These books have been chosen to reflect the diversity of an urban classroom but are also selected with a broad range of subjects to engage readers with different interests. The language of these books falls mostly in the lower end of Junior grades, so they are accessible to a broad range of reading abilities. The stories feature, indigenous, black, white, and brown characters and have protagonists who are male and female. Two of the novels are historical and based on true stories while the others are contemporary fiction. They address several themes including; the effects of racism and sexism, the impact of residential schools on indigenous families, the challenges of young people to engage with books and the cultural mis-adventures of a white, North American boy visiting Mumbai.

Cover of As Long as the Rivers Flow

As Long as the Rivers Flow

The story is a vignette of one summer in a 10-year-old Cree boys life before he is taken to residential school for the first time. It provides insight into the lives of a first nations family in 1944 and their connection to the land. The text is accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

 

Booked

An athletic youth is sidelined by injury and forced to focus his free time on reading - his father’s passion, but not his. A turbulent family situation combined with the challenges of bullying, friendship and a first crush all wrapped up in a combination of free version, haiku and other poetry styles makes this an unusual and engaging read.

 

Mission Mumbai

Rohit and Dylan are two young North American boys (one East Indian and one white) who travel to India with Rohit’s family for a vacation. Dylan’s inexperience with Indian culture puts some strain on their friendship as Rohit attempts to help him adjust to the unusual surroundings and culture. The cultural adventure opens Dylan’s eyes to the differences around him and brings home the importance of friendship when navigating the world.

 

Hidden Figures

Three African-American female mathematicians work in NASA’s early space program as human computers. Their exceptional mathematical abilities are harnessed to help bring the American space program to success at a time when blacks and women were not generally welcome in technology-related work-places. It touches on the racial tension in the US at that time but focuses on the extraordinary contribution of these three women.

as long as the rivers flow2

This is a vignette of one summer in a 10-year-old Cree boys life before he is taken to residential school for the first time. It provides insight into the lives of a first nations family in 1944 and their connection to the land. The text is accompanied by beautiful illustrations.

Author: Larry Loyie
Genre: Biography
Keywords: first nations, indigenous, residential school, Cree
Appropriateness for Junior Grades: The text is written for a low junior level of reading and the book is only 44 pages including illustrations so it is a quick read. The accompanying artwork may help to draw in more hesitant readers and makes the story more vivid. It’s an appropriate starting point for introducing the topic of residential schools to a younger, more sensitive audience and for helping them to understand the impact those schools had on the lives of indigenous children and their families for generations.
Sample text: https://www.amazon.ca/As-Long-as-Rivers-Flow/dp/0888996969#reader_0888996969

Classroom Suggestions

What could be taught using this text in terms of content, themes, and/or literacy?

  • Content: Understanding how indigenous peoples lived on the land and functioned as families prior to residential schools. Understand a different culture and consider the impact that going to a residential school had on children.
  • Themes: Impact of residential schools on families lives, learning by doing (different learning from classroom learning), Cree culture, respect for and learning from elders
  • Literacy: Understanding autobiographies, biographies and memoirs.

Student Activities

Activity 1

Have students write a short composition about how their life would have changed if they had been sent to a modern-day boarding school at the age of 10. How would affect their relationship with their siblings, parents, extended family? How would it affect their spare time, sports, hobbies, friendships, etc.? After they’ve completed a first draft, have them exchange their work for peer review and then revise their own work to improve it. After first revision submit draft to teacher for feedback. Make further revisions to work and submit completed assignment.

Alternative topic: they could choose to write about Lawrence’s life and what it might have been like if he hadn’t been sent away.

  • Link to Language Curriculum Grade 6: Writing 1.2, 1.5, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6, 2.7. Reading 1.1, 1.5, 1.6.

