Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Friday, December 31, 2010

60 post challenge

Last January I challenged myself to post 60 posts in 2010. Well, here we are on December 31st and I’m not close to sliding in finished. Including this one, I wrote 46 posts this year. As for comments on other blogs, I know I have posted more than I have counted, but I often forget to add them in to the count. Regardless, I am glad I challenged myself, as I am sure I wouldn’t have posted as much this year without the goal.

Goals have been good for me. They have given a framework for my efforts and helped me to keep on track. One of the reasons I fell short was that I spent most of the summer planning, reevaluating and thinking too much. So I didn’t get much posting done.

My take away: While I did not complete the 60 posts, I cannot feel that I failed. I made a goal. I worked toward it. I grew through the experience. I resolve to continue moving forward. 

The Kids Vote

Thursday, December 23rd, the last of our kids cast their ballots in the Mock Caldecott Election. The last couple of weeks before our vacation were a whirlwind of activity. Trying to make sure every class had read all the books was challenging enough, but student absences made getting full participation tricky. Every morning I ran around before school with a list of students who had been absent the day their class voted. I was able to round up more than half of the missing students this way.

Well, the voting is in and here are the results:

We had 395 students from grades PreK-1 cast their ballots.
Our selections were:

Number of votes
Medal Winner
Art and Max
David Wiesner
David Wiesner
City Dog, Country Frog
Jon Muth
Mo Willems

Push Putton

Children Make Terrible Pets
Peter Brown
Peter Brown

Bear in the Air
Amy Bates
Susan Meyers

At the end of the day, I asked to have the results be announced along with the Caught Being Good announcement. I can’t tell you  what the reaction was elsewhere in the building, but the class that was in the library let out a cheer.

It was a great feeling to come to the end, but it was also sad. I can only imagine how members of the Caldecott Committee feel once the decision has been made and the phone calls made to inform the winners.

What is left for us is awaiting the announcements on January 10th and discussing our thoughts about the process

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mock Caldecott Focus Group Voting

On Monday, December 20th the Mock Caldecott Focus Group met to cast their votes. This is the one for adults. There was a bit of nervousness on my part. I had some ideas of how we would start this process, but the rest would have to emerge somewhat organically. People were popping in throughout the day to check books they had not seen or re-familiarize themselves with titles they hadn’t seen in a while.

As soon as my last class had finished I put the books out on display so that they would be easy for everyone to see. The meeting was scheduled for half an hour later, but people started coming, reviewing and discussing almost immediately.

I decided that voting using the method I developed for the student elections would work out well for our adults as well.  Using the Mock Caldecott Medals we made as ballots for the students to vote with we could get a quick assessment of the level of agreement of our members. Originally, I had intended to open it up to discussion and debate before casting the first votes. However, the demands of the holiday, as well as flu, season had people an edge. They came early and discussed generally. When we were all assembled there was an eagerness to get down to business and vote.

I decided to give each member 2 medals. This way we could gather general opinion and equalize some of the quirks each of us harbors. We then removed any book that had received only one vote. This left us with five books to narrow down. Happily, this was the maximum number we could have. All we had to do was vote again to decide which would be the Medal winner and which would remain to be classified as Honor books. Once again each member received 2 medals and were cautioned that they needed to use them for different books. The clear winner was City Dog, Country Frog. This had been a favorite from the beginning. It didn’t loose its charm. In fact, it was one chosen to be in the selection for our student Mock Caldecott. Even reading it 20 times in a week and a half couldn’t sour it. That is the mark of a book that holds together.

Our selections were:

Medal Winner
City Dog, Country Frog
Jon Muth
Mo Willems
In the Wild
Holly Meade
David Elliot

The Boy in the Garden
Allen Say
Allen Say

Henry Aaron’s Dream
Matt Tavares
Matt Tavares

Art and Max
David Wiesner
David Wiesner

Upon reflection, I realized that we had engaged in the discussion before we voted. It’s just that we had been discussing these books all week. Unlike the real Caldecott Committee members, we work together every day. Our thoughts about books are shared pretty much immediately. I hear comments about a book I have just reviewed as I walk down the hall on the way to bus duty. I share a thumbs up with a teacher who drops their class off for library. Students tell me that their teacher has read one of those books to them and that they all love it. I shoot back with my own thoughts and watch as they are absorbed, debated and shot back to remind me about the criteria. It’s kind of like the twitter version of the committee. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mock Caldecott Voting

Last week, when the first class cast their ballots for the book they thought should win the Caldecott Medal I discovered a few things.

