BY MEGHAN VALERIO & WILLIAM BINTZ
Recently, I (William) introduced crossover picturebooks in a graduate literacy course to students pursuing a reading specialization Master’s degree. All students were practicing teachers ranging from elementary through high school. Each week, I read aloud a crossover picturebook to introduce the class session. Selected picturebooks dealt with themes including death and dying, divorce, suicide, mental illness, physical disability, parent-child separation, and other life-changing and impactful events. One example is Dragon by Gro Dahle (2018). It tells the story of Lilli, a young girl who is a child abuse victim by her mother. Lilli regards her mother as a dragon because she is explosive, hot-tempered, and abusive. After reading, I invited students to share their questions and reactions to crossover picturebooks. Three questions and one reaction were particularly illustrative:
These responses inspired this blog post. They revealed teachers may not know much about crossover literature but are curious to know more about it.
What are Crossover Picturebooks?
Crossover literature, or texts written for dual-aged audiences, is not a new genre, as many books could be considered crossover already. While picturebooks specifically might be enjoyed by both children and adults, crossover picturebooks, a subset of crossover literature, are written and illustrated intentionally for both children and adults, breaking conventional assumptions that books are intended for one age group (Falconer, 2008; Harju, 2009, Rosen, 1997). Crossover authors communicate purposeful messages to both audiences equally (Harju, 2009). Narratives then are considered ageless and timeless, often portraying issues that might be deemed controversial including death, verbal and physical abuse, and divorce.
In a world where in-person and online book shopping and borrowing is organized by genre and age, this makes these “ageless” books complex. Consider first an adult purchasing a picturebook for themselves, and on the flip side, encouraging a child to purchase a book about abuse. Both instances could be questionable, even alarming to some.
While there are truly designated texts for children, like aesthetic and sensory appealing babybooks (Kümmerling-Meibauer, 2015), crossover picturebooks defy traditional book categorizing norms, causing anyone interested to rethink what counts as children’s literature vs. adult.
Children’s literature though is written and published by adults for children (Rosen, 1997). So really, is there such a thing as a true children’s book if the text isn’t written by children at all?
What Concerns Does This Raise?
Currently, we are conducting research on crossover picturebooks. Specifically, we are exploring teacher concerns on using this literature in the classroom. Based on this research, two major findings indicate that many K-12 teachers worry about the following issues:
These concerns, and many others like them, are real for teachers. Traditionally, children’s literature is to be enjoyable not uncomfortable, entertaining not controversial. Crossover literature invites a different perspective and pushes the envelope on censorship and what constitutes taboo topics in classrooms. To help explore this further, we recommend the following resources. These resources include picturebooks and professional literature that have pushed our thinking about crossover literature. We hope they will push yours.
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6 (3).
Falconer, R. (2008). The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and Its Adult Readership. London, UK: Routledge.
Harju, M.L. (2009). Tove Jansson and the crossover continuum. The Lion and the Unicorn, 33(3), 362-375.
Kümmerling-Meibauer, B. (2015). From baby books to picturebooks for adults: European picturebooks to the new millennium. Word & Image, 31 (3), 249-264.
Rosen, J. (1997). Breaking the age barrier. Publishers Weekly. 243 (6).
Meghan Valerio is a doctoral student in Curriculum and Instruction with a Literacy emphasis at Kent State University. Meghan’s research interests include investigating literacy and cognitive development from a critical literacy perspective, centering curricula to understand reading as a transactional process, and exploring pre- and in-service teacher perspectives in order to enhance literacy instructional practices and experiences.
William Bintz is Professor of Literacy Education in the School of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University. His professional interests include the picturebook as object of study, literature across the curriculum K-12, and collaborative qualitative literacy research.
The CLA Blog is going on a winter break! We will return on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 with a post on “Crossover Books” from Megan Valerio and William Bintz.
