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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Picture Book by Any Other Name

A workshop attendee caught me after one of my sessions, and her comment was all too familiar: "I love picture books and I use them all the time, but I can't convince my school or district to switch over to real literature."

My response? "Stop calling them picture books." I could see she looked hurt (I have a way with people; just ask my wife), so I quickly added, "You and I both know how awesome picture books can be when used effectively, but when others hear 'picture books' they immediately think Clifford the Big Red Dog and Goodnight Moon. There's nothing wrong with those books, but in the upper grades we're talking about another whole realm of books, so we simply have to change our language."

Is there something wrong with calling them picture books? Absolutely not, but I'll argue that there are two good reasons to call them by other names. Number one, the terms you use in your classroom to describe selected picture books help you and your students to understand how and why you're reading these texts. Number two, those same terms help other stakeholders (parents, colleagues, board members, administrators, grant funders) understand why you need picture books in your curriculum.

At first glance, reason number two seems superficial, but it's actually quite practical. As a classroom teacher, I wrote numerous grants and curriculum plans which involved getting picture books into students' hands (our students were reading adaptations of classics such as Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters in their basals, but they're weren't seeing all of the illustrations which accompanied the text). Yet I wasn't foolish enough to call them picture books. I knew that those who held the purse strings and the pens of approval were unlikely to release funds for picture books. I was correct in my thinking, and never failed to secure funding for classroom library or grade level sets of books. Was I deliberately deceitful in my wording? Absolutely not. I named the books according to their purposes, and the books in turn helped us to achieve our literary objectives.

Below I've provided some terms to use in place of "picture books." I think as you read through the list you'll begin to understand that what you call them determines and clarifies the goals you have in mind for their use.

Trade Books

Trade Book is perhaps the most widely used and recognized terminology for both picture books and chapter books, differentiating them from anthologies and basal readers.

The term trade books is not only familiar, but highly respected. Booksource, for example, offers a free booklet (available as a pdf download), The Impact of Trade Books and Reading Achievement, that outlines recent research on trade books in classroom libraries and demonstrates the importance of making these resources readily available to students. From that source:
Given the high relationship consistently documented between time spent reading and reading achievement, increased effort needs to be made to motivate students to do more reading. Almost 40 years ago, Daniel Fader, author of Hooked on Books: Program and Proof (1968), found that the way to help his students improve their reading ability was to have them read trade books. He determined his students read more when they had access to trade books because trade books were both interesting and meaningful to them. More recently, Gambrell (2001) has used the phrase “blessing a book” to encourage teachers and parents to understand their role as “purveyors of pleasure.”
If you're a grant seeker, this booklet provides all the theory and research you could possibly need to make a case for your funding request.

Wisdom Books

Wisdom Books are those picture books which are used to teach a lesson, most often about character. I've searched the Internet in an attempt to discover who first used this terminology, but it remains a mystery.

Wisdom Books definitely have their place in the classroom as teachers struggle to help students understand (and incorporate) the very abstract notions of responsibility, determination, integrity, cooperation, respect, loyalty, and empathy. Students can draw their own conclusion for what's to be gleaned from books such as Enemy Pie, The Empty Pot, and The Honest to Goodness Truth.

I've personally used these books in teaching character education to my classes, and I've even integrated them into summer camp and Sunday School settings where a good example is worth more than a thousand lectures. For teachers seeking to introduce a character education emphasis, Wisdom Books would be a good moniker to remember.

Theme Books

I'm a huge believer in teaching with themes, even now (especially now!) that I teach sixth grade. A familiar title such as Charlotte's Web is more than the story of friendship between a pig and a spider; instead, it's a tale of acceptance, devotion, loyalty, loss, loneliness, reciprocity, respect, survival, self-awareness, sacrifice, cycles, community, and kindness.

Regardless of the book you choose and its innate merits, you must ask yourself, “What makes this story accessible to everyone? For the student who couldn’t care less about spiders and pigs, what does this story say to him about experiences which we all share in common?” That’s getting to the theme, or the universality, of the book.

Instead of a topic study such as rain forest or penguins, "theme thinking" allows you to expand your thinking to wider concepts of interdependence, balance, and cycles. Why are themes better than topics? They can be studied across the curriculum.

Teachers of upper grades can use picture books to establish theme and foundational knowledge for a novel. Teachers whose curriculum includes titles such as Number the Stars, Devil's Arithmetic, or Night might use a series of picture books to establish a common culture of literacy regarding the events surrounding the Holocaust. In my own classroom I've used Terrible Things: An Allegory Of The Holocaust, The Yellow Star: The Legend Of King Christian X Of Denmark, The Butterfly, and Anne Frank (a wonderful picture book version written by Josephine Poole).

