being a teacher, picture books

Contest Closed – Win A Copy of All Are Welcome

With more than 400 entries, I pulled 5 random entries to win a copy.  Congratulations to the following five winners

Courtney Sears,  Kristy – literacy coach for Fort Mill Schools,  Kayla Bains, Rebekah Underwood, and Ashley Brown

 

One of the picture books that has been traveling the most with me this summer is All Are Welcome written by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman.  Within its pages is a simple, yet powerful story, of a community where every child is welcomed no matter their heritage, religion, or life story.  What an important message to read aloud to all of your students as you set the tone for the year ahead.

Well, did you know that there is a kit that comes along with the book?  It can be requested right here to help you use the book.  But in even better news; I get to give five copies away!   The giveaway ends Sunday evening, is only for US addresses (sorry!), and I will pull five winners at random.  All you have to do is enter on this form to be in the running for this book.

being a teacher, books, picture books

Our Favorite First Week of School Picture Books

For the past many years, our first day of school has included a read-aloud of a picture book.  This central part of our classroom journey starts us off right, inviting students in to share a moment of wonder, of laughter.  It starts discussions and sets the tone for the year to come.  This is why selecting the first picture book to read aloud is such a big deal for me; what tone do I want to set?  Which book will help students gain an ounce of trust when it comes to the experience we are about to embark on?  Usually, I have students choose the book they want me to read aloud to them, sometimes I choose for them, but in case you need a few ideas, here are the picture books I love choosing from.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanna Kaufman

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoet

Mixed – A Colorful Story by Arree Chung

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Image result for what if picturebook

What if by Samantha Berger and Mike Curato

 

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel

My Teacher is a Monster (No, I am Not) by Peter Brown

After the Fall by Dan Santat

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Baa Baa Smart Sheep created by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

 Let Me Finish written by Minh Le illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

 

Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

books, picture books, Reading

My Favorite Picture Books of 2018 (So Far)

Every year I post an end of the year favorite book list but I thought this year, inspired by Colby Sharp, I thought it would be fun to add the titles as I discovered them.  Now, these may have come out in 2018 or simply have been read by me in 2018.  So here you are, in no particular order, my favorite picture books of 2018.  To follow along with these live follow me on Instagram.

The list of favorite chapter books for 2018, can be found here.

To see all of our favorite books through the years, go here.

Fiction

Image result for the very last castle

 

Image result for forever or a day

Image result for i am loved nikki giovanni

Image result for the rabbit listened

Image result for dear girl

Image result for what if picturebook

Non-Fiction

between the lines.jpg

cute.jpg

being a teacher, Literacy, picture books, Reading

Using Picture Books With Older Students – A How-to Guide

I have written extensively about the use of picture books within our classroom and yet there are still questions that keep coming up.  No worries as I realized that I had yet to make a central blog post about picture books and how I use them with older students and so while this post may be long, I hope it is helpful.  Note that really everything I write here about using picture books with older students also goes for using them with younger kids because as we all know there no is no too old for picture books.

I have written before of why I use picture books with my middle school students, the changes it has created for us as we build our community of readers.  I have shared lists upon lists of our favorite books as well, hoping to help others find the very best value in the books they bring in, hoping to inspire others to make them an integral part of their classroom.

How Do I Know Which Books to Get?

I am connected.  I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter  I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there.  I follow hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks  #Titletalk, #pb10for10 #classroombookaday and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know.  And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.

I keep a written list handy.  I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag.  I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject.  This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.

I read them beforehand, most of the time.  Many times we will wander to the nearest bookstore so that I can browse the books before purchasing them.  How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…

Do I react to it in any way?  A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions?  All of these are things that I look for.

Is it easy to follow?  Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly.  At least most of them.  However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.

Is the language accessible?  Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels range from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?

What purpose does it have?  I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self-connections, or conversation starters.  We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year.  But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood.  I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.

Will we read it more than once?  Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again.  Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story.  Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.

