Literature Connections to
Learning About Learning

Teacher's Guides > Learning About Learning

In selecting literature connections for this diverse and complex guide, we sought books that reflected upon and deepened the context for one or more of the main activities. A number of the books focus on the process of scientific research; others delve into the experience of blindness; some examine the behavior of wolves. There are also books that focus on the importance of learning and sensory information for survival. We have included several books that, while technically non-fiction, connect strongly to the guide and are written in a literature-like narrative style. Several biographies are also included.

We welcome literature suggestions from you and your students. Your nominations will be considered when this teacher's guide is revised.

Abel’s Island
Arrowsmith
Better Mousetraps: Product Improvements That Led to Success
The Cay
Dear Dr. Bell…Your Friend, Helen Keller
The Disease Fighters
Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection
Flowers for Algernon
Follow My Leader
Hatchet
Julie of the Wolves
Louis Braille
Lyddie
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Never Cry Wolf
The Problem Solvers
"Seeing in Special Ways: Children Living with Blindness
The Seeing Stick
The Story of My Life
Timothy of the Cay
The Wise Woman and Her Secret
Maze

Abel’s Island
by William Steig
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 1976
Grades: 3–5
Abel is an urban mouse who suddenly finds himself stranded on a river island. Without wasting a moment, Abel begins to build a boat to cross the river. As each new boat fails, he uses the knowledge gained to build an ever better boat, thus learning from his own experience. Each time Abel comes up with a method to cross the river and is met with failure, he analyzes the situation and builds on his idea to devise a new method. Thus, he learns from his own experience—as students do in Activities 1 and 2 with tactile mazes. Through trial and error, Abel solves the problems of daily survival and the ultimate river crossing. This book also illustrates a valuable lesson from Activity 3—the importance of learning and sensory information to survival. Newbery honor book.

Arrowsmith
by Sinclair Lewis
P.F. Collier & Son, New York. 1925
Grades: X–Adult
This book, by the noted American novelist, derives from the same historical period as the Lash-Lure story, and relates to both the Hexacarbon Solvent activities and the discussion of the ethics of experimentation in Activity 9. The novel tells the story of Martin Arrowsmith, who begins as a doctor, then becomes a researcher against disease at a large medical institute. The author tells us, "With all his amateurish fumbling, Martin had one characteristic without which there can be no science: a wide-ranging, sniffing, snuffling, undignified, unselfdramatizing curiosity, and it drove him on." For Martin, life is a constant learning process, both positive and negative, as he encounters great scientists with principles and integrity, as well as corruption, bribery, and deliberate experimental falsification. A major ethical issue (among many) arises in the latter part of the book, as Martin, supposed to be testing a vaccine on a Caribbean island, finds himself in the midst of a deadly epidemic and abandons his controlled experiments to give his vaccine freely to the population. Although the spread of the epidemic is halted and he is hailed as a savior, the vaccine's effectiveness is still unproved. Other preventative measures, such as the eradication of rodents who spread the disease, may have been responsible. Pondering the ethics of his actions, he thinks to himself, "Men who have never had the experience of trying, in the midst of an epidemic, to remain calm and keep experimental conditions, do not realize in the security of their laboratories what one has to contend with." The book ends on a note that echoes the trial and error joy of scientific investigation, as Martin chats with a fellow researcher: "I feel as if I were really beginning to work now . . . This new quinine stuff may prove pretty good. We'll plug along on it for two or three years, and maybe we'll get something permanent—and probably we'll fail!" The author acknowledges his debt to Dr. Paul H. DeKruif, the scientist and author of the classic book, Microbe Hunters, for creative collaboration, realistic detail about how large laboratories function, and bacteriologial/medical information.

Better Mousetraps: Product Improvements That Led to Success
by Nathan Aaseng
Lerner Publications, Minneapolis. 1990
Grades: 5–10
The book’s focus is on "improvers, refiners, and polishers" and not on pioneers or trailblazers. To dramatize the results of safety testing, Elisha Otis set up an elevator at a big exposition in New York and had an assistant intentionally cut the cable with Otis aboard! The safety device brought the elevator to a halt in midfall. Getting heavy machinery to travel over muddy ground was the challenge faced by Caterpillar Tractor Company—what was learned in product development was applied to tank technology in World War I. The chapter on Eastman Kodak introduces the concept of a brand name, showing how Eastman promoted the names "Kodak" and "Brownie." This book illustrates how learning can be built up in a long-term way and that one person’s idea can be developed by others. Also shows the development of knowledge in society.

