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Class #4 | Information books, Oct. 18, 2017

I'm posting a little late this time, after a busy week preparing for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Friday night and Horn Book at Simmons colloquium Saturday, focused on the theme of Resistance. Both events were well attended and the speakers were amazing. I love it when the judges award older book creators (like Ashley Bryan) and newcomers to the field (like Angie Thomas). Honoring books as exemplary as Freedom Over Me and The Hate U Give could make us feel smug about how far we've come. Not so. Perhaps what I love best about my field is the recent willingness to look our issues in the face and try to do something about them. Bravo to Angie for the bravery to write her book AND tell a roomful of editors and librarians that we all need to do better for children of color. As I get older, I love that the people I look up to are getting younger and younger. I need that kind of hope these days.

At our next class on October 18 we will be talking about five information books and also hosting a panel of children's book creators. Our books are:

  • Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

  • Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier

  • Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Information books have changed since I was in elementary school. Instead of providing every known fact — or at least everything needed to write a report — information books today aim to be as engaging as possible in order to get children interested in their subject. The thinking is that it's better to leave them wanting more and then provide a bibliography at the end of the book. I like this approach.

The other new development is that many of these books provide information on several levels, often using different typefaces and type sizes for each strand. Every year, some of my students are frustrated by this kind of delivery, finding it draining or overwhelming, and they fear their students will dislike it, too. Others, particularly visual learners and those who know kids with attention issues, love it. I think the key is to let children explore these books rather making them "accountable for" reading and retaining every word. If the subject engages a child, then he or she might go through the book again and again, reading and noticing more each time.

We're also reading three articles related to Dave the Potter's Coretta Scott King award:

Please join us in discussing these books and articles in the comments below.
Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Charles M. on Steve Jenkins

  • Medina R. on Dave the Potter

  • Sophie M. on Carole Boston Weatherford

  • Marion C. on Ekua Holmes

  • Sanya S. on Melissa Stewart

  • Lin Z. on Sarah S. Brannen

  • Cynthia W. on Cynthia Levinson

  • Katie T. on the Sibert Awards


Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Nezile Mthembu

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins brings out the child in me. We can never know enough about these beautiful creatures. The Life-size illustrations in the book highlight each animal’s unique feature, encouraging the readers to explore more of the animal’s physical features. The short text in the book also gives the right amount of information, enough to want to discover more facts about the animals, and opening avenues for different learning opportunity with the readers. Having grown up in a country with lots of different animals including the Big Five, Actual Size makes me feel like I’m rediscovering these creatures for the first time.

Posted : Oct 17, 2017 07:04

Nimah Gobir

What I loved about Actual Size was that it highlighted animals that we are familiar with like (frogs, worms, and moths) and drew attention to how these animals are way bigger than the ones that we normally see. I think that this book does a great job of fostering children’s interest in animals because it invites kids to think of animals around the world and how they may look different than the animals they see every day. Also, Actual Size encourages interaction; young readers are likely to put their hands and faces up against the page to see how big the animal is in relation to their own body.

Posted : Oct 17, 2017 04:44

Meng Xia

Unlike the books introduced before, this week's books are information books. I don't quite like these books before because I feel they must be boring because they don't tell stories. But this time I really enjoyed reading FEATHERS and ACTUAL SIZE. One thing is they taught me so much which I did not know before and what's more, they are illustrated in creative and interesting ways. I love the note-like illustration of FEATHERS, this makes the book less serious. There are not so many texts, which is not easy for readers to get bored. I also love the idea of ACTUAL SIZE! It provides a space for imagination.

Posted : Oct 17, 2017 02:41

Jen Curtis

As many others have said, this week's readings changed how I think about informational children's books. As a kid, I often read Discovery books on different topics--geology, marine biology, and Egyptian history were my favorites--by as a got older, I really veered away from these texts towards fiction, particularly fantasy. I wonder what it is that shifted my interest (it may have been my perception that books on science and history were "for boys") but I also think I craved narrative. It makes me wonder what I would have thought of a book like Dave the Potter--which focuses in on one man's story, presenting history as narrative and people as characters. I think I would have enjoyed it. I know I did as an adult.

Posted : Oct 17, 2017 12:54

Andy Riemer

I thoroughly enjoyed the "Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement" by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Ekua Holmes. I particularly love it's size and feel. It is encouraging itself to be read to a class/group of people. The illustrations provoke emotion and feeling - that urge all of the readers to discuss them. I'd be interested to hear from the teachers to which age group they would read this? I see above people also discussing this, and believe it is important to bring up these 'difficult' conversations earlier rather than later. I would recommend for fifth grade, not as an introductory book and definitely providing context, but I think we should be talking about these historical/current realities. If we want to educate individuals to be anti-racist, then we must provide these "counter-stories" (those that go against the master narratives of white norms/history) in multitude early and often.

Posted : Oct 16, 2017 11:57

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