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By: Monday's Balcony,
Last week I was literally sitting on the dock of the bay when along came a kayaker. Hello I shout and she shouts back hello and pulls up to the dock where we proceeded to have a 30 minute conversation. It really is a small world. The kayaker is an English professor at an East coast university and we commiserated about the lack of true research expected of her students and/or the lack of knowledge about how to begin the whole research process. Typically she teaches upper level classes but lately the administration at her university has decided all teachers should have the opportunity to work with English 101 students. I was pleased to hear her say she and some of the other university professors know who can help steer the students at their university…the librarians.
My district and a neighboring district team up every year about this time to have a professional development day for all of the librarians in our area. One of the sessions we will have is called Preparing Secondary Students for Research at the College Level. We have invited four university level librarians and two professors to be a part of a panel discussion covering expectations, academic research, citation tools and ways to develop and boost students’ information literacy IQ’s. When we are in the company of post-secondary librarians we are reminded that our students really are your students.
This post would have been up hours ago if I hadn’t been having Internet issues. Service just shouldn’t be so intermittent in one’s own home. I’m just sayin’
This may have been my last visit to the garden. I was surprised with a head of cabbage that I missed in previous visits and green peppers that just began to grow. I run through the photos on my phone and I’m just amazed at the growth that has taken place. This time, I didn’t even think to take any pictures. Growth happens whether we’re watching or not.
In recent years, there have been amazing blog posts that contain research relating to various facets of diversity in YA lit. Do publishers look at them? Are their decisions impacted at all by the data that is collected and analyzed? I work in a world that frowns on blogs and the information they relate as if it is all bogus forms of cheap entertainment. Knowing that, part of me wishes some of these research posts were submitted to journals, but I am so glad the information is made accessible to readers, authors, editors and publishers. Information is power. I think more impactful than where these reports are posted will be the replicated efforts that better document trends and hopefully change in the industry.
Can we try to collect these reports? Please leave a link to others in the comments.
I know there’s more! I’m sure Debbie Reese has collected figures, but I haven’t found anything…yet. Are there numbers on Latinos? Asians?
This 2008 article references a Brigham Young Study I’ll trying get a hold of this week.
The Brigham Young study analyzed the race, gender and family background of human characters in 82 Newbery-winning books through 2007. The analysis compared three periods, starting with 1922 through 1950, followed by the era in which the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, 1951 through 1979, and concluding with the 1980 through 2007 period.
Black and Hispanic protagonists became scarcer during the past 27 years. American Indian and Asian main characters increased in number — to two each.
Latino protagonists disappeared from 1980 through 2007 and black ones fell to two from a high of five between 1951 and 1979, the study found. White main characters rose to 19 from 18 in the same period.
The last book with a Hispanic protagonist to win a Newbery Medal was “Shadow of a Bull,” by Maia Wojciechowska, in 1965. The book dealt with a young Spanish boy’s struggle to follow in the footsteps of his slain bullfighter father.
Books by authors of color and with characters of color aren’t written just for people of color. (Corollary: Books by white people aren’t written just for white people.) So, POC books and authors fight the good fight and show up anywhere and everywhere that readers can be found such as at book signings, local library events and conferences. Readers of color have to show up to.
Think about it.
If publishers and editors don’t see us at conferences and signings, their notions that we don’t read or buy books will only be re-enforced. Show up to these events, inquire about your favorite author of color. I say this out loud to remind myself why I’m going to ALAN this year and why I’m especially thankful that author Lyn Miller-Lachmann proposed a panel with her, myself, Kekla Magoon and Rene Saldana Jr. I think I saw names of three other authors of color in the program. So disappointing! I really hope to see more people of color than that in the audience.
If you’re a librarian looking for ways to get involved in ALA and make a difference, this information is for you.
Committees with openings:
and the Committee Volunteer Form (which requires you to sign in):
YALSA has dozens of ways for its members and supporters to get involved, including many options for virtual participation. Whether you choose to volunteer to gain additional leadership opportunities, build your resume, increase exposure in the association or library community, or give back to the profession, YALSA relies on you to help support the association and make a positive difference in serving teens through libraries.
Whichever way you choose to get involved, we are committed to providing you with a meaningful experience. If you have any questions, or would like additional information, we’re happy to help! Email us at email@example.com or call us at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4390.
And yes, dammit! There are malls in Kenya! And paved roads, car dealerships, universities, banks and yes, even book publishers! I remember when The Cold War between the US, Russia and China played out in Africa and now it’s this ‘war’ between… who is this between? Who are the players? These extremists in the East and in the West? It’s playing out all over Africa, from Mali to Kenya and to Somalia. Great people to follow from various locations across the continent to keep you aware of mostly literary and a few political occurences.
Storymoja Hay Fest @SMHayFest
Writers Project Gh @writersPG
African Library Proj @AfricanLibraryP
Jalada Africa @JaladaAfrica
I’m thinking about mooncakes and Moon Festival while my friends in Taiwan are just getting over a massive typhoon.
Bless the people of Kenya who are mourning and grieving. Bless the people of Taiwan who should be celebrating the autumn moon festival but are suffering from a massive typhoon. Even from these tragedies, there will eventually be growth; god willing!
Filed under: Sunday Reads
Marco Veyna-Reyes, 2013 ALSC Spectrum Scholar (photo courtesy of Marco Veyna-Reyes)
Marco Veyna-Reyes was recently announced the 2013 ALSC Spectrum Scholar. He is an MLIS candidate at the University of North Texas (UNT). I caught up with Marco to ask him a few questions about his path to children’s librarianship.
So you’re working full-time in a library right now?
Yes, my official title is the YPL/Children’s Services Assistant for the Mesquite (NV) Public Library. The YPL stands for Young People’s Librarian. I’m also taking classes at the University of North Texas towards my MLIS.
How did you choose to get into children’s librarianship?
My interest in librarianship started in high school when I participated in the Latin Chamber of Commerce’s Career Day. I shadowed the Assistant Human Resources Director for the District and one of the things we did was go to the different library branches around the city. I got to meet some of the librarians. From that experience, I began to volunteer in the library. Eventually, I realized that this was the type of career I would enjoy.
I grew up in an English as a Second Language (ESL) household. There was no English spoken at our home. My dad really wanted us to find professional careers. He encouraged us to excel in school and even bought us an encyclopedia set in Spanish because he wanted us to be fully bilingual.
When I started volunteering at the library I was living in Las Vegas. I was volunteering at branch with a lot of ESL parents and I realized that this where I could help out. I really enjoyed that aspect of it, working with kids from under-represented communities. Librarianship was a perfect fit.
What are you most proud in your time at library school?
I’ve really been proud of the ability to attend. It’s also been helpful to be a full-time librarian assistant because I get to see a lot of the theory applied on a daily basis. There was a management class that I enjoyed as well because I’d really like to be a good Children’s Services Department Head in the future.
I’ve also enjoyed learning about the history of librarianship in the United States. My family is from Mexico and there isn’t a strong public library system there. So to learn about the place that the library has in the community is really interesting to me.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at the library?
I’m the only full-time children’s employee at my rural branch, so I have to do a lot of multi-tasking! I cover the Customer Service Desk and Adult Services Desk, process most of the new children’s materials, put on story times, do weekly community outreach and schedule off-desk time. We also put on a Saturday movie matinee and put on two large family programs a month.
How did summer reading go this year?
We had a very successful summer! I’m the go-to person for summer reading at our library and I love it. My favorite part is having the kids recognize me from school visits and talking with the parents. I especially like working with the ESL parents, getting them to recognize the role of the library in their children’s development and reducing the summer slide.
Do you have a favorite children’s book?
I really like the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I think it describes my relationship with my community and how I hope to give back to the people of Southern Nevada.
Thanks and good luck!
A weekly short list of tweets that librarians and the teens that they serve may find interesting.
Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 6 and September 12 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.
