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1. Dragons


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2. House of Pestilence!


Gosh, it's been a hectic Book Week. Up early and off to different schools up and down the country every day. Lots and lots of excited little faces!

Unfortunately, that cold I was struggling against on Saturday, as I was battling to finish my artwork, didn't go away, but stuck fast all week. Plus, because I was working such long days and pushing things so relentlessly, I got worse. Yesterday, at Broadoak Primary School, I tipped things too far. I had very little voice when I arrived, but by the time I had done 4 storytellings, plus a long book signing, then (rather stupidly) finished it all off with a bonus, after-school drawing workshop for 30 kids and their parents, in a hall loud with excited little people, it was no surprise that I had no voice at all. 


Luckily the kids still seemed to have a great time. Thursday was World Book Day itself, with them all dressed up as characters from books. Very cute. I coughed and spluttered and did my bit as a character from The Black Death. All I needed was a few nice boils.

So, finally silenced and therefore grounded, today was spent at home, cradling my box of tissues. Even worse - John has it too, so I didn't even have my handy serf to wait on me and stroke my fevered brow. 

Feeling sorry for me yet? Please send grapes and chocolates!

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3. Singing, Dancing, Drawing, Biscuits!


Last Sunday afternoon, I took the train to Cambridge. Actually, 3 trains - bit of a long haul. I nearly got stranded part way there too: overhead cables were down in Retford, all trains going south were suspended and, when I did get going, we spent so long sitting in the middle of nowhere that I had time to do this painting of the view:



It was worth the pain though, for several reasons:

1: I arrived to a home-cooked, Thai, veggie meal and a glass (actually 2 glasses) of wine with my hosts Mr and Mrs Clarke.
2: I was soon to sign squillions of books - hurrah!
3: Best of all, was the fantastic time I had in store next day, with the kids at St John's College School...


Yes, it's the Spring school-visits season and, as well as dancing the cancan with Y1, singing about dragons with Reception, rapping, burping and creating monsters with Y2 (plus of course, reading stories galore and drawing loads on the flip chart)...


... I was also called upon to judge 2 competitions. 

The first was the 'Extreme Reading' photo prize. It's something lots of schools do for book week: kids have to bring in pictures of themselves reading in weird and wonderful places. There were so many really imaginative ones, we gave a prize to each year group. My favourites were a girl and her book inserted into the shell of a giant tortoise (how?), a small boy atop a princess-and-the-pea style tower of cushions, pretty much to the ceiling, and a brilliant action-shot of someone reading while turning a cartwheel!

I was also the judge of a Class Two at the Zoo illustration competition. All the children took part. This was the display of some of the hot favourites. Mrs Clarke did a great job - notice how the letters of my name are cut out of sections of Class Two at the Zoo illustrations:


I couldn't possibly choose one winner, so again, we awarded a separate prize for each year. All the winners got a signed copy of the book (with a drawing of the anaconda inside, of course).

Throughout the day, every Rec - KS1 child in the school bought a book, so I worked my socks off, signing in every spare minute. 


I didn't mind at all though: it's great to sell so many, as it really helps to keep them in print. Plus, I was fed plenty of biscuits to keep my strength up. Posh ones too. I am a sucker for shortbread:



We finished the day with a PowerPoint talk to Y3 and Y4. 

Everyone was so appreciative, I felt very loved. Mrs Clarke, who booked me, said it was the best author visit they had ever had, and they have had a few big names,  so I came away glowing like the kid in the Readybrek commercial (remember that?). Here is Mrs Clarke in the library:


Fortunately my train journey home was a lot easier than the trip down. Plus, this time I had a stash of shortbread to keep me going!



A huge thank you to Mr and Mrs Clarke for their hospitality and to everyone at school, for making it such a fun day. 

Don't forget kids: keep practising your drawing, because it's like magic - the more you do it, the better you get, until eventually you get so brilliant that you explode (that last bit is a fib, but the rest is true).

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4. Illustrated books | Class #5, 2016

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This week’s class (March 1, 2016) focuses on visual literacy: pictures in young adult literature, in works of both fiction and nonfiction. The prompts below address the role of these books in the classroom; you might also respond to the interplay of text and pictures (or wordlessness), or to whatever engages you most about these books with pictures.

