Friday, September 29, 2017

Getting Ready for . . . the Sibert Smackdown! 2017/2018

The Sibert Smackdown is an activity intended to build enthusiasm for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, which is given each year as part of the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards. It focuses on picture books because they are more manageable to read in a school setting.

Last year, when I announced the ten nonfiction picture books I was recommending for the Sibert Smackdown! in early December, some people wished I had posted the list sooner.

I completely understand their dilemma. It can be hard to plan and implement this kind of activity in just 6 weeks, especially with a major holiday right in the middle.
So I have good news. In 2018, ALA Midwinter is later than normal, so the YMA ceremony isn’t until February 12. That gives us all more time to read and consider.

Still, I know it’s helpful to have as much advance notice as possible, so today I’m posting the list I’m currently considering. The final list, which will be posted in early December, may be slightly different. 

Grace Hopper: Queen of ComputerCode by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy

I recommend reading this post now. It describes how some educators modified or enhanced the Sibert Smackdown! to create learning experiences that were perfect for their particular students.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 3

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve shared academic articles with evidence that nonfiction in general and expository nonfiction in particular is more popular among elementary students than most of us might think. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

I was satisfied that those studies made a strong case for making expository nonfiction more available to students and integrating it into more classroom lessons, but a few weeks ago, Terrell Young, a professor of education at Brigham Young University in Utah, sent me a newly published article with even stronger evidence.

Repanskey, Lisa L., Jeanne Schumm, and Jacqueline Johnson. “First and Fourth Grade Boys’ and Girls’ Preferences for and Perceptions about Narrative and Expository Text.” Reading Psychology, 2017, p. 1-40.

The study included 42 students in first grade (21 girls and 21 boys) and 42 students in fourth grade (21 girls and 21 boys) who were evenly divided among the three reading levels (below, at, and above grade level) and from a range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. All of the children had received equal exposure to expository and narrative text since kindergarten.

Each student was introduced to five sets of books. Each set consisted of one fiction title and one expository nonfiction title on the same topic. The children were encouraged to take their time with the books, browsing, skimming, or reading as much as they wanted to and then asked which ones they would like to read. They could choose as many as they liked.

The students’ selections showed that 67% of first grade boys and 48% of fourth grade boys had a clear preference for the expository books. 19% of first grade boys and 33% of fourth grade boys liked the narrative and expository titles equally.

38% of first grade girls and 19% of fourth grade girls had a clear preference for the expository books. Another 38% of first grade girls and 62% of fourth grade girls liked the narrative and expository titles equally.

In other words, for both grade levels and both genders, more than 75 percent of students liked the expository books as much as or more than narrative titles. 42 percent had a moderate or strong preference for expository nonfiction.These are powerful results.

Once again, I encourage you to get the full article and read it. I’ll be sharing findings from the Scholastic Reading Report next week.

Monday, September 25, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Lesley Burnap

This year I’ll be working to increase the academic independence of the  young dreamers, thinkers, problem-solvers, and explorers in my classroom. The nonfiction books and series listed below will help support these budding independent readers.

The World of Weird Animals series by Jess Keating (Knopf)
Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (2016) and What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures (2017) reel the reader in with big, bold photographs on the left-hand side of each double-page spread.  The right-hand side gives us some fascinating facts about the featured creature, including a sidebar with species name, habitat, diet, and more. Bold words in the text are defined in the glossary. Clever cartoons illustrate a particular fact from the page. Concise and engaging, readers can linger over their favorite creatures or continue on to the next. I look forward to the next book in this series!

Tortoises and Turtles by Sally Morgan (QEB Publishing, 2007)
This book is part of the Animal Lives series, which also includes such titles as Alligators and Crocodiles, Bears, Bees and Wasps, and Eagles. Photographs dominate the text here, connecting the pictures to the information shared with the reader. Bright bubbles pop with a “Tortoise and turtle fact” on almost every double-page spread. Headings, subheadings, captions, bold words, glossary, and index help readers navigate through the informational text. While most readers will want to read this book cover to cover, each heading can be used as a place to stop and pick up the book another day. I need to purchase more of these titles for the classroom library.

Zoom in on Insects series by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2014)
This new-to-me series, which I found in my local library, highlights several insects, including bees, dragonflies, ladybugs and lightning bugs. Limited text on each page allows a child to explore the close-up photos of a given feature (eyes, legs, etc.). Topic-specific vocabulary is explained in the book’s front matter, before the reader encounters it. A full-page photo of the insect is labeled to show each important body part. At the end of the text, the life cycle of the insect is represented through photographs and labels. Even readers who are just beginning to read more independently will feel successful navigating this text. I’ll be sure to bring these into the class for students who have an interest in insects!

Sea Turtles by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House, 1995)
This is just one of the many survey books by this author/illustrator that I’ve collected throughout my teaching career. Her titles cover a vast array of topics, including animals, holidays, modes of transportation, the solar system and much more. Within Gibbons’ books, the definitions of topic-specific vocabulary is embedded within the text or among the illustrations. Unlike many nonfiction titles, photographs give way to illustrations colored with pencil and/or watercolor paints. Developing readers will find pronunciation guides within the text for more difficult words. Additional information, often accompanied by drawings, can be found in the back.

Children are all about superlatives: fastest, fiercest, toughest, indeed! The reader does not need to read this text sequentially but can move around as the mood strikes. At 200-plus pages, this volume is unlike the others in my list (most of which are around 32 pages), but it’s not intimidating, perhaps due to the nature of the eye-catching paper collage art and fun infographics. The book’s design guides the reader through the content, which includes clear headings (family, predators, senses, defenses, etc.), a brief introductory paragraph, and specific animal information that highlights the trait or topic being discussed. Due to some of the topic-specific vocabulary, some readers may need more teacher assistance with this book than with other texts listed here. This is definitely a book that I’ll need to share with my young readers.

Lesley Burnap is a third grade teacher who loves nothing more than to hang out with her dog and read. A happy member of NCTE, MRA, and the Nerdy Book Club, she has worked in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts for 27 years. (Phew!) You can follow her on Twitter @LBurnap90.

Friday, September 22, 2017

In the Classroom: What a Great Idea!

Don’t you just love this photo?

Last spring, Fran Wilson (@mrswilsons2nd), a second grade teacher in Ohio, and her teaching partner Nicole Prater shared eight of my books with their students. The books had a range of text structures and features.

After the class discussed the content of a book, Fran and Nicole asked the children: “What do you notice about the writing craft the author, Melissa Stewart, used in a book?”

In some cases, this led to the class re-reading the book under a document camera. The teachers recorded the students’ observations. For example, in When Rain Falls, they noticed:
--italic type is used to label the habitats,
--the text was written as a journey,
--repetition was used throughout the book. 

When a child spontaneously announced that they could write a book like When Rain Falls, the whole class got excited. Fran seized the opportunity. She invited students to brainstorm new ideas for books with the same structure and writing crafts as the books they had explored. The children had lots of great ideas, including:

When Night Comes
When Spring Comes
When Leaves Fall
When the Sun Comes Up
No Bees, No Flowers
No Squirrels, No Oak Trees
Close Up on Monarchs

Each student chose a topic and began writing. During this process, they viewed the video mini-lessons on my website. According to Fran, this made the children “feel very connected to you and that they themselves were real writers too.”

When the drafts were complete, the children asked to type their manuscripts using google docs.  They decided to add real photos instead of drawing illustrations. This led to teach a lesson on how to search for photos, insert them, and include credit for the source of the photos.  

But the project didn’t stop there.

This weekend the Cincinnati (Ohio) Nature Center will feature the students’ books at their Great Outdoor Weekend event. If you live in the area, you may want to stop by and see their great work.

And if you don’t live nearby, look for the students’ writing samples and learn more about this great project in Fran's article “From a Child’s Point of View: An Author Study to Enhance Nonfiction Writing.” Dragon Lode, Fall 2017, 36:1, pp. 40-49. Dragon Lode is published by the International Literacy Association. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 2

Last week I shared two academic articles with evidence that nonfiction in general and expository nonfiction in particular is more popular among primary students than most of us might think. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

Today I’m back with another study. It’s similar to the one I was interested in conducting myself (though the boy vs. girl angle wasn’t on my radar), but thanks to Ray Doiron, I don’t have to.

