Sep 30, 2012

Reinventing Friendships

Ta-Da... and the winner of the giveaway of an autographed copy of the paperback release of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman is... Nancy Viau  @nancyviau1
Thank you to all who commented or shared the news about the giveaway!
I'm willing to concede the value of various "theme" months, Black History, Women's History,  Poetry, and others. But balancing out the benefits of the well-deserved attention to these topics is the likely side-effect that they appear to merit only a brief period of attention, only to be ignored throughout the rest of the year.
Despite that concern, this post is just in time for October,

With school now well underway, it's my hope that quite a few excellent titles about acceptance and appreciation of others, openness to friendship, and cooperation have already been shared to contribute to the positive culture developing in classrooms of all ages. I've always believed it's a more constructive and successful approach to build those qualities and skills proactively than to take a "Thou shalt not..." approach to bullying or anything else.

Some people seem to have been born with a powerful kindness-gene, while others have distinct needs for practice, discussion, modeling, and role playing of acts of kindness and acceptance. Thus, the title of this post: Reinventing Friendships. When attraction does not occur spontaneously, or differences generate avoidance or awkward behaviors, books serve well as models for building friendships on unfamiliar ground.

This post is already running long, even after several harsh edits, and so I have created a separate page with related titles (which I will continue to supplement over time) labeled APPRECIATING DIFFERENCES.

Some title choices are obvious selections, just as some differences are immediately visible to others. One excellent choice is BE GOOD TO EDDIE LEE,  by Virginia Fleming, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, whose work was featured in a previous post here. A detailed description and review can be found at Multicultural Literature for Children Blog.
Once again I can extol the power of picture books to open and explore discussions of significance at any age. This topic is yet another  great example of how picture books can be used to introduce a theme that is developed more fully in middle grade and young adult books and characters.

Here's one middle grade title worth sharing. There are already countless fans of WONDER, by R. J. Palacio, justifiably so. It's hard to choose just a few of the many reviews of this 2012 title, but a good place to start is at SLJ's A Fuse #8 Production. It was cited more than any other title as the first chapter read aloud of the year in Colby Sharp's back to school slide show recently.

In both of the above titles the differences are utterly apparent, unavoidably so. It's quite a different story when someone appears to have "no excuses" for observed differences, and this carries over to adult perceptions and expectations as well. 

CHAMELIA, written and illustrated by Ethan Long, is a fun read and an example of a character so clear in her own sense of self that she is basically oblivious to the reactions of those around her and the effects her choices and pursuits have on them. This book is all about finding ways to navigate sometimes murky social waters without losing a sense of self.
Kirkus review agrees.
Such is the case in THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS by Jacqueline Houtman, another middle grade novel winning awards and fans. I was hooked from my first reading and have reread and recommended "Eddy" throughout the past year. Boyds Mills Press Front Street's posted reviews from Booklist and Kirkus and Armchair Geek/GeekDad blog indicate what a complex, positive, and entertaining contribution this title is to the world of middle grade books. 
Author Jacqueline Houtman participated in an interview with Susan Kaye Quinn in the early days of Eddy's release in which she answered many questions about its origin. 
In honor of  its recent release in paperback, (debuting on Amazon as number one in “Hot new releases in special needs", Jacqueline has agreed to answer a few more questions here, and is giving away an autographed paperback copy of her book. 

Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us. Since your book came out you've visited schools and spoken with kids who read it. What stands out from those visits? 
One thing that surprised me is how much fun it is to do programs with kids. They also ask great questions. More than once, I’ve had so say “You, know, I never thought of it that way.”
One of the best things to come from the book was an adaptation by a youth theater group in Sheboygan, Wisconsin called Theater for Young Audiences. A group of kids did the adaptation, and we Skyped so they could ask me some questions. They put such thought into it. And it really showed. I went up to Sheboygan to see the production. It was surreal to see the characters that had been in my head for so long right there in front of me. I was wondering how they would deal with all the internal monologue in the book, but they came up with an ingenious solution.

I was so pleased to read that Eddy has moved into paperback because it will find an even wider audience in this format.
I’m excited about the paperback for a couple of reasons. First, I love the new cover. It’s quite striking in appearance and conveys a lot about what’s inside. I love the cover of the hardcover, as well, but I think this one will be appealing to a whole new audience of readers. We’ve also added some new material to the back. There are some discussion questions that teachers can use in their classes. I’ve also answered some of the questions people ask, mostly about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and how I developed the character of Eddy without using the “A word.”

Was there anything about Eddy, as you came to know him, that surprised you while you were writing his story?
I was astounded at how real Eddy became to me. He sort of took on a life of his own.

He did for me as a reader, too! 
Thanks so much for stopping by, and for offering to give away a copy of your book.

GIveAway Rules:

  • Must be 13 years or older
  • Must have a mailing address within the US.
  • Just leave a comment on the post. If you leave contact info (Twitter tag, email, or Facebook page) I'll notify you directly when the announcement is made on October 6. Otherwise, check back here where the winner's name will be posted.
  • To enter, leave a comment below, or
  • Cut and paste on Twitter: Giveaway of #ReinventionOfEdisonThomas offered by @PBWorkshop at
  • Deadline, Midnight, October 5, 2012.
For more titles and links take a look at this Playing By The Book post. Although I'm not crazy about the  labeling (characters with disabilities) I do endorse the purpose, which is to generate lists and links to titles in which characters may have some identifiable differences, but the focus is on the characters and the story, not the disability.

Sep 23, 2012

Never Too Young to Be a Booklover!

Is it book club time already?
Next best thing to a beach read!

So what's the right age to get books into the hands of a child?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, these should say it all. My twin great-niece and great-nephew agreed to share their opinions about this topic as an introduction to our guest blogger. 

I'm proud to have a multigenerational reputation in my family as "the book aunt", but books alone won't create this result. These wee ones have had hands-on, ears-on lap time with books since they were born. This is obviously not a household that needs tips on ways to share books with tots. 

But not all parents were raised this way themselves, and not all have a wide repertoire of book-sharing skills on which to draw naturally and automatically.

Naptime books- so relaxing.
Hmm... Looks good.

My favorite author...
I couldn't agree more.

Is this the one you suggested?

So many books, so little time- until naps!

On behalf of this cutie twosome, I'm happy to introduce guest blogger Susan Marx. She and her writing partner, Barbara Kasok, are mothers, grandmothers, reading professionals, and consultants. Susan is also a parent educator who facilitates workshops on topics such as fostering children's self-esteem and school readiness.  Susan and Barbara have written HELP ME GET READY TO READ: The Practical Guide For Reading Aloud To Children During Their First Five Years. I'll add some comments about their book at the end of the post, but let's see what Susan has to say about tots and books based on information provided in HELP ME GET READY TO READ. 

"Creating a Love of Books and Learning
Parents often ask us how they can create a love of books and learning in their young children. We respond by telling them that there are three essential key ideas they should focus on to do so. Simply stated, they are:
• Provide a nurturing environment in which little ones can thrive.
• Choose good age-appropriate picture books to engage children in conversations about the text and illustrations.
• Read aloud effectively so that children acquire the early literacy concepts and skills they need to be ready to learn to read.

Creating a love of books and learning in our little ones begins with providing a nurturing environment. For children to blossom and grow into lifelong lovers of books and learning, they need to feel comfortable in their surroundings whether at home, at childcare or in a preschool setting. Also, they need to feel the gentle encouragement and support of the trusted adults who care for them as well as serve as positive role models in their young lives.

Reading aloud books to little ones in a nurturing environment has a tremendous impact on their healthy emotional, social, language, and cognitive development. During the read-aloud experience, caring adults foster young children’s self-esteem so they feel competent and confident in their ability to learn new things, and engage in creative and imaginative meaningful activities. Furthermore, reading aloud effectively in a nurturing environment ensures a close emotional connection between adult and child. It provides a source for wonderful memories by giving children the loving message:
I want to read this book to you because I care about you, I respect
you, and I value our time together.

Here are some positive parenting strategies for creating a love of books and learning in young children. They deal specifically with ways that a nurturing environment can be established by parents in the home as well as by childcare providers and preschool staff in group settings.

