Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

The Best Illustrated Childrens Books

I have always loved picture books. Part of me realizes that I always will.

Throughout the ages, children have been introduced to reading by means of texts bearing pictures as well as words, but it is only in recent years that critical distinctions have been drawn between books where the function of such pictures is merely to illustrate the verbal material, and those where, in one way or another, the pictures have a major role to play in the narrative and characterization, a role which is complementary or sometimes even contradictory to the verbal text. The artwork in both types of book is often of a high standard, frequently receiving its own plaudits from art critics. … The development of such criticism has gone hand in hand with picturebook evolution itself, notably in the years since the publication of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963). — From: Children’s Literature (Readers’ Guides to Essential Criticism) by Pat Pinsen

makewayforducklingsbookcoverChildren’s literature has never looked this good!

Watch this video and share your thoughts on WatchMojo’s list of the Top 10 Illustrated Children’s Books.

Also see The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2016.

One of my favorite books on the WatchMojo list is Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Here is more about it:

“Robert McCloskey’s unusual and stunning pictures have long been a delight for their fun as well as their spirit of place.”—The Horn Book

Mrs. Mallard was sure that the pond in the Boston Public Gardens would be a perfect place for her and her eight ducklings to live.  The problem was how to get them there through the busy streets of Boston.  But with a little help from the Boston police, Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Kack, Lack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack arive safely at their new home.

This brilliantly illustrated, amusingly observed tale of Mallards on the move has won the hearts of generations of readers. Awarded the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children in 1941, it has since become a favorite of millions. This classic tale of the famous Mallard ducks of Boston is available for the first time in a full-sized paperback edition.

Make Way for Ducklings has been described as “one of the merriest picture books ever” by the New York Times. And it is ideal for reading aloud.

“This delightful picture book captures the humor and beauty of one special duckling family. … McClosky’s illustrations are brilliant and filled with humor. The details of the ducklings, along with the popular sights of Boston, come across wonderfully. The image of the entire family proudly walking in line is a classic.”—The Barnes & Noble Review

“The quaint story of the mallard family’s search for the perfect place to hatch ducklings. … For more than fifty years kids have been entertained by this warm and wonderful story.”—Children’s Literature

One of my favorite books on the New York Times list is Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Wetherford.

School Library Journal said:

This vibrant picture book examines Congo Square in New Orleans. A foreword and author’s note explain how, historically, slaves in Louisiana were allowed Sunday afternoons off. This custom continued after the territory joined the United States, although in time, New Orleans established one location for all slaves to gather: an area that became known as Congo Square. This unique practice helped enslaved and free Africans maintain cultural traditions. The impact was felt far beyond New Orleans as musicians, dancers, and singers developed, explored, and shared rhythms that eventually grew into jazz music.

freedom-in-congo-square-9781499801033_hrThe text is realistic but child appropriate. Couplets count down the days to Sunday in a conversational tone (“Slavery was no ways fair./Six more days to Congo Square.”). The writing is accompanied by folk art-style illustrations, with paint applied in thick layers. Some images, such as faces, are more detailed, while others are presented as silhouettes. Collage with painted elements is incorporated on occasion. The architecture portrayed evokes the New Orleans setting. Bright colors suggest the exuberance displayed at Congo Square. Spreads where the slaves are finally able to sing, dance, and express emotion contrast effectively with the forced restraint of those depicting the work week. VERDICT Unique in its subject and artistic expression, this beautiful book belongs in most collections.

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Understanding Literature and the Child Reader

A mother reads to her children, depicted by Jessie Willcox Smith in a cover illustration of a volume of fairy tales written in the mid to late 19th century. Source: Wikipedia

A mother reads to her children, depicted by Jessie Willcox Smith in a cover illustration of a volume of fairy tales written in the mid to late 19th century. Source: Wikipedia

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. . . . Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and . . . bores the reader. . . . Children love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. – E. B. White

It might be said that a child’s book is a book a child is reading, and an adult book is a book occupying the attention of an adult, writes  Barbara Kiefer is the Charlotte S. Huck Professor of Children’s Literature at The Ohio State University. Before the nineteenth century only a few books were written specifically for the enjoyment of children. Children read books written for adults, taking from them what they could understand, she said.

Today, children continue to read some books intended for adults, such as the works of Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark. And yet some books first written for children—such as Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit, A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories—have been claimed as their own by adults.

Defining children’s literature is unexpectedly tricky. “To begin with, what is a children’s book?” asks F. Gordon Roe. It is not, it seems, simply a book written for children. Talking of childhood reading in Victorian times, Roe continues:

Some of the works I shall mention were not primarily written for children at all. So far from the works of Scott and Dickens being looked upon as impositions, they were read eagerly by many juveniles, though some of their elders were doubtful about Mr Dickens, who wrote about quite vulgar folk — even pickpockets!