Doiron, Ray. “Boy Books, Girl Books: Should We Re-Organize Our School Library Collections?” Teacher Librarian. 2003, p. 14-16.

In a previous study, Doiron had found that students at his elementary school checked out twice as much nonfiction as fiction. For this study, he focused on just the books students were choosing to read. To do this, he eliminated data for books being checked out for school assignments.

Over 3 years, Doiron collected data for 10,000 library transactions among students in grades 1-6 and found that students checked out about 60% fiction and 40% nonfiction for pleasure reading. Boys chose nonfiction more than twice as often as girls.

In last week’s post, I asserted that the children’s literature community has a bias against expository nonfiction because people who choose jobs as editors, librarians, literacy educators, etc. connect more strongly with stories and storytelling than the general population, and I still believe that’s true. However, the results from this study as well as the studies I highlighted last week indicate that boys have a stronger affinity for nonfiction, especially expository nonfiction, than girls. Is this due to societal influences rather than an innate preference? Maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.

Here’s what I want to focus on right now: Since the children’s literature community is overwhelmingly female, I suspect that gender may be a contributing factor to the bias against expository nonfiction.

Once again, I encourage you to get the full article and read it. I’ll be sharing more research next week.

Monday, September 18, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Jenny Lussier

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)
My students could not stop looking at this one. The infographics are fascinating and when you add Jenkins' unique artwork, it makes for a very special book. We learned about what animals really are dangerous (not what we thought) and that there are a LOT of insects in this world. Really I could have picked anything by Jenkins. His books continue to be some of the most popular each year. 

Frogs by Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 2008)
Nic Bishop's book are extraordinary. My students and I cannot get enough of them because his photography is stunning. Coupling the amazing photos with interesting facts, these books are some of my favorites for getting kids to wonder and ask questions! One of my favorite pictures has a frog with a mysterious item coming out of his mouth. Many kids thought it was a tooth, but no, it belonged to a critter!

Plants Can't Sit Still by Rebecca Hirsch (Millbrook Press, 2016)
I love the slightly different take the author has on plants. When I first saw it, the book really connected with me because I had been fascinated (while mowing the lawn) by weeds that burst when you touched them and their seeds went EVERYWHERE! Amazing pictures too!

Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay (David Macaulay Studio/Macmillan, 2013)
If you have kids who just have to know how things work, here you go. Castles, jet planes, toilets—all fascinating! I love Macaulay's books because they are illustrated, which is a little different. This new series is for a younger age level than Macaulay's previous titles, which I appreciate. 

Thunderbirds: Nature's Flying Predators by Jim Arnosky (Sterling, 2011)
Jim Arnosky continues to amaze me with his attention to detail and gorgeous illustrations. He packs so much information into this book and, of course, readers love the pages that open up to really give a sense of how big the predators are. 

Jenny Lussier is a teacher librarian for grades PreK-4 and formerly a fifth/sixth grade teacher in Regional School District 13 in Durham & Middlefield, CT. She has a passion for research, children’s literature, and technology and loves to share and learn with kids and adults! You can find her hiking, biking, gardening, and of course sharing favorite books wherever she goes.

Friday, September 15, 2017

In the Classroom: Reading Nonfiction Picture Books Aloud

Reading nonfiction picture books aloud can be tricky because they often contain significantly more words than fiction picture books. And even if the art is enticing and the writing is engaging and the information is fascinating, a picture book read aloud shouldn’t last too long.

When I plan a nonfiction read aloud, I ask myself a lot of questions. What parts of the book should I highlight? Should I skip over anything? Would additional visuals or props improve the audience’s experience? Would using a document camera help? Sometimes I make the right decisions on the first try. But other times, the kids surprise me, and I make adjustments as I go along.

For Can an Aardvark Bark?, I thought students would be excited to make the animal sounds throughout the book’s main text. But I worried that reading the spreads that featured secondary text about four animal examples might be too much. I considered reading just the main text and pointing out the four exemplar animals shown, but that would mean skipping over a lot of cool information.
When I asked author Josh Funk (@joshfunkbooks) for advice, he suggested that I read just one or two of the examples.

