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Recapping the SLJ Leadership Summit 2017 October 16, 2017

by Patricia Stockland, Publisher at Cantata Learning


A number of you may have had the opportunity to attend an SLJ Leadership Summit at some point. This month, Cantata Learning had its first chance to actively participate in the event. And what an event it was: inspiring, engaging, thought-provoking, and—hopefully—action-invoking.



On an individual level, this was not my first time at the event. But once again it worked its magic in the way that a small, intensive workshop does when well executed. Like many in attendance and many who participated remotely through social media, we left reinvigorated by our mission to make learning and reading fun, engaging, inclusive, and important.


Yes, important. The Summit’s theme this year was “Confronting Our Literacy Crisis.” Literacy is important to all of us—as a community, as a society, as a strong and functioning humanity. Yet, often when we talk amongst our industry selves about literacy, whether it be librarian to librarian, teacher to teacher, publisher to publisher, or anywhere across that mix, we’re talking perfunctorily: topics, fluency, reading levels. We’re talking about literacy as the “thing” rather than the spirit and connectivity of what it truly means to be literate—and why that literacy matters.



True literacy means so much more than being able to read. It can and should mean wanting to read, thinking about what’s been read, participating in a larger conversation around the thoughts that reading provokes—and so much more. A literate society, with critical thinking skills, research skills, analytical skills, is a civil society. It is at the heart of who we strive to be as a community. A literate society is equipped to solve problems, address issues, and build bright futures.


Collectively as an industry, we have a lot of work to do. (The other blessing and curse of immersing yourself in an SLJ Summit can be the excitement and overwhelm in all we can do afterward.) Libraries need our advocacy; librarians needs our support; kids need these skills, both the perfunctory and the inspired. At Cantata, we’re rolling up our sleeves (and cranking up some music). Let’s do this.

Behind the Scenes: Adding Art to a Picture Book October 11, 2017

contributed by Tim Palin, Art Director


I’m a lucky duck. For the past few years, I’ve been art directing and designing dozens and dozens of picture books for Cantata Learning. While the editorial team creates and retells fantastic stories for young readers and the music group creates incredible audio worlds to accompany them, I have the pleasure of bringing images to the pages by working with artists near and far. Very near, actually. (Sometimes, I illustrate books for the team as well.)



The first step in the art creation for a Cantata Learning book is. . . find out what the books are going to be! I start by reviewing the list for the upcoming season with the editorial team to find out what the stories are and what we think we want the season to “look like.” I might ask questions like: Should this be light-hearted and cute? Or are we touching on more scientific themes and you see this as more non-fiction realistic? I see this story having very dense, detail-heavy artwork; do you agree? Do you envision the characters being kids or animals with human qualities? (By the way, there’s nothing cuter than a puppy and a bunny having a picnic.) Sometimes, as the manuscript is taking shape, the editors might start to have a particular art style in mind, or have a reference in mind. It’s important for us to have this conversation early on to make sure we head down this path from the same starting point.



Next, I put together a wish list of artists that I think can make the stories come alive. I look for artists that would be a good match for the manuscript which is being written at the time. We take quite a few factors into account here. For example: Do they mainly draw animals or people? Do they have a more playful style or a more realistic style? Does their work have a European look and feel for this retelling of Hansel and Gretel? Can they capture the adorable silliness of baby pandas climbing the ropes in gym glass?



The editorial team and I then review these artists and make a first pass at creating a roster of illustrators for the season. Here’s a sample of an artist’s presentation I might show to the team. This is a way to see, at a glance, not only the artists that I’m recommending for the book, but also a few key words that we have in mind when matching an artist to a story.


This is the sheet (below) that I used to propose Flavia Sorrentino (represented by Bright Agency) for Diwali. By this time, we’d agreed as a team that the art must be cute and colorful with lots of variety (in shapes, textures, and tone). Additionally, we knew that we wanted the art style to be as uniquely beautiful as the Diwali holiday itself. We wanted something unexpected. Flavia’s art fit that bill perfectly!



Cantata Learning works with a combination of independent artists and artists represented by agents. The next step is reach out to them to make sure everyone is on board! Sometimes, we have to go back to the drawing board if an illustrator is busy. This is a big fingers crossed moment! We’ve been blessed to have some pretty incredible talent from around the globe join the fun. In this case, I’m delighted to say that Flavia was a quick “yes”! Hooray!


Once the illustrator roster for the season is set. . . the real fun begins! I send the manuscript and art notes out to them and wait. This is also the hardest part. . . the waiting, that is. But I keep myself busy putting some more touches on the layouts where I’ll eventually place the art.



Sketches are in! That’s right, my job means that every once in a while I arrive at my desk bright and early, and my inbox is full of art from all over the world. . . Italy, Japan, Australia—so many amazing places!


