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1. Best book bracketology

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. A fresh, clean bracket has names neatly penciled into open slots, representing optimism and promise for excitement. Meanwhile, the sweetness of the beginning is quickly thrown into tumult, as surprises abound and unpredicted losses become the talk of Twitter. The competition is fierce, and the stakes are high. Naturally, I’m talking about March Picture Book Madness!

I was scouring through my daily dose of teacher blogs (a heavily addicting recreational activity, though I highly recommend it) when I came across an article in one of my absolute favorites. The Nerdy Book Club (yes, that’s its real name) was advocating for countrywide participation in a March Madness book battle. Over 700 schools across the US were putting in their picks for top-seeded picture books, middle grade novels, or young adult fiction. The website would then generate a bracket, with classrooms everywhere participating in the “madness!” My class just had to get in on all the fun — what an exciting excuse to indulge into picture books, and providing a fun incentive for read-aloud time!

Worried that your school may not have the funds to take on this challenge? Have no fear! Our grade level team didn’t enter the actual pool. We decided to use the list of books selected on the website as guide, and see which ones we could find in our school library. For ones that we could not find, we simply supplemented with other incredible picture books that we found! I put on my artistic hat and created my own bracket out of a large piece of card stock.

Just as the March Madness basketball brackets stem from different regions, the picture book bracket had two distinct categories: books written prior to 2014, and books written throughout the 2014-2015 season. This created a wonderful opportunity for all of us to explore the latest in children’s literature, as well as revisiting some old favorites. Check out the picture below for our classroom picks (click to see it larger). I know we’re past March now, but the fervor is still in the air as we come to our top pick. I hope you’ll consider an activity like this next year as it really isn’t that maddening to organize!

 marchmadness_500x368

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2. Mock book award results | 2015

mockawardwinners2015

Committee results from left to right: the two Caldecott groups, Geisel, and Sibert.

My children’s lit students just met for the last time, and we spent most of our three-hour class in mock book award groups. I had been thinking about trying mock awards in this short six-week module for a few years, but this year Maleka Donaldson Gramling, the terrific course TF, thought it would be worth reconfiguring some tried and true aspects of the course to make room for this lengthy process. I am happy to report that it was worth it. The students had lively and informed discussions and proved that they really have learned a few things over the past few weeks.

In working out the logistics, I relied heavily on advice from Calling Caldecott readers. With 23 students and a handful of auditors, we ended up with four committees: two for Caldecott and one each for Geisel and Sibert. Each student nominated one or two books and tonight they completed the project, meeting in committees (we separated the two Caldecotts into two different rooms), presenting each book, discussing, and voting. You can see a photo of the results above. Here is the full list.

Caldecott committee #1 had an even number of members and after several ballots were still in a dead tie. The final decision was made by coin toss:

  • Winner:
    The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat
  • Honor Book:
    The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Caldecott committee #2 had a more traditional experience:

  • Winner:
    The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
  • Honor Books:
    - Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
    - The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Geisel committee choices:

  • Winner:
    You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
  • Honor Book:
    Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilly Carré

And the Sibert committee — the largest group — chose:

  • Winner:
    Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins
  • Honor Books:
    The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

The deliberations were fueled by snacks and each group had an instructor t0 help keep discussion focused on award criteria. I am so grateful to Maleka for moderating the Geisel group and to Lauren Adams (unofficial discussion facilitator and Adolescent Lit instructor) who oversaw the Sibert group. I bounced between the two rooms and helped the Caldecott groups.

What do you all think? Students? Other blog readers? Do you like their results? After all, part of the real committee experience is dealing with the post-decision social media fallout.

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3. #668 – Alien Dude! #2: Mr. Evil Potato Man and the Food Fight! by E. K. Smith & Peter Grosshauser

WebPotatoManx

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Alien Dude! #2: Mr. Evil Potato Man and the Food Fight!

Written by E. K. Smith
Illustrated by Peter Grosshauser
Zip Line Publishing              9/27/2014
978-0-9883792-1-3
64 pages         Age 7—9
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“When the villain Mr. Evil Potato Man puts a spell on the school food, students start turning into food and a huge food fight erupts. Alien Dude morphs into a peeler and peels, then fries the giant potato. Once the fries are eaten, the spell is broken.” [publisher summary]
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Review
Alien Dude is an early reader for reluctant readers. Aimed at boys (and girls who enjoy alien superheroes), Alien Dude is an enjoyable story about a little alien-student. As Alien Dude sits, quietly working on his lessons, the lunch bell rings. He flies off to the cafeteria, but a quiet lunch will not last long. As kids eat, they start turning into items of food. Pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, and a hamburger with all the works begin popping up at lunch tables. Veggies, too. What in the name of popcorn is going on?

