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Reading IS thinking. As we share books with our students, we talk with them and show them through these small (or grand) conversations that books and stories help us make sense of a very confusing world. We have a responsibility to find and promote books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority—and that help connect all of us as readers.
Sonia Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street for forty-four years, teaching us how to count in English and Spanish, how to say our ABCs, how to laugh with (and gently tease) our friends like Oscar the Grouch. Named as one of the “25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever”, Sonia has retired from her television role and is devoting more time to her writing. Her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, reveals life-changing moments in her early life that led to her later success.
As a young person, Sonia never felt represented in the media she watched or the books she read. She told us:
“In all my viewing I never saw anybody who looked like me or lived in a neighborhood like the one I lived in. Not being represented in the media made me feel invisible.”
The books that teachers shared were no better--Dick and Jane’s family was nothing like her own. Reading and writing were not things that happened at home growing up—curling up with a book was seen as lazy. But Sonia has always been drawn to the stories of others.
Books connect us as people because we see pieces of ourselves in the stories we read. Manzano shared with us teacher Monica Ediger’s thought that the only way to help young people do better than previous generations is to share “sensitive mirrors of others into distant tragedies.” Books can help young readers understand the plight of the less fortunate, help them think about the confusing world around them.
As we read and share stories, however, we must make sure our diverse students are represented in these stories, not just inviting them to think about someone else’s experience. Sonia told us:
“There is something so important about seeing yourself and your own experiences reflected in media. As much as I saw pieces of myself in these other characters, it wasn’t until I was taken to see West Side Story that I realized that the world of creating art was accessible to me and that I could actually be represented on stage and in books the way I was, not just as part of someone else’s experience.”
Whenever we choose a book to recommend, whether we are a parent, teacher or librarian, we are making a statement about what stories we value. We must continue to be inclusive, to challenge ourselves to think beyond stereotypes. In our own reading, we must strive to find stories in which we see our children’s lives and experiences validated. Sonia concluded her speech by reminding us of this:
“When you make decisions on what books to share, think of the child who doesn’t see himself reflected in society, books that will be the beginning of an experience and not the end, and books that are full of emotion.”
Create a conversation about the stories you read, around the dinner table, around the classroom rug, at the circulation desk. Reading IS thinking, and our students will surprise us every day with the power and depth of their ideas.
Last week I shared about the amazing impact that Matt de la Peña and Rita Williams-Garcia had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sponsoring Sonia Manzano this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Day in and day out, school librarians help children find books that speak to them. We help our students grow as young readers, but even more than that we create memories each and every day. In doing this, we have a responsibility as caretaker of our children, finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.
Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia & Sonia Manzano at AASL banquet
Rita Williams-Garcia sparkles with energy, laughter and heart every time I meet her or read her stories. Rita received the Newbery Honor and the Coretta Scott King Award for the outstanding novel One Crazy Summer, and was a National Book Award finalist. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern’s story continues in P.S. Be Eleven, and now their story comes to a close with this year’s Gone Crazy in Alabama.
Rita began by sharing her early memories, growing up in the cocoon of her family’s love. At the age of 2, her family moved from New York to Arizona, traveling that long way by car. Rita described traveling through the South as the first time she saw her mother frightened: crying and fearful when the police stopped them. They didn’t stay in hotels, but were welcomed into other black families’ homes along the way—something that Rita didn’t think about at the time. As she said, when you are a child, your eyes are open and your memories stay with you.
As young children, we only know our direct experiences. Our children notice race, but might not know how to process their thoughts. In first grade, Rita’s teacher read wonderful stories—but when she read the stories of Little Black Sambo, Rita clearly remembers feeling that her classmates were laughing at Little Black Sambo, feeling different from her classmates because she was one of the only black children in her class.
When we share stories with our students, we must think about the memories we are creating. How are we validating their experiences? How are we inviting them into the conversation of stories?
Librarians and teachers are the caretakers of our children’s reading lives, as teacher and friend Donalyn Miller so wonderfully said on the NerdyBookClub. Every time we recommend books to children, we are inviting them to see themselves in stories. The stories we buy and collect must have many entry points, must have many different types of characters, must reflect the diversity of broader world around us.
We do this, as Rita reminded us, by being honest with our young people about the world around us, being authentic, and engaging in the hard conversations of our times. I love this tweet from Rita. These are turbulent times, full of strong emotions. When we have honest, caring discussions together, we can all move forward.
All week I am sharing about the amazing impact that Matt de la Peña, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to HarperCollins for sponsoring Rita Williams-Garcia this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having her as our guest.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
As school librarians, we have the honor and responsibility of knowing all of the students in our school. We watch them grow as young readers, we share their excitement finding books that speak to them and light a spark in their eyes. But we also have a responsibility of finding and promoting books that speak to all of our students—not just the majority of our students.
