About laurahudockreads

Elementary educator. Graduate student. Reader. Writer. Theoretician. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Fairy godmother. Friend.

Bookstores Abroad, Part 1

Leaving Washington, DC. August 2013.

Leaving Washington, DC. August 2013.

Attending the IRSCL conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands availed an opportunity to venture outside the comfort of my frequented local bookshops, Politics & Prose and Hooray for Books! Moreover, since I’ve begun to amass a collection of wordless picture books for both my teaching repertoire and current academic research on the topic of visual literacy, acquiring international titles serves these ends. I rightfully anticipated my visit to two cities in two European countries would prove fruitful. Adhering to one backpack rule, I prefer to travel light but at least I had the foresight to take a packable carry-on duffel bag for my return trip stateside. Although I didn’t anticipate the 26 pounds of hardcover books that I’d schlep for three hours through Philadelphia’s U.S. Customs & Immigration, I’m grateful to have had the occasion to explore the sights and shelves of a few European bookshops.

Tropismes, Brussels, Belgium

Beyond gardens and park benches, this was my first official stop in Brussels. As I approached the storefront, my eidetic memory flashed to a chase scene in the movie, Erased.  Indeed, it’s the same bookshop. Walking inside, I meandered through the various corridors and floors of books and stumbled upon a courtyard en route to the children’s book section.

Courtyard garden in bookstore.

Courtyard garden in bookstore.

Up a narrow flight of stairs to a top floor, I arrived.  White shelves brightened the space but the stuffy air pervaded every nook and cranny.  Determined to peruse every title, if need be, to locate wordless picture books, I finally asked a clerk for help, in French.  Now, French is the only subject in which I have received a “C”  and that was in 6th grade.  With the digital courage of Google Translate, I muttered “Excusez-moi, avez-vous un livre d’images sans paroles?” while holding up a book and repeating “sans paroles” She guided me to various shelves and within minutes I had a pile of books. Most strikingly, the size of these French titles, mainly oversized, varied from their American counterparts.

All smiles as I proudly display my finds.

All smiles as I clutch my finds.

Of all the picture books I browsed, I purchased a French Canadian title, La Mer by Marianne Dubuc.

Fast forward to September 2013. I’m teaching metacognitive reading strategies to my new class of first graders.  Using sentence frames, we’ve been practicing how to share our thinking aloud:

  • I see____.
  • I notice ____.
  • I think ____.
  • I predict ____.
  • I wonder ____.

While reading aloud La Mer, my classroom was abuzz with student-generated commentary. La Mer captured the wild imaginations of my students as they predicted the   escape of a flying red fish from the paws of its feline predator.  Did it matter to my students that the title is in French? No. Part of the wonder of this wordless picture books is how the visual narrative captivates child readers from a bevy of different cultures around the world. Returning to my travels…

Belgian Comic Strip Center, Brussels, Belgium

One of the greatest treasures I discovered in my grandparents’ attic was a box of early 1950s comic books belonging to my mom and Uncle.  From Archie and Veronica to Uncle Scrooge, I poured through every title in that box and begged my parents for more. From the late 1980s to early 1990s, I read every comic strip in the Sunday funnies, Garfield book, and Disney comic that came my way.  And my dad wholly supported this endeavor as he was the one venturing to the newsstand/comic book store on his business travels. Upon learning of a museum dedicated to comics in Brussels, Centre Belge de La Bande Dessinee (Belgian Comic Strip Center) I opted for this museum instead off Manneken Pis.  Clearly my childhood foray into comics just scratched the surface of this field. Two permanent exhibits caught my full attention, “The Invention of Comic Strip” and “The Art of Comic Strip.” The latter focused mainly on European comic strips but the former presented a general history as to the evolution of visual narratives. From Tin Tin and Spirou to the Smurfs, I walked away from the museum dumbfounded as to how entrenched European, specifically Belgian comics are in our shared culture.