It was interesting to watch. Several boys had discussed their choice before class and spent the time trying to convince everyone to join them in voting for their favorite book. Meanwhile, one boy who came to a decision through much consideration and weighing of qualities convinced a group of girls to vote with him. Listening to these two groups debate the virtues of their choice left me speechless. These kids are 6 years old!

Now I do believe that the power of debate is a great thing, however, we wanted students to feel free to vote for the book they really thought was best. Need I explain peer pressure? Or the desire to be like others? So after the first go round I changed the rules a bit.

The contest we held earlier to create the most faithful representation of the Caldecott Medal yielded a good number of excellent entries. Frankly, it was harder to choose the winner than it was for me to choose the book I wanted to vote for. Finally, however, I applied criteria and found that one stuck out clearly to me.

Before the vote we took a book parade. Students were asked to walk in a path by the books so that they had a chance to look at them and start to think which one they wanted to vote for. Before I did this it took a long time to make decisions. This little parade gave them a chance to
1.    move their bodies before sitting and waiting for everyone to have their turn.
2.    View all the covers again
3.    Start thinking about which one they might like to vote for.

To vote, I called each student and checked their name off my list. They took a medal and had to put it in the plastic cup in front of the book they wished to select. The class faced away from the display of books to give them a modicum of privacy. After every student had voted we tallied the votes. I have been chasing down students who missed class using this list.

Students seemed to enjoy using the medals and it made voting clear and easy to do.

Some students got confused, however, and thought that they couldn’t put their medal in a cup if it already had one in it. It seems so easy to explain a task like this, but for young children who don’t really understand the concept of voting it is very important to explain the process in great detail.

Things I would explain:
1.    We don’t need to touch the books.
2.    You don’t have to put your hand in the cup
3.    Just drop the medal in the cup.
4.    You drop the medal in the cup which is in front of the book you want to vote for.
5.    It is ok if there is already a medal in that cup. You can put yours in there too.
6.    We are voting for the book with the finest illustrations
7.    Illustrations are pictures. (Just in case they have forgotten.)
8.    We are looking toward the front of the room, not at the person voting.
9.    When we give the person privacy to vote, they feel comfortable to choose the one they like. Not the one something they like likes.
This is exciting.

Voting will continue to the end of the week. I can’t wait to see what they choose.


Today as she was leaving the library with a book precariously held under her left arm, a spunky kindergarten girl pointed her finger straight at me and proclaimed "You're a good person and a nice librarian, Ms. Shoup." 

That was better than any present she could have wrapped and tied with a bow. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reading the Nominations

Reading for the Mock Caldecott this week has been harder than the weeks up until now because we are forced to read all the titles suggested and try to see what the nominator saw in the book. That means revisiting some books we didn’t care much for at first glance. It means occasionally changing our minds.

I’m starting to see that one of the beauties of looking at books in this way is this process. Some books I eliminated from my top choices early on. While I liked them, they did not seem to be as strong as others. Bringing these books back again I am looking at them all over again. In doing so I am really trying to open my eyes and step away from myself, my preferences and my short sightedness. I am seeing new things and getting confused. I am also seeing new things and finding that it is clearer than I had thought it would be. Well, it is clearer to me. I am finding it easier and easier to step away from personal preferences and story lines that speak to me and really look at whether the illustrations are successful. Separating the books I love, the stories with messages I can relate to, books which have strong curricular applications and those which show a strong visual showing is becoming second nature to me. This is something many of my colleagues not only find difficult, but express a lack of comfort with.

I wonder how it will be when we meet next Monday with the twenty-one titles that were nominated. Will we have eliminated several books unanimously or will someone still be hanging onto each of those favorites?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Drawing the Caldecott Medal Contest

Small children may love books, but sitting for any length of time is challenging. So I needed to find an outlet for children to move, create and respond to what they were learning about the Caldecott Medal.

The first thing I did was make up a song and dance, which I will post once I have mastered the mechanics of my new recording tools.

Then I created a quiz/contest. Each child was given a piece of paper which looks like the one you see above. They were asked what they thought it was. Some say "it's a circle", some know right away from the context that it is the Caldecott Medal.

Next students were asked what was missing. Usually they recognize that the pictorial elements are missing. I allow them to tell me each item, but I ask that each child only identify one part so more children get a chance to participate.

Moving on to the text, I read what is actually written on the paper. Together we sound out and discover what the answers are. Only then do I send them to the table to complete the task.

