Monday, September 21, 2009

Children's Literature
In the Adult Literacy and Language Classroom

Example: Books for Aspiring U.S. Citizens

In our last entry discussing the use of children's books with adult literacy students, we reviewed some alphabet books and suggested ways they might be of use in an ABE or ESL classroom. Continuing the discussion of children's books, this entry suggests some titles that can help ESL students preparing for the U.S. Citizenship examination.

Several publishing companies produce workbooks and other texts that will be helpful to these students, and many public libraries offer them in their ESL/ABE collections. Some good examples include Citizenship: Passing the Test and New Biography Series: American Lives, both from New Readers Press; Voices of Freedom: English and Civics for U.S. Citizenship from Pearson Longman; the Good Citizenship Library series from Raintree Steck Vaugh; and the two series Viewpoints (nonfiction) and Expressions (short stories and poems) from Contemporary Books. These books review the questions asked on the test and acquaint ESL students with the facts they need to know to answer those questions. Series such as Viewpoints and Expressions also introduce students to some of the people, stories, and ideas that are essential elements in the larger story of America.

The concept of story is important here. Obviously, prospective citizens need to know certain facts. But facts presented out of any recognizable or engaging context can be hard to learn and remember, especially for students coming into an American classroom from vastly different cultural experiences and speaking other languages. That's where books from the library's children's section provide a wealth of supplemental material for ESL students studying for the citizenship test. By embedding the essential facts of our history in the larger contexts of dramatic events and personal stories and enriching that text with photographs and other forms of graphic illustration, these books will deepen the students' understanding of the issues behind the facts they need to know. They will also provide numerous opportunities for discussion, in English, of the principles underlying our government, or any government.

Most titles link to a record in, a networked catalog of thousands of libraries worldwide. Click on the link, and you will find information about that book as well as listings for that title at libraries located near you. There are also links for some of the series titles.

The New Naturalization Test

The citizenship test was revised in 2008. A list of questions can be found by going to, the web site of the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and searching for The New Naturalization Test. There are 100 possible questions; applicants are asked 10 and must answer 6 correctly. There are three sections to the test: American Government, American History, and Integrated Civics. Let's look at some representative titles from a typical children's section that discuss the issues addressed by each of these sections.

Part 1. American Government

The questions in this section are mainly concerned with the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the basic structures of American government, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Many publishers produce series of books on these topics, as reflected in most of the books discussed below. However, picture books and independent nonfiction titles can be excellent sources too, as illustrated by the Grodin, Freedman, and Fradin books.

The Declaration of Independence by Michael Burgan. Series title: We the People. Minneapolis: Compass Point, 2001. (Beginning-intermediate new readers)
In simple text that will be accessible even to some beginning new readers, especially with the help of a tutor, this book discusses the roots of the struggle for independence and introduces the major figures gathered in Philadelphia to produce a document that continues to influence democratic movements around the world. With a glossary, time line, index, and list of sources for additional information, this book, and others in this series, also introduces literacy students to the variety of ways in which information can be presented.

The Declaration of Independence by Dennis Brindell Fradin. Series title: Turning Points in U.S. History. New York: Marshall Cavendish. (Intermediate new reader)
For students with stronger reading ability, this title offers more in-depth information about the events leading up to and surrounding the signing of the document. Reproductions of historical paintings as well as other illustrations balance the text and add to the visual appeal as well as the fount of information.

The United States Constitution. by Kristal Leebrick. Series title: Let Freedom Ring. Mankato, MN: Bridgestone Books, 2002. (Intermediate new reader)
As it describes the meetings, arguments, and compromises that led to the creation of our Constitution, this book also reveals the seeds of issues such as states' rights and the legacy of slavery that continue to affect our nation to this day. The book also introduces readers to some of the important figures of the time, including an aging Ben Franklin who had to be carried into the hall in Philadelphia on a "richly decorated sedan chair," and who cried when he signed his name to the document.

How Do We Elect Our Leaders
by William David Thomas. Series title: My American Government. Pleasantville, NY: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2008. (Intermediate new reader)
The chapter on the election of a president discusses campaigns, conventions, and the electoral college. Other chapters explain election procedures for members of Congress and for state officials. Insets explain such things as party symbols and nicknames, presidential inaugural firsts, gerrymandering, and issues in the debate about retaining the electoral college. The layout and spacing are clear; the color photographs add appeal as well as additional information.

The Bill of Rights by Judith Lloyd Yero. Series title: American Documents. Washington, D.C., National Geographic, 2006. (Advanced new reader)
Each of the ten amendments is clearly explained in this book, with text and illustrations that place the issue in historical context but also relate it to current events. Readers will learn, for example, about freedom of the press through the story of John Peter Zenger's trial that established the right of the press to criticize the government and see a current application of that freedom in a photograph of a reporter embedded with troops during the Iraq War.

