Star Struck at the Irma Black Awards


Many people find themselves star struck over famous movie stars or athletes. I’ve long known that for me it’s a little different…

I get star struck by big thinkers in my field. Attending institutes at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, for example, is like a version of the Oscars for me. There, I see educators who inspire me and speak a language I aspire to speak. I get star struck by leaders who see the world or a school or an institution through a social-justice construct with a level of intellect and care that brings me hope.

A few weeks ago, I found myself star struck in a different way – by authors of children’s picture books. It’s really not so surprising, given my love for books, stories, and reading, but it has gotten me thinking…


I had the privilege of heading uptown for a morning to Bank Street College of Education for the announcement of the esteemed Irma S. & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature and for the Cook Prize for Excellence in Presenting STEM Principles. An annual event in my very own city, this was the first year that I had journeyed uptown to attend. I’m so glad I did.  To learn more these unique book awards and to see the winners, look here and here.

The keynote speaker for the awards ceremony, Scott Magoon, a 2013 Irma Black Award recipient for his work with Michelle Knudsen on Big Mean Mikecaptured me with his words. He spoke of the short life-span that picture books tend to have and encouraged audience members to counter it by embarking on a re-read-a-thon of picture books as a vehicle for seeing more and learning more about ourselves. He caught me. Give books time. Take our time with them. Go back to books, again and again. Those messages floated in my head during and after his address. I loved those words. His words reached me and resonated with me. I was… star struck.

When the awards were presented and authors and illustrators spoke (either in person or by video), I was watched and listened to them with a youthful excitement. They spoke of their books, the processes they undertook in creating them, and the people who supported them. While their stories are different, two things were the same. They lived with their stories for a long time, and they had editors and friends who helped them. Jon Agee, the winner of the Irma Black Award said that his book It’s Only Stanley lived in his filing cabinet for several years. He knew there was something there, but he was not sure how to make it work. When he finally came back to it, it was his editor who suggested that it could be a love story. He worked on that book for many years, and it was with the help of a friend and colleague that he was able to problem solve and find the magical thread that brings ties the book together with an added, hopeful, beautiful message.

So, my take aways are a few…

  1. Time. Picture books take time. Time to write, time to read, time to live with and learn from. And, It’s Only Stanley, is a most wonderful example of this. As you live with this book, you find new details, messages, and bits of humor that not only help you to understand the story but also might tap into aspects of your own life.
  2. Friends. Picture books (and really any writing) flourish with collaboration. Our friends, our colleagues, classmates, neighbors – they can help us see things in our writing and spark ideas for our writing that all alone we just will not have. Writer’s need to rejoice in the power that a good writing friend can have on our work!
  3. Stars. I been a bit embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of pop and movie stars and my heart-thumping reaction to the stars in my world of education. My morning at Bank Street reminded me that my sense of stardom goes beyond educators. I am touched by those whose I admire, and I admire people who do things that I have taken the time to learn about and appreciate. For some people, that means movie actors and pop singers are their stars. For others, scientists or athletes might be their stars. For me, writers for and teachers of children tend to be my biggest stars. So, back to that take away – what does this mean for children? We, the adults in their lives, need to help children develop admiration and knowledge of people and their work. We need to give children a chance to develop their own stars. It is our job to show children that there are many types of work worth valuing and growing starry-eyed over. I hope that some day, instead of always hearing the words pop star and movie star, we might also hear mathematical star or teaching star. Hmmm… Imagine a world like that!

The Irma Black Awards and the Cook Prize Ceremony inspired me to take my time with picture books, to go back to them, to learn from them in new ways. The Ceremony inspired me to remember as a writer that writing takes time, some times a very long time and that our writing friends can make a big difference in the success of our work. The Ceremony inspired me to be explicit about these messages with children. And, lastly, the Ceremony empowered me to feel good about my stars and to encourage children to find and relish in stars of their own. 


The Reading Strategies Book: The Ultimate Teacher Toolkit

9780325074337Every once in a very long while, a professional book comes along that generates genuine excitement from all who hold it. It just may be that it happens so infrequently that in my first 15 years of teaching, I had yet to experience this phenomenon. This year is different. This year is exciting. This year, Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers has penetrated our school and our teaching.

