fbpx

Tag Archives | Kate DiCamillo

Elizabeth Verdick

Elizabeth Verdick Self on the Shelf

When I pic­ture myself as a kid, I think of my bed­room in our split-lev­el West Vir­ginia house, a room I loved but had to leave behind at age eleven when my fam­i­ly moved to Mary­land. For years, that room was my own lit­tle world, my book nook, my place to cud­dle my cat Rag, col­lect chi­na-cat fig­urines, and, yes, read books about cats. Was I feline-obsessed? Yes! But I won’t bore you with the list of cat-ori­ent­ed fic­tion and non­fic­tion I con­sumed as a child. You might be a dog lover after all. My read­ing taste also includ­ed some of the nov­els that plen­ty of girls grow­ing up in the sev­en­ties loved: the Nan­cy Drew mys­ter­ies, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time, and Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Mar­garet. I also adored books about pigs, and for years, I imag­ined that some­day on one of my family’s many vis­its to farms and pet­ting zoos, a real-life pig would final­ly talk to me, con­firm­ing my belief that pigs are not only smart but also mag­i­cal, and good con­ver­sa­tion­al­ists, too. That lit­tle bed­room was a riot of col­or: avo­ca­do-green shag car­pet­ing, a bright patch­work quilt, yel­low fur­ni­ture, stuffed ani­mals in all shades and states of dress (over­alls, tiny skirts, fun­ny hats). It was the place where I could most be myself.

Experts say that around the time of puber­ty, most girls expe­ri­ence a nose­dive in con­fi­dence — a cri­sis that par­ents and edu­ca­tors have for years tried to address. At age eleven, I couldn’t have put into words how or why my once-fiery self was dimin­ish­ing week by week, and for years lat­er. The tran­si­tion from child into teen is intense and often painful, a time when you still believe in talk­ing ani­mals and por­tals to oth­er worlds yet must face the ways in which your body and self-image are chang­ing day by day. I read and reread books that seemed to hold the answers — or a sense of “I see you.” Like me, Mar­garet Mur­ry (in A Wrin­kle in Time) wres­tled with her frizzy hair and teas­ing peers. Like me, anoth­er Mar­garet (this time in a Judy Blume book) was wor­ried about her family’s move, not to men­tion bras, boys, and B.O. And there was Har­ri­et, the young “spy” who exu­ber­ant­ly con­fessed her feel­ings in her note­book: “I FEEL THERE’S A FUNNY LITTLE HOLE IN ME THAT WASN’T THERE BEFORE, LIKE A SPLINTER IN YOUR FINGER, BUT THIS IS SOMEWHERE ABOVE MY STOMACH” (Har­ri­et the Spy, p.132). I knew that emp­ty feel­ing. Read­ing helped fill it.

These pro­tag­o­nists were life­lines when I want­ed to hide or cry, laugh and scream at the same time, or just play pre­tend like a lit­tle kid. When you’re not quite a child any­more but you’re not offi­cial­ly a teen, you still feel that urge to become a char­ac­ter you’re read­ing about: I bought a com­po­si­tion note­book like Harriet’s and spied beneath the neigh­bors’ win­dows; I wore bor­rowed eye­glass­es to cre­ate my Mar­garet Mur­ry per­sona; and I decid­ed to start pray­ing (“Are you there God? It’s me, Eliz­a­beth”). Some­times I’d pre­tend to be Nan­cy Drew, brave and wise beyond her years. Oth­er times I was Fern from Charlotte’s Web, wheel­ing dolls and my oblig­ing cat in a baby car­riage, call­ing him “Wilbur.” That in-between stage is lone­ly and con­fus­ing, watch­ing your peers play Spin the Bot­tle when you’d rather be home play­ing Bar­bie ER (it involved crash­ing her Coun­try Camper). Books don’t judge you — they under­stand. They offer up heroes and add col­or and mag­ic to every­day life.

I often felt dif­fer­ent from peo­ple my age, in that I held on to child­hood for so long. Through­out high school, I returned to pic­ture books and my time­worn Judy Blume nov­els, even though I was also read­ing Stephen King. I’d pull out my Nan­cy Drew books, lin­ing them up to choose the best cov­er or make my room resem­ble a library. When feel­ing espe­cial­ly nos­tal­gic, I’d dig out Fred­dy the Detec­tive, a 1932 nov­el by Wal­ter R. Brooks about an adven­tur­ous, can-do pig, and ask my dad to read aloud. I want­ed to pub­lish sto­ries myself some­day, but when I lat­er sub­mit­ted work to my college’s lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, I was told the pieces skewed “too young” and would only appeal to kids.

What I didn’t know then was that there was a whole world of peo­ple who loved work that cen­tered on chil­dren and teens. When I moved to St. Paul after col­lege, I got a job as a book­seller at the Red Bal­loon Book­shop, where walk­ing in the front door felt like com­ing home. Walls of kids’ books! Rows of stuffed-ani­mal lit­er­ary char­ac­ters! A vis­it from the Madeleine L’Engle! There, I didn’t have to be more “adult” than I want­ed to be. Maybe those past days of por­ing over book cov­ers in my bed­room had done more than sim­ply sat­is­fy my curios­i­ty or cre­ate a sense of calm. I’d been devel­op­ing a respect for sto­ry­tellers and illus­tra­tors — per­haps even gain­ing that first lit­tle bit of what Ira Glass of This Amer­i­can Life describes as “taste,” or your impulse to do cre­ative work. I even­tu­al­ly found a job in book pub­lish­ing, where I learned to edit man­u­scripts and help design book inte­ri­ors. I took a class at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta taught by Karen Nel­son Hoyle, who had stu­dents read The River­side Anthol­o­gy of Children’s Lit­er­a­ture, which exam­ines the impor­tance of folk­tales, poet­ry, pic­ture books, and nov­els writ­ten for young peo­ple. I was still a begin­ner, and as Glass explains (wish­ing some­one had told him when he was a begin­ner): “All of us who do cre­ative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first cou­ple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s try­ing to be good, it has poten­tial, but it’s not … A lot of peo­ple nev­er get past this phase, they quit.” I often gave up, shred­ding my own sto­ries before any­one could see them. But dur­ing that time, I helped oth­er writ­ers find their voic­es and bring their books into the world, a role I cher­ished.    

