Saturday, February 7, 2009

Elephant Run

Nick is born in Burma, but moves to London with his mother when he is young. Now World War II is ravaging London, and his parents think he might be safer in Burma with his father. Nick is excited because he thinks he will be able to spend time getting to know his father and learning all about the plantation work elephants. They are all wrong. The family teak plantation is quickly taken over by Japanese soldiers, Nick’s father is forced to march to a work camp, and Nick is held captive to ensure cooperation. The plantation elephants and their trainers are forced to work on the Japanese railroad and building airstrips. An old monk who can work with even the wildest, most dangerous of the elephants seems to be Nicks brightest hope – can they escape the plantation, free Nicks father, and get to safety? This book has tons of action and was very interesting to me because it weaves in so much about the elephants, their training, how they were used, and the such like. We frequently tend to focus on Europe and the Holocaust when we think of World War II, but this book takes you to the jungles of Asia, and the power struggle between the Allies and Japan there.

I would highly recommend this book for adults and all but the very most sensitive of children, probably from second to fourth grade on. It is fast paced and easy to follow, with plenty of action. The author pulls you into the story right from the very start, and you are in love with the characters almost right away. Since death is an unfortunate reality of every war, this book does have one or two slightly gritty scenes, but the author handles them very well in the context of the book and you’ve moved right along without even hardly noticing it. This book would be excellent as part of any study on World War II.

Practical Uses

Encyclopedia Research: The Many Uses of Elephants

This is a very simple way to get students started using an encyclopedia. I’ve helped students as young as second grade do this sort of research. The basic prerequisites is they need to know how to read and write, but you could always read and write for them if you wanted to just ‘show’ a younger student how an encyclopedia works. If you want them to do everything by themselves, they will also need to understand alphabetical order.
Start by explaining that there are many different resources to choose from when you want to learn something new. If you just want to know the definition of a word, you should choose a dictionary. If you want quick, short answers to a specific question, you might try an almanac. If you want lots of diverse information about a broader topic, you might choose an information book from the library. If you want information about a specific topic, you could look it up in the encyclopedia.
An encyclopedia has several important parts the student should become acquainted with. Have them choose a random volume from the shelf. Point out the letter on the spine, and tell them all the words and topics in that volume start with that letter. Have them open the encyclopedia somewhere near the middle, and point out the key words on the page. Explain key words are in bold at the top of the page, and tell what the first or last word on that page. Have them look at the page and tell them each bold word is the start of a new topic, or entry. Tell them the topics are in alphabetical order to make them easy to find, and have them look closely at the page to observe this. Turn several pages at once, and show them it takes a lot of pages to get very far in the alphabet.
Ask the student what letter their encyclopedia should have on its spine to look up elephants, and have them get that volume. Challenge them to find the entry for elephant. Have them read through it and see if they can find at least three different topics about elephants, such as eating habits, environment, and what work they are used for. Then have them pick their favorite, and see if they can find three facts within that topic. Explain that a fact is a short, quick piece of true information about something. It should just be one complete sentence. Have the student write their facts down, with a title at the top of the page. Say they pick what work they are used for – their page might look like this:

Work Elephants are Used For

1. Elephants are used for logging.
2. Elephants are used to transport people.
3. Elephants can be trained for entertainment.

Tell the students congratulations – they have used the encyclopedia to find facts about a new topic and do research. (If you are interested at this stage, you should have them write their citation at the bottom of the page.)

Political History / Geography: A Changing Nation

Since Burma is not on current maps, this book would be a good starting place for a discussion on the many reasons a country might change it’s name. Start by discussing the fact the United States of America used to be the American Colonies. We were the colonies of England that happened to lie in North America. Then we had a huge war to gain our independence. We decided to set up our government into states that were united under a federal government. Thus we were the United States, and since we still happened to be in North America, we were the United States of America.
Then have students use an encyclopedia (or Google if they are advanced enough to sort through results) and look up Burma to see if they can find its history.

Literature / History / Research / Art / Just a Little Math: Historical Storyboard

You could do this two ways, depending on how much time you have for research. Students could either choose specific events from the story, or they could research them from the time period in general. Also, if you did the other encyclopedia activity, you might want to reinforce those skills, or you might feel you need a break from research. I will explain the longer way. Have students use an encyclopedia* or information book to find six events in World War II. Make sure these events can be dated or otherwise put in sequential order. Have students cut a piece of white construction paper in six pieces. On each piece they should draw one of the events they chose. Have them write in small letters at the bottom the “title” of the event and the date. They will then put the events in order on another piece of construction paper using glue or tape.

Things you could branch off and discuss more in-depth:
Story boarding in the media and as a planning tool
Story boarding as a comic strip
Sequential ordering
Encyclopedia usage
Cause and effect
How changing even one event in their storyboard would affect the rest of the war

Geography: Finding Nick

Before reading the book give students a map of Europe and Asia. Have them find these places and mark them on the map:
Burma (this will be tough since its not called Burma anymore)
-Bay of Bengal
As they read the book have students trace the route Nick might have taken, and mark any other places they find mentioned in the book.

No comments: