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Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Published April 18th, 2017 by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.

About the Author: Deborah Heiligman has written many books for children, including National Book Award Finalist Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith and The Boy Who Loved Math. She lives with her family in New York City.

AccoladesMichael L. Printz Award – Honor, School Library Best Books of the Year, CPL: Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, NYPL Books for the Teen Age, Booklist Editors’ Choice, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Winner, BCCB Blue Ribbon Award, Boston Globe – Horn Book Award, Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List

Praise: 

“A remarkably insightful, profoundly moving story of fraternal interdependence and unconditional love.” —Kirkus, starred review

“A breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined . . . This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. ” —Booklist, starred review

“A unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.” —The Horn Book, starred review

“An intensive exploration of their turbulent lives” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry” —The Bulletin, starred review

Review: I could not stop talking about this book while I was listening to it. That, and that I couldn’t stop listening to the book–I would listen whenever I could, show me what a fabulous book it was. Hieligman does an amazing job making Vincent and Theo’s story come to life through such emotional narrative that the reader cannot help but feel as if we are living alongside the Van Gogh brothers. As someone who loves learning about history and art as well as an interest in brain health, this was a story that was more fascinating than I can even describe.

Also, I feel personally connected to this book in a fun way. In November, 2016 Deborah Heiligman and I had a dinner at NCTE, and we got talking about art since she had just finished Vincent and Theo. If you didn’t know, my dad has a BA in Art History and a MFA in Museumology and runs art museums (currently the LSU Museum of Art), so I have grown up around art museums my whole life and with art as a big part of it. One of the things we spoke about is the new information that a painting thought to be a self-portrait (right below) was actually the only known painting of Theo Van Gogh that Vincent painted. One thing that made it hard to determine this was that Theo is wearing the straw hat that Vincent is known to wear while Vincent is wearing Theo’s business felt hat. And this is where Deborah’s question came in: “The hats on the cover matched the hats the men are wearing in the photo although those are not actually their hats. Does it matter?” Now although I love art, I am not the expert, so I offered to ask my dad, and he responded with, “I like the cover as it is. I think it causes a questioning that evidences the new research in an interesting way. It defies previous thoughts and expectations.” Thus the cover stayed as is with an explanation on the jacket (below).

But I think what can show you about the book more than just me raving is all of the awards it received, ⇑ see above, and all of the amazing information about how Deborah researched for the book, ⇓ see below, and of course an excerpt from the book, ⇓ also below.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: View Deborah Hieligman’s research for Vincent and Theo and view all the articles & interviews about the book to use with students when reading this nonfiction text. There is so much that can be done with this story and the author’s writing process; use this amazing text in your classrooms, have it in your libraries, read it yourself–however you see fit, but read and share it!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How were Vincent and Theo’s life parallel with each other?
  • In what way were Vincent and Theo’s view of love part of their downfall emotionally?
  • Looking at the two portraits above and after reading the article about the portrait being of Theo, what do you believe? What similarities and differences do you see between the two?
  • How did Deborah Hieligman take all of the letters and research she did and turn them into a narrative?
  • I described this book to my sister as “A love story about two brothers.” Why would I call it a love story?
  • How did Theo’s short but mighty marriage set up for the current popularity of Vincent Van Gogh?
  • Why did it take so long for Vincent to find art?
  • In what way did finding friends in the impressionist art community help Vincent as an artist?

Flagged Passages: 1. TWO BROTHERS, ONE APARTMENT, PARIS, 1887

There was a time when I loved Vincent very much, and he was my best friend, but that’s over now. —Theo van Gogh to his sister Willemien, March 14, 1887

THEO’S BROTHER VINCENT has been living with him for just over a year, and Theo cannot take it anymore.

It is “almost intolerable for me at home,” he writes to their sister Wil in March 1887. Even though Theo has moved them to a larger apartment, this one still feels too small to hold Vincent’s outsized personality and Theo’s desperate need for quiet. He’s dying to tell Vincent to move out, but he knows if he does, Vincent will just be more determined to stay.

Dogged. Contrary. Stubborn. Vincent.

