Tag Archives: teachers

Environmental Issues: What Would Harry Potter Do?

Teachers: with Earth Day approaching (April 22), you might be spending time going over the [now] 4 R’s with your class. Maybe you’re discussing environmental issues. With the pressure of addressing common core standards, it can be hard to fit in a unit on the environment. But I say, let’s take the topic and repurpose it (the latest R!): instead of the focus being solely on the environment, hide it in the literacy curriculum. Everyone has a cause that’s close to his or her heart…even fictional characters.

EARTH DAY LESSON PLAN

OBJECTIVE: Analyze main characters at a deeper level based on character traits in the book.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • a book recently read (either read individually, within a guided reading group, or as a whole class)
  • [optional] picture books addressing environmental issues (list at bottom of post)

PREPARATION: [Optional]

  • Discuss ways we protect the environment. As a class, create and display a list of these environmental issues. (See the list at the bottom of the post.)
  • Research/read about local environmental issues as well as ones in other areas of the world.
  • Add to the list any new issues you’ve discovered.

LESSON: Discuss how fictional characters would protect the environment.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION (click here for the pdf):

1. Based on what you know about the main character from details in the book, what environmental issue or issues would he or she support?

2. What details from the book make you draw this conclusion?

3. What would he or she do for this cause (what action might be taken)?

4. What obstacles might he or she face?

5. Think about the antagonist. Would he or she support the same cause? If not, what would his or her cause be?

6. How about any secondary characters? Would they support the same cause as the main character?

POSSIBLE PROJECT: Have students create a piece (short story, comic, essay, etc.) addressing the main character and his or her environmental cause.


SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS: Here are great picture books about people protecting the environment.

  • One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul (Millbrook Press)
  • The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (Beach Lane Books)
  • Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor (Holiday House)
  • Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola (Frances Foster Books)
  • I am Jane Goodall by Brad Melter (Dial Books)
  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (Schwartz & Wade)
  • Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade (Sleeping Bear Press)
  • Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J. H. Shapiro (Charlesbridge)
  • The Soda Bottle School: A True Story of Recycling, Teamwork, and One Crazy Idea by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade (Tilbury House Publishers)

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Here are some issues to consider.

deforestation
global warming
land degradation
pollution (air, water, soil)
loss of biodiversity/endangered plant and animal species
habitat destruction
natural resource depletion
waste disposal
urban sprawl

STANDARDS ADDRESSED:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.6
Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.5.1
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

 

Mixed-Up Instagram: an April #mglitchallenge!!

Fromthemixedupfiles.com is @mixedupfilesmg on Instagram!

And to celebrate our new foray into the world of #mglit pics, we want you to join us in a 30-day Instagram challenge.

The fantastic April #mglitchallenge

Here’s the deal: follow us on Instagram (@mixedupfilesmg) and post a pic that corresponds to the day on the image below. Don’t forget to hashtag it #mglitchallenge! We’ll be watching the hashtag to see what you’re posting, and  featuring the very best of your posts.

#muflit #mglitchallenge middle grade books authors librarians

Of course, fromthemixedupfiles.com is focused on middle grade books, so that’s what we’re looking for. MG authors, readers, and librarians, join us and show us where your passion for middle grade lit comes from!

Take an Umbrella, It’s Raining – The Overarching Conflict in MG

Whether we’re reading, writing, or recommending a middle grade story, conflict typically comes in at or near the top of the Important Elements list. But with regard to the specifics of conflict in MG — Single conflict or layered? Internal or external? How much is too much? — there’s a lot of different advice out there. Click five results after Googling, and you’ll get five different takes on middle grade conflict. For example:

  • One source might recommend a single line of conflict with only minimal subplot problems; another will say middle grade audiences can absolutely handle “richly layered” multiple struggles.
  • Some in the publishing industry define middle grade by not only protagonist age and content, but also by the conflict, which (they say) should be external (outside things cause trouble with which the MG main character must deal). However, others say MG characters can certainly be roiled by internal conflicts appropriate to their age, and that these internal conflicts drive actions, thereby sparking the external conflict.
  • Depth of recommended conflict depends greatly on maturity of intended audience…and calendar age of a child doesn’t always match developmental age. So one fifth grader may have a high degree of comprehension for and interest in a classroom bully story, but may or may not be quite ready for a book set during the Holocaust, like her friend in the same class.

So…it’s probably safe to say that, as with many topics in middle grade literature, there is no formula, no simple categorization system. There’s just no easy answer on conflict, in other words.

To me, this is a beautiful thing. The MG writer is free to let his or her particular story vision grow and change through different styles and intensities of conflict. And the MG reader is free to enjoy an amazing variety of stories, made inherently different by their conflicts.

But for the purpose of writing, teaching, or sharing thoughts on a middle grade novel, another way to talk about the character’s struggles might be helpful: the overarching conflict.

The notion of overarching conflict helps me understand theme and purpose in MG books that I’ve taught, and has helped me through the latest revision of my middle grade historical. An overarching conflict is like an umbrella that covers all other conflicts in the book—big, little, internal, external, resolved, unresolved. They’re all under there because, in some connected way, every smaller problem turns out to be a part of the bigger overarching problem.

This idea of overarching conflict is easiest to see with some series. Harry’s overarching conflict with Voldemort carries through all seven novels that comprise his overall story. So while each book’s plot offers its own main conflict plus multiple sub-conflicts, we also see Harry’s escalating succession of wins and losses against his biggest enemy as series-long conflict building blocks, culminating in the final epic battle that resolves the overarching conflict.

You can apply this overarching conflict idea to a stand-alone MG work, too. There are many ways to state an overarching conflict for a book; this is what I came up with for a few examples:

The overarching conflict in Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars: How can Annemarie help to keep her friend Ellen safe in situations of increasing danger? When the overarching conflict helps align the MC’s objectives scene to scene, it’s easier to see how the internal conflict (Annemarie’s struggle with bravery) and the external conflict (Nazi occupation and oppression of the Jews in Denmark) exist in a two-way, fluid relationship, each affecting the other (instead of one driving another). This overarching conflict also helps bring together other conflicts (the death of Annemarie’s sister; trusted adults lying) that might at first seem disconnected, but prove by the book’s conclusion to be important parts of Annemarie’s attempt to help her friend.

The overarching conflict in Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy: How can Bud find not just a home, but his home? In this excellent quest adventure, individual conflicts arise one after another as Bud makes his way toward the home he hopes will welcome him. His mini-conflicts (the Amos family, the mission, Hooverville, Lefty Lewis) are resolved each in turn as he proceeds, each in some way giving him a piece of knowledge or inspiration moving forward, until he finally has the chance to solve his overarching struggle.

The overarching conflict in Robert Beatty’s Serafina and the Black Cloak: How can Serafina learn more about her past while living hidden from the world? As the external conflict with the man in the Black Cloak and his evil crimes intensifies, Serafina seeks answers about her mother, her background, and her own mysterious talents. Disagreements with her father and her new friend Braedyn create additional conflict layers. The author skillfully brings together the resolutions of Serafina’s external, internal, and layered conflicts in an exciting battle scene, and all work together to supply an answer to the overarching conflict.

In these examples, articulating the overarching conflict can help connect all the struggles for the MG main character, and it can demonstrate his or her constant, steady objective through a sequence of other misadventures. Indeed, maybe the greatest benefits of the overarching conflict are the depth acquired in the story without muddying the plot, and the invisible cohesion it provides.

Thanks for reading! Glad to be a new part of this great group, and eager to hear your thoughts on conflict in MG.