The World Keeps Turning
By Kathryn Will, Michelle Ladd, and Calli Leach
Our lives are full of many days, weeks, months, and seasons as the years stack up one after the other. Books can support children making connections to these patterns in their lives and developing connections to their families and the natural world around them. We have created a text set capturing the cyclical nature of time throughout our lives that invites children to lean into rich vocabulary, and the use of literary elements such as personification and metaphorical thinking as they develop their understanding of change over time. Teachers can easily deepen and extend the texts in various ways and we have gathered a few to get you started.
This story examines the ties connecting us to our ancestors as it explores the relationship of a grandfather with his granddaughter, Emilia. One morning she finds a walnut on her nightstand, and it is the beginning of learning about the roots of her family’s story as time cycles through seasons and years. Grandpa teaches Emilia how to plant and nurture the seed as it grows, connecting her to those before her. Through this process Emilia discovers how the cycle of life is similar for nature and humans, and how the smallest of seeds can grow into a strong, healthy tree. Although her grandfather dies in the text, she is comforted by her connection to him and her ancestors through the burgeoning life of her own walnut tree.
Felicita Sala’s illustrations are warm and inviting and capture the powerful emotions in the book. You may explore more about her work and illustrative process on her website.
This video is another resource that allows children to watch a time-lapsed growth of a walnut:
Told through the canoe’s perspective, the rich, beautiful, and descriptive language of this text takes the reader on a journey over a lifetime and beyond. First, throughout the life of a young boy who grows in skill and body through adventures outdoors in the canoe. He carefully wraps the canoe up for storage when he leaves to serve in the war, but does not return. After many years of storage (with plenty of wildland visitors over the years), the canoe hears the boathouse door creak open and the book ends with a young boy and his dad beginning the restoration process. Throughout the book, the reader experiences change over time of both people and their belongings as they grow older. Children will see how someone’s forgotten possessions can become another’s treasure.
After reading the book, children might consider family heirlooms they have in their house, the people who had them before, and what was happening during the historical periods of the life of the object. This will allow them to make connections between the book and their lives as they ponder item representation and the values that they may hold.
An interview with Anne Yvonne Gilbert is another resource that can give children additional information about her writing and illustrating processes.
“Children are swept away on Mother Winter's long coattails” and are taken on a magical journey as they explore the wonders of the winter season. Throughout the book, Carroll incorporates metaphorical language in the rich poetic text. Readers are invited to explore the qualities of life winter brings while imagining a walk in the outdoors.
If you are interested in learning about how James Christopher Carroll created the book, check out the video below.
After reading the book, reread the text, pulling out the rich descriptions of winter as a class. Then, with consideration of the current season, go out for a walk, asking students to collect observations and noticings. Share these, thinking about the ways you might add descriptors and specificity to the collection. Use this rich word back to write a seasonal poem or a class book.
The 2023 Notable Children’s Books in Language Arts Committee (NCBLA), read, reviewed, and discussed 651 books of various genres written for K-8 children in the past year. These works of poetry and prose were analyzed using the charge of the committee that asked us to consider the following when choosing the top 30 texts for grades K-8:
1. Appealing format,
2. Enduring quality,
3. Exemplary quality for their genre, and
4. Meeting one or more of the following:
a. Use of language: play on words, word origins, history of language
b. Uniqueness in use of language or style
c. Invitation of child response or engagement
We are really excited about the 2023 NCBLA list and hope you are too!
Kathryn Will, Chair, University of Maine Farmington
Patrick Andrus, Eden Prairie School District, Minnesota
Dorian Harrison, Ohio State University at Newark
Joyce Herbeck, Montana State University
Laura Hudock, Framingham State University, Massachusetts
Lynette Smith, Walden University, Pennsylvania
Fran Wilson, Madeira Elementary School, Ohio
Kathryn Will is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of Maine Farmington (@KWsLitCrew). She is passionate about sharing the power of children's literature with her students, including the two listed below who assisted in the creation of this post and supported her work as the Chair of the 2023 NCBLA committee.
Michelle Ladd is a preservice teacher at the University of Maine at Farmington. She is a nontraditional student and a mother to three young children. She hopes to one day inspire creativity and foster individuality in a PreK-3rd grade classroom.
Calli Leach is a preservice teacher at the University of Maine at Farmington. She is passionate about helping her future students develop a love for reading and writing, as well as being a 4-H volunteer for the state of Maine.
