Thursday, January 12, 2017

Caldecott Essay Requirements

Once you have finished reading through the Caldecott contenders, when you have made your choice, begin crafting an essay about the book you have selected, including the following:

  1. Mention the title, author, and illustrator of the book at the beginning of the essay
  2. A short summary of the story
  3. Thesis statement
  4. A description of the artwork (think about art terminology you have learned with Mrs. Ackley over the years: use of color, lines, brush strokes, etc.)
  5. Cite the Caldecott criteria by explaining why you consider your selection to be "the most distinguished," how the illustrations help interpret the plot, why the artistic techniques used are superior to the other books, etc.
  6. Cite a professional review or quote the author/illustrator* 
  7. EXTRA CREDIT: Insert a picture of the book cover at the top of your essay (1 point)

Here is an example of the writing I did for my favorite 2014 Caldecott pick, Journey by Aaron Becker:

Mrs. Shaum's pick for the 2014 Caldecott: Journey by Aaron Becker
(Note: This is my selection for the Caldecott from three years ago so as not to have my opinion influence your choice)

When a young girl is desperate for some attention from her family but they appear to be too wrapped up in their own lives to notice her, she draws herself into an imaginary land and can get herself out of any predicament with just a few lines drawn from a magical red crayon, invoking a nod to the classic children's book, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Journey by Aaron Becker is an absolutely stunning, heart-skipping wordless picture book that deserves to win the 2014 Caldecott medal. It will make you gasp at its beauty and feats of imagination.
What is so captivating about this picture book is the variety of influences you see in Becker's art, namely the Eastern influences, especially on the first full page spread where our protagonist enters the land of her imagination and you see paper lanterns strewn about the forest. That spread will make the reader's eyes bulge in wonder and heart skip a beat at the awe-inspiring transition from a colorless, depressing world to an adventurous, fantastical one. In going from one world to the next, the reader experiences a delightful, soul-stirring surprise. 

To examine Becker's art further and noting why it should be considered distinguished, one merely has to look at the level of detail in his pen and ink/watercolor illustrations. In poring over the architectural marvels Becker created in this book, one would almost assume he had a background in architecture, and yet, his illustrations are so fantastical that his artistic abilities are likely too whimsical and outlandish to be of any practical use in the field of architecture.

In considering Becker's level of detail in the setting, one also has to consider another curiosity in his artwork and that is the lack of detail in the faces of the people he draws, namely the little girl who goes on this journey. This could be cause for criticism, however, I see it more as the artist's way of not imposing this journey on any one person -- it is, in essence, all of our journeys. 

As a wordless picture book, Journey has all the things the Caldecott committee is looking for: excellence of artistic techniques, the use of illustrations to tell a story, timelessness, and appeal to a child audience. Becker himself says that the perfect audience for this book is a child who is "curious...inquisitive and maybe someone who's a little quiet and can have that time to themselves to look through something and find the details." And I have to say, those are all qualities of a really great Caldecott judge as well. 

*Places to find professional reviews:
The Horn Book
School Library Journal
The New York Times
Publisher's Weekly

Thursday, January 5, 2017

One Little Word 2017

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions. They're just a way to disappoint yourself and for places like gyms and sporting goods stores to feed on our lofty goals and make money. Still, I do like the idea and symbolism of a new year being about new beginnings. So I've been thinking a lot lately about  how I can improve myself without setting unrealistic goals that I will never fulfill.

In 2015, Ruth Ayres introduced me to the One Little Word challenge, which is to pick a word and live with it for an entire year.

The word I chose for 2015 was actually a word we've all been living with in this classroom since September, but I felt the need to live with it for an entire 12 months:

In 2016, I decided to make my One Little Word a verb:

In searching for my word for 2017, I was reminded of some very powerful words said by Jason Reynolds at the conference I attended in Atlanta back in November. He said that if you really want to have hope, you have to go out and DO SOMETHING. We all have to earn our hope. We can't just sit around and wait for our hope to sprout wings and get to work. WE have to do the work.

And with those words still ringing in my ears, I found my word for 2017:
with the reminder that I have to earn it each and every day.

Ali Edwards first presented this idea of the One Little World in 2006 and has since created ripples all over the world.

As you think about a possible word you would like to live with for the next year, here are some possibilities:

Here are some examples of students in teacher Cathy Fiebelkorn's class and their One Little Word:

What do you do with this One Little Word? As Ali Edwards says:
You live with it
You invite it into your life
You let it speak to you
You might even follow it where it leads

Friday, April 8, 2016

Poetry Month Extra Credit: Found Poetry

In addition to the ways you can earn extra credit for your poetry performance, another way you can earn extra credit is to create some found poetry. What is found poetry you ask?

Here is the explanation from

"Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems."

