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1. Books and stuff

It’s that time of year again. Book fair time.

“Miss Hewes! Look at the figurines I bought! Aren’t the polar bear and the penguin so cute?”

I’ll be honest – yes, little rubberized figurines in the likenesses of polar bears are cute. I understand the appeal of such items to young children. However, I am less sure that these proclamations should follow a trip to our school’s book fair.

Without fail, however, my students bound into my room following their trip to the library (home base of our commercial book fair) eager to show off their novelty erasers, pencils, figurines, and posters.

“Those are nice,” I always reply. “But what books did you see that excited you? What book did you choose to take home with you?”

Then, my students usually get quiet. “Well, I couldn’t get this eraser shaped like a cell phone and a book. I ran out of money.”

And there’s the rub. At the school where I teach, the bi-annual book fair is a big deal. My students get all jazzed up when they see the rolling metal carts and book boxes start to accumulate in our hallway prior to one of the sales. Their parents, many of whom feel a financial crunch, work hard to ensure that their children have a small amount of money to spend at the book fair. And yet, despite this excitement and noble intentions, too many students are leaving my school’s book fair with nothing but cell phone erasers and penguin figurines.

Despite the potential arguments that could be raised about school-sanctioned consumerism and the stress that this event may cause for already cash-strapped families, I am generally in favor of the book fair. I teach in a very rural area and the book fair is one of the only affordable alternatives to purchasing books at Walmart or the grocery store — and the titles available there are likely not the ones receiving rave reviews from The Horn Book.

This is not to say, however, that the offerings at the book fair are necessarily any better than those at Walmart. Publishers like Scholastic do publish extraordinarily rich, engaging, and substantial titles. But often, at our school’s book fair, even if kids look beyond the staggering assortment of novelties, their eyes land on a book about the latest pre-teen celebrity icon or the latest series that has more to do with the economics of churning out multiple volumes than about substance or quality.

I don’t think it has to be this way. Yes, commercial book fairs do raise money for schools, and yes, molded plastic does sell. But I think kids would still nag their parents to buy them things even if the book fair didn’t have the novelty items spilling over near the register. As educators, parents, and community members, we should demand more — particularly in communities where the budget for and access to books can restrict the quality of reading materials that kids have to explore.

I optimistically imagine a day when the engrossing and constructive books aren’t lurking in the shadows of a book fair and when the opportunities these events could provide are more fully leveraged to benefit children and their positive reading development.

 

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2. Bears on the Stairs: Lights, Camera... Action!


When I read my picture books to children, I always add at least one fun activity, to make the experience even more memorable for them. Bears on the Stairs, written by my favourite partner, Julia Jarman, is the perfect book for all sorts of added-value fun, so I almost always read it at least once during a school visit. 

I read it to a KS1 class in the lovely St Andrews Infant School in Brighouse last week. When we got to the end of the story, I asked the children if it was okay for me to be a bit silly. Luckily, they said yes. Even more luckily, one of the teachers filmed the next part of the session on her iPad, so I can show you exactly what I mean by 'added-value' and just how silly we can get!

I wrote the poem 'The Bear on the Stair' to fit with Julia's story and the whole class performs it together. Before we start though, I ask for volunteers. First, I need someone to be the bear: to roar and eat the children at the end of the poem. Then I need a volunteer to do a big burp (I once had a Head Teacher volunteer for this role!), so I asked the class at St Andrews what noise you might make if your belly was really, really full of children. Instead of a burp, one little boy rubbed his tummy and made a fabulously deep, bear-like 'Mmmmmmmm....' sound. So, as well as the burper, I added him to the mix.



I was delighted that it was this particular session which was filmed, because it was an especially good one. The children were so engaged and the 3 guys at the front really went for it. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, to see them making up all the actions to go with the poem. Watch for yourself and see.


After all the noise and silliness of the poem, I quieten things down with a mock-serious award ceremony, giving a little Bears on the Stairs badge to each of my volunteers. Unfortunately, I have almost used up all the badges that the publisher gave me - just a handful left. 

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3. Metacognitive books: How early should they be introduced?

During the last few months I’ve encountered a number of children’s picture books with a self-reflective or metacognitive approach. The texts encourage readers not just to reflect or think (cognitive) but to think about their thinking (metacognitive). Since the books’ illustrations were eye-catching and the topics were relatable, I read them to some three-year old children. Some really enjoyed them while others got lost and disengaged easily.

Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn't FitAll of these books are creative. In Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit by Catherine Rayner, the reader follows a moose who doesn’t fit onto the page as he tries to squeeze different body parts into view, leaving others out. Finally, his nameless squirrel friend has an idea. Take masking tape and extra sheets of paper and build out a page so the reader can fold out the final sheet, quadrupling its size to show all of Ernest. The children, silent, seemed mesmerized by Ernest on every page.

