Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Year(s) in Review - Part 2

The many authors and educators who have spoken in the children's room naturally didn't stop doing interesting things after they visited our Children's Room. (The Bear Pond talk was undoubtedly a high point, though).

Here are some updates about previous speakers. . . .we'll get to everyone eventually, but for now let's start with these:

Duncan McDougall - Boys & Books (2014)

Duncan spoke with us about a year ago about the work of his organization, the Children's Literacy Foundation (CLiF), to engage more boys in reading. CLiF works with children, parents, and communities across Vermont and New Hampshire through a variety of reading programs for low income and at-risk children. This year, we're supporting CLiF with our Book Bears program. Purchase a book to donate in the month of December, and you'll receive 15% off the price (and we'll deliver it to CLiF). Read more in the Latest News from the Children's Room.

Tanya Lee Stone - Combining Passion & Research (2013)

Tanya recently celebrated a contract for publication of her 100th book, Girl Rising. We posted about that event in October. This post includes information on the creation of her book Courage Has No Color, which she had recently completed when she came to speak at Bear Pond. Courage Has No Color is on this year's Dorothy Canfield Fisher list and VPR profiled it this month in their Dorothy's List series.

Linda Urban - The Center of Everything (2013)  

Linda Urban came to Bear Pond Books for a launch party, with donuts, for The Center of Everything. The Center of Everything is on this year's DCF list (Linda's Dorothy's List profile will air this March). Kate Messner, another Bear Pond series speaker, reviewed The Center of Everything for the Nerdy Book Club last March, and Linda appeared again in the Nerdy Book Club pages just last week. Her book Hound Dog True provided part of the original inspiration behind Nerdy Book Club, which celebrates children's literature with daily posts by hundreds of contributors. And right now (in December) Linda is organizing folks for Write 30 Daily - a month of meeting daily writing goals. It's a great framework for writers of all varieties to practice writing and making time for creative work in their daily lives. You can check out posts on her blog (lindaurbanbooks.com/journal) and/or look for #Write30Daily on Twitter. 

Gail Gibbons & Abbie Nelson - Agriculture in the Classroom (2013) 

Another Nerdy Book Club related item - we recently contributed a post called Top 10 Books for Making Lunch, that offered a list of food related picture books, inspired by a visit from Gail Gibbons and Abbie Nelson last November.

Rebecca Rupp - Nonfiction with Personality (2013)

Staying a little bit longer on the food theme . . . we've enjoyed following Rebecca Rupp's series of articles for The Plate, National Geographic's food blog. Her combination of food, history and science has covered everything from how to eat like a pirate to why a pea might possibly have once kept a princess awake. Also, in a non-food-related update, her book After Eli appeared on last year's DCF list and was profiled by VPR in April. Now that we're on our third reference to Dorothy's List, we hope it is clear that we're very happy VPR started to produce this series.

Kate Messner - Writing Workshop (2014)  

Why even bother to try to stay current? Every time we turn around Kate has a new teacher's resource, an important project (like the Great Greene Heist Challenge) that she's rallying folks behind, and of course (happily) a new book of her own. We recommend her blog and website at www.katemessner.com. She has a new middle grade novel All The Answers coming out this winter. As part of the book tour, she will be giving workshops at local schools that include not only reading from the book, but also a look at the process of writing it. We'll be interviewing Kate about All The Answers, and her work with schools, for an in-depth article to post in February.

S.S. Taylor - Writing Workshop (2014) 

Sarah Stewart Taylor visited just the other month to lead a writing workshop at Bear Pond. . . and yet we already have an update. Sarah and her illustrator Katherine Roy have a new three-part post / article "Behind the Scene" about how they created three scenes from the Expeditioners. In case you've missed just how much the book making process info on Katherine's blog tickles us, here is a good place to start. Even better - Katherine is coming the store on February 7th to talk about her own series of science-related picture books and the larger topic of visual learning. That's at 11:00 am in the Children's Room and all calendars should be marked right now.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Year(s) in Review Part I

We're open to (occasionally demanding of) feedback on our author-educators series at the Bear Pond Books Children's Room. One result of last year's input is a greater emphasis on possible activities to use in the classroom. You'll see in our write up of Jason Chin & Deirdre Gill's presentation on Pictures Books Inspired by Nature that we split the article between a general summary and one focused on learning activities. 

We'll continue to experiment with this emphasis in future blog posts. Retrospectively, we bring you this round up of earlier talks with quick notes on the information they contain related to activities you might create in your own classes, programs, or personal study of different subjects. 

Meg Allison - Why Fairy Tales Still Matter (2014)
  • Building stories from the common elements of Fairy Tales . . . these elements provide the foundation for a lot of the stories around us, not only fairy tales.
  • Exploring the stories behind the doors of Moretown, as inspired by the many doors and doorways that caught Meg's eye as she traveled through the fairy tale locales of Europe

Grace Greene - Picture Books & Early Literacy (2012); Dorothy Canfield Fisher List (2014)
  • Using picture books to learn about how stories are structured - includes using critical analysis of picture books for teaching older students.
  • Resources for using the DCF list in the classroom.

David Martin - Picture Books & Early Literacy (2012), Bad Jokes & Early Learning (2013)
  • Using rhymes, poems, silly songs to help kids play around with words and anticipate what word is coming up.
  • Turning books into games / acting books out in the classroom.
  • Background resources on learning through play

Duncan McDougall, Dan Green, Derek Cote - Boys & Books (2014)
  • Links to many resources for strategies to engage more boys in reading.

