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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Nonfiction

A Picture and a Thousand Words

As a reporter and editor for decades, I often heard people accuse my colleagues and me of “bias,” of having a particular slant on a story—usually a point of view that the accuser disputed. It was a common charge, especially if the issue was controversial.

But in truth, reporters are no different than anyone else. Everyone comes to a subject with some kind of bias.  If you know what a certain beach is like, then you are likely to associate other beaches with that experience; if you’ve never been to the beach, then you can only imagine what the smells, the sand, or the sea is like.

If you are pro-candy, you will read about candy differently than someone who doesn’t like it.

When you write nonfiction, these different reader perspectives matter. If we want to be thoughtful about a subject or apply those all-important critical thinking skills, it helps to acknowledge our natural biases—not to judge, but simply to understand that our experiences affect how we see things.

Tommy: the Gun that Changed America (hardcover on the left, paperback on the right)When I speak to junior high students, I often hold up a copy of my book Tommy: The Gun that Changed America and ask them what they think it is about.

“Why would I write this,” I go on, “and why, especially, for young people?” Then I might show them the paperback version, which has the same title, of course, but no gun on the cover.  “What do you make of that?”

From there, we can actually start talking about guns—what role they play in our society, what makes them interesting to readers and how they generate strong feelings—without having to debate the Second Amendment.

Because we live in such a visual world, I spend hours tracking down the right photos, cartoons, and documents to help tell a story. And even if these images don’t make it into the book, they influence my writing by reminding me what the world looked like and how people felt in that time period.

The images that do make it into my books can change the reader’s experience, challenging the biases they bring to the story.

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker (photo: Missouri State Highway Patrol)

Consider this photo of Bonnie Parker, a key image in my next book, Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend, due out in August 2018. It’s a crucial picture, the first time she became known to the public. What do you think about her when you see this? What do you think she’s like?

Now compare it to the glamour shot below, taken just a few years before. Does it change your perspective at all?

Maybe one way to make student research and nonfiction more engaging is to consider our assumptions and biases by bringing images into the process. Some ideas:

Bonnie Parker (from the collections
of the Dallas History and Archives Division
of the Dallas Public Library)

  • Ask students to make assumptions about a book from the cover. Then compare to what the story is inside. Did their perspective change?
  • Pull out a single image and try to guess what it means to the story. Then, read that chapter (or picture book) and test it.
  • Ask students to search for a photo separately from their research on a subject. Did the photo enforce or change their point of view?

What other ways can you address how a reader’s experiences can impact understanding?

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Why Students Copy Their Research Sources,
and How to Break the Habit

ResearchBy third grade, nearly all students know what plagiarism is and understand that it’s both immoral and illegal, and yet, again and again, we catch them copying their sources.

Why don’t students express ideas and information in their own words? Because they haven’t taken the time or don’t have the skills to analyze and synthesize the material they’ve collected so that they can make their own meaning. In other words, they haven’t found a personal connection to the content, and that’s a critical step in the nonfiction pre-writing process.

Here are some ideas to help students break the habit:

Nix the All-About Books

The best nonfiction writing happens when students have to dig deep and think critically, so asking them to write All-About books, which present a broad overview of a topic, is just setting them up for failure. When students choose a narrow topic that they find fascinating, they’ll have to mine their sources, collecting tiny nuggets of gold here and there. This fun quest will fuel their passion for the topic and result in engaging writing that presents ideas and information in fresh ways.

QuestionsStart with a Question

Suggest that students develop wonder questions and use them to guide their research. Not only does this guarantee that students will have some “skin in the game,” a specific query will lead to more targeted note taking and require students to make connections between information they find in a variety of sources.

Dual Notetaking

Julie Harmatz, a fifth grade teacher in San Pedro, California, has had great success with collaborative notetaking in a Google doc. Not only do students enjoy the technological novelty of this activity, they gain access to the thought processes of their partner(s). Pairing an adept notetaker with a student who’s struggling with this skill can be a powerful experience. After all, students often learn better from peer modeling than adult instruction.

Journaling

Encourage students to review the information they’ve gathered and journal about it. This will help many children take ownership of the material and identify what fascinates them most about what they’ve discovered. When students approach writing with a clear mission in mind, they’re more likely to present ideas through their own personal lens.

Thought PromptsUse Thought Prompts

Ryan Scala, a fifth grade teacher in East Hampton, New York, recommends inviting students to synthesize their research and make personal connections by using one of the following thought prompts:

  • The idea this gives me . . .
  • I was surprised to learn . . .
  • This makes me think . . .
  • This is important because . . . 

Can’t Copy

Encourage students to use source materials that they can’t copy, such as a documentary film or personal observations outdoors or via a webcam.

WowFocus on the “Oh, wow!”

Award-winning children’s book author Deborah Heiligman advises young writers to only write down information that makes them say, “Oh wow!” Then she suggests that they write their first draft without looking at their notes, using just what they remember. Of course, they can always go back and add details, dates, etc., later, but when kids are forced to write from their memories, they write in their own voices, and they focus on the ideas and information that interest them most.

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Third Grader Reading at a Sixth Grade Level

Responding to a parent request for books that would interest her third-grader-reading-at-a-sixth-grade-level, we crowd-sourced a list. Big thanks to Sara Alcott, Linda Baie, Lesley Mandros Bell, Karen Cramer, Caren Creech, Melinda Fant, Ellen Klarreich, Vickie LoPiccolo, Ellen McEvoy, Laura Moe, Tunie Munson-Benson, Vicki Palmquist, Carrie Shay, Faythe Dyrud Thureen, Cindy Walker, and Sharon J. Wilson.

Unlike our usual annotated booklists, we are presenting this one in alphabetical order by book title due to the length of the list. We hope you find books here that lead you to read more books by these authors. Of course, there are many more just-right books to suggest for this type of reader–we’ve included only books suggested by our “crowd.”

bk_alcaponeshirtsAdam Canfield of the Slash, Michael Winerip

Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (Knights Tales series), Gerald Morris

Al Capone Does My Shirts (series of 3 books), Gennifer Choldenko

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Betsy-Tacy Treasury (series, Betsy and friends get older in the books), Maud Hart Lovelace

BFG, Roald Dahl

Birchbark House, Louis Erdrich

Black Stallion (series), Walter Farley

Boggart, Susan Cooper

Catherine, Called BirdyBook of Three (Prydain series of 5 books), Lloyd Alexander

Borrowers, Mary Norton

Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

Catch You Later, Traitor, Avi

Catherine, Called Birdy, Karen Cushman

Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliet

Children of Green Knowe (series), Lucy M. Boston

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

Dark is Rising (series of 5 books), Susan Cooper

Dragons in the Waters, Madeleine L’Engle

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking RatEmmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Lynne Jonell

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabenstein

Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, Candace Fleming

False Prince (series of 3 books), Jennifer A. Nielsen

Flora & Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo

Frindle, Andrew Clements

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg

Girls Think of Everything, Catherine Thimmesh

Greenglass House, Kate Milford

Half Magic, Edward Eager

HatchetHarriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (series of 7 books), J.K. Rowling

Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

Holes, Louis Sachar

Home of the Brave, Katherine Applegate

How to Steal a Dog, Barbara O’Connor

How to Train Your Dragon (series), Cressida Crowell, “It’s funny, sophisticated, appealing, and has 12 volumes.”