Two Picture Books

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)
  • The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís  (Farrar, 2007)

Three Graphic Novels

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)
  • The One Summer by Mariko Tamiki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second 2014)

The post Illustrated books | Class #5, 2016 appeared first on The Horn Book.

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5. Two picture books | Class #5, 2016

 arrival    The Wall

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís  (Farrar, 2007)

Though not the typical purview of adolescents, sophisticated picture books such as these offer rich rewards for readers/viewers with an experienced eye. Consider prior knowledge older students can bring to these works and connections they might draw, as well as new information or perspectives to be gained through their exploration.

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6. Three graphic novels | Class #5, 2016

boxers & saints    tamaki_thisonesummer

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)

The One Summer by Mariko Tamiki and Jillian Tamaki (First Second 2014)

While teens have been devouring graphic novels, or comics (as Gene Luen Yang calls all such works) for years, they are also enjoying a surge of interest and attention from critics and educators, winning awards and finding their way into high school classrooms.

How might students learn from these texts? Should they be paired with more traditional texts to be meaningful, or can a graphic novel study stand alone? Common Core Standards require students to be able to “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats, including visually” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7).  How important is visual literacy for our students?

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7. Life Cycle of the Monarch the Highlight of Author Visit with SOREF JCC After Care Programs

I was thrilled to be invited back to the SOREF JCC Morrow Elementary After Care Program for the third time and to North Lauderdale Elementary for the 2nd time! What a pleasure it was to see some of the same smiling faces and respectful students again.

This visit was extra special because I brought with me one empty chrysalis, from which a monarch hatched in my own garden and another that died naturally and was still in full form. Along with a magnifying glass, the students could see up close what they looked like. The life cycle of the butterfly is so fascinating, there is so much to learn.

Morrow Elementary

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How does one get from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica? Big maps are always a big hit with children.

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I’ll never grow weary of all the oohs and ahhs I get from showing the students my watercolor pencils and the  detailed questions I get about how a book is made and bound

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With my new poster the children can see my daughter, Rachel, who composed music for the story and my huge standard poodle, Darwin

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The adult Morpho Butterfly lives for only about three weeks!

North Lauderdale Elementary

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It’s important for children to learn about how writers find heir inspiration

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I shared my own photo of the monarch butterfly in my garden right after it emerged from the chrysalis

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It’s so exciting to see what the chrysalises look like through a magnifying glass

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The students could barely wait their turns to take a look at the chrysalises up close themselvesDSC_0069

The best question of the day by a sophisticated 2nd grader: “What is it that made you want to be an author and what is it about being an author that you most enjoy?”

A big thank you to all the curious students who love Lilly Badilly. I hope you start writing your own stories! Thank you Sharon Schwartz, SOREF JCC Elementary Services Director, Site Directors, Ms. Angel, Ms. Nancy and all to Mark, Travis and Jordan, the friendly, helpful 4th grade students who helped me carry my props to and from the car on a very windy day.

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8. The past made present | Class #3, 2016

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Next Tuesday (February 9), 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:

  • Two historical fiction books:
    • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
    • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Three nonfiction books:
    • Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
    • Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
    • Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

The post The past made present | Class #3, 2016 appeared first on The Horn Book.

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9. Two historical fiction books | Class #3, 2016

One Crazy Summer     No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Supplemental readings:

  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s profile in July/August 2007 Horn Book Magazine
  • No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Historical fiction is a balancing act of storytelling and character development with real-world events. How do these different aspects interact in each of these works? How do the authors engage readers in both the lives of the characters and their time and place in history?

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10. Three nonfiction books | Class #3, 2016

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin    Claudette Colvin    marching for freedom

Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steven Shenkin

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Good nonfiction shares many of the qualities of good fiction; the best writers pay as much attention to narrative, style, and characterization as to careful research of the facts. Design is another important feature of much nonfiction. Which literary elements are most notable in the works for this week?

