From the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts: Moving From Small to Large Through Play and Imagination
By Kathryn Will, Meghan Goodwin, and Sophie Hendrix
The Notable Children’s Books in Language Arts Committee (NCBLA), reads, reviews, and discusses over 400 books of various genres written for K-8 children each year. These works of poetry and prose are analyzed using the charge of the committee that asks in making the selection of the top thirty texts the seven committee members consider:
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
This post focuses on two of the texts from the 2020 Notables List that might be seen through the lens of a progression from small to large. Although The Magic of Letters (2019) and Small World (2019) are very different books, they can be used to invite readers to imagine, play, and wonder.
The Magic of Letters
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Penguin Random House, unpaged, ISBN 978-0823441594
Written by Ishta Mercurio
Illustrated by Jen Corace
Abrams Books for Young Readers, unpaged, ISBN 978-1419734076
Both of these books invite readers to engage in exploration and discussion through multiple reads due to their rich vocabulary and use of language. Teachers can easily deepen and extend the texts through a variety of activities.
Using the illustrative style of The Magic of Letters, children could repurpose magazines and catalogues to cut out letters and words as sources for creating new words and sentences. As they pore over the texts, they could look for familiar and known letters and words, providing opportunities for practice in letter and word recognition before assembling them in a collage. Children could use crayon resist to create magic letters of their very own, or even play roll and write to create sentences from familiar and new words. These activities reflect the rich and playful nature of the text.
Small World is a text that envelopes the reader in the world of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). The rich vocabulary begs teachers to consider connections to geometry, snow science, and roller coasters. With consideration of Nanda’s career as an astronaut, students might watch this video about women astronauts, or think about materials they might need for a trip to the moon. This book also holds opportunities for rich discussion with questions such as:
Kathryn Will is an Assistant 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 the teaching tips shared. She is a member of the 2019 Notables Committee, and will be chairing the committee in the upcoming year.
Meghan Goodwin, Preservice teacher, University of Maine Farmington (@Ms_G_Teaches)
Sophie Hendrix, Preservice teacher, University of Maine Farmington
By Courtney Shimek, on behalf of The Biography Clearinghouse
2020 has changed our world in indelible ways. From navigating a global pandemic to fighting social injustices embedded into our everyday lives, we find ourselves overwhelmed, exhausted, and uncertain of the future. In response to these crises and the emotions they produce, we have found solace in picturebook biographies that deliver some much-needed perspective. Reading biographies have become a part of our self-care; they provide archives of the past, context for the present, and hope for the future. At The Biography Clearinghouse, we recognize the potential of biographies to shape readers’ understanding of the world, inform their connection to history, and engender empathy. Through our teaching ideas, we suggest ideas and resources for incorporating biographies into curricula. We also recognize that sometimes picturebook biographies come to life most vividly when read-aloud with young readers.
As we maintain our "new normal" of vacillating between online, hybrid, and in-class instruction, reading aloud continues to be a constant beacon of inspiration and connection in our teaching. Our youth are navigating the same chaotic and ever-changing world; given that biographies model the complexities of this world, sharing these perspectives with youth is vital. As such, I share here 3 tips for reading biographies aloud and a few illustrative examples of high-quality biographies.
Tip #1: Discuss the Visual Features
Picturebooks are unique artifacts where readers gain information not only from words but also from images. The visual features of biographies provide insights into the emotional experiences of distinctive individuals and offer a deeper understanding of humanity. As you read biographies aloud, begin examining the artistic elements (e.g., design and composition, font styles, use of color, artistic mediums, etc.) and see what you discern about the featured individuals, their emotions, and their experiences. For example, from the beautiful mixed media artwork in Spotted Tail (Weiden et al., 2019), we see how the history of the Lakota people connects to present-day issues through striking photographs, art, textural elements from nature, and quotes. Though Spotted Tail has a text-heavy narrative, the design and combination of photographs and art from Jim Yellowtail and Pat Kinsella provide readers numerous points of discussion and a perspective worth including in your read-aloud rotation. Additionally, in It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way (Maclear & Morstad, 2019), Morstad’s illustrations show the reader the detail and sense of color Fujikawa used in her work, and real photographs of her family are included throughout the book. In addressing the visual features of books with readers, we learn about people’s beliefs, histories, cultures, and emotions, and learn more information than from the words, alone.
