Saturday, April 28, 2012


While primary grades have been becoming acquainted with nursery tales (The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk), I save the hard-core study of fairy tales for the 4th grade, so we can integrate its themes into the context of Medieval history, analyze illustrator choices, and get into some of the somewhat more...uh...exciting stories from the likes of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.  Good vs. Evil!  The recurrence of threes!  Royalty!  Magic!  Forest settings!  Transformation!  Anthropomorphism!  (Say what?!?) Good times...story times, that is.

So it was no big surprise that there was an extra thick pile of entries to the library's fairy tale art contest, judged with the help of our principal and art teacher.  Though all the art was truly wonderful, we were so pleased that the winner, B.H., really made choices that showed an "active use of space" and "perspective," things that both Mr. Nelson teaches and that are underscored in the library study of illustration.  Besides, it was awfully, awfully pretty.  The winner earned a copy of the three-dimensional fairy tale theater book, Snow White by Jane Ray, which earned ooh's and ahh's all around...real eye candy, as tempting as a witch's apple. 

Three honorable mentions received copies of Fractured Fairy Tale DVD's (not books, I know, but classics all the same).  We hope all participants are encouraged to keep up their illustrating, inspired by all the interpretations they see!

If you'd like to keep your kids reading fairy tales in your home library, you'll do the trick with the sublime Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Noel Daniel, which has a lot of different illustration styles in one book. The oil paint illustration of Kinuko Craft is museum-worthy; you children really enjoyed The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and she has done several more.   Fairy Tales retold by Berlie Doherty is another scrumptious volume,  the golden gilding throughout the pictures is so elegant, and I really appreciate the more multicultural representation.
Speaking of, author/illustrator Rachel Isadora has done a great series of traditional fairy tales set against an African backdrop, there are some really eye-popping spreads and the stories are still strong in the new context.  Check them out! 

I personally grew up on The Juniper Tree and other Tales from Grimm, in beautiful translation by Lore Segal and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, which goes in and out of print.  But that's pretty scary stuff...I still shiver when I think about "Hans My Hedgehog."   Don't worry, I didn't read it to your can decide to do that damage.  ;-)  Grown-ups can read about the meaning and value of children's experience of fairy tales in The Uses of Enchantment:  The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, which, naturally, you may agree with or not...but it's an interesting perspective.

I give links for information.  Please look for these books at your local independent bookseller (The Book Cellar supports us, let's support them!)  or in our beloved Chicago Public Library! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Coming soon to a living room near you is Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turn-Off Week), sponsored by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.  Please click here for a plethora of resources to help your family unplug!  While this is an initiative that largely has to be undertaken at home, we support limiting time with the bunk boxes and will be sending home materials through the classrooms.  

Since deregulation during the Reagan era, children are exposed to exponentially more and more visual media aimed at influencing them to engage in the consumer culture. The average middle school student likely spends at least seven hours a day in front of a screen, and because kids are often engaged with more than one media device at once, or “multitasking,” they are really packing almost eleven hours of media exposure into those seven hours. Statistically, African-American and Hispanic kids clock in rates of four hours more than that average.  This is more time than a full-time job.  According to TV-Free America, the average child sees 20,000 30-second commercials in a year, though the American Academy of Pediatrics, the AAP, suggest it’s probably more like 40,000.   I found those numbers a little bit shocking, even as someone who did put in my daily seven as a kid.  However, in spite of this proliferation, I have seen very little in the curriculum to help children interpret what they see or even foster an awareness that they are being targeted or influenced.  Here in the library, screens are a tool, and like any tool, people need to learn how to use it.  Rather than focusing on turning screens off, I concentrate heavily on teaching Media Literacy, Cybersafety and Citizenship, especially in the middle school.  This year, in eighth grade, we have been working on a unit to help students use critical thinking to decode the many messages they encounter on screens, via an in-depth study of propaganda techniques, commercials and advertising through history.   This is a subject very close to my heart, as my own fifth grade teachers took it upon themselves to teach me to recognize propaganda techniques, and it changed the way I looked at the world ever since.  Children deserve this knowledge, so they can make informed decisions as consumers and so they can make decisions about their own identities, which these days is increasingly entangled in our consumer choices.       Whether the screen is on or off, I hope the library will be a place for reflection, information and active citizenship!  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Need help binding your book?

Does anyone need help putting together their books for the Young Authors project?  Though creating the text should be done through the classroom and at home, there are instructions in the library for how to bind your own books, and Ms. Esme is happy to help walk you through it if you come to the library before school (please bring your own cardboard)! Ask to look in the "author idea box" on my desk to jump-start your story (or looky here). We also have many copies of books written by students in the past to peruse, if you're looking for samples and inspiration!  Remember, if you have a question or ever get stuck on your work or want to know a how-to, whether it's binding a book or reading a clock or tying a shoe, please, COME TO THE LIBRARY!

We were also very fortunate to have an author visit by Bruce Ray, author of the book Blow, Wind, Blow, an optimistic little gem with a very unique layout.  Mr. Ray read the book to fourth and fifth graders, doing a phenomenal job engaging students and offering insights into how a book is created, from inception to execution.  Time flew by too fast, we hope to have a chance to meet with Mr. Ray again!  He made a lot of friends that day!  Thanks to Mr. Patock for the liaison!