Monday, April 25, 2016

Shadow Boxes

I made this shadow box as an example for the students:
Curtis and Lateesha from a chapter in Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman.

As I explained in my last post, we lost the first week of our two-week Spring Break due to using up more than our allotted snow days and, since so many students and teachers were going to be gone anyway for pre-planned vacations, we were instructed to spend the week doing reviews rather than presenting new material. I felt bad for the students who were stuck at school instead of vacationing like their friends, so I decided to plan some fun activities for that week. For my freshman English classes, we spent two days making shadow boxes. 

I collect boxes of all sizes and keep them in my closet in case I need to use one for an oddly-shaped gift I may want to wrap (never mind that I almost always use gift bags these days). I gathered up about 30 of those boxes--and their lids--and carted them to school with me, along with bags and bags of craft materials, which my 2nd-period sophomore English class also used for their planet activity (see last post).

The freshmen's assignment was to create a shadow box based on a scene from one of the novels we've read this year. To be sure they understood what I expected, I made my own sample shadow box in the lid of a small, sparkly-pink jewelry box featuring a simple scene from our first book of the year, Seedfolks. Each chapter in Seedfolks focuses on one person living in a poor, run-down neighborhood and how that person's life is transformed when he/she becomes involved in an impromptu community garden.

One of those characters is Curtis, a body-builder who thinks he's all that and neglects his girlfriend, Lateesha, in favor of the little groupies who hang all over his big bad self. She's too smart to put up with that, so she dumps him. Several years later, Lateesha moves back to town. By now, Curtis has grown up and realizes what he lost, but Lateesha won't even talk to him. He won't give up, though. Remembering how much she loved tomatoes, he decides to grow a bunch of juicy red beefsteak tomatoes right under her apartment window to show her that he's a different person now: a responsible, thoughtful, serious guy who has given up the activities of his misspent youth.

About half of the kids' shadow boxes, displayed on the chalk tray.

Some of the students asked if they could use scenes from a film we'd watched, as well. When I had to be absent for two days not long before Spring Break, I'd had the sub show the movie Where the Red Fern Grows, and after I returned the students had to write a response paper for me. We did not read the book since nearly all of my students (and all three of my own children) had read and cried over Where the Red Fern Grows (by Wilson Rawls) in fourth grade.

I gave them permission to use the film as another option, and that turned out to be the most popular source of shadow box scenes for both of my freshman classes. I thought the students did an amazing job of bringing their chosen scenes to life. See if you agree. Here are some of my favorites.

Billy's Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, tree a coon 
in a scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

If you haven't ever read Where the Red Fern Grows, or even seen the movie, well...first of all, have you been living under a rock? Second of all, beware, there are spoilers ahead!

A forest scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

Billy's Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, tree a coon 
in a scene from Where the Red Fern Grows.

Not every student is artistic, and that's okay. I tell the kids that I'm looking for their effort and their ability to capture a moment. Even stick figures, like those above, can capture the essence of a scene.

At the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, of course, both of Billy's hounds die.
A rare red fern grows up near their graves before Billy's family moves away,
giving him comfort. This was another favorite scene of my students.
(The blue and white pearls are sky and clouds, I was told. The bell is the sun.)

Poor Dan and Ann.

I really like the subtle coloring of this scene, like a sand painting.

Four more scenes depicting the graves of Old Dan and Little Ann
with the red fern springing up nearby.

Charlie and Tommo race to the church in their search for their brother Big Joe,
who had been missing since the previous day. From Private Peaceful.

The second most popular book for this activity was Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo of Britain. This novel is about two brothers, Charlie and Tommo, who love the same girl (Molly) and eventually enlist together as soldiers in World War I. Again, there are spoilers ahead!

Charlie and Tommo find Big Joe sleeping in the church bell tower.
Love that enormous bell!

This student did a nice job depicting the bombs bursting over no-man's land
during a bombardment in World War I.

German soldiers on one side, British soldiers on the other, no-man's land between,
facing each other through the barbed wire. Beautifully abstract!

Many of the boys were focused on the final scenes in which 
one of the characters is unfairly executed by firing squad for cowardice.
(We'd run out of boxes and lids by the time these boys started their projects.)

One brother says farewell to the other. Kind of a downer...

Anton and Patty say good-bye in Summer of My German Solider.

Another novel we read was Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene. This book tells the story of a lonely, abused, and neglected twelve-year-old Jewish girl named Patty Bergen, who lives in Arkansas. After she befriends a German soldier who's escaped from a nearby POW camp, she hides him in her garage and smuggles him food and clothing while he helps her to see that she's a person of value. 

I wish this picture were clearer, because this one's adorable.
Anton gives Patty a treasured family ring before they part.

Our classes weren't well attended that week. In some classes, less than half my students were present most days. Still, we had some fun and relived some moments in literature. The students who did come to school really stepped up!

One simple picture is worth a thousand words.
The FBI shows Patty her father's monogrammed shirt,
which she had given to Anton. It has a small, bloodstained hole...

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