Activity 2

This activity cross links to the Arts curriculum to engage students in the text who are more visual and to deepen the understanding of all students who engage with the text. Look at each of the pictures in the book. Select 5 of them and discuss them in detail. What is your first impression of the image? What feelings does the image convey? Look at the faces in those pictures. What do their expressions convey? Light is an important design element in many of the pictures. How is light used in each of the pictures you’ve chosen? Look at the colours What else catches your attention in the pictures? Why do you supposed the author chose to include the photos?

  • Link to Arts Curriculum: Grade 6 D2.1

Activity 3

Art: use watercolours to produce a work similar to the illustrations in the book that illustrates an event in the book of the students choosing. Pay close attention to the elements of art; in particular colour, value and shape which are key elements of the illustrators works. See Pastro, H.A., (2005) for more detail on understanding these elements of art.

  • Link to Arts Curriculum: Grade 6 D1.2

y648

Three African-American female mathematicians work in NASA’s early space program as human computers. Their exceptional mathematical abilities are harnessed to help bring the American space program to success at a time when blacks and women were not generally welcome in technology-related work-places. It touches on the racial tension in the US at that time but focuses on the extraordinary contribution of these four women.

Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: Historical non-fiction
Keywords: Biography, empowered women, black women, racial tension, space race, science, STEM, mathematics
Appropriateness for the junior learner: This book was modified from the original to make it appropropriate for young readers. The topic is engaging and makes roll-models of some exceptional black women in a STEM-related field.

Classroom Suggestions

What could be taught using this text in terms of content, themes, and/or literacy?

  • Content: Gaining an understanding of the structural and social, race and sexual discrimination in North American Society.  
  • Themes: the effect of racism and sexism on American society, perseverance in the face of adversity, the effect of race on people’s behaviour
  • Literacy: Character Analysis, Theme analysis

How could students respond to this text?

Activity 1

As a class, create a list of as many themes as students found in the book. Have each student select one theme and write a short essay that describes how that theme is revealed throughout the book with examples that support their position.

  • Link to Curriculum Grade 6 Reading 1.4. Writing 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, 1.6.

Activity 2

Given the availability of an excellent movie based on this story, consider watching the movie after the book as been read and also use activities tied to the movie. Have the students watch the movie after reading the book. Think. Pair. Share. Consider the following questions: Why was this movie made? What message are the producers sending. Who was the messages intended for? How might different types of people react or respond to this movie and why? Whose point of view is presented in the movie? When the women are stopped by the police on their way to work, how does the film play with our understanding of stereotypes: How is the police officer dressed? How does he speak? What does he say? How are we expecting him to react?

  • Link to Grade 6 Media Literacy 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 2.2. Oral Communication 2.2.

Activity 3

It's hard not to go cross curricular into Mathematics for this book although the math for space flight might be a little beyond Grade 6. The good news is that NASA has produced a collection of space related math questions for your students to investigate. Because there's no way of knowing where you are in the math curriculum, I would recommend looking for a problem in  https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/377727main_Lunar_Math.pdf that matches up with something you've already covered in math. Try page 38 and 39 in the NASA Lunar Math guide for questions related to Data Management or page 32 or 33 for Measurement questions or page 26 for a Probability question.

  • Link to Grade 6 Math Curriculm (Measurement. Data Mangement and Probability).

 

Booked cover

An athletic youth is sidelined by injury and forced to focus his free time on reading - his father’s passion, but not his. A turbulent family situation combined with the challenges of bullying, friendship and a first crush all wrapped up in a combination of free version, haiku and other poetry styles makes this an unusual and engaging read.

Author: Kwame Alexander
Genre: Sports, Poetry, Fiction
Keywords: soccer, sports, poetry, family dynamics, divorce,
Appropriateness for Junior Grades: The text is very accessible for junior readers and the main character’s affinity for soccer will appeal to an audience who are more interested in sports than academics. Some of the subjects addressed in the novel are sensitive and occasionally some of the language is challenging so it’s important that as a teacher you’ve read through the text completely so that you’re prepared to manage the discussion around those areas. Marital breakdown and divorce feature in this book and is likely to resonate with children who have personal experience with it.

