Jan 30, 2012

So What IS the Power in Picture Books?

Picture books have the power to produce good readers.

I want every reader to be a “good” reader, don't you?  Don't confuse that with labels on test results, such as “proficient” or “accomplished".  Real readers think, feel, react, and connect with literature.

Because fluency rate and word accuracy are easily measured and reported, does it mean we should use those measures to define success in reading?

Here’s an analogy I use in workshops comparing "learning to read" to "learning to drive".

Would you prefer drivers to learn, through example and practice, that the “best” drivers can move from point A to point B as fast as possible without having on accident? Or do the best drivers display good judgment and control across changing terrain, weather, and road conditions? Shouldn’t drivers move from point A to point B in the safest, most efficient way, staying fully engaged and alert? In addition, shouldn’t drivers know when the vehicle, the route, or the conditions dictate that they should stay off the road or stop and ask for help?

So what does this have to do with reading and picture books?

In the ever-accelerating pace of our lives, should we be teaching, directly and through the values our approach implies, that the “best” readers race through reading, skim rapidly over the surface, cover as much distance as possible, and get “right” answers to simplistic questions? Or should we help them discover how rich their world will become as engaged readers?

The power unique to picture books is that they are, by definition:


I think the time will come when the common term used to refer to “kids” will morph to “vids”. Visuals reach them, hold them, hook them at a gut level. Picture books have an  innate magnetism: the complex visual media, powerful language, accessible and informative text. Quality picture books offer readers a rich terrain and an irresistible hook to read deeply, to reread, to connect, and to appreciate. Picture books foster intense, satisfying engagement with books- the original hand-held app.

Let’s get over the mistaken assumption that picture books are only for babies.

As LeVar Burton  said on Reading Rainbow, “but don’t take my word for it…” Check out just a few of the invaluable online links about children’s books, beginning with Anita Silvey’s -Children’s-Book-A-Day Almanac,   and Alyson Beecher’s Kid Lit Frenzy If you’re an educator, don’t miss Keith Schoch’s Teach With Picture Books. 

 I’m always searching for new/undiscovered resources, so if you know some you want to recommend (or write a blog you’d like to share) include the link in your comments. Today's book recommendations link to reviews at some blogs you might enjoy.

And when it comes to Reading Rainbow, if you mourned its passing as I did, check out LeVar’s bold new plans for an iPad launch for the Next Generation of Reading Rainbow kids.

Picture books are dead? Disappearing? Irrelevant?
Check out these examples. Each title links to a recent blog review. All are among my personal favorites.

Drawing from Memory, by Allen Say, Published by Scholastic Press, 2011. Review at School LIbrary Journal.

The House that Baba Built, by Ed Young, published by LIttle Brown Books for Young Readers. 2011. Review at Picture Book Depot.

Mirror, by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books, 2010 Review at The Book Chook .

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace, by Anna Grossnickle Hines. Henry Holt and Co. 2011. Review at Waking Brain Cells.

Jan 26, 2012

Amelia Overlooked: Worth the Search

The recent ALA Youth Media Awards were exciting, and highlighted many worthy books. Wednesday's post on I.N.K. Rethink  presented a thorough wrap-up of winning/honored non-fiction. Since the announcements, comments have been popping up about a title missing from that mix: Candace Fleming's 2011 Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

When it released last spring I posted a review at the Carthage College Center for Children's Literature site. I'm including a section of it here in hopes that this remarkable title will not be "lost" in the swirl of attention surrounding the recent awards.

Fleming leads readers on a surprising path to the truth behind Amelia’s winning smile and curly bob despite the iconic cover photo and unsurprising title of her new book. Including the fact that Amelia’s curls were not natural, as she often claimed, we find countless examples of Earhart’s efforts to develop and maintain a public persona as heroine/aviatrix, “otherwise flying opportunities will stop rolling in,” (her own words). Fleming plumbs reliable sources to correct misconceptions and shed new light on one of our brightest stars of the twentieth century while maintaining an objective tone.

Revealed through intriguing specifics, from her birth to her disappearance, Amelia becomes much more than a mythologized cardboard figure. Aspects of self-promotion and some “not very nice” decisions on the part of Amelia and her promoter/husband George Putnam enrich our understanding of her many passions: for flight, breaking barriers, risk-taking, and reaching her full potential. Exploring her many dimensions allows readers a broader perspective of the role Amelia played in the advance of aviation and women in American society. Fatal flaws leading to her disappearance (impulsivity, over-confidence, and tunnel vision among them) serve to humanize Earhart.

