Fly Away Home
by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Ronald Himler. Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades 1-5.
Find this book: Amazon
This is a sensitive book about a boy and his dad who live at the airport. Homelessness is not a common subject for any children's book and a picture book on this small family is a daring deed for Bunting and Himler to attempt. They had to walk a fine line to tell us this story. A misstep in any direction would have brought condescension, over-simplification, false cheerfulness or hopelessness yet Fly Away Home is free of all these things.
As with any picture book, it's good to start with the cover. On this one we have the dejected father in an airport waiting area with his son leaning over the seat to drape his arms across his father's shoulders. Both are clean and dressed in plain blue (the boy narrator warns often about the dangers of being noticed.) The father's hands hold a large blue bag and beside him on the seat is a smaller one. We'll learn in the book, that these contain their only possessions. In the background are a man and woman obviously waiting to welcome travelers off the flight that may be arriving even now. Not under strictures to be unnoticed, this couple wears bright colors.
To open the book is to get an insight into a counterculture that most of us don't even know exists. The matter of fact narrative by the boy tells us a story of coping with misfortune and homelessness. There is no preaching here, neither does the author/narrator offer a simplistic solution. There is hope here, however. The boy has watched a sparrow trapped inside the airport for days slip out of an open door at the right moment and "Fly away home." We and the boy hope he and his father, as well as the other homeless people in this book, find their opportunity to do the same.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- What is important about having a home? In what ways does having a home help people? What is this small family missing by not having one?
- The parallel between the sparrow and the boy's family is not difficult symbolism but some children may have to be helped to see it.
- The boy says "Not to be noticed is to look like nobody at all." Children should be helped to see what that statement means in all its implications.
- Rereading the book with an eye toward what the various people in this book value and how their values compare with those of the children in your class is a worthwhile activity. These people may be homeless but they are not valueless. Help the children see how they are coping with this difficult situation without hurting anybody. They have not turned to crime in order to get a place to live. The father goes off to a part time job. They are constantly looking for a way out: an apartment they can afford, better paying work. They are staying clean, washing up with full flights of people in the washrooms. The boy's father is insisting that, when it comes time, the boy will go to school even though he's not sure how he will manage it. There is compassion toward others in the book and real friendships between some of the homeless people.
- With older children, a little research is in order here. Why aren't the boy and his father being helped? What about welfare? Surely they deserve it. Have the students find out about the eligibility for receiving welfare in your area and see if the boy and his father would qualify. Where would the checks be sent?
- Speaking of your area, what's available for the homeless in your area? What alternatives do they have? Is there someone from a homeless shelter in your town who could talk with your class?
- The subject is too awful and too big to be used in a frivolous way. Let the children zero in on things they can do to bring attention to the homeless in their area and to help in very real ways. They can organize food drives, help at a soup kitchen, donate warm clothing, and write letters to newspapers, politicians and government officials. Real work and real awareness are in order here. The book is a powerful one but we should not let it leave children with overwhelming fears about losing their homes or with feeling hopeless about their ability to help.
Grades 1 - 5
It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Nonfiction Picture Book. 32 pages.
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Taylor was 85 and homeless when he first discovered his love of drawing. Using scraps of paper and anything else he could find he drew powerful scenes from his years as a child in slavery and the years that followed. This title goes across many areas of the curriculum; occupations, art and artists, African American history, slavery, reconstruction, aging and biographies. An introduction and afterword expand on the information offered in the story.
Grades 3 - 9
It's Our World Too: Young People Who Are Making a Difference: How They Do It--How You Can, Too! by Phillip Hoose. Nonfiction. 176 pages.
Find this book: Local Bookstore, Amazon, B&N
So much of the news of young people in our society is sad that it was fun to read It's Our World Too. I thought by the cover that these were all young adults but the chapter that moved me most was about a class of first and second graders in Sweden who bought a rain forest. The writing is personal, emotional and so skillful that the young people cited here seem real and not too good to be true. Their projects were/are worthwhile, possible to emulate, and inspiring. This is a book to hand to students and teachers who are reading about the environment, the homeless, the handicapped and the disenfranchised and are feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about any and all of these problems. Read More.