I've met teachers at conferences who've expressed difficulty with teaching Holocaust novels. When I asked what they did to prepare their students for that experience, I often get a blank look. I think if teachers approached it thematically, their results would be much improved.

Mentor Texts

What does a mentor do? A mentor teaches and guides through example. Mentor texts, in the same way, are books which provide students with models for their own writing in the areas of ideas, structure, and craft.

Writing Fix, a site maintained by the Northern Nevada Writing Project, regularly updates its Mentor Texts: Picture Book-Inspired Writing Lessons. Teachers asking themselves, "How do I teach writing?" or those who are seeking to create a repertoire of mini-lessons will find fantastic inspirations here, using such favorites as Grandpa's Teeth, Brave Margaret, and Take Me Out of the Bathtub.

Craft Models

Craft Models are those mentor texts specifically used to help students improve their writing craft.

If you're looking for the very best books in developing writing craft, I can recommend none more highly than Craft Lessons and Nonfiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8 by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi. Many book distributors such as Booksource carry hand-picked collections of high-interest titles to support the lessons in those books.


I first heard Ralph Fletcher use this term when I caught him live at a workshop on writing with kids. By micro-text he meant a book which focused upon one certain skill we'd like children to incorporate in their own writing.

When we ask our students to "write a story," we rarely mean a story with chapters. Why, then, should we have students read only those types of books? Picture books provide succinct models for student writing. Nonfiction picture books also exemplify brevity versus exposition in presenting the facts that the reader needs.
Ralph illustrated that very idea by pointing out that in first grade, children write what they are reading: few words with many pictures. This changes as they move up in grades, however, until by fourth grade students are reading novels that they couldn't ever hope to write, given their existing skills. In other words, (mine, not his), children who have little or no access to micro-texts are being denied accurate, realistic models for their own writing.

As an example, Ralph shared his wonderful picture book Grandpa Never Lies. He then recounted a classroom lesson he had observed about that very book, and how the teacher had used the analogy of a snowball rolling downhill, growing ever larger as it progressed. The recurring line of the book acted in much the same way, growing with importance each time it was repeated.

Such a concept is easy to study in the context of a picture book; so much harder to extrapolate from the noise and confusion of a novel.

Touchstone Texts

Deb Renner Smith talks about Touchstone Texts at her Writing Every Day Works blog, and provides a number of professional reading recommendations for those who'd like to learn more about them. Some great resources there!

Content Area Reference Books

When tackling research projects in the elementary and middle grades, students can find a wealth of information in content area reference books, aka nonfiction picture books. Why tempt students to simply cut and paste online when nonfiction picture books provide so many organizational conventions which they'll need for success with texts in the upper grades? Good content area reference books contain a table of contents, an index, a glossary, headings, captions, illustrations, margin notes, and graphic aids such as tables, charts, and time lines. Familiarity with these text attributes will definitely transfer over to comprehending textbooks later on.

What's also nice about picture books is that the same topic can be accessed on so many different reading levels. Beginning readers will appreciate Usborne Beginners simple Knights while more advanced readers would enjoy The Usborne Book of Castles, complete with all the standard nonfiction conventions listed above, plus Internet links, maps, cut-away diagrams, and a gazetteer.

In Conclusion

If you're writing or mapping curriculum, communicating with parents or administration, or seeking a grant, I hope this list of picture book euphemisms will prove helpful.

Have another I don't know? Leave a comment below.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Basic Literacy Skills Through Picture Books

How can educators help students without basic literacy skills succeed?

Picture books.

I've even created a video that explains the many ways they can do that.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Long Live Printed Books

This email I recently received may be the merriest holiday gift of all to would-be writers. As a lover of printed books, I find it quite encouraging as well.

Dear writers, dreamers, and artists,

The market is saturated. Picture books are dead. Publishing is for optimistic fools.
And yet... There are still stories to be told. And we know how to do it.

In the coming year, we’ll be publishing The Forest of Ancestors, an outstanding series of chapter books with a fantasy twist that makes history personal. And we’re getting great early feedback on our upcoming Wormholes series that features parallel universes and bizarre new worlds.

As we approach 2011, I am preparing my list for 2013. I’ll be looking at fiction and non-fiction titles for children of all ages. I would love to hear from you as I consider new series concepts, titles, and submissions.

