Sunday, November 4, 2012

Book #309: Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

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Wesley didn’t fit in with the other people in his neighborhood. Even his parents thought he was strange. He didn’t have any friends instead all the kids tormented him. Wesley knew he was an outcast in his own civilization, so when summer rolled around Wesley decided he would grow his own staple food crop and found his own civilization, Weslandia. He turns over a plot of land in his backyard and soon a new and unknown plant begins to grow and grow and grow until it towers over Wesley. Wesley discovers that the fruit and the roots are delicious and he even learns to weave the woody bark into cloth. Soon his former tormentors are vying to take a turn crushing the plant’s seeds to collect the oil and clamoring to play the complex new games that Wesley invents. In September when Wesley returns to school he turns in the handwritten history of Weslandia, in his very own 80-letter alphabet, and he finds that he now has no shortage of friends.

This American Library Association Notable Children’s Book celebrates the magical things that can happen in your own backyard. The text, written in a combination of dialogue and description, marks the passing of time as Weslandia develops into a civilization. At times the text reads like a diary of scientific or anthropological observations, which makes sense because this is Wesley’s experiment. The detailed acrylic illustrations bring Wesley’s world to life in brilliant blues and vibrant greens. Wesley’s curiosity is apparent as he reads stacks of books, peers through a magnifying glass, and measures the bright red swist flowers. The endpapers feature pages from Wesley’s history of Weslandia written in his own language.

Discuss and define the term “staple crop.” This is a great time to discuss the staple crops of different civilizations. Ask kids to name the staple crop in the story. Have kids choose a staple crop of their own and create a civilization around it. It could be a real plant, such as rice or corn, or it could be one of their own imagining, such as the swist plant in the book.

The text mentions different parts of a plant using terms like, “tubers,” “seedlings,” “fruit,” and “bark.” Check out Homeschool Share’s idea to extend this book into a lesson on the parts of plants (scroll down ½ way, it’s under the Science heading).

Wesley creates his own system for measuring time and a sundial to tell time. Craft a sundial of your own. If you have limited time with a group, make paper plate sundials that kids can take home and finish on a sunny day. Make sure to send them home with a handout of detailed instructions. If you have a longer amount of time with kids take them outside once an hour and make a sundial with stones. Have kids decorate the stones with paint or chalk.

Create a code for kids to decipher using letters from Wesley’s alphabet featured on the endpapers. Use a one letter to one letter system and write it out in rows or columns. Or have kids make their own cipher disks (also called cryptography wheels). Kids can then write their own messages in code to other members of the group to decipher.

If you want to extend this code into a longer, more complex activity write clues in code that lead kids on a scavenger hunt through the library. Divide kids into teams and send them on an adventure through Weslandia.


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