Friday, June 28, 2013

Wordless Picture Books Build Verbal and Interpretive Skills, and Visual Literacy

Let's face it, reading rocks! And learning to read is critical to every student's academic success. But...enter the wordless picture book.

When I first saw Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse, I gasped at the beauty of it. Then I bought it. It lacks the beautiful language that so often draw me to picture books, but the visuals are beautiful enough for both. (Here's a YouTube video of Pinkney discussing the making of this masterpiece.)

So what happens when an adult "reads" a wordless picture book to a child? First of all, unlike the reading of a traditional picture book, the words used reading a wordless picture book vary each time it's read, thus increasing the number words the child is exposed to through that book. Not only does this child hear a greater quantity of words, but he is also exposed to a greater number of different ways to express the same meaning.

Picture books also allow for slight differences in the story line of the story. While one person may tell the story primarily from one character's point of view, in another reading, a different character's  point of view may be emphasized.

As children read wordless picture books to themselves, they take their prior knowledge and create an internal dialog, retelling the story to themselves, taking the visual cues from the pictures--they are interpreting the visuals--another critical skill.

Eye Magazine's Clare Walters writes:
So how is a wordless picture book actually ‘read’? The picture book theorist Perry Nodelman says the process is ‘something like doing a puzzle … we must search for clues and put together apparently disparate bits of information’ (Words About Pictures, 1988), in order to recreate the story or stories the artist has chosen to portray.
Classroom Implications: Use wordless picture books in the classroom to learn about Point of View in writing. First, read and compare a traditional version of The Three Little Pigs and Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which is told from the wolf's point of view. Create a Venn diagram of the stories--a free one is here. Now, have your students write the story of the Lion and the Mouse, taking one of the two points of view. Allow some students to share writing, and continue the point of view discussion.

Still another use--provide the class with different wordless picture books and allow students to write the story. This takes the "story-line invention" out of the equation, and allows students the chance to concentrate on the words they use to write the story.

Do you use wordless picture books in your classroom? If so, how?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ten Reasons Author Visits are Valuable to Schools

Across the United States, many schools invite an author or illustrator to visit their school on a regular basis--many do so once each year. So what are the benefits of an author visit?

1) Author visits excite kids about reading. After all, when the whole school is abuzz with the news of an impending visit, and a lot of kids are chatting about certain books, and when there's even a chance to get a signed book when the author arrives, well...the excitement spreads!

2) Author visits create an opportunity to get a "special" book into the hands of students through book sales to the kids. Not all schools include a book sale, but most do. Schools find that parents are often willing to purchase a visiting author's book, and so it's a great way to get children's print material in the home. Schools generally purchase some books for their school library as well, which is another way to get those "special" books into kids' hands.

3) Authors have the chance to pass on writing tips to students. Kids often ask how author get their ideas, and idea generation can be a toughie when students find themselves with a writing assignment. Many authors have other writing tips to offer that kids take to heart. After all, an author is an expert writer, right?

4) Authors can help kids to understand that what students do in the classroom is really very much like what authors do in the working world--especially if authors discuss their writing, and rewriting process.

5) Author visits often encourage kids to try books they normally wouldn't try. For example, if a student has no interest in nonfiction, but a nonfiction author visits, that student will more likely than not have exposure to that author's nonfiction work. And, given the connection the student has with the author, it's possible that the nonfiction book will be embraced by the student, changing their attitude that genre.

6) Author visits give kids the chance to hear their teachers' lessons affirmed by an "expert" or "authority," the author. This goes a long way in supporting the work of the teacher.

7) Authors can sometimes shed light on the teaching of writing which can benefit the teachers in the school. Authors have the opportunity to be in a great number of schools and can see first hand what techniques are working and what are not. 

8) Author visits can recharge teachers' excitement over books, reading, and writing. With so many things to tug at a teachers' attention, this refocusing can be a good thing.

9) Likewise, author visits can inspire teachers to be writers. Many teachers have a secret desire to write children's books, and visiting with an author, especially one who encourages them to pursue that dream can be a shot in the arm. This is not only good for morale, but excitement is catching, so a teacher who is serious about and excited about her own writing, models that, thus encouraging it in her students.

10) Finally, author visits give kids the very exciting opportunity to meet someone famous. (At least in their minds!) 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Teaching Colors, Camouflage, and Books


Those who know me, know I love the book Mouse Paint, by Ellen Stoll Walsh.

I remember being fascinated, as a child, by mixing colors to make other colors. Stranger still, for me, was that some colors aren't made by others at all. They just are.

Wow! Those three primary colors were like the Color Gods in my mind. They were the beginning of all other colors. I remember spending time on the back porch on a summer's day mixing the colors of my crayons, and asking my artist mother over and over what to mix to make orange, green and purple, until I could remember them myself.

But back to Mouse Paint. What fun to play in the paints to mix colors. After all, these mice are so darn cute that who could resist those little pink feet dancing in the colors? And the stakes are high because, after all, there is a cat.This book leaves adults and children alike wanting to get out the paints to try it themselves--the mixing, not the dancing in them. And why not?

To play along, I have this free mouse image here for you and your littles to paint on. Print it on white
paper to simulate the mice in the book (and so your paints will appear truer in color).

Now, want to make some strong science connections as well? Talk to your kids about the mice hiding on the white page. Tell them there really are animals in the world that use their natural colors to hide. We call this camouflage. The Discovery Channel has a great set of photos showing amazing animal camouflage here. Look out your window and help your kids to notice camouflaged animals outside: squirrels are the color of tree bark, many birds are soft brown that help them blend in with trees and brush. Rabbits too.

Here's another adorable color-mixing book--this one featuring a white rabbit:

White Rabbit's Color Book by Alan Baker

Here are some great camouflage books:

 What Color is Camouflage? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science, Stage 2) by Carolyn B. Otto, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd--Gentle text (though it does talk about predators and prey, and animals being hunted by others) with great illstrations that demonstrate how animals really do blend into their surroundings.

Where in the Wild?" Camouflaged Creates Concealed...and Revealed by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy--Beautiful photos of animals "hiding in plain sight," coupled with poetry. This book also has a lot of nonfiction about the animals featured, making it a great resource for reports.

Here's a free hands-on color work and camouflage lesson packet for the beginning readers. If you're
looking for something older, I'll have an Animals Adaptations/Camouflage lesson soon at my Teacher's Store here.

Mouse Paints is a great introduction to colors and the concept camouflage as an animal adaptation. I'd love to here your experiences with  these topics in your classroom!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Visiting Author's Guide to State Standards and the Common Core.

Authors who spend time in schools these days hear about the Common Core. We want our visits to be worthwhile to schools, and that means it needs to fit into the school's mandated standards.

Just what is the Common Core?

The Common Core, sometimes referred to as CCSS (Common Core State Standards), is a compilation of learning benchmarks that students should master at certain grade levels. It is called the Common Core because, while educational standards are determined on a state level, this was created in the hopes that all states would adopt it, bringing continuity to school systems throughout the country--something that would benefit students who move from place to place as they grow up. In a society as transient as ours, such a thing makes a lot of sense.

Who has adopted the Common Core?

So far, forty-four states, the District of Columbia, and four territories have adopted these standards.

What does the Core contain?

The Common Core contains English and Mathematical standards for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Wait! That's all?

Some people are surprised to learn that not all subjects are covered in the Common Core. Science, Social Studies and The Arts are not covered by it. They do exist, but for these standards, a person must look state-by-state to find them.

What's a visiting author to do?

First of all, know the Common Core. Find your book's and your presentation's place in it. After all, if your don't in some way support these standards, what's the school's incentive to have you visit? The best way to do this is to go to Click on the English Language Arts Standards. It will take you to a page that looks like this:

To the left, you can see a list of click-able choices. The top is the Introduction. Beneath that is "Anchor Standards." Anchor standards will give you an overview of what the educational system is looking for in the long run, but it is the list below that, Reading: Literature; Reading:Informational Text; Reading: Foundational Skills; Writing; Speaking and Listening; and Language that will be broken down by grade level.

I urge you to click on the grade-level standards, read them, and think about how your book, and more importantly, your Author Visit, fits into these standards.

Most Authors do at least one large group presentation. But if you also do smaller, grade-level groups, look at what the standards require of these groups and tweak your workshops or break-out groups to meet the kids' needs.

Going back to the Standards Page, if you click on the Mathematics Standards instead, you will find the choices broken down by grade-level there. Presenters can often make math connections. Does your book deal with speed?  That's math. Does it deal with something growing? That's math. Look again for how your book connects to these subjects and think about how you might utilize this in your presentation to support the school teaching.

You may have noticed that below the grade-level English Language Arts  there is a section called "Grades 6-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects."

 If you present  to this age group, click on it--there are some interesting things there that you can make connections with.

