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Hidden Stories of Change: Relevant Biographies and Non-fiction for the History Classroom

by Charlene Klassen Endrizzi with Karen Matis

Cover of The Grand Mosque of Paris depicting Jewish families walking into a blue mosque.

This week we continue our exploration of “Hidden Stories” by revealing historical personalities too often overlooked. We zero in on adolescent books highlighting change agents chosen by history preservice teachers.

“I took many history courses in high school and college. Why have I never heard of these events?” (Makenzie, history major). This refrain, in response to Isabel’s Learning Invitation on the nonfiction book The grand mosque of Paris: A story of how Muslims rescued the Jews during the Holocaust (Ruelle, 2010), became a familiar response as we delved further into our hidden stories exploration. Continue reading

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Hidden Stories of Courage: Relevant biographies for the ELA classroom

by Karen Matis with Charlene Klassen Endrizzi

Cover of How We Are Smart depicting six Black historical figures.

As collaborators in our work with secondary education preservice teachers each fall, we offer a month long look at picture book biographies filled with stories of courageous, determined global citizens that will especially appeal to adolescents.

The selected biographies we share present “Hidden Stories” of diverse writers, historical figures, mathematicians and scientists, all courageous activists who tackled their own set of problems in by-gone years. Our goal focuses on offering inspirational moments through relevant texts, thus revealing spirited advocates for change.

The past year brought unrest into the lives of many adolescents. In the midst of their naturally occurring coming of age insecurities, young people also endured circumstances resulting from health, social justice and political uncertainties. Such upheaval creates openings for middle school teachers to pause and ponder much needed moments of inspiration. We invite you to our discussion of inspiring picture books that encourage adolescents to consider their own lives in juxtaposition to others who also faced uncertainties in their lives. Continue reading

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The Book to Take Us Home

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Cover of Stormy features a small, curly-haired dog and his ball created in soft hues with pencil and watercolor
It’s the end of 2020, and what a journey we have all been on! In many ways, it has felt like we were lost and far from home even as many of us spent much more time than normal at home. There was also a sense of not knowing where we would land for some, and–for some others–whom to trust. Thus, the sweet and wordless picturebook Stormy (2019) by Chinese author/illustrator Guojing will resonate with many readers on both a surface level and more metaphorically. Even the title let’s us think in metaphorical ways about the last year!

A puppy in the park, no companion of either animal or human type. Enter a young woman who attempts to befriend the pup, but he’s having nothing to do with that. After many attempts and patience, the puppy approaches, and a tenuous bond is forged. But the puppy is still cautious. Who knows how he arrived at the park and what he experienced prior to meeting this new human? The puppy’s caution remains until a storm rages and the two realize the strength of their bond and from then on, the puppy is no longer a nameless, homeless dog in the part, but Stormy, who has found a forever home.

The illustrations clearly tell the story, and are of rendered in soft colors suggesting a calm and gentle sense of being. Exactly what is needed for engendering a sense of care and comfort. This is a wonderful lap book to explore with the very young, and a great book to use with older readers on a metaphorical level, as I cannot help but do at this time in our year, and in our history.

This is a delightful and beautiful story on which to end the year. It has important lessons for all of us, especially those who may have started to question who to trust, and those who remain cautious to the strangeness that has entered our world. Patience, perseverance, and kindness can build bonds. They can also remind us that they are the way back to or the way forward to our “forever” home.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To view our complete offerings of WOW Currents, please visit its archival stream.

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Texts for Considering Love

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Cover of Cinderella Liberator which depicts the silhouette of a woman with a cake in hand, jumping, and a mouse at her feet on a pale blue background.
While each book for 2020 could address the concept of love in one form or another, there are two that directly confront the circumstances of romantic love. Those two texts are Frankly in Love (2019) by David Yoon and Cinderella Liberator (2019) by Rebecca Solnit. Both address love from a perspective a bit differently from what many might think of as the typical love story. Continue reading

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Picturebooks that Celebrate!

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH


This week needs a celebration, and these three books answer the call! We have Hands Up! (2019) by Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans, The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote (1998) by Tony Johnston and Tomie de Paola, and Birrarung Wilam: A Story from Aboriginal Australia (2020) by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrea Kelly, and Lisa Kennedy. These books celebrate three cultures that have historically been underrepresented in literature for young people, and all make great read alouds for younger children as well as mentor texts for older readers. Continue reading

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Novels that Present the Journey

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Cover of Santiago's Road Home, depicting a young boy, and little girl, and a young woman on a yellow road leading into the distance away from houses in the foreground.
This week, I would like to talk about several novels in WOW Currents for 2020 that present a journey. Santiago’s Road Home by Alexandra Diaz, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Beast Rider by Tony Johnston, The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman, and Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai. All are amazing stories of young people who make a journey for a variety of reasons. Continue reading

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A Review of the Recommended

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

As 2020 comes to an end, I wanted to review the books on the “World of Words Recommends” list as a way to reconsider great books we might have missed while addressing what can only be considered an unprecedented year. It has been a memorable and challenging year, and it would be unfortunate to miss these notable books. Over the next few weeks, I will address small batches of these books in different ways, but this week is the time to look at them as a whole group. We had 11 recommendations this year, with a mixture of novels and picturebooks that would meet the interests of so many readers. When you have some time, find your way to these books. They are worth the read! Continue reading

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Poet Laureate Projects from the Library of Congress

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

This week WOW Currents makes a slight change from featuring resources available from independent publishers to featuring Poet Laureate Projects sponsored by the Library of Congress. Teachers and families can access poetry projects and interactive ideas from eight Poet Laureates including Tracy K. Smith, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Joy Harjo, the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Continue reading

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Literacy Resources Available through Cinco Puntos Press

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM

This week WOW Currents features teacher and family literacy resources available through Cinco Puntos Press, an independent publishing company located in El Paso, Texas. Bobby and Lee Byrd, owners and publishers, opened Cinco Puntos in 1985 and have been publishing “great books which make a difference in the way you see the world” ever since. Continue reading

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Enchanted Lion Books

By Mary L. Fahrenbruck, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces NM

This month WOW Currents features literacy resources that educators and families can bring into their virtual learning spaces. This week WOW Currents focus on The ELB Book Club, and Instagram resources available from Enchanted Lion Books. In a recent interview with Claudia Zoe Bedrick, the publisher, editor and art director of Enchanted Lion Books, I asked her to talk about the resources available to educators and families. Continue reading