What will happen to these papers?
1. The best paper in the school will be chosen to be on our website. It will be the emblem for our Mock Caldecott group.
2. It will also be shrunk down to medal size and affixed to the book that our student body chooses as their pick for the medal this year.
3. The reduced size medal will be run off in duplicate and laminated. Each student will be given one of these medals to place in the container next to the book they vote for. When the student receives their medal their name will be checked off. This way I can locate students who miss class for some reason and make sure they get a chance to vote during the week we vote.
4. The chosen medal will also be used as the visual in a graphing exercise in which students will compare the results from individual classrooms.

If you choose to copy my activity, please give me credit for developing the idea. Here are some pointers for making this run more smoothly.

1. Make sure you are clear about what your expectations are before you start. Students will surprise you with what they do with this project. If you aren't clear, you are likely to see a lot of princesses appear in the middle of your medals.

2. Be clear if you want the items to be in the proper locations. This is a great way of going over middle/center, top, bottom, right and left. If you are not clear, and even if you are, you will see some interesting juxtapositions. Why not have that goose riding on the horse?

3. Next time I will be sure to be clear that all the elements must be done in pencil before the crayons are touched. If not, you often cannot see what is drawn underneath.

The results were beautiful. I have two more classes to submit their papers, but have narrowed it down to about 30 at this point. I will be posting the result on our school website at the end of this week.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Picture This!

I missed the boat when it came to responding to THE article published by the New York Times which pointed to the demise of the picture book. The article, Picture Books No Longer a Staple,  created outrage in circle I run in – librarians, writers and children were flummoxed by the assertions. Bloggers wrote rebuttals, listservs buzzed, the first thing said when I met other librarians was “Did you see the article?”

Frankly, I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the responses. I sometimes have the tendency to wait until I’m up to date reading the comments of others before making my own response. I don’t want to say what someone has already said, usually with more panache than I would. This has been a recurring theme for me this year. One I hope to correct in 2011.

Not only that, I’m still trying to process what I heard and learned at the MSLA annual conference in October. There I heard the visionary Stephen Abrams speak about how technology is speeding up and how changing format will drive how our libraries look in the near future. I found myself wandering around in fog over the next few days trying to make sense of what I had heard and how I felt it might all play out in children’s services. Specifically, if the change in format means a real shift from book as a physical artifact to a digital resource, what will that mean for picture books? What about the future of the Caldecott Medal in a digital world? I had not resolved these questions in my mind when the New York Times article appeared. Stephen Abrams had warned us that the changes facing us will be many and of rapid succession. The luxury of understanding one thing before facing the next will be just that, luxury. Those who can quickly respond in clear, concise language their thoughts will certainly be ahead of the rest of us who are left standing in shock trying to catch up. It occurs to me that the skill of responding quickly to new information might be a very important skill to instill in our students.  I need to practice the skill so that I can model it.

This morning I came across the CBS article Expert: Picture Books Do Still Work for Kids
While I could have wished for a title with more positive spin, the article is quite solid in outlining how children benefit from picture books. It also encourages parents to add books to the holiday bounty. More than anything, the tone of the article is a calming force. Rather than voicing outrage, the article is reassuring and soothing like a story before bed. Make mine a picture book.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SCBWI - Clicking the button is like saying it out loud

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’ve looked at the website. It seemed like it was time to make a commitment. And so a few weeks ago I did it. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). It is true that anyone who wants to support children’s books can join. As a school librarian I already had all the credentials I needed to join.

Still, while it felt exhilarating and exciting, it also felt scary. I could sign up as a librarian and let it go at that. I didn’t, though. When I had the chance to check off





I put a check mark next to author. Ever since I’ve been feeling like I told a whopper. I feel like a truth bender, exaggerator, like I’m playing fast and easy with the facts, like a snake oil salesman.

The other day when I arrived home, the package from SCBWI was on the table. The light fell across it and illuminated it. I felt as if I was reaching for the holy grail, as if the moment I touched it my life would be different. I felt as if the contact between my skin and the package would set a set of events in motion that would change my life forever. I looked down to see if I was still middle aged or whether I had been transported to the natural state of my being – garbed in robes of flowing silk and scads of lace.

Funny enough, I do feel like my life has begun a transformation. The transformation happens when you begin to identify yourself as being something. Writing is not something I hope to do some day, but an act I do now and have been doing. I may not be good. I may not be ready to share what I write, but I am writing. Unlike the vision, it doesn’t happen in a flash of an eye. Rather it takes it’s time, pencil lead, notebooks, computer files and plenty of words. 

