By Jennifer Graff and Courtney Shimek on behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
As shared in our initial Biography Clearinghouse post, we are committed to showcasing how biographies can help connect youths with each other and the world. Offering curricular possibilities that are easily adaptable to grade level, time, and other contexts and providing “behind-the-scenes” content from biography creators are central components of our commitment.
In the spirit of returning to school and the desire to amplify the historical achievements of Black people in the U.S., we showcase the story of someone committed to justice and equity her entire life. “A child of New York City’s striving class of Blacks in the mid-1800s" (p.5) whose ideals were to “Aim high! Stand tall! Be strong! -- and do!” (p.5); a girl whose mother was “an ace operator for the Underground Railroad” (p.21); and an educator who wrote, “I never forgot that I had to sue for a privilege which any but a colored girl could have without asking” (p.36). Thus, our first featured biography on the Biography Clearinghouse website is Tonya Bolden’s award-winning Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl.
Bolden felt compelled to write about Maritcha after coming across her memoir at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Bolden’s rich, descriptive language and use of primary and secondary sources illuminate the life and experiences of Maritcha Rémond Lyons and her family in New York City during the latter half of the 19th century. Readers discover what life for Blacks was like in New York City, witness the terror and violence of the Draft Riots in 1863, and experience the fight for education and equal treatment. Bolden’s discussion of her research and writing process in the front and back matter as well as Maritcha’s perseverance, determination, and legacy inspired us to interview Bolden and imagine how we could incorporate this powerful biography into our classrooms.
Operating within our Investigate, Explore, and Create model, we designed teaching ideas geared toward literacy and content area learning as well as opportunities for socio-emotional learning and strengthening community connections.
Getting to Know Your Community Leaders
Community networks were central to Maritcha’s story as well as her and her family’s accomplishments. The importance of community networks is still present today. But how often do we have opportunities to delve deeper into the community networks that help us survive, if not thrive?
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 Marticha: A Nineteenth Century American Girl, visit the Biography Clearinghouse. Additionally, we’d love to hear how the interview and these ideas inspired you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your connections, creations, questions, or comment below if you’re reading this on Twitter or Facebook.
Jennifer M. Graff is an associate professor at the University of Georgia, the current past-president of CLA, and a former committee member of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
Courtney Shimek is an assistant professor at West Virginia University and has been a member of CLA since 2015.
BY ASHLEY A. ATKINSON
As we enter another week of sheltering in place and remote learning, it is clear that COVID19 will continue to impact our educational practices for the foreseeable future. As I talk to friends and colleagues still in the classroom, they share some beautiful moments of success that should be celebrated. However, I also hear stories highlighting the difficulty of continuing to maintain student engagement. During this time of stress on a global level, we, as educators, have to reach deep into our toolboxes to find new ways to engage with our students and their families.
One silver lining that has stemmed from COVID19 is the influx of resources provided by authors and illustrators to assist parents and teachers in engaging with literacy learning at home. I have seen several blog posts, including Lora M. Dewalt's Post on this blog @Instagram’s #KidLit Community, that highlight amazing opportunities to engage with authors. In today’s post, I am going to focus on the illustrators.
Visual images are an important aspect of meaning making for young children. Often in the classroom, we focus on the words authors pen and less on ways in which the illustrator is a crucial part of the story. Larry Sipe in his book, Storytime: Young Children's Literary Understanding in the Classroom, highlighted the interplay and interconnectedness between images and text, what he called synergy. The synergistic relationship of illustrations and text makes clear the greater impact when viewed together. Giving students a chance to engage and create both text and illustrations honors this relationship and expands the possibilities for how children make meaning.
Mo Lunch Doodles
You may be familiar with Mo Willems as the well-known author and illustrator of the Elephant and Piggie book series, but did you know he is also the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence at Home? In partnership with the Kennedy Center, he has created 15 episodes of Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. In his own words, Mo Willems says, “You might be isolated, but you’re not alone. You are an art maker. Let’s make some together.” The series offers downloadable activities that focus on his creative process as well as some “how to draw” activities. In an effort to isolate together, students can tag their artwork on social media with #MoLunchDoodles. What a great way for students to see how a single image can be the seed that grows into a whole picturebook!