Indian Shoes, Cynthia Leitich Smith

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (series), Lauren Tarshis

Invention of Hugo CabretInvention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, E.L. Konigsberg

Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George

King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry

Lightning Thief (many books in this series and other series), Rick Riordan

Lincoln and His Boys, Rosemary Wells

Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park

Making Friends with Billy Wong, Augusta Scattergood

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

Old WolfMother-Daughter Book Club (series of 7 books), Heather Vogel Frederick

Mozart Season, Virginia Euwer Wolff

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

Nation, Terry Pratchett. “A bit mature for the average third grader, but this doesn’t sound like an average kid. Make it a point of discussion.”

Old Wolf, Avi

On My Honor, Marion Dane Bauer

One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate

One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Owls in the Family, Farley Mowat

People Could FlyPeople Could Fly, Virginia Hamilton

Peter Nimble and the Fantastic Eyes, Jonathan Auxier

Pushcart War, Jean Merrill

Randoms, David Liss

Savvy, Ingrid Law

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (especially around Halloween), Alvin Schwartz (these are scary, so please know your child’s ability to handle this book)

Scooter, Vera B. Williams’

Stella by StarlightSingle Shard, Linda Sue Park

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, Melissa Sweet

Stella by Starlight, Sharon M. Draper

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

Tales from the Odyssey, Mary Pope Osborne

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge series), Judy Blume

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

Uncertain Glory, Lea Wait

Untamed: the Wild Life of Jane GoodallUntamed: the Wild Life of Jane Goodall, Anita Silvey

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech

Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

Whales on Stilts! M.T. Anderson

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth Speare

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

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Candace Fleming Tames the Wild West

credit: Michael Lionstar

credit: Michael Lionstar

Our thanks to author Candace Fleming for sitting still long enough to answer in-depth questions about her conception for, research into, and writing decisions for Presenting Buffalo Bill: the Man Who Invented the Wild West, our Bookstorm™ this month. Fleming’s answers will inform educators, providing direct quotes from an oft-published biographer of beloved books that will be useful for teaching writing and research skills in the classroom. 

When did you first suspect that you’d like to write about William Cody?

Buffalo Bill Cody 1875

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, ©1875

My first inkling occurred the morning I opened my email to find a message from editor Neal Porter. The subject-heading read: “Yo, Candy, want to do a book?” Neal had just returned from a trip to Cody, Wyoming, where he’d bumped into Buffalo Bill. Neal was not only intrigued by Bill, but he also realized that it had been decades since an in-depth biography of the showman had been written for young readers. But who should write it? He thought of me. Even though Neal and I had never worked together before, we’d been making eyes at each other for years. He hoped this project would finally bring us together. But I wasn’t so sure. Buffalo Bill Cody? In my mind, he was just another dusty frontiersman. A myth. A trope. Still, I decided to give him a shot (no pun intended) and ordered up his autobiography through inter-library loan. As I opened the book’s cover, I remember giving a little yawn. My expectations were low. And then … I fell into his life story. What a self-aggrandizing, exaggerating, exasperating, endearing, amusing, question-provoking storyteller! The man who wrote that book mystified me. Who was Buffalo Bill? Was he a hero or was he a charlatan? Was he an honest man or a liar? Was he a real frontiersman or was he a showman? I found myself suddenly brimming with questions. And I was eager to discover the answers. ©

At what point did you know that you’d present his life in terms of truth and maybe-not-so-true?

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

Buffalo Bill Cody by José Maria Mora

I knew right away that I would have to address the ambiguities in Will’s story. In fact, it was one of the reasons I was drawn to the project. I love the gray areas in history. I’m not just talking about gaps in the historical records. You know, those places where we don’t know for sure what happened. I’m talking about those places where we don’t know what to make of the historical truth. For example, Benjamin Franklin owned slaves. How do we fit that with with our image of the jovial, witty inventor and statesman? What are we to make of that? Or, take Amelia Earhart. Many of the most often-repeated stories about her aren’t true. Amelia made them up out of whole cloth. She lied. How does that jibe with our image of the daring, but doomed aviator? What are we to make of that?

Too often, especially in nonfiction for young readers, we avoid the gray areas. We don’t include these truths because we’re worried what kids will make of them. But I believe these areas are especially important for young readers … and most especially for middle school and teen readers. These are readers who are struggling to discover who they are and what they can be; they’re struggling to figure out their place in the world.

What’s right?

What’s fair?

What’s moral?

The last thing they need is another sanitized, pedestal-inhabiting, never-do-wrong person from history.

Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West ShowAnd so I decided to include both Will’s versions of events, as well as accounts that conflict with his. I intentionally incorporated opposing viewpoints from both historical figures and modern-day historians. And I purposely refrained from drawing any conclusions from the historical evidence. Instead, I chose to just lay it before my readers. Why? Because I want them to wrestle with the ambiguities. I want them to come to their own conclusions. I want them to see that stories—especially true stories from history—are not black and white. They’re gray.

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

I don’t think it’s my job to tell them. I’m not sure I could tell them.

Rather, I choose to tell all sides of the Wild West story—Will’s side, the Native performers’ side—with what I hope was equal clarity and compassion. What choices do each make under pressure? Why? No one is all good. No one is all bad.

You see, it’s in the gray area between those opposing values that I hope readers will ask themselves: What would I do in this situation?

By including history’s ambiguities, I am “kicking it to the reader,” as my friend Tonya Bolden likes to say.

And this, I believe, is the purpose of nonfiction in the 21st century—to encourage thought, not simply to provide facts for reports.

When you begin your research, how do you lay out a strategy for that research?

I confess I never have much of a strategy plan when I begin researching. Instead, the process is pretty organic. I start with archival sources. What’s already been written and collected? I focus on primary sources: letters, diaries, memoirs, interviews. This is where defining, intimate details are found. As I read, I keep an open mind. I’m curious and nosy and I ask lots of questions. I actually write those questions down on yellow ledger pads. And let me tell you, I end up with lots of questions. I won’t find the answers to all of them. I may not even try to find the answers to all of them. But in this way, I remind myself that I’m exploring, making discoveries. In truth, I have no specific idea of what I’m looking for or what I’ll find. I let the research lead me. And, slowly, I begin to understand what it is I want to say with this particular piece of history.

In those initial stages, do you use the library? The internet? Other sources?

In the first throes of research, I’ll use the Internet to discover the collections and archives that hold my subject’s papers. I’ll search for autobiographies and other firsthand accounts of the person’s life. I’ll note the names of scholars or historians whose names pop up in association with my subject. That’s the very first step.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Did you visit the McCracken Research Library or the Buffalo Bill Center of the West?

The McCracken Research Library is part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. In fact, the library is just down the stairs from their museum. Yes, I visited both. And I spent a week in the library, culling through years of scrapbooks kept by Will, and Annie Oakley and others, reading memoirs and letters and diaries.

