Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - Engaging Nonfiction for Adolescents 2

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer


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This is the youth version of the original adult book. Having read them both I recommend this one as an engrossing account that tells the complete story. The story of William Kamkwamba is inspiring for so many reasons: his determination to go to school, his intelligence to build a windmill based upon an old textbook and scraps from a junkyard, his drive to help his family and community. Here is a story of a boy who faced poverty, drought, and minimal opportunities yet who shows us that we can accomplish goals despite poor odds.




Here is a link to his website.
http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/williamkamkwamba/book.html

I copied his story from this site below. Also on the site is a link to the feature length documentary entitled "William and the Windmill,"  a list of reviews by notable people, and links to his TED talks, first in 2007 in Tanzania, and then in 2009 in Oxford, England. I was so happy for him when his invention worked! Then I found it so satisfying to read how he got discovered, mentored, and catapulted on an adventure to leave his country and speak at a TED talk in an environment so much beyond what he had ever seen in his village. I'm sure readers will enjoy following his story as much as I did.

Facebook page on the Young Readers Edition:
https://www.facebook.com/The-Boy-Who-Harnessed-The-Wind-Young-Readers-Edition-276356732417357/

from the website:
"William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala--crazy--but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.
Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.
Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity--electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.
Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo--his "electric wind"--spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.
Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him. 
William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala--crazy--but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.
Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.
Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity--electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.
Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo--his "electric wind"--spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.
Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him." 
No automatic alt text available.Boy who harnessed-3Dcover on white

Other titles reviewed in this series of recommendations
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
Rocket Boys - Homer Hickam
Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther
The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown
Who is Malala Yousafzai?   Dinah Brown
Who is Jane Goodall? – Roberta Edwards
The Land I Lost - Quang Nhuog Huynh
Code Talker - Joseph Bruchac

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Glass Castle - Engaging Nonfiction for Adolescents 1


The Glass Castle  by Jeannette Walls

In the beginning of the summer, a parent of two former students of mine asked for nonfiction recommendations that junior high level students would enjoy and which also have inspiring themes.  Indeed, I’ve been searching for them!  So much of our reading life as adults is nonfiction – we read to learn, to grow, to make, to fix, to explore hobbies, to deepen our studies in vocational realms of research, to think critically about social problems, and to inspire ourselves. We read to develop our intellect, to engage in the pursuit of truth and beauty, and to derive personal satisfaction in the quest for fulfillment. To put quality literature in the hands of young adults who are beginning to cultivate a reflective life and consider the kind of person they want to become, is surely a timely worthwhile endeavor!

Furthermore, nonfiction has style and structure that differ from fiction. It is wise to open the world of memoir, biography, essays, speeches, and all manner of expository writing to children so that they strengthen and diversify their reading abilities. Usually a fiction lover, I have found great pleasure in discovering nonfiction for this age group because I've learned the best reason for the quest from them: for some children nonfiction is the kind of reading they've been looking for and didn't know existed! For these children, this exposure has been the key to turn them on to books. 

This post will be the first of a series of suggestions. I can recommend each one of them for this age level based upon the positive responses I have received from student readers.

Serendipitously, The Glass Castle was first shared with me by my own high school English (and German) teacher, Carol Ewald. She is now retired, but when I see her we still have good talks about books. She was thrilled about the impact this book had on junior high students with whom she had a book club, so she knew I would be interested. It is a memoir written by an acclaimed journalist from New York. Jeannette Walls had an unlikely upbringing by brilliant but dysfunctional parents. Experiencing poverty, homelessness, transient living and schooling, bullying, and neglect, she forged a brand of resiliency and approach to survival that makes for fascinating reading. Her endless grit to sift through chaos and forge a semblance of normalcy in pursuit of basic needs and schooling, eventually lead her to strike out on her own to finish high school and support herself in New York City. Her memoir portrays her family life in her growing up years, how her siblings cope together and how her parents try to love them in their own peculiar ways. 

According to Wikipedia, the book was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 261 weeks, won the Christopher Award, and the American Library Associations Alex Award and Books for Better Living Award. A film adaptation is coming out in 2017. 