If you are interested in contributing a post in 2021, please send an email to email@example.com
From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts: Moving From Small to Large Through Play and Imagination
By Kathryn Will, Meghan Goodwin, and Sophie Hendrix
The Notable Children’s Books in Language Arts Committee (NCBLA), reads, reviews, and discusses over 400 books of various genres written for K-8 children each year. These works of poetry and prose are analyzed using the charge of the committee that asks in making the selection of the top thirty texts the seven committee members consider:
1. Appealing format,
2. Enduring quality,
3. Exemplary quality for their genre, and
4. Meeting one or more of the following:
a. Use of language: play on words, word origins, history of language
b. Uniqueness in use of language or style
c. Invitation of child response or engagement
This post focuses on two of the texts from the 2020 Notables List that might be seen through the lens of a progression from small to large. Although The Magic of Letters (2019) and Small World (2019) are very different books, they can be used to invite readers to imagine, play, and wonder.
The Magic of Letters
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Penguin Random House, unpaged, ISBN 978-0823441594
Written by Ishta Mercurio
Illustrated by Jen Corace
Abrams Books for Young Readers, unpaged, ISBN 978-1419734076
Both of these books invite readers to engage in exploration and discussion through multiple reads due to their rich vocabulary and use of language. Teachers can easily deepen and extend the texts through a variety of activities.
Using the illustrative style of The Magic of Letters, children could repurpose magazines and catalogues to cut out letters and words as sources for creating new words and sentences. As they pore over the texts, they could look for familiar and known letters and words, providing opportunities for practice in letter and word recognition before assembling them in a collage. Children could use crayon resist to create magic letters of their very own, or even play roll and write to create sentences from familiar and new words. These activities reflect the rich and playful nature of the text.
Small World is a text that envelopes the reader in the world of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). The rich vocabulary begs teachers to consider connections to geometry, snow science, and roller coasters. With consideration of Nanda’s career as an astronaut, students might watch this video about women astronauts, or think about materials they might need for a trip to the moon. This book also holds opportunities for rich discussion with questions such as:
Kathryn Will is an Assistant Professor of Literacy at the University of Maine Farmington (@KWsLitCrew). She is passionate about sharing the power of children's literature with her students, including the two listed below who assisted in the creation of the teaching tips shared. She is a member of the 2019 Notables Committee, and will be chairing the committee in the upcoming year.
Meghan Goodwin, Preservice teacher, University of Maine Farmington (@Ms_G_Teaches)
Sophie Hendrix, Preservice teacher, University of Maine Farmington
BY MEGAN VAN DEVENTER
As educators, we recognize the value in providing readers with reading experiences that act as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (Bishop, 1990) to affirm readers’ identities, build empathy for others, and explore humanity. We understand the importance of curating bookshelves that offer a vast array of experiences that validate readers’ lives, feelings, and identities. At times, it can be challenging to select and teach books that do not ‘mirror’ our own lived experience, and it can feel vulnerable to step outside our own expertise. Fortunately, there are many of us committed to expanding our own readership and curating inclusive bookshelves and curricula that resonate with our students. This blog post champions and supports educators doing this vulnerable work to ensure all students are included and reflected and refracted on their bookshelves and in their curricula. This post shares books, tools, and resources to support educators building their expertise to ensure young readers have access to high quality, validating, and accurate children’s literature.
Tools and Resources for Curating an Inclusive Bookshelf and Curriculum
Educators committed to expanding our bookshelves beyond our own favorite reads must be intentional in selecting and teaching high quality children’s literature that is accurate, validating, and honest. There are several wonderful tools and resources to ensure our bookshelves are inclusive, relevant, and accessible for readers. The four tools and resources below support educators in curating inclusive bookshelves and reading curricula (and help us cull problematic books from our shelves as well).
Books for Curating Inclusive Bookshelves and Curricula
The tools and resources described above support educators in selecting and teaching high-quality, accurate, and honest children’s literature. Building our expertise through these tools and resources sustains our commitment to curating inclusive bookshelves. Here are four children’s literature books that support educators in holding space that honors young readers’ and teachers’ capacity to engage with complex and authentic picturebooks.
Bookshelves and curricula that honor young readers in helping them make sense of the world are a key aspect to orchestrating equitable and socially just classrooms. These books, tools, and resources support our work as educators in curating high-quality reading experiences that are inclusive, accurate, and honest.
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3), 1-2.
Eland, E. (2019). When sadness is at your door. Random House.
Lindstrom, C. (2020). We are water protectors. Roaring Brook Press.
Muhammad, I., & Ali, S.K. (2019). The proudest blue: A story of hijab and family. Little, Brown and Company.
Sanna, F. (2016). The journey. Flying Eye Books.
By Courtney Shimek, on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
2020 has changed our world in indelible ways. From navigating a global pandemic to fighting social injustices embedded into our everyday lives, we find ourselves overwhelmed, exhausted, and uncertain of the future. In response to these crises and the emotions they produce, we have found solace in picturebook biographies that deliver some much-needed perspective. Reading biographies have become a part of our self-care; they provide archives of the past, context for the present, and hope for the future. At The Biography Clearinghouse, we recognize the potential of biographies to shape readers’ understanding of the world, inform their connection to history, and engender empathy. Through our teaching ideas, we suggest ideas and resources for incorporating biographies into curricula. We also recognize that sometimes picturebook biographies come to life most vividly when read-aloud with young readers.
As we maintain our "new normal" of vacillating between online, hybrid, and in-class instruction, reading aloud continues to be a constant beacon of inspiration and connection in our teaching. Our youth are navigating the same chaotic and ever-changing world; given that biographies model the complexities of this world, sharing these perspectives with youth is vital. As such, I share here 3 tips for reading biographies aloud and a few illustrative examples of high-quality biographies.
Tip #1: Discuss the Visual Features
Picturebooks are unique artifacts where readers gain information not only from words but also from images. The visual features of biographies provide insights into the emotional experiences of distinctive individuals and offer a deeper understanding of humanity. As you read biographies aloud, begin examining the artistic elements (e.g., design and composition, font styles, use of color, artistic mediums, etc.) and see what you discern about the featured individuals, their emotions, and their experiences. For example, from the beautiful mixed media artwork in Spotted Tail (Weiden et al., 2019), we see how the history of the Lakota people connects to present-day issues through striking photographs, art, textural elements from nature, and quotes. Though Spotted Tail has a text-heavy narrative, the design and combination of photographs and art from Jim Yellowtail and Pat Kinsella provide readers numerous points of discussion and a perspective worth including in your read-aloud rotation. Additionally, in It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way (Maclear & Morstad, 2019), Morstad’s illustrations show the reader the detail and sense of color Fujikawa used in her work, and real photographs of her family are included throughout the book. In addressing the visual features of books with readers, we learn about people’s beliefs, histories, cultures, and emotions, and learn more information than from the words, alone.
Tip #2: Back Matter Matters
Often, when we begin a read-aloud we skip to the beginning of the narrative and stop at the end, but creators of contemporary biographies share exceptional amounts of information in the peritextual elements, or everything in the book which is not the actual narrative. Instead of stopping your read-aloud at the end of the narrative, share some of the information included in the back matter such as authors’ and illustrators’ personal connections to the content, where they sourced research materials, and their creative processes. For example, in Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré (Denise & Escobar, 2019), Denise provides descriptions of books by Pura Belpré, as well as films, books, and collections about Pura Belpré for further study. Similarly, in A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney (2019) provide notes expanding upon their decisions, short biographies about other civil rights leaders, along with sources and a bibliography. Biography creators also include additional content through the book jacket, endpapers, and their dedications. Sometimes, the back matter or other peritextual features might be more text-heavy or smaller in size than the narrative. We suggest projecting these features or displaying them on an interactive whiteboard so that these peritextual features can be explored and discussed collectively. When we only read aloud the primary narrative, we miss out on information that contextualizes the biography, describes the creative process, and inspires readers to search out additional sources.
Tip #3: Revisit Writer’s Language
Biographers don’t just share events with readers, they share the essence of a person’s life. After you read a biography aloud, reread the book like a writer and examine how the authors’ word choices shape your understandings of a person, place, or event. In Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote (Rosenstock & Green, 2020), for example, Rosenstock structures her biography as a boxing match between Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson. By portraying major events as rounds and including commentary from fight announcers (e.g., “This fight determines whether the women of the United States can vote, folks!”), readers experience how progress is often a battle of wills and experience what a fighter Alice Paul was. Additionally, Nelson’s use of western idioms (e.g., “plain as the ears on a mule” and “fit like made-to-measure boots”) in Let ‘er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion (Nelson & James, 2019), drops the reader into the cowboy language and culture of Pendleton, Oregon. Through similes and energetic descriptions of bull riding, we experience how Fletcher was discriminated against and, yet, became a hometown hero. Biographers’ language choices provide us with new ways of looking at historical events, embed us in particular moments of time, and supply inspiration for our own writing processes.
How do you read aloud biographies? We would love to hear your tips through our email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through comments on Facebook and Twitter #theBiographyClearinghouse. No matter what 2021 brings, we know we will navigate the uncertainty equipped with high-quality, multidimensional biographies and share the reassurances and possibilities they provide through read-alouds.
Denise, A. A., & Escobar, P. (2019). Planting stories: The life of librarian and storyteller Pura Belpré. HarperCollins.
Maclear, K., & Morstad, J. (2019). It began with a page: How Gyo Fujikawa drew the way. HarperCollins.
Nelson, V. M., & James, G. C. (2019). Let ‘er buck!: George Fletcher, the people’s champion. Carolrhoda Books.
Rosenstock, B., & Green, S. (2020). Fight of the century: Alice Paul battles Woodrow Wilson for the vote. Calkins Creek.
Weiden, D. H. W., Yellowtail, J., & Kinsella, P. (2019). Spotted tail. Reycraft Books.
Wittenstein, B. & Pinkney, J. (2019). A place to land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech that inspired a nation. Neal Porter Books
Courtney Shimek is an assistant professor at West Virginia University and has been a member of CLA since 2015.
BY LAUREN AIMONETTE LIANG
Last year, right around this time, the Fall 2019 issue of JCL arrived in the mail. In the President’s Message I had written a bit about my excitement for the upcoming NCTE conference:
It starts for me with the airplane travel. Coming from my area, it is rare to board a flight heading to a major conference and not encounter fellow teachers, librarians, and researchers embarking on the same adventure. We wave, ask about colleagues and friends, and buzz a bit with excitement. (I often think the other travelers must later wonder about these groups of individuals who are all grading papers and reading thick books, while simultaneously winning all the in-flight trivia and scrabble games.)
Once we arrive at the NCTE city, conference-goers from all over are grabbing bags, looking for shuttles and taxis, and heading off to the area hotels. Immediately there is a shared sense of purpose and anticipation. Conversations break out in the hotel elevators about whether registration is open, and the time of the opening session. Hordes of badge-wearing, tote-bag laden attendees appear in long lines at the coffee stands and take over the sidewalks in their sensible walking shoes as they head off for the day.
And then the conference! Hour after hour of thought-provoking sessions, with speakers addressing the important issues in our field, provoking new ideas, and sharing possible solutions. The vibrant displays of new books in the exhibit hall waiting to be shared by knowledgeable and enthusiastic publishers who offer sneak peeks that might be perfect for your classroom. And, best of all, that amazing shared sense of being present with each other—knowing that the people gathered here care just as deeply as you do about supporting children’s and teen’s literacy experiences and growth.
The Children’s Literature Assembly events at NCTE are a highlight for many attendees. A history of consistent excellence makes our CLA Notables Session, CLA Master Class, and CLA Breakfast the starred events on many personal conference schedules...
Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts AwardS
Join the members of the Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts award committee in a live event on Sunday afternoon from 1:45- 3:00 pm ET. Throughout the fall this blog has featured posts from members of this committee. Join them live for more outstanding 2020 titles and suggestions for classroom use.
Annual CLA Breakfast
Bring your breakfast to listen to amazing author Jason Reynolds, this year’s CLA Breakfast keynote speaker! In a live session Sunday morning from 9:00 – 10:15 am ET, the 2020-21 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature will talk about his writing and more.
Lauren Aimonette Liang is an associate professor at the University of Utah and the current president of CLA.
