Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Passionate Pursuits Along the Hudson: Feeding Them, Researching Them and Hopefully Finding them at Work and in Your Classrooms

How many times do you hear the terms "passionate pursuits" and "in the classroom" together?  My bet is rarely, and so much the pity. While the post below did not take place in a classroom I hope to inspire writers and educators alike to put passion and projects into everyday practice and learning.

This past week, I went to an author talk / exhibit opening at the New York City Public Library. Walking into the main building alone is inspiring but even the majestic space paled to the passion, practice and hard work that went into the making of Mark Siegel's "Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson."

Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson. This is a graphic novel for young-adult teens and adults about a steamboat captain who finds a harpooned mermaid.  (I say teens because there is some nudity.)

Sailor Twain or the Mermaid in the Hudson is about love, mermaids, metaphors, and intrigue.  But this post in not about the book as much as the project. In a few weeks, I'll blog a review of the book.

Can't wait for the review?  Here is my first link:  Table of Contents - Overview and Part I of the book with blog notes. This link has the first part of the book online along with the writer's blog about work and research that went into those pages. The blog itself is chock full of gems and well worth the time and read.

This book began as doodles during Siegel's daily commute. Over the course of nine years Siegel conducted research (at the New York Public Library and visiting townships, villages and industries along the Hudson River), built models (of steamships and steamship compartments used later for his drawing), developed his story and the resulting art panels for this book. He became such a fixture at the library and endeared so many there that the exhibit (in room 117) has incorporated his book into displays of maps and photos of the Hudson River and the library (then called the Astor Library) from the late 1880's. If you are in the New York City area, a visit to room 117 in the New York City Public Library (the Main Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street) is worth your time.  It's a small exhibit in a comfortable room where old New York comes to life.

For Sailor Twain, first there were the doodles: During his communites from his home in Tarrytown to work (midtown Manhattan) Siegel would simply sketch figures and ideas as he gazed through the train window at the Hudson River.  At the time he was in his mid-thirties and was facing challenging life decisions, and he realized that not only were his doodle related to the river and to his life, but they were actually beginning to tell a story. This story is not biographical, but Siegel noted that there were overlapping themes (in particular, one of his parents was French the other American and you see this mix in his main character selections).

Once he had the initial story grain, he began his research and model building.

In terms of research, Siegel read about:
  • mermaid myth - especially the allure of mermaid song and how sailors were 'lured' to their death as they became obsessed with the song.  [NOTE: Siegel uses this later in his book as a metaphor for addictions and obsessive pursuits.]
  • Hudson River steamships along the Hudson and the roles they played
  • fashion in lower Manhattan
  • trade in lower Manhattan and reactions to suffrage and racism
  • food served on the steamships [NOTE: the Hudson River was teaming with sturgeon and the steamships religiously served sturgeon caviar].
  • industry along the Hudson River [NOTE: aside from the emerging industrial revolution along the Hudson, there was a winery (the Millbrook Winery), which still produces wine and they have bottled two wines in honor of this book.  At the book/exhibit launch we had a sample...they're good!]
  • communities and townships along the River
  • publications from the late 1880's most were published in serial publications [which Siegel mirrored with the weekly blogs and presentation of his book]  
Once the research was done, Siegel built models of steamships and their interiors to help with the  art.

The art itself was done in charcoal to give it an industrial feel and while he decided to draw a few of the characters more 'cartoon-like', others were drawn in intricate detail.  The art is breathtaking and well worth (to his readers) the horrible mess charcoal presented for him. Here is the opening page of Chapter 1 - you can feel the soot and industrial pollution.

