Because poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, because poetry can tell a story, because the best poetry lights sparks of hope inside of us – this is my choice for April’s Month of Poetry.
Firebird is written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers. A little girl sees ballet soloist Misty Copeland and thinks “the space between you and me/ is longer than forever”. Misty lets the girl know that with hard work and dedication “we’ll make the night sky our starry curtain/ the moon our silver spotlight/ as we spin across the planets/ pirouetting tightly as the curls on our heads”. Misty Copeland is the second African American soloist in the history of the American Ballet Theater, and her uplifting poem-story is perfectly enhanced by Christopher Myers’ gorgeous art.
The poem is written in two voices – the little girl and Misty Copeland. After you share this book for the sheer pleasure of it, talk about the voices of the poem. (You’ll be rockin’ Craft & Structure as well as Range of Reading.) It can be read as literally two people, or we can see it metaphorically, as if the young girl is talking to her future self or as if Misty is talking to her past, younger self. Encourage your students to write poems where they can write as their “today” selves talking to themselves in the future or the past. Because poetry is meant to be shared aloud, hold a poetry slam where students can read their poems aloud, taking on both parts or asking a friend to read a voice. Who knows what future dancers, scientists, and presidents may come to life in your classroom?
Also, if you’re on the lookout for an Orthodox Easter book (which will be celebrated this Sunday), I recommend Catherine’s Pascha: A Celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church written by Charlotte Riggle and illustrated by R.J. Hughes. For those who celebrate Passover, Easter, and/or the coming of Spring, I wish you all joy and a sense of hopeful renewal!
I’ve had a book crush on Fleming since 1991 when I first read In the Tall, Tall Grass. The richness of the colors, the text that is so precise and still so simple – it draws in young readers who ask for it over and over. Fleming’s latest book, Go, Shapes, Go! again takes simple but descriptive words and art, and asks kids to play along. It’s brilliant.
A mouse tells recognizable shapes (square, rectangle, triangle, oval, arc) to move to combine into a character. Verbs like bounce, slither, and twirl along with the shapes that are labeled on each page make for the perfect opportunity to build vocabulary while supporting early readers. (Go, Craft & Structure, Go!) The plot of how the shapes combine and recombine to the delight (or dismay) of the mouse makes this book more than just a “name the shape” book.
Denise Fleming’s website is packed with fun stuff for kids to go along with her books. You can print off the shapes she used in Go, Shapes, Go! for kids to move and make their own characters, and there’s a Shapes Match-Up page so kids can match the labeled shape with the word describing how it moved in the book
The process of pulp painting that Fleming uses to make her picture book art is fascinating. Click through denisefleming.com or go to YouTube to see videos of how Fleming colors the cotton rag fiber, makes the stencils, and pours the slurry through a screen. She even has in-depth directions to make paper yourself, and a much easier version using toilet paper – a guaranteed hit for kids!
This March, share Go, Shapes, Go! and compare it with Fleming’s 20+ other wonderful picture books for preschoolers and early elementary students. After you’ve all fallen in love with her work, email Denise through her website. She is an exceptional person as well as an amazing author/illustrator, and your kids will have a whole new appreciation for books after getting to know her.Read More
Happy Book Award Season! Many of us look forward to the annual announcement of the Caldecott and Newbery Medal Awards from the American Library Association, but the one that made me hoot and holler loudest this year was the announcement of the winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book: You Are (Not) Small written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyent.
Fantastic “easy” reader? Check.
Great for Readers’ Theater? Check.
Funny ending? Check.
Works for a ton of tie-in lessons? Check.
Story and art that kids will want to return to again and again? Big ol’ check!
Finding mentor texts on expressing opinion, giving reasons, persuasion, etc. isn’t easy for the younger crowd, so if you teach kindergarten – third grade, grab You Are (Not) Small. (It’s also fantastic for a print concepts lesson on italics, ellipses, underlining, for a lesson on reading with expression, for a math/science tie-in for comparing items by size, but I digress.)
The two main characters in this book express clear, opposite opinions. The orange fuzzy creature tells the purple fuzzy creature, “You are small.” The purple fuzzy disagrees, “I am not small. You are big.” Back and forth they go, giving reasons for their opinion by comparing themselves to other fuzzy creatures. It’s so simple it’s brilliant, and the ending will get everyone giggling.
After reading this to a first grade class, I told them, “You are small.” Uproar ensued. “No, we aren’t!”
“Yes, my opinion is that you are small, and my reason is that you are all smaller than this bookshelf.”
“But we’re bigger than the chair!” “Yes, and we’re taller than the desk!”
This led to an easy quick-write session: choose an opinion statement of “I am big” or “I am small” and write three reasons to support your opinion. Go!
So grab You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, and check out other winners of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. The Caldecott and Newbery Medals are wonderful, but they aren’t the only awards given by ALA, so explore lists like the Coretta Scott King Awards and treat yourself to award-winning books.
I was honored to be a first round judge for the 2014 Cybils Awards in the fiction picture book category. I was one of seven people who volunteered to read more than 229 picture books and to argue for the books we thought were outstanding. The reading part was easy. Debating the merits of books I love with other well-read, highly intelligent, articulate bloggers – way tougher than I thought. Some books that I adored didn’t click with other readers, and some of their favorites I didn’t like. The process again reminded me of how personal our connection with books is, and why we need such a wide variety in our libraries.
In the end, we were able to choose seven fiction picture books to move on to Round 2. Good luck to those judges on choosing just one of these worthy contenders! See the list of all the Cybils finalists here.
Here’s one of the books that made me want to hug the author, the illustrator, the editor, and everyone involved in making it: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me written by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Every morning, a dad knock-knock’s on his son’s bedroom door to tell him “I love you”. One morning the dad doesn’t knock, and the boy writes a letter asking why his father isn’t around any more. The letter the dad writes back about the hopes he has for his son’s bright, beautiful future is full of hope and inspiration. Any child dealing with the absence of a parent, due to incarceration or other circumstances, will find strength in this beautifully illustrated book. This is one of those books that may make a powerful difference in a child’s life.
Some of your kids need to hear this book because it will act as a mirror of their experience. Other kids need this book as a window into the experience of others. All kids need to know that a bright future lives within them no matter their circumstances.
Because this story can touch on strong, possibly painful emotions, it might be one you simply read aloud to your class and skip a follow-up lesson. Go ahead and let your kids see you get choked up, which you undoubtedly will, because powerful books do that to readers. Consider encouraging students to write letters – to someone they miss, to their future selves, even to you. If you let kids know they can write letters to you that will be absolutely private, and that you’ll write back to them, you may open incredible doors of communication with kids who need it.