Do we have other works by the author?  My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible.  Some of our favorites are Jackie Woodson, Julie Flett, Peter Brown, Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

How Do I Organize our Picture Books?

Every hardcover picture book is stamped on the inside with a custom-made stamp from Amazon, which has been easily one of the best purchases I have ever made.

stamp.jpeg

They are then also labeled with the first letter of the author’s last name on their spine.  That way as long as I know the author’s last name, I can quickly pull the book from that section.

shelving pbs.jpeg

Picture books are typically not checked out by students as they are easy to lose, however, others teachers borrow them freely.

Picture books are shelved together in our classroom but not organized by theme or author.  I simply do not have room for splitting up the groups, so I try to display the picture books by theme in our classroom instead.  For example, whenever it is a new month or after a break, our display is always changed out.  I want students to want to read them as much as possible and a fresh new display helps entice them.pbs on display.jpeg

How Do I Select the Book to Use?

I first identify the purpose of the lesson of course and then go through either my lists of picture books or simply flip through our stacks.  As our collection has grown, I have started keeping a better eye on picture books that can be used for more than one purpose.

Which book I choose to share depends on the lesson.  I treat it much like a short story in what I want students to get out of it so it has to suit the very purpose we are trying to understand. I introduce the concept by sharing a story and then I ask my students to come as close as they can to the rocking chair in our corner.  Once settled, whether on the floor, on balls or on chairs, I  read it aloud.  We stop and talk throughout as needed but not on every page, it should not take more than 10 minutes at most to get through an average size picture book.  If it is a brand new concept I may just have students listen, while other times they might engage in a turn-and-talk.   I have an easel right next to me and at times we write our thoughts on that.  Sometimes we make an anchor chart, it really just depends on the purpose of the lesson.  Often a picture book is used as one type of media on a topic and we can then branch into excerpts from text, video, or audio that relates to the topic.

Because I teach the same class multiple times in a row, I often switch out the picture books I use with the different classes.  There are some that you can still love reading after 4 times, while others get to be a bit tedious, so I adjust as needed.  This is why having a lot of great picture books to choose from is something I am committed to.

I do not have multiple copies of really any picture books, I don’t see it as needed.  Instead, I pick the picture book to read aloud and then find “companion books,” other picture books that share the same concept, for example easily identifiable themes. These are spread out on tables, waiting for the students to select them. This way, when I ask students to work with them they are truly testing out the skill and not just whether they can spot the same things that we just practiced together.  Often times, students can choose to work with a partner as they explore their self-selected books.

What Are Different Concepts You Can Use Picture Books to Teach?

Thematic statements

Using a picture book as an example, we read one aloud and work through the example together.  While many of my students can easily pick up on the theme “word” (Death, love, freedom), they have a much harder stretching that into an actual thematic statement.  So rather than just death, they have to write something along the lines of “In the picture book, Ida Always, the text is used to illustrate that the fear of death should not stand in the way of creating lasting bonds.”  While this may seem hard at first, the idea of doing this work with a picture book, rather than a longer book, alleviates some of the stress that my students have with the analytical work being done.  After we write our thematic statement and turn it into a full paragraph, the students are then given a stack of picture books to choose from to practice on their own.  This is, therefore, a way to assess their understanding without having to use a common text.  Students can then either hand in their thoughts as a written piece of work or choose to discuss it with me or record it using their device.

Writers Craft

The writing skills used in a great picture book are worthy of our close analysis.  I love finding a stack of small moment picture books and then having students really take the writing apart.  How did the author move the story along with such few pages?  If we were to remove the images would the story still stand on its own?  Why?  Other questions can be:

  • How does the author transition time or setting?
  • How does the author situate us?
  • How is the character described?
  • How are the words further explained through the illustrations?
  • How does the illustrator deepen the message?
  • How are words repeated?
  • How do we pick out symbolism and what does it signify?
  • How can we introduce all of the Notice and Note signposts through picture books?

These are just a few examples of separate lessons that can be done through a lense of writer’s craft.

