vted Reads picture books!


Listeners!  Today I’m joined by Jaida and Emma, two marvelous students from Southern Vermont, and the three of us share our love of picture books. The art, the messages, the emotions, the relatability… the art. So we’re going to be asking you to listen to this episode with both your ears and your eyes — in some capacity.



(Also there are PIES. I should mention the PIES)

I had such a lovely time talking with both Jaida and Emma, and hope this conversation makes you too, think of your favorite picture book, what you got from it, and how it helped shape you as a learner.

One content note: one of the picture books and our discussion around it, deals with animal death. We understand if that’s not a topic everyone’s comfortable with. This is #vted Reads, a podcast by, for, and with Vermont educators.

I’m Jeanie Phillips! Let’s chat.

Jeanie: Thank you so much for joining me Jaida and Emma. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jaida: Hi Jeanie and listeners, I’m Jaida Greeley. And I love picture books and reading.

Emma: Hi! My name is Emma and I love writing and reading. I like to read fantasy, fiction, and romance books.

Jeanie: Three readers talking about books. Nothing could make me happier folks, the three of us having this conversation. Thank you so much. Do you have some books you’d recommend for our listeners of any kind?

Emma: Yes. I would recommend these picture books and then I’ll get into like chapter books. But Journey is a wordless book with pictures, but it has such deep meaning. Part in the Bottle? The Undefeated? I just read American Royals, which is a romance book and Harry Potter.

Jeanie: How about you Jaida, what would you recommend?

Jaida: I think for picture books all Patricia Polacco books are really, really good books for all ages. And a poem book, Woke, is a really strong book about social justice and other books than picture books. I don’t know. I read a lot of different kinds of books? But lately I really like A Good Kind of Trouble, which is not a children’s book. And I read a lot of Percy Jackson. That’s a fantasy Book.

Jeanie: Those are fabulous recommendations.

Jaida: And A Girl at Heart.

Jeanie: A Girl at Heart. Thank you for adding to my summer reads list. I appreciate that.

Well, the three of us chose four picture books that you have been using in your classroom and that you loved. And we’re going to talk about them one by one. This is our first time doing four books in one episode. And it’s our first time talking about picture books. I *love* picture books, so I’m really excited about this episode.

The first one we’re going to discuss is called Something Happened in Our Town, (A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice).

It’s written by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard, with illustration by Jennifer Zivoin. Could you tell me a little bit about what this book is about, Emma?

Something Happened in our Town picture books


Emma: This book is about the aftermath of a Black American who was shot by a white police officer. This story shows harsh reality to two kids’ questions and their fight to be inclusive and aware of their community and their actions.

Jeanie: Thank you for that. I was really intrigued by this book because somebody gets shot, a Black man gets shot by a police officer but that doesn’t happen within the pages of the book. The book happens after the media has covered that. It’s been on TV and radio and the internet. And these kids who — I don’t know, what grade would you think they were, Emma?

Emma: Third.

Jeanie: Yeah, you would say like second, third, or fourth. They’re on the younger side and clearly heard it either on the radio or on TV. Or they heard people talking about it. And they have so many questions. Who do they ask their questions to?

Emma: They ask their parents. We actually read another book and I’m going to — it’s off script — but we read another book and the child did ask their parents, but the parents wouldn’t tell them. The mom was very like, against telling them. And I looked at the back of this book and it said that this book is aimed for kids four to eight.

And I was very surprised because usually books like this with like heavier topics aren’t for the younger kids.

Jeanie: Do you think it’s important that there’s a book out here for talking about things like this that kids might hear about when they’re that young?

Emma: I think it’s important for kids, but I don’t know fourth grade. I think kids, there’s an age — maybe fourth or fifth grade — to start learning about social justice and kind of becoming aware.

Jeanie: Yeah. What do these kids do with those questions though, if they hear about it and they don’t know what to do?

Emma: I think some kids will search for answers with their parents. I don’t know if all kids, maybe. Some will ask their friends or someone they trust.

Jeanie: Someone they trust, you said.

Emma: Like their sibling.

Jeanie: Yeah. So, this book is totally two very different perspectives. One is a young white girl who’s trying to understand, and the other is that of a young Black boy. Why do you think these authors — and there are three authors — why do think they offer both of these perspectives?

Emma: I think the authors did that to show diversity. And it doesn’t matter what your skin color is, there’s still right and wrong. I have to think they did this to show both children have questions but both parents might have different perspectives and different answers.

Jeanie: Do you think the two children in this book experienced this event differently when they heard about it? Maybe it landed in their bodies and their brains differently?

Emma: Yes. I think that the young girl maybe hadn’t ever heard of it. I don’t think both of them had ever heard of something like this before. But I think the young girl was very like, shocked and unaware that this could happen, that a police officer would do this.

And I think the young boy was confused because his dad and his brother mentioned that this could happen to them. I think he was maybe a little scared and I don’t think the young girl kind of thought that this could happen to her.

But I think the young boy really understood like: this could be me one day. And I think that would kind of snap him into reality. Like, this is happening and I need to take action.

Jeanie: Yeah. I really appreciate that answer. Jaida is there anything you want to add to this?

Jaida: I think also it’s like Emma said with the two different perspectives. The boy now that he knows, he lives forever in fear of the police officers walking by. But instead of having to be like, waving at the police officer and say hello, maybe he will think about it more. If I wave my hand will they think that I’m doing something wrong or I’m doing something bad to them?

