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
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Gold Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan is an excellent example of a biography that features a woman in a STEM career. The book shows Mary’s love of mathematics and traces her path from teaching, to becoming Lockheed’s first female engineer, and then a member of the Skunk Works division working on satellites and spacecraft.
Extensive back matter includes a timeline, photos, an author’s note, an explanation of the Cherokee values mentioned in the text, source notes, and a bibliography. Illustrations showcase some of the aircraft Mary worked on such as the Lockheed A-12 and the Starfighter F-104C, as well as equations related to the projects.
- Read the Smithsonian article “Mary Golda Ross: Aerospace Engineer, Educator, and Advocate.”
- Read the Smithsonian article “Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars.”
- Watch the Reading Rockets video: “Traci Sorell: Classified: Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer.”
- Access the author’s website for additional materials that explore the Cherokee values Mary personified.
- There is also a Classified Teaching Guide which contains many activity ideas for experimenting with the forces of flight.
Blast Off! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport is another of the untold stories of the space program. Working with two engineers as her assistants, Mary Sherman Morgan created the rocket fuel hydyne which powered the launch of the first American satellite into space. This biography explores Mary’s late start in school, her determination to pursue a career in chemistry, and her work at North American Aviation.
This book also has plenty of back matter with photos, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and more details about Mary, the Juno 1 rocket and the Explorer 1 satellite. The author’s note includes an explanation of how difficult it was to find information. She states, “Mary Morgan’s history is not well-documented. Unfortunately, that is true of many women who have made meaningful contributions to science and other fields.” Thanks to the author’s persistence in reaching out to family members, people from Mary’s hometown, and aerospace experts, she was able to create this inspiring story.
- The book trailer shows the important launch Mary was working toward with her rocket fuel.
- This NASA video tells more about Explorer 1 and its lasting legacy for space exploration.
- NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a web page on Explorer 1 with links to photos, videos, and other information.
- In this short BBC video George Morgan talks about his mother and Rocket Girl, the book he wrote about her work developing rocket fuel.
- To make experiments of their own about the perfect fuel ratio for a rocket launch, students might enjoy working with fizzy rockets and trying out different proportions of water to Alka-Seltzer tablets to power the launch. SciTech Labs has posted a how-to video.
- There is also a lesson plan with instructions available from the Civil Air Patrol.
By Mary Ann Cappiello, Jennifer M. Graff and Melissa Quimby on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
Melissa Quimby, a 4th grade teacher in Massachusetts, has written the inaugural entry in our new feature “Stories from the Classroom.” Melissa is the genius behind #MeetSomeoneNewMonday, a weekly initiative that has spread from her classroom to her grade level team to an entirely different school in just three years.
This initiative launched when Melissa decided to share her passion for picturebook biographies with her students through interactive read-alouds. They were hooked! As Melissa writes, “Over time, I molded this project in intentional ways, and it evolved into an adventure that focused on identity, centered marginalized and minoritized communities, and cultivated thoughtful, strategic middle grade readers.” What started as a way to share nonfiction picturebooks as an engaging and compelling art form developed into a more nuanced exploration of global changemakers–past and present. With their weekly reading of picturebook biographies, students grow as readers and thinkers and deepen their individual and collective sense of agency.
In the following excerpts, Melissa describes how she reveals each week’s notable changemaker to her students and shares some of her picturebook biography selections.
Monday Read-Aloud Routines
Some weeks, interactive read aloud time happens on Monday morning immediately following the reveal. On some Mondays, it works best for us to huddle up in the afternoon. Occasionally, we steal pockets of time throughout our busy schedule to enjoy the biography of the week in smaller doses. When we read the text is not as important as how we read the text. The heart of this work truly lies in how we generate emotional investment within our students and how we help our students’ reactions and ideas blossom into new thinking about the world and ways that they can take action in their own lives for themselves and others. Sometimes, we simply read the biography to love it. In those moments, readers are silent with their eyes glued to the book, scanning the illustrations, wide-eyed when something surprising happens. Perhaps they whisper something to their neighbor, let out an audible gasp or share a comment aloud. Sometimes, we read to grow ideas. In these moments, readers are tracking trouble, considering how the figure responds to obstacles. They are ready to turn to their partner and reach for a precise trait word or theme and supporting evidence.