Some­thing changed, deep­ened, when I had kids of my own. That call to children’s lit­er­a­ture grew even stronger. I took writ­ing class­es at the Loft Lit­er­ary Cen­ter in Min­neapo­lis, and I even­tu­al­ly got an MFA in writ­ing for chil­dren and teens from Ham­line Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Paul. Along the way, I learned from authors whose books elicit­ed the feel­ings of yearn­ing I’d had at age eleven — Min­neso­ta writ­ers like Anne Ursu and Kate DiCamil­lo. I stud­ied new and clas­sic pic­ture books, and I longed to write in that short (yet decep­tive­ly com­plex) form. I hoped to some­day feel as con­fi­dent as Har­ri­et M. Welsch, intre­pid girl spy and jour­nal-keep­er, who used writ­ing to under­stand the world and her­self. That was pie-in-the-sky think­ing. Today, any time I start a new man­u­script, my con­fi­dence plum­mets and I feel like a begin­ner again. But guess what? Most writ­ers do! Ira Glass says, “It’s nor­mal to take awhile. You’ve just got­ta fight your way through.”

 When you read a word-per­fect pic­ture book or a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten nov­el, it’s easy to think the book popped into the world like “Presto!” because you feel the mag­ic as you turn the pages. But writ­ers, illus­tra­tors, and edi­tors know how much behind-the-scenes work it takes to cre­ate that illu­sion. If you’re curi­ous about “book-mag­ic,” you might want to read Ways of Telling: Con­ver­sa­tions on the Art of the Pic­ture Book by Leonard S. Mar­cus, and one of Marcus’s oth­er works, Dear Genius: The Let­ters of Ursu­la Nord­strom, who was the direc­tor of Harper’s Depart­ment of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973 (and edi­tor of clas­sics such as Charlotte’s Web, Good­night Moon, and Where the Wild Things Are). It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to learn about Nordstrom’s cor­re­spon­dence with E. B. White and illus­tra­tor Garth Williams, who worked togeth­er on Charlotte’s Web. (Should Williams draw Charlotte’s eight eyes? Should her mouth be vis­i­ble?) In Ways of Telling, author/illustrator Eric Car­le reveals that he had cre­at­ed a man­u­script called “A Week with Willi Worm!” that, after advice from his edi­tor, trans­formed into The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar. Books, like but­ter­flies, emerge only after a messy process of meta­mor­pho­sis. And that’s fit­ting because, after all, we’re talk­ing about works for chil­dren, who in the words of E. B. White, “… are the most atten­tive, curi­ous, eager, obser­vant, sen­si­tive, quick, and gen­er­al­ly con­ge­nial read­ers on earth.” It’s an hon­or to write for them.    

I’m far from eleven, but I’m still obsessed with cats (dogs too). I’m still wait­ing for the day a pig might talk to me. And books are still my best friends. Some things nev­er change.

Read more...

Read-Alouds That Leave a Lasting Imprint

The gift of a favorite teacher read­ing aloud an unfor­get­table book is an expe­ri­ence like­ly to leave a last­ing imprint on a student’s heart. For me, it was Ramona the Pest, intro­duced by my sec­ond-grade teacher. I’ll always remem­ber Tam­my Burns, the girl in my class who had beau­ti­ful ringlets just like Ramona’s class­mate Susan. And just like Ramona, I was always tempt­ed to give those curls a good tug to see if they would go “boing.” I was enchant­ed by Ramona, and want­ed to be just as feisty and bold. She quick­ly became my first “best book friend” and her clas­sic series would make me the vora­cious read­er I am today.

Dur­ing my three decades as a teacher, I have savored many chap­ter book read-alouds with my stu­dents in upper ele­men­tary class­rooms. And like teach­ers every­where, it is my great­est wish to make a last­ing impact on stu­dents. I believe shar­ing the very best of mid­dle grade lit­er­a­ture is a sure-fire approach to achiev­ing this goal. The gems on my list of must-have titles pos­sess tremen­dous poten­tial for enter­ing and remain­ing in the hearts of teach­ers and stu­dents alike.

Sahara Special  

Sahara Spe­cial
writ­ten by Esme Raji Codell 
Dis­ney-Hype­r­i­on, 2004

Puz­zling, Time Trav­el and World Explor­ing, Mad Sci­ence, Read Aloud, Read Togeth­er, Read Alone, Art of Lan­guage. Not your typ­i­cal 5th grade dai­ly sched­ule, but it is what Sahara gets with Madame Poiti­er, aka, Miss Pointy. Labeled as an under­achiev­er who actu­al­ly has seri­ous writ­ing tal­ent that she keeps hid­den, Sahara has opt­ed out of spe­cial edu­ca­tion class­es and is instead repeat­ing 5th grade. With help from her eccen­tric teacher, she final­ly finds the kind of sup­port and encour­age­ment that might help her over­come her fears, accept her­self and embrace her gifts. Share this book to build empa­thy and bring humor to your read aloud.

Resources

Home of the Brave  

Home of the Brave
writ­ten by Kather­ine Apple­gate
Square Fish, 2008

A beau­ti­ful sto­ry of one boy’s strug­gle to adapt to a new life in Min­neso­ta. Far from his home­land of Sudan and the school expe­ri­ence he had at a refugee camp, this exquis­ite book is a per­fect choice to pro­mote win­dows and mir­rors with stu­dents. Writ­ten in free verse, read­ers will be drawn to Kek and his desire to adapt to the frigid Min­neso­ta win­ter and life in Amer­i­ca. He is deter­mined to learn of his mother’s fate as he remains hope­ful despite his old­er brother’s pes­simism. Applegate’s descrip­tive writ­ing, rich with idioms, brings atten­tion to what it’s like to try to make sense of a new sur­round­ing and strange lan­guage. Share this book to raise aware­ness of and appre­ci­a­tion for the refugee expe­ri­ence, mak­ing new friends and hang­ing onto hope when you have lit­tle else.

Resources

Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane  

The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Edward Tulane
writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo
Can­dlewick Press, 2006

This fan­tas­ti­cal adven­ture fea­tures a stuck up, ego­cen­tric chi­na rab­bit who is trans­formed through repeat­ed episodes of loss and love as his sto­ry spans decades. Although at first meet­ing, he is a heart­less char­ac­ter, Edward’s jour­ney is about recap­tur­ing his humil­i­ty and dis­cov­er­ing the true pow­er of love. It all begins with a fall over­board and con­tin­ues through a series of res­cues and aban­don­ments. Edward and his read­ers will face a wide range of emo­tions as the tale unfolds across unex­pect­ed set­tings with a unique ensem­ble of sup­port­ing cast mem­bers. Share this sto­ry to explore mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives and oppor­tu­ni­ties for engag­ing in char­ac­ter analy­sis. 

