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Random thoughts and insights from Ken Baker - Children's author, freelance writer, husband and father of five. Ken Baker is the author of the picture books BRAVE LITTLE MONSTER (Sept. 2001) and OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON (Coming Fall 2012). He also writes early readers, chapter books, and YA novels.
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I love it when teachers and librarians understand and recognize the value that author school visits can provide students. Yesterday, I visited Battle Mountain Elementary and Lemaire Elementary in a small mining community in the middle of Nevada. In spite of the five hour drive through the sagebrush covered desert the day before and the five hour drive back after the visit, it ended up being one of my favorite school visits ever.
The school librarian told me ahead of time that the small, out-of-the-way community doesn’t get much in the way of entertainment, so my visit to the school was going to be a big deal. So of course, the teachers, school administration, and students were all excited to have me there. The kids were all engaged in the presentations I gave. They listened. They participated. They laughed when they were supposed to. Even one sweet little girl ran up to me and gave me a hug afterward. All of those were wonderful and added to making it a great experience, but what really made it such a satisfying experience were comments that different teachers made to me at different times after the presentations.
After my Exciting World of Books presentation
, one teacher said something to the effect, “The way you read to the kids with such expression is just what we needed to reinforce what we’ve been teaching with fluency. The kids loved it, and now we can say, ‘See, that’s why it’s important to read with expression.’”
After my presentation on Story Creation Fun
, one teacher made a comment like, “Your segment on showing versus telling is just what we we’ve been trying to get across to our students. Kids don’t always believe or think what teachers teach is important, but when they hear it from an author, then it makes an impact.” Another teacher said, “Thank you for covering the “try-fail cycle. We’ve been working on that and you reinforced what we’ve been teaching. It was perfect.”
This is the effect that I want all my school visits to have. I want to reinforce in a positive way what teachers are trying to teach. I want kids to get excited about reading. I want to help nurture a love for reading in their lives. I not only want to teach kids some of the key aspects of how to write better stories, but I want them to get a feel for how wonderful and fun the story creation process can be.
The real value of an author school visit is not its entertainment value. The real value of an author school visit is the positive, life-changing impact it can have on students, while reinforcing the schools, teachers and librarians’ efforts in a way that no other activity or assembly can.
I received a request the other day from a school librarian to add audio narration to my book trailer for Old MacDonald had a Dragon. I hadn't seen the need for it before until she reminded me that many of her kindergartners and 1st graders might struggle with reading the captions on my trailer. Great point! So, here's a narrated version of the picture book's trailer. Let me know what you think.
Best-selling author, Jeff Rivera, interviewed me the other day. In the interview I talk about why I write and how I hope to help kids, among other things. You can find the interview on his site at jeffrivera.com/interview-with-author-ken-baker/
Once a child gets hooked on reading, it’s hard to get them to put a book down. They won’t come to dinner. They stay up late. You can’t get them to watch TV or play video games. On road trips they stop asking “Are we almost there?” They smuggle books into the bathroom, creating long lines, impatient siblings and unfortunate accidents. The problems are endless.
One method that has had limited success in our household is to simply ground them from books when they sneak a read when they’re not supposed to. However, I’ve heard there are much more effective ways to stop kids from reading. High on the list is, if they ask you to read to them, refuse. Tell them you don’t have time. Put them off until you’re done watching your favorite TV show and hope they’ll get tired of waiting. Better yet, tell them books are dumb.
Other top ways to kill a child’s interest in reading is forbid trips to the library. Don’t let them choose what books they want to read. Only let them read books you like. Of course, that’s not a good idea if they like the books you like. So, better yet, force them to read only books that they hate. That will really convince them that books have nothing to offer.
If you’re lucky enough that none of your children have caught the reading bug, be sure to never let them catch you reading. That would be a catastrophe. They might get the idea that reading is fun, educational and even interesting. Then before you know it, they’re addicted to reading and the battle to get them to stop begins.
Tablets, eReaders and smartphones continue to drive the popularity of eBooks. Still, not everyone has moved to the digital age and some don't plan to anytime soon? Where do you stand on the ebook vs printed book debate? What factors motivate you one direction or the other? Share your opinions by taking a minute to take the quick polls below.
Last week I read the children’s picture book, Happy Like Soccer
by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. All I can say is “Wow!” I loved it. It really took me by surprise. It’s not really a soccer story at all, like you would suspect, but rather a very moving and emotionally powerful story of a young girl and her love for her aunt.
