Friday, January 23, 2015

Cool Kids Books in Kalamazoo by Ann Finkelstein

In November, I braved the snow to attend the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Annual Youth Literature Seminar. This year’s conference started with Ed Spicer, first grade teacher and book reviewer extraordinaire. Ed discussed many of his favorite picture books and explained how to use them to enhance first grade subjects. I particularly liked Ed’s suggestion for using The Numberlys (by William Joyce, illustrated by William Joyce and Christina Ellis) and Triangles (by David Adler, illustrated by Edward Miller) to enhance math education. Similarly, social studies must be a kick when Grandfather Gandhi (by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk), Big Red Lollipop (by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall) and Deep in the Sahara (by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi) are used to show students non-American cultures. Many of us left Ed’s talk wishing he could have been our children’s first grade teacher.

Author-illustrator Todd Parr gave two inspirational talks in which he discussed his professional journey and his books. Todd writes positive, feel-good books that are funny and accessible to children. He encourages kids to be different and strong. Every book has a straightforward message summarized in his ending letter to his readers. For example, in his book It’s Okay to Make Mistakes, Todd writes, “It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does, even grownups! That’s how we learn. The end, Love, Todd” Todd’s illustrations are simple and appealing, and he is proud that young children can imitate his drawings.

Educator Mary Bigler, Ph.D. spoke on raising readers. She reminded us that the most important thing parents and teachers can do to encourage literacy is read to children. She advocates starting at infancy and continuing “until they leave us.” For reluctant readers, Mary suggests joke and riddle books because laughter makes the reading experience non-threatening. She is a master at tongue-twisters and advocates this form of word play for children who are not fond of reading. Mary encouraged us to listen to the rhythm of the writing and to sing the words, if possible. As she says, “If we’re not passionate, the children won’t be.”

Mary also suggested starting a family diary. Each family member is responsible for writing one sentence each day, every day of the year. For very young children, parents can take dictation. She said this shows children that writing is permanent, and in time the family will create an invaluable heirloom.

Mary’s closing comments summarized the meeting. She reminded us children need to see love, kindness and family in the books they read. 

Ann Finkelstein writes, reads and fools around with her camera in Haslett, Michigan. You can find out more about her at Please stop by her blog, Words and Pixels.


  1. Great job Ann! The book references are so helpful and the idea for a family diary is inspirational. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sounds like I missed an inspiring seminar, Ann. Thanks for sharing it with us. I appreciate the book references. Always looking for new books to read. And I, too, love the family diary idea. I'll share it with my daughter, for our grandson, Zach.

  3. Thanks, Ann, for attending this and writing this blog. I've even copied Mary Educator Mary Bigler, Ph.D.'s part to send to my daughter in N Ireland, as their 11 yr. old boy was born with 'oxygen deprivation' and reading is hard for him. These examples are excellent and will help encourage them for books for him.

  4. The seminar was excellent and so is your recap.

  5. Sounds like a great seminar. And awesome book choices. Thanks for sharing them, Ann.

  6. Thanks for the recap! Excellent reminder from Mary Bigler: ..."children need to see love, kindness and family in the books they read."