Resources

The War That Saved My Life

 

The War That Saved My Life
writ­ten by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
Dial Books, 2015

Win­ner of numer­ous awards, includ­ing a New­bery Hon­or, this unfor­get­table WWII saga tells the sto­ry of Ada, a bright but severe­ly neglect­ed nine-year-old girl, liv­ing in Lon­don. Born with a club foot and unable to walk due to lack of treat­ment, Ada has been locked in her cru­el mother’s shab­by sec­ond sto­ry flat her entire life. When the city’s chil­dren are evac­u­at­ed to the coun­try­side as Hitler’s bombs begin to fall, Ada fol­lows her younger broth­er and grasps her only chance to escape her dis­mal exis­tence. TWTSML is the kind of read aloud that cap­tures the lis­ten­er and holds on tight. Share this his­tor­i­cal fic­tion title to offer stu­dents com­pelling insight into the lives, strug­gles and hard-won vic­to­ries of two resilient chil­dren and the woman who res­cues them.

Resources

Out of My Mind  

Out of My Mind
writ­ten by Sharon Drap­er
Run­ning Press Kids, 2010

Fifth grade, spelling extra­or­di­naire Melody pos­sess­es a pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry and is like­ly the bright­est stu­dent in the entire school. She is fun­ny, feisty and fierce. Yet no one knows any of these things about her because she is trapped and unable to demon­strate any of her tal­ents or traits. Born with cere­bral pal­sy, Melody yearns for the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate and expe­ri­ence friend­ships like oth­er kids her age. The arrival of “Elvi­ra” trans­forms Melody’s life and the world around her. Share this book to delve into the dif­fi­cult yet nec­es­sary top­ic of bias towards oth­ers who are dif­fer­ent­ly-abled.

Resources

The One and Only Ivan  

The One and Only Ivan
writ­ten by Kather­ine Apple­gate
Harper­Collins, 2012

The poignant, inspired by true events, sto­ry of the shop­ping mall goril­la, Ivan. A beau­ti­ful blend of friend­ship and faith, art and humor, is sprin­kled through­out the pages of this endear­ing tale. A favorite New­bery Medal win­ner, Ivan has found a home in the hearts of read­ers in thou­sands of class­rooms. A gen­tle giant, Ivan learns about the essence of life from inside his glass walls dur­ing his 27 years of cap­tiv­i­ty. He finds strength, courage and love among his small but mighty group of mall friends; Julia, the mall custodian’s daugh­ter, Bob, the spir­it­ed dog, Stel­la, the wise, old­er ele­phant and Ruby, the new­ly arrived baby ele­phant. Share this book to inte­grate fan­ta­sy fic­tion and non-fic­tion accounts of the incred­i­ble sto­ry of Ivan, encour­ag­ing research and ani­mal rights advo­ca­cy.

Resources

A Long Walk to Water  

A Long Walk to Water 
writ­ten by Lin­da Sue Park
Clar­i­on Books, 2010

Anoth­er book based on a true sto­ry, this heart-rend­ing sto­ry of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” presents the par­al­lel sto­ries of two unfor­get­table chil­dren. Alter­nat­ing the third per­son nar­ra­tives, Park shares the dif­fi­cult sto­ries of Sal­va, a Din­ka boy escap­ing the hor­rors of the Sudanese civ­il war in 1985 and that of Nya, a mem­ber of the Nuer tribe, who devotes the major­i­ty of her time to retriev­ing water for her fam­i­ly in 2008. While both trag­ic and uplift­ing, share this book to raise aware­ness of the strug­gle for sur­vival due to war and lack of basic nat­ur­al resources such as water.  

Resources

Hello, Universe  

Hel­lo, Uni­verse
writ­ten by Erin Entra­da Kel­ly
Green­wil­low Books, 2017

Hel­lo Uni­verse by Erin Entra­da Kel­ly

The 2018 win­ner of the New­bery Award, this enchant­i­ng sto­ry is sure to become an all-time favorite. The sto­ry of sur­vival in both small and very big ways is woven togeth­er from the very dif­fer­ent life expe­ri­ences of four mis­fits – a bul­ly, a psy­chic, a deaf girl and a shy but kind boy. The uni­verse works in mys­te­ri­ous and some­times epic ways as this charm­ing tale of friend­ship and courage will attest. Share this book to launch a unit about fam­i­ly sto­ries, under­stand­ing and stand­ing up to bul­ly­ing, how var­i­ous cul­tures are rep­re­sent­ed in lit­er­a­ture or the idea of fate ver­sus free will.

Resources

Ms. Bixby's Last Day  

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day
writ­ten by John David Ander­son
Walden Pond Press, 2016

Three sixth grade boys with noth­ing much in com­mon oth­er than a shared out­cast sta­tus and an affin­i­ty for their beloved Mrs. B, hatch a plan to deliv­er “the per­fect last day”.  As teach­ers go, Ms. Bix­by is “one of the good ones”, a teacher who under­stands the impor­tance of rela­tion­ships, respect and rec­og­niz­ing spe­cial qual­i­ties in each and every stu­dent. When she sud­den­ly takes a med­ical leave to deal with a seri­ous ill­ness, the boys embark on a com­i­cal and at times heart­break­ing quest to see her at least one more time.  Filled with a per­fect mix of hard truths and much need­ed humor, this adven­ture will keep lis­ten­ers beg­ging for just one more page. Share this book as a per­fect end-of-the-year selec­tion that leads to an emo­tion­al and mem­o­rable con­clu­sion!

Resources

 

Read more...

Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDar­ling Daugh­ter and I host/participate in an occa­sion­al par­ent-child book­group for mid­dle-grade read­ers and their par­ents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talk­ing about books. I think we can safe­ly say the bagel aspect of things increas­es par­tic­i­pa­tion — but all the kids who come are great read­ers and we love talk­ing with them and their par­ents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve intro­duced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of pub­li­ca­tion. (Dar­ling Daugh­ter is, alas, out­grow­ing the mid­dle-grade genre.)

We saved the read­ing of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightin­gale for Books & Bagels. I sched­uled it not hav­ing read the book, in fact, which is not usu­al­ly how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend them­selves to good dis­cus­sion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heart­break and the hope, the crazy char­ac­ters and their friend­ships and flaws, and the unlike­ly events that could absolute­ly hap­pen. We talked about how it was sim­i­lar to some of DiCamillo’s oth­er books and how it was dif­fer­ent, too. Good dis­cus­sion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, how­ev­er, that one of our reg­u­lars — I’ll call him Sam — seemed a bit dis­grun­tled about the book. Sam and I have been dis­cussing books for a long time — he reads both wise­ly and wide­ly and we have intro­duced each oth­er to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s hon­est about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but nev­er in a way that would hurt some­one else’s feel­ings — includ­ing, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have some­thing you want to say.”

Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-writ­ten, of course. And, I mean, the friend­ship of Raymie and those oth­er girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were inter­est­ing…. But — ” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the cor­ner of his eye.

Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you real­ly think.”

It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at hav­ing con­fessed this. “Not that there’s any­thing wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gen­tle clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions. I’m sort of fas­ci­nat­ed and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehe­ment­ly argue that those cat­e­gories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or some­thing like that. But before me was a read­er insist­ing that he under­stood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be inter­est­ing to guys like him.

Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl read­ers asked.

Batons. Bar­rettes. Dress­es.” Sam said. He shrugged apolo­get­i­cal­ly.

Oth­er kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff what­so­ev­er, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was miss­ing. Instead, we talked about whether var­i­ous (tra­di­tion­al­ly under­stood) girl and boy trap­pings were lim­it­ed or lim­it­ing. These kids know how to have good and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions around per­cep­tions and assump­tions and stereo­types. We talked about whether the char­ac­ter of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, every­one agreed — they knew boys who were painful­ly shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stub­born, just like each of the three ami­gos DiCamil­lo con­jured up. They knew both boys and girls who car­ried heavy loads of expec­ta­tion, or fam­i­ly dis­tress, or who had trou­ble mak­ing friends. They knew them­selves what it was to feel like every­thing, absolute­ly every­thing, depend­ed on them. They could iden­ti­fy with the book — on many lev­els that had noth­ing to do with gen­der. And yet…this was a girlie book — on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion, real­ly. Hon­est. Respect­ful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He won­dered if Kate DiCamil­lo made Raymie, Bev­er­ly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also writ­ten books that fea­tured male char­ac­ters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Ris­ing with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detri­tus I asked if any­one could sug­gest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels book­group. Sam eager­ly bounced up and down.

I have two to sug­gest!” he said. “Bridge to Ter­abithia and The BFG.”

Two ter­rif­ic books. Two ter­rif­ic books that hap­pen to have strong girl char­ac­ters. I point­ed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl char­ac­ters. The giant is a boy!”

Read more...

Bink and Gollie

Ear­ly this morn­ing I read Bink and Gol­lie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their par­ents picked up the rental car for their Great Amer­i­can Sum­mer Road­trip. To say that the lev­el of excite­ment was pal­pa­ble is an under­state­ment — it was a wave that near­ly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked — both of them — non­stop for an hour while we sipped our break­fast smooth­ies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smooth­ie, which was con­cern­ing, so anx­ious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

Books!” said one.

YEAH — WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the oth­er.

On the deck!”

In the sun­shine!”

Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gol­lie with us to the sun­ny deck. No mat­ter how excit­ed these sweet girls get — and let me tell you, they were excit­ed this morn­ing! — they calm down instant­ly with a book. Their breath­ing changes by page two. And so we snug­gled up and read, breath­ing deeply in the ear­ly morn­ing sun­shine.

I’d for­got­ten how much of the sto­ry is told in the pic­tures in Bink and Gol­lie books — and how many words are in the pic­tures. Labels and instruc­tions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learn­ing to read, this works real­ly well. I read the sto­ry itself and they read the pic­tures. The pic­tures are often filled with big words. (So is the sto­ry itself — it’s some­thing I appre­ci­ate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Ali­son McGhee’s writ­ing. They do not sim­pli­fy vocab­u­lary.) Some things we have to sound out togeth­er, but the real fun is get­ting the inflec­tion right. Read­ing it in our Gol­lie voice, or like a 1940’s radio adver­tise­ment, or like a car­ni­val bark­er.

Bink and Gol­lie are oppo­sites in many ways — Gol­lie is tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­icBink&Gollie-180-pix and for­mal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greet­ings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amus­ing. They are also tall and skin­ny, prag­mat­ic (some­times, any­way), and hilar­i­ous­ly for­mal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair stick­ing up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pan­cakes and peanut but­ter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that prob­lem,” one of them said this morn­ing as we read about Bink order­ing a Stretch-o-mat­ic to make her­self taller.) But their hair is some­times Bink-like. And they delight in the sim­ple things of life — includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, socks, cel­e­bra­to­ry pan­cakes, and peanut but­ter. They also have Bink’s ener­gy — they yam­mer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gol­lie. They are Bink and Gol­lie — they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gol­lie have adven­tures, a sweet friend­ship, and they roller­skate every­where — these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decod­ing the words in the pic­tures and get­ting the joke. They are envi­ous of the tree­house in which Bink and Gol­lie live. They’d like to vis­it Eccles’ Empire of Enchant­ment — and maybe hit a Bar­gain Bonan­za. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dako­ta will sat­is­fy them.)

Bink and Gol­lie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a lit­tle field trip to my house (just around the cor­ner) because their cousin was bak­ing scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rent­ed Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I won­der if they’re lev­i­tat­ing with excite­ment in their car seats, chat­ter­ing away like Bink or say­ing I long for the moun­tains…. like Gol­lie. They invit­ed me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve tak­en them up on it.

Read more...

Creating a Curriculum and Culture of Kindness in the Classroom

bk_wonder_140by Mau­r­na Rome

When giv­en the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” ― R.J. Pala­cio, Won­der

Wouldn’t our class­rooms be grand if stu­dents were giv­en oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn about and expe­ri­ence what being kind looks like, sounds like and feels like on a dai­ly basis? Wouldn’t life be grand if we could all sim­ply choose true col­lab­o­ra­tion with our teach­ing col­leagues to pro­mote kind­ness? Wouldn’t our schools be grand if our dis­tricts would invest in kind­ness? My answer is a resound­ing “YES!” to these ques­tions, and I hope oth­er teach­ers would agree on all counts.