Kate Messner & Jo Knowles - Writing Workshop (2014) 
  • Overview of tools Kate uses in her revision process, including different types of timelines and maps.
  • Jo's technique of using storyboards to review the pacing, character appearances, focus, overall storyline of a book. 
  • Writing prompts
  • Writing exercise for generating new topic ideas

Abbie Nelson & Gail Gibbons - Agriculture in the Classroom (2013)
  • An overview of resources from organizations participating in Food Education Every Day, which emphasizes combining cafeteria, classroom and community as students learn about food.
Rebecca & Josh Rupp - Nonfiction with Personality (2013) 
  • Developing a voice for nonfiction (versus voice-less technical writing) in the middle grades 
  • Using writers' notebooks to build a world of ideas, with context for each idea, then cut down ("cut until you can't cut any more") to reach the essence of a story.
  • Handout on writing exercises.

Leda Schubert - Picture Books & Early Literacy (2012)
  • Prompting questions to lead through research of a subject. . .  and then lead from that research to stories.
  • Examples of good use of citations / resources / references in picture books (. . . which led to our later soap box speech in the October 2014 Materials Review about nonfiction books that do not include these elements).

Tanya Lee Stone - Combining Passion & Research (2013)
  • Choosing topics for writing (ie things you care about)
  • Examples of tracking down new information, looking in new places for information as part of research behind a writing project.
  • This earlier post about Tanya discusses taking a critical eye to what a writer can really say for certain about a topic and what is conjecture. 

S.S. Taylor - Writing Workshop (2014)
  • Exercise for imagining characters, situations, and tensions that lead to stories.
  • Experimenting with the opening for a book / story.
J&P Voelkel - Successful Author Classroom Visits (2013)
  • Resources for effectively using author visits as part of lesson plans. 
  • An author visit checklist for a smooth event.

Natalie Kinsey Warnock & Jenny Land - Family and Place (2013)
  • Using historical objects as story prompts - including a handout of sample questions.
  • Classroom-wide projects to learn local stories and history, includes research that goes back to original sources.
  • Introduction to Natalie's Storykeepers curriculum.
  • Bibliography of resources for researching family and place history in Vermont.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Top 10 Books for Making Lunch

We're excited that the Nerdy Book Club featured a Top 10 List that was a joint collaboration with Helen & Jane this past Saturday:

Top 10 Books for Making Lunch

This post is based on our 2013 November Educators event for Agriculture in the Classroom Month, when we were joined by Abbie Nelson (of VT-FEED) and Gail Gibbons (picture book author). You can read an article on their workshop here.

The Nerdy Book Club offers a new post every day on the topic of books for children and young adults. It's maintained, and contributed to, by people who love reading! (That sentence felt like it needed an exclamation point, for no particular reason). Today they turned three and have a new post about the experience of the last three years that's a good introduction to the site if you've never visited before.

We'd like to point out that local author Linda Urban's book Hound Dog True helped inspire the creation of the Nerdy Book Club blog. The blog's founders thought that Linda's book, like many books they personally recommended to readers, didn't receive the recognition they deserved . . . so they set up a place to talk about those books. They also award the Nerdies every year to favorite books. And it's time now to nominate books for the next Nerdies. The ballot is open until December 20th if you have titles you'd like to nominate!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Deirdre Gill & Jason Chin Part II: Activities

On Saturday, November 15th, the author-illustrators Jason Chin (Gravity, Redwoods, Island, Coral Reefs) and Deirdre Gill (debut picture book Outside) joined our author series to talk about how they're inspired by nature and in turn translate that inspiration into picture books that encourage young readers to explore the outdoors. See Part I here.

Many parts of the processes author-illustrators Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill follow to create their picture books also translate into activities that work for students, teaching writing and drawing skills, as well as science.

Making Visual Analogies
The last post discussed how Jason worked to find visual comparisons to help his readers understand  unfamiliar places and things, such as comparing the statue of liberty to a redwood tree to describe the tree's height. When he visits classrooms with his books, he often sees that they've taken their own visual approaches to conveying information about the places described in his books.

In one school, a class turned the entry to their classroom into a redwood trunk - both a fun project and also a chance to show how wide a redwood grows, as they measured off the diameter of their constructed tree. Other classrooms used Jason's Coral Reefs, which describes the different parts of a coral reef, as the foundation for projects. One teacher built a representation of the reef structure, and students used clay to first create creatures that you would find in a reef, and then put their figures in the appropriate parts of the larger reef. Another class did the same but with a mural of a reef where students illustrated different sections. Taking time to recreate this ecosystem also gives time to ask questions about it and wonder (then discover) how the different parts fit together.

Practicing Close Observation through Drawing

On the topic of creating creatures, Jason brings both a sketch book and camera on all his research trips. Photos capture details to be examined later, but drawing is a way to observe closely and build rich memories of what he's seeing. Plus, it doesn't have to be great art - he's learning through the process of creating the pictures. Anyone can use drawing to focus themselves on careful observation of an object or place. For another example, check out these sketches (sets one and two) from Katherine Roy, made in the Museum of Natural History. Katherine, author of Neighborhood Sharks is coming to talk more about research + drawing in February.

From Katherine Roy's sketch book - her next picture book is about elephants

Taking a Creative Look at Common Objects

Deirdre's work writing Outside included more than thirty drafts and thousands of sketches. It also offers a great example of combining unfettered creativity and critical thinking about the craft of writing and illustrating.

One core part of Deirdre's work was transforming familiar objects outside into something magical. In this case the snowy landscape, but the same could be done for any month of the year. And you don't need a few thousand sketches to simply play around with this concept of making something magical from something ordinary. In fact, it doesn't even need to be drawing - the snow castle in Deirdre's book began as clay and her book launch party included crafting snow creatures from soap.


Using Pictures to Plot a Story
Deirdre's work figuring out the story for her book echoed what we've heard in earlier writing workshops. For example, she began with two ideas: remembering what she loved from playing in the snow as a child and the character of a boy who wants to get his family's attention. The boy wanting to get attention provided tension, which she knew propelled the story, but it became distracting from what she wanted to accomplish with providing a sense of wonder and that ". . .the quiet possibilities of playing outside are endless. . .there is magic in being outside." Hence the many drafts as she found the right balance for her starting concept.

Deirdre used sketches to figure out the balance and rhythm of her story. Some of her drawings were practice in creating the images she wanted, some were quick thumbnails figuring out the pacing of the book. We've seen that use of sketches for pacing even in books that include no pictures at all. For example, last spring Jo Knowles shared her exercises for plotting her own young adult novels using  pictures. Her example also demonstrated you don't need to be great at drawing to benefit from the practice of drawing scenes from your story (Jo said that, not us, we're sure she could be a great illustrator if she put her mind to it. . . )

All of the authors who have spoken in our series have their own take on tools to connect with kids to help them both remember information and feed the curiosity to discover more. They all share common elements of telling stories and creating emotional connections. We'll collect everyone's ideas next month in our end of year review blog posts.

Don't forget, our author-educator speaker series starts up again in 2015 with Laurel Neme (Orangutan Houdini, Animal Investigators and contributor to National Geographic) on January 24th at 11:00 am talking about creating global connections in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deirdre Gill & Jason Chin - Creating Stories that Explore Nature

On Saturday, November 15th, the author-illustrators Jason Chin (Gravity, Redwoods, Island, Coral Reefs) and Deirdre Gill (debut picture book Outside) joined our author series to talk about how they're inspired by nature and in turn translate that inspiration into picture books that encourage young readers to explore the outdoors. 

Deirdre Gill's first picture book, Outside, tells the story of a bored little boy who can't convince his family to pay attention to him and so he goes outside. . . where he creates adventures for himself. Her one-sentence summary "A lonely boy steps outside to play in the snow and finds magic, in the end his brother joins him and the adventures start anew."

She began her book with a memory of how it felt to play outside in the snow when she was a kid. The W.B. Yeats quote in the opening pages, which she kept at her desk while creating the book, captures the spirit of that memory:

The world is full of magic things,
Patiently waiting
For our senses to grow sharper.

Deirdre wanted to communicate the emotions of being outside through her pictures - filling notebooks with over 5,000 sketches as she explored characters, setting, and how that setting transforms in the boy's imagination to a land of snow creatures, dragons, and castles. She used photographs, a clay model of the castle the boy builds, and a lot of just trying out different approaches to create the world of her book.

Actual tree
Actual Tree
Snow Creature Tree
The feedback that Deirdre is getting from teachers, and from educators in our audience Saturday, is that the idea her book captures of kids' free time to go outside and just explore the natural world is essential to overall learning. Sometimes that free outdoors time becomes lost in our daily schedules.

While Deidre began with a familiar place for her wintertime landscape, Jason's books have focused on places far away from his childhood experience, like the redwood forests, Galapagos Islands, and coral reefs. (Technically the gravity in Gravity was part of his childhood experience). That meant he faced the challenge of starting with a topic that interested him but that he didn't necessarily know much about, traveling to that place and learning about it, then translating that back to children who probably have never visited those places themselves.

Jason got the idea for his first book from reading about scientists studying the redwoods. He was reading an article on a NYC subway train - the boy in his book has a similar experience, finding a book about redwoods on the subway. But when the fictional boy steps out of his subway stop, he's been transported to the redwood forest. After Jason got a contract for this book, he and Deirdre traveled west to visit the redwoods. Their campsite flooded and in the morning, after the rains, the forest was filled with mist and felt mysterious and ancient and magical. Jason tried to capture those feelings in the illustrations of the book, alongside descriptions of the science.

When Jason visits a place, he absorbs the details through both taking photographs and drawing observations in his sketch book (a sketch from the Galapagos Islands is featured below). The sketch book isn't a place to create a perfect picture of what he sees - the process of drawing means that he's paying close attention to his environment and developing a rich memory of it.

To communicate these experiences back to his readers, Jason looks for ways to connect to kids' broader experience. So, for example, he used the Statue of Liberty as a visual comparison to the height of a redwood (FYI - the tree is six stories taller). That analogy offers a specific, concrete connection. The framework of  Redwoods - the book within a book - also establishes a connection with any child who reads about a place and imagines they're there. For his book about the Galapagos (Island) Jason built the framework of the island as a character. The book then follows that character through birth, childhood, adulthood and old age. He says he knew he'd succeeded in connecting with his readers through that parallel when one student explained how sad he felt when the Island sank.

The strategies Jason uses to create his books add up to an ability to not only talk about a specific place, but also explain larger theories. The ages of the island, for example, help kids (and adults) conceptualize 6 million years. His newest book, Gravity, tackles a truly abstract scientific idea while it uses pictures of a series of objects falling (or not falling) to tell a visual story. Readers can follow the objects from a starting scene of a child on a beach through the pages (and through outer space) to the final scene of children at a lemonade stand.

