Monthly Archives: September 2017

In the Classroom: Using Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer! in an E. B. White Author Study

For decades I’ve been launching my 4th graders’ school year with an  E. B. White author study. You can read more about it here and find the materials for the students here. As you will see there is close reading, passionate essay writing, and art. I’ll still be doing all of that this year, but I’ve added in something new that I’m very excited about — Melissa Sweet’s glorious Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White.

As the children read or reread Charlotte’s Web at home in preparation for our close reading, in school we read Some Writer! together. I gave each child a copy of the book and they followed along as I read aloud, stopping frequently for us to marvel at the art, the primary sources, and the information. At the end of each chapter the children spent five minutes going back through it, taking notes on what seemed most interesting in terms of their forthcoming work with Charlotte’s Web.

This week they will be working in table groups to pull out their most significant, important, and related notes and put them into a Padlet, a digital workspace. These will then become another source for them when they begin their close reading of one chapter of Charlotte’s Web. I’m so excited to see what they’ve come up with and how it informs their explorations.

I’ll be back to let you know how it goes!

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Indie Press Spotlight #4

Today I wish to spotlight a wonderful, authentic, and original series — Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus books published in the US by Kane Miller.  As she writes about herself, Atinuke was “…born in Nigeria to a Nigerian university lecturer father and an English editor mother…” and spent her early years in Nigeria before heading off to a British boarding school at age ten. As for the books themselves, she writes:

I had been meaning to write those stories for years – ever since the homesickness of my boarding school days when I discovered how little children in the UK knew about Africa and even more so as a story teller when it was clear from children’s questions how little they still knew about the Africa that I am from.

I absolutely adore these books (my gushing post from a few years back is here) and so am delighted that the final four of the chapter book series (there are also picture books) have just been published in this country. They are as warm, insightful, and real as the previous ones. The illustrations by Lauren Tobias complement the text to perfection. I have yet to come across any other books that provide younger American readers a better way to learn about one child in one place in “Amazing Africa” as Atinuke always begins these in her delightful storytelling voice.

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The Complexities of Virtual Platforms When it Comes to the Newbery

Heavy Medal has a thoughtful post, debating the recent ouster of a Newbery Committee member for breaking rules related to social media. Here’s my comment:

This is such a dilemma. I started my blog in 2007 thinking naively that I’d feature a series on my Newbery reading (being on the 2008 Committee). Roger Sutton, on Caldecott, similarly had just started his blog. I remember vividly sitting with a bunch nascent bloggers at Midwinter that year where the Board was contemplating a rule that we could not blog at all. Happily they saw reason and we were allowed to blog non-award stuff. Since then I’ve watched the rules be strengthened and have puzzled about them. Why, I have wondered, can we talk in person about our preferences, but not online?

Sorting out what happened in this instance has helped me to understand. At first I was outraged, but then better understood how she had broken clearly delineated rules. And these conversations about what happened also makes it clear to me that for those with major social media following it is problematic to think of the platform in the same way as talking to a group of colleagues in RL. It is all that amplifying that is the problem. Your words go out to hundreds and thousands. So now sadly (because I too felt horrible for Angie) I better understand the need for this in some form. I look forward to seeing what the task force [established by ALSC president Nina Lindsay to revisit the guidelines] comes up with. Back in Roger’s and my day my sense was the Board was very vague on the nature of blogging, but now I assume there will be task force members who understand the situation thoroughly and thus trust their recommendations.

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Book Fest @ Bank Street College

New York, NY, September 13, 2017—On October 28th, Bank Street College of Education will host BookFest @ Bank Street, an annual event devoted to the celebration, discovery, and discussion of books for children and teens. This year, guests will hear from a number of renowned authors, illustrators, editors, reviewers, and scholars from the children’s literature community in a series of panel discussions, thought-provoking presentations, and interactive small group book discussions. The event, which is intended for adults, will take a closer look at the unique and often award-winning approaches of some of the most celebrated names in children’s literature. Notable panelists will include six time Caldecott winner David Wiesner, author of Flotsam and Tuesday; Newbery medalist Rita Williams Garcia, author of Gone Crazy in Alabama; and Coretta Scott King winner, Carole Boston Weatherford. Children’s literature scholar Leonard Marcus will deliver a lecture on “Golden Legacy: The Story of Golden Books,” and the day will culminate in a
special keynote presentation by Carmen Agra Deedy, author of The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!.

Book discussion groups will center on topics in early childhood and adolescent categories such as middle grade and young adult titles, information books and graphic novels, and bilingual picture books, among others. Local children’s literature experts, reviewers, and teachers will lead the sessions. Attendees will be assigned to read the book that corresponds to their group prior to the event to prepare for deep discussion. Books by authors and artists will be available for purchase from the Bank Street Bookstore at the event.

The event, which has sold out in each of the past seven years, has limited seating for media who wish to attend. For a complete list of panels and moderators, please visit

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On This First Day of School Remembering one Sixteen Years Ago

It was the first day of school for my new cohort of fourth graders here in our New York City private school.  Those kids are now moving on with their lives and the ones I’m going to meet in a few hours were not alive back then. But they will find a mascot of sorts in the classroom — ladybugs. I will hid 18 of them and when they come into the classroom each child will be required to find one. That will relax them and give me a chance to explain the ladybugs.

Why Ladybugs?

Because September 11, 2001 was the first day of school for Ms. Edinger’s fourth graders. They walked into her classroom that morning to discover a surprise — good luck chocolate ladybugs on their desks. They were delighted and happy, looking forward to a new school year. But then the planes hit the towers and everything changed.

For a long time after that nothing felt right at the school and in New York City. For weeks there were bomb threats, anthrax scares, helicopters hovering, jets zooming overhead, sudden-street-closings, the sound of police sirens, the National Guard everywhere, and frightening emergency evacuations unnerving everyone all the time. When the class finally had a week when nothing scary happened, Ms. Edinger gave each child another chocolate ladybug and explained how they were a symbol of good luck. For many of the children, this was so important that they kept those ladybugs in their desks all year. Many kept them for years after and may still have them for that matter.

To help the rest of the world better understand what it was like for these New York City children, Ms. Edinger wrote about them on several Internet list serves she was on. She was also invited to write an article for the London Times Educational Supplement which you can read here. And when people read about how important those good luck ladybugs were for her students they started sending them and the room became filled with them.

Ever after ladybugs have been a symbol for Ms. Edinger’s class. Her room is full of them!

Writing about Child_lit last week had me remembering the solace I received from that community on 9/11; you can get a taste in this anniversary post I wrote in 2008.

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In the Classroom: First Day of School Reading

Whew — coming back to school after being away on sabbatical is exhausting! I did expect it to be given the more leisurely lifestyle I had so it wasn’t a surprise, but still….  I hope I can keep my resolution to continue my writing even as the school takes over more and more every bit of my thinking.

The good news is that getting my room in order (and I am so so grateful to our building staff who helped me unpack and shelve my many books), reconnecting with colleagues, and learning about my new students has me excited for tomorrow, our first day.

As always, I’ve put a lot of thought into the first books I will read. There are the ice-breaker picture books I read right away to get the kids to relax and chuckle. They will be the same as last year: Adam Rex and Christian Robinson’s School’s First Day of School, Jared Chapman’s Steve, Raised by Wolves, and  Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School.  

And then there is the first read-aloud for the year. I’ve decided it will be Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth. I’m a huge fan of this author (who needs to be more embraced in the US) and have been reading his Cosmic aloud yearly for a long time. This new one is a total charmer (here’s a Q & A I did with Frank about it) and I can’t wait to begin.

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In Memoriam: Child_lit

Born in late September of 1993, Child_lit was one of the first online discussion groups about children’s literature. Founded and maintained for twenty-four years by Rutger’s University rare book librarian Michael Joseph, it quickly became a community of individuals from many walks of life. Academics, booksellers, editors, publishers, librarians, writers, collectors, educators, illustrators, reviewers, publicists, and more interacted in this virtual space.

The Web was new in those days and social media as we know it now non-existent. Interacting virtually was also new for many on Child_lit, but we jumped in with enthusiasm, having intense conversations on a wide variety of topics. When issues arose in older media these became fodder for our discourse. Those there at the time are unlikely to forget a heated discussion provoked by Philip Pullman‘s 1998 Guardian article, “The Dark Side of Narnia” in which he fiercely articulated his distaste for Lewis’s series. In the midst of our conversation about the article we suddenly all received an email; it was from Philip asking how to join. He did and was an active and enthusiastic participant for many years. While the official archive is gone, Roxanne Feldman  captured some of our wonderful early conversations and has posted them here.

One of the wisest members of Child_lit was the illustrious Julius Lester. Regularly he wrote sage posts that gave everyone much to think about and often calmed us down as well. A conversation about Little Black Sambo inspired him to write Sam and the Tigers which he dedicated to the list serve. When I wrote of never having really read the Bible he sent me a copy. Another who taught us a great deal over the years was Debbie Reese. I well remember the dismay she voiced about racism her third grade daughter encountered at school; she subsequently was invited by Horn Book Magazine editor Roger Sutton to write the article, “Mom, Look! It’s George and He’s a TV Indian!” Debbie eventually started the critically important American Indians in Children’s Literature. 

For many of us in those early days it was an exciting time. I organized convention panels, drink gatherings, and restaurant meals. The very first was with Michael and a few others at the St. Regis King Cole bar, famed for its Maxfield Parrish mural. One of the most memorable for me was when a large group gathered to have brunch and then walk through Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Gates in Central Park.

The international aspect of the list was exhilarating.  I have a handful of saved posts and emails interacting with Sanjay Sircar who was in Australia. In real life I met another Australian Judith Ridge when she was traveling through the U. S. on a fellowship and British Jane Stemp Wickenden who took me to the Trout during a visit to Oxford. Then there was Philip Pullman who visited my home and entertained me more than once in Oxford. There were challenging times too (9/11 was one I remember vividly); we lost members to illness (I think of Ernie Bond, Kay Vandergrift, Chris Saad, Micki Nevett, and Karen Sue Simonetti); we also celebrated members’ achievements.

Over the years, people came and went. Blogs, Twitter and other forms of online interactions became familiar and popular. Similar lists ended, but Child_lit soldiered on. Until founder Michael Joseph decided its time was over. And while the original child_lit may be gone, it is still alive in other forms such as the children’s literature-UK group and a Facebook group.

For me, personally and professionally, Child_lit was one of the most important experiences of my life. It connected me to a world that I had not previously known I could enter. It taught me to write — when I was misunderstood I tried again and again — it made me a writer. It gave me dear friends. Ten years ago I wrote a post celebrating two individuals who changed my life, one of them Michael Joseph. I am not generally a sentimental or nostalgic person, but when it comes to Child_lit I am. It meant the world to me.


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Animals or People — Which Make Kids More Giving?

The article “Only Children’s Books With Humans, Have Moral Impact” has me rolling my eyes and snorting. To be fair, what caused my irritation wasn’t the article, but the study it featured (which can be read in an academic paper here).  And why am I so annoyed? Because I think the study is meaningless. The researchers asked some kids to do a task involving sharing stickers before and after reading them a book. They found that directly after hearing a book featuring animals the children were more selfish than when they listened to one featuring people. Did they check in a day later, a week later, a month later? Not to the best of knowledge. And if not, what does this prove? That little kids are briefly more selfish in one case of hearing a story featuring people than animals? I could have told them that kids can be temporarily more selfish after many situations. What matters if they are more or less selfish in the future and this study didn’t address that.
Count me a very big skeptic on this one.

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