Would you recommend that your readers visit those locations?

I would definitely recommend the museum to my readers. So much of the detritus of Will’s life is on display: his buffalo skin coat, his favorite rifle that he named Lucretia Borgia, the famous stagecoach from the Wild West. They even have his childhood home moved in its entirety from Iowa to Cody! The place really brings Will and his times alive.

Buffalo Bill's personal saddle

Buffalo Bill’s personal saddle

What do you find to be most helpful about visiting a museum where artifacts are on display?

Those artifacts—leftovers of a person’s life, if you will—are so human. Sometimes we forget that a person from history was real flesh and blood. But then we’ll see that person’s well-worn carpet slippers, or read a love letter he wrote to his wife, and we’re reminded of that person’s humanity. Despite his place in history, he still suffered from both love and sore feet, just like all of us do.

How do you go about finding an expert to consult with about your book?

 During research, certain names starting appearing again and again. I will not only note these names, I’ll do a quick Google to check on qualifications, as well as how up-to-date their scholarship is. For example, a name that’s cited again and again in Cody research is Don Russell. But Russell wrote his seminal work almost forty years ago. Certainly, his work is valuable, but it’s no longer the most recent scholarship. Young readers deserve the latest discoveries and newest interpretations. History is, after all, an ongoing process, one in which new facts are discovered, and old facts are reconsidered. So I turned to Dr. Louis S. Warren, a highly respected scholar of the Western US history at the University of California, Davis, as well as author of the critically acclaimed Buffalo Bill’s America. He very generously offered to read the manuscript, making several suggestions for changes, as well as pointing me in the direction of the latest Cody scholarship. He also suggested I contact Dr. Jeffery Means, an associate professor of Native American History at the University of Wyoming and an enrolled Member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe for his unique perspective on my book, particularly in regards to Great Plains Indian culture.

Do you research the photos you’ll include in the book at the same time as you research the historical and biographical elements? Or is that a separate process at a separate time?

I do my own photo research. While researching, I keep an eye open for things that might make for interesting visuals. I keep a list, and in most cases, a copy of those images. But I never know what I’m going to use until I start writing. The text really does determine what photographs end up in the book. Because of this, I always end up searching for photos late in the project.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West show poster

How did you write the dramatic scenes from the Wild West Show? They’re filled with tension, vivid descriptions, and a movie-like quality. Were these actual scenes in the Show? And were you present to see them performed? It sure seems like it.

Presenting Buffalo BillIt was important to open each chapter of the book with a scene from the Wild West. Not only was I trying to show the parallels between Will’s personal experiences and the acts that eventually sprang from them, but also I wanted readers to have a clear understanding of what the show entailed. The best way to do this, I decided, was to write those scenes in a way that would make readers feel as if they were actually sitting in the stands. I wanted them to feel the tension, the excitement, the drama of the performance. I wanted them to experience (at least in a small way) the awe that show goers felt when they watched those re-enactments of buffalo hunts and Pony Express riders. After all, this is vital to the book’s theme—that the Wild West created our collective memory of the American West; that we still tend to think in tropes, and those tropes come directly from Buffalo Bill Cody. So, I wrote those scenes in great detail, almost in slow motion. Not a single description is made up. Everything comes from the historical record, including thoughts and comments from the people in the bleachers. I merely used present tense to make the action feel more immediate. But the action really and truly happened just as I’ve presented it.

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Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attractive, come-hither-looking books begging to be recommended for weeks now. The spines are bright primary colors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be calling to me. And I think they’ll be calling to your students as well.

I open what are for me the two scariest volumes (eat your vegetables first—oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE vegetables), Everything You Need to Know to Ace Science in One Fat Notebook: Notes Borrowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Double-Checked by Award-Winning Teacher) and Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook: Notes Borrowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Double-Checked by Award-Winning Teacher). Did you catch that? Borrowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had encyclopedias from the grocery store of the highly visual, dipping-in-and-out variety. I could sit for hours, flipping pages, looking at something that caught my eye, devouring information.

These books remind me of those encyclopedias although they’re more focused on a subject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and information like a vacuum cleaner, these are the books for them. They’re also self-challenging. Each chapter ends with a list of questions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the supplied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Science book, my eyes light immediately on Chapter 5: Outer Space, the Universe, and the Solar System, with subsections of The Solar System and Space Exploration (which every self-respecting Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon System, and The Origin of the Universe and Our Solar System.

In all of the books, important names and places are bolded in blue, vocabulary words are highlighted in yellow, definitions are highlighted in yellow, and stick figures provide the entertainment.

Looking further, I discover the first chapters in the Science book are about thinking like a scientist and designing an experiment. I need a LOT of help with those activities, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and colorful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluctantly curious mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, proportions, equations, probability, and more. Although my brain bawks at looking at this stuff, I find my eye resting longer and longer on some of the highly visual information, wanting to understand it better. The book is working its magic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Volumes on American History, English Language Arts, and World History similarly offer an overview of many topics within their disciplines. The American History notebook begins with “The First People in America EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush administration, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s history.

English Language Arts explores everything from language and syntax to how to read fiction and nonfiction, including poetry, explicit evidence, and using multiple sources to strengthen your writing.

World History covers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, lighting on ancient African civilizations, the Song Dynasty in China, 1830s revolutions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the information is exhaustive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dipping is an apt description. But the information is enough to intrigue the reader and lead them on to other resources.

There are no bibliographies or sources or suggestions for further reading in the books. I can see where that would have been a monumental task. I suppose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the experience? I’m guessing it is.

Highly recommended for grades 6 through 9 (the covers say “The Complete Middle School Study Guide”) and especially for your home library. I think this would be a perfect starting place for choosing a research topic or entertaining yourself with reading an expository text. I envision whiling away many hours looking through these books. Good job, Workman and production team.

 

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Bookstorm™: Presenting Buffalo Bill

Bookmap Presenting Buffalo Bill

Presenting Buffalo BillPresenting Buffalo Bill provides an excellent opportunity to teach differentiation between fiction and nonfiction, mythology and fact, as well as the discernment, research, and discussion skills that are naturally born out of this type of close reading. Buffalo Bill’s life and Wild West Show are exciting and the author makes them all the more vivid and engaging with her writing. In her sections on “Panning for the Truth,” the differences between myth (or storytelling or marketing) are called out for further examination.

Our perceptions of the Wild West have changed as we have listened to voices from many cultures, sharing their experiences, opening our eyes, communicating in ways those who immigrated to America didn’t have available. Westerns, movies and books set in the “Old West” can now be looked at with different eyes and more understanding minds. Thoughtful papers on then and now can encourage heightened awareness. A Tall Tale Contest might point out how exaggeration and deception work in marketing and internet articles.

