PB 10 for 10: Follow Your Heart

“Never lose your curiosity about everything
in the universe–
it can take you to places you never
thought possible!”

~ Sue Hendrickson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. Please be sure to visit Cathy’s blog, Reflect and Refine to read all the lists contributed to this labor of love. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

Coming up with a theme for this year’s PB 10 for 10 celebration was difficult. There were several new picture books that I loved, but at first I didn’t see an obvious connection between them. As I read and reread, though, patterns began to emerge. A path presented itself, and I followed. Each book I’ve chosen to share this year involves a journey or exploration. Some of these journeys cross the globe, others plumb the soul, some do both. All enlarge our imagination.

My Heart Is a Compass, written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Little, Brown, 2018), was my starting point this year. I have always loved maps, so this book appealed to me immediately. Maps show us the way, help us know we’re not alone and we don’t always have to rely on our own wits to help us find the path. In one way or another, these books may help readers find their way–even if it’s encouragement that sometimes we have to create our own paths and that’s okay, maybe even essential. They also help us understand that wherever we are on our path, someone else has been in a similar spot before, maybe are in a similar spot right now. How we respond and react to the spot we’re in is what matters. Getting love and giving love makes the journey so much easier.

Rose is on a quest: “Her heart was set on discovering something that had never been found…” Marcero’s rich language and evocative illustrations carry us along on this journey. Rose’s flights of imagination are distinguished from “real life” by use of a gorgeous blue that reminds me of cyanotypes. Her maps are worth poring over; a scientifically correct sky map is also filled with fancy–including “big dreams,” “empty thoughts,” and “first lines of poems” as well as a “brainstorm.” Close observers will recognize features of Rose’s journey covering the floor of her room before she embarks on her travels. This book will inspire readers to explore their own inner worlds. It is also a perfect choice to pair with Georgia Heard’s Heart Maps, (Heinemann, 2017).

How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Melissa Sweet (Harper, 2019) is a love letter to the joys of reading. Alexander encourages readers not to rush: “Your eyes need time to taste. Your soul needs room to bloom.” This is advice we all should heed. Sweet’s illustrations of “watercolor, gouache, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, found objects including old book covers, and a paint can lid” (and at least one map) add layers of meaning and wonder that will keep readers coming back to this book again and again. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                                   

Poetree, by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani (New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019) stars a dreamer and poet named Sylvia. The book begins with Sylvia writing a poem about spring. She “…tied her poem to a birch tree…hoping that it didn’t count as littering if it made the world more splendid.” Poetry brings two children together and helps them move past the misunderstanding at the center of the story. Reynolds sneaks in sly humor adult readers will appreciate: characters are named Sylvia and Walt, a dog named Shel, and a teacher, Ms. Oliver. There is also a nod to Joyce Kilmer: “I never thought that I would see/such lovely poems from a tree…” Maydani’s graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations of soft greens and yellows (is that Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s yellow umbrella?) add to the overall gentleness and love of this book.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar; (Harper, 2019) is a lovely biography of Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in New York City. When Belpré first traveled to New York, “words travel[ed] with her” and libraries were “ripe for planting seed of the cuentos she carrie[d].” This metaphor of a garden of stories is carried throughout the book and is echoed in Escobars gorgeous digital illustrations. The words she brought from Puerto Rico took root and “grew shoots into the open air of possibility, (emphasis mine) have become a lush landscape…” Her legacy is honored through the Pura Belpré Award. A select bibliography is included, as well as suggestions for further reading and a brief description of Pura Belpre’s own stories. A teaching guide is available here

                             

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (New York: Blazer + Bray, 2019) is, like its subject, an unconventional biography. Barnett gets to the heart of the matter quickly, though: “The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.” (p. 2) The truth is that Margaret Wise Brown had something to say and she didn’t let anyone stop her from saying it. The information Barnett includes underscores the fact that writers are real people. He includes possible origins of her stories: ”When Margaret Wise Brown was six or seven and she lived in a house next to the woods, she kept many pets.” (p. 7) Barnett asks thought-provoking questions, including “Isn’t it important that children’s books contain the things children think of and the things children do, even if those things seem strange?” These expand the range of who will appreciate this book. He also highlights important truths: “…in real lives and good stories the patterns are hard to see, because the truth is never made of straight lines” and “She believed children deserve important books.” (emphasis mine). Jacoby “used watercolor, Nupastel, and Photoshop magic to create the illustrations for this book” that give them a dreaminess we want to step into. Read and interview with Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby about the creation of this book here.