SailorTwain 013
Finally, some more links taken from sailortwain.com  Here are some highlights (go visit sailortwain.com for more):

New York & Hudson River :
The treasure trove! The New York Historical Society
Ephemeral New York—full of goodies
The Bowery Boys—essential!
A beauty on the river, a marvelous way to experience the Hudson, with a crew of some of its greatest champions, Pete Seeger’s beloved Clearwater
Millbrook Winery is a flagship Hudson Valley winery. Their Tocai Friulano is served up and down the river towns for good reason.
Whitecliffe Winery: another Hudson Valley award-winning vineyard

The Vanishing Art of Letter Writing?
Victorian Rituals an introduction
Letters, Letter-writing and Other Intimate Discourse, by Wendy Russ—lots of links to more
On Victorian letter-writing manuals, from Victorianweb.org
For map lovers
Matt Knutzen’s blog of the priceless New York Public Library Maps Division
Strange Maps! (thanks, Warren!)
Historical Charts: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) keeps a list of historical navigation charts, and here is clickable, zoomable example of what the pilot Utterson and Twain would have been using aboard the Lorelei (this one from 1865) (Thanks, Anne!)
The David Rumsey maps database: tons of searchable maps! (Thanks, David!)
From the University of Texas, a magnificently illustrated Glossary of Victorian Sartorial Terms!
Superb photo exhibits at Clio Visualizing History.
Dating in the Victorian Age: “The Unsuitable Suitor of 1879″—from Victoriana.com

 Remember... In a few weeks I'll have a review of the book along with some teaching/enrichment suggestions for mature young-adult/adult students. 
Aside from just reading this book to see how his story and work unfolds, here are some ways to integrate passion in your home and classrooms:
  •  Research other passion projects - talk about common threads and elements that allowed these people to realize their dreams.
  • Ask your kids what they might want to do if they had a 'passion project'- brainstorm, ruminate about what might be done.
  • Help them realize the more 'doable' passions. Have them work alone or in a group to create their own passion projects.
  • Pursue your own passion project and ask your kids (if interested)  to help you realize the project. Model and discuss what needs to be done.
In the meantime, thank you for your visit, please leave your notes, reactions and questions in the comments.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

PREVIEW...Using Content Area Graphic Texts for Learning

With a bit over a week until our book hits the stores, I will be previewing selections of the book over the next few weeks.

Here is the introduction which provides an overview of the book.  We will be awarding a few more copies for review.  Please let us know if you're interested in receiving a copy (and why) and please leave your opinions, questions and reactions in the comments below.



“We’re here for forty-five minutes. Have fun with the time, but don’t even
THINK about taking out any of those comics or graphic novels!”
-Meryl Jaffe

That is how I used to preface visits to the library or bookstore with my students and children.

In my mind graphic novels were often violent collections about caped crime-fighters, masked madmen, or fictional friends at Riverdale High School.  How did I know this?  That’s what the comic books of my childhood were all about, and I hadn’t seen anything different to change my mind. Admittedly, I hadn’t been looking to change my mind. Johnny Tremain, Of Mice and Men, and The Gammage Cup were just fine for my middle schoolers. These books created worlds of fantasy or historical fiction that made my readers think while incorporating language in inspiring ways. I realize now though that reading lists, like most things in life, can’t remain static. They must be fluid, dynamically bending and adjusting to the time and winds of change.

A few years ago, my children sat me down and passionately argued that in any discussion of literacy, graphic novels had to be included. I reluctantly agreed to read one book of their choice. With the stakes high I advised them to choose wisely, and they did. They selected Joe Kelly’s I Kill Giants, and I was truly blown away. As Kelly’s story opens the reader meets Barbara, a fifth-grade girl who explains that she kills giants. The thing is, it takes most of the book to determine whether this is a metaphor for something bigger, stronger, and scarier in her life or she actually kills giants. He leaves it to you (and your students) to figure out which is the case.

Katie and I come to you from different perspectives. She began her career in the classroom and is now in academia; I began in academia and am now in the classroom. She is a young vibrant rising star, and I am a seasoned parent,  school psychologist, and educator. Although we both came to graphic novels relatively recently in our professional careers, we have become strong advocates for their inclusion in today’s classrooms and libraries.

