Saturday, April 5, 2014

PBD: Picturebooks about Pirates



For today's entry, I have shared some of my favorite picturebooks about pirates. Tough Boris is still such a great, touching story about pirates as real people, while Tom Lichtenheld's Everything I Know About Pirates is one of the funniest of the bunch. RRRRRRrrrrrgh!

Friday, April 4, 2014

PBD: Night of the Gargoyles


I am digging back into my picturebook collection for this one. One of Eve Bunting's lesser known books with fabulous pencil / charcoal illustrations by David Wiesner from 1994. I think the figurative language and short descriptions of the gargoyles, whose voices "rumble thick in their throats" is some of Eve's best writing. It reminds me of the wonderfully dark and scary monster movies I used to watch as a kid on Saturday afternoon TV. Elegant illustrations of gargoyles perched on buildings, coming to life each night add to the overall mood and aesthetic quality of this picturebook. Go find a copy and enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PBD: Where the Wild Things Are


A friend recently pointed out that I had not included my all-time favorite picturebook yet on my blog. OMG she was right! So here it is. The classic of all classic picturebooks. And a short vignette that will be featured in a new book by Steven Layne.

Some Time with the Wild Things


            “The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another…” The opening lines of Where the Wild Things Are sets the tone for its own reading. To say that I read aloud this book would diminish the emotional and embodied nature of performing a picturebook like this. You have to roar your terrible roars, gnash your terrible teeth, and roll your terrible eyes to bring this story to life. It doesn’t matter if it is preschool or graduate school. You gotta be the book!
To say I connect to the character is an understatement. Max is deeply embedded in my memory, and probably my psyche as well. There are times in my life when I am Max. I have sailed away in a red boat and longed to be where someone loved me best of all. Just another rebellious boy with an inexhaustible imagination, making mischief of one kind and another. Who thought you could make a career out of that? And my own actions have usually ended with similar results – being sent to my room, office, classroom, or doghouse without supper.
Each time I read this picturebook, I revel in Sendak’s language as his words spill across pages, only slowed down by my desire to linger a bit longer in the illustrations. When Max returns home exhausted, I am as well as I close the back cover, satiated, but comforted in knowing I can return again and again to Where the Wild Things Are.

From the opening lines of the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, the author, Maurice Sendak invites us to travel along with Max, to understand his vision of the world and the limitations associated with childhood.

Through the use of carefully chosen text and surrealistic pastel illustrations, Sendak invites us to accompany Max on a journey into his imagination. Max is escaping the reality of his life and his bedroom, by creating a world that allows him to push through the limitations imposed upon him by his mother and the realities of his childhood.

As the story progresses, a forest grows in Max’s room, and of course in his imagination as well. He is soon transported by private boat to an island where he tames the Wild Things and is feared and respected. He quickly becomes the most Wild Thing of all, and is crowned King of all the Wild Things.

As Max’s imagination grows, we notice that the text slowly disappears and the illustrations grow to three double page spreads that contain edge to edge illustrations with no text at all. These “text-free” pages correspond to the “rumpus” where the story reaches its climax and Max’s imagination has completely replaced reality.


In this book, the written text becomes associated with reality and the illustrations become associated with Max’s imagination. However, Sendak does not draw a definitive line for us between reality and imagination, but slowly allows imagination to overtake reality as the forest consumes Max’s bedroom, and then brings us back to reality as the text reappears, Max finds his hot supper waiting for him, and the book closes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Dozen Assertions About Reading Education

As part of my new book: Reading Workshop 2.0: Teaching Reading in the Digital Age, I decided to put all my deeply-held beliefs about reading education into one opening chapter. Here is the outline:

1. Teachers should understand that the primary goal of the Reading Workshop is to change the way we think and talk about texts from the ways we have traditionally thought and talked about texts in classrooms.

2. Teachers should teach reading comprehension as a process of generating, articulating, negotiating and revising interpretations and understandings within a community of readers.