Nominations – Mock Caldecott

Last Monday we had the meeting at which we were to offer up three titles for nomination. Just three. Did I mention that we were only allowed to nominate three? Who came up with this idea? Me?

In the morning people came into the library grumpy. As far as I could tell there were three reasons for this:

1.     Getting back from break is never a good time to have a deadline.
2.     People were behind in reading and felt that they had to catch up by the meeting.
3.     Choosing was too hard.

When people told me they couldn’t choose, I admitted that I hadn’t chosen either. I had narrowed it down to my top fifteen! I found it difficult to narrow it down to six by the end of the day.

Once people gathered at the end of the day, however, the tension seemed to melt a bit. I think finding out that other people also had difficulty in choosing their nominations made it much easier. I think for those of us doing this for a first time, it seems like everyone else is having an easier time/is more competent/is better able to make the critical judgment.

People showed up for the meeting half an hour early. Some of them tried to fit in a book or two, but others were happy to start talking about the books.

While no one really wanted to be the first, they all joined very calmly. It’s funny how people who had admitted they didn’t know which they would pick in the morning did not hesitate to make nominations. Everyone had well thought out explanations of why they chose the titles they did.

Of fifteen people, eleven were present. After all the nominations were sorted for duplicates it turns out we have a solid twenty-two titles to look at. These will be the ones we review over the next few weeks. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Using YouTube to Enhance Appreciation of Picture Books

When I started this blog as a project associated with the 23 Things course, I set up a YouTube account, played with it and dropped it. From time to time I thought about the account and how convenient it would be to get it back up and running. It would be a lot easier to tag the videos I enjoy and have them all in one spot. So this evening I logged back in and worked on my channel. While it is really in the infancy stage, I hope that I can use this channel as a resource that people can go to to find videos connected with children's literature.

The main thought I had this evening was to collect trailers for book which we have looked at for the Mock Caldecott. These trailers sometimes give insight into methods used for creating the illustrations, the inspiration for the story or other interesting details. I think that our Mock Caldecott participants will enjoy using this. While I was at it I thought of several other applications such as author/illustrator interviews, and trailers for movies made from books. I will be adding to this resource. If you are interested in looking at my channel, you can find it at:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mock Caldecott, ambiguity and making decisions

On Monday, the participants in the adult version of the Mock Caldecott will meet to nominate their top three books. A list of these books will be compiled and we will all read these titles. I expect chaos to ensue. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

Last week people kept saying to me “I’m still looking for THE ONE.” I can sympathize. They want one that blows them over, knocks them over the head and has a label that says “This is the one.” No one wants to be wrong.

This is part of a trend I’ve been seeing for a while. People want to know the right answer. They are afraid of getting it wrong. Standardized testing doesn’t do much to alleviate our fears. We are trained to pick “the right answer” from a group of four possibilities. Frankly, life isn’t much like that. There’s so much more ambiguity.

Just think about it. Making choices in health care is seldom a clear-cut experience. You have to weigh the pros and the cons and make your best guess. Even gathering reams of information won’t help you make a decision that is definitely the correct one. There is room for error. You have to make your best guess based on what you know. It’s a leap of faith.

Our current political and economic environment doesn’t help. There’s plenty of ambiguity facing people in personally significant ways. People who have lost jobs, homes, cars and hard cold cash in the economic downturn must feel the need for answers. There are certainly many, many questions. Finding a silver bullet remains elusive.

Choosing a career, a spouse, a home, even a vacation are all matters of weighing the pros and cons. The career may be the wrong one if a field dries up. Think about people who continued making buggy whips after the motorcar was invented. A spouse can have a mid-life crisis. A hurricane can whip through your vacation paradise. No one can be sure that the decision they are making is the only “right” choice. But we want to feel that there is, out there somewhere, a correct choice to choose.

Life just isn’t that certain.

So participating in an activity that is fraught with ambiguity is at times uncomfortable. Fear of inadequacy, incompetence and failure haunts us.  Sometimes we hope that the right answer is there, that we will somehow miraculously choose it. Then that feeling of discomfort will pass away.

To enjoy the process of the Mock Caldecott you have to let it go. It is much more enjoyable to me to listen to others and learn from them than to think I know the answer. Though it’s not something I’m proud of, I must admit it has taken some effort for me to get to that point. It hasn’t come naturally.