Matt de la Peña has received much praise and recognition for his realistic fiction for young adults, including his standout Mexican WhiteBoy. I have been thrilled that he has begun writing more for younger children, and have absolutely loved this year’s stellar picture book Last Stop on Market Street.
When Matt was growing up, he didn’t find many stories that spoke to him, didn’t like reading or writing—until he read A House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This slim, powerful collection of stories spoke to him so deeply that he read it over and over again, nearly memorizing it. The story “Darius and the Clouds” particularly stayed with him, inviting him into the world of poetry, giving him permission to see poetry as something he could try.
Was it that Cisneros provided a mirror for Matt, or that she understood Matt’s heartbeat? She spoke in a language that he understood, filled with metaphors and imagery that connected to his experiences as a young Latino growing up in the United States.
And now when he writes, Matt wants to create stories that have diverse characters, yes, but really with characters full of heart, full of complex emotions, full of language and experiences from a wide range of backgrounds. Diversity is not the issue these characters wrestle with, but rather part of the fabric of their lives.
As we select stories to share with our students, we need to provide a number of ways in for our students, not just thinking about their race, but also thinking about what might create a spark for them, what helps them feel a character’s heartbeat, what helps them hear the language of their soul. It is essential that our stories have diverse characters, that we acknowledge and affirm our children’s lives and experiences, and that we say again and again that stories are for all of us.
Later this week I will share about the amazing impact that Rita Williams-Garcia and Sonia Manzano had on our audience at #AASL15. Thank you so much to Penguin Random House for sponsoring Matt de la Pena this weekend. It was a truly pleasure having him as our guest.
I wrote to author Susan B. Katz, author of ABC School's For Me and several other books, asking her to talk with parents about the power of rhyming stories.
I notice that so many parents love reading these aloud to their kids. Why is that? Why do these stories play such an important part in children's language development? Can listening to stories actually help kids learn to read, even if they aren't reading the words at all? And what do you think makes the difference between a good rhyming book and a bad one -- what do you look for when you read aloud to kids?
Thank you, Susan, for your delightfully fun and thoughtful response.
Make Time For Rhyme By Susan B. Katz
I grew up on a diet of books by the master rhymer, Dr. Seuss. I devoured Green Eggs and Ham, the Sneetches and that crazy Cat on the Loose. As a teacher for 20 years, I did lots of “rug” read alouds. Rhyme sure does please the little listener crowds. Parents will find that rhyme gives students a feeling of success. Children are able to predict the last word, they love to shout out a guess. That is what’s called a Cloze, and yes, it’s spelled with a Z. In my books, predictable rhyming patterns make clozing easy. Take for example, in MY MAMA EARTH, my second title. Students guess the ending words; that brain engagement is vital. I say, “My Mama makes the hippos snore and mighty lions proudly ________.” Clozing keeps them involved and on their toes so reading isn’t a bore. My most recent book, ABC SCHOOL’S FOR ME, features bears, at school, making all sorts of creations. Students also predict the rhyming words using the colorful illustrations.
Authors are discouraged from writing in rhyme by most publishers, of course. Editors receive a lot of rhyme that is, what we call, “forced.” But, there are those of us who continue to publish in rhyme, confident that children’s love of verse will stand the test of time. Rhyme helps students learn language patterns like: might, tight, bright, sight. This impacts their spelling, long term, so they get more words right. You can teach them that rhyming words live in a family. The “cat, sat, mat” words fill up the leaves on the “AT” family tree. Research shows that children who detect rhyme orally in their early years are much more successful as the time for reading print nears. Even “pre-readers” enjoy rhyme although they’re not decoding books yet. And, as for that Common Core rhyming Kinder standard—consider it met! Rhyming is fun and can even be silly sometimes. Dr. Seuss still offers the best example of funny, whimsical rhymes. Novels in verse are becoming more popular for sure. The most recent Newbery was awarded to THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.
The English language has so many exceptions to the rules. English Language Learners benefit from having rhyme as one of their literacy “unlocking” tools. I have written all four of my books in verse. Thinking in rhyme is both a blessing and a curse. I rhymed all of my middle and high school speeches when I was young. Rhyme and word play just roll off my tongue. Children like songs and poems, both of which are different forms of rhyme. Prose has a purpose and place too—you can’t rhyme all the time. But, rhyming helps children tune their ears and change out sounds. Rhyming is a natural part of jump roping on playgrounds. “Ms. Mary Mack Mack Mack, all dressed in black, black, black.” I probably haven’t jumped to that since I was very small. But, the rhyme makes it easy for me to recall. For songs that are on your phone, the radio, TV or in a Disney movie, rhyme makes words tickle the tongue, melts meaning into your memory. There is so much power in the rhyming word. For a child’s language development, it is like the wings of a bird.
