Holly Valentine | March 2021

Classroom Library Books for Women’s History and More

March… spring is just about here! March is a time we celebrate music in our schools and women’s history, but it’s also a time of quiet renewal when we look at things in new ways – a common thread to this month’s C.A.T.C.H. a Spark Series. This month, our classroom library books have a graphic novel, selection that challenge us to look differently at common mathematical concepts, and a celebration of quiet and strong women we may not recognize but who gave us so much. Before diving in to catch a spark for each book, let’s take a quick look at all of them. 

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

First and foremost… let your students read graphic novels! There is so much to be gained from them and in actuality, they are often much more difficult to read than a traditional novel. Without classic narration as we find in novels, there is much inferencing for your learners to discover, which is such a critical skill for our students. Matt Phelan’s adaptation of Snow White is nothing like the classic fairy tale, other than loose nods to the original story through plot and inspired characters. This version is picked up and dropped into the simultaneous glitz and darkness of the 1920s. A graphic novel like this one provides students with so many access points. It takes a familiar story and places it in an unknown time period, opening the door to making inferences and connections. This particular graphic novel will also allow your avid readers and your struggling readers to connect on the same level as it is largely wordless, a quality that we don’t often see in graphic novels. There are so many skills required to read this book, and it will spark great conversation in your classroom as students compare and contrast what they know about the story with this creative twist which reads almost like a film of the early 20th century with its unique illustrations. 

The Only Woman in the Photo

This middle grade picture book, (yes, older kids need picture books too!) is a perfect pairing with Snow White: A Graphic Novel for your classroom library book selections, with its context of the early 20th century. This one, though, brings even more historical context into play, covering 1900-1945, as Frances Perkins fights for injustice and went on to create so many securities for American families and workers that we still rely on today. Whether you use this classroom library book for its historical content, for the story of a powerful woman, or for illustrations that completely draw you into a larger story, there are so many paths to spark conversation and creativity with this book. What would you want Frances to be fighting for today? What do you notice about the style of the book along with the graphic design of the words throughout the book. And most importantly, how can it inspire you to find out about so many other unsung heroes and heroines of history? 

Lights! Camera! Alice! 

Though this classroom library book will largely appeal to elementary students, this one also pairs nicely with Snow White: A Graphic Novel because it directly traces the history of filmmaking, through the eyes of Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female filmmaker, who made over 700 films in a period of 24 years at the turn of the 20th century, yet can many people say they have heard of her? A book that gives power to storytelling, this one will charm students as they get a peek into early filmmaking techniques they may not have realized. The book also reads like a silent film, broken into segments with “scene titles”. The role of women in the 20th century and their fight to be noticed will be a conversation to be had as students start to recognize the importance of equality and forging one’s path based on passion. 

Becoming Bach

What better way to connect to Music in Our Schools month than with one of the greatest composers of all time, Bach. As a young boy, he struggled to find what it meant to be a Bach. He sees patterns everywhere, and this delightful book allows us to not only find patterns in all that we do and see, but to connect them to sounds and colors. This book is a perfect marriage of math content and the arts, and is beautifully illustrated, drawing us right in. There are so many launching points to this book, which invites us to think about the power of listening as well as the power of seeing. 

Shape of the World

When we think about shapes and architects, who else do we think about more than Frank Lloyd Wright? A master of working with shapes, he never ceases to inspire. At first glance, this book appears as something you would use only with primary students – but not so! It serves as another access point to bigger ideas and geometry standards. The more you study the illustrations in this book, the more you see its many layers, much like Wright’s buildings. This is a great launching pad into shapes for the youngest students and how something as simple as shape can become creative, as well as for the older students, who can use this to launch into deeper geometric studies, historical and architectural studies. Lots of layers to this one – much like all the layers you will find within the illustrations! 

One Time

Sometimes you encounter a book that just really makes you think, and leaves you inspired. That is this novel for intermediate students – and I highly recommend adding it to your classroom library. There is a quiet but very powerful presence in this sweet and charming novel about an eleven year old girl often criticized for her imagination, a new boy that seems to beat to a different drum too, and a young, new, creative teacher that sparks imagination in all of her students and promotes creativity with no repercussions – or “grades.” This is a book that could inspire teachers even more that the students it is intended for. It reminds us to let kids be kids, and if we want to develop creative, critical thinkers, we need to encourage it. We need to make it okay to do things differently and to not expect every student to be in the same place, or to have them all like the same things – such as writing. It will be hard to deny that any teacher of reading and writing could read this book and not want to do things in the same way as Miss Lightstone. Who’s to say you can’t? But don’t copy her, do it with your own spin! 

DOWNLOAD ALL SIX

Go C.A.T.C.H. a Spark! 

Find an access point, no matter whether it’s the Context, the Arts, the Themes, a way to Create, or those special Heart Words. The important thing is to remember that through books we give our kids access points, connections and the inspiration to be creative. So go grab a book, take a deeper dive in and C.A.T.C.H. a Spark! 

About the Author

Holly Valentine is the Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam. Prior to joining the Institute, Holly worked as an Arts Integration and Classroom Teacher for 20 years in a suburb of Rochester, NY. She is a certified Arts Integration Specialist and has served as an Arts Standards Writer for the New York State Education Department. Holly has been a recipient of the NYC Broadway League's Apple Award for her work in Arts Education. She also serves as the Director of Education for the Rochester Broadway Theatre League, where she has created nationally recognized programs and develops standards-based curriculum for touring Broadway shows in order to bring the theatre to classrooms and classrooms to the theatre. Holly holds both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Psychology as well as a Masters degree in Education from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY,  where she currently lives.