Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top 10 on the 10th

I missed this event last year and decided that I would take up this year's challenge of coming up with a list of my ten favorite, most indispensable books for the classroom. Imagine. Only ten!!!

First, to give you a bit of context for my choices you should know I introduce and discuss children’s literature to student teachers in an undergraduate university education program. These students typically (with a few exceptions) have had little exposure to kid’s books since they were little or reading to their own kids. I find it’s a blend of them knowing more than they think and not realizing how much there is to know about children’s literature -- its depth and breadth. I love these classes. I get a charge out of introducing books that totally blow them away. Books that deal with really heavy or dark subjects surprise them the most. Homelessness, war, 9/11, environmental disasters, death are not what they perceive as topics for picture books. Or books that are totally silly or incredibly beautiful. These books open the door and start discussions.

So, back to a list of ten (Just ten? Really, just ten? Are you sure?) essential books.
In making this list, I realized that several of them fall into what I call the ‘less-is-more’ category. These are seemingly simplistic ‘little’ books that have huge potential in the classroom. Books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems,


Shadows by Suzy Lee or
 Elephant Elephant by Francisco Pittau. They tell a funny story that we all can relate to, or plays with our imagination while connecting to other topics such as science, or stretches our understanding of commonplace concepts.


 Do! by Gita Wolf could fall into this category as well with simplistic looking illustrations and few words. But there’s a lot going on here. This is an action book showing us the many everyday activities that go on in a Warli village. The illustrations are based on traditional folk designs from Western India. The book itself is beautifully constructed with recycled kraft paper, silk-screened, typeset and bound by hand.




Students are also surprised by picture books that are not just for little kids. Many picture books are being written for older kids and even adults. The Rabbits by John Marsden and

The Coyote Columbus Story by Thomas King are two excellent examples. Both tell bigger stories about indigenous peoples that work on different levels depending of the age on the student. Metaphor is strong in both of these works offering many points for discussion. The older the student the more meaningful they are.

In these workshops, I always include many books that are really just ‘beautiful’ in how the illustrations and text work together. My most recent favorite is My People by Langston Hughes, photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr.. The striking, sepia toned photos combined with Hughes’ poem simply takes my breath away.


For something completely different, I love to bring in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  Typically, this gets a chuckle out most students (though not all) and has great classroom application. Looks at how stories are told, how books are organized, the interaction between the characters and the audience, and our perceptions of fairy tales.

Another favorite essential book is The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin. The story of how a blind child perceives colour is so poetic and when combined with the clever way the illustrations are done (raised embossed black images on black pages) we can start to feel what it's like to 'see' an object without the usual visual cues.  This ones provides opportunity to connect art, science and health.


And, last but not least is David Wiesner’s Flotsam. Really, I could have listed almost any of his wordless (or nearly wordless) books as they never fail to engage. The wonderful illustrations draw us in and get us to really look into them. His books play with our imaginations, tugging at our perceptions of reality and time. Brilliant.

And there’s my list of ten. Oh, my. That was very, very difficult. So, many others that I consider essential that just didn’t make the cut. (…heavy sighs and gnashing of teeth…). When I do these workshops I usually have an almost full cart of books (well over 100) to spread around and distribute to students. Selecting only ten was no easy feat but a very cool exercise, nevertheless.

What are your favorite ten?

Check out this year’s event to see what others in the children’s literature world find ‘essential’.  This jog lists all the blogs participating.

17 comments:

teacherdance said...

I especially enjoyed your recommendations for the more in depth books like The Rabbits and Coyote Columbus. I'm always looking for those that show students that picture books can offer serious messages (like The Faithful Elephants). Thanks. I worked with a young teacher last year & it was wonderful fun to introduce more and more picture books into her repertoire.

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by. The Faithful Elephants is heartbreaking. I know it's used in Calary classrooms, too.
Tammy

The Swimmer Writer said...

Hi Tammy,
Thanks for your comment on my blog.I wasn't able to find THE BOY IN THE PICTURE in my library or
on Amazon. Is it available in Canada only? Thanks.
Debbie
http://theswimmerwriter.blogspot.com

Sylvia said...

Thank you for sharing some awesome books ... I just ordered The Black Book of Colors - how often do we forget how blessed we are - what a great way to show perspective. :-) Thanks for sharing your list!

Tammy Flanders said...

Hi Debbie.
I just did a double check on Amazon.com for the Boy in the Picture and it came up. Try adding the author's last name.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Tammy

Tammy Flanders said...

Hi Sylvia.
I'm glad you found something in my list that intrigued you. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.
Thanks.
Tammy

The Swimmer Writer said...

Thank you, Tammy! I'm really glad I've joined Nonfiction Mondays.
Debbie

Mandy said...

Thank you for joining us. I am going to have to look into Elephant, Elephant more.

Coral said...

Tammy,
From your list I am going to look for two more books: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and My People. Thanks for sharing,
Coral

Jackie H. said...

What a great list! There are so many that interest me on it. The black book of colors is one I definitely want to add. I love to have books that my boys can grow in to and I think your list is good for that-- some of them that they can enjoy on a basic level of comprehension now and then on a deeper level as they grow. And thank you for stopping by and taking a look at my post :)

Morgan said...

Hi Tammy,
What a great blog today - as they all are!There are so many titles I want to check out now. As an MLIS student at Western interested in collection development of children's books especially in Education libraries, I love following your blog for ideas, inspiration and professional direction. Keep up the great work!

Morgan

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by Coral and Jackie. Reading the 50+ lists of essential books has been incredible. I appreciate you taking the time to visit.
Tammy

Tammy Flanders said...

Hi Morgan.
Well, with this event let's just say the 'selection process' just got a big bump. I've got quite the list to pass onto our acquistions person. Thanks for your visit.
Tammy

Tammy Flanders said...

Hi Morgan.
Well, with this event let's just say the 'selection process' just got a big bump. I've got quite the list to pass onto our acquistions person. Thanks for your visit.
Tammy

Sal's Fiction Addiction said...

How wonderful to find a new blog to follow...and right here in Canada. I haven't been teaching for a while...retired for seven years. But, I do a lot of workshops and had been thinking about doing some 10 BEST ones...picture books, poetry, nonfiction, picture book biographies,etc. Your list inspires me to work ahead on that. We are so blessed to have such amazing literature to share with our kids and student teachers, aren't we??? Thanks so much.

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by 'Sal'. I look forward to seeing your top 10 list.
Tammy

liblaura5 said...

What a really fabulous list. Some I know and love, and some are completely new to me. The Black Book of Colors sounds so intriguing - I will have to find a copy.

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