2022 CLA Master Class: "Books as Lighthouses: Using Children’s Literature to Illuminate and Provide Hope in the Darkness of Sexual Abuse"
By Lisa Pinkerton, S. Adam Crawley, and Sara K. Sterner
Starting in 1994, the Children's Literature Assembly (CLA) has sponsored a Master Class at the annual NCTE Convention. This session provides K-12 teachers and teacher educators, as well as other members of the organization, the opportunity to gain insight into effective pedagogies for fostering a love of literature across diverse classroom and academic contexts.
The 29th annual Master Class is titled "Books as Lighthouses: Using Children’s Literature to Illuminate and Provide Hope in the Darkness of Sexual Abuse." This year’s session will take place on Saturday, November 19th from 6:00-7:15 p.m. (Pacific) in Anaheim, CA.
The 2022 Master Class is organized around a moderated panel, followed by a discussant led Q&A with the following esteemed authors, illustrator, translator, and editor of children’s literature:
2022 CLA Master Class Contributors
Paula Chase-Hyman is the author of nine middle grade and young adult books. So Done, her critically acclaimed middle grade debut, was named a 2018 Kirkus Reviews Best Book and was followed by two more books in the series: Dough Boys and Turning Point. She is also the author of the young adult series, Del Rio Bay Clique. Co-founder of the award-winning blog, The Brown Bookshelf, Paula is a longtime “advocate for diversifying the type of fiction featuring Black characters that’s highlighted among educators, librarians and parents” (author website).
Kate Messner is a New York Times bestselling author who is “passionately curious and writes books for kids who wonder, too” (author website). She has written numerous award-winning picture books and novels, including The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs (illustrated by Matthew Forsythe), named a CLA 2019 Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts. She is also the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction series including Ranger in Time and History Smashers. Kate’s middle grade novel, Chirp, was a 2020 New England Book Award finalist. In her blog Countdown to CHIRP, Kate shares all about the writing process behind her novel, Chirp, including actual charts that played an integral role in her revision process.
Mary Kate Castellani is Publishing Director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books and the editor of Chirp (Messner, 2020). In a recent interview about the book and depictions of #MeToo trauma in middle grade literature, Mary Kate emphasized the dedication that she and Kate Messner share in: “addressing these relevant topics in a way that is appropriate for each age level, meeting kids where they are, and ideally preparing them for how to cope with such events” (Maughan, 2020, para. 22). Further, she spoke to the relevance of such books: “Many adults don’t like to think that kids are aware of such challenging subjects, but they are, and we need to equip them with the right knowledge to protect themselves and each other” (para. 22).
MODERATOR AND DISCUSSANT
The 2022 Master Class
The 29th annual CLA Master Class seeks to examine a particular shift in the landscape of children's literature, one that reflects the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement, which has prompted an increase in the number of middle grade books that address issues of sexual violence (de León, 2020; Maughan, 2020; Robillard et al., 2021). The session will explore how books can nurture healing and hope in readers who have experienced such trauma, as well as provide information and support to protect readers. A panel of book creators (e.g., authors, illustrator, translator, editor) will share how their honest and sensitive stories illuminate the topic of sexual violence.
The following overriding questions will guide the session: How might books with dark subject matter foster hope in readers? And, how might teachers and teacher educators facilitate reader engagement with these vital books? We hope that attendees will leave the session with a more nuanced understanding of the shifting landscape of children's literature relative to the #MeToo movement, along with a deeper level of comfort using these books in classrooms, especially in light of the turbulent times that teachers and teacher educators inhabit relative to censorship.
de León, C. (2020, June 17). Why more children's books are tackling sexual harassment and abuse. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/books/childrens-books-middle-grade-metoo-sexual-abuse.html
Maughan, S. (2020, April 13). Eye on middle grade: Editors discuss some of the latest developments in the category. Publishers Weekly, 23-21. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/83006-eye-on-middle-grade-spring-2020.html
Robillard, C. M., Choate, L., Bach, J., & Cantey, C. (2021). Crossing the line: Representations of sexual violence in middle-grade novels. The ALAN Review, 49(1), 33-47.
Paula Chase-Hyman’s Interview with Reading Middle Grade Blog.
