Inquiry Into Being a Writer

Now that I’ve finished my PYP essential elements provocations, I plan to begin the next series of inquiry-based provocations on the SDG’s (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030).

But first, I’d like to pause and do a couple of inquiries into more general learning identities. We all hope our students will move from “doing” math, writing, reading, or science” to seeing themselves as mathematicians, writers, readers, or scientists. Amidst the many curriculum-mandated tasks associated with those subjects, however, it can be difficult to hold on to this sense of identity.

This week’s provocation is meant to help students inquire into what it means to be a writer.

Resource #1: My recent post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators.” I had so much fun putting this compilation together with my kids. Almost a month later, my kids are still referring to specific videos in our house, recalling some funny thing Oliver Jeffers did or requesting a re-watch. Each of the videos offer a unique lens for what it means to be a picture book-maker, but below are a couple I would especially recommend in this context:

Resource #2: J.K. Rowling’s handwritten notes!

How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet

Resource #3: How to Build a Fictional World Ted Talk by Kate Messner

Resource #4: Picture Books

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a writer?
  • Why do people write?
  • How does our identity as writers change over time?
  • What is our responsibility to write? (for ourselves? For the world?)
  • What are the different perspectives on what makes a writer?
  • How does being a writer connect to being an author?
  • What is the connection between voice and writing?

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Eat Pete! Book Tour & 5 Other Unlikely Friendship Reads

Given the choice between an overt moral story vs silly humor for teaching friendship, I’ll pick the latter every time. Michael Rex’s Eat Pete! certainly fit the bill there!

The monster faces a major dilemma. While he does think playing with cars and blocks looks fun, he would also really like to just go ahead and eat Pete. Which he actually does, only to find that those games just aren’t the same.

Young readers will appreciate how much story is told in the pictures, especially the hilarious illustrations of the monster daydreaming about just going ahead and eating Pete already. I felt like Rex nailed the pacing of this story, maximizing the anticipation that readers will experience.

Eat Pete’s book birthday is tomorrow, and I’m pleased to have been invited on its book tour! To celebrate, I’d like to share a few more funny reads featuring friendships that get off to a bit of a rocky start.

#1: Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf

#2: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

#3: My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown

#4: A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker & Kady MacDonald Denton

#5School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

As you’ve probably noticed, these books also make for great read-alouds at the start of the school year! What are others you enjoy with your students?

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18 Best Videos To Get To Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators

As I was updating Goodreads with an old picture book list I’d made, I came across notes I had written about a couple fabulous author/illustrator videos that I wanted to remember to share with my students. And re-watching those just kind of…snowballed into this post.

I always love a good compilation; especially one that gives kids a glimpse into the processes & lives of their favorite authors &  illustrators as people. I hope you enjoy these as much as my very small students and I did!

#1: Oliver Jeffers Picture Book Maker: As playful as all his books. We particularly enjoyed the sandwich hunt.

#2: Little Carmen Deedy Didn’t Like to Read: Loved her story on how she first found the right book. “And I’ve said for a long time that if the right book and the right child find each other, bam…fireworks!”

#3: Author & Illustrator Peter Brown on his Process: Great insight into the decision-making process. Especially his note, “Should I use the word ‘naked?'”

#4: What is Music? from Christian Robinson: Ok, so this one isn’t directly about Christian Robinson, but it still provides insight on him as an illustrator. And it absolutely delighted both my kids and me (for more direct information about him, see this Meet the Illustrator article).

#5: La La La by Kate DiCamillo & illustrated by Jaime Kim. Great perspective to hear about book collaboration.

#6: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett: So I guess this isn’t directly about Jon & Mac’s lives either, but having met them at a library Author Link, I’d say there’s probably more accuracy than one might guess…

#7: An Interview with Beverly Clearly: So cool to hear about how she got started writing realistic fiction!

#8: bethany bARTon monster painting. No words. Just some great tunes & Bethany enjoying her art.

#9: The Truth About the Writing Process by Julie Falatko. As hilarious as her books and her tweets.

#10: Meet Tomie dePaola. I loved hearing about how folktales shaped him as an author.

#11: Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller. Just a funny and highly-precise how-to (ie “medium-sized hot dog for the snout”)

#12: 2017 from Carter Higgins. So cool to watch her double-debut year unfold as she used the app, One Second Everyday.

#13: Tour Philip & Erin Stead’s Michigan Studio. Fun to see this pair in their home element.

#14: The Teacher Who Changed Everything with Patricia Polacco. If you’ve read “Thank You Mr. Falkner,” you know this story, but it’s incredible to watch Patricia share it herself!

#15: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble: Kindness. It absolutely blew my mind to hear Amy’s conclusions on a life worth remembering years before hers was tragically claimed by cancer. Her legacy of kindness truly lives on in her books and videos.

#16: Matt de la Pena Author Video. I enjoyed hearing Matt’s “unlikely” story on how he became an author, and how that background helps him work to appeal to reluctant readers.

#17: Peter Reynolds discusses his books: Did you know he works with his twin brother, and has since they were tiny?

#18: Brendan Wenzel: Great to hear how “The Stinky Cheese Man” influenced him as an author/illustrator!

If there are any authors or illustrators on this list with whom you are not yet familiar, I encourage you to check out their stuff right away!

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The Problem With Our Early Reading Obsession

When I write about how my daughter is succeeding as a reader even though (or because?) I did not force sight word flashcards or memorizing the alphabet on her as a preschooler, my thinking inevitably returns to readers we would term “at-risk” because of their sorely limited book access.