BY PEGGY S. RICE
Serenity can be found at the intersection of Mother Nature, the animal world and poetry. I have found that the more time I spend at this intersection, the less anxiety I feel. Following are materials and strategies, my students, daughter and I have found successful:
Power of Place
Locate a space surrounded in nature that you can visit regularly. I am fortunate, because I live on 7 acres with a pond. When visiting this space, be prepared to engage in mindful listening, see the world with a poet’s eyes and take notes in a writing journal.
Writing poetry is all about playing with words. Fletcher (2002) encourages us to play with the sounds of words. Consider, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, onomatopoeia and alliteration. He also encourages us to think fragments/cut unnecessary words, consider shape, use white space/experiment with line breaks and end with a bang/sharpen the ending. Each of these aspects of language can be a topic of minilessons connected to poetry performances of mentor poems. Lewis (2012, 2015) has included excellent resources for writing formula poems.
In Beauty May I Walk
--Anonymous (Navajo Indian)
In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age, wondering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty
It is finished in beauty
Calkins, L.M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R. (2002). Poetry matters: Writing a poem from the inside out. New York: Harper Trophy.
Lewis, J. P. (2015). National geographic book of nature poetry: More than 200 poems with photographs that float, zoom, and bloom! Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners, LLC.
Lewis, J. P. (2012). National geographic book of animal poetry: More than 200 poems with photographs that squeak, soar, and roar! Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners, LLC.
Shelton, L. (2009). Banish boring words. New York: Scholastic
Peggy S. Rice is an Associate Professor of Elementary Education and Faculty Advisor for the Partners in Literacy Council at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana. She is a member of the Children's Literature Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
BY SCOTT RILEY AND MARY ANN CAPPIELLO, ON BEHALF OF THE BIOGRAPHY CLEARINGHOUSE
The nation is rattled by a presidential impeachment trial. The economy is held in the grip of a recession. Black Americans demand an end to racism, redlining, and segregated schools. Women insist on equity in the home and in the workplace, control over their finances and their bodies. 2020? No. 1974.
The votes cast today, on Election Day 2020, along with the millions of votes cast over the last several weeks, will determine the next president and vice president of the United States of America. Today’s votes will also elect all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 members of the U.S. Senate. How much do our students know and understand about these legislative bodies and the power with which they are endowed? About the people who serve within these institutions?
One small way to begin a conversation about these legislative bodies, the legislative process, and the people who fill those seats is with a reading of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. This 2018 picture book tells the life story of Barbara Jordan, the formidable Congresswoman known for her defense of the Constitution during the 1974 impeachment trial of President Richard Nixon:
Barbara Jordan believed in the Constitution, and she believed in the power of the processes of government to enact change on behalf of the greater good. Throughout What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, author Chris Barton uses the power and conviction of Jordan’s voice to demonstrate to readers how Jordan worked within the system to advocate for social justice. Through repetition, sentence variety, and precise word choice, Barton captures Jordan’s transition from studious young woman to tireless champion. Ekua Holmes’ mixed-media collages move from intimate close-ups to panoramic views, constantly shifting and changing perspectives to engage the reader in different portraits of Jordan.
By investigating biographers’ research and writing processes and connecting people and historical events to our modern lives, we hope to motivate change in how readers engage with biographies, each other, and the larger world. To see more classroom possibilities and helpful resources connected to What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, visit the What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan page on The Biography Clearinghouse.
Additionally, we’d love to hear how these interviews and ideas inspired you. Email us at email@example.com with your connections, creations, questions, or comment below if you’re reading this on Twitter or Facebook.
If you are interested in receiving notifications when new content is added to the Biography Clearinghouse, you can sign up for new content notices on our website.
Scott Riley is a middle school instructional coach at Singapore American School where he supports professional learning in and out of classrooms and the debut author of The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field (Millbrook Press 2021).
Mary Ann Cappiello teaches courses in children’s literature and literacy methods at Lesley University, blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf, a School Library Journal blog, and is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Using Poetic Picturebooks as Mentor Texts
BY ELIZABETH M. BEMISS
Each year, the Notable Children’s Books in Language Arts Committee (NCBLA) reads and discusses works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry written for K-8 readers. Committee members, seven dedicated children’s literature enthusiasts, with experience ranging from elementary school teaching, to school librarians, and finally, university faculty with expertise in children’s and young adult literature, consider the requisite qualities for narrowing down the winners to a list of 30 titles.