Tip #2: Back Matter Matters
Often, when we begin a read-aloud we skip to the beginning of the narrative and stop at the end, but creators of contemporary biographies share exceptional amounts of information in the peritextual elements, or everything in the book which is not the actual narrative. Instead of stopping your read-aloud at the end of the narrative, share some of the information included in the back matter such as authors’ and illustrators’ personal connections to the content, where they sourced research materials, and their creative processes. For example, in Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré (Denise & Escobar, 2019), Denise provides descriptions of books by Pura Belpré, as well as films, books, and collections about Pura Belpré for further study. Similarly, in A Place to Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation, Barry Wittenstein and Jerry Pinkney (2019) provide notes expanding upon their decisions, short biographies about other civil rights leaders, along with sources and a bibliography. Biography creators also include additional content through the book jacket, endpapers, and their dedications. Sometimes, the back matter or other peritextual features might be more text-heavy or smaller in size than the narrative. We suggest projecting these features or displaying them on an interactive whiteboard so that these peritextual features can be explored and discussed collectively. When we only read aloud the primary narrative, we miss out on information that contextualizes the biography, describes the creative process, and inspires readers to search out additional sources.
Tip #3: Revisit Writer’s Language
Biographers don’t just share events with readers, they share the essence of a person’s life. After you read a biography aloud, reread the book like a writer and examine how the authors’ word choices shape your understandings of a person, place, or event. In Fight of the Century: Alice Paul Battles Woodrow Wilson for the Vote (Rosenstock & Green, 2020), for example, Rosenstock structures her biography as a boxing match between Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson. By portraying major events as rounds and including commentary from fight announcers (e.g., “This fight determines whether the women of the United States can vote, folks!”), readers experience how progress is often a battle of wills and experience what a fighter Alice Paul was. Additionally, Nelson’s use of western idioms (e.g., “plain as the ears on a mule” and “fit like made-to-measure boots”) in Let ‘er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion (Nelson & James, 2019), drops the reader into the cowboy language and culture of Pendleton, Oregon. Through similes and energetic descriptions of bull riding, we experience how Fletcher was discriminated against and, yet, became a hometown hero. Biographers’ language choices provide us with new ways of looking at historical events, embed us in particular moments of time, and supply inspiration for our own writing processes.
How do you read aloud biographies? We would love to hear your tips through our email, email@example.com, or through comments on Facebook and Twitter #theBiographyClearinghouse. No matter what 2021 brings, we know we will navigate the uncertainty equipped with high-quality, multidimensional biographies and share the reassurances and possibilities they provide through read-alouds.
Denise, A. A., & Escobar, P. (2019). Planting stories: The life of librarian and storyteller Pura Belpré. HarperCollins.
Maclear, K., & Morstad, J. (2019). It began with a page: How Gyo Fujikawa drew the way. HarperCollins.
Nelson, V. M., & James, G. C. (2019). Let ‘er buck!: George Fletcher, the people’s champion. Carolrhoda Books.
Rosenstock, B., & Green, S. (2020). Fight of the century: Alice Paul battles Woodrow Wilson for the vote. Calkins Creek.
Weiden, D. H. W., Yellowtail, J., & Kinsella, P. (2019). Spotted tail. Reycraft Books.
Wittenstein, B. & Pinkney, J. (2019). A place to land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech that inspired a nation. Neal Porter Books
Courtney Shimek is an assistant professor at West Virginia University and has been a member of CLA since 2015.
BY PEGGY S. RICE
Serenity can be found at the intersection of Mother Nature, the animal world and poetry. I have found that the more time I spend at this intersection, the less anxiety I feel. Following are materials and strategies, my students, daughter and I have found successful:
Power of Place
Locate a space surrounded in nature that you can visit regularly. I am fortunate, because I live on 7 acres with a pond. When visiting this space, be prepared to engage in mindful listening, see the world with a poet’s eyes and take notes in a writing journal.
Writing poetry is all about playing with words. Fletcher (2002) encourages us to play with the sounds of words. Consider, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, onomatopoeia and alliteration. He also encourages us to think fragments/cut unnecessary words, consider shape, use white space/experiment with line breaks and end with a bang/sharpen the ending. Each of these aspects of language can be a topic of minilessons connected to poetry performances of mentor poems. Lewis (2012, 2015) has included excellent resources for writing formula poems.
