I feel like I should say something dramatic here, such as, if you read any one 7-Imp post this year, let it be this one. And that’s because today I’m shining the spotlight on the folks at Literacyhead.com, a bi-weekly magazine connecting literacy and the visual arts. They came to my attention months ago, and gracious knows they’ve been ever-so patient with me, since I told them about that long ago that I wanted to post about what they do. I’m finally getting to it. Ahem, better late than never, yes?
And here’s why I love them: Well, I feel like the real heroes out there, as cliché as this may sound, are the teachers and school librarians of the world, working tirelessly day-to-day in our oft-beleaguered schools. I tend to run my mouth here at 7-Imp about illustration (in particular)—oh, I can wax annoyingly poetic for days about just one book or just one eloquent illustration or one very funny spread—but every now and then, when I can, I like to shine the spotlight on people doing the hands-on work in educating our children. (And those of you interested in literacy are reading Jen Robinson’s blog, Carol Rasco’s blog, and Terry Doherty’s Reading Tub, yes? I’m probably forgetting a slew of other great literacy blogs, but when in doubt or when needing even more info, go to those smart, passionate ladies for the low-down.)
So, where was I? Right. Why do I love Literacyhead? Because, as you can see at this page of their site, the folks over there love children’s literature and art (“the connections between the two make us positively giddy”); they want to “help teachers nurture their creative lives while they meet the demands of high accountability to which they are subject”; and they “believe that the arts are a basic component of a healthy life, not an afterthought or a bonus if there is time or funding.”
So, taking these beliefs, they use art to assist teachers in illustrating to children the writing process, to support comprehension of books, and to provide writing workshops. They also provide book recommendations, essays, reviews, visual aids and graphic organizers, and much more. I’m not currently in a school library and haven’t tried this out, but their work sounds impressive to me, and I wanted to hand the blog over to them today so that they could tell us more. (Yes, when you catch me facing a manuscript deadline, you get to interview yourself at 7-Imp, and I’m glad they were game.)
Oh, best thing of all about Literacyhead? They believe “that art is the most promising catalyst for social change,” and they “want children to begin to think that they need and deserve beauty in their lives.” Finger snap. Head roll. They are kindred souls, you see. If you read my blog at all, you know I second these beliefs. I mean, check out this page: There are galleries for Taeeun Yoo, Shadra Strickland, Jon J Muth, and more. The illustration junkie in me is swooning.
These are people, I can tell you with assurance, who deeply love children’s books and art. As you’ll read below, marketing is not something they have necessarily done heretofore, so I will now not only swing the spotlight around to face them, but I will also say that their subscription fees, for those who like what you read below, are insanely, wonderfully affordable, too. That info is here, for interested folks.
I thank the folks at Literacyhead for visiting today. Without further ado…
Team Literacyhead: There are at least Seven Categories of Crazy relating to Literacyhead.com, so here’s a little listicle (list + article) to bring you up to speed on the children’s literature website that everyone is almost talking about. Team Literacyhead intently concentrated for the past year-plus on developing literacyhead-ish content, and this relentless creation has left us only about four minutes to tell everyone about our work with children’s literature. Marketing is not typical, literacyhead-ish behavior, so we (Team Literacyhead) thought that if we wanted an audience larger than our mothers, we should start talking. Thanks, Jules, for lending us your audience!
Before we begin, here’s the Miriam-Webster definition of literacyhead, a term you probably know even if you don’t know it.
li-t(ə-)rə-sē-hed (noun) 1-Someone who is intensely serious about exercising creative literacy, making connections across multiple literacies, pursuing thoughtful literacy as an individual and as a teacher/parent, and constantly searching for ideas; 2-A person with an almost manic obsession with books and/or reading; 3-An incessant thinker; 4-The part of the brain used when thinking about books and ideas; 5-Literacyhead.com, a digital anthology of children’s literature, visual art, and reading and writing research, which are all presented together in profound ways and make the literacyhead area of the brain glow.
If you are reading this, you are probably a literacyhead, but it is easy to verify. Simply answer these questions to determine just how literacyheaded you are.
- Do you buy books before you buy food, even when you are really hungry?
- Do you speak in metaphor, drawing deep connections between books and ideas in ways that make other people glaze over, laugh out loud, or ask you to repeat yourself?
- When you are in the middle of sharing one idea, do you suddenly interrupt it, fast-forward to another idea, while assuming your audience will keep up? Then do you think twice and swallow the bonus idea after considering your audience and its ability to handle high-speed, intuitively-directed, random, mental multitasking? (Note: Idea-swallowing can give you the hiccups. So, frequent hiccups can be another indicator that you are a literacyhead.)
- Do you have mounds of books in every room of your house that make you think “I need a bigger house,” rather than “I have too many books?” And do you want your books in digital and print versions and some in multiple editions of each?
- Do you sometimes wonder if others can hear the creative voices in your head? Do you sometimes converse with those voices? Can you quiet them by reading the dictionary?
- Do you have yellow bumps on your tongue, especially the ones that accompany a dry, hacking cough?
If you answered “yes” to 1-3 of these questions, you are probably a literacyhead. If you answered “yes” to 4 or 5 of these questions, you are definitely a literacyhead. If you answered “yes” to all 6 questions, you are certainly a literacyhead, and you should definitely see a doctor. You might find something interesting to read in the waiting room.