Theo van Gogh is the manager of Goupil & Cie, a successful art gallery on the fashionable Boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Theo is good at his job, but it’s terrifically frustrating for him right now. The owners of the gallery want him to sell paintings in the traditional style because they’re popular and bring in money. Though Theo certainly needs to make money—he has to support himself and Vincent and help their mother—he wants to sell art that is truly exciting to him, paintings by the Impressionists and their crowd, friends of his and Vincent’s: Émile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Soon, maybe even paintings by Vincent himself.

But these modern painters don’t bring in enough money, so it’s a constant battle with his bosses. Theo haspersuaded them to let him set up a little display of Impressionists on the entresol. The entresol is not the ground floor, and it’s not the first floor. It’s the floor in between. It’s as if the paintings are there, but not quite yet, a glimpse into the future. It’s a start. But he spends his days working hard and comes back to the apartment at 54 Rue Lepic exasperated and exhausted. What he needs at home is rest and peace, but instead he gets VINCENT.

Theo loves his brother’s brilliant mind, his gregariousness, even his fiery temperament. Vincent can be a good antidote to Theo’s own inwardness and tendency to melancholy.

But after so many months of the cold Parisian winter spent indoors with Vincent, Theo is a wreck both mentally and physically. A few months back, in December, he was actually paralyzed—he couldn’t move at all for a few days. Although Theo knows he can’t blame his bad health on his brother, to get better he needs a break from Vincent’s gusts, his squalls, his constant talking and lecturing.

And, to make matters worse, lately Vincent has been furious at him. “He loses no opportunity to let me see that he despises me and I inspire aversion in him,” Theo tells Wil.

A portrait done of the brothers at this time would be sizzling with streaks of red-orange paint.

* * *

WHEN VINCENT AND THEO were young, growing up in the village of Zundert in the Netherlands, their father, a pastor, had written a special prayer. All the Van Gogh children had to memorize it and recite it when they left home:

“O Lord, join us intimately to one another and let our love for Thee make that bond ever stronger.”

Theo has valiantly been living up to that prayer. He’s been Vincent’s best friend for most of the last fifteen years, ever since they made a pledge to each other on a walk. And through many ups and downs and storms, for the past seven years, Theo has been giving Vincent money for paint, pencils and pens, ink, canvases, paper, clothing, food, and, until he moved in, rent.

On March 30 Vincent turns thirty-four; on May 1 Theo will be thirty. They’ve made it this far in their journey together—how can Theo kick him out now?

* * *

VINCENT AND THEO VAN GOGH look a lot alike: They both have red hair, though Vincent’s is redder, Theo’s more reddish blond. Vincent has freckles; Theo does not. They are both medium height—around five feet seven—but Vincent is broader, bigger; Theo slighter, thinner. They have pale blue eyes that sometimes darken to greenish blue. They are definitely brothers.

But they couldn’t give more different impressions.

Vincent in his workman’s clothes spends his days painting, outside if it’s not too cold, or inside the apartment. He is covered with Parisian soot and grime, overlaid with splatters and spatters of paint: ochre, brick red, orange, lemon chrome, cobalt blue, green, black, zinc white.

He doesn’t bathe often, which is typical for a nineteenth-century man, but it’s even less often than he should. He stinks—of body odor, dirt, food, paint, turpentine, wine, and tobacco. He usually has a pipe in his mouth, though he has very few teeth left, and those that are left are rotten.

And yet Vincent looks healthy: he’s robust, sturdy, and vehemently alive. Passion pours from him, as if the world he’s trying to capture is inside him, bursting to come out.

Theo is tidy, well dressed in a suit, looking very much the proper Parisian businessman. His features are finer, more refined. He would be handsome if he weren’t so sick: he’s thin and pale; he looks as though the life is being sucked out of him. He feels that way, too.

* * *

IN MANY WAYS, Vincent’s move to Paris has been good for both brothers. Thanks to Theo’s influence, to the artists he’s met, and to his own tenacious work, Vincent’s paintings are better than ever: they are imbued with color and light and Vincent’s own particular style.

And Vincent has given Theo more of a life. He’d been lonely in Paris, so lonely, and now, even though he doesn’t have a wife and family, Theo at least has a circle of friends through Vincent. For that he is grateful. So even though he’s desperate, Theo doesn’t kick out his brother. Yet.

In April, Theo acknowledges to another sister, Lies, that he’s been ill, “particularly in my spirit, and have had a great struggle with myself.” If he were well, he could deal with Vincent.

In fact both brothers do better with sun and warm air and hours spent outside. The Parisian days are getting longer—by minutes, anyway. If only spring would arrive! But there’s still too much gloom outside and in.

Gloom and fire.

It’s as if there are two Vincents, Theo has told Wil. He knows both sides of his brother very well. Sometimes Vincent is ebulliently happy and kind, sometimes furiously angry and difficult. He has a huge heart, but he’s stubborn and argumentative.

Vincent argues not only with Theo, and with himself, but also with friends and people he admires. One cold and fiery night in the near future, Vincent will fight with another roommate. And that argument will end in blood.

Read This If You Love: History, Art, Brain health, Van Gogh, Heiligman’s writing

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2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.  

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Winner is:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(HarperCollins/ Balzar +  Bray)

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
(Penguin Random House/ Crown Books for Young Readers)

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
(Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
(Simon & Schuster/ Simon Pulse)

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
(Penguin Random House/ Philomel Books)

The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2018 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 19th in Houston, TX, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Scanlon, Committee Chair
Teacher
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff, Past Committee Chair
Teacher
South Ft. Myers High School, Ft. Myers, FL

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Robert Bittner
SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Marie LeJeune
Professor, Literacy Education
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Librarian
Casa Grande Elementary School District, Casa Grande, AZ

Sarah Mulhern Gross
Teacher
High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Kerry Neuberger
Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

Jennifer Paulsen
Teacher
Holmes Junior High, Cedar Falls, IA

Beth Shaum
Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Wendy Stephens
School Library Media Specialist
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/

Congratulations to Angie Thomas and the the finalists! 

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2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.  

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
(Penguin Random House/ Crown Books for Young Readers)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
(HarperCollins/ Balzar +  Bray)

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
(Simon & Schuster/ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
(Simon & Schuster/ Simon Pulse)

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder
(Penguin Random House/ Philomel Books)

The winner will be announced on Monday, July 30th. The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2018 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 19th in Houston, TX, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered over 350 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities. They are:

Beth Scanlon, Committee Chair
Teacher
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Lisa Scherff, Past Committee Chair
Teacher
South Ft. Myers High School, Ft. Myers, FL

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA

Robert Bittner
SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Marie LeJeune
Professor, Literacy Education
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Librarian
Casa Grande Elementary School District, Casa Grande, AZ

Sarah Mulhern Gross
Teacher
High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ

Kerry Neuberger
Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

Jennifer Paulsen
Teacher
Holmes Junior High, Cedar Falls, IA

Beth Shaum
Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Wendy Stephens
School Library Media Specialist
Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville AL

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/

Congratulations to the Walden Award committee and to the authors and publishers of the honored books! 

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The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: David Small
Published May 6th, 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Newbery Honor (2009), National Book Award Finalist (2009)

Summary: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love, and its opposite, hate; the fragility of happiness; and the importance of making good on your promises.

Author: Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Review: Anyone who has read a Kathi Appelt book knows that she is amazing at two things: weaving a story together in a way that only she can & pulling at heart strings causing definite mood swings while reading. The Underneath is the epitome of her excellence, and I am sad it took me so long to get to this book. Once done, I was very excited to ask Kathi about this masterpiece, and my questions and her answers show more about what makes this book the award winner that it is.

Interview: 

Kellee: How do you work to weave different elements into your story such as mythology, the natural world, and contemporary stories? 

Kathi: It’s always interesting to me to learn what sets a story off. Some authors swear that they start with characters. And I would say that characters are definitely a good place to start. But when I reflect over my many years of writing, I feel like I mostly start with place. I ask, what is it about this place that lends itself to story? What is the history of it? The social and cultural importance of it? Who has lived here? Who was here a thousand years ago? What were they doing? How did they survive? What impact did natural forces play on this place? What is the flora and fauna? Are there ghosts? Are there particular features of it? So, it seems to me that place creates the basis for most of my stories.

In The Underneath, one of my story lines occurs a thousand years ago, which means that my mythological characters (who were interlopers), would have encountered members of the Caddo/Hasinai nation. Theirs was a sophisticated, highly organized society. But a couple of things happened. One was a massive earthquake that caused a devastating flood which wiped out an entire city, thousands of people. Another was the encroachment of European settlers who brought in disease and ultimately drove the Caddo/Hasinai out of their ancestral lands.

The Caddo were—and still are—known for their pottery, so it made sense to feature a significant jar in my story. That way, I could more clearly link the characters to each other across time periods. One thing leads to another. But in the end, it goes back to place.

Kellee: The Underneath has multiple stories that are interwoven and meet at the end. How do you plan writing a novel like this? 

Kathi: Extended narrative has always been difficult for me. I started my professional writing life as a poet and picture book author. As a result, it seemed like everything I wrote tended to finish at the bottom of page three. It was why writing a novel eluded me for such a long time. I always thought that a novel meant writing long chapters, strung together chronologically, and moving from point A to a final point Z. But it wasn’t in my nature to write like that. Long chapters weren’t the way I rolled. Finally, after many failed attempts, I figured out that if I was ever going to write a novel, I would have to go with my grain as opposed to going against my grain. So, I adapted to “writing by snapshot.” In other words, I write in small, significant scenes—I call them SSS’s. I can get a lot done that way without worrying about word counts or chapter lengths, or even transitions. Plus, they’re easy to manipulate. A small scene can be moved hither and yon until it finds the right place in the story.

I think that one of the reasons that writers fail is because they haven’t found their own natural way of working. Long narrative passages aren’t my strength. I’m not saying that I can’t write them, only that they’re not where my strengths lie.

So, finding the form that fits both our natural strengths and that suits the story, is one of the keys to unlocking a book . . . and a writer. Not all of us are meant to be poets. Not all of us are meant to be soaring prose practitioners. It could be that I’m a little ADD, and the short scenes suit me.

At any rate, making this discovery was how I finally finished a novel.

I also want to say in regard to planning, I do make very loose outlines when I embark upon a new project. Those outlines tend to flex as I move through the draft. But I always try to at least have a vague idea of how the story will end. Otherwise, I’ll just write myself right off the cliff. If I can see the destination, I can get there eventually.

Kellee: Personification allows the setting to become its own character in the story. How do you plan this and implement it well when you are writing? 

Kathi: I spend tons of time researching the plants and animals that populate the setting. And to me, a living organism, such as a tree, is just that—living. If you spend enough time around trees, it seems like they each have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own ideas. I’m just saying. So, unless something is inanimate—like a rock, say—I can usually find the heart of that living organism. That is always my goal.

Kellee: What about The Underneath do you think resonated with readers 10 years ago and still remains today? 

My true hope with The Underneath is that my young readers can see the value of making a good choice. In my story, both the hero Ranger and the antagonist Gar Face have similar experiences, similar fates if you will. They’ve both been badly treated, both been isolated, and yet only one of them turns towards love. Grandmother too, finally, at long last—after the longest time out in history—chooses love. I think that young readers are tuned in to this. I think they’re built for love. What I hope my story does is to give them the courage to make that choice.

Kellee: What feedback have you gotten from readers over the years about The Underneath? What stands out about what the book means to them? 

Gosh, it’s hard to say just one thing, but it seems to me that mostly what I hear over and over from them is how much they love the relationship between Ranger and the kittens. That small sweetness seems to be the key that opens the story up. To me, it’s proof that we don’t all have to be the same or look the same or smell the same or whatever to become best friends. And no matter how small we are, we can make a difference for those we love.

Book Trailer: 

GIVEAWAY!

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

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Thank you, Kathi, for your thorough and beautiful answers to my interview questions, and thank you to Blue Slip Media for the giveaway and trailer!

 

 

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Last year was my first year taking part in a mock award when my lunch book club did the Mock Newbery. I loved the process and the conversations, but I really wanted to move to a less stressful book club and make the process more focused and to get more students involved, so I decided to do a mock award with my class; however, I knew that doing the Newbery well is a very long process, so I thought the Caldecott would be interesting to try with middle schoolers. And I was right!

When I decided to do a Mock Caldecott unit, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I turned to my friends on Twitter who have done Mock Caldecott lessons before. I also turned to good-ole Google. With all of this help and a bit of hard work, I felt pretty good to start.

Choosing Books

To pick books, I completely trusted my PLN and myself, and I chose 20 books that blew them and/or me away. The books were:

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert, Ill. by Lauren Castillo
After the Fall by Dan Santat
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, Ill. by Mike Curato
Blue Sky, White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, Ill. by Kadir Nelson
Claymates by Dev Petty, Ill. by Lauren Eldridge
Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, Ill. by Pascal Lemaitre
Flashlight Night by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Ill. by Fred Koehler
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy
La La La by Kate DiCamillo, Ill. by Jaime Kim
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Water by Michael Mahin, Ill. by Evan Turk
Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares
The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, Ill. by The Fan Brothers
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken
The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, Ill. by Eugene Yelchin
The Wolf, The Duck, & The Mouse by Mac Barnett, Ill.by Jon Klassen
When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, Ill. by Christian Robinson
Windows by Julia Denos, Ill. By E.B. Goodale
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Standards and Learning Goals

To justify a Caldecott Unit, I needed to tie it to middle school standards, and I chose to focus on the standards of citing textual evidence to support analysis and presenting claims and findings with relevant evidence. There were also five secondary standards that fit the unit.

LAFS.8.RL.1.1 2 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
LAFS.8.SL.2.4 3 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
LAFS.8.SL.1.1d Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.
LAFS.8.RL.1.2 3 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
LAFS.8.RL.1.3 3 Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
LAFS.8.RL.2.5 3 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
LAFS.8.RL.2.6 3 Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

Timeline

After determining the standards, I created a scale to help plan my timeline. I knew I needed to start with the students understanding the Caldecott criteria and end with students presenting claims and evidence supporting their claim.

Level Target Evidence
4 I can do level 3 plus I have appropriate eye contact, volume, and clear pronunciation and can think on my feet during a discussion. Mock Caldecott discussion
3 I can present claims and findings with sound reasoning, relevance, and cite evidence from the text that supports my analysis. Choose which potential winners they believe will be honored and present this claim using evidence from the text.
2 I can cite evidence from a text that supports my analysis (using a set of criteria). Analyze past winners for criteria.

Analyze potential winners for criteria.

1 I understand the criteria I will be using to analyze a text. Caldecott criteria presentation

Example Beekle analysis

The next step, in my Google searching, I found a wonderful Slideshare by librarian Steven Engelfried from Portland, Oregon. Over about 40 minutes in two days we went through all of the criteria. We also talked about some art elements vocabulary that they would need to know and use during the unit (and I found Quizlets on Elements of Art and Art Mediums!)

I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know where to go from here… Luckily, there is an amazing teacher from Illinois named Jessica Lifshitz who teaches 5th grade and wrote such a brilliant post about the Mock Caldecott unit in her classroom, and I finally felt like I could proceed with this unit and do it well–all because of this post! I’ve emailed Jessica to thank her, but I also want to publicly do it here–thank you, Jessica!

The next step was sharing books that already won or were honored for the Caldecott. We started with Beekle by Dan Santat as a whole class. Then, my students, in partners, got to browse a huge pile of Caldecott books, and I asked them to answer for each book: “Why did this book win over the others? How did it meet the Caldecott criteria?” I also had them rotate partners to make sure they were hearing different opinions and voices. Here are some examples of student answers:

Du Iz Tak? I think this book was honored over other picture books in the year it was published because the story is fun and in a made-up language which made us think about what they were talking about and try to translate it to English. She uses lots of space and colors. Some pages there are no words which make the pictures necessary to understand it. The medium she uses are gouache and ink.
Journey This book was honored over the others because the illustrations had such good creativity and were very unique. There was no writing, so you had to rely on the pictures to tell the story. The bird found the girl after she set him free, and led him to a friend. The story has a very good meaning, and a good purpose. It had a variety of contrasting colors, and showed the most important stuff in bright colors. It had a very powerful visual experience. It showed the plot, setting, and characters in illustrations. Her world was bland in the beginning, but after she came into the new world, everything explodes with color.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub I think that this book was honored because all of the illustrations in the book are very detailed and tell the story without words. If you were to remove the words from the book you would still know what was going because all the pictures are very detailed and have a lot of different colors on every page.
Where the Wild Things Are I think this book was honored by how realistic the illustrations are and for how fun the story is. I love the leading lines the illustrator uses how there are no words over the illustrations giving the book plenty of white space. All the spreads have plenty of  happy colors which for me makes the book very appropriate for kids.
Swimmy The book was drawn with watercolors. The illustrator was very meticulous and detailed when he was painting the pictures. It actually felt like some objects had a texture  that you could feel. It was very entertaining. Younger children would be fascinated with the drawings and would love the story. This was a great book in all aspects.
Interrupting Chicken I think this book was honored because it included other famous stories but with a plot twist. They included little red riding hood and she was on her way to go to her grandma when she met a stranger and the chicken said don’t talk to strangers. Then the story ended so fast. The style of the chicken’s drawing of his own story was like a child’s actual drawing. It was very kiddy and I liked that the story was kind of based off of what the dad was trying to do to the chicken. He kept telling him stories but he never fell asleep. Now the chicken told him a story about his dad not falling asleep but in real life the dad fell asleep before the story ended. The illustrations look like they are painted and the colors are very warm to make the room seem cozy.