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2018) takes us on another journey of discovery. Like many immigrants, when Thomas Cole and his family arrived in the US in 1818, they didn’t have much. Through hard work and sacrifice, Thomas discovered that “he had something to say and he was on his way to find it.” This book not only provides a brief introduction to the birth of the Hudson River School of painting, it helps children understand we all have something to say. Finding out what that something is and how best to express it is the journey of our life, it’s what gives our life meaning. Over the course of his life, Cole realized “he simply wanted to show what it meant to be human.”

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In The Word Collector (Orchard Books, 2018), Peter H. Reynolds extolls the joy and power of words. We learn about Jerome and his passion for words: “Words he heard…words he saw…words he read.” Jerome uses his words in poems and songs, and ultimately, shares all his words. After all, isn’t that words are for? This book will inspire word collectors of all ages. Resources are available here.

 

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019) This biography is a celebration of curiosity, exploration of the natural world, and following your dreams. “Sue Hendrickson was born to find things.” Buzzeo tells the story of how Sue’s whole life lead to the moment in 1990 when she discovered “the world’s largest, most complete, best preserved, Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far.” Named in honor of her discoverer, “Sue” is now on display in Chicago’s Field Museum. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                    .  

What is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison (New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019) is the “final, magnificent picture book from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack.” James Otis and his mother have had “a rough few months.” When a neighbor’s home is destroyed by fire, James Otis’s church rallies to help them. But he can’t imagine how he and his mother can help when they “aine got nothing ourselves.” After much searching and consideration, James Otis finds exactly the right gift for his neighbor. Harrison’s mixed media illustrations add depth to the emotions of James Otis, his mother, and their neighbors.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac. (Charlesbridge, 2018) This book honors the Cherokee Nation’s tradition of otsaliheliga, an expression of gratitude that “is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles–daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.” A loving depiction of Cherokee culture, this is exactly the book we need right now: a reminder to be grateful for our family, our friends, and the many gifts of the earth.  

I am grateful for these books, their creators and the publishers who bring them into the world and make it a more beautiful place.

Note: I am editing my original post to include concerns about Home Is a Window. My original post included this paragraph about this book:

Home is a Window, by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard with illustrations by Chris Sasaki (New York: Near Porter Books/Holiday House, 2019) is an ode to the comfort of what is familiar: a favorite blanket or chair, a daily routine, a color. It also celebrates the fact that home isn’t necessarily a physical place; rather, it’s a feeling you have because of “the people gathered near.” This creative, comforting book is a perfect launching point for students to create their own definitions of home.

Cathy Mere also included this book on her list, but removed it after a reader raised “some concerns over the images in the text.” Cathy shared this link to CrazyQuiltEdi explaining her concerns about the images of several characters. 

My previous #PB 10 for 10 posts:

2017: Celebrating Nature
2016: Feeding Our Imaginations
2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

 

IMWAYR: “Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White” by Melissa Sweet

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The miracle of a book is a mystery to children. They wonder where books come from. They think authors are, as E.B. White put it, “mythical being[s].” To children, books seem to be conjured out of thin air. Which, in a sense, like a spider’s web itself, they are.

In Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), Melissa Sweet has woven a miraculous, magical book that peels back a layer of this mystery to reveal the very human side of one of our most mythical authors, E.B. White.

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Sweet’s inviting prose and inventive artwork immediately draw readers into White’s world. The illustrations are a hybrid of photos, collage, and watercolors. Sepia-toned photographs of White with his father and brother in Maine are followed by one of Sweet’s appealing watercolors. White’s own description of the scene, from his 1940 essay, “A Boy I Knew,” is typed out on vintage paper using a manual typewriter, serves as a caption. The effect is beguiling. I wanted to be sitting there “at the water’s edge [on] a granite rock upholstered in lichen.”

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Drawing extensively on White’s letters and essays, Sweet takes readers from White’s childhood in Mount Vernon, New York to his death in Maine eighty-six years later. As a boy, he was surrounded by words and discovered at an early age that writing helped him “to assuage my uneasiness and collect my thoughts.” Keeping her text focused on how early events in White’s life impacted his development as a writer and his future work, Sweet helps readers see the roots of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan in his life and his early writings.

White’s early poems and stories were published in St. Nicholas Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls. Sweet includes copies of these, giving the book the intimate feel of a scrapbook of a beloved relative. Readers will want to savor every page. Glimpses of White’s masterpieces for children are found throughout his life. Sweet writes about White’s time as a camp counselor at Camp Otter in Canada, and we learn about his road trip across the country in a Model T after graduating from Cornell.

Each major work, as well as The Elements of Style, is given its own chapter. We learn of the difficulties White had finishing Stuart Little, the criticism it received from librarians, and the love lavished on it by children. Sweet describes in detail how White’s farm in Maine, his doomed pig, and a spider’s egg sac coalesced into Charlotte’s Web. Sweet’s description, drawing on White’s own words, of how the opening scene of this book evolved is a master class in revision. As every writer knows, “revising is part of writing.” These scenes show how the fantastical elements of White’s fiction are grounded in the real world. As White replied to one of his critics, “children can sail easily over the fence that separates reality from make-believe.”

No detail in the design of Some Writer is ignored: chapter numbers are old typewriter keys, old-fashioned labels are used for page numbers and to identify the essay or letter of White’s that is being quoted. Sweet’s collages are perfect mentor texts for creative ways to convey information.

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The publisher lists the age range as 7-10, but middle school readers will also find plenty to be inspired by in this book. All readers and writers have much to learn from E.B. White’s quiet wisdom about writing and life. Interested readers will want to explore the extensive endnotes and bibliography of White’s own work, as well as works written about him. There is a touching afterword by White’s granddaughter, Martha, and notes from Melissa Sweet about her writing process and her art.

Sweet writes with the economy White advocates in The Elements of Style. “Every word tell[s]” a key part of White’s story. She blends her words and her art with White’s words and demystifies the process of becoming a writer… “through hard work and being open to the world around you.”

After White’s death, Roger Angell, William Shawn, and John Updike wrote in his obituary, “White felt it was a writer’s obligation to transmit as best he can his love of life, his appreciation for the natural world.” Sweet’s love of and appreciation of E.B.White, his work, and the natural world shine out from every page of Some Writer. In her author’s note, Sweet quotes White, saying “It has been ambitious and plucky of me to attempt to describe what is indescribable…[But] a writer, like an acrobat, must occasionally try a stunt that is too much for him.” Like Charlotte’s Web itself, Sweet’s “stunt” is nothing short of a miracle.

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Review copy received from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. An Educator’s Guide for Some Writer is available here.

Please be sure to visit Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers for more book recommendations.

PB10for10: Feeding Our Imaginations

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“We believe words can transform the world.”
~ Kwame Alexander ~

Jerry Pinkney, in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, proclaimed that he “learned through [his] own creativity that the world was limitless.” The books we share in our classrooms feed the creativity and imagination of children in limitless ways. Here are ten new books filled with beauty and humor that convey the power of observation and imagination.

  1. Surf’s Up! by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Daniel Miyares (North/South Books, 2016)
    “Books are boring”
    “DUDE, BOOKS ARE FASCINATING!”
    So begins this lively back-and-forth between two surfing frogs. Dude is ready to head to the beach, but Bro is engrossed in his book. The story Bro is so engrossed in comes alive through the illustrations, and as he reacts to the action, Dude gets drawn in & wants to know what’s so exciting. Bro won’t tell, so Dude starts reading, abandoning his surf board for a whale of a tale.

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  2. Daniel Finds a Poem, by Micha Archer (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016)— Curious because of a sign announcing “Poetry in the Park,” Daniel asks all his animal friends, “What is poetry?” Each animal replies with a poetic description of something important in their habitat. Daniel creates his own poem by stringing their lines together, learning in the process that poetry is everywhere.

  3. One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories, by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press, 2016). When I was first teaching, a common writing assignment was to write a new ending to a story. In this charming book, Rebecca Kai Dotlich offers a variation: “For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.” A series of episodes in a young girl’s life unfolds in Dotlich’s spare text. Fred Koehler’s witty illustrations bring these episodes to life. Together, the offer endless storytelling possibilities.

