Posts Tagged art

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

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Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

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The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

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To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

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Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

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Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

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The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

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The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

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Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

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One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.

Feeding the (Young) Artist Within: Books to Help Us Free Ourselves for the Journey

I’m very excited to teach another summer camp this year at the school where I retired two years ago. Last year, we took the students on a science and poetry journey, using the observational tools we honed in the school’s forest to inspire a variety of poems. That was a blast!

This year, I wanted to tailor campers’ experiences to the wider age range – because to be honest, though we had a great time, poetry was a tough thing to focus on for 5 days straight for the youngest kiddos, who really wanted to play all day in the gorgeous weather.

It’s nature art camp this year, and I’m pumped. My campers range from 1st to 5th grade, so I want to challenge those kids the best way possible, and there’s lots of opportunity for fun, sharing and exploration.

But here’s what I’ve learned about art and personal expression. What I’m about to share is true for writing, too, but there is an in-your-face thing that happens with visual arts in particular, and it’s called being afraid to fail. With writing, I can produce a cruddy draft and craft the heck out of it before I show it to anyone.

Visual art is really fun, and it’s messy, and sometimes, we really do have to accept that it’s more about the process than the product. That’s fine when you’re in your own studio, but in a group setting, a visual product is out there for everyone to see from the moment creation begins, and sometimes it’s hard to own the uncertainty of the process.

This means I have to be prepared for disappointment, and I have to help kids of all levels be prepared for mistakes and to help them figure out how to be okay with that.

My goal in our five days together is to expose the campers to several art experiences, and to give them a safe space to explore personal expression. We’ll play with watercolors and go to the splash park. We’ll do some rubbings and sun prints from pieces of nature we find in the woods. We’ll read  SWATCH: The Girl Who Loved Color (Julia Denos), about a girl who loves all the colors and wants to collect them, then play with colors and maybe adopt some for ourselves. We’ll make hand-felted flowers inspired by the school gardens, while we explore textures of natural fibers in the natural world with our eyes and hands.

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On the last day, we’ll work together to create a piece of Andy Goldsworthy -inspired art as a gift to those who come to the next week’s camp. Here is a link to a kid-friendly Andy Goldsworthy-type project, and here is one from the Eric Carle Musem, with a great lesson plan and information about the artist.

Every day of camp we’ll start with a read aloud – because where else can we spark imagination better than between the pages of a book? Here are some titles I’ve found that seem to launch a feeling of safety and support in personal exploration for kids (or adults!) of any age. I enjoy re-visiting these myself when I begin to worry too much about the product and forget about the process.

Beautiful Oops!, by Barney Saltzberg

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This is a board book even the grownups want to play with: torn pages, folded corners, crumpled bits of paper – what if we made even more art from our mistakes?

The Dot and Ish, both by Peter H. Reynolds

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I once read The Dot to my art and design classmates when we were deep in the very stressful process of preparing for an important exhibition – there was a ton of self-doubt making its way around the room, and we were all exhausted. Then we were all freed by my reading of this book, with its advice to “make a mark.”. Ish is another simple picture book created by Peter H. Reynolds, and I have helped students work through difficult feelings of perfectionism by sharing this one as well.

The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires

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This book is all about trying, and failing, to make the thing that is in your mind, but embracing the importance of walking away so that you can return to try again with a new perspective.

For all my campers, a feeling of purpose can spark inspiration, as well. I’ll also be sharing Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael Lopez as we begin creating our community piece at the end of our week together.

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Have you ever thought of reading picture books to give your imagination some spark, or some creative support? I highly recommend it for any age!

 

 

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press  http://www.homeostasispress.com/index.php, and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People https://gather-here-history.squarespace.com/

Woods to Words – A Summer Adventure

Next month is July, when we’ll be deep in that magical, lazy time of summer. I can just picture it. Watermelon juice dripping down my chin as I sit, feet kicked up on the deck rail, tall glass of iced tea at my side, and the grid map and binoculars in my lap. Wait. What?

It’s okay, stay with me here! I’m still talking about that magical summer, and some of it might be lazy, I promise! Let me share with you my kind of summer fun this year.

It’s Woods to Words, a science and poetry summer camp. Though it’s offered for a range of ages, I dreamed it up to delight middle grade students in particular.

The school’s camp description is pretty spot-on:

Join our literary nature-lover Mrs. Stein for a week of scientifically-inspired creative writing!  Develop an appreciation for nature as you map the woods, watch wildlife through binoculars, and hunt through the forest with a magnifying glass in hand. Hear the world like never before as you use onomatopoeia to produce nature soundscapes. Writers will have an opportunity to share their hand-crafted books at the end-of-week author celebration.

Yes, that’s right – our lazy days of summer will be spent in the school’s forest making scientific observations – and making poetry! On day one, we’ll create a site map and a shape poem. An “onomatopoetical” exercise and an art project for our book covers will stem from the sound maps we’ll create. I’m excited to build a team word bank from our square-foot observation exercise, which we’ll continue to use for inspiration as we write each day.

Young people are natural observers and I can’t wait to harness their innate curiosity in a camp setting, tapping into their drive to learn new things. Add nature read-alouds and fun games like “Whose Dinner Am I?” and we’ll have a well-rounded camp experience. Anyone know any fun science songs?

My own writing and art are driven by the observations I make, and its a natural leap to blend one passion for another. I’m excited by the opportunity to incorporate these passions into an informative, fun and relaxed camp setting.

So how about you? Will you kick back this summer and gaze at a site map while sipping your iced drink and writing poetry? I can’t wait to start.

For further reading:

What Schools can Learn from Summer Camps

What is STEAM?

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Education

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is proprietor of Homeostasis Press and blogs at The Best of It.