Kate Messner’s Interview with BookPage
Valérie Fontaine’s Interview with Foreword Reviews
Nathalie Dion’s Feature in Canadian Children’s Book News
Shelley Tanaka’s Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations
Lisa Pinkerton (she/her) is the Marie Clay Endowed Chair in Reading Recovery and Early Literacy at The Ohio State University. Her current roles with CLA include serving as a Board Member and Master Class Co-Chair. In addition, she served on NCTE’s Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children committee from 2016-2019.
S. Adam Crawley (he/him) is an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His current roles with CLA include serving as a Board Member and Master Class Co-Chair. In addition, he is the treasurer of NCTE’s Genders and Sexualities Equalities Alliance (GSEA).
Sara K. Sterner (she/her) is an Assistant Professor at Cal Poly Humboldt and the Leader of the Liberal Studies Elementary Education Program in the School of Education. Her current roles with CLA include serving as a Board Member and Master Class Co-Chair.
by Peggy Rice and Ally Hauptman representing the Ways and Means Committee
We are excited to share with you some of the artwork we have received and will be available for purchase through the auction this year. There are more pieces coming, so there will be a second blog coming soon! Without further ado, we invite you to view these beautiful contributions by Kevin Henkes, Grant Snider, Juliet Menéndez, Ellen Heck, Bonnie Lui, Alaina Chau, Amanda Calatzis, Brandon James Scott, Dan Yaccarino, and Elizabeth Erazo Baez. As an added bonus this year, each piece of art will be auctioned off with the book in which it appears!
Elizabeth Erazo Baez
Elizabeth Erazo Baez, talented artist, illustrator, curator and art teacher, is of Puerto Rican heritage. Impacted by her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico, she uses bright Caribbean colors and creates lush, tropical views, depicting the cultural lifestyle.
Art for Auction: Elizabeth has contributed three, expressive 11 x 14 pieces, with matting, from Alicia and the Hurricane: A Story of Puerto Rico, a bilingual picture book written by Leslea Newman (2022). Each illustration includes an image of the coqui, a tree frog that is native to the island and beloved by the main character, Alicia.
Amanda Calatzis, talented author-illustrator, incorporates light into her illustrations to convey warmth.
Alina Chau, a talented animator, author-illustrator grew up in Hong Kong in an Indonesian-Chinese family. Her work is inspired by her unique Southeast Asian heritage. In 2018, a book she illustrated, The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, received a Picture Book Honor by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA)
Ellen Heck, is a talented printmaker who explores identity in her work.
Kevin Henkes, is an award-winning, prolific author-illustrator of picture books and novels. He received the 2020 Children’s Literature Legacy Award for his significant and lasting contributions as an American author-illustrator, publishing books in the United States. His award-winning works include Kitten’s Full Moon, winner of the 2005 Caldecott and The Year of Billy Miller, the 2014 recipient of a Newbery Honor.
Art for Auction: This 9.5 x 4 inch illustration of pastel colored, expressive elephants is from A Parade of Elephants (2018), which is an ALA Notable Book. This delightful book for preschoolers focuses on a day-long march of five elephants and includes opportunities for counting, as well as exploration of opposites.
Bonnie Lui, is a talented illustrator of picture books for children who is also a background painter for Dreamworks and WB. In 2021, she published her first children’s book that she authored and illustrated, “ABC of Feelings.”
Juliet Menéndez, a talented Guatemalan American author-illustrator, is a former bilingual teacher in New York City. While teaching, she noticed a need for children’s books depicting Latinas.
Brandon James Scott
Brandon James Scott, is a critically acclaimed Canadian, creative director working in animation and an author-illustrator of children’s books. He created the award-winning animated series, Justin Time.
Grant Snider, is a talented author-illustrator of children’s picture books and creator of comics that have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review.
Dan Yaccarino, is an acclaimed author-illustrator of children’s books and creator of animated series based on his books, such as Doug Unplugs (AppleTV) and Oswald (Nickelodeon).
Peggy Rice is an associate professor in the Department of Elementary Education at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She is a member of the Ways and Means Committee for CLA.
Ally Hauptman is an associate professor at Lipscomb University. She is the chair of the Ways and Means Committee for CLA and a serving CLA board member.
To be able to participate in this year's CLA Art Auction, don't forget to prepurchase your tickets for the 2022 Children's Literature Assembly Breakfast featuring Jerry Craft. Tickets are available through the registration portal for NCTE2022.
