Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recommendations from NPR forTeen Reads

YA author Gayle Forman (who wrote If I Stay, which I loved) reveals her five favorite teen reads of the year in an article for NPR titled, Oh, To Be Young: This Year's Best Teen Reads. She starts the article by stating:
I read a lot of young-adult novels. I also read a lot of adult-adult novels, and I'm always after the same experience, whether I'm reading Philip Roth or Philip Pullman: a book that sucks me in from chapter one, makes me think and, above all, makes me feel. I want to finish the book a slightly different person than I was when I started it.

 I feel exactly the same way, as I think most of us do. I have read some, but not all of the books on her list. So, I will be adding to my "to read" list for the new year. How about you?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ole! Flamenco by George Ancona

Dancing with the Stars has brought much attention to dancing in the US in the five years it has been on the air (even my local YMCA has started ballroom dancing classes). The same year Dancing with the Stars premiered (2005), the film Mad Hot Ballroom was released documenting the New York City public school system's ballroom dance program for fifth graders. I loved this movie and if you haven't watched it yet, it's a great movie to watch with the family over the holiday break. You can see the children in the film literally transformed over the 10-week period of the documentary, culminating in a city-wide competition.

Each of the dances highlighted in these shows,  such as the tango, foxtrot, swing, rumba and merengue, have a deep cultural history and when adults and children alike perform these dances, they join in the origins, history, movements, music, and performance of the generations who have gone before them to bring the dance to where it is today. I believe that is why watching the children transform in Mad Hot Ballroom was so moving for me.

I think children's books can bring to the forefront the cultural background and history of many types of dance. I believe that reading and deep discussion of culturally specific literature increases students' ability to examine the values, beliefs and events in their personal and collective lives and the ability to view literacy as an empowering force in the classroom. So, of course, I was thrilled when I received a copy of Ole! Flamenco written and photographed by George Ancona and published by Lee and Low.

Ole! Flamenco explores the history and practice of Flamenco, an art form that incorporates dance and music. Flamenco is "the dramatic Spanish art of song, dance, and music." George Ancona became interested in flamenco many years ago when he visited a small village in the south of France and watched an annual gathering of Gypsies in honor of their patron saint, Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black. At this gathering, he discovered flamenco and, along with his childhood study of flamenco guitar, the idea for Ole! Flamenco was born.

The book follows Janira Cordova, who is studying flamenco with her dance company, Flamenco's Next Generation, as they learn the tools of their art in preparation for their performance at Santa Fe's annual Spanish Market.

Ancona's photographs document Janira from rehearsal to performance while integrating the cultural history of flamenco through a powerful combination of photographs and narrative. For example, the left hand page of one spread displays a montage of pictures showing the many hand movements, facial expressions, attire, and body movements that flamenco dancers use to perform. The text reads, "A dancer's face is never still. Along with arm, hand, and foot movements of flamenco, the face shows what the dance feels through expressions such as a frown, a glare, or a smile." The opposite page is a full page photograph of a dancer in mid-motion--face intense, dress flying, hands moving--while the guitar player sits in the background. Together, the double page spread provides the reader with an understanding of the many layers that go into a well performed flamenco dance.

The release of Ole Flamenco is timely since flamenco was inscribed  in  2010 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity which includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

The UNESCO site is a good resource for learning more about flamenco including a slideshow and video (see below).

 An interview with George Ancona is on the Lee and Low site.

Ole! Flamenco is an excellent addition to the school and classroom library for many reasons. An important aspect of the book is that it provides a link to the cultural heritage of the dance while also showing how the dance is performed today. But, it will also interest kids who are familiar with the dance and also those who want to know more. As a child, I remember being fascinated by the beautiful dresses the women wear when performing the dance and would have been intrigued by a book that provided more information.

Ole! for Ole! Flamenco!

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 National Book Award Winner, Young People's Literature

The 2010 National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature is Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, published by Penguin.

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.

Interview by Eisa Ulen 

Eisa Ulen: The female protagonist in your novel, Caitlin, has Asperger’s syndrome, a condition your daughter also has. In Mockingbird, Caitlin must struggle to get along with classmates who marginalize her. Are Caitlin’s experiences similar to your own daughter’s experiences? What does your daughter think of your depiction of Caitlin’s inner world?

Kathryn Erskine: A few of the experiences are similar, but mostly I did a lot of research—reading, going to workshops, talking to people affected by Asperger's—because I wanted to make the story as universal as possible. Every kid is different, just like every kid with Asperger's is different, although there are certainly traits that are similar and are used to define the condition, such as (over)reactions to noise or touch, lack of eye contact, difficulty in social situations, etc. I was glad, though, when my daughter read the book and said she thought it was a very accurate depiction of the way a child with Asperger's sees the world.

EU: The Oscar-winning 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird figures prominently in your book. Like the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee on which the film is based, Mockingbird is a Bildungsroman that explores themes of courage and compassion, or what Caitlin calls empathy. When did you first read To Kill a Mockingbird and why do you think Lee’s novel has meant so much to you?

KE: I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was about 8 years old. My older sister, a born teacher, had read it and insisted that I read it. I loved it. I think we both identified with the book because, like Jem and Scout, she was a few years older than me and was a do-the-right-thing kind of older sibling, like Jem, and I was more the sometimes-gets-into-trouble tomboy, like Scout. Also, we'd recently moved from South Africa, under apartheid, and we understood the injustice of that racial separation. I remember feeling so proud, upon discovering I was an American, and announcing to my mother that we didn't have apartheid in our country. I'll never forget her answer: "Oh, yes, we do. We just don't call it that." And I'll never forget how devastated I was to discover that truth about my own country. In fact, it's the theme of the novel I just finished writing (tentatively titled Facing Freedom).

