Stopping the Summer Slide in Rhode Island

The author is the First Gentleman of Rhode Island.

With August now upon us, my family, like many others, is squeezing in the summer’s last trips to the beach, barbecues, and bike rides before gearing up for the start of the new school year. But amidst the flurry of summer activity and a change of pace that replaces math class with summer camp and backpacks with beach bags, I’m always encouraged by the consistent place that reading holds in this routine.

My wife Gina and I start each day by reading with our kids – who are 8 and 11 years old – and we see the impact that reading together has on growing their confidence and critical thinking skills. For our kids, reading is not only a way to explore new places and have adventures, but also helps them develop into strong communicators.

At the beginning of June, I had the pleasure of kicking off the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge at five elementary schools in Rhode Island. As a Summer Reading Ambassador, I visited these schools to read with students and deliver book donations from Scholastic to encourage a love of reading outside of the classroom setting. I was impressed to see the thoughtful ways students communicated their interests, and the sophistication with which they evaluated which materials were the best match for themselves and their peers.

Scholastic’s program is designed to combat the “summer slide,” a phenomenon which indicates that students who are not engaged in summer learning can lose up to two months of reading skills each summer. Educators recognize that the summer slide is a real problem, and are working to identify targeted means of addressing this issue for individual kids – just as teachers have been working hard to differentiate in-school learning opportunities for students for decades.

The theme for Rhode Island’s 2015 Summer Reading Program, “Every Hero Has a Story” is particularly attuned to this idea. In highlighting the experiences that make us all different, this message celebrates diversity and reminds us that there are multiple paths toward any individual goal. Similarly, technology has helped to accelerate and deepen the process of personalized learning, driving new opportunities for self-directed and collaborative learning that allow for real gains in student achievement.

Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge provides students with interactive content, gamifies the summer reading experience, and challenges kids to be partners in their own learning. I’m hopeful that with the continued work of dedicated teachers and mentors, we will expand access to summer reading resources for all kids. Then, the only slide that we’ll be focused on is the one at the playground.

The Two-Gen Approach to Early Education

Several years ago, Scholastic teamed up with the Yale Child Study Center to answer the question, “How can we help build resilience in struggling communities?” In particular, Scholastic was interested in exploring how literacy might be used to increase a community’s ability to adapt to stressful circumstances in positive ways. The partnership expanded into an innovative collaboration in rural Appalachia, with results beyond what the researchers predicted. Families participating in the program report personal and social growth along with an increased interest and pride in community and nature. Children and families have demonstrated increased social connectedness with each other and with community partners, and a correlated boost to self-confidence and curiosity.

The evolving program, Discover Together, is now a collaborative involving Sewanee: The University of the South, local community partners in Grundy County, Tenn., the Yale Child Study Center, and Scholastic. Discover Together encompasses a family co-op, a summer camp, and a school-year learning lab. The curriculum for all components is centered around a place-based pedagogy focused on literacy. The Discover Together approach targets the whole child, family and community simultaneously in a multi-generational approach.

This summer, 65 1st– 8th grade students attended Discover Together’s camp, and just this week 20 families arrived when the Family Coop opened its doors for the new season. Discover Together recently received a $260,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to deepen and expand its reach in Grundy County.

In March of 2016, we hope to be able to share our methodology and showcase what we learned through this unique iniatiative at SXSWedu in Austin, TX. To get on the agenda, we need votes! I hope you'll check out our proposal and give us a "thumbs up."

Tapping into the Mammalian Brain, or How One Man Helped Make School More Interesting

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for a robot that can walk on two legs,” says James R. Stellar, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Albany. “It’s complicated.”

Stellar, who is a psychologist by training, has spent his career delving into the complexities of the human brain and its hidden powers. After teaching at Harvard and conducting research in neuroscience at the McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School, Stellar served as Dean of Northeastern University's College of Arts and Sciences. There he helped extend the school's famous cooperative education program, which provides opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom—through community service, research, and on-the-job training.

Ironically, perhaps, Stellar and others have found that tapping into the animal part of the brain—the one that cares more about eating chocolate than studying it—offers the surest way to engage students. I recently asked Stellar about experiential education and how it might benefit students before they reach college. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

How would you define experiential education?

