The Whole Book Approach Goes Online: Tips to Enrich Storytimes During Periods of Emergency Remote Learning 0

By Megan Dowd Lambert

Megan Dowd LambertMy book, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See (Charlesbridge 2015) introduced the Whole Book Approach storytime model I developed in association with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to a wider audience. Now that it’s in paperback, I’m thrilled to see my book reaching even more readers, and new Whole Book Approach Storytime Sets for grades pre-k through 5 from Steps to Literacy are poised to help educators shake up storytime in the new schoolyear. Each set includes a sturdy book bin holding:

I put my whole heart into this project, and I am so excited for the sets to find their way into classrooms; and yet, my excitement is dampened by the tremendous uncertainty facing educators and families alike as the 2020/2021 academic year looms before us in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a parent, I’ve been searching for resources to help guide and structure my children’s experiences with emergency remote learning since school shutdowns began in our community last March. Their teachers rallied to provide online learning, and I supported, encouraged, and augmented my children’s participation as best I could. As an educator, I also began trying to provide resources to help others. I co-authored an annotated picture book list for Embrace Race, I led professional development webinars, offered online storytimes with Link to Libraries and Story Starters, and gave online interviews. Given the fact that shutdowns seem more like an inevitability than a possibility for many schools during the upcoming academic year, I’ve also done a lot of thinking about how my new Whole Book Approach Storytime Sets might be most useful during periods of emergency remote learning.

First, although the household market wasn’t the planned target audience for the sets, I hope that some families with children in preschool and elementary school will be able to purchase Whole Book Approach Storytime Sets to enrich their picture book reading at home. During the spring 2020 shutdown, booklists, activity ideas, and homeschooling advice proliferated on the internet, leaving many people (including me!) feeling overwhelmed. Although the sets could be a big financial investment for an individual family to make, each one is a one-stop resource with 10 excellent picture books and associated discussion plans and activities for each title. I imagine families reading and rereading the picture books in their bins, and then expanding on those readings with the resources and activities paired with each title. (A pie-in-the-sky dream that would require major funding would be for schools to purchase Sets for every child in a classroom to take home in the event of a shutdown. Then, children and families would have access to the same books and resources, literally putting everyone on the same page.) Ideally, the Whole Book Approach tips and tools they use with their book bin titles will also help them see other picture books they have at home with new eyes.

As for how teachers and librarians might adapt the Whole Book approach for use in online programming and teaching, it might sound paradoxical, but I actually suggest that they hold back from doing whole Whole Book Approach readings online. Every plan in every Whole Book Approach Storytime Guide is filled with questions and prompts to guide storytime discussion about the titles I chose for the sets. Rather than restating those plans here, below, I emphasize quick comparisons, connections, definitions, and observations during online readings. It’s definitely harder to keep a group’s attention and to facilitate discussion in an online forum than it is to do so in an in-person storytime. I therefore think it’s best to use online Whole Book Approach storytimes as a means of introducing vocabulary and ideas about art and design, rather than trying to have full, lengthy discussions. As children engage in these quick conversations, tell them (and any grownups at home who might be supporting their learning) to take the terms, ideas, and questions you introduce and apply them to their reading and thinking about picture books they might have at home.

Here are some tips for teachers and librarians about how to best move Whole Book Approach storytimes from being on-the-rug to being online (Since Charlesbridge is hosting this post, all examples are drawn from their titles included in the Steps To Literacy Whole Book Approach Storytime Sets):

  1. If you want to pre-record a storytime, check publisher guidelines about sharing recordings to avoid copyright infringement. For example, this link provides the guidelines from Charlesbridge.
  1. Whether you offer a pre-recorded storytime or a live video-conference meeting in which children can voice their responses (or perhaps type them or dictate them for someone else to type into a chat function), you can integrate Whole Book Approach tools into your reading by opening with a comparative analysis of picture book trim size. For example, if the book you read has a smaller than average trim size like Grandma's Tiny House by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Priscilla Burris, hold it up next to another book with a large trim size and ask, “Why do you think the artist chose to make this book have a tiny trim size, while this one is much bigger?” After pausing for responses (in real time, or to accommodate children watching a recording) you may want to provide your own thoughts about the rationale behind these design decisions, and then proceed into the reading. When you wrap up, remind children that you started off your reading by discussing trim size and encourage them to think about this design element when they are reading at home.
  1. Book comparisons to start storytimes also work well with a focus on picture book orientation. For example, if the picture book you are reading online has a portrait (vertical) orientation like Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN by Michelle Cusolito and illustrated by Nicole Wong, hold it up next to a picture book with a landscape (horizontal) orientation and ask, “Why do you think the artist chose to give this picture book a portrait orientation so it’s taller vertically, while this other book has a wider landscape layout?” Again, after pausing, perhaps provide your own thoughts about the rationale behind these design decisions, and then when you wrap up, remind children that you started off your reading by discussing orientation and encourage them to think about this design element when they are reading at home.

