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Exploring and Challenging Inequalities: October 2015 Intermediate Titles

September 24th, 2015 | Posted by etownsend in October | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | 2015-2016

separate is never equalBoth of this month’s books talk about inequality? How do the authors show the inequalities? How do the inequalities affect the main characters’ communities? How are communities different due to inequalities?

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight Icon for the Intermediate (Grades 3-5) readersfor Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams, 2014.

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez’s Mexican American family had recently moved. She and her siblings were not allowed to go to the public school nearest their farm and were instead told they had to attend the Mexican school, which was farther away and had fewer resources. Sylvia’s father found other families willing to join him in suing the school district, whose only explanation had been, “That is how it is done.” During the trial, Sylvia and her family sat through infuriating testimony in which school district officials blatantly claimed that Mexican children were inferior to white children — in their personal habits, their social abilities, and their intelligence. Author/illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh quotes from the trial as part of this narrative that is grounded in both facts and the emotional experience of young Sylvia. The ample end matter includes a lengthy author’s note with additional information and photographs of Sylvia then and now. A glossary, bibliography, and index round out this distinctively illustrated picture book account of the events surrounding the court case that desegregated California schools seven years before Brown v. Board of Education.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find reader’s theater, various teaching guides, Common Core guide and more for this title at TeachingBooks.net

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Why is separate never equal? What are some examples of this from the story?
  2. How do the illustrations help tell the story?
  3. What changes from the start of the story to the end of the story?

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic Press, 2014.madman of piney woods

In 1901, thirteen-year-old African American Benji, an aspiring newspaper reporter, lives with his parents and younger twin siblings in the Black Canadian town of Buxton. Thirteen-year-old Irish American Red, an aspiring scientist, lives in nearby Chatham with his father and immigrant grandmother. Benji gets work in Chatham as an apprentice at a Black-owned newspaper, where the demanding, good-humored woman owner shapes his talent as a writer (Benji is prone to high drama and alliteration). Meanwhile, patience-tested Red is gaining insight into his unlikable, bitter grandmother, who was scarred by her experiences in the Irish famine and the trauma she faced as a new immigrant. Red thinks it should make her particularly sensitive to racism; instead, she is hateful and bigoted. The boys are drawn together by their good hearts, humor, intelligence, and fascination with differences in how they think about the world. Meanwhile, the man the people Buxton call the Madman in the Woods and the people of Chatham call the South Woods Lion Man is Cooter Bixby, an old friend of Benji’s parents whose experiences in the Civil War left him emotionally damaged. Benji’s encounters transform his understanding of the Madman from frightening figure to kindred spirit–someone else completely at home in nature–while Red’s experience leaves him certain the Lion Man, although eccentric, is good hearted. In a stand-alone, companion novel to Elijah of Buxton, Benji and Red’s friendship, organic and wonderful, represents hope even as it comes into full relief during a tragedy mired in wrong ways of thinking. Christopher Paul Curtis has once again penned a novel of high humor and exquisite grace.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find interviews with Christopher Paul Curtis about writing Madman of Piney Woods, Common Core guide from Scholastic and more at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these prompts:

  1. This story is told from the perspective of two different characters, Benji and Red. How would the story be different if it was told by Grandma O’Toole or the Madman of Piney Woods?
  2. How do the traumatic experiences in Grandma O’Toole’s and the Madman’s lives affect them, their families and their communities? How do these experiences change the choices each makes in life? How are the grandmother and the madman alike? How are the different?
  3. How does the setting of the book help in the development of the characters and the difference in their experiences?

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