Once the sketches are sorted, the art, editorial, and music teams review them. Sometimes, they’re perfect right out of the gate. Sometimes they need a little love. . . a few tweaks here and there. For example, check out the pages below. When we received the sketches for Flavia’s Diwali book, we absolutely loved this spread. However, in a last minute move, we decided to remove the little girl drawing a rangoli on the wall and move her creation into the background. These beautiful rangolis are normally drawn on the ground, rather than on a wall. For many of our books, the art notes that go back to the illustrators reach beyond an asthetic preference. Like in this case, it was so important to be culturally accurate.



Check this next one out (below). The woman in the foreground holding the platter is wearing a sari. The consultant that Cantata Learning worked with to ensure that all the details are correct pointed out that, in this sketch, it appears that the veil is separate from the sari. In reality, the veil is part of the full-length garment. This was corrected in the color art in the following weeks. It might seem like a small detail that one could overlook, but these notes are so important. This change was a crucial one to make. It worked out beautifully.



Once the book is full of beautiful, original art. . . We need a cover!!! Sometimes, we make the cover out of a page of the inside of the book. In the case of Diwali, that’s exactly what I did. Flavia’s page 15 made a lovely front cover!



Since we’re in a Holiday state of mind. . . and Halloween right around the corner. . . here’s a fun peek at Halloween! For this book we were looking for something current and cool. We grabbed our pal Doreen Mulryan for this one.


Here’s a peek at a few of the early (and very scary) sketches.



Here are a couple sketches that needed some extra love by Doreen before going to color. Can you spot the differences we asked for?



How about in this one? (This one is easy!)



Doreen loves Halloween, and it shows. BOO!

Let’s Make Fire Safety Fun this October! October 9, 2017


Contributed by Shannon McClintock Miller


October is Fire Safety Month. It is very important that we focus on teaching and practicing fire safety with our children, especially during this week—Fire Prevention Week (October 8-14, 2017).


This year the National Fire Protection Association theme for Fire Safety Week is Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!  As we know, it is important to have an escape plan in a fire. This can make a difference when escaping safely and saving lives. In addition, there are other things we need to teach our children about fire safety such as calling for help, putting a fire out, and being prepared.  



Because music is such an effective tool for memorization, there’s no better method for teaching your students these valuable lessons. So let’s gear up to teach fire safety with the new Fire Safety series from Cantata Learning, by Charles Ghigna, with illustrations by Glenn Thomas and music by Drew Temperante.


Keep reading for some fun tips and ideas on how to teach each important lesson with these engaging books!


Use Plan and Prepare to teach children the four rules of fire safety which include:


Have a Plan, Get Out fast, Stay Low, and Don’t Open hot doors.  



As they learn these four rules, use Plan and Prepare to practice these life-saving skills by singing along to this catchy fire safety beat.  


Fire Safety starts with you, when you know just what to do. Rule One! Have a plan! Talk to your family. Make a plan to meet. Practice getting out. It’s the fire safety beat.  


This can also be shared on a small poster  that is posted at school and home during Fire Safety Month while they learn, practice, and memorize the four rules of fire safety. You can add a QR code to the poster so they can easily scan it to get to the music when practicing. QR codes are included on each book too.  


Get Out. Stay Out!  is perfect to use when  preparing children what to do in case there is ever a fire in at school or in their home.   



If there is a fire, do not run and hide. Use your exit plan. Get safely outside! Get out. Stay out! Find help right away. Get out. Stay Out! You can save the day!


A meaningful activity that goes along with this book and song is to create a fire escape plan on a piece of paper with family at home. They can draw a map of their home showing all windows and doors. After the map is complete, students could practice their escape plan by tracing it with their finger or drawing it with a crayon.  


Have the students bring their plans to school so they can share them as a class. After they share their home fire safety plan, create one as a class for your classroom and school. This could be done as a whole school project too.


The more they practice their plan and sing Get Out. Stay Out!, the better equipped in a fire they will be.  


It is important to teach children about contacting emergency services if there is a fire by using Dial 911!  



If you see fire, get away! Then dial this number to save the day: 9-1-1! 9-1-1! Help is coming on the run. If you need help, call 9-1-1!


When I was little, my parents and grandma had a 911 sticker right by our phones. With cell phones now being the main and only phone families often have, make sure students know how to call on any phone and what the emergency number is. You can copy and share this little poster that I made with Buncee. They can post this in the classroom, at school, and at home.  


You can even make an interactive Buncee by adding the video of Dial 911 with a QR code that makes it easy for them to scan from a piece of paper. With Buncee, you can add the QR code right as you are creating. Practice on this one by scanning the QR code to see where it takes you.  


The Call 9-1-1 Buncee Posters can be found here and here.


Children also need to know what to do if flames ever get on their clothes so we teach and practice to stop, drop, and roll. Now as you are teaching this life-saving skill, use the Cantata Learning book and song Stop, Drop, and Roll!  



Stop! Don’t run around. Drop! Get on the ground. Roll! Roll yourself about. You can put the fire out.  


This can be practiced by doing the actions while singing at school and home. Remember to talk to the children about why they don’t run around if their clothes catch fire, too. The Guided Reading Questions at the back of each Cantata Learning book will help facilitate this conversation and others.  