Many of the tools that Jason and Deirdre use to create their stories can also translate into activities that anyone can learn from. We pick up that part of the story in Part 2 of this post

Previous articles about this event provide more background information on the work of Jason and Deirdre, and a list of recommended picture books that are inspired by nature.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Inspired By Nature

Thinking of Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill's workshop on exploring nature with picture books (Saturday 11:00 am) we've been looking through other nature-inspired picture books. Here's a list of some of Jane's favorites - there are a lot of exceptional books out there. If you want a top recommendations list, check out the books featured on our Pinterest Board.

And, of course, join us Saturday for a great workshop!

Arnosky, Jim
q  Crinkleroot’s Guide to Giving Back to Nature
q  Jim Arnosky’s Wild World
q  Every Autumn Comes the Bear
q  and many more….

Aston, Dianna Hutts
q  A Butterfly Is Patient
q  An Egg Is Quiet
q  A Seed Is Sleepy
q  A Rock Is Lively

Bang, Molly
q  Buried Sunlight

Bass, Jennifer Vogel
q  Edible Colors

Berger, Carin
q  The Little Yellow Leaf
q  A Perfect Day

Bryan, Ashley
q  Ashley Bryan’s Puppets (this book was featured in a Childrens' Room blog post by Jane)

Burns, Loree Griffin
q  Citizen Scientists
q  Tracking Trash
q  Handle With Care

Campbell, Sarah
q  Mysterious Patterns (this book had a brief review in our follow up to the Materials Review)

Davies, Nicola
q  Tiny Creatures (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)
q  Outside Your Window
q  Extreme Animals
q  One Tiny Turtle
q  and many more…

Ehlert, Lois
q  Leaf Man
q  Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf
q  Planting a Rainbow
q  and many more…

Gray, Rita
q  Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

Holland, Mary
q  Naturally Curious

Jenkins, Steve
q  Creature Features
q  Eye To Eye
q  Actual Size
q  and many more…

Johnson, Rebecca
q  When Lunch Fights Back (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)

Johnston, Tony
q  Winter Is Coming
q  Sequoia
q  The Barn Owls

Judge, Lita
q  Born In the Wild
q  Bird Talk
q  Born To Be Giants

Kim, Soyeon
q  You Are Stardust

MacLachlan, Patricia
q  The Iridescence of Birds

McDonnell, Patrick
q  Me, Jane

Messner, Kate (who led a writing workshop here, March 2014)
q  Over and Under the Snow

Muth, Jon
q  Hi, Koo!

Neme, Laurel (Laurel will be speaking in our author-educator series January 24th)
q  Orangutan Houdini (this book was featured in our October Materials Review)

Montgomery, Sy
q  Chasing Cheetahs
q  Saving the Ghost of the Mountain
q  and many more…

Perkins, Lynne Rae
q  Nuts To You

Rocco, John
q  Blizzard

Roy, Katherine (Katherine will be speaking in February, date tbd)
q  Neighborhood Sharks (see our extended review of this book here)

Sayre, April Pulley
q  Eat Like a Bear
q  Vulture View
q  Raindrops Roll
q  and many more

Schafer, Lola
q  Lifetime

Sidman, Joyce
q  Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold
q  Swirl By Swirl
q  Red Sings From Treetops
q  and many more…

Snow, Virginia Brimhall
q  Fall Walk
q  Winter Walk

Wheeler, Eliza
q  Miss Maple’s Seeds

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill - Saturday, November 15th, 11:00 am

On November 15th, we're continuing our Author-Educator Series with picture book author-illustrators Jason Chin and Deirdre Gill. They'll be talking about nature in picture books, including their process for depicting nature, engaging children in learning about and exploring nature, and also classroom activities.

Jason Chin is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including Gravity, Redwoods, Island and Coral Reef. His picture books are reminiscent of David Weisner-- in Coral Reefs we journey from reading a book about coral reefs to becoming part of the ecosystem itself, swimming among the creatures of the deep. Chin grew up in Lyme, NH, where as a child he became acquainted with Trina Schart Hyman, and eventually she became his mentor. Articles highlighting his work include:

Artist Deirdre Gill has recently launched her picture book career with Outside, which received a starred review in Kirkus. Kirkus writes "Readers will want to reread the simple but meaningful text and bask again in the glorious illustrations of this splendid debut." You can get a sense of Deirdre's illustrating style from the portfolio linked from her website here.

Jason and Deirdre come to the Children's Room on Saturday, November 15th from 11:00 - Noon. This event is free, and while it's designed for educators, anyone interested is more than welcome to join us. Certificates of attendance will be available for participants who can use them for continuing education credit.

To see earlier events in the series this year, check out this article on the Nonfiction Materials Review and this article on S.S. Taylor's Writing Workshop. To receive a twice-monthly newsletter with upcoming events, updates on previous events, and educator-related announcements, e-mail helen -at- bearpondbooks.com with "Subscribe to Educators List" in the subject.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Garret Keizer - Getting Schooled

Sutton resident Garret Keizer has tackled issues as diverse as noise pollution, anger (the "sometimes deadly sin"), the nature of help, his experience becoming an Episcopal clergyman, noise pollution, and, most recently. school systems. Getting Schooled is an account of Keizer's year of teaching at Lake Valley Regional High School, a place he'd left classroom teaching 14 years earlier. He returns to find his former students as Principal and School Board members, and significant changes in education, including technology, testing, and the current culture of being (and towards being) a teenager.

A feature article in the Times Argus by Kevin O'Connor (10.19.14) interviewed Keizer about his new book:
* * *
"Anybody who looks to this book for a 10-point plan will be disappointed,"
Keizer says.

