The Caldecott Medal will be announced later this month. I've played around with the concept of having students vote on the book they feel deserves the medal, but this month I'm collaborating with Grade 2 and 3 teachers to really study the ideas behind the Caldecott Medal before voting on their favourites. Here's our plan:
1. I've chosen ten picture books that were all published in 2019. Now, I understand that in order to qualify for a Caldecott, the illustrator must be an American citizen, and the book must be published within the US. Because we're Canadian, we have chosen some Canadian authors and illustrators anyway, because we feel they are worthy, and it's not about choosing correctly. Really, we certainly do not have the access to books that the members of the American Library Association does and the chances of us predicting the winner and pretty slim. So, here are the ten picture books that we will be studying:
2. The next step is to read the books to the students. The teachers will do this each day for ten days. After reading the books, they will discuss the story, author's purpose, and especially the illustrations, and they will track this information on an anchor chart.
3. The students need to know about the Caldecott Medal, so this will be our next step. We will teach them about what the honour is all about, and study some past Caldecott winners and honour books (like runners-up). We'll collect as many as we can from past years (Finding Winnie was the winner in 2016) and let the students peruse them and compare the illustrations.
4. Now it's time to vote. students will each receive their own evaluation booklet which I created (below). Each page in the booklet includes a table with a set of five criteria. I pulled this information from the ALA's Caldecott site, and rewrote it to be more child-friendly.
6. After arriving at this decision, they will then present to the rest of the class their choice for the Caldecott Medal. We will total all the individual votes and announce which three books received top scores for our class picks.
7. When the Caldecott Medal is announced at the end of January, we will watch the video of the announcement and see if any of our books were bestow with this honour.
That's the plan. I'll be back to share with you how it's going. :)
Again, this was really difficult. I read so many amazing books last year. Here are some of them, keeping in mind I didn't want the post to be too long. I've tried to arrange them in such a way that the ones that appeal to younger students are first, with YA books at the end. It's tough to put an age recommendation on books though, because so much depends on a reader's abilities and maturity level. Here goes:
Ice Dogs: This is the second of Terry Lynn Johnson's on my list. It's a new release and follows her theme of animals and survival. In this one, the main character is realizing that she is slowly going blind but has not shared her fears with her family yet. She has something to prove - that she can still have a life, even if it means racing sled dogs through dangerous territory. Great information and message!
The War Below: How much do you know about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army? Based on true events, this novel follows young protagonists first introduced in Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's Making Bombs for Hitler, and is just as good.
The Night Diary: It is important for people (not just kids) to read historical fiction - there is so much to be learned! This story is set during the 1940's at a time when India and Pakistan are being split into two countries. The main character becomes a refugee, and writes in her journal along the way. Beautiful, entertaining, informative. By author Veera Hiranandani.
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise: One of the best books I've read, ever, not just this past year! Dan Gemeinhart's writing gets into your head, into your heart, and makes you CARE SO DEEPLY about his characters! Coyote and her dad have been traveling around the United States in their schoolbus-turned-home since a tragedy occurred in their family. But Coyote needs to go home now, and she must trick her dad into taking her there.
The Bridge Home: This was a Global Read Aloud choice for upper middle grades, and I can totally see why. The story, about homeless children in India, packs a punch! So much to discuss while reading this book. I had to do some research while reading it. Padma Venkatraman will be author to keep an eye on.
Endling: The First (Book Two): Katharine Applegate is another author whose books I will always read - so many have become favourites, including Wishtree, The One and Only Ivan, and Endling: The Last (which is Book One in this series). Fantasy stories are typically not my favourite genre, but this one about endangered species connects so deeply to the stories of racism and cultural ignorance that we see happening in the world, that it is a must-read.
They Called Us Enemy: George Takei's graphic novel account of his experiences in Japanese internment camps during World War Two. Kids will eat this one up.
No Fixed Address: Susin Nielsen (former writer for DeGrassi Junior high) has written a funny, enlightening story about a boy living in a van with his mother, who has mental illness. It's a tough topic, but an important one, and is ultimately about the power of friendship and community.
