Monday, February 1, 2016

2016 Caldecott and Geisel Honor Winner: Waiting

2016 Caldecott Honor Winner
2016 Geisel Honor Winner
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, 2015
ISBN #978-0-06-236843-0

Grades PreK and up

Book Review

“There were five of them. And they were waiting…” So begins acclaimed author/illustrator Kevin Henkes’ multiple award-winning picturebook. Waiting tells the story of five toys on a windowsill who wait patiently for something extraordinary to happen. And something extraordinary does happen  often and seldom, in the world outside the window and on the shelf next to them, in a split second and over the course of time, in the most spectacular and subtle ways. The story, of course, is an allegory of the kinds of waiting that consume much of a child’s world. Henkes is once again at his literary best, using uncomplicated language to evoke potent emotion and full imagery to make the quietness of waiting all that is needed to move the plot forward. Similarly, Henkes employs a soft, muted palette with his signature ink, watercolor, and colored pencils, which relay incredible breadth and depth of storytelling, especially across four wordless pages in the middle of the book. Together, text and illustration tap into a child’s world, showcasing the wonders that fill it, both big and small, and always offering the promise and excitement of something new to come.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations
  • Worth the Wait. Henkes’ quiet text conveys the important idea that some things are worth waiting for. What do your students consider to be worth waiting for? Have them brainstorm ideas and then write opinion, persuasive, and/or argument pieces about what they consider to be worth the wait. To help scaffold this activity, you might also read some other books about waiting or looking for something worthwhile, including Mo Willems’ Waiting is Not Easy!, Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Antoinette Portis' Wait, books about waiting for a new sibling, even the few pages in Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go! that deal with waiting, and other books listed below in Further Explorations. Henkes' book Birds, which his wife illustrated, also has a great two-page spread of watching (the birds on the line) and waiting for something to happen.
  • Noticing via Waiting (and other everyday gerunds). Amazing, yet seemingly insignificant or mundane, events happen while the five toys are waiting: a thunderstorm, a rainbow, the addition of new toys and trinkets beside them on the windowsill. Have students set aside a specific amount of time, either in class or at home, to wait. While waiting, have them use each of their senses to pay close attention to what’s happening around them (or within themselves) and write down or draw those details. Share them in class the next day. As a twist or extension, you might also have them try noticing what happens around them as they engage in other seemingly mundane actions for a specific period of time, such as sitting, standing, lying down, walking, or running. 
  • Inner Stories and Visual Literacy. As they read the story (or you read it aloud to them), encourage students to pay close attention to the details and character expressions in each illustration. What information is conveyed through those illustrations that isn’t explained or described in the written text? What and how do the toy characters respond to each event in the story? Making sure that students ground their responses in evidence from both the text and illustrations, invite them to wonder what each character may be thinking and feeling – what their inner stories are as they witness the events that occur. What might they be thinking, feeling, experiencing, and remembering as they are waiting? Encourage students to share those characters’ inner stories in a number of ways: in writing, through oral storytelling, as a role play, or perhaps in a mural or comic strip. 
  • What Happens Next? Much of the book’s charm draws from the everyday surprises that punctuate the toys’ waiting periods and the endless possibilities about what might happen next. Have students brainstorm some of those possibilities based on their close reading of the text as well as their prior and lived experiences with toys and with waiting. Perhaps the next thing to happen only affects one of the toys; perhaps what happens next occurs outside the window for all to see. Once the class has a decent pool of ideas, have each student select one (or a few). Have them write and illustrate the next few pages of the book, either traditionally on paper or via art and bookmaking apps. Share students’ writing via student read-alouds, a gallery walk, or online display. 
  • Writer’s Craft and Mentor Text. One of the trademarks of expert storyteller Kevin Henkes’ craft is his use of linguistic patterns in his text. Many of his stories, for example, employ the “Rule of Three,” in which details are provided in groups of three. Have students reread and examine the written text of Waiting (you might want to type the text onto a Word document and share just that with students) to identify and label any patterns they see in Henkes’ writing. As a class, discuss what patterns were identified and how they contribute to the tone and pacing of the story. Then have students try emulating some of those patterns in their own writing, using Waiting and others of Henkes’ books as mentor texts. 
  • Exploring Line. In Waiting, Henkes outlines shapes with thick pencil, as he did in Little White Rabbit, the Caldecott Award-winning Kitten’s First Full Moon, and others. Give students the opportunity to draw what happens to the toys after the book is over (perhaps in conjunction with the aforementioned “What Happens Next?” activity), using the same tools as the illustrator: color pencils and acrylic paints. Photocopy or scan each child’s original illustration, and then have them outline the major parts of one of the copies using a thick charcoal pencil, to mimic the thick brush outlines Henkes used. Hang each child’s drawings side by side. What feels different? How would the story feel different if the bold outlines weren’t there? (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Little White Rabbit).
  • The Theodore S. Geisel Award. Discuss the fact that Waiting has received an award that, in name, honors the work of Theodore Geisel, or Dr. Seuss. Compare Waiting with one of Dr. Seuss’s beginning readers such as Hop on Pop. What is similar about the two books? What is different? What makes the books well suited for beginning readers? Expand this activity by gathering the other Geisel award winners and sharing the award criteria with your students. Distribute the books to small groups of students and ask them to discuss how in their view, the criteria apply to the winners. One important aspect of the books is that although the text is simple, the content is often sophisticated, requiring the reader works to construct more complex meaning through inference. As a further extension of this activity, you might ask older students to use what they have learned about books for beginning readers to author their own beginning reader book. These books can be shared with primary grade students. Further discussion of Geisel award winners and honors books can be found in our Classroom Bookshelf entry for The Watermelon Seed, Up! Tall! and High!, Tales for Very Picky Eaters, I Want My Hat Back, and You Are (Not) Small. (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Up! Tall! and High!)
  • Author/Illustrator Study. Have students explore the work of Kevin Henkes’s picture books during literacy stations. One station can have the books that contain Lily as a character (Lily’s Plastic Purple Purse, Lily’s Big Day, Julius the Baby of the World, Chester’s Way). Another station can contain his other animal fantasy books (A Weekend with Wendell, Bailey Goes Camping, Shelia Rae the Brave, Chrysanthemum, Owen), while still another can contain his human picture books (The Biggest Boy, All Alone, Clean Enough, Jessica, Shhhh). A fourth station might include his "quiet contemplation" picture books (Waiting, Kitten’s First Full Moon, Old Bear, A Good Day, My Garden, Little White Rabbit). Have students circulate through each station, using graphic organizers to keep track of the similarities and differences between them. When the groups have gone through all of the stations, have them make presentations to one another sharing the similarities and differences they observed. These presentations can use charts and posters or they could be skits in which the characters from different books meet. (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Little White Rabbit).

