Thursday, March 6, 2014

Year of the Jungle

I shared this book with three Senior English classes for several reasons. First of all, these students are about to embark on a big "Romantic Project" in which they will apply one of the tenets of Romantic literature to a poem from that time period, a modern song, and a picture book. Mrs. Farris-Hill, the fabulous teacher, and I saw this lesson as an opportunity to expose her students to the depth that can be found in picture books so that any stigma that they are "only for little kids" would be removed. It was a great way to get them to start thinking about the project without the students even knowing it (we are sneaky like that!).

The second reason I shared this book was in preparation for a presentation that I did for the Abydos Teachers and Trainers Conference in San Antonio. As an Abydos writing trainer for my district, I have to recertify every three years by presenting to a large group of literacy educators at the annual conference. This was a lesson that I modeled in my presentation, so I obviously needed to try it with kids. If you would like to read the rationale and research behind YNG @ <3 (Young at Heart): Engaging Teens with Picture Books, then you can click here for my handout, which includes an extensive bibliography of picture books to use in the secondary classroom.

Back to the lesson: First of all, the students made a tri-fold and labeled the columns as follows: Pictures, Words, Emotions.

We then accessed some background knowledge about the author Suzanne Collins. (Yes, THAT Suzanne Collins has written a picture book.) We made predictions about what the book would be about based on what we knew about Hunger Games. 

As I read the book, I paused in key spots for the students to reflect through writing. The book has four key pictures of a changing jungle scene. The students wrote their observations of the jungle scene and then wrote the emotion that was being expressed through the picture. The book also has several postcards that are shared, so we stopped and reflected on these in the words and emotions column. Here are some student examples:

Year of the Jungle generated a great deal of thought and emotion because it deals with heavy themes of how war affects children. The students told me that they were shocked that a picture book "could get that deep." When the students found out that Collins wrote this book based on her own childhood when her dad went to the Vietnam War, they connected it back to The Hunger Games. "Maybe that's why she writes such dark books," one student said. It was AWESOME to see them put the book in the context of the author's life and understand that we have to examine what is going on in an author's life in order to gain context, which brings more layers to a work.

After we discussed the book and it's circular structure (it's so important to analyze why Collins begins and ends the book in the same way), I showed the students the following video of the author and illustrator talking about the process behind creating this book:

The students enjoyed hearing about the collaborative efforts between the author and illustrator. Many of them said that they had no idea that so much thought went into making a picture book.

Remember that we were being sneaky about the Romantic Project? The students analyzed the imagery (pictures), diction (words), and tone (emotions) of Year of the Jungle, which is exactly what they will be doing with a poem, modern song, and picture book for the Romantic Project. This lesson served as a scaffold and also introduced them to the depth and richness that can be found in picture books.

As a former AP English III teacher, this lesson reminded me of teaching The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. If you teach this book, then Year of the Jungle would be an excellent pairing. Also, The Wall by Eve Bunting and Patrol:An American Soldier in Vietnam by Walter Dean Myers would be excellent text sets.

I just finished reading The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, one of my favorite authors. This book connects perfectly with Year of the Jungle and would be a  fabulous YA Contemporary book to recommend to students or teach as a whole class novel.

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