EU: You’ve said that the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings compelled you to write Mockingbird. Because the shooter had a history of mental illness, many Americans used this incident to highlight the problems in our health care system, especially with regard to mental health treatment. Is your novel, in some ways, a response to that public discourse?

KE: I do feel strongly that early (and continuous) intervention is the best way to handle any problem, health and mental health issues included. I can't help but think that if the shooter had been given attention earlier, and been monitored throughout his childhood and adolescence, maybe things wouldn't have escalated to such a horrifying conclusion. That's also why I make Mrs. Brook a prominent character in Mockingbird, because I want to send the message that, especially in this time of budget cuts, we need counselors in all of our schools because they help all of us cope with and understand each other.

EU: I have a cousin with Williams Syndrome, and her mother does not allow people to use what she considers offensive language. For example, if someone jokingly says “That is so retarded,” she calmly tells them that she finds their language unacceptable. I thought of her when I read the gym class scene in your chapter “It’s a Girl Thing” and whenever Caitlin questioned the meaning of words like “special” and “autistic.” Is it your hope that readers will be thinking about language and labels differently after reading Mockingbird?

KE: Yes. In fact, I love what my pediatrician said upon my daughter's diagnosis: "It doesn't matter what we call it. Let's just call her by her name." I love the idea of focusing on the person, not on any label that person might have attached to them. Labels de-personalize the person. It's easy for kids to use words like "retarded" or "special" to poke fun at people. When they get to know the person and understand why the person acted that way, it's not as easy. In fact, I have to relate this story told to me by a mother who read Mockingbird to her kids. When her twins were at camp with an autistic boy who reacted in a situation that surprised the other campers, the twins not only accepted him for who he was but also defused the situation by explaining his reaction to the other kids. That story was so gratifying it made me tear up—because that's exactly why I wrote this book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Hale: The Mother of Thanksgiving

Every year at this time, I read aloud Laurie Halse Anderson's picturebook, Thank you, Sarah!: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. 

It is the little known but true story of how Sarah Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, fought for decades to get the fourth Thursday of November declared as a national day of Thanksgiving. Every year, the majority of students in my preservice reading/methods course are unfamiliar with this story and have even argued that it isn't true. Anderson writes the story in a wonderfully engaging way and provides an extensive list of resources in the back. 

One of my students found a new resource which she shared with me. The Public Radio show, BackStory recently featured Historian Anne Blue Wills who tells the story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a New England magazine editor who campaigned tirelessly to put Thanksgiving on our national calendar. The audio slide show titled: Sarah Hale: The Mother of Thanksgiving provides a narrated photo essay that includes photographs and historical documents that would add much to any discussion of why we have Thanksgiving today.

 Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Full Cast Audio Recording of Spilling Ink!

I have been posting about the blog buddies project between my preservice teachers and a class of fourth graders. Together, we are reading Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer's Spilling Ink and posting to our blog titled Spilling Our Ink.

Today, I discovered that Ellen and Anne have performed the first duet recording of Spilling Ink by Full Cast Audio, directed by Bruce Coville. Below is a look behind the scenes...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NCTE Presentation with Margaret Peterson Haddix

Previously, I have announced on this blog my upcoming NCTE presentation on Virtual Author Visits with Kate Messner, Ellen Potter, and LeUyen Pham which will be on November 20th at 8:00 a.m. in the Coronado/Coronado S Ballroom.

Recently, NCTE started sending presenters a printable flier announcing their upcoming session at the conference, which I think is really neat. Below is the flier announcing my other presentation with author extraordinaire Margaret Peterson Haddix! I hope to see you there.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NYT Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2010

It's already that time of year! The New York Times annual Best Illustrated Children's books of 2010 is out today--just in time for holiday gift giving.


Written and illustrated by Peter Brown
Annually since 1952, the Book Review has asked a panel of judges to select 10 winners from among the several thousand children’s books published during the year. The judges this time around were Robert Sabuda, a co-creator of the best-selling “Encyclopedia Prehistorica” series and twice the recipient of a Times Best Illustrated award; Elizabeth Bird, a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library, whose first picture book, “Giant Dance Party,” is due out next year; and David Barringer, a novelist and designer who is the author of “There’s Nothing Funny About Design.” —The Editors

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Article: Teaching with Authors' Blogs

My article, Teaching With Authors' Blogs: Connections, Collaboration, Creativity is in this month's issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.*

This article was so much fun to write! It was born out of a presentation I did last year at NCTE with five children's/YA authors who are also proliferate bloggers: Laurie Halse Anderson, Barbara O'Connor, Lisa Yee, Justine Larbalestier, and Maureen Johnson.  

As with the presentation, the purpose of the article is to explore the motivation for and content of young adult literature authors' blogs and the potential use of these blogs for teaching and learning the English language arts and 21st-century literacy skills. I include either direct quotes or content from the blogs of all of the authors listed above, plus content from the blogs of Esme Codell and John Green.

A great big THANK YOU to all of these authors for permission to use content from their blogs in the article and for taking the time to share your world with your readers. Hopefully, the article will inspire new readers!

If you read the article, I would love your feedback!

* Johnson, D. (2010, November). Teaching With Authors' Blogs: Connections, Collaboration, Creativity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(3), 172–180.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Prize Is Created for Gay Literature for Young Readers

 From the November 1, 2010 edition of the New York Times:

Prize Is Created for Gay Literature for Young Readers

The American Library Association has added an award for gay and lesbian literature to its annual prizes for children’s books. The prizes, which include the prestigious John Newbery and Randolph Caldecott medals, will be announced on Jan. 10.

