Showing posts from March, 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.

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: 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, hi

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

PBD: It's a Book

One of my favorite books about the challenges of new technologies and printed books. Smith, in his usual humorous fashion, plays the monkey against the jackass as they negotiate what reading is. In addition to the book, there is a great book trailer available at: The board book version does not include the final declaration "Jackass" which unfortunately is the best line in the book!

PBD: Books About Perspective

In my children's literature and my literary theory classes, I use these three picturebooks to help students understand the concept of perspective. Bub, by Natalie Babbitt tells the story of a king and queen searching for the best thing to provide the prince to make him a better person. The king goes to his collection of books, while the queen walks around asking everyone what they think. Of course, they both find out that everyone has different perspectives on the issue. In Seven Blind Mice, Ed Young retells an ancient Asian folktale about mice that all report on a something they found near their pond. Of course, each mouse experiences something different about the elephant and reports from his or her perspective. Important to pay attention to the colors used in this book to understand various meaning potentials. In Gila Monster Meets You at the Airport Marjorie Sharmat tells the story of a boy from New York City who is being forced to move to Arizona, and the mirrored story of a b

PBD: Imagine a Day series

This series of stories feature surrealistic art and an imaginative story line. Renowned Canadian artist Rob Gonsalves once again stretches the limits of visual exploration with his breathtaking paintings and encourages parents and children alike to look beyond the limits of the everyday world and imagine. These books encourage students to attend to the visual art and consider alternative perspectives of reality. They make for great read alouds and as mentor texts for students dabbling in surrealism.

PBD: Picturebooks About Trips to an Art Museum

In today's PBD posting, I am including some of my favorite picturebooks that feature trips to museums and experiences with famous works of art. I have been doing some research focusing on the events and attitudes in picturebooks about art and visits to art museums. The books featured here include some of the more positive attitudes about art and going to an art museum. In many of the books I have been researching kids are dragged kicking and screaming to museums which I don't think is accurate, and I don't think is the message we want to send. Museum visits can be not only educational, but exciting and fun if done correctly. When talking with kids about famous works of art, begin with any of these wonderful books!

PBD: Unspoken

I have been doing research on wordless picturebooks for my Reading Teacher Column for Fall 2014. Another of my favorites is Unspoken by Henry Cole. In this powerful story about a runaway slave hiding from soldiers along the underground railroad, Cole features black and white charcoal sketches to render the visual narrative. The facial expressions and eyes add a depth of emotion to the narrative. This is a perfect example of how wordless picturebooks are not for young readers alone. Here is a video clip with Henry Cole reading (discussing) his wordless picturebook:

PBD: The Rabbits

Yes, this book has been around a bit, but I am teaching dystopian fiction in my undergraduate children's literature course and there are few examples (understandably so) of this genre in picturebook form. This one is close. In this story from Australia, written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan, rabbits are used as a metaphor for the colonization of indigenous peoples, in this case the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. However, the story could be seen as a metaphor for any type of colonization of native peoples. Tan goes to great length to explore historical associations with Australian art (Cook's landing at Botany Bay) for his own illustrations. The story certainly hinges upon knowing a bit of Australian history (for example actual rabbits invading the ecosystem in AU), but this can be brought into the discussion with minimal preparation. The sing-song language used in the text is sparse but enjoyable to read aloud. The illustrations require close examination to und

PBD: Shark vs. Train

This is one of my favorite picturebooks, one that I highly recommend for reluctant boy readers. In this story, two boys argue over which is better, tougher, and cooler - sharks or trains. They go through a series of tests with train winning some and shark winning some. The illustrations are simple, yet colorful and highly entertaining. I was lucky to have Tom Lichtenheld here at ASU for the annual Language and Literacy Conference in Feb 2014. He was a wonderful speaker and his session inspired many teachers to incorporate his work and drawing in their classrooms. I have become a big fan of Tom's work and look forward to his new books in 2014.

PBD: Hollow City - Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children Book II

Now I know this isn't actually a picturebook, although it does have wonderfully eerie photographs in it, but I just finished reading it and wanted to share.  This book is the second in a series of three (or more) books, beginning with the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This complex narrative is well done. I am sure that close readers of the text will find some anomalies, as do many analyses when time travel and alternative worlds are offered, but the author handled the changes across time and place with little concern for feeling like it was not possible. The eerie photographs blend so well with the narrative and add a visual dimension to the novel that is welcome. There is a feeling at the end that this book is simply serving up a foundation for the third book and others, but I didn't get this sense until the very end. A bit of goth and some dark moments add to the enjoyment of this book. Highly recommend if you have read the first book

PBD: Journey

From the Amazon website: A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and escapes through the wall into a wondrous world where adventure lies.  I n this wonderful wordless picturebook, Becker takes on a journey through real and imaginary places to help us share in the character's challenges and quest for self-determination. The art is bright and colorful and creates another world where anything seems possible. I am currently writing my new column for The Reading Teacher featuring new and unusual wordless picturebooks. Look for the column this fall!

