3 Picture Books that Teach

Although most picture books are written for younger kids, my 13 year old happily listens to any picture book I read to him.  Recently we’ve been reading a lot of picture books.  We’re in the middle of Reading for Research Month and I’m reading at least 5 picture books a day.  Since I’m homeschooling, I read the books to my 7th, 6th and 3rd graders and use them for learning.

Miranda Paul’s book, One Plastic Bag, generated an intriguing discussion about how one person can make a powerful impact for good. One Plastic Bag highlights the efforts of Isatou Ceesay in Gambia. She creatively cleans up her village, one plastic bag at a time.  Reading this book generated a conversation about the good we can do for our community and how one person can make a difference. 

The Day the Babies Crawled Away, by Peggy Rathmann is another of our favorites.  Recently we used this book as a mentor text for poetry and illustration. The illustrations bring a depth and second story to the text that makes the book fun to study and reread.

Here is my 9 year old's poem inspired by this book:

Winter is out
The frogs jump about
My chickens are eating the flies
Flowers appear
And I think that I hear
The screams of a Winter that dies

by Sydney Call

And You Nest Here with Me, by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple is so lyrically written and beautifully illustrated that I we’ve re-read it many times. Identifying the mystery birds and reading the backmatter makes this book educational and fun at the same time.  

What are your favorite picture books that teach?

3 Secrets to School Visit Success

writing their own stories
Schools visits are magical…most of the time.  My very first school visit started with technology issues. After struggling for half an hour, I decided to give my presentation without slides. At that point, of course, the presentation suddenly started working! Talk about stressful. But in the end, it’s your connection with the kids that matters.  How do we inspire and encourage kids during our school visits?journal and rejections
I thought through this question as I recently prepared for my visit to St. Augustine’s school, where I spent the day leading workshops for K-8, pictured here. There are the three basic rules that work for me. I share personal experiences, get the kids involved, and use questions.
1.  Share personal experiences.  Kids like hearing about your triumphs and downfalls.  They want to hear something silly or what gives you ideas for books.  I share my pile of rejections, a silly picture of myself at their age,and my first journal.
2. Get the kids involved. Kids learn best when they are moving and thinking at the same time. My school visits involve mad-libs, raisin and popcorn meditations, singing, a story in a box, writing stories, and onomatopoeia word storms.   
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'Till We Have Faces and the Power of Words

Are words more powerful than the sword?  Can words sway an evil heart or change the course of history?  I think so. That's why books mean so much to me.  Books change people when they evoke emotion.  In literature, when books are translated into different languages, how do we keep that emotional impact?Till We Have Faces used translation services to make it available in another language, do you think foreign readers would feel the same way about the book that you do? Would that emotion and lyricism still be conveyed?

Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis has been one of my favorite books since high school. This retelling of Cupid and Psyche drills into the heart of relationships; the interplay of love and jealousy, the terrible price of certain choices, and the ultimate power of redemption.

The power of this book is in the way that C. S. Lewis arranges his words. I love his description of how writing wrought a change in Orual, Psyche's plain older sister:

“What began the change was the very writing itself. Let no one lightly set about such a work. Memory, once waked, will play the tyrant. . .The change which the writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning; only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound. ” 

Orual's voice is realistic and emotional and her words resonate:

“Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, 'Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.'

A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” 

I'm drawn to C. S. Lewis's  words because of their emotional impact. He uses common words in an uncommon way. His lyricism and the thought he puts into the placement of each word, shines throughout the story, creating empathy in the reader. Emotion transcends language.  So when publishers use translation services to make books like Till We Have Faces available in other languages, paying attention to the emotional impact of the words is key...literal translations relay meaning, but we remember the words that evoke emotion.