Les Schtroumpfs

Les Schtroumpfs

While perusing the shelves at Tropismes, I stumbled upon a little wordless comic book entitled “Simon’s Cat On joue?” by Simon Tofield.  Laughing aloud in the store, costing 6.90 euros and measuring just shy of 6″x 6″, I just had to buy it. While browsing the Comic Strip Museum’s bookshop, I stumbled upon another Simon’s Cat title that I subsequently purchased. My laughter continued with this title too. Later in my travels, I mentioned my Simon’s Cat finds to some Children’s Literature scholars whom I had met at the IRSCL conference. Whoa! They thankfully informed me of this cartoon’s overwhelming popularity in the British Commonwealth (UK and Australia) and on You Tube videos; needless to say, I’m hooked. Here are my three personal faves…

The Five Cs: Summer Edition

Being that I’ve had an extended absence from my blog, I have a laundry list of topics to address in the coming days and weeks. Before I begin, I ought to address the reasons behind the gap in blog posts.  After all, my last entry dates back to May. Much of my silence ought to be attributed to, what I consider, the Five Cs. No, I don’t mean the 4 Cs of the sparkly diamond kind. Nor the 2013-2014 school year’s “buzz” words referring to the “Four Cs of 21st Century Learning:” Collaboration, Creativity, Communication and Critical Thinking. Rather, my time and energies over the summer months revolved around Kids (not mine, as I’m childless), Cats, Cancer, Class and a Conference. Forgive me for the letter-sound based 5Cs as I’m clearly a first grade teacher.

(1) Kids: I spent about 7+ weeks traveling this summer.  The majority of time was spent at my best friend’s home in Dallas, Texas.  I helped her and her husband care for their 3 year old and newborn as well as alleviate some household demands.  The experience not only opened my eyes to new found appreciation of parenthood but also aided me in overcoming my fear of babies.  I honed my diaper changing, bottle-feeding and burping skills as well as my ability to soothe a crying 3 year old in the middle of the night. I’m grateful for opportunity to become part of her family for a month and help them adjust to becoming a family of four.

Baby love.

Baby love.

(2) Cats: Prior to my Texas visit, I drove my beloved cat, Scooter, to my parent’s home in Florida to be cared for and loved while on my extended travels.  For the first few days Scooter appeared contented while he enjoyed the flora and fauna, mainly geckos, that South Florida has to offer. But a week after my departure for Texas, Scooter’s health rapidly declined and he succumbed to cancer.

Scooter.

Scooter.

He had been my best buddy and cuddliest feline roommate for the past 12 years. From his endless game of fetch with Q-tips to his love of water manifested by his jumping in the shower or sink at impromptu times, Scooter was quite a character.  Missing him seemed daunting as was the probable loneliness that I’d experience in my quiet studio apartment back in Virginia.  Just as I began to consider adopting another cat, there ran a local news story on overcrowding of cats in local humane shelters.  Needless to say, a few days later, I welcomed home an adorable kitten, Gretel.  Named after the Brothers’ Grimm heroine, of course!

Gretel @ 3.5 months.

Gretel @ 3.5 months.

(3) Cancer: I planned to return to my parents home for a short visit in late July but that became an extended stay. My mom has cancer, again.  In 1999, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After six months of chemo and radiation she was in remission and has remained status quo for over thirteen years.  Thankfully, modern science has tools to detect changes in tumor markers as such an elevation in conjunction with PET scans signaled metastatic breast cancer to her C5 vertebrae.  Much of my thoughts have been focused on her (and my dad) in the past few weeks as she heals from surgery removing and reconstructing the vertebrae. Radiation will soon follow in October. My mom is a warrior; she slayed this dragon once before and she’ll do it again!

Mom & Dad Visit Washington, DC (12/2011).

Mom & Dad Visit Washington, DC (12/2011).