You can also reach out to Melissa through her website (QUIMBYnotRamona) or Twitter (@QUIMBYnotRamona) to discuss how to implement #MeetSomeoneNew initiative in your classroom or school.
Inspired by Melissa’s picturebook biography initiative or done something similar? Share your ideas and stories with us via email: email@example.com. Or, chime in on Twitter (@teachwithbios), Facebook, or Instagram with your own #teachwithbios ideas and picturebook biography recommendations.
Mary Ann Cappiello teaches courses in children’s literature and literacy methods at Lesley University, blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf. She is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
Jennifer M. Graff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia where her scholarship focuses on diverse children’s literature and early childhood literacy practices. She is a former committee member of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8, and has served in multiple leadership roles throughout her 16+ year CLA membership.
By Julie Waugh and Erika Thulin Dawes on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse.
In the Biography Clearinghouse entry for Building Zaha, you will find an interview, in which Victoria Tentler-Krylov describes how her own education as an architect influenced her writing of Zaha Hadid’s story. You’ll find teaching ideas that focus on character development, mentoring, and goal setting, as well as ideas that build content knowledge about the relationship between architecture and nature, the design processes of architecture, and women leaders in the field. Like us, you will be inspired by the lessons that author/ illustrator Victoria Tentler-Krylov learned from studying the life of Zaha Hadid: “Trust your own voice. Trust your own vision.”
Here is an excerpt of the teaching ideas in the Biography Clearinghouse entry for Building Zaha:
Exploring Zaha’s Designs
- A Tour of Zaha Hadid’s Most Iconic Buildings from Google Arts and Culture
- 30 Projects That Define Zaha Hadid’s Style from Rethinking the Future
- At her death, the BBC created this short video that looks back on Zaha’s work.
- For a slightly longer look at her life, watch Curious Muse’s Zaha Hadid in 7 Minutes.
- Google Arts and Culture also has a site Zaha Hadid; Groundbreaking Architect and Visionary.
- Zaha Hadid’s Architects continues the work of Zaha Hadid. When she died in 2016 her company had 36 projects underway.
Another recent children's book biography about Zaha Hadid is The World is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter. Winter’s book focuses heavily on how Zaha Hadid’s work is influenced by the natural world, whereas Tentler-Krylov’s book focuses more on Zaha the person. The paired texts could provide a powerful invitation for students to compare and contrast the different ways in which authors made choices about how to share a person’s life in picture book format.
Breaking Boundaries: Female Architects
Throughout her career, Zaha Hadid encountered stumbling blocks. In the Biography Clearinghouse interview, Victoria Tentler-Krylov describes how her research into Zaha’s life revealed that Zaha wondered how those obstacles related to her identities as a woman and as a Muslim. Women continue to be underrepresented in the field of architecture. After reading Building Zaha, introduce your students to the work of Maya Lin, by reading Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines (written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, Henry Holt, 2017). Compare and contrast the lives, experiences, and accomplishments of these two renowned female architects. Extend your study of women in architecture, by exploring the digital resources below. Connect with a female architect in your community who is willing to share her experiences in the field with your students.
Women of Steel and Stone
ARCHUTE: The 25 Top Female Architects Changing the Architecture Industry
Black Architects on their Challenges, Successes, and Hope for the Future
CULTURED: 15 Architects on Being Black in Architecture
Early Black Female Architects
MADAME ARCHITECT: "That [Most] Exceptional One": Early Black Female Architects by Kate Reggev
Designing for Form and Function: Thinking Like an Architect
Some people told Zaha Hadid that form was more important to her than function. She was criticized that her creative, uniquely designed spaces did not use space as well as they could, or did not use space as efficiently as possible. This was part of why, early in her career, people told Zaha that she would only be a “paper architect” - an architect that would only have designs on paper and not made into buildings.
