Friday, August 10, 2018

#pb10for10 | My Favorite Female Illustrated Picture Books of 2018

I always love participating in Cathy & Mandy's #pb10for10 event celebrating picture books and providing many fabulous #classroombookaday choices! I inevitably end up with a longer wish list and shopping cart and a maxed out hold list at my library. So get ready, and then go check out other educators lists today

My choice of theme this year was inspired by some of the conversation happening around #kidlitwomen & gender inequity in children's literature. Especially the disparity in female winners/honors from the Caldecott award. The day after that post, #kidlitwomen posted this chart on the contemporary disparities courtesy of Jeanette Bradley.

This year for my picture book 10 for 10 list, I'm choosing to highlight & celebrate my favorite female-illustrated picture books of 2018.

(I mean, it wouldn't be a top ten list of mine if I didn't fudge the counting a little bit!)

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse illustrated by Corinna Luyken +
If I Had a Horse written & illustrated by Gianna Marino
ALMA and How She Got Her Name written & illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Festival of Colors illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Pearl written & illustrated by Molly Idle
Dreamers written & illustrated by Yuyi Morales
The Field illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
All Around Us illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia 
Friends Stick Together written & illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison
Mommy's Khimar illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers  AND  Fur, Feather, Fin: All of Us are Kin
both illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

You can see my previous year's #pb10for10 lists by clicking on the year:
20172016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Community Building Picture Books to Start the School Year

I don't want to think about it quite yet, but some start back-to-school sooner than we do in WI, and want time to find and preview books to see if they'll work for your communities, so...
These are some favorite picture book read aloud recommendations to kick off #classroombookaday at the start of the school year to build community in your classroom.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Getting Started with #classroombookaday

Curious about #classroombookaday?
Wanting to join in, but not sure how to go about getting started?

The best place to go for information is, where I've compiled links to blog posts I've written, a podcast I did, and slideshows from the presentations I've done. 
I also figured it might be time for an overview post for those looking to get started with some basic information, explanation of the purpose, and logistical tips. 

Some #classroombookaday FAQs

What is #classroombookaday?

#classroombookaday is a goal (some call it a challenge) to share a picture book read aloud every day of the school year. At any grade level.

Who started it? And why?

Me! :) Jillian Heise (@heisereads on twitter & instagram), when I was teaching 7th & 8th grade ELA. I was thinking about how to ensure I would read more picture books with my students. I knew the impact of Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge on my own reading life in the summer, and how it helped me read more and thought there could be a way to bring that into the classroom. I also knew that if I made it an official goal, I might be able to stick with it. But, mostly, I wanted to bring a joy of the reading experience back into my classroom. We tend to stop reading aloud to kids once they hit a certain age, and that is a shame. And over 170 picture books shared?! I figured that would have to make an impact. Though I had no idea then what an impact it would ultimately have.

How did it get started?

I knew I wanted to bring the #bookaday mindset into my classes the next year through a commitment to reading aloud a picture book each day. And I wanted to display covers or titles in the order we read them each day as a way to track it visually. So on September 1, 2014, what would ultimately become #classroombookaday began in my middle school classroom with My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)! In August of 2015, after more educators wanted to join in and try it, I coined #classroombookaday as a separate hashtag from #bookaday in order to track the conversations on twitter about picture books we were using.
Evidence of the origin! Doesn't everyone send themselves emails at school with ideas of things they want to implement?

How do I get started with it?

  1. Make the commitment to do it. 
  2. Carve out 5-10 minutes in your day or class period that you can dedicate to doing a read aloud. Whether at the start of a class period, during your morning meeting, at the end of the day after packing up, or before/after a break, make this sacred time as part of your daily routine. 
  3. Tell someone about your goal so you'll be more likely to stick with it. 
  4. Pull some favorite picture books to start with. 
  5. Read A LOT of picture books so you have ideas to choose from when you need them. (Use your library this summer!) 
  6. Decide on a display that works for your space and style where you can track your reading year visually. 
  7. Get buy-in from your students - tell them about the goal and why you're doing it.
  8. Share your read alouds as part of the #classroombookaday community on twitter, instagram, or facebook.