Sample Text: https://www.amazon.com/Booked-Kwame-Alexander/dp/0544570987/#reader_0544570987

Classroom Suggestions

What could be taught using this text in terms of content, themes, and/or literacy?

  • Content: The story covers a broad range of topics for investigation including divorce, friendship, love, sports and the different relationships people have with words.
  • Themes: Young people finding their own way in the world
  • Literacy: Different forms of poetry

How could students respond to this text?

Activity 1 - Found Poetry

Use the technique Mr. Mac used in Booked to create a new poem from an existing work to create your own poem. Select a page or poem from Booked and select words to create a new message (poem in free-verse) using those words. See if you can do it keeping the words in the order they appear on the page, or re-arrange them if necessary. Students may select a different book as their source material. When students have completed their poems, have them read them aloud and discuss how the new poem is different from the original source. (Language Grade 6 Reading 1.1. Oral 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4)

Activity 2 - Write a Poem and Perform It

  • Explore Words and their Sounds. Working independently, have students choose a poem in the book that they think focuses on the sounds made by words through the literary devices of alliteration, repetition and rhyming. Class discussion of the impact these tools have on the writing and readers reaction to the writing. Students create their own poems of any form including free verse using these literary devices. Review samples of rap and slam poetry to broaden their perspective on different styles. This exercise may be extended to include a performance of their work accompanied by appropriate music or constructed as a rap with appropriate backing track or as a slam poem with accompanying soundtrack. Students may wish to produce their work as an audio or video track rather than performing live. Class discusses each work and talks about who the intended audience for the work is. Discuss why the poem will reach and resonate with the intended audience. Discuss how other audiences might perceive the message (Language curriculum Oral Communication 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5. Arts Curriculum Music C1.2, C1.3)

Activity 3 - Fun with Malapropisms

  • The book includes a number of malapropisms. Working alone, have students make a list of the malapropisms they can find throughout the book. After they’ve compiled their list, have then work in pairs to discuss what word should have been used and what impact the malapropism had on what the reader was saying. Have each of the pairs talk about one of the malapropisms that they liked the best, what the correct word should be and why they think the author chose to use that word in that situation. (Language Grade 6 Oral Communication 2.2. Reading 2.4).
mission mumbai final cover1Rohit and Dylan are two young North American boys (one East Indian and one white) who travel to India with Rohit’s family for a vacation. Dylan’s inexperience with Indian culture puts some strain on their friendship as Rohit attempts to help him adjust to the unusual surroundings and culture. The cultural adventure opens Dylan’s eyes to the differences around him and brings home the importance of friendship when navigating the world.

Author: Mahtab Narsimhan
Genre: Young adventure
Keywords: Mumbai, India, cultural exploration, culture shock, children’s books, humour, friendship
Appropriateness for junior grades: This book is written for junior readers. The content is age appropriate but addresses many topics including; friendship, cultural difference, complex family dynamics, divorce, body image, parental expectations and delicious food. The writing is accessible for a grade 5 to 6 level.

Classroom Suggestions

What could be taught using this text in terms of content, themes, and/or literacy?

  • Content: Cultural differences between India and North America. The importance of friendship and strong family relationships.
  • Themes: Why different people can be good friends, The grass is always greener, culture clash

How could students respond to this text?

Activity 1 - Graffiti

Break students into random groups of three or four. Distribute large sheets of paper to each group. Each paper has a discussion question selected by the teacher from the author’s Discussion Question and Activities https://www.mahtabnarsimhan.com/wp-content/themes/wpnovelist/docs/Mission_Mumbai_Discussion_questions_&_Activities.pdf . Students take time to think about the question and then record their responses on the paper. After a set period of time, the groups move on to a different question and repeat the process without reading the responses from the previous group. When all groups have responded to all questions, they return to their original question to review all the answers. If possible have each group summarize the answers to their question and present to the class.

