Thursday, 4 October 2012

Cures For The Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 1

I know, I know. If you went to CCSS training this summer, you got a ton of helpful materials to take home.

And if you didn't, because you're a brand-new teacher? Or because your district didn't pay for it? Or require it? Or you went to school all summer, or taught summer school? were overwhelmed and still haven't worked your way through all of it, because you teach ELA in Tennessee, and you're trying to figure out how to phase in the CCSS, and at the same time prepare your students for the TCAP because after all, that's what they will take next spring? I understand.

That's why I'm writing Common Core posts in chunks, with one topic, so you can actually look at resources one or a few at a time, when you have a minute. (I also know that even those minutes are few and far between, with PLC meetings, IEP meetings, RTI meetings, and meetings for every other acronym in education. :)

So. This post is the first in a series about a book that causes my juices to start flowing, just thinking about the possibilities for Common Core lessons using it. I'll write about one book each Thursday for the next several weeks.

Irena's Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, was named a 2012 Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Older Readers. The Sydney Taylor Book Awards are presented annually to “outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience" by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Here's a description from the publisher's website: "Irena Sendler, born to a Polish Catholic family, was raised to respect people of all backgrounds and to help those in need. She became a social worker; and after the German army occupied Poland during World War II, Irena knew she had to help the sick and starving Jews who were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. She began by smuggling food, clothing, and medicine into the ghetto, then turned to smuggling children out of the ghetto. Using false papers and creative means of escape, and at great personal risk, Irena helped rescue Jewish children and hide them in safe surroundings. Hoping to reunite the children with their families after the war, Irena kept secret lists of the children’s identities.

Motivated by conscience and armed with compassion and a belief in human dignity, Irena Sendler confronted an enormous moral challenge and proved to the world that an ordinary person can accomplish deeds of extraordinary courage." 

The book is available from: Lee and Low Books and Amazon. Download a PDF document with discussion questions for the book at Lee and Low's website.  Use them as inspiration for your own activities for close reading, inferring, vocabulary, cross-curricular connections, schema, and multicultural awareness. Lee and Low also provides a book talk with Vaughan and Ron Mazellan, who illustrated the book.

At the links below, you can read interviews with the book's author and illustrator that were part of the official Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour:
In December 2008, The New York Times published The Smuggler, a story about Irena Sendler, by Maggie Jones.
You can learn more about Irena Sendler and the group of students from Kansas whose research brought her story to worldwide attention at Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. A book of the same name by Jack Mayer is available both on the site and at

Irena Sendler: Mother of the Children of the Holocaust, Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Irena Sendler: Bringing Life to Children of the Holocaust are other books about this remarkable woman. The Other Schindler...Irena Sendler: Savior of the Holocaust Children is available for Kindle.

In the Name of their Mothers: The Story of Irena Sendler is a film that was shown on PBS stations in May 2011. It includes some of Sendler's last interviews, and is available from

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, a 2009 Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, is also available on DVD.

What a wonderful stand-alone book this is, but wouldn't it be amazing to embed these resources into a unit on the Holocaust or World War II, or a book study of The Diary of Anne Frank? If you create a fabulous unit around these ideas, be sure to let me know. 

And please, let great books help cure your Common Core blues!

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