Further Explorations

Kevin Henkes' website on Waiting

Greenwillow Books' Teaching Guide for Waiting


For a list of all of Kevin Henkes’s works in print:

Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Salman, M., & Handler, D. (2015) Hurry up and wait. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Portis, A. (2015). Wait. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Willems, M. (2014). Waiting is not easy! New York: Disney-Hyperion.

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Newbery Honor Award Winner The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved My Life
2016 Newbery Honor Award Winner
Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Grades 4-8
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4081-5

Book Review
Ada is a ten-year-old girl born with a twisted foot. She has never left her one-room apartment or felt sunshine or seen grass. Abhorred, abused, and constantly shamed by her mother, Ada is isolated from the world because of her foot and led to believe she is unworthy of love and belonging and incapable of learning. Acclaimed author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley powerfully weaves historical details about World War II in England into this fast-paced, heart-wrenching historical fictional narrative. Through the voice of Ada, we are transported to another time and place as we are entrusted as readers to grapple with the traumatic events of Ada’s life. Readers quickly realize, though, that Ada is a multidimensional character driven most of all by her own determination to change her life story. As children are being evacuated from London in anticipation of air raids, Ada draws on her courage despite great physical pain and joins her younger brother, Jaime, to board a train to the country. Readers will find themselves rooting for Ada as she embarks on a new life where hope itself feels like a dangerous thing. Ripe with opportunities for empathy building, The War that Save my Life is sure to captivate students as a read-aloud, text club selection, or independent reading text. It is also a welcome addition to historical fiction units of study or as a compliment to social studies investigations of life for children during World War II. Finally, Ada herself serves as a model for us all as we engage in the human struggle to know our own self-worth.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Grades 4-8