Told in a very simple and honest manner, Happy Like Soccer gives a brief, yet poignant glimpse into a young girl’s difficult, but happy life. Yes, there is a soccer element to the story, but it has many other more intriguing layers to it; new friendships, loneliness, hardships of a poor family struggling to get by, overcoming disappointment, a young girl’s initiative and courage to change a tough situation into a positive one, and the dedicated love between a young girl and her aunt
The ink and watercolor art enhance and fit the mood of the story perfectly. Happy Like Soccer is a great story and read-aloud between parent and child!
I’m not really sure what it is, but I’ve been awarded the Liebster Blogger Award. Liebster looks like it might be a German word, but looks can be deceiving. There is no such German word as Liebster. However, Liebste is a German word that means “best”. So, since Liebste is really close to the same as Liebster, I’m certain this award pretty much signifies that I’m really close to being the best. How awesome.
Anyway, I owe a big thank you to Shaunda Wenger at Slow Stir
, who nominated me for this award. By the way, in addition to being a great author, Shaunda is the queen of social media, especially when it comes to tweetdom.
As the award rules dictate, I have to answer 11 questions posed to me by my nominator, Shaunda. Here goes.1. What would it take to get you to do something crazy, like a polar bear plunge?
Some things are too crazy, even for me, and that’s one of them. Cold is not my friend. 2. How do you like to take a good long break to recharge your life?
On a nice sandy beach on a tropical island with my wonderful wife.3. Do you prefer a good, old-fashioned malt shoppe, or something exotic like, gourmet truffles with a hint of what-not?
Truffles are okay, but nothing beats a huge sundae with tons of hot fudge topping.4. Do you prefer views from the beach or mountain trail?
I prefer viewing the mountain trail from a comfy hammock on the beach. Of course taking a dip in the ocean and relaxing on that hammock after a nice mountain hike is not so bad either. I love the oceans and the mountains. Both are pretty awesome.5. Can you share information about an upcoming secret project that you shouldn't tell anyone about, but will because your readers are LIEBSTER readers?
All my secret projects are, well, secret. So, I can’t share. However, I do have several not-so secret projects I’m working on, such as a dog and cat picture book, another dragon picture book, an early reader featuring a pig and a turkey, a super hero early reader, a fantasy middle-grade novel, and fantasy YA novel. Is that enough sharing? Who knows which of those will ever see the light of day.6. Who is your favorite author and why?
I don’t know that I have a favorite author, but two that come to mind are Brandon Sanderson and Terry Pratchett. Sanderson because he writes such engaging stories with tremendous depth and insight. He’s also so versatile, writing epic fantasy and then switching over to more humorous fare for children. He’s truly genius. I love Pratchett’s writing simply because sarcastic wit seems to come so natural to him. You find yourself laughing at the most unexpected places. As I read both authors I often find myself thinking, “Wow, I wish I could write like that.”7. What is your favorite meal?
I have a lot of favorite meals, but one of them is grilled steak and shrimp with a side of sautéed mushrooms, and grilled peppers and onions.
8. What would you describe as your biggest personal accomplishment?
Raising my children, which is still in progress. They are all so very awesome and much better people than I ever will be.9. What is your favorite household appliance and why?
A toss up between “my” blender and “my” electric knife. Yes, in our house, these belong to me. They’re the only household appliances that I actually asked for and received as gifts. The blender is awesome for making chocolate peanut butter frozen-banana smoothies. The electric knife is the ultimate power tool when it comes to carving turkeys, roast and ham. It also does a pretty good job on the occasional homemade loaf of bread.10. What is your favorite restaurant?
Tucanos Brazilian Grill, but I can’t go there more than once a year because I always eat too much and gain too much weight. 11. Why are you so awesome?
I’m not so awesome, but my wife is. She’s a great mom, great wife, great example, great runner, great outdoorsy person, great listener, great jokester, great friend and many many more greats. So, if I’m awesome, it’s only by association with her awesomeness.
The Liebster Blogger Award also dictates that I nominate and pass the award onto 11 others. Here are my nominees, followed by the rules they need to follow to fully accept the Liebster Blogger Award.Carolyn FisherThrowing Up WordsIllustration blog
Teeter Totter Tales Picture Book Girl Utah Children’s Writers Jed Henry Illustration Kris Chandler StoriesDene Low Author and Adventurer Novels by Lisa Magnum The Writer's Corner (and Also What I Ate Today)
For all you nominees, the rules of the Liebster Award are as follows:
- Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter (me) on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you (me again).