But then the white girl thinks, oh one of my people did that. Like, another white person did that. Does that mean I will turn out like that because I’m white too?

Because I think yes, Black people do live in fear, but I think white people sometimes could live in fear of themselves. Will I turn out bad like the police officers?

Jeanie: Oh, thank you so much for sharing that. That’s so powerful to think about how the impact is different, but it’s heavy for both. What happened when Ms. Baitz read this book to you all in the classroom?

Emma: We had been working on a social justice unit and we read these books at nap time. Every day we read one book, and we were working on social justice in the classroom.

And after we read a book, Ms. Baitz doesn’t really like tell us like this is how it relates to the community. We have a discussion, and we talk about, you know, this is happening right now, and we talk about what the children’s perspective might be. We talk about really like, what this means today and how this book is important for learning. How we can use this book to kind of grasp a knowledge of community and current events.

Jeanie: And so how did that discussion go? I mean, were people in agreement? Was there any discord or any disagreement? Was it intense? Or was it easy? Did people have lots to say? What happened when you all discussed it?

Emma: I think we were all somewhat in agreement. We all have different things to say about this, and different perspectives. I think there is not one right answer or one view of this book. There can be many, and our class is really good at picking up the theme and the meaning behind things.

So I don’t think anyone really disagreed with people because we’ve been studying this for so long. It’s not like one person said, this doesn’t relate to anything or one person said you know this is unimportant, right. We all agree, you know, this is happening and this a very important subject to focus in on.

Jeanie: I see. Thank you for that Emma. I see Jaida shaking her head yes, that’s true, that’s what happened. Did it inspire y’all to do anything? Did it lead to anything else or is there something you would like to use this book for in the future?

Emma: So, we’ve been doing poetry. And we do poems every Wednesday because we have remote. And usually we write — or I know I usually write — social justice poems. We share our thoughts to this.

And I mean the poems are gorgeous. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this. Like, the We Are poems are posted because everyone has grown so much and we just have so many powerful things to say. Like talking about police officer shootings.

But it’s also important to note that not all police officers are bad, we can’t generalize. We can’t generalize Black people from white people because you can’t generalize a group of people because no one is ever the same.

So I think that like, these books and the realization of our community really leads to our poems. And then we share. We talk about them.

Jeanie: Wow. How do I get invited to a poem circle sharing?

Emma: I’m sure if I ask Ms. Baitz, we’ll Zoom you in and you can listen to all our poems.

Jeanie: I would love that so much!

Jaida: I think it would be very fun because we’ve grown so much in poetry and we share all of our thoughts through this. So, it’s right.

Emma: They’re pretty powerful poems.

Jeanie: You could publish your own volume!

Jaida: At the end of the end of the year we’re having a poetry book, which I’m really excited about.

Jeanie: Wow, I would love to see the connection between the books, see if I can find them. That would be so powerful for me.

One of the things I heard you say, Emma, was that when we make generalizations based on groups of people, those are really stereotypes. You’re saying, right, that’s really dangerous territory.

Emma: Yes. We make stereotypes, and we group people together because that’s what our brain does.

I actually just got a book on stereotypes and it’s about how our brain groups different groups of people together. Our brain does that to kind of make sense of the world around us. If your parents are stereotypical — they stereotype people and they make generalizations and they’re racist? Most likely, you’ll be racist too. So yeah.

Jeanie: You could teach a class on this!

I know we’re all growing up in a racist society, right, and we’ve all internalized that to some degree and in some ways. It’s not necessarily our individual fault that we’ve grown up in a racist society, but it is our duty to sort of uncover that and get underneath of that.

…You’re both smiling at me.

Emma: Jaida wrote a poem about that.

Jaida: I wrote a poem about that! About how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Emma: Yeah. That was one quote that I used. What I usually do in my poems I put like, the one really strong line and then I use that throughout the poem as repetition.

Jaida: And then the ending was like: let your child make their own tree.

Jeanie: Would each of share a poem with me so our listeners and readers can experience you as poets?

Emma: Okay.

Jaida: That would be fun.

Jeanie: So, do you think other teachers should use Something Happened in Our Town in their classrooms? Would you recommend it?

Jaida: Yes, totally. It’s such a powerful piece especially to introduce social injustice to people and to children. Because it’s kind of brought down to a level where I think children can understand it versus it being harsh like, and just raw facts like…

Emma: Like some other books.

Jeanie: Thank you.

Well, we’re going to move onto another book and it’s a book I adore. I mean I love this book with my whole heart. It’s called, We are Water Protectors. It’s written by Carol Lindstrom and it’s Illustrated by Michaela Goade.

And one of the things — I don’t know if you knew this — but one of the things I love about it is that it’s the first book ever to win the Caldecott Medal that was written and illustrated by an Indigenous writer and illustrator team.

We are Water Protectors


Jaida: I was aware that it was the first fully Indigenous-written and illustrative book to win the Caldecott. Ms. Baitz mentioned it when we first read the book and I think it’s absolutely amazing, but I also think that it’s crazy it’s been this long, right? It’s been so long, or this is only the first time, so, I can hope that it’s more to come.

Jeanie: It’s like: what were you waiting for? Right, Jaida?