The new award, called the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, is for an English-language book “of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience,” the association said on Monday. Stonewall Awards for adult books have been handed out since 1971.
Robert Stevens, the president of the American Library Association, said in a statement that children’s books that include the experiences of gays and lesbians “are critical tools in teaching tolerance, acceptance and the importance of diversity.”

Books that win awards from the association are closely watched by librarians, teachers and parents, and are typically distributed widely in bookstores, schools and libraries after receiving a prize.

The American Library Association said there was a growing demand for hihg-quality children’s books that reflect the experiences of gays and lesbians, citing a national statistic that about 14 million children have a gay or lesbian parent.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creating Community Via VoiceThread

All students who enter the classroom come as members of families, neighborhoods, religious groups, sports teams, clubs, and organizations--each of which is a community of practice. Communities of practice are places where human beings develop competence through their interactions with each other. Through these interactions, we define our identities. Classrooms are also communities of practice where each student possesses unique knowledge and perspective that pushes the thinking of every other student.

Elementary school teachers have many and varied opportunities to get to know their students on an individual basis--who they are as members of families, neighborhoods, religious groups, sports teams, clubs, and organizations--that will influence the instructional decisions, conversations, text selections, teaching points, and connections they make throughout the year. Middle and high school teachers have less time with their students, but still usually see them on a daily basis over a semester or school year. However, the need to know students' unique knowledge and perspectives doesn't stop upon graduation from high school. The instruction of college professors also benefits immensely from this knowledge.

I teach reading/language arts methods courses to graduate students who are becoming elementary teachers. These preservice teachers bring a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to our classroom. However, time and opportunity to get to know each other is not on our side. We meet twice a week for a few hours and in that time we have to learn "everything-there-is-to-know-about-reading-instruction" in one short semester. Yet, if I do not take the time to get to know them and if they do not really know each other, there is little chance that we will develop a community of practice in which we are able to make the deep and meaningful connections necessary to push each others' thinking.

This is where technology can play an important role. At the beginning of the year, I asked my preservice teachers to each create a VoiceThread in which they told me and their classmates about themselves.  "A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways - using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam)" which can be shared with other students and colleagues for them to record comments, too (from the VoiceThread website). After creating their VoiceThreads, the students also commented on their classmates' VoiceThreads.

After watching all of the VoiceThreads (26), I now know my students in ways I would have never discovered through our brief conversations/interactions in class. I laughed and cried with them, jumped for joy and despaired with them, celebrated, commiserated, and connected with them all. They are brilliant and passionate. Many are athletic, musical and very well traveled. But, the one thing that stood out--that matters most over all else--is their love and thankfulness for family and friends.

VoiceThread allowed me to take a brief look into my students' lives in a way that otherwise would not have been possible, which will make a difference in my teaching and in my students' interactions with each other.

Two of my students gave permission to post the links to their VoiceThreads as examples. Christine shares her wealth of experiences in China and with teaching preschoolers, as well as her loving family. Kristopher (Topher) shares the people in his life who have made him who he is today. I thank both of these amazing preservice teachers for their willingness to share their stories with others, and if you take the time to view them, you will too.

VoiceThread is free for K-12 educators and can be used by teachers at all grade levels to get to know their students. At the elementary level, parents/caregivers can create narrated slide shows with their children. At the middle and high school level, students can create their own or in collaboration with parents/caregivers.

VoiceThread can be used in many other ways, too. You can explore the possibilities for using VoiceThread here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Joy of Children's Literature: Second Edition!!

Announcing the release of the second edition of
The Joy of Children's Literature

Isn't the new cover exquisite! There is also a new foreword written by Esme Codell, for which I am very honored. The second edition has many new and updated features and new technology resources!

To read a detailed description of The Joy of Children's Literature, 2nd edition, and to order a copy, click here.

You may also visit my new website for information and access to many of the technology resources:

Please send me your feedback!

Skyping Across Boundaries: Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post, Skyping Across Boundaries: Part I, in which I discuss a partnership between the preservice elementary teachers in my reading/language arts methods course and Amy Moser's fourth grade classroom around the book Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. During that post, I reported on the Skype session my class conducted with Mrs. Moser prior to the beginning of school in preparation for our blog buddies project.

Today, I am reporting on the second Skype session my class conducted with Mrs. Moser's fourth graders in which the blog buddies "met" each other. Mrs. Moser and I met in advance and paired up the students into blog buddies and I distributed the list to the preservice teachers in class.

On the day of the Skype visit, each of the preservice teachers stood and introduced them self to Mrs. Moser's class and announced the name of his/her blog buddy. When the fourth grader's name was called, s/he stood up. In this way, the two buddies "met" each other via Skype.

Preservice teachers viewing the Skype session with their fourth grade buddies.

These pictures are certainly not the greatest in the world, but you get the idea.

Close up of screen showing Mrs. Moser's fourth graders viewing the Skype session.
Both classes had read the first two sections of Spilling Ink prior to the Skype session and Mrs. Moser told the preservice teachers about the contract she created with her students shown on page 7.

This was an exciting day! Both groups seems to be thrilled to be participating in the project and ready to get started blogging.