Plot and Small Moment Stories

While my students can write stories, they do not always write good stories.  Sometimes they get bogged down in too many details, other times they have too few or their story is simply not interesting.  Using picture books we can study the art of plot, as well as how to encapsulate an entire story in very little language.  These are great primers for students to think of their own story craft.

Non-Fiction Focus

We have written nonfiction picture books in the past and one of my greatest joys is to get students read some of the incredible nonfiction picture books we have in our collection.  I think of books like Pink is for BlobfishGrowing Up Pedro, GorillasGiant Squid, or How to Be an Elephant.  These authors breathe life into their nonfiction texts and so I ask my students to study their craft.  How did they take all of this research and create something so accessible yet information-filled?  It is wondrous to see the lightbulb go off for my students when they can see what I mean right in the text.

Fluency and Expression

One of our favorite units of the year is when all of our students perform plays based on Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie books.  It is incredible to see these sometimes very cool 7th graders, truly connect with their silly side and go for it in their performance.  Reading aloud picture books, performing them, and putting your heart into it helps with all public speaking skills.

Introductory texts. 

In order for us to go deeper with text analysis and discussion, I need my students to sometimes gain some confidence.  Picture books are not scary.  They are inviting to kids.  So as we begin the year with an introduction or reminder of the signposts as discussed in the book Notice and Note, I use picture books to introduce every single signpost.  (To see the lists go here).  It helps me break it down simply for kids, to give them confidence, and then also to be able to transfer it into their own reading.

Inferring.

One of my biggest tools for boosting inference skills is to use wordless picture books.  After all, it is hard to read books like Unspoken or The Whale and not have an opinion on what just happened.  Another reason I love wordless picture books is that it levels the playing field for a lot of our kids.  They don’t have to decode the words to get to the story but instead have to decode the images.  I have found that some of my most vulnerable readers are incredibly good at this as this is one of the reading survival strategies they use daily.

Introducing Hard Content

There are incredible picture books that discuss topics such as death, jail, suicide, war, and even drug abuse and so we use these picture books to broach harder topics with students.  Seeing their stories or stories that are incredible foreign to them played out within the pages of a short book really allows for us to open up a discussion as well as connections to the pages.

As you can see, picture books are not just for show, and yet, even if they were, I would be ok with that.  After all, how many times does a child just need to fall into the pages of a picture book to remember the magic that reading itself?  What an incredible gift all of these authors and illustrators give us when they decide to spill their ideas into a picture book.

How Do you Assess Skills and Strategies Through a Picture Book?

Because we are a classroom driven by self-selected reading, it can be hard to figure out what students really know.  Picture books are again a central tenet of this.  Whether I have introduced a brand new skill or simply done a review, I can quickly assess students’ knowledge and use of the skill through the pages of a picture book.  All I have to do is gather up the picture books that all have the skill in them such as character development and then have students read them.  After that, they can either write, discuss, or record a response to show me their understanding.  That way I do not have to know the independent book they are reading but I can still see what they can do.

What Comes After the Reading?

Picture books are not just something we read, we write them ourselves in our epic nonfiction picture book project.  We study them.  We speak about them.   We get ideas and inspiration from them.  We carefully protect the time we have to read them.  They are the mentor texts we shape our instruction around.

What Are Some Current Favorites?

And because I cannot write a blog post about picture books and then not share a few favorites, here are some that I love at the moment.  For “live” recommendations follow my Instagram account. 

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

Heartbeat by Evan Turk

I’m Sad by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and Stevie Lewis

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

 

So there you have it, a little further explanation of how picture books are used in our classroom.  They become part of the tapestry of our room and something the students search out for solace when they need to feel like they are readers again. As one child told me after I had shared our very first picture book, “Picture books make you remember your imagination again.”  And I knew that these kids got it.  That they knew that this wasn’t just me having some fun, but that picture books will teach us some of the largest lesson this year.  That picture books are not just for little kids and laughter.  They are for readers of all ages, and in particular, those who have gotten lost.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child  Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, books, picture books, Reading

Great Picture Books to Discuss Identity and Character

For our entire 4th quarter, we are diving into identity and how it fits within our social comprehension guided by the work of the incredible new book from Sara K. Ahmed, Being the Change.  As we start to look at how our identity shapes our actions, I thought a safe spot to start with would be within the pages of picture books.  After all, some of my students are not yet ready to share parts of their identity and so looking at the lives of others before we turn inward is a more welcoming path.

