At the beginning of the month, Michelle Barnes shared a terrific interview with David Elliot on her blog, Today’s Little Ditty. David challenged readers to write a “letter poem to a bird, animal, or other object of our choice.” I have been thinking about this challenge all month, but couldn’t decide what or whom to write to until today when a friend shared a link to this video on Facebook.
I was hooked. After watching the video several times, scrolling through the other photos posted on this site, and, as David suggested, doing some research, I drafted this letter poem to Mr. and Mrs. Eagle.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Eagle,
The world has snatched the privacy of your tree-top aerie;
While on a clutch of eggs you brood,
to our TV screens we’re glued.
We marvel at your fortitude, braving wind and snow in solitude,
to tend your unborn chicks with care
one hundred feet up in the air.
Taking turns to hunt and fish, you bring your mate a tasty dish.
Now it’s your shift on the nest;
roll those eggs, then get some rest.
We’ll be watching all month long, waiting to hear your newborns’ song.
Thank you, Michelle and David, for this challenge! Please be sure to visit Michelle’s blog to read more letter poems, and don’t forget to visit Heidi Mordhorst at My Juicy Little Universe for the Poetry Friday Round Up.
At Sherman School, we make March a month-long celebration of reading. We always pay homage to Dr. Seuss on March 2nd by reading old favorites such as Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat. But we also use this day to launch a month-long theme related to reading. What better way to celebrate Read Across America than by doing just that…reading about each of the 50 states.
This year we’re incorporating Laura Purdie Salas’s new book, Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems, into the festivities! This wonderful collection of poems is as diverse as the country it celebrates. There are poems about geography, geology, and weather. There are poems about ecosystems, food chains, and history. In short, there is something for everyone in Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems.
Each class will choose a poem that supports a topic they have been studying. For example, second grade might choose “Wisconsin: Catch!” This poem, about a bald eagle’s swooping down to the water of the Mississippi to catch a fish, is a natural for their study of food chains. Students could illustrate Laura’s poem or use this as a mentor for their own food chain poem. The form, cinquain, is very accessible for second graders.
To share their learning with the rest of the school, each class will decorate their classroom door to highlight their study of Laura’s poem and how its related curricular topic. I can’t wait to see what each class comes up with. The possibilities are limitless. Best of all, the classes that create the best doors will Skype with Laura later this spring.
I’m really excited to be pairing Laura’s poems with Read Across America, and will be posting photos of the doors and the kids’ work throughout the month here and on Twitter.
Laura also shared our plans on her blog today. Please pay her a visit to learn more about Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems and the other poetry collections in Laura’s “30 Painless Classroom Poems” series.
Children are full of priceless observations. My own boys made their fair share of pronouncements that brought a smile to my face. Nye’s poem made me wish I had written down some of their comments. Ah well, sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
Please be sure to visit Linda at Teacher Dance for today’s Poetry Friday Round Up.
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination…”
~ Mary Oliver ~
When I was a senior in high school, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time. It was pure coincidence that Monet’s famous Water Lily paintings were starring in the exhibit “Monet’s Years at Giverney” at the time of this visit. Seeing those paintings was a revelatory experience. My appreciation and love of art began on that spring day.
Although nothing compares to standing in front of a magnificent work of art, kids don’t have to visit a museum to learn about art and artists. Gorgeous picture books about artists and their work abound. These books will inspire young artists to pick up a paint brush, scissors, or clay and begin creating their own art.
I searched for the origin of the trend of picture books about artists, but couldn’t find a definitive answer. The first picture book about an artist I remember (probably not a coincidence) is Linnea in Monet’s Garden, (R&S Books, 1985) by Christina Björk and illustrated by Lena Anderson. Björk blends the fictional account of a young girl’s pilgrimage to Monet’s home in Giverney, France with facts about Monet’s life and art. Illustrations of Linnea’s trip are combined with photos of Monet, his masterpieces, and the his beloved gardens that inspired so many of his paintings. A timeline of Monet’s life, a family tree, and a description of the museums Linnea visits in Paris are included, as well as a very brief bibliography are included.
One of the most recent picture book biographies of an artist is The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre. This 2015 Caldecott Honor book introduces young Vasya Kandinsky as a proper Russian boy, who is bored by his studies and his monochromatic life. Vasya’s world is changed when his aunt presents him with a “small wooden paint box.” Suddenly, colors swirl around him, creating a cacophony of sound. Kandinsky had synesthesia, which enabled him to “hear the hiss of the colors as they mingled.” Discouraged by his family from following his dream, Kandinsky persevered, capturing the music the colors created. In the process, he “created something entirely new–abstract art.”
