Stacked in Our Favor

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

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.