The fourth graders' blog, Spilling Our Ink, is finally up and running. Mrs. Moser chose to create the blog using Blogger because of its ease of use. Her previous experience using a blog on E-pals was difficult to use at best. However, getting permission to use Blogger was a long battle with the school/district's technology resource people. Like many schools across the country, Blogger is blocked by the district. Though Mrs. Moser asked and received permission to create a private blog for her students using Blogger, it took many frustrating weeks to finally get it cleared. The public often accuses schools of lagging far behind the rest of the world in the use of technology, but it is easy to see from all that Mrs. Moser went through, why teachers throw up their hands in frustration or never even try in the first place.

Last Friday, the fourth graders posted their first response to the "I Dare You" prompt in Spilling Ink on page 52. Hopefully, some time in the future, we can make the blog available to everyone so you can see the amazing writing of the blogging buddies.

If any of my students are reading this, leave a comment if you would like to share your thoughts on meeting your buddies via Skype or anything else about the project.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Skyping Across Boundaries: Part 1

Some of you may have read a few of my earlier posts in which I went on and on about the new School of Education building in which I now teach with the latest and greatest technology.You may have also read a post in which I discussed the virtual author visits via Skype that two of the teachers in my children's literature course conducted in the spring. Now, these two things have come together in powerful ways to provide experiences for the preservice teachers in my reading/language arts methods courses.

Amy Moser, the fourth grade teacher who conducted the virtual author visit with Ellen Potter (Spilling Ink), and I are pairing up our students into blog buddies! Her fourth graders and my preservice teachers will both be reading Spilling Ink and blogging about the "I Dare You" prompts in the book. Once they have written their individual blog posts, they will comment on their blog buddy's response.

Before we started the project, I wanted the preservice teachers to meet Mrs. Moser and hear her talk about her students, the author visit last year, and the new project this year. Since the university semester started before the public school year, I was able to connect my students with Mrs. Moser via Skype right from our classroom.

               I know these aren't great pictures, but I think it gives you an idea. Mrs. Moser introduced herself, gave the preservice teachers information about her background and teaching, and showed them her classroom set up.

Since the preservice teachers had not been assigned a practicum placement yet, they were getting insight into what goes on before school starts to set up a classroom.

Next, we will have the buddies meet via Skype. We have tried to do this twice, but had to cancel the first time because school was delayed due to the weather and the second time due to connection problems on the elementary school's end. These are things that happen and teachers have to learn to be flexible.

I will post again when the blog buddies meet via Skype. In the mean time, Mrs. Moser has set up a blog on which her students will post their responses to the "I Dare You" prompts from Spilling Ink. The blog is titled, "Spilling Our Ink."

On November 30th, the fourth graders will come to campus to meet their preservice teacher blog buddies and both groups will experience a virtual author visit with Ellen Potter who has graciously agreed to Skype with us again. Thank you, Ellen!

If you are planning to attend the NCTE annual convention in Orlando in November, please attend our session, "F17: Virtual Author Visits: The Good, the Bad, and the Awesome!" scheduled for Saturday morning, Nov.20th from 8:00 to 9:15 int he Coronado Ballroom S. Author Kate Messner will present her experiences with virtual author visits, author Ellen Potter will present with Amy Moser, the fourth grade teacher with whom she skyped, and author/illustrator LeUyen Pham will present with Leslie Panaro, the first grade teacher with whom she skyped. It is going to be an amazing session with videos from the skype visits and lots of information on how to conduct your own skype visit.

P.S.: If any of my students are reading this, post your comments on the skype visit with Mrs. Moser!

Monday, September 27, 2010

J. K. Rowling to Appear on Oprah October 1!!!

From On Our Minds @ Scholastic

Set aside your coffee so you don't spill it when I share the big news...It was just announced this morning that "The Oprah Winfrey Show" will be airing an exclusive interview between Oprah and J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series. The interview, which will be Rowling's first appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," will air this Friday, October 1, 2010.

In the interview, which took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, Rowling shares with Oprah about her life and career as well as how she became one of the most recognizable writers of children’s literature today. Rowling, who rarely does interviews (so can you imagine how psyched we book-nerds are?!?!), also shares her thoughts on the possibility of ever writing another Harry Potter book in the future. Could Friday take any longer to get here?

The interview with Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling will air this Friday, October 1, 2010 on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Check your local listings here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Webinar: Judy Blume and Banned Books Week

Defending the Right to Read:
Celebrating Banned Books Week
September 28, 2010
2 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. CDT/12 p.m. MDT
11 a.m. PDT
Librarians and teachers face more challenges than ever when it comes to defending children’s right to read. In celebration of Banned Books Week, this webinar features a stellar panel of experts, including renowned author and longtime advocate of intellectual freedom Judy Blume, who will discuss book rating systems, the impact of the Internet on challenges, the effect of censorship on children’s publishing, and how to best prepare for book challenges. 
A dditional speakers include Beverly Horowitz, Vice President and Publisher of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers; Pat Scales, former school librarian and a member of the National Coalition against Censorship Council of Advisors; Kristin Pekoll, a young-adult librarian at the West Bend (WI) Community Memorial Library; and Nanette Perez, program officer at ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. 
Seating is limited for this exciting webinar sponsored by Random House Children’s Books; however, all registrants will receive an archived video of the live event.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Picture Literacy Sweepstakes

Via Fuse#8

School Library Journal Joins Picture Literacy’s Summer Sweepstakes as Co-Sponsor
August 31, 2010; Milwaukie, OR

School Library Journal is now co-sponsoring Picture Literacy’s End of Summer Sweepstakes, in which $1500 in graphic novels for emerging and reluctant readers in grades K-6 will be given away to four winners. Ads for the sweepstakes will appear on the School Library Journal website and in their electronic newsletters. A full-page ad will appear in the September 2010 issue of the School Library Journal magazine.

