By Donna Sabis-Burns, Rachel Skrlac Lo, and Casey O'Donnell on behalf of the CLA Breakfast Committee
Looking out the window we begin to see the slight change in color of the fall foliage, a brisker feel to the air, and school busses carrying students to their not-so-new-normal classrooms. Apples, pumpkins, and “Indian” corn are appearing in the grocery store aisles. The gift of autumn is here. One highlight of this time of year is the NCTE Annual Conference held in November. Under “normal” circumstances, the Children’s Literature Assembly Breakfast is held in person as part of that gathering. While we will not be able to meet in person this year, the CLA Breakfast will be offered as a live event during the conference. In anticipation of our session, we are sharing about some of the most prolific, wonderful Indigenous multiple award-winning storytellers from across the Four Directions.
Cynthia Leitich-Smith (Muscogee Creek), Traci Sorell (Cherokee Nation), Michaela Goade (Tlingit), Carole Lindstrom (Metis), and Kevin Maillard (Seminole Nation) will make up this year’s Breakfast speaker panel. They will offer insight into their creative writing process, share their newest work, and offer some candid thoughts on how being Indigenous has strengthened their entire literature experience.
These storytellers celebrate #OwnVoices in the here and now. They offer counter stories to highlight the dynamism of Native American and Alaska Native communities for all ages. During a conversation with them in February 2021, we discussed the joys of reading and storytelling and reflected on the importance of celebrating the rich legacy of Native experiences that influence contemporary society. Native American, American Indian, or Indigenous peoples (terms used interchangeably) make up the 575+ federally recognized tribes and 200+ state-recognized tribes, much diversity exists across this Indigenous landscape in the United States. To celebrate this diversity, in this post, we will share with you the newest works from these amazing storytellers, including samples of teacher guides, links to audio-books, artwork, and other storytelling materials to share both in and outside of the classroom.
Teachers strive to create an environment for children that is all-embracing because they know that when children feel accepted, they will be happy, healthy, and confident members of society. This spirit of inclusiveness should permeate not only the social dynamic of the classroom, but the teaching materials as well. Children’s books that are endowed with social justice themes and multicultural issues provide a much richer reading experience than texts with homogeneous characters and unchallenging stories. The stories shared by these authors and illustrator offer many ways to enlighten students of all ages to the diverse books, cultural nuances, and traditions that Indigenous people bring to the table. Check out these teacher resources for a glimpse into the rich world of native storytelling.
Activity Kits and Teacher Guides
When students encounter texts that feature characters with whom they can connect, they can see how others are like them and how literature can play a role in their lives. If students can feel connected to books, not only will they be more apt to obtain the intrinsic motivation to increase the amount of reading they do, but they will also begin to feel more accepted as strong and unique members of society and to become less vulnerable to negative stereotyping and feelings of oppression. It is the hope of our storytellers that these resources be shared with all students, to demonstrate not only resiliency and determination, but also joy and grace within the texts and illustrations to take them to places they have never seen or heard of before. Below are are some video and audio resources related to some of the works of our storytellers.
Video & Audio Resources
We are obligated to educate our youth with a clear lens and to teach the richness of realistic, authentic, and contemporary literature for children and young adults. We need to promote books where Indigenous characters are up front and visible, not hidden or pushed aside. We want to highlight in a bold, distinguishable manner characters and stories that unveil and promote the beauty of diverse literature written/illustrated by and for Native Nations (also called Indigenous people and used interchangeably here when the specific Nation is not known), and all other marginalized groups. The storytellers highlighted here, and across the land, provide a glimpse of the wonderment and beauty that present-day and historical Indigenous culture and traditions bring to the literature landscape.
Come celebrate with us at 9 am (EST) on November 21, 2021 at the CLA Breakfast at NCTE! There will be great conversation and book giveaways!
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, Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee, and Co-Chair of the 2021 CLA Breakfast meeting (NCTE).
Rachel Skrlac Lo is an Assistant Professor at Villanova University. She is a Board Member (2020-2022) with the Children's Literature Assembly, Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Committee, and Co-Chair of the 2021 CLA Breakfast meeting (NCTE).
Casey O'Donnell is a graduate student in the Masters Plus Teacher Certification Program at Villanova University.
*The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. No official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any product, commodity, service, or enterprise mentioned herein is intended or should be inferred.