Number 6 on The New York Times Education Best Seller List, this book is jam-packed with actionable and intentional teaching moves that one can use with minimal preparation. Jen organized the book into 13 chapters. Each chapter is a specific goal. They range from Goal 1: “Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers” to Goal 7: “Supporting Comprehension in Fiction: Understanding Themes and Ideas”. Within each chapter / goal lies a series of strategies that you could teach children who need work in that particular area. This series of strategies operates almost like a menu. You can choose the strategies that seem most relevant for the particular child(ren) with whom you are working. The strategies are described on a single page and include a description of the strategy, some prompts you might use to support children, examples of visual aids or children’s work, and a “Who is this for?” tab that includes appropriate text levels, genres / text types, and the skills that are addressed. Jen offers enough information so that you can begin to imagine how a particular strategy lesson might be taught, but not so much that you feel inclined to follow a script and use someone else’s words. She inspires us to think of these strategies in the context of our own students, making the lessons our own. (For more on the beauty and practicality of this book’s content and organization, check out Betsy Hubbard’s post on the Two Writing Teacher’s blog here and Kristi and Marjorie’s post on Chartchums here. You can also hear Jen herself describing how to use this book in this video.)

I work as a literacy coach at a pre-k – fourth grade independent school in New York City. We have a lot of autonomy in our school when it comes to reading instruction. As such, it can be challenging to know just how to bring colleagues together around reading curriculum, instruction, and learning goals. Jenn’s book proved to be a powerful vehicle.


How did I introduce the book to my colleagues?

The classroom teachers and I meet in grade level teams once a month for a 60 minute coaching meeting (professional development). I used several of our coaching meetings this fall (as well as some optional, drop-in meeting time) to focus on models of small group and individualized teaching: guided reading, strategy lessons, and one – one conferences. It is rare that someone would object to the benefits of small group or one-on-one instruction, but it is common for teachers to feel unsure of how to plan for and use that time effectively. The Reading Strategies Book has responded to this precise issue. I showed my colleagues how this book supports me in planning for both strategy lessons and one – one conferences. After demonstrating the planning, I taught the lessons in many classrooms. When Donna, the administrative assistant in our school, came knocking on my door to ask why everyone was suddenly requesting so many post-its and folders, I knew were hooked.

It went something like this:

Small Group Bin


What if… you had a small group bin in which you had materials (post its, pens, conferring note-taking sheets, etc.) and resources (possible teaching points, visual aids / mini-charts, “leave behinds” for children, mentor texts, etc.) all organized and ready for you to use during reading workshop?


What if… the resources in your small group bin were organized by reading goal? and you had a folder for each reading goal? and inside these folders were possible strategy lessons and possible teaching points for one – one conferences?


What if… The Reading Strategies Book gave us the language, ideas, and structure to do this work?


I demonstrated how one could take the words and ideas from the Reading Strategies Book and easily transplant them into a strategy lesson plan (see visuals below). While generating the lesson plan, I also demonstrated how I could use the book as a resource for generating visual aids and leave behinds (basically little post its or mini-charts that the child(ren) can keep as a reminder of the strategy he/she is working on). Finally, I demonstrated the lessons in the classroom with actual children.

We started with… the Hierarchy of Possible Goals that Jen introduces early on in her book. We thought of children in our classrooms and honed in on specific goals. Then, we dug into the table of contents for a particular goal and chose some lessons that looked interesting and read them.


We chose a strategy. We imagined teaching it in our rooms with particular groupings of children and planned the lesson, using a modified version of a strategy lesson planning template adapted from a workshop I attended at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project.

  and then we taught the lesson!


So, now what?

I see so much potential for how we can use the contents and ideas in The Reading Strategies Book, but what I love the most about this book is that because it is so accessible and practical, the potential now lies in all of our hands. I can surely continue to support colleagues in finding time and space to explore and try the strategy lesson ideas we have in this book, but the ideas in this book are also finding their way into classrooms and the minds of teachers organically and on their own.

Thank you Jennifer Serravallo! Your book speaks to us and is moving our thinking, and most significantly, our practice!

The Unexpected Benefits of Standardized Testing Opt Out

largerApril in New York City public schools (and probably many other school districts around the country) brings with it not only warmer temperatures and budding flowers but also the controversial and time-consuming state tests. This year, for the first time, the tests (and all the drama attached to them) hit home, my home.

My son, Oliver, is a third grader in a public school with a significant opt out movement. (I believe that approximately half of the families opted their children out of the tests. You can read more about NY State tests and Opting out here.) As we neared the beginning of April, I found myself feeling unsure of what to do. Should he take the tests or shouldn’t he? Ultimately, we chose for Oliver to sit the ELA tests out.

