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1. 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.

    3 Comments on The Wonder and The Imaginary; 2 very special books indeed, last added: 12/15/2014
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    2. 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.

    share save 171 16 Using comics in your classroom

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    3. 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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    4. 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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    5. 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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    6. 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:

    share save 171 16 Historical fiction and nonfiction

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    7. 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?

    share save 171 16 One Crazy Summer

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    8. 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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    9. 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.

    share save 171 16 Windows and mirrors book discussion

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    10. 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?

    share save 171 16 Eleanor and Park

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    11. 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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    12. 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?

    share save 171 16 The Thing About Luck

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    13. 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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    14. 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!

    0 Comments on Sketch-Day at Huddersfield Grammar as of 10/9/2014 2:23:00 PM
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    15. 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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    16. Writing Multiple Points of View | Writing Tips

    The main challenge in writing multiple points of view is helping the reader keep everybody sorted out.

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    17. Here we go again!

    backtoschool 300x296 Here we go again!By now, I’m guessing all the teachers out there are fully back in school — not just in meetings, but standing in a classroom in front of new students. Those of you in southern US states have been back for nearly a month while here in Boston students had their first day last week.

    I’d like to thank our diligent bloggers who kept writing all summer, as well as everyone who is reading and sharing this blog. The way I see it, commenting is what breathes life into a blog and allows it to live up to its full potential. In the same way that we want picture books to make full use of their medium — trim size, dust jackets, page turns — blog posts ought to start an online conversation. Since we started in February, we have accumulated 90+ posts and 400+ comments. Excelsior!

    I’ll keep putting up posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a few more weeks, but if Calling Caldecott changes to a T-Th schedule, I might move us over to M-W-F.

    Lauren Adams, my colleague at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will be using this blog for her adolescent lit class book discussions just as I did for my children’s lit class last spring. We hope you will stick with us during that time (Oct. 20 to Dec. 1) adding your opinions in the comments and making our class discussions that much richer.

    I’d like to ask all of you to spread the word about the Lolly’s Classroom blog to all your teacher friends. And when you use the blog, be sure to explore the “tags” found at the bottom of each post. Clicking on one of the tags will take you to more posts covering the same ages — e.g. middle school, grade 2 — or topics — common core, ELLs, picture books. (Actually, this post won’t have any tags because it’s not about anything useful. But trust me, all the other posts have them!)

    Finally, all of us here wish all teachers everywhere a successful year full of exciting connections between books and children.

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    18. 187 Reasons Why a Teacher Needs Books

    Today’s guest blogger, Sarah Kilway, wrote to us after receiving hundreds of new books for her students. We couldn’t resist sharing her story with you.

    Davis 9th grade center 7_croppedI teach 187 kids at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis, IN. The majority of my students live in poverty. Most have only one parent at home.

    Not many of my kids own books, nor were they read to as children. Even as 9th graders, they lack basic common knowledge of fairy tales, fables and iconic book characters.

    Our school has many great resources, but when something is lacking, my colleagues and I step in. This often means spending my own money on books and other items for my students, but it’s totally worth it. I also have First Book.

    Davis 9th grade centerThanks to First Book, I was recently able to give a new book to every single one of my students – all 187! A few told me it was the first book they’d ever owned. Some said it was the first book they have ever finished. Such a proud moment for me and them – one that I wanted to share with you.

    My students now ask me to go to the library on a daily basis.

    Please give to First Book today so I can continue helping them discover and enjoy reading, and so other teachers can too. Your support puts a whole new world within their reach.

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    19. Getting up Early to Visit Woodhouse West Primary School


    I've had a lot of sleep to catch up on, after my adventures in Brazil, not just from the looooooooonnnng journey home (3 different planes, 2 cabs and a train to get back), but from all the late nights while I was there (one night we didn't stop dancing until 4.30am - yahoo!). 

    So, it was a bit of a struggle to get up at 6.15 on Monday morning, to get myself to a primary school. Although Woodhouse West is a Sheffield school, I needed to be there early, to set up for a pre-school book-signing session in the library. Before the children arrived, the Y1 teacher told me that they had been working from my website and had all done a portrait of me. Here are a couple of my favourites:


    What do you think? Should I be worried? 