While Katie and I discuss the movement of graphic novels from comic book shops to the classroom in Part I of this book, there have been three general factors that led us personally, to include them in our classrooms:
1.     There is now a wealth of motivating high-quality graphic novels (be they fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, or nonfiction) that lend themselves to content-area classroom use.
2.     With the growth of technology and access to the Internet there is now an increasing need for visual and verbal literacy mastery, emphasized not only in our everyday lives, but also in the Common Core State Standards.
3.     Graphic novels, by their very nature draw the reader into the story because the reader must construct the story by actively integrating visual and verbal components. This is a highly creative and interactive process, which makes learning more meaningful.

Our Goals

While teaching methods and goals are rapidly expanding to meet the demands of our ever shrinking—and yet expanding—worlds we hope to empower you with specific tools to meet those demands. Educators are now mandated to address visual and verbal literacies by incorporating multimodal texts and sources, while fostering greater independent, creative, and analytic thinking. To help address these needs and changes we offer you concrete teaching options in the form of interactive graphic novel suggestions and lesson plans. Graphic novels provide an excellent vehicle to meet curricular standards while incorporating diverse student needs and affinities.

Our goal in this book is to introduce you to today’s graphic novels. We explain how they have matured, how they address learning and curriculum standards, and, finally, how they can be taught in your content-area middle-school classrooms. We also demonstrate how graphic novels and our suggested lessons meet diverse student needs featuring attention, memory, language, sequencing, and cognition skills.

How This Book Is Organized

In the first part of this book, we introduce you to the mechanics of today’s graphic novels and detail how they have changed throughout the years. We also relate why these books are such effective teaching tools for modern classrooms.

The second part of this book takes you to our four content-area classrooms: math, language arts, social studies, and science. Each content-area chapter:
·      Explains how graphic novels can meet your curricular needs;
·      Provides two types of lessons, each using graphic novels in a different way;
·      Demonstrates what each lesson asks students to do—focusing on attention, memory, language, sequencing, and cognition skills;
·      Shows each lesson’s alignment with the Common Core State Standards;
·      Discusses how graphic novels in our lessons help different types of students succeed in the content-area classroom; and
·      Includes a list of other suggested graphic novels you can include in your content-area classroom.

Please note, however, that the lessons and suggested readings we provide are merely suggestions. We encourage you to expand upon these suggested readings and tweak our lessons to meet your own personal teaching preferences and student needs. And, if you are so inclined, we hope you share your explorations and experiences with these lessons and suggested readings with us at www.departingthetext.blogspot.com. Check the blog for new lessons, graphic novel reviews, content-area classroom tips, conference appearances, and more.

For those interested in purchasing the book, if you go to our book page at Maupin House, we are offering the book at a discount if purchased before November 5, 2012.

Thank you for your visit and please leave a note in the comments if you want to receive a free copy for review. Also, as always, please leave your reactions, feedback and any questions you may have in the comments.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

OH the FUN Elections can Occupy in Classrooms: Overview of Awesome Ideas and Websites

From: bendbulletin.com Art by Ben Clanton
This year's national and local elections are overflowing with rivalry, challenges, infused debates and accusations.  The Presidential and many local races are still too close to call and offer wonderful excitement as well as civic learning opportunities.

In the final two weeks before the 2012 elections here are some diverse ways to look, learn and bring the national and local issues to your kids. The resources below have games, national projects and challenges, and research tools. 


