Feb 13, 2016

Picture Books: Love These Old Friends

Valentine's Day weekend is a perfect moment to celebrate those we love, and have loved, for years. My focus in recent years has been on current releases, and I love shining my meager light on new books with special qualities. But old, familiar picture books have no less value. In fact, they often have more.
All too often new, shiny, bling-y thing-ies, books included, suck all the oxygen out of the social media atmosphere. I contribute to that process. But the true glory of books for young readers, really GOOD books, is that they are timeless. As newer, younger readers find them, many books shine just as brightly as the day they were feted in a launch party, Kirkus review, or library display.
When I was teaching I had SO many favorites from earlier years, although I stretched my budget to its limits  bringing special new titles into  our daily shared spaces because  library wait lists on new releases are quite long. (Isn't that a fun truth to celebrate, too!?!) I dedicate this post to just a few of the books I consistently shared with my reading communities, at any grade level. 

To choose these I didn't search Goodreads, because these were in my life long before I created my account. I didn't do an Amazon search. I went to shelves in my home. Titles there are my "keepers", ones I discuss in workshops, reread to inspire my own writing, and often loan to teachers and others when a topic or issue comes up. "Ooh," I say, "I've got a book you should read/use. Keep it as long as you need, and let me know what you and your kiddos think." 

Would I call them my favorites?  Not at all- not any more than you would name a favorite child. Each offers distinct gifts to readers, to teachers, to writers, to anyone who reads them, but even more to those who share them. They are, though, AMONG my widely diverse and lengthy favorites lists.
Old loves like these may not be shiny or flashy or trendy, but they last. They matter. They wait while we chase the new and trendy. Then, eventually, they are found and opened by someone and the light they hold inside is released into the lives of readers.
The image here can be copied and saved. I included only minimal comments about potential uses. Those few words only "dust" the surface of all that these titles offer to readers. I included brief notes only to indicate how relevant these picture book friends are to current trends in classrooms, reading, and writing. Enjoy. Please!
You will be able to access most of these through libraries, without a HOLD list delay!
Although some are out of print, they can be purchased through resellers online. Before doing that, check with your favorite indie bookseller to see if s/he can access out-of-print titles for you. Seems like a perfect pairing of our love of older titles with an endless love of indie stores.
Whatever strategy you choose, help others find these, and other old loves of your own. 
In fact, please add titles of your personal favorites in comments. I may do more extended posts on some of them!

Feb 1, 2016

THEME MONTHS: Black History and Others

I've long considered Theme Months to be double-edged swords, including BLACK HISTORY MONTH, right through to POETRY MONTH and beyond. I addressed the question, here, in one of my earliest posts on this blog. 
Some tools and strategies can do as much harm as good.

The double-edged sword, to me, springs from the fact that a spotlight is long overdue for many topics. Certainly theme months are a step to correct that situation. That's better than nothing, one might argue.
 True, a month of attention is more than those topics might otherwise receive, but then the calendar page flips and the spotlight moves on to the next topic. 
Why would I view that as a curse? Doesn't fairness count for anything?

My concern comes from years of experience in classrooms, at many grade levels. When a month is designated it is all too easy (and often happens) that a limited collection of books, poster images, and activities is "brought out" to be displayed and shared, then packed away again when the next topic rolls around. The very fact that topical themes, especially in history, gain such designations reflects the absence (or disproportionately small amount) of attention devoted to those subjects throughout the rest of the year. 

A fairly recent development has begun making inroads to changing that pattern. Just last week Multicultural Children's Book Day celebrated a vast array of books that feature our world-- our REAL world. By that I mean a world of diverse and unique people. When you click the link you'll connect to multiple posts with outstanding recommendations by teachers, librarians, parents, and kids. These books span genre, topics, and target audiences. What they have in common is that they are appealing, engaging, and thought-provoking books in which readers can find themselves and the people who surround them without waiting for an event or occasion to do so.

That is, indeed, a blessing. It's also sending the message we want readers to receive- that people (and books) offer world-views that defy categorization or limitation to a single day, week, or month of our attention. The deepest cuts of that double-edged sword come when a theme-month offers unstated but implied messages of "otherness". It arbitrarily declares  that certain topics or books offer nothing of merit apart from those designated periods, nothing that would engage our attention when offered freely throughout the year.

As you read in my opening lines, this isn't the first time I've raised the issue on this blog. As I was about to add "nor will it be the last", I stopped to reflect. Could the day actually dawn when the need for THEME MONTHS disappears? Yes, I believe it could. When multicultural, diverse children's literature is so ubiquitous, when books fully represent ALL people, a "history month" would suffice. 
We're a long way from that day, but we're closer than we've ever been before.
This is no time to rest. I've linked to just a few previous posts in which I celebrate books without an eye on the calendar. If you're new to this  blog, I hope you'll check them out.
Folk Tales and Facts: Marvelous Cornelius

Heather Lang and Floyd Cooper Launch a Winner: Queen of the Track 

Drum Dream Girl: A Trio of Titles
NON-Fiction Notes: Kid Athletes and Other  Biographies

If you have other titles to recommend, or other posts to suggest, please add your comments!

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.