Thursday, June 1, 2017

Becoming...

Sketching young Heracles with the pelt of the Nemean Lion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Something quietly blossomed this afternoon and it was beautiful - my first graders became a family.

I've noticed this week that the seeds of cooperation, respect, kindness and "oneness" started bearing fruit. One by one and then seemingly all at once this amazing group of children started to move away from their little egocentric tendencies and operate as a unit.

It was evident during reading workshop yesterday when they were scattered around the room quietly reading. A palpable sense of determination and collective joy hung in the air.

Each child applauded the achievements of his or her classmates whose reading assessments indicated they had moved up a level. There were discussions about books. Incredible insights into the author's message being shared on strips of paper and placed into books. Children recommending titles to one another. A sense of purpose prevailed.

These interactions appear to be the cumulation of our time together, which includes lessons in being mindful and taking mind breaks 3 times a day to center our thoughts.

But today we took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see sculptures of the Greek heroes we've been studying and the kids impressed the shit out of me.

Sketching Andromeda and the Sea Monster

I think they impressed everyone around us too.

As we gathered around a statue of Andromeda I asked them several questions such as, "Why is she looking up?" and "How is this artist's depiction different from the one you had visualized?  How is it the same?" Their answers prompted onlookers to ask disbelievingly, "How old are these students? What grade is this?" They carried themselves like college students on a museum trip.

Then they sat down to sketch and became fully immersed in the activity. So much so that I was ready to move on long before they were.

On the sidelines two artists sat sketching. Their drawings were not only of the artwork but included my little masterpieces as well. They kindly agreed to share their work with the students and offered tips on how to utilize the paper to maximize the drawing space.

Two kind artists share their sketches
Later, they sat on the ground with a group of children who had questions or who were becoming frustrated with their artistic skills. Role models are everywhere if you keep your eyes open. New York City is a wonderful teacher.

Next, we moved slightly to the left to study Perseus with the head of Medusa. If a bare-breasted Andromeda was cause for giggles and fascination, a naked Perseus seemed even more so.

But that quieted as they set to sketch. We had discussed nudity in art prior to the visit so establishing an openness and artistic viewpoint on the human body beforehand helped minimize - somewhat - the gasps, stares and pointing.

Sketching Perseus with the head of Medusa

However, they captured it all in their sketches.

A child's sketch of an older Heracles cloaked in the skin of the Nemean Lion

We ended the trip with a visit to the rooftop for some very interesting art and an exquisite view of the Manhattan skyline.

Adri├ín Villar Rojas, The Theater of Disappearance
What a day! The little ones are growing up and I feel like my mom when she says, "I wish I could keep you kids little forever". It always seems like just when things start running smoothly and a class becomes everything a teacher could wish for, they move on.

Still, I have them until June 28 so I'll be practicing mindful appreciation until I have to say farewell.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Children's Books: The Fall/Winter Preview from Little, Brown and Company


Last month I had the thrilling opportunity to attend the Fall/Winter preview of upcoming Books for Young Readers at the offices of Little, Brown and Company. The invitation was extended because of my work with Broadway Books First Class but the event is generally held for school librarians.

I was so excited to step into the halls of this publishing company and spend time discussing new books with the editors. On top of that (as if this weren't enough) they had a table set up with copies of each book, free and available for the taking.

What?!

I had stepped into children's book heaven and could barely contain my happiness. And happiness is meant to be shared, so here are some of the books previewed that afternoon. I selected a few of them for Broadway Books First Class so they will pop up again in the coming school year.


Hey Black Child is based on a poem by Useni Eugene Perkins and illustrated by six-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and four-time Caldecott Honor recipient Bryan Collier. "This lyrical, empowering poem celebrates black children and seeks to inspire all young people to dream big and achieve their goals." Bryan Collier brings this classic, inspirational poem to life with his colorful illustrations that depict the roots and history of African americans. Available 11/14/2017


Malala's Magic Pencil is the first picture book written by Nobel Peace Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author Malala Yousafzai. The story is inspired by her childhood in Pakistan where she wished for a magic pencil to change the world around her.  As she grew the wishes changed with the conflicted world. "Her right to attend school was threatened - just because she's a girl. Instead of a magic pencil, Malala now picked up a real one.  She wrote alone in her room about the challenges she faces, but people from all over read her words.  And her wishes started to come true." Available 10/17/2017


The Bad Mood and the Stick comes from New York Times bestselling author Lemony Snicket. "It is a witty, deadpan tale of the mysterious and unexpected ways that bad moods move through the world." Available 10/03/2017


Brave by Stacy McAnulty with illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff is about the unique challenges, fears and pressures every kid faces and how each child can meet them with a courageous heart. Available 10/03/2017


Read the Book, Lemmings! is from the New York Times bestselling team behind Wolfie the Bunny. It is a hilarious and fresh story about the importance of learning to actually read the facts. I am a big fan of Zachariah OHora because his artwork reminds me of Curious George illustrator H. A. Rey. Available 11/07/2017

All in all I left there with about 11 children's books and 12 young adult titles. I didn't want to be so greedy but the editors encouraged it. They even provided us with a handy-dandy tote bag. I brought these books along to my course on Children's Literature that I teach at Fordham University. So, that along with this post and the inclusion of several titles for Broadway Books First Class constitutes a bit of paying it forward.

Other titles to check out include; Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho, Love the World by Todd Parr, The Littlest Train by Chris Gall, Baby Bear's Book of Tiny Tales by David McPhail, The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell, Rory the Dinosaur Needs a Christmas Tree by Liz Climo and Sweet Pea & Friends: A Farm For Maisie by John and Jennifer Churchman.

Also, the young adult novel The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Broadway Books First Class Visit From Treshelle Edmond

Being silly and having fun in First Grade with guest artist Treshelle Edmond

Broadway Books First Class was designed to celebrate the Arts and promote literacy.  Literacy development, as in learning to read, is a complex business. It is also the business of each and every child in first grade. 

Lifting words off the page and making meaning - or comprehending - the author's message requires the coming together of many strands involved in the reading process including letter recognition, letter/sound connections (phonics), sight word recognition, vocabulary development, print concepts, language structures, background knowledge, the alphabetic principle and inferencing skills. It is the interplay of those competencies that allow for fluent, skilled reading to emerge. 

Children navigate through this process in a predictable manner. Teachers assess the steps along the way by listening to the child read aloud - word by word - and providing support to scaffold development. 

Imagine now that another element has been thrown into this already full mix. Imagine now that you are a child who communicates in American Sign Language (ASL) and, in order to make meaning from the words and sentences on the page, you must take an additional step by translating written English into ASL.  

Suddenly, phrases a child might read aloud such as, "The sun comes up on the water. It is shining on the lake" require more than a word-for-word verbalization. To demonstrate understanding of this passage a child who is deaf or hard of hearing must show the concepts of the sun rising and shining on the lake in ASL. That added step dwells in the territory of the very skilled reader.  

So, it is thrilling when our guest artists are the embodiment of this and can demonstrate how to lift words off the page and make meaning using ASL. One such role model is Treshelle Edmond, who masterfully read Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen.

Treshelle Edmond reads Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen in ASL

Treshelle's reading highlighted the work of an artist as well as that of a teacher. She utilized a projected image of the book while sometimes referring directly to a hard copy of the text. She thoughtfully embodied the strong-willed protagonist, Sassy, showing how Sassy worked to achieve her dreams.

With each page the children, who started out in a large circle, crept closer and closer to Treshelle as if pulled by an invisible force.  Therein lies the power of storytelling!

At points Treshelle put the reading on hold to lead the little ones in a dance exercise to bring the elements of the story into their bodies. It is a technique which takes advantage of the total physical response method used in teaching second language learners and aids in keeping young minds focused.  

Treshelle Edmond leading us in a "Sassy" inspired warm-up

Treshelle's exquisite storytelling was also on display in her Broadway debut as Martha Bessel in Deaf West's Tony Award Nominated musical revival of Spring Awakening. She can break your heart or make you laugh and for one afternoon in elementary school our first graders went along for the journey.  

She also spoke with the children about her experiences on the TV shows Glee, House and The Fresh Beat Band and signing the National Anthem at Super Bowl 2015 with John Legend and Idina Menzel.  The kids were curious to know if she signed in every show and her answer was, "Yes and no" explaining that it depends on the character.  Does the role depend upon visual storytelling or require voice?

It was good for us to discuss the value of both languages and highlight the differences between ASL and English.  An ongoing goal in class is to help the students recognize the value of both languages and understand the differences between them.

We had a touching moment when one student commented to Treshelle that being deaf was her gift. We all understood that.

And speaking of gifts...we gave her a copy of the Dancing in the Wings signed by all of the children.

Our "show of gratitude" to Treshelle Edmond

Before she departed Treshelle was kind enough to autograph books for each child.  The funding for books this visit was pieced together from donations from parents, our student teacher and masterful interpreter for Treshelle's visit Cathy Markland and yours truly.

Thank you Treshelle for making it safe for all of us to dream!

Each child received a copy of Dancing in the Wings signed by Treshelle

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