Open Very CarefullyAnother favorite is Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley and illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne. The story begins as that of the Ugly Duckling and is narrated by one of the ducklings. The expected story is quickly interrupted by a crocodile who climbs into the book and eats letters and words. Later, the narrator asks the reader to shake the book and rock it from side to side so the crocodile will leave the pages. The rocking just puts the crocodile to sleep, but this allows the duckling to draw on him. Waking suddenly, the crocodile tries to run out of the page and hits his head. Finally, he chews a hole — literally — in the back cover and climbs out.

monster end of bookOther examples include David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, the Sesame Street book The Monster at the End of this Book, and the new social media sensation by B. J. Novak, The Book with No Pictures.

These texts demand more active thinking from readers while they listen to the stories. I was a bit hesitant to read these books to small children, but after doing so have come to the conclusion that they in fact help to “wire” their reading habits and other skills such as problem solving and perspective thinking.

What do you think?

 

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4. Playing the Celeb in Brighouse:


The school visits kicked off really early this year. My first event was immediately after New Year: I was the guest of honour, opening the gorgeous new library at St Andrew's C of E Infants. I got to cut the ribbon and everything. 


I hope you're impressed by how well my dress coordinates with the school colours!

The children in the photo are members of the School Council, so also rather important. After the ceremony, I sat and signed some books for the library and they gathered round to watch. They were so excited and amazingly cute. Listen to them chatting to me while I draw a warthog in a copy of Stinky!:



The rest of the day was a series of storytelling sessions. It was such a lovely school. The children were a delight and lots of parents came along to sit in. 

Teachers filmed a lot of the sessions. Here I am playing my usual flipchart guessing game with one class, seeing how long it takes them to work out what I am drawing:


It's a shame that the teacher is filming from the wrong side really, but you can still tell how great the kids were. There is another, really brilliant film of me doing my Bears on the Stairs poem with another group, but it was emailed in two halves, so I'll post it up a bit later, once we have stitched it back together. It's really funny, so well worth waiting for.

Another fun game I play at the flipchart is drawing the anaconda from Class Two at the Zoo, and letting the children decide who will be in the snake's mouth. Sometimes they nominate a teacher, sometimes I get volunteers. This time it was Namory who got gobbled up: 


I am so lucky to have a job which lets me share such lovely times with children (and then pays me for the privilege!) 

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5. Behind the book

Back on October 10th, I had the privilege of attending the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award ceremony. During the celebration, honorees and winners came to the podium to receive their awards and address the audience. Needless to say, I was star struck to be in the room with the likes of Steve Jenkins, Gene Luen Yang, Peter Brown, and Steve Sheinkin, among others.

Once I managed to regain my composure, I listened carefully to the content of their speeches. Patricia Hruby Powell, spoke to the power of dance in her own life as one of the connections that led her to craft the beautiful Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Andrew Smith shocked us all when he told us that Grasshopper Jungle was written the summer he decided to “quit being a writer.” Nevertheless, he completed it because the manuscript helped him strengthen his connection to his son who had recently left for college. Peter Brown made us laugh as he joked about managing to slip nudity into a picture book (see the centerfold page where Mr. Tiger returns to his birthday suit!) in partial protest of the fact that Babar the elephant, a favorite character from childhood, walks naked into a department store only to emerge one page later inexplicably dressed in a suit walking upright!

Port ChicagoBut the speech that resonated most profoundly with me was the one given by Steve Sheinkin who talked about his book, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights. He told us that his brother-in-law (I believe) piqued his interest by mentioning the Port Chicago disaster several years earlier. Once he heard about it, Sheinkin simply could not let it go. His desire to understand what had happened to the 50 African American navy sailors charged with mutiny for refusing to work under extraordinarily dangerous conditions became an exciting mystery he had to unravel. He spoke of the thrill of meeting the only other author who had ever written about the incident and sharing his source material. He described the exhilaration of traveling to interview those sailors who were still living and ready to share their story five decades later. You could not sit in the audience that night and not feel Sheinkin’s excitement. It was clear that the pursuit of this mystery, the unlocking of the clues one by one, moved him deeply.

As I listened to Sheinkin and the other authors speak that night, I was reminded how exciting it can be to consider the writer behind the text. There is no doubt that the texts alone merit attention. But understanding that authors are driven by the same goals, hopes and humor as regular humans is a really powerful lesson for kids.

In my years as a teacher and a coach, I have often spoken of author study — where we read multiple texts by a single author in an effort to understand craft, theme, style, etc. We generally supplement our author study with biographical information about the author. I would never want to give that up as teacher.