3. Teachers should not ask readers to do things in the name of becoming a life-long reader that life-long readers would never tolerate.

4. Teachers should decrease the amount of time they spend standing in front of the whole class delivering lessons that work only for a few, and spend more time in small groups working at readers points of need.

5. Teachers should increase the variety and complexity of the texts made available to readers.

6. Teachers should decrease the dominance of the fictional novel in the reading curriculum to allow room for the other types of texts readers in contemporary society spend time reading.

7. Teachers should develop a sense of independence as readers in their children.

8. Teachers should organize their reading workshop in response to the needs, skills, and interests of the readers in their classrooms.

9. Teachers should learn how to facilitate sophisticated discussions about the texts being read.

10. Teachers should read aloud in their classrooms everyday from a variety of texts and for a variety of purposes.

11. Teachers should find ways to support an increase in the amount of reading children do.

12. Teachers should expand readers’ interpretive repertoires by developing a more sophisticated readers’ toolbox for children to draw upon.

PBD: Shaun Tan - Rules of Summer


Shaun Tan is one of Australia's most successful picturebook artists and authors. His work appears in books by Gary Crew (Memorial), John Marsden (The Rabbits), and others. His new book Rules of Summer (Available May 1) details the experiences of two friends who seem to break all the rules of summer (funny rules like don't step on a snail) intentionally and unintentionally. The interesting things that happen after the rules are broken is where the fun begins.
I also recommend The Lost Thing and The Red Tree. Shaun's website is filled with images and his writings about picturebooks and creativity: 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PBD: The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley


Another of my favorite non-American author-illustrators is Colin Thompson. His detailed illustrations have always been a favorite among my students as they searched through the images for additional meanings to his stories. In the past few years, Thompson has begun collaborating with Amy Lissiat. The three picturebooks featured in today's review are computer modified illustrations and offer a unique perspective on the human condition .

A short excerpt from Life of Riley: 
"Human beings live for quite a long time and for a lot of that time we are not happy. We want to be taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, older and younger. We want our straight hair to be curly, our curly hair to be straight and our brown eyes to be blue. "

Many teachers have expressed concerns about the sophisticated nature of the narrative and the theme of wanting less and being critical of human desires portrayed in Life of Riley, but I have had great reactions and discussions with my college and elementary students about this picturebook. Give students excellent literature and allow them to think and share what they think and the rest will come easier.

Monday, March 31, 2014

PBD: Animalia & The Eleventh Hour and others by Graeme Base




One of my favorite picturebook illustrators from Australia is Graeme Base. His work has astounded me since I met him years ago at the Dromkeen Children's Museum outside of Melbourne. His original paintings were huge, colorful and required intense scrutiny to notice all the details he included. 
His webpage is amazing:

I have listed above several of his books, but all of his work is worth investigating. The first two books I read, Animalia and The Eleventh Hour are still my favorites. Animalia is an ABC book that uses alliterative phrases for each letter. The Eleventh Hour is a visual mystery about an elephant named Horace and the disappearance of his birthday cake. Graeme uses borders and hidden items to keep young and older readers scanning his illustrations for clues.




Sunday, March 30, 2014

PBD: Wolf!


In addition to sharing some of my new favorite picturebooks, I will continue to reach back onto my favorites' shelf and share some picturebooks that have become tried and true resources for teacher workshops and for reading aloud and classroom discussions with young readers. Wolf! is one of my favorite books that I have incorporated into my booklist: Books About Readers and Reading - which can be found on my website at: http://www.frankserafini.com/book-lists/booksaboutreading.pdf

Wolf! is a story about a wolf that wanders into a town because he is hungry, and looks to the animals on a farm for some help acquiring food. The animals are reluctant to share ideas with the wolf because they are "educated" animals that prefer to read than engage with an illiterate wolf. The wolf goes to school, the library, and eventually a bookstore in his quest to become a reader and a member of the educated animals' community. The changes in the wolf are reflected in his appearance, his behaviors, and his ability to read. A great book for starting a classroom discussion about what it means to be a reader.

