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Artists and Dreamers: May 2016 Middle School Titles

April 24th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2015-2016 | Middle School | May

bird kingThe Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook by Shaun Books for Middle School AgeTan. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic Inc., 2013.

“Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can’t think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It’s the familiar malaise of ‘artist’s block’ and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: Just start drawing.” Following this thoughtful introduction, which goes on to say more about creativity and the creative process, Shaun Tan opens the door to a treasure trove of visual gems, sharing sketches and drafts of both published and unpublished works. The book is divided into sections titled “untold stories”; “book, theater, and film”; “drawings from life”; and “notebooks.” Each section begins with a brief introduction by Tan followed by page upon page of sketches, drawings, and paintings. Only the “drawings from life” section offers a glimpse of the world as it really looks, for Tan’s works most often reflect the realm of his unique imagination, where fantastic creatures or impossible scenarios are suddenly possible and vivid, sometimes frightening, sometimes poignant, and always fascinating. A “list of works” at book’s end provides more information about each drawing—including the final version (film, poster, book) if there was one.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find out more about the author and illustrator, Shaun Tan, as well as a teaching guide for The Bird King at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Choose a sketch and tell its story.
  2. Did you notice any common themes among the drawings? Tell about one theme using examples from the book to support your argument.
  3. What thoughts, ideas, or information do you think the author/illustrator wants readers to take away from engaging with this book.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy brown girl dreamingPaulsen Books / Penguin, 2014.

“And somehow, one day, it’s just there / speckled black-and white, the paper / inside smelling like something I could fall right into, / live there — inside those clean white pages.” Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood unfolds in poems that beautifully reveal details of her early life and her slow but gradually certain understanding that words and stories and writing were essential to her. Her older sister was shining smart. One of her brothers could sing wonderfully. She would come to realize words were her smart, her singing, her special thing. Woodson writes about growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, and then Brooklyn, New York, living with family members who were full of love and expectation, from her grandparents to her mother to her siblings, aunts and uncles. She sometimes felt she stood out — a northerner in the south; a southerner in the north; a Jehovah’s Witness knocking on doors. Experiences that shaped her came from within and beyond her family: “Don’t wait for your school to teach you, my uncle says, / about the revolution. It’s happening in the streets. “ And later, “This moment, this here, this right now, is my teacher / saying / You’re a writer, as she holds the poem I am just beginning.” Ten poems titled “How to listen” reveal another essential element of her story because she is also that: a listener, a recorder, an observer, writing something down even when she doesn’t understand it and trusting that “The knowing will come.” An album of black-and-white photographs and an author’s note round out this exquisite, quietly inspiring volume.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Find many excellent resources – multiple lesson plans and interviews – for this multi-awarding winning author and book at TeachingBooks.net.

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. This book is the autobiographical. The author shares her experiences, feelings and memories from her life as well as factual information. How can memory differ from things that really happened? How does affect the story the author is telling?
  2. Choose a poem from the book. What does this poem tell you about the author? Explain your answer with examples from the poem.
  3. How did the author’s experience of Jim Crow align with or differ from other stories you have heard?
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