  1. Or, begin with the endpapers! Tell your group (in a recording or live) that endpapers can give us clues about picture books. A very quick and easy way to demonstrate this function during an online reading is to share a picture book like my companion titles A Crow of His Own and A Kid of Their Own (illustrated by David Hyde Costello and Jessica Lanan, respectively), in which endpaper colors match the protagonist rooster, Clyde: in the first title, endpapers are green to match Clyde’s tail feathers, and in the second they are red to match his comb and wattle. Ask students, “Can you make a match between the color of the endpapers and something in the jacket art?” If you read a picture book that has illustrated endpapers, like Chris Barton and Don Tate’s Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, you might ask students to comment on what kinds of clues those pictures give about the story as you enter the picture book. Once again, when you wrap up your reading, remind children that you started off your reading by discussing endpapers and encourage them to think about this design element when they are reading at home.

  1. Another way to foster group participation in an online storytime is to invite children to have a picture book or two by their side as you begin storytime to engage in hands-on book exploration.
    • First, invite students to hold up their book if it is in landscape orientation; then, switch to portrait orientation books; then see if anyone has square or shaped books.
    • Next you might ask something like, “Who has a paperback book and who has hardcover?”
    • Continue by prompting those with hardcovers to remove book jackets to see if the case cover underneath is the same or different.
    • Or, tell them open to endpapers and share if they can make a color match between endpapers and jacket art and if so, why it’s significant.
    • Or, turn to front matter pages to see if there are any illustrations there and ask for volunteers to share how they help begin the visual storytelling.
    • Or ask them all to point to the gutter in a book and then teach them that the verso is on the left-hand side and the recto is the right-hand page.

Then use the hands-on time to launch into your reading of a picture book with an emphasis on one of the design or production elements your opening exercise highlighted. For example, you might decide to draw their attention to layout and the gutter by saying: “Watch how the layout of the pictures uses or accommodates the gutter in this story. Does the gutter divide characters? Unite them? What do you think about these choices?”

  1. Or, instead of reading an entire picture book straight through online, tell your students you want to use a book jacket to teach them three questions they can always use to help them be excellent picture readers. Hold up a picture book with engaging jacket art like Susan Wood and Duncan Tonatiuh’s Esquivel! Space Age Sound Artist and take just a few minutes to guide students in reading the picture with questions inspired by Visual Thinking Strategies, one of the main influences behind the Whole Book Approach:
    • What do you see happening in this picture? This question will ground the group in the visual and prompt them to reflect on narrative meaning in the art instead of simply listing things they see.
    • What do you see that makes you say that? This question prompts evidentiary thought, inviting students to engage in metacognition, or to think about their thinking.
    • What else can we find? This question invites students to dig deeper as it holds space for more than one person to offer ideas and questions.
  1. Again, it can be difficult to sustain a group’s attention in an online discussion, so freely use these questions to dip into reflections that will show your students how they can use the same kind of inquiry in their independent or shared reading at home. Some other open-ended questions you might like to introduce are:
    • Watch the use of any frames—what happens to them? Why is this important in the visual storytelling? Are some pictures full bleeds without frames? Why do you think the artist chose that sort of layout for some pages and not for others?
    • How do words and pictures work together in this book? What do pictures tell you that words do not?
    • What do you notice?
    • What do you wonder?
  1. Tell students that some picture books have different levels of text to help convey different parts of a story and invite them to reflect on typography as you read. For example:
    • My picture books A Crow of His Own and A Kid of Their Own use speech balloons for some dialogue, and they also have intraiconic text, or text within pictures, in addition to the main narrative text. Ask students to pay attention to how those other kinds of text help reveal characterization.
    • Other books like Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amiko Hirao include epistolary text, or letters. You could lead into reading this book by pointing out how the display type on the jacket looks like handwriting, and then turn to any pages where you see postcards or letters in the illustrations. How might children’s experience of the book change if you flip through the book and only read the letters before or after you read the book as a whole?
    • Other titles like We Are Grateful: Ostaliheliga by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac use different font colors to make certain words stand out. In this case, Cherokee words in the text are highlighted on the page and then typographical choices help showcase pronunciation guides and definitions. The Charlesbridge website page about this picture book includes recordings of the pronunciations of the Cherokee words in the text that would be ideal for sharing in an online learning environment.