By Katie Caprino
The leaves are falling. You’re drinking your pumpkin-spice (a new word, according to Merriam-Webster!). And you may be beginning to think about what you want to plant for your spring garden. Well, even if you’re not that ahead (and it’s certainly okay if you’re not!), I want to put your mind in spring mode today by sharing three new children’s picture books that feature gardening and nature.
When I think about the reasons why so many picture books about gardens and nature have sprouted in 2022, I have to think it had something to do with so many of us looking for outlets during times of remote learning and working and a desire to appreciate the beauty of the natural world that comes from the areas of mindfulness and self-care.
But it is important to acknowledge that children’s picture books about gardening and nature are certainly not brand new. Browsing a bookstore recently, I happened upon The Gardener, a 1988 Caldecott Honor Book written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. Set in the Depression era, The Gardener tells the story of Lydia Grace, a little girl who goes to live with her uncle for a time. Leaving her grandma and parents behind, Lydia Grace takes seeds to the city, which she uses to grow beautiful planters and rooftop gardens.
Nevertheless, I’m hopeful this blog will help you with your green thumb and, most importantly, give you some teaching ideas for your book garden.
If you’re in look of an inspirational tale of citizen scientists, then author Barb Rosenstock and illustrator Erika Meza’s 2022 The Mystery of the Monarchs: How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Fred and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration is the book for you! Fred Urquhart grew up a wonderer. His lifelong question was Where do the monarchs go? This question ended up being his life’s work - and with the help of his wife, other scientists and enthusiasts, and classes of students, he figured out his answer! Not only does this book teach readers about where the monarchs go - but it also serves as an inspirational tale for citizen scientists. If you and your students would like to engage in citizen science, you can go to National Geographic’s Citizen Science Projects page!
Authors Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt and illustrator Melissa Sweet created a most spectacular title Celia Planted a Garden: The Story of Celia Thaxter and Her Island Garden. Celia Thaxter grows up on White Island and Appledore, islands off the New England coast, planting beautiful gardens. Even when she moves to the mainland after she is married, Thaxter returns to Appledore to plant flowers and engage with the wildlife. She also becomes known as a writer who shares her passion for the beauty of gardening. Invite your students to write about the beauty in the world around them after reading this absolutely stunning text.
Each of these 2022 children’s picture books inspire readers to think about gardens and nature in myriad ways - whether it be to think deeply about the life cycle, engage in wonderings about the world around us, or beautifying the world and writing about it. May you to continue to grow your book garden - and please write and tell me all about it!
Kathryn Caprino is a CLA member and is an Assistant Professor of PK-12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College. She blogs frequently at Katie Reviews Books and can be followed on Twitter @KCapLiteracy.
By Mark I. West
Cassie loves being with her family and neighbors on the “tiny rooftop” that she calls her “Tar Beach.” Her parents put a mattress on the roof for Cassie to sleep on while the adults are visiting. For Cassie, “Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see.” Cassie fantasizes that she can fly. The illustrations depict her soaring above New York City.
Ringgold portrays the rooftop as a liminal space where reality and fantasy merge. In her fantasy flights, Cassie helps her father overcome the racial discrimination that he faces. Within the context of her fantasies, she feels good about herself because she can make life better for her family. Her fantasies correspond to a point that Bruno Bettelheim makes in The Uses of Enchantment about the healing power of fantasy. “While the fantasy is unreal,” Bettelheim writes,” the good feelings it gives us about ourselves and our future are real, and these real good feelings are what we need to sustain us.”
planet known as Junior Brown.” Junior Brown likes the idea of having a planet named after him, and he enjoys creating stories about his planet. For Junior Brown, this experience helps him gain a better sense of self-worth. For Buddy, this room provides him with the sense of security that helps him move beyond being one of the “tough, black children of city streets.” In the process, he begins to imagine a new future for himself.
Like Hamilton, David Barclay Moore spent time in Harlem, and he drew on this experience when writing The Stars Beneath Our Feet. Lolly, the central character, is a twelve-year-old boy who lives in contemporary Harlem. His life is upended when his older brother is killed in a gang-related incident. Lolly also faces changes in his family situation. Before the novel’s opening, his parents separated, and his mother’s girlfriend moved into the apartment. Lolly reacts to these events by withdrawing. His depression causes him to lose interest in everything except building with his Legos blocks, an activity he used to do with his brother.