What stories do our kids need to read? What amazing adventures can we take them on? What wild people can we introduce them to?

So what’s your big dream? What book do you wish you could have read when you were small and full of wonder? How can we work together?

In January I’ll be reviewing concepts and writing samples, so if you have a piece you’ve been working on and would like feedback, now is the time. If an idea has been brewing for a bit and you’re ready to share it, I would love to hear from you.

Thank you!
Can’t wait to hear all your brilliant ideas!


Please share this message with anyone who may be interested.

Heidi Kellenberger
Fiction and Trade
Teacher Created Materials
5301 Oceanus Dr.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gods and Heroes

In a previous post I raved about Candlewick's awesome new pop-up book Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes. If you check out the video preview provided at the Candlewick site (be sure to go full screen), I think you'll agree that creators Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda have put together one impressive book!

I was therefore honored when Candlewick approached me to write a teachers' guide for using this book in the classroom. (I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love a publishing company that provides those extra perks for teachers and parents to get the most from their picture books). And in case that teacher's guide doesn't give you enough ideas for putting this book to work for you, I've compiled a list of over a dozen must-see books, sites, and activities that further supplement and extend this book.

Below I recommend some extensions for exploring and teaching with Gods and Heroes.

Related Titles

A perfect companion book to Gods and Heroes is World Myths and Legends: 25 Projects You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press). Author Kathy Ceceri includes myths from all around the world, grouping them by continents and cultures, and providing all the cool components that I've come to love in the Nomad titles:
  • integrated timelines and maps,
  • Words to Know vocabulary boxes,
  • Did You Know? fact boxes,
  • plentiful tables and lists,
  • a comprehensive glossary and index, and
  • easy-to-pull-off projects using commonly found objects and tools.
Shawn Braley's illustrations bring life to the myths that Ceceri retells, while providing helpful diagrams and templates for the included projects. Check out some madly enthusiastic reviews, related web sites, and a sample project from the book.

If you're looking to get serious about Greek mythology, Scholastic's All in the Family: A Look-It-Up Guide to the In-Laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology is an indispensable resource for the classroom (trust me; I had students fighting over this thing!). It's simply a fabulous volume of personal profiles and family, flings, friends, and foes. Illustrated with classic art, cartoons, and photos, it's visually appealing, and the humorous, engaging text will keep students reading. A family tree, glossary, and a constellation map complete this title. Seriously, if your students are doing any kind of research on Greek gods, goddesses, and heroes, one copy of this book is not enough.

And of course, don't forget to check out Candlewick's own Mythology by Lady Hestia Evans. This book is part of the Ologies series, which features its very own site.

From the publisher's site you can download an activity kit with craft and writing ideas, easily adaptable to any myth or grade level, and a teachers' guide of related curriculum activities.

Hands-On Activities

As mentioned in the previous post, a great extension activity for students is creating their own pop-ups. Not as easy as it sounds, unless, of course, you have a resource such as Robert Sabuda's own web site which features printable templates for over two dozen pop-ups. These can serve as great presentation formats for seasonal poetry, short stories, or book reports, or for creating cards for a special occasion. (Candlewick has also posted a simple pop-up template on their site).

Roman Shields
My students saw this simple Roman shield idea some time ago and they thought it was pretty cool. I suppose students could each create designs that had some relevance to a particular god or hero.

Mythology in Reading and Language Arts

Writing with Writers: Myth Writing

At Scholastic's wonderful Writing with Writers site, students are guided through the writing process by a famous children's author who writes in a given genre (hence the site's name). The genres, hosted by such writers as Jack Prelutsky and Virginia Hamilton, include Biography, Descriptive, Folktale, Mystery, News, Poetry, Speech, Book Review, and, of course, Myth. The incomparable Jane Yolen begins the process with the telling of an original myth, and then provides step-by-step guidance as children create their own stories.

Scholastic has additional features including Myths from Around the World and an interactive Myth Brainstorming Machine. The Myth Brainstorming Machine is pretty amazing in that it allows students to create a story using pictures and effects, and then translates the chosen visuals into key words and character names, which would then be used to write the tale (note the Idea Outline tab on the image above, at the lower right corner).

Greek Myths: Understanding Word Roots and Meanings

At the US Department of Education's Doing What Works site, you can view an upper grade teacher's take on Greek Myths: Understanding Word Roots and Meanings. If you see what you like, you can download some sample lesson plans.

It's All Greek to Me

If you're interested in teaching students vocabulary through Greek and Latin roots, you'll find some good links to explore on a previous post (at my Teaching that Sticks site) titled It's All Greek to Me.