Jaida: There are so many amazing books that are written by Indigenous people so I think by winning the Caldecott can open more eyes to the wonder of the Indigenous world of books.

Jeanie: So, what did this book mean to you?

Jaida: What this book meant to me is that everyone has an affect on the world good and bad. And not only does your action have an affect but also people.

Jeanie: Let’s stop a minute, Jaida. Let’s stop and just tell people what the story is about so that they know in case they haven’t read it.

Jaida: So, it’s about this one Indigenous girl who, a pipeline gets implanted near the ground where her tribe lives. The pipe leads into the water and so she’s trying to protect the water from the oil in the pipe. I think it refers in the book to like, “black snake”.

Emma: The pipe is so long it leaks into the ground.

Jaida: Yeah. So it gets eventually into the water that she has to protect.

Jeanie: Yeah, it’s actually the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has been in the news a lot, right. And there were a lot of activists trying to fight that piping built for this very reason, right, because it’s going to harm the water. What else is going to be harmed when the water’s gone?

Jaida: Animals.

Emma: A bunch of animals.

Jaida: And in this book, I think the illustrations in this book are absolutely breathtaking. Like one of the pictures in there it was the water that was infected and the fish trying to swim away from it. But the water that was touching the fish, you could see like all of the bones in the fish and then the rest of it was it was like colorful. So, almost like it was like making all the fish, obviously it was making the fish die.

a page from We Are Water Protectors


Jeanie: What I hear you saying is that the story is powerful, but the illustrations give it even more power. It shows the impact, the devastation that comes from this, the “black snake” as the book says, that’s an access pipeline.

The one thing I really appreciated about this book — well many things — is that this young woman, the narrator of the story is quite young, but she has power, right. She’s doing something. She’s taking action, she has an agency. Did you notice that too?

Jaida: Anything an adult can do and more! Because adults they’re more… I think, that the Gen-Z generation, they’ve grown up knowing that they can do everything, but maybe some of our parents or their parents grew up thinking: oh, adults are all superior and I’m inferior to them.

But this girl obviously thinks that she can do anything and everything. But she can!

Jeanie: She has an important role as an activist in her community, right, because she is working with the elders and the people in her community to stand up against the pipeline.

Jaida: Everything, everybody has to come together and be unitized if we want to truly work though something and get it done, get something done.

Jeanie: Did this connect with your learning in some way. Did it show up in your poetry? Or did it connect with something you were doing in the classroom? Did it inspire you?

Jaida: It did really inspire me actually. It showed me that I have an impact on this world, but it also showed me that it doesn’t matter what age I am, it doesn’t matter where I came from, it just matters that I’m doing something.

It matters that I’m doing something about things I think are wrong and not just sitting there and watching it happen. Because the girl in the story, she could have just watched and let everybody else do the work, but she did the work herself, too.

Jeanie: Yeah. The pages that I love the most in this book, there’s I think three pages throughout the book that has similar lines, and they say, “We stand with our songs and our drum. We are still here.” The reason this was important to me is that when I was growing up and I was coming up we talked about Native Americans or Native people, and we portrayed them like they were in the past.

“The Cherokee were…” or “The Lakota were…” like they were past tense. And I think it’s really powerful that this book showed Native people in the present as engaged humans, fighting and advocating for the natural world. Because it contradicts often what we’re taught in school, which is to think about Native people only in history.

And I wondered if that was new for you.

We Are Water Protectors page


Jaida: It was new to me. It showed me that the Native American, or the Indigenous people’s history is still being written. It’s still happening today and they’re still present. And I think it’s still important to keep their history alive, but I think it’s important to also notice what’s happening now. Not only what happened back then. Because they’re still important now. Today.

Jeanie: One of my friends who I’ve had on this podcast with me, is named Judy Dow. And she’s Abenaki.  So she’s an Indigenous person from Vermont. And she is one of the most vocal people I know in terms of the environment, and sustainability and taking care of the natural world in Vermont.

And so, I think it’s also amazing that Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goade are showing us that Native people can lead the way in protecting this particular place but it’s really theirs still. Yeah. You know what else I wanted to do with this book?

Jaida: What?

Jeanie: I wanted to take it to art class and learn, like to try to make some illustrations as beautiful as these are.

Jaida: Yes. I need some art classes from the illustrators.

Jeanie: Yeah.

Jaida: The illustrations though — it is a very powerful book — but the illustrations are the prettiest. Probably my favorite out all of the illustrations of the picture book I’ve read.  Like I was reading this book as we were practicing this with Emma and I kept stopping like every two seconds, I was like: Emma, look at this picture. Like this is so cool. I would put all of these pictures and give it its own art museum.This was one of the pictures I really liked.

<fish photo>

Jeanie: Oh, I know, that’s beautiful; I want that on my wall.

Jaida: And the cool colors. All of the cool colors until you were either talking about a good focal point or the snake. The snake is the only really like, bright hot color thing in the book which shows that it really is damaged to the cool people colors.

Jeanie: Yeah, red. The color of hate, maybe and anger, right? Surrounds the snake every time. So powerful.

The last page also asks us to sign a pledge to be stewards to the earth and water protectors. I also appreciated that and the poem-like nature of it. Would you like to read that last page aloud, Jaida?

Jaida: Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge.