Can you imagine a world without songs and chants? Rhyming invites imagination, it welcomes, it enchants. You’d be hard pressed to find a child who doesn’t like to play, with words, that is, like: say, day, way, today! I will continue to be a champion for writing and reading rhyming stories. The love lasts forever: college kids listen to rap (a.k.a rhyme) in their dormitories. So, find a good rhyming book that sings and allows kids to cloze. (Once in a while, you can still read them prose.) Rhyme is the foundation of word patterns and song. It makes students feels successful—how could that ever be wrong? Most importantly, rhyme gives children a love of language and reading. You feed your child three meals a day-- consider rhyme a literary feeding. It fuels your child’s brain; helps expand their vocabulary. Rhyme makes reading sound much less scary. Build a banquet of books for those picky readers at bedtime. I promise you, they will be delighted if you just feed them, I mean, read them, rhyme!
Many thanks to Susan B. Katz for sharing her thoughts on rhyme. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Historical Fiction 1st Place, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2015 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Honorable Mention Picture Books 6+, New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
Local book festivals are such a treat--especially when they feature plenty of children's authors! The inaugural Bay Area Book Festival kicks off this weekend, bringing more than 300 authors and storytellers, along with a host of fun activities and exhibits.
There is an outdoor Children’s Stage and a Teen Stage featuring bestselling authors. It's an absolutely terrific line-up and is expected to draw a huge crowd. Just take a look at some of these highlights on the Children's Stage:
Don't forget to check out the schedule for the main indoor stage, which also features lots of family events.
Saturday, 10:00 am: Making Marvelous Middle-Grade Fiction
Saturday, 4:00 pm: East Bay Young Writers Competition Winners
Sunday, 2:00 pm: Raising a Reader Presents Family Strategies
The festival is collaborating with the East Bay Children's Book Project, an organization which helps promote literacy by putting books in the hands of children with little or no access to them. They are generously providing a free book for every child at the festival, making plans for giving away at least 14,000 books. Wow.
I can't wait to see Lacuna, the public art installation that's going up for the festival. The project is an interactive installation made entirely of books. Over 50,000 books have been donated by the Internet Archive. Lacuna is a library whose very walls are made of books that people can peruse and take. As people explore it, moving, removing and adding books, its very shape will change.
Please tell Bay Area families and friends about this amazing festival.
Did you know picture books are not just for little kids? Do you love picture books with all your heart? My students and I do--they make us smile, they make us want to share books with friends, and they draw us into reading them again and again.
Last week we had a terrific visit with artist & author Lisa Brown. Our kids were fascinated with the books she shared--hers and many other favorites--and had so many questions for her. If you have the opportunity for an author visit, I highly recommend bringing Lisa to your school.
Lisa Brown at Emerson
All month, we've been talking about noticing details in picture books, especially around characters. Our 3rd and 4th graders have been identifying how characters feel, and then explaining the details that they notice to support their ideas. In art class our students have been drawing cartoon figures with different expressions, putting into action what they've been noticing in their reading.
Supporting their opinions with this type of clear details is just the sort of practice that they need when they start writing literary essays. But even more importantly, in my opinion, it helps them read carefully and empathize with characters.
Another pair of 3rd graders loved sharing A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka. Our students worked on developing descriptive words for character's emotions -- not just saying that Daisy was sad, but that she was "depressed, melancholy, unhappy."
Lisa started off her presentation by sharing picture books that make us feel like we're going on a treasure hunt. Kids know Where's Waldo, but books like Benjamin Chaud's wonderful The Bear's Song incorporate this treasure hunt into the essential plot of the story.
We had great fun looking at Lisa's recent books Vampire Boy's Good Night and Emily's Blue Period, noticing the details she used to add depth and meaning to the story. We had already read these stories before her visit, so students loved showing her the details they had already noticed (the butler has a bandaid on his neck!) and hearing about others that helped us see more into the story.
Lisa Brown shows her sketchbook to students
Finally, Lisa shared her sketchbook--explaining how she draws every day. And she celebrated drawings our students had done, sketching all sorts of emotions and expressions.
Sending out huge thanks to Lisa Brown for taking the time to visit, and to the Berkeley Public School Fund and the Emerson PTA for sponsoring this author visit.If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
"Oh man, I love that book." -- that's Theo, one of my 5th graders, when I told them last week that we were going to Skype with Kwame Alexander, the author of The Crossover. How cool is that? Just hearing Theo sigh and declare his love for a book was enough to melt my heart. But now we are all soaring, with all the inspiration, smiles and love from our visit this week.
Huge thanks go out to Kwame Alexander -- first for writing a book with so much heart, so much swag, so much appeal that it's got kids passing it from friend to friend. But also for taking his time to visit with us.
You can get a sense of what it's like for our students to Skype with Mr. Alexander in this picture below. Two fifth grade classes gathered in the library (about 50 kids), of whom about 15 had already read The Crossover. We first listened to Kwame tell us about the book, but the bulk of our time was spent asking questions back and forth.