(4) Class: Clearly grad schooling is my favorite pastime. From May to August, I completed a prerequisite course for my M.Ed–LL ED 568 Doing Research in Children’s Literature. I am amazed at the theoretical dialogue and collaborative research my classmates and I produced.  Certainly the caliber of critical analysis raised the bar for each of us in our weekly readings, discussion and online posts. Using a wikispace, we drafted a “keyword” entry on the topic of “intertextuality” to delineate how it is defined and relates to children’s literature. Of course, this entry is based on the formulaic presentation from Philip Nel and Lissa Paul’s Keywords for Children’s Literature (2011). In fact, I suggested the inclusion of this keyword to the editors, Nel and Paul at the IRSCL conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands in August. Which bring me to the final C.

Keywords for Children's Literature. Eds. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York & London: New York UP, 2011.

Keywords for Children’s Literature. Eds. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York & London: New York UP, 2011.

(5) Conference: In August I traveled to Brussels, Belgium and then onto Maastricht, The Netherlands to attend the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature.  Amazing!  This conference necessitates its own separate post. I met so many wonderful scholars in the field from all over the world and made new friends along the way.  The breadth of research presented that stems from the intersection of digital media and children’s literature has framed many future research questions for me to explore in the coming years. The hospitality of the University and the events planned around the conference sessions were delightful. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity for my attendance to this IRSCL conference confirmed my decision to pursue a doctorate in the field of children’s literature.

ID Badge from Conference.

ID Badge from Conference.

I suppose that there exists a touch of irony in the fact that I’m too busy to blog during summer vacation but have ample time to blog during the school year.  Regardless, I’m back, happily blogging about all things related to my foray into the field of children’s literature and related topics.

An Exercise in Futility

Welcome to my 1st grade classroom library.

Welcome to my 1st grade classroom library.

As a ten-year veteran teacher, you’d think that my classroom library would have reached some semblance of order amongst the controlled chaos of teaching first graders. But, alas, it is like grasping at straws. I’ve never counted the picture books; however, I estimate there are between too many and not enough.  Perhaps I’ve spent the GDP of some poor nation-state over the course of a decade as I seek to provide my readers with a vast selection of picture books from which to choose. Regardless, seeing a reluctant or at-risk reader happen upon a picture book of interest and pore over its pages during self-selected reading is an immensely fulfilling moment. Maintaining such a voluminous classroom library raises questions about organization, access, space, and upkeep. Here are the stats that provide insight into a 1st grade classroom library:

  • Estimated total picture-books: 2,500-3,000
  • Number of tubs: 78
  • Number of Bookshelves: 5
  • Number of wire book racks: 2
  • Number of books inaccessible to students: 110
  • Leveling: Fountas & Pinnell and Rigby PM
  • Experiencing a child reader enjoy a self-selected picture book title: Priceless

The Boy and The Airplane

Dust jacket cover. 2013.

Dust jacket cover.*

If I could relive the rich conversation in today’s read aloud even once in the remainder of my teaching career, I’d be a happy. Quick rewind. A few weeks ago, I discovered a newly published wordless picture book title while scouring the shelves of my local (independent) children’s bookstore, Hooray For Books! in Alexandria, VA. From the seemingly innocuous sepia-toned dust jacket that resembles brown paper wrapping, to the spare brown ink and dark red drawings on a background of muted beiges and grays, A Boy and The Airplane by Mark Pett may be understated in its appearance but it relays a powerful visual narrative. It is a must-read for all primary classrooms.

Ripe with opportunity to prompt child-initiated responses, this wordless picture book’s sequence of illustrations enables a reader to construct and negotiate meaning and to interpret the visual narrative.  Differing from traditional picture books that rely upon the codependent relationship of the text and words to convey meaning, wordless picture books, generally speaking, rely on the sequence of illustrations to delineate the narrative.  Concomitantly, it would seem that in traditional picture books words deliver the temporal nature of the narrative and the pictures address the spatial nature. Although theorists suggest that words and pictures yield both types of information.  Thus, the illustrations in A Boy and The Airplane are solely tasked with the integration of time and space.  Pett succeeds in conveying this temporal and spatial sequence in the visual narrative.