Naturally, I would like to pick the winner. I still remember what it felt like to tell students that I had chosen Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse as my pick for the medal. How glorious it felt to be right. My dear students applauded when they heard the news. They were so proud of me. Will I choose it again this year? Maybe, but maybe not. That’s not the point. This year, I’ve moved beyond that. It is not whether I am “right” or not. It’s really more about the process and who I become through the process. I’ll choose a contender – a really fine book.

I anticipate that there will be participants who come to the meeting on Monday who have not yet made their decisions as well as some who feel confident. No doubt about it, I’m anxious to experience this part of the process.

Am I going to tell you which books I choose? No way. I might be wrong.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mock Caldecott for Students

As we were looking at so many great new books, I began to think it made sense to extend the project to our students. Naturally, they can read neither the number nor the range of books we are reading. They can, however, have a limited number read to them, discuss their relative merits and make a decision based on the criteria given to them.

So a couple weeks ago I started going through the selections I had read to pull out the titles I thought age appropriate. Ten books seemed like a reasonable number to have students be able to read and think about. So we are compromising between the many I’d like them to read and what I think optimal and going with 15 books.

Introducing the project to the kids was even more rewarding than I anticipated. They were very excited to have a chance to pretend in school and to have a chance to vote!

We reviewed what the medal is for, who awards it and who receives it, the shape and color of the medal, as well as the various elements of the design on the medal. Kindergarteners who had just learned about the medal last week proved to have impressive memories. First graders who had the lesson last year impressed me with their ability to recall the design elements.

Some people have questioned whether learning the elements on the medal is important. My response is a resounding YES! After students have learned about the Caldecott Medal they are very enthusiastic to find one in the library. In their excitement to find one, children will bring me copies of books with the Pura Belpre Medal, the Geisel Award, the Newbery Medal, Parent’s Choice Awards, The Golden Kite Award and even the spectacularly differently shaped Coretta Scott King Award. It seems as though as long as it glitters it is a Caldecott in their minds. I remind them to think about what is on the Caldecott Medal. Then they are instructed to compare what they are looking at with what they know to be elements of the Caldecott Medal.

I outlined some basic things we were looking for in the illustrations:

-       Do the illustrations match the story?
-       Did the illustrator use the kinds of colors that would make the story more understandable?
-       Did the shapes match the feeling of the story? (Sharp objects being scarier. Round objects being more comfy.)
-       Was the illustrator good at his/her job?

Students did a remarkable job of responding to these questions. They are challenged to evaluate whether they think a book will be happy or sad by looking at the cover. Then they are required to give an explanation.

The adult group found it very difficult to separate their feelings about the story and the illustrations. If the story was heartwarming they overlooked inconsistencies or lack of prowess with the artistic medium.  It took several weeks and plenty of coaching for the process to become more natural.

Interestingly enough children fall into two camps on this skill.

1.     Some students are completely unable to separate their thought about the book based on text, illustrations, theme, etc. One student thought the illustrator had done a very bad job on the book. When I asked why he stated that it was “because the book is sad.” This tendency is not likely to be a surprise as we are used to thinking of children as being less sophisticated than adults.
2.     Some students have little to no trouble separating the illustrations from the text. In fact, they treat them as two separate items. I would postulate that this is because they are used to experiencing books in this way. I am working with very young children who are in the process of learning to read. Some of them have very little ability to read a book on their own. These children primarily experience books by flipping through the pages and “reading” the pictures. Recently when I introduced the “5 finger rule” to a class I saw a student with his 5 fingers up “reading” the book making up his own story as he went. Not so amazingly, all five of his fingers were still up at the end of the book. This is how he envisions the reading experience.

Running the Mock-Caldecott, or the Fake-Caldecott as one student calls it, with students is well worth the effort. Students are really enjoying it and it' interesting to see the experience through a different lens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

PiBoIdMo and the Proliferation of Thinking Chairs

I am taking part in a writing challenge this month called PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month for those of you Acronym challenged folks. PiBoIdMo is the brainchild of Tara Lazar whose blog Tara Lazar: Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) is a place to visit if you are interested in children’s lit. The idea is that you come up with and file one idea for a picture book each day of the month of November. She has lined up an amazing set of guest bloggers to post inspirations for the journey and some pretty nifty prizes. 

The real value, though, is the chance to “meet” some inspiring fellow writers and bloggers. I am enjoying the communal aspect of it, the inspiration and the fact that I have at least one idea on file for each day.