The Cay
by Theodore Taylor
Doubleday, Garden City, New York. 1969
Grades: 5–9
When the freighter on which they are traveling is torpedoed by a German submarine during World War II, Phillip, an eleven-year-old white boy, blinded by a blow on the head during the explosion, and an old West Indian named Timothy are cast up on a very small Caribbean island—a cay. This is the story of their struggle for survival and of Phillip’s efforts to adjust to his blindness and to understand the dignified, wise, and loving old man. Phillip soon begins to use his other senses to perceive what his eyes no longer do—he says, "I was learning to do things all over again, by touch and feel." Ties in well with Activities 1–3. See also Timothy of the Cay, the sequel to this book.

Dear Dr. Bell…Your Friend, Helen Keller
by Judith St. George
Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1992
Grades: 4–6
This book outlines Helen Keller’s life and gives additional information about the life-long influence that Alexander Graham Bell had on Helen. When Helen’s father took her to a famous eye doctor hoping the doctor could help, the eye doctor recommended Mr. Keller talk to Alexander Graham Bell, a well-known and well-respected teacher of the deaf. It was through Bell that Anne Sullivan came into, and forever altered, Helen’s life. As with the autobiography, from this book students will gain insight into how Helen learned through her other senses (as the students themselves experience in Activities 1–3).

The Disease Fighters
The Nobel Prize in Medicine
by Nathan Aaseng
Lerner Publications, Minneapolis. 1987
Grades: 6–12
In Activities 4–8 of the guide, students learn how humankind, as a community, learns what is important for our survival and what foods, cosmetics, and medicines are safe. This book describes some of the major medical discoveries, such as the cure for tuberculosis and the cause of malaria, made by scientific researchers who were eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine. For example: frustrated by his inability to treat his patients, Dr. Robert Koch, a country doctor in mid-1800s Prussia, focused his attention on research rather than the practice of medicine. He knew of Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of bacteria nearly 200 years earlier, and of Louis Pasteur’s theory that diseases are caused by bacteria and other microorganisms. Koch began to investigate the disease anthrax in sheep and discovered that a rod-shaped bacterium appeared in the blood of every sick sheep. After much research, he was able to isolate the anthrax bacterium and prove that it caused the disease. The laboratory procedures that Koch developed were adopted by many other scientists and advanced the study of microbiology, research, and medicine.

Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection
by Berton Roueché
Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1953
Grades: Adult
Though this is an older book, and therefore may be hard to find, it is worth tracking down (call around to several libraries; you’ll find it). The book is a collection of articles originally published in The New Yorker magazine between 1947 and 1953; quite a while ago, so some of the medical information may be seriously out of date. But the unfolding of clues in each of the cases is the important part. This is a collection of epidemiological mysteries, much like the Legionnaire’s disease outbreak of 1976 in Philadelphia. The intriguing title of the book comes from one of the cases presented—a case in which eleven men are all affected by sodium nitrite poisoning. Each of the men suffers from cyanosis—a bluing of the skin resulting from an insufficient supply of oxygen in the blood. Each of the cases in the book stands alone and could be read to the class by the teacher or assigned as homework. The investigative style through which each of the cases is solved closely parallels the hexacarbon mystery of Activity 4 in Learning About Learning.

Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego. 1966
Grades: 7–Adult
Through his own "progris riports," this book chronicles the experiences of Charlie Gordon, a developmentally disabled adult, who participates in an experiment designed to increase his intelligence. From his early child-like writing through his eloquent insights into human behavior and thought, the reader can follow Charlie’s emotional and intellectual development. The experiment does work—it turns Charlie into a genius—but only temporarily. Several features of the book make it an excellent literature connection to Learning About Learning: the fact that Charlie is learning more and more, and at an accelerated rate; the ethics of animal experimentation; the use of mazes to demonstrate learning; and the fact that the results of the experiment on Charlie may help others with learning disabilities.

Follow My Leader
by James B. Garfield; illustrated by Robert Greiner
Viking Press, New York. 1957
Grades: 5–8
After a tragic accident with a firecracker, eleven-year-old Jimmy is blinded. Angry and certain he’ll never be able to do anything again, Jimmy learns the importance of his other senses. As his rehabilitation teacher tells him, "You have an eye on the tip of each finger, one at the end of your white cane, one more on the point of each shoe, and the one great eye in the center of your brain. People don’t see with their eyes; they see with their brains. They don’t feel with their fingers or hear with their ears. When you touch something with your hand, or when you hear a sound, the brain tells you what it is." Connects well to Activities 1–3. A detractive aspect of the book is its sexist attitude toward females, but it is still recommended for the way it illustrates how Jimmy learns to use his other senses.

