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 email@example.com 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 ALLY HAUPTMAN
1. Choose a text. It might be a brilliantly written and illustrated picture book, an excerpt from a middle grades or YA novel, or even an interesting infographic.
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.
Try it. Read a book and ask your students to find writing possibilities, to write for ten minutes and see where it may lead!
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…
After the Fall by Dan Santat
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.
Image by Tookapic from Pixabay
BY JEANNE GILLIAM FAIN
These are hard times. Many of us are scrambling to figure out a schedule that keeps us all from losing our minds. One important part of your schedule should definitely include the power of the read aloud. This is a wonderful time to facilitate reading aloud digitally. There has never been an easier time to get to know some of the fantastic authors that are online. It would be easy to send your students a link and have them check out a favorite author (provided that they have online access). Many authors are spending valuable time reading online via YouTube, their websites, Instagram, and there are even author posts via twitter. These digital resources were created by the author and read by the author. As a reminder, it’s completely fine to read books aloud in a classroom or library setting but the rules change when it comes to a digital platform. So be wary of reading books online to your students*. Here are a few of my favorite authors and some of their websites.
Kwame Alexander is a poet and educator. He is the author of 32 books. He is known for his energetic approach to making poetry come alive in his writing. His website includes various read alouds and tips for teaching in the home.
* Creating a recording of reading aloud a published work is subject to copyright law. Sharing copyright-protected work via a public platform and/or monetizing your recording is not allowed. Sharing a read-aloud via a Drive link you post only to your own classes is generally allowable under Educational Fair Use. However, posting to something like YouTube (which is by default indexed and potentially searchable) is not. The story Publishers Adapt Policies To Help Educators published in the School Library Journal (SLJ, March, 2020) offers some helpful guidance as to how children’s publishers have temporarily altered some of their policies to support teaching in the context of COVID-19
Online Author/Illustrator Studies: Leveraging E-Books, Author/Illustrator Sites, and Interviews for a Virtual Exploration of the Creative Process
BY ERIKA THULIN DAWES
The children’s literature course that I teach at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is a survey course titled Literature for Children, Tweens, and Teens in a Diverse Society. Typically, when I introduce the idea of author/illustrator studies to the students in this class, I present groups of students with stacks of books to browse along with a curated collection of weblinks to explore. In the context of this survey course, this activity is framed as a teaching strategy and our class time is organized to introduce the goals and elements of an Author/Illustrator study and to provide a ‘tasting’ of what it is like to experience such a study. I’m careful to note that to experience the work of an author/illustrator in depth would take more time and more intensive study. When I learned I would be teaching this class ‘remotely’ from our Blackboard site, I wondered what the options were to replicate the book browsing element of this in-class activity.
Introducing the Strategy:
The readings below can support an introduction of the purposes and processes of an Author/Illustrator Study. Students can read with the following guiding questions in mind:
Experiencing an Author/Illustrator Study:
Once students have developed a concept of Author/Illustrator studies, ask them to opt into a small group to explore a collection of online resources on a single author/illustrator, simulating the experience. Students will read and view:
When I carry out this activity in class, I focus on picture books authors/illustrators because students working in small groups have time to read several picture books each. In follow up discussion, we note that the same strategies can apply to the reading of novels. In a remote learning context, students are reading eBooks. In the examples below, I make use of Epic! Books to provide access to eBooks. This platform is free to educators. I signed my graduate students up as a Class and submitted their emails, obtaining them free access until June 30, 2020.
Additionally, I use two resources available through my university’s library database:
From the many wonderful author/illustrator study possibilities, I have selected four to share in this blog entry. If you have more names to suggest, for whom eBooks are readily available, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online Author/Illustrator Study Resources
* As mentioned above, I also provide resources from TeachingBooks.Net and Something About the Author for each of author/illustrator
As your students read across the available books and learn about their chosen author/illustrator’s life stories and creative processes, ask them to make notes about:
To share their learning with classmates, your students can use online collaboration tools such as Google Slides, Voice Thread, PowerPoint or Book Creator (some of these require a paid account).
Since this is an abbreviated author/illustrator study (really, it is just an introduction to the body of work), let your students know that they are sharing their initial findings and wonderings. You could provide students with a structure for their presentations or leave it more open ended. In the past, I’ve asked students to share a general overview, their discoveries and connections, and their questions. They conclude with a listing of “Top Three Reasons to Check Out this Author/Illustrator.”