- Answer the 11 questions from the nominator and create 11 questions for your nominees.
- Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. (No tag backs)
- Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.
Nominees, here are the 11 questions you need to answer on your blog:
- What is the one food you can't do without?
- One thing you want to do before you die?
- What is your favorite hobby and why?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- What is your favorite book and why?
- Who is your hero and why?
- What is your favorite household appliance?
- Besides yourself, who is your favorite author or illustrator
- What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
- What makes you smile?
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
Read Frequently To Your Children
The best way to get children to want to read is to create an interest in books before they’re even old enough to read. Part of creating this interest is to simply have a wide variety of picture books in the house for them to look at and explore. But an even bigger part is to read to them from those books on a regular basis. Reading stories at bedtime is a great tradition that not only helps children to settle down for the night, but it helps foster a love for books and reading.
Even when children are past bedtime story age, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to begin reading to them. Reading aloud to your children can become a family activity on weekday evenings, a Saturday afternoon or to help pass the time when going on a long road trip. When my two oldest children were in grade school we began reading the Harry Potter series together. Even though we were all anxious to get to the end of the books, we made a rule that none of us could read ahead. That time reading together became a special time for us that strengthened our relationships and further fostered their love for reading.
As mentioned in an earlier blog post, studies have shown that children who love reading often have that love for reading continually nurtured by their parents and other family members. One of the best ways to nurture that love, if not the best way, is to read aloud to your children on a regular basis. If it’s not a tradition in your house today, make it one starting tonight.
For more insights into the benefits of reading aloud to children, read my booktalk interview with Lisa Von Drasek on The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children
.Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Find Books that Appeal to Children's Unique Tastes
Every child's tastes are different. Too often adults, and even kids’ peers, try to push their own reading interests onto them. Sometimes I would get frustrated when I would see the classics pushed onto one of my sons because it was driving him to boredom and a dislike for reading. Ironically, I would often try to get that same son more interested in reading by finding adventure books and fantasy books for him to read. He liked them okay, but they weren’t his thing. That was puzzling to me since I loved those books and so did my older son. Ultimately, I discovered that he really enjoyed reading about sports. For awhile he read sports books, but now most of his reading is in the sports section of the newspaper or on web sites, and that’s great, because he’s reading.
All my children are readers, but they all have different tastes, which range from the classics to fantasy and adventure to contemporary thought provoking literature and to non-fiction or historical books. Many times children don’t consider themselves readers simply because the world’s supposed view of what reading is doesn’t mesh with their own. The other day my adult niece mentioned that she’s not a reader and that she’s read probably less than 5 books in her life. She listed the books, which were all fiction, but then went on say how she loves to read books that you can learn about things, such as rock climbing and similar things. She’s definitely a reader.
The key is to give children choices in their reading. Just because they don’t want to read the classics or the latest bestselling novel, doesn’t mean they’re not readers. It’s a mistake to force our own interests or likes on them. Instead, we need to help them discover the books or other reading material that will appeal to their unique tastes.
For more insights on the importance of finding books that target children’s specific interests, take a look at the following Librarian Booktalks:
Also, take a look at these resources for book ideas for children.Image courtesy of Photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Let Your Children See You Reading
The way that children feel that others think about reading’s importance affects their own reading attitudes. If children rarely see their parents read, they gain the perception that reading is not too important. It develops an attitude of “Why should I read, you never do?” The opposite is true as well, the more children see their parents read the more important it becomes in their minds. This can be especially true for boys in father-son relationships. Whether it’s from cultural or social influences, research has shown that many boy “non-readers” view books as feminine or uncool. That same research shows that as boys see their fathers reading (or other significant male role models, such as grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and teachers), they more than likely will overcome this perception.
Regardless of whether you’re talking about boys or girls, the idea is that children need positive role models that will inspire them to read. When they constantly see you enjoying a variety of good books, it sends the message that “Reading is fun!” “Reading is cool!” “Reading is important!” “Reading is just what I need!”
Want your kids to be readers? First, be a reader yourself.
Continually Nurture a Love for Reading
Many of the attitudes that children form about reading derive from their relationships with others. One of the most impactful relationships on children’s reading attitudes is the one they have with their parents. Studies have shown that children who love reading often have that love for reading continually nurtured by their parents and other family members.
So, how do you nurture that love for reading? One is to simply make it fun. Have family reading times. Ask your children what they're reading? Tell them about what you are currently reading (This means you actually have to read yourself). Have a family read-a-thon. Take children on frequent trips to the library. Go to storytimes at the library, local bookstores or book fairs. Let children create their own books. Read to your children (This is actually an individual category on its own – watch for it in the countdown). Give books as gifts.
Encouraging positive reading-related interactions with children's peers is important too, such as informal book conversations with friends or book clubs. Of course, librarians can play a vital role in nurturing the love of reading in children. My booktalk interview with Cathy Potter on Cultivating a Strong Reading Community at Schools
has a few insights in this area.
There are lots of other ways to nurture a love for reading in children. Some will show up in the remainder of my top 5. But I’d love to hear from you on what you suggest.Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Accept that Everything is Reading
It’s debatable where this concept really ranks. Some might say it’s actually the number one way to get children to read. But the truth is that one of the most powerful ways to get children to read is for parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers and others concerned with helping children become readers is for us adults to simply accept the idea that everything is reading, and then encourage that reading in children.
For parents, this requires making a wide selection of books available and accessible to children, including classics, adventures, mysteries, biographies, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, sports books, humor, non-fiction, encyclopedias, and yes – even graphic novels and comics. But the idea of Everything is Reading is not limited to just traditional books or ebooks. It includes newspapers, magazines, websites, do-it-yourself manuals, even the back of cereal boxes and more.
The idea is to encourage reading of any type. That encouragement and acceptance can help kids to keep reading and might eventually lead them to gain interest in reading a wider variety of other types of reading material. The more a child reads, the more the child develops their reading ability and the better chance they have to succeed in school and life in general. To get them to read, be okay with what they’re already reading or want to read.
For more on the concept that “Everything is Reading”, read my interview with elementary school librarian and SLJ 100 Scope Notes blogger, Travis Jonker.
Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 3
Part 3 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer and blogger for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.
You mentioned earlier the effect that has come from changes in technology and the rise of eBooks. Tell me other ways that has impacted school libraries.
Travis: Last year I wrote a grant in our school district to purchase eReaders. When it came through, we started a program where students could check out the eReaders and take them home like a normal book. It has been hugely popular. We keep trying to add more to keep up with demand. Whether you’re a school library or public library, there’s no denying that eBooks are going to be hugely important. They’re growing so fast that I think now is the time for libraries to give it a shot.
What were some of your goals with the eReader program?
Travis: One of our goals when we started was to give all our students access to eReaders, especially kids that wouldn’t have access to that sort of thing at home. We felt that a lot of the features of eReaders would be good for students. They can take notes. They can change the fonts. A lot of times the eReader will even speak the words. There are a lot of features, especially for reluctant readers, that might engage the students a little bit more.
With the introduction of your eReader program, did you see a rise in reading with more students reading than before?
Travis: Definitely. We had students who hadn’t had the highest interest in reading before, but were very interested in checking out an eBook and reading it on an eReader device. It’s hard to know whether they were interested in trying something new or if they were interested in some of the eReader features that could make reading a better experience for them. But we had interest from kids who read all the time and from kids who weren’t really readers and hadn’t been checking out books very much. We have a waiting list for all five our eReaders that will take us all the way to the end of the school year. As soon as one comes in it goes out to another student.
What advice do you have for other schools that might want to kick off their own eReader or eBook program?
Travis: A big part is analyzing what you want out of the program. One thing to think about is what you want out of the experience. Do you want it to be mainly for reading? Do you want something where students will have more capabilities, such as from a tablet like an iPad, a Kindle Fire or something like that? That’s the first step. Once you settle on that, based on what your students need, you move forward from there.
I know cost is always a big issue for schools. Do you have advice for how schools deal with that as they look at launching their own eReader program?
Travis: That’s tricky. Our grant came from a local education foundation in our school district. But there are definitely other sources out there. FableVision Learning has an email subscription list that will send you different grants that are available. But in a lot of cases, school libraries are already portioning some of their budgets for digital spending, like databases or online subscriptions. So if a grant won’t work for them, they might need to look at using some of their digital funds for eBooks or eReaders. Or they might want to use a little bit of the money they would normally use on print and put it toward digital. I think more and more school librarians will have to put a little bit more money into the digital side of things.
Any other advice in terms of eBooks and eReaders?
Travis: That’s another situation where I think it’s just good to just jump in and try it. It is growing so quickly. Librarians definitely need to stay current and that’s a good way to stay current.