Recommended Mythology and Ancient Cultures Sites
Tops on my list is Winged Sandals, a fun and colorful site focusing on Greek mythology. Here students can hear stories of gods and heroes, play games, create crafts, learn more about Greek history and daily life, and even ask the Oracle to tell their future. A very thorough Who's Who link provides biographies of gods, monsters, and mortals, along with key "stats" and anecdotes. (Your students will also discover cool wallpapers and e-cards in the goodies section). Highly recommended.

Windows to the Universe: Mythology
Windows to the Universe is an original site which describes how the stars, sun, and other celestial bodies have been linked to mythology throughout the ages. Yes, we all know that constellations were named for Greek and Roman gods, but how did Celts, Egyptians, Inca, Navajo, and other cultures tell their stories through the skies? A fascinating site to explore, with many possibilities for research.

Myth Web
Myth Web is a fun place to read about the traditional Roman heroes, since the tales are told with cartoons and the writing's pretty lively. But this site also has an extensive research base, plus some tips and resources for teachers.

Encyclopedia Mythica
Encyclopedia Mythica is an astounding collection of mythology and folklore from every culture imaginable. While it isn't designed to be fun, it's certainly complete!

Men, Myths, and Minds
Men, Myths, and Minds not only tells about some of the more common Greek gods, but also describes how they were archetypes of behaviors, from which listeners of the ancient tales were to learn. Another good site for student research.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
Fun stuff to do online, related to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Dress a Roman soldier, design a Greek Pot, print out timelines, etc.

Adventures in Ancient Greece

Although not a lot here about mythology, this site provides an interactive way for students to learn about Greek culture. Cartoon-based and kid-friendly.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Building a Passion for Poetry

No, I haven't misread my calendar; I do know that April, not May, is National Poetry Month. But now that standardized testing is over for most of us, what better way to explore words and language than through some picture books?

While I'm a huge fan of Prelutsky, Viorst, Silverstein, and the other "giants" of poetry, I'd like to share some authors, titles, and series which might be new to you. These are guaranteed to get kids excited about reading and writing poetry!

A great place to start is with the Graphic Poetry series from Brightpoint Literacy. The sixteen books in the series provide a number of components which help students and teachers alike enjoy and analyze the poems with confidence and understanding. In Pat Mora's Same Song/Maestro, for example, each poem is preceded by an introduction which points out important aspects of the poem students are about to read. The poems are first presented line by line with illustrations, and then as a whole. At book's end, both poems and their common theme (in this case, characterization) are discussed in detail, and some questions for discussion are included. A short feature autobiography of the poet rounds out the book.

In this format, poetry is visual, nonintimidating, and comprehensible (finally!). In other words, the graphic format combats all the complaints I've heard from students who claim that they hate poetry.

If you're seeking a resource for older students, I'd suggest Enslow's Poetry Rocks! series, aimed at middle school and up crowd. You can check out an interactive version of Not the End, But the Beginning at Enslow's site. These volumes are specially designed to get older students in touch with the emotion and meaning of classic poems. Discussion questions, author bios, and selected poem titles are included.

Other great poetry resources? The Words Are Categorical series from First Avenue Editions (Lerner Publishing) teaches students about parts of speech through clever, funny, rhyming verse, as well as some cool cat cartoons. In Lazily, Crazily, Just a Bit Nasally, for example, students learn about adverbs through such lines as
Adverbs sometimes
tell us where,
Like these are here
and those are there.
Often they
will tell us when,
Like this is now and
that was then.
Adverbs sometimes
tell us how,
Like, "Carefully remove this cow."
They let us know
how often too
As in the phrase,
"I seldom chew."

Author Brian Cleary, whose website contains related games and activities, makes parts of speech fun and memorable.

If you're seeking a good teacher-oriented resource for teaching poetry writing, Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out helps students move beyond the Humpty-Dumpty rhymes of simple poetry to creating poems that express emotions and capture moments. Although I said it's a resource for teachers, it's actually written in the first person, speaking directly to older students. Some writing clubs and schools have purchased this inexpensive paperback as a student resource. Fletcher's anecdotes, similes for writing, and short exercises make it an enjoyable read. (For a terrific book of poetry models, based on writing topics, check out Fletcher's A Writing Kind Of Day: Poems For Young Poets. Fletcher speaks in a young writer's voice, reflecting upon metaphors, battling writer's block, or connecting one entry to the next).