Qualitative Research and Photography - Some Interesting Connections

Through The Lens

Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to.

Susan Sontag “On Photography”

Like the qualitative researcher, the photographer approaches the world in all its complexities, in all its “buzzing confusion” and selects particular phenomena to focus his / her attention. This selection process causes some phenomenon to come to the foreground and some to fade into the background. What the photographer will select to photograph and how it will be photographed, depends on the photographers purpose for the image, the light available, the medium used to present the image and what events and actions are available to capture on film. The researcher goes through much the same process, selecting from all the available phenomenon in a school setting, based on the researcher’s conceptual framework and purpose for the research project.

The conceptual framework sensitizes the researcher to pay attention to certain acts or events. It acts as a filter, as well as a focusing mechanism, much like the lens of a camera. Since it is impossible to attend to everything in the world simultaneously, a researcher selects from the “buzzing confusion” those events that are deemed most important at the time of the study. In much the same way, the photographer does this by selecting a specific lens for his / her camera. A wide angle lens may be used to capture large portions of the landscape, whereas a telephoto lens may be used to focus on a small portion of the landscape. A researcher does the same thing. When initiating a classroom study for example, a researcher will use a “wide angle” lens to see what events are occurring in a particular setting, before selecting a “telephoto” lens to narrow the focus of his / her observations. The “wide angle” lens gathers general information about a wide range of events so that when a more narrow focus is later used, the events will be viewed taking into consideration this wider context. When I have used a special, macro-focusing lens to get very close-up, magnified images, the subject of the image can become almost unrecognizable because of the lack of context. It is hard to tell what you are looking at. It is the same in research. You need to have access to the wider political, social and historical context in which the specific events occur, in order to understand the specific events under study.

When comparing an Ansel Adams landscape print to an Annie Liebowitz portrait, it is obvious that the two photographers have chosen different subjects to photograph and different perspectives from which to photograph. These choices are based on the photographer’s prior experiences, personalities, professional and personal interests and the subjects available to them. It is a conscious choice that photographers make. In the same way, the researcher will make decisions about what to research based on their interests, personalities, prior experiences, existing areas of research and subjects available to them. My choice to study the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards was made in part by my interests, what I had read and studied in my doctoral and masters program at ASU and the type of research methodology and philosophy I preferred. This choice was also influenced by the fact that ASU has become involved in this process and by my committee's interest in this particular subject.

Every photographer, like every researcher, has a philosophy and a perspective that they carry into the field (in my case they actually are fields I go into most of the time). My understanding of the world, who I am and what I care about, effects what I photograph. Where I travel, where I hike and what I research is determined by who I am. This is my photographic conceptual framework and it becomes obvious when you look through a portfolio of my work.

The role of the researcher plays a substantial part in determining what will be studied, how it will be studied and what data will be collected and analyzed. Compared to photography, it is like the difference between a photojournalist and a studio portrait photographer. The photojournalist wants to take pictures of the events as they unfold in the “real” world. Their job is to “capture” the events, not direct them. However, a portrait photographer like Anne Geddes, manipulates the environment and the subject to be photographed, dressing babies up in flower pots to create the desired effects.

Some researchers exercise greater control over the events and develop highly formalized structures prior to the study, like the Miles and Huberman example of the “bins” to be filled. The bins are prespecified and the researchers role is to go out and fill the bins with information. In comparison, a grounded theorist would enter a setting and attempt to develop categories as they emerge from the events without any prespecified categories.

Access to the study is another important consideration of the role of the researcher. The researcher must gain access to the site in order to study a particular phenomenon. It seems that the closer you get to an event the more able you are to generate useful data. It is like going to the Super Bowl and sitting in the stands with a point and shoot camera, compared to a member of the press with a pass to the field and a telephoto lens. Both photographers will come away with some pictures, but the images they create will be vastly different. If I were studying the game itself, the photos from the field would be more useful to my study. This past weekend I went to the Petrified Forest National Park to photograph the petrified trees at sunset when the light is the best. Unfortunately, the park closed at five o’clock, an hour before sunset and didn’t open until eight o”clock and hour after sunrise. This greatly effected the kind of images I was able to create.