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  4. I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016) If, as Kwame Alexander tells us, “words can change the world,” we need a whole arsenal of them. This concept book for younger readers is a great introduction to onomatopoeia and what’s all around us to hear (and smell, see, touch and taste) when you open your senses to the world around you.
  5. The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read, by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) It’s a truth universally acknowledged that cats have a mind of their own. So when Nick decides to teach his cats to read, we aren’t surprised they aren’t too cooperative. But Nick is determined. He makes flash cards in the shape of objects, “and Verne got interested.” and is “soon reading new stories all by himself.” Not so Stevenson, who hides whenever Nick approaches with a book. Lo and behold, Stevenson has his own ideas for a story and has drawn all the pictures. The three friends join forces to create “The Tale of One-Eyed Stevenson and the Pirate Gold,” which turns out to be the first of many adventures. The subtle humor and message of this book make it a must-read.

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  6.  Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. (Clarion Books, 2016) Words are beautiful and have the power transform us, but they are also funny and fun to play with. Clever illustrations contain a subplot and definition for each pair of words, and an afterword lists the origin of each animal name and its matching verb. 

  7. This Is Not a Picture Book, by Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle Books, 2016) Duck is excited to find a book, but quickly becomes discouraged when he discovers the book has no pictures. Luckily, he has a friend to cheer him on and encourage him to try reading the book anyway. Ruzzier brilliantly illustrates the magic of a book coming to life though his use of color and the gradual introduction of, wait for it, pictures! As Duck discovers he knows some of the words, he realizes that “Some are funny” and “Some are very sad.” The illustrations convey these shifting emotions and moods. A lovely reminder that words are magical, transformative, and “stay with [us] forever.

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  8. Ideas Are All Around, by Philip C. Stead (Roaring Book Press, 2016) At the opening of this book, an unnamed narrator tells us “I have to write a story today. That is my job. I write stories. But today I don’t have any ideas.” How often have we all heard that? To unlock his stories, Stead takes his narrator (him?) on a walk around his neighborhood where ideas are indeed “all around.” The blend of photographs with “monoprint techniques and collage” add to the child-like quality of this book and make it accessible to kids. A wonderful testament to the fact that ideas for stories don’t have to be fanciful.

  9. The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016) This rich and nuanced book draws on millennia of storytelling traditions, including frame stories and Scheherazade to weave a warning to the modern world of what’s at stake when”One by one, the storytellers were drowned out by noise…” and stopped telling stories. This beautifully illustrated book reminds us that our stories are as vital and nourishing to our lives as water.

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  10.  The Whisper, by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) Pamela Zagarenski is known for her whimsical illustrations full of fanciful crowns, somber tigers, and buzzing bees. These elements are all present and accounted for in The Whisperas is a clever subplot to the main story. “A little girl who loved stories” is given a “magical book of stories” by her teacher. Excited to read this treasure, the little girl hurries home, not realizing that the words are escaping out of the book as she runs. Bitterly disappointed by “the wordless book,” she soon hears a whisper telling her she “can imagine the words…and stories.” Slowly, the girl’s stories unfold and become more elaborate as she finds her voice and a storyteller is born.

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    BONUS BOOK
  11. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) At 176 pages, this biography is not a picture book, but it is filled with Melissa Sweet’s loving illustrations. It is sure to inspire older readers and writers to “be on the lookout for wonders.” When I was at the International Literacy Association in Boston earlier this summer, I happened upon the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth when an author signing was taking place. I wasn’t familiar with the author or the book, but there weren’t too many people in line, so I joined the queue. As I was waiting, one of the sales reps and I started chatting. There was a poster for Melissa Sweet’s new biography of E.B. White, which is coming out in October. I had already scoured the list of author signings to see if Sweet would be at the conference, but alas, she wasn’t on the schedule. So I asked the rep if there were any ARCs of Some Writer! hiding in the booth. To my astonishment and delight, there were! When the rep handed me the book, I felt that I had been given a great treasure, just like the little girl in The Whisper. I promised the rep I would write about the book. I will write a longer review closer to the actual publication date, but felt this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of this book.