Hatchet
by Gary Paulsen
Bradbury Press/Macmillan, New York. 1987
Puffin/Viking Penguin, New York. 1988
Grades: 6–12
After the pilot of a single-engine plane dies of a heart attack, the sole passenger, thirteen-year-old Brian, is left to land the plane then survive alone in the forested Canadian wilderness. With nothing but the clothes on his back and a hatchet to help him, he slowly learns how to provide fire, shelter, and food for himself. Much of what he learns is from observing the animals, birds, and fish with whom he shares the forest. In all, he spends 54 days in the wilderness. In the ways Brian becomes more observant and learns from the world around him, this book connects to Activities 1–3 of Learning About Learning, and as Brian learns skills for survival, it connects to Activities 4 and 5.

Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George; illustrations by John Schoenherr
HarperCollins, New York. 1974
Grades: 6–9
Thirteen-year-old Miyax, runs away from her terrifying husband to walk across the Arctic tundra to the sea, intending to board a ship bound for the modern world of her San Francisco pen pal who calls her Julie. Close to starvation when she encounters a pack of wolves, she remembers her father’s important lessons of the old ways and carefully observes the wolves, learns and copies their nonverbal language, and is eventually accepted as a member of the pack. The opening section of the book is rich with descriptions of wolf behavior as well as details about the tundra and its life, thus connecting strongly with Activities 3 and 5 of Learning About Learning. Newbery medal winner.

Louis Braille
by Beverley Birch
Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, Milwaukee. 1989
(part of the "People Who Have Helped the World" series)
Grades: 5–9
In Activities 1 and 2, the students make tactile mazes and talk about how limited sensory input makes learning more difficult. But due to the invention of the raised-dot alphabet by Louis Braille, the world of books, and therefore learning and knowledge, became available to people with impaired vision. This book tells the life story of the 19th-century Frenchman, blinded at age 3, who was determined not to accept the idea that blindness must be a prison without books. Braille’s invention was based on a system for printing books containing embossed letters developed by Valentin Haüy and a system using dots and dashes to express whole sounds developed by Captain Barbier for secret night writing by soldiers. Braille’s lifelong dedication to perfecting his "little system" enabled millions of people with impaired vision to enter a different life because they could read, write, communicate, learn, and create—they could take their rightful place in society as cultured and educated human beings.

Lyddie
by Katherine Paterson
Penguin Books, New York. 1991
Grades: 6–10
This is the story of Lyddie, a poor farm girl in 1840s Vermont who, in search of a better life, is forced to work in a textile mill. There she makes many friends and is exposed to new ideas and new ways of life. One of her friends introduces Lyddie to reading and the joy of learning. From the lint-filled air of the mill, her friends and then her sister, who all work in the mill, develop bad coughs and other health problems. There are labor protests for better working conditions at the mill and many of Lyddie’s friends leave their jobs because of health problems. Lyddie herself loses her job from defending one of her friends from the improper advances of their lecherous overseer. Unsure where she fits in the world, Lyddie goes on to college. A good literature connection for discussions of health and working conditions in factories (hexacarbon solvent mystery in Activity 4), how earlier labor movements shaped today’s working conditions, the need for health and safety regulations (as in Activity 5), and the impact of technology on societal change.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
by Robert C. O’Brien; illustrated by Zena Bernstein
Atheneum, New York. 1971
Grades: 4–12
A mother mouse, Mrs. Frisby, learns that the rat colony near her home is actually a group of escapees from an NIMH research institute. These rats, injected with DNA and other substances, have acquired great intelligence, both from the injections and through increased stimulation. They have learned to read and write, and are planning to develop their own civilization. This book presents an opportunity for reflection about the benefits and costs of learning by conducting research with animals, as in Activity 9 of Learning About Learning, and touches briefly on learning from environmental stimuli as in Activities 7 and 8. Newbery medal winner.

Never Cry Wolf
by Farley Mowat
Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown & Co., Boston. 1963
Bantam, New York. 1984
Grades: 6–Adult
Wolves are said to be killing too many of the Arctic caribou, so the Canadian Wildlife Service assigns a naturalist to investigate these changes. Farley Mowat is dropped alone onto the frozen tundra of Canada’s Keewatin Barrens to live among the wolf packs and study their ways. This story of Mowat, his interactions with the wolf packs, and his growing respect and understanding for the wild wolf, will help students expand their knowledge of wolves beyond that given in the wolf pup activities of Activities 3 and 5.

The Problem Solvers
by Nathan Aaseng
Lerner Publications, Minneapolis. 1987
Grades: 6–12
Insight and curiosity, the willingness to try something new, and using all one’s senses are all valuable qualities to possess for learning. In Activities 1–3 of the guide, students learn how individuals learn. And in Activities 4–8, the students discover ways in which the scientific community learns. This book discusses how individuals with insight and curiosity were able to form successful companies by finding creative solutions to problems. The names of these companies and the products they started are now famous—Evinrude, Kitchen-Aid dishwasher, Prudential Insurance, Polaroid, John Deere, and others. It is hard to imagine a time during which these familiar products did not exist, but as the introduction of the book states "a person with a creative, inventive mind might discover a new product where someone else just sees an annoyance.