By Jared S. Crossley
Although the fight for increased diversity in children’s literature has been going on for decades, there has been a recent surge in attention to this need since 2014 and the creation of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) campaign. The website for WNDB states that they advocate for “essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people” (We Need Diverse Books, n.d.), and their definition of diversity extends beyond diversity in sexual orientation, gender, and race, but also includes disability.
According to the U.S. Department of Education (2019) there were 7 Million students in 2017-2018 who received special education services, accounting for 14 percent of all public school students. The amount of time these students spend inside a general education classroom has been gradually increasing over the last twenty years. This contributes to the growing need for educators to use texts with positive and accurate disability portrayals as part of their reading instruction in the general education classroom (Collins, Wagner & Meadows, 2018). Children with disabilities need to be able to see themselves in the books they read, and their classmates can also benefit, gaining empathy and understanding, by reading about children with similar disabilities.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) wrote about how books can serve as windows, “offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange” (p. 1). They can also serve as mirrors, which reflect our own experiences, and “in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience” (p. 1). It is very important that all children see themselves reflected in the books they read. However, many children who have disabilities or are racial minorities often don’t see themselves in the books that are available to them. Bishop stated:
"When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors"
-Rudine Sims Bishop
Educators should make it a priority to provide all of the children in their classrooms books that serve as mirrors, as well as books that are windows into cultures that are not familiar to their students’ lived experiences.
For the past four years, I have been privileged to serve on USBBY’s Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities committee. During that time I have gained new perspectives and learned more information about various disabilities and differences. One type of book that often gets grouped into the disability category is books that contain a portrayal of deafness. It has been debated if deafness should be considered a disability (Harvey, 2008; Lane, 2002) with varying opinions for and against the consideration of deafness as a disability. However, regardless of whether or not it is a disability, we need positive portrayals of deafness in children’s literature that can serve as mirrors for children who are deaf, and windows for children who are hearing. Over the past few years there have been a number of excellent middle-grade books that center a child who is deaf. In this post, I want to highlight three titles that I thought were exceptional portrayals.
Show Me a Sign
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (2020) tells the story of Mary, a young girl growing up deaf in the early 1800’s on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As part of a Deaf colony on the island, Mary has always felt safe and protected. However, all of this is threatened by the appearance of a young scientist who is bound and determined to find the cause of the island’s deafness so he can cure this “infirmity”. Soon Mary finds herself in harm's way as this scientist takes her as a “live specimen” in order to more closely study her deafness. The sequel, Set Me Free, is set to be released September 21, 2021.
Bishop, R.S. (1990). Windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6, ix-xi.
Collins, K. M., Wagner, M. O., & Meadows, J. (2018). Every story matters: Disability studies in the literacy classroom. Language Arts, 96(2), 13.
Harvey, E. R. (2008). Deafness: A disability or a difference. Health L. & Pol'y, 2, 42.
Lane, H. (2002). Do deaf people have a disability?. Sign language studies, 2(4), 356-379.
U.S. Department of Education. (2019). Children and youth with disabilities. Retrieved from
We Need Diverse Books. (n.d.). About Us. WNDB.
Frost, H. (2020). All He Knew. New York, NY: Farrar Straus and Giroux.
Kelly, L. (2019). Song for a Whale. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.
LeZotte, A.C. (2020). Show Me a Sign. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
Jared S. Crossley is a Ph.D. student at The Ohio State University studying Literature for Children and Young Adults. He is a former 4th- and 5th-grade teacher, and currently teaches children's literature courses at Ohio State. He is the 2020-2021 chair of the Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities committee (USBBY).
A Partnership of Poetry and Politics: Carole Boston Weatherford’s Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
BY JENNIFER M. GRAFF & JOYCE BALCOS BUTLER, ON BEHALF OF THE BIOGRAPHY CLEARINGHOUSE
Our current celebration of poetry as a powerful cultural artifact and the national dialogue about voting rights generated by the introduction of 300+ legislative voting-restriction and 800+ voting-expansion bills in 47 states have inspired a rereading of the evocative, award-winning picturebook biography, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and published by Candlewick Press in 2015, Voice of Freedom offers a vivid portrait of the life and legacy of civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. Her famous statement, “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” (p.18) serves as a testimonial to the psychological and physiological effects of the injustices and violence inflicted upon Hamer and other Black community members in Mississippi. Additionally, Hamer’s statement signifies her tenacity, conviction, and unwavering fight for voting rights, congressional representation, and other critical components of racial equality until her death in 1977.
Below we feature one of two time-gradated teaching recommendations included in the Create section of the Voice of Freedom book entry.