An Author’s Note includes additional information about Kandinsky’s life, as well as information about synesthesia. There is also a list of sources and websites for additional information.
Another recent title that will inspire young artists is Lois Ehlert’s autobiography, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life (Beach Lane Books, 2014). This joyous book is filled with Ehlert’s signature collages, photos of Ehlert’s family, collections, and her inspirations from nature. Ehlert parents, both of whom “made things with their hands” shared their tools and materials with young Lois. She describes finding “ideas in the world around” her, and is full of encouragement for young artists. “An egg in the nest doesn’t become a bird overnight,” Ehlert states. Good advice for us all.
Alexander Calder, who “invented the very first mobiles,” is another artist whose parents nurtured his creativity from a young age. Tanya Lee Stone’s Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder (Viking, 2008; Author’s Note and a list of sources included), illustrated by Boris Kulikov, describes Calder as a boy who always had a workshop and tools. He used scraps of wire, wood, and other materials to create jewelry and toys for his friends. After art school, Calder, nicknamed Sandy, used these same materials to create a “magical, moveable circus,” which he performed in New York and Paris. Calder’s exuberance shines through in Kulikov’s illustrations. Children of all ages will be inspired to “turned ordinary objects into extraordinary art,” just as Calder did throughout his lifetime.
Watch a performance of “Sandy’s Circus:”
You can also view how one school was inspired by Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder to create their own circus:
I had never heard of Calder’s circus before, but his whimsical creations immediately reminded me of the art of Melissa Sweet. Sweet’s illustrations vividly recreate the world of Horace Pippin in Jen Bryant’s biography, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). This Schneider Family Book Award winner also won the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children and was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book. Young Horace loved to draw, “loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him.” Self-taught, Pippin pursued his artistic vision through a life of physical pain and hardship to become widely known and admired. His paintings now hang in museums around the country. Bryant and Sweet both include notes about the origins of this beautiful book, and an extensive list our resources is included.
You can read more about this book and view the book trailer here.
Henri Matisse is another visionary artist who never gave up on his art, despite physical hardships. In The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Patricia MacLachlan poetically relates the origins of Matisse’s vivid colors and natural subjects. Hadley Hooper’s illustrations are saturated with the same monochromatic blues and warm reds, oranges, and golds that Matiesse used in his paintings. Notes are included from both MacLachlan and Hooper, and there is also a list of books for additional reading.
One of those is Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Grosset & Dunlap, 2002) by Keesia Johnson and Jane O’Connor, with illustrations by Jessie Hartland. This book, from the “Smart About Art” series, is a more complete biography of Matisse, as it might be written by a fourth or fifth grader. It includes information about different phases of Matisse’s career, including his final collages, which he began creating after he became ill and could no longer stand long enough to paint.
Another volume in this accessible series is Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003), by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Jennifer Kalis. Children are naturally drawn to Cassatt’s impressionistic paintings of the everyday lives of children and families.
Childhood memories are the inspiration for the work of Wanda Gág, (rhymes with jog, not bag, as I learned in the Author’s Note) author of the beloved picture book, Millions of Cats. Deborah Kogan Ray’s Wanda Gág: The Girl Who Lived to Draw (Viking, 2008), recounts Gág’s life, beginning with her childhood in Minnesota. “A love of art was valued above all else in the Gag home” and Wanda was moved to draw everything around her. Overcoming hardships seems to be a theme among many artists, and Gág is no exception. Like Pippin, Calder, and other, Wanda Gág didn’t give up on her dream of becoming an artist or her father’s advice to “Always look at the world around you in your own way.”
Seeing the world in your own, unique way is the theme of No One Saw: Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist (Millbrook Press, 2002). Prolific poet Bob Raczka has selected sixteen famous artists and one of their iconic paintings and paired it with a simple sentence such as “No one saw stars like Vincent Van Gogh.” Each large reproduction gives kids a chance to pore over the details of these paintings, observing and noticing the details that make these masterpieces instantly recognizable. The simplicity of this book belies its power, which Raczka sums up perfectly in this final line: “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.“
In this age of standardization, these beautiful books give children the important message that their vision of the world matters. From the lives of these artists, children learn that if they open their imagination to the beauty that surrounds them and follow their dreams, anything is possible.
Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 is a “celebration of nonfiction picture books” organized by Cathy Mere, and Mandy Robek. Thank you, Cathy and Mandy for hosting! Please be sure to visit the Picture Book 10 for 10 Community to find lists of other wonderful nonfiction picture books.
