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Do you love a great historical fiction book for kids as much as I do? Then check out my previous review of Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson. Today I’m excited to share a bit more about this fabulous new book. Darlene graciously accepted my offer to interview her!
Jenny: Was your protagonist Emily Soper based on a historical person in real life or is she purely a work of fiction?
Darlene: Emily is the name of my grandmother whose father was a carriage maker in DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Grandma also attended a reception at the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt. Those are the facts; the rest is fiction.
Jenny: You manage to work a surprising amount of vocabulary into your book, making me think you must be a killer Scrabble opponent. Where did you develop a love of big words?
Darlene: My Dad – Emily’s son – was a wordsmith who loved crossword puzzles. He often used big words and never talked down to my sister or me. My sister and I still enjoy competing against each other in word games. Our favorite is PERQUACKY. As far as SCRABBLE goes, my son’s got me beat. He plays online and really kills me with two letter words.
Jenny: Ouch! Two letter words are tough.
One of the funniest scenes is when Emily bakes a peach pie under duress. That’s exactly how I feel whenever I encounter pie crust. Do you like to bake? What’s your favorite pie: peach, blackberry or apple?
Darlene: I really enjoy baking. Cookies and muffins are my specialties, but there is something satisfying about a fresh baked pie. Strawberry Rhubarb and Key Lime are my favorites.
Jenny: Thinking about the book is making me hungry! Another food related scene revolved around gingerbread. Kids today are likely familiar with gingerbread cookies, but not many have probably tried real gingerbread. Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
Darlene: Have you tried the recipe for Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread found in the back of the book? It’s actually a very simple recipe and produces a tasty gingerbread. It’s been adapted from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook of the era. Here it is:
Mrs. Jackson’s Gingerbread
¼ lb. butter or shortening
2 ½C flour
1 C sugar 2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs ½ tsp salt
¾ C boiling water 2 tsp ginger
¾ C molasses 1 TBSP white vinegar
- Grease and flour a square cake pan. Preheat oven to 350.
- Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs. Add water, molasses and vinegar. Stir until blended.
- Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
- Bake 35-45 minutes. If a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry, it’s done
Jenny: Yum! That sounds good. Unfortunately, I can’t eat gluten but I bet my family would like that recipe.
A big theme of the book is Emily struggling with her mother and society’s expectations of what it means to be a “proper young lady”. She has to iron, keep clean, bake and stay tidy. When you were a 6th grade girl did you have expectations placed on you that felt like a burden?
Darlene: My parents never told us what we should or should not do. I’ve always been a goal setter. I get a great satisfaction from achieving goals that I’ve set for myself. There was always peer pressure and pop culture telling us girls to look and act a certain way; that still happens today. But then – and now – I choose to march to my own drum and do what feels right for me. I tried to convey that message to my own daughter as well.
All the expectations of my life have been self-imposed. I grew up reading Nancy Drew books. She seemed so cool and confident. It was fun to pretend to be Nancy. I think early seeds of feminism sprouted within me from reading books like that.
Jenny: That, and a life-long desire to buy a yellow convertible. Oh, wait. That’s my own reaction to Nancy Drew. 🙂
A very moving scene is when Emily’s family goes to visit their African American friend Henry in the Shaw neighborhood. For those of us who are unfamiliar with D.C., what is Shaw like today? Is it still a predominantly African American part of town?
Darlene: Washington DC is a much more urbanized place than it was 100 years ago. There is a large African American population as well as people of Hispanic, Asian and other cultures and ethnic backgrounds…much like any American city. Shaw suffered during the riots of the late 1960’s, and population declined throughout the district. It has been on the rebound over the last two decades. The Shaw section of the district is a mix of multi-generational professionals who are committed to revitalization of the area. It has become a very fashionable neighborhood.
Jenny: Civil rights, both for women and people, of color is a central element in Wheels of Change. When you were a child, did you ever witness a civil rights struggle that made an impression?
Darlene: While I never personally witnessed the struggles that took place, they were a part of the daily landscape of growing up in the 1960’s.
Jenny: Any new books in the works?
