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Leopard Lessons

27 May

I’m always on the lookout for good picture books to use as an introduction to a unit or as the inspiration for a writing assignment. Right now, my 4th grade ELD class is making predictions about what 5th grade will be like.One of my 4th grade colleagues has her class write a letter to next year’s 4th graders and she actually places them on desks so the new crew can read them their first day in her class. Snow leopards can’t read, but  Snow School, written by Sandra Markle  and illustrated by Alan Marks, offers life lessons that will help cubs survive in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains.

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Just like humans, snow leopard cubs begin their life staying home with their mom. When they are a little older, their lessons begin. As with humans, the lessons are scaffolded at first, and slowly, Mother Snow Leopard, releases control so her cubs will grow to be successful and independent.

Markle writes in a poetic style, describing different aspects of the cubs’ lives. As a new lesson is learn, it is summarized in italics at the bottom of the text. Here’s a sample:

                    That night, mother kills an old markhor too weak to run fast.

                     But just as the family starts to eat,

                     six wolves trot up, snarling and flashing sharp teeth.

                     Outnumbered by these predators, mother quickly leads the cubs away.

                      The cubs will never forget this lesson.

                      Staying safe is more important than having a full stomach.

This got me to thinking about a new end of the year writing assignment, describing some aspect of 4th grade and summarizing it with the lesson learned.

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The text is very accessible and I think any young animal lover will be thrilled with this book. Marks’ illustrations are lively and capture the fund as the cubs wrestle as well as convey danger when they are threatened, all the while portraying the beauty that is the Hindu Kush.

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