Written by Joyce Sidman Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
What do you wish for? In this striking picture book by the dynamic team of Newberry Honor winner Joyce Sidman and Caldecott medalist Beth Krommes, readers are invited to wonder about a young girl’s most ardent wish—that the world change before morning keeping her pilot mother home. Written as an invocation poem, a poem that invites something to happen, each line of text is beautifully crafted to remind readers that wishes and words are powerful. The endpapers set the stage for the story and the impending snowstorm ahead with stark, black and white winter clouds taking up most of the page above the city landscape; airplanes are scattered across the sky giving careful readers an opportunity to foreshadow events to come. The first few pages are wordless and readers are drawn in to the tender story of a young girl and her family through Krommes’ characteristic scratchboard artwork. The subsequent pages invite readers to look at the changing winter landscape with fresh eyes and to marvel at the ways winter weather can bring hoped-for changes. Artful and lyrical, each precise word Sidman selected serves a purpose and not a single word is extraneous. Before Morning is sure to be pored over by young children hoping for the world to change outside their windows and can spark students’ own invocations for their most heartfelt and hopeful wishes.
Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Wishes and Invocations. After reading aloud Before Morning, read the author’s explanation of an invocation. Pause after reading the questions that Joyce Sidman poses to gather students’ responses (“How powerful are words?…Can they protect us? Comfort us? Enchant us?”). Invite students to consider what they wish for and to find the best words for that wish. Draw students’ attention to the repetition of the word let in the text to serve as an anchor for students as they craft their invocations. Additional published invocations could be shared. Support students to both write and speak their invocations as an opportunity for students to learn more about one another and to further build classroom community. Consider publishing student invocations, with their permission, as a means of school-wide community building.
Author Study. Gather other books by master poet Joyce Sidman such as Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, also illustrated by Beth Krommes, as well as Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold (both have been reviewed by The Classroom Bookshelf). Conduct an author study supporting students to notice the range and variety of her work with particular attention focused on the topics, themes, forms, and style of her poetry. In addition, read about the awards she has received including the Newbery Honor medal and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry. Spark a conversation with students about why they think her books are consistently awarded honors by teachers and librarians. Encourage them to express their opinions about her poetry by writing and sharing reviews of her work. See Further Explorations for Sidman’s website which contains a full listing of her books.
Illustrator Study. Gather other books by Beth Krommes, a Caldecott-winning artist, such as Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow (also written by Joyce Sidman), The House in the Night, and Blue on Blue. Support students to wonder about Beth Krommes’ scratchboard illustration techniques. How do they think she creates them? Read more about her process on her website especially how she adds color to her black-and-white scratchboard pieces. Consider purchasing for your class scratchpaper to create their own artistic pieces with a focus related to one of her books such as snowstorms, the night, and other aspects of nature. See Further Explorations for videos about scratchboard artwork.
Reading Like an Illustrator. In Before Morning, Krommes has made intentional choices about the composition of her illustrations to tell the story of the girl and her family. Model how to read a picture book with an eye towards the illustrations by noticing and naming what the illustrator does. For example, on the title page Krommes chose to use a close up of a pair of boots of someone walking a dog. On other pages we see the characters from behind, are outside looking in, or see the bird’s eye view of the city below. After naming the choices Krommes has made as an illustrator have students add drawings to their existing writing pieces by trying on a new compositional choice they have not tried before. Return to Before Morning throughout the year to have students experiment with new compositional decisions as illustrators.
Thematic Text Set: Snow and Blizzards. Build a text set of books about snowstorms and the beauty and wonder of snow including John Rocco’s Caldecott Honor winning book Blizzard, Diedre Gill’s Outside, Cynthia Rylant’s Snow, Ezra Jack Keat’s classic The Snowy Day, Mark Cassino’s The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonderland, Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley, Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow, and Melissa Stewart’s Under the Snow. For students that have not had the experience of being in a snowstorm before, share videos to support student connections.