Different types of Found Poetry:

Headline Poem - cut out words and phrases from magazines or newspapers to create a poem

Erasure/Blackout Poem - Take a newspaper or page of an old book and black out all the words you don't want to use and leave the words you want to use to create a poem. These poems can be as simple as blacking out the page with a sharpie or you can get elaborate and create works of art with your blackout poems.

Book Spine Poem - stack book spines to create poetry using the titles of books.

Due date: April 29th

If you create a headline poem or blackout poem, turn the physical poem into me. If you create a book spine poem, take a picture of it and email it to me. The number of points you get depends on the effort you put into the assignment. Blackout and headline poems will be worth more than book spine poems and if you create a work of art with your blackout poem, that will be worth more than if you just used a black sharpie.

Monday, December 7, 2015

End of Semester Exam Information

First semester will soon be coming to a close. For your midterm, I will not be giving a test per se, but instead will ask you to write an essay in Google Docs.

The prompt for this essay is a simple one:

What have you learned in this very short semester? 

Don't just think about the tangible things you have learned (the 6+1 traits of writing, how to write dialogue, etc.) but also think about the intangible things - what you have discovered about yourself as a writer and as a student.

In addition to a minimum 2-page, double-spaced essay, you will also be asked to include the following:

  1. Use 3 vocabulary words (IN CONTEXT!) in your essay and highlight them.
  2. Using the comments feature, point out 3 places where you used a particular trait of writing well and explain why you feel that way.
  3. Using the comments feature, label an example of each of the 8 parts of speech.
  4. All pronouns of I must be capitalized or I'm taking off an automatic 3 points. 
  5. If you use a fragment or run-on, point it out and explain why you made that stylistic choice.
  6. Please make sure you find a way to effectively introduce your essay as well as create a satisfying, resonating ending.  

Things to consider when writing your essay (you don't have to include all of these, they're just suggestions of things you can discuss):
Thoughts about your writer's notebook
How have you been brave? 
What have you learned about yourself as a writer?
Our author Skype visits from Gae Polisner and Natalie Lloyd
Article of the Week 
Weekly vocabulary in your writer's notebook
The class Twitter account -- Is anybody actually following it? ;) 
Formal writing assignments you have turned in:
  • JK Rowling commencement speech reflection
  • Author bio
  • NaNoWriMo
  • Santa's Elf letter
Texts we have shared this semester:

How will this essay be graded? How well you used the 6+1 Traits of Writing and how well you answered the essay prompt.

Also, separate from the essay:
  1. Share a passage from your NaNoWriMo novel that you think shows your best work and explain why it's your favorite.
  2. Share a passage of dialogue from your NaNoWriMo novel -- punctuated and indented correctly.
  3. Provide a synopsis of your NaNoWriMo novel. (Think about how novels are described on the backs of books or inside jacket flaps to entice readers)

Extra credit:
Design a cover for your novel and write a short explanation about how that cover  + title works for your novel. (You can turn this in separately from the Google Doc)


Monday, November 30, 2015

Revising your author bio

Now that you've had time to really consider yourself as a serious writer, it's time to go back and revise those author bios we wrote at the beginning of NaNoWriMo.

Here's what I'll be grading you on:

  • Written in 3rd person (5 points)
  • Follows the typical progression of an author bio: where you live, family info, other books written -- or the fact that it's your first book, possibly even hobbies if you so choose (10 points)
  • Adheres to the conventions of a published piece of writing -- consider capitalization, punctuation, spelling, etc. I will be taking off points if these things are not in place (20 points) 
  • There's a sense that you studied up on the genre of writing author bios and you show a respect for the genre (5 points)  
  • Made some noticeable revisions to original author bio (5 points)
  • Shared your document with at least 2 classmates who commented on your work (5 points)
  • BONUS: Inject some of your own writing voice into the author bio somehow, i.e., find a way to make it more than just plugging in a formula. Try to find a way to make it your own while also adhering to the conventions of the genre. (up to 5 points) 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning from Authors During NaNoWriMo

During National Novel Writing Month, we are fortunate to be hearing from multiple authors who will inspire our writing. The first author is my friend Marquin Parks, author of the Wrinkles Wallace series (Knights of Night School and Fighters of Foreclosure), who sent along some words of wisdom via video message:

We will also be Skpying with authors Gae Polisner and Natalie Lloyd.

Gae is the author of The Pull of Gravity 

and The Summer of Letting Go:

Natalie is the author of A Snicker of Magic and the upcoming February release of The Key to Extraordinary.

If any of these books sound interesting to you, I encourage you to support these wonderful authors and ask your parents if you can purchase their books. Even if buying books is not an option for you at this time, another way you can support these authors is to check their books out at the library (or my classroom library) while also talking about them and recommending them to friends.