by Oksana Lushchevska
It takes a village to heal warriors – and it takes a warrior to teach the village how” state Raymond Monsour Scurfield and Katherine Theresa Platoni in their scholarly text Healing War Trauma: A Handbook of Creative Approaches.
Following the horrific news from Ukraine, an independent, rapidly developing country located in eastern Europe, US educators and literature advocates seek tools to facilitate starting conversations about the devastating effects of war on humanity and the support every individual can offer, regardless of where they are.
Children’s books can serve as a great tool to start deliberate, responsible conversations through classroom dialogue. Jella Lepman (1891-1970), a German journalist, author, and translator who founded the International Youth Library in Munich right after WWII, believed that children’s books are couriers of peace. She was certain that if children read books from other countries, they would realize that they share common human values and strive to preserve them.
I believe that we, as global-minded educators and literature advocates, should, to use Scurfield and Platoni’s words, become warriors of peace; peacemakers who prepare our children to grow into wise, understanding, and sympathetic global citizens who have the will and the capacity to heal the world. Being originally from Ukraine and witnessing this horrific war unfolding in my country, where all my family and friends live, I feel the cruciality of this duty urgently and viscerally. Thus, I want to bring to your attention the picturebook How War Changed Rondo, which is a Ukrainian export. The book has been recognized as a Kirkus Best Book of 2021 and as a USBBY Outstanding International Book of 2022.
Interestingly, this book was created by the Ukrainian book creators Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv in 2014. The book won the 2015 Bologna Ragazzi Award, which is one of the most prestigious European Awards in children’s literature. I translated this book as soon as it was written. It was an imperative for me to bring it to the attention of English-speaking readers as it highlights a vital turning point in Ukraine's independent history: Russia’s annexation of Crimea and occupation of the eastern part of Ukraine in 2014 (Ukraine has been an independent country since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991). I also felt responsibility to share with global young readers that we, as human beings, all want peace and democracy; we want to create and to thrive. In the picturebook, through the fictionalized characters, Danko (a light bulb), Fabian (a pink balloon dog), and Zirka (an origami bird), Romanyshyn and Lesiv depict the horrors of invasion of one’s own country, the impact of war, and the destruction in brings to everyone.
When I translated the text, I brought it to my classroom. It was 2015 and I taught a Children’s Literature course at the University of Georgia. When my students, who were future educators, read the text of How War Changed Rondo (the book was not yet published in the US), their empathy was sharp and deep. What’s important to know – I read the text without showing them the illustrations, so they could imagine the characters by themselves. After the reading, I invited them to write down their responses or/and to draw them. In particular, I invited them to imagine who the characters of the book are and what their injuries might look like. This was a very fruitful experience that further connected my students emotionally with the text and grounded their empathy. Finally, I showed them Andriy Lesiv’s original illustrations and they were touched by the perspective they created. You can use a similar approach when reading this picturebook in your classroom, or you can do it your own way. The possibilities are endless. You might also like to pair it with a short professional animated video of The War That Changed Rondo recently done by Chervony Sobaka (Red Dog Studio). This will be a good set to bring an intelligent perspective on such an important topic.
Donating to Help
If you are looking for donation options to support the people of Ukraine, here are some outlets for your consideration.
Lepman, J. (2002). A bridge of children’s books: the inspiring autobiography of a remarkable woman. Dublin, Ireland: The O’Brien Press, Ltd.
Romanyshyn, R., Lesiv A., How War Changed Rondo. New York: Enchanted Lion Books.
Scurfield, R. M., Platoni, K. Th. (2012). Healing War Trauma: A Handbook of Creative Approaches. New York: Routledge.
Oksana Lushchevska, Ph.D. is an independent children's literature scholar and a Ukrainian children's book author and translator. She is a publishing industry and government consultant in Ukraine and founder of Story+I Writing Group. She was a recipient of the 2015 CLA Research Award.
By Julie Waugh and Erika Thulin Dawes on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse.
March is Women’s History month and picturebook biographies are a powerful way to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women. In the most recent Biography Clearinghouse entry, we explore Victoria Tentler-Krylov’s picture book biography Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid. As a child, Zaha Hadid was fascinated by aspects of her surroundings that others passed by without observing. Her eye for the beauty in nature developed into a vision for architecture that challenged existing perceptions of what a building could be. In Building Zaha, Victoria Tentler-Krylov describes how these seeds of interest planted in childhood grew into a career and a passionate commitment to an artform. Tentler-Krylov’s water illustrations soar across the page, lifting readers into Zaha’s vision of what humankind’s structures might aspire to be.
In the Biography Clearinghouse entry for Building Zaha, you will find an interview, in which Victoria Tentler-Krylov describes how her own education as an architect influenced her writing of Zaha Hadid’s story. You’ll find teaching ideas that focus on character development, mentoring, and goal setting, as well as ideas that build content knowledge about the relationship between architecture and nature, the design processes of architecture, and women leaders in the field. Like us, you will be inspired by the lessons that author/ illustrator Victoria Tentler-Krylov learned from studying the life of Zaha Hadid: “Trust your own voice. Trust your own vision.”
