I have all these UNSPOKEN feels.

Ben Folds Five has been rattling around in my brain lately.


A bit melodramatic, but “It often makes no sense, in fact, I never understand these things I feel” has seemed particularly applicable to my feelings on the hyped 2012 picture book Unspoken. (Also, do you see the Bill Clinton-Anderson Cooper-hybrid horn player in the background of that video?)

Unspoken is a gorgeous wordless book by Henry Cole. My kids said they loved it because the pencil drawings reminded them of Wonderstruck. It’s pretty lovely, but something keeps hitting a nerve.

It’s a nerve that I suppose SHOULD be struck whenever I read any book about the Underground Railroad. It’s the white people savior business. The idea that we should all be soooooo grateful for the white people who helped the poor minority out. What I’m struggling to understand is why I’m so grouchy at Unspoken while I’m fine with other books that address a similar theme.

I CANNOT STOP THINKING OF THIS SKETCH whenever I see/read/think about Unspoken.


As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s in a suburb of Detroit, I was sharply aware of racial tension/awkwardness/sensitivity and how touchy people got when white folks wanted to meddle in the city’s affairs. I heard things like how Mayor Coleman Young told white people to get out of Detroit and let black people take care of things. Or how Dennis Archer wasn’t a successful mayor because he was “too white.”

In researching this blog post, though, I found some evidence that the legend of Coleman Young telling white people quit meddling with Detroit might be just that — a legend. Which is cool, but I still feel awkward when I think about how all the hipsters are coming back into town… I just hope that things just don’t re-gentrify and that residents can work together. Lofty, naive goals, I know. But the Christian Science Monitor observed that it just might happen.

I’ve dealt plenty with my own white privilege and white guilt, so I don’t know how much that plays into ALL THESE FEELS. (I love Macklemore’s song addressing it. LOTS OF NAUGHTY NAUGHTY WORDS, BE WARNED)



Anyway. Yargh. I thought writing this post would help me, but I still can’t seem to articulate why Unbroken rubs me the wrong way. I mean no offense to Mr. Cole, nor to the scads of readers who love his story. I just think this angle deserves to be explored. What do you think?

Mock Caldecotts: A How-To Guide

So hard to believe that our SECOND annual Mock Caldecott award season is over, but it’s time to reflect and think about what we can do next year to make it even better. Today, I’m going to walk you through what we did in our class.

You probably know that any book published in 2012 by a US illustrator is eligible for the 2013 Caldecott. That means you can start reading potential Caldecott books RIGHT NOW! Yay! One of our bulletin boards is dedicated to recording all the Caldecott-eligible books we enjoy as a class. By the end of the year, the list looks something like this:

Between January and June, I usually include a few new books in our daily CAFE strategy read alouds. I record the books we read, and I keep them on the list after students leave and come back in the fall. This can get a bit tricky if you don’t loop with your students. This year, I only kept three of my students, so at the beginning of the school year, I created a bucket of books with all the eligible books we’d read last school year so everyone could be caught up.

In September and October, we continue this pattern of reading a few potential books in class. Whenever I check out new books from the Seattle Public Library, I point out during our morning class meeting which ones are eligible.

November is National Picture Book Month, so I read eligible books every morning during class meeting. Then in December, I continue that morning routine under the title of “Mock Caldecott Preparation.” :) I haven’t had any complaints from students or admins yet.

By the time January rolls around, we’ve read about two dozen books. The first full week in January, I check out any books that I’ve overlooked (using other Mock Caldecott lists and best-of lists as a guide). At the end of the second week in January, we create our short list. Here’s the video I put together to refresh students’ memories on all the books we’d read. Everything’s listed alphabetically.

Students pick their top five books, and I rank order their choices. This year, I also allowed write-in candidates, as the only titles I put on the ballot are ones we’ve read as a whole class. That’s how Sidekicks made it onto the list this year.

The Friday before the ALA Midwinter Conference, we use our short list to vote for students’ top three titles. We release our list the Friday before the official decisions, so our votes aren’t swayed by the “real” votes. This schedule got a bit botched this year due to SnOMG, so we weren’t able to watch the live webcast of the awards on Monday. Normally, students come in early for snacks and beverages (because we’re on the West Coast, we almost always have to arrive at school early).

This poster was a huge help in explaining the other book awards — this year we also read the Geisel honor, the Schneider Family award winner, and the Sibert award winner.

Can’t wait for next year!

Mock Caldecott Winners!

Neither snow nor conferences could prevent our class from picking this year’s Mock Caldecott winners! Despite not having school all last week, and despite Ms. Houghton’s two-day absence this week at the National Title I Conference, our class has arrived at a decision.

Two books received honors, two very different books, in my mind. The first honor book selected was:

Queen of the Falls by Chris VanAllsburg. I actually didn’t read this book to the class until the day before our first round of voting, but it just barely made it onto our 11-book short list. Students say they voted for this book because we were amazed by the story of a woman going down Niagara Falls in a barrel. The book pointed out she was an old lady and a woman, and we thought it was strange that people were disappointed that she was so old.