Skyping in the Emerson library with Kwame Alexander
As students started asking questions, I captured some of what Kwame was saying. I'd like to share a few excerpts here.
"Basketball is like poetry in motion."
Asking Mr. Alexander a question
"I was inspired to write this book by my relationship with dad. He was a really good basketball player, like Josh & JB's father, but I wasn't. I played tennis instead. I also wanted to this because I love basketball so much. And I wanted to write a book that boys (and girls too) would really want to read, and I knew that basketball would draw a lot of kids in."
"Why did you write this story as a novel in verse? Because poetry is the coolest form of writing on the planet, and I happen to be the coolest dude on the planet! But it's more than that -- poetry is rhythmic and concise, and when you do it write, poetry has a lot of swag. This is just like basketball -- players have rhythm, movement, a lot of swag. A novel in verse also doesn't have a lot of words on a page, so kids who don't like to read won't be intimidated by this book. That was important to me."
One student asked what the first novel in verse was that he read, and Kwame talked about how Love That Dog by Sharon Creech was just amazing. Then he asked her what other novel in verses she liked. When she told him that she loved Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes, Kwame took out his phone and texted her! Then he took this selfie to show Nikki!!
We asked him about what you do when you get stuck writing. Kwame asked if any of us played soccer. When you play soccer, you do a lot of running, but you aren’t always scoring goals. Writing is like that. You write and write and write, and eventually something will click and you’ll score. The Crossover took Kwame five years to write.
Here’s how he goes about writing a poem.
Somebody tells me what I have to write about, or I have to figure out my topic
I make a list of as many words I can think of about that topic. I write down 30-50 words.
I think about the structure -- what kind of poem am I going to write? Maybe I’m going to borrow a poem, model this poem on a poem I really like.
Then I take my list of words and start fitting them into that structure. I add verbs or adjectives to link the words together, connect them, and keep playing.
Special thanks to Kwame for taking time out of his writing day to visit with us. And special thanks also go to the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and our school PTA that made this visit possible. If you're at all inclined to try out Skyping with an author, reach out and see if they're interested.
Last week, we had an amazing, fantastic, captivating visit at Emerson School from Jonathan Auxier, the author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. He brought such energy and enthusiasm to our students as he shared about his book - the whole room was captivated, each and every student. That energy is still buzzing through the school and community. Our local bookstore has already had parents requesting Peter Nimble, saying their child couldn't stop talking about it. Here's a silly picture of me with Jonathan - you can get a sense of the excitement his visit generated!
Jonathan has written all kinds of stories - movie scripts, comics, plays - but Peter Nimble is his first book. He told the kids that he needs their encouragement, and that really helped them get involved in the presentation. He has put together an amazing presentation, complete with yo-yo tricks, costumes and student volunteers that had the kids alternating between laughter and rapt attention. He's developed a yo-yo routine that will knock your socks off, timing tricks with his summary of the story. When Peter is at sea in his baby basket, Jonathan performs a "cradle" with his yo-yo. The kids were amazed and totally captivated. Here's a picture of Jonathan with our student reporter, August, and our 4th/5th grade teacher Ms. Gray, showing that great books can bit a bit scary - watch out for thieves in the night!
Peter Nimble has been circulating all fall, but now kids are asking for it like crazy (yay!). I'm hoping they read it, thinking about some of the books that influence Jonathan - books about orphans, thieves and things that don't seem exactly the way you suspect. We've already had kids check out two of the
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Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.
Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!
She shared how she jots down a sentence, phrase, or a few words in her notebook. Even one word can lead to a “seed” or idea for a new story. She shared stories from over 25 years as an elementary teacher and, with the help of a few props, showed how these “seeds” grew into whole characters in her books.
Suzy described her path as a writer and her long journey to being published. She displayed artifacts from laminated copies of childhood stories to her very first rejection letter from a publisher. With an impressive display of published books, Suzy illustrated how her persistence paid off. Suzy inspired the students to write, write, write and never give up!
With a little help from the faculty, including the principal, Suzy brought a scene from a Horrible Harry book alive with an impromptu dramatic performance. The students loved it!
Suzy did a phenomenal job of spreading her contagious enthusiasm for writing with the next generation of writers. At the end of the presentation, each student was given a small pocket notebook.
The least I could do was whip out my journal during my lunch break and jot a few things down. Thanks for the inspiration, Suzy!
Have any of you attended an author visit or illustrator presentation? What did you gain from it?
All of Emerson was abuzz last week with excitement for books and reading. Todd Parr, a wonderful author and illustrator, came to visit our students and share about his books. As so many of the kids said, "We love you, Todd." You see, he ends each book with a note that speaks directly to kids, and he signs these notes, "Love, Todd".I truly believe this helps kids connect with Todd as a person, and they return his love adoringly.
