Monday, October 22, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan is a great read aloud. Thousands of children and teachers are enjoying reading it this month in the Global Read Aloud.

Here is a trivia quiz on the western gorilla. Seventh graders wrote the questions from this source at the San Diego Zoo site.

Go here to get answers to the Gorilla quiz.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Biography Subjects for Children

How should authors choose subjects for biographies for children? Children can find biographies about people such as Adolf Hitler, Benedict Arnold, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Lenin.

What are the limitations of books about figures such as these that are written for children? 

Do the limitations of vocabulary and page length found in juvenile literature allow adequate treatment of controversial subjects? 

In addition, picture book biographies always deal with figures that are less than perfect and humanly flawed.

What information do authors owe their child audiences? 

How would you go about choosing a biographical subject if you were to plan a book for children?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Much Nonfiction? And How Accurate Should It Be?

When I was a Title I teacher ten years ago, I worked to get many new nonfiction titles into our Title I library. I believe the research then recommended a classroom library should be at least 40% nonfiction.  Back then, I thought it was a big deal, and most of what I purchased was nonfiction to try to get up our nonfiction percentage.

Today that number has gone up.

The Common Core State Standards (and Iowa Core) have been aligned with the National Assessment Governing Board Reading Framework for the 2009 NAEP, so here are the percentages that our students should be reading at these grade levels.

That's more than half of what my 8th graders read should to be Informational. Informational text includes both literary nonfiction and informational text in social studies, science and technical subjects. Students need to be reading some of this in content areas too, but they better be reading literary nonfiction and learning how to read informational text in my English course too in order to reach that high percentage.

In considering the fiction and nonfiction our children read, do students need to be able to know which kind they are reading?

1.  How far-out should nonfiction go?

2.  How far should authors of nonfiction go in entertaining children as they seek to inform them? Located on nonfiction lists you can find:
  • A book about a meteor told in the first person by the rock. (Call Me Ahnighito by Pam Conrad)
  • A book based on the words of an advertising writer that purports to be a speech by a famous Native American. (Brother Eagle Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers)
  • A book about penguins in Antarctica that describes them as having friends and panicking at the approach of helicopters. (Helen Coucher's Antarctica)
  • A book about architecture that tells children they can talk to buildings. (Forest Wilson's What it Feels Like to Be a Building.)

3.  At the same time there are works of fiction such as the "Dear America" series from Scholastic that seem to try hard to look like nonfiction materials.
4.  Are authors and publishers obligated to help children become critical readers or to produce best selling books?

What do you have to say about these ideas? How much nonfiction do you read? Your students? 

Image by mrsdkrebs

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone

The Mighty Miss Malone
written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Book Review by Julie Swenson

The Mighty Miss Malone comes from a family that is on a journey.  The journey is to a place called Wonderful.  During the Great Depression, times are hard for everyone.  Jobs are scarce, but more so for the colored man.  Miss Malone’s (her real name is Deza) family is struggling to make ends meet.  There is little food on the table and health checkups just cannot be afforded.  Little Jimmie, Deza’s brother, has stopped growing.  Deza’s teeth hurt real bad and are so rotten that it causes her breath to smell something awful. 

Although the family is quite poor, Miss Malone is very rich.  Miss Malone is rich with intelligence. Deza is very smart and her teacher believes Deza’s gift of intelligence has the capabilities of making a contribution to their race.  There is a path laid for Miss Malone and if she does not get on it, Deza’s teacher feels the country will be lost.

Miss Malone does find a path, but does this path, this journey, lead to a place called Wonderful?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Historical Details vs. Modern Beliefs in Historical Fiction for Children

Writers of historical fiction must deal with times in which modern values and understandings are absent. 

How "true" to the period should historical fiction be in dealing with cultural mores and gender issues? 

How faithful should an author be to the attitudes and language of the times? 

Should publishers of historical fiction include a note about the author's research and a list of sources? 

Books such as Christopher and James Collier's War Comes to Willie Freeman, Pam Conrad's Prairie Songs, William Armstrong's Sounder, are among those that have been the object of criticism for their use of language and portrayal of minority groups. 

Do authors need to provide a balanced point-of-view when writing fiction based in historical issues and events? 

What can teachers do if historical details conflict with modern beliefs? 

How will (or do) you deal with these issues in your classroom?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's Your Poetry Story?

Mother Goose Reading Poetry
Poet Janet Wong suggests that many adults dislike poetry because of their experiences with poetry during their school years. As teachers, we don't want to ruin poetry for children. In order to teach poetry to children, I think we should ask some questions about our own childhood experiences with poetry.