We’ve included books on truth and lies, mythology versus authenticity, as well as fiction and nonfiction written at various points in our history. There are excellent resources in the back matter of Candace Fleming’s book as well. We trust you will find inspiration and resources aplenty to accompany your study of Presenting Buffalo Bill. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Candace Fleming on her website.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Buffalo Bill. He was once one of the most famous men in the world. Hundreds of dime novels were written about him. Several versions of his autobiography are available. Many authors have chosen to chronicle his life and his Wild West Show. We’ve chosen a few that will provide a means for students to contrast and compare. Online resources will add depth to research.

Art of the 19th Century. Buffalo Bill’s most famous portrait was painted by the French artist Rosa Bonheur. Hundreds of posters from the Wild West Show can be studied to reveal how they tell a persuasive story or influence the audience to attend the shows.

Exaggeration, Lies, and Storytelling. One of the most thought-provoking aspects of Presenting Buffalo Bill is the attention Candace Fleming pays to the veracity of the stories Will Cody told and others told about him. We’ve included current books about truth, lying, deception, and marketing. An in-depth study that caroms off Candace’s book will fascinate your students.

Mythology versus Authenticity. Comparing other myths to that of the Wild West, including folk heroes of the same era such as Davy Crockett, and modern-day myths such as Star Wars and Star Trek, will help with comparative analysis.

Native Americans. Buffalo Bill employed hundreds of American Indians in his Wild West shows. He interacted with famous chiefs and brought entire families into his show encampments. We’ve included biographies of heroes such as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Red Cloud, as well as contemporary novels and nonfiction.

The West During Bill Cody’s Lifetime. Fleming sets the Wild West Show and Bill’s life within the context of geography, history, and politics. The Bookstorm includes books about the children, women, men, and politics of Bill’s life, those who lived in the authentic West.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Anita Silvey

Let Your Voice Be HeardWe are so pleased to have author and educator Anita Silvey talk with us about her book Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, our Bookstorm this month.

Do you remember when you were first aware of Pete Seeger as a child or teenager?

In my sophomore year in college, I came down with mono and had to be sequestered from other students. So I taught myself guitar as a way to pass the long convalescent hours. That was the semester I fell in love with Pete Seeger.

What made you want to write a book about Pete Seeger?

I had interviewed Pete for Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. I was talking to Dinah Stevenson of Clarion about that interview, and she mentioned that she had tried, unsuccessfully, to get one of her writers interested in a book on the Weavers. I myself didn’t see the Weavers as the subject of a book but mentioned that a biography of Pete, with a chapter on the Weavers, would be an exciting project. That conversation began an eight-year publishing process.

You begin the book with the Peekskill concert which turned out to be life-threatening. Why did you choose to begin there?

Pete always talked about the Peekskill concert and the ride home as among the most frightening moments of his life. That incident showcases one of the themes of the book. No matter what happened to him, Pete Seeger did not allow anything to keep him from singing.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, 2011, Creative Commons

Were there any “truths” you thought were true but your research proved were otherwise?

There were so many things I didn’t know: for 10 years he was harassed during the McCarthy era; he had difficulties appearing on television, even after he was cleared. The extent of his activities—for unions, civil rights, peace, the environment—amazed me. I could have written 10,000 words about any year in Pete’s life.

Did you find a lot of factual material that you had to check in several sources before you included it in the book?

You have just described the process of writing narrative nonfiction—lots of sources, both primary and secondary, lots of balancing opinions. Basically I had to do that for every sentence that I wrote.

How do you plan an interview with the subject of a biography?

With Pete it was easy. I would have a couple of questions that I needed clarifying. He would do all the rest. Two hours later I’d be off the phone with information I didn’t even know I needed.

When you interviewed Pete Seeger, what surprised you the most in his responses?

His generosity of time. And he sang to me.

Pete Seeger's banjo

Pete Seeger’s banjo, Creative Commons

What proved to be the hardest information for you to find about Pete Seeger?

Toshi Seeger and Pete clearly tried to keep family information out of the press. In the end I honored that desire and kept details about the family to a minimum.

In your Afterword, you write, “Biographers have a responsibility to examine the facts, remain as unbiased as possible, and tell the truth about their subjects.” You follow this up by sharing that “When I read the files that the FBI had gathered about Pete Seeger, and I studied the complete testimony of Pete Seeger’s appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, I became angry and disturbed.” In conclusion, you stated, “I offer up his story in the hope that as a nation we never again turn on our own citizens and do them the same kind of injustice.”

After writing this book, do you feel that taking a stance in a nonfiction book is acceptable for an author?

I think writers for children need to admit to a bias if they have one. I didn’t make this type of statement in Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall. For that book, I remained much more impartial throughout the process. Alerting children to the bias of a writer helps them interpret nonfiction and can send them to other sources. Sometimes when asked by an adult friend about something, I remind them that I am not impartial on this topic. I believe children deserve the same respect.

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Bookstorm™: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Bookmap Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be HeardWhether you include social justice, community service, activism, or social action in your curriculum or at your library, this is the ideal book for you. A biography of Pete Seeger, recipient of our National Medal for the Arts, and champion of the people for his 94 years, our Bookstorm this month, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, celebrates his life while it inspires each reader to carry on his work. At once informative and entertaining, Anita Silvey has written a book that looks at Seeger’s childhood, his evolution from singer to worldwide change leader to deeply admired man. Eminently readable, this would be a good book to share with students as  you lead into deeper discussions about involvement and service in your own community.

The book is written at a level for 4th to 6th grade readers, so you can use this with these students, but we also encourage you to use the book in middle school, high school, and with adult groups. It’s an excellent choice for a book club discussion.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, websites, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about the ways in which Pete Seeger influenced our world. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Anita Silvey on her website.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Pete Seeger. To supplement the information Anita Silvey has included in her biography, we’ve suggested a few other books that offer another perspective.

Written by Pete Seeger. He was remarkably prolific in writing books, or introductions, or collaborating on quite a few books. You’ll certainly recognize Abiyoyo but there are more books for study, enjoyment, and for singing!

Pete Seeger’s Music. He’s so well-known for his music and he recorded a great number of folk songs for children and all ages. We’ve pointed you in the direction of some of the best that you can share in your classroom or library. 

Civil Rights. Well-known for his efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, for over  70 years, we offer recommendations so you can gather a shelf full of paired books including fiction, true stories, and poetry.

Labor Movement. September is the month when we honor the hard work of those who have fought for workers’ rights, outlawing child labor, ensuring health and vacation and sick leave benefits. Pete Seeger was a tireless proponent of this work. You’ll find a number of recommendations to support this aspect of his biography, certainly engendering discussion. We’ve included recommendations for songs to accompany this study.

Folk Music, Collecting, Playing, Singing. Do you know the work of Alan and John Lomax, Woody Guthrie, Charles and Ruth Seeger, Smithsonian Folkways, and other musicologists? This is a fascinating aspect of Pete Seeger’s life that can lead to discussions of preserving culture, the intrinsic place of music within a culture … and more singing! Suggestions are made for further study of many individuals important to the preservation of folk music.

Politics: Under Suspicion and Blacklisted (Censorship). During those times of the year when your classroom or library is focusing on censorship, Anita Silvey focuses on the House Un-American Activities Committee of the 1950s, Communism, and blacklisting. All of these can be compared to the political climate in contemporary America. We have included a variety of fiction and nonfiction recommendations.

