Friday, January 29, 2016

Persuasive Writing Text Set

We all know the value of mentor texts, so when Jenny Lussier, the fabulous library media specialist at Brewster School in Durham, CT, tweeted this:

I took her request seriously.

Back in November 2014, I wrote this post about persuasive books. It describes how surprised I was when an article in Book Links included my book A Place for Bats on a list of persuasive books.

To be sure, anyone who reads A Place for Bats would realize that I have a point of view (we should protect bats and their habitats), but as I saw it, I was merely laying out the facts and letting the reader decide. That wasn’t really persuasive, was it? Hmm, maybe it was, though in a subtle way.

That seems to be the approach many nonfiction children’s books take. Authors have an idea they’re passionate about and want to share, so they provide facts, evidence for readers.

But as Jenny’s tweet points out, that isn’t quite the same as what we expect students to do when they write persuasive texts. And so what she wanted was a nonfiction book that really, truly, actively tried to convince readers to do something, to take action.

The first book that came to mind was Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. But of course, that’s fiction.
Then I thought of a nonfiction title that fits the bill: The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson. The author cleverly employs first person narration, allowing each sea creature to highlight its special features in an attempt to persuade readers that it is the most amazing. I think reading these two books together is a great way to prime the pumps, so to speak, of students trying to write persuasive pieces for the first time.

At the same time, I’d also suggest reading the early chapter book The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills. One of the book’s subplots involves a fourth grade class assignment to write persuasive essays and share them with the class. The book includes the essays written by the main character and two supporting characters. These make especially good models because they address topics that will really resonate with elementary students.

And when the children seem ready, I would go ahead and share nonfiction books that are persuasive in a more subtle way. Besides A Place for Bats, examples include City Chickens by Christine Heppermann and Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone. After all, in addition to learning how to craft debate-ready arguments, students should also have experience recognizing how an author’s point of view influences the way he or she presents information.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Behind the Books: My Biggest Revision Secret Revealed

Back in 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts describing my writing process. I compiled them on pinterest, so it’s easy for educators to access them as a group and share them with students.

One of those posts described a step that I call “Let It Chill Out,” which basically means that I take time away from a manuscript after I complete the first draft. Lately, teachers have been showing a lot of interest in this step, so I’d like to spend a bit more time explaining why I think it’s so important for me—and for young writers.

Really, I’m no different from a younger writer. When I finish a draft, I think to myself: “Phew, am I ever glad to be done! I worked long and hard on this draft, and I think it’s pretty good. In fact, maybe it doesn’t need any revisions at all.”

If the voice in my head is saying: “It’s good enough. It’s good enough,” am I going to notice parts of the manuscript that need work? No way.

But if I take a break. If I spend two days or two weeks or even two months working on something else, I can come back to the first manuscript with fresh eyes and an open mind. In other words, I’m ready to revise. I’m ready to re-envision the writing.

Obviously, students can’t take a 2-month hiatus from every piece of writing they do, but why not let their writing chill during lunch and recess or over a weekend or during a week of school vacation? And wouldn’t it be great if, near the end of the school year, young writers could revisit a couple of pieces they wrote in September or October.
Not only would they be more open to making improvements, they could also see how much they’ve grown as writers during the school year. I think it’s worth a try.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Under the Snow

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Now that we are in the heart of winter, it seems like the perfect time to talk about Under the Snow. This book is perfect for science lessons about weather, habitats, and animal adaptations. It directly addresses NGSS PEs 2-LS4-1 and 3-ESS2-1. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book.

I’ve also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards as well as a Where Do Ideas Come From? Video that takes readers to Gates Pond in Hudson, Massachusetts, the place where I had the experience that led me to write Under the Snow as well as When Rain Falls.

Because Under the Snow features a wondrous, lyrical voice it’s a perfect choice for lessons that focus on why voice is an important element of nonfiction writing. I have paired this book with Animal Grossapedia, which has a strong, sassy voice to create a Voice Choice mini-lesson that students love.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Great New Resource

On Wednesday morning, this Tweet from uber-talented author Betsy Partridge alerted me to a great new resource for educators who want help adding nonfiction to their classroom or library collections.
Thanks to Jennifer Wharton, the youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, WI, Selecting and Promoting Nonfiction in Your Library is a new column in School Library Journal. Wharton’s goal is to provide tips for identifying middle-grade nonfiction that is high in “literary quality and excellence of research” and will also “spark the imagination and encourage readers to discover new facts, see things in a new light, or continue their journey of discovery.”