Before the challenge began, children’s writer, artist and blogger Dana Cary posted her preparations for the month on her blog Up in the Attic Lately. In this post she shared her idea for the creation of a “thinking chair” including information about how she pulled it together. Check out her idea. 

I was not alone in reading the post and feeling a need deep in my heart to have a thinking chair of my own. So I pulled out the camp chair I usually take to Elizabeth Park, draped a floral quilt over it, plunked a silk flower arrangement in the drink holder and topped it with a fuzzy pink blanket with pom pons and VIOLA!, my thinking chair was born. Then I got the idea to add a pink fuzzy bean bag chair topping an exercise ball as a foot stool. The ideas come quickly when sitting in this very relaxing chair. Great ideas for picture books, ideas for school and relaxing thoughts which make the end of the day a pleasure.

Where do you do your best thinking? Will you be setting aside a corner to do your thinking?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Battle Fatigue - Mock Caldecott Group End of Week Six

A number of events converged to make this an interesting week for our participants. Our district had an in-service day which meant that few of us were in our regular spots. For many of us that meant one less day to get our reviews done.

Many of us have succumbed to the nasty chest cold we are sharing. That didn’t exactly help our ability to review this week’s quota of books.

But most difficult of all was the closing of grades for the semester. Correcting papers, calculating grades and posting them will take priority for the next week. That makes it really tough to stay on top of reviewing for all but the most die-hard children’s lit enthusiasts.

When we started the group people clustered together, sharing their thoughts as they went. Looking for inspiration, validation and ideas. This week I saw a big shift. A number of people sought to do their books in isolation. It seems that some people have gotten beyond the honeymoon stage of uncertainty and the need for approval. They now have built the confidence that their ability is up to the task. Blocking out distraction in order to get the task done with precision and speed is more the issue at this point.

Those who do stop by to swap opinions will never find me short of the interest in discussion. Still, I’m excited by how people who weren’t confident at first are quite able to do their own assessments and apologize to no one for their opinions.

Having said that, there are certainly feelings of overwhelm and panic. How will we meet the goal in the time we have? I don’t know, but it will all be learning. I continue to find new books I want to view. It’s all practice.

I think about next year and hope that I will be fortunate enough to do this again. If so, I think there are some things I can do to make this process easier.

1.     Start recording the books from which to select from the reviews from the first review source in January. That will make this process much easier to keep up with. I didn’t start a spreadsheet until August this year giving me too much to catch up with.
2.     Even if I am going to offer this in the fall season, I think it would be best for me to review as many as I can in the spring and (here comes the key point) eliminate the obvious books. I have more motivation for this project than my participants need to have and so I will review many more books. Give them the higher end of the scale. When some of the book arrived it was very obvious that they would not be contenders. Perfectly appropriate in another context, but not one we would need to review.
3.     Vet the books we will review more carefully to make sure that the illustrators of each book qualify for the medal.
4.     Be more clear about what the expectations on the review forms are. Some people felt they had to write volumes for each book. That was more than I would expect.
5.     Readjust the target for how long it takes to review a book. It takes longer than I believed it would. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kids do Caldecott

Every year around this time I introduce my kindergarten classes to the Caldecott Medal. The introduction includes my drawing a representation on the whiteboard, detailing all the elements on the medal and then quizzing them on each element and how many items of each there are. It's always amazing to see how much they pay attention and retain. Later when they pick out their books they can't control their excitement when they find a book with the medal on the front.

About a week later I do a review in which I ask them to tell me all about the medal using leading questions. This week when I asked the name of the medal, two students gave me answers which made me squeal with delight. One student told me it is called the "Caldegold" Medal. He remembered the beginning and the color of the Medal winner. The other student told me that it was called the "Medalcott" which I found equally entrancing. It is amazing that they can remember the name at all, but hearing how they are connecting this medal to the words they know is inspiring.

Later when I asked who gets the medal one student jumped up yelling "I know. It's the punisher." I had to explain that another Medal, the Batchelder Medal, goes to the publisher, but the Caldecott goes to the illustrator.

Finally, when I tried to trick them by showing a book with a Theodore Seuss Geisel Award on the front one student said "Hey, that's not the Caldecott. There's just an old guy on it."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

November Writing Challenges

It's almost November, the month of the dueling creative challenges. It is also, the month that I am already overbooked. So I am currently thinking about what I am going to commit to this November and hoping I can spread the word about the opportunities for fun and creating coming up.