There are two definitions. The first is programmatic—that is, it is some sort of experience outside of the formal classroom, where students use the knowledge they’re getting in the classroom. It could mean a student who takes an accounting class and then works in an accounting firm. To cite another example, a student who volunteers in a homeless shelter as part of his community service could also be thinking about how aspects of a society’s economic system lead to homelessness. Someone who studies psychology might work in a clinic helping patients, or she might work in that same homeless shelter and observe the psychological needs of the individuals. It could also mean undergraduate research, study abroad, or a paid internship. Northeastern is known for its cooperative education program, which allows students to alternate semesters of academic study with semesters of full-time employment.

There is a second definition, which has to do with how experiences affect our thinking. There is the type of thinking that we express through words, which is conscious. Then we have a more instinctive, gut-level thinking, where we try on the knowledge that we have gained. So, a student might think, “The legal profession is the one for me. I enjoy working in a law firm, so I’m going to push to get into law school.” An internship might reinforce that career choice on a gut level.

This is where I use words like “substantial” and “authentic.” These are characterizations of experiences that are powerful because of their impact. For students, this means that you really want to immerse yourself in the law firm if you’re going to have the full experience at the gut level. If you just took a tour, if a professor just took you down to an office for the afternoon and showed you around, it wouldn’t have the same impact.

What is the difference between the primate and the mammalian brain?

In the 1960s, neuroscientist Paul MacLean proposed a theory that the nervous system is composed of a hierarchy. The primate brain [conscious, abstract thinking] is more advanced than the mammalian [emotional, motivational]. There’s also a third component that we don’t talk much about. MacLean called it the reptilian brain. It has to do with things like being able to get up from your chair and walk around and other, even more basic, functions.

The mammalian brain is one where logic circuits determine how something grabs you, how it feels. In my research, this involved studying the brain basis of cocaine addiction in adults and the genesis of the craving. The decision to use the drug clearly fought with an individual’s better judgment, which would be at the rational level. This is what people mean when they talk about fighting with themselves. A cocaine addict craves cocaine, even though he or she knows it’s not good for them. That’s what sustains the addiction.

This conflict is a reflection of the conflict between the primate and mammalian brains. We’ve all experienced it, with the temptations of chocolate, say, after we’ve unwrapped a candy bar. The time to restrain oneself is before it’s unwrapped. The mammalian brain is firing on all cylinders with the sight and smell, while the conscious, primate brain asks, “What's this all about?”

Freud wrote about the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain, but often, we’re not aware of their interaction. These circuits, according to David Eagleman in Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, communicate through feelings, emotions, and desires. For example, an awareness may come to the student who enjoyed working in the law firm through words. He will tell you that the law is about social justice, say, and that lawyers are agents who interpret social justice for the masses, making it come alive. But really, when you talk to the student face to face, what comes across are his facial expressions, his commitment, his enthusiasm, and his tone of voice.

The professor comes away with an impression. This, by the way, is also very helpful for employers, who know that a student may have taken a class in economics but not whether the student can put that knowledge to work in a group environment. That’s why employers conduct interviews. The ultimate interview is an internship, where an employer can observe how an individual works over a span of weeks or months, not just for an hour, to see if that person can take the knowledge and put it to work. That is the power of experiential education, when the mammalian brain and the primate brain work together.

That’s my goal. Historically, higher education has missed the mammalian brain. It built itself on the primate brain. Who takes advantage of experiential learning the most? Teachers in training! You have to leave the campus and teach with an established teacher. Then you come back and sit with your classmates and reflect on how theoretical learning plays out in the classroom. So it’s odd that teaching doesn’t play out that way in American education, generally. We haven’t taught kids how to work in teams, how to apply their knowledge. That stuff has a powerful impact.

I want students to have experiences that they can integrate into their academic program. That's how you keep students engaged—when college is useful to them. It’s also how you produce passion in the K-12 sphere, where charismatic teachers get students to think deeply. They are touching their emotions. They project a caring attitude, and the students respond with an enthusiasm for learning.

How might experiential education benefit students before they reach college?

In our desperate attempt to measure outcomes, we pay too much attention, through testing and other means, to the primate brain. We’re only rowing the boat with one oar. The classic academic curriculum and passion-building experiences, which can happen in the classroom, help us row the boat with two oars.

Teachers already know how to complement classroom lessons, by taking students on field trips, for example. But you have to manage the interaction well. There is often little preparation for that because these types of things get called “extra-curricular” activities. The term is sort of a put-down. It implies: “We’re going to take time off from the curriculum, stop our work, and go outside.” The overall attitude saps an integral part from such experiences.