Engage in Democracy 2012 Student Journalism Challenge is a non-profit project supported by the Media Arts Institute whose goals are to engage K-12 students in democracy, leadership, and community involvement.  Through the challenge described below Engage 2012 goals are to:
  • encourage curiosity, 
  • develop students' technical and non-fiction storytelling skills in a hands-on learning environment, 
  • assist educators in building curriculum that teachers about journalism and the democratic process, and
  • empower students to make positive changes on a community and societal level
The Engage 2012 Challenge:
"To participate, shoot a video under two minutes in length using stories from around your community with a focus on one of six big election topics below. You or a team of three students can submit three entries by January 19, 2012. Research, shoot, write, edit.  Use your smartphone, camcorder or flip camera...we are looking for entries that are fair, accurate and informative. The six big election topic are:
    • voter turnout
    • jobs and the economy
    • education reform
    • health care
    • energy and the environment
    • immigration
For more details, for helpful resources and sample videos please go to:http://www.engage2012.org/

MTV's Fantasy Election is an interactive game for kids.  Students log in and pick their political dream team for President and for Congress.  Points are accumulated based on how each candidate rates in the real world along numerous dimensions (such as honesty, transparency, public opinion, and engagement), for logging in to the debates. reading information online in published articles and even showing up at local political events. They are offering great prizes and if you're not sure what your dream team is, "Doris" their computer can generate one for you which can be tweaked any time up to the elections.

Join the Debate is a forum for high school students to chat about the debates.  After each debate, students are invited to log in and discuss the issues (the economy, renewable energy, education, foreign policy civil rights, and immigration, the candidates and their questions in a safe environment of peers from all over the world. High school students can log in and are assigned to a video chat discussion group led by one of their facilitators on Google hangout.

  • Conduct your own debates  
    • Mock Presidential debates
    • Mock Congressional debates of local candidates
    • From: powerlineblog.com
    • Debate the issues.  To give everyone a voice you may opt for small groups, and either have each group debate each issue or assign issues to the various groups - allow them to debate - and then reflect their opinions to the class as a whole.
  • Conduct  polls (neighborhood, class and/or school) for local or student and/or staff opinions on the candidates and on selected issues (gun control, immigration, economy, energy, health care, educations, or even voter turnout).
  • For visual literacy activities:  Look at the election cartoons and art.  Discuss use of slogans, colors, animals and content to relay information and attempt to sway opinions.  
  • When researching topics (please see suggested tools/sites below) some websites and newspaper articles are more objective than others.  Discuss the role and challenges of objective reporting.
  • Discuss how you can set up elections booths in the classroom for the school students.  Discuss need for ID's, polling, and how best to create a ballot and vote.

TOOLS THAT PRESENT ELECTION INFORMATION (note some are more objective than others and this on its own is an excellent discussion or project):

  • http://www.google.com/elections/ed/us  this site allows you to sort information along candidates and issues and follow search trends and follow real time public opinion.
  • FactCheck.org monitors the accuracy of what candidates actually say.  There is an awesome viral spiral page which lists false or misleading information gone viral that they are asked most frequently about.
  • 2012 election for kids cartoons you should screen them first but there are some wonderful cartoons here rife for discussion.
  • Chan Lowe from http://theweek.com/section/cartoon/93/235059/2012-elections
  • TIME Magazine for Kids special election coverage - this site has links on the debates, behind the scenes at the conventions, meet the candidates (Presidential and VicePresidential), chat rooms, and meet the media to name a few. They also have a link where kids can cast their own votes.
  • Scholastic Magazine  also has a neat site that features "breaking news" meet the candidates, lesson plans for teachers and parents, election vocabulary, election timeline, and election maps and games.
  • USA.gov - Government Made Easy  - has information about the elections and voting, the electoral college, election history, legislation and reform, and links for  educational material
  • http://www.infoplease.com/us/government/presidential-election-campaign-2012.html is a wonderful resource.  Under "History and Government" they have a wealth of information on the election, the candidates, and the issues. Sections at this site include:
    • Mitt Romney on the Issues
    • Barak Obama on the Issues
    • Elections & Issues (with information on the closest Presidential races, the electoral college vs. popular vote, PACs, superdeligates, types of ballots)
    • Presidential Factfile with information on past and present Presidents, their families, their pardons, and milestones, to name a few
    • Presidential Fun Stuff - with quizzes, slideshows, films, crossword puzzles, games
    • Inaugural speeches and notable addresses
Thanks to Talia Hurwich for this blog idea as well as for recommending an awesome resource: Ideas from Infinite Thinking Machine

Regardless of who you vote for, make sure you vote and please share some of your favorite kid-friendly ideas ore websites.

