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: