Monday, June 30, 2008

Connie Heermann and The Freedom Writer's Diary

I just watched a CNN story about Connie Heermann, a high school teacher for 27 years at Perry Meridian High School in Indiana, who was suspended for a year and a half by the school board for assigning her students to read The Freedom Writer's Diary. The book is based on the true story of Erin Gruwell and made into a movie and contains bad language. Heermann had previously attended the Freedom Writers Institute training, a program for teachers about Gruwell’s three-stage process for student success: Engage, Enlighten and Empower. Heermann felt her students faced many of the same issues as Gruwell's students, almost all of whom went on to college. "The odds are against them to graduate," she explained. "Some have experienced abuse, gangs and juvenile detention centers, and others have emancipated from their parents." (from the Southside Times, 6/29/08).

Heermann found a sponsor to pay for the 175 books and sent home permission slips, explaining the project, and allowing for an alternate book, The Wave, to be read if parents objected. All but one student had permission to read the book. She also received the principals permission, but still needed the permission of the assistant superintendent. When she didn't hear back in three months, she handed out the books to her students, but later in the day, she received an email from the principal asking her not to distribute books until there was further discussion. The administration found the book to be inappropriate for the classroom and she was asked to collect the books back from the students. At that point, Heermann made the decision NOT to collect the books.

Even though no teacher has ever been suspended or fired for using The Freedom Writer's Diary, and even though Gruwell attended the school board meeting in an effort to defend Heermann, the school board suspended her for a year and a half; she won't be able to teach again until September, 2009. One school board member said that even though Heermann had the parents' permission, she attempted to use the book without school board permission, sending the message to her students, "if it feels good, do it." But, what is the message the board sent to the kids? How many of these board members really know where these kids come from and the conditions they have to live in everyday? If they did, I suspect bad language would be the least of their worries.

Hmmmm...let's look at the facts:
  • Heermann received training from Gruwell who has successfully taught inner city kids;
  • Heermann received permission the use the book from all but one parent;
  • Heermann received permission to use the book from her principal;
  • Heermann is a veteran teacher who teaches kids from poor, dangerous neighborhoods and has the best interest of her kids at heart;
  • Heerman is suspended for insubordination.
What do you think? Is Heermann a rogue teacher or was the board's decision censorship?

Thanks to Under The Tree and Reading for alerting me to this story.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux: The Movie!

I am a BIG fan of The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I love the beautifully crafted language and the way DiCamillo talks to you, the reader. However, I'm not so sure how these elements will translate into a movie.

I've been more disappointed with movie adaptations of my favorite books (Tuck Everlasting, Ella Enchanted, on an on..) than I have been thrilled. So, I wasn't suprised when my reaction to the new movie trailer for The Tale of Despereaux was less than luke warm.

What are your thoughts?

Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals Announced

Why are these two people smiling like they've just won an award? Because they did...two very perstigious awards in the UK. Philip Reeve won the Carnegie Medal which is awarded by children's librarians for an outstanding book for children and young people. Emily Gravett won the Kate Greenaway Medal which is awarded by children's librarians for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people.

EMILY GRAVETT LITTLE MOUSE’S BIG BOOK OF FEARS Macmillan (Age range: 6+)ISBN: 9781405089487
Little Mouse is afraid of almost everything. We learn about all his phobias, from his fear of creepy crawlies to his fear of clocks, dogs, cats and shadows. The only thing that makes him feel better is that human beings actually seem to be afraid of him!
This is a clever, funny and innovative book which is also extremely warm and emotionally engaging for the reader. It’s a book you can explore and spend ages over. The attention to detail is quite astonishing: every part of the book is used, and the production values are fantastic. It works on every single level. A publishing tour de force.