Youth As Agents of Change in Local Communities
Weatherford begins Voice of Freedom with Hamer’s own words: “The truest thing that we have in this country at this time is little children . . . . If they think you’ve made a mistake, kids speak out.” Pairing Hamer’s advocacy detailed in Voice of Freedom with contemporary youth activists, guide students in their exploration of how they can (or continue to) be agents of change in their communities.
To see more classroom possibilities and helpful resources connected to Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, visit the Book Entry at 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, and questions.
Jennifer M. Graff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia where her scholarship focuses on diverse children’s literature and early childhood literacy practices. She is a former committee member of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8, and has served in multiple leadership roles throughout her 15+ year CLA membership.
Joyce Balcos Butler is a fifth-grade teacher in Winder, Georgia, where she focuses on implementing social justice learning through content areas. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant, a Red Clay Writing Fellow at the University of Georgia, and a member of CLA.
BY JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN ON BEHALF OF THE NCBLA 2021 COMMITTEE
The NCBLA 2021 committee has the following charge as a committee:
The charge of the seven-member national committee is to select 30 books that best exemplify the criteria established for the Notables Award. Books considered for this annual list are works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written for children, grades K-8. The books selected for the list must meet the following criteria:
1. be published the year preceding the award year (i.e. books published in 2021 are considered for the 2020 list);
2. have an appealing format;
3. be of enduring quality;
4. meet generally accepted criteria of quality for the genre in which they are written;
5. meet one or more of the following criteria:
Books transport us into new places and sometimes take us out of the craziness of the world. This was one of those years where we experienced unexpected challenges. I led this committee as we navigated some of the real challenges of the pandemic. To be perfectly honest, in September when we didn’t have the normal number of books, I panicked.
I am truly thankful for this thoughtful committee that continually encouraged me to keep going as I contacted publishers in hopes of obtaining more physical copies of books. Many publishers returned from turbulent times and physical copies of books were difficult to obtain. However, as a committee member, it’s just easier to dig deeper with a text when you have a physical copy in front of you. Thankfully, publishers started returning to sending physical copies of books at the end of January and in February. We continue to be so thankful for the support many publishers extended to us as they worked diligently to send our committee books. However, that meant, that we had to read on a rigorous schedule and we often had to meet more than twice a month in order to have critical conversations around the literature.
Here’s a figure that highlights our process as a committee:
Recurrent Themes from the 2021 NCBLA List
Some of the 2021 NCBLA Books
Jeanne Gilliam Fain is s a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and Chair of the 2021 Notables Committee.
2021 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts Selection Committee Members
BY WENDY STEPHENS
In addition to the ALSC awards described in the previous post, the Young Adult Library Association (YALSA) also designates award-winning and honor books for adolescent literature.
Among the best-known awards for adolescent literature is the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, administered by YALSA. However, there are many other opportunities to learn about exceptional literature for teens. The life and legacy of Margaret A. Edwards are honored through two award designations:
A shortlist of finalists for two of YALSA's flagship awards -- the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award, honoring the best nonfiction books for teens and the William C. Morris Award, which honors a debut book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author, are announced in December, with the winner of each being part of the press conference.
In addition to designating award books, YALSA also compiles book list resources that can aid librarians and teachers in selecting books that appeal to young adults. A decade ago, YALSA moved four of its lists onto The Hub, its literature blog platform, so that youth services librarians involved in collection development could benefit from more real-time input. All four categories post throughout the year, leading to year-end lists reflecting that year's best titles.
Outside the Monday morning announcements, there are myriad other titles to explore. Among those, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) uses Midwinter to announce its Outstanding International Books (OIB) list showcasing international children's titles -- books published or distributed in the United States that originated or were first published in a country other than the U.S. -- that are deemed the most outstanding of those published during that year. RISE: A Feminist Book Project for ages 0-18, previously the Amelia Bloomer Project, is a committee of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), that produces an annual annotated book list of well-written and well-illustrated books with significant feminist content for young readers.
There are even genre fiction honors. For the past four years, the Core Excellence in Children’s and Young Adult Science Fiction Notable Lists designates notable children’s and young adult science fiction, organized into three age-appropriate categories, also announced at Midwinter.
Next year, we will have another treat to look forward to when the Graphic Novel and Comics Round Table (GNCRT) inaugurates its Reading List.