Todd Parr is the author of over 30 books. Every one of Parr’s books helps children feel good about themselves and helps families talk about all kinds of things that kids really do care about. Parr illustrates his stories, creating bright, colorful artwork that will bring a smile to your face. Through every book he shares the message that it’s OK to be different and important to believe in yourself.
Todd Parr with my daughter Emily
During his visit, he read several of his stories aloud to the kids, asked for their help drawing silly pictures, and played a great improvisation game with the kids. The students laughed, giggled and begged to participate.
I especially love talking with the kids about how Todd's grandmother read with him when he was a child. He loved reading his favorite books over and over again. Todd talks about how his grandma would ask him what would happen next, and he would create crazy imaginative predictions. She encouraged his creativity and helped him connect to the books they were reading.
In talking with the kids afterward, they especially loved seeing Todd draw right there in front of him. They love noticing things in his artwork. Kids have described his style as simple, but full of details. They like the way it looks like a kid could draw it, but they clearly notice that he takes care and effort.
Todd's books are perfect for preschoolers and young elementary students, but older students read them with joy and smiles on their faces. At Emerson, we had all of our kindergartners, 1st and 2nd graders come to the library to listen to Todd. But, a group of older kids also came along - these 10- and 11-year-olds loved listening to hi
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In celebration of the publication of Minette's Feast, I asked the author Susanna Reich to share some of her memories growing up reading with her parents. Reading this brought back so many memories for me, and reminded me of all we give our children sharing that time together, reading together and talking about what books mean to us.
Most authors were avid readers as children, and I’m no exception. My reading habit began early, when my parents would tuck me in to bed with a pile of picture books. Nowadays I tuck myself in, but I still like to “settle my brains” with a good book. Here’s a baker’s dozen of favorites from childhood:
I love historical fiction. I can absorb the feel of a particular point in history, and truly gain an understanding of the events. I'm thrilled that a sequel to one of my favorites, Hattie Big Sky, is about to be released. So I'd like to share excerpts from my original post in 2009.
We're thrilled that Kirby Larson is visiting the Bay Area for the release of Hattie Ever After. You can see her at Book Passage, in San Francisco, or Rakestraw Books in Danville.
In 2009, my 10 year old and I really enjoyed reading/listening to Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Lawson - a story that shows what it would have been like to try to "prove" a homesteading claim in Montana. We can't wait to find out what happens next in the sequel Hattie Ever After, being published next week.
Sixteen-year old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan from a young age, bouncing from relative to relative. One day, out of the blue, she receives a letter from her long-forgotten uncle giving her his homestead claim in eastern Montana. He writes,
"You will think I have never thought of the niece in Iowa. But this letter will show you I have. If you come out here to Vida, you will find my claim. I trust you've enough of your mother's backbone to meet the remaining requirements. If you do - an you have one year to do it - 320 Montana acres are yours."
The pull is strong - Hattie has never had a place to call her own, and this is her chance. She dives right in, not realizing what's at stake. When she arrives, she finds out that she must plant 40 acres, and build 480 rods of fence in order to "prove" her claim.
This book will appeal to girls who like historical fiction like the Little House books, Julie of the Wolves, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kirby Lawson, the author, has developed characters that I really cared about and could feel for. Hattie could not survive without the help and support of her neighbors, Perilee and Karl Mueller. But the year is 1916, and the United States is consumed with supporting the troops fighting in World War I. In this small Montana community, many are suspicious of Karl because of his German accent. Hattie is torn - she knows that Karl is a good man, but should she risk her own safety to stand up to him?
We're **thrilled** for the release of Hattie Ever After. Larson follows Hattie's journey, seeing where this young girl's dreams will take her. If you're excited for the sequel, take a look at Kirkus Review's starred review. I completely agree: Larson writes "historical fiction with heart."
This review was originally written in 2009 for this blog - one of my early reviews! And yet, Hattie Big Sky is a book that's stayed with me year after year. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Last week, our students were thrilled to spend time with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, learning about her writing process and hearing her passion for her work. As we read books by different authors, we try to think about an author's purpose in writing a story or a piece of nonfiction. We dig into the ideas authors layer in their work. Our students really appreciated hearing directly from Ms. Nelson about her many books.
"Bass Reeves was a true American hero. I felt that everyone should know about him." Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Our students had all read Bad News for Outlaws before meeting Ms. Nelson. She really talked with them, asking them questions and making them an active part of the discussion. This really extended their thinking beyond just listening to the book or hearing her presentation. They could feel just what she meant when she said,
"Bass was honorable; he had integrity; he was strong, smart and clever."
Ms. Nelson told our older students about her newest book, No Crystal Stair, which tells the story of her uncle's bookshop in Harlem. She talked about how he wanted to establish a bookshop that helped African Americans learn about their history, their stories, their literature. We are all looking forward to the picture book which Ms. Nelson is writing about her uncle's bookstore.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders talked with Ms. Nelson about her picture book Almost to Freedom, a story about a young girl's escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She started off by talking about why she writes.
