PB 10 for 10: Follow Your Heart

“Never lose your curiosity about everything
in the universe–
it can take you to places you never
thought possible!”

~ Sue Hendrickson ~

Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for creating and curating this celebration of picture books. Please be sure to visit Cathy’s blog, Reflect and Refine to read all the lists contributed to this labor of love. It is teachers like them, and others in this community, who will keep the gift of stories alive for years to come.

Coming up with a theme for this year’s PB 10 for 10 celebration was difficult. There were several new picture books that I loved, but at first I didn’t see an obvious connection between them. As I read and reread, though, patterns began to emerge. A path presented itself, and I followed. Each book I’ve chosen to share this year involves a journey or exploration. Some of these journeys cross the globe, others plumb the soul, some do both. All enlarge our imagination.

My Heart Is a Compass, written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (Little, Brown, 2018), was my starting point this year. I have always loved maps, so this book appealed to me immediately. Maps show us the way, help us know we’re not alone and we don’t always have to rely on our own wits to help us find the path. In one way or another, these books may help readers find their way–even if it’s encouragement that sometimes we have to create our own paths and that’s okay, maybe even essential. They also help us understand that wherever we are on our path, someone else has been in a similar spot before, maybe are in a similar spot right now. How we respond and react to the spot we’re in is what matters. Getting love and giving love makes the journey so much easier.

Rose is on a quest: “Her heart was set on discovering something that had never been found…” Marcero’s rich language and evocative illustrations carry us along on this journey. Rose’s flights of imagination are distinguished from “real life” by use of a gorgeous blue that reminds me of cyanotypes. Her maps are worth poring over; a scientifically correct sky map is also filled with fancy–including “big dreams,” “empty thoughts,” and “first lines of poems” as well as a “brainstorm.” Close observers will recognize features of Rose’s journey covering the floor of her room before she embarks on her travels. This book will inspire readers to explore their own inner worlds. It is also a perfect choice to pair with Georgia Heard’s Heart Maps, (Heinemann, 2017).

How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander with illustrations by Melissa Sweet (Harper, 2019) is a love letter to the joys of reading. Alexander encourages readers not to rush: “Your eyes need time to taste. Your soul needs room to bloom.” This is advice we all should heed. Sweet’s illustrations of “watercolor, gouache, mixed media, handmade and vintage papers, found objects including old book covers, and a paint can lid” (and at least one map) add layers of meaning and wonder that will keep readers coming back to this book again and again. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                                   

Poetree, by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani (New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019) stars a dreamer and poet named Sylvia. The book begins with Sylvia writing a poem about spring. She “…tied her poem to a birch tree…hoping that it didn’t count as littering if it made the world more splendid.” Poetry brings two children together and helps them move past the misunderstanding at the center of the story. Reynolds sneaks in sly humor adult readers will appreciate: characters are named Sylvia and Walt, a dog named Shel, and a teacher, Ms. Oliver. There is also a nod to Joyce Kilmer: “I never thought that I would see/such lovely poems from a tree…” Maydani’s graphite pencil and watercolor illustrations of soft greens and yellows (is that Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s yellow umbrella?) add to the overall gentleness and love of this book.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar; (Harper, 2019) is a lovely biography of Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian in New York City. When Belpré first traveled to New York, “words travel[ed] with her” and libraries were “ripe for planting seed of the cuentos she carrie[d].” This metaphor of a garden of stories is carried throughout the book and is echoed in Escobars gorgeous digital illustrations. The words she brought from Puerto Rico took root and “grew shoots into the open air of possibility, (emphasis mine) have become a lush landscape…” Her legacy is honored through the Pura Belpré Award. A select bibliography is included, as well as suggestions for further reading and a brief description of Pura Belpre’s own stories. A teaching guide is available here

                             

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (New York: Blazer + Bray, 2019) is, like its subject, an unconventional biography. Barnett gets to the heart of the matter quickly, though: “The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.” (p. 2) The truth is that Margaret Wise Brown had something to say and she didn’t let anyone stop her from saying it. The information Barnett includes underscores the fact that writers are real people. He includes possible origins of her stories: ”When Margaret Wise Brown was six or seven and she lived in a house next to the woods, she kept many pets.” (p. 7) Barnett asks thought-provoking questions, including “Isn’t it important that children’s books contain the things children think of and the things children do, even if those things seem strange?” These expand the range of who will appreciate this book. He also highlights important truths: “…in real lives and good stories the patterns are hard to see, because the truth is never made of straight lines” and “She believed children deserve important books.” (emphasis mine). Jacoby “used watercolor, Nupastel, and Photoshop magic to create the illustrations for this book” that give them a dreaminess we want to step into. Read and interview with Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby about the creation of this book here.