I love that in addition to recommending a half dozen really terrific books, the article also gives educators the tools they need to find more great nonfiction titles on their own. I’m already looking forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Behind the Books: Writing Science/Nature-themed Picture Books

While there are certainly exceptions, most nonfiction picture books fall into two broad categories—picture book biographies and science/nature-themed picture books.

As I discussed last week, almost all picture book biographies feature a chronological sequence text structure and a narrative writing style. That means that if you're writing a picture book biography, most of your big-picture decisions are made for you. The biggest considerations will be (1) voice, which will be determined by the personality of the person you are writing about, and (2) deciding which scenes to show and how to link them with expository bridges.

The underlying architecture of science/nature-themed picture books is much more diverse. These books can feature any of the text structures (description, sequence, compare & contrast, question & answer, cause & effect, problem & solution) espoused by Common Core. They can be surveys or specialized, or they can be concept books. They can have a narrative or expository writing style, and the voice can fall anywhere along the lively-to-lyrical continuum.

With so many choices, how does a writer narrow down his or her options? It isn’t easy. 

What it comes down to for me is finding a way to delight as well as inform young readers, and that often involves surprising them and/or encouraging them to think about the topic from a new or different perspective.
Once I find that special bit of magic, I take out my writer’s toolbox and start tinkering. I consider various nonficiton categories, text structures, and writing styles. I think about voice and point of view. Then I plunge into the writing and see where the ideas swirling in my head take me.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate employs an intriguing title, a cumulative sequence text structure, and humorous bookworm characters in a third layer of text to delight readers as they explore an important science concept—the interrelationships among plants and animals in a rain forest community.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying uses an expository writing style and a wondrous lyrical voice to explore a specialized topic—the many surprising ways that birds use their feathers. Similes in the main text drive the book’s compare and contrast text structure, inviting readers to make connections between feathers and familiar objects in our daily lives.

I truly admire An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston (and it’s many companion titles). The book instantly makes children (and adults) curious. The layered text allows for bold statements with provocative descriptive words—clever, artistic, giving—that challenge our thinking. Secondary text and labels support and expand on the main ideas, encouraging readers to appreciate eggs in a whole new way. By carefully crafting a circular structure with a twist at the end, Aston leaves readers amazed as well as satisfied.

Here are a few other science/nature-themed picture books that I highly recommend:

Bone by Bone by Sara Levine

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

A Leaf Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas

How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge

Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy

Weeds Find a Way by Cynthia Jenson-Elliott

I encourage you to read and analyze these books, considering (1) what makes them special and (2) what tools the authors employed as they crafted the texts.

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Second Favorite Book of 2015

Last week, I blogged about my favorite book of the year, The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle. The book I’m highlighting today comes in a close second.

The Bear Report by Thyra Heder is a fictional story about a girl who is supposed to research three facts about polar bears, and is clearly bored by the assignment. After listing three ho-hum facts, she heads to the living room to watch TV.

That’s when things get interesting. A polar bear suddenly appears out of nowhere and transports the girl to his arctic environment for some firsthand research. Initially, she is unimpressed, but as she experiences the bear's world, her curiosity and knowledge grows. In the final scene, the girl is back home, surrounded by books and maps and notes and drawings, assembling the most awesome polar bear report you can imagine.

Why do I love this book? Because many students think research is boring, and it just breaks my heart. I’m going to blog more about this in a six-part series beginning next month, but for now I’d like to share two things:

Some words and phrases I associate with the act of researching:
--Treasure hunt
--Fascinating facts
--Prospecting for rare nuggets of knowledge
--Developing unique perspectives
--Books, databases, observations, interviews

A word cloud based on words and phrases sixth graders associate with the act of researching:

These students certainly aren’t alone. And although I’m not sure why students have this attitude by middle school, I am sure that books like The Bear Report can show them that authentic research can be fun as well as fascinating.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Behind the Books: Mixing and Matching Nonfiction Elements

This year, I’m taking a close look at what I call the Nonfiction Triumvirate—nonfiction categories, writing styles, and text structures. So far, I’ve defined each of these three elements and provided lists of sample books. If you missed the discussion, you can scroll down or use the search box to see past posts.

Today I’m going to look at the interplay among nonfiction categories, writing styles, and text structures. As you are thinking about a manuscript from a big-picture point of view, it helps to understand how you can mix and match these three elements.

