Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Campfire in the Learning Center ?!?

     How many of us love sitting around a campfire, gazing into the flames and listening to stories?  There’s a kind of peace that settles over all who sit within its ambiance.  For many it conjures up summer nights when bedtime is far away, crickets and katydids are playing their songs, the marshmallow bag is bottomless, and stars are glittering above.  Everyone becomes a skilled storyteller – there must be some kind of magic in its glow.

     But here in Vermont, in February, summer nights are only wispy pieces of dreams.  And winter is making us all a little cabin-crazy by now.  Our pitiful snowfall was just a tease this year.  So to brighten up our winter blues I had a week of “campfire in the library.”

  This is the third February I’ve held this event and it always generates a lot of amazement.  Children gather around the "fire.".  “Is it real?” some ask.  "How did I make it?" "Is that real wood?"  "Can we touch it?"  "Why am I doing this?"  Yes, the wood is real firewood, and that's the closest it gets to a true campfire.  I have used a string of lights with orange and red bulbs to simulate authentic color. Underneath the firewood pyramid sits a small fan that blows upwards on some strips of colored cellophane that are meant to mimic flickering flames.  I tell the children it's a real pretend campfire.  And with the lights off, it looks pretty close to real.  Real enough that the kids all hold out their hands as if to warm them.  And we have great fun pretending to roast marshmallows!  A great companion book is Kristine O'Connell George's Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems.

 I love to see the children enjoying the unexpected surprise of a campfire inside the school.  They’ve done their book shopping and have returned to the “fire” with their selections.  There they sit with their books and their peers in the warm glow of the fire.  This is what memories are made of; good feelings, happy times, and good friends.  Top it all off with a great book and a campfire!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Readers Become Judges

During the last couple of weeks our students have donned a new hat: they have become judges of the art of the picture book.  Over the next few weeks we will be reading the ten picture books that make up this year's Red Clover nominees.  The children will be noticing things such as how the illustrations match the story, how the illustrator uses the space on the pages, and the placement of text or even the absence of text on a page.  All of these elements are meant to work together to bring the story to life.                                                                                                                                                                       To start off, we discussed what an award is.  I showed the children the recent Caldecott winner, A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, and another Caldecott winner from 2007, Flotsam by David Wiesner.  The children noticed that Flotsam had won both the Caldecott and the Red Clover awards. 

It seemed fitting to start with reading David Wiesner's Art & Max, a splendid story about an artist and a would-be artist and their discovery of the creative process. David Wiesner wields a lot of power in both his pen and brush and his imagination seems to know no bounds.

Students retell the story of Art & Max with puppets

The next book we explored was Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp and illustrated by Jill McElmurry.  Again, the children really enjoyed this book with its playful illustrations (particularly the moving eyes in the paintings!) and exciting drama; it's an interesting blend of nonfiction and imagination.  We followed up the reading with an exploration of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.  For a close-up of the painting click here, and for an explanation of the painting click here.  We have discovered that one of our UVM student teachers has actually been to Paris to see the Mona Lisa!

In the very first week of April our children will make their final decisions and choose the one book that they think best deserves the Red Clover award.  Last year more than 24,000 Vermont children in grades K through 4 voted for their favorite book (Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile).  Which book will win this April?  Stay tuned!