By Denise Dávila on Behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
Sister Corita Kent authored provocative multimodal compositions that were inspired by looking closely at ordinary objects and were imbued with intertextual meanings. As suggested in Make Meatballs Sing, much of her work began by focusing her attention on specific elements and blocking out others. She employed cardboard viewfinders with her students as tools for developing the skill of looking. These next activities build upon the use of viewfinders in the classroom. They are adapted from the Make Meatballs Sing Curriculum Guide.
Denise Dávila is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She studies childrens literature and researches the home literacy practices of families with young children in under-resourced communities.
By Erika Thulin Dawes and Xenia Hadjioannou on behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
We close out the school year immersed in social strife and conflict. Our students are grappling both with big questions about humanity and substantial uncertainties about everyday life. Recent research describes rising mental health concerns for young people (Acheson, 2020; Cowie & Myers, 2021; Samji et al. 2022) and it’s not surprising that maintaining optimism is challenging in the context of war, a global pandemic, and climate change. As educators, we are seeking ways to provide our students with grounding and with hope. And we believe that biographies, life stories of inspiring people, can help to provide both an anchor and inspiration. Our latest Biography Clearinghouse entry features Duncan Tonatiuh’s picturebook biography Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War. Using his trademark illustrative style, digital collage inspired by Mixtec Pre-Columbian art, Tonatiuh describes the World War I experiences of ‘Luz’; a teacher, activist, Texan, and a person with Mexican heritage.
Toniatiuh’s biography of José de la Luz Sáenz is a powerful narrative of the transformative power of literacy. Luz’s education and multilingualism were instrumental in his life trajectory; his knowledge allowed him to navigate the battlefield safely, keeping him out of the trenches and instead in a fortified command post for the intelligence service. He developed his skills in organizing while teaching English to Mexican American soldiers. And upon his return to teaching when the war was over, he turned his outrage over unequal schooling for Mexican American children into activism, establishing the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), an organization that helped to end the segregation of Latinx children from white schools.
In our Biography Clearinghouse entry, we provide an interview with Duncan Tonatiuh and a collection of teaching ideas to support student exploration of Soldier for Equality. These teaching ideas encourage students to consider the transformative power of literacy and the generative power of community organizing and activism. They include: an exploration of translanguaging and theme development in picturebooks; a history of and contemporary look at the experience of minoritized populations in the United States army; a call to allyship to counter bullying; a visual literacy exercise exploring traditional artistic motifs; and a tribute to teacher activists.
Below is an excerpt of the teaching ideas in the Biography Clearinghouse entry for Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War:
Teachers as Activists
Acheson, R. (2020). Research digest: The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on child, adolescent, young adult, and family mental health. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 46(3), 429-440. https://doi.org/10.1080/0075417X.2021.1912810
Cowie, H., & Myers, C. (2021). The impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on the mental health and well‐being of children and young people. Children & Society, 35(1), 62-74. https://doi.org/10.1111/chso.12430
Samji, H., Wu, J., Ladak, A., Vossen, C., Stewart, E., Dove, N., Long, D., & Snell, G. (2022). Review: Mental health impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on children and youth – a systematic review. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 27(2), 173-189. https://doi.org/10.1111/camh.12501
Erika Thulin Dawes is a Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University where she teaches courses in children’s literature and early childhood literacy and is the program director of the graduate Early Childhood Education program. Erika is a former chair of NCTE’s Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.
Xenia Hadjioannou is an Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Harrisburg campus of Penn State University where she teaches and works with pre- and in-service teachers through various courses in language and literacy methodology. She is the Vice President and Website Manager of the Children's Literature Assembly, and a co-editor of The CLA Blog.