Protesting War (Vietnam). The protests of the 1960s and 1970s in America left an indelible change on the country that a number of anthropologists argue continues to affect America today. Pete Seeger was active in this protest movement. Books on the war, its aftermath, and songs of protest are a part of this Bookstorm.

Think Globally, Act Locally. Pete Seeger’s social action with The Clearwater Project, gathering communities to clean up The Hudson River in New York, was accomplished through song, community gatherings, fundraising, and hard work. We provide quotes, videos, websites, and a lot of books for students to use for learning more and making their own plans for involvement.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMemories of my childhood are imperfect. Yours, too?

I don’t remember having a lot of books as a child. I remember The Poky Little Puppy and another dog book (title unknown) and Three Little Kittens (perhaps a reminder to me to keep track of my mittens).

I remember using the school library voraciously to read books. I had no access to the public library (too far away) so that school library was my lifeline. And our librarian understood what I was looking for before I did.

But back to the question of having books on our shelves. My mother had a Doubleday Book Club subscription so a new book arrived each month for the adult reader in our family. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Light in the Piazza, and The Sun Also Rises added to the shelves, but other than curiosity, I felt no interest in those books.

My mother also subscribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Readers Digest collections, classics, folk songs, Broadway musicals. There was always music on the turntable. More importantly, Reader’s Digest published story collections and books for children.  

Yesterday, I was sorting through the three boxes that remain of my childhood toys and books. We’re downsizing, so the tough decisions have to be made. Do I keep my hand puppets of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these boxes since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m surprised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remembrance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Treasuries for Young Readers and the three-volume Doubleday Family Treasury of Children’s Stories.  My mother also subscribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers. This is how I read Lorna Doone and Ivanhoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was startled to realize that my familiarity with many of the classic poems, stories, and nonfiction articles came from these books. I was introduced to Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Janet Gray and Dr. George Washington Carver and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hundred more stories and articles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omnivorous reader today because of the wide variety I encountered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a penchant for everything new right now. Grandparents pick up the latest Dora the Explorer or Where’s Waldo? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the bookstore clerk suggests a Caldecott or Newbery winner of recent vintage.

This is a plea to remember those classic books: the stories, the folk tales, the fables, the poetry. Children will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, especially if you give it to them. Those classics provide a common language for educated people.

Can’t find something suitable? Write to your favorite publisher and suggest that they print collections of classics, old and new. There are a few books published in the last 20 years that sort of approach these collections published in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Perhaps 50 years from now your children and grandchildren will open their own box of childhood memories, being thankful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sustained me all my life.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

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Aimée Bissonette

Aimée BissonetteIn this interview with Aimée Bissonette, author of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this monthwe asked about writing and researching this nonfiction picture book biography. 

Aimée, thank you for sharing your experiences and discoveries with our readers. We’re excited about this book that showcases an Everyday Hero, one of America’s female lighthouse keepers.

Miss Colfax's LightWhen you were writing this book, do you remember editing to include fewer details so the illustrator could do her work?

Yes, indeed! In fact, that’s half the joy of writing picture books — knowing the illustrator will fill in so many details. Eileen Ryan Ewen’s  illustrations in this book provide wonderful factual material. Harriet’s clothing and household items in the book are just like the things Harriet would have worn and owned in the late 1800’s. I did not need to include descriptions in the text. Eileen included so much historical detail in her illustrations.

How did you learn that some people in the city felt Harriet “got her job only because her cousin was a U.S. Congressman”?

In writing the book, I did a lot of research. There were several written accounts of Harriet’s life and the docents at the Lighthouse Museum had a treasure trove of information about Harriet. My favorite source of information was Harriet herself. She kept a daily journal, called a log, starting in the 1870’s. The idea that Harriet’s cousin, Schuyler Colfax, a U.S. Congressman who later became Vice President of the United States, helped Harriet get her job was mentioned frequently in my sources. Specifically, it is mentioned in a 1904 Chicago Tribune newspaper article by a reporter who interviewed Harriet right before she retired.

Miss Colfax's Light log book

The author and illustrator chose to include depictions of Miss Colfax’s log book throughout the book.

There are short segments of entries from Harriet’s journal included throughout the book. Did you have to get permission to use those? How did you know who to ask?

Those short segments are entries from the “log” I mentioned above. Harriet maintained that log as part of her official lighthouse keeper duties so the log technically is “owned” by the U.S. Government. Her log is kept in the National Archives. I did not need to get permission to use it because it is not protected by copyright. Keep in mind, though, much of the material a writer uncovers while doing research for a nonfiction book is protected by copyright. Writers need to be aware of this and ask permission when they use other people’s copyrighted work in the books they write.

Did you have to research the Lighthouse Board and the Lighthouse Inspector before you could write this book?

The references in the book to the Lighthouse Board and Lighthouse Inspector are based on Harriet’s log entries. There are many more log entries than are included in the book — 30 years’ worth, in fact! Reading them was tremendously eye-opening. Harriet referred often to the Board and the Inspector in her entries. I did additional reading about the Lighthouse Board and how lighthouses were managed in the 1800’s, but mostly relied on Harriet’s own words when writing about the Board and Inspector.

Other than “I can do this,” there is no dialogue in the book. Why did you choose to leave out dialogue?

That’s a good question! I think the main reason is that, although I had Harriet’s log entries and her letters and I had a sense of what she might say and how she might say it, I didn’t know exactly what she would have said in a conversation. I felt if I made up dialogue, it would take away from the factual accuracy of the book. We can’t even be 100% certain that Harriet would have thought or said “I can do this.” But given all I learned about Harriet — her drive, her intelligence, the hardships she faced — I felt it fit and I allowed that one exception.

Miss Colfax's Light

What do you want readers to know that they didn’t know before from the text you wrote?

I want readers to think about Harriet and others like her — the everyday heroes whose work makes life better for all of us. We don’t often think of lighthouse keepers as “heroes,” but the work Harriet did was critical to sea captains and sailors and the people of Indiana who depended on the goods brought in by ship. I also want readers to think about how Harriet and many other women of that time defied the restrictions placed on women and did incredible things — all without the cool technology we have today.

Would you have chosen to do Harriet’s job if you were alive then?

I like to think that I would have, yes. I think there is a little bit of me in Harriet. Like Harriet, I love a good challenge!

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Look at how we’re teaching nonfiction!

Melissa Stewart working with a studentAs another school year winds to a close, I’m feeling encouraged about the state of nonfiction reading and writing in elementary classrooms across the country.

In 2010, when the Common Core State Standards were introduced, educators began asking me for ideas and strategies for implementing the Reading Informational Text standards. And they were hungry for tips and tools that they could use to teach informational writing.

Melissa Stewart's websiteSo I began to think deeply about the craft of nonfiction writing. I described my evolving insights and observations on my blog and provided resources on my website and pinterest pages.

Teachers, school librarians, reading specialists, and literacy coordinators appreciated what I was doing. They used my resources. They emailed me with questions. They asked me to participate in Twitter chats. And they invited me to their schools. We shared ideas, and together, our understanding of nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, grew.