Alien Dude realizes the EVIL Mr. Evil Potato Man has caused the chaos. Alien Dude jumps onto his table and yells,

“Don’t eat the school food! He put a spell on the food.”

Then Mr. Evil Potato Man—the villain—yells . . .

Can you guess what he yells?

AD-PotatoManP11

He yells,

“Food Fight!!”

The grey-scale illustrations show kids morphing into food. I would have preferred color interior illustrations. Grosshauser’s ability shines on the covers; a marvelous sight sure to catch passing eyes. The cover also masks the simplicity of the story inside. Young boys—and girls—will not be ashamed to read Alien Dude. a story geared toward reading ability, not the reader’s age. The three chapters are composed of one or two sentences per page, with large illustrated characters. Smith repeats words and simple sentence structures to build reluctant readers’ ability and love of reading.

Alien Dude has special powers, as all superheroes should possess. He can fly, fr course, but the little alien can also morph into any working object of his choice. To defeat Mr. Evil Potato Man, Alien Dude morphs into a potato peeler, following up with a slicer, and finally a fryer. Still, the spell . . . Alien Dude disposed of the villain, but the kids, they’re still cafeteria food.

AD-PotatoManP16

Young children will enjoy the cafeteria humor and the unusual ending. However, I wonder why Alien Dude flies off rather than finish his school day. Maybe this Alien Dude’s reward for cooking the villain’s goose, so to speak. Alien Dude is a series. Book 1: Alien Dude! and the Attack of Wormzilla!! is also available. I enjoyed Alien Dude and think young children will also like the school age alien. He could be sitting next to them right now.

ALIEN DUDE!: MR. EVIL POTATO MAN AND THE FOOD FIGHT! Text copyright © 2014 by E. K. Smith. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Peter Grosshauser. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Zip Line Publishing, Charlotte, NC.
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Purchase Alien Dude! at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryZip Line Publishing.
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Learn more about Alien Dude! HERE.
Meet the author, E. K. Smith, at her linkedin:  http://linkd.in/1CvjTyw
Meet the illustrator, Peter Grosshauser, at his short bio:  http://bit.ly/1FdmW5y
Find more reluctant readers at the Zip Line Publishing website:  http://zipintoreading.com/

Alien Dude! #1: Alien Dude! and the Attack of Wormzilla!!

Alien Dude! #1: Alien Dude! and the Attack of Wormzilla!!

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fcc
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews


Filed under: 4stars, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Early Reader, Library Donated Books, Reluctant Readers, Series Tagged: Alien Dude!, Alien Dude! #2: Mr. Evil Potato Man and the Food Fight!, aliens, E. K. Smith, Peter Grosshauser, school, Zip Line Publishing

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4. Join some mock award discussions

Hello, Calling Caldecott readers.

I want to alert you to a post that just went up in Lolly’s Classroom. My students will be holding mock award sessions during our last class on April 9. Come help them discuss these books here.

Since there are nearly 30 students, we have four groups: two Caldecott committees, one Geisel, and one Sibert (concentrating on younger books).

Follow the link above for more information and commenting. Here’s what the four slates look like:

Caldecott 1:

h810f_caldecott1_2015

Caldecott 2:

h810f_caldecott2_2015

Geisel:

h810f_geisel_2015

Sibert:

h810f_sibert_2015

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5. Donna Shepherd Reading Miss Emma Ant to 2nd Graders

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.0"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk')); Reading Miss Emma Ant to 2nd Graders - Be sure to click through to a sampling of the letters and artwork

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6. Information books | Class #4, 2015

informationbooks_2015

In next week’s class, we’ll be talking about four information books:

Things sure have changed since I was in elementary school. Instead of providing every fact known — or at least everything needed to write a report — information books nowadays aim to be as engaging as possible in order to get children interested in their subject. The idea is that it’s better to leave them wanting more and then provide a bibliography at the end of the book. I think this is a big improvement.

The other new development is that many new information books provide information on several levels, often using different typefaces. Every year, some of my ed students are frustrated by this kind of delivery, finding it draining or overwhelming, and they fear their students will dislike it, too. Others, particularly visual learners and those who know kids with attention issues, love it. I think the key is to let children explore these books rather making them “accountable for” reading and retaining every word. If the subject grabs a kid, then he or she might go through the book a second, third, and even fourth time, reading and noticing more and more.

Please join us in discussing these books at the links above. We’re also reading three articles related to Dave the Potter‘s Coretta Scott King award. You can find the articles at the links below, but we’ll discuss them here.

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7. Chapter books | Class #3, 2015

julian_joey_omakayas

This week we are reading three chapter books — The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, and The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. Each is the first book in a series and each has a strong central character, an element that I think is essential in early chapter books.