The Bonnie Campbell Hill National Literacy Leader Award
In wrapping up, I wanted to leave you with some insights from the experiences of the Ukrainian people faced with the recent events. Children are not afraid to talk about serious topics. In fact, they are willing and eager to do it. While many of my Ukrainian colleagues are hiding in bomb shelters, they seek children’s books to soothe their children through the difficulties and hardship. Ukrainian publishers have distributed free digital copies of contemporary Ukrainian children’s books, some of which are books about peace and war. In this way, children can choose what they want to read and talk about. Some of them ask to read about peace to strengthen their hope. Others ask to read about war to have the possibility for catharsis.
Ukrainian Publishers and Literary Agencies Participating in the Free Book Initiative
While Ukraine is going through this terrible experience, we here in the USA have a responsibility to help our young readers to grow into empathetic adults who will definitely create better, life-altering history for humanity to avoid tragedies such as this. In addition, I want to invite all US publishers to seek out contemporary Ukrainian books, especially books that might portray a unique perspective on the subject of war, tyranny, and shared human values. I suspect that there will be a lot of books soon, as many writers, myself included, are writing down their experiences to create a solid piece of history for the future generations. Such books can keep us accountable to the past, inspire endless possibilities of anti-war art such as the Never Again War poster created by Käthe Kollwitz in 1924, and guide us to do our best to prevent wars and create a bright hopeful future.
Translated from Ukrainian and readily available in the United States:
How Many? (By Halyna Kyrpa and illustrated by Olha Havrylova. Translated by Oksana Lushchevska. Bratske Publishers, 2014. Kindle Edition.)
Mr. Catsky, Mira, and the Sea (By Oksana Lushchevska and illustrated by Violetta Borigard. Bratske Publishers, 2015. Kindle Edition.)
And more from the team of Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv:
Sound: Shh…Bang…Pop…BOOM! (Chronicle Books, 2021)
Sight: Glimmer, Glow, Spark, Flash! (Chronicle Books, 2020)
Stars and Poppy Seeds (Tate, 2019)
Loudly, Softly, in a Whisper (Wonder House Books, 2017)
I See That (Wonder House Books, 2017)
Chapter Books and Longer Books:
Letters on the War: Children Write to Soldiers (Edited by Valentyna Vzdulska, Oksana Oksana, Julia Berezenko, and illustrated by Olena Staranchuk. Translated by Oksana Lushchevska and Michale Naydan. Bratske Publishers, 2015. Kindle Edition.)
Heart in Flames: Tales of Action and Intrigue (By Antaoly Koetesky and illustrated by Olexandr Zastanchenko. Translated by Oles Kovalenko and Vasil Baryshev. Dnipro Publishers, 1990.)
Set in Ukraine or Related to Ukraine:
The Mitten (By Jan Brett. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.)
The Mitten (By Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Yaroslava. HarperCollins, 1989.)
The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story (Retold by Eric A. Kimmel and Illustrated by Katya Krenina. Holiday, 1999.)
The Spider's Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story (Retold by Eric A. Kimmel and Illustrated by Katya Krenina. Holiday, 2010.)
Chapter Books and Longer Books:
Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis (By Susan Hood with Greg Dawson. HarperCollins, 2022.)
The Midnight Zoo (By Sonya Harnett. Candlewick, 2011.)
The Blackbird Girls (By Anne Blankman. Puffin (Reprint Edition), 2021.)
The Winter Horses (By Philip Kerr. Knopf, 2014.)
My Real Name is Hanna (By Tara Lynn Masih, 2018.)
Radiant Girl (By Andrea White, Black Spot Books, 2018.)
The Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story (By Peter Lane Taylor & Christos Nicola, Kar-Ben, 2007.)
Donating to Help
Polish Literacy Foundation: Raising funds to buy books for refugee children from Ukraine (and support Ukrainian publishers at the same time)
- For details, you can read Joanne O'Sullivan's article on Publishers Weekly: Polish Literacy Foundation Leads Relief Efforts for Ukrainian Kids
- For details, you can read Joanne O'Sullivan's article on Publishers Weekly: Polish Literacy Foundation Leads Relief Efforts for Ukrainian Kids
Ukrainian Red Cross: They organize educational services, provide sanitary materials and coordinate blood donations.