Other titles reviewed in this series of recommendations
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba
Rocket Boys - Homer Hickam
Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther
The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown
Who is Malala Yousafzai?   Dinah Brown
Who is Jane Goodall? – Roberta Edwards
The Land I Lost - Quang Nhuog Huynh
Code Talker - Joseph Bruchac


Monday, June 27, 2016

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah




Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
by Laurie Ann Thomson    Illustrated by Sean Qualls


This post and the prior one, Last Stop on Market Street, were prepared in draft this past spring after visiting my granddaughters in Baton Rouge. A search for quality titles to take to them reaped the last one for Lucy (preschool) and this one for Evie (kindergarten). Summer time affords time to publish these wonderful stories selected as literature for building character. "Building character" is one way of saying that we are growing our potential for virtue throughout our entire lives.

Study the picture on the book cover with your child or students and pose questions such as: What is different about this boy? (one leg) How could he ride a bicycle with only one leg? (We'll have to read to find out!)

On the first page we meet the boy:
"In  Ghana, West Africa, a baby boy was born:
two bright eyes blinked in the light,
two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry,
two tiny fists opened and closed,
but only one strong leg kicked."

To preview this book, I suggest you do as I did and take a "look inside" on the Amazon website entry of this title. From the beginning of his story, the reader can see that Emmanuel's mother instilled the courage and determination that would flourish as he grew.

"As Emmanuel grew, 
Mama Comfort told him he could have anything, 
but he would have to get it for himself."

I was hooked after reading the editorial review from School Library Journal
"K-Gr 2—This powerful and winning picture book tells the story of a young man overcoming the odds. Born in Ghana with a deformed left leg, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah experienced stigma as a result of his disability: his father abandoned the family, and many assumed that the boy would be little more than a burden. However, with the encouragement of his mother, Yeboah refused to give up, hopping to school (instead of walking) and even learning to play soccer and cycle, despite receiving no extra help or accommodations. Thompson's lucidly written text explains how Yeboah cycled 400 miles in 2001 to raise awareness, forever changing how Ghanaians perceived those with disabilities. The narrative is simply and clearly written, and the illustrations are skillfully rendered in charmingly emotive ink and watercolor collages. A brief author's note explains how Yeboah inspired legislation upholding equal rights for the disabled and how he continues to make strides, working with organizations that provide wheelchairs to those who need them and setting up a scholarship fund for children with disabilities. VERDICT This uplifting account will resonate with readers and supplement global and cultural studies. A triumph.—Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME"

Of course, this picture book is for ALL ages. It was made into an inspiring documentary film narrated by Oprah Winfrey. At the onset of the trailer, viewers hear Emmanuel's voice:

"To set a goal is an honorable and noble thing to do. To complete a goal is even more noble." 

The clip ends with "Don't say...thank God I'm not like him, but say...perhaps I can be more like him."

Oprah then says, "This is the story of  boy who had nothing - but gave everything - and changed a nation forever."

The movie clip is 2:35 minutes long and would be appropriate to view with elementary and junior high students, hand-in-hand with the reading of the book. The full documentary is rated "G" and is 80 minutes long. Here is the you tube link for the clip. 

https://youtu.be/gB0BD5l8Ojc





Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street
By Matt de la Pina   Illustrated by Christian Robinson
This post and the one to follow were prepared in draft this past spring after visiting my granddaughters in Baton Rouge. A search for quality titles to take to them reaped this one for Lucy (preschool) and the next one for Evie (kindergarten). This grandma and reading teacher always gets behind in publishing, but rest assured these blog posts about quality literature which builds character will continue to spill out for years to come. If you "follow" the blog you will catch the posts!

Wow! Take a look at the awards this recent picture book received! You may be familiar with the best illustrated book of the year that is awarded the Caldecott Medal. This received both a Caldecott Honor award and a Coretta Scott King honor award for its illustrations. Yet, this title ALSO was the winner of the best book written for children, the Newbery.  Usually given to novels for ~ grades 3 - 9, this is a stunning achievement for a picture book. School Library Journal recommends it for grades K-2, but Lucy, a preschooler, was touched by the message, and I know that it will resonate with students up through eighth grade and beyond - including adults. Please read and share this book with anyone!