"I know it's because my parents read to me every night. My siblings would argue about going to bed, but secretly I was dying to get into bed because my mom would read the next chapter of our book. My dad loved poetry and would recite poetry from memory to me."
Her parents taught her not only to love stories, but to love words and to understand their power. Our students love Almost to Freedom because it's told from the perspective of a doll. Ms. Nelson really creates the voice of this doll, and students can connect to that voice.
Ms. Nelson talked about how when she looked at the dolls in the museum, she started wondering,
"If those dolls could talk, what would they tell me?"
I loved a 3rd grader's question: "When you write, do you start feeling how your characters are feeling?" Yes, she does very much -- because she needs to feel what it might be like to run away through the forest at night hiding from the slave catchers, to be able to share those feelings in her words and create them for her readers. She brought her collection of African American dolls to share with our children.
Enjoy this Animoto slideshow of our visit with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
I want to thank the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California for sponsoring Vaunda Nelson's trip to the Bay Area. For a wonderful resource of materials about sharing history with children, check out ACL's resources from their recent Institute. I would also like to thank the Emerson PTA for sponsoring Ms. Nelson's visit to our school. Our children appreciate your support and enrichment. But most of all, I want to thank Ms. Nelson herself for her time, energy and enthusiasm sharing her passion for stories with our children.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Yesterday was Read Across America Day and the day schools celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday… and I had such a fabulous day! I had the opportunity to visit Mineral Springs Elementary School and share Being Frank with Pre-K through 2nd grade students! Big thanks to Jerry Ethridge for the pics below! Filed under: writing for children […]
Emerson kids have been raving about Andy Griffiths' 13-Story Treehouse series, passing it from kid to kid. It especially appeals to kids who want a funny story. So I was thrilled when our local bookstore A Great Good Place for Books asked if we'd like to have him visit our school. YES! YES! YES!
Andy had kids laughing up a storm. Really, this was the noisiest author visit we've ever had. Kids were so excited to respond to Andy's questions, laughing and talking to their neighbors the whole time. Andy told jokes, shared about his storytelling technique (it's all about surprises), and even showed us a mutant baby dinosaur.
Andy Griffiths & his Catanary visit Emerson
My favorite part? I love how Andy gives total permission to laugh at anything -- whether it's stinky underwear or stuffing your face with marshmallows. He tells plenty of poop jokes, because he knows his audience (hello, have you listened to 8 year old boys?), but he also gets us laughing at our greatest fears.
More than that, Andy encourages kids to go crazy following their own imaginations wherever it takes them. Surprise the reader and -- better yet -- surprise yourself with how much fun you can have along the way.
The 13-Story Treehouse combines silly humor with plenty of adventure to keep kids reading. Our 5th graders thought it was terrific, but it's also grabbing hold of our 2nd and 3rd graders. I really think Andy and Terry struck the right balance between humor, story and illustrations. Kids give a big thumbs up to the 26-Story Treehouse as well. Just check out this trailer as Andy reads aloud the first chapter:
Thanks so much to Andy for his time and laughter, and to Macmillan Kids for sponsoring such a great visit! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, but many more were purchased for our school library and classrooms! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Hello all! It's another dreary day here in the Sunshine State. I like to tell people we have only two seasons: hot, and hot and rainy. Do not visit THE MOUSE in summer! You'll likely be drenched to the bone, then frozen by the AC. (That's when they swap you out for an aminatron, ala Stepford Wives). And when it's not raining, the heat and the humidity will press you right down to a smear on the concrete, which The Mouse's minions will wipe up and dispose of before anyone notices you're missing.
Now to the subject at hand: My website is down. This is a problem for me because I wanted to update my school visit schedule. Because I don't know how soon the site will be back up, I wanted to let you know I have begun to book visits for next school year. Twenty-minute Skype visits are free to groups who've read my work. If you'd like me to visit in person, I have a variety of presentations and I also provide writing workshops for students who want to polish or publish their work.
If you're interested in having me visit, send me a message! My email address is dhaworthbooks at yahoo dot com.
One of my great joys is connecting students with authors who inspire them. The moment I first read Andrea Davis Pinkney's Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, her voice filled me with hope and song. I knew I wanted to share that same voice with students in Berkeley. And so I'm thrilled that she will be visiting this week, speaking at an elementary school, a middle school, and with families at a fireside chat.
A lot of work goes into arranging an author visit like this, but most important is getting the students excited about meeting her. I want to give students a sense of the author's work and what she's like as a person before they meet her. We're sharing this presentation throughout Berkeley schools:
I especially like sharing resources from TeachingBooks.net with my students -- listening to how authors pronounce their name, hearing their voice, and watching videos. My students really liked the variety of images I was able to share -- from pictures of Andrea with her family to illustrations from her books.
