I heart Hugo…

I’ve been a fan of Hugo Cabret since the book came out four years ago, along with many other people. For a few semesters, it was one of the required books in my children’s literature course. When I first heard that it was being adapted into a movie, I was skeptical. My children & students will tell you, this tends to be my response anytime a book is made into a movie, particularly if it is one that I love. Two weeks ago, I went to see the movie with my husband and two daughters. I was blown away by the adaptation of Hugo Cabret, the book into Hugo, the movie. What stood out to me especially was the lack of text in the opening minutes of the movie, mimicking the stunningly beautiful opening 45 illustrations of the book. The music was also incredible, adding so much in such a subtle way.

Recently I discovered The Hugo Movie Companion, “A Behind the Scenes Look at How a Beloved Book Became a Major Motion Picture”. My daughter and I were particularly excited about the fact that it is written by Selznick himself and also includes commentary by Scorsese & David Serlin. The book gives some insight into what was involved in adapting the particular book to the screen. The perspectives of many on the production team are included along with the actors. The final chapter has Selznick sharing with readers the complicated process of how everyone involved worked together on one specific scene: in the case the ending party scene. He shares why the scene not originally in the book was added as well as his experience participating as an extra. (I missed this the first time I saw it!) It can be easy to sit in a theater and criticize the adaptation of a book into a movie. Having this book as a window into the decisions and processes involved is enlightening and entertaining.

Here are some other great links for fans of Brian Selznick, Hugo Cabret, and the movie:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick’s website with loads of fascinating and interesting sources about the book, the movie and his new book Wonderstruck (which just won a 2012 Schneider Family Award) . You can also watch the opening illustrations in sequence.

This past weekend, CBS Sunday morning had two different features related to the movie.  The first is a piece about automata, and includes an interview with Brian Selznick.

The second is an interview with Martin Scorsese about his career and making the particular movie. I particularly love that Scorsese is shown holding the actual book in his hands (complete with flags, post-its & dog-ears) and referring to the parallel shot created for the film.

Reading Picture Books: So What?

The past two weeks in the Children’s Literature course that I teach, we spent the majority of the time discussing picture books. Two weeks ago they read an article by Lawrence Sipe titled, Learning the Language of Picturebooks (1998). It is sometimes overwhelming for the students – a common assumption is that picturebooks are simple, cute, colorful and fun and this article has a glossery of almost four pages. Perspective, point of view, front matter, gutter, frame, bleed and peritext are just a few of the terms. They read about even more this week as they read the chapter from their textbook about illustrative elements like color, line, shape, medium, and style.

My goal is to extend their assumption about simplicity as the only view of picturebooks. To not only show them examples of sophistication, beauty, complexity, and edginess but to give them tools so that they can engage deeply with picturebooks. Giving students specific language and then practicing using that language is a key way that I move them towards seeing and discussing their observations and responses to a wide range of picturebooks.

I often use When Sophie Gets Angry, Very, Very Angry by Molly Bang as the first book that we look at it together. Color, line and extension of text with the illustrations are clear and accessible for a first discussion. As they start to point out observations about color in the lines around Sophie, I ask them to extend their observation and answer “So what”?

This question allows each of them to think about how the color (or line, shape, etc) impacts them individually as a reader. It empowers them to begin to trust themselves as readers of the text, the illustrations and the synergy of the two.

We’ll be having our first book discussion this week with Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (recent winner of a Caldecott Honor Medal). The entire class reads the book (multiple times), writes a response paper prior to class, and then we will have a discussion about the book in small groups and as an entire class. I can not wait to hear and read what they have to say.

Sipe, L. (1998). Learning the language of picturebooks. Journal of Children’s Literature, 24(2), 66-75.

School Libraries = Need (not a want)

My last post was about how much I love librarians. I also love the libraries they work in.