    As I mentioned above, each plan in each Whole Book Approach Storytime Guide includes activity ideas and additional resources. Like the Cherokee pronunciation recordings on the Charlesbridge website, many of these extension materials would be ideal fodder for online remote learning. I hope that teachers who buy the sets for classroom use will find these parts of the plans especially helpful if they start the year in remote learning or again must shift to such arrangements.

    Ideally, shared reading, whether in-person or online, can forge connections between people as we meet to engage with stories, art, and each other. I hope that the ideas I’ve presented here will help people foster such bookish connections even if the pandemic continues to keep us from gathering as we wish we could in our classrooms and libraries. I’d love to hear how readers are using the Whole Book Approach to support online storytimes, so please reach out to me at www.megandowdlambert.com, on Twitter @MDowdLambert, and on Facebook at @MeganDowdLambert.

    Notes from The Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi

    Notes from The Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi 0

    By Megan Dowd Lambert

     

    A Crow of His Own. Text copyright © 2015 by Megan Dowd Lambert. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by David Hyde Costello. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.

     

    I’ve attended many conferences. Sometimes I attend as a speaker or trainer, sometimes as an award committee member, and sometimes I go to conferences for my own professional development and learning. After publishing my first books with Charlesbridge last year (my debut picture book, A Crow of His Own illustrated by David Hyde Costello, and my book about picture books, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See), I’m just getting used to attending conferences as an author.

    I’m liking it!

    April 6-8 I attended the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the Thad Cochran Center on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, where I accepted the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award for A Crow of His Own. New Writer Medalist Don Tate, New Illustrator Medalist Phoebe Wahl, fellow New Writer Honor winner Julia Sarcone-Roach, and New Illustrator Honor winners Ryan T. Higgins and Rowboat Watkins were also recognized.

     

    EJK Book Award Medalists and Honorees (from left to right): Julia Sarcone-Roach, Phoebe Wahl, Megan Dowd Lambert, Rowboat Watkins, Ryan T. Higgins, and Don Tate, #GetBehindPictureBooks.

     

    What excellent company! For starters, I was the only person recognized who is not also a visual artist, so that kept me feeling mighty humble. I was delighted to meet all of these talented people and to hear about their work and their aspirations.

    But, it was also a tough time to travel to Mississippi given the recent passage of House Bill 1523, which, in a nutshell, allows denial of services to LGBTQ+ people, based on religious convictions. I was still en route to Hattiesburg when author Lois Lowry gave her talk at the festival, but attendees told me that she spoke, in part, about her response to this law and another discriminatory measure in North Carolina. I was heartened by this news and also by the spirit in which it was shared with me. You see, I’d decided that I wanted to use my brief acceptance speech as a platform to put out a call for more representation of LGBTQ+ people in children’s literature (Crow features a gay couple, Farmer Kevin and Farmer Jay, as secondary characters) but I wanted to do so in a way that would be heart-opening and affirming, not scolding. I didn’t want to be like a houseguest who arrives and criticizes her host’s furniture, but I knew I couldn’t make myself at home at USM without saying something.

    I had more time to think about my speech as I also attended other programs. A dinner hosted by Ellen Ruffin of the de Grummond Collection at USM gave me opportunities to chat with people from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which is dedicated to “bringing the multicultural, creative spirit of Ezra Jack Keats into children’s lives and literature.” I then went to hear the Coleen Salley Storytelling Award Winner, Tim Tingle, and I was incredibly moved by his performance.

     

    Tim Tingle’s award-winning storytelling.

     

    One story he told was based on his award-winning book Crossing Bok Chitto. Another was based on his Oklahoma Choctaw family history and the Trail of Tears. Although they carried different emotional tones, both included scenes of people walking along paths, and in my mind’s eye I saw Keats’s Peter making a path of footprints through the snow, and I saw myself, and everyone else in the room, on our own respective paths in our lives. That night, I returned to my room, inspired, and revised my speech.

