Speak, Bullying, Climate, and Books in General.

As I go through my school hard drive of files today, I found just a awesome review of books – and it reminds me how much an art it is to find literature that matches specific situations.  I am sure this is why I have loved literature, teaching English, and applying the life outside of the walls of schools to this life we go through everyday.  The synthesis of literature, genres, and reading, is not, and does not have to be a solitary activity.  As we begin the investigation of a book titled Speak, issues of climate change that  need to be dealt with, as well as issues that fall under the category of bullying, isolation and so much more, I find it comforting to know that books can be a go to for dealing with so many of these situations.  Making the start of the year being a list of genres that will help support the curriculum is as important as the curriculum itself.

“Books are a natural and necessary part of preparation and planning, as are newspapers, journals, and other media that excite the learner.”

Students delve into topics for greater awareness. They gain perspective and a point of view, particularly regarding situations we hope students will never be in, for example, experiencing a tsunami or extreme poverty. Their understanding of time and place becomes more attuned as they experience the convergence of past and current history.

Literature also shows different approaches to or writing styles on a similar theme and can include examples of what young people have accomplished through service.

As students decide to address bullying on campus and learn about this topic, elementary grades will relish The Bully Blockers Club by Teresa Bateman. Older students use this book to put on skits for the younger ones, and both benefit. James Howe’s Pinky and Rex and the Bully is excellent for elementary classrooms and The Misfits, for middle schools, is a book that has given birth to National No Name-Calling Week.

Now with two sequels, Totally Joe and Addie on the Inside, Howe’s books can inspire both the love of reading and the imperative for action. Deborah Ellis’ young adult novel Bifocal is exceptional for looking at how rumors and prejudice impact high school students in the wake of September 11.


Most notable in the nonfiction category is Ellis’s recent addition to her long list of excellent titles, We Want You to Know: Kids Talk About Bullying. A book for all ages, this compels students, teachers and administrators to move beyond awareness into a plan for change.


14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy would be perfect to read at the beginning of a September 11 commemoration. Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers by David McLimans could be used to teach numbers to students and could lead to a joint activity to care for the environment. The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden is hilarious to act out as a service learning activity around Earth Day or any day to raise awareness of litter and trash.


Here again books can be key. Empty by Suzanne Weyn is a brilliant young adult novel occurring ten years in the future when our planet is out of fossil fuels. As students reflect on an environmental service learning experience, using the characters and text of this novel would be exceptional. Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth shows a child reflecting on her front stoop as she considers what she will do to create beauty.

Now, here is my impossible top ten books list. Impossible, because my mind wants to say, “Oh, one more, and this one, too!” Here are my top ten for today. Tomorrow may be a different story!

The Curse of Akkad: Climate Upheavals that Rocked Human History by Peter Christie. This thrilling nonfiction treatise on how history has changed because of dramatic climate change is a real eye-opener and reads like a Jason Bourne thriller. Nonfiction, young adult.

In Our Village: Kambi ya Simba through the Eyes of Its Youth by Students of Awet Secondary School, edited by Barbara Cervone, is a service learning book that brings a small remote village in Tanzania into your classroom. This book was the impetus for me to initiate In Our Global Village with Barbara Cervone, which invites students around the world to write books back to the Awet students. Find out more at http://www.inourvillage.org. Nonfiction, all ages.

Jakeman by Deborah Ellis introduces us to kids in the foster care system. In telling of their escapades to visit their mothers on Mother’s Day, all of whom are in prison, they make you laugh, cry, and care. Nonfiction, young adult.

A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World by DK Publishing is a UNICEF book that brings the world into your classroom. All ages benefit from this informative nonfiction book. Two others in the series are A School Like Mine: How Children Learn Around the World and A Faith Like Mine: How Children Worship Around the World.

The Long March: The Choctaw’s Gift to Irish Potato Famine Relief by Mary-Louise Fitzpatrick is a story skipped in our text books, exquisitely written, and important to tell. I use this book in elementary to university presentations. A picture book.

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman is a point-of-view novel that shows how a child can influence an entire neighborhood to create a community garden. Fiction, grades 6 and up.

The Summer My Father Was Ten and Wanda’s Roses, both by Pat Brisson, are essential picture books. The first is about how a thoughtless act of vandalism becomes an opportunity for two generations to come together through a garden, and the second is about a girl creating a garden despite all the odds!

We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History by Phillip Hoose is a book belonging wherever young people are studying American History and want to know about what youth were doing. This thick book is rich with primary source materials and well-researched stories.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an exceptional novel told in first person by an 18-year-old who ends up in rehab and doesn’t know how he got there. With unexpected humor and intensity, this is a book for grades 11 and 12.

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian is pure joy. We meet Derek, who does not want to read his summer reading list and finds that drawing is his way to learn vocabulary. It’s filled with action, humor, a heartfelt resolution, and plenty of drawings by Jake Tashjian, the author’s teenage son. Novel, grades 4–6, and everyone else who wants to reach and teach children.


About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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