Internment: I loved author Samira Ahmed's Love, Hate and Other Filters, so it was a no-brainer to pick this one up as well. Wow! Set in a near-future Dystopian world where Muslim-Americans are placed in internment camps, this one is a glimpse into the fears of many Americans today. Lots to discuss here, and you'll have trouble putting it down.
The Fountains of Silence: Author Ruta Sepetys has written many books that I have enjoyed, and this one is her latest. I greedily devoured this book (a signed copy from the ILA Conference!!!), an historic fictional account featuring the rule of Franco in Spain, and occurring over several years. There's also a mystery and a love story.
White Rose: Novel-in-verse non-fiction account by writer Kip Wilson of the White Rose, a secret society headed by Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, two German university students and their friends who tried to stop Adolf Hitler's war on his own people. Bone-chilling, especially when you read the back matter and learn how accurate the story is.
And now I'm feeling bad about the stories I didn't include here, but also really enjoyed. If you follow my Instagram page, you'll see so many more titles that I recommend. I definitely need to work on the Recommendations page on this site. (\A New Year's Resolution, perhaps? Regardless, I have a huge TBR pile and an even huger TBR list, so I'm pretty pumped to get started on my 2020 reading life. Happy New Year, and I hope your year includes family, friends, health, happiness and loads of great books!
I wasn't going to do this. It's too difficult to decide the best books I've read, and not fair to the books I decide not to include my list. Buuuuuut.... it's just so tempting. I personally love reading other people's lists, so here is mine. These are the best books I've read this year (although some were published before 2019).
The first three I want to share with you are all nonfiction picture books.
Gross as a Snot Otter: If you ever see a book by Jess Keating, don't hesitate - just buy it. This fourth book in her World of Weird Animals series is just as good as the rest. Kids will be amazed and disgusted by the animals they learn about in this keeper.
Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature is a biography with amazing illustrations. I love Robert Bateman's paintings though, so I may be biased, but I don't think so. Kids who love to draw animals may add artist to their list of potential occupations after reading this book. Author Margriet Ruurs' Stepping Stones title is another one of my favourites.
Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes: My collection of alphabet books rivals anyone's I bet. This is my newest addition, and one I plan to keep at our cabin on Lake Manitoba. The book includes the phonetic alphabet (Charlie is used for the letter C), semaphore, Morse Code and other flags that ships display, and what they mean.
I'm working hard to expand the number of picture books in my collection that feature Indigenous characters. These three are absolutely amazing, and feature #ownvoices authors.
Encounter by Brittany Luby is a reimagining of European explorers meeting the Indigenous people of North America for the first time. It's extremely important that children realize that this is a REIMAGINING - this is not the way it happened. Rather, it is one way that it COULD have happened, and opens the opportunity for dialogue on what might have been. Based on the journals of Jacques Cartier, an explorer named Sailor meets an Indigenous man named Fisher, and we see how similar the two characters are, and how they learn about each other. At the end of the story, Sailor leaves with pleasant memories, and no intentions of colonization.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition by Kevin Noble Maillard is a poetic ode to fry bread. The book shows Indigenous people of all sorts of skin tones, and the back matter includes important facts on the history of fry bread and what it means to Indigenous people.
I Lost My Talk was originally published as a poem by Rita Joe, about her years in a residential school and how she lost her language during her four years there, resulting in an inability to communicate with her people. I love how it ends on a powerful, hopeful note however. "So gently I offer my hand and ask, Let me find my talk, So I can teach you about me." Truth and Reconciliation, right there.
I Am Human: A Book of Empathy is a beautiful little book that teaches kids that it's OK that we make mistakes - we're only human after all. What's important is to recognize those mistakes, apologize and learn from them. This book is a celebration of what it is to be human, and is the third book in Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds' Wellness series.
I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong is a wonderful story for so many reasons. First of all, I love the message - how to be confident and kind, and face the world with courage. The book shows people of the world in such a diverse array that I have to comment on it - stereotype-busting in so many ways! We see an elderly female bus driver, for example, and classmates of all skin colours, including some wearing religious attire.