Here is an excerpt of the teaching ideas in the Biography Clearinghouse entry for Building Zaha:
Exploring Zaha’s Designs
Zaha Hadid became known as “the queen of the curve” in the architecture world. She created buildings with shapes that people thought impossible to build. Invite students to explore, notice, and wonder with Zaha Hadid’s amazing projects:
Another recent children's book biography about Zaha Hadid is The World is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter. Winter’s book focuses heavily on how Zaha Hadid’s work is influenced by the natural world, whereas Tentler-Krylov’s book focuses more on Zaha the person. The paired texts could provide a powerful invitation for students to compare and contrast the different ways in which authors made choices about how to share a person’s life in picture book format.
Breaking Boundaries: Female Architects
Designing for Form and Function: Thinking Like an Architect
Victoria Tentler-Krylov shared how one of her favorite illustrations in Building Zaha is the spread where a young Zaha is the only character in a crowded space who is looking up in a beautiful mosque. Looking closely and wondering can help you think and work like an architect. Looking closely and wondering can also help you focus on form (what a space looks like) in architecture, and how well that form meets function (what is going to happen in the designed space). Form and function are ideas that need to work hand in hand for an architect to create a successful place to live or work.
Some people told Zaha Hadid that form was more important to her than function. She was criticized that her creative, uniquely designed spaces did not use space as well as they could, or did not use space as efficiently as possible. This was part of why, early in her career, people told Zaha that she would only be a “paper architect” - an architect that would only have designs on paper and not made into buildings.
Erika Thulin Dawes is Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University where she teaches courses in children’s literature and early childhood literacy. She blogs about teaching with children’s literature at The Classroom Bookshelf, a School Library Journal blog, and is a former chair of NCTE’s Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.
Julie Waugh teaches 8th grade ELA at Smith Junior High and serves as an Inquiry Coach for Mesa Public Schools. She delights in the company of children surrounded and inspired by books. A longtime member of NCTE, and an enthusiastic newer member of CLA, Julie is a former committee member of NCTE's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
By Jennifer M. Graff, Jenn Sanders, and Courtney Shimek on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
A Sampling of Wu Chien Shiung’s Accomplishments and Accolades
The first woman to
She also received
The Biography Clearinghouse’s latest entry includes interdisciplinary teaching ideas and resources that
This entry also features interviews with Robeson and Huang about their inspirations for this picturebook biography, connections to Wu Chien Shiung, and details about their research and composing processes, among other interesting topics. Below are three instructional ideas from this entry.
Mentoring Via Peer Conferencing
Teach the mentor/tutor to pay attention to the writer’s ideas before worrying about spelling conventions.
“Respect the writer and the writer’s paper.”
Make the writer feel comfortable, be an active listener, and don’t write on the person’s paper.
“Involve the writer by asking questions.”
Teach mentors/tutors to ask open ended questions that get the writer talking about their ideas, their writing purpose, or their process.
“Teach the writer.”
Mentors/tutors share writing strategies that can be applied to the current piece but also across other pieces, rather than just trying to fix or revise the one piece they are discussing.
“Encourage the writer.”
Mentors/tutors provide encouragement by noting something specific that the writer did really well and offering one or two suggestions for revision (p.127).
Teachers can also invite students to consider the role of mentorship in their own lives. Students can identify individuals who have served as mentors to them and explore mentorship patterns and practices that are helpful and empowering to them as learners.
Advocacy and Activism
- Yuri Kochiyama was a political activist from California who fought with Malcom X to work for racial justice, civil and human rights, and anti-war movements. She went on to work in the redress and reparations movements for Japanese Americans and continued to fight for political prisoners until she passed away in 2014.
- Pranjal Jain is an Indian-American activist who has been organizing since she was 12 years old. As a current undergraduate at Cornell University, she is the founder of Global Girlhood, a women-led organization that inspires intercultural and intergenerational dialogue in online and offline spaces.
- Stephanie Hu is a Chinese American who founded Dear Asian Youth while she was a high school student as a support website for marginalized young people as a result of the rise in anti-Asian racism and violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American movie star to appear in U.S. box offices. Although she was often relegated to smaller roles that perpetuated Asian stereotypes, her career spanned silent films, talkies, theater, and television, and she helped blaze the trail for Asian American performers after her. See Paula Yoo and Lin Yang’s (2009) picturebook biography, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, published by Lee & Low Books.
Printmaking a Character for Fiction Writing
By using basic supplies such as styrofoam plates and markers for printmaking, students can create a character to print and use in their own creative story. Watch this short video of a teacher demonstrating the styrofoam printmaking process.
If you have 1-2 hours….
If you have 1-2 days…
If you have 1-2 weeks…
Each student can design a main character for a story they write, and then draw and marker-print the character on paper. In this activity, students will experience a process of printmaking that helps them understand the steps and all the work that goes into making printed images.
After students create their printed character (see the If you have 1 to 2 hours . . . column), students can draft the story in which their character experiences a problem, challenge, or adventure. Based on their story, they can add a background setting in their picture to place their character in the context of their story. Students will simply draw the background setting and objects around their character on their printed picture.