If you have 1-2 hours…
If you have 1-2 days…
If you have 1-2 weeks…
Invite students to look closely at your own classroom. What do you notice about how it is formed? How well does the way it is designed help you learn? How could you improve your classroom’s design to make it a better place to learn? Record some ideas and make some initial sketches.
Zaha Hadid started many of her earlier architectural plans with paint and brush. After sharing ideas about how the classroom could be improved and redesigned, invite students to use different media to create initial plans for a newly designed classroom, much the same way that she did. You may wish to share some of Zaha’s initial architectural artwork to inspire them.
Zaha Hadid was one of the first people to predict that computers would transform the architectural design process. It is possible that computers allowed her to create some of the unique shapes and structures that many thought were not possible. Collaborate with a local architect who can demonstrate their use of computer programs in their process of design. Visit with the architect in person or by Zoom so that students can see the architect's sketches and final plans. Ask questions about how the architect considers form and function in their design.
Discuss how plans become blueprints that serve as guides for the construction of a building. Invite your students to revisit the initial classroom design plans they created with an eye for the relationship between form and function. How does the structure of the classroom they have created relate to its proposed use? Pair students so that they can describe their classroom plans to a classmate to get feedback. Next, ask students to create a more blueprint-like sketch of their envisioned classroom.
Some students may be up for the challenge to use Google Sketch Up to create a structure from its creative beginnings to a model that you can walk through virtually.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York has a repository interesting resources for teachers, with lesson plans, entitled Form Follows Function.
Sebastian, S., Shankar, R. & Al Qeisi, S. (2018). Design approach of Zaha Hadid from vocabularies and design techniques. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research. 5 (6), 495-503.
Julie Waugh teaches 8th grade ELA at Smith Junior High and serves as an Inquiry Coach for Mesa Public Schools. She delights in the company of children surrounded and inspired by books. A longtime member of NCTE, and an enthusiastic newer member of CLA, Julie is a former committee member of NCTE's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
By Jennifer M. Graff, Jenn Sanders, and Courtney Shimek on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
Picturebook biographies are some of the best ways to get to know global change-makers, understand the immense sacrifices made when pursuing one’s passion, and recognize injustices that typically accompany activist work. They enable us to connect with the people behind the discoveries. Thanks to Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang’s (2019) award winning picturebook, Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom we can meet Wu Chien Shiung (aka “Madame Wu”), a renowned female nuclear and particle physicist who transformed our understandings of physics and became an unwavering mentor to and advocate for women in science. While Wu Chien Shiung was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physics three times, a sampling of Wu Chien Shiung’s accomplishments in the table below, showcases why she is referred to as the “Queen of Physics” and “The First Lady of Physics.”
A Sampling of Wu Chien Shiung’s Accomplishments and Accolades
The first woman to
She also received
The Biography Clearinghouse’s latest entry includes interdisciplinary teaching ideas and resources that
This entry also features interviews with Robeson and Huang about their inspirations for this picturebook biography, connections to Wu Chien Shiung, and details about their research and composing processes, among other interesting topics. Below are three instructional ideas from this entry.
Mentoring Via Peer Conferencing
Teach the mentor/tutor to pay attention to the writer’s ideas before worrying about spelling conventions.
“Respect the writer and the writer’s paper.”
Make the writer feel comfortable, be an active listener, and don’t write on the person’s paper.
“Involve the writer by asking questions.”
Teach mentors/tutors to ask open ended questions that get the writer talking about their ideas, their writing purpose, or their process.
“Teach the writer.”
Mentors/tutors share writing strategies that can be applied to the current piece but also across other pieces, rather than just trying to fix or revise the one piece they are discussing.
“Encourage the writer.”
Mentors/tutors provide encouragement by noting something specific that the writer did really well and offering one or two suggestions for revision (p.127).