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
~Henry David Thoreau~
My cat has cabin fever. He has always preferred being outside, but as he’s grown older, he spends more time inside. The cold and snow are no longer an adventure for him. So he bats at my yarn when I knit, chases nothing into the front hallway, and tries to toss his scratching pad into the air like a frisbee. He’s quite entertaining.
I miss being outside, too. I usually walk a mile or two each Saturday and Sunday, with shorter walks squeezed in here and there. But the snowbanks are too high, the roads too narrow, and the temperatures too low to walk outside for any distance.
These walks clear my head and stretch my thinking. Most often, I walk with my dear friend, Colette, and we hash out all the problems of the world. Our teaching experience is at opposite ends of the spectrum (her’s mainly in a high school English classroom, mine mostly elementary), which helps us each gain a better perspective on education in general.
I have been walking on the treadmill, but the view in my basement is no match for the Connecticut countryside. And, although I’ve read some terrific professional books, they can’t compare to having a conversation with my friend.
Watching my cat this morning made me think of a student I saw skipping in the hallway the other day. Like every school, we have rules about walking in the hallways, so I really should have reminded her to walk. But I didn’t. Instead, I marveled at the joy her steps contained. Who knows what ideas were unlocked as she traipsed back to her classroom.
What Thoreau knew 150 years ago, and my skipping friend knows instinctively, science now has plenty of research to support. Entering “impact of physical activity on learning” into Google Scholar yielded 67,500 results in .15 seconds. A standard Google search turned up 27,000,000 results in .47 seconds. Reports like this one from SPARK, an organization devoted to combating childhood obesity are full of findings that support a link between physical activity and improved academic achievement.
Maybe we shouldn’t all start skipping in the hallways, but we should incorporate movement into our classrooms and get our students moving whenever possible. Who knows where our legs, and our thoughts, will take us.
My colleagues and I have been busy teaching and revising informational writing units of study. We’ve been concerned, though, about having enough good mentor texts for our Kindergarten through second grade students to emulate. A traditional five-paragraph essay is NOT our goal, yet an organizational structure is needed so they don’t write pages and pages of random facts. This week I found two informational texts with unique structures that will be inspiring mentor texts for young writers.
Why Do Birds Sing? (Penguin Young Readers, 2004) by Joan Holub and illustrated by Anna DiVito is a question-and-answer book. Holub anticipates any question kids might have about birds, then responds with brief, informative answers. DiVito’s cartoon-like illustrations are paired with color photos that provide close up views of many familiar species.
This book is a terrific mentor text. Children have many questions about subjects they’re interested in, and this question-and-answer structure is a perfect way for them to organize their research findings. Text features in Why Do Birds Sing? are limited to photographs and labels, but the photos have been thoughtfully chosen to illustrate and/or support the information being presented.
Holub and DiVito have also teamed up to create Why Do Dogs Bark?, Why Do Cats Meow?, and others that answer these urgent questions that all kids ask.
Caterpillars, by Marilyn Singer (EarlyLight Books, 2011) is a fact-filled book lavishly illustrated with close-up color photographs of both familiar and unfamiliar caterpillars. What I really love about this book, though, is its unique structure. Poet Singer (who was recently awarded the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children) begins the book with a poem introducing caterpillars. Here is the first stanza:
Munching in a giant bunch,
The poem is followed by a page devoted to elaborating each line, providing young readers with all sorts of interesting facts. Each page is also filled with gorgeous color photographs showing examples of the species or behavior described in the text. There is also a quiz, a matching game (caterpillar-to-moth/butterfly), glossary, resource list, index, and more.
Caterpillars, which was named a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Trade Book for Science in 2012, is listed by the publisher as being appropriate for K-2 students. But I think older students would also enjoy Singer’s informative, accessible writing style and have fun creating their own poem to organize their informational writing.
Both of these books are excellent mentors for a whole class book on a single topic, or for individuals writing about a topic of their choice. Best of all, they are engaging nonfiction texts that can be enjoyed as read-alouds or as independent reading by all elementary age students.
I returned from NCTE last November energized by all the informative and inspiring sessions I attended. The Two Writing Teacher’s presentation, “Tools to Build a Culture of Writing Through Story,” was chock full of achievable ideas to promote writing. In her portion of the session, Dana Murphy shared her experience hosting a Family Writing Night. I knew this was an event I wanted to hold at my school. (You can access Dana’s presentation slides here.)
My building administrators thought having a Family Writing Night was a great idea and gave me their support. The PTO provided funds for journals, pens, door prizes and refreshments.