In the lower grades, we're forced to work more with the mammalian brain because the primate brain is still developing. Students are learning how to read, of course. But beyond that, one of a teacher’s main jobs is to help kids learn how to get along with each other, to show respect, and to cooperate. That’s all social psychology and mammalian brain-type stuff, even though there are words involved. Then students settle down to acquire increasingly complex vocabulary and mathematical skills.

Later on, there are more project-based activities. My favorite teachers in elementary and middle school would say things like, “I need to get the kids doing something.” If teachers just talk, the kids tune out. Good teachers seem to have an intuitive sense for how to blend activities with the learning from the book or the lecture. You have to encourage students to develop themselves.

The higher you go, in high school and in college, the lessons become more complex. But you’re still dealing with students who have a mammalian brain. If you don’t turn that on, they don’t learn.

To learn more about Stellar’s work and experiential education, check out The Other Lobe.

What I'm Reading - Shanna Peeples, National Teacher of the Year

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” – Lemony Snicket

If you wandered through my house, or grabbed my phone, you’d quickly discover that I stockpile books like some people stockpile canned goods against future emergencies. Books are piled in every room in my house, and even in my car.  On my phone, I have seven e-reader apps that cause me to fall down reading rabbit holes every day.

Here is what I'm reading now.


The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

This graphic novel is what some fans refer to as the “Citizen Kane” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” of comics. Gaiman, author of Coraline and Stardust, creates a mythology of seven siblings who dabble in the lives of mortals, some beneficially, some with evil intent.


Yes Please by Amy Poehler

This quasi-memoir from one of the funniest female actresses working today made me think and even cry as much as it made me laugh. Poehler uses lists, poetry, photos, mantras and advice to deliver her brutally honest, witty and touching observations on life, work and fame.


Instapaper, an app available for iOS and Android, is an e-reader for Internet content. It has a nighttime setting and you can highlight, annotate and comment on your saved articles and essays. Because I do quite a bit of reading on the Internet, Instapaper is a godsend. I use it to save what I don’t have time to read, but can download and access offline. 

Longreads is a website that curates fiction and nonfiction, particularly long-form journalism. Each piece comes with a word count and as well as an estimated reading time. I use it to find interesting content by topic or by expert picks. It’s easy to then add these pieces to my Instapaper account.

Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami via Longreads

Murakami, a Japanese master of the short story, often uses surrealism in his poignant tales of modern loneliness, much like Franz Kafka. In fact, if you are a Kafka fan, you will like Murakami. This particular short story uses the kernel of a sort of fairy tale about cats who take over a town at night, to describe the estranged relationship of a father and son.

The Body Behind the Little White Church by Alison Stine via Longreads

Stine, a novelist, poetically summarizes the brief life and violent death of Summer Inman in this virtuoso piece of narrative nonfiction. This story is unfortunately familiar, yet Stine finds a way to refresh it and recreate the dread and misery of such lives.

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray Encourages Families to ‘Talk to Your Baby’

Last week, the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, kicked off a two-year initiative to distribute 200,000 baby book bundles, donated by Scholastic, to NYC families with children ages zero to three. Part of the City's "Talk To Your Baby" campaign, the distribution is intended to ensure equity and access to books for families at a time (ages zero to 5) when children's brains are developing rapidly. In partnership with the First Lady, Scholastic published a special book called "Love Is" for NYC families and printed 200,000 copies to include in the book bundles.

In this Q & A, we asked the First Lady about her goals for the campaign, how it works, and what books she read to her children when they were young.

1) What is the “Talk To Your Baby, Their Brain Depends On It” campaign all about? 

We want to help parents understand how important it is to talk, read and sing to their children. 

A remarkable 90% of brain development occurs before the age of five. But tragically, too many of our children do not get the stimulation they need. Studies have found that by age four, children in middle and upper-income families hear 30 million more words than their lower-income peers. In other words, tens of millions of children are in danger of being left behind before they even start school.

2) How does the campaign work?

My team is working in partnership with Scholastic and the Clinton Foundation to provide more than 200,000 high-need families in New York City with a Baby Book Bundle over the next two years.

The Bundle includes four complementary resources:

Love Is features beautiful photos of New York parents and their kids connecting through play.  It's a book for children and parents to read together. And the editor of the book just happens to be me! It was so much fun to put together.