Doggedly exploring the ways stories, children’s books, learning to read and write, and visual art can connect, we build lessons, write articles, and organize collections of art to help parents and teachers show children the wonders of thinking and reading. Whether the text is a picture book or a piece of art, we creatively organize all the stuff we develop and house it at Literacyhead.com for other literacyheads to enjoy.
The following few minutes of video took more than 1,000 hours to make (Technically, it was an impossible thing before breakfast since it was completed around 3:00 a.m.). You should watch both of these clips, not only because we worked so hard on them, but also because there is a winning lottery number at the end of one of them. It’s not going to be at the end of the first clip you will watch, so you should watch them both.
If you are a literacyhead, these videos will make you feel like you’ve finally found your mothership. Don’t be startled.
A little bit of Literacyhead:
Team Literacyhead has more than 100 years of combined experience in education and almost that much in art and technology. We could fill a wall with all our degrees in education, art, and technology, but we’d rather line our walls with bookshelves and artwork by David Hale — and think diplomas make nice drawer liners. We take books seriously and ourselves — well, not so seriously. Most of us have worked in a traditional classroom at some point and find it rejuvenating to re-think the way literacy is taught and integrated in schools. We want to give others opportunities to enjoy the ways this rejuvenation can extend across academic and aesthetic dimensions, realities that often conflict for teachers and parents attempting to marry “grade-level” reading expectations and a passion for books.
Team Literacyhead includes ten people in all, living all over the U.S, but mostly in Athens, Georgia. Four of us work on Literacyhead.com stuff at least 479 hours per week: Jamie D’Angelo, our Editor; Carrie Laird, our Technical Editor; Rachel Watkins, our Assistant Editor; and me (your narrator), Jan Burkins, the woman who puts all the permission forms in alphabetical order by artist’s last name. We have weekly team meetings at Rachel’s house here in Athens. She supports us with newsprint, scented markers, and primal scream therapy (barking breaks) so we can push the creative envelope. You can read about us in the aptly named “About Us” section of Literacyhead.com. It’s mostly all true.
Nine parts creative director and one part mascot, Leroy guides the creative energy of our team as instinctively as he licks egg plates after breakfast. Leroy is the creative genius behind the unique way Team Literacyhead couples beloved picture books with visual art.
For obvious reasons, Leroy’s Literacyhead leadership is not something we’ve made public. But we’re beginning to come to terms with our oddnesses, individually and collectively. We live by the dogma that a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from, so keeping Leroy’s involvement in Literacyhead seemed hypocritical. Just look at the art Leroy selected to complement the three picture books below, and you won’t be able to argue with his genius. Regardless, we feel the need to be transparent; at the very least, our honesty may help others with non-traditional leaders feel less alone.
Show What They Don’t Mean.
Of course, we also include art that shows what they do mean. Based on research about how children learn the meanings of words, we include art examples and “non-examples” to teach vocabulary, and we present all the art along with the picture book (including discussion questions and eight interior images from the celebrated book).
For example, this series of visual definitions illustrate the word “exactly”:
And this one illustrates the opposite of “exactly”:
When we publish author studies, we select the words we want to illustrate from the feature book, but we also illustrate them with four illustrations from other books by the featured author/illustrator. Like this series of images we used to illustrate “clung” when we developed an author study about Leo Lionni, featuring his classic book, The Alphabet Tree (Pantheon, © 1968 by Leo Lionni, renewed 1996 by Leo Lionni).
It’s Mine, Knopf, © 1985 by Leo Lionni
And here is a mouse who is clearly not clinging:
Tony Hart, Amina Patton, and Josh Billings have spent the last year creating original “tools” for parents and teachers to use with students as they are learning to read and write. There are now more than 200 of these at Literacyhead.com available (color and black-and-white) for our subscribers to download and use with children. Here’s the reading log we developed with the Jon J Muth author study. (By the way, while developing the author study, we learned that Muth sounds like mew-th and doesn’t rhyme with tooth.)
And here are more examples of printables at Literacyhead.com, all designed to help literacyheads-in-progress learn new ways to think about books:
Even though you may well be hearing about Literacyhead.com for the first time, we’ve just redesigned the site. Who knew a site could evolve so fast that it would outgrow itself in just one year? When we started, the content was all in our heads, but as the content accumulated, we had to figure out how to rearrange it to make sense. That’s when we projected the Literacyhead signal into the sky and Kelly Storm of Black Box Operations donned his cape and utility belt and came to our rescue. Kelly has led us in re-visioning Literacyhead.com so the content is at your fingertips and offers options for customizing. It’s the difference between keeping something you need nestled in a box inside a safe under your bed — and keeping it sorted in a lovingly-decorated file boxes that sit beside your desk.
When Kelly reimagined and reorganized the archives at Literacyhead.com, he integrated enough awesome sauce into the site to startle both the left and right sides of your brain, so be careful when you type Literacyhead.com into your browser. All our illustrated vocabulary words can now sit, stay, and roll over with our new custom options. So if you want to assemble a list of ten particular words, with a few clicks all the art that illustrates them will arrange itself on the page just for you. You can also drag and drop your favorite lessons, articles, and collections of art into a personal collection. Watch this:
So, let’s get back to Crazy Reality #1, “You are a Literacyhead.” You’ve known it for a long time, but didn’t have a label for it. Okay, so it’s not really in Miriam-Webster’s, but the term rings true for those of us who live by books.
Welcome to the club.