Teachers can also invite students to consider the role of mentorship in their own lives. Students can identify individuals who have served as mentors to them and explore mentorship patterns and practices that are helpful and empowering to them as learners.
Advocacy and Activism
- Yuri Kochiyama was a political activist from California who fought with Malcom X to work for racial justice, civil and human rights, and anti-war movements. She went on to work in the redress and reparations movements for Japanese Americans and continued to fight for political prisoners until she passed away in 2014.
- Pranjal Jain is an Indian-American activist who has been organizing since she was 12 years old. As a current undergraduate at Cornell University, she is the founder of Global Girlhood, a women-led organization that inspires intercultural and intergenerational dialogue in online and offline spaces.
- Stephanie Hu is a Chinese American who founded Dear Asian Youth while she was a high school student as a support website for marginalized young people as a result of the rise in anti-Asian racism and violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star to appear in U.S. box offices. Although she was often relegated to smaller roles that perpetuated Asian stereotypes, her career spanned silent films, talkies, theater, and television, and she helped blaze the trail for Asian American performers after her. See Paula Yoo and Lin Yang’s (2009) picturebook biography, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, published by Lee & Low Books.
Printmaking a Character for Fiction Writing
By using basic supplies such as styrofoam plates and markers for printmaking, students can create a character to print and use in their own creative story. Watch this short video of a teacher demonstrating the styrofoam printmaking process.
If you have 1-2 hours….
If you have 1-2 days…
If you have 1-2 weeks…
Each student can design a main character for a story they write, and then draw and marker-print the character on paper. In this activity, students will experience a process of printmaking that helps them understand the steps and all the work that goes into making printed images.
After students create their printed character (see the If you have 1 to 2 hours . . . column), students can draft the story in which their character experiences a problem, challenge, or adventure. Based on their story, they can add a background setting in their picture to place their character in the context of their story. Students will simply draw the background setting and objects around their character on their printed picture.
Students can print their character four to six times, on separate pieces of paper, to create a storyboard with multiple scenes. Save one of these prints to make a title page for the story.
For this activity, we recommend students leave the background of the styrofoam plate empty so they can draw in different backgrounds as the story progresses. Then, they can divide their corresponding written story into sections (three, four, or five, depending on the number of prints they made).
For each story section, they can draw in a related background setting, additional characters, or objects to help complete the scene.
In the end, they will have a multimedia print that has their character marker-printed and the background drawn in with pen, marker, or other tools.
Jennifer Sanders is a 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.
Courtney Shimek is an Assistant Professor in the department of Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy Studies at West Virginia University. She has been a CLA member since 2015.
by Xenia Hadjioannou, Lauren Liang, Liz Thackeray Nelson (Editors of the CLA Blog)
Out of the Darkness Grows the Light
María also referenced a recently published children's biography of Corita Kent written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Kara Kramer: Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent. The biography, which was composed in close collaboration with the Corita Center and includes reproductions of her work, was recently selected as one of the 2022 Orbis Pictus recommended books.
out of the darkness
Golden Line Strategy
Another children's title María Fránquiz connected to the 2022 NCTE Conference theme of ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light is a picturebook by Yuyi Morales published as Bright Star in English and Lucero in Spanish. In this book, a young fawn explores a border territory, gently guided and encouraged by a maternal voice.
Using the golden line strategy, María pulled out the line:
"No matter where you are, you are a bright star inside our hearts."
"Dondequiera que estés, eres un lucero en nuestros corazones."
In reflecting on the excerpt, María commented, "For me, this line embodies, the belief of light within each person, child or adult. It is repeated in different forms in the story. The message offers protection to children because it presents the possibility of a caring person or community somewhere. This line radiates hope and love. I think that line also ties nicely with the lighthouse logo that incorporates our theme for the 2022 Convention. With the moon, and the stars brightly shining and the constellation beyond the lighthouses of our different parts of the world."
If you are interested in learning more about the golden line strategy, check out our post From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts in which Jeanne Fain, the 2020 Notables Committee Chair, describes the strategy and offers ideas and recommendations for practice.