- Two great children’s books from Scholastic for their own personal libraries. We want to encourage them to become strong, lifelong readers.

Talking is Teaching is a book that educates parents on the importance of building their child’s brain and models ways to talk, read and sing to young children. It was developed by Sesame Street and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative.

3) What inspired you to spread the word about the importance of reading?

I know from personal experience that we cannot expect all parents to know instinctively how important it is to talk, read and sing to their children. For many parents it means beginning a new tradition. 

My own parents wanted the best for us and made tremendous sacrifices to provide my siblings and me with a good life. But reading books aloud was not something they knew they should do with us.

Luckily, once I got started I turned into a bookworm, one of those kids who loved the library and checked out as many books as my little arms could carry. As I grew older, I relied on books and writing to help me make sense of a world that wasn’t always welcoming to little Black girls with big ideas.

Once I had children, it was never a question whether I would read to them—that would be like withholding a precious gift from my most precious gifts. It is not an exaggeration to say that the hours I spent reading to them are among the happiest of my life. When they were little babies, they may not have understood all of the words I was saying, but I could see their eyes light up at the sound of my voice. Now I know that their brains were working extra hard to form all kinds of new connections.

4) What books did your children enjoy the most when they were babies and toddlers?

Oh my, where do I start? My daughter, Chiara, loved An Enchanted Hair Tale by Alexis De Veaux. Dante couldn’t get enough of Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which was a gift to him from my mother. And I was a big fan of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, a book I first read in college. There are so many more, and I look forward to reading all of them to my grandchildren someday.

5) What advice would you give to new parents who want to instill a love of reading to their children?

Have fun with it! There are so many colorful, funny, creative, and deeply moving children’s books out there.  I guarantee that you will look forward to storytime as much as your kids. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money—public libraries are a parents’ best friend.

Because our lives are so busy, with a growing number of distractions, talking, reading and singing to children matters more than ever.  Every interaction and every word spoken is an investment in a child’s early development that will pay off many times over, for generations to come.

Trends in Early Learning: A Preschool Director Reflects

When it comes to early childhood education, no one has all the answers. Jim Matison, however, has quite a few. Last November, the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, where Matison has served as the executive director for more than six years, was named one of the 2014 Heroes by the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City.

In February, I visited some of the preschools that Matison oversees in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and Crown Heights. Noting the grinding poverty and unremitting violence that children in these neighborhoods often face, Matison said that there is “a certain cruelty” to the inequality our society allows. He clearly wants everything for his young students. But progress for any child, he acknowledged, can be “undramatic, slow, and subtle.”

As efforts proceed around the country to provide more “quality” preschools for young children, I asked Matison to offer his views on recent trends. Here are his emailed responses to my questions, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in early childhood education?

With the growing recognition that early education is critical for a child’s lifelong success, there is an increased demand for quality within the classroom. Day care centers are becoming increasingly academic. A negative change is the tendency for some programs to treat prekindergarten as the new kindergarten, much as schools around the country are pushing to make kindergarten like first grade. Many educators seem to have forgotten, or simply overlooked, the term “developmentally appropriate.”

If you could change one thing about preschool education, what would it be?

Its paramount importance in our educational system would be reflected in the compensation paid to the educational staff. Half of the employees in the New York City preschool world make less than $25,000 a year. Skilled teachers who are state-certified and have advanced degrees earn tens of thousands of dollars a year less than their counterparts in the public school system. Why should teaching young children in community-based organizations force so many people to live at or near the poverty level?

What can parents of three- and four-year-olds do to help their children flourish in school?

  • Talk to your children—a lot!
  • Read to them at every opportunity.
  • Expose them to nature and science even if it is just a walk around the block.
  • Get deeply involved with what is happening at your children’s preschool. Be there while your children are young and throughout their educational careers. It makes a huge difference.

How do we capitalize on young children’s ability for complex thought and deep learning, while still allowing them to develop socially and emotionally?

Apply what we ask of parents (above) to a preschool setting.

What would you most like to know about the workings of a young mind?

The internal magic that generates resilience, creativity, and persistence.

Strategies to Improve Students' Analytical Thinking

“She can read all the words, but she doesn’t remember anything.”

This is a frequent comment from teachers about students who are outstanding decoders, yet who can’t recall information or plot details, let alone analyze literary elements, draw conclusions using details, or evaluate the arguments an author presents.