But imagine highlighting for our students the writers’ stories behind the stories. What an amazing way to draw kids into their own writing. These authors’ stories went beyond simple topics of interest. They revealed how essential elements of who they were as people drove them into and through their writing — Brown’s humor, Sheinkin’s need to uncover, Smith’s desire for connection. I want all my students to know that who they are can propel their writing.

As an educator, I am eager to explore authentic ways to let my students listen behind the book. But, I’m not sure entirely how. Any thoughts about how to bring writer’s voices regularly into our writing workshops?

 

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6. Show Books

It’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia. A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – […]

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7. The Truth About Twinkie Pie

I was lucky enough to receive this ARC a long time ago. It was irresistible.  I mean, look at that cover! Read that title! I am a person who has never even had a twinkie, but I knew I needed to read this one.  Sometimes a book just gives you a feeling, and this one was calling to me.

Twelve year old Gigi (short for Galileo Galilei) and big sister Didi (short for Delta Dawn) have moved from their trailer park digs in South Carolina to an apartment in Long Island.  One of the only things they have brought with them is their late mother's recipe book which helped the girls win big money in a cooking contest, and Didi is set on giving Gigi a better life that she had.  Gigi is all registered to go to Hill on the Harbor Preparatory School and as long as she keeps following Didi's recipe for success by studying hard and getting top grades, everything will be great.

But here's the thing...Gigi is ready for some changes.   She has even come up with her own recipe for success that doesn't include studying in the library every extra moment of the day.  Instead she wants to find friends her own age, try on a new version of her name, and find ways to have the qualities she knows her late mother would see in her shine.  Gigi (now Leia) is feeling confident about memorizing her locker combination and her schedule and is ready for her first class on her first day when she crashes into Trip who just happens to be the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and is also in her English class.  All of a sudden this front row girl was sitting in the back row next to Trip.

But change isn't alway smooth or easy, and even though Trip and most of his friends are super nice, mean girl Mace notices Leia's dollar store shoes and less-than-healthy E-Z Cheeze sandwich and makes sure that Leia knows that she is the square peg at school.  Leia can handle the insult about the shoes, but nobody makes fun of Didi's cooking!

Readers will be rooting for Leia as she navigates through all sorts of changes in her life. From the tony world of private school to freshly unearthed family secrets, Leia's life is not following any recipe!  Kat Yeh has written a treat of a middle grade story that will tug on your heart strings and make you smile in equal measure.  The multifaceted characters and rich turns of phrase that had me reading with a twang are only a couple of the reasons I read this book in one big gulp.  The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a book with honesty and heart and I cannot wait to share it with the tweens in my life!

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8. Novels to supplement history | Part 1

This year, I started a new role as the 8th grade Humanities teacher. I began the school year with an ambitious “Novels of the World” plan that would flawlessly integrate every Common Core standard in Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking along with the world history.

Then reality hit me in the throat.

I realized that even though I’m technically teaching “English Language Arts,” the colorful demographics of my class means I am also unofficially teaching a lot of English Language Development. I started noticing that in the mushy realm of “middle school humanities,” history ends up getting the shorter end of the stick — probably because English is more heavily tested than history. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to choose which area to skimp, but this is reality.

So, to make sure that some history gets into each ELA lesson (and to provide yet another lens for students to learn history), I correlate the novels I teach with the history unit. There are also times when I can’t devote that much time or depth to the history unit. In those cases, I give book talks to let my students know about different leveled books available for their enjoyment.

Below are books in bold that I’ve personally used either in whole-class or small group instruction.* There are also books that I’ve included that I plan to use in the future. Also, as I compiled the list, I realized this post was getting too long, so I’ll have the second half up next month!


Anna of ByzantiumByzantine Empire

Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett
To be honest, this book was difficult. I had to explain much context and there were not too many exciting plot jumps. My students were still curious, but I would say that this would be a more advanced reading level and probably not the best way to start the year. It was great, however, for teaching figurative language, point of view, and character development. Anna is also a great female protagonist, and there are many teachable moments throughout the book.

 


One Thousand and One Arabian NightsRise of Islam

One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
This is one of my favorite books. Although the reading level is a bit lower, the text is complex especially for students who do not have an understanding of the Arabian peninsula. This is a frame-tale narrative so students are able to practice looking at plot structure, setting, character development, theme, and figurative language. This book is full of similes and personification. I differentiated by reading some stories together as a class and expecting extra stories from more advanced readers. I have actually started 7th grade with this book twice now.