Permit me to provide a brief interpretive summary of this narrative. In the beginning of the story, a nameless boy receives a boxed gift from an unknown sender.  In the verso (left) of the opening double spread, a leg in movement indicates an unidentifiable person walking away upon delivering a gift of an airplane to the boy featured in the recto (right). The boy’s love of this airplane is apparent as multiple pages are dedicated to his play.  The problem arises when the airplane lands on a roof.  Trying a ladder, lasso, baseball, pogo stick, and fireman’s hose, the boy fails to successfully retrieve his airplane.  Saddened, the boy laments under a tree when a seed falls in his lap.  This seed spawns a novel idea of retrieval. He plants it and patiently awaits for the seed to grow. An initial change of seasons signifies the boy’s initial patience awaiting his plan to come to fruition.  Years pass, as is evident by the increasing physical maturity of the boy who stands before the growing tree. Alas, as an old man donning a white beard, the tree is tall enough to reach the roof (that has also weathered with time).  The old man finally retrieves his by beloved airplane from his childhood and begins to play with it just like the little boy he once was.  But he stops. He re-gifts it for a little girl in the final verso double spread and is seen walking away in the recto. The inclusion of a little bird alongside the boy aides in delivering spatial information to the reader.  The bird as well as strategically placed grass leaves anchor the horizon line to provide the reader with a sense of space in the frameless illustrations. (A keen student shared that the bird didn’t seem to age but rather it “must’ve had a lot of life cycles.”)

In my classroom, the conversation began with the peritext.  The moment I slipped the dust jacket off the book, my student began to debate the changed front cover.  Some reasoned that the boy had just opened a present while others disagreed upon stating that the boy was playing in a sandbox.  When I “read aloud” any wordless book to my students, we first do a silent read from beginning to end.  Then, we discuss our interpretations and constructions as we re-read it page by page.  In this rereading, one little boy commented “The boy is going crazy.”  “What do you mean?” I questioned.  “There are four boys in the picture,” he replied as he touched each one. “Why do you think the author drew four boys?” I asked. “He is playing like an airplane. It shows he is having fun.”

Awesome.  A first grader just recognized a picture book convention of position.  Repetition of character on the page denotes not only decreased control but increased playfulness on behalf of the boy. Many “oohs” and “aahs” were vocalized when we reached the page in which the airplane is flown and appears in the foreground while the boy is diminished into the background.  One child commented that that was his favorite part because “it looked so real. Like it was happening in real life. It never came back down for a long time.” That change of position signified the marginalization of the boy vis-a-vis the airplane. In other words, a shift of power or control.

Oh no! Airplane on angled roof in foreground. Diagonal roof evokes tension. Diminished size of boy in background denotes loss of control.

Oh no! Airplane on angled roof in foreground. Diagonal roof evokes tension. Diminished size of boy in background denotes loss of control.*

Here is a sampling of some more student written and spoken reflections–What is your favorite part? Why do you like it?–captured after the student-led discussion.

  • I like Whne He turned Big because He can get the airplane. (I like when he turned big because he can get the airplane.) 
  • My favrot part was when he gave it to a girl. because the store stars all over agin. (My favorite part was when he gave it to a girl because the story starts all over again.)
  • The Boy was playing with the airplane. I was playing with the ball and I kick The ball so hi. (The boy was playing with the airplane.  I was playing with the ball and I kicked the ball so high.)
  • I like when the boby triy his hol life to got the aplin because the aplin lndid on the roof. (I like when the boy tried his whole life to get the airplane because the airplane landed on the roof).
  • “My favorite part is when it goes over and over like a man gave him a plane and the gave the girl a plane and the story never ends.”
  • i like the part wen He got The present. Because He was Happy when He was old to. (I like the part when he got the present because he was happy when he was old too.)
  • My farit Port wuz win his PLan wuz in the roy Bekus He shriaretg to get it but not his mom and dad. (My favorite part was when his plane was on the roof because he tried everything to get it but not his mom and dad.)
  • My favorite part is when the old man decided not to fly his airplane and instead gave it to the little girl because I think the girl enjoyed it veeeeeeeery much like the boy enjoyed it before it got stuck.
  • “My favorite part is the end.  The old man’s butt reminds me of bear’s butt from Chicken Butt’s Back.”

