For reasons which I shall not divulge, this week the kids and I spent an *entire* day together away from school, reading and doing things that usually stay on my “if only” list.
I highly recommend it; the list came to life, and it was glorious.
One of the things we did was some work on our current family read-aloud, The Twenty-One Balloons
I’ve loved the creativity and imagination of this book since I first taught it to my elementary class so many years ago. Opening the pages to my own children this spring has been a special treat.
For those of you unfamiliar with this Newbery Winner, the main character, William Waterman Sherman, attempts to fly around the world in a hot air balloon but ends up on the island of Krakatoa. Krakatoa is a real island between the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean, and is actually the volcano that the book purports it to be. After “the world’s biggest volcanic eruption” in 1883, diamonds were found on the island and the money they brought transformed the lives of the island’s inhabitants.
This income allowed the islanders to build creative homes with secret entryways and trap doors, convertible roofs and chairs that could travel the house and automatically deliver you to your desired destination. I can’t wait to see my childrens’ faces light up when they imagine these homes!
But before we moved on, I thought this book offered the perfect moment to study the setting of the book. Why not try it with the next book you read together? Whether you’re reading about central Minnesota through the eyes of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Texas through the pages of Old Yeller, taking a look at setting will enrich your reading.
A few tips:
- Get out your largest world or U.S. map (or head to Barnes & Noble to buy one!)
- Spend time locating the region mentioned in the book. Settings are generally unveiled right away, so this is a great way to get kids hooked on your story in the first chapter.
- Use Wikipedia or another resource to read more about the area if it’s unfamiliar to you (as Krakatoa was to us)
- Have your kids draw their own map, including surrounding areas for reference. Make sure to label bodies of water.
- Ask each child to write down 3 facts about this location. These may include weather/climate trends, natural resources, or famous landmarks. At the very least, have your kids make statements of geographical reference (i.e., “This island is south of China.”).
- Teach your children how to use Google Earth to locate your book’s setting. When we found Krakatoa we got to see real photos which our kids loved! We then zoomed above our own home and down to Rockafeller Center in NYC. So fun!
- Make predictions about how the landscape might play into the story. Sometimes, as in western expansion stories, the setting is nearly a character in the plotline.
- Actually travel to the book’s location! An expensive venture, but one they’ll never forget! One of the reasons I still love the West so much!
- Create a “visitor’s guide” for this location! Even if you can’t really go, your kids can guide you on a “virtual” adventure! Use Keynote for a digital guide, Pages or Publisher for the graphic kid, or your video camera for the budding newscaster!