I was honored to have been sent this book by one of the authors — Maria Dismondy - to review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 27, 2017. I found out about this wonderful activity from PragmaticMom and Valarie Budayr - both amazing lovers of books, and especially multicultural ones, and great bloggers.
THE LITTLE LINEBACKER: A STORY OF DETERMINATION
BY STEPHEN TULLOCH AND MARIA DISMONDY
ILLUSTRATED BY HEATHER HEYWORTH
2016: Cardinal Rule Press
Picture Book Biography
The Little Linebacker, a “picture book [auto]biography of NFL payer Stephen Tulloch”, starts with a burst of energy from the young Stephen who dreams of playing football for the NFL (National Football League). His mother encourages his dreams and takes him to his first little league practice. She also advises patience because “learning something new takes time.”
Stephen encounters a few obstacles along the way, including a low score on a math test, a coach who doesn’t include him in playing that often, and even not being chosen for a team. But he persists for ten years until he reaches his dream and plays for the NFL.
I was frustrated that this story did not go into more detail about Stephen or his mother and their living situation. Where was his father? This information is helpful for children who also don’t have both parents at home. [part of our longing for DIVERSITY in our books includes families in crisis, etc.]
Understandably this book needs to jump ahead without real transition because it is trying to tell a person’s story in a short picture book. What often works best for picture books is to concentrate on a single incident or aspect of the story of a person. Otherwise a chapter book might have been better able to encompass more detail and tell a fuller story.
Stephen’s low grade on a math test isn’t easily explained — and wouldn’t his caring and supportive mother have found him help before this? An older man at his mother’s job does help Stephen which is what he needed in the first place. He learns that “working hard pays off” when his next test back comes back with a better grade.
Generally a book should show rather than tell. The “A few years later” isn’t really necessary. I am glad his best friend John encouraged him not to give up playing football. “Remember sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” - why is this helpful? I personally needed an explanation for this comment.
Stephen ultimately reaches his goal and makes his dreams come true - “He worked hard. He studied hard. He was part of the team. And he never stopped believing in himself.” How did he do this? Because of “the love and support of his mom, Mr. Lotspiech, and friends.”
This is a lovely and inspiring story — but there isn’t enough information here to explain how and why Stephen did so well when most others would have given up.
The illustrations, in my opinion, could have been more differentiating of Stephen as he grew older — he just seems to be a slightly bigger version of the same face but no real physical changes. The illustrations didn’t help to define the passage of time, which they more easily might have done. Picture books generally should be defined by the use of pictures to tell the story — and the text can be at any level. This book is suited for upper elementary though it can be read to much younger children.
For parents and teachers this book is useful for teaching lessons of serving the community, perseverance, and that hard work makes a difference.
Imagining what a child would like to be at any age is important — this book can encourage that exploration.
Activity: Children can draw their dreams, write about them, or find illustrations in other media. I personally love collages - if anyone has magazines that can be cut up I would provide those.
Computer-based images can always be created to show one’s dreams. Make a collage of dreams with these.
Word pictures are also wonderful — Wordle is a simple way to create word clouds as they call them - http://www.wordle.net
or FREE ONLINE WORDCLOUD GENERATOR: http://www.wordclouds.com
There are many more such programs online.
One suggestion: depending on the age of the child, I would not start out the reading of any book with the number of questions that are included at the front of the book. We want children to love reading. We want them to get meaning from reading. But we also don’t want to make the task so didactic that they will be turned off. Generally speaking, a free discussion that allows a child to express whatever s/he thinks about a book is best.
Especially important in these times when economic uncertainty is so much a part of our landscape would be for a teacher or parent to talk about what might make it difficult to reach one’s goals or dreams. This can be discussed with careful reference to the difficult economic times in which we live.
"A picture book is a book, usually a children's book, in which the illustrations are as important as (or even more important than) the words in telling the story. Picture books have traditionally been 32 pages long, although Little Golden Books are 24 pages. In picture books, there are illustrations on every page or on one of every pair of facing pages." http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/childrensbooksglossary/g/picture_book.htm
From HORN BOOK: Definition of a Picture book;
Here is what the Caldecott Terms and Criteria state:
1. A “picture book for children” as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.
2. A “picture book for children” is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.
Pratt Library Defines a Picture Book: “The phrase "picture book" is commonly used to describe a book, most often written for children, in which the content is conveyed through the use of words and pictures in combination or through pictures alone. A picture book differs from an illustrated book in that the pictures it contains form an essential part of the structure of the book. Due to physical factors in the bookbinding process, picture books are conventionally 32 pages long.”
“Picture books are a relatively new form of book, originating in the early twentieth century. Wanda Gag is widely considered to be a pioneer in the development of the picture book form. The formula for illustrated books had been to show text on the left page and pictures on the right page, without combining them. In Millions of Cats, Gag mixed up the order of pictures and text, combined pictures and text, and stretched pictures onto more than one page. Her ideas paved the way for modern authors/illustrators like Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Eric Carle.”
Teaching Tolerance Guide: Let’s Talk!: Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics With Students
This is a general guide for teachers to assess their comfort levels, planning strategies, and other helpful ideas for discussing difficult topics with children. Topics do include race and privilege, ability, disabilities.
A beautiful guide to DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES for teachers and parents: https://www.naeyc.org/dap/10-effective-dap-teaching-strategies
Guest Post on Valarie Budayr's Blog: Why Do Adults Need To Discuss Diverse and Inclusive Books with Children? http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/author/valariebudayr/