“And kids can choose the examples,” I said, piggybacking on his idea. I was confident that this combination of strategies—making animal sounds and choosing animal examples—would make for a great read aloud. But I was wrong.

It turns out students weren’t as enthusiastic about making the animal sounds as I expected. What captivated them was the information. They stayed quiet so they wouldn’t miss a thing.

Luckily, my other strategy—letting students choose the animal examples—was a huge hit. On pages where the vote was close, I read the two top choices, and everyone was happy.

What was my take away from this experience? I was delighted to discover that the thing kids liked most about the book—the fascinating information about how and why animals communicate—was the same thing that inspired me to write it in the first place. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wait, that’s Not Broccoli. It’s Chocolate Cake! Part 1

Right now, the children’s literature community is enamored with narrative nonfiction—books that tell true stories. It receives more starred reviews and wins far more awards than expository nonfiction.

That's because most of the people who choose jobs related to children’s literature—editors, book reviewers, librarians, literacy educators, awards committee members—value and connect strongly with stories and storytelling. And it’s natural for them to assume that young readers feel the same way, especially when we hear things like “humans are hardwired to love story.”

But today, I’m going to disrupt your thinking.

For years, I’ve been questioning the idea that everyone loves stories. Based on my own experience as a reader and conversations I’ve had with children and educators, what I see is that some children are, indeed, naturally drawn to narratives. But others are more excited about ideas and information and would rather read expository nonfiction. Still others enjoy both expository and narrative texts.
My observations have led me to hypothesize that there’s what I call a narrative-analytical thinking continuum. The general population spans the continuum, but the children’s literature community is clumped at the narrative end.

I’m concerned that young analytical thinkers are currently being underserved because gatekeepers don’t appreciate the kind of books that these children enjoy. Simply put, what the children’s literature community calls broccoli, many kids call chocolate cake.

By last spring, I felt so strongly about this issue that I decided to take a sabbatical from writing and conduct a study of elementary students’ reading preferences. Because I had no idea how to structure or conduct a study, I dove into the academic literature. And that’s when my mind was blown.

The research already exists, and it’s powerful. Why don’t more people know about it?

Here are two examples:

Correia, Marlene Ponte. “Fiction vs Informational Texts: Which Will Kindergartners Choose?”Young Children, 2011, p. 100-104.

A K teacher who initially believed her students prefered fiction tracked their library checkouts for 19 weeks and found that the children chose more nonfiction than fiction titles 14 out of 19 weeks. One week they checked out an equal number of fiction and nonfiction books. Each week, more boys than girl chose nonfiction.

Mohr, Kathleen A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational Reading: A Three-Part Investigation of Selection Preferences, Rationales, and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Research, 2006, p. 81-104.

190 first graders were invited to choose one of nine high-quality, well-illustrated picture books to keep forever. The books included five fiction titles and four nonfiction titles—one expository nonfiction, one picture book biography, one nonfiction poetry, and one hybrid nonfiction. The children viewed the books one at a time (so they weren’t influenced by their friends’ choices). Students could take as long as they wanted to make a decision and were encouraged to look closely at the books as part of the decision-making process.

What were the results? 84% of students chose a nonfiction book. 46% chose the expository nonfiction title, while only 3% chose the picture book biography. More boys (96%) than girls (69%) chose nonfiction titles.

What was the mega-popular expository nonfiction title?

I encourage you to get the full articles and read them. I’ll be sharing more research in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.


Monday, September 11, 2017

5 Faves: Expository Nonfiction Recommended by Margie Myers-Culver

On March 7, 2017, author Melissa Stewart wrote a guest post for the Nerdy Book Club asking us to think about the value of expository literature. She concluded the post with a list of fifty titles. This school year, 2017-2018, she is hosting a series of posts asking teachers and librarians to list five expository titles. Expository titles inform, describe or explain. I decided to focus on the world of animals

The Big Book of Beasts by Yuval Zommer (Thames & Hudson, 2017)
Last year we were introduced to the fascinating world of insects and invertebrates in The Big Book of Bugs (Thames &  Hudson, 2016). In this companion volume, we venture into a marvelous collection of mammals. Each page turn will remind you of the familiar but is guaranteed to present something new and astounding. Sifting through extensive information, Yuval Zommer selects those details most likely to be remembered by readers. In a series of conversational statements, beginning with a question, we are given valuable insights into individual mammals and overviews of special areas.