We’re also reading two articles to go along with these books. One is Robin Smith’s “Teaching New Readers to Love Books,” where, among other things, she describes reading The Birchbark House aloud to her second graders every year. The other article is an interview with Jack Gantos from the Embracing the Child website. I find that teachers tend to have a lot of questions about Gantos’s credentials for writing about ADHD, and he addresses them especially well here.

I hope you will join our discussions of these readings in the comments to the individual posts linked above.

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8. The Stories Julian Tells | Class #3, 2015

The Stories Julian TellsThe Stories Julian Tells is the first book in an ongoing series about brothers Julian and Hughie, and their neighbor Gloria. This is an early chapter book for readers who have acquired some fluency but aren’t ready to tackle longer books yet. The chapters are fairly short, there’s lots of conversation, the plot is easy to follow, and there is a clear central character.

What do you think of Ann Cameron’s writing? Is the story engaging enough for children who are still struggling a bit with reading?

How do you feel about a white author writing a book in which all the characters are African American?

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9. The Birchbark House | Class #3, 2015

The Birchbark HouseLouise Erdrich’s historical novel The Birchbark House is the first in a series, each book following a child from a different generation in an Ojibwa community.

Often, books for children contain a central character who is about the same age as the book’s readers. The Birchbark House would be a tough read for most children who are Omakayas’s age. There are beautiful descriptive passages that young readers tend to gloss over, and difficult vocabulary including some Ojibwe words. For these reasons, it works best when read aloud to those younger grades — as Robin Smith discusses in her article.

What did you think of this book? And what about reading aloud in school? For those of you who are teachers, do you? And what books have you found that work best?

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10. Two articles about chapter books | Class #3, 2015

Jack Gantos as a child

Jack Gantos as a child

This week in addition to our three chapter books, we are reading two articles.

The first is Robin Smith’s piece about her road to becoming a second grade teacher who loves LOVES books, and how she shares them with her classes: “Teaching New Readers to Love Books” from the September/October 2003 Horn Book Magazine.

The second is an interview with Jack Gantos that sheds some light on how he came to write the Joey Pigza books: “An Interview with Jack Gantos” from Embracing the Child website.

jack gantos at simmons

Jack Gantos in 2013

 

(If you would like to read more by Robin Smith or about Jack Gantos, there’s is plenty on the Horn Book website. Just follow these links.)

Tell us what you think of these articles in the comments below.

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11. There Is a Bird On Your Head | Class #2 2015

thereisabirdMo Willems has become THE master of easy readers. With pre-book work including Sesame Street and animation, he had the perfect training to create child- and teacher-friendly easy readers. I think he deserves every one of his many awards. What do you notice in this deceptively simple book? What does he do with simple shapes and lines in the art and very few words to create distinct characters? Would you share this book with children who are learning to read?

(Note to the Mo fans out there: I recommended a road trip to Amherst MA to visit the Eric Carle Museum. While you are out there, save some time to visit the R. Michelson Gallery in Northhampton where you can see — and buy — original Mo Willems sketches of Elephant and Piggie.)

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12. Using wordless books in the classroom

It is easy to underestimate wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books. At first glance, they can seem simplistic and their educational value can seem limited since so much focus is placed on reading in the classroom, but if used in the right way they can contribute to a number of learning objectives across a wide range of grade levels. The books below illustrate some of the types of wordless books that are available and offer some suggestions for how to make them part of your lesson plans.

arrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
This book tells a universal tale of immigration through pictures of a man travelling to an alien world in search of work and a better life. The retro-futuristic setting, sepia-toned images, and alien language will make this book relatable to any reader. Geared towards middle school or older readers, this book could be used in a social studies or history class while reading about the immigrant experience in the U.S. and could just as easily be used in a literature class to teach students how to “read” images.

Robot DreamsRobot Dreams by Sara Varon
It might seem surprising to say that a wordless book about a robot and a dog who are friends packs an emotional punch, but that is certainly the case here. Varon successfully uses images to pull readers into the story and vividly convey emotions without the need for dialogue. The bright colors of the drawings will make this book appealing and accessible to readers in third and fourth grade, where it can be used to prompt discussions around friendship and how art can prompt an emotional reaction.

harris burdickThe Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg
Though not completely wordless, this book from famed writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is definitely not a typical picture book. It consists of a series of drawings, each of which has a title and a caption and no further words associated with it. While the drawings all share an odd, off-kilter quality that makes them mysterious and not quite of our world, they are not explicitly connected to one another. As such, they make ideal short story prompts for virtually any age. This book could be used as inspiration for creative writings projects from grade school through high school. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the new version of the book published in 2011 under the name The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, which included a story written by a best-selling author to accompany each of the pictures.

mirrorMirror by Jeannie Baker
Here the wordless format is combined with a unique physical format that has readers unfolding each side of the book to reveal side-by-side images of two families, one living in Sydney, Australia and the other living in a small town in Morocco. This layout juxtaposes life in these two locations, showing readers the differences but also the important similarities between the two families. This is an ideal book for younger readers from preschool through early grade school, who will delight in pointing out the similarities and differences between the images. It would work well for teaching vocabulary related to the images as well as for larger discussions about cultural differences around the world.