Related Areas Within Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web Site
We are just about to finish up our third writing unit from Teacher's College/Lucy Calkins, so I wanted to share how it went, what we did, what worked and what (definitely) did not work!
This quarter we focused on writing Literary Essays, which, before working my way through this unit, I could not have explained to anyone! So, since I wasn't 100% sure what a Literary Essay was and I knew my students weren't either, we started by just reading a bunch of sample essays and discussing what they were.
Our writing kit comes with access to several examples of Literary Essays written by students, so we read over a few of them and discussed our findings, and then I put together an anchor chart of all of the things we noticed (or that I wanted them to notice and they didn't).
For the first bend of this unit, instead of using an actual text, we watched the Panyee Football Club Video and used that as our "piece of literature". Although I think it was a bit confusing for them that we used a video in the first bend and then used text in the second bend, I do think that this was a nice way to start the unit because they didn't mind watching, re-watching, and analyzing bits of the video over and over again.
After watching the video a few times, I asked them to look for common themes, lessons, character traits, etc... I emphasized that one way to come up with a claim is to pinpoint something in the text/video that you have seen before and we discussed how the characters worked hard like the characters in many different stories and movies, how people didn't believe in them at first which we see in a lot of stories, etc... Below is a list of all of the claims that we came up with:
After that, I had them pick a few claims and try out writing a thesis statement/lead/introduction (I'm trying to use all three terms so they know that they all mean the same thing). We used the graphic organizer below to do this and when students felt that they had one claim that they could write a strong thesis statement for, they chose that as the one that they would use to write the rest of their essay.
Once we all had our claims and thesis statements ready to go, we worked on collecting evidence from the video in order to create strong body paragraphs.
Finally, they wrote their own essays and I took home a stack of 36 papers ready to grade them all over the weekend. Unfortunately, however, when I started to read them, I noticed that more than half of both of my classes wrote summaries of the entire video instead of actual Literary Essays. They included quotes and plenty of details from the video, but they just did not seem to get that they were supposed to focus only on the parts of the video that supported their claim.
At that point I decided to create a checklist for writing a Literary Essay and I used it to score all of their essays. Before giving the essays back, I showed them the checklist and had them use it to grade two of the sample student essays that we had looked at at the beginning of the unit.
I think that seeing what I expected to be included in each section of the checklist as well as being able to read samples of text that included all of the necessary components really helped them to figure out what they needed to do. I gave them more time to edit and revise using the checklist and their second drafts were much better!
For the second bend, they were able to choose their texts and they completed most of the writing process on their own with guidance when needed or requested. I hung up the chart below and had them stick a sticky note with their name on it to whichever step they were on each day.
Our team agreed that the suggested texts for this bend were a little too long and complex for our students, so we decided on four short stories: (We just googled these titles and found PDFs of them online that we printed for the kids)
Everything Will Be Okay by James Howe
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
The Marble Champ by Gary Soto
Birthday Box by Jane Yolen*
*Disclaimer: I cried when I read this one aloud to the class
We did have to go back and review transition words and when/how to use them in the middle of this bend, so I made this chart as a reference tool:
Now they are all typing up their essays and I will be grading them (hopefully) over spring break!
If you are interested in using any of my anchor charts and/or graphic organizers that I created for this unit you can grab them here!
I have not been doing the best job of keeping up with our Growing Words (a.k.a. Greek & Latin prefixes, root words, and suffixes) this quarter so this week we dove back in to that starting with the Root Words Aqua- and Hydr-, which both mean water.
On day 1 I introduced the root words using my little presentation that you can grab here.
Last week I posted all about my Word Reference Materials unit which worked out really nicely for most of my kids, but I have a few who are really struggling with answering questions about guide words. They just can't seem to wrap their mind around the fact that they need to alphabetize and check if a word comes after the first guide word and before the second guide word.
I've been trying to give them some strategies to tackle these questions like writing the alphabet at the top of their page, putting the words in between the guide words and checking the alphabetical order, etc... I even made them this little anchor chart to refer back to, which sadly got a little crumpled in the laminator.
Here is a digital copy in case you are interested in using it in your classroom!
We practiced using these strategies with a few questions in a presentation that you can grab for free below!