The protagonists in these books all spend time in liminal spaces where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur. For my students, these books brought back childhood memories of special places where they, too, felt that reality and fantasy merged. For one, it was a treehouse that she and her brother built, taking their inspiration from the Magic Tree House series. For another, it was a walk-in closet where she set up her dollhouse. When I started the class, I had no idea that these books would spark such lively discussions, but I now realize that these books tap into an aspect of childhood that resonates with students from various backgrounds. They might not be familiar with the term “liminal space,” but they all can relate to the quasi-magical experience of being in a liminal space.
Mark I. West is a Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a member of CLA.
Back to School Books
By Susan Polos
At the beginning of each school year, teachers flock to public and school libraries in search of familiar or new back-to-school books to read to classes as they welcome students to a new school year. There is no shortage of titles from which to choose. Typical displays in most libraries showcase dozens of choices. Many picture book series feature a well-known character going back to school. Froggy, the Pigeon, the Pout-Pout Fish, Llama Llama and Lola are just a few familiar characters who face their fears and find that school is a happy place.
School itself may be the focus of the read-aloud. This Is a School by John Schu, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, lets children know that school is not just a place but is also a collection of people, grown up and young, whose diverse identities enrich the process of learning. School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robison, turns the perspective from the student experience to the experience of the personified school building, which is happy when children are happy and playfully squirts water from the water fountain in the face of a child who has something negative to say about school.
A perennial favorite in many classrooms is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love. The story follows a reluctant protagonist who resists all efforts to get ready for school. Only at the end is it revealed that this character is actually the teacher. This offers the opportunity for students to appreciate that their teacher is a person, too, who may have feelings about the new year that are complicated, just like their own. It is also funny, and first days are better when the class can share a laugh. Beyond the first-day-of-school perspective from the school and teacher, there’s even a book about the first day of school from the point of view of the bus, Little Yellow Bus by Erin Guendelsberger, illustrated by Suzie Mason. The bus, like the teacher, is nervous, but he pushes through and has a great first day!
Children’s literature provides positive examples of children’s agency in the face of new experiences. The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, following The King of Kindergarten, both illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, is the story of a child who is primed to be successful by her family as she internalizes their praise and deep respect. A fun detail occurs as she is asked to select a book for a classroom read aloud and selects Crown, a book by the same author. Another book that shines light on attitude is I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison. This book will create excitement in the classroom as students appreciate that they bring the enthusiasm necessary to shape a strong community.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López is a book that will help students who worry that they might not fit in. It will open conversation about the value and importance of welcoming and appreciating everyone and provide a springboard to celebrate differences and to find similarities. This can be paired with All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, a picture book whose simple message of inclusivity is told in rhyme and reinforced with the images of happy and diverse children.
Every school year is new as students move through different grades, and first days are the subject of books for older students as well as the very young. Beyond picture books, check out the early chapter book Harry Versus the First Hundred Days of School by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Pete Oswald. Harry is in first grade, and each chapter follows the calendar academic year as he experiences the ups and downs of the school year. For added fun, the author refers to over a dozen picture books which can be read aloud during the school year, including Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, and Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales. Middle schoolers will love New Kid and Class Act by Jerry Craft, graphic novels that follow Jordan, a new student, and his friends as they navigate middle school.
There are many more titles not included here, and this is just a sampling, barely scratching the surface of what is available. First day worries are ubiquitous, and books can normalize the sense of unease while bringing classes together to laugh and to consider how creating a sense of belonging for all can set the tone for the whole year.
Susan Polos is the middle school librarian at Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich, Connecticut, and is a CLA member.
By Denise Dávila on Behalf of the Biography Clearinghouse
Sister Corita Kent authored provocative multimodal compositions that were inspired by looking closely at ordinary objects and were imbued with intertextual meanings. As suggested in Make Meatballs Sing, much of her work began by focusing her attention on specific elements and blocking out others. She employed cardboard viewfinders with her students as tools for developing the skill of looking. These next activities build upon the use of viewfinders in the classroom. They are adapted from the Make Meatballs Sing Curriculum Guide.
Denise Dávila is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She studies childrens literature and researches the home literacy practices of families with young children in under-resourced communities.
By Suzanne Costner
I headed to Houston in November 2018 to attend the NCTE Annual Convention and moderate a panel presentation for a group of children’s nonfiction writers. I was also looking forward to the Children’s Book Award Luncheon, never realizing that it would change my life. As the presentation of the year’s winners was winding down, an announcement was made encouraging attendees to apply for a place on one of the award committees. My sister nudged me and whispered, “You could do that.” Two months later, I was beginning my term on the Orbis Pictus committee and immersing myself in children’s nonfiction.