Instead, the author poses more questions than answers as he prods readers to
inquire if the root cause of what's ailing public education is society

"If I'm in a supermarket and somebody says, 'Kids today ...,' I'm hell on
wheels. One of my hopes is that people will read the book and think maybe it
would behoove them to take some time before holding forth on schools to walk
into one."
* * *
These questions place school in the context of a national debate about education, in the context of changes to society, and importantly in Keizer's personal experience. He stresses that this is principally a memoir. And it's one full of insightful reflections on larger issues - we're particularly fond of the observation that: "If you want kids who can read and write, you need a culture that prizes books."
You can hear more of Keizer's thoughts in some of the interviews and articles surrounding the publication of Getting Schooled:
You can read more writing by Garret Keizer at his website http://garretkeizer.com/ But wouldn't you rather hear him talk in person? You can: Tuesday, October 28th, 7:00 pm at Bear Pond Books. It should be a great discussion. It's free and open to the public - join us!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tanya Lee Stone: Book 100

This past weekend, the Stage Write! event in Burlington celebrated Tanya Lee Stone's contract for her 100th book - Girl Rising, an adaptation of a documentary about educating girls worldwide and breaking cycles of poverty. The evening brought together well known authors and raised funds for the Burlington-based Young Writers Project, as described in this Seven Days article. 

Tanya spoke last year as part of our Author-Educator series. Her talk focused on how to build nonfiction stories while staying strictly true to the the research. It was an extension of an earlier essay she wrote for Horn Book A Fine, Fine Line: Truth in Nonfiction. We captured her comments in this article Combining Passion and Research for Compelling Nonfiction

Tanya writes often on the topic of creating nonfiction for young people. She was a blogger for several years on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). You can read background on some of her earlier books there. For example, surrounding creation of her award winning Courage Has No Color:
Tanya seems to have an endless supply of interest and excitement around stories, histories, and information to share with young audiences and we congratulate her on book #100!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing with S. S. Taylor

What's the story of the King of Bularistan who wants to be a famous ballet dancer?

Or an electrician who runs a greeting card company?

A talking lizard that loves cheese? A third grade teacher with a stolen painting?

And what if all these people met each other?

At her October 18th workshop, children's author S. S. (Sarah Stewart) Taylor set up a series of prompts as a way to explore how story can flow organically from characters.

Sarah doesn't accept the idea of plot-driven versus character-driven stories. Plot emerges from characters and character development. For example, Sarah began her Expeditioners series with the concept of a boy explorer. From that starting concept she developed characters who would live inside the fictional world she was creating. And then, as usually happens for her, she hit a wall around page fifty - which usually means she needs to do more character development. 

"I make detailed character profile sheets," Sarah said. She wants such detailed knowledge of all characters that, in one writing class, she prompted students to create an art project their characters might have made in school.

What makes a good character? Everyone can start to answer that by asking what characters have stayed with them from books they've read.

Often it's someone entertaining. Writing a story (or even reading a story) requires spending a lot of time with your characters and ". . . if you're going to invite somebody on a road trip, you want somebody who keeps you entertained," Sarah points out.

Characters are also usually flawed, a little messy. For one thing, that makes them human. For another, this messy-ness draws the reader into working to get to know them, investing time in figuring them out. Think of Hermione in Harry Potter.

At our Saturday workshop, we did a simple exercise in story that flows from character:
  • Two envelopes circulated with slips of paper, one had starting characters on the slips, one an additional description (see above)
  • Participants drew a slip from each envelope and put them together
  • Everyone formed pairs to explore what would happen if our two characters crossed paths 
In the case of the electrician with the greeting card company, he fell into a story with a wealthy prince who had a cold. In the brainstormed story, it was the Prince's 13th birthday and he was expected to deliver a major speech to his subjects . . . but he had a cold and has lost his voice ahead of his big speech making debut. The electrician wiring the stage for the speech volunteered to voice over for the Prince. And, of course, his experience in greeting cards gave him plenty of material to throw into the script.

In another story, a cheese loving lizard stole a painting of cheese and hid it in the garage of his owner, a third grade teacher (the lizard is literally a teacher's pet). The teacher discovers the stolen painting, knows that no one will believe that her talking lizard took the artwork, and doesn't know what to do with it.

These quick ideas set up a premise for a story, then a plot would show readers what happens next.

Another exercise that Sarah does with students is to switch the character details for different characters in a work in progress, and ask how the story would change. Again, plot from character.

Our workshop group next tackled the question of when the story really starts? Or, in more technical language, the question of the inciting incident that changes the status quo for the characters. Sarah usually discovers that her stories actually start one chapter in - the stuff written as the "first chapter" is really background she'll work into the story later. In the first Expeditioners book, for example, she wrote many drafts where the father disappearing was the inciting incident. Ultimately, though, the father being gone was in fact the starting status quo for the kids in her book, and Kit receiving a mysterious code and map was the inciting incident.

Everyone took seven minutes to sketch out possible starting scenes for the stories they'd brainstormed. So, the prince and the electrician, for example, had two possible starting scenes  sketched out by each partner: 1.) a page rushing in to wake up the Prince and tell him that the speech has been moved to that day (not enough time to get over the cold) or 2.) starting on stage with the electrician micing the Prince and the Prince failing to talk for the sound check.

Deciding the actual first scene for any story is a process of trial and error to find what fits.

We reached the end of the workshop here, but Sarah recommended a few books for more writing exercises:
    • The Art of Fiction -- John Gardner
    • What If? -- Ann Bernays and Pamela Painter
There is also an "Essential Library" list of writing craft books (including many for young writers) posted, with links, here.