    I had a lovely time, working with the two Y1 classes, reading Bears on the StairsClass Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea - all books written by my friend, the lovely Julia Jarman. 

    We were rather silly (I do enjoy reverting to being a child during these session with littlies). I did my Bear on the Stair poem and gave out badges to the best burpers and growlers in each group. Then we designed monsters. I had a new idea at the end. I got them to think about what kind of noise their monster might make. Then we formed a circle, facing in and holding up the monster drawings so everyone could see and, on the count of 3, made our noise - hilarious!

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    20. Books that inspire community

    Lately — and by accident — I’ve been reading Spanish versions of many French-authored children’s picture books. For some reason, most of the books I’ve recently bought from bookstores in Lima and Buenos Aires to use for storytelling in Spanish were translated from French authors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I started to read them together I realized that they shared a strong message about the “we” instead of the “me.”

    pedro y la luna Books that inspire communityThis prompted an informal search for other books that would have the same underlining message. For example, Pedro y la Luna by Alice Brière-Hacquet and Célia Chauffrey is about a boy who wants to bring the moon to his mom. To do so, he has to involve his entire community and beyond. Then there is the Portuguese story O Grande Rabanete by Tatiana Belinky. In it, a grandfather decides to plant radishes and progressively needs help with the harvest because of the radishes’ large size.

     Books that inspire communityI then tried to think about other books that send the message of doing things together for a common cause and couldn’t think of many other than the classic stories “The Pied piper of Hamelin” and “The Little Red Hen.” In the 1990s there was The Rainbow Fish by Swiss author-illustrator Marcus Pfister. A fish with the shiniest scales in the sea refuses to share his wealth and then becomes lonely. He rediscovers community only once he shares his scales. And of course, there is also The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, a book published in 1971 that depicts what happens to a verdant land when the “Once-ler” chops down all the truffula trees and drives the (Seussian) animals away. The last hope to rebuild the environment — and the community — is for a boy to plant the last remaining truffula tree seed.

    shannon nodavid 224x300 Books that inspire communitySo much of children’s literature, especially today, is about common things that happen to kids, such as the boy a lost his bear and found it swapped in the forest in Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough, or the boy who misbehaves with his mom in No, David! by David Shannon, or the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, no Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. The list is endless.

    All this made me think about the often repeated phrase, “literature is life.” So, are these books a reflection of our society? Are children’s books in other societies a reflection of a more “communal” (we) society instead of a more self-centered (me) society? Or is it that younger children relate better to stories that have more of a personal narrative tone? Can anybody think about books that transmit this message in their original languages?

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    21. Blasting the canon

    As a new English department chair, I’ve already been faced with decisions about book orders. Our high school opened in 2007, but our middle school just opened with a sixth grade class last year. This means it was time for us to create a seventh grade curriculum.

    I believe in leadership through structured freedom, so I decided that I would create a list of texts and let the seventh grade English teacher select the books she wanted to use for her class. My instinct, like usual, was to turn to Google. I searched terms such as “books all middle schoolers should read,” “classic literature for middle school,” and “best seventh grade texts.” I scoured random syllabi and reading lists from all over the country.

    Though there was variation, by and large the books I kept coming across could be considered part of the literary canon. You could probably guess several of them, and chances are you read many of them if you attended middle school in this country over the last century.

    I know I have a habit of blogging about old questions, but here I am with another: how important is it that our students read canonical works?

    Do our West Philly middle and high schoolers really need to study Red Badge of Courage or Call of the Wild? Why not The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, or Copper Sun by Sharon Draper?

    crane redbadgecourage2 225x300 120x160 Blasting the canon     london callofwild 197x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

    graveyard book 107x160 Blasting the canon     yang americanbornchinese 204x300 108x160 Blasting the canon     draper coppersun 198x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

    I’m not saying that the newer texts are better. Some are. Some aren’t. However, I do think that many of us—especially those of us in the position to put books in front of kids—need to question our unquestioning allegiance to the “classics.”