Whether they write fiction or nonfiction, most writers I know do research. Almost as many believe that if they find a fact three times they can trust that it’s true. Unfortunately, that’s nothing but myth. You can find a piece of misinformation just as many times as you can find an accurate fact. The reasons for this vary. Once something is published and in circulation, other people can cite it. That’s fine if it is accurate, but if it isn’t, you now have the same inaccurate information published in multiple places. It can also happen if the information is being published to push a certain agenda. The end result is sometimes more important than the accuracy of the information. The reality is that finding something multiple times doesn’t make it true. It just means that it is well-circulated. Here are three tips to help you separate accurate fact from well-published nonsense:
- Group the facts. After you’ve done some reading on your topic, you are going to see certain bits of information repeated again and again. You will also begin to notice schools of thought – Group X has gathered facts that prove global warming while Group Y has just as many facts that debunk it. As you read material from each school of thought, consider how their biases will shape which “facts” they choose to present and which they ignore completely.
- Go to the top. Some schools of thought are easy to dismiss. Now that we’ve seen the Earth from space, we can dismiss Flat Earth supporters. But what about your topic? It may not be as obvious. Look for an expert who isn’t a strong supporter of either school of thought or at the very least questions both. Reading what this person has written may be enough to help you separate fact from fiction. If not, ask for an interview.
- Read and research even more. Have you reached the point in your research that everything you read duplicates something you’ve already read? If the answer is no, keep reading. Once you’ve read to this point, you’ll be surprised how obvious these bits of misinformation are and you’ll wonder why you didn’t spot them sooner.
No matter what you write, you need to know how to separate fact and fiction as you research.
Instead of always turning to the Internet for answers, try reaching out to your network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
Bring your story alive by using all five senses to do your research.
I’ve been working with Keith Bollman and his fifth grade class on a research project. The end result is a tour of the solar system, completely planned, designed, researched, and created by the… Read More
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
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, Hans Fischer
, Memorable Books
, April Halprin Wayland
, Poetry Friday
, picture books
, Add a tag
And Happy Children's Book Week
Jeanne Marie introduced our current topic
: In honor of Children’s Book Week, share the title of
the book we wish we still had or are sorry we loaned (and never got back) or
one we (god forbid) threw away.
Heavens to Betsy! The search for my cherished book turned into a detective story.
The first thing I did was to ask God...errr...Google for the title of the book about a surprise birthday party for an old woman named Lisette. Bello, her dog, directs the other animals while Lizette is at the market--he tells the goats to get apples, the ducks to get candles, etc. He and Lisette's two cats (Molly and...Ruly?) bake a bundt cake that burns on top, so they put powdered sugar on it at the last minute to hide the burned part.
But who was the marvelous author/illustrator and what was the name of the book????
In the course of my search, I found a site called Old Children's Books which has a page called "Looking for a Book?"
I searched and searched and searched...with binoculars, with a flashlight, with a light on my miner's helmet...
(me...but my search was not as grim as pictured)
Finally, I remembered that at the end of the book was a little kitten. And I remembered that the author/illustrator wrote another book about him. In fact, the cat's name was the title of the other book. So if I could just remember the name of the cat...it was...Pitchie!
But I couldn't find a book called Pitchie. Or Pitchy. Stumbling down the corridors of the internet, bumping into walls, I finally found the other book! It was called PITSCHI (published in 1948). I now knew the name of the author/illustrator: Hans Fischer. Which meant I was close to finding the book I was actually looking for!
But first, let's take a detour. Click here to enjoy Hans Fischer's fantastic lithographs in Pitschi "the kitten who always wanted to be something else. A sad story, but one which ends well."
All the same characters are in the book I have been looking for...and now I can plug in Hans' name and come up with THE BOOK--right?
Yes! On Worldcat.org I found it--The Birthday: a Merry Tale with Many Pictures (1954)! Worldcat summarizes the story:
"In a clearing in the forest lived old Lisette with her animals. On
her seventy-sixth birthday, Lisette went off to the village, and while
she was gone the animals prepared a wonderful birthday surprise for her."
This is the book from my childhood that still makes my heart sing.
With all the searching, I learned a few things about my good friend Hans
from Children's Books and Their Creators
, edited by Anita Silvey
. He was Swiss, he lived from 1909-1958 (only 49 years?). And he studied under the artist Paul Klee
who taught him how to use color. No wonder I fell in love with Fischer's style--I love Klee!
Klee said, "It is not my task to reproduce appearances...for that there is the photographic plate. I want to reach the heart."
And isn't that what we want from books we read...and those we create? (Actually, I wouldn't mind if large corporations took that as their company motto...)
Legendary editor Margaret McElderry discovered his work, bought the US rights to Pitschi, and went on to publish his other books, including The Birthday.
So here's my song to Hans Fischer and The Birthday.
poem & drawing © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved
What's the book you wish you still owned? Why not write a poem about it?
SEARCHING FOR A BOOK
by April Halprin Wayland
What's the title?
And the plot?
It was so tender…
Why is this your favorite book?
It lit a spark, it fanned an ember…
The book was in her skin, her cells,
she turned each page and oh! the smell…
At every page
I looked and listened,
the little kitten on a mission,
delicately, in pastel.
He was drawn and he was written
to cast a purring lifetime spell.
What's the title?
And the plot?
It was so tender…
Why is this your favorite book?
It lit a spark, it fanned an ember…
Remember that our blogiversary contest runs through May 19th--there's still time to be a winner!
See Carmela's post
for all the details.
by April Halprin Wayland, who is grateful that you've read to the end ~
Even if you're writing contemporary realistic fiction, you still need to research aspects of your story.
The recent findings from the Pew Research Center funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates on libraries have been fascinating reading. And now, my youth services friends, it is our turn to have the research spotlight turned on our efforts.As reported May 1
, " the vast majority of parents of minor children — children younger than 18 — feel libraries are very important for their children. That attachment carries over into parents’ own higher-than-average use of a wide range of library services."
In this brief synopsis of findings from the full report parents view libraries as vital to their children's reading and information needs. And - no surprise to us frontliners -these same parents are far more likely to use other library services and to express interest in expanding services and adding tech-related services.
I have had conversations over the years with colleagues in which we express frustration over the lack of support for youth services from our administrations, boards and even our co-workers in other areas of the library. This is the strongest piece of research we've seen in a while that underscores what we know - parents who use the library are vitally interested in its services not just for kids but for themselves.
When we see and serve families we are also drawing in these parents for all other adult services as well. These twenty and thirty somethings are a sweet spot demographic that some libraries embrace and some puzzle over. But they are ready for us.
I'll be highlighting this study at my library and in my workshops and presentations and sharing with my colleagues where I work. I hope you will too.
Thanks to Digital Shift
for the heads up.
By: Peggy T,
The best way to capture the past is to step back into it -- visiting the places you are writing about. Last week Fran and I toured Monticello, the mountaintop home of Thomas Jefferson. There is no better way to get into a person's head than to walk the red Piedmont soil and marvel at the blue rolling hills off in the distance. Now I know why he called it his "sea view."
But stepping back in time also takes a healthy dose of imagination, too. Mulberry row, where slaves lived and worked, is empty now. I have to imagine the lane busy with boys making nails, and the air thick with smoke from the forge and the cook house. Instead of the two white women driving a four-wheeler from tree to tree in the orchard, I have to envision perhaps two black men carrying a ladder and saws to trim the branches.
The past is not black and white, either. Old photos make everyone look somber and give the impression that history was fuzzy and dull. But people wore shades of red and blue, laughed and danced. One of the more startling things I noticed at Monticello was the neon yellow dining room. Not what I would have expected had I not known how much he appreciated light and air.
Hustled through the house with other tourists it was hard to really see everything, but then again, it gave me a more accurate portrayal of a house filled with children, servants, and family. And when I return, I can dig deeper, look closer, and reveal even more.