Children’s literature or juvenile literature includes stories, books, and poems that are enjoyed by children. Modern children’s literature is classified in two different ways: genre or the intended age of the reader.

Children’s literature can be traced to stories and songs, part of a wider oral tradition, that adults shared with children before publishing existed. The development of early children’s literature, before printing was invented, is difficult to trace. Even after printing became widespread, many classic “children’s” tales were originally created for adults and later adapted for a younger audience. Since the 1400s, a large quantity of literature, often with a moral or religious message, has been aimed specifically at children. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became known as the “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” as this period included the publication of many books acknowledged today as classics.

Books about children might not necessarily be for them. Richard Hughes’s adult classic A High Wind in Jamaica shows the “innocent” depravity of children in contrast to the group of pirates who had captured them. Yet in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, also written for adults, 8-year-old Scout Finch reveals a more finely developed conscience than is common in the small southern town in which she is raised. The presence of a child protagonist, then, does not ensure that the book is for children. Obviously, the line between children’s literature and adult literature is blurred.

Children today appear to be more sophisticated and knowledgeable about certain life experiences than children of any previous generation were. They spend a great deal of time within view of an operating television or other electronic media. According to studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children spend eight and a half hours per day consuming media content, often engaged with more than one type of media at a time. Although 73% of those from 8 to 18 years old continue to read for pleasure, the time they spend on reading is only about three quarters of an hour per day.4 Their exposure to broad media content is therefore significant. News broadcasts show them scenes of war or natural disasters while they eat their dinners. They have witnessed acts of terror, air strikes, assassinations, and starvation. Although many modern children are separated from firsthand knowledge of birth, death, and aging, the mass media bring vicarious and daily experiences of crime, poverty, war, and depravity into the living rooms of virtually all American homes. … In addition, today’s children are exposed to violence purely in the name of entertainment.

Such exposure has forced adults to reconsider what seems appropriate for children’s literature. It seems un believable that Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins was rejected by several publishers because it began with a death, or that some reviewers were shocked by a mild “damn” in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Such publishing taboos have long since disappeared. Children’s books are generally less frank than adult books, but contemporary children’s literature does reflect the problems of today, the ones children read about in the newspapers, see on television and in the movies, and experience at home.

However, the content of children’s literature is limited by children’s experience and understanding.Kiefer talks about how certain emotional and psychological responses seem outside the realms of childhood. For example, nostalgia is an adult emotion that is foreign to most boys and girls.

Children seldom look back on their childhood, but always forward. Stories that portray children as “sweet” or that romanticize childhood, like the Holly Hobbie books that go with cards and gift products, have more appeal for adults than for children.

There is no single or widely used definition of children’s literature. It can be broadly defined as anything that children read or more specifically defined as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or drama intended for and used by children and young people.  Nancy Anderson, of the College of Education at the University of South Florida, defines children’s literature as “all books written for children, excluding works such as comic books, joke books, cartoon books, and non-fiction works that are not intended to be read from front to back, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials”.

The International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature notes that “the boundaries of genre… are not fixed but blurred”. Sometimes, no agreement can be reached about whether a given work is best categorized as literature for adults or children. Some works defy easy categorization. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was written and marketed for children, but it is also popular among adults. The series’ extreme popularity led The New York Times to create a separate best-seller list for children’s books.

Despite the widespread association of children’s literature with picture books, spoken narratives existed before printing, and the root of many children’s tales go back to ancient storytellers.  Seth Lerer, in the opening of Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter, says, “This book presents a history of what children have heard and read… The history I write of is a history of reception.”

Editor William Zinsser says:
No kind of writing lodges itself so deeply in our memory, echoing there for the rest of our lives, as the books that we met in our childhood. . . . To enter and hold the mind of a child or a young person is one of the hardest of all writers’ tasks. The skilled author does not write differently or less carefully for children just because she thinks they will not be aware of style or language.

Read Dorthy Strickland’s introduction to Practical Assessments for Literature-based classrooms, by Adele Fiderer

Go through the 16 flashcards and look at the literary elements found in works for children in the first chapter of third edition of Children’s Books in Children’s Hands.

What is your definition of children’s literature?
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Author-Illustrator Elisa Kleven’s Wondrous Worlds (plus a giveaway!) — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment… I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the […]

via Author-Illustrator Elisa Kleven’s Wondrous Worlds (plus a giveaway!) — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Click here if you love children’s books!

A Magical Tale From Start To Finish!