- UNICEF: They provide medical aid, food, and psychological support to children.
Voices of Children: They provide psychological services to Ukrainian children impacted by armed conflict. You may be interested intheir digital storytelling project.
- International Rescue Committee: The IRC provides food, medical care and emergency support services to refugee families in several countries, including Ukraine.
- Come Back Alive: They provide assistance to around 100 combat units of the Ukrainian armed forces to cover the real-time needs of defending Ukraine.
- ArmySOS: They provide support to the Ukrainian army.
- Future Ukraine Fund: They support the most vulnerable children in Ukraine. Currently they provide assistance to the Ohmadit Children’s Hospital in Kyiv that cares for children and mothers affected by the war.
- Help Ukraine Win: They are fundraising to provide essential supplies to Ukrainian people who fight against Russian aggression on the front line.
Lepman, J. (2002). A bridge of children’s books: the inspiring autobiography of a remarkable woman. Dublin, Ireland: The O’Brien Press, Ltd.
Romanyshyn, R., Lesiv A., How War Changed Rondo. New York: Enchanted Lion Books.
Scurfield, R. M., Platoni, K. Th. (2012). Healing War Trauma: A Handbook of Creative Approaches. New York: Routledge.
By Mary Ann Cappiello and Jenn Sanders, on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
Throughout the book, illustrator Edwin Fotheringam works with visual metaphors to emphasize Eleanor’s unflagging energy and her ability to bring people together. In the cover illustration, Eleanor jumps off of a globe, streaming a banner of paper dolls holding hands that trails in her wake. Fotheringham peppers the book with swirling lines of motion, highlighting Eleanor’s boundless verve, vivacity, and constant travel. Fotheringham also continues the hand-holding motif throughout the book to reinforce the ways in which Eleanor Roosevelt brought people together and made them feel seen, heard, and respected. Paper dolls thread through the backgrounds, and Eleanor is often depicted holding hands or connected to the people with whom she is interacting, like one long, human, paper chain.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s life work supporting families in under-resourced communities, creating safe working conditions, and promoting world peace has never been more relevant. While we have not lived through the same long-term economic devastation of The Great Depression, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic crisis for millions of Americans and billions across the globe. Congress and the White House are engaged in complex conversations and negotiations about the role of government, debating what social programs, safety nets, and infrastructure investments are appropriate in the 21st century; the same kinds of conversations Eleanor Roosevelt engaged in with her husband and their White House staff. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how very interconnected our world is, a theme exemplified in the life and work of Eleanor Roosevelt.
First Ladies and Social Media
To learn more about the column, you can explore the resources of The George Washington University’s Digital Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Read her column by year or search for specific content across the years. After students have had an opportunity to read some columns, have them compare and contrast them with one another. What do they learn about Eleanor Roosevelt, and the circumstances of the world she lived in? How do the columns extend the understanding of Eleanor’s public life they received from Eleanor Makes Her Mark? How do they challenge their understanding?
Next, provide students with the opportunity to compare and contrast how the current and most recent First Ladies have used social media to speak with the public. Because some comments on social media are not appropriate for tweens to read, we recommend that you select some tweets from each First Lady and share them with your students. You can choose from First Lady Jill Biden’s (@FLOTUS) Twitter account, former First Lady Melania Trump’s (@MELANIATRUMP) Twitter account or her archived @FLOTUS Twitter account, former First Lady Michele Obama’s current (@MichelleObama) Twitter account or her archived @FLOTUS Twitter account, and former First Lady Laura Bush’s current (@laurawbush) Twitter account.
Synthesize the exploration by asking students to compare and contrast what they see as most valuable in the communications they explored. Why is it important for First Ladies--or First Gentlemen, or First Spouses--to communicate directly with the public? What kind of information is valuable for them to share, and why?
