A Sweet History Lesson for Struggling Readers

BookendsCindy: Do your children and teens know what molasses is? Recently one of our middle-school reading intervention teachers was sharing I Survived: True Stories, a nonfiction collection of five “epic disasters” with her students. One of the disasters is the 1919 Great Molasses Flood in Boston. Lynn and I wrote a blog post about Deborah Kops’ 2012 book The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 and I have booktalked the title with many classes since then. My teacher realized her struggling readers had no prior knowledge of molasses, so she brought in a few jars of the sticky stuff and tiny plastic cups and gave them each a sample to taste.

I Survived True StoriesWhen I heard that, I told her that no one should judge molasses on its taste straight from the bottle—they needed cookies! I baked 100 molasses crinkle cookies for them from my grandmother’s recipe (included below), one my own children know well. It’s a family favorite, and from the feedback I received, I think there are a few new fans among the students, too. Some of them even took the recipe home and baked some with their families! YAY. My grandmother would be proud. Gingerbread men would be another good taste test for molasses.

Molasses cookiesThis group of students now knows what molasses is, and can imagine what a mess it would make in city streets. The other four accounts in I Survived: True Stories (the 1888 Children’s Blizzard, the Titanic sinking, the 2011 Japanese Tsunami, and the 2012 Henryville Tornado) also make good reading for upper-elementary students or for reluctant and struggling middle-school readers. These accounts are expanded from original articles published in Storyworks magazine, which Tarshis edits.

25000 FlightIn addition to Tarshis’ collection, look for a new Random House nonfiction series called Totally True Adventures! I’ve seen The $25,000 Flight: How Lindbergh Set a Daring Record (2014) and Apollo 13: How Three Brave Astronauts Survived a Space Disaster (Mar. 24, 2015) and they are finding an enthusiastic audience with fans of the I Survived series. It’s nice to have attractively packaged short nonfiction at an easier reading level for my middle-school students who tend to nibble at their books. And now, I’d better get baking—it’s a new semester and there may be more molasses-tasting in my near future!

nonfiction-mondayJoin us at Nonfiction Monday for more blog posts about youth nonfiction.

 

 

 

Molasses Crinkle Cookies  (recipe from my grandmother; my explanations in parentheses)

1 ½ c. shortening
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
½ c. molasses (I use dark)
4 c. flour
2 tsp. soda (baking soda)
2 tsp. spices (I use cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves . . . )
1 tsp. salt

Mix ingredients (in order given) thoroughly. Roll small balls of dough in sugar (I just dip the tops) and bake on sheet 2″ apart. Bake in the center of oven 400 degrees because sugar will easily burn. Do not overbake.

(She never told me how long to bake them. Depending on your oven, 6 min. or so until the tops just start to crinkle . . . a little longer if you prefer them crispier.)

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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