“I will do my best to honor mother earth and all of its living beings including the water and the land. I will always remember to treat the earth as I would like to be treated. I will treat the winged ones, crawling ones, the four legged, the two legged, the plants, trees, rivers, lakes, the earth with kindness and respect. I pledge to make this earth, this world a better place by being a steward of the earth and protector of the water.”

Jeanie: Yeah.

Jaida: I think a good part of all of these picture books is the authors note. The authors notes know and like the end pages are always really, really, powerful in books is like Social Justice and even like books like Kelly books or anything the authors notes was always one of my favorite books.

Jeanie: I love that you’re pointing out for people who are new to using picture book in the middle grades or in high school classroom is pay attention to the those end papers, pay attention to the authors note.

Jaida: There’s a whole note and it’s about what children might be thinking and then how to kind of, if it’s a bad thing or like racist thing, you know, that’s not okay, that’s not how we think and that’s what, not okay at all.

Jeanie: Emma, did you want to add anything about We Are Water Protectors before we start talking about Ida, Always?

Emma: I think Jaida a lot of good points. I am the Water Protectors are really the earth needs protecting, you know, climate change and we are ruining the earth and we need to – we only have one earth, and we need to protect it and make sure that we’re going to live here more years than scientists are thinking we’re going too.

Jaida: Because now or it all disappears.

Jeanie: Thanks for that. So, our next book is really different but it’s also a little heavy.

Jaida: It’s so sad.

Jeanie: Oh, those sad faces you just made. It’s call Ida, Always. It’s by Karen Levis and Charles Santoso. For me this book made me cry, I had a lot of grief but [indiscernible] [00:32:35] grief anyway and so I wondered if you could just summarize what’s happening in this book, Emma?

Emma: Ida, always, is about two bears named Gus and Ida who live in a zoo. They represent the epitome of friendship. One day Ida falls sick, but Gus’ character realization and development help us to understand that our loved one don’t need to be present to be with us. This time period where Gus is alone shows us that Gus will be okay and he will have Ida in his heart always.

Jeanie: I thought of I used be a school Liberian, and I don’t know if Ms. Baitz told you that, but I remember there would be times when something hard would happen [indiscernible] [00:33:16] actually it was down the road from Manchester [indiscernible] [00:33:21]  Elementary and teachers would say, hey do you have any books about death and dying. And I found myself wishing that this had been on the shelf because it’s the kind of book that can help you sort of talk about or deal with grief.

Jaida: Show that other people and even animals can feel the same way that you do. You’re not alone.

Emma: And our loved ones will be with us even after they past.

Jeanie: It’s also about community, right, because Gus doesn’t deal with Ida dying on his own, he gets some help.

Jaida: By the people at the zoo.

Jeanie: And even after Ida died, even people who visit the zoo in the larger community are expecting their sadness.

Jaida: Well, there was a newspaper article called, Goodbye Ida.

Jeanie: Well, do you see any connections from this book to your sense of community in Ludlow [phonetics] [00:34:19].

Jaida: I feel like this should a good reminder for communities because Gus’ character is always there for Ida and helps her when she’s on her deathbed. So, communities, I feel like if communities aren’t doing this should really learn from this book and stick by their neighbors, you know, stick with them. And if they’re in a rough time, you know, help them.

Jeanie: You guys thin Vermonters are good at that? You think we’re good at helping each other out supporting the community?

Emma: From the people that I’ve met honestly like I moved here because of COVID there’s not many people that I met. But the people have met like this school and the other people are so nice and giving. Jaida. [Laughter]  Best friend, okay. [Laughter] Yeah just like the first day of school I remember this distinctly. Someone came up to me from my class and goes do you want to be friends. And then like I just like I met Jaida and we’re just.

Jaida: It wasn’t me. I wasn’t excited that you moved here. That’s a fun fact I don’t want any more kids here. But now I hang out with her all the time.

Emma: I’m glad she does.

Jeanie: I love the honesty here and also that you two are a little like Ida and Gus, right. You’re like buddies.

Emma: Not one of us is going to die soon.

Jeanie: But not that part but you’re good friends and that I bet I can imagine you’re just like Gus comes out of his cave and go looking for Ida. One of you probably show up at school and look for each other, no.

Jaida: I go up to school early because of my stepmom she gets here, she’s a teacher, no, well, she like para thing, so, she works here. So, I get here early and want to say, I wonder when Emma’s going to come.

Jeanie: So, I didn’t mean to, neither of you are sick. We’re good, all healthy and good.

Jaida: Yeah.

Jeanie: The authors note in this book tells us a little more about the story. Like we said earlier the importance of reading author’s note. Do you want to share what the authors said?

Jaida Yes. I’ll read it and should I share my thoughts on it?

Jeanie: Yeah. Please.

Jaida: Ida, Always, is an exquisitely told story of two best friends inspired by a real bear friendship and gentle moving needed reminder that love ones lost will stay in hearts always.  So, this is an incredible story of friendship and the realization that this is true shocks me. It makes me wish I was there to witness the two bears because even just reading this it shows me how strong their friendship was, sadly past tense. I would love to look for more stories like this one because it’s a truly heartwarming tale.

Jeanie: I really loved that the author had found this story in the newspaper and decided to write a fictional version of it, and it made me think like stories are all around us. Just like you all are finding stories and turning them into poems.

