Friday, December 9, 2016

Sibert Smackdown!

Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog post encouraging schools to participate in The Sibert Smackdown! as a way of building enthusiasm for the ALA Youth Media Awards. It was so popular, that I’ve decided to do it again.

Here’s how it works.

First, students in grades 3-5 select two nonfiction picture books from the Mock Sibert list below, which was influenced by the Mock Sibert lists posted by literacy and curriculum coordinator Alyson Beecher on Kid Lit Frenzy, literacy specialist Michele Knott on Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook, and the folks at Anderson’s Bookstore. You should check out all these lists, which include additional information about each book. (The lists created by Alyson and Anderson’s also feature long-form nonfiction titles.)

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood; Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Simon & Schuster)

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari; Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Roaring Brook Press)

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang; Illustrated by Raul Colon (Calkins Creek)

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming; Illustrated by Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook Press)

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick; Illustrated by Steven Salerno (Clarion Books)

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy; Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Simon & Schuster) 

Octopus One to Ten by Ellen Jackson; Illustrated by Robin Page (Beach Lane Books)

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey; Illustrated by Red Nose Studios (Schwartz and Wade)

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton; Illustrated by Don Tate (Charlesbridge)

After reading the two titles they've selected, students evaluate and compare them, recording their thinking on a worksheet like this one, which is a kid-friendly version of the real Sibert criteria (actual criteria are available here):

When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets can be posted, so that other students can use the information to help them make book choices.

If time permits, students could do multiple rounds of this activity to select classroom, whole-grade, or multi-grade favorites. The Sibert Award committee will announce its winner and honor titles on Monday, January 23, 2017, at the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony.

Note: You can find a more printable version of the Sibert Smackdown! worksheet on my pinterest Reading Nonfiction Board:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Behind the Books: The Duct Tape Rule

One of the most important steps of my writing process is sharing my rough draft with my critique group. We meet twice a month at a library near my home.

Many students have a similar step in their writing process. Some schools call it peer review. Others call it buddy editing. Some schools don’t really have a specific name for this step. Students just know they’re supposed to swap their paper with a classmate when they’re ready for feedback.

But let’s face it. Getting feedback isn’t always easy. We work long and hard on our drafts. We make them as good as they can possibly be, and sometimes we think they may not need much revision at all. It’s human nature.

And that’s why when we do get feedback—sometimes significant feedback—it can be hard to take. We might feel like we’re being attacked and be tempted to defend our choices. But that would be a mistake because the more we talk, the less we hear.

Let me say that again, this time in the second person, because it’s really important: The more you talk, the less you hear.

And that’s why, when it’s my turn to receive feedback, I pretend that I have a big piece of duct tape over my mouth. That’s right, I implement “The Duct Tape Rule.” It helps me remember that my job is to be open to criticism.

I need to listen carefully to what my critique teammates are saying. If I don’t agree, I keep my doubts to myself. I scrawl down all their ideas as fast as I can.

Later, when I look back at those notes, I can decide how to proceed. I can decide which suggestions feel right to me and which to let go. But if I haven’t listened carefully to the ideas, if I haven’t written them down, they will be lost forever, and they can’t possibly help me improve my writing.

As I’m sitting quietly at my computer, days or weeks after the critique, I’m grateful for those notes. I’m grateful for those ideas because most of the time they do help. A lot. And that’s why an imaginary roll of duct tape will always be in my writer’s toolbox.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great STEM-themed Middle-grade Novels

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitch Smith

Scat by Carl Hiassen

The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion

Friday, December 2, 2016

A New Book

If you’re a fan of Feathers: Not Just for Flying, I have some great news, which I can FINALLY make public. Publisher's Weekly has recently announced a companion title, which will be called Seashells: More than a Home. It will be illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen and published by Charlesbridge in Summer 2018.

Right now, 2018 seems far, far into the future. Still, I’m giddy with anticipation.

Here are a few studies Sarah did last summer, before she even had a contract. Now that’s dedication! 

Aren’t the shells lovely? I can hardly wait to see the art for the book.