 

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11. Broward County After School Programs Promote the Love of Reading

Recently, I have visited two wonderful elementary After School Programs (ASP) in Dania Beach, with my Reading, Writing and Geography Program. If you’re not familiar with ASP, this Florida grant-based, non-profit organization provides excellent on-site After School Programs in Broward, Miami-Dade, Collier and Orange Counties to more than 10,000 children.

Dania Beach Elementary

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Rainforest beetles are so colorful and fascinating!

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Leafcutter ants are among the world’s most fascinating creatures!

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The magic of watercolor pencils always inspires the children.

Collins Elementary

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Learning about the many ways real life experiences inspire fiction writing

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No one can resist the rainbow of colors in my watercolor pencil collection.

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All children love giant maps, and geography learning is so important!

I wish to thank Janeka Fleurejuste for inviting me to visit these schools and site Directors Renee Lewis and Betty Pierre as well as the staff members who so graciously welcomed me and assisted me with setting up.

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12. Biographies with girl power

Doesn’t it seem as though many of the biographies written are about men and their accomplishments? Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of admirable men who have changed the world through their daring, innovation, and wisdom. But how about the other half of the world’s population? Women just haven’t gotten the press they deserve. Luckily, biographies today are becoming vastly diverse with the individuals they feature and the fields in which those individuals excel. And that includes some great new biographies about women. Take a look at these three to share with your students (both male and female). The first is for younger students (grades K-3) and the other two are good for upper elementary (grades 4-6):

dear malala standDear Malala, We Stand With You by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International
There have been several books written by, and about, Malala Yousafzai, but this picture book version is unique. It begins with a short biography of Malala and her 2012 shooting by the Taliban for being outspoken about education for girls, and her life in England now. The bulk of the book is a series of exquisite photographs of girls around the world and brief text describing their desire for an education, despite the many social, political, and economic restraints placed on them. The title ends with ways for the reader to help further Malala’s cause.

Girl Tar PaperThe Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield
Barbara Johns, an African American high school student in Virginia in 1951, was appalled at the conditions of the make shift classrooms in their segregated school. Acting well beyond her years, she organized a peaceful walk out, demonstration, and boycott among her senior class to demand new facilities. They were ridiculed by the local school board, government, and police force. The NAACP agreed to take on the case, only if the students changed their demands to full integration. They agreed, and their case contributed to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. The story begins with Barbara’s senior year, and flashes back to her early years, and then beyond. Remarkably, she grew up to become a school librarian! The book is filled with captioned photos, sidebars, quotations, and primary sources. The large font and strong voice makes for a swift read. The concluding author’s note is enlightening, and the timeline, endnotes, and extensive bibliography complete the book.

rad american womenRad American Women A-Z by Kate Shatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
This is a collective biography of 26 women, described as “rebels, trailblazers, and visionaries who shaped our history…and our future” (cover copy). They represent diverse fields, ethnicities, ages, and geographic locations. Beginning with Angela Davis, and ending with Zora Neale Hurston, each biographee’s personality, challenges, and accomplishments are described in engaging text and accompanied by a simple black and white block cut illustration. The book concludes with an end note, a list of “26 Things that you can do to be rad!” (unp.)., and a list of resources.

 

Editor’s note: for many more recommended biographies of women, follow these tags: Biographies; Women’s History

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13. I'm on Manchester's Library Cards!


Manchester Libraries have redesigned their library cards and they thought that the children's cards ought to be illustrated. 

They used illustrations from my baby books as part of their publicity when the newly refurbished library was launched last year (do you remember the poster?). So they came back to me this time and asked if I would let them use my work on the library cards. It seemed such a lovely idea, of course I said yes.


They sent me some samples of the actual cards. Great aren't they? To launch them, they organised a days of children's events with me. We had a lot of fun. I thought it only fitting to read the three books featured on the cards, so I read Kangaroo's Cancan Cafe for the first time in a long time (complete with feather bower and high-kick dancing!), as well as Bears on the Stairs and Class Three all at Sea


I did two storytellings in the morning, then a workshop with older children and their parents in the afternoon. We had a great turn-out and it went really well.


