Aug 17, 2014

Recent Reads: Quite a Variety

I've allowed this blog to take a semi-hiatus/summer vacation in order to focus on my recent release projects. If that's news to you, you can check it out here. That doesn't mean I'm not still reading picture books (and reviews, releases, classics, blogs, and more). I keep a record, rating, and reviews of recent reads on my GOODREADS site.

In case you've missed those, it's time to report them here, since they each have good things to offer, ranging from home to school, from youngest to established readers. Each can play a significant role in back-to-school discussions of rules, kindness, determination, holding grudges

MY TEACHER IS A MONSTER! (NO, I AM NOT.) is written and illustrated by Peter Brown. It's had some wonderful reviews, and I can see why. But when it comes to a story about how teachers are perceived depending on the daily changes of students, I'll take LILY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, by Kevin Henkes over this one, but it does have a quirky sort of appeal. Even when the student and teacher reach greater understanding of each other, there's something about it (the color tones? the relative sizes of the kids/teacher?) that leaves me slightly uncomfortable and flattens the humor just a bit.

On the other hand, THE GIRL AND THE BICYCLE, written and illustrated by Mark Pett, is  a winner, in my opinion.

 This wordless, monochromatic, wide-format picture book uses simple images to create a multi-layered and highly appealing story. It incorporates one very creative, determined, and wise young girl, her loyal (and funny) little brother, and a neighbor with a gentle heart. This is the kind of picture book that deserves multiple re"read"s and can serve as mentor-text for story structure, sequence, cause/effect, and language development for a number of age levels.

Next up is THE GRUDGE KEEPER, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. It's a back-to-school

Wheeler's fine-lined, gentle-toned double page spreads lend richness and emotional depth to the delightfully complex, synonym-laden text that could otherwise get a bit tiresome. The language, images, and somewhat obvious lesson make this a great choice for intentional sharing. It can serve as vocabulary development, mentor text for humor and hyperbole, and community building/problem-solving.

As an example of quality non-fiction that is fluent, intriguing, accessible, and fun, you can't beat GIRLS THIINK OF EVERYTHING: STORIES OF INGENIOUS INVENTIONS BY WOMEN, written by Catherine Thimmesh and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
Sweet's appealing cameo and full page illustrations interspersed throughout this informative and highly accessible text make this a must-have for "close" reading- or just for fun! These profiles of inventive, innovative women include some familiar names and many more less well known. This belongs in every library and classroom from third grade up.

Aug 6, 2014

Calling All Teachers: Support Teachable Moments!

No matter where you come down in the debates about  Common Core State Standards, every one who cares about kids and literacy knows this:

Books matter, 
and the quality of those books matters even more. 

Whether you're new to this blog or a loyal reader, my reasons for creating this blog arose from my deep commitment to helping anyone find and use the best picture books available. I advocated for the use of non-fiction picture books long before this CCSS debate began, and my three years of blog posts feature as many or more non-fiction titles as fiction. I've also spread the word from my tiny little platform about the value of a blog written by a list of award-winning non-fiction picture book authors, I. N. K. - Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. 

It has served the public for several years and continues to offer some of the best archives, links, and resources you'll find anywhere. As times change, though, so have the scope and intent of these authors. Common Core (and its related VERY costly testing demands) have played a role in this change. 

Authors always offered school visits, and I was lucky enough to coordinate visits for my school with INK-authors David M. Schwartz and Vicki Cobb. I'd have invited each and every one of them visit my school, but funds didn't stretch that far. These days, funds for school visits may not even exist, in part due to those testing costs.

How ironic is that? Just when national mandates are  shifting the attention of families and educators to non-fiction content, the funding to generate the excitement and interest of author visits all but disappeared. In addition, time constraints of frequent high-stakes testing and emphasis on "snapshot" scores meant each and every minute in the classroom was tightly scripted, limiting (or removing entirely) the spontaneity of pursuing "teachable moments" in the  school day. 

Several authors launched an alternative approach to sharing quality nonfiction books with kids through an outreach approach, iNK Think Tank!

I'm excited to share their latest news, a daily dose of "Teachable Moments" available in classrooms, beginning this September!

Here's a message about this incredibly important resource directly from Vicki Cobb:

 The Nonfiction Minute is a FREE daily post of original nonfiction pieces--250-400 words long by the award-winning nonfiction authors of iNK Think Tank.  The posts are being edited by Jean Reynolds, founder and former publisher of Millbrook Press.  You can preview them by following the link above.  September 8, is the official launch date. The preview posts, will be returned to the inventory to be repbulished later.and a new post will be published every school day. All published posts from that point on will be archived and easily accessible.

With the current emphasis on reading nonfiction, educators need easy access to high-quality material that they can use right away.  The Nonfiction Minute does this consistently on a daily basis; but it also does more.  It is a source for finding even more high-quality literature by these award-winning authors.  It is a direct link to longer-form books, essential for inquiry-driven learning across the curriculum.  It fosters and feeds curiosity, provides samples of exemplary writing from many voices, presents content and process in many disciplines, and can awaken a love for learning.  It creates the possibility that kids want to follow-up on the openings provided by The Nonfiction Minute for more than the brief time it’s in the spotlight on any school day.
What is newsworthy about this project? Never before have top children's authors organized to work directly with teachers and students to inspire them with the love of learning that drives them. 
Back to my own words:
Here's the good news: this project is being crowd-sourced, designed, and delivered by the very people who produce the best non-fiction books you'll find. To make this happen I'm asking you to support their funding. Every single dollar counts. Here's more information about how to proceed:
Yesterday was the launch of their Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for The Nonfiction Minute.  Click here for the Indiegogo page for their campaign. If you believe in what they're doing, a small contribution is all you need to do to help get the ball rolling. 
This is the first (and probably only) time I'll use this blog to solicit financial support for anything, and this one isn't for me. Please consider participating- with a donation, by spreading the news, and by giving this a try in your own classrooms.
It's for the kids. 
For the teachers. 
For the future.

Jul 27, 2014

FRANK: Sense and Nonsense

Running Press, 2014

Connah Brecon is the author/illustrator of FRANKa picture book scheduled for release September 30. 
This quirky, whimsical picture book features a cast of human and animal characters who all function as equals- going to school, playing instruments, conducting fund-raisers, etc. The seemingly simple illustrations are sprinkled with offbeat details and secondary characters which suggest stories of their own. 
This establishes a background for the paradoxical text. The stage is set for predictability with simple statements in typewriter font:
"Frank was late. Frank was always late."
Secondary text within speech bubbles in art-style font lead the story in less mundane directions- runaway trees and news headlines about rampaging reptiles are just the start.

Frank's chronic tardiness at school is caused by his good-hearted efforts to resolve these unconventional problems as they arise. Kids will enjoy the slightly off-center art, the blending of familiar (running late for what seem to be perfectly good reasons) with the bizarre (ogres and dragons). They'll also explore the visual details for hidden humor, including clever facial expressions, birds with earphones, and word play.

There are quite a few direct messages in this short story: help those in need, work together, and, of course, try to be on time. I doubt these will be the reason kids enjoy this book, or return to it, or share it with others. My guess is that the true appeal will be likable FRANK and his unique story-mates.

Take a look for yourself as soon as this becomes available and see what you think.

Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.