We're looking forward to another writing workshop in April with Gary Lee Miller. . . and for a similar article (but with different exercises) read this from our Jo Knowles and Kate Messner workshop.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

S. S. Taylor Comes to Bear Pond Books Saturday, October 18th

Picture by Katherine Roy from sstaylorbooks.com

Just a few more days until S. S. Taylor, author of the Expeditioners books, is at the store to run a writing workshop for educators and interested students. The event starts at 11:00 am on Saturday, October 18th  - conveniently enough also the day of Montpelier Arts Fest 2014 (maps are available at the store).

To warm up for Saturday, we asked S. S. Taylor a few writerly questions, and here's what she had to say:

What was the first story you wrote?

I wrote a blatant ripoff of The Borrowers when I was about 9. It was about little people who live in people's houses and . . . borrow things from them. Sorry, Mary Norton. I've noticed that a lot of kids start out writing this kind of "fan fiction," based on their favorite books. It must be a way of learning about how stories work so you can then write your own original tales.

When you think of your favorite writing teacher, what were his / her best qualities?

I'm thinking of two. One was a high school English teacher who told me that my writing was fine, but a little lifeless, and that I could do better. Looking back, I so appreciate his honesty and willingness to really engage with me. He called me out even though it would have been so much easier to keep letting me write A minus papers. The second was a writing professor in graduate school who simply praised my writing at a time when I really needed a shot of confidence. He just said, "Keep going, keep writing. I know this will be published some day." It was life changing.

When you walk into a bookstore, what books do you look at first? How do you decide what to read next?

I always look to see what the staff is recommending. A good bookstore is staffed by avid readers and I love to see what they've liked. I always check out the tables up at the front of the store and then I like to see what books just sort of grab me from the shelves. I choose books by reading reviews and asking friends about the last book they just loved.

Want to learn more? S. S. Taylor is also the featured author on the Bear Pond Books VT Authors page. .  . and, of course, you can join us on Saturday morning! All you need is pen & paper (or pencil & paper, or laptop, iPad, etc). This workshop is free, and part of our author-educators' series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Additional Reviews

We didn't have space for every book that we wanted to review at our Educators' Materials Review on October 3rd - here are a few more words from us and others (for summary of the reviews from the 3rd, check this older post):

At Home in her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins (Grades 4-7) explores what a more than 2,000 year old tomb and its lavish interior revealed about life in China's Hunan Province millennia ago. Very cool. You can get a sense of the artifacts discussed in the book from these online pictures from the Hunan Provincial Museum.

Triangles by David Adler, Illustrated by Edward Miller (Grades 2-4) - Helen was the kind of kid who got really, really excited by math. All those "grown up" ways of describing the world with numbers. Equations to figure out. She did long division for fun. This book, which combines the information of a textbook with the spirit of a game book, would have kept her entertained for hours. Children with a different temperament may or may not have the same reaction. 

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah Campbell (Grades 3-6) - This book takes readers through the concept that there are some shapes in the real world that look like shapes in textbooks (cones, spheres) and some that look too "messy" to be categorized as anything. . . but many of those messy shapes can be described by repeating patterns. The photographs illustrating the book reinforce that understanding these patterns is a way that math helps us understand the world around us. For older kids there may be a bit of a "so what?" factor to the observation of patterns. The end notes suggest how repeating nature's patterns can, among other cool things, theoretically create an invisibility cloak and Helen wished there were a longer list of these types of examples at the end. Perhaps this just means we need a sequel.

Jane read Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns, part of a series of science books by the same author. She describes it: "A beautifully choreographed journey from Costa Rican butterfly farm to the Butterfly Garden in Boston's Science Museum. This is a book intended for young audiences but the  photographs will engage audiences of any age. Pair it with a trip to the Boston Science Museum!" But what particularly caught her attention was this post on author Linda Urban's website describing how Loree uses her writers' notebooks (including photos of her notes) a perfect article to pair with any of her books. Also if you want to take a look at how authors research science books, there's this article from School Library Journal about Katherine Roy, whose Neighborhood Sharks book we reviewed earlier.

The One and Only Ivan was a 2013 Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee - now Katherine Applegate brings us a picture book version of the same story: Ivan the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla with illustrations by Brian Karas. We recommend this Nerdy Book Club review of the two books.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash by G Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford (Grades 4-7) is notable for using memoirs and primary sources to create a picture book version of Johnny Cash's story that has the feel of an autobiography. Many reviewers loved the pictures; we were not those reviewers. The text is described as poetry, again we were not in the camp of reviewers who thought that it functioned well as poetry. Basically, other people are bullish on this book and we are not impressed, but recognize that we're in the minority.

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashley Bryan (PK-6) and Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter (PK-3) - two recommended books that Jane has recommended and reviewed before, see those reviews here.

Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and we recommend two books about her: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick (4-7) and the picture book Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan & Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter (K-4).

El Deafo by CeCe Bell (Grades 4-7) is a humorous graphic memoir (except, told with bunnies - the author isn't actually a bunny) that chronicles CeCe Bell's childhood. She lost her hearing at age 4 and El Deafo is an imaginary superhero she invented. School Library Journal reviewed this book in August and Jane recommends this Washington Post article that includes an interview with the author and discusses the similarities with the popular Sisters (Raina Telgemeier).

Okay, that's it for now. . . until the next round of books we just have to review. 

Ashley Bryan's Puppets and Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes

Two of the books on our 2014 releases list for the Educators' Materials Review were profiled in an earlier Kids' Room newsletter - we're re-publishing them below (plus a bonus third)

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashely Bryan

I can't say how many times customers have told me how incredibly kind and approachable the artist and award-winning author/illustrator Ashley Bryan is. They say his studio door in rural Maine is always open and that his bright eyes and smile never seem to fade. I am familiar with Bryan's beautiful watercolor illustrations and cut paper collages that evoke a collision of rainbows. His puppets, however, are radically different--- made from found materials he has collected while beachcombing, these African folktale-inspired gems evoke a sense of mythological timelessness. Bryan introduces each one with a poem, making them come to life before our eyes, like Njonjo, the Holy Man-- "I'm clothed from head to foot, In robes of health and joy. I look up to the sky with outstretched arms, I embrace life..." It is fascinating to see how fur, netting, bone, utensils, gloves, marbles and even wine glasses are transformed into a trickster, a storyteller and royalty. Where others see debris, Bryan sees a treasure of stories.

Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter

Joseph Cornell, who grew up in New York City (like Bryan), began to assemble tiny worlds inside small boxes, called dream boxes, from the debris he found walking the streets. A reclusive man who never studied art, he spent his life caring for his brother and mother and barely scraping by. Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter finds a perfect marriage of ideas in this gentle picture book for younger readers, as childhood, memory and dreams are the inspiration for Cornell's boxes. He delighted in sharing them with children, and held an exhibition of his work especially for children at the Cooper Union School of Art & Architecture (Ashley Bryan's alma mater) in 1972. Both Bryan and Cornell have transformed everyday detritus into powerful works of art, and these books capture the sense of delight and creative wonder that is the driving force.

Sandy's Circus by Tanya Lee Stone & Boris Kulikov

A slightly older book (2008), but we can't let this list go by without mentioning Sandy's Circus by Vermont author Tanya Lee Stone. This picture book tells the story of Alexander Calder (of giant, delicately balanced mobile fame) and the wire sculptures he created for his "circus." Like Bryan and Cornell, Calder made art from the materials he found all around him, and this tells the story of those early creations. Tanya talked a little bit about creating this picture book when she joined us for an event last year - you can read what she had to say in our article about Compelling Nonfiction.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Short Reviews - From Oct. 3rd Nonfiction of 2014 Review Session

We had a great group of educators and other interested folks turn out for our Materials Review on October 3rd. Jane pulled together a list of top children's (preK - 9) nonfiction for 2014, and also invited Scholastic Book representative Nikki Mutch to join the panel and let us know what's coming up from their authors.

You can find a full list of the books that were on display here. We didn't comment on every one of them, but here is a round up of what we said. The recommended grades are from the publishers, not us (and you'll see where we disagree with them):

We began with the Story of Buildings (4-7) by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephan Biesty and Neighborhood Sharks (2-6) by Katherine Roy. We'd posted an earlier review of Neighborhood Sharks, with its excellent content and the many opportunities it offers for finding out more beyond the book's pages. Highly recommended. The Story of Buildings, by contrast, landed low on our list - and led Helen to a soap box - because it cites no sources. How can this be in a time when we are all (or all should be) tremendously careful about verifying where information comes from? The book itself provides a survey of building techniques through time (it starts with caves), with detailed, foldout drawings by Biesty, and could be a great launching point for getting into more details with authors like David Macaulay. Without a reference section, though, it is hard to recommend for a library or classroom.

On a less research intensive note: Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine (K-3) by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and President Taft is Stuck in the Bath (PK-3) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen are two whimsical looks at bathing dilemmas of the leaders of nations. They're both based on actual events (Queen Victoria did have a bathing machine to bring her to the sea unseen, Taft did get stuck in pieces of furniture and the White House usher during his presidency claimed that this included the bath tub) but taken to silly levels.

Another example of historic fiction (even though it's technically a nonfiction review) was A Home for Mr. Emerson (3-7) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. This book draws on actual events to tell the story of neighbors coming together to rebuild Ralph Waldo Emerson's home, and de facto town library, after it burns. A good story for the strength of community. We might bump the grade recommendation down to K-4, though.

Two books that are very poignant and you will cry: Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (2-6) by John Hendrix and Hidden (3-6) by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano. Both show the impact of war. Hendrix' book is particularly notable for the emotion conveyed in the illustrations and his introductory essay on the devastation of war. Dauvillier's graphic novel tells the story of a grandmother's experience during the Holocaust as she relates it to her granddaughter. One note of caution on Hidden: the cover looks like the book will be appropriate for young readers (it's very cartoonish), and the publisher recommends it for grades 3 and up, but it is definitely for older (middle grade) readers. The recommendation is to use it in the classroom with context and discretion, not to shelve it where young readers would casually pick it up.

On similar subject matter, Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 Trues Stories of Survival (7-12) by Marcel Prins, Peter Henk Steenhuis, and Laura Watkinson tells the story of other children hidden from the Nazis.

Another book for older readers: Red Madness (4-8) by Gail Jarrow. It is about Pellagra, a disease that took many lives in the south in the start of the 20th century and was a medical mystery for years. The good points of this book: lots of case studies and images from the time, the story of pellagra is a great way to introduce the scientific method, it's a discussion point for social and economic disparities, and interestingly it's a disease that involves the food supply (it's caused by a vitamin deficiency). The less-good points: it's really confusing, there is an overload of case studies without enough framework to hold them together, and without that strong framework the descriptions of the disease and its symptoms take on a sort of "gross out" effect that the author didn't intend. Could be a great book to use if classroom lessons helped fill the weak points in the book's line of argument.

For an example of gross stuff used to very good effect: When Lunch Fights Back (2-5) by Rebecca L. Johnson, with amazing pictures of unusual animal defenses against being eaten (many of which involve slime). Plus, for readers who want more than pictures, there's a website with videos.

