Below is a guest blog from Amy Stewart, author of Little Readers, Big Thinkers.
“Reading is a gift we give our students. It is a gift wrapped in compelling characters, wondrous words, and incredible information. Close reading is a way to bring those characters, words, and pieces of information to life in new, joyful ways for our students.”
The gift of summer is officially upon us—a time for reflection, relaxation, rejuvenation, and—my personal favorite—refreshing your classroom library! If you’re anything like me, it is easy to spend a lazy summer afternoon entrenched deep in Google searches, hoping to find the best new books for this, or the top books to read for that, all while filling your virtual shopping cart to an amount just about as high as your last paycheck. And since a new school year will be here before we know it, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share some new book titles and opportunities for close reading that will encourage little readers to dive deep and think big as they explore the paths laid for them by the reading experiences of which they are part.
Read Like Detectives!
A fun way to excite students about that special kind of deep reading involves centering the work around that of a detective. What does a detective do that we can also do as readers? In Little Readers, Big Thinkers, I give several examples of picture books with a detective or mystery theme that spark interest and provide context for eventual close reading. I’ve found it helpful to immerse young readers in detective characters and sleuthy thinking to set the stage for the examination and deep thinking that happens during close reading experiences.
Next school year, I am excited to bring my readers together to enjoy Whobert Whover, Owl Detective written by Jason Gallaher and illustrated by Jess Pauwels, which hits shelves this July and is perfect for primary-grade readers. Whobert, a feathered friend determined to keep his woods safe, is on a mission to find out just what has happened to his friend Perry Possum.
I will be adding Whobert to my collection of books with detective characters to use in an introductory and exploratory Book Pass with readers at the beginning of the year. A Book Pass—akin to a Read Around or Book Flood—is a fun and time-effective way to expose students to many titles at once, encouraging them to notice common elements such as theme, characters, genre, or topic. With Whobert Whover and the other detective books that I have compiled along with the teachers with whom I work will (hopefully) get our readers’ minds thinking about the kind of work a detective does and what that means for them as readers. For example, a detective is always on the lookout for clues, and so are readers! Readers search for clues in the words and pictures that help to shape what they think, know, and do during and beyond a reading experience.
Know Your Readers and Your Book
After the initial detective work is done, close reading can take on many forms within the classroom. An important thing to remember is that so much of close reading is knowing your readers well and knowing your texts well. There are SO many new titles that I already foresee lending themselves to meaningful and engaging close reading experiences with primary-grade readers. Below are a few that I am planning to use with my readers in the fall.
The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow and Steven Salrerno (Illustrator)
This picture book, The Crayon Man, is one of my new favorites. I love the story, the text features, and, of course, the colors! My readers have loved learning the story behind one of their favorite school supplies. In the coming year, the second-grade readers with whom I work will be invited into several reading experiences using this colorful book, including looking closely at their Crayola crayon boxes—examining the text (on the box and on the crayons themselves—to compare and confirm facts from the story as well as to notice any differences or discrepancies from the story.
I Campaigned for Ice Cream: A Boy’s Quest for Ice Cream Trucks by Suzanne Jacobs Lipshaw and Wendy Leach (Illustrator)
Who else is thinking about ice cream non-stop this summer? This new picture book, I Campaigned for Ice Cream, tells the true story of how one kid—Joshua Lipshaw—made a difference in his town by petitioning the local government to overturn a law banning ice cream trucks. In my work, this book will be used as part of a first-grade unit of study focusing on communities and will provide a foundation for readers to begin thinking and wondering about the ways in which they might become change-makers in their own communities.
I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator)
The latest book in the I’m Books series, I’m Worried follows a worried potato as he expresses his fears and concerns to his friends. This expressive picture book provides a great opportunity for students to notice items in the pictures and words as they practice taking a closer look at texts. It would make a great text to explore at the beginning of a new school year, as students navigate the feelings they are bringing to the classroom. I plan on using this book with kindergarten students as a launching point for a broader discussion about feelings and for answering the question “How do you know?”—a stepping stone to finding and using text evidence.
Linus The Little Yellow Pencil by Scott Magoon
In Linus The Little Yellow Pencil, readers find out what happens when a pencil and eraser don’t always get along, and what that means for the art show that is coming up at school. I will be using this sweet picture book in a back-to-school mini-unit with first-grader readers, focusing specifically on the concept of central message. Readers will track their thinking as they listen to the story using the Thinking Trail from Little Readers, Big Thinkers and will then synthesize their thinking to generate ideas about the central message of the story. I am also planning opportunities for students compare the central message in this book to that of other books with a similar premise, like Big Friends by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies, and Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld.
Reading to our students is such a gift, and the books we choose to enjoy and examine with them are a means to new learning, big understanding, and exciting opportunity. These are just a few titles that may help boost the deep reading experiences into which you invite your young readers. Check out Little Readers, Big Thinkers: Teaching Close Reading in the Primary Grades for more close reading lesson ideas and book titles!