Freedom of Speech by Christin Ditchfield. Series title: True Books (Civics Series). New York: Scholastic, 2004. (Beginning-intermediate new reader)
The sentences are simple and direct and the layout is clear, but the issues discussed are sophisticated and relevant to our everyday experience of life in a democracy. Americans are free to practice any religion, or none, but can a football team from a public school pray before a game? Americans have the right to speak their mind, even if their speech is offensive to some, but can high schoolers wear t-shirts determined to be disruptive to the school environment? Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle of American life - and a complicated one.

D is for Democracy: A Citizen's Alphabet by Elissa Grodin. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2004. (Beginning-intermediate new reader)
Like similar titles from this publisher (see T is for Touchdown in previous entry), the format makes this book accessible across reading levels. The primary text is a simple 4-line rhyme, as
B is for the Bill of Rights -
the freedom to express
ideas and opinions
and how we want to dress.
Sidebars accompanying each entry provide more historical background, discussing the creation of the constitution and the realization that, as first written, it did not provide for individual rights and liberties.

In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America's Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman. New York: Holiday House, 2003. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
Freedman begins with a list of questions that reflect issues in the news today such as "Does the Bill of Rights guarantee a right to personal privacy." He then reviews each of the 10 amendments, describing the issues that led to their adoption and discussing sample cases argued on their basic principles, including many currently under discussion.
Freedman's book is not part of a series, but he is an award-winning author of children's nonfiction whose work is both informative and highly appropriate for adults.

The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution by Dennis Brindell Fradin. Illustrations by Michael McCurdy. New York: Walker and Company, 2005.
The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence by Dennis Brindell Fradin. Illustrations by Michael McCurdy. New York: Walker and Company, 2002.
(Advanced new reader)
As the titles suggest, each of these books offers a glimpse into the lives of the people, many of whose names are not familiar to us, who created the documents that created the United States. McCurdy's signature woodcut illustrations convey something specific to each of the men.

Part 2. American History

The questions in this section cover three broad themes: the colonial period and the War for Independence; the struggles over slavery, the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War; and, finally, more recent history including immigration, the Civil Rights movement, and the work of Martin Luther King.

Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence. by Russell Freedman. New York: Holiday House, 2000. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
Despite its title, this book is not just about the Declaration, but is rather a concise, engaging, and authoritative account of the disagreements, frustrations, and events that eventually led to the signing of that definitive document. It will help citizenship students -as well as native-born Americans - understand that the lofty language of the Declaration grew from the evolution of a population increasingly alienated from their distant masters and convinced of their ability to govern themselves. Illustrations all come from archival maps, portraits, handbills and other depictions of the life in colonial America.

Independence Now: The American Revolution 1763-1783
by Daniel Rosen. Series title: Crossroads America. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society, 2004. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
In an engaging and easy to follow narrative voice, Rosen takes readers from the end of the French and Indian War, when the colonists from different states first began to think of themselves as part of a unified citizenry, through the questions about independence versus loyalty to Britain to the war that settled that question for all time. Quotations from people living through this momentous time, some famous and some not, as well as maps and other illustrations, including reproductions of some of the hated tax stamps, add both interest and information in this well researched book.

Paul Revere's Ride: The Landlord's Tale by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Illustrated by Charles Santore. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. (Intermediate-advanced new readers)
Its oft-quoted line, "One if by land, two if by sea," may be familiar, but this poem is dense with names and facts, and thus would be hard for most students to read. However, by listening to the poem being read aloud, with its great galloping rhythms, and following along with Santore's beautiful illustrations that offer a visual echo to the poem's lines, students will get a real sense of the tremendous odds the rag-tag militia men faced confronting the army of a nation as powerful as Britain.
An earlier illustrated version by Ted Rand may also be available and is equally as appealing.

Thomas Jefferson: Voice of Liberty by Andrew Santella. Series title: Community Builders. New York: Children's Press, 1999. (Intermediate new reader)
Both the layout and the text of this book offer a clear and accessible account of the life of Thomas Jefferson. Chapters cover his life both before and after the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Well-designed side bars explore issues such as Jefferson's ownership of slaves, despite his stated condemnation of slavery; his library, which became the basis for the Library of Congress; and his role in the creation of the University of Virginia.

The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin. Illustrated by Michael Dooling. New York: Scholastic, 2000. (Advanced new reader)
Giblin introduces readers to the many facets of the life of this printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, scientist, civic patron, husband and father, and, of course, one of our "Founding Fathers" and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The story of Benjamin Franklin is really the story of a colonial outpost that grew into an independent country whose founding ideas continue to inspire others seeking the benefits of self-government.

Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. New York: Hyperion, 2008. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
Each section of Rappaport's brief biography is accompanied by quotes from Lincoln's own speeches and writings. The author's succinct, declarative sentences would be within reach even of upper level beginning students, while Lincoln's own words will need some explanation, but the two texts complement each other very well. Nelson's extraordinary illustrations convey both the humanity of this man who is so widely memorialized as well as the gravity of the issues he had to deal with.

Civil War: A Library of Congress Book by Martin W. Sandler. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. (Intermediate new reader)
The Civil War began not long after the invention of photography, so we have hundreds of photographs that chronicle the battles, the camp life of the soldiers, and the meetings of generals and the president. Using the Library of Congress's collection of Civil War memorabilia, including many photographs, illustrations, excerpts from the letters of soldiers, statements of generals, and works of poetry inspired by the events of war, Sandler gives readers a clear and moving portrait of a conflict that shaped the nation we know today.

Moving North: African Americans and the Great Migration 1915-1930 by Monica Halpern. Series title: Crossroads America. Washington, D.C: National Geographic, 2006. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
This account of the migration of African Americans from the rural south to the increasingly urbanized north offers a clear and compelling picture of the poverty, prejudice, and limited opportunity that forced so many people to leave a life they knew to face the uncertainty of one they could only imagine. Quotations from many of the migrants, numerous photographs, informative sidebars highlighting distinguished individuals, and a few reproductions from Jacob Lawrence's stunning series of paintings on this subject (see the next entry) combine to made this an attractive, informative, and very appealing work of social history.

The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993. (All levels)
All sixty panels of Lawrence's series of paintings depicting the migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north in the years between the world wars are reproduced here, along with the artist's own brief description of each painting. It is an extraordinary story portrayed in an extraordinary work of art. Both hard cover and paperback editions are available.

Harriet and the Promised Land by Jacob Lawrence. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. (Also available from Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997). (Beginning-advanced new reader)
Lawrence is both writer and illustrator of this extraordinary text. With his characteristic use of bold colors and broad strokes, Lawrence tells the iconic tale of Harriet Tubman's many trips guiding escaping slaves to freedom. The simple rhyming text will be accessible to beginners; the powerful art work will inspire discussion among students more advanced in speaking as well as reading English.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: Hyperion, 2001. (Beginning-intermediate new reader)
As she did with her book about Abraham Lincoln (described above), Rappaport inserts quotes from Martin Luther King into her brief overview of his life. Collier's dramatic illustrations help convey a sense of the magnitude of purpose that characterized his time as a leader of the civil rights movement.

I Am Rosa Parks by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins. Illustrated by Wil Clay. New York: Dial Books, 1997. (Beginning new reader)
In her own words, Rosa describes the events of the day she refused to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white man and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed her courageous decision.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. New York: Henry Holt, 2005. (Intermediate new reader)
To know the story of Rosa Park's quiet defiance of the law forcing blacks to the back of the bus is to understand much about the cultural climate in which black citizens lived in the years after Emancipation. In this picture book, Giovanni introduces us to Rosa, an ordinary working woman taking care of her husband and mother, whose courageous decision not to relinquish her seat to a white man ignited the burgeoning civil rights movement, a movement that ultimately brought an end to "separate but equal" laws. Through Collier's illustrations, we see both the simplicity of the person and the power of the idea she came to personify.

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations by Judy Pedersen. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. (Intermediate new reader)
It begins with a young Vietnamese girl who honors her dead father by planting bean seeds in a trash-filled vacant lot. Gradually, twelve others, some young and some old, some longtime residents and some newly arrived immigrants, all living in this blighted Cleveland neighborhood but unknown to each other, begin to do the same thing. By harvest time, something beautiful has happened to the lot and to the community of people who are no longer strangers. Each person is a chapter in this slim volume, telling his or her particular story. Bound together, these stories become part of a modern American city's urban tapestry.
An audio book version is available, with different actors reading each story.

Part 3. Integrated Civics

The questions in this section cover geography, symbols, and holidays. Numerous publishers produce series of books on each state; two are described below, along with a picture book that offers a unique map of the U.S. The stories behind two of our most beloved symbols, the Liberty Bell, the flag and the Statue of Liberty, are beautifully told and illustrated in the Marcovitz, Thomson and Rappaport books listed below, while Caroline Kennedy's handbook will introduce ESL students to a wide range of expressions of American culture. As for holidays, many public libraries have a separate section in their children's departments for all the books, picture books as well as nonfiction titles, describing the history and celebration of American holidays.