Now that they were experts on the criteria and saw example of winners/honors, it was time to jump into our Mock Caldecott titles. To evaluate these books, I had them look specifically at each part of the Caldecott Criteria, and they had to answer how the book fit or didn’t fit the criteria. I set up a pretty clear close reading process for them to follow:

  • First read: Just read the book and enjoy!
  • Second read: Focus on the illustrations. How do they meet Caldecott criteria? What does the author excel at? Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts.
  • Third read: Focus on the narrative elements of the story. Use Post-Its to annotate your thoughts on how the illustrations enhanced the narrative.

Students started in pairs again then we scaffolded off to working independently. I also had them leave the Post-Its in the books, so the students were seeing thoughts across classes. Students were asked to get to at least ten of the mock books. We did this for over a week to allow them time to read as many as they can and also time to evaluate properly.

At the end of the unit and the Thursday and Friday before the ALA Youth Media Awards, it was time to start making predictions. First, I had them rank the books they read from favorite for the Caldecott to least favorite. Using these predictions, I gave books numerical scores and figured out average scores. I also had students get together in groups of three to five to pick their collaborative four favorite books and awarded bonus points. With all of these scores, I was able determine the winners for each class as well as for all of my classes.

The last thing my students did before finding out who had won was complete a written response answering:

  • What book do you feel best met the Caldecott criteria thus you feel should win?
  • What criteria did it most meet?
  • Share evidence supporting your claims.
    • Use RATE: Restate, Answer, Textual Evidence, Explain/Elaborate!

Some student responses:

  • I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win because it does appeal to kids because it is very colorful, with much space so they can focus on what is important. The rest of the book is white except for the illustrations, which I think is easier for the kids to understand what is important. Also, the illustrator used a lot of artistic medium, with paint, pen, and other things, she made very good illustrations that connected with the story. They really made a visual experience, because if you just had the story, you would not know what was going on at all, and so you had to depend on the pictures to tell the story. I think that this book should win the Mock Caldecott award because I think that it deserves it with beautiful illustrations that have a good meaning and theme, and I think that they really appeal to kids, and so therefore should win the Mock Caldecott Award. The illustrations were very nice, and they tell the characters, and other narrative elements. There was a lot of line, space, colors and other things that made the illustrations very unique among other illustrations by other illustrators. The colors did change depending on many things, and the color choices were very good. I think that The Book Of Mistakes should win the Mock Caldecott Award.
  • I think After the Fall would win the Caldecott. The reasoning in this is because with the amount of detail put into the text more specifically the illustrations. The illustrations in the book show a big part of the story. It shows the sequence of events with the illustrations now that the egg falls then he lives a sad life without being able to climb due to his fear. You can see the emotion and detail with everything he does not like being grey or showing sadness. Then, in the end, he made an invention to be able to fly again a mini plane even with him having bandages and being injured after the fall. He tests it out and then it gets stuck on where he fell he decides to go up and with the pictures you could see how stressed out he was. Then at the end, you can see the light and feathers cracking showing that he is becoming a bird. But that’s not the first reference throughout the book it shows birds on every page giving reference to the end of it. Then you see him fly away into the sky after he hatches. That is why After the Fall will win the Caldecott.
  • The book Little Fox In The Forest is going to win because of its unique illustrations. These illustrations such as when the Little girl lives in a colorless world and brings her colorless fox to show and tell. When the little girl is swinging on the swing she finds the orange fox stealing her colorless stuffed fox . Now the little girl and her best friend is chasing the fox and follows the fox in the forest. Then all the sudden you start to see little experts of color, and then there was a very colorful magical forest. This book was such a good using of artistic medium and a very good visual experience this book definitely deserves to be on top.
  • I think Wolf in the Snow should win the mock Caldecott because of the detail in the illustrations. It has a story in the illustrations which is about a wolf cub and a girl who help each other out. The detail in the wolves and every picture is great, for example, the wolves breath due to the cold environment they are in. This book really appeals to kids because of the illustrations they are showing like when the wolf stares at the girl holding the wolf cub, and it creates a questioning of what will happen next. This book does not need words at all because you can already see the story from the illustrations. This means there is a great visual experience in the book.
  • The book that I think will win the Caldecott is Flashlight Night by Fred Koehler the illustrator of this book. I think this book will win because it tells the story with the imaginations of kids and uses lots of colors and is told amazingly. I think this book appeals to kids because it shows how you imaginations can take you anywhere. The art to make this book was very detail from one illustration to the next. The illustrations work amazing with the story because depending on what the illustration was the story would match up perfectly with it. This are some of the reasons why I think that Flashlight Night should win the Mock Caldecott this year.

Our Winners

The ALA Youth Media Awards

On Monday, February 12th, my classes watch the ALA Youth Media Awards either live or recorded, and it was so much fun to watch their reactions when they saw books they read or their disappointment when their favorites didn’t win. We were so excited to see Grand Canyon and Wolf in the Snow honored with the Caldecott, and the students who put them high on their prediction felt so validated. There were three Caldecott honor books that we hadn’t had in our pile, so we have them coming from the public library, and I promised them that we’d have a conversation on why those titles may have won over the ones that we chose.

This unit was one of my favorite lessons ever, and I was so impressed with my students and the quality of books! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this possible, and I hope that if you are reading this and never done a Mock Caldecott award that you now feel like you could because if I can, you can 🙂 

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2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Winner & Finalists Announced

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction winner and finalists. Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award winner is:

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
(Crown Books for Young Readers / Random House Children’s Books)

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
(Delacorte Press / Random House Children’s Books)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
(Philomel/Penguin Young Readers)

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
(Wendy Lamb Books / Random House Children’s Books)

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
(Delacorte Press / Random House Children’s Books)

The winning title and finalists will be honored at the 2017 ALAN Workshop on Monday, November 20th at 4:30pm in St. Louis, MO, and the authors will be invited to participate in a panel discussion.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation, the ALAN Executive Council, the ALAN Board of Directors, NCTE, and the many publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2017 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered nearly 300 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of eleven members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.  They are:

Lisa Scherff, Committee Chair
ELA Teacher, Department Chair
Cypress Lake High School, Fort Myers, FL

Mark Letcher, Past Committee Chair
Assistant Professor of English Education
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

Joellen Maples
Associate Professor, Graduate Literacy Program
St.  John Fisher College, Rochester, NY

Lisa Morris-Wilkey
Librarian
Casa Grande Union High School, Casa Grande, AZ

Beth Scanlon
ELA Teacher, Literacy Coach
Cypress Creek High School, Orlando, FL

Jessica Lorentz Smith
Teacher-Librarian
Bend Senior High School, Bend, OR

Wendy Stephens
Library Media Specialist
Cullman High School, Cullman, AL

Beth Shaum
ELA Teacher/K-8 Librarian
St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School, Allen Park, MI

Sheila Benson
Associate Professor, English Education
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls IA

Marie LeJeune
Professor of Literacy
Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR

Kerry Neuberger
Composition I & II, Eng 9, Model Teacher
Garner-Hayfield-Ventura High School, Garner, IA

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents http://www.alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/

 and

**For more information about the Walden Award and our time spent on the committee, stop by “My Time on the Walden Committee,” a post by Kellee linking to all Walden Award posts**

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newbery medal

On Monday, we found out that The Girl Who Drank the Moon won the 2017 Newbery Medal and The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, and Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan earned Newbery Honors. Watching the Youth Media Awards live is always one of my favorite days of the year because it they always make me so happy for the books I’ve read and so excited for the ones I haven’t read yet (as well as a bit sad for the wonderful books that weren’t honored). This year, the ALA awards were even more fun to watch because I was able to enjoy it with my Mock Newbery Book Club.  Although none of our Mock Newbery predictions were honored by that committee, we were so excited to see so many books we read this year honored.