Can An Aardvark Bark?  by Melissa Stewart (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017),
For nineteen years author Melissa Stewart has been acquainting readers with the results of her passion for and meticulous research of all forms of science. In this most recent publication, she explores sounds made by animals in a variety of habitats. The rhyming questions she asks in one section, and then answers in another, elevates interest. For each sound, seven in total, she discusses five animals. At the close of the book Selected Sources and For Further Reading sections are shown. Melissa Stewart designed a Storytime Guide and a Teacher’s Guide to go with it.

Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of  by Martin Brown (David Fickling Books/Scholastic, 2016)
This upbeat, informative, and completely hilarious book, introduces us to twenty-three animals we rarely encounter in books. The manner in which Martin Brown weaves together facts and humor captivates and fascinates. For each one, Martin Brown provides a clever remark referencing a distinctive quality followed by a half to whole page discussion revealing the animals most intriguing characteristics. He also includes a sidebar with their size, what they eat, where they live, their conservation status, and an extra fact. At times, Martin includes an additional sidebar with other items of interest. He dedicates two pages to a glossary at the end.

Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
No single day passes without observations of creatures in the wild. It can be as normal as birds flying from one place to the next or as surprising as looking out your window and seeing the local fox trotting down the sidewalk at dusk. We are most fortunate to be sharing this planet with beings who have adapted as best they can to their habitats. This book is a stunning visual presentation of eighty animals that live in North America, Europe and Asia. Woven into conversational paragraphs are items of interest to a wide range of readers.

What Makes A Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating (Knopf/Penguin Random House, 2017)
Most dictionaries define the word monster by using the word imaginary. Monsters are simply not real. Or are they? If you want to read a book, gasping at every page turn, this is a title you can't miss! Armed with knowledge of her subject and gifted for knowing exactly what readers need and want to know,
Jess Keating educates her readers like a master teacher. For each of the seventeen animals, she begins with an informative narrative paragraph. This is followed by local superstitions, feeding habits, a detailed explanation of unique traits, and more. She also includes information about the animals’ size, diet, habitat, and predators and threats.

Margie Culver can’t remember a time when she was not reading. With every turn of the page, her views, impressions, and understanding of the world--past, present, future, and fantastical--have increased. She’s been educated and entertained; had her heart broken and made whole again. She began her career as a certified teacher librarian in 1973, fostering life-long reading and adept gathering and use of information for her students and staff. In Margie’s words, “It has been the single best decision that I have ever made.” She writes posts about as many wonderful books as possible on her blog, Librarian’s Quest. You are welcome to follow Margie on Twitter @Loveofxena

Friday, September 8, 2017

Get Ready for International Rock Flipping Day

We all know that next Monday is the anniversary of one of the worst days in U.S. history, but it’s also International Rock Flipping Day—a time to celebrate all the critters that live under rocks as well as the natural curiosity that inspires us to take a closer look at the world around us.

All you have to do is go outside and look under a rock or two. Then record what you see by drawing, painting, taking photographs of what you see. You can also write down what you see. (If you live in a place where you might find poisonous creatures, like scorpions or snakes, under a rock, I encourage you to use a stick to flip the rocks.) When you are done, carefully return the rock to its original position.

It’s fun and easy, and you just might meet some pretty cool critters.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Welcome Back!

I’m still in summer mode, so it’s hard for me to believe the school year has begun all across America. Gesh! Why does summer seem so short?

I’ve got some great, meaty posts kicking around in my head for Celebrate Science this year, but to get us warmed up, I thought I’d start the same way I did last year. I just love this quotation:

“Reading is like breathing in. . .

. . . Writing is like breathing out."
Okay, folks, let’s get ready to rumble.