Emma: Yes. There’re these stories, so, I lived in New York City and my parents were at like work buildings when 9/11 hit and they could see like smoke and fire and like smoke rising up from the Twin Towers. And there’s these stories of people who slept in late because of the game or took their children to school and didn’t get to work that day on 9/11. And it’s just heartwarming to like to hear that. Like, you know, these people could have died but instead they’re alive.

Jeanie: Yeah. Have you done any story finding? Have you noticed any stories you think that would make a great picture book?

Jaida: I don’t think we have.

Jeanie: Not yet.

Jaida. Not yet. Not yet. Yet is the important word. When we find one then we’re going to write something.

Jeanie: How do you think your teacher can connects this book to your learning or how did you all as students do that?

Jaida: So, we had a book discussion on this and we kind of talked about our literary skills and just skills and kind of, hold on.

Jeanie: Do you want me to ask the question again?

Jaida: Yes, sure.

Jeanie: How did Ms. Baitz connect Ida, Always or how did you as students connect it to your learning?

Jaida: Well, I think it’s very important for kids to really learn, you know, find that person that’s going to be with them, who’s going to be with you to the end; who’s going to be with you always in Ida, Always, who’s going to be with you and who’s going to take of you and who, you know, there’s an important part like sometimes Gus needs time alone, and sometimes Ida does too. But at the end of the day, they’ll always come back to each other. So, I think life is messy, but I think we can connect this like find your forever person. Like surround yourself with good people and, you know…

Emma: Who truly care for you and truly want to be around. There are some people who will hang out with you…To use you.

Jaida: …to use you or just to have you as company when their friend is gone, when their true person is gone.

Emma: Yeah.

Jeanie: It feels to me that there’s a theme here about being a good relationship. Like what you said about Gus and Ida needing time away sometimes, and Gus not needing to feel guilty because Ida’s sick but just being there for her it’s about how do we have a good relationship and take care of each other in that give and take, right. And similarly, we’re water protectors it’s about being in good relationship with the earth, right, like taking care of the earth because it takes care of you. And even something happened in our town has something about relationships, right. And like who do we ask when things are confusing and how do we understand our impact on the world.

Jaida: And they did understand it and at in the end they included the little boy because they knew, because people were excluding him and they kind of were like this is not right.

Jeanie: I forgot about that part of the book. We’re jumping back to the first book we discussed but you’re right. You can learn something about how to have better relationships and be better in community that they, I might not give it away.  Well, we won’t spoil the ending. Okay. I have one more questions Ida, Always. Did Ms. Baitz cry when she read it to you?

Jaida: I don’t think she did, no. I did, definitely cried. Yeah, I did cry because I’m a very emotional person and I read a lot of books and I read a lot of books for and I’ve cried. And so, I just cried when I books but this book definitely just hit a spark. Because I feel like it’s a good reminder like someone dies and I feel like I almost, I try to do this when people die. Like I try and remember that they’ll be in your heart. But sometimes it’s hard. And so, this book is a real like they’re going to be with you forever and you have to savor the time that they’ll be with you instead of moping around and being sad. You have to also remember them in a good way.

Emma: It also shows that it’s okay to grieve. What’s his name?

Jaida: Gus.

Emma: Gus he did grieve for Ida when she was gone, he was sad.

Jaida: But not forever.

Emma: …but not forever. He was still happy and remembering the days that she was there.

Jaida: He just savor it her favorite yellow bow.

Emma: He probably remembered that she would want him to be happy. She would want him to play with the yellow bow, that was her favorite to keep her memory alive but also to still have fun they used to have together.

Jeanie: I cried when I read that book. And if I had read it aloud to you, I would have cried, and that would be okay.

Jaida: It’s okay to cry. Crying is okay.

Jeanie: We’re going to move to laughter though?

Jaida: Honestly, it’s kind of good that you put Ida, Always then Billy’s Booger so we can get like from the deep dark stuff in there and then kind of make it a little bit lighter.

Jeanie: Okay, yeah, exactly. I don’t know that I planned it that way but I’m glad you see it that way. Tell me a little bit about Billy’s Booger: a Memoir Sorta, by William Joyce and his younger self. And maybe you want to start by saying why do you think the author included his younger self in his “by”?

Billy's Booger


Emma: I think by the author’s younger self he can show the more raw emotion that he felt when he was younger. And it shows that over time, things can change. Like now he’s older he realizes that: oh yes, it’s okay not always to win. Even if something like in Billy’s Booger when people are like: “Oh yeah, this book is awesome, I can believe how he’s going to win!”

Even though that’s okay, you know, even if people don’t.

Jeanie: I think you’re absolutely right. And I think there’s also — by the way this book has the best end papers.

Emma: Yes, the end papers that gave the principle, I think they were.

Billy's Booger

Jeanie: There’s also a book within this book. And so, the outside book might be written William Joyce, but then the inside book is written by Billy.

Emma: The inside book is a good book I’ll say. And it’s very entertaining.

Jaida: There’s this thing that’s called PIES, and it’s like it’s either your book is here to Persuade and Inform and Entertain, and then Sell.  So, I think this book was mostly to entertain but it also was to inform you that it’s okay to lose.

Emma: And to persuade you to be creative. In each book there’s a little bit of each. But I think, yeah, this book was really, really good, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a good book that has still has a good message but it’s also a good book that you could just read without having to go too deep into it.