That's a lot of books! What are the can't-miss titles? I train my students to look for overlaps, like Candace Fleming winning this year for information text across age ranges. What does it indicate when the Sibert and YALSA's Nonfiction Award overlap? When a book is honored by both the Printz and YALSA Nonfiction?
Though the in-person announcement is exhilarating, especially the view from the seats at the front of the auditorium reserved for committee members, the webcast approximates its energy and allows you to share with students in real-time. To make sure you catch all of the lists, follow the press releases from ALA News and on twitter. Until next January!
Wendy Stephens is an Assistant Professor and the Library Media Program Chair at Jacksonville State University.
BY WENDY STEPHENS
This post is the first in a 2-part series by Wendy Stephens discussing the rich landscape of book awards announced over the winter months. In this first post, Wendy focuses on ALSC awards and awards by ALA affiliates recognizing books for children or books for a wide spectrum of age groups. The second post, which will be published next week, will present awards for YA literature administered by YALSA, as well as several other notable awards.
When we talk about budgeting for materials, I always advise my school librarian candidates to be sure to save some funding for January. No matter how good their ongoing collection development has been throughout the year, there are always some surprises when the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards (YMAs) roll around, and they'll want to be able to share the latest and best in children's literature with their readers. These are the books that will keep their collections up-to-date and relevant.
From our own childhoods, we always remember the "books with the medals" -- particularly the John Newbery for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature and the Randolph Caldecott for the most distinguished American picture book for children. These books become must-buys and remain touchstones for young readers. In 2021, Newbery is celebrating its one hundredth year. Some past winners and honor books are very much a product of their time, and many of those once held in high esteem lack appeal today.
For those of us working with children and with children's literature, the new books honored at Midwinter offer opportunities to revisit curriculum, update mentor texts, and build Lesesneian "reading ladders." Each award committee has its own particular award criteria and guidelines for eligibility, and its own process and confidentiality norms.
Every year, the YMAs seems to be peppered with small surprises. Does New Kid winning the Newbery means graphic novels are finally canonical? Is Neil Gaiman an American? What about all the 2015 Caldecott honors, including the controversial That One Summer? Did the Newbery designation of The Last Stop on Market Street mean you can validate using picture books with older students? How does Cozbi A. Cabrera's much-honored art work resonate at this historical moment?
In Horn Book and School Library Journal, Newbery, Caldecott and Printz contenders are tracked throughout the year in blogs like Someday My Printz Will Come, Heavy Medal, and Calling Caldecott. Other independent sites like Guessing Geisel, founded by Amy Seto Forrester are equally devoted to award prediction. Among librarians and readers, there are lots of armchair quarterbacks, and conducting mock Newbery and Caldecotts, either among groups of professionals or with children, have become almost a cottage industry. There are numerous how-tos on that subject, from reputable sources like The Nerdy Book Club and BookPage. But there are numerous other awards announced at ALA Midwinter almost simultaneously that deserve your attention, too.
Among the Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC) awards are: the Robert F. Sibert Medal, the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, the Geisel Award, the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award, and the Children's Literature Legacy Award.
Aside from the award winners, each year annual ALSC Children's Notable Lists are produced in categories for Notable Children's Recordings, Notable Children's Digital Media, and Notable Children's Books. If you want to see the machinations behind the designation, those discussions are open to the public this year via virtual meeting links.
Outside of ALSC, many of ALA’s affiliates have their own honors for children's literature. These include the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) which sponsors the Coretta Scott King Book Awards; the Association of Jewish Libraries which sponsors the Sydney Taylor Book Awards; and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking which sponsors the Pura Belpré awards. In addition to these affiliates, others such as the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association and the American Indian Library Association also present awards.
The awards are always evolving to reflect the abundance of literature available for young people. Like the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association awards, the American Indian Youth Literature Awards were first added to the televised YMA event in 2018. And this year was the first year for inclusion for a new Young Adult category for the Pura Belpré.
Two awards of particular significance are the Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s and Young Adult Literature Awards are given annually to English-language works found to be of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience, and the Schneider Family Book Awards, honoring authors or illustrators for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences, with recipients in three categories: younger children, middle grades, and teens.
Wendy Stephens is an Assistant Professor and the Library Media Program Chair at Jacksonville State University.
By Katie Caprino, Elizabethtown College
One of the reasons I became a teacher was because it was a profession in which I thought I could be creative. A writer, I wanted a position in which I could carry on my passion of writing and inspire student writers.