When I was little, I could play "let's pretend" all day. I mean, like, all day. I could start the morning as a secret agent, switch to being a marine biologist by lunchtime, live on the 1840's American prairie by dinner, and go to bed as a Moomintroll. You could say I lived to play.As an adult, I'm pretty much into being my own character of me: writer, artist, friend, not to mention Head of the Laundry Department, Chief of Grocery Shopping, and Executive House Cleaner. But recently during a trip to Trader Joe's and wondering why I always buy the same old things, it occurred to me how much fun it would be to play at being someone else for the day--somebody who bought champagne and Gorgonzola instead of milk and vegetarian chili. And the best person I could think of being was my latest character in my new screenplay, especially as she is NOTHING like me. For starters, she's 18, LOL, and she's a former child prodigy (I may have been imaginative, but I was a long way from being top of the class). As I stood there in the store, I began to wonder what she would buy, and that's when it struck me: pretending to be your character, at least for a little while, would be a great way to know that character on a level way beyond filling out the usual character bio. Talk about research! For instance, you could:
Tip of the Day: The next time you take an Artist's Date, try taking one for your character. Where would he or she want to go? Why? When you arrive at the chosen place, experience as much as you can through your character's viewpoint. Write up your findings either on site or as soon as you return home.
- Shop for your character in a grocery store--even Trader Joe's! Buy items he or she would choose (or at least make a list of those items if you find them inedible or too expensive).
- Using these or other ingredients you have at home, prepare your character's favorite meal. Then eat it and describe your feelings after dining.
- Go to the kind of department or clothing store your character frequents. Pick out several new outfits, complete with accessories. Take notes (because you may not really want to buy a new tiara or desert kaftan) and use as the basis of your character's fictional wardrobe.
- Buy your character a present. What is it? Can you use it in the plot somewhere? (Note: if the item is beyond a reasonable budget or something you can't actually use yourself, you can always resort to "let's pretend." Just go to the shop where the item would be sold, and imagine you are buying it, similar to the way you "bought" their new clothes. A fun and inexpensive extra would be to purchase a card, wrapping paper, and ribbons to place in your WIP binder or journal as a visual reminder.)
- Re-create your character's last vacation. Again, if you can't really travel to the destination, at least get some travel brochures, maps, and pack a real or imaginary suitcase. A day spent pretending you are in Paris or Toledo could have a charm all its own, too! The imagination is a powerful tool.
- Dream for your character--it's not as difficult as it might sound. Before you go to sleep, think of your character's main story goal or problem. Ask your subconscious to solve it. The answer could surprise you.
- Go to your character's least favorite or most feared place. Absorb the reasons why he or she dislikes it so much.
- Next time you find yourself waiting in a long line, become your character. Why is he or she so anxious for the line to move? Where does she have to be before it's too late?
- Visit a nursery or garden center. Pick out 5-10 plants your character loves or hates. What has generated these strong feelings? If possible, purchase and plant the flowers or bushes in your own garden. Use the plants' characteristics and growth cycles as metaphors.
- Go to the library. Choose your character's 12 favorite books. Now choose one they have never read. Read it through new eyes.
- Watch your character's favorite movie. Write about a scene that has the most emotional impact for your character, and why.
- Using magazine cut-outs or other print material, assemble an album of "family photos" for your character. How does your character feel about each of these people--and why? Be sure to include some bad'uns!
By: Christine Garner ,
I’ve been working on a few projects recently including Alice in Wonderland. I like to explore lots of different options when I’m designing a character. This is just the initial amount of sketches with reference to the original illustrator Sir John Tenniel in the top right. I then chose the designs I like the most and develop them further with more variations in shapes.
I like to get the reference right first and this helps me learn more about the character, but I think having fun and trying crazy variations is also very important to the creative process.
I’ve also been doing some warm up exercises I learned from the Schoolism course I did last year (Character design with Stephen Silver). There are infinite variations you can create with the circle, square and triangle as a starting point but here are just 3. the top one is the closest to the original reference but obviously stylized somewhat.
By: Christine Garner ,
Getting a smile to look right is important. There is a fine line between friendly and psychotic.
Not sure if I achieved that here but these were ‘fun’ to do.
Not sure who the one on the left is but the one on the right is of actress Ziyi Zhang.
By: Keith Schoch
Blog: Teach with Picture Books
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, animal picture books
, Common Core
, mentor texts
, argumentative writing
, creative writing
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Children love animals, so it's not surprising that the canon of children's literature is populated with iconic rabbits, bears, elephant, and mice. So how can we continue to take advantage of this connection with animals as students enter their upper elementary and middle school years?
Below I've listen ten ideas for making the most of students' animal attractions. Feel free to leave a comment to share how you've used animal books in your own classroom.
1. Fantastic Fables
Project Type: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
The Ancient Greeks understood the power of storytelling for instructing youth. Traditional ancient fables typically feature animals acting with human traits (anthropomorphism) and conclude with a moral, whether explicitly stated or not. A popular version of this genre is Aesop's Fables by Charles Santore, a reinterpretation of twenty-four of the illustrator's favorites, told and illustrated in a classic manner. My favorite illustration depicts "The Hare and the Tortoise" in a trifold page, featuring the entire cast of animals posed against a rolling landscape forested with crumbling Greek pillars, witnessing the triumph of the Tortoise. In choosing the tales and creatures to include, Santore explained:Classroom Extensions:
"Each animal - the wolf, the clever fox, the silly crow - represents and symbolizes some particular aspect of the human condition. Whatever the situation, the animal's reaction is always predictable. This is true of all the creatures that populate the fables, and they never disappoint us. They are never more or less. That is the great lesson and the essence of the fable."
One modern take on this topic is Arnold Lobel's original Fables, told in plain English with the morals plainly stated. A lesser known but entertaining new look at fables can be found in Yo, Aesop! Get a Load of These Fables by Paul Rosenthal and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Each of these thoroughly modern fables in presented in a tongue-in-cheek way, followed by a critique and commentary by Aesop himself.
- After reading several fables, ask students to describe which human traits are typically assigned to which animals. Why these animals? What is it about their physical traits or behaviors that makes them deserving of these attributes? Challenge students to assign human traits to some animals not traditionally seen in fables.Then ask, "If you were depicted as an animal in a fable, which animal would you be? Why?"
- Provide each student with a moral. Using one of your own, model how a story might be created to illustrate its lesson. Challenge each student to choose a cast of animal characters and write an original fable (they could even include themselves from the activity above). Need some moral ideas? Check out American English Proverbs for some thought-provoking lines.
- Select an illustration from one of the books described above. Challenge students to write the fable it illustrates. Another terrific source for traditional fables is Jerry Pinkney's Aesop's Fables.
- Squids Will Be Squids is Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's collection of fantastically original fables. Check out the related teaching ideas at Scholastic.
2. Peerless Predators
Project Type: Argumentative Essay/Research
Suggested Grades: 4 and up
Animal research projects are so common as to be cliche. So much of what we call "research" amounts to simple regurgitation of facts that are, in isolation, somewhat meaningless. So how can we revamp this assignment to make it more meaningful for students and their audience alike? I suggest an assignment called The HOWL Museum. To practice argumentative writing skills, students are told that the HOWL (Hunters of the Wild Lands) Museum is seeking nominations for predators to be included in their exhibits. In order for a predator to be selected, students need to prove that their nominee is a well-equipped and skilled hunter. Students are then assigned predators for research, and they begin to organize initial ideas on a Google Drawing doc template (notes could also taken using Read Write Think's Persuasive Map). In my case, students draft their work directly into online digital portfolios hosted at wikispaces. See an essay example here; most were later revised for printing in conjunction with an image.
While students used several Internet sources for research on this project, many students used trade books as well. One favorite was Predators
by John Seidensticker and Susan Lumpkin (one of the INsiders series published by Simon and Schuster), as it featured not only profiles of some of the world's top hunters, but also sections on the weapons and instincts that make these killers the pinnacles of their food pyramids. The text reads like any excellent nonfiction text, with plenty of illustrations, captions, text boxes, and cut-away diagrams. Top 10 Worst Killer Animals You Wouldn't Want to Meet
by Fiona Macdonald and David Antram boldly counts down the top killers from around the world, providing curious readers answers to questions such as, "How do jellyfish feed?" and "How do you avoid a shark attack?" Kids find this book fascinating since it profiles not only the predators, abut also those malevolent creatures that carry infection and kill by disease.