True, we are faced with con­stant pres­sure to pre­pare stu­dents for “those tests.” You know, the ones that are used to deter­mine just how accom­plished we teach­ers and our stu­dents are. Many of us still feel the urge to just close the door and do what we do in iso­la­tion. And yes, in many dis­tricts, sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing is being used to buy new and com­pre­hen­sive “core” read­ing pro­grams (remem­ber those test scores). Yet what about the con­tent of our stu­dents’ char­ac­ter? What about their cur­rent lev­el of engage­ment and future hap­pi­ness? Could the answer be the pur­suit of kind­ness and uti­liz­ing authen­tic lit­er­a­ture in our class­rooms? Do books real­ly have the pow­er to change lives? Again, my answer is a resound­ing “YES!”

from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Thought Bub­ble on Kind­ness”

Despite the chal­lenges, my incred­i­ble col­leagues and I have sought out an inten­tion­al approach to weave kind­ness into our teach­ing. As “human­i­ties” teach­ers, it seems only fit­ting that along with lessons on parts of speech, com­pre­hen­sion strate­gies and writ­ing lit­er­ary essays, we include a com­mit­ment to teach­ing kind­ness. It is after all, an inte­gral aspect of belong­ing to this thing we call humankind.

Smart teach­ers know there is a sense of urgency in our class­rooms. Time is always in short sup­ply while meet­ings, les­son plan­ning, paper cor­rect­ing, and grad­ing are a con­stant demand. It helps to have a team like the one I work with. The strong lev­els of trust, mutu­al respect and shared enthu­si­asm for what we do is invig­o­rat­ing. We encour­age each oth­er to want to be the best teach­ers we can be. We con­tin­u­al­ly brain­storm, test, suc­ceed, fail, and try again, as we share our ideas, resources and instruc­tion­al strate­gies with one anoth­er. This is a recipe for pro­fes­sion­al kind­ness that works. If you want to teach kind­ness in your class­room, it is much eas­i­er if you have cama­raderie among your col­leagues.

12_1Glow-Ball-Read-Dahl-Loud-Kindness-Day550

Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud) day. Click to enlarge.

And kids seem to notice when their teach­ers love what they do. On Novem­ber 13th, class­rooms near and far par­tic­i­pat­ed in two simul­ta­ne­ous events: World Kind­ness Day and Glob­al Read Aloud (aka Glow Ball Read Dahl Loud). My team­mates and I wore our glow sticks and ball gowns, while read­ing poet­ry by Roald Dahl (loud­ly). We also shared the short film, Snack Attack, to pro­mote a mes­sage of kind­ness and gen­er­ate lots of dis­cus­sion. Our unusu­al attire and this award-win­ning movie with a twist were excel­lent ways to rein­force the con­cept of “Con­trasts and Con­tra­dic­tions” a sign­post from Notice and Note; Strate­gies for Close Read­ing by Kylene Beers and Robert Prob­st. 

It’s up to us teach­ers to work our mag­ic to carve out the time, to cre­ate an inte­grat­ed cur­ricu­lum and cul­ture of kind­ness. Kids who learn the impor­tance of kind­ness are kids who devel­op empa­thy and com­pas­sion. They are more apt to be selfless in a world where “self­ies” rule. Con­sid­er these “Words of the Wis­er” (anoth­er Notice and Note sign­post):

I think prob­a­bly kind­ness is my num­ber one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or brav­ery or gen­eros­i­ty or any­thing else. Kind­ness — that sim­ple word. To be kind — it cov­ers every­thing, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”  ―Roald Dahl

The fol­low­ing kind­ness resources have been field-test­ed and have earned a sol­id stamp of approval from dozens of wise (and kind) 6 – 11 year olds.

Film

 Children’s Pic­ture Books:

  • Each Kind­ness by Jacque­line Wood­son
  • Have You Filled a Buck­et Today by Car­ol McCloud
  • Last Stop on Mar­ket Street by Matt de la Pena
  • My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems
  • Those Shoes by Mari­beth Boelts

YA/Middle Grades Chap­ter Books:

  • The Mirac­u­lous Jour­ney of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamil­lo
  • The Mis­fits by James Howe
  • Sahara Spe­cial by Esme Raji Codell
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
  • Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio

In addi­tion to read­ing books to and with kids to teach kind­ness, these pro­fes­sion­al books are well worth the invest­ment of time and mon­ey:

  • Beyond Nice: Nur­tur­ing Kind­ness with Young Chil­dren by Stu­art L. Stotts
  • Bul­ly­ing Hurts, Teach­ing Kind­ness through Read Alouds and Guid­ed Con­ver­sa­tions
    by Lester Lam­i­nack
  • Secret Kind­ness Agents: How Small Acts of Kind­ness Real­ly Can Change the World
    by Fer­i­al Pear­son

Final­ly, if you are look­ing for ways to bring a kind­ness cam­paign to your class­room, con­sid­er these spe­cial events.

Read more...

USBBY Reflections

by Nan­cy Bo Flood 

Books can help read­ers heal. Sto­ries can cre­ate com­pas­sion. Every one needs to find “their sto­ry” in books.

flood_USBBY_Logo_1The Unit­ed States Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (USBBY) is part of The Inter­na­tion­al Board on Books for Young Peo­ple (IBBY), a world-wide orga­ni­za­tion that works to build bridges of under­stand­ing through chil­dren’s and young adult books.  “A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.”

USBBY/IBBY brings togeth­er authors and illus­tra­tors, edi­tors, librar­i­ans, teach­ers, and read­ers who sup­port the cre­ation of books that speak to chil­dren and their par­ents what­ev­er their home coun­try or lan­guage. IBBY’s Hans Chris­t­ian Ander­sen Medal cel­e­brates the best world-wide author and illus­tra­tor whose words and images excite imag­i­na­tion, and its Astrid Lind­gren Memo­r­i­al award is giv­en to authors, illus­tra­tors, sto­ry­tellers, and per­sons and orga­ni­za­tions that work to pro­mote lit­er­a­cy. Each award is select­ed from the nom­i­na­tions of over a 100 par­tic­i­pat­ing region­al units, such as USBBY.

ph_flooddicamillo

Kate DiCamil­lo ® speak­ing at the open­ing USBBY ses­sion.

This year’s USBBY con­fer­ence was held in New York City, low­er Man­hat­tan. The con­fer­ence is kept small, under 300 atten­dees, so the atmos­phere is friend­ly, like old friends com­ing togeth­er to share new ideas, new trends, and new award-win­ning books from around the world. What a cel­e­bra­tion of books! This year the open­ing speak­er was our very own Nation­al Ambas­sador for Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture, Kate DiCamil­lo. She spoke about her jour­ney from writer to pub­lished author.

ph_flood_dicamillo

Kate DiCamil­lo signed books and took the time to chat with each per­son, even me.