It's a busy week here in Berkeley, as we get ready to host several author visits -- Andrea Davis Pinkney, Rita Williams Garcia and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. They're all in town for the ALSC Institute. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to connect these inspiring authors with our students.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
I woke up to the sound of soft rain this morning and savored the small moment. It made me think of a lovely book that all our Berkeley school libraries have: Rain, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson. I absolutely adore this book, especially for the way both author and illustrator notice small moments.
Rain tells the story of two very different people’s reaction to a rainy day. The illustrations are full of details that kids notice and can talk about. A happy little boy and a grumpy old man wake up to a rainy morning, and each immediately react to the prospect of putting on their rain gear. The old man says, “Nasty galoshes. Blasted overcoat.” The little guy, on the other hand, tells his mom, “It’s raining frogs and pollywogs!”
interior from Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson
They each go their own way until they meet in a cafe. Kids will love noticing what happens when the little boy offers his cookie to the old man. Will the grumpy old man refuse, or will the young boy’s enthusiasm win the day?
I loved talking with students about how the author noticed small moment details in the dialog and how the artist noticed small moment details in his illustrations. Students are talking about "small moments" as they craft their own stories, as a way to flesh out details in creative writing. Our 2nd graders noticed so many details, from the emotions of other customers in the cafe, to the interactions between the boy and the shop keeper.
Christian Robinson at Emerson, May 2014
The illustrator Christian Robinson visited all Berkeley elementary schools last year, thanks to a grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and so many students will be able to remember the story and meeting the artist. He is absolutely delightful.
For a bit of fun, check out his website: theartoffun.com and notice how small moments can be captured in words as well as pictures. This image (from Robinson’s Fall 2014 Publisher’s Weekly cover) is not from the book, but it is a small moment that has me smiling this morning.
Christian Robinson at Emerson School, May 2014
The review copy comes from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Our second graders loved today's read-aloud: Spark, by Kallie George. And I adored their comments, connections and questions. If you're looking for a book to bring smiles and patience to a young reader, definitely look for this charming story.
Spark wants to be able to breath fire like a big dragon, but he can't control his flame. His mama asks him to practice roasting marshmallows and he's just sure he can do it. Just look how cute he is:
"I can do it!" said Spark.
But every time he tries, "WHOOOOSH" out comes a huge flame. He can’t control his fiery breath. Even practicing doesn’t help. I just love how his parents kept their cool (get it?!) and told him that he was still young. When he was older, he'd be able to control his flame.
"Whoosh! Out came a big flame."
We connected this to our reading. Sometimes I tell kids they aren't ready for a book yet. Maybe when they're in fourth grade, it will be just right for them. They know how hard it is to wait. And they knew how much it meant to Spark that he was patient and tried again.
Spark's birthday party
The culminating moment several months later, after Spark, when Spark lights his birthday candles is so full of joy that it brings a smile to everyone's face. Here are some of our students' comments:
“It’s a really good book because it’s funny. I like the way Spark blows FIRE.”
“At the last part, how is he going to blow out the candle?”
“I like the way the ending lets us imagine what’s going to happen next.”
“I like how Spark kept trying. He was patient, and was able to blow them out in the end.”
We are excited to Skype with Kallie George soon. Our students want to know how she gets inspired, whether she keeps a writer's notebook, how she deals with getting frustrated when she's writing.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Books, but I've already purchased three more copies to share with teachers and families. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Berkeley elementary schools have just adopted the Toolbox Project social-emotional learning curriculum. As our districts' announcement stated, Toolbox "teaches critical social competencies necessary for academic and life success such as: resiliency, self-management, and responsible decision-making skills." But really, it teaches us how to be good friends, how to create a community together.
I shared the Toolbox Project with Julie and asked her which tools helped her character, Celie. You see, Celie has trouble with her friends -- troubles that I just know my students will relate to. I was very touched by Julie's reply:
Mending our hearts, by Julie Sternberg
I wish I could go back in time and give this toolbox to my fourth-grade teacher to use with our class. She struggled and struggled to help us resolve conflicts and manage our emotions. She didn’t have difficulty because she was inexperienced or untalented—far from it. Our class just somehow tended to bring out the worst in each other.
Our teacher led several discussions on kindness and respect, but they made little difference. Then a boy grabbed a girl in an extremely sensitive, private area. We all found it horrifying. After that, our teacher took an unusual step. She cut the biggest heart I’ve ever seen out of butcher paper. Then she split that heart into two jagged pieces. She taped one on the far left side of one of our classroom walls, and the other on the far right. When she’d finished taping, she told us that the heart of our class had been broken. Only by being very kind to each other could we mend it.
From that time on, at the end of every school day, she’d give an official assessment of our behavior. If we’d been kind to each other, she’d move the pieces of broken heart closer together. If not, she’d inch them farther apart. When the heart was finally whole again, we had a party with lots of candy.
