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The Paris Seamstress: Discussion Questions

Barb Rosenstock

Barb Rosenstock photo

Dive into History with Otis & Will Discover the Deep

 

“How come you write about famous people?” asked a third grader.

 

There I stood at another school visit stumped by a young person asking a question I’ve heard over and over again. You’d think that by now, since I write picture book biographies, I’d have a handy answer. But each time, that “fame question” throws me. I guess it’s because I don’t choose my subjects because they’re famous.

 

Instead, I’m drawn to stories about people who’ve changed history. For me, history has never made sense as a series of facts or dates (which I still rarely remember!). Instead, I tend to agree with the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “There is properly no history, only biography.” In my books, I try to show students that history, whether in science, politics, or the arts, is made by regular people. People who pursued a dream or a skill in a deep way—not because someone forced them, not because they wanted to be popular; but usually just because they were curious and liked the work. In other words, the young Abraham Lincoln didn’t know he was gonna be ABRAHAM LINCOLN. He was just Abe, that tall kid; the one who loved to read and made friends easily.

 

This view of history holds true for my new book, Otis & Will Discover the Deep: The Record-setting Dive of the Bathysphere, illustrated by Katherine Roy. It’s the story of how mechanical engineer, Otis Barton, and natural scientist, William Beebe, worked together to create the bathysphere—the first submersible craft that took human beings into the deep ocean.

 

William Beebe is well-known in scientific circles, but hardly a household name; and Otis Barton’s name is kind of off-the-grid all together. I didn’t know about either man ahead of writing the book. Instead, a few years ago, I read a small news item that used the word “bathysphere,” which I’d never heard, and became fascinated with the men who built it. I learned that Otis Barton started as a curious kid who built homemade diving equipment to see deeper into the ocean. And Will Beebe was so in love with nature’s mysteries that once he dove into the ocean for the first time, he never studied anything else.

 

Early on in the research of Barton and Beebe’s amazing adventures, the universe cooperated. My generic request to the Library of Congress website happened to be answered by a librarian, Constance Carter, who’d been Beebe’s assistant in the 1950’s. Photos, film, diaries, and archives were uncovered. There were historical accounts of at least nineteen bathysphere dives over four years. The challenge became how to winnow that much information into one picture book story. I decided to concentrate on a single bathysphere dive in June, 1930—the first time Otis and Will saw the deep ocean they’d dreamed of visiting since they were kids.

 

These childhood dreams drove Otis and Will to great discoveries. To satisfy their own questions, they struggled with scientific and mechanical problems. Most impressively, they put their lives on the line over and over again. Otis and Will became the first to see what lived below the ocean’s light level, or as the book’s refrain puts it, down, down, into the deep.

 

So, are Otis and Will famous? Well, none of the Kardashians have to worry that Otis Barton or Will Beebe will ever have more Instagram followers. At least not yet. But I hope you will agree that Otis and Will are better than famous; they are important.

 

And from now on that’ll be my answer. I don’t write about “famous people.” I write about “important people.” Why? Because each child is important and deserves role models with the same questions, curiosities, and feelings. Because each student is history’s future.

My Washington DC

My Washington, DC coverMy Washington, DC

By Kathy Jakobsen

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Social Studies: America, Social Studies: Patriotism

Grades: PreK-3rd

 

Educator Guide

Vibrant, lush paintings full of elaborate detail bring the capital city to life! A young girl and her friend explore all their favorite places in Washington, DC, from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial. They peek inside the National Air and Space Museum, glimpse the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, and bask in the beauty of the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

 

With two giant foldout pages, a map of the city, fun facts, seek-and-find challenges, and a poster of the Bill of Rights on the underside of this jacket, My Washington, DC is endlessly fun and educational. Kathy Jakobsen’s lavish paintings invite readers to return again and again to this dazzling tribute to America’s capital!

 

PRAISE

★ “Even children too young to read the text can get lost in these illustrations and become engrossed in searching for the three travelers as well as the cat that can be found in each scene… A star-spangled introduction to the nation’s capital.” —Booklist

 

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Towers Falling

Towers FallingTowers Falling

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Personal Development: Diversity, Social Studies: America, Social Studies: Patriotism, Personal Development: Loss

Grades: 3 & up

 

Educator Guide

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

 

Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren’t alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day.

 

 

PRAISE

“History made personal—and what a person! Deja’s voice is real and memorable, her compelling story one of hope unmarred by sentimentality.” —Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park

 

“Once again, Jewell Parker Rhodes uses the power of story to help young people make sense of their world, even among the most confusing of circumstances. Towers Falling is a great book for pairing with history/social studies, and a great book to help young readers untangle the knots of growing up in America. Jewell’s powerful fiction is almost magical.” —James Blasingame, Associate Professor of English, Arizona Sate University

 

“Extraordinary…  Every teacher of elementary and middle schoolers should read the book as they prepare to discuss the events of 9/11/01 with their students who have no memories of those events. It is a book that they will want to share with their students and that parents will want to share with their children. But Towers Falling is not only the story of Deja’s confusion about the towers that once stood in NYC. It is also a rich story of a family living in poverty and the importance of family. It is a story of friendships that cross cultural and racial boundaries. And it is a story of a classroom of students taught by a teacher who wants them to better understand community.” —Ann Neely, Associate Professor of the Practice of Education, Vanderbilt University

 

“In connecting a nation-changing event to the lives of today’s middle-graders, Rhodes makes a valuable contribution to the 9/11 canon.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

“This tender retelling of tragedy is a solid vessel to help young readers understand the gravity of 9/11 and how it touches all Americans, no matter where we come from.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

“Rhodes approaches a complex, painful topic with insight and grace, providing context to an event distant to the book’s audience.” —Publishers Weekly

