Children Under Construction: Critical Essays on Play as Curriculum
Edited by Drew Chappell
(Peter Lang, 2010)
309 pp., $35.95
Children’s play is increasingly constricted by schools, commercialized by the market, and colonized by adults. This superb collection of essays seeks to challenge these trends by redefining play so that it serves the needs of children. The essays, written by a broad range of artists and teachers, look at how different forms of play can help children recreate identities, challenge socially imposed body images, and address moral and social justice issues. The authors examine the role of play for children of all ages and offer teachers ideas on how to better understand and use play in their classrooms.
The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health and a Vision for Change
By Annie Leonard
(Free Press, 2010)
317 pp., $26
More than 10 million people have viewed the free animated film Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.org) because producer Annie Leonard shares vital, sophisticated scientific and socioeconomic information in a way that is easy to understand and remember. Her book (based on the film) is no exception. She breaks down what we should know about stuff into five key sections: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Although providing much more detail than the film, the text is still easy to understand, thanks to her clear prose, simple drawings, and humor. The Story of Stuff paints a grim picture of how we are treating the planet as one more disposable item. Thankfully, the last chapter is “Writing the New Story” and the appendix includes examples of promising practices and recommended actions. This book is invaluable for social studies and science teachers. And don’t miss The Story of Cosmetics (http://storyofstuff.org/cosmetics), Leonard’s new online film made in the same fast-paced, funny, personal, and pointed style that characterizes the other Story of. . . films. Did you know there is lead in lipstick? That’s only the beginning.
By Howard Zinn
(City Lights Books, 2010)
91 pp., $8.95
The late historian and activist Howard Zinn was familiar with bombs—he dropped them on people during World War II, flying as a bombardier in Europe. This is Zinn’s passionate and readable denunciation of bombs—not just the bomb, but all bombs. In the book’s two chapters—one on Hiroshima and one on Royan, France, where Zinn dropped napalm late in World War II—Zinn poses the crucial question: “What can we learn to free us from the thinking that leads us to stand by . . . while atrocities are committed in our name?” The Bomb is the kind of critical, angry, but hopeful history telling for which Howard Zinn is so deservedly well known.
Freire, Teaching, and Learning: Culture Circles Across Contexts
By Mariana Souto-Manning
(Peter Lang, 2010)
218 pp., $32.95
Culture circles is the name given to the problem-posing teaching method of the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. The author clearly summarizes the fundamentals of Freire’s approach, then describes how it worked for Freire in 1964 Brazil and how it has worked for the author in the United States in a 1st-grade classroom, among preservice teachers, and in ongoing teacher education.
The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: “The Great Truth” About the “Lost Cause”
Edited by James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta
(University Press of Mississippi, 2010)
424 pp., $25
James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, co-edited this collection of primary documents because the story they tell about the Civil War is not found in textbooks. The editors explain that “the declarations supplied by the 11 Confederate states as they left the union are among the most important documents in the history of our nation.” Yet not only do textbooks avoid the documents, “the accounts they provide contradict the historical record.”
The result is widespread misinformation about the cause of the Civil War. In surveys across the country, Loewen found that the great majority of audiences (including teachers) thought states’ rights was the cause. Only 15 percent named the preservation of slavery as the key factor. In addition to a well-organized and annotated collection of primary documents, the editors provide background on when and why the narrative about the causes of the Civil War was rewritten in American consciousness.
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
By Donna Jo Napoli
(Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
280 pp., $8.99
Based on a true story, this young adult novel is a tense and touching—and ultimately tragic—account of 14-year-old Calogero and his extended Sicilian family, who come to live in Tallulah, La., at the end of the 19th century. Regarded as neither black nor white by Tallulah whites, Calogero and his family attempt to maneuver through rural Louisiana’s treacherous racial swamp. It’s an excellent book to help students reflect on issues of race and racism, and also to consider the construction of “whiteness.” Alligator Bayou is also a warm and romantic coming-of-age story.
For the Win
By Cory Doctorow
(Tor Teen, 2010)
480 pp., $17.99
Cory Doctorow is a master at using fiction to get young adults who love computers and gaming to take a critical look at contemporary politics and economics. His first young adult novel, Little Brother, exposes the injustices of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. For the Win introduces the reader in great detail to the global economy and the history of organizing, with a focus on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies. The characters in For the Win make a living in virtual gaming all over the world. They connect and organize online (forming the Webblies), and after initial skepticism convince the traditional labor unions to join them. Although For the Win is not as tightly written as Little Brother and has an improbable twist at the end, it is a valuable book for introducing labor history and economics to the internet generation.
Haiti on My Mind: Stories by Haitian American Teens
Edited by Dana K. Vincent with foreword by Edwidge Danticat
(Youth Communication, 2010)
140 pp., $12
A moving collection from Youth Communications of short essays written by Haitian Americans about coming to the United States, memories of home, family, school, and more. The book includes a foreword by author Edwidge Danticat and two essays she wrote as a teen member of Youth Communications. This collection makes it possible to bring Haitian voices into middle and high school classrooms, and is designed to dispel stereotypes about Haiti.
¡Quiero ayudar!/Let Me Help!
By Alma Flor Ada, Illustrated by Angela Domínguez
(Children’s Book Press, 2010)
32 pp., $16.95
A delightful bilingual story for young children that raises the broad question of how one can help. Set in the context of a family preparing for a Cinco de Mayo celebration, Perico, the family’s pet parrot, has escaped from his cage and is continually ignored when he repeats “Let Me Help!” The brightly colored illustrations and the short text show the entire community preparing for the important event. Eventually Perico finds a way to help. The book provides a simple way to launch into important discussions with children about helping.
Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden
A film by Carol Black
(Lost People Films, 2010)
65 min. | $10 donation requested/free for educational and cultural groups
Every teacher and prospective teacher should watch and discuss Schooling the World. The film argues that, from its inception, Western education has been part of an imperial, “civilizing” mission—and that fundamentally nothing has changed. Today, schools do not equip people in so-called developing countries to live sustainably and meaningfully; instead they teach contempt for traditional culture and indoctrinate children with Western values that boil down to “How can I make a lot of money?” The film’s chief example is the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh in northern India, where we watch schools brand Ladakhi village culture as backward and train children for mostly nonexistent jobs in the consumer culture. It’s a disturbing and compelling portrait. (And if you’ve never seen it, check out the excellent and high school student-friendly film Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh.)