Creating Diagrams to Add Information
If you have 1-2 hours…
If you have 1-2 days…
If you have 1-2 weeks…
Using the images in Eleanor Makes Her Mark and those shown in the Interview Video [9:10], compare and contrast Ed Fotheringham’s floorplan diagrams with his modified cross-section diagrams of the White House. Discuss with students the pros and cons of each diagram and the different kinds of information conveyed in each.
After comparing the two kinds of diagrams Ed considered to represent Eleanor Roosevelt’s movement throughout the White House, read one of Aston and Long’s books noted above. Read it once to enjoy and a second time to notice and note the different diagrams used: a scaled diagram, timeline, cross section, surface diagram, graph, flowchart, etc. Pay attention to how the diagrams are labeled and/or captioned. Have students go back to an informational piece they have written and consider what kind of diagram would be useful.
Then, give them time to draw the diagram and add it to their writing. If students don’t already have an informational piece in progress, you can have them do a quickwrite about something they know a lot about (an animal, instrument, sport, etc.), and then ask them to consider what additional information might be interesting to readers that they could add with a visual diagram. Again, provide time for them to search for the information and create the diagram in their draft.
Facilitate an informational writing unit, where students expand on the quickwrite started in the middle column and create a draft that uses two different kinds of diagrams (there are more than the ones listed above, such as a chart or table, a bar graph, etc.). You can also guide students in using some of the writing craft strategies that Barb uses in her biography, such as beginning with a problem (e.g., planning the inauguration ceremony, being more than a hostess) or stating the theme of the text early on (“She’d hoped to ‘leave some mark upon the world.’”) and using a repeated phrase to thread that theme throughout the text (e.g., “leave her mark”). (You might also explore some of the ideas on writer’s craft in other Biography Clearinghouse entries, such as using historically accurate dialogue in informational texts discussed in the She Persisted: Claudette Colvin entry.)
Jennifer Sanders is an Associate Professor of Literacy Education at Oklahoma State University, specializing in representations of diversity in children’s and young adult literature and writing pedagogy. She is co-founder and co-chair of The Whippoorwill Book Award for Rural YA Literature and long-time member of CLA.
A Partnership of Poetry and Politics: Carole Boston Weatherford’s Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
BY JENNIFER M. GRAFF & JOYCE BALCOS BUTLER, ON BEHALF OF THE BIOGRAPHY CLEARINGHOUSE
"All my life I've been sick and tired. Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."
-Fannie Lou Hamer
Throughout Voice of Freedom, Weatherford’s poetry illustrates how Hamer’s stirring speeches, matter-of-fact testimonials, and her penchant for singing spirituals served as rallying cries for freedom and justice. Her roles as leader, mobilizer, organizer, political candidate, and advocate for social, financial and educational programming for Black communities further contributed to her identification as the “spirit of the civil rights movement.” Holmes’ vibrant, textured collages, often “based on or inspired by photographs” (Weatherford, 2015, unpaged back matter), enhance the verbal juxtapositions of humanity and horror, and pay homage to Hamer’s resilience, compassion, and commitment to justice.
Using the Investigate, Explore, and Create Model of the Biography Clearinghouse, we offer teaching ideas focused on the art and science of conveying “emotional weight” and “factual burdens” (interview transcript, p.9) in biographies written in verse. Generating a sense of intimacy punctuated by emotional overtones of hardship and resilience, using first person point of view, pairing and alternating verse and prosaic text, and helping cultivate reader empathy are discussed.
In our desire to honor and reflect Weatherford’s commitment to “mine the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles” (transcript, p.11), we provide a variety of multimedia resources for critical explorations of the past and present regarding:
Below we feature one of two time-gradated teaching recommendations included in the Create section of the Voice of Freedom book entry.
Youth As Agents of Change in Local Communities
If you have 1-2 hours...
If you have 1-2 days...
If you have 1-2 weeks...
Using Voice of Freedom, discuss with students how Fannie Lou Hamer was a voice of change for voting rights and Black female political representation during the Civil Rights Movement.
Introduce Amanda Gorman, the First Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, to students.
As a class, watch Gorman’s reading of her 2021 presidential inauguration poem, "The Hill We Climb." Ask students what message they think Gorman is conveying through her poem. Use the full-text version of "The Hill We Climb Text" for students’ exploration of Gorman’s words. Discuss how Gorman uses her voice to effect change on issues such as civil rights and feminism.
Begin an Agents of Change T- chart, using the headings, “Activist” and “Cause.” Ask students what issues Amanda Gorman might be advocating for in “The Hill We Climb.” Ask them about other causes they know about to include on the chart.
Revisit the concept of "agents of change," using the previously completed T-Chart.
Watch one or both of the following videos featuring youth activists focused on environmental issues:
Continue to add to the existing T-Chart or create a new chart. Engage in discussions about the choices Genesis and Mari are making, how these affect their communities, and why this classifies them as agents of change.
Below are other young activists that you can include in your inquiry:
See the book entry for additional possibilities.
Discuss the importance of youth activism in tandem with Secondlineblog.org.
Have students identify local youth activists or organizations in their area whom they see as a voice of change. Consider using Global Citizen for inspiration.
Have students create interview questions for the local youth activist or organization they selected. Students can conduct, record, and interview individuals through Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, or other digital platforms.
Using their interview recordings as a resource, ask students to create a multimodal presentation on the group or individual. Using Voice of Freedom, “The Hill We Climb,” or the other texts included in these ideas as mentor texts, encourage students to describe the group or individual’s advocacy work in their presentations and include why this makes them agents of change.
See the book entry for additional activities.
Joyce Balcos Butler is a fifth-grade teacher in Winder, Georgia, where she focuses on implementing social justice learning through content areas. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant, a Red Clay Writing Fellow at the University of Georgia, and a member of CLA.
BY MARY ANN CAPPIELLO on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our lives, our health. We bear witness to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minoritized groups, including Black and Latinx communities, Native Americans, and the elderly.
Across America, Black Lives Matter protests carry on, demanding that our nation invest in the essential work necessary to achieve a more perfect union through racial justice.
In 2020, we remember moments of historic change, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
How do you meet the needs of students and the needs of this moment in history? How do you find hope in literature?
Perhaps one way is to turn to the people of the past and the present who are working on the edges of scientific knowledge. Or, to turn to the people of the past and the present who have acted as champions of social justice. Their life stories offer young people models of agency and action, blueprints for change.
To that end, The Biography Clearinghouse shares 20 biographies for 2020, a list of recent picturebook and collected biographies to connect with the challenges of the moment. This list is not comprehensive. It is simply a starting place. We hope these recently published biographies of diverse changemakers can become part of your curriculum or part of your read aloud calendar, in-person or over video conferencing software.
Biographies About Scientists
Biographies About Champions for Change
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything (2020) by Annette Bay Pimental, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-Footed Girl (2020) by Megan Reid, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (2020) by Veronica Chambers and the staff of The New York Times, illustrated by Monica Ahanonu, Rachelle Baker, Kristen Buchholz, Alex Cabal, Noa Denmon, Ellen Duda, Shyama Golden, Johnalynn Holland, Hillary Kempenich, Nhung Lê , Ella Trujillo, and Steffi Walthall
I am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes and Activists from Past and Present (2020) by Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo
Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box (2020) by Evette Dion
Lizzie Demands a Seat! Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights (2020) by Beth Anderson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
She was the First! The Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm (2020) by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and The Great War (2019) by Duncan Tonatiuh
Spotted Tail (2019) by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk and Pat Kinsella
The Teachers March: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History (2020) by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rick Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer
Supporting PreK-12 and university teachers as they share children’s literature with their students in all classroom contexts.
The opinions and ideas posted in the individual entries are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of CLA or the Blog Editors.
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