Amelia’s experiences as a social worker, advertiser, competitor, and clothing designer will come as a surprise to most readers. Other worthy players in the development and popularizing of aviation are given due credit, their points of view providing insight to Amelia’s choices. The intense efforts to locate her lost plane are revealed with enough suspense to engender a sense of possibility for success despite our knowledge of history.

From the cautionary forward (Don’t believe everything you read- dig for the truth) to the annotated bibliography, source notes by chapter, reliable web sources, and index, Fleming has created a profile built on solid research, primary sources, and a healthy dose of accuracy. Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart is a clear-eyed and compellingly suspenseful presentation of a remarkable American woman. Candace Fleming’s well-earned reputation for meticulous detail, exhaustive research, and superb storytelling continues unblemished in this blend of biography and true-life mystery.  

By Candace Fleming
Schwartz and Wade Books, 2011 (Random House Books)
Readers: age 10 and up.
Starred Reviews in Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Jan 22, 2012

Formula for an Award Winner: PBP5 =Caldecott

Formula for an Award Winner: PBP5 =Caldecott

This post is “link laden” because there are so many authoritative and informative sites regarding Caldecott books, lists, criteria, and observations. I couldn’t resist including some favorites.

I’ll be up early tomorrow morning to learn the ALA selections for the 2012 Caldecott and Newbery winners and honors titles, and for sixteen other award categories for young readers. I know I’m not the only one anxious to hear the committees’ decisions. Many in print, posts, and tweets have been speculating and finger- crossing about favorite titles.

(SeeThe Happy Nappy Bookseller post of personal nominees for the Pura Belpre Awards, Coretta Scott King Awards, too.)

Once the news is out I’ll be eager to read opinions about winners and other notable titles, as well as reports on other goings-on at the annual Mid-Winter ALA Convention in Dallas.

For now, though, before the hoopla begins, I want to focus on the Caldecott Award  itself. In a future post (soon) I’ll reflect on what the “power” is in picture books, and why I use this expression in the blog title and in my workshops. For now, the timing of the Caldecott allows me to draw back the curtain on my fundamental belief about that power: picture book illustrations are the key to leading readers of all ages to discover truth, understanding, and connection in books.

The official Caldecott criteria are straightforward enough.  When it comes to the books being considered, committee members are guided by these standards, and I quote:

       Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
             Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
             Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
             Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the    pictures;
              Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

My translation says the winner must demonstrate:

Superior art...
      That visually tells the story or facts...
In a style suited to the purpose of the book...
So that it enriches and extends every element of the content...
For young readers.

A useful site, EmbracingtheChild.com,  provides links to all Caldecott books, including teaching resources. If you scroll down the covers alone suggest the range of topics, techniques, formats, and focus among previous winners. 

Many have embraced Mock Caldecott activities to encourage PB fans young and old to explore and consider the current crop of picture books released using these guides. ALA sells tool-kits for mock elections for Caldecott and Newbery awards, but there are numerous guides available online. Here’s just one example.

Now back to that formula in the title, and the upcoming, on-going discussions that will ensue once the announcement is made.  The five points noted above represent the “power” of picture books , thus PBP5. Someone wins tomorrow, others will be honored, but an extensive array of others were seriously considered. The good news is that there are so many candidates for the Caldecott each year.

When any picture book is read or shared, keep these five criteria in mind. Consider yourself a committee of one to seek and notice excellence.

Then create your own “buzz” about books that rise to these standards. And look for other titles by those who produced winners in the past and in years to come.

Check the tabs above for links to a meager few of my many favorites- winners, honors, and others.

Jan 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, MLK, Jr., My Hero.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.
You’re a hero to so many, but I’d like to take a moment to tell you why you are mine.

When sharing your accomplishments with students, describing the doors you opened, opportunities you produced, changes resulting from your leadership in the USA and the world, my admiration is evident to them.

Then I tell them about my experience in high school.

I was on a mission since elementary school to go away to college, which would be out of the question without a major scholarship. I not only dreamed it, I worked for it: in academics, activities, social choices.  In senior year I achieved an incredible goal- earning a portable scholarship that would give me a “free ride” at any university of my choice, as long as I could get in. (You’ll remember those were the days when $10,000 could actually pay for four years at a premier school.)