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. You can read all the lists contributed to this labor of love here. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

Picture Book 10 for 10: Poetry Picture Books

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Children’s first reading experiences are usually through picture books, and for this reason, people have fond memories of them and are passionate about their favorites. Because of the role picture books play in introducing the magic of reading to children, they are worth celebrating. 

Picture Book 10 for 10 is the brainchild of Cathy Mere of Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robeck of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. During this annual event, now in its sixth year, teachers, librarians, and book lovers create lists of 10 essential picture books. Cathy and Mandy collect and share these lists, and everyone is richer because of their efforts. Be sure to visit their blogs to see their lists, and check out dozens of Picture Book 10 for 10 lists here. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy, for organizing this celebration of picture book love. 

Many children are introduced to picture books through collections of nursery rhymes. The rhythm of poetry is soothing and the rhymes give kids the foundation they need to become independent readers. But most importantly, reading nursery rhymes and poetry to children is fun.

Creating this list was quite a challenge, as there are many, many beautiful poetry picture books available these days. For any one of the poets listed below, there are one or two or ten other books that are just as worthy of inclusion on this list.

1.  Bookspeak: Poems about Books, by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Clarion Books, 2011)

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What could be better than a collection of poems celebrating books? Laura Purdie Salas gives voice to all parts of books, including the cover, index, and the end. You can watch the trailer for Bookspeak, listen to Laura read two poems, and read the teacher’s guide here.

2. Red Sings From the Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009)

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Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite poets, and I love Pamela Zagarenski’s whimsical style, so this book was a shoe-in for this list. I have written about it before here.

3. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems, selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick Press, 2014)

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This award-winning anthology, illustrated with whimsical perfection by Melissa Sweet, includes poems celebrating each season and is not to be missed.  Julie Roach, writing in School Library Journal described Sweet’s illustrations this way: “Colors and shapes with willowy details expertly blur or bring bits of the images into focus to create a magical sense of place, time, and beauty.”

4. A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme, by J. Patrick Lewis, pictures by Alison Jay (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002)

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Lewis brings his signature blend of humor and interesting facts to the world of geography in this collection. Allison Jay’s muted colors and craquelure,“a cracking or network of fine cracks in the paint, enamel, or varnish of a painting,” illustrations evoke maps from the age of exploration.

5.  Forest Has a Song, by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley (Clarion Books, 2013)

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Amy Ludwig VanDerwater turns her keen poet’s eye to the forest landscape throughout the year. Gourley’s delicate watercolors are the perfect complement to VanDerwater’s evocative poems.

6. On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 1996)

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Douglas Florian’s sophisticated humor and word play make his poetry perfect choices for any elementary classroom. Find out more about Florian and his other poetry collections here.

7. What’s for Dinner? Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, by Katherine B. Hauth, illustrated by David Clark (Charlesbridge, 2011)

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This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book is chock-full of hilarious poems about the very serious subject of how animals capture their prey. Hauth includes factual information about each animal, as well as a list of suggested reading. David Clark’s cartoon-like illustrations add to the humor.

8.  Bug Off! Creepy, Crawly Poems, by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple (WordSong, 2012)

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Jane Yolen is one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, my 2013 Picture Book 10 for 10 post was devoted to her work. Yolen has published many volumes of poetry, but her collaborations with her photographer son, Jason Stemple, are my favorites. Stemple’s photographs are full of incredible details, and Yolen’s poetry captures the “beauty and mystery” of “these tiny living beings.” (From Yolen’s author’s note.)

9.  Turtle in July, by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Macmillan, 1989)

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Marilyn Singer is the 2015 winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children and has long been one of my favorite poets. You can read a previous post about Marilyn’s poetry here. This collection, filled with Jerry Pinkney’s stunning illustrations, is a must-have for any elementary classroom.

10. Creatures of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, by Georgia Heard, drawings by Jennifer Owings Dewey (WordSong, 1992)

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 Georgia Heard has written that “poets find poems in hundreds of different places” (Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, Heinemann: 1999), and in this wonderful collection, which has long been a staple in my classroom, she has found poems throughout the animal kingdom. Dewey’s detailed, realistic drawings add to the beauty of this book.

My previous Picture Book 10 for 10 lists:

2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

Slice of Life: You Nest Here With Me

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When my son was a baby, he had an ear infection almost non-stop from the time he was six months old until just before he had tubes put in his ears six months later. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time at the pediatrician’s office. There were always stacks of picture books in the waiting room, and one day, A House is a House for Me (Viking, 1978), by Mary Ann Hoberman was on top of the pile, just waiting for us. It quickly became one of our favorites.

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Now Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Melissa Sweet have teamed up to create a book about homes that is every bit as wonderful as Hoberman’s classic. You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mills Press, 2015) begins with a “little nestling,” carrying a copy of You Nest Here With Me being flown into bed by her mother. As the poem unfolds, we learn that “Pigeons nest on concrete ledges” while “Catbirds nest in greening hedges” but the mother always assures the child that “you nest here with me.”

Song birds, shore birds, birds of prey, and more are introduced through the gentle rhymes of Yolen and Stemple’s text. Readers will want to linger over Sweet’s inviting watercolor and collage illustrations. An author’s note explains that David Stemple, Jane’s late husband and Heidi’s father, was a “serious bird watcher.” This dedication clearly rubbed off, for their love of birds is present on every page.

Factual information about all the birds in the book is included, and there is a scavenger hunt of sorts included in the illustrations. Four kinds of birds are depicted in cozy nests, but not mentioned in the text. Children will have fun finding these favorite species tucked in with other familiar and some unfamiliar birds.

I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!
I got this beautiful poster at NCTE!

I would read this to Kindergarten and first grade students, but most of all I would love to share it with a toddler or preschooler nestled on my lap.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Nonfiction 10 for 10: Lives of the Artists

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“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination…”

~ Mary Oliver ~

When I was a senior in high school, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time. It was pure coincidence that Monet’s famous Water Lily paintings were starring in the exhibit “Monet’s Years at Giverney” at the time of this visit. Seeing those paintings was a revelatory experience. My appreciation and love of art began on that spring day.

Le bassin aux nymphéas Claude Monet , 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Le bassin aux nymphéas Claude Monet , 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Although nothing compares to standing in front of a magnificent work of art, kids don’t have to visit a museum to learn about art and artists. Gorgeous picture books about artists and their work abound. These books will inspire young artists to pick up a paint brush, scissors, or clay and begin creating their own art.

I searched for the origin of the trend of picture books about artists, but couldn’t find a definitive answer. The first picture book about an artist I remember (probably not a coincidence) is Linnea in Monet’s Garden, (R&S Books, 1985) by Christina Björk and illustrated by Lena Anderson. Björk blends the fictional account of a young girl’s pilgrimage to Monet’s home in Giverney, France with facts about Monet’s life and art. Illustrations of Linnea’s trip are combined with photos of Monet, his masterpieces, and the his beloved gardens that inspired so many of his paintings. A timeline of Monet’s life, a family tree, and a description of the museums Linnea visits in Paris are included, as well as a very brief bibliography are included.

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One of the most recent picture book biographies of an artist is The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre. This 2015 Caldecott Honor book introduces   young Vasya Kandinsky as a proper Russian boy, who is bored by his studies and his monochromatic life. Vasya’s world is changed when his aunt presents him with a “small wooden paint box.” Suddenly, colors swirl around him, creating a cacophony of sound. Kandinsky had synesthesia, which enabled him to “hear the hiss of the colors as they mingled.” Discouraged by his family from following his dream, Kandinsky persevered, capturing the music the colors created. In the process, he “created something entirely new–abstract art.”

An Author’s Note includes additional information about Kandinsky’s life, as well as information about synesthesia. There is also a list of sources and websites for additional information.

Another recent title that will inspire young artists is Lois Ehlert’s autobiography, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (Beach Lane Books, 2014). This joyous book is filled with Ehlert’s signature collages, photos of Ehlert’s family, collections, and her inspirations from nature. Ehlert parents, both of whom “made things with their hands” shared their tools and materials with young Lois. She describes finding “ideas in the world around” her, and is full of encouragement for young artists. “An egg in the nest doesn’t become a bird overnight,” Ehlert states. Good advice for us all.