Per­sis­tence! Kate affirmed that with­in each of us we have sto­ries to tell. But to suc­cess­ful­ly move from that first page to a pub­lished book, one needs to believe in one­self, write and re-write, and stub­born­ly pur­sue the quest of find­ing the right edi­tor. With humor Kate described her ini­tial ten years of first think­ing about writ­ing before actu­al­ly hav­ing the courage to put pen to paper and write. Then came 470 rejec­tion let­ters. Now Kate has 22 mil­lion books in print world-wide, trans­lat­ed into 41 lan­guages. She calls her­self a “late-bloomer.” Her first book was pub­lished a few years before she turned forty. Even today, Kate is “still sur­prised that I ever got pub­lished.” When asked why her books are read by all ages of read­ers in coun­tries on every con­ti­nent, she imag­ines that some­how the sto­ries she writes have uni­ver­sal appeal because she writes hon­est­ly of expe­ri­ences and emo­tions we all share – fears and hopes, dis­ap­point­ments and sor­rows. Kate asserts, that “the love of sto­ry is in the core of humankind.” Through sto­ry we step into the heart of anoth­er and walk with­in their jour­ney. Kate also affirms that “every child has the right to learn to read.”

ph_flood_cooper_susan

Susan Coop­er sign­ing at USBBY.

This uni­ver­sal love of sto­ry was reit­er­at­ed in a lat­er talk by Susan Coop­er, one of England’s great­est sto­ry­tellers (The Dark is Ris­ing), a cre­ator of many worlds, a writer of fan­ta­sy. Susan asked, “is it pos­si­ble for sto­ry­telling, this basic love of sto­ry that all cul­tures share, to be a way to heal the divi­sions of our world? Through the mag­ic of enter­ing anoth­er place, anoth­er cul­ture, can we increase com­pas­sion and come to accept dif­fer­ences, erase prej­u­dices based on igno­rance?” Yes, both Susan and Kate con­tend, books can build bridges. They can tell uni­ver­sal truths. They can let us walk with­in the heart and skin of anoth­er per­son and feel “both joy and sor­row as sharp as stones.”

ph_engle_venkatraman

(l‑r) Hol­ly Thomp­son, Mar­gari­ta Engle, Pad­ma Venka­tra­man pre­sent­ed a pan­el on verse nov­els.

A child might sit in a class­room, on a park bench, or snug­gled under bed cov­ers with a flash­light, and become lost in a book. Or a child might sit in front of a tent in a refugee camp or a deten­tion cen­ter near a bor­der cross­ing. Books let us enter new worlds, con­sid­er new ideas, rethink old hates. Both Kate DiCamil­lo and Susan Coop­er agree that sto­ries help us laugh and give us hope.

Flood_war panel

(l‑r) The war pan­el: me, Lyn Miller-Lach­man, and Ter­ry Far­ish.

 

This year at the con­fer­ence I was part of a “war pan­el.” The smil­ing trio in the pho­to, “the war pan­el,” pre­sent­ed dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives about war and the effects on chil­dren. Today over forty mil­lion chil­dren live as refugees. Here in the Unit­ed States, more vet­er­ans — moth­ers and fathers of chil­dren — die from sui­cide than from com­bat. How do their chil­dren make sense of war? We need well-writ­ten books about war so chil­dren can find their sto­ries and begin to heal.

Thank you, Col­orado Author’s League, for sup­port­ing me with a trav­el grant to attend this USBBY con­fer­ence. I encour­age writ­ers and illus­tra­tors to become a mem­ber of this inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion. Through­out the year USBBY is involved in a vari­ety of projects that bring appro­pri­ate books to chil­dren and par­ents. As Kate DiCamil­lo stat­ed: “Every child has the right to read.”

Read more...

Chris Van Dusen: Illustrating Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

 

Chris Van Dusen

Chris Van Dusen

Leroy Ninker first appeared in Mer­cy Wat­son Fights Crime as the crim­i­nal. Did you con­scious­ly change his appear­ance for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up to make him a more sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter?

I’m not sure that I con­scious­ly changed his appear­ance. I tried to make him look like the same char­ac­ter. In the orig­i­nal series he was wear­ing a robber’s mask which gave him a slight­ly sin­is­ter look. Since he’s now a “reformed thief” I removed the mask which made him a warmer and more like­able char­ac­ter which is more fit­ting for the sto­ry.

Your palette for the Deck­a­woo Dri­ve books has a retro feel­ing. What do you think decid­ed you on work­ing with the col­ors you use in those books and now Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up?

The orig­i­nal Mer­cy Wat­son Series def­i­nite­ly did have a retro feel. The col­ors I used were sim­i­lar to those that appeared in the pic­ture books I grew up with – col­ors that were pop­u­lar in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The new series has BW inte­ri­or art but I end­ed up paint­ing the pic­tures in the same method using gouache.

Cover Sketch

Sketch of a reject­ed cov­er idea for Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up

When Leroy runs through the neigh­bor­hood to res­cue May­belline, you use a flu­id line to indi­cate his rapid motion. For young read­ers who’d love to draw their own sto­ries, how did you learn to con­vey action in this way?

Motion lines are a clas­sic car­toon way of show­ing move­ment. I prob­a­bly picked this up from my ear­ly inter­est in com­ic strips and ani­ma­tion.

How is illus­trat­ing a chap­ter book dif­fer­ent from illus­trat­ing a pic­ture book?

In a pic­ture book there are few­er words, so the illus­tra­tions have to tell more of the sto­ry. Also, pic­ture book illus­tra­tions are usu­al­ly larg­er, often a full spread. In a chap­ter book, the illus­tra­tions sup­port the text rather than tell the sto­ry.

What words of advice would you share to encour­age young illus­tra­tors who’d like to fol­low in your foot­steps?

 You can do it. But you have to keep draw­ing. Good draw­ing skills are the basis for any career as an illus­tra­tor, ani­ma­tor, car­toon­ist, painter, etc. 

interior sketch

A pre­lim­i­nary sketch
for the spread on pages 86 and 87.

 

 

 

Read more...

Skinny Dip with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamilloDo you remem­ber any book reports you wrote or gave while in ele­men­tary school?

No one has ever asked me this ques­tion before! Here is the truth: I don’t remem­ber doing one, sin­gle book report. Have I blocked the mem­o­ries out? Or did I real­ly not do any? I’m think­ing it’s the lat­ter. Tru­ly.

Describe your all-time favorite pair of paja­mas.

Red flan­nel. Dec­o­rat­ed with dogs. And Milk bones. Divine.

What was the best Hal­loween cos­tume you’ve ever worn or seen?

I love the Bugs Bun­ny mask I wore when I was three. I can still smell the inte­ri­or of that mask. I can still feel the pow­er of *hid­ing* behind that mask.

Are you good at wrap­ping presents?