PHILIP REEVE HERE LIES ARTHUR Scholastic (Age range: 12+)ISBN: 9780439955331
“There’s nothing a man can do that can’t be turned into a tale…”. Britain. AD 500. Gwyna’s new master Myrddin says he’s not an enchanter, yet he works his own kind of magic. He turns Gwyna from a slave-girl into a goddess, a boy, and a spy – and Arthur into a legend. But is Arthur really everything he is cracked up to be?
A page-turner of a novel, with a well-constructed plot and believable characters that engage the reader from the off. The landscape and setting of the time are skilfully drawn. Reeve cleverly makes the story relevant to today by examining the versions of history that are handed down to us, and the ways in which myths are created. An enjoyable and thought-provoking book.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Around the blogosphere

The June issue of The Edge of the Forest is out with lots of great reviews and articles.

The June Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Susan Writes. This month's carnival is about fathers in children's literature.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a great interview with author/illustrator David Small.

Audiobooker has a link to two lists of family audio books that will hook readers of all ages. Even if you don't think you or your family are big fans of audio books, I urge you to give them one more chance. My family always listens to audio books when we are on trips (long or short). In a few weeks, we are driving to Florida for vacation and we have already collected a stack of audio books to take on the trip!

A Year of Reading has a great interview with educator extraordinaire Shelly Harwayne about her new book Look Who's Learning to Read.

Cynthia Lord, author of the very brilliant book Rules has a wonderful post on her blog about responding to children's letters. Funny, enlightening, and heart warming!

John Green, author of Looking for Alaska (2006 Printz Award winner) and An Abundance of Katherines has posted a video on Amazon in which he talks about his new book Paper Towns due to be released October 16. Best line from the video: "Every time James Patterson sneezes, a best selling thriller comes out of each nostril." What's James Patterson got to do with John Green or his new book Paper Towns, you ask? You'll just have to watch the video to find out!

Last, but definitely not least, Horn Book features a two-part podcast by editor-in-chief Roger Sutton (who also has a great blog) while visiting the Big Apple. The first features "author Richard Peck and Egmont USA publishers Elizabeth Law and Douglas Pocock. Sitting in Elizabeth’s living room, the four talked about Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, Philip Pullman, and just what draws adult readers to young adult books. Be sure to listen to the whole episode; midway through, Richard Peck reveals his current project (hint: “I’m bringing Grandma Dowdel back”)." The second features "children’s literature historian Leonard S. Marcus, who tells us about his new book, Minders of Make-Believe."

It's hard to focus on work when...

all I want to do is read The Magician! It was released yesterday and I was first in line for my reserved copy! The Magician is the second book in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott. I was absolutely enthralled with the first book, The Alchemyst, which I listened to on audio and was expertly narrated by Denis O'Hare. I'm only about a quarter of the way into The Magician, but I'm not disappointed so far. Now, back to reading!

A Q & A with Michael Scott is here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Eric Carle

Today is Eric Carle's birthday! To the right is his self portrait from Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrator's Talk to Children About Their Art. I love how he has the butterfly from The Very Hungry Caterpillar coming out of his head! The Very Hungry Caterpillar will be 40 years old next year (and it doesn't look a day past 20). I think it is more popular with children today than ever before. Often when introducing children's literature to preservice teachers, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the few books they remember as a child, which is a great place to start.

In Artist to Artist, Carle states, "Ever since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved making pictures. I knew even as a child that, when I grew up, I would be an artist of some kind. The lovely feeling of my pencil touching paper; a crayon making a star shape in my sketchbook, or my brush dipping into bright and colorful paints--these things affect me as joyfully today as they did all those years ago" (p. 26). I think that's all any of us can hope for...that the work we do today, in some way, fulfills the dreams we had for ourselves as a child.

The proceeds from Artist to Artist benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I have not had the opportunity to visit the museum yet, but I hope to one day soon. Located in Amherst, MA, it has 40,000 sq. ft. of space dedicated to the picture book art of Eric Carle and other contemporary artists. You can take a virtual tour here.

