Book One: The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
The Breadwinner is the first text to be read together as a class and used for our literature circle discussions. The book follows the life of the young girl, Parvana, living in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. This story ties in with our inquiry into culture, values and belief systems through the lives of children from around the world.
We will be exploring topics related to oppression, equality, struggle, hope, determination to survive and the dreams of children trapped in a world run by adults.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, 11-year-old Parvana has rarely been outdoors. Barred from attending school, shopping at the market, or even playing in the streets of Kabul, the heroine of Deborah Ellis's engrossing children's novel The Breadwinner is trapped inside her family's one-room home. That is, until the Taliban hauls away her father and Parvana realizes that it's up to her to become the "breadwinner" and disguise herself as a boy to support her mother, two sisters, and baby brother. Set in the early years of the Taliban regime, this topical novel for middle readers explores the harsh realities of life for girls and women in modern-day Afghanistan. A political activist whose first book for children, Looking for X, dealt with poverty in Toronto, Ellis based The Breadwinner on the true-life stories of women in Afghan refugee camps.In the wily Parvana, Ellis creates a character to whom North American children will have no difficulty relating. The daughter of university-educated parents, Parvana is thoroughly westernized in her outlook and responses. A pint-sized version of Offred from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Parvana conceals her critique of the repressive Muslim state behind the veil of her chador. Although the dialogue is occasionally stilted and the ending disappointingly sketchy, The Breadwinner is essential reading for any child curious about ordinary Afghans. Like so many books and movies on the subject, it is also eerily prophetic. "Maybe someone should drop a big bomb on the country and start again," says a friend of Parvana's. "'They've tried that,' Parvana said, 'It only made things worse.'" (Ages 9 to 12) --Lisa Alward
Book Two: The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
"The story of a young girl stranded for years on an island off the California coast, it is based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Nicoleño Indian left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island in the 19th century." ~ Goodreads.com
This story facilitates our inquiry into geography, colonialism, the Age of Exploration and our relationships with nature. The book explores how humans interact with the environment and how the physical characteristics of a landscape determine how we use the land.
Here we start our look into figurative language, particularly similes, metaphors and personification. Scott O'Dell uses all of these liberally throughout the book to bring the island to life.
As students research the lives of influential explorers from 1500 to 1800 AD, they will recognise the connection between the Spanish missionaries who arrive on the island to take the tribe to Santa Barbara, with the conquests of the Spanish in the New World following Christopher Columbus's discoveries at the end of the 15th century.
Book Three: The Captain's Dog by Roland Smith
Our third and final book for the year deepens the students understanding of historical fiction, this time following the Lewis and Clarke expedition across North America through the eyes of the faithful dog, Seaman.
"Born the runt of his litter and gambled away to a rusty old river man, the Newfoundland pup Seaman doesn’t imagine his life will be marked by any kind of glory. But when he meets Captain Meriwether Lewis, Seaman finds himself on a path that will make history. Lewis is setting off on his landmark search for the Northwest Passage, and he takes Seaman along. Sharing the curiosity and spirit of his new master, the intrepid dog proves himself a valuable companion at every turn. Part history, part science—and all adventure—this is the thrilling tale of America’s greatest journey of discovery." ~Goodreads.com
This book helps students understand the power of 1st-person perspective as a narrative tool. The book also connects the student's inquiry into early modern history, as they see the expedition venturing into Spanish held lands of western North America.