The review from School Library Journal portrays the layers of meaning in the simple plot:
After church on Sundays, CJ and his nana wait for the bus. It's a familiar routine, but this week CJ is feeling dissatisfied. As they travel to their destination, the boy asks a series of questions: "How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?" "Nana, how come we don't got a car?" "How come we always gotta go here after church?" CJ is envious of kids with cars, iPods, and more freedom than he has. With each question, Nana points out something for CJ to appreciate about his life: "Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire." These gentle admonishments are phrased as questions or observations rather than direct answers so that CJ is able to take ownership of his feelings. After they exit the bus, CJ wonders why this part of town is so run-down, prompting Nana to reply, "Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful." The urban setting is truly reflective, showing people with different skin colors, body types, abilities, ages, and classes in a natural and authentic manner. Robinson's flat, blocky illustrations are simple and well composed, seemingly spare but peppered with tiny, interesting details. Ultimately, their destination is a soup kitchen, and CJ is glad to be there. This is an excellent book that highlights less popular topics such as urban life, volunteerism, and thankfulness, with people of color as the main characters. A lovely title.—Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

And here is the string of awards:
Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal
A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
New York Times Bestseller
New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015
An NPR Best Book of 2015

Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015
Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2015
A 2015 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Best Book of 2015
BookPage’s “2015’s First Must-Read Picture Book”
The Huffington Post Best Overall Picture Book of 2015
Boston Globe Best Book of 2015
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2015
Chosen for the New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading & Sharing List 
Miami Herald Best Children’s Book of 2015
Raleigh News & Observer Best Children’s Book of 2015
An Atlanta Parent Best Book of 2015
San Francisco Chronicle Holiday Gift Guide Pick
A Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature “Best Multicultural Books of 2015” Pick
A Scholastic Instructor 50 Best Summer Book
Chosen for the ALSC 2015 Summer Reading List 
Horn Book Summer 2015 Reading List Pick
Chosen for School Library Journal’s 2015 Top 10 Latin Books List
Kansas City Star Thanksgiving 2015 Roundup Pick
A Winter 2014-2015 Kids' Indie Next Pick
2015 E.B. White Read Aloud Award Finalist
Nominated for the 2016 Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award

Nominated for the 2016 Kentucky Bluegrass Award




Saturday, February 6, 2016

The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation

The American Reader: Words That Moved a Nation
Ed. Diane Ravitch

A different type of literature which builds character is this collection of primary source documents which includes famous speeches, quote, anecdotes, and letters in American history. It was compiled by a national leader in the drive to educate today's students to know, understand, and value democratic ideals as they have evolved in their country. (Ravitch is an education historian.)

I have used this with 7th and 8th grade students since it was first published in 1990 and have found it an excellent resource for a variety of purposes. It is organized in chronological order so a walk through the table of contents is a fascinating overview of American history and culture. Some examples from the first section entitled "The Colonial Days and Revolution" are:

  • Seventh graders love reading the funny and witty sayings of Benjamin Franklin from Poor Richard's Almanack. From his Autobiography his list of virtues was the spark for our own leadership program. Since he intentionally studied how to cultivate these virtues in himself, students are inspired to set goals and be reflective about their own growth into strong human beings. 
  • Such a simple document as the Mayflower Compact lays out the principles of shared government and common consent that were set as founding principles before the Pilgrims even stepped off the boat! Students enjoy that. The idea transmitted to them is huge.
  • This rich section reveals that many seeds of liberty and justice were present from the earliest days including Alexander Hamilton's Freedom of the Press, James Otis's Demand to Limit Search and Seizure, Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, John Adam's Liberty and Knowledge, The Slaves Appeal to the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, Chief Logan's Lament, Abigail Adam's Letter to John in which she tells him to "remember the ladies," the compelling essays by Thomas Paine, and the stirring speech by Patrick Henry. A little here and little there and these seeds get planted in our children.
The students love to go through the book singing the songs: Yankee Doodle, The Star Spangled Banner, America, Oh Susannah!, Old Folks at Home, Dixie, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, On Top of Old Smoky, Go Down Moses, The John Brown Song,The Ballad of John Henry, Home on the Range, I've Been Working on the Railroad,Clementine, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Land is Your Land, We Shall Overcome and on and on. I see it over and over again: children absolutely love to sing! And while they may sing a little more self-consciously, students in seventh and eighth grade are no exception.

We also use the book as a resource of the great American poets and poetry: Emerson, Whitman, Longfellow, Whittier, Dickinson, Dunbar, Hughes, Frost. They memorize Barbara Frietche, The Concord Hymn, Casey at the Bat, The Road Not Taken, and several by L. Hughes (to name a few!). Also touching are the poems of the Issei. The selections span and reflect the diversity of American society.

The book is an excellent resource for our yearly speech contest in which students select a famous speech in history in order to analyze it and prepare a dramatic reading of it to an audience. The Gettysburg Address, Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural, addresses by Frederick Douglass, M.L. King's I Have a Dream, Lucy Stone or Elizabeth Cady Stanton's speeches on women's rights, FDR's Four Freedoms, JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" - too many to list here. 