Reflecting back on my work as a middle and high school English teacher, I lament the limitations I feel were put on my work as a creative person. Even my current role as a literacy teacher educator seems overwhelmed at times by elements which I feel are the absolute antithesis to creativity.
My opportunity to teach the creative methods course at my institution gave me a space to engage with creativity and to help future teachers think critically about what creativity looks like in the classroom and inspire them to be creative teachers. Inspired by Brandt’s (1998) work on literacy sponsors, I believe that teachers, students’ peers, and even students themselves play an important role in being creativity sponsors.
In this blog post, I share a few contemporary books that provide portrayals of creativity sponsors, framing my work in the context of research on creativity. I then provide teachers with some ideas on how to use contemporary children’s literature texts as inspiration to facilitate a creative classroom.
In this video, Resnick discusses how to help kids become creative thinkers.
Certainly, adding the titles shared above to your classroom library is a good start. Sharing these books with students in a way that invites them to discuss what they think creativity is, whether they are creative, and how their schooling experiences have encouraged or restricted creativity could be the next step.
And then I call for a little self-reflection. Are you, as a teacher, more like Leon or Marisol in Ish? How might you be more of a Miss Lightstone from One Time? When you think about your students, do they take risks like the little girl in What If? Or do they ask so many questions about how assignments will be graded and what you want like Gina’s classmates in One Time? Do your students know what to do with some free time like the little child in On A Magical Do-Nothing Day?
These reflections might prompt you to think about how you might use one of the books shared in this post as a mentor text for a lesson idea. Here are some ideas!
● Let your students freewrite, working up to longer periods of time, and share their work. (One Time)
● Provide students with an object and ask them what they would do if that object broke in order to complete an intended
task. (What If)
● Offer spaces in your classroom where your students can explore and play. (On a Magical Do-Nothing Day)
● Invite your students to draw a picture, and post everyone’s picture in a gallery. (Ish)
It is important to think about how important creativity sponsors are in a child’s life. Teachers can be creativity sponsors, but so, too, can peers and children themselves – if we let them! It is my hope that these book recommendations, along with the reflective prompts and lesson ideas, may inspire creativity in you and your students!
Alemagna, B. (2016). On a magical do-nothing day. New York: HarperCollins.
Berger, S. (2018). What if. New York: Hachette Book Group.
Brandt, D. (1998). Sponsors of literacy. College Composition and Communication, 49(2), 165- 185.
Creech, S. (2020). One time. New York: HarperCollins.
Creech, S. (2001). Love that dog. New York: HarperCollins.
Resnick, M. (2018). Lifelong kindergarten: Cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
Reynolds, P. (2004). Ish. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Kathryn Caprino is a CLA member and is an Assistant Professor of PK-12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College. You can follow her on Twitter @KcapLiteracy. She blogs frequently at Katie Reviews Books.
BY MARY ANN CAPPIELLO on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
As we approach the final quarter of 2020, fires rage along the West Coast. Many regions of the United States face drought conditions. Gulf communities are inundated by Hurricane Sally while a string of storms line up in the Atlantic, waiting their turn. The impact of climate change is evident.
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our lives, our health. We bear witness to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minoritized groups, including Black and Latinx communities, Native Americans, and the elderly.
Across America, Black Lives Matter protests carry on, demanding that our nation invest in the essential work necessary to achieve a more perfect union through racial justice.
In 2020, we remember moments of historic change, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
The intensity of this moment can’t be denied. It’s demanding. It’s exhausting. Whether you are a teacher, librarian, or university faculty member, you are likely teaching in multiple new formats and modalities, facing daily logistical challenges. Caregivers also face new hurdles in supporting young people’s learning.
How do you meet the needs of students and the needs of this moment in history? How do you find hope in literature?
Perhaps one way is to turn to the people of the past and the present who are working on the edges of scientific knowledge. Or, to turn to the people of the past and the present who have acted as champions of social justice. Their life stories offer young people models of agency and action, blueprints for change.
To that end, The Biography Clearinghouse shares 20 biographies for 2020, a list of recent picturebook and collected biographies to connect with the challenges of the moment. This list is not comprehensive. It is simply a starting place. We hope these recently published biographies of diverse changemakers can become part of your curriculum or part of your read aloud calendar, in-person or over video conferencing software.
Biographies About Scientists
Biographies About Champions for Change
If you have any picture book or chapter-length biographies or collected biographies for young people that you would like to recommend, please email us at email@example.com. We’re also interested in hearing more about how you’re using life stories in the classroom this year.
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.
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.
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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