Last year I first heard about NaNoWriMo on November 5th through Paula Yoo's blog. I signed up and had truly transformative experience writing my first novel. It has changed not only the way I look at myself, but also has enhanced my practice as a librarian and teacher. All I can say is, if you ever thought about writing a novel, this is a fun, supportive atmosphere to do it in.

If you are a young person, a teacher of young people or a parent of a young person you might want to look at their Young Writers Program. That area of the website has tighter controls. While young writers can friend each other, they cannot friend adults nor can adults friend them. Young writers get to set their own goals and they have a list for reference of suggested word count goals per age. The manual for this program is very helpful. I have read parts of it to get my mind working.

Artists may find their own place in the 30 book covers in 30 days challenge through NaNoWriMo.

Tara Lazar has started an event called PiBoIdMo for writers of picture books. The premise of Picture Book Idea Month is to come up with a solid idea for a picture book every day for 30 days. Pair this event with Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) in the first week in May to actually develop and finish off seven of the ideas you gather through Tara Lazar's event.

Whether you are a novelist, a picture book writer or an artist, there are plenty of challenges out there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

But you said…!

A couple of days ago, one of my colleagues came to me with a book and a smile and said “I’ll bet you hated this book.” I literally took a step back in surprise. It was one of my top choices – a book I had found visually powerful. She found the pictures cartoony. I looked at the visual environment the artist had created. She saw where the artist had failed in proportion. I dismissed this aspect as of little concern given the strength of the other elements. That’s when she got really frustrated and “But you said…” and quoted my words about a book she had loved which left me lukewarm. Now it was my turn to be really shocked. And humbled.

One of the enlightening things she said to me was “So you had a strong emotional response to this book the way I did with the other one.” It gave me several things to think about.

1. Was my positive response to one book an emotional response? Really? I truly thought it was the visual experience that swayed me. I’m going to go back and revisit this.

      2.Could it be that it was an emotional response that made me like, but not LOVE the other book. I liked it, I just didn’t think it was worthy of a Caldecott Medal. 
      3. I have noticed that many of us seem to be swayed by our ties to the content. I notice that books with dogs in them elicit strong positive responses to those who have dogs even when they are not particularly well done. It is as if their hearts are filling in the details the illustrator left out. Not a dog owner myself, I find it easier to separate the successful dog illustrations from the mediocre. Where my own failing lies will be harder for me to discover. 

      4. It is clear to me that I need to do further reading and study to help inform my reactions to what I am seeing. I have learned a great deal from this process, but I still have much to learn. 

      5. How exciting it is to have more to learn! This process of being reading, forming opinions, sharing them, revising them and coming to a new understanding is something I find endlessly interesting. To have developed this group of people who will do this with me is a blessing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

No Parking Here

When I think of the pace of the folks serving on the actual Caldecott Medal Committee one word comes to mind "relentless.What we are doing in our Mock Committee is a drop in the bucket.

We have finished week three. This is the week it became real to many of our group. The week they stopped saying "We just started", "I'll catch up" or "The first few will take more time." and launched into the common refrain "How will I ever catch up?" All of us are trying to fit in our book evaluations between other things - the classes we teach, breakfast, lunch and after school appointments. This is the week I started hearing people wondering if they would finish...if they could.

While I think the number of weeks into the process would probably be different for those serving on The Committee, I'm sure the same thing happens at some point. We started in September with a limited number to finish each week. I supply, store and manage the books. I imagine that the committee members have an unlimited number of books coming, no clear number of how many they will need to look at so no ability to know if they are on task or not and they need to find a storage solution on their own. Finding room for the books is a challenge in itself.

I have a crew who come in before school each day. Another group who arrive at lunch and some who come long after I've headed to the public library o exchange the books. I know at least one of our participants is enjoying ordering them through interlibrary loan so that she can look at them at her own pace.

The message this week is clear - No Parking Here. If you don't keep up, it will be hard to catch up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2 weeks

Two weeks have passed in our Mock Caldecott Medal Committee focus group.  Each day brings new insight. 

Parts of the process which our participants have difficult with:

1.     Sticking to the parameters of the medal. I often hear a teacher say “I love this book, but our kids won’t get it.” At first I jumped in with “Remember, the parameters of the medal. Books for ages birth to 14 are to be considered.” Now I wait and within a few minutes they tend to remind themselves.
2.     Sticking to the parameters of the medal. It’s hard for teachers to remember that the Caldecott Medal is for the illustrations.