"Seeing in Special Ways: Children Living with Blindness
by Thomas Bergman
Gareth Stevens Children’s Books, Milwaukee. 1989
Grades: 6–Adult
Interviews with a group of blind and partially sighted children in Sweden reveal their feelings about their disability and the ways they use their other senses to help them "see." Large black and white photos of the children accompany the interview text. The book also contains frequently asked questions about blindness, one of which debunks the myth that the other senses are automatically better in persons with vision impairments. It explains that instead the other senses must be developed because they are more necessary. Connects well to Activities 1–3 of Learning About Learning and is unique because it discusses blindness from the children’s perspective.

The Seeing Stick
by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Remy Charlip and Demetra Maraslis
Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. 1977
Grades: K–6
This story, set in ancient Peking, relates how an old man teaches the Emperor’s blind daughter to see. With the old man’s carved seeing stick the princess learns how to use the eyes in her fingertips. Although this book is best suited for a younger reader, it is included here for its central message that although a person may be deprived of one sense, life can still be rewarding when they learn to use their other senses. This importance of senses is discussed in Activities 1–3 of Learning About Learning.

The Story of My Life
by Helen Keller and John Albert Macy
Doubleday, Garden City, New York. 1905
Grades: X–Adult
As described in the preface, the book is divided into three parts: the story of Helen Keller; her letters (1887–1901); and a supplementary account of her education, including passages from the reports and letters of her teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan. By assimilating all three parts, the reader gets a full picture of Helen’s life from several different points of view. While only a few students would read this book from cover to cover, essential passages could be assigned as homework or read to students to help them see that even though Helen was, at first, impaired from learning by physical barriers, she had an active mind. With caring, loving, and patient instruction from Anne Sullivan, Helen was able to learn volumes of information through her senses of touch, smell, and vibration (just as students experience learning through other senses in Activities 1–3).

Timothy of the Cay
by Theodore Taylor
Harcourt Brace, San Diego. 1993
Grades: X–X
Having survived being blinded and shipwrecked on a tiny Caribbean island—a cay—for four months with an old West Indian man named Timothy, eleven-year-old white Phillip is rescued and hopes to regain his sight with a delicate operation. Alternate chapters follow the life of Timothy from his days as a young cabin boy to the days when his dream comes true and he is the captain of his own ship. Though not as closely connected to Activities 1–3 of Learning About Learning as The Cay, Timothy of the Cay does discuss learning through sensory input, vision impairment, survival, and wisdom. It also "fills in" The Cay as it tells the further story of Phillip—showing how his life changed after meeting Timothy—as well as telling the previous story of Timothy—how he became what he was when Phillip met him.

The Wise Woman and Her Secret
by Eve Merriam; illustrated by Linda Graves
Simon & Schuster, New York. 1991
Grades: K–3
A wise woman is sought out by many people for her wisdom. They look for the secret of her wisdom in the barn and in her house, but only little Jenny who lags and lingers and loiters and wanders finds it. The wise woman tells her, "…the secret of wisdom is to be curious—to take the time to look closely, to use all your senses to see and touch and taste and smell and hear. To keep on wandering and wondering." Though this book is intended for a younger reader, it is listed here because it captures the essence of what is meant by discovery, student-centered, use-your-senses learning, and, as such, serves as a fine accompaniment to Learning About Learning.

An "Electronic" book (available on the Internet)
Maze
by Christopher Manson
Henry Holt & Co., Inc., New York. 1995
Grades: 5–Adult
Based on the book Maze: A Riddle in Words and Pictures by Christopher Manson (Henry Holt & Co., Inc. 1985), this new dimension in literature can be found on the Internet at
http://www.obs-us.com:80/obs/english/books/holt/books/maze/index.htm

As the Maze Directions say, "This is not really a book. This is a virtual space in the shape of a book…a maze. Each numbered page depicts a room in the Maze. The doors in each room lead to other rooms. Your challenge is to find your way from room 1 to room 45 and then back to room 1 using the shortest possible path. There are any number of clues in the drawings and in the story to help you choose the right door in each room." The reader goes into a room simply by clicking on one of the doors in the drawing. While not highly imaginative, this book is engaging, represents a new direction for books, and invites the reader to "use your head." Connects well to Activities 1–3 where students discover that learning relies on information from the world around us that we perceive through our senses.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

top

Lawrence Hall of Science    © 2018 UC Regents. All rights reserved.    Contact GEMS    Updated February 06, 2015