Students can print their character four to six times, on separate pieces of paper, to create a storyboard with multiple scenes. Save one of these prints to make a title page for the story.
For this activity, we recommend students leave the background of the styrofoam plate empty so they can draw in different backgrounds as the story progresses. Then, they can divide their corresponding written story into sections (three, four, or five, depending on the number of prints they made).
For each story section, they can draw in a related background setting, additional characters, or objects to help complete the scene.
In the end, they will have a multimedia print that has their character marker-printed and the background drawn in with pen, marker, or other tools.
Jennifer Sanders is a Professor of Literacy Education at Oklahoma State University, specializing in representations of diversity in children’s and young adult literature and writing pedagogy. She is co-founder and co-chair of The Whippoorwill Book Award for Rural YA Literature and long-time member of CLA.
Courtney Shimek is an Assistant Professor in the department of Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy Studies at West Virginia University. She has been a CLA member since 2015.
by Rachel Skrlac Lo & Donna Sabis-Burns on behalf of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
Challenges to books and reading lists are proliferating. In recent conversations with students, educators, and school board members, folks have shared that book challenges are taking up valuable time, distracting from and interfering with learning, and creating new tensions in the classroom and in the boardroom. Students are denied access to texts while challenged books undergo reviews, and they often have no say over districts’ decisions. Teachers are asked to modify carefully constructed curriculum or face discipline. Administrators are drawing on policies that were not designed for this onslaught of challenges.
According to the American Library Association, in 2021 George/Melissa (Gino) and Stamped (Reynolds & Kendi) were the two most challenged books. Jason Reynolds decries these challenges for denying children access to books. These books are in good company. Gender Queer (Kobabe), Maus (Spiegelman), New Kid (Craft), Fry Bread (Maillard) are a few titles on a quickly growing list. These challenges represent the carefully organized efforts of several groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education, groups that purport to work for “the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids”. Their goal is to incite moral panic and culture wars, framed as protecting innocent children from harm. This notion of harm is narrowly defined, namely to protect white heteronormative conservative families from having to acknowledge a broader world.
Critics of these book challenges include storytellers, educators and librarians, teacher educators and other scholars, and students. Books provide access to new worlds and perspectives. They may challenge our beliefs or affirm them. They may disgust us, enrapture us, and all the places in between. A good library and curriculum has books that do all of these things. In schools, books are used to help us navigate the world and build our ability to think critically about who we all are. Book challenges deny all students the rights to access new worlds and develop these skills to critically interrogate their world.
Institutional Resources to Reject Book Challenges
The NEA’s Code of Ethics, briefly
1. “restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning”,
2. “unreasonably deny the student’s access to varying points of view”, nor
3. “deliberately suppress or distort subject matter”.
Additionally, educators must make an effort to:
4. “protect students from harmful conditions”,
5. “not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement”, and
6. ensure all students have access to programs, benefits, and advantages regardless of “race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background or sexual orientation.”
The two remaining conditions are that educators:
7. do not seek private advantage from relationships with students, and
8. will respect students' privacy.
Using the Code of Ethics to Respond to Challenges
The adults behind the book challenges argue their children are harmed through the content of these books, and this harm can be manifested as feelings of discomfort, shame and embarrassment, or in exposure to ideas that may lead to “deviance”. According to Principle 1, then, these parents are claiming that being exposed to these books is a harmful condition (condition 4) that results in these children feeling embarrassed and disparaged whether due to sexual content of texts, such as in challenges to George/Melissa, or discovering the longstanding persistent impact of white supremacy, such as in Stamped (condition 5).
Yet, if schools were to succumb to these challenges, the result would be changes to curriculum and school resources that would unfairly deny benefits (condition 6) to students who identify differently from the mostly white, mostly straight, mostly Christian, mostly politically conservative, mostly American parents who are leading these challenges. Moreover, by shifting school curriculum and materials based on this loud but small group, schools would further violate the code of ethics by restraining independent action (condition 1), such as access to a diverse and representative library collection. Students would be denied access to multiple points of view (condition 2) by restricting the scope of content and voices. This suppression would distort subject matter (condition 3) and would impede student progress (condition 6). Removing books based on outcry of a small but politically-motivated group violates most of the conditions of commitment to the student in the NEA’s code of ethics.
Additionally, because educators must respect students’ privacy (condition 8), educators are guided by an ethical duty to protect students' identities because students warrant this protection of their full humanity. As such, educators must not be compelled to reveal which students need access to these books. We must trust educators when they say there are children who need these books.
So, which students need access to these books?
As CLA’s Position Statement on the Importance of Critical Selection and Teaching of Diverse Children’s Literature underscores:
Resisting book challenges, then, is not about supporting or denying an ideological position. It’s affirming our commitment to serve all students. By drawing on a code of ethics, or other institutional materials, educators can respond to these challenges with the support of their profession and an understanding that their desire to serve all students is morally and ethically just.
Donna Sabis-Burns, Ph.D., an enrolled citizen of the Upper Mohawk-Turtle Clan, is a Group Leader in the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education* in Washington, D.C. She is a Board Member (2020-2022) with the Children's Literature Assembly and Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee.