Part of me loves this broken-heart strategy. When my daughters have long and needless fights, I consider cutting an enormous heart in two and taping the pieces far from each other in our apartment. But I know the strategy is flawed. Because I don’t remember how my classmates and I managed to be kind enough to each other to mend our collective heart. I just remember succeeding, and getting candy.
Instead I now see that I should tape up in my apartment the Twelve Tools for Learning, so we can all practice the skills that would help us manage our emotions and prevent conflicts from escalating. I particularly love the “Quiet/Safe Place” tool. I love the idea of saying, in the heat of a senseless battle, “Let’s all three go find a ‘place of rest and peace where we can gather ourselves.’” It seems so much nicer than shouting, “BOTH OF YOU GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!” Which I might have done once or twice, or a hundred times, in the past.
It would have been interesting to use the Twelve Tools before I wrote FRIENDSHIP OVER, the first book in the series THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie has all kinds of difficulty managing her emotions, and I would love to have her try the tools. The “Garbage Can Tool” might be my favorite for her: “I let the little things go—Put it in the garbage can and walk on by.” This would NOT be easy for Celie (though it would certainly be helpful). And it would be so much fun to write the scenes in which she tries, and fails at first, and ultimately succeeds.
It’s something I’ll keep pondering. Because there are Celie sequels to come!
I know my students are really going to enjoy reading Celie. She struggles with how to be a friend, how to be true to her own feelings but respectful of others. I wonder if Celie uses drawing and writing in her diary as a way to find a "quiet/safe place" -- somewhere she can go in her mind to sort through her feelings, calm down, and remove herself from conflict.
About the author: Julie Sternberg is the author of the best-selling Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and its sequels, Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; Like Bug Juice on a Burger is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist. Formerly a public interest lawyer, Julie is a graduate of the New School's MFA program in Creative Writing, with a concentration in writing for children. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information about her life and work and to download free activity materials based on her books, visit her website: juliesternberg.com.
Do your kids love graphic novels? Do you know any kid who loves the spotlight or has fun when their friends grab center stage? The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review is a new series of graphic novels that my students are giving a round of applause for the way it combines humor, theatrics, tragedy and puns. It would make a great gift either for comic-book fans or theater fans.
"Macbeth, the hero of our story, the greatest warrior in the land."
When the zoo shuts for the night, the animals gather together and put on a show. The lion makes a natural mighty Macbeth, full of swagger and a taste for power. My students were easily able to imagine why such a beast would want to be king--and Lender's version shares this classic play in a form that is very kid-friendly. Here's how he adapts the witches' famous song which charms Macbeth, setting the plot in motion:
"Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble. Eat the king, the plot will thicken, go on Macbeth, he tastes like chicken."
Lendler mixes humor and puns throughout Shakespeare's bloody tragedy, giving young readers a real sense of the classic play but making it very age-appropriate. Giallongo's illustrations capture Macbeth's slide into gluttony perfectly, make light of the witches and add plenty of ketchup to keep the tragedy at bay. My students definitely give this version of Shakespeare a hearty round of applause.
We were lucky enough to have Ian Lendler visit Emerson last week to share his book with our 4th and 5th graders. He starts out his presentation with a loud bugle calling everyone's attention (see below), just as the young boys did during Shakespeare's time. He shares an overview of the story with students, emphasizing some of the lessons of the story. Our kids highly recommend his visit to other schools, especially for kids who like funny comic books and putting on their own plays.
Ian Lendler at Emerson
Are you looking for a holiday gift to add to the fun? I know my students would love their own stadium horn to call everyone to their performances. They also might want a mighty robe, fit for a king. Check these ideas out:
Jasmine, a 5th grade teacher and a blogger at The Bookish Mama is the lucky winner of the Skype visit with Anne Ursu, the wonderful author of Breadcrumbs. Congratulations Jasmine, and thank you to all who entered!
I'm hoping that Jasmine will come back here to Great Kid Books after your class Skype visit to talk about her experience. I'm very interested in the possibilities of connecting kids with authors through a Skype visit.
Our 3rd graders at Emerson are in the middle of reading Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary, and are fascinated by the idea of connecting to an author who means a lot to them. It can be a very powerful experience for a child to meet an author who inspires them. I've helped arrange some amazing author visits with students - Jennifer Holm rocked our socks off last year at Emerson, starting an all-out Babymouse craze at our school, but also hooking some advanced readers on her wonderful historical fiction.
In this time of constrained budgets, a Skype visit could be a win-win all around. Children will be able to connect with authors they admire and learn about what goes into writing a novel. Authors will be able to connect with broader audiences, without having to invest large amounts of time and energy in travel.
Have you had a chance to connect with an author through Skype? Were children really able to get a sense that this was a real person on the computer monitor directly speaking with them? I'd love to hear more direct experiences from classroom teachers and school librarians.
Congratulations, Jasmine! Stop by to let us know how you're planning on using the Skype visit.