 

“A welcome contribution to children’s literature.” —School Library Journal

 

“Rhodes has a talent for teaching kids to care about major events…her emphasis on critical thinking would make Towers Falling at home on a Common Core curriculum…Rhodes has created a curious, resilient character whose journey can help other children process the horrible events that shape the world into which they are born.” —TIME

 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

NPR’s Here & Now Interview

The Horn Book‘s Talks with Roger Interview

OverDrive’s Professional Book Nerds Podcast Interview

• The Nerdy Bookcast Launch Special: Books Help Teach Us How to Live, Part 1-3 

• TeachingBook.net Meet the Author

 

 

VIDEO

No Better Friend

No Better Friend coverNo Better Friend

A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II

By Robert Weintraub

Genre: Juvenile Non-fiction

Curriculum Subject: Adventure: Animals, Social Studies: Biographies, Social Studies: America

Grades: 5 & up

 

Educator Guide

 

A middle-grade edition of the New York Times bestselling No Better Friend-the extraordinary tale of friendship and survival in World War II.

 

No Better Friend tells the incredible true story of Frank Williams, a radarman in Britain’s Royal Air Force, and Judy, a purebred pointer, who met as prisoners of war during World War II. Judy, who became the war’s only official canine POW, was a fiercely loyal dog who sensed danger-warning her fellow prisoners of imminent attacks and, later, protecting them from brutal beatings. Frank and Judy’s friendship, an unbreakable bond forged in the worst circumstances, is one of the great recently uncovered stories of World War II.

 

As they discover Frank and Judy’s story in this specially adapted text, young readers will also learn about key World War II moments through informative and engaging sidebars, maps, photographs, and a timeline.

 

PRAISE

“Well-written and engaging.” —Booklist

 

“Riveting and highly moving.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

“An enormously readable account of animal and human companionship and survival; recommended for budding historians and fans of survival stories.” —School Library Journal

 

 

Girl in the Blue Coat

Girl in the Blue Coat

By Monica Hesse

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Social Studies; World History; WWII; Holocaust; Prejudice & Racism; Mysteries & Detective Stories

Grades: 7 & up

 

Educator Guide

 

Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

 

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person—a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.

 

PRAISE

Girl in the Blue Coat is a powerful, compelling coming-of-age story set against the dark and dangerous backdrop of World War II. It’s an important and page-turning look at the choices all of us—including young adults—have to make in wartime. A beautiful combination of heartbreak, loss, young love, and hope.”—Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale

 

“A tapestry of guilt and acceptance, growing responsibility, and reluctant heroism, Hanneke’s coming-of-age under heartbreaking circumstances is a jarring reminder of how war consumes and transforms the passions of ordinary life. Every devastating moment of this beautiful novel is both poignant and powerful, and every word feels true.” —Elizabeth Wein, New York Times bestselling author of Code Name Verity

 

★ “[An] affecting novel…that skillfully combines reality with fiction. Her characters come alive, and…Hesse’s pacing infuses her story with thriller suspense, enriching the narrative with dramatic surprises both small and large.” —Booklist

 

★ “Riveting… a gripping historical mystery.” —Publishers Weekly

 

★ “This fast-paced story is alternately touching, heart-pounding and wrenching-but always gripping. …a heartrending, moving story.” —VOYA

Dreamland Burning

dreamlandDreamland Burning

By Jennifer Latham

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Mystery & Detective Stories; Social Issues: Prejudice & Racism; Historical Fiction

Grades: 7 & up

 

[button link=”http://littlebrownlibrary.com/lb-school-podcast-jennifer-latham/”]LB School Podcast[/button][button link=”http://littlebrownlibrary.com/jennifer-latham-on-dreamland-burning/”]Author Essay[/button]

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

 

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

 

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

 

PRAISE

★ ”This timely story gives readers an unflinching look at the problem of racism, both past and present, while simultaneously offering the hope of overcoming that hatred.” –Booklist

 

★ ”Latham presents a fast-paced historical novel brimming with unsparing detail and unshakeable truths about a shameful chapter in American history. For more than 50 years, Tulsa’s schoolchildren didn’t learn about the race riot, and many outside of Tulsa remain unaware today. This masterfully told story fills this void. An unflinching, superbly written story about family, friendship, and integrity, set during one of America’s deadliest race riots.” –Kirkus Review

★ ” Latham’s enthralling, expertly paced plot will keep readers engaged, and the detailed imagery creates a strong sense of place in both time periods… Mystery fans will enjoy this cleverly plotted, suspenseful work, while the broader social issues will draw a wide audience.” –School Library Journal

One Today

One Today

By Richard Blanco

Illustrated by Dav Pilkey

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Social Studies: Patriotism, Songs/Poetry/Nursery Rhymes: America

Grades: PreK-1

 

Educator Guide

President Barack Obama invited Richard Blanco to write a poem to share at his second presidential inauguration. That poem is One Today, a lush and lyrical, patriotic commemoration of America from dawn to dusk and from coast to coast. Brought to life here by beloved, award-winning artist Dav Pilkey, One Today is a tribute to a nation where the extraordinary happens every single day.

 

PRAISE

★ “There are themes, motifs, and details that will make this a book to be read and reread, or simply looked at–for the images tell many stories too.” —Booklist

 

★ “When it was read, the poem was instantly acclaimed; Pilkey’s visual interpretation fully—and joyfully—honors it.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

★ “Richard Blanco is a graceful wordsmith, and Pilkey transforms his poem into a story that children can make their own.” — Publishers Weekly

 

“A special historic moment, caught in lyrical words and joyous illustrations.” —School Library Journal

 

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