I was thrilled to be able to pull so many great nonfiction picture books to have the students read, discuss, and reflect on.  The questions we will use to spark conversation include:

  • What can you infer about their character traits based on their actions?
  • What can you infer about their identity and what they value?
  • What do you think motivated them to do what they did?
  • How do these actions fit into the world from a historical standpoint?

Here are some of the books we are using

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider--The Story of E. B. White

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider–The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert (Author),‎ Lauren Castillo (Illustrator)

When young Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world.

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez  (Author),‎ Felicita Sala (Illustrator)

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann (Author),‎ London Ladd (Illustrator)

In Mississippi in the mid-1800s, it was illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write. Getting caught meant thirty-nine lashes with a whip as punishment. But this did not stop Lilly Ann Granderson, an enslaved woman herself. She believed in the power of education. To share her knowledge with others, she started a midnight school. In a small cabin hidden in a back alley, Lilly Ann held her secret classes. Every noise in the dark was a reminder of the punishment she and her students faced if they were found out. But the chance to learn was worth the risk. Over the years, Lilly Ann taught hundreds of enslaved people to read and write. Many of her students went on to share their knowledge with their families. Some started secret schools of their own. Others forged passes to escape to freedom in the North. Based on a true story, Midnight Teacher is an inspiring testament to a little-known pioneer in education.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford (Author),‎ Sarah Green (Illustrator)

Before she raised her lens to take her most iconic photo, Dorothea Lange took photos of the downtrodden from bankers in once-fine suits waiting in breadlines, to former slaves, to the homeless sleeping on sidewalks. A case of polio had left her with a limp and sympathetic to those less fortunate. Traveling across the United States, documenting with her camera and her fieldbook those most affected by the stock market crash, she found the face of the Great Depression

Dangerous Jane

Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade  (Author),‎ Alice Ratterree (Illustrator)

Jane’s heart ached for the world, but what could she do to stop a war?
This energetic and inspiring picture book biography of activist Jane Addams focuses on the peace work that won her the Nobel Peace Prize. From the time she was a child, Jane’s heart ached for others. At first the focus of her efforts was on poverty, and lead to the creation of Hull House, the settlement house she built in Chicago. For twenty-five years, she’d helped people from different countries live in peace at Hull House. But when war broke out, Jane decided to take on the world and become a dangerous woman for the sake of peace.

Martí's Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad (English and Spanish Edition)Martí’s Song for Freedom / Martí y sus versos por la libertad (English and Spanish Edition) by Emma Otheguy  (Author, Contributor),‎ Adriana Dominguez (Contributor),‎ Beatriz Vidal (Contributor)

A bilingual biography of José Martí, who dedicated his life to the promotion of liberty, the abolishment of slavery, political independence for Cuba, and intellectual freedom. Written in verse with excerpts from Martí’s seminal work, Versos sencillos. 

Trudy's Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm by Sue Macy  (Author),‎ Matt Collins (Illustrator)

On the morning of August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle stood in her bathing suit on the beach at Cape Gris-Nez, France, and faced the churning waves of the English Channel. Twenty-one miles across the perilous waterway, the English coastline beckoned. Lyrical text, stunning illustrations and fascinating back matter put the reader right alongside Ederle in her bid to be the first woman to swim the Channel―and contextualizes her record-smashing victory as a defining moment in sports history. Time line, bibliography, source notes.

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth BlackwellWho Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone  (Author)

In the 1830s, when a brave and curious girl named Elizabeth Blackwell was growing up, women were supposed to be wives and mothers. Some women could be teachers or seamstresses, but career options were few. Certainly no women were doctors.