(Note: Travis recently wrote an article for School Library Journal about his school’s experience with its eReader program, which provides advice and guidance for other schools. You can read the article Travis's Excellent eReader Adventure at www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/08/information-technology/traviss-excellent-adventure-or-how-to-launch-a-thriving-ereader-program-in-a-rapidly-changing-world/)
Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 2
Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.
You talked before about the importance of working with students and teachers in terms of information literacy. Tell me more about that.
Travis: I was telling somebody just the other day that I think this is the craziest time in history to be a librarian. There is so much change going on with technology, especially with eBooks and with resources being available online and for free. It’s just totally changed what the library looks like and what we do.
How do these technology changes tie into information literacy and what you’re trying to teach students?
Travis: Information literacy involves skills that kids will need as they grow up and throughout their lives. So, we’ll work with students doing research projects and I’ll introduce them to some of the different databases that we have online. I also talk to them about formulating guiding questions for their research, such as what exactly is it that they want to answer. I’ll talk to them about being methodical about how they go about answering those questions and being really thorough about it. My goal is to make students self-sufficient in terms of navigating everything that is out there and finding answers to their questions.
What advice do you give other librarians to help students learn how to navigate all the information resources that are available?
Travis: The big thing for me is to just try things. I think a lot of time people are hesitant to try a new project or something with a student because they’re nervous it might not work or the outcome might not be exactly what they want. But I think it’s really important for school librarians to work with students and teachers at every opportunity they can.
Why is it important for school librarians to work with teachers in terms of teaching information literacy to students?
Travis: Collaboration is such a big part of what we do. Sometimes it’s really difficult to collaborate. Everybody has their own things going on. But making those connections would be one of the first things I would tell a new school librarian. You need to keep working with teachers and getting into the classrooms of students that you’re teaching. You can even collaborate without collaborating. Meaning, you proactively look at what teachers are working on and then you look for resources and suggestions that might help the teachers even if they don’t come to you first.
Tell me a little more about the importance of school librarians collaborating with teachers.
Travis: School librarians really are well versed in doing research. They’re well versed in what books might fit with a particular reading or with the interests kids might have. The more times that you can work with a teacher, the better the students will benefit because you’ll be able to share your expertise and what you’ve learned over the years; whether it be working on research or suggesting a great new book to read.
The students won’t learn those things if you don’t make connections with those teachers. There are a lot of times when I’ll be eating lunch in the lounge and through a normal conversation a teacher will mention something she’s going to be teaching and we’ll end up planning to work on a project together. Even though it sounds simple, if that connection hadn’t happened, the students wouldn’t have benefited as much.
I understand that one such collaboration led to a rather unique experience for you. Please share.
Travis: You never know what you might be doing during the course of a day as a school librarian. But a couple years ago when Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday was coming up, I mentioned to one of the teachers who was coordinating our school’s celebration that a couple years before I had gone as Abe Lincoln to Halloween. She picked right up on that and before you know it, on Lincoln’s 200th birthday I came riding up to the school in a horse drawn carriage and delivered the Gettysburg Address on the front steps to a bunch of students dressed up in period clothing. We even had all the local news and TV cameras there. It was just the kind of thing where one little thing led to another. And it was a lot of fun.
Read part 1 (Everything is Reading) now and watch for part 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up the first part of next week.
One fun clip from librarian, Besty Bird's Fuse8 blog post on turning Pop songs into children's books. Enjoy!