Basic comprehension means that students can read a text and recall specific information. For your students to be able to accomplish this reading task, they need sufficient background knowledge about the topic so they can connect what they know and understand to new information and ideas. Background knowledge includes an understanding of vocabulary and information related to the text’s topic.

To support this first level of comprehension, you might have to provide students with opportunities to enlarge their prior knowledge and vocabulary. Before plunging into a unit of study, it’s important to discover how much background knowledge students have by asking them to discuss or write what they know. If students know a lot about a topic, then proceed with the study. If they have little background knowledge, reserve time to build it.

One easy and timesaving way you can enlarge students’ background knowledge is to put the task into students’ hands. Have them work with a partner or small group and access, on a computer or tablet, photographs, video clips, and websites to view, reflect on and discuss together. Then ask students to share what they’ve learned with a larger group or the whole class. You should preview and select sites for elementary students; middle school students can be taught to evaluate sites and then explore them on their own, which leads to a great diversity of information.

Placing responsibility for building prior knowledge on students actively engages them in the learning; working with peers makes the learning social. This student-centered approach increases engagement with the task and enhances retention of content.

Once your students have some basic background knowledge, they should be able to read and recall information from a text, as long as the text is at their instructional level. Now it’s time to provide opportunities for students to use this information to move deeper into the layers of meaning in a text. Deep reading is analytical and includes inferring, finding themes, selecting important ideas, and identifying text structure and author’s purpose, then linking these to themes and big ideas. Three strategies can support your students’ ability to think about and analyze information: (1) Modeling and Guided Practice, (2) Collaborative Independent Practice, and (3) Scaffolded Practice.

1. Modeling and Guided Practice. During each unit of study, use a read-aloud text to model how to apply two to three of the key reading and writing standards based on your state or district requirements. Transform these instructional read alouds into interactive, guided practice sessions by asking students to turn-and-talk and apply a strategy you’ve modeled to a different section of text.

2. Collaborative Independent Practice. Once students have practiced a strategy with your guidance, invite them to work collaboratively, discussing an instructional text with a partner. This collaborative conversation serves as the dress rehearsal students need prior to writing about reading. Both you and partners can pose interpretive questions—questions with more than one answer; discuss photos, text features, or illustrations; or apply a strategy practiced during an interactive read aloud.

Short partner conversations can develop and clarify diverse ideas as students raise and probe questions about a text’s meanings. When two to three minutes of talk precedes writing, the thinking needed for a quick informal response has begun. Moreover, when you invite students to explore and discuss ideas through talk, you demonstrate how much you value students’ thinking.

3. Scaffolded Practice. By listening to students’ conversations and reading what they’ve written about a text, you will be able to determine those who require additional support to use information to analyze texts. Meet one-on-one or with small groups for five-minute practice sessions and re-teach strategies that confuse students, gradually releasing responsibility for the thinking to students.

To transform word-caller-readers into students who can truly comprehend and analyze texts, a crucial first step is to offer students opportunities to build their prior knowledge. The most efficient, research-based way to do this is to foster independent reading, for the more students read, the more background knowledge they acquire. Make sure that you set aside time to show students how to self-select “just right” books that interest them, so they will read widely and develop the skill to deeply comprehend texts.

What the Research Says: Reading and Writing Connections

Nurturing a love of reading comes naturally when we rely on good research to guide us. On edu@scholastic, we're featuring five important issues related to children's literacy development—and evidence supporting the importance of each one. Today we take on "Reading and Writing Connections." For more information about the joy and importance of reading, and to download research and lesson plans, be sure to explore our Open a World of Possible homepage.

Every time we enter a text as a reader, we receive a writing lesson: how to spell, punctuate, use proper grammar, structure a sentence or paragraph, and organize a text. We also learn the many purposes writing serves and the different genres and formats it assumes to serve these varied purposes (Duke et al., 2013; Culham, 2014; 2012). And every time we create a text as a writer, we receive a reading lesson. Evidence shows that high-quality writing instruction can improve students' reading comprehension, reading fluency, and word-solving skills (Graham & Hebert, 2011).

Writing about reading makes comprehension visible; it also helps readers frame and focus their understanding (Serravallo, 2012, 13; Graham & Perin, 2007; Graham & Hebert, 2010). Indeed, asking students to write about their reading may provide the best window into their reading process and comprehension (Serravallo, 2012; 2013; Roessing, 2009).


