Four Months, 21 Authors, and 600 Students

BtB’s Fall 2015 Semester Program Wrap-up

It’s hard to believe a whole semester has passed and we’re launching full swing into our spring programming already. Looking back on our fall programs it’s clear we’ve covered some ground.

Fall reading list picThrough 25 programs with 21 authors, from first grade through 12th grade, our students have read fiction and nonfiction covering urban birds, space, immigration, the juvenile detention system, civil rights … and everything in between!

They’ve written personal stories and persuasive speeches; they’ve interviewed an astronaut and people who helped rebuild a community after a natural disaster. They’ve also gone on nature walks, created an indoor rainforest, and produced some fabulous artwork.

It’s amazing that all of these experiences began with a book!

Here’s a look at some of the books we used to inspire our students so far this year.


Renee WatsonA Place Where Hurricanes Happen

A place hwere hurricanes happen“New Orleans is a place where hurricanes happen. But that’s just one side of the story.” Written in free verse, this book allows readers of all levels to access the poignant stories of P1110130four friends who must part ways as Hurricane Katrina approaches.

The stories in this book celebrate the spirit and resilience of the children of New Orleans. To bring the book to life for our Brooklyn third grade class, we arranged a field trip to Port Side New York in Red Hook. Students got the chance to board the historic tanker, the Mary A. Whalen, to learn about their Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Our friends at PortSide NewYork arranged members of the NYCHA Red Hook Housing to share their own experiences of Hurricane Sandy.

Page McBrierBeatrice’s Goat

abeatrices goatBeatrice longs to go to school, but in her small African Village only children who can afford books and uniforms can attend. Her dream comes true when her family is given a goat by a charitable organization. By selling the goat’s milk Beatrice’s family can afford to send her to school.

Page McBrier’s story was a wonderful way to teach our students the concept of ‘paying it forward’. Using her book as their inspiration, students wrote stories about someone in their lives they wish to pay it forward to. Through this project, the children learned that not only did they make another person’s life better, but they themselves were rewarded with the knowledge that they can serve as positive, contributing members of their community.

Ginjer ClarkeWhat’s Up in the Amazon Rainforest

1whatsup in amazonGinjer Clarke’s book is a treasure trove of facts and vibrant photos of life in the Amazon Rainforest. Where in the world will you find 427 different types of mammals, 1,294 birds, 2,200 fishes, 378 reptiles, 428 amphibians, and about 1 million insects? The Amazon Rainforest, of course! In What’s Up in the Amazon Rainforest, students learn about the plants and animals, as well as the people that live there and the habitat itself.

Our fourth and fifth graders loved this nonfiction book. After meeting Ginjer to learn about her research and writing processes, students wrote letters advocating for rainforest conservation to public officials. The art project for this program inspired students to create their own classroom-sized rainforest. And our young explorers invited students from the whole school on guided tours of their own indoor rainforest!

Barbara BashUrban Roosts

1urban roostsSparrows take up residence in traffic lights, pigeons roost under train trestles, barn owls prefer highway overpasses and peregrine falcons raise families on skyscraper platforms. To a bird the city is a landscape of high stone cliffs and deep broad canyons. As people rush about with their eyes to the ground, birds are finding food and nesting sites in the most unusual places. Urban Roosts Where Birds Nest in the City reminds us all to raise our sights and notice the natural world around us – right in the center of the city!barbara bash with students

We were so excited to host Barbara Bash again this year. For our Urban Roosts program, third graders in two classes in Brooklyn and Harlem became experts in observation and research-based writing. They also learned the fine art of capturing their neighborhood birds on paper. After an observation field trip our young Audubon teams returned to their classrooms to create a mural using their new-found skills!

Doreen RappaportEscape from Slavery and No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance

2No More Doreen Rappaport

Escape From Slavery is a collection of stories of resistance written from the perspectives of the people who helped shape the escape from slavery covermovement from the early days of slavery to the Emancipation Proclamation. No More! is a compilation of eleven true accounts of African-Americans’ courageous struggle for dignity and freedom that put readers in the shoes of those taking part in many forms of slave resistance. We asked our students to create a character, using the stories featured in the book as inspiration, and write a persuasive speech about slavery.

BtB students researched their characters and wrote in the character’s voices. Our students words came to life as abolitionists, slaves, parents and politicians. A great lesson in empathy, history, civil rights, all with one piece of literature. They will perform their speeches, in period costumes, for the entire school.

Lesa Cline-RansomeFreedom’s School

2freedoms schoolWhen Lizzie’s parents are granted their freedom from slavery, Mama says it’s time for Lizzie and her brother Paul to go to a real school–a new one, built just for them. Lizzie can’t wait.

The walk to school is long. Sometimes there are dangers lurking along the way, like angry white folks with rocks, or mysterious men on horseback. The schoolhouse is still unpainted, and it’s very plain, but Lizzie has never seen a prettier sight. Except for maybe the teacher, Mizz Howard, who has brown skin, just like her. They’ve finally made it to Freedom’s School. But will it be strong enough to stand forever?

Our Freedom’s School program focused on rising to meet challenges. Using the story as inspiration, our special education 5th grade class wrote stories about a goal they identified for themselves, the steps they plan to take to achieve it, and problem-solve what to do if obstacles arise.