Booktalk Interview with Travis Jonker – Part 1Part 1 of an interview I conducted with Travis Jonker, an elementary school librarian in Michigan, founder and blogger of 100 Scope Notes, reviewer for School Library Journal, former judge for CYBILS Awards, and member of the 2014 Caldecott committee.In addition to being a school librarian, you’re involved in a lot of different things books related, such as your blog, reviewing for SLJ and other things. How do you hope make a difference in all that you do? Travis:
First and foremost I’m looking to make an impact on the students in my school district, making sure we have for them the latest and greatest books, books that are interesting to them. Also, I want to work with students and teachers in our district, teaching information literacy skills. If I can, I’d also like to share some of those things with other people through my blog or with things that I write. I think that’s a cool way to spread the word a little bit and let people know what has worked for me, and that it might work for them too.What is the “word” or message you want to spread?Travis:
As far as books go, the big thing I want to get across is that everything is reading. One of my favorite parts about the last 10 years or so is that a lot of things that people didn’t really consider reading before have become a lot more legitimate. Especially things like graphic novels and comic books. When I was in middle school, I hardly checked out any books from our school library because I was reading comic books, magazines and those sorts of things, but I was still reading. What you read today might get you interested in something else later. As long as you’re reading, it’s a good thing.Tell me a little bit more about the idea that “everything is reading”.Travis:
A couple years back they started naming children’s literature ambassadors. The first year was Jon Scieszka and his big push throughout his career had been getting boys to read more. But I was so pumped up when he made his platform a push for giving kids choice and letting them choose books they’re interested in. Whether it’s a magazine, book, or even a website, all of that is reading. It might not be what has traditionally been considered reading but it really is. Do you find sometimes that there is pushback from parents or others from some of these other things that in the past weren’t considered reading?Travis:
Sometimes, but I think it’s becoming less and less of an issue. If there‘s pushback, a lot of times it’s going to be with graphic novels and comic books. Sometimes at book fairs I’ll hear a parent say, “You can’t choose that because it’s not a book.” When that happens I try to explain that it is reading. A lot of times I just open the book up and flip through the pages with the parent to help show that there is reading involved here. I also think sometimes it can be important for a child to have more of a transition. They grow up on picture books, where pictures take up the entire page and tell the story. To then switch to text-only is a pretty abrupt switch.How does reading help students get the skill sets they’ll need for the future?Travis:
Reading is the basis for everything. If a kid is a good reader and reads a lot, it’s just going to help them out in whatever they do. It’s the foundation for everything else.What advice do you give parents, teachers or other librarians to help students get the latest and greatest books?Travis:
I think one thing that is important to keep in mind is to give students choice. In the Book Whisperer
by Donalyn Miller, one of her big pushes is to let kids read what they want to read. In her classroom, she saw choice create great advances in her students’ interest in reading. It seems like common sense, but for awhile we were so bogged down in whether a book’s reading level was a little bit too high or low? So finding the latest and greatest book for a child is about finding something they’re interested in. For school librarians it means offering a really wide variety of books on a wide variety of topics. For parents I think it’s just important to remember to let kids read what they’re interested in. That might mean comic books. Sometimes it might be middle grade novels or a classic. I think it’s all legitimate.Are there certain books you tend to recommend more than others?Travis:
Horror is always popular. Half-Minute Horrors
is one I like to recommend. There’s a newer series by Patrick Carman called Skeleton Creek
that’s been very popular for 5th and 6th grade. Nonfiction remains popular, especially with books that get more specific like visual encyclopedias.
In terms of fiction, sports remain really big. A lot of Tim Green books
get checked out. One series that’s been really popular is the Origami Yoda series
by Tom Angleberger. There’s also When You Reach Me
and Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead.
Some of the graphic novels like Lunch Lady
and Baby Mouse
definitely grab kids and have been really popular as well. Some of the lesser known graphic novels I like to recommend include Jellaby
by Kean Soo and Mouse Guard
by David Petersen. It’s a great time for books right now to be honest. There’s just tons of stuff coming out that is interesting and that kids are interested in picking up.Watch for parts 2 (Collaboration and Helping Students Navigate Information Resources) and 3 (eBooks and eReaders in the School Library) of this interview to show up later this week.
Discovered this great children's book review site, appropriately called Great Books for Children. Oh, and it happens to have a review on one my new books. Yay. Have a look. greatbooksforchildren.com
Today, I came across a Watch. Connect. Read. (www.mrschureads.blogspot.com/), a fun blog that explores children's literature through book trailers. Check it out. Here's a sample of one of the videos on the site.
Reading my guest-blogger's review of Mistborn the other day reminded me of the first time that I met the Mistborn author, Brandon Sanderson. It was about five years ago at a potluck mingle with a number of other children's authors. I believe this was actually before Mistborn came out and it was before Brandon had reached best-seller status, as well as before he had been pegged to finish Robert Jordan's best-selling Wheel of Time series.
I had no idea who Brandon was and he certainly had no idea who I was, but we started talking. I mentioned that I wrote picture books, but that I had also written some yet to be published middle grade and YA novels. When he found out that some of my novels were in the fantasy genre, he began to give me all sorts of advice and encouragement. He gave me some great insights into the fantasy market. He told me what editors at different publishing houses liked and what they were looking for. The whole time I was wondering how does this guy know all of this stuff? Who is this guy? But the thing that impressed me most was how genuinely nice and friendly he was. What a rare trait that is.
I doubt Brandon remembers that encounter (or me), but his kindness had a great impression on me. Since then I've seen Brandon at book signings and a number of different conferences. Even though he's reached superstar status in the book world, from what I can tell he's still as genuinely kind and helpful as ever.
