The sounds of smooth jazz filled the air as students cued up outside the Resource Center.. It was our first book tasting of the year.
I greeted them at the door festooned with my chef hat and apron and a very corny French accent. “Velcome to ze book cafe, I am your host, Monsieur Burleson. I have prepared for you some of the very best books. Please come in and find a seat at one of our finest tables.”
At this point, many kids were totally amused and a bit put off, but I continued, dropping the French accent, to explain that we would be sampling some of the best books of the year and a few classics sprinkled in for flavor. Many of the books I chose also tied into our SEL focus. If you would like to look at the book list I used for this activity, you can access it HERE. I shared the placemat with them and explained that they would be exploring the large stack of books on the table and rating and making notes about why they rated the books the way they did. I used a simple timer with peaceful music to mark our rotations and set the kids off to enjoy their feast. We did a couple of ten-minute rotations and then shared with partners at our table.
You know your ‘tasting’ is a success when students ask to check out picture books so that they can finish reading them! I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and reading beside students and having conversations about books. This was a playful and fitting way to end our picture book month activities.
Week two’s objective was to explore author’s purpose with students through picture books. I began by connecting author’s purpose to work that I knew students had done previously in their writer’s notebooks. We talked about how writing changes depending on the purpose and the audience. I then read a powerful new picture book Lubna and Pebble.
In this book, Lubna, a refugee child from a nondescript war torn country arrives on a beach and finds a pebble which becomes her best friend. The soft, dark illustrations set a tone of somber contemplation that begin and end with full page spread of the face of a child. Lubna shares her pebble as a way to give friendship and peace to a new immigrant. The cycle of kindness is a central theme of this rich and powerful book.
I shared this book with the students as an example of pure entertainment as the author’s purpose. I intentionally did not choose a humorous book because I wanted to show students that entertainment can be more than humor. They were fully engrossed as I read this book aloud to them.
After reading, we viewed this graphic I created in google drawings. We talked about the book and cited several pieces of evidence of the author’s purpose.
Next, the students, in teams of three, chose from a stack of books at their tables. I explained to them that the books they were choosing from would have the author’s purpose of persuade or inform. They would choose one, read it and give three pieces of evidence as to the author’s purpose.
We wrapped up the lesson by sharing out our titles and our evidence for the author’s purpose. Students and teachers enjoyed the process. I enjoyed the conversations students were having trying to justify their thinking!
We kicked off Picture Book Month this week. I invited our principal, vice principal and literacy facilitator to record one of four picture books for our students. The four books we chose tied into our SEL school improvement goal as well.
We began by talking about why we would explore picture books in 5th and 6th grade. Students shared that picture books teach rich vocabulary, awareness and observation, themes and morals all in a 32 page package. It warmed my heart to see how easily they warmed to the idea of celebrating picture books all month long. After briefly introducing the concept of books as windows and mirrors, I had two authors give the students a little more background.
Next, I explained how the stations would work. Students would choose a book, scan the QR Code and then enjoy having the books read aloud to them. When they finished, they would complete one of the two forms as a response.
In our 30 minute period, many students had time to listen to more than one book. Some completed more than one. We wrapped up our session by sharing some of our thoughts on the books.
I was blown away by some of the students reflections. Here are just a few of them:
All in all, the week was a huge success! I was able to have every class in the building cycle through the resource center and take part. There was positive and encouraging feedback from students and teachers alike. I’m excited to roll out week two where we’ll look at how picture books can help us explore the author’s purpose.
I love picture books! Having spent the last eight years as an elementary school librarian, they were my jam! They were my go to whenever I wanted to make a connection, enhance curriculum or spark powerful conversations. However, even in a K-4 building, I could sense the pull of chapter books. Kids wanted to read ‘grown up books.’ For this reason, I thought it was ever more important to celebrate the power of picture books. We participated in International Picture Book Month, and one year we even read every single picture book in our collection! Therefore, when I moved to our 5-6 building, I knew that somehow we were going to find a way to celebrate.
This might sound like a no-brainer to you. Or, it might sound a bit ‘pie in the sky.’ ‘Sure, picture books are important, but how are you going to get teachers to give up valuable class time to engage with picture books?’ It’s a legitimate question and honestly, one that made me lose some sleep. I decided to see what authors had to say about it.
A picture book does exactly what a novel does that takes six hundred pages and picture books do it in 32 or 48 pages…Picture books absolutely encapsulate incidents and the telling in rich language. Besides that, I think the illustration adds another element of richness to this.
