Friday, February 27, 2015

A Powerful Pair of Books by Gail Gibbons

Two books by Gail Gibbons are so useful and so interesting that they deserve a special nod. They are the newly released THE FRUITS WE EAT and its companion book, THE VEGETABLES WE EAT. With their clearly written text and abundant illustrations, these books make it easy to help children grapple with these big questions:
·      What’s a fruit? What’s a vegetable?
·      Why should we eat fruits? Vegetables?
·      How are fruits grown? Vegetables?
·      How are fruits harvested? Vegetables?
·      What are the parts of different fruits? Vegetables?

Each book could be read and discussed alone.  But when they are read and discussed together they provide a rich basis for comparisons and contrasts. Now we can talk and write about these questions:
·      How are fruits and vegetables similar? How are they different?
·      What is a fruit vegetable?

In addition, there are nonfiction features to notice in these books:
·      Examine the labeled diagrams, and encourage children to use diagrams when they write.
·      Notice that the text states generalizations using clearly written text, while the illustrations give many specifics that support these generalizations.  Discuss how the author states key ideas clearly and provides detailed illustrations that help readers understand these ideas.This is what CCSS is referring to when they discuss integration of information.

These books are an excellent addition to a unit on plants or as part of an author study of the many books by Gail Gibbons.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Books about Wangari Maathai

Last year Mary Ann Cappiello and I wrote about how to use nonfiction picture books to discuss the career of Nobel Prize winner and political activist Wangari Maathai. We wanted children to see how her life’s work is an outstanding example of a “global citizenship,” a person caring for the rights and well-being of everyone.  You can access this article on the School Library Journal website at
We created a teaching unit that combined Common Core Standards and Social Studies Standards (C3).
A new book about Wangari Maathai written by Franck Prévot and illustrated by Aurélia Fronty makes an excellent addition to this inquiry teaching unit and helps us further integrate language arts and social studies. As a number of reviewers have pointed out, this book emphasizes Maathai’s stance on political issues—women’s rights, democracy, and British colonialism. The book also provides us opportunities to discuss both the content and craft of the book. 

Here are some interesting content topics to discuss:
·      The impact of British colonialism on the land and people of Kenya
·      How Wangari stood up against Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who planned real estate projects that would threaten forests and wildlife species
·      Wangari’s outreach to world leaders and local Kenyan farmers
·      Her persistence over time, despite several imprisonments
            Here are some interesting craft topics to discuss:
·      The use of italic font to comment on the information in the book. Here’s how the book begins: “It’s almost as if Wangari Maathai is still alive, since the trees she planted still grow.”
·      The use of color to reinforce ideas. Green is used liberally on pages that emphasize planting trees. Yellow is used on pages that inspire hope. For example, when Wangari takes on a more active political role.
·      Extensive back matter includes photographs of Wangari, a timeline of events in her life, a map of Kenya today, quotations from Wangari, and a bibliography.

Combine this new book with the four others about Wangari Maathai for some interesting discussions, writing, and illustrating:

Books about Wangari Maathai:
Johnson, J. C. (2010). Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace. Ill. by S. L. Sadler. New York: Lee & Low.
Napoli, D. J. (2010). Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. Ill. By K. Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Nivola, C. A. (2008). Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Winter, J. (2008). Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Orlando: Harcourt.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A National and International Treasure: The BPL Digital Collections

1482 Map from the 4th Edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia
Readers of this blog, teachers and librarians alike, may be delighted to learn about what has been happening at the Boston Public Library over the past six years. Now you might wonder what the Boston Public Library has to do with you and your students if you live in other parts of the country. Or, you might think, great, another colonial archival available. Yes, there are the transcripts of the Salem Witch Trials, and a map owned by Benjamin Franklin. However, the collection of rare materials, such as documents, maps, photographs, books, Shakespeare folios, etc. is truly international in scope. I learned about this collection from a story in the Boston Globe last week.  

As I understand it, the new database created by the library with funds from the state of Massachusetts will soon be made available to the public, and I will be sure to post about that resource when it becomes available. Until then, items have been made available through other open-source sites as they have been digitized. Photographs are available through a Flickr account. Digitized historic children's books from the Jordan Collection of the Boston Public Library have been housed at the International Children's Digital Library. Other collections have been made available on the Internet Archive. Some, like The Normal B. Leventhal Map Center, is up and running. 

As an FYI, if you don't know of the International Children's Digital Library, it is an amazing resource out of the University of Maryland. Children's books from around in the world are available in digitized format. It's a wonderful resource for your work with English Language Learners who are literate in their home language -- to continue to give them access to books written in their first language, written by members of their culture. 

We want students to engage in authentic nonfiction texts of all kind and genres. There are so many wonderful text sets that can build using children's and young adult nonfiction and these digital resources. I'm giddy with anticipation, and more than slightly overwhelmed by the treasure-trove of teaching resources such a public collection presents. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Super Bowl Blizzard of Awards - Dateline Chicago - Feb. 2, 2015

Chicago is the windy city and it maintained it reputation during ALA MidWinter this past weekend. While Chicago was under a Blizzard warning, flights cancelled, and Super Bowl celebrations abound. Monday, Feb. 2nd brought us the book award announcements many of us look forward to each year.