Eric Carle's website has many resources, but I especially like the slide shows of how he creates his tissue paper collages and picture books. There are also videos of Carle creating the wall murals for the Eric Carle museum...fascinating stuff. There are also photo albums with pictures of Carle throughout his childhood. Kids would really enjoy them!

As he states on his website, Carle does not do as many personal appearances as he used to, but you can watch an interview on the Reading Rockets website. In the interview, Carle conveys the story behind the creation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and he speculates as to why it is so popular with kids. Hundreds, if not thousands of websites have lesson plans and activities using Eric Carle's books.

Happy Birthday, Eric Carle....and many more!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Today is Chris Van Allsburg's Birthday!

Today, June 18, is Chris Van Allsburg's birthday. In chapter four of The Joy of Children's Literature, I wrote about the brilliant illustrative work and prosaic writing of Chris Van Allsburg. But, there are a number of resources online that allow his admirers to really get up-close and personal!

The picture to the left is Van Allsburg's self-portrait that appears in Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art (all profits from the sale of this book benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art). I like this picture because he is winking, which I think he does often through the stories he tells in his books.

Chris Van Allsburg's website
is one-stop-shopping for everything Van Allsburg. In his biography, you'll find out that he was born in Grand Rapids, MI in 1949 and walked a mile and a half to school everyday until he was in the sixth grade. When he went to high school, he didn't take art classes, but was interested in math and science. He made the decision to attend art school on the-spur-of-the-moment when an admissions officer came to his high school from the University of MI. There, he earned a degree in sculpture and went on the earn an MFA in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. You can see many examples of Van Allsuburgs very unique and interesting works of sculpture, posters, and drawings here.

After RISD, he set up his own studio and married Lisa, whom he met at the University of MI and was an elementary school art teacher. She used picturebooks to encourage her students to draw and, along with friend David Macaulay, encouraged Chris to try children's book illustration. Lisa showed some of Chris' drawings to Walter Lorraine at Houghton Mifflin in Boston, who encouraged Chris to write his own children's book. Still working primarily on sculpture during the day, he started working on an idea for a picturebook at night. The book turned out to be The Garden of Abdul Gasazi which won a Caldecott Honor and the rest is history, as they say.
On his website, you can watch a video of Chris Van Allburg discussing his life and career, plus much, much more. You can read his Caldecott Award acceptance speeches for Jumangi and The Polar Express, download wallpaper and screen savers, print off book marks and coloring sheets, play games. There is also a writing context based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

You can read an interview with Chris Van Allsuburg and find teacher's guides and movie clips for many of his books on the Houghton Mifflin website.

Finally, ReadWriteThink has a classroom activity using point of view with Van Allsburg's books along with links to numerous other sites with resources on his books.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Kids & Family Reading Report

Today, Scholastic released the 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report conducted by Yankelovich and based on interviews with 1,002 respondents (501 children ages five to 17 and a parent or guardian for each). It explored kids’ attitudes toward reading, as well as the roles that technology, parental input and the Harry Potter books play in their reading habits.

With reports of the decline of reading in children, especially after the age of 8, considered by many to be due at least in part to the increase in use of the Internet, this report brings welcomed findings.

Publisher's Weekly has an article with a nice summary of the study, some of which I have included below:

  • The study found that a majority of children (68%) think it is “extremely” or “very” important to read for pleasure, and “like” or “love” doing so. However, that number decreases with age: 82% percent of children ages five to eight “like” or “love” reading, compared to 55% for children ages 15 to 17
  • 89% of kids say:“My favorite books are the ones I picked out myself.”
  • 75% of kids age 5-17 agree with the statement, “No matter what I can do online, I’ll always want to read books printed on paper.”
  • 62% of kids surveyed say they prefer to read books printed on paper rather than on a computer or a handheld device.
  • Boys outnumbered girls by 10% in all age categories in stating that they had trouble finding enjoyable books.
  • Two in three children believe that within the next 10 years, most books which are read for fun will be read digitally – either on a computer or on another kind of electronic device.
  • Parents are a key source of book suggestions for their children but nearly half say they have a hard time finding information about books their child would enjoy reading, and especially parents of teens age 15-17 (62%).
  • As to the influence of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, of the children who had read the books, almost three-quarters said the series had made them interested in reading other books. Some, however, would be happy simply to have more Harry in their lives: 31% of children don’t believe the series is over.

The study also found that more children ages eight and up spend time online than read for pleasure on a daily basis. However, On Our Minds at Scholastic has an interesting analysis, "High frequency Internet users are more likely than lower frequency Internet users to read a book for fun every day. Almost twice as likely, actually." The study shows that almost 2/3 of kids are actually extending their reading experience online:

*37% of kids use the Internet to look for books in similar series

*27% go to book and authors' websites

*18% go to websites with blogs about books or by authors

*16% are posting on chatrooms and messageboards about the books they read

In the Publisher's Weekly article, Heather Carter, director of corporate research at Scholastic stated, “That suggests that parents and teachers can tap into kids’ interest in going online to spark a greater interest in reading books.”

Thansks to Educating Alice for the link.

2008 Notable Books for a Global Society: K-12

The spring 2008 issue of The Dragon Lode, the journal of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Insterst Group of the International Reading Association, includes their annual booklist of 2008 Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS).


"The NBGS committee considers works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for students in grades K-12 that encourage readers to understand, accept, and celebrate cultural differences as well as recognize shared aspects of the human experience across time and space. Selected titles must be outstanding representatives of their genres and must promote an understanding of diversity both within an outside the United States, in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, language, religion, social and economic status, sexual orientation, and/or physical and intellectual ability. To be eligible for selection , a trade book must have been published in the United States for the first time during the year of copyright under consideration (2007)" (p. 45).

The 2008 NBGS book list:

Picture Books

1. Bae, Hyun-Joo. New Clothes for New Year's Day. La Jolla, CA: Kane-Miller

2. Bryan, Ashley. Let It Shine . NY: Atheneum

3. Fleischman, Paul. Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illustrated by Julie Paschkis. NY: Henry Holt

4. Judge, Lita. One Thousand Tracings. NY: Hyperion

5. Levine, Ellen . Henry's Freedom Box. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. NY: Scholastic

6. Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux

7. Stanton, Karen. Papi's Gift. Illustrated by Rene King Moreno. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press

8. Strauss, Rochelle. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. Illustrated by Rosemary Woods. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press

9. Tan, Shaun. The Arrival. NY: Scholastic

10. Thompson, Lauren. Ballerina Dreams: A True Story. Photographs by James Estrin. NY: Holtzbrink

11. Williams, Karen Lynn & Mohammed, Khadra. Four Feet, Two Sandals. Illustrated by Doug Chayka. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company

12. Wise, Bill. Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer. Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. NY: Lee & Low

Historical Fiction

13. Compestine, Ying Chang. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party. NY: Henry Holt

14. Curtis, Christopher Paul. Elijah of Buxton . NY: Scholastic

15. Myers, Walter Dean. Harlem Summer. NY: Scholastic

16. Sheth, Kashmira. Keeping Corner. NY: Hyperion

17. Toksvis, Sandi. Hitler's Canary. NY: Roaring Brook Press

18. Wells, Rosemary. Red Moon at Sharpsburg. NY: Penguin


19. Barakat, Ibtisam. Tasting the Sky. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

20. Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier . NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

21. Greenwood, Barbara. Factory Girl. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press

Realistic Fiction

22. Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian . Art by Ellen Forney. Boston: Little, Brown Young Readers

23. Marsden, Carolyn. When Heaven Fell . Cambridge, MA: Candlewick

24. O'Connor, Barbara. How to Steal a Dog. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

25. Perkins, Mitali. Rickshaw Girl. Illustrated by Jamie Hogan. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Resource Alert: Guys Lit Wire

In chapater 10 of The Joy of Children's Literature, I discuss boys' preferences for "texts that connect directly to their lives--desires, concerns, experiences--and that are appropriately challenging and in which they can become totally immersed" (p. 279). What are those books, you ask? Well, a new blog, Guys Lit Wire, will help teachers, librarians, parents, and other adults find books with which teen aged boys will connect.