I had been working with a fantastic sixth grade language arts/social studies teacher on a project in which she pairs up picture books with non-fiction texts to introduce various world cultures. She used the description by Rudine Simms Bishop as books as ‘windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors,’ in the title of the unit and it got me thinking about how I might be able to connect this on a larger scale to our whole population.
Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows. And so, you can look through and see other worlds and see how they match up or don’t match up to your own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well.
-Rudine Simms Bishop
I decided to piggyback on the unit by my colleague and use books as windows and mirrors as our theme. After some consultation with colleagues I shared my plans to celebrate picture book month (three weeks due to the holiday) with the staff. (I’ll be writing a separate post with resources and reflections after each week.)
Week one: Books as Windows and Mirrors. I invited four ‘mystery readers’ to read powerful picture books. I took their audio and created read along versions of each of the books. After listening, students will reflect on how the particular book was either a mirror or a window book for them.
Week two: Author’s Purpose. I collected a ton of picture books that explore author’s purpose (to persuade, inform or entertain). After reading a selection, students will complete reflect and give evidence for the author’s purpose.
Week three: Book Tasting. I’ve gathered a huge assortment of picture books and will be dividing them up into three courses. At each course, students will enjoy selections that will either reflect or invite them to view another culture.
Each Monday, I’ll be sharing a short video and an article with my staff highlighting the benefits and power of picture books. I’ve collected the resources on a Wakelet you can explore HERE.
I’m excited, nervous and hopeful. This will be a totally new experience for our library and I hope the students and staff will embrace the opportunity. I hope to write a reflection after each week.
I haven’t had an opportunity yet this year to write about the transition from being an elementary school librarian to a middle-grade librarian. Our school district has a unique set up. We have K-4 elementary schools, a 5-6 building and a 7-8 building. After more than two decades in elementary school, I have moved to the 5-6 building. It’s been an adjustment. The biggest adjustment has been the schedule. I moved from a fixed to what I would describe as a hybrid schedule. I describe it as hybrid because my fifth grade classes are signed up for weekly sessions, but my sixth grade classes come on a flexible basis.
Our 100 year-old school, The Skokie School, was reopened about two decades ago and will be shuttered again as we merge our 5-6 and 7-8 building in a few years. During most of that time, a single librarian was at the helm of the Skokie School library. She was an amazing librarian. She literally read every book on the shelves and could book talk each and every one of them with her encyclopedic knowledge and photographic memory. She developed passionate readers and a rich collection of 15,000 items. Her power was knowing her collection and matching it with her readers.
I began reading in earnest in hopes of being able to have coherent conversations with the voracious readers at our school. I was fairly confident about meeting the needs of the incoming fifth graders, but the sixth graders were slightly beyond my comfort level.
I started with our state’s middle-grade book contest, the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Awards. I attempted to read as many of the books on the list for the last couple of years as I could. Honestly, that was a great place to start, but I immediately felt the crushing pressure of the new books that were coming out every single month. I decided that what was most important to me was to be able to have conversations with my students about books. I let my guard down and was honest with them; there are so many books in the world and so little time. I started sharing five (new to me) books each week when I saw classes. Some of those were just released, some of them had been out for years. All of them were reads I would recommend. I noticed that the students just wanted to hear about books, new, old, favorites, etc. They wanted to connect. They wanted to talk about books they loved and wanted others to love.
It sounds lovely, but that only got me so far. I assembled some tools to help me expand my toolbox. I used Destiny’s Collections to collect student recommendations across a wide range of genres. Now, when a student comes to me and I need some recommendations for them, I pull up the collection for the genre they are interested in and can scroll through a dozen or more student or colleague recommendations. In a matter of minutes I can help students find a just right book. I continue to add to the collections and hope in time that students will look to these as well for recommendations. I frequently use other tools like Novellist K-8 and Goodreads to help me find ‘read-alikes’ for students.
So what else have I been doing? Besides getting to know my colleagues and students, I’ve been attending grade level meetings to learn more about the curriculum and how the resource center can support their work. I’ve dug into a couple of initiatives that impact the whole school alongside our literacy facilitator and have partnered with a few educators on projects they are passionate about. I’ve been weeding the collection hard, making room for new books and preparing for some much needed new furniture that has just been ordered.
We’ve begun some 5/6 grade book clubs during lunch around four titles on our Rebecca Caudill’s Young Readers Award books We are about to begin celebrating Picture Book Month. I’m personally passionate about the power of picture books for all ages. More on that in a future post.