In this blog post, our Literacy Specialist, Katie Potter, discusses how educators can use texts, like Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh, to keep lessons fresh and engaging.
Out with the old, in with the new? How about—supplement and complement the old with the new?
When I read our middle grade novel, Step up to the Plate, Maria Singh, I was immediately reminded of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson that I read with my fifth-grade literature circle in NYC (and in middle school almost 20 years ago!) and the challenges teachers face to make required core texts fresh and relevant to students, especially when a text (no matter how many awards) may “feel” old to students.
Some of the students in my literature circle were not as captivated by In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson as I originally anticipated. This lack of interest could have been caused by a multitude of factors, but it also made me think of the need for fresher, newer writing amongst the books that populate upper-elementary school shelves.
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh is Uma Krishnaswami’s new novel exploring the gender and race issues in a small town of Yuba City, California in 1945 during World War II. A bit of synopsis: Maria is a passionate fifth grader who is Punjabi-Mexican and frequently experiences discrimination because she is biracial. Maria also has an ardent love of softball and is a stalwart member of her team. Her infectious dedication to the sport inspires others to fight for what they believe in (no spoilers here!).
While Shirley Temple Wong, Bette Bao Lord’s protagonist in In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, is an important character who embodies the stigma surrounding immigration that is still omnipresent today, Maria Singh is a wonderful mirror character that shares some of Shirley’s problems with a newer, modern perspective during the same time period.
Maria and Shirley both love baseball and experience the discrimination that other people of color faced during a tumultuous time period in American history.
If I were to lead the unit again, I would pair In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson WITH Step up to the Plate Maria Singh. This historical fiction addition parallels and extends upon the takeaways that students get from In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.
For example, questions we could use with our students to compare and contrast these titles:
- How do Maria and Shirley deal with the discrimination they face?
- What inspires Maria and Shirley’s passion for baseball? How are their passions similar? How are they different?
- How do Maria and Shirley’s family and friends influence their lives and their love of baseball? How do their families encourage them to pursue their dreams?
- Have students conduct a research study on the time period that both books take place in. How do these books address the equality and tolerance issues people of color faced in the United States during World War II? How do the racial issues addressed in both of these books relate to problems still evident in our society today?
See the Step up to the Plate, Maria Singh Teacher’s Guide for more engaging questions and interdisciplinary activities for your classroom needs!
Katie Potter is the Literacy Specialist at LEE & LOW BOOKS. She has a Master’s of Science in Education from Bank Street College of Education in Literacy & Childhood General Education Grades 1–6 and is certified in Literacy & Childhood Education Grades 1–6 in New York State. She has worked as a children’s educational researcher, a student teacher in 1st and 5th grade classrooms, and as a first-grade literacy instructor.