And yet I could not even apply to Harvard, Yale, or Notre Dame, nor to any of the military academies. Acceptance at any one of these was an American benchmark of academic success. So whether or not I even chose to attend one of them, I was denied the chance to test my credentials against the best seniors in the country.

At that time, those schools didn’t even accept applications from “my kind” of people.

At this point I can’t resist asking students why I, with my fair skin and blonde hair, would be excluded.

Time after time, someone finally wonders aloud- “Are you really black?”

Once the laughing subsides, I tell them the truth.

I tell them that you are my personal hero because your leadership resulted in laws that ended discrimination against me. And I explain that those laws established the right for each and every one of them to choose goals and work toward them with their only limits being their own hard work and perseverance. 

And that if I wanted to attend any of those universities today I was now free to apply.

Because, thanks to your leadership, risks, and sacrifices, along with those of so many others, now every one of those schools accepts women. That change took place too late for me.

So, Martin, not just on your birthday or during Black History Month, I thank you for your vision and accomplishments. You threw open the doors of opportunity for me and for everyone else to live in a country that guarantees equality, or recourse when that has been denied.

And Martin, we still have a long way to go, but the story of the struggle continues to be told, with picture books often leading the way. Here’s hoping teachers and families will find some here to share.

Martin’s Big Words by Dorren Rappaport/Bryan Collier, 2001 Caldecott Honor Book. Hyperion Books for Children.
Don’t miss the inspiring author’s/illustrator’s notes and Collier’s dedication.

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers by Christine King Ferris/Chris Soentpiet. 2003. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Read the afterward in which Christine writes about her brother as a young child. Back matter includes the illustrator’s notes and the tribute poem by Mildred D. Johnson- share with kids!

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Kadir Nelson. 2011. Balzer and Bray (Harper Collins)  *Fingers crossed for Caldecott and/or Newberry *
One hundred pages of compelling artwork and first person narration by a fictional African America relating a personally connected history of Africans in America from the 1600’s to the present. Don’t overlook the dedication or the extensive back matter, including timeline, bibliography, author’s note, and index. 

See what young people in the  Milwaukee area have to say about MLKJr's  Legacy in their lives.

Jan 9, 2012

Ta-Da! Let the conversations begin!

Hello… *taps the screen* … Is anyone out there?

Allow me to introduce myself, in a blogging sort of way.
 I am, first and foremost, a reader. Always have been, always will be.
Also, a writer.
Oh, and a thinker.
Also a gabber.
And an infrequent Tweeter, @PBWorkshop.
In addition I’m an elementary educator, a teacher trainer, a library advocate, a book reviewer, an animal lover, and the child who was read to every single night.

As I debated whether or not to author a blog, I extended my search of existing blogs. (I’m an advocate of learning by example.) Considering the many superb blogs already “out there”, I reviewed my list above carefully. Could I actually contribute something unique to this topic in the vast world of blogging—something that would garner a following of like-minded readers?
As you can see, I’ve decided to step off the cliff into the blog-o-sphere to open a dialogue about a favorite literacy topic: the lovely, lively, and often surprising world of picture books.
I’m launching this blogging venture for a number of reasons. First, I am convinced there are many of you out there who believe, as I do, that using quality literature with young readers is a privilege and a responsibility. Sadly, the constraints of budgets, testing, packaged curricular programs, and misguided accountability have been squeezing quality literature out of the classroom.
Additionally, I’ve found there are many adults (and kids) who think picture books are limited to the narrow (although admittedly valuable) categories of board books, concept books, and wordless books. This is as far from reality as I am from becoming America’s next super-model. Some of the finest quality fiction and non-fiction, the most challenging content, the most lyrical and inspiring language and intriguing images can be found between the covers of picture books.
And finally, I want to join the growing chorus of voices raised in protest over the premature declarations of the death of picture books. (New York Times article, April, 2011). Voices more authoritative than mine have taken on the defense of the vitality and value of picture books in current and future publication. And that means in print, not just as eBook versions. This is a conversation I am no longer willing to monitor from the sidelines.
For now, if you have a related blog (or know of one) you’d recommend on this or related topics, please share those links in your comments. I don’t wish to duplicate others, and do want to encourage as much exploration and use of picture books as possible.
And please, if you know a picture book, new or not, (authors, agents, editors, publishers?) you’d like to have discussed in the future, let me know.
And so, with a plan to post on any and all of the above and beyond, I’ll hope to see you back about once a week to join me in these conversations. And do join in. The sidelines are safe, but real power is in participation. 
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.