Edie and Raúl Colón – Goodbye Havana! Hola New York!

3goodbye havanaGoodbye Havana! Hola, New York! is a story based on Edie Colon’s immigration to New York City from Havana when she was in elementary school. It follows her character as she learns to speak English, navigate a new neighborhood and come to terms with missing home.

This is Edie Colon’s first book and her candid description of the lengthy writing, editing, revising and re-editing process were a great insight for our students. Our students were greatly heartened to see “all that red pen” on a manuscript that became a real book, as they embarked on their own publication process. After reading Edie Colon’s book, students interviewed immigrants in their school community and neighborhood. They also researched issues in Senegal, Yemen, United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and Cote D’Ivoire to write their own realistic fiction stories, to be published this spring.

Brian FlocaMoonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

3moonshotBrian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 is nonfiction written in lyrical prose about the first moon landing. With beautiful illustrations, interesting facts, and simple language, this book is perfect for readers of all levels. What’s not to love?

We designed a program around this book for one of our fifth grade classes in Harlem. Copy of DSC04662 closeup MikeAfter Mr. Floca spoke to the class on the research process involved in writing his book, students rose to the challenge of plowing through highly scientific information to create their own writing pieces. With help from the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, we brought our students to the museum to interview NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino. Inspired by a real astronaut and a great author, students used their newly acquired research skills to write and publish their own book about space travel. It’s amazing where one book can take you!

Selina AlkoThe Case for Loving

alko case for lovingThis is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love. They were forced to get married in Washington, D.C and when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested for violating that state’s laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents’ love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court – and won!

We used The Case for Loving to inspire a program about how laws in the United States have changed to better protect human rights.  Using their knowledge of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students chose a human right to address. For their writing project, students described how the law has changed the condition of that human right and how they would improve things further if they were in charge.

Steve MetzgerPluto visits Earth

apluto visits earthPluto is not pleased when he learns that astronomers have downgraded him from planet to dwarf planet. He embarks on a fun and out-of-this-world adventure across the solar system to visit Earth and reclaim his planetary status.

Along the way, Pluto bumps into his moons and other planets. But it’s a boy on Earth who makes him realize that, big or small, planet or not, he is still special.

Our fourth graders loved debating and taking sides on the issue of Pluto’s planetary status! After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, Steve Metzger asked each student to choose a planet to research. Based on their research and inspired by Pluto’s adventure in the book, they were asked to describe and solve a problem that their planet might encounter. Guided by Jared D. Lee’s illustrations, our students designed cartoon planets using sponge painting techniques.

Marthe JocelynTime is When and Hannah and the Seven Dresses

hanna 7 dresses time is whenThese two books by Marthe Jocelyn always engage our youngest readers. Marthe’s workshops with our first and second grade special education class brought together her distinctive collage art and fun, interactive readings of her books. Students learned how to use the detailed and descriptive language within the book to develop their own understanding of time, color, pattern, and texture. This year, our students were so excited to meet a special visitor: the real Hannah! Marthe’s daughter, who inspired the book Hannah and the Seven Dresses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After choosing a season, a day of the week and a time of day, students created their own collage to illustrate the time they’d chosen and wrote descriptive sentences to describe that time. We love learning the who, what, when, where, and why’s with our youngest readers.

Rita Williams-Garcia – One Crazy Summer

1one crazy summerEleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She had no choice since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. When they arrive in California to spend the summer with her, Cecile is nothing like they imagined. While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.

Rita’s story inspired our students to discuss activism and identify the social justice issues important to them. Guided by our teaching artist, seventh graders created slogans and posters that depicted the issues they’d chosen.

Patricia McCormick –  Sold

1soldLakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.

Ninth graders from Collegiate Institute of Math and Science on their tour of the Bronx District Attorney’s Office as part of last year’s Sold program.

Patricia McCormick’s powerful story of a girl sold into slavery is told in a series of moving vignettes. Our grade nine students in the Bronx read Sold as a realistic fiction story that centers on a contemporary issue. Mirroring Patricia McCormick’s research and interviewing techniques, students wrote short interviews on current topics. For this program, we brought students to the Bronx DA’s office to attend a criminal arraignment and to meet with people who oversee human trafficking cases. It’s heavy subject matter for teenagers to absorb, but we’re always proud of how thoughtfully our students respond to the issues raised in this book and through the field trip.

Paul GriffinTen Mile River

10mile riverPaul Griffin’s YA novel Ten Mile River, is always a great hit with our ninth graders. The story, about the intense friendship and constant struggles of two homeless youths living in upper Manhattan, brings to life so many issues of friendship, loyalty, the choices people make, and their consequences. During his writing workshops Paul Griffin works with students on the theme: “You can’t get on with your life until you tell your story.”

Using the characters from Ten Mile River BtB students worked on personal essays about their journeys — their dreams, how those dreams began, those who inspired them, and how they’ll pursue their passions. Their essays will be published in a book of student work this spring.

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Whether it’s a character in a book, an art project that reflects a story, or a field trip that brings the story to life, the key to our programs is engaging our students. Great books offer countless ways to inspire young readers. We hope you’ll share some of these stories with your young readers as well.