I hope these ideas will encourage some readers to reconsider the place of wordless books in their classes, but beyond this, I would also love to hear how readers have already been using them. I hope you’ll consider sharing your favorite wordless books and how you use them in your curriculum in the comments!

 

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13. Empathy spells understanding

harrypotter_boxedset_260x233If there’s one thing my students have come to know about their teacher, Ms. Tell, it’s that I have an extreme passion for, and knowledge of, the Harry Potter series. I won’t get too much into it (I’ll save that for another blog post), but it’s true. It’s not just the magical characters and enchanting spells that draws me towards the series; it’s that as I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to appreciate some of its deeper lessons, concerning the acceptance of others that may seem “different,” and the notion of taking responsibility for your actions.

It was in the midst of my daily Google search that I came across an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy?” Well, if I see Harry Potter in a headline, you can guarantee that I’ll click that link. Now, while Harry Potter was definitely used as a hook to draw readers into the article, I became more enthralled by the ongoing study being described in which research has begun to discover that reading fiction can have major impact on one’s social perceptions and understanding of different viewpoints around the world.

In lieu of the holidays and the spirit of the new year, the time that dedicates itself to appreciating what you have and offering up new resolutions to better oneself, my mind shifted towards what I truly believe to be one of the most important facets of a child’s education — shaping character. Thinking about whether or not we are raising our students to be genuine, kind men and women of society can often fall to the wayside in favor of mastering multiplication facts for the test or meeting the deadline in completing a personal narrative report. This year, my class has taken a particular look at the word empathy, which we’ve come to define as, “I’ll try to imagine how it is you are feeling before I speak or do anything.” This definition has served as a guidepost for how we host discussions in third grade, how we find our “teachable moments,” and how we select our Read Alouds!

I’ve compiled a list of Read Aloud texts (some picture books, some chapter books) that have not only sparked incredible discussion post-reading, but have also seeped their way into discussions throughout our school day. Empathy is at work when a child has a rough time losing in the competitive handball game at gym, or someone feels left out when her friends race over to the swings without her. Books have served as an indirect confidante for when those moments become too big for students to express themselves. In a moment of clarity, books can help them think about how someone else may be feeling.

Here is our Read Aloud list for empathy:

  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
  • The Potato Chip Champ by Maria Dismondy
  • Uncle Rain Cloud by Tony Johnston
  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • Wonder by R.J Palacio
  • Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka

hundred dresses     Potato Chip Champ     Uncle Rain

Wilfrid     wonder    Yang the Youngest

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14. Youth Media Awards and teachers

santat_adventures of beekleI’ve been somewhat preoccupied this week since the ALA Youth Media Award announcements Monday morning. Here at the Horn Book, we swing into action putting up web posts with our reviews of the winning books. Over at my other blog, Calling Caldecott, the award announcement signals the beginning of the end of our blog season. We’ve already had our own mock Caldecott vote and were waiting breathlessly to hear what the real Caldecott Committee chose.

Every single year without fail, as soon as the awards are announced, the haters come out of the woodwork. Well, not exactly haters, but certainly people who are disappointed or think something went wrong with the committee because their favorite books aren’t on the list.

I became especially aware of them the year I was on the committee, but has this stopped me from joining in the after-the-fact whining? Not at all!

tamaki_this one summerThis year, the Caldecott Committee made a particularly bold choice in selecting a YA-level graphic novel as one of the honor books. While people normally think of the Caldecott as an award for elementary-aged books, if you read the award criteria you will find that they may select books suitable for children up to age 14.

I am especially intrigued by Robin Smith’s post this morning. She is one of the three bloggers on Calling Caldecott and this post reveals her reaction as a second grade teacher — and as a frequent book award committee member. Every year, her students look closely at a number of new picture books and hold their own mock Caldecott vote. Beekle, this year’s winner, is a really child-pleaser. There’s a truism that gets trotted out at this time of year: that these awards go to books loved by adults but that kids aren’t as likely to…shall we say, “get behind.”

If any of you teachers are familiar with the winning books, I’d love to hear what you have to say. In order to keep things a little less scattered, I’d recommend you respond right on Robin’s post this time.

 

 

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15. 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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16. 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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    17. 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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    18. 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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    19. 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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    20. 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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    21. 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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    22. 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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    23. 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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    24. 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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    25. 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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