Melissa Stewart in the classroom

This year I saw tangible evidence that educators’ efforts are paying off. When I visited schools, teachers no longer nervously asked me, “How can we teach nonfiction?” Instead, they proudly exclaimed, “Look at how we’re teaching nonfiction!” Then they showed me the amazing projects their students had completed.

Here are some the great ideas educators have shared with me.

Nonfiction Smackdown!
Mrs. Paradis, teacher-librarian
Plympton Elementary School, Waltham, MA

Students in grades 3-5 read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one. When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets can be posted, so that other students can use the information to help them make book choices.

March Madness

March Madness Nonfiction
Mrs. Moody, instructional coach
Williams Elementary School, Oakland, ME

During the month of March, students in every grade level participated in classroom read-alouds of sixteen nonfiction picture books. Then the children voted on their favorites. Here’s more info about this fun, whole-school activity.

Text Feature Posters
Mrs. Teany, kindergarten teacher
Memorial Elementary School, Medfield, MA

After reading a variety of age-appropriate books written by me, K-2 students created fabulous text feature posters, using the ones in my books as mentor texts. Take a look at these terrific examples.

A caption and labels highlighting a butterfly’s body parts.

A caption and labels highlighting a butterfly’s body parts.

Hurricane Watch

Labels on a gripping drawing of a hurricane.

Dragonfly Zoom bubble

A “zoom bubble” showing a close-up view of a dragonfly’s head next to a complete body image with very colorful wings.

Poisonous

Comparing a frog and toad, highlighting that frogs have teeth but toads don’t. (top) Fact boxes with information about two frogs, one is poisonous and one isn’t. (bottom)

You can see more samples in this fun video created by Mrs. Groden, the teacher-librarian at Memorial Elementary School.

Text Structure Swap
Fourth grade teaching team
Kennedy Elementary School, Billerica, MA

After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate, the students made book maps to get a stronger sense of the architecture of the main text, which has what I call a cumulative sequence structure (my mentor texts were traditional cumulative tales, such as The House that Jack Built and I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.)

Then each child chose one example from the text and rewrote it with a cause and effect text structure.  What a great idea!

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Experimenting with Text Structures
Second grade teaching team
Wealthy Elementary School, East Grand Rapid, MI

Image-L_260pxWhile growing bean plants, students read a wide variety of age-appropriate nonfiction books about plants and plant growth. Then each child wrote about the beans using the text structure of his or her choice. The range of samples included using:

  • sequence structure to describe their plant’s growth sequence.
  • compare and contrast structure to explain the differences they observed between their seed and seeds placed in low-light conditions or deprived of water. 
  • cause and effect structure to describe how low light or lack of water affected seeds.
  • how-to structure to explain how students cared for their seed.
  • description structure to document the appearance of their plant with meticulous attention to detail.

Wow! I was blown away.

Radical Revision!
Kennedy Elementary School
Billerica, MA

As teachers listened to me describe the 10-year process of revising No Monkeys, No Chocolate, they hatched a plan for a project I love. They’re asked first graders to write a piece of nonfiction. Next year, when the students are in second grade, teachers will share the No Monkeys, No Chocolate Revision Timeline on my website and ask the children to revise the piece they wrote in first grade. Good idea, right? But it gets even better. Both drafts will be placed in a folder, and the students will revise the piece again in third, fourth, and fifth grade.

Imagine how different the final piece will be from the original! It will allow children to see tangible evidence of their growth as writers and give them a true sense of how long it can take to write a book.

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Authentic Illustration
K-2 teachers, Middle Gate Elementary School
Newtown, CT

As teachers listened me describe the process of making When Rain Falls, they came up with a great idea. After students have written nonfiction about a topic of their choice, children in another class at the same grade level will illustrate the text. Then the original writers will critique the artists’ work. Did they make any factual errors in their drawings? This activity mimics the process nonfiction authors go through when they review sketches created by an illustrator.

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Science and Stories Laboratory
Ms. Beecher, Literacy Coordinator
Pasadena (CA) Unified School District

Using Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science as a guide, Ms. Beecher worked with the staff at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Elementary School to design an innovative Science and Stories Laboratory that immersed students in a fabulous multi-week adventure of reading, writing, and exploring. Take a look at this fun video to see some of the highlights.

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Like teachers all across America, I’m more than ready for summer break. But I’m also looking forward to seeing even more terrific ideas for teaching informational reading and writing next year. It’s a great time for nonfiction!

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Books about Chocolate

February is National Chocolate Month, so how could we let it pass by without an homage to chocolate … in books? Far less costly on the dental bill! “In 2009, more than 58 million pounds of chocolate were purchased and (likely) consumed in the days surrounding February 14th — that’s about $345 million worth. (Kiri Tannenbaum, “8 Facts About Chocolate,” Delish) Were you a part of the national statistic? Here are a list of 12 books about chocolate to feed your craving.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake  

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake 
written by Michael Kaplan
illustrated by Stephane Jorisch 
Dial Books, 2011

Betty Bunny wants chocolate cake. Her mother wants her to learn patience. Betty Bunny would rather have chocolate cake. This is a funny, droll book about a spunky girl for whom waiting is a challenge. The illustrations are filled with humor, too.

Candy Bomber

 

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot”
written by Michael O. Tunnell
Charlesbridge, 2010

When the Russians maintained a blockade around West Berlin after World War II, US Air Force Lieutenant Gail S. Halvorsen arranged to have chocolate and gum dropped over the city by handkerchief parachutes.  Russia wanted to starve the people of West Berlin into accepting Communist rule, but the Air Force continued its sanctioned delivery of food and goods for two years. Halvorsen would drop the candy for the kids of West Berlin with a wiggle of his plane’s wings so they’d know it was him. A true story with a lot of primary documentation.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
written by Roald Dahl
illustrated by Quentin Blake
Knopf, 1964

Inspired by his schoolboy experiences of chocolate makers sending test packages to the kids in exchange for their opinions alongside tours of the chocolate factories with their elaborate machinery, Roald Dahl created what might be the most famous book about candy, and chocolate in particular, in the world. As children vie for a golden ticket to enter the chocolate factory, Charlie Bucket finds the fifth ticket. Living in poverty, it’s quite a sight for him, especially when the other four winners are ejected ignominiously from the factory, leaving Charlie to inherit from Willy Wonka. This book celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015.

Chock Full of Chocolate  

Chock Full of Chocolate
written by Elizabeth MacLeod
illustrated by Jane Bradford
Kids Can Press, 2005

A great way to talk about math and process and writing instructions, cookbooks are appealing to those kids who can’t get enough of the Food Network. This book has 45 recipes featuring chocolate with easy-to-understand instructions for dishes such as S’more Gorp, Dirt Dessert, and Candy-Covered Pizza.