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art, by Hudson Talbott (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2018) takes us on another journey of discovery. Like many immigrants, when Thomas Cole and his family arrived in the US in 1818, they didn’t have much. Through hard work and sacrifice, Thomas discovered that “he had something to say and he was on his way to find it.” This book not only provides a brief introduction to the birth of the Hudson River School of painting, it helps children understand we all have something to say. Finding out what that something is and how best to express it is the journey of our life, it’s what gives our life meaning. Over the course of his life, Cole realized “he simply wanted to show what it meant to be human.”

    .     

In The Word Collector (Orchard Books, 2018), Peter H. Reynolds extolls the joy and power of words. We learn about Jerome and his passion for words: “Words he heard…words he saw…words he read.” Jerome uses his words in poems and songs, and ultimately, shares all his words. After all, isn’t that words are for? This book will inspire word collectors of all ages. Resources are available here.

 

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019) This biography is a celebration of curiosity, exploration of the natural world, and following your dreams. “Sue Hendrickson was born to find things.” Buzzeo tells the story of how Sue’s whole life lead to the moment in 1990 when she discovered “the world’s largest, most complete, best preserved, Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered so far.” Named in honor of her discoverer, “Sue” is now on display in Chicago’s Field Museum. A Teacher’s Guide is available here.

                    .  

What is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison (New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019) is the “final, magnificent picture book from three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack.” James Otis and his mother have had “a rough few months.” When a neighbor’s home is destroyed by fire, James Otis’s church rallies to help them. But he can’t imagine how he and his mother can help when they “aine got nothing ourselves.” After much searching and consideration, James Otis finds exactly the right gift for his neighbor. Harrison’s mixed media illustrations add depth to the emotions of James Otis, his mother, and their neighbors.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac. (Charlesbridge, 2018) This book honors the Cherokee Nation’s tradition of otsaliheliga, an expression of gratitude that “is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles–daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.” A loving depiction of Cherokee culture, this is exactly the book we need right now: a reminder to be grateful for our family, our friends, and the many gifts of the earth.  

I am grateful for these books, their creators and the publishers who bring them into the world and make it a more beautiful place.

Note: I am editing my original post to include concerns about Home Is a Window. My original post included this paragraph about this book:

Home is a Window, by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard with illustrations by Chris Sasaki (New York: Near Porter Books/Holiday House, 2019) is an ode to the comfort of what is familiar: a favorite blanket or chair, a daily routine, a color. It also celebrates the fact that home isn’t necessarily a physical place; rather, it’s a feeling you have because of “the people gathered near.” This creative, comforting book is a perfect launching point for students to create their own definitions of home.

Cathy Mere also included this book on her list, but removed it after a reader raised “some concerns over the images in the text.” Cathy shared this link to CrazyQuiltEdi explaining her concerns about the images of several characters. 

My previous #PB 10 for 10 posts:

2017: Celebrating Nature
2016: Feeding Our Imaginations
2015: Poetry Picture Books
2014: Friendship Favorites
2013: Jane Yolen Picture Books
2012: Wordless Picture Books

 

Slice of Life 19: A Writing Friendship

In a separate post, today I’m hosting a stop on the blog tour of In the Middle of the Night: Poems From a Wide-Awake House, by Laura Purdie Salas. (Leave a comment on that post, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for your very own copy!)

There is a direct link between being part of Laura’s blog tour and participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge. I “met” Laura when I responded to a tweet she sent out looking for teachers to write activity guides to a series of poetry books she was self-publishing. Designing activities to support favorite books is something I love to do. But I wasn’t confident I had the writing experience that Laura was looking for. As I worked to summon up the courage to write to Laura, I reread past blog posts and people’s comments, many from fellow Slicers. Indirectly, this community gave the push I needed to send the email. And, miracle of miracles, Laura put her trust in me! A few months later, Wacky, Wild, and Wonderful: 50 State Poems, part of Laura’s “30 Painless Classroom Poems” series, debuted with an activity guide written by yours truly.

Thanks to a supportive administration, I was able to attend NCTE later that year and meet Laura in person. Since then, we’ve seen each other at other conferences and connected online through Twitter and our blogs. This is exactly the kind of supportive friendship that I’ve been fortunate enough to develop with many other teachers and writers, all thanks to everyone, past and present, at Two Writing Teachers!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

In the Middle of the Night: Poems From a Wide-Awake House by Laura Purdie Salas & a Giveaway!

Welcome to the next stop on In the Middle of the Night’s blog tour! What a whirlwind! If you missed any of the previous stops, click below for interviews with Laura about how she came up the the idea for these “Poems From a Wide-Awake House,” her writing process, and more. There are also suggestions from teachers on different ways to use In the Middle of the Night in classrooms to support and inspire student writing.