From Guys Lit Wire:

Guys Lit Wire was created after a broad discussion among YA bloggers within the lit blogosphere about the lack of books for teenage boys. There seems to be a perception that boys don't read as much as girls, especially teenage boys. As the YA Columnist for Bookslut it has been especially clear to me that whether or not boys want to read more, finding books for boys is not so easy. There are so many more books targeted toward female readers than male that it is really quite amazing - and also very disturbing.

So we decided to do something about it.

Guys Lit Wire exists solely to bring literary news and reviews to the attention of teenage boys and the people who care about them. We are more than happy to welcome female readers - but our main goal is to bring the attention of good books to guys who might have missed them. The titles will be new or old and on every subject imaginable. We guarantee new posts every Monday through Friday and have a list of twenty-three individual scheduled contributors plus several additional occasional posters all of whom have different literary likes and dislikes. We hope to provide something for everyone and will strive to accomplish that goal.

Though Guys Lit Wire has only been up for a short time, there are already reviews of several great books that are sure to be of interest to your young adult students, patrons, or children. Definitely put Guys Lit Wire on your list of blogs to read!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Resource updates

New updates from several resources on children's literature have been recently published:

Notes from Horn Book (original post describing this resource is here)

  • Five Questions for Alexandra Day, author of Good Dog, Carl books
  • An annotated compilation of books about dogs and ponies
  • Reviews of three new books that address a few of today’s most compelling subjects: the war in Iraq, the conflict between civil liberties and national security, and climate change
  • Annotations of three anxiously awaited sequels: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last of the High Kings
  • Three reviews of books for the Fourth of July: King George: What Was His Problem, Lady Liberty: A Biography, and Otto Runs for President
CLCD (The Children's Literature Comprehensive Database - original post describing this resource is here)

Choice Literacy (original post describing this resource is here)

HaperCollins Up All Night Writing Contest

In honor of the publication of Up All Night by celebrated authors by Peter Abrahams, Libba Bray, David Levithan, Sarah Weeks, Gene Luen Yang and Patricia McCormick, HaperCollins is hosting a writing contest for kids between the ages of 14 and 19. The entry form is here and the deadline for entries is October 1. Read reviews of Up All Night and hear an interview with the authors here.

NCTE Inbox (original post describing this resource is here)

This week's NCTE inbox is about Twitter -- a microblogging tool that ask users to tell friends what they’re doing in 140 characters or less--and how it can be used as a professional development and writing tool.

City of Ember: The Movie

The first book in Jeanne DuPrau's Books of Ember series, The City of Ember, is coming out as a movie on October 10. Check out the preview below.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

J.K. Rowling Delivers A Spellbinding Commencement Speech at Harvard

J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Watch the video of her speech or read the transcript here.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Teacher Project

Writer Dave Eggers, educator Ninive Calegari, and Academy Award winning director Vanessa Roth are working to help teachers get what they deserve.

Thanks to Publicschoolinsights for the link

In a recent interview, Eggers stated that they intend the documentary to transform public perceptions of teaching and fuel much stronger public support for public schools. "They hope [it] will do for teaching what An Inconvenient Truth did for the environment. Featuring footage taken by teachers themselves, the film aims to offer a first-hand view of the challenges educators face every day--and to inspire greater public support for teachers' work."

This short clip brought tears to my eyes...anyone who teaches, has taught, or knows dedicated teachers will recognize the passion and pain of the teachers featured in this clip. It is my hope that this documentary receives the attention it deserves.