Chocolate Fever  

Chocolate Fever
written by Robert Kimmel Smith
illustrated by Gioia Fiammenghi
Coward McCann, 1972

Henry Green loves chocolate. He eats chocolate all the time in every form and shape. He’s so enamored of chocolate that he contracts Chocolate Fever. Henry runs away from the doctor and straight into a zany adventure filled with humor and action. A good read-aloud.

Chocolate  

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets
of the World’s Favorite Treat
 

written by Kay Frydenborg
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015

This book on chocolate for middle grade readers covers chocolate from its light to dark aspects, from the way it was discovered to the slaves that were used to grow and harvest it. This book addresses the history, science, botany, environment, and human rights swirling around the world’s obsession with chocolate.

Chocolate Touch  

Chocolate Touch
written by Patrick Skene Catling
illustrated by Margot Apple
HarperCollins, reissued in 2006

John Midas loves chocolate. He loves it so much that he′ll eat it any hour of any day. He doesn′t care if he ruins his appetite. After wandering into a candy store and buying a piece of their best chocolate, John finds out that there might just be such a thing as too much chocolate. This take on the legend of King Midas is written with humor and action. First published in 1952, this is a charming story.

Chocolate War  

Chocolate War
written by Robert Cormier
Pantheon Books, 1974

In this classic young adult novel, Jerry Renault is a freshman at Trinity who refuses to engage in the school’s annual fundraiser: selling chocolate. Brother Leon, Archie Costello, the Vigils (the school gang) all play a part in this psychological thriller. Cormier’s writing is game-changing.

Milton Hershey  

Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier
(Childhood of Famous Americans series)
written by M.M. Eboch
illustrated by Meryl Henderson
Aladdin, 2008

As a young boy, Hershey had to drop out of school to help support his family. He was a go-getter. Working in an ice cream parlor gave him ideas about sweets and selling chocolate to the public. He started his own business, work long and hard to perfect the chocolate his company sells to this day, and learned a good deal about economics, marketing, and running a company. An interesting biography for young readers.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate  

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
illustrated by Nicole Wong
Charlesbridge, 2013

A good look at the ecosystem and interdependence of a chocolate tree and the lively monkeys that chew on its pods as they swing through the jungle, distributing seeds. Readers look at the one tree’s life cycle, examining the flora, fauna, animals, and insects that contribute to the making of cacao. Two bookworms on each page comment on the information, making this information even more accessible.

Smart About Chocolate  

Smart About Chocolate: a Sweet History
written by Sandra Markle
illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper
Grosset & Dunlap, 2004

A book sharing many facts about the history and making of chocolate, it’s short and engaging. Illustrated with cartoons and dialogue bubbles, photos and charts, this is a good survey of chocolate. Includes a recipe and suggestions for further reading.

This Books is Not Good For You  

This Book Is Not Good for You
written by pseudonymous bosch
Little, Brown, 2010

In this third book in the series, Cass, Max-Ernest, and Yo-Yoji work to discover the whereabouts of the legendary tuning fork so they can get Cass’s Mom back after she’s kidnapped by the evil dessert chef and chocolatier Senor Hugo. High adventure with a fun attitude.

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“Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vicki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaunda Michaux Nelson has another book coming out. I’m a fan. For my own reading life, No Crystal Stair: a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book satisfying. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nelson’s writing style is well suited to narrative nonfiction: she makes it exciting. 

So, when I heard that a picture book form of No Crystal Stair was on the horizon, my expectations were high. It would be illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Darkness (written by Barbara M. Joosse) found me sobbing. But how would they compress all of the great true stories in No Crystal Stair into a picture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger readers: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Carolrhoda, 2015).

The book is narrated by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is justly proud of his father. It opens with Muhammad Ali’s visit to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crystal Stair, Nelson builds a depth of understanding for Michaux’s commitment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not needed for young readers. We learn the parts that will interest this crowd. Michaux started with five books, selling his reading materials out of a pushcart. He couldn’t get financing from a bank because the banker said “Black people don’t read.” Michaux believed otherwise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black people.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Malcolm X. They were both political and believed “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nelson includes the heartbreaking scene that recounts Michaux’s reaction to the assassination of Malcolm X. His son had never seen his father cry before that day.

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This book keeps history alive and vital by connecting us to The National Memorial African Bookstore, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Common Sense and Proper Propaganda.” Christie’s illustrations are at once a record and a ribbon reaching from the past, showing us how people felt. We often forget about this in our look back … and it’s essential to remember that important historical figures were just like us, thinking, acting, laughing, hurting.

Ms. Nelson’s place in my list of Best Nonfiction Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, classroom, and on family bookshelves. Books bring us freedom.

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Bookstorm: The Shadow Hero

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In this Bookstorm™:

Shadow HeroShadow Hero

written by Gene Luen Yang
illustrated by Sonny Liew
First Second, 2014

As we become a culture adapted to screens, visuals, and moving pictures, we grow more accustomed to the storytelling form of the graphic novel. For some, their comfort with this combination of visuals and text telling a story satisfies a craving to “see” the story while they’re reading. For others, the lack of descriptive detail and measured, linear momentum through the story feels like a barrier to understanding. With the variety of graphic novels available and the inventive ways in which they’re assembled, we encourage you to keep trying. Find a story that intrigues you and persevere … we believe you’ll grow accustomed to this form. In time, you’ll add graphic novels to the depth of offerings you eagerly recommend to students, patrons, and friends.

We selected Shadow Hero for our featured book this month because the superhero has been present in comics since the early 1900s and current films and television have reawakened an interest among children that we believe can easily transport them into reading. Yang and Liew have given a back story to a superhero, The Green Turtle, originally created by talented comic book artist (and fine artist) Chu Fook Hing in the 1940s. There’s plenty of action, humor, mystery, and suspense in this new book … all the right ingredients for the best reading.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. For Shadow Hero, you’ll find books for a variety of tastes, interests, and reading abilities. Shadow Hero will be comfortably read by ages 10 through adult. We’ve included picture books, novels, and nonfiction for the plethora of purposes you might have.

Graphic Novels About Superheroes. With the popularity of The Avengers and X-Men, Iron Man and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there are a number of graphic novels about superheroes available for different ages. Some have mature content. Many are accessible for younger readers. Whether or not they’re wearing capes, superheroes are appealing because of the possibilities.

Graphic Novels About Mythology. The Green Turtle is a part of Chinese mythology. We hear a lot about Greek and Roman mythology, but there are compelling myths around the world. Graphic novels make those traditions and stories available to readers who might have trouble with straight text.

Fiction about Superheroes. Longer texts, without illustrations, often hold as much attraction for comic book readers if the stories are engaging. And there are picture books that are just right for the readers who are too young for graphic novels but have the interest.

Comic Books, Nonfiction. Whether it’s learning how two boys came to invent Superman, the superhero from Krypton, or examining infographics and statistics, or listening to a podcast with Gene Luen Yang on public radio about his inspiration, The Green Turtle, there’s a lot of research and learning to be done with superheroes.

Drawing. For those kinetic and visual learners, telling a story through drawing, populating a page with characterization and setting and voice is a way to use comic book art for developing writing skills.