Darlene: I am working on a PB titled TOGETHER ON OUR KNEES about the childhood of a little known suffragist named Matilda Joslyn Gage. There is also another historical MG in the editing stage called A SPARROW IN THE HAND. This story takes place in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during Prohibition.
I am so excited to introduce you to Darlene Beck Jacobson’s new middle grade book Wheels of Change. Some of you might recognize Darlene as the author of the popular blog Gold From the Dust: Bringing Stories to Life.
Wheels of Change tells the story of sixth grade Emily Soper who lives in Washington D.C. at the turn of the century. For a twelve-year-old, Emily faces some pretty heavy stuff. Her favorite teacher is a suffragist, her frenemy’s mom is racist and Emily herself is embroiled in a daily battle with her mother over “acting like a proper young lady”.
I especially loved how relatable Emily is. She’s passionate about fighting for justice, but not in a stuffy way. You better be careful around this girl and a teapot!
The historical tidbits peppered into the story were fun too. In one instance, Emily’s mother is delighted to discover Corn Flakes because it means she doesn’t have to fire up the stove for breakfast.
Boys and girls alike will relate to this coming of age story set against the last days of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. They might actually learn something along the way–without even knowing it. That’s the best type of historical fiction as far as I’m concerned.
Interested in finding out more? Check out the trailer:
First off, I looooove Judy Blume. She was one of my favorite authors growing up. But somehow (motherhood, perhaps?) I was unaware that there was a new Fudge book, until I picked up an audio copy of her 2007 book Double Fudge from the library.
Blume reads the book herself and does a fantastic job with character voices and expressions. Both the plot and her narration are very entertaining.
However… a huge part of the book revolves around mocking the Hatcher family’s homeschooled relatives. Blume doesn’t give the homeschooled characters guns or religion, but she gives them every other stereotype in the book, right down to matching lavender prairie dresses (in 7th grade!) Two of the girls break out into spontaneous song, the little brother bites and licks people, none of the family watches television, and the parents have never even heard of the Weather channel.
I’m not a homeschooling Mom, but if I was I would be livid.
As it was, I had a lot of guilty moments listening to this book in the car. By the time the homeschooling bash-fest began, my children were too invested in the book to turn off the CD.
If the story had been making fun of people from different religious, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, I of course would have turned off the book immediately. But since this was Judy Blume we are talking about, I kept thinking there would be a redeeming moment at the end where the main character felt guilty about judging homeschoolers so cruelly.
In retrospect, I’m not sure how a moment like that would have helped.
For the past couple of weeks my daughter Jenna(4.5) has been experiencing Bookboard, an eBooks service that is like Netflix for books. (I received a free subscription, btw, in exchange for my honest opinion and review.)
The way Bookboard works is that your child gets an instant, small library of books to read. After reading two or three books, new books get “unlocked” which adds to the collection and provides motivation to read more. Bookboard has over 400 books to choose from.
The unlocking idea is highly addictive. (If Netflix was like that I would never get off the couch.) Thankfully, this is books we’re dealing with. It’s okay to addict your kids to reading, which is good because my preschooler is really committed to unlocking new books.
Bookboard’s got a positive reinforcement system that works!
So far Jenna has spent 4 hours and 13 minutes reading 97 books, which is the same as 8 television shows. That’s equivalent to $644 worth of books from the store, or 9 family trips to the library.
Another thing I appreciate about Bookboard is that many of the books are on audio. I can click an icon, and have everything on Jenna’s shelf be audio-only books that will read to her. Then, I can go cook dinner.
It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being a Cylon Mom.
“Snuggle up with my clone while she reads to you. I’ve got stir fry in the wok.”
(Okay, I’ve officially watched too much Battlestar Galactica.)
Unfortunately, the Berenstain Bears books are not on audio. Those are Jenna’s favorites, and she often calls me over from the stove to read them aloud.
Another drawback is that Bookboard is not available on Kindle…yet. Jenna and I have been reading on our desktop. But I could see how if you did have an iPad, Bookboard would be even more impressive. It would be a portable library on the go.