What a wonderful world this would be if everyone sought to develop that art of simply being kind to not only the people we know and like, but kind to complete strangers as well.
Question of the day. What do the Avengers movie and my new picture book, Cow Can't Sleep, have in common? Anyone? Anyone? :)
I just posted a new lesson plan on my website called "Recognizing Patterns in Music and Children’s Literature
". It's designed to help students meet music education standards for identifying similar and dissimilar phrases presented aurally in a piece of music and identifying musical phrases in a song presented aurally. The lesson plan accomplishes this by allowing students to explore and learn about patterns in music, including verse/refrain form. It teaches them and gives them the opportunity to practice echoing simple melodic phrases and singing developmentally appropriate songs.
Oh, and it also uses my picture book Old MacDonald had a Dragon. Check it out.www.kenbakerbooks.com/lessonplanmusic.html
Happy Release day for Cow Can't Sleep. It's now available anywhere that they sell great picture books.
Happy release day for Old MacDonald had a Dragon. You no longer have to wait to buy it. Yay!
Booktalk Interview with Allison Tran – Part 2Part 2 of an interview I conducted with Allison Tran, teen services librarian in Orange County, California, children's and YA book reviewer for the blog Reading Everywhere, and co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.In your role as a teen services librarian and with your Reading Everywhere blog, you focus a lot on teens. Tell me what you enjoy most about working with teens.Allison:
Teen literature is really exciting right now and it’s what I like to read, personally. Teens are at a really exciting point in their life, where they have so many opportunities available to them. They’re just learning how the world works and where they fit into it all. Their options are wide open. They have the rest of high school and then college to look forward to. They’re making a lot of big decisions that are going to shape the rest of their life—which also means there’s a lot of pressure. And it’s just really interesting to see them grow. And they’re really enthusiastic. I love the way teens get so excited about a book or a movie or whatever they’re in to. I also love that they’re very free to express their opinions. How can books help or make a difference to teens during this time of their life?Allison:
Books can be so many different things for a teen. They can be an escape from anything—from a really bad home life to stress about the SAT. It’s something that can just take them away. Also, books can really speak to them and let them know they’re not alone. Maybe they’ll open the pages and discover a character who is going through the exact same thing that they are. They might find another character who is being bullied or is dealing with an illness. Books can make them feel that they’re not the only one going through what they’re going through. They can be a source of inspiration that gives them hope. What do you say to teens who don’t have a love for reading?Allison:
I have a real sympathy for non-readers. Everyone constantly pressures them, telling them they have to read something, that they just need to find the right book. And of course I hope they do find the right book, but… what if they don’t? I imagine they feel about reading the way I feel about math. Let’s just say math is not my strong point. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that math is awesome and that if I just find the right math program, then I’ll love math. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.
So, I really respect those teens that don’t like reading, and I realize that it won’t necessarily change their mind about reading by simply sitting them down with a big novel and telling them what a super-fun time they’ll have reading it. I want them to know that I’m on their side and that I understand what they’re going through. Still, I’ll always try to recommend a few different books that that might catch their interest. Hopefully one of those choices will speak to themWhat if the teen ends up not like any of those book choices?Allison:
Even though I empathize with the non-reader, I still emphasize the importance of reading. Let’s face it: they’re going to have to read at some point. So, I try to open their minds to the fact that there are different forms of reading, including magazines, comic books, websites and blogs. There are also different styles of learning. Some kids aren’t visual learners and that’s simply what turns them off about books. In that case I try to sell them on the idea of listening to an audiobook and experiencing the story that way. Sometimes that’s what they need to get them through.What are some of the best ways to connect both readers and non-readers with the right book?Allison:
Probably one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is finding the right book for a reader. Avid readers are pretty easy. I just find out what they’ve been reading, what they like, what they’re into, what they’re in the mood for and give them a few choices and they’re usually happy. Since I’m an avid reader of teen books myself, I can always make personal recommendations. For non-readers, I try to approach it by asking, “What kind of movies do you like? What kind of video games? What kind of TV shows?” Then l try to find them something that fits in with those interests.What advice do you have for teen parents?Allison:
I try to reiterate to parents that no matter what their teen is reading, they’re going to be okay. For example, some are concerned that their teen reads too much fantasy— I think they’re worried the fantasy books aren’t going to help their child succeed academically. They say, “Can we find something that is not fantasy, please?” I can certainly do that for them, but at the same time I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with fantasy? I really believe that if the kid is reading- whatever he’s reading- he’s going to turn out great. Let him read what he likes!” I think parents need to trust in their kids to choose the right books for themselves.
