningful introductory conversations set the stage for an engaging beginning.

Authors love sharing and the age of video conferencing has opened up a new set of doors.