Monday, November 14, 2011

The Twenty-First Century Picture Book!

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November 14, 2011
The Secret Language of Stories - Carolee Dean

Welcome to all of our new subscribers who joined us at the NCTE conference in Albuquerque.  If you would like to read last week's post by author Uma Krishnaswami about her 7-point system for analyzing picture books to use with students of all ages, visit our blog

This article, and the one from November 7, are both from an exciting presentation Uma and I gave at the NMLA conference last April.

When I discuss story structure with students of all ages, I like to use picture books as models. Because picture books are shorter than novels, more examples may be covered in a condensed period of time using a greater number of titles and larger variety of story types.  

The Spider and the Fly
One of my favorite children's book, and one that I use frequently with high school students, is The Spider and the Fly by Toni DiTerlizzi. The black and white illustrations in this dark and foreboding retell of the Mary Howitt poem, create an almost film noir mood. The Fly, the character driving the action of this story, is the villain, which provides an opportunity to discuss the sometimes confusing distinction between protagonist and antagonist. The Dragonfly dies at the end of the story - a good example of a satisfying, but not so happily-ever-after resolution.

DomitilaOne genre that lends itself particularly well to use with students of all ages is the fairy tale. I like to use Domitila: A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition (a picture book by Jewell Reinhart Coburn) as a springboard to discuss Cinderella tales.  Starting with this title you may then branch off to do the following:

1 )  Ask groups of students to research various Cinderella tales from other cultures. A good starting place might be The Classic Fairy Tales by Iona and Peter Opie. They discuss the well-known French tale of The Little Glass Slipper by Charles Perrault, the English translation of Finetta the Cinder-girl by Madame D'Aulnoy, the German tale of Aschenputtel (Cinder-fool) by the Grimm Brothers, the Scandinavian tale of Rashin Coatie, etc. Also of interest is the first recorded Cinderella type story collected by Tuan Ch'ĂȘng-shih around 850 A.D.

2)  Compare and Contrast the different versions and discuss the influence of culture and the impact of the Cinderella tale on contemporary books and films.

3)  Ask students to create their own Cinderella story in picture book form, or explore a variety of genres by assigning different formats for different students (i.e. poem, script, comic book, news release, essay).

4)  Tell students to write for a specific audience and to adjust their vocabulary and word choice accordingly (i.e. preschool child, middle school poetry class, high school literary journal). 

SadakoAnother favorite activity of mine is to examine non-fiction picture books, especially those written as narratives. An excellent example is Sadako, by Eleanor Coerr. Sadako is the story of a young girl who suffers from leukemia as a result of radiation exposure after the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of WWII.

Next, you may want to read about The Atomic Bombs in the Dorling Kindersley reference World War II. This 336 page text is a beautiful example of the trend in non-fiction picture books.

This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the difference between a straight non-fiction resource like the DK book, and narrative accounts (whether non-fiction or fiction). You may also want to bring in other WWII stories such as The Diary of Anne Frank.

So whether you are exploring history, discussing genres, studying story structure, or looking for inspiration for original stories, pick up a picture book. It's a great place to start.

 Black Stripes
Meet the Spellbinders
Carolee DeanCarolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a
Comfort Paperback Cover
speech-language pathologist. Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random
Take Me There Cover
Acts of Haiku."

To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.

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Kim Bio PhotoKimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well Circle of Secretsas two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013. She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing Healing Spellworkshop and has been a speaker at many conferences. Please visit her website to download free Teacher's Guides and Book Club Guides. 

Follow me on Twitter 

Caroline Starr Rose
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New
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Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.


Sunday, April 29th, 2012
9-5 Preconference Session
Author's Panel at the
International Reading Association Conference
Chicago, Illinois
"Rekindling the Reading and Writing Fire"
Join us for this all day session
featuring 11 authors including
all 3 Spellbinders
Carolee Dean
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Caroline Starr Rose

Tuesday, May 1
3 p.m. - 4 p.m.
International Reading Association Conference
Chicago, Illinois
"The Secret Language of Stories: Beyond Story Grammar"
Carolee Dean 

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Spellbinders | 3 YAF Authors | Albuquerque | NM | 87181

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