Finally, we also find a few essays to study deeply. E.B.White's essay on freedom written in the face of Hitler's assault on the dignity and rights of all human beings penetrates our minds and our hearts.


Our copies at school are well-worn so I recently ordered fresh copies and found that the book continues to be reprinted (last copyright 2010) and is available as an e-book and for e-readers. On Amazon you can view the table of contents to see the full scope of what I've tried to highlight. I highly recommend reading the introduction by the author which is also available via the "look inside" feature. Her review of the value to be found in sharing these selections with young people is outstanding - and better than mine.

Here is the publisher's review found on the back of the book:
The American Reader is a stirring and memorable anthology that captures the many facets of American culture and history in prose and verse. The 200 poems, speeches, songs, essays, letters, and documents were chosen both for their readability and for their significance. These are the words that have inspired, enraged, delighted, chastened, and comforted Americans in days gone by. Gathered here are the writings that illuminate—with wit, eloquence, and sometimes sharp words—significant aspects of national consciousness. They reflect the part that all Americans—black and white, native born and immigrant, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American, poor and wealthy—have played in creating the nation's character.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Tower

The Tower
Richard Paul Evans

This fable set in China was chosen by our second grade teacher, Mr. Sprau who has an eye for literature that builds character. It was read with Amber on the Mountain (see blog post March 13) for a series of morning openings on the theme of helpfulness. A man seeks to be the greatest in the kingdom so he builds a high tower. He has taken the advice literally that people who "look up to him" will think he is great. However, one day a bird tells him an old woman is greater than he is. Of course, this is a challenge to him so he seeks her out. She tells him that she not only thinks he is not great, but that she pities him.

“I pity him because I think he must be miserable. He spends his life where it is cold and friendless. It is my experience that those who build such towers do not enjoy the climb or the height, but only to be higher than another. Such people must always be lonely.” He argues, but she continues, “To be great...is not to be seen by, but to truly see, others.” And finally she adds, “To be great is not to be higher than another but to lift another higher.”

Through an incident on the way back home, the man reconsiders his ways. In fact, he sees how the wood from his own high tower can help many people in his village. Along with the virtue of helpfulness, this book is noted as a book on humility in the author’s “virtues collection.”

Richard and Keri Evans created The Christmas Box House International, an organization dedicated to helping abused and neglected children. The Christmas Box House is a one-stop shelter and assessment facility to aid such children in these difficult transitions. The mission and spirit of the organization was inspired by the author's book by the same name. His website has more information. thechristmasboxhouse.org

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Amber on the Mountain

Amber on the Mountain
Tony Johnston

In our second grade homeroom Mr. Sprau locates picture books with great potential as literature for building character in his students. Recently he incorporated two such books in his morning openings on the theme of “helpfulness”.  In the first book, Amber lives on a mountain isolated from other children and schools. She longs to learn to read...
Amber lived on a mountain so high, it poked through the clouds like a needle stuck in down. Trees bristled on it like porcupine quills. And the air made you giddy - it was that clear. Still, for all that soaring beauty, Amber was lonesome. For mountain people lived scattered far from one another.


A man comes on horseback to teach people to read, He soon leaves because mountain life is too hard for him. So he skedaddled before Amber could learn. But another man comes with his wife and daughter, Anna, to build a road. Amber’s Granny Cotton tells the man straight out, “You can’t build a road here. Folks will roll clean off it, like walking up a wall.”


But the man said, “You can do almost anything you fix your mind on.”


Amber was too shy to meet Anna at first, but as she watched...Anna lay flopped on her stomach in a meadow, reading a book. The sky was streaked with morning. The air was warm. The grass hummed with bees. Suddenly, up jumped Anna shouting, “Once upon a time…” and hopping around, crazy as a doodlebug.
Amber decided it was the right time to say “hey.”


From then on Anna is determined to teach Amber to read. She says, My daddy says you can do almost anything you fix your mind on. I just fixed mine on teaching you to read!


The story relays how Anna helps Amber overcome her struggles as she learns to read and also how the two girls help Granny with her quilting. Later on, Amber is also determined to learn to write. 

You can see from the directly quoted portions above how entrancing the story-telling is. The paintings of the mountain region by Robert Duncan make this a nice option for a gift. 

In the next blog post I’ll share the other book from Mr. Sprau’s opening time called The Tower.