52976a2646ed62fa6a641c11c2f8bee1At Oliver’s school, all of the children opting out were given instructions to report to the cafeteria first thing in the morning. His teacher prepped him and others to bring books, projects, etc. with them. The morning of the first test, Oliver walked around apartment gathering materials to bring with him: an assortment of books (one in progress, one he hadn’t started yet, one graphic novel, one sports magazine), sudoku, and playing cards. He was ready.

The second morning, he gathered some additional items and approached his back pack with a big stack of books. Puzzled by the volume of books he was planning to carry with him in his back pack, I asked him what he was working on. He explained that he told various friends (who were also spending the morning in the cafeteria) that he would bring them specific books. Another child (someone whose name I had never even heard before) was going to bring him the second book in a series that he had been reading. A full-fledged book sharing, lending library has been established.

I was amazed. One of my biggest worries about opting Oliver out of the tests was that he’d be bored sitting quietly in the cafeteria all morning, and that very situation (the unstructured, self-directed time in the cafeteria) is yielding something special – a shared love for books, reading, and an opportunity to be social readers.

Testing ended, and Oliver was happy to be back in his classroom full time. As the weeks have gone on, however, a piece of that reading magic that he discovered in the cafeteria has remained. We’ve begun referring to Oliver’s bookshelves in his bedroom as “lending library #2.” He regularly comes home with notes written to himself indicating a classmate’s name and the book he/she wants to borrow. At the same time, he and some friends have started pursuing book clubs that matter to them. I got an email from his teacher one day asking me (on Oliver’s behalf) if I could find two copies of a particular book at my school’s library for Oliver’s book club.

As adults, we all know that reading is social. A good book makes us want to talk. A good book makes us think of friends who would love (or hate) it. What I love about Oliver’s experience is that he and his peers discovered the social nature of reading out of a truly authentic experience – having time on their hands and looking to help each other find ways to enjoy it. So rarely today do kids have opportunities in schools where they have empty chunks of time in which they can choose how to fill it. There is so much thinking today about student / learner centered learning, yet it is often countered by requirements and schedules that oppose such an environment. Never would I have imagined that Oliver’s opt-out experience would have offered him opportunities to negotiate his own time and interests in meaningful and purposeful ways.


If you are interested in further reading or ideas pertaining to student / learner – centered environments, you might explore the following: Teaching Kindergarten: Learner-Centered Classrooms for the 21st Century, the blog Investigating Choice Time, the Project Approach website, and pertaining to older children, a somewhat recent article from The Atlantic Magazine “What Happens When Students Control Their Own Education?

What do you think Harry Potter’s meals at Hogwarts were like?

halloween_feast_foodNow that is a conversation I can imagine having at my dinner table. I have a son who is currently entrenched in the world of Harry Potter. Sometimes (it pains me to say), we have to literally remove the book from his little hands as we sit down at the dinner table. “We want to talk to you when we’re at dinner,” I say as he reluctantly puts the book aside. What if books and food became worked together in our lives to promote literacy and healthy relationships.

The Family Dinner Project out of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero uses research to back the notion that drawing explicit connections between reading and family dinner does indeed promote language and literacy development as well as healthy family relationships.

In reading Bari Walsh’s recent article, “How to Raise a Voracious Reader”, I’m inspired and convinced… The Family Dinner Project is gong to make it’s way to my dinner table. Check this out if you think you might want to give it a try in your home too.

Reading Lives… Share Your Journey

bookyourtrippromo1_wide-35f1b45a9d74345351eeae8c86b22cf1be23a34b-s900-c85I’ve been following a series of posts on a favorite blog of mine, Nerdy Book Club, called “Reading Lives”. Reading these posts offers a clear reminder of two powerful messages:

1) There is no one way to be a reader… we come to reading at different times and in different ways. We find comfort in and interest in different types of books. We bring our reading into our homes and work places with uniqueness that is our own.

2) Our reading lives matter. Being in touch with our own reading lives and sharing our stories with children not only supports our teaching, it also supports children in their ability to engage in the work of building a reading life of their own. Children need to know that the love for reading does not generally magically materialize. We all have (or have had) paths to travel to get to the point where our reading life feels robust, important, and worth holding close!

Share your journey with others, the bumpy and tiring parts as well as the thrilling and captivating parts.


The Little Things…

imagesI know my daughter is learning what it means to be a reader when I am able to see her take on the little things we do as experienced adult readers in her life. Yes, of course, the big things – learning to decode and make meaning – are of importance in this journey, but the little things… they show us how carefully children / students are watching us and how seriously they take this journey.