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Alexander Calder, who “invented the very first mobiles,” is another artist whose parents nurtured his creativity from a young age. Tanya Lee Stone’s Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder (Viking, 2008; Author’s Note and a list of sources included), illustrated by Boris Kulikov, describes Calder as a boy who always had a workshop and tools. He used scraps of wire, wood, and other materials to create jewelry and toys for his friends. After art school, Calder, nicknamed Sandy, used these same materials to create a “magical, moveable circus,” which he performed in New York and Paris. Calder’s exuberance shines through in Kulikov’s illustrations. Children of all ages will be inspired to “turned ordinary objects into extraordinary art,” just as Calder did throughout his lifetime.

Watch a performance of “Sandy’s Circus:”

You can also view how one school was inspired by Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder to create their own circus:

I had never heard of Calder’s circus before, but his whimsical creations immediately reminded me of the art of Melissa Sweet. Sweet’s illustrations vividly recreate the world of Horace Pippin in Jen Bryant’s biography, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). This Schneider Family Book Award winner also won the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children and was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book. Young Horace loved to draw, “loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him.” Self-taught, Pippin pursued his artistic vision through a life of physical pain and hardship to become widely known and admired. His paintings now hang in museums around the country. Bryant and Sweet both include notes about the origins of this beautiful book, and an extensive list our resources is included.

You can read more about this book and view the book trailer here.

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Henri Matisse is another visionary artist who never gave up on his art, despite physical hardships. In The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Patricia MacLachlan poetically relates the origins of Matisse’s vivid colors and natural subjects. Hadley Hooper’s illustrations are saturated with the same monochromatic blues and warm reds, oranges, and golds that Matiesse used in his paintings. Notes are included from both MacLachlan and Hooper, and there is also a list of books for additional reading.

One of those is Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002) by Keesia Johnson and Jane O’Connor, with illustrations by Jessie Hartland. This book, from the “Smart About Art” series, is a more complete biography of Matisse, as it might be written by a fourth or fifth grader. It includes information about different phases of Matisse’s career, including his final collages, which he began creating after he became ill and could no longer stand long enough to paint.

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Another volume in this accessible series is Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003), by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Jennifer Kalis. Children are naturally drawn to Cassatt’s impressionistic paintings of the everyday lives of children and families.

Childhood memories are the inspiration for the work of Wanda Gág, (rhymes with jog, not bag, as I learned in the Author’s Note) author of the beloved picture book, Millions of Cats. Deborah Kogan Ray’s Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw (Viking, 2008), recounts Gág’s life, beginning with her childhood in Minnesota. “A love of art was valued above all else in the Gag home” and Wanda was moved to draw everything around her. Overcoming hardships seems to be a theme among many artists, and Gág is no exception. Like Pippin, Calder, and other, Wanda Gág didn’t give up on her dream of becoming an artist or her father’s advice to “Always look at the world around you in your own way.”

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Seeing the world in your own, unique way is the theme of No One Saw: Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist (Millbrook Press, 2002). Prolific poet Bob Raczka has selected sixteen famous artists and one of their iconic paintings and paired it with a simple sentence such as “No one saw stars like Vincent Van Gogh.” Each large reproduction gives kids a chance to pore over the details of these paintings, observing and noticing the details that make these masterpieces instantly recognizable. The simplicity of this book belies its power, which Raczka sums up perfectly in this final line: “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.

In this age of standardization, these beautiful books give children the important message that their vision of the world matters. From the lives of these artists, children learn that if they open their imagination to the beauty that surrounds them and follow their dreams, anything is possible.

Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 is a “celebration of nonfiction picture books” organized by Cathy Mere, and Mandy Robek. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy for hosting! Please be sure to visit the Picture Book 10 for 10 Community to find lists of other wonderful nonfiction picture books.

A Saturday Celebration

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Thank you, Ruth, for providing this space and giving us the opportunity to pause and celebrate the joys from our week.

June can be a bittersweet time for teachers as we let go of children we have grown to love. This week, I want to celebrate one of these students.

I began working with this second grade girl at the end of November. She had struggled with reading in first grade, but by last September it was clear that she wasn’t making progress. Her parents consented to testing to see if she was eligible for special education, but these revealed that she had average skills and abilities, and therefore not eligible. But she was eligible for the Tier 3 reading support I provide.