“It’s very exciting to have School Library Journal join us in promoting this sweepstakes,” said Andrew McIntire, Director of Marketing at Picture Literacy. “Graphic novels are a powerful literacy tool, and we love helping schools out during these rough times by giving away these books. The first national launch of our catalog will go out at the end of September to hundreds of classrooms in 48 states. We couldn’t be more pleased to be sharing these great kids comics with so many young readers.”

The sweepstakes is open to teachers, school librarians and school administrators. Their schools could win one of four prize packages, including the grand prize of $1000 in free books. For more details and to enter, visit Every signup is an entry, so schools may enter multiple times. Entrants will also be signed up for a free Picture Literacy account and will receive our catalog at the end of September. The sweepstakes ends September 24th. Other prizes include a $300 package and two $100 packages. The total value of free books being given to schools is $1500. Packages include award-winning children’s graphic novels and titles designed to motivate reluctant readers.

About The Company
Picture Literacy is the latest venture from a company with over 30 years of book retail experience. This exciting venture offers schools and students discounted prices on age-appropriate comics and graphic novels. An on-staff librarian selects and screens books for quality and content. To encourage and motivate readers, Picture Literacy offers a range of titles from just-for-fun to critically acclaimed. The selection provides options for readers of every ability and interest. A sample catalog can be viewed at Every order placed with Picture Literacy earns free books for classrooms and school libraries. Picture Literacy’s goal is to enable happy, successful readers and instill a lifelong love of reading.

Company: Picture Literacy
Contact: Andrew McIntire, Director of Marketing
Toll free: 877-905-7323
Local: 503-905-2395
Rebecca McGregor
Educational Programs Assistant
Picture Literacy
Phone: 503-905-2367

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Peek Into My New Building/Office

My classroom in the new School of Education
I am so lucky! This week, the fall semester started at The College of William & Mary and the first group of students entered a brand new School of Education! The picture above is of the classroom in which I am teaching. It is so beautiful. There is so much light and space and everything is new. Including the technology.

The picture to the right is the podium from which I can choose to use the computer, document camera, VCR, or television, all at the touch of a button. Let me tell you, it is a wondrous thing, especially when I have had access to none of it in the old building (and when you teach on a campus that is over 300 years old, "old" takes on a new meaning:-).

My office, however, is still in need of work. I did get pictures hung on the wall though. Does anyone know from which picturebook I took these pictures?

And, I did get most of my picturebooks shelved. 

But, as I said, I still have a lot of work to do! Oh well, it's a good problem to have.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Did you know that two time Caldecott Medal winner, David Wiesner has a new picturebook coming out in October? Well, you do now! It looks and sounds amazing, but of course, we would not expect anything less, right? Check out the video below to see what a treat we are all in for when the book comes out in 43 days (not that I'm counting). You might also be interested in A Tribute to David Wiesner, written by David Macaulay, that appeared in Horn Book Magazine.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Countdown to Mockingjay Release

Are you impatiently waiting for August 24th? If so, here are a few links to blog posts that might help past the time...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ning's the Thing!
I have excellent news! The publisher of The Joy of Children's Literature is sponsoring the JCL Ning for the upcoming year. You do not have to be an adopter of JCL to use the Ning. It is simply a gathering place for those interested in discussing children's literature.

If you are unfamiliar with a Ning, go to the JCL Ning and look around.  Here are some of the things you can do:
  • Start a book club group. Any book. Any group. Want to discuss the third book in the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins coming out next week? Start a discussion. Want your students to form groups to discuss their books all year? Start a group.
  • Start a forum. Have questions for other teachers about books they are reading in their classroom? Need ideas for books on specific topics or genres? Have ideas you'd like to share with others? Start a forum. Wendy has started a forum on literature that supports writing workshop. Share your ideas with her.
  • Join the JCL Ning Diigo group. Diigo is a great bookmarking site that allows you to highlight and annotate online articles. Add your favorite online articles to the JCL Ning Diigo group as a way to share with and learn from the community.
  • Share videos and  pictures. Have a video or pictures of your classroom library or reading centers that you would like to share? How about video of students discussing literature or of your favorite authors or book trailers? Sharing these resources with others.
  • Start your own blog or have your students start their own blog. Write reflections on books, topics, themes, etc.
  • Chat with others. The online chat allows instant communication between members of the JCL Ning.
  • Add to the calendar of events. Know of upcoming events that others might be interested in? Share them on the JCL Ning calendar.
 The JCL Ning can be a vibrant community for sharing and learning. Take a look and consider the possibilities for yourself and your students. Ask questions and share ideas. Join today!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Effective Literacy Practices Video Library

I just received a link to a wonderful new series of videos on effective literacy practices developed by The Reading Recovery Council of North America in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education to offer professional development resources and activities to strengthen early literacy outcomes with K-3 students nationwide.

As I clicked on the first module, described below, I was thrilled to see Vicki Altland (in the picture above), a literacy coach at Sallie Cone Elementary in Conway, AR, and a dear friend of mine who is featured in The Joy of Children's Literature!

Professional Development Resources to Strengthen Early Literacy Outcomes

This video library offers extensive examples to help educators strengthen early literacy outcomes for K-3 students. Six effective literacy practices are highlighted to deepen teachers' understandings of literacy learning. The practices may be incorporated into teaching in the classroom, small groups, and one-on-one instruction.

The web-based modules, listed and linked at the bottom of this page, consist of a short video and a downloadable reference guide.