When I first read Laura’s book, I immediately noticed her word choice. Laura has chosen exactly the right words to bring so many everyday household objects to life. A “Mixed-Up Mixing Bowl wobble[s] and sway[s]” in a “bowl ballet.” After a day of pounding the floor, an aching basketball’s “head is sore” and he’s sleeping “in ice.” And who can’t relate to “Lidless Marker’s Lament?” With an aching head and a throat that “feels dry,” this marker is “useless since/you lost my lid.” Angela Matteson’s exuberant illustrations capture the wide range of emotions felt by all the wide-awake objects frollicking through this book.

I shared these poems and more with a fourth grade class at my school as a spark for their writing. They loved the poems and were eager to write their own “wide-awake” poems. Here are just a few.

“Sneaky Button”
by H.

I’m a sneaky button
creeping through the night
clinging to some clothing
to see which one looks right.
Then I see a woodland shirt
that seems to shine with light.

Now the sun is shining
And I am all attached
waiting for my owner
to grab me with with a snatch.
Then
we will go fishing
to get a big fat catch.

 

“Utensils Vs. Pot”
by E.

The pot grabbed the spoon
From its napkin cocoon
The fork went to help,
But he began to yelp.

The clock struck four
When Mr. Spoon opened the drawer
He whacked the pot of soup
And it began to droop.

The pot dropped the spoon
and he began to swoon.
Dang! It’s 6AM so soon!

 

“Pineapple Escape”
by J.

Pineapple feared the big knife
would bring an end to his life.
So he tried to delay
by rolling away.
Now the pineapple
hides out in the stairway.

Your students can write their own wide-awake poems! Laura has created a Padlet where they can share their work and read poems by other students. There are also fun activity sheets available here.

Thank you, Laura and Angela, for this clever, inspiring book! And thank you to Boyds Mills Press for generously donating a copy of In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House to one lucky winner. Be sure to leave a comment by Tuesday, March 26th, to be entered in the drawing.

Blog tour links:

Monday, 3/11 Mile High Reading
Tuesday, 3/12 Reflections on the Teche
Wednesday, 3/13 A Year of Reading
Thursday, 3/14 Check It Out
Friday, 3/15 Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
Sunday, 3/17 Great Kid Books
Monday, 3/18 Simply 7 Interview/Jena Benton blog
Tuesday, 3/19 My Juicy Little Universe
Wednesday, 3/20 Live Your Poem
Thursday, 3/21 Reading to the Core
Friday, 3/22 KidLit Frenzy       Beyond Literacy Link

 

Slice of Life 19: Lesson Learned

I don’t know if it’s because of the time change or because we had parent conferences at the beginning of the week, which altered our schedule or a combination of these and other events, but I feel like I haven’t gotten much accomplished this week. (Check my recent blog posts for confirmation. Oh wait, I haven’t written since Sunday. I rest my case.)

Last night I was planning a lesson on elaboration for a fifth grade class. I had my teaching point, the basic sequence of the lesson, and the mentor text I wanted to use. But I hadn’t written my model. I knew what I was going to write about, but it was after 10:30 and I was just too tired. Knowing I had time to write it in the morning, I headed for bed.

But I couldn’t get the lesson out of my head. Sentences from my unwritten model were swirling around in my head. At 2:00 I told myself to just follow my breath back to sleep. At 2:30 I got up for some water. At 3:00 I gave up and got up to write the model. Then I wrote a possible sequence for future lessons. Then I figured that I was on a roll and might as well write a Slice of Life.

So what’s the lesson? Next time, instead of losing at least four hours of sleep, I’ll make myself a cup of tea and power through another half-hour or so of work. I’ll have a much better chance of getting a good night’s sleep!

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every day in March and each Tuesday throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life 19: Thoughts About My Writing Life

For the past three days, I have been part of a team of teachers visiting a neighboring district to learn more about this district’s English/Language Arts curriculum and its implementation. This was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I will be thinking about everything I learned there for days and weeks to come.

One of the questions we asked the teachers we visited was “What is the writing life of a student here?” I’ve been thinking about how I would answer this question for students in my district, as well as how I would answer it for myself. This seemed like a good place to begin the 12th annual Slice of Life Challenge.

I can honestly say that I owe my current writing life to the Slice of Life challenge. Late one Friday night seven years ago, I wrote my first slice more on a whim than anything else. That post led to more posts, and eventually I began attending conferences, meeting authors, and ultimately, publishing poems of my own and of my students.

So what is it about Slice of Life that enabled me to build a rich, rewarding writing life? Being part of a community of supportive writers is perhaps the most important thing slicing has given me. From the beginning, the encouraging comments and feedback have nurtured me as a writer and given me the confidence to continue writing. I think about this every day when I confer with my students about their writing.

