Thinking Outside the Book: Summer Reading

Book Links May 2009 (vol. 18, no. 5)

By Jill Castek and Jessica Mangelson

Every teacher and librarian hopes reading makes its way to the top of their students’ summer activity list. As educators, we know that a summer that doesn’t include reading can lead to a drop in literacy scores. In an effort to prevent regression, encourage summer reading by providing literacy-rich activities to keep students motivated. Using online resources is one way to keep literacy activities fresh this summer.

Exploring Ancestry

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson is a captivating book chronicling the experiences of 16-year-old Hattie Brooks. Hattie is an orphan who has been passed around all of her life until she receives a letter from an uncle, who upon his death has left her his land claim in Montana. After moving to Montana, she works to prove up her uncle’s claim.

Larson’s grandmother (also named Hattie) laid claim to land in Montana and worked to prove up her homestead in the early 1900s. The author’s note describes how Larson found the original paperwork her grandmother submitted for her Montana claim and pored over journals from other settlers during the time period. The Hattie Big Sky “Meet the Author” podcast from Montana’s National Public Radio sheds light on both the story and Larson’s writing process.

Becoming an Animal Expert

First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger illustrates the order of things in a fun, interactive way. The simple text, “First the EGG, then the CHICKEN. First the TADPOLE, then the FROG,” combined with creative cutout illustrations, make the book very appealing. Actual Size by Steve Jenkins helps young readers get a sense of the actual size of different animals’ body parts, including an elephant’s foot, a gorilla’s hand, and a great white shark’s teeth.

Reading these books will not only enhance a trip to the zoo, but pairing them with online resources extends learning and interaction with animal content. The World Wildlife Fund’s Web site provides further information as well as games and videos. The Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s site features fun activities and information about animal conservation.

Traveling the Underground Railroad

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine tells of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave who daringly escaped by mailing himself from Virginia to Philadelphia. The Underground Railroad virtual tour, created by National Geographic, invites students to travel an Underground Railroad route with Harriet Tubman, where they must make life-or-death choices about the passage to freedom.

Enriching Your Summer with Music

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Harwell Celenza celebrates a musical favorite. This book provides insight into what Gershwin experienced while writing the piece. The book contains a CD so students can listen to the music as they learn about the composer. When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan portrays singer Marian Anderson’s life and culminates with her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial before an integrated audience of thousands.

The Classics for Kids Web site has a wealth of information about composers, games that enhance music education, listening rooms, and lesson plans, in addition to other resources. Creating Music provides a musical sketchpad that allows students to create their own music. This interactive composition board is an enjoyable way to learn about orchestras, music, tone, and pitch. This site also teaches children about rhythm, melodic intervals, and harmonic progression in a fun, quizlike way. Finally, visit the New York Philharmonic KidZone to meet the musicians, compose music, learn about instruments, and go backstage.

Jill Castek is a postdoctoral scholar with the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading project at the University of California–Berkeley. Jessica Mangelson has worked as an elementary-school teacher, reading specialist, and professor of reading education.