SundiataWest Africa

Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski
So yes, according to the Horn Book Guide, this is meant for K-3. But this book is gorgeous, and I hope to use this and a few other Sundiata narratives to help my students grasp an understanding of the African narrative style and create their own historically accurate play.

 


The Ghost In the Tokaido InnMedieval Japan

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
This is a fun mystery that takes place in 18th century Japan. Students clearly enjoyed seeing what they learned about samurai, dishonorable samurai, and the Code of Bushido coming alive in this fast-paced chapter book. I focused on mainly covering suspense, setting, and characterization here.

 

The Samurai's TaleThe Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard
I have only read an excerpt and it seems a bit more high level. I could see this book being very engaging, however, as it starts with quite a lot of action, betrayal, and suspense in the first chapter.

 

•   •   •

In my next post, I will list the books I’ve used for China, South America, Feudal Europe, Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration. Have you used any of these books before? Am I missing some must-have gems? Let me know by commenting below!

*In California, middle school spends one year learning about medieval to modern world history. It usually consists of the fall of Rome, the Byzantine Empire’s rise, the Arabian Peninsula and Islam, West Africa, Medieval Japan and China, South America, and then Europe, Europe, and lots more Europe.

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9. January Blues…

I love January, but my sweet homeschool kiddos don’t seem to love it quite as much. Thus, a blues poem for my girls and all the students who wish they were still on  Christmas vacation…   School is in session Equations are flying Students are moaning Brain cells are frying Reading and painting Dividing and…

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10. January is here — and I’m loving it!

It’s strange. From October to December, there seems to be very little time to do much other than marvel at how fast time flies. I do as much as I can to get done what needs to be done. I love that time of year, even the hustle and bustle of it all. But from…

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11. The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed

I believe any book can fuel the imagination when it arrives in the right hands at the right time, but there are also some which explicitly explore how we nurture creativity and create space for inspiration and following our dreams. The Wonder by Faye Hanson and The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett are two such books which I’ve read recently and which have left me brimming with delight, hope and happiness and which have sparked hours of inspired play in my children.

wonderfrontcoverThe Wonder by Faye Hanson is a sumptuous début picture book about a young boy whose head if full of daydreams which transform the humdrum world around him. Time and again adults tell him to get his head out of the clouds and come back to reality, but this is barely possible for a child who finds wonder, curiosity and delight wherever he looks. Finally in art class he’s able to let loose his imagination onto a blank sheet of paper delighting his teacher and filling his parents with pride.

The child in this story sees ordinary objects but has the imagination to turn them into astonishing stories, breathtaking ideas, and worlds full of adventures waiting to happen. I know I want to foster this ability in my own children (and in myself!); the world becomes more beautiful, richer, and simply more enjoyable when we are able to imagine more than the grey, wet and humdrum daily life that all too often catches us up. This utterly delightful book is an enthusiastic encouragement to let more imagination in to our lives.

Click to view a larger version of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

Click to view a larger version (it’s really worth it!) of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson

Hanson’s illustrations are dense, saturated, and rich. Careful use of colour lights up the boy’s dreams in his otherwise sepia coloured life. Limited palettes add to the intensity of these pictures; it’s interesting that their vitality doesn’t come from a rainbow range of paints, but rather from focussing on layer of layer of just a few colours, packed with exquisite detail. There’s a luminosity about the illustrations; some look like they’ve got gold foil or a built-in glow and yet there are no novelty printing techniques here.

All in all, an exquisite book that will tell anyone you share it with that you value their dreams and want to nurture their ingenuity, inventiveness and individuality.

imaginarycoverNow let me play devil’s advocate: Is there sometimes a line to be walked between feeding a child’s imagination and yet enabling them to recognise the difference between real life and day dreams? In The Wonder, there are plenty of adults pointing out the apparent problems/risks of day dreaming a great deal. On the other hand, in The Imaginary, a mother fully enters into her daughter’s imaginary world, not only acknowledging an imaginary best friend, but actively supporting this belief by setting places at meal times, packing extra bags, even accepting accidents must be the result of this friend and not the child herself.

Amanda believes that only she can see her imaginary friend Rudger. But all this changes one day when a mysterious Mr Bunting appears on the doorstep, apparently doing innocent door-to-door market research. But all is not as it seems for it turns out that Mr Bunting has no imagination of his own and can only survive by eating other people’s imaginary friends. He’s sniffed Rudger out and now he’s going to get him, whatever it takes.

Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett , from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett, from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold

If you’ve ever wondered where imaginary friends come from, and what happens to them when their children grow up and stop day-dreaming this is a book for you. If you love a good villain, adventures which include libraries and narrow escapes you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re a fan of elegant and attractive books you’ll want to feel this between your hands. The illustrations by Emily Gravett are terrific (in every sense) and incredibly atmospheric, magically adding beauty and tension to a story which I thought couldn’t be bettered.

Intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and packed with seeds of love and inspiration The Imaginary is perhaps my favourite middle grade/young fiction book of the year. If you want a fuller flavour of this gem before hurrying to get it into your hands, head and heart, there’s a full teacher’s guide to The Imaginary available on the Bloomsbury website and you can watch a video of Emily Gravett working on her illustrations here.

*************

One of the ways my girls have been inspired in their playing since sharing these books became clear when they told me they wanted to make a star-making machine to go with the one features in The Wonder (see the illustration above).

M first wrote out some recipes for stars:

bluegiantrecipe

redgiantrecipe

I provided a little food for thought…

foodforengineers

…and a selection of machine parts.

machinepartsJPG

Several hours later the star machine was coming together

starmachine1

buildingmachine

Next up a selection of star ingredients were sourced:

staringredients

The machine was fed…

feedingmachine

Can you see the pulses of one star in the making?!

starinmaking

And out popped these stars (here’s a tutorial) at the end of the star making process:

starsfrommachine

Here’s one just for you:

endresult

Whilst making our machine we listened to:

  • Invisible Friends by Dog on Fleas
  • Imaginary Friend by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  • ‘Pure Imagination’ from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film
  • Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz (Groan!)

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading The Wonder and The Imaginary include:

  • Creating a wonder wall on which to write all those curious questions you and the kids want to find answers to. There’s a lovely tutorial for creating your own Wonder Wall over on Nurture Store.
  • Going on a Wonder Walk. I’ve been thinking about places which spark the imagination or create a sense of awe and thinking about how I can take the kids to visit these places and see what ideas the experience sparks. In general the sorts of places I think have the potential to ignite wonder include high-up places with views to the horizon, hidden places, for example underground, enormous spaces whether man-made or natural, and dark places lit only by candles or fire. I think these locations could all work as seeds for the imagination, and so during the coming holiday I’m going to try to take the girls to a place that fits each of these descriptions.
  • Spirals feature a great deal in The Wonder‘s artwork. Here are various art projects which might inspire your own spiral creations: spiral mobiles, spiral suncatchers, spiral wall art made from scrap paper and even human spirograph art (you need huge pieces of paper but this looks great fun).

  • How do you foster your kids’ imagination? And your own?

    Disclosure: I was sent free review copies of both books in today’s post.

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    12. Using comics in your classroom

    marekbennett intelligences 300x478 Using comics in your classroom

    One of the panels from Marek Bennet’s “Multiple Intelligences” sequence. http://marekbennett.com/2011/02/28/multiple-intelligences-comics-education/

    Last month, I was fortunate to be able to attend several sessions at the Comics and the Classroom symposium offered as part of the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) on October 5th. The symposium, which was the first of what they hope will become an annual event as part of MICE, brought together a number of comics artists and educators to discuss how comics can be incorporated into the classroom at various levels.

    The day started off with a session by Marek Bennett, the creator of Slovakia: Fall in the Heart of Europe, an educator who offers comics workshops for students of all ages, and is one of the Applied Cartooning Program Advisors at the Center for Cartoon Studies. The program teaches students to use cartoons and visual communications techniques in realms outside of comic books or graphic novels. He talked about the way that the styles and techniques of comics can be brought to education in all fields to make subjects more memorable, engaging, and understandable. While the program Bennett works with is aimed at graduate students pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree, he explained how the techniques can be brought to any age group by adapting assignments to incorporate visual elements where there previously may have been only text and walked us through the Applied Cartooning Manifesto. He also displayed this approach in the form of his own visual article on Multiple Intelligences and placed the approach in a historical context that includes Trajan’s Column and the Bayeux Tapestry. A discussion afterwards with the attendees brought up several ways teachers could use these ideas to help students express emotions and advocate for social change.

    The second session of the symposium was presented by Michael Gianfrancesco and covered how he teaches close reading techniques using graphic novels. He talked about how, inspired by the work of Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher, he created a curriculum that uses graphic novels, and particularly wordless graphic novels, such as segments of Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the City, to teach students to identify what is obvious, implied and assumed in their reading of a work. Taking text out of the process helps to simplify it by paring it down to its basics but also engages students, many of whom already enjoy comics and manga. After students have worked out what is obvious, implied, and assumed in each comic, they are also prompted to think more about their assumptions, sometimes even writing stories based on what they assumed when first reading the comic. Since he teaches in Rhode Island, a state that has adopted the Common Core, Gianfrancesco has tied his curriculum in to specific sections of the Common Core and uses it with students in multiple tracks at his school. He recommended New York: Life in the City, Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld, and Stitches by David Small as works that could be used to teach close reading in high school classes.