    I suppose there are two arguments in their defense: 1. These books represent the very best writing in the English language; 2. Students will gain cultural capital from familiarity with these stories.

    Yet, neither of these sway me.

    I think it’s more accurate to say the canonical works used to represent some the best writing, but times change. Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list.

    As for the cultural capital argument, that seems to me just a straight fallacy. The true value of a book comes not from the power to impress others but from whatever that book impresses upon its reader.

    So instead of automatically turning to the canon because of faulty assumptions, let’s trust ourselves to find stories that will speak to our children.

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    22. The kid-friendly, kid-maintainable classroom library

    If you’re a teacher reading this blog, you likely devote significant attention to carefully selecting literature to add to your classroom library. And, if you’re like me, you want your students to have access to these books, but also to not spend hours after school reorganizing and looking for titles that have mysteriously disappeared. Last year, I found a solution to keeping my classroom library well-stocked and maintainable, but before I share it, let me explain the rationale behind it.

    When I was in elementary school, there were always books out on display in my classrooms, but there were also many, many titles hidden away in cupboards and closets that my teachers would search through after exclaiming, “Have I got just the book for you!” This practice always struck me as odd and restrictive — I loved going to the library precisely because the number of titles was overwhelming and it seemed that there were treasures to discover as I explored the shelves.

    In my own classroom, I am committed to making sure that my students have constant access to as many titles as possible. However, it is essential to me that the books can remain organized without much effort from me — which is something of a challenge when you work with second graders.

    The solution that I’ve come up with for my own classroom library is pretty simple. I started by drawing up a list of categories into which I could sort all of the books in my classroom library. Current categories include biographies, world cultures, biology and chemistry, and, my favorite, “Books Miss Hewes loves.” Next, I assigned each category a specific color-code, using dot and star stickers. For example, biographies have a yellow dot with a green star, while easy readers have just a silver star. Then, I bought bins and clearly labeled them with the proper codes and category names.

    photo 1 e1409716191871 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

    photo 2 e1409716078349 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

    The next step was the most labor-intensive — putting the proper labels on each and every book in my library. While I was doing this, I also used the free tools available at Book Source to create a digital catalog of my library, which came in handy during the year as I wondered whether or not I actually had a certain book. (You can check out the organizer at  http://classroom.booksource.com/). Finally, after labeling the books, I put them into the appropriate bins and then put all of the bins on display in my classroom.

    photo 3 e1409715975770 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

    photo 4 e1409716039837 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

    This system proved to be an overwhelming success last year. It allowed me to saturate my students in books without needing to go find a perfect book that I have tucked away somewhere in my room. Additionally, when I looked through the bins over the summer to check on them — something I faced with trepidation after having seen my students’ cubby area — I only found four books out of place. Most importantly, I am confident that my students found books to treasure as they independently navigated the bins — something I hope helped steer them towards becoming lifelong readers.

    photo5 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

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    23. Same theme, different level

    It’s a new year with new kids! I’m working with the same population, but the way this school deals with the social and emotional components of learning is amazing. With that said, I have a group of 8th graders who are very low-level readers. It was a bit surprising because most of them are articulate and fluent, but it turns out that academically, their language level is quite low.

    Right now, I am preparing my literature circles and have been looking through books that hit relevant topics, such as bullying, abuse, and coming of age. Unfortunately, it looks like the books I had last year are a bit too high for this year’s group. Last year, I had a few of my kids read Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life. Both the boys and the girls were understandably thrilled by the titles and read them avidly. It led to many interesting discussions.

    flake skin 199x300 Same theme, different levelWith this year’s group, however, I am not certain about being able to introduce those books. Or at least, I’d have to wait until the end of the year. However, our interests were piqued by another book that addresses the same issue of bullying, but has a lower reading level: The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. This book centers on Maleeka Madison, a middle-school girl who is the target of widespread bullying. Although the reading level is low, the subject matter is not, and Flake’s way of deftly introducing us to the key characters and issues is both satisfying and quick!