But perhaps the hottest commodity was Predator Showdown: 30 Unbelievably Awesome Predator vs. Predator Faceoffs
by Lee Martin. Students loved the grudge-matches depicted on the pages, along with the vital stats of each contender. Rather than reveal the winners immediately, the author lists the winner on the book's final page, along with a short explanation of why one animal would overcome the other. I think students enjoyed the format because its competitive nature mirrored the fierce loyalty they began to feel for their own nominee to The HOWL Museum. Unfortunately, it seems that book is out of print, so if you can't find it at your library I'd alternatively suggest Nature's Deadliest Predators
by Shelly Silberling. While it is limited to sharks, bears, tigers, and alligators and crocodiles, this text demonstrates the interactions between these predators and the humans who increasingly compete with them for limited habitable space.
- If you're not crazy about the notion of predators, consider research projects on animals that live in productive harmony through symbiosis, a "close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member" (wordnik.com).
3. Crazy Critters
Project Type: Creative Writing/Art
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
Kids love the idea of mixing and matching animal parts! Explore some picture books that celebrate these crazy mixed up animals, and then let your students loose to give it a try themselves. In Scranimals, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Peter Sis, animals are not only combined with other animals, but with fruits, vegetables and flowers as well! Thus we get spinachickens, broccolions, and bananacondas. Fun poems accompany each full spread illustration. In Animals that Ought to Be: Poems about Imaginary Pets, Richard Michelson and Leonard Baskin exercise equal creative liberties in morphing creatures that are both creepy and utilitarian, such as the Nightmare Scarer which feeds upon bad dreams. In a third book of poems, author Keith DuQuette offers up some hilarious homemade hybrids in Cock-a-Doodle-Moo: A Mixed Up Menagerie.
- Explore the concept of portmanteau words with your students. Unlike compound words that simply combine two smaller words, or contractions which drop letters, portmanteau words combine words and lose letters to form new words entirely. Thus smoke and fog create smog, and breakfast and lunch create brunch. Scranimals is a terrific choice for introducing this concept.
- Have students cut apart magazine images of animals to create collage critters. Students can then write descriptions of these animals, including the unique abilities they're granted given their hybrid qualities.
- Explore the online possibilities for creating crazy animal combinations using a site like Switch Zoo or Build Your Wild Self.
4. Beasts of BurdenProject Type: Creative Writing/ResearchSuggested Grades: 3 and up In addition to language and the wheel, perhaps nothing defines human evolution more than the ability to domesticate animals. In fact, according to Keltie Thomas, there are some Animals that Changed the World:
From furry felines to hard-working horses, animals have had a tremendous impact on world history. For example, rats, through the diseases they carry, have probably killed more people than any war or natural disaster, goats may have been the first to discover coffee and, thanks to camels, people were able to survive for long periods in the desert and open up trade routes between Europe and Asia.
In this amazing book, the author describes how 20+ animals have had a profound impact on human history for good (dogs, camels, horses) and bad (rats, mosquitoes). A fascinating nonfiction read for the students 10 and up, this full-color text features photos, diagrams, maps, and timelines, paired with easy-to-understand text. Overall the information is organized by topic (Animals at Work, Secret Agents of Disease, etc.) and also by individual animal. See some sample pages from publisher Annick Press.
If you're interested in getting "up close and personal" with some amazing animals who have found their ways into our human history, check out Tales of Famous Animals
by Peter and Connie Roop, illustrated by Zachary Pullen. These true tales tell how amazing animals, from the time of Alexander the Great to the present, have played critical roles in the lives of humans they've encountered. Find familiar names like Koko the Gorilla and Smokey Bear, and not-so-familiar names such as Quest and Old Abe. While some critics may argue that animals serving humans are in bondage, this book clearly illustrates that affectionate and respectful relationships between humans and animals are mutually beneficial. Highly recommended as a read aloud!
In addition to working with humans, younger readers may also be interested to learn how animals work together. In Do Animals Work Together?
, author Faith Hickman Brynie describes the many ways that animals communicate among their colonies, packs, and herds. What's neat about this book is that each spread features a picture page and a text page, with the text page containing new reader sentences at the top, providing basic information, and a fluent reader section at the bottom, providing more details. One text section isn't dependent upon the other, and both can be read without sounding redundant. Enslow Publishing provides an educator 's guide
for this book, as well as all books in the I Like Reading About Animals
series. (Win this book! See bottom of the post).
- Assign each student an animal that has played a significant role, for good or bad, in human history. After they've researched their animal, allow students to present to the class in a creative way. For example, what would each animal have to say about its life's work in a retirement speech? Would it be proud of its accomplishments?
- Using Animals that Changed the World and other resources, students can practice writing simple expository essays describing how animals assist people. While children can likely generate three ways that dogs are useful to people, including a resource text reinforces the the importance of backing arguments with facts and quotes.
- Pair individual accounts of animal labor from Animals that Changed the World with related fiction texts (for example, real-life sled dogs paired with Stone Fox) or related nonfiction texts (camels and their role in the Silk Route).
5. Creature Comparisons
Project: Poetry/Figurative Language
Suggested Grades: 3 and up
Curious as a cricket, happy as a lark, slow as a snail. See where this is going? Students enjoy creating simple similes, and their vast store of animal knowledge makes these comparisons easy.A wonderful mentor text for this activity might be Shakespeare's Zoo (Volume 1) by Laudea Martin. It was
"a very old (c. 1896) and well-loved boxed set of the complete works of William Shakespeare, which once belonged to Laudea's great grandmother... that sparked her interest in the richness of Shakespeare's written words." The author soon discovered that in many of Shakespeare's works, both famous and obscure, the Bard employed animal imagery to paint perfect pictures of human passions and pratfalls. From the book description:
Shakespeare's brilliance shines through, not just in his most famous lines, but in every line. The tiniest snippet of his work contains fantastic wordplay and depth of imagery. This book takes some of his less-known bits about various animals and pairs them with Laudea Martin's unique illustrations assembled from textured layers.
And, like all Shakespeare, each page will become easier to understand the more you read it. The brilliant words of Shakespeare are meant to be heard, not seen, so read the words aloud and listen to the rhythm. Read them again and again, and let your imagination fill in the details of the scene.
Each illustration was digitally constructed using layers of textured color. Some textures will be immediately recognizable, such as wood grain or leaves; others may be more difficult to discern, but all come together to create whimsical representations of just a few of the animals mentioned by Shakespeare.
Simple nonfiction picture books can provide students with countless ideas for writing about their own traits. In About Hummingbirds, for example, author Cathryn Sill discusses in plain language how hummingbirds are brightly colored and fast (we knew that!) while at the same time stealthy and even quarrelsome! Illustrator John Sill's images back up the text with vivid details, showing the reader in fine detail what could never be seen in real life by the naked eye. For students seeking more details, the creators included a plate-by-plate addendum providing more data about each image, including information on habitats, physical dimensions, and behaviors, with rich words such as iridescent, preening, and vigorously. See other books in the award-winning About... series, or Win this book! See bottom of the post for more information. Classroom Extensions:
- Students can create biographical poems by first selecting adjectives that they feel describe them (pretty, busy, fast, etc.) and then selecting animals that match those adjectives. Students can pair the adjectives and animals in simile form, such as, "I snore like a lion when I'm really, really tired," and "I'm busy as a beaver every day when I get home."
- Creating a flip book is a fantastic way to show off and illustrate the comparisons described above, and the sizes of the books can vary from tiny to huge.
- Collect a pile of animal poem books and let students browse them and share their favorites. Then offer trade books or simply pictures of an assortment of animals, and ask students to write simile poem inspired by a favorite critter.