I wonder if my talk of autonomy and following the child’s lead and student choice & voice are another facet of our privilege, overlooking the needs of kids that need to “catch up” with their peers? Is my priority to cultivate the reader over the reading level potentially damaging for these children?

But this question, and all initiatives out there that insist every child must read by a certain level by age fill-in-the-blank (usually implemented in areas with higher number of at-risk kids), leads to a rather slippery slope with regards to development & choice. We must be wary of practices that suggest that honoring developmental readiness is only reserved for children of a certain class.

This wariness should become sharper when we are faced with programs that overshadow books themselves. When programs > books, we run into equity issues every time because only the kids that quickly finish up their program assignment get time to simply read books of their choosing (Matthew Effect, anyone?)

So, how do we…

…work to eliminate the reading ability gap our low-income students face while still honoring developmental readiness and choice?

…seek out accountability that all students are receiving high quality reading instruction while also avoiding silver bullet programs that promise guarantees?

…ensure that in our zeal to help them find words, we do not allow our anxious agendas to swallow up their voices & choices?

Even as we work to identify diverse literary needs and developmental readiness, we can find a more joyful, inviting reading community for all as we focus more on nurturing readers & cultures than on pushing reading levels.

“For too long we have focused on the development of reading for skills, not for the love of reading.  Yet, we need both types of experiences in order to fully develop as readers.” ~Pernille Ripp

(so many practical ideas from Pernille on establishing that culture in her post).

For our early readers, we seem to have been especially caught up in the skills side of reading. We need to stop packing in skills so tightly that they crowd out reading itself.

As Donalyn Miller recently summed up,

Each and every one of our early readers deserve librarians just as much as they deserve high-quality reading specialists. They deserve books in their hands just as much as they deserve guided reading groups. And they deserve teachers who share their authentic love of reading just as much as they deserve teachers who effectively build decoding skills.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by fear of kids falling behind. But when we start from a place of love of the reading instead of fear, we ultimately lay a literary foundation that is much more lasting and meaningful for all our readers.

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Ever-Evolving Book Environment #TeacherMom

Our books have seen a lot of different kinds of arrangements. And most of what I’ve shared here has been of the pretty kind:

Bedside reading:

Display for our books from the library:

Spring cleaning sorting by author, size, and collection:

Variety is key, and it’s not always super pretty. It’s all about access. Which means it should be ever-evolving, based on our observations of our kids’ shifting needs. And access wins over pretty every time.

This might look like…

…pulling out books from our tightly-packed shelf onto the display area with the library books to remind our kids of gems they’ve forgotten.

…giving them their own shelf to organize favorite books (and to keep them safe from book-shredding little brothers for now).

…letting them go to town arranging their own personal “library.”

What are ways you help encourage book access with your kids at home? How does that shift over time?

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Mindful of the Messages We Send About Their Book Choices #TeacherMom

My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:

Jennifer Holm

Ben Hatke

Ben Clanton

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Raina Telgemeier

Dana Simpson

Geronimo Stilton

Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?

Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:

Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!

Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.

What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

6 Gorgeous Picture Books Capturing Magical, Independent Childhoods #TeacherMom

One of my all-time favorite childhood books is Gyo Fujikawa’s “Oh, What A Busy Day!” What I found most magical about it as a child was observing all the ideas those kids pursued — without a single supervising adult.

As recently shared on the LetGrow site,

“Once upon a time, kids were part of the world. They were allowed to go places, do things, meet people. They were active.

For “active” now substitute “activities.” Kids participate in activities created for them, not by them. We take them, show them, teach them, protect them in a way that most of us — given the choice — would have rejected in favor of adventure.”

To me, this comes down to a major break-down of trust and community. Driven by our fears of all that might happen if we don’t do what is described above, we teach our kids that no one — not even our kids themselves — are worthy of trust.

That’s why I adore the following picture books. May they inspire you and your children to cultivate greater trust & recapture the magic of childhoods filled with healthy independence & adventure.

#1: Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa

Published in 1976, this picture book was ahead of its time with regards to diversity. It takes children through the possibilities of every facet of childhood, from make-believe, to fighting with friends, to enjoying the different seasons. I literally spent years trying to recall the author or title before I finally stumbled across our original beloved copy at my parents’ house — I immediately bought a reprint. Her own words describing how she felt about her audience sum up her beautiful work:

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

#2: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes

This lovely read came from Colby Sharp’s recommendation. I loved it so much that I bought it for my daughter’s birthday book as it reminded me of her sense of adventure & creativity. Kids are shown the many dreamy ways they can enjoy treehouse goodness — even if they are still waiting on a tree.

#3: Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale

Go for an evening walk with a young boy as he learns about his neighborhood through his own quiet observations. I love the way this captures how much kids can notice about their communities when given the chance.

#4: Bertolt  by Jacques Goldstyn

A book that will speak to the introvert’s soul. A child loves spending time with his tree, Bertolt, more than anything else in the world. His quiet observations and problem-solving will win over the hearts of all that love to get some alone-time.

#5: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney

My friend Faige Meller first introduced me to Roxaboxen, and it has been a family favorite ever since! The Goodreads reviews are packed with nostalgia, but I think it’s important to note that kids haven’t stopped being capable of creating such a retreat. We as adults need to just get out of their way more often to let them make it happen. “Roxaboxen is always waiting. Roxaboxen is always there.”

#6: Raft by Jim LaMarche

A story filled with appreciation and self-discovery. Kids will love following Nicky through the woods as he comes to love a summer of solitude at his grandmother’s house.

What about you? What are your favorite reads that promote the independent and magical childhoods we are all nostalgic for (and that we can again support)!

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