In Beauty May I Walk
--Anonymous (Navajo Indian)
In beauty may I walk
All day long may I walk
Through the returning seasons may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk
With dew about my feet may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age, wondering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk
It is finished in beauty
It is finished in beauty
Calkins, L.M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R. (2002). Poetry matters: Writing a poem from the inside out. New York: Harper Trophy.
Lewis, J. P. (2015). National geographic book of nature poetry: More than 200 poems with photographs that float, zoom, and bloom! Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners, LLC.
Lewis, J. P. (2012). National geographic book of animal poetry: More than 200 poems with photographs that squeak, soar, and roar! Washington, DC: National Geographic Partners, LLC.
Shelton, L. (2009). Banish boring words. New York: Scholastic
Peggy S. Rice is an Associate Professor of Elementary Education and Faculty Advisor for the Partners in Literacy Council at Ball State University in Muncie Indiana. She is a member of the Children's Literature Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
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 JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN
Reflecting on the 2020 NCBLA List, our seven-member committee believes in the influence of each individual book and the power of the books grouped together to offer another layer of meaning. After reviewing over 400 titles with 2019 copyright dates appropriate for readers in K-8th grade, the members of the 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committee met online to decide upon our final list of 30 titles. We read books multiple times and learned from each other as we carefully considered the craft of each book.
In this post, I am going to highlight two picture book biographies from the 2020 NCBLA List: Soldier for Equality: Jose´de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War (2019) and Feed your mind: A story of August Wilson (2019).
Tonatiuh, D. (2019). Soldier for Equality: Jose´de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War. New York, NY: Abrams Books for Young Readers, unpaged.
Bryant, J. (2019). Feed your mind: A story of August Wilson. (C. Chapman, Illus.). New York, NY: Abrams Book for Young Readers, unpaged.
Golden Line Strategy & Flip Grid
Both picturebooks feature high-quality language and there are many golden lines, lines that really resonate with the reader, within these texts. The golden line strategy involves the reader choosing a specific line from the picture book biography that causes the reader to pause, ponder, reflect, and/or question the text.
The line should purposely connect with the reader. Readers can choose the golden line from the text and post responses on Flipgrid.
Using flipgrid, the reader can record the reading of the golden line. The teacher can post invitational questions on the flipgrid. Readers can create their own response or answer one of the invitational questions and post on flipgrid. Readers can listen to their peers' golden line responses and post a response back.
Meet the Notables Committee
Jeanne Gilliam Fain is s a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and Chair of the 2020 Notables Committee.
Electronic Resources to Complement Contemporary Children’s Picture Books that Feature Mindfulness Elements
BY KATHRYN CAPRINO
Teachers have been thinking about how to incorporate mindfulness into the elementary school classroom for a bit now. During the fall semester, I completed a study about how children’s picture books that featured mindfulness affected preservice teachers’ mindfulness and how they were thinking about incorporating mindfulness into their classrooms.
And the recent global pandemic has only underscored the importance of having children’s picture books that feature mindfulness. We, as parents, teachers, and teacher educators, need them for ourselves. And we need them for our students.
In this post, I share a few contemporary picture books that feature mindfulness elements, and include electronic resources that complement each book - perfect during this time of remote learning. It is my hope that these titles might help us all get through these trying times and propel us into a more mindful approach to what normal looks like on the other side of all this.
Quick side note: I had the opportunity of seeing a traveling Carle exhibit in Norfolk, Virginia, last summer. With pieces from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art , the exhibit provided visitors with an opportunity to learn more about Carle’s artistic process and to see some of the most iconic images from his books. One of my favorites was one of his owls! I encourage all of you to visit the museum once things return to normal. You can ask your students to take a virtual tour of the museum.
Tomie dePaola's Quiet
Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds' I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness
Mariam Gates' Good Morning Yoga
Kira Willey and Anni Betts' Breathe Like a Bear
- Intention relates to having a personal vision.
- Attention relates to focusing on moments in our lives.
- And attitude relates to the approach one takes to attention.
Shapiro, S. L. Carlson, L. E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness.
Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373-388.
BY MARY LEE HAHN AND FRANKI SIBBERSON
Read aloud is the cornerstone of our literacy workshop. First and foremost, we use our read alouds to create and build a community of readers, but as we read, our conversations model the mind of the solitary reader. We gasp in surprise together, we stop at a cliffhanger and make predictions, we notice a small detail that we think will be important and jot a note to track what the author does with it, just like we want our students to do in their independent reading. Our read alouds are also models of good writing. We study how the author creates mood, manages the pacing, uses rich language, and structures the entire text (chapter book, picture book, information article, poem) to inform the ways we will write in the writing workshop.
What, then, will read aloud look like in our digital classrooms?
The premise of The Last Human is that the robots have killed off the human race because it was wrecking the planet. Spoiler alert in the title and the image on the cover of the book -- they didn’t get us all. In our very last read aloud together, one of my students wondered aloud if robots caused the coronavirus and were trying to kill us all off. I assured them that the coronavirus comes from nature, and humans will use all of the science and technology possible to understand the virus and stop its spread. It was at that moment that I knew I must finish The Last Human. We couldn’t leave the story before we got to the part where the robots and humans collaborate to create a sustainable future for the human race and for the planet. We had to get to the hope, to the positives. For our next read aloud, I gave my students the choice of four books I’ve loved. Not ones to shy away from heavy topics, they chose The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart.
When I think about the kind of book I’d like to read aloud during this time, I know I want a plot-based book - a book that kids will want to hear each day. I want a book they can get lost in and one that has enough to talk about without being too heavy. I’ve decided on The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko and I am excited to begin sharing it with students.
KEEPING THE CONVERSATIONS GOING
While our read alouds look and sound a bit different than they did in our physical classrooms, like so much of what we are doing with online learning, we have found that the closer we hold on to our core values as teachers, the more authentic our digital learning space feels.
Mary Lee Hahn is a CLA Communications Committee Member and a CLA Member. Franki Sibberson is NCTE Past President and a CLA Member. Both Mary Lee and Franki teach fifth grade in the Dublin (OH) City Schools, and they blog together at A Year of Reading.
BY ALEXANDRA LAMPP BERGLUND
Transitioning to online education isn’t an easy task for educators, parents, and students by any means, and adapting and modifying online instruction for students with (dis)abilities presents unique challenges. Providing accessible literature in both print and audio versions is essential to many learners that have (dis)abilities. However, this can be quite challenging in distance learning contexts as students may not have access to a variety of resources and assistive devices available at school. Several apps exist to support this need, particularly in the realm of literacy learning. As discussed in previous posts, Epic! is an excellent resource that offers a wide array of children’s literature in a visual format alongside audio tracks with a “read-to-me” tool for many of its texts. Another app that I’ve found particularly helpful in my own preschool classroom is Tales2Go.
Providing audio material by using apps like Tales2Go and other resources such as text to speech software or sharing how to create audio materials with students are just a few small steps in making online literacy learning accessible to students with (dis)abilities, but they are important ones. Accessibility is essential, as we continue to navigate this digital landscape together, as educators, students, and family and community members. Together, we can all make small adaptations that make big differences in our online classrooms which we continually strive to make inclusive for all learners.
Alexandra Lampp Berglund is the Chair of the CLA student committee. She is a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education at The University of Georgia.
BY JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN
BY ADAM CRAWLEY
For those unfamiliar with Epic, it provides a vast collection of children’s literature including picturebooks, chapter books, and graphic novels. As stated on the site’s homepage, users can “instantly access 35,000 eBooks, learning videos, quizzes and more for K-5.” Many of the books available are recent publications and award/honor recipients. The site includes books diverse in representation (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, social class, language, etc.) and genre. Just a few of the many books available include El Deafo (Bell, 2014), When Aidan Became a Brother (Lukoff, 2019), and The Princess and the Warrior (Tonatiuh, 2016). One of my particular favorites is the bilingual picturebook Sora and the Cloud (Hoshino, 2011), exquisite with its soft mixed media illustrations and Japanese translation.
In addition to digital versions of printed books, the site includes audiobooks and “read-to-me” books with the option to add text highlighting. I emphasize to the pre-service teachers the importance of such features for emergent readers.
There are numerous ways to explore what’s available in Epic. Users can type a title, author, illustrator, or topic into the search bar; hover over “Explore” in the menu to see options for various subject areas (such as “narrative nonfiction” in English Language Arts or “geometry” in Math); or browse curated collections by other users. Educators can also add their students – whether K-12 or beyond – and assign books to them within the site.
As I want the pre-service teachers to have access to and use this resource beyond our semester together, I encourage them to create their own free account as an educator. Educators can create an Epic! for Educators account.
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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