Friday, May 09, 2014

Teacher Appreciation Week

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, I decided to discuss some of my favorite books featuring awesome teachers!

If you like inspirational movies like Stand and Deliver or Mr. Holland's Opus, you'll enjoy All of the Above. Inspired by a true story, this YA novel features a gripping and hopeful story of five inner-city middle school students and their teacher in their quest to build the world's largest tetrahedron.

Patricia Polacco frequently bases her picture books on personal and family stories, with The Art of Miss Chew being no exception.  Based on Polacco's experience with an art teacher who encouraged and advocated for her needs, this is a remarkable story of the positive power of a teacher's influence.

While there are many children's biographies of Helen Keller, there are very few biographies of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Helen's Eyes, part of National Geographic's excellent photobiography series, details Sullivan's traumatic childhood, her battle with blindness, and her relationship with Helen Keller.

Miss Nelson is Missing has remained super-popular ever since its publication in 1977. The story of a teacher who turns the tables on her unruly class remains timeless. It was a hit with a Cub Scout troop that recently visited the library!

Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Story of Booker T. Washington is an excellent short (31 pages) biography of the Virginia-born educator and director of the Tuskegee Institute.

Taking Off is a sweet and touching YA novel about a high school senior who is inspired by Christa McAuliffe, the teacher chosen for NASA's Teacher-in-Space program on the Challenger shuttle.   I reviewed this in 2011:

I impatiently waited for this book, and I'm so happy that it is as compelling and gripping as I had hoped it would be. Annie is a poet among a town full of astronauts; living in Clear Lake, TX means that you are surrounded by NASA families. Annie has no interest in the space program until she meets Christa McAuliffe, the energetic and friendly high school teacher selected to be the first "Teacher in Space." Although Annie is a high school senior, she is unsure of her future, whether it is to join her best friend at UT-Austin or to stay in Clear Lake with her boyfriend, where everything is familiar and comfortable. McAuliffe encourages her to follow her dreams; Annie is so inspired and taken with Christa that she begs her parents (who are divorced) to take her to see the Challenger liftoff. 

Devastated by the Challenger disaster, Annie is even more bewildered about her future. Finally, she summons the courage to take heed of Christa's message and pursue her love of poetry. 

I love, love, love this book, for many reasons, small and large. Small reasons: being familiar with the area, I got a kick out of recognizing the little geographic details sprinkled throughout the story (Kemah Bridge, Seabrook, etc), especially when the group was driving along I-10 from Clear Lake to Florida (although I was a bit amazed at how quickly they reached the Louisiana swamps! But maybe I'm just a slower driver.).

Big reasons: Although the disaster is incredibly sad (I could actually feel my nerves on edge when I was reading the shuttle countdown), this is a positive and hopeful book. It is not a downer at all, which surprised me. There are also key facts about the Challenger that are incorporated into the story rather seamlessly. The frustration over the multiple delays and the all-too brief elation over the launch is palpable.

Moss knows her subject extremely well; she trained several Challenger crew members (not McAuliffe) for their mission. Her knowledge of the disaster and of space flight in general never overwhelms the story; it only enhances it and makes it richer. 

The Wednesday Wars is my favorite Gary D. Schmidt novel; I reviewed it in 2007:

I'm a big fan of children's historical fiction. However, books about the 60s and the Vietnam War are usually not my cup of tea. There are some exceptions, however, and Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars is one of them. 

Holling Hoodhood is Protestant. This in itself is usually not a big deal, of course. However, when part of your class attends Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons and the other part attends catechism classes at the local Catholic church, you stick out. Every Wednesday, Holling is under the watchful eye of Mrs. Baker, a Shakespeare-mad teacher. So mad, in fact, that she makes Holling read Shakespeare's plays. Like most seventh graders, this is akin to torture.

The novel is set in 1967; the Vietnam War, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, flower children, Vietnam refugees, and atomic bomb drills are very much part of the fabric of the story. Gary D. Schmidt incorporates these very heavy subjects into an otherwise funny novel with enormous tact, precision, and genius. 

This is definitely one of my favorite YA novels of 2007. Keep an eye out for this one come awards time (December-January). Gary Schmidt won the Newbery Honor and the Printz Honor for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. I thought this was just as remarkable and fantastic as that book. While I don't have a Newbery or Printz favorite yet (I do have some I would be happy to see win), this is definitely one I hope is on the shortlists!

(Note: It received a Newbery Honor the following year!)

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

To learn more about Fauquier County Public Library's collectionevents, and programs, visit us on FacebookTwitter (Kiddosphere's feed is here), or on our website.

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