Starting a Mock Newbery Book Club this year came about because of a few reasons. First, I’ve been fascinated by the Newbery Award since I was a kid. I remember having to read Newbery winners/honors when I was in school, and I was always enthralled with the list. Being on the Walden Book Award Committee also helped me understand how book awards worked and made me want to share it with my students. Third, Michele Knott was willing to share what she has learned from her own Mock Newbery experiences to help me get started on the right foot. And finally, I had a group of kids that wanted to do it with me and were passionate. That is what really made all the difference.

To Get Started

Before officially starting the club in September, I scoured Newbery prediction blog posts, the Mock Newbery Goodreads group, the Mock Newbery prediction list, and starred reviews to come up with a list of books that I would share with the club. In the end, I chose 26 titles to split between the 3 months we’d be reading. Each month had a list of 7-9 titles for students to choose from, and they were asked to read 2 a month to equal 6 or more titles read before voting day.

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T0 help my students have access to the novels, I began a Donors Choose project which was fully funded (THANK YOU!). I ended up with 3 copies of each book to share with my club. (I’ve also since received a grant to continue the book club during the spring though we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet.)

Our Process

My group of 7th graders (ranging from 10 to 20 students) met twice a week during their lunch time. Some students came every day instead of just twice, others only came once a week which was the minimum to be part of the voting. For the first 3 weeks of the month, we spent book club time reading or recommending books to each other. Book talk was all throughout the room–so much book love! The last week of the month, I set up discussions around each book for the students to look critically at each book while looking at the Newbery criteria. Students also had the opportunity to discuss the books they were reading at any time electronically through small groups that I set up on Edmodo. This was the process throughout October, November, and December/January. Then the last week before we voted, we sat in a circle and shared the book we were going to vote for as the winner and shared why.

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By the end of our process, 12 7th graders and 2 6th graders who chose to read the books on their own were able to vote. To determine our winner and honors, I used a process similar to the Newbery committee. Students were allowed to vote (through a Google Form) for their top 4 books (the committee does 3). Their top vote received 4 points, second vote 3 points, etc.

Our Vote

Mock Newbery Winner & Honors

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (16 points) *Odyssey Honor
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (15 points)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (12 points)
Save Me a Seat by Gina Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks (12 points)
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (12 points)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager (10 points)
Booked by Kwame Alexander (8 points)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker (7 points)
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier (7 points)
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (6 points) *Newbery Honor
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd (6 points)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (6 points)

Received votes totaling 5 or less points (in alphabetical order):
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds *Schneider Award, Coretta Scott King Honor
Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm *Scott O’Dell (Announced 1/11)
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill *Newbery Medal
Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz *Newbery Honor
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner *YALSA Honor for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Reflections

I cannot wait to go through this process again next year, but I hope to make it even a better experience. Here are some takeaways I have:

  • I need to spend more time looking at the criteria and what it means with the students as well as possibly looking at past winners. It is really hard to get them past “I like it.”
  • I need to decide if I want to give less options next year to allow for more people to read each book. They had A LOT of options each month, so some books only had 1 student read them thus couldn’t win even if that one person gave it their #1 spot. (Perry T. Cook, Girl Who Drank the Moon, and Wolf Hollow suffered from this.)
  • I need to figure out how to ensure that all members come to the discussion days because it is really hard to discuss books if not everyone is there. How can I keep kids coming without making it feel like another class?
  • I need to figure out how to structure the discussions better. With each person reading two, I can’t have all books’ discussions going on at once because a person cannot be in two places at once. That is why I like electronic or written discussion, but I have to work on getting more use out of these mediums.

Our Viewing Party

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Then, on Monday, January 23rd, at 8am ET, we all gathered in my classroom to view the ALA Youth Media Awards live. This was all of my students’ first time watching the awards, and  I loved going through the experience with them. Although they were so sad that their favorites weren’t honored, they were so ecstatic when a book they did know won something.

I cannot wait to do this again next year!

Kellee Signature