Saturday, May 25, 2013

World War I Story Inspires Students

Knit your Bit was an inspired pick for my language groups this week. Once again, I have our school librarian, Allison Brown, to thank for locating the book and our parents’ club for donating it. With Memorial Day coming on Monday, this World War I story by Deborah Hopkinson was a great choice. Steven Guarnaccia’s illustrations were engaging. They drew my students into the story-world with cheery colors and expressive faces.

Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story

A few of the kids tried their hand at illustrating some scenes.

One clever child thought a snowflake-style sock might look like a knitted one from the story.

This historical fiction takes place in 1917 when the United States entered World War I. The soldiers’ clothes weren’t adequate to face the harsh winter conditions so the Red Cross stepped in and alerted the nation.  Soon men, women and children across the country picked up knitting needles and clicked away to produce warm clothing for the soldiers. They knitted in classrooms, churches and even on the subway. Knitting clubs formed, knitting bees popped up, and on July 30, 1918 a three-day “Knit-In” was held at Central Park in New Your City. That provided the model for the Knitting Bee of Knit your Bit.

 This first person picture book begins with Mikey’s father departing for the war.

            When Pop left to be a soldier, I wanted to go with him.
                        “I’m brave,” I told Pop.
            “I know, Mikey,” he said, patting my shoulder. “And you’ll need to be, ‘cause it takes just as much courage to stay behind.”

Mikey discovered a new kind of courage when, on a dare, he joined a knitting competition. It was the Boy’s Knitting Brigade against the Purl Girls. Before the knitting bee battle began, Mikey’s brigade had to learn how to knit. The girls, on the other hand, were experienced knitters. This three-day competition had its ups and downs and zigs and zags but in the end, well, I won’t take you there, you’ll just have to read the book to discover the winner. From my students’ perspective, and mine, the readers of this book are the real winners. It is a touching story and need not be saved for Memorial Day.

Toward the end of the book, a wounded soldier wandered by Mikey struggling with his knitting needles; I struggled to keep my voice from breaking as I read their interaction through a watery-eyed blur (it must have been the pollen in the air).

The author’s note at the back of this book gives historical information and a couple of great websites if you’re inclined toward further research. One tid bit new to me was the discovery that there are still groups of people knitting for soldiers today. You can find out more here:

After reading this story, my students talked a little about Memorial Day, but they talked more of how people can help each other. Landen likes to help people learn to play new games, Eleazar helps friends when they fall on the playground, and Darius thinks it’s important to help people get food when they’re hungry. Amelia told me that her sister, Lilah, is doing something similar to Mikey in the story. She and a friend have joined their school-bus driver to knit scarves for the homeless in our community. Like Mikey, they’ve discovered we can all contribute something to the world, we can all “Knit our Bit” and change the texture of our world.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

This Book Was a Good Idea!

That is Not a Good Idea! Actually, I think it is a very good idea – the book that is – and my early elementary students couldn’t agree more. Mo Willems’ story had them all laughing from the first page when the fox and goose made bug-eyed eye contact.

That Is Not a Good Idea!

The fox’s facial expression left no doubt he was enamored with the goose, though his intent toward her was questionable. After showing a group of kindergarten students the illustration on the first page, I asked them what the fox might be thinking. Emanuel thought he was in love and wanted to marry the goose. Brenden said, “ He’s thinking, ‘I want to eat her!’”  Later in the story, when the fox invited the goose into his kitchen, Liam blurted, “He’s going to cook her up!”

Throughout the story, adorable little goslings kept popping in, chirping, “That is not a good idea!” The warnings grew as the story progressed and went from one little egg-shaped gosling to six shouting “That is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY NOT a good idea!” Whenever I turned a page to the warning, my students read the words along with me with great enthusiasm.

The kids loved this book and they especially loved the goslings. Every time they appeared on a page, all the students started chattering at once, pointing to the details – bow tie, glasses, facial expressions, flurry of wings. They were so charmed by the illustrations they wanted to make some of their own. Take a look at the work of these budding artists.

We had a sprinkling of rain the day after I read the book and one of my speech students broke into a run as he neared my room (and broke a school rule in the process.) He slipped on the metal ramp and rushed into my room rubbing his elbow. As he came in he said, “That was REALLY, REALLY, REALLY not a good idea!”  He was right. And I think I’m right when I say it was REALLY, REALLY, REALLY a good idea to introduce Mo Wilems’ latest book to my students.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day and The Curious Garden

With Mother’s Day around the corner, our students have been busy painting flowers, crafting cards, and purchasing plants for the important women in their lives.
Art from Marcia Douglas' Kindergarten class


Lucky for these kids, we have a well-stocked garden on the school grounds and a teacher, Julie Castillo, who passes along her knowledge and love of plants. This week she introduced the students to “Lady Bug City” where the children went in search of a friendly ladybug or two.

After visiting the garden on Thursday, my students came to speech bubbling with information about their plant purchases so I chose a book to fit the theme: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.


The book begins on a dreary note with a dreary, smoke-filled city.

“There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind. Most people spent their time indoors. As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.”

But a little boy in the story, Liam, loved the outdoors. He went exploring one drizzly day and discovered a “lonely patch of color” on an abandoned railway. The plants were dying and in need of a gardener. It wasn’t long before Liam became that gardener and the dying plants became a garden – a very curious one.

“Most gardens stay in one place. But this was no ordinary garden. With miles of open railway ahead of it, the garden was growing restless. It wanted to explore.
The tough little weeds and mosses were the first to move. They popped up farther and farther down the tracks and were closely followed by the more delicate plants.”

My students responded with enthusiasm to the story and they surprised me with gasps of wonder when I turned a page and they saw the transformation that plants made to a dilapidated building, an old wooden dock and a concrete parking lot. Lush greens spilled over rooftops and vibrant colors sprouted across the page. By the end of the story, there were no doubts – a garden can bring beauty even to the drabbest of places. This curious garden brought beauty to drab lives, too, as people of the town came out-of-doors and tended gardens all around the city.

On Friday, one of my autistic students showed me a three-inch manila envelope full of sunflower seeds she’d collected from our school garden. I assumed she was taking them home but after she left my room, I saw her outside the window, bent over my weed-filled barrel. She cleared out a mat of dried chickweed, emptied the envelope, and tucked soil around her gift.

Our Redwood students enjoy learning about plant life, insects, and gardening, but I think they are discovering something more – a variety of ways to bring beauty into our world.