    I also attended a panel discussion between three artists who create educational comics. Two of the artists, Jason Rodriguez and Joel Gill, have written graphic novels on historical topics that aim to educate readers and have been incorporated into classrooms. The final panelist, Cathy Leamy, works on comics that foster health literacy. Leamy discussed the field of graphic medicine which includes both comics aimed at improving health literacy by explaining complicated medical topics through visuals and comics by healthcare professionals and patients as a way of expressing their emotions. One of the highlights of this last panel was a debate between the panelists (and some members of the audience) about how to balance facts and storytelling in their works. This discussion highlighted both the difficulties that authors face in ensuring that their works are accurate, engaging, and clear and the importance that educators place on using materials in the classroom that portray facts correctly.

    I found each of the sessions very interesting and useful. If you have an opportunity to attend MICE or the Comics and the Classroom symposium next year, I would highly recommend it.

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    13. The Paper Cowboy

    Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

    In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

    Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

    Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

    It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

         I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
    .....
         "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
         "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
         I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
         "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
         "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
         "You stole it."
         I shrugged.
         "Ahh."
         "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
         Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
         I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
    Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

    Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.


    Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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    14. The Schoolies Series | Book Reviews

    Two excellent installments from the Schoolies series, combining vibrant drawings and lessons on navigating school life.

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    15. The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014)

    The Fourteenth Gospel. Jennifer L. Holm. 2014. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

    Ellie gets the unique opportunity to hang out with her grandfather, Melvin, when his scientific experiments succeed. Ellie has grown up knowing--observing--that her mom and her grandfather don't get along very well. But she'll get the chance to know him much, much better when his experiment reverses the aging process and he becomes 13 again. They'll live together. They'll go to school together. It would be hard to judge who has a harder time: Ellie, Melvin, or the mom/daughter. (Though my guess would be the mom/daughter. By all appearances, he's a kid, he's living in her house! She has to make sure he's doing his homework! But he is still very much her father. He has OPINIONS on everything she does.)

    Ellie is growing apart from her best, best friend. Her friend has some new interests. Ellie has new interests as well. Ellie is meeting people she likes and though she hasn't made a new best friend overnight, Ellie is learning that change can be good, that meeting new people can be a good thing. One of Ellie's new interests is science. She really enjoys it! And she loves hanging out with her grandfather and their new friends. (Yes, they have friends in common.)

    I liked it. I did. I am on the fence on if I liked it or loved it. It was a quick read that I enjoyed very much.
    © 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    16. I wish I wrote that

    sharkvstrain I wish I wrote thatEvery teacher I know is writing a book.

    Okay, that is probably an exaggeration, but I would venture that there is a sizable percentage of teachers ranging from kindergarten teachers working on picture books to high school English teachers working on YA novels. Some may be writing as a hobby while others might already have a literary agent and publishing deal.

    The reasons a teacher might choose to write a book vary as well. Those of us in the teaching profession most likely have a love of the written word and want to try our hands at contributing something meaningful. Of course, there is also the allure of money. It is hard to ignore the fact that it seems like every successful picture book or YA novel is being turned into a big budget movie. Writing the next Hunger Games could mean spending your vacation charting a yacht with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the Mediterranean Sea as opposed to taking the Blue Line train to Revere Beach. This leads us to the meat of this post: sometimes you encounter a new book and think to yourself, “Darn, I wish I wrote that.”

    I remember a few years back first coming across the picture book Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton while looking through the stacks at my local library. In this book, a shark and a train battle it out for supremacy in a variety of tasks in different settings such as burping, basketball, playing video games, and skydiving.

    When reading the book, two thoughts popped into my mind. First, that the children in my Pre-K class would love this. I was soon proven correct when the book became a favorite and resulted in often-intense debate between the children who rooted for the train and the children who rooted for the shark. My second thought was, “damn it, I should have come up with this.” As a Pre-K teacher, I knew that many children love sharks and trains. Why didn’t I think of combining the two into a funny story? I even had the nefarious thought of ripping off Barton and writing a book called Dinosaur vs. Spaceship or something like that.

    The truth is, there is a reason that I did not come up with Shark vs. Train first. Writing a good and/or popular book is ridiculously hard, and getting it published takes tenacity and luck. But I think I will keep trying because it’s fun to write and the miniscule chance of hitting it big and having Jennifer Lawrence star in the movie adaptation of something I wrote is always a motivator.

    I end with a question to the readers of Lolly’s Classroom. What books have you read that you wished you had written?