Research World War II Across Modes. Throughout the story, support students to keep detailed notes on the historical elements woven throughout the book that explain what life was like in England during World War II. Support students to notice the impact the war has on all of the characters but also how economic disparities create marked differences. Research with students the evacuation of 800,000 children from London because of bombings during the 1940s. Conduct a Google image search to find photographs of evacuees and posters that advocate for mothers to send children out of London. Listen to primary source audiofiles from the BBC about World War II and the evacuation. Encourage open conversation about what students see, hear, think, and feel about the images and recordings. Further investigate the BBC site for primary source documents including letters from evacuees and parents during the war. Read more about the Dunkirk Evacuation described at the end of the book at the Eyewitness History site, which includes a map of the escape of British soldiers from France. As students conduct further independent research based on their interests of this time period, consider multiple modes for them to share what they have learned including expository writing, letter writing, mock interviews, audiorecording, and digital storytelling.

War as a Metaphor. As Ada reminds us, “There are all kinds of wars” (p.3). Consider with students the ways in which war manifests itself in multiple ways throughout the story. In particular, guide students to consider why Bradley would choose to set the story during World War II as a means of helping readers consider the cataclysmic battles Ada experiences with her mother and with herself. What are the battles Ada fights? What are the outcomes? How would Ada’s story be different if she lived in a different time or place? Would her story have been as impacting for us as readers if World War II was not part of the context?  How does the title of the story complicate our understandings of war?

Semantic Mapping to Build a Theory about Characters. Ada, Jaime, their mother, Susan, Grimes, Maggie, and Lady Thornton are complex characters with multiple identities and interests. Support students to come to know a character of their choosing more closely through semantic mapping throughout their reading of the book. As they build their maps, encourage students to consider questions including: What are the character’s traits, desires, and struggles? What matters to them the most? How do we know? What is his/her social location and how does it impact their experiences? What are the multiple roles they play in their families and communities? How does the character change or not change over time? Have students periodically present their growing theories about characters and how their maps are changing as they learn more about them.

Text-to-Self Exploration. Ada struggles throughout the book to know her own self-worth. She questions whether hope is possible and even safe. In the end, her recognition of her own vulnerability becomes one of her greatest strengths. She is willing to engage in complex questions about herself and to open her heart to her caretaker, Susan’s, unexpected love. Support students to consider the ways in which they find it difficult or easy to experience the uncertain, to take risks, and to experience emotional exposure. Allow for students to independently and safely write about when they feel love, belonging, joy, and creativity but also when they feel afraid, disappointed, and alone. Support students who are ready to share their thoughts and experiences, but also let students know that their thinking and writing can safely be for them alone. Finally, share with students Theodore Roosevelt’s words about daring greatly. What are the ways Ada “dares greatly”? What are the ways they each do?

Writing Leads that Shock Readers. Guide students through a repeated and close reading of the first page of the book. In what ways does Bradley lead with shock? What is the impact of her word choices? How does dialogue impact the shock value? How do the characters’ actions further our visualization of the traumatic events of Mam shouting at and hitting Ada? Explore with students why Bradley may have chosen to lead through a shocking moment. As students craft narratives throughout the year, return to Bradley’s lead as a mentor text for their own writing. Further support students to consider when adding shock value does not necessarily improve the content of their writing.

World War II Literature Study. Gather other text selections that take place during World War II for students to read in text clubs. Of particular interest may be Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, A Faraway Island by Annika Thor, The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson,  Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, Dash by Kirby Larson, Willow Run by Patricia Reilly Giff, The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. See Goodreads Listopia for many more selection possibilities. Have clubs present the book’s plot, themes, mood, and what they learn from the conflicts characters experience to better understand the historical events of World War II. Across the presentations support students to understand the war from the point of view of the protagonists based on their perspective and position including that of soldiers on the front lines, children and families, and Jewish people in hiding or concentration camps.

