Thursday, December 18, 2014

Awareness into Action

Paul Fleischman

Paul Fleischman gives young people a different set of tools for improving their world in Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines. He suggests that we first need to be aware of the world around us and how it's changing, evaluate it and, if we have concerns, figure out how to be proactive.

As a poet (and Newbery winner for Joyful Noise), Fleischman has always been a close observer of the world around him and, like many other poets, found inspiration in nature. So when he begins to find dead bees in his driveway with somewhat alarming frequency, he begins to investigate. What was the cause, and what, if anything, could he do to help?

He points interested readers to further resources, organizations and most importantly tools for evaluating information--what is the source of these statistics? Does the writer have an agenda (lobbying group, public relations firm)? These ideas are valuable in any context, but especially if students feel passionately enough to get involved. After they observe a situation and decide they want to help, where can their talents and efforts best be used?

The ideas here apply not just to causes near and dear to readers, but also to how they live their lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Critical Thinking

Rick Riordan

Once a teacher, always a teacher. That is certainly true of Rick Riordan, who taught English and history to middle-school students and clearly takes great pleasure in sharing all that he knows about Greek mythology. Percy Jackson's Greek Gods adopts a tone any child could love, and imparts juicy information in tantalizing retellings. Percy states up front that there are other ways to tell the tales of these often adolescent-acting characters.

This elegantly designed oversize volume shows off some of the best artwork from Caldecott Honor artist John Rocco. Especially that quintet of illustrations charting the five rivers that flow into the Underworld.

Some of us grew up with d'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. It's a fabulous introduction to the pantheon created to explain the phenomena we observe in our world (the changing of the seasons, the sun rising and setting). But Riordan takes a child's perspective, pointing out the contradictions among the myths--or more specifically, the gods' behavior--as Percy offers his own take on the quirks of these immortals (and half-bloods).

At a time when educators discuss at length how to teach critical thinking, Percy Jackson models it by his words and deeds, questioning, probing and investigating. Children will laugh and learn at the same time.