Thanks for your visit and comments.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nutritional Needs and New Nutrition Labels: Kid' Games, Lesson Plans, and Curricular Activities

From: comotionfitness.com.au
 Nutrition Facts:
  • Eating breakfast helps children perform better
  • Healthy eating is associated with reduced risk for disease (including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes)
  • Depending on the source, one in five or one in three American children and adolescents are overweight or obese
  • About 75% of the $2.8TRILLION in annual health care costs in the US is from chronic diseases that can often be reversed or prevented by a healthy diet and lifestyle (better food choices and exercise)
  • An optimal diet is 
    • low in unhealthy carbs (sugar and refined carbohydrates) 
    • low in fat (especially saturated fats and trans fats)
    • low in red meat (animal protein consumption has been found to trigger the release of cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF -1)
    • low in processed foods
    • high in healthy carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, unrefined forms of fish)
    • calories count
Nutritional Misconceptions:
  • As long as you lose weight it doesn't matter what you eat
  • Being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PARENTS AND TEACHERS: we must raise kids' awareness of food and nutition facts, and we must both encourage and model better eating preferences and habits.  It also means exercise must be a regular part of our lives and that schools, when cutting gym and recess are hurting the mental and physical health of our kids and we must find alternatives.

As a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 public school lunches must now include fruits and vegetables, remain within specific calorie restrictions (high school lunches must be less than 850 calories, middle school lunches no more than 700 calorie, and elementary school lunches no more than 650), and limit fat and sodium intake.  So, for example, 2% mile has been replaced with skim milk and French fries have been replaced with baked sweet-potato wedges. Some kids, however, are protesting.

Given this, I was surprised to read (No Appetite for Good-for-You School Lunches-NYTimes, 10/5/12) that outside Pittsburgh, near Milwaukee, in western Kansas, in Parsippany NJ, and across Twitter and Facebook, kids are protesting their healthier school lunches. Students claim that they are still hungry (even though they throw away their fruit and vegetables), the meals are 'tasteless' and students prefer going out or to school vending machines to buy chips and snacks instead of eat the school lunch.

THIS is where education, nutritional awareness, and modeling has to come in.