Dana emphasized that in order for Family Writing Night to be a success, you had to spread the word. In addition to having announcements on Twitter and in the school and PTO e-newsletters, old-fashioned hard copies went home in backpacks. Canva was a great tool to create posters, flyers, even door prize tickets! Classroom teachers were extremely supportive and reminded students daily about the event.
To get an idea of how many people to expect, I created a Google Form and asked people to let me know if they were coming. But I made it clear that whether they responded or not, everyone was welcome. I heard from about twenty people. So you can imagine my surprise when over sixty people turned out in near-zero temperatures!
Everyone chose a notebook and pen, then filled out a door prize ticket. When people were settled, I took Dana’s advice to “fill the room with beautiful words” and began the evening with a read aloud. John Rocco’s Blizzard (Disney-Hyperion, 2014) is my favorite new book, so I started the evening by reading Rocco’s boyhood memory of the Blizzard of 1978. (I also thought this might spark some weather-related stories; we’ve had a little snow lately!)
Then I talked very briefly about the the benefits of writing daily and the recursive nature of the writing process. I stressed that the goal of Family Writing Night, indeed any family writing time, was to have fun sharing memories and ideas. I reminded parents how important it is that they encourage kids to write without inhibitions, and not censor themselves because they may not know the exact spelling of a word or the best way to phrase a sentence. Editing is the final step. The most important thing is to get their thoughts down and keep writing daily. Just like athletes, writers develop fluency and build their writing muscles by writing.
I also encouraged parents to let kids to write about events and topics that are important and meaningful to them. To demonstrate that this could be anything, I shared Ralph Fletcher’s “Squished Squirrel Poem.” I had suggested that people bring photos of family vacations or other memorable events to get their writing started. As Ralph Fletcher says, “Memories are like a fountain no writer can live without.”
Then, everyone wrote. It was so gratifying to see more than sixty moms, dads, brothers, and sisters all writing! They wrote about tropical vacations, afternoons at the ball park, their pets, and more.
After about fifteen minutes, I encouraged everyone to share their writing with their families. Dana had shared some commenting prompts, such as asking a question or “tell how the writing made you feel,” which I had available as a handout. These got the writers going for another ten minutes or so.
Time really does fly when you’re having fun! I was amazed at how quickly the hour went by. Soon it was time to draw the winners of the door prizes.
Parents were effusive with their thanks and appreciation for the opportunity to come out and write with their children. Many wanted to know when the next Family Writing Night would be, and one mom asked if we could do this monthly! But the best feedback came from a third grader who told me, “I can’t wait to get home to finish my story!”
Thank you, Dana, for inspiring this wonderful evening. Thank you also to Stacey, Tara, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for sharing your terrific ideas at NCTE. As always, thank you for this space to share our stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Candlewick Press, 2014) by Kate DiCamillo
Mercy Watson was a staple in my first grade classroom, so I was excited to learn that Leroy Ninker was back with his own adventure. Leroy has repented his thieving ways is now a man with a dream. Inspired by the westerns he watches while working at the Bijou Drive-In Theater, he dreams of being a cowboy. The Bijou’s ticket seller, Beatrice Leapaleoni, encourages Leroy to follow that dream. She urges him to wrestle fate to the ground and get himself a horse.
Leroy does just that. He meets Maybelline, a big horse with a loud whinny, and it’s love at first sight. Silliness ensues, but as in all Kate DiCamillo stories, love overcomes all obstacles. Leroy and Maybelline even end up on Deckawoo Drive for breakfast with Mercy Watson. On the menu? Hot buttered toast, of course.
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is a perfect read aloud for first or second grade. Mercy Watson fans will enjoy reading Leroy’s adventure with Maybelline on their own. This book is filled with sage advice (“Be a straightforward communicator,” Patty LeMarque tells Leroy.) and self-discovery (Leroy “never imagined he could string so many words together at once.”) But most of all it is a book filled with love, “word after beautiful word…”
Somehow I missed the debut of You Are (Not) Small (Two Lions, 2014) by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant, last summer. Thankfully, it won the Geisel Award last Monday, so when I saw it at the library over the weekend, I recognized it and brought it home.
Using just a handful of words, Kang’s text and Weyant’s illustrations work together to convey important lessons on differences and perspective. These concepts work on many levels, giving this book wide appeal. Younger readers will easily understand the literal meaning of these differences, and older readers will be able to infer a deeper meaning. Everyone will love that when the characters finally do find common ground, they celebrate by sharing a meal. After all, everyone loves to eat!
In classic picture book fashion, the final page presents a new possibility, opening the door for children to create their own You Are (Not)… story.