This morning, Mary Ann Cappiello, Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University, and Xenia Hadjioannou, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Harrisburg campus of Penn State University and co-editor of the CLA Blog, sent the letter below to The New York Times requesting that the paper add three children's nonfiction bestseller lists to parallel the existing picture book, middle grade, and young adult lists, which focus on fiction. The submitted letter included the signatures of more than 500 educators and librarians, as well as the institutional signatures of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Children’s Literature Assembly of NCTE.
This change will align the children's lists with the adult bestseller lists, which separate nonfiction and fiction. It will also acknowledge the incredible vibrancy of children's nonfiction available today and support the substantial body of research showing that many children prefer nonfiction and still others enjoy fiction and nonfiction equally.
If you support this request, please follow the signature collection form link to add your name and affiliation to the more than 500 educators and librarians who have already endorsed the effort. Your information will be added to the letter but your email address will remain private.
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
Today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators are depicting marginalized and minority communities throughout history and in our current moment. They are sharing scientific phenomena and cutting-edge discoveries. They are bearing witness to how art forms shift and transform, and illuminating historical documents and artifacts long ignored. Some of these book creators are themselves scientists or historians, journalists or jurists, athletes or artists, models of active learning and agency for young people passionate about specific topics and subject areas. Today’s nonfiction continues to push boundaries in form and function. These innovative titles engage, inform, and inspire readers from birth to high school.
Babies delight in board books that offer them photographs of other babies’ faces. Toddlers and preschoolers fascinated by the world around them pore over books about insects, animals, and the seasons. Children, tweens, and teens are hungry for titles about real people that look like them and share their religion, cultural background, or geographical location, and they devour books about people living different lives at different times and in different places. Info-loving kids are captivated by fact books and field guides that fuel their passions. Young tinkerers, inventors, and creators seek out how-to books that guide them in making meals, building models, knitting garments, and more. Numerous studies have described such readers and their passionate interest in nonfiction (Jobe & Dayton-Sakari, 2002; Moss and Hendershot, 2002; Mohr, 2006). Young people are naturally curious about their world. When they are allowed to follow their passions and explore what interests them, it bolsters their overall wellbeing. And the more young people read, the more they grow as readers, writers, and critical thinkers (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2021; Van Bergen et al., 2021).
Research provides clear evidence that many children prefer nonfiction for their independent reading, and many more select it to pursue information about their particular interests (Doiron, 2003; Repaskey et al., 2017; Robertson & Reese, 2017; Kotaman & Tekin, 2017). Creative and engaging nonfiction titles can also enhance and support science, social studies, and language arts curricula. And yet, all too often, children, parents, and teachers do not know about recently published nonfiction books. Bookstores generally have only a few shelves devoted to the genre. And classroom and school library book collections remain dominated by fiction. If families, caregivers, and educators were aware of the high-quality nonfiction that is published for children every year, the reading lives of children and their educational experiences could be significantly enriched.
How can The New York Times help resolve the gap between readers’ yearning for engaging nonfiction, on the one hand, and their lack of knowledge of its existence, on the other? By maintaining separate fiction and nonfiction best seller lists for young readers just as the Book Review does for adults.
The New York Times Best Sellers lists constitute a vital cultural touchstone, capturing the interests of readers and trends in the publishing world. Since their debut in October of 1931, these lists have evolved to reflect changing trends in publishing and to better inform the public about readers’ habits. We value the addition of the multi-format Children’s Best Seller list in July 2000 and subsequent lists organized by format in October 2004. Though the primary purpose of these lists is to inform, they undeniably play an important role in shaping what publishers publish and what children read.
Adding children’s nonfiction best-seller lists would:
- Help family members, caregivers, and educators identify worthy nonfiction titles.
- Provide a resource for bibliophiles—including book-loving children—of materials that satisfy their curiosity.
- Influence publishers’ decision-making.
- Inform the public about innovative ways to convey information and ideas through words and images.
- Inspire schools and public libraries to showcase nonfiction, broadening its appeal and deepening respect for truth.
We, the undersigned, strongly believe that by adding a set of nonfiction best-seller lists for young people, The New York Times can help ensure that more children, tweens, and teens have access to books they love. Thank you for considering our request.
Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello
Professor, Language and Literacy
Graduate School of Education, Lesley University
Former Chair, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Committee, Blogger at The Classroom Bookshelf of School Library Journal, Founding Member of The Biography Clearinghouse.
Dr. Xenia Hadjioannou
Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education
Penn State University, Harrisburg Campus
Vice President of the Children’s Literature Assembly (CLA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), co-editor of The CLA Blog, Founding Member of The Biography Clearinghouse.
Correia, M. (2011). Fiction vs. informational texts: Which will your kindergarteners choose? Young Children, 66(6), 100-104.
Doiron, R. (2003). Boy books, girl books: Should we re-organize our school library collections? Teacher Librarian, 30(3), 14.