What's your poetry experience? I hope you'll leave a comment answering one or more of these questions.

  • How do you feel about poetry? List some of your own experiences with poetry both positive or negative.
  • Do you read poetry for your own pleasure now?
  • At what age should teachers encourage children to learn the formal elements and forms of poetry?
  • When should children be asked to write poetry?
  • What would you like to tell your former teachers about how to teach poetry?
  • Compile a list of how to turn adults on to poetry.
  • Extend this to your classroom. How do you think children will be turned on to poetry?

Poetry Resources - What would you add to this list? Please leave links in the comments section.

Think, Kid, Think - Ed DeCaria uses poetry to help kids embrace:
Poetry Foundation's good for children poems - The Poetry Foundation is "an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture."

ETTC Poetry Forms - A great resource with scaffolds to write your own poems. 

Giggle Poetry - Funny poems for children, edited by Bruce Lansky.

Favorite Poem Project - Learning to reading, discussing and appreciating poems. Favorite Poem Project's Lesson Plans.

Book Spine Poetry - A great poetry form to try with your students.

Image by mrsdkrebs

Mother Goose is from iClipart for schools subscription image.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's Monday! I'm still reading...

Today's TeachMentorTexts "What Are You Reading?" post 

It is Monday, and I didn't finish anything last week. I've added one book to my currently-reading list from last week. Next Monday I will have finished some of these and will write about them here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Does Fantasy and Fantasizing Harm Children?

Image by Jesse Millan with CC License
Some people think so. And they want to keep certain books out of the hands of children.

Banned Books Week (BBW) is "an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment." This year  Banned Books Week will be held September 30 - October 6, 2012. You can read more about banned and challenged books on the ALA site and check out the Frequently Challenged Books of recent years and why.)

Many contemporary realistic fiction books are banned and challenged for mature content and age-appropriateness. You can see the reasons on the ALA site. 

However, in addition, fantasies such as J. K. Rowlings's Harry Potter, Madeliene L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Lois Lowry's The Giver have been the frequent object of censorship attempts. 

Have you read any of these books? Why do you think fantasy books like these tend to be the objects of censorship? When you visit the links above about banned and challenged books, make a note of the aspects of the books that are objected to. 

Can you add any other aspects from your own experience that would make you want to “ban” a book?

Is fantasizing harmful to children? Why or why not?

If you want to include these and similar titles of fantasy and science fiction in your classroom how will you address parental concerns? 

Is Banned Books Week something you would (or do) celebrate in your classroom?

Much of this Talk Point is from Charlotte Huck's Children's Literature by Barbara Z. Kiefer, 2010, tenth edition. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen and Kellee at host a meme called "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" for people reading picture books through young adult books.

I said I was going to read John Adams, Wonder and Kick last week. I didn't crack open John Adams once, but I read the other two and several other children's books. Wonder was my favorite, and I wrote a blog post about it here. I've reviewed the others on GoodReads.

Here are the books I've read this week including my star ratings.

Books to read this week:

I've been wanting to read Creating Innovators, and it just came to my library on interlibrary loan from Kansas City. 

I'm listening to Robinson Crusoe in the car these days, and I'll be driving to a conference, so I should be able to finish that one. 

John Adams? I'm not sure about that one again!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Traditional Literature: Is it Too Much for Kids?

Traditional literature is a favorite of mine! I believe it is foundational to all the other stories we read. Over the years, traditional literature has been cleaned up for children. Think Disney.

Some people argue that children can handle the violence, and in fact according to research by Ann Trousdale*, knowing that the big bad wolf is dead, can prevent nightmares.

I Am Traditional Literature on Storybird

In one version of the Grimm Brother's "Cinderella," the stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet in order to make the shoe fit. The Prince realizes that he has been tricked when he sees their blood dripping on the ground. 

CC image by Evergleamy
Many modern retellings of folktales have deleted such depictions of violence and other details that are not considered appropriate for children. Read a traditional folktale, especially those translated from the Brothers Grimm. Compare them to Disney's retellings of folktales such as Cinderella and Snow White.

Are there other topics or details that you feel might not be suitable for children?

In an article from Children's Literature in Education, Ann Trousdale* argued adults should not remove the violence from folktales. Read more about Trousdale's argument in this psychology student's blog post.

Give reasons for and against Trousdale's advice.

Are there other details in traditional literature that should be "cleaned up" for children? What about offensive stories like "The Jew Among Thorns" and "The White Bride and the Black Bride" -- In your opinion, are these themes more off-limits than violence?