Both Sarah and I have been enamored with shells since childhood. I spent my summers beachcombing the sandy shores of Cape Cod, and Sarah enjoyed searching the rocky beaches of Penobscot Bay in Maine.

In some ways, I’ve been researching this book for most of my life. I’ve had the pleasure of spending countless hours exploring seashores all over the world, from Costa Rica to Mexico and the Galรกpagos Islands, from Hawaii, Great Britain, and Kenya to Vancouver Island, Canada.

Here are a couple of photos taken by traveling companions at moments when they were amused by my enthusiasm for shells and all the amazing creatures that call them home.

Haena State Park, Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii, January 2015

Botanical Beach, Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, June 2015
As you can see, creating this book was a labor of love.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference Handout

Building Research Skills in K-3
Author-educator Melissa Stewart introduces scaffolded visual, information, and digital literacy activities to help K-3 students develop the observational, inquiry, and critical thinking skills required to evaluate print and digital resources for nonfiction reports. Supports Common Core RIT Standards 6 and 7 and Writing Standards 7 and 8.
Recommended Books
Encouraging Observation
Where’s Walrus? by Steve Savage

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krause Rosenthal

The Power of Pictures
Wave by Suzy Lee

Fossil by Bill Thomson

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Peet

Great blog post with suggestions for wordless picture book read alouds:

Words and Pictures that Work Together
Blackout by John Rocco

One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Where in the Wild by David M. Schwartz

Pictures that Go Beyond the Words
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Visual Teaching Strategies Method
I use images from picture books I’ve written (A Place for Turtles, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, When Rain Falls, Under the Snow), but you can use illustrations from any illustrated book, fiction or nonfiction.

Ask students:
--What do you think is happening in this picture?
--What do you see that makes you say that? 

After a class discussion, encourage students to think about how they might have drawn the art differently if they were the illustrator. If time permits, invite the children to draw their version of the art.

Extracting Content-Area Information
Sample Question: How do animals depend on the place where they live?
Book Pair: Just Ducks by Nicola Davies & Hip-pocket Papa by Sandra Markle

Sample Wonder Statement: I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.
Book Pair: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry & Here Is a Southwestern Desert by Madeliene Dunphy

For more samples and book suggestions: Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart & Nancy Chesley

Books with Designs that Convey an Extra Layer of Information
Move! by Steve Jenkins

Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

How Design Affects Our Thoughts
Guide students in understanding the importance of designers in creating the visuals we see every day. How can our thoughts and feelings be manipulated with visuals, such as in advertisements and website homepages?
Tricks for Evaluating Websites
Point out the three letter domain names at the end of website addresses. Let them know that these three letters can tell them who created the site and what the creator's main objective is for the site.

Encourage students to ask themselves, "What is the first thing my eye notices when I look at this website?" Help them understand that their answer to this question can help them assess the reliability of a website.

Recommended Blog Posts on this Topic

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Behind the Books: Stepping Up to Research, Step 4

According to new findings from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the best nonfiction writing occurs when early-elementary research experiences are scaffolded as follows:

1. Organize and categorize information 
     (a) based on personal experiences
     (b) on a topic they care deeply about

2. Organize, categorize, and compare observations.

3. Conduct guided research.
4. Conduct cold research.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at each of these steps in detail and suggesting activity ideas.

For step 4, students choose a topic they’re passionate about and conduct research with the support of their classroom teacher, literacy coach, and school librarian.  By now, they have the skills they need to find facts in books and online articles. They may also be ready to consider other kinds of sources. Encourage students to think outside the box.

For example, if students are writing about an animal, can they observe it in its natural setting? If the animal lives in your area, they may be able to find it and watch it. They may also be able to locate a webcam that shows the animal going about its daily routine.

If students are writing about a social studies topic, can they visit a local historical society or museum? What can they learn from artifacts? Can they interview people who are knowledgeable about their topic?

The more creatively students think about their research process, the more invested they will become in their topic, and their enthusiasm will definitely shine through in their written report.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great Books about Rocks

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

A Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas

A Rock Is a Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst