Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover

When I taught 3rd grade, I was told that I would have to do an author study on Allen Say. I took one look at the stack of books and did something I always tell my students not to do. I judged the books by their covers. Don't get me wrong -- they have beautiful illustrations (one even won a Caldecott award), but it was immediately obvious to me they were nothing like the kind of books that were flying off the shelf in the library...fantasy fiction, series books, colorful lighthearted books. I reluctantly began my study with my class...

To my surprise, my students were captivated by the people, places and events in these stories --and so was I. But the thing that made me really love these stories was that they turned my class into THINKERS. They are rich with beautiful language, underlying themes and strong emotion. My students felt for these characters and wanted to revisit the stories to make interpretations, study author's craft and learn new vocabulary.

When we finished the author's study I asked my students to write Allen Say a letter telling him what they thought about his books and to ask any questions they may have. I had given this particular assignment in the past, and never really expected to receive a response since I never had from other authors. Several months later, I was amazed to find a letter addressed to Mrs. Holtsman's class from a publisher. It was a letter Allen Say wrote to my class. He thanked them for their letters and proceeded to tell them how busy he had been writing his new book: Kamishibai Man. He signed the letter with his signature and a drawing of himself. That was it...he became my new favorite children's author!

Fast forward five years...I am now the literacy coach for third grade at my school. I introduced the Allen Say author study to my teachers this year. A whole new group of kids is discovering the magic of Allen Say. Recently at our Literary Pumpkin Festival, two of my classes chose to do their pumpkin on Allen Say books. They turned out adorable.
I guess there really is something to the book behind the cover thing...I'll never do that again. In honor of the works of Allen Say, I have recorded a voicethread of my favorite Allen Say story, the one he told my class he was writing, Kamishibai Man. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I'll have to bring your own sweets...


dayle said...

I LOVE this post! Makes me actually want to read every one of his books. I love the voice thread. How great for a child that doesn't have the book or that wants to show it to his family! Wow! dayle

Simon said...

Hey Mel
Good post and what a great voice thread. I hope that your site is not blocked in school. I want to share this with my kids on Monday.

In my school we are so into READ READ READ that we don't get to do an author study, which is sad. I think I might just do one anyway.... you've driven me to rebellion and if anyone asks why. I'll just say, in the true playground chorus... "my friend told me to do it!"

My introduction to Allen Say's work was a book we won in a raffle - Emma's Rug. I LOVED it, as did my daughter. We have not read all his books yet, but will. We recently visited the Eric Carle museum and got to read a genuine Kamishibai story as well as read the Kamishibai Man. Unfortunately I was not able to get to the presentation Allen Say did at a local college a few weeks ago about his experience of living between two cultures.

Isn't it great when an author is responsive? I emailed Robert Munsch this spring, asking if I could take the mp3s he has recorded of his stories and burn them to CD for my ELL kids to take home when they borrow his books from the library as they don't always have someone at home who can read to them in English. I totally expected the response to be no as his site has very clear statements about the recordings being for personal use only, but his email said "SURPRISE! Go ahead!" Of course then we had to go out and buy some more of his (many) books for the library!

Anonymous said...

Not sure, but I think the pronunciation of Kamishibai is kam-EE-she-buy. (Look at the way it's written in the title of the book - you spelled it differently, the way you say it.)

You could be right, because I have never heard anyone else besides me say the word. I made a guess... I am also not sure about the Japanese words for grandma and grandpa.

Thanks for the edits...I have nothing to blame except late night blogging. :)Melanie

I was very happy to find this post. So great to learn about teachers discovering new books and passionately sharing them with their students! Mel- I know you posted this a log time ago, but I just wanted to let you know about a related post I wrote for PaperTigers on Kamishibai, Allen Say and the future of literacy. Thought you and your readers might be interested:

All the best to you and keep up the great teaching/learning!