First The Egg

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First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a book that I was introduced to in a class this spring. Published in 2007, this is not a new book, but it was new to me!

a summary… in brief

As the writer and illustrator of this short and visually beautiful, award-winning picture book, Seeger communicates her message about change, transformation, and life in 26 carefully planned pages. With clear, repetitive language, Seeger shows young readers how various animals, plants and objects evolve with a simple beginning, middle, end structure. In the case of the egg, for example, on one page we see the words “the EGG” with an illustration of an egg, on the next page, the word “then” with an illustration of a chick, and on the third page, the words “the CHICKEN” with the illustration of a grown chicken. This pattern of showing three stages of development continues throughout the book. The extra special feature of this book is the way in which the illustrations depict this notion of evolution and change. The illustrations are cut-outs that physically show the related changes from one stage of development to the next. Kids love discovering this!

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As a parent… what an appropriate way to talk to our kids about change! In this regards, the book really spans so many ages. While on the surface it seems most appropriate for our preschool children, I can see many instances in which this book would be a beautiful one to share with early elementary school children as well. With our youngest kids, it’s a chance to talk about changes in a very literal way. Preschoolers are so interested in how they are big they are and how they will grow and get bigger. This book is a way to help our young children consider how other creatures and objects grow and evolve. For our slightly older children, we can consider more complex notions of change (i.e., life / death, changing schools – preschool to elementary school) yet make them understood through the lens of the concrete examples of change in this beautiful book.

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As a teacher… I can imagine using this book in so many contexts. It is really a small book that packs a big punch. It won’t require much time to read but will offer plentiful opportunities for learning and discussing. It might be used:

  • At the beginning of the year to introduce the ways we can evolve and change as learners, friends, and community members
  • At the end of the year to reflect on our change and growth as learners, friends, and community members.
  • To introduce to simple sequencing, “first, next, then…”
  • To develop sight word knowledge of simple sequencing words
  • To teach the strategy for using pattern and illustration to support decoding
  • To teach or explore main idea – what is this book mostly about and how does the author communicate that?
  • To explore the role of illustration

Laura Vacarro Seeger has written numerous picture books and won several awards for her work, including two Caldecott Honors and two Theodor Seuss Geisel Honors. To learn more about her, her books, and how she does her work, check out her website: studiolvs.com

Happy Reading!

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The Year of Billy Miller

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in brief… a summary

The Year of Billy Miller, a Newbery Honor Book, is Kevin Henkes’s latest novel. Published in 2013, it’s a 229 page book about Billy Miller’s second grade year. Henkes, both author and illustrator, has a penchant for crafting heartwarming stories about common topics or events in the lives of children.

The Year of Billy Miller is no different. At the start of the book, Billy is on a road-trip with his family (Mama, Papa, and his younger sister, Sal), just two weeks before the start of 2nd grade. They stopped in Blue Earth, Minnesota to see the statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Billy had a mishap here at the Jolly Green Giant that initiates the journey he takes over the course of the year (and of the book). When a gust of wind blew his new baseball hat from his head, Billy reached over a guardrail to grab it. In doing so, he fell overboard and down onto the pavement below. While he was diagnosed by the doctors as a “lucky young man” in good health, the lump on his head began a trickle of worry and uncertainty that coursed through him in his early days of second grade.

Over the course of Billy’s second grade year, he overcomes his worry, with the kind words of his teacher, Mrs. Silver, and he slowly develops a greater confidence in himself and understanding of his capacity as a friend, student, son and brother. This simple story, chronicling a child’s school year, is really the story of growth, change, and enlightenment. It is the story of how one boy grows to see this year as his year, “the year of Billy Miller”.

As a parent, there are so many reasons to love this book. To begin with, it’s funny. my seven year old son and I laughed out loud for about 5 minutes after reading the third chapter in which Billy misunderstands his “know-it-all” classmate’s nickname, “Emster”, thinking she is calling herself “Hamster”.

Mostly, however, I loved that in reading this book with my son, we were able to talk about real things that real 7 year-olds do, think, and wonder: relationships with younger siblings, feelings of insecurity with friends and at school, strong desire for independence, worries about family members, and urges to be helpful and “grown up”. Billy Miller’s year spans it all, and Henkes does so in a way that feels honest and akin to an authentic 7-year-old experience.

This book is a page turner. My son nagged me to read on, and when I wouldn’t or couldn’t, I’d find him cuddled up somewhere reading the next chapters(s) on his own. I think this book would be a wonderful book to read at the conclusion of a school year or as kids start wrapping up the summer and get ready for a new school year. It offers wonderful opportunities for laughs and conversations (both about Billy and about ourselves).

As a teacher, I admire the powerful model Henkes offers to young readers and writers. Billy’s year is not one riddled with intense drama, melancholy, or humor. Billy’s year is one that details typical 2nd grade events, anxieties, and relationships. So often, our students get hung up on trying to find the “grabbiest” topics. In The Year of Billy Miller, Henkes shows us that beautiful, captivating, funny stories can come from everyday experiences.

Henkes wrote this book with early elementary school-aged children in mind! While the book is long(ish), the chapters are short, and there is ample spacing between lines of text. Also, Henkes includes at least one small, black and white illustration (spot illustrations) in each chapter. These illustrations seem to depict aspects of the chapter that Henkes wants to stand out as significant or important.

This book is also a wonderful opportunity to explore story structure. Henkes organizes his book into long sections named after the key people in Billy’s 2nd grade year: his mother, father, sister, and teacher. Children can be guided toward exploring how these sections fit together to tell one story.

This book also offers great possibilities for a beginning of the year character study – character development, relationships, and character growth are all palpable in this text.

Finally, I think there are rich possibilities for exploring Henkes as an author and how this book fits into his repertoire as an author. Does thinking more about some of his other books, his craft, style, choice of subject and theme allow us to see anything new in Billy Miller (and vice-versa)? If you want to see Henkes in action, have a look at his website where you can see videos of him at work in his home studio, talking about his work and some of the choices he has made in other recent books. http://www.kevinhenkes.com/

Happy reading!

This summer, I made a plan!

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This summer, I vow to really do what I intend to do every summer, to indulge myself in good books. Read “widely” is a hot term in literacy education these days. It refers to the breadth of a child’s reading experience across many genres and purposes. My summer reading intentions often get watered down by an urge to read way too widely and for too many different purposes. Over the final months of the school year, my bedside table piles up with things that “I’ll get to in the summer” – magazines, professional texts, children’s books. The list of novels on my kindle “wishlist” grows to unprecedented lengths. “I’ll get there soon… summer is almost here.”

The summer comes and goes. It’s always wonderfully refreshing and great to have time with my fun and funny children. We have adventures, play games, make projects, read together, but that reading that I hoped to do… I sort of scratch the surface, barely.

Not this year… this year will be different. I decided to do what I tell all students to do – make a plan! OK, well, I almost always have a plan, but my plans just haven’t been terribly realistic in the past. I’ve got a plan this year, a more focused plan, and it’s going to leave me feeling satisfied and fulfilled. I’m going to relish in a whole lot of reading, and my kids, they’re going to do some of it with me!

Instead of trying to do it all, I’ve decided to dig deep into one area and tread lightly in some others. I’m diving into children’s literature this summer. I’m amassing a pile, a productive pile, of books that I intend to read and write about! I’ll share my thoughts as a teacher and as a parent, and sometimes, maybe I can even get my kids (ages 7 and almost 4) to share their thoughts too. I’ll read “widely” (though not too widely) – delving into texts for children of all ages and in various genre.

I hope you’ll join me this summer as I joyfully engage in children’s literature, relishing in the possibilities!