The complexities of student’s visual meaning-making are evident in these responses that range from subversiveness, empathy, and inferences to personal and text-to-text connections.  As to the typologies to classify these classroom experiences, Sipe (2008) notes such a generalizability of student responses may not be readily achieved (p. 34-5). (I am currently studying the available research on these typologies and their classroom application to promote visual literacy).

*Pett, Mark. The Boy and The Airplane. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.  Amazon.com. Web.  10 May 2013.

That Is Not A Good Idea!

My fondness for Mo Willems harkens back to my Summer 2010 graduate class, Art of the Picture Book.  As a culminating project, I had to select, research, analyze, and critique a collection of picture books by a children’s author.  Who would be the lucky recipient of my studies? The prolific pillars of children’s literature were obvious choices for my classmates–Eric Carle, Rosemary Wells, Jan Brett, Kevin Henkes.  But I desired to select an author that would implicate my first grade students’ preferences.  One day I noticed all my copies of Mo Willems’ books were checked out of my classroom library and in the eager hands of my students.  There was a hush over the classroom as my students were just mesmerized in reading these books.  In an impromptu conference, I asked a student why this particular book, Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct was selected for self-reading.  The student responded, “It’s by the Pigeon author and I’m reading it so I can find the Pigeon.”  A-Ha! Analogous to the “Hidden Mickey” phenomena at Walt Disney World, the searching for the hidden Pigeon is a must-do activity for all of Willems’ picture books readers. I wondered how this Pigeon character came to possess my students with such a steadfast fascination.  Fortunately, it didn’t take months of research to figure out origins of this hidden Pigeon phenomena.  One read of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! to a roomful of six-year-olds will compel any person to become a fan of Willems’ Pigeon.

Pigeon has an attitude.  According to Willems, “the Pigeon hates it when I don’t make a book about him.”  So what is a pigeon to do? “He gets very, very frustrated,” explains Willems in an online video interview, “so whenever I’m working on another project, while I’m not looking, he sneaks into the project that I’m working on.” (Barnes & Noble)  This crafty pigeon appears in every book illustrated by Willems.  Maybe this is just Willems’ homage to the Pigeon that launched his career and debuted as a 2004 Caldecott Honor Book.  Regardless, this hidden Pigeon has young readers searching him out with fervor and honing those reading skills of making text-to-text connections on a very basic level.

I can personally attest to this growing hidden pigeon phenomenon.  Every school year as a new class of first graders enters my reading domain, finding the Pigeon reaches cult-like status.  Albeit, costuming oneself as Pigeon on character dress-up day aides this process.

Fast forward to Willems’ latest endeavor, That Is Not a Good Idea!  It breaks the mold of literary conventions just like his previous postmodernistic works. Harkening back to the days of silent films, Willems fashions That Is Not a Good Idea! as a movie in picture book form and features the plight of the wide-eyed damsel-in-distress, Plump Goose, at the hand of an evil villain, Hungry Fox.  Borrowing from cinematic conventions, intertitles of white typeface with graphic, abstract borders on black background narrate the story and present both the main characters’ inner monologue and outer dialogue.  Interspersed within the narrative is a gaggle of boundary-breaking goslings, introduced as Baby Geese.  Together, Baby Geese and reader comprise the collective audience watching this suspenseful narrative unfold.  With increasing despair, Baby Geese warn “That is not a good idea!” as Plump Goose accepts each of the Sly Fox’s invitations. The reader echoes Baby Geese’s sentiments and similarly voices alarm.  But why?

Not only do the descriptors of the characters’ names infer narrative arc, “Hungry” and “Plump,” but the illustrated characters are reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s naive and overly-trusting Jemima Puddle-Duck when introduced to the dapper sandy-whiskered gentleman, a cunning fox. From clothing–Jemima is dressed in a blue poke bonnet; Plump Goose is dressed in a peasant-like blue kerchief–to the invitation to his home and a promise of dinner, the plots parallel one another. Such an understanding compels the reader to connect the two stories. A reader may even connect That Is Not A Good Idea! to Little Red Riding Hood, albeit a wolf has to be substituted for the fox. To a child reader the difference between a fictional fox and a wolf is negligible; in both tales these canines species represent the evil character seeking to commit a wrongdoing to an innocent female victim.

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Frederick Warne: London, 1908. Web.

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. New York: F. Warne & Co., 1908. Print.

But unlike Potter’s classic tale or Little Red Riding Hood, Willems delivers a comedic and unexpected twist that turns the readers’ rendering of good versus evil on its head. It is this humorous ending that initially confused most of my english as second language readers (“ESOL”)–not because of the complexity of the plot but rather due to the use of the masculine objective personal pronoun “him.”  A brief clarification of the difference between “him,” the Hungry Fox, and “her,” the Plump Goose, had my ESOL students giggling with understanding.  I figured the confusion necessitated a second re-reading.  The second time around resulted in uproarious laughter from all.  Yes!!! And so, I questioned my students to reflect–What is your favorite part? Why do you like it?–using the sentence frame: I liked when _______ because _______. Here are three of the responses:

  • “I liked when the Baby Geese yell ‘That is really really really NOT a good idea!’ because I was thinking that too!”
  • “I liked when I saw Pigeon hiding on the bridge (illustration) because I knew he had to be in the book because Mo Willems wrote it.”
  • “I liked when the Plump Goose tricked the Hungry Fox because I thought the Goose was going into the soup but the Fox’s head went into the soup.”

Lastly, in reading That Is Not a Good Idea!, I wondered if the setting, reminiscent of an old-European city, pays homage to Willems’ Dutch roots.  In sharing Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion with a friend of mine who works at The Netherlands’ embassy in Washington, D.C., my Dutch friend identified the location of the photos as being in Breda, his childhood hometown. I may have to enlist his help in determining if the setting is real or imagined. Nonetheless, the subdued pastel hues of the background contrast the bright yellow Baby Geese and provide the reader with a visual break from the narrative as it cuts to the audience. This helps the reader to comprehend the role of Baby Geese and why they couldn’t intervene on behalf of the victim.

In my humble opinion, Mo Willems has become the Dr. Seuss of the 21st Century in penning wildly popular children’s picture books. That Is Not a Good Idea! delivers guaranteed laughs.

Willems, Mo. Interview by Barnes & Noble.  “Meet the Writers: A Conversation with Mo Willems.”  Pigeon Presents!  Hyperion Children, n.d.  Web.  10 Jul. 2010.

Bluebird by Bob Staake

In my never-ending search to discover wordless picture book titles, I came across Bob Staake’s recently published Bluebird.  The soft pastel blue and gray palette invites the child reader into its pages. The simple geometric designs of the city, school, storefronts and park leave the reader focused more on the unlikely budding friendship between the characters, a sad little schoolboy and a cheery bluebird than the mundane setting.  The reader watches the little boy’s transformation from loneliness to happiness on account of the bluebird’s persistent companionship. Without the use of a single word, except for some environmental print, Staake delivers an evocative narrative. The brooding darkness of the woods foreshadows the tragic climax. Yet the story brightens to a cheery and unexpected ending.

I have never experienced a “lump” in my throat while “reading” aloud a wordless picture book to my students.   Bluebird is the first to accomplish such a feat!  It is this ending that I chose to explore with my students. Without judgement and having already established a trusting community of learners, I solicited my students to jot down a sentence or two (on a ubiquitous yellow Post-It) to reflect upon what happened to the bluebird.  Their candid responses were beyond my expectations. From the literal to the insightful and profound, here are a few of those reflections with my spelling in italics.

  • “He floow away to a nusxthr sad boy.” He flew away to another sad boy.
  • “the bully trogh the stick it hit bluebird He died. More birds came they lifted the boy the bluebird came alive.” The bully threw the stick. It hit bluebird. He died. More birds came. They lifted the boy. The bluebird came alive.
  • “the BLow Brd wit to the KLawd.” The bluebird went to the cloud.
  • “The kid let go.”
  • “He DiD Not Be cerFoL with The Bird so The Bird was ded.” He wasn’t careful with the bird so the bird died.
  • “He DiDe and Kam Bak to lif and He went in The klawd.” He died and came back to life and he went in the cloud.
  • “Bloo Brib was hrt anb fit bitr.” Bluebird was hurt and felt better.
  • “I think the bird went in the sky to hevin.” I think the bird went in the sky to heaven.

Sharing a wordless picture book like Staake’s Bluebird is reason why I have chosen such a profession.  It addresses weighty and universal themes of friendship, bullying, empathy, hope, loss and comfort within the safety of its illustrations. Bluebird is destined to become a timeless story that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Greetings

Welcome.

After many years of talking to anyone who’ll listen to my ponderings and musings about children’s literature, I’ve finally dedicated a blog to the topic for all to enjoy.  And what an extraordinary topic it is.  In all probability my fascination with children’s literature began in my primary years. My elementary school hosted an AMAZINGLY WONDROUS annual book fair.  Unlike today’s homogenous Scholastic Book Fairs, a flood of books besieged our school.  The entire gym and library had table upon table of books for purchase. Authors and illustrators would visit our classrooms to share their craft.  To my recollection, I met Rosemary Wells in 1st grade and Allan Atkinson in 3rd grade.  My collection of books from these book fairs, book clubs and older brother hand-me-downs amassed. Thus, my parents took it upon themselves to custom-build a bookshelf to house my growing library. I organized, alphabetized and arranged my books in my bedroom more times than I could count.  I held to one steadfast rule that I uphold to this day; no book is allowed on the shelves until I read it from cover to cover.

Leading by example, my parents nurtured a little book lover. My mom regularly volunteered at my school library. Without fail, my parents read to me every night. But it was Mrs. Nye, the school librarian, that I vividly remember reading aloud to me.  I was amazed at how she could hold the book sideways for us to view the pictures and read aloud without having to glance at the words. As a first grade teacher, I’ve come to realize that that is a practiced skill. As a 10 year veteran in the classroom, I not only read right-side up but also upside-down, side-ways, and with my eyes closed. The latter spooks my students but some titles are easily memorized.

The majority of my elementary school memories relate to book characters.  A giant red Clifford hung from the back wall of my 1st grade classroom.  Clifford and I had many conversations, albeit rather one-sided.  But for a child with speech difficulties Clifford didn’t judge my /l/, /r/, and /th/ sounds that mimicked the letter /w/.  My first venture into theatre was to play the starring role of “Sister Bear” in the 1st grade stage production of The Berenstain Bears and Too Much T.V. But my theatrical career was short-lived as I tripped while jumping rope across the stage in the dress rehearsal and was replaced by a more reliable “Sister Bear.” (My coordination skills were negligible then and now).

Fast forward to July 2004. I was about to embark upon my current career as an elementary educator. While walking through my future colleagues’ classrooms it became abundantly clear that literacy reigns supreme.  That was the expectation. Countless picture book titles filled their classrooms.  I inherited an empty classroom filled with boring reading textbooks. Ugh! I spent the summer months scouring local library sales, Goodwill, and thrift stores in search of picture book titles for my future students to browse. And now, a decade later, I admittedly own thousands of children’s books from a range of levels, pre-emergent to chapter books. Perhaps my organization of such a classroom library may be a future blog’s topic. I digress.

After my first year of teaching (best characterized as a “baptism by fire”) I began to ponder a master’s degree.  A few clicks on google later, I found a perfect match that melds my love of children’s literature, cerebral predilection for theories and chosen career in teaching. Availing myself to Summers only and occasional Spring terms, I’ve managed to stretch my  pursuit of a graduate degree across nearly 8 years.  Although I’m finally nearing completion of an M.Ed in Curriculum & Instruction in Children’s Literature from Penn State, I’d rather my studies in and contributions to this field continue…