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    17. Sketch-Day at Huddersfield Grammar


    It made a nice change for me on Wednesday, to do a school visit where I was not only working with Y10 Art GCSE students, but where the day revolved around sketchbooks, rather than illustration workshops. I had a very keen group of about 10 girls and, along with their lovely art teacher Mrs Davis, we embarked on a SketchCrawl around the school. 



    I showed them some of the work I had done in Brazil and Sitges, to get them in the mood. They got just as excited as me about the concertina format I've got so into lately and Mrs Davis is quite keen to create some with them. I was also able to show them a couple of sketches I had done on my journey there (immediately above and below), which went down really well.


    Mrs Davis had bought each girl a new A4 sketchbook and a 0.5 fine-liner so, armed with these and some black brush-pens, we headed out. It was a bit chilly. I was well wrapped in anticipation, but many of the girls were coatless and one or two hadn't even put on their woolly tights. Brrrrr.... They were very good though and set-to without any serious complaint. 


    Huddersfield Grammar School is a bit different. They are about to open a new-build extension, which is rather lovely, but the main section of the school was built in the 1860s, when they knew how to make things truly sketchable. We were spoilt for choice: the gorgeous stone windows, the decorated pillars, the Gothic porch, the stained glass...


    We each managed two sketches before break. The girls were really up for it and did some really strong stuff. Above are a couple. Remember: this is straight in with black pen, no pencils, no rubbers. I drew alongside them, just offering little bits of input where they seemed to need it.

    After break we took pity on them and headed indoors, first into the library, originally built as a rather fancy Billiard Room extension, in 1893, and then in the hallway with its oak staircase with torchere statuettes on the newel posts, Art Nouveau windows and a bank of beautifully decorated, brass light switches, which took several people's fancy.


    I did a few quick drawings (the 'sorry's below were because we were sitting on the stairs just outside the staff room and teachers kept needing to get past), but I spent more time going round offering tips and guidance this time. It all seemed to go really well and everyone worked really hard. I love the carefully drawn grain above.


    We had a late lunch and then headed back to the art room to finish off with something a little different. As everyone was so taken with my train portraits and the Drink-and-Draw series from Brazil, Mrs Davis decided we would attempt something similar. We all sat round a long table and I started them off with a 5 minute contour drawing. They found that quite hard, so we made it worse, by asking them next to do blind-contour drawings! There was a lot of giggling at the results, but it's a great warm-up exercise and creates some strong line-work. This was my contour drawing:


    Then we handed out watercolour pencils - just 3 colours each: a dark blue or purple, an orange and a lighter blue. It's a great idea to limit your palette with watercolour pencil sketching and I wanted to demonstrate how it's so much more important to stay true to tonal values than colour: mad colours are fine, as long as the tones are right, but the reverse isn't true.

    I did a quick demo of how to use water: quickly and boldly, once the sketching is done. It's a technique that takes a bit of getting used to, but I think some of them were quite surprised at the strength of their results and amazed at how well the crazy colours actually worked.


    At the end of the day, I was slightly early for my train and reckoned I had about 20 minutes sketching time. There are some lovely buildings around the station, so I stood in the entrance and drew the sketch below. I just got it finished in time but, as I headed inside for my platform, I discovered my watch was slow and the train was about to leave! I made it by a whisker.


    below are sketches I did on the way home of course. The lady opposite was very obliging and dozed in about as many up-the-nose poses as was humanly possible:


    Thank you to Mrs Davis for inviting me to be part of your project and to all the girls for your hard work and enthusiasm. I believe that some of the sketches we did are going to be made into a colouring book of the school - it would be great to see a copy of that!

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    18. My International Book Tour!



    Okay, I admit that's bigging it up a wee bit. It was international, in that I was visiting International Schools and it was in Spain not the UK, so that's international, right? And it was all about promoting and signing squillions (again, almost true) of my books... 


    Anyway, it seems like ages ago, as I've been so busy since I got back, but in fact I only flew back about 12 days ago. I didn't want to come home and you can see why:


    It was all arranged by the lovely Gary, from Bookbox International. He set me up with nine different schools across Barcelona and Valencia. Every day, he would pick me up at my hotel and drive me and a car-load of picture books to a school, where I would do storytellings, talks or workshops, then finish up with book signing.

    Mostly it was little ones, the target audience for the books (so best from the signing point of view), but occasionally I worked with older ones. Here's a pic Gary took of me giving a lecture:


    It was very like working in English schools, although the level of English spoken varied, so I had to speak slowly (yes, I know, not really my forte). My 'act' is very visual though, lots of acting the story out as well as drawing, so that helped. The children were generally less good as sitting quietly too, so there were some classes where I really earned my fee!!