Just this evening my daughters and I visited our local East Lansing Public Library. Between the three of us we checked out:

  • 6 audio books: the 2nd grader’s new favorite thing
  • 3 movies: 2 for them, one for me
  • a book about writing for the 6th grader: Spilling Ink (it’s the 3rd time we’ve checked this one out)
  • other various “chapter books” from the children’s room
  • 2 books about statistics for me: I’m taking my LAST doctoral course!

My youngest daughter wanted a book that was out, she went to the circulation desk by herself and put it on hold. The girls played on the computers for a bit while I chatted with one of the librarians and put all three of the Newbery books on hold for my eldest and I to read. (We are 3rd on the waitlist!) I was struck by the diversity of resources we used and as always, glad to have the librarians their for resources.

My daughter’s school library, is a different story. Two years ago, the district cut the positions of the elementary media specialists. So while their building does have a library in it, there is not a trained professional to support the students or the teachers in the school. I understand the budgets are tight – but this is a problem. We know that the more children read the better readers they become. We know that for children to read more, they need to be motivated and interested to read. School librarians help these things happen!

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the main federal source of funding for school libraries. That funding is in jeopardy. Won’t you please go to http://tinyurl.com/needschoollibraries and sign this petition to send the message that ALL K-12 children deserve to have an effective school library? The website will explain more about the act and why it is important. Please also pass it along, they need 10,000 more votes by February 4th!

I GEEK LIBRARIANS!!!

I have been a huge fan of librarians from a very young age. The Peninsula Community Library  was my first “home” library & Mrs. Arney, the librarian, quickly became one of my favorite people. She somehow always new what sorts of books I would like and always wanted to know what I thought about what I read. Mostly I remember that she talked to me the same way she talked to adults. Starting at the age of 4, my opinion as a reader was valued.

Flash forward to today. I am in Dallas, Texas attending my first American Library Association conference. I have met some amazing people. As a member of ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) I attended my first committee meeting for the Liaison for National Organizations Serving Children and Youth. I got to meet someone in person (Hi Merri!); she and I took an online Newbery Award course last summer. The other committee members were also lovely. After our meeting Stephanie was kind enough to mentor me in the finer points of navigating the exhibits. I met more people, got more books, signed up to win prizes, got more books, picked up some swag for my kids, and talked with reps from more publisher than I can remember.

One of the things that has been the most rewarding for me has been the conversations with people about my interest in talking across the disciplines of education and library science. I connected colleagues in various positions (children’s services, curriculum resource centers, publishing, etc.) that were supportive and encouraging. I’m looking forward to continuing conversations with many of them both virtually and in-person.

Lastly, tomorrow morning, I’ll be waking up extra early to attend the announcements of the Youth Media Awards. For the past 3 years, I’ve listened to the live webcast. Here is the link for tomorrow’s live webcast, I like to have a cup of tea while I’m listening.  It’s hard for me to believe that I will be there in person tomorrow. There have been numerous mock elections and many blog posts about possible winners for the past few weeks. Last year’s Newbery and Caldecott winners were surprises to many, it will be interesting to see what this year will bring. I can only imagine what a difficult decision it was for the committees of all of the awards. I’ll be tweeting during the awards announcements and writing a blog post as well!

Childrenslitcrossroads Shout-out: MSU SMEA, TE402, & TE348 Students

I haven’t posted as much this week, but I’ve been talking a lot about children’s literature with teacher education students at Michigan State. In both my TE402 and TE348 classes, I showed my blog along with the new resource page created for students to use now, and in the future when they are interns and eventually have their own classrooms. This coming week, the students in my children’s literature class will be selecting a blog to follow for the next few weeks as one way to help them discover what people think about children’s literature outside of our classroom.

I’d also like to shout out a big thank you to all of the SMEA students that came to the meeting on Tuesday night to talk about children’s literature. I was asked last semester to do a presentation about children’s literature in classrooms for the group and was thrilled to have a room full of pre-service teachers eager to hear about reasons why children’s literature is so important – both in teacher education and in their future classrooms.

I shared a variety of books and resources that I often refer to including:

I also talked about the important role that the online children’s literature community has come to mean for me as both a reader and an education professional. I’ve added a page to the blog “Children’s Literature Resources” that includes links to numerous children’s literature blogs as well as lists of books, journals, and other resources. I will be adding to this page on a regular basis and hope that it will serve as a resource for both current and former students.

One student really stumped me at the end (you know who you are!) by asking me what my top-5-every teacher-should-have-these-books list would be. That kind of question needs it’s own post so stay tuned!

Other updates:

  • I finished Jane Yolen’s Snow in Summer – review to come soon.
  • I’m heading to ALA Midwinter Conference on Saturday morning – its my first visit and I’m hoping to meet some fellow bloggers in person! I’ll definitely be tweeting and can not wait to attend the Youth Media Awards announcements on Monday morning.

MLK Artwork

I often miss google artwork because I use iGoogle. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss today’s by the amazing Faith Ringgold.

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve been a fan of Faith Ringgold’s artwork and picture books since I was an elementary music teacher and discovered Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad In The Sky the year I taught all of my K-4 students about Jazz Music, beginning with the roots of slavery. Today, one of the books I will be reading with my daughters is My Dream of Martin Luther King (along with others!)

When I went to her website to find the links for this post, I discovered a project that Ms. Ringgold has created on her website called Racial Questions and Answers. She asks readers to consider what they would feel and think if they woke up tomorrow with different color skin. While I can never truly know what it is like to have skin of any other color than white, this is a thought-provoking exercise. It is also interesting to look at the answers that other people have written. Her website is full of treasures including a page called Story Time which tells How the People Became Color Blind, (Here is a link to the same story with illustrations). She invites

Children’s literature is one way to share in the amazing work of the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King. Yesterday, I attended a concert in his honor (with my husband and youngest daughter, my oldest was performing). I know many people use today as a day of service and reflection. As I read and talk about today with my daughters, I want to not only honor the work of those who have come before us – but also the work that has yet to be done.

Addition: Check out thebrownbookshelf’s 28 Days Later to hear from a different author of color each day – some up-and-coming and others more established.

“Then, he smiled a froggy smile…”

The first week of the semester is almost over. I survived my first two stats classes (a ph.d. student’s rite-of-passage and the last class of my own ph.d. career), and taught my own first class meetings. My first blog post asked what you would read, and I thought it only appropriate that I follow up with what I actually read in one of my classes.

Crafting Teaching Practice: Elementary Language Arts – this is the first time I’m teaching the course and I was actually a bit nervous. In class on Tuesday, we talked about who we are as learners and the ways that can impact the decisions we make in a classroom (both as teachers and students). We also talked about how the similarities and differences that we share as learners all contribute to creating a unique learning community, and that we all contribute to each other’s learning. I am very consciously and purposefully using “we” here, because I am always learning from my students (one of the things I love most about teaching). So, what to read with them? I had a number of choices depicting different types of teachers and/or students and/or relationships. Ultimately, I didn’t go with any of them. I ended up reading City Dog, Country Frog (Willems/Muth).

I have loved this book since it first came out – the illustrations are beautiful and the way that they work together with the text are sublime. I read it in the closing minutes of class and asked students to put every thing away and just listen. The listening silence that I hope for was there after a few pages. The bittersweet ending seemed to surprise some of them. But then I told them why I shared this particular book. City Dog carries Country Frog’s friendship  with him. We see it in the illustration of his “froggy smile”.

I think that teaching and learning communities are similar; we carry learning experiences (both formal and informal) with us as we move through our lives. I asked my students to think about the fact that not only are they bringing their experiences as students with them to our classroom, but that they also will be creating experiences for their own students in their internship placements and future classrooms.

Review: George Washington’s Birthday

George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale
By Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Barry Blitt
Schwartz & Wade Books (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
$17.99
ISBN 978-0-375-84499-7

This fictional biography is a lovely addition to the books that I will be sharing with my children’s literature students. The text of the very first pages invites readers of all ages to connect with this giant of an American historical figure with the sentence, “When George Washington went to sleep Friday night, he was six years old. When he woke up on Saturday he was seven.”

The whimsical water color and pen illustrations by Barry Blitt include subtle references to iconic Washington items throughout. A highlight is the wordless double-page spread in the middle of the book showing the well-known tree chopping myth about Washington.

True facts about Washington are included on most pages in small, unobtrusive text-boxes. I especially appreciate the way that they clarify myth, reality, and fiction. This a key feature of the book that makes it a great example of the genre. The note at the end told in first-person by Washington about truth and fiction make this a great book for teachers to use with students from elementary and middle school.

Genres: picturebook, fictional biography, historical fiction

Source: MSU Children’s Literature office, received from publisher

The Horn Book included a review of the book in this post of Picture books for Presidents’ Day.

Addendum: My 7-year-old just came and saw that I was writing this review. She would like to add that she likes the true facts in the boxes and really likes the illustrations because they show that George Washington was a kid and acted like one before he was president.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 1/9/12

I’m posting this a bit later than intended, but it’s still Monday!

I’ve been reading Colby Sharp’s post monday posts over at Sharpread for the past weeks and have loved the idea. Now I get to join in on the fun.

This past week I read Blue Chicken and absolutely loved it.

Last night when I couldn’t fall back asleep at 3:30 a.m., I started Our One and Only May Amelia. I’ve read some of Jenni Holm‘s other books and got to meet her this past year at NCTE. I decided it was high time to meet May Amelia myself. I’ll post a review later this week.

I’m also started The Book Thief – I want to like it but I think the timing is off for me. The writing is undoubtedly amazing, but I think my brain is overloaded with the beginning of the semester. I’m going to exercise my Rights as a Reader (thank you Daniel Pennac) to abandon this one for a bit and come back to it.

So many books! (Reading and, now, writing reviews)

Last semester I piloted an assignment (along with a colleague and good friend) that asked our children’s literature students to follow a children’s literature blog or blogs throughout the semester. (I’ll be doing something similar this semester, but that’s another post.)

One of the things that I find most helpful about reading blogs and book reviews is that it is an accessible and time-sensitive way to stay current with the field of children’s literature. I think this is important for teachers (and others) who are in a position to share books with children. I added the assignment for my students as a way to help them broaden their knowledge base of literature as well as think about how they will stay current when they are in their own classrooms.

Personally, I read lots of blogs and I am a huge fan of The Horn Book Magazine – it’s like getting a gift in the mailbox every two months. The writing, not only of the reviews but of the articles as well, is always thought-provoking and inspiring. In addition to my addiction to literature, reading reviews has served other purposes as well:

  • it helps me stay current in the field in regards to books that I may want to share with my chidren’s literature students, teacher friends, and children
  • it helps me decide what I want to read
  • it allows me to have conversations with other children’s literature professionals, fans and addicts like myself.

These experiences as an instructor and reader have made me think about how I will make decisions about what to review and post about on this blog.I was inspired by a post a few days ago over at the Nerdy Book Club. This coming year, they will be having reviews of both new and retro books, so I’m going to follow along and do a combination of both. My goal will be to post two reviews a week, we’ll see how it goes. I suspect it will vary as the semester progresses and depending on what sorts of books I decide to read. I’m also over on Goodreads and have decided that I will be doing much shorter reviews there, while reviews on this blog will be more in depth. I hope this will provide another opportunity to engage across disciplines, professions and interests.

Teachers: What do you find helpful and useful? What resources do you wish were available? What is interesting and inspiring when it comes to your own reading and sharing books with your students?

Current bloggers, reviewers, and fellow children’s-literature-geeks: what advice or suggestions do you have?