Kotaman H. & Tekin A.K. (2017). Informational and fictional books: young children's book preferences and teachers' perspectives. Early Child Development and Care, 187(3-4), 600-614, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1236092
Jobe, R., & Dayton-Sakari, M. (2002). Infokids: How to use nonfiction to turn reluctant readers into enthusiastic learners. Pembroke.
Mohr, K. A. J. (2006). Children’s choices for recreational reading: A three-part investigation of selection preferences, rationales, and processes. Journal of Literacy Research, 38(1), 81–104. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15548430jlr3801_4
Moss, B. & Hendershot, J. (2002). Exploring sixth graders' selection of nonfiction trade books: when students are given the opportunity to select nonfiction books, motivation for reading improves. The Reading Teacher, 56 (1), 6-17.
Repaskey, L., Schumm, J. & Johnson, J. (2017). First and fourth grade boys’ and girls’ preferences for and perceptions about narrative and expository text. Reading Psychology, 38(8), 808-847.
Robertson, Sarah-Jane L. & Reese, Elaine. (2017). The very hungry caterpillar turned into a butterfly: Children's and parents' enjoyment of different book genres. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(1), 3-25.
Van Bergen, E., Vasalampi, K., & Torppa, M. (2021). How are practice and performance related? Development of reading from age 5 to 15. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(3), 415–434. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.309.
Reflections of Realities and Renewals: USBBY’s 2020-22 Outstanding International Books (OIB) Text Sets
By Bettie Parsons Barger and Jennifer M. Graff
OIB Selection Criteria*
*Not every book will meet every criterion equally.*
See the USBBY website for additional content and presentation considerations.
As we look at the past three years of OIB lists, we recognize how our current realities are reflected in the committees’ selections. Julie Flett’s (2021) We All Play/ Kimêtawânaw illustrates humans’ innate connection to nature and the joyous experiences of playing outdoors, as the current pandemic has encouraged. The Elevator (Frankel, 2020) speaks to the power of humorous storytelling to unite strangers who unexpectedly find themselves in close quarters. The current Ukrainian-Russian tensions mirror the conflict in How War Changed Rondo (2021). Silvia Vecchini’s (2019) graphic novel, The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story, and Heather Smith’s (2019) picturebook, The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden, are stirring testimonies about ongoing global natural disasters, such as the recent volcano eruption and subsequent earthquake and tsunami that have devastated the Pacific nation of Tonga.
Partnering the beliefs that books including hostile and traumatic events “can provoke reflection and inspire dialogue that sensitizes readers . . .” (Raabe, 2016, p.58) and that “stories are important bridging stones; they can bring people closer together, connect them, and help overcome alienation” (Raabe & von Merveldt, 2018, p.64), we created a sampling of five text sets that can be readily used in K-12 classrooms.
(Book covers are organized by younger-to-older audience gradation.)
(civil, border, global, & cultural)
(civil, border, global, & cultural)
(personal, biographical, cultural, geographical, historical, traditional, philosophical, intergenerational, visual, epistolary)
(accentuating humans’ relationships with the natural world)
(Playful approaches to familiar topics, how play and curiosity can foster connections and community, and the role of imagination in creating new possibilities and realities, benefits of unexpected journeys)
Making Friends and Building Community through Play
Engaging Math Explorations
WWII and Holocaust Survivor Stories
For more information about OIB books and USBBY, please join us in Nashville, Tennessee, March 4-6, 2022 for USBBY’s Regional Conference.
Rabbe, C. (2016). “Hello, dear enemy! Picture books for peace and humanity.” Bookbird: A Journal of Children’s LIterature, 54(4), 57-61.
Rabbe, C. & von Merveldt, N. (2018). “Welcome to the new home country Germany: Intercultural projects of the International Youth Library with refugee children and young adults.” Bookbird: A Journal of Children’s LIterature, 56(3), 61-65.
Jennifer M. Graff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, is a former CLA President and Member for 15+ years.
By Liz Thackeray Nelson & Lauren Aimonette Liang
In our undergraduate children’s literature course we introduce these important awards to begin discussions around evaluation of children’s books. We consider how the criteria might point to ways of evaluating excellence in children’s and young adult literature, and consider the connection of this evaluation to selection of books for use in classrooms, libraries, and other settings.
We also use these award discussions as a way to heighten awareness of the business and marketing side to children’s literature, particularly considering how awards can influence sales, authors’ and illustrators’ careers, publishing trends, and ultimately access to books. Below we briefly describe a reading-reflection sequence and activity that we have found helpful in building undergraduate students’ understanding of the impact of an award.
Reading-Reflection Sequence 1: Read about older children’s book award debates.
We have found that our undergraduate students, in general, have had very little exposure to children’s book awards prior to this class. Many recognize either the Newbery or Caldecott as being a book award for children, but few are aware there are other awards beyond this.
Thus our first step is to introduce students to the idea that there exists many more awards beyond those two. To begin priming students’ thinking about the full range of awards, and their impact, we start by having them read Marc Aronson’s (2001) article, “Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes,” published in The Horn Book Magazine. In addition to reading Aronson’s article, students read the letters to the editor published in the next Horn Book issue that respond to Aronson’s piece as well as Andrea Davis Pinkney’s response article, “Awards that Stand on Solid Ground.”
