Sunday, 27 January 2013

Awards Season Is Upon Us

As I write this, hundreds of people from the industry are flocking to the West Coast to honor the best and the brightest of 2012.  Soon the winners will be announced and champagne will be flowing.  No, I'm not talking about the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards. I'm referring to the Caldecott and Newbery Medals for children's literature awarded at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.  This year's winners will be announced on Monday, January 28th, at 8am in Seattle. 

While we wait with baited breath, we can already seek out the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award winning titles (for outstanding nonfiction) which were announced last week.  This year's winner is Monsieur Marceau:  Actor Without Words by Leda Schubert.   In this book, Schubert captures Marceau's magic in delighting audiences for over fifty years without saying a single word.  Not only that, she takes a look at the man behind the mime, a story which only a few ever knew.  

Along with the winner, the Orbis Pictus Committee awarded several honor books:  Citizen Scientist:  Be Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns; Electric Ben:  The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Rober Byrd; The Mighty Mars Rovers:  The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch; Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley; and We've Got a Job:  The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson.  With the current trend of amping up nonfiction reading in our classrooms, these will certainly be welcome additions to our libraries.

And while we have to wait until Monday to find out the Caldecott and Newbery winners, there are some early indicators of who the front runners might be.  Recently, a team of SAS teachers from across the divisions participated in a Mock Caldecott Committee to determine which artists should be awarded our choices for "most distinguished American picture books for children" from 2012.  

Led by our own Nancy Johnson, who is currently serving on the actual Caldecott Committee this year, we met in a series of meetings throughout the fall where we showcased books, examined techniques, and put forth our favorites.  Last week, we determined our winners.  Leading our pack was This is Not My Hat by John Klassen, a companion book to his wildly popular, I Want My Hat Back.  

We also couldn't resist naming a list of notable honor books as well:  Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (yes, he's that good!); Green by Laura Vacarro Seeger; The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf and illustrated by the Brothers Hilts; Oh No! written by Candy Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann; and Unspoken by Henry Cole.

Of course with Nancy on the actual committee, some of us tried to gain an inside track by continually peppering her with leading questions, but she just wouldn't budge.  And now that she's in Seattle, sequestered away with her colleagues, we'll just have to wait until Monday to find out how right on we were with our choices.

Inspired by my work on the Mock Caldecott Committee, last fall I decided to run a Mock Newbery Committee in my classroom.  By reading five books from mock Newbery lists that were being tossed around on blogs such as Heavy Medal--A Mock Newbery Blog, students could vote for their choice for the Newbery Medal winner and any honor book they wanted.  The clear favorite was Wonder by RJ Palacio, the story of Auggie who, with his badly deformed face, heads to school for the first time in 5th grade and survives with love, patience, and faith from others and from within.  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate came in at a close second.

So I'll be keeping these titles in mind as I check out the winners early this week.  For those of you who want to experience the press conference live, click here.  Or, you can follow results in real-time by logging on to the ALA Youth Media Awards Facebook page or via Twitter at #ALAyma.  In the meantime, I'm sure you'll join me in wishing all the potential award-winning artists and authors, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

Images from:


Sunday, 20 January 2013

2013: The Year of Revision

Some might say that I was going a little overboard as I sat down for the sixth time to revise the Kadir Nelson bio I was writing for the upcoming Children's Literature Conference.  I know, it's only three paragraphs.  Not only that, it'll appear only for a short time, tucked in to the inner pages of the Conference program.  But I also know this.  Every time I sit down to revise a piece of my writing, it gets better. Every time.

Coincidentally, Brian Combes just sent this video out reminding us of the power of word choice.  It also speaks to the power of revision.  If the first draft of that man's sign was never rethought, reimagined, or reworked, it would never have left an impact on those who passed by. It's the same with our own writing.  And our students'.

I'll admit it, I don't emphasize the importance of revision enough with my students.  Most of my lessons are on generating ideas and introducing new craft techniques.  When it comes time to revise, sure I give them some time, but I don't give them new tools on how to do it.  Instead, I expect them to know how, or I allow them to have their partners revise their piece for them.  Not only are the not learning the way in which writers revise, some of them think revision requires another person to look at their piece and tell them what to do next.  That's why one of my New Year's Resolutions is to make 2013 The Year of Revision.

At its etymological core, "revision" means "the act of seeing something again."  When we do, we often see things in a new light.  It's like when we notice new details in a work of art or a background rift in a piece of music when we listen to it over and over.  Writers know this about revision, and they trust in its process to make their work shine brighter.  In fact, they spend the bulk of their time revising.  Remember two years ago when Linda Sue Park told us she revised When My Name Was Keoko 37 times?  

Simply put, revision matters.  I know I'm not the first to point this out, and I certainly won't be the last.  In his most recent book, Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher dedicates an entire chapter to revision.  In it, he says that most students stop at the "Down Draft," the first draft when they get their ideas down.  As teachers, we must place greater importance on the "Up Draft" when they begin to fix it up.  That's where good writing happens.  Unfortunately, it can be an uphill battle as we all face the "one-and-done" mentality that most of students have.

Recently, some of us in Grade 6 took one of Gallagher's practical ideas for teaching revision and ran with it.  By using a radar as a metaphor (and mnemonic device), we taught one revision strategy.  Like a radar that identifies "blips on the screen," a writer identifies words, phrases, sentences, or even whole paragraphs that need attention when revising.  Once she does, she can use the RADaR to improve it by:

RAD andR

  • words that are not specific.
  • words that are overused.
  • sentences that are unclear.

  • new info.
  • descriptive adjectives and adverbs.
  • literary devices/ figurative language.

  • unrelated ideas.
  • unwanted repetition.
  • unnecessary details.

  • to make better sense or to flow better.
  • so details support main ideas.

An additional key in teaching revision goes beyond just teaching the strategy though.  As Gallagher highlights, teachers need to think aloud during the revision process by taking a piece of their own writing and revising it in real time.  That way, students can see the possibilities as well as the challenges.

So, as we begin the new year, I hope you stand with me in making 2013 The Year of Revision.  I hope that my revisions on the Kadir Nelson bio pay off and that you enjoy reading them in the Children's Literature Conference program in two weeks' time.  And I hope that you got something out of this post (even though I only gave it five revisions).