  • kid friendly nutrition web sites
  • an awesome nutritional labeling suggestion
From: betterlife-foryou.com
KID/PARENT/TEACHER NUTRITION WEBSITES with games, general information and lesson plans for home, school, and commom core curricular suggestions:
  • Nutrition Facts for Kids (sponsored by BigOven.com) is an extraordinary site with links for parents; for teachers teaching about nutrition; nutrition information for kids; kid friendly and healthy recipes; and kids' nutrition activities and games.
  • KidsHealth has games, movies, experiments, quizzes, activities, and general information. Their topics include how the body works, staying healthy, staying safe, puberty and growing up, recipes and cooking. This site has separate sections for parents, for kids, and for teens.
  • Kids Eat Well -  from kidseatwell.org and the Illinois NET Program - has games for PreK-Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School, High School, Kids Cooking, and Family Fun sections.
  • Nutrition Fun For Kids - has free puzzle/activity downloads for kids to read/play, ideas of (seasonal) fun things to do, fun kids 'health' books to read, recipes, and an awesome list of additional links to games and kid-friendly nutrition websites.
  • Nourish Interactive -  has nutrition games for kids and interactive nutrition tools and tips for parents and health educators. At this website there are games/information for:
    • for kids: nutrition and cooking games, Food Label Fun, and Farm to Table games
    • a Teacher's Corner with handouts, recipes and cooking tips
    • a Parent's Tips and Tools section with important topics to print up and use when talking with kids and their pediatricians; recipes,  and meal tips [note that there is one prompt with advertising in the parent's section for Mistrys - the online chemist.]
    • a Featured Recipe section
  • NutritionExplorations.org has games and 'exploration' prompts dedicated to nutrition that include identifying and classifying foods into the five food groups and identifying the health benefits of each food group.. They have 
    • Little D's Nutrition Expedition Games designed for lower elementary students  
    • Arianna's Nutrition Expedition Games designed for upper elementary students
    • Other Nutrition Games relating to the benefits of eating healthy meals, especially breakfast and experiment with some winning combinations of foods.
  •  Kidnetic.com is a colorful, attractive site with prompts for fun kid recipes; learning about their bodies; reading suggestions for food, fun and fitness; games for kids created by kids; a scavenger hunt to be done at home; a fitness challenge; and a "Move Mixer" where kids design a dance and then do it. There is also a fun "quiz" section.
  • The Super Crew for Kids has links for Children's Book Corner, Fun Activities, and Nutrition Facts. Activities include coloring pages, puzzles and experiments the family can do together.  There are also activities in Spanish.
  • SUPER WEBSITE FOR TEACHERS WITH LESSON PLANS INTEGRATING NUTRITION WITH MATH, LANGUAGE ARTS, SCIENCE AND SOCIAL STUDIES: Leafy-Greens Council.  The Leafy-Greens.org group links up with their "Cruiferous Crusaders All Star Cancer Fighting Team (all herbivorous dinosaurs) to teach kids/students about the benefits of cruciferous vegetables (vegetables from the leafy green family). Teachers who incorporate their lesson plans into their classrooms can receive free book covers, trading cards and posters (while supplies last).
  • Food Champs - for younger kids (ages 2-5 and 6-8) it has games, coloring sheets, recipes and activity pages for kids.
  • USDA and their Farm Service Agency has a site with links for coloring pages, fun farm facts, games, and information on conservation and the environment.
  • Body and Mind sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a wonderfully attractive site with classroom activities and games as well as prompts to play on while learning about diseases, food and nutrition, physical activity, safety, and 'your body.'

Nutritional labels help all of us identify foods we should be eating versus those we probably should not.  Greater awareness on nutrition along greater ease of identifying foods and food products can make a big difference in consumption.

Mark Bittman in the New York Times Sunday Review (10/14/12)   "My Dear Food Label" noted that while nutrition labels already give us useful information they don't tell us whether that food item is at all nutritionally beneficial to us.
Even the simplest information - a red, yellow or green "traffic light," for example - would encourage consumers to make healthier choices...[and]might help counter obesity.
Bittman continues noting that such labels "might as well be a skill and crossbones" for manufacturers of 'red light' items which results in their reluctance to carry this through. He notes that in one study (A 2-Pahse Labeling and Choice Architecture Intervention to Improve Healthy Food and Beverage Choices by A.N. Thorndike, L. Sonnenberg, J. Riis, S. Barraclough, and D.E. Levy, found in the American Journal of Public Health, 2011) sales of red-lighted soda fell by 16.5% in three months and the authors concluded that a color-coded labeling intervention improved sales of healthy items.

Over the last few months Bittman has worked with Werner Design Werks and devised a food label that "can tell a story about three key elements of any packaged food" and provide an overall traffic-light-style recommendation or warning. Here is their suggestion: A color coded bar with a 15-point scale determining the product's overall rating for
    • Nutrition (including high sugar, trans fats, micronutrients and fiber, etc.)
    • Foodiness - "how close the product is to real food"
    • Welfare - the treatment of workers, animals, and the earth in the preparation of the product.
Nutrition, Foodness and Welfare would each have a rating bar illustrating how well the particular product holds up on a 0-5 rating scale. It would also color code the 'healthiness' of the product along their 15-point scale.  GREEN would recommend "eat" with a score of 11-15 (as seen in the image below); YELLOW would recommend "eat with restraint or consideration" with a score of 6-10; and RED would recommend the food be eaten "rarely or never" with a score of 0-5. The label would also indicate whether the product contained GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms). Here is what they might look like (sorry I couldn't find a clearer image) along with a link to the complete article "The Proposed Nutrition Label: A Quick Read, Out Front" -The New York Times  October 13, 2012):

BOTTOM LINE: As consumers, parents and educators, we need to be both more demanding and more aware of our options. We need to model better eating and better health awareness.