3.     Being vulnerable. Looking at the books is a joy. Committing your opinions to paper is another thing. Like our students, we are afraid of being wrong. I keep reminding our participants that this is a process. It is ok to be wrong. We all have to start somewhere. My suggestion is that they enjoy the book. Then pull out the list of things to look for and find one. What they learn to see will expand each time they do this.

4.     Being right. Some of the participants have told me they don’t know much about this and then have turned around and amazed me. They know more about some types of art and art criticism than I do. They just aren’t sure that they are applying their knowledge “correctly”.
M Making decisions. How are we ever going to choose? While a few of us have clear favorites, there are others who love every book and cannot imagine choosing one. Life is tough. We’ll do it somehow. When someone gets into this frazzled state of mind I like to hand them a book which I’m pretty sure they won’t like. It breaks the cycle and gives them a breather.

6.      Making the distinction between “what I like” and “what is distinguished”. Many people have told me they didn’t have a book high on their list because they didn’t like the story – it was too sad, boring, didn’t have a happy ending, wasn’t a subject they were interested in, etc. It’s hard to put that aside and look at the illustrations for their effectiveness in portraying a story if you don’t like the story.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Can’t hold it in

Last week a member of our school community came to me and told me how much she wished she could have joined our Caldecott Adventure. A prior commitment made joining impossible.

Her observation was that everywhere she went she heard someone talking about the books. Talking with passion.  She felt she was missing something of value and missing on that sense of sharing.

She laughed as she related seeing a teacher walking down the hallway and another teacher bursting out of her room asking her if she had read “A Bedtime for Bear” yet. It was impossible to hold in the excitement about the book.

I laughed when I heard that, because that book is creating quite a stir among our members. Not a single person who read that title in the library was able to quietly record their observations and move on. They all felt they had to share it with someone, talk over all the funny details that made it sing to them and to create a connection. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is one of the ones nominated by our group for the first cut. 

What is remarkable, however, is how picture books are taking over our conversation. There is no time to waste on petty things - there are books to be discussed. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reviewing Style

It has been a joy this week to watch people come to the library to review the books. The conversation that happens when people find a book they love, or hate, is unstoppable. You can see the feelings bursting out, needing to be shared.

The way that individuals are going about the process is fascinating to me. No two people seem to approach it alike. The Caldecott Manual’s sample form has a place to check off which publications have reviewed the book. So I decided to provide the reviews of each material. Some people don’t want to read the reviews at all. They are just checking off the boxes. Others want to  read them to see what they missed. One of my colleagues, who was unsure of her own knowledge, is scanning the reviews to glean vocabulary to expand her reviewing skills. She does this BEFORE she looks at the book.

This blew my mind. Most of us are creatures of habit. We get so used to doing it our way that it is hard to see any other possibility. I approach reviewing books like I do film adaptations of books. Before I see the film I must read the book. I will pass on an intriguing film if I haven’t had time to read through. Why? I feel that visual images are so strong they will dominate. At least that is the way it is for me. I need to read the book and conjure up my own mental picture of the characters, the scenery and all the details. If I do this first, my character can live very nicely in harmony with the filmmaker’s vision. In fact, my characters can sometimes be strong enough to banish the filmmaker’s vision. If I see the movie first, it’s all over. The filmmaker will intrude and ultimately win.

So when I look at a new book, I don’t want to know what someone else is thinking. I need to find out for myself. I need to be clear of someone else’s critical eye. They may be much more knowledgeable than I, but I want the opportunity to make my own observations and my own mistakes first. After that, I like to look at the reviews. It’s sort of like trying to do that crossword puzzle before peeking at the answers.

Seeing my colleague dive into the reviews first astounded me. I found I had to hold myself back from running over and correcting her. The big lesson for me here is to see how many ways there are to do this thing. My colleague is not having any trouble coming up with insights of her own. Nor is she having trouble in expressing them or defending them.

One day I returned to the library after doing an errand to find three participants huddled over a book. The idea of reading a book that way for review purposes would never have occurred to me. Each of them added a different perspective to the viewing. While we will discuss and expand our own visions, this group was doing it immediately. It was interesting to watch.

Personally, I feel like an old dog. I don’t feel much like veering from my way of reviewing the book first, by myself, before letting someone else’s voice get in my head. I’m finding it hard to do as people review books I haven’t gotten to yet. They have enthusiasm or distain to share and I want to be there to share it. So I’ll have to find a way to allow myself to grow along with the process.