Reading Closely by Noticing Surprises. Before Morning is in part about the joy of surprises—surprise snowstorms, surprise homecomings, surprise bakeshop treats. One way to inspire students to closely read and linger longer on each page is to encourage them to notice what is surprising to them as readers and what is surprising to the characters. While reading aloud from Before Morning, think aloud about what surprises you on various pages and encourage students to share what surprises them including character’s facial expressions, word choices, or how deep the snow is. Support students to transfer this way of thinking about surprises to their own independent reading.
See, Think, Wonder: Understanding Character’s Motivation through Inferences. In the first few wordless pages of the book, we are positioned as readers to infer and wonder about the girl’s thoughts, actions, and feelings thanks to the detailed illustrations. Support students to share their thoughts about these wordless pages by expressing what they see, think, and wonder about the girl and why she seems upset. How do her feelings influence her actions and her wish? Support students to transfer this way of thinking to notice characters’ motivations in their own independent reading.
Please—Change the World. The young girl’s wish concludes by stating, “Please—just this once—change the world before morning.” She then names the ways it can change. Support your students to craft their own Please—change the world statements using the same structure as Sidman. You may want to brainstorm as a class or have students work in partnerships before having students write their own statements. Encourage them to illustrate their statements to accompany their ideas.
Stories from Our Lives: Everyday Stories and Family Stories. Use Before Morning to launch reading and writing about stories from our lives. Encourage students to think about how the illustrations express the everyday life of the girl, her family, and her neighborhood. What do we see as emblematic of every day life such as a walk through the neighborhood back home or looking through the window of a bakery? In addition to being a mentor text for everyday stories, Before Morning is also a family story. In this way, the book also serves as a mentor text for students to write and illustrate their own family stories including times they wanted to be with a member of their family, joyful surprises they experienced with their family, times they felt upset about a family member’s job, wishes they had for their family that did or did not come true, or life’s simple pleasures with their family.
Gender Roles. Consider noticing with students the ways that traditional conceptions of gender roles are challenged with the mother being the pilot and the father making meals in the kitchen. Do these depictions affirm your students’ beliefs about gender roles or challenge them? Consider with students the purposeful choice Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes made to have the mother in a traditionally male job. In what ways can picture books serve as mechanisms for social change? Support students to look through the classroom library or school library for other books that challenge traditional gender roles. If they have a hard time finding such books, write a letter as a class to the principal calling for more books that represent diverse gender roles and family structures.
Joyce Sidman’s Author Site
Beth Krommes Illustrator Site
NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry
http://www.ncte.org/awards/poetry/winners – Sidman
Scratchboard Etching Video
Arts & Activities: Showstopping Scratchboards
Snow Falling Video
Cassino, G. (2009). The story of snow: The science of winter’s wonderland. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Gill, D. (2014). Outside. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Keats, E.J. (1962). The snowy day. New York, NY: Viking Books.
Martin, J. B. (2009). Snowflake Bentley. Ill. by M. Azarian. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Messner, K. (2014). Over and under the snow. Ill. by C.S. Neal. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Rocco, J. (2011). Blizzard. New York, NY: Disney Hyperion.
Rylant, C. Snow. Ill. by L. Stringer. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, J. (2014). Winter bees and other poems of the cold. Ill. by R. Allen. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, J. (2011). Swirl by swirl: Spirals in nature. Ill. by B. Krommes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, J. (2010). Dark emperor & other poems of the night. Ill. by R. Allen Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, J. (2009). Red sings from rooftops: A year in colors. Ill. by P. Zagarenski. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Sidman, J. (2006). Butterfly eyes and other secrets of the meadow. Ill. by B. Krommes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Stewart, M. (2009). Under the snow. Ill. by C. Bergum. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.
Swanson, S.M. (2008). The house in the night. Ill. by B. Krommes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
White, D. (2014). Blue on blue. Ill. by B. Krommes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
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About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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