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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books inside — and outside — of the classroom.
And the winner is...
The best known awards given to children's books were announced in January in Seattle. As most of you know, the Caldecott Medal is "awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year."
This year it was given to David Wiesner for his wordless but sophisticated sea and fish-filled images that create an intriguing, open-ended narrative.
Flotsam(Clarion, 2006) was on many people's short list for this honor. If you've seen frogs fly and pigs leave their traditional role with a wolf in hot pursuit over and through the pages of a book, well, you've met Wiesner's other Caldecott Medal winning books. (Tuesday won the 1992 Medal, The Three Pigs(both Clarion) was awarded the 2002 gold.).
Will Flotsam become a classic like Keats' Snowy Day, embraced by readers 40 years from now? Will the honor books, Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans (Walker) and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson and written by Carol Boston Weatherford (Jump at the Sun/Hyperion) appeal to future generations?
To "get" these books, really understand them, readers need to slow down and examine them, and then look again. In Flotsam, where do you go after the opening on the beach with the boy's find? And though the structure is familiar, Gone Wild isn't just any alphabet book; each letter presents a black & white cut-out of an endangered animal. Readers hear and see Harriet Tubman, sense her strength and bravery as they travel with her and her God on the Underground Railroad in Moses.... Who will really be able to cull meaning from these stunning books? It's worth thinking about, and may indeed create some conversation.
There will be more on the Caldecott next time but for a complete listing of the Caldecott (and other award winners in 2007), visit ALA.
And a Million More
How hard would it be to spend a million dollars? It might be more difficult than you think, especially hard if you were a kid and couldn't buy just a couple of big ticket items. That's just the premise of a funny and strangely plausible book by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Millions explores how difficult it is for two brothers to actually spend a huge sum of British pounds before the currency changes to the euro. It's a fast-paced, contemporary novel filled with quirky characters (including the narrator's obsession with the lives of saints), bad guys looking for their stolen money, and real family issues.
The possibilities of this book at home and in the classroom intrigue me. It could be related to math, social studies, and family life — just for starters.
Not only does Millions introduce the notion of that vast number we call a million, it could lead into the notion of coins and currencies (How many dollars would make a million pounds; how many euros will a British pound buy? What would your plan to spend a million dollars, pounds, or euros look like?); geography, people, and history (Where is England in relation to continental Europe? Why do different countries have different money systems — don't they all spend alike? How and why did these countries agree on the euro? What other changes has the euro brought to the different countries?).
And of course real life issues are imbedded naturally in Millions; kids see money every day and need to know how to handle money as well as compromises made, often over buying things (What is compromise? Have you ever made a compromise? How would you get all of the classes in your school — or all the members of your family — to compromise on an issue?). And all of this happens while the boys deal with family situations and may provide a way to talk about loneliness and emotions.
There are lots more books (maybe millions!) that introduce challenging ideas in exciting, playful ways. After all, kids count on the adults in their lives!
What makes a book a winner?
Later this month, the winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal will be announced at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). This honor will be determined by a group of 15 hardworking members of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
These people — a new group each year — have been pouring over books to name one title out of the 4500 or so children's books published during 2006. Their charge is to identify of "the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year."
In other words, this committee of 15 from around the country is trying to determine tomorrow's classic today.
A graduate student I know was intrigued by the idea of quantifying a book's "enduring quality". How well do past Caldecott winners hold up? Are they still read? In order to find out, she asked several library systems about use of a specific book — the 1963 Caldecott Medal winner, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Viking, 1962). Even though the numbers she received back were not scientific, they were based on actual use statistics. And the figures are truly amazing.
In a large urban library system, The Snowy Day was checked out almost 3000 times over the past 9 years or about 300 times every year. A suburban library system estimated that this title was checked out more than 3100 times during the past 5 or so years. These numbers suggest that a book — one that is older than most of the parents and teachers who use it with their children — is being checked out from a library almost every day.
Why? I think it's because Keats effectively captures a young child's thrill in a snow-covered landscape and the pleasure in playing in it. Keats' simple language and timeless illustrations present a joy that is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago.
We'll soon learn what the 2007 Caldecott Committee hopes will become the next picture book classic. If it holds the emotional essence that Keats captured in his book, it may just be; after all, Peter (and his snowy day) has become a recognizable old friend to several generations of readers.
A complete list of all Caldcott Medal winners and honors can be downloaded from ALA.
Millions -- more than just numbers!
Have you ever stopped to think about a million? This gigantic number creeps into our everyday language (Gee, a million thanks ... It took a million years to get there!). But what is it? And what do kids need to know about the notion of a million? Why should they care?
Frankly, I never thought about how much a million represented and am not sure I even cared. That is until I read a book called How Much is a Million? by David Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (HarperCollins, 1985). With Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician in the lead, a group of kids learn about and demonstrate the astounding, amazing, and engaging scope of a million, making the unfathomable more concrete.
Schwartz and Kellogg will engage even the most mathematically indifferent among us. The way they conceptualize a number beyond us is placed firmly within a child's grasp — and interests. For example, kids like to count but it would take 23 days to count to a million. A fishbowl big enough to hold a million goldfish would have room for a whale.
Engaging learners, allowing kids to solve problems creatively, making room for thinking outside of the proverbial box, this is what makes learning fun. And books can make that happen. In fact that's just what student teachers at Glasgow University discovered as they worked with elementary students. You can find this and other related articles in Today's Reading News.
I've got a million more ideas ... well, lots at least. But I'll share more thoughts on Millions some time in the future!
About stories, histories, and emotions
I've often wondered what adults can do to help children and young adults cope with complicated lives in a complicated world. Several things came together for me when I had a chance to spend some time with author Nikki Grimes.
In her recent novel, Road to Paris (Putnam, 2006), Nikki Grimes explores the meaning of home. For the main character named Paris, a girl who's named after a place, home isn't a place at all, it's a person. Paris and her older brother, Malcolm, are separated when they're placed in foster care — at least until their mother can get her life together again.
A lot of Nikki Grimes' story is in Paris'. Like Paris and Malcolm, Nikki was separated from her sister when placed in the foster care system. And like Paris, Nikki gained strength in the arts. For Paris, it's music and "keeping God in her pocket." For Nikki, it was writing and reading.
But writing and reading, music, and community, can provide coping skills for all kids, whether or not they're currently experiencing difficulty.
I've always thought that reading about other kids in rough circumstances not only allows readers to empathize, but also builds up a sort of emotional repertoire — to hold in reserve until needed.
Maybe reading about siblings like Malcolm and Paris prepares kids who are facing difficult challenges, perhaps reminding them that even tough times can come to an end. And it may even help kids find a way to share their own experiences.
Perhaps by offering young people ways to experience books and reading, we're helping them to better understand their complicated world.
Here we go!
It's a pleasure for me to enter the world of blogging for Reading Rockets. Like my colleague and sister Reading Rockets blogger, Joanne Meier, I find this a bit daunting.
I thought that Reading Rockets readers might want to know a bit about my background. I've been involved with children's literature and literacy for nearly my entire working life in several capacities: as a children's librarian, as the head of children's services in large library systems, as a teacher of children's literature for graduate students, and as a mother to a now teenaged son who continues to find time to read.
After all these many years, I still find children's literature exciting. Children's books are dynamic with the power to touch children and the adults in their lives and connect readers — young and old — in sometimes surprising ways.
In this blog, I hope to share some of my interests and ideas about children's books and ways that they can link, inspire and inform readers both young and mature. And maybe, just maybe, you'll share some of your ideas!