51wwaq7vpjl“Toren has been through a LOT. With a brother in charge who cares little for the family, she is forced to grow up fast. Toren’s strength is evident from the beginning; her little bits of struggling and defiance are really HUGE leaps of inappropriate behavior where she comes from.”

In Toren the Teller’s Tale by Shevi Arnold, “the main character is obviously a very special person, and I am enthralled repeatedly by Toren’s stories. I even find myself believing that she makes them up on the spot just for me. I catch myself wondering, “How does she do that in MINUTES? I would not be able to rhyme that quickly.”

“Her fantastic storytelling abilities aside, Toren has vast amounts of other talent. She is apprenticed to a wizard, despite the fact that this is illegal, and her training is very thorough. I definitely feel a stubborn streak in Toren, and this makes me like her that much more. Noa also exhibits stubbornness but, for whatever reason, in her I find it rude and insensitive. I connect strongly with Toren, so whenever anyone tries to harm or cajole, her I don’t like them very much.  Overall, Toren The Teller’s Tale is a FABULOUS book that I Highly Recommend to any Fantasy lover.” – Amazon Review

Have you ever been swept away by a story? If you have, you know the magic of the storyteller–and you know that magic is real. This is seventeen-year-old Toren’s magic . . . but is she brave enough to accept the power she holds? When Toren returns home, her little sister, Noa, is full of questions. Why does Toren awake only at night? What causes her almost constant pain? And above all, why, after completing her apprenticeship, has she has decided not to become a wizard? To answer, Toren weaves a tale about a journey that leads her to discover the greatest source of magic in her world–herself. It is a revelation that comes at a high price. Through her darkest years, Toren finds solace and strength in the stories she tells. But her greatest tale is not yet finished. Together with Noa, she sets out on a new adventure. And in the end, she must choose. Will she continue to cling to her dream of an ordinary life, or will she dare to let her own magic shine? TOREN: THE TELLER’S TALE is an inspirational fantasy about the enchantment of literature, because in Toren’s parallel world there is no greater magic than the magic of storytelling. TOREN: THE TELLER’S TALE is the first book in the Toren the Teller series.

Shevi Arnold loves writing, illustrating, and making people laugh—and she’s been doing all three since 1987 when she started working as an editorial cartoonist for a newsweekly. She’s also worked as a comics magazine editor, an arts-and-entertainment writer specializing in comedy and children’s entertainment, and as a consumer columnist. Nowadays, though, she enjoys writing (and sometimes illustrating) humorous fiction, fantasy and science fiction, mostly for children and young adults. Although she’s completed six novels since, she considered her first, Toren the Teller’s Tale, her magnum opus. You can email the author at shevi.arnold@hotmail.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook, follow her on Twitter (@SheviStories), follow her blog http://shevi.blogspot.com, or learn more at shevistories.com.

Non-Fiction of Olympic Proportions (plus a prize!) — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

by Karlin Gray What do I know about writing nonfiction picture books? After my book NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL was published, someone said to me, “Great timing with the 40th Anniversary of the Perfect 10! How smart of you to write that book now!” Um, no. Well, yes . . . but […]

via Non-Fiction of Olympic Proportions (plus a prize!) — Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Julia Vanishes Skillfully Blends Steampunk, Fantasy, Adventure and Magic

barker_TRC_juliavanishes“Egan’s debut novel sparkles with storytelling that skillfully blends elements of steampunk, fantasy, adventure, and magic…A beautifully rendered world and an exquisite sense of timing ensure a page-turning experience.” – Publishers Weekly

Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned—crime pays.

She’s being paid very well indeed to infiltrate the grand house of Mrs. Och and report back on the odd characters who live there and the suspicious dealings that take place behind locked doors.

But what Julia discovers shakes her to the core. She certainly never imagined that the traitor in the house would turn out to be . . . her.

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan is the perfect magical fantasy book to fill those long summer days at the beach or by the pool. Murder, thievery, witchcraft, betrayal — Egan builds a dangerous world where her fierce and flawed heroine finds that even a girl who can vanish can’t walk away from her own worst deeds.

“Readers will find themselves immediately immersed in the narrative and invested in the fate of Julia, who is both feisty and flawed,” Booklist said. “There is a richness to this inaugural volume of the Witch’s Child trilogy, and readers will be hard pressed to put it down.”

“Olive-skinned Julia’s a wonderful, fully realized heroine with moral dilemmas aplenty,” wrote Kirkus Reviews. “For those readers waiting for the sequel to Marie Lu’s The Rose Society (2015), a well-realized page-turner in the same vein.”