Why should I use precious minutes in our school day to do this?

There were more benefits from this time than I imagined when I first had the idea to start it. The power of having 180 common experiences with text that we could refer back to was more valuable than anything else I could have used that time for. And the impact on our classroom community went far beyond my expectations.

Who all is doing #classroombookaday?

Teachers from grades 1-12. Librarians. Reading Teachers. Instructional Coaches. Principals. It can happen in any situation you're in at a school, at all grade levels. Those not in a classroom have sometimes adopted a class to be a daily guest. And one school did a K-8 school-wide version this year with the entire school reading the same books each week at every grade level.

What's the deal with the display?

I knew I wanted to track the books we read visually. And I wanted to make my goal public (so I couldn't back out or let it fall by the wayside as the year got busy!), and I had a huge bulletin board space in the hallway. I had the idea to make a numbered grid with a square for each day of the year so we could track as we went, and also see how many more we had to go. I was already tracking my novels read each year visually on my classroom door, which would lead to conversations, impromptu book talks, and a way for me to remember what books I had read. I wanted to bring that to the #bookaday reads.
Here we go! Can't back out now! Ready for a year of #classroombookaday.

This was the first year trying #bookaday picture book read alouds, and start of what would become #classroombookaday!
Many variations of the display exist in classrooms and schools across the country. You can see examples on twitter, instagram, or in the facebook group

Important note: The books and the reading matter more than the display! This was never about trying to make something that looked "pinterest perfect", although the picture book covers make a great way to decorate, but this was really about having a visual reference of the goal and record for my students. We often used and referred back to the display to discuss books we had shared. I measured my space so I knew the size that would fit, and copied book covers from goodreads 4 to a page in a doc or slide, then printed weekly when I planned ahead. Sometimes I printed the day of when I changed my mind or didn't plan as far ahead. Haha. I was lucky to have a color printer at school to use. Find a space you have that works: some put it in the weirdly sized space outside their door, some wrap it around the room as part of their number line, some don't put them in order, some hang them from clips, some put them on cabinet doors, some hang them from the ceiling, some can only print in black and white, some have their kids put the pic up each day.  Don't stress about the display - make it work for you and your space and how much effort you want to put in! 

What if I miss a day?

It happens. We all work in schools and know the importance of being flexible. Fire drills, field trips, inflexible deadlines, unexpected things pop up. Just double (or triple or quadruple) up another day to make it up!

Is there a lesson that goes with it?

Nope. Not at the time of the read aloud. This was first and foremost about enjoyment and thoughtfulness. Bringing some of the joy back into the classroom. Bringing some of the appreciation of story back into the classroom. Bringing some of the validation of picture books as a format (not age level identifier!) back into the classroom. And I wanted to keep it as a quick time in the class period. With that said, since we have that experience with a common text, any of the 180 titles could be brought back into the discussion for related lessons and activities at other times in the class.

Sage advice/perspective. Love this perspective on the power of letting #classroombookaday grow organically!

What do I do with the books each day?

Read them for the pure enjoyment of story and shared community experience.

Because one of my intentions was joyfulness: Let the kids settle in however they want to (though I do require they position themselves so they can see the illustrations - that's part of the point of picture books). Even my middle schoolers commented on how sitting on the floor and being read to again brought them back to their childhood and let them "feel like a kid again" in the midst of all of the harder work they have to do every day. I did my read aloud at the start of class after independent reading, and it worked as a calming factor also.

Because one of my intentions was thoughtfulness: The first question I always asked after I finished was "What did you think?" As I went through the first year, a month in I started to focus on theme, asking not just what the story was about (because they wanted to summarize), but "What was it really about?" Due to having shared more than 100 fiction texts for which we could discuss theme, my students learned and understood theme better than any other year or way I had tried to teach it. They understood that there is not one right answer to a theme for a story (though there can be wrong ones). As long as they could defend their perspective with text evidence, they could form an opinion and argue their case. It validated their voices and deepened their understanding daily.

Is there a list of books I should use?