When we began working together, she was reading at a level about a year behind where most second graders are in November. She came to our lessons eager to to her best, and began to make slow but steady progress.  

As I wrote earlier in the week, I usually have a short read-aloud time during my intervention lessons. About a month ago, I began reading Firefly July (Candlewick Press, 2014), Paul B. Janeczko’s wonderful collection of short poems, to this little girl. She was entranced by Melissa Sweet’s whimsical illustrations and several of the poems quickly became favorites. This line from Robert Wallace’s “In the Field Forever” even inspired her to write her own poem:

Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.

Here is her poem:

The Colors of the Moon

Sometimes the moon looks like a golden banana.

Sometimes it looks like a white hammock.

Sometimes it looks like a ripe orange.

Sometimes the moon looks like a cookie with a splash of milk.

Sometimes it looks like a red apple.

Isn’t that lovely?

All her hard work has paid off. She is leaving second grade only one level below our end-of-year expectation, and she is no longer mixing up lowercase “b” and “d”. But best of all, she is leaving second grade a poet and a much more confident and enthusiastic reader. Hooray for her!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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Nowadays, it seems that Labor Day is more about the last official summer holiday and sales, not about the workers it honors. So today it seems appropriate to share books about the everyday heroes who took tremendous risks and made many sacrifices to help shape the labor laws we have today.

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Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel (Blazer + Bray, 2013; illustrated by Melissa Sweet) tells the true story of Clara Lemlich, who immigrated with her family from the Ukraine when she was 17 years old. Her father was unable to find work, so Clara went to work in one of the many shirtwaist factories on the lower east side of Manhattan in the early 20th century. Clara soon discovers the harsh realities of the garment industry, and helps organize the famous 1909 strike.

Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are always appealing, and here they provide a glimpse into the conditions of the tenements and factories of the time. Using her signature collage, Sweet incorporates fabric, stitching, and patterns to recreate Clara’s world. In an interview with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Sweet explains that this “felt like a fitting way to honor these brave seamstresses.”

The picture book format of Brave Girl shouldn’t discourage teachers of upper elementary grades from sharing this book with their students. In fact, Markel’s text is an ideal introduction to this important chapter of our history. Once students’ curiosity has been piqued, there are many other excellent books available to extend their learning.

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In Factory Girl, by Barbara Greenwood (Kids Can Press, 2007), combines fiction and non-fiction to bring the world of the garment and textile mills of New York and New England at the turn of the 20th century to life. Archival photos, many by Lewis Hine, reveal the terrible working conditions these children endured. This book also includes a timeline of the labor movement in the United States.

Katherine Patterson has written two novels that vividly depict the experience of young workers in New England textile mills. Lyddie (Dutton, 1991) takes place much earlier than the events in Factory Girl, but the situation is very similar. Lyddie arrives at a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1840s, just as several of the women are organizing to demand 10-hour working days. Patterson expertly weaves other aspects of life for these “factory girls” into the story. Facts like the “company” requirement of regular church attendance and the numerous restrictions on the girls’ after-work activities will be sure to provoke many heated discussions and are natural springboards for opinion and argument writing.

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Bread and Roses, Too (Clarion Books, 2006) takes place in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Bread and Roses strike of 1912. Sadly, the mill workers in this novel are still confronted with many of the issues Lyddie struggles against over half a century before.

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As is often the case, it took a tragedy before these conditions changed in any meaningful way. The 1911 fire at the Triangle Waist Company led to the deaths of 146 workers who were locked into the factory so they couldn’t leave early. Albert Marin has written a riveting account of the tragedy in Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Marin sets the stage by telling the story of why so many Europeans were desperate to come to America in the first place. Incorporating archival photos and eyewitness accounts, this book is an important resource for students and teachers alike.

While children in the United States today are protected by child labor laws thanks to the efforts of Clara Lemlich and countless others, the same cannot be said for children around the world. These books open the door for students to conduct research and gain new insights into child labor around the world. The New York Times Learning Network has a lesson plan and resources related to the factory collapse in Pakistan earlier this year, and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has an extensive collection of links to articles and videos available on-line, as well as books that address both the history of child labor and examples of child labor as it exists today.

There are many other fine books about other leaders of the Labor Movement, as well as fictional accounts of its many unsung heroes. I’d love to know which books are your favorites.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!