My final thoughts? I really like it! Bookboard is a nice compliment to Starfall.com.
For more information about Bookboard, check out their website.
The jump from learning to read to reading to learn is one of the toughest educational challenges kids face. As teachers and parents, it’s our job to make that transition as painless as possible so that children become bibliophiles.
That’s why I was excited to read Raising the Standards: Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A. Approach, by Sarah Collinge. I first heard of C.I.A. at of my son’s school. Several teachers are going to Read Side By Side’s upcoming training in October, and are writing grants to pay for new materials.
My son’s third grade class is using the C.I.A. methods already. This is Bruce’s assessment of what it’s all about: “Basically it’s teaching you to read something and regurgitate information. Then you regurgitate it again.” Considering that description is coming from an eight-year-old, it’s not too bad.
At its very heart, the C.I.A. approach teaches kids to understand, synthesize, and write about key information.
C.I.A. stands for “collect, interpret, and apply”. It dovetails on the Guided Reading approach and the classic book by Fountas and PinnelI, Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.
Okay, so why should moms and dads care about any of this? Because, dear friends, after reading Raising the Standards I’m really excited about ways that parents can incorporate many of Collinge’s ideas at home.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
1) Divide your next chapter book read aloud into four quadrants using post-it notes.
This is going to make a big-old chapter book seem less scary and more approachable. The C.I.A. method is all about helping kids develop the stamina to get through challenging material.
2) Use a “turn to talk” framework to help kids identify places in a book that give readers important information.
- “When the book said__________ I inferred/visualized/predicted/thought_______________.”
3) At the end of quadrant one, help your kids identify the four corners of a story that hold the whole thing together:
- main events
Quadrant one is the most laborious. The first quarter of a chapter books is when kids need the most support to understand what’s going on.
4) In quadrant two, start looking for the hidden and ambiguous. Keep your eye out for the following:
- repeated words
- author’s style
Don’t forget to summarize what you know. This is especially important in bedtime read aloud, when you might not have read for a few nights. “Okay. Where were we? What just happened? Help me remember because I’m old and forgetful.” 🙂
5) In quadrant three, help your child identify the turning point of the novel.
Were you able to predict the turning point? What evidence enabled your prediction? What is the author trying to say? The more you can point out specific passages in books to ground your answer, the better.
6) In quadrant four, read quickly and with enjoyment.
The last part of the book should be the easiest. Kids understand what’s going on, and are excited to reach the conclusion.
I am very glad that Collinge sent me a copy of her book for review so that I could brag a little bit about this exciting pedagogy coming from Washington State.
For more information about the C.I.A. approach to reading, please check out Read Side By Side.
Here’s a not-so-perfect idea to make Bob Books, Set 1 more exciting. Pick up a tub of Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies from Trader Joe’s, and practice making words with cookies before your child even opens the book.
Why is this idea not-so-perfect? There’re several reasons:
- The cookies are uppercase.
- They’re not enough vowels.
- You have to be very careful with cookie management.
I tried to solve #1 and #2 by using an M, and turning it on its side to become an e. I’m not exactly sure why I thought that would help. Sigh…
Sometimes early readers just need a little push. No, that doesn’t make you a tiger mom. I know from experience that this happens with teachers in Kindergarten classrooms too. Sometimes early readers need a push.
They’ve got the skills. They know phonics. They can sound out words. But it’s still a bit hard.
That’s why it’s helpful to make it worth their while. The more practice kids get, the easier it will be to read. The easier it will be to read, the more they will enjoy reading. The more they enjoy reading, the faster they will develop advanced skills.
Incentives, bribery, whatever. I don’t care what you want to call it. But I know it works.
With my son Bruce I offered a new Star Wars book for every 6 Bob Books he read. But it’s been harder to find an equally attractive book incentive for Jenna(4). So finally we paged through the American Girl catalogue and looked for something exciting. Hence our new chart featuring Rebecca Rubin.