6. Pack Behavior
Project: Analytic Essay/Novel Extension
Suggested Grades: 5 and up
We all know that wolves and dogs are pack animals, but did you realize that humans are as well? If you don't believe me, ask Cesar Millan, who in Be the Pack Leader has this to say:
The power of the pack idea doesn't just apply to dogs. It applies to another species of pack animals whose destinies have been intertwined with those of dogs for tens of thousands of years.That would be our very own species, Homo sapiens.
I've had a good deal of success with partnering books on wolf pack behavior with books that deal with similar "pack" behavior in humans. Holes, The Outsiders, Wringer, and Lord of the Flies are just a few of the books that demonstrate the irresistible hold a dominant alpha can have over a pack, leading subordinates to follow blindly, even when consequences might prove disastrous. The boys of Group D in Holes, for example, certainly adhere to a ranking system, and protagonist Stanley Yelnats quickly learns that small concessions on his part can improve his own position in that ranking.
And of course, I'd recommend a quick study in pack behavior before reading any novel dealing with dog packs, such Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and Call of the Wild, to name just a few.
For picture books I would recommend Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Place in the Pack by Jim Brandenburg, Wolves by Sandra Markle, and Face to Face with Wolves, also by Jim Brandenburg.
- Choose a fact-rich picture book such as Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Way in the Pack. Once students have read and discussed the text, have them write a simple essay explaining how pack behavior is critical to survival.
- Later, assign students the challenge of drawing comparisons between the group behavior observed in your novels and the previously studied pack behavior.
7. Feathered FriendsProject: Poetry/ResearchSuggested Grades: 5 and up
In his classic poem The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe describes the unsettling midnight visit of a raven to the windowsill of a melancholy and mournful narrator. When that narrator asks repeatedly if the raven will provide solace and comfort, the raven simply answers, "Nevermore." Similarly, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar is visited by a sparrow who, unlike Poe's raven, seems to offer reprieve from the author's toil and dullness. The sparrow's attempts to distract the poet are rebuffed.
|Screenshot of a LinoIt discussion of Dunbar's The Sparrow (see below)|
If you suspect a theme is developing, you would be correct. Poets in particular seem to enjoy expounding upon serendipitous meetings with birds, taking some delight in reading their stoic expressions and wondering about their mysterious lives (see Emily Dickinson's A Bird Came Down the Walk,
Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sparrow
, and Edwin Morgan's A Gull
- Share some of these poems with students, particularly Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." This poem's fantastic vocabulary, figurative language, and creepy author's tone can be explored interactively The Interactive Raven and Knowing Poe: Annotated Poe.
- Compare and contrast Poe's poem with others about chance meetings with birds. This post discusses using a cool collaborative site called LinoIt to create online discussions, complete with stickies, images, and videos.
- Assign each student a bird, asking them to explore its history and mythology, as well as its physical characteristics and habits. Armed with this information, challenge students to write a poem about a meeting with this bird, basing it upon some of the exemplars above.
- Check out the haunting poem Carrion Crow by John Heath-Stubbs (definitely share the audio!), which describes a literal bird's eye view of history. After discussing the text and researching the battle to which it refers, ask students to write a similar poem as observed from a bird's point of view.
- If you feel that this activity is for the birds, consider allowing students to write poetry about their own choice of animal after conducting some basic research. Eric Carle's Animals Animals features animal poems by some of the literary greats (think Kipling, Carroll, Sanburg, Rossetti) accompanied by his signature cut-paper illustrations. These poems might also serve you if you choose to tackle any of the Creative Comparisons activities listed above.
8. Who's to Choose When It Comes to Zoos?Project: Argumentative Essay/ResearchSuggested Grades: 6 and up Should zoos exist? 9. Animal AlliesProject: Art/ResearchSuggested Grades: 5 and up Animal Tribe introduces students to the mythologies and wisdom of animals as celebrated by various indigenous peoples from around the globe.
post titled Simple Questions Lead to Complex Learning
is a good jumping off place for getting started with this topic (as well as many others).For ages 8 and up, the dilemma of animal captivity is thoughtfully explored in Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, the 2013 Newbery Winner. From the Author's Biography: Katherine was inspired to write The One and Only Ivan after reading about the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, the "Shopping Mall Gorilla." The real Ivan lived alone in a tiny cage for twenty-seven years at a shopping mall before being moved to Zoo Atlanta after a public outcry. I highly recommended this text as a read-aloud, or as a class novel for grades 4 and up. Check out the official book trailer below.Classroom Extensions:
- Let students explore a number of zoo and circus themed picture books. What messages about zoos and their purposes seem to be conveyed in those texts? Have more recent titles on these topics attempted to redefine the roles of these institutions?
- Assign students to prepare both pro and con arguments for zoos, and then divide the class arbitrarily to debate the issue.
- Upon the debate's conclusion, invite students to write an argumentative essay for the position they would like to take, being certain in their writing to address the claims of the opposing viewpoint.
Explore that site to see what's offered, and consider ways that these studies could be incorporated into your existing curriculum.
A logical connection to this project is research in how animals are being threatened by their struggles to share this planet with humans. Books such as Once a Wolf: How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Gray Wolf
by Stephen R. Swinburne and Dorje's Stripes
by Anshumandi Ruddra can get this discussion started.
In the latter book, a beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger arrives one day, broken and tired, at a small Buddhist Monastery in Tibet. He begins to lost his stripes as his fellow tigers are poached from the surrounding countryside. Hope for the future shines, however, when one day a single stripe, and a beautiful female tiger, return. ((Win this book! See bottom of the post).
- Visit Animal Tribe and see how that site's activities can be adapted to your lesson plans.
- Rather than traditional animal research projects, assign each student an animal that is threatened or endangered. In addition to describing the causes of their animal's predicament, they should offer possible solutions that serve all parties involved.
- In connection with a text such as Once a Wolf, appoint students to play various roles including ranchers, conservationists, tourists, etc. Plan a debate with each interest group required to provide support for their point of view.
10. Home Sweet Home
Project: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
Almost every child at one time or another has dreamed of owning an exotic pet. Many books have explored the possibilities and pitfalls of this fantasy. Perhaps the most well-known of this genre is The Salamander Room
by Anne Mazer. In this simple yet beautiful story, a child patiently counters his mother's every protest against his plan to adopt a salamander and transform his bedroom into a forest refuge. The question-answer format of storytelling is a familiar one, but the facts we learn about salamanders and the illustrations by Steve Johnson are alone worth the price of admission. Not Inside This House!
written by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by David Ercolini, addresses this same topic in a much more humorous way.
A curious boy named Livingstone, who finds ordinary toys and diversions a bore, loves to explore. To his mother's horror, however, he enjoys bringing the results of those explorations home. From the book:
His wary mom?
She did implore...
"Livingstone Columbus Magellan Crouse,
I'll have no bugs inside this house!
I'll say it once. Won't say it twice.
To speak again will not suffice."
As you can see, Kevin Lewis' text is replete with wonderful words, and David Ercolini's vivid illustrations beg closer inspection. See more here
at the artist's site.
Classroom Extensions:I hope this list gives you a few ideas to try out in your classroom, as well as a few new titles to add to your library! Please comment below and share with your fellow readers how you use animals books in your classroom.
- Play devil's advocate using The Salamander Room. Is it right for Brian to keep this wild creature in his home? If the salamander's comfort demands so many changes to Brian's room, then is this the best place for it?
- In Not Inside This House, the pets Livingstone chooses to bring home become increasingly large and troublesome. When his mother finally relents and agrees that he can have the one bug he started with, we have to wonder, Is this what he had planned all along? Have students choose an extraordinary animal they'd like to adopt, and then create both sensible and outlandish reasons they'd give for why this animal should be permitted.
Also, be sure to enter the raffle below to win one of three books: About Hummingbirds, Dorje's Stripes, and Do Animals Work Together. The raffle ends on 2/21/13, at which time winners will be notified. Good luck to all who enter!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
By: Keith Schoch
Blog: Teach with Picture Books
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When we read a truly wonderful picture book, one whose words resonate as much as the pictures themselves, we should take the opportunity to stand back and ask ourselves, "How did the author do that?" And more importantly, How can we get our students to find their own strong voices in writing? If we recall the opening lines of some favorite middle-grade novels, we discover that the author's voice begins to take form in just the first few words. Consider Avi's Newbery winning The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, a fantastic sea yarn in which the protagonist finds herself at the center of a mutiny:
“Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago.”