If you're like me, you love to give students some historical context when teaching literature. The Poetry Basics by Creative Education is a series of hard bound, picture book size titles which provide the history of a specific poetry form. Valerie Bodden's Limericks, for example, traces the form and rhyme scheme all the way back to the 1600s, although the term "limerick" wasn't used until the 1800s. And of course, its most famous proponent, Edward Leer, is given a good bit of ink. The remainder of the book is dedicated to the "how" of the poem, helping students to understand what makes it work. Important literary devices (such as portmanteaus and nonce words) are also discussed. All around, an important series for getting kids into poetry. (Other titles in this series, all written by Valerie Bodden, include Haiku, Concrete Poetry, and Nursery Rhymes).

Recommended Sites

While there are tons of sites about poetry, I'm limiting my recommendations to those which assist students in their own writing.

My top pick is Instant Poetry Forms, which allows students to enter prompted words and verses in order to form (you guessed it!) instant poetry. Some of the forms are purely creative and student-centered, while others allow students to enter researched information (such as data on an early explorer) to create nonfiction verse. An excellent way to encourage your poetry-phobic students (usually the boys!). Each prompt generator includes an example of a finished poem in that style, so students can get a good idea of how the finished poem might sound.

Once students have entered their responses in the prompts, the push of a button publishes the poem. This poem can then be copied and pasted into a word document and further edited, or combined with a free online illustration program such as Sumo Paint.

Another interesting poetry site, although not nearly as diverse and robust, is Scholastic's Poetry Machine which walks students through four poems types: limerick, haiku, cinquain, and free verse.

ReadWriteThink, a fantastic site created by IRA and NCTE, has a number of poetry creators (writing machines) which walk students through the process step-by-step. Teachers can find fully detailed lesson plans for poetry as well, adapted to several grade levels. Students can choose acrostic, diamante, riddle, and shape poems.

Bruce Lansky and Meadowbrook Press have teamed up to create Giggle Poetry, a site not to be missed! Plenty of chances to read, write, and even rate poetry. PoetryTeachers is the sister site, created just for teachers, tutors, and parents. Tons of ideas!

For more lesson plans, check out Ken Nesbitt's poetry lessons at his Poetry4Kids. At the home page you'll find plenty of other resources including a rhyming dictionary and poetry contests.

Need more ideas? Check out this set of Interactive Poetry Tools and Lesson Plans. Why reinvent the wheel?

Have more poetry sites and books you'd recommend? Leave a comment below, or email me directly.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Combating Summer Slump

Over at the We Are Teachers blog you'll find a nice set of suggestions for combating "summer slump," that period of time in which children's brain revert to primordial ooze due to lack of use. 

Equally cool and instantly available to all at this site are some suggestions from LeapFrog Literacy Expert Carolyn Jaynes, PhD., who shares her tips on how to get kids hooked into reading over the summer.

In addition to her tips, I'd offer three tips of my own for combating summer cerebral slumber, gleaned from my students' parents over the years, and certainly worth suggesting to your students' parents as well:
  • Book Clubs - Boys and girls alike love the idea of getting together with their friends, and choosing a common book to read and discuss together creates a fantastic experience. The mother who shared this idea explained that both the moms and their boys read a couple chapters of the book together ahead of time, and would attend the club together. There'd be a time of discussion, perhaps an activity or trivia quiz, and then food. Afterwards, the boys would play while the moms chatted. The boys in this group got through three novels in a summer! For boys, sure-fire hits include sports novels such as Mike Lupica's Summer Ball, and survivalist science fiction such as Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games (as well as sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay).
  • Picture Books - Some kids won't slog through a novel during the summer, but love a pile of high-interest, vocabulary-rich picture books about a favorite topic, be it magic, motorcycles, seals, soldiers, fashion, or food. Picture books are just more inviting for a browse or a quick read. Nonfiction books, especially, with their text boxes, captions, and nonsequential format, make for quick reads.
  • Bedtime Books - A third mom "tricked" her daughter into reading by putting her "in charge" of read-alouds at night for a younger sibling. The elder daughter earned a later bedtime provided the stories took place nightly. Trips to the library and lots of reading aloud, explaining, and discussing kept the daughter's mind sharp all summer. The experience also helped the younger daughter appreciate literature as well, and made a memory that can't be surpassed! (A book like Laurie Halse Anderson's The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School is not only a colorful and silly read, but it helps alleviate those back-to-school-anxieties which sometimes come creeping in late August).
What are your ideas for keeping kids reading during the summer?