It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I used a dot stamper to represent each Bob Book twice. The chart includes all of the books from sets one, two and three. So once Jenna has read every Bob Book in sets one, two and three twice, she’ll earn Rebecca. I’m crossing them out as we go along.
Getting through the third set of Bob Books would mean having first grade reading skills. To me, that’s worth $110!
So here’s some teacher training for moms:
- The differences between Whole Language, Phonics, and Balanced Literacy Instruction.
- Independent Reading, Guided Reading, and Read Aloud.
- Learning to Read vs. Reading to Learn.
The reasoning behind my bizaro library is that organizing books in categories makes book selection less intimidating for young readers. This is a trick that teachers use in classrooms all the time.
I get my book boxes from Ikea. They are supposed to be used for dresser drawer organization. They aren’t very sturdy, but they are super cheap and you can write right on them.
Our book collection continues to grow, and here is what our middle grade library looks like right now:
This summer I’ve added a twist to our organization system and it’s something that you could only do in a home setting, as opposed to a classroom. I bought a pack of stickers for my eight-year-old son Bruce, and am letting him put a gold star on every book he’s read.
This is a very long process! We are working through the library a couple of boxes a day. So far, Bruce has used up 200 stickers. He’s probably read 80% of our books.
The stickers system has a lot of benefits:
- I can keep better track of what my son reads.
- We can move unread books to the front of boxes.
- My son can quickly find new reading material.
- In the future, there will be a slight “oomph” to my daughter to read as widely as her big brother.
The wicked part of my library?
I keep running out of room!!!
Here’s an idea that totally failed this summer. Not only that, but on my new WP blog I can’t figure out how to enlarge pictures, so I’m striking out on that point too. You probably can’t even see what this is a picture of!
The backstory is that I found a really cheap reading poster kit at the craft store for about $3. I put it up in our family room the first day of summer. I also found some notepads shaped like books. The plan was to write down every single book we read this summer, and hang the papers below the respected genre chart.
The problem is that Bruce(8) reads a ton of books but isn’t interested at all in recording what he reads. Jenna(4) can’t read a book all on her own yet, plus she doesn’t write, so it was all up to me to use the system. I get an “F”.
Sigh… At least I’m only out $5 for the whole endeavor.
My eight-year-old and I have just read a fascinating book called Invincible Microbe, Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure. It’s by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank.
This book covers a lot of ground: science, history, racial tension, class strife, and horror. There is a lot of sadness, but not in a way that is too dark for elementary school.
I had no idea somebody could make pathology so entertaining!
The other day I asked my son Bruce(8) what his favorite book was and he said Oliver Twist. Then he started begging me again to buy him Great Expectations, so I finally relented.
My son is obsessed with Charles Dickens!
A lot of people look down their noses at abridged classics for children. To which I say, “Fine. Whatever.” I don’t want to be a snob about it, but I read a ton of abridged books when I was young and I made it all the way to blah, blah, blah.
One thing I really like about the Classic Starts series is the discussion questions at the end. They feel very Junior Great Books ish to me. So what we do is my son reads a book on his own, and then that night at bedtime we go over the questions together. He loves this part!
All of the Classic Starts books are on my “Grandma Please Buy This!” page. So keep that in mind the next time one of your kids has a birthday. It could be a useful link to pass along.
Probably the worst time to review a book is after you just spent twenty minutes crying over the end of it. (Spoiler alert.)
Hold on Tight by Heather Klassen is the first novel I’ve ever ordered from Royal Fireworks Press, publisher of the Michael Clay Thompson curriculum. RFWP has made its name publishing high quality materials for gifted and homeschooled children. (My son’s school uses Caesar’s English for example.) But their novels for children are harder to find.
All of the RFWP novels are available through their website of course, but not many of them are available on Amazon. ( Here’s why.) Sadly, I couldn’t find any of the RFWP novels through our local library.
This all made a lot of sense to me when I read Hold on Tight, the story of a girl who watches her brother leave for the Vietnam War and witnesses her family change forever. Hold on Tight is a beautiful, moving, 78 page novella with a great deal of meaning.
But this book is not very commercial.
