Category Archives: Activities

Celebrating Stories about America’s National Parks!

Junior_Ranger_logo

courtesy www.nps.gov

Happy Birthday America!

In honor of July 4th, and family travel season, I thought I would write about one of this country’s greatest treasures: The National Parks System. I’ve come to more deeply appreciate the NPS through my middle-grade reading kids, who are obsessed with the “Junior Ranger Program” – a program available at almost all U.S. National Parks and Monuments. On visiting a park – great or small – our children will ask the ranger if they have a junior ranger program. This is usually a printed booklet that asks the kids to to age appropriate activities relevant to the park — everything from taking a hike, attending a ranger talk on geology or nocturnal creatures, reading about a historical event or figure, and then completing various puzzles, activities and games. On completion of a booklet (which may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 or 3 hours), the ranger checks their work and viola! They are sworn in to be junior rangers!

5623805_f520My kids are really excited to collect the various junior ranger badges — there are about 400 in this country and my kids have 72 each — but others enjoy collecting patches, or stamping their “national parks passports” with stamps from various parks. It’s a great way to see America, and have the kids be the instigators and navigators of family trips (rather than the ones who dread going places and drag their feet) But you don’t have to go far (usually) to find a great NPS site – there are many smaller sites that you may not know about right around the corner from you! Just visit www.nps.gov to look at the list of wonderful junior ranger program-containing sites. (There is also a web ranger program, and several you can do online!)

There are many TERRIFIC books for kids to learn about national parks: check out some great lists here and here. When we visit a site, we often try to read something that gets us excited about what we are about to see. There’s undoubtedly a biography, nonfiction or fiction for every middle grade reader that would be appropriate to read about almost every park! Here are some thoughts that might make your summer NPS vacation both informative and literary!

 

1. Visiting Boston’s Historic Sites or just stopping by on your way to the Cape? There are several junior ranger programs in the area. And while you’re clocking miles on I-95 why not give your middle grade biography or history buff Who Was Paul Revere?

Who Was Paul Revere?

courtesy barnesandnoble.com

courtesy barnesandnoble.com

2. Heading to Florida for a beach vacation or to visit Disney? Take a day trip to the Everglades or the several other terrific NPS sites in Florida! Maybe your mystery reader will enjoy Nancy Drew 161: Lost in Everglades. 

3. Going to the big parks in Arizona? What about giving your animal-loving reader that old classic Brighty of the Grand Canyon

4. Of a literary or oratorical bent? What about visiting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge or Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthplace in Philadelphia or Fredrick Douglass’ National Historic Site in Maryland?

 

Feel free to add your favorite park/vacation related books below! And enjoy your summer exploring this nation’s beautiful parks!

Here’s an adorable link to get your younger travelers excited about national parks:  Sesame Street Explores National Parks

 

One Hundred Years Later

This year is the centenary anniversary of the start of World War I, an event that for  most of today’s middle graders ranks as ancient history. World War I for Kids  aims to help young readers understand not only the conflict’s causes but also the enormous, lasting impact it had on the modern world.

WWI For Kids Cover_high_res

From Indiebound: An educational and interactive children’s guide to the Great War In time for the 2014 centennial of the start of the Great War, this activity book provides an intriguing and comprehensive look at World War I, which involved all of the world’s superpowers during a time of great technological and societal change. Emphasizing connections among events as well as the war’s influence on later historical developments, it leads young readers to fully understand the most important aspects of the war, including how the war came about, how changing military technology caused the western front to bog down into a long stalemate, how the war fostered an era of rapid technological advances, and how the entry of the United States helped end the war. The book explores topics of particular interest to kids, such as turn-of-the-20th-century weaponry, air and naval warfare, and the important roles animals played in the war. Relevant crosscurricular activities expand on concepts introduced and illuminate the era of the early 1900s, including making a periscope, teaching a dog to carry messages, making a parachute, learning a popular World War I song, and more.

To enter a drawing for a free copy of this important new book, please leave a comment below.

Win a Skype visit with Carole Weatherford, acclaimed author of Birmingham, 1963

It was fifty years ago. Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Civil rights demonstrators were met with police dogs and water cannons. The eyes of the world were on Birmingham, a flash point for the civil rights movement. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan planted nineteen sticks of dynamite under the back steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which served as a meeting place for civil rights organizers. The explosion claimed the lives of four little girls. Their murders shocked the nation and turned the tide in the struggle for equality.

birmingham

Carole Weatherford’s acclaimed poetry collection, published in 2008, has been reissued to mark this important anniversary. Recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Jefferson Cup Award, and a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor winner, the book is a timely, moving memorial written in exquisite, understated free verse.

Carole joins us today for an interview.

Could you discuss your research/creative process?

After writing “Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins”, I wanted to tackle another watershed event in the Civil Rights Movement. I chose the church bombing because, at the time, there was not children’s book devoted to the subject. The death of the four girls turned the tide of public opinion against white supremacists and the systemic racism that they avowed.

I began research using primary sources in the Birmingham Public Library collection. I read newspaper accounts of the event, viewed news photos, and read responses by President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. I also referred to secondary sources. An article that interviewed the girls’ families helped me to humanize and personalize the victims.

Why did you use poetry to tell the story?