Ha ha ha. I am laugh­ing. And I can hear my moth­er laugh­ing from the great beyond. I inher­it­ed my inabil­i­ty to wrap presents from her. Present-wrap­ping always ends up with me in the mid­dle of a great big snarl of wrap­ping paper and scotch tape. Imag­ine Bink wrap­ping a present and you get the right visu­al.

Do you like to cook for friends or meet them at a restau­rant?

Still laugh­ing. Cook for friends? Me? I like to go to *their* hous­es and eat *their* food. But I do take them out to restau­rants to return the favor.

Which out­door activ­i­ty are you most like­ly to par­tic­i­pate in: run­ning; fish­ing; leaf rak­ing; parade watch­ing?

Parade watch­ing. I love a parade. And it’s all a parade.

When did you get your first library card, and from what library?

*Swoon* I got my first library card when was I sev­en. I got it from the Coop­er Memo­r­i­al Pub­lic Library.

Favorite bird?

Crow.

 Which children’s book do you wish you’d read as a child?

Matil­da. It was­n’t in our school library or the pub­lic library. Strange, huh?

Read more...

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up! Companion Booktalks

Let these help you get start­ed on the Book­storm™ books:

Actual SizeActu­al Size, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Steve Jenk­ins

  • Ani­mal parts or whole ani­mals shown in actu­al size (a squid’s eye!)
  • Try to guess the ani­mal by look­ing at just one part
  • Ide­al for com­par­ing and con­trast­ing


Bill PicketBill Pick­et: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cow­boy,
 writ­ten by Andrea Pinkney, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Pinkney

  • True sto­ry of an African-Amer­i­can rodeo star
  • You won’t believe his trick for qui­et­ing bulls and calves
  • Biog­ra­phy of a true-life action super­hero


Black Cowboys, Wild HorsesBlack Cow­boy, Wild Hors­es,
 writ­ten by Julius Lester, illus­trat­ed by Jer­ry Pinkney

  • True sto­ry about one of the many African-Amer­i­can cow­boys
  • Find all the cam­ou­flaged crit­ters!
  • Hors­es galore!


Cowboy UpCow­boy Up! Ride the Nava­jo Rodeo
, writ­ten by Nan­cy Bo Flood, pho­tographs by Jan Son­nemair

  • You’ve heard of buckin’ bron­cos — how about buckin’ sheep?
  • Pho­tos of chil­dren and teens of the Nava­jo Nation par­tic­i­pat­ing in all the events
  • Poet­ry, pho­tos, and prose make you feel part of the action


Cowgirl KateCow­girl Kate and Cocoa,
 writ­ten by Eri­ca Sil­ver­man, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Lewin

  • Easy read­er with four stand-alone chap­ters
  • A girl with her very own horse
  • Kate and her con­trary horse get into all sorts of trou­ble


FriendsFriends: True Sto­ries of Extra­or­di­nary Ani­mal Friend­ships,
writ­ten by Cather­ine Thimmesh

  • Friend­ships between ani­mals of dif­fer­ent species — some are very unusu­al ani­mals
  • What hap­pens to injured wild ani­mals? Learn about ani­mal reha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ters
  • Entic­ing, imme­di­ate pho­tographs


Horse SongHorse Song: the Naadam of Mon­go­lia, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Ted and Bet­sy Lewin

  • Based on the authors’ own vis­it to Mon­go­lia
  • Young read­ers will love rid­ing into com­pe­ti­tion with 9 year-old jock­ey Tamir
  • Illus­tra­tions bring the Naadam fes­ti­val to life


In the Days of the VaquerosIn the Days of the Vaque­ros,
writ­ten by Rus­sell Freed­man

  • Who were the first cow­boys in the Amer­i­c­as? How were they dif­fer­ent from the cow­boys in movies?
  • Find out why Cal­i­for­nia Vaque­ros would las­so and cap­ture griz­zly bears
  • Great mate­r­i­al for a report


Just the Right SizeJust the Right Size,
writ­ten by Nico­la Davies, illus­trat­ed by Neal Lay­ton

  • Why can’t there be a real King Kong?
  • Why can geck­oes climb on ceil­ings and humans can’t?
  • Have fun with math (and the car­toon illus­tra­tions) to find the answers


Leroy NinkerLeroy Ninker Sad­dles Up
, writ­ten by Kate DiCamil­lo, illus­trat­ed by Chris Van Dusen

  • A scary storm, a search for a lost friend, a cel­e­bra­tion with friends — excit­ing action
  • Sil­ly char­ac­ters and their tongue-twisty, fun­ny dia­logue
  • First book in a com­pan­ion series to the author’s Mer­cy Wat­son books — plen­ty more read­ing for eager read­ers


Name JarThe Name Jar
, writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Yang­sook Choi

  • Class­room sto­ry about young Kore­an immi­grant Unhei’s dilem­ma: should she choose an Amer­i­can name?
  • Warm, sim­ple illus­tra­tions that evoke all the emo­tions and humor
  • Top­ic of “Your name” makes a won­der­ful dis­cus­sion and writ­ing prompt


RainstormRain­storm,
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Bar­bara Lehman.

  • What do you think about on a rainy day?
  • Min­gles a boy’s real and imag­ined world in a sto­ry with­out words
  • Calde­cott Hon­or author/illustrator

 

Ready Steady SpaghettiReady Steady Spaghet­ti, by Lucy Broad­hurst

  • Cook­book with col­or­ful and engag­ing pho­tographs — wow fac­tor
  • Uncom­pli­cat­ed recipes for a range of food – veg­e­tar­i­an, desserts, snacks, and more
  • Swamp Mud” looks deli­cious!


Star of Wild Horse CanyonStar of Wild Horse Canyon,
writ­ten by Clyde Robert Bul­la, illus­trat­ed by Grace Paull

  • Cap­tur­ing and tam­ing wild hors­es!
  • A mys­tery involv­ing a lost horse — can you solve it before Dan­ny does?
  • Why is the horse named Star?


WindWind
, writ­ten by Mar­i­on Dane Bauer, illus­trat­ed by John Wal­lace

  • All the facts about this unseen weath­er ele­ment — in text just right for begin­ning read­ers
  • Part of a set of four, also includ­ing Rain, Snow, and Clouds—great for first sci­ence reports
  • And just where does the wind come from?

 

Read more...

Horse Stories in Children’s Literature

Leroy Ninker Sad­dles Up rides on the with­ers of a great many pre­vi­ous books. A time­line is only an at-a-glance his­tor­i­cal sur­vey, of course; still, we cre­at­ed this one to high­light some of the sem­i­nal books in a long his­to­ry of horse sto­ries. 