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14. The best-of-the-year lists have begun

Teachers often ask how to keep up with the best new books. Good intentions are one thing, and real life (long days, class prep, paper grading) is another.

For those with limited time, I recommend going online near the end of the year when children’s book review journals post their “best of the year” lists. They tend to print these lists in their December or January issues, but well before publication you can find those same lists on their websites. Take a look at each one and see which titles pop up on multiple lists and make sure you read those few titles that everyone is talking about. But do try to read all the annotations and think about which books might work in your classrooms, either for the entire class or for free reading.

Here’s a list of the lists, with links.

Already out:

Coming soon:

And of course there are the ALA awards which will be determined during the Midwinter conference in Boston in January

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15. The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing Aboutu JellyfishThrough NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, a middle grade book that will debut mid-September 2015. In this book, Suzy Swanson processes the death of her old friend Franny and the end of a friendship. She grieves the way that she and Franny grew apart before Franny drowned. Suzy’s way of making sense of this loss is to fixate on jellyfish: she reads about them and believes that Franny must have drowned after being stung by a jellyfish because otherwise Franny’s death makes no sense.

When I worked in children’s publishing many years ago, I remember that we had specific educational books and then we had fiction. Years after I left that industry, I learned that even fiction books need some kind of educational component in order to sell them to the school and library market…I say that to say that this book has a lot of educational material. The author really packs in the scientific info and uses a science teacher’s explanation of the scientific method to introduce each chapter. This is not a bad thing but it is noticeable. When you choose fiction do you consider its academic as well as its storytelling merits?

At the end of the book, the author explained how the book began with the copious research she did for a different project that was rejected. She repurposed that research to create Suzy, a character who finds subjects she is passionate about but misses the social cues that would tell her when others may not be quite a interested as she is.

As a reader, I came to feel a lot of compassion for Suzy because she is so lost. The first half of the book alternates between the present and Suzy slowly narrating just how she and Franny went from young BFFs to sitting at separate lunch tables and no longer hanging out in middle school. As a parent, the book is a reminder of a child’s rich inner life: you just can’t know all your child is going through. Suzy’s well-meaning parents put her in therapy and try their best but they aren’t really reaching her.

The tone of the book changes when Suzy decides to embark on a trip to see the one person she thinks will understand her interest in jellyfish. While I’m not one who believes that every wring must be severely punished, I was surprised at the lack of consequences in this book. Suzy steals significant amounts of money from family members but I guess they feel that she has been through enough so they don’t address the theft in a punitive way.

Towards the end of the book Suzy finally reveals her rather disturbing actions that may have done away with any chance that Franny would reach out to her again. Suzy is never found out and doesn’t get to speak to Franny again before Franny dies but clearly Suzy feels a lot of guilt, which can be its own punishment.

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16. Punctuation: the junction between reading and writing

At a recent training on fluency, I found myself discussing strategies about how to help the “racing reader” — the reader who, when asked to read aloud, whips through the text on a page as fast as possible. One of the key strategies that I discussed with the tutors that I coach was building awareness of the purpose of punctuation with all young readers. This suggestion sparked a conversation about how punctuation, and grammar more broadly, gets taught in schools.

Far too often, punctuation instruction is delivered through grammar worksheets or exercises that ask students to choose the correct ending punctuation for a sentence, to put commas in appropriate places, or to correct incorrect punctuation usage in a given passage. When discussing punctuation in the context of fluency, we often teach readers to raise their voices when they encounter a question mark, but less frequently discuss why the author chose to use a question mark there in the first place. Rarely are students clued into the real reason they should give a hoot about punctuation: those symbols on the page are a road map given by a writer to help a reader understand how to read their words.

Luckily, a number of books exist that can be used with writers of all ages to highlight the essential role that punctuation plays in written communication and to foster this deeper understanding of punctuation.

eats shoots leavesEats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss
This highly entertaining book shows how miscommunication can abound when commas don’t send the right signals to readers. As she writes in the introduction: “You might want to eat a huge hot dog, but a huge, hot dog would run away pretty quickly if you tried to take a bite out of him.” Truss also has two other titles The Girl’s Like Spaghetti (apostrophes) and Twenty-Odd Ducks (mixed punctuation) that employ the same humorous approach to punctuation.

PunctuationPunctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
What will happen when punctuation decides to take a break? As the punctuation marks go on strike because they feel underappreciated, Pulver’s book illustrates the challenges in communicating clearly when punctuation isn’t an option. The book lends itself to a number of follow-up activities where students could attempt to communicate a message without the use of punctuation.

Yo YesYo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
While not specifically focused on punctuation, Yo! Yes? explores the ways in which meaning can be conveyed or altered through the inflections in our voices that punctuation signals us to make and could serve as a great jumping off point for discussions about why authors choose a specific punctuation symbol at a certain time.

By using children’s literature as an entry point into grammar lessons, students can develop a richer understanding of the why behind punctuation, an understanding they can then use to hone their own skills as writers and fluent readers.

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17. Welcoming everyone to the neighborhood

Welcome neighborhoodWhen I saw Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC at the library, I was immediately intrigued. I am always interested in books about people of color and since my daughter is half Latina, I wanted to see what this book was about.

I’m all for “keeping it real,” but when I read the first page and saw that A was for Abuela — and for abandoned car — I wondered if this book was keeping it too real with its depictions of neighborhood blight. But as I flipped through it, I decided that it was not too much. Abandoned cars and other signs of neglect are a very real part of some kids’ lives. There is beauty everywhere in life and the narrator finds it in broken bottles “that are smashed like falling stars” and a vacant lot that has become a vegetable plot.

My husband, who is Puerto Rican, read the book to our daughter and when they got to the letter R, the book mentions Rincón, a town in Puerto Rico where he has family.

It is so very important to see yourself reflected in all types of media. And a book like this will probably be very affirming for kids who have similar experiences, but what about the kids that don’t immediately identify with the kind of neighborhood portrayed in the book?

The jacket copy suggests that after reading about this neighborhood, young readers can think about what is special about their neighborhoods. They can also reflect on memories that make their lives special because that is an important part of the book.

For example, if a student says the book doesn’t reflect his or her life, ask questions such as:

  • If your Abuela doesn’t make ham and cheese or teach you to play dominoes, what special things do you share with your grandmother?
  • People don’t play basketball where you live, okay, what do they play?
  • The mother wants the children to remember certain things, specifically about their heritage and the narrator admits to forgetting Spanish words. What are adult always telling you to remember?

 

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18. Back to School We Go!

A few of my books have school related illustrations in them.  I thought I'd share some with you.


Taking the bus to school isn't always easy.  Here children taunt Alicia May.
From My Sister, Alicia May, written by Nancy Tupper Ling, 
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.


The first day of school can bring surprises, like your best friend's new haircut.
written by Barbara Meyers and Lydia Criss Mays
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.


School can teach you about staying healthy.
written by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh,
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.


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19. Intentions and He Said, She Said

alexander_he said, she saidI have written before about our summer program* with Boston Green Academy, and we just finished our two-week institute with ninth and tenth graders from BGA and my students from Boston University. For this summer’s core text, we chose the book He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander, and it has been fun to watch the students absolutely fall in love with the book.

It is the story of a popular teen named Omar who sets his sights on an ambitious girl named Claudia. She resists at first, thinking he is just a jock with nefarious intentions. In order to win her over, Omar gets involved with a cause that Claudia is passionate about, and their relationship shifts as they come to see each other and activism more clearly.

The essential question we chose for this summer for our anchor text and supplementary texts was, “What matters more, our intentions or our actions?” Omar’s initial intentions in getting involved with Claudia’s cause are, well, less than honorable, but they drive him to commit his time and energy to a great cause. And Claudia sometimes has intentions that aren’t unkind, but they manifest in actions that are harsh.

As students engaged the text and had discussions about the essential question, they had quite a lot to say about actions and intentions, and it allowed us to connect to goal-setting and putting those goals into action. Our students had lots of disagreement about whether intentions or actions were more important, and they were deeply into the book and the debate. In addition to our essential question, we were also able to have great discussions about gender norms, peer expectations, and authors’ intentions.