    I know there are other books about bullying and peer pressure (many by Jerry Spinelli and Walter Dean Myers), but I think something about Maleeka really resonated with my students. Perhaps they are better able to relate to the context and issues that arise in The Skin I’m In than in the others. Regardless, my students and I are definitely huge fans!

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    24. El Deafo

    eldeafo El DeafoThis week, I was lucky enough to have a thirty-minute window when I could pop into my favorite independent bookstore in Los Angeles. They have a large children’s section on the second floor that I love perusing because they do an excellent job at getting new books.

    On one of their displays sat El Deafo by Cece Bell. Intrigued first by the illustration of a superhero bunny and second by the title, my immediate thought was “What is this book about and who is this written for?” As if by fate, a children’s book worker looked up from her task of stocking new books and said “Oh that’s a really cute story. I highly recommend it.” I inquired about the reading level and she said it could be from fourth grade to middle school. Opening it, I was stoked to find out it was a graphic novel. Sold. It may be one of the best impulsive $20 I’ve spent of late.

    I read this book in two days. It follows the author’s childhood experiences of being deaf, and specifically highlights her experiences in school. What captured me was the depiction of how people treated her and, since it’s from Cece’s point of view, how she felt. Her emotions come through strongly in the text and illustrations, and made me stop and think about how I treat people even if my intention is good. I connected with Cece’s superhero persona, “El Deafo.” Cece uses El Deafo to imagine the ideal way to handle tough situations, even if that doesn’t play out in real life (something I did as a kid too). What I really loved about this book was how the author depicted her friendships with the other kids (the good and the bad). It reminded me that children can sometimes do really mean things but that most of the time they mean well and can be really amazing friends to each other. It’s a lesson I need to carry for the school year.

    Cece’s journey starts at the age of four and ends in fifth grade, so as a fifth grade teacher, I’m very excited to bring this graphic novel to my classroom. I think the students will enjoy this book and learn a lot from it. I believe that it will carry lessons of tolerance and respect for those who are hearing impaired, and prepare my students with tools (Don’t cover your mouth while someone is lip reading! Don’t assume all deaf people can sign!) to create meaningful and comfortable experiences with someone who can’t hear well.

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    25. Are you ready for some football…books?

    I love the fall. I do not love people asking me, “Hey, how about that [insert-local-football-team] game?” I have nothing against the sport; it’s just not my thing.

    Working at an all-boys school, though, I am surrounded by a mass of gridiron fans. As stereotypical as it may be, I think any of my coworkers would agree that the vast majority of our guys live for sports. They play them. They watch them. They passionately debate about them. And in the fall that means football.

    Being a sneaky English teacher, I try to capitalize upon this interest to trick kids into reading. Here’s a list of books about football I find myself recommending to students time and time again.

    wallace Muckers 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bradley CallMeByMyName 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   herbach StupidFast 200x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bissinger FridayNightLights 197x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   smith winger 196x300 Are you ready for some football...books?

    Muckers by Sandra Neill Wallace
    Based on a true story, Muckers follows a 1950s quarterback from a struggling mining town as he tries to lead his team to a state championship in the final year before the high school closes. A great look at a town on the cusp of historical change and the spirit of determination found in athletes.

    Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley
    Set in a slow-to-integrate Louisiana town, Bradley tells the story of two friends and teammates — one black, one white. It’s a well-told tale that explores the power and limitations of athletics to bridge the racial divide.

    Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
    A growth spurt punts a once-runty kid into the world of the jocks. With a wonderful voice, Herbach tells a hilarious and real story about navigating sudden change. (My “reluctant” readers often tear through this one.)

    Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
    The source material for the movie (best soundtrack ever) and the TV series (one of the best TV shows ever), Bissinger spends a season with the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas. It’s a great look at what happens when gifted high school athletes are treated like throwaway gods.

    Winger by Andrew Smith
    Winger tells the story of a 14-year-old high school junior and rugby player as he tries to navigate life and girls at a boarding school. Smith’s hilarious and soul-crushing novel perfectly captures both the real and tenuous bonds that exist between teammates. (Yes, I know that rugby is not football. But I don’t foresee myself making a “books about rugby list” anytime soon, so here it is.)

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