Julia Vanishes is a solid start to this YA fantasy-mystery trilogy. It is filled with promise. Julia’s world fascinatingly magical. Urban fantasy mixes with a dystopian feeling along with throwback Victorian sensibilities. Witches are real and feared. Their spells are cast through writing. Blended with mystery the sharp, curious narration is very effective. Readers are charmed into overlooking some of the lesser developed characters while hope arises that they too will flesh out more in the forthcoming novels.

“Teens will experience the emotions and actions as the narrator travels around her world and is betrayed again and again. VERDICT Recommend to fans of light fantasy and character-driven narratives.” – School Library Journal

“An exciting novel with magic and serial killers…. One of the hottest books coming out.”
—Hypable.com

“In the suspenseful, action-packed debut of the Witch’s Child trilogy, Canadian author Catherine Egan spins out a dark and deep world of magic and crime where powerful mortals and terrifyingly violent creatures fight behind the scenes for the future of a realm.” – Shelf Awareness

What Mastery-Based Learning Would Look Like in Idaho

As we discuss children’s literature, it is important to examine connections between learning with and through the written word and the policies that determine what goes on in classrooms.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra  is working to help lawmakers “move from the notion or the concept of mastery-based education to the actual concrete view of what it could look like in Idaho.” The initiative would move away from traditional academic schedules.

Ybarra2

Sherri Ybarra

According to the Idaho Education News.teachers from Kuna Middle School and officials from the Council of Chief State School Officers briefed lawmakers, highlighting the mastery-based education recommendation issued in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

The idea behind mastery is that students would advance academically once they demonstrate a thorough understanding of educational concepts, said Stephen Bowen, the CCSSO’s strategic initiative director for innovation.

Such a move would replace seat time requirements, and could allow more students to graduate early or work towards college credits while still in high school if they master concepts early. On the other hand, some students who struggle could theoretically need more than four years to graduate high school.

Some districts and states that moved to mastery replaced traditional letter grades with scores of one to four. A “three” indicates mastery. A “two” indicates students are progressing but have not yet achieved mastery.

“They’ve taken out all seat-time requirements,” Bowen said. “It’s not about did you sit in class long enough to get a C-minus and pass the class. It’s about did you master that (subject area).”

The IEN article by Clark Corbin reported that a statewide move to mastery is complex, and could require legal changes to everything from a state’s funding formula to the laws governing diploma requirements, he said. In some mastery-based schools, students of different age groups are found working together within the same classroom.

“We give (students) a problem we don’t have the answer to and they have to use elements of math, science, English and history to find the solution,” Murphy said.Kuna Middle School teachers Kevin Murphy and Shelby Harris said they’ve experienced positive results in the two years since their team of four teachers moved to a mastery- and problem-based learning system they call Synergy.

Murphy described his team’s classrooms as “a beautiful mess,” where students collaborate (sometimes loudly) in groups, don’t observe traditional bell schedules and view teachers as mentors, not traditional educators who deliver lengthy lectures that consume a class period.

The situation took some getting used to, and some trust, but he said students in the Synergy system outperformed their peers on last year’s ISAT by Smarter Balanced (SBAC) tests.

While mastery offers an opportunity for advanced students to progress more quickly, CCSSO experts said it is equally important to personalize learning opportunities for students who fall behind or struggle.

“One of the most important things when a school moves toward a mastery-based system of education is, if students are working at a different pace, there must be systems of support in place,” said Jennifer Poon, CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network director.

In a 2015 interview, Ybarra emphasized her support for mastery, but described the transition as a “generational change” that will not be completed during a four-year term in office.

Otter proposed spending $1.2 million to continue developing mastery in Idaho. That money would allow 20 school districts to begin piloting a mastery system.

Comments on my Facebook page included:

I devised a mastery system for remedial math in 1976. I can’t imagine a mastery system for government or literature. They are based on concepts, not skills, and student interaction is an important to learning.

and

This sounds suspiciously like the “level system” that was in place in Maryland in the 70’s. In sixth grade I was in level 8-4 in math, or hslf way through 8th grade math. The Jr. High I went to did not use the same system and I sat in class bored for two years. It is a good system if it is enacted system wide. If it is only in place in a few schools as an experiment it is extremely dangerous. Also it requires a high degree of professionalism for the teachers. Another reason it failed in Maryland is teachers became focused on cultivating the rapidly advancing students to the detriment of those who did not advance due to the lack of instruction.

However, Key features of mastery-based learning (MBL) include:

1. Curriculum design hinges on assessments
2. Assessments may take any form as long as they determine proficiency
3. Graduation to the next grade/level/topic is contingent upon successful completion of prerequisite assessment.
4. Curriculum is committed to the success of all students; students are not “allowed” to give up.

This initiative is intriguing and has promise. It should be looked at and discussed further for the possible benefits to Idaho children.

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