I heard K-Fai Steele present at the ILA Conference in New Orleans this year, and immediately went out and purchased her book A Normal Pig, which pushes on the idea that there is one way to be normal, and anything different is less than normal. This book will definitely spark lots of conversation with children.
I also had the opportunity to hear illustrator Vashti Harrison speak at the ILA Conference, and I was blown away by her talent. Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong'o, is one of her most recent books. It is based on the true story of the author's experiences disliking the colour of her skin while growing up. The main character learns about true beauty coming from within, but colourism is something that can be discussed with children after reading it.
Lubna and Pebble is one to add to my collection of refugee stories. In this story by Wendy Meddour, the main character has no friends, so draws a face on a pebble to create one. The message is about what one is willing to sacrifice in the name of friendship, and teaches about life in a refugee camp.
In the book The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh, children experience how sometimes people feel left out, and how to react to that. Harpreet is a little boy who loves wearing his patkas, and they reflect his moods. Children will learn what a patka is, as Harpreet moves to a new school and only wears his patka that represents his feelings of loneliness.
That's it. I could have probably added about double the amount that I did, but I was fierce in my decision-making. I hope you enjoy these titles. In my next blog post, I'll write about my favourite middle grade and YA novels.
I read so many wonderful books this year! Most of the ones on this list are relatively new releases, but a couple of them have been out for a while - they were just new to me. I still included them. Picture books are first, then graphic novels, middle grade books, young adult, and finally professional books. There is no way I could whittle this list down to 10 or some other manageable number, however, so here is my super long list of favourite books of 2018:
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena (2016) - not much room left on the cover for more awards
A BIG Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (2018) - love the book cover and illustrations!
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick (2015) - the conection between Winnie the Pooh and Winnipeg
Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins (2016) - a book of infographics. I can't wait for the next books in this series to be published!
Red Sky at Night by Elly MacKay (2018) - weather idioms and their meanings - beautiful illustrations!
Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz (2017) - Canadian history in a picture book format - beautiful, lots of curriculum connections
Cute as an Axolotl by Jess Keating (2018) - third book in Keating's Weird Aimals series features adorable animals you may not have ever heard of (pygmy hippopotamus!!!!!)
Poetree by Caroline Pignat (2018) - a book of acrostic poetry that is a must-add mentor text for Writer's Workshop
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (2018) - perfect for the first day of school!
The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta (2003) - how I missed this gem of a book is a mystery to me, but it is absolutely amazing!
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth (2017) - lovely message and perfect illustrations make this a beautiful gift for a newborn and a must-read on Earth Day
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (2016) - this book will garner some giggles from your kids and is great for exploring name origins
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (2012) - beautifully written, this story in verse is about the importance of kindness
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton (2016) - this is just the first book in a series of hilarious early graphic novels for our youngest readers
I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black (2018) - great message about how it's Ok to be sad, told by a girl, a potato and a sad flamingo - funny!
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (2017) - hilarious! Perfect for ages 7-12
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (2018) - Powerful memoir about growing up with a drug-addicted mother and absent father - for high school students
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson (2018) - the modern classic for high school students in a graphic novel form
Middle Grade Novels
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (2017) - what a memorable cast of characters in this funny mystery about finding your place in the world
Don't Tell the Enemy by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (2017) - based on a true story of Krystia, a young girl who saved many in her Ukrainian town during WWII
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (2018) - how a monster (a golem, really) saved the life of a young chimney sweep (I learned so much about the dangers of being a sweep in the 1800's)
ood Dog by Dan Gemeinhart (2018) - someone once told me if there's a dog on the cover, you're gonna cry. Good advice. This is a remarkable story about a dog that has already died at the beginning of the book but then must go back to save his boy.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate diCamillo (2016) - I laughed and laughed while reading this one - what an amazingly well-written story!
The War Below by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (2018) - Another book about children in war time - this one tells of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which operated below the ground during WWII
Breakout by Kate Messner (2018) - how three preteens cope with racism and more during a prisoner breakout in their town - told via images, text messages, poetry, and correspondence
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (2018) - based on the true story of the author as a child, who often manned the front desk of the motel her parents managed, and how they hid illegal immigrants from the mean motel owner
Winnie's Great War by Lindsay Mattick (2018) - another story told by the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, who saved a black bear from a trapper while on his way to fight in WWII, and told from Winnie's point of view
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014) - the story of twins on and off the basketball court, told in free verse. The climax will make you gasp! The prequel Rebound (published in 2018), is just as good, but should be read after Crossover.
Endling: The Last by Katherine Applegate (2018) - first book in a new series by the author of The One and Only Ivan, a fantasy about the last of a species that includes the message of inclusion and respect for others who are different from us.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) - one of my favourites for sure, about an abused girl sent out of London during the bombing of WWII (make sure to follow up with the sequel The War I Finally Won, published this year)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) - memoir by TV personality who grew up in South Africa during and immediately after Apartheid
Strangers (2017) and Monsters (2018) by David A Robertson - the first two books in a supernatural trilogy featuring Cole, a young boy returning to his reserve to solve the mystery surrounding his hometown and his father's disappearance
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) - absolutely beautiful novel in verse about growing up during the Civil Rights era
Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (2018) - a Global Read Aloud choice about a Muslim American teen and the events surrounding her and her small town after a terrorist attack
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) - lots of awards for this book too, about how a young girl copes after the shooting death of her friend by a police officer (the movie came out this year too, and is definitely worth watching!)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) - one of my favourite YA authors, this novel in verse tells of a teen who meets a ghost on each floor of his apartment building as he sets out to avenge his brother's death in a gang shooting
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (2017) - SO AMAZING! You must read this beautifully written story of a young girl and her struggle to make others see her and value her, in a world that values the wrong things
Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017) - this is a message the world needs to hear - another Global Read Aloud choice about three child refugees in different eras, trying to survive the journey from their different countries, for different reasons
180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle (2018) - how to plan your ELA year and grab hold of your students' interest
Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst (2017) - practical strategies for creating responsive readers
From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward (2017) - how to turn kids who don't like to read into engaged readers
I've been working with a Grade 5 class lately on a poetry unit. We had read and practiced writing acrostic and free verse poetry before I arrived this week. I especially loved the free verse component, and celebrated along with the teacher as the students experimented with similes, onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition and more. This past week I showed them some forms of concrete poetry, along with various ways to represent their words visually, including filling a shape, creating the line of the shape, and writing words to demonstrate their meaning.
The first step in the lesson involved handing out some examples of concrete poetry. Students had a couple of minutes to read their example, and then turn and talk with the members of their group to discuss all of the examples in their group, and how they were similar and different.
After a class discussion of their findings, I modeled how I might rewrite the free verse poem "The Snowman" that the students and I had written together the previous week:
Three balls of snow,
rolled with love and then stacked,
like glasses in a cupboard.
He stands watch over our yard,
a silent soldier,
his cheerful smile
frozen in place.
The students each chose an idea from our brainstorming of winter topics that we had created earlier in the unit, and began composing. They were very excited to get to the visual representation of their words, and were super engaged to try out various forms. Here are a few samples (with names blacked out):
I'm quite pleased with their first attempts, and can't wait to see what else they produce as they continue to write, revise and share. They still have lots of time to work on this during the week ahead. Their teacher is planning to have each student choose their favourite poem to publish and frame as a Christmas gift. Wouldn't that make a great addition to their home Christmas decor?
Have you ever tried concrete poetry writing with your students? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.
I've just been rereading Book Love by Penny Kittle, a book that deeply resonates within me regarding the necessity of teaching kids to love reading. For this reason, we must make time for independent reading in our classrooms - a time where kids read books OF THEIR OWN CHOOSING, and are not expected to respond to each and every book. A time to promote the love of reading!
Besides encouraging a love of books, independent reading provides opportunity for the teacher to observe students' engagement with their reading, and time for students to practice the reading skills they are working on. And there's one more important aspect...
Independent reading provides time for me to conference with students about their reading behaviours. While the class is reading, I often take this opportunity to have two-minute conversations with students about their books. Faye Brownie calls this the "whip-around" conference. I've taken information from Faye and Donalyn Miller (from her great book The Book Whisperer) to create a record that I use during whip-arounds to keep track of my observations. This form is available for download below.