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
“Out to the hoghouse,” replied her mother. “Some pigs were born last night.”
As both novels progress, we immerse ourselves in the narrator's point of view, falling in step with the rhythm of words, the tone, and the exacting word choice.
But neither picture books nor our students' own writing has the luxury of 200+ pages to build voice. It needs to happen much sooner.Here are three picture book exemplars to get us started.
Mentor Text: Jangles: A BIG Fish Story
David Shannon's recent picture book Jangles: A BIG Fish Story harkens back to the day of the traditional Tall Tale. Tall Tales, characterized mainly by their penchant for hyperbole (that is, their tendency to exaggerate to the point of lying!) developed a boastful and boisterous voice over time, due to the fact that many of the original Tall Tales were spread orally. Each subsequent teller would add his or her own embellishments (as well as quaint colloquialisms), resulting in crowd-sourced versions of the tales that were rich in both authentic voice and vocabulary. Jangles: A BIG Fish Story would serve as an excellent introduction to this literary genre. Author and illustrator David Shannon writes in a style that harkens to the boasts of the Tall Tale tradition:
When I was a kid, Jangles was the biggest fish that anyone had ever seen - or heard! That's right, you could hear Jangles. He'd broken so many fishing lines that his huge, crooked jaw was covered with shiny metal lures and rusty old fishhooks of all shapes and sized. They clinked and clattered as he swam. That's why he was called Jangles.
Jangles was so big, he ate eagles from the trees that hung over the lake, and full-grown beavers that strayed too far from home.
Compare that with the beginning of Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee (another Newbery Medal book):
“They say (he) was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart was a sofa spring. They say he kept an eight-inch cockroach on a leash and that rats stood guard over him while he slept…They say.”
And to be sure, you'll find the "They say..." phrase in Shannon's book as well, since, while the facts of any Tall Tale might not be verified empirically, they must undoubtedly be true, since so many people agree on them. The story itself is an engaging narrative, with an ending that requires a bit of inferring on the reader's part. The story also begs the question, "What would you have done in his place?" Close rereadings can reveal simile, alliteration, personification, and many other wonderful literary devices masterfully woven into the tale.
And the illustrations! Fans of David Shannon know from earlier books such as A Bad Case of the Stripes and How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball that his pictures are lush and vivid and sculpturesque. Whenever I'm explaining to my students that their own illustrations should be saturated with color, Shannon's books are among the exemplars I share.
- To begin a Tall Tale unit, let children read a number of traditional retellings of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Slue-Foot Sue. Have them generate the critical attributes of this genre, explaining as well how it differs from (and yet takes cues from) legends, folktales, and myths. Find some online resources at 42explore.
- After reading Jangles: A BIG Fish Story, challenge students to write a Tall Tale about an animal of their choosing. You might consider supplying a simple story map based upon the mentor text which can guide students in their writing.
- Ask students to generate a list of some of their most memorable experiences (circus, baseball game, birth of a sibling, family reunion, recital, getting lost at the mall, etc.). Share the interview with the David Shannon at the Scholastic site. Discuss how personal experiences can often serve as the basis for writing fiction, and then have students choose one of their events to turn into a fictional account.
Mentor Text: Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper
Another recent picture book which features a strong voice is Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper. Author Ann Malaspina tells the true-life tale of a young girl who dreams of being the first African-American woman to win gold at the Olympics. Her medals won while competing as part of Tuskegee Institute's famous Golden Tigerettes only increase her determination to reach that goal.
Tall Tale boasting would be inappropriate for this genre, of course, because as Dizzy Dean (and others) would say, "It ain't bragging if you can do it." Instead, the prose here is more lyrical, and almost poetic:
Alice Coachman raced
down the dirt road,
bare feet flying,
long legs spinning,
in the wind...
She sailed over
a tree branch
and kept on running.
Students will come to appreciate the power of repetition, parallel structure, and flow in such lines as:
to girls like Alice.
No place to practice.
No crossbar to raise.
Alice and her friends got busy.
Tying rags to sticks.
in the red Georgia clay.
Then her friends stood back
and let Alice jump.
Illustrations by Eric Velasquez (trust me, you know this guy; we all have chapter books in our classrooms bearing his work) fill each page, providing not only energy and emotion, but historical context as well.
Mentor Text: Prairie Chicken LittleIn the tradition of this age old tale, Prairie Chicken Little by Jackie Mims Hopkins chronicles the over-reaction of one prairie chicken who thinks the sky is falling, or more accurately, a stampede is coming!
- Check out the Teacher's Guide at Albert Whitman and Company for discussion questions, cross-curricular extensions, and ready-to-use assessments.
- In connection with biography readings for either Back History Month or Women's History Month, encourage students to rewrite key events from a famous person's life using the lyrical style of (fellow New Jerseyan) Ann Malaspina. Existing lines from chapter books can be reformatted into parallel structures (where possible), although I'd prefer for students to adapt those events or anecdotes they find most compelling.
- If you enjoy Malaspina's writing, which Kirkus Reviews called "spare and elegant free verse," then definitely check out Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President, another spot-on writing exemplar for young authors, with superb illustrations by Steve James. Susan B. Anthony's law-defying act of voting is little known to students, but rivals the illegal actions of such "criminals" as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. See the classroom guide for this book which was named to the Top Ten of the Amelia Bloomer Project.
Listen to this text's unique voice as the story begins:
Out on the grasslands where bison roam, Mary McBlicken the prairie chicken was scritch-scratching for her breakfast, when all of a sudden she heard a rumbling and a grumbling and a tumbling.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "A stampede's a comin'! I need to hightail it back to the ranch to tell Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan. They'll know what to do."
So away Mary ran, lickety-splickety, as fast as her little prairie chicken legs could carry her.
The onomatopoeia, the rhymes, and the word choice (such as "hightail it") combine to create a voice that matches both the book's setting and its levity. The book's fun is well supported by Henry Cole's splendid pictures. You might recall seeing his handiwork in Three Hens and a Peacock, mentioned here in a previous post.
- In the event that your students are studying other ecosystems such as as rain forests or polar regions, you could adapt this idea, challenging students to create a crisis or calamity, as well as appropriate creatures who would help spread the word. It's a pretty cool way to synthesize students' collection of random facts from a unit into a creative response. Can't you just see a penguin or a toucan as the main character?
- Fractured Fairy Tales are an all time favorite for kids to read, and they're fun to write as well. A recent post at the Peachtree Publishing blog provides some great titles to get you started.
- Have students research any of the animals from Prairie Chicken Little. Some of the real-life critters who populate this book sport some pretty amazing features. A good place to start? The Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society.
Do you have a favorite picture book to teach author's voice? If so, share it below!
And if you haven't entered yet, be sure to get in on the raffle for one of three animal picture books happening on this blog (scroll to the bottom of that page).
By: Keith Schoch
Blog: Teach with Picture Books
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Looking for a fun writing activity that integrates well with Valentine's Day? Then look no further than Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved.This book is a funny and fact-filled collection of "friendship notes" written to some of the most unlovable creatures one could imagine. Through her poems and accompanying facts, author Diane Lang helps us see that even bats, turkey vultures, spiders, skunks, and mosquitoes (to name but a few of the animal dignitaries) deserve some love. The friendship note to the fly, for example, reads:
Oh fly, though no one seeks to ask,
Recycling is your secret task.
You eat the things that die or spoil
And make them part of growing soil.
So, though I shoo you from my plate,
You're someone I appreciate!
Below that we read:
Flies are specialists at eating things that are dead and decaying, getting them ready to become part of new, healthy soil.
Lovely paintings by Lauren Gallegos illustrate each animal at its most industrious, making even the most scream-worthy of the lot seem noble, or, at the very least, tolerable.