The second Caldecott honor book we selected was a write-in candidate that made it onto our short list:

Sidekicks by Dan Santat. Sidekicks made it as a write-in candidate because it was funny. Specifically, we liked when they fought the hippo that was eating fish and he sat on the pile of fish (one critter was talking). It was also funny at the end of the book because at the the end Vapor Man goes out to his car and sees that it exploded.

OVERWHELMINGLY, the winner of this year’s Mock Caldecott award is:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Despite the fact that Wonderstruck got no Caldecott or Newbery love, this book was by far the tops in our class. SPOILER ALERT: We liked that Ben never knew that Rose was his grandma. A lot of times books try to trick us but we figure it out before the end, but not this one. We enjoyed the part of the book where Rose escapes from her house and sends a note saying “HELP ME” across the water as a boat. We discovered that William was the brother of Rose — that helped us put together what the “Wonderstruck” book meant.

Congratulations to our talented winners!

Mock Caldecott: First Round of Voting TOMORROW!

We’ll have our first round of Mock Caldecott voting tomorrow! It’s going to be so fantastic! We’ve read so many books so far this year!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the books we’ll be voting on. In this first round, students can rank their top five books. The field will be narrowed to ten books, and then we’ll have final voting next week!

  • The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse
  • The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man
  • A Ball for Daisy
  • Bone Dog
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Bumble-Ardy
  • Charlie the Ranch Dog
  • Dinosaur vs. the Library
  • Except If…
  • Heart and Soul
  • I’m Not
  • I Want My Hat Back
  • Ice
  • Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
  • Me… Jane
  • Melvin and the Boy
  • Mine!
  • Monkey: A Trickster’s Tale
  • Moving House
  • Never Forgotten
  • Neville
  • Over and Under the Snow
  • Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter
  • Perfect Square
  • Queen of the Falls
  • Sea Monster’s First Day
  • Where’s Walrus
  • Wonderstruck
  • You Will Be My Friend!

An exciting week so far!

It’s been quite a week for us! On Monday, we discovered A Sick Day for Amos McGee won the Caldecott, and we were expecting that Art and Max would win, Jasmin said. We watched the awards announcement live Monday morning in our classroom!

“We were expecting that Art and Max was going to win, but A Sick Day for Amos McGee won,” Leonel said.

Our mock Caldecott predictions were a mixed bag — we were right that Interrupting Chicken would win an Honor, but Art and Max received nothing.

That day, we reread Interrupting Chicken, Ryan said. Most students said it was as good the second time around, and for some of us, it was our first time.

Chalk came in second place, and we weren’t expecting it to win, we were really impressed because we didn’t think Chalk would come in second place, so we were very excited,” Ra’Seana said.

Another thing we certainly weren’t expecting, Cecilia said, was to hear from Bill Thomson.

Which brings us to Tuesday. We were content with how the Caldecotts turned out, and we had added a few new books to our classroom library — Interrupting Chicken, Dave the Potter, and Chalk.

When Ms. Houghton went to the staff workroom at second recess, however, she was surprised to discover a large envelope. “Bill Thomson” was on the return address. Ms. Houghton could have opened it then, but she waited for her students to return. She even asked Mr. Swartz if her students could go late to their math intervention with Ms. Kliskey, and he agreed.

“Bill Thomson gave us a note, and the whole class was really surprised. We reviewed the book Chalk, and Ms. Houghton cried because she was so excited,” Ra’Seana said.

“It was hand-written,” Esther said of the note.

There was a dinosaur drawn at the bottom, warning “Be careful what you draw,” Xavier said.

“I liked your handwriting, and it’s really neat,” Shi said. “I wish I could take the paper home to show my parents.”

Ms. Houghton said she didn’t think of copying the letter, and she will do so at lunch today.

Another document Ms. Houghton copied Wednesday morning was the Federal Way Mirror newspaper article featuring her class. What a huge surprise!

Ms. Houghton was contacted by Neal McNamara, the education reporter for the Mirror. He interviewed her by phone on Friday afternoon, while Mr. Swartz hung out in her classroom and tried on her safari hat.

“We’ve had a wonderful week,” Ms. Houghton said. “I can’t even begin to imagine what Thursday and Friday have in store for us.” Special thanks to Mr. Swartz for allowing Ms. Houghton’s class to explore literacy in innovative ways.


Book Talk

Here’s this week’s book talk!

Additionally, I spoke about Dinosaur National Monument at the end of the video. Here are a few pictures of what the area actually looks like. It’s amazing!

Dinosaur National Monument and Green River
In front of the fossil wall.


Appalachian Spring

Today, we started reading Ballet for Martha, a narrative nonfiction book illustrated by Brian Floca, who also illustrates Poppy, our current chapter read aloud.


Ballet for Martha is one of the books included in our Mock Caldecott Awards, and it’s pretty magnificent. I’ll review it in tomorrow’s book talk, but today I told our class that I’d upload the full ballet. We watched Part 1 today in class during snack time.