Washington: Facts and Symbols by Emily McAuliffe. Series title: States and Their Symbols. Mankato: MN: Hilltop Press, 1999. (Beginning-intermediate new reader)
The information in the books in this series are clearly presented in brief chapters covering names and nicknames, flags, capitals, and similar topics. Well produced photographs and maps add visual appeal as well as interesting facts.

Washington by Jean F. Blashfield. Series title: America the Beautiful. New York: Children's Press, 2001. (Advanced new reader)
Offering more detailed information, including a history of important industries and descriptions of each state's natural beauty, the books in this series offer many opportunities for discussion among students whose reading ability in English is greater than their speaking ability.

Quilt of States: Piecing Together America. Quilts by Adrienne Yorinks; Text by Adrienne Yorinks and 50 librarians from across the nation. Washington, D.C., 2005. (Beginning - Intermediate new readers)
A unique and imaginative approach to geography, and a boon to learners with good visual memory, this book represents each state by a quilt cut in the shape of the state and decorated with symbols significant to that state. The states are presented in their order of entrance into the Union, from the first, Delaware, to the last, Hawaii, adding yet another piece of information beyond the list of fun facts and claims to fame that are included in this visually fascinating book.

The Liberty Bell by Hal Marcovitz. Series title: American Symbols and Their Meanings. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
The Liberty Bell, with its characteristic crack, is a revered symbol of both the ideas and the activities that led to the founding of the country. This book tells the Bell's story with an engaging mixture of amusing facts (the bell rings in e-flat), intriguing mysteries (how did that crack develop?), and illustrations showing the Bell's resilience through two centuries. Other subjects examined in this series include Ellis Island, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Stars and Stripes: The Story of the American Flag by Sarah L. Thomson. Illustrated by Bob Davey and Debra Bandelin. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. (Intermediate new reader)
The American flag we see today has undergone several changes in design over the course of our history. As states were added, for example, designers debated about changing the number of stripes and rearranging the stars in the field of blue. This book presents some of the different designs considered, addresses the question about who made the first flag, and discusses changes in the frequency and manner in which the flag is displayed, particularly after the events of September 11, 2001.

Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport. Illustrated by Matt Tavares. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008. (Intermediate new reader)
Readers may be surprised to learn that our Statue of Liberty, the quintessential emblem of America, was conceived of, built, and to a large extent paid for by the people of France.
In this riveting collaboration of words and pictures, Rappaport and Tavares introduce us to the primary players in this extraordinary enterprise and allow each to tell his or her story. We meet law professor Edouard de Laboulaye who first dreamed of creating a statue to the idea of liberty, sculptor Auguste Bartoldi and his assistant Marie Simon who worked through many models to create the design, engineer Gustav Eiffel who created the internal ironwork that supports the statue we see, Charles Stone who supervised the construction on Bedloe's Island, poet Emma Lazarus whose words echo the welcome the statue has offered to millions of immigrants, publisher Joseph Pulitzer who led the campaign to raise money for the pedestal, and even some of the children who collected pennies to add to that effort. Immigrants may no longer arrive by ship through New York harbor, but "The Lady" still stands for them.

A Patriot's Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love edited by Caroline Kennedy. New York: Hyperion, 2003. (Intermediate-advanced new reader)
From the text of the Pledge of Allegiance to the songs of Bob Dylan; from the letters of the second president, John Adams, to the inaugural address of the thirty-fifth, her father, John F. Kennedy; from the lyrics of George M. Cohan's "You're a Grand Old Flag" to the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Caroline Kennedy has gathered a stunning array of materials that present a panoramic perspective on the values inherent in the idea of American patriotism. Part history lesson and part reflection on the diverse range of events, people, and opinions that continue to shape the United States, this book offers many opportunities for native-born Americans and newcomers alike to consider their own response to the question of what it means to be a patriotic American.

Independence Day: Birthday of the United States by Elaine Landau. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Publishers, Inc., 2001. (Intermediate new reader)
Illustrated with reproductions of paintings from colonial times as well as photographs of current day activities, this book offers readers a brief history of the events that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence as well as an overview of the many ways, both patriotic and festive, that the birth of our nation is celebrated today.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, with assistance from The Plimoth Plantation. Photographs by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society, 2001. (Advanced new reader)
The Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum that attempts to discover and present as accurate and balanced a picture as possible about the nature of the English settlement that landed on the shores of what we now call Plymouth, Massachusetts. This book recounts some of the known history of that colony and of the native Wampanoag people, and presents photographs from a reenactment of the harvest feast the two groups shared, the feast that has become our Thanksgiving.

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