Thematic Investigation: Duet Reading. As Ada leaves her home and her mother’s controlling grip on her life, she comes to find freedom through unexpected means. Most notably, Ada teaches herself to ride Butter, a neglected pony on her new farm. As she learns to ride and teaches Butter to jump higher obstacles, she feels at her most free. Likewise, in Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell, the main character, Wilhelmina (Will), rides her horses with abandon on the Zimbabwe farm where she lives. Engage students in a duet model by reading across these two books supporting students to consider the similarities and differences between Ada and Wilhelmina and the ways control and freedom play out in their lives. In addition, consider with students the ways family and identity can be explored to better understand the overlapping themes of these two books.  Have students share in partnership or small group the connections they notice across the two books.

Author Study: Historical Fiction Across Time and Place.  Gather other books by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley to better understand historical fiction at its best. In particular, Jefferson’s Sons, The Lacemaker and the Princess, and For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy include historical details woven into fast-paced narratives. In each of the stories, the characters call into question previously held beliefs about themselves. Consider with students Bradley’s literary techniques across books including her use of description, dialogue, narration, voice, and dialect. Support students to name the ways human conflict, tension, and mood create a more powerful historically-oriented story? What techniques can they borrow from her work to craft their own historical fiction pieces that are character-driven and gripping for readers? Encourage students to take to the page and try writing a small scene of their own based on the historical context of one of Bradley’s works or of their own choosing.

Sharing Your Opinion through Writing and Speaking: The ALAs. The War that Saved My Life was one of the recipients of the Newbery Honor Award from the American Library Association (ALA) for 2016. Brainstorm with students the criteria the ALA Awards Committee might use when evaluating books as contenders. View the ALA website as a class to learn more about the many awards the committee grants and to learn about past and present winners. Do they agree that The War that Saved My Life deserved the Newbery Honor award? Why or why not? Do they think it should have won the Newbery itself rather than the Honor Award? Read aloud the 2016 Newbery winner, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and have students draw comparisons about the quality of the texts.  Gather recent Newbery and Newbery Honor Award winners for text clubs or independent reading such as Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Flora and Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin, and Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.  Create an ALA comment board for students to share their opinions throughout the year about award-winning books. Finally, have students share their opinions in writing by crafting and sending letters to the ALA that detail their support for books selected or to challenge the ALA to consider other books they feel are deserving.

Critical Literacy
Conflicts of Class. Class plays a dominant role is the lives of Ada, Jamie, their mother, and other evacuees in this story such as their friend, Stephen White. What is the impact of class on their lives? Support students to notice that despite having a job, Ada and Jamie’s mother struggles to provide basic necessities for her family like nutritious meals and warm clothing in winter. Encourage students to share their thoughts about this in partnership or in small groups.  How do class divides further complicate Ada and Jamie’s arrival to the country?  Have students extend their thinking to the class structures that exist in their own communities and nationally. Support students to find out more about the impact of class today through interviews, online research, and through their own reflective writing.

Further Investigation
Online Resources

Author’s Site

Author’s Video Discussion of the Book

Penguin Press Educator’s Guide

ALA Newbery Site

ALA 2016 Award Winners Listing

BBC World War II Evacuation Site

Eyewitness History: The Evacuation at Dunkirk

Dunkirk Evacuation Footage


Bartoletti, S.C. (2008). The boy who dared. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Boyne, J. (2007). The boy in striped pajamas. Oxford, United Kingdom: David Fickling Books.  

Bradley, K.B. (2013). Jefferson's sons: A founding father’s secret children. New York, NY: Puffin Books.

Bradley, K.B. (2005). For freedom: The story of a French spy. New York, NY: Laurel Leaf.

Bradley, K.B. (2009). The lacemaker and the princess. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Giff, P.R. (2007). Willow run. New York, NY: Yearling.

Larson, K. (2014). Dash. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Leyson, L. (2015). The boy on the wooden box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s list. New York, NY: Antheneum. 

Lowry, L. (1989). Number the stars. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Rundell, K. (2014). Cartwheeling in thunderstorms. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Spinelli, J. (2010). Milkweed. New York, NY: Random House. 

Thor, A. (2011). A faraway island. New York, NY: Yearling.