Most of my books are poetry or are a hybrid genre blending poetry, biography, fiction or nonfiction. For example, I, Matthew Henson, Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive, and Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane are poetic biographies. Becoming Billie Holiday is a fictional verse memoir. The Sound that Jazz Makes and a Negro League Scrapbook are poetic informational books. Birmingham, 1963 is an elegy. But it is also a narrative poem, a historical fiction. Poetry allows me to conjure images and distill emotions that make the story powerful.

Why did you choose historical fiction and create an anonymous narrator?

The historical events are true, but the first-person narrator is fictional. I use historical fiction to give young readers a character with whom to identify. In so doing, young readers grapple with social justice issues. I did not want names of fictional characters to stick in readers’ minds or to take the focus off the real victims. Also, the narrator’s anonymity draws readers even closer to the action. In this scene, she struggles to get out of the church after the blast.

Smoke clogged my throat, stung my eyes.

As I crawled past crumbled plaster, broken glass,

Shredded Bibles and wrecked chairs—

Yelling Mama! Daddy!—scared church folk

Ran every which way to get out.  

Why  set the tragedy on the narrator’s birthday?

In the eyes of children, turning ten is a big deal, a childhood milestone bordering on a rite of passage. The bombing actually occurred on the church’s Youth Day. To compound the irony and up the emotional ante, I made the bombing coincide with the narrator’s tenth birthday. The main character is looking forward to singing a solo during worship service and to celebrating her birthday. Instead, she survives a church bombing and mourns four older girls. That setting dramatically juxtaposes birthday candles and the bundle of dynamite which sparked the explosion.  The milestone resonates like a mantra, beginning as The year I turned ten and building to The day I turned ten.

Is the bombing still relevant today?

Nowadays, racism is usually more subtle and less definitive. Even hate crimes are more difficult to pinpoint and to prove. Many argue that racism motivated neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who murdered teenager Trayvon Martin. In a more clear-cut case of hate violence, in 1998, James Byrd, an African-American man, was dragged three miles to his death by three white men (two white supremacists) in a pickup truck. . And in 2006, nooses were hung in a tree on a high school campus in Jena, Mississippi, after a black student tried to sit with white students at lunch. As long as racism persists and this nation exists, stories from the African-American freedom struggle will remain relevant.

Carole as a child

Carole as a child

Do you recall the bombing?

My earliest recollections of televised news—besides the space race—were in 1963. I can remember watching the March on Washington and hearing the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  I also recall President Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.

But I do not recall the church bombing. I was just seven years old at the time. If I had known about the tragedy, it would have frightened me. I suspect now that my parents kept the news from me. That was how black parents shielded their children from the sting of segregation. So, I tried now to imagine how I would have mourned then. The child in me connected with anonymous narrator.

Did you see yourself in the four girls? How much of you is in the anonymous narrator?

In 1963 I was seven years old and had already written my first poem. I grew up in Baltimore and did not experience the degree of discrimination that they did in Birmingham. But In many ways, I was those girls.

Like Addie Mae Collins, I drew portraits, played hopscotch and wore my hair press and curled.

Like Cynthia Wesley, I was a mere wisp of a girl who sometimes wore dresses that my mother sewed. I sang soul music and sipped sodas with friends.

Like Denise McNair, I liked dolls, made mud pies and had a childhood crush. I was a Brownie, had tea parties and hosted a neighborhood carnival for muscular dystrophy. People probably thought I’d be a real go-getter.

Like Carole Robertson, I loved books, earned straight A’s and took music and dance lessons. I joined the Girl Scouts and was a member of Jack and Jill of America. I too hoped to make my mark. We are both Caroles  with an “e.”

In researching the book, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Yes. The stained glass window of Jesus almost survived the blast intact.

10:22 a.m. The clock stopped, and Jesus’ face

Was blown out of the only stained glass window

Left standing—the one where He stands at the door.

It is ironic that Jesus was left faceless—as if He couldn’t bear to witness the violence. Here’s a photo.

Did you learn anything about that tragic day that gets forgotten?

Yes. Two African-American boys died in the violent aftermath of the church bombing. Sixteen-year-old James Robinson  was short in the back by police after a rock-throwing incident with a gang of white teens. Thirteen-year-old Virgil Ware was shot by a white boy riding a moped draped with a Confederate flag.

How are you marking the 50th anniversary of the church bombing?

This fall, I am offering free Skype visits to schools that read Birmingham, 1963.

Carole provided the following links to classroom resources:

Free Film Kits (from Teaching Tolerance Magazine)– Mighty Times: The Children’s Marchand America’s Civil Rights Movement: A Time for Justice

Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections — Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Collection

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute — http://bcri.org/index.html

The King Center — http://www.thekingcenter.org/

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (PBS) – For Teachers

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/education.html

Eyes on the Prize (PBS) – For Teachers  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/tguide/index.html

Teachers Guide Primary Source Set – Jim Crow in America

http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/civil-rights/pdf/teacher_guide.pdf

Songs of the Civil Rights Movement (NPR) — http://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/99315652/songs-of-the-civil-rights-movement

Photographs of Signs Enforcing Discrimination (Library of Congress) –http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/085_disc.html

Thank you, Carole.

To be eligible to win a Skype visit with Carole Weatherford for your classroom, please leave a comment below. The winner and Carole will coordinate dates and times.