Lauren Aimonette Liang is Associate Professor at the Deparment of Educational Psychology of the University of Utah. She is Past President of CLA and co-editor of the CLA Blog.
Liz Thackeray Nelson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Utah. She is co-chair of CLA's membership committee and co-editor of the CLA Blog.
By Amina Chaudhri and Julie Waugh, on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
This entry of The Biography Clearinghouse offers a variety of teaching and learning experiences to use with Sharuko: el Arqueólogo Peruano/Peruvian Archaeologist, a bilingual biography of Julio C. Tello, written by Monica Brown, and illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. In addition to a recorded interview with the author in which she discusses her research process and the craft of creating picturebook biographies, we include suggestions for learning about Peruvian textiles, the Quechua language, and variations on the trait of bravery. Below are two ideas inspired by Sharuko.
Connecting the Past and the Present
Begin by reading Sharuko aloud with students, inviting them to note the chronology of his life, from boy to researcher, the people who supported him along the way, and his connections to history as depicted in the text and images. In analyzing this biography, teachers might scaffold students’ understandings of:
- The character traits that Monica Brown includes in her representation of Julio C. Tello.
- The integration of history through text and image.
- The linear chronology on which the narrative rests, like an annotated timeline.
Thinking Like an Archeologist
The teaching and learning suggestions below are designed for teachers to plan experiences that involve thinking like an archeologist:
If you have 1-2 hours . . .
If you have 1-2 days . . .
If you have 1-2 weeks . . .
No matter the time period being studied - historical or contemporary - the close examination of artifacts involves honing keen observational and critical thinking skills. Teachers can present students with a selection of objects or parts of objects and invite them to examine them to see what stories they reveal. As an extension activity, students can bring their own artifacts from home, adding to the archaeological analysis.
Invite students to learn enough about an artifact (and its discoverer) to create a museum exhibit about the artifact. (Julio C. Tello may have done this for his found artifacts.) Use the Smithsonian Learning Lab Museum Descriptions as mentor texts to help students discover what they may want to include in a museum description of their own.
Combine archeological museum exhibits to make a museum for learning in your school community. Invite other classes, parents, and the larger community.
Create an archeological museum of the “future.” Invite students to pretend they are 500 years in the future and challenge them to create a museum showcasing archeological artifacts that showcase school life in the 2020s. This will invite them to think deeply and use the skills and strategies of an archeologist. Which artifacts in their classroom may survive for that long? How could you write about these artifacts to describe them for someone who does not recognize them? Create museum exhibits and a museum. Invite outside learners.
Julie Waugh shares a 4th grade teaching position at Zaharis Elementary in Mesa, AZ and serves as an Inquiry Coach for Mesa Public Schools. She delights in the company of children surrounded and inspired by books. A longtime member of NCTE, and an enthusiastic newer member of CLA, Julie is a former committee member of NCTE's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
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.
By Mary Ann Cappiello & Donna Sabis Burns, on behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
Known as “Gold” to her family, Mary Golda Ross was a pioneer in multiple ways. A trained mathematician and educator-turned-engineer, she was the first female and the first Native American aerospace engineer in the United States. Mary’s intellect and penchant for problem-solving were invaluable as she helped research and design satellites, missiles, and rockets. Her work, much of which is still classified, was integral to the U.S. development of its aerospace program in the mid-20th century. Like many women entering traditionally male-dominated fields, Mary is considered a “Hidden Figure.” Fortified by her independence and tenacity, Mary carved out historical and professional space that had rarely—if ever—included women and minorities. And in doing so, Mary helped revolutionize our relationship with space.
Independent and tenacious, Mary was the great-great-grandaughter of John Ross, the Cherokee Chief who led his people during and after they were forced to abandon their ancestral lands in the Southeast. Their migration to what is now Oklahoma, is known as the Trail of Tears.