PBD: Wolves

Wolves by Emily Gravett is one of Gravett's best works (and that is saying something since I love ALL of her books). In this postmodern picturebook, a rabbit is enticed to the library to check out a book to learn about the dangers associated with wolves. Unfortunately, the wolf may be behind the advertisements and be complicit in luring the unsuspecting rabbit into his trap. The book takes a twist when an alternative ending is offered. Multiple narratives and a book within a book structure offers the reader a complex array of perspectives from which to consider what happens to the rabbit. An interactive book that will keep students talking for hours.

What is Close Reading?

Excerpts from my Reading Teacher Column: Serafini, Frank. (2013/2014). Close Readings and Children’s Literature. The Reading Teacher .  67 (4), 299-301. Close Reading and Children’s Literature               The term close reading was originally associated with the work of the New Critics, in particular Cleanth Brooks, I. A. Richards, John Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren. New Criticism emphasized structural and textual analysis by focusing on the work of literature itself and excluded a reader’s responses, the author's intentions, and the historical and cultural contexts from their analyses . In these writings, close reading referred to an objective, distanced type of reading that places the reader as discoverer of meaning and the text as a self-contained, aesthetic object that holds the meaning to be discovered.  Close Reading As stated in the CCSS, today’s students are asked to read closely to determine what the text says explicitly, to make logical inferences from their interact

PBD: A walk in the Park

This wonderful book by Anthony Browne has recently been re-released with this new cover. For readers of Browne's work, this is the "prequel" or original version of the story that became Voices in the Park - one of Browne's most popular, and I would add, most intriguing and sophisticated picturebook. In this book, we are introduced to the names of the two adult characters - Mrs. Smythe and Mr. Smith. The story is told as a single perspective narrative rather than the four part narrative in Voices in the Park . For many years, this book has been out of print and copies were extremely expensive. So good to have this book available now for a reasonable price.

PBD: The Dark

Many readers will relate to the theme of this story, but maybe not to the dark images and color palette selected by Jon Klassen to visually narrate it. The age old story of being afraid of the dark is told in a new and unusual way, by bringing the dark to life as a character. "You might be afraid of the dark, but the dark is not afraid of you. That's why the dark is always close by" The story is average in my opinion, but the wonderfully dark and well designed images add to eerie sense of the dark and make this one of my new favorites.

Reading Workshop 2.0: Some Preliminary Thoughts

Currently, I am working on a manuscript for Heinemann Publishers on Teaching Reading in the Digital Age. Here are some thoughts as I begin to write this books: I have been reading and writing about workshop approaches to reading instruction for the past 25 years. One might think that I should have run out of things to say about these instructional approaches and classroom frameworks a long time ago. Alas, that is not to be. I seem to have a few more things to say about the changes that have taken place in literacy education, in particular the changes in technology and digital resources that have affected the ways we teach children to read and write and how we organize classrooms to support this endeavor. Drawing on my previous work on the Reading Workshop (Serafini, 2001, 2008), this book will provide teachers and literacy educators with a new vision for the reading workshop, new resources for instruction, discussion, and analysis of texts, and some new ways to think about supporting s

PBD: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce started out as animated short that eventually won an Academy Award for animation. Then it became a digitally based video book and was sold as an app - available here: Then it became an amazing picturebook. But that isn't all - now there is an augmented reality app that transforms the hard cover version of the picturebook into an interactive book when you hold a wifi connected iPad or iPhone over the pages of the book. For me these versions are a game-changer, bringing new possibilities to the format of the picturebook. This format is always expanding in new and exciting ways and Joyce and Moonbot Studios have really pushed the envelope.

PBD: Looking Closely in the Rainforest

This may be rather self-promoting to start off my series of book reviews, but I wanted to call readers' attention to the fact that I have written and illustrated (photography) a series of informational picturebooks called Looking Closely. For this particular book I traveled to Costa Rica, Fiji, Australia and the temperate rain forests of North America (Washington and British Columbia) to find some of the most interesting plants and wildlife for this final book in the series. The books feature a crop and reveal format and ask readers to guess what something might be before having it revealed through full color photography. Children will have lots of fun guessing what these things might be. These books are available through my website at: or Amazon.

PBD - Picturebook of the Day

I am starting to post a new picturebook review each day from the thousands of books in my collection, focusing on new arrivals and interesting finds. Hope you find this useful.