Tonight, as I was reading to Penny before bed, she requested (as she often does) to turn the pages of the book. We were reading an old, familiar favorite of a book, and as we neared the end of the first page page, I observed her licking the tips of her thumb and pointer finger prior to turning the page! A quintessential teacher move. Penny just finished her 5th day of kindergarten. Her teachers read to them daily. Penny has observed her teachers moistening their fingers as such, and now, she has one more reading move that she eagerly practiced tonight.

These little things, these small behaviors that children mimic from us are reason to take note and celebrate. They are examples of the readers our children are growing into and highlight the desire they have to keep growing!

What “little things” do you see young readers trying out?

Welcome to ReadWriteJoy

IMG_1426Joy is at the core of engaged, motivated, productive, authentic reading and writing. ReadWriteJoy explores ways of bringing joy to the forefront of literacy teaching and learning. Literacy specialist, Erin Gordon, offers tips and ideas for teachers, schools, and families. Erin also consults with schools and families.

the Scraps book

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A Summary… in brief

While Lois Ehlert is surely not a new name in the world of children’s literature, the Scraps book accomplishes something that feels both new and familiar. Lois documents for young readers the journey she has taken in becoming an artist and book maker. With her trademark collages made from bits of paper, found objects, and photographs, Ehlert invites readers into her childhood home, her studio, and beyond showing us where she gets inspiration and how, over time, she learned to capture ideas and hold onto them. Throughout the book, Ehlert shows the process she uses as an artist and bookmaker. She shares bits of her familiar books, introducing them to us in a new and fresh way, by focusing not on the story itself but instead the process she used to develop the book.

As a parent…

Lois Ehlert’s work is not only beautiful to look at, but it’s also inspiring to hear how her parents encouraged and motivated her to make art from a very young age. In her case, no one was telling her to do any one thing, instead they provided the space for her to work, shared their passions with her, and modeled for her what it meant to be engaged in the art of making something with their hands. Lois’s mom loved to sew and her dad worked with wood. Her dad set up a folding table for her. Lois says, “It was my spot, a place to work and dream.” I’m inspired by this book to try to think about ways of giving my kids spaces to “work and dream”, spaces to explore and experiment, to be guided by the materials that surround them and to see creative possibilities in the objects they encounter on their walks around the neighborhood, on vacation, or when visiting friends out of town. In our fast-paced world, this book is a reminder to me of how precious process is and how important it is to remind our children of the journey so many of us need to go on in finding our voices, our paths, and the “color” in our lives. I plan to relish in this story with my kids… with the hope that many thought-provoking conversations and creative moments will follow!

As a teacher…

Lois Ehlert has done us all a tremendous favor in writing this book! She is showing us the aspect of writing that it’s so hard to authentically model for children – the process! She describes both the long process of becoming an artist and bookmaker as well as the more immediate process of developing a book. She describes and demonstrates her techniques, shows her tools, includes incredibly planful sketches and dummy copies of her books that so many of us have read and loved over the years. She brings us right in and does so with vibrant, colorful images and sparing, carefully chosen language. This book, I imagine, is one that will be inspirational to some children but will serve as a mentor to all in terms of thinking about the role of planning, the process of finding ideas, and the integration of text and image in the books we hope children will make in our classrooms! Whether you use the book as a whole or hone in on a particular two page spread, there seem to be endless uses for this book in the context of a writer’s workshop!

You might also check out this video to learn more about how Lois thinks about the family household she grew up.

Happy Reading!

Dr. DeSoto

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A little back story…

When August rolls around, it’s time to check several appointments off my list – going to the dentist is typically one of those appointments. This week, I reluctantly headed to the dentist office for a cleaning, an experience which fills me with far more anxiety than it ever did in my younger years! As I sat / lay in the special chair with a bib around my neck, watching the hygienist as she organized her tools that she’d soon be putting in my mouth, instead of moaning, I chuckled softly to myself. Images of Dr. DeSoto’s dental office came to mind.

This spring, a group of first graders and I read Dr. DeSoto together. We practiced being more active in our reading and reacting to what we see and understand (in the pictures and the words). As such, images of Dr. DeSoto’s office were not too far from my mind. The diminutive furnishings and funny contraptions that William Steig created for Dr. DeSoto to treat his larger animal patients lingered in my mind as the hygienist got to work scraping and polishing my teeth.

Hence, I begin an entry about an old-favorite book… one that has long been in my (and likely your) repertoire, as opposed to something newer and less known.