Jeanie: Yeah. Because William Joyce or Billy, in the book he’s a kid and he loves comic books and he’s very, very imaginative; like imagination is everything for him. But he does not do so well in school, right. How does his principal refer to him?

Jaida: His most challenging kid, I think.

Jeanie: His most challenging student! Which I think Billy takes a complement. I’m not sure the principal meant it as a compliment.

Emma: Nope. And at the end of the book, it’s says like good job or sends a note home and it’s like “Billy, you’re still my most challenging student,” because he knows Billy takes that as a complement.

Jeanie: So, poor Billy’s parents, and sister they’re always hearing about how Billy’s not good at school, he does his art on his math homework. I have known students like Billy. Have you ever had a classmate like Billy?

Emma: Yes, I’ll say.

Jeanie: Thank you for that.

Jaida: I think I probably have, yeah.

Jeanie: I’ve known students like Billy a lot. He doesn’t quite like to follow all the rules necessarily. He doesn’t do the work the way the teacher necessarily wants him to. He’s what I would call a nice but not compliant student. But I think compliance is a little overrated.

And so, Billy doesn’t play by rules.

But he’s doing all this creative thinking. And it reminded me I know that you all in your classroom do something called the Essential Skills and Disposition. (Out in the Vermont world we might call these transferable skills). And there are four of them. Do you want to name the four Essential Skills and Disposition?

Jaida: Creativity, collaboration, communication, and self-direction.

Jeanie: How do you use those in your classroom?

Jaida: So, we have these things call PLPs, Person Life Learning Plan. And each of those have a different page. Each one of our work goes into each of those categories, here to the communication, here to the collaboration or self-direction. And so we use several skills and dispositions every day, whether we notice it. You use it no matter if you notice or not.

Emma: So, if we do a project, we would take a picture and put it in our PLPs. Like, let’s say we did one, so we might put it in communication because we communicated or we could put it in collaboration or self-direction or creativity. It fits everything.

Jeanie: Right. Do you have to explain why?

Emma: Yes.

Jeanie: And what’s that process like? How do you do that?

Emma: So, you can either write down or video yourself talking about how it fits into it. So, I could be, say we did a project and I put it in creativity and say I put this project in creativity because blah, blah, blah blah, or because we had to be very creative or because we had very self-directed or whatever.

Jeanie: So, you do a little reflection?

Emma: Yeah.

Jeanie: So, tell me this — we’re going to get back to Billy’s Booger in a minute, I promise. But if you were to reflect on doing this vted Reads podcast recording with me, what essential skill and disposition would you put it in?

Emma: Probably communication, because we’re communicating a lot. But I think I could put it in self-direction because we had to write all the questions and answer them all by ourselves. And though Ms. Baitz likes to help us with it a little bit with like if that would make sense or not to say and then it would not like [indiscernible] [00:50:29] on or whatever. But this could also go in collaboration because we’re doing it with you, which has been a pleasure.

Jeanie: Thank you, that’s really helpful. So, did this book, when you were reading this book did the essential skills or disposition come to mind for you?

Jaida: Yes, they did. A couple that came to mind was creativity because Billy makes the book with all of his creativity. And he also uses self-direction because he to do it all by himself with no guidance. And he communicated his story to other people.

Jeanie: Wow, you’re right! He nailed three of them for sure. He went to the library to self-direct, he went to the library and checked out all the books he could on like aliens and mucus, right? And brought them home…

Emma: Meteorites. All this stuff.

Jeanie. Yeah. He drafted this beautiful picture book with illustrations, very creative, creative use of language.  And then, you’re right, it’s also about communication with others through his writing and his images.

I have to say that the page that caught me most like — I didn’t laugh at? Was the page where it leaves out the grading method. And here’s what it says. It says:

Book contest! The books will be judged in these categories: neatness, 10 possible points; spelling, 10 possible points; vocabulary, 10 possible points; punctuation, 10 possible points; grammar, 10 possible points”

and then finally at the bottom:

“Imagination, 10 possible points.”

Do you feel like that’s a fair grading scale for a project like this?

Jaida: No, I don’t. I think if I did it I definitely would do it differently. I would [award] more for imagination because they’re only in fourth grade, so how much are the going to know about grammar?

And the project it was made for Billy.

The librarian made the contest because they needed something for Billy to get his mind off of, or to fuel all of this creativity and imagination. So, why have imagination if you’re all the way down at the bottom as your least priority. If they prioritized the imagination a little bit more…

Emma: Maybe 20 points.

Jaida: …right like maybe 20 points that would have been more fitting for this book project.

Jeanie: I know a lot of writers, I talk to a lot of writers. And the hardest part about writing is coming up with the idea and following it through and coming up with a story. Not the grammar. And the spelling, right? Like, that’s why we have editors! That’s why you send your book and get an editor to help you with it!

And in many ways focusing on that limits your creativity, your imagination, your capacity to create something worthwhile and powerful for the world.

So, I guess I just sort of felt like: wait, what are we hoping our young people do or become if all we want is for them to be neat and tidy and good spellers?

Jaida: I think everybody needs to be a little bit messy. Like because… life, it isn’t perfect. It isn’t all neat and perfect spelling and perfect grammar and punctuation; that’s not how life is. It’s messy and crazy and sometime even Billy can’t keep up with something.

