Friday, November 30, 2018

Sibert Smackdown 2018/2019

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.

Here’s how it works.

Students in grades 3-8 read the nonfiction picture books on your class’s Mock Sibert list. You can use the list I’ve compiled below or you can create your own list. My list includes titles that have strong kid appeal, will promote good discussions, and can be used as mentor texts in writing workshop. They reinforce the research techniques and craft moves included in most State ELA standards.  
Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Miranda and Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

All that Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy


Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went From the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth by Carrie Pearson, illustrated by Susan Swan

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Will some of these books be named on Monday, January 28, 2019, when the Sibert Medal committee announces its winner and honor titles at the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony? Who knows, but I do have a pretty good track record.

You may also want to consider titles on the Mock Sibert list created by Alyson Beecher or the narrative and expository Mock Orbis Pictus lists created by Michele Knott.  Anderson’s Bookshop has also created a Mock Sibert list that includes picture books as well as middle grade titles.

After reading your Mock Sibert titles, students choose their two favorites and use this worksheet, which you can download from my website, to evaluate and compare the books before they vote. The worksheet features a kid-friendly version of the criteria used by the real Sibert committee.

I also suggest using the guidelines developed by former Sibert judge Melody Allen. They are available here, here, and here.

I’d also recommend reading this post, which describes how some educators have modified or enhanced the Sibert Smackdown! in the past. It’s so important to create learning experiences that are perfect for your particular students.

I’d love to hear how your students are progressing, and so would other participating teachers and librarians. Please use the Twitter hashtag #SibertSmackdown to share what you are doing.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

CMTC Handout 2: 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Rethinking Your Children's Book Collection

Most children’s literature enthusiasts are naturally drawn to stories and storytelling, including fiction and narrative nonfiction But up to 42 percent of elementary students prefer expository nonfiction. This session breaks down the five categories of nonfiction children’s books, offers tips for updating book collections, and provides strategies for integrating a variety of nonfiction texts into reading and writing lessons.

I’ve written about the 5 kinds of nonfiction on my blog:

I’ve discussed the 5 kinds of nonfiction in this video created for Colby Sharp’s vlog:

Narrative vs. Expository Sample Texts

Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop (Scholastic, 1999)

Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart (Enslow, 2011)

Citations for Articles about Student Preference for Expository Nonfiction
Caswell, Linda J. and Nell K. Duke. “Non-Narrative as a Catalyst for Literacy Development.” Language Arts, 1998, p. 108-117.

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

Hynes, Myrna. “‘I Read for Facts’: Reading Nonfiction in a Fictional World.” Language Arts, 2000, p. 485-495.

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.

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.

Characteristics of the 5 Categories and Activity for Students

Using Expository Literature as Mentor Texts

Nonfiction Smackdown!

Upper elementary students read two nonfiction books on the same topic. Then they evaluate and compare the two titles, recording their thinking on a worksheet that other students can use to help them make book choices.
Sibert Smackdown!
Similar to Nonfiction Smackdown!, but books are selected from a list of picture books contenders that I compile on my website. The worksheet uses a kid-friendly version of the criteria considered by the real Sibert committee. Several librarians have also used their own creative ideas to record students’ thinking, such as Padlet, Flipgrid, posters, and voting forms where students write the rationale for their choice.
March Madness Nonfiction
Inspired by the annual March Madness basketball tournament, students participate in a month-long, whole-school activity to select their favorite nonfiction title. Can be combined with the Nonfiction Smackdown!

“March Madness has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction. [It has been] a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.” –Instructional Coach

“I like that these nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes.” –Fifth-grade student

Same Structure, New Topic
Students read a selection of my books and chose one to use as a mentor text. They created a book that emulated the structure and style of my book but presented information about a different topic.

Choosing Presentation Style
Students read mentor texts with a range of presentation styles, including narrative nonfiction, expository articles, infographics with expository text. Then they choose one style and use it to present information on a topic of their choice.

CMTC Handout 1: Helping Students Overcome Their Biggest Nonfiction Writing Roadblocks

To succeed in college and their future careers, students need the skills to summarize information and synthesize ideas so that they can craft expository writing that’s clear, logical, and interesting. Award-winning nonfiction author Melissa Stewart will lead a lively discussion about successful strategies for helping students select a focused topic, think creatively about research, organize information, identify the perfect text structure, find the stamina to revise, and work productively with critique partners.

Why Kids Copy their Research Sources, and How to Break the Habit

Adding Voice to Nonfiction Writing

Why Middle School Students Think Research Is Boring

Convincing Students to Revise

Teaching Nonfiction Text Structure

Organizing Information When Writing Nonfiction

When Students Have Trouble Choosing a Topic

Monday, November 26, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Mary Kay Carson

Why do I choose to write books about meteorologists, biologists, astronomers, and ecologists? Because it allows me—a failed scientist—to live vicariously.

Growing up, animals were all I cared about. My family moved a lot, so pets were often my best friends. By the end of third grade, I’d lived in five states and attended four elementary schools. But Ralph the rat, Catzan, Lady Vain and her kittens, terrier Trixie, and an assortment of others happily kept me company. I fed and played with them, always wondering what it was like to be a goldfish or gerbil. Was it better?

I read animal encyclopedias, wrote school papers entitled “Rats: Friend or Foe?,” and yearned to be adopted by wild animals like the lucky kids in Incident at Hawk’s Hill and Julie and the Wolves. Humans didn’t understand me, maybe a mother badger would.

When college time finally arrived, I bolted from home with plans to become the next Dian Fossey. I would live in the woods with my animal subjects who would accept me as one of their own. Who needs people anyway? So judgy.

That didn’t happen. Instead I ended up a science writer and nonfiction children’s book author. (A desk job? shudders my 20-year-old-self.) But writing about scientists provides a welcome window into a life not lived for me. And isn’t that what all literature is—a chance to be someone or something else? To know what it’s like to be a soldier mouse, ancient king, or sentient tree? Unlike in fiction, in nonfiction it just happens that the characters are real people, the dialog actual quotes, and the plot true events. The result is the same.

Emi, the Sumatran rhino mother in Emi and the Rhino Scientist, is just as big a character in the book as Terri Roth, the reproductive physiologist who helps her have the first calf of its kind in captivity in more than a century. There are fewer than one hundred Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, so part of the motivation for writing the book was trying to help educate the public and donate a bit of money. Failed scientists can still help animals!
The book’s photographer Tom Uhlman (my husband) and I have deep ties to the Cincinnati Zoo where Terri Roth works. I went to a year of high school there, spending mornings cleaning aardvark cages and filling little crocks with cow’s blood for the vampire bats. Tom was a teenage member of the Junior Zoologists club. The zoo’s blood-slurping bats ended up on the cover of The Bat Scientists.
I often employ a you-are-there technique when writing Scientist in the Field books. Why? It engages readers. But it’s also because I was actually there in a Texas pecan grove all night long helping scientists net and band bats. We really did look for radio-tagged Gila monsters with a herpetologist in Saguaro National Park and got soaking wet camping in the Smokies with an evolutionary ecologist while researching Park Scientists. Being there is the best part for me, why not share that with readers?
And while I make a living as a writer, I’m still a nature lover who feels connected to animals and often exasperated by humans. Science has always helped me make sense of the world. I believe things happen for a reason, but one that usually involves natural selection, gravitational forces, and/or geologic time.

Understanding animals, stars, storms, ecosystems, and gluons more deeply connects us to the world. And everybody craves connection. It’s the currency of what matters, what motivates. Nonfiction writers have profoundly personal connections to their chosen subjects. We’ve got skin in the game. Our writing reflects that—and ourselves.

Mary Kay Carson is the author of more than fifty nonfiction books for young people about nature, animals, space, inventors, weather, and history. She and her photographer husband Tom Uhlman are a veteran Scientists in the Field team with five (soon six!) titles in the award-winning Houghton Mifflin Harcourt series. Mary Kay blogs with STEM Tuesday and Hands-On-Books. Find out more about her at or follow her @marykaycarson.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Cynthia Levinson

“Cynthia Levinson did an insane amount of research!”

That's what a librarian said after reading Watch Out for Flying Kids: How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community (Peachtree Publishers).

She had a good point. Here’s a small sample of my insanity:
—3 trips to Israel

—2 trips to St. Louis

—1 trip each to Sarasota, Chicago, and Saratoga Springs

—1 Hebrew translator and 2 Arabic translators

—Multiple in-depth interviews with 9 teenage circus performers in 3 languages and dozens of other people via Skype, Facebook, email, IM, telephone, and in-person

—Books in my bibliography on politics in the Middle East and Midwest, circus since Roman times, and equilibristics

—Lessons in juggling, wire-walking, globe-walking, silks, trapeze, and lyra. (I was not crazy enough to unicycle.) 

Why would anyone spend three years doing this and more—much more—to write a book for ten- to fourteen-year-olds?
Although there were times when I thought the research itself would drive me crazy (understandably, teenagers don’t consider confiding in a 65+ year-old writer a high priority), the reason was not in my head but in my heart: I cared deeply about these teens. Through “social circus,” programs that bring together kids who would never otherwise meet or get along, they’ve overcome cultural, linguistic, and physical barriers as daunting as high buildings and reached literally soaring accomplishments.

In St. Louis’ Circus Harmony, they include:

—Kellin, a juggler, home-schooled by his mother, Jessica, Circus Harmony’s founder

—Iking, a street tumbler and gang member
Kellin (left) and Ikling (right)

 In Israel’s Galilee Circus, they include:

—Hla, an observant Muslim contortionist afraid of Jews

—Roey, a Jewish diabolo juggler, afraid of just about everything, including bugs
Hla (left) and Rory (right)

Practicing, performing, and traveling together, all of these kids became unlikely friends and stars. They have much to teach us, and I had to tell their stories, regardless of the time and cost.                  

My debut middle-grade nonfiction book We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers) and a successor, The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist (Simon & Schuster), similarly propelled me. These books focus on four of the 3,000-4,000 children who protested segregation and went to jail, some for a week. Audrey was only nine.

They overcame their barriers while I attended a segregated high school, only dimly and distantly aware of their sacrifices and courage. Four years, multiple trips, dozens of books, articles, and documents, and countless interviews went into these two books. In comparison to theirs, my efforts seem minimal.

Although the publisher didn’t realize it when they asked me to write a biography of a presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can (HarperCollins) has a personal connection also. We were college dormmates!

My most recent book is personal for a different reason. I wrote it with my husband, a law professor. Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today (Peachtree Publishers) is his life work translated into kid-speak, and our daughters and their husbands—two lawyers, an epidemiologist, and an education professor—all contributed vital information.
Writing for young readers is a privilege that allows us authors to pursue and share our curiosities, passions, concerns, and values.

Cynthia Levinson writes nonfiction for readers ages six and up. Her books have won the SCBWI Golden Kite and Crystal Kite, Jane Addams, ILA Social Justice, and NCSS Carter G. Woodson Awards, among others. Previously, she taught pre-kindergarten through graduate students and worked in education policy. She and her co-author husband live in Austin and Boston.

Friday, November 16, 2018

NCTE Handout: Giving Fact-loving Kids a Voice: Using Expository Nonfiction as Mentor Texts

Description: You may not love expository nonfiction, but many of your students do. It motivates fact-loving kids to read and write, and it can help ALL students develop informational writing skills. In this session, five highly-regarded educators share creative ideas for using finely-crafted expository nonfiction children’s books in writer’s workshop.

Here is a list of the books we discussed:
Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe (Charlesbridge, 2015)

Born in the Wild: Baby Animals and their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)

Can an Aardvark Bark? By Melissa Stewart and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane, 2017)

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen (Charlesbridge, 2014)

Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey (Millbrook Press, 2015)

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2013)

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg (Greenwillow Books, 2017)

If Polar Bears Disappeared by Lily Williams (2018)

Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown (David Fickling Books, 2016)

Look at Me! How to Attract Attention in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (HMH Books, 2018)

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (FSG, 2011)

The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2015)

Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London and Meilo So (Candlewick, 2016)

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree, 2012)

Red Alert! Endangered Animals Around the World by Catherine Barr and Anne Wilson (Charlesbridge, 2018)

Rodent Rascals by Roxie Munro (Holiday House, 2018)

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep by April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins (Holt, 2016)

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre and Late Endle (Charlesbridge, 2008)

Water Land by Christy Hale (Roaring Brook, 2018)

Wonderful Winter: All Kind of Winter Facts and Fun by Bruce Goldstone (Holt, 2016)
Alyson Beecher is an educator and school administrator. She works with Glendale Unified School District in the Early Education and Extended Learning Programs. She has worked as a Special Education Inclusion Teacher, Special Education Administrator, Elementary Principal, and District Curriculum Specialist. She loves reading and getting books into the hands of children and hosts the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on her blog, Kid Lit Frenzy. She serves on the American Library Association's Schneider Family Book Award Committee. Twitter: @alysonbeecher

Mary Ann Cappiello is a professor at Lesley University.  Along with Erika, she is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets, Teaching to Complexity, and a forthcoming book with Stenhouse Publishers. She blogs at "The Classroom Bookshelf," a School Library Journal blog and has been on NCTE's Orbis Pictus Committee since 2015. Twitter: @MA_Cappiello

Erika Thulin Dawes is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University, where she strives to equip teachers with a passion for children's literature and a wealth of creative strategies for using books in the classroom. Having worked as a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, and a literacy supervisor, she knows that great teachers and great librarians inspire lifelong readers. Erika is co-author of Teaching with Text Sets and Teaching to Complexity: A Framework for Evaluating Literary and Content-Area Texts. Twitter: @erikadawes

Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher. She's the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Her next book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, will be published by Stenhouse Publishers this winter. She has blogged at Two Writing Teachers, a blog solely devoted to the teaching of writing, since 2007. Twitter: @sshubitz.

Terrell Young is professor of children's literature at Brigham Young University. He has published numerous articles and has coauthored or coedited several books including Deepening Students' Mathematical Understanding with Children's Literature . Terry currently serves as the president of the United States Board on Books for Young People. He has served on numerous book award selection committees, including the Newbery Medal.