Nope. And you shouldn't plan to go into it with all of your books already chosen. The most impactful part of #classroombookaday is how responsive it can be to your classroom community and students' needs. Choose your favorites, new titles that you've been hearing about, curriculum tie-ins, ones that you want student opinions on, award winners, or just plain fun reads. Base it on what you and your students or school community need at that time. Sure, for certain units I had a clearer plan than other times if I wanted more direct tie-ins, but prepare to be responsive for the community aspect also.

I'm always looking to improve the balance of books I select. Recently my focus has been increasing the expository non-fiction and a wider diversification of authors and characters to better represent the our community.

What about a list of books for 6th/7th/8th grade?

Nope. Not one of those either. You need to read A LOT and find the ones that you think will be a fit for your community. And you won't guess right every time. Some will flop, and that's ok. You'll get to know your kids better, and they will have a voice. Every picture book won't work for every student or every class, and some will work one year and not the next. Let your students have a voice - they'll tell you. I had a few I thought my students would love, and they didn't. And some I thought they wouldn't, because they might be too young, they loved. For some they told me to donate to the 2nd grade classroom, and when they could give their reasoning for why, I knew they were learning to be critical readers and able to defend their points. And your kids might surprise you and connect with books for reasons you don't expect. You have 180 chances to try a book, it's ok if a few don't work.

Where can I go for book recommendations?

If you want to know more, please check out the links at

Also consider joining the facebook group, or jumping in on twitter or instagram conversations,
and join in the #classroombookaday community. 

You can also leave questions in the comments,
or reach out via twitter.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Positive Representation Matters

I've been using the phrase #representationmatters in a lot of my postings about books lately. (sidenote: where did that phrase originate? If anyone knows, please share!) Because it does. Because kids need to see themselves represented in the books they read. Their lives need to be validated. All of the different variations of lives and families and types of people there are need to be represented in books we share with all kids. has to be a positive representation.
And that's where frustration sometimes comes in. How disappointing is it when a book has such potential to be a wonderful representation for our kids who need it, but it somehow goes wrong in the execution. I'm not claiming to know it all, but I am pushing myself to be a more critical reader in considering how representations in the books we share with kids can affect those kids views of themselves and others. Below are a couple of recent books that I had high hopes for that were a big let down.

I don't share this post to slam these books, but to urge caution. Because sometimes we can get drawn in by the concept or the cover with our high hopes, yet we need to make sure not to miss the negatives that the images or text might portray, explicitly or implicitly. I urge caution to not just put a diversity of representations in your classrooms or libraries or read them aloud to kids without a critical reading and realization of the hurt some representations could cause, or the underlying messages that could be sent.

NOT RECOMMENDED: A couple of books that have been disappointing recently...

Natalie's Hair Was Wild
I was really sure what to think about this after I finished. It was not at all what I was expecting, but I was left feeling unsettled by it. The implication that natural hair is dirty and in need of taming was alarming.
Sidenote: This post from a reviewer who was asked to tone down her critique "Why Every Book Made for Our Black Girls Ain't a Good Book", that emphasizes the damaging representation this book presents.

Pink is for Boys
Though I like the message this book sends about gender perception and not gendering neutral things like color, and enjoyed the simplicity of how it cheerfully presents it to kids, there is an issue. In the illustrations of the diverse children throughout the book, there are some that have eyes that look noticeably different in shape from the roundness of all the rest. They have angled lines for eyes, seemingly referencing them being Asian children. It bothered me enough to look back at it wondering if I really saw that, which means it's subtle enough to not send an obvious message, but obvious enough to send a subtle message. And that stereotypical representation is not one I would want to present to kids.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: But here are some new picture books that I have loved and would highly recommend for their encouraging, positive representations...

Happy Hair by Mechal Renee Roe
A beautiful, self-affirming, positive representation to have available for my students in the library. I had a 3rd grade boy read it to me, and he recognized both of his sisters and several of his classmates from our school community within the pages of this book
Don't Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller  (not out until Nov. 6th)
I read this F&G with two of my kinders who saw themselves represented in the pages and cover of this book, and they LOVED it! Empowers young girls to feel the beauty of their natural hair & to feel ok standing up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable. A definite must-purchase for a school library.
Lovely by Jess Hong
This book is absolutely LOVELY! Positive self-image & acceptance abounds in the simple messaging of the single word text representative of the widely diverse representations in the illustrations on each page that are far from typical stereotyping.
Teddy's Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine
I kinda want to gift this to every mom I know. It's a sweet story of a toy getting lost, but beyond that it's a story about how a mom will do everything she can to help her child, and a story showing that boys liking dolls is no big deal. And it's just cute fun. Definitely one I'll add to my school library and recommend others read.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Picture Book Recommendations: Folk & Fairy Tales

