Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Art of the Picturebook

My favorite class so far since starting my children's literature master's degree is the Art of the Picturebook (and yes, it is "picturebook" - all one word!).  I learned so much and was exposed to many fabulous authors and books I'd never heard of before.  My only regret is that I don't have my own classroom where I can immediately take these books and share them with my kids.  I am hoping to take more time next year with my small groups of students and expose them to quality literature (the way the position I am currently in is structured leaves very little time for anything other than what we are required to use).  

During the course of this class, we spent most of our time talking about  the art of "close looking" (from the book Looking at Pictures in Picture Books by Jane Doonan) when reading picturebooks.  "Close looking" always begins with reading the book twice - the first time because everything about it is new to you and then a second time to really study the pictures and what they are saying/implying/enhancing/contradicting/etc. about the written text.  Again, this is one of those times that I wish I had my own classroom to use this amazing strategy.  Even as an adult, taking a second read of the book and making a conscious effort when looking at the pictures changed how will from this point on read picturebooks.  I bring all of this up now because I will reference "close looking" in some of the summaries I give for the books. 

Here you go...a few of my "new to me" favorite picturebooks!!

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
Author: Siena Cherson Siegel
Illustrator: Mark Siegel
One lesson we had during the semester was on the graphic novel genre (to see my previous post on graphic novels, click here).  This autobiography is just one of the graphic novels we read during the week and I'm not sure I can convey how much I absolutely loved and adored this book.  In the teaching world, we try to get students to make "text-to-self" connections and this one connected with me in ways I didn't realize it would.  Growing up, I checked out the same nonfiction book on ballerinas each and every week.  I looked at the pictures so long I could probably still draw them from memory, even now.  As you can imagine, I wanted to be a ballerina - floating across the stage in flowy, gausy, pink material.  This book made me feel like I was that little girl, sitting on her bed looking at all of those photographs in that one book.  If you have a girl (or boy!) who likes to dance, there couldn't be a more perfect book in the world than this one.

What Pete Ate From A-Z
Author and Illustrator: Maira Kalman
If I was wandering down the aisles of Half Price Books or Barnes and Nobel, this is not a book I would have normally picked up without having read it first and that based on the cover and the fact that it's an alphabet book.  Talk about not judging a book by it's cover!!  If you are looking for a different slant on your typical alphabet book, I highly suggest picking up a copy in your public library.  It is so creative and you will find that there is much, much more going on between the covers of this book than first meets the eye - SO MANY reasons to use "close looking" when reading this book!!

When Sheep Can Not Sleep: The Counting Book 
Author and Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura
Unfortunately, this is another one of those books, like I mentioned above, that I probably wouldn't  have chosen if it were up to me.  Out of all of the books that we were exposed to during this class, this one has to be my favorite.  (A close second would be the To Dance book!)  This is a completely unique counting book and, in fact, if it didn't say "The Counting Book" right there on the cover you wouldn't even know that's what it was until the very last page.  This is fantastic book and the perfect book for "close looking". 

Come Away From the Water, Shirley
Author and Illustrator: John Burningham
This very simple and easy read picturebook has so much to offer.  You will find that the pictures tell the exact opposite story than the words say on the page.  It is an excellent contrast to just a "regular" picturebook where the pictures support the text and would be an fantastic book to use when thinking of creative writing/thinking outside the box.  I also secretly love that the author made the girl a pirate and not a princess!!

Now One Foot, Now the Other
Author and Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
We had one large end of the semester project that was 35% of our overall grade.  Each student had to choose an illustrator and create a Wiki page on him/her for all of our classmates to see and read.  I chose Tomie dePaola.  I had read many of his books prior to taking the class, but never realized just how many books he has written/illustrated (over 250 total - written and/or illustrated).  The thing I love most about his books is that ALL of the books he writes revolve around people and events that actually happened in his life.  This book is written from the perspective of Bobby (Tomie's younger brother) and his relationship with his grandfather, Grandpa Bob (Tomie's grandfather).  It is the most touching, heart wrenching, and sweetest book you will ever read.

1, 2, 3 to the Zoo: A Counting Book
Author and Illustrator: Eric Carle
It is very likely that parents and teachers who read with very young children already know about this book but it was completely new to me.  This is Eric Carles first children's book and is a wonderfully illustrated and perfectly simple counting book.  There is an element of "close looking" in that would be perfect for smaller eyes!

Author and Illustrator: Anthony Browne
This is a sweet story about a little girl who's father is too busy to spend time with her, so she imagines her stuffed gorilla comes alive and takes her on adventures.  This book is packed full of "close looking" opportunities - so look closely!

 The Day the Crayons Quit
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
In reading through the Wiki pages of my classmates, I was introduced to this tremendous talented and creatively unique illustrator, Oliver Jeffers.  Jeffers has written and illustrated several books.  This book is so cute and would be perfect for teaching perspective or persuasive writing.  There are many laugh-out-loud moments and times you feel empathy for the crayon.  I highly suggest checking it out from the library.

**All images are from

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Young Adult - Fiction and Fantasy

It's been almost a year since my last post and that year has flown by!  Last fall, I started at Penn State to get my master's degree in curriculum and instruction in children's literature.  In about a month, I will finish my second semester and fourth class.  Choosing this degree has been one of the best choices I've made.  I am loving these classes and what I am learning along the way! 

My first two courses were Fantasy in Children's Literature and Studies of Children's Literature.  Both of these classes were based on Young Adult novels.  I thought I would share my favorites from both classes!

**Note: These books are all Young Adult and I've looked up the recommended age/grade level for each book and listed it below the covers.  The subject matter and maturity level may not be appropriate for younger children.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
Suggested Grades: 4-7
This is an excellent book based on actual events from a historic 1912 labor strike in the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile mills.  The story follows two very different children, Rosa and Jake, and how they overcome the obstacles of the time.

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Suggested Grades: 9-12
This book follows the (fictional) story of a 15 year old boy with autism.  You will notice in the first few pages that the story feels broken, chapter numbers skip, and the emotions felt are raw.  As you read, you will fall in love and feel empathy for this unique little boy.

 Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
Suggested Grades: 7-10
One of the sections in my Studies of Children's Literature class was on Feminist authors.  Donna Jo Napoli is  a Feminist author who has rewritten several classics.  This book is really well written, however VERY dark.  Zel is Napoli's version of the Brother's Grimm story Rapunzel.

 The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
Suggested Grades: 7 and up
Typically, I steer away from talking animal books (and movies, for that matter!) and I only read this one because I had to for my class!  However, this book completely took me by surprise. It is funny and heartwarming.  Maurice is a cat who has a crew of educated rodents who help a little boy and girl save a small town.  It is also part of a series of books written by Terry Pratchett called Discworld. 

 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Suggested Grades: 5-9
Don't let the cover and title fool you!!  This is a very involved book with amazingly complex characters that isn't nearly as dark as the cover may lead you to believe.  Bod is a normal boy who lives in a graveyard and is raised by loving and kind ghosts.  He meets many characters and, of course, learns that not everyone in the graveyard is friendly!

 The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Suggested Grades: 7 and up
An outstandingly written tale that revolves around cloning.  It follows Matt from birth to age 14 where he realizes long the way that he is actually a clone of a very powerful, and evil, man. 

**All images are from