Stop, Drop, and Roll is a great tie in with a movement game and lesson with the physical education teacher or outside activity.  


As you can see, the Fire Safety series from Cantata Learning covers the fire safety skills our children need to possess not just at school but at home, too. Not only are the books and songs a perfect resource, but make sure you check out the Fire Safety Lesson Plan and Fire Safety YouTube Videos that accompany the series too.  These songs and stories will help students remember and share these skills for the rest of their lives.  



You can find out more about fire safety and Fire Prevention Week on the National Fire Prevention Association site here.

Dot Day with Michael Dahl! September 27, 2017


As a company passionate about sparking creativity in childhood, celebrating Dot Day is right up our alley! This year, we were so excited to host a Google Hangout between two elementary schools and acclaimed author (and witty, super creative, kid at heart, fun human!) Michael Dahl.



Librarians from Texas and North Carolina joined us via Google Hangout with their elementary students in their libraries to catch up with Michael and enjoy a little Dot Day creative inspiration. Michael mesmerized his student audiences with his playful office and patiently answered many questions ranging from how he got started in his writing career to the specifics of his writing process.



Michael gave us two important lessons during this awesome hangout. First, he walked us through a couple of wonderful writing exercises. He talked about character development and went through a fun exercise around that process too. He also explained how using 3 out of the 5 senses can really help bring a story or a character to life. He showed students how to use their senses to describe their writing in a way that “shows” rather than “tells”. Ever a kid at heart, Michael knew that using a concrete object for the exercise would resonate better with the students so they took turns describing a paper airplane.



Michael also talked about the creative process and shared how writing can be an outlet for many things, including processing going through a natural disaster such as the recent hurricanes. He expressed that everybody is unique and we all have our stories to tell. It’s important to not judge yourself and devalue your ideas based on how you think they compare to someone else’s.



These heartfelt words of wisdom, encouragement, and inspiration will stay will these students for a long time. We have so much appreciation for Michael and the classes that participated in this fun, entertaining, and meaningful Dot Day celebration. We’re already looking forward to next year!!


4 Ways to Use Picture Books During Your First Week of School September 21, 2017

Contributed by Katherine Coughlan-Hobson, Cantata Learning General Manager

As summer break comes to a close, I wanted to share with you some thoughts on the value picture books can have in helping your students, or your own children, with adjusting to the new routines, new environments, and new social expectations the new school year brings.


1. Use picture books to find common interests amongst students.

Before you read Making New Friends have students write on a post-it note or small piece of paper something that is special about them. It could be something they did over the summer, something that they enjoy doing, or maybe their favorite book. Nothing too personal. Then let them have a “snowball fight” outside or in the library, classroom, or gymnasium. Students can throw their interest across the room to another student and learn something new about that person. This a great way to get to know each other and build community.


2. Ask students what they are feeling during the first week of school.

Remind students that we often feel several emotions at the same time. For example, we can be excited and nervous, happy and scared, etc. If a student shares that he is worried about how to find his locker or classroom or someone to sit by, this is an opportunity for other students to empathize and help each other. Students will also discover they are most likely not the only one feeling that way so they can help each other! Use the Cantata Learning series Me, My Friends, My Community: Songs About Emotions to help students identify their emotions and think of experiences where they feel different emotions. What makes Moose and his friends happy? Hint: reading is one activity!


3. Picture books can be a useful way to help students identify what we should and should NOT do in our school environments.

Cantata Learning has two series that are helpful in supporting positive behavior and classroom management throughout the day. School Time Songs offers catchy tunes to help encourage and remind students to help keep our spaces tidy, be kind to each other, and work together as a team. These are perfect for those transition times, too.

Library Skills reminds students to stay safe online and to treat others and our materials with respect. What are the rhythms and expectations of your school, classroom, and community? Create a shared document, whether it’s through one of your favorite notetaking/sharing apps or on the board of your library or classroom, and have students suggest ideas for maintaining a respectful atmosphere at school. Have students share their voice and be represented by participating in the creation of your classroom rights.

If you’re like us and love having dance parties, and believe music and movement support students in their learning, then make sure you express guidelines around that the first week of school. We can definitely have fun and be safe and respectful while we’re learning!


4. Quick assessments of where students are in their abilities to follow directions, writing skills, reading skills, and mathematics.

Make observations and quick notes to help you identify where students are and the skills that need practice. This is a great time to get to know your students, so try to take this all in without attaching to what you see. The first week is full of new experiences which can make students (and teachers!) nervous. Help students feel welcomed and comfortable while also noting their interests and abilities. Alphabet Safari offers students a chance to demonstrate and practice letter formation, shape recognition, and following directions. Plus, the music is sure to get students excited to practice over and over!


Public Library, School Library, Classroom Library—all of these places are great resources for you and your students. And by entering to win our Cantata Learning contest this fall, you could win FREE books for your library space! Follow our social media for details on this opportunity.