1. Foster children’s self-esteem and encourage conversation
• Keep in mind each child's age and stage of development, interests, and attention span.
• Give each child “Positive Parenting Praise!” by acknowledging the new skill that he or she has acquired. For example, “Good job holding the book” or “Good job watching as I move my finger under the words on the page.”
• Find a quiet place to read together, such as a cozy corner, sofa, or chair.
• Turn off the TV.
• Try not to answer the phone or respond to e-mails.
• Make connections between story events and children’s real life experiences.
• Point out similarities and differences between read-aloud books, such as story  characters, setting, or story events.

2. Establish reading routines so that books and learning become a part of children’s every day lives
• Set up regular reading times such as at naptime, bedtime, or story hour.
• Place books in a basket or on a shelf to make them accessible to children.
• Encourage children to select books that they want to hear.
• Take books along with you when you are away from home.
• Arrange library visits as a regular activity by signing up for children’s story hours, sing-a-longs, or other family early literacy events.
• Have book swaps with other families to ensure a variety of available read-aloud books.

3. Model having a positive attitude towards books and learning.
• Tell children how much you enjoy reading books with them.
• Give books as gifts to children on special occasions.
• Laugh with children when reading books that have silly words, story events or characters.
• Handle books with care.
• Look for opportunities to learn new things and be sure to tell your children about them.
• Read books during your own free time for enjoyment and relaxation."

Thank you, Susan, for providing such a strong statement and helpful advice on behalf of young children and literacy. As toddlers become more active and verbal some adults feel less able to keep their children engaged with books. Susan and Barbara have produced a well-organized and user-friendly guide especially suited for reading with children ages three to five. It provides developmentally appropriate "talk-abouts" and "follow-up activities" for more than a dozen excellent picture books, with additional titles suggested in the back matter.

I urge parents to read a book by Mem Fox, the award-winning author and internationally acclaimed literacy expert: READING MAGIC: Why reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. Research and simple observation demonstrate that reading aloud to children in their earliest days and months of life has a dramatic positive influence on future language, learning, and literacy development. I have no doubt that adults who begin reading to a child from the earliest days and continue on beyond the school years give a priceless lifetime gift of love and literacy to that child.

Why not check these books out, and spread the word about the power of reading aloud to children at the earliest ages. 

Sep 9, 2012

Election Cycles... and Cynics

The two weeks of Olympic events and celebrations were entertaining and uplifting. I can't say I had the same reaction to the two weeks of political conventions. Despite my genuine respect for and commitment to the American political process, watching it play out in recent months and particularly at the conventions left me feeling somewhat jaded and cynical.

But the process is all new and fresh to kids, and sharing this season's excitment over elections with them is a sure way to dispel frustration and restore faith in our country's future. Here are some titles to get you started.

Margaret K. McElderry, 2007

HOW TO BAKE AN AMERICAN PIE, by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon works for any age.  The tightly metered and rhymed text has a lilting pace. The humorous images of the dog and cat throughout and splashes of familiar words and elements make it an effective read aloud for young children. Both the illustrations and the text contain details, references, and vocabulary suitable for exploration and discussion with older readers, too.

Kirkus review says "From page to shining page, this should be a tasty treat for young patriots."

Dutton, 2004

When it comes to explaining what it takes to be a president, you can't beat MY TEACHER FOR PRESIDENT, by Kay Winters, illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Parallel pages depict presidential and classroom responsibilities in ways that are both recognizable and amusing.
"Winters ups the ante: this gray-haired, bespeckled wise soul also knows first-hand how to react to emergencies, handle health-care issues, is interested in finding people jobs, keeping the Earth clean, and knows—here’s the kicker—how to listen." (Kirkus Reviews)

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004

Having a basic understanding of what a president does, as described above, will make DUCK FOR PRESIDENT by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin doubly funny and ironic. Fans of CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE and related titles will recognize Duck and friends and welcome this adventurous effort to escape the annoying responsibilities of farm life.

If a teacher can be president, and a duck can be president, why not a kid? The patterns and vocabulary in this offering provide excellent mentor text for writing activities.

