Common Core and the Language Arts Classroom

Lately, whenever the topic of the Common Core State Standards comes up in conversations with educators, I don’t typically see enthusiastic responses. Everyone knows about the standards and understands that they mean a shift in teaching. Most educators have heard that Common Core calls for a higher level of rigor and more nonfiction. Some are making the shift from novel units to thematic units, teaching texts in the context of other texts. But what lots of people don’t know is that the development of the standards has paralleled the unveiling of really awesome books. Here is just a taste.

Middle School

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy. 2012. 9780439691840. Gr 5-8.

The Giant and How He Humbugged America is a historical narrative about the discovery in 1869 of an over-sized petrified man and how it led to a series of scandalous claims and money-making scams. The engrossing story hooks the reader from the beginning. With chapter titles, photos and illustrations, primary documents, and detailed post-text material on other famous hoaxes, the author’s research, notes, and bibliography, this book supports the kind of reading that Common Core articulates. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Duped!: True Stories of the World’s Best Swindlers by Andreas Schroeder.2011. 9781554513505. Gr 4-7.

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming. 2009. 9780375945977. Gr 5-8.

Billy Creekmore by Tracey Porter. 2007. 9780060775704. Gr 5-7.

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker. 2011. 9780805089455. Gr 5-8.

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 is a riveting account of a little-known event in Canadian history. Fascinating background information about Halifax, the French ship Mont-Blanc and her journey, and several families directly affected by the incident set up the chain of events leading to the explosion in Halifax Harbour. The rich text, photographs, maps, diagrams, primary documents, source notes, and bibliography support Common Core recommendations for text quality and rigor. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson. 2012. 9780545116749. Gr 4-8.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong. 1998. 9780375810497. Gr 7-12.

Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan. 2006. 9780440419846. Gr 6-9.

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle. 2011. 9780805092400. Gr 6-10.

Classics such as Theodore Taylor’s The Cay. 1969. 9780385079068. Gr 5-8.

The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef.  2012. 9780547579665. Gr 6-8.

The Brontë Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne is a chapter-by-chapter account of the lives of England’s most famous literary sisters. This family biography introduces young readers to these celebrated authors of poetry and fiction. A section at the end of the book features the titles of their complete works, including letters, correspondence, and childhood writings. Complement this book with supporting titles such as Church, Countryside, City, and Victoria and Her Court—the titles in the Benchmark Books’ Life in Victorian England series by Virginia Schomp (2010-11, Gr 6-10), and classics such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg. 2012.  9780802798183. Gr 5-8.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous describes the deaths of 19 of history’s most famous personalities. Each entry features basic information about the person in question, along with detailed and intriguing information about his or her death and remains. Following the chapter is a spread with great related information that middle schoolers will find fascinating (i.e., Things to do with Old Mummies; Boneyard Words; The Guillotine) in short bullet points, timelines, graphs, lists, and charts. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Death: Corpses, Cadavers, and Other Grave Matters by Elizabeth Murray. 2010. 9780761338512. Gr 6-9.

Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora. 2008. 9780142411834. Gr 7-10.

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg. 2012. 9780385904698. Gr 6-8.

Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour. 2010.  9780888999894. Gr 5-8.

High School

Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources by Geoff Hiscock. 2012. 9781118152881. Gr 11-Adult.

Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources argues that the scarcity of key resources—food, water, energy, and metals—will shape the future of the earth and society. Hiscock explores the problems and possible solutions that could arise as the powers with ownership of these resources face off against one another. The writing is clear and concise and is accompanied by maps, charts, notes, sidebars, quotes, and a bibliography. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Earthgirl by Jennifer Cowan. 2010. 9780888998897. Gr 9-12.

47 Things You Can Do for the Environment by Lexi Petronis. 2012. 9780982732212. Gr 7-12.

The documentary Climate Refugees: The Human Face of Climate Change directed by Michael Nash. The Video Project. 2011. Gr 9-Adult.

Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed by Judy Pasternak. 2011. 9781416594826. Gr 10-Adult.

Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed explores a time in history when the U.S. government’s push for nuclear weapon capability led to brazen disregard for the Navajo people living and working where the uranium was mined. Knowing about the health risks related to uranium exposure, mining companies employed hundreds of Navajo workers, while the government failed to regulate the mines. Contaminated lands, along with high cancer and birth defect rates, were the result, but no effort was made to clean up the mess or compensate the Navajo Nation until decades later. The book begins with a handy list of “Principal Characters” and ends with an up-to-date afterword and includes photographs, primary source material, and detailed notes. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen. 2012. 9780307955630. Gr 10-Adult.

Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac. 2006. 9780803729216 Gr 7-12.

Native Universe: Voices of Indian America by Gerald McMaster. 2008. 9781426203350. Gr 9-Adult.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 2009. 9780316013680. Gr 9-12.

Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker. March 2013. 9780545417273. Gr 9-12.

Andrew Jenks: My Adventures as a Young Filmmaker is the autobiographical story of the man behind MTV’s World of Jenks—a documentary series in which he spends time with a variety different people as they pursue their lives and dreams. The visually engrossing book narrates Jenks’s early rise as a filmmaker (he is now 26). “I want to tell the stories of my generation. I want to be a filmmaker that is able to capture what my generation thinks, how they act, and what they ultimately stand for,” says Jenks. Complement this book with supporting titles such as these:

Making Film History: Rewrite, Reshoot, and Recut the World’s Greatest Films by Robert Gerst. 2012. 9781615931224. Gr 9-Adult.

The documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner. 2008. 9780767085977. Gr 7-Adult.

Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends) by Mimi O’Connor. 2009. 9780981973319. Gr 10-Adult.

Guestblogger: Lori C.