I may have missed National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, but since I saw some tweets about it today, I decided to share some of my favorite fairy and folk tale inspired picture books. Some are fractured, some are newer adaptations, all are fun to share with students. And they would make great #classroombookaday choices and conversation starters.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Can we talk about consent for a minute?

Three things happened this morning...
1. My friend Aliza Werner sent me a link in Voxer asking if I was following this developing conversation sparked by Anne Ursu's article about sexual harrassment in the children's publishing industry.

2. I responded to her and then added another message: "Also, can we go back to XO, Ox for a minute... And why I had issues with it... And how others see it as funny... And it's written by a man..."

3. I was browsing the latest posts to the #classroombookaday hashtag on twitter and saw a teacher shared a "Valentine's/love themed read-alouds" text set of picture books, which included XO, Ox which had been voted as the favorite by her students.

In the journey I've been on pushing myself to become more critical of what I read and share with kids, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the implicit messages we send to kids through the books we share with them. In our schools, classrooms, and libraries, with the messages in the books we share, we are planting seeds for the unconscious biases of the future generation. That's a heavy load to bear, and I know I still have work to do, but I try to listen to those who share concerns without pulling a "but I liked that book" defensiveness. We have to be critical of the messages in the books we share with kids, especially in the picture books we share with our youngest kids who are still developing their moral compass.

So let's go back to XO, Ox: A Love Story for a minute. (Even as I type it, I still can't believe the subtitle of this book is "A Love Story") When I first read it, I felt torn. I could see it as a funny story, but was also very worried that it promoted stalking a little too much. However, as much as I could see the intended humor in it, the bigger part of me was thinking about how we are trying to teach the importance of consent to our youth. I was worried about what message it sends if we find it funny that a girl directly tells a boy to stop writing to her and fawning over her, yet he continues to do so. The more I thought about it, the more damaging I think it is to share this book with young children without a discussion about the context around the concerns about consent. She said no. Stop. She shouldn't have to say it again. Also, the fact that it explicitly says this is a "love story" in the title is concerning. This is certainly not the superficial (Ox doesn't even know her, only her looks, and pursues her even after being rebuked), abusive (only after he tells Gazelle what's wrong with her does she start to like him) type of love I'd want to promote to children or teens. The more I think about the story, the more bothered I am by it.
Do I think it was created with all of this in mind? I would hope not, but ultimately, I'm not sure if matters so much what the author's intent is, if it can be read as a negative and promote negatives to our students, it's a concern. I don't think any author sets out to write something that will be perceived negatively, but once it's out of the author's hands, it becomes the reader's book based on their own interpretation. It's part of the whole issue we're having in our society where men don't see this type of behavior as harassment, and don't take seriously the issue of consent (because of many factors, and this may be simplifying a bit).

But let's take it back to where we started: sexual harassment and consent. This is a book that glorifies the harassment of this girl and sends a message that it should be funny. She repeatedly says no (edited: see notes on author's response below), yet he ignores that and continues until he becomes angry about it and turns from praise to denigrating her. How many stories are we hearing in the news right now about just this type of sexual harassment?

I had a first grade teacher ask me about this book last summer in the #classroombookaday Facebook group and whether the way the teacher approaches is makes a difference. My response:
You may be thinking, but it's just a cute story for young kids, but I would argue that we shouldn't be sending this message to young kids, because they become older kids. How can we expect our older kids to fully grasp the basis and importance of consent when we are sharing this type of book with them when they are younger.