Another critical quality of slicing is that, in terms of what to write about, the sky is the limit. Writers are free to write about whatever they want, using whatever genre or format that suits their topic. Just as I appreciate being able to make my own choices, I know students want this freedom also. That being said, I also appreciate the suggestions the Two Writing Teacher team members provide throughout the month. Sometimes it’s just hard to face a blank page without any guidelines. This is true for our students as well.

I also appreciate the many mentor texts shared by all slicers. Whether its a line of text that launches a dive into childhood memories, or a poem that provides a structure for a poem of my own, mentor texts are an essential component of any writing life.

These are just my initial thoughts about this question, but I’ll be returning to it over the course of the month. As John Ciardi said, “a good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of ideas.”  I look forward to watching the “greening of the landscape” with you.

Photo by Good Free Photos on Unsplash

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: 2019 Reading Goals

Resolutions really aren’t my thing. I’m much better at setting goals and working toward them. That way, I’m always making progress.

At school, we always challenge our students to, in the words of Lucy Calkins, “outgrow themselves as readers.” January is the perfect time to check our progress and set new goals. Knowing that many of our students need help choosing titles, we’ve adapted The Strand Book Store’s “Reads-olutions” (I know; I said I don’t like resolutions, but this is too catchy to pass up.) to guide them.

I always tell kids that these categories are only suggestions, and really, as long as they keep reading, they’re achieving their goal. I do share with them my reads-olutions (aka goals), and tell them that I almost never read every book I plan to, but always read many more that I didn’t know about when I made my list.

With that in mind, here are several titles I hope to read in 2019:

  • Book by a debut author (also covering Book with a one word title):
    Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

  • A Newbery Award winner:
    Although I haven’t read every Newbery winner, I’ve read many of them. Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata is the most recent winner I haven’t read. Of course, if I haven’t read this year’s winner, I’ll add that to my list.

As always, I’ll continue to chip away at the mountains of books already scattered around my house, waiting to be read! Thanks to Betsy Bird for her fabulous blog, A Fuse 8 Production, and her incredible series, 31 Days/31 Lists. Many of these titles came from these posts. The Nerdy Book Club also has wonderful year-end lists if you need more suggestions.

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2019?

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDebKelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Slice of Life: When I Was Young…

As summer winds down, I’ve been thinking not only about what I accomplished (closets cleaned, books read, poems written), but what I didn’t do. For many years, my in-laws had a very rustic cabin on a lake in “down east” Maine.  We spent many weeks there over the years. Going to camp was right up there with Christmas and birthdays for my boys. The cabin was sold long ago, but for some reason, I missed it more than usual this summer.

Maybe that’s because I started thinking about it in June after I received my copy of Linda Rief’s fabulous new book, The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing. One of Linda’s quickwrite suggestions is to “borrow Cynthia Rylant’s line ‘When I was young in the…’ (or ‘at the’) and write down all that comes to mind about that place you love or that place that you dislike.” Although I never spent time at the lake when I was young, it isn’t hard to imagine this magical spot through the eyes of a child.

When I Was Young at the Lake

(with thanks to Linda Rief and Cynthia Rylant)

When I was young at the lake, I woke to the sun shining through the trees, making puddles on the floor of the cabin’s loft. I skipped stones across the glassy water and paddled a canoe to the island near our cove. My brother and I ran wild through the forest and built a fort to defend our territory. We swam in the cold water and searched for unusual rocks on the beach.

When I was young at the lake, the air smelled of pine trees and we picked wild blueberries that grandma baked into a pie. On rainy afternoons, as raindrops pinged on the roof, we sat on the porch and put puzzles together. On clear nights, we watched meteor showers from the beach that were better than any fireworks we’d ever seen.

I fished for trout with my grandfather from our rowboat. Grandma always clapped when we presented her with our catch. Then she breaded each fish in cornmeal and fried them in her big cast iron skillet. Once a year, we drove to Machias for lobsters and corn on the cob. On those nights, we felt like kings as pulled tender meat from bright red claws and licked our buttery fingers clean.

When I was young at the lake, we fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s adventures, and drifted to sleep to the lullaby of loons.

A rock from the shore of Beddington Lake.

Linda explains that “these quickwrites are seeds of ideas, the beginning of a piece to be worked on right away or, at the very least, captured for later use.” I can easily imagine revisiting “When I Was Young at the Lake.” I can imagine a poem emerging from these lines, or maybe a picture book. Even if these memories never get farther than this post, my memories of the lake are always in my “deep heart’s core.” (“The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” by W.B. Yeats)

Thank you to StaceyBetsyBethKathleenDeb, KelseyMelanie, and Lanny for creating this community and providing this space for teachers and others to share their stories every Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.