The 2015 Robert F. Sibert Medal went to:

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  The book is published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.  

Bryant and Sweet have created a very successful team. In 2009,  winning a Caldecott Honor Medal for A River of Words:  The Story of William Carlos Williams  
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, written by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.) was the 2014 Sibert Honor book.
In November 2013,  Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet participated in a session at the AASL National Conference in Hartford, CT.  Mary Anny Capiello was the moderator of this session that included Doreen Rappaport, Matt Tavaras, and Andrea Davis Pinkney.  The session was titled Biographies through Picture Books: A Focus on the CCSS - "Picture-book biographies draw readers into exploring a slice of history.  Through both words and images, authors can share primary sources with young audiences."  This session was insightful and provided wonderful back stories from all the participating authors who shared their labor of love stories.  Mary Ann was an excellent moderator who studied and prepared questions that helped draw out interesting stories for all participants.  It was one of my favorite sessions I attended at this conference.  I remember Jan and Melissa sharing their experience about working on the Horace Pippin biography.  It is great to see their collaborations continuing with such success.  Congratulation!  

On a personal note living in Western New York - blizzards are something I am familiar with.  A librarian from California asked what you do during a blizzard.  I said you shelter in place.  You don't go out and challenge mother nature but I must admit I did uber to a Sports Bar for the Super Bowl.  
Last year we had two official blizzards and I did shelter in place - at home.  


Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Great Model

Somehow, January 2015 is already over and I'm not quite sure where it went. The month flew by, and between two work weekends, a flu-like virus and forty-plus inches of snow, here I am. But now it's February, my spring semester has begun, each and every day the sun shines a little brighter, and I am back to blogging here at the Uncommon Corps. I want to share a wonderful professional development model with you, a model that can work in systems large and small, for a wide range of professional development experiences. 

Last winter, I was asked by staff in the Office of Library Services in the New York City Department of Education if I would consider being a consultant on a grant that they were submitting to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Melissa Jacobs Israel spear-headed the project, which was awarded one of the IMLS National Leadership grants.  

The official description of the grant reads as follows: 
The New York City Department of Education will build a digital gateway for students and teachers called “Project ECS@ESC: Encouraging Connections through STEM” at the Environmental Study Center. This will offer rich and engaging experiential environmental science programs for students and teachers at all grade levels. The project will develop a digital depository of educational materials and digital resources that connect instructional content and programs. Educators and students will access the instructional resources beyond the walls of ESC, facilitating STEM-focused inquiry experiences in the classroom and utilizing instructional materials, e-content, and digital resources. It will also create a digital depository using Springshare’s Libguides, an online content management system, to provide e-content focused on STEM topics and themes.
Photo copyright Environmental Study Center, NYC Public Schools
I had no idea that the Environmental Study Center was a part of New York City Public Schools. But it is, complete with live animals, out in Flatbush, Brooklyn. 

I think the design of the project is brilliant (which I can say because I didn't plan any of it - the Office of Library Services and Environmental Study Center team did). Teachers and school librarians from New York City Public Schools volunteer (and get paid) to be on a planning team to curate text sets and develop curriculum units aligned with the offerings of the Environmental Study Center. Teams are comprised of two classroom teachers, one school librarian, and one staff member from the ESC. The teams receive professional development on inquiry-based science instruction, digital resources available via databases that the NYC schools subscribe to, and the process of creating and using multimodal, multigenre text sets. 

I spent a Saturday in early January working with the first two teams, providing professional development on text sets and text selection, drawing from the ideas in my two books Teaching with Text Sets (Cappiello & Dawes, Shell, 2012) and Teaching to Complexity (Cappiello & Dawes, Shell, 2014). The teams were interesting and interested, engaging and engaged. It was a joy to a work with them, all while hearing the squawks and squeaks of the animals from the Center in the background. 

The teams will continue to meet under the guidance of staff from Library Services and the ESC. They will develop text sets and curriculum.  My colleague and co-author Erika and I will review the work and provide feedback. Once the curriculum is finalized, it will become available to all in a public Libguide, along with the curated digital resources, e-books, etc. available to teachers using the curriculum with the NYC school district. Over the summer, the two teams will provide professional development for the teachers who will be using the newly-designed curriculum next school year. Then, the process starts all over again, for a total of three years.

Erika and I are the only outsiders. Otherwise, this grant uses the expertise that is already in the system, and creates a new network of curriculum experts in the teams of teachers and librarians. The process produces locally-created curricula for the school system, utilizes an amazing local resource that gets students out of the confines of the classroom and gives them the opportunity for hands-on science, and creates a cadre of teachers and librarians working across districts within the system who have increased knowledge of curriculum design, inquiry, text selection and text sets, and a sense of agency based on their delivery of professional development to their colleagues. 

Isn't it marvelous? Isn't it a great example of harnessing strengths within a school system and building capacity? It could easily be replicated with other content areas. I'm sure there are other projects out there working with a similar model, and I'd love to hear about them in the comments section. I'll report out more as the project progresses here on this blog and in other venues with Melissa and her team.