From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Using Poetic Picturebooks as Mentor Texts
BY ELIZABETH M. BEMISS
Each year, the Notable Children’s Books in Language Arts Committee (NCBLA) reads and discusses works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry written for K-8 readers. Committee members, seven dedicated children’s literature enthusiasts, with experience ranging from elementary school teaching, to school librarians, and finally, university faculty with expertise in children’s and young adult literature, consider the requisite qualities for narrowing down the winners to a list of 30 titles.
In this post, I will feature two poetic picture books included in the 2020 Notables list, Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons (2019), and Room on Our Rock (2019).
Teaching Tips for Using the Books as Mentor Texts
Utilized as mentor texts, these poetic picture books provide readers with delightful opportunities to craft their own written responses inspired from the texts.
The whimsical collection of “riddle-ku” poems in Lion of the Sky invites readers to enjoy a play on language and is an inspiring way to help young writers craft unique poetry of their own. Students can create their own “riddle-ku” poems and invite peers and family members to guess the answer to their “riddle-kus.” To scaffold young writers, teachers can draw from this brainstorming resource from Millbrook Press where students can craft a “Zoo-ku,” or a “riddle-ku” about an animal. Additionally, students can publish their “riddle-ku” on a Padlet Page created by the author, Laura Purdie Salas. Another way students can craft their poems is through Read Write Think’s Interactive Haiku Generator, which guides students through brainstorming, drafting, and publishing, where individual background images can be added to the published “riddle-ku.”
The poetic forward and backward reading of Room on Our Rock can foster rich conversations between readers about the varying messages from the book when read forward versus backward as well as discussions surrounding point of view. Teachers can guide students to reflect on the kind of tone and voice needed to read the book forward and how it changed to read the book backward. Teachers could also have students think about how the artwork on each page was used to create the tone of the book from two perspectives. After engaging in deep conversation around the book, students can partner up to write a review of the book and then share their reviews via free audio or video sharing applications. Students can post links to the reviews on a class page such as note.ly or Padlet.
Elizabeth M. Bemiss, an Assistant Professor at the University of West Florida, teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature and literacy methods. Elizabeth is a member of the 2019-2021 Notables Committee.
BY SYLVIA VARDELL
Even though National Poetry Month (April) is over, it’s always a good time to share a poem. In fact, during this time of quarantine and online learning, I’m finding that reading a poem is just enough text for my distracted brain to handle. Plus, it gives me something to mull over and revisit, if I want to. So, if you’re looking for short text that is rich and meaningful to digest in small chunks of time—try poetry. Here are online resources that make it easy to dip into poetry and see what you think.
Poems on Pinterest
For several years now, I’ve been collaborating with poet and author Janet Wong in creating poetry anthologies for kids and teachers that feature new poems, plus teaching strategies for each of the poems. We’ve created a dozen books and have worked at developing free online resources for teaching and learning. One of my favorite tools is Pinterest because it’s so visual and easy to browse. You can find more than 300+ of our digital poem “postcards” on Pinterest organized in a variety of categories at the Pomelo Books Boards.
You can find poems of comfort, about science topics, for special celebrations, poems about animals, even poems in Spanish and “bare” poems to use as a springboard for drawing or writing activities. We love taking poems from our anthologies (with poet permission) and then creating these “digital postcards” with color, font, and images to help make the poem engaging and understandable for young people. Here are three examples that I created especially for Star Wars Day, May 4 (since I am a HUGE Star Wars fan):
And if you keep looking around Pinterest, you can find many more ideas for teaching poetry with strategies, booklists, games, cards, and more. Plus, you can create and share resources of your own and post them on Pinterest as can your students and colleagues.
The Academy of American Poets
This site offers sample poems, poet biographies, audio archives, National Poetry Month celebrations, curriculum resources, teacher discussion forums, teaching tips, and more
The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center
This site may interest older children who are interested in learning about the poet laureates of the United States, national prizes in poetry, special poetry events, and audio archives.
Poetry Foundation Children's Page
The Poetry Foundation maintains hundreds of poems (even accessible by cell phone) including a large library of poems for young people along with interesting articles and features.
The Poetry Minute
Here you’ll find poems for every day of the whole school year written by some of the best contemporary poets writing for young people. All can be shared in just a minute, making it easy to read aloud at school, in the library, or at home.
Favorite Poem Project
This site features Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s project to have average citizens audiotape their favorite poems.
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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