But what if your book has a strong science, social studies, or arts theme? For these I suggest going to the state education site where you most often visit and find correlations between your book and the state standards, and your presentation and the state standards. Google, "___(your state here)___ academic standards," or "___(your state here) Department of Education Standards" to find the site.

On your website, you may want to list the standards that you support through your school visit presentations. This makes it easy for administrators to justify both the expense and the time spent with you at their school.

Reading promotes literacy. Author visits promote reading. But to letting schools know that you understand and take their standards seriously may just promote you.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Picture books to Aid Upper Elementary Writing

PBS has a terrific PDF here about the validity of using picture books in the upper elementary classroom. 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders sometimes have a tough time connecting what they do as writers to "real world" writing. While their writing projects may span a handful of pages, they are reading full length novels--thus the disconnect. Picture books are a similar length to what students are writing. They contain that all-important beginning, middle and end, and they are well edited for conventions. Isn't that what we are asking our students to do everyday?

In the publishing industry, picture books are sometimes referred to as "lap books." In other words, they are meant to be read to a child, not by a child. Because of this, the language used in them can be at a much higher reading level than the child's. While these books are short, they are not necessarily "easy reads," so teachers needn't worry that their students are reading too far "below" them. And even if students were reading "below" them, these kids are learning about story structure, conventions, and that short pieces really are real-world writing--it validates the students' own work.

Sidebars, which I personally love, have become increasingly common in publishing. Often seen as a small box at the side of the page, these snippets of information are there for readers when they are ready for them. The reader can choose to interrupt the story to gain further knowledge, or s/he can wait until the story is done and then go back to read them.

Have you tried sidebars with your writers? This could be a great way to have students work on narrative writing while incorporating nonfiction writing in it as well. Check out April Pulley Sayre's book, Here Come the Humpbacks. It tells the story of humpback whales as they journey through the sea, and sidebars, cleverly formatted in the Jamie Hogan's gorgeous illustrations rather than in boxes, give interesting facts about these great creatures.

I can see a bulletin board now--pages of narrative nonfiction, beautifully illustrated by the students with sidebars incorporated into the illustration. What fun! For even more fun, have the kids cover the sidebars with an illustration piece that flips over to reveal the information. Perhaps a piece of construction paper that depicts coral flips up and beneath it is an interesting fact about coral.

Picture books really are a valuable aid to the writers in upper elementary school. And if you implement any of these ideas in your classroom, I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Otis and The Tornado

It was a fitful night in the upper Midwest with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Here in my particular neck of the woods we fared well, but I woke thinking of the destructive force of nature...and of Otis.

I had the great joy of hearing author/illustrator Loren Long speak at a conference a few years back. He shared sketches he'd done while working on the first Otis, and the transformation he made from the first tractor images (rather stiff and toy-like) to his final tractor images that stretch and move and practically jump off the page! He also talked about being a lover of film, and trying to think like a cinematographer as he imagined scenes before putting pencil to paper. This shows in his always interesting final art.

Otis and the Tornado is a charming book about friendship, emergency, doing the right thing, and through that, developing more and deeper friendships. But that's just the beginning.

In the classroom, Otis and the Tornado is an opening to talk with students about weather--especially scary weather and how to stay safe. It's a must-read for Severe Weather Safety Week, and that time when teachers and students in tornado-prone areas must do tornado drills.

As a science experiment
, students can make a tornado in a bottle--there are a number of lesson on the web with instructions on how to do this using 2 liter bottles, tape, and water. PBS Kids has a good one here.

For younger kids, Loren Long has a coloring page, maze, and other printables on his site here.

This book could be used as a mentor text for writing in the classroom as well. Have students write about a severe weather situation they have been in and what they did. Encourage them to write about how it felt to be there (both emotionally and physically--this is a good chance to write about what the five senses experienced), and how it resolved in the end. You could have your students read these aloud and discuss their feelings.

The weather has move out from here, but with all the severe weather in the news these days, there will be plenty of times when this warm and fuzzy book will be appropriate to pull off the shelf.

I wish you all a safe summer!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Hello and welcome to my blog, Authors and Illustrators in Schools, where I'll talk about how teachers can help their students make real connections with authors and illustrators to promote literacy. I'll highlight individual authors and illustrators and will feature ideas and freebies to extend student engagement and learning. I'll also have tips for those teacher who would like to enter the publishing world, will post about what's happening in the industry, and how it will affect your classroom. For authors and illustrators, I'll be a resource to help you make your school visits meaningful and educational for the students you see. I hope you'll join me so we can make literacy connections, one classroom at a time!