Jeanie: Yeah.

Jaida: I think even a lot of the other kids maybe, maybe not just Billy, but have had more fun and more of an opportunity to win if like, imagination and creativity were a part of the list.

Emma: Very important, very important.

Jaida: I do believe sometimes, sometimes; depends on what you’re doing, creativity and imagination is more important than the grammar and the spelling.

Jeanie: It’s not that we shouldn’t learn those things, they just should be the only things we learn in school.

Emma: You should learn those valid punctuation and the spelling because if you’re doing like writing something for like a college application you do want to spell like wrong on one those applications, right. Those are essentials in life. You need to know how to spell, you need to know punctuate stuff…

Jaida: But not in fourth grade.

Emma: Right. But you also need to know how to be creative. As I said like with the college stuff, to be able to get into college, you have to be different.

If we’re all neat and punctuated and great at spelling and so good at punctuation, then what makes us different.

Jeanie: Can I tell you a secret. I used to win spelling bees when I was your age. And now that we have spell check and auto correct,

Jaida: I rely on it too much.

Jeanie: I’m a terrible speller now. I used to be such a good speller. But my computer fixes things for me and it makes me wonder why did I spend all that time learning how to spell words. [Laughter] Was that really the best use of my time?

Meanwhile just writing can get really hard for me because I feel like my grammar has to be perfect and I have to use the right words, but I can’t even formulate these important thoughts sometimes because I get hung up on grammar and vocabulary and spelling. Not neatness so much.

But these other things get in the way and so I wish I had Billy’s capacity to just like think big thoughts and put them down on paper.

Emma: I load everything onto a page. The creativity and imagination are really half of the equation to writing.

Jeanie: Thank you so much for that. So, the only thing I really worry about — I mean, I laughed so hard reading this book and kind of worried about Billy.

I think he was a little oblivious to the ways of which school just wasn’t a good fit him all the time and I thought: what could it be like? Could we use our imaginations to create a school where Billy felt more included and valued and celebrated for his work? Not just from his peers but from his teachers too, his principal.

Emma: Yes.

Jeanie: What would you change about school to make it, so it included all sorts of people, especially people like Billy?

Jaida: I would create like a room, almost — or like multiple rooms, so it’s not confined to one space. But multiple rooms where the kid that needs a break or something that’s getting too tough for them, they can go in there and express their creativity and their view.

I love writing on whiteboards. I don’t know, it sounds like a weird thing. But I’d put like a whiteboard, and the chalkboards on the wall and put, you know, like canvases on the wall. I think that could really cool. Like, putting a bunch of whiteboards and different drawing things that students would draw on all around the room.

And then when somebody needs to go in there, they can draw on the walls and that’s how they get everything in their brain out everywhere.

Jeanie: I have a whiteboard in my office right here even though this is my home office. And I bought an enormous whiteboard you can’t see it right now. I use it for just that purpose! When my brain is too full, I put everything on the whiteboard, whether it’s a to-do list, or ideas, or graphic organizers from my ideas to put them in order in some ways. So I love that suggestion.

I’m going to push back on one thing though. What if it was actually in the classroom and not a separate room? Like, “Go into that side of the classroom draw out your thoughts.”

Jaida: That’s the only reason I had said out in a different room because I know some people’s creativity can get distracting for others. Like, when maybe Billy is doing that on the other side of the room and everybody’s heads are turned to Billy because his creative is amazing.

Jeanie: Like staring at him.

Jaida: Or maybe he like, talks.

Emma: That could be distracting to other kids.

Jaida: Or if he wants privacy.

Emma: Yeah, if they want privacy or anything. But I do like the idea or even just having like a little whiteboard on your desk over here. And anytime he need to do something little with your hands even.

Like right now I’m like playing with my fingers because you know it helps me focus. So, sometimes it helps. Your drawing helps you pay attention to class, right. That might help.

Jeanie: Like a fidget spinner! Is there ever something you wish you could change about school to make it feel like more welcoming for you? I mean, I know you have an awesome teacher, but is there ever like… I just wish this one thing?

Jaida:  I feel like it’s similar to what I just said before. Like sometimes I’ll draw on a whiteboard because I’ll like be playing with fingers or like picking my nails or whatever. Then Ms. Baitz will say like, don’t do that, stop. But then it’s hard to focus because now I’m not trying to do that thing.

All of my attention is on not trying to like, doodle or do something that will help me focus. But it could be seen as something that could help me not focus, like it’s different for each kid.

Jeanie: Thank you.  How about you, Emma?

Emma: I agree. I feel like sometimes when you’re antsy and then sometimes the teacher might be like: stop moving! Like, “Sit still!” You know, that could be difficult for a student. Or I really like this Smartboard that the class has, and I feel if we could use them like that’ll be really fun.

Jaida: I love the Smartboards. Really cool.

Emma: I want to get one for my room because I love them so much. We get to go up there during math and write 17 on the board.

Jaida: Right. But I just feel like I have all the power when I have one of those whiteboard markers, or the smartboard markers in my hand. Because I could do whatever I want. Because Ms. Baitz is always like, okay, you want to help, then write this on the board. And then everyone’s hands go up immediately.