In this post, I will feature two poetic picture books included in the 2020 Notables list, Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons (2019), and Room on Our Rock (2019).
Teaching Tips for Using the Books as Mentor Texts
Utilized as mentor texts, these poetic picture books provide readers with delightful opportunities to craft their own written responses inspired from the texts.
The whimsical collection of “riddle-ku” poems in Lion of the Sky invites readers to enjoy a play on language and is an inspiring way to help young writers craft unique poetry of their own. Students can create their own “riddle-ku” poems and invite peers and family members to guess the answer to their “riddle-kus.” To scaffold young writers, teachers can draw from this brainstorming resource from Millbrook Press where students can craft a “Zoo-ku,” or a “riddle-ku” about an animal. Additionally, students can publish their “riddle-ku” on a Padlet Page created by the author, Laura Purdie Salas. Another way students can craft their poems is through Read Write Think’s Interactive Haiku Generator, which guides students through brainstorming, drafting, and publishing, where individual background images can be added to the published “riddle-ku.”
The poetic forward and backward reading of Room on Our Rock can foster rich conversations between readers about the varying messages from the book when read forward versus backward as well as discussions surrounding point of view. Teachers can guide students to reflect on the kind of tone and voice needed to read the book forward and how it changed to read the book backward. Teachers could also have students think about how the artwork on each page was used to create the tone of the book from two perspectives. After engaging in deep conversation around the book, students can partner up to write a review of the book and then share their reviews via free audio or video sharing applications. Students can post links to the reviews on a class page such as note.ly or Padlet.
Elizabeth M. Bemiss, an Assistant Professor at the University of West Florida, teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature and literacy methods. Elizabeth is a member of the 2019-2021 Notables Committee.
BY ALLY HAUPTMAN
Why do we teach vocabulary? At its core increasing a student’s vocabulary gives that student power. The power to express ideas, opinions, and feelings. The power to find the right words to persuade, inform, or to bring joy to readers. The power to build knowledge and understand complex concepts across disciplines.
To effectively teach vocabulary and empower our students, teachers must provide rich and varied language experiences, learning experiences that connect words within a context, and opportunities to develop word consciousness (Allen, 2014). Students need opportunities to read, write, and talk in authentic ways. Teachers can model how to use words in context, and immerse students in the language of different disciplines. We need to show students how powerful words are in helping us communicate our ideas. We have to show them how to become “word collectors.” We need to teach vocabulary within context, and intentionally put students in situations where they make connections between words and concepts.
One of the most effective ways for students to make connections and construct meaning is to make sure new vocabulary is presented within a meaningful context. This is where excellent children’s literature comes into play. There are so many brilliantly written non-fiction picture books that can be used to teach vocabulary within a context. With students, I refer to these non-fiction books that are accessible to young readers and use text features in interesting ways, as jazzy non-fiction. Students are drawn to these texts because they make the subject fascinating for readers.
One author whose jazzy nonfiction I often use is Jess Keating. She is an author, artist, and zoologist who creates texts that spark curiosity about animals and women in science. In her World of Weird Animals series, she uses photographs, cartoons, and text features in unique and engaging ways. This is what makes her books so appealing to young readers, but as a teacher I am drawn to the complex vocabulary she uses in her writing. Jess Keating books can be used as mentor texts for writing, sparking a myriad of writing possibilities for students as they begin to see creative ways to write nonfiction. Jess Keating books are perfect for modeling a rich array of metacognitive comprehension strategies like determining importance. Jess Keating books are the best for teaching science concepts and related vocabulary within an authentic context.
Cute As an Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals
In this text, Jess Keating and David DeGrand present a combination of stunning animal photographs, cartoon animals, and text features that invite readers to learn about some seriously cute creatures. For each animal, Keating lists facts like species name, size, diet, habitat, predators and threats. She also tells the reader strange, interesting facts that leave you wanting to do more research on these adorable creatures.
Learning Experience Using Cute As an Axolotl