From January 2019 through December 2021, we read over 1,300 books on topics ranging from amoebas to world history. As we reviewed, debated, and voted, my favorite topics involved astronomy, aviation, and aerospace, although I enjoyed all of them. The titles that combine those topics with a picture book biography make wonderful entry points into the study of science and history. Even though my time with the Orbis Pictus has ended, I am still searching out those sorts of books to add to my school library collection. I would like to share two of those titles with you and suggest related areas your students might enjoy investigating.
To learn more about her amazing career, try the following:
Students may find helpful information in the following:
When I was a child visiting my school library, all the biographies were about famous presidents and other men. We still have a long way to go to balance the representation of women and other marginalized groups, but knowing there are authors and illustrators bringing these stories to life for today’s students is encouraging. Reading these stories of dreams achieved and challenges overcome may inspire young readers to pursue their own passions in life, or even introduce a topic to spark that passion. I hope everyone finds some nonfiction to engage their hearts and minds.
Suzanne Costner, School Library Media Specialist at Fairview Elementary School (Maryville, TN) member of NCTE, CLA, ALA, AASL, ILA, NAEYC, NSTA, ISTE, CAP, AFA, AIAA
By Mary Ann Cappiello, Jennifer M. Graff and Melissa Quimby on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
Over the last two years, we’ve enjoyed sharing excerpts from The Biography Clearinghouse website. We hope that our interviews with book creators and our teaching ideas focused on using biographies for a variety of classroom purposes has been helpful to the CLA membership and beyond. This month, we’re very excited to share something different - a voice directly from the classroom.
Melissa Quimby, a 4th grade teacher in Massachusetts, has written the inaugural entry in our new feature “Stories from the Classroom.” Melissa is the genius behind #MeetSomeoneNewMonday, a weekly initiative that has spread from her classroom to her grade level team to an entirely different school in just three years.
This initiative launched when Melissa decided to share her passion for picturebook biographies with her students through interactive read-alouds. They were hooked! As Melissa writes, “Over time, I molded this project in intentional ways, and it evolved into an adventure that focused on identity, centered marginalized and minoritized communities, and cultivated thoughtful, strategic middle grade readers.” What started as a way to share nonfiction picturebooks as an engaging and compelling art form developed into a more nuanced exploration of global changemakers–past and present. With their weekly reading of picturebook biographies, students grow as readers and thinkers and deepen their individual and collective sense of agency.
In the following excerpts, Melissa describes how she reveals each week’s notable changemaker to her students and shares some of her picturebook biography selections.
Monday Read-Aloud Routines
On Monday mornings, we gather together as a reading community. In an effort to build excitement, our reveal slide is projected on the board as students arrive. Some weeks, copies of the backmatter wait on the rug, inviting students to preview the figure of the week. This could be the author’s note, a timeline, or a collection of real-life photographs. Once all readers are settled, we watch a video to learn a little bit about the person in the spotlight.
Some weeks, interactive read aloud time happens on Monday morning immediately following the reveal. On some Mondays, it works best for us to huddle up in the afternoon. Occasionally, we steal pockets of time throughout our busy schedule to enjoy the biography of the week in smaller doses. When we read the text is not as important as how we read the text. The heart of this work truly lies in how we generate emotional investment within our students and how we help our students’ reactions and ideas blossom into new thinking about the world and ways that they can take action in their own lives for themselves and others. Sometimes, we simply read the biography to love it. In those moments, readers are silent with their eyes glued to the book, scanning the illustrations, wide-eyed when something surprising happens. Perhaps they whisper something to their neighbor, let out an audible gasp or share a comment aloud. Sometimes, we read to grow ideas. In these moments, readers are tracking trouble, considering how the figure responds to obstacles. They are ready to turn to their partner and reach for a precise trait word or theme and supporting evidence.
To read more about #MeetSomeoneNewMonday, including Melissa planning process with her grade level team and student responses, visit Stories from the Classroom on The Biography Clearinghouse website
You can also reach out to Melissa through her website (QUIMBYnotRamona) or Twitter (@QUIMBYnotRamona) to discuss how to implement #MeetSomeoneNew initiative in your classroom or school.
Inspired by Melissa’s picturebook biography initiative or done something similar? Share your ideas and stories with us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, chime in on Twitter (@teachwithbios), Facebook, or Instagram with your own #teachwithbios ideas and picturebook biography recommendations.
Melissa Quimby teaches fourth grade in Massachusetts. She is passionate about helping young writers improve their craft, and her to-be-read list is always stacked with middle grade fiction. Melissa shares her love of children’s literature on Teachers Books Readers and shares about her literacy instruction with the Choice Literacy community. You can connect with her at her website, QUIMBYnotRamona, or follow her on Twitter @QUIMBYnotRamona.
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. She is a former chair of NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction K-8.
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 16+ year CLA membership.
By Jessica Whitelaw
Last week I was able to visit the long-awaited Faith Ringgold exhibit, American People, at the New Museum in New York. Many know Ringgold from her book Tar Beach, but this retrospective - her first - features Ringgold as artist/organizer/educator and showcases paintings, murals, political posters, sculptures, and story quilts that span the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, critical feminism, and reach into the landscape of contemporary Black artists working today. After years of a relationship with the book version of Tar Beach, it was moving to stand in front of the original story quilt that the book is based on, this intimate everyday object upon which she wrote, painted, and stitched, to push the boundaries of white western art traditions and explore themes of gender, race, class, history, and social transformation.
Below is a protocol adapted from the steps of art criticism that can be used to support students in developing picturebook practices that engage critical literacy and inquiry. It can be used with Tar Beach, whose content is both accessible and complex enough to use with both younger and older readers. But it offers a flexible participation structure that teachers can use with any picturebook that has rich visual/verbal content. Like most protocols, it works best as a flexible tool not a prescriptive device.
Picturebook Read Aloud Protocol
Adapted from the steps of art criticism, this protocol provides a framework for sharing picturebooks that aims to cultivate a critical practice. It guides the reader through a process of looking closely to notice what they might otherwise overlook and to use what they know about words and pictures to analyze and make sense of what they see. The stages offer a helpful way to support students of any age through a process and unfolding of critical engagement that relies upon attention to specific details in the work to guide thoughtful engagement and response. The protocol is intended as a facilitation guide for teachers. Wording should be adjusted for the audience/age of the reader.
Take inventory. Examine the cover of the book, the dust jacket and the endpapers. Look closely at the typography, the pictures, the words. Describe what you see and notice in detailed, descriptive language.
Use what you know about picturebooks and design to analyze the words and the pictures. Look at the colors, the lines, shapes, textures. Try to determine the media the artist used to make the pictures. Examine the style of the language the writer used. Look for patterns, repetition, rhyme. Draw attention to the picturebook as a unique form of the book that relies on the synergy of the words and the pictures by asking how the words and pictures work together: What do the words tell you that the pictures do not? What do the pictures tell you that the words do not? What happens in between the openings?
Use questions together to probe and deepen. Stop and ask questions about pages that are visually and/or verbally rich or complex. What sense do you make of this page? How do you know that? Why do you think the author or illustrator chose to do it the way they did? What questions does the page raise for you, make you wonder about?
What do you think the author/illustrator is trying to do or say or show in this book? Who do we see in this book? Who is the audience for this book? Who do you think should read it? Whose voice/voices do we hear? Who do we not hear from? What ideas do you have about the topic/topics in the book? What do you think the storyteller in this book believes or thinks or wants us to know? What questions do you have about what the storyteller is saying and showing? What genre/category does the book belong to? What other work has this author and/or illustrator created and how is it similar to or different from this book?
After having looked closely at the book, what does this text mean to you? What does the story make you wonder about? How could this story mean different things? To you? To different readers?
Additional Teaching Resources for Tar Beach
Watch Faith Ringgold read Tar Beach
Create a paper story quilt
Listen to Faith Ringgold’s favorite songs
Explore a Faith Ringgold Text Set:
For Older Readers: Watch the Ted Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality
Examine how Tar Beach explores identity and power at several intersections. Examine other artworks of Faith Ringgold such as her For the Women’s House mural at the Brooklyn Museum or her America series of paintings on the artist’s website
Read Ringgold’s feminist artist’s statement from her memoir, We Flew Over the Bridge. Look for themes that connect across and examine how the different art forms allow the themes to be explored differently. Read other excerpts from We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold, and examine how ideas from her life take shape in Tar Beach. Consider the different forms of visual and verbal storytelling that she employs in her work and how ideas are conveyed through different modalities in each.
Jessica Whitelaw is faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania in the Graduate School of Education and a member of CLA.