But Elizabeth refused to accept the common beliefs that women weren’t smart enough to be doctors, or that they were too weak for such hard work. And she would not take no for an answer. Although she faced much opposition, she worked hard and finally―when she graduated from medical school and went on to have a brilliant career―proved her detractors wrong. This inspiring story of the first female doctor shows how one strong-willed woman opened the doors for all the female doctors to come.

Before She was Harriet (Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Books)

Before She was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome  (Author),‎ James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix (Food Heroes)

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix (Food Heroes) by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ June Jo Lee (Author)

Chef Roy Choi calls himself a “street cook.”
He wants outsiders, low-riders,
kids, teens, shufflers and skateboarders,
to have food cooked with care, with love,
with sohn maash.

“Sohn maash” is the flavors in our fingertips. It is the love and cooking talent that Korean mothers and grandmothers mix into their handmade foods. For Chef Roy Choi, food means love. It also means culture, not only of Korea where he was born, but the many cultures that make up the streets of Los Angeles, where he was raised. So remixing food from the streets, just like good music—and serving it up from a truck—is true to L.A. food culture. People smiled and talked as they waited in line. Won’t you join him as he makes good food smiles?

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy  (Author),‎ C. F. Payne (Illustrator)

While sitting in the bleachers of a Soap Box Derby in the 1950s, Mary Garber overheard two African-American boys in the following exchange: “See that lady down there?” asked one boy. “That’s Mary Garber. She doesn’t care who you are, but if you do something good, she’ll write about you.”

Mary Garber was a pioneering sports journalist in a time where women were rarely a part of the newspaper business. Women weren’t even allowed to sit in the press boxes at sporting events, so Mary was forced to sit with the coaches’ wives. But that didn’t stop her.

In a time when African-American sports were not routinely covered, Mary went to the games and wrote about them. Garber was a sportswriter for fifty-six years and was the first woman to receive the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award, presented for major contributions in sports journalism. And now, every year the Association of Women in Sports Media presents the Mary Garber Pioneer Award in her honor to a role model for women in sports media.

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli (Author),‎ Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)

Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree—and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie by Demi  (Author, Illustrator)

Maria Salomea Sklodowaska was born on November 7, 1867. Her family called her Manya, but the world would remember her by another name: Marie Curie, one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.

In a time when few women attended college, Marie earned degrees in physics and mathematics and went on to discover two elements: radium and polonium. She also invented a new word along the way: radioactive. This book celebrates her momentous achievements while also educating its readers about her scientific accomplishments and their implications.

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou (Author),‎ Jen Corace (Illustrator)

Born in the late 1700s, Jane Austen was a smart, creative girl in a house full of boys, all of whom could aspire to accomplish many things as adults while girls were raised primarily to become good wives. Jane didn’t have much opportunity to go to school but she read everything she could, including all the books in her father’s study. And before long, she began to write her own stories, filled with funny, clever, and inventive characters.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson  (Author),‎ Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights. Featuring a moving text and colorful illustrations, Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s heart and dreams.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford  (Author),‎ Elizabeth Zunon  (Illustrator)

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way. 

Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress.

But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling.

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx (Spanish and English Edition)

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter  (Author),‎ Edel Rodriguez (Illustrator)

Before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor took her seat in our nation’s highest court, she was just a little girl in the South Bronx. Justice Sotomayor didn’t have a lot growing up, but she had what she needed — her mother’s love, a will to learn, and her own determination. With bravery she became the person she wanted to be. With hard work she succeeded. With little sunlight and only a modest plot from which to grow, Justice Sotomayor bloomed for the whole world to see.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (People Who Shaped Our World) by Laurie Wallmark  (Author),‎ Katy Wu (Illustrator)

Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. Acclaimed picture book author Laurie Wallmark (Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine) once again tells the riveting story of a trailblazing woman. Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English.” Throughout her life, Hopper succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly was “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys. With a wealth of witty quotes, and richly detailed illustrations, this book brings Hopper’s incredible accomplishments to life.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter (Author),‎ Stacy Innerst  (Illustrator)

To become the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice, the unsinkable Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to overcome countless injustices. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and ’40s, Ginsburg was discouraged from working by her father, who thought a woman’s place was in the home. Regardless, she went to Cornell University, where men outnumbered women four to one. There, she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg, and found her calling as a lawyer. Despite discrimination against Jews, females, and working mothers, Ginsburg went on to become Columbia Law School’s first tenured female professor, a judge for the US Court of Appeals, and finally, a Supreme Court Justice.