Albert Whitman & Co. 200
Apparently I'm not alone in imagining kids as candidates. IF I RAN FOR PRESIDENT by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Lynne Avril does just that, and offers plenty of insight along the way. This story suits even young audiences, but the content could serve well through middle school for vocabulary development, examining political processes, and as a conversation starter, especially during the election season.

The author's website provides downloads for teaching activities and related materials for this title.

Bloomsbury, USA Updated for 2012
When it comes to a blend of humor, visual appeal, and a wealth of complex content made comprehensible, you can't beat 
SEE HOW THEY RUN by Susan Goodman, illustrated by Elwood H. Smith.
This jam-packed 96 pages of well-researched content about elections and politics in America is presented with a well-designed combination of photos, humorous illustrations, and sidebars to supplement Goodman's always accessible narration. With traditional elements (table of contents, index, additional resources, glossary, and presidential facts) this combines the best of "textbook" elements with the highest qualities of picture books.

Goodman's website is well organized and offers teaching materials for each of her equally thorough, entertaining, and well-researched titles, including THE TRUTH ABOUT POOP. (Come to think of it, that title probably belongs in a post about elections, too- or is that the cynic speaking?)

These suggestions barely scratch the surface of available titles, but they're a great way to start. Chime in with suggestions of your own.

Sep 2, 2012

Labor Day? What's THAT All About?

What's Labor Day?

  • Long weekend, followed by back-to-school
  • Unofficial end of summer
  • Traditional rummage sale weekend in my neighborhood
In these days of high unemployment, attacks on unions, and 1% protests, this holiday celebrating laborers might seem a bit incomprehensible. 

A good place to begin to gain some insight is at the US Department of Labor site. Read just a few paragraphs about how this holiday came to be some one hundred years ago. I'll wait...

Peachtree Publishers, 2003
Moving on from there, reading some examples of children's literature on the topic of labor history makes a fine next step. If you're looking for a memorable picture book with something of value for any age  you need look no further than THE PRINTER, written by Myron Uhlberg and illustrated by Henri Sorensen. A fictional story, many details reflect the lifelong work of  the author's profoundly deaf father. The story unfolds in the printing room of a major newspaper. The enormous presses created overwhelming noise so deaf workers were often best suited to the task. They were not always treated respectfully by their hearing co-workers, despite their excellent work and contributions to an important community service. In this story it is the deaf workers' ability to use sign language to communicate over the roar of the machines that warned everyone to escape from a raging fire. 
Check here for a Kirkus review of The Printer.

Mason Crest Publishers

Many useful nonfiction titles are produced for classroom purposes, some of which are quite excellent in content and quality. One title in the series, Overcoming Adversity: Sharing the American Dream, is CESAR CHAVEZ, by Brian Baughan. It provides a comprehensive and accessible narrative of his life, of the plight of migrant laborers, and of changes over time as a result of organizing. 

Two other titles geared to the youngest readers are LABOR DAY, by Carmen Bredeson (a Rookie Read-About Holidays title) and LABOR DAY, by Robin Nelson, a First Step Non-Fiction title from Lerner Publications.

Enslow Publishers, 2008
Older readers might find stories based on early labor inequities to be as dramatic and page-turning as any modern fiction. Here are just a few:

THE LOCKET: Surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire by Suzanne Lieurance. This is one of many intensely personal and heartbreaking stories based on the actual events leading to the organizing of unions for garment workers in New York City in the early 1900s.

FIRE IN THE HOLE, by Mary Cronk Farrell. A boy's view of his father's life as a miner in 1899 breaks his heart, especially knowing he can anticipate  the same future.

Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

Last, but by no means least, is the incredible Katherine Patterson's BREAD AND ROSES, TOO.
Here you'll find reviews from School Library Journal and readers as well. Jen Robinson's post offers an even more comprehensive review of this masterful storytelling of actual events.

So, what is Labor Day anyway?  
Why not consider it an invitation to share history through some terrific books? Any titles you'd like to suggest for this list?

A quick return to the subject of picture books:  Take a moment to read Jen and Kellee's post celebrating the power of picture books. I couldn't agree more with their succinct notes about the benefits of picture books for readers of all ages and many purposes.
Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.