Dav Pilkey at Home
Another great resource comes from Dav Pilkey, author and illustrator of Captain Underpants and Dog Man. He is working in conjunction with Scholastic and the Library of Congress to offer weekly video lessons that focus on a chance to read, to draw, to create, and to engage with other multimodal fun. What is great about this resource is that it offers a chance for families to have conversations around books and create art together.
Lastly, Debbie Ridpath Ohi offers daily creation challenges via her twitter that allows another way for students to work together while apart. Each day offers an art creation project that can be down with things around the house. Some recent challenges... broken crayon story/art, creating a dog character, and laundry art! Check out other children’s responses by searching for her tag #KidsDailyDebbieOhi.
These resources can offer entry into discussions of the images within picturebooks or a great springboard into students creating their own stories. They also create opportunities for students and families to engage with literacy in a new way. I hope you enjoy using these resources to help your students and families have a little fun as they imagine and create together.
BY ALLY HAUPTMAN
One of my greatest joys as a teacher is to see students’ creativity in action. As an elementary teacher, I was amazed at the creative minds of my students, and now as a professor I continue to delight in seeing teacher candidates create lesson plans and ideas to engage their students. As I reflect on my career as an elementary writing teacher, my best lessons were the ones that involved excellent children’s literature and allowed for student writing choice. This is where the creative magic happens! If I am honest with myself, my students were their most creative as writers when I offered a great mentor text and just got out of their way.
So, I offer you a lesson complex in ideas, but simple in delivery that can be presented in person or on-line, really in any context. I have used this lesson in university classrooms, with PreK-12 students, and my own children.
2. Share the text with your students and model what writing ideas you have based on this text.
3. After reading, ask the questions, “What writing ideas do you get from this text? What are the possibilities you see as a writer?”
4. Get out of the way and let kids write and create!
5. Give students time to share and learn from each other.
That’s it...five steps that lead to important discussion and writing possibilities.
The following is an example of this writing lesson in action with two of my own children. I started by reading Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. The book begins with Malala talking about a television program she used to watch. The show’s main character was a boy with a magic pencil who Malala saw as a hero, always helping others. She dreamed of having her own magic pencil. She goes on to tell her story of fighting for girls’ education, realizing that she really did have a magic pencil all along. She was able to change the world with her pencil as she fought for educational equality. The last line in the book reads, “One pen, one teacher, one student can change the world.”
Here is the key to this lesson, and this is how I get out of the way of their creativity. I asked my children to write for ten minutes about what ideas they got from Malala’s Magic Pencil. It is as simple as that. I did not give them my prompt that might be presented from this book such as, “What would you do with a magic pencil?” I let them figure out how this book would be a mentor text for their own writing. The beauty of presenting a text and then letting students figure out their own writing possibilities is that they bring their background knowledge, voice, and writing style and combine it with the author’s ideas from the text presented. When you present a mentor text and ask the students to see the writing possibilities, the variety is astounding.
Just with my own daughters, my fifth grader, who is the youngest and always trying to prove herself to her sisters, wrote about a magic tree. In her story, no one believes her that this tree is magic and she hatches a plan to show everyone that she is right. She brought in her ideas and showed strong voice. My eighth grade daughter decided to write about the Infiniti Pen. It is worth mentioning that all of my daughters are obsessed with Marvel movies. So, the Infiniti Pen was inspired by Thor’s hammer in that only the worthiest person in the village could pick up the pen because of its persuasive powers. In this piece, my daughter chose to bring in her own voice and combine Marvel with Malala’s ideas. These writers were able to choose their ideas and use their voices. When we present possibilities through mentor texts, readers also begin to read like writers.
The following list includes texts I have used to spark writing ideas over the past few years with teacher candidates, K-12 students, and my own children.
25 books with endless possibilities…
Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins
Bookjoy, Wordjoy by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Camela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Claymates by Dev Petty, illustrated by Lauren Eldridge
Coco: Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Ana Ramírez
Cute as an Axolotl by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
Dude! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
Dreamers/Sonadores by Yuyi Morales
Friends and Foes: Poems About Us All by Douglas Florian
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoёt
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López
Nope! by Drew Sheneman
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Water Land by Christy Hale
What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand
Wild World by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Hvass & Hannibal
Ally Hauptman is a CLA Board Member and is the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee. She is an associate professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.
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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