Thursday, September 15, 2011

Off to Class ~ by Susan Hughes

Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World ~ by Susan Hughes, 2011, essays for middle grades, 10/10.
"Education is so important that the United Nations says it is a basic human right" (p. 4).
I was taken by little details about the various schools the author chose to write about in this 64-page book for ages 9-12.
"Boat school is the combination of a school bus and schoolhouse," says Mohammed (p. 9).
In other words, imagine going to school on a school bus, riding around all day.  The boat schools came about because someone asked, What can we do during the monsoon season in Bangladesh, when flooding makes it impossible for some students to get to school?  Take the school to them.
"Six days a week, each boat stops at different villages along the shore, picking up children who are mostly in the same grade.  When the classroom is full — about thirty to thirty-five students — the work begins.  For three hours, the students have lessons in math, reading, writing, English, Bengali, the environment, and conservation.  Then the boatreturns all the students to their riverbank stops.  From there, the boat moves on to pick up another set of students for another three-hour lesson.  Each boat offers three sets of lessons a day" (p.9).
What about the nomadic children in Siberia?  Or the refugee children in Nepal?  What about orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras?  Or those who have lost their parents to AIDS in Uganda?  Or the whole village living in a cave in China?  Innovators came up with answers for schooling these and other children, like the girl who is "unschooled" in a tree house in Tennessee (pp. 56-57), my own state in the United States, or the twelve platform schools in India for children who survive by living and working in train stations by begging, picking through trash, selling tea, polishing shoes?
"FACT:  More than 1,400 schools were destroyed in the earthquake in Haiti" (p. 19).
How can they be schooled?
"If your school is like most, it has a lot of stairs hard surfaces, and long, straight hallways with echoing walls" (p. 52).
How could a school be designed to help students with hearing or visual problems get around?  What if they also have developmental or mobility impairments?  The book is divided into three chapters:
Working with the Enviroment
No School?  No Way!
One Size Doesn't Fit All
I asked my friend Donna to read the book so I could include her input in my review.  She taught for twenty-plus years, mostly middle school English, and has an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction.  She wrote out three pages of notes; here's the gist of it.
I like the fact that it's readable for middle grades, for ANY student.  While it's readable, it doesn't "dumb down."  So those who are behind grade level can enjoy it whether they are just reading it or having to write a "research" paper, but also advanced learners can use it to spark ideas for their research.  In other words, it's usable for all levels.  This is the best across-the-curriculum book I've ever seen for upper elementary and middle school students.

I like that the format was the same as any high school or college student would use, with an introduction (theme), chapters with sections within the chapters, a summary page, an acknowledgment page, and a credits page.

I like that each school had a small map for each school that showed where it was located on a continent and also the two-page world map showing them all together, which would allow advanced learners to research (for example) areas of the world that need these kinds of incredible schools.

I like that there was an abundance of vocabulary words in each section that students could make up their own vocabulary lists.  The chapters titles and section headings were very creative for each school.  Students could read these headings and know what the school was about before reading each article for details.
We give this impressive book a 10 of 10, the highest rating.  Thanks to Owlkids Books for sending me a review copy.  If you teach or homeschool your child, we highly recommend this book, which was published today.


Susan Hughes is a writer and editor who lives in Toronto, Canada. She has been writing both fiction and nonfiction children's books for over twenty years.  From her web site:

When North American kids picture a school, odds are they see rows of desks, stacks of textbooks, and linoleum hallways. They probably don’t picture caves, boats, or train platforms — but there are schools in caves, and on boats and on train platforms. There are green schools, mobile schools, and even treehouse schools. There’s a whole world of unusual schools out there!

But the most amazing thing about these schools isn’t their location or what they look like. It’s that they provide a place for students who face some of the toughest environmental and cultural challenges, and live some of the most unique lifestyles, to learn. Education is not readily available for kids everywhere, and many communities are strapped for the resources that would make it easier for kids to go to school. In short, it’s not always easy getting kids off to class — but people around the world are finding creative ways to do it.

In Off to Class, readers will travel to India, Burkina Faso, and Brazil; to Russia, China, Uganda, and a dozen other countries, to visit some of these incredible schools, and, through personal interviews conducted by author Susan Hughes, meet the students who attend them too. And their stories aren’t just inspiring; they’ll also get you to think about school and the world in a whole new way.

1 comment:

Helen's Book Blog said...

What an interesting book! I love learning about how schools and education are different around the world