Throughout her career, Mary relied on her Cherokee values for guidance, and she credited her professional success to those values. Sorell uses these values to “bookend” Mary’s story. On the first opening spread, a red box catches the reader’s attention. Within it, Sorell informs the reader that Cherokee values are not written down, but rather passed down through generations of family members. The core values that shaped Mary’s life were “gaining skills in all areas of life (both within and out of the classroom), working collaboratively with others, remaining humble when others recognize your talents, and helping ensure equal education and opportunity for all” (p.2). These values ground the reader and serve as a preview to Mary’s life. At the conclusion of the book, Sorell returns to those values, offering readers the four values in the Cherokee syllabary, a transliteration, pronunciation, and then finally, English translation.
Illustrator Natasha Donovan visually moves the reader through Mary’s life with a series of shifting images digitally rendered, ranging from close-ups of Mary’s classrooms to a bird’s eye view of her travels, zooming out to the larger vistas within her mind as she imagined and designed, zooming in on the many hands around a table working collaboratively to bring these inventions into existence. The illustrations highlight the tensions and opportunities that Mary encounters, and the role she played in an emerging field.
Mary’s unique circumstances prompted her to reach out and mentor many women in science and mathematics across her long career. She traveled to high schools to mentor college bound seniors and advocate education in engineering and mathematics, and also advocated for career opportunities for fellow Native American and Alaska Natives. Across her career, Mary worked closely with so many - from scientists working in secret on cutting edge technology to young adults just beginning to build their professional identities.
So far, 2021 has shown us the power and potential of science, from the COVID-19 vaccines that continue to be distributed across the globe to the ever-changing understanding of the virus’ variants. Scientists have modeled the ways in which their work is always collaborative. In contrast, 2021 has also shown us the power of the extremely wealthy to appropriate science and technology that has been developed for the benefit of the nation. The two richest men in the world, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, turned space travel into their personal pleasure. Was that part of Mary’s vision of interplanetary travel? Or was hers something more equitable, more in line with her Cherokee values of inclusivity and work for the common good?
Mary’s Cherokee values influenced the totality of her life and service. These values informed her work ethic, her ability to create and problem-solve in interdisciplinary ways, her commitment to educating herself and others, and her legacy of professional mentorship that underscored living a life of professional and personal purpose and fulfillment. Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer offers elementary readers the opportunity to think about how their values and their interests are intertwined, how one can live a life of purpose that is personally fulfilling but collaborative in nature, focused on expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and possibilities and the success of others.
Using the Investigate, Explore, and Create Model of the Biography Clearinghouse, we offer a range of critical teaching and learning experiences to use with Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer on our site. Highlighted here are a few ideas inspired by the book.
If you have 1-2 hours…
If you have 1-2 days…
If you have 1-2 weeks...
Have you ever had a mentor, someone you rely on to give you advice and guidance?
Ask your students to think about the mentors in their own lives. Who has helped them learn new things? Who has supported them as they tried to learn something new? Students might list coaches, dance teachers, karate teachers, librarians, older book buddies, and religious leaders. But they also are likely to mention their friends and classmates, siblings, and neighbors.
Allow students time to ask the older siblings, peers or adults in their lives about their mentors while growing up. Support students by brainstorming together the kinds of questions they can ask, rather than handing them set questions, helping students to ask questions that identify their grown-ups’ mentors in childhood and adult years, personally and professionally.
Have students share those anecdotes in class. What are the similarities and differences between their grown-ups’ responses?
Finally, ask students to consider who they could mentor in your school community, and in what ways. Support them as they design and carry out their mentoring plan.
The Space Race as Collaboration
To see more classroom possibilities and helpful resources connected to Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, visit The Biography Clearinghouse. Additionally, we’d love to hear how the interview and these ideas inspired you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your connections, creations, and questions.
Donna Sabis-Burns, Ph.D., an enrolled citizen of the Upper Mohawk-Turtle Clan, is a Group Leader in the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education* in Washington, D.C. She is a Board Member (2020-2022) with the Children's Literature Assembly, Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee, and Co-Chair of the 2021 CLA Breakfast meeting (NCTE).
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