But then she asks us to like, to explain something and everyone’s like, no, I don’t want to. [Laughter]  I’m too cool for school, right. But if it’s everyone’s turn to go on the whiteboard, everyone’s hand up.

Emma: Me. That could be an actually good teaching strategy. This is a tip for teachers: if they have a whiteboard and if you want your students to be more involved just be like, “Okay, who wants to write on the smartboard?”

Jeanie: More smartboards in school! I got a whiteboard, too. I can totally feel that. And the sense of power you get just like all that color and.

Emma: The teacher normally does it so fell like the big man once you get up. You feel like a big boss when you get up there.

Jeanie: I have two more questions for you. I guess, what I’m going to do is” why should teachers use picture books with middle school kids? Why use picture books when you know, you all can clearly read chapter books?

Emma: Okay. So, to find [indiscernible] [01:03:58] is a really important thing but also for skills…

Jeanie: Wait, wait, wait. Slow down Emma. Are you saying, because I’m so excited about what you’re saying? Are you saying like one of the skills you have to learn is how to figure out what the theme of text is?

Emma: Yes. But other skills are a lot of textbooks and I also attach poems. Since they’re so short you be concise. You have to use language. You have to use speakative language and themes to kind of like bring everything together like in a kind of short way. A lot of connecting to the real world.

Picture books, I feel like for older kids, like, meant for older kids, are specifically positioned so that they can kind of maybe introduce climate change or social justice to kids in a kind of way it’s not so harsh.

You can teach skills that are in picture books, and you can show children that this is going on in the world, this must be brought to everyone’s attention, and there’s things you can do about it.

Like we just finished a unit on child labor or we’re now starting a unit on world issues and we’re talking about, you know, a hamburger. All these different things, all these different places they had to travel before it gets into your mouth. And think about how many hamburgers you had in your life.

Or Ms. Baitz, for like popcorn?

Ms Baitz had a bowl and she had plain popcorn and she was showing us how the impact, environmental impact.

Jeanie: Your footprint.

Emma: Yeah, the footprint of each like. different country. So, we have a place in Africa, and she poured a little in so like the popcorn represented the amount of…

Jeanie: Impact you had on the world.

Emma: Yeah.

Jaida: And then the United States was five times more.

Jeanie: So, that’s our impact on the carbon footprint. Aw. Now I get it, thank you.

Emma: It was a very cool exercise.

Jeanie: So, picture books, what I hear you saying — I’m going to just summarize — is that they both introduced and helped practice skills. And it’s like a compact format.

Emma: Yeah, it’s not a chapter book. You don’t have 200 pages to explain your thesis or your theme. You have to do it in pages.

Jeanie: What would you add to why picture books for middle school students?

Jaida: Yeah, I think picture books are sometimes a little more powerful than the longer books because you have to be quick and concise and get your point across faster.

Because with longer books, they drag on and on and on because they have to be a certain amount of pages to be considered a chapter book and actually just go on and on and on and on. But with the picture books, it gets to the point fast, but it also is really deep.

And with picture books you can use more figurative language without feeling like you’re just compacting upon a bunch into each chapter. So, I think with the chapter books it’s takes more like a long like elongated, I don’t know. So, it’s harder and it like shatters your mind almost. Because with picture books they’re short so I feel like it sticks in mind better.

Emma: You almost miss the theme sometimes because it’s like so dragged on. And I feel like sometimes there’s a little fluff in there. It’s like what’s the main point of this like why are we reading this, what’s the point?

Jeanie: You got the readers. So, I’ve been a librarian at a K-6 school and when I pull picture books out with six, seventh, eighth graders there’s groans. “We’re too old for that!” What do you say to kids who think they’re too hold for picture books or even adults who think they’re too old for picture books?

Jaida: No, you’re never too old for picture books, children. You can look way deeper into picture books and find amazing themes and connections to the real world that you might not see in long books because you’re too focused on reading them or being like, finished.

Emma: Like, pictures have a good message in a short amount of words so you don’t have to read a hundred page book to get the same information or message that you need to get in a picture book.

There are funny kind of picture books like Billy Booger but there’s also picture books like we have the Water Protectors, or this is our town that give you more information than you would expect them to. You can pick up a picture book because most people think they’re for kids, so they think they’re all fun and games.

Jaida: Or the books we read in libraries sometimes. Sometimes those books look like they’re just going to be light because they’re picture books. They’re actually really heavy and deep and you have to think about them longer than you think you would have to. Like there’s this book called Witch and it uses personification to show the refugees journey and it just took a long time.

Emma: Or this book, Journey. You had to read it like three times to actually get to the main point with them Witch book.

Jaida: Yeah, I read it three times.

Emma: Journey has no words whatsoever but has one of like such a deep theme and you have to really look for it, like it’s very difficult to see. There’re no words at all.

Jeanie: Emma and Jaida, I cannot thank you enough for spending an hour taking about picture books with me! I learned so much from you and I’m so thankful for this chance to peer a little bit into your classroom to hear about these books and your perspectives on them and your perspectives on reading in picture books in general. Thank you so much.

Emma: Thank you for having us.

Jaida: Yeah.

Emma: I had a blast.

Jaida: It was very fun to share our perspectives on this.

Emma: We can talk about picture books for hours and hours more.

Jeanie: Let’s do it again sometime. And I can’t wait to hear about this showing up on your PLPs!

Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

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