Staying in the science realm, Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (K-3) by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is a very simple, very clear book for young readers that introduces the world of microbes. It goes over basic ideas like microbes turn food to compost, milk to yogurt, rocks to soil, with equally simple (but lovely) pictures. Jane wishes there were another version for older readers.

Orangutan Houdini (K-3) by Laurel Neme, illustrated by Kathy Kelleher, tells the story of an orangutan who continues to outwit his zookeeper and escape from his enclosure, based on an actual orangutan. The text often says that orangutan feels something or thinks something, which could slip by unnoticed as a story element, until you read the author's note. The note explains how animal behaviorists study orangutans and draw conclusions about what they're thinking and feeling, and the significance of the escapes in that animal behavior context. Taking both the narrative and the note as a starting point, this book could be used for older grades as well. Laurel is speaking at the store in January about making global connections, based on her work in animal conservation.

Moving on to an art theme. . .

Viva Frida (K-3) by Yuyi Morales with photographs by Tim O'Meara was one of Jane's favorites. Don't read this book for an overview of Frida Kahlo's life; Morales is using Frida as a starting point for a book that's focused on where art comes from and the idea that we each have all the materials we need to inspire artwork.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2-6) by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson provides a comprehensive biography of dancer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker. It's a picture book, but a long one, with chapters, and could be used for middle grades. Jane loved the artwork, she can see how it's a style that you either love or you don't (and she loved it).

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra (1-4) by Chris Raschka is brilliantly illustrated in a style that captures the spirit of music. The story starts from the idea of Sun Ra coming from Saturn and observing the earthlings, and what does he see? We suspect that grown ups may get more of a kick out of it than kids (it's a picture book that uses words like "Boulevardier" and "Rosicrucianism"), but no art class should be without this book.

One common theme of the biographies of artists that we reviewed is somebody following their passion, and another example along this theme is The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis about the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. An obvious pairing would be, of course, The Little Prince.

Brown Girl Dreaming (4-7) by Jacqueline Woodson and How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson (6-9) have many similarities. In both books the authors tell the story of their childhood through poetry, both grew up to be poets and their early connection to poetry and creating poetry are part of the book, both are African American women and the social tensions of the time periods they describe are important in both books (Nelson covers the 1950s, Woodson the 1960's & 1970's). Nelson described her book as filling in gaps of her childhood memory more than relating memories, and speaks to coming back to old events with an adult understanding while still finding a way to tell them through a  child's emotions and perspectives. That's an interesting artistic puzzle - but Helen wonders whether it's one that works for an average 6th grader, especially if they don't have a lot of background with poetry. Jane and Helen both thought that Woodson's was a better match for the identified grade levels.

Last November the Author-Educator series at Bear Pond focused on food and agriculture in the classroom, including a talk by Gail Gibbons (read all about it here). So, we looked at a group of three new food-related picture books, Before We Eat by Pat Brisson with illustrations by Mary Azarian, Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Julia, Child (which turns out to be fiction) by Kyo Maclear and illustrations by Julie Morstad. Before We Eat caught Helen's imagination with vibrant illustrations that very simply tell the parts of the food chain (but without using boring words like "parts of the food chain") and could be a great starting point for any number of lessons or activities. The other two books didn't grab her as much, although they were fine. They seemed to be trying a little too hard to spark imagination instead of letting it happen organically, for example the repeated insistence that Alice Waters is "on a trip to delicious" seemed a little hokey. And yes, we'll admit to a Mary Azarian bias for the illustrations.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus (K-3) by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet tells the story of Roget (and his thesaurus) through the perspective of how Roget wanted everyone to be empowered through words and language. About the illustrations, Jane says "surely this will win an award somewhere."

Three final books for older readers (6th through high school):

Family Romanov by Candace Fleming tells the story of the Russia's last royal family, while also weaving in first person accounts of life for peasants and workers beyond the palace gates. We have a longer review of this book posted here.

Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin tells the story of a segregated military during WWII, the egregiously unsafe working conditions that led to a massive explosion killing 300 men on one base, and the group of men charged with mutiny after refusing to return to work. The author wrote textbooks before switching to narrative nonfiction, and now he is atoning for every dull word he ever wrote in the first part of his career through incredibly engaging accounts, including dialogue based on oral interviews and courtroom transcripts. This book is on the National Book Award long list.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman introduces crucially important environmental issues with a focus on how to think critically about them, which includes questioning media and sources (and, by the way, is a nice counterbalance to the opening concerns about The Story of Buildings).

Series with New Titles Being Published:

A round up of popular series with either new installments out now or slated for the spring - except for the Jon Scieszka series, these all come from the Scholastic list:

  • Guys Read Jon Scieszka's popular series now includes Guys Read Nonfiction
  • Discover More A history and science based series by the same person who developed the DK Eyewitness books. Each topic comes with books geared for three different reading levels.
  • Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth (PK-3) by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. There was much talk about just how brilliant Molly Bang is, and how talented she is at drawing kids into learning about different science topics.
  • I Survived Series. Originally this series covered fictionalized accounts of survival and disasters, now Scholastic is publishing five nonfiction stories.
  • 10 True Tales (6-9) True stories of secret agents, pirates, crime scene investigators and other subjects where fictional tales have already captured children's imaginations.   
  • Magic School Bus (1-3) The popular series is returning to PBS and the books have been updated with new illustrations and new content. 

Phew. There were other books on the list that we didn't have time to talk about, and we've added them at this additional reviews post.