When’s the last time you read a middle grade novella? Or a book for kids about Vietnam? When’s the last time a historical book for middle schoolers became a uber-best seller? (Having “American Girl” in the title doesn’t count.)
Klassen writes with a lyrical, almost stream-of-conscious style that is very unique in children’s books these days. I read the first two chapters with my 7 year-old at bedtime, and he loved it so much that woke up early the next morning to finish it off on his own.
Kudos to RFWP for publishing this.
They took a risk on a story worth telling. I look forward to ordering more books from them in the future.
“Who is telling the story?”
Write it on your arm to remind yourself to ask, every time you read your children a book today!
Understanding point of view is a major learning objective you can help your children master.
I’m feeling kind of lazy and am not bothering to look it up in our state’s K-12 standards right now, but I know from being a teacher that understanding point of view is something third graders are expected to understand. You can give your kids a head start by covering POV at home. They don’t have to be eight years old to learn this.
First Person POV
A great book to get you started is My Little Brother by David Mc Phail. I highly recommend checking this book out from your local library.
In My Little Brother, the older brother is telling the story. But the way the story is written, and the way the pictures are drawn, there are lots of opportunities for children to have to really stop and think.
Here are some prompts you might try using: “Who is telling the story? Point to the person who is telling the story.” etc.
Third Person POV
In the case of a book written in the third person POV, like When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang, the answer to the question “Who is telling the story?” is: The Narator.
The concept of a narrator can be a bit confusing for preschoolers, so make sure they understand first person POV first. I’m training my three year old daughter Jenna to recognize the difference.
“Who is telling the story?”
Did you write it on your arm yet? 😉
Do you think Shakespeare is too hard for kids? Think again!
With the right type of scaffolding, almost any age can enjoy the “Bard of Avon”. Here are some ideas to get you started:
For Kids 2.5 Years Old and Up
Shakepeare’s Storybook with CD by Patrick Ryan doesn’t exactly tell the stories of Shakespeare. Instead, it includes the stories that inspired Shakespeare. So instead of “Hamlet”, you hear the story of “Ashboy”. “A Bargain is a Bargain” tells the story of “The Merchant of Venice.”
There are two CDs with this book, as well as lots of pictures. None of the stories were too scary for my daughter, who started listening to them as young as two and a half.
For Kids 4 and Up
Can I just say how much I love Jim Weiss? Basically anything you purchase from Greathall Productions is going to be golden. Shakespeare for Children is no exception. This is an audio CD that tells the stories of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Taming of the Shrew”. Both versions are awesome!
Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer is another great choice for kids. My son and I have read this book at bedtime over and over again. The plays are told in narrative form but include original lines whenever possible. The illustrations are beautiful; my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.
For Kids 6 and Up
Chapter 39 of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 2 includes historical information about Shakespeare, as well as a brief retelling of “Macbeth”. If you have Jim Weiss reading the audio version of SOTW2, this appears on Disc 9. I love the entire SOTW series to begin with, so getting a bit of Shakespeare thrown in is a nice bonus.
The Shakespeare Stealer is a historical novel for middle grade audiences by Gary Blackwood. It tells the fictional story of Widge, an orphan boy who knows how to do a cryptic shorthand that allows him to transcribe plays when he should just be watching them. The language is pretty advanced (not inappropriate, just challenging). You really feel like you are getting a history lesson when you read this, as well as being entertained.
For Kids 10 and Up
Imagine if Monty Python, the Globe Theatre, and the evening news were mixed together. You might end up with “This is Macbeth” and “This is Hamlet”. These are two really wonderful introductions to Shakespeare for older students, created by Greg Watkins and Jeremy Sabol from Stanford’s Structured Liberal Education program. (More about my own interest in SLE here.)
There are key scenes from the plays performed, faux interviews of the characters, musical interludes, and pretend medieval commercials.
My son Bruce is only seven, so he doesn’t quite have the attention span to make it through an entire DVD. But he loves the medieval commercials so much, we have watched those on repeat. It’s going to be really difficult to walk past the replica sword store, the next time I take Bruce to the mall…