If you’re writing a Life Story . . .

  • Probably chronological sequence structure
  • Narrative writing style

If you’re writing a Survey Book . . .

  • Description/explanation, sequence, or Q & A structure
  • Expository writing style

If you’re writing Specialized Nonfiction . . .

  • Probably sequence or compare & contrast structure
  • Narrative or expository writing style

If you’re writing a Concept Book . . .

  • Sequence, compare & contrast, Q & A, cause & effect, problem—solution, or invent your own structure
  • Probably expository writing style

Next week, I’ll describe how I put this into practice.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book of the Week: Why Are Animals Purple?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

The clear, simple text and stunning photos in Why Are Animals Purple?  are perfect for teaching students about animal adaptations. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book. I’ve also created a Teachers Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards.

For an innovative Reading Buddy experience, try a same-grade-level pairing in which an emergent reader shares Purple Animals (two simple words per page) and a more advanced reader shares Why Are Animals Purple? I guarantee great results.

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Favorite Book of 2015

The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle is my favorite book of 2015. Truth be told, I’m a big fan of many of Sandra’s books, but I think this one really stands out. (Are you listening Sibert committee? I sure hope so.)

Okay, I admit it. The book hooked me at first sight (on Alyson Beecher’s fantastic Kid Lit Frenzy blog back in August). Just look at that adorable golden lion tamarin on the cover. Who could possibly resist that face? Not me.

But in this case, beauty is definitely more than skin deep. Sandwiched between a gripping narrative beginning and a satisfying narrative ending, clear and engaging expository text with a problem-solution structure describes how scientists and Brazilian citizens worked together to save the endangered monkey from extinction.

What was the secret to their success? They expanded the tamarins’ home territory by strategically planting trees in pastureland to create habitat-linking “bridges” of living vegetation. Wow, what a great idea!

Vibrant photos, a dynamic design, and intriguing backmatter further enhance the book, making it a must-have for classroom and library collections. It would also make a great gift young animal lovers and budding naturalists.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Behind the Books: Text Structure

This year, I’m taking a close look at what I call the Nonfiction Triumvirate—nonfiction categories, writing styles, and text structures. So far, I’ve focused on Nonfiction Categories and Writing Styles. If you missed the discussion, you can scroll down or use the search box to see past posts.

Today I’m looking at text structure, which I’ve blogged about many, many times before. My ideas about nonfiction text structure have been constantly evolving for the last several years.

The books below are classified according to the major structures espoused by Common Core with a range sub-structures for kinds of books that are currently widely represented in high-quality children’s literature.

For example, as I see it, 80 to 85 percent of all trade nonfiction has a sequence text structure, so subgroupings are helpful in examining all the ways authors are experimenting and innovating.

A Black Hole Is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Creep and Flutter by Jim Arnosky

Dolphins! by Melissa Stewart

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Lightship by Brian Floca

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

Chronological narrative
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Buried Alive by Elaine Scott

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully

Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

Pop: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Episodic narrative
Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel

When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

Braided narrative
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson

Journey narrative
If Stones Could Speak by Marc Aronson

Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain by Sy Montgomery

Cycle narrative
Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Redwoods by Jason Chin (due to the art)

Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre

Chronological expository
Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee

Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee

Cumulative expository
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest by Madeleine Dunphy

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox

How-to expository
Dessert Designers: Creations You Can Make and Eat by Dana Meachen Rau

How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes by Doug Stillinger

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

Try This! 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young

Compare & Contrast
Dueling spreads
Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta

Those Rebels, Tom & John by Barbara Kerley

List books
Born in the Wild by Lita Judge

Born to Be Giants: How Baby Dinosaurs Grew to Rule the World by Lita Judge

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Move by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

My First Day by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer

Cause & Effect
Earth: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart

When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Problem- Solution
The Great Monkey Rescue by Sandra Markle

A Place for Bats by Melissa Stewart

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean

Q & A Books
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sarah Levine

Sterling's Good Question series

Creature Features by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Hatch! by Roxie Munro

Hello Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde
Scholastic's Question & Answer series

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page


Monday, January 4, 2016

Book of the Week: Animal Grossapedia

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

Because Animal Grossapedia features a strong, sassy voice, it’s a perfect choice for lessons that focus on why voice is an important element of nonfiction writing. I have paired this book with When Rain Falls and Under the Snow, which have a wondrous, lyrical voice to create a Voice Choice mini-lesson  (scroll to bottom of page) that students love.