Chinese History. There are many, many books, some of them quite scholarly, about Chinese history. We’ve selected just two, both of which are also visual histories.

Chinese Art. China is such a large country, with a civilization that is thousands of years old, that these books organize the information in order to present the diversity of arts in a way that makes sense.

Chinese Immigration. There are fine books about the immigration of Chinese and Asian Pacific people to America, the Golden Mountain. We’ve selected a few, from picture books to novels to memoir. 

Chinese Food. Readers learn a great deal about different cultures from the food they eat, their traditions for preparing food, and the ways they share it with their community. We’ve found cookbooks for both learning and eating, for adults and for children.

Chinese Geography. It always helps to have a good map to reinforce the visual knowledge of a country. You’ll find suggestions for maps, downloads, photos, and facts about this large country in Asia.

Techniques for using each book:

Downloadables

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Hands-on History for Spatial Learners

Making HistoryWhen I was in elementary school, I was never more excited than when the teacher told us we could make a diorama or a miniature scene of a pioneer settlement. The concept, planning, and building were thrilling for me. Even though my finished work seldom approached the dazzling display I could see in my head, I learned a great deal about history, engineering, science, and cardboard from my forays into building a small world in three dimensions.

We know that some kids learn best this way. They are not only hands-on, but they are spatial and visual learners, people who learn best by seeing and doing.

If you know children like this, they’ll be delighted with Making History: Have a Blast with 15 Crafts (written by Wendy Freshman and Kristin Jansson), published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

With a short historical lesson, thorough supplies list, excellent photographs, and step-by-step instructions that include a call-out for adult involvement (using scissors or a hot glue gun) your favorite kids can make a Makak Generation Basket or an Ice House (model) or a Día de Los Muertos Nichos (a small shadowbox with skeletons depicted on them for the Day honoring the Dead).

metal repousse pendant

Introducing a Metal Foil Repoussé Pendant, the authors share that Alice and Florence LeDuc formed Hastings Needlework in 1888 to create and sell embroidered household items that were treasured by many as artwork. Bought by influential families and featured on magazine covers, their needlework was known worldwide. The Minnesota Historical Society has more than 800 of their patterns in its archives.

With metal foil, a foam sheet, and household supplies such as a pencil, pen, and scissors, your students can make a necklace or box ornament from a Hastings Needlework pattern, included in the book and thoughtfully supplied online.

Paul Bunyan Action FigureFor your visual and spatial learners, building a Twister Tornado (did you know that the Mayo Clinic was founded as the result of a tornado?) or a Paul Bunyan Action Figure is a sneaky but effective way to make learning memorable and engaging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Ahead: Levitate Your Brother!

Big Magic for Little Hands

by Vicki Palmquist

We recently hosted a Harry Potter party for adults for which everyone was asked to perform a magic trick. Some people fiercely addressed the challenge. Some people panicked. Some people bought a trick off the internet. I turned to Joshua Jay’s Big Magic for Little Hands (Workman Publishing Co).

Citing all the benefits of learning to perform magic, the author reveals that he wasn’t a reader until he needed to know about magic. Learning magic tricks and performing them gives a child confidence and helps with public speaking skills. “Others have integrated magic into their jobs, using effects to break the ice or complete a sale or relax a jury.”

There are diagrams and terminology and suggested stage setups. There are helpful hints (overcoming stage fright). There are lists of materials needed for each feat of prestidigitation.

With compelling black, white, and red illustrations, the diagrams are easy to follow, convincing even the most skeptical that they could make these tricks work.

The writing is not just step-by-step instructional–Jay writes with humor and an appreciation of what’s practical.

The materials are items you probably have on hand in your household. When one list includes a top hat, Jay writes “A top hat works great, but you could also decorate an empty tissue box and use that, or use your dad’s cowboy hat. (Note: This only works if your dad is a cowboy.)”

Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed the real-life stories of magic such as “Houdini’s Great Plane Escape.” When Houdini was filming the movie The Grim Game, a stunt required climbing by rope from one plane to the other. During the stunt, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground. What happened? Well, that would be telling. According to Jay, a good magician never shares a secret or tells how it is done. Big Magic for Little Hands will tell you but I won’t.

Highly recommended for kids aged 8 and older (and the adults in their lives who will be just as fascinated). It’s a large format book with a big heart and plenty of fascination between its covers. A great gift. A good, readable, and hours-of-fun addition to your library.

 

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Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

In downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, spanning the Mississippi River, there is a “Stone Arch Bridge” that resembles a roman viaduct with its 23 arches. Built at a time when Minneapolis was a primary grain-milling and wood-producing center for the United States, Empire Builder James J. Hill wanted the bridge built to help his railroad reach the […]

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Gravity

Gravity

What is gravity? I have a notion (after many years of school) that it keeps my feet touching the ground. When I jump into the air, I am defying gravity. What is Gravity? A book. Written and illustrated by Jason Chin, who previously gifted us with Redwoods and Coral Island and Galapagos. He has a […]

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Books Plus: The Goods by McSweeney’s

The Goods by McSweeney’s: Games and Activities for Big Kids, Little Kids, and Medium-Size Kids edited by Mac Barnett and Brian McMullen featuring Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, and more Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2013 For your holiday gift-giving consideration … An oversized book filled with every imaginable distraction, this should be […]

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Behind the Books We’ve Loved: A Wilder Rose

Growing up, I loved to read mysteries, biographies, but especially series books. I didn’t read Nancy Drew or Anne of Green Gables (not until I was an adult), but I followed most every other series character. I read Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, Trixie Belden, Beany Malone, Janet Lennon, but especially Louisa May Alcott’s books, the […]

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Packing up the tent?

Summer Reading No. 2 Many of you are making plans to get out of Dodge when your kids are out of school for the summer. I imagine thousands of people making a list: tent, sleeping bags, mini-grill, rain ponchos, clothesline (from our camping experience, someplace to hang things up to dry is essential), cooler, GPS, […]

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Cooking up a bookstorm

One of my favorite genres of reading is cookbooks. It all began when I was ten, the Christmas of 1963. My mother gave me Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls, originally published in 1957 by Golden Books, illustrated by Gloria Kamen, and written by, well, Betty Crocker, of course! A lot of cooking […]

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A matter of character

I enjoy so many types of books, marveling that a writer or comic artist or architect or journalist or cook or explorer thought long and studied hard and wrote and revised and gave countless hours to the creation of their book. After all, how do you count the hours a book’s author spends dreaming, observing, […]

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A stellar book of fiction or nonfiction?

Nonfiction is getting a rocket lift-off into the consciousness of educators … and publishers … throughout the United States. Why? The Common Core State Standards require that nonfiction text is included in the classroom. I, of course, am cheering over this. I haven’t put the list of books I’ve read on a scale, nonfiction on […]

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A reading path from Japan to America

My exploration began when a young man, aged 7, recommended that I read Shipwrecked! the True Adventures of a Japanese Boy (Rhoda Blumberg, HarperCollins, 2001). The title sprang immediately to his mind when I asked him what he’d read lately that was good. Finding a copy, I opened it and began reading, realizing that this […]

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