Culham, R. (2014). The writing thief: Using mentor texts to teach the craft of writing. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Culham, R. (2011). “Reading with a writer’s eye.” In T. Rasinski’s Rebuilding the foundation: Effective reading instruction for 21st century literacy. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Duke, N., Caughian, S., Juzwik, M., & Martin, N. (2013). Reading and writing genre with purpose in K-8 classrooms. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Graham, S. & Hebert, M. (2010). “Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading.” Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 81. No. 4 Winter.
Graham, S. & Perin, D, (2007) Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools. A report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Roessing, L. (2009). The write to read: Response journals that increase comprehension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Serravallo, J. (2012; 2013). Independent reading assessment: Fiction and nonfiction. New York: Scholastic.

How to Select Perfect Mentor Texts That Transform Young Readers and Writers

When you’re a children’s literature fanatic, like I am, you surround yourself with fellow book lovers. Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with one of my book buddies, Karen Biggs-Tucker, to present a collection of our favorite titles. Together, we pondered our selection criteria. Carefully selected mentor texts, usually picture books, are an integral part of my literacy instruction. During reading workshop, I think aloud as I read and invite my students to join in the conversation to better comprehend the text. When we read a mentor text with the eye of a writer, we think and talk about craft and structure. In this post, I’ll share four of the characteristics we identified when choosing mentor texts to spark comprehension conversations or notice the writer’s and/or illustrator’s craft techniques.

Engaging Characters

I’m always searching for books with characters that my students can call friends. I want them to be able to relate to the characters’ emotions or actions and think about how it would feel to walk in that person’s (or animal’s) shoes. This not only helps my students comprehend stories, but it also nudges them toward understanding and expressing their own feelings. Together, we study how authors reveal insights into a character and make an anchor chart listing the following ways:

  • Narration
  • Conversation
  • Illustrations
  • Thoughts of the character
  • Thoughts of other characters
  • Actions

(Walther, 2015, p. 116)

Then, we notice and discuss examples during our interactive read alouds. We meet characters like Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler  who is excluded from a party because she is different but, instead of being upset, she throws her own party and invites EVERYONE! We converse about how Janine reacted to the actions of her peers. Then, to gain more insights into the characters, we read the back flap and learn that Maryann wrote this book about her daughter, Janine, who has bravely navigated her life with disabilities.

Rich Language

When children are immersed in texts with rich language, they begin to use that language in their conversations and, eventually, in their writing. An example of such a text is One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. In this story, Sophia desperately wants a pet giraffe and presents her arguments (along with pie charts and graphs) to her family. The author has included a humorous, and informative, glossary at the end of the book leading to further discussion about the wonderful world of words. Introduce you students to Jim and Yasmeen by checking out their websites or following them on Twitter @jimaverbeck  @YasmeenMay.

Intriguing Illustrations

At a recent conference, I had the pleasure of listening to children’s author and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld speak about why he loves creating books for kids. One of his many reasons is that kids are innately skilled at understanding visual storytelling. So, when he’s working on his illustrations he carefully crafts them to create interest, draw the reader into the story, color a mood, add magic, or simply make kids (and adults) laugh. In one of his most recent offerings Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry you can find examples of each of his criteria to notice with your students and discuss how they might do the same in their own illustrations. Then, you can take them to Tom’s website to learn more about his work or send him a note on Twitter @tlichtenheld.

Memorable Themes

At the beginning of the year as we build our literacy community, I select texts that illuminate themes such as accepting differences, working together, or being kind. We discuss how

the theme of a story quietly ties together the characters, setting, and plot and may reveal author’s purpose. Guiding students as they uncover the theme leads to a deeper understanding of the text. Kadir Nelson’s book If You Plant a Seed is a perfect example. In this story, Rabbit and Mouse plant seeds, but their selfishness leads to trouble. They discover that planting a seed of kindness is much sweeter.I pair this text with Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson as we bond with each other and learn how to use kind words and actions.

You might be wondering what else I look for when selecting books. Here are a few more characteristics Karen and I discussed: kid appeal, originality, texts that broaden children’s horizons by opening windows to other times, places, or situations, and those that mirror the diversity we find in our classrooms today. I’d love to hear what you look for as you select books to share with your learners. Join me at ILA and we’ll chat more about this topic!


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