Throughout the institute, our students kept sneaking books home with them to read all the way to the end as quickly as possible. And when we asked what the best thing was about each day, our students always said the book was the best part! It was a very rich experience for all involved.

* This year’s team also included Marisa Olivo and Rosemary Finley from BGA and Scott Seider from BU.

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20. What I Learned at Lake Stevens Elementary School

I was invited to bring Lilly Badilly to Lake Stevens Elementary School in Miami Gardens as part of the school’s Literacy Week. What better way to talk about reading than in the school’s lovely Media Center?

The children were fascinated by how the physical book is illustrated, printed and bound and how a CD is recorded. They learned about the biodiversity of the rain forest and how imperative it is that we each do our part to preserve our planet. We talked about life as an author, the many ways reading opens doors to life’s opportunities and how much more interesting a person can be when he or she is an avid reader.

The children demonstrated absolutely perfect behavior and had so many clever questions, making this was one of the best author visits I’ve ever had. One of the second grade boys asked me, “Is it true that mosquitoes make chocolate?” I was unable to answer that question. But following the visit I did a little bit of research, only to discover that mosquitoes are one of several insects that do in fact pollinate the cocoa tree. Who knew?  I love learning from the kids I meet.

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I wish to thank Principal Daniels for inviting me to Lake Stevens Elementary and Reading Coach, Mrs. Dinah Gay-Dorvil for coordinating the event and for welcoming me and hosting this memorable visit. I’ve never felt more welcomed at a school than I did here!

 

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21. Themed art: School

Here's an old one! Though I class this in my children's book style, it's actually from a series of advertising posters I did for Dai Ichi Kangyo Bank (now part of the Mizuho group). Ah, good times!

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22. Off to a fresh start

Hello dear education community. I’m back! Last year I was quite silent. This was due in part to the fact that I had moved to a new school. But mainly it was because I was simply at a loss for what to say.

My previous school was strictly disciplined to the point where students were basically only extrinsically motivated. This allowed me to help students attain high scores and cover vast areas of content (it was a self-contained classroom, so I taught all core subjects). Yet, to be frank, it was miserable. Although I did my best, I couldn’t deny that even after two years together, my kids never felt emotionally or psychologically safe in this school.

Furthermore, when I moved to a school that promoted restorative justice techniques, targeted interventions, and differentiation, I had glaring holes in my instruction. The posts I had written as a teacher at my previous school rang hollow because I realized that I had never had to struggle with motivating students without external systems and consequences in place. Also, my students were known to be particularly difficult due to various factors. Truly, my first semester was such a battle. By winter break, I ended up crying to my assistant principal about whether or not I could even finish the school year.

Fear not, friends; it does not end this way. Long story short, I learned to apply the growth mindset that I claimed to teach, and there were mentors and colleagues available to guide and commiserate with me along the way. And thankfully, my students grew to learn that I truly cared.

Now I’m blessed to be at a school that serves a tough population, engages the community, and freely trusts me to teach. Most of all, I’m blessed to be at a school that values reflection — the perfect balance to my tendency to freak out or quit a strategy too fast.

In a new spin of events, I am actually joining the math team this year. We’re piloting a blended, shared teaching style, and although I’m apprehensive, I’m also super excited. Looking back on my teaching journey thus far, there are definitely rueful moments. I now have a bajillion teaching credentials, and I feel like I’ve been regularly taking exams for the past three years. But, as I embark on my fifth year as a teacher (4th year in Oakland), I know there’s no stopping now!

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23. Bring Your Bible to School Day: What You Can Share

by Sally Matheny




Did you know Thursday, October 8, 2015 is “Bring Your Bible to School Day”? 

Legally, your child can take his Bible to school any day—you may not have known that either.

Students have the freedom to take and read their Bibles, talk about their religious beliefs, pray, and ask others if they’d like to join them as long as the actions are voluntary, student-initiated, not disruptive, and take place during non-instructional time.

Focus on the Family initiated the first “Bring Your Bible to School Day” in October 2014. Approximately 8,000 students participated in the event. This year that number is expected to increase.

So, how can parents help their children prepare for this special day?
Read more »

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24. When picture books bring on tears

At some point, it probably has happened to any teacher, parent, or caregiver of young children. You are reading a story to a child or group of children and something about the story hits you and makes you misty eyed. Other times you might read a story that causes a child to cry. Books that hit an emotional nerve in adults might not always do the same for young children and vice versa. Often, there are picture books with subtexts that make adults emotional, but young children may not pick up on them. In these cases, I would argue that asking the child/children open ended questions about the book can help us understand their perspective better than trying to explicitly tell the children your interpretation of the subtext.

heart bottleAn example of a book that has made me shed a tear is The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. This book deals with loss and grief in symbolic ways that young children may not fully comprehend. However, the lack of a clear direct theme or lesson can spark deeper thinking in individual children and interesting discussions when read in a larger group. The Heart and The Bottle is often surreal in its style which makes it easier to share in a group setting compared to books that deal with loss and other emotional topics in a more direct way.

knock knockUnlike Jeffers’ story, Knock Knock authored by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier is grounded in realism. Knock Knock is based on a moving poem about Beaty’s absent father which he has often performed live. (Watch it here). It is hard for me to read this book without getting tears in my eyes. Parts of the story hit close to home for me and very close to home for children I have taught. I have recommended it to families of children dealing with absent fathers and read it to individual children — but not in a group setting. In an ideal world, group story times would be a place for healing where no topics would be taboo. However, it is important to respect individual families in the class and over the years many families dealing with issues like absent parents, divorce, or family problems in general have told me that they prefer we don’t read books that encourage their child to talk about these issues in a group setting. As a teacher, I believe that these types of discussions can be healthy, but I fully understand parents who don’t want their personal business potentially discussed in a classroom where other parents might find out and engage in gossip and shaming.

bad case stripesFinally, I would like to note that it is impossible to predict how children will react to stories. For instance, I never thought A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon would stir strong emotions in a child, but I once had a child burst into tears while reading it because their mom had food poisoning and they associated the book’s story about not eating Lima beans with their mom’s illness. On the other side, I know of many teachers and parents who tear up while reading The Giving Tree but the children hearing it have not had any emotional reaction to the book.

So now I will leave the readers of Lolly’s Classroom with some questions:

  1. What children’s books cause strong emotions in you? What books have caused your students to feel strong emotions?
  2. Do you read books relating to potentially emotional topics in the classroom? At what age do you think hard topics like death, loss, and divorce should be introduced in books you read? Should parents be consulted before reading emotional books? Should parents be given any sort of veto power or opt out mechanism for their child regarding certain books?

 

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25. Telling and choosing our own stories

For this year’s Boston University/Boston Green Academy Summer Institute (which I’ve blogged about before), we decided to change up our usual routine of reading one book, and this year we chose two – Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Our essential question for our rising ninth and tenth graders was about how much we determine our own lives and how much they are determined by others’ expectations of who we will be. I wasn’t sure going into the two weeks how well our books would play together, but I needn’t have worried. These two books about writers were rich ground to explore in our time together.

myers_darius & twigOur students were anxious to find out what would happen to Darius and Twig, the writer and the runner, who face challenges as they navigate coming of age in a world that is far from perfect. (I miss Walter Dean Myers already so much and his wonderful stories of our imperfect world.) Even the most reluctant readers this summer had thoughts about these two characters and the choices they made. And our some of our students found that kinship that happens sometimes with characters whose backgrounds related to their own.

woodson_brown girl dreaming_170x258Then, we began to write our own stories, and we turned to Jacqueline Woodson to teach us how. And she’s a great teacher. Somehow, in her beautiful, sparse vignette poems, our students found inspiration and ideas. But it was more than that – I think her poems became a permission slip of sorts to tell their own stories and to experiment with images and tones to craft their memories into words. I’ve usually had experiences where students have been intimidated by poetry, but that didn’t happen with BGD. Instead, our writers dove right in to writing their own experiences as poems.

All in all, the two books we chose for this year’s essential question fit together after all, and I’ve gotten interested in book pairs that allow us to focus on a theme when reading and can also serve as writing models. I’d love to hear if others have tried this or have pairs that worked well!

 

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