Horse Story Timeline

Read more...

Teaching the Future

by Rob Reid

Animal Shenanigans

Ani­mal Shenani­gans, Rob Rei­d’s lat­est resource book for teach­ers, par­ents, and librar­i­ans.

I am for­tu­nate to teach three sec­tions of children’s lit­er­a­ture each semes­ter to future ele­men­tary teach­ers, future spe­cial edu­ca­tion teach­ers, and future librar­i­ans. It’s tru­ly a fun gig. I was asked by the Bookol­o­gy folks to share those books and top­ics I teach to these bud­ding pro­fes­sion­als.

I open each semes­ter by intro­duc­ing myself and read­ing my cur­rent favorite inter­ac­tive pic­ture book. The last few years, it has been Press Here by Hervé Tul­let and the stu­dents are delight­ed to know such a book like this exists. I then ask them to tell me what comes to mind when I say, “Children’s Books.” I write their respons­es on the board and…the same titles appear year after year. Titles from their school years: Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Mag­ic Tree­house, Har­ry Pot­ter, Dr. Seuss — the usu­al sus­pects. All good choic­es but no sur­pris­es and noth­ing recent­ly pub­lished. That’s my job then for the next 15 weeks: com­bine his­to­ry of children’s lit­er­a­ture with the best of the new­er stuff, so they can share those with kids down the road.

Next, we look at cur­rent trends in children’s pub­lish­ing: trends I pick up from Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, the Coöper­a­tive Children’s Book Cen­ter, the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, and my own obser­va­tions. We also look at the cur­rent NY Times best­seller lists for pic­ture books, mid­dle grade books, and series. I read a few of those best­selling pic­ture books to the class as well as selec­tions of the chap­ter books. (I read aloud children’s books to my col­lege stu­dents pret­ty much every class ses­sion.)

I con­trast what sells with what wins the numer­ous awards: quan­ti­ty vs. qual­i­ty (and luck­i­ly, the two go togeth­er with many titles) and how kids need to be exposed to all. Over the semes­ter, my stu­dents learn what the fol­low­ing awards are for, who are the most recent win­ners, and many of the notable past win­ners: New­bery (and I share my own expe­ri­ence being on that com­mit­tee), Calde­cott, Geisel, Coret­ta Scott King, Pura Bel­pré, Amer­i­can Indi­an Youth Lit­er­a­ture, Scott O’Dell, Sib­ert, Orbis Pic­tus, and the Schnei­der Fam­i­ly Award.

Sibk_wonder_140nce that last award orig­i­nat­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Eau Claire, where I teach, and because I have many spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents, we put spe­cial empha­sis on this award that rec­og­nizes por­tray­als of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. As a class, we all read Won­der by R.J. Pala­cio (before that it was Rules by Cyn­thia Lord) and I will also be adding El Deafo by Cece Bell this upcom­ing year as a required read to rep­re­sent graph­ic nov­els (I have been using the first Baby­mouse and the first Lunch Lady as exam­ples of ele­men­tary school graph­ic nov­els).

The oth­er required read is Love That Dog, and I intro­duce the oth­er works of Sharon Creech and Wal­ter Dean Myers (who is a fic­tion­al­ized char­ac­ter of him­self in the book). We look at dozens of poet­ry books not writ­ten by Shel Sil­ver­stein (and I have some good Sil­ver­stein anec­dotes to share) and learn ways to make poet­ry fun for kids.

Out of My MindStu­dents pick an elec­tive chap­ter book from a list I pro­vide (which includes Roll of Thun­der Hear My Cry, Out of My Mind, Joey Pigza Swal­lowed the Key, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Cora­line, Tale of Des­pereaux, Princess Acad­e­my, Eli­jah of Bux­ton, and sev­er­al more) and they cre­ate a lit­er­a­ture activ­i­ty guide to go with their nov­el.

Stu­dents draw the name of a children’s illus­tra­tor and put togeth­er a Pow­er­Point to share with the class what they learned about the var­i­ous artis­tic ele­ments present in the pic­ture books.

We also look at the time­line of diver­si­ty in children’s lit­er­a­ture, tra­di­tion­al folk­lore from around the world, fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion, con­tro­ver­sial books, infor­ma­tion­al books and biogra­phies, easy read­ers and bridge books, real­is­tic fic­tion, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, and Min­neso­ta and Wis­con­sin book cre­ators (since most of my stu­dents are from these two states and we have so many tal­ent­ed, pub­lished, award-win­ning authors and illus­tra­tors here).

Each stu­dent also has to tell an oral sto­ry to the class based on a folk­tale. They are sent to the 398 sec­tion of the library to look through both the pic­ture book edi­tions and antholo­gies of folk­tales, learn one, and share it with­out notes.

We fin­ish the semes­ter with com­pet­i­tive rounds of Kid­die Lit Jeop­ardy, they fill out their stu­dent eval­u­a­tions that all read “This was a lot of work!” and I send them off to explore the remain­ing 99% of the won­der­ful children’s books we did­n’t have time to cov­er in class.

[Reid-Rob-bio]

Read more...
book_by_book.jpg

Peace

Peace is elu­sive. It is a goal of some peo­ple at some time in some parts of the world. As John Lennon wrote: “Imag­ine no pos­ses­sions / I won­der if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A broth­er­hood of man / Imag­ine all the peo­ple shar­ing all the world …” Is peace pos­si­ble?… more
Read more...
bk_teens_120.jpg

Bank Street’s 2010 Choices

We eager­ly await the annu­al list of books cho­sen by the Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion as books that work well with chil­dren from birth to age 14. Each year, the Chil­dren’s Book Com­mit­tee reviews over 6000 titles each year for accu­ra­cy and lit­er­ary qual­i­ty and con­sid­ers their emo­tion­al impact on chil­dren. It choos­es the best 600 books, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, which it lists accord­ing to age and cat­e­go­ry.… more
Read more...
bk_split.jpg

Monday morning roundup

Hey, Joyce Sid­man, your new book, Ubiq­ui­tous, has done the Most Unusu­al … five starred reviews! In 2009, only 13 books received five starred reviews (if you’re curi­ous, check out the See­ing Stars 2009 doc­u­ment, stored on Radar, the CLN mem­bers’ home page). Book­list, The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, and School Library Jour­nal all think so high­ly of this book, illus­trat­ed by Beck­ie Prange and pub­lished by Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, that they’ve giv­en Ubiq­ui­tous the cov­et­ed star.… more
Read more...