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet  (Author),‎ Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Author),‎ Nicole Wong (Illustrator)

Kathy Sullivan wanted to go everywhere. She loved blueprints and maps. She loved languages and the ocean. She didn’t like the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She wanted to explore and do exciting things that girls weren’t supposed to be able to do. Only men had the exciting jobs.
Kathy liked fishing and swimming; flying planes and studying science. That’s what she liked and that’s what she decided to do with her life. She followed her heart and eventually became a NASA astronaut and the first woman to walk in space. Kathy wanted to see the whole world and so she did: from space!

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter (Author, Illustrator)

Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.

 

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe (Author)

Jean-Michel Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico's Folkloric Ballet

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by Duncan Tonatiuh (Author)

Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher, until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square. She was fascinated by the way the dancers twirled and swayed, and she knew that someday she would be a dancer, too. She began to study many different types of dance, including ballet and modern, under some of the best teachers in the world. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances. Soon she founded her own dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, where she integrated her knowledge of ballet and modern dance with folkloric dances. The group began to perform all over the country and soon all over the world, becoming an international sensation that still tours today.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson  (Author),‎ Sean Qualls  (Illustrator)

Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can: A True Story

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can: A True Story by Tererai Trent  (Author),‎ Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Illustrator)

All the girl ever wanted was an education. But in Rhodesia, education for girls was nearly impossible.

So she taught herself to read and write with her brother’s schoolbooks and to count while watching cattle graze.

When the girl became a young wife and mother, she wrote her goals on a scrap of paper and buried them in a can—an ancient ritual that reminded her that she couldn’t give up on her dreams.

She dreamed of going to America and earning one degree; then a second, even higher; and a third, the highest. And she hoped to bring education to all the girls and boys of her village.

Would her dreams ever come true?

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh  (Author)

This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world.

Duncan Tonatiuh also prompts readers to think about what Diego would paint today. Just as Diego’s murals depicted great historical events in Mexican culture or celebrated native peoples, if Diego were painting today, what would his artwork depict? How would his paintings reflect today’s culture?

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick  (Author),‎ Steven Salerno (Illustrator)

Beginning in 1922, when Edith Houghton was only ten years old, she tried out for a women’s professional baseball team, the Philadelphia Bobbies. Though she was the smallest on the field, soon reporters were talking about “The Kid” and her incredible skill, and crowds were packing the stands to see her play. Her story reminds us that baseball has never been about just men and boys. Baseball is also about talented girls willing to work hard to play any way they can.

Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole by Deborah Hopkinson  (Author),‎ Stephen Alcorn (Illustrator)

Many know the story of Robert Peary’s great 1909 expedition to reach the North Pole. Yet few people know that Peary was joined on this grueling, history-making journey by fellow explorer Matthew Henson. Henson was born just after the Civil War, a time when slavery had been abolished, but few opportunities were available for black people. Even as a child, he exhibited a yearning for adventure, and at the age of only thirteen, he embarked on a five-year voyage sailing the seven seas and learning navigation, history, and mathematics. Henson’s greatest adventure began when he accepted an invitation from Robert Peary to join his expedition to the North Pole. The team endured storms, shifting ice, wind, injuries, accidents, and unimaginable cold. Finally on April 1, Peary, Henson, and four Inuit men began the final 133-mile push to the Pole.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (Caldecott Honor Book)

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford  (Author),‎ Kadir Nelson  (Illustrator)

This poetic book is a resounding tribute to Tubman’s strength, humility, and devotion. With proper reverence, Weatherford and Nelson do justice to the woman who, long ago, earned over and over the name Moses.