After students read, we pose Aronson’s position to students: There are too many awards. Students then compose a brief response as to whether or not they agree with the statement and their reasoning. At this point in the discussion, students are often about 50/50 in where they fall on the issue.
Reading-Reflection Sequence 2: Read about the lack of diversity in awards.
To extend Andrea Davis Pinkney’s response article, we then ask students to read two additional articles that begin to address the lack of diversity in books that win the Newbery and Caldecott Medals: Roger Sutton’s (2016) “Last Stop, First Steps” and Megan Dowd Lambert’s (2015) “#WeGotDiverseAwardBooks: Reflections on Awards and Allies.”
We deliberately use these short editorial pieces, both written near the beginning of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks (2014) movement, as they continue students’ understanding of not only these awards, but also focus on the historical lack of diversity in United States’ children’s literature and more recent focus on this problem. Dowd Lambert’s piece mentions the hashtag specifically, which encourages students to visit the WNDB page, where they can learn more. Sutton’s editorial reinforces this with reference to a 1996 discussion, and presentation of numbers of nonwhite authors. It also brings up issues related to book genre and format
After reading these two short pieces, students are again asked to consider the statement: There are too many awards, and then compose a brief response as to whether or not they agree with the statement at this point, and their new reasoning for why they continue in their same opinion, or have now changed their answer. At this point in the activity, with students now having learned a little about the lack of diversity in award winners, we often find that those students who initially thought there were too many awards begin to shift their opinions. And those who disagreed with Aronson from the beginning often feel more justified in their stance that there are not too many awards.
Reading-Reflection Sequence 3: Read about the impact of awards on authors.
Next, we continue to further students’ understanding by having them learn about the author’s experiences in receiving an award. We seek out the newest reactions; for example, this year, we shared short articles from Publisher’s Weekly about Donna Barba Higuar, Jason Chin, and Andrea Bouley’s experiences when they found out they had won their respective awards. In connection with these readings, we typically ask students to read the short piece “Recognizing Rising Stars” (Aimonette Liang, Reading Today, 2015) that discusses the history and impact of the ILA Children’s and Young Adult Book awards that are designed to honor new authors with extraordinary promise. Quotes from multiple winners highlight the way an award can change the trajectory of an author’s career.
After students consider these additional perspectives, we again ask them to consider the statement: There are too many awards. Once again, they present their opinion and reasoning. We then ask students to explain how their ideas around awards have changed over the course of the set of readings.
Final Activity: Tracking Amazon rankings of award books.
For our final activity to develop students’ understanding of the impact of children’s and young adult book awards, we have students track Amazon book rankings of winning books in the days after the YMA awards have been announced (see our class-compiled results for 2022 below). Students are assigned to an award and asked to find the winning book and honor books on Amazon as soon after the award announcements as possible. They record the sales rank. Students then check 24 hours later on the books’ sales ranks on Amazon. Students are typically shocked at how within hours of the award announcements books are sold out and have substantially higher rankings than they did before; for example, “When I looked earlier today [it] was #2277 and when I looked just now [it] is now #1 in children’s graphic novels. I can’t believe it was that low on the list earlier today and is now sitting at #1!”
This experience helps students understand the impact of awards on the sales of books, and they begin to recognize further how this can affect the sales of future books by the author, and even the publisher in general. (We often add an additional quick check on changes in the sales of the author’s and illustrator’s previous books, or on the sales of that particular genre or format, etc.) Combined with the earlier reflections on readings, the students often begin to bring up concerns about how the award book might affect future children’s book sales, and thus access to both that particular book and others like it.
In their final reflections on awards written after this last activity, nearly all, if not 100%, of the students in the class believe that there is value in having a wide array of awards that can honor diverse authors, illustrators, and books. Some students even go as far to state that there aren’t enough awards!
RANKING/ DATE/ TIME
RANKING/ DATE/ TIME
RANKING/ DATE/ TIME
Aronson, M. (2001). Slippery slopes and proliferating prizes. The Horn Book Magazine, 77(3), 271-278.
Garza de Cortes, O., Bern, A., Watson, J.S., Bishop, R.S., Edwards, C., Blubaugh, P., Caldwell, N., Holton, L., Hamilton, V., Taylor, D., Smith, H., Danielson-Francios, S., Rudd, D., Pinsent, P., Bush, M., & Hurwitz, J., (2001). Letters to the editor. The Horn Book Magazine, 77(5), 500-508.
Lambert, M.D. (2015). #WeGotDiverseeAwardBooks: Reflections on awards and allies. The Horn Book Magazine, 91(4), 101-104.
Liang, L.A. (2015). Recognizing rising stars. Reading Today, 32(6), 34-35.
Lodge, S. (2022, Jan. 25). Donna Barba Higuera’s Newbery win: A dual celebration. Publishers Weekly.
Maughan, S. (2022, Jan. 25). Angeline Boulley’s Printz win: Tears, champagne, and…lawyers? Publishers Weekly.
op de Beck, N. (2022, Jan. 25). Jason Chin’s Caldecott win: ‘Kind of a surreal experience.’ Publishers Weekly.