Another aspect of the researcher’s role that relates to the concepts involved with photography is the relationship between the researcher and the participants. Some photographers have a “leave nothing but footprints” motto to their landscape photography. These photographers are very concerned about their impact on the environment and the effects they have by simply being there. They are concerned about the effect their images may have on the landscapes or people they photograph. then there is the paparazzi. This group of photographers seems to be more concerned with making money than the welfare of their subjects.

In the same way, researchers need to be concerned with their effects on the participants and the setting they impose themselves on. Their presence must be taken into consideration when looking at the data they have collected. How the report from their study is to be used must be considered when approaching participants and conducting research. The relationship of the knower to the known is multidirectional as well as multidimensional. The photographer is effected by the environment and the environment is effected by the photographer. A photographer tries not impose their will on the landscape when creating an image, but without their “eye” no images are ever created. In other words, the camera doesn’t go out by itself and take pictures.

The design of the research study is an attempt to consider what will be focused on and what will be left as background. In photography this is called “depth of field”. A camera can only focus on one plane at a time. It is called the hyperfocal distance. The rest of the image is actually out of focus. By manipulating the aperture setting on the lens, the photographer is able to bring things into focus or narrow the depth of field to only focus on a single subject. In research, the researcher must decide what is to be “in focus” and what to leave to background. It is impossible to study the whole world, and the researcher must select which parts to focus on. These sampling decisions will effect what is studies and what is revealed to the researcher. Concrete particulars are collected about the event that is being focused on and more general notes may be taken about the context that will be left to background. Eventually, the research study needs a focus and a purpose. However, I feel that this should emerge from the data as the researcher interacts with the context, and should not be predetermined before the study. As researchers we don’t go into studies “blind”, but I don’t think we should go in pretending we know what will happen.

A point and shoot camera is a non-flexible camera. The photographer has little or no choices to make other than what to point it at. These cameras take average pictures, but are generally reliable in many settings. On the other hand, the manual SLR camera can be adjusted to fit many different lighting occasions. The pictures take more time to create, the photographer must know more about the workings of the camera, but the results are usually more dramatic images. The researcher has similar choices when designing their study. A tightly designed study may yield results that are defensible, but the study may not reveal anything to the researcher that they were actually after in the first place. Learning environments are complex phenomenon and I feel that the tighter, less flexible our studies are going in, the more narrow and less informative our studies will be coming out. A study that is more flexible, may be more difficult to manage, but the results are often more interesting.

The types of inference that researchers make will be effected by the type of information they are able to collect, the access they gain to the site under study and the conceptual framework they carry into the field. The goal of qualitative research is to make assertions about the meanings of the events and the participants in question. Without concrete particulars, the researcher ends up writing opinion pieces. They are unable to make any deep connections to their data and the study does not advance the understandings in their are of study. The photographer is effected in much the same way. Foe me it has been easy to create images that are like other more famous photographers. However, to create unique and dramatic images is more difficult. In order for me to understand, and eventually photograph, a location successfully, I must really get to “know” the location. I have been to the Grand Canyon many, many times. Only now do I feel I am beginning to return with images of any quality. I have had to learn about the weather patterns, the overlook locations, sunrise and sunset characteristics, cloud formations, times of the year to be there and what equipment works best there. It has been my close attention to the concrete particulars of the Grand Canyon that has helped me to begin to create images of quality of this beautiful landscape.

The photographer presents their ideas through color, line, depth of field, shape, texture and perspective. Researcher writes journal articles or dissertations, using narrative, imagery, plot, metaphor, assertions, summaries, tables, graphs and other language techniques to display their understandings. The representations of the study, like the image itself, must be considered when designing the study.