K-3 classroom teachers, Reading Recovery teachers, specialist teachers, literacy coaches, and school administrators who wish to develop a deeper understanding of effective literacy practices

Each module highlights one literacy practice and consists of a short video (approximately 7 minutes) and a downloadable 2-page reference guide. The guide includes the module focus, definitions and other important information, key points for teachers, and resources. Reading the reference guide prior to viewing the video will enhance your learning experience.

Participating Schools
Special thanks to these schools for their participation in videotaping module segments:

– Sallie Cone Elementary School, Conway Public School District - Conway, AR
– Ellen Smith Elementary School, Conway Public School District - Conway, AR
– Gibbs Magnet School, Little Rock School District - Little Rock, AR
– Simonton Elementary School, Gwinnett County Public Schools - Lawrenceville, GA
– Maple Elementary School, Walled Lake Consolidated School District - West Bloomfield, MI
– Tremont Elementary School, Upper Arlington City School District - Upper Arlington, OH Effective Literacy Practices Video Library Modules

Teachers may use the video library flexibly as they select and view the modules. Groups of educators may wish to view modules together and discuss implications for teaching practices.

Video 1: Making It Easy to Learn
Building on a child's strengths to set up situations in which the child is in control and will experience success while enjoying challenges within reach

Video 2: Teaching for Transfer: Strategic Activity
Exploring strategic activities initiated by children and actions teachers can take to encourage those behaviors

Selecting Texts That Are Just Right
Understanding the importance of selecting books that are just right for young readers, considerations for book selection, and the critical role of the book introduction in making books accessible and successful for the readers

Phrasing in Fluent Reading
Exploring aspects of fluent reading and supporting phrasing in fluent reading

Assessing Through Close Observation
Assessing rapid change in literacy learning of young children through close, systematic observation

Learning About Phonology and Orthography
Learning about relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language (often referred to as letter-sound associations, graphophonics, sound-symbol relationships)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2010 National Book Festival: Celebrating a Decade of Words and Wonder

It's hard to believe that this is the 10th year for the National Book Festival. The first festival began the summer I moved to Virginia, which made it possible for me to attend. And, am I ever happy that I made the trip!

Being among people who love books as much as I do is a wondrous thing indeed. Hundreds of people, old and young alike, descend upon the National Mall in Washington D.C. each year to hear authors talk about their work. It's usually hot or raining and crowded, but still, you gotta love it.

This year, the National Book Festival will be held on Saturday, September 25th from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and as usual, is free of charge. Each year, the line up of children's and YA authors/illustrators/advocates  is commendable and this year is no different. Check out the list so far:

M.T. Anderson
Michael Buckley
Suzanne Collins
Timothy Basil Ering
Jules Feiffer
Mem Fox
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Phillip M. Hoose
Norton Juster
Pat Mora
Marilyn Nelson
Linda Sue Park
Katherine Paterson
James Ransome
Anita Silvey
Judith Viorst

I know! Exciting, right? So, make plans to attend. Maybe we can even have a kidlit get together the night before?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Two Gifts in Two Days from Barbara O'Connor

Two days ago I was drinking my morning cup of coffee as I scrolled through my blog roll when I received my first gift from children's author extraordinaire, Barbara O'Connor. I came upon a post from Barbara's blog, Greetings From Nowhere, titled: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, Chapter 1. I thought maybe she had posted the first chapter of her soon-to-be-released new book. But, no. It was so much better than that! Barbara READ ALOUD the first chapter of the book!! And, it is amazing for many reasons:
  • First, Barbara does an excellent job of reading aloud.
  • Second, there is nothing like hearing the author read aloud his/her own work. Just think about it. The author's craft comes alive!
  • Third, what a great way to entice the potential reader to run out an buy a copy of the book as soon as it becomes available.  
I think we readers should start a new campaign. Rather than or in addition to the ever so popular book trailer, the author should read the first chapter. Isn't that what Amazon's Kindle does? You get a free sample of the book and 9 times out of 10, that sample chapter is all you need to know you need to purchase the book. The author reading a chapter aloud is even better! So, let the AUTHOR READ ALOUD CAMPAIGN begin! I can't wait to get my copy of The Fantastic Secret of Own Jester. You can watch Barbara read aloud the first chapter below:

Yesterday, I received the second gift from Barbara O'Connor. The mail person delivered the July 2010 issue of Language Arts (a professional journal of the National Council of Teachers of English). The theme of this issue is "Inquiries and Insights" and inside is an article titled, Keeping It Real: How Realistic Does Realistic Fiction for Children Need to Be? by Barbara O'Connor. Yep! How fantastic is that??!

In the article, Barbara discusses how she decides if the story she is writing is "too real" for the intended audience by examining  five story elements: dialogue, character, family relationships, economic class, and endings.

"How real is too real" is question that comes up in my children's literature courses all of the time. Barbara elaborates on her writing process and gives examples from her books on how she makes these decisions. What it comes down to is authenticity. This article will be required reading for my students next semester!

Thank you Barbara for these two gifts!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reading Aloud + Dean Pitchford = Amazing! and Free Audiobooks

Those of you that read this blog know that I'm a big listener of audiobooks, so last year when I listened to Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford and was ***completely blown away,*** I told myself to look this guy up to find out more. But, then life got in the way and I totally forgot...until last month when I listened to The Big One-Oh! and thought this guy is really good! So, I did look him up and found out why he is such an amazing performer:

Dean Pitchford starred on Broadway in Pippin and Godspell before turning to songwriting and screenwriting. His multimillion-selling songs include the Oscar-winning “Fame,” “Footloose,” “Holding Out for a Hero” and “After All.” He has been nominated for four Academy Awards, five Grammys and two Tonys. His stage musical adaptation of Footloose played over 700 performances on Broadway and is now being produced around the world.  

With those kind of credentials, no wonder Dean Pitchford is so good at performing his own books! But, it did make me wonder if he had won any awards for his audiobooks. The answer, of course, is YES. The following is a review of Captain Nobody from AudioFile Magazine:

Author Dean Pitchford is certainly an impressive narrator. With masterful characterization he introduces us to Newt--aka Captain Nobody--a mild-mannered boy who becomes a hometown hero. Pitchford captures the delicious pathos of Newt the underdog. Listeners will hear humor, disgruntlement, and even fidgeting--thanks to skilled vocalizations. Judicious use of pacing and varied volume also contribute to a dramatic reading. Pitchford even throws in sound effects and onomatopoeia. Secondary characters, such as Newt's friend Cecil, have distinct voices. Pitchford shows us the boy behind the mask in this unexpectedly poignant laugh-out-loud tale. C.A. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.

Notice the AudioFile Earphones Award? AudioFile awards Earphones to truly exceptional presentations that excel in all the following criteria:

• Narrative voice and style
• Vocal characterizations
• Appropriateness for the audio format
• Enhancement of the text

You can listen to a very nice excerpt from both of Dean Pitchford's books at Listening Library. The excerpts are long enough for you to get a real sense of why he won the AudioFile Earphone award. Then, do yourself a favor and listen to both books. They are wonderful!
Also, AudioFile is offering two free downloads of YA literature each week of the summer. Below is the schedule:
Available July 15 - July 21

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Available July 22 - July 28

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Available July 29 - August 4

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Available August 5 - August 11

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Available August 12 - August 18

Beastly by Alex Flinn
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Available August 19 - August 25

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Available August 26 - September 1

Handbook for Boys by Walter Dean Myers
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Happy Listening!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seth Godin Pushes Our Thinking About School...Again

Seth Godin on how schools teach kids to aim low and wait for instructions.

This is a very thought provoking video. Godin says the original purpose of public education as envisioned by Andrew Carnegie, Woodrow Wilson and others was to train people to become compliant factory workers and to teach kids that the best way to fit in and feel good is to buy stuff--and that is what we are still doing today. While we've built an economy on the factory worker, we under value and even discourage creativity, innovation and asking questions.

His main premise is that we can't test our way out of this situation. Rather, we must essay, sketch or debate our way out of it.

He goes on to say that college is an even bigger scam than public school and that the application process is a joke. My son will be entering his senior year in high school in the fall and we have been visiting campuses in our area. This and the fact that I teach at a college bring this discussion close to home.

Throughout Derek's academic career, I have downplayed test scores and promoted deep thinking, questioning, and creativity. Yet, now that it's time to take AP tests, the SAT, and pass state standards tests, I hear myself encouraging him to do well or he won't get into the college of his choice. Godin states that it is this type of paranoia of middle and upper class parents that keeps public schools churning out automatons. He goes on to say we should not be encouraging kids to do the types of things that get them into Harvard, but instead to think about what is the best way to invest that $150,000.

However, we still live in a world in which where you go to college and having a college degree are still important. Maybe that will change, but right now, it still matters. But, so do parents and educators. We have the power to change the conversation. The question is how... What do you think?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Horn Book's Mind the Gap Awards

From the July/August 2010 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

Books that Horn Book loved by the ALA awards didn't:

Someday My Printz Will Come: Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork

Everybody Loved It But ALSC:  Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge

Most Discussed, Least : The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Best trip to the moon: Mission Control, This Is Apollo by Andrew Chaikin, illustrated by Alan Bean

Best trip to Japan: Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan

Best camping trip: Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Best subway ride: Redwoods by Jason Chin

Most instructive: How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman

Most constructive: Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman

Most deductive: Thumb and the Bad Guys by Ken Roberts, illustrated by Leanne Franson

Best sisters: The Great Death by John Smelcer

Best grandparents: Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

Best foster mother: Hook by Ed Young

Best father figure: The Champion of Children by Tomek Bogacki

Best star turn: Grandma Dowdel in A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

2010 Africana Book Awards

The Outreach Council of the African Studies Association annually honors oustanding authors and illustrators of books about Africa published for children and young adults in the United States. The Children's Africana Book Award program has announced two winners and two honor books for 2010.

The 2010 Best Book for Young Children is Pharaoh's Boat, written and illustrated by David Weitzman (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children).

The 2010 Best Book for Older Readers is Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Umlando Wezithombe (W.W. Norton & Co.).

The 2010 Honor Books for Older Readers are Trouble in Timbuktu by Cristina Kessler (Philomel/Penguin Young Readers Group) and

Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo (Amistad/HarperCollins Children's Books).

The 2010 Children's Africana Book Awards will be presented on November 6 in Washington, DC. For further information, visit the Africa Access Review website.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

NPR: Summer Reads for Kids

From NPR, July 2, 2010:

School’s out for summer. No more homework. Time to kick back and relax–and read for the fun of it. There’s a big world of new children’s literature out there–ready to take to the beach, to camp, and the backyard. Rick Riordan’s back with the “Red Pyramid.” “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins comes out in August. And there’s so much more. Pop-up picture books for toddlers. Graphic novels for young adults. Teenage angst page-turners. We’ve got the list that even your kids will want to read twice.


Monica Edinger, blogs on children’s literature at Educating Alice. 4th-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York. Contributes children’s books reviews to the New York Times. Has received three National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships to study children’s literature.

Esme Raji Codell, writes about children’s literature at Author of several books for adults and children. Her kids’ books include “Vive la Paris,” “Diary of a Fairy Godmother,” and “Hannukah Shmanukkah!”

Pete Cowdin, owner of the “Reading Reptile” bookstore in Kansas City. Under the pen name A. Bitterman, he is author of the upcoming “Fortune Cookies.”

Our critics’ lists:

Here are the top picks from each of our guests.


“Cosmic” by Frank Cottrell Boyce

“The Hunger Games Trilogy” by Suzanne Collins

“Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” by Phillip Hoose

“As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth,” by Lynn Rae Perkins

“The Red Pyramid” by Rick Riordan

“When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead

“One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia

“Here Comes the Garbage Barge!” by Jonah Winter (illustrated by Red Nose Studio)

“Into the Volcano” by Don Wood


Picture books:

“Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don’t)” by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

“Otis” by Loren Long

“Bats at the Ballgame” by Brian Lies

Graphic novels:

“Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster” by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Pauline Martin


“Mirror Mirror” by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse


“Orangutans are Ticklish: Fun Facts From an Animal Photographer” by Steve Grubman with Jill Davis

“Napi Funda un Pueblo/Napi Makes a Village” by Antonio Ramirez, illustrated by Domi

“Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods and Heroes Pop Up,” by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda

Intermediate fiction:

“The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” by Tom Angleberger

“The Night Fairy” by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Angela Barrett

Some fun novels for camp:

“Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity” by Mary Hershey

“Summer According to Humphrey” by Betty G. Birney

Young adult fiction:

"Bamboo People” by Mitali Perkins


“The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties” by Toon Tellegen, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

“43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You”

“43 Old Cemetery Road: Over My Dead Body” by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

“The True Meaning of Smekday” by Adam Rex

“The Dreamer” by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis

“Seasons” by Blexbolex

“Country Road ABC” by Arthur Geisert

“It’s a Secret” by John Burningham

“Sitting in my Box” by Dee Lillegard, illustrated by Jon Agee

“Beautiful Oops” by Barney Saltzberg

“Stitches” by David Small

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free E-Books...

from Barnes and Noble. Yep, it's true. Barnes and Noble has ebooks you can download for free including:
  • Maximum Ride
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Irresistible Forces
  • The Glades
  • Essential Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
  • Siren of the Water
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Writings
  • Last of the Mohicans
  • Federalist
  • Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Common Sense and Other Writings
  • Skinny Bitch
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
  • Call of the Wild and White Fang
  • His Lady Mistress
  • Leaves of Grass
  • Walden and Civil Disobedience
  • DEAD(ish)
A free ereader application is available for the I-Pad, I-Phone/I-Touch, Nook, BlackBerry, PC, Mac.

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Thoughts on my first 24 hours of Twitter

Yesterday, right about this time, I announced that I had joined the Twitter Nation (@denisejohnson1). I am following about 67 people so far, mostly in the technology and children's literature worlds. Here are my thoughts so far:


Professional Development: A number of the people I am following are attending the ISTE and ALA conferences going on right now. I was able to connect to a live stream of the lunch speaker at ISTE, Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) and learn about some really cool sites from those in sessions who were "live" tweeting. Several people at ALA sent tweets with pictures of authors or new book releases. I would not have been aware of any of these events if it had not been for Twitter.

Cool Factor: I know which book Judy Blume just finished reading (yes, Judy Blume Twitters @judyblume) and I watched Neil Gaiman's 2010 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech.


It's addicting: I can't believe how fast the time has gone. I didn't get anything accomplished on my to-do list. I am trying to figure out how those who follow thousands of people do it.

Think before you follow: I think you have to be careful about who you follow if you are using Twitter as a professional development tool. Some people tweet for purely social reasons, which is fine, but I already have problems with "time suck" after only 24 hours. It makes me think before I tweet!

At the end of the day (and I pretty much monitored my Twitter feed all day), I felt as if I had learned a lot and that my time wasn't was completely wasted. I look forward to learning more about Twitter--how to maximize its potential and how to minimize "time suck." If you have ideas, please let me know.

Friday, June 25, 2010

I'm on Twitter!

I finally bit the bullet and joined Twitter @denisejohnson1. I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing, but sometimes it's just best to jump in. I started a tweetchat: #childrensliterature and sent my first message about reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick.

If you Twitter, let me know what you're reading!

If you've found Twitter to be a powerful professional development tool for children's literature, please let me know.

New Office + Reshelving = New Insights

The School of Education at The College of William & Mary just moved into a brand new building! It is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that holds much promise for teaching and learning, so I'm thrilled to be in this new space. However, the downside is that I had to pack all of my children's books and move them into my new office. I don't think anyone enjoys packing and moving, but with each move I make, I acquire new books. So the number of books I moved this time was astounding!

I was not looking forward to unpacking. But, as I pulled each book from the box and tried to decide where it would go, it sparked new thinking about the books, genre, theme, and ways I might use the books in the upcoming academic year.

Later in the week, I corresponded with a literacy coach, Wendy Melzer, at a local elementary school who was also moving offices. She talked about unpacking her children's books with her school's reading specialist. As they went through the books, they had great conversations about ways they could use great children's literature to support children's literacy development.

Wendy was so inspire by her "re"discovery and conversations with the reading specialist that she has already scheduled an inservice for the teachers in her school on nonfiction during the next school year.

Usually, at some point in the summer, teachers and librarians reorganize or rearrange the books in their classroom/libraries. This year, you might use that time to think about new or different ways to use your books in your teaching. Please share your ideas!