    One school had pets, so I did some sketching in the lunch break. The Y1 kids in the playground loved it (most the quotes are theirs):


    It was a very long day though. For most of the time I was staying in Sitges, about half an hour from Barcelona, which as you can see is totally gorgeous and eminently sketchable:


    ...but that meant we were driving into Barcelona each morning, through appalling rush-hour traffic, so we had to leave every day at 7am (ugg) - too early even for breakfast! Then, because the Spanish have a siesta in the middle of the day, school often didn't finish until 4.30 - 5.00. By the time I done my signing, then we had driven home, it was usually around 6.30pm.


    I didn't mind, I enjoyed myself and I always have oodles of energy when I am somewhere new. I had a lovely room in Sitges. This was the view from my MASSIVE balcony:


    Each night when I got back from the school I would quickly shower then would walk into the old town at the other end of the bay, with my sketchbook of course, and have a couple of beers at a bar:


    Sometimes people would spot me drawing and I would get chatting for a bit, which is nice when you're on your own, then I would quickly walk back to the hotel for a Spanish-style late dinner at about 10pm, then quickly to bed (usually feeling like a beached whale, full of all that dinner!) 


    We moved onto Valencia after the weekend, which was slightly disappointing by comparison, as we were staying and working in the suburbs, so I never got to see the pretty bit at all. Never mind, I still had fun days with Gary at the schools, then he took me out to dinner each night. We struggled sometimes for restaurants in our area and one night, in somewhere very 'local', I ordered what I thought was tapas calamari (because it only cost 4 Euros) and I got this:


    I did manage to eat most of it and it was delicious!

    I will tell you more about my adventures at the weekend in Sitges later, as all sorts of stuff happened and I am running out of space and time here. In the meantime, here the sketch I did as I was leaving: 



    See you next time!

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    19. Eleanor and Park

    rowell eleanor park Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell’s nontraditional romance novel Eleanor and Park portrays a young love that is genuine in its intimacy and awkwardness, as well as the painful realities of life that are well beyond the control of the young protagonists. What are the entry points in the story for readers whose lives are very different from those of the two main characters, set in the 1980s? Why, do you think, has this book resonated so powerfully with young readers and critics alike?

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    20. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

    absolutely true diary The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIn The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with a lot of humor, but pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. Does humor have a place in a realistic novel about tragic circumstances? If you’ve had classroom experience with this book, how have your students responded to Junior’s story?

    We are also reading Alexie’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written In Blood.” Go ahead an comment on that article here, too.

    share save 171 16 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

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    21. The Thing About Luck

    kadohata thingaboutluck 197x300 The Thing About LuckIn The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, Summer has important duties to fulfill as the daughter and granddaughter of migrant harvest workers, and she must also meet the daily demands of her traditional Japanese grandparents. Summer’s multi-generational family and their lives as agricultural workers are facets of contemporary American culture that may be unfamiliar to many young readers — or adults for that matter. How does Kadohata invite all readers into Summer’s story while maintaining her family’s distinct experience and perspective? What surprised, delighted, or intrigued you most about Summer, Jaz, Obaachan, and Jiichan?

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    22. Windows and mirrors book discussion

    Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.

    oct27readings Windows and mirrors book discussion

    For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!

    Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.

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    23. Historical fiction and nonfiction

    histfic nf 2014 550x384 Historical fiction and nonfiction

    Next Monday (November 10), Lauren’s class will be discussing several books. The theme for the day is “The past made present” so they will look at both historical fiction and nonfiction — including one book that’s a hybrid of the two.

    Everyone will be reading One Crazy Summer; they will choose to read either No Crystal Stair or Bomb; and they are being asked to explore (but not necessarily read in full) either Claudette Colvin or Marching to Freedom.

    We welcome all of you to join the discussion on these posts:

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    24. One Crazy Summer

    williamsgarcia onecrazysummer 198x300 One Crazy SummerOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
    In the “crazy summer” of 1968, three black sisters set out from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to reconnect with their estranged mother, an active member of the Black Panther political movement. How does Williams-Garcia balance historical events with the girls’ personal journeys? How do both these aspects of the historical novel interact?

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    25. No Crystal Stair

    Nelson Crystal Stair 212x300 No Crystal StairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

    Documents, photos, fictionalized and true accounts of historical figures and events are woven together in this portrait of Nelson’s larger-than-life great uncle Lewis Michaux. What to you make of the blending of elements and genres in this work (which I described as “defying categorization” when presenting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction in 2012)?

     

    Note from Lolly: Here is a link to Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s and R. Gregory Christie’s acceptance speeches when this book won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award:

    YouTube video
    Print version

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