  • Link to Language Curriculum Grade 6 Oral 1.2. Reading 1.4, 1.6.

Activity 2 - Writing About You and Your Favourite Character

Rohit and Dylan see themselves as modern-day Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings. Have students think of who their favourite character is from a book, movie, video game, TV Show, etc. and write a few paragraphs about how they are like the character and how they are different. Have them consider whether they would really like to be that character. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being that character? Be aware of word choice and select words and use figurative language, innovative expressions and vivid words. Student should be prepared to discuss their choice of words.

  • Link to Language Curriculum Reading 1.9. Writing 1.2, 2.3, 2.4

Alternative texts to consider:

  • Good-bye Buffalo Bay - Another book by Larry Loyie, this book offers a more in-depth exploration of the residential school experience by one student in his final year and his experiences upon leaving the school and attempting to re-integrate into his First Nations society. The writing level of the book fairly low so it is accessible to younger readers, but because this book talks specifically about the school experience, it’s a more difficult read for students and probably more suitable for older students. There is some violence directed toward children in the book which some may find distrubing; however, the violence is not sensationalized or dwelt upon for long so consider whether your readers would be able to handle it. Compared to what is on TV and videos in prime time, this book is quite tame.
  • The Cross-Over - Another book by Kwame Alexander that weaves the love of basketball through the lives of twin brothers as they struggle with dramatic changes in their lives and loss. Written in Alexander's signature poetic style. This is really a fun book and will definitely appeal to kids who are into sports and maybe not so much into reading. It's a quick read (a couple of hours) and because of it's free verse style of writing, it's not too dense. The really uses the style to great advantage in moving the story quickly and emphasizing the drama and activity in the story. If you're never read a free verse novel before, this is a good entry point. The story is classroom safe. Even reading this book as an adult, I really enjoyed the story. I listened to it as a talking book and the performance of the book is very well done.

References and Additional Resources

General

Pastro, H.A., (2005) The Elements of Art (Ch 7). In K. Grauer & R.L. Irwin (Eds.), Starting with...(2nd Ed.) (pp.51-60). Tronto, ON: CSEA.

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. (September 2010). What Works? Research into Practice #28. Integrated Curriculum. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/ww_integrated_curriculum.pdf

As Long as the Rivers Flow

Unit plan: https://fnmiresources.weebly.com/uploads/4/0/1/3/40137599/complete_unit_plans_for-_as_long_as_the_rivers_flow_novel_study_21.pdf

Teachers Resources (subscription required): https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=486

Unit plan:https://teacherprogram.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/gr4-8_riversflow.pdf

Hidden Figures

Teachers Resource Guide (for purchase): https://shop.scholastic.com/teachers-ecommerce/teacher/books/hidden-figures-9780062662378.html?esp=TSO%2Fib%2F05132017%2Ftopblog%2Fother%2F%2FCRAWFORD%2F%2F

Family Discussion Guide: http://dx35vtwkllhj9.cloudfront.net/twentiethcenturyfox/hidden-figures/images/family-discussion-guide.pdf

Curriculum Guide (Based on movie): https://journeysinfilm.org/download/hidden-figures-curriculum-guide/

NASA Lunar Math: https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/377727main_Lunar_Math.pdf

Booked

Teaching Books Link: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=48424

Activity Guide from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt https://www.teachingbooks.net/agr.cgi?r=1&ri=39663&url_id=121363&i=508256&x=1

http://www.theclassroombookshelf.com/2016/05/booked/

https://www.npr.org/2016/04/03/472859082/how-to-hook-kids-on-books-try-poetry

Teachers - Student Workbook for Booked (for purchase): https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/BOOKED-by-Kwame-Alexander-Student-Novel-Study-2845917

Mission Mumbai

Discussion questions from the Author: https://www.mahtabnarsimhan.com/wp-content/themes/wpnovelist/docs/Mission_Mumbai_Discussion_questions_&_Activities.pdf

Teaching Books Link: https://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=54718