    The next day I was very fortunate to hear Deborah Pope, Executive Director of The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, deliver the Centennial Ezra Jack Keats Lecture. She gave a marvelous overview of his life and career, sharing anecdotes from her family’s personal relationship with him, brilliantly juxtaposing books from his career—I loved how she cited The Snowy Day and Clementina’s Cactus as perfect bookends to his life’s work: one a story about a boy and his mother in the winter at one end, and a story about a girl and her father in the desert at the other), and emphasizing his commitment to diversity in children’s literature. Pope said that when she asked why he decided to depict a Black child in The Snowy Day, Keats responded, “Because he should have been there all along.”

     

    Dr. Deborah Pope delivering the Centennial Ezra Jack Keats Lecture.

     

    Next, I was excited to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak as the recipient of the 2016 Southern Miss Medallion. She’s been a favorite author of mine ever since I read one of her early novels, I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This, in 1996 as an undergraduate at Smith College in the children’s literature class that prompted me to enter this field. Since then, I’ve shared her books with my children, taught them in my classes, welcomed her to speak at Simmons College, and have learned so much from her. As I sat at USM that day, I was so thrilled that she was receiving yet another well-deserved award for her truth-telling, heart-opening, gorgeous, powerful work.

     

    2016 Southern Miss Medallion recipient Jacqueline Woodson.

     

    Several years ago when I published my first essay in The Horn Book Magazine, Jackie wrote me an email in response, just to reach out and cheer me on in my effort to reflect on trying to find books about diverse family constellations like mine. Like hers. Her generosity moved me then, and when she spoke at USM about mothering, writing, reading, resisting, and yes, the hateful law passed in Mississippi, she emboldened me to get up and give my speech.

    Excerpts from all of the Ezra Jack Keats Award speeches are posted on the Keats Foundation website and I encourage you to read them. They are heartfelt, warm, and loving offerings of thanks from a group of talented people striving to make good books for children.

     

     

    I was especially moved by Don Tate’s speech, which included a story about meeting some of the descendants of the subject of his book, George Moses Horton.

     

    Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Medalist Don Tate.

     

    For my part, I was proud to be introduced by K.T. Horning, a hero of mine in our field, and a person I enjoyed getting to know a bit better at USM. Then, Lois Lowry presented the award to me, and I had a moment of remembering adoring her books as a kid and wanting to go back in time to say to my ten-year-old self: “Anastasia’s writer is going to give you an award. For writing.”

     

     

    Like the others who spoke, I did offer thanks, but I ended up saying: “Please, let’s walk a path together toward a truly inclusive children’s literature that will embolden, delight, inspire, and free all children as they realize the birthright of growing up to be exactly who they are.” I talked about my own identity and about my family, and I talked about the need to move away from an all-straight world of children’s books as surely as we need to move away from an all-white world of children’s books. Read the whole speech here, if you’d like.

    And after my speech, I sat down, feeling a little shaky, and Tim Tingle blew me a kiss, and Rita Williams-Garcia gave me two thumbs-up. And then people started coming up to me, there at the conference, and then at a book-signing, and there were hugs, and notes passed to me with coming out stories, and a grandmother buying my book for her grandbaby “because she has two mommies,” and a woman buying my book and getting me to sign it for a young child who is transgender and whose parents are loving her through others’ rejection and hatred.

    The celebratory dinner in honor of Ezra Jack Keats’ 100th birthday was a final chance for us to toast one another’s joy in carrying on his legacy.

     

     

    And I got to wear my fancy new shoes:

     

     

    I was sorry to miss many of the other speakers while I was there (it was my first time away from my still-nursing one-year-old for more than a day, and I had to keep returning to my room to pump—no fun!), but I did get to say hello to Melissa Sweet, George O’Connor, and Joyce Sidman. When I got home, I had a lot of new books, and many thank-you notes to write. It was a powerful, humbling, thrilling few days, and I am so very…honored!

     

     

     

      Megan Dowd Labert is a senior lecturer in children's literature at Simmons College, where she earned her master's degree in children's literature after completing a B.A. at Smith College. She writes for The Horn Book Magazine; served on the 2011 Caldecott committee; and worked at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art for many years, leading Whole Book Approach storytimes and training others in her methods, which inspired the publication of her book Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See.

    Persistence pays off for horseshoe crab visitors<br /><font size=3>by Lisa Kahn Schnell</font> 0

    Long sleeves, long pants (with socks pulled up over them), headlamps, and a slathering of bug spray—we were not the typical summertime beach-goers. But we had an important job to do: survey horseshoe crabs!