What do you think?  What are some of the things you're doing to help?  Please let us know in the comments and thank you for your visit.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

"M" is for Mohawk and Musk Ox (Usually): Integrating a journal, a graphic novel, Thanksgiving, and the Common Core

In honor of "M" Week at ABCWednesday and in preparation for Thanksgiving I decided to write about
  • the Mohawk Nation
  • a wonderful young adult graphic novel (whose text is taken from the diary of twenty-three year old Harem Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, illustrated by George O'Connor depicting his travels deep into what is now New York State to establish a tribal trading friendship between the Dutch and the Mohawk Nation)
  • Thanksgiving, and
  • The Common Core Curriculum Standards
  • A new ABC book WELL WORTH it ...for ALL AGES ..."A is for MUSK OX"

The Mohawk Nation

The Mohawk Nation, then known as Kanien'kehake (people of the flint) was one of the five founding Nations of the Iroquois League.  [The other Nations in the Confederacy were the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Oneida, and the Onondaga.  The sixth Nation to join were the Tuscarora.]

From: www.native-languages.org/york.htm
The name Mohawk was given to the tribe by the Algonquin and was later adopted by the Europeans who had difficulty pronouncing Kanien'kehake. "Mohawk" means man-eaters, although many believe this name was just a figure of speech to depict their fierce nature.  

The Mohawks are the true Native New Yorkers. At the time of the formation of the Iroquois League, the five tribes occupied territory from the East to the West, the Mohawk being the "keepers of the eastern door."  Today, while some still live in New York, most retreated to Canada in the 1700's.

People of Iroquoian linguistic stock were sedentary tribes who were accustomed to life in the harsher climates of the North-East.  In addition to hunting, the Mohawk practiced agriculture, cultivating corn, squash and beans (the three sisters). They were also excellent trappers; when the European settlers came, the Mohawk exchanged furs for rifles, an arrangement which kept the colonists warm, and the conquering Mohawk strong.

They were sometimes referred to as the Haudenosaunee, which meant "People of the Longhouse" because of their long, rectangular communal dwellings.
Journey into Mohawk Country: A graphic novel by Messrs. Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert and George O'Connor (First Second Books, 2006, for ages 9+)

Early in the winter of 1634, a young dutch trader, Messr. Harmen Meyndertsz Van den Bogaert, set out from the tiny Dutch colony on the southern tip of Manhattan Island to explore Iroquois country.  His team's hope is to
  • establish a new fur trading friendship that would strengthen the faltering Dutch trade
  • determine the French role in the Dutch's faltering fur trade
Despite the freezing temperatures, a scarcity of trustworthy guides, maps, and scarce food, HM Van den Bogaert and his friends set out on their journey. Throughout this journey, Van den Bogaert kept a journal recording the fears, obstacles, successes and hardships faced on his journey.


This graphic novel, almost four centuries later is presented here in Bogaert's own words and accompanied by George O'Connor's illustrations.  Readers will experience what harsh winters were like for traders and explorers and see early detente at its best.They even partake in a true "Thanksgiving" dinner.

This graphic novel also contains a forward (describing the role of trade and the Dutch West India Company, the topography and names of the region and time), an afterward, and a glossary.

For more graphic images go to: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/12/28/nyregion/200912-MOHAWK-ILLOS.html

Teaching suggestions/discussions:
  • Compare this story (1st-person journal entry) to that of The Last Mohicans.  Discuss the different formats and stories.  Discuss non-fiction vs. fictional depictions of story.
  • Use the resources below to get a more complete picture of life for the Mohawk/Iroquois Indians as well as the role of trade 
  • Discuss this journal and its story to the history of early native Americans, to the role of trade, and to the relationships the Mohawks had with the French, Dutch and Swedes.
  • Discuss the role of symbols (see below as well as throughout the book) across cultures.
  • Discuss the impact of 'thanksgiving' dinners and detente Colonial/Dutch/French/Indian relations.
  • Discuss the different models of governance between the cultures.
  • Discuss the role the Longhouse played in Mohawk culture.