Address a rationale to parents explaining your choices of the traditional literature you plan to use in your classroom.

*Ann Trousdale. "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Children's Literature in Education" V20 #2 June 1989. pp 69-79.

Talk Point from Charlotte Huck's Children's Literature by Barbara Z. Kiefer, 2010, tenth edition. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I'm not a crier. Not usually. I cry only once in a while. And usually not at school. I can probably count the times I've cried during my seventeen years of teaching.

It usually happens when I'm reading aloud. Where the Red Fern Grows did it to me every year in third grade. 
Image Choose Kind by mrsdkrebs

And the following email to my disappointed eighth graders when they couldn't climb a rock wall for a prize they won when they brought the most cans for the food drive: 
Due to another windy day in Iowa and because of some mechanical difficulties, we will not be able to climb the wall as was planned. I am sorry. We will some day. Either this summer or next fall. But, please, do not forget why you are climbing the wall. It is because of your generosity and determination, and the generosity of your parents, that you were able to donate the most food. Thank you for caring. Next year when you go to High School you will be given more opportunities to serve others. Please do not wait till your junior of senior year. Explore the different opportunities right away and you will find out that you have gifts you never knew you had and that there are people that need your help.

I cried when I got to "Next year when you go to High School" because I was going to miss them dearly. I know this class will "choose kind." They will care and serve others when they get to high school.

Image by mrsdkrebs

Now, I'm faced with a dilemma. I just finished reading Wonder. If you read it, you might know what I'm going to say. I don't know if I can read it aloud to my class. I will be a blubbering idiot. All of a sudden, I've become a crier over this book. As I read the last few pages, I knew I would want my students to hear this one from me. Later I even practiced reading some of it aloud. It definitely would not have been understandable over my whimpering. However, I do wish every middle school teacher would read it to his or her class. The children should hear it.

The story is about August Pullman, a boy with a rare genetic condition that has given him a disfigured face. Having been homeschooled through fourth grade for health reasons, Auggie is now well enough to go to regular school for fifth grade. Wonder is told from several characters' points of view during the course of his first year of school at Beecher Prep.

Wonder is a beautiful, substantive and important book for people of any age who care about kindness. It is well-told, funny, and realistic. It's R.J. Palacio's first novel.

Here are some great Wonder resources!

Image #thewonderofwonder by Mr. SchuReads

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I am taking time to read up on children's literature online this summer. I have learned so much! Who knew there were so many experts?

Goodreads has been a great place to read book reviews and to organize what I'm reading. Now, today I discovered the meme It's Monday! What are you Reading?, this version especially for picture books through young adult books. 

Teachers (and other children's lit lovers) write blog posts to share what they have read lately and what they plan to read next. I wrote my first post here, and I've been reading lots of other posts today! My to-read list is growing!

Go to the latest post and scroll down to the bottom for the Linky Widget with links to the 50 people who posted today. You will be amazed at the incredible wealth of resources available--and that's just today!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Picture Books - How Difficult Can the Subject Be?


This Week's Talk Point 
Today many authors of picture books tackle subjects such as death, dying, war, and homelessness. Are these subjects appropriate for younger children? Maurice Sendak's We are all in the Dumps with Jack and Guy depicts homelessness and includes images from the Holocaust. Eleanor Coerr's Sadako tells the story of a Japanese girl who contracts leukemia and dies following the bombing of Hiroshima. Maira Kalman's Fireboat and Jeannette Winter's September Roses are stories that depict the destruction of the World Trade Center. (Also see Sami and the Time of the Troubles by Florence Parry Heide, Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki, and Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti. Another author who tackles tough subjects like homelessness, racial tension, discrimination, and war is Eve Bunting.) 

You can read part of each of these books on by clicking on the links above. Book cover images from Amazon.

Try to read at least one of the titles mentioned above, or a book with a similarly difficult subject.

We would love to hear from teachers and students about your thoughts about this topic. Please leave a comment, answering one or more of these questions.

Is there a place for such books in your classroom? Why or why not? If you decide such books are important, with what ages would you share such books? 

How would you introduce these titles to your students? 

 What role can and do the illustrations play in mediating the difficult topic the book presents to children?

Talk Point from Charlotte Huck's Children's Literature by Barbara Z. Kiefer

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Captain Underpants, Twilight, and Book Choice

According to a report by Publisher's Weekly books such as Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones and the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer are among the best selling books for children. If you look at the best books of the year chosen by the American Library Association, or those chosen by book review journals such as School Library Journal, The Horn Book, or Booklist you will not find any of these titles. (Diane Roback "Big Names Top the Charts," March 24, 2003.)

What is the role of books like these (best selling books for children) in developing and deepening children's response to literature?

Do you (or would you) include them in your classroom library?

Do you (or would you) read these best sellers aloud or include them as selections in book groups? 

Discussion question from Charlotte Huck's Children's Literature by Barbara Z. Kiefer, Tenth Edition

Monday, July 2, 2012

21st Century Learning

Dear E and C,

I was not looking forward to teaching this course in a directed study, but in these days it is to be expected. Like it or not, we are in a new culture of learning. Today we have the resources to teach and take this class without seeing much of each other.

I'm sure you are happy that you are still able to get the class into your schedule, for I know you are in an accelerated program. You are busy with responsibilities at home and work, and still going to school year-round and what any university would consider full-time. I commend you for that!

Because we have this course to practice some new skills, I would like to invite you to join me in this 21st century adventure.

I am offering two options for you as you take this course through directed study. I'll call them traditional and 21st century.

Traditional Learning

Actually, traditional is a bit of a misnomer; the traditional class will still be online and use technology. The course will be delivered and managed through the university's learning management system, ANGEL. Assignments will be emailed to the instructor. Discussions will happen on the online discussion board. The audience for your assignments will be me, and sometimes each other. But mostly, me.

21st Century Learning

The second option is a more 21st century approach to learning. According to Steve Hargadon,  "Learning has shifted from information to conversation." In this option, we will join the conversation, while we learn and talk about children's literature. I'll still use ANGEL to share some resources, but the assignments you do and the conversations you have will potentially have a much larger audience. We'll read and write on this blog, posting assignments (when you want to) and commenting here. We'll write our reading response logs on a social media site for readers called GoodReads. We can communicate through email, but also in other ways, including Twitter and maybe Skype.

Teachers worldwide have joined this conversation, and I would love to carry it to this course as well. If you haven't already started, I would love to walk with you and help you get comfortable here in this conversational learning environment.

I am convinced that you will be more of a learner (and later more of an educator) when you realize that the classroom walls have flattened. Education is a conversation.

Join us!


Quote by Angela Maiers. Image by mrsdkrebs

Friday, June 29, 2012

An Open Letter to My Children's Lit Students

I am excited to devour children's literature with you over the next eight weeks. It is a subject that we will never be able to fully explore. The list of books written for children is staggering. Not only are there the classics, but new titles are printed every single day. (We'll talk later about how to get these into the hands of children!)

Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, builds up her "book muscle" by reading at least one book each day during the summer. (In this post she shares some great strategies for helping you remain current about great children's books.)

If we were to join Donalyn and the Book a Day Challenge community, we would read about 56 books during our eight weeks together.

However, I'm only assigning 40 children's books! What a breeze, huh?

Of course, I hope you will choose to read even more than 40 books, for only when you dig in and read voluminously will you yourself become a more

Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Reader

as Nancie Atwell persuades in The Reading Zone.

I am sorry that we will not be together face-to-face more often, but we will have a chance to practice our 21st century learning skills. We can communicate as often as you wish -- Skyping, GoodReads, ANGEL, Twitter, email or here on this blog.

Children's literature is central to the development of children's literacy. I don't believe there is a more important subject to study. I can't wait to get started!


Image by mrsdkrebs

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bless This Mouse Book Review

By Julie Swenson, Children's Literature Blogger

Bless This Mouse,
written by Lois Lowry…

…redirects your thoughts and feelings about those pesky little critters you find in your home from time to time; critters that can make humans stand on chairs, make you screech at the top of their lungs and make you devise traps for captivity.

In this story, these critters (a.k.a. mice) do not live in homes; rather they live in the Church of Saint Bartholemew. There is one particular mouse, named Hildegarde who is the leader of the St. Bartholemew mice and her job is to keep the mouse family safe and out of the sight of church members. Unfortunately, parishioners have spotted some of the mice, thinking there are only a few, not realizing there are more; yet a few mice is all it takes to call upon the “Great X”.

In order for Hildegard to keep the mice of Saint Bartholemew safe, she must devise a plan, round up everyone and lead them outdoors to safety. The only problem is the outdoors can also be a grave place of danger for mice, especially when the church is about to hold a “Blessing of the Animals” ceremony, involving cats! Will Hildegarde and the family of church mice be held captive and possibly face death by the Great X? Will the mice encounter the presence of dangerous, feline creatures, or will someone be brave enough to ask for a divine favor?

Do you have any must read books to share?