Also, one of the best thing parents can do for their kids, especially at a younger age, but even as they get older, is to model reading behavior. Read together as a family. When they get too old for read-alouds, have a family reading time. Mom and dad can read their books while the kids read theirs, and everyone just kind of chills together and reads for 20 minutes or so. Make it a habit. The more that young people see their parents reading, the more they’re going to do it too.Do you have some favorite books that you like to recommend for teens?Allison:
There are definitely different books for different readers, but there are a few series that I can recommend to almost anyone and it will be a hit. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series
has wide appeal with its snappy dialogue and fast paced action. Romance, adventure-- it’s pretty much a win-win for both boys and girls. Scott Westerfeld
is another author that I can generally recommend to just about anyone. Holly Black
is really great too—fantastic urban fantasy. For girls who want something realistic, often Sarah Dessen
or Jessi Kirby
Clearly, I could go on and on!
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Booktalk Interview with Allison Tran – Part 1 An interview I conducted with Allison Tran, teen services librarian in Orange County, California, children's and YA book reviewer for the blog Reading Everywhere, and co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.How do you hope to make a difference as a librarian?Allison:
Almost everything I do with my blog, podcast and as a librarian have to do with getting people—and especially young readers—excited about literature. There are so many great books being published for children and teens today, more than ever before. It’s so exciting and readers are really getting into it more and making it more of a social thing. So, I want to build on that excitement and keep them getting excited. And maybe even introduce non-readers to something they might like. I really want to connect readers to books that they’re going to love; books that are going to speak to them and help them develop a lifelong love of reading.Why do you feel reading is so important?Allison:
Reading is almost like breathing to me. I believe reading is important because it provides a window into another world. It can make us feel like we’re not alone. It can reaffirm our own experiences, or show us new experiences and new worlds that we might not otherwise be able to see. Faraway places, people in different situations, and people who are different from us. Reading also provides a shared connection between people. When you find someone else who has read and loved the same book, you’re instant best friends. You have something to talk about.You co-host a podcast called Authors are Rockstars! Tell me about that.Allison:
Authors are so interesting and insightful. They always have interesting stories about what drives them and how they got published- but a lot of people haven’t had a chance to meet authors and hear their stories. So, my friend, Michelle, and I decided in our spare time to do this podcast where we feature author interviews and share our love of YA literature. It’s so much fun to be able to create a venue for authors to share a more personal side of themselves with their readers in a medium beyond the written word. How do you typically conduct the author interviews for your podcast?Allison:
We like it best when we can chat with authors in person, but we also do Skype interviews. Sometimes we do the interviews at events like book signings and get comments from people at the event, so our listeners feel like they were there, too. It’s really fun to connect with other book lovers that way.What advice do you have for today’s librarians, especially those who are just entering the field?Allison:
There are so many different kinds of librarians, but in general for those who work with the public, the three most important things newly minted librarians should be savvy with are 1) Technology/social media, which has become so important with its ability to connect us with other professionals, our patrons and authors. 2) Teaching. Librarians are educators. We’re always teaching people. So we need to feel comfortable and empowered in that role. 3) Marketing or advocacy. Libraries offer so many great resources, but sadly, a lot of people don’t know what we offer. We should constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to tell people what we offer, whether it’s through the Internet, social media, or through partnering with community organizations.Are there any unique experiences you’d like to share?Allison:
I’m really privileged to be able to help people all day. That’s one of my favorite things about being a librarian. I’m there for people. One of the most unique experiences I had as a librarian was back when I was a children’s librarian. A pregnant woman came into the library and wanted to find a classic picture book. As I was helping her, she explained that she wanted to make a video of her husband reading the picture book because he was about to get shipped off with the military to Iraq and was not going to be there for the baby’s birth. Of course the implication was that they were worried that he might not make it back. My heart just dropped. I wanted to hug her and weep all over her, but that wasn’t my place to do that. She wasn’t looking for someone to make a big reaction. But I felt privileged as a professional to be able to respond appropriately, telling her how meaningful that would be, and then finding some wonderful book for her. I wish I knew the end of the story, but I assume all went well. And I am so grateful that I had the privilege of being able to help her get what she needed at that time.
What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?Allison:
It’s such a great thing to have the opportunity to connect with people and connect them with books that they’ll love. It’s really my dream job.Watch for part 2 of this booktalk interview in the coming days.