A summary… in brief

Dr. DeSoto by William Steig was published in 1982 capturing both a Newbery Honor and the National Book Award (in 1983). In this book Steig tells the story of Dr. DeSoto, a successful dentist who gets himself into and out of a precarious situation.

Dr. DeSoto is not just any dentist; he is a mouse who performs dentistry on animal patients. Assisted by his wife, Dr. DeSoto takes care of many types of animals, large and small, but he refuses treatment to animals dangerous to mice. It even says so on the sign outside his office, “Cats & Other Dangerous Animals Not Accepted for Treatment”. So, one day when a fox arrived in a great deal of pain, the DeSotos made a truly atypical decision. They admitted him, swayed from their rule by the suffering the fox was experiencing.

Dr. DeSoto’s office is a unique place, captured both in words and pictures. He and his wife constructed equipment that allows him to work in the mouths of animals many times his size, such as the fox. He climbed up his ladder and into the fox’s mouth to have a look, at which point he identified a “rotten bicuspid”. The tooth needed to be pulled but could be replaced the next day.

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After being given gas in preparation for the tooth extraction, the fox began to dream out loud: “M-m-m, yummy,” which caused the DeSotos to worry later that night at home about what the fox might do when he returned the next day to get his new tooth. The DeSotos, however, crafted a plan. After replacing the fox’s tooth the next day, they offered him a new treatment that would prevent any such tooth aches in the future. The fox accepted this treatment readily. The treatment was actually a glue that caused the fox’s mouth to be sealed shut. The fox left, “stunned” by the trickery he had experienced. The DeSotos watched him leave, prideful of their own cunning and ready to take off the rest of the day.

As a parent… this book is just plain fun to read with your child. The illustrations are captivating, imaginative and related to an experience (going to the dentist) to which we are largely able to relate. Reading this book with your young child (preK – 2nd grade) might offer the opportunity to conjure up other story lines together. “What if… ” You might imagine other instances of human activities being done by our smaller or larger animal counterparts. How would those activities change or stay the same? What would they look like? Can we design some of their tools? What would those tools look like, be made from? It might also be fun to think of reading some other books that might compliment this notion of size and creature impacting the way activities are performed or how life is livedlike The Littles (series by John Peterson) or the picture book series starting with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Neumerof. I’m sure that between parent and child, you could begin to notice and explore many titles that fit into this creative category.

While the “level” of this book is the same as that of short chapter books like Magic Tree House, this book is a great example of the richness that picture books have to offer to growing readers, even as they become successful independent readers. Steig incorporates sophisticated and fun (for those who like words) vocabulary and he almost magically uses the illustrations in tandem with the words to communicate his story. It’s a wonderful reminder to us as parents that reading with our children (both chapter books AND picture books) is rewarding and important even as our children age and grow more proficient as readers themselves.

As a teacher…this book offers limitless possibilities, but a few come to my mind the fastest.

  • Explore the illustrations and their relation to the text on each page and the story as a whole.

Steig, a successful and prolific cartoonist, conveyed so much through the illustrations in this book. A 28 page picture book, there are illustrations on every page. The illustrations are detailed, charming, imaginative, and have a direct correspondence to the text written on each page.

  • Utilize the illustrations as a way of introducing students to sophisticated sentence structure and vocabulary.

The illustrations are not only visually appealing, they are also a support for young readers as they negotiate and make meaning from Steig’s sophisticated sentence structure and word choice. On one page, for example, when Dr. DeSoto is removing the fox’s rotten tooth, the illustration has the potential to support children in making meaning of an idea (the extraction of a tooth) and some words (“extraction”, “winch” and “swaying”) that may be unfamiliar.

  • Explore characters – their role, position, level of strength / dominance

Steig added a layer of sophistication to the narrative with his treatment of the characters, placing the more highly attuned cunning quality in the hands of the character who would traditionally be considered weaker and less able. Teachers and students might consider the expected and the unexpected, stereotypes, and the role of “dominance” in character relationships.

  • Consider the author’s  body of work and his treatment of character.

Teachers and students may be able to draw connections between this text and some others, noticing some of the big ideas present in his work, particularly those that pertain to character and the “unexpected” – bravery seems to play a consistent role in some of his stories, for example.

  • Explore dialogue

On the one hand, this might involve looking at the mechanics of dialogue. But, on the other hand, there is a lot to be learned about the words Steig chooses to have his characters speak. What can these words tell us about the characters – who they are, what they really mean or feel, and what their intentions might be?