    From the bay-side coast of New Jersey near Cape May, we watched the sun set. Quinn, our leader from the American Littoral Society (ALS), waded into the gentle surf and picked up a wiggly horseshoe crab. Every leg flailed and the book gills fluttered as she talked about horseshoe crab basics. Some of the volunteers examined horseshoe crabs, too.

    Quinn talked about restoring local beaches—removing debris and other horseshoe-crab hazards--after Hurricane Sandy hit the coast in October 2012. Horseshoe crabs are generalists. They can eat a variety of food, and they will lay their eggs in sand of varying coarseness. This flexibility is part of what has allowed the species to survive for millions of years! But big rocks or hunks of concrete trap horseshoe crabs and don’t provide a safe place for their eggs to develop. By spring of 2013, the battered beaches were once again ready for the horseshoe crabs, as well as for the shorebirds that rely on their eggs to fuel their journey up to the Arctic.

    I had originally been told that we would survey horseshoe crabs that evening. Surveyors place a meter-square plot frame at regular intervals along the shore and count the number of horseshoe crabs they find within the plot frame. Quinn had surveyed the same beach we were on just a week earlier and it had been covered with horseshoe crabs. In one place, they counted 38 in one meter-square frame! The night we were there, so few horseshoe crabs came to shore that she ended up not surveying at all. She had brought along some tags though, and as distant lightning became not-so-distant, we focused on those.

    Quinn gave us a quick tagging demonstration.

    Then, because I had tagged before (and my family was enthusiastic), we started things off. My older daughter sloshed into the water collecting horseshoe crabs. My mom recorded basic information about each animal.

    For a while, I drilled, and my younger daughter—who had just learned to pick up a horseshoe crab that night—inserted the tags. Soon all the volunteers were involved. There was even a videographer making a how-to video about horseshoe crab tagging!

    One horseshoe crab we found had a damaged shell. Quinn explained how a horseshoe crab’s blood coagulates around any bacteria that enters a wound and isolates it, allowing the animal to heal itself. That same ability is what makes horseshoe crab blood valuable to humans, too. Scientists use Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL), which comes only from horseshoe crab blood, to test medical equipment for dangerous bacteria. If the LAL coagulates, it signals a problem.

    Other horseshoe crabs we found were crusted with barnacles, slipper shells, and even long tendrils of greenery. There seemed to be entire ecosystems right there on their shells.

    Quinn talked about the way scientists can date horseshoe crabs by the age of the animals that live on them. We know that horseshoe crabs mature and stop molting when they are around 10 years old. By dating the ages of the animals that live on mature horseshoe crab shells, scientists estimate that horseshoe crabs can live another 10-15 years once they’ve stopped molting. So, the animals we were looking at were between 10 and 25 years old.

    Lightning chased us off the beach soon after we finished the tags Quinn had brought. But nothing could keep us from a quick stop at a nearby ice cream stand to finish off the evening.

    A couple nights later, on the night of the new moon, I had a book signing at Bethany Beach Books in Delaware. We didn’t find any horseshoe crabs on the beach there, but visitors at the signing said they’d seen huge numbers of horseshoe crabs nearby, on the bay side. I looked at my family longingly. Tagging had been great, but we didn’t see as many horseshoe crabs as I’d hoped. Maybe it was still possible? It had been a long day, and it was already past everyone’s bedtime. We didn’t even know if we’d see anything.

    But my crew was dedicated. As we pulled into the parking lot near a bay-side beach, everything was silent and dark. Ridiculous, I thought. What are we doing here? Then, near the boat launch, there they were!

    We walked a bit further to a small sandy beach. More!

    That was the sort of moment that inspired me to write my book, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, in the first place. This amazing event was happening close to where I’d spent so much time growing up, but for most of my life, I hadn’t known anything about it.

    The next day we had lunch with some family friends who now live on the west coast. A couple of the children had read my book, and they were quite smitten with horseshoe crabs. We talked about how horseshoe crabs don’t live on the west coast, but luckily it was just the right time to visit them here. Maybe they’d see some during their visit, I said hopefully.

    Back home the next day, I found a photograph in my email in-box. My west-coast friends had gone out to see the horseshoe crabs that evening. They’d even found a tagged crab.

    Horseshoe crabs have been on this journey for a long, long time. For some of us, this is only the beginning.

     

     

     

    Lisa Kahn Schnell is the author of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs.