2.28.2014

PPBF: Josias, Hold the Book

Today I'm excited to share a book that connects with me all the way back to my roots on the farm. Prepare to fall in love with Josias. He's one responsible kid! 


Title: Josias, Hold the Book
Author: Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren
Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Date: 2006 (reprint edition January 1, 2011)
Suitable for: grades 1-4
Themes: Haitian culture, responsibility, poverty
Realistic Fiction
Brief synopsis: A young Haitian gardener, Josias can't help but notice that his family's beans aren't growing like they used to. Though his friends invite him every day to "hold the book" - an expression that means attend school to learn - Josias repeatedly declines because he's working diligently on the family farm to find a solution to their issue with the beans. Is it possible that if Josias agrees to "hold the book" he'd be able to research other options and save his bean crop?

Opening pages:  Josias frowned at the bare rows of dirt between the sweet potatoes and peas in his family's tiny garden. "The beans have grown well here every year. Why not this one?" He wiped the sweat from his brow as the Haitian sun climbed higher in the sky.

Resources:  

Read a Kirkus review {here}.

Why I like this book and how I would use it:  

First-grade teacher Margaret Limmer first introduced me to this book a few years ago during their farm unit. She said that it reminded her of me since I, too, grew up working on a farm. She also said it was an excellent book to teach problem solving and responsibility. After reading it, however, my first question had to do with fairness: Was it fair that Josias had to work and wasn't able to "hold the book" like his friend Chrislove? That led to my next inquiry: Is education a right or a privilege? These would be interesting writing prompts or discussion points before reading Josias' story aloud to your class. 

While reading aloud, ask students to keep track of the ways in which Josias attempts to help his beans grow. What, if anything, would they have done differently to solve that problem?

Might the books that his friends are reading at school hold the solution to this problem? Is not being able to hold the book holding Josias back? A teacher helps by explaining about crop rotation, and Josias learns a valuable lesson that could even help modernize his family. An author's note at the end of the book gives her readers an insider's look into the plight of the Haitian farmer and the schooling issues that rural children face in that third-world nation. 

Have students compare and contract their life with Josias' way of living. What, if anything, is the same? And what do they note is different? This might also lead to a study of the people, customs, and traditions in Haiti and could even springboard a service project. What is one of the needs that we could help fill there? After the earthquake there, we collected gently-used shoes and sent them through Soles 4 Souls, an organization designed to wear out poverty. Seize this opportunity to find out what they understand about poverty. Are Josias and his family rich or poor? How do they know?

Follow up the story with a writing lesson. What would your students say in a letter to Josias? Tell him about your country and ask him about his. What are your responsibilities as a student? As a family member? As a friend? What are his? 

Want a science experiment? Plant some beans and try watering them with different liquids: water, milk, coffee, lemonade, cola. What do your student predict might happen? Write a hypothesis, then plant those seeds. Help students keep data; measure and document. Track growth and other reactions to the treatment and care. Let students discuss their observations and outcomes.

Check out this book and the other gems on our PPBF list.






17 comments:

  1. What an interesting story, Barbara. Your review makes me want to know if Josias found his solutions by holding the book. Is it based on a true story? We have missionary friends who go to Haiti at least once a year. Their descriptions of the desperate poverty and the lifestyle of enslavement to drugs, prostitution, and worse break my heart. Their mission is not just to share the Gospel, but to also educate and provide some career training (carpentry, mechanics and sewing) to their contacts. Presently, they are told it is not safe to travel there so they went to the Dominican Republic this year. Thank you for sharing this PB.

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    1. I forgot to write that it's realistic fiction ... and yes, there is a nice author's note at the end about the educational system and opportunities in Haiti.

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  2. Books that explore other cultures with a great story are a wonderful resource. And giving kids an understanding of the work that goes into producing food - bonus!

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    1. This IS a book with a bonus ... and more ... rich food for thought and even a smidgen of a chance to empathize with Josias and other Haitian farm families whose sole livelihood is their crop production. Thanks for stopping by, Wendy.

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  3. looks interesting... and one I haven't read yet. I like stories that grow from the ground up.

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    1. Yes, grass roots ... and something many of our 21st-century suburban children can't relate to.

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  4. I love Haiti, the people and the culture. There is so much poverty and it is important for children to understand how other children live. This book book about Josias looks like a must read for me for many reasons. My daughter went on two medical mission trips to Haiti. We sponsored four children for many years, so that they could attend school. Great selection and I love your activities for the classroom.

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    1. Oh, Pat, I was just sure you'd know this one already. I did read that many people sponsor children so they can attend school there ... love that you have that connection. Thanks for your kind affirmations.

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  5. This sounds like a great addition to any elementary classroom. Thanks for the review.

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    1. My pleasure; it really is a rich read, Rosi. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. I love this title and theme. What super activities. A great addition to a multicultural picture book shelf.

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    1. Thank you, Joanna. It really is a keeper.

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  7. I love books that introduce kids to different parts of the world. I'll add this one to our list. Thanks Barbara!

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    1. My pleasure, Kirsten; I think it'll be a valuable addition to your list!

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  8. Sounds like a great story on several different levels. Thank you for sharing how you would use it too. Very helpful.

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    1. This story is multi-layered as you've suggested, Stacy. I really loved the problem-solving aspect ... he tries water, donkey dung, etc. ... then there's the knowledge is power piece. Oh, and the scarcity and cultural stuff ... it's a wonderful resource. I appreciate your kind affirmations.

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  9. What a terrible thing for a boy to not be able to go to school!! And to not realize that that is probably exactly where he'll find his answers! That's a tragedy. I'd like to read this one. Thanks for all the interesting thoughts.

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I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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