Additional Resources and Multi-modal lesson suggestions
  • Mohawk Tribe - a link sponsored and produced by the Mohawk tribe
  • Constitution of the Six Nations: Gayanashagowa - The Great Binding Law
  • OnLine Resources endorsed by the Mohawk Tribe 
  • Theyebdabegea a.k.a. Joseph Brant  - was a Mohawk leader who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, was educated in white schools, was a protoge of Sir William Johnson and learned Latin and Greek.  He translated the new Testament into his native language and is a fascinating figure - well worth a diversion - at least to this site.
  • Symbols of the Mohawks [Haudenosaunee]- Haudenosaunee designs feature recurring symbols and have deep cultural significance to the Mohawk Tribe.  These symbols include  
    • The Tree of Peace a tall white pine representing Gayanahsagowa, the binding law with unified the five Iroquois Nations, 
    • the tree's four white roots representing the four beings who help the Creator and the four winds that blow, 
    • an eagle perched atop the tree of peace, watching over the Nations. [You may want to discuss the similarities and differences in the image of the eagle in American and Mohawk cultures.]
    • a bundle of five arrows each representing one of the five founding Iroquois tribes
    • the Celestial Tree
    • Turtle Island which represents Earth and whose carapace features thirteen plates, each of which represent one of the thirteen moons that make up an entire year. [You may want to discuss the different cultures whose calendars follow the moon vs. the sun. Older students when learning about the Earth resting on a giant turtle may want to read the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett].
    • The Underworld represented by snakes and a horned panther with a long serpentine tail which lives underwater in eth great lakes.
  • Books to read relating to the Mohawk Nation or their culture:
    • The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (1826) - READER NOTES:
      • The Mohicans were the victims of several attacks and were eventually conquered by the Mohawks (who were their neighbors to the south of the Hudson River Valley). 
      • The Mohican surrendered to the Iroquois Nations, and became the first members of the "Covenant Chain" - a protective trade alliance between the Iroquois, the European settlers (primarily Dutch and Swedes), and the tribes they had conquered.
      • While James Fenimore Cooper led his readers to believe the tribe ceased to exist, there are (as of 2003) over 1,500 descendants of the Mohicans (The Stockbrige Indians) currently living in Wisconsin.
    • Discworld series  - pure, fun fiction for older readers (high school) depicting fictional worlds surviving on the back of a turtle.  It serves as an interesting 'folk-lore' comparison. Discuss any other cultures where the world is depicted as riding on the back of a turtle.  Why a turtle?

On October 16th, Roaring Book Press will be introducing a new picture book "a if for musk ox"written by Erin Cabatingan and illustrated byMatthew Myers.

This is an AWESOME book about a wily musk ox who eats the apple for "a'" and angers a cool zebra because the zebra thinks the musk ox ruined his ABC book.  The musk ox argues that he is actually saving the book because alphabet books are so boring - everyone knows "a" stands for "apple" but few knew - until now that "a" also stands for musk ox because... they're so...AWESOME!  The books goes on, and our wily musk ox highjacks most of the other letters as well as he romps through the alphabet and the zebra learns more than he ever wanted to know about musk ox.

Here's a YouTube video to introduce the book:

This books IS AWESOME and my whole family enjoyed it (and we're way past ABC books!).  You will too!!!!

Thanks once again, for your visit. Please leave your ideas on how you might teach/integrate Native American culture and Thanksgiving this year... OR... your opinions of A IS FOR MUSK OX...OR...any other fun facts you may have of the Mohawk Nation.