- The book closes with a request: "So many cards to write! So many animal friends! I may need some help. Do you know someone who is misunderstood? Will you help me write friendship notes, too?" Such a fantastic suggestion! Working in pairs or teams, students can research basic facts about other unloved animals that "scuttle, slither, buzz, and sting." Why are these creature seen as so horrible? What makes them worthy of our admiration? See if your students can write similar poems to change the loathsome to the lovable. Picture books such as Melissa Stewart's marvelous Animal Grossapedia will provide ample information and inspiration for even the most reluctant writers.
- As an additional challenge, ask students to write the above poems in the first person, as if they are the animal. They must defend themselves to humans, and justify the "bad rap" which they've been given. Students could be further challenged to write these poems without naming themselves (the animal could be identified at poem's end or in the title alone). Students can then read the poems aloud, and classmates can guess the identity of the nefarious narrator.
- What role do these animals play in other stories, whether fables, myths, or folktales? With what traits have they been branded? Have students create original fables using one of the creatures from Vulture Verses: Love Poems for the Unloved, or from their research project above. See my earlier post Animal Attractions for more ideas and suggested titles for fables.
- Diane Lang uses fantastic vocabulary in both her poems and follow-up facts. Discuss some of these words and challenge students to define them, using context clues alone. Why did the author choose these and not their simpler synonyms? If students completed any of the above activities, ask them to revisit their writing to substitute words that are more exacting and creative for those which are overused or ordinary.
Do you have a favorite reading or writing activity to celebrate Valentine's Day? If so, please leave a comment below!
It's my pleasure to share this space with Karen Blumenthal. Her guest post adds to recent discussions about the documentation that accompanies a published work of nonfiction.
Shortly before my first book was published, I attended a presentation by two very distinguished nonfiction writers.
“Here’s how you must do source notes,” I remember one of them saying. “You list the beginning of every quote and then the source where it came from.”
Her words sent my stomach churning and my hands shaking. My pre-publication copy of Six Days in October
was tucked carefully in my bag--and it was all wrong. I had listed my primary sources chapter by chapter as they appeared. But I had not specifically detailed the source of each quotation, or even included specific page numbers. How could I have made such a horrible mistake?
Sourcing nonfiction for a general audience, young or old, is a difficult and tricky business. While I don’t want to footnote every burp and grunt and dot pages with microscopic numbers, like the academics do, I do want readers to know the source, since there can be so many differing views on some subjects. But compiling them is tedious and unpleasant, and sometimes it’s tough to pin down exactly where a conclusion came from.
Some publishers leave the decision to the writer and some dictate a style, like the quotation method cited by the distinguished writer above. Forced to use that quotation-only style once, I found it completely misrepresented where the information came from. In some cases, one sentence may draw on four different sources; other times, a paragraph reflects dozens of pages of reading. Quotations typically are a small part of a narrative.
Sometimes, ego gets involved.
In my most recent book, Steve Jobs,
I wanted to share my research to avoid any perception that I had merely rewritten the best-selling adult biography.
Sometimes the process is messy, with notes getting jumbled up as sections are rewritten or cut and pages are designed. Sorting and correcting them can take days.
And sometimes publishers push back. Lots of detail takes lots of pages, which costs money. More than once, I’ve been asked to trim the bibliography or notes.
For my second book, LetMe Play,
a history of Title IX, I studied the notes of the masters—Russell Freedman, Jim Murphy, Susan Campbell Bartoletti and Candace Fleming, among others. From reviewing their work, I came to appreciate a short bibliographic essay giving an overview of the process for someone who might be new to formal research.
Besides, where else could you share the little gem that before C-SPAN televised Congress, legislators regularly rewrote their remarks for the Congressional Record?
That book involved an unusual number of interviews and primary sources, and the notes are detailed. It felt, at times, that I might be showing off.
But then came the calls. Every year, I hear from a college student writing a senior paper or girls from junior high through high school working on a History Day projects. Over Skype and on the phone, they quiz me. Occasionally, I have to go back to the notes to jog my memory.
The most ambitious of them surprise me. They have studied the sources and from them, found new trails for their own explorations. Their excitement and curiosity is invigorating—and enough to make
those notes feel completely worth the effort.
Karen Blumenthal is the author of five nonfiction books for young people, most recently Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different (Feiwel and Friends, 2012), which was a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults award.
Why do books get published on Tuesdays? I have a book coming out in June, The Boy Who Loved Math, and yes, it's June 25th, a Tuesday. I looked back to when my novel Intentions pubbed--August 14th, a Tuesday. I didn't always know this; in fact I just found it out this past year. I wish I could remember who told me. But the other day I was talking to Ziki, the man who sticks needles in me to make my back and leg pain go away. We made an appointment for the next week (tomorrow) and I told him that afterwards I would be going to a book party for my friend Marguerite's new book:
"But it's not a Tuesday," he said. I told him a book party doesn't have to be on the release date--but wait, how did he know that? He wasn't sure, he just did. He said that albums always had a day to release (he thought Fridays, and maybe it used to be so, but now it seems CDs and DVDs of movies release on Tuesdays, too).
I asked a few people, and no one seemed to know. I posted my question on twitter
and got these answers:Tradition based on coverage in Sunday papers and getting books on shelves is my understanding.
I asked: Are they reviewed the Sunday before or after.
Before. So that booksellers get to spend Monday explaining why people can't buy the books they just heard about.
Hah. Other people chimed in with links:
And other answers:
I've heard shipment was a factor--UPS boxes come Monday, scan & put out CDs, etc., Tue.
Probably a less busy day for most stores too. But no one seems to know for sure.I'm 99.9% sure books are Tues b/c of Music release on Tues. So ? would be why music on Tues.
This might answer that question:
I read all of those (you don't have to) and it still seems to me that no one knows for sure... I asked some friends who are publishers and editors: nope. They didn't know.
And so I started thinking two things:
1. In the old days, I would have called a reference librarian. My old friend from the Doylestown library (where I used to live) would have found out for me, I know that for sure. So I decided to call the New York Public Library. Oops. I waited too long. It's Presidents' Day. Library closed. But it took me almost a week to remember that I used to talk to reference librarians for this sort of thing. Yes, kids, before the Internet. I used to go to the library, go up to the desk and say, "Jan, how do I find out the answer to this question?" And sometimes Jan would just find out for me, and sometimes she would teach me how to fish. I did this for a long time, even after there was The Internet, until it became more or less part of my right hand.
2.Will this change? Whatever is the cause, will Tuesdays as pub dates change if there are more ebooks and fewer bricks and mortar bookstores? Then will people release books willy nilly? Do people who self-publish books follow the Tuesday rule?
I'm really hoping that someone will post here and tell me... Why do books publish on Tuesday? I've just spent so much time on this... as so often happens when one (me) gets stuck on a research treadmill. I just want to know the answer!
Uh oh. Wait a minute. I just looked up Marguerite's book and it officially published YESTERDAY. Which was Monday. According to Amazon
. And B & N. Her publisher
just says February. Okay, now I'm really confused.
I can’t seem to stay away from England. After spending three months here last spring, I returned in mid-January, to stay until late March. My secret: home exchanging. With laptop, email, and skype, many people don’t even know I’m away – or they didn’t until now.
I’ve generated a fan base here, bigger than I have at home! One school visit in Yorkshire last spring, led to four invitations this time round. The small town/village/rural environment meant that teachers spread the word quickly. I’ve got return invitations for my next visit.
At all four schools I was thrilled to see a strong emphasis on writing. I discussed all my books in all-school assemblies, but since I’ve only got one book published in England, Katje the Windmill Cat, I focused on that in the younger classes. It’s historical fiction that focuses on a true incident. I talked about writing true stories and stories from our imagination, and mixing up the two. The children came up with great ideas for stories – true and fictional -- and one class ended a session by making up a song and dance about Katje. This was a favorite moment, along with hearing my story acted out in Yorkshire accents: “Katje, you’re too doosty!”