Pinkney, A.D. (2001). Awards that stand on solid ground. The Horn Book Magazine, 77(5), 535-539.
Sutton, R. (2016). Last stop, first steps. The Horn Book Magazine, 92(4), 11-12.
Lauren Aimonette Liang is Associate Professor at the Department of Educational Psychology of the University of Utah. She is Past President of CLA and co-editor of the CLA Blog.
By Debbie Myers
Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, authors of many professional development books such as Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters (2017), argue that self-selected reading is one way to increase reading engagement. In Disrupting Thinking (2017), Beers and Probst explain a study conducted by Anderson and colleagues (1988). This study demonstrates the impact of time spent reading on reading achievement. One measure Anderson et al. use is the total number of words a student encounters based on the time they spend reading outside of school and their reading rate. The results of the study indicated that fifth graders who were in the 98th percentile read 65 minutes a day outside of school and encountered approximately 4.3 million words each year. In contrast, students in the 70th percentile read for only 10 minutes a day, decreasing the number of words they encountered to 622,000. Students in the 50th percentile read for only 5 minutes a day and encountered only about 282,000 words. Finally, students in the 30th percentile read for less than 2 minutes each day and encountered only 106,000 words each year. The disparities between the amount of time read, the projected number of words encountered, and reading achievement was striking. Anderson and colleagues concluded that teachers can have a large influence on how much time students spend reading outside of school and suggested that teachers work to connect readers with high-interest texts at an appropriate reading level.
Since the amount of time readers spend engaged with self-selected texts clearly matters, our job as teachers is to work hard to get those self-selected texts into our students’ hands. I use Book Tastings to introduce students to a wide variety of books. This post will describe what a Book Tasting is, how to host one, and some of the results of Book Tastings I have done with my students.
What is a Book Tasting?
Similar to a wine tasting or food tasting event, Book Tastings are an event where readers sample or “taste” a selection of books. This activity encourages readers to sample a large selection of books in a fairly short period of time as a way to help them find a book they are interested in reading. Book Tastings are great events to hold at the beginning of the school year, the beginning of a new quarter, or any time you feel like your students need some to sample some new reading materials.
To host a Book Tasting event, teachers should collect a variety of high-interest books across a range of genres. You can host the tasting in your own classroom or even ask the school librarian to pull some books for students to taste in the library.
Once you have collected your texts, create areas in the classroom to display the texts so that the covers of all of the texts are visible. You may decide to categorize the texts by genre in different areas of the room so that there is a section for fantasy books, a section for historical fiction, etc.
Pass out three sticky notes to each student. Instruct students to write "yes," "no," and "maybe" on each post-it note and put them on their desks. Students will use these to categorize the books they taste into three piles. Once readers have their sticky notes ready to go, the teacher sets the timer and gives them 90 seconds to walk around the room, gathering books for their book tasting stacks.
Readers select ten books to taste. Allow students lots of time to taste their book selections. Ideally, readers will taste books from all genres, but it is more important to make book tasting a positive experience. Therefore, I never ask students to put books back; rather, I simply remind them that I hope they will expand their reading horizons this year by engaging with different types of books and books that showcase many different perspectives. So if students have an entire stack of fantasy books, I offer a few more books to taste from other genres to help them consider some additional possibilities.
Encourage readers to sample their books in multiple ways and in ways that feel natural for them. I suggest that readers examine the front and back covers of the book and read at least 3-5 pages of the book before making a determination. I also suggest that they read the back cover or inside flap if that is something they like to do. After readers taste each book, they categorize them into three piles: a yes pile, a no pile, and a maybe pile.
After categorizing each book, readers go back to their maybe piles and sample the books again to make a yes or no determination. If readers have more than one book in their yes piles, they decide which book they will read first and add the other yes titles to their “to be read” (TBR) lists in their reading journals.
Oftentimes, students arrive in class without knowing who they are as readers because previous teachers have been the ones selecting the books they read. Because students often are not afforded opportunities to select their own reading materials, they often have a negative attitude toward reading.
At the beginning of each school year, I ask my students to rate how much they like reading on a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 is “I don’t like reading yet” and 5 is “I love reading so much that I need to read ALL the books right now.” During the 2020-2021 school year, I began the year with only 22% of my students selecting a 3 or higher. When I asked my students to rate how much they like reading again at the end of the year, that number had increased to 92%.
Assisting my students in discovering books that were interesting to them not only increased the amount of time they spent reading, but also increased their attitude toward and enjoyment of reading.
This year, we are off to an even more promising start. When I asked my students to rate how much they enjoy reading at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, 63% of students selected a 3 or higher (see image on the right). These results give me hope that with the use of Book Tastings throughout the year, I will reach my end goal of 100% of students rating their enjoyment of reading at a 3 or higher.
On the first Book Tasting day this school year, the room was dead silent as readers tasted their books. Some students chose to take notes, while others did not.
Once each student had at least three or four books in their YES stacks, I asked them to make the most important decision a reader can possibly make: decide which book to read first.
After readers made their decision, I asked them to journal about the book they chose and why they had said yes to the books they selected.
