Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues, and Readers,
We are savoring the last weeks of summer before kids return to school and my own classes begin at Simmons College. My children’s summer reading has them combing through our shelves at home and borrowing stacks of books from the library, and I’ve lately turned from pure pleasure-reading to read books and essays as I revise course syllabi.
My latest reads are: Margarita Engle’s The Wild Book, Christopher Paul Curtis's The Mighty Miss Malone, and Alma Flor Ada's My Name Is María Isabel, all of which I highly recommend, and which have made this “work” reading absolutely pleasurable. Each book depicts a bright young girl finding her place in the world and using books and reading to help her do so. Deza in Curtis's novel is an African American girl growing up during the Great Depression, and her descriptions of finally encountering stories about other Black people are incredibly powerful. Fefa in Engle's verse novel set in Cuba in 1912 follows the protagonist's struggle to learn to read despite "word blindness," or dyslexia. And the eponymous Puerto Rican child, María Isabel, in Ada's chapter book finds inspiration in the story of Charlotte's Web to voice her greatest wish to her misguided teacher, who carelessly decided to Anglicize her name and calls her Mary throughout the book.
My reading and intertextual thinking about these books and others got me thinking about the work that teachers of all kinds do over the summer to prepare for the school year, and so I thought I’d write up this post to talk about my own books and how teachers and school librarians might use them alongside other books in the upcoming school year.
I’m not very good at elevator pitches, but I sometimes describe my first picture book, A Crow of His Own as a new-kid-at-school story set in a barnyard. The new kid, in this case, is Clyde, a rooster who arrives at Sunrise Farm and has to find the confidence to crow a crow of his own and fit in with the others.
In this way, my book could tie in thematically with one of my favorite new picture books of 2016, Adam Rex and Christian Robinson’s School’s First Day of School, or one of Kevin Henkes’s friendship and school mouse-stories like Wemberley Worried, or another book from my publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing, First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Judy Love.
Many teachers open the school year with a focus on identity and telling one’s own story as a way to build community and forge connections at the beginning of the school year, and some of my children have written poems about themselves, following a prompt “I am from…” to introduce themselves to their classmates and teachers. Here’s one daughter’s poem, written when she was nine, which emphasizes how important her relationships with others are to her sense of self:
I could see this sort of writing exercise tying in with my book about Clyde, who learns to crow his own crow by book’s end, which is another way of saying that he learns to be confident in himself.
And, another way that this book could support students’ writing is through a more general lesson on speech tags, or attributive clauses. As I note in the front matter,“Clyde’s story is about finding a distinctive voice, so I made the speech and banter of the barnyard animals sound unique. Rather than using the dialogue tags ‘said’ and ‘asked’ again and again, I played around with a variety of verbs.” Here’s a blog post that writer Anastasia Suen wrote about A Crow of His Own as a mentor text.
My other picture book, Real Sisters Pretend, just came out in May 2016, and I was happy to share it with a few classes at my children’s elementary school. Here’s a blog post I wrote about that day, including reflections on the conversations I had with kids about family diversity, adoption, and more. There are many other books that could be paired with this book, including the wonderful A Family Is a Family Is a Family by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Qin Leng or Families by Sheila M. Kelley and Shelley Rotner, which even includes a photo of five of my kids. One teacher who's had all five of my school-aged children as students in the past, regularly includes such books in his 4th-grade science unit on heredity as a way of incorporating language like "birth parents" and "biological parents" into his teaching.
And, no matter what picture books you read as the school year starts up again, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See has tips for integrating Whole Book Approach tips and techniques into your shared reading with children.
In other news, am booking lots of Whole Book Approach speaking engagements, Skype visits, storytimes, and other programs for the upcoming year, including:
- Storytime, book sale and signing with illustratorDavid Hyde Costello at the Field Memorial Library, 1 Elm Street Conway, MA Saturday August 13 at 1:30 p.m.
In the meantime, I’ll be reading and trying to find time to write a bit too (especially for Embrace Race—here’s my latest post on reading Mike Jung’s excellent middle grade novel, Unidentified Suburban Object with my kids) while enjoying the last weeks of summer with my family.
Thanks for reading and for all of your support of my work. It means the world to me.