At Nafferton Primary School I was given the Royal Role of cutting the ribbon the open the new school library!
This was followed by lovely tea and cakes.
And I enjoyed my first English hot school dinner: vegetarian toad-in-the-hole.
The curiosity that spurs me to write about a subject doesn’t go away when the book is finally published, e.g. The Wind at Work. So when I found that my London flat was a quick bus ride away from Wimbledon Common, off I went to see the Wimbledon Windmill and Museum, tagging along with a school group for a wonderful presentation by Norman and Ray Plastow.
Norman spearheaded the restoration of the windmill and the creation of the museum within. It’s a wonderful place, chock full of great artifacts and exhibits. And the Windmill Café next door serves delicious hot soup, most welcome on a cold January day.
Another treat was meeting Paul Sellwood, a windmill-wright who travels the UK and abroad restoring old windmills. It’s so much fun to meet people to natter on with, about one’s own arcane interests!
Hey teachers! Kids too! Are you writing any nonfiction stories in class these days? Lots of schools are trying out this approach to writing in general, and they’re studying the different ways good nonfiction books are written in particular, especially in light of the CCSS. So what different kinds of writing might work nonfiction-wise? There are plenty.
Try doing live interviews or writing a journal, for example—they both count as nonfiction. A few ideas:
Maybe your class can interview various folks who were on the scene during a great or terrible historic event, such as the Summer Olympics or even 911. Or try interviewing somebody who has an unusual job; maybe the old Santa Claus at the mall or a fireman (naturally) or your mayor or a local musician or a TV personality or your own bus driver.
And maybe you can pen some truly amazing journals during a field trip to a museum or a festival or an historic site. (Of course if you aren’t going on any field trips, you can always write some pretty entertaining journal entries about the food in your cafeteria.)
Or take a stab at uncovering the true story of how your own family came to America. Whether they got here last Wednesday or 300 years ago, doing the research is a hoot…and be sure to ask your parents or grandparents. You'd be surprised what they know and what you don't.
Or you can write research papers about things you’re learning in class—some examples might include compiling all sorts of comments about the frogs (living or dead) in your science lab, or researching and writing about a disterous Civil War battle for your history class, or making like a professional critic who’s writing book reviews for your English class, or examining the statistical issues behind today’s economic crisis in your math classes without putting anyone to sleep. Now there's a challenge for you.
IT IS OK TO HAVE FUN WHILE YOU DO THIS…YOU DON’T NECESSARILY HAVE TO GET ALL SERIOUS (UNLESS YOU WANT TO.)
Yup, your writing has to shine; that’s a given. But here’s an outstanding tool that lets you spice up everything you write, gets people interested in your stories and papers, helps you learn faster, makes sure readers remember your most complex material in a flash, and entertains your own self at the same time:
JUST STIR IN ALL KINDS OF PICTURES AS YOU GO ALONG.
Really? Most definitely! After all, just think about it. Whenever you go online or watch movies or TV or play video games or look inside certain books, they’re all about the pictures. Lots of you are probably taking pictures yourself today by using a cell phone, or you’re adding pictures to online sites like Facebook. So while you’re busy writing papers and journals and stories at school, why not think the way you do in the real world…whenever you write, stir plenty of artwork and photos and other visuals of your own into the mix.
Here are a few tiny examples of the gazillion ways to add pictures to your writing:
TAKE THE JOURNALS, FOR EXAMPLE:
When you bring your journal along on a school field trip – or even on a regular day – be sure to bring some colored markers or colored pencils or just regular lead pencils. Then draw the coolest things you see. Try to show the real world and still use your artistic imagination at the same time. Put pictures next to the words you just wrote or use pictures to make a rebus or spread pictures into the margins or make them into cartoons or make them extremely realistic. Let some of the pictures fill a whole page or two or three of their own. They can most certainly be funny. They can most certainly be serious or scientific. Doodling is just fine. Cartoons are just fine. Beautiful pictures are, well, beautiful and wonderful. And of course you can draw all kinds of fancy lettering in your topic headings along the way.
Trust me, people will want to see what you wrote if it’s illustrated. When explores like Lewis and Clark or scientists like Charles Darwin wrote journals, they did these exact kinds of things. Their writing was incredibly fun to read and was informative to the max at the same time. Yours should be too.
Another idea is to take photos during the day, print them out, and tape them in later. Or collect small stuff you find and glue that in too—for example, add brochures or cut them up and tape some of the picture into your journal. Or add small parts of the plants you see on a farm visit. Or leaves you pick up on a hike during the fall.
AND HOW ABOUT ART FOR YOUR INTERVIEWS?
One idea is to draw the person you are interviewing yourself! Or take your own photos of them doing something verrry cool and then paste or tape them into your written work. Or if they have any pictures taken when they were kids, make photocopies and add them to the mix. Even if you write your interview (or any other stuff) online, you can scan in your pictures and imbed them.
GEOGRAPHY CAN BE MEMORABLE IN SPADES:
Think of cool and colorful pictures you can add to your charts and graphs:
If they look great, they can offer readers a fast and entertaining way to learn a lot of boring stats in a single glance.
Try putting the quotes inside of talk balloons that point at a picture of the person who's being quoted. Maybe this person is a new cartoon character of your own creation (kind of like the one Jeff Kinney made up for his Wimpy Kid), or maybe you can research what the people you quoted really looked like and what they really wore, and then draw them accurately.FAMOUS LAST WORDS:
YIKES! Art is in danger of disappearing from our schools, and that would be a DISASTER. Help bring it back by adding artwork to your written work in school.
Paint pictures on wood!
Write words on all kinds of unusual paper.
Try playing around with paint, scraps of cloth, cut paper, or scratch board, and then add them to your written work.
Experiment with your photographs.
Make collages using buttons, flowers, seeds, or leaves picked up off the ground....if your essay or journal is lumpy, so what? Your writing will end up being a keeper, and you will learn to think, be creative, do research, and remember what you wrote about for a very long time.
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Has this ever happened to you?
You pick up a book, one of those books that every
one’s buzzing about, and ten pages in, your jaw drops. Not because it’s such an awesomely written book (although it may well be) but because you've had an eerily similar idea.
Or maybe you pick up a magazine and scan the articles, nodding. Until you stop in mid-scan, your eyes riveted to a title that’s exactly
like the article you were thinking of pitching.
Writers hit on similar concepts all the time, and I’m sure we all have a similar response when we see our great idea published. The pulling-the-hair-out, screeching, “You have got
to be kidding me,” and throwing the offending book (or magazine) across the room reaction.
Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, after my little hissy fit, I heave a huge sigh and thank my lucky stars.
Yep, I’m grateful. Grateful that I found that novel or article before I invested my time and effort into all that writing. Maybe I’d only scribbled a few notes about plot and characters, or just a “What if?” question for a pitch. But after reading what’s been published, I know that my idea is not different enough to pursue any further. Time to move on to the next idea.
Researching ideas before
you write about them is an important part of the writing process. I know it’s hard when you think you have the best idea ever. You want to pound out that manuscript while you’re super excited. You want to put together that piece for a major market that’s going to make you famous in the freelance world.Except
. Except that your time is valuable. You simply can’t afford not to do your homework. Besides, editors and agents won’t waste their time on something they've already seen.
So before you pound out that first chapter or even that first paragraph, do a little investigating. If you have an idea for a novel, check comparable titles. Consider the broad concept as well as the specific concept. Take, for example, a story about purple people eaters. It may be hard to believe that some other writer has penned a novel about purple people eaters (And P.S. They have.
). But there are a ton of zombie books
. And if you take away the purple part, you've basically got a people eater, right? Is your story different enough from not only the purple people eater books out there, but also the zombie books on the shelves?
As for articles, an Internet search will let you know very quickly if your idea has a unique angle or the same old, same old stuff that editors get every day.
But take heart. Publishing success can happen for you—if your great idea has an original
spin. So do your research before you write the first word. (And cross your fingers that your
idea will get out there first!)
~Cathy C. Hall