In the end, each reader had a self-selected book and most had already started their To-Be-Read (TBR) stacks with some pretty fantastic reads!
Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P. T., & Fielding, L. G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(3), 285–303.
Beers, K., & Probst, R.E. (2017). Disrupting thinking: Why how we read matters. New York: Scholastic.
By Lauren Aimonette Liang, CLA Blog Co-editor
The CLA blog began in March 2020 with the start of the first major wave of Covid infections and subsequent changes to school environments. Xenia and I hoped this new blog could offer some practical support for CLA members and the greater education community who were using children’s literature in their newly online or remote settings. We knew our Assembly members collectively hold an amazing wealth of ideas, lessons, and outstanding resources highlighting the best of children’s literature; and we hoped the blog would become a place where educators could easily tap into this treasure-trove and share their own contributions.
Almost two years later, I am personally wowed by the posts in this blog. Each week I have gained new insights into how to effectively use a wide variety of resources and discovered exceptional lessons to use and share with the teachers and classrooms with whom I work. I find myself often revisiting the blog and clicking the category tags to remind myself of ideas that I want to try out. By the number of visits to this blog, we think that you are also finding the offerings of this virtual community to be a key resource.
This spring, the CLA Blog will continue to offer weekly posts full of lessons and resources to help support all educators as they share children’s literature with their students in all classroom contexts, however these may appear.
It is beyond difficult to predict how our classrooms, and our lives as educators, may look come March or May. But what we do know is that each of you reading this post remains committed to advocating for the centrality of literature in children’s academic and personal lives. We know that even on the hardest days you continue to share your enthusiasm for books with the children and young adults in your lives. You find ways to make stories and informational text accessible to students in all situations, and to fight back against those people or institutions that might create limits or barriers.
Each of you deserves so much more than a virtual hug of support. (Some fully paid vacations, a significant increase in salary, the actual materials you need to do your job, and a reduction in classroom sizes would be nice as a start!) While we cannot offer you these things, we do extend our most sincere thanks for the work you do every day.
We look forward to your weekly visits to the blog over the next five months. This winter and spring, the blog will feature posts from:
- CLA committees: A series of posts by the various CLA committees, highlighting recent work and initiatives.
- The Biography Clearinghouse: A series of posts from the Biography Clearinghouse team on incorporating biography into the curriculum.
- Individual CLA members on a variety of topics.
Apply to Be On the Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committee
To be considered for the NCBLA Award committee, please email your application packet to the incoming committee chair (2022-2023) Fran Wilson (email@example.com), by the application deadline, January 30th by 11:59pm. Incomplete or late application packets will not be considered. Committee appointments will be decided by the CLA president, current NCBLA chair, and past NCBLA chair.
Your application packet should include the following documents:
- The completed application form found on p.3 of this document
- Signed NCBLA Award Committee Member Obligations Agreement found on p.4 of this document (wet or e-signatures are acceptable).
- Current C. V. or resumé
- One example of a book annotation you have written
- A signed letter of recommendation from your principal, director, or chair.
Good luck with your committee application!
by Xenia Hadjioannou, Lauren Liang, Liz Thackeray Nelson (Editors of the CLA Blog)
Out of the Darkness Grows the Light
María also referenced a recently published children's biography of Corita Kent written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Kara Kramer: Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent. The biography, which was composed in close collaboration with the Corita Center and includes reproductions of her work, was recently selected as one of the 2022 Orbis Pictus recommended books.
out of the darkness
Golden Line Strategy
Another children's title María Fránquiz connected to the 2022 NCTE Conference theme of ¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light is a picturebook by Yuyi Morales published as Bright Star in English and Lucero in Spanish. In this book, a young fawn explores a border territory, gently guided and encouraged by a maternal voice.
Using the golden line strategy, María pulled out the line:
"No matter where you are, you are a bright star inside our hearts."
"Dondequiera que estés, eres un lucero en nuestros corazones."
In reflecting on the excerpt, María commented, "For me, this line embodies, the belief of light within each person, child or adult. It is repeated in different forms in the story. The message offers protection to children because it presents the possibility of a caring person or community somewhere. This line radiates hope and love. I think that line also ties nicely with the lighthouse logo that incorporates our theme for the 2022 Convention. With the moon, and the stars brightly shining and the constellation beyond the lighthouses of our different parts of the world."
If you are interested in learning more about the golden line strategy, check out our post From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts in which Jeanne Fain, the 2020 Notables Committee Chair, describes the strategy and offers ideas and recommendations for practice.
Lauren Aimonette Liang is Associate Professor at the Deparment of Educational Psychology of the University of Utah. She is Past President of CLA and co-editor of the CLA Blog.
Liz Thackeray Nelson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Utah. She is co-chair of CLA's membership committee and co-editor of the CLA Blog.
Supporting PreK-12 and university teachers as they share children’s literature with their students in all classroom contexts.
The opinions and ideas posted in the individual entries are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of CLA or the Blog Editors.
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If you are a current CLA member and you would like to contribute a post to the CLA Blog, please read the Instructions to Authors and email co-editor Liz Thackeray Nelson with your idea.
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