  • A model for our own writing

With talking, walking, plotting animals as main characters, this book is from the fantasy genre. Steig needed to invent all sorts of equipment, furnishings, and ways of looking at the world that fit naturally with the lives of dentist mice and their animal patients. Readers might consider taking this stance as a writer – what human activity could I make an animal activity and how would it need to be modified?

Sometimes, those books that have been on our shelves the longest hold messages, reminders, inspiration we’ve been needing. Reminding our children / students of that message and how it plays out in our own lives is a powerful one.

Happy Reading!

Flora and Ulysses The Illuminated Adventures

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A summary… in brief

Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo’s latest novel, Flora and Ulysses The Illuminated Adventures (a Newbery Medal recipient), is really best captured by the author herself. She says, “I set out to tell the story of a vacuum cleaner and a squirrel. I ended up writing a book about superheroes, cynics, poetry, love, giant donuts, little shepherdess lamps, and how we are all working to find our way home…”

This is a book that gives you a little bit of everything: humor, adventure, fantasy, love, sadness. DiCamillo packs it all in, using her main character, Flora, as a vehicle to access these many aspects of her story. A self-proclaimed “cynic”, Flora uses the words of her favorite comic book, The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incadesto!, to drive her thinking, decisions, and desires. So, when Flora spots her next door neighbor outside with a runaway vacuum vacuuming up a squirrel, she runs outside to assess the situation. And, this is the start to the story where a squirrel is revived by Flora (with CPR!) and comes back as a superhero who Flora coins Ulysses (after the vacuum that nearly killed him). This squirrel superhero has uncommon strength, the ability to fly, a love for poetry, and the ability to communicate with humans! Together, Flora and Ulysses develop a friendship and an understanding of each other that ultimately helps all sorts of people (including themselves) find their “home” as DiCamillo so aptly puts it.

As a parent…

This is a fantastic, gender-neutral, story to read with our middle elementary school-aged kids (say, 7 – 9 year olds). While the illustrations and short chapters make this a book that many kids this age would try to read with independence, it is actually a wonderful book to read with these kids. There is really sophisticated vocabulary as well as some complicated topics (divorce, parent-child relationship troubles). While, on the one hand, reading this together can help the child with his or her understanding of the text, it also offers you the opportunity to engage in conversation about these topics in a natural and contextualized way.

After reading this book myself, I started reading it to my seven-year-old son. One of the aspects that enchant him most is the comic book element that DiCamillo and the illustrator, K.G. Campbell, weave into the story. He has not read many graphic novels or comics before, so the little snippets of comics in this book were a great “taster” for him. Interestingly, he then asked me yesterday if he could make a comic strip for his grandfather’s birthday card. It’s always special to introduce our kids to a new (or even new-ish) genre and to see how it resonates for them!

This is also a special book to read with your child(ren) because DiCamillo does what she does so often in her books and crafts a story that genuinely resonates for both young and old(er).

As a teacher…

The first thing that smacks me in the face  are the possibilities it lends for teaching kids about language – both as readers and writers. DiCamillo has loaded this book with rich, complex, but story-appropriate language: words such as “cynic” and “malfeasance”. Kids will need to strategically work to make sense of it, but, once they do, DiCamillo supports them in really internalizing that language by reusing it over and over again. DiCamillo also crafts characters that latch onto language. Flora, for example, hangs on just about every last word that she reads in the Incandesto comics and uses this language as her own. Ulysses loves words, seeing the feeling they can evoke and the images they create. Flora and Ulysses are the two most upfront examples of how DiCamillo’s characters are tuned into language, but each of the main characters has a strong connection to language – either how they use it or how they consider it.

This book also draws my attention to Kate DiCamillo as a writer of novels for children. On the surface her stories are all so different in terms of the characters and settings, but I began to wonder if maybe they aren’t so different after all. Flora and Ulysses, Opal and Winn-Dixie, Edward Tulane and Abilene, Desperaux and Pea, Rob and Sisteen… I wonder what similarities we might find when looking at these character relationships and what they mean for the stories that DiCamillo tells. I wonder how looking at the body of work might help students to deepen their sense of theme and character relationships.

Kate DiCamillo is in an especially interesting role right now. Not only is she a popular and prolific author of children’s books, but she is also the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014-2015. It could be interesting to see what work she does in that role. What messages might she have for us to consider about young people and reading and writing?

And, as always, the author’s website is a great place to gain some insight:

Happy Reading!