Another teacher in this discussion, Cara Wegrzyn, had this to say after sharing it with her 5th grade class:
So, where does that leave us? Well, for me it's about thinking more critically about the books we share with kids. Would I have shared this book with my middle school kids? Maybe, but only within the context of using it as a jumping off point to have the conversation about consent and harassment. I truly believe this story sends a damaging message to our youth if shared as a standalone, and these discussions need to be happening in our classrooms because if they're not, where are they happening? Are they ever happening? How can we help the next generation to see the bigger picture around the dangers of harassment and need for consent if we don't start now? We have to become more critical readers of the books we will share with our kids. And we have to think about when it's developmentally appropriate to share books that will prompt these types of discussions with our students. We can't share these books without context that require context to fully grasp the issues. Their future depends on it.

And it doesn't stop there. It goes all the way to our young adult literature, and beyond.
Though I started this with picture books, I'm going to end it with YA and recommend some books that reinforce the importance of consent for teens, and the aftermath when there isn't any, that I think should be in every high school classroom library because our older teens still need to be thinking about these issues and grappling with how they do, and will, affect their own lives. And we need our girls to know they should stand up, can speak up, and will find support. And we need to send the empowering messages through the books we share, not damaging ones.

Edited 2/11/18 12:45pm: Someone responded to a tweet about this post on twitter and tagged the author, Adam Rex. I'd like to share his comments here as further perspective in this conversation. I had not originally tagged Adam, as I didn't mean for this to be directed at/attacking him, but more adding to the conversation about critical reading. However, I appreciate his respectful, thoughtful responses and feel they add to the conversation, so want them to be available here also.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Is it offensive to say Black? Conversations We Can't Avoid in the Classroom

Today I was doing a First Chapter Teaser of Jason Reynolds' GHOST with one of my 4th grade classes in the library. I asked if they remembered that I had shown them a picture of Jason early in the year when I was going to a bookstore event. Because representation matters, and it was important for them to picture who writes this book, and that he's someone who looks like many of the kids in their class & school look.
One girl (who is White) answered, "No offense. But he is Black and has those things in his hair." We clarified as a group that she meant dreadlocks which got some of the kids talking more about hair. But her comment stuck with me, and I had to go back to it. I couldn't just let it go. She started wth "no offense" and then referred to the author being a Black man. But why did she feel the need to start with "no offense" in the first place? Because she's White? Because she was saying he is Black? To me, this was exactly the kind of comment that needs to be addressed and not just glossed over in the classroom.

In those 30 seconds I was wondering what my Black students might be thinking after that comment, and also flipping through various ways to respond to it in my head and trying to decide which way would be compassionate and inclusive, while still knowing that I might screw it up. I was worried about microaggressions, and trying to figure out if what I was about to say would be one or not for any of my kids. I imagine it's this moment of fear that too often keeps teachers from encouraging these conversations in their classrooms. But I've learned that I can't shy away from them because my kids live these lives in this society and need to learn how to navigate it. And in those few seconds that I was thinking of all of that (sidenote: This might also illustrate why teachers end up with decision fatigue by the end of a school day), I decided to just start with a question.

So I asked the student why she started her statement with no offense. And she shared that since she was saying Jason is Black, she didn't want people to think she was being racist. I had to sit with that for a instinct was to want to turn to the Black kids in the class and ask if they felt it would be racist for someone to say that. Knowing that would not be the way to handle it, as I know it shouldn't be the responsibility of the PoC in the room to educate the white people, I simply scanned the whole class and asked what others thought: Is it racist to say he is Black? Does she need to start with no offense? One of the boys (who is Black) called out from the side "She's just saying that's what color he is; not judging him for it. So it's not racist." Leave it to the kids to simplify it and lay it out there for us all.

I reminded them of when I shared Hey, Black Child early in the year for our read aloud, and asked whether using the word Black seemed racist. In a book that is celebrating Black children, written and illustrated by two Black men, they said it didn't. We followed up with a brief discussion about using Black vs. African-American and not all Black people being of African ancestry.

I'm not sure if I handled it right, but I hope it made a positive impact on the classroom community. The kids were respectful, honest, and hopefully gained some new perspective. It was one of those classroom moments when kids surprise you, challenge you, make you think, worry you a little, and you hope you handled it well enough to help kids be better humans...without causing lasting damage. It may have made me uncomfortable or nervous at first, but I can't let that prevent me from cultivating these conversations in the classroom. If it doesn't start there, how will we ever expect kids to be able to have these conversations outside schools in an empathetic way?
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