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace  (Author),‎ Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

Ernie Barnes was an NFL football player who longed to make art. Finally his dream came true.

When Ernie Barnes was growing up in North Carolina in the 1940s, he loved to draw. Even when he played as a boy with his friends he drew with a stick in the mud. And he never left home without a sketchbook. He would draw families walking home from church, or the old man on the sofa. He drew what he saw.

But in the segregated south, Ernie didn’t know how to make a living as an artist. Ernie grew tall and athletic and became a football star. Soon enough the colleges came calling. Still, in his heart Ernie longed to paint. Would that day ever come?

Ernie Barnes was one of the most important artists of his time known for his style of elongation and movement. His work has influenced a generation of painters and illustrators and can be found in museums and collections, such as the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the California African American Museum.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull  (Author),‎ Yuyi Morales  (Illustrator)

Cesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farmworkers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family slaved in the fields for barely enough money to survive.

Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that–maybe–he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson  (Author),‎ Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Illustrator)

Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else.

So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il!

Audrey Faye Hendricks was confident and bold and brave as can be, and hers is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey  (Author),‎ Dow Phumiruk (Illustrator)

You may be familiar with the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But do you know about the artist-architect who created this landmark?

As a child, Maya Lin loved to study the spaces around her. She explored the forest in her backyard, observing woodland creatures, and used her house as a model to build tiny towns out of paper and scraps. The daughter of a clay artist and a poet, Maya grew up with art and learned to think with her hands as well as her mind. From her first experiments with light and lines to the height of her success nationwide, this is the story of an inspiring American artist: the visionary artist-architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews  (Author),‎ Bryan Collier (Illustrator)

Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom. Trombone Shorty is a celebration of the rich cultural history of New Orleans and the power of music.

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton  (Author),‎ Don Tate (Illustrator)

You know the Super Soaker. It’s one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners, impressive inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy.

A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem-solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating  (Author),‎ Marta Alvarez Miguens (Illustrator)

Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.

Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.

I Am Jazz

I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel  (Author),‎ Jazz Jennings (Author),‎ Shelagh McNicholas (Illustrator)

From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid and didn’t feel like herself in boys’ clothing. This confused her family, until they took her to a doctor who said that Jazz was transgender and that she was born that way. Jazz’s story is based on her real-life experience and she tells it in a simple, clear way that will be appreciated by picture book readers, their parents, and teachers.

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz (Author),‎ Catia Chien  (Illustrator)

Alan loves animals, but the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo makes him sad. Why are they all alone in empty cages? Are they being punished? More than anything, he wants to be their champion—their voice—but he stutters uncontrollably.
Except when he talks to animals…

Then he is fluent.

Follow the life of the man Time Magazine calls, “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation”as he searches for his voice and fulfills a promise to speak for animals, and people, who cannot speak for themselves.

Girl Running

Girl Running by Annette Bay Pimentel  (Author),‎ Micha Archer  (Illustrator)

Because Bobbi Gibb is a girl, she’s not allowed to run on her school’s track team. But after school, no one can stop her–and she’s free to run endless miles to her heart’s content. She is told no yet again when she tries to enter the Boston Marathon in 1966, because the officials claim that it’s a man’s race and that women are just not capable of running such a long distance. So what does Bobbi do? She bravely sets out to prove the naysayers wrong and show the world just what a girl can do.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson  (Author),‎ David Shannon (Illustrator)

Born of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, musical icon Robbie Robertson learned the story of Hiawatha and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, as part of the Iroquois oral tradition. Now he shares the same gift of storytelling with a new generation.

Hiawatha was a strong and articulate Mohawk who was chosen to translate the Peacemaker’s message of unity for the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century. This message not only succeeded in uniting the tribes but also forever changed how the Iroquois governed themselves—a blueprint for democracy that would later inspire the authors of the U.S. Constitution.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz  (Author),‎ AG Ford (Illustrator)

Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice.

Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance.

And there you have it, just a few of the books we will be suing to discuss identity, motivation, and character.

If you want to see more of our favorite books, go here.

being a teacher, Literacy, picture books, Reading

Using Picture Books in the Middle School Classroom

Image result for there is no too old for picture books pernille ripp

We have hundreds of picture books in our classroom.  Ranging from board books, yes, books meant to be handled by babies, to beautifully illustrated picture book versions of classic stories; ours is a picture book classroom.  And while I have written extensively about the power of picture books and how it can be used to hook resistant readers, to build a reading community, and all of the other incredible benefits of having them as part of our reading community, I have not really written about the usage of picture books as mentor texts.  That is, until now, so here you are, some of the ways we use picture books to teach different concepts.

Thematic statements

Using a picture book as an example, see my list here, we read one aloud and work through the example together.  While many of my students can easily pick up on the theme “word” (Death, love, freedom), they have a much harder stretching that into an actual thematic statement.  So rather than just death, they have to write something along the lines of “In the picture book, Ida Always, the text is used to illustrate that the fear of death should not stand in the way of creating lasting bonds.”  While this may seem hard at first, the idea of doing this work with a picture book, rather than a longer book, alleviates some of the stress that my students have with the analytical work being done.  After we write our thematic statement and turn it into a full paragraph, the students are then given a stack of picture books to choose from to practice on their own.  This is, therefore, a way to assess their understanding without having to use a common text.  Students can then either hand in their thoughts as a written piece of work or choose to discuss it with me or record it using their device.

Writers Craft

The writing skills used in a great picture book are worthy of our close analysis.  I love finding a stack of small moment picture books and then having students really take the writing apart.  How did the author move the story along with such few pages?  If we were to remove the images would the story still stand on its own?  Why?  Other questions can be:

  • How does the author transition time or setting?
  • How the author situates us?
  • How is the character described?
  • How are the words further explained through the illustrations?

These are just a few examples of separate lessons that can be done through a lense of writer’s craft.

Non-Fiction Focus

We have written nonfiction picture books in the past and one of my greatest joys is to get students read some of the incredible nonfiction picture books we have in our collection.  I think of books like Pink is for Blobfish, Growing Up Pedro, Gorillas, Giant Squid, or How to Be an Elephant.  These authors breathe life into their nonfiction texts and so I ask my students to study their craft.  How did they take all of this research and create something so accessible yet information-filled?  It is wondrous to see the lightbulb go off for my students when they can see what I mean right in the text.

Fluency and Expression

One of our favorite units of the year is when all of our students perform plays based on Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie books.  It is incredible to see these sometimes very cool 7th graders, truly connect with their silly side and go for it in their performance.  Reading aloud picture books, performing them, and putting your heart into it helps with all public speaking skills.

Introductory texts. 

In order for us to go deeper with text analysis and discussion, I need my students to sometimes gain some confidence.  Picture books are not scary.  They are inviting to kids.  So as we begin the year with an introduction or reminder of the signposts as discussed in the book Notice and Note, I use picture books to introduce every single signpost.  (To see the lists go here).  It helps me break it down simply for kids, to give them confidence, and then also to be able to transfer it into their own reading.

Inferring.

One of my biggest tools for boosting inference skills is to use wordless picture books.  After all, it is hard to read books like Unspoken or The Whale and not have an opinion on what just happened.  Another reason I love wordless picture books is that it levels the playing field for a lot of our kids.  They don’t have to decode the words to get to the story but instead have to decode the images.  I have found that some of my most vulnerable readers are incredibly good at this as this is one of the reading survival strategies they use daily.

As you can see, picture books are not just for show, and yet, even if they were, I would be ok with that.  After all, how many times does a child just need to fall into the pages of a picture book to remember the magic that reading itself?  What an incredible gift all of these authors and illustrators give us when they decide to spill their ideas into a picture book.

To see all of our favorite picture books, go here or follow me on Instagram for “live” recommendations of books.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.