Perfect Picture Book for Middle School

One of the perks of being a librarian is to attend events in which the newest picture books are introduced to the world. I recently spent a day attending the SLJ Picture Book Palooza event of the year. This is an online event in which librarians and teachers are acquainted with the authors and illustrators of these lovely gems entering the world for the first time.  One gem that I did find and want to share is The Station Cat, a perfect picture book for middle school.

SLJ Picture Book Palooza

After attending each year, I chuckle when I hear someone say picture books are only for very young children. To me, it’s like someone strolling past a bookstore saying there’s nothing in there but a bunch of old books. Ahh. If they could only perceive the magical worlds they just paced past that both young and old would enjoy. 

The Creation of a Perfect Picture Book

Attendees are able to listen to how books are created through the minds of the authors. I loved each moment. One particular moment was when a distinguished author said while she was writing a biography, she kept hearing a voice. She said the voice said many times, “I didn’t talk that way.” As the voice got louder and louder in her mind, she did more research. It was then she realized that the person’s “at home” voice was very different than the one the public knew. To me, this was incredible. It was also a good lesson on how important “voice” is in our writing. 

The Perfect Picture Book Must Include Illustrations

Another aspect of the event that I loved was listening to and watching the illustrators. I perceive illustrators as just as important as authors. Many times, the illustrator seems to take a back seat to the writing of a book. 

However, I feel if we could place more emphasis on the illustrations, it would pull in the reluctant readers that we seem to lose. This is especially true when we introduce chapter books and novels to our students. 

Visual-Spatial Learners

In addition, illustrations draw in the interest of the artistic students. In the publishing world, there is a little secret. Did you know that 60% of the story is only told through words, and that the other 40% is told through the illustrations? For example, the author shouldn’t write “The sky was gloomy when the child entered the beautiful garden.” The job of expressing the gloomy sky and the beauty of the garden is placed on the illustrator, not the author. 

Magical Creation of Flowing Words

I will always say over and over again, picture books, or storybooks as I call them, are not only for the ones who are just beginning to read, but for all who love a good story, no matter the age. It’s for all who want to fall into another world and stop time until the magical creation of flowing words slowly comes to an end.

Storybooks to me are like short movies. They gently pull you in at the beginning, holding your emotions as they rise and fall, all the while carrying you tenderly to the end. It’s at this point in which you feel like you will never be the same person you were before you opened those well-written illustrated pages. 

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The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, does just this. I was introduced to this and many other picture books this year. 

The Station Cat is a story that begins its journey in a world full of grayness, void of any colors or joy at a busy, lonely train station. As the story progresses, we are introduced to a colorful kitten, a lonely, starving, little lady that no one pays any mind to. However, as time drifts past, one by one, slowly, ever so slowly, the sad passengers begin to notice her. As they do and begin to show her empathy, they realize how much this one little kitten changes them and opens their life up to a more colorful world.

Publisher’s Synopsis of The Station Cat:

A stunning picture book about the power of hope.

A lonely little kitten wanders into a dull, gray station, full of dull, gray people. Her colorful fur and bright green eyes bring warmth and life to this weary place, and soon people begin to notice the kitten. As she learns about the different travelers and their struggles from loss and loneliness, the little kitten wants to help fill their world with hope and color, too. 

In this timely and important book, author and illustrator Stephen Hogtun shows young readers the pride and sense of purpose that can come from helping others.

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, is the perfect book to bring the beauty and hope of a well-written story into your classroom. Full of beautifully written similes and metaphors, Hogtun’s writing takes the reader through a delightful journey. Warning: have your tissues nearby for the ending. Better yet, watch the faces of your students when they reach that final destination. Believe me, they will be given the priceless gift of empathy for others and how this empathy can truly make the world around them a more colorful place. 

Please enjoy the reading of this wonderful book by the author himself. A true gift.

The Art of Illustrating a Picture Book

One thing my daughter, who is a teacher as well, emphasizes is that not all children have the same interest. This is so true. For this reason, I pay just as much attention to the beautifully crafted illustrations for the budding artist in the class. Most of the time, if I have a reluctant reader, I go the other direction, and introduce them to the beauty of the paintings, the use of color, the light strokes, the heavy emphasis of the paint brush here and there. This opens up worlds of art for them, thus bringing them into the world of books too.

Colors Are Extremely Important

In the story, The Station Cat, perfect picture book for middle school, not only does Hogtun write the words, he brings those words to life through his beautiful illustrations. This is particularly true in the area of color. In the beginning, the young kitten is the only one full of color, or as we may imagine, full of hopes and dreams. Everyone else is dull, void of color, and life. As the story progresses, things begin to change. Color begins to flow through to the lonely passengers drifting by. 

This is one of those beautifully constructed books in which we could easily take away the words to only imagine the story through its illustrations. For the reluctant readers, placing emphasis on the illustrations will open up worlds for them as well. 

As a librarian, there are many joys with my job. I love being the first to view new books as they begin their journey. For I know the next ones to view them will be through the hands of my students. I love the classics. However, I put just as much, if not more emphasis on the newer books emerging from the presses. I know The Station Cat will be much loved along its journey. 

Conclusion 

If you ever get a chance to virtually attend next year’s SLJ Palooza of Picture Books, please do. It will open your heart to the world of picture books. Furthermore, t will also open up the possibilities of what you can do with them in middle school. Please do not let the age limits on these books stop you. I did check the age limit for The Station Cat. They recommended eight for the oldest reader. I dare to disagree. In my tender older age, I enjoyed every moment. I can only imagine the lessons I can create from its pages. Please consider attending next year’s event and let this wonderful world of perfect picture books open up for you as well. 

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If you would like to learn more about reading picture books in middle school, please visit our other blog post…

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

5 Things I Wished My Teacher Knew, Signed Your Librarian

To all the heavy burdened classroom teachers out there, as school librarians, we wish you knew more about us. Actually, there are five things all school librarians wished you knew, so that we could take some of those heavy burdens off of you.

Yes, you see us all the time. We sit in on meetings with you. We smile at you as you pass by in the hall. We see you in the parking lot lugging all those books and papers home. Some of us have even been classroom teachers before, so we understand what’s on your plates. I want to share five things librarians want classroom teachers to know in hopes to help ease your workload.

First: We Want to Help You

First on the list is that we are here to help you! I know that at times we appear to be so busy that we seem unapproachable. However, we are definitely here for you. A lot of extra duties are placed on specials teachers, so we may appear harried. If this is the case, please stop by and ask what is the best way to communicate with us. We are waiting in the wings and will be so glad to pitch in and help you with your needs. For example, with me, it could be a quick meeting in the hall or through email.

During a normal school year, pre-Covid, I had many classes back-to-back in my library that it seemed no one could ever find a moment to talk with me. However, when I did get a moment to sit, like at lunch, I was able to scan my emails to see what I could do for my classroom teachers, like pull that list of library books you may need, or help find that book that you just can’t remember. It had a bluish cover with a young girl sailing on a huge ship, something about traveling home in the 1800s? My immediate response, “Oh, yes, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.”

Believe me, we love to help you. Our time is crunched, but we would love for you to learn our best method of communication and work with us in this manner. Definitely find out the best way to reach us and go from there. 

Second: Help With Technology

The second thing that we would love for you to know is that we are here to help you with so many things happening in your classroom. Are you thinking about building a classroom library? Please ask us for our assistance. We love stuff like this and have so many resources at our fingertips that would easily blow you away. What about technology?

Did you know, as a librarian, we are always learning about new ways and methods to implement instructional technology in the classroom and library? Technology seems like it has been thrusted at everyone suddenly. However, most librarians have been waiting in the shadows for years. We thrive on technology. You do know that we did throw out that card catalog and replaced it with technology years ago. So, please stop by and chit-chat with us or better yet, email us about how we can help you with any remote or technology issues you may have. Plus, if we don’t have the answer, then we will research until we do.

Third: Let’s Research That Topic

Did I just mention research? This takes us to the third thing that we would love for you to know. Research is our middle name. Well, no, but it would be cool if it were. Speaking of research, we would love to help you in this area. However, I do have a huge request. Let us help you implement your research in the beginning stages of lesson planning. One thing all librarians would love for you to know is that we love to work with you on this endeavor. However, please let us help in the beginning when we can assist you in the creation of that list of books or topics or the best databases for your research area. 

Sometimes we receive a list of books or topics from students wandering our shelves only to tell them we don’t have those books. So, let us help you in the beginning planning stages and throughout until your students are holding that finished product. You will be amazed at how well we can collaborate together.

Fourth: Help with Read Alouds in the Classroom

This brings us to the fourth thing we would love for you to know. We want you to know about our love of storytelling. Most likely one of the reasons we became librarians is because of our love of books and of a great story. Most librarians had to take a graduate course or two or even more on how to create and present stories to children. With this, we would love to give you tips if you feel you are struggling in this area. Or you may just love for us to find you some books that would make awesome read alouds for your students in the classroom. No matter what you would like, we are here to help and would so love to guide you to these types of stories.

Fifth: We All Dislike the “Shhh” Stereotype

Now, we arrive at the fifth thing. Believe it or not, we loathe the “shhh” stereotype. Yes, we do. I cringe every time I see a picture of the rigid librarian “shhhing” a child for making a small sound. Quite the opposite is true. I like my library full of noise. Students busy discussing their favorite stories or working together to create the next greatest book whether it is a non-fiction research endeavor or the next best fairy tale. The only person I do want to “shhh” is anyone who says the library should be a quiet place.

Conclusion

So, the next time you pass me in the hall or the parking lot, remember that your school librarian is here to help you. No, we can’t cancel your next observation. However, we can help you create a literacy-filled classroom full of research and story creation methods that will blow the mind of your administration. Just ask us. We are waiting for you.